Three Hour Tour-Action and Heroes. Darren Cooper graces our music devices again with another Three Hour Tour album, his first since 2010's Looking for Tomorrow. As with his past releases, Action and Heroes is first-rate power pop that sounds like Matthew Sweet meets The Replacements, and Cooper has some top-notch help on hand including Adam Schmitt and Brad Elvis. From opener "March of the Fakers" (which recalls Guided by Voices) to melodic, rocking "Afterlife" to the jangly "Nowhere Bound", there's plenty to love here on a disc that should make my year-end top 20.
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Kevin Martin-Future Friends. San Diego's Kevin Martin thrilled us a few years back with Throwback Pop, a bracing collection of Jellyfish/Queen-inspired pop, and now he's back with the long-awaited and much-delayed (the release date on Bandcamp was pushed back several times) followup. Those expecting Throwback Pop 2 may be slightly disappointed, but this is still a fine collection of pop tunes with a few twists. "Julia" and "Loaded Gun" are a couple of 1980s-sounding tracks, heavy on the synths and drum machines, while "Not Gonna Let it Go" and "I'm Doing Fine" are quality piano pop. Martin does have a few tracks that are, er, throwbacks to the previous disc - "The Unknown" has that Jellyfish/Queen vibe, and the lilting "Diamonds" is first-rate balladry. (Interestingly, an early version of disc had "Problems", a track that featured a rap interlude, and a cover of the Motown classic "I Just Want to Celebrate".)
Dan Israel-Dan. Minnesotan singer/songwriter Dan Israel has been one of those artists I've enjoyed over the last ten years or so but not to the point where I got motivated to write about him here. Well for me the 13th time around (this is Israel's 13th full-length, although I've only heard about 4 or 5 of them) is lucky as his first-name-titled record has become my favorite of the lot. Israel's sound falls into the roots rock territory, with hints of Tom Petty, The Jayhawks and Paul Westerberg. This is a poppier, more straight-ahead collection and tracks like "Be With Me", "Can't Believe It" and "You Don't Love Me Anymore" boast excellent melodies and hooks. If you're new to Dan, start here and the dive back into his vast catalog.