Power Pop Plus: New CD Reviews for Spring

The latest Power Pop recommendations from Goldmine contributor, John M. Borack.
Publish date:

The Cherry Bluestorms – Whirligig!(Roundhouse)

Bookended with Beatles references—they kick things off with a rousing take of “She Said She Said” and close with a tune titled “Be Here Now” (not the G. Harrison number)—Cherry Bluestorms’ Whirligig! is a winning, updated spin on ‘60s psych-pop. Featuring the sultry lead vocals of Deborah Gee and the Many Guitars of Glen Laughlin—he plays ‘em all here, including bass—the dozen tracks are all thoughtfully arranged and coolly evocative of that bygone era without ever sounding stuck in a retro trip. Laughlin sings lead on some of the tunes as well, sounding particularly fine on the appropriately languid “Sleep.” Other key tracks: the slammin’ “Roy Wood,” the lyrically prickly “Heel to Toe” (dig the keyboard solos) and the sweetly orchestrated “Seven League Boots,” the best thing here. Grade: B+

Yipes! – Yipes!!!

Milwaukee’s favorite sons release their third record a mere 38 years after their second and come out sounding better than ever. With the original lineup intact, the quintet works their way through a baker’s dozen of spirited rock and roll songs that are wonderfully varied and melodically stimulating. Fronted by vocalist/songwriter Pat McCurdy and highlighted by the six-string wizardry of guitarist Andy Bartel, Yipes! traverses between anthemic rawk (“Pure Insanity”), wistful, Rickenbacker-fueled reminiscing (“Argyle Avenue”), good-timey fun (“Going to London,” “King of the USA”), muscular power pop (“It’ll Take a Lifetime”), and a few wonderfully obscure covers—the Jackie DeShannon-penned “Each Time” (which was done up by the Searchers in ’65) and a fierce reading of ‘60s UK singer/songwriter Chris Andrews’ “It’s Alright.” Yipes!!! kicks ass right out of the chute and never lets up for a second. Marvelous. Grade: A

Nick Eng – Nick Eng

Okay, here’s the deal: if you’re a fan of the Beatles, Searchers, Monkees or Herman’s Hermits, you’ll dig Nick Eng. On this self-titled effort he does it all by his lonesome, playing and singing ten simple, sweet and snappy little tunes that never fail to stick in the ‘ol noggin. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it’s not trying to be, and it doesn’t have to be; it’s just enjoyable pop fluff—and that’s a compliment, man—brought to you by a young man with all the right influences. Eng’s just released a new one, so check that out as well. Grade: A-

Starbelly – Four

Another band that’s been M.I.A. (recording-wise) for far too long, Starbelly released this typically stellar effort in 2018. A tad mellower overall than their previous releases, Four is still jam-packed with all the ingredients necessary for a pop-rockin’ good time: guitars, guitars and more guitars; passionate, on-point lead vocals from Cliff Hillis and Dennis Schocket; and killer melodies to spare. Personal faves are “Strange Constellations,” “Yes, I Love Her Again,” the lilting “Emily Says” and the winking “Jesus Freak,” which features a clever set of lyrics and some snazzy drumming from Greg Schroeder. And I’ll be damned if the wonderfully sprawling “Danny Opus” isn’t a medley worthy of that McCartney cat. Welcome back, Starbelly. Grade: A

David Brookings & the Average Lookings – Scorpio Monologue

David Brookings has been a part of the indie pop scene since releasing his first record in 2000 at the tender age of 21. His catalogue contains several fine albums, but his new one, Scorpio Monologue, stands head and shoulders above the rest. It deftly mixes Brookings’ boyish voice with an often-powerful instrumental attack—a bit more “rock” in places without any of the stereotypical wanking that term implies. This vibe is on full display on the leadoff cut, “And it Feels Like…,” which marries a jangly lead guitar riff to some insistent drums and a smokin’ lead guitar break. (A cover of Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” features more tasty, fluid lead guitar lines.) Brooking also channels his inner Chuck Berry on the pop-rockin’ raver “She’s Mad at Me Again,” while “That Girl’s Not Right” gets its juice from some almost surf-styled guitar. Elsewhere: “I Grew Up Fast” is pure power pop perfection; “Time Takes You By” is very nearly a power ballad without any of the stereotypical ickiness that term implies; “Big Gun” miscasts Brookings as badass, albeit with a memorable melody attached; and the hilarious “Silicon Valley” lampoons the denizens of that Northern California area in the most melodically pleasant manner possible. (“Mortgages are outrageous/Don’t go to Oakland, it’s dangerous…People get in a panic/if you don’t eat organic.”) Brimming with many charms, Scorpio Monologue is certain to occupy a place on my year-end top 10 list. Grade: A

Pezband – Cover to Cover Remixed

Pezband's final studio album from 1979 is probably their most underrated effort; although commercially unsuccessful upon its initial release, it was brimming with spirited performances and highlighted by wonderfully melodic and powerfully poppy tunes that found the foursome still proudly waving the power pop flag. Now it’s forty years later and the album’s been remixed and remastered by original producer John Pavletic, who brings the record’s inherent power to the forefront without sacrificing one whit of the melodic splendor. Tunes such as "Stella Blue," "Don't Look Back" and "Back in the Middle" rock quite righteously with Mimi Betinis’ simultaneously reckless and controlled, British Invasion-influenced lead vocals providing the aural cherry on top. And I'm still scratching my head as to why the sweetly yearning "Didn't We" wasn't all over the radio back in the day. (The original, piano-and-vocal-only demo is appended here as a bonus track and is just as lovely as the album version.) Cover to Cover is primo Pezband, for sure. Grade: A

The Bobbleheads – Myths and Fables

For years, there has been a not-so-secret shame among some musicians about being dubbed “power pop.” “The term is limiting,” they complain. “Today’s power pop is all weekend warriors recording lame Beatles soundalikes at home,” they gripe. While there might a tiny kernel of truth in each of those statements, by and large the musicians who make these claims are—how can I put this kindly?—full of sh*t and can’t see the forest for the trees. Which brings us to the Bobbleheads and their spiffy new one, Myths and Fables. The Bobbleheads see no shame in calling themselves a power pop band. The Bobbleheads don’t sound like the Beatles, nor do they particularly sound like any other power pop act. All they do is dole out song after song of hyper-catchy, crisply produced, well-played music dominated by guitars, John Ashfield’s assured lead vox, some lovely vocal harmonies (courtesy of Ashfield and guitarist Rob Harford) and Rob Jacobs’ steady drumming. “Listen You Know,” “Feel This Way,” “Until You Touch It” and the shimmering “Anne Murray Centre” (yes, there really is one) all touch the hem of greatness, and the rest of the album is pretty damned cool as well. And yeah, it’s power pop. So there. Grade: A-

The Keys – Grand Reopening
(Zero Hour)

Hailing from New York, the Keys were a little beacon of light in the semi-dark power pop days of the mid-to-late ‘80s, with a few indie releases on LP and cassette. Nothing available on CD, however—until now. Zero Hour has taken some tracks from each of their releases, added a slew of previously unreleased bonus material, and the result is a 20-song CD that tells the story of the Keys (not the British, “I Don’t Wanna Cry” Keys, by the way). The songs are sturdy (if somewhat lightweight), well-constructed pop, with lead vocalist Bob Koenig sounding at times like the Well Wishers’ Jeff Shelton. There are also a bunch of power pop covers (Rundgren, Badfinger, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Wind, Big Star, The Rollers) as well as the band’s shining moment, the superb “Change of Seasons,” which I remembered like an old friend after not hearing it for nearly 30 years. Grade: B

Mick Terry – Days Go By
(Kool Kat)

Produced by Jim Boggia, Mick Terry’s Days Go By was one of the unexpected highlights of 2018, coming as it did eight years after Terry’s debut album. But man, this one plays like some amazing, long-forgotten ‘70s playlist: there’s bubblegum (the joyous “Pop’s a Dirty Word”), singer/songwriter musings (“The End of You and Me”), soul (the absolutely wonderful “Everybody’s Talking”), tasty pure pop (“Emily Come Back”), a country-tinged slow one (“Ignorance is Bliss”) and a jaunty little music-hall-flavored nugget (“Arthur’s Tale”). Tying it all together is Boggia’s unobtrusive production and Terry’s pleasing vocals, both of which assist in making Days Go By a near flawless effort. Grade: A

Kai Danzberg – Not Only Sunshine
(Big Stir)

Danzberg’s sophomore effort is filled with more of the same sunny, Beach Boys/Jellyfish-inspired tuneage that populated his first record. Some special guests share the spotlight this time around: Dana Countryman, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., David Myhr and Lisa Mychols all assist Danzberg in providing the requisite pure pop thrills. These tunes are the easy highlights of the album, particularly the upbeat confection “My Beautiful Day” (featuring Countryman), the explosively charming “Let Me Know” (sung with typical aplomb by Lisa Mychols and which at times sounds suspiciously similar to “I Want You to Want Me”), and “Nothing in My Head,” which finds Danzberg taking a page from Myhr’s Merrymakers playbook. A little bit of soul, a ‘70s AM radio flashback, and some acoustic sweetness is also on display, and while the proceedings start to drag a bit around the midway point of the 14-track disc, hearing Danzberg repeatedly intone “I’m lonely as f*ck” on “Lonely” almost makes up for any transgressions. Grade: B+