Chris Stamey and Mark Britton

Chris Stamey

Chris Stamey “Euphoria”

The venerable Chris Stamey (dB’s, Sneakers) quietly released this new album full of timeless pop. “Where Does The Time Go?” is phrase you will be saying after repeat listens, as the hook filled melody is surrounded by ascending chords and Beatlesque horns. Stamey’s gift is that he can see new things in compositions that echo the past.

“Make Up Your Mind” is the biggest gem here. It recalls Big Star, all about retirement the lyric states “isn’t it time you quit, its for your own benefit” with an awesome guitar break. The ballad “You Are Beautiful” slowly builds to a full orchestrated composition and “Invisible” is a statement about your insignificance that could be a lost REM hit single. “When The Fever Breaks” is the heaviest rocker here and  “Awake in the World” mines those East Indian Beatle-isms George Harrison was best associated with. The album has a great soul-seaching theme for Stamey and its highly recommended.

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Mark Britton

Mark Britton “Odds and Sodd”

This came out last year, but its worth noting if you have a Beatlesque fetish. Britton delivers several melodic tunes that exemplify power pop. Opening with the windmilling, power riff of “Hearts and Minds” its straight from The Pete Townshend playbook. Then its the McCartney styled piano of “Sally Ann,” with a Beach Boys styled vocal break. “Dear Rosa” is similar, with harpsichord as the main instrument and “Eleanor Rigby” styled strings.

He moves from these basic influences, but the strained lead of “Good Morning Sunshine,” shows Brittons limitations as a vocalist. His guitar also seems to come to life on “Let’s Get Famous,” but its a little too close to Fountain of Wayne’s “Bright Future In Sales.” He takes tired blues detour on “My Friend Foe,” but thankfully comes back with a pair of gems on the psychedelic “Magic Circles” and the charmer “Family Guy.” I’d give this one a few spins on the playlist, overall a positive impression.


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Bill Simpson and Stereo Tiger

Bill Simpson

Bill Simpson “Jealous Tides”

Bill Simpson is kind of similar to Wyatt Funderburk or Glenn Case, in that he really values melody over screeching guitars and composes clever songs without being pretentious. “I Want To Fall in Love With You”  is a sweet pop melody wrapped in multiple layered harmonies, thick guitar chords and its the standout single here. “Harder Everyday” is a fast paced follow-up that follows the same approach, the slower shimmering guitar strums of “Someday” has echoes of Pete Ham’s balladry with minor chords and a smooth solo at the break.  It follows with “What Can I Do,” its call and response chorus in a Rembrandts-like guitar melody and then the pace slows down briefly for “Tell Me.”

With only 8 tracks (and one is purely filler), its catchy ear worms are primarily on the first half, with a break for slower pop on “It’s Been A Long Time” then it picks up the pace again on “She Won’t Care.” At times the techniques and lyrical themes repeat, but the songs are so short and sweet its hard to be too critical. A few introspective ballads would be a nice addition, otherwise its highly recommended.

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Stero Tiger

Stereo Tiger “Two Weeks”

Formed in the summer of 2013, Stereo Tiger emerged out of a series of impromptu jam sessions involving Kenny Stahl, Henry Ashburn, and Aaron Posega. True to its title, this album was recorded by Andy Reed in only ten days! Influenced by late 1970s style, the slow build of the bass guitar in “Magic Balloon,” has a soaring chorus with dense harmonies in this epic rock ballad. “Perfect World” is a lighter touch of pop and then we get to the guitar crunch of “Open Your Eyes,” another standout track.

“Runaway” adds a fuzz vocal to a garage riff that recalls The Police in its early days. Then it goes in a different style entirely, “All These Years” is like a lost Billy Joel track with its mellotron keys and sax flourishes. The varied styles put me off at first, but after a few more listens you’ll appreciate the strong melodies in gems like “Philly Girl”and “Did You Ever Love Me.” Overall the skill of this ambitious young band makes this sleeper a highly recommended pick. (and on bandcamp its name-your-price!)

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Reno Bo “Lessons from a Shooting Star”

Reno Bo “Lessons from a Shooting Star”

After spending most of his career performing and touring with the Mooney Suzuki, Albert Hammond Jr. (the Strokes), Caitlin Rose and Andrew Combs, Reno Bo decided to make this his breakout effort; doing almost everything on his own. Reno appeared on the power pop radar in 2010, but this year he’s blown away all expectations with his newest Lessons From A Shooting Star. From the pounding beat and swirling chords of “Sweetheart Deal” its chock full of catchy power pop.

Every song presents itself perfectly, on “How Do You Do” Bo is joined by guitarist Sadler Vaden for a single that is a bit of Dave Edmunds meets Jeff Lynne, and its completely irresistible. “Just Say Go” has the guitar riff lead the song at full speed, and then we slow down on “Strange Maps” to a Jackson Browne like mid-tempo gem with some impressive guitar breaks.

“And I Know She Did” is a shimmering Big Star like ballad and “The Brighter Side” co-written by Brendan Benson sounds like the best song Matthew Sweet didn’t write. “Sleeping Sun” is a standout piano based melody with a big pinch of Beatles, as well as the wondrous pysche-pop closer “Somewhere There’s Something.” In fact, each song is a home run and this album clearly hits the top of my top ten list this year. I don’t award an album a “10” rating lightly, but Reno Bo deserves it. Essential listening.

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The London Souls “Here Come The Girls”

The Connection

The London Souls “Here Come The Girls”

Like mixing peanut butter and chocolate, when its done right you come up with a perfectly delicious combination – and that’s the best analogy of what The London Souls do with music. Mixing 70’s hard rock, pop and soul influences the band recalls Lenny Kravitz in his prime, but with a fresher coat of post-millennial paint.

Based in New York City, guitarist Tash Neal, drummer Chris St. Hilaire and bassist Stu Mahan blasts through the speakers with “When I’m With You,” a power pop nugget as catchy as classic Badfinger. “Steady” adds some soul and funk to the guitar riffs in the manner of Sly Stone. The acoustic “Hercules” is a catchy gem similar in spirit to Led Zepplin’s “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” with its catchy riffs. “Alone” is a Zombies-Beatles styled composition with a sweet chorus, and you begin to notice as each song shifts in style, preventing things from getting too predictable. From the heavy riffs of “All Tied Down” to southern Allman Bros. style of “Bobby James,” it all works beautifully. This LP is easily a candidate for my top ten list for 2015. Don’t miss it.

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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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