James Taylor Releases American Songbook Cover Album

I suppose if you’re a cynic you could point out that when an artist releases a cover album of American standards or Christmas tunes for that matter, it’s a sign they’ve run out of ideas and may consider retirement, or they simply are trying make a quick buck. While in some cases this notion may not be unfounded, I feel differently when it comes to James Taylor. To me, his just-released new album American Standard is a legitimate undertaking by an artist who wants to highlight songs that have played an important role in his musical journey.

I’ve admired James Taylor for many years for his warm and soothing vocals and his impressive acoustic guitar chops. I wish I could play like that! His cover of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend is one of my all-time favorite tunes. And, yes, Taylor has also written beautiful songs like Carolina in My Mind, Sweet Baby James and of course the amazing Fire and Rain. I realize this may make me a bit biased when it comes to his latest release.

So why come out with a cover album of American standards? Do we really need another version of Moon River and God Bless the Child? Here’s what the album’s liner notes say, as reported by American Songwriter: “These are songs I have always known. Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina…Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album.”

James Taylor in this studio
James Taylor in his barn studio in Western Mass.

“My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius. I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements.”

Call me naive, but to me Taylor doesn’t sound like some artist who is just out there to cash in on his big name late in his recording career. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on the American songbook. I’m not. It’s simply not the kind of music I typically listen to. I also doubt this will change all for a sudden. What I do know is that I love how Taylor and Pizzarelli arranged these tunes. I think it’s time to let the music do some of the talking or writing.

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 by pianist Gene De Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This jazz standard has been covered by Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau and Stevie Wonder, among other countless artists. I dig the beautiful arrangement, including the trumpet solo and percussion played by Walt Fowler and Luis Conte, respectively. Here’s the official video.

Another beautiful tune is Almost Like Being in Love. The music and the lyrics were written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, respectively, for the score of their 1947 musical Brigadoon. The song was first performed on Broadway by David Brooks. Gene Kelly sang the 1954 film version. The tune was also recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. As a fan of old James Bond movies, she entered my radar screen with Goldfinger, perhaps the best 007 tune.

My Heart Stood Still was composed by Richard Rodgers in 1927, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It was written for a British musical revue by Charles Cochran, which opened in London in May 1927. It was also featured later that same year in the American Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee. Like with most other tracks on the album, it’s a tune that was recorded by many artists over the decades, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The lovely violin part is played by Stuart Duncan.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Only a Paper Moon, which I previously only knew from the 1973 motion picture Paper Moon. But the song’s origin dates all the way back to 1932, when it was titled If You Believed in Me and first performed by Claire Carleton during a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose. According to Wikipedia, the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings being made by Nat King ColeElla Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

American Standard, which was released yesterday (Feb 28), is Taylor’s 20th studio album. It was co-produced by Dave O’Donnell, Taylor and Pizzarelli. O’Donnell has worked in different capacities (engineering, mixing, producing) with an impressive array of artists, who in addition to Taylor include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, isn’t exactly obscure either. According to Wikipedia, apart from recording more than 20 solo albums, he has appeared on more than 40 albums, including Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones and Natalie Cole.

Taylor will be touring Canada and the U.S., starting in mid-April and featuring special guests. In Canada, it is going to be Bonnie Raitt, while for most U.S. gigs Jackson Browne will be his special guest. This surely does sound tempting to me. If Raitt would be the special guest in the U.S., I’d probably get a ticket right away. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Jackson Browne as well but saw him relatively recently in May 2018. My previous and so far only Bonnie Raitt show, on the other hand, dates back to August 2016. And, yes, I admit it, I do have a weak spot for her – she’s just an amazing lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; James Taylor website; Dave O’Donnell website; YouTube

Revisiting My Favorite German Rock Band: BAP

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may recall seeing the name BAP. The group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. They entered my radar screen in 1981 after their national breakthrough with their third studio album Für Usszeschnigge! (translation: to cut out). BAP remain my favorite German rock band, which I realized once again the other day when listening to some of their music. This triggered my decision to do another post on them. And it may not by my last!

One of BAP’s defining features is that Niedecken performs their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. While I think they are on par with many English singing bands, undoubtedly this has largely limited their appeal to Germany, though they have ventured out to neighboring countries and even once to China. BAP have seen many line-up changes over the decades, and Niedecken remains the only original member. Since September 2014 after the departure of two longtime members, Niedecken announced that going forward the band would perform under the name Niedeckens BAP and no longer have a standing line-up.

BAP in 2016
Current members of BAP (from left): Wolfgang Niedecken (guitar, vocals), Werner Kopal (bass), Anne De Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums)

Niedecken has been BAP’s driving creative force. His key influences are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The  Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Niedecken has a friendly relationship with Springsteen. In fact, I previously read that whenever the Boss performs in Germany and Niedecken is around, he likes to invite him on stage to play a song together – to me this sounds like something Springsteen would do. BAP have released 17 studio albums, eight live recordings and three compilations to date – more than enough fodder for another playlist, so let’s get to it. Unlike the first chronological playlist I published here, this time, I’m going randomly.

Let’s kick it off with a nice blues rocker called Diego Paz Wohr Nüngzehn (Diego Paz was 19). Co-written by then-guitarist Helmut Krumminga and Niedecken, the tune has a cool ZZ Top La Grange vibe. It appeared on BAP’s 15th studio album Radio Pandora from May 2008.

The next song takes us all the way back to 1980 and Affjetaut (defrosted), BAP’s sophomore release. Here’s the opener Ne schöne Jrooß (greetings) co-written by Niedecken and Klaus Heuser, who had joined the band as their lead guitarist prior to the recording sessions and would become Niedecken’s key musical partner until his departure in 1999. While perhaps not surprisingly the sound is a bit dated, I still dig that tune.

In August 1996, BAP released their 10th studio album Amerika (America), one of my favorites. Here’s the great opener Nix Wie Bessher (nothing like it used to be), another Niedecken-Heuser co-write. As you can hear, BAP’s sound had significantly matured by then.

Time Is Cash, Time Is Money, a humorous take on organized vacation travel, appeared on the band’s sixth studio record Ahl Männer, Aalglatt (old slick guys). The song was co-written by Niedecken and producer Reinhold Mack. Mack had produced, co-produced and sound-engineered for Queen, Billy Squier and E.L.O. According to Wikipedia, it was the first time BAP relied on a “professional” producer – I assume by this they mean somebody who had worked with international acts.

Next up: Do Kanns Zaubere (you can do magic), one of my favorite BAP ballads, and yet another co-write by Niedecken and Heuser. The tune is from their fourth studio album Vun Drinne Noh Drusse (from the inside to the outside) released in August 1982.

Over their long history, BAP have released a number of songs addressing social and political issues, including racism/hostility against foreigners and nationalism – sadly topics I never thought would remain as relevant as they are today in the 21st Century. Here’s Denn Mer Sinn Widder Wer (Coz we’re great again – sound fucking familiar?) The track appeared on BAP’s eighth studio album X Für ‘e U (an “x” for a “u”) released in October 1990 in the wake of Germany’s reunification. And, yes, in case you wondered, Niedecken and Heuser teamed up for this tune as well. The clip I found is not an official video but was put together by the guy who uploaded it YouTube.

How ’bout Shoeshine? Ask and you shall receive. This great song, written by Niedecken, is from BAP’s 13th studio album Aff Un Zo (every now and then) from June 2001. It was an important record for the band after the departure of longtime members Heuser and keyboarder Alexander Büchel. The only YouTube clip of the tune I could find is this version from the 2014 unplugged live album Das Märchen Vom Gezogenen SteckerLive (the tale of the pulled plug – live). While it’s a bit different from the studio recording, I think it’s actually pretty cool.

A BAP playlist without a tune from their aforementioned breakthrough album would be incomplete. Since I previously featured what is perhaps their best-known song Verdamp Lang Her (such a long time ago), I’m going with the road tune Frau, Ich Freu Mich (Can’t wait to see you, baby). Given this record appeared in 1981, guess who co-wrote the rocker? Yep, Niedecken and Heuser had done it again!

For the next tune, let’s jump all the way forward to BAP’s most recent studio release, Lebenslänglich (for a lifetime), which appeared in early 2016: Et Ess Lang Her (long ago). The song was co-written by Niedecken and keyboarder Michael Nass. I dig the beautiful acoustic roots sound, which reminds me a bit of John Mellencamp.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Halv Su Wild (not a big deal) another of my favorite BAP albums. It is from their 16th and the last studio record to date released under the name BAP. It also marked the final album with longtime drummer Jürgen Zöller (1987-2014) and Helmut Krumminga, who had been the band’s lead guitarist from 1999 until 2014. Here’s a live version of Et Levve Ess En Autobahn (life is a highway), which apparently was captured during an open-air gig in Germany in 2012. Written by Niedecken, it’s an autobiographic song about the band’s long history.

During an interview with Swiss newspaper Tagblatt, Niedecken confirmed BAP are working on a new studio album that will likely appear sometime this year, followed by a tour in 2021. Mentioning his most recent solo effort Das Familienalbum (the family album), which was recorded in New Orleans and came out in 2017, Niedecken also hinted the band’s next record is going to feature some of the same U.S. horn players. For a long-time BAP fan like myself, this does sound intriguing.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tagblatt; YouTube

Huey Lewis and The News Release New and Likely Final Album

“We’ve had a little bit of weather these last couple of years, so it seemed appropriate,” commented Huey Lewis during a recent TV interview on NBC’s Today show when asked about the title of his new album with The News. “Besides,” he jokingly added, “‘Business’ didn’t ring right” – unlike Sports, the band’s best-selling third studio album from September 1983, which catapulted them to international stardom and brought them on my radar screen at the time. While undoubtedly radio-friendly pop, I think many of their songs are well-crafted, and I like them to this day.

Weather, which was released last Friday, marks the first new Huey Lewis and The News album with original material in 19 years since Plan B from July 2001. In October 2010, the band released a well-executed record of Stax soul covers. Usually, a new record with original material would be a reason to celebrate, and during the above Today interview, Lewis said they are proud of it. But the news has been a mixed bag for him over the past couple of years.

In April 2018, Lewis revealed he essentially had lost his hearing due to an inner ear condition called Ménière’s disease, which forced him to cancel all upcoming shows. While he was diagnosed with the disorder 33 years ago after he had lost 80 percent of hearing in his right ear, he continued his career, relying on his left ear. That worked well until two years ago when he lost hearing in that ear as well.

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Lewis’s condition fluctuates, and with the help of a hearing aid, he has some hearing most of the time. But it hasn’t allowed him to perform since he can’t find pitch. If you’re Peter Frampton and lose your ability to play guitar due to a neurological disorder impacting the feeling in your fingers, that’s pretty bleak; but at least you can still hear. Though Frampton is a guitarist first and foremost, so perhaps it was not surprising he decided to bow out with a still-ongoing farewell tour while still being on top of his game. But losing your hearing? I can’t possibly think of a more cruel fate for a musician.

Lewis and his band had worked on Weather for quite some time. They managed to record seven tracks until he lost hearing in his left ear. All of this translates into about 26 minutes. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the Her Love Is Killing Me, a feelgood tune you could well imagine on one of the band’s ’80s albums like Fore. In fact, it does remind me a bit of Hip to be Square. That’s not a coincidence. According to an AP story, the tune “is nearly that old, having been written back when guitarist Chris Hayes was still in the band.”

Next up: Hurry Back Baby, co-written by Lewis and News co-founding member Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, backing vocals), who remains with the band to this day. The tune’s combination of rock guitar, horns and organ make for another classic Huey Lewis and The News sound.

Remind Me Why I Love You Again is another fun tune with a good groove. The horns give it a nice soul feeling. The track is credited to Lewis, Gibson and two other News co-founding members: Johnny Colla (rhythm guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) and Hays (lead guitar, backing vocals). Like Gibson, Colla is still part of The News. Hayes left in 2000, an indication this song at least in part must have been written more than 20 years ago.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer One of the Boys. The track stands out for two reasons. Essentially, it’s a country song, the first I recall hearing from the band. As reported by Billboard, Lewis had been commissioned to write it for Willie Nelson. But what is really striking to me are the lyrics, especially in light of Lewis’ current condition.

Well, I remember way back when
I must’ve been 9 or 10
When I saw my very first band
Playing a little Dixieland
Yeah, I knew immediately
That’s where I wanted to be
With them boys up on the stand
Playin’ in a honky-tonk band

One of the boys
Making beautiful noise
Playing with my friends
Until the music ends
One of the boys

Well, it’s plain to see, I got my wish
And I’ve been lucky ever since then
And one day, I’m meeting my maker
I don’t know where or when
But I still love the gypsy life
Yeah, I’m still havin’ fun
And though I ain’t gettin’ any younger, I’m a
Long way from done…

In spite of everything, Lewis seems to have come to grips with his situation. “First of all, you can kind of get used to almost anything,” he told NPR. “And number two, I remind myself that there’s lots of people that are worse off than I am … I’m still, overall, a lucky guy.” The same segment and other reports I’ve seen noted Lewis did not always have such a positive attitude. Initially, he was pretty devastated over his hearing loss and considered taking his own life.

Nowadays, Lewis projects a hopeful outlook. “I’m hoping to recover my hearing so we can get the band back together and play live, but can’t right now, and I can’t tell you that I’m certain that I ever will again,” he said during the above NPR interview. “In the meantime, I’m staying as creative as I can.” This involves what has become popular among an increasing number of music artists who are in the twilight of their careers: work on a Broadway musical. In the case of Huey Lewis, it’s The Heart of Rock & Roll, with Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold. He told the Today hosts they will bring it to Broadway next season.

Sources: Wikipedia; NBC Today; Associated Press; Billboard; YouTube

Britain’s Ruby Turner Releases Classic Soul Gem

Until this morning, I had never heard of Ruby Turner. Then I came across Don’t Cry Over Yesterday, a tune from her new album Love Was Here released on January 24th. After listening to the first few songs, I was immediately hooked – something that rarely happens. The Jamaican born British soul, gospel and R&B singer’s voice, the cool vibe of the ‘70s style soul tunes and the excellent sound of her backing musicians deliver a powerful package. I love it!

Turner is not a newcomer. In fact, she has been performing since 1983, and this is her 20th solo album. Turner has also worked with other artists like Bryan Ferry, Steve Winwood, Mick Jagger and UB40. And yet, I don’t recall having heard her name in the past. Ever. Have you? I’d be curious to know. Of course, I can’t exclude the possibility it’s plain ignorance on my part.

According to the bio on her website, Ruby Turner was born in Jamaica and grew up in Montego Bay. Her grandfather sang the lead in one of the island’s gospel groups. Moving to England when she was 9, Ruby has lived there ever since. Her career to date has always had many unexpected twists and turns with major tours, theatre and TV appearances…Her major break came in the mid 1980s, when she was asked to join ‘Culture Club’ at the height of their stardom…An offer of a solo record deal closely followed and she soon signed to Jive Records, part of the Zomba Group.

Between 1986 and 1995, eight of Turner’s singles entered the UK Singles Chart. In February 1990, she also scored a no. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B Chart with It’s Gonna Be Alright, a tune she wrote – apparently a rare feat that has been accomplished by less than ten British singles. Additionally, Turner has done acting, appearing on stage and television and in film. And, oh, she was also appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to music. Time to get to Love Was Here!

A good place to start is the opener Got to be Done. With a great groove, catchy chorus and neat sound, the tune sets the tone for the entire album. Like all except one of the 11 tracks, the song was co-written by Turner and the production team of Nick Atkinson and Kat Eaton.

Here’s the aforementioned Don’t Cry Over Yesterday.

Another gem is Under Your Sky.

Next up: The album’s title track.

The last tune I’d like to call is Runaway.

Frankly, I could have selected any of the other songs on the album. Each of these tunes is beautifully crafted and delivered with Turner’s warm and powerful voice and a backing band that just sounds great.

In a review on Something Else!, Turner is quoted as saying the album “is one I’ve always wanted to make. The feel and grooves I’ve heard and loved: Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King, Ry Cooder, the Rev. Al Green to name but a few.” While these are formidable reference artists, I feel Turner’s comments are not overblown.

“The opportunity came through meeting Nick Atkinson and Kat Eaton, a dynamic, confident and confident production team,” she added. “Their writing and approach was irresistible. They ignited my desire to write again, and I loved the creative process.”

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the great-sounding musicians playing on this album. Based on another review in AmericanBluesScene.com, they include Atkinson (guitar), Joe Glossop (keyboards), Jeremy Meek (bass) and John Blease (drums).

Love Was Here is an album of high quality and soulful delivery you rarely find among new music these days – a true gem!

Sources: Wikipedia; SomethingElseToReview.com; AmericanBluesScene.com; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 3

A two-part musical journey to Australia

‘How can a “two-part musical journey to Australia” have a part 3,’ you might ask. Well, to start with, math has never been my strong suit. I also could have called it ‘le encore’ to the initial two-part mini-series, since that’s what it really is. But I like the concept of a part 3 in a two-part series. Plus at the end of the day, the title matters less than the music.

Parts 1 and 2, which you can read here and here, featured AC/DC, Bee Gees, The Church, Cold Chisel, Crowded House, The Easybeats, INXS, Men At Work, Midnight Oil and Little River Band – or, as Bruce, the man behind the excellent Vinyl Connection, noted, “a pretty good ‘starter pack’ of a certain kind of accessible pop/rock that is, for the most part, radio friendly.” While I leave it up to you to decide whether it’s “pretty good”, I do agree with the radio-friendly part. I realize to some folks pop is a bad word, since they associate it with commercial and selling out. I have no shame to say I like pop, if it’s well crafted. My all-time favorite band The Beatles had plenty of pop. I also think Thriller by Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is one of the best albums ever recorded.

Australian Music Collage 3

Part 3 or le encore or whatever you’d like to call it was inspired by some great feedback to parts 1 and 2 from readers like Bruce, who clearly know more about music from down under than I do. And that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy this blogging thing. One door opens another, and the more you get into it, the more you realize how little you know – or, how I prefer to view it, how much more there’s to explore! So let’s get to five additional acts from Australia from A to P. And, no, I’m not saying that’s all the land of the vegemite sandwich has to offer, but as the wise George Harrison once said all things must pass.

Ariel

My streaming music provider doesn’t list even one song by this band, which was founded in Melbourne in 1973. But luckily, there’s YouTube. The following mini-bio is based on the website of singer-songwriter and guitarist Mike Rudd and bassist Bill Putt, who were the driving force behind Ariel. The group combined key members from two of Australia’s leading progressive bands of the period: Rudd, Putt and John Mills (keyboards) had come from Melbourne’s Spectrum, while Tim Gaze (guitar) and Nigel Macara (drums) had played in Sydney-based Tamam Shud. Like Spectrum, Ariel began strongly, but lineup changes, record company problems and the changing nature of music in the mid-70s meant that they never achieved the level of success they deserved. Ariel disbanded in July 1977. During their three-and-a-half-year run, they were quite productive, releasing four studio and two live albums. Ariel proved to be Mike Rudd’s last really high-profile outfit, although he remains one of the most respected figures in the music scene. His long-time musical partner Bill Putt passed away in July 2013. Here’s Miracle Man, written by Gaze, a catchy rocker from Ariel’s debut album A Strange Fantastic Dream released in January 1974.

The Go-Betweens

Indie rock band The Go-Betweens were co-founded by singer-songwriters and guitarists Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the only constant members during the band’s existence. By the time they released their studio debut Send Me a Lullaby in November 1981, Lindy Morrison had joined on drums and vocals, with Forster and McLennan handling vocals and rhythm guitar and vocals, bass and lead guitar, respectively. By 1987, the band also included Amanda Brown (violin, oboe, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and John Willsteed (bass, guitar), the lineup until their first breakup in December 1989. After pursuing solo careers during the ’90s, Forster and McLennan revived The Go-Betweens with a new lineup in 2000. That version of the band released three more albums. Following McLennan’s death from a heart attack in May 2006, Forster dissolved the band and resumed his solo career. While The Go-Betweens had strong supporters even among critics – of all people, Robert Christgau called them “the greatest songwriting partnership working today” – chart success largely eluded them, with no top 50 hit in Australia or the UK. Here’s Cattle and Cane from the band’s sophomore album Before Hollywood that appeared in May 1983. Co-written by McLennan and Forster, the tune was also released separately as the record’s lead single. Climbing to no. 4 on the UK Independent Singles Chart, I assume it was their most successful song.

Hoodoo Gurus

Initially called Le Hoodoo Gurus, Hoodoo Gurus, a band I had never heard of before, were formed in Sydney in 1981 by Dave Faulkner (guitar, vocals), James Baker (drums), Roddy Radalj (guitar, vocals) and Kimble Rendall (guitar, vocals). So where the hell is the bassist, you might ask – after all, no bass, no band! Well, I suppose Hoodoo Gurus are an exception that proves the rule! Plus, from what I can see, at least on all of their studio albums, they knew better and had a bassist. The band’s popularity peaked in the mid to late ’80s with their second, third and fourth albums, especially in Australia, where according to Wikipedia they reached “iconic status” on the rock scene. Between 1998 and 2003 and band was on hiatus, while their members pursued side projects and solo work. By early 2003, Hoodoo Gurus had reformed. They have since released three additional albums and remain active to this day. Faulkner is the only original member of their current lineup. Here’s a tune that’s right up my alley: Show Some Emotion written by Faulkner and included on their second album Mars Needs Guitars! Love the jingle-jangle sound that reminds me of The Byrds and R.E.M.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The band (initially without a name) was founded by Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave in Melbourne in December 1983, which in addition to him included Tracy Pew (bass) and Hugo Race (guitar), or were they? Wikipedia notes an embryonic version of the band that got together in September 1983 in London where Cave lived at the time. Following a short Australian tour, Cave returned to London, where the first consistent lineup emerged with him, Race, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld (guitar, vocals), and Barry Adamson(bass). At that time, they called themselves Nick Cave and the Cavemen. Their debut album From Her to Eternity, a pun on the James Jones novel From Here to Eternity, appeared in June 1984. A biography by Mark Deming on All Music calls them “one of the most original and celebrated bands of the post-punk and alternative rock eras in the ’80s and onward.” The band remains active until today and has released 17 studio albums, the most recent of which is Ghosteen and came out last October. Here’s the official video of Into My Arms, written by Cave, and the opener to the band’s 10th studio album The Boatman’s Call from March 1997.

Powderfinger 

Powderfinger were formed in Brisbane in 1989 by Steven Bishop (drums), John Collins (bass) and Ian Haug (guitar, vocals), who were all students at a local private school. They started out as a cover rock band that among others played songs by Neil Young, whose classic Powderfinger became their name. By 1992, the band had evolved into the lineup that existed until their disbanding in 2010: Haug, Collins, Bernard Fanning (vocals), Darren Middleton (guitar) and Jon Coghill (drums). Following a self-funded EP that appeared on their own label Finger in August 1992, the band released their first full-fledged record Parables For Wooden Ears in July 1994. It was poorly received. But things started to change significantly with their sophomore release Double Allergic that catapulted them to no. 4 on the Australian charts; each of their remaining five studio albums went all the way to the top. Some of their records also charted in New Zealand. It appears their only album that made the Billboard 200 ironically was titled Odyssey Number Five, their fourth studio album from September 2000. That’s unfortunate. From the aforementioned album, here’s the catchy My Happiness credited to all members of the band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Mike Rudd and Bill Putt website; All Music; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 2

A two-part musical journey to Australia

Here is the second and last part of this mini-series about music from Australia. You can read part I here. I also should point out that by “music from Australia” I mean bands that were founded down under.

Aphoristic Album Reviews noted New Zealand could claim Crowded House, one of the bands included in part I, as their own, given founding member Neil Finn is from there but lived in Melbourne when they were formed. Moreover, with three Finns, their current line-up has a clear majority of New Zealanders. Fair points. Plus, one could add Neil Finn has been the band’s key songwriter.

Australian Music Collage 2

I guess one could also challenge the notion that the Bee Gees, which were also highlighted in part I, are from Australia. After all, as I noted, the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England.

But like Crowded House, they were formed there. That’s why I included them. But I suppose, there is no perfect science behind the madness. With that being said, let’s stir up some more potential controversy!

The Easybeats

The Easybeats were formed in Sydney in late 1964. Their founding members were Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar),  Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy Fleet (drums). All came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from the Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. I let you be a judge whether that actually makes them an English-Scottish-Dutch band. What is undisputed was their inspiration by the British Invasion. After signing with Parlophone/Albert Productions, The Easybeats released their debut single For My Woman in March 1965, which reached no. 33 in the Australian charts. The follow-on She’s So Fine, which appeared in May 1965, marked their national breakthrough, climbing to no. 2 on the domestic charts. The tune was also included on their debut album Easy that came out in September of the same year. In July 1966, The Easybeats relocated to London. A couple of months later, they recorded what became their biggest hit, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, the song was released in October that year. It topped the Australian and Dutch charts, and reached no. 6 and 16 in the UK and U.S., respectively. Following international success in 1966 and 1967, the band’s popularity declined and eventually, they broke up in October 1969. Here’s Friday On My Mind. I just love that tune!

INXS

INXS were founded as The Farriss Brothers in Sydney in 1977 by Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards), Jon Farriss (drums), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (lead vocals) and Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone). The following year, the band started to regularly support Midnight Oil and other local bands. In September 1979, they performed for the first time as INXS, a name that been suggested by a crew member of Midnight Oil. In early 1980, INXS signed a deal with Sydney independent label Deluxe Records and released their eponymous debut album in October that year. It wasn’t until their fourth studio record The Swing from April 1984 that the band gained recognition beyond Australia. The lead single Original Sin, which was recorded in New York with Nile Rodgers and featured Daryl Hall on backing vocals, became their first hit beyond Australia. The next studio album Listen Like Thieves from October 1985 marked their international breakthrough. A series of successful records followed. After Hutchence’s suicide in November 1997, INXS relied on guest vocalists before starting to work with a series of permanent lead vocalists. In November 2012 during a concert in Perth, Australia, the band announced they would no longer tour. Their final studio album Original Sin had appeared in November 2010. Here’s Need You Tonight, one of INXS’ biggest hits and their only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence, the song was included on their sixth studio album Kick from October 1987.

Men At Work

Men At Work were established in Melbourne in June 1979 by Colin (James) Hay (lead vocals, guitar) and Ron Stykert (bass), who had performed as an acoustic duo since 1978, and Jerry Speiser (drums). Soon thereafter, they were joined by Greg Ham (flute, saxophone, keyboards) and John Rees (bass). After Rees had entered, Stykert switched to lead guitar. In 1980, Men At Work self-financed their debut single Keypunch Operator, which was backed by Down Under. A slightly different version of the latter tune was included on the band’s debut album Business As Usual from November 1981 and became their biggest hit. In 1984, long-standing tensions between Hay and Speiser led to Speiser’s departure, along with Rees. Together with session musicians, Hay, Strykert and Ham recorded Men At Work’s third and final studio album Two Hearts released in April 1985. By early 1986, the band was toast and Hay started a solo career. In mid-1996, Hay and Ham brought Men At Work back together with a new lineup. They toured but did not record any new music. The band broke up a second time in 2002. Afterward, Hay and Ham periodically reunited to perform as Men At Work with guest musicians. In April 2012, Ham who had suffered from depression and anxiety over the loss of a copyright lawsuit related to his flute part in Down Under, passed away from a heart attack. Last June, Hay toured Europe with backing musicians as Men At Work. Here’s Who Can It Be Now?, the great lead single from the band’s debut record, which was written by Hay.

Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil were formed as Farm in Sydney in 1972, playing covers of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Led Zeppelin. Since the previous year Rob Hirst (drums), Andrew James (bass) and Jim Moginie (keyboards, lead guitar) had performed together. After they had placed an ad for a band member, Peter Garrett joined as their new vocalist and synthesizer player. In late 1976, the band changed their name to Midnight Oil, a reference to the Jimi Hendrix tune Burning of the Midnight Lamp. Martin Rotsey (guitar) joined in 1977 and together with their manager Gary Morris, Midnight Oil founded their own record label Powderworks. Their eponymous debut album appeared in November 1978. In 1982, they broke through in Australia and internationally with their fourth studio album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – yep, that’s the title! In 2002, Midnight Oil disbanded following Garrett’s decision to quit the band and focus on his political career. After temporary reunions in 2005 and 2009, Midnight Oil came back together in 2016. Last year, they announced plans for new material to be released this year. I knew about Midnight Oil because of their great 1987 tune Beds Are Burning. Here’s another song I like: Blue Sky Mine, credited to of the band’s members, and appearing on their seventh studio album Blue Sky Mining from February 1990.

Little River Band

Little River Band were founded in Melbourne in March 1975 by Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graeham Noble (guitar, vocals) and Derek Pellicci (drums), along with session musicians Graham Davidge (lead guitar) and Dave Orams (bass). In May 1975, they signed with EMI Records and released their eponymous debut album in November that year. The record was an instant success, peaking at no. 12 in Australia and no. 80 on the Billboard 200. The excellent single It’s a Long Way There, which was my introduction to the band, became their first top 40 hit in the U.S. Little River Band remain active to this day. They have had many lineup changes over the decades, and none of their original members are still around. The band’s most recent 17th studio album Cuts Like a Diamond was released in 2013. I only know a number of Little River Band songs until their May 1986 album No Reins. I generally dig their harmony singing on these tunes, which I think is comparable to other rock bands like the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Doobie Brothers. Here’s Lonesome Loser, written by David Briggs, the band’s lead guitarist from 1976 until 1981. The song is the opener to their fifth studio record First Under the Wire from July 1979. It was one of six top 10 hits Little River Band scored in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part I

A two-part musical journey to Australia

I guess it’s safe to assume this has happened to most folks, particularly those who are into music – suddenly, out of the blue, a song pops into your head you haven’t heard in a million years. Well, that’s what I encountered yesterday with When the War is Over, a tune by Australian rock band Cold Chisel.

It brought me right back to my early twenties when I was playing bass in a band. When the War is Over was one of the covers we did. I was delighted to find it in the library of my streaming music provider. It also turned out I still like it. Then I checked out Cold Chisel. Not only did I discover they still exist, but I also saw they are from Australia. I had no idea about the latter, or at least I don’t recall.

Australian Music Collage

The above episode further made me think about music from Australia. It didn’t take long to remind myself how much great music has come from this part of the world. And there’s much more than just AC/DC, Men at Work and Little River Band, the first three acts that came to my mind.

Since for the most part, this blog focuses on the U.S., England and Canada with occasional posts about German artists, I thought taking a musical trip down under would be well warranted and fun. And since putting everything in one post would be too much, I spontaneously decided to make this a two-part mini-series. So, all on board and let’s go!

AC/DC

One of the greatest rock bands I know, AC/DC were formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (guitar, backing vocals) and Angus Young (lead guitar). The band has gone through many line-up changes and a good deal of tragedy over the decades. Technically, they are still around. There were some recent reports about a new album, for example here and here. Supposedly, it’s a tribute to Malcolm Young, who passed away in November 2017. Reportedly, the album reunites Angus Young with former lead vocalist Brian Johnson, bass player Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, featuring songs Malcolm had recorded with the band before he was no longer able to play due to dementia. It also features Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young. Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, here’s a tune arguably from AC/DC’s best phase with lead vocalist Bon Scott. I don’t care that is has been played 100 million times. To me, Highway to Hell will always remain one of the most epic rock songs. Co-written by the Young brothers and Scott, it was the title track from AC/DC’s sixth studio album released in July 1979.

Bee Gees

I realize seeing the Bee Gees in this mini-series may surprise readers, especially fans of blues and rock, music genres I dig and celebrate in this blog. But while the Bee Gees clearly fall outside these genres, I actually like many of their songs for their three-part harmonies, catchy melodies and grooves. And, dare I say it, this even includes their disco-oriented tunes. Since the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England, one could also ask whether the Bee Gees should even be considered to be an Australian band. I think it’s defensible since their story started down under when Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb started singing together in December 1957 – remarkably before they had even reached their teenage years. During the first half of the ’60s, they released a few singles each year. In November 1965, their debut album The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs appeared, billed as Barry Gibb & The Bee Gees. But their early efforts remained largely unsuccessful, so the Gibb brothers decided to return to England in early 1967. Before they did, they recorded various tunes, including Spicks and Specks, which became their first hit. In February 1967, the Bee Gees signed a deal with Polydor and in July that year released their first international full-length record, Bee Gees’ 1st. The psychedelic pop album marked their international breakthrough and the rest is history. Here’s the above noted Spicks and Specks, written by Barry Gibb.

The Church

The Church were initially established as a trio in Sydney in March 1980 by singer-songwriter and bassist Steve Kilby, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. English guitarist Marty Willson-Piper joined one month later after he had seen one of the band’s gigs. In April 1981, The Church released their debut album Of Skins and Heart in Australia, which internationally came out in January 1982 and was titled The Church. The band is still around. Just recently on February 1st, Kilby announced Koppes had departed, leaving him as the only original member. In October 2017, I covered the most recent album by The Church, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, which reminded me of their album I know best and dig to this day: Starfish from April 1988. I just love the atmospheric, spacial sound of that record. Here’s Reptile, credited to all four members of the band at the time: Kilby, Koppes, Ward and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion).

Cold Chisel

Since the idea of this mini-series was sparked by When the War is Over, I simply couldn’t leave out Cold Chisel. That being said, this song and a few other tunes I’ve heard in the meantime pretty much sum up what I know about this band, which was founded in Adelaide in 1973. Wikipedia describes their music as pub rock, R&B, hard rock and rock & roll. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, this doesn’t seem to be off-base. Cold Chisel’s original line-up consisted of Ian Moss (lead guitar, vocals), Don Walker (keyboards, backing vocals), Jimmy Barnes (vocals, guitar), Les Kaczmarek (bass) and Steve Prestwich (drums). They broke up in December 1983 and reunited in October 1997 with a different line-up. While Cold Chisel have enjoyed significant popularity in Australia and New Zealand, success has largely eluded them in other parts of the world. The lyrics of the November 1981 single You Got Nothing I Want, an attack on the U.S. music industry over its lack of the band’s promotion, pretty much sealed their fate in this market. Here’s the aforementioned When the War is Over, which was written by Prestwich and appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Circus Animals released in March 1982.

Crowded House

Crowded House, which I know best from their ’80s pop-rock, were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by Neil Finn (guitar, vocals), Paul Hester (drums) and Nick Seymour (bass). Following their break-up in 1996, Crowded House have been on and off. In 2016, Finn confirmed the band is on indefinite hiatus. In April 2018, he joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham, together with Mike Campbell. But now that the Mac’s 13-month world tour is over and, according to a recent interview Mick Fleetwood gave to Rolling Stone, they are unlikely to do another extended tour, Crowded House are back with a new line-up: Finn (lead vocals, guitar keyboards), Seymour (bass, backing vocals) and Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), along with Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (guitars). Perhaps they should consider renaming themselves The Crowded Finns! Anyway, here’s a tune I loved back in the day and still dig: Don’t Dream It’s Over, written by Neil Finn, and from their 1986 eponymous debut album.

Stay tuned for part II…

Sources: Wikipedia; Fox News; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/Beautiful

Today, Carole King turned 78 years. She’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time, so it felt right to post something. And what could possibly be better than selecting a tune titled Beautiful!

Moreover, this song is from Tapestry, the timeless 1971 gem that means a lot to me. This record, together with a few others (all vinyl, of course), marked the start of my journey into the beautiful world of music in the mid-’70s.

Happy birthday!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 2

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the U.S. and Canada. BTW, I heard that this morning, the groundhog emerged from its burrow and did not see the shadow, which means an early spring! February 2nd also saw the birth of a great songwriter and vocalist, the day before the music died, a recording of a masterpiece and the release of a new album by a Southern Rock staple. Let’s get to it!

1942: Graham William Nash was born in Blackpool, England. Nash, who according to Wikipedia has been active since 1958, is best known for his vocal and songwriting contributions to The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of both bands. Between May 1971 and April 2016, Nash has also released six solo albums. Here’s Myself At Last, a pretty tune from Nash’s most recent solo record This Path Tonight, which appeared in April 2016 and was his first new studio album in 14 years. Like all songs on that record, it was written by Nash and producer Shayne Fontayne. Nash who turned 78 today is planning to embark on a tour of the U.S. and Europe in early March. The current schedule is here. Long may you run!

1959: This was the day before the music died. Rock & rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, artistically known as The Big Bopper, played their last gig at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. It was the 11th show of the 24-date Winter Party Tour through the midwestern U.S. The next scheduled stop was 365 miles away in Moorhead, Minn. Rather than doing the entire trip by bus in freezing temperatures as the musicians had done up to this point, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, N.D., close to Moorhead. Initially, his touring bassist Waylon Jennings was supposed to be one of the three passengers (in addition to the pilot). But he gave his seat to Richardson who had fallen ill with the flu to spare him a gruesome bus trip. The V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza embarked on its fateful flight from Mason City Municipal Airport in the early morning hours of Feb 3 and the rest is history.

The_Day_the_Music_Died

1967: The Beatles were working on their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Abbey Road Studios in London, according to The Beatles Bible. While it may not be quite as popular as Jesus, this source captures the ultimate truth about The Fab Four in all of its gory details. During the recording session that evening, Paul McCartney added his lead vocals to the album’s title track, joined by Lennon John and George Harrison in the chorus. For the nerds, and yes, I like that shit, The Beatles Bible further points out their voices were captured on track four of the tape. Track three was used to overdub additional harmonies. Afterwards, a reduction mix was created to free up space on the tape. All instruments were now on track one, and all vocals were on track four. I sharply conclude this left tracks two and three to add additional overdubs. And, yes, separately I read Sgt. Pepper was still recorded in four-track since music studios in London did not start using eight-track tape recorders until late 1967.

1976: Southern rockers Lynryd Skynyrd released Gimme Back My Bullets, their fourth studio album and the second-to-last recorded with original members Ronnie Van Zandt and Allen Collins prior to the October 1977 plane crash. Peaking at no. 20 on the U.S. Billboard 200, it was less successful than Skynyrd’s two previous records. Van Zant and Collins attributed the performance to the loss of the band’s three-guitar attack that had been one of their early hallmarks. While the album didn’t match the Platinum status of the band’s other pre-crash records, it still earned a respective Gold certification in January 1981. Here’s lead single Double Trouble co-written by Van Zandt and Collins.

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