Ed Rogers, a stylish English expat who lives in New York (where we first became friends in the early ’70s), is a prolific exponent of the power pop underground, a knowledgeable fan and scholar who channels his musical devotions into charming original creations that honor, echo – and ultimately expand upon – some of the more refined proponents of ’60s and ’70s British and British-inflected music: Zombies, Kinks, Byrds, Kevin Ayers, Mott the Hoople, Chad and Jeremy. Originally a garage-rock drummer, Rogers reinvented himself as a singer in the 1990s and has since written and recorded in partnership with an international gamut of like-minded collaborators. But he never loses himself in the crowd. A deeply romantic songwriter, Rogers occasionally takes on idiosyncratic subjects, while his natural mid-Atlantic accent adds extra flair to the Anglophied period recreations.
His first album, Sunday Fables, was written and recorded with New York scene vet George Usher, who brought along a violinist and cellist (the venerable Jane Scarpantoni) to provide baroque atmospherics. For star power, Zombies Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone add backing vocals to one song.
You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been, made with a lot of the same people, is a real achievement. Rogers and Usher’s songs (especially “The Last to Leave the Party,” “Baby Came Early,” “Commodore Hotel”) are outstanding, transcending the bindings of pastiche and tribute to make a modern statement of their own. Mitch Easter did the mix (perhaps deftly blending in the sonic gimmickry of “I Hear This Place Is Haunted”). Roger McGuinn and Marty Willson-Piper of the Church guest.
Chronologically wrapped around You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been, Rogers made two albums with another British singer-songwriter-emigré, Amanda Thorpe, under the name Bedsit Poets. Journalist Mac Randall plays bass and guitar, while Pete Kennedy (of the Kennedys) is the drummer on The Summer That Changed, a collaboration that leans heavily into romance, with a few songs about the joys of love (“Far From You”) and a lot more songs about the end of it (“Don’t Ask Me to Be Friends,” “February Kisses,” “Let It Rain on Me”). Fortunately, the airy music and complementary voices balance the downcast emotion and leave the album a pleasant, if bittersweet, diversion.
Randall became an official third Bedsit Poet on Rendezvous, a handsome, intimate album that moves slowly, gracefully and alluringly through an assortment of styles, from art-folk (“Hardened Ground,” sung by Thorpe) to jazzy rhythms (the easy listening saxophone on Rogers’ “Nite Lite” is a bit much) to sunny pop (“The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows,” sung as a duo), louche Noel Coward suavity (“NoTel Rendezvous”), bossa nova (“Daze for Love”) and even a Faces-quoting Big Star cover (“I’m in Love With a Girl”).
Don Piper produced and played guitar on Sparkle Lane; a postcard from the past in both sound and subject, it’s a wistful, nostalgic collection. Bassist Sal Maida (Roxy Music, Sparks, Milk ‘n’ Cookies, Cracker, the John Sally Ride) and keyboard ace Joe McGinty (whose Loser’s Lounge regularly features Rogers) are on hand to provide top-notch backing. Although the firmness of Rogers’ singing occasionally works against the shimmery instrumentation, the acoustic “Land of the Free,” an immigrant’s rumination, recalls Ronnie Lane’s solo work, the Kinksy “Boys in Grey” wonders what became of childhood friends from Birmingham and the thickly arranged title track reminisces about a girl from “a long time ago.” In a lovely sidestep, “Guy Fawkes Night” is a brief exercise in overdubbed vocals.
Rogers declares his allegiance (“golden days of my youth”) and intent (“to sing a few songs and leave the present behind”) from the jump on the rocking first track (“The Biba Crowd”) of Porcelain. Piper co-produced again; musicians on hand include Maida and McGinty as well as Don Fleming and James Mastro, the onetime Bongo who has long been a guitarist in Ian Hunter’s band. (Indeed, Rogers manages a good husky imitation of the Mott singer in “Love With the World.”) With a few gentle exceptions (“Nothing Too Clever,” “Tears Left in the Bottle,” the piano ballad “Link to the Chain”), the album leans harder into rock than pop, which challenges the singing to be just as strong. Nodding toward early Roxy Music, “Separate Walls” is a dense, pounding number with a vein of frenzied lead guitar running from one end to the other; “Diamonds Armour” walks a line between Mott and the Who.
Kaye, recorded quickly with more or less the same company, is similar to — but not as good as — Porcelain. Other than one actual cover (“After the Show,” a performer’s plea for a late-night date that is well out of character for Rogers), the acknowledged homage to Kevin Ayers (hence the title) is hard to discern: there’s another stylistic nod to the sound of Roxy (“Street Fashion,” as opposed to, I suppose, “Street Life”), while “No Color for Loneliness,” in part, channels David Bowie. “Copper Coin” puts me in mind of Jonathan Richman. “My Street” adds a nicely psychedelicized chapter to Rogers’ songbook of reminiscences, but the lovely harmony folk ballad “Borrowed & Blue” (which gets an exotically revised album-ending reprise) is the standout here.
The detailed shopping specificity of “Jumbo Sale” recalls the odd obsessions of the Television Personalities, and other items on the 18-song Glass Marbles take on similarly distinctive targets: “Denmark Street Forgotten” is about the fabled music publishing and instrument-store row in London, an English seaside resort is limned in “Blackpool Nights” (co-written with John Dunbar, also of the John Sally Ride) and workaday tedium is the subject of both “Welcome to My Monday Morning” and “I’m Your Everyday Man.” The core band of Don Piper, Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, Sal Maida and James Mastro capably air out the songs’ various styles, many of them sparkling electric pop creations, while Rogers bends his singing toward Dylan, Bowie and Hunter.
Joined by much the same Piper-led crew, Rogers locks his gaze firmly in the rearview mirror for the title track of TV Generation, a black and white vision that frenetically rocks up the nostalgia of Village Green Preservation Society for a younger set and then wades further into wistfulness, with the celebrity mortality of “20th Century Heroes.” (And returns to it, later, in the Kinksy vaudeville of “The Player.”) But mixed in with timeless emotional declarations (“You and I,” the jazzy “Wounded Conversation,” the pulsing Bowie style of “She’s the One”), the diverse record moves in several exciting new directions: the Stonesy “Sturdy Man’s Shout,” with slide guitar, throaty sax, a bluesy vibe and a Keef-like solo, and the passionate and invigorating “On This Wednesday in June,” which builds to a frenzy on the phrase “Love is stronger than hate.” Solidly played, produced and sung, TV Generation is one of Rogers’ best.
He then formed a duo with singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Stephen Butler (once of the CBGB band Quincy and more recently of the long-running Smash Palace). Named for its detailed “Celluloid Heroes”-type tribute to the late British pin-up star, Diana Dors is a four-song EP that reveals the worthiness of the partnership – their voices blend nicely, and Butler (with Don Piper, Maida and Diken) conjure up a miasmic echo of ‘60s Brit pop.
None of the EP’s songs recur on the duo’s first full album, Poets & Sinners, which has a wonderfully catchy title track and includes another English celebrity song portrait, this one a bouncy piano encomium about Noel Coward. (In a similar vein, “Skimming Milk From the Cream” pays a fun visit to the old music hall.) The handsomely turned collection rocks as solidly as any in Rogers’ catalogue and includes his most convincing Mott nod (the title, “Roll the Stone,” is a giveaway), a nice bit of Beatlism (“Writing to the Moon”), the Byrds-going-on-Elvis Costello “Jump Like Alice,” fired by Diken’s powerhouse drumming, a stirring piece of social commentary with a great melody (“Olde Store Front”) and one final surprise: the chorus of “The Other Side of Midnight” is a good enough imitation of the Psychedelic Furs that a listener could be forgiven for mistaking which Butler was in the studio.