Reviews: 4.9.19: John Howard’s Emotional Rescue, and Anchor and Bear’s Tasty EP

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

John Howard | Cut the Wire (You are the Cosmos, 2019)

In the end and at the end, when we take stock of ourselves, when we reflect on a life lived on purpose and with purpose, we remain the product of what we achieved; our footprint is the culmination of a life lived in so many ways.

John Howard’s gorgeous, wistful song cycle, Cut the Wire, draws on the idea of living a life affected by love and pain and faith and belief in the self, in others, and in the stars; it’s about innocence lost and remembered, and found again. Pretty melodies, rich harmonies, emotional vocal leads and an intimately pastoral sound, evoking the early, baroque songs of Elton John and brought to life by poetic lyrics deeply reasoned, take your breath away as the hearts of these songs beat.

In Cut the Wire’s breezy, thoughtful opener, “So Here I Go,” a life is lived with the controls set at full steam ahead, no matter what may occur along the way (“Nothing ever takes the time / You think that it will take / Nothing ever lives in head and heart / Nothing ever feels / The way you think that it will feel / Nothing ever ends the way it starts”). It is, when all is said and done, a song about hope (“So here I go…”).

All of Cut the Wire’s songs are ultimately about hope or joy, celebration or remembering, in one way or another. The title song, a beautiful, melody-rich ballad that revels in a sweet childhood that changed when adulthood set in, cautions how important it is to hold on to good memories and keep them alive (“I told my sister we were eagles / She laughed and tapped me on the head / I combed her hair and heard the seagulls / I dreamed of sand-dunes in my bed / And it was on the day / That childhood ran away / The day they laid the wire”).

“Keep Going, Angel,” a happy mid-tempo number with lovely chords that increases in intensity as it plays on, is all about believing in life and all of its possibilities, no matter what (“Keep believing in believing / That anything can happen / And it most probably will”). “Idiot Days” looks back from the position of a grown-up to the days when consequence of action wasn’t a present state of mind (“‘Who did you hurt back then?’ / Oh there’s too many to mention / From my Idiot Days”).

Perhaps the centerpiece of Cut the Wire is the emotionally gripping piano ballad, “Becoming,” in which a partner muses about how he and his relationship have changed and longs for how it used to be. He finally figures it all out and comes to a peaceful place (“This morning I held your hand / And told you we were lucky / We were older / We were frightened / But we were lucky / You waited for a moment / And then you smiled / You squeezed it back and suddenly I knew / It was still you and me together / In our anger / In our confusion / In our weaknesses”).

The brilliant stroke of Cut the Wire is that its emotional stories are told with sweet, heartfelt melodies at their core, and sung with a voice that conveys the truths of life that most everyone can relate to and even learn from. On this, his 16th studio album, Howard draws breath from the fabric of life in a most enriching and entertaining way.

Where to Get It: You are the Cosmos, Amazon

Anchor and Bear | Arrows (2019)

The third release from California quartet Anchor and Bear follows last year’s top-flight album, Raincoats and Gold, with a delicious serving of differently-flavored pop songs, all of them quite delectable and delivered in catchy style by Katy Pearson, Brian Bringelson, Eric White, and Kenny Bringelson.

“Want Your Love” is a sprightly confection, with gorgeous harmonies, about being overcome by love. “Broken Arrow” is a meaty pop rocker spiced with a bit of funk about, as near as I can tell, a loner musician who has lost his music mojo and is disconnected from his friends.

“Disconnect the Phone,” Arrow’s jewel, all shiny and bright and catchy, is a classic slice of pop that should be a slam dunk at radio. Telling the story of a relationship’s disconnect, the song is ingeniously composed of several distinct sections that work together to put a huge smile on your face (the sweet-sounding opening is reminiscent of a familiar online ringtone). And
“Magic” is a quite catchy pop rocker with heavy guitars.

Throughout the program, Katy and Brian’s vocals unite harmoniously, a perfectly matched pair communicating joy to listeners. And with Arrow, Anchor and Bear is continuing to build a fine catalog of releases.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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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.

New on Pure Pop Radio 05.15.17: Robyn Gibson’s Bob of the Pops Vol. 1, Cirrone, The Cool Whips, and More

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Spins and Reviews | 05.15.17
By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Robyn Gibson | Bob of the Pops Vol. 1 (2017)
bob of the pops front coverA buoyant exercise in the art of homage, Bob of the Pops Vol. 1 finds The Junipers’ multi-instrumentalist Robyn Gibson having a good old time putting his warm, wide-eyed spin on 14 favorite songs. This free download on Bandcamp is the bargain release of the year and, quite surely, one of the best collections we’ve heard in ages.

The reason for that? Bob of the Pops Vol. 1 is fun to listen to; every song essayed bears Gibson’s unmistakable stamp, his softhearted vocals casting a warm glow over every melody line and emotional keystone communicated. In his hands, these classic constructs breathe new life into familiar musical landscapes.

robyn gibsonThe Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” certainly a familiar and iconic number, fairly drips with the joy Gibson obviously had recording it. The opening, harmony drenched a cappella couplet is sweetly delivered; the song reveals itself as a modern-day folk song, every harmonic element glimmering with life and hope. The Hollies’ “Listen to Me” adopts a bit of a softer pace than the original, the soft harmonies taking a smidge off of the edge of the proceedings for a bit of a warmer performance.

Similarly, The Who’s “I Can’t Reach You” feels more personal, and again it’s Gibson’s assured, sweet vocal harmonies that do the trick. Tracey Ullman’s 1983 top 10 “They Don’t Know” practically glows with charm. And just to show he has a sense of humor, or because he knows, as do we all (probably), Gibson rolls through the theme song to the 1970s television smash, Laverne and Shirley, in a kind of England Dan and John Ford Coley-meets-The Ramones way. Sort of sweet punk, short and delicious.

bob of the pops back coverA collection that purports to be brought to life by such musicians as born-as-anagrams Boryng Bison and Sonny Orbbig, bridges the gap between a Beatles classic and a well-known soundalike homage (The Rutles’ “With a Girl Like You”), and sits comfortably within a wrapper designed to mirror the presentation of the old British Top of the Pops album series (with the Leave it to Beaver-ish “Bob,” a staid pipe in hand, subbing for the usual sexy model depicted), deserves a place in your heart.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “They Don’t Know,” “With a Girl Like You,” “I Can’t Reach You,” “Yes I Will,” “He Doesn’t Love You Like I Do,” “Strawberries are Growing in My Garden,” “Did I Say,” “Nowhere Man,” “How Long,” “Making Our Dreams Come True,” “Listen to Me,” and “The End/Listen for You,” a Gibson original
black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

cirrone kings for a nightCirrone | Kings for a Night (2017)
The extended play, studio followup to Alessandro, Bruno, and Mirko Cirrone’s 2011 Uplands Park Road shares near total lineage with that classic album; four of its songs were first worked on during the Uplands sessions. The upbeat, Badfinger-ish pop-rockers “Everything’s Fine Now” and “It’s Gonna Be the Right Time,” the swaying charm of “Love Comes Again (Radio Edit),” and the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad, “Unforgotten Dream” continue the brothers’ time-honored tradition of mixing melodic vocalizing with strong instrumentation for a catchy, knockout musical punch. A full-length album is intended to follow this five-song taster, to which we say we can’t wait.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “Everything’s Fine Now,” “It’s Gonna Be the Right Time,” “Unforgotten Dream,” and “Love Comes Again (Radio Edit)”
black box Where to Get It: CD Baby, Bandcamp

the cool whips baddiesThe Cool Whips | Baddies (2017)
Naturally, the follow-up to Portland, Oregon’s 2014 long-player debut Goodies goes by the name Baddies, but it’s a joke, son, so don’t get your knickers in a twist…unless your appetite for good old pop ‘n’ roll has bit the dust. To wit: The Farfisa-powered “Linda Lu,” all thump and bop and circumstance, is an exciting, primal listen; “Time Will Tell” sounds like it emerged through a time portal connected to a garage in 1965; “Splash” plops playfully beat by beat with Beatles bops; and “Inside Outsider” fashions an upbeat Monkees vibe for two toe-tapping minutes. Rollicking fun.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “Another World,” “Splash,” “Linda Lu,” “There Must Have Been Sugar in It,” “Time Will Tell,” “Move Like That,” “Inside Outsider,” and “Live in a Dream”
black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Also added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist and currently spinning in rotation:

lisa mychols Lisa Mychols | “Loving You” (2017) CD Baby

red caravan ho humRed Caravan | “Ho Hum” (2017) Bandcamp

anchor and bear 2Anchor and Bear | “Hard to Say You’re Sorry” (2017)

r. stevie moore and jason falkner make it beR. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner | Make It Be (2017) | “Sincero Amore,” “Don’t You Just Know It,” and “Play Myself Some Music” Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, Bandcamp

michael slawterMichael Slawter | An Assassination of Someone You Knew (2017) | “Count to 10,” “Too Dumb for You,” and “My Marion” Bandcamp

the deep six brand new dayThe Deep Six | “Brand New Day” (2017)

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