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CD Reviews: Sloan Tribute, The Turtles, Cotton Mather and More




Futureman Records is the brainchild of Keith Klingensmith, a power pop mensch and member of the most fab Legal Matters. (New LM record right around the corner!) Futureman has a slew of great new and archival releases available digitally via Bandcamp, but this 23-track tribute to venerable Canadian pop-rockers Sloan is “actual physical media,” as Klingensmith proudly trumpets on the site. (The digital version includes a whopping 31 cuts.)

I’m one of the few pop scribes who isn’t a massive Sloan buff, so reviewing this collection presented an interesting dilemma: compare the songs against the originals or take the covers at face value? Well, since I wasn’t intimately familiar with most of the originals, I guess it didn’t pose much of a dilemma after all. One thing I noticed as I made my way through the 23 tracks is how melodically interesting the bulk of these tracks are, and also how different each song is from the next. Wait, that’s two things. Crap.

Anyway, I realize this is mainly due to the fact that Sloan has four songwriters, but it helps keep If It Feels Good Do Itfrom ever becoming stale or sounding too samey. Some talented artists help in that regard, too, of course: Fireking, The Hangabouts, Nick Piunti, Chris Richards and the Subtractions, Coke Belda, the Well Wishers, and Phil Ajjarapu are among the contributors. Personal highlights for me are Stereo Tiger’s super poppy “C’mon C’Mon (We’re Gonna Get it Started),” Andy Reed’s plaintive “I Love a Long Goodbye,” the vaguely psychedelic “Misty’s Beside Herself” by Paul Myers, and Michael Simmons’ “False Alarm,” with its lead guitar riff sounding reminiscent of Greg Kihn’s “The Breakup Song.”

Speaking of similar sounding riffs, “Underwhelmed” – given a wonderfully powerful treatment here by The Mood Elevator – seems to borrow a bit from “Satisfaction,” but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the two finest cuts on the trib. The other is Gretchen’s Wheel’s blissful “Try to Make It,” which expertly melds a powerful guitar attack with Lindsay Murray’s sweetly sultry vocals. Sloan fan or no, this is a lovingly curated tribute that needs to be in your collection. Grade: A



A new release from Cliff Hillis is always a cause for celebration, so the seven-song Love Not War EP is a welcome treat. Every cut finds Hillis doing what he does best: offering up wonderful, fresh-sounding pop tunes, always impeccably performed and produced. It’s sort of senseless to single any of ‘em out because they all would sound great blasting out of a car radio, but since no one’s ever accused me of having any common sense, I’ll single out “A Boy Downtown,” as its harmony-filed chorus is one that’ll stay in your head for ages. The only negative thought I can muster about Love Not Waris that it’s an EP and not a full-length. It’s sort of ironic, then, that the final track is titled “Too Many Songs.” Grade: A



It’s The Turtles. It’s all the original singles, A-sides and B-sides. Need I say more? No, but I will anyway. Long underappreciated as one of the finest hit making machines of the ‘60s, this two-disc collection goes a long way towards setting the record straight (with the mono or stereo mixes heard on the original 1965-1970 singles). And not only do the 48 tracks cover the well-known smashes such as “Elenore,” “Happy Together,” “She’d Rather Be With Me, “Let Me Be,” “You Baby,” et al, but many of the songs that didn’t shoot to the top of the charts are thrilling slices of ‘60s pop as well: witness the Warren Zevon-penned garage rocker “Outside Chance,” “Can I Get to Know You Better,” “You Know What I Mean” (a Mark Volman favorite, as he mentions in the comp’s notes), and many others. Half the fun of All the Singlesis making (or re-making, in some cases) the acquaintance of some of the more obscure selections, such as the Ray Davies-produced, majorly Kinks-influenced “Bachelor Mother,” the nutty surf homage “Surfer Dan,” and the even nuttier – to the point of sounding nearly completely unhinged - 1970 cover of Jan & Arnie’s “Gas Money” (credited to The Dedications), which is notable for some truly awful saxophone, courtesy of Mark Volman. One of the finer reissues of 2016, to be sure. Grade: A



Nick Piunti’s third release – and his first on the recently-revived Jem Records imprint -finds him following in the sonic footsteps of his first two superb albums. That means more ultra-hooky, kinetic power pop, with Piunti backed by fellow Michiganites Ryan Allen, Andy Reed and Donny Brown, all of whom have released fine albums in their own right. Trust Your Instinctshas many pinnacles to pick from, including “Ready for Whatever” (which manages to rock, pop AND twang, ever so slightly), “As Far as I Throw” (some nice Who-like instrumental breaks on this one), the jangly perfection of “Stay Where You Are,” and a perfectly constructed, insanely catchy tale of rock band woe, “One Hit Wonder.” Like Piunti’s first two records, this one’s sure to end up on some top 10 lists at the end of the year. Grade: A



Nothing of not ambitious, Cotton Mather honcho Robert Harrison has unveiled the band’s first record of all-new songs in a decade-and-a-half, and it collects 11 songs from an ongoing 64-track (!) project based on each reading of the I Ching. (23 songs total are now available, with 12 of ‘em currently streaming online.) Death of the Cool is stylistically similar to Cotton Mather’s 1997 opus Kontiki, which is a very good thing indeed, as Kontiki is one of the coolest, most creative indie pop records ever conceived. (As an aside, Kontiki will be released on vinyl for the first time this November, along with a limited edition bonus 7-inch containing two Cotton Mather tracks previously only available on a now out-of-print single. It can be pre-ordered at the band’s webstore. You’re welcome.)

The sonic palette for Death of the Coolis basically a less flowery Beatles, circa ‘66/’67, although this is certainly no nostalgia trip by any stretch of the imagination. “The Book of Too Late Changes” kicks things off, and it’s a pulsating amalgamation of The Who and Revolver, while “Queen of Swords” and “The Middle of Nowhere” are quieter, more intimate ruminations, with Harrison’s John Lennon-ish vocals out front. “The Life of the Liar” is fed by a funky bassline, horns and some spitfire lead vocals; “Never Be It” sounds like it would have made a great follow up single to “Paperback Writer”; “Waters Raging” is another rocker, with some juicy horns helping to push it forward; “Child Bride” is a harpsichord-fueled jewel; and the mellow, beautifully orchestrated “The End of DeWitt Finley” closes out the record. Death of the Coolis another creative leap forward for Harrison and Cotton Mather, and a record that is not to be missed. For vinyl-philes, a limited white vinyl edition of the album will be on sale this month. Grade: A



Brookings has been proffering his ultra-melodic, easy-to-like brand of power pop for some time now, and his latest is a another excellent batch of tunes that you’ll find yourself singing and bopping along to in short order. Nothing terribly fancy, just good songwriting, cheery melodies, snappy tempos, boyish lead vocals…basically, all the hallmarks of a solid power pop record. While it’s all pretty stellar, the one track that stands out is the slightly twangy, hilarious “I’m in Love with Your Wife,” which ought to be called “The Ballad of George and Patti and Eric” and includes thoughtful couplets such as “And I can have any girl I know/’cause I was in Derek and the Dominoes.” Awesome. Grade: A-



SLD used to be called Sounds Like Digging, and the group is made up of cousins Paul Costanza and Tom Parisi. Apparently Paul and Tom hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, met up on the internet, and the rest is…well, it’s this album, which is quite good. Costanza sings, plays bass, drums and some guitar, while Parisi adds some tasty guitar licks of his own. The result is polished, well-crafted pop with some subtle overtones of Badfinger and a bit of Pezband, particularly in Costanza’s vocals, which often sound similar to Mimi Betinis. “Trapped” is a swell little mid-tempo number, “Stephanie Told Me” has a distinct Jellyfish vibe, “Do or Say” and “Kindergarten Sky” are pure pop jewels, and the disc-closing “When You Are Mine” sounds like it could have slotted in nicely on Magical Mystery Tour. Grade: B+



One of the UK’s finest proponents of pastoral, slightly psychedelic pop sounds, the Junipers have knocked it out of the park with Red Bouquet Fair. Tracks such as “Follow Loretta,” “Esmeranda,” the sitar-laced “Here Come the Winds,” and the beautiful final track, “Say Goodbye,” all swing and sway in a most lovely manner, and it’s obvious that great care has been taken with all the vocals, arrangements and instrumentation. An absolutely gorgeous pop-psych album with one foot in the late ‘60s and the other planted firmly in the present. Beautiful. Grade: A-