CD Review of Four Seasons by Doug Powell

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Four Seasons
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Paisley Pop
Released: 2006
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Doug Powell fans are a rabid bunch. The only problem is that there just aren’t enough of them. If there were, then you might have a new album by the man in your possession rather than this still-fine collection of demos and hard-to-find tracks that’s just emerged on Paisley Pop Records.

The first six songs on Four Seasons are labeled as “Car Tunes”; while some might be a reasonable soundtrack for your next road trip, they’re described as such because Powell wrote them in late 2004/early 2005 as a result of Eliot Easton asking him if he might be interested in become the singer for the New Cars. As history records, Todd Rundgren ended up getting the gig, but having learned so many Cars songs in the process, Powell also tried his hand at writing a few numbers in their style. In the end, none of these demos were accepted by the band, but Lord knows it isn’t because they don’t sound like they could be Cars songs. Of the bunch, the best are opener “Feel for You,” “Lies,” and “One Good Reason,” possibly just because you can close your eyes and imagine that they’re coming right out of Ric Ocasek’s mouth. The other trio of tracks is much more like Powell’s own material, albeit with a bit of extra new-wave flair.

In 2001, Powell released an EP entitled Venus de Milo’s Arms, but, appropriately – if unfortunately – enough, it proved impossible to find…well, unless you lived in Japan, that is, which is the only place it saw release. Thankfully, he’s rescued the EP’s four tracks and placed them here. “Shot like a Bullet into the Sun” is a rocker with a slamming guitar solo not long after the three-minute mark, and “Bye Bye Maggie” rocks a bit as well. “Do You Know Mary?,” however, is a melancholy, multi-layer pop song with a middle eight that soars skyward, while “But I’m Only Dreaming” is reminiscent of the jangly work Powell did with Swag.

The carnival flair of the bouncy “Mary Annette” (Powell does love his punny titles) and the strings-and-piano arrangement of “The Same Divide” both come from 2004 sessions for a Powell record that never arrived. According to the liner notes, the pair of tracks had been in the running for previous albums, and you can definitely imagine them on More and The Last Chord, respectively. Closer “God Bless Us All” – and what a perfect song title to end the disc with – was written for Ringo Starr’s 1999 Christmas album, but it sounds so perfectly Powell that it’s hard to imagine it being sung by anyone else.

Inevitably, Four Seasons is a bittersweet affair, given that it arrives with little hope that a new, full-length Doug Powell record will emerge anytime soon, if ever. The man’s busy writing his first book, and after several false starts in the music industry, he’s not exactly running back to the studio to make another run at a platinum record. Still, better a little previously-unheard material than none at all, particularly when it’s as strong as these tracks are.

~Will Harris