If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Young Rascals

Once again it’s humpday and the thought of escaping to a desert island kind of sounds attractive. But wait, before I can embark on my imaginary trip, I have to make that crucial decision: Which one song to take with me.

For first-time visitors, it can’t be any song. It has to be by a band or artist I’ve rarely or not covered at all on the blog to date. And that band or artist (last name) has to start with a specific letter, which this week is “y”.

Some of the options that came to mind included The Yardbirds, Yes, Yola, Neil Young and The Youngbloods. But I’ve already covered all these artists. Luckily, I found one American group I had not written about: The Young Rascals. Since I could only name two of their songs, the choice was easy: Groovin’.

Written by band members Felix Cavaliere (keyboards, vocals) and Eddie Brigati (vocals, percussion), Groovin’ first appeared as a single in April 1967. The melodic laid-back tune also was the title track of their third studio album released in July that same year. Groovin’ became one of the group’s best-known songs, topping the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada, and climbing to no. 3 and no. 8 in Australia and the UK, respectively.

The group was formed in Garfield, New Jersey in 1965. In addition to Cavaliere and Brigati, the original line-up included Gene Cornish (guitar, harmonica vocals) and Dino Danelli (drums). The band did not have a dedicated bassist, so Cavaliere provided that part with his organ pedals. Initially, they used the name Them, but when they realized there already was a British band with that name, they came up with the Rascals. After signing with Atlantic Records, it turned out there was a group called The Harmonica Rascals who objected they would release records as The Rascals. To avoid conflict their manager Sid Bernstein decided to rename the group The Young Rascals.

Their eponymous debut album appeared in March 1966 and was an instant success in the U.S., rising to no. 15 on the Billboard 200. After the release of the Groovin’ album, the group decided the revert their name to The Rascals. By the time the band’s sixth studio record See appeared in December 1969, their chart and commercial success had started to wane. Brigati and Cornish left The Rascals in 1970 and 1971, respectively. Two more albums came out before the group broke up in 1972. There were a few reunions thereafter. In May 1997, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Following are some additional insights for Groovin’ from Songfacts:

Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati of The Rascals wrote this song after they realized that because of their work schedule, they could see their girlfriends only on Sunday afternoons…Cavaliere told Seth Swirsky, who was shooting footage for his documentary Beatles Stories, “I met this young girl and I just fell head over heels in love. I was so gone that this joyous, wonderful emotion came into the music. Groovin’ was part of that experience. If you look at the story line, it’s very simple: we’re groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon because Friday and Saturdays are when musicians work…”

The record company executives who worked on “Groovin'” didn’t particularly like the song, but as they listened to the playback, influential New York DJ Murray the K overheard it and pronounced it a #1 record. Unbeknownst to the group, Murray went to Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler and demanded it be released. As the program manager and top DJ on the first FM rock station (WOR-FM), Murray the K had this kind of clout, and also the rare ability to connect with listeners and recognize what songs would become hits…

The term “Groovy” was becoming popular around this time, and the title of this song is a variation on the term. The first popular “Groovy” song was “A Groovy Kind Of Love,” and the first popular use in lyrics was in “59th Street Bridge Song.”

Smokey Robinson got the idea for his song “Cruisin'” from this one – his original hook was “I love it when we’re groovin’ together,” but he thought “cruisin'” was more intimate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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Get Ready to Rock the Farm

Eighth annual 10-hour festival on Jersey shore to feature top notch tribute music for great cause

On September 24, the annual music festival Rock the Farm returns to Seaside Heights, N.J. Since my first attendance five years ago, I’ve loved the idea behind the 10-hour spectacle to combine top-notch tribute acts with a great cause. And with the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic now being well into its third year, that cause has taken on a new urgency: supporting individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction.

Drug overdose-related deaths in the U.S. have soared by 28.5% to an estimated 100,306 during the 12 months ended in April 2021, according to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2021. That’s up from 78,056 for the corresponding period a year earlier. The latest CDC insights also show that estimated overdose deaths from opioids totaled 75,673 for the latest 12-month period, a 35% increase from 56,064 the year before. Imagining all the empty seats these lost lives have left at kitchen tables around the country paints a pretty grim picture.

While there are no barns and cows and Rock the Farm doesn’t take place on a farm, it rocks anyway!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation. The New Jersey non-profit community organization offers programs for individuals and families battling to overcome addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. Their efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment in rehab, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging.

The CFC Loud N Clear Foundation was established by the Regan family in 2012 after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother, Lynn Regan, developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for Daniel and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of establishing a foundation.

CFC Loud n Clear Foundation is celebrating over 10 years of building strong communities of recovery,” said Alyssa Regan, CFC Assistant Executive Director who was kind enough to provide a quote for this post. “Rock the Farm is in its eighth year of bringing family fun and incredible music to Seaside Heights, New Jersey. However, this festival is more than just a great day during summer down the shore! Rock the Farm is about smashing the stigma of addiction, living life in recovery out loud, and the importance of aftercare and relapse prevention! This festival, which hosted 15,000 people last year, is entirely run by our community of recoverees and their families in order to raise funds for the program that has helped them gain a new life!”

Rock the Farm’s foam dance floor is a huge attraction for kids. Many mamas and papas like it as well!

Let’s take a look at the great line-up for the upcoming event, which includes tributes to Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC, ELO, Eagles, Billy Joel, Carole King, Alanis Morissette, ZZ Top and Bon Jovi. Just imagine for a second seeing all the real acts in one festival, not to mention this particular line-up wouldn’t even be possible any longer, given Carole King has retired from performing! Fleetwood Mac and Carole King tributes TUSK and One Fine Tapestry performed at all four previous Rock the Farm events I attended. On separate previous occasions, I also saw Stiff Upper Lip and Keep The Faith, tributes to AC/DC and Bon Jovi, respectively. The other tribute artists are new to me.

Following are clips to preview some of the tribute acts who will play at Rock the Farm 2022. Kicking things off are TUSK with You Make Loving Fun, footage I captured at last year’s event. Focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac, the group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums).

Next up are One Fine Tapestry with one of my all-time favorite Carole King tunes from the iconic Tapestry album: I Feel the Earth Move. At the core of this tribute act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife couple performing a variety of different tribute shows, sometimes as a duo, other times backed by a full band, which was the case here. This clip is also from Rock the Farm 2021.

Let’s do two more, using YouTube clips I didn’t create. Here are Stiff Upper Lip with Back in Black. The New Jersey band has been around since 2007 and includes Glenn Taglieri (vocals), Joe Witterschein (guitar), Mike Cusumano (guitar), Peter Lee (bass) and Steve Villano (drums).

As a blues rock fan, I couldn’t resist including ZZ Top tribute La Grange. The band features Sean Peronard as “Billy Fibbons” (Billy Gibbons), Pete Perrina as “Frank Goatee” (Frank Beard) and Jim Capobianco as “Rusty Hill” (Dusty Hill) – clever stage names! Here’s a fun promo video, including snippets of Waiting For the Bus, Under Pressure and Gimme All Your Lovin’.

In addition to plenty of great music, Rock the Farm features food trucks, a wine and beer garden and beach yoga. They also have some fun activities for kids, including a Kidzone Arts & Crafts, face painting, braid bar and “the world’s greatest FOAM dance floor.” While I can’t verify that claim, I can confirm kids and adults have had a lot of fun with the foam in the past!

“All of the members of CFC get the opportunity to create something magical that positively impacts the community, be inspired by purpose, and uplift others who are in search of hope and connection,” Regan added. “CFC has impacted over 20,000 families since its foundation and continues to come up with new and innovative ways to make recovery fun. We can’t wait to rock out with everyone on September 24th and end Recovery month in the best way possible!”

If you’re into live music, dig the above bands, want to support an important cause and can get there, I can highly recommend Rock the Farm. For tickets and more info, visit https://www.rockthefarmnj.com. You can also read more about the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation and their important work here.

Sources: CDC National Center for Health Statistics; CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; TUSK website; One Fine Tapestry website; Stiff Upper Lip website; La Grange Facebook page; YouTube

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am The Moon Called Their Most Ambitious Studio Project to Date

Part II: I Am The Moon: III. The Fall & I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

Last Friday (Aug 26), Tedeschi Trucks Band released I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, the fourth and final installment of their I Am the Moon four-album series. This is the second part of my review of what has been called the band’s most ambitious studio effort to date. You can read the first part here.

Borrowing from my previous post, I Am the Moon is a series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs. The extraordinary project was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem. Intriguingly, the very same poem also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos.

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Led by Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar), the group also includes original members Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals) and Kebbi Williams (saxophone). Isaac Eady (drums & percussion), Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Brandon Boone (bass) and Gabe Dixon (keyboards & vocals) complete the current 12-piece lineup

I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, who were founded in 2010 and are led by married couple Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar). After touring together in 2007 as the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to create a mighty 11-piece band. In 2015, they added another member and have since been a 12-piece – what an army of musicians!

The project was inspired by Layla and Majnun, a poem written by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The romantic narrative poem has been called the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by English poet Lord Byron, who according to Wikipedia is considered one of the greatest English poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement.

I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s start with two tracks off I Am The Moon: III. The Fall, which was released on July 29. Here’s the opener Somehow, penned by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Gabe Dixon, together with external songwriter Tia Sillers. The album’s accompanying essay by renowned American music journalist David Fricke describes the tune as “an easy-rolling groove that soon turns into full-blown soul power.” I could totally picture Bonnie Raitt singing it – love this!

Yes We Will is more bluesy. Penned by Susan Tedeschi, the tune is much closer to what I had associated with Tedeschi Trucks Band before listening to I Am The Moon. From Fricke’s essay: “Derek and I have so many blues roots,” she says, “and I really wanted to show those roots, where this band is at.” The result is early-Seventies B.B. King arm in arm with the Staple Singers, while the guitar breaks affirm the rise-and-shine in the lyrics and Tedeschi’s vocal. Come on, wake up people, can’t you see it now? Time is right now, she declares as Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour bring the train-to-glory in the chorus. You can’t help but believe it. Great song!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: III. The Fall:

Here’s the companion film for the third album:

On to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell. My first pick here is Soul Sweet Song, co-written by Derek Trucks, Gabe Dixon and the band’s harmony vocalist Mike Mattison. From Fricke’s album essay: “That was Gabe,” Trucks says of Dixon, who co-wrote this song with the guitarist and Mattison. “He had the idea of writing it about Kofi” – original TTB keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, who was ill when Dixon joined in late 2018, at first on a temporary basis. (Burbridge died in February 2019, on the day his last album with the group, Signs, was released.) “Gabe writing lyrics about Kofi (I feel your rhythm moving me/’Cause your soul’s sweet song’s still singing) – that one hit me between the eyes.” A special guest on congas, Marc Quiñones – a longtime bandmate with Trucks in the Allman Brothers Band – adds a decisive and familiar, rhythmic element to the celebration.

The last track I’d like to call out is I Can Feel You Smiling, which perfectly sums up my sentiment about this album series. One last time quoting from Fricke’s album essay: This sparsely arranged ballad “was fun to write,” says Trucks, who “woke up in the morning, had the tune and put it on my phone. It reminded me of something Oliver Wood” – singer-guitarist in the Wood Brothers and a longtime friend of TTB – “would have written, so I sent it to him. He wrote back, ‘Man, I woke up the last few days with that melody in my head. Do you mind if I write something to it?’ I’m like, ‘Have at it, man.'” Wood sent back “this beautiful recording with one verse and a chorus, and I was like ‘Okay, that song’s done!'” Dixon contributed as well, underscoring the group work ethic – in composing, arranging and performance – that produced every song on I Am The Moon.

Here’s a Spotify link to the fourth album:

And here’s the companion film to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell.

I Am The Moon is a massive project, so there’s a lot to take in here. While I knew Tedeschi Trucks Band were top-notch musicians, I really didn’t expect them to be as soulful as they are on these four albums. Admittedly, at least part of it could be plain ignorance. In any case, I really dig what this group has done here. Now I feel like seeing them. After four big-ticket shows back in June, it is going to have to wait!

Sources: Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday morning, afternoon, or evening, wherever you are! Are you ready to embark on another excursion into the great world of music? Six tunes at a time? I am and hope you’ll join me!

Oscar Peterson Trio/Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)

There’s just something about jazz and Sunday mornings, which makes them a perfect match. Chances are you’ve heard of Oscar Peterson, even if you’re like me, meaning you’re not a jazz expert. In my case, I believe it was at my brother-in-law’s place where I first encountered the Canadian jazz pianist many moons ago. Over a 60-year-plus active career spanning the years 1945-2007, Peterson released more than 200 recordings and received many honors and awards, including seven Grammys, among others. None other than Duke Ellington called Peterson the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” Evidently, the admiration was mutual. Here’s I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), originally released in 1942, with music by Sir Duke and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Ellington covered the tune on an album titled Night Train, which appeared in 1963 as the Duke Ellington Trio. He was backed by Ray Brown (double bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums).

Sting/If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

Next, let’s travel to May 1993 and another great artist who I trust needs no introduction: Sting. Born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, the British musician and actor first gained prominence as the frontman, songwriter and bassist of The Police. By the time the group played their last gig in June 1986 prior to their break-up, Sting had already launched his solo career with the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles from June 1985. My pick is from his fourth solo effort, Ten Summoner’s Tales, which I think is his Mount Rushmore: If I Ever Lose My Faith In You. Sting remains active to this day and in November 2021 released his 15th solo album The Bridge. He’s currently on the road for what looks like a fairly extensive international “My Songs” tour, which includes the U.S. and Europe. The schedule is here.

David Bowie/Rebel Rebel

While David Bowie was a pretty versatile artist, I’ve always been particularly drawn to his glam rock-oriented phase. You give me the Ziggy Stardust album any day, and I’m a happy camper! By the time Bowie released his eighth studio album Diamond Dogs in May 1974, his glam rock phase was largely over. His backing band The Spiders From Mars had disbanded. Mick Ronson’s absence prompted Bowie to take over guitar duties himself. On Rebel Rebel, he proved that worked out quite well!…Rebel, rebel, you’ve torn your dress/Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess/Rebel, rebel, how could they know?/Hot tramp, I love you so!

Patricia Bahia/Hold On

Our next stop takes us to the present with a compelling tune by a contemporary artist you may not have heard of: Patricia Bahia. I had not been aware of this Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter myself until recently. From her website: An award-winning songwriter, singer, cancer survivor, and coach, Patricia Bahia (pronounced bah-HEE-yah) is a multi-dimensional artist and songwriter-in-service who lives her bucket list and helps others to do the same. “Though I was always a singer, I didn’t write my first song until after receiving a cancer diagnosis in 2003. I’d spent my life doing what was expected of me, pursuing a career as a lawyer, living out someone else’s dream, while secretly harboring a dream of writing songs.”…Patricia encourages others to follow their own dreams, saying, “I am living proof that it is never too late to start living your dream. My mission is to spread love, healing, joy, and peace through the power of words and music, and to inspire others to follow their own dreams.” Here’s Hold On, a beautiful and powerful song Bahia released in September 2021.

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band/On the Dark Side

Time to throw in some ’80s music. This next pick is from the soundtrack of the 1983 American musical drama picture Eddie and the Cruisers. The tale about the mysterious disappearance of cult rock star Eddie Wilson and his group Eddie and the Cruisers featured music by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, a group from Rhode Island that had started out as a bar band in 1972. The soundtrack, most of which was written by Cafferty and his band, gave them their international breakthrough. Despite some success with a self-released single in 1980, they were largely ignored by major record labels due to frequent critical comparisons of their music to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. When listening to On the Dark Side, the similarities are obvious. The tune sounds like a blend of Springsteen and John Mellencamp’s R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. That being said, On the Dark Side preceded Mellencamp’s hit by two years! In any case, it’s a cool song, and the Springsteen flavor doesn’t bother me at all!

Jefferson Airplane/Somebody to Love

Let’s take off one last time for today and go back to February 1967 and Surrealistic Pillow, the sophomore album by Jefferson Airplane. At that time, they had been around for approximately two years and released their debut Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in August 1966. While that record made the U.S. charts, climbing to no. 128, it was Surrealistic Pillow that actually made them take off. It also was Airplane’s first record with vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden, who together with Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Marty Balin (rhythm guitar, vocals), Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Jack Casady (bass) completed their line-up at the time. The album’s second single Somebody to Love became the band’s biggest U.S. hit, surging to no. 5 on the pop chart. Penned by Darby Slick, Grace’s brother-in-law and originally titled Someone to Love, the tune first had been released by Darby’s band The Great Society in February 1966. At that same time, Grace was a member of the group as well and also sang lead on the original recording.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope you enjoyed today’s trip! The journey shall continue next Sunday!

Sources: Wikipedia; Sting website; Patricia Bahia website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. Next week, we’re already headed into September and, in the U.S., Labor Day weekend – crazy! On a more upbeat note, Best of What’s New is hitting a milestone of sorts this week with its 125th installment. The occasion coincides with plenty of new music I found. The first three picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (Aug 26), while the remaining tunes came out a week ago.

Ezra Furman/Train Comes Through

I’d like to kick off this post with Ezra Furman, an indie art pop singer-songwriter from Chicago. She first came to prominence as lead vocalist and guitarist of Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, an indie rock band that was active between 2006 and 2011. After their third studio album Mysterious Power, released in April 2011, the group called it quits, and Furman launched a solo career. To date, she has released six solo studio albums, three EPs and various singles. Her AllMusic bio describes Furman as “a fiery, androgynous folk-punk provocateur” with “Lennon-esque sneer and raw, open-hearted lyrics, plus a flamboyant style, [which] have helped to make her one of the most engaging and unpredictable art-pop confectioners of her era.” Since I’m completely new to her, I could never have come up with this, but I know one thing: I’m intrigued by Furman’s new album All of Us Flames. Check out the opener Train Comes Through, which like most of the other tunes was solely penned by her.

Pat Green/Bad Bones

Pat Green is a country and Americana singer-songwriter from Texas. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Green comes from the rich tradition of Texas country-music mavericks carving their own niche for themselves, and he has done that with a combination of deep-down roots, alt-country innovation, and rich, reflective lyricism. Born in San Antonio in 1972, Green kicked off his career working in and around the musical hub of Lubbock. He started recording in the mid-’90s, with local legend Lloyd Maines producing. Eventually he caught the attention of Willie Nelson, who invited Green to play his annual July 4th blowout in 1998. By the new millennium, Green had signed with a major label and hit the Country Top 10 with Three Days, an album that showed off his knack for country-rocking hooks and storytelling savvy. Green’s latest album is titled Miles and Miles of You. Here is Bad Bones, co-written by Green, Jondan McBride and Sean Michael Giddings – love that funky rock-oriented sound!

Thee Sacred Souls/Lady Love

Thee Sacred Souls are a soul trio from Southern California, who just released their eponymous debut album, and, man, how sweet it sounds! From their website: For Thee Sacred Souls, the first time is often the charm. The band’s first club dates led to a record deal with the revered Daptone label; their first singles racked up more than ten million streams in a year and garnered attention from Billboard, Rolling Stone, and KCRW; and their first fans included the likes of Gary Clark Jr., The Black Pumas, Princess Nokia, and Timbaland...Indeed, there’s something inevitable about the sound of Thee Sacred Souls, as if [drummer Alex] Garcia and his bandmates—bassist Sal Samano and singer Josh Lane—have been playing together for a lifetime already...Thee Sacred Souls is a warm and textured record, mixing the easygoing grace of sweet ’60s soul with the grit and groove of early ’70s R&B…[with] hints of Chicano, Philly, Chicago, Memphis, and even Panama soul…Check out Lady Love, written by Garcia and Lane. This is so good!

Katy Guillen & The Drive/Another One Gained

Katy Guillen & The Drive is a project by singer-songwriter and guitarist Katy Guillen. Here’s more from her website: After six years of persistent touring, performing and writing with her previous project, Katy Guillen & The Girls, singer, songwriter and guitarist Guillen found herself at the painful end of two long-term relationships. Katy Guillen & The Girls reached an extensive audience through performances at Montreal International Jazz Festival and the International Blues Challenge, a tour of Sweden via Kultur i Vast, and support for artists including The Revivalists, Robin Trower and The Doobie Brothers. With their burgeoning career put on hold, Guillen and long-time drummer Stephanie Williams set off for uncharted territory as Katy Guillen & The Drive. While distinguishing themselves as a new group with a fresh sound, the two continued crafting their musical and personal identities together. After dropping two EPs in 2020 and 2021, Katy Guillen & The Drive have now released their first full-length album Another One Gained. Here’s the title track, co-written by Guillen and Williams – love this!

Rock Eupora/Can You Feel the Weight?

Rock Eupora is the moniker of Nashville-based artist Clayton Waller who originally hails from Mississippi. From his website: From his earliest recordings, Waller has never been afraid to ask the big, searching questions of life. Catchy, hooky pop sensibilities have similarly been a consistent through-line in Rock Eupora’s catalogue. Featuring singable, fuzzed-out guitar hooks and stuck-in-your-head-all-afternoon choruses, the discography of Rock Eupora––including three full-length albums, two EPs, and a smattering of singles to date––brings to mind Blue Album-era Weezer or the high-energy, hard-charging, harmony-laden early Beatles singlesRock Eupora began when Waller was a senior in college. Each subsequent release has seen a broadening of scope and range. This brings me to Pick At the Scab, Rock Europa’s new album and Can You Feel Weight? Pretty catchy tune with a great sound – check it out!

Barney Cortez/Into the Void

Time to wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with one more pick: Barney Cortez, a Philadelphia-based artist who is out with his debut album Hullabaloo. Here’s some info I found on the website of his label La Reserve Records, posted in connection with the release of the album’s title track and third single back in March: Energetic, sharp-edged, and with lyrics worth sitting down to read, Hullabaloo is a fitting title track to Cortez’s upcoming debut LP, capturing the singer-songwriter’s state of mind during the time he wrote the album’s ten songs…“‘Hullabaloo’ was the perfect title for this album, because it spoke to all the turmoil and confusion I saw in the world and in myself as covid spread,” he [Cortez] continues. “It was just complete — and still is — whiplash, not knowing what each day was going to bring. The country was going through a really strange period. So I wasn’t feeling great during that time. I still try to make pop music around it, and music that feels good.” Let’s give a listen to Into the Void.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Thee Sacred Souls website; Katy Guillen & The Drive website; Rock Eupora website; La Reserve Records website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by XTC

Welcome to another installment of my recurring Wednesday feature where I need to pick one song to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. It must be a tune from an artist or band I’ve only rarely or not covered on this blog to date. And the picks are happening in alphabetical order.

This week, I’m up to “x”, meaning it needs to be a band or artist (last name) who starts with that letter. Frankly, how many such music acts you know? I only came up with two: XTC and X-Pensive Winos, a band Keith Richards formed in 1987 to back him on his solo efforts, which included Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville (keyboards), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Charley Drayton on bass and Steve Jordan (drums, percussion).

Kingclover, a frequent visitor and commentator who was aware of my challenge, also mentioned X, an ’80s punk rock band, and another punk band from the ’70s or ’80s called X-Ray Spex. He cheerfully added the latter really sucked! In any case, I don’t know any of them.

While I haven’t covered the X-Pensive Vinos per se, I’ve written multiple times about Keef and the Stones, so it really came down to XTC. But at this time, essentially, I know this English rock band by name only and that fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews is a fan. He also noted the band’s only song I could name: Making Plans For Nigel. Since I happen to like that tune, this made my pick an easy decision.

Making Plans for Nigel was written by Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), one of the group’s founding members. The tune first appeared in August 1979 on XTC’s third studio album Drums and Wires. The following month, it became the record’s lead single and marked the band’s commercial breakthrough. In addition to reaching no. 17 in the UK, it also charted in Canada (no. 12), New Zealand (no. 29), The Netherlands (no. 32) and Australia (no. 94).

XTC were formed in Swindon, South West England in 1972. Initially, they were known as Star Park (1972–1974) and The Helium Kidz (1974–1975) before becoming XTC in 1975. Here’s more from their AllMusic bio: XTC was one of the smartest — and catchiest — British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the late ’70s. From the tense, jerky riffs of their early singles to the lushly arranged, meticulous pop of their later albums, XTC’s music has always been driven by the hook-laden songwriting of guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding. While popular success has eluded them in both Britain and America, the group has developed a devoted cult following in both countries that remains loyal over two decades after their first records.

In January 1978, XTC released their debut album White Music. Eleven additional studio releases followed. Eventually, Patridge’s and Moulding’s musical partnership unraveled, and the group effectively came to an end in 2006/2007. There was no official announcement of a breakup.

Following are some additional tidbits on Making Plans For Nigel from Songfacts:

This was XTC’s breakthrough single. It was written by bassist Colin Moulding, who shared vocal and songwriting duties with guitarist Andy Partridge.

Moulding: “Partly biographical, this one. My dad prompted me to write it. He wanted a university future for me and was very overpowering in trying to persuade me to get my hair cut and stay on at school. It got to the point where he almost tried to drag me down the barber’s shop by my hair. I know the song tells of a slightly different situation, but it all boils down to the same thing – parental domination.”

Partridge: “Quite early on it had been decided that Making Plans For Nigel was going to be the single. We spent five times longer messing with that song than any of my tracks. At one point I was fuming because my songs were being ignored.”

The Rembrandts, Primus and Robbie Williams all covered this.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube

Blues Rock Veteran Walter Trout Continues to Shine on New Album

Great authentic blues is about the deepest lows and the highest highs life can throw at you. That’s exactly what Walter Trout delivers on his new album Ride, released on August 19 – and boy, what a great ride it is! I’ve really come to dig this man since he entered my radar screen about three and a half years ago, especially after seeing him at Iridium in New York City in April 2019.

Having encountered many demons, the now 71-year-old blues rock veteran has plenty of fodder to write about. From a childhood with an abusive father to alcohol and drug dependence to a near-death experience when his liver was failing and he needed a liver transplant to a gruesome ensuing recovery, Trout has seen it all over a 50-year-plus career.

Outside of blues rock circles, Trout may not be exactly a household name like Stevie Ray Vaughan used to be back in the ‘80s. But this doesn’t make him any less compelling. Plus, sadly, SVR, perhaps the best modern blues guitarist I can think of, has been gone for more than 30 years. Trout managed to turn his life around and is still standing. He has been sober since 1987. Aptly, he called his 2019 blues covers album Survivor Blues. I reviewed it here at the time.

Ride is Trout’s 30th studio album. It’s safe to assume you won’t find many other artists who reach that milestone, especially not from Trout’s generation. But what really amazes me is how much fire in the belly he continues to have. And how much Trout still has to say. Outside his music, this includes his passionate advocacy for organ donations. He likes to remind people that had it not been for a donated liver he received in May 2014, he wouldn’t be alive today.

Let’s take a closer look at some music. Here’s the opener Ghosts, which also became the album’s lead single on April 15. “It starts off with the lyric, ‘Sometimes I hear a familiar song and it brings back memories’ – that’s the truth,” Trout said in a statement, as reported by Guitar World. “I’ll be riding in my car, a song comes on the radio and I have to pull over and sob for a while. Ghosts sums this album up, y’know?”

On the title track, Trout takes a break from blues rock and embraces more of a southern rock sound. In fact, I have to agree with a review in Rock & Blues Muse, which notes the song’s Allman Brothers vibe. After reading this, I can totally picture the type of twin lead guitar fill-ins the Allmans excelled at. Also, I suspect the theme of just wanting to jump on a train appeals to many folks who like to get away from any troublesome situations. Check out this beauty!

Another highlight is Waiting For the Dawn, the second single that appeared ahead of the album on August 12. “There were times in this pandemic where I have sunk into some pretty deep depressions, sitting around, wondering whether life has a point,” Trout recalled, as noted in this piece by Rock N’ Load. Somewhere else (sadly, I’m blanking on the source) I read this slow blues is reminiscent of Gary Moore – good observation!

Perhaps Trout’s most personal song on the album is Hey Mama. Rock & Blues Muse observes it’s “an interior debate about why his mother didn’t do more to protect him from the horrific abuse inflicted upon him by his war-broken stepfather.” Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics: Hey mama, can you hear me?/I’m frightened and I’m blue/mama, can you help me?/You know I’m still counting on you…This is powerful stuff I would compare with John Lennon’s Mother.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the closer Destiny, a beautiful love ballad that stands in marked contrast to the other tracks on the album and their pretty bleak lyrics. An excerpt: On the night I met you/I saw a connection in your eyes/And I felt like you’d been sent to me/And then I realized that I felt in my heart I’ve known you long before/And it wouldn’t be lonely anymore/It was meant to be, you and me, destiny… Also, check out that great soothing guitar sound!

Trout who now lives in Denmark recorded the album back in Los Angeles with his current regular band: Teddy “Zig Zag” Andrealis (keyboards), Jamie Hunting (bass) and Michael Leasure (drums). “No star cameos,” he told Rock & Blues Muse. “Strictly me and my band. The only guest was my tour manager, Anthony Grisham, who plays rhythm guitar on “Leave It All Behind.”

Appearing on Provogue/Mascot, Ride was produced by L.A.-based Canadian, producer, engineer and singer/songwriter Eric Corne. Additional recording credits noted in his online bio include John Mayall, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Healy, Michelle Shocked and Nancy Wilson (Heart), among others.

Here’s a Spotify link to Ride, an album I can highly recommend:

Walter Trout is currently on the road in Europe and will play 15 dates in the U.S. in September before playing Europe again in October and November. He’s closing out the year with a few dates in California. The full schedule is here. If you’re into blues rock, catch him while you can – no pun intended!

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Rock & Blues Muse; Rock N’ Load; Walter Trout website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday calls for another expedition into the great world of music and all its different beautiful flavors. In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, you may ask yourself why throw all kinds of tracks from different eras into a post in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Well, I have a fairly eclectic taste and find it liberating not to limit myself to a specific theme like I typically do in my other posts. Hope you’ll join me!

Wes Montgomery/In Your Own Sweet Way

The first stop on today’s journey is April 1960, which saw the release of a studio album by Wes Montgomery. Even if you’re not a jazz aficionado, chances are you’ve heard of this amazing American jazz guitarist. His unusual technique to play the guitar, including plucking the strings with the side of his thumb and his frequent use of octaves, created a distinct and beautiful sound. During his active career spanning the years 1947-1968, Montgomery regularly worked with his brothers Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone, piano) and Monk Montgomery (bass), as well as Melvin Rhyne (organ). Sadly, Wes Montgomery’s life was cut short at age 45 when he suffered a heart attack in June 1968. In Your Own Sweet Way, composed by Dave Brubeck in 1952, is a track off an album aptly titled The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.

Chuck Prophet/Summertime Thing

Obviously, here in America, we’re into the summer season, so picking a tune titled Summertime Thing didn’t look far-fetched. The artist is Chuck Prophet, who only entered my radar screen earlier this year, and we now find ourselves in June 2002. From his AllMusic bioChuck Prophet is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has created a handful of impressive solo albums when he isn’t busy collaborating with some of the most respected figures in roots rock. A songwriter with a naturalistic sense of storytelling and drawing characters, and a melodic sense that brings together the impact of rock with the nuance of country, blues, and folk, Prophet has been releasing worthwhile solo albums since 1990, when he brought out his first solo LP, Brother Aldo. Prior to that, he was a key member of the rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red, who had a small cult following in the United States and a significantly larger one overseas, and in between solo efforts, he worked as a sideman, collaborator, or producer for Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Warren Zevon, Cake, Kim Richey, and many more. Summertime Thing, written by Prophet, is from his 2002 solo album No Other Love. I really dig what I’ve heard from him thus far – good reminder to keep exploring!

Stray Cats/Rock This Town

Let’s pick up the speed with some fun ’50s rockabilly brought to us by Stray Cats. Formed in the U.S. in 1979 by guitar virtuoso Brian Setzer, double bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom (gotta love that stage name!), the trio initially established a following in the New York music scene. After a gig in London, they met Welsh singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer Dave Edmunds who co-produced their eponymous debut album. First released in the UK in February 1981, the record generated an impressive three top 40 hits on the Official Singles Chart: Runaway Boys (no. 9), Stray Cat Strut (no. 11) and the tune I decided to pick, Rock This Town (no. 9), which was penned by Setzer. The Cats are still roaming the streets, though they’ve had a few breaks along the way. Remarkably, their current line-up is the original formation. Coinciding with their 40th anniversary, they put 40 in May 2019, their 10th and first new studio album in 26 years. Let’s shake it, baby – meow!

Little Feat/Rock and Roll Doctor

Time to see a doctor. ‘What kinda doctor?’ you may wonder. Well, obviously not any doctor. What we need is a Rock and Roll Doctor. And this brings us to Little Feat and August 1974. I had this tune earmarked for Sunday Six use a while ago. The group was formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention. Notably, Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract. After George’s death in 1979, the group finished one more album, Down On the Farm, before disbanding. They reunited in 1987 and have had a history since then that is too long to recap here. Rock and Roll Doctor, co-written by George and Martin Kibbee, appeared on the band’s fourth studio release Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, their first charting album, reaching no. 36, no. 40 and no. 73 in the U.S., Canada and Australia, respectively.

Lucinda Williams/Knowing

Let’s pay the current century another visit with this gem by Lucinda Williams: Knowing, off her ninth studio album Little Honey, released in October 2008. While I had been aware of her name for many years, it wasn’t until June of this year that I started paying attention to her when she opened for Bonnie Raitt in Philly. The American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1978 blends Americana, folk, country and heartland rock. Her fifth studio album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road brought her commercial breakthrough. Nine additional albums have since come out. In November 2020, Williams suffered a debilitating stroke. While she has managed to largely recover and resume performing, some signs are still visible. Like most tunes on Little Honey, Knowing was solely written by Williams – great lady!

Elvis Presley/Suspicious Minds

And once again, we’re reaching the final stop of our music journey. I’d like to go back to 1969 and one of my all-time favorite Elvis Presley renditions: Suspicious Minds. The tune was written by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, who also first recorded it that year. Not sure what kind of impact the original single had but I know this: Presley’s version, which was released in August 1969, was a huge success, becoming his 18th and final no. 1 single in the U.S. Notably, as Wikipedia points out, session guitarist Reggie Young played on both the James and Presley versions. A leading session musician, Young also worked with the likes of Joe Cocker, John Prine, J.J. Cale, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Man, I love that song!

Thanks for accompanying me on another zig-zag music excursion. Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all featured tunes. Here you go – hope there’s some stuff you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. All picks are from albums that came out yesterday. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Kolby Cooper/Woke Up Hungover

Kicking us off today is Kolby Cooper, a young country singer-songwriter from East Texas. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Possessing a honeyed twang and an enduring affection for the smoother sounds of ’90s country, Kolby Cooper wasn’t as gritty as some of his peers on the Red Dirt circuit of the Southwest during the last days of the 2010s...Kolby Cooper started playing guitar at the age of 12, inspired equally by classic country and ’90s alt rock. His adolescence turned out to be tumultuous. His father died of cancer when Cooper was 14 and shortly afterward, he started writing songs, eventually finding his way to local talent competitions. When he was 18, Cooper became a father and husband in short order. Initially, he planned to attend nursing school but he decided to give the music business a shot. His 2017 debut single Every Single Kiss was followed by an EP, Vol. 1, in February 2018, and Cooper’s first full-length album Good Ones Never Last in 2019. Woke Up Hungover is a tune from his second and latest album Boy From Anderson County To The Moon – country rock with a pleasant dose of pop!

Cass McCombs/Music Is Blue

Cass McCombs is an eclectic singer-songwriter hailing from California. After playing in numerous bands in the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest during the ’90s, McCombs launched a solo career in 2001 with his debut EP Not The Way E.P. Two years later, A, his first of now 10 studio albums appeared. McCombs’ music has blended elements of different genres, such as rock, folk, psychedelic and alt country. Music Is Blue is the opener of his new album Heartmind. As happens most of the time with artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to Cass McCombs, but I sure like what I’m hearing here!

Silversun Pickups/Stillness (Way Beyond)

Silversun Pickups are an indie rock band from Los Angles, formed in 2000. Five years later, they released their debut EP Pikul. Their debut album Carnavas made the U.S. Billboard 200, reaching no. 80, and peaked at no. 5 on the Independent Albums chart. It has since been certified Gold in the U.S. The group’s sophomore album Swoon peaked at an impressive no. 7 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Independent Albums chart. It also enjoyed success outside the U.S., especially in Australia and Canada where it climbed to no. 14 and no. 23, respectively. The group’s current line-up includes founding members Brian Aubert (lead vocals, guitar) and Nikki Monninger (bass, backing vocals), along with Joe Lester (keyboards, guitar) and Chris Guanlao (drums, percussion) who joined in 2002. This brings me to Stillness (Way Beyond), the first track of their sixth and latest studio album Physical Thrills. Like the other 13 songs on the album, it’s credited to all four members of the band. I like it – check it out!

Early James/Pigsty

My final pick for this week is new music by Early James (born Fredrick James Mullis Jr.), a singer-songwriter from Alabama. Shortly after he had received his first guitar as a Christmas present at the age of 15, he started writing his own songs. James Taylor and Johnny Cash were among his early influences. Here’s more from his AllMusic bio: Early James draws from a deep well of American roots music. Backed by upright bassist Adrian Marmolejo, James’ expressive voice and stripped-down blend of Southern blues, country, folk, and jazz evokes Jason Isbell by way of early Tom Waits and Harry Chapin. In 2019, James inked a deal with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound and headed into the studio to lay down tracks for a debut album. The deeply southern and luminous Singing for My Supper, which featured a full-band, was released in 2020. James is now out with his sophomore album Strange Time To Be Alive, and based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds mightily sweet. Here’s a sample: Pigsty.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist that features the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Wet Wet Wet

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pick a song to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island. If you’re a frequent flyer on this blog, chances are you’ve seen previous installments of this recurring feature. For first-time travelers, the idea is to pick one tune only, not an album, I would take to an island in the sun. There are a few additional rules to guide my selections.

The song must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely covered or not written about at all. Selections are in alphabetical order, meaning the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter. This week, I’m up to “w.”

Options that came to mind include The Wallflowers, The Walker Brothers, The Waterboys, Weather Report, The White Stripes, The Who, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder and World Party, among others. And my pick is Wet Wet Wet and the Scottish soft rock band’s cover of Love Is All Around.

Love Is All Around was written by Reg Presley, lead vocalist of The Troggs. It also was the British garage rock band, who first released the song as a single in October 1967, giving them a no. 5 hit on the British charts. Fast-forward 27 years to May 1994, when Wet Wet Wet released their rendition of the song and took it to no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, a position it held for 15 consecutive weeks. The tune was part of the soundtrack of the popular 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Wet Wet Wet were formed in 1982 as Vortex Motion at a local high school in Clydebank, Scotland. The original line-up of the group, which initially mostly played covers of The Clash and Magazine, featured Mark McLachlan (vocals), Lindsey McCauley (guitar), Neil Mitchell (keyboards), Graeme Clark (bass) and Tommy Cunningham (drums). By the time Graeme Duffin replaced McCauley as guitarist in 1983, the band had already changed their name to Wet Wet Wet.

In March 1987, their debut single Wishing I Was Lucky came out, reaching an impressive no. 6 on the British Singles Chart. The tune was also included on Wet Wet Wet’s debut album Popped In Souled Out released in September of the same year. Three additional studio albums followed before the group started to unravel in 1997.

Wet Wet Wet reformed in 2004 and recorded Timeless, their sixth studio album that appeared in November 2007. Fourteen years later, in November 2021, the group’s seventh and most recent album The Journey was released. Earlier this year, Cunningham and keyboarder Niel Mitchell departed, leaving the band with Clark and lead vocalist Kevin Simm as their only current members.

Following is some additional background on Love Is All Around from Songfacts:

Troggs lead singer Reg Presley wrote this in about 10 minutes. He was inspired by the Joy Strings Salvation Army band he’d seen on TV. The song is a gentle folk ballad and a far cry from The Troggs previous hit “Wild Thing.”…

…The UK record for longest stay at #1 is held by Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You).” Wet Wet Wet’s record company tried to tie this record by announcing they were pulling the single after 16 weeks, hoping people would rush out to buy it. The plan failed and Whigfield knocked them out of #1 with “Saturday Night.” Wet Wet Wet claimed they asked their record company to pull the song because they were sick of it. Their version does hold the record for most weeks at #1 for a UK based act. In the US it reached #41.

When this was revived by Wet Wet Wet, Reg Presley got massive royalties as the songwriter. He denoted the proceeds to crop circle research.

R.E.M. did a cover of this as well, which they played on an episode of MTV Unplugged. The video for this can be found on their VHS/DVD This Film Is On, featuring all the videos for the songs off their 1991 album Out Of Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube