About the Top 15 Albums of 2016

twirlie2017albumThe 2017 Twirlie Awards show has come and gone. We had fun making the lists and giving out the awards, but I feel like I’ve done you a bit of an injustice.

You see, my favorite art form is the album. When done right, it’s a collection of songs, perfectly put together by theme and sound, and sequenced according to the artist’s vision. An album can be to the song what a book is to a chapter. It can make a statement. It can BE a statement. At first, it strikes on two levels–lyrics and music. But the really good ones fuse into your heart and mind, and stay there, sometimes permanently.

I put together a list of what I considered to be my favorite albums that were released in (or close to) 2016, which were played on Twirl Radio last year. But all I gave you was a list. I didn’t give you any reason to go further than reading the list. So right now, I’d like to walk you through the Top 15 Albums of 2016, as announced on my show on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. 2016, although demoralizing in some ways, was a banner year for indie music. Here’s why I think you should check out these albums and support these fine artists.

1. Edward Rogers – Glass Marbles – ALBUM OF THE YEAR
This is an expansive album, 19 or 20 tracks deep (I’m not supposed to spill the beans about the playful bonus track at the end, am I?). Glass Marbles is a career highlight for UK-born, NYC resident Edward Rogers. It starts out guns blazing, with a couple of dramatic rockers (The World of Mystery, Denmark Street Forgotten). Now that Edward’s got your attention, the album then gets inside of his head with the brilliant Welcome to my Monday Morning!, to which every working stiff should be able to relate. The common theme of this record is that of the common man: more songs about working hard just to barely stay afloat, yearning songs about love, and flat out barnburners like Burn N Play, Glass Marbles, the sassy Olde House On The Hill, and my favorite, Bright Star–which features a Stones-like guitar bridge. The lyrics are elegantly written and eloquent. This album is very real and organic–it mirrors life itself. Producer Don Piper helped Edward orchestrate this masterpiece. Listen to the whole thing, in order. It’s paced perfectly–the tender moments are where they need to be, and the anthems propel the ship forward. This vital album is worth the journey, and you’ll learn more about Edward–and yourself–along the way.

2. Cult Of Wedge – Loch Ness Monsters and Motherships – RUNNER UP ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The latest album from UK-based Peter Hackett’s project, Cult Of Wedge, really cements his reputation as a purveyor of quirky, yet insightful and topical lyrics, which earned him Best Songwriting honors at this year’s Twirlies. His wry sense of humor, vocals, and musical mastery remind me of the solo career of the Who’s John Entwistle, a great cult hero in his own right. (Listen to “She’s A Witch”, and if you’re American, look up some of the British and Spanish historical references to decode this description of a rather scary woman, then listen to Entwistle’s “My Wife” to understand how Peter is his worthy successor.) But make no mistake–there is only one Peter Hackett. These songs are completely original, even as they pay homage to, or poke fun at, elements of British and American culture. Musical goodies and references abound–the sly bit of marimba on Wish Ourselves Away to accompany the words “before we’re out of touch, we’re out of time”, the references to Dukes of Hazzard, the Indy 500, the Eagles, and the line “she’s got a bible in the glovebox and a 45” in Miss America. The crowning lyrical achievement has got to be the plethora of tin foil hat references in Conspiracy Girl–which serves as the de facto title song, since there isn’t a song called Loch Ness Monsters and Motherships. Peter is a an accomplished multi instrumentalist, playing guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums–and self-producing it all. This is a smart little album that’s a big deal. Get it, and see what all the fuss is about.

3. Pacific Soul Ltd. – The Dance Divine
Ladies and gentlemen: soul is back! This incredibly fun, intelligent, and danceable album is the debut from Adam Marsland, Teresa Cowles, and Norman Kelsey, and also garnered our Ear Candy award. The vocals are stellar, and every song rings true. This original album starts off with a brief gospel-like vocal piece, then the fiery Pacific Soul Time races in, sounding like top-form Sly and the Family Stone. Tomorrow Brings Tonight is next, reminiscent of the Spinners. The title track conjures up thoughts of Rick James, and you should be up and moving by this point. Crazy kicks in, taking the tempo up even higher–the album is downright aerobic by this point! We need to take a breather after this, and Adam seems to understand this, so he gifts us with a slow, incredibly soulful version of God Only Knows. I think you can see my point–this album is a real tour de force. Pacific Soul Ltd. lovingly resuscitates an entire genre, painting with a palette of beloved American musical styles. All three vocalists are amazing, individually and together. Every song works well. My favorite track is the infectious Cowles-Marsland composition We Go High (#3 Song of the Year). But really, most of the songs on this album could have made it onto my Top 30 list, were it not for my self-imposed restriction of one song per artist on this list (damn rules!). Just get this one, and start dancing.

4. Gretchen’s Wheel – Fragile State and Behind The Curtain
I was a little bit late to the party on Gretchen’s Wheel, Nashville-based Lindsay Murray’s project, so I received two albums from her in the space of a couple of months. As a result, I got a crash course in excellent songwriting, top notch electric guitar work, and of course, beautifully haunting alto vocals, which earned Lindsay the Female Vocalist of the Year award. I couldn’t decide what to do here, so the only answer was to honor both albums at #4. Fragile State came first, and it reminds me of some of the early 90’s alternative rock that I love so well–zoomy, atmospheric, echoey guitars, and slightly offbeat melodic twists and turns. The tempo is slow, and the songs smolder intensely. Second To Last, The Fourth Wall, and Why Try are standout tracks which are representative of the overall sound. Most of the second album, Behind The Curtain, is more uptempo, which more closely mirrors one of Lindsay’s influences, power pop. But I wouldn’t describe most of the music here as being in that vein–it’s more elaborate than the prototypical examples of the genre. It rocks harder than the first album, but is still just as thoughtful and intense. Standouts on this one are Invisible Thief, Live Through You, This Petrified Heart, and the delightful Sloan cover Try To Make It, which also showed up on a Futureman Records compilation album. This is where Gretchen’s Wheel runs headlong into power pop, and shines magnificently. To me, these two records feel like a really great double album–two sides of a similar coin. Get them both–like me, you won’t be able to pick a favorite–they’re both excellent.

5. Identical Suns – Identical Suns
Transcontinental rock band? Songs with harmonies that shimmer as brightly as the Beach Boys, while other songs are as audacious as Urge Overkill? Who are these Identical Suns? None other than Todd Stanton from Ohio, and Rene Rodriguez from Southern California. These two met the old fashioned way–online, in a music chat room–and were match-made into forming a band by my radio brother Adam Waltemire (Pop Garden Radio), and the rest is history. These two have an almost psychic way of writing songs together–sending them back and forth, polishing them, until they are no longer “a Todd song” or “a Rene song”–but a true Identical Suns mind meld. Baby I’m Down is the perfect way to announce the band’s arrival, with its Raspberries-like vocals and lyrics, and roaring, yet sinewy guitar solos. The next four songs are magnificently informed by 70s pop, then E.M.I.L.Y. thunders in, and reminds you that the 90s existed. But that just sets the table for the Twirlie Award winning Song of the Year, “Common Ground”. This song is a transcendent summer anthem–driving down the road with your love, enjoying the journey. Soaring harmonies, chiming guitars. Completely uplifting, and I’ll stack it up against every other Song of the Year we’ve ever awarded. The Turn plays a bit like a rock opera, leading to another favorite, Unraveled–a quirky rocker concerned with a female romantic partner, who is, shall we say, a bit less than stable. I haven’t dared play this one in the same set as the aforementioned Cult of Wedge track “She’s A Witch”–but it’s in a similar, tongue-in-cheek vein. This record is a must have.

6. Lisa Said – No Turn Left Behind
Lisa Said (pronounced “Sa’yeed”) grew up in Tennessee, as part of a large Egyptian-American family. She’s based in the Washington, D.C. area now, and her debut album came as a welcome addition to our show. Crisp songwriting and infectious melodies, with an Americana bent, permeate the album. You can hear Middle Eastern textures in a couple of the songs. Lisa’s vocals are reminiscent of Allyson Seconds, also honored in our year-end lists. A lot of the songs are about being on the move, whether on the way out of a relationship, or out of town. Indeed, the most compelling photo in the album artwork is of Lisa driving a classic 60s car, with a cooly determined facial expression. Lisa Said is one of the new powerhouse voices on the music scene; you’d be wise to give a listen.

7. The Armoires – Incidental Light Show
Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko form the nucleus of Los Angeles-based The Armoires, and arrived in 2016, seemingly fully formed–yes, there is an “Armoires Sound”! A big band, six pieces strong, they go beyond the usual rock instrumentation by featuring well-placed strings, harmonicas, and keyboards alongside the usual guitar, bass, and drums. Male/female vocals highlight the sound, which swings between ethereal, jangly, anthemic, and even punky. Their lyrics can be haunting, playful, and even a bit political–but always with heart and kindness. If you like your rock and roll to be sophisticated and layered, but accessible, get a copy of Incidental Light Show.

8. Brian Cullman – The Opposite Of Time
Veteran rock journalist Brian Cullman clearly knows his way around the English language. His music might be described as singer-songwriter, which usually signals folk–but in his case, he’s clearly steeped in the rock idiom. His voice and style remind me of another well-loved NYC artist, Don Piper. The Opposite Of Time contains great stories, and perfect, lively arrangements to bring them to life–and I’m always a sucker for the occasional slide guitar. This album would have easily found a home in the late 80s-early 90s sweet spot that I love so well, when guitars and melodies were king. Instead, this witty record finds a home in our Top 10. You’ll need this album, so what are you waiting for?

9. Allyson Seconds – Little World
Two words: Sacramento proud. Allyson Seconds’ sophomore effort is a fine one. She’s a longtime rocker from right here in California’s capital city–known for singing harmony and playing electric guitar in various bands. This is her second collaboration with Sacramento native Anton Barbeau, who persuaded her to step out in front. His songwriting was perfectly crafted to fit Allyson’s voice and attitude. The feel is equal parts sunny California hippie, moody alternative rock, and edgy art-rock. Anton’s quirk factor is felt throughout, and other contributors include Karla Kane (Corner Laughers), my favorite west coast cellist Alison Sharkey, and even Colin Moulding(!) of XTC. This album is rightfully getting Allyson some rave reviews outside of our region–including a nice review on NPR! The spectacular title track is our #2 Song of the Year. Do yourself a favor, and give this record a good home.

10. Girls On Grass – Girls On Grass
Barbara Endes is the mastermind behind Girls On Grass, a leading light in the…wait for it…Brooklyn, NY Americana scene! If the Blasters, Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams got into a cab driven by Joe Strummer–well, it would be pretty crowded in there, but this record might appear. There’s a definitive rock influence here, but cowpunk emerges as the dominant sound. Barbara is a fine songwriter, and the music really does hit that perfect balance between rock and country–not too far in either direction, but this is certainly no middle of the road affair. Catchy melodies abound, and several of these songs linger in your mind long after you’ve turned off your record player. What are you waiting for–do you need me to give you a ride to the store to pick up a copy?

11. Anton Barbeau – Magic Act
Another Sacramento legend made good: Anton Barbeau turns in one of the finest recorded performances of his career with Magic Act. There is nobody else like Anton on this top albums list–really, this quirky, inventive singer-songwriter pretty much has only two musical peers in the last 30 or so years: Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Cope. It only makes sense that he relocated first to the UK, then to Berlin–our small city simply could not contain all this talent. Thankfully, he comes back and visits often–his live shows are not to be missed. On Magic Act, the melodies are wonderfully catchy, the song titles are funny and odd, and the lyrics are often both inscrutable AND accessible–in the same song! (Remember–this is the same gifted lyricist who changed up his usual style to write for Allyson Seconds.) He’s one of my favorite radio guests–we always have a good chat about music–and he turns out to be a really nice guy as well. Run, don’t walk, and get a copy of Magic Act!

12. Bill Lloyd – Lloyd-ering
Bill Lloyd, the power pop half of legendary country duo Foster & Lloyd, has made a career out of doing–well, everything! He’s produced records, been a session player for the likes of Buck Owens, Ray Davies, and Glenn Tilbrook, and written songs for artists like Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and many others. But what got him on our list this year was his wonderful collection of power pop covers–hits from the DBs, Raspberries, Byrds, Hollies, and more. He’s made these songs his own. In many cases, I’ve not heard the originals, so when I do–I’ll be comparing those to these Lloyd versions. I’m not a big fan of covers–so it’s a tribute to how high he’s set the bar with this album. I love all these songs! They were mostly recorded over the past couple of decades on various small labels. My friends at SpyderPop Records had the foresight to compile these tracks onto one album, so the world could hear, all in one place, Bill’s artistry and commitment to pretty much the entire history of power pop. This is one you should add to your collection.

13. The Well Wishers – Comes And Goes
The Well Wishers are San Franciscan Jeff Shelton’s long time project. Where Bill Lloyd brings the power pop jangle, Jeff brings more of the crunch and roar of the genre to the fine Comes And Goes record. I’ve been on board the Well Wishers bandwagon for about 3 albums now; this one is my favorite. It’s a solid, tight collection of driving, high energy songs that feature great melodies and instrumentation that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-1990s Matthew Sweet album. This rousing album does more for me than caffeine–I want to drive fast, run fast, and bike fast, while listening to these songs. Give it a try, and you’ll see what I mean–get some Well Wishers into your life.

14. Jason Berk – Everything Old Is New Again
It’s kind of ironic–the first time I ever heard of Jason Berk was at an IPO show in San Francisco a couple of years ago. The young singer-songwriter played a fiery, but cordial solo set on the Hotel Utah stage. I immediately knew this guy would be a Twirl Radio favorite, so I bought a copy of his Coming Home album–from the aforementioned Jeff Shelton, who was working the merch table that night! So ever since then, Jason’s kept me in the inner circle of media outlets whenever he’s had new music. Everything Old Is New Again is a very personal album that chronicles a devastating breakup. But Jason (our Male Vocalist of the Year) didn’t just sit on the couch and sulk, like I would have. Instead, he created some art–11 well-crafted songs that feature his soulful vocals, intelligent lyrics, and tasteful guitar work. Some of the songs are more acoustic, some more full-band rockin’, but they all fit together. This pop is classic and timeless, and I’m sure you’ll need it to be part of your collection.

15. SLD (Sounds Like Digging) – Indigo Gray
Brooklyn, NY cousins Tom Parisi and Paul Costanza form SLD, and Indigo Gray, their debut album, materializes from out of nowhere. Infectious power pop tunes ring true at every listen. Tom and Paul’s pop sensibilities always lead them to making the right musical choices. You can tell they made the record they wanted to listen to. Soaring vocal harmonies and layers of guitars make this gem of an album a sonic pleasure to listen to. These songs could have been at home in the melodic heydays of the 1970s or 1990s, but instead, belong to 2016, a banner year for indie rock and roll. Get Indigo Gray immediately!

And that wraps up our Top 15 Albums of 2016. Let’s go out now and listen to 2017!

See the full list of Twirlie Awards.

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About the Top 20 Albums of 2013

The 2014 Twirlie Awards show has come and gone. While we gave away many different categories of awards, the category most near and dear to my heart has always been that of top albums. Anybody who listens to my show will quickly realize that I really am an album-oriented radio programmer. I love the deep cuts. I love the art form.

To me, a non-musician, I’m always amazed that people can create music that sounds good, fit the appropriate words to it, then sing and play instruments to bring it all to life. To take this art to the next level, repeat this magic several times. Make each song different, yet related to one another. Sequence them to make the most sense, and an album emerges. What an achievement!

So I’d like to walk you through the Top 20 albums of 2013, as announced on my show this past Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. 2013 was a great year for indie music, and here’s why you should check out these albums.

1. Felsen – I Don’t Know How To Talk Anymore–ALBUM OF THE YEAR
This album is flawless, yet human. Andrew Griffin, Cristian Hernandez, Dylan Brock, and Art McConnell, from the San Francisco Bay area, play as if their lives depend on it. The songs speak to 21st century isolation at many levels, but there is still a positive undercurrent. Bookended by opening track Rock and Roll’s Not Dead and the penultimate Greetings from the Ghost of Heavy Metal Rock and Roll, Felsen is here to tell you that the artform lives, and is kept alive by true believers. This is Felsen’s defining moment, and the Album of the Year for 2013 will stick around for a very long time.

2. Richard X. Heyman – X–RUNNER UP ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The legendary DIY artist Richard X. Heyman put out his tenth album (hence, “X”), and has been doing the indie-play-all-the-instruments thing for over 25 years–well before the digital tools came along that democratized the art of music making. This album is also flawless, and hits all the right notes, both musically and lyrically. To my ears, X sounds like my favorite time in music: the post-New Wave, pre-Nirvana alternative era, that short window when zoomy, atmospheric guitars and melodies ruled the airwaves. And once you get past all the great sounds and start listening to the lyrics, you realize that Richard is a master lyricist as well, going from cautionary tales (Firing Line) to breathless love songs (Somebody Has Finally Found Me). A worthy #2 Album of the Year.

3. Maxi Dunn – Edmund & Leo
Maxi Dunn is a model of consistency. Every one of her albums has landed in my year end top 5, including a previous #1. Edmund & Leo continues the theme of heartache, but with some serious glimmers of hope–the future looks better. Maxi’s voice and attitude are incomparable. She ranges between alto and soprano, and uses these tools to evoke whatever mood she wants you to feel. Her word choices paint pictures, and the melodies are often dramatic and always memorable. Peter Hackett returns as producer, and he masterfully assembles this album from Maxi’s blueprint. Check out his stellar guitar work and Damon Roots’ percussion on the larger than life closing track Meteor Shower.

4. Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful
Chuck Prophet is one of those artists that I’d heard OF for a long time, but never heard his music until a friend of mine, James DePrato, handed me this disc. Turns out that James is Chuck’s guitarist! And what an album–it’s pretty much an alternative history of the modern era of San Francisco–warts and all. It’s got crazy characters (Emperor Norton and others), heroes (Willie Mays, Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk), and even Carol Doda! The lyrics are inventive and do indeed tell the story of this tumultuous town, while the music and playing are stellar. This is the definitive tour of The City. This album also won Best Songwriting for Chuck.

5. The Catbirds – Catbirds Say Yeah
Chandler Travis leads this ragtag band of musical geniuses/misfits, and Catbirds Say Yeah is pure, unabashed, 100% fun! The Catbirds are not hard rock, but they rock hard. They do quirky and rootsy in the same way that NRBQ does–they know all the musical rules and break them. Most albums start to peter out by the end, but not Catbirds Say Yeah. The last four tracks kick into turbodrive. Check out the next to last track, the raucous Pajama Pants Baby, with its raw, circuits-fried loud guitars, and the album closer, the frantic cover of Leaving Here.

6. Sparklejet – Phonovella
Victor Sotelo and Wade Krause, after more than half a decade, return with what is the finest album of their career, Phonovella. Loud, intellectual, but not afraid to breathe where necessary. This album just sounds important.

7. The Orange Peels – Sun Moon
Allen Clapp and company with some wonderfully atmospheric songs. They jokingly refer to their genre as “coastal pop”, but it actually describes their sound nicely. Put this one on while driving on a glorious summer or fall day, and you’ll see what I mean.

8. Agony Aunts – Big Cinnamon
KC Bowman, Karla Kane, Khoi Huynh, and Charlie Crabtree, also known as The Corner Laughers, go undercover and get more psychedelic, mysterious, and sometimes even silly. Great pop tunes here for all. Wonderful guest appearances by Mystery Lawn stablemates William Cleere and Allen Clapp, and legendary quirkmeister Anton Barbeau pops in and says hello.

9. Lisa Mychols – Above, Beyond, and In Between
Lisa Mychols, fresh out of Nushu, comes back with one of the sweetest albums of 2013. The songs are shimmery, effervescent hugs, some sounding like the Go-Go’s, and some veering more into Juliana Hatfield territory.

10. Vegas With Randolph – Rings Around The Sun
Eric Kern, John Ratts and the guys from DC roar back with another masterful pop album. The lyrics are thoughtful, and the sounds range from power pop to some slightly melancholy tunes. Listen for great hooks and harmonies.

11. Willie Wisely Trio – True
One of the wittiest and most spontaneous performers you’ll find, Willie Wisely and his (4 man) Trio are charming, amusing, clever, and rocking. Listen for the inspired trombone parts!

12. The Bye Bye Blackbirds – We Need The Rain
Led by Bradley Skaught, this album fuses power pop and Americana seamlessly. Great songwriting, melodies, and playing have earned the BBBs rave reviews in their hometown of the Bay Area.

13. The Taters – Taters Party
Sometimes known as the “Unofficial House Band of Twirl Radio”, Craig Evans, Brad Tucker, Greg Marrs, and Chris Mendez are known for their live sets–a mix of fun originals and inspired covers. They recorded this one at a party–and some of that party went out live on Twirl Radio! This fun album won our Ear Candy Award.

14. Sam Phillips – Push Any Button
Legendary singer-songwriter Sam Phillips is known for social commentary and eminently listenable tunes. Lots of quirky textures on this short but great album. It was an honor to have interviewed her on our 600th episode back in June, 2013.

15. The Cherry Bluestorms – Bad Penny Opera
Deborah Gee and Glen Laughlin’s sophomore album is psychedelic, rockin’, and has its intense moments. Big time guitars abound–Glen easily ranges from acoustic to jangly 12 string electric, while Deborah’s Chrissie Hynde vibe gives this concept album an edge that separates it from its power pop peers.

16. Laurie Biagini – Sanctuary Of Sound
Vancouver’s Laurie Biagini returns with her fourth album of sunshiny, summery pop. Think Karen Carpenter meets the Beach Boys, and you’ve got her sound. Her warm alto voice sits atop great piano playing, and a couple of the songs feature guitar work by guests Fabrizio Serrecchia and Vinnie Zummo.

17. Joe Symes and the Loving Kind – Joe Symes and the Loving Kind
Liverpool band Joe Symes and the Loving Kind started out as a hard working, hard rocking band, but for this, their debut, have added some nice subtleties to their sound that give their brand of pop music a nice bit of refinement. This album is our Best Debut Album–the band emerges, out of nowhere, fully formed.

18. Jimmy Catlett – Parlour Songs
Richmond, Virginia’s Jimmy Catlett got together with friends in a living room, and knocked out this batch of songs in one long, relaxed day, followed by good food and a bonfire. This sublime Americana album features superb vocals and guitars. It’s mellow, but don’t let that fool you. There’s some dramatic overtones in here that stick with you long after you’re done listening.

19. The Undecided By Default – Totally Undecided
This punky, power poppy trio from Melbourne, Australia, led by Maria Sokratis, makes punk fun, and fun punky! A whole lot of attitude and fun, blast this one through your open car windows, and watch your neighbors smile.

20. Chandler Travis Three-O – This Is What Bears Sound Like Underwater
An unprecedented second Top 20 album for Chandler Travis and company, this is another four member “Three-O”. This would be the quieter companion to The Catbirds, featuring jazz, folk, and Americana sounds, and some quirky chamber pieces. A nice mix of beauty and fun, and really great vocals by Fred Jodsworth Boak.

See the full list of Twirlie Awards.

Podcast from Twirl Radio Presents #1 now available!

Twirl Radio Presents #1 (4/17/2013) (length 1:18:46)

Twirl Radio Presents flyer-page001

The podcast from the first-ever live Twirl Radio Presents show is now available! This epic show happened on April 17, 2013, at 50 Mason Social House in San Francisco, and the legendary Debora Iyall, of Romeo Void fame, headlined as part of Debora Iyall Group (DIG). They absolutely killed it, with their guitar/ sax/ keyboard attack, and Debora’s vocals in perhaps the best form of her career.

The Corner Laughers, a marvelous pop band from San Francisco, closed out the show with their ukulele/guitar based sound. Sweet vocals from Karla Kane delivering well-crafted clever lyrics over upbeat melodies left the audience literally begging for more.

Blake Jones & the Trike Shop came the farthest to be at this show, representing their hometown of Fresno with a fun, quirky, masterful set. Not only did they rock, Blake’s two songs played on theremin wowed the crowd.

Hometown heroes Felsen, at least Andrew Griffin and Cristian Hernandez, delivered a definitive opening set of acoustic renditions of their rockers. They set a high standard for the evening.

And truth in advertising was never truthier than The Bay Area Brit, aka Matty Stone, who was genuinely born in Great Britain, and genuinely lives in the Bay Area. His humo(u)rous musings about funny and crazy people from both sides of the “pond” delighted the audience.

Enjoy this taste of Twirl Radio Presents. 1 hour 18 minutes of great live entertainment. And stay tuned–we will be doing this again soon!

Welcome Sal Valentino fans! Twirl Radio welcomes him in-studio, Saturday, April 23, 2011.

Sal Valentino This is pretty big news: the legendary singer-songwriter Sal Valentino is going to be our in-studio guest on Twirl Radio on Saturday, April 23, 2011, at 4:30 p.m. Pacific! (But catch the whole show–4:00-6:00 p.m. Pacific, www.twirlradio.com, for our usual great mix of music.)

Sal’s early fame came as vocalist for the 1960’s band The Beau Brummels, with such top hits as “Laugh Laugh” and “Just A Little”. It’s been argued that the band defined the San Francisco sound. Certainly, they were out ahead of the pack–a little before the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead.

The 1970’s came, and Sal played in Stoneground, a great amalgam of funk and country rock, perhaps a precursor to the Doobie Brothers. And he’s had quite a respectable solo career. As one of my European listeners said, “Sal Valentino–one of the great voices of all time!”.

His most recent album, Dreamin’ Man, teams him up with long time collaborator John Blakeley. This is one fine album. It starts with the breezy opener “Love Song”, then transitions into determined mid-tempo rocker “Hwy 49”. Sal and John turn in a great Americana performance on rising Sacramento star Jackie Greene’s “Valley of Woe”. While Sal sings with conviction, John’s stellar acoustic picking drives this song forward with abandon. These two bad dudes will kick your rear with this song, and you’ll love it.

But make no mistake–this tends to be a rather romantic album, especially the second half. “Looking For You” is a fun rave up, and Sal is completely devoted to getting through to his woman, no matter what it takes, a la the Fabulous Thunderbirds in “Tuff Enuff”. The last four songs burrow deep into your heart, with their romanticism. “Dreamin’ Man”, the title track, is quite moody and haunting, but always listenable. “Catherine I Do” and “Lovin’ Fallin'” feature classy instrumental hooks and lyrics that grab you, work their way through your mind, and into that place in your soul reserved for love and sentiment. These melodies are sublime and exquisite. The album ends with the confessional “That Way”–what Sal is confessing is eternal love and devotion for his woman.

Wow–guys–we need to learn how to write songs like these, to remind our wives/significant others how much we love and need them. This album would make a great little Valentine’s Day gift. But don’t wait that long–grab a copy now at http://gragroup.com/valentino.html. And we’ll see you on Twirl Radio with Sal Valentino, Saturday, 4:00-6:00 p.m. Pacific, http://www.twirlradio.com. Meanwhile, check out these Beau Brummels videos, and get a taste of the great sounds of San Francisco and Sal Valentino:

Featured Artist Fall 2009: Maxi Dunn

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Ever hear that American saying before? In October, I sampled some of the finest lemonade I’d ever gotten my hands on. What makes good lemonade? A touch of sour. An overall sweetness. And finally, a great, memorable aftertaste. In this case, the lemonade is the brand new Welcome to Soonville album by Maxi Dunn, the Twirl Radio Featured Artist for Fall, 2009! I interviewed her on Twirl Radio on Saturday, October 24th, 2009.

Maxi is a singer-songwriter from Liverpool, UK. I first met her on Facebook. She was a friend of several of my other friends. I enjoyed chatting with her–she always had something witty, pertinent, or charming to say. Finally, I heard her music on some other radio shows (so no, I don’t get credit for “discovering” her), and asked her if she’d send me some tracks for airplay. Thus began a six month odyssey, one in which she’d occasionally email me another new track for airplay consideration. By default, I pretty much got to watch the making of Welcome to Soonville, real time! With characteristic modesty, she would often preface her emails with disclaimers like “I’m not sure if this’ll fit your show, but I hope you like it”. And then it would turn out to be a magnificently performed and produced song, which indeed wound up in my playlist. She repeated this procedure several times, and before long, I became familiar with much of the album before the October 12th release.

So what does Maxi sound like? She’s got a very versatile voice–I think she sings alto and soprano parts equally well, and uses each range to good effect, depending on what the song or phrase calls for. A lot of her songs have a bouncy, early 1980’s sound–something like you might have heard from early Madonna or Sheena Easton–but with much more depth of songwriting than you would ever hear from either of those two legendary songstresses. But no–not all her songs are upbeat and fun. Soonville has a range of emotions to explore, and some truths to uncover, and that is reflected in the sound and range of songs. Maxi may have grown up in the 1980’s, but she’s living in the here and now.

Maxi has been a musician for the last twenty years, and had been in a few bands. So what moved her to release this fine debut album in 2009? Well, a traumatic year, in which a long term relationship ended bitterly, was the motivating factor.

One doesn’t even have to know the exact circumstances. The songs say it all. And they divide up into two groups–those written back in the 1990’s with her old band CS Drift, and the ones written this past year. The older ones have a wistful tone–they’re generally about sad relationships. They’re very good. But the ones written this year–these are the focused words of a survivor. These autobiograhical vignettes tell you everything that happened to Maxi. In the course of about a year, she walked through fire, and came out alive on the other side. A little scorched, and wiser for it all. But here to tell us about it.

The songs also break up into two groups soundwise, as well. Songs such as How Was I To Know, Don’t Look Back, Always Be My Friend, Seattle In The Sun, and the epic title track Welcome To Soonville were produced by Pete Hackett from Cult Of Wedge, who supplied the sterling guitar work as well. Paul Wright added some keyboard and saxophone work too. Some of my favorite songs from 2009 emerged from this batch. To my ears, these are the more driving, and in some cases, rocking songs on the album. Most of the newer songs are in this group. Interestingly enough–Mr. Hackett and Ms. Dunn have not yet met in person as of this writing. They live a couple of hours apart. That fascinates me, because the artist-producer relationship is perhaps the most important in music, and it speaks volumes that they could produce such fine songs via long distance–there’s a certain empathy and intuition going on here.

And there are four important songs on the album produced by the production team of Coke Belda and Roque Esteban, otherwise known as Cokeroque. High As A Kite, Waiting To Go Round, Pull You Down, and I Mean That were also created as a result of a virtual collaboration, as Cokeroque are located in Spain. Coke played guitars and Roque, keyboards, on these tracks. These guys generally have a lighter, poppier, almost 1980’s sound, fitting Maxi’s voice very nicely.

So if I had to pick a few tracks to focus on from this great batch of songs, I’d start with the leadoff How Was I To Know. This song sets the tone for the entire album. The great lyrics tell the story of the aforementioned relationship. Some great Pete Hackett guitars. A big sound, very dramatic indeed. And there is a lot of drama on this album. Don’t Look Back follows and continues the theme of lies and contradictions. And then–after all this heaviness comes the happiest song on the album, Always Be My Friend, written for Adam Waltemire’s Pop Garden Radio 4th anniversary show. Entirely different tone from most of the album, but in a way, it fits well. Despite the heaviness of the last year, this is a reminder that Maxi has some good supportive friends out there.

Other memorable songs include Waiting To Go Round from the Cokeroque batch, a tune written back in the 1990’s, which remarkably foreshadows the trauma of the relationship. Pull You Down has Cokeroque stepping out of their mellow sound–it rocks as hard as any of the Pete Hackett-produced tracks. And finally, the title track of Welcome To Soonville. What can I say? It’s got a sweeping, mysterious, James Bond theme kind of sound. Determined vocals. You’ve got to hear this one to believe it. You’ve never heard this song before, but it will instantly feel familiar to you. Destined to become a classic. This is Maxi the survivor. She comes out on top after a harrowing sequence of events. It’s a magnificent song that perfectly closes the album. I’ll often play this one at the end of a set of songs on my radio shows.

It was truly a pleasure to chat with Maxi on my show, and so interesting to find out how this great album was produced. I am pleased to have had her as the Artist of the Month for Fall, 2009, and am looking forward to what 2010 brings for Maxi!

Featured Artist June/July 2009: Laurie Biagini

Ever make a decision that you regret? Here’s mine. When I bought my car, I forgot to buy a convertible. I can already hear you thinking, “what ARE you talking about?” Well, it’s summer, I’m in California, and I’m driving around, blasting Laurie Biagini’s CD Ridin’ The Wave on my car stereo. But I’m not doing it right–I need a convertible to give this shiny, summery music the proper treatment! I am pleased to announce that Laurie Biagini is the Twirl Radio Artist of the Month for both June and July, 2009! I interviewed her on Twirl Radio on Saturday, June 20th, 2009.

Buy the CD

I first heard Laurie’s music on The Time Machine, based in Maui, Hawaii. Her infectious You’re A Dangerous Thing sounded so good coming out of my little computer speakers. I immediately begged her for some music to play on Twirl, and she sent me the entire Ridin’ The Wave album. I have since heard her music on Pop Garden Radio (Florida) and ShockPop Radio (North Carolina). Hmmm…Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and California. All sunbelt states with ocean beaches. It’s a great fit for Laurie, because my favorite description of her sound is “Karen Carpenter fronting the Beach Boys”. Her music is definitively sunny, and reminiscent of good time beach music from back in the 1960’s. If the Beach Boys had a kid sister who sang and played keyboards, she would sound like this.

Laurie hails from Vancouver, BC, Canada–not a place you’d expect to be a hotbed of beach music. But her sensibilities are definitely 1960’s/1970’s-era Southern California. Her voice is warm and rich like Karen Carpenter. Her subject matter and some of her melodies bring to mind the Beach Boys, and her harmonies are reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas. She told me in the interview that those artists, along with the Monkees and Jerry Lee Lewis, were indeed her greatest influences.

Ridin’ The Wave is Laurie’s debut album. It starts off with the title track, an upbeat pop tune about grabbing that perfect opportunity–framed within the context of surfing and the beach. This sets up the rest of the album with her signature soaring vocal harmonies, and perfect pop melodies. The unusual thing about this song is the prominence of the guitar. Most of Laurie’s music is piano-based, and she is quite an accomplished keyboardist. Doin Nothin At All is one of the most fun songs on the album–and that’s really saying something, because the whole album is fun. It’s more typical of the Laurie Biagini sound–the piano and the organ sounds take the lead. The lyrics are great–encouraging you to take it easy, and forget the schedules, burdens, problems, and deadlines. And one of my favorites is Bambuzled, which turns out to be a tribute to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. By the time I get to this song, I’m ready for Laurie to come pick me up in a red ’68 Camaro convertible, for our day at the beach.

There are some songs covering more serious topics. A Face In The Crowd deals with trying to fit in with the “cool” people. Crazy On Me is about a person who’s had some kind of breakdown or crisis, and is acting pretty strangely. The aforementioned You’re A Dangerous Thing turned out to be the big surprise of the album for me. I thought it was a really clever tune about a guy who’s bad for the singer. As it turns out, it’s an even more clever song, literally about sugar. Laurie told me that sugar and sweets are medically bad for her, so she wrote this song and masked the subject with relationship references. Her upbeat music makes the darker subjects easy to listen to, but if you dig a little bit into the lyrics, you’ll find some keen observations.

There are also a number of romantic songs–Away On A Cloud, Vancouver Rain, Under A Tropical Moon, and Two Feet Off The Ground, among others. I’m not a big fan of love songs on their own, unless the music itself has something to offer. In this case–the music offers the instantly-memorable melodies.

Ridin’ The Wave is one sweet album–in every sense of the word. Sweet pop melodies. Sweet vocals. Sweet harmonies. Sweet keyboards. Laurie proves that this kind of music is back, and more vibrant and alive than ever. She’s working on a new one, A Far Out Place. I’ve heard sneak previews of a few of the new batch of songs, and so far, she’s got another winner on her hands!

As for live performances, Laurie hasn’t played out all that much, but did have a nice gig at the International Pop Overthrow (IPO) festival last summer in San Francisco, and is scheduled for one of the IPOs in Vancouver this summer. She’s also got a club date or two on tap as well. She’ll be expanding her solo wizardry to include a band for at least some of these dates.

Laurie Biagini’s music is the perfect accompaniment to summer. She’s been a staple on Twirl Radio for over a year now, and I’m looking forward to more of her classic sound, from the great beach city of Vancouver. A hearty, summery congratulations to Laurie, our Twirl Featured Artist for June/July 2009!

Featured Artists April 2009: Goodfinger

A few years ago, I received a 5-song EP from New York City band Goodfinger. Its tight rock songs practically burst out of my CD player, screaming “play me on the air!” So I did. These songs promised so much. Here we are in 2009, and Mike, the drummer sent me their full length debut, Killing With Kindness. Well, consider this a promise delivered, and for that, I am happy to announce that Goodfinger are the Twirl Radio Artists of the Month for April, 2009! I interviewed them on Twirl Radio on Saturday April 18th, 2009.

So what does Goodfinger sound like? It’s really hard to say, because they’re fairly original. I spent the better part of the last week trying to work out the analogy, and it’s been tough. If I had to do it, I’d say they sound something like an updated version of Blondie, but with a much harder edge. But they’re not exactly New Wave, and not exactly hard rock. They’re a four piece ensemble–Mike Williams on drums; Seth Skolnick, guitar; Frank Caira, bass; and Scrappy Calloway on vocals. Mike and Scrappy co-write most of the songs, and Scrappy is clearly the centerpiece and focal point of the band. She has a strong vocal and stage presence (click here to view Love Digitale video). I’d call their sound a “throwback”, but to what? They would have sounded good in the 1980s, with their New Wave influenced synthesizers and vocals. But they would have also sounded good in the alternative early 1990s, with those soaring, atmospheric guitars. And they sound great right now in the 2000s.

So let’s dive right into the album. 10 tracks–and they’re all straight-up radio friendly. It’s rare when I can say this about an entire CD–but I will be playing each and every track on my show. The album is that good.

It starts off with the title track, Killing With Kindness, a great rock ballad–but not like your typical s-l-o-w ballad. This one rocks at mid-tempo. Another Night is next, and starts off with Seth’s soaring guitars–both he and Scrappy share center stage on this rocker, giving each other room to work. Said And Done starts off with the rhythm section of Mike and Frank laying some pretty impressive drum and bass groundwork, building up tensions. Then Seth’s sinewy guitar work edges in, and finally Scrappy’s mysterious, sultry vocals take center stage. A few drum crashes later, and this becomes a full blown rocker, complete with some tasty alternative-style keyboard work.

Ghost slows down the speed of the assault, but not the intensity. It’s a song about being lost in a big city of unfriendly, uncaring, superficial people. Scrappy wraps her world-wise vocals around this moody song, singing “I’m a ghost in this town, that’s how they want it to stay.” Radio Perfecto, one of two carryovers from the debut EP (featuring Johnny B. on guitars) picks the pace right back up again. This is sheer rock and roll glory here–an anthem if I ever heard one. Sounds Of The City sounds like something Iggy Pop might have done–an observation of urban decadence. It rocks pretty hard, and would sound especially good prowling around the streets of a big city after midnight, turned up loud on your car stereo. Take Me I’m Yours is a great surprise–they do a New Wave-sounding take on this great Squeeze tune. They make it their own, and you realize that nobody else could have covered this tune–it now belongs to Goodfinger!

Love Digitale, a throbbing, pulsing number, is the other tune from the EP. Untouchable is another straightforward rocker. The album concludes with And So We Are Forever, a nice, mostly acoustic showcase for Scrappy’s voice. Most of the CD’s production, engineering, and arranging is done by Mike, and it sounds top-notch. A phenomenal album, one of the best I’ve heard this year to date.

Tom Verlaine of Television called Goodfinger “the future of New York music”. I would slightly beg to differ–same statement, but take out the words “New York”–these guys belong everywhere–and that includes Twirl Radio. Congratulations to Goodfinger, the Twirl Artists of the Month for April, 2009!

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