Poppa’s Kitchen is an old-fashioned pop band turning out songs in a variety of styles that are each impeccably classy and eminently singable. The duo’s Hopeful Song calls back to a (perhaps fictional?) time when it was totally normal to place the gravelly saloon swayer “Devil’s Playground,” the tragic story song ballad “Chinatown,” and a swingin’ tune like “Miner in a Cave In” on the same release, much less as tracks 2-4 on 12-song record. It’s okay that those tracks don’t establish a core sound or identity for Poppa’s Kitchen, because opener “Travis” does it perfectly.
“Travis” is a wonderful opening salvo, as it establishes the gentle acoustic-based arrangements, enthusiastic melodies, and sense of humor that collectively drive the record. You’ll find yourself humming, snapping, and laughing along to “Travis,” and all are the right thing to do. Elsewhere on the record the small outfit goes minor key on “Ain’t 19,” get downright ’50s pop on “All You Love and All You Know,” and deliver a quiet lullaby/ballad to close out the record on the title track. Hopeful Song is just downright pleasant (and don’t you think that’s faint praise for a moment–how many albums can you just put on and kick back to in a good mood?). It doesn’t ask that much of you, but gives lots in return.
Velcro Mary‘s Leave a Light On could have popped right out of 1996 rock radio: power-pop, pop-punk, and grunge are each represented and occasionally mashed up together here, creating a record that’s great for throwing on in a old car on the highway. Opener “Whatever Helps You Sleep at Night” hits the power-pop notes, tying muscly guitar distortion to an earnest, easygoing vocal line. “Fourth Quarter Funeral” gets a little more ominous with the vocals and the guitar strum, pushing more into punk territory. “Fifth of July” is vintage grunge arpeggiated guitar and angst: you know right now if you’re into that. The diversity of the record almost ensures that you’ll have a clutch of favorites off this 10-song record–there’s a lot to choose from.
Regardless if it’s noisy grunge or surprisingly chipper acoustic-driven power-pop (“Grow Up to Be Dead”), Jason Erb knows how to write and deliver a vocal melody that sticks. It all comes together in closer “Seasons to Sleep,” an evocative tune that draws from “Glycerine”-style grunge melancholy seasoned with the unassuming grace of modern indie ballads and Erb’s deeply affected vocals. It’s a beautiful, memorable tune. Check out Leave a Light On if you’re looking for something diverse.