Hundred-word Reviews for November 2020, Part One

Today marks the triumphant return of my hundred-word reviews. My last roundup of new releases in the form of brief critical summaries came way back in February, before the world changed. For awhile there, the steady stream of new releases seemed to slow to a trickle; many planned releases were – quite understandably – put on hold. But now a combination of ok-let’s-release-this-thing thinking and actual new recordings means that once again there’s a surfeit of good music to tell you about. Off we go.

Dennis Davison – The Book of Strongman
The Book of Strongman is a surprisingly ambitious set of songs from an artist whose previous work is noted more for its catchy, melodic character. The (former?) Jigsaw Seen frontman, Davison has created an instantly likable collection of songs. Following on from that band’s psych-leaning character, the haunting “Shadow on a Tall Tree” sounds like it could fit nicely on Children of Nuggets. Not to scare anyone off, but this is quite a literate album. The sonics are nicely textured, the songs are varied, and the whole thing hangs together magnificently. Not quite a concept album, it feels like one.

James Williamson & Deniz Tek – Two to One
Here’s a raw rock’n’roll summit if there ever was one: James Williamson from Kill City-era Stooges, and Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman. The two guitarists prove that – regardless of what you might think – the universe of catchy guitar riffs still has territory left to explore. This stuff rocks and rock hard, but it’s catchy as well; it has the energy of punk but the finesse and appeal of mainstream rock. Tek handles the lion’s share of songwriting, but Williamson turn in quality cuts as well. And they skillfully write together on several cuts. Opener “Jet Pack Nightmare” sets the tone.

Lisa Mychols & Super 8 – s/t
Lisa Mychols is a well-established figure in what we’ll call the powerpop world. Her lovely voice is the perfect vehicle for a kind of sunshine pop that draws inspiration from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Super 8 is a UK-based group that traffics in a sort of Children of Nuggets retropsych style. This, their first collaboration, combines the best of bubblegum and UK popsike; the result sounds a bit like a light, jangly rethink of Dukes of Stratosphear crossed with Cowsills. It’s a heckuvalotta fun. What’s not to love? “Trip & Ellie’s Music Factory” is a catchy, representative cut.

The Bookends – Calliope
The Bookends are a pair of lovely ladies: Sharon Lee on bass, keyboard and vocals plus guitarist/vocalist Karen Lynn (the latter of many fashion photos on Facebook). With help on drums, they’ve crafted this catchy pop record, one filled with Revolver and Rubber Soul era textures. If you dug The Pandoras (featuring Kim Shattuck) back in the ‘80s, you’ll enjoy The Bookends as well; poppier than Bangles, harder-edged than The Go-Gos, they’re a “girl” group for the 21st century. The vocals (and/or their mix) are a bit thin, but the guitar more than make up for that minor shortcoming.

Joey Molland – Be True to Yourself
Molland is best known as the sole surviving member of Badfinger’s classic lineup. Here he’s wisely taken a different approach, working with Mark Hudson, a man with a proven track record of delivering quality from thin, unfinished or problematic elements (see: Ringo Starr, Aerosmith, Harry Nilsson). Hudson is producer and cowriter of every track here – his fingerprints are all over this record – and so if you’re a fan of Ringo’s Time Takes Time LP (and why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll like this. The songs are highly melodic, featuring lots of stacked vocals that smooth out Molland’s shortcomings as a singer.

More to come.