By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
The Weeklings | “April’s Fool” (Jem, 2021)
Really, truly, you just couldn’t–you just couldn’t have picked a better day to release this rollicking, very Lefty, Zeek, Rocky and Smokestack kind of tune, very Merseybeat-ish with a healthy dose of toe-tappery and a clever-beyond-compare aural allusion to a certain Fab track beloved by zillions.
Amirite, Mr. Jem? I should think so!
New Jersey’s Fabbest Four return with a hot-to-trot track kicking off with Smokestack’s pounding, beatitudinal drum swipes and the narrator’s spot-on reportage of the girl in front of him–“Dressed to the nines, you were so / Out of my league,” he sings, and she answers: “She said it’s alright boy, wontcha come home with me.” But all is not well, as it turns out–our narrator is an April’s fool.
But this track is no fool, name-checking a fave Beatles song title at 1:18, jumping head, hands and feet first into a joyous “Hey Bulldog” nod for 31 blissful seconds from 2:05, and going sweet a cappella for a quick bit before turning the whole rocking compote into a faux funk workout before the fade puts the track to rest.
It comes as no surprise that Lefty and Zeek turn in some truly impressive vocal-chord-stretching workouts, that Lefty wrings every possible emotion out of his bass strings, that Smokestack keeps the beat alive, that Rocky’s guitarring astounds one and all, all the way through. It comes as no surprise that “April’s Fool” is one heck of a track–a classic among all of the Weeklings tracks that came before it.
A must-have? Why, certainly.
Astral Drive | “No Matter What” (Lojinx, 2021)
The forces of magic and nature emanating from West London in the United Kingdom know no boundaries; even the ongoing pandemic year cannot keep Phil Thornalley, working tirelessly and social distancy in his Swamp studio, from his appointed rounds, during which he fills the hearts of melodic pop lovers with joy just when they need it most.
So it is absolutely no surprise that Phil’s Astral Drive project keeps rolling along with cheery, Todd Rundgren-esque nuggets, except when they’re not Rundgren-esque at all; Astral Drive’s latest release, a sweet reimagining of Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” is all Phil, all the time.
On this astral plane, “No Matter What” sheds its power pop roots for a seasonal, summery approach. Atop a light bossa nova beat and acoustic guitar pluckings, Phil sings softly as the Thornalley singers (all Phil, all the time) ooh and ooh some more just when they’re needed most, while Sally Herbert and Ian Burdge play violins and cello according to Phil’s delicate string arrangement, punctuated by particularly effective wriggling string parts that sound for all the world like slight wind gusts turning the page of a book outside on a warm day.
Welcome in to your world Astral Drive’s take on “No Matter What,” a classic song reimagined with joy and spirit in mind.
Ken Sharp | Miniatures (2021)
In your dream, it’s as if, on a summery day in August, say, or July, even, you find yourself riding through the countryside in your convertible, top down, your hair floating every which way, sunglasses filtering out the brightest light, and you come to a fork in the road; your GPS is no good here, but you luckily have a keen sense of direction.
That way, then, it is; you eschew your electronic signal and hold your left hand outward like in the old days, when you took your driving test and the instructor demanded you signal the old-fashioned way. You drive for a minute, maybe two, and there it is, a compact house built with various sizes of stone, surrounded by a finely-kept lawn. You drive up, park and walk to the front door; as you get closer to the knob, you start hearing the sounds being made inside by a musician who’s been making music for decades, lovely, short songs, a mix of baroque, folk, sixties and seventies soft pop; you knock on the door and you hear “Come on in,” so you do. You wipe your feet on the rug that says “Smile all who enter here.”
And the music plays on–guitars, keyboards, vibes, bell trees, mellotrons, ebows, bass, maracas, handclaps, and the human voice, singing sweetly and filling the house with love and joy and melodies. You meet the music maker, as you had pre-arranged; he introduces himself and says his name is Ken; his hands are busy making the sounds you are hearing, so you don’t shake his. You ask what kind of music he is making and Ken says, “I’m making catchy music–short songs, stretches of idea, none longer than a minute and fifty-seven seconds.” The shortest, Ken offers, is 50 seconds.
“There are 32 of what I call ‘Miniatures,’ and they’re a whole lot different than what I usually do. They’re lo-fi, too, but high in fiber.” Why do you call them Miniatures, you ask. “Because that’s what they are,” Ken says, smiling. “Are you doing all of this by yourself?”, you wonder aloud. “Well, Fernando Perdomo and Kaitlin Wolfberg pop up every so often, but otherwise, it’s all me.” You smile and you know that this is all a dream, or at least that’s how this all feels, the music evoking memories of Harpers Bizarre and the Left Banke and Curt Boettcher and the mid-sixties Beach Boys, among others, washing over and around and within you, sounding so comfortable as if it is all a part of you, which, of course, it is, because these are the sounds that ground you in your life, sounds that have been with you ever since you heard sounds like these growing up in decades past, from the radio, from your parents’ stereo, from your record player. This is what gets created, Ken says, when creation is filled with love.
“This is the kind of music I would play at home, at picnics, in the basement, in the attic, in the wherever,” you say. Ken says this will all be finished soon and ready for public consumption, to which you say “That is a good thing.” And then, suddenly, you wake; it all feels so real, this dream you had, and then you find yourself listening to the finished project and feeling as though you have heard it all before. And you phone a friend or instant message or tweet or whatever the kids do today to stay in touch, and you say, “You’ve got to hear these ‘Miniatures’ that Ken created. This is how dreams become reality. You really must make these ‘Miniatures’ yours.”
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.