It’s a sign of the times when a smart, compelling, and established songwriter like David Mead has to rely on fans to fund an album. Yet that’s the story behind 2011’s Dudes, a release that nonetheless doesn’t show any shortcuts; it’s a well-produced collection that takes a few great turns. The racy “No One Roxx This Town No More,” written with Bill DeMain, tells the story of an ‘80s hair metal dude, while the melody comes straight from Curtis Mayfield. The piano ballad “The Smile of Rachael Ray” finds “a beacon on the bay” in the face of America’s most famous TV cook while the singer’s world falls apart. “King of the Crosswords” cranks up the piano-based power pop. With screeching lead guitar, “Happy Birthday, Marty Ryan” struts with the defiance of late-‘70s Joe Jackson, as Ryan admits the years are piling on. “Guy on Guy” closes in on the deviant area where Ray Davies once excelled. If anything, being fan-financed has let Mead write the toughest and most confrontational songs of his career. A highlight.

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