Kurt Baker, Play It Cool: Kurt Baker is a hit machine. He has the uncanny ability to record song-after-song filled with hooks, sing-along choruses and memorable melodies. You can call it Power Pop, if you want. Back in the day, though, Baker’s sound was just called “rock ‘n’ roll.” Whatever the label, his new long-player, Play It Cool, hardly disappoints. It delivers twelve rockin’ pop nuggets that should keep you movin’ and groovin’ over the coming cold months of winter.
The festivities start with “Sends Me To Mars,” a riff rocking garage stomper. Then, “Enough’s Enough” finds itself in more familiar Baker territory, with big vocals, hooks galore and some tasty keyboard parts. It’s a chart-topper . . . somewhere:
The next track, the breakneck “I Got You” will get you boppin’ along like its 1979. “Just a Little Bit” slows things down, but just a little bit. The basic riff of “Can’t Say No” sound-checks Joe Jackson’s “I’m The Man” as it tells the tale of a busted relationship that just won’t go away:
Play It Cool remains throughout quite indebted to the history of the rock ‘n’ roll form, but without residing in lifeless suspension at some wax museum. “Talk Is Talk” is a cool mid-60s rockin’ pop song, complete with 12-string guitar and vintage electric piano. “Prime Targets” might have been playing on “new wave” radio back in ’82, with its space age analog synth parts taking center stage. “Back For Good” time travels further to the glory days of AM radio with sweet harmonies and an easy-going chorus. The LP comes to a close with “I Can’t Wait,” which is probably playing right now in a bar near you. This is timeless music for today’s people.
Play It Cool is, well, just cool. It’s also one of the finest slices of rock ‘n’ roll released the year. Get it via Bandcamp, either digitally or on disc from those stellar purveyors of real rock ‘n’ roll at Rum Bar Records.
Cleaners From Venus, Rose Of the Lanes: Martin Newell returns with another fabulous collection of low-key pop and psych tunes recorded entirely on a Tascam DP-006 Pocketstudio with the assistance of Audacity freeware. As noted by the folks at Soft Bodies Records, the company that released Rose of the Lanes, these are “songs of immense distinction.” They’re stripped down and seemingly effortless. They are, however, constructed with great care, and Newell’s writing continues to be marked by a keen attention to detail. These are songs that make you take notice immediately.
The title track sets the tone for the fourteen that follow. Its consisted largely of a simple strummed acoustic guitar, a muted lead guitar, and rather uncomplicated drumming and percussion. Its nothing fancy at all. Its melody, however, conveys a beautiful, swaying melancholy that doesn’t easily let go:
“Little French Blue” is more muscular, with a slightly fuzzy electric guitar sitting in the middle to compliment Newell’s urgent vocals. “Isn’t She The Biz” practically defines simplicity. Its hook is so basic — “isn’t she the biz/isn’t she the buzz” — that it seems like its been done thousands of times previously. It hasn’t, though. Its pure Newell, and completely original:
“Queen Khartoum” adds a bit of exoticism and a slow, burning lead guitar to the mix. “Third Summer of Love” bounces around amid slashing 80’s “alt rock” guitars, while asking the question “what if those hippies had been right all along?” “Lazy Elaine” is positively “old timey.”
But its the more “pop” songs that ultimately carry the day on Rose of the Lanes. The jangling “Liverpool Judy” is another slice of pop perfection, with yet another simple chorus — “Liverpool Judy/Liverpool Jude/you were the only one for me” — that thoroughly resonates. The even more jangling “Billy Liar” plays homage to the novel and film of the same name. The brooding “Denmark Street” places the listener on the historic London street famous for its publishing houses, recording studios and music shops, but threatened by continuing “redevelopment.”
Rose of the Lanes is, simply, a wonderful record of rich textures and engaging melodies hiding behind a casual facade. It’s a thoughtful record that is rooted in the great pop craft of the best of the past fifty years of English rock, and a shoo-in for my “Best Of” list this year. Get it via Bandcamp.