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)

radio1

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

radio1

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: 6.25.19: Astral Drive’s Plea for Love, Butch Young’s Stories of People in Crisis, and Farrington’s Retro-Fueled Pretty Pictures

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Astral Drive | “Wishing I Could Change the World”
(Lojinx, 2019)

Phil Thornalley, Britain’s champion of 1970s-era Todd Rundgren, returns as his Astral Drive nom de plume with a joyful Dave Bascombe (Tears for Fears) radio remix of “Wishing I Could Change the World,” originally waxed for 2018’s self-titled Astral Drive album. Also on board: two new tracks.

A plea for love becoming the constant that makes everything alright (“I keep wishing that the world would change / Love come pouring down like gentle rain / I’m still praying / Dreaming like every boy and girl / Wishing we could change the world”), the song’s jubilant, hopeful arrangement, and yearning vocal signify the coming of a melodic pop standard that really can change the world.

Accompanying the Bascombe-ized “Wishing I Could Change the World” are two new tracks, easily slottable into your growing Astral Drive collector’s bucket. A passionate, slowed-down take on the classic “Up On the Roof,” complete with Thornalley’s Rundgren-ized, understated vocal harmony stacks, draws new levels of emotion from the lyric (“Right smack dab in the middle of town / I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof”). The roof, in the case of Goffin and King’s classic song, is the perennial happy place, where hope triumphs over the alternative.

“Who Loves You,” essentially a new song (an unfinished number that didn’t make the Astral Drive album), “…is about how life can change in a heartbeat and how insecurity can haunt us just as easily as love can lift us,” according to Thornalley, quoted on the Lojinx website. Another Rundgren-esque number and as good as anything on the Astral Drive album, “Who Loves You” is a question perhaps best asked…up on the roof, where the answer should become clear.

Another melodic triumph for Astral Drive, this new single shines a light on the world at large, praying for love to conquer all.

Where to Get It: Lojinx, Amazon, iTunes

Butch Young | “Captain Serious” b/w “Beautiful Dreamer”
(Big Stir, 2019)

For all the sour, sad sack boys and girls out there, Butch Young’s eminently catchy, sweet-with-the-sour, Brian Wilson-with-a-touch-of-George Harrison ditty “Captain Serious,” about a guy to whom a smile is just a frown turned upside down, is your song. For everyone else, this song is a melodic pop confection par excellence from a Pure Pop Radio favorite.

I quote lyrics fairly often in my reviews, because I believe the words married to music are just as important in the long run, if not more so. Young’s depiction of this much-too-serious captain of his industry includes some rather clever wordsmithing. To wit: “Captain Serious / Is looking sour as a lime or a grape / His face is dour as some days-old lemonade / Left to spoil in the rain”. And this: “Oh, did your mom make you so? / She never really let you play your rock ‘n’ roll / Oh, did your Dad come home / And catch you reading Tolstoy all alone?”

The flip of this sterling Big Stir digital single, “Beautiful Dreamer,” a wonderful, dramatically orchestrated, catchy ELO-ish ballad, charts the course of a person who hides within sleep to avoid doom and gloom (“Bad feelings bottled up and then / An imminent calamity / Run baby, run”). Will these bad feelings pass, beautiful dreamer? “Have another wink or two / Before you spring to life / When will you open up / Your heart to see / The spell you’re under?”

Young’s 2016 album, Mercury Man, was a big hit for me, and was one of the bright stars of my Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2016 feature. I wrote: “Butch Young’s miraculous, hall-of-fame-worthy album is a modern classic by way of its dazzling array of 1970s-styled instant classic songs, peppered with a mix of Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson-esque magic. Every one of these Los Angeles-based artist’s songs is a clear winner, like the title track, ‘Persephone,’ ‘One Foot In,’ and ‘The Fools of May.'”

I also said Mercury Man was awesome. And so are these incredible, miraculous songs that make up the 31st Big Stir digital single offering (both are earmarked for an album release next year). Don’t miss this one.

Where to Listen and Get ’em: Big Stir Digital Singles (scroll to the second entry)

Farrington | Pictures of Pretty Things (2019)

This monumental, audacious bundle of retro-fueled imagination, wackadoo musical composition and performance closes with a majestic, classically-influenced instrumental in which impassioned orchestration and lyrical guitar work play as the audience exits the auditorium–you being the audience and your music listening room being the auditorium.

But don’t exit the auditorium just yet: hang in there for the last 12 seconds of this album’s title track, the very last track, when a burst of packed-tight harmony voices shouting “Pretty things!” bounces off the walls like a Spalding® High-Bounce Handball. It’s a reminder of what you’ve just heard: a never-mind-the-boundaries kind of album in which glam meets pop meets rock meets all sorts of other stuff, too.

Farrington’s Pictures of Pretty Things packs a box set’s worth of ideas and musical manipulations into just about 35 minutes of–what’s the word I used up top? Audacious? Well, audacious it all is, without a doubt.

Farrington, aka mad musical scientist James Patrick, works his magic in a Queen frame of mind, singing like a glam superstar with a pure pop heart. And save for a few harder-edged rockers, the artist stays put squarely in a melodic pop sandbox which, for my tastes, is an eminently satisfying domicile.

Piano and other keyboards, played with passion, save for one song, by Farrington, majorly drive these songs, although the drums, played by co-producer Marcos de la Cruz, also pack quite a desirable punch. Anthony King, playing a good chunk of the guitar and bass parts, and other fine folks, including Kai Danzberg and Fernando Perdomo, help to make this astounding mix of great songs and performances a towering achievement. These songs are all about the sound and how the hooks aplenty grab hold of you and don’t let go.

Achieving towering status are any number of top-drawer tunes, including the ultra-poppy “The Love Show,” a mid-tempo Queen-tinged song which is ultimately about love, love, love; the power-poppy “Long Way to Nowhere,” ultimately about the power of music (“Blondie dancing in a heart of glass / She makes me dizzy”); and “When I Was You,” an uptempo beat-driven pop song about ultra-disappointment in a doomed relationship (“I wish you were dead, she said / Yeah, I guess the feeling is more than mutual / So take me back to yesterday / When I was you”).

These songs are all about the sound; frankly, I’m not entirely sure what most of these songs are about, but they sure sound good as good can be. “Blue,” a mid-tempo pop-rocker bops ahead with a decidedly Sweet “Love is Like Oxygen” vibe that is intensely infectious. And “Violins,” another poppy pick-to-click, tells the tale of a girl in a shaky relationship who finds solace in the sound of violins (“She listens to violins / And her imagination runs wild again / She listens to violins / The music makes her smile again”).

A box set’s worth of magical ideas imaginatively whipped into shape by a mad musical scientist who knows how to mix just the right ingredients, Pictures of Pretty Things is one heck of an achievement.

Where to Get It: Check back soon for purchase links

radio1

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: 6.13.19: David Brookings and Willie Wisely Fill Our Hearts With Song

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

David Brookings and the Average Lookings
Scorpio Monologue (2019)

After the credits roll at the end of the making-of video for this album, David Brookings turns to his guitar player, Patrick Yoho, and fans a deck of playing cards.

“Pick a card, any card. Don’t let me see it,” David says. Pointing to the deck in his hand, he tells Patrick to “Put it face down right here. Don’t let me see it. Right on top.” The card returned to the deck, David taps it, waves his hand over it, and in a move that echoes those of famous magicians through the ages, scratches it. He turns the card over and asks Patrick if it’s the one he chose. “Is this your card?,” David asks. Patrick nods in the affirmative. “It is,” David confirms, the room laughing and his voice smiling, as if that’s a thing.

It’s the details that matter, in other words. Also, have fun creating your art. And the art, this collection of catchy pop-rock songs called Scorpio Monologue, Brookings’ eighth release in 19 years, is all about the details that get tended to as songs are written and brought to the band; parts are worked out by each of the players, and the artist and his co-producer and engineer, Don Budd, shape it all into minutes-long symphonies of careful, musical expression that listeners absolutely dig.

It’s the details that matter; if Brookings and his cohorts get them right, and for each of the baker’s dozen tracks on Scorpio Monologue they most certainly do, the result is entertainment of the highest order which, in the hands of Brookings and his Average Lookings, is a trick that pays off handsomely with untold dividends.

Scorpio Monologue–11 originals and two covers–announces itself as a force to be reckoned with as the jangly and propulsive opener, “And It Feels Like…” begins to play. The song, about always striving to succeed amidst the chaos around you, safe in the arms of the one you love (“Go for the dream where you’re in the meadow / Something about you always calms me down”) is but one of many of the top-flight songs on offer.

“I Grow Up Fast” is an uptempo, poppy, jangly number about going after what you want in life, having learned from what you experienced in your youth (“And I played the field / And finally settled down”). “Rainbow Baby,” a gentle mid-tempo pop song, is about how much the new Brookings baby is a gift to his family (“Personality turned up to a hundred / Like your sister and your mom before you / When I see you smile it’s a look of wonder / How’d we get so lucky that we got you”). Brookings’ family makes cameo appearances during the song; baby Brady charmingly giggles during the close.

The upbeat, countryish “Silicon Valley” is a fun song about the quirkiness of the area (after a seven-year stint as a tour guide at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and giving a tour to Apple’s Steve Jobs, Brookings relocated to San Jose in 2009 to work for the tech giant). The blazing Chuck Berry-esque “She’s Mad at Me Again” is another top highlight about a guy who frequently does the wrong thing (“I did it different than I meant to do / But don’t defend me or she’ll get mad at you / She’s mad at me again”). The rocking guitar, plucked right out of the sounds-like-Dave-Edmunds playbook is a lot-of-fun highlight.

Scorpio Monologue, Brookings’ second album fronting the Average Lookings, is another in a long line of meticulously crafted collections from one of pop-rock’s top indie artists. Don’t miss it.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, iTunes

Willie Wisely | “Fall Inside Your Eyes” (2019)

A lovely, reverent cover of a song from Jackie Lomax’s March, 1969 debut album on Apple Records, “Fall Inside Your Eyes” is all about the feeling and effect of attraction.

In the booklet that accompanied the 2010 reissue of Lomax’s Is this what you want?, Jackie says that “Fall Inside Your Eyes” “…is about a psychic connection between two people that doesn’t need words.” And, in fact, the lyrics carry that idea: “I know I can’t explain just why I feel this way / But just one look from you and there’s nothing I can do.”

Lomax’s song floats atop a seductive melody and affecting lyrics. His original track, produced by George Harrison, features an electric piano in the mix; Wisely underlines his ace arrangement with tender pedal steel guitar played by Eric Heywood, and elevates the track with an equally tender harmonica solo. Wisely plays that solo and the guitars; John Fields, who produced with Wisely, plays bass and drums.

“Fall Inside Your Eyes” features on Wisely’s upcoming, much-anticipated new album, Face the Sun, due on August 2.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

radio1

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: 6.11.19: Songs and Stories from Ray Paul, Smith and Jones, and Kenny Herbert

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ray Paul | Bloody Rubbish (Kool Kat Musik, 2019)

The slim, trendy, smiling pop art-ish musician, drawn with angles, feet slipped into Beatle boots and holding a familiar looking bass is depicted on the cover of his album as a guy you should get to know if you don’t know him already. He’s peddling some so-called bloody rubbish, or so says the title. Don’t believe him.

The musician depicted in smart, cartoony fashion on the cover of Bloody Rubbish is Ray Paul, still and always head muckety-muck at Permanent Press, known by pop fans as one of the premier indie record labels, the original concern sadly gone but certainly not forgotten. Bloody Rubbish is a smashing collection of 10 choice Paul classics drawn from throughout his four-decade-plus career. Said classics, it should be noted, are neither bloody nor rubbish.

Sequenced in a kind of time traveling back-and-forth fashion, Bloody Rubbish begins with “I Need Your Love Tonight,” a track first issued in 2017, a rousing, very catchy and full of guitars side sporting a typically passionate Paul vocal and one of his patented can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head melodies. Guitars and strong vocals are the backbone of every recording contained herein.

The thing about Paul’s output is that many or most of his recordings could come from any year, slab of vinyl or shiny compact disc. So his 1978 single on Euphoria Records–“Lady Be Mine Tonight” b/w “Hold It”–is absolutely interchangeable with “I Love It (But You Don’t Believe It)” from 2016’s superb platter, Whimsicality; 1980’s up-tempo and Badfinger-ish “Brokenhearted,” and 1981’s “How Do You Know?” b/w the early XTC-ish “Keep it Confidential,” released on Permanent Press. All of these choice tracks are included here, and all are divine examples of Paul’s mastery of the pop form.

Bloody Rubbish serves up three previously-unreleased rarities for the Paul collector and, really, any fan of melodic, rocking pop: “Love Me,” a moody, melodic, mid-tempo Paul song waxed in 1977 at Euphoria Sound Studios, and two live tracks with his new band from 2017–“Standing on the Edge of Goodbye” and a passionate cover of the rocking “Open Up Your Door,” both billed as by Ray Paul and RPM (the latter song is a cover of Richard and the Young Lions’ 1966 single).

Kudos to Ray Gianchetti at Kool Kat Musik for releasing this compendium of “bloody rubbish,” which comes in a nattily-attired jewel case with a four-page booklet sporting thumbnails of Ray Paul releases and an array of eye-catching photos.

And kudos to you, smart pop people, for catching on to some of the finest uptempo pop recordings that have had the opportunity to seep into your consciousness over the past four-plus decades. This Bloody Rubbish is bloody fantastic.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon

Smith and Jones | Something Worth Learning
(Childless Mother Records, 2019)

Last year’s Petty by Carpenter Smith and Jones, a loving tribute to Tom, was a big hit here at Pure Pop Radio, and for good reason: its passionate takes on some of Petty’s most beloved songs spoke to us, and probably spoke to you, too.

That very same passion is renewed and celebrated here on Abby Smith and Sophie Jones’ sophomore duo collection, Something Worth Learning, produced by Michael Carpenter. The album’s twelve songs, chronicling the ups and downs and sideway glances of relationships, speak to all types of hearts, however they beat and tumble.

Carpenter’s production is crisp and clear and alive, bringing Smith’s songs to life with just the right combination of instruments and depth of solo and harmony vocals. The trio of Carpenter, Smith and Jones is a shining example of fate drawing on a colorful canvas.

The album kicks off with the lively and upbeat “As I Am,” a catchy bubblegummy concoction that should for all the world be called Progressive Partridge (Family). This take-me-as-I-am song gets these proceedings off to a catchy start.

There are more five-star songs and performances on Something Worth Learning than on most albums being released these days. Case in point: “One Last Time,” a beautifully rendered ballad very much in the early Joni Mitchell style. With just piano and voice, this tale of a broken relationship plays out with sure emotion after the relationship is in tatters. But the girl pines for one final positive memory (“You could tell me I’m beautiful / Just one last time”).

Another Mitchell-esque song, a ballad entitled “In the Middle of the Night,” pairs solo piano and voice as a poetic dreamscape takes hold of listeners’ senses; in these words lie all emotions tethered in a relationship. These words, written by Smith, are monumentally sound and descriptive: “In the middle of the night / I go walking in the rain / Leave my pillows to their dreaming / My sheets, to lovers’ stains / Just a passing storm that’s all.” And then, there is this: “In the midnight of my memory / I hear that black bird singing / Softly as a lovers’ touch / A kiss upon my ear / Hear that melody rise and fall / Lovers and losers / She sings for us all.” Quite simply gorgeous.

“Love Lives in Darkness,” an emotional ballad, plays right out of the Mary Chapin Carpenter playbook–a very good thing. Even the vocal is Carpenter-esque, circa her Come On Come On album from 1992. About love lived in shadow, the song barely reaches out to light (“We raise it up on a stolen Sunday / We raise it up with an early morning embrace / Before the day is woken / Before a word is spoken”). The deeper truth? “A love lived in shadows / Is a love built on lies.”

The liveliest song on this album, relentlessly clever and smile-inducing, is the bouncy “Last Night I Saw Jesus (The Book of the Boss),” a tongue-in-cheek hosanna shot straight from around the world to Asbury Park, New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruuuuuuuuce Springsteen. Over a hippety-hop bass line and sure-footed finger snaps come the rousing huzzahs: “Come on, head on down to tenth avenue / And find a place on the church pew / We’re singing a hymn from the book of the boss / Oh he saved me and he’s gonna save you too.” And, if you were wondering, this song’s lyrics make it crystal clear: Bruce is “looking good for his age.”

Something Worth Learning, played by Abby Smith, Sophie Jones and Michael Carpenter, along with Matt Ferry, is something well worth having.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes

Kenny Herbert | “Like Marilyn” (2019)

Pure Pop Radio favorite Kenny Herbert is back with perhaps one of my favorite of his most recent creations–contemporary pop with more than a dash of 1930s and 1940s pizazz.

A delectable horn section, orchestration, plonking piano, and Kenny’s honey-coated vocal, full of love, power this toe-tapper inspired by Kenny’s wife Caroline, who, he says, “has the best smile in the world.” Making this song’s dazzling chart sing are Pilot’s David Paton on bass; Bob Heatlie, making the brass and strings come alive; Martin Wykes on drums, and Rab Howat playing guitar and singing background vocals. David Valentine, who plays piano, also produced at Heartbeat Studios in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Another great one, Kenny.

Where to Get It: iTunes

radio1

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: 6.6.19: New Releases: The Weeklings, Alex Chilton, Bryan Estepa, and Jacob Panic

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Weeklings | “I Want You Again” (Jem, 2019)

It is a bushelful of happy that greets me on this day, almost a month since I last posted due to various bits and bobs. Finding a new Weeklings song in my email inbox–an old-fashioned Weeklings song, if truth be known–speaks to my most get-in-there, take-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together-again-for-you instincts. Because what fun it is to wear the happiness that Weeklings recordings bring, like a new suit resplendent in audio jewels that really make me smile.

Started at London’s Abbey Road Studios, written by Lefty and Zeek Weekling, and finished off at home base in New Jersey, “I Want You Again” is perhaps a quintessential example of the Weeklings’ melodic sense that embodies significant Beatles and fellow traveler touchstones as much as the group’s own contemporary identity.

An I-really-shouldn’t-have-pushed-you-away-and-by-the-way-can-I-get-you-back song with a beat and a beating heart, “I Want You Again” is a jangly joy with a McCartney-esque bass line, Merseyside guitar stabs in the bridge, an “A Hard Day’s Night” namecheck (“When I think, of the time, when our love burned bright / When we shared, every word, singin’ ‘A Hard Days’ Night'”), and, most importantly, echoes of the Fabs’ “You Won’t See Me” and a closing melody quote from Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.”

“I Want You Again” is just the latest example of New Jersey’s finest fab foursome’s pursuit of audio excellence that bridges decades of catchy melodic pop. A bushelful of happy, if you will.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes. Stream on Spotify

∴

Alex Chilton | From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar/None, 2019)
Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None, 2019)

When most people think of Alex Chilton, they likely remember his work with the Box Tops, whose big 1967 hit, “The Letter,” he sang at age 16 with the maturity of a much older and perhaps wiser artist, and Big Star, an influential group blessed with a deep vat of melodicism and rock-influenced pop songs that have stood the test of time, such as “September Gurls,” “The Ballad of El Goodo,” and “Thirteen.”

It is less likely that casual music fans–people who grew up with the Box Tops and Big Star–also embraced Chilton’s music that followed. Two new, comprehensive compilations from Bar/None seek to mend the fences over which Chilton jumped in the 1980s and 1990s to make music that was stripped down, less commerical, and sometimes undersold, yet still viable and enjoyable and quintessentially Chilton.

From Memphis to New Orleans draws from four releases produced in the second half of the 1980s. A mix of original and covered punchy, seductive bluesy rock (David Porter and Isaac Hayes’ “B-A-B-Y”), punchy rockers (Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO”), Bakersfield country (Chilton’s “Paradise”), gentle pop with a beat (“Let Me Get Close to You,” a Skeeter Davis flip side scribed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin that originally appear on High Priest) and rock and soul grooves, the album chugs happily along as it shows off the wares of Chilton’s post-Box-Tops-and-Big-Star eras.

Probably, the sides compiled on From Memphis to New Orleans are closer cousins to Chilton’s previous work and likely more palatable to fans of the Box Tops and Big Star, but it’s the covers of classic songs in the style of the music that he heard growing up, compiled on Songs from Robin Hood Lane, that might just provide a clearer picture of where Chilton’s heart really found the most peace.

Songs from two Chilton releases–1991’s Medium Cool and 1994’s Cliches–sit comfortably alongside four previously unreleased sides on Songs from Robin Hood Lane. Chilton nestles quite comfortably in the moods and emotions of a dozen jazz, blues and pop numbers, showing quite different sides of his musical persona. They are, in their way, just as emotional and effective as the singer’s work during his rock and pop years.

Highlights include the quietly bouncy “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” cut by Nina Simone in the 1950s and played out here with only Chilton’s masterly acoustic guitar picking and playful, jazzy vocal; “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” a jazzy, supper club take on the 1940s standard and one of the four previously-unreleased tracks on this collection; and “That Old Feeling,” a half instrumental and half sumptuous vocal workout of Sammy Fain and Lew Brown’s classic written in the 1930s and essayed by many classic vocalists, including Patti Page and Frank Sinatra.

Both From Memphis to New Orleans and Songs from Robin Hood Lane sport beautifully-laid-out packaging that includes immersive and informative liner notes by Glenn Morrow and track personnel and discographical facts. Bar/None is to be congratulated on both releases; listeners will come away from hearing a fuller picture of Chilton the artist.

Essential.

Where to Get It: Bar/None, Amazon (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane), and iTunes (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane)

∴

Bryan Estepa | “I’m Not Ready for This” (2019)

The lesson learned in pop-rocker Bryan Estepa’s new digital release, “I’m Not Ready for This,” is that first loves are woven into one’s heart forever (“Forgetting first loves can’t be done”).

What to do with such a realization is another thing entirely, as noted in this mid-paced guitar popper. After all, first loves can be a fleeting thing (“Stay together for a little while / Run its course on this crooked mile”).

This track, with its smooth lead vocal, engaging backgrounds, and lovely, pleasing chords, will stay with you for a long while, even if your first love isn’t showing in your rearview mirror.

(Watch the stylish black-and-white video for “I’m Not Ready for This” below. The use of light fading quietly in and out to suggest the memory of a first love fading in and out over time is quite impressive.)

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

∴

Jacob Panic | “The Heart/Breaks” (2019)

The banjo’s the thing here, which is the thing that counts most in Jacob Panic’s world. A rock/pop hybrid love song exhibiting immense power and emotion, “The Heart/Breaks” is all about love, and the more of it–the stronger it comes on–the better.

“Put your lovin’ arms around me / And everything’ll be alright,” Panic sings, and when those lovin’ arms lock tight, an explosion of emotion comes due. “Listen to the heart beat go / A mile a minute / Many miles it flows / It gets dark / It gets cold,” and where do you go from there?

Mostly, the choruses are drawn with thunderous drums and instrumentation mixing with powerful vocals; the connecting tissue is softer, limber. The feeling, near as I can tell, is when you truly feel love and it totally encompasses you, you fall hook, line and sinker.

A tremendous track from a tremendous performer, co-written by Panic and Steve Antonelli, and featuring Antonelli on guitar, bass, and drums and Lea B. singing backgrounds. 

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

radio1

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: 5.9.19: When Joy was Job One: Ken Sharp’s “World’s Fair” is an Affectionate Trip Back in Time

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ken Sharp | “World’s Fair” (Jetfighter, 2019)

Think back to when you were a kid; think back to the things you had that were cool and full of joy, that you just had to bring to school the next day and show your friends and the kids who thought you were maybe just a bit weird and not fit to be a member of their cozy little clique.

When I think back to my kid days, I remember that, among the kids I hung out with, our love for the music we heard on the radio and our latest comic book acquisitions were tops of the pops. We bonded over our favorite sports teams (for me it was baseball and the New York Mets, however they were or weren’t doing). And we bonded over our hatred of our little brothers and sisters, because they had cooties and were just general pains in the neck.

When the New York World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens in 1964 and 1965, it was the number one place to say you’d been. In my house, it was the number one requested family outing. To go to school and hold your head high as the kid who went to the World’s Fair was everything (well, it was for me).

The fair did not disappoint. Although my memory is rather vague as far as specific pavilions and attractions, I do remember the sheer enormity of it all; I remember walking through the grounds thinking that nothing could ever be as impressive. And that pretty much has held true even to this day (although the Beatles coming to America was pretty impressive, too).

I remember the Unisphere, the ginormous steel globe that still stands today (and figured into a rather madcap Coen Brothers-esque date I had back in the day), and I remember Disney’s “it’s a small world.” And I remember the General Cigar pavilion, most famous for its outdoor smoke ring machine and the button given out to patrons to attract attention.

I’m not sure how much attention this button attracted on the fairgrounds, but I know how it fared at school the next day. Those of us who attended the fair and visited the General Cigar pavilion would wear the button and ask kids to read it. They would invariably read it incorrectly. A typical exchange went like this: “Read my button.” “Meet me at the smoke ring.” “No. Try again.” “Meet me at the smoke ring!” “No, that’s not right. Try again!” “Meet me at the… um, smoke ring?”

Try it yourself! What does the magical button at left say? Careful…there is only one correct answer!

Hearing kids read the button incorrectly became a great source of amusement for a couple of days, until the joke got old–as old as the smoke rings that hardly ever emerged from the General Cigar smoke ring machine.

But remembering that button through our lives–certainly through my life–continues to be a source of inner amusement. Maybe you had to be there, but for those of us that were, it was a moment in time we will likely never forget.

Although musician and singer-songwriter Ken Sharp did not attend the New York World’s Fair, the idea of him being there and experiencing its wonders has rattled around inside of him, resulting in him capturing the excitement and magic of the event in what he calls his “wish fulfillment song.” It’s a catchy, melodic beaut.

“World’s Fair” opens with the sound of a crowd gathering and feeds quickly into a quick drum tumble and a towering, majestic, celebratory mix of happy instrumentation and Ken’s wistful vocal, evoking the love that flew in and out of the World’s Fair grounds. He places himself in the midst of it all, a wondrous thing to do (“I hear a thousand children laughing / Not a worry on my mind”). He gets the feeling of being there in Flushing Meadow exactly right.

Piano, guitar, horns, sitar, bell tree, maracas, drums, bass, and a theremin work in concert to recreate the experience of attending the New York World’s Fair. Best to close your eyes while listening, to get the full effect of this song that on April 19 was the first song recorded in the new iteration of Fernando Perdomo’s Reseda Ranch Studio (version 2.0, if you’re keeping track).


What keeps me going, writing about some of the greatest melodic pop music being released today and classic recordings from years past, is what these songs trigger inside of me. When I first heard “World’s Fair,” I was immediately transported back to my youth, to a much simpler time, when joy was job one.

It still is. Thanks for the trip back in time, Ken.

Where to Get It: Digital: Bandcamp, Amazon

A vinyl version is available (see left). Contact Ken directly at sharpk@aol.com

radio1

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.