Johnathan Pushkar – Straighten Up (JEM Records)
Johnathan Pushkar—a 24-year-old from Nashville by way of Pennsylvania—is something of an anachronism: a young musician who unabashedly worships at the altar of British Invasion acts such as Herman’s Hermits, the Searchers and—duh—the Beatles. His debut album, the delightful Straighten Up, proudly exhibits those influences (and other similarly styled ones) on 10 poptastic tunes.
Produced by fellow pop dude Wyatt Funderburk, Straighten Up features nine shiny, happy Pushkar originals along with a highly reverent cover of Fountains of Wayne’s “Hackensack.” The Beatles/Searchers influences are apparent at the outset, with “The Girl Next Door” neatly approximating Beatlemania circa 1963 and the harmony-and-Rickenbacker-filled “We Could Be Together” upping the ante even higher. “Isabella” comes off like a non-ironic Fountains of Wayne musical character study, while the sweetly forceful “Boyfriend” and “It’s Alright” (with its little Byrdsy guitar quote at the beginning) are the stuff of which power pop dreams are made.
Ever-so-slight stylistic detours are taken on the acoustic-based “Don’t Leave Me” (whose chorus seems to draw a bit from Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and “I’d Rather Be Late Than Never,” where the riffing hard rock guitars provide an interesting counterpoint to Pushkar’s winsome lead vocals. Straighten Up is a musical love letter to those halcyon days of the three-minute pop song, when melody and innocence ruled. Anachronistic? Sure, but it’s still enjoyable as hell.
—John M. Borack