Brendan Benson and Glenn Robinson

Brendan Benson “You Were Right”
On the tail end of 2013 Raconteur and power pop stalwart Brendan Benson turned in his sixth album, an amalgam of singles and unreleased tracks. Benson turned a corner musically with What Kind Of World the year before and “matured” in a sense but You Were Right shows Benson can still knock out minor chord masterpieces will skill. “It’s Your Choice” and “As of Tonight” are terrific songs that match the best in his catalog. His country roots influences are still apparent on the snappy “Diamond” and “Long Term Goal” speaks to the motivation “Have you got a long term goal? Or is it only Rock and Roll you live for?”

This is a solid album without filler and with enough stylistic variety to merit multiple replays. A lot of fun to listen to in a “not-so-serious” way, including the Kinks-ian “Swallow You Whole” and fatalistic “She’s Trying to Poison Me.” My favorites here are “The Fritz” with its dream-like harmonies, Beatlesque guitar and the Stone-sy “Red White and Blues.” This definitely would’ve placed somewhere in my top ten last year.

Amazon

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Glenn Robinson “Modern Mistakes”
Robinson is a one man wrecking crew from Rhode Island. Opening with a furious riff-tastic melody on “The Worst,” Robinson compares well with Green Day or The Figgs. Its an album meant to played loud, with just enough hooks to keep you humming along.

One of the best power pop songs here is “Wavelength,” its the classic melody/verse combo lead by Robinson’s rough vocal. Other highlights include the punk pop mastery of “Outta My Head” and “Tambourine” could’ve been a track on Kurt Baker’s last album. All the songs are short and sweet; you may get worn out by track ten, but its a sweet ride while it lasts. Fans of Hot Nun and Foo Fighters will also dig this one. Highly Recommended.

Bandcamp | Kool Kat Musik | Amazon

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Highly Recommended: Favorites from 2013

With so many albums to listen to each year, I’m still sorting through favorites. Here is a list of bands that were all on my “Highly Recommended” list that deserve some love. Some were on other bloggers “best of” music lists, so give these artists a listen and you won’t be disappointed:

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The Candle Thieves and Parthenon Huxley

The Candle Thieves “All’s Well That Ends Well”
Peterborough, England’s The Candle Thieves have struck again. Two unassuming guys, lead vocalist Scott McEwan and a dude simply named “The Glock” burst forth with a very glossy brand of heartfelt, optimistic pop. The opening song “Tomorrow Is Another Day” is a full on mix of Beach Boys/Carpenters layered harmonies with a melody as sweet as buttered toast. “Ocean of Storms” is a more standard pop approach with synths and soft falsetto. “Sugarcandy Mountain” is another bouncy gem of a love song, and “Keys To My World” is a measured ballad that almost turns to syrup. Vocally, the duo kind of reminds me of an English version of The Rembrandts.

But without a wasted track, it successfully navigates through an early confidence builder “The Little Engine That Could” to the rousing “Don’t Grow Up Too Soon.” The concept of holding on to childhood so tightly it drives romance away is artfully done and with the inspiring ending “Honey I’m Home,” it brings the listener back from the sugar rush. No filler here and even though I almost missed it, I’m happy to add it to my year end “best of” list.

Amazon


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Parthenon Huxley “Thank You Bethesda”
Parthenon Huxley or P.Hux as he’s called, is a veteran power pop artist I’ve known for a long time. Earlier this year he produced a new album and one of my fellow readers recommended a review. A new found energy is on the title track, a busy mix of Lou Reed-ish vocal phrasing and bass lines. In fact, Reed’s influence is all over this album. An early highlight is the catchy rocker “Angeleno,” about the search for fame and fortune in L.A.

He moves from from the slow soulful “Luckiest Man” to the smooth pop of “Long Way To Go.” His Beatlesque side comes out on “Roller Coaster” and “A Feeling That Won’t Fade Away.” The tonal shifts almost feel like you’re listening to a singles compilation album, it doesn’t stick to a single mood, but the overall theme is gratitude. This is a terrific album brimming with excellent guitar work and joyous melody. My last “top ten” recommendation of 2013.

Amazon

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Magic Eight Ball “Sorry We’re Late But We’re Worth the Wait”

Magic Eight Ball are an energetic trio from the south of England led by musician Baz Francis. After several EPs and singles, the band brings us its first LP (with the appropriate title). One thing you get immediately from the opener, “Something Better Has Come Along,” Baz is a big fan of Jellyfish and Enuff Znuff. His vocals are amazingly similar to Andy Sturmer here and Jellyfish fans will just feed off that and the swirling guitar riffs. It continues throughout this fast-paced album. The sweet “Baby, Is It So?” slows the pace a little just to let us know everything is fine, and its highlighted by an amazing guitar solo at the break. The band also pays tribute with the song “Big Star,” delivering the jangle and harmonies similar to the classic “September Gurls.”

Every song on this album has a compelling big hook and melody from the heavy crunch guitars (“Before It Was Murder” featuring Donnie Vie) to the gentle ballads (“Monkey Bars.”) A great mix of the crunchy-sweet is found in the standout “Russian Ballet” (reminded me of Ice Cream Hands as well) and it deserves a spot as a contender for my 2013 top ten list. Better late than never.
power pop review score 9

Amazon | Itunes

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Agony Aunts “Big Cinnamon”

It’s been too long, but the Bay Area supergroup returns after 2010’s Greater Miranda, with even more harmony-laden psych-pop.  The band is basically The Corner Laughers; KC Bowman, Karla Kane , Khoi Huynh, and Charlie Crabtree. Add to this many guest stars including Gil Ray (The Loud Family), Anton Barbeau and Allen Clapp (The Orange Peels). So can all those cooks spoil this brew? Not likely.

Opening with the kaleidoscopic “Twenty-four Mergansers” it’s a lot like the Laughers with a bit more Magical Mystery Tour thrown in. Then it follows up seamlessly with “Family Drugs,” the lyrics repeating over with crisp harmonies on the “bottle it up” backing chorus. The psychedelic sheen on everything is comparable to The Pillbugs on the title track. And if you ever wondered what a modern day Mamas and Papas would sound like, listen to “Back To Back Bills.”

The second half is more rock oriented, those dual tracked guitars stand out on the perfect “We Got The Jekyll.”  Raspberries fans will flip for the intro on “Uranium My Love,” a riff heavy melody full of hooks about science. Its not predictable either, “You’re So Vague” is like a combo of Todd Rundgren and The Explorers Club. It ends with the mysterious story behind “Cool Fresh Nights” and Barbeau’s quirky country “Trouble Was Born.” Not trace of filler to be found, production is clean and sounds great through headphones, so its hard to not love this album. Multiple listens make it better and it makes my top ten for 2013 easily. Get it now!
power pop review score 9

Bandcamp | Amazon

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