Reviews: 3.7.19: Vanilla’s Mystikal Trip is Quite a Show

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Vanilla | Mystik Knights of Tacoma
(Charlatan Record Cartel, 2019)

Win one of two copies of Vanilla’s Mystik Knights of Tacoma.
Enter below.

Vanilla’s latest, a remarkable, cogent collection of songs, some of which have trickled out over the past few years, tackles universal themes of self-preservation, love, love lost, and love found on its way to reaching the finish line by virtue of the band’s keen sense of what makes their songs tick, and these songs tick assuredly.

It’s all here, as is Vanilla’s usual wont: serious subject matter married to catchy melodies, peerless playing, and production gallantry. Following a punchy, opening faux-surf number, punctuated by cries of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”, handclaps, left-to-right panning of guitar scratches, and a pervading sense of spy craft in the air, Mystik Knights of Tacoma gets down to business.

A quick hit of backwards guitar ushers in the poppy, perky and confessional “On a Night Like This,” in which our hero drinks to keep reality at bay. Next up, Carl Funk takes to the microphone with a strong, committed vocal on “Save Me,” an upbeat drinking song in which love swoops in at the very last second to (maybe) save the day.

The art of imbibing also drips into the discourse on “Let’s Call It a Day,” a Kirk Adams-sung ballad about love gone away realized with the help of a Paul Buckmaster-styled string arrangement by Paul Hansen. But lest you think imbibing is the only subject up for discussion, along comes the miraculous “Sweetshop,” which I described back in July 2016 as being “dressed up…in catchy minor-to-major-key-and-back-again Beatlesque romping clothes adorned with backward cymbal; strangled, wah-wah-dipped lead guitar, and a “Hey Jude”-type playout that encourages head swaying to and fro.”

So much head swaying, and feeding ducks with a bun (listen to the lyrics) in the case of Vanilla’s joyous cover of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park.” Sung by Strangely Alright’s Regan Lane in full glam mode, as if Steve Marriott and Queen’s Freddie Mercury had become a single force to reckon with, it’s a performance that does its source material proud.

There are many fine highlights to pick out and hug in these songs: the cello arrangement, by Paul Hansen, that lights the pretty ballad “Be Not Coy; the previously released ’60s homage, “Man of the Moment,” initially presented as a lost classic from 1966 and now as a full-fledged Vanilla offering sung sweetly by Jordani Sarreal (with a lovely flugelhorn part played delicately by Andy Omdhal); and the hard-hitting jazz-rocker “Don’t Lose Your Temper,” which is punctuated with pulsating pleasure by horns played by the Cliff Colon Trio, sounding like the long-lost cousins of classic horn bands Chase, Chicago, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

It is quite a show that Vanilla puts on, even down to the clever, colorful comic book art on the cover, drawn by award-winning artist Ralph Reese, perhaps best known for the continuing strip One Year Affair, which he produced with Byron Preiss and published in National Lampoon from 1973 to 1975.

Reese’s wild and imaginative illustration for Vanilla’s cover depicts a gathering of the five Vanilla members as Shriners being shocked by a green alien being of the female variety popping out of a large cake. It’s a slick, loving (yes, loving) homage to the old line of creepy EC Comics from the 1950s. It is, frankly, spectacular.

(There is a sixth gentleman depicted on the cover; he is Ben Thompson, who has put in three decades as the graphic designer for both Liar’s Club (see below) and Vanilla, and has thus earned his spot in the EC-esque spotlight. He worked with Reese on the wild cover design.)

Ralph Reese’s majestic, detailed cover for Vanilla’s Mystik Knights of Tacoma–a work of EC-inspired comic book excellence

It is quite a show, this third album from Tacoma, Washington’s band of merry musical magicians–Jayson Jarmon, Sean Gaffney, Dana Sims, Mark Simmons and Gavin Guss (Jayson, Sean and Dana, of course, from the much loved and much missed Liar’s Club). Aided and abetted by top talent guests Carl Funk, Kirk Adams, Jeff Burch, Regan Lane, Jordani Sarreal and other like-minded fellow travelers (such as ex-Liar’s Clubber Kevo X. Thomson), Vanilla has crafted a winner of epic proportions.

And speaking of epic, the band puts a monkey in the spotlight in the closing rocker, “Monkey Punch” (“Monkey punch! (Total break down when the monkey comes to town)”). Vanilla has broached the subject of the monkey before, most notably in their classic “Monkeypox!”, which appeared on the band’s 2015 release, Vanilla 2.0.

You may remember me waxing poetic about “Monkeypox!”, which I described in my original review as “the musical equivalent of the old joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and says ‘Doc, it hurts when I go like that,’ and the doctor tells him not to go like that.”

Well, “Monkey Punch” is a different beast than “Monkeypox!”, but this specimen is a force to be reckoned with just the same. It is, in fact, a great rocking showcase for Sean Gaffney, who wrote “Monkey Punch” and plays electric guitar and bass (Dana Sims lets loose on the drum kit). And, you know, guitars…all over the place.

Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a dazzling display of pop and rock prowess. Vanilla’s attention to solid storytelling that puts the spotlight on some universal themes elevates their numbers to the highest of highs. And their ability to weave catchy melodies together with sparkling instrumentation guarantees repeat listens.

Don’t miss these Mystik Knights of Tacoma.

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

Win one of two copies of Vanilla’s Mystik Knights of Tacoma CD. Fill in the form below; type “Vanilla” in the Comment field and don’t forget to include your email address. US entries only. Entries must be received by tomorrow, Friday, March 8, at 5 pm ET. 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 the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

New on Pure Pop Radio 05.10.17: The Blood Rush Hour, Lannie Flowers, The Del Zorros, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, and More

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Spins and Reviews | 05.10.17
By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

the blood rush hour who folds firstThe Blood Rush Hour | Who Folds First (2017)
This fantastic follow-up to 2014’s miraculous And Then… The Unthinkable Happened is just as wondrous and wide-ranging and crafted with care as has come to be expected from Robert DeStefano’s more-than-reliable outfit.

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.” “He Left the Party (Far Too Soon)” is a merry melange of Steely Dan-y pop and funk, punctuated by Andrew Griffiths’ trombones, trumpets, alto sax, and tenor sax arsenal. And “The Space that We Have Made,” about getting to the heart of the matter, is a triumphant Dan-ish number sung by Pure Pop Radio favorite Christian Phillips, who devised the three-dimensional vocal arrangements with DeStefano.

A contender for best-of lists from all quarters, no doubt.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “No More Excuses,” “He Left the Party (Far Too Soon),” “Danny,” “The Space that We Made,” “6, 4, 5 and Sometimes 1,” “New Country,” “Find Another Russian Dancer,” “I’m the One,” “I Still See You,” and “What Does it Take”
black box Where to Get It: Nicola Records

lindsey buckingham christine mcvie album cover

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie | “In My World” and “Feel About You” (from the forthcoming album, Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie) (2017)
To nobody’s surprise, the first two songs released in advance of the highly-anticipated, self-titled Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie album sound as if they could have appeared on just about any Fleetwood Mac long player. And in some ways, since both Mick Fleetwood and John McVie appear on this duo roundabout, it seems like it will be a Fleetwood Mac album in all but the name. Bottom line is, this is superior pop music made by two historic, always able practitioners of the art. “In My World” marries a jaunty minor key verse with a typically happy, poppy chorus that puts upper-register echoed vocals up front in the mix. “Feel About You” is a leisurely, McVie-sung charmer, sporting a lovely, harmony-laden chorus that just plain delivers the happy in so many ways. Essential.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “In My World” and “Feel About You,” from the forthcoming album, Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie
black box Where to Get It: Amazon (June 9)

chuck berry chuckChuck Berry | “Big Boys” and “Wonderful Woman” (from the forthcoming album, Chuck) (2017)
Nothing has driven aspiring rock ‘n’ rollers to take up that most expressive of instruments, the air guitar, more than the sound of the late, great Chuck Berry, whose body of work will continue to speak for itself into even the unforeseeable future. These two songs, featuring on the upcoming Chuck, ostensibly the master’s final album, continue the Berry tradition of immediately accessible, fanciful, lyrically astute, and simply wonderful tunes; both “Big Boys” and “Wonderful Woman” hit the sweet Berry spot, and then some. Oh, what a thrill.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “Big Boys” and “Wonderful Woman,” from the forthcoming album, Chuck
black box Where to Get It: Amazon (June 9)

lannie flowers kiss a memoryLannie Flowers | “Kiss a Memory” b/w “Everything a Man Could Want” (2017)
Power pop meets sunshine pop meets Texas melodic powerhouse Lannie Flowers for a rip-roaring double-shot, courtesy of Spyderpop Records, that will more than satisfy fans until Lannie’s next full-length release. “Kiss a Memory,” an upbeat bopper with melodic teeth, should ably whip radio playlists into shape. Hanging over into the rock ‘n’ roll side of pop, “Everything a Man Could Want” shakes hands with The Faces and Stones for a beat-driven rave-up par excellence.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “Kiss a Memory” and “Everything a Man Could Want”
black box Where to Get It: Petsche Music Group

carl funk the heart of a siren reduxCarl Funk | The Heart of a Siren (redux) (2016)
Last November, we added three songs from Carl Funk’s Amerisoulfulcana album, Black Horizon, to our ever-growing playlist. Now, Carl’s powerful vocal and songwriting prowess is on display within our rotation in the form of seven songs from this previous collection, originally released in 1995 and re-released last year with two additional numbers. Expect the same high level of thinking person’s pop from upbeat, should-be-hit-bound “Heartbroken Man” and “It Falls on Me,” and, for that matter, the wide swath of top-flight tunes populating this corner of the Funk universe.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio: “Heartbroken Man,” “Swirl,” “Dreamtime,” “It Falls on Me,” “Fall Together,” “The Party,” and “Take Your Time”
black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

the del zorros happy anniversary babyThe Del Zorros | “Happy Anniversary Baby” (2017)
Monte and Stede Del Zorro pretty much have the romantic musical missive market sewn up; their latest, most welcome number is a ’70s-styled, softly-sung, sweetly-realized notion with a simple, from-the-heart message from one partner to another. Warm and inviting, and humalongable.

black box Now playing on Pure Pop Radio
black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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

mod hippie big wow Mod Hippie | Big Wow (2017) | “Up and Away,” Gone All Day,” and “It Ain’t Like that No More” Karma Frog Records Store
phenomenal cat pop wasteland
Phenomenal Cat | Pop Wasteland (2017) | “Pop Wasteland,” “Motorways,” “The Dancehall,” and “Pacifico (Cowboy Version)”
Bandcamp

colman gota fear the summerColman Gota | Fear the Summer (2017) | “What Goes in My Head,” “For a Reason,” “Call It Quits,” and “Fear the Summer” Kool Kat Musik
kirk adams after hours

Kirk Adams | After Hours (2017) | “Head 4 Sunshine,” “Wrong Side of the Wrecking Ball,” and “Make a Move” Bandcamp

flora reed settle downFlora Reed | Settle Down (2002) | “Beloved,” “Flowers at My Feet,” “Happiness Is,” “Mutter,” “Sweetly Said,” and “Who Brought You Down”
Amazon

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New on Pure Pop Radio 7.6.16

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Spins and Reviews | July 6, 2016 | by Alan Haber

The hits just keep on coming, with the Carpenter touch in today’s lead positions…

michael carpenter and the cuban heelsMichael Carpenter and the Cuban Heels | Ain’t Nothing Left to Say Country? Sure, there’s that, but moreover there are a dozen room-filling explosions of sound emblazoned with Carpenter’s trademark melodic touch. Witness the boom-boom-to-snare power of the catchy “One of these Days I’m Gonna Get Myself Right,” the easy intro-to-mid-tempo-pop punch of “Big in the City,” and the pumping, big guitars, big drums punch of “Black Chevy.” There really isn’t anything this Australian musical magician can’t do. Our playlist, and melodic pop music in general, benefit always from his mastery of the pop form.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Ain’t Nothing Left to Say,” “Black Chevy,” “I Should Have Told You,” “One of these Days,” “One of these Days I’m Gonna Get Myself Right,” “Photo,” “Big in the City,” “You’re Givin’ Love a Good Name,” “Thank You.”

crash and the crapenters 2Crash and the Crapenters | Set in Stone Pumping and thumping within just about the complete opposite spectrum of the Cuban Heels’ platter, the combo of three Carpenters–Chris, Michael, and Paul–congregate to bash out 15 smashing Chris and Michael originals (plus one Paul Weller cover). The breathless pace and let-it-all-hang-out attack is somewhat outside Pure Pop Radio’s usual purview, but the four-on-the-floor pop-rocker “Pray to Your Own God” and the upbeat, early Elvis Costello nod “Everything’s Coming My Way” fit perfectly. Yet another side of Michael’s musical palette, and a fun, assured debut for brother Chris.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Pray to Your Own God” and “Everything’s Coming My Way.”

cloud elevenCloud Eleven | Garden of Obscure Delights: A Retrospective (1996-2015) Spanning a period of 19-years, from the infant waxings of Jiffipop to last year’s sterling Record Collection, this ace release showcases the many colors and moods contained in Rick Gallego’s paintbox. An astounding selection, highlights include the lovely, mid-tempo pop ballad “Flying” from 1996’s debut from Jiffipop, Demolicious, to the dreamy, luscious, melodic wonder “Ocean,” from 2006’s Sweet Happy Life. A trio of outtakes from 2015’s Record Collection, including a winning, atmospheric cover of the 1971 Fleetwood Mac single, “Dragonfly,” close out the top-flight program. Gallego is an artist that deserves, as he always has, to fly well above the radar. He can only fly higher from here.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Blue Butterfly,” “Dragonfly,” “Evaporate,” “Flying,” “Hurry Home,” “Ocean,” “Rainbow Station,” “Sound on Sound,” “Take Control,” and “The One.”

solarflairs stereo alleySolarflairs | “Stereo Alley” Literally just in minutes ago from these Memphis power popsters that, the band says, don’t sound like a power pop band, this gently aggressive and lively guitars-driven number adds to the previous songs already on our playlist. Catchy as always.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.

indie artists united for world peace

kirk adams photo - pop 4

Kirk Adams | “Love’s Looking for You” (from Indie Artists United for World Peace)  Appearing on this compilation promoting the world’s number one goal alongside wife Gale Trippsmith and Pop 4 compatriots Andrea Perry and KC Bowman, Florida resident Adams unspools an outtake from his superb 2015 long player Undertown. Beautiful ballad drips with melody to spare; a superbly sung and played and featuring a lovely George Harrison-esque guitar solo, this is a keeper for the ages.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.

andy reed introduction'Andy Reed | An Introduction to Andy Reed Andy Reed’s importance in the grand scheme of all things melodic pop can not be overstated; the proof is here in this peerless collection of songs spotlighting his innate talent. The pure pop pleasures of “World of Make Believe,” from 2011’s An American Underdog album, Always On the Run; the beautiful, melodic “Dreaming of the West Coast,” from last year’s Relay Vol. 1 EP, and the glorious, straight-ahead cover of Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island” from the vinyl release of 2013’s celebration of lite rock, Drink a Toast to Innocence, dazzle, but then so do all 11 tracks. A great introduction, available on vinyl and in digital form, to the joy of listening to Andy Reed.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Thunder Island,” “Dreaming of the West Coast,” “World of Make Believe,” “Your Reign is Over,” “The Show Goes On,” “Crimes of Paris,” and “Always on the Run.”

flossyFlossy | “Cloudy Brain” From Perth, Australia, songstress Lauren M. O’Hara and her sister Sinead pair up to produce this bluesy rocker balancing above a pop highwire. Deep, thumping bass, thrashing drums by Chris Winterburn, raging guitars, and committed vocals rule the grooves. Impossible to ignore, and you shouldn’t.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.

More to come.

alan-mic-zeeAlan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the original 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. From the Beatles to the Monkees, the Posies, McPherson Grant, the Connection and the New Trocaderos, we play the hits and a whole lot more. Tune in by clicking on one of the listen links below.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android and iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

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

Pop 4 Interviews are Now Posted on the Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation PodOmatic Podcast Page

pop 4If you missed last week’s conversations with the members of supergroup Pop 4, you can now listen to and/or download them from Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation’s PodOmatic podcast page. Find out all about the members’ musical histories and discover the secrets of the making of the group’s smashing debut album, Summer.

Both of last week’s shows, dedicated to spreading the word on Pop 4’s phenomenal, debut album, are now ready for waiting ears. Hear about Summer from group members Scott McPherson, Andrea Perry, Kirk Adams, and KC Bowman. Don’t miss these shows!

purepoplogoPure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, airs Tuesday nights at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) and repeats on Sunday afternoons at 5 pm ET (2 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to more than 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android or iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

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

Go Behind the Scenes Tonight With the Members of Supergroup Pop 4 on Part One of a Very Special Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation

pop 4Pop 4’s Summer, just released and putting big smiles on faces all around the world, is the subject of this week’s special two-part edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation. Part one, featuring the group’s Scott McPherson, airs tonight at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) on Pure Pop Radio.

Scott McPherson

Scott McPherson

In tonight’s show, Scott takes listeners behind the scenes for an intimate look at one of this year’s top melodic pop releases. During the hour, you’ll hear three songs from Summer, and, at the end of the show, a special acoustic piano version of the five-star song, “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” prepared especially for Pure Pop Radio by Scott. It’s mesmerizing and you won’t soon forget it.

andrea perry

Andrea Perry

Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams

kc-bowman

KC Bowman

Tomorrow night, September 9, also at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT), the band’s Andrea Perry, Kirk Adams and KC Bowman talk about how they came to be a part of Pop 4. You’ll also find out about each member’s road to the group with a tour of their musical history. And, of course, you’ll hear more songs from the group’s outstanding album.

Tune in tonight at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) for part one of the two-part Pop 4 special with Alan’s talk with Scott McPherson. Part two rolls tomorrow night with chats with Andrea Perry, Kirk Adams and KC Bowman, also at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). It’s a special two-part presentation of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation.You won’t want to miss it!

And stay tuned for news of next week’s all-new show, spotlighting another of this year’s top albums and artists.

Alan Haber: Proud Music Geek!

Alan Haber, Your Host

purepoplogoPure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, airs Tuesday nights at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) and repeats on Sunday afternoons at 5 pm ET (2 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to more than 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android or iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

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

Pop 4 Sing (and Talk) Some Beautiful Tunes on a Two-Part Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, Beginning Tomorrow Night!

pop 4All four members of the melodic pop supergroup Pop 4 gather around the microphones for some in-depth chat with Alan Haber on a brand-new, very special, two-part edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation.

Scott McPherson

Scott McPherson

Part one, airing tomorrow night, September 8, at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT), features Scott McPherson, who sets the stage for the two-night look at Pop 4’s terrific, hall-of-fame album Summer as he talks about how the band came together. And there are the songs: three of them, in fact, from the album, and a  never-before-heard acoustic piano version of the heartbreaking (in a good way) ballad, “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” prepared exclusively for Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation by Scott.

kc-bowman

KC Bowman

Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams

andrea perry

Andrea Perry

On Wednesday night, September 9, also at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT), Andrea Perry, Kirk Adams and KC Bowman talk about how they came to be a part of Pop 4. You’ll also find out about each member’s road to the group with a tour of their musical history. And, of course, you’ll hear songs from the group’s outstanding album.

Tune in for part one of the two-part Pop 4 special with Alan’s talk with Scott McPherson tomorrow night at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). Part two rolls on Wednesday night with chats with Andrea Perry, Kirk Adams and KC Bowman, also at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). It’s a special two-part presentation of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation. You won’t want to miss it!

Alan Haber: Proud Music Geek!Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, airs Tuesday nights at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) and repeats on Sunday afternoons at 5 pm ET (2 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to more than 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android or iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

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