Rating:

bad penny

Los Angeles based band The Cherry Bluestorms combine 60s styled guitar hooks, tight vocal harmonies, and modern ingenuity…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. One of the best things about being a music blogger is that sometimes people send me free music to review. I have found a lot of great music from talented artists I might not have ever run across otherwise. Such is the case today, as I offer my thoughts on The Cherry Bluestorms’ 2013 album, Bad Penny Opera. I received a copy of this album free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. So here goes…

The Cherry Bluestorms are Deborah Gee on vocals and Glen Laughlin on vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboards. According to their Web site, the two met in a Los Angeles coffeehouse and bonded over “their mutual love of 60s era guitar-based melodic rock”. Bad Penny Opera is their second album, a follow up to their well-received debut, Transit of Venus, which was released in June 2007. Laughlin had worked with the band The Dickies, while Gee had a solo career going. The two joined forces and developed a style that is described as “British pop influenced psych-Mod”. Most of the songs on this album were written by Glen Laughlin, with the exception of “A Better Place”, which was cowritten by Gee, and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”, which is credited to 60s era Scottish folk singer, Donovan Leitch. Joining this duo are a host of supporting musicians to include Lily Aycud and Andy Duncan on horns, Brittany Cotto on violin,Tommy Diehl on drums, and Arlan Schierbaum playing Hammond organ.

The first track on Bad Penny Opera is “Bad Penny Overture”. It’s an instrumental, giving listeners a taste of what’s to come. The first time I heard it, I kept waiting for vocals. By the time it was over, I realized that I had really enjoyed the energy of the overture, with its thundering beat, intricate guitar riffs, and subtle bass line. There’s a lot going on in the “Bad Penny Overture”, which is reprised with vocals on the song, “Bad”, which is the last song on the album.

I first hear Deborah Gee and Glen Laughlin sing on the second track, “By Your Leave”. Their harmonies are tight and precise, the lyrics are about breaking up and staying friends. I’m paying close attention to the lovely acoustic guitar, complimented by a Hammond organ. For a breakup song, it’s surprisingly pleasant and civil.

A live performance of “A Better Place”.

Keyboards open the third track, the contemplative “A Better Place”. As Gee sings, I’m immediately reminded of Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. The music sounds very 60s, with its sassy horn solo. This is another song about breaking up, though it’s not as friendly and folk-oriented as “By Your Leave” is. The lyrics seem to be more of a kiss off than a gentle adieu.

A cover of Donovan Leitch’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” comes next. The Cherry Bluestorms’ arrangement features horns prominently, along with Laughlin’s arresting guitar and thumping percussion. I have to admit that I was not familiar with Donovan’s original version of this song. I had to listen to it just to compare. I’m pleased to report that The Cherry Bluestorms have definitely made this song their own.

“A True Heart Wears a Thorny Crown” features Laughlin singing lead and Gee singing harmony. This song features swirling guitars, edgy organ, and jaunty tambourine beat. I hear a little of The Beatles and Oasis. It’s hard to stop myself from nodding along with the beat.

“Sunday Driving South” immediately reminds me of The Beatles, with its dreamy Mellotron opening. The lyrics are whimsical and poetic, psychedelic and imaginative. With lyrics like “Happy birthday to the moon/ A silver candelabra lights your room.”, I easily picture the scene that inspired those vivid words. Melodically, I recall “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles, which had similarly evocative lyrics.

Although Bad Penny Opera is definitely hip enough for this decade, it will also appeal to fans of music from the 1960s. Gee and Laughlin have done a great job of marrying the styles into something that is all theirs. I’m impressed by the creative arrangements of the thirteen songs on this album. I always appreciate artists who write and perform their own music and Bad Penny Opera is rich with original material. This is an album that will appeal to artists and dreamers who enjoy hearing new things, yet are comforted by the familiar.

Out of five stars, I’d give Bad Penny Opera a solid 4.5. Be sure to check out The Cherry Bluestorms’ channel on YouTube for videos of live performances!

Bad Penny Opera (Audio CD)


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