By Lee Zimmerman
We live in an uncertain world to be sure. Politics, pontificating and general sense of despondency seems to permeate the ethos, driving each of us into the far corners of our individual conscientiousness in our search for solace. And while that doesn’t always prompt a collective sensibility, it does allow reason for respite.
In these moments of reflection it makes sense to seek new sounds that can provide the satisfaction of new discovery and a reason to rejoice in new discoveries that can excite our senses. Here then, is a sampling of new music to accompany a retreat from reality and add new enthusiasm to your day.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Richard X Heyman may very well be the best power pop purveyor on the planet. That’s quite a mouthful -- trying saying that phrase rapidly three times in a row! -- but it bears repeating. Both on his own and as the man who provides the backbeat for his revived teenage band the Doughboys, Heyman maintains a steadfast reverence for classic rock ‘n’ roll with a melodious intent, the kind of thing that once dominated the radio waves back in the day. His melodies are instantly infectious, his delivery chock full of energy and exuberance and his talents are beyond compare. A veritable one man show -- excepting times when he has the accompaniment of his wife Nancy on bass and drums -- he delivers songs replete with the kind of hooks and dashing melodies that take complete command from the first notes on. This is a electrifying, highflying set of songs, bolder than anything Heyman’s yet to offer in his nearly 30 year career. It ought to be considered absolutely essential.
Seattle-based psych band Transient Songs’ third album, Stealing Sand, finds frontmen Jon Frum and Michael Shunk collaborating on a series of ethereal melodies wholly reminiscent of bands like the Church, Modern English and Mercury Rev, while casting shards of iridescent beauty in the midst of their mellow, melancholic musings. This is the sound of hazy, overcast afternoons and dreamy mornings after, where the world drifts by and serenity and contentment allow for peaceful repose. Ultimately, Transient Songs have chosen the perfect handle, because, truth be told, bliss like this is fleeting at best. Seize this sweet serenity while it lasts.
The Rave Ups were one of those bands that made good, sturdy power pop mixed with an ample dose of Americana, attracting a cult following in the process while failing to sustain a stronger following. Three albums -- the last two of which found release on a major label (Epic Records) -- attracted critical kudos but eventually ended up in the cut-out bins sans the mass appreciation that they well deserved. The band is presumably defunct at this juncture, but one of the band’s principals, Jimmer Podrasky, has resurfaced with a sophomore solo album which continues to champion the sound the band expounded on in their day -- one chock full of instantly engaging melodies, sunny arrangements and gleeful choruses that challenge the listener to ignore their instant embrace. God Like the Sun sounds like an epic title and if the songs aren’t quite as soaring as the banner might imply, they’re no less radiant or shimmering in style. It’s good to have Jimmer back, and we can only hope that this effort marks his prolonged return.
When Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Ray Davies testify to your talents, the bar is bound to be high. Even so, Ron Sexsmith seems nonplussed by the praise, a humble artist who’s merely content to write wonderfully blissful songs that seem as if they were simply lifted out of the ether and delivered completely intact. "The Last Rider" offers yet another shining example of Sexsmith’s superlative skills, an ability defined by his ability to deliver enticing melodies through a winsome vocal that occasionally sounds downcast but never comes across as despondent. Sexsmith successfully emulates his idols, and indeed, hints of McCartney’s unflappable cheer, Davies’ delightfully descriptive style and Costello’s wit and irony are in evidence throughout. Indeed, it’s yet another example of Sexsmith’s ability to create songs that exemplify the perfect pop motif, further evidence of that fact that he’s at the top of his game once again.
Korby Lenker is another of those artists who have accumulated an impressive catalog but sadly remain unknown to all too many folks that would likely adore what they heard had they been properly exposed. Lenker’s latest, "Thousand Springs," is unique in that it was recorded in a variety of impromptu and untraditional settings around the country, several of them in all. The intimate melodies betray a sense of intimacy and mystique, and while he gathers an impressive supporting cast -- Nora Jane Struthers, Anthony Da Costa, Carrie Elkin, Amy Speace, Molly Tuttle, Kai Welch, Angel Snow, Becky Warren and the Punch Brothers’ Chris “Critter” Eldridge , among them -- the arrangements are as spacious as the distance between the destinations he was drawn to. At times, Lenker sounds like a younger version of Paul Simon in terms of sensitivity, suggestion and his lithe way with a melody. Beautifully captivating, Thousand Springs expresses emotions and enticement that indeed spring eternal. Its simply impossible not to be charmed.
From the opening surge of “Read Your Mind” to the final fade of “There May Come a Time,” Cold Roses’ new album, the first for an aptly named new indie label Recorded Records, makes a powerful impression. A Philly based band, they capture the exhilaration that’s always been such an essential element in that city’s fabled music scene. Escape to Anywhere effectively captures their robust approach, one which sometimes seems to leap beyond the speakers and seek an instant residency in the listener’s consciousness. Augmented by horns, vibrant vocals, an accelerated drive and dynamic, and the grandeur and gusto of some magnificent melodies, Cold Roses demands instant attention and gives plenty of exultation and resolve in return. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where their sensibilities lie, but suffice it to say their mix of rock and pop, with a smattering of soul and even a hint of jazz resonates long after the final notes fade away.