Thursday, November 01, 2012

Brand New Beat!

It goes without saying that Kurt Baker's new LP is my album of the year. Heck, it might even be my album of the decade so far. And if you read my review of Kurt's most recent EP, you knew my expectations were sky-high. You can surmise I was not disappointed.

I'll grant you that Brand New Beat may not an album for everyone. It's an upbeat kind of record for upbeat kinds of people. It will elicit smiles and positive feelings. It has lots of songs about girls. If you're not into happy-go-lucky power pop the way I am, you might even be disgusted by this LP. Fair enough. It's a free country. But this is my slice of the blogosphere, and in these parts Kurt Baker is loved. In collaboration with dynamite producer/co-songwriter Wyatt Funderburk, he's turned out a classic pop/rock record that hearkens back to the late '70s and early '80s. Its songs appeal to that part of all of us that's eternally 19 and in the severe throes of young love. Some of the tunes are totally sappy. A couple will make you laugh. Others will break your heart. And every last one sounds like a hit. If Rick Springfield, Elvis Costello, and Butch Walker were one guy, he'd be Mr. Kurt Baker.

While "power pop" might be a good general term for the music Kurt Baker makes, I think Brand New Beat will surprise a lot of people. It's not strictly a power-pop-by-numbers record. "Hit The Ground" kicks off the proceedings with a slick, over-the-top blast of rock. And "Qualified" closes the show in the same vein. These are extremely well-crafted odes to the glory days of arena rock. You say "cheesy", and I say "fun". I just close my eyes and imagine the Kurt Baker Band as the unheralded opening act blowing Journey or Loverboy off the stage 30 years ago. Meanwhile the ballads reach back further to the mid-to-late '70s heyday of singer/songwriters, and they're tremendous. "She's Not Sorry" is like early Billy Joel meets the Beach Boys, while "I Don't Wanna Cry" is a gut-wrenching breakup song delivered with feeling. Both tracks are among the album's best, and the harmonies positively soar. Meanwhile "How Many Times" is a "happy" ballad that totally indulges Kurt's Elvis Costello worship.

Of course the best part of any Kurt Baker record is going to be the pure pop songs, and Brand New Beat is loaded with some of the catchiest cuts of power pop you could ever hope to hear. "Don't Go Falling In Love" would be all over Top 40 radio in a better world. Listen to it and see what I mean. And it's far from the only "hit". I'm totally nuts for the big glossy crunch and joyful spirit of "Everybody Knows" and "Weekend Girls". And the sweet, jangly "She Can Do It All" brings to mind Kurt's handsome and talented pals The Connection. What can I say? I'm just a total sucker for silky backing vocals and infectious pop hooks. Give me a little caffeine and a couple spins of this record, and I'm guaranteed a good day!

What I love about Brand New Beat is that it's so well-done on every level. The songs are great, the production is amazing, and Kurt's band is top-notch. Huge kudos go out to Funderburk (backing vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Kris "Fingers" Rodgers (keyboards), Geoff Useless (backing vocals, rhythm guitar), and Adam Cargin (drums) for making this "solo" album what it is. Recorded over a year-and-a-half period at three different studios, this LP was painstakingly crafted. And it shows! It has the feel of a top-selling record from three decades ago, yet it doesn't sound stale or dated in any way. Pop music, when it's this good, is timeless. Your dad will probably like Brand New Beat, but so will your niece. Go buy copies for everyone on your Christmas list!


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