Reviews: 7.9.19: The Ebb and Flow of a Life: Cloud Eleven’s Illuminating Song Cycle

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Cloud Eleven – Footnote (West Coast, 2019)

The minimalist front cover that houses Rick Gallego’s latest, meticulously crafted songs is bathed in a wash of lightened, sun-soaked grains of sand; at bottom right, water reaches a line on an ethereal beach. The new song’s titles are typeset within the upper half of the equally minimalist back cover; the small parade of players, all imaginary yet full of life, are listed below–cohorts in a dreamy song cycle (Gallego is the only actual living, breathing player).

The cover, an homage to the wrapper for Todd Rundgren’s 1976 album, Faithful, is no accidental nod; Gallego sends out “special gratitude to todd rundgren, who lighted the way to my own musical existence all those years ago” and sets the text in lowercase, just as Todd did.

Footnote is Gallego’s seventh go-round as Cloud Eleven’s chief cook and bottle washer. This new release is no mere footnote, however; it is, in fact, what the previous six releases have been traveling toward all along: a gorgeous song cycle about the ebb and flow of a life (a songwriter’s?) as one follows a path and discovers his or her essence along the way.

The songs on Footnote sound nothing like Todd Rundgren, even though the Hermit of Mink Hollow’s influence is in there; with each new release, Gallego paints a masterpiece colored as only a Cloud Eleven album can be.

Gallego’s songs and arrangements are crafted with a unique combination of hues, tints, tones and colors; one flick of his brush too many and his songs might tilt toward another form altogether. Here, as the songs on Footnote play, we get the feeling that Gallego is painting his soundscapes, touched by the spirit of ELO and the harmony-laden Beach Boys, while balanced on a tightrope of his own devising; what a gloriously creative and fulfilling place that must be to hang.

Footnote opens with a quartet of songs set in a melodically-charged dreamscape. The first song, “On Pismo Beach,” sets to sail with a ghostly strum of guitar that barrels into a rich blast of harmony before it draws a lyrical picture of a place where all is blissful and serene. “Aural Illusion” builds on that ideal, positing that in sound we prosper (“If you can believe that music is love / Then you’ll understand the meaning of / Aural Illusion”).

The second half of the first block of songs continues on the path set by the first. The lovely ballad “Solar Fields” suggests that, after allowing sound to enrich your existence, the warmth of the sun will help to complete you (“With the sun on your face / You will never fade away / In the bright glowing light / You won’t fail”). And, armed with the benefits realized from pleasing sounds and sunlight, you can trust in someone to lead you down a valid path of exploration (the Brian Wilson-ish “Bound to Follow”).

This emotional journey continues with the relaxed-sounding, Free Design-like “For Weal and Woe,” in which we discover that the days ahead bring a promise of discovery, so long as we are in tune with ourselves (“Our lives ebb and flow / For weal and for woe”). And then, we are transported to terra firma, where we learn even more about ourselves.

In “L.A. County,” we are entranced and inspired by a girl who gives us a reason to set down roots (“We will live our lives here”). “Skywriting” allows a songwriter to connect with the magical muse that surrounds him (“But I’ll try to do my best / Hope my muse will do the rest / It’s like magic when songs appear, I confess”).

Sometimes, though, it is hard–impossible, even–to connect. The subject of the grand, wistful ballad, “One Big Hideaway,” squirrels himself inside his home–inside his room–as the world turns around him. He misses his family, but can’t find a way to reach out to them. There will be no doubt in the listener’s mind as to who this song is about.

In the end, we are left to ponder the validity of our life’s journey. Do we learn from what we discover as we make stops along the way, or do we downplay what we have achieved and consider ourselves to be nothing more than a speck of dust because none of it will matter in the grand scheme of things? “Now I’m content to be / I won’t pretend I’m anything, but a / Footnote,” Gallego sings in the closing, title song.

Songs can teach us a lot about ourselves. Throughout our lives, we learn who we are by also learning who we aren’t. Rick Gallego’s illuminating song cycle won’t provide us with all of the answers we desire, but its beautifully rendered songs will at least provide us with some lovely, melodic hints.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon (CD and digital), Apple Music (iTunes), CD Baby (CD and digital)

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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: 7.2.19: A Double Dose of Heyman: Richard X. and Richie Deliver Superb Garage Rock and Pop and Roll in Two New Releases

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Richard X. Heyman | Pop Circles (Turn-Up, 2019)
The Doughboys | Running for Covers (Ram, 2019)

Perhaps the greatest gift that June brings us northern hemisphere dwellers is the first day of summer, a cue for couch potatoes and homebodies to welcome the sun, and globs of sunscreen, into our daily lives.

This year, June brought us another great gift, one that can be enjoyed either indoors or outdoors, depending on your mode of music delivery, allowing all of us to benefit from warm summer days and nights and some truly terrific music.

Just last month, a double dose of Heyman descended upon us in the form of Richard X. Heyman’s tremendous 13th solo album, Pop Circles, and Running for Covers, a fun, new long player from the Doughboys, the New Jersey garage rockers that count drummer Richie Heyman among their members. Whether billed as Richard X. or Richie, multi-instrumentalist Heyman always delivers first-rate pop and rock ‘n’ roll.

Richard X. Heyman’s Pop Circles
A double dose of Heyman allows fans to experience many sides of the artist at once. Pop Circles favors Richard’s pop side, where melody, harmony and instrumental brilliance are king; Running for Covers puts Richie on the drum stool, where he helps his Doughboy brothers kick out the hot and powerful garage rock jams.

On Pop Circles, Heyman continues to favor the one-man-band approach to his recordings, but with one important, and most welcome, change: wife Nancy takes on bass duties throughout most of the album, playing innovative and melodically-charged parts on her Hofner Empress.

Pop Circles is sort-of a two-part affair, the first 12 tracks being the album proper and the final five being solo versions of songs previously appearing on albums by the Doughboys. Each of the 17 tracks earn their place in the running order (an 18th, hidden track is an extended version of the song, “Guess You Had to be There”).

Richard X. Heyman, surrounded by pop circles

As you would expect from a Heyman album, always a treat and a shining light in any pop release cycle, the highlights are plenty. Throughout Pop Circles, Richard’s instrumental and vocal prowess prove their mettle (no surprise there); his singular, one-of-a-kind drum parts and thickly defined harmony stacks are particularly inviting. And, as I said up above, wife Nancy’s bass parts are innovative and melodically-charged, and essential to the overall sound.

One of Richard’s best songs and best-ever arrangements is the powerful, rocking “Marlena,” which posits that a relationship is now gone, regardless of which road the narrator travels on or the New Jersey towns he blows through as he works his issues out in his mind. Richard’s lyrics are vividly stated and metaphorical, such as in this descriptive couplet (“Trusted a lamb so gentle and wise (Marlena) / Now here I am with wool over my eyes”). The song’s melody is ingeniously seductive; the chord structure inventive and compelling.

The narrator of the breezy “In a Sunlit Room” is tasked with coming up with a way to salvage a relationship. He hopes to come up smelling roses, but he’s on a steep, uphill climb and seemingly has the most to prove. He is nothing if not poetically realistic (“You must know that love has its peaks and valleys / Mount Everest to the Grand Canyon and back”). It’s a deep crevice to climb out of, for sure. Richard’s guitars really shine here, and Nancy’s bass provides a creative bottom end.

“Land,” originally the opening, Rolling Stones-styled rocker on 2012’s Doughboys release, Shakin’ Our Souls, is my favorite of Pop Circles’ “Richie’s Three-Chord Garage” set, recast here as a less manic, no-Stones-turned rocker. Richard’s vocal is particularly strong here, and his piano playing is superlative.

Pop Circles was recorded at the Kit Factory and at Eastside Sound, both in New York City. It’s a dynamic collection of songs, just waiting for you to listen.

The Doughboys’ Running for Covers
Speaking of superlative, the 13 well-chosen covers that constitute the Doughboys’ new release make a case for pleading with the band to fashion an all-fave-classic-songs-we-didn’t-write show for fans. For now, though, this knowing selection of covers will do quite nicely. The group gives each classic nugget their all and then some, infusing them with garage-rock fury or pure pop finesse, depending on the song.

Running for Covers stands out of the ever-growing pack of covers albums by not simply choosing from the well of usual suspects; mixed in with the familiar (Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” and David Essex’s “Rock On,” for example) are more obscure tracks from the Kinks, Mose Allison, and the Four Seasons, among others, that might not come to mind, even in a pinch.

The Four Seasons’ “Everybody Knows My Name,” from the group’s 1966 album, Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits, is an inspired choice, a lovely, catchy pop song that is very different from the other fare on Running for Covers (and holds special significance for the Doughboys–see below). Another track, Herman’s Hermits’ “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed,” from 1966’s Both Sides of Herman’s Hermits, is another straight-ahead, catchy pop song, also of the I-probably-wouldn’t-have-thought-of-that variety.

Two of the songs included on Running for Covers hold special significance for the Doughboys–they are the re-recorded a-sides of the group’s two Bell Records singles from the 1960s (“Rhoda Mendelbaum” and the aforementioned Four Seasons track, “Everybody Knows My Name”). They are jewels contained within this album of interpretation that shine from start to finish.

Other tasty highlights include a searing, four-on-the-floor take on Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and a powerful, rocking, crunchy guitar-ized version of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” which turns the original recording on its collective ears.

The Grip Weeds’ Kurt Reil produced, recorded, mixed and mastered Running for Covers at his House of Vibes studio in Highland Park, New Jersey (Kurt also helped out with vocals and percussion). It’s another fine job for all concerned.

The Doughboys

A Double Dose
The Doughboys’ Gar Francis, Mike Caruso, Myke Scavone, and Richie Heyman play up a storm on Running for Covers, a tremendously entertaining garage- and pop-rock testament to the classic songs of yesteryear; Richard X. Heyman does the same for his catchy pop songs contained on Pop Circles, that feature the singer-songwriter’s incredible, vital instrumental skills and intense harmony stacks.

This double dose of Heyman, where Richard X. meets Richie and garage-rock meets pop and roll, is a present for music fans all over the world. Obviously, you should be all in for some of the best music being made today.

Where to Get It:
Richard X. Heyman’s Pop Circles: Kool Kat Musik. Listen to sound samples and purchase: richardxheyman.com CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes
The Doughboys’ Running for Covers:
thedoughboysnj.com. Listen to sound samples and purchase: Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes

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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.