By Gary Pig Gold

In the hallowed words of none other than esteemed rock scribe Eric Sorensen, “So much music, So little time”!

Nevertheless, every year certain "way"-out-of-the-ordinary releases manage to stick deep in my ears long after they have made it up to, then out of, my fabled To Be Listened To Pile. So this time, rather than recount only those greats you’ve probably still got stuck on Repeat Play yourself, here’s a few that might not have made it into your home but I do believe warrant a living loving place there:

Johnny Dowd: "Temporary Shelter" (Koch)
Half-a-century along this particular life journey (and still running an upstate New York moving company when not transporting his music to the rest of the world), "Temporary Shelter," unlike the man’s previous two albums-ful of dark-stripped Americana, best reflects the through-the-looking-grime shine of the incredible Johnny Dowd Band (featuring Kim Sherwood-Caso’s alt.-Nico vocals alongside the ever-Beefheartian beating of drummist Brian “yes, that’s really his name too” Wilson). Still, how best to even attempt to describe this wonder? Well, let’s see: had David Lynch redirected “Beach Blanket Bingo,” then “Big Wave” would’ve been a natural while, on the subject, “Golden Rule” most effortlessly out-Hoppers “Blue Velvet” at every single lewd lover’s turn. These two selections, then “Hideaway” especially, "are" truly cinematic in both their lyrical bend and, need I add, Justin Asher’s widescreen keyboard accompaniment. Elsewhere, “Hell Or High Water” brilliantly evokes an early Doors (long before the rotgut took its toll that is), “Lost Avenue” truly is deserving of, for example, Ryan Adams’ current acclaim -- not to mention promotional budget -- and then, as if this all isn’t amply enough already, “Death Comes Knocking” sends the whole program out on a, um, Yuletide note. Sort of. So then: if any of these words above in any way intrigues (rather than intimidates) you, then by every mean visit Johnny Dowd’s new album – then go witness The Johnny Dowd Band on stage – as soon as is humanely possible.

Casper Fandango: "How’s Your Hand?" (Lookit Meee)
Just like those High Llamas and especially Squires Of The Subterrain, this here be darkly, intelligently humorous music akin to that which was once pouring out of Brian Wilson circa autumn ’66. The total brainchild of Jason NeSmith (any relation?), who by the by’s also a member in very good standing of several other ultra-alt. pop combos – including my personal fave raves The Shut-Ups -- "How’s Your Hand?" certainly isn’t for the casual listener, I suppose, but dig deep in and there are riches to be found on an almost minute-by-minute basis. “Country Girl!” begins the journey by sounding *anything* but, followed by a couple of extremely ripe XTC-vs.-Lolas romps then a Breetle-like excursion into semi-serious Utopianism. “Boll Weevil Song” delicately recasts the more gentle J. Lennon of White Album infamy, while “The Other Veronica” honestly could have found a very good home indeed upon Elvis the C.’s *Spike* (rhyming dictionary notwithstanding). But we’re not through yet: “Way Out There” delightfully recalls the cheerful insanity of Zappa’s youngest Mothers Of Invention; then, as if to complete said trans-Atlantic equation, the very next song is a Viv Stanshall chestnut! I think you’ve all gotten the picture, right? As Casper ne Jason himself would only add, “The mud elephant wading through the sea leaves no tracks.” I only say, be sure to stick around for this thoroughly cornucopious disc’s Bonus Track too.

Kilopop!: "Un Petit Goûter: The Best Of Kilopop!" (Future Fossil)
Once-Waitress Chris Butler has long been many things to a good many people, including of course Guinness Book Of Record-holding long long song writer. But now his esteemed Future Fossil label has gone and pulled off the near-improbable: Assembled and even released one crazed compilation absolutely cram-packed with only the greatest-ever should’a-been hits by none other than Kilopop! "Whom," you would likely be asking right about now? Why, only the self-proclaimed “second best pop band of Europe” who, behind the dulcet voices of Furk and Trynka Zbenk, enjoyed a miraculous run of hits across the far side of this whole world all those years ago. And they’re all really here, finally: From the giddily-precise CBGB-vintage Blondie-bop of “Sure Wish That He Wasn’t Here” (# 7 in 1966) straight into the just-made-for-those-Masticators-esque “Kiss R’n’R Goodbye” (all the way to # 4 a year later!) to the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Supermarionation stomp “Sky Men” and even the circa-’69 Buddy Holly posthumous production touch of Norman Petty which swirls throughout “Beat Of The World” (captured live in ’85 from a MIDEM mensroom, I kid you knot). "Then," for good measure, would you believe a Shaggs (!!) cover that reportedly includes the Uncle Meaty bleating of Kilopop’s iron curtain co-rockers the Plastic People (Of The Universe)? Even the smattering of demo-licious bonus tracks, such as the entirely Biff Rose vs. Elizabeth Suggs “Sonny & Cher” version of “Red Drinks!” (# 86 in Belgium; higher still in Iceland) ensures you stick with this disc right to the ever-lovin’ end of it. Suffice to say, Kilopop! may well indeed be the missing musico-sociological link between Joe Meek and Václav Havel, but whatever or wherever your political slant may lean, thank your deity Chris Butler is still round to bring it to us lowly Westerners at long long last.

Jack Pedler: "Jack Pedler" (King Kong)
Notwithstanding his fiery stints drumming behind everything and everyone from Teenage Head to Ghost Rockets to the (Kanadian) Kasenetz-Katz Super Cirkus even, Jack Pedler all too infrequently steps up front to grab the nearest Martin D-1 in order that he may anti-folk himself upon the world. This latest digital onslaught, recorded and released under the auspices of none other than Ray Materick, settles *that* particular score (among many others). From his supremely cynical march across the past four decades of pop(ular) culture (“Hippie Fascists” crying “Peace and Love: let’s go to the bank!”) to one terrifyingly precise trilogy of booze-ology (“D.T. Delinquent,” “Knock Down Cocktail,” “Velva And Soda”), Jack brutally, honestly remains a lone voice of insanity in this ultra-P.C. world of, as he himself croaks, “daisies and buttercups.” For all who may too find themselves forsaking steak for Shake ‘n’ Bake in their own personal Fairielands-gone-all-wrong, may I simply suggest turning off the cable news already? Go ahead, then Trust in Jack.

Popland: "Action!" (Zip)
In the three long years since their debut long-player "Groovy," Kevin Mathews and Tim Nolan, d.b.a. Popland, have obviously been honing their melodic craft, not to mention broadening their three-chord horizons quite some. For "Action!," whilst still brimming along the kinda Kinky guitar parade which made their previous work bash and pop itself silly, reveals a proud maturity within the duo’s songcraft and arranging skills. The result? Several stunning examples of deep, dreamful balladry which culminate in the circa "Walls And Bridges" era Lennon underscoring “Fallen Angels” and the wholly Rubinoo-worthy “Feel The Same Way.” “Dumb Thing” also mines the latter’s classic Beserkley skinny-neck vibe, though deftly upping the tempo towards the disturb-the-neighbors level, while “Hold On” simply "begs" to be hauled out upon the nearest concert stage before a room full of sweaty under-agers. Such great big audio dynamite also powers “The Future” (a totally, yes, futuristic retro-popper which sends Ed Wood Jr. careening towards "The Dark Side Of The Moon"), and one must then surely sit tight straight through for "Action!"’s concluding mock-drum duel too, you know. Among many other things then, this disc proves Pop "can" grow up. Because, you see, Popland itself certainly has.

Anthony Rivers: "Butterfly" (Anthony Rivers)
Ahhh, yes! Expertly arranged and recorded, seemingly effortlessly performed, and vocally never less than ultra-lush (the latter hardly surprising, considering Anthony’s father just so happens to be "the" Tony Rivers of Harmony Grass and Castaways notoriety), "Butterfly" is a deceptively unassuming collection of numbers, each of which never fail to enchant whilst remaining pleasantly difficult to pin down, comparatively speaking. The title track kinda recalls some bright afternoon collaboration between the brothers Gibb and Wilson ("Odessa" meets "Sunflower," to be precise) while, speaking of Bee Gees ‘n’ Beach Boys, “Like She Does” and “It’s All About You” even moreso positively soar atop the gentle, blissful spirit – and intonations – of the late, extremely great Carl Wilson. Mammoth praise indeed, need I point out. “Anything Could Happen” simply calls out for the Pearlfishers someday someway (David Scott? Meet Anthony Rivers!) but it’s honestly every single three-minutes-twenty of “All She Wants” that best demonstrates what simple Power still resides within the very best of Pop. Why such marvels as this no longer regularly rest atop Top Ten’s the world over remains a deep mystery to me, but no real matter, really. For Anthony, like so many other plugged-into-it tunesmiths the world over, will continue to create their special sounds regardless of the heard-today, gone-later-today flash-avec-trash which surrounds us. Ahhh, "yes!"

Rick Scott: "Making Faces" (Jester)
On this demographic, pigeon-holy planet of ours, Rick Scott's simple, smiling songs might most likely be relegated towards the – uh-oh! -- "Children's Music" file. But don't let that trick you: Like all such unapologetic masters of mirth as Daniel Johnston, Devo and of course Jonathan Richman, Vancouver's Rick Scott is in fact erecting sly, subtle musical playhouses within which to plant (perhaps even subliminally?) his own absolutely spot-on worldview. Sounding disarmingly Randy Newmanesque in many places (especially vocally), the dozen deceptively carefree excursions herein manage to rhyme “futon” with “crouton,” quote the late, extremely great Roger Miller, and in “Purple Elephant” expertly make near minced meat out of the last three or four Paul Simon albums. It’s not much of a stretch to claim so-called Kids Music may very well be (outside of the latest International Pop Overthrow Festival that is) the last remaining bastion of quality, contemporary Sixties-sounding music and musicians. And I bet Rick Scott, for one, would not likely argue this assertion. But he’d do it whilst speaking in “duck” or performing “cat” solos, wouldn’t he? Careful though: We once thought Rocky & Bullwinkle was just a cartoon too…..

Sex Clark Five: "Crimson Panzer" (Records To Russia) http://members.home.net/trick51/main.htm
As the ol' sticker-upon-the-shrinkwrap itself sez: "a NEW Collection of anthems and operas from the band that invented Strum and Drum!" But to be more specific, the SC5 were one of the first, and remain after all these decades one of the utmost exponents of cooly cryptic southern-baked college pop ...the brand not to be confused, however, with such pretenders to this throne of drone as, um, M. Stipe & Co. Nossir, "this" is the Real Thing here. Equal parts Ramones plus Sherman and Peabody, with dashes of Merseybeat Meek, Spinal Tap, and possibly even J. Tull y’know (…Hey! I happen to LIKE "Thick As A Brick"!), this project may well be a – gulp – Rock Opera (of sorts), but always more "Who Sell Out" than "Tommy," lest you fret. Now as it really should, no mere songs unto themselves stick far out here – though “Chimes Of Discipline” should immediately be forever affixed to RogerMcGuinn.com, while “Wreck Of The Ella Fitzgerald” must qualify for at least Song Title of the Year. Nope, this is a true, suite sonic cycle, packing 23 songs into a mere 38 minutes 35 which deserve to be experienced en masse, as it were. So kindly wipe that smirk out of your ears and dive fun-first into a world where the inhabitants are not for one second ever afraid to create their Art with a capital “F.” (PS: Order your copy now, and you may even receive a packet of freeze-dried Astronaut Ice Cream as well!)

Todd Shuster: "Happiness" (Platypus)
Contact Todd Shuster at tshuster@bellatlantic.net
Of course it seems everyone on earth with gigabytes and CDR’s to spare are busy burnin’ burnin’ burnin’ their hearts away these daze. Which makes a home recorder like Todd, and a disc like *Happiness,* all the more thoroughly delightful to discover in the mail. For just like some old friend sitting and strumming idly across the campfire, Mr. Shuster offers recordings far from buffed to high sonic sheen but absolutely candy-bright nonetheless in their deceptive, inviting bare-bonedness. Now, when not spinning forth biting, bracing bubblepunk a la Cyrkle-meet-Buzzcocks (“Lovely/Lonely”) or constructing what may very well be The Great Lost Jane Wiedlin Classic (“Life Preserver”), Todd self-duets in a fashion truly not encountered since those wee early Simon & Garfunkel gems (“Tempest In A Teacup” especially reflects back to the beloved Paul and Artie of yore). But it is a little treasure called “My You Museum” herein which demonstrates decidedly the very epitome of why, and how, the one-man, bedside approach to music-making can most often mean so much, while in fact utilizing so little. To sum straight up then? Understated, unobtrusive magic, pure and simple.

Lane Steinberg: "Lane Steinberg Collection 1984-2000" (EM)
Leave it to the ultra-discriminating ears of Japan's EM label to finally compile, in one neat and keenly-sequenced sixty-six minutes, twenty of the greatest slices of Lane's fine work with The Wind, Wall Of Orchids, Noel Coward's Ghost and most recently the don’t-call-us-lounge duo Tan Sleeve. From the Flying Badfinger Brothers alt. Americana of “Great Blue” to the Ray Davies-does-Tradewinds surfin’ turfer “Life Must Go On” through the delightfully Zappa / Bacharachian “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance,” Lane duly absorbs then abstracts all of the hallmarks of his (and your) favorite music of the ages, then adroitly shoots it on back home with just the right amount of twist, lest he fall victim to that dreaded Retro-rawkin’ tag. The man just has to be a true mad musical scientist of sound and word, and this disc is the idea place wherein to whet one's ears before plunging into the entirely formidable catalog of true Steinberg wonders.

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