Tag Archives: Beach Boys

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

I can add what a friend of mine said, because he succinctly captured the essence of wonder in a couple of short sentences.

For his son’s 20th birthday, Gary Frenay bought him tickets to see Brian Wilson on Brian’s 69th birthday, a concert in Ottawa, Canada. The band opened the show by having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Brian. Per Gary, “what followed was nearly three hours of music by an incredibly talented band, who lovingly supported their aging, but still – at times – quite youthful-sounding, leader. As in all of Brian’s shows over the last 9 years, the show is split into two parts. The first is a greatest hits set, with many rarities and album tracks throw in for the ever-faithful. Then after a break, the second set is his latest album in its entirety. In recent years, these have included Pet Sounds, Smile and That Lucky Old Sun

This tour, the album is Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. While that isn’t my favorite of his recent releases, it really shone as a concert piece, especially with the addition of the string section throughout. Also, Brian was noticeably in better voice for the Gershwin set. Not sure if that’s a matter of warming up, or of the material being in a better range for him. Really sounded strong in the second set.”

You must understand that Gary is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney; his own songs have honed that perfect intersection of their two majestic bands – arguably the best Britain and America had to offer in the 60s. But as we all watch our musical heroes and icons age, we must stop and realize just how incredible it is to see what we’re seeing forty years after the magic. Especially when at some point we all hoped we’d die before we got old.
 
So in the midst of wonderment – let alone the priceless experience of sharing something like that with your child – Gary stopped to smell the roses.
 
Not sure if I’ll get the chance again to see him perform, but really, how amazing is it that he’s still out there, doing dates all over the world, at his age, and with his well-publicized troubled past?”
 
How true. Savor the moments, rock fans. Get off your ass and don’t take anything for granted. Get thee to a club or theatre and live the music.
 
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”
 

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The Posies: Blood/Candy

Another 2010 Bridesmaid…very good, but missed the Top 25…

The Posies have been around so long and have broken up and reformed so often that it’s probably bad form to call Blood/Candy a comeback album. Isn’t that what we were supposed to call Every Kind of Light? But with their solo and Big Star efforts now put aside, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer decided to revisit their oldest muse – each other – and reanimate a collaboration that has served them since they were teenagers. Camping out in the studio to live and breathe the music, the core of Blood/Candy was created in ten days and then tinkered with via various studios, diverse instrumentation and vocal collaborators (Kay Hanley, Hugh Cornwell).

The results, although not quite derivative, are that many of the songs have a familiarity that can’t be avoided when a band’s songwriters have such widespread collaborations. The structure of the fragmented “Licenses To Hide”, oddly enough, sounds like a Billy Joel epic from The Stranger, albeit sung by angels. And while it is not a well-known song, those who know The Odds’ “Love of Minds” will do a spit-take upon hearing the refrain and rhythm of “Cleopatra Street”.

Video: “For The Ashes

“For The Ashes” lets them frame the verses in Crosby/Nash harmonies before morphing into spacey falsettos, just as “Accidental Architecture” uses those same vocal icons to launch a wordy, jazzy melody into an infectious chorus. And staying on Nash point, the boys had to be listening to old Hollies records before penning the album’s best hook in “She’s Coming Down Again”. Likewise, Beach Boys fans will no doubt be struck by the vocal coda of “Enewetak”.

The songwriting is strong, and as one would expect, the vocals and harmonies are exquisite; both Stringfellow and Auer are in top form. There will be those who still point at Dear 23 or Frosting On The Beater as the apex of their career, but slotting this one in close proximity would not be a mistake. Whether or not this is a cohesive effort from a newly focused band or a collection of tracks assembled for the occasional statement, Blood/Candy is – as the title suggests – a showcase for both their delicate fragility and their powerful pop presence.

***

This review was originally printed in Bucketful of Brains.

The Posies on MySpace

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Brian Wilson, Almost

We continue this weekend’s tribute to the yeoman work done by Angelo and crew at Power Pop Criminals with a tip of the cap to Pocket Symphonies To God, the Brian Wilsonesque collection of tunes that feature a whiff of Pet Sounds and/or Smile in their sound.

Once again we’re talking about the influence of Brian Wilson’s music in original songs from artists who obviously have a little sand in their music. One of the best examples of this concept I have ever heard is Pet Soul by Splitsville, a perfect marriage of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney. In real life those two giants were trying to one-up each other, and the Beatles and Beach Boys albums of that period served and volleyed. As you can tell by the name, Splitsville’s hybrid musical opus blended Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul; their brilliant “The Love Song of B. Douglas Wilson” is one of the tracks included here.

(Note: Pet Soul was a free four-track EP first distributed at Poptopia in the late 90’s; you can purchase The Complete Pet Soul and I highly recommend that you do!)

Your Wilsonesque journey will feature appearances by such wonderful artists as Dave Edmunds, Ken Stringfellow, The Wondermints, Jeffrey Foskett, The Paley Brothers, The Nines, Pugwash and The Squires of The Subterrain, household names to most powerpop fans. The music, like the artists, is eclectic and wonderful, and hopefully you will find a new favorite artist or two and support them by buying their music.

So just click here and you’re on your way to Wilsonesque magic!

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New Album! Magic Kids

A breath of fresh air, yet from a time capsule.

The minute I heard sleigh bells on “Phone”, the opening cut from Memphis, I thought I had put the wrong disc in the player and wondered how the Phil Spector Christmas Album had gotten in the wrong jewel case. But before that thought even completed, I realized that this irresistible sunshine pop song was not one of those 60s holiday treats, but instead a blend of Brian Wilson, 60s AM radio and contemporary pop artists like Mike Viola and Mark Bacino.

And after Memphis dazzled me with a 1-2-3 peppering of bouncy pop nuggets, the Wilson DNA bleeds into a soul falsetto; the string-laden, handclap-propelled “Hideout”. “Summer” follows, and five songs into an eleven track album you’ve forgotten all about them paying tribute, and realize that Memphis simply used Wilson and Spector for a springboard. The arrangements are intricate, the melodies are infectious, and even when the lyrics might fall a little short, the vocals from Bennett Foster sell them anyway.

But if you do want that perfect mix of Phil and Brian, look no further than “Hey Boy”, complete with call-and-response vocals and…yes, those sleigh bells.

Video: “Hey Boy

I don’t know where these guys came from, nor do I know where they’re headed, but Memphis is certainly going to be on my list of the Best Albums of 2010. Summertime record my ass, this will be worthwhile any time you decide to reach for it.

Listen to clips at Amazon 

 
 

 

Made for summer, but good all year long.

 

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Under The Radar – The Third Men

With so many albums out there, we rely on the “sounds like” marketing approach, whether we’re reviewers trying to describe a band’s sound or the band itself trying to attract attention. Tell me you sound like Shannon Hoon singing Styx songs to a marimba beat and I’m moving along faster than a booster rocket. Drop names like Cheap Trick, Big Star and Todd Rundgren and I’m going to stop by and give your disc a listen.

Granted, I know that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the songwriting chops that Todd has, the mercurial vocals of Robin Zander or the soulful essence of Alex Chilton and company. I get that. But I’m figuring that if these are the sounds that influence you, some of that is going to bleed through into your music. And what you do with that osmosis is what counts.

It was just such a list of influences that led me to The Third Men, a Nebraska band that plays “hook laden songs at high volume” and were raised on raised on “equal parts 70s FM radio and 80s underground psychedelia“. Most bands with multiple vocalists and songwriters is going to have a diverse sound, especially when those members are veterans of other bands. I’m not familiar with Sons Of…, which featured Mike Tulis and Matt Rutledge, but I was a big fan of Patrick White‘s former groups The Dangtrippers and The Bent Scepters. Dana Rouch and Mike Loftus complete the versatile quintet.

The songs on Boost range from crunchy powerpop to garage bubblegum, flooded with ringing guitars and a snappy backbeat with a flood of keyboard sounds that color the songs vividly. But there’s energy here – lots of Elvis Costello-ish Farfisa moments, many dBs and Lets Active sounding songs with clever arrangements. “The Hangover” mixes Big Star chord progressions with drum fills from The Book Of Ringo; “G.A.S.” is reminiscent of the early Beach Boys/Jan and Dean singles. I also heard some Byrds and Jayhawks moments sprinkled in, and even a KISS/REO Speedwagon moment that caught me off guard.

Drawbacks? Occasionally nasal or reedy vocals; none of the singers is particularly strong but the harmonies are solid. Another is the thin production; given the material I imagine this would be a whole different record if it was punched up a bit more. But within the bouncy music are occasionally dark and humorous lyrics, and while there aren’t any instant classics on Boost, most the songs are head-bobbingly appealing.

For me, a pleasant surprise and a band I’ll keep my eye (and ear) on. If any of those musical references above tickle your fancy, give this one a proper spin or two and let it grow on you.

Listen to clips from Boost at CDBaby

The Third Men website

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Power Pop Tributes V

Power Pop Criminals have done it again.

Every so often, my friend Angelo and the crew at PPC put in some yeoman work to gather together a collection of artists covering other artists and wrap it up for us with a nice bow. On this, their fifth collection of Tribute or Not Tributes, they’ve assembled forty-nine tracks of cover tunes that range from nice surprises to holy shit moments, and there’s no doubt that this will spin multiple times in your player.

Want some familiar names? Ronnie Spector, Butch Walker, The Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, The Goo Goo Dolls, Joan Jett and The Wildhearts are just some of the bands taking a whack at their peers and influences.

Great bands that never got the cred they deserve? Check out The Beat Angels, Pugwash, Velvet Crush, The Merrymakers, Material Issue and Gigolo Aunts.

Names only your powerpop friends know? Discover and enjoy Marty Rudnick, Jaimie Vernon, Chris Richards, Cloud Eleven and The Slingsby Hornets.

These and many others take on tracks from the classic B’s (Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger) as well as Tommy James, David Bowie, The Troggs, Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, Blondie, The Who…ahhh, just click on the damn link and get started, willya? There’s even a bonus 50th track on the site for those of you with Monk-like neuroses.

Like the man says, it’s just raw rock’n’roll with la la las

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