Pop Sunday

Jeremy Morris and Ken Stringfellow / Distant Dream


Distant Dream (JAM Records 2021)

 It is always a thrill when our favorite musicians stage a collaboration. Distant Dream is a such a project, which features the pairing of illustrious solo artist Jeremy Morris – and frontman of The Jeremy Band and member of The Lemon Clocks – and Ken Stringfellow, whose shining credits include The Posies, the reformed Big Star, REM and The Minus 5, as well as a solo career. Here on this excellent album, Jeremy takes care of vocals, guitars and songwriting duties, while Ken handles vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and production chores. 

By sharing the same work ethic and musical values, Jeremy and Ken boast an instant rapport. An affinity for sixties and seventies pop rock spurred the guys into parenting their own visionary creations that have been wowing consumers and critics since the late eighties. Although Jeremy and Ken travel in similar circles, Distant Dream marks the first time they have joined forces.

 The title track of the album is a dazzling beauty, amplified by waves of atmospheric drafts, intertwined with potent keyboard and guitar arrangements. A gorgeous glow further costumes You’re Amazing, which contains an arresting blend of blinking piano chords, vibrant melodies and a feathery chorus.

Ignited by a static beat and twitchy hooks, Alone Together gradually gives way to a wash of electrifying  guitar strokes. The clingy tune effectively communicates the boredom and loss encountered during the lockdown, where ringing rhythms mirrored by a harmonious folk pop tenor define Joy Comes In The Morning, which also references the virus crisis, but ensures the situation is only temporary and better days are ahead. 

A needling groove and a scolding tone dictate This Story’s Ended that shoots dagger-dappled lyrics at an abusive, offensive and rude individual, and the duly branded Stay Positive steps in as a lively lick of encouragement. The sole non-original number on the album is an inspired cover of Big Star’s Thirteen, a brittle ballad greased with teen romance. 

Free of fuss and focusing on tightly-laced songs tempered by power and precision, Distant Dream is every pop rock fan’s passport to paradise. Jeremy and Ken make a great team, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that they continue their partnership. 

Pop Sunday

The Craig Torso Show / Estonian Breakfast Strategies

The Craig Torso Show

Estonian Breakfast Strategies” (2021)

An odd band name, coupled with a curious looking album cover is sometimes reason enough to check out the content.

And that leads us to The Craig Torso Show, whose moniker is swiped from The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s “The Craig Torso Christmas Show.” The East Coast based band’s debut album, “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” features a sepia photograph of a rooster perched next to a little boy smoking a cigarette. Strange indeed, but as always it is the music that matters and there is definitely much to admire and appreciate here.

Comprised of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Ignatius, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Merklee, and drummers Steve Bartashev and Andrew Feyer, these four fellows practice a smart and snappy strain of pop rock that often references the sound and vision of bands like REM, Let’s Active and The Replacements.

But “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” filters these influences into a modern presentation, stressed by ripe energy and novel applications. An adventurous lot, The Craig Torso Show further cushions their material with a wide variety of musical gear, creating a homespun symphony of compelling effects. Aside from the typical guitar, bass, piano and drums played in a rock setting, unusual instruments such as a tanpura, rav vast, shahi baaja and bells are occasionally utilized, resulting in moments of exotic tuneage.

The first two tracks – “Living In Deep Space” and “Ellen Thompson’s Guide To Morality” – move with speed, precision and just the right amount of nerve-jangling tension to an exciting exhibition of jittery guitars, kicking breaks and driving rhythms. Braided with a squealing organ and probing hooks, “Virginia Dare” deftly bridges the gap between sixties styled garage rock and new wave quirkiness, a bare-bones arrangement anchors the raggedy folk fable of “I Gave Away That Kid” and The Go-Betweens are honored on a fine copy of the emotionally-electrifying “The Man Who Died In Rapture.”  Another cool reprise included on “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” is Bevis Frond’s “The Wind Blew All Around Me,” which twinkles and twirls with ringing riffs and smiley-face harmonies.  Sculpted of riveting chord changes and enterprising orchestration, “Zero-Gravity Sex” and “The Irish Chiropodist” post as additional potent pieces heard on the album.

 The Craig Torso Show has gotten off to a great start with “Estonian Breakfast Strategies.” The band’s edgy but appealing perspectives convey a sense of  uniqueness and originality in both the songwriting and performances. Hopefully, The Craig Torso Show isn’t a one shot deal, and they will continue to do what they do so well.