Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Mike Herrera's Tumbledown

Mike Herrera's Tumbledown is a side project for the frontman of the punk rock band MxPx. His self-titled debut is described as "Pop-Punk-a-Billy", so I wasn't too sure what to expect when I popped the CD into my player. Turns out that it sounds like what the Soggy Bottom Boys (the fictional bluegrass band from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") may have recorded if they formed today rather than during the 1930s.

Tumbledown is a unique mash-up of punk, rockabilly, and country rock that may be likened to a collaboration between MxPx and Hank Williams. It is not something I would pick off the music menu routinely, but this style is refreshing to have every now and then. I don't think anyone could have pulled off the idea with greater success than Herrera. Herrera's voice is remarkably adaptive and makes this unusual blend of genres really work, at times with amazing results. He reminds me of a vibrant version of Mike Ness (Social Distortion). Lyrically, Herrera channels a lot of George Thorogood, with plenty of songs about hard luck, fightin' and drinkin' - if you ever need a good drinking soundtrack, "Tumbledown" more than qualifies. The energy and intrigue that imbues this project keeps it interesting, and the guitar work is extraordinary.

Check out Tumbledown if you like Stray Cats, Mojo Nixon, Beat Farmers, Social Distortion, or if you have a musically adventurous spirit that wonders what John Denver might have sounded like if he were adopted by The Ramones. I bet you are curious now, so go get a six-pack and check them out now.

iPOD-worthy: 4, 5, 8

Mike Herrera's Tumbledown on MySpace. Official site.

Review: Superdrag "Industry Giants"

Have you ever bumped into an old friend that you haven't seen or heard from in about 10 years or so? You get to talking and you feel this sudden rush of euphoria as you listen to the familiar voice and relive the good old days? But as the conversation goes on, your heart begins to sink as you realize that your friend has changed and is not the same person you remember liking so much. Before long it occurs to you that you really don't have much at all in common anymore. You begin to glance at your watch every two or three minutes, growing restless and waiting for the encounter to end. This is what listening to the new album by Superdrag was like.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 7

Superdrag on MySpace. Official site.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: The Campbell Strokes Sunshine Recorder "Makes Your Ears Smile"

The name of this "band", taken from a 19th century meteorological device used to quantitate sunshine, is quite a mouthful. But The Campbell Strokes Sunshine Recorder (let's call them CSSR for short, shall we?) isn't a "band" after all, but rather a one man recording project - none other than Andy Morten, whose had an extensive musical history collaborating and drumming for bands like The Nerve, Bronco Bullfrog, and Leonardo's Bicycle.

Ask Andy what CSSR sounds like and he'll reply, "Someone who can't actually sing or play any instruments properly and should have stayed behind his drumkit but has lots of lovely friends egging him on and wants to be the new Fairfield Parlour." After hearing his CD I'd have to argue his description is a tad too self-effacing! While the vocals are lightweight, he can certainly carry a tune that fits his brand of mellow pop very nicely, and the instrumentation is more than adequate.

"Makes Your Ears Smile" is all about optimism and lots of - yes, you guessed it - sunshine. In addition to naming his "band" after a sunshine recorder, "Makes Your Ears Smile" features song titles such as "She Looks Good In The Sun" and "Feel The Sunshine", making it clear that Andy is a morning person. The CD is brimming with such happy and gay pop that you are just waiting for tune about rainbows and unicorns to radiate from your speakers. The sunny songs mentioned above are indeed two of the highlights, and I'd add the catchy "Track One" and "You Can Make Me Smile" to that list, the latter being the closest CSSR comes to rocking out.

The CD will appeal to fans of Cherry Twister, The Merrymakers, and pagan Sun-god worshippers. Easy light pop to cheer up your day.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 6, 9

The Campbell Strokes Sunshine Recorder on MySpace.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: Lisa Bianco "Post-Data"

On her new record, Lisa Bianco "takes on the new and constantly evolving relationship between people and a data-saturated world, searching for the personal connection that breathes life into humanity...and music". The NYC singer/songwriter has exhaled a refreshing collection of insightful and charming songs on "Post-Data".

Vocally, Bianco is somewhere between Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, Belly) and Nina Gordon (Veruca Salt). Musically, she crafts accessible songs that are generally pop rock or folk rock, and she often adds an alternative edge that gives the tunes just the right amount of umph. Whether she is encouraging the listener with empathetic balladry ("Sideways"), or ranting with angst about our proclivity for virtual relationships ("Post Data/We Communicate"), her voice is up to the task and finds the right groove to fit the mood.

With each spin of this disk, I appreciate more and more the sensibility that went into making this record. The first third is captivating and draws the listener in with its interesting lyrics and piercing hooks; while the middle third demands the listener invest a little bit more time for the hooks to sink in, the final third is an in-your-face melodic rock fest that leaves you wanting more.

Check out this CD if you like KT Tunstall, Nina Gordon, or Meredith Brooks. I can find at least one element in each song that makes it a keeper, so narrowing the list for the top picks is an exercise in futility. Bianco is a rising star whose music deserves to stand out above the other zeroes and ones on your mp3 player.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10

Lisa Bianco on MySpace. Official site.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: The Seldon Plan "Lost and Found and Lost"

The Baltimore power pop scene is about to get a shot in the arm with the latest from The Seldon Plan. This band specializes in "whimsical, nostalgic indie pop" and their latest record, "Lost and Found and Lost", "tells the story of expectant hope and recession blues". "Lost and Found and Lost" is their third record, and for The Seldon Plan the third may well be the charm.

The Seldon Plan established a good reputation in pop circles with 2007's record, "The Collective Now", which was named a top 40 record of that year by The Big Takeover, and one of the "Best Baltimore albums of 2007" by The Baltimore Sun. "Lost and Found and Lost" will serve to solidify that reputation. The band, a tad older and wiser now, have created a highly consistent, soaring piece of indie pop. Each song features lush arrangements, well-crafted harmonies, and intelligent lyrics. The vocals are gentle and soothing with richly textured music to match..."Lost and Found and Lost" goes down nice and smooth, with no bitter aftertaste. There is a host of creative extras peppered into the songs, such as a bit of trumpet here or cello there, some well placed hand claps or la-las, all of which keep things fresh and surprising.

Some interesting bits of trivia about the new songs can be found on the band's official site. For example, three of the songs are direct “responses” to other famous tunes. My favorite tune on the CD, the acoustic based “Philadelphia and a Moment”, is a response to Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Sara”.

I'd recommend The Seldon Plan for fans of Death Cab For Cutie, Pernice Brothers, Nada Surf, or The Churchills. And, if you are near Baltimore, go catch their CD release party at the Metro Gallery on June 27. All eyes are on them...

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12

The Seldon Plan at MySpace. Official site.

Review: SKooBER "SKooBER" [EP]

Heads up on a great new power pop release by the New York band SKooBER - their EP is available FOR FREE on (see below). You'll hear this band's influences all through their songs; influences from such pop rock masters such as Cheap Trick, The Raspberries, and Enuff Z’nuff. SKooBER is a duo of exceptional musical chemistry: Tawni Bates sings over the pop rock played by Andy Weaver. Andy cranks out catchy and crunchy riffs that Tawni's Blondie-esque voice is perfectly suited.

Generally these tracks are rockin' and bursting with hooks, but my picks to highlight are "Sucks To Be You" and "Don't Be The One To Leave". Fans of 50s rock will be enamored with the retro feel of "On and On and On". SKooBER will appeal to folks who like Kelly Jones, Letters To Cleo, and Vibeke. Go check them out today!

SKooBER on MySpace. Official site.

Or try here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Justin Trawick "Starting Over" [EP]

The folk rock genre has exploded in recent years; the "Starting Over" EP is Justin Trawick's bid to add his brand of "urban folk rock" to this bandwagon. Trawick doesn't really bring anything new to the increasingly cluttered table of eclectic artists wielding beat up acoustic guitars, but certainly can be counted as a worthy addition. He's opened for some notable headliners (including Bob Schneider, Jill Sobule, Edwin McCain), and won the “Emerging Artist Competition” at the 2006 Takoma Park Folk Festival.

Trawick infuses an intriguing blend of bluegrass, honky tonk, and even funk into his folk rock sound, so the record is anything but uninteresting. There's not a lot of hooks to keep your attention, but the wild mixture of styles and his distinctive, passionate vocals make things memorable. A particularly fun track that I keep going back to is "Moving On".

Trawick's formula is to not follow a formula. He is free and inventive, and he no doubt puts on a fantastic live show. This EP should attract fans of Jason Mraz, Andrew Ripp, and Ryan Adams.

Justin Trawick on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Rock Kills Kid "Are You Nervous?"

Lucky me to find a gem like this in the $1 bin. Rock Kills Kid plays classic 80s synth pop with a modern rock edge. It is a combination that takes great skill to execute without sounding dated, but this band makes the blend seem natural. Best of all, the music is grounded in melodic sensibility.

The singer (Jeff Tucker) sounds a lot like Bono at times, but the music is reminiscent of landmark 80s acts like A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, or The Psychedelic Furs. You could say they do what bands like The Killers do, but with much catchier and accessible songs.

Highlights include the driving 5-star opener, "Paralyzed", the midtempo "Hideaway", the funky "Midnight", and very U2-esque title track. Their 2006 CD is only a penny used at

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9

Rock Kills Kid on MySpace. Official site.

New stuff from Dan Weir

New from Dan Weir:

"I posted a new demo to my MySpace page. “The Girl Who Lit the Northern Lights” is a fight song for girls of all ages, and one in particular. It’s POWERPOP -- for fans of The Jam, early Joe Jackson, XTC, etc. Recorded by Me, Myself & iMac. I’m planning an open-mic tour of San Francisco this summer with Ray Wilcox (Orphan Town, Zircus, Tang) under the name, Mr. Microphone".

Finally, Dan also has a column about lyricism and overcoming writer's block on a songwriting blog(Serve the Song) here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brandon Schott "Homegrown Recordings" Free mp3

From Too Poppy...

Here's the latest Brandon Schott Homegrown Recordings: click here

Also don't miss last month's, which included a cover of Michael Penn's "Perfect Candidate": click here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Tinted Windows "Tinted Windows"

If I were to assemble a rock supergroup, I don't think I would have ever dreamed up the combination that constitutes Tinted Windows. We have Taylor Hanson (Hanson (duh)) doing the lead vocals, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy) on bass, and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) beating the skins.

It is easy to take shots at this band, and many critics have ripped them apart already. I won't argue that the songs are musically simple with lyrics that are just one rung up the evolutionary ladder of your typical Hanson tune (ok, maybe down a rung in some cases - "Cha Cha"). Surprisingly, most of the songs were written by Schlesinger, but are devoid of his usual humor and clever wordplay. I guess you could say he tailored the songs for Taylor. But the point of this record is not lyrical sophistication - it is supposed to be light, fun, and catchy...and on those three criteria, Tinted Windows is wildly successful.

The record is buoyant 70s bubblegum pop with a modern rock kick, not unlike what The Raspberries might be doing today. And Taylor's voice fits the rock groove very well. "Kind of a Girl" is the perfect summer sonnet sure to energize your mood: a by-the-book melodic rocker. Other highlights include "Messing With My Head" and "Nothing To Me".

Call it low brow, musical junk food, a guilty pleasure - regardless, the feel good pop rock of Tinted Windows will be blasting out of my car speakers all summer.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9

Tinted Windows on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Kind of a Girl":

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: Braxton Parker "CD Preview"

Braxton Parker is yet another example that justifies my love of the Philly music scene. Keep an eye on this guy to blast onto the scene in a big way.

The CD preview I was sent totally blew me away - each of the three tracks is a mini masterpiece of modern pop rock perfection. Braxton Parker, whose voice sounds like a cross between Cliff Hillis and Ryan Cabrera, aims to please with his box full of hooks and head full of pop sensibilities. His voice effortlessly swings into falsetto and back, allowing his melodies to be more creative than most vocalists. Moreover, he has recruited some top notch talent to round out the sound - check it out for yourself by visiting his MySpace page (link below). While the energetic and instantly memorable "City Lights" is the most impressive track to date, the midtempo sweetness of "Everything Changes" and the driving alt rock groove behind "Not Yet" prove he is no one trick pony.

If you like Train, Lifehouse, or Ryan Cabrera, you'll love Braxton Parker.

I am brimming with optimism that the full-length release will build on the quality of these three tracks. If he's saving all his brightest lights to round out the CD, the debut release by Braxton Parker promises to be a strong contender for the best of the year. It could do what "Yourself and Someone Like You" did for Matchbox 20.

Artist bio:
"Somewhere between indie and mainstream you'll find Braxton Parker. An accomplished unsigned artist with an intense and profitable touring schedule, die hard DIY work ethic, and strong regional fan base, Braxton released his EP in April 2007 to great reception. Since its completion, the songs have been picking up a slew of radio, internet, satellite plays and press support. Friend and producer, Ted Comerford (Army of Me, Virginia Coalition, Zox) brought in the right players, including members from Ben Kweller for the project. With Comerford producing and Paul David Hager (Avril Lavigne, Butch Walker, American Hi-Fi) on board, Braxton Parker was set to show what he's got. Since his start as a solo artist in July 2006, Parker has already managed to secure a regular spot on tours all over the country with Billboard Live and Ellis Entertainment. He has also had the honor of sharing the stage with artists such as Bon Jovi, Yellowcard, Dashboard Confessional, Guster, and New Found Glory."

Braxton Parker on MySpace. Get it.

Review: Fastball "Little White Lies"

Fastball returns with their fifth studio album, "Little White Lies". By and large, I enjoy the pop songwriting craft and trademark harmonies of Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo, which rival The Rembrandts in quality and creativity. I got hooked on them during the splash of their breakthrough record, "All the Pain Money Can By" (1998), which remains one of my favorite melodic rock records of that day. I did not enjoy the follow-up ("The Harsh Light Of Day") so much, but loved 2004's "Keep Your Wig On". So the band historically has been hit and miss for me - but when they hit they knock it out of the park.

I will have to rank "Little White Lies" among the misses. It takes some great swings, and it is always great to hear this team play, but I'm just not enamored with this record after a couple spins. I am confident in time the other tracks will grow on me as the hooks sink in, but I don't like to have to put that kind of effort into enjoying a CD.

Fastball slides right across home plate with the infectious opener, "All I Was Looking for Was You", which is written like it was intended to be a do or die single and has all the elements of pop rock perfection. Unfortunately, there aren't too many tracks that reach the caliber of this one, although some come close. The title track is an groovy little number that makes you want to shake some booty, followed by the very catchy and smart "Mono to Stereo." "We'll Always Have Paris" and "She's Got The Rain" are two more highlights, but the rest, while good, just isn't grabbing me as fast as some of their previous stuff.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 7, 9

Fastball on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Review: Blue October "Foiled"

With their new album out now, I figured it was high time I checked out what the big stink is about Blue October. Their previous (2006) effort is abundantly available in the used CD bins now, so I could give it a listen without spending a lot of money. After a spin, I see why there is a lot of Blue October being unloaded by audiophiles - beyond the big radio singles "Hate Me" and "Into the Ocean", there is not a lot here that stays fresh.

"Foiled" is an eclectic record, and while a few people might like the constant shifts in sound and speed, others will find it creates a disconnect. The band also incorporates a lot of unexpected sounds (from techno beats to strings); I can admire the adventurous spirit to be daring with the sonic landscape, but too often the choices are not judicious and these elements stick out like a sore thumb. A number of other things foil the record for me. First, the vocals - Justin Furstenfeld displays a striking resemblance to Peter Gabriel; this works well for some of the songs (most effectively "Into the Ocean"), but not so well for the harder songs. He shouts too much or uses distortion on the vocals and it just doesn't sound right. Second, there are not too many hooks in the tunes that make me want to go back and listen anytime soon. The vibe is dark and the hodgepodge of disparate sonic elements is like a musical Frankenstein lurching through the fog.

However, the lyrics will make you remember some of these songs - the word choice is unorthodox at times (I don't recall too many songs with cockroach imagery in them). Often a tormented soul, Furstenfeld deserves credit for laying it all out there with interesting words and even more interesting perspective. Highlights beyond the singles include the near bouncy "Overweight" and the touching acoustic ballad, "18th Floor Balcony".

iPOD-worthy: 3, 5, 8, 13

Blue October on MySpace. Official site.

Video for "Hate Me"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

News: Henry Lee Summer busted

Sad story of the fall of a mighty good 80s pop rocker...

Hoosier rocker Henry Lee Summer charged in meth possession case

Hoosier rocker Henry Lee Summer was charged today with methamphetamine possession in connection with a traffic stop in which he allegedly tossed the drug out the window and resisted arrest.

Summer, 53 — whose real name is Henry Lee Swartz — led police on a brief chase late Tuesday through a subdivision just north of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, according to a probable cause affidavit. After he stopped, the affidavit says, he lay on the ground but pulled his hands away when Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer Kevin LaRussa tried to cuff him.

Full story here.