Reviews: 6.11.19: Songs and Stories from Ray Paul, Smith and Jones, and Kenny Herbert

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ray Paul | Bloody Rubbish (Kool Kat Musik, 2019)

The slim, trendy, smiling pop art-ish musician, drawn with angles, feet slipped into Beatle boots and holding a familiar looking bass is depicted on the cover of his album as a guy you should get to know if you don’t know him already. He’s peddling some so-called bloody rubbish, or so says the title. Don’t believe him.

The musician depicted in smart, cartoony fashion on the cover of Bloody Rubbish is Ray Paul, still and always head muckety-muck at Permanent Press, known by pop fans as one of the premier indie record labels, the original concern sadly gone but certainly not forgotten. Bloody Rubbish is a smashing collection of 10 choice Paul classics drawn from throughout his four-decade-plus career. Said classics, it should be noted, are neither bloody nor rubbish.

Sequenced in a kind of time traveling back-and-forth fashion, Bloody Rubbish begins with “I Need Your Love Tonight,” a track first issued in 2017, a rousing, very catchy and full of guitars side sporting a typically passionate Paul vocal and one of his patented can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head melodies. Guitars and strong vocals are the backbone of every recording contained herein.

The thing about Paul’s output is that many or most of his recordings could come from any year, slab of vinyl or shiny compact disc. So his 1978 single on Euphoria Records–“Lady Be Mine Tonight” b/w “Hold It”–is absolutely interchangeable with “I Love It (But You Don’t Believe It)” from 2016’s superb platter, Whimsicality; 1980’s up-tempo and Badfinger-ish “Brokenhearted,” and 1981’s “How Do You Know?” b/w the early XTC-ish “Keep it Confidential,” released on Permanent Press. All of these choice tracks are included here, and all are divine examples of Paul’s mastery of the pop form.

Bloody Rubbish serves up three previously-unreleased rarities for the Paul collector and, really, any fan of melodic, rocking pop: “Love Me,” a moody, melodic, mid-tempo Paul song waxed in 1977 at Euphoria Sound Studios, and two live tracks with his new band from 2017–“Standing on the Edge of Goodbye” and a passionate cover of the rocking “Open Up Your Door,” both billed as by Ray Paul and RPM (the latter song is a cover of Richard and the Young Lions’ 1966 single).

Kudos to Ray Gianchetti at Kool Kat Musik for releasing this compendium of “bloody rubbish,” which comes in a nattily-attired jewel case with a four-page booklet sporting thumbnails of Ray Paul releases and an array of eye-catching photos.

And kudos to you, smart pop people, for catching on to some of the finest uptempo pop recordings that have had the opportunity to seep into your consciousness over the past four-plus decades. This Bloody Rubbish is bloody fantastic.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon

Smith and Jones | Something Worth Learning
(Childless Mother Records, 2019)

Last year’s Petty by Carpenter Smith and Jones, a loving tribute to Tom, was a big hit here at Pure Pop Radio, and for good reason: its passionate takes on some of Petty’s most beloved songs spoke to us, and probably spoke to you, too.

That very same passion is renewed and celebrated here on Abby Smith and Sophie Jones’ sophomore duo collection, Something Worth Learning, produced by Michael Carpenter. The album’s twelve songs, chronicling the ups and downs and sideway glances of relationships, speak to all types of hearts, however they beat and tumble.

Carpenter’s production is crisp and clear and alive, bringing Smith’s songs to life with just the right combination of instruments and depth of solo and harmony vocals. The trio of Carpenter, Smith and Jones is a shining example of fate drawing on a colorful canvas.

The album kicks off with the lively and upbeat “As I Am,” a catchy bubblegummy concoction that should for all the world be called Progressive Partridge (Family). This take-me-as-I-am song gets these proceedings off to a catchy start.

There are more five-star songs and performances on Something Worth Learning than on most albums being released these days. Case in point: “One Last Time,” a beautifully rendered ballad very much in the early Joni Mitchell style. With just piano and voice, this tale of a broken relationship plays out with sure emotion after the relationship is in tatters. But the girl pines for one final positive memory (“You could tell me I’m beautiful / Just one last time”).

Another Mitchell-esque song, a ballad entitled “In the Middle of the Night,” pairs solo piano and voice as a poetic dreamscape takes hold of listeners’ senses; in these words lie all emotions tethered in a relationship. These words, written by Smith, are monumentally sound and descriptive: “In the middle of the night / I go walking in the rain / Leave my pillows to their dreaming / My sheets, to lovers’ stains / Just a passing storm that’s all.” And then, there is this: “In the midnight of my memory / I hear that black bird singing / Softly as a lovers’ touch / A kiss upon my ear / Hear that melody rise and fall / Lovers and losers / She sings for us all.” Quite simply gorgeous.

“Love Lives in Darkness,” an emotional ballad, plays right out of the Mary Chapin Carpenter playbook–a very good thing. Even the vocal is Carpenter-esque, circa her Come On Come On album from 1992. About love lived in shadow, the song barely reaches out to light (“We raise it up on a stolen Sunday / We raise it up with an early morning embrace / Before the day is woken / Before a word is spoken”). The deeper truth? “A love lived in shadows / Is a love built on lies.”

The liveliest song on this album, relentlessly clever and smile-inducing, is the bouncy “Last Night I Saw Jesus (The Book of the Boss),” a tongue-in-cheek hosanna shot straight from around the world to Asbury Park, New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruuuuuuuuce Springsteen. Over a hippety-hop bass line and sure-footed finger snaps come the rousing huzzahs: “Come on, head on down to tenth avenue / And find a place on the church pew / We’re singing a hymn from the book of the boss / Oh he saved me and he’s gonna save you too.” And, if you were wondering, this song’s lyrics make it crystal clear: Bruce is “looking good for his age.”

Something Worth Learning, played by Abby Smith, Sophie Jones and Michael Carpenter, along with Matt Ferry, is something well worth having.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes

Kenny Herbert | “Like Marilyn” (2019)

Pure Pop Radio favorite Kenny Herbert is back with perhaps one of my favorite of his most recent creations–contemporary pop with more than a dash of 1930s and 1940s pizazz.

A delectable horn section, orchestration, plonking piano, and Kenny’s honey-coated vocal, full of love, power this toe-tapper inspired by Kenny’s wife Caroline, who, he says, “has the best smile in the world.” Making this song’s dazzling chart sing are Pilot’s David Paton on bass; Bob Heatlie, making the brass and strings come alive; Martin Wykes on drums, and Rab Howat playing guitar and singing background vocals. David Valentine, who plays piano, also produced at Heartbeat Studios in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Another great one, Kenny.

Where to Get It: 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: 1.30.19: Smith and Jones’ Top-Flight “Secondhand Heart”

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Smith and Jones
“Secondhand Heart”
(from the forthcoming album Something Worth Learning (2019)

Deftly chronicling the lack of an in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound element of romance missing from a relationship, Abby Smith and Sophie Jones’ glorious and catchy new single, released in advance of their forthcoming second album, Something Worth Learning, makes the case for music being the able vehicle for examining heartbreak and allowing the heart to heal.

Anchored by an emotionally-charged drums and piano base, the uptempo, melodic “Secondhand Heart,” written by Smith, adopts a classic pop structure, as the song tackles a weighty subject atop a catchy melody. Smith and Jones trade lead vocals and take on acoustic guitar and piano duties; Matt Ferry plays lead guitar and Michael Carpenter plays bass and the intricate, thundering drum pattern. Sweet lead and harmony vocalizing abound.

A particularly inventive video (watch below) brings the story of “Secondhand Heart” to life. Part performance, part interpretive dance energetically performed by Alison Plevey, the action takes place in a spacious, bare room in what looks like an industrial structure.

Plevey’s movement suggests a woman wanting to get close to a lover who is relatively, emotionally empty; drawn to him, she pushes closer, then apart, always moving, always searching for next steps. In addition to viewers watching the song unfold before their eyes, and the song is the thing, of course, the suggestion is for viewers to think and determine how they feel about what is going on. It’s a bargain that pays dividends.

“Secondhand Heart” is a triumph, a great, thinking person’s pop piece that heightens anticipation for Smith and Jones’ second album, Something Worth Learning, which releases in March. I can’t wait.

Where to Get It: Check back for purchase links

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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.