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Signal Heights

Man, I missed every one of the clues to Brandon McGovern's Signal Heights: the sound, the feel, the tie-in. I mean, I knew I liked his music but didn't know why. I even missed the obvious--- his cover of Big Star's Watch the Sunrise, an exceptional song from that band's revered #1 Record album and a dead giveaway. I know that record backwards and forwards, having picked it up when it originally hit the shelves (I liked the album jacket) along with Cargoe's self-titled Ardent Records release. Few found those albums back then and it took a media blitz by power pop critics like Greg Shaw, Ken Barnes, Alan Betrock, and Jon Tiven to lay the foundation for what has now become the Big Star legend, though legend only in the present.

Don't misunderstand me. I do not think Brandon McGovern is Big Star-reincarnate, but I do believe he has been influenced by that band and by the studio at which he recorded: Ardent. Okay, and by Memphis as well. It is hard to miss that pop sound...

McGovern has it to a large degree and doesn't waste time showing it. Tonight kicks off the album with a smooth semi-ballad pop tune titled Tonight which sounds very Big Star, but more from the smooth and lush #1 Record than the later and more brash Radio City. His voice even has a Chris Bell/Alex Chilton timbre to it which helps push the Ardent connection further. Every other track, it seems, is Memphis pop, in fact: Look Up, with its light airy beat; Dark Moonlight, a melodic reminiscence of love past; and, of course, Watch the Sunrise, given total respect and more a tribute than attempt at covering what has become a pop classic. No, it's not Big Star, but it is as close as you can get without totally cloning the arrangement and sound, and McGovern pulls it off with class.

But wait. There is another whole side of McGovern which is not Memphis at all, or at least not that side of Memphis. It revolves around more grounded sounds and themes and is more than likely indicative of the music he plays with his band, The Meat Managers. A little more country, a bit more honky tonk and a lot more straight rock, served up with a side of humor on tracks like Half-Acre & a Double-Wide and Hey Cops!, which is dirty overalls rockin' country. You gotta laugh when he sings, ?Hey Cops! Stop comin' to my house/The guy with all the warrants doesn't live here?. You could write a sitcom around those lines.

There is a lot to like in Signal Heights, if only McGovern's sense of Memphis' pop history. He could easily have fallen flat on his face covering the likes of Watch the Sunrise, one of the many tracks ensconced in the Hall of Power Pop (I made that up, but use your imagination). You don't mess with the classics unless you 1) have the talent and 2) show proper respect. McGovern does both. And the rest of the album falls right in line.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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