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Pop Gun takes aim with 'American Soul'

Posted by Scott McLennan  May 29, 2013 03:48 PM

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Pop Gun, from left, is Jim Melanson, Harry Zarkades, Greg Walsh, and Harry Sabean (Photo by Melanie Carr)

In the early '90s, Boston had everything but the flannel when it came to the sort of back-to-basics guitar rock that put Seattle on the musical map at the time.

"Nirvana broke everything open, and a lot of copy cats followed," says Pop Gun bassist, singer, and songwriter Harry Zarkades. "I loved bands like the Neats. I was weaned on that, and that Boston sound never got the credit that I think it deserved."

But that hasn't stopped Pop Gun from championing such a sound. The band formed in the grunge era, collapsed before President Clinton was out of office, tried a reunion in 2006 that didn't last, then pulled together again in 2010 to play benefit shows for the family of Zippo Raid guitarist Joe Kelley following his death.

"I think that's when we realized life is short, and we decided to do this and not let differences get in the way," Zarkades says.

The band_ with Jim Melanson and Harry Sabean on guitars, Greg Walsh (formerly of Zippo Raid) on drums, and Zarkades_ now plays about once a month and is releasing its new album "American Soul" Friday, May 31, at the Middle East nightclub in Cambridge.

Pop Gun didn't mess with the formula it first came out with 20 years ago. Zarkades writes and sings with a serrated edge but layers on his love of '60s pop while making room for his bandmates' tastes for punk and glam. The music is simultaneously rough and melodic, keeping up the tradition of Boston club rock that kicked ass and still made you want to dance.

The band's press release for the album even jokes that while the members themselves have found harmony, "American Soul" is not a happy record.

"We're in our 40s, but we haven't forgotten that feeling from our teens and 20s. But with that feeling, I have greater perspective now too," Zarkades says.

The album kicks off with "Middle Class Badass," a great calling card for the guitar squall and general hoodlum attitude to follow in the subsequent 30 minutes of music on the disc.

Pop Gun mixes up the material to offer the out-there psych-punk-pop of "Zombie Man" and "No One Knows;" the biting social commentary of the title track; the weepier tracks "Bitter Heart" (written by Melanson) and "Angeline;" and freewheeling party anthem "The Lodge."

The album also has a pretty straightforward cover of New England's "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya."

"We used to play that live, doing it sarcastically, and really sloppy, like a Replacements' song," Zarkades says. "But the riff is really cool, and we kind of became fans of the song. We punked up the bass a little, and Jim sings it since it's a real guitar song. I guess it's our guilty pleasure. Hey, we listened to Kiss before we got into punk rock."

For the CD release show, original Pop Gun guitarist Bruce Allen, who moved to Colorado last year and was replaced by Sabean, will be back (as is his song "Love and Wine" on "American Soul"). Muck and the Mires, Classic Ruins, and A Terrible Beauty are also on the bill at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Doors open at 8 p.m. Pop Gun also has shows July 9 with Charlie Farren at New Hampshire's Stone Church and Nov. 14 with the Smithereens at Salem Town Hall.

Here's a little of what you can expect from the resurrected Pop Gun:

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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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