Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil and The Webstirs

Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil

Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil “Cycle”

Steve Robinson, a transplanted Englishman (ex-Roger McGuinn, and the folk band The Headlights) teamed up with Ed Woltil of The Ditchflowers for the soulful Cycle. Add Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks and guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC) amongst the guests here and you’ve got the makings of a stellar album. The catchy “Love Somebody” is an optimistic gem with violin accents added to the combination of electric guitars and acoustic strumming.

You hear some of Gregory’s influence in the pastoral “Wake Up Dreaming” and “Boy From Down The Hill.” The smart composition “Elastic Man” is a lush bit of psyche-pop, and “Godspeed” follows the joyful lyric “the sun will rise, you’ll open your eyes.” There is enough of a folk flavoring injected the songs to keep them grounded, and not too polished. “Wintersleeping” is an especially good mix of melodic chords and poetic lyrics. Woltil’s “Who You Are” and Robinson’s “Butterflies” both slow the tempo to acoustic lullabies. No filler to be found here, overall its like a musical shot of happiness with the overall theme “Seize The Day”. Simply beautiful and very highly recommended.


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The Webstirs

The Webstirs “Now You’ve Really Done It”

Chicago’s Webstirs have returned after a long pause, and again they still hit all the right notes. Preston Pisellini (guitars/vocals) and Mark Winkler (keyboards/vocals) are joined by longtime collaborator Matt Allison (Alkaline Trio).

Still catchy and upbeat, the songs have a darker edge than previous albums. “Saving The World” is a heroic theme about weekend warriors (armed with Mexican guns) saving the world. “Farther You Can Fall” is another terrific arrangement with a call and response chorus. “Answers” is a dramatic gem that layers guitars across the piano melody. The sobering “Easier By Now” fits into the theme of “live for today” being cold advice to ease life’s pain and its the centerpiece of the album, with a blistering guitar break between the main chorus.

“Ghosts” is a lushly produced piano-guitar combo that sounds like a mix of Billy Joel and The Barenaked Ladies. The band also addresses local history with “Haymarket Riot.” Finally “Chasing the Sound” is a grand tribute to the band’s longtime engineer Gary Rogers, who passed away in 2009. Overall a great album that deserves to be heard and proof that The Webstirs talent continues to thrive. Highly Recommended.

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The Connection and The Wellgreen

The Connection

The Connection “Labor Of Love”

The Connection are back and better than ever. Actually, Geoff Palmer and Brad Marino are remarkably consistent with the hit sound that powered their last LP Let It Rock. Once again we get fast tempos, hook-filled melodies and Rickenbacker guitars starting with the title track that pays tribute to Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and the spirit of pub rockers everywhere.

The band has a knack for taking a classic ’60s mod rock sound and updating it for modern listeners. There is not much else to say other than there are plenty of highlights:  “So Easy” and “Pathetic Kind of Man” are catchy hit singles, The Rolling Stones sounds like an stronger influence on “Circles” and “You Ain’t Special.” There even is a bit of honky tonk twang on “Let The Jukebox Take Me” and take-no-prisoners punk pop on “Red, White & Blue.”

No filler to be found here, and kudos from both Little Steven Van Zandt and former Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham make this another easy addition to your potential top ten for 2015. Long live The Connection!

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The Connection

The Wellgreen “Summer Rain”

The Wellgreen are a wonderful Glasglow band that have a piano based sound very similar to The Left Banke. Their last album release Grin and Bear It was put out by another label, and this album has a few repeated songs from earlier releases, but for this review I’m sticking with the digital release Summer Rain. Maybe this is a Wellgreen greatest hits?

I’ll put up with a little confusion because this is simply great pop. “Summer Rain” is a very ’60s styled single, but the building melody of “Maybe It’s The Pressure Of The City Life That’s Tearing Us Apart” is truly great with impeccable harmonies. “Jennifer” once again dazzles with its yearning melody. “Sunday” and “Remember” are Beatles styled songs that will charm you for sure. “Grin and Bear It” has a Beach Boys party atmosphere, and a “Impossible Love” has a James Taylor vibe. While not everything hits the mark, enough does to make it a highly recommended album.

Grin and Bear It | Summer Rain

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Chris Squire: One of rock’s greatest bass players

Chris Squire was an English musician, songwriter and singer, best known as the bassist and backing vocalist for the progressive rock band Yes. He was the only member to appear on each of their 21 studio albums, released from 1969 to 2014.

Chris lost his battle with acute erythroid leukemia (a rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow) in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. Fellow band members of Yes say he was a part of their family as well as their friend. Rest in peace, Chris.

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Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith “Groovy Lemon Pie”

Michael Sherwood Christian Nesmith

Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith “Groovy Lemon Pie”

Thanks to an astute reader alerting me to this hidden gem of an album by Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith (son of Monkee Michael Nesmith). Groovy Lemon Pie is a richly layered series of songs that sounds like Peter Gabriel singing lead for XTC or Jackdaw4. Starting with the quirky and catchy “Amanda B” a theme about a carnival burlesque dancer with a secret. And virtually every song here has a compelling melody with complex arrangements that will stick in your head, so give it multiple listens to hear the hidden details.

My favorite track is the jangling teen love triangle, “Sally’s Ass” full of longing for the forbidden booty call to a harmony rich ear worm. The poetic verses of “This Way and That” makes the entire song hypnotic. Several songs have a progressive influence like “Look Out Below” and the delicate “I Wish You Well” which compares to early Genesis Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The jaunty “Underlined” with its swaying verse and multiple chord shifts makes this a another favorite, plus a gentle love song to a favorite pet in “Get Around Girl”. The clever homonym lyrics and guitar rhythm make “Supervision” a delight and the middle eight is pure magic with a blistering guitar solo. With 16 tracks it makes my best album of 2015 list, so download this on Bandcamp only.

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Zach Jones and The Unswept

Zach Jones “Love What You Love”

Portland native Zach Jones is an extremely versatile musician with an encyclopedic knowledge of late British Invasion and Motown artists. His fifth album is loaded with catchy harmonies and hooks, the opener “Everything’s Fine” is a sweet amalgam of soul and pop strongly reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything period. “Hate What You Hate” is a poetic mantra played on a dance hall piano, with a very Kinks-like sing-along chorus. “Away From You” is another strong melody rooted in ’70s classic soul. Jones high tenor stands alone on the sparse “Song in The Sunshine” and “Nothing’s Changed” reminding me of David Gates(Bread) in spots.

The rock guitar riffs lead “Lucky One” and “Some Other Day,” both are very Big Star-like compositions, so there is plenty of variety throughout the album to keep you interested and listening to the end. No filler to be found here, but the albums first half boasts the strongest songs. Zach has the support of a cast of orchestral players and percussionists that also give the album a rich, full sound. I hope we hear more music from him like this. Highly Recommended. Bonus: Check out Zach doing an excellent cover of Brian Wilson’s “Love and Mercy” Here.

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“Unswept

The Unswept “The Unswept Today!”

Chicago band The Unswept continues its heart felt love affair with classic pop sounds on its sophomore LP. Charlie and Ryan O’Brien are British transplants who brilliantly recreate those retro arrangements and harmonies. “Super Sad” is a jangle-tastic single here, the catchy hand-clapping gem “Peace of Mind” is next and the ballad “Please, Please Look My Way” is all about stalking a pretty dept. store associate. Fans of Byrdsian Rickenbacker guitar will enjoy most of the short songs here, and a special tribute to a favorite band “Surf Song (I Wish I Was a Beach Boy),” is here just in time for summer.

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