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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

TIRnRR # 4, Track By Track: Irene Peña, "Must've Been Good"

This is part of a series of short pieces discussing each of the 29 tracks on our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4The CD can be ordered at Kool Kat Musik.

9. IRENE PEÑA: "Must've Been Good"

Irene Peña is a sweetie. Her songs are sweet (even when they imply mature grit beneath the sweet veneer), and her public persona is sweet (even as her dedication to her craft remains determined and steadfast). Our recognition of Irene's overall sweet-as-cake demeanor derives from our interactions with her, especially when we play her music on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. She seems surprised. She seems delighted. She is, one suspects, fully as sweet as she seems.

Irene's debut album Nothing To Do With You was released in 2011, but we didn't get hip to her sweet pop magic until late last year, when our friend John Borack informed us that he'd been drumming on some of Irene's new recordings, and we should maybe oughtta check 'em out. The first track we heard was "Must've Been Good," a mesmerizing number that immediately grooved its lithe and winning way onto our playlist. It was the first teaser track for Irene's 2017 EP Trying Not To Smile, and we dutifully and happily played subsequent tracks as they became available.

I became a patron of Irene on Patreon, the same crowdsourcing platform used by Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do). John and Irene followed "Must've Been Good" with more from Trying Not To Smile: "Pieces Of You." "Not From Around Here." "Ridiculous." All great. We asked Irene to be on our next This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation, and she sweetly granted us permission. With that, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 was all set to include Irene Peña's superb track "Not From Around Here."

Wait. What...? That ain't "Must've Been Good!"

I don't remember if we ever announced "Not From Around Here" as part of TIRnRR # 4. It was one of a few instances on the compilation where we originally selected one track by an artist, and then switched to a different track by the same artist. My original thinking in this case was that the more uptempo "Not From Around Here" would be a better fit for a (nominally) power pop collection. It's a swell track, and it did indeed hold its own alongside other rockin' TIRnRR # 4 tracks.

But as I was listening to a (very) early playlist for the CD, my lovely wife Brenda mentioned that sure, it all sounded good, but there didn't seem to be much variety. This wasn't supposed to be a spotlight for ballads or dirges, mind you, but shouldn't there be, like, an overall vibe that goes together but allows each track some individuality?

Well. Yeah. Damn it, yeah.

Brenda's casual observation unlocked our perception of what this compilation should be. And the key to this revelation was replacing "Not From Around Here" with the simply gorgeous, hypnotic appeal of "Must've Been Good." It is not an exaggeration to say that this substitution altered the course of TIRnRR # 4, and altered it for the better. The change precipitated a couple of other track changes, and dictated how the album should be sequenced. This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is ultimately an even better album than it would have been, thanks to Irene Peña's "Must've Been Good."

Dana and I have a fairly simple concept of what This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations should be. Yes, they should be collections of great songs, and each track should be outstanding on its own. The tracks also have to flow together, so that a fan will want to listen to the whole album, start to finish, and be reluctant to skip any individual track. We're Pet Sounds crossed with a K-Tel record, Rubber Soul meets Ronco, The Ramones and friends on Adam VIII. E pluribus unum, motherlovers. I think we finally achieved that goal on 2013's Volume 3, and perfected it on Volume 4.

Irene Peña is a sweetie. On a recent edition of TIRnRR, we opened a set with "Must've Been Good," and then played "Not From Around Here" two songs later (bookending a George Jones track, because that's what we do). Intrepid TIRnRR listener Jeffrey Raskin posted in our chat group, "Was listening while driving in 104 degree heat through the Central Valley. ["Must've Been Good"] came on and it instantly cooled down. Great song, awesome voice." Irene was also in the chat, and expressed amazement that someone would say such nice things about one of her songs. Jeffrey added, "Absolutely! Then 'Not From Around Here' came on, and I thought 'There's that voice again!'"

I believe Irene may have blushed. Her humility and glee were palpable, even when filtered through Facebook comments. "Y'all can just make a girl smiiiiile!" Sweet.

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