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

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By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio alan 5 small

Spins and Reviews | 11.01.17

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

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

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

dave caruso live on the radio

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

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

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

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

(l to r) Dave Caruso and Andy Reed

(l to r) Dave Caruso and Andy Reed

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

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

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

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Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion, Day Two: Jump into the Poole!

alan-micDay two of Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion (and thank you for joining us, melodic popsters!) kicks off with the explosive new album from the Dowling Poole, this time comprising not only Willie Dowling and Jon Poole, but also Givvi Flynn.

Let’s get started, shall we?

dowling pool one hyde park largeThe Dowling Poole | One Hyde Park We’ve long been huge fans of Willie Dowling’s work with Jackdaw 4, which slid upon their disbanding into the Dowling Poole, which found Willie hooking up with Jon Poole from Cardiacs and the Wildhearts. The duo is now a trio, with third member status being bestowed on vocalist Givvi Flynn.

One Hyde Park, the sterling follow-up to the Dowling Poole’s Bleak Strategies, is a clear winner and 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. In other words, it sounds like the Dowling Poole, which is a very good thing.

Three songs stand out especially amongst the dozen on offer. “Willing to Change,” about trying to adopt a positive outlook in the face of so much negativity, is a poppy number with wonderfully-realized moving parts from within which a lovely melody and charmingly rich background harmonies thrive. In the title song, an imagined scenario finds a real London address in the Knightsbridge section of London that caters to the extremely, positively well-to-do getting its comeuppance. Art-pop conventions make for a gripping musical experience. And in the scorching, upbeat, Poole-sung “Fight, Fight, Fight,” the always-endearing pop convention–“ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba”–is actually the prize one gets for fighting for what’s right. Genius.

We’re playing the aforementioned three songs in rotation, plus three more: “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.

We welcome back the Dowling Poole and, without question, look forward to album number three, hopefully coming not that very long from now to a stereo system near you.

the sonic executive sessionsThe Sonic Executive Sessions | “Welcome to the Circus” It’s quite possible that this is the only song being written about today that needs no commentary whatsoever. Another just-about-perfect song from the great Christian Phillips, “Welcome to the Circus” is stocked full of Christian’s gorgeous trademark harmony stacks. Oh, and the melody is pretty spectacular. We look forward to the next album of wonders from the Sonic Executive Sessions. Until then, we have this golden nugget, which makes us, and you, about the luckiest people on the planet.

maxi dunn operation bubbleMaxi Dunn | “Apple Blossom” and “Full Circle” Liverpool’s own Maxi Dunn will soon release her new album, Operation Bubble. We’ve added two songs that will appear there–the beautiful, majestic ballad “Apple Blossom,” and the upbeat, toe-tapping pop-rocker “Full Circle.” Operation Bubble promises to be a big winner. We can’t wait.

alice bierhorstAlice Bierhorst | The Beacon Produced with great care and compassion by the supremely talented Greta Gertler Gold and her husband Adam D. Gold, known collectively as the Universal Thump, The Beacon is the welcome arrival of a truly lovely album by a truly talented artist. Alice’s pretty songs and her tender, expressive vocals, which recall such titans as Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Carole King, are wonderful constructs. Whether delivering a tender ballad (“Better Angels”) or an upbeat pop tune (“Airborne”), Alice is tops of the pops.

We’re playing four songs in rotation: “Our Work is Never Done,” “Better Angels,” “Airborne,” and “Forever You Go.” Top points for the live strings and horns, and the included lyrics. The trifold digipak is particularly welcome. And thanks, Alice, for the lovely music…and the wonderful feather. ♥

paperheartsPaperhearts | “Laurel Hill” and “A Girl Like That” Here’s a real treat: two songs from a band new to our ears. The pure popper “Laurel Hill” was recorded this past January and produced by Pure Pop Radio favorite Andy Bopp, whose new album we reviewed (read: raved about) and added songs from yesterday; the energetic “A Girl Like That,” with a hint of Byrdsian honey, was produced by the group’s bass player Jim Grice. Both songs were written by Mike Smith and will be featured on Paperhearts’ forthcoming album, Candygram. Something to look forward to, for sure. Thanks to Trax on Wax’s Gary Gebler for turning this group onto us.

deep sixDeep Six | “No I Haven’t a Clue” and “Heading for a Fall” Another group new to our ears, Heavy Soul Records’ Deep Six is composed of musicians from ’80s mod bands the Threads, the Upper Fifth, and Makin’ Time. “No I Haven’t a Clue” is a pure pop stomper with a great melody and, as you might expect, a great hook. “Heading for a Fall” comes to us in demo form; it’s a catchy upbeat tune you might expect to hear around the campfire, if you’re so inclined. Great stuff, and a four-song EP will be on its way in June.

The CarouselsThe Carousels | “Lord Speed My Hurricane” and “Like a Loaded Gun” Look no further than the Byrds and like-minded artists for at least a few of the influences on this band whose home is the distillery town of Keith in northeast Scotland, where Chivas Regal whiskey hangs its bottles. Melody fans will savor these songs which constitute the two sides of a new single. Joyous.

gillian nicolaGillian Nicola | “Oh Marie” From Hamilton, Ontario, Canada comes Gillian Nicola, a classically-trained vocalist whose “Oh Marie” is a taster track from her forthcoming EP, No Place to Call. The mid-tempo song is a melodic triumph; Gillian’s commanding vocal takes center stage with an affecting performance. We think you’ll be as enthralled with this song and performer as we are. Now playing in rotation.

loop lineLoop Line | Wakes “Luke lives in Phoenix,” we find out by perusing Loop Line’s Bandcamp page.”Paul lives in Minneapolis. We make music together with the help of the Internet.” And with that information in our pocket, we play Loop Line’s music and we like what we hear. “Nothing About You” and “Parts Unknown” are terrific, upbeat pop songs with solid hooks, and what more could you realistically want?

samantha tiegerSamantha Tieger | “I’m in Love” Cincinnati, Ohio’s own Samantha Tieger turns in a catchy pop song with an affecting vocal and a really nice melody. This one would sound pretty good on the radio–hey, we can do something about that! We’re eager to hear more from this singer-songwriter who scribes musically in English, Spanish, and French. Now playing.

dave caruso 5don dixon 2Don Dixon and Dave Caruso | New Pure Pop Radio IDs Pure Pop Radio favorites Don and Dave work their vocal magic (separately) for our humble station, turning in new IDs that are sure to please. Magic? Indeed.

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Day two of Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion is in the books. Time for day three of our festivities, kicking off tomorrow. See you then. While you wait, why not click on one of the listen links below and hear the above-mentioned new adds to our playlist and more than 8,500 other handpicked songs. Pure Pop Radio is taking care of your melodic pop needs!

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

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

Welcome to Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of ’14!

stars-5Alan Haber: Proud Music Geek!I have long believed that of the many instruments that help to bring a great song to life, the human voice is capable of the most expression (sleigh bells come in at number two, in case you were wondering). Moreover, the magic that results from a group of people who come together to make a glorious sound that resonates with an audience is incontrovertible proof that music is the fuel that makes the cool kids sing.

The cool kids sang rather sweetly in 2014, a great year for melodic pop music. Whether driving the beat of a song or singing in five-part harmony, artists were inspired to create lasting art in the form of two-, three- and four-minute songs that added value to people’s lives. There is a reason–probably more than one–that great songs stand the test of time, some sounding  as fresh as the day they were born, even decades after they were recorded. And make no mistake–many of the songs that made their way to turntables and CD players this year have that kind of staying power.

Even after 20 years of writing about and broadcasting pop music to the masses, I am still dazzled by much of what I hear. The thrill of discovery is present every time I sit down and prepare to listen. I want every note that fills the room to explode with joy. And, more often than not, I am rewarded with that certain something that drives me to play music on the radio and gather words together to communicate that joy. For me, the magic is still alive and well and lighting my world.

Which brings me to 21 magical records that helped make 2014 a banner year for melodic pop music. I’ve made no attempt to rank them or present them within categories. It is impossible for me to make a distinction between the fourth and fifth best albums of the year, so I haven’t even tried. What follows are simply 21 of my favorite releases of the year: the stars of 2014, if you will–a group of records that will enrich your life in ways that may well surprise you. And they’re presented in no particular order. There were many more records that touched my soul this year; these are the top of the pops. At the very least, they will put a smile on your face, and as the late writer Derek Taylor might have opined, you really can’t say fairer than that. – Alan Haber

And now, in no particular order, please join me in ushering in the Stars of ’14: Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year!

joe-sullivanJoe Sullivan | Schlock Star Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Joe Sullivan and his debut album, Schlock Star, knocked me clean off my feet. Joe’s keenly observed pop songs, about girls and boys and boys and girls and other related topics, are perfect examples of the arts of clever songwriting and performance. In my review of this album, published on September 2 on this site, I said that “Sullivan makes tracks that stick and stack up for imminent replay.” I also stated, without reservation, that  “This is Sullivanmania, attended by screaming fans who dig the sounds of one of the best records of 2014.” No doubt you’ll be hearing a lot more about Joe in the coming years. Joe, as you may have already figured, is the real deal.

marti-jonesMarti Jones | You’re Not the Bossa Me What I know about bossa nova music could fit on the rightmost quadrant of the head of a pin, but thanks to Marti Jones’ radiant album that adds more than a splash of melodic pop to the turntable, I’m something of an expert. Well, not really, but I know what I like and I like the latest chapter of Jones’ music a lot. When I added all of these songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist on July 9, I said in my playlist report that this is “pop music for discerning listeners….” And indeed it is. I also noted that the songs, “written by [Kelley] Ryan, [Don] Dixon, Bill DeMain, [Paul] Cebar and others, are brought to life with Jones’ magical voice. Jones has never sounded better.” It’s always a celebration when Jones releases a new album. If you think this one is great, well, just wait until the next one spins.

legal-matters-largeThe Legal Matters | The Legal Matters Some albums feel right after only a few notes play. And when the harmonies kick in–when the melodies surround me and take me to some other place–I’m putty in the musicians’ hands. Such was my experience with this debut album by three well-known musicians who came together to form the Legal Matters. In other words, they’re the Rockpile of the melodic pop world. It’s all in the music, I said in my July 23 feature review; the “harmony-drenched law firm of [Andy] Reed, [Chris] Richards and [Keith] Klingensmith” delivers the goods. This is “good, good music for when the snow falls, for when spring turns to summer, during a light rain, and for when fall signals the end of baseball season and the year moves into its closing phase. It’s good for what ails you, a prescription that works wonders no matter the season or circumstance.” It’s really great, and it’s one of my favorite records of 2014.

ed-woltilEd Woltil | Paper Boats, A Reverie in Thirteen Acts The beautiful songs that populate this wonderful album from the Ditchflowers’ Ed Woltil are a wonder to behold. Melody is king and beauty is on display in each of the melodic gems currently playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. Whether he’s wearing his straight-ahead pop hat on the catchy “Algebra” or crooning softly and emotionally on the beautiful waltz, “Dance With Me One More Time,” Woltil is capturing our hearts. I called this a hall-of-fame-worthy release when I wrote about it in my July 9 station update; four months later, its position remains unchanged. A stellar release from a huge talent.

dave-3Dave Caruso | Cardboard Vegas Roundabout When I reviewed this album on September 17, I testified, up front, about it glorious wonders: “This kind of thing, this magical musical mixture exhibiting the tasty influences of Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, the Beach Boys and, hey why not, Paul McCartney, is a thing of beauty, an artful excursion that can and will enrich your life, take you to your happy places and prove to you that good things absolutely do come in all manner of packages–small, medium, large and beyond.” What more do you need to know, except that these songs should absolutely have a place in your life. Caruso’s Beach Boys/Carpenters homage, “Champion,” alone makes this album a worthy purchase. Cardboard Vegas Roundabout is so good and so tasty that many of the other CDs in your collection will aspire to achieve its greatness. Simply fantastic.

bill-lloyd-reset2014Bill Lloyd | Reset2014 Bill Lloyd has been a huge part of the Pure Pop Radio playlist since his career-making Set to Pop was released in 1994. On the occasion of the album’s 20th anniversary, Bill has recreated that mind-blowing collection with wonderfully-updated remakes and early and live takes. Reset2014 is as much a look back as it is a reinvention. “On the list of Best Records Ever Made,” I noted in my October 29 review, “Set to Pop must sit comfortably alongside similarly great waxings drawn from the catalogs of other great artists.” “With Reset2014,” I wrote, “Bill Lloyd has taken pause to smell the roses from 20 years ago and replant them for future generations.” This is such a great achievement from one of pop music’s greatest artists.

the-britannicasThe Britannicas | High Tea Album number two from this international melodic pop supergroup checks off many of the must-haves on power pop fans’ lists: Byrds musings, gorgeous balladry, jangle, harmonies and hooks galore. Veteran U.S. popster Herb Eimerman, who we’ve been playing on Pure Pop Radio for somewhere in the neighborhood of18 years, Australia’s Joe Algeri, and Magnus Karlsson from Sweden have served up a spot of High Tea that all told constitutes a truly classic collection.

myrtle-parkMyrtle Park’s Fishing Club | Nothing to Be Afraid Of A total surprise, this is perhaps the brightest, most inventive, most sincere and happiest-sounding melodic work of the year. Kate Stephenson, trading under the delightful band name Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club, had written a range of songs that recall the best of the Roches, the Dream Academy and Prefab Sprout, but come alive as uniquely her own creations. The deeply-felt, dense harmonies alone are more than worth the price of admission. Plus, the artwork and hand-lettered lyrics in the accompanying booklet prove that the album package is still alive out there in the world. One of the most truly special albums of this or any other year.

robert-crenshawRobert Crenshaw | Friends, Family and Neighbors Speaking of truly special albums, here is one from the great Robert Crenshaw. “One of the sweetest surprises of the year is this joyous celebration of the love of the clever, catchy song,” I wrote in my October 30 feature review. Pairing a couple of covers, including one of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which features Marshall, Dean and John Crenshaw, with seven originals and a surprise bonus track, Crenshaw turns in his best album to date, tackling such diverse subjects as “…the upside of improbability (the lovely, hymn-like “The Night the Detroit Lions Won the Super Bowl”), familiarity in the face of love (the Bill Lloyd co-write, “You’re So Hip to Me”), detachment versus reality (“What if I’m Really Dead?”), and hiding behind the wall of booze (the gospel-tinged “Turn to Booze”).” A wonderful album, beautifully realized.

the-rubinoosThe Rubinoos | 45 In my November 10 feature review, I wrote that “this latest album from the melodic pop band’s melodic pop band is a master class in songwriting and performing that should be at the top of your holiday gift-giving lists.” 45 is stone-cold triumph–a standout album in a career teeming with them. Among the treasures on offer, besides the great voice of Jon Rubin and some of the best harmonies on the planet, is one of the best tracks recorded by any artist this year–a lovingly-rendered a cappella (with percussion) version of Lou Christie’s classic, “Rhapsody in the Rain,” that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and drive you to recall the classic sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Tommy Dunbar originals like the buoyant “I Love Louie Louie” and the upbeat “Countdown to Love,” which tips its hat to the Paul Revere and the Raiders playbook, are modern day classics. Long may the Rubinoos run.

peter-laceyPeter Lacey | Last Leaf Tender and loving and from the heart, Last Leaf bristles with warmth and genuine emotion. Lacey harkens back to his folk roots, taking inspriation from ” the circles of everyday, country life: on patches of grass surrounded by sprouting trees, and by the water, on a calmly-stated lake. Lacey’s new songs are about the simpler, and more important, things in life; every element of this album is calm and soothing and powerful,” I wrote in my station update on July 7. Beautiful songs like “The Woodwind” and “Boy in the Rings of a Tree” populate this entire album, a treasure by any definition of the word.

jamie-two-everJamie Hoover | Jamie Two Ever Pop music’s premiere journeyman returns with a sort-of sequel to 2004’s Jamie Hoo-Ever, and boy does he deliver. Seven originals, eight covers (only on the CD), and a million reasons to keep this album in hot rotation at your pad. As I said in my station update on October 28, “From ace covers of a couple of Beatles tunes and the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” to a host of originals, including the joyous, almost-completely a cappella “Press Save”; the lovely, gentle Steve Stoeckel co-write, “Lost”; and the bluesy “Oh Darlin’!”-esque “You Took Away the Birds,” Jamie Two Ever practically redefines the word ‘classic.’

kylie-whitney-2Kylie Whitney | Something About Ghosts With a soulful approach and a refreshing touch of honesty, Kylie Whitney has released a classic-sounding album stocked with a wide range of emotions, all conveyed with authority. Although the album is chiefly comprised of originals, most of which were co-written with producer Michael Carpenter, Whitney does deliver a tender read of Don McLean’s “Vincent.” “Bad News Baby” finds Whitney in fine ’60s girl-group mettle, and “Tealite” shines an emotional light on her somewhat fragile vocal. Everything here points to a singer with a bright future.

mylittlebrothermylittlebrother | If We Never Came Down One of the coolest discoveries of the year. Here’s how I summed things up in my October 24 station update: “As perfect as a beautiful day in the country or a clear, wondrous night under the stars, mylittlebrother is a wonderful British band that specializes in lovely, clever, insanely catchy pop songs that capture the imaginations of listeners. Entrancing melodies, gorgeous harmonies and a sense of humanity make this album the find of the year.” The opener, the joyously hopping mid-tempo “Loves of Life, Unite!” and the early rock ‘n’ roll stroll-meets-Teenage Fanclub vibe of “My Hypocritical Friend” are only two of the musical pleasures to be savored. Wonderful.

sam-rbSam RB | Finding Your Way Home Here is a truly lovely album full of truly lovely songs by a New Zealand singer-songwriter who makes truly beautiful music. Here is what I said in my October 28 station update: “Finding Your Way Home features Sam’s beautiful, expressive voice and songs with melodies that will melt your heart.” Sam sings her heart out in such standout tunes as the folk-pop “Blue Sky Day,” the wonderfully catchy, hit-worthy “Say Goodbye,” and the should-be-hitbound and equally impressive title song. Don’t be surprised if Finding Your Way Home soon finds its way to your home.

dowling-poole-2The Dowling Poole | Bleak Strategies The perfect second act after the ashes of the much-missed band Jackdaw 4 had scattered, the Dowling Poole finds that band’s leader, Willie Dowling, teaming up with veteran musician Jon Poole for a similarly imaginative trip down the pop music rabbit hole. Bleak Strategies is hardly a bleak affair, though; rather, it’s a wondrous, album-length expression of strength in the art of composition and performance, with seemingly millions of influences synthesized down to one shared point of view. Full of surprises and all manner of left and right turns, this is your one-stop-shop for XTC-meets-10cc-meets-Kinks, Beatles and Frank Zappa-isms. Put simply, these are pop songs turned on their heads by two men fully poised to do the job right. Any album that segues effortlessly from banjo-fueled vaudeville to straight pop in the same song (the wild and wooly “Empires, Buildings and Acquisitions”) and lays their pop smarts bare with an early-to-late period XTC-like romp (the insanely catchy “A Kiss on the Ocean”) deserves your rapt attention. Grand.

vanishing-actEdward O’Connell | Vanishing Act Four years on from his 2010 debut, Our Little Secret, Edward O’Connell returns with, not surprisingly, another great record.  In our July 10 station update, I wrote that “Vanishing Act is everything a great melodic pop album should be and then some.” Songs include the insanely catchy “My Dumb Luck” (with its George Harrison-esque slide guitar lines), the equally infectious “Severance Kiss,” and “Lonely Crowd,” with a decidedly Tom Petty vibe. With not a single note or clever lyric wasted, Vanishing Act is one of this year’s greatest musical achievements.

linus-of-hollywoodLinus of Hollywood | Something Good Something great is more like it. “Nobody does it better,” Carly Simon once sang, and she might as well have been singing about Linus. His duet with the lovely Kelly Jones on the charming “If You Don’t Love Me You Gotta Let Me Go” is, all by itself, worth the price of admission. His gentle cover of Kiss’ “Beth” breathes new life into the old classic rock staple, putting added emphasis on the melody as welcome, real strings set the song aloft. Spectacular music, catchy as all get out, all the way through.

dana-pop-2Dana Countryman | Pop 2! The Exploding Musical Mind of Dana Countryman Dana Countryman turns the clock back to the panoramic 1970s as the Wayback Machine collects the songs that form the soundtrack of your life–if you’re a sweet, melodic pop fan, and by reading this you might as well flash yout membership card at the door, this is for you. Nobody does this kind of thing better than Countryman, who celebrates “…the kinds of songs they just don’t write and record anymore. His influences, from Gilbert O’Sullivan and Eric Carmen to the Beatles and beyond, are worn on his sleeves and  [are] bathed in his own, unique approach to songwriting and production.” That was my take on this album in my review from October 7. If you’re looking for a warm, musical glow to light your way, then look no further than this collection. It’s like what used to come out of transistor radios a long, long time ago, but it’s now coming from the here and now. Pop 3!, please.

mothboxerMothboxer | Sand and the Rain Mothboxer’s Dave Ody wears his heart, and his influences, on his sleeve on this wonderful new album. Mothboxer just keeps getting better, and this album is their best yet. The influence of the Beach Boys is apparent, however subtly, on the lively and engaging “In the Morning” and the enticing “Looking Out for Summer.” The title cut is clever, technicolor pop. The driving “We’re All Out of Our Minds” is upbeat and rather catchy. Overflowing with great songs, Sand and the Rain is a clear winner and, not surprisingly, one of the best albums of the year.

solicitorsThe Solicitors | Blank Check  Lee Jones’ energetic, widescreen pop songs, hooks always at the ready and raring to go, are fuel for the fire that is Australia’s the Solicitors. A wildly talented singer and songwriter, Jones, along with guitarist Laf Zee and crew tread towards the listener with equal parts vim, vigor and melody. The band means business and their business is clear: knock ’em down with Stiff-era enthusiasm and the joy of performance. One of these days, the Solicitors will venture away from Oz and hit American shores to spread their pop gospel. We patiently wait for that day, but until then we have this new album, one of the best of the year.

(All reviews written by Alan Haber)

We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of 21 of Pure Pop Radio’s favorite albums of the year. These are the Stars of ’14: 21 artists with great songs that will enrich your lives and guarantee your status as one of the cool kids. Which artists and songs will make next year’s cut? See you in about 365 days for the answer to that question and many more! Thanks for reading, and thanks, as always, for listening to Pure Pop Radio!

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

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

Pure Pop Radio’s New Music Explosion Rolls On! It’s Day Number Three, and We’re Still Just Getting Started!

Pure Pop Radio is committed to bringing you the latest and greatest melodic pop music from your favorite recording artists and artists who will quickly become your favorite recording artists. We scour the globe for the coolest sounds around.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we’re adding many hundreds of new songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. We’ve already told you about a good number of songs and artist’s we’ve introduced to our airwaves. Here’s a bunch more:

Brandon Schott | Verdugo Parkbrandon-verdugo-park-cover Brandon Schott’s latest taster for his upcoming album, provisionally titled Crayons and Angels, is a phenomenal three-song collection featuring two songs that will be unavailable elsewhere. That alone is reason enough to jump on this masterful creation. These two tracks–a lightly-psychedelic instrumental called “Lapiz Lazuli” that takes its inspiration from the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and runs wild with it; and a delightful cover of Robert and Richard Sherman’s lovely 1962 soundtrack song, “Castaway”–are classics in their own right. But the main draw here is the title cut, a delectable mix of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson-esque melody and inspiration that is beyond the heights that inspiration usually takes you. We’re playing all three of these songs in rotation. We can’t wait for you to hear them.

Dave Caruso's Cardboard Vegas RoundaboutDave Caruso (Part One) | Cardboard Vegas Roundabout We raved about Dave’s miracle of an album a few weeks ago, and rightly so: it’s one of the best releases of this or any year. This is what you get when a talented multi-instrumentalist puts pen to paper and crafts songs that not only pay homage to his musical heroes but also incorporate his own, unique way of drawing out a melody and topping it off with words that tell a commanding story. From the Beach Boys homage (also sporting a dash of Carpenters spice), “Champion,” to the astounding, tight harmony singing that kicks off and populates the beautiful “I’ve Tried to Write You,” this is an album that, as Paul McCartney once sang, is warm and beautiful. We’re playing five songs in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: the aforementioned “Champion” and “I’ve Tried to Write You,” “The Art of Erica,” “It’s a Great Day for the Angels,” and “Shelter.”Dave Caruso's Elizabeth Parker EP

Dave Caruso (Part Two) | Elizabeth Parker Before releasing Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, Dave recorded an EP that is just as captivating. We’re playing four songs in rotation: the title track, “I Can’t Be On Time,” “If I Died Today,” and “Letter to My Ex.” A double dose of Dave Caruso will do you good!

swan-diveSwan Dive | Soundtrack to Me and You The art of song that sweeps you off your feet with marvelous melody and peerless songwriting is practiced on Swan Dive’s 10th album, Soundtrack to Me and You. Molly Felder’s sent-from-heaven-above vocals bring Bill DeMain’s wonderful songs (co-written with Kelly Jones and Mike Viola, amongst others) to life, and what a great life it is. From the Buddy Holly-meets-Everly Brothers vibe of “Good Things” to the breezy, free and easy mid-tempo ballad “Sweet Summer Fling,” this is as good as pop music gets. We love this album so much that we’ve added all of the songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist: “Sweet Summer Fling,” “Flipside of Loving You,” “Soundtrack to Me and You,” “Star Crossed Lover,” “Missing,” “I Can See What’s Coming,” “Brief Interlude,” “Slim Willie Dunn and the Gin Bottle Four,” “Wrong Number” and “Good Things.” Wonderful stuff.

andy-reed-oddities-and-entitiesAndy Reed | Oddities and Entities Much-loved musician, producer and engineer Andy Reed, who moonlights as one-third of the much-loved band the Legal Matters and records under the band name An American Underdog, has a long history as a maker of fine records. This history is reflected in the grooves of this enticing, catchall collection of 22 previously-released and unreleased gems. From the pure pop pleasures of “Smile, Look and Listen” and “The Ballad of…” to the gorgeous, beautifully sung and played “Crazy Things,” there’s no end to the pleasures on offer. We’re happily playing the aforementioned songs, plus “Make Up Your Mind,” “Always on the Run,” “Summertime,” “The Criminal,” “Novacaine,” “Your Reign is Over,” “Extraordinary Boy” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” in rotation.

lisa-mychols-3Lisa Mychols 3 | Lisa Mychols 3 Resting comfortably somewhere between the sound of her last record, Above, Beyond and In Between, and, say, an early Who album, Lisa Mychols 3 blasts a half-dozen sweaty workouts in just over 17 power-punched minutes. As is always the case with Lisa, melody is king, but so too are the ace riffs and killer guitar work. We’re playing the entire EP in rotation: “Back to the Truth,” “Bruce Foxton,” “Ready for Action,” “Right on Time,” “Story in Your Mind,” and “The Fool.” This collection will not be denied!

party-boatParty Boat | “Little Fish” and “Don’t Stress” Charming, melodic pop music is a big part of Pure Pop Radio’s broadcast day. We’re proud to bring you these two songs from the four-piece band Party Boat. With echoes of sixties and seventies song conventions, and a strong sense of melody, these guys are a collective to watch.

pat-walshPat Walsh | Three Ukelele Songs Pat Walsh is a longtime favorite of Pure Pop Radio. We eagerly wait for and play something from just about everything he records. When we found out that Pat had waxed some songs based around one of our favorite instruments, the ukelele, we did that dance that one does when one is deliriously happy. We’ve got three uke tunes playing in rotation that Pat recorded with the help of his co-producer and musical cohort, Billy Gewin: “Blackberry Morning,” “Right Time,” and “Someone’s Waiting.” We’re on Team Pat and we’re working along with his other fans to make him a household name. Join us, won’t you?

sunchymesThe Sunchymes | Through My Eyes Recording as the Sunchymes, Aaron Hemmington’s music is, according to his Facebook page, a “summery fusion of power pop and psychedelia.” We concur, and we bring you a pair of recent tracks to hear in rotation: the “Summer 2014 mix” of “Through My Eyes,” and a cool version of the Beatles classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Wonderful!

ali-ingleAli Ingle | The Good for Nothing Demos We’ve been following this young British singer-songwriter for some time, and we like what we hear. Here are four demos that point to even bigger, melodic work to come: “First Punch,” “Paris,” “Leaving Home,” and “Sit this One Out.” This lovely quartet of tunes can be downloaded for free on Ali’s Soundcloud page.

So that’s day three of Pure Pop Radio’s New Music Explosion. We’ve got so much more new music to report to you–stay tuned to the Pure Pop Radio website and, of course, Pure Pop Radio for much, much more. Happy listening!

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

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

Winners of Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout CD: Come On Down!

Dave Caruso's Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

dave 1A couple of weeks ago, we announced that we were giving away nine copies of the great Dave Caruso’s latest album, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout.

Well, it’s time to announce the winners! And they are:

* Matthew Chaney * Mark Juncaj * Mary Rinker * James Thompson * Mike DeMauriac * Polly Kenzie * Mary Hill * Kevin Tucker * Cindi Lycan

Congratulations to all! We’ll be contacting you separately to get your mailing addresses and then your prizes will be winging their way across the nation to your mailboxes.

Our next contest is coming up very soon, so check back here at the Pure Pop Radio website for your chance to win!

Click here to download our app for listening on the go with Android and iOS devices!

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

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

“Play Me a Song!” “I Can Do That. I’m the Piano Man!” Dave Caruso Reports from the Trenches

(Dave Caruso has quickly become one of our favorite musicians here at Pure Pop Radio. We’ve reviewed his current album, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, and his previous EP, Elizabeth Parker (we loved both of them) Read our combo review here. We’re currently giving away nine copies of Roundabout–click here for details. We’re basically mad for Dave Caruso, who has written a wonderful, insightful, from-the-trenches look at playing for music-minded folks in restaurants and piano bars. One day, we hope to see Dave in action. Until then, there’s this, and we think you’ll really dig it. So, over to you: Play us a song, Dave!)

piano-man-2The Diary of a Piano Man, Yesterday and Today | by Dave Caruso

In 1988, fresh off a 12-year stint with my three brothers in the Caruso band and more than a decade before I would be introduced to dueling pianos, I auditioned at my first solo piano bar, in a downriver Michigan restaurant called Colombos.

I met the owner and the manager after lunch, when the restaurant was empty. They sat some distance away, asked me a couple of questions and had me play a few songs. The owner, an older guy who I rarely saw without a drink in his hand, spoke dryly and didn’t smile much, as if he wanted me to feel like I was in some kind of hot seat. The younger chef/manager sensed this and he worked to put me at ease after each comment or question from the owner. I got the impression that the manager already knew about me and felt I’d be right for the job, which would be to try to attract diners in the 25-40 age group. It turned out that my hunch was right–playing for the owner was a just formality. I nailed the audition and soon I settled in for a 10-month run.

For four nights a week at Colombos, an elderly gentleman would play old-fashioned, instrumental piano standards from about 4-7pm. After that, I would take over, singing and playing pop music requests for the late diners, who would often wind up joining me on high stools around the piano, at a custom-molded bar.

Every night at our shift change, the old-school pianist would smile perfunctorily in my direction as he left the piano. But during my first break, while “making love to his tonic and gin” (our first after-work drink was always free), he’d always struggle to hide his disapproval. He resented this young upstart pedaling music which he considered less legitimate (especially during the prime entertainment hours!) by the likes of Elton John, Billy Joel, the Beatles, Jim Croce, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens, Barry Manilow (whose “Mandy” was a more popular request than “Piano Man” at that time!), the Monkees, the Eagles and Don McLean. I’m pretty sure my shoulder-length hair, ear ring, black jeans and Beatles boots didn’t impress him, either. That’s OK. Sure, he could play Gershwin, but he couldn’t work an audience or do sing-along. (Neither could I, come to think of it. But that was about to change.)

Despite being new to piano bar entertainment, I built a modest clientele pretty quickly. Every night, “the regular crowd shuffled in” to ask me to play them a memory. These were mostly married couples (not a single real-estate novelist among them!) stopping in several times a month for dinner, passing me requests and “put[ting] bread in my jar” late into the evening. They would often suggest staple artists and songs for me to add to my repertoire. That helped me get acquainted with artists who didn’t get much airplay at the Caruso household, like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Carole King, Patsy Cline, and Janis Joplin.

Although years of reading music, ear training and practice had already given me the ability to play almost any song I’ve heard without music or memorization, even when “I’m not really sure how it goes,” managing all those lyrics was a different story. Having to field a ton of new song requests with little prep time meant that memorizing lyrics would be out of the question. As a result, my lyric books grew into several giant three-ring binders which I transported in a big, heavy valise.

My first lyric book (which was red) contained my collection of standards (Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, “Misty,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Beyond the Sea,” other crooner songs and show tunes like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which had recently been remade by Sam Harris on the TV show “Star Search”.) My trumpet-playing dad had encouraged his sons to learn a few standards for playing at weddings, so I already had several of these under my belt. A second, green book contained only songs by the Beatles, together and separately. My black binder contained everything else, running the gamut from “Build Me Up Buttercup” to “Nights in White Satin” to the theme song from the TV show Cheers (“Where Everybody Knows Your Name”) to “What’s So Funny ’bout Peace, Love and Understanding.”

Each page in my lyric books contained one song lyric, either typed on my typewriter or written out by hand. A few of the pages were photocopied from Song Hits, a lyric magazine that was sold on newsstands. Moving the heavy books between the valise and the piano’s music stand (which was designed to support sheet music and slim folios) was a klunky venture. Awkwardness aside, I learned a lot of music and techniques at Colombos that would serve me well in dueling pianos.

My country music catalog was admittedly light, but I compensated (okay,fine–I cheated) by playing songs by crossover artists like John Denver and Kenny Rogers and even songs by the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith, which usually had a country flavor. Other than that, I pretty much played everything, which would later lead to me to adopt my dueling pianos moniker, “The Man of a Thousand Songs.”

During the last weeks of my Colombos engagement, I added an Alesis HR-16 drum machine to the mix, which I programmed to accompany me on select songs like Billy Joel’s “Root Beer Rag,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend.” These drum patterns would become the foundation for my sequenced/live show throughout the ’90s.

piano-man-1I grew up with a used Grinnell console (tall upright) that my parents bought from a relative. Colombos’ house piano was a black baby grand made by Young Chang, a Korean piano manufacturer. Although Young Chang is listed as one of the top six piano brands sold in the U.S. in the past 20 years, I had never played (or heard of) a Young Chang piano before that time and I haven’t since.

So imagine my surprise when last month (some 26 years later), I walked in to play my second-ever, semi-regular solo show on a house piano– this time at Key Largo Restaurant in Waterford, MI–and their piano happened to be a Young Chang baby grand, just like at Colombos! How weird is that?

So now at Key Largo, just like back in 1988, I’m making music from a huge mix of genres and decades while combining the acoustic sounds of a live grand piano and vocal with occasional backing beats and audio tracks. It lets me make all kinds of cool sonic and arrangement choices in songs like David Bowie’s “Changes,” Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” the Plain White Tees’ “Hey there Delilah,” Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” or my own music.

One of the things I like best about playing live as a solo entertainer is the freedom to experiment. In a band, you’re confined to only playing songs that everyone in the band has learned. By playing solo, I can stretch out.

When I’m playing a baby grand (as opposed to a pro electronic keyboard), something sort of magical happens. The real strings and hammers inside make a difference which you can hear, and which affects my performance. You can really hear the difference on songs like Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” or my own “I’m Not Finished Yet” (from my Elizabeth Parker EP) and “It’s a Great Day for the Angels” (from Cardboard Vegas Roundabout).

One of my favorite ways to hook listeners is to make interesting medleys and what I call “one-two punches.” Medleys have gotten a bad rep over the years. But a clever combination of tunes can be just as interesting for the listener as it is for the performer. One of my favorite medley creations is the Church’s “Under the Milky Way,” followed by George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” People who know both songs and recognize how perfectly they dovetail together always give me a big, knowing smile for finding that match-up. A one-two punch is when you follow one song with another that the audience will recognize as related in some way. An example would be when I play “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and follow it up with “Our House” by Madness. They’re two very different songs with the same title, but they’re both popular and people don’t expect to hear you play the second one without a band.

Compared with my gig in 1988, Key Largo’s public address system sounds better, the piano is far newer (I started performing on it just a few days after it arrived!) and my backing beats and audio tracks are much higher quality. My iPad holds all the lyrics I need without bulky binders. And today I have 26 additional years of song material, entertainment experience and (hopefully) musical maturity.

The young upstart in black jeans has grown up.

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

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

Win Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout! Deadline to Enter Extended!

Dave Caruso's Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

dave 1We’re quite simply mad for Dave Caruso and his music–so much so that we’re giving away nine, count ’em, nine autographed copies of Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, Dave’s latest CD (click here to read our glowing review). If you’d like to win one, simply fill in the form below and type “Dave!” in the Comments box. We’ve extended the deadline for entering to noon ET on Monday, October 6. Only one entry per person, please. Good luck! And enjoy the wonderful world of Dave Caruso!

Click here to download our app for listening on the go with Android and iOS devices!

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

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