Martin Carr and Cliff Hillis

Martin Carr

Martin Carr “The Breaks”

Former Boo Radley frontman and songwriter Martin Carr returns to action with “The Breaks” a solo album about not fitting in and not getting what we want. Carr’s polished single “The Santa Fe Skyway” has orchestra flourishes and his bright British vocal is comparable on this side of the pond to someone like Allen Clapp (The Orange Peels).

“St. Peter In Chains” is a great narrative pop theme with a solid beat and hummable chorus, and “Mainstream” brings us a “poison lullaby” about no longer being an “alternative” musician. “Mountains” and “Sometimes It Pours” are both subtle studies of melodicism and personal observation. “Senseless Apprentice” has a great guitar and organ tandem, with a mid sixties styled shake (and a slice of John Lennon). Some great lyrical advice follows on “No Money In My Pocket” and comparisons to Ray Davies also work here. “My style seems borrowed” he crows on “Mandy Get Your Mello On,” but borrowed or not its one of the best tracks here. Highly Recommended.


Amazon

The Cherry Drops

Cliff Hillis “Song Machine”

He’s like the Energizer bunny of indie pop, going and going. Just when you think Cliff Hillis has reached a peak – he pulls this amazing EP out and impresses you all over again. Cliff has been very busy touring , and he’s released this fan-funded EP. And thank the Lord for that; this is a clear contender for the best EP of 2014. Like his last full length, he’s got a variety of styles here.

The pensive “Dashboard” leads to a soaring vocal in the chorus about listening to his favorite tunes on the road. George Harrison styled slide guitar starts off “Turn On A Dime,” a super catchy ear-worm that proves Hillis continues to write memorable hits. “Just One More” has a bit more laid back feel, about asserting yourself – complete with gentle horn flourishes. Next, “Hang On To The Moment” is another gem that reaches deep; this a perfect slow rock ballad to dance to. There is not a weak moment throughout the concise seven tracks here. Some of the songwriting reminds me of Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) where comfort can be found in the warmth of these melodies. The song “Could You Be The Enemy” even claims in the lyric “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and I would apply that to this EP. A rare treat that should not be missed.


Amazon | Tallboy Records

Pugwash and Sloan

Pugwash

Pugwash “A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds: A Preamble Through The History Of Pugwash”

It isn’t news to most power pop fans that Pugwash is the one of the best bands in Ireland. The band has made the commitment to visit the US on tour this October and it only makes sense to release a great retrospective for the occasion. Lead by the talented multi-instrumentalist Thomas Walsh, the band is the sonic heir to both Electric Light Orchestra and XTC.  The pedigree is further burnished, as Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory have assisted the band on occasion. But you’ll also hear other influences from The Byrds and Beach Boys to Paul McCartney. Pugwash has made six albums to date (not counting compilations), and each one is represented here with care to showcase the bands incredible versatility and melodic skills.

If you’ve never heard the band before (shame on you) this is a chance to redeem yourself and get all the good tracks in one neat little package. On CD it includes some detailed history, liner notes and photos in the enclosed booklet. And if you are really looking for a treat,  you’ll see this band live – here are the latest tour dates. Definitely, this gets my vote for best single band retrospective album of 2014.

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Sloan

Sloan “Commonwealth”

Toronto-based quartet Sloan has been playing the most consistent quality power pop for over 20 years, and longer than any other band (still active) in the genre. After the career nadir which was 2011’s Double Cross, the band does something off the beaten path once again. This 15-song collection sees Sloan creating one of the most ambitious recordings of their career. Like the touchstone LP Never Hear The End of It, you’ve got a pile of great tracks and like The Beatles’ White Album, each band member creates a unique album section with its own layered personality.

You can listen to one of my favorite tracks below, Jay Ferguson’s “Three Sisters,” with its winding bass lead and delicate harmonies. I go into detail on each section of the album, as this review continues on The Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.

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Free Music Mondays: My Brother Woody, Fernando Perdomo and The Sunchymes

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard from My Brother Woody. Glad to hear he’s still got those fantastic musical skills, with his new digital release Random Football Musings Set To Music. It’s a set of baroque pop gems all about World Cup soccer. And its a FREE download. Best sports themed album since The Duckworth Lewis Method.


We reviewed Fernando Perdomo‘s album a while back, and now its a FREE download on bandcamp. Dig in, for a limited time and check out my favorite track “Girl With A Record Collection.”


Since the weather is changing, its time to say goodbye to summer. I can think of no better way than to listen to these FREE tracks of sunshine pop from The Sunchymes. “Through My Eyes” has all the jangle of The Byrds and harmonic chorus of The Beach Boys. Plus a great psychedelic cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” As a bonus you can also download the single “Mr. Buckstone.”

Kurt Baker and The Persian Leaps

Kurt Baker

Kurt Baker “Brand New B-Sides”

When Kurt and Wyatt Funderburk worked on Brand New Beat three years ago, they still had plenty of gems leftover to make a follow-up. Much like Kurt’s debut the songs here have the same sound and catchy energy. “Quit Dancing With My Girl” is another perfect amalgam of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe that speeds along its melody line. Each track bounces along, highlights are all over this release, examples being “Emma Stone” and “What’s That Got To Do With Rock N’ Roll,” riff anthem that channels the Glam era, originally done by The New York Dolls.

The LPs second half shows some different approaches, like the rare slow tempo “Since You’ve Been On My Mind” and “I’ve Tried Everything.” There is even a cover of Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes.” Overall this isn’t as cohesive as the debut, but a little Kurt goes a long way. And it still ends up on my playlist. Highly Recommended.

CD Baby | Amazon


The Cherry Drops

The Persian Leaps “Drive Drive Delay” EP

After The Persian Leaps last review and I was told the band had a new EP coming out shortly, and now its here. Continuing their GBV-inspired power pop with the pyromaniac anthem “Fire Starter” and then “Pretty Boy” has some Bob Mould like fuzz guitar with an inspired call and response chorus.

“(Goodbye To) South Carolina” has a little more jangle, but the wall of fuzz sound occasionally drowns out the melody. My favorite highlight is “Permission”  a bit more like a modern rocker where the lead guitar line shares equal time with the lead vocal. Between the 2 EPs you have a pretty good full length, so give it a spin on your playlist.


Amazon

Rock is Dead. Seriously? Open your ears, man!

Commentary by Steve Baldwin

So Gene Simmons of Kiss has declared rock and roll is dead. To be fair, he had a few good points. There will never be another Dylan or Beatles. The era of the rock and roll gods making millions from society’s youth alone is indeed dead. Also gone is the power of the record company executive to determine an artists’ fate in the business. Add to this equation that people have been declaring rock dead since Elvis left the building to join the army.

Rock isn’t dead. Hell, Guitar Center just opened a new store in Times Square. Young people still want to play, form bands, turn it up to 11, and rock out together. The desire to make music — whatever we happen to call it — will never die. But yes, the peculiar economics of the pre-Internet music business — and the decadent “rock lifestyle” that this system supported for guys like Simmons — is extinct, and I say “good riddance.” It’s high time that young people become disabused of the absurd notion that they ever had any chance to “make it” in a business that’s always been stacked against them. If I sound cynical it’s because the best rocking bands I ever heard failed to make it — (i.e. Big Star, Badfinger) and that was over 30 years ago, back in the “golden era” that Simmons nostalgically celebrates.

I’ve seen my share of young people burn out and actually die on the alter of an unholy illusion fostered by the music business — the illusion that they could ever “make it.” The only guys who benefited from this rotten system were club owners, producers, drug dealers, and other zombies feeding off of young musicians’ blood. They’re all gone now, and that’s a very good thing. And please spare me your crocodile tears about that 15-year old kid in St. Paul who’ll never “make it.” That young person is better off focusing on a career path that’s actually sustainable than wallowing in obsolete rock dreams.

Once you take the money — and your beloved “business” out of the equation — you can easily separate the real artists — the ones who actually have something to say — from the poseurs who simply go through the motions because there’s a paycheck and a blowjob at the end of the night. Maybe this 15-year old kid in St. Paul will never play an arena, or tour the world, or own 300 guitars, or pay alimony to three wives, but he’ll own his own soul and be his own man — not a pathetic lapdog of the corporate music state. He will, in other words, keep on rocking, while the poseurs — who as Frank Zappa noted “are only in it for the money” — will justly fade into petulant obscurity.