Monday, May 12, 2008

John Hoskinson -- Pancho Fantastico (Unpublished 2007 Review)

John Hoskinson -- Pancho Fantastico (Tallboy)

Hoskinson should put on his business card, “Power pop for all occasions.” The second album from this SoCal singer-songwriter is a dazzling display. He has clearly mastered the sparkling power pop sounds of the latter part of the ‘90s, and fans of artists such as Jellyfish, Doug Powell, The Tories, and The Gladhands should pass go, collect $15 or so, and order this puppy immediately, operators are standing by. However, even if the mention of any of those four artists doesn’t immediately make you a bit faint in sheer delight, hear me out.

That’s because the glossy production and ebullient melodies are not all that Hoskinson has going for him. He’s an ace songwriter, who writes terrific lyrics. Moreover, this guy is having fun. He’s not content with conquering his sound and so he does not let genre become a prison.

This leads to a gem like “Just Think It Over”. This is a lush ballad, not quite in Roy Orbison territory, but not too far away either. Hoskinson’s vocals are picture perfect, particularly his soaring tenor in the choruses. This is a gauzy love song about a guy who gets up in the middle of the night to tell his lady just how he feels. Yet there’s more than meets the eye, as revealed by the last verse. This ain’t the typical love song and it’s all the better for it.

Hoskinson breaks out the horns and a light Motown rhythm on “Make It Come True”. This bouncy track gets off to a good start. It gets even better as the song flows from verse into the slight rise of the melody in the chorus. The second verse is where classic soul backing vocals (provided by Hoskinson and labelmate Eugene Edwards) come into play, the track chugging along in a winning way. The cheery music contrasts the lyrics which detail a struggle to make a dream a reality. This song will give even a pessimist hope.

“Hard to Say” sounds like a lighter variation on some of the work of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. At least it does in the verses. Roger Keast plays tuba, trumpet, and tuba during the verses, which sound like something from Bourbon Street with a Brecht-ian rhythm. Hoskinson has no problem juxtaposing this old school sound with some gorgeous melodic ideas, including a delightful middle eight.

While showing off all of this ability, Hoskinson’s can handle the bread-and-butter of power pop: the breezy guitar fueled song. I haven’t heard too many better this year than “Please Stay Off My Side”. Imagine a mix of Gigolo Aunts, Jason Falkner and Cheap Trick. That will give you an idea of the brilliance of this cut. It rides in on a pack of buzzing electric guitars, hits a rocking rhythm and then gathers momentum in the chorus with some urgent keyboard playing. Brian Whelan’s darting guitar solo is the icing on the cake.

For something in more of a mid-tempo, sunny vein, “She’s Changing My Mind” is an utter success. Hoskinson finds his skeptical demeanor eroding due to one particular woman: “but the cynic is undone/because now I’ve found the perfect one.” The positive lyrics are backed by plenty of guitars (including a Robbie Rist solo) and a rhythm that I couldn’t help but sway to.
My favorite song on the album is the slow and pensive “Guaranteed”. This has a very slight psych-pop feel to it, and is the most dramatic cut on the album. Here, a former lover is coming to talk to Hoskinson. And what does he have to say to her: “Don’t take my advice/you’re better off to/blindly roll the dice/more than any tips you’ll get from me.” I love the lyrical conceit and the gentle yet intent music fits the words perfectly.

I somehow missed out on Hoskinson’s debut, which is something I most certainly should rectify. He’s a major talent and has so many ideas that he should have plenty more good albums in him.

1 comment:

The Time Machine said...

Love LOVE both of John's albums! "Pancho Fantastico" is a wonderful follow-up to his first album. The lyrical content and those unforgettable melodies mixed with those fantastic arrangements make this an album that will still sound fresh years from now.