Aquarian friend Ken Sharp is a New York Times best-selling writer who has authored or co-authored more than 18 music books. He also contributes to a variety of national music magazines, works on music documentaries and has done liner notes for releases by Elvis Presley, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Small Faces, Santana, Cheap Trick and others. But Ken is also a musician and songwriter, marking his career with this, his fourth album called New Mourning.
Ken Sharp also brings many exciting players on board for this latest record, including Rick Springfield (“Burn & Crash,” “Satellite”), guitarist Wally Stocker of the Babys (“Dynamite and Kerosene,” “Loser”) bassist Prescott Niles of the Knack (“Mr. Know It All,” “Dynamite and Kerosene”) and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo of New England (“Satellite”) alongside the team of Perdomo and gifted musicians Rob Bonfiglio (Wanderlust/Wilson Phillips) and Ritchie Rubini (the Caulfields).
When it comes to the feel of this record, Sharp has this to say: “My co-producer Fernando Perdomo has described the record as ‘the feel-bad album of the year, but in a good way’,” said Sharp, “and that’s an apt description. The darkness and emotional turmoil I‘ve gone through in the last few years are laid bare on the record.”
I took a look at Sharp’s history and found his written work to be both substantial and well-received in the industry and the general public as a whole. Sharp has been involved in writing books such as Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, Elvis: Vegas ‘69, Nothin’ to Lose: the Making of KISS (1972-1975), Elvis Presley: Writing for the King, Sound Explosion: Inside LA’s Studio Factory with the Wrecking Crew, Overnight Sensation: The Story of the Raspberries, Raspberries: TONIGHT!, Eric Carmen: Marathon Man, Reputation is a Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick, Play On!: Power Pop Heroes, Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol: The Making of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, KISS: Behind the Mask, Meet the Beatles…Again!, Small Faces: Quite Naturally, Rick Springfield: A Year in the Life of a Working Class Dog, Power Pop, The KISS Years!, and KISS Army Worldwide!: The Ultimate KISS Fanzine Phenomenon.
When it comes to his musical contributions, Sharp started things off back in 1995 with 1301 Highland Avenue. Sharp melds poppy, melodic music in the influential style of his heroes. He went on to record two more albums, Happy Accidents in 2002 and Sonic Crayons in 2007, before taking a nine-year break that led to the releasing of his latest disc, New Mourning.
This latest disc has 14 songs ranging from navigating the beauty in darkness, loss, and regret. From the torrid power pop muscle of “Dynamite and Kerosene,” “Burn & Crash,” and “Bad News” to the fragile, intimate ballads “1000 Guitars” and “Haunts Me,” the album is a perfect sonic journey that leaves its share of musical blood on the tracks. Produced by Sharp and Fernando Perdomo, whose credits include work with Todd Rundgren and Jakob Dylan, New Mourning marks a highlight and reintroduction to the music of Ken Sharp.
I wanted to take a look at a few of the tracks that make up the fascinating world of Ken Sharp, and I have left my interpretations for your literary consumption.
The disc starts off with “Dynamite and Kerosene.” Sharp and crew tear out of the gate with a quirky, pop-influenced speed that reminds me of The Records. Guitarist Wally Stocker of the Babys lays down righteous, bar chord power and is joined by bassist Prescott Niles of the Knack. Filled with seamless backing vocals and tight as hell rhythm work, “Dynamite and Kerosene” is a pop/rock-infused gem straight out of the best times of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The next song up is called “Let’s Be Friends.” Sharp’s vocal presence reminds me of Ron Dante from The Archies and Davey Jones from The Monkees. Smooth, fluid and steeped in melodic structure, Sharp lays down his vocal ministrations effortlessly. I especially love the keyboard work of Jimmy Waldo. Mixing synthesizer magic with dirty electric guitars, Sharp and crew give the listener 3:09 of poppy bliss. If you like AM radio from the ’70s you’re going to love “Let’s Be Friends.”
Moving around the CD I came to “Burn and Crash.” Sharp blends Beatle-esque psychedelia with Queen-inspired background vocals to reach his goal here. Guitar work comes courtesy of Rick Springfield, who lays down some outstanding Harrison-inspired six-string work. With a highly orchestrated sound, Springfield mixes pentatonic brilliance within the piece as Sharp and crew climb from one phenomenal section to the next in this addictive composition.
Another great tune that features Rick Springfield is “Satellite.” Sharp demonstrates his power as a high-level writer with this intriguing piece. Jimmy Waldo is back lending his potent keyboard prowess to the song as well. The band switches from a fresh, Zeppelin-esque vamp to quick time 4/4 beats as they go about their 1970s pop/rock attack. If you dig Styx from the period of 1977’s The Grand Illusion, you’ll dig “Satellite.” Mixing complex rhythm passages with otherworldly vocals accompaniments, Sharp and his bandmates leave a very positive impression, and this is one of my favorite songs on the disc.
Another great Sharp composition is “1000 Guitars.” Acoustic based, “1000 Guitars” showcases Sharp’s vocal talents quite well. Sharp’s ability to move up and down the vocal pathway is like harmonious clockwork. Seamless and sonically pleasing, Sharp moves around this offbeat piece with all the ease of a magician. Keyboard work comes courtesy of Waldo, who sprinkles little waterfalls of sound throughout the song. Sharp’s power as a lyricist is also to be paid attention to on this record. His ability to tell a story matches his prowess as an arranger and writer.
“Loser” is another outstanding song on this disc of rock and roll goodness. Guitars hail the start as Sharp vocalizes his beginning. Stepping stone pianos mix with guitars under Sharp’s upper range advance. Drums and bass join in and lock this song onto the tarmac. His choice of choruses is outstanding and well placed. “Loser” is yet another example of excellent songwriting in the vein of John Lennon (Mind Games era) or anything by The Records, and the disc is treated with top-notch production work.
I’ve only mentioned a mere handful of the songs on this disc due to space, but I’ve listened to the entire thing, and there isn’t a bad tune in the whole bunch. Ken Sharp proves that he is still an important part of the music scene, and New Mourning is a disc with substantial merit and worth. If you get a chance to pick it up, I would not hesitate. It’s a winner and should do well on many national levels.
For more information on Ken Sharp and his excellent new record, New Mourning, head over to ken-sharp.com.