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And now, a few more melodic Christmas goodies to add to your gift lists (another 11 are reviewed here). There are only five more shopping days until the big day, so you’d better get clicking…
Have a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, everyone. We’ll see you again in January, with the kind of reviews and articles you expect from the premier website covering the many moods of melodic pop music.
Dana Countryman and Matt Tyson, featuring Scott Bennett | “It’s Christmas Time” (2019)
Pure Pop Radio favorites Dana Countryman and Matt Tyson stir up a cheery, upbeat, non-alcoholic cocktail echoing the sounds of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and Jeffrey Foskett–a joyous two minutes and forty-five seconds worth of catchy musical magic. With a rocking guitar solo played with “I Get Around” aplomb by Scott Bennett, this is Southern California pop under sunny holiday skies.
Aka Katy Pearson (Anchor & Bear), Bearkat’s richly drawn holiday collection, bringing together a pair of previously-released EPs–2012’s It’s ChristmasTime and 2013’s A Winter Suite–and two new recordings, is an endearing survey of vocal harmony pop painted atop spare instrumentation and a whole lot of holiday heart.
Pearson’s sweet voice quietly dazzles, whether as a strong solo instrument or as elements within rich harmony stacks. Her songs paint a snowy, emotional portrait of holiday feelings, each one alive with lovely melodies.
Here is just one example, the banjo-driven, folky, harmony-laden, wintry wonder, “Snow”:
And here is another, a breathtaking, a cappella version of “Auld Lang Syne,” sung passionately by Pearson and her husband, Brian Bringelson, also from Anchor and Bear:
Zach Jones | “I’ll Be Home (Xmas Day)” b/w “Joy to the World” (2019)
Zach Jones paints his pair of holiday tunes with a quite different, yet catchy, soulful brush. The emotionally-cast, mid-tempo ballad “I’ll Be Home (Xmas Day)” and the slightly funky instrumental take on perennial carol “Joy to the World” are soulful pop gems. A wonderful holiday listening experience.
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.
We’re back with another extra special, vitamin-rich group of great new and new-to-you melodic pop music added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist.
Let’s get right to it, then. We’ll begin by taking an extended look at a fantastic new tribute to Elvis Costello.
Various Artists | Beyond Belief/A Tribute to Elvis Costello We’ve talked about the compiler’s art before, and make no mistake about it–compiling a tribute album is an art. Practicing the art for this three-disc tribute to Elvis Costello are compilers Olivia Frain and John M. Borack, both longtime Costello fans. Frain, a dedicated music fan, and Borack, a music journalist who has also served as executive producer for 2002’s Right to Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited and 2001’s Shoe Fetish: A Tribute to Shoes, set about contacting artists and putting into motion all of the behind-the-scenes nuts-and-bolts tasks necessary to bring the set to market.
This mammoth collection, gathering together covers of Costello numbers from 50 artists, is a delight to listen to from head to toe. As noted in the set’s booklet, “100% of the proceeds…will be donated to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation keeps music alive in schools by donating musical instruments to under-funded music programs, giving youngsters the many benefits of music education, helping them to be better students and inspiring creativity and expression through playing music.” In an era in which arts programs are often cut from schools, this is a most welcome and vital effort.
Beyond Belief is chock full of choice Costello songs performed by artists who obviously love the source material. And what’s not to love? Costello has been a favorite artist of music fans since he first burst on the scene in 1977 with his debut album My Aim is True. Along the way, he has delivered songs in all manner of genre from rock to pop to R&B to country and back again. Proof of this ability to jump from one style to another at the drop of a tone arm is reflected in the tracks chosen by the artists appearing here.
While some artists stick to the plot of land originally planted by Costello, others reimagine the master’s songs and work with new approaches. David Myhr, late of the Merrymakers and now a favored solo artist, delivers a wonderful version of “Veronica” (co-written with Paul McCartney) that basically sticks to Costello’s blueprint but takes the song at a slightly slower tempo and adds more of a glossy, pop sheen. The Rubinoos trade a blaring horn section for the original’s organ part and temper Costello’s snarl with a bit of a poppier vocal approach in a jazzier, new version of “Pump It Up.” Mike Viola turns in a basically reverent version of a Burt Bacharach co-write, the majestic “God Give Me Strength,” in what amounts to a somewhat more intimate, drawing room-like performance; Viola’s gorgeous vocal is delivered over a bed of acoustic guitar and chamber strings, minus the horn present in Costello’s original version.
Three tracks, in particular, take the art of covering a song to new heights. First and foremost, the award goes to Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel, better known as Jamie and Steve, who pull the rug out from under Costello’s “Blame It On Cain” and shake out the dust like men on a mission, turning in an amped-up, wild a cappella version powered by doo-wop muscle and good, old-fashioned chutzpah. Not only do Jamie and Steve prove how good the song is, they turn it inside out and rebuild it from the ground up. This is a spectacular performance that will have you hitting the repeat button over and over.
To Costello’s original, moody version of “So Like Candy,” a co-write with Paul McCartney, Paul Myers adds some poppy vocals and a ghostly percussion track and approaches Costello’s bridge as if it were coming straight off of a scratchy vinyl copy of the song. It’s a welcome surprise that, along with Myers’ assured vocal, is one of this set’s major delights. Another top shelf approach is that of Lannie Flowers, who takes a basically reverent run through “Radio Sweetheart,” yet surprises listeners by turning the proceedings on their collective head at 1:55 by introducing a decidedly mystical aura for 37 enticing seconds.
What tribute albums such as Beyond Belief offer, aside from giving artists the chance to play in someone else’s sandbox, is proof that good songs will retain their value as each calendar year passes. New coats of paint in the form of new approaches or reverent run-throughs are good for the songwriter’s art, and good, also, for the compiler’s art. With Beyond Belief/A Tribute to Elvis Costello, the compiler’s art has been raised to new heights.
[Twenty-one tracks from Beyond Belief/A Tribute to Elvis Costello have been added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist and are now playing in rotation: “Girls Talk,” Rob Smith; “Brilliant Mistake,” Dennis Schocket and Cliff Hillis; “The Other End of the Telescope,” Butch Walker; “Veronica,” David Myhr; “Kinder Murder,” Popdudes; “No Hiding Place,” Michael Carpenter; “Blame It on Cain,” Jamie and Steve; “Monkey to Man,” Kelley Ryan; “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Severo; “Pump It Up,” The Rubinoos; “Radio Sweetheart,” Paul Myers; “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” Hans Rotenberry; “Possession,” Barry Holdship; “This Year’s Girl,” honeychain; “Green Shirt,” Scott Bennett; “God Give Me Strength,” Mike Viola; “Radio Sweetheart,” Lannie Flowers; “Man Out of Time,” Bill Lloyd; “Almost Blue,” Nick Heyward and the 13 Satellites; “Crimes of Paris,” An American Underdog; and “Mystery Dance,” sparkle*jets UK] – Alan Haber
Hidden Pictures | Ottomans The latest release from Hidden Pictures is a typically entertaining musical knockout punch. Delicious melodic pop pictures are painted with an apparent Deacon Blue-meets-Prefab Sprout vibe. Highlights include the wonderfully catchy “Firm Way to Say Goodbye”; the punchy, tuneful “Girl on Girlfriend”; and “Riffraff,” a rock number with a guitar part sounding like it came from a David Bowie track. These and three more songs are now playing in rotation: “You’re an Adult,” “Hannah, I’m Scared of Your Boyfriend,” and “Firm Way to Say Goodbye.” Another great album from this California group.
The Tearaways | The Earle Mankey Sessions, Vol. 4 and The Earle Mankey Sessions, Vol.7 Formed more than 30 years ago, the Tearaways worked with veteran producer Earle Mankey and waxed 50 songs. The results were released in 2014 on these two albums, both necessary purchases for every pop music fan. Great, catchy songs with terrific melodies and harmonies are the order of the day. We’ve added seven songs from Vol. 4 and nine songs from Vol. 7. From Vol. 4, we chose the melodic anthem “Girls Who Love Cars,” the toe-tapper “Stuck On Stupid,” about a guy who can’t quite figure out how to tell a girl he likes how he feels; and the timely “We Don’t Talk, We Text,” about the laziness and lack of proper communication in this world. Also added from Vol. 4: “I Will Wait,” “Jefferson Still Survives,” “Valerie,” and “The Last Goodbye.” From Vol. 7: the self-explanatory “I Pray Guitar”; a rhythmic tribute to “John Wayne”; and “All She Wants Is the Ring,” about a woman who’s in a relationship for its material worth. Plus: “Friends and Enemies,” “I Don’t Know and I Don’t Care,” “More Dollars than Sense,” “I Can Tell You Now,” “I’ll See You Again,” and “I’m All In.” Repeat after us: “Must have. Must have. Must have!”
Dave Rave and the Governors | Sweet American Music The great Dave Rave returns and hooks up with the Governors for a splendid collection of pop songs, all sporting big melodies and, of course, big hooks. From the driving “Lindsay” and pure pop sixties pleasures of “You Take What’s Yours” to “Pullman Washington” and the Lou Reed vocal vibe of “Night School,” this is an album that will never be far from your ears. We’re happily spinning these four songs, along with the rocking “Trapped.” A big record with big guitars and a whole lot of spirit. And the cover’s really cool.
Andy Bopp | Time to Rock! Andy Bopp, late of groups such as Love Nut and Myracle Brah, and currently waxing tunes with Ken Schopf as The Modern Ruins (see next entry), lets loose in his living room armed with only his electric guitar and echoed vocals for a quartet of Sun-era sounding rock ‘n’ roll ‘n’ rockabilly numbers. The tracks: the title track, “Anna Lee,” “Black Heath,” and Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk.” Dig these thrilling and powerful performances, all playing now in rotation.
The Modern Ruins | Bleeding Party and Three Tracks from the Four Track Can’t get enough Bopp? Andy’s got you covered with two new 2015 releases from his duo with Ken Schopf, the Modern Ruins. These songs follow nicely from the vibe of Andy’s solo EP, Time to Rock!, only on these records Andy and his guitars are supported by Ken’s Cocktail Drum kit, percussion and backing vocals. It’s rock ‘n’ roll all the way, from the souped-up Sun-era sound of “All Fall Down (Black Heath),” which also appears on Time to Rock!, to the slow blues of the title track and a spirited, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band-esque version of David Essex’s 1973 top five hit, “Rock On.” These songs, plus three more–“Longtime,” “Rope Walker,” and “There”–are now playing in rotation. From Three Tracks from the Four Track, we’re spinning “Anytime Anyway” and “When It Rains.” Great stuff.
Cartographer | Cartographer, and Town and Country | My Blue Heaven One of our favorite singer-songwriters, Scott Gagner, whose last album, Rise and Shine, was a big hit here at Pure Pop Radio, is the common denominator between these two releases, both from 2008. Both albums find Gagner and friends following a similar musical path to Gagner’s current vibe. In other words, the songs are melodic and inventive and instantly memorable. Great stuff through and through. From Cartographer, we’re playing, in rotation, “The Trouble With You,” “I’m Not Following You,” “Love Triangle for Two,” “Sound Rebounds,” “Waiting,” and “Suburban Girl.” From My Blue Heaven, we’re spinning “Daytime Emmy,” “Bella Vista,” “Better than That,” and “The Rest of the Night.” Scott is currently working on ideas for his next album. We can only hope we don’t have to wait too long.
Sitcom Neighbor | Charm This wonderful pop music album from 2012 hits the melodic bullseye, sounding like a splinter off the main body of the Sugarplastic. From the beautiful “Amphetamine” to the rocking nod “The Satisfaction of Love” and the bluesy pop of “Vaseline Water Balloon,” this album is full of harmonies and top notch melodies, bursting with tasty nuggets. We’re playing eight songs in rotation: those previously mentioned, and “Let It Go,” “True Love and Medication,” “This Time Tomorrow,” the Beatlesque “Buy Your Farm,” and “Darlene.”
The Tickets | The Tickets Musician Walter Clevenger loved the Tickets so much that he gathered together the band’s 1990 cassette-only album, The Tickets Make a Record, and their 1986 single, “She Got Away”/”Yesterday’s Girl” and released both together in 2006 as The Tickets on his own Brewery Records label. The album is an important collection of songs performed by musicians with an obvious love for pop music. We’re playing six: “Dream About Me,” “Everything,” “I Don’t Belong,” “Heartland,” “The One that I Loved,” and “She Got Away.” Great melodies, harmonies and playing abound.
The General Store | Mountain Rescue It is a pleasure to have the music of the General Store spinning in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. Tam Johnstone, the musician behind the group name, is the son of Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone; he obviously picked up a musical thing or two from his dad. A mix of country-tinged and pop/rock numbers, Mountain Rescue is represented on Pure Pop Radio by seven songs: the ringing rocker “Early Morning Fuzz,” the Beach Boys homages “Girls from the Mall” and “Nothing Can Come Between Us,” and “Desert Weathered Hiway.” The Neil Young nod “Come Around,” “Great Big World,” and “Over Here” complete the pack.
Ian Gomm | Demonstrates Ian Gomm, who co-wrote (with Nick Lowe) one of the great pop singles of all time, “Cruel to Be Kind,” and played guitar for the band Brinsley Schwarz, added this terrific EP to his catalog in 2013. The platter is represented on Pure Pop Radio with four choice cuts, pop classics all: the upbeat, catchy “Let’s Stick Together” and “Only You (Knowing Me),” the hit-worthy “Magic Spell,” and the beautiful ballad “Lonely Avenue.” A terrific disc from one of the greats, released by Jerker Emanuelson’s Sound Asleep Records.
Various Artists | Souvenirs: Little Gems of Pop, Volume II The second in a series of collections gathering together various classic pop recordings, Souvenirs: Little Gems of Pop, Volume II kicks off with Richard X. Heyman’s crackerjack 1980 single a-side, “Vacation,” an energetic pop rocker with a typically catchy melody. From there you get, amongst the treasures on hand, Bill Lloyd’s jangly, highly melodic side “Lisa Anne,” from Bill’s 1987 Feeling the Elephant album; Tube Top’s glorious, upbeat power pop song “Oceans Cracked,” from the band’s 1997 album Three Minute Hercules; and Scott Sutherland’s straight-ahead pop song “Book of Seasons” from 1999. These songs are now playing in rotation as part of our playlist; others spinning as we speak are Enemies in the Grass’ “Best Behaviour,” Post Office’s “The Whole Thing’s a Bust,” Jr. Gone Wild’s “It Never Changes,” and Nick Rudd’s Blown’s “One in a Million.” A wonderful collection, released in 2014 by Jerker Emanuelson’s Sound Asleep Records.
Whew! That does it for our two-day new adds extravaganza. We hope you enjoyed the ride through the latest additions to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. All of the songs and artists we talked about today and yesterday are now playing in rotation. Tune in to Pure Pop Radio by clicking on one of the handy listen links below. And make a date to come back often to hear more of the greatest pop music in the universe!