Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2018 Posts Tomorrow, 1-3-19

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Howdy! Your New Year’s celebrations went well, I take it? Very good. Happy New Year to you and yours.

With the 2018 calendar replaced by the 2019 model, full of promise, it’s time to turn our gaze onto our first order of business: Pure Pop Radio’s highly anticipated yearly feature, in which we put the spotlight on 2018’s top melodic pop platters.

Yes, it’s time for Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2018. This year, we present 22 melodic wonders–the cream of a particularly rich crop. We hope you will find much to like in our list and add some (or all!) of the entries to your burgeoning melodic pop collection.

So, be here tomorrow, January 3, at approximately 11:45 am ET for Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2018. We’d love the pleasure of your company.

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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 closed down this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy New Year!

Pure Pop Radio’s Holly Jolly Christmas Party Starts Monday, and You’re Invited!

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Have a holly jolly Christmas with Pure Pop Radio! We’re celebrating the season by continuing with our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift-Giving Guide, offering up reviews of new and new-to-you melodic Christmas pop songs. And we’ll be giving away some fun presents. It all begins this Monday, December 17! (Click here to join our Facebook event page.)

During our week-long Holly Jolly Christmas Party, we’ll be continuing with our 2018 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide, reviewing the latest holiday releases from Ronnie D’Addario, Lannie Flowers, Kai Danzberg, Michael Simmons, Dana Countryman, Brad Marino, and an amazing, top-flight Christmas album from Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, which also happens to be one of 2018’s best melodic pop albums. Plus lots more tuneful tunes from your favorite artists!

Plus, we’ll be spreading some festive holiday cheer by giving away some fun presents, so don’t miss a minute! The fun begins this coming Monday, December 17, right here on the Pure Pop Radio website. Don’t forget to bring your sleigh bells!

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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 ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!

Our Holiday Gift Suggestions Keep On Coming. Here’s Another One, Full of Love

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Dana Countryman | Cabaret of Love
(Sterling Swan, 2018)
The year is not complete without a musical missive from melodic pop music’s melody and harmony king. Dana Countryman lights December bright with one of 2018’s top long players, a joyous song cycle that surveys the feeling that unites us all.

And that feeling, in case you were unaware, is love. Every number is a winner in this Cabaret of Love. “I Never Knew” sings a sweet song about discovering true love atop an upbeat, seventies track sporting a gorgeous melody and a lively guitar solo from Chad Quist. “Just See If I Care” is a happy-sounding, hit-the-road-Jill Merseybeat-styled rocker featuring the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover singing along and playing lead guitar in quite a Fab way.

My favorite song here is, without question, the Four Freshmen homage, “The Night I Fell in Love With You” (I also hear allusions to the Lettermen and the Manhattan Transfer). This unforgettable, romantic number with an affecting tea room orchestra arrangement and warm lead vocal sung by Tim Smolens from I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation) should become every couple-in-love’s theme song for years to come.

Dana Countryman, your host in the Cabaret of Love

Cabaret of Love is chock full of guest star turns from such pop favorites as Klaatu’s Terry Draper (who turns in a top-shelf, particularly romantic lead vocal on “I’ll Be Shining Above You”), Klaatu’s Dee Long (electric guitar on “Shout”), and Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson (vocals on “You’re Still Number One”). A holiday song with a ’50s-meets-Phil Spector heart, “Gonna Be Home for Christmas” is a particularly welcome bonus track which features Dana’s wife, Tricia, singing along. But perhaps the biggest and best guest star is not actually a guest star at all: this is Dana’s show all the way, and a great and lovely show it is.

The Cabaret of Love

In addition to peerless songcraft and performance, you get a wonderfully impressive package design which extends to the disc label, on which what looks like a coaster from the Cabaret of Love (Dining*Dancing*Drinks) is depicted. The address shown is actually that of the Cabaret in Pioneer Square, an early place at which Dana played with his comedic music group, The Amazing Pink Things (but don’t dial the phone number; it’s made up!).

Cabaret of Love is a glorious gift for music lovers everywhere.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon

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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 ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!


Our Gift-Giving Guide Continues With More Great Releases for You and Your Pop-Loving Family and Friends

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The new and new-to-you melodic pop releases keep coming, and so shall we. In the coming weeks, we will continue to bring you suggestions for gifts for yourself, and for your melodic pop-loving friends and family.

Today’s collection of suggestions kicks off with the latest from…

Pat Buchanan | “Sandbox” b/w “Hello from the Moon”
(Spyderpop, 2018)
My love of Nashville session cat and recording artist Pat Buchanan goes back nearly 20 years to Idle Jets’ Atomic Fireball album, which was played frequently on the old, weekly Pure Pop Radio show. Now, Pat’s back with a new single, and it is, you will not be surprised to know, fantastic. (Find out everything, and then some, about the single’s two songs by listening to the audio interview below.)

“Sandbox,” written with Pure Pop Radio favorite Bill DeMain, is a lovely slice of melodic pop in which a songwriter looks back at his great songs but cautions that, although everything looks rosy on the outside, inside it’s another story…possibly a sad one. “Hello from the Moon,” written by Terry Simpson, who sings all of the background vocals, is a beautiful mid-tempo ballad about losing a love and trying to navigate the waters.

I spoke to Pat about “Sandbox” and “Hello from the Moon”, about how the songs were written and how they progressed toward the final versions; you can hear that interview below (Fun Fact: “Sandbox” is 20 years old and was originally titled “Continental Breakfast,” and “Hello from the Moon” is even older. This song features a decidedly Andy Partridge/XTC-inspired bridge).

black box Where to Get It: Spyderpop

pprListen to my interview with Pat Buchanan, talking about his new single (“Sandbox” b/w “Hello from the Moon”) 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).

The PondHawks | “River Grove” (2018)
Chicago’s PondHawks return with a wistful, nostalgic piece of melodic pop about staying connected with the past while moving on into the future. This beautiful, orchestrated ballad bodes well for future releases from Mario Novelli and Jorie Gracen. Very pretty.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

Thunderegg | Cosmos (2018)
Will Georgantas and crew, a four-piece working out of San Francisco and simultaneously, it appears, in some quadrant of outer space, marry fairly traditional pop and rock songwriting to spacey effects and ambient sound for an 11-song meeting of the melodic minds.

In other words, each song is wrapped in some kind of otherworldly spice to deliver that something extra that expands the soundfield and tickles the senses. There’s a fair amount of catchy R.E.M.-isms floating around these songs, particularly in “Lucky So-and-So,” an upbeat, poppy song that becomes louder as it reaches its end, and “Stupid Town,” another uptempo number.

You’ll also find a nod to Pink Floyd in the final moments of the title song; machinery sound effects echo those heard in Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Also evident: elements of prog, and lots of pleasing melodies. And the odd song out: the faux-country “Math Song,” topped with a light dollop of pedal steel guitar, about a guy who takes a math class just to meet the girl. The upshot: “One plus one is me and you.”

Something different for these ears? Nah, not really. The pop meeting the rock hugging the spacey and ambient sounds really drew me in. Good job, Thunderegg.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes

Tommy and the Rockets & Bikini Wipeouts | Split the Waves (KOTJ, Spain/Roctopus Tea Party, Spain, 2018)
Denmark’s Tommy and the Rockets may be splitting the waves, but they’re also splitting the single…this single, or EP, as it were, with Bikini Wipeouts. Both bands bring two tracks to the communal surfboard and take on the early Beach Boys sound, although they arrive in Surf City with somewhat different approaches.

Tommy and the Rockets hit the waves with the fun, fun, fun “We’re Going Surfin'”, rolling up with great harmonies and a contemporary edge. Their other track is a cover of the Fantastic Baggys’ “Summer Means Fun,” driven uptempo-style to the water’s edge with sweet rock ‘n’ roll guitar.

Bikini Wipeouts’ two tracks, “Pretty Surfer Girl” and “Hawaii,” the latter a cover of the Beach Boys song from 1963’s Surfer Girl album, share a grungy, garage-y approach that suggests their grasp of the Boys of Summer’s sound is a bit closer to the outer reaches of the curl than Tommy and his Rockets, but that’s cool, dudes.

So fun, fun, fun, and far out!

black box Where to Get It: KOTJ, Roctopus Tea Party, Tommy and the Rockets on 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 ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!

Unwrap Our Festive 2018 Holiday Gift Giving Guide Beginning November 26

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Melodic pop fans are in that mode, alright: Next week brings turkey and all the trimmings as we celebrate Thanksgiving, which means the holiday season is upon us. And you know what that means, right?

holiday music wrapped gift

Our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift Giving Guide will help you choose which melodic platters, silver or otherwise, to give as gifts this holiday season

It means it’s the start of the gift giving season, which makes it the perfect time to serve up our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift Giving Guide (be part of the fun by zipping on over to our festive Facebook event page). Whichever holiday you celebrate, you’ll want to put smiles on the faces of your family and friends by wrapping some choice hook-laden platters they’ll be thrilled to receive. We’re going to make it easy for you to identify just the right releases to make the season bright for one and all (even yourself)!

bill lloyd working the long game coverJoin us each day during the week of November 26 for our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift Giving Guide, offering up daily reviews of some of the choice platters that are perfect for gifting to lovers of great melodic pop music (and, as always, we’ll identify the retailers at which you can purchase them). With great new releases from the likes of Bill Lloyd, Caper Clowns, Dana Countryman, Fernando Perdomo, Pat Buchanan, Vegas With Randolph, Louise Goffin, and many more, there’s a whole lot to choose from. But don’t fret: our gift giving guide will make it easy for you.

holiday gifts wrappedDuring our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift Giving Guide week, we may slip in a few surprises, so don’t miss a beat! Join us every day during the week of November 26 for our 2018 Festive Holiday Gift Giving Guide, offering up reviews of the latest melodic pop releases perfect for gift giving. We’ll be quiet until then, working into the wee hours to make this an exciting and informative event. See you back here in 11 days!

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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. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews| 11.1.18: Exclusive Preview: White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams

review with graphic and by alan haber final sharpened smallestalan headshot from school

Various Artists | White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams
(Curry Cuts, 2018)
white lace and promises the songs of paul williams - curry cuts - cover 2018Singer, songwriter, actor and, really truly, bon vivant Paul Williams has been plying his trade or, more accurately trades, for five decades, making his mark in the wide world of entertainment with Muppets, hit records, and Burt Reynolds in tow (which is really just scratching the surface of his storied career; click here to immerse yourself in Williams’s many and varied greatest hits).

Curry Cuts’ upcoming tribute to Williams (slated for release before year’s end), White Lace and Promises, focuses in on the artist’s considerable artistry as evidenced in the world of song. There are treasures to be found in nearly every nook and cranny of Williams’s recorded output, which touches on a wide variety of song types. (White Lace and Promises is slated for release this year; one song has been released as a single (see below)).

Of all the classic songs he has written, Williams may well be most known by listeners for “Evergreen (Love Theme from “A Star is Born”) and “Rainbow Connection,” the lovely opening number from 1979’s The Muppet Movie (three of the eight songs I’ve heard from White Lace and Promises are from this endearing film).

the davenports evergreen paul williams tribute curry cuts cover

“Evergreen,” written by Williams and Barbra Streisand, plays out in its original form as a slow, emotional ballad; on Curry Cuts’ release, the Davenports up the tempo a bit and season their melodic pop take with pedal steel guitar and Scott Klass’s typically lovely vocal (this track is available as a single, ahead of the album release; see below).

andy reed

Andy Reed

“Rainbow Connection,” written by Williams and Kenny Ascher and essayed on White Lace and Promises by the Legal Matters’ Andy Reed, manifests itself as a waltz punctuated by deep snare hits and widescreen harmonies; a short a cappella section is a nice touch. Reed makes this much-loved song his own in a version overflowing with heart.

andrea perry 5

Andrea Perry

May I wax poetic about some of the other Williams covers I’ve heard from Curry Cuts’ upcoming tribute? “Fill Your Heart,” a showbizzy number written by Williams and singer-songwriter Biff Rose, originally appeared on Rose’s 1968 Tetragrammaton album, The Thorn in Mrs. Rose’s Side, and was covered by both David Bowie on his 1971 album, Hunky Dory, and by Tiny Tim on the flip side of his “Tiptoe through the Tulips” single in 1968. Longtime Pure Pop Radio favorite Andrea Perry’s alluring, poppy version on Curry Cuts’ tribute comes off as something that a cross between Spanky and Our Gang, Margo Guryan and Aimee Mann might come up with.

the corner laughers

The Corner Laughers

In the hands of the Corner Laughers, the easy-going toe-tapper “Movin’ Right Along,” also from The Muppet Movie, moves along at a bit of a faster and busier pace, and sports an electric guitar solo. And do I hear the Laughers’ Karla Kane playfully name-checked near the end?

sitcom neighbor logoOne more White Lace and Promises nugget to preview: Sitcom Neighbor channels Three Dog Night in their tasty, organ-filled version of “Out in the Country,” penned by Williams and Roger Nichols and heard on Williams’s 1972 album, Life Goes On (Three Dog Night’s version was a top 15 hit in 1970).

curry cuts logo 2018So far, so really good. Curry Cuts’ White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams looks to be another hit for the label, the fourth release for the Portland, Oregon start-up, after the entertaining Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock, Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion, and Songs. Bond Songs: The Music of 007.

black box Where to Get It: Coming soon; keep up with the latest announcements concerning White Lace and Promises by following Curry Cuts’ Facebook page. The Davenports’ version of “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born)” has been released as a single, and is available at Amazon

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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. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews | 10.31.18: Vegas With Randolph’s Fourth Full-Length Serving, Legs & Luggage

review with graphic and by alan haber final sharpened smallestalan headshot from school

Vegas With Randolph | Legs & Luggage (2018)

On the Occasion of a Fourth Helping of Vegas With Randolph

vegas with randolph legs and luggage coverFive years ago, a whoop-de-do was set into motion at Northern Virginia’s Jammin’ Java to celebrate the release of Vegas With Randolph’s third album, Rings Around the Sun. The musicians approached, instruments in hand, songs in mind and set up straight across the bandstand; only the drummer, tucked away a bit behind the conga line, was in his own space. He lorded over his high-hat and snare with his toms leering from front to right. And then, he set the beat and the band was set into motion, calling patrons to the stage.

Now, mind you, this scenario doesn’t occur very often, because the lads of Vegas With Randolph, anchored outside of Washington, D.C. by songwriters John Ratts and Eric Kern, who were childhood pals and still are joined at the hip and their guitars and writing songs, as they always have, when they’re not tending to their own families and day jobs, don’t play out or release new albums very often, although their fans, many and plenty, wish that they would.

The lads of Vegas With Randolph, known sometimes by the swinging three-letter calling card VWR, choose to concentrate on recording albums, the fourth of which, Legs & Luggage, has been released. VWR released its first album in 2008, and this is 2018, which means that they have been assembling tuneage for 10 years. You might say their output does not constitute an avalanche, and you’d be right, but the weight of that output is strong and sure, so you’d probably be best not concerning yourself with geology.

Legs & Luggage is VWR’s best album yet. It is a marvel. This is a new-phase Vegas With Randolph album that thunders across the plains with harder-edged chutzpah than their previous releases. The guitars are louder and the sound is more aggressive. The sound is more purposeful, but just as catchy and fun as always.

vegas with randolph legs and luggage blue image“We wanted to kind of rock a little bit on this album,” says John. This is clearly an understatement of some kind, but make no mistake—Vegas With Randolph is a band that has recorded, for this new album, songs with flashy hooks just as they have done all along. This time around, though, there is perhaps a little more oomph spitting out of the band’s engine. This new-phase VWR is a well-oiled and rocking machine.

That the aforementioned oomph, in part, powers the songwriting team of John and Eric is a given, but so does the assembled co-conspirator contingent that plays along with them, skillfully and dutifully, helping the co-pilots steer the ship (a mixed metaphor, I know). Brock Harris’s lyrical guitars and Andy Hamburger’s thundering drums and percussion are essential ingredients in VWR’s new songs—indeed, the songs would not be as alive without them—but the heart and soul of it all may well belong to their bass player, the late and very much missed Dan Aylestock.

vegas with randolph dan ayelstock

Dan Aylestock

Passionate and warm and committed to the music always, Dan passed away last year from liver cancer. A founding member of VWR, he played bass on nearly every one of the songs on each of the band’s releases. These songs on these albums beat with the heart of a player who knew instinctively how to ring emotion out of every note as he traversed up and down the fretboard.

“He would take his time to craft unique parts for every song,” says Eric. “He was always prepared. He was always ready to go.” Just listen to Dan’s work on this album. You will feel his intensity, which manifests itself in any number of ways—with driving force, as on the pounding “She’s an Intellectual,” punching bass notes as one-half of the redoubtable VWR rhythm section, or with sensitivity, in the intro to “I Have You,” and during that ballad’s stronger, more forceful sections.

Dan is right there on this album, which is dedicated to him. Dan is there, and so are the other players, so powerful and electric that their intensity could keep the lights on in a big city for weeks on end. Set the breathless “You Could Say Yes” into motion, propulsive and beat-driven, with fierce drumming, Dan’s pumping bass, and all those guitars keeping the catchy melody afloat, and you’ll see—no, you’ll hear what I mean.

It’s not just the sound of this thing, it’s the words sung sweetly, confidently, meaningfully and powerfully all the way through, telling stories of a scholarly seductress (“She’s An Intellectual”), completely fulfilling forever love (“I Have You”), and riding the roller coaster of love even though it might tug back (“Jacob”). Then, there’s “Three Red Hooks,” presenting the power of music as a metaphor for confident performance with perhaps this album’s most creative lyrics (“Rock steady/Kick it like Eddie/Didn’t know if he meant Van Halen or Vedder/But whatever/While we’re together/We’d better turn it up loud/And kick it on out”).

The songs that make up this fourth Vegas With Randolph album, that present the case for this band being the band of the moment, a band that has come into its own because the songwriters and the players believe in the value of their work more than ever before, are only part of the VWR equation; the way that the songs are written, and how the band performs them, is the rest of it.

“You want a song to be meaningful,” says John. “You want the music to be so catchy that you want to hear it again. You want the lyrics to touch you enough that you want to hear the song again. We’re trying to make people happy. We’re trying to be memorable.”

Employing the talents of Fountains of Wayne’s Jody Porter (on “Chick Fighter”) and Texas popster Lannie Flowers, who cowrote and plays on the lively rocker “The Weekend’s Coming,” certainly helps to make this album memorable. And rocking.

vegas with randolph cd artwork legs and luggage

There will be more Vegas With Randolph recordings after Legs & Luggage; there are more songs, around a dozen of them, in various states of dress, all of which are sparked with the magic of Dan Aylestock’s bass (“The notes he played will have a long sustain,” the band says in Legs & Luggage’s CD booklet). And perhaps, in addition to at least a festive release show for this album, there will be more live performances to come, designed to show people what this band can do in person.

I’ve been there; I’ve seen what this band can do on stage, and I’ve seen how the band members relate to their audience, and each other. I’ve felt the presence of these individual talents, coming together for a common purpose; I’ve seen their faces light up as the music plays and draws people close to them. I’ve felt the warmth and humanity in their songs.

This album is titled Legs & Luggage because the songs are largely about transitioning from one thing to another, about taking chances, about moving on from here to there—about transporting emotion packed neatly, or otherwise, in virtual compartments. Legs & Luggage functions as a bridge to the next chapter in Vegas With Randolph’s life; how that reality will manifest itself is unknown at present. But manifest itself it will.

(The preceding review appears, in a slightly different form, as the liner notes to Vegas With Randolph’s Legs & Luggage)

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon

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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. The 24-hour Pure Pop Radio stream, which ran from 2013 to August 25, 2018, succeeded the weekly Pure Pop Radio show, which began in 1995. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.