May your upcoming Labor Day weekend contain no labor.
So I will be taking a few days break over this long weekend, enjoy this quick review…
The Pengwins “Box Set Vol.4”
The Midwest power pop legends The Pengwins have been selectively releasing 2-sided singles in a box for a few years now. The latest includes “Go Away” with a great Elvis Costello vibe and a catchy melody to make it another Pengwins gem, thanks to a rougher lead vocal from Danny Pengwin. Lannie Flowers adds his unique voice to “Just A Dream,” like John Lennon with a Texas twang. The demo doo-wop ballad “Ladybug” is included. One of these days I’d love to see a full Pengwins album, but these singles continue to keep me wishing.
Various Artists “This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio Volume 4”
Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli host This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org) and occasionally they have released compilations of great power pop. And like my own Power Popaholic Fest Soundtracks, the duo selects the artists and their tracks. There are times when I read Carl Cafarelli’s blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) and I feel like I’m reading the thoughts of a long lost twin brother. Although I didn’t grow up in Syracuse, I was a student there in my undergrad years and we seem to have the same cultural experiences and musical preferences (although my love of The Flashcubes pales by comparison.) But I digress…
Volume 4 is chock full of 29 tracks including a few radio IDs. Exclusive tracks from Pop Co-Op (with Spongetones Steve Stoeckel), Ray Paul, Circe Link and much more. All of the tunes are great, as Dana and Carl only select the cream of the crop for their compilations. Some of my favorites include Vegas With Randolph and Lannie Flowers “The Weekend’s Coming,” Lisa Mychols “Almost Didn’t Happen,” The Smithereens “Got Me A Girl,” and The Hit Squad “Best Of Me.” It pushes all those classic nostalgic power pop buttons, so yeah this is a highly recommended compilation. Oh yeah… on Carl’s blog mentioned above, you have an exhaustive bio of each track. Pick it up exclusively at Kool Kat Musik.
Brooklyn based band directed by lead singer Dustin Payseur has a good jangling lo-fi indie pop sound. I was not familiar with the band, but its soothing opener “This Year” has elements of sunshine pop, especially with the classical strings added. The standout for me was the subtle piano pop of “Saint Ivy,” especially the smooth Beatlesque guitar coda.
Overall a nice summer album, with a relaxing slow jam “Rise” courtesy of rapper Cities Aviv in the middle. “Closer Everywhere” is another standout with its main harpsichord melody and the sleepy harmonies of “Social Jetlag” are charming. However, the lightweight songwriting makes other tracks here completely forgettable. Still, there is enough to demand your attention. Keep your eye on this band.
During our last Power Popaholic Fest, I was honored to have Somerdale play and I got to meet the band and Jem Records Marty Scott. He credits a review brought his attention to Somerdale, where they are featured on Jem’s roster with a re-issued release of last year’s album. It was my #8 top album pick of 2016 and now long sold out.
The re-titled Maggie Says It Again is expanded to 15 tracks with “Say It Again,” “Don’t You Know,” and “Broken English” as the new songs. They fit in perfectly — with “Say It Again” being the best of the new crop. Overall the album rocks with that 70’s pop-rock influence, thanks in part to Chuck Penza’s lead vocals and those driving riffs. Fans of Badfinger, The Raspberries, The Who and Cheap Trick should not hesitate to grab this one, as it remains super highly recommended. Plus, its got an exclusive Holiday bonus song – “Merry Christmas Time.” No excuses!
As one of the most accomplished writer-musician-producers in California, Fernando Perdomo releases his 4th and (so far) best solo album. It starts with a dramatic piano intro and then the smooth slide guitar of “Sleep” mixes its Beatlesque bass line and layered harmonies to great effect. The tempo picks up with “Spotlight Smile” and its Californian hook “Magical love is here, won’t you let it near to your heart?” making it a great tune.
Fernando is a bit like Todd Rundgren it comes to songwriting and opens up with the self-examination of “The Light” and “Fine.” The dense song structure is memorable and his guitar skills are exemplary. His deep voice lends itself to love ballads like the memorable “Sunset” with its cascading chord structures, reminding me of a Burt Baracharch-Brian Wilson hybrid. No filler here and the rich production deserves your best pair of headphones. Additionally, gems like “Love Loss Repeat” and “I Feel (Therefore I Am)” lays out Fernando’s honesty in a Neil Diamond kind of way. Super highly recommended and another addition to our growing list of nominees for best album of 2017.
The band Sitcom Neighbor is essentially singer-songwriter-guitarist John Murphy with veteran producer Steve Refling (Seth Swirsky, Nelson Bragg, Nushu, etc.) After an impressive sophomore LP in 2012, I didn’t see how Murphy could fashion anything better, but he has. This is a note-perfect power pop album, with “Tourist Attraction” taking his signature 1970’s rock style to the next level — with a jangling hook similar to The Spongetones. “Pimpmobile” is a flawless follow-up, with its Badfinger riffs and Ringoesque drum fills describing a “white Cadillac with gold wheels.” Next, “Your Turn Next” is a densely packed rocker with a wicked guitar break.
No filler, all killer here as the layered guitar sounds and multi-tracked harmonies flow over the tracks “Let Me Be Your Man,” the haunting “Goodbye,” and bouncy “Lucky Day.” The sound is consistent without being too predictable. In fact, Plasticsoul’s Steven Eric Wilson declared the “new Shag album is so brilliant it actually makes me angry.” Agreed and it earns a rare “10” rating and a certain contender for 2017 album of the year. Don’t miss it.
West Midlands UK band Sunshine Bloom is lead by vocalist James Jeffery (bass), with Shaun Evans (keys), Robert Bentley (guitar) and Jack Jefferies (drums) as they certainly disprove the album ironic title.
It opens with the piano melody “Friends With Detriments” that pays a tribute to Jellyfish with its bouncy tempo and harmonic flourishes; fans of Ben Folds and ELO will enjoy this too. “I, Me, You” has a distinct ’80s power pop guitar feel, the showpiece here is “Have Wings, Will Travel” with its breezy and infectious melody. It ends with a prog rock epic “Farewell Waltz,” featuring a wonderful guitar break midway through. Overall, highly recommended and a band to keep your eye on.
One of the most successful and consistently great power pop bands that emerged with the turn of the century has been Fastball. And the band’s latest does not disappoint. Guitarist Miles Zuniga and bassist Tony Scalzo have been the steady force that keeps things together, each share songwriting duties and both have different styles that complement each other. Scalzo with his hook-filled simplicity and Zuniga with his roots-influenced emotion. And its this variety, with the impressive composition and catchy melodies that make this album a gem.
Starting with the driving “We’re On Our Way,” it brings to mind past radio-ready rockers the band is so well known for. “Best Friend” is another great song, with its optimistic riff that asks, “Wouldn’t you like to be my best friend?” Next, the moody acoustic guitar melody of “Behind The Sun” shows off those crisp harmonies. But my favorite here is the ear-worm “I Will Never Let You Down,” with its earnest twangy lead and sing-along chorus.
It then takes a detour with “Love Comes In Waves,” with its quick-tempo riffs reminded me of the band Shoes, and then we are back to the classic Fastball sound with “Just Another Dream.” Overall not a single wasted note, even when Scalzo lets loose with the indulgent “Secret Agent Love” that feels like it was as much fun to play as it was it listen to. And that’s another key to this album. It’s a damn good listen all the way through with fresh sounds everywhere. Makes my top ten album list of 2017! Super highly recommended.
“…the house lights went down, we looked at each other and said the words that we never thought we would ever say: ‘We’re at a Raspberries concert.’ Then it began . . . ” —Ken Sharp and Bernie Hogya from the liner notes to Pop Art Live.
On November 26, 2004, the stage at Cleveland’s House of Blues was set for a reunion most thought could never happen—the Raspberries Live In Concert! It had been over 30 years since the original four members of Raspberries last played together, Pop Art Live captures the opening night as the band powers through 28 tracks of hits and a few covers. Mixed by long time Raspberries’ associate Tommy Allen, the band sounds amazing as they recreate the sound that carried the power pop torch during the early 1970’s. This performance led to the successful reunion tour in 2005.
The hits are all here from “Go All The Way,”“I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend,” and “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” “Tonight,” “Nobody Knows,” plus several Beatles covers and the Who’s “I Can’t Explain.” Another treat is The Choir’s “It’s Cold Outside,” which was a band most of the original Raspberries came from. Another great feature is the lesser known hits here like “I Saw The Light” and “Come Around And See Me.” Founding members Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, David Smalley, and Jim Bonfanti pull out all the stops to deliver the definitive live experience and triumphant return of these legendary power pop pioneers. My vote for best “live” album of 2017!