Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it only me, or is 2022 already starting to feel old? Regardless of my sentiment, let’s focus on the positive – it’s Saturday and time to take a fresh look at newly-released music! Unlike some of the recurring feature’s other previous installments, this week, I didn’t have much of a challenge to identify four picks I sufficiently like to highlight in a post. Next week, it could be entirely different, so I should enjoy it while it lasts! All tunes are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 14).

Elvis Costello & The Imposters/Magnificent Hurt

I’d like to start with a longtime artist who I trust doesn’t need much of an introduction: Elvis Costello, who started his recording career in 1977 and has been on a roll over the past few year. After Hey Clockface from October 2020 and a Spanish re-interpretation of his 1978 sophomore album This Year’s Model released in September of last year, he’s out with a new studio album, The Boy Named If. Based on sampling some of the tunes, I’m quite excited about it. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, Costello is backed by The Imposters, “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.” UCR characterizes The Boy Named If as sounding similar to Look Now, his 30th studio album from October 2018. I’ve listened to some of Costello’s early music, especially his 1977 debut My Aim Is True, which I dig. Clearly, I have much more to explore. Meanwhile, here’s the Magnificent Hurt. I love that cool retro sound – check out that seductive keyboard!

The Lumineers/Reprise

The Lumineers first entered my radar screen in July 2017 when I saw them open for U2 in New Jersey. Prior to that, I had only heard their 2012 hit Ho Hey. This prompted me to review their sophomore album Cleopatra released in April 2016. At the core, The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), though there have been additional members over the years. At the time they started collaborating in the early 2000s, they performed under various different names, including Free Beer, 6Cheek and Wesley Jeremiah. In 2005, they became The Lumineers. When I saw them in 2017, they were a trio that also included cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek who left the following year. Reprise, co-written by Schultz and Fraites, is a track off their fourth and latest studio album Brightside. They also played most of the instruments.

Cat Power/Pa Pa Power

Cat Power (born Charlyn Marie Marshall) is a singer-songwriter born in Atlanta, Ga. According to her Apple Music profile, Growing up in the South, Charlyn “Chan” Marshall was influenced by church hymns, country music, the blues played by her musician father, and her stepfather’s rock ’n’ roll records. After seeing a man wearing a trucker cap emblazoned with the words “Cat Diesel Power,” she named her first band Cat Power, before adopting the moniker for herself. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn were so impressed by her live performances that they became her bandmates during the mid-’90s. Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl contributed to 2003’s You Are Free, the first Cat Power album to make the Billboard 200 chart…After helping Marshall through a time of self-doubt, Lana Del Rey collaborated with her on the feminist anthem “Woman,” which became one of Cat Power’s biggest hits. The single appeared in August 2018. To date, Marshall has released 11 studio albums, including her latest, a collection of covers appropriately titled Covers. Here’s Pa Pa Power, co-written by Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields who make up the rock duo Dead Man’s Bones (gotta love that name!) and included the tune on their 2009 eponymous debut album. I’m intrigued by Cat Power’s sound!

Punch Brothers/Church Street Blues

Let’s wrap things up with Punch Brothers, a folk band that has been around since 2006. Wikipedia notes their music has been described as “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the structures of modern classical” and “American country-classical chamber music” – couldn’t have said it any better! 🙂 Their current members include Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals, mandola, bouzouki), Gabe Witcher (fiddle, vocals, drums), Noam Pikelny (banjo, vocals, steel guitar), Chris Eldridge (guitar, vocals) and Paul Kowert (double bass, vocals). Since their debut album Punch, which remarkably gave the Punch Brothers a chart-topper right from the get-go on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums, five additional full-length records by the group have come out. Their latest is titled Hell on Church Street. Here’s the opener Church Street Blues, written by guitarist and singer-songwriter Norman Blake. He first recorded the song for his 1976 studio album Whiskey Before Breakfast. Punch Brothers do a beautiful job with their rendition. I really dig the warmth that comes across in their music, which makes me want to hear more, even though I don’t listen much to bluegrass. But beautiful music remains beautiful, no matter the genre!

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Peter Gabriel/Waterloo Sunset

When I love a song as much as I do Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, I tend to be hyper-critical about covers from other music acts, especially when they make changes. In this case, not only did I not mind it, but I was truly blown away when I heard Peter Gabriel’s rendition the other day.

Waterloo Sunset, written by Ray Davies, first appeared in May 1967 as the lead single of Something Else by the Kinks, the group’s fifth UK studio album released in mid-September of the same year. Together with Death of a Clown, Waterloo Sunset became one of two hits the record generated, climbing to no. 2 in the UK on the singles chart. Elsewhere, it topped the charts in The Netherlands, climbed to no. 3 in Ireland, and reached no. 4 in Australia, among others.

The lyrics, which describe the narrator’s thoughts about a couple passing over a bridge, were rumored to have been inspired by the romance of British actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. But during a 2008 interview, Davies explained, “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country.”

Peter Gabriel’s transformation of Waterloo Sunset reminds me of the haunting Wallflower from his fourth eponymous studio album released in September 1982. I’d be curious to know whether it grabs you as much as it did me. Check it out!

This rendition of Waterloo Sunset appeared as a bonus track on Gabriel’s eighth studio album Scratch My Back from February 2010. The record consists of cover versions of tunes from a broad variety of other artists. Co-produced by Gabriel and Bob Ezrin, the recordings only use orchestra and voice and have a bare-bones vibe. Based on briefly listening into the remaining tracks, Gabriel’s other renditions don’t work as well for me as Waterloo Sunset.

Initially, Gabriel had planned to release Scratch My Back with a companion album of covers of Gabriel songs performed by the same artists whose tunes he had covered on Scratch My Back. But due to delays, And I’ll Scratch Yours only appeared in September 2013. David Bowie, Neil Young and Radiohead declined to cover Gabriel songs and were “replaced” by Brian Eno, Joseph Arthur and Feist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Uriah Heep/Salisbury

The other day, fellow blogger Darren from Darren’s music blog wrote about recent solo releases from members of Uriah Heep. This reminded me how my journey with the British rock band began as a teenager back in Germany in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I’m pretty sure it must have been the rock ballad Lady in Black, a big hit in Germany, which caught my initial attention. I also recall receiving a gift from a friend, a music cassette titled The Rock Album, which included Free Me, another popular Uriah Heep tune in Germany. Since I preferred Lady in Black, I ended up buying Salisbury, the album that included the tune. I own that vinyl copy to this day.

The origins of Uriah Heep date back to 1967 when Mick Box, then a 19-year-old guitarist, founded a cover band called Hogwash. After David Garrick joined, who later changed his last name to Byron, Box formed a songwriting partnership with him and established a new band called Spice, which focused on original songs. In 1969, Spice became Uriah Heep, named after the fictional character in the 1850 Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield.

Uriah Heep in December 1970

In addition to Box (guitars, backing vocals) and Byron (vocals), the group’s initial line-up included Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). That formation recorded the band’s 1970 debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. By the time Uriah Heep went into the studio for their sophomore album, Salisbury, Napier had been replaced by Keith Baker – the first of numerous line-up changes throughout the group’s 50-plus-year history.

Interestingly, Salisbury appeared first in the U.S. in January 1971 before it was released in the UK the following month. Unlike the group’s first album that credited the music to most members of the band, Salisbury saw the emergence of Hensley as a key songwriter, with half the tracks attributed solely to him. Let’s get to some music! This review is based on the album’s UK/European edition.

Here’s the opener Bird of Prey. First included on the U.S. version of Uriah Heep’s debut album, it’s the only track credited to four members of the group: Box, Byron, Hensley and Newton. As you listen to the powerful rocker, you can literally picture the rumbling tank on the front cover of the album. I’m a bit surprised Bird of Prey wasn’t released as a single. Nevertheless, it has become one of Heep’s most popular tunes, at least among their fans.

After the furious opener, things slow down on The Park, a ballad and one of three tracks solely written by Hensley. I realize Byron’s high vocals may be an acquired taste, especially for first-time listeners. Interestingly, I never had a problem with it, though I can see why some folks might consider his singing to be a bit weird. It’s certainly quite distinct!

Side A closes with the above-mentioned Lady in Black. The tune, another song penned by Hensley alone, also appeared separately as a single in June 1971. Remarkably, it didn’t chart in the UK. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Switzerland and no. 16 in Finland. Based on Wikipedia’s chart overview, this lack of success in the UK seems to be pretty consistent when it comes to the band’s singles.

Side B only includes two tracks: High Priestess, the third tune solely penned by Hensley that also became a U.S. single in January 1971, and the title track. Here’s the latter, co-written by Box, Byron and Hensley. And, yep, it’s a massive, largely instrumental prog-rock type tune featuring a 24-piece orchestra.

Salisbury was produced by Gerry Bron who also produced or co-produced Heep’s other 12 albums released during the band’s first 10 years of their recording career, including Conquest from February 1980. Salisbury was most successful in Finland where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it reached no. 19 in Australia, no. 31 in Germany, no. 47 in Japan and no. 103 in the U.S. Uriah Heep’s first chart entry in the UK would have to wait until Look at Yourself, their third studio album that came out in September 1971.

To date, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, most recently Living the Dream from September 2018. According to Wikipedia, numerous other acts have identified the British rock band as an influence, including Iron Maiden, Queen, Accept, Dio, Krokus and Demons & Wizards, among others.

In November 2021, Mick Box, Heep’s only remaining original member, told heavy metal and hard rock news website Blabbermouth.net they had finished recording sessions for a new album. “And it’s over in L.A. now being mixed,” he added. “So a new album is on the horizon.” Details have yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile, Uriah Heep announced a “mammoth European tour, a delayed celebration of their 50th anniversary. The 61 dates will span 28 countries. Current shows are listed here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Uriah Heep website; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

My proposition for today is a gospel classic: Oh Happy Day. Not only do I generally love the harmony singing of a gospel choir, but how can you not listen to this upbeat tune and think, ‘yes, I can do this!’

Originally, Oh Happy Day was a hymn written in 1755 by Philip Doddridge, an English clergyman. In 1967, American gospel musician and choirmaster Edwin Hawkins arranged Doddridge’s hymn as a gospel tune and recorded it with his choir, The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Released as a single in 1968, Oh Happy Day became an international hit the following year. It topped the charts in France, Germany and Switzerland, reached no. 2 in the UK, and climbed to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The tune also appeared on The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ 1968 debut album Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.

Hawkins’ excellent arrangement became a gospel standard and, according to Wikipedia, has been recorded by hundreds of artists. It won a Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1970.

George Harrison has cited Oh Happy Day as a primary inspiration for My Sweet Lord, not that other song that gave him, well, a less than happy day. The tune has also appeared in many movies, perhaps most notably in the 1993 picture Sister Act II starring Whoopi Goldberg – gotta love Whoopi! You can check out the scene here.

Happy Hump Day, and speaking of George, always remember his wise words: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

For the One-Thousand’s Time on This Channel

The time has come for a bit of self-promotion, something I usually shy away from. While it’s not my personality to highlight my accomplishments, I felt the 1000th post on Christian’s Music Musings warrants an exception.

When I started the blog on June 25, 2016, I really had no idea whether I would stick with it. To me, looking back at my early posts feels funny and at times a bit embarrassing. Like with many other things I guess there’s a learning curve for blogging. I want to believe my writing and the look and feel of the blog have improved over time.

While at the end of the day my main goal is to have fun with this blog, I can’t deny receiving recognition feels reassuring. The stats WordPress provides draw a picture I find encouraging. I realize compared to other fellow bloggers my total numbers remain moderate, but thus far, the long-term trends look promising. Annual traffic of both total views and visitors has grown nicely over the past five years.

Annual number views and visitors

The picture is pretty similar for the numbers of “Likes” and “Comments.” The latter in particular is what I find most gratifying. I’d like to take this opportunity again to thank everybody who took the time to read and provide feedback. I enjoy exchanging facts and views, and hope you guys keep the comments coming!

Annual number of comments

My best-performing post to date is this piece from January 2018 about Bad Company’s 2016 album Live At Red Rocks. It has been seen more than 2,000 times and continues to get views – sometimes in what looks like random surges. While I’m not complaining and still stand behind the post, frankly, I don’t find anything special about it. I can safely say I invested significantly more time and effort in other posts.

Finally, since Christian’s Music Musings is a blog about a topic that has been a key hobby and passion for most of my life, this post would be incomplete without at least one song, don’t you agree? I figured the occasion calls for an upbeat tune that has the number 1,000 in the title: Land of 1000 Dances. I guess this is where my nerdy side emerged! 🙂

Written by American R&B singer and songwriter Chris Kenner, Land of 1000 Dances was first recorded and released by him in 1962. Wikipedia notes the song mentions the Pony, the Chicken, the Mashed Potatoe, the Alligator and 996 other dances. Just kidding, it’s actually 16 dances altogether – still pretty impressive!

The original has a slower tempo than the best-known version of the tune by Wilson Pickett I heard first and came to love many years ago. Recorded at the storied FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Pickett’s rendition first appeared as a single in July 1966. It was also included on his third studio album The Exciting Wilson Pickett from August of the same year. What a killer version!

And since three make a charm, let’s throw in another cover by the ultimate party group, The J. Geils Band. You just know when Peter Wolf and his bandmates take on a tune like Land of 1000 Dances it’s gotta be good! A live recording of their cover was included on the compilation Flashback: The Best of the J. Geils Band, which came out in March 1985. Here’s the official clip. It’s a perfect live song and The J. Geils Band are the perfect group to deliver it!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 10

A look on the calendar revealed January 10 was a date I had not covered yet as part of my recurring music history feature that has become a bit more regular over the past few months. Not sure yet whether this is going to remain the case. For now, let’s look at some of the events that happened on January 10 throughout rock history.

1958: Jerry Lee Lewis topped the UK Official Singles chart with Great Balls of Fire, one of his best-known songs. Co-written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, the rock & roll classic had been recorded on October 8, 1957, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., and released on November 11 that year. The tune also became a big hit in the U.S. where it topped the Billboard country and R&B charts and peaked at no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The song was also featured in the American rock & roll picture Jamboree from 1957. “The Killer” remains alive at age 86.

1964: The Rolling Stones released their eponymous debut EP in the UK. It came on the heels of their second single I Wanna Be Your Man in November 1963, a cover of a Beatles tune that had yielded the first top 20 hit for the Stones in the UK. The EP featured four other covers of tunes written by Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, Arthur Alexander and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Here’s the Alexander song You Better Move On, which also became the Stones’ fourth single in January 1964. Unlike I Wanna Be Your Man, You Better Move On did not make the British charts, though it charted in Australia at an underwhelming no. 94. I’ve actually always liked this rendition.

1969: George Harrison quit The Beatles while they were at Twickenham Film Studios, where their rehearsals for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were being captured on camera. If you watched the Peter Jackson documentary The Beatles: Get Back, you could see that George’s frustration about the tensions within the group had been building up. When they broke for lunch, he had had it and told his bandmates, “I think I’ll be leaving, I’m leaving the band now.” Asked by John Lennon, “When?”, Harrison replied, “Now. Get a replacement.” His last words before walking out were, “See you ’round the clubs.” A few days later, he returned after he had received assurances the concert The Beatles had planned would be canceled and that his other wishes would be respected. Fortunately, things turned out to be different with the famous roof concert, though if you watched the above documentary, you saw it was up in the air until the very last minute.

1977: American blues legend Muddy Waters released Hard Again, the first of his final three studio albums that were produced by electric blues guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. That’s pretty much all the facts you need to have to know this has got to be great. The album, which was recorded live in-studio in just three days, won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Here’s The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2, co-written by Waters (credited as McKinley Morganfield, his real name) and Brownie McGhee.

2016: David Bowie passed away from liver cancer in New York at the age of 69. He had received his diagnosis 18 months earlier and decided not to make it public. Just two days earlier, his 26th and final studio album Blackstar had been released. The recording had taken place in secret at a studio in New York. Co-producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s “parting gift” for his fans before his death. While I understand many fans like Blackstar, admittedly, it’s not my cup of tea. I much prefer Bowie’s first decade, in particular his glam rock period. Here’s one of my favorites, Suffragette City, off his fifth studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars from June 1972. To quote the instruction on the back cover, “To be played at maximum volume”! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; This Day in Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again – boy, this first week of 2022 flew by really quickly! Well, this means it’s time for another installment of my favorite weekly feature where I time-travel to celebrate music of the past and sometimes the present, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble/Chitlins con Carne

Let’s kick it off with a great jazzy instrumental by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists. Chitlins con Carne is from the fifth and final album of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble, appropriately titled The Sky Is Crying. This record appeared in November 1991, 14 months after Vaughan’s tragic and untimely death in a helicopter crash. He was only 35 years old – what a huge loss! Chitlins con Carne, composed by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was first released on his 1963 album Midnight Blue. In case you’re curious you can check out the original here. Following is Vaughan’s excellent rendition!

Christine McVie/Got a Hold on Me

Christine McVie is best known as keyboarder, vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1970, coming from British blues band Chicken Shack. At the time she became a member of the Mac, she was the wife of bassist John McVie whom she had married in 1968. Their union fell apart after Christine had an affair with the band’s lighting engineer Curry Grant during the production of the Rumours album in 1976. Let’s just say there were many on and off relationships within Fleetwood Mac! Christine McVie wrote some of the band’s best-known songs, such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun (about her affair with Grant, though at the time she claimed it was about a dog!) and Say You Love Me. To date, she has also recorded three solo albums. Got a Hold on Me, co-written by her and Todd Sharp, is from her second solo effort Christine McVie, which came out in January 1984. I’ve always loved this pop-rock tune – simple and a bit repetitive, but quite catchy!

James Taylor/Fire and Rain

Last Sunday, I caught a great CNN documentary, Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, focused on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour – I could still kill myself that I completely missed that tour! Anyway, one of the tunes they played was Fire and Rain, my favorite James Taylor original song. I also love his rendition of King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Fire and Rain is off Taylor’s sophomore album Sweet Baby James from February 1970. The tune also appeared separately as a single in August that year. It became his first hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 in Canada and no. 6 in Australia. It also charted in the UK (no. 48) and The Netherlands (no. 18). Here’s a beautiful live performance captured from the BBC’s In Concert series in November 1970. James Taylor, his smooth voice and his great guitar-playing – that’s really all you need!

Them/Gloria

Next, let’s jump back further to December 1964 and some dynamite British garage rock: Gloria by Them, a band formed in April 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fronted by Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), the group’s original line-up also included Billy Harrison (guitar, vocals), Eric Wrixon (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Milling (drums). Gloria, penned by Morrison, was first released in November 1964 as the B-side to Baby, Please Don’t Go, Them’s second single. The tune was also included on the group’s debut album The Angry Young Them from June 1965, which in the U.S. was simply titled Them. This song’s just a classic. I wish I could say the same about Van Morrison these days!

Elvis Presley/Heartbreak Hotel

As frequent visitors of the blog may recall, my childhood idol was Elvis Presley who, btw, would have turned 87 yesterday (January 8). While I no longer idolize him or anyone else for that matter, I still dig Elvis, especially his early period. One of the coolest songs I can think of in this context is Heartbreak Hotel. Credited to Tommy Durden, Mae Boren Axton and Presley, the slow jazzy blues tune first appeared as a single in January 1956 and became Elvis’ first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in the UK. Heartbreak Hotel was also included on the compilation Elvis’ Golden Records from March 1958. In addition to Presley’s regular backing musicians Scotty Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (double bass), the recording featured Chet Atkins (acoustic guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano) and D.J. Fontana (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Mark Knopfler/Prairie Wedding

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final track in this installment. It’s yet another tune my streaming music provider recently served up as a listening suggestion: Prairie Wedding by Mark Knopfler. The song is from the former Dire Straits frontman’s second solo album Sailing to Philadelphia that came out in September 2000. Written by Knopfler like all other tunes on the album, the track features Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings on backing vocals, as well as Guy Fletcher on keyboards. Fletcher also served in that role in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s final dissolution in 1995. Great tune with a nice cinematic feel!

Here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly recurring feature where I pick newly released songs I like. Let’s get to it without further ado. All tunes except for the last song appeared yesterday (January 7).

Dope Lemon/Rose Pink Cadillac

Dope Lemon is the solo project of Australian singer-songwriter Angus Stone. He first started to release music in 2007 with his sister as part of folk-pop duo Angus & Julia Stone. To date, four albums by the duo have appeared. In April 2009, Stone’s solo debut Smoking Gun came out under the pseudonym Lady of the Sunshine. Starting with his third solo album Honey Bones from April 2016, he has used the Dope Lemon moniker. Rose Pink Cadillac, co-written by him and Elliott Hammond, is the bouncy, funky title track of Stone’s fifth and latest solo release.

Best Coast/All Alone

I think this may be the first time I’m featuring a music artist in back-to-back Best of What’s New installments. Last week, I picked Best Coast’s then-most recently released song Leading. The rock duo, which includes songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Borrowing again from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. Fast forward to yesterday and the deluxe issue of Best Coast’s fourth studio album Always Tomorrow. Here’s one of the new tunes, All Alone, written by Cosentino – nice pop-rock!

Gang of Youths/In the Wake of Your Leave

Gang of Youths are an Australian indie rock band formed in Sydney in 2011 by principal songwriter David Le’aupepe (lead vocals, guitar). The other members include Jung Kim (lead guitar, keyboards), Tom Hobden (violin, keyboards, guitar), Max Dunn (bass) and Donnie Borzestowski (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the group’s 2015 debut album The Positions tackled Le’aupepe’s painful divorce and mental health struggles against hard-charging indie rock topped with his tumultuous baritone. Rather than dwell in darkness, though, Gang of Youths’ anthems spin true stories of trauma into triumphant badges of survival and even hopefulness. Witness the empowering, Springsteen-worthy pulse driving “Let Me Down Easy,” from 2017’s Go Farther in Lightness. After winning four ARIA Awards for that record, the band became the inaugural performers on the Australian edition of MTV Unplugged in 2018. In the Wake of Your Love, credited to all members of the group, is a new single from their upcoming third studio album Angel in Realtime scheduled for February 25.

Dirty Honey/Let’s Go Crazy

Let’s wrap up this post with one of my favorite discoveries from last year: Los Angeles rock band Dirty Honey and their new single Let’s Go Crazy. If you’re familiar with Prince, the title of the song may be familiar. It’s actually a tune he originally recorded for his sixth studio and soundtrack album Purple Rain released in June 1984. Dirty Honey, who were formed in 2017 and are influenced by bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Black Crowes, do a nice job putting Prince’s funky pop-oriented tune into a classic rock type of song – pretty cool! Their rendition came out on December 31 – another tune I swear I didn’t see in iTunes’ new releases when I checked that day.

Last but not least, here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Carpenters

“Bland”, “saccharine” and “clean-cut.” These are a few attributes music critics used to describe Carpenters back in their heyday. Or how about this commentary by Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs who felt Richard Carpenter and his sister Karen Carpenter had “the most disconcerting collective stage presence of any band I have seen.” He added promotional photos made them resemble “the cheery innocence of some years-past dream of California youth.” Even if some of the above wasn’t entirely inaccurate, I have no problem admitting I’ve always liked the music by Carpenters.

Before highlighting some of their songs and presenting additional tunes in a playlist at the end of this post, I’d like to provide a bit of background. Richard Carpenter (October 15, 1946) and Karen Carpenter (March 2, 1950) were born in New Haven, Conn. According to a bio on Carpenters’ official website, the siblings’ father Harold Bertram Carpenter “hated the frigid New England winters. So, in June of 1963, the family moved to a suburb of L.A., Downey, California.”

Carpenters Biography

Early in their childhood, Richard and Karen started sharing a common interest in music. Richard picked up the piano at age 8. By the time he was 14, he had decided he wanted to become a professional musician and started taking lessons at Yale School of Music. Karen initially got into playing the glockenspiel, but after enrolling at Downey high school, she discovered her enthusiasm for the drums.

In 1965, the siblings started performing together in the jazz-focused Richard Carpenter Trio. In addition to Richard (piano) and Karen (drums), the group included Wes Jacobs (tuba, standup bass), a friend of Richard’s who he had met the previous year at California State College at Long Beach. After The Richard Carpenter Trio had disbanded in 1967, the siblings went on to form a band called Spectrum. But their music didn’t conform to rock and roll standards at the time, so they dissolved in 1968. Richard and Karen decided to soldier on as a duo and became Carpenters.

The Carpenters (live in australia) 1972- Love Is Surrender - YouTube

In April 1969, Carpenters signed with A&M Records after label owner Herb Alpert had heard and was intrigued by Karen’s voice. Their debut album Offering appeared in October 1969. While it didn’t sell well, a rendition of The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride, which had been arranged by Richard, gave Carpenters their first charting U.S. single on the Billboard Hot 100, where it climbed to no. 54. Their fortune changed drastically with their next single, (They Long to Be) Close to You, a tune written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It became the first of three songs to top the U.S. mainstream chart and the first of 15 no. 1 singles on the Adult Contemporary (then called Easy Listening) chart.

During their 12-year recording career, Carpenters released nine studio albums, one Christmas album, two live albums, two compilations and approximately 30 singles. This doesn’t include the numerous posthumous releases following the untimely and tragic death of Karen at age 32 from heart failure caused by complications from anorexia nervosa. Let’s get to some music!

My first pick is the aforementioned rendition of Ticket to Ride. Rearranged by Richard Carpenter as a ballad, the tune is from Carpenters’ debut album Offering, which following their breakthrough was reissued internationally under the title Ticket to Ride.

In August 1970, Carpenters issued their sophomore album Close to You. Their breakthrough record surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and topped the charts in Canada. It also did well elsewhere, reaching no. 16, no. 23 and no. 53 in Australia, the UK and Japan, respectively. In no small part, this was due to the above noted hit single (They Long to Be) Close to You.

The hits kept coming on Carpenters’ eponymous third studio album from May 1971. Here’s one of my favorites: Rainy Days and Mondays. The tune was co-written in 1971 by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams. Rainy Days and Mondays was one of the record’s three singles that all topped the Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Top of the World is one of the tunes co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, who Richard had first met in 1964 in college and who had been a member of Spectrum. Interestingly, Richard who it seems to me had a great sense of songs with hit potential initially didn’t see that for Top of the World. It was only released as a single in September 1973, more than one year after the album A Song for You had come out. The country-flavored tune became one of the Carpenters’ most successful songs, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and charting in the top 40 in many other countries.

If I recall it correctly, Only Yesterday was the first Carpenters song I ever heard. It was included on some pop sampler my sister had on vinyl. Another composition by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, Only Yesterday first appeared as a single in March 1975. It also was included on Horizon, the sixth studio album by Carpenters from June 1975.

This brings me to the final song I like to highlight: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. This great ballad had first appeared on 3:47 EST, the debut album by Klaatu from August 1976. The Canadian outfit became famous after a 1977 feature story in Providence Journal started speculations Klaatu could be The Beatles or include members of the band. I did a post on the magical mystery in May 2017, which you can read here. This was a quite unusual tune for Carpenters to record, but I think they did a nice job. Their rendition was first released in September 1977 as the second single from their eighth studio album Passage that appeared two weeks thereafter.

Following is a playlist with many additional tunes by Carpenters:

Carpenters have sold more than an estimated 100 million records worldwide as of 2005, making them one of the top-selling music artists of all time. In the U.S. alone, their total sales are believed to be close to 35 million. In the UK, they are ranked as the seventh top-selling albums artist on the official record chart of the 1970s. And in Japan, the pop duo has been the third best-selling international music act behind Mariah Carey and The Beatles.

I think it’s fair to say views of Carpenters’ initial critics have evolved, which isn’t unusual. In this context, Wikipedia notes a series of documentaries in the late ’90s and early 2000s, maintaining they have led to a critical re-evaluation of the pop duo. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Carpenters no. 10 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

During an NPR segment from February 2013 in connection with the 30th anniversary of Karen Carpenter’s death, Paul McCartney called her “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” That’s certainly a bold statement, though I do agree Karen had a beautiful and distinct voice. We’ve Only Just Begun and (They Long to Be) Close to You have received Grammy Hall of Fame awards for recordings of lasting quality or historical significance.

Sources: Wikipedia; Carpenters official website; NPR; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify