By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
Ken Sharp | “Hold Me, Touch Me” and “Mr. Make Believe” (2021)
Despite never having been a member of the KISS Army, I remember greeting the simultaneous release on September 17, 1978 of four KISS solo albums with some measure of curiosity, even though I was a defiant non-fan of the band.
Maybe it was the makeup. I honestly don’t remember.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the ever-active Ken Sharp, just two days ago, delivered newly-recorded versions of two of the songs released as part of the September ’78 four-album explosion. KISS helped Ken dig out of some emotional jams back in the day, so as a sort-of celebration, he decided to reinvent, along with singer-songwriter Rob Bonfiglio and super-producer and instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo, Paul Stanley’s “Hold Me, Touch Me” and Gene Simmons’ “Mr. Make Believe.”
Stanley drew “Hold Me, Touch Me” as a slow, sweet-sounding ballad; Ken’s reinvention recasts the song as a pounding breakneck-paced power pop number racing to whiz past the finish line. It’s clever as hell, in a speedy Raspberries way and more than hits the sweet spot for music lovers who love their pop powered with extreme glee.
Simmons’ “Mr. Make Believe,” in Sharp’s hands, becomes what a collaboration between Wings-era Paul McCartney, Eric Carmen at the start of his solo years, the Cowsills, and the Cyrkle (pick either album) might sound like. I like its cheery face lots.
Sharp has presented these tracks wrapped in artist Holly Bess Kinkaid’s wonderful, colorful, sprinkled-with-Andy-Warhol-ness pop-art illustrations that evoke memories of 1960s-era romance comic books. It’s a brilliant stroke that adds an extra layer of intuitiveness to Sharp’s musicality.
The Legal Matters | “Light Up the Sky” (from the forthcoming album, Chapter 3) (2021)
First came the self-titled, runaway hit long-player in 2014, then the long-awaited follow-up, Conrad, in 2016, and now, four-plus years later, Chapter 3, the third collection from Michigan supergroup the Legal Matters is on target to light up the sky on April 30.
The first single from Chapter 3, “Light Up the Sky,” written by Richards, is at first glance a glorious, happy-sounding song, all decked out in positive song structure and those trademark close harmony stacks that Andy Reed, Keith Klingensmith and Chris Richards are rightly known for, but upon closer inspection, it’s a happy-sounding song tinged with sadness; a partner is finally keeping his distance from a former flame who wants to continue burning brightly and lighting up the sky with their love.
But the narrator is having none of it: “Shoot me a grin / Just don’t want to know / The state that you’re in,” he sings. It’s the age-old story of what could still be, if only…
Played and sung with care by the core trio, with drumming by percussion magician Donny Brown, this mid-tempo slice of guitar pop lights up the melodic pop universe with what fans have come to expect from the Legal Matters: top-shelf melodic pop performed by masters of the art.
Kenny Herbert | “The Hardest Time” (2021)
The latest musical missive from longtime Pure Pop Radio favorite Kenny Herbert doubles as a look at life during the ongoing, difficult pandemic year and a toolkit for making the most of life as it continues on. Love, the toolkit’s primary, prescribed salve, is impervious (“There’s nothing that can take away our love”). Kenny’s emotive vocal, sounding just a bit airy in the mix, draws the listener in to this mid-tempo ballad, yet another high point in Kenny’s work, always filled with wonder.
Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premier website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, interviews and a wide variety of features.