Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Nine X Blue - Matter Of Time

Have you ever taken a new trip down memory lane? That would be oxymoronic you say? I beg to differ, and in the new EP from Atlanta roots tinged power poppers Nine X Blue I have a pretty good example of the experience.

If you are of a certain age it is damn near impossible to listen to Matter Of Time without travelling back to the early 1990's when these sorts of sounds were everywhere. "Falling After You" kicks things off in a decidedly Gin Blossomy fashion and in a disarmingly kick ass fashion. It is also a wonderfully recorded song. Just crank it up in the car with the windows rolled down this summer and you will believe you are twenty years younger, (right until the moment another damn text hits your phone and rudely brings you back to the present....or is that just me?)

"Sometime" is a gentle number with a Toad The Wet Sprocket feel, especially in the verses. The chorus is all Nine X Blue, however, and catchy as all get out. The title track, co-written with the wonderful Cliff Hillis, might not grab you on first listen but give it a few plays. It has a way of growing in stature at the same time it is burrowing into your brain.

That is fitting as the entire EP has a way of doing that very thing. By the time the terrific finale of "Only Lonely (The Shovel Song)" ends you will be cursing the fact this effort is only six songs long. Then again maybe that's okay. After all, my wife might not appreciate my travelling back to the 90's without her.

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Greg Pope - Pop Motion Animation

Truth be told, I'm a goddamn cultist at heart. I'll gladly argue about arcane pieces of music history all night long, if I could only find someone local who knows what the hell I'm talking about. I would also happily contribute to the building of a modern pantheon of power pop demi-gods as long as there is a spot reserved for Greg Pope. The former front-man/song-writer for Edmund's Crown is quietly (and loudly) putting together a resume of pop music that can stand proudly among the best of the last twenty years.

You can add the splendid (and pithy) Pop Motion Animation to the ranks of first rate Pope releases. Pope certainly knows what he's doing in these solo albums. There is a surety and a confidence that carries each song to exactly where it needs to go resulting in another rewarding listening experience.

The album begins with a terrific one-two punch with the sparkling "Partner In Crime," another in a string of Pope lyrics looking at the dynamics of friendship, and the marvelously tuneful "More Like You," a perfectly realized jewel of a song.

"The Mattress" is a driving piece of southern tinged rock and a top-notch example of the genre. "Don't Wait" and "The Hope Of Escape" are both lovely acoustic ballads, the former being a hell of a nice sing-along as well. "The Yeti" is a tone perfect bit of 1970's AM radio melodrama shlock, made all the more effective by Pope's dead straight performance. Even a hint of a knowing wink would have totally ruined the whole thing, but Pope is far too assured to allow that to happen.

Indeed, Pope's sense of himself is directly expressed in what feels like, to me at least, the heart of the record: "Rebel Inside," nicely encapsulates the position any part-time power popper must confront in a full-time world that doesn't know or appreciate what may lie below. When Pope sings "I'm just another worker bee, well isn't that nice? But what you probably can't see is I'm making a fist that wants to punch through the box you're putting me in!" it's damn hard not to make that fist yourself. That to me is the sign of an artist that is doing it right. We are invited along and given the inside scoop, so much so that we cannot help but to identify with the artist.

I'm not sure exactly how he does it. I'm just glad he does.

Grade: A-

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: A Man Called Destruction by Holly George-Warren

This review must begin with an admission. I am not a member of the Church of Chilton.

Well, my power pop cred has just been blown to hell... but let me explain. It isn't that I don't dig Big Star. I do. It's just that in my view there are two, and only two, Big Star albums that are worth a damn, #1 Record, and Radio City. The dreariness that is Sister Lovers ( or 3rd or whatever the hell you want to call it) never, ever did a thing for me, nor did the majority of Alex Chilton's subsequent solo work or odd things like Panther Burns. In the end I simply was not impressed by the air of curmudgeonly pop/rock Svengali that swirled around the persona of Chilton during the 80's and 90's, iconic Replacements song notwithstanding.

That being said I approached this biography of Chilton (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, by Holly George-Warren, Viking Penguin, 2014) with a certain amount of circumspection if not downright skepticism. Would the author approach her subject with the zeal of a true believer or would there be room for a critical eye? The answer to that question would determine if the book would be a worthwhile read for a person like me or not. Authors of rock biographies have often been of the "enthusiast" variety, and if George-Warren fell into that category, well I would be in for a long uninformative ride.

Happily I can report that while this book is written by someone who obviously knew, liked and admired Chilton there is not even the hint of a trace of a sycophantic voice here. George-Warren also does a nice job of not over-selling or over-determining her topic. She provides a wealth of information and invites the reader to come up with their own conclusions as to why Chilton took the path he did. This is a particularly wise choice as even Chilton himself never seemed to be exactly sure when it came to his motivations. His mercurial nature, probably reinforced by his predilection for astrology, only meant wherever he was one day didn't necessarily have a bearing on where he would be the next.

The book does a fine job of covering the biographical necessities, providing a wealth of interviews and anecdotes to flesh out Chilton's early life and music career. George-Warren handles important but somewhat extraneous information well, such as the convoluted troubles with Ardent and Stax Records which ultimately doomed the initial Big Star releases to commercial failure, giving us enough context to understand what happened without drowning the narrative in waves of unnecessary detail.

There may be moments where there seems to be a bit of a hole in our understanding, but that seems to be the way Chilton wanted it. Seemingly he could be perverse for the sheer hell of it. It is a testament to the quality of this book as a biography that it doesn't degenerate into "one damn thing after another" even if the life Chilton lived invites us at times to adopt such a view. It is also a big part of why this book is so enjoyable, even for those of us who are not acolytes in the Church of Chilton.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: The Well Wishers - Dunwoody

Readers of this blog will probably have picked up on the fact that I'm partial to the work of one Jeff Shelton. (See here, here, and here for the evidence.) So, when it comes time to review another release from Shelton's one-man-band effort The Well Wishers no one will be entirely surprised to discover that I like it.

However, it's not really that simple. For starters, this particular release is an EP. EP's are notoriously variable affairs. Sometimes they are filled with half-realized demos or tracks rightfully cut from full length albums. Others collect assorted oddities or the occasional live performance to fill out the needed 5 or 6 track length, resulting in an uninspired mishmash suitable for only die-hard fans and shut-ins. Given the relatively prolific nature of Shelton's output I was a little afraid of what I would get.

I needn't have worried. In Dunwoody Shelton presents us with a suite of songs that simultaneously sound like The Well Wishers  and doesn't really sound like they would necessarily fit comfortably on any of the previous releases. There is a moody and subdued jangle here, at time evoking REM or, especially, the best Toad The Wet Sprocket. This is most evident on the gently driving "Real Today" which feels half-whispered even though it does get momentum behind it, particularly in the middle eight.

The sprightly "Open Up Your Eyes" comes closest to the classic Well Wishers sound, though it too doesn't deviate from the light melancholy that animates (as much as melancholy can) things. The track "Good Luck" is probably the heart and soul of this little release, a tuneful and folky number at once both intricate and simple, just like the best power pop often is.

Grade: B+/A-

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: The Nines - The Nines

Sometimes you long for something sumptuous; a splendid '66 Margaux, a nicely aged porterhouse, fine Corinthian leather, vintage 80's porn. You know... the classics.

In the same vein is a pop album like this eponymously titled effort from The Nines led by tune smith Steve Eggers. The jumping off point here sound wise, as it always seems to be with Eggers, is solo Macca and XTC with hints of the likes of ELO, Pugwash and early Elton John thrown in for good measure.

Indeed, the XTC influence jumps out of the headphones on the slightly languid "No More Time" and the stunning "The Virtuous Man," which lyrically brings Ray Davies to mind. Macca is brought by the back-to-back duo of "Don't Worry Misery" and the lovely "Seasons" which sounds a little like an outtake from Ram.

Uptempo numbers are not neglected, with the album starter, "Backseats," "Jack McGee," and, especially, the terrific "Change on the Main Street" standing out among the tracks.

It is a shame that power pop merits so little commercial support these days as a number of Egger's songs seem to be suited to a greater level of production then they are given here. Even so this album always pleases, though I suspect given enough studio time and money The Nines could produce an album that would blow your doors off.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: The Connection - Let It Rock!

2013 was such a good year that I'm only now sufficiently recovered to write about it.

Or, 2013 sucked so very hard I've only just begun to unearth the worthwhile nuggets.

Pick whichever one sounds better to you.

In either circumstance Let It Rock! by the Connection is a terrific record. Channeling equal parts early Beatles, Paul Collins, and down and dirty 60's garage rock, the Connection grabs hold of the listener early on and either throttles them or sends them to the dance floor. (depending upon how one feels about dancing.) "Wrong Side of 25" and "Crawling From the Wreckage (Of a Saturday Night)" set the tone for the album with energy, verve and good humor. "She's A Keeper" is a lovely little slice of crystal clean guitar pop, and a serious contender for song of the year. (2013 that is.)

"Nothing About Me" explores the rootsy side of things with aplomb. (That's right. I dropped the "A" bomb. Deal with it.) "Thinking About Leaving" and the Stones-ish "Girls In This Town" pump up the rock quotient to just this side of screaming hot. The latter track in particular gets freight train momentum behind with its piano and horns adding just what we need, so much, in fact, that when they yell "...it don't mean that we gotta be friends!" it's hard not to yell along. (Warning: This will make the wife look at you funny.)

Other standouts include the introspective "Not How It's Gonna Be," the quirky sing-a-long "Melinda," and a terrific cover of the Chuck Berry classic which gives the album it's name.

As if that isn't enough, the physical CD product adds on eight (well, nine, in fact) bonus tracks that rock just as hard.

I gotta say this for 2013, it's still giving.

Grade: A-/A




Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: The Bottle Kids - Such A Thrill

Who says you can't revisit the past?

So asks power pop virtuoso Eric Blakely - recording as The Bottle Kids - on this terrifically retro record. (Calling it a CD would ruin the nostalgia thing, don't-ya-know? Now, where's my 45 adapter?)

The comparisons flow fast and furious as the album proceeds; Paul Collins, Plimsouls, Dwight Twilley, 20/20, and anyone else that can put you into that 1979 state of mind you need from time to time.

The highlights here are many and varied. The aforementioned "Revisit The Past (Who Says You Can't)" sounds like it is a great outtake from the last Paul Collins disc, which only makes sense as Blakely played on that record too. "Every Single Teardrop is a Tidal Wave" is a perfect slice of classic power pop with just a dash of LMNOP quirkiness. "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" channels a little bit of later John Lennon to stunning effect.

"Kissing You" lands solidly in its groove two seconds in and never lets go. Really, if you do not find yourself swaying along with the music you might need to see a doctor. "Wave Goodbye (There She Goes)" and "Yes You Can" supply loads of energy to proceedings, while the classy "I'm In Love With You" ably takes the role of Badfingery ballad.

It all adds up to quite a thrill indeed.

Grade: A-/A

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Bazillions On Kickstarter

I just wanted to take a moment to spotlight a worthy Kickstarter effort. The Bazillions play kid-friendly rock music, and they are fronted by the principles of the powerpoptastic Humbugs. If you have small music lovers in your home you should definitely check them out.

Any who.... the Bazillions are looking to produce a collection of their terrific music videos. If it sounds intriguing, please go on over and check it out.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Thing Is....

You may have noticed my sometimes sporadic posting has become something more akin to non-existent posting this summer. Well, the truth is I've been having some health issues that have lingered.... and lingered... and finally resulted in my collapsing at home in spasms of pain and agony.

Hooray.

Well, the good news is that during my last trip to the ER they finally found out what was causing the trouble. Ironically, it was the same thing they initially diagnosed me with back in early July before they did further tests and ruled it out. That ironic thing was my gallbladder, which I am happy to say is no longer attached to me because, frankly, I think the sonofabitch was trying to kill me.

I am only two days out from my surgeries (yes, there had to be two of them to fix me), and I am recovering nicely.... which is great because I have plenty more to say and loads more great music I want to share on the radio station.

Very soon I'll feel up to doing both in measurable quantities.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Oh My, I'm Hi-Fi

As you may or may not know, I love music and am something of an accumulator. (OK, I'll assume you probably did know that already.)  Back in the day I boasted over 600 vinyl albums, of which I still can lay hold of about 300 or so. I've lost count of the CD's I own, though it is somewhere north of 1500. There is nothing record breaking about those numbers, but it is fair to say I'm ankle deep in music at the best (or worst, depending upon your point of view) of times. 
However, like a lot of people, I drifted away from my stereo. My first set up I got as a Christmas present in 1982 and was comprised of a receiver (35w per channel), a turntable, a cassette deck, and two 3-way speakers. I played the ever living crap put of it. In 1987 I added a $99 Sharp CD player (the DX-600) with money earned from my first real job. 
Over time the cassette player died, was replaced by a newer model which also died, and was replaced by a CD burning deck which took over full time CD playing duties after the DX-600 finally spun its last. (The player drawer on the old Sharp broke down, but I got around that by drilling a hole in the top of the unit which allowed me to use a pen or pencil to pop open the drawer. That's just what you do when you are a broke-ass grad student.) Oh, at some point there was a 5-disc CD player that held sway briefly until I decided I really didn't like it very much and sold it. While all this was going on my original turntable finally succumbed sometime in the late 1990's. As I wasn't playing much vinyl I didn't attempt to replace it.
Next to go was the venerable MCS receiver which died in 2002 after twenty years of loyal service. Luckily I was able to inherit a different model MCS receiver (an MCS 3246 @ 45w per channel) that my parents had stopped using sometime in the early 1990's and was just collecting dust in their basement, so that was a bit of a wash. Shortly after this the CD burner unceremoniously died on me, leaving me to play my CDs on whatever DVD player I happened to be using. 
Eventually, I even had to retire the 3-way MCS speakers, which was a bit of a shame as they were actually pretty nice sounding, but years of wear and tear had taken a toll. Anyway, they didn't really work in the space I had once the wife and I bought our current town home in 2006. They now reside in a closet waiting for the day I have more room to work with and the money to invest in refurbishing them.
The net effect of these changes has been to slowly degrade my ability to even claim to have a dedicated stereo system. 
That is going to change. Actually, it already has begun to change. It really started with the speakers I chose to replace the large 3-ways back in 2011. I invested in a pair of Bose 201 Series V bookshelf speakers and they now reside on top of the armoire that presently houses our A/V equipment. In one sense the Bose really cannot reproduce the sound of the larger speakers, but they work great in my space. I'm sure I could have spent twice the amount for true audiophile level speakers, but I gotta believe the improvement wouldn't have been worth the extra cash to my ears.  
Yesterday, I added the newest member of my newly revitalized stereo system as the Onkyo C-7030 arrived. This is a single disc dedicated CD player and it is light years better than the various DVD players I'd been using for years now. It is also the first dedicated single disc player I've purchased since 1987. (I just say that to make myself feel old.)
Did I mention it looks awesome?
From here my path forward seems pretty clear. Sometime in the next year I will purchase a new turntable and a piece of furniture to house my entire honest-to-goodness stereo system
Of course, that won't be the end of it. The 80's vintage MCS receiver is fine for what it is, but I may decide to upgrade from the old hand-me-down. But that is all the future. For the present I'm enjoying the sounds again.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Deadbeat Poets - The Truth About Flying Saucers

Every once in awhile I put together these sorts of videos and upload them to YouTube.

Today it was this kick ass tune from the great Deadbeat Poets.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Hot Nun - Hot Nun

Sometimes you need a power pop album to be a little like a member of the Lollipop Guild: short and sweet.

The self titled release from the Jeff Shelton led Hot Nun will undoubtedly be one of the more Lollipopest efforts of the entire year.

Those who are familiar with Shelton's main vehicle, The Well Wishers, will find Hot Nun a near cousin in terms of sound and song writing, though the focus is more consistently left on the harder edge of the pop dial.     The result is a gem of a little record perfect for tooling around this summer with the windows rolled down.

"Spirit of '76" is really the tone setter for this album, with its lyrics wistfully looking back to the days when "Robin Zander shouted out loud...." and it used to be on the radio. Add to the sentiment crunchy power chords and a ringing guitar solo and you have all the makings.

"Who Do You Love" is a glorious slice of ye olde Rock 'n Roll which makes you wonder why you don't hear more like it these days. "Win It All" is another forceful tune that seems effortless and intense at the same time, and that's not easy to do. No matter how its done the tune screams to be cranked up loud.

That is kinda the MO for the entire album, which may be one reason why it cuts out after only 8 tracks, one of which is a cover of David Bowie's "Queen Bitch." Its best to not overstay your welcome when you are so relentlessly on point, as they certainly are here.

In the end it maybe about as substantial as the lollipop I compared it to at the beginning of this review. But, damn it all, there sure are sweet while they last.

Grade: B+/A-