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Hush (The Secrets Project)

Sssshh. I have a very closely guarded secret. I love Pop music. I know! You would think that I, in my anti-major label fury, would toss the genre aside because isn't it true that the major labels are the source of everything Pop? I mean really Pop? Didn't the major labels patent the idea and the sound? Sure seems like they did. For decades, the Pop we've heard on TV and in the movies and on the radio (when it mattered) was mostly manufactured, packaged and owned by the people who controlled what seemed like everything when it came to music. Who? You got it. The major labels. Even punk and rap. They let the little guys duke it out until it became lucrative enough and took those over, too.

Well, it's time for payback and there is no artist out there who is a better example than Shelly Fraley. Her new album, Hush (The Secrets Project), is everything that Hollywood used to be (and when it comes to Pop, Hollywood still cranks out more than anyone). It has melody, harmonies, that big orchestral sound when needed, the production, the arrangements--- just about everything you need to benchmark Fraley Pop. I'm surprised Hollywood has not slid right in there and bought her, lock stock and barrel. That's the way it happens these days. They buy. It's the pyramid tipped upside down, except that in this case, the bottom is the big winner. They have the deep pockets. They have the corporate funding. They are still the dream. I have no idea why.

Major labels are the devil. They take and use and when it is no longer financially viable, they spit out, whether they are right or not. Everything about them makes me shudder. They are evil.

They are the dream, though, and as much as it pains me to say it, they should be lining up at Ms. Fraley's door. She has created and released a gem of an album which, had it been released as early as the Nineties, would have had a good shot at success. Nowadays, I'm not so sure. Even Fraley herself admits that it is just damn hard to get people to listen. Too many musicians? Not enough time? What is wrong with us?

The music is there. Fraley (and in one case, co-producer/sideman Allen Salmon) has written ten outstanding Pop tunes, some incorporating Brill Building sensibilities, some more modern, some perfect for teenybopperdom, but all formed around the core of melody, harmony and arrangement--- the trifecta of good Pop (okay, quadrifecta, if you include production). She not only wrote them, she presents them with a voice and sensitivity you rarely hear these days.

What do you want, Pop fans? Fraley gives you a string of songs to titillate the old Pop palate--- Darlin', it's beat and arrangement straight out of the late Fifties and early Sixties, right down to the bop-bop-bops in the background; Just Don't Wanna Be Alone, borrowing from that period and early Carolyn Arends (it's almost uncanny which, I guess, would make it canny, how Arends-like she is here--- if you have not heard Arends, I heartily recommend her first two albums, I Can Hear You and Feel Free, available from Carolyn at her website); Crush, a perfect combination of Brill Building and early Dala and ready-made for hormonally challenged youth; and the incredibly anthemic rock ballad Won't Forget You, the crescendo on the bridge a thing of beauty. No pounding rock, no soaring lead guitars--- nothing that will distract you from the melodies and harmonies and arrangements which make this album special.

Does Fraley deserve to make it? Absolutely, but I don't want her going the major label route. And I don't want Pop fans going that route, either. I want Fraley to stay just the way she is, writing and performing songs she obviously feels the need to write and sing, and I want Pop fans out there tracking her down and sharing her music with other fans of Pop. In an ideal world, that's the way it would happen. Hell, it could happen today.

But I will not hold it against Fraley if and when she signs that major label deal. If there is one thing I know about today's music world, it's ?gotta eat?. I've heard it thousands of times from thousands of mouths and I get it. I just don't like it.

I like Shelly Fraley, though. I like her a lot. Someone who writes music this good and performs it this well deserves all the good we can send her way. Send cash. Maybe she'll send you back music. It's a hell of a deal. In this case, a hell of a deal.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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