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. Welcome to the number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe.
Dori Freeman | In concert at Jammin Java; Vienna, Virginia; April 4, 2016
Dori Freeman | Dori Freeman (Free Dirt Records, 2016)
Review by Alan Haber
From Galax, Virginia, the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, comes a young singer-songwriter who exhibits the keen lyrical and musical vision of older souls. Dori Freeman, just 24, examines the beating of hearts and other matters on her self-titled long player from Free Dirt records. It’s a beauty.
Currently supporting seasoned veterans Teddy Thompson, who produced this record, and Kelly Jones, who are touring in support of their new record, Little Windows, Dori sings honest lyrics married to equally honest melodies. Her lovely performance this past Monday night at Vienna, Virginia’s Jammin Java was mesmerizing; the full audience applauded enthusiastically after every song, so charmed were they by her performance.
Accompanying herself on stage with just her acoustic guitar, Dori, ostensibly an Americana artist but really so much more, sang sweetly the songs given, for the most part, full band treatment on her album, although there are exceptions: on record, “Ain’t Nobody,” an impassioned gospel testament, is delivered a cappella alongside firmly placed finger snaps; and the opener, “You Say,” about loving one who doesn’t return the sentiment, is played out with only acoustic guitar and bass.
Dori Freeman, the album, is full of amazing songs. The gorgeous “Where I Stood,” which features Teddy Thompson singing harmony vocals, tells the tale of a broken relationship, rocked by mistrust and deceit (“Yesterday morning I answered your phone/The voice said hello and it turned me to stone/You reached for me as I reached for the door/But I won’t be turning to you anymore”). The very pure pop pleasures of the upbeat “Fine Fine Fine,” which kicks off with “Be My Baby” drums (and here’s yet another realization of this year’s top and oh-so-popular rhythmic nod), would make a fine, fine, fine single, being so catchy and all.
With a vocal delivery echoing the fabric of Luxury Liner-era Emmylou Harris, and the quite amazing and satisfying ability to trail off a note so that it becomes a heartfelt whisper, Dori Freeman is a marvel, a singer-songwriter possessing great gifts full of passion and soul. We’re playing seven songs from this album in rotation, all displaying Dori’s exceptional, emotional lyrics and catchy melodies: “Any Wonder”; “Fine Fine Fine”; “A Song for Paul”; “Still a Child,” which features a lovely, lyrical piano part played by Erik Deutsch; “Tell Me”; “Where I Stood,” and “You Say.”
Make no mistake: Dori Freeman is a talent to watch and savor. We’re honored to be playing her music on Pure Pop Radio.
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 Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, 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.
Tricia Countryman with John Hunter Phillips “Goin’ On” from the forthcoming album Sometimes When I’m Dreaming
Review by Alan Haber
First, there is the song, a nearly perfect expression of love, as Brian Wilson might put it, getting to the heart of it; a joyous celebration of melody and harmony and the ability that one or two or three people have to summon that joyousness from their collective core and build something that will live within us always.
The melody comes from that place. It’s the melody that draws us into the song, and then there are the harmonies, the harmonies that make the hairs on the backs of our necks stand on end and push that button. You know the one–the one that makes you smile, which is payment enough, I suppose, for a musical job so very well done.
Tricia Countryman and singer John Hunter Phillips show their love for melody and harmony with their transcendent version of Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s “Goin’ On,” which originally appeared as the opening track on the Beach Boys’ Keepin’ the Summer Alive, an album teeming with delights, in 1980. Produced by Dana Countryman, these nearly four minutes of bliss stop everything around it in their tracks.
There are the voices, intertwined and perfectly matched, singing ever so sweetly together, and there are the instruments, all played by Dana, save for Mike Marinig’s muscular saxophone, and there is the arrangement, faithful to the original track but tweaked with that certain something that only an artist can bring to the table. As the song plays, you are transported to that place where all around you is still and serene. All you have to do is listen.
I love the sound of this version of “Goin’ On,” and you will too: Listen to Tricia Countryman, with John Hunter Phillips, sing this wonderful song tonight, premiering exclusively on Pure Pop Radio at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT). And listen to it after that, playing in rotation as part of our playlist of 8,500 handpicked melodic pop songs from the ’60s to today. You’ll be glad you did.
Day three of Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion is here, and it’s another day to savor. It’s a special day, with a special record to talk about, from Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. Alan’s review follows; more reviews of music added to our playlist will follow tomorrow.
Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones Little Windows
The release of a new Kelly Jones recording is cause for celebration all by itself. When you find that Teddy Thompson, son of famed singer-songwriters Richard and Linda Thompson, is her performing and writing partner, and singer-songwriter Bill DeMain, a favorite at Pure Pop Radio, has co-written all of the songs, the level of anticipation you experience even before the first note comes out of the speakers is exponentially high.
The rewards you get from experiencing these lovely songs, crafted with care and heart, are many and deeply felt. There is a lot of love in these grooves, and we are playing all of them in rotation.
The sound of this record is pleasingly retro, if retro, at its core, means classically-styled melodies and deep hooks contained within songs that conduct their business and clear the decks for the next numbers. There is a decidedly romantic notion at play on a long player that slips in and out of hand holding echoes of the Everly Brothers at Cadence, Roy Orbison, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens and a thousand other country-pop artists and their golden recordings.
You can feel the connection that Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones have to these songs and, as performers, to each other. Their vocals, silky smooth and in love with every note, sail on through almost, but not quite, effortlessly, but because you know that making music come alive takes commitment and precious time, effortless is not quite the right word. It only seems that way, and, of course, it really isn’t.
Each song here is a treasure, best experienced with total attention paid. This is an emotional record–a record you feel in your bones, that rattles each one in a pleasing way. The playful shuffle of “You Can’t Call Me Baby” tells its tale with precious economy, keeping the beat going with a pounding bass line and kitchen sink drums. “I Thought that We Said Goodbye,” about a couple that just can’t break their bond, is a lovely song that marries Teddy and Kelly’s gorgeous harmony vocals to some nimble, committed acoustic guitar picking. “Wondering” tells the tale of that little twinge that suggests a romantic pairing against a lively four on the floor beat.
Perhaps the quintessential song on Little Windows is “You Took My Future,” a tearjerker of a ballad that chronicles the end of a love affair, at which point all that is left are the memories that anchor the past. Perched atop acoustic guitar accompaniment, the song breathes relentlessly; you can practically feel the air flowing around the vocals. Fittingly, the song closes the album, leaving you wanting more…leaving you wanting to know what happens next.
Produced by Mike Viola, and executive produced by Linda Thompson, Little Windows is like a bright lighthouse shining in the sea, drawing you in. These are songs that stay with you, that continue to resonate inside your soul after they have played–the ones that mean the most. The beating of hearts that is clearly evident as they play is as true as true can be. These songs do not ever wear out their welcome; the record, in fact, isn’t even 24 minutes long. It is just as long as it should be. It is perfect, and we are blessed to be its audience.
– Alan Haber
(Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: All of the songs on Little Windows: “I Never Knew You Loved Me Too,” “Make a Wish on Me,” “Better at Lying,” “Wondering,” “I Thought that We Said Goodbye,” “Don’t Remind Me,” “As You Were,” “Only Fooling,” “You Can’t Call Me Baby,” and “You Took My Future”)
We’ve got a lot of new music to report to you this week–we’ve added a ton of new songs and artists to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. To kick off our bounty of delights, we present Alan’s feature review of a fantastic EP from one of pop music’s greatest talents.
Cliff Hillis | Love Not War Artists like Cliff Hillis make my job easy by always delivering top-flight releases. Love Not War’s seven musical pearls constitute nothing less than the writing of the book on the pop EP as high art; every song is a dream construct, a marvel of melody and harmony.
From the single-worthy, should-be-hitbound “A Boy Downtown” and “Suicide Doors,” a meeting of the minds that recalls the spirit and sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia,” to the pop-rocking, Dave Edmunds-meets-Paul Simon “Buddha’s Belly” and the pretty, shuffling “Don’t Drown the Wind,” which satisfies with an entrancing and beguiling wordless harmony section that will make you drop to your knees, Love Not War is another great, early 2016 release that will undoubtedly earn top marks from all concerned at year’s end.
As you might expect, and because it’s the right thing to do, we’ve added the entire lot of these songs to our playlist. So, in addition to the above-mentioned songs, we’re playing “Mayor of Midnight,” “Too Many Songs,” which ends with a lovely, orchestration that absolutely satisfies, and the title track, which has been in our rotation for awhile. Simply fanstastic through and through.
– Alan Haber
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More tomorrow. While you watch the clock tick and tock until then, why not click on one of the listen links below to enjoy the more than 8,400 handpicked songs we have playing on our air? You’ll love them all!
McPherson/Grant | “Waiting for the Sunflowers” (2016) A review by Alan Haber
Looking back and assessing decades both prospering and fading in the rearview mirror is a familiar mode of expression for pop writers and performers seeking inspiration that can entertain and illuminate. Scott McPherson and Jamie Grant, working together as a five-star duo armed with deep creative pockets, know this perhaps better than anyone else.
“Waiting for the Sunflowers,” the first song released from McPherson/Grant, premiering exclusively all over the world today in full and radio versions on Pure Pop Radio, is proof that the past can inform the here and now, and the future, for songwriters who know where to look. Pop 4 and Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson and musician Jamie Grant know how to blend their influences and build on them for maximum effect.
What McPherson and Grant are getting at in the lively and poppy and vaguely psychedelic “Waiting for the Sunflowers” is the idea that as the years pass, the view from where one is now can be somewhat nostalgic with cracks in the foundation; the promise that life will be a dream based on what happened in prior decades may be a faulty one, if one is to be honest about all things. People move on and gain perspective; that crazy decade, that crazy, golden decade, was then and now is now.
“Waiting for the Sunflowers” adopts a mashup of musical influences, on top of which McPherson and Grant skilfully tell their story. This musical foundation is cured with dollops of 10cc, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”-era Tears for Fears, Band on the Run-era Paul McCartney, and the Beatles. The long and radio versions of McPherson and Grant’s song tell the tale: The narrator notes “I grew up in the ’70s” and had my fun, and then it came time to look back and “those times were golden, time we’re moving on.”
The past, in fact, can weigh you down: “What was once so fun for us, now becomes our albatross,” the singer intones. “You don’t second guess tyrannosaurus.” Being an adult means being responsible: “No you can’t go rockin’ around like the clown you were in your twenties.” A hard lesson to learn for the responsible parties in life. “When you get old, there’s a fork in the road…”
Message delivered, after which it’s time to stretch out “Hey Jude” style, as McCartney-esque “Letting Go” electric guitar lines frolic arm in arm with Abbey Road “Come Together” guitar stabs and, as the song comes to a closing fade, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” white noise in the form of a chorus of buzzing bees descending on sunflowers. You sense that you are hearing something truly spectacular and strikingly original, and you are.
There is more to come from McPherson and Grant; you can chart their progress as they work on a full album by visiting their website (click here); the timer near the bottom of the page counts down to the release of that album, and having heard some of the demos the pair has cooked up, I can truthfully say that it will all absolutely blow your minds.
Prepare to be amazed and delighted by “Waiting for the Sunflowers” (you can see a video that has been crafted by clicking here) and make a mental note to be equally mesmerized by what McPherson and Grant come up with next.
Listen for “Waiting for the Sunflowers,” premiering worldwide exclusively today on Pure Pop Radio. Listen, also, for more than 8,300 other handpicked melodic pop songs from the ’60s to today playing in rotation on our 24-hour-a-day stream. You’ll love what you hear.
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 Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, 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. (And dig our new, coolness-adorned logo from musician Jamie Grant (McPherson/Grant)!)
Emitt Rhodes | Rainbow Ends (Omnivore, 2016) A review by Alan Haber
Emitt Rhodes released three tremendous and influential solo albums during the first four years of the 1970s and then, as quick as that, withdrew from the pop music scene he helped to create and grow after the pressures of writing and recording more music than was realistically possible in a short period of time wore him down.
Now, 43 years after Emitt’s third album, Farewell to Paradise, was released, the artist has recorded a brand-new record, Rainbow Ends, lovingly produced by musician Chris Price. To say that this is another tremendous release by one of pop music’s favorite sons is hardly doing the project justice. It is an incontrovertible fact that this is one of those albums that not only fits into the current pop milieu, it transcends it; put simply, it is as perfect as it is possible to be.
Delivering his buoyant melodies with a rich and emotive vocal timbre, somewhat deeper and more resonant than before, Hawthorne, California’s other favorite son’s songs are played to perfection by a core group consisting of top-flight musicians including Price, Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Jason Falkner, Rooney’s Taylor Locke, Fernando Perdomo, the New Pornographers’ Joseph Seiders, and guests such as the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, Bleu, and ace utility player Probyn Gregory. To say that this is the collective musical dream team is quite simply putting it mildly.
The songs on Rainbow Ends are closer in approach and feel to those on Emitt’s Farewell to Paradise album than they are those on his self-titled debut and Mirror, but they are no less powerful and catchy. They may not be played by Emitt in his storied one-man-band mode, but it all sounds like it is as it should be, as if he were behind the kit or standing with a guitar draped over his shoulder (he does play acoustic guitar and piano on some songs).
Alternately playful and emotional, these songs feature all of the hallmarks that fans have come to expect and revere: beautiful, catchy melodies; inventive chord changes; and those velvety, smooth, sturdy and emotive vocals. Perhaps this is no more evident than on the emotional ballad “I Can’t Tell My Heart.” The song is somewhat reminiscent of Mirror‘s “Love Will Stone You,” and a showcase for Emitt’s committed, vocal delivery; the gorgeous melody and emotional lyrics combine to sketch the breakup of a relationship and a considered plea for the other party to embrace the option to heal.
The bluesy pop vibe of the playful and standout track “If I Knew Then” is a showcase for the core players’ talents: Roger Joseph Manning Jr.’s percussive, bass clef-heavy piano; Fernando Perdomo’s deep-voiced bass; Taylor Locke’s Paul McCartney-esque electric guitar riffs, sounding as if they were borrowed from McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It”; and Joseph Seider’s demolition derby drumming are all top-notch.
“Friday’s Love” paints an emotional picture of a weekend romantic encounter that, against all odds, sparks the hope that the connection will roll on into the next week and beyond. Strong harmony vocals, sung by a grouping that includes Bleu, are especially affecting. The closing, title song finds all musical hands on deck for a plea for hope for peace in one’s life in the here-and-now and in the coming days. “I wanna be with the ones I love/Hold them close, give them hugs,” Emitt sings. It’s the universal wish, hopefully come true.
Rainbow Ends is the sweet payoff realized after more than four decades of hope for more music from a true, legendary artist, but really it’s more than that; it’s the passage of dreams into the real, the realization of what was wanted becoming true. Welcome back, Emitt Rhodes.
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 Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, 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.
For the 46th entry in his ongoing Songs of the Week project, Timmy Sean has stuffed Jellyfish’s classic “Bye, Bye, Bye” into an amped-up blender, set the dial to mondo puree, and lined his studio walls with protective sheets to catch his crazy clown-car-of-a-cover before it makes its way out into the world.
For one thing, Timmy’s version of “Bye, Bye, Bye,” originally recorded under the name the Celebrities in 2007 for a Jellyfish tribute on Burning Sky Records, is about 30 seconds shorter than the original version. What’s more, the circus-y vibe of the original track is played up in this version, and a bit of Rudy Vallee-esque whimsy is now present. And, as you may (or may not) expect, there’s more than a smattering of Brian May guitar oomph running throughout the proceedings.
Yeah, this is a wild track. Timmy says: “When we disbanded LUZER in 2007, several years before I formed Timmy Sean and the Celebrities, 3/4 of LUZER briefly formed a new band under the name the Celebrities. During that period, we got asked to record a song for a Jellyfish tribute album named Sensory Lullabies. Jellyfish hit a little before my time, so I really only discovered them from people (OFTEN) telling us that we sounded like them. By the time we were asked to jump on the tribute album though, I had been made a fan, and immediately snatched up ‘Bye, Bye, Bye.’
“Though it was released on Burning Sky Records back at the end of the last decade, I realised I never released this on my own, and decided to do some remixing now that I know a hair more about recording than I did then. So enough of my yackin’–originally from the 1993 Jellyfish album SpiltMilk, here is the brand new remixed version of ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ by the 2007 edition of the Celebrities…featuring yours truly on all the instruments and vocals.”
You can add Timmy Sean’s wild version of Jellyfish’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” to your Songs of the Week collection by clicking here. To get all of Timmy’s music, click here.
As Timmy Sean mentions in his notes for this week’s entry in his ongoing Songs of the Week project, his first offering after “a month of Beatles covers, a live track, and an acoustic version of a Sir Video [song]” is “a brand new original…well, brand new for anyone outside of the members of my old band LUZER.”
Timmy says: “We workshopped this tune a little bit back in 2006 under the name ‘Too Late,’ and even attempted to record it, but I was never really happy with how the final product was turning out. I always loved the chords and the chorus, but felt like the lyrics and arrangement needed a complete overhaul. So this week, I did just that. I built it from the ground up using all new lyrics and a new verse melody, and I’m finally really happy with it.
“Fighting a bit of a cold this week, I was worried my voice would be a bit too torn up to sing, but I was determined to get this one done in time for Thursday. In fact, in the end, I think the hoarseness gave me just a hint of that great Don Henley raspiness, which actually fit the vibe of this tune pretty well.
“Here is the song once known as ‘Too Late’ (not to be confused with an upcoming Song of the Week by essentially the same name), but now and forever known as ‘Been So Down.'”
“Been So Down” is one of our favorite Songs of the Week thus far–a seventies-styled pop-rocker with an entrancing melody, the great chord structure Timmy makes note of, and a typically strong vocal, despite the artist’s cold. Plus, there’s a pair of contrasting mood guitar solos that take the song to another level entirely. It’s another top-notch tune that makes us smile and thank our good fortune for being a witness to such great music.
You can add Timmy Sean’s “Been So Down” to your Songs of the Week collection by clicking here. To get all of Timmy’s music, click here.
With today’s release of his fantastic new single, the master musical magician Bill Lloyd once again aims for the stars and far surpasses them.
The double A-side spinner, pairing two tremendous and powerful melodic pop songs, “Yesterday” and “Miracle Mile,” is fine and dandy all on its own as a download from iTunes, and you should spring for it immediately if not sooner, but the limited edition CD comes with three extra tracks that quite simply can not be denied, making this collection an EP that raises the bar and then some. So it’s both of these things for you, and you too.
Coming off last year’s grand reimagining of his classic 1994 album, Set to Pop (entitled Reset2014) and the typically astounding 2012 record Boy King of Tokyo, Lloyd has raised the bar even higher, playing the one-man-band with two of his best-ever songs. A-side number one, “Yesterday,” is a straight-ahead power pop number with an oh-so-catchy melody and lots of oomph in the form of lyrical electric guitars; inventive, rollercoaster bass lines (performed by special guest star and co-writer, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson), and just generally smart and inspired songwriting.
Over on A-side number two, “Miracle Mile,” it’s a Who-like opening (think Bill, not Keith, Moon on drums) that slides into a mid-tempo charmer that sneaks up on you and quickly grabs you by the throat as the drums and vocals kick defiantly with purpose. The song was co-written by frequent musical cohort Pat Buchanan, whose band Idle Jets released the classic 1999 album, Atomic Fireball.
Two of the three bonus tracks appearing on the CD-EP were fashioned back in the early 2000s in Lloyd’s home studio and are corkers, all (“Frank” was recorded in 1998). Following a slick backwards section that’s thrown a loop when the sound of a needle draws across a slab of vinyl, “Frank” gets down to the business of an uptempo pop song with another great melody. “It’s Happening Now” is a lovely acoustic number with an equally lovely melody and a sensitive, understated background vocal arrangement. It would sound all warm and snugly played directly after Paul McCartney’s “Put It There.”
The mindblower among these bonus tracks–the slambang, whizbang, tree shaking, volcano erupting, hell of a thing is the 11 minute instrumental stew called “Today’s Soundtrack,” which could very well be the last word on instrumentals if it’s last words you’re looking for. Stitching together seven distinct pieces, the titles of which are worth the price of admission alone, Lloyd has struck instrumental gold.
To wit: “Gothish” feeds into “Mr. Haney Flips His Wig,” which feeds into “Slinkette,” which becomes “Beautiful Creeps,” which ushers in “Clubbing” and follows with “Let It Come to You” and “40 Watts.” All in all, this is a collective, surprising trip down the Route 66 of the musical mind, a ride with tantalizing twists and turns whose passengers are a short, opening mood poem; a scratchy, early rock and roll workout coming out of the tiny speaker of a transistor radio sitting on Oliver Douglas’s kitchen table in Green Acres; a tiny snippet of electronic sound that plays like it was orphaned after being cut from Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star track, “Dogfight Giggle”; a slow burning, blues-cum-jazz tone poem; an energetic dance, club workout; a Prince-styled, funky guitar-centric attack; and a relatively straight-ahead pop rocking bed for what would undoubtedly be a big hit song. It’s a wild, stylish, way-satisfying ride–a perhaps unexpected one that, frankly, sizzles.
Lloyd has always been a reliable creator, issuing record after record of top-flight songs played and sung to perfection. With this new release, he has reached new heights, turning in a pair of phenomenal recordings supported, on the CD-EP, by three additional tracks that beg the question, “What other treasures are lurking in the cupboards in Bill’s home studio?”.
For now, these are the treasures, all of which are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. This is one of the great releases of the year. You know what to do.
Purchase the download of “Yesterday” and “Miracle Mile” from iTunes by clicking here. Purchase the CD-EP, boasting three bonus tracks, by clicking here.
Magical new albums from Brandon Schott, Pop 4 and Vanilla make beautiful noise
Review by Alan Haber
“It’s a beautiful noise/And it’s a sound that I love/And it fits me as well/As a hand in a glove/Yes it does, yes it does,” Neil Diamond sings on the title song from his 1976 album. These are wise words from a well-known tunesmith–a prophecy that is fulfilled every time a songwriter puts pen to paper and crafts a song out of creative clay. Like a seed planted in the soil, a fully-realized idea spins into a form made from the coming together of a melody, words grown into lyrical lines, and choruses and bridges fashioned as strips of gold.
Songwriters work in mysterious ways. How does the spark of an idea flower into a fully-formed entity? Where do ideas even come from? How does the magic work?
It is all this side of mystical, the songwriting process; anyone who has knowledge of how it all comes together holds in his or her palm the secret of life, for art is the soul of life, and if you can sing along and you maybe know the words, you’re a rich person indeed.
This year’s crop of melodic pop recordings clearly and distinctly demonstrates that the magic works when the right person is holding the pen and the ideas are finely honed because their creativity knows no bounds and because they know how a song works. They know this in their bones. And when their bones rattle after they’ve put their pens down and their song is ready to be heard, the magic is working like a charm.
This summer’s crop of melodic pop recordings, of songs exuding considerable skill and charm, constitutes the best of the best in a year teeming with such accomplishment. The latest records from Brandon Schott and Vanilla, and the debut record from supergroup Pop 4, share a facility for this kind of flash. These records are among the best of the year–towering achievements all. You can dance to them, if you like, negotiating the two-step or the moonwalk, if that’s what moves you.
A Triumphant Stroll
Brandon Schott’s masterful Crayons and Angels, the follow-up to 2011’s studio album 13 Satellites, and this past March’s intimate Dandelion (Live at the Treatment Room: January 10, 2008), is more than a flash of magic–it is by far Brandon’s best, most fully-realized record, a triumphant stroll through the creative pastures that subsist in the fields of the heart. Working with a broad textural palette and with his eyes and ears wide open to varied influence, he creates a three-dimensional song cycle that dazzles.
The stage is set by the gentle, windswept instrumental “Dandelion,” a quite peaceful mix of ambient sound, delicate instrumentation and a brief wash of glowing harmony. A calm trance of sorts, it allows all manner of song forms to follow, from the Nilsson-esque core of the entrancing “Verdugo Park,” which erupts at its midpoint with the spirit of a Van Dyke Parks-inspired burst of energy, to the upbeat, poppy “Seeing You in Stereo,” its flowing construction giving way to a lovely melody and a peppy Beach Boys-styled bridge with less than a minute left to go.
Because influence plays a large part in these proceedings, it’s no surprise that “Wake Up, Mary,” a song that had its world premiere on Pure Pop Radio this past July 28th, is a bouncy, clap along number that could sit comfortably alongside Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” Brandon’s song pits the yin against the yang, an honored pop music tradition: the song is about getting in the car and driving to greener pastures for a new start and growing the weary bones of a union that holds so much promise.
Crayons and Angels plays as if it were conceived as a complete work that’s best experienced in one sitting, played straight through for maximum effect. Which is not to say that mixing up the song order won’t yield similar results. Either way, this is an album full of beautiful, inspired, even spiritual work. It is magical and it is one of this year’s best records.
Something In the Water
Out Washington State way, there is something most certainly percolating in the H2O. How else to explain the creative strokes being struck by Scott McPherson, one-fourth of this year’s pop supergroup Pop 4, and Jayson Jarmon, flavorful songwriter at the helm of the tasty group, Vanilla.
Scott and Jayson weave in and out of each other’s projects; both are members of the group Liar’s Club, and Scott appears on the latest Vanilla record, along with Pop 4’s Kirk Adams. Andrea Perry, another member of Pop 4, is featured prominently on the series of delicious Prefab Sprout tributes that Scott has put out (a new one is in the works). And KC Bowman, pop music’s ultimate secret weapon, is a veteran of groups such as the Corner Laughers and Agony Aunts.(Deep breath!)
Pop 4’s debut album, Summer, proves that great talents, working together, create great art. It really should come as no surprise that talents of this caliber will ostensibly bring their A game to the recording table. In the case of Pop 4’s quartet of musical masters, that means melodies and harmonies and hooks exhibiting the highest of pedigrees. Every track is a delight; every single note is perfectly placed and sung.
Perhaps the track that points most broadly to this group’s strengths is the gorgeous, mid-tempo ballad “Don’t Be Like That,” a luscious mid-tempo song painted with a harmony-soaked brush and the sweetest, most seductive melody this side of a bear bottle full of honey. You could also point to tracks like the melodic “Lover’s Limbo,” possibly the finest song that XTC’s Andy Partridge never wrote, as representative of Summer’s treasures. Or you could put forth the ultra-catchy “Einstein and Sunshine,” which will more than ably satisfy the desires of Jeff Lynne fans until the next ELO album comes out (dig the fluid string arrangement and, well, the rest of it).
Since all of these songs are top-notch, you might think that it would be difficult to pick the album’s centerpiece, but it’s not hard at all. Scott’s waltz for the afflicted, “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” succeeds mightily if you just take the music and the arrangement into consideration. This track is the total package, the obvious star attraction. “Welcome to the tour for the world’s brokenhearted/Careful, watch your step/Have respect for the departed,” Scott sings. “String lay on the ground/The ties that bind to be found here/Duets turn into solos/For reasons we can’t know.”
Gee whiz, this song will break your heart. The awfully pretty melody–the sweet–plays beneath the sour, but the point of the lyric, at least as far as I can fathom, is that the brokenhearted will live their lives in a kind of tilted Möbius strip unless they are able to find their way out of the morass. In fact, the final words sung here hint at that possibility: “This concludes our tour through that door/Is where you started.” Beautifully sung by Scott and punctuated by tight bass stabs played by Andrea, “Tour for the Brokenhearted” is this year’s most emotional ballad and a truly great creation. As are all of the songs on this hall-of-fame record, a breath of fresh air in the second half of 2015’s summer season.
Vanilla’s second album, cleverly titled 2.0, comes nearly a full decade after the band’s first release. What exactly have Jayson Jarmon and company been doing since 2006? It doesn’t matter because, for 2.0, Jayson has sculpted 11 songs covering various subject matter, songs that are simply stuffed with imagination to spare. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you won’t want the Vanilla experience to end.
Where to start? Well, “Hold Me Like a Grudge” begins as a classically-styled, acoustic ballad and quickly morphs into a classic pop-rock number about a relationship gone horribly wrong. “The Angel of Swain’s Lane” is an old-fashioned folk song, beautifully arranged, about a lonely angel trying to break through to a lost soul. “The Angel of Swain’s Lane/Is crying out in vain/For someone departed/Forlorn, broken-hearted/A figure of pity and pain…/The Angel is crying again.” It’s a spectacular series of images, and a wonderful song.
Elsewhere, the subject matter is decidedly more lighthearted. In fact, in two songs paired one after the other, monkeys figure prominently. Yes, monkeys. Well, more so in one song than the other. In the sprightly jump of a tune, “South Tacoma Way,” a favored locale of Jayson’s is celebrated: According to the author, the song is “A 1930s period piece celebrating the virtues of my hometown’s most, eh, remarkable street. It features coffee pot-shaped buildings, a legendary lowland gorilla, seedy watering holes, and a glimpse into that area’s special indomitable spirit.”
In other words, monkeys, who pretty much dominate the outlandish, hysterical happenings recounted in the off-the-charts, wild and wacky and totally hysterical “Monkeypox!” With tongue planted so firmly in cheek it would take a pair of cranes operated by Superman to pull it out, the song is 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.
“Monkeypox!” puts forth a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of scenario, where there’s always something worse behind the curtain, although that may be okay. “My baby wanted cancer/She smiled when she heard the Doctor’s answer/Monkeypox, she’s got Monkeypox…,” goes one verse. “My baby wanted SARS/Just like one of your Hollywood stars/Monkeypox, she’s got Monkeypox…,” goes another. “Monkeypox, she’s got monkeypox/And she feels…fine,” goes still another, which feeds into a familiar Beatles riff, and so it goes in the story of the dreaded Monkeypox.
2.0 closes out with a spirited cover of the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way” in which the electric guitars are ramped up just a bit, and a radio edit of “Hold Me Like a Grudge,” which makes the song safe for the kiddies who might be listening to Pure Pop Radio (argh, those dreaded curse words!).
Jayson, along with multi-instrumentalist Sean Gaffney, drummer Dana Sims, and a host of guest vocalists and players, has turned in a spectacular show with this album, which gathers together tracks released in the neighborhood of once a month on Vanilla’s Bandcamp page. All gathered up in album form, 2.0 is a marvel, full of imagination and wit. Bravo.
It’s a (Collective) Beautiful Noise
This has been a great year for melodic pop music so far, and with five months left to go before the ball drops on New Years Eve, it’s not unlikely that the riches will keep on coming. Which is good for you and me and you too. For now, though, Brandon Schott, Pop 4 and Vanilla are tops of the pops. All of the tracks from all three of their albums are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. All three albums come highly recommended. All three will put a big smile on your face. And all three make some beautiful noise.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Brandon Schott’s Crayons and Angels: “Dandelion,” “Henry,” “Verdugo Park,” “Cerulean Seas,” “Pacific Blue,” “Every Little Song,” “Riot Act,” “Better Version of Me,” “Slow Down,” “Sunglow,” “Seeing You in Stereo,” “Dear Daisy,” “Wake Up, Mary,” “Wisteria,” “The 19th Floor,” “Dandelion Rain,” “Verdugo Park (Part II),” and “Sweet Adolyne.”
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Pop 4’s Summer: “Beautiful,” “Blow Wind Blow,” “Einstein and Sunshine,” “What’s It Gonna Be Like,” “Don’t You Be Like That,” “Jaded,” “I’m So Jealous,” “Miserably Pursuing Happiness,” “Juliane Irish,” “Straight to My Head,” “You’re No Aimee Mann,” “Lover’s Limbo,” “You Love Me,” “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” and “Dust.”
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Vanilla’s 2.0: “Victim of the Rhyme,” “Hai Karate Girls,” “Perfect Year,” “Alcoholiday,” “The Curtain Coming Down,” “The Angel of Swain’s Lane,” “Twilight,” “Hold Me Like a Grudge,” “Monkeypox!,” “South Tacoma Way,” “Catherine the Grating,” “Go All the Way,” and “Hold Me Like a Grudge (radio edit)”