By Mike Marrone
Before we charge into a brand new year of music, I want to spend one more column on an album that was released in 2006—October, to be exact. Although I am often asked what my real personal favorites are, I rarely make lists because I'm always afraid of leaving something off. But I can safely attest that Live A Little (Ashmont), the sixth full-length release from the Pernice Brothers, is not only my absolute favorite album of 2006 but will unquestionably reside on my list of Best Pop Albums of all time.
Now, there are countless genres and subgenres of rock music, so what exactly is pop rock? By strict definition it means "popular music," but to me it's a style of rock sometimes called "power pop" that is best exemplified by songs like No Matter What by Badfinger, Time Of The Season from the Zombies, or even the Grass Roots' classic Bella Linda. Think of Beatles' tunes like And Your Bird Can Sing, Girl, and especially I'll Be Back, or the Beach Boys' In My Room. To someone in my age group (50s), it's the sound of days gone by, of playing your 45s outside on a summer afternoon. Even the sad songs make you feel as if the sun is shining.
Live A Little contains elements of each of the songs mentioned above, but the Pernice Brothers are not mere nostalgia practitioners living off the sounds of rock's golden age. Joe Pernice—the songwriter, lead singer, and co-owner of the Ashmont record label with the band's manager, Joyce Linehan—is a literate songwriter who has managed to incorporate such classic pop influences along with those of lesser-known pop gems such as Hand In Glove by the Smiths, All Going Out Together from Big Dipper, the Cure's Boys Don't Cry, and Senses Working Overtime from XTC, to name but a few. Acoustic and electric 6- and 12-string guitars, piano and organ, drums and analog synths play with lovely harmonies, real strings and horns, and masterful songwriting.
Zero Refills is a highlight, with Joe Pernice's angelic falsetto displaying a hint of rasp. The guitar hook made me think of an old Gilbert O'Sullivan song that I'm almost embarrassed to admit remembering, Alone Again (Naturally), but I'm not sure why since there was no guitar to speak of in that song. There are even real strings and a trumpet solo.
My personal favorite from the album finds Joe going back to an older song from his days in the Scud Mountain Boys (1994-1997) and reinventing it as Grudge F--- (2006). Think of Let It Be by the Beatles mixed with Badfinger's Maybe Tomorrow and Bread's Make It With You, and add more strings and lyrics so true they may make you cry. Even though the title suggests it, there's nary a curse word to be found.
Head to pernicebrothers.com for the full back story on the band and plenty of audio and video samples. For the past three months I have been unable to file this album away. I play it every day, on the radio, in my car, or at home. Every song sparkles, and like only the best albums, it's over far too soon.
Mike Marrone is program director of XM Satellite Radio's The Loft, a channel that focuses on an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters from the 1970s through the present.