Reviews: 3.19.19: Gretchen’s Wheel Rides the (Nada) Surf, and Lannie Flowers’ Pop Waltz

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Gretchen’s Wheel
Moth to Lamplight: A Tribute to Nada Surf
(Futureman, 2019)

Listening to this new collection, a tribute to rockers Nada Surf, with less-than-zero knowledge of the band or its songs, turns out to be the smartest move I’ve made in awhile.

Going in blind, I was able to judge the songs on their own merits and I didn’t have to play the Which Version is Better? game. These are the only versions of eight of Nada Surf’s songs I know. But as good as the songs are, and they are very good, I was mostly taken with Lindsay Murray’s vocals and musicianship.

Lindsay’s ability to weave together harmony lines into living, breathing stacks of joy would be hard to beat under any circumstance. Throughout the eight songs she’s tackled on this album, her vocals, lead and otherwise, shine like the brightest objects in the sky (and quite happily recall the vocal timbre of Aimee Mann). Lindsay’s musicianship is stellar; her bass playing, especially, is inventive and serves the songs to a tee (she also plays the guitars and keyboards with aplomb; Nick Bertling plays the drums and provides the solid bottom end in his usual, top-flight way).

These eight, mostly upbeat songs live and breathe and come alive through a steady, deliberate mix of guitars, bass, drums and a smattering of keyboard flourishes. Top contenders for favedom here at Pure Pop Radio headquarters are the mid-to-fast-paced “See These Bones,” sporting a mix of tempting rhythms and a tremendous vocal harmony performance, and the closing, acoustic “Rushing,” in which Lindsay’s lush harmony vocals and acoustic guitar take center stage to phenomenal effect; she ought to make this track her audio business card–sing to impress and all that.

So, being new to Nada Surf, but not new to Gretchen’s Wheel and the magic that Lindsay Murray employs to dazzle her listeners, turns out to be a recipe for a half-hour well spent. Purchase Moth to Lamplight: A Tribute to Nada Surf beginning this Friday, and see if you don’t agree.

Where to Get It (Releases March 22): Bandcamp

Lannie Flowers | “Anything But Love” (SpyderPop Records, 2019)

Song number 12 in the series of free numbers being released during the run-up to Lannie Flowers’ upcoming album, Home, is a typically engaging treat, this time played out as a supercharged sorta-waltz telling the story of a guy stuck in that age-old I’m-in-love-but-I-messed-up-so-can-I-come-back, can-I-huh? turnabout. The guy knows the score, but he isn’t sure how to turn his situation into a win (“Why is it so hard/To admit that I was wrong,” he wonders.)

Another slice of engaging melodic pop from one of our most cherished singer-songwriters. And it’s a free download from the SpyderPop Records website. What are you waiting for?

Where to Get It: SpyderPop Records

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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: 3.15.19: Screen Test Shines Brightly, and Wes Hollywood Applies Some Lipstick

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Screen Test | Through the Past, Brightly
(Northside, 2018)

From the ashes of the Flashcubes came Screen Test; under that moniker, Gary Frenay, Arty Levin and Tommy Allen, honoring their influences, brought lightning and thunder to meaty original songs and covers.

This compilation brings together seven newly recorded tracks and six that date back to the 1980s. Interestingly, they all sound like they were recorded around the same time, such is their vitality and sense of purpose. Of the new recordings, all written in the 1980-1985 time frame, the power ballads are tops of the pops: “Tomorrow is Another Day” is a Todd Rundgren-like number; “Standing On a Cloud” and “Don’t Lose Your Heart” shine with pretty melodies. And the reverent cover of Emitt Rhodes’ “Fresh as a Daisy” is a welcome listen.

Of the previously-recorded songs, “Make Something Happen” is an upbeat pop-rocker with great harmonies; “Hurt So Bad” is a muscular cover of the 1977 Greg Kihn song, with its timeless catchy chorus; and “Richard Brautigan” is a power ballad tribute to the late writer, who almost released a spoken-word album on the Apple Records offshoot, Zapple, in 1969.

Flashcubes, and Screen Test fans, you know what to do.

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

Wes Hollywood | Lipstick (2018)

Available as a digital release on Wes’s Bandcamp page, this lively four-tracker is a solid collection from the Chicago rocker that came out before the new Kool Kat Musik CD release, Dynamite, reviewed earlier this week.

Two songs pay homage to the early Elvis Costello sound (the pumping title track and the midtempo ballad “Too Late”). “All the Lovers” and “Peace Before We Die” are uptempo rockers (the latter opens with a seductive, eight-bar intro mixing a rare acoustic guitar strum, bass and drums).

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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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: 3.14.19: Joe Sullivan’s Growing Up Schlockstar: Love and Attraction, and Armchair Oracles Hearts You

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Joe Sullivan | Growing Up Schlockstar
(Futureman, 2019)

Joe Sullivan’s Schlock Star was an obvious hit platter when it came out in 2014, partly because it was such a surprise and pure of spirit and joyful in song. It stood out among that year’s top releases because it didn’t pretend to be anything other than the culmination of an honest day’s work.

Schlock Star felt like a natural, pure collection of natural, pure songs. You could tell within seconds of spinning it that Joe had natural talent, that given the right circumstances, he would always deliver on the promise of that first record. And so he has, here in 2019, with the sequel to Schlock Star, cheekily entitled Growing Up Schlockstar, an even more wonderfully entertaining half-hour-long melodic pop album that, plainly put, is more fun to listen to than you could ever imagine.

It’s almost as if Joe wrote the 10 songs on Growing Up Schlockstar to provide clarity to listeners who have been looking at their growing up years and wondering what it all amounts to. Of course, Joe is most interested in what those turns of calendar pages amount to for his edification, but no matter–we all take from songs what satisfies our souls.

Growing Up Schlockstar is, put simply, about love and happiness. There are songs about suburban nirvana (“Greenfield Acres”), high school sweethearting of the pom-pom variety (“Cheerleader”), celebrating with the one you love (“Birthday”), and true love through time and space (“Time Machine”).

Mostly, what there is is emotion, looking at a life and knowing its value, played through in pop, rock and roll songs that point to the past as much as they embody the here and now. There are spot-on references to Brian May’s guitarring and the sound of Jellyfish and Fountains of Wayne, but moreover there is the sound of Joe, which is the sum of a whole lot of parts.

Joe Sullivan, grown up Schlockstar

Emotion is all over these songs. “Birthday” sounds like the lively and loud mix of guitars, bass, drums and cowbell is looking to break out of the hoosegow even if it takes all night. “Greenfield Acres,” the place where youthful dreams were made, glides along like a Jellyfish outtake with the addition of a very Brian Mayish guitar line, joyous harmonies and a lovely melody.

The biggest emotion at play in these songs is love, is attraction, is two hearts beating as one. In the album closer, the Fountains of Waynesy “Space Princess,” attraction is played out within the confines of a space opera. The path of the imperfect, throwback male explorer (“He gambles, drinks, and smokes cigars/But she doesn’t care/She wants to run her fingers through his 1970s feathered hair”) is set. “Super fantastic intergalactic/You don’t mess/With a space princess,” the explorer observes. “I’ve got my phaser/Set to amaze her/She’s the best/My space princess.”

You don’t mess with perfection, and that’s what you get with Joe and his partners-in-song on Growing Up Schlockstar. Andy Reed, who produced and engineered, always capturing the best performances, plays bass. Drummer Donny Brown puts the oomph where it belongs in his usual skillful, emotive way. Joe sings, strums, picks, wails and generally makes his guitars sing. And Brandon Schott adds a large measure of peace and love to the nostalgic childhood look back, “Gifted and Talented.”

Growing Up Schlockstar, with a colorful cover full of childlike wonder by John Bellsmith, is a joy to behold.

Where to Get It (Releases on April 1): Check back for purchase links

Armchair Oracles | “Porcelain Heart” and “All My Time” (2018),
“Downsized Life” (2019)

The delightful songs that have so far been released by Norway’s Armchair Oracles, in advance of the band’s upcoming third album, Caught by Light, have brought some welcome light into this life. With these songs, this charming band is well on its way to releasing a joyous collection of melodic pop gems.

These three lovingly crafted songs reach out and touch the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s, while also hugging contemporary sensibilites. All three are extremely catchy earworms drifting atop gorgeous melodies and beautifully-realized arrangements.

I heart Armchair Oracles, and you will too.

Where to Get It: CD Baby (all three songs)

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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: 3.13.19: Wes Hollywood’s Dynamite, and Yorick van Norden’s Melody-Rich The Jester Sings

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Wes Hollywood | Dynamite (Kool Kat, 2019)

From Chicago to your town, Wes Hollywood’s Kool Kat CD debut hits the ground running with a fun, zippy mix of tunes saluting the sounds of early Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, and sixties British Invasion bands. Two guitars, bass and drums rule here.

From track to track, all relatively short, you never know where you’re going to land even as guitars are the primary ingredient. “Dirty Manhattan” is loud, speedy, and in-your-face; “Nothing to See Here” is an uptempo number with a melodic bass line; “Evelyn” is pure, early Elvis C., with a surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quiet bridge–just Wes and guitar–towards the end.

Wes Hollywood

Hollywood ups the ante with songs like “Fall Up a Ladder,” a mid-paced ballad that manages to reference the Kinks and Squeeze and slip in a waltz tempo that increases in intensity with a minute to go. “Dandelion” sounds for all the world like a mix of early Elvis Costello and British Invasion moxie. But it’s the straight-ahead pure pop of the closer (with a Stiff Records cold ending), “No One Loves You,” that neatly pleases this reviewer’s heart the most. It’s a catchy two-and-a-half minute earworm, for sure.

Wes Hollywood’s Dynamite, brought to life by Wes (guitar and vocals), guitarist Pete Javier, bassist Spencer Matern, and drummer and vocalist Tom Shover, is pure dynamite.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik

Yorick van Norden | The Jester (Excelsior, 2018)

Yorick van Norden’s miraculous album is a strong gathering of melody-rich songs crafted with care by a songwriter who possesses a keen sense of melodic structure.

Hailing from the Netherlands, van Norden is clearly influenced by some of the top melodic stylists of the rock and pop eras. This sophomore release (his debut, Happy Hunting Ground, came out in 2015) makes a strong statement, and is proof positive that melody continues to be king.

The Jester’s opener, the psych-drenched “The Forest of the Mind,” echoes the sensibilities exhibited in similar-sounding work by XTC and the Big Dish. The jaunty, jangly “Another Day in London Town” and “More than Words” sound as if they could have been plucked from the fertile song wells of any number of 1960s British Invasion stars. Yet, they are uniquely van Norden.

Van Norden’s ballads are as inviting as his more upbeat numbers. “Suite No. 1,” a gorgeous, orchestrated flight of fancy, is a pure pop masterwork, a very affecting, enlightened construct. “Winter,” with its Four Freshmen-like harmonies and Beach Boys and Association sensibilities, is a waking dream of a tune, an instant classic. And “Light Up Love,” which sounds like a close cousin of Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” marries lovely harmonies with a strong melody and a plucking bass-as-percussion bottom.

The shining light that closes van Norden’s sophomore journey, “Suite No. 2,” is a seven-and-a-half minute coming together of song sections clearly influenced by classic, melodically-centered artists such as Harry Nilsson, Emitt Rhodes, and the aforementioned McCartney. It is a stunning offering that closes with a softened instrumental explosion of themes and feeling, one that paints the soundfield with traditional pop and rock instrumentation, orchestration and heart.

With melody as its heart, Van Norden’s The Jester is a shining example of the best that melodic pop has to offer.

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: 3.5.19: The Big Believe Meets Tania, Kenny Herbert is the Luckiest Man in the World, and the Well Wishers are Feeling Fine

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Big Believe | “Tania Was a Truth Teller”
b/w “Girl With Cassettes” (2018)

A paean of four-on-the-floor Blondie in 2018? That’s the engine driving the intrigue-laced “Tania Was a Truth Teller,” the first of the two top tracks that make up The Big Believe’s late-2018 pop blast; both were mixed in you-are-there stereo by Fritz Catlin of the band 23 Skidoo. (Dig the pop art cover by Peter Quinnell.)

Meeting by the bridge in the dead of night, Tania has the answers to the questions at hand. But can she be trusted? “Tania was a truth teller,” the narrator notes. “She liked to dress like a feller.” She lives “on and on and on and on,” but is she the real thing? “I thought I saw Tania on the high road/But it was just the sunlight in my eyes.” Hmm… A mystery in song, and a catchy one at that, featuring The New Pornagraphers’ Todd Fancey on guitar.

Fancey also features on “Girl With Cassettes,” a fast, fizzy and loud pop-rocker about the girl who dazzles her way to point b from point a with nary a care (“She drives through the red/She stops at the green/Is blinded by everything in between”). She’s the girl “in the green t-shirt” who’s got her eyes transfixed on the one who can make things happen: “Oh if only they knew what a boy can do/To the girl who collects cassettes, cassettes, cassettes.” OMD meets Duran Duran in this grand, imaginative romp.

The Big Believe, aka Amanda Thompson, is working on the band’s second album, Juggernaut, to be released later this year. You’d better…believe we’re psyched.

Where to Get It: 7-inch with mp3 download: The Big Believe’s website; iTunes, Amazon

Kenny Herbert | “The Luckiest Man in the World” (2019)

I have been absolutely delighted and enriched to have the music of Kenny Herbert in my life for going on 15-plus years. His melodic prowess is virtually unequaled. Everything he releases speaks directly to my heart.

“The Luckiest Man in the World,” just released, is another classic creation from up Edinburgh, Scotland way–a beautifully realized mid-tempo ballad about the love he shares with his beloved wife Caroline. With music surrounding them, they are charmed, and so is the listener.

Produced by Bob Heatlie and featuring Rab Howat singing backgrounds, “The Luckiest Man in the World” expresses Kenny’s thoughts through clever lyrics, such as this clever verse invoking the Chairman of the Board: “Feel like the luckiest man in the world/
I’ve got my music and my beautiful girl/Feel like Sinatra playing the Sands/I’m gonna love you like no other man.”

The cover art for this truly wonderful song, among Kenny’s best, says it all, really; it depicts Kenny and Caroline in dreamy silhouette and was lensed this year in Liverpool, home of the Fab Four.

Enjoy a lovely, live acoustic version of “The Luckiest Man in the World,” performed by Kenny at the water’s edge in St. Fillans in Scotland’s central highlands:

Add this song to your collection? By all means.

Where to Get It: iTunes

The Well Wishers | “Feelin Fine” b/w “Second Hand News” (2019)

Jeff Shelton’s outfit returns with a snappy, poppy, upbeat, guaranteed-to-please popper that keeps the beat going with pure joy on its mind. “Feelin Fine” raises the stakes with a very R.E.M.-ish feel, a catchy chorus, and some widescreen harmony touches. The Wishers’ take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News” is basically a reverent tip-of-the-hat to one of those Lindsey Buckingham earworms that takes up permanent residence in there. Must’ve been fun to record.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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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.

Win Something Cool from Pure Pop Radio!

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Or should that read somethings? Because we’ve burrowed deep into the Pure Pop Radio prize closet for a three-pack of melodic goodness on CD, and you can win. It’s Friday giveaway time, people!

First up in our prize pack is Caper Clowns’ latest album, their sophomore collection entitled A Salty Taste to the Lake. Eleven tasty melodic morsels, including top tracks like the poptastic “Sacre Bleu,” tell the tale of a band that is turning heads from sea to shining sea.

Next up for offer, we have America’s Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973, which presents embryonic versions of such top tracks as “Riverside” and “Ventura Highway.”

And finally, we’re offering up the CD reissue of Laura Nyro’s classic Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, which features Nyro classics like “Sweet Blindness,” “Eli’s Comin’,” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.” Three demos complete the package.

You can be the winner of this Pure Pop Radio prize pack by filling out the form below and sending it to us so that it reaches our mailbox by tomorrow, Saturday, February 23, at 2 pm ET. US residents only. Type “Prize Pack” in the Comment field, and don’t forget to include your email address where noted.

Good luck! Coming up next week here on the Pure Pop Radio website: Reviews and more!

 

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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: 2.14.19: Valentine’s Day Special: I Heart Bertling Noise Laboratories’ … into thin air

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Bertling Noise Laboratories | … into thin air (2019)

Multi-instrumentalist Nick Bertling, who makes and records the noise in these laboratories, is a marvel. His previous work, covering favorite pop and rock songs on 2017’s A Little Touch of Bertling in the Night and waxing his own creations on 2015’s the flehmen response, stands proudly beside his instrumental backing for Andy Bopp and Gretchen’s Wheel’s Lindsay Murray. Nick is back with a four-song EP, EPs being the more common musical currency in these wackadoo times.

This new collection brings together four songs–three very Nickian interpretations of tunes from other artists and one rollout of a brand-new tune written by Bertling himself. It’s a different way to express creativity–Nick’s way of putting his stamp on other people’s envelopes, so to speak.

Nick’s new song, “Perfect Paragraph,” was written in Chicago and recorded at home, where all four of … into thin air’s songs were captured in perpetuity. This song really is pretty perfect, just like the paragraph referenced in the title, a pretty piano ballad beautifully sung in which the perfect moment is in the spotlight and the influence of Todd Rundgren can clearly be heard.

“Whisper Softly” was the opening, popping salvo on Myracle Brah’s 1998 album, Life on Planet Eartsnop. Nick basically sticks to writer and performer Andy Bopp’s original plot, although he does up the ante with a more pronounced drum beat. “Awry,” a cover of an Aimee Mann-type song from Gretchen Wheel’s 2017 EP, for which Nick provided some percussion, undergoes some reinvention and is now cast as a weightier alternative number, shot with sound effects and an electric guitar solo composed of sometimes stretched and bent notes.

“As One Again,” a midtempo ballad painted with full-on Rundgren colors, has an interesting history. It was originally essayed by Nick and
Chris Catalfo in the late 1990s. Building on Chris’s previously-recorded keyboard part (all that remained from their efforts), Nick finished the song. The song is Chris’s, the recording Nick’s. And it’s a beaut.

It continues to be my pleasure to be able to put the Pure Pop Radio spotlight on melodic pop’s great practitioners. Nick Bertling is certainly one of them, and … into thin air is his latest release.

I heart Bertling Noise Laboratories’ …into the air.

Where to Get It and Listen: Bandcamp

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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.