John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six that celebrates music from the past 70 years or so in different flavors, six tunes at a time. This week’s zig-zag excursion features a tasty stew. The ingredients include jazz, early ’60s pop, contemporary blues, classic ’70s soul, contemporary indie rock and early ’90s southern and blues rock. I generally find diversity enriching, in music and otherwise. Let’s embark on our little journey.

The Charlie Watts Quintet/Relaxing at Camarillo

On August 24, the music world lost Charlie Watts who passed away at age 80 from an undisclosed cause. Undoubtedly, he will always best be remembered as the unassuming longtime drummer and reliable time-keeper of The Rolling Stones. But it was actually his life-long love for jazz, not rock and roll, that got Watts into music. In-between tours and recording sessions with the Stones, he frequently was involved in jazz projects and eventually formed his own groups, The Charlie Watts Orchestra and The Charlie Watts Quintet. I’d like to celebrate the late Charlie Watts with Relaxing at Camarillo, a composition by jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Watts recorded the tune with his jazz quintet for a 1991 Charlie Parker tribute album titled From One Charlie. According to the credits listed on Discogs, in addition to Watts, the group featured Peter King (alto saxophone), Gerard Presencer (trumpet), Brian Lemon (piano) and Dave Green (bass). I know, it’s only jazz but I like it, like it, yes, I do!

The Everly Brothers/When Will I Be Loved

For fans of artists who are in their ’70s and ’80s, these are tough times. On August 21, Don Everly, who together with his younger brother Phil Everly had performed as The Everly Brothers for nearly 45 years (not counting a 10-year hiatus between 1973 and 1983 when each of the brothers pursued solo careers), passed away in Nashville at the age of 84. No cause of death was provided. I loved The Everly Brothers from the very first moment I got a greatest hits compilation, which must have been in the early ’80s. What spoke to me in particular was their beautiful harmony singing. I also thought their acoustic guitar playing was cool, especially on Wake Up Little Susie, their massive hit from 1957. In addition to covering songs written by others, The Everly Brothers also recorded some originals. Here’s one written by Don Everly: When Will I Be Loved. The tune was released as a single in May 1960 and also included on the album The Fabulous Style of The Everly Brothers that came out in the same year as well. What a classic!

Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’/Ain’t Nobody Talkin’

Let’s jump forward 57 years to May 2017 for some sizzling blues delivered by two great artists, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. I was reminded about their fantastic collaboration album TajMo the other day when putting together a post about other artists covering songs by The Who. Apart from renditions like a Cajun swampy version of Squeeze Box, TajMo also includes original tunes. One of them is Ain’t Nobody Talkin’, co-written by Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) and John Lewis Parker. I was happy to see that TajMo won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. You can read more about it here. Meanwhile, here’s Ain’t Nobody Talkin’ – man, I love how Mahal and Mo’ sound together. And these horn fill-ins – so good!

Al Green/Let’s Stay Together

Next I’d like to turn to Al Green, one of the finest soul vocalists I can think of. Green, who became an ordained pastor in 1976 following the suicide of his girlfriend Mary Woodson in October 1974, is best known for a series of soul hits in the first half of the ’70s. In 1979, after he had gotten injured during a stage accident in Cincinnati, Green turned to gospel for nearly 10 years. In 1988, he came back to secular music, teaming up with Annie Lennox for a cover of Put a Little Love in Your Heart, yielding his first top 10 mainstream hit since 1974. It remains his last to date. Here’s Green’s first no. 1 from November 1971: Let’s Stay Together, his signature song. He co-wrote the smooth tune with Al Jackson Jr. (founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and producer Willie Mitchell. Let’s Stay Together also became the title track of his fourth studio album from January 1972. In 1983, Tina Turner brought the soul classic back into the top 10 charts in the UK, her comeback single from her comeback album Private Dancer that appeared in May 1984.

Lord Huron/Meet Me in the City

If you are a frequent reader of The Sunday Six, the name Lord Huron might ring a bell. Or perhaps you’ve been aware of this cool indie folk rock band all along, which initially was founded in Los Angeles in 2010 as a solo project of guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider. In addition to him, the group’s current line-up includes Tom Renaud (guitar), Miguel Briseño (bass, keyboards) and Mark Barry (drums, percussion). In the June 20 installment, I featured the stunning Mine Forever, a track from the band’s most recent album Long Lost that came out on May 21. Here’s another great track from that album, Meet Me in the City, which further illustrates Lord Huron’s amazing moody and cinematic sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb.

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard

This once again brings me to the sixth and final track. Let’s make it count with some crunchy rock by The Black Crowes. Initially founded as “Mr. Crowe’s Garden” in Marietta, Ga. in 1984, the band around Chris Robinson (lead vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar, percussion) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (guitar, backing vocals) has a long history. It includes the type of drama with break-ups and reunions that’s all too common once rock egos become too big. The good news is since late 2019, The Black Crowes are flying again. Perhaps the band’s third reunion is the charm. Their tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Shake Your Money Maker from February 1990 had to be postponed because of you know what. It finally got underway on July 20 in Nashville, Tenn. and is scheduled to conclude in Bethel, N.Y. on September 25. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group’s new line-up features Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), along with touring members Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, backing vocals), Joel Robinow (keyboards, backing vocals) and Brian Griffin (drums, percussion). Here’s Twice As Hard, the great opener of Shake Your Money Maker. Co-written by the Robinson brothers, the tune also became the album’s third single and their first no. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Sources: Wikpedia; Discogs; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This week, Best of What’s New hits another mini-milestone with the 75th installment of the recurring feature. As somebody, who according to my dear wife grew up in the wrong decade (the ’80s as opposed to the ’60s), I find it encouraging that each week I continue to discover new music that sufficiently speaks to me. In most cases, it’s the first time I encounter the artists who are oftentimes relatively young – all great!

Until not so long ago, I used to pretty much reject any contemporary music, unless it was something new from an “old artist.” Once I was willing to do the necessary digging, I quickly noticed how narrow-minded my initial stance was. Let’s turn to this week’s installment. All picks are on albums that were released yesterday (August 27), except the final track, which is from an upcoming album.

Indigo De Souza/Bad Dream

Kicking it off this time is Indigo De Souza, a young singer-songwriter from North Carolina, whose music includes elements of pop grunge and indie rock. Even though De Souza has her own website, there is only limited official background information on her that’s publicly available, which is unfortunate. Bad Dream is a track from De Souza’s new sophomore album Any Shape You Take. Here’s more from her label Saddle Creek’s website: Faithful to its name, Any Shape You Take changes form to match the tenor of each story it tells. “The album title is a nod to the many shapes I take musically. I don’t feel that I fully embody any particular genre—all of the music just comes from the universe that is my ever-shifting brain/heart/world,” says Indigo. This sonic range is unified by Indigo’s strikingly confessional and effortless approach to songwriting, a signature first introduced in her debut, self-released LP,  I Love My Mom.

The Bronx/Watering the Well

While their name may suggest a New York band, The Bronx are a punk rock group from Los Angeles formed in 2002. Their self-titled debut album appeared in August 2003. According to Apple Music, in 2006, they also created Mariachi El Bronx, an alter ego “born out of a desire to challenge themselves musically.” Apparently, the idea to explore Latin sounds emerged after the band had been asked to perform an acoustic set. To date, the group has released seven albums as The Bronx and five albums under their Latin moniker. The band’s current line-up includes original members Matt Caughthran (vocals) and Joby Ford (guitar, backing vocals), along with Ken Mochikoshi-Horne (guitar, backing vocals), Brad Magers (bass, backing vocals) and Joey Castillo (drums). Watering the Well is a track from their new studio album The Bronx VI. It’s pretty much mainstream rock, unlike their origin of hardcore punk – a genre that generally isn’t my cup of tea.

Madi Diaz/Resentment

Madi Diaz is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. Her Apple Music profile characterizes her music as passionate, searching songs [drawing] on indie rock, country and folk, synth pop, and more while always keeping emotion front and center. Here’s more from Apple Music: Madi Diaz spent her formative years in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she was home-schooled by her Peruvian mother and studied piano with her Danish father, a musician who introduced her to the likes of the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac as she grew up in the 1990s. She switched to guitar in her early teens and began composing at the age of 16 after the family relocated to nearby Philadelphia. It was there that Diaz achieved minor celebrity status as one of the more precocious and engaging students in director Don Argott’s hit 2005 documentary about the Paul Green School of Rock Music. While attending Berklee, Diaz spent time in the indie rock outfit Talk Radio before embarking on a solo career in 2006. Her debut album Skin and Bone came out in 2007. Diaz has since released three EPs and five full-length albums including her latest, History of a Feeling. Here’s a track from it titled Resentment, co-written by Diaz, Stephen Wrabel and Jamie Floyd. Nice tune!

Colin Linden/Until the Heat Leaves Town

Wrapping up this week’s Best of What’s New is contemporary blues music by Canadian guitarist, producer and songwriter Colin Linden. According to his Apple Music profile, he has been delivering his own blues-oriented rock since the early ’70s. He plays into heavy gospel and folk as well, making Linden’s work most recognizable across Canada. He has released a slew of records throughout the ’80s and ’90s, most notably winning a Juno Award for South at Eight-North at Nine (1993) in 1994. He made quite an impression on the American homefront with his 1997 release Through the Storm, Through the Night, but Linden continued making music into the new millennium and issued Raised By the Wolves in February 2000. His collaborations also include work with Kim Wilson, Bruce Cockburn, the Band, and Mavis Staples. To date, Linden has released 13 solo albums. Until the Heat Leaves Town is a track from his upcoming album bLOW scheduled for September 17. Co-written by him, Gary Craig and Johnny Dymond, the tune was released upfront on August 11 – right up my alley!

Sources: Wikipedia; Indigo De Souza website; Saddle Creek website; Apple Music; YouTube

Southern Avenue Mature on New Album

Be the Love You Want “still got that church vibe, it still has the soul”

Southern Avenue’s new album Be the Love You Want dropped today, and it’s another beauty by the five piece from Memphis, Tenn. Their third studio album had been on my radar screen since the June 11 release of the excellent Push Now, the first of three upfront singles I covered here. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz on Move Into the Light, the second upfront single I reviewed here, Be the Love You Want at its core still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B.

Be the One You Love kicks of with the title track. It sets the tone for an album that according to Southern Avenue’s website “showcases an exhilarating, and deeply emotional collection of songs that captures all of the shared experiences that bring us together—joy and sorrow, unity and separation, love and hate.” Like most of the other tracks, it was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly and lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson, who co-founded Southern Avenue in 2015, together with drummer Tikyra Jackson, Tierinii’s sister. It’s a strong opener featuring Tierinii’s seductive voice, beautiful harmony vocals by Tikyra, nice work by Naftali and keyboarder Jeremy Powell, and a great grove fueled by Tikyra and bassist Evan Sarver.

I’m skipping the funky Control, which I previously reviewed here, and go right to Don’t Hesitate (Call Me) where the band slows it down a bit. It’s a beautiful tune full of soul and a cool sound. I also really like Naftaly’s guitar work. Check it out!

Again, I’m skipping a track, the above noted Push Now, and go right to Fences, another soulful gem on the slower side. It was co-written by Naftaly, Jackson and Itay Shimoni.

Let’s Get It Together picks up the groove again. In addition to Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, the tune is credited to the rhythm engine of Evan Sarver and Tikyra Jackson. Great funky stuff – I love it!

Let’s skip the aforementioned Move Into the Light and do one more: Move On, the excellent closer. It’s got some more of that great funky groove. The lyrics in a broader sense seem to reflect Tierinii Jackson’s struggle for acceptance by her church and her parents who reprimanded her for pursuing music outside the church. “I had a few viral videos out at some point,” Jackson told American Songwriter. “But I became this embarrassment to the church. I was openly reprimanded in front of the church. So, I just walked out and never went back. That drove a rift through me and my parents for a while. But we grew through it and we’re still growing.”

Be the Love You Want, which appears on Renew Records/BMG, was co-produced by Naftaly and Steve Berlin who has won multiple Grammys and worked with the likes of Los Lobos, Deer Tick and Jackie Greene. The album follows Keep On (May 2019) and the self-titled Southern Avenue (February 2017). You can read more about Keep On here. I’ve also repeatedly covered music from the band’s eponymous debut, for example here.

The last word shall belong to Tierinii Jackson. “We reworked it with the band and made it all churchy and soulful and as Memphis-y as we could,” she previously explained to American Songwriter, referring to Move Into the Light, the album’s second upfront single featuring Jason Mraz. “It turned out really, really great. It’s kind of a wild card, because it’s more of a dance song, but it’s still got that church vibe, it still has the soul.” While her statement is more fitting to that particular tune, I feel it also nicely sums up the entire album – more mature and contemporary production but still Southern Avenue!

Sources: Wikipedia; Southern Avenue website; American Songwriter; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Rolling Stones/Get Off Of My Cloud

I’m still in shock about the news from earlier today that Charlie Watts has passed away at the age of 80. No cause of death was provided.

I hate to admit I didn’t have a good feeling when The Rolling Stones’ Twitter feed posted a note on August 5 that Watts would miss their upcoming U.S. No Filter Tour this fall since he “had a procedure, which was completely successful, but…his doctors this week concluded that he now needs proper rest and recuperation.” After all, Watts underwent treatment for throat cancer in 2004. While he apparently beat the cancer, I always felt he looked very frail, especially during the past five years or so.

As I’m writing this, countless obituaries have already been published, so I’m not adding yet another write-up about the unassuming drummer who in many regards was the complete opposite of his flashy bandmates, especially Mick Jagger and Keith Richard – a man who loved jazz and didn’t care about rock & roll stardom and screaming fans. Instead, as I typically do when a beloved artist passes way, I’d like to celebrate their music.

Charlie Watts: Rolling Stones drummer dies aged 80 | Ents & Arts News | Sky  News

My song selection for this short post was inspired by this piece in USA Today written by national correspondent Marco della Cava who apparently knows how to play the drums. Get Off Of My Cloud, one of five Stones songs he highlighted, is my favorite from a drumming perspective. I find Watts’ fill-ins pretty creative and not very common – almost something Ringo Starr could have played.

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Get Off Of My Cloud was first released as a single in the U.S. in September 1965, followed by the UK one month later. It topped the mainstream charts in both countries. The tune was also included on the Rolling Stones’ U.S. album December’s Children (And Everybody’s) that came out in December that year.

While I have no doubts The Rolling Stones will go on, Charlie Watts, who had been the band’s drummer for more than 58 years and not missed one concert since he joined in January 1963, will be dearly missed.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stones Twitter; USA Today; YouTube

The Who Played by Others

When it comes to popular bands whose songs have widely been covered by other artists, The Beatles are always the first who come to mind, and it’s no wonder. Fellow blogger Hans from Slicethelife has been doing a long-running series “Under the Covers” (see one recent installment here) and I believe has yet to find a Fab Four tune that hasn’t been covered by somebody else. While in my completely unbiased opinion, The Beatles are the best band that ever existed [ 🙂 ], obviously, there are many other outstanding groups with terrific songs. One of my favorites in this context are The Who. Following is a playlist featuring renditions of some of their songs.

David Bowie/I Can’t Explain

I’m doing this list chronologically by date when The Who first released the featured tune. First up is David Bowie’s cover of I Can’t Explain, off his seventh studio album Pin Ups from October 1973. Like all other tracks in this post, I Can’t Explain was written by Pete Townshend. It was the first single that appeared under the name of The Who in December 1964. Interestingly, the song came out in the U.S. before it did in the U.K. where it was released in January 1965. I’ve always loved it. After listening to Bowie’s slower take twice, I find it intriguing as well, especially the neat saxophone work that was largely done by Bowie himself!

Green Day/My Generation

One of favorite early tunes by The Who is My Generation, the title track of their debut album from December 1965. I still get amazed by John Entwistle’s bass solo, even though I’ve listened to it countless times. With its aggressive sound, My Generation really is an early punk song. So perhaps it was only fitting that Green Day included a cover on their sophomore studio album Kerplunk that appeared in December 1991 – not bad!

Vanilla Fudge/I Can See For Miles

I Can See For Miles became the only single from The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out – love that tune! Released in September and October 1967 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 10 in the UK. Yet Townshend was disappointed, feeling it should have been a no. 1 – oh, well! Regardless, it’s one of the gems in The Who’s catalog. Here’s a nice funky take by Vanilla Fudge from their most recent 2015 studio album Spirit of ’67. Apparently, the band is still around, with three of its original four members remaining in the current line-up.

Elton John/Pinball Wizard

Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard is a great illustration of how the piano man could rock. Since I heard it first many years ago, I’ve always thought this is the length the original should have had instead of what feels like a premature ending where the tune suddenly fades out. Pinball Wizard first appeared in March 1969 as the lead single of The Who’s fourth studio album Tommy released in May that year. John’s rendition became part of the soundtrack of the rock opera’s 1975 film adaptation. It also appeared separately as a single, climbing to no. 7 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart.

Rush/The Seeker

In March 1970, The Who released The Seeker as a non-album single. I dig this tune that was subsequently included on their 1971 compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. While I’m not much into Rush, the Canadian rockers recorded a neat version on an EP they released in June 2004 titled Feedback. Check it out, this nicely rocks!

The Dear Abbeys/Baba O’Riley

Baba O’Riley is the majestic opener of The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next, which just passed its August 14 50th anniversary release and hasn’t lost any of its magic. Here’s an incredible a cappella version by The Dear Abbeys, an all-male acapella group who according to their website were formed in February 1992 at Boston University and “have gained a reputation in the a cappella community for musical precision, complex and unique arrangements and an energetic style of live performance that’s difficult to match.” Well, they certainly passed my audition with Baba O’Riley, which was included on an album from January 2007. It sounds pretty neat!

The Natural Mystics/Love Reign O’er Me

This groovy version of Love Reign O’er Me was done by The Natural Mystics, a reggae band who recorded the song for a self-titled album released in June 2013. Originally, it’s the closer of Quadrophenia, The Who’s mighty sixth studio album from October 1973. It also became the second single off that record released the day after the album had come out.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Squeeze Box

In May 2017, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ issued a great collaboration album titled TajMo. It includes this fun Cajun version of Squeeze Box, a tune The Who recorded for The Who by Numbers, their seventh studio album from October 1975. Listening to Taj Mahal’s deep vocals in the chorus, one can literally picture a swamp alligator – really dig that rendition!

The Binghamton Crosbys/You Better You Bet

How about some more a cappella action? Ask and you shall receive. Meet The Binghamton Crosbys, aka The Crosbys, a group formed in 1983 at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. Wikipedia lists 13 albums released between 1987 and 2016. Their 2006 record Roadtrip to Munzville includes this fun rendition of You Better You Bet. The Who recorded this tune as the opener of their ninth studio album Face Dances that came out in March 1981. The song was also released separately as the record’s lead single, giving The Who their first top 10 hit in the UK (no. 9) since 1976 when a reissued single of Substitute reached no. 7. In the U.S., You Better You Bet topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and climbed to no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Casey Wickstrom/Eminence Front

Let’s do one more: Eminence Front, a track from The Who’s 10th studio album It’s Hard that appeared in September 1982. Unlike for most other songs in this list, I found numerous covers of the tune. I was particularly drawn to this bluesy take by Casey Wickstrom, a young artist from California. According to his website, he is a multi-instrumentalist and live looping artist, vocalist, music producer, writer, and film editor. He sings and plays guitar, lap slide guitar, cigar box guitar, bass, harmonica, and other instruments. Wickstrom released Eminence Front as a single in June 2019.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Dear Abbeys website; Casey Wickstrom website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to Sunday and another installment of The Sunday Six, a journey celebrating music six random tunes at a time. If you’re impacted by tropical storm Henri, I hope you are safe. My area of Central New Jersey has been under a tropical storm warning since Friday afternoon, but other than rain, so far, so good -knock on wood!

Weather Report/A Remark You Made

The fact I’m kicking off this post with jazz fusion group Weather Report has nothing to do with the storm but instead can be attributed to coincidence. A few days ago, my streaming music provider served up A Remark You Made as a listening suggestion. While jazz fusion remains a largely unknown genre to me, this track blew me away immediately. Appearing on Weather Report’s eighth studio album Heavy Weather from March 1977, the tune undoubtedly has to be one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time. Written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the track also features Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Jaco Pastorious (fretless bass) and Alex Acuña (drums). What matters more to me than all these big names is the incredible music, especially Pastorious who literally makes his fretless bass sing – check out that amazing tone! As a huge saxophone fan, I’m also drawn to Shorter’s tenor sax playing – just incredibly beautiful and a perfect match to the singing fretless bass! I realize this very accessible jazz fusion isn’t typical for the genre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heavy Weather became Weather Report’s highest charting album on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 where it peaked at no. 30. It also was one of the group’s two records to top Billboard’s jazz albums chart.

Joe Jackson/Geraldine and John

Let’s stay in the ’70s and move to October 1979. Joe Jackson’s sophomore album I’m the Man brought the versatile British artist on my radar screen in 1980, when I received it on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday – still have that copy. The album is probably best known for its singles I’m the Man, It’s Different for Girls and Kinda Cute, while the song I picked, Geraldine and John, is more of a deeper but nevertheless great cut. And it’s another bassist who absolutely shines on that tune, in my view: Graham Maby. He still plays with Jackson to this day. Rounding up Jackson’s backing band were guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. Jackson worked with them on his first three albums that are among my favorites by the man. Check out Maby’s great melodic bassline on Geraldine and John!

The Beatles/Something

Speaking of great basslines, here’s yet another master bassist who conveniently also played in my favorite band of all time. Not only is Something from the Abbey Road album among the absolute gems written by George Harrison, but I think it’s also The Beatles tune with the best bassline Paul McCartney has ever come up with. In addition to Harrison (vocals, lead guitar) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the tune featured John Lennon (piano), Ringo Starr (drums) and Billy Preston (Hammond). BTW, Something is also a good example of Ringo’s creative drumming. The Beatles Bible notes the song was recorded and mixed during six sessions between April 16 and August 15, 1969. At this late stage of The Beatles when they took full advantage of the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded his bass as one of the last instruments. That way he could hear all other instrumental tracks and come up with complementary basslines. In this case, the outcome was truly magnificent!

Sheryl Crow/If It Makes You Happy

Okay, time to get off my little bass obsession – something I admittedly can get excited about as a former bassist! On to Sheryl Crow, an artist I have dug since her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. Oh, did I mention she also plays bass in addition to guitar and piano? 🙂 Perhaps my favorite tune by Crow is If It Makes You Happy from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. She co-wrote the nice rocker with Jeff Trott who became a longtime collaborator and appeared on almost every Sheryl Crow album thereafter. In August 2019, Crow released what she said would be her final full-length album, Threads, citing changed music consumption habits where most listeners make their own playlists with cherry-picked songs rather than listening to entire albums. I previously reviewed it here. Well, the good news is Crow’s statement at the time apparently didn’t include live albums. On August 13, she released Live From The Ryman & More, a great looking 27-track career spanning set I’ve yet to check out. Meanwhile, here’s the excellent If It Makes You Happy. Yep, it surely does!

Neil Young/Hangin’ On a Limb

Next I like to come back to Hangin’ On a Limb, a Neil Young tune I first had planned to include in the August 1 Sunday Six installment. But inspired by a tornado warning that had been issued for my area of central New Jersey a few days earlier, I decided to go with Like a Hurricane instead. BTW, earlier this week, we had another tornado warning and as noted above, there is a tropical storm warning in effect for my area. You can’t make this stuff up – climate change is real, whether the naysayers like it or not! Anyway, Hangin’ On a Limb is a beautiful tune featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. It’s from Young’s 17th studio album Freedom that appeared in October 1989 and is best known for the epic Rockin’ in the Free World.

Pretenders/Buzz

And this brings me again to the final tune. Wrapping it up is Buzz, a great track from Hate for Sale, the 11th and most recent album by Pretenders released in July 2020. Time has been kind to Chrissie Hynde’s voice that sounds just as compelling as back in 1980, the year the band’s eponymous debut album came out. There’s another commonality: Original drummer Martin Chambers who had returned after eight years. Apart from Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, harmonica) and Chambers, Pretenders’ current line-up also includes James Walbourne (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) Carwyn Ellis (keyboards) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Hate for Sale is pretty solid. In case you’re curious, check out my previous review here. Like all other songs on the album, Buzz was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, according to my calendar it is! And, if you’re in the U.S., we’re two weeks out from Labor Day weekend – that’s just crazy! Though I’d quickly like to add it’s a widely held misconception the holiday marks the end of summer. The good news is summer officially lasts until September 22, so we still have about a month left! On to newly released music that caught my attention!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter. According to her Apple Music profile, Cut from the same cloth as fiery crooners Jana Kramer, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, country singer Maggie Rose was born Margaret Rose Durante in 1988 in Potomac, Maryland. Durante took to the stage at the age of 16, performing frequently with the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover group, before heading off to Clemson University. She left school in her sophomore year to focus on music, eventually relocating to Nashville, Tennessee on the advice of industry icon Tommy Mottola. Mottola helped her ink a deal with Universal Republic, which released her debut single, a 2009 cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” She left the label the following year and signed with Emrose Records, releasing a pair of singles and an EP under her birth name before assuming the moniker Maggie Rose for the 2012 single “I Ain’t Your Mama.” A debut full-length album, Cut to Impress, produced by Blake Chancey, Stephony Smith, and James Stroud, appeared from RPM Records in the spring of 2013. Here’s What Are We Fighting For, the soulful opener of Rose’s third album Have a Seat that dropped yesterday (August 20). Rose wrote this great tune together with guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman (background vocals, percussion), who according to her website are longtime band members/collaborators.

The Joy Formidable/Into the Blue

The Joy Formidable are a UK alternative rock band from Wales. They were formed in 2007 by childhood friends Ritzy Bryan (guitar, vocals) and Rhydian Davies (bass), who had previously played together in Manchester group Tricky Nixon, and Justin Stahley (drums). In 2009, following the band’s debut EP, current drummer Matthew James Thomas replaced Stahley. The following year, The Joy Formidable signed with Atlantic subsidiary Canvasback Records. Their debut album The Big Roar from January 2011 led to immediate chart success in the UK, climbing to no. 31 on the Official Albums Chart. Charting in the U.S. didn’t occur until the group’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, which reached no. 51 and 11 on the Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums charts, respectively. Into the Blue is the title track of The Joy Formidable’s fifth and new album released yesterday. Like all other tracks on it, the song was co-written by Bryan and Davies.

Andrea von Kampen/That Spell

Andrea von Kampen is a Lincoln, Neb.-based f0lk singer-songwriter. From her website: With the successful release of two EP’s, Another Day (2015) and Desdemona (2016), a Christmas EP (2016), an Audiotree Live album (2017), and her debut full-length album Old Country (2019), Andrea has quickly established herself in the recording studio and on the road. She has shared the stage with artists such as Tall Heights, Ira Wolf, Dead Man Winter, The Brother Brothers, Dead Horses, Darling West and many more…Inspiration for Andrea’s songs often come from literature, art, and nature; in particular the literature and nature of Nebraska and the Midwest… Andrea von Kampen first appeared in the public eye with her submission of Let Me Down Easy into the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. Within 24 hours of submission, NPR Music, All Songs Considered tweeted her video as the featured artist of the day, saying “we were completely blown away.” Ultimately, Andrea finished the competition as a top ten finalist, which lead to increased popularity of her EP, Another Day, specifically her song Trainsong. Since then, her EPs have amassed millions of streams on Spotify and continue to grow. On August 6, van Kampen released her sophomore album That Spell. Here’s the title track that had first appeared on July 23 as the lead single – nice music to sit down to listen.

The Doobie Brothers/Don’t Ya Mess With Me

I trust The Doobie Brothers need no introduction. It’s great to see a band that has been active for more than 45 years (with a 5-year hiatus between 1982 to 1987) is still releasing new music. Their official current line-up includes original members Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, piano, lead and backing vocals) and Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, lead and backing vocals), along with longtime on-and-off member John McFee (guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals). Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, lead and backing vocals), another on-and-off member over the decades, will join the Doobies on their upcoming tour. On October 1, they are scheduled to release their 15th studio album Liberté. The album, which doesn’t include McDonald, is the group’s first new studio release in seven years since Southbound from November 2014, and their first of new original material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy. Here’s lead single Don’t Ya Mess With Me, one of four tracks released upfront as a self-titled EP on August 6 when the band announced Liberté. Johnston penned the rocker with co-producer John Shanks. It may be no China Grove, Rockin’ Down the Highway or Long Train Runnin’, but it still makes me a happy camper!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Maggie Rose website; Andrea van Kampen website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my zig-zig music journeys featuring six seemingly random tunes from the past 70 years or so. This time, it’s mostly different flavors of rock, including smoking British Invasion rock, grungy alternative rock, groovy ’70s funk, more alternative rock, jazzy soft rock and pop rock. Let’s go!

The Animals/We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I’d like to start with the The Animals, one of my favorite ’60s bands that became part of the British Invasion. I’ve always loved their edgy blues rock-oriented sound and frontman Eric Burdon’s distinct deep vocals that perfectly fit their music. Undoubtedly, the group is best known for their rendition of the traditional The House of the Rising Sun. While I love that tune, there are so many other great songs. One of my favorites that is also one of their most popular tracks is We Gotta Get Out of This Place. Co-written by prominent U.S. songwriting duo Barry Mann and his wife Cynthia Weil, the tune initially was intended for The Righteous Brothers. After Mann got a record deal for himself, his label Red Bird Records wanted him to release the song. At the same time, hard-charging record executive Allen Klein had heard the track and handed a demo to Animals producer Mickie Most. The Animals ended up recording it before Mann could – perhaps they should have renamed it “We Gotta Get Out This Song!” We Gotta Get Out of This Place was first released as a single in the UK in July 1965, followed by the U.S. the next month. It also became the opener of the band’s third U.S. album Animal Tracks released in September of the same year.

Nirvana/Come As You Are

Let’s jump to the early ’90s next and Nirvana. Co-founded by lead vocalist and guitarist Curt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Wash. in 1987, the group was an acquired taste for me. Oftentimes, I still find it hard to digest their loud and dissonant music combined with depressing lyrics. But when I’m in the right mood, there’s just something about Nirvana. Come As You Are is a track from their sophomore album Nevermind from September 1991. The first record to feature drummer Dave Grohl, Nevermind enjoyed a surprising degree of mainstream success and was key in popularizing the Seattle grunge movement and alternative rock. Come As You Are, written by Cobain, also appeared separately as the album’s second single. While it didn’t match the chart success of Smells Like Teen Spirit, it still became one of the group’s most successful songs. It climbed to no. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to no. 27 in Canada, and placed within the top 20 mainstream charts of many European countries.

Curtis Mayfield/Super Fly

After that haunting Nirvana tune, I’m ready for something groovy, something funky. Something like Super Fly. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune is the title track of Mayfield’s third solo album that came out in July 1972. It’s also the soundtrack for the Blaxploitation crime drama picture of the same name. Together with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Super Fly is viewed as a pioneering soul concept album featuring then-unique socially aware lyrics about poverty, drug abuse, crime and prostitution. Both albums proved skeptical record executives wrong and became major commercial successes. For Mayfield, Super Fly also was the first of five soundtrack scores he wrote in the ’70s. In August 1990, Mayfield became paralyzed from the neck down when he was hit by stage lightening equipment while being introduced at an outdoor show in Brooklyn, New York. Sadly, that freak accident marked the start of a downward spiral in Mayfield’s health, which culminated in his death from diabetes complications at age of 57 in December 1999.

R.E.M./Orange Crush

Warning: Once you listen to the next tune, it might get stuck in your brain. And while with that crazy ongoing heat wave you might feel thirsty, it has nothing to do with the orange flavored soft drink. Orange Crush is a track off R.E.M.’s sixth studio album Green from November 1988. The title refers to Agent Orange, the horrific chemical used by the U.S. during the Vietnam war to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle. Songfacts explains that while R.E.M. lead vocalist Michael Stipe’s lyrics do not refer to a specific war-related experience, his father served in Vietnam as part of the helicopter corps. Like all other tracks on Green, Orange Crush was credited to all members of R.E.M., who apart from Stipe included Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, backing vocals). The tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in December 1988, becoming R.E.M.’s then-most successful song on the UK Singles Chart where it peaked at no. 28. According to Wikipedia, Orange Crush wasn’t released as a commercial single in the U.S. But it became a promotional single and hit no. 1 on both Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock Tracks charts.

David Crosby/She’s Got to Be Somewhere

Yesterday, David Crosby turned 80 – wow! After all his past struggles with drugs and alcohol and even incarceration, I wonder whether he himself thought he would ever reach this milestone – well, I’m glad he did and wish him many happy returns! Of course, Crosby is best known as a co-founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, both groups I dig. In addition to appearing on their albums, Crosby has also had a solo career that started in February 1971 with the release of If I Could Only Remember My Name. But until 2014, his solo output was pretty uneven. The next album after his debut, Oh Yes I Can, came out in January 1989 and was followed by Thousand Roads in May 1993. Since 2014’s Croz, Crosby has been on a late stage career surge that has since seen the release of four additional albums. The most recent one, For Free, dropped just last month. My knowledge of Crosby’s solo work is pretty spotty. One of his albums I’ve listened to previously and reviewed here, is Sky Trails from September 2017. Here’s the opener She’s Got To Be Somewhere. And nope, even though it sounds like Donald Fagen could have written it, the tune was actually penned by James Raymond, Crosby’s son who has worked with his father since 1997, both on the road and in the studio. Crosby is a big Steely Dan fan. Fagen knows and even co-wrote a song for Crosby’s last album, Rodriguez for a Night.

George Harrison/All Things Must Pass

Yes, the time has come again to wrap up yet another Sunday Six installment. All Things Must Pass looks like an appropriate tune for the occasion. Apart from the fitting title, the pick is also inspired by the recent appearance of the massive 50th anniversary reissue of George Harrison’s third solo album from November 1970 and his first after the breakup of The Beatles. Frankly, I’ve yet to listen to it. The super deluxe format, which my streaming music provider offers, has 70 tracks. In addition to remixed songs of the original 3-LP album, it features numerous outtakes, jams and demos – altogether close to 4.5 hours of music! Anyway, let’s turn to the title track. I did not know that it was Billy Preston who first released the song as All Things (Must) Pass on his album Encouraging Words that appeared two months prior to Harrison’s record – nice version that’s here in case you’re curious! Also unbeknownst to be Preston included a great rendition of My Sweet Lord as well.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Who’s Next Turns 50

Exactly 50 years ago today, on August 14, 1971, The Who released their fifth studio album Who’s Next. The English rock band is one of my all-time favorite groups, and if I would have to pick one album, it would be this gem. As such, I felt it was appropriate to dedicate a post to the record’s 50th anniversary. Who’s Next without a doubt is among my top 5 releases of 1971, an incredible year in music, along with The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Led Zeppelin IV, Carole King’s Tapestry and Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

After the tremendous success of Tommy, Pete Townshend conceived Lifehouse, which was to become another rock opera, yet on a much more ambitious scale. The project was supposed to involve a live-recorded concept album that would provide the music for a film. The live footage would be captured in a series of concerts at the Young Vic theatre, a performing arts venue in London. During these gigs, the audience would be asked to interact with the band to create material for the film.

But after a few concerts at the Young Vic, Townshend grew disillusioned when he realized the audience was only interested in listening to The Who, not interact with the band to create material for the film. Together with other complexities of the project and a bad falling-out between Townshend and manager Kit Lambert, Lifehouse became mission impossible and was abandoned. The doomed project led to major stress within the band and a nervous breakdown of Townshend, with Roger Daltrey reportedly saying at the time The Who were never closer to breaking up.

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Ironically, the Lifehouse disaster led to Who’s Next, one of the best if not the greatest album The Who ever made. A key figure in this context was recording engineer Glyn Johns. Not only did he convince the group to make it a single as opposed to a double LP, but he was also given license to assemble whichever songs he thought would be best in any order. Who’s Next ended up with eight tracks from Lifehouse and one additional tune. The focus was on recording great music, not to force-fit different tunes into an overarching concept. Despite his remarkable role, Johns only received credit as an associate producer (apart from recording and mixing). Let’s take a closer look at the album.

Opening side one is the majestic Baba O’Riley, one of the aforementioned eight songs from the Lifehouse project. Like all except one of the other tracks, the tune was written by Pete Townshend. Songfacts notes the “Baba” in the title refers to Meher Baba, Townshend’s spiritual guru. “Riley” comes from experimental, minimalist composer Terry Riley, one of Townshend’s influences who inspired many of the keyboard riffs and sound effects on the album. Referencing the liner notes, Songfacts also points out the tune reflects Townshend’s vision of what would happen if Baba’s spirit was fed into a computer and transformed into music. “The result would be Baba in the style of Terry Riley, or “Baba O’Riley.”” Here’s a neat lyric video.

Bargain, the second track on side one, is another homage to Baba, according to Songfacts. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment. The song also featured a then just introduced ARP 2500 synthesizer, “the same synth used to call the extraterrestrials in the 1977 movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” Now, there’s some trivia you always wanted to know!

My Wife, written by John Entwistle, is the album’s only song that wasn’t composed by Townshend. Morever, it is the one track that didn’t come from the Lifehouse project. Entwistle who sang lead vocals also included the tune on his third solo album Rigor Mortis Sets In that first appeared in the UK in May 1973.

On to side two. Here’s Going Mobile, the album’s only song featuring Townshend as the sole vocalist. From Songfacts: This is about taking a vacation by riding around in a car with no particular destination. It was something Pete Townshend liked to do...For the solo, Townshend ran his guitar through a device called an Envelope Follower. It was a type of synthesizer distortion that made it sound like he was playing under water.

Next up: Behind Blue Eyes. The lyrics were inspired by an encounter Townshend had with a female groupie after a gig in Denver in June 1970. While he was tempted, he ended up returning to his room by himself. Once there, be began writing a prayer that started with the words “When my fist clenches, crack it open,” which became part of the song’s lyrics. At least so the story goes. Here’s another lyric video.

The last track I’d like to call out is Won’t Get Fooled Again, the album’s epic 8:30-minute closer. From Songfacts: Pete Townshend wrote this song about a revolution. In the first verse, there is an uprising. In the middle, they overthrow those in power, but in the end, the new regime becomes just like the old one (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”). Townshend felt revolution was pointless because whoever takes over is destined to become corrupt. I’m also including a link to a clip of The Who’s live performance of the tune at Shepperton Studios in 1978, filmed for the 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. What has to be one of the greatest moments in rock history sadly also turned out to be the last public performance by Keith Moon prior to his death on September 7, 1978 at the age of 32.

Who’s Next is widely considered to be the best album by The Who. It topped the UK Official Albums Chart, reached no. 2 in France and The Netherlands, and climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. As of February 1993, the album reached 3X Multi-Platinum Certification in the U.S., meaning it has sold more than three million units. It is Platinum-certified in the UK as well.

Who’s Next also received broad acclaim from critics. Even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, calling it “the best hard rock album in years.” Who’s Next was ranked at no. 28 in Rolling Stones’ list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in both the 2003 and 2012 editions. In the latest revision from September 2020, it came in at no. 77.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube