Reviews: 6.25.19: Astral Drive’s Plea for Love, Butch Young’s Stories of People in Crisis, and Farrington’s Retro-Fueled Pretty Pictures

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Astral Drive | “Wishing I Could Change the World”
(Lojinx, 2019)

Phil Thornalley, Britain’s champion of 1970s-era Todd Rundgren, returns as his Astral Drive nom de plume with a joyful Dave Bascombe (Tears for Fears) radio remix of “Wishing I Could Change the World,” originally waxed for 2018’s self-titled Astral Drive album. Also on board: two new tracks.

A plea for love becoming the constant that makes everything alright (“I keep wishing that the world would change / Love come pouring down like gentle rain / I’m still praying / Dreaming like every boy and girl / Wishing we could change the world”), the song’s jubilant, hopeful arrangement, and yearning vocal signify the coming of a melodic pop standard that really can change the world.

Accompanying the Bascombe-ized “Wishing I Could Change the World” are two new tracks, easily slottable into your growing Astral Drive collector’s bucket. A passionate, slowed-down take on the classic “Up On the Roof,” complete with Thornalley’s Rundgren-ized, understated vocal harmony stacks, draws new levels of emotion from the lyric (“Right smack dab in the middle of town / I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof”). The roof, in the case of Goffin and King’s classic song, is the perennial happy place, where hope triumphs over the alternative.

“Who Loves You,” essentially a new song (an unfinished number that didn’t make the Astral Drive album), “…is about how life can change in a heartbeat and how insecurity can haunt us just as easily as love can lift us,” according to Thornalley, quoted on the Lojinx website. Another Rundgren-esque number and as good as anything on the Astral Drive album, “Who Loves You” is a question perhaps best asked…up on the roof, where the answer should become clear.

Another melodic triumph for Astral Drive, this new single shines a light on the world at large, praying for love to conquer all.

Where to Get It: Lojinx, Amazon, iTunes

Butch Young | “Captain Serious” b/w “Beautiful Dreamer”
(Big Stir, 2019)

For all the sour, sad sack boys and girls out there, Butch Young’s eminently catchy, sweet-with-the-sour, Brian Wilson-with-a-touch-of-George Harrison ditty “Captain Serious,” about a guy to whom a smile is just a frown turned upside down, is your song. For everyone else, this song is a melodic pop confection par excellence from a Pure Pop Radio favorite.

I quote lyrics fairly often in my reviews, because I believe the words married to music are just as important in the long run, if not more so. Young’s depiction of this much-too-serious captain of his industry includes some rather clever wordsmithing. To wit: “Captain Serious / Is looking sour as a lime or a grape / His face is dour as some days-old lemonade / Left to spoil in the rain”. And this: “Oh, did your mom make you so? / She never really let you play your rock ‘n’ roll / Oh, did your Dad come home / And catch you reading Tolstoy all alone?”

The flip of this sterling Big Stir digital single, “Beautiful Dreamer,” a wonderful, dramatically orchestrated, catchy ELO-ish ballad, charts the course of a person who hides within sleep to avoid doom and gloom (“Bad feelings bottled up and then / An imminent calamity / Run baby, run”). Will these bad feelings pass, beautiful dreamer? “Have another wink or two / Before you spring to life / When will you open up / Your heart to see / The spell you’re under?”

Young’s 2016 album, Mercury Man, was a big hit for me, and was one of the bright stars of my Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2016 feature. I wrote: “Butch Young’s miraculous, hall-of-fame-worthy album is a modern classic by way of its dazzling array of 1970s-styled instant classic songs, peppered with a mix of Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson-esque magic. Every one of these Los Angeles-based artist’s songs is a clear winner, like the title track, ‘Persephone,’ ‘One Foot In,’ and ‘The Fools of May.'”

I also said Mercury Man was awesome. And so are these incredible, miraculous songs that make up the 31st Big Stir digital single offering (both are earmarked for an album release next year). Don’t miss this one.

Where to Listen and Get ’em: Big Stir Digital Singles (scroll to the second entry)

Farrington | Pictures of Pretty Things (2019)

This monumental, audacious bundle of retro-fueled imagination, wackadoo musical composition and performance closes with a majestic, classically-influenced instrumental in which impassioned orchestration and lyrical guitar work play as the audience exits the auditorium–you being the audience and your music listening room being the auditorium.

But don’t exit the auditorium just yet: hang in there for the last 12 seconds of this album’s title track, the very last track, when a burst of packed-tight harmony voices shouting “Pretty things!” bounces off the walls like a Spalding® High-Bounce Handball. It’s a reminder of what you’ve just heard: a never-mind-the-boundaries kind of album in which glam meets pop meets rock meets all sorts of other stuff, too.

Farrington’s Pictures of Pretty Things packs a box set’s worth of ideas and musical manipulations into just about 35 minutes of–what’s the word I used up top? Audacious? Well, audacious it all is, without a doubt.

Farrington, aka mad musical scientist James Patrick, works his magic in a Queen frame of mind, singing like a glam superstar with a pure pop heart. And save for a few harder-edged rockers, the artist stays put squarely in a melodic pop sandbox which, for my tastes, is an eminently satisfying domicile.

Piano and other keyboards, played with passion, save for one song, by Farrington, majorly drive these songs, although the drums, played by co-producer Marcos de la Cruz, also pack quite a desirable punch. Anthony King, playing a good chunk of the guitar and bass parts, and other fine folks, including Kai Danzberg and Fernando Perdomo, help to make this astounding mix of great songs and performances a towering achievement. These songs are all about the sound and how the hooks aplenty grab hold of you and don’t let go.

Achieving towering status are any number of top-drawer tunes, including the ultra-poppy “The Love Show,” a mid-tempo Queen-tinged song which is ultimately about love, love, love; the power-poppy “Long Way to Nowhere,” ultimately about the power of music (“Blondie dancing in a heart of glass / She makes me dizzy”); and “When I Was You,” an uptempo beat-driven pop song about ultra-disappointment in a doomed relationship (“I wish you were dead, she said / Yeah, I guess the feeling is more than mutual / So take me back to yesterday / When I was you”).

These songs are all about the sound; frankly, I’m not entirely sure what most of these songs are about, but they sure sound good as good can be. “Blue,” a mid-tempo pop-rocker bops ahead with a decidedly Sweet “Love is Like Oxygen” vibe that is intensely infectious. And “Violins,” another poppy pick-to-click, tells the tale of a girl in a shaky relationship who finds solace in the sound of violins (“She listens to violins / And her imagination runs wild again / She listens to violins / The music makes her smile again”).

A box set’s worth of magical ideas imaginatively whipped into shape by a mad musical scientist who knows how to mix just the right ingredients, Pictures of Pretty Things is one heck of an achievement.

Where to Get It: Check back soon for purchase links

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

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

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation this Thursday, June 27: Fernando Perdomo Joins Alan Haber for a Celebration of the Film Sensation, Echo in the Canyon


Fernando Perdomo talks about the Echo in the Canyon film and soundtrack on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation this Thursday, June 27

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Oh, what it must have been like, wandering through Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, among the songwriters and performers who struck gold in the Hollywood Hills and draped the burgeoning folk-into-folk-rock landscape with hit after lasting hit.

Echo in the Canyon is the glorious, passionate big-screen celebration of the Laurel Canyon sound that found music makers like the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield making history and touching hearts around the world with their soon-to-be-classic recordings, waxed at some of the most famous studios in history. The film deftly spins a magical, melody-rich tale, told through interviews with iconic performers like David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, and Jackson Browne, and performances by the Echo in the Canyon band, headed by Jakob Dylan.

Pure Pop Radio favorite Fernando Perdomo, the “it” musician of the moment, whose imaginative, passionate playing elevates music being made in genres far and wide, from pop to prog and back again, talks with me during the second in the new series of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows about becoming a member of the Echo in the Canyon band, giving unique, widescreen insight into the project. The show debuts here on the Pure Pop Radio website this Thursday, June 27.

The Echo in the Canyon band is currently entertaining filmgoers at certain film showings with exciting live performances that help to turn audiences in cities across the country onto the gospel that is the Laurel Canyon sound. The magical band performs era-defining songs like the Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go” and the Byrds’ (by way of Gerry Goffin and Carole King) “Goin’ Back,” testifying to the ongoing vitality of the music that helped to shape a generation and beyond.

Echo in the Canyon is now playing in theaters nationwide; the soundtrack, produced by Andrew Slater, who also directed the film, is powered by the core band (Geoff Pearlman, Matt Tecu, Jordan Summers and Perdomo, among others) and guests such as Beck, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. The soundtrack releases on CD this Friday and on vinyl August 2. Thirteen classic songs are featured; two can be heard above and another, Love’s majestic “No Matter What You Do,” can be heard below:

Don’t miss Pure Pop Radio favorite Fernando Perdomo, a member of the Echo in the Canyon band, talking with me about the film, soundtrack and live performances during the second in the new series of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows. The show debuts here on the Pure Pop Radio website this Thursday, June 27.

Stay tuned for announcements of more all-new Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows, coming soon.

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, hosted by Alan Haber, is the Internet’s premier talk show presenting melodic pop music artists in conversation about their work. New episodes appear here exclusively on the Pure Pop Radio website. Podcast versions of previously-aired episodes are archived here.

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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.

Gather Ye Hippies! Join Hands, Flower Children! The Summer of Love is Alive Once Again on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

It’s a lovefest of epic proportions: 20 musical merrymakers, gathered together on the stage of the Count Basie Center for the Arts, sending good musical vibes out to an all-ages audience thirsty for the sumptuous sounds of the Summer of Love and Woodstock eras.

It’s a gathering of waiting angels, hip to the sounds filling the vaunted Basie structure. And those sounds? Why, it’s Glen Burtnik’s Summer of Love Concert; the performance from last March is contained in all its peace and love and glory on the just-released, whole-lot-of-fun two-CD set from Jem Records.

Burtnik, a longtime (20-plus years!) Pure Pop Radio favorite and one of the lovely Weeklings, and Tony Pallagrosi, manager of the Weeklings and producer of this momentous, warmhearted, exciting CD, spoke at length and in-depth (the only way we do it!) with me about this Summer of Love Concert release, zeroing in on what goes into crafting the concert, and how the songs, performed so passionately by the cast, connect with the audience. I’m thrilled to present this outtasite conversation as the first of this new series of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows.

“They were pulling up gold out of the ground for the first time,” said Pallagrosi, looking back at the classic rock pioneers whose work is performed during the Summer of Love concert. Classics from the Turtles, the Doors, Joe Cocker, and the Mamas and the Papas to the Lemon Pipers, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Sly and the Family Stone are the order of the day; master of ceremonies Burtnik pulls off a 17-song show that will put a smile on the face of anyone who loves great, classic pop and rock music.

Here are some of the songs that make the Summer of Love Concert CD sing:

Listen to my in-depth interview with Glen Burtnik and Tony Pallagrosi below. Get Glen Burtnik’s Summer of Love Concert 2-CD set at Amazon. Peace, love and good vibes to all!

pprListen to my interview with Glen Burtnik and Tony Pallagrosi, talking about the new Summer of Love Concert CD, by clicking the play button on the following player, or click on the Pure Pop Radio button to the left to download (then right click and choose “Save audio as” to save the file to your computer).

Listen to Glen Burtnik and Tony Pallagrosi talk about Glen Burtnik’s Summer of Love Concert CD, in conversation with Alan Haber.

P.S. Look forward to the announcement of next week’s all-new episode of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation. The announcement is coming this Monday, June 24. This new show’s a good one, and quite timely! Think: California…

Listen to a wide selection of archived Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows by clicking here.

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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.

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, hosted by Alan Haber, is the Internet’s premier talk show presenting melodic pop music artists in conversation about their work. New episodes appear here exclusively on the Pure Pop Radio website. Podcast versions of previously-aired episodes are archived here.

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

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation Returns with Glen Burtnik and Tony Pallagrosi Grooving in the Summer of Love

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

A new series of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation shows, appearing exclusively here on the Pure Pop Radio website, kicks off this Friday, June 21–the first day of summer–with Pure Pop Radio favorite Glen Burtnik (The Weeklings) and producer Tony Pallagrosi before the microphones to talk about the groovy two-CD set recorded live at Glen’s Summer of Love Concert.

Another new episode of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation debuts next Thursday, June 27. Stay tuned for details for this timely and tuneful show.

Glen Burtnik’s Summer of Love Concert: Live Love, recorded live at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey and just released by Jem Records, presents groovy performances of favorite rockin’, poppin’ and rollin’ songs from roughly the years 1967 to 1969 and the early 1970s, including classics recorded by artists that played at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969 (this year, the fair celebrates its 50th anniversary).

The 17 songs on this two-CD set, from the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and Melanie’s “Brand New Key” to the Mamas and the Papas’ “Creeque Alley,” the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine,” and Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” are performed by a cast of 20 top-flight singers and musicians, including Burtnik, The Weeklings’ Joe Bellia, and many more.

During this informative and in-depth interview, Burtnik and Pallagrosi talk passionately about the history of the Summer of Love concert series (the series kicked off 10 years ago), how the shows are put together, and what makes the songs that are performed loved and treasured through the years. It’s a fascinating discussion that all manner of music fans will love.

The Summer of Love Concert series is on tour this summer. Check upcoming dates in this exciting video:

Don’t miss Glen Burtnik and Tony Pallagrosi on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation this Friday, June 21st–the first day of summer. The show will be posted exclusively here on the Pure Pop Radio website at approximately 11:45 am EST. (Remember: another new show debuts next Thursday, June 27. Stay tuned for the timely and tuneful details.)

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, hosted by Alan Haber, is the Internet’s premier talk show presenting melodic pop music artists in conversation about their work. New episodes appear here exclusively on the Pure Pop Radio website. Podcast versions of previously-aired episodes are archived here.

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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.

Reviews: 6.13.19: David Brookings and Willie Wisely Fill Our Hearts With Song

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

David Brookings and the Average Lookings
Scorpio Monologue (2019)

After the credits roll at the end of the making-of video for this album, David Brookings turns to his guitar player, Patrick Yoho, and fans a deck of playing cards.

“Pick a card, any card. Don’t let me see it,” David says. Pointing to the deck in his hand, he tells Patrick to “Put it face down right here. Don’t let me see it. Right on top.” The card returned to the deck, David taps it, waves his hand over it, and in a move that echoes those of famous magicians through the ages, scratches it. He turns the card over and asks Patrick if it’s the one he chose. “Is this your card?,” David asks. Patrick nods in the affirmative. “It is,” David confirms, the room laughing and his voice smiling, as if that’s a thing.

It’s the details that matter, in other words. Also, have fun creating your art. And the art, this collection of catchy pop-rock songs called Scorpio Monologue, Brookings’ eighth release in 19 years, is all about the details that get tended to as songs are written and brought to the band; parts are worked out by each of the players, and the artist and his co-producer and engineer, Don Budd, shape it all into minutes-long symphonies of careful, musical expression that listeners absolutely dig.

It’s the details that matter; if Brookings and his cohorts get them right, and for each of the baker’s dozen tracks on Scorpio Monologue they most certainly do, the result is entertainment of the highest order which, in the hands of Brookings and his Average Lookings, is a trick that pays off handsomely with untold dividends.

Scorpio Monologue–11 originals and two covers–announces itself as a force to be reckoned with as the jangly and propulsive opener, “And It Feels Like…” begins to play. The song, about always striving to succeed amidst the chaos around you, safe in the arms of the one you love (“Go for the dream where you’re in the meadow / Something about you always calms me down”) is but one of many of the top-flight songs on offer.

“I Grow Up Fast” is an uptempo, poppy, jangly number about going after what you want in life, having learned from what you experienced in your youth (“And I played the field / And finally settled down”). “Rainbow Baby,” a gentle mid-tempo pop song, is about how much the new Brookings baby is a gift to his family (“Personality turned up to a hundred / Like your sister and your mom before you / When I see you smile it’s a look of wonder / How’d we get so lucky that we got you”). Brookings’ family makes cameo appearances during the song; baby Brady charmingly giggles during the close.

The upbeat, countryish “Silicon Valley” is a fun song about the quirkiness of the area (after a seven-year stint as a tour guide at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and giving a tour to Apple’s Steve Jobs, Brookings relocated to San Jose in 2009 to work for the tech giant). The blazing Chuck Berry-esque “She’s Mad at Me Again” is another top highlight about a guy who frequently does the wrong thing (“I did it different than I meant to do / But don’t defend me or she’ll get mad at you / She’s mad at me again”). The rocking guitar, plucked right out of the sounds-like-Dave-Edmunds playbook is a lot-of-fun highlight.

Scorpio Monologue, Brookings’ second album fronting the Average Lookings, is another in a long line of meticulously crafted collections from one of pop-rock’s top indie artists. Don’t miss it.

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

Willie Wisely | “Fall Inside Your Eyes” (2019)

A lovely, reverent cover of a song from Jackie Lomax’s March, 1969 debut album on Apple Records, “Fall Inside Your Eyes” is all about the feeling and effect of attraction.

In the booklet that accompanied the 2010 reissue of Lomax’s Is this what you want?, Jackie says that “Fall Inside Your Eyes” “…is about a psychic connection between two people that doesn’t need words.” And, in fact, the lyrics carry that idea: “I know I can’t explain just why I feel this way / But just one look from you and there’s nothing I can do.”

Lomax’s song floats atop a seductive melody and affecting lyrics. His original track, produced by George Harrison, features an electric piano in the mix; Wisely underlines his ace arrangement with tender pedal steel guitar played by Eric Heywood, and elevates the track with an equally tender harmonica solo. Wisely plays that solo and the guitars; John Fields, who produced with Wisely, plays bass and drums.

“Fall Inside Your Eyes” features on Wisely’s upcoming, much-anticipated new album, Face the Sun, due on August 2.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

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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.

Reviews: 6.11.19: Songs and Stories from Ray Paul, Smith and Jones, and Kenny Herbert

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ray Paul | Bloody Rubbish (Kool Kat Musik, 2019)

The slim, trendy, smiling pop art-ish musician, drawn with angles, feet slipped into Beatle boots and holding a familiar looking bass is depicted on the cover of his album as a guy you should get to know if you don’t know him already. He’s peddling some so-called bloody rubbish, or so says the title. Don’t believe him.

The musician depicted in smart, cartoony fashion on the cover of Bloody Rubbish is Ray Paul, still and always head muckety-muck at Permanent Press, known by pop fans as one of the premier indie record labels, the original concern sadly gone but certainly not forgotten. Bloody Rubbish is a smashing collection of 10 choice Paul classics drawn from throughout his four-decade-plus career. Said classics, it should be noted, are neither bloody nor rubbish.

Sequenced in a kind of time traveling back-and-forth fashion, Bloody Rubbish begins with “I Need Your Love Tonight,” a track first issued in 2017, a rousing, very catchy and full of guitars side sporting a typically passionate Paul vocal and one of his patented can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head melodies. Guitars and strong vocals are the backbone of every recording contained herein.

The thing about Paul’s output is that many or most of his recordings could come from any year, slab of vinyl or shiny compact disc. So his 1978 single on Euphoria Records–“Lady Be Mine Tonight” b/w “Hold It”–is absolutely interchangeable with “I Love It (But You Don’t Believe It)” from 2016’s superb platter, Whimsicality; 1980’s up-tempo and Badfinger-ish “Brokenhearted,” and 1981’s “How Do You Know?” b/w the early XTC-ish “Keep it Confidential,” released on Permanent Press. All of these choice tracks are included here, and all are divine examples of Paul’s mastery of the pop form.

Bloody Rubbish serves up three previously-unreleased rarities for the Paul collector and, really, any fan of melodic, rocking pop: “Love Me,” a moody, melodic, mid-tempo Paul song waxed in 1977 at Euphoria Sound Studios, and two live tracks with his new band from 2017–“Standing on the Edge of Goodbye” and a passionate cover of the rocking “Open Up Your Door,” both billed as by Ray Paul and RPM (the latter song is a cover of Richard and the Young Lions’ 1966 single).

Kudos to Ray Gianchetti at Kool Kat Musik for releasing this compendium of “bloody rubbish,” which comes in a nattily-attired jewel case with a four-page booklet sporting thumbnails of Ray Paul releases and an array of eye-catching photos.

And kudos to you, smart pop people, for catching on to some of the finest uptempo pop recordings that have had the opportunity to seep into your consciousness over the past four-plus decades. This Bloody Rubbish is bloody fantastic.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon

Smith and Jones | Something Worth Learning
(Childless Mother Records, 2019)

Last year’s Petty by Carpenter Smith and Jones, a loving tribute to Tom, was a big hit here at Pure Pop Radio, and for good reason: its passionate takes on some of Petty’s most beloved songs spoke to us, and probably spoke to you, too.

That very same passion is renewed and celebrated here on Abby Smith and Sophie Jones’ sophomore duo collection, Something Worth Learning, produced by Michael Carpenter. The album’s twelve songs, chronicling the ups and downs and sideway glances of relationships, speak to all types of hearts, however they beat and tumble.

Carpenter’s production is crisp and clear and alive, bringing Smith’s songs to life with just the right combination of instruments and depth of solo and harmony vocals. The trio of Carpenter, Smith and Jones is a shining example of fate drawing on a colorful canvas.

The album kicks off with the lively and upbeat “As I Am,” a catchy bubblegummy concoction that should for all the world be called Progressive Partridge (Family). This take-me-as-I-am song gets these proceedings off to a catchy start.

There are more five-star songs and performances on Something Worth Learning than on most albums being released these days. Case in point: “One Last Time,” a beautifully rendered ballad very much in the early Joni Mitchell style. With just piano and voice, this tale of a broken relationship plays out with sure emotion after the relationship is in tatters. But the girl pines for one final positive memory (“You could tell me I’m beautiful / Just one last time”).

Another Mitchell-esque song, a ballad entitled “In the Middle of the Night,” pairs solo piano and voice as a poetic dreamscape takes hold of listeners’ senses; in these words lie all emotions tethered in a relationship. These words, written by Smith, are monumentally sound and descriptive: “In the middle of the night / I go walking in the rain / Leave my pillows to their dreaming / My sheets, to lovers’ stains / Just a passing storm that’s all.” And then, there is this: “In the midnight of my memory / I hear that black bird singing / Softly as a lovers’ touch / A kiss upon my ear / Hear that melody rise and fall / Lovers and losers / She sings for us all.” Quite simply gorgeous.

“Love Lives in Darkness,” an emotional ballad, plays right out of the Mary Chapin Carpenter playbook–a very good thing. Even the vocal is Carpenter-esque, circa her Come On Come On album from 1992. About love lived in shadow, the song barely reaches out to light (“We raise it up on a stolen Sunday / We raise it up with an early morning embrace / Before the day is woken / Before a word is spoken”). The deeper truth? “A love lived in shadows / Is a love built on lies.”

The liveliest song on this album, relentlessly clever and smile-inducing, is the bouncy “Last Night I Saw Jesus (The Book of the Boss),” a tongue-in-cheek hosanna shot straight from around the world to Asbury Park, New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruuuuuuuuce Springsteen. Over a hippety-hop bass line and sure-footed finger snaps come the rousing huzzahs: “Come on, head on down to tenth avenue / And find a place on the church pew / We’re singing a hymn from the book of the boss / Oh he saved me and he’s gonna save you too.” And, if you were wondering, this song’s lyrics make it crystal clear: Bruce is “looking good for his age.”

Something Worth Learning, played by Abby Smith, Sophie Jones and Michael Carpenter, along with Matt Ferry, is something well worth having.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes

Kenny Herbert | “Like Marilyn” (2019)

Pure Pop Radio favorite Kenny Herbert is back with perhaps one of my favorite of his most recent creations–contemporary pop with more than a dash of 1930s and 1940s pizazz.

A delectable horn section, orchestration, plonking piano, and Kenny’s honey-coated vocal, full of love, power this toe-tapper inspired by Kenny’s wife Caroline, who, he says, “has the best smile in the world.” Making this song’s dazzling chart sing are Pilot’s David Paton on bass; Bob Heatlie, making the brass and strings come alive; Martin Wykes on drums, and Rab Howat playing guitar and singing background vocals. David Valentine, who plays piano, also produced at Heartbeat Studios in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Another great one, Kenny.

Where to Get It: iTunes

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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.

Reviews: 6.6.19: New Releases: The Weeklings, Alex Chilton, Bryan Estepa, and Jacob Panic

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Weeklings | “I Want You Again” (Jem, 2019)

It is a bushelful of happy that greets me on this day, almost a month since I last posted due to various bits and bobs. Finding a new Weeklings song in my email inbox–an old-fashioned Weeklings song, if truth be known–speaks to my most get-in-there, take-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together-again-for-you instincts. Because what fun it is to wear the happiness that Weeklings recordings bring, like a new suit resplendent in audio jewels that really make me smile.

Started at London’s Abbey Road Studios, written by Lefty and Zeek Weekling, and finished off at home base in New Jersey, “I Want You Again” is perhaps a quintessential example of the Weeklings’ melodic sense that embodies significant Beatles and fellow traveler touchstones as much as the group’s own contemporary identity.

An I-really-shouldn’t-have-pushed-you-away-and-by-the-way-can-I-get-you-back song with a beat and a beating heart, “I Want You Again” is a jangly joy with a McCartney-esque bass line, Merseyside guitar stabs in the bridge, an “A Hard Day’s Night” namecheck (“When I think, of the time, when our love burned bright / When we shared, every word, singin’ ‘A Hard Days’ Night'”), and, most importantly, echoes of the Fabs’ “You Won’t See Me” and a closing melody quote from Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.”

“I Want You Again” is just the latest example of New Jersey’s finest fab foursome’s pursuit of audio excellence that bridges decades of catchy melodic pop. A bushelful of happy, if you will.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes. Stream on Spotify

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Alex Chilton | From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar/None, 2019)
Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None, 2019)

When most people think of Alex Chilton, they likely remember his work with the Box Tops, whose big 1967 hit, “The Letter,” he sang at age 16 with the maturity of a much older and perhaps wiser artist, and Big Star, an influential group blessed with a deep vat of melodicism and rock-influenced pop songs that have stood the test of time, such as “September Gurls,” “The Ballad of El Goodo,” and “Thirteen.”

It is less likely that casual music fans–people who grew up with the Box Tops and Big Star–also embraced Chilton’s music that followed. Two new, comprehensive compilations from Bar/None seek to mend the fences over which Chilton jumped in the 1980s and 1990s to make music that was stripped down, less commerical, and sometimes undersold, yet still viable and enjoyable and quintessentially Chilton.

From Memphis to New Orleans draws from four releases produced in the second half of the 1980s. A mix of original and covered punchy, seductive bluesy rock (David Porter and Isaac Hayes’ “B-A-B-Y”), punchy rockers (Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO”), Bakersfield country (Chilton’s “Paradise”), gentle pop with a beat (“Let Me Get Close to You,” a Skeeter Davis flip side scribed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin that originally appear on High Priest) and rock and soul grooves, the album chugs happily along as it shows off the wares of Chilton’s post-Box-Tops-and-Big-Star eras.

Probably, the sides compiled on From Memphis to New Orleans are closer cousins to Chilton’s previous work and likely more palatable to fans of the Box Tops and Big Star, but it’s the covers of classic songs in the style of the music that he heard growing up, compiled on Songs from Robin Hood Lane, that might just provide a clearer picture of where Chilton’s heart really found the most peace.

Songs from two Chilton releases–1991’s Medium Cool and 1994’s Cliches–sit comfortably alongside four previously unreleased sides on Songs from Robin Hood Lane. Chilton nestles quite comfortably in the moods and emotions of a dozen jazz, blues and pop numbers, showing quite different sides of his musical persona. They are, in their way, just as emotional and effective as the singer’s work during his rock and pop years.

Highlights include the quietly bouncy “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” cut by Nina Simone in the 1950s and played out here with only Chilton’s masterly acoustic guitar picking and playful, jazzy vocal; “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” a jazzy, supper club take on the 1940s standard and one of the four previously-unreleased tracks on this collection; and “That Old Feeling,” a half instrumental and half sumptuous vocal workout of Sammy Fain and Lew Brown’s classic written in the 1930s and essayed by many classic vocalists, including Patti Page and Frank Sinatra.

Both From Memphis to New Orleans and Songs from Robin Hood Lane sport beautifully-laid-out packaging that includes immersive and informative liner notes by Glenn Morrow and track personnel and discographical facts. Bar/None is to be congratulated on both releases; listeners will come away from hearing a fuller picture of Chilton the artist.

Essential.

Where to Get It: Bar/None, Amazon (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane), and iTunes (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane)

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Bryan Estepa | “I’m Not Ready for This” (2019)

The lesson learned in pop-rocker Bryan Estepa’s new digital release, “I’m Not Ready for This,” is that first loves are woven into one’s heart forever (“Forgetting first loves can’t be done”).

What to do with such a realization is another thing entirely, as noted in this mid-paced guitar popper. After all, first loves can be a fleeting thing (“Stay together for a little while / Run its course on this crooked mile”).

This track, with its smooth lead vocal, engaging backgrounds, and lovely, pleasing chords, will stay with you for a long while, even if your first love isn’t showing in your rearview mirror.

(Watch the stylish black-and-white video for “I’m Not Ready for This” below. The use of light fading quietly in and out to suggest the memory of a first love fading in and out over time is quite impressive.)

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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Jacob Panic | “The Heart/Breaks” (2019)

The banjo’s the thing here, which is the thing that counts most in Jacob Panic’s world. A rock/pop hybrid love song exhibiting immense power and emotion, “The Heart/Breaks” is all about love, and the more of it–the stronger it comes on–the better.

“Put your lovin’ arms around me / And everything’ll be alright,” Panic sings, and when those lovin’ arms lock tight, an explosion of emotion comes due. “Listen to the heart beat go / A mile a minute / Many miles it flows / It gets dark / It gets cold,” and where do you go from there?

Mostly, the choruses are drawn with thunderous drums and instrumentation mixing with powerful vocals; the connecting tissue is softer, limber. The feeling, near as I can tell, is when you truly feel love and it totally encompasses you, you fall hook, line and sinker.

A tremendous track from a tremendous performer, co-written by Panic and Steve Antonelli, and featuring Antonelli on guitar, bass, and drums and Lea B. singing backgrounds. 

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

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