I recently came back from sitting on a beach in Spain for a few days listening to a lot of new music on my iPod. Being far away from our American airwaves for a while got me thinking about what pop music means today. You can get a lot of thinking done when your brain is not being filled with the latest efforts of Ke$ha and a parade of reality show contestants. And after all that seaside listening and not entirely shallow thought, here's what I decided: I don't give a damn what pop music means anymore to anyone else. I only care about what's popular with me. And so from now on, every once and a while, I'm going to try and put my own small spotlight on some albums that really pop for me that you might not have heard otherwise.
So please listen up, and tell me about the music that's popular with you right now.
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT -- THE ZOMBIES: It makes little sense that a band that hit its last musical peak in the Sixties has delivered an album as inspired as Breathe In, Breathe Out, the impressive new studio album brought to life by two founding members of the group, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent. For a group celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the Zombies sound remarkably alive and well. Some songs recalls the haunting melodic heights of the group's 1968 masterpiece Odessey And Oracle, while others like the title track and "Any Other Way" suggest the influence of "younger" groups like Steely Dan and the Raspberries who the Zombies influenced decades ago. This is the time of the season to check this gem out.
OUR LITTLE SECRET - EDWARD O'CONNELL: I can't tell you how many times somebody I know has asked me to listen to some relative's music telling me that I'm going to love it. I do remember these supportive relatives have never actually been right before. A few months back, a friend from prep school sent me her brother's debut album, and imagine my entirely pleasant surprise to here Our Little Secret, the sparkling debut album of Washington, D.C.'s Edward O'Connell -- a singer-songwriter whose grown up power pop work reminds me of the great Tom Petty, but has a stately charm all its own. This guy is far too talented to stay secret -- so do yourself a favor, and check out "Acres of Diamonds" and "I Heard It Go" and hear O'Connell shine for yourself.
TIERS/AND OTHER STORIES - RICHARD X. HEYMAN: Speaking of power pop, I've been a fan of this DIY recording artist for decades now, but even I am blown away by Heyman's consistent musical excellence, not to mention the musical ambition of this melodic double dose of his latest work. At a time when it takes balls to put out a single album, he puts out two at the same time - one of those album, Tiers, is autobiographical and documents the start of his ongoing love story with wife and collaborator Nancy Leigh. The other album is about the same love story that's marked Heyman's entire career -- the love of great pop music that may not make the top of the charts but that can still rock your world.
MY ONLY SECRET - SCHIAVONE: Years ago, I went on the road with a wonderful Virginia band named Fighting Gravity that was slugging it out on the college and club circuit trying to get signed. The band eventually did get signed to a major label, precisely in time to experience the ugly collapse of the major label development process. Now the group's charismatic lead singer Schiavone McGee has come out with a winning solo album that allows him to showcase his own wonderful voice and share his own truths against a musical backdrop that reminds us that synthesizers really can sound big and majestic.
BRAND NEW DAY - ROBIN MEADE: As a news hound and an insomniac, I've been familiar with Robin Meade and the "Morning, Sunshine" warmth she brings to early morning news on HLN. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to get the news that Meade is not just an unusually effective and likeable talking head, but also a country singer with a strong voice of her own. Produced by the respected singer-songwriter and producer Victoria Shaw who helped bring us Lady Antebellum and available at Target, Brand New Day is the newswoman's charming debut album that in a sly nod for her day job features a version of Don Henley's pointed "Dirty Laundry." Less ironically, check out other tracks like "Welcome Home" with Jim Brinkman, "Never Alone" and feel the morning sunshine in Meade's sweet singing voice.
15 MINUTES - BARRY MANILOW: When you're talking about pop music, you've got to talk about Barry Manilow, at least I do. Yes, Virginia, I know there are some people out there who still don't dig Barry. I really don't like those people. On the other hand, I love the fact that Barry Manilow has decided at this point in his life and career to write with Enoch Anderson and record a rather ballsy concept album about fame in the 21st century. Let others keep cutting cover albums celebrating pop music's past; I say Barry should keep writing new songs like these. P.S. The independently released 15 Minutes just debuted at #7 on the Billboard album chart - proof positive that pop music can actually be popular.