Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tam Johnstone - The General Store

This month's post is dedicated to another classic album from a rarely heard artist - Tam Johnstone, the son of Elton John guitar player Davey Johnstone. Tam released his first album "Local Honey" under the moniker "The General Store" on Not Lame records in 2002 and to my ears it was an instant classic. The album contained a concentrated blast of Big Star/Badfinger ballads with beautiful playing and production.   In an alternate universe, this release would have rocketed him to instant stardom, but alas, things don't work out that way.

In 2008, he released another fine General Store album and began work as a videographer.   In 2011, he took on a concentrated video project called the "Song Explosion" releasing a new song and video every week for that year.  He culled an albums worth of material from that project to create "Fantastic Animals" his first solo record.   Though a fine record in its own right (and well worth picking up), a number of fine songs from the Song Explosion remain un-issued to this day.   I've collected my favorite in the compilation below.   It's fine listening.  I defy anyone to produce a better or more clever song than the second track "Complicated Girl".   One great song among many.

Since 2011, Tam has issued a newer collection of old timey torch songs but he has turned his energies to video production.   He is producing a documentary on the early days of Elton John. He is a real talent and I hope we haven't heard the last of Tam as song writer.

1 Somewhere Down the Highway
2 Complicated Girl
3 Back To You
4 Miss World
5 Beautiful Day
6 Alien Abroad
7 Homeward Bound
8 Polygraph
9 The Creeper
10 She's Not The One
11 Wake Up
12 Any Other
13 When The Sun Goes Down
14 Everything is Awesome
15 Unicorn Lady
16 Sway
17 The Reunion
18 Sgt. Factory
19 Paralyzed
20 You're So Beautiful

Monday, May 30, 2016

Rediscovering Erik Voeks

This month's post celebrates the quiet career of pop rocker Erik Voeks.   Though not that well known, Erik has put out a sparse catalog of top quality Power Pop over his 15 year career.  Erik grew up in Australia, moved to the states where spent time in St. Louis. He has been living for years in Kansas City.  His earlier 1990's output as tangentially associated with the Champagne, Illinois power pop movement  - since Adam Schmitt and friends played on his album "Sandbox".   That album is a classic with crystal clear production and great songs throughout. Keith Klingensmith's Futureman label has done a great service by rereleasing that album in digital form.  If you have don't have this classic, you owe it to yoursef to download a copy now.    

Over the last three years, Erik has been relatively active, releasing a series of singles and EPs through Bandcamp. I recommend heading over there and supporting Erik by downloading those tracks.  You won't be disappointing.  Uniformly excellent work there.   I recently completed a compilation of those recent tracks and I'm convinced that if these were issued as an album, they would easily end up on my best of list.

To drum up interest in Erik, I'm posting a set of hard to find singles and demo tracks from early in Eric's career.   There is absolutely some great material here.   Give these tracks a listen and please let me know if you have any additional rare Erik tracks (I know that I am missing the double sided single, "Desire Me and Die" and "Or What?" as an example).   I would appreciate the chance to complete my odds and ends collection.

1 Grey Rain Town
2 I'll Be The One
3 Up Periscope
4 Reasons
5 Throw Me Out A Line
6 When Will It All End
7 Cruel Tide
8 Queen of Cans and Jars (Guided By Voices Cover)
9 Christmas Singles
10 Pristeen
11 Girl
12 Descending From a Daydream (Live)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cliff Hillis - Love Not War Companion

Cliff Hillis's latest EP "Love Not War" is on the top of my playlist at the moment.  As always Cliff deliver's with terrific well constructed tunes that get wedged into your consciousness.  The 7 songs that comprise "Love Not War" fly by and I was always wanting more.  

Just as I did for his last EP  I've pulled together some additional demos that Cliff posted on his two Soundcloud accounts in a compilation that complements his official EP.   Buy the EP and add these additional 7 tracks and you have something that more approximates a proper "album".   Enjoy and don't forget to support one of the US's best Power Pop recording artist.

Love Not War EP
1 Love Not War
2 The Buddha's Belly
3 Don't Drown the Wind
4 A Boy Downtown
5 Suicide Doors
6 Mayor of Midnight
7 Too Many Songs

Love Not War Companion
8 Fresh As Tomorrow
9 Truth Be Told
10 Cindy is Serious
11 Fourth Stone From the Sun
12 David Crosby
13 Grosser than Gross
14 Seven Seas

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Owsley - Changes (Repost)

During the nine years, I've been writing this blog, I've never reposted something that I previously posted.  Today I'm going to make an exception and repost a rarities collection I put together of demos and non album tracks by Will Owsley in 2010.   I've been requested to do this far more than any other item that I've posted here and there is probably good reason - because of the scarcity of material from this essential Power Pop artist.  

During his short career Owsley produced two classic albums, 1999's self titled debut and 2004's "The Hard Way"  His prior band "The Semantics" produced one hard to find debut album which also ranks as a must have for Power Pop fans. Will Owsley's career was cut short when he took his own life in 2010.   The tracks I've collected here include a pair of songs issued as a single in addition to a series of demo tracks that have leaked out over the years.   

For those who downloaded the original version of this compilation, I've made several changes.  I removed Owsley's great version of "Band on the Run" which was actually a hidden bonus track at the end of the second album "The Hard Way".   In it's place I've included 4 additional tracks that Will recorded as demos late in his life.  Below, you'll find the latest track listing.   Will, we miss you.

1 Fountain of Youth - Demo with Ethos Music
2 Psycho - A-side of single released in 2005
3 Changes - EP Track from Christian Band "Blue Sky Secret", co-written with vocals by Owsley
4 Endlessly - Demo
5 Far From Me - Demo with Ethos Music
6 Mess With Me - Japanese bonus track from self titled first album
7 Leave It All Behind - Demo for Amy Grant
8 Upside Down - B-side of single released in 2005
9 Take Me To The Place - Demo with Ethos Music
10 When Lonely Comes Around - Demo by Owsley and Vince Gill
11 Feel No Pain - Demo
12 Got a Lot On My Head - From "Substitution Mass Confusion" Cars tribute

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Captain Wilberforce - Demos and Radio Tracks

Leeds based singer songwriter Simon Bristoll has been hard at it for the last 12 years.  As Captain Wilberforce he has released 3 full length albums and two EPs.  Bristoll does a great job mixing in a biting lyrical snarl within rich dramatic songscapes.  Every tune tells a story and takes the listener through a forest of melodic twists and turns.  The musicians that have helped Bristoll over the years are pros and his albums rock and sound great as well.   Since 2014, they've released two EPs on Bandcamp available as "name your price" downloads.   They are two parts of a three part album.  The third part is evidently writen and recorded with a potential june release for the completed album.   Very excited and based on the earlier two ep's I'd expect the CD to end up on my based of the year list.

In anticipation, I've put together a compendium of demos and radio tracks.   The first three songs are from the extremely hard to find 2004 Demo EP "Dreams of Educated Fleas"   If anyone has the complete CD at a better bit rate, I'd appreciate if they'd let me know.   I've also included several live and studio sessions.  Enjoy.  Here's to wishing Captain Wilberforce the overdue success they deserve

1 Making Apple Juice From Oranges - From "Dreams of Educated Fleas" Demo EP
2 Born Again Brand New Man - From "Dreams of Educated Fleas" Demo EP
3 Dark Clouds - From "Dreams of Educated Fleas" Demo EP
4 Confetti Champagne and Roses - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
5 Teaching You To Swim - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
6 Vaselined Eyes - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
7 No Guarantees - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
8 Excuses - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
9 Algebra Take Me Dancing - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
10 The Incredible Commuting Mole - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
11 A Very British Earthquake - From Grain Division Acoustic Show
12 A Beautiful Waste of Time - Acoustic Track from Dermit O' Leary Show
13 Blue - Jayhawks cover from Dermit O' Leary Show
14 Someone To Love - Live Track from 2013 Galtres Parklands Festival
15 The King of Indecision - Live Track from 2013 Galtres Parklands Festival
16 Good Times, You Said - Live Track from 2013 Galtres Parklands Festival

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Saul Zonana - Live From Studio Z

Every January I look forward to combing through the "Best Of" lists from my favorite blogs.   It's always exciting to discover Power Pop releases you missed (even if its a bit discouraging that you missed them).   I particularly love combing through the "Best of" lists from Steve at Absolute Powerpop and Aaron's Powerpopaholic blog and I always appreciate Aaron's posting of David Bash's expansive Top 125 list.

This year, I've particularity been enjoying a couple of 2015 releases I missed. I'm loving "Make Me Over" by A Fragile Tomorrow.  Quite a step for that young band.   I'm also loving the latest album from Saul Zonana, "Devolving".   Saul is a favorite of mine and his latest album is just great. It should have easily made into my top Power Pop albums last year, had I not missed it.  Only nine tracks this time but eveyone a gem.

I've loved every release Saul's made in his 15 year recording career.  He always manages to weave in great chord progressions into smart pop songs. In recent years, he's incorporate some prog elements but he hasn't lost his pop smarts.  I'd recommend every album he's released.  Saul does a great job of distributing his music and you can purchase almost every track he's released on his web site.    I've compiled just a few tracks he hasn't officially released.  These are the audio from several "live in the studio videos" that he recorded in his home studio in Nashville last year. Great tracks.  If you don't know Saul's music, consider these a taster.  You'll want to purchase the rest of this talented artist's catalog.

1 Boogyman
2 I Gotta Go
3 Foreverandever
4 Shame Of It
5 What I'm Lookin' For
6 Notice (Live)
7 Will You Down (Live)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top 25 Power Pop Releases of 2015

Well this year flew by and so did December. I'm taking a chance that I'll miss a great one squeaking in under the wire in the last few days of the year, none-the-less, here is my first pass at the top 25 for 2015:

1. Taylor Locke - Time Stands Still
A remarkably coherent record from start to finish. Taylor Lock's first solo record is an homage to 1970's pop. Great songs throughout.  I played this all year. My favorite this year.

2. Caddy - The Better End
The latest effort from Norwegian popper Tomas Dahl is a stunner and transcends his previous punkier efforts.   This one slows down and takes us beyond the Teenage Fanclub references to an album that stands up to constant listening.  Beautiful songs with great arrangements.

3. Pugwash - Play This Intimately as If Among Friends
The latest by Thomas Walsh and the crew is wonderful even if it was unexpectedly mellow. Still Pugwash seems to be able to do no wrong. One of the years best - as usual!

4. Adam Levy - Naubinway
The first solo effort from the Honeydogs singer songwriter Adam Levy is dedicated to his son, who took his own life. But to be sure Naubinway is a wonderful life-affirming record. Great melodies abound even as Levy works through the tragedy.

5. Reno Bo - Lessons From a Shooting Star
The sophomore effort by Nashville based singer Reno Bo is a classy rocker with good variety.   At different times, the album sounds like Dave Edmunds, Tom Petty or Tommy Keene. Loved this one.

6. Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil - Cycles
The duet record from former Ditchflower Ed Woltil and British guitar player Steve Robinson is a triumph, full of pastoral songs that recall late era XTC.  Great throughout.

7. Michael Carpenter - The Big Radio
I don't get why this record is supposed to be Michael Carpenter's "last" album.  He is still in top form and this one is one of his best..  Solid roots rock with poppy touches at a new high level.  Say it isn't so Michael!

8. Cloud Eleven - Record Collection
It's been 9 years since the last record from Rick Gallego.  Just like each of the four efforts that precedes it, this one is full of smooth poppy tunes that sound like summer (think the beach boys).  Glad to hear a new one from Rick.

9. Secret Trees - Till We Find Ourselves
I always love to come upon new albums by new artist and this album is a jewel  The group checks an obvious influence by covering Tears for Fears.  Amazing production for a such a new band.

10. Jared Lekites and The Lunar Laugh - Apollo
The new duet project by Jared Lekite and partner Connor Anderson is a step change from the earlier efforts from Lekites.  The songs are great and recording is stellar.   I added the singles that Jared released this year to fortify the short album.

11. The Maureens - Bang The Drum
This second album by the Dutch pop gains unexpected depth.  The first album sounded like a Swedish Power Pop album from the 90s.  This one adds lots of harmony vocals and evokes a 70's soft rock vibe.  Very nice.

12. The Grip Weeds - How I Won the War
The latest album by prolific New Jersey psych popsters rocks.  This band keeps getting better and better.

13. Chris Stamey - Euphoria
Stamey's last album "Lovesick Blues" was a quiet chamber pop affair but this latest one is as nakedly poppy as anything he's done in his long career.

14. Coke Belda  - Nummer Zwei
The most "Swedish" of Power Pop albums comes from Germany this year.  Coke Belda solicited help from former Merrymaker David Myhr.   A very good idea and a very good album.

15. Tommy Keene - Laugh In The Dark
I don't know how often we say that "Tommy Keene is back" but this album is as good as anything he's ever done. Great classic Power Pop from Tommy as usual.

16. Brandon Schott - Crayons and Angels
Brandon Schott has produced a great album that channel his pure chamber pop vocals in a number of settings.

17. The Nines - Night Surfer and the Cassette Kids
Interesting direction by Steve Eggers.  It sounds like he's been listening to his old copy of XTC's Black Sea.  Punkier than before, Egger's can't help but pen great songs whatever the setting.  I also liked the two EPs that The Nines put out.

18. Kurt Baker - Play It Cool
Our favorite Maine based rocker has a new collection of 3 minute gems - and its very good.  No one does this type of thing better.

19. Michael Sherwood & Christian Nesmith  - Groovy Lemon Pie
Evidently this album has been in process for several years.   It is dense and full of dramitic Power Pop. Very ambitious through messy at times, this one tries to channel Jellyfish.

20. Elvyn - Valley of the Kilowatt Hour
Though its been 5 years since Elvyn's last album the Canadian band is in fine form.   This one has a Fountains of Wayne vibe.

21. Greg Pope - Fanboy
A new one by Greg Pope promises rockin' pop fun. This one does not disappoint.

22. Three Hour Tour - Action and Heroes
It's great to hear a new one from Champaign Illinois rockers.   This album rocks hard though the chord patterns recall the Beatles less this time.

23. Jimmy Haber - Joy Acid Pact
I really liked this psychedelic rave up.  Lots of fun.  A new power pop dance party by a Beatles and Who fan.  This one shows some real development compared to his last.

24. The Junior League - Also Rans
Though I wasn't expecting such a rockin effort from Joe Adragna since his last effort was more subdued.   A true return to form.  Nice effort with novel chord patterns.

25. Ryan Hamilton - Hell Of a Day
Though Wyatt Funderburk issued an odds and sods compilation this year, we didn't get any new material.   However Wyatt used his talents to produce the solo effort by Ryan Hamilton.   "Hell of a Day" has a similar vibe to Wyatt's work with slick production and Fountains of Wayne tongue and cheek pop tunes.