Don Ciccone, a singer-songwriter who was a member of the Four Seasons, the Shondells, and the Critters, died Saturday at 70 years old. Born in New Jersey, Ciccone was a founding member of the Critters, who had minor hits in the 1960s and helped the American front hold its own during the British Invasion years. Their “Mr. Dieingly Sad,” written by Ciccone, and “Younger Girl” both made their way to the Billboard charts. After serving in the Vietnam war, he was tapped by Frankie Valli to join the Four Seasons, where he played guitar and bass. He also contributed lead vocals to songs including “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” and “Rhapsody.”
“Mr. Dieingly Sad” is one of my favorite nuggets from the post British Invasion era, full of lush harmonies, soft melodic vocals and I was proud to review The Critters last album. Thanks for the memories Don, you will be missed.
Despite having a terrific debut with Suburban Sunshine over 2 years ago, this British group’s sophomore LP has slipped quietly under the radar. The self-titled sophomore release slowly fades in with “The Light,” a Creedence-styled rocker with dense layers of crisp electric guitars and smooth harmonies. And the complexity increases with “Make Up My Mind,” a gem with multiple vocal layers all played to a simple melody. While brilliantly performed, these songs unfortunately don’t tend to stick in your head for long.
Luckily there are several exceptions. One of the best tunes here is “Hey Blue” with its sunshine-filled strumming and the sweet chord shifts on the melodic “How Do You Ever?” Unlike the debut, the influences are less power pop and more spread around (although the ‘70s California style is dominant). The bands musicianship is beyond question, as each tune has subtle details that pop fans will gravitate to. It may be a case of the band trying to do too much, but I’d keep my eye on these London lads.
Roger Houdaille and Lucia Perez are back with a decidedly more fuzzed out garage effort on Glazer/Hazerr. The anthemic “Life” is something that would’ve fit nicely on an Outrageous Cherry LP (I still miss the Rainbow Quartz label.) The reverb drenched “Reverse” is another highlight of this 60’s influenced album. Houdaille’s echoing vocals harken back to the classic era of melodic song writing on the simple riff driven gems “Sensation” and “Modern Art Brigade.” Perez gives a spirited vocal solo on “Father Goose” that sounds like a lost Jefferson Airplane single. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, this is a good album and will fit nicely in your retro pop collection.
On of the most anticipated releases this year was from The Legal Matters (Andy Reed, Chris Richards, and Keith Klingensmith) a power pop supergroup that impressed many 2 years ago. The band has matured into a more cohesive unit and Conrad feels more confident, more buoyant and pushes the boundaries of the term power pop to what I would call “Adult-Oriented Power Pop,” and if you listen to the new Teenage Fanclub album Here, you’ll be in similar territory.
The bands influences have blended into each other, and the sound is now to closer to Crowded House meets Jellyfish meets America. “Anything” is a mid-tempo opener with stunning harmonies in its chorus that’s just brimming with optimism. “I’m Sorry Love” is a Jellyfish-like ballad with multiple shifts in tone and warbling guitar lines. Next, “Minor Key” is a perfect mid-tempo offering and then the band lets loose on “Short Term Memory” about the ephemeral nature of musical hooks and asks “who killed all the rock and roll stars?” Another gem “She Called Me To Say” is a catchy tune with some great bass and shimmering guitar work.
There are also a few acoustic-driven personality sketches like “Pull My String” and “The Cool Kid” that are loaded with authenticity. We also get a very Posies-like power ballad “Hip Hooray” and it ends with the McCartneyesque “Better Days” explaining the dual message that better days are both behind us and in front of us. No filler, and not typical disposable music, this album needs to be digested over several listens. Overall this a meticulously crafted piece of pop that deserves to be somewhere in my top ten and earns my highest rating.
LA singer-songwriter Mason Summit is musically wise beyond his 19 years, as Gunpowder Tracks is a sophisticated slice of chamber pop and American folk. “Cellophane Skin” starts out as a soft piano melody with complex lyrics and a tight arrangement. “Splatterpaint” builds from bare bones pop to a layered gem with light backing harmonies, similar to Elliot Smith.
“When Time Was Mine To Spend” is a great example of Summit’s descriptive lyrics that paint a picture of growing up. What helps is Summit’s detailed approach as he drifts across styles from jazz (“Detour” and the title track) to jangling folk pop (“Particles” “Last Time”). It may be a bit too “coffee house” for some, but he’s well on his way to stardom if he continues this path.
This is the third 8X8 album from duo of Lane Steinberg (NYC, US) and Alex Khodchenko (Kiev, Ukraine). The two musicians have shown from the very beginning how to make excellent music through long distance collaboration. This effort is more of a mixed collection of styles ranging from bouncy pop gems like “My Summertime High” to acid-tripping psychedelic epics like “The Essence.”
The best 8×8 work clearly falls in that psych-pop middle with the brilliant “After All is Said and Done” with its swirling organs and guitar chimes, and “Bubbles” full of layered guitar rhythms and Lane’s rhyming lyric. The strong narrative piano on “No More Second Chance” and atmospheric “Some Surreal Idea” are more highlights on this album. Without a doubt, this is music that deserves to be heard. Highly Recommended.
Once again Argentinian artist Juan Pablo Mazzola brings us his latest musical vision with producer Nick Schinder. Often compared to John Lennon due to his similar sounding timbre and subject matter, and the opener “Life’s Better When U R High” is no exception.
The simple guitar strums are supported by light strings on “The Ballad Of Music Biz” where Juan Pablo laments he’ll “never make the cover of Rolling Stone” and other assorted depressing musings. Thankfully the tempo swings up as the lyrics get bizarrely sweet on “Climbing Down” about the joys of fatherhood. The next several songs concentrate on the regrets of lost youth, very much in the spirit of Harry Nilsson. As he says on “Midnight Snack” it’s not the end, but “life is about beers and weed.” Chill out with this one.
Kurt Baker is back! This new band boasts the dual guitars of Luiyi Costa and Juan Irazu. The Bullet Proof Lovers come closer to The Ramones than Baker’s self-titled band, just straight forward rock and roll with loud guitars, and catchy riffs, as evidenced by the opener “It’ll Be Alright.” Punkier cuts “Leave Me Alone” and “She’s Gonna Leave” are short and sweet.
The best song here “Nothing I Can’t Do” uses all the techniques to bring down the house; harmonies, fast tempos, and a driving chorus. “Master of My Destiny” is another well-written gem. Unfortunately the lack of stylistic or tempo diversity can wear the listener down, even with Wyatt Funderburk producing. However this is manna for Kurt Baker fans and I’ve heard a follow up is on its way.
Before the explosion of girl rockers in the early ‘80s (The Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, The Bangles) The Heaters managed to scrape together a record deal with CBS. The trio of Mercy Bermudez, Melissa Connell, and sister Maggie Connell were a combination of contemporary pop and a throw back to the late ‘60s girl groups. They failed to generate excitement, and the band broke up. But shortly afterwards decided to go the DIY route (a rare thing at that time) without a label or studio support. Without corporate masters over their shoulders The Heaters were able to indulge with a 4-track Portastudio and reel-to-reel tape.
Sounding a lot like an updated version of The Ronnettes, “American Dream” is a slice of uncovered nostalgia. “All I Want To Do” is a bit more modern, with simple guitar and drum accompaniment. A highlight here is “10,000 Roses” with several harmonic techniques and a piercing finish. The best example of the modern and retro combine is “Rock This Place” with its steady Chuck Berry guitar riffs. Fans of Girl Groups will enjoy this release.