Reviews | 10.17.18: The Grip Weeds’ Energetic Trip Around the Sun

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The Grip Weeds | Trip Around the Sun (Jem, 2018)
TATS Cover 1500 x 1500Either the members of the Grip Weeds are, to coin a phrase, cautiously rambunctious or they’re settling into a new, more connected mindset. And by connected, I mean tugging liberally on yesterday’s signposts at the same time as they’re poised to swim contentedly in contemporary musical waters.

Your guess is as good as mine, I guess, but whichever direction you’re leaning, you will have to admit that this well-oiled quartet is firing on all cylinders with a pulsating set of songs that generally and simultaneously beat with a sixties heart and a contemporary pulse.

The Grip Weeds–Kurt Reil, Kristin Pinell Reil, Rick Reil, and Dave DeSantis, top-flight instrumentalists all–have been keeping busy; they released their previous album, How I Won The War, in 2015, and Force of Nature: Live In NYC, a concert DVD, last year. And they crafted this latest collection of songs at their home base, House of Vibes, the studio they operate in Highland Park, New Jersey. For the dozen songs they’ve chosen to populate Trip Around the Sun with, they have upped the level of urgency normally associated with their work. In other words, business as usual, with a bit more zing.

In the well-appointed, melody-drenched opener, “Vibrations,” the stage is set with a mix of chiming guitars and rich harmony parts. Not for the first time on this album, I felt as though I were listening to Free Design vocalizing decades after that group’s 1960s and 1970s heyday. The effect that the Grip Weeds have achieved with this song alone is hall-of-fame worthy.

the grip weeds band photo september 2018So it should hardly come as a surprise to listeners that the band’s deft weaving together of yesterday’s musical signposts and today’s contemporary approaches continue throughout these songs. Take the poppy “After the Sunrise,” for example, which slides from tender acoustic to more upbeat electric guitar stances so expertly, with a lovely melody and sweet harmonies in tow.

The muscular “Truth Behind the Lie,” an old song now finally recorded, ups the ante, past the winning Free Design vocal harmony approach, with a fluid, rubbery, John Entwistle-y bass line and an infectious Who-meets-Byrds vibe (there is no mistaking the Roger McGuinn-like solo a little more than halfway through). To my mind, this is Trip Around the Sun’s best slice of madness.

The rocking, energetic to a fault “Casual Observer (To a Crime),” sung by multi-instrumentalist Reil, his voice pinning in the red, explodes with a get-out-of-its-way electric guitar solo and, unusual for a Grip Weeds record, a blazing horn section (Vincent Troyani on tenor sax, Jim Bell on trumpet, and Tom Rosenthal on bari sax). And I haven’t even mentioned the surprising marching band intro…well, I guess I just did.

The whole pop-rocking ball of wax rolls into the exhaustive closer, the six-minute-long title track, which states its introductory case firmly opened in widescreen, Who territory and concludes with all instruments and vocals blazing and coming together in an impassioned burst of emotion.

All of the songs on Trip Around the Sun are, in fact, impassioned bursts of emotion. This will come as no surprise to the Grip Weeds faithful; to everyone else, this will come as a revelation. What a welcome burst of energetic joy this album brings!

black box Where to Get It: The Grip Weeds’ Trip Around the Sun Store, Amazon
(Release date: October 19)

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

And the Winners Are…

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

mcpherson grant album coverTwo copies of Song, the debut CD by Scott McPherson and Jamie Grant, or as they’re known around town, McPherson Grant, were practically itching to wing their way to lucky winners of our latest Pure Pop Radio contest.

And now, the winging shall begin. Congratulations are due to Nadja Witherbee and Gene Good. Let the waiting-by-the-mailbox commence!

More cool Pure Pop Radio contests are coming soon. Stay tuned!

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features (the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995). Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews | 10.11.18: Ken Sharp, The Cherry Bluestorms, Lannie Flowers, The Lunar Laugh, and Pat Walsh

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Ken Sharp | Beauty in the Backseat (2018)
ken sharp beauty in the backseat 2018 coverFancy spinning a big old super-sized love letter to 1970s pop, like the kind you might have heard on AM radio back in the day? Ken Sharp’s fun follow-up to his sterling 2016 long player, New Mourning, might well be just your ticket.

Played mostly by Ken and co-producer Fernando Perdomo, with guest appearances by Hall and Oates’ John Oates, Utopia’s Kasim Sulton, Kiss’s Ace Frehley, Marshall Crenshaw, and melodic pop stalwart Rob Bonfiglio, Beauty in the Backseat plays its affectionate and catchy cards throughout.

The poppy, upbeat “Lemons to Lemonade,” decked out in Kyle Vincent-esque splendor, presents a narrator who turns sad into glad. “Listen to Me” is a feel-good number about people taking “a million tiny steps” to come together and make a difference. And “Philly Kind of Night” brings the aforementioned John Oates to the microphone to provide soulful background vocals for a tribute to the art of Philadelphia soul, this time adorned with Ken’s usual pop edge.

Don’t miss “Rock Show,” which gets these proceedings off to a showstopping start, telling the story of a band getting ready to hit the stage and make musical magic. Ace Frehley delivers an energetic, runaway guitar solo during the close. The sobering balladic tribute to a favorite, fallen musician, “The Day that David Bowie Died,” is an affecting song, and the should-be-a-radio-hit, happy-sounding “The Hardest Part” concerns itself with the dissolution of a relationship and the avoidance of any measure of regret that might follow.

Solid.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon

The Cherry Bluestorms | Whirligig! (2018)
the cherry bluestorms whirligig album coverThe Los Angeles-based pop-rockers Deborah Gee and Glen Laughlin take the world stage with their most assured and accessible long player yet.

Mixing Rolling Stones affects from the Brian Jones era with other mid-sixties sounds, the Bluestorms deliver a smashing collection of songs sure to please. The rolling rocker “Heel to Toe,” sporting a most melodic, very catchy chorus is one such pearl; the flattering, rocky, Gee-sung portrait “Roy Wood,” which quotes the Stones rather cleverly and takes an unexpected turn at the end with a comforting, orchestrated coda is another.

Other nuggets include the Stonesy “Rays of the Sun” and “Seven League Boots,” and the lovely “Caroline,” which announces itself as a gentle acoustic number and ends up a full-band excursion with a pretty melody. The closing, anthemic “Be Here Now” shows off multi-instrumentalist Glen Laughlin’s guitar prowess in grand style, as he blisters off into the sunset. Excellent entry into the growing Bluestorms catalog.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, iTunes

Lannie Flowers | “Where Did All the Fun Go” (2018)
lannie flowers where did coverThe eighth in the continuing series of ace songs given away for free during the run-up to his upcoming album Home, “Where Did All the Fun Go” is an upbeat, catchy explosion of melody and sentiment relating to the good memories that fade in the face of today’s fast-paced world. Dig the harmony-drenched a cappella ending and the rocking sitar! Already, before Home arrives, Lannie has released nearly an album’s worth of classic, top-flight tracks. Dig it, indeed!

black box Where to Get It: Spyderpop Records (Free download)

The Lunar Laugh | “By the Light of the Living Room” (2018)
the lunar laugh by the light of the living room coverWith George Harrison-y slide guitar in tow, Jared Lekites’ latest, slated for inclusion on the Lunar Laugh’s next album, is a catchy slice of happy-sounding melodic pop about a sore subject–a fractured relationship that might, could possibly be saved (“When I woke up you were crying/Bitter tears that made me feel like dying/Is it too late to kiss and make up/We’ve been together too long to break up”). An attractive chorus shines. Don’t miss it.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Pat Walsh | “Another Nightingale” (2018)
pat walsh another nightingaleAn always reliable songwriter and performer, encountered early in the run of the weekly Pure Pop Radio Show on WEBR, Pat Walsh continues to release luscious, sophisticated, and genuinely affecting melodic pop songs. His latest, a lovely mid-tempo ballad about hope wiping away the darkness in a person’s life, is sung sweetly and built around ingenious chord changes. Pat never fails to impress.

black box Where to Get It: Listen on YouTube. After listening, Pat would love it if you would leave a comment on his YouTube page telling him how much you liked this song.

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews | 10.10.18: McPherson Grant’s Song

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Win McPherson Grant’s debut CD…Enter below!

McPherson Grant | Song (2018)
mcpherson grant album coverFrom Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson in Tacoma, Washington to Pop Vultures’ Jamie Grant in Toronto, Ontario in Canada and back again, the various song parts created by these two melody wizards flew. All told, they combined to make the magic that informs the duo’s marvelous debut album, Song.

Paying sweet homage to the melodic pop ruling class headed by Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Klaatu, Brian Wilson and the like, McPherson Grant–their last names fused together in joyous harmony–have crafted almost an hour’s worth of sturdy earworms. Endlessly endearing songs like the lovely and charming “Housekeeper,” about cleaning up a romantic life gone sour and empty (“I wish that she’d come everyday/The mess I make should want her to stay”) and honestly assessing the less-than-attractive situation (“Yeah, I know that I will be missing you/Like I’m missing two spoons”), ensure repeatability. (Videos for the songs talked about in this review appear below; all, and more, were created by the multi-talented Jamie Grant.)

Cut from the catchy cloth of so many ’70s classics, the perky “Come Around Again,” about learning to realize and revel in the bountiful joy in front of one’s face, is propelled by Zak Nilsson’s drums and a sunny disposition that wouldn’t feel out of place during the summer months. And speaking of summer, “Let’s Drive to Summer” recounts a slow-growing, toe-tapping Beach Boys-by-way-of-Holland road course from cold Canada to warm Florida (“We’ll just follow the coast/Our sandals and shorts in tow/Waiting till the palms wave hello”).

A loving nod to the wonder of, among other things, Klaatu, “The Marvelous and Mysterious Adventures of Sir Ollie and His Ox” marries vaudeville, Queen, opera and a contemporary chorus in a musical ceremony celebrating the life-affirming nature of melodic pop. Klaatu’s Terry Draper essays the drums on this standout track; his Klaatu compatriot, Dee Long, plays keyboards and sings on Song’s opening salvo, “Little Green Men,” about charting a course and extending life in space (“Like Jane and Tarzan we’ll be new age Martians/Like Brad and Janet on our forbidden planet/Making little green men”).

Produced, written, played, arranged and recorded by Scott and Jamie (and don’t ask who did what; it’s a mystery even to both halves of the duo), Song travels the path negotiated by so many artists who came before them, but in a way that is significantly and characteristically their own.

“It’s the day that you’ve been waiting for,” the duo energetically warble, along with background vocalists Clara and Robin Moir, within the confines of the energetic pop-rocker “It’s the Day.” Speaking of the day, this is the day for discovering your new favorite record. McPherson Grant are here.

black box Where to Get It: Tiny Volcano’s Web Shop, Kool Kat Musik

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Win McPherson Grant’s debut CD, Song, from Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson and Pop Vultures’ Jamie Grant. Two copies are up for grabs. To enter, fill in the form below (be sure to include your email address and type “MG” in the Comment field) and send it in by this Friday, October 12 at 5 pm ET. Only one entry per person. U.S. only. Good luck!

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews | 9.27.18: The Toms and the Maladaptive Solution

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The Toms | “Life Raft” (2018)
the toms life raftFrom the upcoming new and much anticipated Toms album D7, Tommy Marolda’s enticing, acoustic, rhythmic tapestry, awash in warm sixties sensibilities, is a classic slice of songcraft and performance. “Life Raft” is about holding on, taking advantage of second chances, and doing whatever it takes to keep love alive (“The waves will carry us, it’s a long way home.”) A tremendous achievement from one of pop music’s greatest creators.


black box Where to Get It: Check back for purchase links

The Maladaptive Solution | “Consort (Queen of Everything)” (2018)
Consort Single CoverWhirling around songwriter and performer Brad Beard is the loose gathering of musicians who come together to infrequently record and release songs intended for a long-gestating project called Symphonies (To God). This latest musical missive, brought to life by Beard, Michael Carpenter, Jimmy Haber, Kylie Whitney and Michael Giblin, is a marvelous mid-tempo, Tom Petty-esque charmer about recognizing and celebrating one’s true love. Recorded in the United States and in Australia at Carpenter’s Love Hz studio, “Consort (Queen of Everything)” is an endearing pop-rock creation. I love it, and I bet you will too.

black box Where to Get It: The usual digital platforms on September 28 (check back for links to purchase)

radio1Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. (For more About-type information, click here)

Reviews | 9.20.18: Danny Wilkerson, Jay Stansfield’s Charity Single, Dana Countryman and Scott McPherson, and Bryan Estepa

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Danny Wilkerson | Wilkerson (Spyderpop, 2018)
wilkerson album coverWorking together with Bleu, who produced this superlative pure pop platter and co-wrote the songs, Danny Wilkerson, the always-and-forever Pengwin, has whipped up a self-titled opus that is by far this year’s most affecting collection of catchy, melodic earworms.

Joined in the studio by Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Taylor Locke, Ducky Carlisle, the New Pornographers’ Joe Sieders, and Idle Jets’ Pat Buchanan, Wilkerson has crafted 10 slices of sweet-sounding pop that, like Frampton, have come alive. Wilkerson is a thing of wonder.

Any, and all, for that matter, of these dazzling songs could, and do, serve as examples of how to do it. Take the dynamic leadoff track, “Everybody Loves to Love,” a masterful piece of writing and statement of melodic purpose that begins drawing breath as if it were arranged by Burt Bacharach and goes on to incorporate a variety of tempos and approaches during its alluring five-and-one-half minutes. “I’m just looking for a sitar and a Hofner/A Rickenbacker and a giant stack of ahhs/Sweet harmony,” Wilkerson sings.

Take, also, the mid-tempo, slide guitar-powered charmer “You Still Owe Me a Kiss,” sporting a lovely melody, gorgeous harmonies, and expressive horns, or the hit-worthy, catchy, upbeat “Too Much of a Good Thing,” which, for my money, could have gone on another few minutes and would never even remotely have resembled too much of a good thing.

All told, Wilkerson is nothing less than a good thing. It is, in fact, a great thing, and another feather in the cap of the mighty Spyderpop record label. Don’t miss it.

Where to Get It: The Spyderpop Store, Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and iTunes

Jay Stansfield | “A Song for Edward” (2018)
jay standfield a song for edwardjay standfield a song for edward logoSongsmith Jay Stansfield, a longtime fixture on Pure Pop Radio, has done a very good thing: he has composed and recorded a wonderful, catchy pop song that celebrates the vibrant life of Edward Dee, a 10-year-old boy who was a bright light in his British community and suddenly passed away from meningitis and sepsis. Reading about Edward, who brought joy to everyone he came in contact with, and the fund created in his honor (you can do that here) will move you, I hope, to contribute to a most worthy cause.

All profits from the sale of “A Song for Edward” go to the Edward Dee Fund.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Bandcamp

Dana Countryman and Scott McPherson | “You’re Still Number One” (Sterling Swan Records and Tapes, 2018)
dana countryman you're still number one coverBuddying up with Tiny Volcano caretaker Scott McPherson for one of this year’s sweetest vocal duets, Dana Countryman, the master of Seattle Retro-Pop, proves that there is no end in sight for just how good he can be. Atop a sprightly seventies disco-fyed, string-laden bed, anchored by Chad Quist’s period-happy electric guitar, Dana and Scott sing about the truest sort of love–the perfect pairing that makes life worth living. A lovely love letter to his wife Tricia, blessed with a gorgeous voice and a recording artist in her own right, Dana Countryman’s “You’re Still Number One” is a radio hit waiting to happen.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Bryan Estepa | “No Ordinary” | (Lilystars Records, 2018)
bryan estepa no ordinaryLast heard from this past April essaying, in grand fashion, George Michael’s “Heal the Pain” with Coke Belda, Bryan Estepa returns with this top-flight rocking original, a pep talk of-sorts for a guy who’s considering going all-in on a relationship (“She’s not so ordinary/Maybe the greatest/And gamble everything/ Till you’re seeing red”). You’ll dig the guitars, all electrified, and the melody too, because the whole thing sings. It’s great to have Bryan Estepa back. More, please.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

radio1Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews | 9.6.18: Nick Piunti and Phyllis Johnson

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Nick Piunti | Temporary High (Jem, 2018)
nick piunti temporary high album coverThe guy in the salmon-colored sneakers about to teeter off the ledge high up off the ground on the cover of Nick Piunti’s new album is just kidding, right?

I mean, oh, the horrors! Stay put, my friend, get back inside and crank up the stereo for the latest high-energy, ultra-satisfying tour de force from Detroit, Michigan’s ace guitar-and-keyboard-toting purveyor of pop, rock and roll.

Working with kindred collaborators Donny Brown, Andy Reed and Chris Richards (from the Legal Matters), Geoff Michael (who co-produced with Nick), Ryan Allen (Extra Arms), and Plink Giglio, Piunti lays down a mix of melody-rich, guitar-centric jams that keep the beats pumping and speak to the hearts of power pop fans everywhere.

Whether breathlessly rocking (the four-on-the-floor title track about boxing life’s possibilities into a corner and “Keep Me Guessing,” about a second chance at love with conditions on the table) or ruminating about a disconnected romance (“If This Was Right”), Piunti hits the mark every time with this tip-top 10-song collection.

Another popping platter from Marty Scott’s Jem Records.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Bandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes

Phyllis Johnson | “Foolish Girl” (2018)
phyllis johnson foolish girlPossessor of one of the great, most expressive and powerful female voices in pop and roll, Phyllis Johnson returns with one of her too infrequent releases–a song, tinged with sadness, about the perils of missed opportunity. A seductive melody and a wide stereo soundfield draw the listener in. Phyllis tackles keys, bass and drums; husband Stefan turns in a deft, George Harrison-like slide part and plays the electric guitars. A free download from Phyllis’s Bandcamp page, this is a must-get and cause for celebration. Don’t miss it.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

radio1Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.