Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! The new music show must go on. Here’s what I found this week. All tunes are on releases that appeared yesterday (Nov 30).

Warren Zeiders/One Hell of an Angel

My first pick is by Warren Zeiders, a young country singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania. From his website: Warren Zeiders’ distinctive, high energy country music is powered by a steady supply of youthful grit, honesty, and muscle. Hailing from Hershey, Pennsylvania, the 22-year-old singer/ songwriter delivers outlaw sermons in a gravelly, world-weary voice that belies his young age. His music is suited more to the vast wilderness of his home state than the bright lights of Nashville, injecting a healthy dose of Heartland ethos into the honky tonks of Music City. But it’s that space he lives in—between lonesome outsider and magnetic performer—that helps him relate to listeners from all walks of life through songs fueled by unshakeable soul-searching. This brings me to 717 Tapes The Album, Zeiders’ new release, which combines songs from two previous 717 Tapes EPs (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) with four new tunes. Here’s one of the latter, One Hell of an Angel, co-written by Zeiders, Benjy Davis and Josh Jenkins – nice country rocker!

Pixies/Vault of Heaven

Pixies are an alternative rock band from Boston, associated with the ’90s alternative rock boom. During their initial phase from 1986 until 1993, they released four albums. They broke up in early 1993 and reunited 10 years later. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Black Francis (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar), Joey Santiago (lead guitar, backing vocals) and David Lovering (drums, percussion, backing vocals), together with Paz Lenchantin (bass, violin, backing and lead vocals), who became a member of the group after they reunited. Vault of Heaven, penned by Francis (credited as Charles Thompson, his birth name), is a track from Pixies’ eighth and latest studio album Doggerel. Good song. The video is a bit odd!

Snarky Puppy/Keep It On Your Mind

While I didn’t know any of their music, I had heard of Snarky Puppy before and based on their name pictured a punk band – well, not exactly! From their AllMusic bio: An acclaimed fusion-influenced jam band, Snarky Puppy have built a loyal following with their adventurous blend of jazz, rock, and funk. Led by bassist Michael League, the Texas group emerged in the mid-2000s and garnered buzz with albums like 2006’s The Only Constant, 2010’s Tell Your Friends, and 2013’s Family Dinner, Vol. 1, which took home the Grammy for Best R&B Performance for their cover of the Brenda Russell song “Something” featuring singer Lalah Hathaway. More accolades followed, including further Grammy Awards for 2015’s Sylva and 2016’s Culcha Vulcha, the latter of which also topped Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart. The band again reached the Top Ten of the jazz charts with 2019’s Immigrance and picked up their fourth Grammy Award for 2020’s Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Empire Central is the group’s new live-recorded album that thematically revolves around the Texas city of Dallas. Here’s Keep It On Your Mind – definitely very different from what I expected. That said, I like it!

Dropkick Murphys/Talking Jukebox

What a coincidence – only three weeks ago, I featured some new music by Irish-American Celtic punk band Flogging Molly. Now it’s the turn of their Boston area cousins Dropkick Murphys who were formed in 1996, the year before Flogging Molly. Since their January 1998 debut Do or Die, the Murphys have released 10 additional albums, including their latest This Machine Still Kills Fascists. The all-acoustic album is composed of unused lyrics and words by Woody Guthrie and is the group’s first without lead vocalist Al Barr who was on hiatus from the band to take care of his ailing mother. In addition to Barr, Dropkick Murphys feature Ken Casey (lead and backing vocals, bass), Tim Brennan (accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, keyboard, piano, tin whistle, backing vocals, lead guitar), James Lynch (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar, keyboard, piano, harmonica, tin whistle, backing vocals) and Matt Kelly (drums, bodhrán, backing vocals). Here’s Talking Jukebox. The music is credited to the band.

This post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above songs and a few additional tunes by each of the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Warren Zeiders website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Today, I’m introducing a new recurring feature ingeniously titled Song Musings, in which I take a closer look at, yes, you correctly guessed it, specific songs. It can pretty much be any tune, new or old or in-between, as long as I haven’t covered it to date. This series replaces the If I Could Only Take One desert island song feature, which I finally wrapped up last week.

For my inaugural Song Musings post, I picked A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun by Welch rock band Manic Street Preachers. ‘Why that song?’ you may wonder. Because I came across it while browsing Songfacts, which I have a feeling is going to serve as a key source for Song Musings. I can’t possibly come up myself with different tunes all the time!

A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun was composed by Manics vocalist James Dean Bradfield and the band’s drummer Sean Moore, with lyrics by bassist and vocalist Nicky Wire. It appeared on their 10th studio album Postcards from a Young Man. I’m surprised this great tune didn’t become a single!

Manic Street Preachers, aka the Manics, were formed in 1986 at Oakdale Comprehensive School, Blackwood, South Wales, which all the band members attended. Bradfield and Moore were part of the initial line-up, which also featured Miles “Flicker” Woodward on bass. Three years later, they were joined by Richey Edwards (rhythm guitar, backing vocals).

Manic Street Preachers (from left): Sean Moore, Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield

That line-up recorded the band’s debut album Generation Terrorists released in February 1992. It received some favorable reviews and reached an impressive no. 13 on the British albums chart. Each of the next four albums climbed to even higher chart positions until the Manics hit no. 1 with their fifth album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, their most successful to date, which also performed strongly outside of Britain.

Manic Street Preachers are still around, with Bradfield, Wire and Moore remaining as the band’s core line-up. Their 14th and most recent album The Ultra Vivid Lament came out in September last year.

Following are some additional tidbits on A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun by Songfacts:

The song title is taken from a passage in writer J.G. Ballard’s 1996 novel, Cocaine Nights. Ballard wrote: “A billion balconies facing the sun; still, it means a final goodbye to wars and ideologies. But how do you energize people, give them some sense of community? A world lying on it’s back is vulnerable to any cunning predator.”

As befits a song title referencing JG Ballard, this pulsing rock assault blames technology and lambasts today’s laptop generation.

Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan guests on this track. Bassist Nicky Wire told Q magazine: “We were derided for wearing Guns T-shirts when we first moved to London, but they were such an important group for us growing up.”

“A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun” was previously used in 2008 by American rock band God Fires Man as the title of their debut album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Rock the Farm Once Again Fired On All Cylinders

Eighth annual tribute festival for a cause returned to Jersey shore

Saturday, the time had finally come for the long-awaited Rock the Farm to return to the Jersey shore. The annual tribute festival in Seaside Heights, N.J. once again delivered 10 hours of great music for a cause. And that cause – helping individuals and families struggling with addiction to drugs, alcohol and other substances – has gained even more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock the Farm is the main annual event of the nonprofit New Jersey CFC Loud N Clear Foundation to raise funds for programs designed to prevent relapse after drug rehab, a particularly challenging time to stay sober. CFC notes that since it was established in 2012, the foundation has assisted over 20,000 families struggling with addiction and has received numerous accolades and rewards for the innovative, groundbreaking approach to recovery. Throughout the event, individuals who have benefitted from CFC’s programs stepped on stage to share some of their stories, which was both pretty inspiring and moving. You can read more about CFC’s important work here. Let’s get to some music!

Kicking off the festival once again were One Fine Tapestry, a great tribute to Carole King and the music she co-wrote with Jerry Goffin for many other artists. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo who for many years have performed a variety of tribute shows. My all-time favorite Carole King album remains Tapestry. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move.

We May Be Right are a fun Billy Joel tribute led by pianist and lead vocalist Karl Dietel, a 20-year veteran of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area live music scene. The band also features Perry Andrews (brass, woodwinds, percussion, backing vocals), Derek Davodowich (guitars), Luke Kessel (bass, backing vocals) and Andy Janowiak (drums). I know I’ve said this before, it’s amazing to me how popular Billy Joel remains to this day, nearly 30 years since the piano man released his final pop album River of Dreams. There were definitely many Billy Joel fans among the Rock the Farm audience. One of the tunes they enjoyed was Big Shot, off Joel’s sixth studio album 52nd Street from October 1978.

And then it was time to really put the rock into Rock the Farm with La Grange. This New Jersey-based tribute to ZZ Top includes Sean Peronard as “Billy Fibbons” (Billy Gibbons)Pete Perrina as “Frank Goatee” (Frank Beard) and Jim Capobianco as “Rusty Hill” (Dusty Hill). It was all there: The sound, the singing, the beards and even the fury guitar and bass – the only things missing were the rotation of the instruments and my all-time ZZ Top favorite Tush! But, hey, they played plenty of other great tunes. It was a ball. Check out Cheap Sunglasses from the Texan rockers’ sixth studio album Degüello.

How about some more kickass rock? Ask and you shall receive with Stiff Upper Lip! This New Jersey tribute to AC/DC, formed in 2007, features Glenn Taglieri  (vocals), Joe Witterschein (guitar), Mike Cusumano (guitar), Peter Lee (bass) and Steve Villano (drums). One of my all-time AC/DC favorites is their song with the longest title: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). The tune initially appeared on AC/DC’s second, Australia-only record T.N.T. Subsequently, it was also included on their first international release High Voltage, which came out in April 1976. Here we go, featuring some enthusiastic, dancing ladies with glowing devil’s horns!

Okay, I’d say it’s time for a little breather. Here’s a little photo collage with different impressions from Rock the Farm.

Clockwise from upper left corner: Rock the Farm audience with bubbles from foam dance floor; the cameraman with another enthusiastic attendee; Jagged Little Thrill – The Alanis Morisette Experience (https://www.facebook.com/jlttribute); reminder of the event’s purpose; Winslow an Evening of the Eagles (https://www.facebook.com/WinslowEaglestribute); and once again the (exhausted) cameraman after 10 hours on his feet

All right, on to part II of this post and The ELO Tribute Show – yep, they make no bones about whose music they are celebrating! The group of Philly area-based musicians includes Mick Bodine (lead vocals, guitar), Andre “Virus” Karkos (guitars, vocals), Chris McCoy (keyboards, vocals), Julie Meyers (violin, vocals), Tommy Grasso (bass, vocals) and Dave Ramani (drums, percussion). Check out their cool rendition of Evil Woman, a tune from ELO’s September 1975 record Face the Music, their fifth studio release.

One could argue that holding a tribute festival in New Jersey without featuring music by at least one artist from the Garden State would be an oversight. Coming to the rescue were Keep The Faith from – nope, I bet you didn’t guess that one – Canada! This Bon Jovi tribute from Ontario includes Chris Newman (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Tondreau (guitar), Dan Benezra (keyboards, vocals), Doug Adams (bass) and Mark MacPherson (drums). Shall we check out their rendition of Born to Be My Baby, off Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album? Well, it’s really a rhetorical question since it’s my frigging blog! Are you one of the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans who can’t be wrong? If so, you should know the title of Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album. Yes, New Jersey!

And then things got pretty groovy with Funky Monks who shall we say aren’t your typical monks. Formed in 2003, this Chicago-based tribute to Red Hot Chili Peppers has performed across the U.S. and even internationally. The band consists of Ryan “Ryanthony” Machnica (vocals), Mike Walker (guitar), Jeff “Jefflea” Genualdi (b-b-b-bass) and Paul Guziec (drums). In case you ever wondered why I like to say bassists are cool dudes, Jeff is one of the reasons. Yes, I know, it’s the obvious Peppers tune to feature, but I couldn’t help it. Here’s Under the Bridge, included on Peppers’ fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991.

All things must pass, as the wise George Harrison once sang. This also applies to Rock the Farm, which brings me to the final act of the night: Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK – what a great way to end yet another outstanding event! Founded in 2008, TUSK primarily focus on the Mac’s pop-rock period. In addition, they feature some music from Stevie Nicks’ solo catalog and on Saturday night also threw in a cool blues medley of the Peter Green era. TUSK are 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). Here’s Little Lies, off Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album Tango in the Night, which came out in April 1987.

Rock the Farm 2022 is over. Sadly, the same cannot be said about addiction, which continues to upend the lives of those impacted and their friends and families. Many lives have been lost, even more so during the pandemic, leaving empty chairs in kitchens across this country.

The reality is addiction can happen to all of us. Nobody is immune! People struggling with drugs, alcohol and other substances deserve our compassion rather than stigmatization. That’s why it is so important that organizations like the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation continue their work. Once again, in case you’d like to find out more about their programs, visit https://healingus.org.

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC website; One Fine Tapestry Facebook page; We May Be Right website; La Grange Facebook page; Stiff Upper Lip website; The ELO Tribute Show website; Slippery When Wet website; Funky Monks website; TUSK website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six! Once again it’s time to embark on some music time travel. As usual, I got six tunes lined up. Let’s go!

Benny Golson/Terminal 1

Today, our trip starts in 2004 with some great jazz by American bebop/hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. Before launching his solo career in the late 1950s, Golson had gained prominence in the big bands s of Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie, more as a writer than a performer. Apart from releasing multiple albums as a leader, he co-founded and The Jazztet in 1959 together with trumpeter Art Farmer, which the two musicians co-led until the 1990s. Golson also was a sought-after arranger for film and TV from the late ’60s through the ’70s, a period during which he was less active as a performer. Terminal 1, composed by Golson, is the title track of an album he released in June 2004. Golson, who in January turned 93, was backed by Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums).

The Crusaders/Street Life

Staying in the jazz lane but going more pop and funk, our next stop is 1979 and a groovy tune by The Crusaders, featuring great vocalist Randy Crawford. The Crusaders were formed as The Jazz Crusaders in 1960. Their debut album Freedom Sound appeared in 1961. After close to 20 additional records, the group became The Crusaders in 1971 and performed under that shortened name until 2010. Street Life is the title track of the band’s most successful album on the U.S. pop charts, which was released in December 1979. The tune was co-written by Jazz Crusaders co-founder Joe Sample and songwriter Will Jennings. The latter is best known for penning Titanic soundtrack tune My Heart Will Go On performed by Celine Dion, and co-writing Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. Street Life also appeared separately as a single and became a U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (no. 36). The single did even better in Europe where it hit the top 10 in the UK (no. 5), Norway (no. 6) and Sweden (no. 8). Here’s the album version in all of it’s 11-minute mighty – my type of music!

Spencer Davis Group/I’m a Man

Time for some ’60s rock and one of my favorite British bands from that decade: Spencer Davis Group. They were formed in Birmingham, England in 1963 by Spencer Davis (guitar), Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar), his 5-year-older brother Muff Winwood (bass guitar) and Pete York (drums). At the time Steve joined, he was 14 and still in school! I’m a Man was released as a non-album single in January 1967. Written by Steve Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller, the tune became Spencer Davis Group’s last top 10 hit in the UK and U.S. (no. 9 and no. 10, respectively). Three months later, Steve Winwood left the band to form Traffic with Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. Spencer Davis Group disbanded in July 1969 and had various reunions thereafter with Davis but sans Steve Winwood. Davis passed away in October 2020 at age 81 while being treated for pneumonia. There’s also an incredible cover of I’m a Man by Chicago, then known as Chicago Transit Authority, which they recorded for their eponymous debut album released in April 1969.

Blue Rodeo/Fallen From Grace

On to the ’90s and a tune by a Canadian band I’ve come to dig: Blue Rodeo. The country rock group was formed in 1984 in Toronto by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, along with Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, Blue Rodeo released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. The band’s fifth studio project 5 Days in July, which appeared in October 1993 in Canada and September 1994 in the U.S, remains their best-selling album in Canada. It’s also my favorite I’ve explored to date, and I’ve featured various of its tunes. Fallen From Grace, co-written by Cuddy and Keelor, is a song off Tremolo, the group’s seventh studio album released in July 1997. It holds the distinction of being Blue Rodeo’s only no. 1 album in Canada.

The Subdudes/Need Somebody

The Subdudes are a cool band from New Orleans, blending folk, swamp pop, R&B, Louisiana blues, country, cajun, zydeco, funk, soul and gospel into a tasty musical gumbo. They have been around since 1987 with breaks from 1996-2002 and 2011-2014. The band’s current members include Tommy Malone (vocals, guitar), John Magnie (vocals, accordion, keyboards), Steve Amedée (tambourine, drums, other percussions, vocals), Tim Cook (percussion, bass, vocals) and Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar), which is almost still their original line-up. Since their eponymous debut from June 1989, The Subdudes have released nine additional studio and two live albums. Need Somebody, co-written by Magnie, Malone and the band’s former bassist Johnny Ray Allen, is from their first album. I love this band’s warm sound and want to check them out further.

Jane Lee Hooker/Lucky

Before wrapping up yet another Sunday Six, I got one more tune for you by one of the hottest contemporary bands I know: Jane Lee Hooker. If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog, their cool name may sound familiar. Or perhaps you’ve read about the group on fellow blogger Robert Horvat’s Rearview Mirror, who recently included them in a 2022 best new albums post. Founded in 2013, the band from New York currently features four co-founding ladies – Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass) and Tracy Hightop (guitar) – and one gent: ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums). In April this year, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’, which offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. Here’s Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker credited to the entire band, for which they recently released an official video.

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

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the first Best of What’s New installment of this year’s fall season. While summer is now officially over and temperatures have started to drop, especially at night, the weather is still decent in my neck of the woods. That’s good since in an about hour I’ll be off to a 10-hour open-air music festival. So without any further ado, let’s take a fresh look at new music releases.

The Wonder Years/Doors I Painted Shut

My first pick this week are American pop punk band The Wonder Years, formed in Lansdale, Pa. in July 2005. After the release of two relatively unknown EPs they split with two other bands, The Wonder Years signed with No Sleep Records in 2007 and recorded their first full-length album Get Stoked on It! Initial U.S. chart success came with their sophomore release The Upsides, which climbed to no. 42 on the Independent Albums chart. Their most successful album to date, No Closer to Heaven from September 2015, reached no. 12 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and also charted in the UK and Australia at no. 46 and no. 59, respectively. The band’s current line-up features co-founders Matt Brasch (rhythm guitar, vocals, percussion), Dan Campbell (lead vocals, ukulele), Casey Cavaliere (lead guitar, backing vocals), Josh Martin (bass, synthesizer, backing vocals) and Mike Kennedy (drums, percussion), along with Nick Steinborn (keyboards, piano, guitar, backing vocals, percussion). Doors I Painted Shut, credited to all members, is the opener of the band’s seventh and new studio album The Hum Goes on Forever. Nice tune!

Nikki Lane/Good Enough

Next up is Nikki Lane, a Nashville-based country singer-songwriter. From her AllMusic bio: A singer and songwriter who mixes the honky tonk atmosphere of vintage country with the clever bite of indie rock, Nikki Lane is a barroom siren whose music is tough, witty, and bold, inhabiting Nashville archetypes while upending them at the same time. Lane’s songs walk a fine line between sincerity and irony, but the passion and effectiveness of her vocals keeps her from sounding like a put-on, and her melodies mix rootsy twang and rock & roll edge with confidence. Lane introduced her talent with the 2011 debut Walk of Shame and added a soulful edge with 2014’s All or Nothin’ and 2017’s Highway Queen. With 2022’s Denim & Diamonds, she eased back on her country accents and added harder rock energy to her mix. From that last album, which is her latest, here’s Good Enough, penned by Lane.

The Black Angels/El Jardin

Psychedelic rock band The Black Angels were formed in Austin, Texas in May 2004. From their Apple Music profile: The sultry neo-psychedelic sound of the Black Angels came together in spring 2004. Hailing from Austin, Texas, Stephanie Bailey (drums), Christian Bland (guitar), Alex Maas (vocals), Jennifer Raines (organ), and Nathan Ryan (bass) took their name from a Velvet Underground classic, “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” The band’s self-titled debut EP was released in late 2005. After a string of North American dates in winter 2006, the Black Angels readied themselves for a performance at the annual South by Southwest Music Conference in March. Their full-length album, Passover, hit stores that April. Fast forward 16 years until September 16 and Wilderness of Mirrors, the sixth studio album by The Black Angeles. In addition to Maas, Bland and Bailey, the group’s current line-up includes Jake Garcia (guitar) and Ramiro Verdooren (keyboards, percussion, bass, guitar). Here’s El Jardin, credited to the band and producer Brett Orrison. Pretty catchy psych rock – check it out!

Jimmy Carpenter/Barefootin’

I’d like to wrap up this week’s music revue with some great soulful blues by Las Vegas-based singer-songwriter and saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter. Here’s some background from his website: Jimmy Carpenter, saxophonist, singer-songwriter, and arranger, began his musical journey over 35 years ago. In the ’80s, he toured the east coast with the renegade blues band, The Alka-Phonics, in the ’90s with the blues-rock band The Believers, with whom he learned about the music business. Over the years, Jimmy has toured internationally with Tinsley Ellis, Jimmy Thackery, Walter Wolfman Washington, Eric Lindell, and others. In 2012 Jimmy joined Mike Zito, his long-time friend and musical cohort, and recorded and toured as a member of Mike Zito and the Wheel. In addition to touring nationally & internationally, Jimmy has written, arranged and recorded the horns for many artists, and has gained a reputation as a master Blues, Rock-n-Roll and R&B saxophonist. Carpenter has also released various solo albums. His latest, a covers album titled The Louisiana Record, appeared on September 16. Let’s check out Carpenter’s great rendition of Barefootin’, a tune written and first recorded by R&B singer Robert Parker in 1966, his sole hit.

This post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Jimmy Carpenter website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! I always look forward to putting together this weekly recurring feature, which allows me to explore music from different styles and decades without any limits, except keeping it to six tracks I dig. Are you ready to accompany me on another excursion? Hop on and let’s go!

Mose Allison/Crespuscular Air

Today our journey begins in November 1957 with Local Color, the sophomore album by Mose Allison. Shoutout to Bruce from Vinyl Connection whose recent post about the American jazz and blues pianist inspired me to include him in a Sunday Six. According to Wikipedia, Allison has been called “one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues.” Let’s just put it this way: Pete Townshend felt Allison’s Young Man Blues was good enough to be featured on The Who’s Live at Leeds album released in February 1970. John Mayall was one of the dozens of artists who recorded Allison’s Parchman Farm for his 1966 debut album with the Blues Breakers, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Allison’s music has also influenced many other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits. Here’s Crespuscular Air, a mellow jazz instrumental composed by Allison and included on the above-mentioned Local Color – the same record that featured Parchman Farm.

Steve Earle/Goodbye

Our next stop takes us to February 1995, which saw the release of Steve Earle’s fifth studio album Train a Comin’. I’m still relatively new to Earle but have quickly come to appreciate his music, which over the decades has included country, country rock, rock, blues and folk. Train a Comin’, while not a commercial or chart success, was an important album for Earle who had overcome his drug addiction in the fall of 1994. The bluegrass, acoustic-oriented album was his first in five years and marked a departure from the more rock-oriented predecessor The Hard Way he had recorded with his backing band The Dukes. Goodbye, penned by Earle, is one of nine original tunes on Train a Comin’, which also includes four covers.

Boz Scaggs/Georgia

For this next pick, let’s go back to February 1976. While I’ve known the name Boz Scaggs for many years, mainly because of his ’70s hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, I’ve yet to explore his music catalog. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with the group for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. Georgia, a smooth groovy song written by Scaggs, is included on his seventh solo album Silk Degrees, which is best known for the aforementioned Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Now 78 years, Scaggs still appears to be active and has released 19 solo albums to date.

Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne/You’re a Friend of Mine

Are you ready for some ’80s music? Yes, You’re a Friend of Mine definitely can’t deny the period during which it was recorded, but it’s such an upbeat song – I love it! It brought together dynamite saxophone player Clarence Clemons and legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, the tune was released in October 1985 as the lead single of Clemons’ solo debut album Hero, which came out in November of the same year. By that time Clemons had best been known as the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which “The Big Man” had joined in the early ’70s. Sadly, Clemons who also appeared in several movies and on TV died of complications from a stroke in June 2011 at the age of 69. Man, what an amazing sax player. He could also sing!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All right, time to jump back to the ’60s and some psychedelic rock by an artist who I trust needs no introduction: Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, was included on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968. The tune also appeared separately as a single, first in the U.S. at the time of the album and subsequently in the UK in October 1970, one month after Hendrix had passed away in London at the age of 27. Prominent American guitarist Joe Satriani has called Voodoo Child “the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the bold statement, it’s a hell of a song. Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists, included an excellent cover on his 1983 sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Shemekia Copeland/It’s 2 A.M.

Time to wrap up another Sunday Six with a real goodie. Since I recently witnessed part of a live gig of Shemekia Copeland and reviewed her new album Done Come Too Far, this great blues vocalist has been on my mind. Shemekia, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 knew she wanted to pursue a music career. After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album Turn the Heat Up! It’s 2 A.M., written by Rick Vito, is the excellent opener of her sophomore album Wicked that came out in September 2000. I could totally picture The Rolling Stones play this song. Check it out!

And, of course, I won’t leave you without a Spotify playlist featuring the above songs.

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 installment of Best of What’s New. I found a lot on the new music front this week that I like. All featured tracks are on releases that came out yesterday (Sep 16). Here we go!

Cape Francis/Gospel of Broken Arms

Getting us started today is Cape Francis, the moniker of New York-based singer-songwriter Kevin Olken Henthorn. From his website: Kevin Olken Henthorn has spent the past half-decade crafting quiet but intricate bedroom pop, gradually expanding and contracting his sound over the years. After a previous band fell through, he began the Cape Francis project as a way to express his creative energy, forging a creative partnership with producer and engineer Ariel Loh. After his third record, the reverb-drenched, winding Plateaus, Henthorn wanted to strip back, creating songs he could play by himself without requiring a full band. Writing during a lengthy early-pandemic move to Silver Lake with his partner, what started out as a back-to-basics record gradually became quietly ambitious, as Henthorn challenged himself to write more directly. The result is Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away, his fourth and latest album. Here’s Gospel of Broken Arms.

Death Cab for Cutie/Here to Forever

Death Cab for Cutie are an American indie rock band formed in Bellingham, Wash. in 1997. Originally a solo project by Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, piano), Death Cab for Cutie expanded into a full band after he had released a demo, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, which became popular. Gibbard subsequently recruited Chris Walla (guitar), Nick Harmer (bass) and Nathan Good (drums). They signed with Barsuk Records and released their debut album Something About Airplanes in August 1998. Five years later, Death Cab for Cutie received broad recognition in the U.S. for their fifth studio album Plans, which peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for two Grammys. In February 2008, it received Platinum certification, making it the band’s best-selling album to date. This brings me to Here to Forever, a tune from Death Cab’s 10th and new album Asphalt Meadows. The song was co-written by Gibbard and Zac Rae (keyboard, guitar). Harmer and Dave Depper (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) complete the group’s current lineup. Catchy tune!

The Beths/When You Know You Know

On to New Zealand indie pop rock band The Beths who have been around since 2014. From their Apple Music profile: Fronted by their main songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes, New Zealand indie rock group the Beths combine energized guitar riffs, melodic hooks, and harmonized backing vocals in their impulsive, distinctly self-depreciating music. Having already won fans as a live act, the band released their first album, Future Me Hates Me, in 2018. The Beths’ 2021 live album Auckland, New Zealand, 2020 featured earworms from the debut and follow-up Jump Rope Gazers. Their third long-player, 2022’s anxious Expert in a Dying Field, was completed in a Los Angeles studio during tour. From that album, which is their latest, here’s When You Know You Know. Great tune, which in addition to Strokes (vocals, rhythm guitar) is credited to the band’s three other members Jonathan Pearce (lead guitar, vocals), Benjamin Sinclair (bass, vocals) and Tristan Deck (drums).

The Mars Volta/Backlight Shine

El Paso, Texas progressive rock band The Mars Volta came together in 2001. From their AllMusic bio: Picking up the pieces from At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez formed the Mars Volta and wasted little time branching out into elements of hardcore, prog, psychedelic rock, and avant-jazz and funk. As the ever-evolving Mars Volta, they immediately impressed with 2003’s gold-certified Deloused in the Comatorium for Universal. It eschewed conventional logic to push themselves in new artistic directions, while 2005’s Frances the Mute revealed a willingness to use concepts to underscore a provocative musical approach. Fast-forward 17 years to the present and the band’s new eponymous album, their seventh and first in 10 years! Check out Backlight Shine, an intriguing tune written by Rodríguez-López.

Starcrawler/Runaway

Starcrawler are a punk rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 2015. Their current members include Arrow de Wilde (lead vocals), Henri Cash (guitar), Bill Cash (pedal steel guitar, an unexpected instrument for a punk band – CMM), Tim Franco (bass) and Seth Carolina (drums). AllMusic characterizes their sound as “somewhere between the punk/hard rock of fellow L.A. natives the Runaways and the shock tactics of legendary metal band Black Sabbath.” AllMusic also notes “crunchy guitars, melodies that boast a bit of glam-influenced swagger (even when they’re in a minor key), and a heavy rhythmic stomp” to describe the band’s sound. Starcrawler who released their eponymous debut album in January 2018 are now out with their third studio project She Said. Let’s check out Runaway – I would call this punk with a tasty dose of pop!

Ringo Starr/Free Your Soul (feat. Dave Koz and José Antonio Rodriguez)

Wrapping up this week’s new music revue is a man who needs no introduction. Ringo Starr, who in July turned 82, has been on a remarkable roll, having released a full album and three EPs since October 2019, including his latest, aptly called EP3. One of the four tracks is called Free Your Soul. From a July 29 press release: Written by Ringo Starr and Bruce Sugar, the soothing, rhythmic sound of “Free Your Soul” transports the listener to an island beach on a clear warm night under a full moon. With Ringo on vocals, drums and handclaps, the song also features Dave Koz on tenor sax and José Antonio Rodriguez on nylon guitar, Nathan East on bass, Bruce Sugar on keyboards, percussion and horn arrangement, and Billy Valentine, Zelma Davis and Maiya Sykes providing backing vocals. When you’re Ringo Starr, I suppose you don’t have much if any problem finding a little help from some great friends. I can hear some of Sade’s Smooth Operator in this relaxing tune, especially in the beginning – to be clear, it’s meant to be a compliment!

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cape Francis website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Ringo Starr website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Featuring Dire Straits in my most recent Sunday Six installment reminded me of Making Movies, which next to their eponymous debut is my favorite album by the British rock band. I also recalled a dedicated post from December 2017 and thought it would be worthy to republish. Here is a slightly edited version that features an added Spotify link.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece  Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits’ eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swing remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day. Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is one of their best records:  Making Movies.

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV. Rollergirl, don’t worry, DJ, play the movies all night long.

For the last tune I’d like to call out let’s go to Side two (speaking in vinyl terms): Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 17, 2017, ended here. Nothing more to add except a Spotify link to the album:

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song playlist

Over the past six months, I’ve presented songs I would take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. There were some rules to the exercise. It needed to be a tune by a band or artist I had only rarely written about or even better not mentioned at all to date. And my picks needed to occur in alphabetical order by band or artist name (last name).

Last week, I finally reached the letter “z.” Of course, I could have started over with “a” but felt that 26 songs picked according to the above criteria were enough – as attractive as I find the thought to escape to a desert island on hump day! For today’s post, I thought it might be fun to present a playlist featuring all of my previous 26 selections.

While undoubtedly my choices would have been different, had it not been for the above restrictive rules, I’m still quite happy with my picks and this playlist. Following I’m briefly revisiting four of the tunes. At the end of the post, you can find all 26 of them in a Spotify playlist.

Atlanta Rhythm Section/Spooky

I’ve always loved Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section, so it was an easy decision to highlight this tune a second time. Originally, the song was written as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Performed by Shapiro and released under the name Mike Sharpe, the track first appeared in 1967. The song’s next iteration occurred in 1968 when a band called Classics IV included it as the title track of their debut album and added the lyrics. Finally, Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded Spooky for their eighth studio album Underdog, which came out in June 1979. It became one of their best-known tunes and one of four top 20 singles they had in the U.S.

Los Lobos/Kiko and the Lavender Moon

Kiko and the Lavender Moon is perhaps the coolest tune I discovered in the course of this desert island song selection exercise. I’m still relatively new to Los Lobos and found that track while doing some research. Written by the band’s co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion), the song was included on their sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992.  It’s an unusual tune with traces of retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove – pretty neat!

The O’Jays/Back Stabbers

Another song I had loved for a long time but not covered prior to this feature is Back Stabbers by The O’Jays. There’s just something about smooth Philly soul sound! Back Stabbers, co-written by Philadelphia International label songwriters  Leon HuffGene McFadden and John Whitehead, is the title track of The O’Jays’ sixth studio album. Released in August 1972, it was their breakthrough and the first for Philadelphia International Records, a label that had only been founded in 1971. Check out the sweet harmony singing on that tune – sounds a bit like The Temptations!

XTC/Making Plans For Nigel

“Forced” to pick a band or artist whose name starts with “x”, I’m glad I finally got to take a look at XTC, a group I essentially had known by name only. And because of one tune: Making Plans For Nigel. The song was written by Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), one of XTC’s founding members. It first appeared in August 1979 on the group’s third studio album Drums and Wires. The following month, it became the record’s lead single and marked the band’s commercial breakthrough. Even though I find this tune somewhat odd, I think it’s quite ingenious!

And here’s a Spotify playlist of all previously selected 26 desert island tunes. Even though it’s safe to assume you wouldn’t pick many or perhaps even any of these tracks to take with you to an island in the sun, I hope you still enjoy the playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify