This Is It – Arrivederci 2021!

The time has come again for the final post of the year – wow! As I previously said around Christmas, it would be easy to launch into a tirade. In fact, just over the past few days, I had two costly misfortunes. While it’s frustrating, that’s life and shit happens!

Plus, my grievances look rather trivial compared to the things other folks have gone through over the past year. As such, I feel I should be grateful for what I have. Instead of venting, I’d like to highlight a few songs that have a new year’s theme. You can find some additional tunes in the playlist at the end. Hope you enjoy!

The Breeders/New Year

The Breeders are an alternative rock band from Dayton, Ohio, who initially were formed in 1989. New Year is a tune off their sophomore album Last Splash from August 1993 – appropriately titled, as it turned out since the group went on a hiatus in 1995 and didn’t release their next album until May 2002. The Breeders are still around with two original members including founder Kim Deal being part of the present lineup.

Charlie Robison/New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is a tune by country singer-songwriter Charlie Robison. He was active from 1996 until his early retirement in 2018 due to complications from a surgery that left him permanently unable to sing. Robison recorded New Year’s Day for his fourth studio album Good Times that appeared in September 2004.

Ella Fitzgerald/What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? was written by American songwriter Frank Loesser in 1947. R&B group The Orioles took it first to the charts in 1949. Subsequently, the tune has been recorded by many other artists including Ella Fitzgerald for her 1960 album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. A classic!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/New Year’s Eve Party

When high-energy boogie-blues artist George Thorogood does a party song, you know it’s gotta be good, g-g-g-good! Written by Thorogood, the tune became the b-side of his 1983 single Rock and Roll Christmas. Instead of blues rock, the tune has a nice soul vibe.

G. Love & Special Sauce/Happy New Year’s Blues

G. Love & Special Sauce, according to Wikipedia, are an alternative hip hop trio from Philadelphia, “known for their unique, “sloppy”, and “laid back” blues sound that encompasses classic R&B.” Happy New Year’s Blues is from their new album Coming Back Home for Christmas that came out on November 26. In fact, I saw this trio open for Hall & Oates in September 2019. Their music definitely is much more blues than hip hop and quite fun to watch!

Otis Redding Redding & Carla Thomas/New Year’s Resolution

The last new year-related song I’d like to highlight is New Year’s Resolution. This nice soul tune appeared on King & Queen, a studio album by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, which came out in March 1967.

Check the playlist below for the above tunes and a few additional new year’s songs.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank all visitors of this blog for reading, especially my fellow bloggers who keep coming back and take the time to leave comments. Not only do I find it a lot of fun to discuss music, a topic I love, but I’m also grateful for the insights I learn from those who share their thoughts and tips. Reading their blogs is very rewarding as well and definitely has inspired more than one idea.

The show must and will go on in the new year. I’m looking forward to it!

I’d like to wish everybody all the best for 2022 and please stay well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Obscured by Clouds

Prompted by a recent comment from Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews that he was happy to see Obscured by Clouds being included in my previous Sunday Six installment, I decided to revisit Pink Floyd’s seventh studio album. Even though its June 1972 release falls between Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, two of my favorite Floyd records, Obscured by Clouds was, well, a little obscure to me. After having listened to it again, I agree with Ultimate Classic Rock, which called the album ‘underrated.’ They also said it was “one of rock’s most under-appreciated treasures — and perhaps the most underrated album in Pink Floyd’s impressive discography.” I’m less sure about that statement.

Obscured by Clouds was set in motion when film director Barbet Schroeder approached Pink Floyd to ask whether they could do another soundtrack for his upcoming film project La Vallée. Previously, the British group had written and performed the soundtrack for More, Schroeder’s 1969 theatrical feature film directorial debut. Obscured by Clouds was recorded at Strawberry Studios at Château d’Hérouville close to Paris, France over a span of just six weeks.

The two sessions took place between late February and early April 1972 during two breaks from Pink Floyd’s Japan tour. At the time, the band had already started early work on what would become the brilliant album The Dark Side of the Moon. Quoting from drummer Nick Mason’s autobiography Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, Ultimate Classic Rock noted Mason confirmed the group utilized the same methods employed on More, where Pink Floyd could be found “following a rough cut of the film, using stopwatches for specific cues and creating interlinking musical moods that would be cross-faded to suit the final version.”

French TV station ORTF captured a short segment during the first recording session, which featured interviews with Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and David Gilmour (guitar, vocals). After they had completed recording the album, Pink Floyd had a falling out with the film company and decided to release the record under the title Obscured by Clouds rather than La Vallée. As a result, the French film was retitled La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) when it appeared in July 1972. Time for some music!

Side 1 kicks off with the title track, an instrumental co-written by Gilmour and Waters. The monotonous synthesizer line and drum part combined with Gilmour’s slide guitar give the tune a haunting sound. It has a largely improvisational feel to it.

Burning Bridges, another Waters-Gilmour co-write, is the only song off the album I had been able to name prior to this review and perhaps the most memorable tune. It also features Waters and Gilmour on vocals.

Wot’s… Uh the Deal? is a nice acoustic tune featuring multi-tracked vocals by Gilmour. The lyrics were written by Waters, though the song is credited to both him and Gilmour. According to Wikipedia, the words “Flash the readies, Wot’s…Uh the Deal” is a phrase Floyd roadie Chris Adamson apparently used.

Side 2 kicks off with Childhood’s End. Notably, this was the last Pink Floyd song entirely written by Gilmour until A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the band’s thirteenth studio album from September 1987, and the first without Waters. The tune was named after a 1953 science fiction novel by English sci-fi writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke. I have to say I really like that track!

Free Four became the record’s only single released in July 1972. Solely written and sung by Waters, it did not chart. Songfacts notes, The lyrics are rather depressing, but the song is very upbeat (including Roger Waters gleefully uttering a line about the angel of death). It’s about how our lives pass by – most of the time with no real effect on the cycle by which we all live and pass. Wikipedia cites a review of the single by music industry trade magazine Cash Box, asking “Would you believe a happy song about death?”

The final track I’d like to call out is the closer Absolutely Curtains. Credited to all four members of the band – Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) – Absolutely Curtains is a largely instrumental tune that ends with a chant of the New Guinea indigenous Mapuga tribe who is also seen in the film. The instrumental section has a cool spacey sound reminiscent of Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here albums.

Overall, I think Obscured by Clouds is a pretty solid studio effort by Pink Floyd. Perhaps the problem is that unlike Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, it lacks easily memorable tracks like One of These Days or Money. Still, to me, Burning Bridges and Childhood’s End are standout songs.

Remarkably, Obscured by Clouds climbed to no. 6 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. It also went all the way to no. 1 in France – I assume because of the film – and reached no. 3 in The Netherlands. In the U.S., Obscured by Clouds got to no. 46 on the Billboard 200, marking Pink Floyd’s highest-charting record there at the time. The band’s relative obscurity drastically changed when the clouds were chased away by The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here that topped the Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube


My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 28

Welcome to the 75th installment of my irregularly recurring music history feature where I celebrate birthdays of notable artists and look back at events that happened on a certain date throughout the decades. Today, my picks revolve around December 28.

1968: The Miami Pop Festival kicked off north of Miami, Fla. The three-day event took place at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track in Hallandale. Not to be confused with another festival that had been held at the same place seven months earlier, the Miami Pop Festival was the first major rock festival on the U.S. East Coast, drawing approximately 100,000 people. Performing acts came from a wide variety of music and included Chuck Berry, José Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf, among others. The only footage I could find is this clip of Turn On Your Lovelight by Grateful Dead. Good tune, actually, and it’s only 12 and a half minutes long! 🙂

1970: John Lennon released Mother as a single in the U.S. The haunting tune became the lead single of Lennon’s debut solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that had appeared two weeks earlier on December 11. Songfacts notes Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing “Primal Scream” therapy, where he was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics: He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk-driving, off-duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk, and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, “Mother you had me, but I never had you.” His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and for work. “I wanted you, you didn’t need me” explains his feelings about his dad. Lennon’s primal screaming on this song expresses the pain of his childhood. It’s one of Lennon’s most personal and powerful songs.

1976: Guitarist Freddie King, who together with B.B. King and Albert King was known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” died at age 42 from complications of stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. King who hailed from Gilmer, Texas, picked up the guitar as a six-year-old, initially learning from his mother and uncle. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and eventually got a deal with Federal Records after Chess Records had repeatedly turned him down. In 1960, King recorded his first single Have You Ever Loved a Woman with that label. Written by Billy Myles, the tune also appeared on King’s 1961 debut album Freddy King Sings. Over his 14-year recording career, he released 13 studio records.

1978: Rolling Stone magazine voted Some Girls by The Rolling Stones as album of the year. The band’s 16th studio release became their sixth no. 1 album in a row on the U.S. Billboard 200 since 1971’s Sticky Fingers and is considered to be among their best records by many of their fans. It also holds the distinction of being the only Stones record to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. There was some controversy surrounding the cover showing the Stones with select female celebrities and lingerie ads. Following the threat of legal action from the likes of Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett and Liza Minnelli, the album was quickly reissued with a different cover that replaced all celebrities with black and punk-style garish colors with the phrase “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction”. Here’s a track off the record, When the Whip Comes Down, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as usual.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Current/Minnesota Public Radio; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Son Volt/Trace

Son Volt, an American band I only came across a few months ago, have become one of my favorite groups I’ve “discovered” this year. Over the decades, they have touched the alternative rock, alternative country, folk-rock and Americana genres. In fact, they are considered a staple of the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994, following the break-up of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country-rock band he had founded in 1987 together with Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, Tweedy went on to form alternative rock group Wilco.

In addition to Farrar, Son Volt’s initial line-up included ex-Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, along with brothers Dave Boquist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, lap steel, dobro) and Jim Boquist (bass, backing vocals). By the time the group had secured a deal with Warner Bros. and went into the studio to record their debut album Trace, Eric Heywood (mandolin, pedal steel) had joined them.

Trace, which came out in September 1995, is the first of 10 studio albums Son Volt have released to date, the most recent being the excellent Electro Melodier from July 30 this year. The band’s catalog also includes the 2020 live album Live At The Orange Peel. Let’s take a closer look at Trace!

I’d like to start with the opener Windfall, one of the acoustics tracks on the album. Like all except one track, the beautiful tune was penned by Farrar. I love the fiddle and pedal steel guitar, which give the song a warm country sound.

Route is a nice crunchy rocker. Apple Music notes Farrar’s Neil Young-influenced sound. This is one of the tunes that does remind me a bit of Crazy Horse.

On Ten Second News, things slow down and turn acoustic again. Another great-sounding song with a bit of a bluesy touch.

Drown, another rocker, did well on two U.S. Billboard charts: Mainstream Rock Tracks (no. 10) and Modern Rock Tracks (no. 25). According to Wikipedia, it became Son Volt’s only single to make either of the charts. I find that a bit hard to believe!

Let’s do two more, starting with another acoustic tune: Out of the Picture.

And here’s another great rocker to wrap up: Catching On.

For the above and the remaining tracks, you can check out the playlist below.

Trace was co-produced by Brian Paulson and Son Volt. Paulson is best known for his work with Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk and Wilco. He also produced Son Volt’s sophomore album Straightaways from April 1997. Other musicians on Trace include Craig Krampf (drums on Live Free), Dan Newton (accordion on Too Early) and Marc Perlman (bass on Mystifies Me).

While Trace only reached no. 166 on the Billboard 200, the album was well-received by music critics. In this context, Wikipedia highlights AllMusic’s review, which stated, “Throughout Son Volt’s debut, Trace, the group reworks classic honky tonk and rock & roll, adding a desperate, determined edge to their performances.” AmericanaUK characterized the album as “a graceful masterpiece, a positive turning of the page for Farrar, and a gentle reminder of the power and long-lasting influence of Uncle Tupelo.” The album also placed within the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 1995 critics’ list.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final Sunday Six of 2021 – can’t believe I’m writing this! To those celebrating, I hope you had a nice Christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season. To everybody else, hope you’ve been having a great time anyway! Today, this weekly recurring feature is hitting a milestone with its 50th installment. It’s another eclectic set of music touching the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021. Ready for the last mini music excursion of the year? Let’s do it!

Frank Zappa/Pink Napkins

I’d like to start today’s music time travel with an artist I never thought I’d feature. While I recognize Frank Zappa was widely acclaimed, except for the weirdly catchy Bobby Brown Goes Down, I always found it difficult to listen to his music and never warmed to him. That being said, I’ve always known he was a pretty talented musician. When my streaming music provider served up Pink Napkins the other day, I was immediately intrigued by this guitar-driven instrumental. And, yes, I was quite surprised to learn I had just listened to Frank Zappa! Pink Napkins is from Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, the second in a series of three all-instrumental albums released in May 1981, which subsequently appeared as a box set in 1982. It’s a very improvisational collection of what essentially are guitar solos. While hey there, people, you may wonder, wonder, why Zappa released a massive collection of guitar solos, dare I say it, I actually dig Pink Napkins!

Pink Floyd/Stay

Next is what I would call a deep track from Pink Floyd’s catalog. Stay, co-written by the band’s keyboarder Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour, was included on the group’s seventh studio album Obscured by Clouds that came out in June 1972. It was the soundtrack for a French motion picture titled La Vallée and directed by Iranian-born Swiss film director and producer Barbet Schroeder. Among others, he’s known for directing Hollywood films Barfly (1987) and Single White Female (1992). While Obscured by Clouds didn’t match the chart performance of the group’s two preceding records Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, it still reached a respectable no. 6 in the UK. By comparison, it remained, well, a bit more obscure in the U.S. where it stalled at no. 46. This was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd’s next album The Dark Side of the Moon.

Little Richard/Good Golly, Miss Molly

Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to get movin’ and groovin’ with some killer classic rock & roll by the great Little Richard: Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball, whoo/Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball/When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’/Can’t hear your momma call…Even though I’ve listened to Good Golly, Miss Molly countless times since I first heard it 40-plus years ago, I’m still amazed by Richard’s energy. This man was a force of nature and an incredible performer. Good Golly, Miss Molly was co-written by John Marascalco and producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It was first recorded by Richard and appeared as a single in January 1958. It was also included on Richard’s eponymous sophomore album released in July of the same year.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Ways and Means

Let’s keep rockin’ and jump to 2021 and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. If you happened to read part 1 of my recent year-in-review feature, you may recall the name of this unusual country blues trio, which has been around since 2003. Ways and Means is the opener of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s energetic 10th studio album that came out back in April. Check out the official video, which is fun to watch. These guys are just amazing! Peyton is a really talented guitarist, and his singing ain’t too shabby either – my kind of reverend!

The Mamas & The Papas/Monday Monday

After two high-energy tunes, I’d like to slow it down a little with some beautiful sunshine pop from the ’60s. For the purposes of this feature, the tune really should have been titled “Sunday Sunday”, but I’ll gladly go with Monday Monday. The third single by The Mamas & The Papas, released in March 1966, became the L.A. vocal group’s only no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the group’s leader John Philipps, aka Papa John Phillips, the tune was a big hit outside the U.S. as well, reaching no. 2 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands; no. 3 in the UK; and no. 4 in Australia, among others. Monday Monday was also included on The Mamas & The Papas’ debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears from February of the same year. I’ve always loved their beautiful harmony singing.

Bonnie Raitt/You

I’d like to wrap up this installment with one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. Since I was introduced to her with Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve come to love her music and amazing slide guitar-playing. I also finally had a chance to see her in August 2016 in New Jersey. If you’re curious you can read more about the show here and watch a clip of the entire gig, which is still up! For this post, I’ve picked You, a beautiful tune from Raitt’s 12th studio album Longing in Their Hearts that appeared in March 1994. The song was co-written by John Shanks, Bob Thiele and Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian). Bonnie Raitt will tour in 2022. Man, would I love to catch her again – we’ll see whether conditions are going to responsibly allow it!

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Run Rudolph Run

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are one of my favorite “discoveries” this year. Seeing this country blues trio extraordinaire in action just makes me happy. If you like what’s in the clip below, I can highly recommend their latest album Dance Songs for Hard Times from April this year, which I reviewed here.

Run Rudolph Run, originally credited to Chuck Berry Music and subsequently to Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, first appeared as a single by Berry in November 1958. The popular Christmas rocker has been covered by numerous other artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dave Edmunds, Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Foghat and Brian Setzer Orchestra. And now, of course, Rev. Peyton, a particularly charming rendition with great energy – also love their showmanship!

The trio has been around since 2003 and consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Perhaps it’s not surprising that checking iTunes yesterday hardly revealed any new music releases dated December 24. Which artist would really want to issue an album or a single that day when many folks are focused on Christmas and are done with gift shopping. Of course, I realize release dates are mostly determined by record labels, though December 24 shouldn’t be in their best interest either. Anyway, I still found some music I like that came out fairly recently and, as such, still qualifies as new, at least in my book. My picks this week all fall within different types of rock. Here we go!

Black Map/Witching Hour

Black Map are a post-hardcore supergroup formed in 2014 in San Francisco after the trio’s respective bands had gone on hiatus. Their members include Dredg guitarist Mark Engles; vocalist and guitarist Ben Flanagan, from The Trophy Fire; and drummer Chris Robyn, formerly with Far (all groups I don’t know). A debut EP, Driver, released in February 2014 was followed by the group’s first full-length album …And We Explode in October that year. Witching Hour is an upfront track from Black Map’s upcoming third full-length studio release Melodoria scheduled for Feb 18, 2022. It appeared on December 17. I can hear a bit of U2 here – check out the neat sound!

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Nashville, Tenn. group Goodbye June were formed in 2005. Their lineup features Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. See Where the Night Goes is the title track of the band’s upcoming fourth album set to drop on February 18, 2022. Released on December 14, this tune sounds very classic rock. I find it great to see contemporary bands embrace a genre that has often been called dead. Reminds me a bit of AC/DC!

Austin Meade/Loser Mentality

I hardly could find any public information on Texas rock guitarist and vocalist Austin Meade. Not even his own website includes a bio! According to his Apple Music mini-profile, he cranks out twangy hard-rock albums like 2021’s Black Sheep that boast growling riffs and an outlaw swagger that would make Tyler Childers proud. Wikipedia describes Childers as an American singer-songwriter who blends neotraditional country, bluegrass and folk. I guess this shall suffice. Loser Mentality is Meade’s new single, released on December 9. It was co-written by him and David James Willie. I like it!

Superchunk/Endless Summer

Superchunk are an indie rock band from Chapel Hill, N.C., which were formed in 1989. Their members include Mac McCaughan (vocals, guitar), who I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment this September; Jim Wilbur (guitar), Laura Ballance (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums). Since the release of their eponymous debut album in September 1990, 10 additional records have come out. Endless Summer is a track from Superchunk’s upcoming 12th studio album, Wild Loneliness, scheduled for February 25, 2022. Credited to the entire group, the melodic rock tune was released on December 7 – nice!

Here’s a playlist that includes the above tunes.

Once again, to those celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

The Year That Was – Part 2 of 2

Best new songs of 2021

This is the second installment of my 2-part review of 2021. Here I’m going to focus on songs released over the past 12 months, which I like in particular. The picks are based on my Best of What’s New weekly recurring feature. Part 1, which you can read here, highlighted my six favorite albums that came out over the past year.

Altogether, Best of What’s New featured more than 200 songs that were released in 2021. From there I narrowed things down to 4o tunes, which are included in the playlist at the end of this post. Following I’d like to highlight 10 out of these 40 songs. It wasn’t easy to pick those 10 tunes. In my view, that’s a good sign since it means there were many great choices.

Aaron Frazer/If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

Kicking things off is If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a terrific soul tune by Aaron Frazer, a Brooklyn, New York-based singer-songwriter. The song, co-written by Frazer, Dan Auerbach and David Ferguson, is off Frazer’s debut album Introducing…, which appeared on January 8 and was produced by Auerbach. Check out that neat falsetto, which is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield – so good!

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Next, let’s turn to contemporary jazz by California native Gretchen Parlato. É Preciso Perdoar is the beautiful opener of her fifth studio album Flor (Portuguese for flower) that appeared on March 5. The tune is credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, as well as Parlato – just beautiful and so relaxing!

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Dirty Honey are a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. I love their classic rock sound that has traces of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. California Dreamin’, credited to the entire band, is from Dirty Honey’s eponymous first full-length album released April 23.

Lord Huron/Mine Forever

Indie folk-rock band Lord Huron are one of the most seductive contemporary groups I can think of. Their moody sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb is pretty cool – very cinematic! Frankly, their latest record Long Lost, which came out on May 21, easily could have been in part 1 of this year-in-review feature. Here’s my favorite tune off that record, Mine Forever, penned by guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider who founded Lord Huron in 2010.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

While I’ve started to pay much closer attention to new music, I only follow very few contemporary acts. One is Jane Lee Hooker, formed in 2013 in New York as an all-female blues rock band. Drive is more of a rock ballad with a nice soulful vibe. Released as a single on May 28, the tune will be on the band’s next album Rollin’ that is scheduled for January 2022. Definitely looking forward to that one!

The Wallflowers/Roots and Wings

On July 9, The Wallflowers released Exit Wounds, their first new album in nine years. With its warm melodic roots rock, the record sounds like it could be a follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Jacob Dylan’s band that brought them commercial success and two Grammy awards. Here’s one of my favorite tracks off the new album: Roots and Wings.

Son Volt/The Globe

While alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt have been around since 1994, I had not heard of them until August of this year after the release of their ninth and latest album Electro Melodier on July 30. Check out The Globe written by the band’s founder, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar. It’s got a bit of a Springsteen vibe, and there’s also a brief homage to The Who. Check out the Moog line at around 2:15 minutes… Love that tune!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose, born Margaret Rose Durante, is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter, who released her debut single under her maiden name in 2009, a cover of Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody. In the spring of 2013, when her first full-length album appeared, she already had adopted the Maggie Rose moniker. What Are We Fighting For is the opener of her latest album Have a Seat that came out on August 20. The great soulful tune was written by Rose, together with her longtime collaborators, guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman  (background vocals, percussion).

Joey Landreth/Two Trains

While he shares a famous last name and also is a slide guitarist, Canadian artist Joey Landreth isn’t related to Sonny Landreth. But he sure as heck is talented and has a great sound! Check out Two Trains, the catchy funky closer from his third and most recent album All That You Dream, which appeared on November 26.

Blue Rodeo/When You Were Wild

When You Were Wild is a great tune by Blue Rodeo, a Canadian country rock band founded in 1984 in Toronto. I first came across the group in February of this year. This tune, co-written by founders Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), is from their 15th studio album Many a Mile released on December 3. I love that beautiful warm sound!

That’s it for the 10 tracks I wanted to call out. There are many more great tunes in the below playlist. Hope you will check them out!

Finally, to those celebrating, I wish you a merry Christmas and please be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife  “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. 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, at its core, this 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. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; YouTube