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Ken Sharp – Beauty in the Backseat (A Music Review)

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Ken Sharp – Beauty in the Backseat

Ken Sharp – Beauty in the Backseat (Jet Fighter)

Power Pop Heroes is not just the name of rock journalist and musician Ken Sharp’s recent multi-volume book series – an oral history of the critically-beloved musical style interviewing some of its biggest stars – it also is an accurate description of Sharp and his band.

That band has become a well-tuned machine, as Sharp and co-producer (and in-demand session player extraordinaire) Fernando Perdomo shape 16 of the catchiest slabs of sound in Sharp’s long musical career. Also, like his previous release, some of Sharp’s heroes laid down some parts for the new album, this time including Ace Frehley (KISS), John Oates (Daryl Hall & John Oates) and Kasim Sultan (Utopia).

Beauty in the Backseat continues a spurt of productivity for Sharp. It’s the second full-length album (plus a few stand-alone singles) released in about two years. By comparison, it took six years each between his first three albums (which were released in 1995, 2001 and 2007), and nine years before the last album New Mourning.

The new spate of recording, and live performance has honed some of the finest songs and performances in his already impressive body of work.

Every one of these songs would have felt at home on a portable AM radio in the early 70s. It opens with a triple-threat of catchy ear-worms; the perfectly propulsive and squalling Frehley guitars of the sweet and fun “Rock Show,” the retro mid-tempo love song “Mona Lisa Smile” and the power-pop thrills of “Lemons to Lemonade.”

“A Philly Kind of Night” is a swaying slice of blue-eyed soul, complete with a sweet vocal assist by Sharp’s fellow Philadelphia-suburbs-area singer John Oates. (Sharp grew up in Fort Washington and Oates grew up in neighboring North Wales, although Oates had already moved on to be a globe-trotting rock star when Sharp was a mere child.)

Other styles include the acoustic psychedelia of “Jet Fighter,” the arena rock chops of “No One Seems to Stay Together Anymore” and the dreamy ballad “Sinking.” And “The Hardest Part” may just be the most supremely gorgeous pop groove that Sharp has uncorked yet.

There are also tributes to a couple of Sharp’s heroes who have moved on in the past year, the sweetly spacey “The Day that David Bowie Died” and the bubblegum appreciation of Sharp’s friend “I Wanna Be David Cassidy.”

Beauty in the Backseat shows a songwriter hitting on all cylinders. It’s arguably Sharp’s best work yet.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: October 10, 2018.

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