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INDIE ROUND-UP for April 21 2005

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This week we discover an upper-case sound from some lower-case letters, a keyboard player with a terrible secret, and a country-rock gem.

INDIE ROUND-UP for April 21 2005

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CD: sundayrunners, self-titled

Shimmery pop with a hard edge never seems to go out of style, maybe because it satisfies both the “masculine” desire for toughness and the “feminine” for sensitivity. sundayrunners makes well crafted and executed melodic pop-rock that reinforces twin
truths: no one has yet been able to do it quite as well as the Beatles, but good things can still happen when you try.  Randy Didderich and his team artfully mix airy melodies, tasteful harmonies and quirky, optimistic lyrics with hard-rocking choruses and dynamic changes inspired by both best 90s rock (e.g. Weezer, Live, and Soundgarden) as well, perhaps, as a bit of classic progressive rock (from the Beatles to Genesis).

It’s hard to pick out particular songs when the whole CD is such a creative goulash. Diderrich and his collaborators have developed a singular approach to mixing guitars and especially keyboards into a seemingly endless variety of interesting, modern backgrounds, while his plaintive tenor singing has exactly the right balance of lightness of touch and emotional heft to bring the songs off with panache.  Especially in their catchiest songs like “Elected,” “Memories Left At Sea,” “Half My Height” and “1993,” sundayrunners should appeal to a wide range of pop music lovers, from Beatles fanatics to glamazons to Finnheads to those who remember when “indie rock” often enough meant originality.

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CD: Eric Goetz, Present and Accounted For

With a high tenor that’s a cross between Graham Nash and Donald Fagen, Eric Goetz comes up with some good melodies and delicious keyboard playing – love the Rhodes! – but the material would benefit from fuller production and less cliched lyrics. Accordion, organ, and odd time signatures don’t make up for the overall unremarkableness of most of the songs.

Goetz tries a variety of feels and flavors, including Latin-lite and spoken word, but although he claims inspiration from Tori Amos and Neil Finn, he really shines only when he lets out his inner Steely Dan, as in “Lied” – easily the best track – and “Sick.” Those two jazzy pop tunes show where the muse seems to be really leading him. The sensitive singer-songwriter stuff just doesn’t wash.

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CD: Emily Lord, Brand New Day

With an earthy, country-rock sound reminiscent of Mary-Chapin Carpenter and a voice that mixes some of the passionate intensity of an Alanna Myles with the high spirits of a Petula Clark, Emily Lord proves the artistic value of the tried-and-true themes of love and family. The writing throughout the first half of this full-length CD is exemplary, and Lord puts her songs across with both vigor and sensitivity. It’s very rare to put on a disc and hear song after song that you know you’d be happy to listen to repeatedly, but Emily Lord has made one.

Including a cover of a hit song is often a mistake, since the new artist’s own material usually pales in comparison. Not so here: Lord’s cover of Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” fits right in. From the sunny rocker “One Day At a Time” to the heartfelt ballad “The Way” to the 70s-pop-flavored “Hey Joe” (not the Jimi Hendrix song), this batch of songs proclaims Emily Lord as an artist to watch. “Can’t Kiss Me Casually” is another highlight, demonstrating an ability to convey the complexities of relationships via plainspoken lyrics and an aching, bittersweet melody.

Lord was wise to front-load the CD with her best new material. After the sixth track, the song quality declines, and that’s where I started to notice the production. Even with an indie budget, I would have expected crisper sound quality – notably on the drums – from a producer (Mark Hallman) with credits like Carole King and Ani DiFranco. It’s telling that this flaw barely registers when you’re listening to the excellent songs on the first half.

Recommended for lovers of good songwriting, especially fans of country and heartland rock, particularly artists like Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Travis Tritt, Maria McKee, and the Eagles.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.