This week we cover only happy music. I said: Only happy music. Only. Happy. Music. Shut up.
Nicola, Don't Take It Personally
Latin-tinged soulfulness and a unique mix of hard pop and polyrhythmic complexity have always characterized Nicola, but she and her band (also called Nicola) inch towards the progressive edge of alt-rock with this, her third CD. As on her earlier releases, Nicola's catlike alto and spidery, sensuous acoustic guitar meld with the funkiness of her tight-as-leather-pants band to create an original but accessible pop sound. This disc is not as replete with hooks, however, as her past work. The songs, while strong and frequently striking, have more of the rock landscape about them and less of the portrait.
The title track is quite catchy, however, as is the power ballad "Crazy." "Lighthouse" is a nifty mix of heavy rock and melodic soundscape, and "In Your Own Backyard" is a surprisingly convincing rap-metal experiment featuring Tah Phrum Duh Bush.
From "(5,6,7,8) Hot Date," a hilarious blast of relationship anger punk, to its opposite extreme, the soul ballad "Combustible," Nicola's work continues to express one of pop music's more creative musical visions. And, their live shows are a party and a half. The New York release party for the CD will be at the Bowery Poetry Club on Nov. 17.
Extended clips here.
Brian Simpson, Postcard From L.A.
When an artist is so closely imitative of one inspiration as Brian Simpson is of Tom Petty, the listener can have two possible responses: take it entirely on its own terms, or put it in context. In context, there's a certain lack of originality. Simpson sings like Tom Petty (crossed with Huey Lewis), he writes like Tom Petty, and most strikingly he arranges like Tom Petty. But on his own terms, he's pretty darn good, making well-crafted, sunny California pop-rock with engaging vocals and a happy vibe.
The main disadvantage of aping someone's sound is that your songwriting tends to suffer by comparison. But while Simpson doesn't match his idol in that regard, few do, and these songs have much going for them on their own. This is well-made, feel-good music, and we always need more of that.
Extended clips can be heard here.
The Brightwings, Stay
Equally sunny sounds come from the Brightwings. The California lilt of their shimmery folk-rock is a tribute to their devotion to their artistic vision and to modern heating (or maybe global warming) - the band is from Boston. "All I Need" is highly catchy, and "Many Miles" and "Mallory" are fine pop baubles as well, while the wispy "I Want You To Stay" harks back to 1960s pop. The only weakness is that some of the lead vocals lack heft, though the lustrous harmonies in the choruses make up for that somewhat. The CD closes with a lovely version of "Please Come To Boston," an inspired choice.