Tag Archives: dana countryman

Reviews: 12.19.19: Last-Minute Melodic Stocking Stuffers!

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

And now, a few more melodic Christmas goodies to add to your gift lists (another 11 are reviewed here). There are only five more shopping days until the big day, so you’d better get clicking…

Have a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, everyone. We’ll see you again in January, with the kind of reviews and articles you expect from the premier website covering the many moods of melodic pop music.

Dana Countryman and Matt Tyson, featuring Scott Bennett | “It’s Christmas Time” (2019)

Pure Pop Radio favorites Dana Countryman and Matt Tyson stir up a cheery, upbeat, non-alcoholic cocktail echoing the sounds of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and Jeffrey Foskett–a joyous two minutes and forty-five seconds worth of catchy musical magic. With a rocking guitar solo played with “I Get Around” aplomb by Scott Bennett, this is Southern California pop under sunny holiday skies.

Where to Hear It and Get It: Bandcamp

Bearkat | A Very Bearkat Christmas (2019)

Aka Katy Pearson (Anchor & Bear), Bearkat’s richly drawn holiday collection, bringing together a pair of previously-released EPs–2012’s It’s Christmas Time and 2013’s A Winter Suite–and two new recordings, is an endearing survey of vocal harmony pop painted atop spare instrumentation and a whole lot of holiday heart.

Pearson’s sweet voice quietly dazzles, whether as a strong solo instrument or as elements within rich harmony stacks. Her songs paint a snowy, emotional portrait of holiday feelings, each one alive with lovely melodies.

Here is just one example, the banjo-driven, folky, harmony-laden, wintry wonder, “Snow”:

And here is another, a breathtaking, a cappella version of “Auld Lang Syne,” sung passionately by Pearson and her husband, Brian Bringelson, also from Anchor and Bear:

Where to Hear It and Get It: Bandcamp, Apple Music. Listen on Spotify

Zach Jones | “I’ll Be Home (Xmas Day)” b/w “Joy to the World” (2019)

Zach Jones paints his pair of holiday tunes with a quite different, yet catchy, soulful brush. The emotionally-cast, mid-tempo ballad “I’ll Be Home (Xmas Day)” and the slightly funky instrumental take on perennial carol “Joy to the World” are soulful pop gems. A wonderful holiday listening experience.

Where to Get It: CD Baby, Apple Music

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.

Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2018

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Happy New Year, and welcome to the list.

About said list…it was the subject of my one and only New Year’s resolution: to keep the number of entries to 15. Well, good luck with that, I told myself, and wouldn’t you know it…I couldn’t make that work. How about 20? No? Okay then, how about 22? Twenty-two it is.

My annual list of the year’s best full-length releases collects what are, to me, the absolute top of the pops–the very bestest of the bunch. I liked and loved and adored many more long players, of course, but these are the ones I thought about and returned to the most.

As in past years, my favorite records of the year are listed in random order. I’ve never been able to compile lists of any kind in order of importance, size, or weight; my number five of today might drop to number 11 or rise two spots tomorrow, depending on my mood. So, random order it is.

Here are some truly exceptional releases–Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: The Stars of 2018, presented randomly, all shiny and bright, all perfect for a place in your collection of great melodic pop music. A gathering of honorable mentions appears after the main list.

Enjoy.

David Myhr | Lucky Day (Lojinx, 2018)
A beautifully rendered selection of melody-rich songs from one of melodic pop music’s greatest practitioners, Lucky Day is the sound of a master songwriter’s loving embrace.

A warmhearted musical journey, Lucky Day’s 10 lovingly crafted songs, written solo and with some of melodic pop’s top writers, feature beautiful melodies and top-notch playing and singing. All contribute to one of 2018’s best albums. “Room to Grow,” written with Pure Pop Radio favorite Bill DeMain, about giving a romance all the chances it deserves to prosper, is just one gorgeous example of the treasures on offer.

Produced by Brad Jones, Andreas Dahlbäck and Myhr, Lucky Day is a wonderful gift to lovers of melodic pop.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, Lojinx

The Cherry Drops | Good to the Last Drop (2018)
On-air and mobile deejay Vern Shank’s melange of bubblegum and sunshine pop populates the Cherry Drops’ third welcome, rousing collection of smile-inducing songs that simultaneously evoke memories of favorite old songs and create memories of new numbers written and performed in the manner of the ’60s and ’70s.

Featuring co-writes with fellow Cherry Drop Joshua Cobb and classic popsters such as the Archies’ Ron Dante, the Grass Roots’ Mark Dawson, and the late Gary DeCarlo of Steam, and choice covers of treasured hit classic numbers, Good to the Last Drop is a mighty fun ride.

“One More Try” is a Paul McCartney-esque mid-tempo slice of pure pop topped with Queen-styled electric guitar runs. “Feels Like Summer Love” is a loving nod to ’60s Beach Boys balladry, maybe the truest such tip of the hat in recent memory. The harmonies are gorgeous. The Cherry Drops pay homage to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s classic “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” bringing in original Spoonful member Steve Boone on bass and opening with a lovely a cappella-over-keyboard opening.

A fun time will be had by all.

black box Where to Get It: The Cherry Drops’ Website, CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes

mothboxer open sky coverMothboxer | Open Sky (2018)
Dave Ody’s outfit stretches into some of the most creative, expression-filled songs of its long history on an album steeped in clever songcraft. A coming together and pulling apart experience built around surprising chord changes and elastic melodies, set against primarily alternative instrumental backings, Open Sky is aptly named.

Among the many highlights: “Sunshine Sound,” a slow-to-mid tempo song set sound-wise vaguely in the Beach Boys’ Holland era, and “Million Miles Away,” perhaps the most immediate sounding song on the album, a piano-based tune with harmony vocals that shine.

Open Sky is a keeper, maybe Mothboxer’s best.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Mothboxer’s Web Store

Alice Bierhorst | Ready for My Close-Up (2018)
The followup to 2016’s The Beacon is an even more astute collection of piano-based musical wizardry from this New York-based artist. High art meets accessible in these 10 songs that recall the works of early Carly Simon, Claire Hamill and Laura Nyro.

The title song is a pleasing, dramatic collision of Broadway and British folk. “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a slow burn of a ballad that shows off Bierhorst’s dynamic vocal range. “Beginners” is a drawing room waltz that rolls atop Peter Kiesewalter’s lively arrangement.

Call it all classical pop or singer-songwriter musings for the 2010s, but do call it yours by adding Ready for My Close-Up to your collection of smart pop. Bierhorst’s melodies reach the highest heights; Bierhorst is ready for her close-up, and then some.

black box Where to Get It: Alice Bierhorst’s Website, Bandcamp

Danny Wilkerson | Wilkerson (Spyderpop, 2018)
Working together with Bleu, who produced this superlative pure pop platter and co-wrote the songs, Danny Wilkerson, the always-and-forever Pengwin, has whipped up a self-titled opus that is by far this year’s most affecting collection of catchy, melodic earworms.

Wilkerson is a thing of wonder. Any and all, for that matter, of these dazzling songs could, and do, serve as examples of how to do it. Like the dynamic leadoff track, “Everybody Loves to Love,” a masterful piece of writing and statement of melodic purpose that begins drawing breath as if it were arranged by Burt Bacharach and goes on to incorporate a variety of tempos and approaches during its alluring five-and-one-half minutes.

All told, Wilkerson is nothing less than a good thing. It is, in fact, a great thing, and another feather in the cap of the mighty Spyderpop record label.

Where to Get It: The Spyderpop Store, Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and iTunes

McPherson Grant | McPherson Grant (2018)
Paying sweet homage to the melodic pop ruling class headed by Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Klaatu, Brian Wilson and the like, Scott McPherson and Jamie Grant–their last names fused together in joyous harmony–have crafted almost an hour’s worth of sturdy earworms. Endlessly endearing songs like the lovely and charming “Housekeeper,” about cleaning up a romantic life gone sour and empty and honestly assessing the less-than-attractive situation ensure repeatability.

Cut from the catchy cloth of so many ’70s classics, the perky “Come Around Again,” about learning to realize and revel in the bountiful joy in front of one’s face, is propelled by Zak Nilsson’s drums and a sunny disposition that wouldn’t feel out of place during the summer months. And speaking of summer, “Let’s Drive to Summer” recounts a slow-growing, toe-tapping Beach Boys-by-way-of-Holland road course from cold Canada to warm Florida (“We’ll just follow the coast/Our sandals and shorts in tow/Waiting till the palms wave hello”).

Produced, written, played, arranged and recorded by Scott and Jamie (and don’t ask who did what; it’s a mystery even to both halves of the duo), and featuring guest turns by Zak Nilsson and Klaatu’s Terry Draper and Dee Long, Song travels the path negotiated by so many artists who came before them, but in a way that is significantly and characteristically their own. Song is a marvel.

black box Where to Get It: Tiny Volcano’s Web Shop, Kool Kat Musik

The Davenports | Don’t Be Mad at Me (2018)
Scott Klass and crew’s fourth long player, arriving 18 years after their smashing debut, Speaking Of, is the usual collection of literate, assured, thinking person’s pop songs. Anchored by the masterful title song, a tremendously enriching melodically-charged experience about a family light whose world has slowed to a crawl, who is needing help to maneuver through her days, this album swims in waters populated with one incredibly rich song after another.

“Away From Me,” sporting a typically attractive Klass melody, is a vaguely countryish construct about saying goodbye to one side of one’s personality, supported by strings that bend somewhat ominously around the melody. And “I Don’t Know What to Do,” an insanely catchy kind of left-field number co-written by Klass and David Myhr, is built around a clever, rocky riff and does its business in just over two minutes. It’s quite ingenious.

A great album.

black box Where to Get It: The Davenports’ Online Store, Amazon, Kool Kat Musik, iTunes

Caper Clowns | A Salty Taste to the Lake (2018)
The mighty Caper Clowns are back with their sophomore long player, another well-crafted collection of top-flight melodic pop gems. From the undeniably catchy opening confection “The Way I Dream,” which sports a clever acoustic guitar riff and an enchanting melody, to “Sacre Bleu,” a piano-based, harmony wonder that sounds like the kind of song radio should be embracing and sending up to the top of the charts, A Salty Taste to the Lake is a winner all the way. That makes two in a row. Good job, guys.

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

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize | The Twelve Days of Christmas (2018)
A late-year surprise and not only a charming, top-flight holiday-themed album but one of the best melodic pop albums of the year, Charlie Darling’s collection of original from-the-heart Christmas songs will warm you like a heaping cup of peppermint candy cane-flavored good cheer.

Bittersweet holiday tales told in pretty swaths of lovingly rendered melody, and sung with an everyman’s sweetness, color this delightful song cycle; sincere, understated orchestration, a literary approach to lyrical conceits, and a pinch of sleigh bells catch the ear time and again in lovely slow- and mid-tempo-ballads.

Darling’s vocals, sort of a contemporary cross between the tones of the Big Dish’s Steven Lindsay and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, are key to making  songs like gentle ballads “Every Christmas,” about missing a love gone away grab hold of your heart. And then the artist changes course: “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” is a spirited pop sprint substituting the names of pop and rock bands through the ages for the various creatures evidenced in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (Three Dog Night, the Dave Clark Five, Gang of Four, Nine Inch Nails and Joe Strummer (strumming), among them).

One of the best albums of the year, Christmas-oriented or not? Yes, indeed.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Bill Lloyd | Working the Long Game (Spyderpop, 2018)
Bill Lloyd, one of melodic pop’s most distinguished practitioners of the art, has released one of the very best albums of 2018, with which you will fall in love.

Working the Long Game’s dozen melodic pearls, whether written solo or with top song scribes like 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, and Wanderlust’s Scot Sax, are gorgeous, instantly classic gems of the Lloydian variety. Like the co-write with Graham Gouldman, “What Time Won’t Heal,” about letting love in again after a relationship withers away (“What time won’t heal/Love will repair/And if you open up your heart/You’ll find it there”).

The closer, “Shining,” is a beautiful ballad of the one-man-band variety that features some lovely sixties-inspired guitar lines and harmonies. The narrator sings about his true love and you will feel the emotion. It’s all fantastic, so get ready to fall in love.

black box Where to Get It: Spyderpop, Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, CD Baby

Fernando Perdomo | Zebra Crossing (2018)
Recorded in famed Abbey Road Studios and in Perdomo’s own Reseda Ranch Studios, the wearer of many musical hats’ fourth album is a rich tapestry of styles centered around the artist’s considerable composing and instrumental prowess. It’s a clear winner.

Highlights are many. The gorgeous ballad, “I’m Here,” is as good and classy an opening track as one could imagine; a strong melody and emotive vocals make the proceedings shine. The poppy “Sometimes I Feel Like Nothing at All,” cowritten by Beach Boys lyricist Stephen Kalinich, is an inviting tune topped by sensitive strings. And popster Ken Sharp guests on guitar on the should-be-a-radio-hit “Find Love,” a spectacular upbeat, McCartneyesque pop song.

Speaking of Fab connections, an all-in, emotionally reverent cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” credited to the Zebra Crossing All Star Band, finds guest vocalists Diane Birch, Shawn Lee, and Jason and Daphna Rowe and lead guitarist Perdomo taking center stage for a thrilling album closer. What better Beatles track to cover for an album named in tribute to the area in front of the studio the Fabs called home?

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, Kool Kat Musik

Mick Terry | Days Go By (Kool Kat, 2018)
Mick Terry’s Days Go By is 2018’s standout pure melodic pop album. It’s filled with the kind of songs that used to jump out of transistor radios way back in the when.

Every one of these 10 songs is golden. Witness: “Emily Come Back,” an upbeat, poppy tune that’s sure to please and features this album’s title in the lyric. “Everybody’s Talking” is an upbeat, sixties influenced Motown-meets-Billy Joel song (think around the time of Joel’s An Innocent Man album), a toe-tapping classic if ever I heard one. And “Friends Like That” is another upbeat gem with a great melody, handclaps, horns and a crazy, meaty guitar solo.

Working with producer Jim Boggia, Terry has produced a clear, melodic winner.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Mick Terry on Bandcamp

Astral Drive | Astral Drive (Lojinx, 2018)
Longtime producer and songwriter Phil Thornalley has made nothing less than the Todd Rundgren album that Todd Rundgren never made in the 1970s. Astral Drive is nothing less than one of the best albums of 2018.

Astral Drive finds Phil Thornalley doing most of the heavy lifting for a joyous tour de force composed of original songs that echo the catchy sounds that the Hermit of Mink Hollow made all those many years ago. Thornalley, a legendary producer and songwriter whose lengthy list of credits includes co-writing Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” fell in love with Todd Rundgren’s music when he heard Todd’s song “Useless Begging.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Astral Drive’s go-to, so-much-fun-to-listen-to song “Summer of ’76” practically demands that you sing along, whether you know the words or not. You will love, with all of your heart, the warm ballad “Wishing I Could Change the World,” which honors the classic Todd-meets-Philly-Soul bond, and the glorious, melody-infused, upbeat “Love is Real.”

One of 2018’s biggest and happiest surprises, without a doubt.

black box Where to Get It:  The Lojinx shop, Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, and iTunes

Michael Simmons | First Days of Summer (2018)
Musician and high school educator Michael Simmons, from Yorktown Lads and the much-missed sparkle*jets u.k., has crafted a stylistically diverse collection of songs that expertly lays out the artist’s diverse musical vision and dedication to craft.

From the opening and closing near-perfect, soft-pop bookends “Do Your Best to Care,” a keyboard driven toe-tapper featuring a determined, jazzy electric guitar solo, and the sleepy, closing ballad “Center of the Spiral,” which ends as if a turntable’s needle has become comfortably stuck in a loop within a record’s runoff wax, First Days of Summer speaks to melody-hungry melodic pop fans.

What shines brightly and decisively from within these dozen tracks is the passion that Michael Simmons has for making and playing music (he played most of the instruments on this album). He would do well to keep at this music thing and start planning his next collection with due haste.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Linus of Hollywood | Cabin Life (2018)
Nearly 20 years after his debut long player landed on planet Earth, Linus of Hollywood has served up 10 scoops of tasty, melodic treats on Cabin Fever, his delightful fifth effort that really, truly is the kind of thing that puts a spring in your step.

Some heartfelt words of wisdom are imparted in the fast-paced pop song “Won’t Let It Get Me Down,” played and sung with gusto. Cabin Life’s tender closing ballad, “It Was You,” details a love story for the ages. Beautifully sung and dedicated to Linus’s wife Augusta, the emotional arrangement marries delicate orchestration to nimble acoustic guitar playing as Linus sings about his true soul mate. “I finally got out of my own way,” he sings. “Everything just felt so easy/And I left behind my yesterday/You saved me from myself, believe me.”

“Drive up to the hills/Take that winding road/I think I remember where it goes,” the title song sings. And that winding road? It goes to one of 2018’s very best albums–Linus of Hollywood’s lovely Cabin Life.

black box Where to Get It: Linus of Hollywood’s web store, Amazon, iTunes

Dana Countryman | Cabaret of Love (Sterling Swan, 2018)
The year is not complete without a musical missive from melodic pop music’s melody and harmony king. Dana Countryman’s Cabaret of Love is one of 2018’s top long players, a joyous song cycle that surveys the feeling that unites us all: love.

Every number is a winner in this Cabaret of Love. “Just See If I Care” is a happy-sounding, hit-the-road-Jill Merseybeat-styled rocker featuring the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover singing along and playing lead guitar in quite a Fab way. The heartfelt Four Freshmen homage, “The Night I Fell in Love With You,” is an unforgettable, romantic number with an affecting tea room orchestra arrangement and warm lead vocal sung by Tim Smolens from I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation).

Cabaret of Love is chock full of guest star turns from such pop favorites as Klaatu’s Terry Draper (who turns in a top-shelf, particularly romantic lead vocal on “I’ll Be Shining Above You”), Klaatu’s Dee Long (electric guitar on “Shout”), and Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson (vocals on “You’re Still Number One”).

Cabaret of Love is a glorious gift for music lovers everywhere.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon

Carpenter Smith and Jones | Petty (Big Radio, 2018)
Petty is a sincere and lovely celebration of the music of one of rock’s most magnanimous songwriters and performers, now sadly departed. It is a triumphant achievement, performed with heart by Michael Carpenter and songbirds Abby Smith and Sophie Jones.

The trio’s earthy vocal blend and the perhaps more deliberate pacing of the songs combine to amplify the emotions contained within the lyrics and music for a particularly engaging listen.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream” is recast as a slow, sometimes moody shuffle, a vocal workout bolstered by bracing electric guitars and Carpenter’s forceful drums. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” finds itself swimming atop a dreamy landscape played out with only nimble electric guitar backing beneath the trio’s emotional vocals (the final harmony stack is a joy to behold). And the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line,” which closes this collection, takes on a singalong gospel tone; handclaps and joyous, freeing vocals abound. Prepare for an emotionally uplifting listening experience.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Kool Kat Musik

The Grand Levé | The Grand Levé (2018)
Göran Hjertstedt, who made the quite grand The Grand Levé with Europe’s (the Swedish rock band, not the continent) Ian Haugland, Ulf Holmberg, Göran Holmberg, Staffan Ebbesten, and Jonas Karlberg, is a music making veteran (best known for the equally grand Longplayer).

Although The Grand Levé fairly obviously shares cell structure with the music of Jeff Lynne, 10cc, Queen, Tom Petty and other members of the usual suspects club, and traffics in motifs pioneered during such periods as the 1960s and 1700s (note the classically-inclined first track, “And Light Appeared,” which straddles influences by either consciously or subconsciously quoting Elton John), the artist Hjertstedt is his own man, and The Grand Levé is his album.

Dig the Electric Light Orchestra vibe of “All in the City.” “Free” is very melody-rich Tom Petty, and “Yesterday Man” is very pure pop and Göran Hjertstedt by way of Longplayer. The mutli-retro “Two to Tango,” a bluesy drawing room number about love and dancing that namechecks Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is another slice of joy.

The Grand Levé makes its mark because its sound pictures, drawn with love and affection, tell an affecting, collective tale. The Grand Levé is nothing less than a triumph for fans of melodic pop music.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby. Stream on YouTube and Spotify

Louise Goffin | All These Hellos (2018)
An exceptional dialog driven by melody and emotion, All These Hellos is a steamer trunk full of memories placed under a microscope to help us figure our place under the sun.

Anchored by Goffin’s lovely, fragile vocals and superb playing from star musicians such as Fernando Perdomo, these 10 songs are quite an attractive showcase for superlative songwriting. The artist is clearly invested in these slices of reflective pop; such is the strength of communication with the listener.

Goffin embraces her pop side with a number of straight ahead, upbeat charmers. “Good Times Call” is a soulful and very catchy sixties-esque pop number about being in love and feeling it. “Life Lessons,” another upbeat pop tune with piano at its core and punctuated by horns, is about being true to yourself and following your heart. And the title song is an inviting mid-tempo number about needing the memories of a childhood place to fade.

A wonderfully rich collection of songs; a terrific album.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

 ∴

Super 8 | Hi Lo (Futureman, 2018)
Paul Ryan, d/b/a Super 8, ended 2018 with another top-flight recording–his third of the year–collecting 11 strong songs about employing hopefulness along one’s path through life.

“Angels and Neil Diamond” is a tremendous piece of writing, an easygoing, acoustic look back on childhood’s glory days, reliving one’s youth through good times and bad. It’s a lovely, affecting song that is followed by proof that the title is holly holy. Ryan presents a clever take on Diamond’s wonderful “Cherry, Cherry,” which is pretty life affirming on its own, especially in Ryan’s recasting of the tune as part garage, part coffee house, and all Super 8.

The Rolling Stones nod, “Good Times” (“Had enough of the bad times”), is a happy stroke in the running order, as is the pop-folk hybrid “Bob Dylan Said That,” about getting by in life with your own vision, and, no doubt, following on from what you’ve learned from the bard’s poetry.

The hits just keep on coming; you’ll love every one of them, delivered in Ryan’s emotive style. And for those of you wondering why the man didn’t go for four albums in a single year, just remember…there’s always this year.

Where to Get It: Futureman, Kool Kat Musik

The Grip Weeds | Trip Around the Sun (Jem, 2018)
This dynamic collection, recorded at the Grip Weeds’ home base, House of Vibes in Highland Park, New Jersey, pushes across the finish line a dozen high energy songs. The band has upped the level of urgency normally associated with their work. In other words, business as usual, with a bit more zing.

In the well-appointed, melody-drenched opener, “Vibrations,” the stage is set with a mix of chiming guitars and rich harmony parts. Not for the first time on this album, I felt as though I were listening to Free Design vocalizing decades after that group’s 1960s and 1970s heyday. The effect that the Grip Weeds have achieved with this song alone is hall-of-fame worthy.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that the band’s deft weaving together of yesterday’s musical signposts and today’s contemporary approaches continue throughout these songs. Take the poppy “After the Sunrise,” for example, which slides from tender acoustic to more upbeat electric guitar stances so expertly, with a lovely melody and sweet harmonies in tow.

The whole pop-rocking ball of wax rolls into the exhaustive closer, the six-minute-long title track, which states its introductory case firmly opened in widescreen, Who territory and concludes with all instruments and vocals blazing and coming together in an impassioned burst of emotion. What a welcome shout of energetic joy this album brings!

black box Where to Get It: The Grip Weeds’ Trip Around the Sun Store, Amazon

Vegas With Randolph | Legs & Luggage (2018)
Legs & Luggage is Vegas With Randolph’s best album yet. It is a marvel. This is a new-phase VWR album that thunders across the plains with harder-edged chutzpah than their previous releases. The guitars are louder and the sound is more aggressive. The sound is more purposeful, but just as catchy and fun as always.

For this new album, the band has recorded songs with flashy hooks just as they have done all along, but this time around, there is perhaps a little more oomph spitting out of the engine. This new-phase VWR is a well-oiled and rocking machine.

It’s not just the sound of this thing, it’s the words sung sweetly, confidently, meaningfully and powerfully all the way through, telling stories of a scholarly seductress (“She’s An Intellectual”), completely fulfilling forever love (“I Have You”), and riding the roller coaster of love even though it might tug back (“Jacob”). Then, there’s “Three Red Hooks,” presenting the power of music as a metaphor for confident performance with perhaps this album’s most creative lyrics (“Rock steady/Kick it like Eddie/Didn’t know if he meant Van Halen or Vedder/But whatever/While we’re together/We’d better turn it up loud/And kick it on out”).

This album is titled Legs & Luggage because the songs are largely about transitioning from one thing to another, about taking chances, about moving on from here to there—about transporting emotion packed neatly, or otherwise, in virtual compartments. Legs & Luggage functions as a bridge to the next chapter in Vegas With Randolph’s life; how that reality will manifest itself is unknown at present. But manifest itself it will.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order, with Bandcamp/CD Baby/website 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 this last August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy New Year!

Welcome to Pure Pop Radio’s Holly Jolly Christmas Party!

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

So how’s it going? Have you checked your 2018 holiday gift list once, and then twice? Do you have room on your list for some melodic Christmas song gems to give to yourself, your friends and your family? Of course you do!

We’ll be here all week–our Holly Jolly Christmas Party is in full swing, spreading the holiday cheer by suggesting some wonderful, melodic pop Christmas songs and albums that you can give as gifts to your friends and family (and maybe even to yourself!).

And we’ll be giving away a couple of melodic pop presents each day this week. Today’s pair of giveaways: Dana Countryman’s new Cabaret of Love, and the Corner Laughers’ 2015 classic, Matilda Effect. Enter below…

We begin today’s listing with…

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize 
The 12 Days of Christmas (2018)
A late-year surprise and not only a charming, top-flight holiday-themed album but one of the best melodic pop albums of the year, Charlie Darling’s collection of original from-the-heart Christmas songs will warm you like a heaping cup of peppermint candy cane-flavored good cheer.

Bittersweet holiday tales told in pretty swaths of lovingly rendered melody, and sung with an everyman’s sweetness, color this delightful song cycle; sincere, understated orchestration, a literary approach to lyrical conceits, and a pinch of sleigh bells catch the ear time and again in lovely slow- and mid-tempo-ballads.

Darling’s vocals, sort of a contemporary cross between the tones of the Big Dish’s Steven Lindsay and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, are key to making  songs like gentle ballads “Every Christmas,” about missing a love gone away, and “Stars on the Christmas Tree,” about the true meaning of the holiday, grab hold of your heart. “Holly and Ivy,” a quick-footed waltz, is a dream of a tune about settling into the feelings of the season with friends, and the charming, upbeat “Under the Mistletoe” poses the musical question, “What secrets do you keep?”

Two songs deviate ever so slightly from the mood and pace of the bulk of this magnificent album. “Bad Christmas Cover Version,” an uptempo rocker of sorts, is about exactly what you might think: bands covering the lesser of Christmas classics (“You might’ve sung a song by ol’ Greg Lake”). And “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” is a spirited pop sprint substituting the names of pop and rock bands through the ages for the various creatures evidenced in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (Three Dog Night, the Dave Clark Five, Gang of Four, Nine Inch Nails and Joe Strummer (strumming), among them). It’s all in good fun and thoroughly clever and creative and perfect for this very time of year.

Working on his own, in true do-it-yourself style as the band named after the 1968 film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, Charlie Darling is no stranger to the music scene, having spent time as a member of the four-piece pop-trash band Taxi, which was signed to a major label. Les Bicyclettes’ previous releases can be found at Bandcamp. Charlie’s next non-seasonal album is being produced by Ronnie Borland from the Orchids.

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize’s The 12 Days of Christmas is a rather pleasant surprise in these waning days of December. I’m thrilled to be able to recommend it to you without any hesitation. One of the best albums of the year, Christmas-oriented or not? Yes, indeed.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

The Twigs | “Flying Kites on Christmas” (2018)
This typically engaging song from Laura and Linda Good, a ballad bursting with luscious harmony, an intriguing piano figure, and a gorgeous melody, is all about being together and happy under sunny skies at Christmas. The flying kites of the title act as a metaphor for problems that can ascend to the skies, away from good holiday feelings. A tremendous achievement, your holiday soundtrack is not complete without it. Melodic and wonderful.

black box Where to Get It: iTunes, Bandcamp

Seth Timbs | Belly Full of Christmas | (2018)
A double-sided holiday single straight out of Nashville, this belly full of good cheer comes in two flavors: ballad and uptempo celebration. “This is Your Christmas Song” is a pretty tune in which a mother sings to her child about comfort and joy that will last through the years (“And life will be sweet and long/Until we’re old and grey/From now on/So says your Christmas song”). “Belly Full of Christmas” is a good old-fashioned uptempo celebration that urges the listener to get just what the title suggests. It couldn’t be catchier. Seth Timbs always delivers; may 2019 be his year.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Dana Countryman | “Gonna Be Home for Christmas” (2018)
Continuing with his ongoing tradition of offering a joyous Christmas song every year, the King of Retro-Pop delivers this sweet paean to being together at the holidays. Dana’s wife Tricia sings, Jon Goforth plays sax, and you benefit from the artist’s ongoing commitment to communicate to listeners the joy of pop music. (“Gonna Be Home for Christmas” is a bonus track on Dana’s latest album, Cabaret of Love, which is highly recommended.)

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp (Purchase Cabaret of Love here)

Terry Draper | A Very Terry Christmas (2016)
Resplendent on the cover in front of his Christmas tree and wearing his Santa hat and sunglasses, Klaatu’s Terry Draper pours a heaping helping of Christmas cheer in the form of five warm holiday classic sides, including two versions of the Beatles’ “Christmas Time is Here Again” (one by the jolly musical mirth makers, the Swamp Manor Jug Band), and two versions of the lovely ballad “A Song for Christmas,” one sung by Maureen Leeson. Full of joy and goodness, and a must play during the holidays.

black box Where to Get It: Terry’s Digital Store, Amazon

Win a Pair of Presents!

Enter below to win a pair of melodic presents for the holiday season from Pure Pop Radio (Dana Countryman’s new Cabaret of Love and the Corner Laughers’ 2015 CD, Matilda Effect). Be sure to fill in all fields (type “Dana on the Corner” in the Comment field), and send the completed form to us by tomorrow–Tuesday, December 18, at noon ET. US residents only. Good luck!

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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 ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!

Our Holiday Gift Suggestions Keep On Coming. Here’s Another One, Full of Love

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Dana Countryman | Cabaret of Love
(Sterling Swan, 2018)
The year is not complete without a musical missive from melodic pop music’s melody and harmony king. Dana Countryman lights December bright with one of 2018’s top long players, a joyous song cycle that surveys the feeling that unites us all.

And that feeling, in case you were unaware, is love. Every number is a winner in this Cabaret of Love. “I Never Knew” sings a sweet song about discovering true love atop an upbeat, seventies track sporting a gorgeous melody and a lively guitar solo from Chad Quist. “Just See If I Care” is a happy-sounding, hit-the-road-Jill Merseybeat-styled rocker featuring the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover singing along and playing lead guitar in quite a Fab way.

My favorite song here is, without question, the Four Freshmen homage, “The Night I Fell in Love With You” (I also hear allusions to the Lettermen and the Manhattan Transfer). This unforgettable, romantic number with an affecting tea room orchestra arrangement and warm lead vocal sung by Tim Smolens from I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation) should become every couple-in-love’s theme song for years to come.

Dana Countryman, your host in the Cabaret of Love

Cabaret of Love is chock full of guest star turns from such pop favorites as Klaatu’s Terry Draper (who turns in a top-shelf, particularly romantic lead vocal on “I’ll Be Shining Above You”), Klaatu’s Dee Long (electric guitar on “Shout”), and Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson (vocals on “You’re Still Number One”). A holiday song with a ’50s-meets-Phil Spector heart, “Gonna Be Home for Christmas” is a particularly welcome bonus track which features Dana’s wife, Tricia, singing along. But perhaps the biggest and best guest star is not actually a guest star at all: this is Dana’s show all the way, and a great and lovely show it is.

The Cabaret of Love

In addition to peerless songcraft and performance, you get a wonderfully impressive package design which extends to the disc label, on which what looks like a coaster from the Cabaret of Love (Dining*Dancing*Drinks) is depicted. The address shown is actually that of the Cabaret in Pioneer Square, an early place at which Dana played with his comedic music group, The Amazing Pink Things (but don’t dial the phone number; it’s made up!).

Cabaret of Love is a glorious gift for music lovers everywhere.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon

radio1

Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995 and ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!


Reviews | 9.20.18: Danny Wilkerson, Jay Stansfield’s Charity Single, Dana Countryman and Scott McPherson, and Bryan Estepa

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Danny Wilkerson | Wilkerson (Spyderpop, 2018)
wilkerson album coverWorking together with Bleu, who produced this superlative pure pop platter and co-wrote the songs, Danny Wilkerson, the always-and-forever Pengwin, has whipped up a self-titled opus that is by far this year’s most affecting collection of catchy, melodic earworms.

Joined in the studio by Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Taylor Locke, Ducky Carlisle, the New Pornographers’ Joe Sieders, and Idle Jets’ Pat Buchanan, Wilkerson has crafted 10 slices of sweet-sounding pop that, like Frampton, have come alive. Wilkerson is a thing of wonder.

Any, and all, for that matter, of these dazzling songs could, and do, serve as examples of how to do it. Take the dynamic leadoff track, “Everybody Loves to Love,” a masterful piece of writing and statement of melodic purpose that begins drawing breath as if it were arranged by Burt Bacharach and goes on to incorporate a variety of tempos and approaches during its alluring five-and-one-half minutes. “I’m just looking for a sitar and a Hofner/A Rickenbacker and a giant stack of ahhs/Sweet harmony,” Wilkerson sings.

Take, also, the mid-tempo, slide guitar-powered charmer “You Still Owe Me a Kiss,” sporting a lovely melody, gorgeous harmonies, and expressive horns, or the hit-worthy, catchy, upbeat “Too Much of a Good Thing,” which, for my money, could have gone on another few minutes and would never even remotely have resembled too much of a good thing.

All told, Wilkerson is nothing less than a good thing. It is, in fact, a great thing, and another feather in the cap of the mighty Spyderpop record label. Don’t miss it.

Where to Get It: The Spyderpop Store, Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and iTunes

Jay Stansfield | “A Song for Edward” (2018)
jay standfield a song for edwardjay standfield a song for edward logoSongsmith Jay Stansfield, a longtime fixture on Pure Pop Radio, has done a very good thing: he has composed and recorded a wonderful, catchy pop song that celebrates the vibrant life of Edward Dee, a 10-year-old boy who was a bright light in his British community and suddenly passed away from meningitis and sepsis. Reading about Edward, who brought joy to everyone he came in contact with, and the fund created in his honor (you can do that here) will move you, I hope, to contribute to a most worthy cause.

All profits from the sale of “A Song for Edward” go to the Edward Dee Fund.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Bandcamp

Dana Countryman and Scott McPherson | “You’re Still Number One” (Sterling Swan Records and Tapes, 2018)
dana countryman you're still number one coverBuddying up with Tiny Volcano caretaker Scott McPherson for one of this year’s sweetest vocal duets, Dana Countryman, the master of Seattle Retro-Pop, proves that there is no end in sight for just how good he can be. Atop a sprightly seventies disco-fyed, string-laden bed, anchored by Chad Quist’s period-happy electric guitar, Dana and Scott sing about the truest sort of love–the perfect pairing that makes life worth living. A lovely love letter to his wife Tricia, blessed with a gorgeous voice and a recording artist in her own right, Dana Countryman’s “You’re Still Number One” is a radio hit waiting to happen.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Bryan Estepa | “No Ordinary” | (Lilystars Records, 2018)
bryan estepa no ordinaryLast heard from this past April essaying, in grand fashion, George Michael’s “Heal the Pain” with Coke Belda, Bryan Estepa returns with this top-flight rocking original, a pep talk of-sorts for a guy who’s considering going all-in on a relationship (“She’s not so ordinary/Maybe the greatest/And gamble everything/ Till you’re seeing red”). You’ll dig the guitars, all electrified, and the melody too, because the whole thing sings. It’s great to have Bryan Estepa back. More, please.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

radio1Alan 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. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

100+ Songs Added to the Pure Pop Radio Playlist, Including the New Single from Paul McCartney. Now’s the Time to Tune In!

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

pure pop radio radioMore than 100 new and new-to-you songs, including the latest releases from your favorite melodic pop music artists, have been added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist.

At thpaul mccartney egypt station cover 2018e top of the list are two new songs, released as a single, from Paul McCartney’s forthcoming album, Egypt Station–the stomping rocker “Come On to Me” and the tender ballad, “I Don’t Know.” But that’s not all!

Caper Clowns-Sacre Bleu-Singlecover

Caper Clowns

terry draper latitude adjustmentAlso spinning now in rotation are the latest from the Doughboys, a frantic, pumping take on the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” and both sides of Caper Clowns fantastic new single–“Sacre Bleu” and “Something of Value.” You will also hear, throughout our broadcast day, the new single from the Outryders, featuring Joe Algeri; Terry Draper’s catchy earworm “Latitude Adjustment,” featuring background vocals from Pure Pop Radio favorite Ray Paul; and Kai Danzberg’s “My Beautiful Day,” written with Dana Countryman.

nick lowe tokyo baydana countryman summer sand cover2018You want more? You’ve got it: Nick Lowe’s new four-sided single, featuring the twangy, upbeat “Tokyo Bay”; Trip Wire’s “Act Fast”; the b-side of Bill Lloyd’s new single, “The Bridesmaid’s Song,” with special guest Raelyn Nelson; tracks from the sprawling new compilation, The Co-Op Communique Vol. 4, including John T. McMullan’s “The Thought of Your Name”; Dana Countryman’s new summer single, the lovely “Summer Sand”; and tracks from the Davenports’ most-welcome new album, Don’t Be Mad at Me.

With all that, we’re just scratching the surface of the catchy tunes you’ll discover when you tune in to Pure Pop Radio, the 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s, ’70s and today, with a special emphasis on the latest releases you want to hear.

Don’t miss a minute–tune in now! Click on the Live 365 Listen Now link below, and enjoy!

ppr radio purple background - insetPure Pop Radio plays the greatest melodic pop music from across the decades, 24 hours a day. Listen by clicking on the Live365 Listen Now button at left. Hear us once and you’ll be a listener for life. Join us, won’t you? You’ll be glad you did!

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation Podcasts: Dana Countryman (Airdate: November 8, 2017)

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio alan headshot from school

dana countryman the joy of pop coverAs I wrote this past January in my Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2017 feature, “The fourth time’s the charm, although it certainly can be said that the previous three times have been equally charming; The Joy of Pop is nothing less than a joy, another in a growing line of wonderful retro-pop albums from a master of melody.”

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Dana Countryman

Dana Countryman was my guest on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation last November 8 to talk about The Joy of Pop, a lineup of great songs made stronger with the help of compatriots like Matt Tyson, Dana’s wife Tricia and Klaatu’s Dee Long. Lovely  songs such as “August Dream,” a Broadway-styled creation influenced, no doubt, by the work of Richard Carpenter, Burt Bacharach and Gilbert O’Sullivan, and “Can’t Stop Thinking ‘Bout You,” a jangly number graced with Dee Long’s beautiful guitar work, barely scratch the surface of this wonderful collection.

Listen to the songs played during this interview–“August Dream,” “Tell Me that You Love Me,” and “Can’t Stop Thinking ‘Bout You”–by clicking here.

Click here for a fine lineup of retailers from which you can purchase The Joy of Pop.

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pprListen to my interview with Dana Countryman from the November 8, 2017 edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation by clicking the play button on the following player, or click on the Pure Pop Radio button to the left to download (then right click and choose “Save audio as” to save the file to your computer). (This interview is presented in scoped format; the songs have been removed due to copyright concerns.)

 

 

Listen to a wide selection of previously-aired Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation interviews by clicking here.

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Pure Pop Radio’s signature shows, Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show, playing the latest and greatest melodic pop songs from today and across the decades, and Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere Internet melodic pop talk show, air weekly on Pop that Goes Crunch Radio.

pop tunes disc smallin conversation new graphic blueListen to the Pop Tunes Deejay Show on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 pm ET (two different shows every week); In Conversation airs every Wednesday night at 9 pm ET. Don’t miss a minute!

Tune in to Pop that Goes Crunch Radio by clicking on the following snazzy-looking button:

 

Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2017

favorite records of the year - stars of 2017- a

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio alan 5 small

Every year around this time, I sit down to start work on this feature and I marvel at the sheer number of wonderful albums released during the previous 12 months. And then, I’m off and running.

The process of reviewing contenders for this list results in a survey of the absolute top of the pops that came out during the last 12 months. There were a lot of great indie records released in 2017. These are the ones that I came back to the most.

There are 21 entries in this year’s feature–18 albums and three singles, all followed by links you can click on to purchase them. They are presented in no particular order. As in years past, I do not rank them; I have trouble deciding which album should sit at number five versus number six and anyway, if I did rank them, the placements would likely vary depending on the day. So they are presented as a group of highly listenable creations, all of which I recommend without reservation, every day of the week.

And so, without further ado, here is Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2017. The choices are mine; the pleasure, listening to them, is all yours.

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Bill DeMain | Transatlantic Romantic
Built around the Nashville, Tennessee artist’s piano and lovely vocals, and co-producer Jim Hoke’s tasteful string and horn arrangements, Transatlantic Romantic is a delicious, wonderfully arranged song cycle stacked high with sweet, beautifully written and performed classic-sounding songs in the style of Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, and Harpers Bizarre. Case in point: “Lemon Yellow,” a lovely waltz blessed by Van Dyke Parks-meets-George Martin strings, Randy Newman-esque piano, and the charming story about the love of a car that came “all the way from Germany.” There is charm to spare in this gem of an album, a warm, beating heart full of joy. Purchase

bill lloyd it's happening now coverBill Lloyd | It’s Happening Now
It’s Happening Now bathes listeners in the warm glow of tremendous acoustic-based songs evoking mid-’60s folk-pop aesthetics. Lovely melodies, nimble acoustic guitar playing, and emotive vocals combine for an affective listening experience from a contemporary music master. A couple of heartfelt numbers are among the best songs that Lloyd has written thus far: the gorgeous, beautifully orchestrated and tenderly sung “Happiness,” about really and truly and completely giving in to love (“Happiness/As much of a choice as a chance/You simply decide that you’ll dance/This time…/Then maybe you’ll finally be blessed with/Happiness”), and “Let Me In Your Life Again,” a gentle upbeat plea for rekindling a romance (“Back inside your grace/Warm in your embrace/Only face to face/Do I feel anything so true”). It’s Happening Now is Bill Lloyd’s finest hour, by far. Purchase

the bye bye blackbirds take out the poison coverThe Bye Bye Blackbirds | Take Out the Poison
Bradley Skaught’s Oakland, California-based outfit’s best offering yet presents 11 finely wrought, emotionally charged songs in an album stocked full of classic tracks. Variety is the key: “Let Your Hair Fall Down,” an out-and-out pop workout, complete with horns and sounding as if it were plucked from the J. Geils playbook, sits comfortably alongside such numbers as the mid-tempo, string-laden country ballad, “Duet,” which features a lovely vocal by Lindsay Paige Garfield, who co-wrote the song with Skaught. A career-defining release. Purchase

karla kane king's daughters home for incurables coverKarla Kane | King’s Daughters Home for Incurables
The Corner Laughers’ Karla Kane steps into the spotlight with this enchanting solo set bringing together modern folk and soft pop sensibilities. Kane’s lovely vocals and melodies power these heartfelt songs, such as the gorgeous ballad “Under the Oak in May” and the amazing, percussive piano marvel “All Aboard,” which sports a traveling, train-inspired beat and builds to a seductive close. A true marvel of an album. Purchase

fun of the pier 1442Fun of the Pier | 14:42
Nottingham, England’s Fun of the Pier paints their debut album in bright, happy folk-pop hues for a pleasing listening experience. Songs such as “Past/Future” and “(In My) Time” are drenched in lovely, clever and catchy melodies.  Beautiful ballads “Lost and Lazy” and “I Live this Life (She Said)” hearken to classic artists such as Claire Hamill and Kate Rusby (and there is a correlation worth noting). 14:42 is a wonderful, delightful collection of songs, expertly performed, with Helen Luker’s alluring vocals particularly noteworthy. Purchase

kelley ryan telescopeKelley Ryan | Telescope
astroPuppees veteran Ryan’s long player is a master class effort of melodic proportions, stocked deep with luscious, carefully crafted compositions. Telescope’s enticing mix of balladry and radio-friendly should-be-top-of-the-pops creations includes the catchy, mid-tempo closer “Real Gone Girl,” with its enticing melody and lovely, memorable and magical harmonies; and the gentle, so pretty “Pulling for Romeo,” from which this album gets its title (“You’re at the end of your rope/Don’t need a telescope…”). How does this album fit into the current melodic pop landscape? It fits like a glove. Purchase

dave caruso buddhaDave Caruso | Buddha Pesto Manifesto
Dave Caruso’s new songs, which form the whole of this career-defining new album, 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 album’s closer is a particular highlight: “I Get to Make You Laugh,” delivered emotionally by way of 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. Coming three years after the bravura performances captured within Caruso’s breakout album Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, Buddha Pesto Manifesto sets a high bar for future musical endeavors. Purchase

cindy lee berryhill the adventuristCindy Lee Berryhill | The Adventurist
A deeply felt, melodic, invigorating and emotional song cycle looking back on and celebrating Berryhill’s time with Paul Williams, the creator of Crawdaddy, the first, authoritative rock publication of record, The Adventurist shows the future unfolding for Berryhill one day at a time with each new step forward informed by steps already taken. The album’s heart-filled center is the heartbreakingly honest, emotionally melodic “Somebody’s Angel” (“The first time I kissed somebody new/I cried when I thought about you/And all the good times we had and the living we’d been through,” Berryhill sings. “Now I’m here for you forever or long as I am able/I gotta be somebody’s angel.”) The Adventurist, a remarkable, many-hued cycle of life, will grab hold of your heart as it summons your deepest emotions to the surface and affects you to your core. (Omnivore) Purchase

cait brennab thirdCait Brennan | Third
A miraculous, astounding, and audacious album pairing Brennan, a one-of-a-kind artist, and multi-instrumentalist and ace producer Fernando Perdomo, Third is surely one of those fortified-in-heaven happenings that make life on earth a wonderful thing. Recorded at Memphis, Tennessee’s legendary Ardent Studios, fortified with Big Star heart, Third is a roller coaster ride through all of life’s travails, an emotional wake up call for all humans negotiating the pathways of their existence. The album’s highlight? “Catiebots Don’t Cry,” a gut-wrenching you-love-her-I-love-her-what-are-we-gonna-do-about-it slow-to-mid-tempo burner, a skewed kind of aromatic love song featuring Brennan’s multi-tracked, thing-of-beauty three-dimensional vocal harmony stacks. This Third is astonishing, bold, and seemingly effortless. (Omnivore) Purchase

the blood rush hour who folds firstThe Blood Rush Hour | Who Folds First
The followup to 2014’s astounding And Then… The Unthinkable Happened is just as miraculous and entirely satisfying, encompassing a variety of song styles, all finely wrought melodic microcosms and performed with perfection. Who Folds First brings the hits and a few happy surprises, like the Manhattan Transfer-like, a cappella opening that introduces the Todd Rundgren-esque “No More Excuses,” and “The Space that We Have Made,” about getting to the heart of the matter, a triumphant Steely Dan-ish number sung by Pure Pop Radio favorite Christian Phillips, who devised the three-dimensional vocal arrangements with Hour leader Robert DeStefano. Joyous and quite special. Purchase

chris price stop talking coverChris Price | Stop Talking
Stop talking? Hardly. The aim is for you to listen to these wonderful songs, recorded by Price between 2013 and 2016, and tell your friends about them, thereby creating a groundswell of support for this exceptional artist. From the catchy Paul McCartney-meets-Stephen Bishop-meets-Rupert Holmes “One of Them” to the tender, Nilsson-esque “You and Me (And Everyone Else),” co-written by Price and The New Pornographers’ Joe Seiders, and the toe-tapping, orchestrated charmer “Once Was True,” which puts a lovely chord progression and melodic structure center stage, Stop Talking is a classy keeper. (Omnivore) Purchase

the weeklings live at darryl's house coverThe Weeklings | Live at Daryl’s House Club Vol. 1
Ten Beatles classics, inhabited and driven with red-hot enthusiasm by this ever-passionate New Jersey foursome, blow like missiles out of your speakers for a fun time that, yeah, yeah, yeah, cannot help but be had by all. Top tracks? Take your pick: “I Saw Her Standing There” (energy to spare and take-that drumming), “Nowhere Man” (tight, three-dimensional harmonies), or “Helter Skelter,” (a pulse-pounding showcase for the band and Lefty’s in-your-face vocal). Or, really, any of the other tracks on offer. Short of being transported to an alternate universe where the actual Beatles are playing at a club in your neighborhood, this is as real as this fab thing gets. (See below for more Weeklings fun.) Purchase

coke belda 3gs cover for websiteCoke Belda | Coke Belda 3 (Gs): A Tribute to the Bee Gees
The long-awaited followup to 2013’s Coke Belda I and 2015’s Nummer Zwei breathes new life into the art of musical homage. This alluring celebration of the charms of the Brothers Gibb, a virtual explosion of Bee Gees joy, hits the mark at every turn. Playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals, save for a welcome guest appearance from Gretchen’s Wheel’s Lindsay Murray, Coke delivers smile after smile. “Claustrophobia,” arranged and played as a sweet Merseybeat romp, will book you on a virtual time travel trip back to the 1960s. The album closer, a beautiful take on “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away),” a top 10 Billboard chart hit for Andy Gibb in 1978, written by Bee Gee Barry and keyboardist Blue Weaver, is a welcome, perhaps unexpected nugget. Follow with glee. (Bonus Belda joy follows below.) Purchase from Kool Kat (CD), Purchase from Futureman (Digital)

Pins_and_Needles_Cover_Art_Scott_GagnerScott Gagner | Pins and Needles
A way-more-than-worthy followup to 2014’s five-star Rise and Shine, Pins and Needles elevates Scott Gagner’s art to six stars, at least. Boasting 10 literate, affecting pop songs and a lovely, emotional reading of “America the Beautiful,” the album is one of the great pleasures of 2017. Top numbers include the bluesy “Heart Attack” (“It seems I was a victim of love/Not heart disease”), the classic pop sounds of “The Ghost of Me and You,” and the aforementioned “America the Beautiful.” Lovely through and through. Purchase

bob of the pops vol. 2bob of the pops front coverRobyn Gibson | Bob of the Pops Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Buoyant exercises in the art of homage, Bob of the Pops Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 find The Junipers’ multi-instrumentalist Robyn Gibson having a good old time putting his warm, wide-eyed spin on some of his favorite pop songs from across the decades. All across this lovingly essayed two-volume landscape, Gibson’s softhearted vocals and obvious love for the material cast a warm glow over every melody line and emotional keystone communicated. In Gibson’s hands, these classic constructs breathe new life into familiar musical landscapes. From Vol. 1, The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” fairly drips with joy; the opening, harmony drenched a cappella couplet is sweetly delivered, and the song reveals itself as a modern-day folk song, every harmonic element glimmering with life and hope. Among the other top spins: The Hollies’ “Listen to Me” and the Who’s “I Can’t Reach You.” Vol. 2’s take on the Monkees’ “Girl that I Knew Somewhere” and Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting” are winners, as is “Bob’s” version of a well-known little group from Liverpool’s “There’s a Place.” Unmissable, and so much fun. Free Downloads

smellicopter twoScott Brookman | Smellicopter Two
Four years and seven months on from the mighty Smellicopter, Richmond, Virginia’s favorite son returns with this top-flight five-song sequel, a sterling collection of pop songs that should not only please fans but also draw in new Brookman connoisseurs. From the opening marriage of ’70s Todd Rundgren and late-’90s June and the Exit Wounds ambiance, “Consideration,” to “Old Bones Found,” a clever, catchy mix of pure pop styles, Smellicopter Two delivers the goods. Purchase

dana countryman the joy of popDana Countryman | The Joy of Pop
The fourth time’s the charm, although it certainly can be said that the previous three times have been equally charming; The Joy of Pop is nothing less than a joy, another in a growing line of wonderful retro-pop albums from a master of melody. With compatriots like Matt Tyson, Dana’s wife Tricia and Klaatu’s Dee Long in tow, you’re bound to have a rousing good time bathing in the glow of such gorgeous songs as “August Dream,” a Broadway-styled creation influenced, no doubt, by the work of Richard Carpenter, Burt Bacharach and Gilbert O’Sullivan; “Tell Me that You Love Me,” an early-1960s mid-tempo ballad dripping with Buddy Holly-isms; and “Can’t Stop Thinking ‘Bout You,” a jangly number graced with Dee Long’s beautiful guitar work. There is even a jolly holiday number, “It’s an Amazon.com Kind of Christmas,” that begs to be played year-round. Joy? There plenty to go around here. Purchase

Richard X. HeymanRichard X. Heyman | Incognito
One-man-band Richard X.’s 12th album, no less than his best work by far, is powered by stellar playing, singing and songwriting that gets better with each passing year. Dazzling songs and equally dazzling performances greet you at every turn. In the pure popper “A Fool’s Errand,” the narrator tells the world that his love for his partner is solid and for the ages. “Her Garden Path” is a muscular track with a grandly attractive riff that chronicles a man’s escape from a woman’s web. And the horn-infused, soulful pop number “So What” finds Richard sounding as though he’s channeling the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere. All of Richard’s albums are fantastic listens, but if you’re new to Richard’s work and you wonder where you should start, Incognito is a great place to jump in. Purchase

winterpills colorblindWinterpills | “Colorblind”
Upon first hearing this Massachusetts band’s music and, in particular songwriter Philip Price’s top-flight, three-dimensional songs, I could do nothing except flip for joy. This single, not yet represented on an album, is a great example of what Winterpills does best, and that is envelop the listener with lovely melodies and hooks galore. Beyond that, this description from the group’s Bandcamp page sums the process up nicely: “‘Colorblind’ features an infectious wall-of-sound vocal hook, samples recorded into an iPhone in a DC parking lot, out-of-tune pianos colliding over a burned-out city, a fat R&B beat, all poured through the alchemy of producer Justin Pizzoferrato’s overdrive brain.” Add this song, and all of Winterpills’ glorious albums, to your collection today. Purchase

coke belda photoCoke Belda | “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”
Coke Belda, who is ably represented above in this year’s Favorite Records of the Year feature, released this past November this heartfelt reinvention of Jim Croce’s top 20 hit. “My lovely wife, Verónica, introduced me to Jim Croce many years ago,” says Coke on his Bandcamp page. “I was captivated by his tunes and voice and I always thought this song was a clear power-pop song disguised as an acoustic piece.” Playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals, Coke has introduced Croce’s perennial to new listeners, as well as listeners who grew up with the song when it was first released. Stellar work. Purchase

the weeklings paperback writerThe Weeklings | “Paperback Writer”
New Jersey’s Fab Four reconvened in the studio during the last few months of 2017 to record and release a couple of jolly Christmas singles–“Revolution Wonderland,” a mash-up of the Beatles’ “Revolution” and the perennial Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland,” and a lively take on the original Fabs’ “Christmas Time is Here Again,” with dollops of “Flying” and “Baby You’re a Rich Man” skillfully sewn in. Last September, they released this, and here’s that word again, joyous slice of Weekling-ized fun, reviewed by me thusly: “Lefty, Zeek, Rocky and Smokestack huddle together and Weekling-ize the number one 1966 Billboard chart Beatles smash with an in-your-face-and-your-ears-too injection of contemporary immediacy, tight-knit harmonies, a surprising and smile-inducing…break, rhythmic whirligigs, Lefty’s spot-on Paul McCartney-esque bass runs, and a daring dose of Monkees derring-do for a rip-roaring, must-play-it-again-and-again two minutes and 47 seconds-long eargasm.” Still sounds about right. Purchase

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Pure Pop Radio’s signature shows, Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show, playing the latest and greatest melodic pop songs from today and across the decades, and Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere Internet melodic pop talk show, air weekly on Pop that Goes Crunch Radio.

pop tunes disc smallin conversation new graphic blueListen to the Pop Tunes Deejay Show on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 pm ET (two different shows every week); In Conversation airs every Wednesday night at 9 pm ET. Don’t miss a minute!

Tune in to Pop that Goes Crunch Radio by clicking on the following snazzy-looking button:

 

Win Dana Countryman’s The Joy of Pop!

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio alan 5 small

enter-to-win-kidTwo copies of Dana Countryman’s new CD, The Joy of Pop, are up for grabs in our latest exclusive Pure Pop Radio contest.

dana countryman the joy of pop

The Joy of Pop, most definitely one of this year’s best releases, is Dana’s fourth top-notch collection of retro-pop; in my view, it is his best collection thus far, offering up 14 perfectly realized melodic gems with the help of Klaatu’s Dee Long, Dana’s wife Tricia, and Matt Tyson.

We have two copies of The Joy of Pop to give away. Simply fill in the form below and send it on its way to me by this Friday, October 27 at 6 pm ET. Be sure to type “Dana” in the Comment field. Only one entry per person, U.S. only. Good luck!

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Pure Pop Radio’s signature shows, Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show, playing the latest and greatest melodic pop songs from today and across the decades, and Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere Internet melodic pop talk show, air weekly on Pop that Goes Crunch Radio.

pop tunes disc smallin conversation new graphic blueListen to the Pop Tunes Deejay Show on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 pm ET (two different shows every week); In Conversation airs every Wednesday night at 9 pm ET. Don’t miss a minute!

Tune in to Pop that Goes Crunch Radio by clicking on the following snazzy-looking button:

Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2016

favorite records of the year - stars of 2016

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
(Originally posted 01.03.17)

2016 was a terrific year for melodic pop music from both new and heritage artists, perhaps the best in recent memory. My list of 28 Favorite Records of the Year from 27 artists–The Stars of 2016–is presented below in random order.

It has long been my view that ranking entries on best-of-the-year lists is an impossible task, at least for me. If I made such a list on Monday, would the number nine entry still be in that slot on Tuesday? Perhaps not. Sometimes, I fear, agonizing over a particular placement would be akin to splitting hairs and not particularly a worthwhile enterprise. So, I’ll go with I like these a lot instead.

Here are my Favorite Records of the Year–The Stars of 2016–in no specific order. All are more than worthy of your time, and all should be added to your core collection of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe.

And now, on with the show…

The Stars of 2016

bob lind magellanBob Lind | Magellan Was Wrong Pop bard Bob Lind’s latest is a typically heartfelt collection of songs that deliver his always magical one-two punch: emotional lyrics and beautiful melodies, brought to life with stellar arrangements and production, much of it supplied in grand fashion on this album by the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover. Gorgeous soundscapes abound, such as the romantic, catchy “From the Road,” awash with poppy background harmonies from Hoover and perceptive, picturesque lyrics from Lind (“In moments others call mundane/My soul is warming by your flame/Turning just like a sailor to the harbor/And I will carry back my songs and tales/Of calms and gales/And sing and tell them all/To you”), and Lind’s emotional cover of Tom Paxton’s “Bottle of Wine.”

Where to Get It: Amazon

Legal Matters cover conradThe Legal Matters | Conrad With this album, the Legal Matters have set a new standard for vocal harmonies in melodic pop music. Andy Reed, Chris Richards, and Keith Klingensmith are the players, and their human voices are their instruments. The songs are sweetly realized, from the opener “Anything,” not the first track on this album tipping its hat to the much-loved Beach Boys vocal vibe, to the upbeat, single-worthy “Short Term Memory,” which tips its drumsticks to Ringo Starr in a delightful fill and puts forth some top-notch electric guitar playing. To listen to this album is a thrilling experience.

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

the weeklings studio 2The Weeklings | Studio 2 The beat-betrothed, Beatlesque foursome from New Jersey, steeped in the Fab tradition and nom de plumed in the spirit of all that started off holy in Liverpool’s Cavern Club a fair number of years ago, follows up their self-titled long player, affectionately known as Monophonic, with a sterling 12-song set composed of eight superlative originals and four rare John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs not given away to other artists. Recording in Abbey Road’s hallowed Studio 2, where the Beatles made their astounding magic, Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, John Merjave and Joe Bellia, aka Lefty, Zeek, Rocky and Smokestack, respectively, make considerable Merseyside hay with delightfully brisk and catchy songs steeped in the effervescent spirit of the Fab Four. A splendid time, to be sure.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon

caper clowns 2Caper Clowns | The Buca Bus Delicious pure pop from Odense, Denmark delights with a dozen beautifully written and performed pearls. Lovely melodies and vocal harmonies are always present, particularly on instant classics such as the should-be-hit-bound earworm “A Tale of Romance and Magnetic Trains” and the gorgeous ballad “Lizard Heart.” Debut of the year? Most certainly.

Where to Get It: iTunes, imusic, Amazon UK (mp3 download)

kenny herbert forever and beyondKenny Herbert | Forever and Beyond A gorgeous, romantic song cycle inspired by Caroline, the love of his life, Forever and Beyond is Herbert’s melodically-charged survey of the power of true love. The 14 songs on offer, encompassing 1930s, 1950s and modern melodic pop vibes, are tremendously affecting, beautifully drawn snapshots of a happy existence. The pretty “Queensferry Girl” and the catchy, McCartney-esque pop song “It’s All Good” shine among a rich collection of gems.

Where to Get It: Kenny’s website, iTunes

TYIFinal2Nick Piunti | Trust Your Instincts Guitars, bass, drums, powerful vocals, and a whole lot of moxie power the pop on Nick’s latest, high-energy collection. These songs make heads turn and hearts embrace its many charms. “One Hit Wonder” is the big, splashy, pure pop hit here, a clear winner on an album full of winners.

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

gleeson curse my lucky starsGleeson | Curse My Lucky Stars Austin, Texas band Gleeson have made their White Album, a sparkling collection of songs varied in approach and tone that makes a case for melodic pop being the genre of the moment. Encompassing beautiful balladry, art-pop, rock and retro charm, Curse My Lucky Stars is a marvel.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

teddy thompson and kelly jonesTeddy Thompson and Kelly Jones | Little Windows A true, modern classic bathed in retro charm, Little Windows’ rewards are many. There is a decidedly romantic notion at play here, one that slips in and out of hand holding echoes of the Everly Brothers at Cadence, Roy Orbison, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens and a thousand other country-pop artists and their golden recordings. These lovely, heartfelt songs, brought to life by two of pop music’s finest vocalists, make up an album that is like a bright lighthouse shining across the sea, drawing you in.

Where to Get It: Teddy Thompson store, Amazon, and iTunes

ray paul whimsicalityRay Paul | Whimsicality Thirty-six years after the release of Ray Paul and RPM’s album Go Time, the artist is once again regaling listeners with enticing tales set to everyone’s favorite power pop beat. A delicious mix of originals and well-chosen covers, such as the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes” and Paul McCartney’s “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” meets wonderfully-realized originals like the dynamic “A Fool Without Your Love” and McCartney-esque “Jeannie.” With Ray’s gorgeous melodies and strong vocals out front, this is a treat from first note to last.

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

myrtle park's fishing coverMyrtle Park’s Fishing Club | Benches A monumentally towering testament to melodic and harmonic excellence, Benches is a delight from start to finish. There is nothing quite like Kate Stephenson’s take on melodic pop music, just as there is nothing like her soaring imagination, and her ability to express all manner of emotion and make the listener feel. Working in concert with musical partner John Steel, Kate delivers wondrous songs (and three-dimensional vocal harmony stacks) like “Somebody Called Me an Onion,” a smile-inducing, upbeat, energetic pop number with faux-reggae shadings about peeling back the layers to reveal the full, human package of emotion; and the a cappella wonder “Silent Letter,” a tune about inner beauty and the sanctity of thought that doesn’t always have to be laid bare. For those of you keeping score, this is the second Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club album to wear our Favorite Records of the Year mantle. As it should be.

Where to Get It: Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club’s website, Amazon, and iTunes

the nines alejandro's visionsThe Nines | Alejandro’s Visions Rolling and then filtering the influence of the music of writers such as George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart into a mix peppered with the harmony styles of the Beach Boys, the Four Freshmen and even doo-wop, and then topping the resulting flow with his love of artists such as the Electric Light Orchestra and XTC, Steve Eggers has delivered a harmony- and melody-drenched soundtrack to an imaginary film, somewhat of a sequel to the last Nines album, Night Surfer and the Cassette Kids. Standout tracks include the beautiful, bittersweet, old-fashioned “When Our Love Was in Bloom,” stacked deep with gorgeous harmonies and an irresistible melody; and the early rock and roll/pop hybrid “Operator (Coming Home to You),” which sports a meaty, catchy, percussive piano riff, opens with an aural allusion to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and lays out a delectable Jeff Lynne-ish bridge that will make you smile. Alejandro’s Visions is Eggers’ best and most assured work yet, an immensely satisfying collection that belongs in every melodic pop music fan’s collection.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and Amazon (mp3)

seth swirsky new album coverSeth Swirsky | Circles and Squares Proving that a creative, heartfelt approach to making music will yield magic almost every time, Seth Swirsky has crafted a collection of songs that draws on all of his strengths, and perhaps incorporates a couple of new ones. Moreover, these songs reveal the truth about all of our lives, right from the first track, “Shine,” his statement of purpose, the one that sets the stage for what comes next. And what comes next is winner after winner, such as the lovely confessional and autobiographical “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You),” in which the narrator allows that life means nothing at all without the proverbial “one”: “I’ve got some baseballs/That are pretty rare/Got a swimming pool/And a fast car/But I don’t care/’Cause I don’t have anything if I don’t have you…I’ve got gold records/Hanging on my wall/But without your love/Baby you can have ’em all…” This 16 song collection is the latest expression of craft from one of pop music’s most important artists.

Where to Get It: seth.comKool Kat Musik, Amazon, and iTunes

lucy wainwright roche and suzzy roches mud and applesLucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche | Mud and Apples A sparkling duo release from Suzzy Roche and her daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche. Warm harmonies, clever songwriting and the inclusion of beautifully-sung covers such as Paul Simon’s “Bleecker Street” and the Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain” push this 11 track masterpiece into hall-of-fame territory. Roches fans will be charmed, and so will everyone else. Surely one of this year’s top expressions of musical joy.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

the monkees good timesThe Monkees | Good Times! Good Times! is a classic-sounding Monkees album that happens to have been released 50 years after Monkeemania began. A mix of recordings based on sessions produced during the group’s heyday and new songs written by top-flight, current songwriters of note, this is a fun listen from start to finish. A shining example of how good this album is: The perky, catchy “You Bring the Summer,” written by XTC’s Andy Partridge, fulfilling a childhood dream. A great album.

Where to Get It: Amazon and iTunes

mimi bettinis music soundsmimi betinis basement tapesMimi Betinis | Music Sounds and Basement Tapes Vol. 1 Pezband’s Betinis scores with two sterling releases in 2016 that are really two sides of a rather entertaining coin, so they both rate a spot in this Stars of 2016 feature. Music Sounds is a vivid, quite alive offering of melodic treasures. Its songs are wonderfully realized pop confections that hit the hooky bullseye, like “She Wants You,” which surreptitiously recalls the famed intro to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” in the intro, and “Summer Love,” a warm love letter and look back to a seasonal romance (that, perhaps unknowingly, taps the sound of 10cc member Eric Stewart’s guitar playing in the solo).

Basement Tapes Vol. 1 collects tracks that Mimi has been working on over the years, like “Ray of Light,” a melodic sweetness that sounds like an Andy Partridge outtake off of XTC’s Nonsuch album, and simply lovely covers (Paul McCartney’s song for Mary Hopkin, “Goodbye,” and the Hudson Brothers’ “So You Are a Star” are glorious). Saying that some heritage artists are only getting better as time passes by can sound like rather an empty assertion, but my, how that phrase does indeed fit snug as a bug, listening to Music Sounds and Basement Tapes Vol. 1.

Where to Get Them: Pop Music Sounds and CD Baby

winterpills love songsWinterpills | Love Songs The numbers on Winterpills’ seventh album get under your skin; they become you in some celestial kind of way. The vocals of songwriter Philip Price and his wife, guitarist and keyboard player Flora Reed, are the collective glue that holds these proceedings together–the glue that gives them life. Consider “Wanderer White,” a rolling, rhythmic song about a fall from grace, in which Philip takes the lower notes and Flora the higher ones, and “Freeze Your Light,” which starts off as if in a church with a slight, ghostly choral singsong and becomes a folk-into-pop number with a delectable chorus buoyed by the same low-and-high vocals. The poppy bopper and should-be-hit-bound “Celia Johnson” turns the tables with Philip initially taking the high vocal part and Flora following closely. A trumpet and coronet serenade add to the song’s beauty; a lovely, echoed piano part comes in for a beautiful coda. A real treat.

Where to Get It: Winterpills’ web store and iTunes

butch youngButch Young | Mercury Man 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.” Awesome.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and iTunes

the dowling poole one hyde parkThe Dowling Poole | One Hyde Park One Hyde Park, the sterling follow-up to the Dowling Poole’s Bleak Strategies, is a virtual tour de force and, if that weren’t enough, it’s an album influenced by sounds from across the pop landscape that doesn’t actually sound like its influences. Witness “Vox Pops,” which incorporates a very Partridge Family-sounding keyboard line and a very Brian May-sounding guitar solo; “Hope and Glory,” an upbeat pop song; and “Bring Back the Glow,” a smooth, rolling ’70s number. Joy from across the pond.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes

chris murphy and michael carpenter real love sleeveChris Murphy with Michael Carpenter | “Real Love” This absolutely gorgeous ballad recasting of John Lennon’s song is one of this year’s major triumphs in melodic pop music. For this rendition, the tempo has been slowed, allowing Murphy to lovingly communicate the depth of the emotional lyric. Murphy’s vocal may well be the best vocal performance of the year. His ability to hold a melody line’s final note in such an artful way, to sustain its resonance and maximize its impact on the listener, is something to behold. Recorded with precision and heart by Carpenter on the occasion of singer Kylie Whitney’s wedding (Whitney also sang background vocals), this new version of this wonderful song is proof positive that covers can reveal new layers of emotion not previously brought to the surface.

Where to Get It: iTunes and CD Baby

emitt rhodes rainbows endEmitt Rhodes | Rainbow Ends Forty-three years after his third album, Farewell to Paradise, was released, this new collection surfaces to critical and listener acclaim, and rightly so. Here are songs that feature all of the Rhodes hallmarks: beautiful, catchy melodies; inventive chord changes; and those velvety, smooth, sturdy and emotive vocals. Perhaps this is no more evident than on the emotional ballad “I Can’t Tell My Heart.” Somewhat reminiscent of Mirror‘s “Love Will Stone You,” this is a showcase for Emitt’s committed, vocal delivery; the gorgeous melody and emotional lyrics combine to sketch the breakup of a relationship and a considered plea for the other party to embrace the option to heal. A wonderful surprise and an instant classic. Welcome back to a truly special artist.

Where to Get It: Amazon and iTunes

daisy house western manDaisy House | Western Man Doug Hammond and his daughter Tatiana’s album for the ages features golden harmonies and great songs that will melt your heart all the way through. The heavenly duo channels the Byrds in the uptempo “She Comes Runnin’ Back” and “Twenty-One,” offers up a catchy, playful vibe with the singalong number “Willow,” and delivers a strong, emotive ballad with the orchestrated tune, “Western Man.” Best news of all: a new album is soon to be released. Happy new year, indeed.
Where to Get It: Bandcamp

brain circus use this jpeg instead of the other oneBrain Circus | Brain Circus This smashing collection of impossible-to-resist songs performed in grand style by ace songwriter and keyboard wizard Brian Curtis, late of the much-loved band the Oohs, serves up 13 numbers in all, performed entirely by this transplanted Virginian. The majestic, heartfelt love song “Finally Found the One,” a musical sculpture formed with smiles and tears and a whole lot of heart, is but one highlight. You’ll detect essence of the Beach Boys, Jellyfish and Queen, among other classic touchstones, but this is all Curtis and don’t you forget it.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

the flat fiveThe Flat Five | It’s a World of Love and Hope This Chicago-based band of harmony-hounds deserves supergroup status, thanks to the members’ affiliation with artists such as Neko Case, NRBQ and the New Pornographers. Welcome a deliciously wondrous assortment of luscious pop dressed in a variety of comfortable musical clothing that runs the gamut from the Manhattan Transfer-meets-hep cat vibe of the delightful “Buglight” to the Paul McCartney retro-sway of “I Could Fall in Love with You” and the pretty back porch balladry of the Roches-like “Bottom Buck.” Pretty special all the way through.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes, and Bandcamp

bent van looy pyjama daysBent Van Looy | Pyjama Days Based in Paris, France and a member of the band Das Pop, Bent Van Looy’s 2016 release is a lovely, pure poppy collection of sweet-sounding catchy melodies sung with assured style, like the upbeat pop number “My Escape,” beautifully arranged with little Beach Boys vocal flourishes weaved in; “Mr. Fletcher’s Song,” a melodic mid-tempo ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Randy Newman album, and the sumptuous title track, a three-minute genius construct, nicely orchestrated and adorned with a smile-inducing whistle. Pop on.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

the junipers red bouquet fairThe Junipers | Red Bouquet Fair This charming collection from the Leicester, United Kingdom band recalls the sweet sunshine pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s in such lovely songs as “Summer Queen” and “Like a Merry-Go-Round.” Red Bouquet Fair is no less than the audio equivalent of smiling at your good fortune on a warm day in the park while sipping cool lemonade (the effect is equally transcendent wherever else you may be). The vocals are enchanting and the instrumentation is perfectly played. Lovely.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes, and Bandcamp

tommy and the rocketsTommy and the Rockets | Beer and Fun and Rock ‘n’ Roll This ace project, featuring 10 pop-rockers, co-written, except for one, by super criminal defense attorney Michael Chaney and Thomas “Tommy” Stubgaard, who plays all of the guitars, bass, and provides handclaps, shake the house, as it were. Check out the catchy, Beach Boys-influenced sunshine anthem “Here Comes Summer,” and a couple of  energetic Ramones nods, “Silly Teenage Love” and “You Want Me (But I Don’t Want You)”). Cheery, toe-tapping fun.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, and CD Baby

explorers clubThe Explorers Club | Together This collection of songs imbued with the spirit of the best of the Beach Boys, the Four Freshman, the Association and other time-honored practitioners of the art is one of the sweetest offerings of the year. Here are songs that are beautiful and beautifully sung, lovely and lovelier still, from Jason Brewer, Wyatt Funderburk, Paul Runyon,  Kyle Polk and Mike Williamson. From the southern California harmony- and sun-soaked sound of “California’s Callin’ Ya” to the Four Freshmen-meets-“Graduation Day”-by-way-of-Les Paul ballad “Perfect Day,” Together invites listeners to bathe in the beauty of harmony-filled dreams.

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

The Road Ahead

Harmony-filled dreams… Ah, as ever, they feel so right. With 2016 now in our collective rearview mirror, it is time to look ahead into what is just around the corner. Your favorite artists, and those new to the melodic pop scene, are itching to get going…to release their latest creations, crafted with a mix of melody, harmony, and keen performance.

Already, I have heard a few upcoming albums that I predict will knock your socks off. Nick Bertling, who records under the name Bertling Noise Laboratories, has been making a name for himself with a few rather extraordinary platters; the Lab’s latest, releasing later this month, is a covers collection called, in a nod to the great Harry Nilsson, A Little Touch of Bertling in the Night. This is a sweet mélange of favorite songs from yesterday, filtered through today’s singular sensibilities. It is uniquely Bertling, and you’re going to love it.

Dana Countryman, of whom much has been said throughout these pages, all of it sweeping-me-off-my-feet good, is about to release in 10 days, through Australia’s Teensville Records, his passion project, a tribute to the 1960s girl group and Brill Building sounds that continue to bring joy to ears around the world. Dana Countryman’s Girlville!: New Songs in the Style of Yesterday’s Hits will transport you back to a much simpler time, perhaps, when melody and joy were king. Lisa Mychols, Swan Dive’s Molly Felder, and Lisa Jenio are just three of the vocalists that help to bring Dana’s vision to life on an album that you will hug tightly. Look for Dana to appear on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation soon to talk about this landmark release.

Bill DeMain, whose solo music and treasured albums with Molly Felder as Swan Dive will always have a place here on Pure Pop Radio, has a new record that will soon be released. After hearing and playing on the air a bonus track from Beans, a lovely arrangement of the Beach Boys’ “Wendy,” we hope the release date comes very soon.

The Word is Love

“Spread the word,” the Beatles sang back in 1965. They were talking about love, not melodic pop music written and recorded in the 2010s, but they might as well have been looking forward, as should we all.

In 2017, we look forward to bringing you more of the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. We’re on the job 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A click of any of the Listen links that follow will connect you with our stream. Spread the word about Pure Pop Radio, if you will and, if you haven’t already, please click the Follow button on the homepage of this very website to ensure that you will be notified by email every time we make a post.

Thanks for reading our list of our Favorite Records of the Year: The Stars of 2016. Add them all to your collection; your ears will thank you, as will I.

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