Somerdale and Fernando Perdomo

Somerdale

Somerdale “Maggie Says It Again”

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!

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Fernando Perdomo

Fernando Perdomo “The Golden Hour”

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.

 

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Sitcom Neighbor and Sunshine Bloom

Sitcom Neighbor

Sitcom Neighbor “Shag”

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.

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Sunshine Bloom

Sunshine Bloom “Power Pop is Dead”

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.

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Fastball and Raspberries

“Fastball”

Fastball “Step Into Light“

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.

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The Raspberries

Raspberries “Pop Art Live“

“…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!

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The Relationship and Jamie & Steve

The Relationship

The Relationship “Clara Obscura”

Brian Bell’s (Weezer) second band The Relationship has returned to with a sophomore LP that fully distinguishes itself as a force to be reckoned with. The meticulously built opener “Missing” is a prelude to the album’s break-up theme.

The lead single “Break Me Open” is a hook-filled plea that doesn’t let up, and one of the best building ballads “Without Me” is about what happens when the person that broke up with you has moved on even if you haven’t. Life goes on in “Working On Myself” which brings to mind Fastball and the optimistic ascending chords of “Smile” are all about getting over the blahs. With “Hawthorne” strings are added to this Beach Boys tribute that would make a perfect wedding song. The ending track “This Year’s Children” has more strings, and an ELO styled composition. Not only is each song great, but they tell a memorable, complete story. That also makes it a nominee for my top ten best album of 2017.

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Jamie and Steve

Jamie and Steve “Sub Textural” EP

Even after 40 years together, Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel (Spongetones) continue to make jangling melodic gems and Sub Textural is proof positive that this duo hasn’t missed a beat.

The songs were all recorded across different years, but you wouldn’t know it. Starting with “Sword Of Love” it’s jangling treasure spinning like a mix of Squeeze and XTC here.  “It’s All Because Of You” is a very McCartneyesque guitar song with lots of texture (hmmm). The best thing here is the contrasting textures in “In A Little Tango,” with its 10cc-like shifts in soft and heavy sounds. The layered acapella harmonies make “Cry” another can’t miss beauty. What else can I say… long live Jamie and Steve! Highly Recommended.

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Plasticsoul and Cotton Mather

Plasticsoul

Plasticsoul “Therapy”

Steven Eric Wilson took his sweet time to deliver Plasticsoul’s follow up to Peacock Swagger. The opener “My Heavy Soul” is the calm before the storm, the title track screams out with Wilson’s trademark heavy riffs. “They All Died Pretty” is another melody thick with layered guitars and “In Her Raincoat” adds layered harmonies to the Cheap Trick meets Big Star-like jangle.

For all the greatness of the best Oasis song Noel Gallagher never wrote “Come Down From Your Raincloud,” it takes a few curious twists. The forgettable bossa nova tune “The Girl of Many Tribes,” and the long “King of Hash” resemble Anton Barbeau’s experimental side. Thankfully the fast paced “Monkey On A Stick” brings things back with shades of Led Zepplin, and the fantastic “Keeping A Light On” and “Biff Bang Pow” take it to the next level. Overall, worth the wait and makes my nominee list for best power pop album of 2017. And hopefully, it won’t take another 8 years to deliver another album like this one. Highly Recommended.

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Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather “Wild Kingdom”

Robert Harrison’s mystical songwriting quest to create 64 songs that correspond with the 64 hexagrams of the 3,000-year-old Chinese book “I Ching” continues from last year’s The Death of Cool. The new LP’s opener “The Cotton Mather Pledge” is unapologetically power pop, with a fantastic guitar riff alongside its fuzzy synth and strutting vocals. The songs all vary in style, like the pop hook of “Hide yourself from me…” in the chorus of “Fighting Through” to the brooding, bass-led “High Society” where the instrumentation reaches a blistering piano crescendo.

Overall no real duds, and plenty of great catchy rock in “Better Than A Hit” and “Girl With A Blue Guitar.”  A few songs make an effort to tell a bigger story, like “King William” with its Lennonesque approach or the slow psyche-pop march of “The Army” deserve multiple spins to stick. And that may be the biggest complaint here, as good as it is – no song stands out or digs into your head immediately. Still, a very highly recommended album.

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