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Power Pop Plus: More of the best of 2020, plus...

Reviews, reviews and more reviews...

Groovie Goolies - Groovie Goolies (Real Gone)

The Kinks, The Beatles, John Lennon—2020 was the 50th anniversary of some very important pop/rock releases. It was also the 50th anniversary of a completely unheralded record, but one that still trades for big bucks among vinyl collectors: Groovie Goolies' eponymous (and lone) LP. Culled from the kids' television show that lasted only 16 episodes, the 10 tracks on this straight reissue are pure bubblegum heaven: imagine a (monster) mash-up between the Archies and the Addams Family. Rather than delve into Bobby "Boris" Pickett-like slapstick, most of the songs play it straight and provide the requisite chewy, yummy pleasures 'gum aficionados know and love. It's available on CD and there's also a limited edition "Franken-green" vinyl edition. Spooky! Grade: A-

click beetles

The Click Beetles - Pop Fossil (Vandalay/Futureman)

Melodic guitar-pop can be quite difficult to pull off successfully; attempting to stir in overt '60s influences that include the Beatles can make it especially tough. Ultimately, of course, it's all about the song, and the Click Beetles have a bunch of really good ones. The absolutely wonderful "If Not Now Then When" is the prime cut, as it terrifically mines the Beatley territory without getting too close for comfort. "Hey Renee" is more chiming guitar goodness, and the slightly psychedelic-sounding "Don't You Call My Name" makes good use of something resembling the classic "Little Black Egg" guitar riff. A nifty cover of the Elvis Brothers' "Dreamland" is another welcome addition, and overall, the only minor blemish is that sometimes the drum sound can be a bit overpowering in a "big '80s" sort of way. Grade: B+

rich arithmetic

Rich Arithmetic - Shiftingears (Kool Kat)

In what must surely be some kind of record, Rich Arithmetic (real name: Rich Horton) has released his sophomore effort a scant 26 (!) years after his fab debut, 1995's Sleep in a Wigwam. The new one, Shiftingears, finds Horton traversing a similar pop/rock road, albeit with a slightly more adventurous bent than previously displayed. That means in addition to straight-up power pop, there's a potpourri of XTC-like musings, lite-soul, a nostalgic, '60s-influenced ditty ("Haley" is a real gem), a piano-based number reminiscent of mid-period Wings ("He's a Good Man"), and a collaboration with Maura Kennedy, who sings lead on the thrilling "One Thing," which has one of the coolest vocal arrangements we've heard in some time. Interesting note: at times Horton's voice sounds quite a bit like Jeff "Well Wishers" Shelton. Shiftingears is an unexpected treat for fans of well-crafted, intelligent pop. Grade: B+

brad brooks

Brad Brooks - God Save the City (Mouth Magic)

Brooks began recording his latest long player in 2015 and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with throat cancer. (Thankfully he's made a full recovery.) God Save the City, then, can be seen as something of a survival manifesto, with the songs detailing not only Brooks staring his own mortality in the face, but also topics such as civil rights and the economy. The music is at once powerful and nuanced (Brooks' longtime band is white-hot), and Brooks puts across the consistently fine material in a versatile, soulful voice that by turns recalls Daryl Hall and Todd Rundgren. The raunchy rocker "God Save the City" kicks things off with a smoldering swagger, and tracks such as "Feel the Might" and the string-laden "Heartbreak of Fools" glide smoothly upon slinky, soul-drenched grooves. The perfectly angular "Strange Fruit Numb" features an amazing vocal performance from Brooks that is obviously coming from deep within: when he shouts "Can you turn my anger to love?" with the backing vocalists chiming in with chants of "Try, motherf*cker, try," it's at once catchy, potent, and deeply felt. It's the centerpiece of an emotionally powerful record that's a testament to strength and resilience while remaining highly accessible. Grade: A

marshall holland

Marshall Holland - Paper Airplane (Mystery Lawn Music)

Unabashedly pop and unabashedly tuneful, Marshall Holland's Paper Airplane is eleven tracks worth of irresistible ear candy: winsome vocals, sweetly affecting melodies, and unerringly pleasing songs about rain, holding birds, peace and love, paper airplanes, and the like. "Whatcha gonna do for us if you wanna make it great again," he asks at one point (certainly a valid question); in tandem with pounding toms, a squiggly organ line, and a seriously snappy melody, it's as if the Monkees have been magically transported to the here and now. Other tracks are more of the sunshine pop variety, with "When the Rain Comes" and "A Dream Away" sounding particularly groovy. Grade: A-


Dolour - The Royal We (Self-released)

Dolour is Shane Tutmarc, who makes like a one man band Teenage Fanclub on several tracks on The Royal We. (The album title is a reference to said one man band status.) The first three cuts in particular—"Yes and No," "The Snake Eye" and "Drunk Dial"—are miniature power pop classics, with their easygoing jangle and sumptuous melodies drawing the listener in quite effectively. Much of the rest of the record has a distinct late '60s soft pop vibe, similar to the feel of the most recent Explorers Club albums. Note: the tune "The Gambler" is not a cover of the Kenny Rogers tune (whew!): rather, it's a mellow little number with Tutmarc assuring a love interest, "I'm placing all my bets on you." Sweet, sweet music for discriminating ears. Grade: A-


The Rockyts - Come On and Dance (Rockyt)

Pure Merseybeat fun and games from a young Ottawa combo that evokes the sound and spirit (spyryt?) of the era. Covers of the Knickerbockers ("Lies," natch), the Dave Clark Five, the Sonics and the Easybeats prove they have all the proper influences, and  originals such as "All of the Time" and "Come On and Dance" are tons of fun. Retro? Sure. You gotta problem with that? Grade: B

bruce moody

Bruce Moody - Forever Fresh! (Self-released)

Of the 23 ultra-hooky slabs of vintage power pop on Bruce Moody's Forever Fresh! compilation (which spans the years 1979-1986), only four were released prior to 2015; that's when Canadian label Meanbean Records began doling out four tracks at a time on a series of three vinyl EPs. (The best thing here, the delightful "This Is It," was also released on a Texas power pop comp some years back.) While a good portion of these songs have sat gathering dust for many years, that's certainly not indicative of their quality: the choruses all stick, the guitars chime fervently, and Moody's boyish lead vocals are the stuff power pop dreams are made of. Other faves include "The Closer I Get," "At the Rock Club," the hopelessly addictive "You Do," and the moody (pardon the pun), Let's Active-like "I Feel Strange." Some '80s production flourishes peek out now and again, but it doesn't detract from the pure enjoyment of these tunes. Grade: A


Brian Bringelson/Gabe Dulek - Desperate Days (Futureman)

Best known for his work with indie-popsters Anchor and Bear, Bringelson brings his A-game to this one: it's stylistically diverse, refreshingly melodic and often disarmingly beautiful, with whiffs of the Beach Boys, '90s Britpop, and '60s sunshine pop permeating the musical landscape. "Desperate Days" plays up the mid-period Beach Boys influences, "Bone Collector" is enhanced by a lovely guitar solo, "Losing Train of Thought" sounds like a hit, and "Letting Go of Arrows" is just one of the songs with a stunningly pretty vocal arrangement. Grade: A-


Rick Hromadka - Better Days (SodaStar)

Pretty much everyone who's anyone in the Los Angeles indie pop scene contributed to this record: Robbie Rist, Karen Basset (the Pandoras), Mike Randle (Baby Lemonade), Rob Bonfiglio, Derrick Anderson, Michael Simmons, and Chris Price are just a few of the musical luminaries who take turns adding their vocal and instrumental prowess to the ten songs. But it's ultimately Rick Hromadka's show; he even plays the role of the faux-ringmaster on the jaunty, Jellyfish-like "I'm Here to Entertain." Elsewhere, he leads his talented guest stars through vaguely psychedelic rock numbers ("Better Days"), power pop that recalls his band Double Naught Spies ("Full Blown Freak Out"), and some soul and pop combined in a funky little package ("State of Mind"). The lyrics often detail the blue skies that occur after a the clouds of a broken relationship: "Wore out my captain's shoes/while I tried to right the ship" and "Turning the poison into wine" are two of the tidbits Hromadka offers up. Bonus: a slight taste of the "American Woman" guitar riff on the white-hot "Drive On." Grade: B+

well wishers

The Well Wishers - Shelf Life (Self-released)

Rarely does an artist come up with their finest effort after ten attempts, but Jeff Shelton has done just that on album number eleven. He goes it (nearly) solo on Shelf Life: three of the tunes featuring guest guitar turns, but aside from that it's all Shelton, all the time. It's no surprise that the album features some cool tunes—he's always had a knack for cultivating a good hook—but it's the consistency of the album from one track to the next that makes this his best yet. From the trademark WW guitar buzz on cuts such as "We Grow Up," "Hide Away" and "All the Same" to the swingin' power pop of "You'll Never Have to Sing a Lonely Song" (which recalls 20/20's "Giving it All") and the slight Buddy Holly vibes on "Holidays Await," it's all (damned) good. And aside from his singing/songwriting skills, Shelf Life proves that Shelton's one hell of a drummer, to boot. Grade: A

Palmyra Lucky in Love Single Art

Palmyra Delran & the Doppel Gang - "Lucky in Love" b/w "Who's Been Sleeping Here?" (Wicked Cool)

The new single from singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/SiriusXM radio show host Palmyra Delran is a two-sided, rockin', rollin' good time, replete with girl group charm nestled alongside power pop muscle. The A-side marries the main riff to "Then He Kissed Me" to an indelibly killer chorus, while the flip—a cover of an old Tuff Darts tune—quickly hooks the listener with its "I wanna know/I gotta know" refrain. It'll be available February 12 on most digital platforms as well as on a transparent red vinyl 7". Get it! Grade: A

QUICK HITS: Dana Countryman's easygoing Come Into My Studio continues his string of churning out pleasant, AM radio-ready sounds; this time around he seems to be training his aim on the early '70s, to good effect...Radiophonic Supersonic is Dave Caruso's latest and is highlighted by the soulful "Indelible" and the breezy "Little Miss Sunshine"...UK singer/songwriter Bill Pritchard's Midland Lullabies was released in 2019 to little or no fanfare, but it's so wonderful that we couldn't let it slip by without a mention: low-key, starkly gorgeous piano-based ruminations abound, with "...please don't analyze/just eat your curly fries" a fave lyric...The latest from the Gold Needles (What's Tomorrow Ever Done for You?) finds them building on the success of 2019's Through A Window with a sound that continues to evolve while remaining rooted the classic melodicism of the '60s. Supercharged covers of the Hollies and Beatles cozy up alongside the '80s-influenced rocker "I Get the Pressure" and the can't-miss pop sounds of the rustic, harmony-filled title track and the infectious "Billy Liar"...