Mark Roebuck, the driving force behind the power pop band The Deal, whose only album is from Not Lame, and rotsa ruck finding it, releases his second Roebuck CD, Kingdom of Mustang. Roebuck has a unique melodic sense, laden with pastoral bridges and hooks. Like Marshall Crenshaw, Michael Brown or John San Juan of the Hushdrops, his songs are instantly identifiable and contain a generosity of spirit, even sans lyrics. But the lyrics are feckin’ bril. “Sister Sledgehammer” showcases his elegant chords, deft guitar, exquisite bridge. “Brand New Day” is a homage to Buddy Holly. You can hear Holly singing it, while “Undone” is something Tim Buckley would have proudly claimed with its sweet and rueful shoulda, coulda, woulda lyrics. Mark rocks too. He is Brian Wilson’s soul brother.
Chris Richards is a made member of the Michigan Mafia, which includes Keith Klingensmith, Andy Reed, Donnie Brown, and Nick Piunti. They constitute a power pop powerhouse that just keeps releasing one great record after another, and Peaks and Valleys is no exception with its Red Kross power chords and embarrassment of guitar riches. They expertly massage major/minor chord changes on “Just Another Season.” Every song is filled with jewel-like guitar riffs tickling the occipital lobe with laser precision. I hear a little Byrds in “Wrapped In A Riddle’s” jangle, and again in “The End of Me.” Unstoppable and irresistible.
David Myhr of the Merrymakers second album, Lucky Day, is as sunny and hook-laden as his first, melodic pop in the vein of The Cyrcle, We Five, and The Cowsills, with Beatlesque dazzle. “Negative Friend” bounces along with McCartneyesque effervescence. “Room To Grow” has a bridge right out of a sixties TV theme or fifties musical, which is to say, a massive, unforgettable hook. The title track swoons in on a bent chord with a bittersweet melody like the sun peeking through clouds. A blast of west coast sunshine from Sweden.
Astral Drive, a prog rock love letter to seventies, is reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, and “Hello It’s Me” in particular. Crank it to eleven. This isn’t just Rundgren on steroids. It’s Rundgren on acid and steroids, a swirling, psychedelic, wall of sound time machine. “Summer of ‘76” will make millennials wish they’d been born earlier. The title track is epic and symphonic prog rock. “Child of the Universe” has a swelling space chord that expands to fill the room.
Ron Bonfiglio’s Trouble Again is an instant classic, trailing more hooks than The Deadliest Catch. Bonfigli, who is musical director of Wilson Phillips, is part of Wanderlust, the seminal nineties power pop group that also includes Scott Sax. Trouble Again scores on every song with superb dynamics and lethal hooks.
“Passenger Seat,” the opening track, is a giddy juggernaut of Springsteen ower chords, Raspberry refrains, and Jellyfish orchestration. I could say the same for every song. There are traces of the Shazam in “Love Over Hurt, and “Astral Drive” in the key-driven “Gone.” “Mr. No One” has an Explorers Club vibe and perhaps the greatest hook over. Best thing I’ve heard this year.