Monday, December 10, 2018

Early December Roundup.

Various Artists-White Lace & Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams. Andrew Curry has done it again. The man behind some of this decade's best compilations (including the "lite rock" Drink a Toast to Innocence for which I broke my own rules to make #1 of 2013) has turned his attention to 70s songwriter extraordinaire Paul Williams. While Williams' impish blond mop-top and glasses guise is well-known enough from TV and movies to stylize on the cover, the average music fan may not be able to rattle off all the songs he wrote for others which became hits in the 70s and early 80s. His most notable successes came from the Carpenters, whom he put on the map with songs such as "Rainy Days and Mondays", "We've Only Just Begun" (from which the compilation gets its title with the lyric "white lace and promises") and "I Won't Last a Day Without You" among others.

The usual all-star cast of indie poppers contribute here, with Cliff Hillis nailing "Rainy Days and Mondays", Corin Ashley faithfully covering "We've Only Just Begun" and Chris Price's enthusiastic reading of "I Won't Last a Day Without You". But Williams was more than the Carpenters - Cait Brennan turns into a wonderfully trippy version of Three Dog Night's "Old Fashioned Love Song", The Davenports add their power pop style to "Evergreen", Barbra Streisand's smash hit from the 70s version of A Star is Born, and Andy Reed gives the cheesefest which is Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection" his all. But while the covers of the well-known hits by your favorite current-day artists are what pull you in, the real treats here are the covers of lesser-known tracks, some of which Williams recorded himself. Greg Pope's "Waking Up Alone" could pass as his one of his own tunes, and Plasticsoul's "Still Alive" rocks way harder than anything you might associate with Williams.

Given that Williams' m├ętier was lite rock, this compilation makes a great bookend with the aforementioned Drink a Toast to Innocence, so this one is a must-have holiday gift for fans of timeless pop music.


Hot Nun-Born to Blaze. Hot Nun is Jeff Shelton's vehicle for rocking harder and louder than he does with the jangle-oriented Well Wishers, and this latest EP delivers more of the rawk you didn't know you needed but can't do without after hearing. From "Livin' a Dirty Mind" to "Anyway" to "Back to Now", Shelton & friends live up to their own description of "imagine you're at a weekend kegger and Judas Priest and The Archies are jammin out to some Cheap Trick while Bob Mould and the McDonald brothers from Redd Kross chime in". Their mission statement can be summed up in the title of the final track: "Rock and Roll is My Advice".


David Woodard-I Used to Be Cool EP. Nashville's David Woodard has stumbled upon the perfect title for all of us middle-aged power poppers who came of age in the 70s and 80s (although I myself was never cool), and his debut EP reminds me of the godfather of Nashville power pop, Bill Lloyd (who himself has a great new album out which I may or may not get to before it ranks very high on my year-end list). Opener "We Didn't Know" is a wonderful wistful song which looks back on lost youth, while the title track is a jangly delight and "Chase After Me" recalls the kind of smart pop Lloyd is known for. Woodard closes out the EP with a quality cover of The Beatles' "Help!" and he also has a pretty good Christmas single out as a separate release.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Mid-November Roundup.

P. Hux-This is the One. It's been a while since I reviewed a Parthenon Huxley (P. Hux for short) album, but this is the one that got my attention. Most of you don't need an introduction but for those who aren't familmiar, Huxley has been a veteran of the music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and with ELO II. The rocking title track tells us "this is the one we've been waiting for" and it's not wrong, an opener reminiscent of McCartney's "Rock Show", while "September Clouds" has a Tom Petty feel to it. The 70s rock of "Just Sayin'" with its call-and-response chorus is another standout, and "Inside Your Shoes" is pop brilliance. And if you want well-crafted ballads, "Running Home to You" and "Honey Sweet Baby" fill the bill. Hux's best in years and a worthy addition to your collection.


Greg Pope-A Few Seconds of Fame. Another artist who needs no introduction on this site is the Pope of Power Pop, Greg Pope. One of the more consistent power poppers of the last 15 years, both solo and with Edmund's Crown, Pope is back with another top notch collection of southern-fried DIY power pop. Once the chunky guitars and shimmering melody of "Forget About You" comes out of your speakers, it's like reuniting with an old friend - and the hits keep coming. "She's Already There" sparkles and shines, and Pope's albums are always good for one unforgettable track. This time it's "Cave Days" in which Pope chronicles a day in the life of a caveman, set to an insanely catchy melody. Also don't miss the martial melody of "Planet Earth" and "Dreams About You, which recalls Elliott Smith in his more rocking moments.


Zander Michigan-Kitchen Sink #2 EP. Zander Michigan (the stage name of Alexander Melidis) isn't quite power pop, but it's somewhere between pop and rock and undeniably catchy. "Yoga Poses" boasts a keyboard hook and a chorus that will burrow its way into your brain. "Set Me Free" is heavy guitar pop, and "Watch Your Body Sing" might even be catchier than "Yoga Poses" with another clever piano hook. The 4-song EP concludes with "Colors in Your Eyes", another memorable number which starts as a stately piano ballad but transforms into something louder with ringing guitars in its second half, not unlike Coldplay's "The Scientist".


Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day Roundup.

It's Election Day in the USA, so here are some releases worth voting for:

Creamer-Creamer. If this were a blurb on Kool Kat's site, Ray would lead it off with "BIG STAR ALERT!" as the debut of Phillip Creamer's new band channels Alex Chilton & Co. to great effect here. Co-produced by Wilco's Pat Sansone, the album opens with "Daydreamer", which manages to be both anthemic and downbeat at the same time with a vaguely Lennon-esque middle eight, followed by the poptastic "Record Machine", which is the #1 Record Big Star to "Daydreamer"'s Third/Sister Lovers. "Drugs No More" was released as the single to tease the album and it's easy to see why - it boasts a memorable chorus and encapsulates Creamer's sound, and "Ride or Die" makes good on the band's promise of glam mixed with Americana ("Glamicana", anyone?). And then there's "Magic", a magical concoction of rock, pop, honky tonk, R&B and who knows what else. Even the ballads like "A Better Side" and "Love Yourself" soar. A contender for album of the year.


Tim Jackson-Better Late Than Never. In a year in which it seems I've been seeing new releases from artists I've long given up on hearing again comes Tim Jackson. The name may not ring a bell but Jackson was the main force behind Third Floor Story, who had one of my favorite 2006 albums with Lonely City, and the album title and title track acknowledge this absence with a choice slice of power pop. Other standouts include "Little Girl" (Jackson started a family in the interim), the slightly funky but fully catchy "Black Dog" and the uptempo pop of "Back Again". Welcome Back, Tim.


Extra Arms-Headacher. Previously known as "Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms", Allen has taken his own name out despite continuing to front the group and that's not the only change this time around. The focus has shifted from traditional power pop to a somewhat harder-edged, noisier sound he calls "loud pop", hence the album title. Don't get worried, though, Allen hasn't gone thrash metal or anything, and the melodies are still there. The title track rocks with abandon, "Done to Death" cranks up the guitars, and then "Why I Run" really cranks them up. But fret not those who liked Allen's more traditional sound - "Under Surveillance" and "Honey Brown" are a bit more mellow (relatively speaking) and don't quite quality as "headachers". But if you like the "power" part of "power pop" better, this is your album.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Valley Lodge and Mario Soutschka

Valley Lodge-Fog Machine. The Dave Hill musical assault continues with the fourth Valley Lodge album and first since 2013's Use Your Weapons. That album made Hill's music a household item as it spawned "Go", the theme to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. And the band's self-titled 2005 debut remains one of my favorite power pop records of all time while Hill's Painted Doll project brought us some serious rawk earlier this year. So what does he do for an encore? He serves up 14 power-poppin', catchy-as-hell tracks is what he does. "Stars Won't Fall" kicks things off in classic VL form (melodies, call-and-response falsetto vocals and rocking guitars) just like "Go" and "If it Takes All Night" were the lynchpins of the previous efforts. "Stand" is a frenetic, almost danceable number in the manner of "Go" ready-made for another late-night talker to adopt, while "Come Back to Bed" is a rocker with attitude. Other standouts include the soulful "I'm Gone" (the chimes in the chorus give it a Philly soul feel), the Slade-esque glam rock of "It's Alright", which hearkens back to 2009's Semester at Sea, the mid-tempo power pop of "Fire", and "Days of Our Lives" which starts off with (gasp!) an acoustic guitar before settling into another of Hill's melodic numbers. So crank up the Fog Machine and get ready to rock (and pop).


Mario Soutschka-Long Stories Short. While Dave Hill and Valley Lodge are undoubtedly familiar to AbPow readers, I'm quite certain German singer/songwriter Mario Soutschka isn't. His second full-length caught my ear with its bright tuneful power pop in the vein of Butch Walker and Cliff Hillis. "Right Back to Me" comes out of the blocks with guitars and melodies from the Badfinger playbook, and "Do" is a catchy number with a shuffling melody. "Facebook Mom" recalls Fountains of Wayne both spiritually and sonically, "Flying Away" is a lovely, largely acoustic duet with Melanie Hirsch, and "One in a Row" is a fine rocker.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fall Singles Collection

Quite a few power poppers of note have singles out, so it's time to round them all up in one place.

Bleu-Love You So. Bleu McAuley has proven to be a pop polymath over the years and his latest is an ultra-catchy slice of pop in the true sense. In fact "Love You So" is so catchy it's been featured in a ubiquitous eBay commercial you've probably heard. iTunes

Bryan Estepa-No Ordinary. Great to have new music from one of power pop's most reliable performers over the last decade-plus, and while I want to say "No Ordinary" is no ordinary Bryan Estepa track, it kinda isn't but that's a good thing. iTunes

Andy Reed-Truth to My Love. Andy Reed's been busy making music with The Legal Matters and brother act The Reed Brothers so this is the first release under his own name in some time and it's another example of his fine pop songcraft. iTunes

Downstate Darlings-King James/Ordinary Kind. While the name Downstate Darlings may not have a familiar ring, it's the new project from New York rocker Chris Abad, featured here before. This double-sided single is a great introduction for the project. "King James" is a Fountains of Wayne-type tune with crunchy guitars and synths, and "Ordinary Kind" is a melodic rocker. iTunes

Timmy Sean-In California. After his exhaustive 52-track Song of the Week project in 2015, Timmy Sean is back with some new music and "In California" has all the big hooks and big guitars you remember from his previous work. iTunes

Michael Simmons-This is Most Certainly True. Simmons has been a standout over the years in bands such as sparkle*jets u.k. and The Yorktown Lads, and his recent solo work. His latest applies his knack for melody with political protest as he takes on our increasingly toxic political culture.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Checkpoint Charley and Ken Sharp.

Checkpoint Charley-Pomp, Twaddle & Bombast: Songs 13-24. Back in May I was excited to see the return of Checkpoint Charley after a 10+ year absence when they gave us a Star Wars-themed EP which featured a contrarian take on Jar Jar Binks. At the time they promised the proper followup to 2005's Songs One Through Twelve and the bombastically-titled Pomp, Twaddle & Bombast: Songs 13-24 is now here. Like their previous releases, Songs 13-24 is vintage power pop, chock full of hooks and melodies with influences ranging from Jellyfish to Badfinger. "Acting My Age" obliquely addresses their absence and their middle age in tuneful fashion, "Facing the Music" is top-rate power balladry, "Out of the Blue" has something approximating a dance beat, and the baroque "Adam and Eve" and "Young and Naive" are where they really channel Falkner, Manning & Co. And those guys are getting back together anytime soon, so the return of Checkpoint Charley is as close are you're gonna get. I don't have samples to share unfortunately, but if you listen to their older stuff you'll get the idea. Kool Kat is offering the CD along with the Jedi EP as a package deal or you can download directly at their official site.

Kool Kat | Official site

Ken Sharp-Beauty in the Backseat. Ken Sharp remains one of the most interesting guys in the power pop scene, equally adept as an author as he is a musician, with his most recent tome being Volume 4 of his "Play On! Power Pop Heroes" series. Ken's now out with his latest musical opus, and it's a slight departure from the classic power pop he's usually known for. On Beauty in the Backseat he adds a Philly soul element to the mix and it's a welcome progression. Fernando Perdomo proudces and Sharp's gotten some of those pop heroes he writes about to help him out - if you're making a Philly Soul-influenced album there's no one better to get than John Oates and he contributes backing vocals to the wonderful "Philly Kind of Night", and Ace Frehley of KISS (the subject of one of Sharp's books) throws in a guitar solo on the opener "Rock Show", the best song of its kind since Paul McCartney's on Venus and Mars. Other standouts include the delightfully smooth "Lemons to Lemonade" and "The Hardest Part" while fans of Sharp's more traditional power pop sound won't be disappointed either - "24 Hours a Day" and "Pull the Strings" (speaking of Jellyfish-influenced) fill the bill on that score. This is pop at its purest, so you'll want to look Sharp with this album in your collection.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Early September Roundup.

Caddy-Ten Times Four. Tomas Dahl is back again as Caddy after his work with Aussie band The Stanleys and he continues to be one of power pop's best-kept secrets. Ten Times Four, as the title implies, is Dahl's fourth Caddy album and might be the best of the lot. "Miracle Turn" is a driving midtempo pop tune that recalls classic Teenage Fanclub, while "Somewhere Beautiful" is another earworm and lead single "Contagious" recalls The Raspberries. Other standouts include the 70s rock of "Avoiding Me Avoiding You" and the sweet harmonies among the crunchy guitars of "Safe Travels". With not one bad track, Dahl goes 10-for-10 here and has one of 2018's best to date.

Kool Kat | iTunes

Rayland Baxter-Wide Awake. Nashville singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter has been better known through his first two albums as a roots-rocker, more known in Americana circles. With Wide Awake, Baxter turns his songcraft to a more pop-oriented sound and has also fashioned one of 2018's best. The lead single "Casanova" is my favorite track of 2018, with its slinky (Kinks-y?) melody and infectious chorus (try to get "back to the hole that I came from" out of your head). But the fun doesn't stop here - "Angeline" is a McCartney-esque track with baroque backing, "79 Shiny Revolvers" is a wonderfully melodic track that tackles America's gun violence, "Amelia Baker" owes to Ray Davies as well, "Hey Larocco" recalls the Jayhawks at their poppiest, and the lovely ballad "Without Me" bears a Harry Nilsson influence. If you want a melodic gem of an album that strays off the beaten power pop path, Wide Awake is a must.


Johnny Stanec-The Future of Nothing. Johnny Stanec is nothing if not prolific - The Future of Nothing is the eleventh album released under his own name or his band First in Space in the last 11-12 years or so. His latest doesn't break the Midwestern power pop a la The Gin Blossoms mold of his body of work but it's one of the best-sounding examples of it. Opener "I'll Be Your Ghost" is pleasingly melodic, "Feeling Lost" has that BoDeans/Connells feel to it, while "Phases of the Moon" and "The Strangest Sound" delve into Jayhawks-styled Americana. If you have any or all of his previous ten releases, you'll want this one.