New on Pure Pop Radio 4-14-21: Bill Lloyd Defines Power Pop With Curated Selection

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Bill Lloyd | A Selection of Power Pop 1985-2020 – 15 Songs (Whole In One Records, 2021)

A Selection of Power Pop 1985-2020 – 15 Songs

Somewhere, somehow, there’s a person who thinks he’s come up with the most perfectly sensible and usable definition of the term power pop but, like the formulas for pantyhose that won’t ever rip or paper that won’t tear, that definition, true or not, is hidden deep in the recesses of a virtual break-proof safe. It is virtually unfindable.

Someone, somewhere, who thinks he has the perfect definition of power pop, is giggling and thinking he could release it into the wild, but why would he? That would stop the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute parlor game power pop fans have been playing since the unveiling of the internet so many years ago, perpetuated by queries that suggest that their favorite song is power pop, but what do you guys think?

Regardless of what someone might think, definitively defining the term power pop is simply not possible. Like the act of standing an egg on its end and having it stand there all by its lonesome, the term power pop will likely always be pondered by the best minds in the business and never be satisfactorily defined. There’s even a book that artfully tackles the subject, Go All the Way–A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop, edited by Paul Myers and S.W. Lauden, that will soon have a sequel.

While the quest for the really, truly, definitive definition of the term power pop continues, we have an album that collects 15 top-notch recordings by top-of-the-pops pop songsmith Bill Lloyd, billed as “a selection of power pop” that comes as close as anyone has come to defining the term. For all anyone knows, Lloyd might be the guy who has the defining definition of power pop locked away in some secret location–the real, true definition, as evidenced by this latest release.

Drawing from nine career-defining records released by Lloyd from 1985-2020, A Selection of Power Pop is evidence personified that this important artist, whose career is defined by forays into numerous stylistic nooks and crannies during his long and storied career, can power pop with the best of them.

Boy King of Tokyo
Back to Even
Bill Lloyd

Moving chronologically through his career, A Selection of Power Pop presents songs, some co-written with pop luminaries such as Marshall Crenshaw and Jamie Hoover, that count power as perhaps their most intrinsic element (although “Kiss Your Sister,” from Back to Even and “The Best Record Ever Made,” from Boy King of Tokyo, seem more poppy than power poppy to me). Of course, without strong, catchy melodies the power component of these songs wouldn’t mean much; Lloyd is among the top purveyors of melody in pop working today, or yesterday for that matter, and these songs each have incredibly strong melodies. They are powerful and melodic, the total package.

Feeling the Elephant
Set to Pop

Take the remake of “I Went Electric,” originally the opener on Lloyd’s iconic Set to Pop album, and here taken from Reset 2014; the surging, redoubtable melody, reminiscent of the best of the Kinks and the Pretenders, is indelible and feeds directly into the hair-raising electric guitar explosion that plays for about 45 glorious seconds before the song fades. A new remix by Glenn Rosenstein of “Mistakes Were Made,” which closed out the running order of Boy King of Tokyo and performs the same task here, presents a recording now zapped with extra-added dynamism and, not coincidentally, a stronger platform for one of Lloyd’s catchiest melodies. And an early Lloyd classic, Feeling the Elephant’s “Lisa Anne,” only hints at what combos of power and melody would deliver on future long-players.

How does Lloyd construct the 15 melodic power pop classics offered on A Selection of Power Pop? Only he knows, really; it’s something he does, and it comes naturally based on decades of experience and knowing what works. The idea is first, fully- or partially-formed; that idea gets worked on until it makes sense top to bottom. Then the instrumental makeup of the song gets crafted–guitars here, more guitars there, the lead vocal mixes with harmony stacks. The various elements of the song get properly mixed so there isn’t too much of that there and more of that where it makes sense; in the end, a balance is struck, causing every element to click.

These 15 songs, Lloyd’s carefully-curated selection of power pop released by him since 1985, clicks with a well-oiled touch. These songs, newly-remastered and featuring guests stars such as Al Kooper, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, Big Star’s Jody Stephens, The Smithereens’ Dennis Diken, Amy Rigby and more, are powerful; together, they rev up a virtual engine that sings with creative exuberance. They are, taken together, a shining example of the writer’s art, of the performer’s interpretation. And they are classics, each and every one of them.

Where to Get It: billlloydmusicAmazonApple Music

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 4-7-21: The Weeklings Fool No One, Astral Drive’s Summery Breeze, and Ken Sharp Creates Dreamy Miniatures

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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.

Where to Get It: AmazonApple Music

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.

Where to Get It: AmazonApple Music

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.”

Miniatures by Ken Sharp

Miniatures by Ken Sharp

Miniatures by Ken Sharp

Where to Get It:  BandcampApple Music

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 4-6-21: Einstein’s Sister Returns; Nelson Bragg Returns, too; Kai Danzberg Sings for You, and Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lilly Hiatt Sing Sweetly for Luck Reunion and Third Man

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Einstein’s Sister | “Begin Again” c/w “Standing Still” (Yummy Pop Tunes, 2020)

Announcing the triumphant return of Einstein’s Sister, Moline, Illinois’ melodic pop powerhouse, drummer Marty Reyhons pounds his kick drum and tightly-wound snare while his cymbals swish through the air, awaiting the entrance of an expressive rhythm guitar and determined bass. With Bill Douglas’s lead vocal and Tim Smith’s sweet backing vocal harmonies, the setup is complete, and the upbeat “Begin Again,” one of two ace new songs–the first since a pair that graced a 2002 Japan-only best-of compilation–is up and running.

The bluesy mid-tempo pop-rocker “Standing Still” also announces itself with a classic Marty Reyhons’ drum attack; elastic rhythm guitar stabs and electric guitar lines, deep bass plunks, and Kerry Tucker’s assured lead vocal are the stars that shine the brightest on this dynamic track.

With support from Smith (ex-Jellyfish) and guitar hero Vinnie Zummo, expressive mixing by Nick Davis, who has worked extensively with Genesis, and magical mastering by Abbey Road’s Miles Showell, Pure Pop Radio favorite Einstein’s Sister reigns supreme with an important, new release spotlighting two new superb, quite catchy numbers.

This new single, pressed on “transparent blue” vinyl, is accompanied by a CD with both new songs on it, along with instrumental versions; a download card, and a lyric and credits sheet. You can also purchase a digital download, but for $10, the physical media buy is a steal.

Welcome back, Einstein’s Sister, and stay for awhile, won’t you?

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Nelson Bragg | “I Want Love” c/w “Lost All Our Sundays” (Steel Derrick Music, 2021)

Melodic pop fans will know and treasure musician Nelson Bragg from his two superb solo albums (2006’s Day Into Night and 2012’s We Get What We Want), his work with Anny Celsi and Duncan Maitland, and his dazzling percussion magic, performed as a member of Brian Wilson’s band for fourteen years.

Bragg’s first new release since We Get What We Want is a single precursor to a new album, Gratitude Blues, set for release later this year. The A- and B-sides–a warm cover of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s ballad “I Want Love,” originally released on Elton’s 2001 album, Songs from the West Coast, and “Lost All Our Sundays,” a dynamic, upbeat Bragg track that was recorded in 2004 and never released, presented in a 2004 mix exclusive to this 45–both sparkle with dreamy, deeply-felt harmony vocal stacks, a Bragg trademark (a 2020 remix of “Lost All Our Sundays” will appear on Gratitude Blues). The ghostly a cappella open to “I Want Love” is a particular highlight, very clever and creative.

Housed in an attractive sleeve, the single is available from Bandcamp. Big bonus: Copies for U.S. buyers are signed and numbered by Bragg! Don’t miss this!

Where to Get It: Steel Derrick Music

Kai Danzberg | “Only You” (Big Stir, 2021)

In only five short years, Hanover, Germany’s Kai Danzberg has joined the ranks of top popsters with release after release of catchy, melodic songs. His latest is a lively, upbeat, pop-samba paean to love with vocal embellishments from Kai’s older sister, Ida. Kai’s lead vocal is perhaps his best yet–expressive and sure. “Only You” is a keeper, and one of the recent toppermost-of-the-poppermost digital singles in Big Stir’s ongoing series, now curated by musician Irene Pena.

Only You (Big Stir Single No. 123) by Kai Danzberg

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lilly Hiatt | “Dublin Blues”
Lilly Hiatt and Aaron Lee Tasjan | “Angel from Montgomery”
(Luck Reunion and Third Man Records)

From 2017, this graceful pair of recordings, waxed at Americana Fest in Nashville, shine a emotional light on a pair of classic compositions from John Prine and Guy Clark. Melodic pop fans will likely know at least some of Aaron Lee Tasjan’s remarkable work (Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! and Karma for Cheap are two shining examples); Lilly Hiatt, being the daughter of John Hiatt, will also likely be a familiar name.

This bare-bones-designed 45, one in a series of Luck Mansion Sessions releases (read about the series here and here), presents Tasjan taking the lead vocal on Clark’s “Dublin Blues,” which appeared on Clark’s 1995 album of the same name. Hiatt takes the lead vocal on Prine’s iconic “Angel from Montgomery,” from Prine’s self-titled 1971 debut. The performances, recorded live, are intimate, lovingly delivered, and a joy to hear (and you will likely dig the acoustic guitar lead runs on “Angel from Montgomery”).

Highly recommended.

Where to Get It: Third Man Records

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 3-11-21: Famous Groupies’ Furry with the Fringe on Top

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Famous Groupies | The Furry White Album (2020)

Seanair Patrick “Paisley” McKenzie isn’t the first rediscovered or discovered-for-the-first-time-after-a-long-time compositional savant I have encountered, but he is clearly the most prodigious, as evidenced by the trove of delightful songs from the sixties and seventies, both complete and in-process, left in the hands of his grandson, Kirkcaldy.

For three albums now, the latest being The Furry White Album, a glowing love letter to the sounds of yesteryear, Kirkcaldy and his five-piece band of merry fellow travelers have, along with some perfectly placed guests, been tidying up Patrick’s creations and recording them for posterity and our mutual enjoyment. The Furry White Album, 17 songs strong, helps spread the Patrick love with Wings’ Laurence Juber, Rosie Abbott, and retro-pop purveyor Dana Countryman in tow; the results are marvelous and earworm inducing.

Kirkcaldy McKenzie pounds the beat

Channeling, through Patrick’s wide-angle lens, certain of yesteryear’s classic, original pop scribes, Kirkcaldy and crew draw lovely sound pictures that celebrate the sounds that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. To wit: “Little Bird” reminds one of the pure, aching honesty of Paul McCartney’s bouncy piano balladry; “Maggie’s Farm” calls for steady toe tapping as its bluesy pop filters through a bagpipes-colored, faux Appalachian workout a la the Band, and the Nilsson-esque “Ghostwriter” channels a courtship worthy of Eddie’s father.

The songs of The Furry White Album speak for themselves; the performances are perfectly played. That Kirkcaldy continues to mine the output of his talented grandfather and present it to us in a succession of releases is a continuing gift that keeps on giving. The Furry White Album proves that good songs that touch the heart and soul can originate and thrive in any decade.

Another Famous Groupies collection, The Chameleon Sessions, is promised for this year. Begin saving your pennies now.

Where to Get It: Famous Groupies

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 2-24-21: The Sun Sawed in 1/2 is Beach Bound, Philip B. Price is in Lockdown, and Lee Feldman is On the Road

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 | “Beaches in Bali” (2021)
One of five songs to appear on Beaches in Bali, the first of three EPs being released this year by the vaunted St. Louis popsters the Sun Sawed in 1/2 (alongside “Dear Always,” “Dried Cherry Blossoms,” “Good King of the Summer,” and “Soft Away”), “Beaches in Bali” is a welcome breath of fresh melodic pop air.

Opening with a slow, soul-tinged mix of T. Rex- and B.B. King-isms, this deliberate pop-rocking love song chugs along with a glittery, Paul Buckmaster-ish string arrangement atop a George Harrison kind of Beatley production. Dave Farver’s elastic lead vocal and Joe Zeitlin’s cello work are among the delights your ears will thank you for. Oh, and Tim Rose, who wrote the song, also produced this rather catchy earworm with its catchy melody in tow.

The Beaches in Bali EP is pegged for an April release, with the other two EPs coming later this year. New music from the Sun Sawed in 1/2 is more than welcome (their last album, Elephants Into Swans, came out in 2013), as you can probably determine from the preceding paragraphs.

Right now, “Beaches in Bali” is only available on YouTube as a preview of the treasures that are to come. And, without further ado, here is the first treasure:

Philip B. Price | Oceans Hiding in Oceans (Signature Sounds, 2021)

Inside looking out, enmeshed in a billowing haze of a pandemic broadside, Winterpills’ chief, Philip B. Price, found himself inspired, although probably not for the usual reasons. Moved to feel and report on the emotions passing all around him, he set out to put pen to paper, so to speak, and help explain life as he and we now know it. He also decided to play all of the instruments and sing all of the vocal parts on this extraordinary album.

Oceans Hiding in Oceans, Price’s affecting follow-up to 2019’s Bone Almanac, plays like an informed chronicle of dreams and emotions that have defined our pandemic year, in the form of catchy pop songs. Adopting a seasoned poet’s stance, the singer-songwriter-as-troubadour burrows deep into the current scheme of our lives, eyes and ears wide open, wanting to understand. The album, 11 songs strong, functions as a sort-of nesting doll, as each musical layer is brought to bear.

“Intention is everything / It is the root and the branch,” Price sings knowingly in the penultimate song, “Intention is Everything.” Structured in a fashion similar to John Lennon’s explanative “God,” Price sings a register of observations, a catalog of sorts, one notation after another, trying to figure it out. “Tiny stars are all falling,” Price sings. One by one by one, each star falls and tells another part of the tale.

Price’s melodies, exquisite and charming, are resounding pop leitmotifs communicated in the face of his dreamlike lyrical exposition, delivered atop spare instrumentation that lets the words do the talking. With a poet’s eye and a songwriter’s ear, he presents his pandemic year observations in a lyrical, sometimes cinematically-nightmarish light.

It all starts out so peacefully with a love song, of all things (“This is the Last Thing”); the first, next and last things to know are “I love you.” But, as in many of our living, breathing experiences during this pandemic year, there is room for a certain amount of shade: “Bright bright my loving light / I’ll be your sand and your satellite / Flooding light at midnight / Right through your line of sight.” Or, in the alternative, that shade may just be the narrator protecting his loved ones.

From that hopeful opening, we are treated to a faux tug of war–us against the forces of nature that have changed how we live our lives, with rays of sunshine peeking through. In the upbeat, poppy “Little Bell,” a song seemingly sung to a child, the narrator is hopeful and protective: “Little Bell we’ll carry you / Through the darkness and the blue / We will always sing your name / We will always lift your flame.” And in “Me and the Stars,” orchestrated in such a way as to remind me of Sting’s “Mad About You” from his album, The Soul Cages, the narrator sings of finding a safe place in which to hide and be safe: (“Is there any way that we can be alone / Me and the stars?”). Where the light is magnetic and true?

A summer hailstorm suggests an almost normal chain of events, creatively skewed, beating down on the land in the catchy pop song, “First Hail”: “With the hailstones comes the crossbones and the long lines at the payphones.” It’s a memory, one would think, borne of one’s consciousness reflecting on days past during a here-and-now time of some uncertainty. Conversely, in “Scarred for Life,” a beat-driven piano and percussion structure propels a lyric that shows the narrator trying to make lemonade out of lemons: “So you live with it / Carry it with you / You don’t leave it behind / And sometimes it lifts you / Your skin will harden / Sometimes it itches.” Which suggests, I think, that you should never forget, which makes you stronger.

The first verse of “Little Bell,” the most wholly hopeful song here, lays out the chances for light shining through. “Little Bell you ring all day / And at night you’re tucked away / And you dream of ringing still / And you know you always will.”

All of these words and melodies prove that insightful pop music, like the songs on this album, will always show you the way.

Where to Get It: BandcampAmazonApple Music

Lee Feldman | “Into the Air” (2021)

A longtime Pure Pop Radio favorite going back to the early days of my weekly show on WEBR radio (he was an early in-studio guest who played live on his portable keyboard), Lee Feldman has come up with quite the paradoxical song for this pandemic year.

Running along at a brisk pace, “Into the Air” tells a murky, unsettling story of a school bus journey that may or may not end in tragedy (“A thousand summers / Have come and gone / Henry’s waiting / For the bus to come / Lights are shining / In his eyes / Brakes are whining / On the road”). Or maybe Henry is just a guy getting on the bus at a stop where he’s been waiting?

“Don’t go into the air,” the narrator sings, meaning…what? If there were to be an accident, would the resulting tumult pass headlong into the night…or even the daylight?

This is how I think “Into the Air” draws its breath. However you look at the story being told, you’ll likely agree that this very Picnic at Hanging Rock-esque song projects a commanding presence as its very catchiness seeps into your brain.

Lee’s quick piano lines, curt and heartfelt, amount to an extended riff that moves the action along; it is, in fact, a riff that feels its own fate, or at least the fate of the narrator. Also bringing this story to life are Bill Dobrow on drums and percussion, and Byron Isaacs on bass and backing vocals.

It’s another keeper from Lee Feldman.

Where to Get It: BandcampAmazonApple Music

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 2-17-21: Ken Sharp Kisses Paul and Gene, The Legal Matters Return, and Kenny Herbert Prescribes Love

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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.

Hold Me, Touch Me by Ken Sharp

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.

Mr. Make Believe by Ken Sharp

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.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp (“Hold Me, Touch Me”), Bandcamp (“Mr. Make Believe”)

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.

Where to Get It: Pre-order Chapter 3 and get “Light Up the Sky” immediately (Bandcamp); pre-order the album or purchase the mp3 of “Light Up the Sky” at Amazon Music

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.

Where to Get It: Apple Music. Listen on Spotify

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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 2-4-21: Terry Draper’s Lost, Dave Caruso’s Radio-Friendly Radiophonic Supersonic and Astral Drive’s ’70s Rundgren Breeze, “Water Lilies,” Dazzle

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Terry Draper | Lost (2020)
In dreams, captivated by the promise of a slate wiped clean, of the promise of better days, of being lost in a new world different enough from the old one to matter, of not having to look over your shoulder, you are safe, as the title song, placed first in the running order of Terry Draper’s beautifully realized, hopeful and atmospheric song cycle, Lost, proffers.

“One door will open as another closes,” Terry sings, as the heart of the next song, “A New Journey,” plays and reveals itself. “Let a new journey begin,” comes the offer, and with that you reach out into the unknown universe ahead and follow along because you feel safe and secure. The feelings espoused by these melodically rich songs, Terry’s latest–and possibly his best–are weaved into a thoughtful song cycle that is real and comforting. In any universe, Lost is akin to being found, of being comforted and seeing–tasting–a safe and prosperous path forward.

Being comforted sometimes also means knowing when what is revealed is not what it seems, as the narrator of the sprightly confection “A Walk in the Park,” sweetened by Dana and Tricia Countryman’s lovely background vocal harmonies, finds: “The children all were playing tag / But now the kids are playing rough / I’m running home with all my stuff.” The smooth surfaces upon which we walk are sometimes accented by hard-to-see potholes of a sort; still, what you will find, in the end, on your journey is worth the risk. Look ahead with hope and wonder!

Also worth the risk are a foraging trip through space by the Voyager satellite (“I am Voyager,” a very Klaatu-sounding song with room to breathe and Spongetone Jamie Hoover’s lovely background vocals), and coming to the realization that “Home” is where the heart, and brain, are, as long as you accept the reality of our shared situation and know what’s what (“I’m tellin’ you all to stay at home / If you’re feelin’ lonely pick up a book / Pick up the phone / Yes, I’m tellin’ you all to stay at home / But if you feel you must go out / Please send your clone”). “Home,” a fanciful number with a lyrical tongue planted firmly in cheek, is made all the more enjoyable by Probyn Gregory’s ukelele, Dana Countryman’s “clarinet wrangling,” and Lisa Mychols’ background vocals.

During your journey through Lost and Terry Draper’s universe of possibilities, believe in what you see and stay the course, as the song “Armchair Travelers” lays out in directional fashion: “When you’re leaving your neighbourhood / Leaving your town / Crossing the borderline / No, don’t turn around.” Keep moving forward. Sage advice.

In Terry Draper’s more than capable hands, as you listen to Lost and contemplate the melodic wonders ahead, you will find yourself face-to-face with an array of characters such as Queen Victoria, Ponce de Leon, an assortment of bullies covering up their lack of confidence, sultans, and lost worlds needing to be found. In Terry Draper’s more than capable hands, within songs scored with a classic songwriter’s muscle and supported with ace guest appearances from Lisa Mychols, Dana and Tricia Countryman, and Jamie Hoover, Lost is found.

(More relentlessly clever videos, created by Jamie Grant for Lost’s songs, can be viewed here.)

Where to Get It: terrydraper.com, Amazon, Apple Music, Bandcamp

Dave Caruso | Radiophonic Supersonic (2020)
Michigander Caruso follows up his 2017 stunner Buddha Pesto Manifesto with a high-wire act that one would expect from a seasoned musician of four decades and counting: a 10-song, radio-friendly batch of hit-single-worthy tracks that instantly registers with waiting ears.

Songs like the jangly “Little Miss Sunshine” and equally upbeat slices of catchy melodic pop such as “The Drop,” with its attractive hanging chord at the end, and the energetic “A Piece of the Action” are top-tier compositions played with drive and gusto, a Caruso trademark.

But listeners should be most attracted to three soulful pop songs that hover high atop the plain of extraordinary musical creations: “Tuesday’s Gone,” a clever, affecting, enchanting mix of instrumentation wrapped in a dreamlike ribbon of orchestration that would sound grand segued with Sting’s “Seven Days,” another song concerned with the days of the week; “Indelible,” a Philly soul vibe featuring a 14-second-long vocal-less bridge of sorts driven by piano, xylophone and orchestration; and “Heaven Minus Love,” that recalls the soulful pop of 1980s beloved band, ABC.

Radiophonic Supersonic by Dave Caruso

Radiophonic Supersonic by Dave Caruso

Dave Caruso is the type of artist who burns the midnight oil over every note and lyric syllable until each and every one is just right, and it shows. On this release that has garnered boatloads of acclaim from the melodic pop community, Dave has continued his strong winning streak and laid the groundwork for a swell of anticipation for his next release.

Radiophonic Supersonic is a triumphant winner.

Where to Get It: davecarusomusic.com, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Kool Kat Musik

Astral Drive | “Water Lilies” (2021, Lojinx)
Pure Pop Radio favorite, super-producer and artist extraordinaire Phil Thornalley returns with another sweetheart swing-and-sway-on-a-lazy-summer’s-day (yes, even in the cold, snowy winter) mid-tempo ballad bathed in the aura of the Hermit of Mink Hollow, aka Todd Rundgren. “Water Lilies,” a dreamy landscape of a tune about true heart-to-heart love, posits a deeply felt attraction painted in a wide swath of color and feeling (“Do you know what my love is / It’s never ending / Like the giant canvasses of water lilies”) as it projects a melody that is warm and true.

With “Water Lilies,” recorded in his garage in 2020 and now released as the lead track from Astral Drive’s upcoming, much-anticipated sophomore album, Thornalley has graced the start of this pandemic year with the sweet sounds of hummable love.

Where to Get It: Apple Music, Amazon

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.

Pure Pop Radio is Bursting with New, Magical Sounds

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Although you probably won’t ever hear any songs by rocker Marilyn Manson on Pure Pop Radio, you will likely agree with a quote attributed to him.

“Music is the strongest form of magic,” Manson is said to have uttered once upon a time.  Good for Marilyn, we say! We think the rocker is right, and we bet you do too.

Pure Pop Radio, the 24-hour internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music in the universe, sends magical, musical missives out to waiting ears that are thirsty for sounds that make everything feel alright. And we all could use help in that regard these days.

Recent adds to our ever-growing playlist show that the catchiest songs from new and new-to-you artists are spinning hour after hour, around the clock. Some particularly fine examples:

Dear Stella. The nom de plume of Austria’s Stefanie Drexler is bound to satisfy fans of dynamic, creative sounds with the EP Time Zones, releasing tomorrow.  These six, monumentally rich songs, beautifully produced and performed with true heart (check Drexler’s strong, emotional vocals), incorporate retro and contemporary sounds in surprising ways. Pop pundits Bleu, Eric Barao, David Myhr and Kai Danzberg are on hand, but this is Drexler’s show all the way, and a incredible, joyous show it is. We’re playing all six tunes in rotation. Here’s just a taste, a beautiful ballad from one of your soon-to-be-favorite 2020 releases, Time Zones:

The BOTP Band. With a half-dozen like-minded musicians in tow, the Junipers’ Robyn Gibson once again puts his stamp on treasured, classic tunes from pop music’s past. The latest collection, entitled Bob of the Pops Volume 5, makes songs by ABBA, Bob Dylan, the Tokens, the Five Stairsteps, the Hollies, Elliott Smith and many more of your favorites come alive in true BOTP fashion. We’re playing six of these stellar tracks, including the following pair (sing along if you know the words, and we know that you do!):

Bob of the Pops Volume 5 by Bob of the Pops

Bob of the Pops Volume 5 by Bob of the Pops

As usual, there is more–much more playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, including new songs from Orbis Max with Emperor Penguin, Swedish Polarbears, Caper Clowns, Nick Frater, Cliff Hillis, Richard X. Heyman. And more still!

Tune in to our 24-hour stream and enjoy the music!

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.

What’s New? Lots.

new on pp banner hybrid 2-use this one, it's fixed

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Because there have been and continue to be fairly long periods of time without any posts in this space, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a short update on what’s new and happening, as the kids often say.

First, more new and new-to-you melodic pop nuggets continue to be added to Pure Pop Radio’s ever-growing playlist; why, just yesterday, I added a whole bunch of really terrific songs I think you’re going to love. More on that in a moment, or somewhere in the neighborhood of a paragraph or three.

A while ago, I let it be known on social media that I was having some health problems that were persisting and refusing to go away. That situation has not improved very much; if anything, it has gotten worse, leaving me with fairly substantial periods of time where I’m much too tired and in too much pain to do much of anything else. Yet, I remain positive and hopeful.

I’m dealing with a rough case of psoriatic arthritis that, combined with my ongoing battle with neuropathy, many years running, is causing me much anguish both day and night. These conditions are particularly hard to deal with during the current Covid-19 crisis, when I must visit with doctors online rather than in person. Some days, I’m unable to do very much other than sleep, deal with pain, and generally mope while sitting still, instead of working on Pure Pop Radio and this website.

All of the above is to say that, despite my ongoing medical situation, I will continue to add songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist on as regular a basis as I can, and report on those adds in this space in a similar fashion. I will also work on reviews as I am able.

As regards to the new songs I said I added to the playlist yesterday, well, I’m pretty impressed with the lot of them: now playing in rotation are sweet and catchy new tracks from Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis, from their terrific and whole-lotta-fun album, Your Face is Weird. You’re going to love it.

But wait, there’s more new and new-to-you excellence playing on our air from:

Wilding’s The Death of Foley’s Mall, the excellent work of one Justin Wilding Stokes that I believe you will be hearing much of in the coming months. We’re playing five songs in rotation

The Death Of Foley’s Mall by Wilding

mylittlebrother’s Howl, a much-awaited masterwork from Will Harris and crew, from which we’re playing five songs in rotation

Janey by mylittlebrother

The always great Bill DeMain, who has covered probably the one Harry Nilsson song that you would never expect him to cover, from the movie Skidoo, about which much will be said later on; “Garbage Can Ballet” is the name of the tune, and it’s another masterful job by a Pure Pop Radio favorite artist

Garbage Can Ballet by Bill DeMain

Michael Carpenter and the Banks Brothers. This sterling country pop project, which is bursting with charm and melodic excellence, not to mention top-notch playing, is represented on our air by three most impressive, toe-tapping tracks

Kelly Jones, another Pure Pop Radio favorite, who has just released a super-fine EP with four great tracks, three written with the above-mentioned Bill DeMain

Big Dogs Die Young by Kelly Jones

J.P. Cregan, a terrific popster about whom I know almost nothing, but that will change pretty quick, I betcha (thanks to Coke Belda for the general heads-up)

Twenty by J.P. Cregan

Kenny Herbert, whose music I’ve been playing on the various incarnations of Pure Pop Radio for more than 20 years; his latest, an uptempo love song called “It’s Only Me,” is another instant classic from the musical bard of Scotland

https://music.apple.com/gb/album/its-only-me-single/1532003172

Hoodoo Gurus, speaking of classics; the Gurus have released another top track called “Get Out of Dodge,” with the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson and the Beach Boys’ John Cowsill in tow.

There is more, of course–much more, and I will hopefully be reporting on those adds shortly. Meanwhile…

Thanks for reading and thanks for listening to Pure Pop Radio and visiting this website for reviews of great melodic pop music. I am humbled that you take the time to see what I’m up to, and if it sometimes seems like I’m not up to much, I really, truly am.

See you again soon.

Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premier website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features.

Pure Pop Radio brings the greatest melodic pop music in the universe to your waiting ears, 24 hours a day.

Bill Lloyd’s Latest is Another Winning Collection

new on pp banner hybrid 2-use this one, it's fixed

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Bill Lloyd | Don’t Kill the Messenger
(Whole In One, 2020)

The relatively serene composure elucidated in the gentle repose of “The Kiss of the Summer Wind,” a warm musical hug of a song that closes Bill Lloyd’s latest long player, Don’t Kill the Messenger, heralds a change of season and tone. Don’t Kill the Messenger is another winning collection from this classic musician.

With “The Kiss of the Summer Wind,” Lloyd’s calming, melodic salve lowers the temperature drawn by the 11 songs that precede it, that, all told, rock with purpose, powered as they are by a surfeit of hard-charging electric guitars, purposeful and perceptive lyrical conceits, and the usual keen sense of melody. When this longtime favorite Nashvillian sings, we all listen.

An album about the art of communication and what that amounts to in the grand scheme of things, Don’t Kill the Messenger makes otherwise potentially unpalatable situations charted within its songs pay off by suggesting better angels to pursue.

In the hard-charging rocker “I’ve Had Enough of Your Love,” the narrator learns to walk away to lower the temperature on a soured relationship. In the quirky, chunky rocker “KAKA’N’8IT,” a person’s floor caves in as the spoils of war amount to the realization that too much is usually quite enough. And in the sly, winking, four-on-the-floor rocker “You Got Me,” cowritten with legendary producer of the Band, the Cyrkle and Simon and Garfunkel, John Simon, the perfect partner turns out to be less than that.

Lloyd stacks his deck of songs with more winning cowrites, putting pen to paper and pick to guitar strings with a number of longstanding pals, such as David Surface, Prince sideman Dez Dickerson, and Les Bohem, who has played bass for Sparks. Among the guest musicians who help bring these songs to life is Pure Pop Radio favorite Seth Timbs, who plays keyboards on two songs.

On this album’s photo-adorned cover, a sign, placed under a thick, hovering tree just ahead of a weathered white building, advertises a psychic’s tarot card and palm reading services. Depending on your state of mind, you would likely either scoff at this notion and take a nothing-to-see-here approach or wonder what might transpire by entering the building and chatting with the psychic.

Whichever road you choose to travel, playing Bill Lloyd’s latest rock-solid collection of melodic pop and roll is the kiss of the summer wind, not to mention the breeze that blows through the fall, winter and spring. Let it surround you.

Now Playing in Rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Etch-a-Sketch,” “KAKE’N’8IT,” “You Got Me,” and “The Kiss of the Summer Wind”

Where to Get It: billlloydmusic.net store, Amazon, Apple Music

Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premier website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features.

Pure Pop Radio brings the greatest melodic pop music in the universe to your waiting ears, 24 hours a day.