By Jason M. Rubin
Like his idol Todd Rundgren, John Powhida is a bit of a musical shapeshifter, evoking a wide range of styles but still with his unique and easily recognizable cachet.
Buy local! It’s a common refrain of small businesses during the holiday season. And it’s a precious reminder that our local artists and musicians are essentially small businesses in themselves. With that in mind, here’s a local gift that’s part of everyone’s stocking stuffer: This phaser looks divine, the latest album released by John Powhida International Airport. Like the band’s past work, this album is dripping with wide cuffs and flared ’70s jeans – classic rock, soul, prog, glam and even disco – set off by Powhida’s springy vocals and eclectic songwriting but melodic.
Like his idol, Todd Rundgren, Powhida is a bit of a musical shapeshifter, drawing inspiration from a wide range of styles but still with his unique and easily recognizable cachet. For example, like another influence, Joni Mitchell, Powhida likes to drop names in her lyrics. Some that I was able to easily choose were Todd Rundgren Utopia‘s original drummer Ralph Shuckett (“Once upon a time a Nantucket man / I did a gig with Ralph Shuckett”), Joni herself (and her album, Blue), former Cheap Trick Bun drummer E. Carlos, serial killer Richard Speck, and a few personalities named in the song title: guitarist Fernando Perdomo (“Fernando 3X”), bassist / singer of The Three O’Clock Michael Quercio (“Michael 3 O’Clock”), and Asa Brebner, the local hero who was in Modern Lovers and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, who died in 2019, and who is the subject of the aptly titled “Asa Brebner Is Morte.”
The album opens with a short instrumental titled “Song for Ellen Hamby”, a tribute to a Rundgren fan who died of cancer last year. Powhida plays bass and guitar on this tribute, which is cooler than singing. This is followed by “Aubrey” (who doesn’t know who Ralph Shuckett is); Powhida sings that she is “my golden child” and describes her as “angular and WASPy”.
“Fernando 3X” tells the story of Powhida who called Perdomo three times, presumably to play lead guitar on this track. Hearing his performance, we are happy that Perdomo, who appeared in the documentary Echo in the canyon and worked with another local legend, Andy Pratt, finally answered the phone.
Even after watching eight hours of The Beatles documentary, just one listen to “Michael 3 O’Clock” is all it takes to recognize that it has the most melodically appealing chorus you can imagine. Another song about a connection attempt gone awry, it has the sweet glow of a soulful Philly hit produced by Thom Bell.
A few songs are particularly topical: “Back 2 Bed” is about life in the COVID age, while “Gaslight Village” is its apparent nickname for Facebook. This last song is notable for a scorching guitar solo by Mike Castellana.
Two other highlights are the tune “Asa Brebner”, which is blackish in a suitably campy way, and “I Don’t Wanna Party”, the disco tune, which is about a gently aging rocker who is no longer able to stay awake late snorting cocaine. like the good old times. It features excellent saxophone work by Paul Ahlstrand. The final song, “The Phasor Sounds Divine (Part 2)” – there is no Part 1, by the way – tackles familiar ground for Powhida, that of the gently aging rocker balancing his devotion to his art and to his family. “Your father is addicted to a dream,” he sings softly.
The phaser sounds divine was co-produced by Powhida with his longtime musical compatriot and talented local artist in his own right, Peter Moore. The main group is Powhida on vocals, guitar, keyboards and a handful of percussion and bass; Moore on keyboards, vocals, guitar and percussion (also arrangements for strings and backing vocals); Jim Haggerty on bass; Castellana on solo, rhythm and pedal steel guitar; and the ubiquitous Chris Anzalone on drums. The talented Amber Angelina skillfully covers the lead vocals on a song called “Starkid” which could have a strong commercial appeal thanks to her Kate Bush-y voice. A few of the album’s many other guests who have yet to be named are Kasim Sulton from Utopia on vocals; former Cure bassist and producer Phil Thornalley on drums, keyboards and vocals; and guitarists Brett Rosenberg and Mike Gent.
John Powhida International Airport will present an album release show on December 15 at 7 p.m. at the Boston Harbor Distillery, 128 Ericsson Street in Dorchester, in a bill that features the Andrea Gillis Band and the Abbie Barrett Band . Four nights later, he’ll be at Daryl’s House Club in Pawling, NY, performing with fellow Utopia alumnus Kevin Ellman in a show called Back to the Bars (the title of a Rundgren live album). Moore, Haggerty and Powhida lead guitarist Andy Santospago will complete the group.
You can buy This phaser looks divineeither digitally or physically on the Bandcamp site at John Powhida International Airport.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for over 35 years, the last 20 as a Senior Creative Associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he won awards for his writing. He wrote for Artistic fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The grave and the gay, based on a 17th century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Old tales recently told, released in March 2019, includes an updated version of her debut novel as well as a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, on King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Indie Authors Collective and has a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.