Review: “Power Pop Unplugged”

by John M. Borack

unplugged-1600VARIOUS ARTISTS – Power Pop Unplugged, Volume One (Zero Hour Records)

In which 21 artists – some relatively well-known within power pop’s little circle, some not so much – acoustically re-imagine some of the genre’s most beloved tunes alongside a handful of lesser known songs. As is the case with most tributes, there’s some outstanding interpretations, some good stuff, and a few stinkers.

Things get off to a good start with power pop chanteuse Lisa Mychols taking on Raspberries’ classic “Go All the Way” and coming out on top (so to speak). Steve Refling’s wonderfully understated guitar playing and true-to-the-original arrangement are complemented by Mychols’ sweetly seductive vocals, which nearly rival Eric Carmen’s on the Hey-Baby-Let’s-Screw-O-Meter, particularly on the “Come on…I want you…I need you…” portion of the bridge. Nicely done.

Another choice cut is Rob Bonfiglio’s “Earn Enough For Us,” which finds him taking XTC’s bouncy pop ditty and transforming it into a sparkling acoustic number, replete with soulful vocals and more ace guitar work, taken at approximately the same tempo as the original. Check out his solo CDs if you haven’t yet done so – very cool indeed.

Two more tracks worthy of special mention are Sounds Like Digging’s version of Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and Jonathan Rundman’s “One World,” originally performed by Utopia on the Swing to the Right record. SLD adds a prominent piano part to the Badfinger classic alongside some jazzy percussion, almost Manhattan Transfer-like background vocals and a winning arrangement. It’s a clever, fresh sounding update that still retains just enough elements of the original. Rundman rescues a relatively obscure album track – albeit a really, really good one – and adds piano, harmonium, harmonica and melodica to his acoustic guitar-led musical concoction and whips up a truly tasty version of the tune.

Pioneering power pop artists such as the Flamin’ Groovies, Cheap Trick, Shoes, the Plimsouls and Big Star also get the cover treatment here, with varying degrees of success. The issue with a few of the tracks is that they simply don’t sound right when slowed down and/or stripped down: witness Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl of My Dreams” and the Romantics’ “What I Like About You.”

A few of the tracks are torpedoed by subpar lead vocals, particularly on Sue Bachner & Paul Lawrence’s take on Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” (Bachner’s vocals are overmodulated and distorted for some reason) and the Ringles’ flat and unemotional reading of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” a song that isn’t even close to power pop in the first place, making it doubly lame. Also a bit strange: Jeremy Morris gets two tracks, albeit both very good ones: the Flamin Groovies’ “I Can’t Hide” (inexplicably titled “I Can’t Hide It” here) and Shoes’ gentle “Your Very Eyes.”

In addition to the artists previously mentioned, Stephen Lawrenson, the Well Wishers, Bobby Sutliff, Bill Lloyd, Dave Aronoff & Todd Foulsham, the Turnback, and Jean and the Hounds of Winter (who tackle one of the three Big Star tracks included) all acquit themselves quite nicely. Overall, this is a solid collection with only a few missteps. Grade: A-

 

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