Sunday, August 4, 2013

VA - Radio Ready - Texas Vol. 1, Lost Power Pop Hits 1978-83 (Cheap Rewards, 2013) - A brief overview

For what seems like an eternity, I’ve been trying to decipher why a specific era of music (say, the years between 1978-83 that this compilation conveniently happens to encompass) is so much more rewarding and robust than the present one?   Just what is it that feeds into the genuine and uncontrived pallor of power-pop and punk from this epoch in American underground rock?   The humbler four-track recording apparatus employed by much of Radio Ready, Texas Vol. One's roster is certainly a contributing factor…but what else?   No heavy handed intrusion from corporate monoliths like Columbia, Arista and Atlantic, or even mondo indies like Stiff, might have silently played a hand in the organic essence of these recordings.  Or maybe it was the nascent, yet inspired takes from this Lone Star bakers dozen, untainted by the studio trickery of ProTools, or for that matter, minute-by-minute progress reports dispatched to their respective fanbases via the Twittersphere.  In a nutshell, I may never be able to precisely pin down what makes music from this stretch of time so affecting - but at the very least, I know it when I hear it.  

Radio Ready's strict emphasis on Texas acts is surprising, if only for the fact that few (if any) of it's thirteen obscuro participants exude any twangy or western characteristics.  Throw a dart at just about anyone in the lineup, and you might guess they hail from New York, Boston, or L.A.  

Another primary point of emphasis here is sheer quality control, and this whole affair couldn't get off to a grander start than with the Pengwins resonant, romantically jaded "What You Gonna Do."  Fronted by one Lannie Flowers (and previously featured on Wilfully Obscure) the Pengwins were power pop traditionalists that could have held their own with contemporaries like Paul Collins and early Cheap Trick.  The Haskells and The Take also do wonders with that similar, straight-up formula.  If it's a retrofitted Brit Invasion angle you're craving, The Fad's "Think" will set your noodle's wheels in motion.  The Rattlecats' "Those Are the Breaks" operates in garagey environs, taking inspiration from the Heartbreakers among others, while Jemmy Legg's "Houston" is a par excellence punk-pop salvo.   

Radio Ready contains thirteen gold nuggets in the space of a little over a half hour, and bears the same consistency of the priceless Teenline and Rhino Records's DIY power pop compilations.  It's available digitally on Bandcamp and physically as a handsome gatefold LP in a limited edition of 500 copies.  Immensely and highly recommended!