Music News

Doug Powell

Embarrassingly gifted multi-instrumentalist Powell cut his teeth working with Todd Rundgren during the '80s before going solo, landing for a spell on Mercury Records but never quite finding his "fit." Given his outlook -- a full plate of hook-drenched power pop with a touch of lush classic rock on the side -- the fact that he's now on that last credible bastion of true pop, Not Lame, amounts to a no-brainer.

In '99 Powell issued Curiouser on Not Lame, a collection of eight-track demos that earned him comparisons to everyone from Cheap Trick and Jellyfish to Badfinger and Ambrosia. More elaborates upon its predecessor's themes, again as a one-man-plays-all project, but with a dreamier, more wide-screen sound that absolutely belies its home-studio origins. The listener finds pleasure on two simultaneous levels: playing the "this song sounds like this band" game while marveling at how instinctual Powell is at translating 35 years' worth of pop glory for his own unique vision.

Killer opening track "Dinah Might," a yarn about the archetypal goddess-on-pedestal, is rife with complex Cheap Trick-like changes and Posies vocals, while the stately piano-led ballad suggests a marriage of Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren and Queen. And the backward-effects, swirly-dreamy psychedelia of "Looking Glass" should give World Party's Karl Wallinger something to chew on next time he's contemplating his next Beatles pastiche. Other tunes are simply balls-out rockers that no veteran of the late '70s/early '80s power-pop wars can resist, including the itchy, kinetic "Fall In Deep," with its brusque guitars and New Wavey keyboards, and the down 'n' dirty crunch rocker "Empty V" (points deducted from the latter, however, for its decidedly anachronistic titular complaint -- dissing MTV these days amounts to arguing over a point long moot).

Vocally, Powell is also gifted, suggesting a blend of his erstwhile employer Rundgren (particularly when he multitracks his vocals for a Beatles harmony effect) and contemporary power-pop mavens Peter Holsapple, Parthenon Huxley and Ken Stringfellow. It's a precision trained throat at that; just when you think he's about to veer into whine territory, he'll shift to the lower register, a skill (call it "knowing your range") that far too many younger power-popsters have yet to master. Trust the advice of the masters: In Pop, half the game is the singing, and if you're out of tune, you ain't singing Pop. Too, as a lyricist, Powell's loath to pen throwaway lines, and his tunes, accordingly, tend to gravitate toward philosophical, Big Issue musings (the MTV one aside) as well as having a distinctively spiritual bias.

Worth noting: You can find Powell on the Net at where he's involved with "The Ring of Power Pop & Classic Rock" Web ring, an unapologetic haven for all things Pop. Powell has also been spotted over the past couple of years as a member of part-time supergroup SWAG, composed of woodshedding refugees from Cheap Trick, Wilco and the Mavericks. Not bad company to keep, eh?

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Fred Mills