Best of What’s New

A selection of new music that caught my attention

My exploration of new music continues with the latest installment in the new recurring feature.

Larkin Poe/Holy Ghost Fire

Holy Ghost Fire is the second single from Larkin Poe’s upcoming fifth full-length studio album Self Made Man, slated for June 12. Previously, I covered this band here, which have been called the “little sisters of The Allman Brothers,” given the southern flair of their blues and roots rock. Larkin Poe are 29-year-old Rebecca Lovell (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums) and her one year and four months older sister Megan Lovell (vocals, lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards), who have performed under that name since January 2010. With kickass guitar playing and great harmony vocals, these two young ladies are just amazing, in my opinion. Apart from recorded music, they have a very active YouTube channel that among others includes their Tip o’ the Hat fun video series featuring stripped-back covers of many well-known rock and blues tunes.

Daniel Merriweather/Rain

This 38-year-old R&B artist, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, has been active professionally since 2002. He has worked with UK songwriter and record producer Mark Ronson, who also produced Merriweather’s solo debut album Love & War from June 2009. It peaked at no. 2 on the UK charts. His catalog to date also includes two EPs and various singles, the most recent of which is this tune, Rain, which was released last Friday, April 3. What caught my attention here are the vocals and the groove, which remind me a bit of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Jack Savoretti/Andrà Tutto Bene

I used to listen to Italian music much more often in my teenage years than I do nowadays. So I’m particularly happy I came across this ballad by Jack Savoretti, who Wikipedia describes as an English acoustic solo singer of Italian descent. Since 2007, he has released six English language studio albums. His most recent one, Singing to Strangers from March 2019, became a chart-topper in the UK. Among others, it includes a co-write with Bob Dylan, Touchy Situation. Released last Friday, April 3, Andrà Tutto Bene (everything will be fine) not only is Savoretti’s first song in Italian but also a tune to raise money for Policlinico San Martino Hospital in Genoa, Italy to support the town’s fight against the coronavirus. As NME recently reported, Savoretti penned the beautiful tune together with Italian fans during a writing session he recently broadcast on Instagram Live. I love the idea to combine music with a cause, especially one we can all well relate to.

Danielle Cormier/Berlin

Danielle Cormier is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, the 23-year-old is a pure and powerful voice for the new age…she credits her love for the arts to seeing her first Broadway show at five years old. From there Cormier learned to play the piano, guitar, performed in many school plays and regional theatre productions. Then, she began to write. In 2017, Cormier released her debut album Fire & Ice, for which she wrote nine of the ten original tracks. Thanks to producer Adam Lester, who also plays guitar in the band backing Peter Frampton during his current farewell tour, Frampton contributed lead guitar on one of the tunes. Berlin, a lovely folk-oriented song, is Cormier’s most recent single released on February 28.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; Danielle Cormier website; YouTube

Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

A trip back to ’60s psychedelic music

While it’s quite possible that more than three weeks of social distancing are starting to have an impact, I can say without hesitation that my interest in psychedelic music predates COVID-19 – I would say by at least three decades. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

I guess a good way to start would be to define what I’m writing about. According to Wikipedia, psychedelic music (sometimes called psychedelia) is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.

To be clear, I don’t want to judge people using drugs but personally don’t take any and never had any particular interest to explore stuff. With the exception of alcohol, which I occasionally like to enjoy, I guess the furthest I ever took it was to try cigarettes during my early teenage years. Around the same time, I also smoked a cigar, cleverly thinking that just like with a cigarette, you’re supposed to inhale. As you can see, I was definitely young and stupid. And, yes, I did feel a bit funny afterwards! 🙂

Psychedelic Music Collage 2

Psychedelic music has some characteristic features. Again, Wikipedia does a nice job explaining them: Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common. Songs often have more disjunctive song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones than contemporary pop music. Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used. There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental segments or jams. There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s especially, using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven ‘sampler’ keyboard.

Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning the music from one side to another of the stereo track, using the “swooshing” sound of electronic phasing, long delay loops and extreme reverb. In the 1960s there was a use of electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin. Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.

Before getting to some examples, I should add that psychedelic music developed in the mid-’60s among folk and rock bands in the U.S. and the U.K. It included various subgenres, such as psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, acid rock and psychedelic pop. The original psychedelic era, which is the focus of this post, ended in the late ’60s, though there have been successors like progressive rock and heavy metal and revivals, e.g., psychedelic funk, psychedelic hip hop and electronic music genres like acid house and trance music.

Apparently, the first use of the term psychedelic rock can be attributed to The 13th Floor Elevators, an American rock band formed in Austin, Texas in December 1965. Here’s their debut single You’re Gonna Miss Me. Written by guitarist and founding member Roky Erickson, the tune reached no. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became their only charting song.

Eight Miles High by The Byrds is one of my favorite tunes from the psychedelic era. Written by co-founding members Roger McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals), Gene Clark (tambourine, vocals) and David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), the song first appeared as a single in March 1966 and was also included on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension released in July of the same year. That jingle-jangle guitar sound and the brilliant harmony singing simply do it for me every time!

In May 1966, The Rolling Stones released Paint It Black. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was also included on the U.S. edition of Aftermath, the band’s fourth British and sixth U.S. studio album. Not only did Paint It Black top the charts in the UK, U.S., The Netherlands, Australia and Canada, but it also had the distinction to become the first no. 1 hit to feature a sitar.

One of the hotspots for psychedelic music in the U.S. during the second half of the ’60s was San Francisco. Among the key bands based in the city by the bay were Jefferson Airplane. Here’s White Rabbit, a tune written by lead vocalist Grace Slick. Initially, it was recorded for the band’s sophomore album Surrealistic Pillow from February 1967. It also came out separately as a single in June that year.

After ten paragraphs into the post, it’s about time I get to the band that probably is one of the first that comes to mind when thinking about psychedelic rock: Pink Floyd, especially during their early phase with Syd Barrett. Here’s a tune I’ve always dug: Arnold Layne, their debut single from March 1967, written by Barrett. According to the credits, this video was directed by Derek Nice and filmed on the beach in East Wittering, West Sussex, England in late February 1967.

March 1967 also saw the release of Purple Haze, the second single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix tunes. The track features blues and Eastern modalities, along with novel recording techniques and sound effects like the Octavia pedal that doubled the frequency of the sound it was fed. The song also marked the first time Hendrix worked with sound engineer Eddie Kramer who would play a key role in his future recordings. Purple Haze climbed all the way to no. 3 in the UK; in the U.S., it only reached no. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Two months later, in May 1967, The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It included the psychedelic gem Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, the tune that inspired the headline of the post:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

While credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney as usual, the song was primarily written by Lennon.

After the break-up of The Animals, lead vocalist Eric Burdon formed Eric Burdon & The Animals in December 1966. The band subsequently relocated to San Francisco. In May 1968, they released their second album The Twain Shall Meet. Among the record’s tunes is the anti-war song Sky Pilot. Credited to Burdon and each of the other members of the band Vic Briggs (guitar), John Weider (guitar, violin), Barry Jenkins (drums) and Danny McCulloch (bass), the tune also appeared separately as a single. Due to its length, the track had to be split across the A and B sides. Remarkably, Sky Pilot reached no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 7 in Canada and Australia. Chart success in the UK was more moderate, where it peaked at no. 40.

In June 1968, Iron Butterfly released their sophomore album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The 17-minute title track, which occupied all of the record’s B-side, was written by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Doug Ingle. Separately, a shortened version appeared as a single and became the band’s biggest hit reaching no. 30 in the U.S. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida not only is psychedelic rock, but is also considered to be an early example of heavy metal. Here’s the single edit.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Shotgun by Vanilla Fudge. It was included on their fourth studio album Near the Beginning from February 1969. “Near the End” perhaps would have been a more appropriate title, since by that time, the original psychedelic era was entering the twilight zone. Written by Autry DeWalt, the tune was first recorded by Junior Walker & the All Stars in 1965.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

 

Is Monkee-Mania Still Alive?

Yesterday, I coincidentally listened to a new live album by The Monkees. And, nope, this isn’t some old material somebody had dug out from an archive. It was actually recorded in March 2019 from the so-called Mike & Micky Show and is the first live album released by Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, who toured as The Monkees in 2018/2019. No matter how you feel about what initially was a fictitious band created for an American television show in the mid-’60s, listening to the 24 tracks isn’t only fun but also vividly illustrates how many great songs The Monkees have had. Plus, let’s not forget that Nesmith and Peter Tork had instrumental skills from the beginning and Davy Jones was a capable vocalist, while Dolenz eventually learned how to play the drums.

The collection spans the entire 50-plus year catalog of The Monkees. Frankly, I had not realized how active the band had remained in more recent years. Their latest studio album Christmas Party appeared in October 2018. And while it has a Christmas theme, it’s not just pop versions of holiday tunes. It also came out only less than two years after Good Times!, their previous studio release from May 2016. By the way, both of these albums were co-produced by Fountains of Wayne co-founder and key song contributor Adam Schlesinger, who passed away last Tuesday from complications caused by COVID-19. It’s kind of crazy how much the coronavirus already has impacted the music industry in less than two months!

Michael Nesmith & Micky Dolenz
Michael Nesmith (left) & Micky Dolenz

Even after The Monkees had become a “real” band, they largely continued to rely on outside writers like the songwriting duos of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and Jerry Goffin and Carole King. But they also penned some of their songs themselves, especially Michael Nesmith. The album features various tunes he wrote, such as The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Listen to the Band and Papa Gene’s Blues. Two of them, St. Matthew and Auntie’s Municipal Court, the band didn’t perform during their heyday. ‘Nuff talk, let’s get to some music!

The album kicks off with Last Train to Clarksville, the band’s debut single released in August 1966. It’s one of the tunes written by Boyce and Hart. And it’s certainly no coincidence that it sounds very Beatle-esque. Frankly, this is an awesome song that is comparable to some of the mid-’60s tunes by The Beatles, and I say this as a fierce Fab Four fan! Here’s the official video.

Nesmith wasn’t the only member who contributed to the band’s own songs. For Pete’s Sake was co-written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. The tune appeared on The Monkees’ third studio album Headquarters from May 1967.

A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You, a tune written by Neil Diamond, was the band’s third single released in March 1967. It didn’t quite match the chart success of their previous smash hit I’m a Believer, but still climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 1 in Canada, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. It’s a fun tune that reminds me a bit of That’s What I Like About You by The Romantics.

Next up, one of the above noted Nesmith tunes: Papa Gene’s Blues. As Nesmith points out, it’s an acoustic version. Originally, that song appeared on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966. Apart from the track, it’s kind of entertaining to listen to the announcement, with Nesmith and Dolenz trading jokes.

Let’s do two more. I’ve always loved these tunes and simply couldn’t skip them. Daydream Believer, written by John Stewart, is a track from the band’s fifth studio album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees released in April 1968. It’s the perfect sing-along, and not surprisingly, Mike & Micky asked the audience to join them – feel free to follow their lead!

And, of course, no concert by The Monkees would be complete without I’m a Believer. Their second single from November 1966 and biggest hit topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and numerous European countries is another Neil Diamond composition. It also was included on the band’s sophomore album More of the Monkees, which came out in January 1967.

At the time Nesmith and Dolenz were planning their 2018/2019 tour, Tork was still alive but declined to join. Sadly, he since passed away in February 2019. Jones had died seven years earlier in February 2012. Initially, Nesmith and Dolenz had planned to take their show out on the road again in the U.S. and Canada starting later this month. But given COVID-19, most dates have been pushed back until July and September. The current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Monkees website; YouTube

In Appreciation of Healthcare Professionals

Not a day goes by that you don’t see stories on TV and in other news outlets, reporting about the incredible work healthcare professionals are doing around the U.S. to care for people who are sick from the coronavirus. Last night, I caught a segment on CNN, which really got to me. For a change, I wished it was fake news, but it wasn’t!

A CNN anchor interviewed two women who are working as hospital nurses in New York City: A 20-year-old and another nurse who I guess was in her ’50s – hard to tell! Both looked extremely exhausted. The older nurse was working despite having some COVID-19 symptoms herself. Why was she still coming to work? ‘Because that’s what we do,’ she said. In the beginning, the 20-year-old tried to put on an optimistic face as best as she could, but it was obvious she was scared to death. She had just written her will and admitted she had cried a lot over the past week.

Twenty years old and feeling compelled to write her will? That’s only two years older than my son! And this is happening in America in the 21st century?

Both women pleaded with government officials that healthcare workers be provided with the protective equipment they need to continue caring for patients while reducing the risk of getting sick themselves. I have to say I never thought I would witness something like this in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world. WTF!

It’s beyond my comprehension why certain so-called leaders at the state and federal level don’t use their full authorities to help contain the spread of the virus and fight it with all means they have at their disposal. This is not a time to question scientists or view things through an ideological lens. People are dying all around us, for crying out loud!

I’ll stop the rant here to get to the essence of the post – music, more specifically songs that in a broader sense are about doctors. Admittedly, I have to stress the word “broader” here. In any case, the idea is to give a shoutout and honor the selfless work healthcare professionals are doing across the U.S. every day. Typically for lousy pay!

Steely Dan/Dr. WuDonald FagenWalter Becker; Katy Lied (1975)

Bruce Springsteen/The Lady and the DoctorBruce Springstein; Before the Fame (1997)

Jethro Tull/Doctor to My DiseaseIan Anderson; Catfish Rising (1991)

Robert Palmer/Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)Moon Martin; Secrets (1979)

Jackson Browne/Doctor, My EyesJackson Browne; Jackson Browne (1972)

Blue Öyster Cult/Dr. MusicJoe Bouchard, Donald Roeser & Richard Meltzer; Mirrors (1979)

Counting Crows/HospitalCoby Brown; Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) (2012)

Doobie Brothers/The DoctorTom Johnston, Charlie Midnight & Eddie Schwartz; Cycles (1989)

Black Sabbath/Rock ‘n’ Roll DoctorTony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward & Ozzy Osbourne; Technical Ecstasy (1976)

The Fray/How to Save a LifeIsaac Slade & Joe King; How to Safe a Life (2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music I like

This is the third installment of my new series in as many weeks. While I’m not sure I can keep it up at that rate, I’m happy that lately more newly released music makes it on my radar screen. Best of all, three of the five artists featured in this post are entirely new to me, while I had not heard from one of the remaining two in 35 years. It also turns out the fifth and most famous artist and I were born in the same town in Germany.

Jackson Browne/A Little Soon to Say

It’s safe to assume Jackson Browne needs no introduction. Ever since I listened to the Running on Empty album in the late ’70s or early ’80s, I’ve loved the singer-songwriter. By the way, while researching the post, I realized Brown was born in Heidelberg, Germany, which also happens to be my place of birth. That’s where the commonalities end! 🙂 Browne released his latest song last Friday shortly after he had learned a test for COVID-19 had come back positive – yikes! While he had written A Little Soon to Say prior to the pandemic, Browne told Rolling Stone he decided, “Just put it out now while these things are so uncertain.” Fortunately, his symptoms appear to be mild and he is currently at home in quarantine.

Kendall Rucks/Bloom

From her website: With her powerful vocals and sultry sound, Kendall Rucks fuses elements of rock, blues and dream pop to create music that is both provocative and captivating. A Florida native now based in Los Angeles, Kendall has recently released her latest single SKIN THE SUN while also juggling multiple writing and recording projects. With her band, The Zodiac Mafia, Kendall is preparing for a US tour in 2020 as well as the release of multiple new singles…With artist inspirations such as Fiona Apple, Lana Del Rey, and Cat Power as well as groups like Nirvana, Radiohead and Garbage, Kendall makes music that is deep, thought-provoking and has soul with a sultry edge. Apparently, her bio is slightly outdated. Released March 6, Bloom is Rucks’ most recent single. Pretty good – reminds me a bit of Tanita Tikaram.

Cory Vincent/I’d Love to Change the World

With that title, how could I not have selected this tune during these crazy times? From Vincent’s website: What do you get when you combine the hard edged, dreary sounds of the Pacific Northwest with the soulful, southern themed voicings of the blues? The fans of Cory Vincent have appropriately coined it, “Grunge Blues.” Drawing inspiration from genre-blending trailblazers like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Jack White; Cory’s songwriting is a throwback to an era where the song was the king…Born and raised in the small town of Sedro-Woolley, Cory’s passion for music and songwriting began at young age, with a heavy influence of Country music from legends like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Garth Brooks. It wasn’t until the age of 13, when his father brought home the Stevie Ray Vaughan album “Texas Flood,” that Cory decided to pick up the guitar. Often saying that there are way too many influences to list, Cory sums up his guitar background as follows- “I play guitar because of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) changed the way I thought about guitar, and Warren Haynes confirmed it all!” All sounds good to me! I’d Love to Change the World is his latest single that came out on March 15. Written by Alvin Lee, the song was first recorded by British blues rock band Ten Years After for their sixth studio album Space in Time from October 1971.

Kings Ransome/Solo

From the band’s website: Kings Ransome started years ago as Vannare when future rock icon Porter Dowdy realized his dream of holding a guitar every day for the rest of his life. He teamed up with longtime friend, shampoo model candidate, and bassist Davis Huggins to do this band thing. Funk/fusion drummer Matt Malphrus joined the gang with a charming smile and a stellar high school football career. Not long after – enter guitarist Leo Santana. With hair that contains more rock’n’roll than most people have in their whole body, Leo upped the band’s sound and image. The guys created a kickin’ EP, but the singer quit during recording. Luckily Porter knew a guy. Trey Duncan had quit his job and was trying to pay the bills as a solo artist. Porter called him the day he told his girlfriend he needed a band to boss around, and the rest, as they say, is history. Credited to all members of the band, Solo is their most recent single that came out on January 1. Nice guitar-oriented rock – check it out!

Heinz Rudolf Kunze/Die Zeit Ist Reif

Wow, the last time I had heard from Heinz Rudolf Kunze was some 35 years ago when the German singer-songwriter and book author suddenly was everywhere on the radio with Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz (rough translation: You’re my everything). Some critics called Kunze “Oberlehrer” (secondary schoolteacher) for his often didactic lyrics. Including his 1981 debut, he has released 28 albums to date. Cowritten by Kunze and Heiner Lürig, Die Zeit Ist Reif (the time is now) is from his most recent album Der Wahrheit Die Ehre (pay attention to the truth), which was released on February 21. It’s a nice pop rock ballad.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kendall Rucks website; Cory Vincent website; Kings Ransome website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Grover Washington, Jr. Featuring Bill Withers/Just the Two of Us

Sadly, earlier today, The Associated Press and many other media outlets reported Bill Withers passed away on Monday from heart complications at the age of 81. Perhaps best known for Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean On Me and the above tune Just the Two of Us, Withers not only was a gifted songwriter but also a great vocalist.

I’ve never gotten much into jazz. One of the few exceptions is Grover Washington, Jr. who I dug from the very first time I listened to his 1980 studio album Winelight. That great record includes the seductive Just the Two of Us, a perfect marriage of Washington, Jr.’s smooth saxophone sound and Withers’ warm voice. Co-written by Withers, William Salter and Ralph MacDonald, the tune has always made me happy.

An edited single version of the song made it all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1982.

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; YouTube