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Ken Sharp's "New Mourning" is filled with pop music delights


Ken Sharp – New Mourning (Jet Fighter Records)

Ken Sharp is recognized as something of a renaissance man in the pop music world. In addition to being a well-respected and best-selling author (with excellent books about power pop, John Lennon, Kiss, Cheap Trick, Elvis Presley and David Bowie to his credit), he’s also a contributor to Goldmine and a host of other national magazines, and he’s penned liner notes for the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Small Faces, Hall & Oates, Rick Springfield, The Guess Who and Jefferson Airplane, to name a few. He’s also worked on a number of music-related television documentaries for networks such as VH-1.

One of the other arenas in which Sharp excels is as a first class singer/songwriter and musician. He doesn’t release new music all that often – his latest release, the most worthy New Mourning, is only his fourth full-length effort since 1994 – but when he does, it’s always well worth checking out. New Mourning, however, is much more than simply another Ken Sharp album: the 14-track song cycle (which chronicles some of the ups and downs in Sharp’s life over the past few years) is by far the pinnacle of his musical career thus far.

From the power poppin’ call to arms of the opening track, “Dynamite & Kerosene” (which is propelled by some fantastic, Raspberries-like drumming from co-producer Fernando Perdomo) to the darkly accusatory disc-closer “Loser” and at all points in between, there is nary a false step to be heard. Sharp’s love of all things power pop can also be heard on the groovin’ “Let’s Be Friends” (love the insistent guitar riff, the snaky synth that underlies the choruses, and of course, the handclaps – because handclaps enhance pretty much any song), “Bad News” (more killer Perdomo drums here) and on the 12-string fueled perfection of “I Should Have Known,” whose sunny music masks a rather downcast set of lyrics.

Sharp’s Philadelphia roots come to the forefront on the Philly soul nugget “Solid Ground,” where he is joined by fellow Philadelphia boy Rob Bonfiglio to fashion a tune that would have sounded cool blaring from an AM radio in 1973. The sadly beautiful “Haunts Me” is similarly soulful, conjuring up sweet memories of the Stylistics.

Rick Springfield guests on lead guitar on two of the best songs on New Mourning: he shreds on the glammy stomper “Burn & Crash,” which features some very cool, Queen-influenced backing vocals, and turns up again on “Satellite,” an early ‘80s-sounding, synthesizer-fueled prize. (Springfield also adds some background vocals on this one.)

The sweetly affecting “1000 Guitars” is a gentle little number that serves as a perfect vehicle for Sharp’s soothing lead vocal, while conversely, he sounds pretty pissed off on “Mr. Know it All” (“Keep your mouth shut…you’re nothing but a stupid jerk”), which finds The Knack’s Prescott Niles guesting on bass guitar. Kudos must be given to Fernando Perdomo for his stellar contributions throughout: in addition to co-helming Sharp’s sonic ship, he serves as a multi-instrumentalist (the aforementioned drums, but also bass, guitar, organ and other instruments too numerous to mention) and excels at adding quite a bit of style and substance to Ken Sharp’s Whitman’s sampler of pop music delights. A year-end top 10 contender, for sure. Grade: A

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