August 8, 2013

CD Review: Albee cooks up a near-perfect adult pop musical experience

This self-produced album delivers on multiple levels.

By RICK JOHNSON

Despite what your average indie rock fan may think, "pop" doesn't necessarily have to be a dirty word when it comes to music. And with the release of his first proper solo album, longtime Portland music veteran Spencer Albee has managed to cook up something that's becoming a bit of a rarity these days: A near-perfect pop record for adults.

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HOW IT RATES

SPENCER ALBEE: "SPENCER"

Self-produced

****

Based on a four-star scale

Packed with hooks piled upon hooks, choruses that will stick in your head for days and a stellar production job, Albee delivers on multiple levels with his self-produced album, "Spencer."

"It's Alive" kicks things off right away in terrific fashion with a heartfelt but slightly subdued opening verse that builds to a foot-stomping, shout-along chorus. This one is destined to be a staple of Albee's live sets for years to come. It's no wonder it's gotten lots of airplay on local radio.

"Lucky," with its layers of lush strings and brass, is Albee in full-on Brian Wilson mode. Another slow climber, this one climaxes with a dynamite sax solo. And despite the intricate arrangement, the pop sensibility is never lost; the song is as catchy as anything else on the record.

A sprightly electric piano gives "Macworth" a jaunty feel, while the slightly mellower but no less toe-tapping "California's Calling" blends several indie rock styles seamlessly. Here, Albee deftly combines a bit of alt-country (thanks to a wistful slide guitar) with a sun-kissed California sound that tips its hat to both The Beach Boys and "Rumours"-era Fleetwood Mac.

Swirling keyboards and another memorable percussive chorus will keep listeners coming back to "Lost My Way" again and again, and Albee's emotive yet hopeful singing on "Wait Through the War" is perhaps his best vocal performance on the album.

Brian Wilson is once again the touchstone here, along with a bit of Wings-era Paul McCartney. This one sounds like a great old '70s AM radio tune, with the perfect glossy production to match.

Speaking of '70s radio, the record's most surprising track is a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's classic "Sundown." Albee's version is surprisingly faithful, but the exuberance of the performance somehow makes it sound much more upbeat than the dour original. Also surprising is "How Will I Die," which sounds like a great lost Ringo Starr track from the early '70s.

Like the greatest pop records, Albee manages to be catchy without being cloying and emotional without being syrupy. There's also a joyful liveliness to the performances that is downright infectious. Peppered throughout the record are enough whistles, handclaps and "la la las" to all but guarantee that just about every tune will be stuck in your head for months. And you'll be perfectly OK with that!

"Spencer" is available for purchase on iTunes and at Bull Moose Music stores. Be sure to catch Albee live on Saturday at the Bangor Brew Fest. Go to bangorbrewfest.com for details.

Rick Johnson is a Portland freelance writer and radio DJ.

 

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