When it's done properly, the subgenre known as power pop can be supremely satisfying: singable choruses, crisp arrangements, soaring harmonies. Sadly, the field is littered with formally impeccable but uninspired entries, making it that much more satisfying to place oneself in the hands of a master like Willie Wisely.
The veteran singer-songwriter's latest disc, Parador, is a sustained blast of melodic bliss; spurred by producer and fellow pop-rock wizard Linus of Hollywood (and with help from genre geniuses like Ben Eshbach, Probyn Gregory, Anna Waronker and Paul Gilbert), Wisely turns out one finely wrought, emotionally direct tune after another. Among the highlights:¬†the stormy "This Is Everything," the gorgeous "Too Quick to Love," the Jobim-flavored "Who Blew Out the Sun?," the autumnal "Through Any Window," the hard-charging "Joke" and — especially — the incandescent title track. Oh, and it's worth mentioning that the logo for Wisely's Ella Records is a dog, so there's your thematic tie-in with our special canine issue.
Having won the admiration of hipster oracle Nic Harcourt (of public-radio bellwether KCRW) and mainstream icon Dolly Parton, as well as Richard Glasser, the music supervisor for Best Picture contender Crash, eclectic chanteuse Quincy Coleman is bound to win a flock of new admirers with her exquisitely rendered sophomore disc, Come Closer. Coleman stakes a musical claim far off the beaten path courtesy of a cinematic sonic goulash that embraces Beale Street trumpet bleats, Parisian plaints, speakeasy slink, gin-soaked rumba, Hot Club banjo and high-lonesome heartbreak. Best of all, her dusky delivery navigates the shifting territory with aplomb. Coleman's feel for the swoony tropes of yesteryear at times recalls Maria Muldaur and Van Dyke Parks, though her voice is closer to the knowing, rootsy timbre of Shelby Lynne. Still, Coleman is no mere musicologist; the razor-sharp arrangements always serve the emotional thrust of tunes like the ragtime-gospel gem "Mary," the rousing, Carole King-by-way-of-Tin Pan Alley ditty "Take a Chance" and the revival-tent shuffle "Don't Go Away," which, I swear, have been hovering in the ether forever.
For their second album, smart-and-sassy Chicago rockers OK†Go traveled to Sweden, where their Scandinavian taskmaster, producer Tore Johansson, allegedly declared, "You will go into a room together and you will rock." And so they did, emerging with the manic, sexed-up Oh No. If anything, the churning riffage and sweaty sing-alongs in evidence here show a troupe in full command even when it seems completely out of control. "It's a Disaster" sums up the prevailing attitude of apocalyptic revelry, as frontman Damian Kulash and mates answer our era's madness by playing louder and harder. Yet for all its joyous immersion in the moment's garage-rock frenzy, Oh No is studded with the kind of popcraft that works the pleasure center like a gigolo. There are straight-up lifts from the Stones and the Cars and Squeeze and T.Rex, but OK Go has a way of making you feel like the entire history of rock is their personal minibar. The high points of this very high record include the cynical, bouncy "A Good Idea at the Time," the irresistible "Do What You Want," the death-disco litany "A Million Ways" and the creamy baroque-soul pastiche "Oh Lately It's So Quiet." Believe me, if this disc goes into your changer, it won't come out anytime soon.