New on Pure Pop Radio 11.01.17: Dave Caruso’s Career-Defining Buddha Pesto Manifesto

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio alan 5 small

Spins and Reviews | 11.01.17

front coverDave Caruso | Buddha Pesto Manifesto (2017)
Because you can be doing one thing and attending to another in the same space, you can be forever pulled apart in the service of inner peace. So when Dave Caruso sings “We’re diagramming Goldblum and punctuating Shatner” in the clever construct “Punctuating Shatner,” he’s asking you to resolve the eternal question that plagues us all: Do you want to fit in or stand out in a crowd?

Across the board, Caruso’s new songs, which form the whole of his career-defining new album, Buddha Pesto Manifesto, play with the duality of the times in our lives when decisions must be made. Easy or hard to fathom, these decisions are the fabric of our lives, set within this album to glide along atop durable melodies that beat to the heart of the matter.

The protagonist in the upbeat Elvis Costello-esque attraction “Go Ahead–Don’t Listen” is aching to convince his partner to stay in his orbit by suiting up for a bit of understated psychological warfare: “…you can go ahead–don’t listen to me/Go ahead–don’t listen to me/Cause I’ve got nothing to say and it won’t change anything anyway,” he posits, hoping she will get what he’s really going on about. Her reward? A pleasing Beatles chord as the song comes to a close.

dave caruso live on the radio

Dave Caruso performing live on the “Strange Magic” radio show, on Rewind 94.3 WERW. Photo by show co-host Brad Schreiber.

In the lithely dramatic, baroque, beautifully-sung “God’s Green Acre,” the narrator is trying to convince someone to cut ties with a less-than sincere, game-playing woman. “She won’t strike you down/But she’ll knock you good whenever you’re not around,” he sings, trying to point out the obvious. In the infectious, Merseybeat-styled “Hanging With You,” the decision to be made is plainly stated and easy to make: “I know what I wanna do/I’m only happy when I’m hanging with you.” But will his decision be that easy and, ultimately, fulfilling?

It really is that easy, or hard, or impossible, caught as we can be in a situation that is seemingly impossible to negotiate to our advantage, and no more so within the space that this album occupies than in the heartbreaking ballad that closes these proceedings. “I Get to Make You Laugh,” delivered emotionally by Caruso’s tender vocal and keyboard, finds the narrator self-realizing that another man has the woman’s commitment at the same time that the narrator has her soul.

“So tell me: who is the ‘have not’ and who’s the ‘have?’,” he wonders. “He gets to hold you, but I get to make you laugh.” The decision is clear, but how does the narrator make it, and is it the right one? And under which circumstances? What is best for the situation, for the hearts swirling in the mix?

(l to r) Dave Caruso and Andy Reed

(l to r) Dave Caruso and Andy Reed

That Caruso is able to negotiate the waters of decision in his lyrics while painting delicious landscapes with his melodic brush is a testament to his skill as a writer and performer. He is on his own in these 10 songs, playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals. Aided masterfully by Andy Reed, who mixed and mastered, bringing each element of these songs to glorious life, Caruso has made a career-defining album stocked deep with catchy songs that does nothing less than offer him the chance to make a decision of his own.

What does Dave do next? Buddha Pesto Manifesto, coming three years after the bravura performances captured within his breakout album Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, sets a high bar for future musical endeavors. From the outside looking in, it seems this decision, at least, is an easy one.

black box Where to Get It: DaveCarusoMusic, Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby

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Terry Draper’s Searching is the First Great Album of 2016

As we wrote last week, we’ve been spinning some sumptuous sounds with an ear toward adding them to our ever-growing playlist, now nearly 8,200 songs strong. We’ve been busy doing just that; here is a featured review of one of our favorite artist’s new album; we’ll run down reviews of other recent playlist adds early next week.

terry draperTerry Draper | Searching A work crafted with care in the time-honored melodic pop tradition, former Klaatu member Terry Draper’s Searching is the first great album of 2016, and in an age in which albums are increasingly in less favor than single tracks, it is a shining example of the art of the complete musical statement. It is a collection of songs placed in just the right sequence because that is what you do.

You could certainly cherry-pick from these 14 songs (one hidden) and play the ones that resonate most with you–you could do that any old time, but the artist, I would bet, requests your full attention while the running order plays through exactly as it is presented. For full effect, of course. Then, have at your iPhone playlists and such. Then, you’re in the driver’s seat.

These wonderful songs, so clever and so catchy and shimmering with the level of skill mastered through more than a few years–a lifetime, really–of working at the art of the melodic pop tradition in Klaatu and a brightly lit solo career, are sometimes even surprising, in that they suggest one experience and deliver that one and another on top of it.

Sometimes, this happens when you’re not even looking, like in the lovely title number, an emotional tone poem that trades balladry for an uptempo pop structure about two-thirds of the way through. Ostensibly a love song, there appears to be somewhat more to this story, as love and hope reach out beyond the stars for answers, for direction…and for the next steps on our mutual journeys.

terry draper photoOur journeys don’t always intersect, although the hope that that could come to pass is at the center of the wistful “Our Park Bench.” The narrator pines for a love that has moved on as memories of the couple’s time together leave him hungry for reconnection, even as those memories may be all that there is.

But there is always what there is, a feeling that lies at the heart of another gorgeous tone poem, the quite pretty “All We Can Do.” “All we can do is all we can do/It’s all me and you can ever hope to do,” Terry sings as tempos and moods shift around him. And speaking of moods, the delicious, hidden instrumental that appears mere seconds after the closing medley, a combined cover of two favorite pop hits from yesteryear–the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Younger Girl” and the Cowsills’ “The Rain, the Park and Other Things”–fuses Indian classical music with poetic, melodic pop as it pays homage to the Moody Blues from the group’s In Search of the Lost Chord era. “Younger Girl, Flower Girl”‘s mood is joyous. It’s a celebration.

And celebration is the name of the game in two terrific pop numbers: “Jules and Me,” a most catchy flight of fancy that sets the singer off on a wondrous bonding journey with the spirit of the celebrated author of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and other fantastic, classic writings; and “Everything Will Be Alright,” an uptempo song that, in a perfect world, would be zooming its way up the hit charts as I write these words.

Playing the lion’s share of instruments on these songs, Terry is joined by such guest stars as Jamie and Steve’s Jamie Hoover; Ray Paul, whose first album in many years will be released soon; and famed musician Lou Pomanti, who plays some particularly tasty, jazzy piano on the nostalgic “Monogamous Me.” Ted Jones, who Klaatu fans will certainly be familiar with from his cover illustrations for the group’s albums, supplied the glorious cover art here.

All of the songs from Searching are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, as nature surely intended. These are the songs of your life here at the start of this hopeful new year, created for you in the time-honored melodic pop tradition.

– Alan Haber

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

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The Legal Matters: Equal Parts that Warm a Cold and Snowy Michigan Winter

legal-matters-largeThe Legal Matters | The Legal Matters | Futureman Records (2014)

(Win one of two copies of the Legal Matters’ self-titled  debut album by filling in the form below!)

The next time you rise on a cold and dreary winter morning to find that your overnight brought you two or three inches of snow, and you are moved to mumble “Just what we needed…more of that soul-killing white stuff,” think about the three members of the Legal Matters, who hunkered down in the Reed Recording Company studio this past January to make happy music against a weather-beaten Michigan backdrop. Even in the face of pounding white stuff, the show must go on.

As the snow fell fiercely around them–as a foot or two rolled into more than the sum of a record Michigan winter’s snowfall–Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, equal parts of the same enterprise and veterans of various bands and solo tracks and whatnot, turned what started out as a new Phenomenal Cats record into a brand new enterprise, a song cycle informed by music that was made perhaps a lifetime ago by bands such as the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, Big Star, Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys and who knows who else. When all was said and done, 10 songs were completed in six days, a veritable hop, skip and a jump of sorts that very possibly deserves some kind of knighthood or at least a pat or two on the band’s collective back.

The three friends, with pop-star-in-his-own-right Nick Piunti and drummer Cody Marecek and all of the sounds they loved that came before them swirling around in their heads, strapped on their guitars, fired up their keyboards and plugged in with the sole purpose of creating their art. And, with the equipment whirring gently around them, they set to making the magic happen, as only members of the P-Cats and An American Underdog and the Subtractions could do. And, lo and behold, came the Legal Matters first, self-titled album. And the summer music season of 2014 took off with what promises to be one of the best melodic pop albums of this or any other year.

There was a review of a Pink Floyd album–probably The Wall–in which the writer theorized that this was a band that never orphaned a single idea. It’s like when the ubiquitous observer of film says that every penny spent on a particular movie is on the screen. Similarly, the Legal Matters have incorporated a heap of ideas into their musical stew and left not a single one on the cutting-room floor. It’s all there in the music, in the air, in the moment.

It’s in the happy pop of “Rite of Spring,” where deeply-stacked and deeply-felt harmony vocals come together to transform a lovely melody into a rainbow of emotion. It’s in the gentle light country-pop groove of “Have You Changed Your Mind,” in the “Things We Said Today” mode of “It’s Not What I Say,” in the slightly spacey and emotional “Outer Space,” and in the gorgeous, harmony-stacked “Mary Anne.”

It’s in the from-the-heart, quite musical missives that the harmony-drenched law firm of Reed, Richards and Klingensmith have delivered to the ears of melodic pop fans all over the world. Borne in a winter wonderland that caused a populace to stand still yet still allow the creation of what Joan Jett called “good, good music,” these songs are what happens when all is right with the world. “It always feels so good to hear good music,” Joan sang, speaking for all the lovers in the world–the romantics who cradle soothing sounds and feel the elation that good, good music provides.

The Legal Matters’ first, self-titled album is good, good music. It’s good, good music for when the snow falls, for when spring turns to summer, during a light rain, and for when fall signals the end of baseball season and the year moves into its closing phase. It’s good for what ails you, a prescription that works wonders no matter the season or circumstance. The Legal Matters is good, good music. But next time, order up a warm summer’s day, boys.

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Win one of two copies of the Legal Matters’ self-titled debut album by filling in the form that follows. Type “The Legal Matters” in the Comment field. Entries must be received by noon ET on July 30. Good luck!

 

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

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Reviews from the Pages of buhdge: Pugwash’s Eleven Modern Antiquities

...from the pages of buhdge

…from the pages of buhdge

Back in the mid 2000’s, we started a popular website called buhdge. buhdge, with an accent on the “h,” was designed to support the weekly Pure Pop Radio Show on WEBR in Fairfax, Virginia, and for many years, it did. For various reasons, however, it lay dormant for periods of time–some short, some regrettably long, and in March 2012, it ceased to be updated at all. It sorta, kinda morphed into a dormant, online catalog of melodic pop music reviews, audio interviews and articles. After nearly two years of inactivity, it will be going away forever, having done its time entertaining at least millions.

Because the content on buhdge is worthy of a second, or even a third, look, we have decided to post some of the best of the reviews and such here. The audio interviews will be ported over to our PodOMatic podcast page. This has, in fact, begun and will continue throughout this year.

So, here’s the first of a goodly number of reviews that first appeared on buhdge. First up: our review of Pugwash’s 2008 album, Eleven Modern Antiquities, as fine a record as Thomas Walsh and company have put out. Enjoy the review, and add the album to your collection if, for some odd reason, it doesn’t already claim pride of place.

Pugwash's Eleven Modern Antiquities

Pugwash’s Eleven Modern Antiquities

Pugwash | Eleven Modern Antiquities (1969 Records)

I remember reading a review of Pink Floyd’s The Wall in which the reviewer described the Floyd as a band that never throws an idea away. The idea of a creative force so keenly tuned into their vision being able to use their every idea to bring that vision to life instantly intrigued me. And today, thinking about the idea of using ideas in such a complete way, I thought of Thomas Walsh, the Dublin songwriter whose ideas and vision fuel the musical engine that is Pugwash the band.

I believe, as the reviewer of The Wall believed about Pink Floyd almost 30 years ago, that Walsh is an artist who never throws an idea away, for he knows a good idea when he hears one. Even more, I believe that Walsh couldn’t throw an idea away if he wanted to, because his ideas are that good. Walsh is a pop pundit who fuels his ideas with his deep-seated love of the pop form, whose admiration of the classic pop sound brought forth by bands like the Move and the Electric Light Orchestra and XTC knows no bounds, who lives and breathes what lies at the heart of great pop music and knows how to mix all of that up and create songs steeped in ideas that sing with melodies and harmony and the odd musical quote, and has the good sense, thank God, to share it all with the world.

This fourth Pugwash album, appearing three years on from the richly-defined Jollity, is a high-water mark in a career defined by such milestones. The title of the album, Eleven Modern Antiquities, is ironic, for how can “modern” creations be antiquities, “relics or monuments… of ancient times,” as the word is defined by Merriam-Webster? Walsh suggests that he is a songwriter writing pop songs today, not as if he were plying his trade in, say, the 1960s or 1970s. His is not a retro art, but a modern art that references and is informed by what has come before–a contemporary art, if you will, that is clearly created in the present. If you get a chill up your spine listening to Walsh’s music–if you’re of a certain age or you’re simply wired to swoon under the spell of a clever chord change, sumptuous melody, or a genuinely inspired lyric–you owe it to yourself to become immersed in this absolutely wonderful music. Top of the pops, in fact.

These eleven modern antiquities are really of a piece, so well do they fit together and alongside each other. The first single, “Take Me Away,” a bright and cheery-sounding, straight-ahead pop song of immense charm, is informed musically by Jason Falkner’s expressive, chunky rhythm and otherwise guitars, and bandmates Keith Farrell and Johnny Boyle’s spot-on musicianship, not to mention Walsh’s beautiful voice, an instrument most certainly to treasure.

Treasure, also, Walsh’s particular, knowing way with a lyric. If the catchy and quite appealing music is the yin of “Take Me Away,” the words are the yang. Walsh sings of a person who doesn’t figure the fairness of those “rich in love” coming in last. It’s “…an answer not to be found,” he sings, leading the person to pray for someone to take him away. To the place where questions have answers? Walsh doesn’t venture a guess, but it’s an important question at the heart of a great song.

Taking stock of one’s own self seems to be a recurring theme in Walsh’s writing. A Psychology Today article titled Love Needs, posted on Yahoo! Health, discusses “…the difference between limerance and love.” “Limerance,” the article states, “is the psychological state of deep infatuation.” But it isn’t love. Is it a component of love, or does love transcend limerance? It’s another question for the ages, deftly handled by Walsh in the song “Limerance,” against a hypnotic, dreamy, piano-infused arrangement.

In the epic closer, “Landsdowne Valley,” Walsh recounts a childhood spent playing, sliding on “snow and ice every winter’s day,” only one of the grand adventures that one can look back on when taking stock of one’s growing up. “I played in Landsdowne Valley every single day,” Walsh sings. “I feel those voices are calling me back.” And then, the turn of phrase that so populates Walsh’s work: “My mind’s achilles heel.” The music is sumptuously realized, mellotrons expressing the depth of memory, until the song implodes on itself and finally collapses under a cacophony of sound, the sound of memories colliding in the haze of remembrance. It’s a remarkable song, and a remarkable achievement.

But all is not implosion on Eleven Modern Antiquities. Two songs, co-written with XTC’s Andy Partridge, stand as two of the highlights of an album steeped in them. The jaunty, wildly imaginative “At the Sea” affectionately recounts the imagination of youth at the seaside, the plans formulated that are rained upon for the purpose of spoiling the fun, at which point kids will be “posing with hankies” on their heads, “sipping our tea at the sea.” The sprightly theatricality of the music, complete with whistles and kazoos and a manic acoustic guitar solo by one Mr. Partridge, bring the song to a plateau that is a joy to behold. It’s the kind of catchy tune that, eyes closed, will transport you happily away.

“My Genius,” another Walsh-Partridge co-write, is one of this album’s most affecting treasures. A nostalgia-tinged, supper club pop song with a sweet melody, about a person whose “genius is out of a bottle,” “My Genius” features pretty background vocals by Walsh and the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, who also plays keyboards throughout this album, and neat percussion played by the incomparable Nelson Bragg. Dig the instrumental section, which pairs Hannon’s delicate piano lines with a decidedly-sixties, Beatlesque guitar part.

If there is a centerpiece to this collection of modern antiquities, it is the grand, destined-for-a-Broadway-musical ballad, “Here.” Following on the heels of the gorgeous folk-pop number “Cluster Bomb,” featuring the deftly-performed strings of the Section Quartet, arranged by the invaluable Dave Gregory, late of XTC, “Here” is a simply luminous creation, driven by Hannon’s emotional piano, near to Walsh’s heart of hearts. Here, he wrestles with a question similar to that posed in “Take Me Away”: What do you do when what you long for is just out of reach? To wit, the chorus: “Ever wanted someone but your mind is telling you you’ll fail? Ever needed loving but you come up short again… again… again.”

Special mention must be made of Dave Gregory’s genius that shines like the brightest of lights on “Here.” Gregory’s guitar solo and haunting string arrangement, once again brought to lively life by the Section Quartet, reflect Walsh’s love of all things ELO. This nod to what has come before becomes an integral part of the song’s whole and contributes mightily to what will surely be looked upon by those in the know as a standard for the ages.

That’s what you get with these eleven modern miracles, these eleven modern antiquities that so resonate with the human condition. The whole of this album is a remarkable achievement that will be followed by more remarkable achievements from one of contemporary pop music’s most talented artists. That he speaks to the masses, to the hearts of one and all, is an idea whose time has come. And not a moment too soon.

Alan Haber
March 31, 2008

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes