Reviews: 4.24.19: Armchair Oracles’ Guitar Pop Shines, and Lannie Flowers McCartneys Things Up

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Armchair Oracles
Caught by Light (Kool Kat Musik (CD), 2019)

Comprising 10 songs drawn in bewitching colors, doused with the spirit of decades of classic guitar pop and seasoned by Norway’s quartet of the moment, Caught by Light jumps to the front flank of 2019’s finest releases.

Armchair Oracles, twisting and turning in and around the essence of bands such as Badfinger and Teenage Fanclub, roll out a virtual guide to being safe and at home in this life.

The breathtakingly beautiful “Don’t Let It Break You,” a muscular power ballad with soft shoulders, sings a song of hope and guidance as the narrator offers sage advice to a young friend (“Don’t let the hard times break you or leave you all behind / You’ll be good if you stand your ground”). “Several Stories” tells a melodic tale of someone who understands how to rebound from a fall from grace (“Whenever I am down / You will be around to make it better”).

Songs such as the provocatively titled “She Gets Me High,” a concise, crafted-with-care ballad about the narrator’s safe place (“I close my eyes / I hold my breath and then exhale / She lifts me up and gets me high”) continue the listener’s journey through an invigorating program of melodically-sewn musical life lessons. (We reviewed three tracks previously released as singles here; all three–“Porcelain Heart,” “All My Time,” and “Downsized Life”–are extraordinarily good.)

An unmissable long-player from Atle Skogrand (vocals and guitars), Bjørn Gamlem (guitars), Jan Ove Engeseth (bass), and Charles Wise (drums).

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik (CD), Digital: Bandcamp (Vinyl, too), Amazon, iTunes

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Lannie Flowers | “What Did I Know” (SpyderPop, 2019)

A love-her-but-not-for-a-lifetime toe-tapper in the best uptempo Flowers in the Dirt-era Paul McCartney tradition, “What Did I Know” continues the ongoing offering of fabulous free songs given away each month by Lannie Flowers and SpyderPop Records, during the run-up to Lannie’s forthcoming album, Home. (And, by the way, none of these free songs will be on Home.)

This is the 13th of the “Flowers” picked and presented to fans of one of melodic pop’s greatest assets, and it’s a doozy, free for the taking on SpyderPop’s website. Christmas continues to come early, am I right?

Where to Get It: SpyderPop Records’ website

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.11.19: Brad Marino Makes a Rock, Pop and Roll Connection

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Brad Marino | Extra Credit (Rum Bar, 2019)

The Connection’s Brad Marino serves up a dynamic and breathless 11-song rock, pop and roll romp on his beat-driven solo album, Extra Credit, paying homage to a group once dubbed “England’s Newest Hit Makers,” Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello and, well, Rockpile with the gloves on. The guitars are plugged in and raving, and, oh yeah, the guitars are plugged in and raving.

It’s that kind of album, about a minute and a half shy of a half-hour long, with most songs dressed in tight-fitting get-in-and get-out-before-they-overstay-their-welcome ensembles, which is as it should be. These songs take no prisoners and make no apologies.

From the hit-the-road-running “Broken Clocks,” a breakup song in which the girl’s the bad guy and the breakneck-paced solo channels Chuck Berry, to “C’mon, C’mon, C’mon,” about a girl who plays hard to get (“The girl who plays so hard to get / Is always worth the score”), Marino hits the mark with rockin’ and rollin’ spirited performances (he plays all of the instruments other than the keyboards, which were essayed by sometime Connectioner Kris Rodgers). The album comes to a close with a four-on-the-floor, there’s-a-speed-limit? cover of Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny”.

Last month, we waxed poetic about previously-released-as-singles songs “What Comes Naturally” (“…extols the virtues of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in a song that portrays a Rolling Stones-meets-outlaw country vibe”) and “Broken Record” (“…an upbeat pop-rocker with teeth, very catchy and singalongable…”). Not a bad way to kick off an upcoming album, right?

Well, that upcoming album is almost here (mark your calendar for April 19). With six songs scribed solo by Marino, a co-write by Pure Pop Radio favorite Kurt Baker, two songs written by Michael Chaney (another is a co-write with Marino), and a well-chosen Chuck Berry cover, Extra Credit, produced by Marino and Rodgers, is this season’s breathless hit platter.

Cue the guitars and get that snare a-drummin’…Brad Marino’s pumped and ready to rock, pop and roll.

Where to Get It (Releases on April 19) (Pre-order Now): Bandcamp, Amazon

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.10.19: Brian Gari Paints a Heartfelt Musical Picture

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Brian Gari | Jeanne’s Album (Original Cast, 2019)

A kind of old-fashioned, heartfelt song cycle, Brian Gari’s tremendously affecting and musical Jeanne’s Album chronicles his life with his wife Jeanne through their ups and downs and up agains.

With keyboards and guitars primarily played by Gari and Peter Millrose painting Gari’s songs with colorful, catchy brushstrokes, we learn that the couple’s romance has not only come upon some bumps in the road, such as Gari’s open-heart surgery and Jeanne’s bout with breast cancer, but conquered and surpassed them. Theirs is a love story for the ages, told in beautifully rendered songs.

Swimming in the same creative pond as fellow travelers like Gilbert O’Sullivan, Hurricane Smith, Richard Carpenter, Barry Manilow and Paul Williams, Gari has crafted 14 genuine pictures of a life in motion, played out in relatively short songs graced with gorgeous, affecting melodies.

The breezy and catchy “I Got What I Wanted” gets Gari’s program going with a sweet look at being fulfilled by one true love. Songs like the light bossa nova roll, “I Like Looking at Your Face,” tell the tale in what-you-see-is-what-you-love terms (“Your nose…I just love the shape of it / Send me off a tape of it / And I’ll marvel all night long”); other songs concern themselves with more serious shades of a love.

The upbeat, poppy “She May Think You Like Her” warns against giving a woman the wrong idea (“The perfect one is there at home / She fits you like a glove / But she may think you like her / You like that other girl but like ain’t love”). “No Checks” is a bluesy pop number that looks at being broke with a sense of humor (“And we don’t have a nickel / We’re in quite a pickle”).

Two songs deal with some serious life-changing bumps in the road that Gari and his wife went through. The first, the endearing piano ballad, “Saving Each Other’s Lives,” suggests that the couple was brought together to breathe life into each other’s hearts just when they needed that the most “(Grateful seems to be the perfect word / Amazing what the two of us endured / And somehow we showed up to change our flight / Otherwise we might have said goodnight”).

The second, “Whose Hair is Longer,” a sad but ultimately uplifting ballad, posits that losing her hair during chemotherapy didn’t change who his wife was (“Your heart’s still the same”) or would continue to be (“My hair is longer / That’s only for now / What’s more important / Is we don’t allow / Any thoughts or concerns / That might interfere / Cause what matters the most / Is that you’re still here”).

A pair of Christmas songs appear as bonus tracks on this emotionally-satisfying album, a gathering of intensely personal songs that sketch out a world where everything may not always be hunky-dory, but it will always be true.

Where to Get It: Amazon

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.9.19: John Howard’s Emotional Rescue, and Anchor and Bear’s Tasty EP

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

John Howard | Cut the Wire (You are the Cosmos, 2019)

In the end and at the end, when we take stock of ourselves, when we reflect on a life lived on purpose and with purpose, we remain the product of what we achieved; our footprint is the culmination of a life lived in so many ways.

John Howard’s gorgeous, wistful song cycle, Cut the Wire, draws on the idea of living a life affected by love and pain and faith and belief in the self, in others, and in the stars; it’s about innocence lost and remembered, and found again. Pretty melodies, rich harmonies, emotional vocal leads and an intimately pastoral sound, evoking the early, baroque songs of Elton John and brought to life by poetic lyrics deeply reasoned, take your breath away as the hearts of these songs beat.

In Cut the Wire’s breezy, thoughtful opener, “So Here I Go,” a life is lived with the controls set at full steam ahead, no matter what may occur along the way (“Nothing ever takes the time / You think that it will take / Nothing ever lives in head and heart / Nothing ever feels / The way you think that it will feel / Nothing ever ends the way it starts”). It is, when all is said and done, a song about hope (“So here I go…”).

All of Cut the Wire’s songs are ultimately about hope or joy, celebration or remembering, in one way or another. The title song, a beautiful, melody-rich ballad that revels in a sweet childhood that changed when adulthood set in, cautions how important it is to hold on to good memories and keep them alive (“I told my sister we were eagles / She laughed and tapped me on the head / I combed her hair and heard the seagulls / I dreamed of sand-dunes in my bed / And it was on the day / That childhood ran away / The day they laid the wire”).

“Keep Going, Angel,” a happy mid-tempo number with lovely chords that increases in intensity as it plays on, is all about believing in life and all of its possibilities, no matter what (“Keep believing in believing / That anything can happen / And it most probably will”). “Idiot Days” looks back from the position of a grown-up to the days when consequence of action wasn’t a present state of mind (“‘Who did you hurt back then?’ / Oh there’s too many to mention / From my Idiot Days”).

Perhaps the centerpiece of Cut the Wire is the emotionally gripping piano ballad, “Becoming,” in which a partner muses about how he and his relationship have changed and longs for how it used to be. He finally figures it all out and comes to a peaceful place (“This morning I held your hand / And told you we were lucky / We were older / We were frightened / But we were lucky / You waited for a moment / And then you smiled / You squeezed it back and suddenly I knew / It was still you and me together / In our anger / In our confusion / In our weaknesses”).

The brilliant stroke of Cut the Wire is that its emotional stories are told with sweet, heartfelt melodies at their core, and sung with a voice that conveys the truths of life that most everyone can relate to and even learn from. On this, his 16th studio album, Howard draws breath from the fabric of life in a most enriching and entertaining way.

Where to Get It: You are the Cosmos, Amazon

Anchor and Bear | Arrows (2019)

The third release from California quartet Anchor and Bear follows last year’s top-flight album, Raincoats and Gold, with a delicious serving of differently-flavored pop songs, all of them quite delectable and delivered in catchy style by Katy Pearson, Brian Bringelson, Eric White, and Kenny Bringelson.

“Want Your Love” is a sprightly confection, with gorgeous harmonies, about being overcome by love. “Broken Arrow” is a meaty pop rocker spiced with a bit of funk about, as near as I can tell, a loner musician who has lost his music mojo and is disconnected from his friends.

“Disconnect the Phone,” Arrow’s jewel, all shiny and bright and catchy, is a classic slice of pop that should be a slam dunk at radio. Telling the story of a relationship’s disconnect, the song is ingeniously composed of several distinct sections that work together to put a huge smile on your face (the sweet-sounding opening is reminiscent of a familiar online ringtone). And
“Magic” is a quite catchy pop rocker with heavy guitars.

Throughout the program, Katy and Brian’s vocals unite harmoniously, a perfectly matched pair communicating joy to listeners. And with Arrow, Anchor and Bear is continuing to build a fine catalog of releases.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.4.19: The Armoires’ Two Songs of the Moment

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Armoires | “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” b/w “Not a Good Man”
(Big Stir Digital Singles, 2019)

The 23rd release in the ongoing Big Stir Digital Singles series is a whizzing whizbang that juggles velocity and an ever-present cadre of moving parts that sizzle and steep like a teabag that has dutifully filled an oversized mug with aromatic flavor.

In other words, this is a thing that cannot be contained because why would you want to? The Armoires are back, baby, and the fruits of their new labors compel you to chugalug with abandon.

This is the song pairing of the moment, and it’s a toss-up as to which track wins its way into your heart over the other. I mean, pick and choose your favorite and do the very same an hour later and I submit that it would be hard for you to choose.

“(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?,” a stomping garage rocker with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them baroque touches, ear-ringing background harmonies, spit and a whole lot of polish, co-written by Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko, kicks in with a very Byrdsian guitar figure atop drum smacks, cymbal crashes, and Larysa Bulbenko’s steady viola. Spygenius’s Ruth Rogers pilots a runaway bass line that works in tandem with Derek Hanna’s drums to propel the track forward. And, if you determine that Christina’s vocal is delivered in the best Debbie Harry tradition, you would probably be correct.

The story told is one of a mismatched couple who hang in there against all odds. But why is this couple together? The narrator sums up the perilous situation with one of the cleverest lyrics I’ve heard this year: “They call me three miles of bad road, but babe, I’m the whole 405 / And the biggest mistakes take the longest to kill you, and that’s why you’re still alive.”

Produced by Plasticsoul’s Steven Wilson with the Armoires, the half-parenthetically-titled “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?,” which will feature on the Armoires’ forthcoming album Zibaldone (due in August), is a hoot of thing, a real live honest-to-goodness keeper. But, and your mileage, as they say, may vary, the song’s digital single mate, “Not a Good Man,” may well eclipse it and wind up your favorite.

If “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” is a stomping garage rocker, “Not a Good Man” is full of extra-added stomp. A supercharged back-and-forth duet, with Rex Broome taking the Sonny position and Christina Bulbenko taking the Cher, this I-don’t-deserve-you-well-I-don’t-care four-on-the-floor rock and roll-until-the-finish-line-is-in-sight track is fully baked with crunchy electric guitars, pumping drums, and Larysa Bulbenko’s viola as the musical cherry on top.

Round about the 2:47 mark, the band ever-so-temporarily hits the snooze button, and Rex mutters “Probably should have finished the song.” Christina coos a knowing “Uh-huh,” Rex mutters “Okay,” the guitars kick back in, and Christina gets the band back in gear with a strong-willed “Sock it to me!” in her best Judy Carne verbal guise. From there, the guitars are in charge, the background singers chant “Awoo not not a” as if they’d just wandered in from recording America’s “Sister Golden Hair,” and the track comes to a close, but not before tipping its hat to early ELO with a thump of a tag that would only have raised even more hackles had a full orchestra been ushered into the mix.

“Not a Good Man” dates back to the Armoires’ earliest days, being the first song they played live. Produced with gusto by Nathaniel Myer with the Armoires (Myer features on the track behind the drum kit, plucking the bass strings and handling the guitar solo), this is one of the kind of musical moments that, thanks to your incessant toe-tapping, will have your downstairs neighbors all hot and bothered.

“Not a Good Man,” by the way, will not feature on the upcoming Armoires platter, Zibaldone, so you will want to snap this single pairing up without delay. Offering “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” alongside “Not a Good Man” seems like the bargain of the century, or at least of the moment. However you look at it, it’s quite the thing.

Where to Get It and Preview Tracks (Releases tomorrow,
Friday, April 5): Big Stir Digital Singles (Preorder)

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.2.19: Charming Folk-Pop from Scotland’s Ally Kerr, and The Lunar Laugh’s ’80s and ’90s-meets-Motown Track

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ally Kerr | Upgrade Me (Much Obliged, 2019)

It could be said that the observations and life lessons drawn as lyrical imagery in Ally Kerr’s beautiful new songs are proper fodder for listeners trying to assess the validity of their paths in life. Let’s go with that as we marvel at the quality of some of the prettiest songs we’ve heard in many a moon.

It would be fair to classify the songs on Upgrade Me as folk-pop but, and here’s the thing: wouldn’t it be lovely to just say that these are gorgeous compositions, beautifully performed? Sure it would.

These gorgeous compositions are flooded with imagery; at first listen, you get the general sense of what Kerr is describing, and upon further listens, you start to feel the onion peel and insights begin to reveal themselves. Kerr’s lyrics are poetry in motion, blending in the musical mix.

Generally, the ballad form, sporting pretty melodies, is most prevalent here, but a few swift kicks to the side are also on offer. The ballads are the strongest tools in Kerr’s kit. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The album opener–the title song–talks about fighting emotional elements in order to assess what is going on around you, as love fills your core. “Resting you between my arms / Feel a life so charmed / Leaning on the slender rays of setting sun,” Kerr sings atop nimble acoustic guitar, slight piano and tender violin.

In “All Go Dancing,” lovers join together to go on an adventure, possibly for the last time (“This is my final throw, where I end up I don’t know”). Looking back, the narrator wonders how their union began (“I saw you down by the ocean / Breaking waves on the bay / Did our eyes meet once, in that moment? / A spark of come what may”).

Partners gather round a virtual “Campfire” to plot out their escape to an island standing all on its own, where peaceful waters flow. New adventures will hopefully bring happy times (“Ditched all I’ve known / Made a bolt for the blue / May the future / Remake us anew”). The tune is casual and happy and pretty.

Acoustic guitar and orchestration pilot the gorgeous “Gilbert,” an emotional, slow-to-midtempo song about leaving a draining job to make one’s dreams come true (“To be young at heart, such a gentle art / Open minds flirt with wisdom of the seasons”). All of the emotion of Upgrade Me’s songs lay bare as they play toward the closing instrumental, “Toldeo,” where feeling is felt as an orchestrated piano piece that plays slowly, deliberately to a silent close.

Producer Biff Smith presents Kerr’s delicate songwriting and performance with an understated approach that elevates the emotion weaving through this artist’s songs. It is a wondrous exercise in the portrayal of art, a musical mosaic, the parts of which add up to a shining half-hour’s worth of thinking person’s magic.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes

The Lunar Laugh | “Waiting for a Sign” (2019)

Last October, we reviewed “By the Light of the Living Room,” the first new song slated to appear on the Lunar Laugh’s next album, due in June. “Waiting for a Sign” is an absorbing look at a fractured romance (“You jump ahead, I hesitate / I know you tried to set me straight / And I lost you in the by and by / Gone with the wind, my empty sky”). The song scores with an inventive soulful track that pays homage to ’80s and ’90s pop, with a slight scent of Motown melodic structure.

The players: Jared Lekites, lead vocal, piano, and percussion; Connor Anderson, vocals; Jimmy Jackson, drums; Taylor Johnson, bass, keyboards, and electric guitar, and Campbell Young, electric guitar and vocals. “Waiting for a Sign” points to a terrific album to come.

Where to Get It: CD Baby, Bandcamp

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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. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.