Category Archives: CD

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt.3

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And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, and HERE for Pt. 2.  Above: No, that’s not the Runaways ya dummy  – it’s Heavy Tiger, gettin’  ready for some heavy pettin’. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Wyldlife-Digital-Cover

Wyldlife smartly has a boot in two camps. Based in NYC, the band has a firm grounding in the glammy proto punk and roughhewn power pop that emanated from its city back in the ‘70s. When it came time to record its second full-length, however, the group decamped to Atlanta, home of rising pop & roll saviors Biters and their brethren, and the joie de vivre of  recording in a sympathetic environment certainly makes its impression. Out On Your Block (Wicked Cool) doesn’t so much veer from one stylistic variation to another so much as cram them together, powering the singalong choruses of “Keepsake” and “Bandita” with the reckless energy of a Mercer Arts Center freakout. The band zooms through the tracks like its members mistook amphetamines for sugar pills in their morning coffee, but never sound out of control – tight but loose in the grand rock & roll tradition. Sounding for all the world like a mind meld of the New York Dolls and the Plimsouls, Out On Your Block reeks with the pure joy of taking smartly crafted tunes and making a big-ass racket.

CCcover

Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes apply similar makeup to their boyish faces on their debut LP All Anxious, All the Time (Rum Bar). As leader of the long-gone Dimestore Haloes, frontguy Charles Matthews has a long history of banging out tuneful constructions with bullshit-free flair, and he continues his good work on pleasure-button mashing popsters “Get Low,” “Big Dumb Town” and “My Little Twin.” Maine-to-Spain transplant Kurt Baker adds a bit of Detroit power and L.A. flash to a similar recipe on Shot Through the Heart(Rum Bar), the first full-length from Bullet Proof Lovers. That doesn’t mean power pop hero Baker (joined here by various Spanish r’n’r luminaries) has suddenly gone hard ‘n’ heavy, but it does give “On Overdrive” and “Heart of Stone” a fist-pumping, lighter-waving rush and “All I Want” and “Take It or Leave It” a punky, street rock attack. Unusually for bands like this, the second half of the record is actually stronger than the first.

Heavy Tiger - Glitter - Artwork

With a sly grin and blazing attack, power trio Heavy Tiger blasts out of Stockholm with Glitter (Wild Kingdom). The colorful hooks of ‘70s glam rock entwine with the no-nonsense charge of mid-’70s hard rock, before being violated by late ‘70s punk. Riding Maja Linn’s gritty vocals (not unlike Muffs’ leader Kim Shattuck’s) as much as the big-ass guitars, “I Go For the Cheap Ones” and “Feline Feeling” deliver an irresistible opening one-two punch. But the band keeps the hits a-comin’, whether it’s more burning rockers like “Keeper of the Flame,” rousing glam rock like “Devil May Care” (written for the band by the Ark’s Ola Soma) or loud power pop a la “Starshaped Badge and Gun Shy.” The glitter in the album’s title dusts denim vests and ripped jeans.

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Back in the bad old days of the late ‘80s, glammed-up quartet Enuff Z’nuff got shoved into the hair metal ghetto, which might’ve been fine had the band gotten the same hits and success as its West Coast peers. (Indeed, it’s an association the band has never shunned.) Unlike its mousse-abused pals, though, the Chicago band fell more heavily on the Cheap Trick and Sweet side of the pop metal street than on the Aerosmith/Starz side. Clowns Lounge (Frontiers) has a few squealing guitar solos, but otherwise leans on vocal harmonies, glittery melodies and big power pop hooks. “Rockabye Dreamland” resembles Jellyfish more than Def Leppard, while “Back in Time” and “Radio” sound more like homeboys Urge Overkill than Aerosmith. It hearkens back to the band’s first couple of albums, which is no surprise, given that it consists of songs reworked from the days before EZ’s 1989 debut LP. That means most of the songs feature original vocalist Donnie Vie, which will set OG fans’ rods a-twirl. Then there’s “The Devil of Shakespeare,” which features, as guests, late Warrant singer Jani Lane, Styx guitarist James Young and – as a ringer? – 20/20 co-leader Ron Flynt. Go figure.

Connectioncover

Covers collections usually denote a lack of new material on an artist’s part, regardless of the official line. That said, the Connection has been awfully prolific the past few years and can be forgiven if the urge to hit the studio overtook the effort to write new songs. On Just For Fun! (Rum Bar), the Boston boppers bash through a batch of obvious influences (the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “I Can Read Between the Lines,” Dave Edmunds’ “Other Guys Girls”) and left-fielders (George Thorogood’s “Get a Haircut,” the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver,” “Streets of Baltimore,” the Harlan Howard song recorded by Bobby Bare and Gram Parsons). The band’s reverence for pre-21st century pop reaches its effervescent apex on a faithfully executed take on Syl Sylvain’s timeless “Teenage News,” its ‘billy and bubblegum delirium right in the Connection’s wheelhouse. A stone hoot, Just For Fun! lives up to its title.

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The Jigsaw Seen draw from many of the same ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones as the Connection, though they’re filtered through such a personal vision that the L.A. act has always sounded unmoored from time itself. That applies even to For the Discriminating Completist (Burger), a collection of singles, EP tracks and alternate mixes of tunes from across the band’s nearly 30-year career. Echoes of the Who, the Creation, the Kinks and the Move resound, but on “Jim is the Devil,” “My Name is Tom” and “Celebrity Interview,” the Seen always sounds most like itself. That applies even to covers of the Bee Gees, Love, Henry Mancini and the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett standard “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Stoneage Hearts

The Stoneage Hearts take many of those same influences and beat them with a Nuggets stick, as found on Turn On With (Off the Hip), a reissue of the band’s 2002 debut. The Australian trio’s sugar ‘n’ spice mix of grinning power pop and rough-hewn R&B-flavored garage rock cuts any hint of crap in order to get down to the business of hooks, harmonies and tunes as good as “So Glad (That You’re Gone)” and “Stranded On a Dateless Night.”

LittleMurderscover

Australia’s Little Murders have prowled the Melbourne underground for nearly 30 years in various incarnations. The product of the longest-lived version, Hi-Fab! (Off the Hip) distills the quintet’s virtues – simple melodies, ragged harmonies, a nice mix of jangle and crunch – in 33 minutes of power pop rush. Still led by plainspoken singer/songwriter Rob Griffiths, the Murders sound comfortable and confident on the sprightly “She’s the Real Thing,” sweet “Merry Go Round” and driving “Out of Time.”

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Perth’s Manikins predated Little Murders, evolving out of the Cheap Nasties, one of Australia’s first punk outfits. (The Nasties also gave us international treasure Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and Surrealists fame.) From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings) collects the band’s entire oeuvre, from demos to singles to self-released cassettes, on two slabs of vinyl, and it’s ninety minutes of power pop perfection. The quartet deftly beats the hell out of melodic sweetness like Bruce Lee fighting a cheerleader, making the winsome “Love at Second Sight” (in two versions), the raw “Street Treat,” the brittle “Losing Touch” and the blazing “Girl Friday” sharp lessons in how to do it right. Melbourne’s Baudelaires keep the Australian garage rock wave flowing with Musk Hill (Off the Hip), a psychedelicized take on three chords and a bunch of youthful angst. Alternating thumping rockers like “Scrapbooker” and “Foxglove” with trippier concoctions like “Whet Denim” and “Snapper Steve” (not to mention a quick dip into the surf music pool with “Life’s Too Short For Longboards”), the young quartet puts the roll back in psych rock.

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Manufactured has also taken it upon itself to rescue a couple more early power pop outfits from obscurity. Smart Remarks may have been the house band at the infamous City Gardens in the early ‘80s, but that was as far as the trio’s notoriety ever got. Too bad – the single and EP sides collected on Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 (Manufactured Recordings) are a delight for fans of the form. The band’s new wavey guitar pop reaches catchy potency on the sparkling “Falling Apart (As It Seems)” and “Mary’s Got Her Eye On Me.” New Jersey’s Modulators hail from the same time period, but let ‘60s/’70s roots like the Hollies and the Raspberries show through any new wave colorization on Tomorrow’s Coming (Manufactured Recordings). That 1984 platter was the trio’s sole LP, but here it’s augmented with a ton of demos, singles and unreleased tracks to grow into a 28-track monster of jangly pop glory.

Muffs HBtM

The Muffs’ first two albums are masterclasses on melodipunk, and, while not the runaway successes so many of their peers’ records were, still put the L.A. trio on the map. So what happened with Happy Birthday to Me (Omnivore), the band’s third album? Creatively, nothing – the record is, cut for cut, the Muffs’ strongest, a consistently catchy, beautifully recorded and enthusiastically performed set that should have been the apex of the band’s upward arc. Alas, its then-record company Reprise decided to put their resources elsewhere, and the Muffs were dropped right as the album came out. (Despite this, it has never fallen out of print.) Fortunately, it’s back, all the better to enjoy the spice cake rush of “That Awful Man,” “Outer Space” and “Honeymoon,” the winsome midtempo power pop of “The Best Time Around,” “Keep Holding Me” and “Upside Down,” the 6/8 mania of “All Blue Baby,” the raging snot rock of “Nothing” and the snide country rock (?!) of “Pennywhore.” Plus a rare cover of the Amps’ “Pacer,” a batch of demos and the bandmembers’ informative and entertaining liner notes, including leader Kim Shattuck’s song-by-song commentary.

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British guitarist John Hoyles has, to generally excellent results, toiled in the fields of Swedish rock, slinging strings for prog/doom outfit Witchcraft, boogieing spinoff Troubled Horse and glam/power rockers Spiders. For his solo LP Night Flight (Crusher), however, takes more inspiration from punk and pub rock, with no-nonsense songs and maximum production clarity. Outside of the acid folk of “In the Garden” and overtly psychedelic title track, tunes like “Talking About You,” “Before I Leave” and “Minefield” rock righteously and unselfconsciously. Bonus: a cover of former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” that makes Hoyles’ self-professed love of Stiff Records pretty blatant.

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Mark “Porkchop” Holder did time in both blues punk act Black Diamond Heavies (of which he was a founding member) and in the arms of addiction. Free of both, the singer/slide guitarist returns to his hometown of Chattanooga, TN, for Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound), a set of rocking blues that could only come from someone who’s lived a life on the underside. As such Holder wastes no time with virtuosity or fancy production – he and his rhythm section just crank it up and get down to business with a clearly articulated focus a lot of cracker blues slingers could use. Holder’s lack of illusions about where he’s been and how he got there power the snarling choogle of “Disappearing” and menacing country rock of “Stranger” as much as his raw bottleneck work, and his plainspoken vocals sell every syllable. Rough-and-tumble rambles through “Stagger Lee” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” also prove Holder knows how irreverently to treat a couple of pieces of well-traveled (read: overused) classics without losing touch with their essential spirit. “I’ve got no one but myself to blame!” he shouts during the titanic “My Black Name,” the song most likely to be his “Jumping Jack Flash.” That lack of sentimentality gives Let It Slide the conviction to put it in a different category than the usual flash blues slop.

Evil Twin

Australia’s Evil Twin also uses the blues as a jumping off point on its debut Broken Blues (Off the Hip). No revivalists, this pair – nor do they pay homage, unintentional or not, to the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Instead guitarist Jared Mattern and drummer Chris Beechey blast off from the music’s 12-bar origins into loud, grungy rock that’s beholden more to bands Dan Auerbach and Jack White don’t listen to – nothing sounds like Zeppelin, in other words. Led more by Mattern’s measured singing than overwhelming instrumental bombast, dirty slide pound like “Look Into My Mind” and the title track, snarling boogie like “Motor City” and soulful power balladry (!) like “Slow Dance” sound fresh and exciting, the way new classic rock should.

POWER LP Jacket

Evil Twin’s country band Power might also argue that the blues is at the heart of its sound, but it’s difficult to tell under the punky crust and general mania on its debut Electric Glitter Boogie (In the Red, though originally released in Australia in 2015; the In The Red LP comes pressed on either red or black vinyl). A deliberate nod to Australia’s legendary hard rock acts Coloured Balls and the Aztecs (names not very familiar to Statesiders, though they might know Aztec leader Billy Thorpe’s later AOR hit “Children of the Sun”), the trio goes over the top with raging riffs, gonzo vocals and an air of barely-contained madness. These boys want to rawk, and when they fire up the wild-eyed boogiepunk of “Slimy’s Chains,” the title track or the band’s eponymous anthem, get with it or get the hell out of the way.

HeathGreencover

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Heath Green and the Makeshifters holler back to an earlier era, one when British bands like Humble Pie took soul music into harder rock realms than it was logically prepared for. Luckily, the quartet proves itself far less leadfooted than its predecessors on its self-titled debut LP (Alive Naturalsound). Without throwing any accusations of “authenticity” around, it really seems like coming from the American South gives Green a more natural feel for R&B, gospel and the blues, allowing him to fold his pan-seared shout into the Makeshifters’ hard-rocking crash without having to scream to be heard. The fierce pound of “Living On the Good Side,” chunky shuffle of “Secret Sisters” and sanctified soul of “Ain’t Got God” get the balance between tank and testify just right.

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Tom Baker and the Snakes have been one of Boston’s best-kept secrets for a few years now, but with Lookout Tower (Rum Bar), the quintet makes a national splash. Marrying the plainspoken songcraft of heartland rock, the high voltage power of the Motor City and the ramshackle grace of a party-all-night bar band, the Snakes bash out catchy tunes like “High n’ Tight,” “Make It Hurt” and “Needle in the Red” like the Replacements if they’d listened to more classic rock than punk. Three guitars keep the riffs, hooks and jangles churning, and Baker’s ragged-but-oh-so-right voice delivers the exact dose of vulnerable swagger. If you like your rock & roll to worry less about subgenres and more about just getting to the good stuff, Tom Baker is yer man, man.

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The combination of Detroit rock royalty Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman, the Visitors, his various solo bands) and James Williamson (the Stooges, of course) is so fraught with potential it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. On its debut EP Acoustic K.O. (Leopard Lady), the pair neatly sidesteps the ambitions thrust upon them by delivering an acoustic EP of tunes associated with Williamson’s time with Iggy Pop. Tek’s gruff plainspokenness gives “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” a note of gravitas, and the duo’s take on “No Sense of Crime” pulls out an obscurity that’s right in their wheelhouse. Oddly, though, the highlight is the Tek-less instrumental “Night Theme,” a mothballed tune that scans like the soundtrack to a crime-and-punishment TV show.

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Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

 

Tom Baker & the Snakes – Lookout Tower Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lookout-tower

 

The Baudelaires – Musk Hill Bandcamp:

https://thebaudelaires.bandcamp.com/album/musk-hill

 

Bullet Proof Lovers – Shot Through the Heart Bandcamp:

https://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/album/shot-through-the-heart

 

The Cheap Cassettes – All Anxious, All the Time Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/all-anxious-all-the-time

 

The Connection – Just For Fun:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-for-fun

 

Enuff Z’Nuff – “Dog On a Bone”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQr0axc4lI

 

Evil Twin – Broken Blues Bandcamp:

https://eviltwinrock.bandcamp.com/album/broken-blues

 

Heath Green and the Makeshifters – “Ain’t It a Shame”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo2CELBHB4s

 

Mark Porkchop Holder – “My Black Name”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS6miti9XHA

 

John Hoyles – “Talking About You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_d6jcpFoRk

 

The Jigsaw Seen – “Jim is the Devil”:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/the-jigsaw-seen-jim-is-the-devil-single-version

 

Little Murders – Hi-Fab! Bandcamp:

https://littlemurders.bandcamp.com/album/hi-fab

 

The Manikins – From Broadway to Blazes Bandcamp:

https://manikinsaustralia.bandcamp.com/album/from-broadway-to-blazes

 

The Modulators – Tomorrow’s Coming Bandcamp:

https://themodulators.bandcamp.com/

 

The Muffs – “Outer Space” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY1vwFdKq5I

 

Power – “Electric Glitter Boogie”:

https://soundcloud.com/powower/electric-glitter-boogie-1

 

Smart Remarks – Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 Bandcamp:

https://smartremarks.bandcamp.com/

 

Deniz Tek & James Williamson – “Penetration”:

https://soundcloud.com/pavement-pr/penetration

 

Wyldlife – “Contraband”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4T9BgwCdxU

 

 

TIFT MERRITT – Stitch of the World

Album: Stitch of the World

Artist: Tift Merritt

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.yeproc.com

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BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s taken a relatively short time for Tift Merritt to work her way up the rankings of today’s more sensitive, soul-baring brigade, a distinction that’s put her name on the lips of all those prone to point out those deserving of being the ones to watch. That’s unlikely to cause any argument from her faithful followers, who have already anointed her as a balladeer worthy of all the ballyhoo she’s been accorded, with every new album meriting the increased anticipation that’s clearly her due.

Stitch of the World is no exception, and while the majority of the songs are of the exceedingly mellow variety, it offers further proof of the fact that Merritt has now emerged as one of Americana’s most distinctive songwriters. While opening track “Dusty Old Man” conveys more than a hint of driving defiance, and “Proclamation Bones” offers up some sizzling slide guitar, the remainder of the tracks find her in reflective mode, all cozy sentiments instilled with sublime reflection. In fact, the sweet sentiments contained in songs such as “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb,” the shimmering and subdued “Icarus” and the gentle and reflective “Something Came Over Me” find her gliding easily across this tranquil terrain, adding to the engaging and accessible lure of the album overall. While some might complain that the tone is a bit too uniform throughout, the overall impression is one of sweet serenity, adding up to an entirely engaging effort that makes this a supreme standout by any measure.

What a lovely World view indeed.

DOWNLOAD: “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb,”“Icarus,” “Something Came Over Me”

SHINYRIBS – I Got Your Medicine

Album: I Got Your Medicine

Artist: Shinyribs

Label: Mustard Ltd.

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.shinyribs.org

Shinyribs

The Upshot: Austin band’s best effort yet.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Picking up the flag from folks like Dr. John, Delbert McClinton and Leon Russell, Austin’s Shinyribs play a mix of swamp funk and soul, mixed with a little country for a unique sound and all around fun vibe.

What originally started as a side project for Kevin Russell has grown into a nine-piece band and evolved over the course of seven years and four albums into one of the best things to happen to soul music in decades. And I Got Your Medicine, their latest, may be their best effort yet.

Spread across a dozen songs, Russell’s deep, southern drawl floats over honky tonk piano and a horn section that Springsteen would envy. The lyrics are sly and witty and you can’t help but move along to the music, even on a slow track like “I Knew It All Along” or the bittersweet “Nothing Takes the Place of You,” a great Allen Toussaint cover (the second Toussaint cover on this record). Part of the beautiful charm of Russell and his band is that they would put the fantastic “I Don’t Give a Shit,” just two spot above the someone more reverent “The Cross is Boss.” A fantastic record from start to finish.

DOWNLOAD: “I Got Your Medicine,” “I Knew All Along” and  “Nothing Takes the Place of You”

 

PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS – The Spirit of ‘67

Album: The Spirit of '67

Artist: Paul Revere & the Raiders

Label: Now Sounds/ Cherry Red

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.cherryred.co.uk

PR

The Upshot: Still hungry through and through!

TIM HINELY

With my penchant for 60’s pop you’d think I’d know more about these guys than I do but I don’t. I do know that they released a few records in the year of 1966, this being one of them  (fooled ya’ with that title). You’ve seen these guys, the goofy get ups and all, but their music was no joke, they could really play and write. Back in those 1960’s they were in high demand, touring their asses off and on tv five days a week on the ABC show Where The Action Is. This particular edition includes the 11 original songs in a mono version plus those same songs in a stereo version and they tack on 3 bonus cuts.

There’s some excellent cuts on there (three tops tens) including ace pop tunes like “In My Community,” “Louise” and the baroque “Hungry” (also don’t miss the dirtier “Our Candidate”). Following a Beatles lead (I’m assuming) they get a little out there and psychedelic on cuts “Undecided Man” and “1001 Arabian Nights” (I prefer their pop/rock tunes).  Also, in case you forgot, some contributors to this record include producer Terry Melcher plus Hal Blaine, Bruce Johnson and Van Dyke Parks to name a few. After this record 3/5 of the classic lineup would split leaving only Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere to carry on with new members.

Though the band would go on to make at least one more excellent record (1967’s Revolution) Spirit of ’67 marked, for some, the real creative end of the band. Don’t miss the excellent liner notes by Ugly Things publisher Mike Stax which also includes some rare photos.

DOWNLOAD:  “In My Community,” “Louis,” “Hungry,” “Our Candidate”

 

THE JIGSAW SEEN – For the Discriminating Completist

Album: For the Discriminating Completist

Artist: Jigsaw Seen

Label: Burger

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://burgerrecords.com/

JS

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

The Jigsaw Seen rank among the most sadly neglected power pop bands on the planet. And yet, their consistent cleverness has never been in doubt. Likewise, the fact that the Kinks’ Dave Davies frequently taps them as his backing band whilst playing solo, obviously adds to their credence. Still, the fact that so many folks remain unawares is truly distressing, especially in light of the fact that they’re so proficient at creating their relentless riffs as well as hooks that simply don’t quit. So while the tellingly titled For the Discriminating Completist fills in the more obtuse portions of their catalog — one that dates back some than 20 years in fact — it’s also an apt introduction that leans heavily on their penchant for pop. There’s intrigue along with the oddities, the former represented by a revved up take on the old swing standard “The Best Is Yet To Come,” the latter through an equally rocking version of the instrumental “Baby Elephant Walk.” As for the rest, a faithful cover of the early, obscure Bee Gees song “Melody Fair” (culled from an equally obscure Bee Gees tribute album) and single edits of their own originals, “When You’re Pretty,” “Whore Kiss” and “Celebrity Interview” all reaffirm their pop prowess. Hints of psychedelia, eastern influences and other obvious reference points (Beatles, Cheap Trick, Hollies et. al.) all enter the mix, making this both satisfying and sublime throughout. Completists will care, but after giving a hearing, newcomers likely will as well.

DOWNLOAD: “Melody Fair,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “When You’re Pretty”

PROPER ORNAMENTS – Foxhole

Album: Foxhole

Artist: Proper Ornaments

Label: Slumberland

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.slumberlandrecords.com

PO

The Upshot: Promising UK band ditches its winning psych pop formula for a plodding, pallid sound.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

For this UK band’s sake, you have to hope there exists a happy place somewhere between the “whirlwind of chair-breaking, knife-drawing chaos” that occasioned its promising debut and its desultory sophomore retreat into, well, this Foxhole in 2017.

#Wooden Head#, released in 2014, was the work of James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold (Toy, Pink Flames). It wasn’t a perfect debut, but it wore its influences proudly and loudly. But, according to the band’s own PR, the steep mental and physical cost caused this calculated retreat that strips back the band’s sound and, unfortunately, anything resembling its mojo.

Gone is the fuzzy guitar crunch reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Woods-friendly psych pop, and the big power pop hooks. Gone, too, is the notion of a two- or three-minute rock song, replaced by somber, dragging tempos that overstay their welcome in almost every instance. Built on strummed guitar and a few Lennon-like piano chords, the sad-sack love-lost ballad “Memories” has all the personality of a sloth, and its nearly six minutes only enhances that simile. Instead of wisely shifting gears for some contrast, though, Proper Ornaments doubles down on the same lethargic tempo on the next track, “Just a Dream.”

“1969” then goes to the plodding tempo-well a third straight time—this time with heavily reverbed vocals—to turn its titular hot year into an off-putting ice-block. That then leads into an even more stilted number—”The Frozen Stare”—which at least offers an apropos handle. Throw in a pallid imitation of Elliot Smith’s angst with “Jeremy’s Song,” and the LP’s few highlights—the thrumming “Cremated (Blown Away)” and “Bridge By A Tunnel,” the only track with a memorable chorus— can’t rescue Proper Ornaments from the ugly truth: there’s a bomb already in this Foxhole.

DOWNLOAD: Their debut.

JOHN ABERCROMBIE QUARTET – Up and Coming

Album: Up and Coming

Artist: John Abercrombie Quartet

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 13, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

JA

The Upshot: Joyful, soulful, inventive—should we go on?

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Guitarist John Abercrombie has long been one of the States’ most prolific jazz musicians – including leader dates, bands and sideperson gigs, he’s probably notched over 100 albums on his musical bedpost. Up and Coming is the second LP with his latest quartet, which includes drummer Joey Baron (no stranger to prolifigacy himself), bassist Drew Gress and pianist Marc Copland.

Though he first made his name as a fusion guitarist (cf. his debut album Timeless and his work with Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham’s solo band), Abercrombie is a far more imaginative and diverse musician than that. Though he long ago dropped the effects pedals, his playing traverses eras – you can find elements of bebop, swing, free jazz, Third Stream and cool jazz in his work, all of it filtered through his own expertly melodic and restlessly inventive imagination. Up and Coming is a fine example of his aesthetic: the soulful sonority of “Tears,” the playful whimsy of “Flipside,” the glistening serenity of “Joy,” the swinging action of “Silver Circle.” Abercrombie – always a very pianistic guitarist – and Copland practically leak melodies from their fingertips, while Baron and Gress make the rhythms move in order to keep the pair constantly on their toes.

The way the group interweaves its strengths on its take on Miles Davis’ “Nardis” shows the pure pleasure that comes from listening to experts who love their jobs doing them well. (Ed. note: Speaking of listening to experts, check out Prof. Toland’s Abercrombie interview, “Painting Outside the Lines,” from a couple of months ago.)

DOWNLOAD: “Nardis,” “Silver Circle,” “Tears”

 

TOBIN SPROUT – The Universe and Me

Album: The Universe and Me

Artist: Tobin Sprout

Label: Burger

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.burgerrecords.com

tobin 1-27

The Upshot: more evidence that, as time goes by, Guided By Voices’ other songwriter may be aging more gracefully.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

During his tenure in Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout emerged as the considered, deliberate yin to Robert Pollard’s hyper-prolific, shotgun-attack yang. Spread judiciously over the band’s most iconic albums, Sprout’s best songs (“Mincer Ray,” “It’s Like Soul Man”) served as a kind of melancholic leavening even when they rocked your face off.

Now 61, Sprout still has the voice of a 22-year-old, a perfect complement for the lo-fi sound he arguably invented with Pollard and has, in varying degrees, trafficked in since. Though it’s more rough-edged and rudimentary than most Sprout solo outings, the intimacy of the rough-hewed production on The Universe and Me pulls you close while also leaving you to wonder what some of these Beatles-esque melodies would sound like with a George Martin (or even a Phil Spector) producing them.

The first single and lead-off track on Sprout’s sixth record under his own name — “Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow” — is a power pop beauty held over from the GBV days, and perfectly suitable to bridge the divide of years via churning guitar fuzz, red-lined drums and a vintage Sprout sing-along chorus.  But it’s also a bit of an outlier; the other rockers here — “A Walk Across the Human Bridge,” “Just One Kid (Takes On The World)” — are the LP’s least impressive moments.

That’s in part because they sound almost rote next to Sprout’s balladry, which can swell your heart to the bursting point. Filled with images of treasure chests, swirling parades and the like, The Universe and Me reads like a gentle but honest letter to Sprout’s young self, touching on topics like comic books, finding your purpose in life, and growing old — fertile territory for an organic nostalgia that often makes Sprout’s songs feel timeless.

Take the quartet of tunes at the center of the 14-song album. “When I Was a Boy” opens with on an old stand-up recorded so dimly it’s just this side of prepared piano, until a mellotron lifts the melody into the light as the best McCartney/Lennon compositions did. The fuzzy guitar of “Cowboy Curtains” follows for two minutes, but this time it’s Sprout’s cross-woven harmonies that really make the chorus elegiac. “Heavenly Bones” strips the guitar crunch away for piano and a simple drumbeat while Sprout recalls a parade as it “swirled and slipped away/we stood beside ourselves, carried this dream world to the ground,” and by the time the mid-tempo jangle pop of “Heart of Wax” rolls around, Sprout’s won you over again.

The album could do with a little pruning, and without Pollard’s manic voice as a foil the lo-fi production can wear a listener down some by the end. (By contrast, 1997’s Moonflower Plastic sounds like an ELO album.) But The Universe and Me offers more evidence that, as time goes by, Guided By Voices’ other songwriter may be aging more gracefully.

DOWNLOAD: “When I Was a Boy,” “Cowboy Curtains,” “Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow” — John Schacht

JONATHAN MUDD – Evidence

Album: Evidence

Artist: Jonathan Mudd

Label: Major Label Interest

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.muddmusic.com

evidence-cd-cover

The Upshot: Continuing evidence of the songwriter’s uncommonly confident mastery of the pop form.

BY FRED MILLS

DC’s Jonathan Mudd hit the bull’s-eye in 2010 with sophomore platter Truth Lies, piling up power pop nugget after nugget, the musician clearly signaling that the time he’d spent in the band trenches (The Shake, Land of Giants, Jo Jo Ex-Mariner) had taught him a thing or ten about songcraft. That he’d also worked as a music critic allowed him both an objectivity towards his own material and a potentially deeper emotional attachment to classic forms than your average journeyman rocker. (In that regard, North Carolinians may additionally recognize his name from his frequent byline in Triangle publications back in the day.)

As yours truly put it in a review, “Bottom line: Truth Lies both holds its own against the classic power pop archetypes while delightfully advancing the game for the contemporary scene. It’ll make you a believer all over again in the magic, and it just might free you, too.”

On one level, then, Mudd’s new album, Evidence doesn’t depart from his signature sound. Power pop still reigns supreme on cuts like opener “Sore Heart Days,” a Tom Petty-styled number boasting an instantly memorable twinned piano/guitar riff and a punchy chorus you’ll be singing along with before the first spin is done. A couple of tracks later, “Maybe We Can Save Each Other’s Lives” puts a notable Eighties/New Wave twist on things, what with the bouncy melody and beat and a winning we’ll-make-it-if-we-stick-together-baby lyric motif. And “The Wedge” is straight-up power chord worship, fist-pumping stuff from the sinewy opening riff to the anthemic, soloing climax; the title becomes a cheeky metaphor for the narrator’s romantic prowess, at one point likening himself to an icebreaker steaming through the Arctic’s frigid waters  (“I’m coming through,” he boasts, in equal parts taunt and come-on).

So Mudd’s not reinventing the wheel here. What he is doing is demonstrating an uncommonly confident mastery of the pop form, from the songs’ arrangements (dude has more hooks than a bait and tackle shop) to the glistening production that allows his guitars and Daniel Clarke’s keyboards ample space to stretch out and breathe while ensuring that the rhythm section (drummer Ricky Wise, bassist Patrick Thornton) is never relegated to background status. The album’s also a study in precision, sequencing-wise, Mudd instinctively knowing when to downshift—say, on the title track, a midtempo ballad, or on the acoustic guitar-powered “Trap the Moon”—and exploit the record’s dynamics for maximum tension and catharsis.

Ultimately, every song on Evidence is a keeper. Factor in all those gems from Truth Lies and you’ve got a guy steadily amassing a back catalog as impressive as it gets.

DOWNLOAD: “Sore Heart Days,” “17-35-69,” “The Wedge”

BRENT CASH – The New High

Album: The New High

Artist: Brent Cash

Label: Marina

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://marinarecords.com

Brent 1-27

The Upshot: High-caliber pop as classy as it is catchy

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The Carole King/Todd Rundgren/Emitt Rhodes wing of the pop music castle doesn’t host new artists often – it’s an iteration that’s long since ceased having any cool factor. Fortunately that hasn’t stopped Brent Cash. The Athens, GA, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist presents his third album The New High without a shred of self-consciousness, reveling in its soft pop sounds. The sheer craftspersonship on display here is remarkable – with assistance only from some string players, Cash creates airy confections arranged around his piano and high keen, with careful thought given to how the melodies rise and fall. (Fans of long-gone one-shot June & the Exit Wounds, take note.)

“Every Inflection” and “Out For Blood” roll and soar the way pop songs used to, relying not on production gimmickry but on the tunes’ natural evolution over the course of 3-4 minutes. Ballads “Fade/Return” and “The Way You Were” flow like spring water in the sunshine, balancing melancholy and optimism with almost clinical precision. Though free of bombast of any kind, “Edge of Autumn” slyly implies that now would be a good time to raise your phone’s lighter app to the sky, while “The Wrong Thing” adds subtle country rock undercurrents. Finely crafted, frequently gorgeous and as consistent as steel-cut oats, The New High delivers high-caliber pop as classy as it is catchy.

DOWNLOAD: “Out For Blood,” “Fade/Return,” “The Wrong Thing”