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"Power Pop Plus" New Music Reviews: June 2020

John M. Borack reviews some recent pop-oriented releases

Reviews of some recent releases and a few things you may have missed...


Tommy Ray! - First Hits Free (Kool Kat)

The head man of Portland, OR pop-punkers The Cry!, Tommy Ray! (the exclamation points are his) steps out with a corker of a solo record that sounds similar to The Cry!, albeit with a bit more of a pop punch added to the equation. Ray!'s vocals, the spiky guitar onslaught, and the pointed lyrics are still young, loud and snotty (respectively), and on the whole First Hits Free comes off like an unholy alliance of Johnny Thunders, Paul Collins and Marc Bolan. Sound good? It should. And it does. Grade: A-

Musicfor sale

Tommy Sistak - Music For Sale (Self-released)

10 songs, short and sweet, with the moptopped, Merseybeating homages flying fast and furious—Tommy Sistak hails from Illinois, but it's obvious where his musical heart lies. It's all super-restrained, innocent as hell, and about as polite as Eddie Haskell (RIP) kissing up to June Cleaver. It could do with a little more rock, but those who enjoy Emitt Rhodes' early records could lap this up, as Sistak sounds a heckuva lot like the mercurial Mr. Rhodes. Best thing here: "A Good Friend," which mirrors a White Album-era McCartney ditty. Grade: B-


The Amplifier Heads - Loudah (The Vinyl Frontier)

Fronted by Boston-area pop-rock legend Sal Baglio (who helmed The Stompers beginning in the late '70s), the Amplifier Heads' statement of purpose can be neatly summed up by a lyric from one of their swaggering tunes titled "Teenage Damage"—"All I wanna do is rock, rock, rock." And rock Baglio certainly does (along with drummer/co-producer Ducky Carlisle) throughout the 10-song Loudah: from the Chuck Berry-influenced opener, "The Boy with the Amplifier Head" through the updated '60s slam of "Beat Club" and the breezy, soulful "Who's That Girl?" to the Little Richard-like strut of "Starleen," this is non-stop rock 'n' roll action. By the time things come to a close with the thundering, tribal "Rock Candy," (featuring some of the finest "whoooos" since McCartney trotted 'em out on Long Tall Sally"), the listener may need to towel off. This is everything good rock and roll should be: pure, simple, addicting and most of all, fun. Turn it up - loudah. Grade: A-


Paul Melancon - The Get Gos Action Hour! (Superactiongo!)

From the looks of the cartoon hero cover art (they have a logo!), and the album title, one would guess this one would be a chewy chewy bubblegum treat from start to finish. Well, it certainly does begin that way: "Theme From 'The Get Gos Action Hour!'" kickstarts the proceedings with a thirty-seven second rush of Banana Splits/Archies like coolness. From there, though, The Get Gos Action Hour! (subtitled "A Power-Popera") moves forward with more measured, thoughtful tunes: "Robot World," which is a ringer for Matthew Sweet, especially vocally; the dreamy "This Shaky Lullaby"; and the power pop goodie "Hyperventilate," which is highlighted by a marvelous chorus, some wiggly keys, and (at times) a slight resemblance to Ringo Starr's "Photograph." Things slow down—literally and figuratively—on the second half of the disc, but "The Answer is Yes" closes out the action hour with some sterling power pop. Grade: B

Dropkick - The Scenic Route (Sound Asleep)

Dropkick—led by the gifted vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Taylor—travel The Scenic Route armed with understated vocals, winning melodies, sweetly chiming guitars, and a warm, enveloping vibe. The feel is very Teenage Fanclub-like (circa Grand Prix/Tales of Northern Britain) and while the songs don't knock the listener over the head, they linger long after the final chord on the Rickenbacker has been strummed. Each of the 10 tracks are subtle, charming, and the aural equivalent of a warm summer breeze. Don't pass this one by. Grade: A  

waterloo Sunset

Various Artists - Waterloo Sunset: Benefit for This is Rock 'N' Roll Radio (Kool Kat/Futureman)

A 12-track sampler of indie pop acts paying tribute to former Goldmine contributor Carl Cafarelli and Dana Bonn's ultra-cool This is Rock 'N' Roll Radio program (which airs most Sunday evenings online and via SPARK! community radio in Syracuse, NY). The title track is a nice, faithful cover of the Kinks' classic, performed by an ad hoc combo that includes many of the artists who contribute their own original tracks to the compilation. Elsewhere, excellent unreleased cuts from The Click Beetles (supremely catchy Merseybeat), Eytan Mirsky (the rockin', rollin', cereal-lovin' "Flakes"), and Irene Peña (a groovy Rickenbacker fest titled "Own Sweet Time") lead the way, along with previously issued goodies from Vegas With Randolph, the Armoires, Gretchen's Wheel, and Pacific Soul Ltd (the bubblegummy soul anthem "We Go High"). A fine collection. Grade: A

Dolph Chaney - Rebuilding Permit (Big Stir)

Dolph Chaney is another one of those DI (almost all) Y pop guys and his Big Stir Records debut is a nine-song collection that doesn't traverse the safe, standard pop highways. To wit: the lyrics contain such decidedly non-pop verbiage as "waterboarding," "congeal," "phlegm," "pension," and "acolyte," and there are tunes titled "The Biscuit (Who Grabbed My Face)" and "The President of the United States is a Breitbart Bimbo." (The latter is a rant against 45, as the title makes abundantly clear; the former is actually a tender rumination on the passing of a loved one and might be the best thing here.) Chaney seems to find more success on the mellower tip than he does on the rockers: the muted "Broken" and "A Good Road is Hard to Find" are both solid tunes. Grade: C+


Game Theory - Across the Barrier of Sound: PostScript (Omnivore)

What looks to be the final chapter of Omnivore's Game Theory reissue series is this wonderful odds 'n' sods collection: 24 tracks worth of home demos, live cuts, covers, and other previously unissued examples of the late Scott Miller's lovingly twisted pop music genius. (All but one track is previously unreleased; the LP edition features 14 cuts.) Dubbed "the album that might have been," the songs are from the final Game Theory lineup circa 1989-90, featuring bassist/vocalist Michael Quercio from the Three O'Clock. (Quercio sings lead on the hypnotic "Water" and a home-recorded reworking of the Three O'Clock's "A Day in Erotica.") While this lineup did not officially release any music, several of the tunes found here—"Take Me Down (To Halloo"), "Inverness," "Jimmy Still Comes Around" and others—were repurposed by Miller for his next musical project, The Loud Family. The covers showcase the breadth of Miller's influences: Brian Eno, the Nazz, Big Star, the Monkees, and the Beatles all get Game Theoried, to great effect. (One of Miller's originals, the beautiful "Even You," sounds as if it could have been a vintage Big Star number.) Among the best of the other rarely heard originals is the ultra-hooky pop tune "Free Ride," while Miller's home demo of "Jimmy Still Comes Around" is dressed up with some florid keyboards. The most touching moment: Miller beginning his home recording of the Beatles' "All My Loving" a cappella, giving the line "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you/tomorrow I'll miss you" an added poignancy. Grade: A


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