The passing of David Cassidy and Malcolm Young

In many ways with the passing of these icons, you have two sides of a musical coin. On one side, the squeaky clean image of David Cassidy’s Partridge Family persona. His biggest hit “I Think I Love You” written by Tony Romeo in 1970 was in many ways one of the last big hits that recalled the late ’60s sunshine pop era. On the other side of the coin was Young and AC/DC, a band that was part of a new wave of hard rock acts in the late ’70s that wiped away the progressive “art” rock that grew out of the psychedelic era. One style was weightlessly light pop. The other featured dark pounding riffs. Both styles were infectiously catchy. America loved them both.

David Cassidy was the ultimate teen idol of his era, both as an actor and a musician. His big hit sold over 5 million copies and his fan club at one point was larger than The Beatles. But once he left that carefully crafted teen persona, he never regained that level of popularity again. He passed away from liver and kidney failure, exacerbated by his long struggle with alcohol. He was 67.

Malcolm Young co-founded Australian rock legends AC/DC in 1973 with brother Angus Young died following a long battle with dementia. From the beginning Malcolm and Angus Young served as the band’s main songwriters, crafting the unmistakable riffs that would make AC/DC guitar rock legends. He was 64.

The Galileo 7 and Mitch Friedman

The Galileo 7

The Galileo 7 “Tear Your Minds Wide Open!”

This band has always had a solid sixties retro streak, and here they go all in. The opener “Cold Hearted Stowaway” is the brilliant example of Who-inspired mod pop with a catchy chorus that would be a huge national hit if we had a time machine. The driving “Mystery Train” and “Too Much Choice” are fast-paced psyche-pop tunes, mixing Farfisa organ and fuzz guitar. The drummer, only credited as “Mole” effectively channels Keith Moon throughout.

The slower, spiralling tune “The Mask” allows a more deliberative psychedelic experience that builds to a crescendo. In fact, there is not a single dud in the bunch. Hooks are also all over “Tear My Mind Open” and the band’s output is very consistent from the quick R&B influenced “The Habit Machine” to the multi-melodic “Your Face Tomorrow” which flirts with Prog Rock. There are great retro gems all over this album, fans of similar “Rainbow Quartz” styled bands like The Above or The Grip Weeds will love this. Highly Recommended. Note: This is a recommended as an mp3 purchase. The vinyl LP/CD combo only in terms of the physical product was essentially sold out, but its expected to re-press in January.

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Mitch Friedman

Mitch Friedman “Breaking Muse”

Mitch Friedman kind of positions himself as a geeky pop singer/songwriter, like a combination of They Might Be Giants and Allan Sherman. And I’ve enjoyed his Game Show Teeth which showcased some good songwriting and wonderful guest instrumentalists (John Dunbar, Joe McGinty, Dave Gregory, Andy Partridge.) On his latest LP Breaking Muse, Mitch is purely solo.

Musically it’s sparse, the lyrics comment on transgender celebrities (“Center of Attention”), baldness (“It Won’t Be Long Now”) and diets (“What’s On Your Plate”). It plays a lot like a kids album for sad grown-ups. And while some tunes here have catchy appeal like “The Popcorn Tree” and “You Get By,” on the whole, it falls short. However, the dystopian “Results” is an appealing composition that does hit the mark when it comes to pure cynicism. Mitch’s muse might be broken but hopefully, he can get a little crazy glue and fix things next time.

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The Perms and Mo Troper

The Perms

The Perms “Miracle”

On their 7th studio release, The Perms have hit their stride, concentrating on hook-filled rock and roll. “Julie” opens things up with a catchy chorus, and the bands punk roots show through on the anthemic “Be Alright,” with a positive attitude that flows through the song. But the big hit here is a grand mid-tempo love song “Lose Yourself” with a combination of fuzz guitar and bright synth rhythms. The songs are all short and sweet, with plenty stylistic variety. The band gradually delivers a harder rock sound on “Think Less,” “Wanted You To Know” and “Busy Izzy.” Fans of Cheap Trick will appreciate much of this.

The immediacy of the music is evident, and on “Now November” lead singer Shane Smith intones “I know it’s tough, I know we suffered, but life is short. What do we have to lose?” And this album embraces carpe diem throughout its nine tracks. And not a wasted note here, with even the jazzy acoustic ender “Gone.” This is a rare instance where I felt they could have added a few more songs. But quality is more important than quantity and musically this is damn good. Highly Recommended.

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Mo Troper

Mo Troper “Exposure & Response”

Portland songwriter Mo Troper is a skilled power pop musician with a real gift for catchy melody and biting emotive lyrics. Fans of both Superdrag and Wyatt Funderburk will find a lot here to love. Here the hooks are flying fast and stick in your head quickly. The album is a bundle of demoralizing frustrations and cynical solutions, starting with the choral harmonies of “Rock and Roll Will Change The World,” it’s hope is dashed by the next song “Your Brand.” A rich mantra, where marketing your tragedy is all part of being a musician.

The centerpiece here,“The Poet Laureate of Neverland” adds horns and strings to the mid-tempo guitar chorus that states the conceit that artists can’t grow up and “never have to reminisce if you never move on.” Some of these tunes are just too quick (under 2 minutes) but they still stick; “Tow Truck” is a quick gem, “Wedding” is a Beach Boys parody, “Jumbotron” sounds like a lost Teenage Fanclub demo and the self-critical “Clear Frames” is another fantastic ear-worm. Troper stated in an interview, “I want my songs to get stuck in people’s heads.” Mission Accomplished. Makes my top ten list this year.

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International Pop Overthrow Vol.20

IPO Vol.20

When I started reviewing IPO compilations, it was always a special time of year to listen to the new talent that IPO’s David Bash found throughout the globe. And over the past 20 years, IPO has grown to encompass 14 festivals all over the world. From New York to Tel Aviv it has become an institution in the power pop milieu, and a rite-of-passage for many artists seeking a dedicated fan base.

Disc 1:
The Top Boost starts us off with the impressive “What If She Loves You,” but many more good songs are here, my early favorites include Lannie Flowers “Kiss A Memory,” Diamond HandsJust Another Day” and the Beatlesque “I Don’t Know You Now” by Slyboots. Some interesting debuts too; The Harriets “The Hangers On,” the jangling Lunchbox “Everybody Knows” and  The Shamus Twins “You’ll Never Take Her Heart.” If you enjoy 10cc, you’ll love “My Soft Rock Girlfriend” by Blake Jones & The Trike Shop.

Disc 2:
The jangle-tastic Jimmy Haber’s “Chelsea” injects some fresh energy here, but the rookies are what stand out a bit more. Steve Rosenbaum gives us the rare love song for married folk “Kiss My Wife,” the new band Nine Violets “I Will Let You Down” is a catchy gem, and The Tearaways do a damn fine turn on “That’s Rock!” Many bands have those classic ’60s influences, like The Vinylos, Shplang, and New Mystery Girl. Others lean more towards modern folk-pop like Sue Hedges “Two Nearly Touching Hearts,” or Swiss rockers Jengi get more garage-style on “Rod Stewart.”

Disc 3:
The variety is more apparent as the discs are pretty equal in quality, even though by the time we get to the third disc the names are less familiar. Starting with the great harmonies of Crickle’s psyche-pop “Penelope Please” and then Caper Clown’s bouncy “Pockets,” both sound very fresh. More standouts include Leslie Pereira and The Lazy Heroes “Fly Like A Bird,” the very cool sound of The JetBeats “Top Of The Line,” and the glammy Viewers Of “Who’ll Be The One.” Some selections do push the boundaries of the genre, where you really can’t say they represent power pop at all. But the musical quality is what makes this collection an improvement over last year. Highly Recommended.

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Chris Hillman “Bidin’ My Time”

Chris Hillman

Chris Hillman “Bidin’ My Time”

Chris Hillman is back with a stunning new album, representing his first solo set after a 12-year hiatus. This album showcases his undiminished talent, which he never received quite enough attention for, and finally places him firmly in the limelight. In recent interviews, he is quoted as saying that he figured the recording part of his career was finished, but this album came about because he simply had some songs that he hadn’t yet recorded. And boy are we glad to have him back in the studio.

The Tom Petty-produced album was released in mid-September 2017 and opens with a familiar tune: a refreshing new version of “The Bells of Rhymney”, which was taken from the Byrd’s 1965 debut “Mr. Tambourine Man”, but it has been transformed into a song that represents fading dreams and deepest wishes; a nostalgia that is heard in every track that follows. Hillman is clearly focusing on his own musical past, expressing his love for music and very easily invoking that feeling in the listener.

His artistic ability shines through as we work our way through a series of tracks in various musical styles but with plenty of examples of the Hillman we all know and love from past decades when he was influenced by bands like the Eagles during his Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers days. “Walk Right Back” has clearly taken influence from The Everly Brothers, with gentle melodies reminiscent of Don and Phil in their prime.

Power pop fans may argue that this is not an album that falls within the genre, and technically, not all of it does. But tracks such as the catchy “Here She Comes Again” make it the essential material for die-hard fans as the backing band create the perfect power pop pacing, and several other tracks push the boundaries of the genre. As a complete package though, it seems to be lacking cohesion as Hillman works his way through so many (possibly too many) genres; the full range that he has experimented with throughout his career, without dwelling on one in particular for too long. Perhaps unless you’re a huge Hillman or Byrds fan (and let’s face it, this is the closest you’re going to get to a reunion) and what you really want is a “best of” album, you might find yourself longing for a singular statement.

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