Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mike Viola's American Egypt: Another One For The Best Of 2018 List!

I won't pretend to be Mike Viola's biggest fan. When the Candy Butchers major label debut, "Falling Into Place" was released in the late 90's, I had friends raving, while I found most of it fairly pedestrian. But over the years, these same friends followed Viola's every move and would often suggest tracks or projects that they thought might change my mind. It worked, especially after seeing the "Pure McCartney" video, which featured Viola with my favorite Dane Tim Christensen, Tracy Bonham and Christensen's band The Damn Crystals, performing Sir Paul's "Ram" in its entirety. That video is one of the most exhilarating performances I have ever seen, and over the years, I've come to truly appreciate Mike Viola's brilliance as a songwriter.

So...Mike Viola. He posted this on his Facebook page on Tuesday:

"The American Egypt is on Apple Music today. Other platforms slowly populating as I type. I decided on Friday not to wait until the fall to put this music out. Here we GO."

And then this:

"American Egypt will be on Spotify and other streaming platforms very soon… It just takes a little more time to populate. Also it will be available this fall on LP and CD. But right now if you have Apple Music enjoy! PS I didn’t have Apple Music until about an hour ago ha ha Ha ha ha!"

I decided to go in last night. and quite frankly, I am surprised that I came out.

"The American Egypt" is one of the most raw and intense collections of songs I have heard since Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band." By no means a conventional power pop record, the sounds, melodies and particularly the words, play out almost like a stream of consciousness confessional. I sat frozen, as each story unfolded in ways most pop music would not dare to unfold.

I would recommend listening from head to tail. I think it is important with this particular record. But if you lack the time or patience, here are some highlights.

"The American Egypt" is one powerful listen. It took a lot out of me in the best possible ways.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wilkerson Is Coming!

July is almost over and I've only five records in my "Best Of 2018" folder. Of those five, I'm really only sure of three. So let's just say, I've been waiting all year for "Wilkerson." I have the summer doldrums no more.

"Wilkerson" drops on Friday, but I've been playing this baby non-stop since it arrived. With more than a little help from power pop hero Bleu and Jellyfish alum, Roger Manning Jr., Danny Wilkerson serves one gem after another. 

Before I get into this wonderful new release, let me get my power pop PR pet peeve off my chest.

Why does every power pop record released in the last 25 years need to carry the weight of sounding like "Big Star, Queen, Raspberries, The Beatles, Cheap Trick and Marshall Crenshaw?" Is it not possible for an artist to be influenced by these great artists and still sound original? The answer is yes!

Danny Wilkerson shows that it is very possible.

The opening trumpet on the very first song, "Everybody Loves To Love," will bring to mind your favorite Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick tune. But once that tune explodes, you will completely forget Bacharach, at least for the next five minutes and you will begin this joyful ride of hooks and harmonies and some of the most heartfelt writing I have heard in ages.

I won't pretend I don't hear a touch of Queen's trademark vocals adding some amazing color to a few tunes, but as a long time fan of Queen, nothing here sounds like anything from any Queen record I love. "Enough For Somebody" is a big blast of 60's AM radio. Think the pop smarts of Abba with balls, but this sounds nothing like anything from any Abba record. "You Still Owe Me A Kiss" has enough hooks to snag a flounder, but does it sound like anyone? Yes, it sounds like a lifetime love of music turned into 3 minutes of pop bliss by Danny Wilkerson. It's Danny Wilkerson.

Each side of the record has a centerpiece. Side One offers "Endless Haze," with nothing but strings behind Wilkerson's voice, as he faces the reality and the down side of the bottle. "When I pour, it rains." This track is simply gorgeous, with more than a touch of heartbreak.

Side Two's killer is "Carry The One, a song Paul McCartney would be proud of, and coming from me, your resident Paul defender, that is a compliment.

Please explore this incredible record. It's special, trust me.

Here's a link to purchase and to check out some clips.

Bravo, Danny Wilkerson.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Free Design

If you've been a regular reader, you might recall how I raved about The Flat Five. I believe I posted three times about this supergroup of sorts from Chicago since they released their debut in 2016, which by the way, was my favorite record of that year. While crawling around the YouTube rat hole, I found no less than 50 live covers from the band, some of which I posted HERE. Some of those covers were originally recorded by the Free Design, who All Music describes as a "jazzy pop band of the 1960's with psych pop sunshine coarsing through its veins."

I'm okay with that.

I realize sunshine pop sometimes comes very close to becoming easy listening, but after listening to about two dozen Free Design tracks, I am totally sold. These guys were something else, however you categorize them. I was also very pleased to see Todd Rundgren call them amazing in a recent interview for Reverb.

All that said, I have posted some tracks for your listening pleasure, or quite possibly displeasure, though I hope that is not the case, because I am in love with these guys.  I am a sucker for harmony, and I can, more than occasionally, be a real sap. I would blame getting older, but I have always been affected by this type of song. I mean, "You Are My Sunshine?" But just listen to what they do with it.

Me aside, the arrangements here are stellar. Just check out the tune at the top, "Bubbles." Can sunshine pop be hot? I think so. "Bubbles" is hot!

Free Design is not for everyone. I get that. But, right now, I am binge listening to their double anthology and finding a lot to love. I am impressed, to say the least.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Songs Of The Week, 2018: 7/7-7/13

Paraguay- Iggy Pop
Until I'm Gone- Mott The Hoople
Black Tears- Ian Hunter & the Rant Band
Nuclear Boy- 20/20
I Wake Up Loving You- Reckless Sleepers
Sea And Sand- The Who
Tears- John Waite


Paraguay-Iggy Pop
If "Post-Pop Depression" really is Iggy's final recording, what a way to go out. This is a really unique track and a fave from the album.

Until I'm Gone- Mott The Hoople
This track is from the album "Two Miles From Heaven," which I only just picked up a few weeks ago. It is an import only collection of demos and unreleased tracks, some of which found their way to CD as bonus tracks. Listening to "Until I'm Gone," a track from 1971, I realized the opening riff and structure found its way, in a slightly different feel, to Ian Hunter's "Ships" eight years later, which also became an unlikely smash for of all people, Barry Manilow.

Black Tears- Ian Hunter & The Rant Band
Of course, after listening to Mott, I needed to hear more Ian.

Nuclear Boy- 20/20
iPod shuffle surprise. Sounded much better than I remembered it.

I Wake Up Loving You- Reckless Sleepers
I literally woke up singing, "I Wake Up Loving You." This is from "Big Boss Sounds," a really fab record from Jules Shear, Jimmy Vivino and friends.

Sea And Sand- The Who
I can't get enough of this song. My favorite from "Quadrophenia" and one of my fave Pete songs, period. One of Rog's best vocals, too.

Tears- John Waite
I have loved John Waite's voice since the debut album from The Babys in 1976. And while, "Missing You" became the bane of everyone's existence, thanks to what seemed like an endless loop on the radio and MTV, I will defend it to the death as being an amazing record. In the middle of the 80's bombast, hairbands, hip hop and cold electronica, this was bare bones with a truly soulful vocal from Waite. I can list about 25 amazing recordings featuring Waite's vocals and thought about a Weekend Mix, showing them off. This track, "Tears," also a hit, though not as huge as "Missing You" is another great record.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Mix/Rock & Roll Stew

Sometimes the less said the better.



And remember,

"Everybody Ought to Treat A Stranger Right" in spite of what you might have heard elsewhere.

Rock & Roll Stew

Rock & Roll Stew, too

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sweet Bitter Love

Aretha Franklin had been recording for six years prior to her 1967 breakthrough release for Atlantic, "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You." Those early records for Columbia are often dismissed. Miss Franklin doesn't quite nail any particular style, with a repertoire over six or so records covering all genres imaginable, including dixieland jazz. But every one of those records has at least three or four gems, with 1964's "Running Out Of Fools" and 1966's "Soul Sister" being the most consistent.

In 2007, Rhino released a 2-CD set of "Rare & Unreleased Recordings," including some demos and alternate takes. I have a vague recollection of hearing that set for the first time. I know I liked it, but I don't remember why.

Yesterday, I was taking a walk and something popped up on the iPod that stopped me in my tracks, literally. I stood frozen in the middle of Astoria Park and wept. It was a demo of "Sweet Bitter Love," which Aretha had recorded for the aforementioned "Soul Sister" album. But this version was different.

The original single, produced by Clyde Otis, is a great record, but it is a pop record. Of course, Miss Franklin gives it her best and adds more than a touch of soul, but all told, it borders the land of schmaltz. You can listen below.

I have this vision of Aretha walking into the Atlantic Studios, sitting at the piano and saying "Let's give this one another go." The vocal performance on this unreleased demo is one of the most heartbreaking I have ever heard. Listen above.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Cup O'Joe

Here's a real treat for a Monday, courtesy of Larry Rulz.

Joe Jackson, 7/6/18, Tarrytown Music Hall.

Great sound, five new songs, a Bowie cover, some hits and more.

Give it a minute to settle in, and then you can settle in.