More CD Reviews: The Explorers Club, Cloud Eleven, Andy Bopp and More…

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THE EXPLORERS CLUB – TOGETHER

Jason Brewer is an unabashed Beach Boys guy. I mean, he adores the Beach Boys. Not only that, but he even looks more than a little like Brian Wilson, circa 1969. Brewer’s love of the Boys obviously informs the Explorers Club’s music, and Together, the band’s third full-length, is greatly influenced by the mid-period BB sounds of Friends, Sunflower and 20/20. (The disc cover is an obvious homage as well.) The music is an aural breath of fresh air, with wispy melodies and gorgeous harmonies all over the place. To lend even more of an air of authenticity to the proceedings, Brian Wilson band members Darian Sahanaja, Nelson Bragg and Probyn Gregory make appearances, and the gorgeous “Walk Away” was co-written with former Wilson collaborator Andy Paley. (Of course, the word “gorgeous” could apply to about 90% of the sounds on Together.) Brewer and his fellow Explorers have lovingly crafted a record brimming with the sweet sounds of summer, highlighted by “California’s Callin’ Ya,” “Once in a While” and the dreamy “Perfect Day.” Co-writing many of the album’s tunes with Brewer are fellow pop guys Wyatt Funderburk and Spirit Kid leader Emeen Zarookian.        Grade: A-

http://www.theexplorersclub.com/

 

 

ANDY BOPP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANDY BOPP – BLISTERS AND THORNS

Blisters and Thorns may just be Andy Bopp’s finest hour since the halcyon days of Myracle Brah in the late 1990s. His ample songwriting skills are on display all over the place, and the sad and lovely “Hello” (colored, as are a few other songs here, by lovely steel guitar shadings), the galloping “Broken Ties” and the rockin’, mid-tempo “Barely Hanging On” are among his best-ever compositions and should appeal to longtime fans. Other tunes are somewhat more atmospheric, but still showcase Bopp’s unerring way with a melody. Nice. Grade: B+

http://www.andyboppusa.com/

 

 

JEREMY HIT YOU FLOWER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE JEREMY BAND – HIT YOU WITH A FLOWER

Jeremy Morris has released about 764 records over the past several years…okay, well not quite that many, but the dude is most definitely one of the more prolific popsters on the scene today. Hit You With a Flower continues the Jeremy tradition of hopeful, sincere lyrics walking hand in hand with sunny melodies and riffs that might seem like you’ve heard them before…because sometimes you have. (The nifty title track’s main guitar figure sounds more than a little like The Move’s “Do Ya,” for example.) Kudos to Jeremy’s longtime drummer Dave Dietrich for expertly holding down the beat as always, and for adding some nice fills throughout. Hit You With a Flower is one of Jeremy’s most consistently pleasant efforts to date, and when he sounds uncharacteristically pissed off on “Big Disgrace,” it’s the aural equivalent of getting kicked in the shins by a Boy Scout. Grade: B

http://www.jamrecordings.com/catalog.php?inventory_id=2873

 

 

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CLOUD ELEVEN – GARDEN OF OBSCURE DELIGHTS: A RETROSPECTIVE (1996-2015)

Rick Gallego – the man behind the always-groovy sounds of Cloud Eleven – has been releasing his gently satisfying brand of super melodic, psych-flecked music for two decades now. He’s cherry picked 18 tunes from five of his releases (including his former nom-de-pop Jiffipop, and excepting 2015’s Record Collection), remastered ‘em all, added three previously unreleased tracks and made his garden of obscure delights available because, as he puts it in the disc’s liners, “Most people have never heard this music before, and I’d like to change that.” Of course, this is music that certainly does not deserve the relative obscurity to which it’s been relegated, so here’s hoping this collection gains Gallego some new ears. It’s brimming with goodness, from the emotionally charged “Rainbow Station” and the uncharacteristically Merseybeat-flavored “The One” to the piano-based “Ocean” and the unashamedly hooky “Superfine.” The previously unreleased tunes include two outtakes from Record Collection and a smooth cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dragonfly.” Superfine, indeed. Grade: A-

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/cloudeleven7

 

 

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KURT BAKER – ROCKIN’ FOR A LIVING/GOT IT COVERED

This one sort of snuck out in 2015, but it’s worth ferreting out if you’re a Kurt Baker fan – and if you’re a lover of classic power pop sounds, Baker’s early solo stuff is hard to beat. This CD collects his first two solo EPs on Oglio Records – comprising six originals and seven covers – and adds two bonus cuts (acoustic renditions of “Why You Gotta Lie” and Dave Edmunds’ “Trouble Boys”). Great stuff, all. Grade: A

Kurt Baker – 2 Classic Albums on 1 CD

 

 

 

MONOCHROME SET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MONOCHROME SET – COSMONAUT

Back in the day (late ‘70s/early ‘80s), these Brits were considered “post-punk” and “new wave.” But since we’re now in the post-post-post punk era and the new wave isn’t so new anymore, what to make of The Monochrome Set? Well, I suppose you could dub them “alternative” and “quirky” – songs such as “Stick Your Hand Up If You’re Louche” and “Monkey Suitcase” are definitely both – but that would be selling them short. Cosmonaut is a solid disc featuring bright ‘n’ shiny production and complex-yet-memorable, interestingly wordy tunes, fed by lead singer Bid’s deadpan vocals. You can definitely hear how these guys influenced bands such as The Smiths, for whatever that’s worth. Bid’s not whiny like Morrissey, though. Thank god. Grade: B

http://www.themonochromeset.co.uk/

 

 

the safes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SAFES – RECORD HEAT

One of the cooler things about being a music buff is discovering a band that’s flown under your radar for many years. Such is the case with me and The Safes, a Chicago-area combo led by the O’Malley brothers – Frankie, Michael and Patrick – that has drawn comparisons to Guided by Voices, The Apples In Stereo, Brendan Benson, Fountains of Wayne and even the Kinks. I’ve been listening to their 2014 release, Record Heat, and it’s a short (barely 25 minutes) 10-song effort that can be seen – and heard – as some sort of amalgamation of all the above comparisons, with a garagey swagger and super-sweet lead vocals (courtesy of Frankie, I believe) that are a bit reminiscent of The Singles’ Vince Frederick. “I Would Love To” and “Know it All” are both power poppin’ sureshots, and The Safes deftly avoid any of the clichés often inherent in the genre. Check out their 2006 effort Well Well Well as well; 10 more cool ditties with sharp hooks and some great song titles: “Cool Sounds are Here Again” and “Phone Book Full of Phonies.” Grade: B+

http://www.thesafes.com/

 

 

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THOSE PRETTY WRONGS – S/T

In which the lone surviving member of Big Star (Jody Stephens) partners with a talented songwriter/multi-instrumentalist (Luther Russell) and fashions an LPs worth of tunes that fall somewhere between #1 Record and Big Star Third. It’s moving, often achingly melodic and as a bonus, Stephens’ vocal phrasing is often disarmingly similar to Alex Chilton’s. Oh, and it’s on Big Star’s old label (Ardent), too. Grade: A-

http://www.thoseprettywrongs.com/

 

 

WELL WISHERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WELL WISHERS – COMES AND GOES

It seems like Jeff Shelton has been a part of the indie power pop scene forever, both with The Well Wishers and his previous band, Spinning Jennies; he’s released 13 albums between the two bands since 1993 and Comes and Goes is his eighth Well Wishers long player. To these somewhat jaded ears, Shelton keeps improving his craft with each successive release, and Comes and Goes is his finest, most varied yet. He handles everything pretty much on his own on the dozen tracks, and in addition to his knack for writing catchy tunes, he’s quite a guitarist and a pretty damned good drummer, too (check “Three Nights in Bristol” and “Get On By” for proof of both).  The guitars also buzz quite nicely on the LPs other key tracks, “Impossible to Blame,” “It’s On” and “Ill Equipped.” He also changes things up on the jangly “Nobody’s Dancing Alone” and closes things out with the pounding (yet still damned catchy) “Nature’s Son.” Grade: A-

https://thewellwishers.bandcamp.com/

 

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MARK BACINO – “NOT THAT GUY”

It’s been six years since we’ve heard any new music from NY-based popster Mark Bacino, so his new digital-only single, “Not That Guy,” is most welcomed. It’s a boppy little bit of summery, sunshiney pop, featuring Bacino’s sugary vox, a “Mr. Blue Sky” beat, and a chorus that sticks after one listen, which is always the hallmark of a good pop song.  Album coming soon, Mark? Grade: A-

www.markbacino.com

 

 

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