Join me and The Spirit of Harmony Foundation tonight as we present the Power Popaholic Music Festival 2016. We will be raffling off prizes at 9pm – one prize is a massive brand new shrink-wrapped 10 CD set of great power pop music!
Explorers Club “Together”
The Explorers Club are back for their third album and its safe to say the band is the closest heir apparent to Brian Wilson’s musical legacy. Listeners can expect exquisite four part harmonies, tight musicianship, and lush arrangements. The title track perfectly encapsulates the feel of The Beach Boys early ’70s “Sunflower” era and the easy West Coast doo-wop of “California’s Callin’ Ya” is another brilliant example of sun-soaked songwriting and harmonizing. “Once In A While” crams so much into the short two and a half minutes, from the “bop-did-it” backing counter rhythms to vocal “ooh-wahs” under the melody. Group founder and lead vocalist Jason Brewer does a great job setting the tone. The songs get gradually mellower, and sparser until we reach The Four Freshmen styled “Perfect Day,” which continue to focus on the group harmonic sound. Its no wonder that the team of Jason Brewer, Wyatt Funderburk, Michael Williamson and Paul Runyon sound so good together. Also helping out are players from Brian Wilson’s touring band: Darian Sahanaja, Probyn Gregory, Nelson Bragg and others.
While the albums second half keeps that flawless execution, the songs are simply less memorable and can’t complete with the “A” album side. Standouts here include the Andy Paley co-written “Don’t Waste Her Time” and the amazing “Before I’m Gone” which is very much in the mold of Brian Wilson’s “’Til I Die.” It ends with a dream montage listeners will recall from the film “Love & Mercy.” So yeah, this gets added to this years top 10 album list. Hell, if I can get an album like this every summer, I can die a happy music geek.
The Senior Service “The Girl In The Glass Case”
In a rare break, I review an instrumental album. Enjoy old film scores featuring the Hammond organ and some surf guitar? Then The Senior Service is definitely for you as each song tells its own story – no lyrics needed. The quartet of like-minded musicians share a love of John Barry and Barry Gray – and it was quickly decided to follow in the colossal footprints of those sultans of the soundtrack. With bits of flourish from brass and an occasional theremin, it conjures up those classic TV shows.
Both “Caballo Sin Nombre” and “Five Beans In The Wheel” recalls the great music of the 60’s TV show “The Prisoner.” Some tracks are simply light bossa-nova background, but others stand out enough to warrant attention; “Prisoner on The Lost Planet” and “Abandoned” have catchy rhythms and great thematic energy.
“Ladies and Gentlemen… The Bangles”
This treat is a vintage 16-track Bangles collection of remastered ’80s-era rarities, demos, live recordings, including The Bangles’ debut single and all of the tracks from their self-titled EP—produced by legendary Ramones/Blondie producer Craig Leon—unavailable since its initial release on vinyl in 1982. It showcases the talent of The Bangles’ founding and current members—Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, and Vicki Peterson—as well as now-retired bassist Michael Steele, and the band’s original bass player Annette Zilinskas.
What’s incredible is just how solid the Monkees influences show through on all these early tracks, just listen to “I’m In Line,” “Call On Me”and “How Is The Air Up There.” The Peterson/Hoffs harmonies are full of energy on “Want You” and the garage side comes out on the demo of “Steppin’ Out.” Another fun tune is a cover of The Turtles “Outside Chance.” Highly Recommended to power pop music fans and not just for Bangles devotees.
Peter Lacey “New Way Lane”
Veteran musician Peter Lacey’s music has often been compared to that of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney’s early work. His newest album was recorded in Peter’s garage and touches on many ’60s pop styles, done with very sparse instrumentation. The album starts with the Beatlesque “Star In Your Own Show” and “New Way Lane,” solid compositions done with a sweetness and simplicity that make the music irresistible.
“Laundromat” is old school soul, with an easy funk beat and deep brass accents. “Bella Donna” is a little too close to the Fab Four’s “Lady Madonna,” and a few songs after this are so mellow I want to take an “Afternoon Nap.” Another highlight is the catchy “Better Make Tracks.” Rewards with repeat listens.
Automat “Turn The Music Up”
The under-rated David Doll and Mat Taylor collaboration return after a long absence, and they deliver some greatness here. Automat continues to be a shining example of power pop, starting with “It’s The Beginning Of The End” its top-notch, hook-filled, guitar-pop taking its influences from The Beatles, The Monkees and Squeeze. “What There Could Have Been” is a McCartney & Wings-styled mid-tempo gem and the gentle acoustic strums of “Fly” recall Jellyfish in its optimistic chorus.
The sound varies at times, but always keeps a compelling melodic line, as “I Need, I Know, I Do” and “If I’m Talking” are straight from the Glenn Tilbrook playbook. The quality of the music is consistent without note of filler, although the Beatlesque ending “A Minor Miracle” drags out over six minutes. Overall, a spectacular album that deserves your attention and gets added to my now crowded top ten list.
Michael Carpenter and The Cuban Heels “Ain’t Nothing Left To Say”
How do you follow up retirement? Well Aussie music legend Mr. Carpenter gets his band The Cuban Heels together and delivers what he does best. Like other Cuban Heels albums, the blues and country influences are more pronounced than his solo works – but he throws a few power pop tracks in here.
The title track is a great start, with its steady rhythm, melody line and guitar accents. “I Should Have Told You” and “Wasted Years, Wasted Time” have that familiar steel pedal, and twang. Other highlights include “Photo” and “You’re Givin’ Love A Good Name.” At the end Carpenter gives a shout out to his wife on”Thank You” making for a satisfying finale. Highly Recommended.
David Brookings and The Average Lookings
California musician David Brookings has been a steady favorite of mine for many years, refining his songwriting craft and sound with each album since 2000. With his new band The Average Lookings, David delivers a truly unique sound that retains his main influences (Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds) without sounding imitative. His vocals are a little like Roger Hodgson (Supertramp) so he has better range than most. Each song here hits the bulls-eye; “Hearts” starts us off with its effective catchy chorus, jangling rhythm and ending crescendo. The hand-clapping, bouncy “Time To Go” is a perfect follow up and “The Optimist” is another gem that proves “you’ll never be a winner unless you lose for quite a while.” Even the ballads like “Don’t Stop to Doubt Yourself” are compelling both lyrically and melodically.
Another memorable twist is the country-tinged rocker “I’m in Love With Your Wife,” which is a fictional accounting of Eric Clapton bragging to George Harrison that his girl Patti “looks wonderful tonight.” Beautifully written and produced, its all killer, no filler – and enough variety in style and tone that keeps the music fresh and unpredictable. It’s darn close to a flawless record and rockets to the top of my best LP of 2016 list.
Here is a great bio video of David…
Gary Ritchie “Poptimistic”
Chicagoan Gary Ritchie returns on Poptimistic and from the bouncy opening “Million Dollars” its very much like a classic Rubinoos single followed by “Let’s Pretend,” a Beatlesque tune full of simple lyrics and Rickenbacker bass lines. Clearly Ritchie has improved his songwriting over the years, as the compositions are tighter than past albums. “Subtle as a Freight Train” allows both Ritchie and co-guitarist Jeff King to show off a bit, and Gary also has a love of old school ’50s pop Buddy Holly style on “Perfect Girl.”
No filler anywhere, and plenty of catchy gems like “Carol Says” about a profile of a fortune teller and “Dial 9,” a mid-tempo Merseybeat charmer. The attitude of all the songs are summed up in “Real Good Feeling,” and if you are a fan of retro-grade pop perfection look no further. Highly Recommended.