Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Don’t be a stranger to the black watch

By Henry Lipput

Since the black watch released their fantastic compilation 31Years of Obscurity in 2019, this overview of their career made them many new fans (including me). (As I mentioned in my review for CoolDad Music, I was surprised it had taken me some long to join the club.) In the intervening years, there’s been an explosion of activity as John Andrew Fredrick and company have given us 3 singles, 4 EPs, 1 reissue, and four albums (not counting the Magic Johnson album which came out around the same time as 31 Years and had a few songs on that collection.)

Last year’s the neverland of spoken things EP was a taster for the new album future strangers (ATOM records) and included the title cut and two non-album tracks. It also allowed the band to release some music as they waited for the album to be available on vinyl (there’s a backlog at pressing plants if you haven’t heard).

The fuzz, crunch and – especially – melodies that have become a trademark of music by the black watch are in full form on future strangers.  Joined by continuing members the producers and musical multi-taskers Rob Campanella and Andy Creighton, Fredrick adds to the fold the vocal stylings of Lindsay Murray of Gretchen’s Wheel.

Fredrick doesn’t scream in his vocals no matter how frustrated he is with the state of things. Instead, he allows his music to do the work. For example, he uses a glorious bank of guitars on the marvelous and moody title song and on “they may be grey” he and his follow riff masters bring on the pop. And although Lindsay Murray is listed as providing backing vocals for the album, her contribution on “the neverland of spoken things” is less of a support role than a partner to Fredrick’s lead vocal.

Over the last years there’s been a give and take with songs on albums and EPs by the black watch. “julie 3,” the last song on future strangers, is obviously not the first “julie:” “julie” and “julie II” were on the brilliant failures album. All three had different arrangements and different lyrics and on “julie II” the vocals were not by Fredrick but the Nico-sounding Julie Schulte (is she the julie in question?). As for “off you go redux!” it’s also on the white EP along with (the original?) “off you go!” They chronicle the future adventures of Mrs. Robinson, Elaine, and Benjamin in an arrangement that owes more than a bit to The Lemonheads’ cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Help me if you can

By Henry Lipput

At some point in a band’s career, they stop being compared to other bands but instead are thought of on their own terms. As far as I’m concerned this has happened with Fallon Cush, the Australian band led by singer-songwriter Steve Smith. Yes, they still have alt-country and jangle pop sounds (along with the occasional rock influences thrown in for good measure) but have definitely made a sound that’s their own.

The band’s heart-felt new single, the country-ish “Grain of Salt” (Bandcamp and all streaming services), is the first new music from the band since their excellent 2019’s Stranger Things Have Happened album. “Grain of Salt” is mostly a solo effort with Steve Smith getting an assist from producer Josh Schuberth but can definitely be considered a band track.

The lyrics for “Grain of Salt” ask for help during a difficult time. But the request seems to be from someone who has cried wolf or misled a friend too many times in the past: “If I came straight out with it/Looked you in the eye,” sings Smith in a voice that’s aching to be taken seriously, “Said that I’m really struggling/To get by/Would you take it with a grain of salt/Or would you listen to me?”

According to Smith, there are two or three Fallon Cush tracks in the works that will be released in the coming months and then an EP or album next year.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Flying high with the 3 clubmen

 By Henry Lipput

“Aviatrix,” the mind-bending first single by The 3 Clubmen from their self-titled EP out in June (Burning Shed/Lighterthief), is a love story made up of sounds and images that might, under normal circumstances, not work together. But these aren’t normal circumstances because The 3 Clubmen is the brand-new powerhouse musical trio of Andy Partridge, Jen Olive, and Stu Rowe.

Partridge, Olive, and Rowe have been working on projects since 2008 (Rowe and Partridge worked on 2oo7's Monstrance and Olive’s 2013 album The Breaks had all three of them on separate tracks performing separate tasks).  But The 3 Clubmen is the first time they’ve recorded as a proper trio. 

As for the process of making the new EP, Partridge said: “I throw paint, Jen throws paint, Stu throws paint...and we walk away. If, when we return, something in there calls to us, we’ll move heaven and earth to get it out and let it breath.” The result with “Aviatrix” may initially appear to be two separate songs but put together they complement each other not unlike Wasp Star’s “The Wheel and The Maypole” (or going even further back “A Day in The Life”).  And the paint on the walls must have stuck because the colors are so fresh you can smell them.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

From six strings to 88 keys

 By Henry Lipput

The guitar, whether acoustic or electric, has been the instrument Peter Case has been most associated with from his time with The Nerves in the ‘70s, The Plimsouls in the ‘80s, and the solo career that begun with his self-titled first solo album in 1986. So it may be surprising he’s turned to piano on Doctor Moan (Sunset Blvd Records), his first album of original songs in seven years.

When touring stopped during the pandemic Case had some time on his hands and he used that time (and his hands) to start playing the piano in his living room until the songs for Doctor Moan began to appear. It also helped that since moving back to San Francisco, he began attending the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and, playing there with the ensemble, greatly increased his strength as a piano player. In addition to Case on piano, harmonica, mellotron, and guitar, Doctor Moan has Jonny Flaugher on electric and acoustic bass, and Chris Joyner on B-3 organ.

All of the songs on Doctor Moan have a bluesy or boogie-woogie feel and a dark tinge. For example, the rumble of the keys on the opening track “Have You Ever Been In Trouble,” is not something you’d want to be listening to with your earbuds on a dark street in the middle of the night. Even hearing it on speakers you may be liable to occasionally take a look behind you to make sure you’re alone. The barrelhouse “Downtown Nowhere’s Blues” is a Broadway star turn and could be from an updated version of West Side Story. And although it’s not "Rhapsody In Blue" it certainly has some of the feel of that famous piece without lifting any of it.

“Wandering Days” has Case back on guitar in a song about the life of a sailor; the change in instruments allows the tune to breath and support the tale of the open seas. “Girl In Love With A Shadow” also slows things down a bit. It’s a sad story of the search for someone after an initial hookup and one of the highlights of the album.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Don't delete these scenes

 By Henry Lipput

If you type Gramercy Arms NYC into Google one of the results will be a co-op building of that name. Built in 1959, it was no doubt an apartment building between the time the president of the United States told the city to “drop dead” and the whole turning-apartments-into-co-ops started to happen.

It’s also the time period when young people -- artists, writers, actors, filmmakers, musicians – flocked to the city. And this period of creativity is reflected in the songs and sounds of Deleted Scenes (Magic Door Record Label), the wonderful new album by Gramercy Arms – not the co-0p but a collective led by Dave Derby. (How much do I like this album? I’m disappointed it’s only available as a download and would really like to have a CD copy or, even better, have it on vinyl.)

Derby, among other things, was a member of another collective of sorts: The Negatives was a band led by Lloyd Cole resulting in 2001’s The Negatives, a now mostly (and wrongly) forgotten disc that’s full of terrific performances and Cole is at one of the peaks of his songwriting game (“Impossible Girl” anyone?). This one-time only collection of musicians included Derby and Jill Sobule as well as long-time musical partner and Commotions guitarist Neil Clark and New York rock staple Robert Quine in what may have been his last time on a record.

Lloyd Cole, it turns out, is also part of the Gramercy Arms collective. He sang a duet with Joan As Police Woman on “Beautiful Disguise” from 2014’s The Seasons of Love album. Cole also co-wrote and plays on the splendid “Yesterday’s Girl,” the first single from Deleted Scenes. Having worked with Cole for more than 20 years, Derby has, especially on this song, picked up some of the former’s vocal mannerisms. This isn’t a criticism as I’ve been a Cole fan since I bought Easy Pieces in 1985 so the more Cole the better I say. (But it’s interesting that Derby sounds less like Cole on his work with The Norfolk Downs.)

Although the Bandcamp page for Deleted Scenes mentions the album was inspired by the 70s and 80s artistic heyday, I initially thought it referred to the burgeoning punk and new wave music of that period and so really didn’t catch the connection. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was instead the singer-songwriters of that period and the one I latched on to immediately was the 1974 self-titled solo debut of New York-based singer-songwriter Tim Moore. Moore’s great “Second Avenue” is a song of lost love and, for me, is in many ways, both lyrically and musically, a template for what Derby and company have achieved with Deleted Scenes.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Pure Pop 4 Now People Singles Club 2023 #2

By Henry Lipput

We’re back with another batch of recent singles we’ve been enjoying. This time it’s new music from The Boo Radleys, The Plus 4, and Librarians with Hickeys.

The Boo Radleys, "Now That's What I Call Obscene"

The rousing “Now That’s What I Call Obscene” (linktr.eebooradleyofficial) is the second single being used to announce the June release of the band’s new album Eight. The new song’s lyrics gives listeners a choice of what they might think is obscene and the video makes it even clearer with scenes between same-sex couples alternating between scenes of armies and killing machines. Based on the new songs, it’s clear that Eight will be giant step (see what I did there?) in the continuing evolution of the band.

The Plus 4, "She's In My Head"

Who is the mystery band that is The Plus 4? “She’s In My Head” (Bandcamp) is the fourth single from the band and we still don’t know much about them. (My guess is that it’s made up of four members but that might be wrong as Ben Folds Five was only three.) What we do know is The Plus 4 is a beat-happy group with influences ranging from Merseyside bands to the early 60’s London of The Who and The Kinks. When you can’t shake the thought of someone you've just met, “She’s In My Head,” with its big screen sound of strings, horns, a pounding piano, and a Dave Davies-like lead guitar solo, is what it feels like.

Librarians with Hickeys, "Can't Wait 'Till Summer"

For the lonely guy in Librarians with Hickey’s “Can’t Wait “Till Summer” (Big Stir Records) as Winter slowly changes to Spring he’s looking forward to seeing his September gurl again. Now with both most likely living in different states, he wonders what’s going on : “You told me you needed some time alone/You promised me that you would phone.” This latest from Akron, Ohio’s finest, and the second single from last year’s Handclaps & Tambourines, is a pure pop gem and no matter what the season it’s jangle all the way.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Fresh from the blender

 By Henry Lipput

What do you get when you put a musical mix of styles in a blender and hit the puree button? If you’re lucky (and it turns out we definitely are this time) you’ll end up with The Power Of And (Big Stir Records) the debut solo album from Steve Stoeckel – and it’s a delight!

The Power Of And alternates between the Rockpile rockabilly of “Laura Lynn” to the wonderful acoustic treats of the title song, “Heather Gray,” “Birds” (a lovely melody as good as anything on a McCartney album), and “Strange Cameo” with its “I’ll Follow The Sun” vibe.

Stoeckel is a founding member of Power Pop Hall of Famers The Spongetones so it’s not surprising the power and the pop is brought out in force on “Christine” in which Stoeckel double tracks his vocal and sounds like the Everly Brothers doing “Lucille.” His duet with Irene Pena on “Why” also suggests not only the Everlys but also the foreverly album in which Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day dropped his snarl and teamed up with Nora Jones for an album of Everly Brothers songs.

“If/Then” is where the Nick Drake influence comes in and it includes some wonderful Robert Kirby-like strings. “Hummingbird” could have been written by Andy Partridge and is a sister to “Ladybird” on XTC’s Mummer album. And I couldn’t help but think of George Harrison when listening to “Just One Kiss” with its opening mandolin like something off Brainwashed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

When everything changed

 By Henry Lipput

Robert Forster had three years’ worth of songs  for a new album before his wife and musical partner Karin Baumler was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

And then everything changed.

While Baumler underwent chemotherapy, Forster set out to quickly record songs at the Alchemix studio in Brisbane where they had lived for a number of years. Their son Louis joined the music sessions as did Adele Pickvance, a long-time friend, bass player on the last three Go-Betweens albums and Forster’s great The Evangelist album, and currently the Adele of Adele and the Chandeliers.

Not knowing how much time they had (when her health allowed, Baumler contributed violin and backing vocals to the songs as she had for Forster’s two previous albums), the goal was to create a recording they would always have of the experience whether it became an album worth releasing or not. But after listening to two of the completed songs, which were made without headphones and overdubs and with everyone in the studio together playing eye-to-eye, they wondered whether an entire album could be produced the same way. The result is the literate and heartfelt The Candle and the Flame (Tapete Records).

Forster wrote “She’s A Fighter” after Baumler’s diagnosis and as she rested from treatment he come up with a basic riff. The sound owes more than a little to skiffle (but with electric guitar and xylophone) and the simple, repeated lyrics of support (“She’s a fighter/Fighting for good”) became a mantra, a way of building up both their spirits.

A few of the songs on The Candle and the Flame deal with the passage of time. In “I Don’t Do Drugs I Do Time” Forster triggers a time loop of memories of both before and after he met Baumler. She provides lovely backing vocals as Forster plays an acoustic guitar. “I remember when we first met/Where you sat/What you said/What was running/Through my head” circles back to earlier times: “I’m walking to school in ‘69/The next day I’m 35.”

“Always” sounds like an early Go-Betweens track with its Tom Verlaine-inspired guitar. Although Forster sings “time moves in one direction” he continues with what I hear as a metaphor about how the brain processes memories: “And there’s a breakdown at the intersection of Highway 5/There’s going to have to be a detour” and your thoughts head off in another direction.

 “When I Was a Young Man” is a story song in which Forster writes about his early musical efforts and his major influences. “Elder brothers/I had a few/One was named David/The other was Lou” he sings, half name-checking Bowie and Reed. As time went other influences were felt: “Elder brothers/They came along/There was a new David/And there was Tom/They bewitched me in wardrobe and song” with this time referring to Johansen and Verlaine.

With “Tender Years” Forster conflates both time and storytelling. He says “She’s a book/A thousand pages” before letting us know “Images of her are vivid/Her body has not withered/From her entrance in Chapter One.” “I’m in a story with her” he sings “I know I can’t life without her/I can’t imagine one.”

They’ve been together for 32 years and their third meeting (the third time’s the charm, right?) during the German leg of the R.E.M/Go-Betweens European tour is referenced: “Time is important/Timing is more important/Without it a story can end/Heidelberg is a German city/By the river very pretty/I was there/The timing was our friend.” “Tender Years” has a groove to the arrangement and there’s also a wonderful “Losing My Religion”-like mandolin along with one of the few band workouts on the album.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Take the quiz: are you the Groovy Uncle?

By Henry Lipput

Wouldn’t you like to be the groovy uncle? Wouldn’t you like to be the kind of uncle who shows up at a family gathering knowing about all the coolest new music and movies and knows who that was hosting last weekend’s Saturday Night Live? (For the record, that’s not me.)

Well, you can’t be the groovy uncle because Glenn Pragnell is already.  Glenn has been recording under the name Groovy Uncle since 2011 and No Man’s An Island (Trouserphonic Records) is his 10th and latest release. Last year he was part of the musical partnership The Vague Ideas and their Lennon-inspired New York Letters album.

On New York Letters (one of my 2022 favorites) Pragnell channeled Lennon’s vocal and musical stylings and some of this bleeds on to a few of the songs on the new album. It’s a fun thing to hear since most of the music I listen to is inspired by McCartney.

The opening and title track on the album, “No Man’s An Island,” is one of those songs. It’s a groovy, tuneful song like “Nobody Told Me” from Milk and Honey. The press notes describe the album as dealing with “feelings of isolation, bewilderment, loss, and frustration but ultimately forward looking, optimistic, and uplifting.”

The lyrics for “No Man’s An Island” are all about the bewilderment and frustration of modern life: “Every day you hide away/You need a break/Just because the world requires/You give, they take.” So what’s the answer? “No man’s an island/Set yourself free/You’re been too long by yourself/But like the sun/You keep on shining.”

“Beneath” sounds like a missing early Kinks song sung by Dave Davies with lyrics that could have been on his song “Rats:” “Beneath an existential sun/Dividing each and everyone/Reaching for a helping hand/They’ll crush you down into the sand.”  The solution is not to take it personally because you’re not the problem (“It’s not you”) but you might actually have the answer if you look hard enough: “There’s much ado and much to see/Beneath our blind reality.”

“When I Get Back on My Feet Again” is Pragnell’s prescription on how to put yourself back together: “It won’t be easy, ain’t gonna lie” he sings. The best way is to not cut yourself to others who mean something in your life: “Another rain check from me to you/Let’s say hello and not goodbye.”

If I had assembled the track listing for No Man’s An Island I would have ended with the album with the sad and beautiful “We Had Holidays” (the Lennon influence is here too). Yes, it’s about a relationship that has ended but it was a positive experience: “Once or twice or maybe more/I recalled the ways/You were there to reassure/We had holidays. “


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Peter Hall and the meaning of awe

By Henry Lipput

Recently I read an article in the New York Times with the headline “How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health.” In the article writer Hope Reese explains “While many of us associate awe with dynamic, life-changing events, the truth is that awe can be a part of everyday life.”

I know what she’s talking about. Each morning I stop on my walk to work to look at the sunrise and, even with clouds, it's a sight that leaves me awestruck. And I stopped and listened with awe to “Waiting for Nothing” on Peter Hall’s brilliant new mini-album/extended EP About Last Night (Subjangle).

I don’t remember why or how I got to this song, the fifth track on the album, perhaps I didn’t start at the beginning. But I was immediately struck by its gorgeous sound, how the vocal, lyrics, and soaring arrangement came together and how it affected me.

“Waiting for Nothing” is just one of the wonderful songs on About Last Night. For example, “In Plain Sight” was released as a single last September. I wrote about it in this blog at the time and also included it as one of my favorite singles of last year calling it “pop of the highest quality.”

Peter Hall has been releasing music as a solo artist since his There’s Something Wrong with Everyone EP in 2020 and his Light the Stars album was the top of my list in my 2021 year-end review. Each collection is a musical step forward and About Last Night is just another amazing and yes, awesome, gift for us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Pure Pop 4 Now People Singles Club 2023 #1

 By Henry Lipput

Because no one asked for it I’ve decided to bring back the Pure Pop 4 Now People Singles Club. I did a few posts in this vein back in 2021 when a lot of things were shut down including, it seemed, my brain. Although I was still listening to and enjoying music, I was having a difficult time thinking of words to express how I felt about it. Things have changed in so many ways and, as Stan Laurel once said to Oliver Hardy: “Remember how dumb I used to be? Well, I’m better now.”

To begin the new year of Pure Pop 4 Now People I’m highlighting four singles I’ve been digging that have been released since January.  This may be a monthly or semi-monthly thing going forward as I already have more singles I want you to know about.

Tugboat Captain, “Flash of Light” (Bandcamp)

Is Tugboat Captain doing it backwards? Their new single “Flash of Light” starts with the sound of a train crossing like the end of Pet Sounds or the musical freight train at the close of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The song then morphs into the trademark blend of Alexander Sokolow's vocals, Buddy Caderni's’s keyboards, the TC team’s backing vocals. It’s an interesting change from how they've built songs like the great “If Tomorrow’s Like Today” from 2020’s Rut but just as important in the band's evolution.

Joe Peacock, “On Fire Again” (linktree)

The new single from Joe Peacock, the self-described genre-hopping storyteller, is the rocking, punk-guitar driven “On Fire Again. ”  The song was inspired by the man who, at seven, holds the record for being struck by lightning the most times (it’s clear from the lyric “I didn’t want to be a lightning rod” this guy had no wish to win any awards). At first I thought it might be the perfect driving song but having watched the video it’s not a trip I would want to be taking in a car any time soon. 

The Nature Strip, “I Cannot Deny You” (Bandcamp)

Back from their hiatus since 2018’s Past Pacific EP, Australia’s The Nature Strip has reunited and, as they announced on their Bandcamp page, “working towards a new album.” The third single since then is “I Cannot Deny You.” The song began when Pete Marley handed off his killer riff and chord sequence to co-writer John Encarnacao who wrote the lyrics and melody and sent it back to Marley the next day. The Nature Strip has lost none of its rock bona fides and, based on the three songs released so far, the new album will be a rocknroll bonanza.

Confusion Boats, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” (Bandcamp)

Brian Dear of Confusion Boats has been coming up with Beatles and Beatles-related covers for a long time and the latest and the fourth one to be released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is the best. With the slowed down and soulful vocal of Andrew Lubman, Dear and fellow Boater Fernando Perdomo lay down the original arrangement for Abbey Road’s “Oh! Darling” on top. It’s just such a brilliant move that I’m sure no one saw it coming (I certainly didn't and have been playing it for people since it came out) and the result is amazing.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

A Few Of My Favorite Things, 2022 Edition – Part Two: The Singles, EPs, Live, Compilation, and Reissues

 By Henry Lipput

Part Two of my 2022 year-end review is for the singles, EPs, a live release, a compilation, and reissues that I've enjoyed over the course of the year. I hope you've enjoyed what I've been writing about throughout the year and I encourage you to buy a download, a CD, or a record to support indie music.


Peter Hall, "In Plain Sight" (Bandcamp)

Peter Hall continues to amaze and “In Plain Sight” is pop of the highest quality. It’s also included in his latest (mini) album About Last Night (Subjangle).

The Bablers, "You Are the One for Me" (Big Stir Records)

“You Are the One for Me” is a banger of a power pop track. It’s one of the songs from an album by this Finnish band yet to be released in the US.

The Boo Radleys, Keep On With Falling (thebooradleys.com)

Keep On With Falling” is the second single and title song from the band’s first album since 1998. (The band is releasing a new album in June!). It’s a great, joyous slice of the Boos led by Sice’s always welcome vocals.


Theatre Royal, Beneath the Floor (Bandcamp)

Although “Ship Beneath the Floor” had a video made, “Talking to Tracey” is my favorite song from the band’s terrific Beneath the Floor EP. Reworking tracks not finished for 2020’s wonderful Portraits album plus another new track. Favorite track: “Talking to Tracy

The Black Watch, the neverlands of spoken things (ATOM Records)

On the EP, with the title track of the black watch’s new album (to be released in March), John Andrew Fredrick and company are again plugged in and ready to bring on the fuzz and the crunch to the melodies. Favorite track: “the neverlands of spoken things

The Magic Es, Talk in Tongues (Bandcamp)

I’ve been enjoying the indie rock sounds The Magic Es have been making since I reviewed their first album, It Goes On, back in 2017 for CoolDad Music. On their new EP they are back to being a trio and with songs like “Gone” are still making sounds I enjoy. Favorite track: “Gone


Silver Haar, Live (Bandcamp)

Silver Haar’s Light’s Out EP was a 2021 favorite for me and they’ve followed it up with a live set with many of the songs from that EP. Adding an extra guitarist they’re expanded their sound and also expanded the length of songs to bring new elements to the mix. Favorite track: "Lights Out"


Various Artists, Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas (Bandcamp)

In 2021, the Welsh journalist Kevin McGrath but together, V4Velindre: Charity Mixtape for the NHS, an amazing 50-song collection of indie artists to raise funds for Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Center. Last year he went even further and assembled a two-volume, 108 song mixtape to raise funds for Crisis, a UK-based charity the helps the homeless. Favorite track: “Snowboardin'” by The Pearlfishers


Blake Babies, Sunburn (American Laundromat Records)

One of the great things about reissues (if they’re done well) is that you hear things you didn’t hear before and that’s the case with this marvelous release. This reissue is for more than long-time fans of Sunburn; it’s a must-have for lovers of great pop music and is the first time the album has been available on vinyl for over 30 years. Favorite track: “Train

Jon Brion, Meaningless (Jealous Butcher Records)

When is a reissue not a reissue? Jon Brion’s brilliant album Meaningless was released in 2002 only in CD and digital formats. Yeah, the CD has been gorgeously remastered and counts as a reissue, but the vinyl wasn’t available in ’02 which makes this an even more important release.  Favorite track: “Hook, Line and Sinker

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Few Of My Favorite Things, 2022 Edition – Part One: The Albums

By Henry Lipput

My favorite albums in 2022 were a great mix of old favorites, recent favorites, and brand-new favorites. In the following paragraphs I’ve spotlighted the releases that tickled my ears the most, added links to where you can find them, and chose my favorite tracks from each of them (where available I’ve included links to where you can hear the songs). As in the past this list of albums is only Part One of my 2022 year-end review; Part Two, with singles, EPs, live releases, compilations, and reissues, will hopefully be posted by the middle of February (since for some reason my blog doesn’t let folks subscribe if you follow me on Twitter or Mastodon you’ll see Part Two as soon as it’s posted).

Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You (Forty Below Records)

Although it’s been seven years since Freedy Johnston’s Neon Repairman, from the opening notes of his great new album Back on the Road to You it’s clear he hasn’t missed a beat. My favorite songs on Back on the Road to You recall the things I’ve liked in his past work like the glorious pop of “There Goes a Brooklyn Girl” made me think of Never Home’s “I’m Not Hypnotized” and the five-minute long instant classic “Somewhere Love” has the same melancholy vibe of his masterpiece Blue Days, Black NightsThe first song, “Back on the Road to You,” and the last, “The I Really Miss Ya Blues,” bookend the album and express the feelings of long-time Johnston fans who, for nearly a decade, have had the really miss him blues. Favorite track: “There Goes a BrooklynGirl

Karen, Karen (Old Bad Habits Label)

Karen is a British supergroup made up of musicians who have worked with other bands: Davey Woodward on vocals and guitar (The Brilliant Corners, The Experimental Pop Band, Davey Woodward and the Winter Orphans), Hugo Morgan on bass (The Heads, Loop), and Tom Adams on drums (Beatnick Filmstars, Secret Shine, The Total Rejection). Karen released an EP, Filwood Broadway in 2018 and the self-titled release Karen is advertised as their first and only album. Woodward’s songs chronicle working class Brits (“Carrier Bag”) and rocky romances (“Too Late”). I’m a sucker for Woodward’s broken-hearted, yearning vocals as well as his lyrics whether it’s for a love song or a story song. Favorite track: “Estuary

Lannie Flowers, Flavor of the Month (Spyderpop Records/BigStir Records)

One of my favorite discoveries of 2021 was the reissue of Lannie Flower’s album Home. In 2018 Flowers was working on the songs that would become Home but also coming up with some that didn’t fit his vision of the album. Rather than putting those tunes aside he decided to issue them as free monthly downloads as a March to Home series. Flavor of the Month contains theses songs (remixed by Flowers) but also the new single “Summer Blue” and is the first physical release of these songs (and if you buy the vinyl for Flavor you’ll get a CD containing the original March To Home tracks). The album is a masterful collection featuring straight-up rock and roll with some power pop thrown in for good measure. Favorite track: “What Did I Know

The Shop Window, A 4 Letter Word (Bandcamp/Spinout Nuggets)

Love is all over the new album, A 4 Letter Word from The Shop Window: there’s love in the lyrics and love in the playing of the songs. Band is also a four-letter word, and this love is best shown in the way the four members of the band (at the time of the album’s recording) love playing together. This is clear as soon as the needle hits the vinyl on the album’s first song, “Eyes Wide Shut,” it’s clear from Mann’s opening licks and jangles, the solid background provided by Martin Corder’s bass and Phil Esphee’s drums, Syd Oxlee’s keyboard washes, and then the intertwined vocals of Mann and Oxlee. Favorite track: “Lay of the Land

Josh Rouse, Going Places (Yep Roc Records)

I’ve been a fan of Josh Rouse’s music since 2005’s splendid Nashville album. His latest, Going Places, is almost as good. Rouse spent the last few years his family in Spain, writing songs to be played in a small club; I had a ticket to see him in a small club here in Pittsburgh but wasn’t ready yet to be out in a group of people (my loss). With its tune-heavy songs (“Henry Miller’s Flat” and “Hollow Moon”), his gentle vocals (“Indian Summer”), and arrangements that feature the use of horns and some cool old-school organ fills (“Apple of my Eye”), Going Places is made to be heard live (but equally excellent on your stereo or headphones). Favorite track: “Apple of my Eye

Tamar Berk, start at the end (Bandcamp)

Singer-songwriters can be a serious bunch and Tamar Berk is no exception. On her second solo album (a strong follow-up to 2021's the restless dreams of youth -- no sophomore slump for Berk), she once again writes honestly about adult relationships. Perhaps not intended as a concept album, the album opener, “Your Permission,” opens the door for her to put on various moods and attitudes in her songs: “Can I ask your permission/To be someone else today/To say what I want to say/In a different sort of way.” The songs range from rockers (“real bad day”) to piano-based confessionals (“you already knew”) and dancing-around-the-living-room pop (“alone tonight”). Favorite track: “tragic endings

SUPER 8, Universal Journey (Bandcamp)

Universal Journey from SUPER 8 aka Trip aka Paul Ryan is an out-of-this-world delight. The album is the first since 2020’s collaboration on the Lisa Mychols and SUPER 8 album (Mychols provides guest vocals on many of Universal Journey’s songs).  The opening and closing tracks on Universal Journey (“Universe,” “Feel,” and “The World Is Happening”) make up a soundtrack to a viewing of the incredible Webb telescope photos. And “Galactic 9,” with vocals from Mychols, is the sexy sound of space travel with visions of a ship full of mile-high-and -a-half members. Favorite track: “Cracks in the Pavement

The Jazz Butcher, Highest in the Land (Tapete Records)

I knew little to nothing about the band The Jazz Butcher when its leader Pat Fish died in 2021. But the people whose musical opinions I respect on Twitter had a lot to say about the importance of his music to their lives. As a result, I've been listening to, and enjoying, their final album and the first in nine years, The Highest in the Land. The album is full of wonderful tunes and there’s a block of gorgeous ones in the middle of the album: “Sea Madness,” “Don’t Give Up,” “Amalfi Coast May 1963.” It has certainly given me a good reason to take a deep dive into the band’s back catalog (founded in 1982 they had an 11- album run in the first 13 years of their career)Favorite track: “Never Give Up

The Vague Ideas, New York Letters (Trouserphonic)

New York Letters is set during the period John Lennon lived in New York between 1971 and 1980 and this unique idea is the result of a collaboration between US-based musician and writer Mare Rozzelle and UK-based songwriter and musician Glenn Prangnell. The songs take the form of letters and messages both to and from Lennon. “Bread and Jam (Letter to Julian)” fittingly recalls Double Fantasy’s “I’m Losing You” as John writing to his young son and the amazing “Revolution 9”- inspired “Prelude to the Lost Weekend” is Prangnell’s look at Lennon’s state-of-mind as he leaves Yoko. The last two songs on the album are the saddest as well as the most beautiful. “When You Turn Five (Lullaby for Sean)” is the future that neither of them will see together. And “No More Crying (Message to Paul)” is a love song to McCartney; it’s his version of “Here Today” and even begins with the same chord.  Favorite track: “No MoreCrying (Message to Paul)

Armstrong, Happy Graffiti (The Beautiful Music/Country Mile Records)

With the release of his radiant third album Happy Graffiti Armstrong (Julian Pitt) has made it clear, with his trademark DIY use of vocals, acoustic guitars, and synths, he doesn’t sound like anyone else because he has a sound all his own. One of the themes in Armstrong’s work is the idea of walking with a friend or partner and having a conversation to work out problems. In terms of musical themes “Keep on Walking,” for example, is one of Happy Graffiti’s songs in which upbeat arrangements bump up against melancholy lyrics. “Eyes Open Wide” and “In a Memory,” however, are straight-up gorgeous sad songs. Favorite track: “Songbird

Caleb Nicols, Ramon (Kill Rock Stars)

Ramon is not only the album’s title but also the last name Paul McCartney took when The Beatles had their first real gig in 1960 as the backing band for Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland. On “Ramon,” Nichols borrows the line “Ram on, give your heart to somebody soon” from McCartney’s RAM. Nichol’s take is just as lovely and melancholy. The centerpiece of the album is the relationship between Mr. Mustard and Captain Custard. “Mustard’s Blues” recalls McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” and the neatly six-minute “From a Hole in the Road” (or is it a hole in the heart?) with its repeated line “I’ve been dreaming you” and then “I still dream of you” becomes a mantra. The final song on Ramon (and my new favorite Christmas song) is “I Fell in Love on Xmas Day.” Favorite track: “Ramon

Crossword Smiles, Pressed & Ironed (Big Stir Records)

Ringing guitars, short sharp bass lines, wonderful close harmonies, and tunes a-plenty, that’s what you get on Pressed & Ironed, the debut album from Crossword Smiles. The band is a brand-new collaboration between Detroit, Michigan, pop stalwarts Tom Curless (guitar, drums, and vocals) of Your Gracious Host and solo efforts and Chip Saam (bass and vocals) of The Hangabouts as well Curless’s backing band The 46% (and Neighborhood Weekly Radio’s Indie Pop Takeout).  Inspired by the sound of 80’s and 90’s college radio, Curless and Saam dip into their musical grab bags to create songs that both reflect and build on what they’ve grown up listening to. Favorite track: “Feet on the Ground