A Cornucopia of New CD Reviews

Hello, yeah, it’s been awhile. Not much; how ‘bout you?

Lannie Flowers – “Kiss a Memory” b/w “Everything a Man Could Want” (Spyderpop)

New music from power pop master Lannie Flowers is always a cause for celebration, and his new single – available on both CD and vinyl – definitely does not disappoint. Flowers and his ace band bring the power and the pop in spades on both of these awesome numbers: “Kiss a Memory” features a rolling guitar riff that is slightly reminiscent of the Records’ classic “Starry Eyes,” and features verses that are just as catchy as the choruses, while “Everything a Man Could Want” trucks along on the strength of another strong melody and some first-rate Stones/Faces guitar crunch. Give us more, Lannie! Grade: A

Gretchen’s Wheel – Sad Scientist (Futureman Records)

Gretchen’s Wheel is the brainchild of Lindsay Murray, a talented songstress from down Nashville way, and Sad Scientist (her third full-length record) is definitely her finest effort to date. The music is grounded in punchy guitar-pop, but often veers off into slower, moodier terrain, while Murray’s thoughtful lyrics often seem like therapeutic exercises: “There were things I thought could be/I found the obstacle was me,” she sings in the atmospheric “Save the Day”; “The Price” leads off with the line, “In a constant case of preparation/for the worst case scenario”; and on the spiky “Disintegrate,” she admits that “This defeatist attitude is problematic.” I’m more fond of the rockers than the slower ones; thus, “Left Turn” (with ample instrumental assistance from LA-based musical savant Fernando Perdomo) and “Blank Slate” (with Nick Bertling handling most of the instrumental chores) are my “picks to click.” Although the album falls off a bit towards the finish, it’s still definitely worthy of your attention. And I’m going to keep writing that I think Murray’s vocals are reminiscent of a less mopey Aimee Mann because…they are. Grade: A-

Tommy Sistak – A Good Hat Indeed (Self-released)

‘60s British pop to the max is the story here, with Illinois boy Tommy Sistak paying homage to that golden area with songs that recall Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers and – duh – the Beatles. A lot of these songs also bear a rather striking vocal similarity to his Illinois pop brothers Pezband (such as “Yeah She Said So”), and all ten of the tunes on A Good Hat Indeed are winsome bits o’pop that you’ll enjoy if your tastes lean to the summery side. Grade: B

The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle (Varese Sarabande)

It’s the 50th anniversary edition, it’s got new liner notes from Andrew Sandoval, it contains seven bonus tracks (including the mono mix of the non-LP single “I’ll Call You Mine”), and…wait, you already own this masterpiece, right? RIGHT? Well, what the hell, buy it again. The British counterpart to Pet Sounds? Could be. Grade: A

R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner – Make it Be (Bar/None)

The sticker on the cover of Make it Be tells us that R. Stevie Moore is a lo-fi legend and Jason Falkner is a power pop pioneer. While “legend” and “”pioneer” might be stretching the truth just a touch, both artists have certainly released some very cool records over the course of their careers and now the unlikely duo has recorded this sprawling 18-track collection together. When Falkner is able to keep Moore’s eccentricities in check – as on “IH8 PPL,” “Another Day Slips Away,” “Horror Show,” and a handful of others –  things go splendidly. But when they throw in a weird-ass dance number (“That’s Fine, What Time?”), a 5:41 atmospheric instrumental that goes nowhere slowly (“Passed Away Today”), and some bizarre RSM spoken word bits, things head south in a bit of a hurry. Still, the bulk of the tunes are…well, tuneful…with most written by Moore. And a not-quite-unhinged version of Huey “Piano Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It” is pretty fun stuff. Grade: B+

Captain Wilberforce – Black Sky Thinking (Kool Kat)

Not a guy but a band led by Simon Bristoll from Leeds, UK, Captain Wilberforce is back after a bit of a break. Imagine a bit darker version of Squeeze, or maybe Robyn Hitchcock stirred with some XTC at times, or perhaps some pastoral psych-pop, and you’ve got the recipe for an entertaining disc. More straightforward than some of their earlier releases, there are plenty of songs you’ll go back to again and again: “Someone to Love” sounds a bit like Wings crossed with Oasis; the acoustic-based “You Can’t Have Me” (not the Big Star tune) is disarmingly pretty; “Stickleback Toffee is straight-up power pop; and “King of Indecision” sounds like it could pass for a top-flight Jellyfish outtake. As a bonus, Black Sky Thinking includes a tune that might just vie for the coveted Song Title of the Year award: “The Johnny Depp Memorial Café.” Grade: A-

The Jigsaw Seen – For the Discriminating Completist (Burger)

Subtitled “Rarities and Singles, 1989 – 2015,” this is a primo compilation from the Los Angeles band that has always had a foot firmly planted in both the pop and rock camps, sometimes during the same song: witness the glorious “Celebrity Interview,” where the Bee Gees-like verses give way to powerful, Who-influenced choruses. Other treats the discriminating completist will enjoy include a wonderfully trippy cover of the Bee Gees’ “Melody Fair” (from that great Bee Gees tribute record that the late Greg Dwinnell released years ago on eggBERT Records), the lilting lite-psych of “Luci Baines” (dig that “Crimson and Clover”-sounding guitar), the terrific “Jim is the Devil” (pop heaven, this) and the darkly stimulating “Whore Kiss.” Fab sounds, indeed. Grade: A

Cait Brennan – Third (Omnivore)

Cait Brennan is the asshole who stole your boyfriend. She’s gonna shake it like the Oobleck hustle. She’s bad at apologies. She’s giving a song to Benedict Cumberbatch because you don’t deserve it. Oh, and she’s also released what is certain to be one of the finest, most twisted (that’s a good thing) and most original albums you’ll hear this year, Third. (The references above are all lyrical tidbits from the pen of Brennan, by the way.)

Sonic touchstones on Third are all over the map: there’s some slightly demented near doo-wop (“Bad at Apologies”), soulful strutting (“Stack Overflow”), alt-rock, power pop, glam, a deliriously catchy dance number (“A Hard Man to Love”), a Big Star Third-like confessional with some tasty wah-wah guitar (“Catiebots Don’t Cry”), and a supreme, butt shaking ditty referencing preachers, reapers, limos and nitrous that Taylor Swift would cover if she had the balls (“Shake Away”). It all hangs together thanks to Brennan’s wonderfully emotive, soulful vocalizing and collaborator/co-producer Fernando Perdomo’s sonic wizardry on a number of instruments.

The Big Star Third reference makes sense, seeing as how Brennan and Perdomo recorded THEIR Third at the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis over a frenzied three day period, obtaining some inspiration from the ghosts of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton along the way. By the time Third ends with the stark, echoed, Plastic Ono Band-like vibe of “Goodbye Missamerica,” you’ll realize that none of these songs sound like each other – but you’ll also realize that you’ve just listened to one of the coolest freaking records to come down the pike in quite some time. Grade: A

Donny Brown’s self-titled five-song EP continues the rather incredible string of excellent melodic pop ‘n’ roll coming out of Michigan over the past several years. Brown is the former drummer for The Verve Pipe, and has also manned the kit for cool records by fellow Michigan popsters Nick Piunti (who co-wrote one of the songs here) and Andy Reed. The tunes on this release (as well as 2014’s Hess Street E.P.) are often pleasantly mellow and go down smoothly, thanks to Brown’s plaintive vocals. Grade: B+

Tin, Man from the Tim Lee 3 is another in a series of soulful, rockin’ releases from the former co-founder of the Windbreakers. Lee’s partnered with his wife Susan Bauer Lee to create another album’s worth of often swampy, tried and true southern rock, with the couple both taking lead vocal turns. It’s all pretty damned cool, especially the Bo Didddley-esque “Less Than Royalty” (which is graced with some kickass slide guitar, courtesy of Robert Mache) and the driving “Superstition.” Imagine Johnny and June Carter Cash fronting the Georgia Satellites and you’re in the ballpark. Grade: B+

There are no doubt musicians like Frank Marzano in many small towns across the country: guys who pen tunes informed by ‘60s and ‘70s AM radio, record with some buddies, and play out in small clubs and/or coffeehouses. The two Marzano releases I’ve heard – 2012’s The Boy Who Always Got Picked Last and 2015’s American Proust – are stocked with pleasant songs that won’t change the world, but probably would sound pretty darned good in a small town bar on a Saturday night.  My faves are “We Both Love You,” which is reminiscent of a Jim Croce ballad and the sweetly sung “Nerve,” which features some not-so-sweet lyrical putdowns. The rockers don’t fare as quite as well as the mellower numbers, but there’s still some good stuff here. It took me some time to figure out who Marzano reminded me of vocally, but it finally hit me: he sounds a lot like Shane Faubert of the Cheepskates. Grade: B-

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