Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio is the archive for the premiere website that covered the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We are now closed for new activity.
Peter Lacey | “Seaside Hideaway” Single
Hot on the heels of his latest album, New Way Lane, released this past May, the British pop troubadour releases a jolly summer single with the ska-riffic title track the top drawer. Short and sweet and happy to make your acquaintance, it’s joined by the gentle reggae rhythms-meet-Beach Boys song “Sea Quester Bay”; you can just imagine the comforting winds swaying around you. Lovely to have more melodic Lacey to comfort our souls during these last, warm days of September. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. Where to Get It: Bandcamp
Sundial Symphony | “Merri Goes Round,” “Today is Just Like You,” and “Looking for Sunsets (In the Early Morning)”
Cheery bubblegum pop seems to be in rather short supply these days, so thank yous all around to pop’s all-purpose friend Robbie Rist and Don Frankel, who comprise the dynamic duo Sundial Symphony. All three songs could have been waxed by Ron Dante and the Archies (this is quite possibly already happening in an alternate, chewy universe). Kudos to Paul Levinson, who wrote “Today is Just Like You” solo and “Looking for Sunsets (In the Early Morning)” and “Merri Goes Round” with Ed Fox, for these melodic wonders. As a special bonus, we’re playing the slightly less-than-chewy original versions of “Today” and “Looking,” taken from Paul’s 1972 album, Twice Upon a Rhyme. Sweet. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Merri Goes Round,” “Today is Just Like You” (Sundial Symphony and original 1972 versions), and “Looking for Sunsets (In the Early Morning)” (Sundial Symphony and original 1972 versions). Where to Get It: iTunes
Duggy Degs | Another Good Thought Brighton, England musician Duggy Degs marries melody to thought on these expressive numbers, with the upbeat title track quite catchy and bathed in brightly experimental shadings. “Bringing the Family Home” is a sixties-sounding balladic, orchestrated composition, jazzy in spots. Heavier still, “Meltdown” rocks determinedly as if Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson were on board with his magic flute. Top notch. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Bringing the Family Home,” “Meltdown,” and the title song. Where to Get It: jemiblue.com from September 15
The Recreations | “Smile Again” For his second appearance on Pure Pop Radio, and all the way from Tokyo, Japan, comes pop visionary Yohei with another unique stretch of pop real estate, this time covering the circumference of a meeting-of-the-minds between sixties pop melody and contemporary vocal stylings. Plus a bit of alt-esque shading. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.
The Big Believe | “Pay for Soup” Amanda Thompson, readying a Big Believe album for release in the upcoming fall, offers up a catchy summer kind of song, a light and airy number with a sweet vocal and a hooky chorus. This may well be my favorite Amanda song yet. It may well be yours, too. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.
Vanilla | “Sweet Shop” Gather round, kids, for another game of guess what Jayson’s on about, dressed up this time 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. And listening to the lyrics.
As written by Mr. Jarmon and Tube Top’s Gavin Guss, who trade lead vocals like heavy-hitter baseball cards under the hot, sweaty summer sun, “Sweet Shop” is about, well, the pull and wrongful acceptance of addiction on the part of people who just don’t get it. Imagine, as the lyrics do, the Sheik of Araby exuding heightened sensitivity while he shops to fulfill his needs, or euphoria experienced as high-toned “fireworks” explode above.
In the song, Jayson and Gavin give the addicted some advice–an out, of sorts: “One day your tooth decay is gonna keep you up all night/‘Til the morning comes and finds you craving more,” they sing, but it’s advice easier said than followed by those for whom said advice is intended.
The good thing about this vivid, clever, really incredible creation, out today, that will be part of Vanilla’s upcoming Mystik Nights of Takoma album is that you can bop to the beat of this sweet musical pop treat as you take in the words Jayson and Gavin have written and see beyond the surface. This is a spectacular song. And now, on to the next number… Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.
Erik Voeks | “Grey Rain Town” and “Delivering Rocks” Two more entries in the ongoing monthly pour of a- and b-sides from this heritage popster, pairing a dense, surprising, supremely satisfying mini-suite (“Grey Rain Town”) with an easygoing, beguiling pop song blessed with an infectious melody (“Delivering Rocks”). Top-notch. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio.
The Junipers | Red Bouquet Fair Summer’s all the sweeter with this charming collection from the Leicester, United Kingdom band in the mix. Recalling 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 vocals are enchanting and the instrumentation is perfectly played. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Follow Loretta,” “Esmeranda,” “Here Come the Winds,” “Like a Merry-Go-Round,” “Summer Queen,” “Say Goodbye,” and “The Old Man Mini Suite.”
Peter Lacey | New Way Lane Long loved for celebrating, within his songs, the sound of Brian Wilson, Lacey’s latest is a general celebration of the joys of pure melodic pop music. “Old Fashioned Cafe” is a celebration of old-fashioned pleasures, a ukelele-fueled look back. “Better Make Tracks,” a lively number, is gleefully rooted in the sound of the ’90s (except for the equally gleeful, nearly a cappella bridge). Extra points for intoning the name of the Portastudio recorder. Single “Jonny and the Aspirations,” a soulful rocker story song, may be the best, most dynamic recording Peter has done to date. Another hit and pick-to-click for this British wonder. Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Bella Donna,” “So Long Brother Jon,” “Old Fashioned Cafe,” “Better Make Tracks,” “Star in Your Own Show,” “New Way Lane,” “Laundro Matt,” and “Jonny and the Aspirations.”
It’s a good day–a very good day–that fills your heart with lovely melodic sounds from today’s top melodic pop artists. That day–that very good day– is today…day two of Pure Pop Radio’s Four-Day New Music Songfest.
What do we have on tap for you today? Which new songs and artists are we tapping our feet to? Following on from yesterday’s mix of the Monkees, Mark Lindsay and Susan Cowsill, the Posies, McPherson/Grant, Joe Giddings, Sundown, Hector and the Leaves, and Matt Duncan, we’re posied…uh, poised to serve up another rundown of great music we’re now playing in rotation on the air.
Here we go. We lead off with a couple of releases that will be hogging our air time and nestling comfortably in your CD players and on your turntables…
The Explorers Club | Together Aspiring harmony singers, here is your virtual textbook, a 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. Here are songs that are beautiful and beautifully sung, lovely and lovelier still.
Jason Brewer, Wyatt Funderburk, Paul Runyon, Kyle Polk and Mike Williamson are the right people in the right place at just the right time, serving up delicious melodic constructs that are as soulful as they are true. 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.
We’re playing all of the following songs in rotation: “”California’s Callin’ Ya,” “Once in a While,” “Be Around,” “Gold Winds,” “Perfect Day,” “Quietly,” “My Friend,” “No Strings Attached,” “Don’t Waster Her Time,” and “Before I’m Gone,” the album’s penultimate number that sings a sweet a cappella close. Delicious.
Winterpills | Love Songs We’ve been playing this Massachusetts band’s seventh album over and over for days on end, living with the songs’ emotions and sensibilities as if they were our own. These songs get under your skin; they become you in some celestial kind of way. You are frankly powerless to regress from their charms.
These songs function on many different levels, even as they share a single attribute that defines them as part of a whole: the vocals of songwriter Philip Price and his wife, guitarist and keyboard player Flora Reed, are the 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. Or “Freeze Your Light,” which starts off as if in 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. The album closer, the gospel-tinged ballad “It Will All Come Back to You, with appropriate harmony vocal stacks and a tender trumpet solo, is all manner of charm and emotion–even when it amps up the pace and volume towards the end.
The album package is a marvel of grace and intelligent design, with its highly striking cover and Edward Gorey-styled illustration in the foldout of the digipak. And in these days of streaming and downloads overtaking physical media as the music delivery method of choice for so many, a striking package is something to behold and treasure.
Winterpills’ Love Songs is so good, we’ve added six songs to our playlist: “A New England Deluge,” “Bringing Down the Body Count,” “Freeze Your Light,” “It Will All Come Back to You,” “Wanderer White,” and the catchy and hit worthy “Celia Johnson.” This album is a keeper and will be for years to come.
Peter Lacey | “Jonny and the Aspirations” This lively, horn-shaded, Stax-ian rumination on the price of success, or lack thereof, in the music business marks a new chapter in the evolution of Peter Lacey the recording artist. With nary a Beach Boys or folk nod within earshot, “Jonny and the Aspirations” wouldn’t have sounded out of place following Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Peter’s new album, New Way Lane, is only days away; we can’t wait to hear what that album has in store for our, and your, ears. Now playing in rotation, naturally.
Gretchen’s Wheel | Behind the Curtain Nashville-based Lindsay Murray’s second project as Gretchen’s Wheel is a meaty, inspired collection of songs imbued with powerful emotion. Sounding like a musical cousin to Aimee Mann, Lindsay sings with conviction and spirit on songs like the poppy, mid-tempo ballad “The Good Things” and the waiting-to-be-a-hit-single smash, “Try to Make It.” Catchy melodies and intelligent songwriting abound. We’re playing six songs in rotation: “Invisible Thief,” “Younger Every Year,” “The Good Things,” “Live Through You,” “Vapors,” and “Try to Make It.” Good going, Lindsay.
Nerf Herder | Rockingham Geek rockers Parry Gripp, Steve Sherlock, Linus of Hollywood and Ben Pringle take no prisoners with their fifth album, full of in-your-face pop-punk, most of which is not aimed squarely at our rather less-than-punky playlist. Nevertheless, we’ve added three groovy songs punctuated with pop culture references and a whole lot of fun: “The Girl Who Listened to Rush,” “Allie Goertz,” and “We Opened for Weezer.”
Tin Toy Cars | Falling, Rust and Bones And now for something sorta, kinda totally different from the usual Pure Pop Radio fare: a mandolin-fronted, pop-washed Americana band from Las Vegas. The band’s website makes its brief clear: “With mandolin, violin, banjo, guitar and upright bass, one might expect bluegrass or something with an old time slant, but add the compositional drumming of Aaron Guidry (Cirque du Soleil), and a songwriting approach more in line with Paul Simon than Bill Monroe, and a new image begins to emerge.” Indeed. The songs we’re playing in rotation–“Not for Nothing,” “Addicted to You,” “Desert Dogs,” and “Down on the Bowery” (a gypsy-folk bopper sounding like an otherworldly Roches)–are your entree to this band’s enticing, inviting sound. We dig it.
Torbjorn Petersson and Keith Klingensmith | “Open Up Your Eyes” Indie pop stalwarts Torbjorn Petersson and Keith Klingensmith, the latter a member of the much-loved Legal Matters, turn in a delicious cover of a song by Stereo Tiger. If you look up the word “catchy” in the dictionary, this song will undoubtedly play. Harmonies, melody, and top-flight vocals propel this one into your hearts. Now playing in rotation.
Laurie Biagini | “Stranger in the Mirror” This welcome return to recording finds this Vancouver, British Columbia popster in top form, delivering an infectious shuffle of a tune centered around a strong, catchy melody. Business as usual, as it turns out. Glorious.
Strangely Alright | “Shake It” Regan Lane and crew shake the floorboards with this propulsive, beat-driven pop-rocker. Electric guitars blaze and strong, committed vocals carry the melody along. There is enough energy in this recording to power Las Vegas on a really hot day. Nice.
The Recreations | “Swing Together” Thanks to Pop 4’s Scott McPherson for hipping us to this inventive slice of pure pop from Tokyo’s the Recreations. Fronted by pop visionary Yohei, this is a vital mix of soft pop, Burt Bacharach, Jellyfish, swing and jazz that comes together as a wholly unique creation you will never forget. More to come, but for now this one’s in rotation. Enjoy.
Adam Walsh | “Calico Skies” Here we go again: another fantastic cover from the immensely talented Adam Walsh, whose taste in music is eclipsed only by his own prowess. In Adam’s capable hands, Paul McCartney’s lovely “Calico Skies” gets a slightly sped-up reading, no less emotional than the original. Keep ’em coming, Adam.
Preoccupied Pipers |”Mayday” We’ve said, many times, that KC Bowman, he of Pop 4, Agony Aunts, and the Corner Laughers, is the hardest working man in show business, because he’s also got this Preoccupied Pipers project through which he every-so-often releases such catchy nuggets as this uptempo pop-rocker, which clocks in at 1:47 (that’s minutes, not hours), which is Roger Miller territory, but this is not “King of the Road” or “England Swings,” so make of that what you will. In any case, you’ll love this kicker of a tune. Whew.
You might think we’ve run out of gas for today, but we haven’t. We’ve got to stop somewhere and leave some nuggets for tomorrow. So, tomorrow, we will have another run of reviews of the latest songs added to our playlist. See you then!
Alan 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.
Wow! The countdown is complete… Pure Pop Radio’s New Music Explosion is here! We’re ready, willing and able to bring you hundreds of songs and artists that are new to our playlist. We’ll be rolling them out over the next five days. Click on one of the listen links below to sample these shiny, happy wares!
So what’s new on Pure Pop Radio? We’ve got a huge list to share with you, so let’s get things cookin’, shall we?
The Doughboys | Hot Beat Stew It’s business as usual when New Jersey’s hot rockin’, beat driven brand of supersonic jet propulsion-fueled pop and roll blasts its way to and through your heart. The latest platter from the Doughboys makes its debut on Pure Pop Radio with nearly all of the tracks on offer. From the get-out-of-our-way rumble of the slamming “Be My Baby,” which recalls Wings’ “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” (ramped up with Doughboys DNA), to the straight-ahead rock and roll of the hot and sweaty “Heartache,” and the early Rolling Stones, mid-tempo love song “SoHo Girl” (with more than a hint of Brian Jones muscle), Hot Beat Stew is a clear winner. Take a well-deserved, rocking bow, Mike Caruso, Gar Francis, Myke Scavone and the man behind the drum kit, Richie Heyman. Now playing in rotation: the aforementioned Doughboys classics, plus “Shake It Loose,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Crave,” “For Your Love,” “Travelin’ Salesman,” “Biding My Time,” “Until Now,” and “Kamikaze.” (The band’s cool cover of the Motown classic “The Tears of a Clown” was previously added.) Hot stuff.
The Universal Thump | Walking the Cat: The Abbey Road EP Adam and Greta Gertler Gold, also known as the Brooklyn, New York-based duo the Universal Thump, released a wonderful, self-titled album in 2012, tracks from which are still playing in rotation here at Pure Pop Radio (we’re also spinning some of Greta’s solo tracks). This new EP, recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios, is a fantastic collection of songs that showcases, in particular, Greta’s soulful piano playing, songcraft and lovely vocal turns. The grand opener, “Sunset Park,” sets the stage: A “Be My Baby” drum beat ushers in Greta’s fragile vocal, which leads to a classically-constructed number that is part art-pop and an affectionate nod to the singer-songwriters of the late sixties and early seventies. The title song is a leisurely ballad that slowly becomes something more upbeat as the cat, so to speak, takes hold of the rhythm. We’re spinning both of these numbers, and “Cockatoos,” “Watch the Sunrise,” and “Treehouse.” The whole enchilada, in fact. We’re proud to bring you these wonderful sounds.
Peter Lacey | “Wayward Song” and “Many Moons Ago” We’re always happy to play just about anything Peter Lacey releases. We’ve been big fans of Peter’s music for a long time; we included his last album, Last Leaf, in our list of Favorite Records of the Year in 2014. Peter’s new single, available as a download and/or a seven-inch vinyl spinner, rates very highly in these parts. “Wayward Song” is a tender, piano-based ballad with pretty chord changes and slight echoes of Brian Wilson, with a lovely melody and a ghostly, atmospheric middle section (that propels the song into new, more upbeat territory). “Many Moons Ago” is a nostalgic charmer, beautifully arranged and sung. Simply wonderful.
Caddy | The Better End Hailing from Norway, Tom Dahl, aka Caddy, makes great melodic pop music influenced by all the right names we could easily drop, but why spoil your fun? Okay, we’ll spoil it a little: the sensitive title track benefits from a thin coat of Beach Boys paint, and “Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer” is quite reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub-styled balladry (as is the delightful, mid-tempo ballad “One Year Off” (oh, those glorious harmonies!)). Meanwhile, the rest of the album swims in equally delightful waters. “Miss Radio” is an uptempo gem, a love song with powerful guitars and Dahl’s sweet vocal harmonies, and “Into the Sun” swims through power pop waters for a catchy number perfectly poised. We’ve added all of the songs we just mentioned, and these classics: “Here It Comes Again,” “Fangblenny,” “Chasing Clouds,” “No Sudden Moves,” and “Autumn Leaves” (we previously added “Something About Carina,” “Wherever You Go,” and “Bring It Back.”) Here is another candidate for best-of-the-year honors. A great album, through and through.
Phyllis Johnson | “Looking Up (From Down Below)” From her magical, musical shack in Minnesota, which is always shaking with great songs from the popping past, comes a most welcome new number, a jangly mid-tempo tune with vocal echoes of Chrissie Hynde and the songcraft of the Bangles. A classically-styled chord structure and a strong melody take this song to the top of the poppermost. We’re asking Santa for a full album by Christmas. How about it, Phyllis?
Hidden Pictures | California Plates The uber-talented Richard Gintowt and his crew return less than six months after releasing the superb album, Ottomans, with a short and super-sweet EP that satisfies, as all Hidden Pictures releases do. We’re now playing “I’m So Bored With San Francisco” and the title track. Great pop music, done up in classic style. Groovy.
Jet Electro | Tall, Dark and Lonesome: The Story of Slim Grinder Four years on from Jet Electro’s debut album, the band (aka Craig Daniel) returns with a somewhat different approach, although, in the end, it’s really just a great mix of rock and pop styles that tell a series of commanding stories. A decidedly Marc Bolan-esque groove kicks off the leisurely, rock ‘n’ roll swagger of “Gamble” (we love the punctuating sax stabs). Beatles balladry and a tasty dash of Emitt Rhodes tenderness informs the beautiful ballad, “Rancho Preso,” an album highlight. The melodic “The One that Got Away” opens with a lovely harmony stack atop a slight acoustic guitar strum and plays beautifully from there. This is a fine album stacked deep with terrific songs; we’re honored to be able to share the previously mentioned tunes with you, plus “I Blame You,” “Love Rides Alone,” “I’m Not Easy,” “If I Live Again,” and “Haunted Heart.”
Drifting Sand | Pure Pop Radio ID We love the very cool, spirited ID that the members of Drifting Sand sent our way. Ending with a resounding cry of “Surf’s Up!”, the ID is an instant favorite and will now play in rotation with the hundreds of other such audio missives we’ve collected over the years. Hey, if you’re in a band or do your own pop thing, why not send us an ID or a snappy jingle? We’d love it! (Contact us at email@example.com.)
Wilson | “Pretty Girl in a Small Town” and “Little Friend” Thanks to Simon Felton from Pink Hedgehog records for sending us this glorious single, an advance slice of melodic pop heaven from the forthcoming album, Old School, New Rules. “Pretty Girl in a Small Town” is a wonderfully melodic, catchy mix of pop and Americana–very West Coast, USA, even though it hails from the UK. “Little Friend” is a 1930s-styled number with inviting harmonies and Robbie McIntosh on guitar. Brightly lit harmonies abound. To say we can’t wait for the album would be an understatement.
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That should whet your appetite! We’ll be back tomorrow with another round of new songs and artists added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. Click on one of the listen links below to hear these new sounds, and a total of 6,800 great melodic pop songs in rotation. We’re your 24-hour-a-day home for the greatest melodic pop music in the universe! Dig in!
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 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 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.
The 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 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 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 | 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 | 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.
mylittlebrother | 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 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.
The 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.
Edward 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 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 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.
Mothboxer | 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.
The 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!
Hundreds of newly-added songs are now airing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, and we’ve only just begun. We’re anxious to tell you all about them, so let’s get right to it, shall we? Week two, day one begins…now!
Peter Lacey – Last Leaf. Lacey’s latest, a song cycle that harkens back to the singer-songwriter’s folk roots, is a tremendous collection and without question one of the best albums released by any artist so far this year. Many miles away from the beach, Last Leaf plays its hand in 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. Recorded with precision and heart, songs such as the beautiful “The Woodwind” and the astonishing instrumental “Seven Hills to Hangleton,” which paces itself carefully until a fiddle infused, percussive attack ends the song cold, are acoustic keepers. In addition to these two songs, we’ve added “Right as Rain,” “Harvest Moon,” “Fisherman,” “He is Sleeping,” and “Boy in the Rings of a Tree,” a particular favorite. We are proud to be featuring Lacey’s new songs that enter as a blessed whisper and move on in the manner of a sprite granting wishes to deserving souls. Best of the year material for sure.
The Tangerines – Turn on the Light. An album packed with equal measures of delight and magic, Turn on the Light delights with no less than 16 catchy songs and as many merry melodies, all crafted with care and songwriting prowess. The Tangerines have put together a spirited group of songs laced with chiming guitars that practically demands repeat play. Honestly, we loved this album so much that we were happy to add all of its songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. The rundown: “Turn on the Light,” “It’s Alright,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Girls’ Girls’ World,” “Sitting in the Greenhouse,” “She,” “She’s so Fluffy,” “Everyday a Drama,” “How Does it Feel,” “Don’t Get Lonely,” “Waiting at Her Door,” “Late,” “Heartbeat,” “Up the Country,” “Love You Still,” and “All Through the Years.” This is the Tangerines’ White Album and, not surprisingly, an instant classic. A whole lot of fun awaits you.
Identical Suns – “Show Me a Sign” and “Common Ground.” We’ve added two more songs from Identical Suns, a band to watch and grow with. “Show Me a Sign” is a soulful number, kicking off with single voice and electric piano, adding harmonies, bass, drums and expressive electric guitar. “Common Ground” is an upbeat, harmony-rich summer song that features out-of-this-world background vocals from the Sonic Executive Sessions’ Christian Phillips. More pearls to come from this spirited group of music makers. We love the Identical Suns.
Also playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio this week, and new to the playlist:
* Cool King Chris – “You Can’t Stop It.” While we wait for the highly-anticipated, brand-new EP from this Pure Pop Radio favorite, who not long ago was featured with producer pal Jamie Hoover on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, we are able to bring you this musical pearl, produced by Jamie. The moral of this song’s story? Once a movement gathers enough steam, you can’t stop it. A timely lyric from a great singer-songwriter, now playing in rotation.
* The Simple Carnival – “The Problem with Friends.” We are longtime fans of the Simple Carnival. We always hope and pray that the Carnival (aka Pennsylvania’s own Jeff Boller, a most creative fellow) will record a new album of wonderful songs, but Jeff’s attention has lately been on creating 3D moving pictures. We’re happy as can be to be able to share this wonderful song, an easygoing, Bacharach-David-esque tune that even mentions 3D in its lyrics. We’re interested in anything Jeff does, so we hope for more at some point in time. Meanwhile, enjoy “The Problem with Friends.”
* Marc Platt – “I Can’t Hide”, “What a Life” and “Selling Crazy.” This top talent continues to write and record top-flight songs. We’ve got three of them for you: “I Can’t Hide” is a Byrdsian kind of tune, “What a Life” sounds like it was plucked from somewhere around 1966, and “Selling Crazy”? Yeah, about 1966 or so, too. Great stuff, now spinning in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. More to come, soon.
* Lauren O’Hara – Sol. We’ve got two songs from this intriguing EP now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “No Remission,” a spirited, lovely acoustic song, topped off with a wonderful violin part; and a meaty tune, “Sunday Sun,” powered by our friend Joe Algeri’s drums, bass and organ. Joe also mixed this song and mastered the entire EP. Lauren O’Hara is definitely a talent to follow.
That’s it for today. More tomorrow, of course, and through this second week of our exclusive melodic pop songs explosion. Ka-boom, indeed!