On The Record: ‘New Guitars in Town’ (a Power-Pop Anthology), plus Christian Parker, Ted Russell Kamp, Marcia Griffiths & Willie Lindo

As this column noted last year, “Power pop has always been a loosely defined genre – a big umbrella for upbeat, guitar-driven music that mostly harkened back to 1960s pop rock but that makes room for acts and songs that didn’t all exactly issue from the same universe.” A new anthology from England’s Cherry Red label underscores that statement. 

Unlike Looking for the Magic: American Power Pop in the Seventies, a 2023 box from the same company, the recently released New Guitars in Town: Power Pop 1978–82 focuses on records from U.K.-based bands. As such, it’s more of a follow-up to the label’s Harmony in My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-81and Kids on the Street: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81, which appeared in 2018 and 2022, respectively. New Guitars in Town features many of the same artists as those two anthologies; and like them, it leans heavily toward the obscure.

The three-CD, 75-track, clamshell-boxed collection does include a few numbers that stateside fans will likely recognize, such as Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and Squeeze’s “Another Nail in My Heart” as well as some UK-only hits, among them the Boomtown Rats’ “She’s So Modern” and the Motors’ “Forget about You.” But the lion’s share of this package, which embraces many non-hits and tracks that have not previously been issued on CD, will come as news even to power-pop aficionados in the United Kingdom. “Don’t Take My Advice,” by a group known as No Sweat, wasn’t even released until 2007 – and then only in Japan, for instance. Meanwhile, just 250 copies were pressed of “Do It Again,” a single from a band called the Deaf Aids. 

An illustrated 36-page booklet offers information about every song but some of the featured acts garnered so little attention in their time that facts about them are in short supply. Regarding Plain Jane, which is represented by a song called “Loving You,” the liner notes say that “very little is known about this five-piece [band],” for example. As for “Superman’s Shoes” by the Slide, “absolutely nothing is known about this single.”

So, if it’s a hit parade you’re after, look elsewhere. But while mediocrity renders the obscurity of some of these tracks understandable, others deserve more notice than they’ve received to date. Power-pop treasure hunters will enjoy many of them, including “I Don’t Mean It,” by the Carpettes, which is as manic as anything by the Buzzcocks or the Ramones; the rhythmic “There’s Never Been a Night,” by the Quads; and “Veronica,” by the idiosyncratic new-wave singer Wreckless Eric, who is better known for his 1977 single, “Whole Wide World.”

Also Noteworthy

Christian ParkerChange Is Now. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Christian Parker, a longtime fan of the Byrds, has been on a mission to introduce its music to a new generation. Last year, he released Sweethearts, which contains his versions of the 11 songs on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the influential 1968 LP by the Byrds, plus three other numbers associated with that group. 

Now Parker is back with Change Is Now, his seventh studio album, which like his last CD, features a backup band that includes pianist Earl Poole Ball, who played on Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The new set draws from multiple Byrds LPs, among them The Notorious Byrd Brothers (“Change Is Now,” “Get to You”), Mr. Tambourine Man (“Here Without You,” “Chimes of Freedom,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”), Fifth Dimension (“Wild Mountain Thyme”), Ballad of Easy Rider (the title cut), and Younger than Yesterday (“Time Between”). 

The upstate New York–based Parker doesn’t attempt to reimagine such tunes; on the contrary, some of his covers echo the originals so much that they could be mistaken for Byrds tracks. As such and given the continued availability of the original recordings, some listeners might question the need for this set. That said, Parker’s affection for the music is palpable and his performances are impressive. If they help to expose new listeners to the Byrds’ wonderful catalog, that will be more than sufficient justification for the project.

Ted Russell KampCalifornia Son. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ted Russell Kamp, who has previously released 13 LPs, has a winner in this latest folk/rock release, his most autobiographical project to date. The title track, which opens the album, combines a catchy melody with lyrics that limn Kamp’s early days in the music business in L.A. when he was “too green to play the blues, but doing every gig of every kind.” Sings Kamp: “I barely had a dime, but I was ready to take a stand / I didn’t have a clue but man, I had a plan.” Another highlight is the lilting “Shine On,” which features I See Hawks in L.A. and which Kamp co-wrote with two members of that group.

Throughout, the artist is at the top of his game, writing and performing solidly constructed, upbeat music that conveys his affection for Southern California and the rock and roll life he’s been living there.

Various artists, Sweet Bitter Love/Far and Distant. This two-CD set collects 1974 reggae recordings produced by Jamaica’s Lloyd Charmers. Seventeen of the tracks are new to CD and nine are previously unreleased.

The first disc features Sweet Bitter Love, the 1974 debut solo album by the soulful, silky-voiced singer Marcia Griffiths, who is known not only for her work on her own but for her recordings as half of Marcia & Andy and as a member of Bob Marley’s I-Threes. Like many reggae LPs of the period, this one contains covers of American pop and R&B hits, among them Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Saw Your Face,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Man,” and Bread’s “Everything I Own.” There are also two versions of Neil Diamond’s “Play Me,” including one with Charmers sharing vocals.

The first disc additionally features Far and Distant, an album by long-time Jamaican producer, songwriter, and guitarist Willie Lindo. This set, which also first appeared in 1974, offers covers such as “Darker Shade of Black,” a reggae-spiced instrumental take on the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”; “Midnight (Train to Georgia),” the Gladys Knight & the Pips hit; Diamond’s “Holy Holy”; Carlos Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti”; and Al Green’s “Here I Am Baby.” 

The second disc adds an alternate mix of the Griffiths album as well as a sampling of Charmers’s other productions from the period, such as Big Youth’s “Johnny Reggae,” Errol Thomas’s “Hear Thy Children Cry,” and B.B. Seaton’s fine cover of the Impressions’ “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man).” Charmers himself takes center stage for a reading of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.