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The Dowling Poole | Miles Checks Out, Bright Spark, and Deep Breath EPs (2016)
Willie Dowling, late of the much-loved Jackdaw 4 conclave, and Jon Poole, workhorse musical magician of Cardiacs and Wildhearts fame, first joined forces as the Dowling Poole in 2014, releasing the smashing, hall-of-fame worthy long player Bleak Strategies. The equally amazing, if not more so, One Hyde Park followed last April.
Folding into their classic and melodic sound a deep well’s worth of influences and making good on an unspoken pledge to surprise both themselves and their listeners with gonzo song construction that makes everything they record pop like fireworks, Dowling and Poole remain fearless creators whose music is stimulating and, above all, fun. Their three most recent EPs follow along on this most alluring path.
Just seven months after One Hyde Park proved conclusively that there were no limits to their boundless creativity, the dynamic duo returned with the first of three consecutive EPs, extending the hitting streak that has resulted in such a strong and assured run of releases.
All three EPs feature one new track and two acoustic recordings of favorite songs recorded live in 2015 in Manchester, England. The first release features the brand-new “Miles Checks Out,” a typically clever and catchy number mixing, in the accepted Dowling Poole style, allusions to James Bond theme songs, prog, straight-ahead pop, and varying time signatures–the kind of patchwork quilt that the solo Roy Wood probably wouldn’t mind calling his own. In tow are live, glorious, acoustic versions of “Saving It All for a Saturday” and “Getting a License,” both originally heard on Bleak Strategies.
The second EP, released at the end of last November, puts another wildly imaginative number front and center: “Bright Spark,” a bopper of an upbeat workout that is perhaps the most straight-ahead structure-wise of the three new songs, but no less inventive and catchy. Live, acoustic versions of “The Sun is Mine” and “Where the Memories Fester,” both also originally from Bleak Strategies, complete the lineup.
A third EP, coupling the new song “Deep Breath” with thrilling live, acoustic recordings of two more songs first heard as part of the Bleak Strategies lineup–“A Kiss on the Ocean” and “Paper, Scissors, Stone”–was released just before this past Christmas. “Deep Breath” is a moody, melodic, dramatic art-pop construct, nodding in classic fashion to rich Queen-style operatic-pop harmony stacks, a lá “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Also veering to and fro into varying time-signatures and approaches, it’s a hypnotic winner.
Willie Dowling and Jon Poole function as the prime movers in the Dowling Poole as two halves of the same creative brain. They can always be counted on to conjure up a joyous array of songs that incorporate varying styles and provide a great listening experience for their listeners. This is the stuff of legend–what a joy it is to write about and play on the radio the work of the Dowling Poole.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Miles Checks Out: “Miles Checks Out,” and “Getting a License (Acoustic Live in Manchester).” From Bright Spark: “Bright Spark,” and “The Sun is Mine (Acoustic Live in Manchester).” From Deep Breath: “Deep Breath,” “A Kiss on the Ocean (Acoustic Live in Manchester)” and “Paper, Scissors, Stone (Acoustic Live in Manchester).”
By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
(Originally posted 01.03.17)
2016 was a terrific year for melodic pop music from both new and heritage artists, perhaps the best in recent memory. My list of 28 Favorite Records of the Year from 27 artists–The Stars of 2016–is presented below in random order.
It has long been my view that ranking entries on best-of-the-year lists is an impossible task, at least for me. If I made such a list on Monday, would the number nine entry still be in that slot on Tuesday? Perhaps not. Sometimes, I fear, agonizing over a particular placement would be akin to splitting hairs and not particularly a worthwhile enterprise. So, I’ll go with I like these a lot instead.
Here are my Favorite Records of the Year–The Stars of 2016–in no specific order. All are more than worthy of your time, and all should be added to your core collection of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe.
And now, on with the show…
The Stars of 2016
Bob Lind | Magellan Was Wrong Pop bard Bob Lind’s latest is a typically heartfelt collection of songs that deliver his always magical one-two punch: emotional lyrics and beautiful melodies, brought to life with stellar arrangements and production, much of it supplied in grand fashion on this album by the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover. Gorgeous soundscapes abound, such as the romantic, catchy “From the Road,” awash with poppy background harmonies from Hoover and perceptive, picturesque lyrics from Lind (“In moments others call mundane/My soul is warming by your flame/Turning just like a sailor to the harbor/And I will carry back my songs and tales/Of calms and gales/And sing and tell them all/To you”), and Lind’s emotional cover of Tom Paxton’s “Bottle of Wine.”
The Legal Matters | Conrad With this album, the Legal Matters have set a new standard for vocal harmonies in melodic pop music. Andy Reed, Chris Richards, and Keith Klingensmith are the players, and their human voices are their instruments. The songs are sweetly realized, from the opener “Anything,” not the first track on this album tipping its hat to the much-loved Beach Boys vocal vibe, to the upbeat, single-worthy “Short Term Memory,” which tips its drumsticks to Ringo Starr in a delightful fill and puts forth some top-notch electric guitar playing. To listen to this album is a thrilling experience.
The Weeklings | Studio 2 The beat-betrothed, Beatlesque foursome from New Jersey, steeped in the Fab tradition and nom de plumed in the spirit of all that started off holy in Liverpool’s Cavern Club a fair number of years ago, follows up their self-titled long player, affectionately known as Monophonic, with a sterling 12-song set composed of eight superlative originals and four rare John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs not given away to other artists. Recording in Abbey Road’s hallowed Studio 2, where the Beatles made their astounding magic, Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, John Merjave and Joe Bellia, aka Lefty, Zeek, Rocky and Smokestack, respectively, make considerable Merseyside hay with delightfully brisk and catchy songs steeped in the effervescent spirit of the Fab Four. A splendid time, to be sure.
Caper Clowns | The Buca Bus Delicious pure pop from Odense, Denmark delights with a dozen beautifully written and performed pearls. Lovely melodies and vocal harmonies are always present, particularly on instant classics such as the should-be-hit-bound earworm “A Tale of Romance and Magnetic Trains” and the gorgeous ballad “Lizard Heart.” Debut of the year? Most certainly.
Kenny Herbert | Forever and Beyond A gorgeous, romantic song cycle inspired by Caroline, the love of his life, Forever and Beyond is Herbert’s melodically-charged survey of the power of true love. The 14 songs on offer, encompassing 1930s, 1950s and modern melodic pop vibes, are tremendously affecting, beautifully drawn snapshots of a happy existence. The pretty “Queensferry Girl” and the catchy, McCartney-esque pop song “It’s All Good” shine among a rich collection of gems.
Nick Piunti | Trust Your Instincts Guitars, bass, drums, powerful vocals, and a whole lot of moxie power the pop on Nick’s latest, high-energy collection. These songs make heads turn and hearts embrace its many charms. “One Hit Wonder” is the big, splashy, pure pop hit here, a clear winner on an album full of winners.
Gleeson | Curse My Lucky Stars Austin, Texas band Gleeson have made their White Album, a sparkling collection of songs varied in approach and tone that makes a case for melodic pop being the genre of the moment. Encompassing beautiful balladry, art-pop, rock and retro charm, Curse My Lucky Stars is a marvel.
Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones | Little Windows A true, modern classic bathed in retro charm, Little Windows’ rewards are many. There is a decidedly romantic notion at play here, one that slips in and out of hand holding echoes of the Everly Brothers at Cadence, Roy Orbison, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens and a thousand other country-pop artists and their golden recordings. These lovely, heartfelt songs, brought to life by two of pop music’s finest vocalists, make up an album that is like a bright lighthouse shining across the sea, drawing you in.
Ray Paul | Whimsicality Thirty-six years after the release of Ray Paul and RPM’s album Go Time, the artist is once again regaling listeners with enticing tales set to everyone’s favorite power pop beat. A delicious mix of originals and well-chosen covers, such as the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes” and Paul McCartney’s “Oh Woman, Oh Why,” meets wonderfully-realized originals like the dynamic “A Fool Without Your Love” and McCartney-esque “Jeannie.” With Ray’s gorgeous melodies and strong vocals out front, this is a treat from first note to last.
Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club | Benches A monumentally towering testament to melodic and harmonic excellence, Benches is a delight from start to finish. There is nothing quite like Kate Stephenson’s take on melodic pop music, just as there is nothing like her soaring imagination, and her ability to express all manner of emotion and make the listener feel. Working in concert with musical partner John Steel, Kate delivers wondrous songs (and three-dimensional vocal harmony stacks) like “Somebody Called Me an Onion,” a smile-inducing, upbeat, energetic pop number with faux-reggae shadings about peeling back the layers to reveal the full, human package of emotion; and the a cappella wonder “Silent Letter,” a tune about inner beauty and the sanctity of thought that doesn’t always have to be laid bare. For those of you keeping score, this is the second Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club album to wear our Favorite Records of the Year mantle. As it should be.
The Nines | Alejandro’s Visions Rolling and then filtering the influence of the music of writers such as George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart into a mix peppered with the harmony styles of the Beach Boys, the Four Freshmen and even doo-wop, and then topping the resulting flow with his love of artists such as the Electric Light Orchestra and XTC, Steve Eggers has delivered a harmony- and melody-drenched soundtrack to an imaginary film, somewhat of a sequel to the last Nines album, Night Surfer and the Cassette Kids. Standout tracks include the beautiful, bittersweet, old-fashioned “When Our Love Was in Bloom,” stacked deep with gorgeous harmonies and an irresistible melody; and the early rock and roll/pop hybrid “Operator (Coming Home to You),” which sports a meaty, catchy, percussive piano riff, opens with an aural allusion to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and lays out a delectable Jeff Lynne-ish bridge that will make you smile. Alejandro’s Visions is Eggers’ best and most assured work yet, an immensely satisfying collection that belongs in every melodic pop music fan’s collection.
Seth Swirsky | Circles and Squares Proving that a creative, heartfelt approach to making music will yield magic almost every time, Seth Swirsky has crafted a collection of songs that draws on all of his strengths, and perhaps incorporates a couple of new ones. Moreover, these songs reveal the truth about all of our lives, right from the first track, “Shine,” his statement of purpose, the one that sets the stage for what comes next. And what comes next is winner after winner, such as the lovely confessional and autobiographical “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You),” in which the narrator allows that life means nothing at all without the proverbial “one”: “I’ve got some baseballs/That are pretty rare/Got a swimming pool/And a fast car/But I don’t care/’Cause I don’t have anything if I don’t have you…I’ve got gold records/Hanging on my wall/But without your love/Baby you can have ’em all…” This 16 song collection is the latest expression of craft from one of pop music’s most important artists.
Lucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche | Mud and Apples A sparkling duo release from Suzzy Roche and her daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche. Warm harmonies, clever songwriting and the inclusion of beautifully-sung covers such as Paul Simon’s “Bleecker Street” and the Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain” push this 11 track masterpiece into hall-of-fame territory. Roches fans will be charmed, and so will everyone else. Surely one of this year’s top expressions of musical joy.
The Monkees | Good Times! Good Times! is a classic-sounding Monkees album that happens to have been released 50 years after Monkeemania began. A mix of recordings based on sessions produced during the group’s heyday and new songs written by top-flight, current songwriters of note, this is a fun listen from start to finish. A shining example of how good this album is: The perky, catchy “You Bring the Summer,” written by XTC’s Andy Partridge, fulfilling a childhood dream. A great album.
Mimi Betinis | Music Sounds and Basement Tapes Vol. 1 Pezband’s Betinis scores with two sterling releases in 2016 that are really two sides of a rather entertaining coin, so they both rate a spot in this Stars of 2016 feature. Music Sounds is a vivid, quite alive offering of melodic treasures. Its songs are wonderfully realized pop confections that hit the hooky bullseye, like “She Wants You,” which surreptitiously recalls the famed intro to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” in the intro, and “Summer Love,” a warm love letter and look back to a seasonal romance (that, perhaps unknowingly, taps the sound of 10cc member Eric Stewart’s guitar playing in the solo).
Basement Tapes Vol. 1 collects tracks that Mimi has been working on over the years, like “Ray of Light,” a melodic sweetness that sounds like an Andy Partridge outtake off of XTC’s Nonsuch album, and simply lovely covers (Paul McCartney’s song for Mary Hopkin, “Goodbye,” and the Hudson Brothers’ “So You Are a Star” are glorious). Saying that some heritage artists are only getting better as time passes by can sound like rather an empty assertion, but my, how that phrase does indeed fit snug as a bug, listening to Music Sounds and Basement Tapes Vol. 1.
Winterpills | Love Songs The numbers on Winterpills’ seventh album get under your skin; they become you in some celestial kind of way. The vocals of songwriter Philip Price and his wife, guitarist and keyboard player Flora Reed, are the collective glue that holds these proceedings together–the glue that gives them life. Consider “Wanderer White,” a rolling, rhythmic song about a fall from grace, in which Philip takes the lower notes and Flora the higher ones, and “Freeze Your Light,” which starts off as if in a church with a slight, ghostly choral singsong and becomes a folk-into-pop number with a delectable chorus buoyed by the same low-and-high vocals. The poppy bopper and should-be-hit-bound “Celia Johnson” turns the tables with Philip initially taking the high vocal part and Flora following closely. A trumpet and coronet serenade add to the song’s beauty; a lovely, echoed piano part comes in for a beautiful coda. A real treat.
Butch Young | Mercury Man Butch Young’s miraculous, hall-of-fame-worthy album is a modern classic by way of its dazzling array of 1970s-styled instant classic songs, peppered with a mix of Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson-esque magic. Every one of these Los Angeles-based artist’s songs is a clear winner, like the title track, “Persephone,” “One Foot In,” and “The Fools of May.” Awesome.
The Dowling Poole | One Hyde ParkOne Hyde Park, the sterling follow-up to the Dowling Poole’s Bleak Strategies, is a virtual tour de force and, if that weren’t enough, it’s an album influenced by sounds from across the pop landscape that doesn’t actually sound like its influences. Witness “Vox Pops,” which incorporates a very Partridge Family-sounding keyboard line and a very Brian May-sounding guitar solo; “Hope and Glory,” an upbeat pop song; and “Bring Back the Glow,” a smooth, rolling ’70s number. Joy from across the pond.
Chris Murphy with Michael Carpenter | “Real Love” This absolutely gorgeous ballad recasting of John Lennon’s song is one of this year’s major triumphs in melodic pop music. For this rendition, the tempo has been slowed, allowing Murphy to lovingly communicate the depth of the emotional lyric. Murphy’s vocal may well be the best vocal performance of the year. His ability to hold a melody line’s final note in such an artful way, to sustain its resonance and maximize its impact on the listener, is something to behold. Recorded with precision and heart by Carpenter on the occasion of singer Kylie Whitney’s wedding (Whitney also sang background vocals), this new version of this wonderful song is proof positive that covers can reveal new layers of emotion not previously brought to the surface.
Emitt Rhodes | Rainbow Ends Forty-three years after his third album, Farewell to Paradise, was released, this new collection surfaces to critical and listener acclaim, and rightly so. Here are songs that feature all of the Rhodes hallmarks: beautiful, catchy melodies; inventive chord changes; and those velvety, smooth, sturdy and emotive vocals. Perhaps this is no more evident than on the emotional ballad “I Can’t Tell My Heart.” Somewhat reminiscent of Mirror‘s “Love Will Stone You,” this is a showcase for Emitt’s committed, vocal delivery; the gorgeous melody and emotional lyrics combine to sketch the breakup of a relationship and a considered plea for the other party to embrace the option to heal. A wonderful surprise and an instant classic. Welcome back to a truly special artist.
Daisy House | Western Man Doug Hammond and his daughter Tatiana’s album for the ages features golden harmonies and great songs that will melt your heart all the way through. The heavenly duo channels the Byrds in the uptempo “She Comes Runnin’ Back” and “Twenty-One,” offers up a catchy, playful vibe with the singalong number “Willow,” and delivers a strong, emotive ballad with the orchestrated tune, “Western Man.” Best news of all: a new album is soon to be released. Happy new year, indeed. Where to Get It:Bandcamp
Brain Circus | Brain Circus This smashing collection of impossible-to-resist songs performed in grand style by ace songwriter and keyboard wizard Brian Curtis, late of the much-loved band the Oohs, serves up 13 numbers in all, performed entirely by this transplanted Virginian. The majestic, heartfelt love song “Finally Found the One,” a musical sculpture formed with smiles and tears and a whole lot of heart, is but one highlight. You’ll detect essence of the Beach Boys, Jellyfish and Queen, among other classic touchstones, but this is all Curtis and don’t you forget it.
The Flat Five | It’s a World of Love and Hope This Chicago-based band of harmony-hounds deserves supergroup status, thanks to the members’ affiliation with artists such as Neko Case, NRBQ and the New Pornographers. Welcome a deliciously wondrous assortment of luscious pop dressed in a variety of comfortable musical clothing that runs the gamut from the Manhattan Transfer-meets-hep cat vibe of the delightful “Buglight” to the Paul McCartney retro-sway of “I Could Fall in Love with You” and the pretty back porch balladry of the Roches-like “Bottom Buck.” Pretty special all the way through.
Bent Van Looy | Pyjama Days Based in Paris, France and a member of the band Das Pop, Bent Van Looy’s 2016 release is a lovely, pure poppy collection of sweet-sounding catchy melodies sung with assured style, like the upbeat pop number “My Escape,” beautifully arranged with little Beach Boys vocal flourishes weaved in; “Mr. Fletcher’s Song,” a melodic mid-tempo ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Randy Newman album, and the sumptuous title track, a three-minute genius construct, nicely orchestrated and adorned with a smile-inducing whistle. Pop on.
The Junipers | Red Bouquet Fair This charming collection from the Leicester, United Kingdom band recalls the sweet sunshine pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s in such lovely songs as “Summer Queen” and “Like a Merry-Go-Round.” Red Bouquet Fair is no less than the audio equivalent of smiling at your good fortune on a warm day in the park while sipping cool lemonade (the effect is equally transcendent wherever else you may be). The vocals are enchanting and the instrumentation is perfectly played. Lovely.
Tommy and the Rockets | Beer and Fun and Rock ‘n’ Roll This ace project, featuring 10 pop-rockers, co-written, except for one, by super criminal defense attorney Michael Chaney and Thomas “Tommy” Stubgaard, who plays all of the guitars, bass, and provides handclaps, shake the house, as it were. Check out the catchy, Beach Boys-influenced sunshine anthem “Here Comes Summer,” and a couple of energetic Ramones nods, “Silly Teenage Love” and “You Want Me (But I Don’t Want You)”). Cheery, toe-tapping fun.
The Explorers Club | Together This collection of songs imbued with the spirit of the best of the Beach Boys, the Four Freshman, the Association and other time-honored practitioners of the art is one of the sweetest offerings of the year. Here are songs that are beautiful and beautifully sung, lovely and lovelier still, from Jason Brewer, Wyatt Funderburk, Paul Runyon, Kyle Polk and Mike Williamson. From the southern California harmony- and sun-soaked sound of “California’s Callin’ Ya” to the Four Freshmen-meets-“Graduation Day”-by-way-of-Les Paul ballad “Perfect Day,” Together invites listeners to bathe in the beauty of harmony-filled dreams.
Harmony-filled dreams… Ah, as ever, they feel so right. With 2016 now in our collective rearview mirror, it is time to look ahead into what is just around the corner. Your favorite artists, and those new to the melodic pop scene, are itching to get going…to release their latest creations, crafted with a mix of melody, harmony, and keen performance.
Already, I have heard a few upcoming albums that I predict will knock your socks off. Nick Bertling, who records under the name Bertling Noise Laboratories, has been making a name for himself with a few rather extraordinary platters; the Lab’s latest, releasing later this month, is a covers collection called, in a nod to the great Harry Nilsson, A Little Touch of Bertling in the Night. This is a sweet mélange of favorite songs from yesterday, filtered through today’s singular sensibilities. It is uniquely Bertling, and you’re going to love it.
Dana Countryman, of whom much has been said throughout these pages, all of it sweeping-me-off-my-feet good, is about to release in 10 days, through Australia’s Teensville Records, his passion project, a tribute to the 1960s girl group and Brill Building sounds that continue to bring joy to ears around the world. Dana Countryman’s Girlville!: New Songs in the Style of Yesterday’s Hits will transport you back to a much simpler time, perhaps, when melody and joy were king. Lisa Mychols, Swan Dive’s Molly Felder, and Lisa Jenio are just three of the vocalists that help to bring Dana’s vision to life on an album that you will hug tightly. Look for Dana to appear on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation soon to talk about this landmark release.
Bill DeMain, whose solo music and treasured albums with Molly Felder as Swan Dive will always have a place here on Pure Pop Radio, has a new record that will soon be released. After hearing and playing on the air a bonus track from Beans, a lovely arrangement of the Beach Boys’ “Wendy,” we hope the release date comes very soon.
The Word is Love
“Spread the word,” the Beatles sang back in 1965. They were talking about love, not melodic pop music written and recorded in the 2010s, but they might as well have been looking forward, as should we all.
In 2017, we look forward to bringing you more of the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. We’re on the job 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A click of any of the Listen links that follow will connect you with our stream. Spread the word about Pure Pop Radio, if you will and, if you haven’t already, please click the Follow button on the homepage of this very website to ensure that you will be notified by email every time we make a post.
Thanks for reading our list of our Favorite Records of the Year: The Stars of 2016. Add them all to your collection; your ears will thank you, as will I.
It’s always fun to converse with Willie Dowling, Jon Poole and Givvi Flynn; it’s a recipe for a wildly entertaining (if we do say so ourselves) hour of conversation and music. During this fun hour, you’ll hear all about the making of One Hyde Park, the stories behind the atmospheric lyrics, and other wonderful musical topics.
Go inside the making of the Dowling Poole’s One Hyde Park with Willie Dowling, Jon Poole and Givvi Flynn (pictured at left) by listening to and downloading their appearance on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation.Bonus: You’ll learn just about everything you need to know, as it were, about Level 42 (sort of)! It’s another rousing program, sure to make you smile!
Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, airs Tuesday nights at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to more than 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.
It’s another spectacular week of spectacular specialty programming here on Pure Pop Radio. Jump into the Poole with us, folks (see below)…it’s going to be a wild ride!
First up, tonight’s repeat edition of Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing hits the Beatles sweet spot with a 1966 twofer and a salute to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album. We’ve got a feeling you’re going to love this episode, airing tonight at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT).
Every Little Thing is the premiere, syndicated program playing Beatles group and solo recordings. Hosted by longtime radio personality Ken Michaels, the show airs new episodes frequently on Monday nights at 8 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio.
Tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 19, at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT), the members of the Dowling Poole join Alan Haber for a wildly entertaining (if we do say so ourselves) hour on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation. The group’s smashing new album, One Hyde Park, is in the spotlight (three songs will be spun). Go inside the making of the album with Willie Dowling, Jon Poole and Givvi Flynn. And learn all you can, as it were, about Level 42! It’s another rousing program, sure to make you smile!
Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, airs Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to nearly 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.
On Wednesday night, April 20, at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT), Brian Bringelson, from the fine and dandy band Anchor and Bear, mans the turntables for his all vinyl show, Needle Meets Vinyl. During this episode, sway to the classic sounds of Paul and Linda McCartney, Elton John, the Beach Boys, Squeeze, and Don Juan y Los Blancos, among other musical luminaries. It’s another classic series of spins from one of our most treasured musicians.
Needle Meets Vinylis the weekly show during which all songs are played from vinyl records. The music spans the decades during which popular music has flourished. Curated and presented by Brian Bringelson, a member of the band Anchor and Bear and a solo artist under the name Paul Starling, the show airs Wednesday nights at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT).
This week’s sure-to-be-controversial edition of the weekly Beatles roundtable, Things We Said Today, looks at the upcoming compilation Pure McCartney. As you might expect, opinions differ as to whether this compilation is worthy of release, or even necessary. Our famed panelists–Ken Michaels, Steve Marinucci, Al Sussman and Allan Kozinn–discuss the value of the release and its track listing. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, this is a timely, gripping discussion that you won’t want to miss.
Things We Said Today is a weekly survey of all things Beatles that’s hosted by a quartet of Beatles experts–today’s Fab Four, if you will. Ken Michaels, host of Every Little Thing, is joined by Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman, Steve Marinucci (Beatles Examiner), and Allan Kozinn, longtime music critic. Other well-known Beatles experts sometimes sit in with the core group. Things We Said Today airs Thursday nights at 8 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio.
Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the original 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. From the Beatles to the Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, the Connection and the New Trocaderos, we play the hits and a whole lot more. Tune in by clicking on one of the listen links below.
Willie Dowling, Jon Poole and Givvi Flynn, collectively known as the Dowling Poole, sit down with Alan Haber and the ghost of Level 42 (well, sort of) next Tuesday night, April 19, at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation.
The occasion is the release of the new Dowling Poole album, One Hyde Park, a typically engaging, varied and well-crafted collection of pop and roll that everyone all over the world will want to spin over and over again.
During the hour, Willie, Jon and Givvi wax poetic about One Hyde Park’s insanely great songs and other matters of the musical heart. Rest assured that ba-ba-bas are fully in evidence, as are hooks galore and a level of creativity and imagination that are quite simply out of this world.
Join Alan and the Dowling Poole for a lively and invigorating hour of talk and music, during which three songs from One Hyde Park will be played and discussed. The fun begins next Tuesday night , April 19, at 8 pm ET (5 pm PT) on Pure Pop Radio.
Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop interview program hosted by Alan Haber, normally airs Tuesday nights at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT) and repeats on Sunday afternoons at 5 pm ET (2 pm PT). Archived, podcast versions of interviews are posted on the In Conversation PodOmatic podcast page; click here to listen to more than 60 shows previously broadcast on Pure Pop Radio.
Day two of Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion (and thank you for joining us, melodic popsters!) kicks off with the explosive new album from the Dowling Poole, this time comprising not only Willie Dowling and Jon Poole, but also Givvi Flynn.
Let’s get started, shall we?
The Dowling Poole | One Hyde Park We’ve long been huge fans of Willie Dowling’s work with Jackdaw 4, which slid upon their disbanding into the Dowling Poole, which found Willie hooking up with Jon Poole from Cardiacs and the Wildhearts. The duo is now a trio, with third member status being bestowed on vocalist Givvi Flynn.
One Hyde Park, the sterling follow-up to the Dowling Poole’s Bleak Strategies, is a clear winner and a virtual tour de force and, if that weren’t enough, it’s an album influenced by sounds from across the pop landscape that doesn’t actually sound like its influences. In other words, it sounds like the Dowling Poole, which is a very good thing.
Three songs stand out especially amongst the dozen on offer. “Willing to Change,” about trying to adopt a positive outlook in the face of so much negativity, is a poppy number with wonderfully-realized moving parts from within which a lovely melody and charmingly rich background harmonies thrive. In the title song, an imagined scenario finds a real London address in the Knightsbridge section of London that caters to the extremely, positively well-to-do getting its comeuppance. Art-pop conventions make for a gripping musical experience. And in the scorching, upbeat, Poole-sung “Fight, Fight, Fight,” the always-endearing pop convention–“ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba”–is actually the prize one gets for fighting for what’s right. Genius.
We’re playing the aforementioned three songs in rotation, plus three more: “Vox Pops,” which incorporates a very Partridge Family-sounding keyboard line and a very Brian May-sounding guitar solo; “Hope and Glory,” an upbeat pop song; and “Bring Back the Glow,” a smooth, rolling ’70s number.
We welcome back the Dowling Poole and, without question, look forward to album number three, hopefully coming not that very long from now to a stereo system near you.
The Sonic Executive Sessions | “Welcome to the Circus” It’s quite possible that this is the only song being written about today that needs no commentary whatsoever. Another just-about-perfect song from the great Christian Phillips, “Welcome to the Circus” is stocked full of Christian’s gorgeous trademark harmony stacks. Oh, and the melody is pretty spectacular. We look forward to the next album of wonders from the Sonic Executive Sessions. Until then, we have this golden nugget, which makes us, and you, about the luckiest people on the planet.
Maxi Dunn | “Apple Blossom” and “Full Circle” Liverpool’s own Maxi Dunn will soon release her new album, Operation Bubble. We’ve added two songs that will appear there–the beautiful, majestic ballad “Apple Blossom,” and the upbeat, toe-tapping pop-rocker “Full Circle.” Operation Bubble promises to be a big winner. We can’t wait.
Alice Bierhorst | The Beacon Produced with great care and compassion by the supremely talented Greta Gertler Gold and her husband Adam D. Gold, known collectively as the Universal Thump, The Beacon is the welcome arrival of a truly lovely album by a truly talented artist. Alice’s pretty songs and her tender, expressive vocals, which recall such titans as Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Carole King, are wonderful constructs. Whether delivering a tender ballad (“Better Angels”) or an upbeat pop tune (“Airborne”), Alice is tops of the pops.
We’re playing four songs in rotation: “Our Work is Never Done,” “Better Angels,” “Airborne,” and “Forever You Go.” Top points for the live strings and horns, and the included lyrics. The trifold digipak is particularly welcome. And thanks, Alice, for the lovely music…and the wonderful feather. ♥
Paperhearts | “Laurel Hill” and “A Girl Like That” Here’s a real treat: two songs from a band new to our ears. The pure popper “Laurel Hill” was recorded this past January and produced by Pure Pop Radio favorite Andy Bopp, whose new album we reviewed (read: raved about) and added songs from yesterday; the energetic “A Girl Like That,” with a hint of Byrdsian honey, was produced by the group’s bass player Jim Grice. Both songs were written by Mike Smith and will be featured on Paperhearts’ forthcoming album, Candygram. Something to look forward to, for sure. Thanks to Trax on Wax’s Gary Gebler for turning this group onto us.
Deep Six | “No I Haven’t a Clue” and “Heading for a Fall” Another group new to our ears, Heavy Soul Records’ Deep Six is composed of musicians from ’80s mod bands the Threads, the Upper Fifth, and Makin’ Time. “No I Haven’t a Clue” is a pure pop stomper with a great melody and, as you might expect, a great hook. “Heading for a Fall” comes to us in demo form; it’s a catchy upbeat tune you might expect to hear around the campfire, if you’re so inclined. Great stuff, and a four-song EP will be on its way in June.
The Carousels | “Lord Speed My Hurricane” and “Like a Loaded Gun” Look no further than the Byrds and like-minded artists for at least a few of the influences on this band whose home is the distillery town of Keith in northeast Scotland, where Chivas Regal whiskey hangs its bottles. Melody fans will savor these songs which constitute the two sides of a new single. Joyous.
Gillian Nicola | “Oh Marie” From Hamilton, Ontario, Canada comes Gillian Nicola, a classically-trained vocalist whose “Oh Marie” is a taster track from her forthcoming EP, No Place to Call. The mid-tempo song is a melodic triumph; Gillian’s commanding vocal takes center stage with an affecting performance. We think you’ll be as enthralled with this song and performer as we are. Now playing in rotation.
Loop Line | Wakes “Luke lives in Phoenix,” we find out by perusing Loop Line’s Bandcamp page.”Paul lives in Minneapolis. We make music together with the help of the Internet.” And with that information in our pocket, we play Loop Line’s music and we like what we hear. “Nothing About You” and “Parts Unknown” are terrific, upbeat pop songs with solid hooks, and what more could you realistically want?
Samantha Tieger | “I’m in Love” Cincinnati, Ohio’s own Samantha Tieger turns in a catchy pop song with an affecting vocal and a really nice melody. This one would sound pretty good on the radio–hey, we can do something about that! We’re eager to hear more from this singer-songwriter who scribes musically in English, Spanish, and French. Now playing.
Don Dixon and Dave Caruso | New Pure Pop Radio IDs Pure Pop Radio favorites Don and Dave work their vocal magic (separately) for our humble station, turning in new IDs that are sure to please. Magic? Indeed.
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Day two of Pure Pop Radio’s Springtime New Music Explosion is in the books. Time for day three of our festivities, kicking off tomorrow. See you then. While you wait, why not click on one of the listen links below and hear the above-mentioned new adds to our playlist and more than 8,500 other handpicked songs. Pure Pop Radio is taking care of your melodic pop needs!
It’s time for another round of new music that we’ve just added to our playlist. We’ve got a whole lot of new songs and artists to tell you about, so let’s get on to it, shall we?
The Dowling Poole | Single: “Rebecca Receiving,” “The Same Mistake Again,” and “Empires, Buildings and Acquisitions (Live in Manchester)” This tasty taster, being released February 19 in advance of the full-length One Hyde Park, is yet another example of what Willie Dowling and Jon Poole do so very well: mix the past with the present as they point to the future. “Rebecca Receiving” is an undeniably catchy art-pop explosion drinking from a well overflowing with Stiff and Godley and Creme-isms. It’s hard to deny, as is the non-album “The Same Mistake Again,” a wholly different, gentle-by-comparison beast, coming from the other, Stewart-Gouldman side of the 10cc fence. A lovely, heretofore unreleased, stripped down, live version of Bleak Strategies‘ “Empires, Buildings and Acquisitions” completes the triptych. Super stuff.
Various Artists | If It Feels Good, Do It: A Sloan Tribute Keith Klingensmith’s Futureman Records hits another bullseye with a collection of covers of songs from the Sloan catalog. A selection of familiar and perhaps not-so-familiar artists delivers the goods, from Coke Belda and El Inquieto Roque’s melodically-charged “Autobiography,” which kicks off with a knowing, smile-inducing nod to Jeff Lynne’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” to Pop 4’s short but sweet “Flying High Again,” sounding more than a little like electrified, later-period Cowsills. We’re playing 12 superb tracks in rotation, including the previously-mentioned nuggets and Andy Reed’s “I Love a Long Goodbye”; Fireking’s “The Other Man”; Gretchen’s Wheel’s “Try to Make It”; the wonderfully named Hal E. Fax and the Supernova Scotias’ “So Far So Good,” with its Beach Boys vocal open; Nick Piunti’s “Right or Wrong”; Phil Ajiarapu’s “Set in Motion”; Stereo Tiger’s “C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)”; The Hangabouts’ “The Answer Was You”; and the Well Wishers’ “The Lines You Amend.” Cheers to a fun listen.
Coke Belda | “Poor Baby” Speaking of Coke Belda, this pop master has recorded a spirited and loving cover of the Cowsills’ 1967 single track “Poor Baby” for Pop Parade, a forthcoming compilation from the Rock Indiana label. Coke plays all of the instruments and sings all of the vocals. It’s a spectacular performance, and we’ve got it playing in rotation. Beautiful.
Propeller | Fall Off the World The followup to 2013’s Don’t Be Sorry Again, sporting a K-tel International homage on its cover, is an infectious collection of hook-filled songs with more than a hint of Teenage Fanclub-esque-fueled DNA. Songs like the Byrdsian “She’s So Alive” is but one example of the heights the group achieves; “You Remind Me of You” melds Buddy Holly swagger with its power-pop heart; “It’s Kinda Why I Like You” is a virtual love letter to Fanclub song construction. These three songs, plus “Wish I Had Her Picture,” “The Things You Say,” “What a Way to Feel,” and “Can You Hear Us Now,” are currently playing in rotation, as you would expect.
Tobbe | ep1 – summerboundTobbe is The Tor Guides’ Torbjorn Petersson, a multi-instrumentalist who flexes his solo sweet pop muscles on four catchy classics: the hit single-worthy “What in the World” and “Two Minutes of Your Time,” the lovely ballad “Absent Minded Me,” and the comparatively muscular “Love Went to Paris.” Tobbe plays all instruments, save for the drums. Hooks abound. Listeners are in love.
Chris Murphy | Ghost Town The Murphy Brothers’ Chris closed out 2015 with this gorgeous collection of songs soaked in melodic charm. The title track, a lovely ballad, is quite simply one of the most affecting numbers we’ve heard in quite some time. The blues-rocking “Scarecrow” is a punchy number, punctuated by Chris’s strong vocal and some tasty piano runs; and “Kid from the Country” sings a heartland song from the heart. These three tunes, plus “Not Like it Was Before,” “Running Out of Time,” and “Happy Boy” are now happily playing in rotation.
New Sincerity Works | Nowadays Our old friend Mike Tittel returns, fellow travelers Roger Klug, Bob Nyswonger, Mike Landis, Greg Tudor and Tom White in tow, with New Sincerity Works’ second album, another sparkling collection of melodic gems. “The Upside of Being Down” is a powerful rocker performed with energetic swagger; the gorgeous “Our Room Shares a Door” sports a delicious melody and beautiful harmonies. In addition to these two songs, we’re playing “Dreams Worth Keeping” and “Lips Miss Talking” in rotation.
The Cactus Blossoms | You’re Dreaming It’s like the Everly Brothers are spinning on the turntable, but you’d better open your eyes (and your ears, for that matter), because it’s not Phil and Don; it’s brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum delivering an authentic mix of Everly, country and western, and Bakersfield magic. One of the great surprises of this early year, we’re playing five great numbers: “You’re Dreaming,” “Traveler’s Paradise,” “Stoplight Kisses,” “No More Crying the Blues,” and “Clown Collector.” It just doesn’t get much better than this.
Daisy House | Western Man Here is another great surprise that has defined this year, even early on, as a great one for melodic music. Doug Hammond and his daughter Tatiana have made an album for the ages. Golden harmonies and great songs melt your heart all the way through. The heavenly duo channels the Byrds in the uptempo “She Comes Runnin’ Back” and “Twenty-One,” offers up a catchy, playful vibe with the singalong number “Willow,” and delivers a strong, emotive ballad with the orchestrated pearl, “Western Man.” We’re playing these and five other grand musical gestures: “The Defender,” “The Boulevard,” “Say Goodbye,” “Like a Superman,” and “Golden Heart.” This is nothing less than a gift from heaven.
Tricia Countryman and John Hunter Phillips | “The Warmth of the Sun” Taken from Tricia’s upcoming solo album, being produced by her husband Dana (a Pure Pop Radio favorite, don’t you know), this lovely rendition of the Beach Boys classic is pure gold. This is just about as perfect an example of how important harmonies are to melodic pop music as we can think of.
That’s it for today. You’ll be getting another big fix of new songs and artists added to our playlist coming up in a harmony-filled blink of an eye. Until then, why not click on one of the listen links below and sway to the melodies and harmonies coming out of your speakers by listening to Pure Pop Radio?
Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the original 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. From the Beatles to the Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, the Connection and the New Trocaderos, we play the hits and a whole lot more. Tune in by clicking on one of the listen links below.
Tell all your friends, wake up your neighbors and let the melodic pop music conversation flow freely from sea to shining sea: Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation has returned to PodOmatic with five brand-new shows featuring your favorite melodic pop artists and personalities.
Now posted and available for online listening and/or download on In Conversation’s PodOmatic page: five new shows featuring the Weeklings’ Glen Burtnik and Bob Burger, Kyle Vincent, Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman, Terry Draper (Klaatu), and the Dowling Poole’s Willie Dowling and Jon Poole. Each show delivers in-depth, behind-the-scenes talk that you need to hear about each artist’s music and topics of importance. Plus, Spotify and YouTube direct song links are provided for each show, where available.
The artists and personalities featured in the five new shows just posted:
Attention, fans of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, the premiere melodic pop music talk show on the Internet: Your favorite program is back! In Conversation returns next Tuesday, February 24 and Wednesday, February 25 with brand-new, never-before-heard shows. And that’s not all: More new episodes, featuring the best and brightest in conversation with Alan Haber, talking about their careers and much, much more, will follow very soon.
Coming up next Tuesday, February 24 at 8 pm ET,Terry Draper, groovy solo artist and former member of Klaatu, will be behind the microphone to talk about his most recent album, When the World was Young. Terry will also chat with Alan about his studio, Swamp Manor; black and white movies; and how he writes songs, among other topics. Plus, you’ll hear three tunes from When the World was Young. It’s a very cool hour you won’t want to miss.
Tune in Wednesday, February 25 at 8 pm ET for a chat with Willie Dowling and Jon Poole, who collectively form the Dowling Poole. The group’s smashing album, Bleak Strategies, is at the center of this discussion, but many more topics will be discussed, including how Willie and Jon got together and much, much more. You’ll also hear three songs from Bleak Strategies.
Note that both interviews were recorded last May and, due to a number of difficulties, we are airing them for the first time next week. Look forward to many more interviews with your favorite artists coming soon to Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation! We’re very excited about all of this, and we hope you are too!
Remember that past interviews can be heard any time, day or night, at Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation’s PodOMatic podcast page. Click here to be magically transported!
I have long believed that of the many instruments that help to bring a great song to life, the human voice is capable of the most expression (sleigh bells come in at number two, in case you were wondering). Moreover, the magic that results from a group of people who come together to make a glorious sound that resonates with an audience is incontrovertible proof that music is the fuel that makes the cool kids sing.
The cool kids sang rather sweetly in 2014, a great year for melodic pop music. Whether driving the beat of a song or singing in five-part harmony, artists were inspired to create lasting art in the form of two-, three- and four-minute songs that added value to people’s lives. There is a reason–probably more than one–that great songs stand the test of time, some sounding as fresh as the day they were born, even decades after they were recorded. And make no mistake–many of the songs that made their way to turntables and CD players this year have that kind of staying power.
Even after 20 years of writing about and broadcasting pop music to the masses, I am still dazzled by much of what I hear. The thrill of discovery is present every time I sit down and prepare to listen. I want every note that fills the room to explode with joy. And, more often than not, I am rewarded with that certain something that drives me to play music on the radio and gather words together to communicate that joy. For me, the magic is still alive and well and lighting my world.
Which brings me to 21 magical records that helped make 2014 a banner year for melodic pop music. I’ve made no attempt to rank them or present them within categories. It is impossible for me to make a distinction between the fourth and fifth best albums of the year, so I haven’t even tried. What follows are simply 21 of my favorite releases of the year: the stars of 2014, if you will–a group of records that will enrich your life in ways that may well surprise you. And they’re presented in no particular order. There were many more records that touched my soul this year; these are the top of the pops. At the very least, they will put a smile on your face, and as the late writer Derek Taylor might have opined, you really can’t say fairer than that. – Alan Haber
And now, in no particular order, please join me in ushering in the Stars of ’14: Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year!
Joe Sullivan | Schlock Star Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Joe Sullivan and his debut album, Schlock Star, knocked me clean off my feet. Joe’s keenly observed pop songs, about girls and boys and boys and girls and other related topics, are perfect examples of the arts of clever songwriting and performance. In my review of this album, published on September 2 on this site, I said that “Sullivan makes tracks that stick and stack up for imminent replay.” I also stated, without reservation, that “This is Sullivanmania, attended by screaming fans who dig the sounds of one of the best records of 2014.” No doubt you’ll be hearing a lot more about Joe in the coming years. Joe, as you may have already figured, is the real deal.
Marti Jones | You’re Not the Bossa Me What I know about bossa nova music could fit on the rightmost quadrant of the head of a pin, but thanks to Marti Jones’ radiant album that adds more than a splash of melodic pop to the turntable, I’m something of an expert. Well, not really, but I know what I like and I like the latest chapter of Jones’ music a lot. When I added all of these songs to the Pure Pop Radio playlist on July 9, I said in my playlist report that this is “pop music for discerning listeners….” And indeed it is. I also noted that the songs, “written by [Kelley] Ryan, [Don] Dixon, Bill DeMain, [Paul] Cebar and others, are brought to life with Jones’ magical voice. Jones has never sounded better.” It’s always a celebration when Jones releases a new album. If you think this one is great, well, just wait until the next one spins.
The Legal Matters | The Legal Matters Some albums feel right after only a few notes play. And when the harmonies kick in–when the melodies surround me and take me to some other place–I’m putty in the musicians’ hands. Such was my experience with this debut album by three well-known musicians who came together to form the Legal Matters. In other words, they’re the Rockpile of the melodic pop world. It’s all in the music, I said in my July 23 feature review; the “harmony-drenched law firm of [Andy] Reed, [Chris] Richards and [Keith] Klingensmith” delivers the goods. This is “good, good music for when the snow falls, for when spring turns to summer, during a light rain, and for when fall signals the end of baseball season and the year moves into its closing phase. It’s good for what ails you, a prescription that works wonders no matter the season or circumstance.” It’s really great, and it’s one of my favorite records of 2014.
Ed Woltil | Paper Boats, A Reverie in Thirteen Acts The beautiful songs that populate this wonderful album from the Ditchflowers’ Ed Woltil are a wonder to behold. Melody is king and beauty is on display in each of the melodic gems currently playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. Whether he’s wearing his straight-ahead pop hat on the catchy “Algebra” or crooning softly and emotionally on the beautiful waltz, “Dance With Me One More Time,” Woltil is capturing our hearts. I called this a hall-of-fame-worthy release when I wrote about it in my July 9 station update; four months later, its position remains unchanged. A stellar release from a huge talent.
Dave Caruso | Cardboard Vegas Roundabout When I reviewed this album on September 17, I testified, up front, about it glorious wonders: “This kind of thing, this magical musical mixture exhibiting the tasty influences of Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, the Beach Boys and, hey why not, Paul McCartney, is a thing of beauty, an artful excursion that can and will enrich your life, take you to your happy places and prove to you that good things absolutely do come in all manner of packages–small, medium, large and beyond.” What more do you need to know, except that these songs should absolutely have a place in your life. Caruso’s Beach Boys/Carpenters homage, “Champion,” alone makes this album a worthy purchase. Cardboard Vegas Roundabout is so good and so tasty that many of the other CDs in your collection will aspire to achieve its greatness. Simply fantastic.
Bill Lloyd | Reset2014 Bill Lloyd has been a huge part of the Pure Pop Radio playlist since his career-making Set to Pop was released in 1994. On the occasion of the album’s 20th anniversary, Bill has recreated that mind-blowing collection with wonderfully-updated remakes and early and live takes. Reset2014 is as much a look back as it is a reinvention. “On the list of Best Records Ever Made,” I noted in my October 29 review, “Set to Pop must sit comfortably alongside similarly great waxings drawn from the catalogs of other great artists.” “With Reset2014,” I wrote, “Bill Lloyd has taken pause to smell the roses from 20 years ago and replant them for future generations.” This is such a great achievement from one of pop music’s greatest artists.
The Britannicas | High Tea Album number two from this international melodic pop supergroup checks off many of the must-haves on power pop fans’ lists: Byrds musings, gorgeous balladry, jangle, harmonies and hooks galore. Veteran U.S. popster Herb Eimerman, who we’ve been playing on Pure Pop Radio for somewhere in the neighborhood of18 years, Australia’s Joe Algeri, and Magnus Karlsson from Sweden have served up a spot of High Tea that all told constitutes a truly classic collection.
Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club | Nothing to Be Afraid Of A total surprise, this is perhaps the brightest, most inventive, most sincere and happiest-sounding melodic work of the year. Kate Stephenson, trading under the delightful band name Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club, had written a range of songs that recall the best of the Roches, the Dream Academy and Prefab Sprout, but come alive as uniquely her own creations. The deeply-felt, dense harmonies alone are more than worth the price of admission. Plus, the artwork and hand-lettered lyrics in the accompanying booklet prove that the album package is still alive out there in the world. One of the most truly special albums of this or any other year.
Robert Crenshaw | Friends, Family and Neighbors Speaking of truly special albums, here is one from the great Robert Crenshaw. “One of the sweetest surprises of the year is this joyous celebration of the love of the clever, catchy song,” I wrote in my October 30 feature review. Pairing a couple of covers, including one of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which features Marshall, Dean and John Crenshaw, with seven originals and a surprise bonus track, Crenshaw turns in his best album to date, tackling such diverse subjects as “…the upside of improbability (the lovely, hymn-like “The Night the Detroit Lions Won the Super Bowl”), familiarity in the face of love (the Bill Lloyd co-write, “You’re So Hip to Me”), detachment versus reality (“What if I’m Really Dead?”), and hiding behind the wall of booze (the gospel-tinged “Turn to Booze”).” A wonderful album, beautifully realized.
The Rubinoos | 45 In my November 10 feature review, I wrote that “this latest album from the melodic pop band’s melodic pop band is a master class in songwriting and performing that should be at the top of your holiday gift-giving lists.” 45 is stone-cold triumph–a standout album in a career teeming with them. Among the treasures on offer, besides the great voice of Jon Rubin and some of the best harmonies on the planet, is one of the best tracks recorded by any artist this year–a lovingly-rendered a cappella (with percussion) version of Lou Christie’s classic, “Rhapsody in the Rain,” that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and drive you to recall the classic sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Tommy Dunbar originals like the buoyant “I Love Louie Louie” and the upbeat “Countdown to Love,” which tips its hat to the Paul Revere and the Raiders playbook, are modern day classics. Long may the Rubinoos run.
Peter Lacey | Last Leaf Tender and loving and from the heart, Last Leaf bristles with warmth and genuine emotion. Lacey harkens back to his folk roots, taking inspriation from ” the circles of everyday, country life: on patches of grass surrounded by sprouting trees, and by the water, on a calmly-stated lake. Lacey’s new songs are about the simpler, and more important, things in life; every element of this album is calm and soothing and powerful,” I wrote in my station update on July 7. Beautiful songs like “The Woodwind” and “Boy in the Rings of a Tree” populate this entire album, a treasure by any definition of the word.
Jamie Hoover | Jamie Two Ever Pop music’s premiere journeyman returns with a sort-of sequel to 2004’s Jamie Hoo-Ever, and boy does he deliver. Seven originals, eight covers (only on the CD), and a million reasons to keep this album in hot rotation at your pad. As I said in my station update on October 28, “From ace covers of a couple of Beatles tunes and the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” to a host of originals, including the joyous, almost-completely a cappella “Press Save”; the lovely, gentle Steve Stoeckel co-write, “Lost”; and the bluesy “Oh Darlin’!”-esque “You Took Away the Birds,” Jamie Two Ever practically redefines the word ‘classic.’
Kylie Whitney | Something About Ghosts With a soulful approach and a refreshing touch of honesty, Kylie Whitney has released a classic-sounding album stocked with a wide range of emotions, all conveyed with authority. Although the album is chiefly comprised of originals, most of which were co-written with producer Michael Carpenter, Whitney does deliver a tender read of Don McLean’s “Vincent.” “Bad News Baby” finds Whitney in fine ’60s girl-group mettle, and “Tealite” shines an emotional light on her somewhat fragile vocal. Everything here points to a singer with a bright future.
mylittlebrother | If We Never Came Down One of the coolest discoveries of the year. Here’s how I summed things up in my October 24 station update: “As perfect as a beautiful day in the country or a clear, wondrous night under the stars, mylittlebrother is a wonderful British band that specializes in lovely, clever, insanely catchy pop songs that capture the imaginations of listeners. Entrancing melodies, gorgeous harmonies and a sense of humanity make this album the find of the year.” The opener, the joyously hopping mid-tempo “Loves of Life, Unite!” and the early rock ‘n’ roll stroll-meets-Teenage Fanclub vibe of “My Hypocritical Friend” are only two of the musical pleasures to be savored. Wonderful.
Sam RB | Finding Your Way Home Here is a truly lovely album full of truly lovely songs by a New Zealand singer-songwriter who makes truly beautiful music. Here is what I said in my October 28 station update: “Finding Your Way Home features Sam’s beautiful, expressive voice and songs with melodies that will melt your heart.” Sam sings her heart out in such standout tunes as the folk-pop “Blue Sky Day,” the wonderfully catchy, hit-worthy “Say Goodbye,” and the should-be-hitbound and equally impressive title song. Don’t be surprised if Finding Your Way Home soon finds its way to your home.
The Dowling Poole | Bleak Strategies The perfect second act after the ashes of the much-missed band Jackdaw 4 had scattered, the Dowling Poole finds that band’s leader, Willie Dowling, teaming up with veteran musician Jon Poole for a similarly imaginative trip down the pop music rabbit hole. Bleak Strategies is hardly a bleak affair, though; rather, it’s a wondrous, album-length expression of strength in the art of composition and performance, with seemingly millions of influences synthesized down to one shared point of view. Full of surprises and all manner of left and right turns, this is your one-stop-shop for XTC-meets-10cc-meets-Kinks, Beatles and Frank Zappa-isms. Put simply, these are pop songs turned on their heads by two men fully poised to do the job right. Any album that segues effortlessly from banjo-fueled vaudeville to straight pop in the same song (the wild and wooly “Empires, Buildings and Acquisitions”) and lays their pop smarts bare with an early-to-late period XTC-like romp (the insanely catchy “A Kiss on the Ocean”) deserves your rapt attention. Grand.
Edward O’Connell | Vanishing Act Four years on from his 2010 debut, Our Little Secret, Edward O’Connell returns with, not surprisingly, another great record. In our July 10 station update, I wrote that “Vanishing Act is everything a great melodic pop album should be and then some.” Songs include the insanely catchy “My Dumb Luck” (with its George Harrison-esque slide guitar lines), the equally infectious “Severance Kiss,” and “Lonely Crowd,” with a decidedly Tom Petty vibe. With not a single note or clever lyric wasted, Vanishing Act is one of this year’s greatest musical achievements.
Linus of Hollywood | Something Good Something great is more like it. “Nobody does it better,” Carly Simon once sang, and she might as well have been singing about Linus. His duet with the lovely Kelly Jones on the charming “If You Don’t Love Me You Gotta Let Me Go” is, all by itself, worth the price of admission. His gentle cover of Kiss’ “Beth” breathes new life into the old classic rock staple, putting added emphasis on the melody as welcome, real strings set the song aloft. Spectacular music, catchy as all get out, all the way through.
Dana Countryman | Pop 2! The Exploding Musical Mind of Dana Countryman Dana Countryman turns the clock back to the panoramic 1970s as the Wayback Machine collects the songs that form the soundtrack of your life–if you’re a sweet, melodic pop fan, and by reading this you might as well flash yout membership card at the door, this is for you. Nobody does this kind of thing better than Countryman, who celebrates “…the kinds of songs they just don’t write and record anymore. His influences, from Gilbert O’Sullivan and Eric Carmen to the Beatles and beyond, are worn on his sleeves and [are] bathed in his own, unique approach to songwriting and production.” That was my take on this album in my review from October 7. If you’re looking for a warm, musical glow to light your way, then look no further than this collection. It’s like what used to come out of transistor radios a long, long time ago, but it’s now coming from the here and now. Pop 3!, please.
Mothboxer | Sand and the Rain Mothboxer’s Dave Ody wears his heart, and his influences, on his sleeve on this wonderful new album. Mothboxer just keeps getting better, and this album is their best yet. The influence of the Beach Boys is apparent, however subtly, on the lively and engaging “In the Morning” and the enticing “Looking Out for Summer.” The title cut is clever, technicolor pop. The driving “We’re All Out of Our Minds” is upbeat and rather catchy. Overflowing with great songs, Sand and the Rain is a clear winner and, not surprisingly, one of the best albums of the year.
The Solicitors | Blank Check Lee Jones’ energetic, widescreen pop songs, hooks always at the ready and raring to go, are fuel for the fire that is Australia’s the Solicitors. A wildly talented singer and songwriter, Jones, along with guitarist Laf Zee and crew tread towards the listener with equal parts vim, vigor and melody. The band means business and their business is clear: knock ’em down with Stiff-era enthusiasm and the joy of performance. One of these days, the Solicitors will venture away from Oz and hit American shores to spread their pop gospel. We patiently wait for that day, but until then we have this new album, one of the best of the year.
(All reviews written by Alan Haber)
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of 21 of Pure Pop Radio’s favorite albums of the year. These are the Stars of ’14: 21 artists with great songs that will enrich your lives and guarantee your status as one of the cool kids. Which artists and songs will make next year’s cut? See you in about 365 days for the answer to that question and many more! Thanks for reading, and thanks, as always, for listening to Pure Pop Radio!