CALLIOPE

ALBUM: CALLIOPE
BAND: THE BOOKENDS

YEAR: 9/18/2020
 

reviewed by NADJA DEE

THE BOOKENDS

CALLIOPE

Released 9/18/2020

JEM RECORDS

 

Musicians:         Sharon Lee (Bass, Keys, Vocals)
                           Karen Lynn (Guitars, Vocals)
                           Ward Reeder (Drums)
                           Buck Ellis (Drums)

                           Larry Alvarez (Drums)

                           Frank Labor (Additional Guitars)

All songs written by The Bookends

Engineer: Tom Truszkowski

Producer: Frank Labor @ Beat Bum Studios

Mastered at Beat Bum Studios (Phoenix, AZ)

To say I've know about The Bookends for a while now, is an understatement. The band consists of first cousins, Karen Lynn on Guitars and Vocals and Sharon Lee on Bass Guitar, keyboards and Vocals. They're both songwriters and like a pair of Bookends do everything together...I mean what good is just one bookend, right? Their 2nd album is called, Calliope (A idea by Marty Scott's wife, Toni) and much like the instrument, the knowledge of this band steamed through my senses and it's finally time for me to sound my whistle. 

If you're still unfamiliar with what a "calliope" is, then just listen to the beginning of Track #1, Calliope, because it starts off with a calliope whistling it's happy tune. 

Track #1 Calliope (Intro Only)

Calliope (Intro Only)

THE BOOKENDS

CALLIOPE

Released 9/18/2020

JEM RECORDS

 

Musicians:         Sharon Lee (Bass, Keys, Vocals)
                           Karen Lynn (Guitars, Vocals)
                           Ward Reeder (Drums)
                           Buck Ellis (Drums)

                           Larry Alvarez (Drums)

                           Frank Labor (Additional Guitars)

All songs written by The Bookends

Engineer: Tom Truszkowski

Producer: Frank Labor @ Beat Bum Studios

Mastered at Beat Bum Studios (Phoenix, AZ)

To say I've know about The Bookends for a while now, is an understatement. The band consists of first cousins, Karen Lynn on Guitars and Vocals and Sharon Lee on Bass Guitar, keyboards and Vocals. They're both songwriters and like a pair of Bookends do everything together...I mean what good is just one bookend, right? Their 2nd album is called, Calliope (A idea by Marty Scott's wife, Toni) and much like the instrument, the knowledge of this band steamed through my senses and it's finally time for me to sound my whistle. 

If you're still unfamiliar with what a "calliope" is, then just listen to the beginning of Track #1, Calliope, because it starts off with a calliope whistling it's happy tune. 

Track #1 Calliope (Intro Only)

It's said that there are actual calliope sounds used in The Beatles' Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite, though they were not played by any members of The Beatles, though some organ scales were played by George Martin and changed at different speeds.

 

It's known that they pulled various sounds from animals to circus noises, literally chopped them up and spliced them back together at random, making up what every Beatle fan knows as the wild cacophony in Mr. Kite. (Knows and loves that is!)

Here's an example of a performance of For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite as played by Professor Louie (A/K/A Aaron Hurwitz) on an actual calliope. 

But don't let the title or the style of music, normally, associated with this instrument deter you. This is not a circus album. Nope. It's one scoop bubblegum fun, another scoop of serious rock and it's drizzled in the full, buoyant flavor of The Sixties. It's got it all which has me asking myself, "What the hell took me so long to review an album by The Bookends?"

Well, part of it, is that I like physical copies of music. Sure, 2018's Far Away But Around album was released on vinyl and MP3. But, although I collect vinyl, my preferred format is the (almost forgotten) compact disc. Still, not having a CD copy put a drag in my step until the moment had passed. Still, just like the title says, the still may be far away but it's still around. 

But now, with a newly signed deal with the renown JEM RECORDS, releasing it on CD, I have zero excuse...if you ignore the fact that it's 2020 and everything is up in the air.

So, here it is, enough of my merry-go-round (see what I did there?), time for a well deserved album review.

Official Calliope Album Promotional Video

Digging into Calliope, I noticed that I kept coming back to some feelings about this band, and about this album:

  • It's a cross between retro Saturday Morning cartoons and Bubblegum rock, but not the soft, silly side of bubblegum, it's like bubblegum and Power Pop had a sibling and that's The Bookends

  • Many of the songs, especially the beginning of a few songs, reminded me of the early songs that George Harrison wrote early on with The Beatles, BEFORE he got into Eastern music influences, specifically the feel in songs like:

    • If I Needed Someone​

    • I Need You

    • Think For Yourself

    • Taxman

Just listen to Track #1 Calliope

Track #1 Calliope (Full Song)

When I played this for my husband, the first thing he said was, "Reminds me of The Bangles." I said, "The Bangles more than The GoGo's?" He replied, "Wait, OK now it reminds me more of The GoGo's." 

I think he was right the first time, they had the feel of The Bangles more to me because The Bangles have more Beatles influence than the GoGo's had. But, that's the great thing about The Bookends, they're still together and they're still putting out NEW music. Their heyday isn't gone, it's only begun.

Calliope

Track #2 Face The Facts is a song about living in the moment, telling you to cherish the journey and not worry about the destination. During this pandemic, with everything so unknown, it's good advice. It's a song that talks about life as a mathematical equation, about facts not fiction of living life. 

Recently, I've been watching this fantasy-adventure series from 2014 called The Librarians. In the show, there's this character named Cassandra, who is a math genius. She can take any problem, no matter how complicated, and visualize the equation in the air, like magic. Face The Facts makes me think of Cassandra and the scenes where she waves her hand through the air and suddenly you see her working out the mathematical problem. 

THE LIBRARIANS (Cassandra Cillian)

Face The Facts Fan Music Video

What's amazing about Face The Facts is that it's Power Pop but they incorporated a trumpet into the song. 

On an earlier Hop On Power Pop Podcast, Episide 1: What Is Power Pop?, I made the bold claim that most Power Pop songs don't typically use a trumpet. But, sure enough, here are The Bookends, using it perfectly. Just like Sean Connery, I guess one should learn to never say never. Truth be told, it's just not an instrument you would expect on a Power Pop song, albeit with a few exceptions.

What's amazing about Face The Facts is that it's Power Pop but they incorporated a trumpet into the song. 

On an earlier Hop On Power Pop Podcast, Episide 1: What Is Power Pop?, I made the bold claim that most Power Pop songs don't typically use a trumpet. But, sure enough, here are The Bookends, using it perfectly. Just like Sean Connery, I guess one should learn to never say never. Truth be told, it's just not an instrument you would expect on a Power Pop song, albeit with a few exceptions.

Track #3 Stop Right There and Track #9 Have It All, really showcases the bass playing talents of Sharon Lee.

Track #3 Stop Right There

03 Stop Right There

Track #9 Have It All

09 Have It All

The bass guitar parts reminded me of the superb bass playing talents of Paul McCartney, especially the time he talked about his bass parts on 2008's Memory Almost Full produced by David Kahne (The Storkes, The Bangles, Romeo Void). According to David Kahne, 

"It's Paul playing bass at his absolute best.

Every possible inversion of every chord.

There was a bass fix that we needed to do,

right before the bridge, he played it and

was just goofing around, he was playing all

over the place, like only he can play;

   just amazing stuff....he said, ‘I don’t know,

I thought it was too busy, but after he listened

to it, he said, ‘That’s really cool.’”

Paul McCartney's See Your Sunshine

That's how the bass playing is on this track and many on the album, just melodic bass playing, almost like it's a guitar part. It really adds to the production and to the overall songs on this album. It's also how John Entwistle of The Who played bass. His bass parts never sounded like simple rhythm backing, they always sounded like guitar parts played on a bass guitar. 

The lyrics on this album are straight up hard rhymes, there's no near rhymes on Calliope. The lyrics:

I always seem so shy

Whenever you're around

But I want you to know

My feet don't touch the ground

It's this love of hard rhymes that drive home the point that this band is clearly Power Pop with a heavy dose of Bubblegum Rock. A trait they share with another JEM RECORD artist, Johnathan Pushkar. 

03 See Your Sunshine

Keep Keeping On, is another song that fell off the George Harrison Beatles' era tree, especially a song like Taxman. Keep Keeping On, it's syncopated guitar chord strikes is the kind of song that makes you get up and dance and dance and dance. 

Track #4 Keep Keeping On

04 Keep Keeping On

Which brings us to the song, Mr. Know It All.  It's such a great little song, I wish it were around during the heydays of The Saturday Morning Cartoons, as it would've made a terrific theme song for a cartoon named "Mr. Know It All." The closest thing I could find to an actual cartoon with the same name, would be the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show segment called, "Mr. Know It All." I can imagine the show being a mix of a Mr. Peabody dog with a bit of Elmer Fudd/Mr. Magoo, fuddy duddy smarty pants who mansplains to everyone. 

Maybe the intro would look something like this mock up video?

Saturday Morning Cartoon's: Mr Know It All

The two singles off Calliope are Track #7 Sing This Song and Track #10 She's Got It. It's unusual to bury the hit tracks so deep in the album, usually the singles start the album or at least come in around Track #5. But, this is the day and age of digital music, mp3's and streaming where track sequence rarely matters, except to old school music fans or hard core music nerds (like me) who pay attention to track order.

Still, they are two of the best songs on Calliope, though all the tracks could've been selected as singles in my opinion, the songwriting is just that solid.

Track #7 Sing This Song

07 Sing This Song

Sing This Song has that "Na na na," chorus that was so popular in the 70's, from bands who were channeling the 50's. There was even a band who literally named themselves, Sha Na Na. They sang fabulous harmonies and covered songs from the fabulous fifties.

Although, to be fair, "na na na," isn't limited to The Seventies by any means. In 2010 My Chemical Romance released a great song called "Na na na." And I dare you to resist singing the "Na na na" callbacks at the 2 & 1/2 minute mark in Michael Jackson's P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing). There's Journey's Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin and The Beach Boy's Good Vibrations. 

But the thing that makes adding "Na na na," to any song is that it makes it irresistible to sing a longs, as evidenced by the most famous sing-a-long, na na na song of all, The Beatles Hey Jude. 

Having The Bookends add this sugary lyrical trick, takes the sweet nostalgia that's drenched all over this album to an even more charming level...if that's possible? Not to mention, after the "na na na," comes a "yeah yeah yeah."

Track #10 She's Got It

She's Got It starts off like it's a James Bond theme if James Bond were more, well Austin Powers in nature. Part of this influence could be from the video The Bookends released on their official YouTube channel, but it probably would have been apparent even without the well known 007 gun barrel intro. 

Which brings us to the incredible lead guitar work by Frank Labor (Labor Party, Battered Suitcases, The 16 Eyes) known for his punk work but the guy has chops for days and would've made it in the 60's, channeling tasty riffs that don't showboat, just add to the song. Like popping a cherry on a sundae or some tobiko on a roll of sushi. Frank Labor's guitar leads just make the finished product that much more tasty and appealing.  

Track #12 Can't Be Wrong has a very strong Buddy Holly vibe, the jangle of guitar and the melodic bass. But when the vocals step in, the song becomes that Bookends sound. Again, it's the songwriting, singing, incredible bass and the perfect cherry of a guitar solo that makes this album just so loveable. It's like catnip for humans.

CATS ON CATNIP

Researchers suspect that catnip targets

feline "happy" receptors in the brain.

Most cats react to catnip by rolling,

flipping, rubbing, and eventually zoning out.

They may meow or growl at the same time.

PEOPLE ON BOOKENDS MUSIC

Researchers suspect that Bookends Music targets

human "happy" receptors in the brain.

Most people react to Bookends Music by rolling,

flipping, dancing, until eventually zoning out.

They may sing or squeal at the same time.

Track #13 Chasing Time made me imagine that if The Bookends were hugely popular, say as popular as the movie Grease or Mean Girls, that they would have their own Broadway musical. The songs have that effervescent, Reese Witherspoon leading actress quality. They would be so fun to see assembled on stage by a teenage ensemble. But, that's just me dreaming of a world that's dominated by Power Pop and Bubblegum music. It's not reality.

The album ends with Track #14 World, arguably the slowest song on the album, utilizing acoustic guitar, although it's not a ballad. In fact, the smooth guitar riffs could have been inspired by The Beatles She Said She Said from Revolver. It would make a great mash-up, "And the sound, of the world that goes round...I know what it's like to be Dead."

Track #14 World

14 World

Calliope is sure to make a lot of Power Pop music Top Ten Lists when this absurd year finally ends. I'm certainly not alone in feeling like this year has been terrible, tragic and has probably singlehandedly caused more people to become dependent on anti-depressants. But The Bookends Calliope is one of this year's high points, a glistening gem in a sea of suffering. 

If I had only to find any criticism of this album, it's that the two main singers, have voices that are so similar that they blend together and almost sound like one singer, double-tracked. It's almost like those twin priestesses from Mothra, The Shobijin (小美人 Shobijin), who speak in unison and in perfect sync.

The Shobijin: The Mothra Song

What The Bangles had that I feel is missing from The Bookends is the blending of lower voice harmonies. What made bands like The Bangles and The GoGo's have such great, full sounding harmonies was that they had singers with very different vocal ranges. While there are two Peterson sisters in The Bangles, I doubt it would've sounded as good if they were the only singers in the band. 

Now, I realize that this single sounding voice, doubled up is part of their sound. It's almost a trademark. I do wish, they would do a song where they have just one singer take the part, then both of them come in with a few other backing vocalists on a song or two.

But, that's a small complaint as the music is great, the musicianship is spot on and the songs are easily sung to and memorable. It's no wonder that Marty Scott of JEM RECORDS said, "They're the first all female band that I've signed...can you believe that?" 

Yes, I can! I sure can believe it because The Bookends continue to put out some of the best Power Pop music today. 

AS ALWAYS, PLEASE SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MUSIC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUY IT HERE! (Available NOW!)

JEM RECORDS/JEM RECORDINGS

 

LINKS

FACEBOOK THE BOOKENDS

https://www.facebook.com/thebookends2/about/​

AMAZON CALLIOPE THE BOOKENDS

https://www.amazon.com/Calliope-Bookends/dp/B08DBHD35X

 

APPLE MUSIC THE BOOKENDS

https://music.apple.com/gb/artist/the-bookends/250157702

DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.

                  Go to HOP ON POWER POP ALBUM REVIEW GUIDELINES for more information:

                  https://www.hoponpowerpop.com/albumreviewguidelines

 

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NICK PIUNTI

DOWNTIME

Released 5/22/2020

JEM RECORDS

 

Musicians:         Nick Piunti (Guitar, Vocals)
                           Jeff Hupp (Bass, Vocals)
                           Ron Vensko (Drums)
                           Kevin Darnall (Keyboards)

Special guests:  Ryan Allen (Guitar, Harmony Vocals, Percussion)
                            Chris Plum (Harmony Vocals, Percussion, Synthesizer)

Recording & Mixing: Geoff Michael

Producers: Geoff Michael & NP & TCM

Mastering: Jim Kissling

Studio: Big Sky Recording (Ann Arbor, MI)

It's not easy to review an album during this once-in-a-lifetime, or at least a once-in-MY-lifetime, event. It feels like every song, somehow, relates to the quarantine and losing good people like Adam Schlesinger or Matthew Seligman from this virus. Because I listen to a lot of music on an electronic device, it often shuffles the order of songs. On this particular day, it started playing ALL OVER AGAIN. 

Track #5 All Over Again

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