35 Reviews in 7 Days, Pt. 2

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JAMIE & STEVE – Sub Textural

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On their fifth release (and first since 2014), longtime musical partners/former (?) Spongetones Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel have compiled half a dozen new tracks, “created over a period of several years, in different situations, different states of mind,” according to the back cover blurb. There are echoes of XTC, some beat-heavy psychedelia, early ‘70s McCartney, Bob Lind-like folk pop (Hoover’s worked with Lind in the past), and, of course, a bit of Beatles (on the stripped down “Cry”). Hoover and Stoeckel still harmonize wonderfully and aren’t afraid to explore new musical territories on Sub Textural, and the production is interestingly dense and…well, textured. Perhaps the best of their EPs so far. Grade: A-

CHRIS PRICE – Stop Talking

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Man, Chris Price is one talented cat. He produced last year’s comeback album by power pop icon Emitt Rhodes, for one thing. And the guy recorded his entire (excellent) debut record on a freaking iPhone. Yes, seriously. And now on his sophomore release (and first in five years), Stop Talking, Price ups the ante with 14 tasteful, gorgeous tunes that owe a debt to songsmiths such as Nilsson, McCartney and Lindsey Buckingham. Price recorded nearly 50 (!) tunes for the project, whittling it down to a far more manageable number for the final release. It’s difficult to imagine Stop Talking in any other form than the way it’s presented, though, as each song flows nearly seamlessly into the next, with Price’s thoughtful lyrics and passionate vocals bringing tunes such as the slightly ELO-like “Sigh,” the quirky, Big Star 3rd-influenced “Darkness” and “Pulling Teeth,” the soulful “Man Down” and the vocal-and-piano-only “You and Me (and Everyone Else)” to life. Personal favorite: the piano-based “One of Them,” which features sparse verses giving way to a sunny, sing-song chorus. Stop Talking is quite a remarkable song cycle, and a release that is not to be missed. Grade: A-

ANDY STONE – Blender

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Andy Stone is another in a long line of indie pop guys who does a lot of the heavy lifting himself, and his latest album, Blender, shows off his compositional flair with eleven engaging tunes. Stone can turn a phrase pretty nicely – “at best we had a limited partnership” is but one of the pithy one-liners he tosses off – and his melodies are generally pretty tuneful, but his relatively colorless lead vocals are something of an acquired taste. Picks: “Catherine’s Acting” and “Be That Girl.” Grade: B-

COTTON MATHER – Wild Kingdom

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Wow, two albums in two years from Cotton Mather – a fortuitous occurrence, to be sure. Wild Kingdom continues in the same vein as 2016’s groovy Death of the Cool, with Cotton Mather mastermind Robert Harrison mining the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching for inspiration. While at first blush sounding as if it could be something of a pretentious exercise, Wild Kingdom instead is another feather in Harrison’s cap – it’s a tuneful, creatively executed series of songs that brings to mind the term “sprawling” – even though there are only 11 tracks here. That’s because Harrison doles out shiny, new wave-like rockers (“The Cotton Mather Pledge”), shimmering pure pop (“Fighting Through”), an ominous-sounding number (“High Society”), a few tunes that sound like Squeeze (“Hijinks Dad” being one), a danceable ditty (“Better Than a Hit”), a fragile ballad (“King William”), a Byrds/Beatles pastiche (“Girl with a Blue Guitar”), and a soul workout that recalls Elvis Costello’s R&B foray, Get Happy (“I Volunteer”). Yes, it’s sprawling – and pretty damned incredible. Grade: A

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Dana Countryman’s Girlville

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Dana Countryman is a true pop music mensch. The guy has a remarkable knack for recreating the sounds of pop music’s golden era (that’d be the ‘50s and ‘60s, in case you’re unsure) without sounding like a satirist or copycat. This time around, he’s made like a one-man Brill Building once again and written a slew of marvelous songs in the ‘60s girl group genre – and he’s enlisted some pretty amazing vocalists to sing ‘em. Lisa Mychols, Andrea Perry, Lisa Jenio and Countryman’s wife Tricia are a few of the femmes that inhabit Girlville, and they (and the others) imbue each of Countryman’s snappy little numbers with the honeyed vocals and wide-eyed innocence that’s required to sell stuff like this. Jenio sings lead on two of the best tracks here: the swoon-worthy “My Heart Belongs to One Boy” and the holiday epic “Little Bitty Snowflake,” while Mychols’ two vocal turns and a deliriously catchy little something-something titled “Bom Sh’Bom Sh’Bom” (sung by Julie Johnson Sand) are also cavity inducing in the best possible way. Grade: A-

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