By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
Richard X. Heyman | Pop Circles (Turn-Up, 2019)
The Doughboys | Running for Covers (Ram, 2019)
Perhaps the greatest gift that June brings us northern hemisphere dwellers is the first day of summer, a cue for couch potatoes and homebodies to welcome the sun, and globs of sunscreen, into our daily lives.
This year, June brought us another great gift, one that can be enjoyed either indoors or outdoors, depending on your mode of music delivery, allowing all of us to benefit from warm summer days and nights and some truly terrific music.
Just last month, a double dose of Heyman descended upon us in the form of Richard X. Heyman’s tremendous 13th solo album, Pop Circles, and Running for Covers, a fun, new long player from the Doughboys, the New Jersey garage rockers that count drummer Richie Heyman among their members. Whether billed as Richard X. or Richie, multi-instrumentalist Heyman always delivers first-rate pop and rock ‘n’ roll.
Richard X. Heyman’s Pop Circles
A double dose of Heyman allows fans to experience many sides of the artist at once. Pop Circles favors Richard’s pop side, where melody, harmony and instrumental brilliance are king; Running for Covers puts Richie on the drum stool, where he helps his Doughboy brothers kick out the hot and powerful garage rock jams.
On Pop Circles, Heyman continues to favor the one-man-band approach to his recordings, but with one important, and most welcome, change: wife Nancy takes on bass duties throughout most of the album, playing innovative and melodically-charged parts on her Hofner Empress.
Pop Circles is sort-of a two-part affair, the first 12 tracks being the album proper and the final five being solo versions of songs previously appearing on albums by the Doughboys. Each of the 17 tracks earn their place in the running order (an 18th, hidden track is an extended version of the song, “Guess You Had to be There”).
As you would expect from a Heyman album, always a treat and a shining light in any pop release cycle, the highlights are plenty. Throughout Pop Circles, Richard’s instrumental and vocal prowess prove their mettle (no surprise there); his singular, one-of-a-kind drum parts and thickly defined harmony stacks are particularly inviting. And, as I said up above, wife Nancy’s bass parts are innovative and melodically-charged, and essential to the overall sound.
One of Richard’s best songs and best-ever arrangements is the powerful, rocking “Marlena,” which posits that a relationship is now gone, regardless of which road the narrator travels on or the New Jersey towns he blows through as he works his issues out in his mind. Richard’s lyrics are vividly stated and metaphorical, such as in this descriptive couplet (“Trusted a lamb so gentle and wise (Marlena) / Now here I am with wool over my eyes”). The song’s melody is ingeniously seductive; the chord structure inventive and compelling.
The narrator of the breezy “In a Sunlit Room” is tasked with coming up with a way to salvage a relationship. He hopes to come up smelling roses, but he’s on a steep, uphill climb and seemingly has the most to prove. He is nothing if not poetically realistic (“You must know that love has its peaks and valleys / Mount Everest to the Grand Canyon and back”). It’s a deep crevice to climb out of, for sure. Richard’s guitars really shine here, and Nancy’s bass provides a creative bottom end.
“Land,” originally the opening, Rolling Stones-styled rocker on 2012’s Doughboys release, Shakin’ Our Souls, is my favorite of Pop Circles’ “Richie’s Three-Chord Garage” set, recast here as a less manic, no-Stones-turned rocker. Richard’s vocal is particularly strong here, and his piano playing is superlative.
Pop Circles was recorded at the Kit Factory and at Eastside Sound, both in New York City. It’s a dynamic collection of songs, just waiting for you to listen.
The Doughboys’ Running for Covers
Speaking of superlative, the 13 well-chosen covers that constitute the Doughboys’ new release make a case for pleading with the band to fashion an all-fave-classic-songs-we-didn’t-write show for fans. For now, though, this knowing selection of covers will do quite nicely. The group gives each classic nugget their all and then some, infusing them with garage-rock fury or pure pop finesse, depending on the song.
Running for Covers stands out of the ever-growing pack of covers albums by not simply choosing from the well of usual suspects; mixed in with the familiar (Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” and David Essex’s “Rock On,” for example) are more obscure tracks from the Kinks, Mose Allison, and the Four Seasons, among others, that might not come to mind, even in a pinch.
The Four Seasons’ “Everybody Knows My Name,” from the group’s 1966 album, Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits, is an inspired choice, a lovely, catchy pop song that is very different from the other fare on Running for Covers (and holds special significance for the Doughboys–see below). Another track, Herman’s Hermits’ “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed,” from 1966’s Both Sides of Herman’s Hermits, is another straight-ahead, catchy pop song, also of the I-probably-wouldn’t-have-thought-of-that variety.
Two of the songs included on Running for Covers hold special significance for the Doughboys–they are the re-recorded a-sides of the group’s two Bell Records singles from the 1960s (“Rhoda Mendelbaum” and the aforementioned Four Seasons track, “Everybody Knows My Name”). They are jewels contained within this album of interpretation that shine from start to finish.
Other tasty highlights include a searing, four-on-the-floor take on Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and a powerful, rocking, crunchy guitar-ized version of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” which turns the original recording on its collective ears.
The Grip Weeds’ Kurt Reil produced, recorded, mixed and mastered Running for Covers at his House of Vibes studio in Highland Park, New Jersey (Kurt also helped out with vocals and percussion). It’s another fine job for all concerned.
A Double Dose
The Doughboys’ Gar Francis, Mike Caruso, Myke Scavone, and Richie Heyman play up a storm on Running for Covers, a tremendously entertaining garage- and pop-rock testament to the classic songs of yesteryear; Richard X. Heyman does the same for his catchy pop songs contained on Pop Circles, that feature the singer-songwriter’s incredible, vital instrumental skills and intense harmony stacks.
This double dose of Heyman, where Richard X. meets Richie and garage-rock meets pop and roll, is a present for music fans all over the world. Obviously, you should be all in for some of the best music being made today.
Where to Get It:
Richard X. Heyman’s Pop Circles: Kool Kat Musik. Listen to sound samples and purchase: richardxheyman.com CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes
The Doughboys’ Running for Covers: thedoughboysnj.com. Listen to sound samples and purchase: Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes
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.
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