The Power Popaholic Interview: Terry Manning

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Terry Manning tells me all about his new album Heaven Knows, and his transition from recording engineer to performer. He also gives me exclusive insight with his friendship with Chris Bell (Big Star) and one of the most interesting recording sessions he’s had. Read the interview with Terry Manning here.

Gavin Mee and Sonny and The Sunsets

Gavin Mee

Gavin Mee “Meemantras”

Irish native Gavin Mee is a veteran songwriter-troubadour who put together this brilliant album with fellow songwriter/producer Duncan Maitland (Pugwash). Fans of Pugwash, XTC and all you Anglophiles should line up to get this one. The magical “Push The Boy” is a combo of dance hall piano and acoustic riffs that will win you over with its sweet “ooh-na-na” backing harmonies. Another gem is the very ELO meets Kinks “First Place” with its horn, piano and guitar flourishes.

There are so many musical touchpoints, you get can dizzy with it. The spacey melodic pop of “Mosquito Chick” has a variety of instruments, and tempos. Gavin’s vocal has a slight rasp, like Mark Oliver Everett (Eels) wandering through Pepperland on “Penny Farthing” and “Peace Maze.” Eventually it all makes its way back to these child-like folk melodies, without a wasted note. Like the musical equivalent of sweet buttery toast, you’ll want to revisit these songs daily. Highly Recommended.

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The Statuettes

Sonny and The Sunsets “Talent Night at the Ashram”

Sonny narrates these character studies on a vintage trip for fans of psyche-based indie pop. On “The Application,” the surreal LSD like echoing vocals are accompanied by solid bass lines and smooth Beach Boys styled harmonies. “Cheap Extensions” is both compelling and disorienting with its stream-of-conscious lyrics and new wave guitar riffs.

Originally planned as a movie, it turned into an album that resembles The Beta Band doing “Revolution #9.” The albums core is a 7 minute opus called “Happy Carrot Health Food Store” which takes off into Zappa-land midway through. It’s weirdness that secretly has catchy pop music hidden underneath, and that’s fine with me. You’ll still want to listen to this with headphones in a darkened room.

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Promise and The Bloodhounds

Promise

Promise “Promise” 2015 Remastered Edition

It’s rare that a lost power pop treasure like this gets dusted off and given an opportunity to shine. Promise was a little known band, originally issued in 1980 on the Boulder, Colorado, area band’s own Cumulus label, their eponymous debut is filled with melodic, beatific blasts of pure Beatlesque pop, replete with ringing, jangly guitars, and rollicking crunch. Co-led by singer-songwriter’s/guitarists Curt Mangan and Danny Mey—with bassist Randy Jones and drummer Gary York—the group was out of step with the new wave trends at the time, opting instead for a timeless rock sound.

Without a doubt Promise is a classic that deserves to be re-discovered. “Say Alright” is eerily like Badfinger with its boogie baseline and jangling rhythm. “Back in My Heart” has a great acoustic strum and Mangan sounds like Emmit Rhodes here. The vaguely Genesis-like prog ballad of “Guitar” is a sweet curve, and “Later On Tonight” brings more Badfinger comparisons. “Hands of Luck” is probably the catchiest single, with its thrilling chorus. The remaining tracks don’t reach these heights, but are consistently very good. The remastering is done from the original master tapes, and it sounds great. For the power pop fan this is manna from heaven.

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Got Kinda Lost Records

The Bloodhounds

The Bloodhounds “Let Loose”

A big thanks to Dave “The Boogieman” for turning me on to this classic retro band. Starting with “Indian Highway” its a mix of rockabilly, blues and catchy rhythm that sets the stage for this LP. Then the tempo speeds up on “Wild Little Rider” with its blues harmonica, you’ll hear a mix of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Bo Diddley all wrapped up in a neat package. Equally powerful is the echoing reverb on the bass guitar riff for “Saint Dee.”

Next the band gets inventive on “Dusty Bibles and Silver Spoons” with a simple lo-fi production, using kitchen pots and spoons as percussion instruments. They even use an old player piano for the dancehall ditty “Hey Lonnie,” but bar room R&B is what this band delivers more than anything else. I couldn’t find a really bad track, so if you want a little honky tonk mixed in your rock, this one is highly recommended.

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Terry Manning and The Soulphonics

Terry Manning

Terry Manning “Heaven Knows”

If Terry Manning’s name sounds familiar it may be that he’s been one of the the most respected engineers and producers in music history — Led Zeppelin III, the first two Big Star records, Al Green, ZZ Top, the Staple Singers, Albert King, Shakira, Lenny Kravitz, and hundreds more have had Manning involved in their work. After a quirky, trippy solo LP in 1970 Manning dedicated his life to the engineers sound board until his 2013 tribute to Bobby Fuller “West Texas Skyline” which was mostly covers. With “Heaven Knows” we get to hear more originals, and Manning has amazing talent as both a songwriter and instrumentalist.

The Beatlesque opener “It’s You (Beacon)” has a great catchy bridge with some wonderful Harrison-like guitar fuzz in the solo. The title track,“Heaven Knows” makes use of an smooth orchestral opening, and the vocal overdubbing emulates the harmonies of the late-era Beach Boys. The next several tracks gravitate to this style, the slow pacing and layered production make this a sweet single, and “Look at Me (Everything About You)” keeps thing moving along with its light joyful melody. “Things are Gonna Be Fine” is another romantic pop ballad with a bright sax solo. Appropriately, Terry gives us a reverent cover of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” and another winner here is the fifties ballad “Oh My Love” which would easily fit on a Grease-themed soundtrack. A few more covers (Al Green, Otis Redding, and Jerry Lieber) till we get to the tropical “Life Is Good (‘Cause URU)” with its laid back calypso rhythm. Highly Recommended.

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Heart Full of Soulphonics

The Soulphonics “Heart Full of Soulphonics”

Led by  guitarist-vocalist Glen Worley its straightforward pop-rock songs driven by jangling guitars set in the mid 1960’s style. Worley and his drummer Kevin “The Skindriver” Connolly are veteran musicians who’ve been playing together for over 25 years in a variety of musical styles and both played last years IPO in Austin.

The clean jangle of “A Million Times” makes a great start, with its crisp chorus and Byrdisan riffs. Glen’s vocals sound alot like Sal Valentino (The Beau Brummels,) on the mid tempo “The Letter Home.” Then we meet “Gwendolyn,” another early standout about a girl with “eyes of blue neon” and “Slipped” picks up the tempo. If there is a fault here, its that many songs tend to blend into each other and the hooks don’t always stick. Thankfully, the band goes off script with the rockabilly gem “Heartbreak In the First Degree,” and Worley really gets to show off his guitar licks. “Those Are The Breaks” is another driving Texas rhythm that encourages repeat listens. Fans of great jangle-pop shouldn’t miss this one.

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CD Baby

Yorktown Lads and Watts

Songs About Girls and Other Disasters

Yorktown Lads “Songs About Girls and Other Disasters”

The buzz for this release was so long in coming, that many added it to their 2014 best-of list. It started as a Kickstarter campaign, endorsed by author & drummer John Borack, it was quickly funded and finally released to the public this year.

Yorktown Lads are Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts grads Cameron Lew, Addison Love, and their teacher Michael Simmons (SparkleJets*u.k.). They start off with a note perfect Beatles-Beach Boys hybrid “Something To Write About,” that will knock your socks off. The album doesn’t stay retro but it stays melodic; “Before You Leave” is a laid back Belle and Sebastian styled pop that sticks in your head nicely. “La La” is the textbook template of a great power pop song; an upbeat and catchy melody about giving up on love until you meet that perfect girl. This is one example amongst many. The styles vary from the sullen pep talk “Dear Ethan” to louder Cheap Trick riffs of “He Got It Down” and “Cool Shoes, Bro.”

While not everything here works (“Make Her Smile” is eerily like The Spin Doctors,) most of this album hits the mark and earns its 2015 “best of ” nomination. Don’t miss it!

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Watts

Watts “Flash of White Light”

When we last heard Watts, it was an impressive collection Stones-y rockers similar to The Doughboys or The Satisfactors.  Glad to hear things haven’t changed much, its still straight-up rock n’ roll full of hot licks and high-powered riffs, with more of a modern nod to bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC. While the opening title track is traditional, “The Mess is The Makeup” has a heavier rock vibe. “Sidewinder” has a touch of Allman Brothers or Bob Segar in its DNA with some awesome guitar work here.

The tendency of heavy rock is to get ponderous, but Watts avoids this with catchy riffs like on “Wasted Angels” and also smartly trying different lead vocalists for many of the songs. Between John Blout, Dan Kopko, and drummer Johnny “Rock” Lynch you never fall into predictability. More highlights include “Better (For A Girl Like You)” and the very Guns ‘N Roses inspired “Flying Over With Bombs.” Check’em out now!

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