Aimee Mann and Bill Popp

Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann “Mental Illness”

Aimee Mann’s ninth LP is not exactly a pick-me-up type of pop record, in fact, it is quite the opposite as she told Rolling Stone that Mental Illness is the saddest record she’s ever recorded. It bluntly lays bare painful vignettes of heartache, anger, and remorse. Mann has amazing versatility, as her earlier albums were mostly power pop but recent history as placed her more in the chamber folk category.

The light playful rhythm of “Goose Snow Cone” is the opening track, and the breezy melody showcases the homesickness of a pet and how she’s got to “keep it together when your friends come by.” The restrained tension in Mann’s vocals is her specialty, and it recalls Joni Mitchell at her peak. “Stuck In The Past” is sly waltz of despair, and the darkness envelopes these tunes, like a sweetness with a sour aftertaste on “You Never Loved Me.” It takes a few listens to objectively hear the tragic stories that seem too real to be fiction; “Rollercoasters,” “Patient Zero” and “Lies Of Summer” are also standouts. Mann’s style showcases a sobering record that truly deserves attention.

Amazon

Bill Popp and The Tapes

Bill Popp and The Tapes “Popp Hits the 60’s”

Singer/songwriter Bill Popp is a veteran indie player on the New York City rock scene. He’s been performing live in NYC venues since the 1970s, and he has been leading his own band, Bill Popp & the Tapes, since 1981. Pop loves his classic 60’s rock influences and lets it show on Popp Hits The 60’s. This is a great EP that starts with the piano and guitar bounce of “ The World She Knows” and the very Badinger-ish ballad “In My Head” has a terrific slide guitar break toward the songs end.

And Popp doesn’t take himself too seriously either, as the hilarious kazoo-assisted “When I Was Stoned” is like a lost NRBQ track. Popp also has a new 2-song EP out called Popp’s Last Flush! which humorously chronicles his biography (and his day job) on “Flushing This Plumbing Job Down The Drain.”  Great fun!

Amazon | CD Baby

 

EPs: The Tripwires, Mooner, and The Gunboat Diplomats

Seattle band The Tripwires are an old favorite here, the band’s newest EP Fat City is chock filled with catchy rock and roll. Each track shines, but highlights include the fantastic guitar work on “Nothing of the Kind” and the rockabilly raver “New New New New New.”  Brothers John and Jim Sangster, along with John Ramberg and drummer Dan Peters are as tight as ever, so get this one – it’s super highly recommended. Get it on Amazon.

It has been a while since we heard from Lee Ketch of Mooner, and here he’s teamed up with Kit Shields to make this album of covers. The duo earns major props for starting it with Jeff Lynne’s “Xanadu” and including the rarely covered Beach Boys oddity “I’ll Bet He’s Nice.” Oh did we mention this is a FREE download?

The Gunboat Diplomats are a mixed bag. Some of this was just cringe-worthy, but they have a few decent power pop tunes here if you seek them out. “She Said” has a tight structure and a catchy chorus. “Sweet Abiding Love” and the Elvis-imitation “Crazy About You” have a vintage vibe and are fun to listen to. Another FREE download.

Corin Ashley and Ruby Free

Corin Ashley

Corin Ashley “Broken Biscuits”

Corin Ashley is glad to be here, and we are glad to have him back. He was deep in the recording process when he suffered a stroke last year. Corin fought back to regain the ability to sing and play guitar again, and amazingly play on stage and finish this album in a single year.

There is something about “Little Crumbles” that reminds me of McCartney’s Back to The Egg. Like Macca at the time, its aggressive rock approach is a celebratory jam of rebirth. “Broken Biscuit #3” is a quick psyche-pop pastiche, then it launches into the gem “Wind Up Boy” with assistance from Tanya Donelly (The Breeders, Belly) which chugs along full of sweet strings and catchy couplets. The Beatle-isms are out in full flourish with “Edison’s Medicine” a not so distant cousin of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

“Broken Biscuits #9” is the personal story of the struggles that left Corin “in tatters, scattered to the wind.” The combo of bouncy and bitterness on “In Appropriate Fashion” is straight out of the Elvis Costello playbook. Towards the end of the album, the songs are more elaborately constructed, “King Hollow” working quite well, while others seem to linger too long. The six-minute “Jellyfish” isn’t a tribute to the famous band (although there are a few musical cues) but the cruel fate that left him partially paralyzed. Overall a highly recommended album.

CD Baby

Ruby Free

Ruby Free “Shades”

Lisa Cavaliere and singer-songwriter Rick Hromadka make up the duo of Ruby Free and they deliver an even better album on their sophomore effort Shades. They are aided by power pop veterans Joe Giddings (Star Collector), Jim Laspesa (Dave Davies, Susanah Hoffs), and Rick Gallego (Cloud Eleven).

“Take A Ride” is a rollicking road tune with the perfect mix of California attitude and a catchy chorus that makes this a great opener. “Walking Along” is fiendish hooky, like a Steve Miller Band classic that won’t leave your head. “Say Goodnight” and “Owe To The Man” are laid back gems that encourage repeat listens. Lisa also does a very capable solo cover of Karen Carpenter’s “Superstar” and Rick ruminates on the state of modern marriage in “Talk To Me.”

Shades allow both artists to shine together and on solo vocal leads. Styles vary enough from the country ballad “Billboards and Buses” to the Tom Pettyesque “Already Dead.” Clearly, no duds here as it earns a spot as a nominee for my top ten for 2017 list. Highly Recommended.

Amazon | CD Baby

Help these artists: Richard X. Heyman, Fernando Perdomo

Richard X. Heyman “Incognito”

RXH has been busy with both his solo work and playing with The Doughboys. If anyone represents the DIY independent spirit of power pop and rock and roll – it’s Richard. His new album promises to be mostly guitar-driven melodic pop (yay!) with some keyboard flourishes thrown in for a good measure or two. Help fund his new album! Visit: Kickstarter

Fernando Perdomo “The Golden Hour”

Fernando heads down to the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis to make his third full-length album. He will be using original equipment that was used by the band Big Star to make their amazing records in the 70s.To make this album the best effort ever, he is hiring Zach Ziskin for mixing and mastering and getting a full contingent of string players at Ardent. Visit: GoFundMe

Tom Baker & The Snakes and Michael Slawter

Tom Baker and The Snakes

Tom Baker and The Snakes “Lookout Tower”

From the label that brought you The Bullet Proof Lovers, The Connection, and Watts – comes Tom Baker and The Snakes. Baker is a veteran of Boston’s garage rock club circuit, and he’s assembled a talented band with three guitarists that know how to shred to the rhythm. Fans of the above bands will know what to expect, as this is good ole rock and roll with guitar and attitude that takes its cues from The Stones, The Jam and The Replacements.

This is mainly a hard rock album, but some short catchy power pop is here too, like the opener “Gotta Find Her” and the memorable “Doll Eyes.” If you want heavier stuff, the band delivers in spades on “Make It Hurt” and “Bad Change” as Baker’s voice goes hoarse competing with those guitars. And “Needle In The Red” is another standout. This is music that deserves to be heard at high volume with a cold beer in your hand.

Amazon | Kool Kat Musik

Michael Slawter

Michael Slawter “An Assassination of Someone You Knew”

A veteran of the North Carolina music scene, Slawter made this first solo LP with the help of producer Jamie Hoover (The Spongetones) in 2007. Thanks to our friends at Futureman Records, it’s back and you’ll hear all kinds of upbeat catchy themes here, notably the opening rocker “Count To 10” and it still sounds fresh. Slawter has mastered the melodic techniques and solid songwriting that shares the same musical DNA as REM, The Connells, The dB’s and Mitch Easter.

The first three tracks are just flawless pop with “Obvious” and “Hollywood Sunshine” sticking in your head long after the song ends. It shifts to more storytelling on the self-depreciating “Too Dumb For You,” and slice-of-life gem “Leave Her Alone.” The jangly “The Day Before You Left” is a perfect example of emotional balladry. There is a lot here to love and several bonus tracks are included. Enjoy it!

Bandcamp