Somerdale and Hector and The Leaves

Somerdale

Somerdale “Shake It Maggie”

You couldn’t ask for a better self-referential intro than “Take It From The Top” with all the guitars, harmonies and catchiness. It even acknowledges that power pop is “so out of style its cool” and if you love the classic power pop sound (Badfinger, Raspberries, Cheap Trick) you’ll be hard pressed to find a better example on Shake It Maggie.

“Waiting For You” is a slow burning rocker with layered instrumentation that drives to a dramatic peak. “The News” picks up the tempo and that fuzzy guitar rhythm just sticks in your head. The thick slabs of riffs and chord structure on “Excuse Me” make it an irresistible power ballad. “Feel The Magic” is a little Bay City Rollers mixed with Slade, full of hand claps and smoking’ harmonies. Another one of my favorites here is “The Coolest Kid In School,” sounding like a lost song from teen 90’s movie soundtrack, its both sweet and wicked. Even though there are moments of meandering hard rock (“She’s Leaving California”) there is not a note of filler here. Get’s a nod as one of the top ten albums for 2016. Don’t miss it!

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Hector and the leaves

Hector and the Leaves “Sometimes In The Morning: EPs 2012-2106”

Hector and The Leaves (aka Tom Hector) is a London based folk-pop outfit who’s been putting out EPs for several years and this collection puts it all together.

“I’ll Be Leaving Soon” with its wispy, layered vocalizations sets the mellow mood. “Imogen” has Elliott Smith like acoustic guitar strums, and then the bouncy “Problems” offers up a warm hook that will coax the indifference out of any educated listener. The lush “California” with its hushed harmonies recall Curt Boechetter or The Brigadier with its beautiful “ba-ba-ba” chorus. There is some minor filler here (“Baumer’s Suit,” “I Ride My Bicycle”) but it doesn’t detract from the albums flow. “Good Times” and “Goodbye” has an almost pastoral dreamlike quality. You will either love this gentle full warm sound or it will put you to sleep. Either way it’s highly recommended mellow-out music.

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Hector and the Leaves – On Your Own from rowan armstrong on Vimeo.

Greg Pope and John Dowler’s Vanity Project

Greg Pope

Greg Pope “Guiding Star”

After a career-spanning overview with Favorites, the Nashville “pope of power pop” Greg Pope returns with a lower key album in Guiding Star. “Innocent Breakdown” is a promising start with its anthemic chorus and staccato rhythm. “Four Leaf Clover” is a mid-tempo gem with a great bass line, in the vein of Badfinger. While the music isn’t punctuated by big riffs, the melody and dense production do dominate.

The optimism shines through the prog rock influenced title track and “Sun is Gonna Rise.” The gentle “Pretend It’s Alright” is another hopeful look toward the future with Pope’s understated vocal. The bedroom philosophy of “If You Want Answers” reveals that Pope is just “making this up as I go.” No filler here as Pope does a great job weaving tunes with a few experiments, notably the drum solo “Bruce.” Guitar fuzz comes back on the short “Eggshells,” and once again Pope has delivered a highly recommended album. Add it to your collection.

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John Dowler's Vanity Project

John Dowler’s Vanity Project “Splendid Isolation”

John Dowler is a veteran of the Australian indie rock and power pop scene (Spare Change,Young Modern, Zimmermen) and this “Vanity Project” includes Justin Bowd (guitar), Julien Chick bass), Mark McCartney (guitar) and Michael Stranges (drums). His music is combination of styles ranging from Van Morrison to DM3, and it does grow on you quiet well. The low key “Off The Coast Of Me” uses nautical analogies to explain his blues, and the mid-tempo jangle on “Unsolved Mystery” is also compelling.

“My Face” feels like an NRBQ song, and the tender “Don’t Blame It On Your Wife” is a very gentle reminder not to take her for granted. My favorite here is the rocking “Oakleigh” with its impressive riffs and layered guitars. From there it gets uneven, with country styled ballads and bar room rockers. Still a worthy listening experience.

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Ryan Allen and Dave Rave

Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms

Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms “Basement Punk”

Ryan Allen is back with his 3rd album, and as the title implies, the feedback drenched fuzz guitar rules these songs. Very much in the mold of Big Star, The Replacements or Tommy Keene and with help from producer Andy Reed, you’ve got a real winner here.

“Watch Me Explode” begins with a strong riffs, feedback and a solid beat. Even better is adding a catchy melody, and “Chasing A Song” is a big highlight and perfect example of Ryan at his best. “Alex Whiz” lays the fuzz thick and reminds me of the Posies a bit, while “Gimme Some More” laments the bands that don’t know what they’re doing but succeed anyway. No filler here, and more gems include the catchy “Two Steps Behind” and “Without A Doubt.” Highly Recommended.

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Dave Rave and The Governors

Dave Rave and The Governors “Radio Rave”

The ever prolific Canadian Dave Rave brings us another album with his band The Governors. Radio Rave is a little different as all the songs have one-word titles and the album is conceptual, as it mimics different genres on the radio.

“Lifeline” has a sweet McCartney quality and “California” is a mantra to stay away from “California Girls.” The more prototypical Rave is easily heard on “Chemical” and “Soho,” but the songs also run mellower like “Slow” or “Lie.” Some quirky stuff here sounds more like NRBQ than Rave, but cooler songs include “Fool” and “Montreal.” If you are in the mood for a not-so-typical Dave Rave album, get this one!

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Andy Bopp and The James Rocket

Andy Bopp

Andy Bopp “Blisters and Thorns”

Veteran alt. rocker Andy Bopp (Myracle Brah) showcases his formidable songwriting skills here with the mid-tempo gems “Cannibal” and “Lowe.” The music retains Bopp’s signature ‘90s style and each one is perfectly pleasing. A few gems standout; the earnest “Hello” has a wonderful melody with nice twangy guitar and “Every Word” has a well textured arrangement. Those wonderful harmonies come out under the chorus of “Barely Hanging On,” so plenty stylistic variety through 15 tracks.

The country elements stand out here, from the banjo on “Simple Thing” to the steel lap guitar present on several songs, notably “Broken Highway.”  The Rickenbacker guitar leads other gems like “Broken Ties” and “Grey Matter.” Overall, a solid collection of tunes that stands up to repeat listens and deserves more attention. Highly Recommended.

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James Rocket

The James Rocket “Thrust”

Brooklyn rockers James William Roy (songwriting, vocals, guitars, bass) and Markleford Friedman (drums, production) give the James Rocket its fuel. The sound is like Guided By Voices mixed with The Replacements. “Musicbox” and “Clothers Make The Man” have melodic energy and a touch of punk that makes it compelling.  The punk elements are upfront on “Money Rope” and brisk tempo of “The Things I Saw.”

The James Rocket does mix it up stylistically with simple bass-driven “Call to Hearts” and catchy “Melt Away.” You also hear the influence of The Who (a major GBV influencer) throughout the album. A nice character study “The Bartender’s Boyfriend” ends things. No duds here, and definitely worth a listen.

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