Julian Dawson's something of a journeyman, a musician whose good-natured delivery and crossover appeal finds him equally amenable to the folkier realms of his native U.K. and the down-home environs of Nashville. The latter is where he recorded this latest LP, Deep Rain. Like all adept songwriters, Dawson has an uncommon knack for turning a phrase into adroit commentary. Consequently, "That's Why God Made Saturday Night," "Perfect World," and "Walking on the Dead" play out as tuneful analogies that give a reverential perspective on everyday encounters. Written and recorded with legendary songwriter Dan Penn, it also boasts a cover of the R&B classic "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," although the good vibes on Deep Rain aren't dampened by that down-turned prognosis.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr. boasts a formidable pop pedigree, having helmed such cool combos as Jellyfish and Imperial Drag in addition to his own solo sojourns. Catnip Dynamite, his second disc under his own name, makes little attempt to hide his musical mantra. Again, his giddy, effusive songs bow to a sound reminiscent of ELO, Queen, and Paul McCartney. But lest there be any doubts about his pop preferences, he also caps the collection with covers of songs by Elton John and Thomas Dolby. Fortunately, Manning's sunny originals stand up on their own merits, particularly "My Girl" and "Imaginary Friend," two effusive entries that sound like they were plucked off a radio playlist circa 1975.
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Although they hail from Wisconsin, the Narrators' sound is as sunny as a Florida winter. A multitasking duo, pals Jim Felhofer and Tom Dupuis tackle all the instrumentation. They parlay an easy, embraceable pop motif that references romance, relationships, and the realities of modern life, albeit with an innocence and sincerity that draws more from high school fancy than high art aspirations. Consequently, "I Should Have Kissed Her" may be the best could-have, should-have song since the Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There." Meanwhile, the rueful "Hold Me Now" suggests the need to live in the present before it becomes the past.