The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another Sunday Six where I embark on time travel into the great world of music, six tracks at a time. If you’re in the U.S., celebrated Thanksgiving and had a long weekend, hope you had a great time with family and friends with no stress while traveling or cooking. Regardless of your situation, music can work its magic on pretty much any occasion, so I invite you to join me on yet another excursion.

Lester Young & Harry Edison/Red Boy Blues

Today, our journey starts in 1955 when two American jazz musicians, saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry Edison, teamed up for an album titled Pres & Sweets. Young, nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was active between 1993 and 1959. He first gained prominence with the Count Basie Orchestra, in which he played from 1933 until 1940. After the Second World War, Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and frequently toured with the troupe for the next 12 years. Harry Edison who started playing the trumpet as a 12-year-old became a member of the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in 1933 before joining Basie’s orchestra in 1937. That’s where he played first with Young who nicknamed him “Sweets”. In the ’50s, he also toured with the Jazz at the Philharmonic and played with other orchestras, in addition to leading his own groups. This brings me back to Pres & Sweets, and Red Boy Blues, a composition by Young. He and Edison got a little help from some formidable friends: Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums).

The Wild Feathers/The Ceiling

My recent post for Thanksgiving reminded me of The Wild Feathers, a country rock band I first came across two years ago when featuring a tune from their then-latest album Medium Rarities. The group was founded in 2010 in Nashville. Their current line-up includes founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, sharing bills with the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Since the release of their eponymous debut in August 2013, they have released four additional studio albums, most recently Alvarado (October 2021), which I reviewed here. The Ceiling, co-written by King, Young and Burns, is a great tune from the band’s aforementioned first album.

Stevie Wonder/Sir Duke

Next, let’s pay a visit to the ’70s with an absolute soul gem by Stevie Wonder who I trust needs no further introduction. Sir Duke, off Wonder’s 1976 masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life, is a beautiful tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington who had passed away in 1974. The lyrics also mention Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Sir Duke was Wonder’s first tribute to people he admired. In the early 1980s, he also recorded Master Blaster, dedicated to Bob Marley, and Happy Birthday, which pleaded for what would eventually become the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in the United States. Sir Duke is one of these tunes that immediately put me in a great mood and make me move. Feel free to groove along!

Chuck Prophet/Credit

Are you ready for a stop-over in the ’90s? Ready or not, here we go with great music by Chuck Prophet. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is a relatively recent discovery for me. Blending rock, country, blues and folk, Prophet has released 16 solo albums since 1990, according to Wikipedia. Before launching his solo career in 1990, he was a member of rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red and can be heard on 10 of their albums. He also been a guest musician on more than 20 albums by other artists, such as True West, Cake, Warren Zevon and Kim Carnes. Most recently, he worked with songwriter Jenifer McKitrick for her forthcoming album Road Call scheduled for December 1. Credit, penned by English singer-songwriter Pete Shelley, co-founder of early punk band Buzzcocks, is the opener of Prophet’s 1997 solo album Homemade Blood. The more I hear of Prophet, the more I like him!

The Impressions/It’s All Right

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some more soul, and I got a true beauty that takes us back to August 1963: It’s All Right by The Impressions. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune first appeared on the eponymous debut album by The Impressions. The gospel, doo-wop, R&B and soul group was co-founded by Mayfield and Jerry Butler in 1958 as Jerry Butler & the Impressions, along with Sam Gooden, Arthur Brooks and his brother Richard Brooks, who all had been members of doo-wop group the Roosters. After releasing 12 additional albums with The Impressions, Mayfield left them in 1970 to launch a solo career. The group went on without Mayfield until their retirement in 2018, after a 60-year career. It’s All Right was also released as a single in October 1963 and became The Impressions’ biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides chart and climbing to no. 4 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In my book, it’s one of the most beautiful and uplifting songs I know. The tune also shows the magic music can do. Listening to it instantly makes you feel okay.

Pat Benatar/Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Once again, we’re reaching the final destination of yet another Sunday Six. My proposition for this week is a great rocker by 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Pat Benator. I was glad to see this great lady inducted. Hit Me With Your Best Shot, penned by Canadian musician Eddie Schwartz, first appeared on Benatar’s sophomore album Crimes of Passion, released in August 1980. It also became the album’s second single in September of that year and Benatar’s first top 10 U.S. hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Of her songs I know, I think it’s my favorite. Pat Benator, now 69 years and in the 50th year of her career, is still going strong. I happened to catch her recent Rock Hall induction performance and she was still kicking butt showing the younger cats how it’s done. So was her longtime partner in crime lead guitarist Neil Giraldo who also has been her husband since 1982.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! If you’re in the U.S. and celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a great time. Of course, Saturday also means taking a fresh look at newly released music. Perhaps not surprisingly given the holiday, this week looked lighter, so finding four tracks that sufficiently spoke to me was more challenging than usual. The first two songs are on albums that came out yesterday (November 25), while the last two tracks appeared as singles last Friday (November 18).

Chase Ceglie/Tonight

My first pick this week is Chase Ceglie, a 26-year-old pop-oriented artist and multi-instrumentalist from Newport, Rhode Island. From his website: In his youth, Chase became involved in the RI music community. While at Rogers High School, Chase was twice awarded the Heritage Music Festival Maestro Award for distinguished individual performances. From 2007 to 2013, Chase was annually selected for Rhode Island’s All-State ensembles as a saxophonist. Performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2012 and 2013, Chase was awarded the 2013 George Wein Jazz Ambassador Scholarship. He is a 2017 graduate of Berklee College of Music where he received a B.M. in Professional Music with a focus in Composition and Saxophone Performance. Ceglie’s debut album Onion, which he performed, recorded and produced while still being a student at Berklee, appeared in 2016. He has since released three additional albums including the latest titled Chaseland. Let’s check out the opener Tonight, written by Ceglie who in addition to providing vocals played acoustic piano, electric guitar and Moog synthesizer. Acoustic guitar, bass, drums and percussion were provided by Jonathan Elyashiv. Quite a pleasant pop tune!

Elder/Endless Return

Nine out of 10 bands Apple Music tags as “metal” don’t speak to me, since to my ears their music is primarily loud and the vocals resemble screaming. As such, I was a bit skeptical when I saw that same tag for Elder. It turned out this group, which blends progressive rock with metal, is different. From their Apple Music profile: Elder formed in Massachusetts in 2005 behind singer and main songwriter Nick DiSalvo; bass player Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Cuoto completed their lineup. The trio released their self-titled debut on Meteor Records in 2008. Their second album, Dead Roots Stirring, followed two years later on Meteor Records and Headspin Productions, with the EP Spires Burn/Release arriving via Armageddon in 2012. Fast-forward 10 years to Innate Passage, Edler’s new album. In traditional prog-rock fashion all of the five tracks are long, ranging from eight and half to more than 14 minutes. Here’s the perhaps appropriately titled close to 10 minutes Endless Return. Joking aside, I think it’s actually a pretty good tune.

The Dirty Nil/Bye Bye Big Bear

The Dirty Nil are a Canadian rock band from Hamilton, Ontario, who I first featured in a Best of What’s New installment in early January 2021. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil, who blend hard rock with punk, won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Following the release of their third studio album Fuck Art in January 2021, Sam Tomlinson replaced Miller on bass. Bye Bye Big Bear, co-written by Fisher and Bentham, is the group’s latest single. Their combination of grungy rock with a catchy melody is a bit reminiscent of Green Day.

Winterland/Set Me Free

Rounding out this week’s new music revue is Winterland, a Swedish rock solo project by Fredrik Nilsson. Here’s more from his Spotify profile: Reminiscing about 70’s yacht rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, he has discovered music as a therapeutic experience. [He] describes this experience. “I started writing for therapeutic purposes, and then there were a lot of songs all for a sudden. It has never been obvious that I should be on stage, be a front figure. I’ve just been keeping on really.” A music enthusiast from an early age, Frederik has played with several bands over the years, allowing him to develop a mature sound, which permeated his previous project, the band Waterhill. Here is Winterland’s latest single Set Me Free, a nice pop-rock tune credited to him and Björn Engelmann.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Chase Ceglie website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Time Again for Another Thanksgiving Music Tradition

It’s hard to believe that here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is upon us again. This is also the time of the year when New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 does its annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The following borrows from two related posts I published last year.

The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list. The countdown starts at 9:00 am EST the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and stretches all the way to sometime Sunday evening after the holiday. That’s how long it takes to get through all 1,043 songs. Obviously, they are all different tunes, as opposed to the much smaller rotation of songs most radio stations play over and over again.

The only interruption of the countdown happens at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful! Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant is also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album.

The tune is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film of the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Coming back to the countdown, this year, I didn’t get to submit any picks. After having taken a look at what I did last year, I still stand behind these tunes and shaking up things a little with four artists I had not selected in previous years: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers), both songs from 2021, as well as I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), tunes released in 2003 and 1985, respectively.

Following are the songs I probably would have submitted again this year, if I had had the opportunity. They are in no particular order.

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’ – Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown – Alvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard – Shake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter Skelter – The Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette City – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down – A Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real Me – Quadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand – The Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/Cinderella – Lysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening on and off to the countdown over the coming days. Will Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again come in at no. 1, which it has every year since Q104.3 began their countdown? While I think that’s a foregone conclusion, I still enjoy listening to the countdown. It’s not all rock, but there is lots of great music with no repetition while it lasts!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Last but not least, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don’t, hope you have a rockin’ and rollin’ great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Latest From the Horse’s Mouth Brings More Classic Neil Young

It’s hard to keep up with Neil Young. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter truly is on a mission to publish his music, both old and new, and he’s not slowing down. Since December 2021, Young who recently turned 77, has put out three live and three studio albums. The latter includes his new studio project with Crazy Horse, World Record, released on November 18.

I think there are two ways to look at World Record. One is to conclude the album presents nothing new we haven’t heard from Neil Young before, which is a fair statement. The other way to look at it is he is giving us more of classic Neil, the kind of music his fans love. If you’ve been a frequent visitor of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you will not be much surprised I wholeheartedly embrace the second view.

World Record is the 42nd studio album by Young and his 15th with Crazy Horse, according to Wikipedia. They had to count them all! It comes less than a year after its predecessor Barn, which appeared in December 2021 and which I reviewed here. Like Barn, World Record features Young’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, including Nils Lofgren (guitar, upright piano, dobro, slide guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, sweep percussion, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). In addition to vocals and guitar, Young provides upright piano, vibes, harp, harmonica, Marxophone, pump organ, Wurlitzer and kick tub.

From left: Rick Rubin, Neil Young and New Zealand radio DJ, record producer and TV presenter Zane Lowe during an interview conducted for Apple Music at Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif.

Unlike its predecessor, the new album was co-produced by Rick Rubin. While he has worked with countless other artists over the past 40 years, including the likes of Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sheryl Crow, Santana and ZZ Top, if I see this correctly, World Record marks his debut with Neil Young. Well, there’s always a first time! The album has a spontaneous and laid-back feel to it. According to Apple Music, Most of the songs started as melodies Young whistled to himself while walking in the woods, and were written from start to finish in just two days. I’d say it’s time to check out some music!

Let’s kick things off with the opener Love Earth. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Young. “The reason I wrote Love Earth is because I see it as a simple message,” he explained in a post on his website Neil Young Archives. “If you do good things to Earth and try to keep the planet clean and taken care of, she will take care of you and your grandchildren in return.” Young has been singing about environmental concerns since 1970 and the days of After the Gold Rush.

When I first heard the beginning of I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone), the heavily distorted guitar sounded immediately reminded me of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Young doesn’t fool around when it comes to distortion! The lyrics leave no doubt about the message:…I look out at the change and I wonder how the earth could be going to somewhere I’ve never seen/Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be/Fight with me now to the end of the wars and believe what they’ve done for you, if you now are free

The World (Is In Trouble Now) dials back the distortion in favor of Young’s pump organ and harmonica. In this tune, Young goes beyond describing troubling signs of change to calling for activism:…On this street we walk together now/To send this message here/Let me wait beyond the things I know/And try to be a light

Walkin’ On the Road (To the Future) is another acoustically focused song. As he oftentimes does, in this tune, Young offers some hope amid the doom and gloom of the planet’s decline:..Walkin’ on the road to the future is scary/We want to make the best of the past and not tarry/These are the things we’ve done and they have a cost/But we will take it on and try to make the best of us

A standout tune on the album is the 15-minute-plus Chevrolet, seemingly a bit of a contradiction lyrically speaking on an album that is focused on environmental decay. Since I already covered the song in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here. Instead, the final track I’d like to call out is The Wonder Won’t Wait.

World Record, which appears on Reprise Records, was recorded live and mixed to analog tape at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif. BTW, in case you’re wondering about the cover, it’s a shot of Neil Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, who was a Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist.

The final word shall belong to Neil: “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told Apple Music. “It’s probably the only time in the world that you could ever see where all the people of all the countries all around the world could have the same idea: ‘Wait a minute, we got to do something because this is no good.’ We’re all feeling it.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouYube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy humpday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. If you’ve been a frequent visitor to my blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise, you probably know John Mellencamp has been one of my favorite artists for many years. As such, it was only a matter of time before I would cover him as part of this weekly recurring feature.

I guess the heartland-straight-rock-turned-roots-artist from Seymour, Indiana doesn’t need much of an introduction. Mellencamp, who at the time still was John Cougar, first entered my radar screen in 1982 with a little ditty about Jack & Diane, his second big hit single in the U.S. and Canada. Strangely, according to Wikipedia, the tune, off his fifth studio album American Fool, didn’t chart in Germany, even though I seem to remember hearing it on my then-favorite mainstream radio station all the time. The first Mellencamp album I bought was Scarecrow released in August 1985.

By the time Big Daddy appeared in 1989, Mellencamp had started his transition from straight heartland to more roots and Americana-oriented rock. He had begun to take that direction on his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, which remains among my favorite Mellencamp albums to this day. While I continue to dig his earlier straight rock sound, I’ve come to prefer his roots-focused music. I also like how his vocals have become much rougher over the decades.

This brings me to my song pick for this week: Big Daddy of Them All, from the aforementioned Big Daddy, Mellencamp’s 10th studio album – the last released as John Cougar Mellencamp. He hated the Cougar name, which had been given to him by his former manager Tony DeFries who insisted “Mellencamp” was too hard to market and pretty much imposed the awkward stage name Johnny Cougar on him.

Big Daddy of Them All did not become one of the album’s four singles. Like all except one track, it was penned by Mellencamp. While overall Big Daddy didn’t match the chart and sales success of its predecessor The Lonesome Jubilee, it still did pretty well, becoming Mellencamp’s first album to top the Australian charts, climbing to no. 3 and no. 7 in Canada and the U.S., respectively, and charting in various European countries. Eventually, Big Daddy reached 2X Platinum status in Canada and Platinum certification in the U.S. and Australia.

Here’s a live version of the tune from 2005, captured during Mellencamp’s Words and Music Tour.

Following are some additional tidbits on Big Daddy of Them All from Songfacts:

“Big Daddy Of Them All” was inspired by Burl Ives’ portrayal of Big Daddy in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Mellencamp said in the liner notes for the On The Rural Route 7609 box set: “This song was more or less a postcard to myself, saying, ‘You think Burl Ives wasn’t so nice? Guess what, John.'”

This song is one of the more personal in Mellencamp’s canon. By his own admission, he could be bossy and dismissive, and outright hostile to the media. Still, he was one of the most successful recording artists of the ’80s, earning money, fame, and adulation. Just one problem: None of those things were important to him.

In this song, he draws a parallel to the Big Daddy character in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Big Daddy was rich, philandering, and cantankerous, which did him no good when he reached the end of his life. Mellencamp was still in his 30s, but he could see where his life was headed. At the time, his second marriage was crumbling down.

This is the lead track on Mellencamp’s Big Daddy album, and the song that provided the title. It has a very rootsy feel, with a prominent violin (by Lisa Germano) and accordion (by John Cascella). This kind of instrumentation is prominent throughout the Big Daddy album.

It’s worth noting that Paul Newman stars in the 1958 adaptation of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, which inspired this song. He plays Brick, Big Daddy’s son. Paul Newman movies also made their way into Mellencamp’s songs “Paper In Fire,” which cribs a line from Hud, and “Rain On The Scarecrow,” which borrows from dialogue in Cool Hand Luke.

This song was a milestone for Mellencamp, who had a bit of a revelation. “At one time I thought I had all this stuff figured out, then I realized I didn’t,” he explained. “And I realized, like I said in ‘Big Daddy,’ when you live for yourself it’s hard on everybody. I didn’t realize I was hard to live with. It never dawned on me.”

“You gotta grow up and deal with what’s real,” he added. “Happiness, finding out who you are, and learning how to be a human being is what’s real.” (This interview appears in his VH1 “Coming Of Age” documentary.)

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Celebrates Soul and R&B on New Covers Album

Bruce Springsteen released his anticipated new album of soul and R&B covers on Friday, November 11. First revealed by Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in mid-September and formally announced by Springsteen at the end of that same month, Only the Strong Survive is his 21st studio album. If you follow The Boss, you may have seen reviews to date have been mixed. While I feel some of the criticism is fair, overall, I think Springsteen has delivered an enjoyable album.

Only the Strong Survive comes two years after Letter to You (October 2020), and is Springsteen’s second all-covers collection since We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (April 2006). Springsteen made the album at his Thrill Hill Recording studio in New Jersey “in early lockdown during “off hours”, as reported by Pitchfork. Perhaps that explains in part why producer Ron Aniello played nearly all instruments (drums, bass, percussion, guitar, vibes, piano, organ, glockenspiel, keyboards, farfisa). Springsteen himself mostly provided lead vocals and also played some guitar.

The number of other contributors was limited. Most notable is the now 87-year-old Sam Moore, one half of legendary Stax duo Sam & Dave. Other listed contributors include backing vocalists Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, Michelle Moore, Curtis King Jr., Dennis Collins and Fonzi Thornton, as well as The E Street Horns and Rob Mathes who provided string arrangements. Notably absent were soul fan Steven Van Zandt, who came up with the great horn arrangement for Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and other members of the E Street Band. Again, perhaps it’s a reflection of the circumstances, or Springsteen simply wanted to leave no doubt the album was a solo effort.

“I wanted to make an album where I just sang,” he stated. “And what better music to work with than the great American songbook of the Sixties and Seventies? I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others. I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music.”

Time to get to some of the goodies. Let’s kick it off with Soul Days, written by Jonnie Barnett and recorded by Dobie Gray as the title track of his 2001 studio album – perhaps not the most obvious choice if Springsteen’s goal was to highlight ’60s and ’70s soul music. That said, I think it’s a great rendition. It’s also one of two tunes featuring Sam Moore on backing vocals. Just like with the other tracks on the album, Springsteen evidently did not aim to remake any of these songs – appropriate for an album that pays homage.

Another tune I think came out really well is Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). It was written by Motown producer Frank Wilson, who also recorded it as a single in 1965. But Berry Gordy felt lukewarm about Wilson’s singing. More importantly, he wanted his producers to focus on producing rather than becoming recording artists. None of the pressed copies of the single were formally released and apparently are now prized items among collectors. Yes, the strings on Springsteen’s cover are perhaps a bit lush, but the tune has that infectious Motown beat that wants you to be dancing in the street. I also think Springsteen’s raspy vocals work rather well. Of course, he does get a little help from a potent backing choir. Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) also became the album’s first single on September 29.

Turn Back the Hands of Time, co-written by Jack Daniels and Bonnie Thompson, was first released as a single in February 1970 and became the second major hit for blues and soul singer Tyrone Davis. Again, Springsteen does a nice job of delivering a faithful cover.

For the most part, Springsteen chose to cover tunes that aren’t known very widely, which I think was a smart choice. While his raspy vocals go well with the rock-oriented music he usually makes, the reality is his vocal range has limitations. One of the exceptions is I Wish It Would Rain, which became a no. 4 hit for The Temptations in 1967 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of their numerous ’60s tunes to top the R&B chart. It was penned by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong and Rodger Penzabene. Taking on the mighty Temptations is gutsy, but once again Springsteen does a commendable job. He even throws in some falsetto. The backing vocals are excellent as well.

The last track I’d like to call out is the second tune featuring Sam Moore on backing vocals: I Forgot to Be Your Lover. Co-written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones, Bell recorded and first released the beautiful soul ballad in late 1968. The tune reached no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 10 on the Hot R&B Singles chart.

Only the Strong Survive appears on Columbia Records. It was engineered by Rob Lebret and executive-produced by long-time Springsteen collaborator Jon Landau. Following is a Spotify link to the album.

“My goal is for the modern audience to experience [the music’s] beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it,” Springsteen explained. “I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”

Throughout his entire career, Springsteen has included soul songs in his sets, so I feel there can be no doubt his proclaimed love for this music is genuine. Could some of his picks have been different? Sure. Is it odd he had Sam Moore as a guest and didn’t cover a Sam & Dave tune? Perhaps. Or that there weren’t any members of the E Street Band, especially since he will be touring with them next year? Not necessarily, given the album came together during COVID lockdown.

One important aspect is Springsteen picked songs that work well with his voice. Together with great backing vocals and musical arrangements that largely stay faithful to the original songs, Only the Strong Survive is a pleasant listening experience. Another question is how the album will be remembered in the context of Springsteen’s overall catalog. Time will tell.

Sources: Wikipedia; Pitchfork; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

Larkin Poe Return With Energetic Blues, Roots and Southern Rock Sound on New Album

Since I came across Larkin Poe a few years ago, I’ve been impressed with their energetic brand of blues, roots and southern rock. Not only are Rebecca Lovell  and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell great songwriters, but they are also really talented musicians and sing together in perfect harmony. All of these qualities once again shine on their new album Blood Harmony, which appeared on Friday, November 11.

Originally hailing from Georgia, the Nashville-based duo has been making music as Larkin Poe since 2010. They started out as teenagers with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters, who put out two albums. Blood Harmony, released via their own Tricki-Woo Records, is their sixth studio effort as Larkin Poe. That’s a quite remarkable recording career for the two artists who are in their early 30s.

Rebecca (left) and Megan Lovell

From a May 19 press release announcing the album and its first single: Blood Harmony affirms Larkin Poe as an essential force in shaping the identity of Southern rock ‘n’ roll, breathing new energy into the genre with both forward-thinking perspective and a decidedly feminine strength. In a departure from the self-contained approach of past albums like 2020’s Self Made Man [which I previously reviewed here] Larkin Poe co-produced the new album alongside Texas-bred musician Tyler Bryant (also Rebecca’s husband).

With Megan handling harmony vocals, lap steel, and resonator guitar and Rebecca on guitar and keys, Larkin Poe also enlisted members of their longtime live band, including drummer Kevin McGowan and bassist Tarka Layman. Mainly recorded at Rebecca and Tyler’s home studio, the result is an electrifying new work that fully harnesses the fiery vitality they’ve shown in touring across the globe, imbuing their songs with equal parts soulful sensitivity and thrilling ferocity.

Let’s take a closer look at some songs. Here’s the lead single Bad Spell, credited to the sisters and Bryant. From the above press release: “Ever since I heard ‘I Put a Spell on You’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins for the first time I’ve wanted to write a female response to it,” says Rebecca Lovell. “I’d had the title ‘Bad Spell’ in my journal for years, and it was so fun to create a song where the riffs and guitar tones have that singular purpose of nastiness and swagger.” This sounds pretty badass!

Georgia Off My Mind is a tune about chasing one’s dreams and what gets left behind. Co-written by Rebecca Lovell and Bryant, it was released as the album’s second single on August 23. “Like 99 percent of my songs, that song came into being at my kitchen table late in the evening,” Rebecca explained. “My husband and I stumbled into that line at the chorus – ‘Tennessee keep Georgia off my mind’ – and it turned into a love song for the stretch of I-24 that connects Atlanta and Nashville, which is a drive we’ve made thousands of times now.” Cool southern rocker!

Strike Gold, which the two sisters wrote together, is a defiant tune about finding the way on one’s own terms. “After years of being out on the road, this song feels emotionally anthemic,” Rebecca noted. “Shoutout to all the good souls out there who keep showing up for their dreams, even when the goin’ gets tough.” Strike Gold also first appeared as a single on October 5. Another sizzling blues rock tune!

Here’s the title track, co-written by Rebecca Lovell, Bryant and McGowan, which “came together after Megan and our mom and I all read Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which is about the ways we perceive the passage of time,” Rebecca said. “There was just something about the sweetness of all three of us reading the same book, and then being able to talk about how it related to our love for each other and our love for music. Of all the songs I’ve ever written, I’m particularly proud of this one.”

Let’s do one more: Might as Well Be Me, another co-write by the sisters. The soulful southern rock ballad sets a welcome contrast to the otherwise mostly uptempo hard-charging album.

Blood Harmony, which based on other reviews I’ve seen, has been received very positively, and rightfully so! If you’re into blues, roots and southern rock, I can highly recommend it. Following is a Spotify link to the album.

The last word shall belong to Megan and Rebecca Lovell, who summed up their fine new work as follows: “When steering by your own stars, you never quite know where you’re going to wind up. Our true north is unique to us, and in following our true north without compromise, we have been out freewheeling this world on the ride of our lives. And it still feels like just the beginning. Blood Harmony is a creative step we are proud to have taken together as sisters. We grew these songs in a sweet part of our hearts and we hope they bring beauty.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Big Hassle press releases; YouTube; Spotify