Various Artists – International Pop Overthrow, Vol. 19 (Pop Geek Heaven Records)
For close to two decades now, pop savant David Bash has been the dude in charge of the International Pop Overthrow (aka IPO) music festival, bringing together like-minded musical acts who worship at the altar of harmony, melody, and all that good stuff. In addition to helming the fest, which seemingly has made stops from sea to shining sea (slight exaggeration there) and overseas (it’s international, remember?), Bash also curates an IPO CD each year, a collection of tracks by artists from around the world released during the summer to coincide with IPO’s flagship festival in Los Angeles.
Bash has always had quite the ear – two, actually – for quality melodic pop, and that fact alone insures that a good portion of each IPO CD will be worth your time. For the past several years, the collection has become something of a behemoth, containing between 65 and 70 tracks and encompassing all sorts of genres: power pop, hard rock, soul, a bit of balladeering, some Beach Boys-like splendor and more – because man cannot live by power pop alone, right? For example, on Volume 19 there’s even a number by Ashbury Keys that sounds like early U2 (a good thing) and some faux-funk by the Black Lemons (a not-so-good thing), proving that IPO’s pop palette has extended to include all sorts of musical colors, branching out from the more or less strict power pop of the early volumes of the series.
This time out, some of the names will be familiar to indie pop fans: Ron Dante (lead singer of the cartoon-rockin’ legends The Archies), The Tearaways, Laurie Biagini, Jimmy Haber, The Armoires (with the lovely, ethereal “Alesandra 619”), Butch Young, Jeremy Morris, and Swedish Polarbears, whose jangly “Winter” is taken from their excellent The Great Northern album.
But half the fun inherent in these IPO comps is ferreting out worthwhile tracks by acts who may be somewhat underappreciated, obscure, and/or new to my ears, and Volume 19 features more of these than any IPO collection in recent memory. Disc one leads off with the jangly goodie “When You Call My Name” by the Viewers, which sounds like a long-lost ‘60s cut off the Nuggets collection, replete with a ‘70s power pop bridge. Other must-hears on the first disc include the classic power pop of Steve Ramone’s “Sunny Day”; the blissfully melodic “Love Letter” by Richie Parsons; the goofy/hooky “Vive En Un Magic Bus” by Spain’s Jose Estragos; and the beautifully seductive “Nighthawks and Mona Lisa” by the Lunar Laugh. Cartoon Spirits, Akward Talker (awkward spelling), and the Satisfied Minds (gentle, lovely guitar jangle) also shine on disc one.
Disc two is brimming with melodic goodness, including cuts from Colorworks (“Joyla Red”), Greg Ieronimo (the catchier-than-hell, harmony-filled “Best Day of Our Life,” which recalls fellow pop guy Greg Pope), The Afternoons (an awesome T. Rex-y strut), Hummingbird Syndicate (like the Byrds with a gyrl), and Blake Jones & the Trike Shop, whose winning “My Girl (She Brings Me),” is uncharacteristically straightforward and is brightened by a cool little guitar solo. Tracks by Escapade, The Hard Way, mylittlebrother and Armchair Oracles are also quite swell, as is The Junior League’s “Please (I Need You To),” which sounds akin to a sunshiney “Lust For Life” with Carl Wilson on lead vox.
The third and final disc is the least successful overall, but still has some fine tracks to recommend, especially the old school power pop (with fab harmonies!) of Steve Rosenbaum’s “Take it Slow.” The aforementioned Swedish Polarbears’ cut is here (sounding a little like Del Amitri – another good thing), along with nice efforts by Jordan Andrew Jefferson, The Jeremy Band, New Man, Jimmy Haber, Butch Young, and Dave Birk. Since I’m all about being 100% honest, there are a few truly subpar cuts on disc three – especially towards the end – but those missteps are definitely in the minority. If you’re a pop music fan and want to dig a bit below the surface and hear some outstanding tunes that might not otherwise come your way, you owe it to yourself to check out International Pop Overthrow, Volume 19. Grade: A-