Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again. With a four-day get-away from home, somehow, this week felt even shorter than usual. All picks in this latest Best of What’s New installment appear on albums that came out yesterday (April 29).

Bloc Party/Day Drinker

Kicking things off today are English alternative rock band Bloc Party. According to their Apple Music profile, the group began in 1999, when Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack decided to form a band inspired by their love of Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Pixies, and DJ Shadow. They landed their big break when Okereke got the demo of “She’s Hearing Voices” to BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, who played it on his show. During the band’s formative years, Okereke studied English Literature at King’s College London but dropped out after Bloc Party signed with Wichita Recordings. Silent Alarm [their 2005 debut album – CMM] was nominated for Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize and was named Album of the Year by NME. Their sophomore album, A Weekend in the City, hit No. 12 on the US charts and made the Top 10 in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand. In addition to co-founders Okereke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Lissack (lead guitar, keyboards), Bloc Party’s current lineup includes Justin Harris (bass, backing vocals, synthesizer, glockenspiel, saxophone) and Louise Bartle (drums, percussion, backing vocals), who each joined the band in 2015. Here’s Day Drinker, the opener of Bloc Party’s sixth and new studio album Alpha Games. Even though it’s not in my core wheelhouse, I find this tune pretty catchy.

Willie Nelson/Live Every Day

I trust Willie Nelson, who has been active for 65-plus years, doesn’t need an introduction. Yesterday, the American country legend turned 88 years and released his 72nd solo record A Beautiful Time, featuring original songs, as well as covers by The Beatles and Leonard Cohen, among others. The record comes only five months after The Willie Nelson Family, a collaborative album by Nelson, his sons Lucas and Micah, his daughters Paula and Amy and his sister Bobbie Nelson. Live Every Day, co-written by Nelson and Buddy Cannon who produced the album with Nelson, offers some smart advice and shows Nelson in admirable shape: Live every day like it was your last one/And one day you’re gonna be right/Treat everyone like you wanna be treated/See how that changes your life…

The Head and the Heart/Every Shade of Blue

The Head and the Heart combine pop with indie-folk and Americana. Founding members Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, guitar, vocals), Kenny Hensley (piano), Chris Zasche (bass) and Tyler Williams (drums) met through a series of open mic nights at a local club in Seattle in the summer of 2009. After their well-received self-released and self-distributed eponymous debut album, the band signed with Sub Pop in November 2010. The label remastered and expanded the album and re-released it in January 2011. Johnson left shortly after the group’s third album Signs of Light had come out in September 2016 and was replaced by Matt Gervais (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards). Every Shade of Blue, credited to Casey Smith, Jesse Shatkin, Nate Cyphert, Samuel Dent and the entire band, is the title track of the group’s fifth and latest album.

Trombone Shorty/Good Company

My last new music pick for this week is by New Orleans-based Trombone Shorty who is best known as a trombone and trumpet player. Born Troy Andrews, he has worked with some of the biggest names in rock, pop, jazz, funk and hip hop. To give you a flavor of the 36-year-old’s career, already at the age of four, Andrews appeared on stage with Bo Diddley at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. By the age of six, he became the leader of a brass parade band. In 2005 when he was 19 years old, he toured around the world with Lenny Kravitz as a member of his horn section. Since 2002 Andrews has also released numerous albums, both as a bandleader and as a sideman. This brings me to Lifted, which according to his website, is Trombone Shorty’s second release for Blue Note Records [and his 12th recording as a bandleader, based on WikipediaCMM]. Apple Music categorizes the album as jazz, but it’s also pop, funk and soul. Here’s the groovy closer Good Company, co-written by Andrews, Chris Seefried and Cobi Mike.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list with the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Trombone Shorty website; YouTube; Spotify

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Jane Lee Hooker Deliver Strong New Album Rollin’

Today, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ and it’s a fun listening experience! The New York rock band has been on my radar screen since I caught them live at a summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017. Two things struck me right away: Their raw power and that they were an all-female band, something that remains relatively rare to this day. Four and a half years later, the group delivers an album that offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul.

While Jane Lee Hooker’s music is generally categorized as blues-rock, I feel their own characterization as being a blend of rock & roll, blues, punk, R&B and soul is more accurate. That’s especially the case on the new album. Jane Lee Hooker were founded in 2013 by Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar) and Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston  (drums) – in addition to the cool band name, you just gotta love these stage names! The group’s original line-up remains in place to this day, except for Houston who left in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo

Jane Lee Hooker (from left): Tina Gorin, Dana Athens, Ron Salvo, Mary Zadroga, Tracy Hightop. Photo by Rob Carter.

In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with Ruf Records, a prominent independent German blues and blues-rock label, and released their debut No B! in April 2016, a collection of high-energy blues covers. This was followed by sophomore release Spiritus in November 2017, which featured originals. According to the band’s Facebook page, Rollin’ was written and recorded during the pandemic, which resulted in Jane Lee Hooker trying out new methods of songwriting and recording.

With COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements in effect in NYC, the band found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Says singer Dana Athens, “Aside from Jericho and Lucky, which were written before 2020, the rest of the songs on Rollin’ were primarily written on acoustic instruments in my backyard while social distancing underneath the grapevines my Greek grandparents planted in 1968. We had this oasis to gather and make music and pass the time the pandemic had afforded us.”

She continues, “…we recorded this record very differently than we have done with our other albums. Beginning with focusing on drums at one studio, then tracking vocals, guitars, and other things at two other locations. This process was very different from our “plug-and-play’ attitude of yore.” Let’s check out some music!

Here’s the opener Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker. Like all of the other six original tunes on the album, the song is credited to the entire band. “I love how “Lucky” came together because it was written in Fred’s studio on Stanton St. during practice out of the blue,” Zadroga recalled. “We took a smoke break and were saying we needed to write something new. All of it. Together!”

Drive is one of three tracks that were released as upfront singles. The soul-oriented rock ballad is my personal favorite on the album. “I was not intending to write about travel, the song is really about long-standing plans to see a friend and how you can still feel connected to someone no matter the distance between you,” Athens told Blues Matters! “Lockdown made these friends seem even further away, so I guess the song also contains a bit of escapism and fantasy – wishing that you could be together.” I love Athens’ vocals and keyboards and the beautiful guitar work.

Next up is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, one of two covers on Rollin’. The original is a jazz tune written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and composer Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Cannonball Adderley. Athens, who had not known the instrumental until she coincidentally came across it on Spotify, added lyrics. “Dana picked this cover months before recording, but we hadn’t arranged much less played it, until the end of our session,” explained Salvo. “It came together perfectly and Dana’s lyrical stamp made it our own.” Jane Lee Hooker did a great job with their rendition. If you’re curious, you can check out the original here.

White Gold, a neat acoustic blues tune, provides a nice contrast to the otherwise electric sound of the album. “I can’t remember the name of the studio in Woodstock [Dreamland Recording StudiosCMM], but it was an old church,” Hightop said. “Matt [producer Matt ChiaravalleCMM] and Ron [drummer Ron SalvoCMM] had already gone to sleep and Dana, T-Bone and I snuck back into the old dark church to practice the song. Just two guitars and Dana’s massive voice filling the church.” Added Gorin: “I always knew we had a song like this in us. It doesn’t even feel like a departure for us to me. We always had roots in our music and this shows our purer side of that.”

The last track I’d like to call is Runaway Train, another blues rocker. “I guess I started writing this one in late 2019,” Athens pointed out. “I didn’t want to
use the potentially over-used train theme, but the song just came out. At this time Mary and I were getting together at my house to write and jam. The very first recording of this song is a voice memo from December 2019 of just Mary and I fleshing it out.” Salvo added, “Sounds exactly as the name implies! High speed and off the rails.” Gorin concluded, “Very JLH tune. We love dealing out energy and this one is the perfect vehicle for that.”

“Somehow, amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, we were able to write and record what I feel is our best work as a band yet,” Athens summed up the album. “Astounding that some things, like writing music with each other, will always be a beautiful and safe world, even during a worldwide health disaster like COVID19,” added Gorin. Hightop concurred, stating, “We were really able to take our time and do these amazing songs justice. This album is just next level in so many respects.” I have to agree. With a more diversified sound, Rollin’ feels like a step up from the band’s two previous albums.

Rollin’, a self-released album, was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle who has worked with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon and Courtney Love. It was recorded at three studios: Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, NY; Dreamland Recording Studios in Woodstock, NY; and Mercy Sound Recording Studios in New York, NY).

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

As a bonus, here’s a live version of Drive I captured at a recent album release party in New York City. Thanks again to the band’s manager Gregg Bell who kindly invited me to the fun event and took the time to chat for a few minutes. He’s actually based in Australia, and this gig was the first time for him to see the band live – well, they certainly rocked the place!

On May 13, Jane Lee Hooker are scheduled to kick off a European tour to support the new album, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Their current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; JLH Facebook page & website; JHL press kit; Blues Matters; YouTube, Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Impressions

All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door/I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…In case these words sound familiar, they are the opening lines of Leaving On a Jet Plane. While I’ve always loved this 1966 song by John Denver, it’s not my desert island pick for this week, but the lyrics fit well thematically.

Doing this feature alphabetically based on my song library, I’m up to the letter “I”. It turned out there weren’t too many choices: The Isley Brothers; two German acts, Ina Deter Band and Ich + Ich and, nope it’s not an illusion, Imagination. And, of course, the music act I picked: The Impressions. When it comes to this great doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group one song has always stood out to me in particular: People Get Ready.

Written by Curtis Mayfield, one of my all-time favorite artists, People Get Ready is the title track of The Impressions’ fourth studio album released in February 1965, the group’s first and only record to top Billboard’s R&B Chart. It also became their biggest success on the mainstream Billboard 200, climbing to no. 23. The beautiful tune also appeared as a single, reaching no. 3 and no. 14 on the U.S. R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The gospel-influenced, which reflected a growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing, rightfully has received much recognition. Rolling Stone named it the 24th greatest song of all time in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The magazine also ranked it at no. 20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Mojo named it as one of Top 10 Best Songs of All Time. Additionally, People Get Ready is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the tune has been covered by a broad range of other artists. Some include Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake and Jeff Beck who teamed up with Rod Stewart. Following is a Spotify playlist featuring some of the song’s renditions.

Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The song embodies a deep sense of spirituality and community, but with enough popular appeal to make it a hit. Mayfield based the song’s lyric on various sermons he heard in church. He wrote the music first, and the gospel feel dictated the words.

This song resonated with African Americans during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. The song speaks for the downtrodden, and Mayfield made it clear that transcended race. “It doesn’t matter what color or faith you have,” he told Goldmine in 1997. “I’m pleased the lyrics can be of value to anybody.”…

After Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 (a light rig fell on him, crushing three vertebrae), royalties from this song – especially the Rod Stewart version – helped keep him financially sound, which he credited for helping him fend off depression and remain active as a songwriter and singer despite his condition. Mayfield released the acclaimed album New World Order two years before his death in 1999...

…Train imagery was popular in traditional spirituals, with songs like “The Gospel Train,” “I Got My Ticket,” and “I’m Gwine Home on de Mornin’ Train” looking forward to a joyous passage to the afterlife aboard the heavenly locomotive. In the decades leading up to the US Civil War, “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe routes and shelters that helped slaves escape to free states, used these songs as codes to alert slaves throughout their journey.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

And Just Like That Bonnie Raitt Releases Her Best Album to Date

Since finding out the other day that Bonnie Raitt was going to come out with a new album I had been full of anticipation. The wait was finally over last Friday (April 22). Not only is Just Like That… Raitt’s 21st album and her first new release in more than six years, but I increasingly feel it’s her best work to date in a 51-year recording career!

As people who follow this blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise know, Raitt is one of my long-time favorite artists. Since my former German bandmate and music buddy introduced me to Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve listened to this amazing lady. From the get-go, I loved her smooth slide guitar playing (btw, I read she’s completely self-taught!), as well her voice and songs. My appreciation increased even further after seeing Raitt at NJPAC in Newark, N.J. in August 2016. She’s just a phenomenal music artist!

According to Raitt’s website, work on Just Like That… began last summer when it appeared things with this tiresome pandemic were headed in a better direction, and she brought her band to Northern California: Duke Levine (guitar, vocals), George Marinelli (guitar, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboard, vocals), James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass) and Ricky Fataar (drums). “I’ve always wanted to make a record here [closer to her home – CMM], and once vaccinations made traveling safe again, we were thrilled to get everyone back together,” she explained. “I think the absolute joy and relief of reuniting to play live music is really palpable on this record.”

“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” Raitt further pointed out. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.” Raitt has always had a gift to pick and interpret great songs written by other artists, such as John Hiatt, Gary Nicholson, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John Prine. Apart from continuing that tradition, Just Like That… also features four tunes written by Raitt – more than the usual two to three original songs on previous albums. Time for some music!

Here’s the great opener Made Up Mind, a song by Canadian roots-rock band The Bros. Landreth from their 2013 album Let It Lie. The song was co-written by David Landreth, Jonathan Singleton and Joseph Landreth. Raitt’s rendition was first released on February 22 as the first of three upfront singles. “Made Up Mind I fell in love with in 2014 from The Bros. Landreth who opened a show for us in Canada,” Raitt told Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview for Apple Music. Can’t blame her. Here’s the excellent original in case you’re curious!

Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart is a tune by American guitarist and songwriter Al Anderson, who according to his AllMusic bio “is best known for his 22-year stint with roots-rock renegades NRBQ” [between 1971 and 1993 – CMM]. “Al Anderson I’ve been friends with, with one of my favorite bands, NRBQ,” Raitt told Zane. “He was the lead singer and guitar player for them, one of the lead singers. And I’ve had that song for 30 years.” Like Made Up Mind, the track first appeared as an upfront single, on March 25. Love this tune!

Since I included Livin’ For the Ones, another highlight of the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the title song. Written by Raitt, it’s a deeply touching story song inspired by a news story she had watched on TV. “They followed this woman who was going to the house of the man who received her son’s heart she donated when he passed away, for the first time,” Raitt told Zane. “…And he invited her to sit on the couch…And then he said, ‘would you like to put your head on my chest and listen to your son’s heart?’ [Raitt’s voice breaks] It laid me out. It just laid me out.” Just picturing the scene Raitt described makes you cry!

Things turn funky on Waitin’ For You to Blow, another original. According to a statement on Raitt’s website, the song is inspired by Mose Allison, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and ‘70s funk. “There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” Raitt stated. Check out the cool groove of that tune!

The last track I’d like to call out is Love So Strong, a song by Jamaican ska and rock steady group Toots and the Maytals from their 2007 album Light Your Light. The above statement notes Raitt had planned to do that tune as her third duet with the band’s frontman Toots Hibbert, but her dear friend passed away in 2020. Raitt ended up recording the groovy song as a tribute to Hibbert, who is regarded as a reggae pioneer like Bob Marley.

Bonnie Raitt produced Just Like That…. Like her two previous albums, Dig In Deep (2016) and Slipstream (2012), Just Like That… appears on Redwing Records. The album was recorded and mixed by Ryan Freeland who had served as engineer and mixer on the Grammy-winning Slipstream. Freeland has also worked with Ray LaMontagne, Aimee Mann, Loudon Wainwright III and Alana Davis, among others.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

The final word shall belong to Raitt who as stated on her website has never felt more grateful that she can continue making music, contributing to causes, keeping her crew working, and connecting with her audience. “I’m really aware of how lucky I am and I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new—for me and for the fans,” she says. “It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, whatever time it is in your neck of the woods when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in lovely Central New Jersey, U.S.A., and I’m ready to take you on another journey visiting music of the past and the present. Hop on board!

Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd/Samba de uma Nota Só

To get us all into the groove without coming on too strong, I’d like to start today’s music time travel in 1962 with a beautiful bossa nova. Samba de uma Nota Só (one note samba) was penned by Brazilan composer Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Newton Mendonça. There are also English lyrics, which were written by Jon Hendricks. The tune was first recorded by Brazilian bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto and included on this studio album O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor released in 1961. Samba de uma Nota Só gained wide popularity the following year when it appeared in February on the Grammy-winning Jazz Samba, a bossa nova album by American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and U.S. jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. Hitting no. 1 on the U.S. pop albums chart, Jazz Samba “marked the beginning of the bossa nova craze in America,” according to Wikipedia.

Bette Midler/Wind Beneath My Wings

Our next stop are the ’80s and a pick that may surprise some of you. Wind Beneath My Wings was co-written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley. The ballad has been recorded by various artists, such as Sheena Easton, Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight and the Pips. But the recording that will always remain special to me is the rendition by Bette Midler, included in the November 1988 soundtrack for the motion picture Beaches, in which the American actress and vocalist also co-starred. ‘What’s the big deal?’, you may wonder. Wind Beneath My Wings was the song my dear wife and I chose for the first dance at our wedding. With our recent 25th wedding anniversary, this love song has been on my mind. Midler’s rendition became the most successful version, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the 1990 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Midler is a great vocalist and these lyrics are just beautiful!

The Districts/Long End

Let’s jump to the present with a tune by The Districts, which I find pretty seductive: Long End. The group was founded in 2009 in Lititz, Pa. by high school students Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Mark Larson (guitar), Connor Jacobus (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums). Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The Districts are an American indie rock band whose work embraces the organic sounds of classic rock and indie folk while incorporating an adventurous side that recalls alternative rock of several eras, ambitious pop, and noisy experimentation that grew more eclectic with time. The unifying thread behind it all is the emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics of Rob Grote, who is fearless when it comes to sharing his feelings about relationships or the world around him. The rootsy and more direct era of the Districts’ music was documented well on their 2014 debut Telephone, while 2017’s Popular Manipulations found them in a more energetic and experimental mood. 2020’s You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere reflected a cooler and more layered sound, with keyboards playing a bigger role in the arrangements; 2022’s Great American Painting was more guitar oriented, but maintained the polished tone of its immediate precursor. Penned by Grote, Long End is a tune from Great American Painting, which came out on March 11.

The Doobie Brothers/Rockin’ Down the Highway

Time to step on the gas with some great ’70s rock by The Doobie Brothers, a band I’ve always loved for their catchy tunes and great harmony singing. It’s quite amazing the group from San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1970, is still around. The current line-up features two co-founders, Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals) and Tom Johnston (vocals, guitar, harmonica), and longtime member John McFee (guitar, violin, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, vocals). Since 2019, Michael McDonald (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, accordion) who first had joined the band during a 1975 tour to fill in for Johnston, is back in the fold. All four will be part of the Doobies’ upcoming tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Actually, it’s “only” 47 years, considering the group’s hiatus between 1982 and 1987, but still a pretty amazing run. And they remain a compelling live act, as I was fortunate to witness firsthand in July 2018. Rockin’ Down the Highway, penned by Johnston, is from the group’s sophomore album Toulouse Street, released in July 1972 – just a great rocker!

Pearl Jam/Jeremy

Our next stop are the early ’90s and music by Pearl Jam, who are considered one of the leading bands in the grunge and alternative rock genres. I can’t deny the fact I largely ignored contemporary music in the ’90s and know very little about bands and artists who started out in that decade. Pearl Jam were founded in Seattle in 1990 as Mookie Blaylock by Stone Gossard (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jeff Ament (bass, backing vocals), who had played together since the mid-80s in two grunge and rock bands, along with Mike McCready (lead guitar), Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Krusen (drums). By the time their studio debut Ten appeared in August 1991, they had changed their name to Pearl Jam. While the album wasn’t an immediate success, it reached no. 2 on the Billboard 200 in late 1992. Jeremy, with lyrics by Vedder and music by Ament, was one of three hit singles off Ten. The intense song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder had seen about a high school student who had shot himself in front of his English class. Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder remain part of Pearl Jam’s current line-up, which since 1998 has also included drummer Matt Cameron.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of yet another zig-zag music excursion. For this last pick, I’d like to go back to the present and Young Guv, a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook I first featured last month. Cook was a co-founder of Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning that was initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, he joined another local hardcore punk cheerfully named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of four that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, co-written by Cook, Ryan Gavel and Thom Yorke, is from Young Guv’s latest album Guv III that came out on March 11. That jangly Byrdsy sound is right up my alley!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Doobie Brothers website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks are on albums that were released yesterday (April 22)

Bonnie Raitt/Livin’ For the Ones

I’m absolutely thrilled to start this post with new music by one of my long-time favorite artists, Bonnie Raitt, who I guess doesn’t need much of an introduction. Raitt grew up in Los Angeles in a musical family and got into the guitar as an eight-year-old, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. She taught herself by listening to blues records. In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. Three years after entering college, she decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. Her eponymous debut album appeared in 1971. Fast-forward nearly 51 years to Just Like That…, Raitt’s 21st studio release and her first in more than six years since Dig In Deep from February 2016. Here’s Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which she wrote the lyrics, with music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. A statement on Raitt’s website notes the song is a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years. It’s got a cool Stonesy sound – love it!

Fontaines D.C./Roman Holiday

Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. have been around since 2017. They were formed by Grian Chatten (vocals), Carlos O’Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), Conor Deegan III (bass) and Tom Coll (drums), who met while attending music college at British and Irish Modern Music (BIMM) Institute in Dublin. After a series of singles released in 2018, the group’s debut album Drogel appeared in April 2019. This brings me to Skinty Fia, their third and latest album. Here’s Roman Holiday, credited to all members of the band. While the video clip isn’t particularly memorable, the song is pretty cool. Check it out!

Old Crow Medicine Show/Honey Chile

Old Crow Medicine Show are a Nashville-based Americana string band formed in 1998. According to their Apple Music profile, they have influenced a generation of 21st-century roots musicians with their infectious mix of hollers, jug band favorites, and pre-rock ’n’ roll blues. The group caught their big break when bluegrass giant Doc Watson watched them busking in Boone, North Carolina, and invited them to participate in his MerleFest roots-music festival in 2000. Relocating from North Carolina to Nashville, they made their Grand Ole Opry debut in 2001, and they were inducted into the esteemed country music institution 12 years later. From 2004 to 2019, seven of their eight albums hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart—the only LP that missed the top spot, 2014’s Remedy, won the Best Folk Album Grammy Award. Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, they’ve cowritten two songs with the legendary singer-songwriter, including their joyous, Platinum-certified 2004 hit, “Wagon Wheel.” Here’s Honey Chile, a great-sounding track from Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album Paint This Town. The song was co-written by Ketch Secor and Joe Andrews, a current and a former member of the group, respectively.

The Million Reasons/If Not For The Fire

Next up is new music by Chicago rock band The Million Reasons. I must give a shout-out to Jeff from Eclectic Music Lover who earlier this week reviewed Haven, the group’s first full-length album released on April 15, which brought these guys on my radar screen. Founded in 2016 as a trio, the band has since grown to a five-piece. Their debut EP The Roundaround appeared in February 2017. A second EP, If Not For the Fire, came out in February 2020. The Million Reasons have also released various singles. Their current line-up, which has been in place since 2019, features Taylor Brennan (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), Jason Cillo (bass) and Colin Dill (drums). For more background on the band, check Jeff’s excellent above review. Here’s If Not For The Fire. Like all other tracks on the album, it’s credited to the entire band. This really rocks – also strong lead vocalist!

Walter Trout/Ghosts

Closing out this week’s new music revue is the latest single by blues-rock veteran Walter Trout, an artist I’ve come to dig over the past few years! During a nearly 53-year recording career, Trout who in March turned 71 has survived many ups and downs. This includes overcoming drug and alcohol addiction in the ’80s, surviving liver failure and recovering from a liver transplant in 1994, and dealing with dishonest management people. Trout really has seen it all! Quite appropriately, he decided to title his 2019 blues covers album Survivor Blues. I reviewed it here and subsequently saw him at the Iridium in New York. I can highly recommend him – a great guitarist and an authentic no BS-type artist. After releasing Ordinary Madness in August 2020 (reviewed here), Trout recently announced his 30th solo album Ride, which is slated for August 30th. The opener Ghosts came out as the first single on April 14. This sounds great, and I’m really looking forward to the new album!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tracks and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; Eclectic Music Lover; Walter Trout Facebook page; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Hollies

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pack my bags for yet another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, before I leave I must make an important decision about which song I should take along from a band or artist I haven’t covered on the blog or only mentioned once or twice.

I’m up to the letter “H” for this little fun exercise. Looking at my song library, picks could have included Hall & Oates, Jimi Hendrix, Herman’s Hermits, The Hooters and Huey Lewis and the News. Based on the above selection criterion, I decided to go with The Hollies and Bus Stop, a song I loved from the very first time I heard it many moons ago!

The Hollies were formed in December 1962 in Manchester, England. Their original line-up included Allan Clarke (vocals), Vic Steele (lead guitar), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals), Eric Haydock (bass) and Don Rathbone (drums). Over their now 60-year career, the group has seen numerous line-up changes, with Clarke remaining as the only original member. Wikipedia notes that together with The Rolling Stones, they are one of the few UK groups from the early ’60s, who never disbanded.

Bus Stop, written by then-future 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman, is one of the best-known tunes by The Hollies. I also believe it’s their first song I heard on the radio while growing up in Germany. The band’s distinctive three-part harmony singing grabbed me right away. You just don’t hear such great vocals anymore these days.

While at the time it was released as a single in June 1966 The Hollies already had scored a few hits, especially in the UK, Bus Stop became their first top 10 single in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 5. Elsewhere, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from October 1966 topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reached no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Norway, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 9 in Germany.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a couple who meet one rainy day at a bus stop. Love blooms when they share an umbrella.

In a Manchester newspaper, Graham Gouldman said he wrote it whilst riding on the No. 95 bus, which ran from East Didsbury – the route went through Manchester city centre, to Sedgeley Park, Cheetham Hill, Prestwich, and on to Whitefield near Bury. Gouldman was living with his family on this route in Broughton Park Salford at the time.

Graham Gouldman’s father was a talented and creative writer who often helped his son with song ideas. Graham had the idea for bus stop setting, and his dad came up with the first line: “Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, ‘please share my umbrella.'” From that starting point, he was able to finish the song.

In a Songfacts interview with Gouldman, he explained: “He gave me those words and I immediately, as I was reading them, heard the melody in my head, and it just kind of wrote itself. And then the middle part of the song I wrote – I got the melody and the words all in one chunk.”

The timeline in this song is a little askew. We know that love bloomed over the summer, but then we get the line, “Came the sun, the ice was melting.” This harkens spring, so apparently time has passed. In Gouldman’s Songfacts interview, he clarified: “Winter is over, the snow is passed because the sun has melted it, so there’s no need to shelter anymore under the umbrella. You could say the snow is underfoot so you don’t need an umbrella anyway, but it’s poetic license: it could have been snowing so the umbrella can protect you from the snow as well as the rain.”

Graham Nash of The Hollies [who later became part of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungCMM] recalls learning about this song when their manager, Michael Cohen, told them about “this little Jewish kid who lives down the street,” which was Graham Gouldman. When Gouldman played it for them, they knew they had a winner. Nash says they recorded it in just an hour and 15 minutes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Edgar Winter Celebrates Brother’s Legacy With All-Star High-Octane Tribute Album

To any more frequent visitors of the blog or folks who know my music taste otherwise, this post shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As somebody who digs blues and blues-rock, I simply couldn’t ignore Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter’s blazing new tribute to his older brother and Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, which came out last Friday (April 15). Sure, packing an album with impressive guests like Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr doesn’t automatically guarantee a great outcome but, man, this album truly cooks!

In addition to renditions of Johnny Winter originals Mean Town Blues, I’m Yours and I’m Hers, Stranger, Guess I’ll Go Away and Self Destructive Blues, the 17 tracks on Brother Johnny feature a number of classics the guitar slinger from Beaumont, Texas covered, such as Johnny B. Goode, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Got My Mojo Workin’. There are also two new songs written by Edgar Winter.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the idea for a tribute album first emerged in the wake of Johnny Winter’s death in July 2014 at the age of 70.  “Many people immediately started trying to convince me to do a Johnny Winter tribute album,” Edgar recalled. “But I was totally devastated, and the timing just didn’t feel right to me.”

Edgar added, “It wasn’t until after I completed the Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, a tour we were meant to do together with our respective bands, that the idea of a tribute record started to take form.” Looks like from there it still took quite a bit of additional time for the project to materialize, but the wait was certainly worth it. Let’s check out some of the goodies!

The fireworks start with the opener Mean Town Blues, featuring Joe Bonamassa on badass slide guitar. First released on February 18, the track is one of three songs that appeared as singles ahead of the album. Johnny Winter originally recorded Mean Town Blues for his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment.

On Lone Star Blues, one of the tunes penned by Edgar Winter, things turn acoustic, sparse and personal. Keb’ Mo’ does a neat job on what sounds like a resonator guitar and also shares vocals with Edgar. “I don’t think this album would be complete without at least one, heartfelt, personal tribute from me to my brother–in the form of a song,” Edgar wrote in the album’s liner notes, as separately reported by Rock & Blues Muse. Well, I was born in Beaumont left when I was in my teens/I hit the highway, going down to New Orleans/I was playing music, searching for just what life means

One of Brother Johnny’s standouts is I’m Yours and I’m Hers, featuring Billy Gibbons and Derek Trucks. Winter included this original tune on his eponymous sophomore album that came out in April 1969. With Trucks arguably being one the best contemporary slide guitarists and Gibbons being no slouch either, you just know this rendition has to be good. Well, check it out!

This review wouldn’t be complete without highlighting Johnny B. Goode, a track Winter recorded for his third studio release from October 1969, a double album somewhat misleadingly titled Second Winter. Johnny B. Goode became a regular of Winter’s live set. On Brother Johnny, the Chuck Berry classic is delivered with help from Joe Walsh (lead vocals), David Grissom (lead guitar), Bob Glaub (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums). Meanwhile, Edgar Winter demonstrates his saxophone chops with a nice solo. Additional vocals are provided by guitarist Phil X. Yes, Johnny B. Goode has been covered a million times, but this is just a killer rendition.

Let’s do one more: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Winter included what is one of my all-time favorite Rolling Stones songs on his first live album Live Johnny Winter And, released in March 1971. Johnny Winter And was actually the name of Winter’s band at the time. This new version features the above-mentioned Phil X.

Some additional comments about the other musicians on the album. The above-mentioned Gregg Bissonette provides drums on all tracks except Stranger, which features Ringo Starr. Sean Hurley and Bob Glaub share duties on bass. Other guests include Doyle Bramhall II, John McFee, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Michael McDonald, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Waddy Wachtel.

The album also features the late Taylor Hawkins who provides lead vocals on Guess I’ll Go Away. This marks the ex-Foo Fighters drummer’s first posthumous recording following his untimely death on March 25, as reported by Rolling Stone.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album.

The album was produced by Edgar Winter and Ross Hogarth. According to Discogs, his previous production credits include artists, such as Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Rita Coolidge and Gov’t Mule. The album appears on Quarto Valley Records. According to Rock & Blues Mule, label founder Bruce Quarto was and remains a loyal and enthusiastic fan of Johnny, classic rock, and blues music. It was his positive energy that made Edgar realize that the time to pay musical respects to his departed brother had finally arrived.

Brother Johnny is a true labor of love. The one thing I find a bit unfortunate is the total absence of female artists. It certainly cannot be for lack of talent. Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popović, Dani Wilde and Sue Foley are some who in my mind could have been great fits. I understand Raitt and Wilde have shared the stage with Johnny Winter. Of course, there could be legitimate reasons for what on the surface does look a bit surprising.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Rolling Stone; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of music in different flavors of the past and the present, six tunes at a time. To those celebrating, Happy Easter! If you don’t observe the holiday, I still hope you’re enjoying the weekend. And just in case you’re looking for some great music, I have some humble suggestions. Hope on our magical time machine and let’s go!

Ahmad Jamal/For All We Know

Today’s journey starts in 1960 with relaxing jazz music by Ahmad Jamal. According to his website, he was born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and already began playing the piano at the age of 3. By the age of 10, Jamal was composing, orchestrating and performing works by Franz Liszt, exploring the music of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner and a host of music notables...At 17, he left home at the request of the George Hudson Orchestra and began touring the country...He formed his own group in 1951 and with the help of John Hammond started his recording career with Okeh Records. Today, more than 70 years later, the now-91-year-old Jamal still appears to be active. His most recent album Ballads appeared in September 2019 – what an amazing career! For All We Know, which initially had been published in 1934 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, was included on Happy Moods, a 1960 album Jamal recorded with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums – my type of music to start a Sunday morning!

Big Star/September Gurls

Next, we turn to the ’70s and power-pop band Big Star, to which Max from PowerPop blog introduced me and safe to assume other readers a while ago. Formed in Memphis, Tenn. in 1971 by Alex Chilton (guitars, piano, vocals), Chris Bell (guitars, vocals), Andy Hummel (bass, vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums), the group was initially active until 1975, during which they recorded two albums. While each received excellent reviews, both records were “commercial failures” due to ineffective marketing and other record label issues. For more on the band’s unfortunate history, I’d encourage you to visit Max’s blog, who has written about them various times, most recently here. One of Big Star’s best-known tunes is September Gurls, written by Chilton, off their sophomore album Radio City that appeared in February 1974. It’s hard to believe this catchy power-pop gem didn’t become a hit at the time. Twelve years later, the Bangles included a great cover on their hugely successful second album Different Light, the version I had known and loved for many years. When I listened to the original first, I immediately dug it just as much!

Bonnie Raitt/Made Up Mind

I’m very excited about this next pick, which is the most recent single by one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you’ve probably seen me rave about Raitt and her great musicianship as a slide guitarist before. I think she’s an exceptional artist who has battled and overcome significant challenges during her 50-year-plus career. Made Up Mind, released on February 25, is from Raitt’s upcoming new album Just Like That…, slated for April 22. The tune was co-written by David Landreth, Joseph Sydney Landreth and Jonathan Singleton. Damn, now I want to see Bonnie again even more than I did before! If you like her music and haven’t been to one of her shows, I’d encourage you to catch her if you can. Her current national tour kicked off last evening in Hampton, N.H. Here’s the schedule. This lady is just amazing!

John Mellencamp/Paper in Fire

As fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day posted a few days ago, April 12, 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of American Fool, the fifth studio album by John Mellencamp who at the time was still known as John Cougar. The thought the little ditty about Jack and Diane was on the radio four decades ago is mind-boggling to me! In a comment, I noted that my favorite album by the heartland rocker from Indiana is The Lonesome Jubilee, which appeared in August 1997. Don’t get me wrong, I also still dig Mellencamp’s straight rock albums he put out during the first half of the ’80s. But I love his transition into roots rock even more. It started on The Lonesome Jubilee with the introduction of instruments like accordion, fiddle and banjo. Here’s Paper in Fire, which was also released separately as a lead single a week ahead of the album. Like all other tracks except one, the song was written by Mellencamp.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Under the Bridge

Including two songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers off their latest album Unlimited Love in recent Best of What’s New posts here and here reminded me of a band I had known primarily by name for many years. One of the few songs I could name was Under the Bridge, a tune I’ve always liked. Credited to all four members of the band – Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals); Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals); John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals); and Chad Smith (drums, percussion) – Under the Bridge is from their fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991. Today, 21 years and seven albums later, the group from the city of angels is rocking on with the same line-up. One of the things I dig about Under the Bridge is Frusciante’s guitar part. That sound is just awesome!

Green Day/Wake Me Up When September Ends

Okey-doke, time to wrap up another Sunday Six. My final pick for this installment takes us back to the ’90s and one of the best-known tunes by Green Day: Wake Me Up When September Ends, off their seventh studio album American Idiot, released in September 2004. I’ve always liked how this band, which has been around since 1987, oftentimes combines grunge, punk and alternative rock with pop, especially on this album. Wake Me Up When September Ends was written by Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong about the death of his father when he was 10 years old. Bandmates Mike Dirnt (bass, backing vocals) and Tré Cool (drums, percussion, backing vocals) received co-writing credits for the music. The three of them still form Green Day’s current core line-up. Beware, this is a bloody catchy tune that might get stuck in your head! 🙂

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ahmad Jamal website; Bonnie Raitt website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter or Happy Passover; otherwise, happy Saturday! It’s time again to check for newly released music. All featured tunes in this post appear on albums that came out yesterday (April 15). Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Kurt Vile/Wages of Sin

My first pick this week is Kurt Vile, a Philadelphia-based indie rock singer-songwriter. Prior to launching a solo career in 2008, Vile co-founded Philly rock band The War on Drugs in 2005 and was their lead guitarist until 2009. To date, he has released nine solo albums including his latest titled Watch My Moves, stylized as (watch my moves). Initial work on the album started in 2019 during the tour that supported Vile’s previous studio release Bottle It In. We all know what happened next. Vile used the pandemic to build a home recording studio where he and co-producer Rob Schnapf worked on the majority of the tracks during 2020 and last year. Here’s Vile’s rendition of Wages of Sin, a song written by Bruce Springsteen during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions, which he released as an outtake on his 1998 box set Tracks.

Jerry Paper/Just Say Play

Jerry Paper is the music project of Lucas Nathan from Los Angeles, who Apple Music describes as an experimental pop musician. Here’s more from Jerry Paper’s profile: First surfacing during the early 2010s with a series of limited cassettes and LPs, Paper wrote woozy, lo-fi tunes in their bedroom using cheap keyboards, often singing existentialist lyrics relating to anxiety and hopelessness over smooth, Muzak-like backing tracks. On-stage, they would don a flower garland or silk robe, and give deadpan monologues related to their songs. Their subsequent recordings became more ambitious, but they still remained infatuated with blatantly synthetic keyboard tones imitating real instruments. In 2016, they released the lush, elaborate Toon Time Raw!, on which they were accompanied by BadBadNotGood (credited as Easy Feelings Unlimited). This brings me to Jerry Paper’s new album Free Time and Just Say Play. There’s just something about this bouncy tune, co-written by Nathan and Jonathan Tatelman.

Flock of Dimes/It Just Goes On

Flock of Dimes is a solo project by Jenn Wasner, a singer-songwriter hailing from Baltimore, Md. She first gained recognition as co-founder of indie folk-rock duo Wye Oak, which she formed with Andy Stack as Monarch in mid-2006. After five Wye Oak albums and a collaboration record with songwriter and producer Jon Ehrens, which appeared under the name Dungeonesse, Wasner released her Flock of Dimes debut If You See Me, Say Yes in September 2016. Her latest release Head of Roses: Phantom Limb is a compilation of previously unreleased songs, live takes and demos. Here’s the official video of the nice opener It Just Goes On.

Edgar Winter/Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo

For my final pick, I have to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Hotfox63, who covered Edgar Winter’s new album the day before it came out. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about Brother Johnny, a smoking all-star tribute to Edgar’s older brother and blues-rock guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. While Johnny sadly passed away in July 2014 at the age of 70, his legacy surely lives on, and Edgar has done a beautiful job celebrating it. He got a little help from some friends, such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Keb’ Mo’, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh, Steve Lukather and Ringo Starr. Here’s a great rendition of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo, a song written by Rick Derringer. It first was recorded by Johnny Winter and his band Johnny Winter And, which included Derringer on guitar. The tune appeared on their eponymous album from 1970. Edgar Winter’s version features Steve Lukather showing off his impressive guitar chops. Check out his badass solo – Lawdy mama, this rendition is just cooking and makes me smile!

As usual, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few additional tunes. Hope you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music, YouTube; Spotify