KURT BAKER – Keep It Tight / Get Away

Despite a highly prolific power pop-centric solo output, releases with punkier band K7s and The Bullet Proof Lovers also showed Kurt Baker to be a great team player, able to transfer his musical chops to other guitar driven styles. His easy demeanour and gifts for a strong melody have always suggested that he’s a great addition to any band and a good guy to have around. His 2021 collaboration with Nuevo Catecismo Catolico reinforced these ideas, with his adding some great harmonies to the band’s punchy garage rock.

That release also marked the end of Baker’s years in Spain and coincides with his return to his home town of Maine. The return to the States also brings a more traditionally American sound, beginning with the standalone digital track ‘Anytime At All’. That saw Kurt melding a pop punk chorus to an old Chuck Berry riff very effectively, but the two songs from the ‘Keep It Tight’ download find the musician in far more of a comfort zone.

The core of ‘Keep It Tight’ (originally recorded by Single Bullet Theory back in 1982) carries similar feel to the music to that which pumped the heart of Kurt’s own 2020 LP ‘After Party’, meaning that long time fans will love it in an instant. Following a slow intro dominated by ringing guitar, the track drops into a buoyant 60s rhythm driven by a keyboard sound lifted from the Chris Montez hit ‘Let’s Dance’ whilst Baker’s distinctively curly voice calls out with confidence. It takes about thirty seconds before its abilities to uplift become clear, but chorus-wise, things are even stronger with hints of The Rubinoos and The Cars helping to drive a great melody. There’s nothing flashy here – it’s simply Baker’s tribute to a power pop past – but between a great vocal wrapped around a strong hook and a synthesizer solo straight out of 1980, it’ll more than keep fans of the genre amused.

Even better, ‘Get Away’ is a shamelessly retro slice of power pop where Baker channels a few of his skinny tie wearing forefathers with even more enthusiasm. Chiming guitars set against a rigid drum beat instantly awaken memories of bands like The Knack, but the arrival of a vocal pulls everything further towards the sounds of Baker’s own ‘Play It Cool’ LP from 2015, with its use of multi-tracked harmonies and crisp guitar work. Moving into the second chorus, everything is lifted substantially by a round of stabbed piano (supplied by Kris Rodgers), before a twin lead guitar break – hinting at Baker’s love of Thin Lizzy – replaces the expected Cars-esque keyboard workout.
Coming back for a final chorus, this song is hardly shy of stepping up to create an earworm, and although it’s Baker by numbers in so many ways, it has enough sass and all round hookiness to stand proudly against the best tunes from ‘After Party’ itself.

It’s fair to say that in sounding like the natural follow up to the ‘After Party’ LP, this release is great. As great as it is, though, it sells Baker short; at the point the last notes of ‘Get Away’ fade, the urge to keep the party going is very strong. Fans will have to wait, of course; with no plans in place for a full-length release any time soon, Baker and his label – Little Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool – use these tracks to stoke up the anticipation… In the meantime, this disc/download represents almost everything fans have come to expect from Maine’s premier power pop personality.

September 2021