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Summer album reviews from Power Pop Plus

Fun in the summertime! Here are pow pop albums that will make your summer even more enjoyable!

By John M. Borack

The Brothers Steve - #1 (I.V.Pop)

Let’s get the superlatives out of the way right off the bat: holy lord, is this ever a fab record. If you were a fan of the band Tsar (“Kathy Fong is the Bomb” from their 2000 debut remains a personal fave) or last year’s awesome 10 More Rock Superhits album from Jeff Whalen, then the Brothers Steve should be right up your musical alley. Following the same sonic path as the aforementioned acts with some of the same personnel (Whalen sings lead, Steve Coulter plays drums and Jeff Solomon handles bass chores; all three were members of Tsar) means that these bros imbue #1 with a large dose of power pop, a bit of bubblegum, and some straight up rock and roll. Whalen’s boyish, understated vocals are out front of some hyper-melodic tunes such as the Beatley “She” (the ending coda will be impossible to shake after a listen or two), the crunchy, deliriously addictive “Beat Generation Poet Turned Assassin,” the sweetly poppy “Good Deal of Love,” and the dreamy beat ballad “Carolanne.” And most importantly, they steer clear of any of the clichés that sometimes populate the power pop genre. Album of the year, anyone? Could be…#1. (Currently only available on vinyl via Grade: A

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Various ArtistsLet the Good Times In: Sunshine, Soft & Studio Pop, 1966-1972 (Teensville)

The good folks at Australia’s Teensville Records have hit pay dirt yet again, this time with a 33-track collection of late ‘60s/early ‘70s soft pop pearls. Gloriously melodic pocket symphonies abound, mainly from obscure acts such as Spring Fever, whose 1968 single originally waxed for Capitol Records successfully channels a bit of the Brian Wilson genius; S.N. and the Ct’s, whose horn ‘n’ harmony-fueled “The Pleasure of Your Company” is nearly overshadowed by the fact that the band was originally called Stark Naked & the Car Thieves; the Nilsson-influenced Michael Gately, who looked a bit like Grizzly Adams; and Cathy Rich (the teen daughter of drummer Buddy Rich), whose 1969 cut “Darkest Before Dawn” is cute and catchy. Elsewhere, “What a Day” by The Contrasts featuring Bob Morrison recalls Ray Stevens’ “Mr. Businessman,” Jesse Lopez (brother of Trini) offers up the Gary Lewis-styled ditty “Lookin’ So Much Better,” and the Jackals’ “Linda Come Lately” sounds as if it could have been a top 40 record. As a matter of fact, each of these tracks wouldn’t have sounded out of place blasting from a radio back in the days of AM. Tons of pure gold to be found here. Grade: A

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Ray PaulBloody Rubbish (Kool Kat)

Subtitled “The Best & Some of the Rest,” the self-effacingly titled Bloody Rubbish is anything but. Boston power pop semi-legend Ray Paul collects ten tunes (three of which are previously unreleased) that include some of his late ‘70s/early ‘80s-era singles as well as tracks of more recent vintage. 1981’s “How Do You Know?” is a corker, as is 2017’s “I Need Your Love Tonight,” previously available only on the This is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio Vol. 4 comp. “Lady Be Mine Tonight” belies some semi-cheesy lyrics with a swingin’ melody, while the previously unreleased 1977 track “Love Me” recalls Mirror-era Emitt Rhodes. Two cool live tracks from 2017 round out the package, including a storming version of Richard and the Young Lions’ garage nugget, “Open Up Your Door.” Grade: A-

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Amoeba TeenMedium Wave (Big Stir)

The Britpopsters’ third full-length effort is their strongest and most varied record to date. From the pure pop melodiousness of “Clementine” and the Jellyfish-like bop of “Babycakes” to the melancholy, strummy “Wandering Bullets” and the punk-poppin’ “Suit and Tie,” the hits just keep on comin’. Fave track: the shimmering, slightly country-esque “Hickory Hill.” Grade: B+

Cloud Eleven – Footnote (West Coast)

New music from Rick Gallego (aka Cloud Eleven) is always welcome, and Footnote does not disappoint. Gallego—who wrote, produced, arranged, performed, engineered, mixed and mastered the whole shebang—offers up a dozen of his lovely, trademark psych-pop creations which gently flow from track to track. The phased backing vocals on the disc-opening “On Pismo Beach” are one cool touch on an album packed with aural magic; another is Gallego’s lead vocal on “Aural Illusion,” which may be the best he’s ever tracked. (On second thought, that prize might have to go to “For Weal and for Woe,” another of the standouts here.) Footnote is a top-notch record, a soothing musical balm for these troubled times. Gallego gives “special gratitude” to Todd Rundgren in the notes, a kinship that will be easily apparent once you check out the artwork on the cover and CD label. Grade: A-

Nick Eng – Long Shot(Beatnick)

Another gear platter from young Mr. Eng, Long Shot adds a twist of lyrical angst to ‘60s-influenced, guitar-pop melodies that never fail to please. Eng seems to be able to churn out this stuff like nobody’s business and I say good on him—retro isn’t a bad thing, especially when it’s done as well as this. Oh, and by the way, “Mad Abby” might just be the best song the Searchers never released. Grade: A-

The Decibels – Scene, Not Herd(Kool Kat)

The California quartet has been in the pop music trenches (off and on) for more than two decades, and this fine album is their first of new material in 15 years. From the sound of things, they haven’t lost a step: slashing guitars and burned-into-your-memory melodies abound, particularly on cuts such as “It’s Not Me,” “Misery,” and “This Bad Dream” (to name just a few). Punky energy and a big ‘ol rock and roll heart make them sound not unlike west coast cousins to The Reducers. And that’s a good thing. Grade: B+

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