Spins and Reviews | 02.14.17
By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
James Starflower | Covers: “Mandy,” “Jungle Love,” “God Save the Queen,” and “Moonage Daydream”; “Shandi”
Imagine Marc Bolan veering off of the T. Rex causeway and recording a David Bowie-esque Pin Ups kind of collection and you’re relatively close to where the quartet of covers James Starflower has recorded in his own off-ramp style lands.
The best covers–the most interesting ones, anyway–are those that don’t just shake hands with the originals. The best covers reposition a song’s elements, like a paint shaker in a hardware store. So imagine the mighty Starflower shaking things up and you have a wholly different take on “Mandy,” wherein Barry Manilow’s original tender-to-tumultuous arrangement is reset as an emotional, vocally-charged ballad, backed only by Elton John piano and just a tidbit of understated orchestration. Similarly, Starflower’s version of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” turns the rock and the roll on their heads with a ramped up Christine McVie kind of piano part, recasting the song as a determined state-of-the-union address. Steve Miller’s “Jungle Love” becomes a showcase for Starflower’s rubbery interpretive powers, and the aforementioned Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” presents Ziggy Stardust as a sensitive, but with a purpose, balladeer, performing the song before thousands of virtual acolytes holding blazing Zippo® lighters into the air.
And proving that Starflower can originate as well as recast, his “Shandi” charms in a ’70s kind of breezy, acoustic, pure poppy way, singing his goodbye to the Wizard’s yellow brick road. Since the artist’s wildly creative album Pet Your Stereo arrived last May, we’ve been hungry for more of his quite alive sound pictures; these covers, and this previously unheard original, satisfy until the next musical missives make their way to our ears. Drift to where the starflowers shine, will you?
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Mandy,” “Jungle Love,” “God Save the Queen,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Shandi”
Where to Get It: Not currently available for purchase
Pop Co-Op | Four State Solution (Silent Bugler, 2017)
This fun meeting of minds, melodies, and guitars came about as the result of four like-minded musicians, including the Spongetones’ Steve Stoeckel, sharing common, catchy ground and listening to Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli’s This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio show. Recorded in separate states of the union, these songs, sounding effortless and imbued with the spirit that drives melodic pop, are living, breathing bite-size reminders of what it is about such music that draws so many people to it. Songs like Stoeckel’s toe-tapping melodic pop-rocker, the Rockpile-with-a-hint-of-modern-country “Feint of Heart,” and Carson’s Left Banke/Spongetones-ish ballad “A Trick of the Light,” both of which will make their radio debuts tonight in the 8-9 o’clock hour here on Pure Pop Radio, are highlights, as are “Forgotten Secrets,” with its swirling rhythm and inviting Stoeckel vocal, and “Malaprop Girl,” a pop-and-rock ‘n’ roller of the catchiest order. Sweet.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “I Didn’t Know,” “Feint of Heart,” “Forgotten Secrets,” “Malaprop Girl,” “A Trick of the Light,” and “Only Me”
The Lunar Laugh | Mama’s Boy (You are the Cosmos, 2017)
Joined by Campbell Young on bass, electric guitar, keyboards, and vocals, multi-instrumentalists Jared Lekites and Connor Anderson have fashioned a wonderful collection of catchy pop songs as a follow-up to May 2015’s Apollo. “Work in Progress,” released as a single last October, is a lovely, charming, melodic wonder, as are the gorgeous, mid-tempo Simon and Garfunkel vibey “The Bedroom Door” and the playful “She Needs More Love,” which builds sweetly from a spare arrangement to an all-in instrumentated track. Lekites continues to be a favorite here on Pure Pop Radio for his solo work; this current incarnation of his talents, mixed with those of Anderson and Young, is also a sign that melodic pop music is alive and well and thriving.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Mama’s Boy,” “Sticks and Stones,” “Work in Progress,” “The Bedroom Door,” “A Better Fool,” “She Gets Stoned,” “Doin’ Alright,” “She Needs More Love,” and “Nighthawks and Mona Lisa”
Gretchen’s Wheel | “Left Turn” (from the forthcoming album Sad Scientist) | Futureman, 2017)
The first song to emerge from the forthcoming Gretchen’s Wheel album Sad Scientist, due this spring, is a driving, propulsive pop-rocker with a catchy chord progression and Lindsay Murray’s strong vocal, drawing timbre from Aimee Mann. Oh, and guitars–crunchy strumming, rubbery stabs, and a Tom Scholz-y chord slide at 2:31 that brought me right back to 1976 and put a smile on my face. This portends a good showing for the new album, highly anticipated by power pop fans.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio
Where to Get It: Noisetrade (A sampler with three previously-released Gretchen’s Wheel songs)
Cotton Mather with Nicole Atkins | Cotton Mather with Nicole Atkins (Star Apple Kingdom, 2016)
This is a miraculous triple-play, teaming Robert Harrison’s visionary songwriting with powerhouse vocalist Nicole Atkins, whom I’ve seen slay a crowd as an opener for Fountains of Wayne. The pairing pays off with aplomb; “Call Me the Witch” is catchy, upbeat pop; the dramatically-orchestrated “Faded” doesn’t sound at all far afield from something Marianne Faithfull would have recorded back in the day; and “Girl Friday” shakes with a ’60s Girl Groupy, Spectorish pomp and circumstance. Across all three of these songs, Atkins’ voice shines brightly, exhibiting power and the good sense to hold back when necessary. Alluring and awesome.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Call Me the Witch,” “Faded,” and “Girl Friday”
Kara Mosher | Dosage (2017)
Possessing a wallop of an emotional vocal delivery, Austin, Texas pianist and singer-songwriter Kara Mosher scores with this smashing collection. Produced and recorded by the Legal Matters’ Andy Reed, with ace drummer Donny Brown in tow, Mosher reminds me of Carly Simon in the way that she modulates her vocal lines. In fact, the opening to the powerful “Golden Path” reminds me, somehow, of Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be.” Interesting. Welcome the debut of an artist I’ll be following from this point on.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Survive,” “Golden Path,” “Moon and Sea,” “Wake Up Call,” “and “You and Me Live Forever”
Fernando Perdomo with Dreaming in Stereo | “Girl with a Record Collection” (2017)
The latest earworm from the prolific Perdomo finds him and Dreaming in Stereo tagging from a la-la-fueled open for a song about hooking up with a girl who is similarly entrenched in the world of record collecting, who can speak that musical language. Hey, she has records by Emitt Rhodes and Big Star, and her platters are alphabetized! It’s kismet! Catchy and upbeat and wholly satisfying, the Perdomo way.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio
Where to Get It: Bandcamp