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The latest reviews of Power Pop releases

The latest reviews for the Power Pop Plus blog by John M. Borack — releases from Brad Marino to Van Duren.

By John M. Borack

The latest reviews for the Power Pop Plus blog;

Brad Marino – Extra Credit (Rum Bar)

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Co-founder of the super-cool pop-rock act The Connection, Brad Marino’s solo debut is summed up perfectly on his Bandcamp page: “For fans of The Connection, The New Trocaderos, Kurt Baker, Real Kids, Ramones, Chuck Berry, Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe, Rolling Stones.” Yessir, this baby’s a non-stop rock ‘n’ roll party from the word go, with 11 songs in 30 minutes, and aural reminders that sometimes music is best when it’s pared down to the bare necessities: guitars, bass and drums. Marino handles ‘em all like a champ here and sings everything with a slightly punk-infused rock voice that breathes life into tracks such as “Broken Clocks,” “C’Mon, C’Mon, C’Mon,” and “No One Else Tried It.” Power poppers will surely gravitate towards the groovy “Wake Up Baby” (co-written with Kurt Baker) and “It’s Not Right,” but it’s difficult to single out tracks when everything I hear brings a smile to my face. Extra Credit is a stellar effort and an early highlight of 2019. The only issue I can report is that there are four bonus tracks listed on the back of the CD sleeve, but they’re not actually included on the CD. Bummer. Grade: A

The Re-Used Electrics – For Johnny(SpyderPop)

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As marketing director for SpyderPop Records, Victor Erwin has been partially responsible for helping to birth releases by such pop-rock luminaries as Lannie Flowers, Danny Wilkerson, Bill Lloyd, Chris Church and others. Now Erwin steps into the spotlight for a bit as the voice (and loud guitars) behind the Re-Used Electrics, whose For Johnny EP is one hell of a rollicking, rocking blast of punky fun. The Johnny in question is the legendary Mr. Thunders, and Erwin—facetiously billed as “Victor Rockgod”—does the punk icon’s memory proud as he bulldozes his way through classics of the genre such as “Chinese Rocks,” “One Track Mind,” and “Pills.” Erwin’s vocals are appropriately snotty and an authentic “Screw you, I’m here for a good time” attitude permeates the whole deal. The disc closes with a near-tender reading of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” with sweet and tough-sounding guitars battling for sonic supremacy. Rock on, Mr. Rockgod. Grade: A-

Ariel Levine – Let the Machine Get It (Bleeding Gold)

A moody, introspective work that is often as lyrically unsettling as it is well-crafted, Ariel Levine’s debut LP (on lime green vinyl) has a palpable, late ‘70s David Bowie vibe running through its 11 tunes. “Wake Up, Look Down” in particular recalls Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” while the brief “Let’s Burn Some Gasoline” brings to mind Lou Reed, with lyrics such as “I get off to the sound of the gun/shimmer black metal machine.” It’s a record that sounds alternately warm and detached and is certainly one of the best-produced indie efforts I’ve heard in quite some time. (Levine self-produced and handles much of the instrumentation himself, including the squiggly synthesizer and fiery lead guitar on “Until the Morning Light.”) Grade: B-

Randy Franklin – Coastlines (self-released)

15 songs from North Carolina native Randy Franklin make up this solid effort, half of which were produced by the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover, who also lends instrumental and vocal support. The first two (“Anywhere You Go” and “Constellation Prize”) are sturdy power pop, with Hoover’s musical imprint firmly stamped on both. “Even So” has a sweet, ‘70s singer/songwriter influence, and some “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo’s” that sound as if they’re on loan from Jay Ferguson’s ‘70s hit “Thunder Island”; “I’m Gonna Miss It” and “Cimarron” wouldn’t sound out of place on current country radio; and while the remake of “Wake Up Little Susie” may not be completely necessary, it’s well-executed and makes sense in the context of the album. Two other covers shine brightly: Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl” is transformed into a rousing party anthem with a cute little surprise cameo at the finish; and a lovely duet between Franklin and vocalist Tiffany Ashton on Tom Petty’s “Walls (No. 3)” closes out the album on a high note. Grade: B

Phil Yates & the Affiliates – Party Music!(Futureman)

Enjoyably spiky guitar turned up loud in the mix runs through these 10 tunes, which are more successful when they slow the tempo a touch. Best song: “Fixin’ To Die.” Best song title: “Triple Fisting.” Overall it’s a bit too lyrically cerebral to really be “party music,” although they DO have a song called “Drink Yourself Blind”… Grade: B

Screen Test – Through the Past Brightly (Northside)

Rising out of the ashes of the well-respected, late ‘70s Syracuse, NY-based power pop combo The Flashcubes, Screen Test didn’t release much music during their heyday in the early-to-mid-‘80s. This was rectified with an anthology on a small Japanese label in 2006, and now with a new compilation, featuring seven brand new recordings from the original trio (Gary Frenay, Arty Lenin and Tommy Allen), as well as six vintage demos from three different ‘80s sessions. The new stuff—with all the originals written in the ‘80s—is across-the-board excellent, especially Frenay’s “Notes from Trevor” (pure power pop bliss) and a faithful cover of Emitt Rhodes’ “Fresh as a Daisy,” which adds a bit of guitar muscle lacking in the original. The demos are a tad more hit and miss due to some ‘80s production excess, but tunes such as “Make Something Happen,” “My World” and “Like a Lover” still succeed with a powerful melodic thrust. Grade: B+

Stephen’s Ruin – Never Too Late (Kool Kat)

A German guitar-pop combo who offer up 13 sharp ditties that come off like spirited, updated homages to late ‘70s UK acts such as The Boys. Good stuff, with a personal favorite being “The Only One,” which effectively mines the familiar guitar riff from Cheap Trick’s “She’s Tight.” Grade: B

Van Duren – Waiting: The Van Duren Story(Omnivore)

Ostensibly the soundtrack to a documentary film spotlighting the mercurial (and supremely talented) Van Duren, Waiting also succeeds as something of a best-of collection: tracks from Duren’s semi-legendary Are You Serious? record from 1978 rub elbows with some vintage live tracks, two cuts from the unreleased-for-far-too-long Idiot Optimism, a couple of previously unreleased tunes, and more. Most all of it is sprinkled with that special-sounding Memphis pop magic, especially numbers such as the soulful “Grow Yourself Up,” the primo, power poppin’ “Andy, Please” (credited to Duren Stephens, a short-lived collaboration with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens), and the Chris Bell-penned “Make a Scene.” 1986’s radio-ready “Jane” is a real find for the uninitiated, performed by Duren leading a band called Good Question; the song is so melodically stimulating that it comes out on top even as it does battle with ‘80s gated drum hell. Grade: A

Chicory Tip – The Complete Chicory Tip(7T’s/Cherry Red)

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Best known for their crazy catchy, Moog-juiced 1972 UK number one hit “Son of My Father” (co-written by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte), Chicory Tip hit the UK top 20 twice more with similarly memorable Moroder/Bellotte co-writes. All these—and so much more—are contained on this 30-track comp, which collects all the sides Chicory Tip waxed during their lifespan. A panoply of styles are on display: there’s everything from sunshine pop (“Pride Comes Before a Fall” channels bubblegum king Tony Burrows) to guitar-based boogie, along with a clutch of familiar covers (CCR’s “Lodi,” Mark Lindsay’s “Arizona”), somewhat faceless early ‘70s pop, and some old-timey weirdness (“I Love Onions”). The clear highlights are the six Moroder/Bellotte ditties, though, which sound as if they all could have been chart-toppers. (“I.O.U.” sounds an awful lot like The Sweet, by the by.) An uneven—but still damned cool—collection. Grade: A-

The John Sally Ride – Nothing Doing (Self-released)

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More snappy, supremely literate and gently humorous pop musings from John Dunbar, who is flanked by two talented Sals (drummer Nunziato and bassist Maida) who assist him in putting across the 12 charming tunes that make up the splendid Nothing Doing. From the slightly sardonic character study “Embarrassingly Single” (which rhymes “looks like crap” with “dating app” and is prodded along by Nunziato’s galloping, Buddy Holly-like drumbeat) to the ebullient “I Love You, Minnie Moore,” there are plenty of melodies to hum and lyrics to listen for. Other favorites are the insistent “I Know But I Haven’t Been Told” (dig those “shoop shoop” backing vocals) and the uncharacteristically downcast “The Laughs We Had,” which features some tasty Maida bass and a Beatles ’67 vibe. Wonderful. Grade: A