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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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: 4.24.19: Armchair Oracles’ Guitar Pop Shines, and Lannie Flowers McCartneys Things Up

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Armchair Oracles
Caught by Light (Kool Kat Musik (CD), 2019)

Comprising 10 songs drawn in bewitching colors, doused with the spirit of decades of classic guitar pop and seasoned by Norway’s quartet of the moment, Caught by Light jumps to the front flank of 2019’s finest releases.

Armchair Oracles, twisting and turning in and around the essence of bands such as Badfinger and Teenage Fanclub, roll out a virtual guide to being safe and at home in this life.

The breathtakingly beautiful “Don’t Let It Break You,” a muscular power ballad with soft shoulders, sings a song of hope and guidance as the narrator offers sage advice to a young friend (“Don’t let the hard times break you or leave you all behind / You’ll be good if you stand your ground”). “Several Stories” tells a melodic tale of someone who understands how to rebound from a fall from grace (“Whenever I am down / You will be around to make it better”).

Songs such as the provocatively titled “She Gets Me High,” a concise, crafted-with-care ballad about the narrator’s safe place (“I close my eyes / I hold my breath and then exhale / She lifts me up and gets me high”) continue the listener’s journey through an invigorating program of melodically-sewn musical life lessons. (We reviewed three tracks previously released as singles here; all three–“Porcelain Heart,” “All My Time,” and “Downsized Life”–are extraordinarily good.)

An unmissable long-player from Atle Skogrand (vocals and guitars), Bjørn Gamlem (guitars), Jan Ove Engeseth (bass), and Charles Wise (drums).

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik (CD), Digital: Bandcamp (Vinyl, too), Amazon, iTunes

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Lannie Flowers | “What Did I Know” (SpyderPop, 2019)

A love-her-but-not-for-a-lifetime toe-tapper in the best uptempo Flowers in the Dirt-era Paul McCartney tradition, “What Did I Know” continues the ongoing offering of fabulous free songs given away each month by Lannie Flowers and SpyderPop Records, during the run-up to Lannie’s forthcoming album, Home. (And, by the way, none of these free songs will be on Home.)

This is the 13th of the “Flowers” picked and presented to fans of one of melodic pop’s greatest assets, and it’s a doozy, free for the taking on SpyderPop’s website. Christmas continues to come early, am I right?

Where to Get It: SpyderPop Records’ website

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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: 4.11.19: Brad Marino Makes a Rock, Pop and Roll Connection

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Brad Marino | Extra Credit (Rum Bar, 2019)

The Connection’s Brad Marino serves up a dynamic and breathless 11-song rock, pop and roll romp on his beat-driven solo album, Extra Credit, paying homage to a group once dubbed “England’s Newest Hit Makers,” Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello and, well, Rockpile with the gloves on. The guitars are plugged in and raving, and, oh yeah, the guitars are plugged in and raving.

It’s that kind of album, about a minute and a half shy of a half-hour long, with most songs dressed in tight-fitting get-in-and get-out-before-they-overstay-their-welcome ensembles, which is as it should be. These songs take no prisoners and make no apologies.

From the hit-the-road-running “Broken Clocks,” a breakup song in which the girl’s the bad guy and the breakneck-paced solo channels Chuck Berry, to “C’mon, C’mon, C’mon,” about a girl who plays hard to get (“The girl who plays so hard to get / Is always worth the score”), Marino hits the mark with rockin’ and rollin’ spirited performances (he plays all of the instruments other than the keyboards, which were essayed by sometime Connectioner Kris Rodgers). The album comes to a close with a four-on-the-floor, there’s-a-speed-limit? cover of Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny”.

Last month, we waxed poetic about previously-released-as-singles songs “What Comes Naturally” (“…extols the virtues of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in a song that portrays a Rolling Stones-meets-outlaw country vibe”) and “Broken Record” (“…an upbeat pop-rocker with teeth, very catchy and singalongable…”). Not a bad way to kick off an upcoming album, right?

Well, that upcoming album is almost here (mark your calendar for April 19). With six songs scribed solo by Marino, a co-write by Pure Pop Radio favorite Kurt Baker, two songs written by Michael Chaney (another is a co-write with Marino), and a well-chosen Chuck Berry cover, Extra Credit, produced by Marino and Rodgers, is this season’s breathless hit platter.

Cue the guitars and get that snare a-drummin’…Brad Marino’s pumped and ready to rock, pop and roll.

Where to Get It (Releases on April 19) (Pre-order Now): Bandcamp, Amazon

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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.