Saturday, December 20, 2014

Up From the Underground : Dave Plaehn's "Radio Sister"

If you think back to 80's pop, even the adult contemporary had a depth to it. Dave Plaehn's newest release reminds me of this time. The 80's up rooted the rock stars of the 70's and forced them to contend with the swing towards pop in the post- disco world. This made established artists scramble to reinvent themselves.  Dave released his first solo album in 1981, so it makes sense the decade left it's stamp on him. This is not a bad thing as it causes him to embrace that same courage to redefine himself with each song. In doing this he might set gospel backing singers against reggae grooves, and then on the next song "mix fusion jazz with the type of pop Paul Simon dabbled in on his"One Trick Pony" album.

The  title track fins a subtle European flavor with  Polices like guitar against folk like chord progressions. There's already a lot going on by  the time  Culture Club like harmonica. Plaaehn is an excellent singer in the manner he can throw his voice around while retaining a James Taylor like smoothness, though other influences bubble to the surface like the Elton John robustness he belts out on "Is Any Body Listening". But since this is not a piano driven song, that might not be as obvious due to the other elements he camouflages this with.

Sure the 80's thumbprint is all over this album, but it is not to say that there are not some songs that defy the decade cliches and would sit well on the radio next to today's pop market.The Jimmy Buffet island feel to 'Hello , Melinda" is not unlike something Jack Johnson or Zac Brown would do.The Tom Petty meets Fleetwood Mac swing of 'Better Things to Do" might not transcend it's arrested development, but it is fun. What can I say I grew up in the 80's so these stylistic spurts take me back to what I might have heard on the radio when my mom was driving me to school and I was unable to listen to Twisted Sister or Dio.

The frenetic jangle of the guitar to "Soda Fountain" compliments  the vocals in a way that  brings to mind the Proclaimers and Talking Heads, before it launches in a more ska section.I suppose Paul Simon's "Graceland" period also had these elements.

At his core Plaehn is a soulful pop crooner, in some ways not unlike Lyle Lovett's plaintive mid range, though he doesn't go into Lyle's moodier lower register.He does have a much more adventurous upper register than Lovett.Not that he can reach down into a baritone, but when he does it's boisterous and more Elvis fashioned. He really showcases on a A Capella Leadbelly Medley. The blues that he comes from is really only fully embraced on the closing track. Overall this album takes you back to a time when songwriting had more soul even in it's slickest and most commercial moments  than what the radio is ridden with now. 80's babies take note.  

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