Tag Archives: Power Pop

Waiting: The Van Duren Story (review)

Original Documentary Soundtrack – Waiting: The Van Duren Story (Omnivore Recordings)

Van Duren came out of the same fertile Memphis music scene as cult heroes Big Star, and shared their gift of melody. In fact, Duren played with some of the members in post-Big Star bands. While Alex Chilton & Co. had their story told in the excellent documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (which featured interviews from Duren), Van Duren himself is the subject of a brand-new film called Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which will be made available later in the year. In the meantime, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a dozen of the under-appreciated artist’s finest moments on this new soundtrack.

The roots of this documentary can be traced to two Australian filmmakers, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, who basically stumbled across Duren’s music through social media. After becoming enamored with several of his songs, they wanted to explore why he wasn’t a household name.

“Grow Yourself Up” is a fantastic rocker that melds the melodicism of Todd Rundgren with the sophistication of Steely Dan. Yet, there’s a raw aspect that neither of the aforementioned artists ever achieved. There’s also some great guitar playing here (the song basically ends in a flurry of guitar echoes). The next track, “Chemical Fire,” features a funky bassline and strange, echoed vocals.

While the Big Star comparisons will obviously be there, I think Duren actually excelled in areas that Chilton’s band did not. For one, Van Duren is a fantastic rock vocalist – his growling at the 2:30 mark in “Chemical Fire” is fantastic. Yet, he is capable of great depth too, as on the gorgeous ballad, “Waiting,” where his voice soars like Emitt Rhodes (and dig that groovy, somewhat dated keyboard solo!).

The disc also includes a few in-studio performances recorded for a radio station. These tracks have a living room immediacy to them, but arguably Duren is even better here – his voice reminds me of the gruffness of John Lennon during the Let it Be sessions, especially on “Yellow Light.”

“Tennessee I’m Trying” has a country feel to it in its jangle delivery, featuring the great lyric: “And it won’t help if the home station won’t play it /never thought I’d have to change their mind.” There’s echoes of Eric Carmen on the tender ballad, “Positive (Wedding Song),” both in the chord progression and the singing.

But the surprises don’t stop there. Duren recorded tracks with Big Star’s drummer, Jody Stephens, and “Andy, Please” is as melodic as anything Stephens’ prior band recorded. Add in a great guitar solo at the end, and you wonder why this has remained in the archives so long?

Van Duren also covers fellow Big Star alumn Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene,” giving it a funkier groove, and again featuring a phenomenal lead vocal – especially when he shouts “I turned on the radio!”

The production level gets more slick on “Just You To Tell Me” but it still retains Duren’s keen melodic sense. The set ends off with a pair of songs from his band Good Question. These have typical Eighties’ production, yet are insanely catchy.

Above all, the music on Waiting: The Van Duren Story needs to be heard – it’s that good. Coupled with the unbelievable backstory, which we’ll get from the documentary, this should be Van Duren’s year. —Tony Peters

#303 – Jason Falkner – Make it Be

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#303 - Jason Falkner - Make it Be







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Jason Falkner
Jason Falkner

Pristine power pop and low fi collide

Multi instrumentalist Jason Falkner played in the Three O’Clock, Jellyfish and the Grays before embarking on a solo career in the mid-90’s. He’s also played with numerous artists, including Beck, Air and even Paul McCartney.

Falkner’s latest project is an unlikely collaboration with him and low fi pioneer R. Stevie Moore. The new album, Make It Be, meets their two styles midway, with songs mostly written by Moore, featuring backing mostly by Falkner. He talks about how the pairing came about and how both of them chose which songs to record.  Falkner also addresses his successful Bedtime with the Beatles series, and how soon we’ll see a new Falkner solo album.

#287 – Chip Z’Nuff of Enuff Z’Nuff

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#287 - Chip Z'Nuff of Enuff Z'Nuff







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Enuff Z’Nuff arrived at the height of hair metal, but had more in common with bands like Cheap Trick, emphasizing melody over guitar trickery. They scored a couple of radio hits in the early Nineties with “Fly High Michelle” and “New Toy.”

The band has continued releasing albums full of great melodic hooks. Their latest release, Clowns Lounge, goes back to the beginning, featuring songs that were written and recorded during sessions for their debut record, but never released.

We talk with leader Chip Z’Nuff about the archival project, which also features one of the last known vocals by Warrant vocalist Jani Lane on a song called “Devil of Shakespeare.” There’s also a sign of things to come, with a brand-new track called “Dog on a Bone.”

WARNING: CONTENT

#283 – Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years

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#283 - Dwight Twilley - The Tulsa Years







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Two-disc set chronicles power popster’s productive latter years

You could say it’s been one hell of a ride for Dwight Twilley.  Emerging from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid Seventies, he scored a big hit right out of the gate with “I’m On Fire” – establishing right away Twilley’s keen way with a melody, something he’s been doing for over 40 years.  After souring on the bright lights of the big city, he returned home to Tulsa near the close of the last millennium and began making records on his own terms.

The Best of Twilley: The Tulsa Years sums up one of the most fruitful chapters of his career.  The two disc set also contains several bonus tracks as well. Twilley also gives his memories of the late Leon Russell.

#282 – Jody Stephens of Big Star – Complete Third

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#282 - Jody Stephens of Big Star - Complete Third







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Big Star’s first two LPs were full of chiming guitars, heavy drums and melodic hooks, yet somehow both albums failed to meet the high expectations. Those failures loomed large as Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens went to work on their next project.

Eventually called Third or Sister Lovers, the songs recorded for these sessions seemed at times to be the polar opposite of their first two records – alternating between haunting moments of despair, and fragile beauty. The album, never officially completed, has been issued over the years in many forms and track listings. But, Omnivore Recordings has assembled quite possibly the final word on the legendary project.

Complete Third is s three-disc set, bringing together virtually every note recorded for these sessions. Through acoustic demos, rough mixes, and about as final version of the album as we’ll ever hear, we get a peek behind the scenes of this fractured masterpiece.

We talk to Big Star drummer Jody Stephens about recording the album, what producer Jim Dickinson brought to the project, and how a song he wrote, “For You,” helped shape the rest of the record.

#248 – Marshall Crenshaw – #392 The EP Collection

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#248 - Marshall Crenshaw - #392 The EP Collection







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Marshall Crenshaw first gained notoriety with his 1982 debut album which featured the MTV hit “Someday Someway.” A few years back, he came up with a unique way to deliver music to his fans – he set up a subscription service where, beginning in early 2013, he delivered six EP’s over the course of two years on both vinyl and digital downloads. Each EP had a formula – one new song, one cover song, and one reworked cover of an old Crenshaw composition, plus a bonus track.

Well, he completed that project, and now he’s decided to put the best of the series in an album form – hence #392 The EP Collection. We talk to Crenshaw about his thoughts on completing this project, why he decided to cover the Carpenters, and how under-appreciated Bobby Fuller’s music is.

#247 – Tommy Keene – Laugh in the Dark

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#247 - Tommy Keene - Laugh in the Dark







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Tommy Keene first gained national attention with his 1983 EP Places That Are Gone, which was a college radio hit, and earned him accolades from the Village Voice, among others. Since then, Tommy has churned out a catalog of excellent albums, collaborated with Rob Pollard of Guided By Voices, and toured with Paul Westerberg, but one thing has remained constant, his gift of melody. Tommy’s just released his 12th full-length is Laugh in the Dark.  He definitely wears his influences a little more confidently on his sleeves this time around.  He also discusses the great payola scandal of 1986.

#219 – Jason Falkner – TV Eyes

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#219 - Jason Falkner - TV Eyes







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TV Eyes was a short lived supergroup featuring Jason Falkner & Roger Manning Jr, who spent time in the power pop band Jellyfish, and drummer Brian Reitzell, who was in the equally melodic Redd Kross.  The trio teamed up in the early 2000’s for a debut record that combined elements of early New Wave & Punk, with touches of their previous bands.  The result was an album that should’ve turned heads. But, the band was never able to secure an American record label, so the record only came out in Japan.  Now, long out of print and fetching top dollar on Ebay, Omnivore Recordings finally sets things right with the release of TV Eyes – not only including the original, nine song record, but also featuring four bonus tracks from an even more rare Japanese EP, Softcore, featuring remixes.  We talk to Jason Falkner about the inspiration behind the project, plus what it was like to record with one of his big influences, Paul McCartney.

#218 – Dwight Twilley – Always

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Some call it Power Pop, others call it melodic rock – either way, Dwight Twilley has been crafting like-minded tunes for over 40 years now.  His first hit was the Top 20 smash “I’m On Fire” in 1975.  Then, he was back in the Top 20 with “Girls” in 1984.  Twilley had a knack for writing radio-ready songs and probably should’ve been a much bigger star, had it not been for record label blundering.  Either way, he’s never stopped and is back with a brand new record called “Always.”

#198 – Tommy Keene – Excitement at Your Feet

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#198 - Tommy Keene - Excitement at Your Feet







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Tommy Keene has been a regular guest on our show, but his new album is something different – Excitement at Your Feet is eleven songs that Tommy didn’t write, giving him a chance to show off some of his influences.  And he digs pretty deep – most people won’t recognize the covers he does of the Who and Stones.  We talk to Keene about the inspiration behind the record, choosing the songs (including a rare one from the Bee Gees), and how soon we could expect a new studio album.