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Bill DeMain’s Gorgeous, Piano-Based Magic

Appearing on Bill DeMain’s forthcoming album Transatlantic Romantic are two songs that the artist has allowed me to play first on the radio: “Honey Bear” and “Leroy Boy.” Color all of us lucky.

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New on Pure Pop Radio 02.28.17: Cindy Lee Berryhill’s The Adventurist

Is there a better investment in life than love? Is there a more prosperous road to travel, a more engaging choice of direction, than the bond between one person and another? Can we even make it to wherever we go in life without it?

Drawing inspiration and comfort from her marriage to the late, pioneering music journalist Paul Williams, Cindy Lee Berryhill has fashioned, in the form of her new album, The Adventurist, a deeply felt,melodic song cycle looking back on and celebrating her time with the creator of Crawdaddy, the first, authoritative rock publication of record, as the future unfolds for her one day at a time, as each new step forward is informed by steps already taken.

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New on Pure Pop Radio 02.15.17: The New Trocaderos and the Nerk Twins

This week’s second batch of reviews of new and new-to-you songs and artists added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist includes the latest powerhouse release from the New Trocaderos, and a quartet of rare songs from the Nerk Twins. Take it away, Kurt, Geoff, Brad, Kris, Rick, Herb and Jeff:

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New on Pure Pop Radio 02.14.17: Starring Pop Co-Op (with the Spongetones’ Steve Stoeckel), James Starflower, The Lunar Laugh, and More

We’re continuing to add more new and new-to-you music to the Pure Pop Radio playlist just about every day. Today, we’ve got reviews of seven albums from which we’re now spinning tracks in rotation. Click below to read all about it!

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Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2016

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.

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“Just say you believe in me and send me all your love…”

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The Weeklings ‘ Studio 2 captivates with Beatlesque charm

The Weeklings | Studio 2 | 2016 (Jem Records)

A review/essay by Alan Haber alan 5 small

the-weeklings-studio-2-smallWho would ever have thought, who would ever have dreamt that, in the 60 minutes that passed between eight and nine o’clock on Sunday, February 9, 1964, everything, every single hope and dream poised to define so many of the youngsters sitting only a short distance from their family’s television sets would change or at least be significantly altered?

During those historic 60 minutes, a mixed bag of performers paraded onto and then off of the stage on the ground floor of what was originally known as Hammerstein’s Theatre and came to be known as the Ed Sullivan Theater. Families, gathered together in front of their television sets in their living rooms as they usually were on Sunday nights, watched the cast of the Broadway show Oliver! (with future Monkee Davy Jones, then only 19, in tow) sing “I’d Do Anything.” Comedian and impressionist Frank Gorshin, soon to become famous as the Riddler on the Batman television show, also performed, as did Welsh entertainer Tessie O’Shea and acrobatics ensemble Wells and the Four Fays.

unused VIP ticket to a taping of The Ed Sullivan ShowAlso performing that fateful night was a group of youngsters called the Beatles. They hailed from Liverpool, England, which seemed to be a world and a half away from just about anywhere anyone could imagine. Parents were befuddled with the attention their kids paid to the four mop tops, who would obviously constitute the proverbial flash in the pan, gone in sixty seconds, or at least the sixty minutes it took for Ed to open and close that night’s show.

History tells us that the Beatles’ performance that night, five songs strong, was anything but a flash in the pan. Indeed, there was plenty of flash on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage, but not a single pan in sight. That night, as referenced in Vinyl Kings’ song “A Little Trip,” was responsible for convincing legions of kids that they could do just what John, Paul, George and Ringo were doing, if only their parents would buy them a guitar and let them grow their hair long.

vinyl-kings-a-little-tripWritten by Vinyl Kings’ Josh Leo, “A Little Trip” begins by recounting a conversation a father has with his son about what the son wants to be when he grows up. The answer is clear to the son as Ed Sullivan’s 2/9/64 show, a really big show, carries on. “I promise to send you a letter/When I am a big jet-setter,” the son sings. “Just say you believe in me/And send me all your love.”

Beyond the spectacle of the pomp and circumstance of rock and roll is the song, without which the flash means nothing. One of the innumerable characteristics that distinguished the Beatles throughout their career and beyond was, and continues to be, their mastery of melody, their ability to create songs that resonate with listeners and, in their own way, help to change the world.

Perhaps that’s too grandiose a thought, but perhaps not: Music has always had the power to affect listeners in many ways, some tangible and others less clearly defined. Good music, even great music, has the power to charm and captivate, to wash the blues away, to make us think, to make us smile.

the-weeklings-stage-setupThe Weeklings, the Beatlesque, New Jersey big-beat foursome who know all about the power of music, are Glen Burtnik, Bob Burger, John Merjave, and Joe Bellia, music veterans all. They go by the nom de plumes Lefty, Zeek, Rocky, and Smokestack, respectively. By any measure, their passion and dedication to the art of making music would tower above most practitioners’ efforts. It would not be wrong to say that they are fab.

Studio 2, the Weeklings’ second record, about to be released, follows the quartet’s first, self-titled album, affectionately known as Monophonic, which combined covers of six songs that John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave away to other artists with six Beatle-flavored originals penned by Burtnik and Burger. Studio 2 takes somewhat of a different tack than Monophonic: this time around, eight original songs share real estate with four rare Lennon/McCartney numbers not given away to other artists, none of which were released by the Beatles and are unknown to all but the most fervent Beatles fans.

the-beatles-second-albumthe-weeklings-studio-2-smallMonophonic and Studio 2, both presented in mono, spring from the same DNA, even though they take slightly different approaches. What they share, more than anything else, is an intrinsic love of Beatles music, more so the sound of the group’s earlier albums than the later ones. Even the cover of Studio 2 is a knowing nod to the Beatles, affectionately modeled after the frontispiece of The Beatles’ Second Album, right down to the legend The Monophonic Sound placed at the top, the album title subhead (NEW HITS BY THE WEEKLINGS Plus 4 Rare Lennon/McCartney Songs), and the short list of featured tunes and Jem Records legend on the right.

The details count, and that counts for the music on Studio 2 as well as the wrapper it’s contained within. So it will come as no surprise that the original songs, seven of which are co-written by Burtnik and Burger (“You’re the One” is a Burger/Merjave composition), and the more or less unknown Lennon/McCartney numbers are top-notch and injected with the spirit of the early Beatles records and other musical touchstones, for an overall sound that is uniquely Weeklings-esque. The whole affair is inspired, and the effect is akin to taking a lovely walk in the park on a beautiful, warm summer’s day. Listening to these songs is nothing less than a delightful experience.

the-weeklings-in-studio-2-in-abbey-roadSpeaking of delightful, you get to play everyone’s favorite musical game, Spot the Reference, also known as Suss Out the Easter Eggs, while you listen to Studio 2. The band has woven a good number of musical and lyrical quotes into the fabric of these songs; it’s a blast to try and uncover them. I wouldn’t propose to totally spoil the fun for you, so I’ll only note a few: the sustained piano chord at the end of the rocking “Little Elvis” not only echoes the end of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” it was played on the actual piano used on that song in the actual Studio 2. (By the way, Studio 2, the album, was recorded in the actual Studio 2 at London’s Abbey Road Studios, a fact which I’ve neglected to mention so far because I’ve covered it in detail here. Lefty and Zeek talked about it at length on a recent edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation, which re-airs tomorrow night at 8 pm ET; click on any of the listen links below to dig in.)

cilla-black-love-of-the-lovedHere is another tasty Studio 2 Easter egg: The Weeklings’ take on Paul McCartney’s “Love of the Loved,” essayed most assuredly by Cilla Black, is recast as a lovely lullaby with rich vocal harmonies; it is ushered into the sound field with a recreation of the chord thrash that welcomes in “Her Majesty” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. And here is another one: The guitar stabs that open the unreleased Lennon/McCartney number “You Must Write” are right out of the kick off to the Beatles’ version of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music”; the end section is a musical quote from the group’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

There is more, of course–much, much more. There is the opening, mid-tempo, harmonica-rich charmer “Morning, Noon and Night”; the energetic rocker “Don’t Know, Don’t Care,” which rolls through to its conclusion like a wild, runaway train; and the lovely harmony-drenched “Melody,” which sounds like it could have been plucked from the soundtrack of A Hard Day’s Night (plus, it has a quite satisfying key change near the end, which is always a plus in my book).

the weeklings equipment at abbey roadRecords are time capsules, audio snapshots of the years in which they were conceived. At the same time, they are also snapshots of the times that influenced them. Burtnik and Burger have studied the Beatles’ music inside and out, soaking up every aspect that made it great and everlasting. The Weeklings’ Studio 2 and, for that matter Monophonic, are not only passionate love letters to the music that continues to inspire Burtnik and Burger, but also a demonstration of how that inspiration manifests itself in their own music. The result is a wonderful, memorable experience for listeners–an experience that will last a lifetime.

the-weeklings-cassettethe-weeklings-studio-2-smallblack box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: Every song: “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Little Elvis,” “Don’t Know, Don’t Care,” “Love Can,” “You’re the One,” “Next Big Thing,” “Stop Your Running Around,” “Melody,” “You Must Write,” “Because I Know You Love Me So,” “Some Days,” and “Love of the Loved.” Plus three bonus tracks from the limited edition cassette version of the album: “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got to Do,” and “I’m Down.”
black box When and Where to Get It: Beginning November 18 at the usual locations. Links to purchase this wonderful album are coming soon.

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 Weeklings to Dana Countryman, Pop 4, Tiny Volcano, and Kurt Baker, we play the hits and a whole lot more. Become a fifth Weekling by clicking on one of the listen links below.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android and iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

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Seth Swirsky’s Wonderful, Bigger Truth

Spins and Reviews | 8.11.16 | by Alan Haber

seth swirsky new album coverSeth Swirsky | Circles and Squares
Listening to and absorbing and becoming one with the songs contained on Seth Swirsky’s amazing new album Circles and Squares, I turned inward and posed the following question:

You know those things in life that just click with you upon a first gaze or as they first come within earshot, those things that are more than just things, that are tangible signs that your life has been changed if only a little bit, or perhaps a lot, and perhaps you’re not the same as you were before and you know in your heart of hearts that things are going to be different from now on?

For those of a certain age, or really, any age at all, those moments that speak to what make us who we are, that speak to who we’ve become because something has changed the way we look at things, are hard to quantify, but we try to take them at their word as they announce themselves as part of us and define how we are affected by this, that, and the other thing.

The thing is, hearing music as one of the things that defines us is easy for those for whom a sly key change, or a simple and direct melody played out against a complicated chord structure, or the introduction of a square instrumental peg into a round hole is an exciting event. And, depending on the song, there could be one or two or even more events that work in concert to make us smile or cry or define our emotions in a new and invigorating way.

seth swirsky photoThere are only so many notes and keys and tempos to work with, so if you’re a songwriter who is also a performer, and as a performer, you play the lion’s share of the instruments that paint your musical picture, and you come up with a song that makes a listener smile or laugh or even cry, you’ve done something special, something truly extraordinary, painting with the tools in your toolbox in your own quite special way.

Which is exactly what Seth Swirsky has done. He began writing songs to order, back in the day, for a variety of performers. He wrote books about baseball, and he collected baseballs, so many of which are classified as rare. And, more importantly, he started writing and performing his own music. This latest batch of songs that speak the truth about his life and ours too quite simply towers over just about everything he has done before. It will be tough to beat after the dust has settled on this monumental album, Circles and Squares, releasing on August 19.

Proving that a creative, heartfelt approach to making music will yield magic almost every time, 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. The song’s melodious mix of Beach Boys, Free Design, and Burt Bacharach touchstones; gorgeous harmony stacks, with voices sitting on top of and passing around and through each other, and clever sectioning of ideas that also fit together, work as one.

seth swirsky hanging“Shine” slides effortlessly into “Circles and Squares/Go,” initially a sprightly pop confection that ever so slightly incorporates a hint of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” and, halfway through, turns into an introspective plea to move on and change one’s approach to life. A mix of Beatles Rubber Soul and 1970s soft-pop atmosphere, “Old Letter” carries that idea further, singing a song about holding on to memories in the face of trying to move forward into happiness. “Let’s Move to Spain,” adopting an early rock ‘n’ roll groove (think “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), concerns itself with shedding one’s memories, leaving material possessions behind, and transplanting the physical form to a place where the only things that are real are the feelings between one another.

Could there be anything more real…a bigger truth? Can we live with our gaze placed firmly on the little things in life, on minimizing what we interact with on a daily basis? It probably depends on how many of those little things are in play. In the Byrdsian popper “Table,” the table is crowded and needs a simplifying of its space. And in the lovely confessional and autobiographical “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You),” 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…”

Which is not to say that the music on Circles and Squares matches Swirsky’s lyrical introspection note for note; indeed, the music is generally pretty and sweet and full of joy and played almost exclusively by Swirsky himself; against this base, the author’s words are made to shine. So these 16 songs, the best that their author has brought together–better than the groups of songs on his debut, Instant Pleasure, and his second album, Watercolor Day, which is really saying something–shine too. They shine brightly and provide a beacon for emotional truth.

seth swirsky keyboardIn this album’s opening statement of purpose, “Shine,” Swirsky’s celebration of melody and, especially, harmony, of happiness and joy and how it can and should be, shows what this kind of talent can mold out of what wasn’t there before; imagine sitting down at your table with a blank slate in front of you and summoning the courage to translate your ideas into something as beautiful as this.

That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about crafting beauty and working through one’s emotions to come out healed on the other side. These 16 songs, circles and squares one and all, are the latest expression of craft brought forth by one of pop music’s most important artists. These are the things that matter, and in Seth Swirsky’s hands, they sing.
black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Shine,” “Circles and Squares/Go,” “Old Letter,” “Far Away,” “Trying to Keep It Simple,” “Belong,” “Sonic Ferris Wheel,” “Let’s Move to Spain,” “Table,” and “Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You).”
black box When and Where to Get It: Circles and Squares releases on August 19 at seth.com and retailers such as Kool Kat Musik, Amazon and iTunes.

alan-mic-zeeAlan 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 Monkees, the Posies, McPherson Grant, 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.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android and iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

No Monkeeing Around, These are Good Times! for Monkees Fans

alan-mic-zThe ubiquitous they never look at us and say “Hey, hey, you’re the Monkees,” because the Monkees are and always will be Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and the late, great Davy Jones. They can and do, however, say “Hey, hey, the Monkees have a big hit album out” because, hey, hey, that’s the fact, Jack (and you too, Jill).

The Monkees’ new album Good Times!, celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary, is the order of (Monkee) business today. And here it comes, walking down the street…

The Monkees | Good Times!
A review by Alan Haber

the monkees good timesI have an image in my mind, indelible really, of sitting on the floor in my pajamas as close to my family’s television set as humanly possible; the set sat in an ornate, maple wood cabinet my father built on four spindly legs. We had to roll the accordion-style cover from left to right to reveal the screen and get to the on-off switch and channel changer. Caveman days, to be sure.

the monkees tv showWeek after week, as the Monkees’ latest adventures spooled out over the NBC television network, I sat transfixed; I imagined myself as the fifth Monkee, traveling alongside Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, and Davy Jones as their crazy world exploded around and on top of them. All of this televised insanity, which seemed so real to me, told my friends and I that our humdrum existence as young school kids, whose lives were stuffed with after-school chores and allowances that could only be stretched so much, could be so much more exciting if only we could ride around in our own, customized Monkeemobile.

monkeemobileMy weekly television date with the fabulous foursome, combined with the records that were forthcoming and the radio play that quickly seemed ever present, was proof positive that the Monkees were here to stay, here being those halcyon days peeling off the calendar beginning in the fall of 1966. And, later on, thanks to Rhino Records’ extensive reissue program that saw the original Monkees albums paired with voluminous extras, “here to stay” really meant and continues to mean “forever.”

carole kingThese days, nostalgia fuels the marketplace; beloved television series from years gone by, from the X-Files to Full House, are reborn as updated shows, and favorite albums, such as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love, get sequels. In the case of the Monkees, nostalgia is only one element of the public’s ongoing love affair with the group: the music was good and memorable, written by top-flight songwriters such as Carole King and Neil Diamond, and has more than stood the test of time, playing through the years on oldies stations and satellite radio.

The spirit of the Monkees’ television show, powered by the engaging personalities of its musician-stars and the memories of the catchy music the group recorded, has shown no signs of abating. Proof positive of that has just been released in the form of an album called Good Times!, which you probably have heard of, unless you’ve been talking to the Chief inside the Cone of Silence.

michael nesmithReams of speculation on the Internet, the hub of accuracy in this electronic age, sent Monkees fans into a huge, forceful tizzy during the months preceding the release of Good Times!. Was Mike fully involved? Would Mike be joining Micky and Peter on their concert tour? Would Mike be wearing his trademark wooly hat? (Okay, I made that last one up.) Come to think of it, there was a lot of speculation about Mike. The answers, as it turned out, were a) just about, b) when possible, and c) not likely (that was my guess about the wooly hat).

Moreover, whispering voices across the Interwebs wondered if Good Times! would be any good. The fact, I’m here to pronounce, is that the album is very, very good, sometimes even great; not only is it a classic-sounding pop music album, it’s 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 Monkees’ heyday and new songs written by top-flight, current songwriters of note, Good Times! is a fun listen from start to finish. The songs, for the most part, sound like they could have appeared on just about any of the original group albums. There’s a reason this album is proving to be so popular–it’s really good.

harry nilssonThe title song, which opens the album, is a track built on a 1968 demo; Harry Nilsson’s song, on which he shares vocal duties with Micky Dolenz through a sweet feat of electronic legerdemain, sets the stage for Good Times! with a very Nilsson-esque, infectious go-go beat. It’s a kick and a half to hear Micky trade verses and harmonize with Harry. The spirit is infectious and amounts to what is no less than a glorious musical trip.

andy partridge 5XTC’s Andy Partridge is the first of the famous scribes to be represented in Good Times!’ running order with a new song. His perky, catchy “You Bring the Summer” is prime Partridge; you don’t have to stretch your ears to imagine hearing the author singing along with Micky and Mike. The message? Summer means happy (“Summer for a sad old Jack Frost/Trying to warm his toes/Summer from your golden smile/Will paint the snowdrops pinky rose”). An instant classic, as are River Cuomo’s “She Makes Me Laugh” and producer Adam “Fountains of Wayne” Schlesinger’s “Our Own World,” both blessed with wonderful melodies and deep hooks.

Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love,” initially crafted in 1967 and 1969 and finished in February of this year, is a very Diamond-esque number sung by the late Davy Jones, thanks to the miracle of studio magic. (This song also appeared on Rhino’s Missing Links Volume Three.) Similarly, Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s classic “Wasn’t Born to Follow” was started in March of 1968 and finished this year with a terrific Peter Tork vocal.

As to Mike’s participation, the news is, well, good (times). The wooly-hatted one appears on eight of the album’s 13 songs, including the one he wrote, a terrific, piano-based number with the writer’s lovely vocal, “I Know What I Know.” Mike, along with Micky, is at the vocal helm of the slightly-psychedelic and monumental “Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” written by the perhaps unlikely combo of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. The song, which didn’t have a home until it wound up in the hands of the Monkees, is a tremendous, multi-part, multi-mood extravaganza, a real barnstormer of a track.

micky dolenz 15The album’s closer, “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time),” somewhat reminiscent musically of Paul McCartney’s “Flaming Pie,” is a pumping, fun co-write from Micky and Schlesinger. It is most certainly a highlight of this album. There are many others, of course, but it would be a disservice to you to talk about all of them when part of the fun of this album is discovery.

There are several bonus tracks that appear on various incarnations of Good Times!, such as “Terrifying,” a catchy, mid-tempo, should-be-hit-bound pop song written by Rogue Wave’s Zach Rogue, and an alternate, uptempo version of Ben Gibbard’s “Me and Magdalena,” which appears on the album in slow-to-mid-tempo form; both come with the iTunes version of this album. (I’ll leave it up to you as to which version of the latter is better; I would have opted for the faster one, but both are really good.) There are other bonuses, such as Andy Partridge’s “Love’s What I Want,” which appears on the Japanese CD and on Barnes and Noble’s upcoming vinyl release. Although this kind of marketplace maneuvering is commonplace, it would have been better to have made all of the tracks available everywhere at the same time.

monkees good times stickersJoined by such familiar pop musicians as Mike Viola and Fountains of Wayne’s Jody Porter and Brian Young, Schlesinger has helped the Monkees to create a phenomenal album that will not only please fans, but will likely gain them new fans and spur the surviving members of the band on to record more albums in the future. That’s the hope, at least, and by virtue of the overwhelming groundswell of support for Good Times!, this doesn’t seem at all outside of the realm of possibility. (And let’s give a big round of applause for Rory Wilson’s lively and retro art direction and design work, and Jonathan Lane’s equally wonderful cover art. Plus, there are stickers!)

Honestly, listening to Good Times! again and again and again, I am realizing that I’m still that kid sitting in front of the television set ensconced in the latest adventures of the fun foursome known as Micky, Peter, Mike and Davy. With this fantastic album, it’s Monkeemania, and really good times, again and forevermore.

alan-mic-zeeAlan 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 Monkees, the Posies, McPherson Grant, 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.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android and iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

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Version Vision: Covers in the Key of Bill Lloyd

bill lloyd lloyderingBill Lloyd | Lloyd*ering (SypderPop, 2016)
Review by Alan Haber

It’s easy to be an armchair musician sitting in front of your stereo with the remote in front of you, an ice cold beverage always within reach, and the air instrument of your choice at the ready. Your favorite musician belts out his version of one of your favorite songs, and you shake your head with the might of a gale force wind and bellow, “If you had a clue, you’d be doing that tune this way!

This is why the professionals take on the task of doing the heavy lifting. In the hands of a master musician, one whose vision and ability are well regarded and keenly tuned, a cover version of a favorite song sounds suddenly fresh and new. Such is the case with the twelve favorite songs gathered together on the cleverly titled Lloyd*ering, a new release from SpyderPop that presents proof positive that Bill Lloyd is the man for the job–the job, in this case, being the wearing of someone else’s suit of clothes and making them look just as, or even more, spiffy.

These dozen suits of clothes, if you will, are indeed spiffy, showing, in addition to Bill’s ability to make another artist’s song his own, the wide breadth of musical styles he adores and cherishes. So, there are easy jumps from covering songs from the dB’s and Wreckless Eric to ones from Harry Nilsson and the Lovin’ Spoonful. You get Bill’s take on Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance” and, in the next breath, the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Always, you get the sound of Bill Lloyd, the golden payoff for your price of admission.

bill lloyd with guitarA sweet, country-flavored reimagining of Nilsson’s “The Lottery Song,” capped by a highly satisfying, a cappella close, is only one of the highlights of an equally sweet bunch. A weighty take on Badfinger’s “Lonely You” draws out the sadness in Pete Ham’s lyric, surrounding it with ramped up electric guitars and a deeply-felt drum track. A reverent take on the Byrds’ “The World Turns All Around Her” celebrates, with an energetic presence, the song’s gorgeous melody, golden-voiced harmony vocals, and deft electric guitar work.

Bill has an enormous amount of fun playing through the Bobby Fuller Four’s joyous “Let Her Dance,” stomping with glee as the mix of percussive hits, lyrical bass and that incredible melody swirl around him. His take on the Hollies’ equally joyous upbeat confection “Step Inside” may well be the best thing here, which is truly saying something: the glorious harmonies, intoxicating melody and the head-turning key change near the end are simply out of this world, which you might think is the only possible place this kind of magic could be performed.

But, of course, you’d be mistaken, for we regularly encounter this kind of legerdemain right here on earth as the tricks of the trade of such inventive, decidedly brilliant musicians as Bill Lloyd, who dazzles whether he is working in pop, country, rock or who knows where else.

Lloyd*ering, twelve cover versions of favorite songs, are presented here in the key of Bill Lloyd for your listening pleasure, wrapped in an eye-catching package fronted by one of the most colorful, effective covers I’ve seen this year. We’re playing all of these songs in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. Sing along if you know the words.

Listen to Pure Pop Radio on the go using your Android or iOS devices! Download Our Mobile App.

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

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A Beautiful Noise

Magical new albums from Brandon Schott, Pop 4 and Vanilla make beautiful noise

Review by Alan Haber

keep calm beautiful noise“It’s a beautiful noise/And it’s a sound that I love/And it fits me as well/As a hand in a glove/Yes it does, yes it does,” Neil Diamond sings on the title song from his 1976 album. These are wise words from a well-known tunesmith–a prophecy that is fulfilled every time a songwriter puts pen to paper and crafts a song out of creative clay. Like a seed planted in the soil, a fully-realized idea spins into a form made from the coming together of a melody, words grown into lyrical lines, and choruses and bridges fashioned as strips of gold.

Songwriters work in mysterious ways. How does the spark of an idea flower into a fully-formed entity? Where do ideas even come from? How does the magic work?

It is all this side of mystical, the songwriting process; anyone who has knowledge of how it all comes together holds in his or her palm the secret of life, for art is the soul of life, and if you can sing along and you maybe know the words, you’re a rich person indeed.

This year’s crop of melodic pop recordings clearly and distinctly demonstrates that the magic works when the right person is holding the pen and the ideas are finely honed because their creativity knows no bounds and because they know how a song works. They know this in their bones. And when their bones rattle after they’ve put their pens down and their song is ready to be heard, the magic is working like a charm.

This summer’s crop of melodic pop recordings, of songs exuding considerable skill and charm, constitutes the best of the best in a year teeming with such accomplishment. The latest records from Brandon Schott and Vanilla, and the debut record from supergroup Pop 4, share a facility for this kind of flash. These records are among the best of the year–towering achievements all. You can dance to them, if you like, negotiating the two-step or the moonwalk, if that’s what moves you.

A Triumphant Stroll

brandon schott

Brandon Schott

brandon schott crayons and angelsBrandon Schott’s masterful Crayons and Angels, the follow-up to 2011’s studio album 13 Satellites, and this past March’s intimate Dandelion (Live at the Treatment Room: January 10, 2008), is more than a flash of magic–it is by far Brandon’s best, most fully-realized record, a triumphant stroll through the creative pastures that subsist in the fields of the heart. Working with a broad textural palette and with his eyes and ears wide open to varied influence, he creates a three-dimensional song cycle that dazzles.

The stage is set by the gentle, windswept instrumental “Dandelion,” a quite peaceful mix of ambient sound, delicate instrumentation and a brief wash of glowing harmony. A calm trance of sorts, it allows all manner of song forms to follow, from the Nilsson-esque core of the entrancing “Verdugo Park,” which erupts at its midpoint with the spirit of a Van Dyke Parks-inspired burst of energy, to the upbeat, poppy “Seeing You in Stereo,” its flowing construction giving way to a lovely melody and a peppy Beach Boys-styled bridge with less than a minute left to go.

Because influence plays a large part in these proceedings, it’s no surprise that “Wake Up, Mary,” a song that had its world premiere on Pure Pop Radio this past July 28th, is a bouncy, clap along number that could sit comfortably alongside Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” Brandon’s song pits the yin against the yang, an honored pop music tradition: the song is about getting in the car and driving to greener pastures for a new start and growing the weary bones of a union that holds so much promise.

Crayons and Angels plays as if it were conceived as a complete work that’s best experienced in one sitting, played straight through for maximum effect. Which is not to say that mixing up the song order won’t yield similar results. Either way, this is an album full of beautiful, inspired, even spiritual work. It is magical and it is one of this year’s best records.

Something In the Water

washington stateOut Washington State way, there is something most certainly percolating in the H2O. How else to explain the creative strokes being struck by Scott McPherson, one-fourth of this year’s pop supergroup Pop 4, and Jayson Jarmon, flavorful songwriter at the helm of the tasty group, Vanilla.

Scott and Jayson weave in and out of each other’s projects; both are members of the group Liar’s Club, and Scott appears on the latest Vanilla record, along with Pop 4’s Kirk Adams. Andrea Perry, another member of Pop 4, is featured prominently on the series of delicious Prefab Sprout tributes that Scott has put out (a new one is in the works). And KC Bowman, pop music’s ultimate secret weapon, is a veteran of groups such as the Corner Laughers and Agony Aunts.(Deep breath!)

pop 4Pop 4’s debut album, Summer, proves that great talents, working together, create great art. It really should come as no surprise that talents of this caliber will ostensibly bring their A game to the recording table. In the case of Pop 4’s quartet of musical masters, that means melodies and harmonies and hooks exhibiting the highest of pedigrees. Every track is a delight; every single note is perfectly placed and sung.

Perhaps the track that points most broadly to this group’s strengths is the gorgeous, mid-tempo ballad “Don’t Be Like That,” a luscious mid-tempo song painted with a harmony-soaked brush and the sweetest, most seductive melody this side of a bear bottle full of honey. You could also point to tracks like the melodic “Lover’s Limbo,” possibly the finest song that XTC’s Andy Partridge never wrote, as representative of Summer’s treasures. Or you could put forth the ultra-catchy “Einstein and Sunshine,” which will more than ably satisfy the desires of Jeff Lynne fans until the next ELO album comes out (dig the fluid string arrangement and, well, the rest of it).

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The members of Pop 4: (clockwise) Kirk Adams, Andrea Perry, KC Bowman and Scott McPherson

Since all of these songs are top-notch, you might think that it would be difficult to pick the album’s centerpiece, but it’s not hard at all. Scott’s waltz for the afflicted, “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” succeeds mightily if you just take the music and the arrangement into consideration. This track is the total package, the obvious star attraction. “Welcome to the tour for the world’s brokenhearted/Careful, watch your step/Have respect for the departed,” Scott sings. “String lay on the ground/The ties that bind to be found here/Duets turn into solos/For reasons we can’t know.”

Gee whiz, this song will break your heart. The awfully pretty melody–the sweet–plays beneath the sour, but the point of the lyric, at least as far as I can fathom, is that the brokenhearted will live their lives in a kind of tilted Möbius strip unless they are able to find their way out of the morass. In fact, the final words sung here hint at that possibility: “This concludes our tour through that door/Is where you started.” Beautifully sung by Scott and punctuated by tight bass stabs played by Andrea, “Tour for the Brokenhearted” is this year’s most emotional ballad and a truly great creation. As are all of the songs on this hall-of-fame record, a breath of fresh air in the second half of 2015’s summer season.

Tasty Vanilla

jayson jarmon

Jayson Jarmon

vanilla 2.0

Vanilla 2.0

Vanilla’s second album, cleverly titled 2.0, comes nearly a full decade after the band’s first release. What exactly have Jayson Jarmon and company been doing since 2006? It doesn’t matter because, for 2.0, Jayson has sculpted 11 songs covering various subject matter, songs that are simply stuffed with imagination to spare. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you won’t want the Vanilla experience to end.

Where to start? Well, “Hold Me Like a Grudge” begins as a classically-styled, acoustic ballad and quickly morphs into a classic pop-rock number about a relationship gone horribly wrong. “The Angel of Swain’s Lane” is an old-fashioned folk song, beautifully arranged, about a lonely angel trying to break through to a lost soul. “The Angel of Swain’s Lane/Is crying out in vain/For someone departed/Forlorn, broken-hearted/A figure of pity and pain…/The Angel is crying again.” It’s a spectacular series of images, and a wonderful song.

vanilla 2.0 zippyElsewhere, the subject matter is decidedly more lighthearted. In fact, in two songs paired one after the other, monkeys figure prominently. Yes, monkeys. Well, more so in one song than the other. In the sprightly jump of a tune, “South Tacoma Way,” a favored locale of Jayson’s is celebrated: According to the author, the song is “A 1930s period piece celebrating the virtues of my hometown’s most, eh, remarkable street. It features coffee pot-shaped buildings, a legendary lowland gorilla, seedy watering holes, and a glimpse into that area’s special indomitable spirit.”

In other words, monkeys, who pretty much dominate the outlandish, hysterical happenings recounted in the off-the-charts, wild and wacky and totally hysterical “Monkeypox!” With tongue planted so firmly in cheek it would take a pair of cranes operated by Superman to pull it out, the song is the musical equivalent of the old joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and says “Doc, it hurts when I go like that,” and the doctor tells him not to go like that.

“Monkeypox!” puts forth a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of scenario, where there’s always something worse behind the curtain, although that may be okay. “My baby wanted cancer/She smiled when she heard the Doctor’s answer/Monkeypox, she’s got Monkeypox…,” goes one verse. “My baby wanted SARS/Just like one of your Hollywood stars/Monkeypox, she’s got Monkeypox…,” goes another. “Monkeypox, she’s got monkeypox/And she feels…fine,” goes still another, which feeds into a familiar Beatles riff, and so it goes in the story of the dreaded Monkeypox.

2.0 closes out with a spirited cover of the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way” in which the electric guitars are ramped up just a bit, and a radio edit of “Hold Me Like a Grudge,” which makes the song safe for the kiddies who might be listening to Pure Pop Radio (argh, those dreaded curse words!).

Jayson, along with multi-instrumentalist Sean Gaffney, drummer Dana Sims, and a host of guest vocalists and players, has turned in a spectacular show with this album, which gathers together tracks released in the neighborhood of once a month on Vanilla’s Bandcamp page. All gathered up in album form, 2.0 is a marvel, full of imagination and wit. Bravo.

It’s a (Collective) Beautiful Noise

This has been a great year for melodic pop music so far, and with five months left to go before the ball drops on New Years Eve, it’s not unlikely that the riches will keep on coming. Which is good for you and me and you too. For now, though, Brandon Schott, Pop 4 and Vanilla are tops of the pops. All of the tracks from all three of their albums are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. All three albums come highly recommended. All three will put a big smile on your face. And all three make some beautiful noise.

purepoplogoNow playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Brandon Schott’s Crayons and Angels: “Dandelion,” “Henry,” “Verdugo Park,” “Cerulean Seas,” “Pacific Blue,” “Every Little Song,” “Riot Act,” “Better Version of Me,” “Slow Down,” “Sunglow,” “Seeing You in Stereo,” “Dear Daisy,” “Wake Up, Mary,” “Wisteria,” “The 19th Floor,” “Dandelion Rain,” “Verdugo Park (Part II),” and “Sweet Adolyne.”

Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Pop 4’s Summer: “Beautiful,” “Blow Wind Blow,” “Einstein and Sunshine,” “What’s It Gonna Be Like,” “Don’t You Be Like That,” “Jaded,” “I’m So Jealous,” “Miserably Pursuing Happiness,” “Juliane Irish,” “Straight to My Head,” “You’re No Aimee Mann,” “Lover’s Limbo,” “You Love Me,” “Tour for the Brokenhearted,” and “Dust.”

Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: From Vanilla’s 2.0: “Victim of the Rhyme,” “Hai Karate Girls,” “Perfect Year,” “Alcoholiday,” “The Curtain Coming Down,” “The Angel of Swain’s Lane,” “Twilight,” “Hold Me Like a Grudge,” “Monkeypox!,” “South Tacoma Way,” “Catherine the Grating,” “Go All the Way,” and “Hold Me Like a Grudge (radio edit)”

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