My Playlist: Aerosmith

While bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin typically remain my first choice when I’m in the mood for more heavy-oriented rock, I’ve also come to appreciate Aerosmith over the decades. Like Zeppelin, “the Bad Boys from Boston” were an acquired taste. The song that started my Aerosmith journey was the power ballad Dream On, which I first heard on the radio in Germany sometime during the second half of the ’70s. I think it’s fair to say the tune has been burned a bit by overexposure, but I still dig it.

Before getting to some music by Aerosmith, here’s a bit of background on the band that was formed in Boston in 1970. This means they’ve been around for 50 years, which is remarkable; though not without drama, as you’d probably expect. Steven Tyler (lead vocals), who was in a band called Chain Reaction, and Joe Perry (guitar, vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums), who all were members of Jam Band, aka Joe Perry’s Jam Band, first met in 1970 when their respective bands performed at the same venue.

Tyler immediately was turned on by Jam Band’s sound and proposed to combine the two bands, insisting he’d front the combined group as their lead singer. The other guys agreed, and the members of the new band moved together to a place in Boston where they stared rehearsing and writing songs. Apparently, it was Kramer who came up with the name Aerosmith, after he had listened to Harry Nilssen album Aerial Ballet and recalled writing the word “areosmith” all over his notebooks when he was in school.

From left: Tom Hamilton, Joe Perry, Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer & Brad Whitford

Prior to playing their first gig as Aerosmith in Mendon, Mass. in November 1970, the band hired Ray Tabano, a childhood friend of Tyler, as rhythm guitarist. The following year, Tabano was replaced by Brad Whitford, completing the line-up that went on to sign a deal with Columbia Records in mid-1972 and that remains in place to this day. Soon thereafter, Aerosmith went into the studio to record their eponymous debut album that appeared in January 1973 – the first of 15 studio records to date. That’s no exactly an extensive catalogue, considering the band has been around for five decades. But, as hinted above, there has been good deal of drama throughout their history.

Even though it’s perhaps a bit lame to select the obvious tune, I’d like to kick off this playlist with Dream On, written by Tyler, which also became Aerosmith’s first single. It peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to No. 87 on the Canadian Singles Chart. While the album wasn’t a success initially, in addition to Dream On, it included tracks like Mama Kin and Walkin’ the Dog that became staples during Aerosmith’s live shows and on rock radio. Eventually, Aerosmith was certified 2x Platinum.

Following extensive touring, Aerosmith released their sophomore album Get Your Wings in March 1974. It was the first produced by Jack Douglas and the beginning of a long and successful studio collaboration that resulted in four additional albums. While contemporary reviews were mostly favorable, at first, the album didn’t do very well either. But similar to the debut, Get Your Wings eventually became a commercial success, securing 3x Platinum status. Here’s the band’s excellent cover of Train Kept A-Rollin’, a tune co-written by Tiny Bradshaw and Lois Mann, aka Syd Nathan, and first recorded by Bradshaw in 1951. In addition to Aerosmith, many other artists, such as Johnny Burnette, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, have covered the song.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith’s third studio album from April 1975, catapulted them to international stardom. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and remains the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S. to date, with more than 8 million copies sold. It was ranked at No. 229 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 version of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though it no longer made the cut for the list’s latest revision published in September this year. Here’s Sweet Emotion, co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, one of their best known tunes that also became their second charting single in the U.S., reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aerosmith followed up Toys in the Attic with Rocks in May 1976, an instantly successful seller that also became their highest charting album of the ’70s in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also made Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (No. 176). Unlike Toys, it’s still included in the most recent revision, ranking at No. 366. By the time they recorded Rocks, Aerosmith were well into living the rock & roll lifestyle and heavy drug indulgence, but apparently this wasn’t hampering them yet. Here’s the hard hitting opener Back in the Saddle, co-written by Tyler and Perry.

In the late ’70s, the band’s drug use started to take its toll and tensions among the members rose. After a fight between Tyler and Perry following a gig in Cleveland in July 1979, Perry left and formed The Joe Perry Project shortly thereafter. Whitford and long-time writing partner Richie Supa took on some of Perry’s guitar parts on Aerosmith’s next album Night in the Ruts. Eventually, the band hired Jimmy Crespo as their new lead guitarist. In 1981, during the recording sessions for Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith’s seventh studio album, Whitford departed and was replaced by Rick Dufay. In 1984, Perry and Whitford were back in the fold. Following a reunion tour, Aerosmith recorded their next studio album Done With Mirrors. Here’s the opener Let the Music Do the Talking, a Perry tune he originally had recorded as the title track for the Joe Perry Project’s debut.

While Aerosmith were back with their original line-up, the band members’ drug addiction continued to pose challenges. In 1986, Tyler successfully completed drug rehab. The rest of the band also completed such efforts over the next few years. In August 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, their ninth studio album, a comeback that became their best seller in over a decade with more than 5 million copies. It marked their first effort that brought in songwriters from outside the band. Here’s Dude (Look Like a Lady), co-written by Tyler, Perry and Desmond Child, their first charting single in the ’80s, climbing to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, Janie’s Got a Gun, appeared on the follow-on Pump from September 1989. It became the band’s highest-charting ’80s album in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, the Janie’s Got a Gun climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their second most successful U.S. single of the decade. Here’s the official video.

The 1990s saw Aerosmith’s highest-charting U.S. albums with Get a Grip (April 1993) and Nine Lives (March 1997) topping the Billboard 200. Get a Grip also became the band’s best-selling studio album worldwide, with sales exceeding 20 million copies. Like on Permanent Vacation and Pump, the record featured numerous external song collaborators. Seven of the album’s tracks were released as singles, of which three made the U.S. charts: Cryin (No. 12), Amazing (No. 24) and Crazy (No. 17). The tune I’d like to highlight is Line Up, a co-write by Tyler, Perry and Lenny Kravitz who also provided backing vocals.

Let’s do two additional songs from the current century. Here’s the title track of Aerosmith’s 13th studio album Just Push Play, which came out in March 2001. The tune was co-written by Tyler, Mark Hudson and Steve Dudas. Though I feel like it got decent radio play, the song failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It did climb to No. 10 on Billboard’s U.S. Rock Chart, which I find interesting since to me it’s more of a cross-over pop-rock song.

In November 2012, Aerosmith released their 15th and most recent studio album to date, Music from Another Dimension! While it climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard 200, I do seem to recall reading press accounts at the time, with Joe Perry saying this may be the band’s last album – possibly a sign of frustration over the long process it apparently took to make the record. Here’s lead single Legendary Child co-written by Tyler, Perry and Jim Vallence, which appeared in May 2012. Originally, the song had been written and recorded in 1991 during the sessions for the Get a Grip album but had never been released. Here’s the official video. The narrative in the beginning nicely sums up Aerosmith’s eventful history.

Between 2014 and 2018, Tyler and Perry largely focused on side projects. For much of last year, Aerosmith did a concert residency called Aerosmith: Deuces are Wild, mostly in Las Vegas. A European tour that had been planned for the summer of 2020 and a 50th anniversary show at Boston’s Fenway Park in September have all officially been rescheduled until next year.

The band’s current outlook does appear to be somewhat uncertain. Following some drama and lawsuits at the beginning of the year over the band’s refusal to allow drummer Joey Kramer to rejoin the line-up after his recovery from a shoulder injury, Brad Whitford during an interview on the Steve Gorman Rocks radio show in August 2020 expressed doubts over Aerosmith’s future. According to Wikipedia, citing ongoing dysfunction within the group, Whitford said, “I don’t really know what they want to do. And, I don’t really care because, um, truthfully, I’m not interested any more.”

It seems to me drama has been a near-constant during much of Aerosmith’s long history, and there’s a reason why Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have become known as the “Toxic Twins.” But while the band’s best days may be over, I think it’s safe to assume they still have a ton of fans out there who would love to see them once concert tours can resume. I could well see Aerosmith mirror Deep Purple and embark on a “never-ending” farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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Clips & Pix: Shirley Bassey/Goldfinger

“Bond, James Bond…” Nobody could quite deliver this line and play the character of the famous British spy like Sean Connery, who sadly passed away earlier this morning at the age of 90, as reported by The New York Times and numerous other media outlets. While the Scottish actor has had a long and successful career and starred in many great movies, I think it’s fair to say it’s the role as the original James Bond, which largely defines his legacy. Other decent actors like Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan followed him, but in my humble opinion, Connery was the best Bond. He was just a cool and handsome cat!

The first Bond picture I watched sometime during my early teenage years in Germany was Goldfinger. If I recall it correctly, it was at a movie theater in Bonn. I’ve watched it many times on TV thereafter, and it remains my favorite Bond picture to this day. In addition to Connery and the legendary silver Aston Martin DB 5, I think the film features one of the best bad guys, Mr. Goldfinger, played by German actor Gert Fröbe. And then, of course, there’s the above amazing performance of Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey, which happens to be my favorite Bond theme song.

Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger in 1964

Goldfinger and the picture’s score were composed in 1964 by John Barry, who also wrote the scores for 1o other Bond movies between 1963 and 1987, and countless other pictures and TV films for that matter. He also created the lyrics of the track, together with Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. Last but not least, it was Barry as well who suggested that powerhouse vocalist Shirley Bassey should sing the track – what a brilliant choice!

Bassey went on to perform the theme songs for two additional Bond pictures: Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979). Now Dame Shirley Bassey, she is 83 years old and, according to this recent Vogue story, still “as fabulous as ever.” While the Bond movies have had some pretty decent theme songs over the decades, which I previously covered here, nothing quite beats Goldfinger.

Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; Vogue; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another end of the week calls for another Best of What’s New. This latest installment is probably my most eclectic and diverse set to date, featuring a “Norwegian country sensation,” an indigenous Canadian folk and country singer-songwriter, electronic music by a U.S. multi-instrumentalist, and a German singer-songwriter blending soul, R&B and African folk music. Let’s get to it!

Malin Pettersen/Weightless

According to her website, Norwegian country artist Malin Pettersen released her first solo album [in 2018], which won her a Spellemannpris (Norwegian Grammy), placed her on the bill of some of Norway’s largest festivals and brought her to Nashville for more recording. She’s been coined «Norwegian Country sensation» by Paste Magazine and her music has been featured in Rolling Stone and Billboard. Her new Nashville recorded album “Wildhorse” is released October 16th on Die With Your Boots On Records and has already gotten fantastic reviews! Malin Pettersen is definitely one to watch – and most of all – one to hear! I agree! Written by Pettersen, Weightless is a tune from Wildhorse released October 16. It was mostly her voice that drew me in, which reminds me a bit of Stevie Nicks at times. I also dig the atmosphere of the music. Check it out!

William Prince/The One I Know

When I spotted this tune, the artist’s name William Prince sounded familiar. And no wonder, searching my own blog revealed I had seen him live in July 2018 in Boston as opening act for Neil Young and written about the show here. As I said at the time, Prince’s solo performance with just an acoustic guitar was captivating. The Canadian folk and country singer-songwriter, who is a member of Pegius First Nation from Manitoba, released his award-winning debut album Earthly Days in December 2015. The One I Know is a track from Prince’s new album Gospel First Nation, a collection of gospel tunes, which appeared on October 23. As noted on his website, Prince learned and sang these songs with his father in a chapel named for his great grandfathers, who were were all preachers. While I generally like gospel, it’s not the type of music I typically listen to. But I have to say I find Prince’s warm voice very comforting, and it’s just a pretty tune!

Daniel Tashian/Channels

According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Daniel Tashian, the son of Barry Tashian, leader of the legendary New England garage rockers Barry & the Remains, [is a] multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter [and] a decidedly different type of musician than his cult hero father. His folk-rock-based music recalls that of Michael Penn, Lisa Germano, and Sam Phillips, whose husband T-Bone Burnett produced Tashian’s debut album, 1996’s Sweetie. Along with his solo career, Nashville resident Tashian produces and plays with various other artists, most notably alt country singer/songwriter Julian Dawson, and hosts a weekly songwriter’s night at the famed Nashville music club 12th and Porter. Based on this profile, the above electronic instrumental tune Channels seems to be an outlier. It’s a track from his new all-instrumental EP Landscapes, Vol. 3 that appeared on October 23 – yet another unusual choice for me. But again, I just find this track appealing.

Joy Denalane/Be Here in the Morning (feat. C.S. Armstrong)

Joy Denalane is a German singer-songwriter blending soul, R&B and African folk music with lyrics in English and German. She was born in July 1973 to a black father from South Africa and a German mother and grew up in Berlin. Denalane left home at the age of 16 and started to focus on music, joining the reggae and soul bands Culture Roots and Family Affair, respectively. Her breakthrough came in 1999 when she hooked up with electronica and hip hop producers DJ Thomilla and Tiefschwarz for what became an international club hit, Music. Her debut solo album Mamani came out in June 2002. Denalane has since released four additional albums, including her most recent one Let Yourself Be Loved on September 4. Be Here in the Morning is from that album and features Los Angeles-based R&D artist Chauncy S. Armstrong who also co-wrote the tune with Denalane, along with Chris Soper, Jesse Singer, Nick Banns and Sway Clarke. Love that beautiful retro soul sound and what a great voice!

Sources: Wikipedia; Malin Pettersen website; William Prince website; Apple Music; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Yola/Walk Through Fire

When I included the latest single by Yola in my last Best of What’s New installment, I noticed her first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire received many accolades. Since the strong voice of the English singer-songwriter immediately grabbed me, I checked it out and have to say it’s a true gem, both musically and in terms of her vocal performance.

Getting to that point wasn’t exactly an easy path for Yola who was born as Yolanda Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England. According to this review in Popmatters, Yola had a tough childhood characterized by poverty and a parent who didn’t care for her and banned music. Later she lived homeless in London for some time before establishing herself as a session singer and touring with acts like DJ collective Bugz in the Attic and electronic music outfit Massive Attack.

Yola Carter

In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. But ultimately, as her artist profile in Apple Music notes, Yola felt the need to strike out on her own. Over the next few years, she started writing her own songs that were influenced by Muscle Shoals era country-soul, R&B and classic singer-songwriter style. In 2016, she released her debut EP Orphan Offering under the name of Yola Carter.

Eventually, Yola went to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach after he had seen a video of her. Apparently, Auerbach was immediately impressed by her. “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice,” he reportedly said. “She has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” Auerbach teamed up with Yola to co-write songs, together with other writers, including Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Dan Penn.

Yola and Dan Auerbach

Auerbach also assembled an impressive group of seasoned studio musicians, including Dave Roe (bass), who played with Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among others; harmonica player Charlie McCoy (credits include Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, etc.) and drummer Gene Crisman, who together with Bobby Wood was a member of the Memphis Boys. They were the house band of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn. where artists like Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield recorded. Auerbach also produced Walk Through Fire, which appeared in February 2019 on his Easy Eye Sound label.

With all of the above, it’s not surprising the album has a retro late ’60s sound. This is also matched by the cover. And yet, to me, Walk Through Fire feels like an album that will hold up well over time. It simply is a work of beauty. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Faraway Look. The track was co-written by Auerbach, McLaughin and Yola. BTW, McLaughlin’s compositions have been performed by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others. Sure, the production might be a bit on the lush side, but this is just a beautiful tune.

Ride Out in the Country is another great track. The song was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Joe Allen. Allen is a county songwriter and bassist who since the early ’70s has worked with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

Next up is the title track, which according to Wikipedia references both a fire that damaged Yola’s home and an abusive relationship from which she escaped. The tune was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Dan Penn. Penn has co-written many soul hits of the ’60s, including The Dark End of the Street and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Cry Like a Baby.

Rock Me Gently is my current favorite on the album. It’s another Auerbach-Allen-Yola co-write.

Let’s do one more: Love All Night (Work All Day), co-credited to Wood, Auerbach and Yola.

As noted above, Walk Through Fire was very well received. The album also generated three Grammy nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song (Faraway Look) and Best New Artist. Walk Through Fire was also nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. And, yes, the album also did score a win: UK Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards.

At age 37, Yola still is relatively young. I look forward to much more great music from this talented songwriter and vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popmatters; Apple Music; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Wolf Maahn/Irgendwo in Deutschland

The other day, I found myself revisiting Wolf Maahn, one of my favorite German rock artists I’ve featured on the blog before. More specifically, I listened again to his third studio album Irgendwo in Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) from 1984. I got it on vinyl at the time and really dug it – turns out I still do!

Before getting to the record that became is national breakthrough, I’d like to provide a bit of background on Maahn, borrowing from a previous post. Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001.

In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Inner record sleeve of Irgendwo in Deutschland

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined  Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites and kisses) appeared the following year. Which brings me to Irgendwo in Deutschland.

Let’s kick it off with the opener Rosen im Asphalt (roses in the asphalt). Like most of the album’s tracks, Maahn composed the tune’s music and wrote the lyrics.

Here’s Fieber (fever). The catchy rocker is one of Maahn’s best known song and is the tune, which prompted me to buy the album. Again, he wrote the music and the lyrics.

Another highlight on the record is Der Clown hat den Blues (the clown is feeling blue). The song was co-written by Maahn, Heilhecker and backing vocalist Jane Palmer, with lyrics by Maahn.

The opening riff of Total gut drauf (feeling really great), another song Maahn wrote all by himself, could be from a John Mellencamp tune. I think it’s fair to say the sound of the entire album has an American flair.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. And, yes, you guessed it right, it’s yet another tune solely written by Maahn.

Irgendwo in Deutschland was produced by Maahn. In addition to him (lead vocals, guitar), Heilhecker (lead guitar) and Palmer (backing vocals), other musicians included Werner Kopal (bass) and Jürgen Zöller (drums). Kopal and Zöller later joined German rock band BAP. Kopal still is part of the current line-up of that band, now known as Niedeckens BAP.

In 1986, Maahn dissolved Deserteure and has since performed without a standing backing band. To date, he has released 15 studio albums, five live albums and one greatest hits compilation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Still Is the Boss on New Album, Backed by Mighty E Street Band

While not breaking new ground, Letter to You sounds reassuringly fresh and full of energy

Yesterday, Bruce Springsteen released his 20th studio album Letter to You and his first with The E Street Band since High Hopes from January 2014 – wow, until I read that in some reviews, it had not occurred to me it’s been more than six years! While musically speaking Letter to You doesn’t include anything we haven’t heard from Springsteen before, I just love this album!

At 71 years, The Boss demonstrates he still knows how to write great rock songs. The E Street Band sound as mighty sweet as ever and once again prove why they are the ideal backing band for Springsteen. And, yes, admittedly, when you lose a loved one and live through a seemingly never-ending pandemic, listening to great music that in many ways sounds familiar provides reassurance that some things don’t change. I take some stability during these unsettling times!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9216850a) Bruce Springsteen, center, performs with Nils Lofgren, left, and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band during their concert at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band just don’t want to leave the stage. The concert, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia lasted nearly four hours, four minutes, breaking the previous record for the group’s longest U.S. show set last week Bruce Springsteen Longest Show, Los Angeles, USA – 7 Sep 2016

“The impetus for a lot of the material was the loss of my good friend George Theiss,” Springsteen told Apple Music. Theiss was the guitarist of The Castiles, the first “serious” band Springsteen joined in 1965. According to Castiles.net, the other members were Paul Popkin (guitar, vocals), Frank Marziotti (bass) and Bart Haynes (drums). In May 1966, Springsteen had his first-ever studio session with The Castiles, during which they recorded two original songs. With the death of Theiss in July 2018, Springsteen remains the band’s only surviving member.

“There’s aging and loss of people as time goes by, and that’s a part of what the record is,” Springsteen further pointed out. “And then at the same time, you’re sort of celebrating the fact that the band goes on and we carry their spirits with us.”

But while much of Letter to You sounds familiar, there is one thing that’s new. “It was a great project for us because I don’t think we ever played live together in the studio and then kept everything that we did on the full take – all the singing, all the playing, it’s really, it’s the E Street Band really completely live. And I overdubbed a few solos and things, but it’s really, it’s really the band in one shot,” Springsteen told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview. I’ve yet to listen to all of it. You can watch it here.

The current line-up of The E Street Band features Steven Van Zandt (guitar, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, vocals), Roy Bittan (piano, vocals), Charles Giodarno (organ, vocals), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Jake Clemons (saxophone), Garry Tallent (bass, vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums, vocals). Except for Clemons and Giodarno, this line-up has been in place since 1995. Van Zandt’s, Bittan’s, Tallent’s and Weinberg’s tenures go back much further to the mid-’70s. Obviously, this is a tight band, and it shows! Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener One Minute You’re Here. “It’s unusual to start a record with its quietest song,” Springsteen commented to Apple Music. “The record really starts with ‘Letter to You,’ but there’s this little preface that lets you know what the record is going to encompass. The record starts with ‘One Minute You’re Here’ and then ends with ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ which are both songs about mortality and death. It was just sort of a little tip of the hat to where the record was going to go and a little slightly connected to [2019’s] Western Stars. It was a little transitional piece of music.”

Since I already covered the album’s great title track in a previous Best of What New installment, I’m skipping it here and go to Janey Needs a Shooter, one of three tracks on Letter to You, which Springsteen wrote prior to his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. All other songs were written more recently. “We were working on a lot of stuff that I have in the vault to put out again at some time, and I went through almost a whole record of pre-Greetings From Asbury Park music that was all acoustic, and these songs were inside them,” Springsteen said. “The guys came in and I said, ‘Okay. Today we’re going to record songs that are 50 years old, and we’re going to see what happens.’ The modern band playing those ideas that I had as a 22-year-old—and for some reason it just fit on the record, because the record skips through time.” Well, I wholeheartedly agree and love the rich sound of that tune!

Last Man Standing is a tribute to George Theiss. “That particular song was directly due to George’s passing and me finding out that out of that group of people, I’m kind of here on my own, honoring the guys that I learned my craft with between the ages of 14 and 17 or 18,” Springsteen said. “Those were some of the deepest learning years of my life—learning how to be onstage, learning how to write, learning how to front the band, learning how to put together a show, learning how to play for all different kinds of audiences at fireman’s fairs, at union halls, at CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances, and just really honing your craft.” This is the perfect tune for some sax work, and Jake Clemons makes his uncle proud.

Next up: House of a Thousand Guitars. “Every piece of music has its demands—what tone in my voice is going to feel right for this particular piece of music—and you try to meet it in the middle,” Springsteen explained. “That’s one of my favorite songs on the record; I’m not exactly sure why yet. It’s at the center of the record and it speaks to this world that the band and I have attempted to create with its values, its ideas, its codes, since we started. And it collects all of that into one piece of music, into this imaginary house of a thousand guitars.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the above noted I’ll See You in My Dreams, which together with One Minute You’re Here bookends the album. “I remember a lot of my dreams and I always have,” Springsteen said. “But that song was basically about those that pass away don’t ever really leave us. They visit me in my dreams several times a year. Clarence will come up a couple times in a year. Or I’ll see Danny. They just show up in very absurd, sometimes in abstract ways in the middle of strange stories. But they’re there, and it’s actually a lovely thing to revisit with them in that way. The pain slips away, the love remains, and they live in that love and walk alongside you and your ancestors and your life companions as a part of your spirit. So the song is basically about that: ‘Hey. I’m not going to see you at the next session, but I’ll see you in my dreams.'”

Letter to You was recorded over just four days in November 2019 at Springsteen’s home studio. The album was co-produced by Springsteen and Ron Aniello, who also produced Western Stars, and co-produced High Hopes and predecessor Wrecking Ball from March 2012. Coinciding with Letter to You is the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You, a 90-minute documentary about the making of the album. It’s available on Apple TV+. If you’re a subscriber, you can watch it here. There are also two free trailers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Castiles.net; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Since the sudden death of my beloved mother-in-law Carmen Anaya Acevedo last week, I essentially took a break from blogging, including Best of What’s New. It just didn’t feel right. Meanwhile, new music didn’t pause, which is good news. This week’s installment could have easily been longer, but I’d like to keep these posts to four to six songs.

I’m particularly excited about new music by Stevie Wonder, one of my favorite artists, who last July announced he needed a kidney transplant. The surgery happened in December, and apparently Wonder, who turned 70 in May, is doing well. There’s also new music by Tom Petty, Americana rockers Cordovas, as well as three additional artists including a German alternative rock band. Let’s get to it!

Tom Petty/Leave Virginia Alone

Leave Virginia Alone is a tune from Wildflowers & All the Rest, the substantially enhanced reissue of Tom Petty’s second solo album, which came out on October 16. Written in 1995, the song was first recorded by Rod Stewart for his 17th studio album A Spanner in the Works from May that year. While Stewart’s version, which I hadn’t heard before until now, isn’t bad, I much prefer Petty’s take. The track also appeared separately as a single on October 1. I really miss Tom Petty, and it’s great to hear his voice.

Cordovas/Destiny

Cordovas are an Americana rock band from Memphis, Tenn. formed in 2011. The members are vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Firstman, Sevans Henderson (keyboards), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals) and Toby Weaver, another vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Destiny is a track and the lead single of the band’s new album Destiny Hotel released on October 16. According to the band’s website, the album expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. I covered it here at the time.

Stevie Wonder/Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate (feat. Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes)

Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate is one of two new tunes Stevie Wonder released on October 13, coinciding with the 36th birthday of his oldest son Mumtaz Morris. He is joined by hip hop artists Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes, which definitely makes this a song that’s outside my core wheelhouse. But I actually love it! Lyrically, it’s almost a present day version of You Haven’t Done Nothin’ or Living For the City, both tunes Wonder recorded in the ’70s. “In these times, we are hearing the most poignant wake-up calls and cries for this nation and the world to, please, heed our need for love, peace and unity,” he stated, as reported by Jambase. According to Billboard, Wonder will also release a new full-length album to be titled Through the Eyes Of Wonder. His last such album A Time to Love dates back to September 2005.

Jeremy Ivey/Hands Down in Your Pocket

Jeremy Ivey is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. According to Apple Music, he established himself in the early 2010s as a member of the country-soul band Buffalo Clover alongside his wife, singer/songwriter Margo Price. When Price’s career took off in 2016, Ivey served as her guitarist and sideman before signing a deal with Anti- and launching a solo career of his own with 2019’s The Dream and the Dreamer. Hands Down in Your Pocket is a tune from Ivey’s sophomore solo album Waiting Out the Storm, which was produced by Price and came out on October 9. “I think that having the opportunity to put out my own records, I’ve got a lot of pent-up inspiration,” Ivey told Apple Music. “Because there are just certain freedoms that I can take when I’m singing the song that I can’t take when I’m writing it for someone else to sing.”

Yola/Hold On (feat. Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby & Jason Isbell)

Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, is an English singer-songwriter from Bristol, England. She was the lead vocalist of English country and soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two albums with them in 2008 and 2012. In February 2016, she released her solo EP Orphan Offering. A full-length debut album Walk Through Fire followed in February 2019. Yola has also sung backing vocals for numerous artists, including Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Iggy Azalea. In addition, she was a guest on the 2019 eponymous debut album by country super group The Highwomen, together with Sheryl Crow. Yola’s latest single Hold On, released October 9, features Crow on piano, Jason Isbell on guitar, as well as The Highwomen’s Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby on backing vocals. As reported by Pitchfork, a portion of the tune’s proceeds will benefit MusiCares and the National Bailout Collective.

Die Happy/Story of Our Life (feat. Daniel Wirtz)

I’d like to wrap up this post with new music by alternative rock band Die Happy, formed by Czech singer Marta Jandová and guitarist Thorsten Mewes in 1993 in Ulm, Germany. The current line-up also includes Ralph Rieker (bass) and Jürgen Stiehle (drums). Die Happy’s debut album Better Than Nothing appeared in 1994. They have since released 13 additional albums including their most recent Guess What from April this year. Story of Our Life featuring Daniel Wirtz, a German rock singer-songwriter, is on the bonus version of the album and was released as a single on September 18.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cordovas website; Jambase; Billboard; Apple Music; Pitchfork; YouTube

In Memoriam: Carmen Anaya-Acevedo

Meet Carmen Anaya-Acevedo, one of the countless women who raised her children by herself. Three of them including my dear wife Frances. Putting food on the table. Buying them clothes. Giving them shelter. Making sure they get an education. It wasn’t easy, but she pulled it off. Carmen passed away on Thursday evening.

What does all of this have to do with music? Carmen wasn’t some famous music artist, but to me she was a true rock star. She was like a second mother; in fact, I used to call her “mami.” Carmen was an integral part of my family. She lived with us for many years until we could no longer safely care for her. For the past six years, she was in a nursing home. It was one of the hardest decisions we needed to make.

In April this year, Carmen’s already compromised health unfortunately took a turn to the worse. She had a series of setbacks that required various hospitalizations. While it appeared her condition had stabilized as of last Wednesday and her treating physician told us she was an incredibly strong lady, given what she had gone through, things suddenly deteriorated on Thursday afternoon. Within less than an hour, she was gone.

Her heart gave up. Or perhaps she was too tired to keep fighting and decided to check out. If it was the latter, I couldn’t blame her. She had been through so much. Carmen was a woman of faith and believed death eventually will lead to something good. I really hope she’s right about that.

Carmen was a happy person who liked to talk a lot and socialize with other folks. She also loved music and dancing. While raising her children in Puerto Rico, she listened to lots of ’80s music. My wife told me one of her favorite tunes from that era was Africa by Toto. Every time that song was playing on the radio, it would make her happy. Carmen may be gone, but she’ll always be with me in my heart. This is for you!

What I’ve Been Listening to: Fistful of Mercy/As I Call You Down

Fistful of Mercy are a supergroup founded by three singer-songwriters in February 2010: Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison. According to Wikipedia, it sounds like the band’s formation happened pretty spontaneously. Arthur had asked his friend Harper to accompany him in the studio. In turn, Harper who had met Harrison at a skate park in Santa Monica, suggested that he join the two. Apparently, that’s exactly what happened, and when the three met at Carriage House studio in L.A., they immediately clicked.

Within a short period of time, Harper (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar), Arthur (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) and Harrison (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) co-wrote and recorded nine acoustic tracks. Subsequently, Harrison reached out to longtime session drummer Jim Keltner to overdub percussion. In addition, Jessy Greene was brought in to contribute violin.

Fistful of Mercy (from left): Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison

The result was As I Call You Down, a beautiful album released in October 2010 under the name of Fistful of Mercy. I had never heard of it or the band until last Friday when I featured Harper in my latest Best of What’s New installment and read up on him a little. Harper’s, Arthur’s and Harrison’s three-part harmony vocals sound great and sometimes remind me of Crosby, Stills & Nash, other times of The Beatles.

While Fistful of Mercy played a series of concerts leading up to and following the release of the album, it doesn’t look like As I Call You Down charted or received much recognition otherwise. With the possible exception of fans of Harper, Arthur and Harrison, I suspect this is a largely obscure record. Well, it may not be widely known, but it sure as heck sounds beautiful to me. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the opener In Vain or True. Like all of the album’s other eight tracks, the tune is credited to Arthur, Harper and Harrison.

Father’s Son couldn’t be more appropriately titled. When Dhani Harrison starts singing, he really reminds me of this dad. I also dig the bluesy vibe of this track. Check it out.

Here’s the band’s namesake, another great sounding tune.

Let’s mix things up a little with 30 Bones, a beautiful instrumental.

The last tune I’d like to call out is With Whom You Belong, the final track on the “regular” version of the album. There’s an iTunes edition that has live versions of Fistful of Mercy and In Vain or True as bonus tracks. Here’s the official video. Just like the album, it has a charming low key feel to it.

Fistful of Mercy never officially dissolved. In fact, Harper told the Los Angeles Times in August 2016 he, Arthur and Harrison have discussed making additional music. “I think about those songs all the time,” he noted. “My main frustration with Fistful of Mercy is not knowing when the three of us are gonna have the same opening at the same time to get back to the music that’s waiting in the ether for us. We have an email chain that’s going back and forth; we know it’s something we’ve got to do.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Los Angeles Times; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Larkin Poe/Fly Away

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I really dig Larkin Poe, an American blues and roots sister act of singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Rebecca Lovell (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, piano; programs drums, bass and arrangements) and Megan Lovell (harmony vocals, lapsteel, dobro). Not only do I admire their instrumental skills and harmony singing, but I also find their energy and enthusiasm infectious. To me, they truly represent what music should be all about!

This version of Lenny Kravtiz tune Fly Away, released on October 9, will be included on Larkin Poe’s next studio album Kindred Spirits, a collection of acoustic cover versions scheduled for November 20. As Rebecca and Megan explain on their YouTube channel, the album was inspired by positive reactions to their cover video series they started in 2015. I could watch these two women for hours, as they strip down songs like Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild, Kansas’ Carry On Wayward Son, Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way and ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man, to name some of their more recent additions.

Kravitz, who wrote Fly Away, first recorded the tune for his fifth studio album 5 that came out in May 1998. The tune was also released separately in December that year as the record’s fourth single.

Following is the track list for Kindred Spirit, which will appear on Larkin Poe’s Tricky Woo Records imprint, as reported by JamBase:

  1. Hellhound On My Trail (Robert Johnson)
  2. Fly Away (Lenny Kravitz)
  3. Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young)
  4. (You’re The) Devil In Disguise (Elvis Presley)
  5. In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins)
  6. Nights In White Satin (The Moody Blues)
  7. Who Do You Love (Bo Diddley)
  8. Take What You Want (Post Malone)
  9. Ramblin’ Man (The Allman Brothers)
  10. Bell Bottom Blues (Derek & The Dominoes)
  11. Crocodile Rock (Elton John)

Sources: Wikipedia; JamBase; YouTube