Assorted Artists “Beyond Belief: A Tribute To Elvis Costello”

Beyond Belief Tribute to Elvis Costello

SpyderPop Records releases a compilation paying tribute to the words and music of the incomparable Elvis Costello. Costello is truly one of the worlds greatest modern songwriters, so I was stunned that a tribute disc took this long to come together. Liz Phair put it best “Elvis Costello writes novels in three minutes. He gets inside your head, and doesn’t let go… His songs about women and girls are devastating, like arrows to the heart. He’s a poet with a punk’s heart.” This collection gathers just about every power pop artist I can think of interpreting his massive songbook.

It’s hard to highlight standouts, but I’ll focus on a few of my favorites. Starting with disc 1, you have Chris Richards and The Subtractions doing a crunchy but faithful version of “No Action,”  Gail George makes the “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” her own. “New Amsterdam” by Parallax Project is another gem of an arrangement with its unique rhythmic texture. Jaime Hoover & Steve Stoeckel do an amazing a Capella version of “Blame It On Cain.” Of course Kurt Baker’s synth version of “High Fidelity” is another highlight.

Disc 2 boasts a stripped down version of “Alison” by Matthew Sweet and a truly beautiful arrangement of “Riot Act” by Brandon Schott. Another fave is Hans Rotenberry’s “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)” and Paul Myers tragic “So Like Candy.” Disc 3 continues with the high energy “Strict Time” by The Anderson Council and the always amazing Lannie Flowers doing “Radio Sweetheart.” With the huge amount of songs I was a little surprised no one took on the fan favorite “Oliver’s Army.” Many of the artists do a great job with the songs, so ultimately its worth the wait.

Co-produced by longtime Costello fans Olivia Frain and John M. Borack, with all proceeds from the release benefiting the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a non-profit organization that donates musical instruments to under-funded school music programs. Highly Recommended.

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R. Stevie Moore, Jason Falkner and Matthew Shacallis


R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner “Make It Be” Limited Edition

This hidden LP was a real gem of a find only on Bandcamp. Prolific and iconic DIY musician R. Stevie Moore collaborates with Jason Falkner (Jellyfish, TV Eyes) on this 17 track mix of polished pop and artistic styles. “I H8 Ppl” is a true collaboration, with Jason’s hook filled guitar licks and Stevie’s vocals bringing it home. Being a Falkner album you get his unique melodic DNA in the musing “Another Day Slips Away” a brilliant mantra about the quick passage of time where we “Sleep, Eat, Love, Work and Play.” This fades into the dreamy psyche-pop of “I Love Us, We Love Me,” with its layered production and trippy vocal overdubs. This also being a R. Stevie project, you get plenty of experimental tracks like the instrumental “Gower” or poetry of “Prohibited Permissions.”

Jason’s melodic genius comes through on several tracks like “Sincero Amore” and “Play Myself Some Music.” Then “That’s Fine, What Time?” was a bit like a TV Eyes song. I also loved the thick Cheap Trick riffs on “I Am The Best For You” allow Stevie to yell along with a cacophony of guitars. But I was also totally drawn to the boogie of Stevie’s cover of Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns “Don’t You Just Know It” and listing to Stevie’s brainstorming ideas like “Falkner’s Walk.” The title is a smart play on the Beatles title, where you “make it” not “let it” happen. Highly Recommended.

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Matthew Shacallis

Matthew Shacallis “Reach The Stars” EP

Shacallis is from Sydney Australia, and his sound is pure power pop gold. “Summer Sun” and “Tell Me Girl” both have a sweet jangling melody and vocal style similar to Teenage Fanclub.  “Nothing To Show” is a bit rougher, like classic You Am I. “Do You Love Me” is a little more retro sounding, a little like The Animals but with a poppier sound. The title track is a slower acoustic guitar ballad, with some overdubbed harmonies, and overall its very well done debut. I look forward to more from Matthew!

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Bandcamp only

The Jeanies and One Like Son

The Jeanies

The Jeanies “The Jeanies”

The Jeanies are a Brooklyn four piece band that bring back the savory sound of 1970s power pop and succeed so well here, you’d swear this was a “lost” release from that era. Cut from the same cloth as Phil Seymour, The Raspberries, The Rubinoos and The Shoes the opener “I Seen Her Dance” is a catchy single that sets the stage for the album. Songwriter and lead vocalist Joey Farber has an earnest moving vocal and “I Think You’re The Wrong One” is another classic gem that deserves to be heard.

Farber’s solid riffs are joined by guitarist Jon Mann, as they spin a great muscle-chord analog sound on “The Girl’s Gonna Do.” You’ll also hear the influences of 50’s Doo Wop, R&B, and basement DIY style throughout the album. At times the production adds a bit too much echo (“Believe Me Jenny”) but that’s more a personal pet peeve. The lyrics all evoke the anticipation of meeting the perfect girl… until the next one comes along. It is fairly consistent,  hard charging rock with a mid-tempo pause on the love song “I’ll Warm You.” Fans of this particular vintage power pop should not miss this one. Highly Recommended.

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One Like Son

One Like Son “New American Gothic”

Last year this Montgomery, Alabama band released a mind bending song a week for 52 Weeks. This year lead singer-songwriter Stephen Poff has compiled his favorite 13 tracks from that project into New American Gothic, making his band’s work a lot easier to digest.

“New American Gothic” is a solid power melody resembling Cheap Trick, Goo Goo Dolls and Gin Blossoms with strong riffs about today’s modern family. “Nice Guys Finish Last” sows similar ground with a synth line running though the song. One of my favorites here is “Hero Down” with its epic power ballad chorus about the death of Superman, it builds with layers of piano and guitar reminding me of Queen. The band tries to go more punk pop on “’Til it’s Over,” but it really excels at melodic hard rock anthems like “Falling From My Arms.” The subjects eventually head out to space with a trio of rockers “Gravity,” “Interstellar” and the Star Wars tribute “A Galaxy Far Away.” You can imagine Darth Vader might have said of One Like Son,“The force is strong with this one.”

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The Stereo Twins “Good News”

The Stereo Twins Good News

Power pop veterans, Brandt and Matt Huseman (Greenberry Woods, Splitsville) continue their musical partnership with this new incarnation – The Stereo Twins. The brothers set forth a tough challenge for themselves; to write and record an album about Jesus without having it obviously be preachy Christian rock. Not that there is anything wrong with that, one of the best religious power pop albums out there has been Rick Altizer’s  Scripture Memory from 2007.

The Husemans still have the talent and skills to make great music, and the album partly succeeds in delivering a Christian message without being overtly religious. And they start with a simple spiritual guitar folk song “J2J” which highlights those solid harmonies in the style of the Everlys. “All That I Know” does sound like written scripture to rock music, but then the album takes off.

The gentle inspirational message of  “Stars Shine” builds to a memorable chorus and is an excellent single. The follow up “Mariamne” is more like classic Splitsville and a real gem here. “Signs and Wonders” has plenty of jangle and hooks to be a big hit as well. The riffs and synths continue on the short but catchy “Phony” about being pious without faith. Fans of the Beach Boys styled Pet Soul will enjoy the heavenly “Hymn” with the 3-part harmonies and the beautiful “Elijah.” Highly Recommended to fans of great melodies and inspirational lyrics.

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Baby Scream and Bubble Gum Orchestra

Baby Scream

Baby Scream “Fan, Fan, Fan”

Argentina’s power pop sensation Baby Scream is back. Juan Pablo Mazzola got together with his good friend Nick Schinder and recorded about 200 songs in a massive recording session, and they had enough material for great 2 LPs. This one and The Worst of Baby Scream, which collects demos, covers and other stray tracks. Fan, Fan, Fan songs fit together along a similar theme and each song dovetails into the next.

Juan Pablo’s Lennonesque vocals combined with his crunchy pop guitars and pissed off lyrics make a great combination here. “Everybody Sucks” is a solid angry rant followed by the slow burning “Back To Douche” and the rocking “Loner” are a perfect 3 punch combo of angst and regret. These songs all clock in under 3 minutes each (except “The Girl Next Next Door”). He paints a lonely picture on the dense “A Human Being On Mars” and the catchy riffs are all over the aptly named “Captain Hook” with a satisfying solo between the chorus. Even though it slows down a little midway through it still delivers greatness on the ballads “Haters Will Hate” and “Just For A While.” Juan Pablo has a biting sense of humor on “The Kitty Song” where he speaks in the voice of the biggest a-hole cat ever. The smart curation of these songs from the recording session make this my favorite Baby Scream album to date. It’s so good, it gets my first nomination for best album of 2015! Don’t miss this one.

Only on Bandcamp

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Bubble Gum Orchestra

Bubble Gum Orchestra “Beyond Time”

Once again ELO super-fan Michael Laine Hildebrandt returns to give us a “sequel” to the ELO 1981 classic Time. Hildebrandt starts with familiar electronic synths leading to the main riff of “23rd Century Woman,” one of the highlights. But my favorite is “Trans Form Her” chock full of tech wordplay along a similar theme of loving a robot girl, which leads to the obvious “I’m in Love with a Robot.” “Earth Below Me” is a captivating electronic prog rock gem that soothes and inspires.

Michael is also getting much better at using the style for compositions, instead of merely imitating it. He still isn’t above some hero worship, as “ELO Forever” lists about 28 song titles in the lyrics. Still, this is a fun, enjoyable album with some very nice production work throughout the synth-guitar melodies. If you enjoy your rock with a space opera twist this will float your boat.

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