PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: Local Music

gg-local-musicToday the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is devoted to local music, made here in West Virginia. I’ve already covered a few notable albums, but there’s plenty to talk about, and much of this music is only available as downloads. I will post links to every album I list here, but be advised that, if there are physical copies, and I don’t provide a link to where you can order them, you may have luck at Budget Tapes & Records, Sullivan’s Records, or Taylor Books. Also be advised that many of these albums are available from iTunes, but since I have not assimilated into the world of Apple, it’s hard for me to get those links.I’m still trying to get used to this post-physical-objects world we now find ourselves in.

I’ve been a supporter of the local music scene for nearly thirty years, as the host of Radio Free Charleston, and also as the author of the PopCult blog, so devoting a day to this topic shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

In no particular order, here’s a list of great recently-released local albums:

John Radcliff “Stupid Mind”

John Radcliff is an old friend, going way back to the original Radio Free Charleston days, and he’s also a hell of a musician and songwriter. His latest album, available only as a download right now, is a priceless slab of pop-rock Heaven. I’m going to quote from Rad’s Bandcamp page now, and apologize because I’m too lazy to change it from the all-caps that used to write his profile:


This is exquisite stuff. It’s pure ear candy, with great music and clever lyrics, and you can download it HERE.

The Heavy Editors

I have fallen into a bit of a trap where every time I play a song by John Radcliff on Radio Free Charleston, I remember to play one in the same show by his former Feast of Stephen bandmate, Joe Vallina. I repeat that quirk of mine here, by mentioning the EP by Joe’s new band, The Heavy Editors, right after plugging Rad’s new album. I raved about this EP back in September, and you can go read that now so that I don’t have to quote heavily from myself.

You can download The Heavy Editors debut EP HERE.


4OHM MONO is the latest project of Huntington maestro John Lancaster, and the band has released two killer digital-only EPs this year, The Death and Resurrection of a Salesman and Dissonant Praises. The band consists of John Lancaster on vocals and guitars, Mac Walker on guitars and synth, Barry Smith on bass and Josh Adkins on drums.

Both releases were produced by 4 OHM MONO, and recorded and mixed by Barry Smith. and they both sport cool covers designed by Justin McCormick. This is pretty epic progressive metal and the band has created a monumental sound, with heavy music and clever lyrics.

Both releases are available on their Bandcamp page but can also be found on just about any digital/streaming platform (iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, etc.). You can also hit up their website and follow them on Facebook.

Chuck Biel “Mumblety-Peg”

Chuck is a legend in Charleston and has shepherded many incredible bands and projects over the years. His most recent release is available for download from CD Baby, and it’s called “Mumblety-Peg.” This is chill-out music, played largely on his Harpejji, and it’s perfect to relax to while the music stimulates your mind. I’ll go to the description on the page…

Emmy nominated Film Composer Chuck Biel’s recent Musical effort “Mumblety-Peg”, composed, performed, recorded & produced by Chuck, features the new instrument the Harpejji. With 24 strings and a range like an orchestra, the sounds produced go from from happy to energized to caressing and mournful…that is to say, emotion packed. Mumblety-Peg: a game, and an Album by Chuck Biel

You can download Mumblety-Peg HERE, and visit Chuck’s site to hear what he’s been up to lately HERE.

Speedsuit “WAX”

Speedsuit is the latest musical project from Stephen Beckner, another of my old friends from the original RFC days, and one of the finest songwriters this state has ever produced. In Speedsuit Stephen is joined by Dan Jordan, Ryan Jackson and on “WAX,” their debut album, Dave Roberts or Brian Young trading off on drums.

It’s all great stuff, in a classic style influenced by everyone from The Beatles and Stones to Johnny Cash to XTC. You can download WAX HERE, and go out and attend their gigs for the full experience. I do believe that physical copies of this album are available at local music shops and at their shows, but I’m not 100% certain of that.

Todd Burge

Todd is another West Virginia treasure, and he doesn’t really have a new release out, but you can’t really go wrong with any of his albums. As it say on his website: “WV Troubadour, Played everything from Alternative Rock to Bluegrass, but is mainly known for the sharp wit, soaring vocal & guitar prowess found in many of his songs while performing his hybrid brand of Contemporary Americana-Folk. He has performed venues as diverse as NPR’s Mountain Stage, CBGB’s, The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Kennedy Center. He is about to perform near you”

He’s also offering a remarkable deal on a bundle of his entire catalog. You can read about that HERE, and scope out his individual releases HERE, if you’re afraid of making that big a commitment. These are physical copies of his albums, by the way, so you can actually wrap them and stick them under the tree.

Kerry Hughes

Kerry is a local musician and songwriter who is going through a ridiculously prolific period. He jumps from genre to genre and leaves his mark on each. I think he’s put out at least three albums this year, possibly more, and they’re all filled with terrific tunes from this one man band. I’ve been playing his stuff on Radio Free Charleston for months, and people are loving it.

You can find all of his releases available for download HERE.


This mysterious collective of unspecified individuals produces bizarre experimental electronic music. Not for the faint of heart, this is music for the adventurous futurists on your holiday list. Also, they occasionally use the swear words. You can download their latest release, from just a few weeks ago, right HERE.

Johnny Compton “Last Man Standing”

Johnny Compton is a local legend, a guitarist who can shred your face off one minute, then turn around and play something so tender that it can make you cry the next. In fact, Johnny knows 17 ways to make you cry with his guitar, and only one of them involves physical contact. He’s mastered everything from metal to bluegrass to the blues and acoustic ballads and he’s managed to do it all while maintaining his reputation as a bad-ass >shut yo’ mouf<. It’s why they call him “JMFC.” The MF does not stand for “Mighty Fine,” but that is an apt description of how he plays.

He’s endorsed by Killer B guitars, Von York strings, Spectraflex cables, Checkered pedals, Planet Tone pickups, InTune picks, Corvid enclosures and JN Branding.  I will be playing the heck out of his solo album, Last Man Standing, on Radio Free Charleston in the coming weeks, but you can get the whole album HERE, and you might even find physical copies at local music shops or at his gigs, if they haven’t sold out yet.

This Album is a collection of songs written by Johnny Compton throughout his career. Friends and Family came together to help Johnny complete these unfinished works. This project is a look at Johnny in a different light than what his fans are used to seeing.

Wolves of the Calla

While Johnny cut loose with his solo album just a couple of weeks ago, earlier this year he tore a hole in the universe with his metal band, The Wolves of the Calla. You can grab their debut EP HERE. It’s loud and aggressive and is pretty much the perfect gift for any teenager who has to go to high school and needs a release.

Membrane Cell  “Caduceus”

Membrane cell is the brainchild of Kenny Booth from Trielement and Harrah and David Synn formerly of Godmode Broadway and StychNtyme. Starting out as strictly an instrumental band, Membrane Cell has, like their name implies, evolved.

Now a primarily vocal band with lyrics and only a few instrumentals, and electronic beats fused with electric leads and synth pads with driving but melodic guitars, Membrane Cell sounds like something from the future while staying familiar with their industrial roots. With the beats keeping the overall melancholy tone of the songs, and the compositions taking the listener between pure sonic mayhem to a euphoric trance- Membrane Cell is part electronic, part rock, and 100% experimental.

Move into the future with new music that doesn’t linger in the past. You can find tracks from their debut EP HERE, or download the entire six-song EP HERE. I’ve been playing a couple of tracks from this on The AIR, and folks are really digging it.

Stark Raven

Once again going way back to the original RFC days (actually this band pre-dates RFC), we have legendary band, Stark Raven. Stark Raven, formed in the mid-1980’s in Charleston, WV, was a genre bending band that played for thousands of excited fans through out WV and the US during the nine years that they were together. Combining acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums, an amplified string section (electric violin and cello), electric dulcimer, mandolin, harmonica, accordion and tight three part vocals.

Just last summer the band reunited for a couple of shows and remastered and re-released their albums, which had been out of print for over twenty-five years. It all still holds up, and just as they always defied musical labels, they also manage to defy time, as their music has not aged a bit. You can download their entire catalog HERE, and check local music shops because I know that there are physical copies of their reunion compilation out there. I just don’t know where you can buy them.

There you go, a dozen great local artists who have new music that you can download, and in some instances buy as CDs. If you want to give locally made stuff this holiday season, this is a great way to do it.

a1773611769_16Actually, let’s make that a Baker’s Dozen with an album so new that I almost forgot to include it…

Farnsworth “Elk City”

You can find this new album by Charleston’s favorite retro-rockers, Farnsworth, right HERE. I would write more about it, but I’m downloading it as we speak so I can use it as the big finale on this week’s brand-new Radio Free Charleston.

Don’t forget that I have previously recommended The Company Stores, Byzantine and Scarlet Revolt in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. That’s three more killer local albums for you to consider giving as gifts.

Also, don’t think that your PopCulteer is omnipotent when it comes to the local music scene. I almost left out Farnsworth, and I love those guys. I’m certain that there is even more great local music out there that has escaped my notice. If that is the case, and you know a local band that I missed, please make use of the comments below and share some info about them and a link to where we may find their music.

air-logo-new-url-01On top of all that, please don’t forget that PopCult has a sister internet radio station, The AIR. On The AIR we play more local West Virginia music than any other radio station of any kind. Check out the embedded player here:

…or go visit the website, which looks pretty cool on one of those nifty smartphone things that all the young peoples are using these days.

Due to the excessive workload of producing the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide, it’s been over a month since your PopCulteer has produced a new episode of Radio Free Charleston, but as soon as this post is ready to go, I’m hopping over to the recording studio to see if I might be able to crank out a special episode to air beginning on Tuesday, December 12, the very day this post will go live.

I’ll be including one track from every recommended artist on this list. You can listen at 10 AM and 10 PM Tuesday, with a replay Thursday at 2 PM, and extra reruns all week long.

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: New Boots and Panties!!

gg-duryIan Dury and The Blockheads New Boots & Panties!! 40th Anniversary Edition is today’s music pick for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide, and I didn’t just pick it because of the funny headline. This is a fantastic gift for any fan of late-1970s punk/new wave music who likes songs with great hooks and musicians with killer chops. Plus it’s got one legendary song that belongs in everybody’s collection on it.

New Boots and Panties!! was the debut album from Ian Dury and The Blockheads, and it’s considered his finest. To commemorate forty years since its release, Demon/Edsel have reissued it as a limited box set packaged in a 12 x 12 hardcover book containing four CDs, the original album on vinyl, and a pull out eight page booklet with sleeve notes by one of the Blockheads, Phill Jupitus.

Alongside the original album on vinyl and CD there are three bonus discs containing bonus tracks, demo versions, John Peel Sessions and a full live performance not available before on CD. New Boots And Panties!! was originally released on the legendary Stiff Records in 1977. It’s considered Dury’s best album and it was also his most successful after it was certified Platinum in the UK 2 years after it’s release. This the most comprehensive version of the album to date.

You may be able to order Ian Dury and The Blockheads New Boots & Panties!! 40th Anniversary Edition from local record stores, but your quickest bet is probably to visit Amazon. For a sample of the most famous tune from this album, watch the video below…

The Unofficial Guide to Vintage Transformers: 1980s Through 1990s
gg-transformersJ.E. Alvarez
ISBN13: 9780764354410

Today’s book pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is another book about toys, and it’s a doozy. This is a revised edition of what many collectors consider to be the bible for Transformers, The Unofficial Guide to Vintage Transformers: 1980s Through 1990s.

In the almost twenty years since completing the first edition of this book, J.E. Alvarez prety much “turned pro.” He served as a creative consultant for fiction and toy designs for the Official Transformers Collectors Club and official collectors convention known as Botcon for several years. Alvarez was later recruited by Hasbro to become a full time member of their Transformers and G.I. Joe design teams. As Creative Manager for both brands he contributed to films, television series, toys, other merchandise, and overall brand fiction and creation. Semi-retired, he now spends most of his time at home raising his two children. Besides his passion for the Transformers brand, he enjoys collecting other properties such as Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Aliens, and LEGO.

For many years, the Transformers have been a staple of pop culture. As new and old collectors seek to enhance their knowledge of this toy line, this book provides a wide view of the Transformers action figures from their earliest incarnations, their journey through the 1980s, and culminating with the Beast Wars in the 1990s. Extremely well researched, this guide provides information on the development of the figures while explaining their key features, along with showcasing many figure variations. Featuring images of figures both in and out of package, yearly product listings for easy reference, and pricing examples for many key items, this book is a great tool for reintroducing yourself or getting familiar with these toys from the past.

The absolute perfect gift for any Transformers collector, The Unofficial Guide to Vintage Transformers: 1980s Through 1990s should be available to order from any bookseller by using the ISBN number, or you can go directly to the publisher and snag a copy there.

gg-ecto1Our toy pick for today in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is the perfect gift for the rabid fan of Ghostbusters on your holiday shopping list. Earlier this year Playmobil acquired the rights to make playsets based on Ghostbusters, and one of their many way-cool sets is the Ecto 1, the modified 1959 Cadillac Ambulance that the poltergiest-punishing crew uses to get around.

Selling for fifty bucks or less at retailers that carry Playmobil toys, the Ecto 1 is a pretty cool recreation of the iconic vehicle from the original Ghostbusters movie. It has sounds taken from the original effects library and functioning lights, plus a detachable roof so that you can easily stash all the proton packs and Ghostbusters to get them ready for their next mission.

This set also includes Ghostbusters Winston Zeddemore and Janine Melnitz in their official uniforms with two detachable proton packs and proton wands, ghost trap, PKE meter for measuring psychokinetic energy, and silicone slime splatters that stick to smooth surfaces. Recommended for children and adults ages 6 and up, this is a great display piece for grown fans of the movie, but it’s also durable enough for kids.

For a limited time you also get a code that you can redeem online for four episodes of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon from the 1980s. Ghostbusters has earned a place among the pop culture elite and continues to be popular with multiple generations of fans. It’s a fandom that managed survive that awful attempt at a reboot from 2016, so you know it’s here to stay.

Like I said, you can find the Ecto 1 (as well as other, more elaborate Playmobil Ghostbusters sets) at retailers that carry Playmobil, or you can point your browser to Amazon, and try not to cross the streams.






Remember how last week in this space your PopCulteer told you that he was going back to Chicago “soon?”  The truth is, by the time you saw that post I was already there.  A week-long trip to the Windy City took place to commemorate the birthday of Mrs. PopCulteer by running around town on the “L” and taking in the world premiere of the new Tracy Letts play, “The Minutes” before it heads to Broadway.

While in Chicago, we hit up one of our favorite haunts, Lincoln Square, where I took a photo of the giant Christmas Tree at Giddings Plaza. Above you see it all done up in digital pointallism, almost like it’s ready to be slapped on a Christmas card. You spend a morning staring at Seurat, you’re gonna want to pointallize a bit. I thought it looked cool, anyway. Click the image to see it larger.

Meanwhile, we are in the final days of our annual holiday tradition here in PopCult, so later today the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide continues with three more cool gift ideas. Be sure to check out all our unique gift suggestions. It’s going to wrap up Thursday, with an epic, Bible-length master list of all our gift ideas, complete with links, posted in Friday’s PopCulteer. Tuesday we devote the whole day to local music.

air-6-6-17While all this is going on, please remember that you can tune in and hear cool stuff on our internet radio station, The AIR.

You can listen at the website, or on this familiar little embedded player…

We’re bringing you more of the best independent radio that you’ll ever hear anywhere on our humble little internet station. Your PopCulteer is planning to crank out some special holiday programming this week on The AIR, including new editions of Radio Free Charleston and The Real with Mark Wolfe on Tuesday, and new episodes of Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle  and Curtain Call on Wednesday, plus we’re adding new special holiday music all week long. Take a gander at this ever-changing embedded schedule…

Sunday Evening Video: Batman vs. Two-Face

gg-two-faceAs with the previous few weeks, our Sunday Evening Video is also an entry in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. Above you see the trailer for Batman vs. Two Face, a direct-to-video animated feature starring Adam West in his final performance as Batman. Joining West, who returned to the role that made him famous last year, are Burt Ward as Robin and Julie Newmar, as Catwoman.

New to the mix in this feature is William Shatner, who takes on the role of Two Face, the one major Batman villain who didn’t make it onto the original TV show in the 1960s. ABC thought the character was too gruesome, and rejected a script pitched to them by Harlan Ellison. That script was used as the basis for a comic book a couple of years ago, so this feature film offers up a whole new story that tells how Two Face came to be, and what made him that way.

Just the idea of West and Shatner acting together is priceless, but they both deliver really good performances here. In the story Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent is mutilated in a laboratory accident. When the duplicitous Two-Face embarks on a crime spree, Batman and Robin must solve the mystery of his identity while facing off against several other foes.

We lost Adam West this year, and Batman vs. Two Face is a terrific send off for the man who was Batman for an entire generation. You ought to be able to find this anywhere that DVDs or Blu Rays are sold, or hit up Amazon.

A note for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide today. This will be our only post for December 10. Your PopCulteer has actually been in Chicago for the past week, and wrote all of the entries for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide for the last ten days in advance. I’m back now, but still resting up from my trip, so we’ll be back in full force Monday for the final four days of the guide, with a huge master list coming on Friday. Thanks for reading PopCult and have fun giving these gifts.


2017 PopCult Gift Guide: Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin

Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery
gg-suger-facotryby Paul Raphaelson
ISBN13: 9780764354120

Next up in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide we have a book of photography that documents the last days of an architectural icon. Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery, featuring the photography of Paul Raphaelson, is a wonderful gift for anybody who enjoys great photography, industrial buildings or documents of landmarks that are no longer with us.

Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Refinery, once the largest in the world, shut down in 2004 after a long struggle. Most New Yorkers know it only as an icon on the landscape, multiplied on T-shirts and skateboard graphics. Paul Raphaelson, known internationally for his formally intricate urban landscape photographs, was given access to every square foot of the refinery weeks before its demolition.

Raphaelson spent weeks speaking with former Domino workers to hear first-hand the refinery’s more personal stories. He also assembled a world-class team of contributors: Pulitzer Prize–winning photography editor Stella Kramer, architectural historian Matthew Postal, and art director Christopher Truch. The result is a beautiful, complex, thrilling mashup of art, document, industrial history, and Brooklyn visual culture. Strap on your hard hat and headlamp, and wander inside for a closer look.

This book is a time-capsule, capturing the dying moments of a one-thriving building. It’s bittersweet, which is ironic considering what the refinery made, but it’s an impressive preservation of one more piece of history, now lost to the ages.

You ought to be able to order Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery from any bookseller by using the ISBN number, or you can order it directly from the publisher.

gg-atomobloxToday’s toy pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is one of those things that made the list just because it looks so darned cool. Automoblox is a high-quality line of buildable and mixable vehicles that presents an innovative reinvention of the classic wooden toy car, and is a popular favorite because of its imaginative play, creativity and collectability. Any kid, aged four and up, will love these, and so will parents who enjoy wonderfully-designed toys, too.

Each vehicle includes multiple interchangeable components and sports a body made of European beech wood. Kids can play with and collect cool sedans, rugged trucks, sporty vans and more. The more they collect, the more customizing they can do.

Created by designer Patrick Calello, Automoblox hit the market a few years ago, and has grown into a bit of a phenomenon. The original line of larger cars retails for under forty dollars each, while the new Mini line, which offers a really cool-looking assortment of vehicles, sells for under fifteen dollars each. There are also sets with more than one car, because a lot of the fun is the mix-and-match play value.

Automoblox also has a website where kids and collectors can register their cars. There’s even downloadable coloring pages there as well.

You can find Automoblox at toy retailers nationwide, or order them from the Automoblox store. When buying toys for kids, it’s hard to go wrong with really neat toy cars.

montage32small-e1417270991240We continue our month-long interruption of the chronological presentation of Radio Free Charleston to bring you our second Christmas episode. Above you see “West Virginia Shirt,” our Christmas, 2007 show. This show features Mountain Laurel Ensemble, 69 Fingers, The Android Family and animation by Brian Young and Rudy Panucci.  It’s hosted from Stately Radio Free Charleston Manor and it’s part of the Christmas that almost wasn’t. This show was remastered and returned to public view in 2014, after a six-year absence.

Your loyal host and blogger got really sick while editing this show, and never quite got around to writing any production notes. I shot the host segments myself while putting up my Christmas tree later than I ever had before. It was a ridiculously busy time and exhaustion and a sinus infection caught up with me. In fact, that year I was so sick over the holidays that I went eight days without posting to PopCult, my longest gap ever.

If I can recall correctly, I recorded Mountain Laurel Ensemble at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in South Hills. It was a solo shoot using tripods because they rehearsed in the daytime while camera two was at work. 69 Fingers was recorded the previous summer at the La Belle Theater in South Charleston.

This show also includes The Android Family Christmas Special, the magnum opus of our favorite family of psychotic robots. To date, this is the most recent installment of The Android Family, but I’m looking to change that when we bring Radio Free Charleston out of the video show mothballs sometime in 2018. Our animation is a collaboration between yours truly and Brian Young, and depicts the life of Christmas trees.

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: The Marx Brothers on Stage

Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage
gg-marx-brothersby Robert S. Bader
Northwestern University Press
ISBN-13: 978-0810134164

We’ve already recommended a book about the Marx Toy Company in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. Now we give you a book about The Marx Brothers. Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage is perfect for any fan of the comedy legends, and it will also be an informative treat for anyone interested in vaudeville and the early days of Broadway.

Before film made them international comedy legends, the Marx Brothers developed their comic skills on stage for twenty-five years. In Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, Robert S. Bader offers the first comprehensive history of the foursome’s hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences.

From Groucho’s debut in 1905 to their final live performances of scenes from A Night in Casablanca in 1945, the brothers’ stage career shows how their characters and routines evolved before their arrival in Hollywood. Four of the Three Musketeers draws on an unmatched array of sources, many not referenced elsewhere. Bader’s detailed portrait of the struggling young actors both brings to vivid life a typical night on the road for the Marx Brothers and also illuminates the inner workings of the vaudeville business, especially during its peak in the 1920s.

As Bader traces the origins of the characters that would later come to be beloved by filmgoers, he also skillfully scrapes away the accretion of rumors and mythology perpetuated not only by fans and writers but by the Marx Brothers themselves. Revealing, vital, and entertaining, Four of the Three Musketeers will take its place as an essential reference for this iconic American act.

Bader is no slouch in this pursuit. He is the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales. Bader is also the writer and producer of the Warner Bros. documentary The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk, and has produced numerous archival DVD releases, including two sets of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. and the Marx Brothers TV Collection. The man knows his Marx Brothers.

it’s great to have an in-depth study of this era of the Marx Brothers’ development, and it’s also really handy to have the rumors and misinformation sorted out from what really happened. Any fan of the Marx Brothers will find new information about the troupe in this book. You should be able to order it from any bookseller, using the ISBN number, or take the easy way and go to Amazon.