L.A. Singer-Songwriter Pearl Charles’ New Sophomore Album Is an Indie Pop Gem

When I first listened to Imposter by Pearl Charles yesterday, I immediately decided to include the tune in my latest Best of What’s New installment. It’s a track from the L.A. singer-songwriter’s great new album Magic Mirror, to which I’ve since listened in its entirety. Charles’ second full-length album was released on January 15.

According to an artist profile on the website of her record label Kanine Records, the 29-year-old has been playing music since the age of 5. Charles got her professional start at 18 when she teamed up with L.A. fellow musician Christian Lee Hutson to form country duo The Driftwood Singers. After their EP We Will Never Break Up had come out, Charles joined garage rock band The Blank Tapes as drummer. Two years later, she decided to go solo and released an eponymous debut EP in 2015.

“Drawn to poppy hooks and catchy choruses, Charles draws on what she loves about the 60s, 70s and 80s while developing her unique style as a solo artist,” her Kanine profile states. Charles’ first full-length album Sleepless Dreamer came out in 2018. Rough Trade described as “The best country pop we’ve heard in years” and Buzzfeed called her “A modern June Carter meets Lana Del Rey.

This brings me to Magic Mirror. Here’s the Abba-esque opener Only for Tonight, which reminds me a bit of Dancing Queen. It was co-written by Charles and indie singer-songwriter Hank Fontaine. This is one catchy tune!

Here’s What I Need, another catchy song. Co-written by Charles and Carrick Moore-Gerety, it has a bit of a ’70s Fleetwood Mac flair. In addition to the singing, I really dig the pedal steel guitar work.

The title track is a beautiful piano-driven ballad. Charles wrote it together with Lewis Pesacow who also produced and engineered the album, and provided keyboards and guitar.

All the Way, which was co-written by Charles and Morgan Nagler, is another great tune. It features nice slide guitar work reminiscent of George Harrison.

Let’s do one more: Sweet Sunshine Wine. Yet another catchy track, it was solely written by Charles.

I think Apple Music hit the nail perfectly on the head in their artist profile: “Charles has a knack for writing melodic, low-key indie pop with a jangling country tone.” I certainly do look forward to more music from this talented singer-songwriter.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kanine Records website; AllMusic; YouTube

John Fogerty’s Riveting New Protest Song Proves He Got Fire Left in Belly

I just dig John Fogerty who at 75 years old still loves what he does and still does it pretty darn well. I was fortunate to see him in action with my own eyes in May 2018. The man had a ball on stage, and you simply can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm – it’s electrifying! On January 6, Fogerty released Weeping in the Promised Land, his first new song in eight years.

Notably, the tune isn’t a typical John Fogerty swamp rocker, though I love these types of songs by him and wouldn’t have minded. Instead, it’s stripped back with Fogerty singing and on piano only, accompanied by a few gospel backing vocalists – so cool! Thematically, it’s a protest song that’s reminiscent of Fortunate Son and Who’ll Stop the Rain from the Creedence Clearwater Revival era. The gospel vocals in particular give me chills – check it out!

John’s words leave no doubt who and what he’s singing about: …Forked-tongued pharaoh, behold be comes to speak/Weeping in the Promised Land/Hissing and spewing, it’s power that he seeks/Weeping in the Promised Land/With dread in their eyes, all the nurses are crying/So much sorrow, so much dying/Pharaoh keep a-preaching but he never had a plan/Weeping in the Promised Land…

As Rolling Stone reported, Fogerty first came up with the line and title “weeping in the promised land” about 25 years ago. While he dug it out a few years back and wrote a full-fledged tune, he wasn’t happy with the outcome. Fast forward to last summer when the phrase all of a sudden became meaningful to Fogerty and resulted in an entirely new song.

Apparently, the initial version, which Fogerty recorded with his son Shane Fogerty (guitar), Don Was (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), was more of a swamp rocker. Interestingly, it was his wife and manager Julie who suggested John should try to play the tune on the piano instead. Initially, Fogerty who first and foremost is a guitarist (and a pretty decent one) was a bit reluctant, but fortunately, he overcame his doubts.

Writing Weeping in the Promised Land turned out to be quite challenging, Fogerty told Rolling Stone. Over several months, he grappled with the lyrics. He went on car rides to local parks in southern California to get some inspiration. “I felt like I was wandering around in the desert,” he joked.

In the end, it all came beautifully together. And more is on the way, namely an album with all-new material – the first since Revival from October 2007! “We’ve had a couple of recording sessions since this song was done,” Fogerty noted. “Getting this song out of me was almost like a blockage. I had to get this finished first.” He didn’t reveal further details on timing, so stay tuned.

Sources: Rolling Stone; YouTube

Steve Earle’s New Album J.T. is Warm Tribute to His Late Son Justin Townes Earle

…I wish I could have held you when/You left this world like I did then/Last time we spoke was on the phone/Then we hung up and now you’re gone/Last thing I said, “I love you”/Your last words to me were, “I love you too”…

On January 4, Steve Earle released his new album J.T., backed by his longtime band The Dukes. The background story behind this tribute to his late son, the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, is quite sad. On August 20 last year, Justin passed away at the age of 38 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine. January 4 would have been his 39th birthday.

The thought of losing a child at such a young age is horrible enough. But there’s more to the story. The two men had a complicated relationship. Steve left Justin and his mother Carol Ann Hunter Earle when the boy was just three years old. Between music, touring, drug addiction and serving prison time for drug possession, Steve Earle was out of his son’s life for the next 12 years.

Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999.
Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999. Credit: Sara Sharpe

By the time Justin, whose middle name was in honor of Steve’s musical mentor Townes van Zandt, reunited and lived with his then-sober father in 1994, he had developed a drug addiction as well. The two men developed a close musical relationship, and for some time, Justin played in his father’s band. But according to a review in American Songwriter, he was kicked out after his drug addiction had deteriorated and essentially prevented him from functioning.

American Songwriter notes Justin’s forced exit caused the distance to Steve to grow again, though apparently, they made up in recent years. Unlike his dad, Justin wasn’t able to become sober despite multiple rehab attempts. Yet he still managed to have a music career that included stints in Nashville bands the Swindlers and the Distributors, and a solo recording career that encompassed an EP and eight studio albums between February 2007 and May 2020.

Time for some music. Ten of the 11 tracks on J.T., titled after Justin’s nickname as a child, are songs by Justin Townes Earle, of which he co-wrote two with Scotty Melton. The closer Last Words was penned by Steve Earle. Let’s kick it off with the opener I Don’t Care, a tune from Justin’s debut EP Yuma released in February 2007.

Far Away in Another Town is the closer from Justin’s first full-length solo album The Good Life that appeared in March 2008. It’s one of the two songs he co-wrote with Melton.

Another tune from The Good Life that certainly took on a new meaning is Turn Out My Lights. This also happens to be the second of the aforementioned co-writes with Melton.

Harlem River Blues is the title track of Justin’s third studio album. Released in September 2010, it became his first to enter the Billboard 200, reaching no. 47. It also climbed to no. 3 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the above noted closer Last Words, the most personal track on the album. The lyrical excerpt in the beginning of the post is from that song.

Recording the album “wasn’t cathartic as much as it was therapeutic,” Earle told The New York Times. “I made the record because I needed to.” The Times also noted Earle went through Justin’s catalog together with his other son Ian to select the 10 tracks.

I wasn’t familiar at all with Justin’s music. Based on listening to the original tunes, Justin’s versions for the most part were more stripped back than the covers on this album. Much of my initial attraction to J.T. came from the warm sound. Which brings me to the fine musicians of The Dukes: Chris Masterson (guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (fiddle), Ricky Ray Jackson (pedal steel guitar), Jeff Hill (bass) and Brad Pemberton (drums).

“It felt positive,” Earle’s longtime recording engineer Ray Kennedy told The New York Times, referring to the recording sessions. “It felt like we were taking an expression of somebody’s art and creativity and giving it back to the world in a different package.”

The last word shall belong to Steve Earle: “I’ve never loved anything in this world more than him,” he said. “I was connected to him in ways that, you know — he’s my first born, he did the same thing I did and we both had this disease.”

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; The New York Times; YouTube

McCartney III is the Charm of Macca’s DIY Home-Made Albums

I was excited when Paul McCartney announced his new album McCartney III back in October, though my expectations weren’t very high. McCartney and McCartney II, the two previous albums in his DIY homemade trilogy, for the most part never appealed to me. While McCartney III is no Band on the Run, Tug of War or predecessor Egypt Station for that matter, there’s something charming about the album, which was released today (December 18). With each additional listening, I feel a bit like what Sir Paul sang 53 years ago: It’s getting better all the time.

Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, McCartney III had not be planned. From the previous announcement on McCartney’s website: “I was living lockdown life on my farm with my family and I would go to my studio every day. I had to do a little bit of work on some film music and that turned into the opening track and then when it was done I thought what will I do next? I had some stuff I’d worked on over the years but sometimes time would run out and it would be left half-finished so I started thinking about what I had.  Each day I’d start recording with the instrument I wrote the song on and then gradually layer it all up, it was a lot of fun.  It was about making music for yourself rather than making music that has to do a job.  So, I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.” 

McCartney III feels a bit like a hodgepodge of tunes, including somewhat experimental music, full-blown rock and more typical acoustic McCartney type songs. That’s part of its charm! Like on his two DIY predecessors, McCartney plays all instruments himself, including guitar, bass, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, synthesizer and drums. There’s one exception. On the rocker Slidin, he did get a little help from Rusty Anderson (guitar) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), two longtime members of his backing band in the studio and on the road.

There’s also When Winter Comes, an unreleased track that was previously recorded in the early ’90s and co-produced by George Martin. Macca wrote a new passage for the song, which inspired album opener Long Tailed Winter Bird. In turn, that tune sparked the process for McCartney to work on songs and of course extra time he had on his hands during the extended COVID-19 lockdown. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick it off with the aforementioned opener Long Tailed Winter Bird, a largely instrumental track that’s the most adventurous on the album. I had to listen to the tune a few times before it started speaking to me – certainly not typical McCartney.

Find My Way sounds more like a McCartney pop tune. It’s got some nice harmony guitar accents. I also like the harpsichord. And the legendary Höfner violin bass! Here’s the official video.

Lavatory Lil is a nice rocker with a cool descending bassline. Some reviews I’ve seen called it reminiscent of Polythene Pam. Whichever way you want to describe it, I think it’s a cool tune!

Let’s follow it up with another rocker: the above noted Slidin’, the hardest rockin’ tune on the album.

How about some classic McCartney acoustic guitar tune? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s The Kiss Of Venus.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Winter Bird/When Winter Comes. Don’t get fooled by the beginning, which sounds like a reprise of the opener. About 27 seconds into the track, When Winter Comes begins, another nice acoustic tune.

McCartney III has a few additional parallels to McCartney and McCartney II. The photography stayed in the family. In the case of the two predecessors, it was Linda McCartney. On the new album, the principal photos were shot by McCartney’s daughter Mary McCartney, with additional photos by his nephew Sonny McCartney and some shots Paul took on his phone. Each of the three albums appeared during the first year of a new decade around major developments: The breakup of The Beatles, the end of Wings and the turmoil caused by a global pandemic.

Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, which initially had lukewarm receptions from critics, the majority of reviews I’ve seen for McCartney III are pretty positive. Perhaps the critics have mellowed because of COVID-19, or perhaps they are simply happy that one of the most beloved artists on the planet still feels passionate about his craft and releases new music. I can’t deny the latter is a factor in my judgment.

McCartney III appears on Capitol Records and is available via digital platforms, on CD, and on LP. According to McCartney’s website, the latter are manufactured by Third Man Pressing. Vinyl configurations range from standard 180g to a Third Man Edition of 3000 hand-numbered red vinyl copies, a ‘333’ Edition sold only via Third Man Records online store and limited to 333 copies on yellow-with-black-dots vinyl created using 33 recycled vinyl copies of McCartney and McCartney II, a U.S. indie retail exclusive pressing of 4000 hand-numbered white vinyl LPs, and more. 

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

The Dirty Knobs Release Long Awaited Debut Album Wreckless Abandon

Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs finally released their debut album yesterday (November 20). Originally, Wreckless Adandon had been scheduled for March 20 but was pushed back after Campbell announced in early March he had to deal with “some health issues, which, while fully treatable, need to be addressed” and that “I’m going to be just fine,” as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock at the time. In a way, the eight-month delay was relatively minor, considering the band has been around for some 20 years.

Campbell formed The Dirty Knobs in the early 2000s as a side project to Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. In August 2001, he told Rolling Stone he had recruited original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair and the band’s drummer at the time Steve Ferrone, together with guitarist Jason Sinay. Apart from Campbell and Sinay, the Knobs’ current lineup includes Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Laug (drums). “It’s rougher-edged [than the Heartbreakers],” Campbell described their music at the time. “It’s slightly over-driven, less polished, lots of Sixties influence — the Kinks, Zeppelin, the Animals. It’s something I probably should have done a long time ago, but I didn’t ’cause I was wrapped up in the Heartbreakers.”

The Dirty Knobs were active in-between Heartbreakers tours and studio projects. They played small venues and did some recordings but weren’t looking for a record deal. “We would go and play clubs and do some recordings and it just got better and better,” Campbell said during a recent interview with Cleveland.com. “I always had in the back of my mind it would be a great project to do if the Heartbreakers ever took a hiatus or whatever. So now here we are, and I’m all fired up to do this band.” Of course, Campbell had also been pretty busy working with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Johnny Cash and many other artists and since September 2018 as an official new member of Fleetwood Mac.

The Dirty Knobs (from left): Jason Sinay, Mike Campbell, Lance Morrison and Matt Laug

While Reckless Abandon isn’t meant to sound like a Heartbreakers album, perhaps inevitably, you find yourself looking for similarities, and there are definitely some influences. After all, Campbell and Petty had a long songwriting partnership, and it’s not a coincidence Campbell earned co-writing credits for two to three songs on many Heartbreakers albums and two of Petty’s solo records.

At times, even their voices sound a bit similar. “In the beginning I realized I had a lot of Tom’s nuances in my delivery ‘cause we grew up together, so I focused hard on trying to filter that out as much as possible and find my own voice and personality,” Campbell explained to Cleveland.com. “I don’t want to sound like Tom, of course, but I do from time to time ‘cause we have the same accents and this and that. But I think I found my own self.”

Time for some music. Here’s the opener and title track that had previously been released as the album’s lead single back in January. Like all other except for two songs, it was written by Campbell. Great tune – dig Campbell’s Rickenbacker sound. Frankly, this track could be a Heartbreakers song. One difference is there are no keyboards.

Pistol Packin’ Mama features Chris Stapleton on vocals. Stapleton also contributed a tune, Fuck That Guy. Likewise, Campbell was a guest on and co-wrote two songs for Stapleton’s new album Starting Over released on November 13. “He’s a great writer, a great artist, so I’m fortunate to be able to work with him,” Campbell told Cleveland.com. “I met Chris the first time just in passing; The Heartbreakers were headlining at (Chicago’s) Wrigley Field, and he was opening. He was going to take (Dirty Knobs) out to open for him in the summer.”

Next up: Southern Boy, another nice bluesy rocker. Again, I could also picture Tom Petty singing that tune.

On Irish Girl, The Dirty Knobs take it down a few notches. Released as the album’s most recent single on November 16, it’s among the tracks I like the best so far. “Irish Girl is my favorite lyric on the record,” Campbell told American Songwriter. “It’s whimsical and more poetic than most of the Knobs’ songs. I was inspired to write it driving home late one-night listening to Van Morrison on the radio. When I got home, the song just came to me. It’s very simple musically and I love the sound of the record. It reminds me of Ireland.” Here’s the official video.

Let’s wrap it up with one more bluesy rocker: Aw Honey. Ex-Heartbreaker Benmont Tench contributes piano.

Asked by Cleveland.com whether he feels a sense of mission to continue the legacy he had with Tom Petty, Campbell said, “Well, maybe subconsciously. I don’t perceive myself as on a mission, per se; my only mission is to have fun, really, and try to make great music and try to get better. He’s not here, obviously, so now it’s up to me, and I’ve got to carry on making music the best I can. I have a legacy to live up to. I hope the stuff that I do going forward holds up against that stuff. It’s kind of a high bar, but my only mission is just to enjoy myself and keep making music. That’s what keeps this alive.”

In addition to the album, The Dirty Knobs also postponed their supporting tour. It’s now scheduled to kick off in San Bernardino, Calif on June 5, 2021 and wrap up in New Orleans on November 2. Some of the other gigs include Denver (June 25 & 26), Chicago (July 17), Gainesville, Fla. (September 10 & 11), Nashville, Tenn. (September 14), Asbury Park, N.J. (September 18), Boston (September 23 & 24), Indianapolis (October 2 & 3), San Francisco (October 15 & 16) and Austin, Texas (October 30 & 31). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; Cleveland.com; American Songwriter; The Dirty Knobs website; YouTube

AC/DC Roar Back With Power Up

New album dedicated to Malcolm Young

When AC/DC finished their world tour four years ago in support of their previous album Rock or Bust, they looked more bust than rock. Now the Aussie band is back in full force with a new album, released yesterday, and suddenly it feels like time was turned back 40 years. While Power Up may not have anthems like Hells Bells, Back in Black and You Shock Me All Night Long, AC/DC’s 17th studio album delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans.

The fact AC/DC are still alive borders on a miracle. In April 2016, six months prior to the end of the Rock or Bust tour, lead vocalist Brian Johnson had to bow out due to severe hearing issues. This forced the band to reschedule the remaining 22 gigs and bring in Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses to finish the tour. At the end of the tour, bassist Cliff Williams was a spent force and announced his retirement. Drummer Phil Rudd had missed the entire tour in the first place due to legal issues. As had rhythm guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young, who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia. He passed away in November 2017 at the age of 64.

AC/DC in 2020 (from left): Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd, Angus Young and Stevie Young

Essentially, this only left lead guitarist Angus Young, who had formed AC/DC with his older brother Malcolm in 1973. Fast-forward to August 2018 when Angus Young; Stevie Young, who had joined the band in April 2014 following the departure of his uncle Malcolm; Phil Rudd; Cliff Williams; and Brian Johnson who thanks to a special hearing aid is able to sing again were photographed near a recording studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ever since rumors had been floating around about a new album. The long wait is over.

Produced by Brendan O’Brien who had also worked with AC/DC on their previous two albums Rock or Bust and Black Ice, Power Up was largely recorded in Vancouver over a six-week period between August and September 2018. All of the songs had been co-written by Angus and Malcolm during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. Power Up is a tribute to Malcolm, another parallel to the above mentioned Back in Black that was dedicated to Bon Scott, Johnson’s predecessor who died in February 1980 due to acute alcohol poisoning.

After so much death and despair, how about some music! Here’s the opener Realize. With the power guitar riffs and Johnson’s screaming vocals, it sounds like classic AC/DC. The tune also appeared separately as a single three days ago.

Shot in the Dark became the album’s lead single released on October 11. It’s perhaps the “hit” on the record, reaching the top of the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s the official video.

When a band like AC/DC names a track Demon Fire, you know pretty much what to expect.

Wild Reputation has a great main riff that sounds a bit Stonesy.

Let’s do one more: Here’s the cool closer Code Red.

“Malcolm and myself over the years, whenever we’d come to an album we always walked in with a lot of A-grade songs,” Angus Young told the Associated Press. “We always had a stack full more left that were all great, great tracks…I concentrated on the ones I knew were Mal’s favorites. It’s a fitting project for him. He always liked being simple and direct, so I felt, what better than his music?”

“We all felt Malcolm around us, he was there,” added Brian Johnson. “We’re not spiritual type people, but, boy, oh boy. Malcolm was a very strong character in real life, and him passing away wasn’t gonna stop that. He was there, everywhere, and I think you can tell it on the record.”

It’s fair to say AC/DC aren’t breaking any new ground on Power Up. While for many other bands this may be a point of criticism, AC/DC have been great at what they’ve done for decades, so you really don’t want them to change. Plus, there may be more. During a separate interview with Apple Music, Angus Young revealed there are hundreds of unpublished songs in the AC/DC vault he and Malcom had written together. Young also joked, “You can’t call an album ‘rock or bust’ and then go bust.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; Apple Music; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Still Is the Boss on New Album, Backed by Mighty E Street Band

While not breaking new ground, Letter to You sounds reassuringly fresh and full of energy

Yesterday, Bruce Springsteen released his 20th studio album Letter to You and his first with The E Street Band since High Hopes from January 2014 – wow, until I read that in some reviews, it had not occurred to me it’s been more than six years! While musically speaking Letter to You doesn’t include anything we haven’t heard from Springsteen before, I just love this album!

At 71 years, The Boss demonstrates he still knows how to write great rock songs. The E Street Band sound as mighty sweet as ever and once again prove why they are the ideal backing band for Springsteen. And, yes, admittedly, when you lose a loved one and live through a seemingly never-ending pandemic, listening to great music that in many ways sounds familiar provides reassurance that some things don’t change. I take some stability during these unsettling times!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9216850a) Bruce Springsteen, center, performs with Nils Lofgren, left, and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band during their concert at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band just don’t want to leave the stage. The concert, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia lasted nearly four hours, four minutes, breaking the previous record for the group’s longest U.S. show set last week Bruce Springsteen Longest Show, Los Angeles, USA – 7 Sep 2016

“The impetus for a lot of the material was the loss of my good friend George Theiss,” Springsteen told Apple Music. Theiss was the guitarist of The Castiles, the first “serious” band Springsteen joined in 1965. According to Castiles.net, the other members were Paul Popkin (guitar, vocals), Frank Marziotti (bass) and Bart Haynes (drums). In May 1966, Springsteen had his first-ever studio session with The Castiles, during which they recorded two original songs. With the death of Theiss in July 2018, Springsteen remains the band’s only surviving member.

“There’s aging and loss of people as time goes by, and that’s a part of what the record is,” Springsteen further pointed out. “And then at the same time, you’re sort of celebrating the fact that the band goes on and we carry their spirits with us.”

But while much of Letter to You sounds familiar, there is one thing that’s new. “It was a great project for us because I don’t think we ever played live together in the studio and then kept everything that we did on the full take – all the singing, all the playing, it’s really, it’s the E Street Band really completely live. And I overdubbed a few solos and things, but it’s really, it’s really the band in one shot,” Springsteen told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview. I’ve yet to listen to all of it. You can watch it here.

The current line-up of The E Street Band features Steven Van Zandt (guitar, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, vocals), Roy Bittan (piano, vocals), Charles Giodarno (organ, vocals), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Jake Clemons (saxophone), Garry Tallent (bass, vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums, vocals). Except for Clemons and Giodarno, this line-up has been in place since 1995. Van Zandt’s, Bittan’s, Tallent’s and Weinberg’s tenures go back much further to the mid-’70s. Obviously, this is a tight band, and it shows! Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener One Minute You’re Here. “It’s unusual to start a record with its quietest song,” Springsteen commented to Apple Music. “The record really starts with ‘Letter to You,’ but there’s this little preface that lets you know what the record is going to encompass. The record starts with ‘One Minute You’re Here’ and then ends with ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ which are both songs about mortality and death. It was just sort of a little tip of the hat to where the record was going to go and a little slightly connected to [2019’s] Western Stars. It was a little transitional piece of music.”

Since I already covered the album’s great title track in a previous Best of What New installment, I’m skipping it here and go to Janey Needs a Shooter, one of three tracks on Letter to You, which Springsteen wrote prior to his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. All other songs were written more recently. “We were working on a lot of stuff that I have in the vault to put out again at some time, and I went through almost a whole record of pre-Greetings From Asbury Park music that was all acoustic, and these songs were inside them,” Springsteen said. “The guys came in and I said, ‘Okay. Today we’re going to record songs that are 50 years old, and we’re going to see what happens.’ The modern band playing those ideas that I had as a 22-year-old—and for some reason it just fit on the record, because the record skips through time.” Well, I wholeheartedly agree and love the rich sound of that tune!

Last Man Standing is a tribute to George Theiss. “That particular song was directly due to George’s passing and me finding out that out of that group of people, I’m kind of here on my own, honoring the guys that I learned my craft with between the ages of 14 and 17 or 18,” Springsteen said. “Those were some of the deepest learning years of my life—learning how to be onstage, learning how to write, learning how to front the band, learning how to put together a show, learning how to play for all different kinds of audiences at fireman’s fairs, at union halls, at CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances, and just really honing your craft.” This is the perfect tune for some sax work, and Jake Clemons makes his uncle proud.

Next up: House of a Thousand Guitars. “Every piece of music has its demands—what tone in my voice is going to feel right for this particular piece of music—and you try to meet it in the middle,” Springsteen explained. “That’s one of my favorite songs on the record; I’m not exactly sure why yet. It’s at the center of the record and it speaks to this world that the band and I have attempted to create with its values, its ideas, its codes, since we started. And it collects all of that into one piece of music, into this imaginary house of a thousand guitars.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the above noted I’ll See You in My Dreams, which together with One Minute You’re Here bookends the album. “I remember a lot of my dreams and I always have,” Springsteen said. “But that song was basically about those that pass away don’t ever really leave us. They visit me in my dreams several times a year. Clarence will come up a couple times in a year. Or I’ll see Danny. They just show up in very absurd, sometimes in abstract ways in the middle of strange stories. But they’re there, and it’s actually a lovely thing to revisit with them in that way. The pain slips away, the love remains, and they live in that love and walk alongside you and your ancestors and your life companions as a part of your spirit. So the song is basically about that: ‘Hey. I’m not going to see you at the next session, but I’ll see you in my dreams.'”

Letter to You was recorded over just four days in November 2019 at Springsteen’s home studio. The album was co-produced by Springsteen and Ron Aniello, who also produced Western Stars, and co-produced High Hopes and predecessor Wrecking Ball from March 2012. Coinciding with Letter to You is the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You, a 90-minute documentary about the making of the album. It’s available on Apple TV+. If you’re a subscriber, you can watch it here. There are also two free trailers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Castiles.net; YouTube

Bon Jovi Turn Political on New Album 2020

Bon Jovi released their long anticipated 15th studio album 2020 on Friday, October 2. Predictably, the reviews I’ve seen thus far are mixed. After some 37 years into their recording career, I think it’s safe to say at this stage the band isn’t going to change many minds one way or the other. And opinions about the Jersey rockers have clearly been divided for a long time.

While Jon Bon Jovi is no Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always liked Bon Jovi for their catchy brand of pop rock. In that regard, 2020 doesn’t break new ground. What’s different are the outspoken political lyrics of some of the songs. Eight of the 10 tracks were solely written by Jon Bon Jovi. Together with the album cover, which is the first to feature Jon Bon Jovi only since the band’s eponymous debut from January 1984, this makes it feel more like a solo record.

Bon Jovi (from left): Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Hugh McDonald, Phil X and Tico Torres

2020 clearly is a reflection of the current unsettling times America is going through. Why did Jon Bon Jovi turn political now? Is it all a calculated move not come across as tone-deaf during what increasingly looks like an unprecedented period in the country? I would argue that Jon Bon Jovi has supported political and social causes for a long time, so it’s not like he suddenly decided to raise issues because it looked convenient. Plus, given how divided the U.S. is, if anything, I could see him lose some fans over his turn to political lyrics. With that, let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Limitless, a classic Bon Jovi rocker with a memorable guitar theme and a catchy melody. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the band’s touring rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist John Shanks, and Billy Falcon, a frequent Bon Jovi collaborator since 2009, the song was first released as a single in February. Unlike most other tracks on the album, while the tune addresses the uncertainties of daily life, it has an upbeat outlook in the chorus: On a night like this/One prayer one wish/step out of the edge/It’s worth the risk/Life is limitless limitless. Perhaps this makes it a more typical Bon Jovi lyric.

Things definitely get darker in American Reckoning, one of the two songs that initially weren’t part of the album. Jon Bon Jovi penned this compelling tune about police brutality against African Americans during the COVID-19 quarantine. Like the opener, it also appeared first as a single, in July. America’s on fire/There’s protests in the street/Her conscience has been looted/And her soul is under siege/Another mother’s crying as history repeats/I can’t breathe/God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets/stay alive, stay alive/Shine a light, stay alive/Use your voice and you remember me/American reckoning…

Lower the Flag is about senseless school shootings we all too often witness in this country. The 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio inspired Jon Bon Jovi to write this tune. Perhaps the song’s most powerful part is toward the end when he lowers his voice, switching from singing to speaking. If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out/ If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out//El Paso, Texas/Dayton, Ohio/Las Vegas, Nevada/ Sebring, Florida/Orlando, Florida/Penn State University/ Aurora, Illinois/Virginia Beach, Virginia/Gilroy, California/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/ Marjory Stoneman Douglas High/ Columbine/Columbine/Sandy Hook Elementary… One really wonders how many more shootings and deaths it will take until those in charge have the backbone to stand up against the NRA and institute sensible gun control laws.

Next up: Blood in the Water, which addresses another big issue the country is facing: the plight of immigrants…Once I came across your border/Now they come to take me back/I sleep with one eye open/I don’t make waves, I don’t leave tracks/For my daughter and my three sons/It’s the only life they’ve known/To me it’s my asylum/These stars and stripes my home

The last tune I’d like to call out is Unbroken, the album’s closer. Yet another track solely written by Jon Bon Jovi, the song is about military veterans and their struggle with PTSD and other challenges. The song first appeared last November and was written for To Be of Service, a documentary about war veterans and their service dogs…We were taught to shoot our rifles/Men and women side by side/Thought we’d be met as liberators/In a thousand-year-old fight/I got this painful ringing in my ear/From an IED last night/But no lead-lined Humvee war machine/Could save my sergeant’s life

2020 was co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and John Shanks. Other musicians on the album include the current core members of Bon Jovi: Phil X (lead guitar, backing vocals), Hugh McDonald (bass), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Everett Bradley, a touring member like Shanks, provided percussion and backing vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

German Rock Staple Niedeckens BAP Continue to Deliver on New Album Alles Fliesst

Every now and then, I like to feature German language rock and pop music, an acknowledgement of my German roots and the country where I was born and grew up. In this context, the act that always comes to my mind first are Niedeckens BAP. The band’s new studio album Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), which was released yesterday, September 18, certainly provides a nice occasion to do another post on my favorite German band for now close to 4o years.

Simply known as BAP for most of their career, the band around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. While there have seen many line-up changes, as you’d expect over such a long period, two things have stayed the same: band leader Niedecken who remains their lyricist, lead vocalist and only original member, and the fact they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne.

Niedeckens BAP at Castle Studios, Schloss Röhrsdorf, Dresden, Germany

Since September 2014, following the departure of two longtime members, the band has performed as Niedeckens BAP. At the time, a seemingly somewhat frustrated Niedecken also declared the group would not longer have a standing line-up. That being said, the core members have remained the same since then: Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Anne de Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Werner Kopal (bass), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums). You can read more about their previous music here.

Alles Fliesst is Niedeckens BAP’s 20th studio album. While overall I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t break much new ground, that’s just fine with me. Sometimes you don’t want things to change that don’t need to change. A few songs had been released as singles leading up to the album. Two of these tracks, Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) and Ruhe vor’m Sturm (calm before the storm), I already covered in previous installments of my Best of What’s New music feature here and here, so I’m going to skip them in this post. Let’s kick things off with the nice rocker Jeisterfahrer (ghost driver). The title is a symbol for populist politicians and demagogues spreading dangerous misinformation and ideas. Sadly, this sounds all too familiar.

One of my early favorites is the lovely ballad Mittlerweile Josephine (now Josephine). It’s named after one of Niedecken’s daughters he apparently used to call Josie when she was a young girl. “Actually, the song is for both of my daughters,” he told news agency Spot on News, as published by German regional paper Stuttgarter Zeitung. “But you have to decide how to name it. My younger one is called Joana-Josephine, and the older one is Isis-Maria. Our guitarist wrote the tune and sent me a demo. It included the name Rosie. As I was listening to it, I thought it could also be called Josie.” Here’s the official video.

Amelie, ab dofür (not quite sure how to translate this) is another nice rocker. The lyrics are about a guy who wants to get to Amelie but is stuck in traffic. More generally, the song deals with everyday stress life can throw at you – not sure it has any deeper meaning, but won’t get sleepless nights over it! Apart from bluesy guitar work, the great music features nice horn accents by Axel Müller (saxophone), Christoph Moschberger (trumpet) and Johannes Goltz (trombone).

Jenau jesaat: Op Odyssee (specifically put, an odyssey) looks back on the band’s 40-year-plus history from humble beginnings in local bars to playing the German Rockpalast music festival in the ’80s that was broadcast throughout Europe and put BAP on the map more broadly. “The song deals with our beginnings when we were surprised that suddenly we were supposed to play outside of Cologne,” Niedecken explained during the above interview…’They don’t speak Kölsch, how is this going to work?’…Specifically put, we didn’t go on tour but on an odyssey to unknown regions.” Things worked out quite well for BAP, though their popularity has largely remained confined to Germany and neighboring countries where folks understand German.

Let’s do one more: Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse (let’s raise our glasses and cups), a song that had been written last last year, was released in connection with Niedecken’s 69th birthday on March 30. Initially, he had planned to throw a party on a boat to celebrate the happy occasion, but that didn’t happen because of COVID-19. Instead, in a surprising move, Niedeckens BAP put out this track to celebrate first responders and others who have helped keep things going during the pandemic. “Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse is a happy reggae to express our gratitude to people who provide social services in a broader sense, as professionals or as volunteers, and who oftentimes are underpaid and under-recognized in our society,” Niedecken stated at the time, as reported by the German edition of Rolling Stone. “These are the same people who are now saving our butts.”

According to the band’s website, the first takes for the album were recorded live in studio at a facility close to the Eastern German town of Dresden. The album was completed in Hamburg. Alles Fliesst was co-produced by Rode and de Wolff who also composed most of the music. As always, all lyrics were written by Niedecken.

Alles Fliesst is available in standard CD and vinyl formats. There is also a deluxe edition, which apart from the 14 tracks on the standard version features a studio outtake and live versions of nine tracks that were not included on the band’s last live album Live & Deutlich (live and clear) from November 2018. I previously covered it here.

Apparently, in November 2018, Niedeckens BAP became the band with the most no. 1 hits in the German albums chart with the above noted Live & Deutlich. This broke the previous record that had been held by The Beatles.

Sources: Niedeckens BAP website; Spot On News/Stuttgarter Zeitung; Rolling Stone (German edition); YouTube

Allman Betts Band Release New Album Bless Your Heart

While Devon Allman and Duane Betts don’t deny their famous fathers, they continue to forge their own path on band’s sophomore album

Even though my streaming music provider had included Pale Horse Rider in their latest new music mix, I didn’t pay full attention to the The Allman Betts Band at first. Thankfully, Max from PowerPop recommended them to me – yet more proof how remarkably similar our music taste is! Earlier today, I checked out the band and their sophomore album Bless Your Heart, which appeared on August 28. I really like what I heard, including the fact this band is clearly forging their own path, not trying to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band.

Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a bit of background. In December 2017, songwriter and guitarist Devon Allman, a son of Gregg Allman from his first marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts, decided to organize a tribute concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco to honor the music of his father. The show also marked the debut of his new band, Devon Allman Project, and featured a notable guest: Songwriter and guitarist Duane Betts, son of guitarist and Allman Brothers founding member Dickey Betts.

Devon Allman and friend at the Fillmore in San Francisco, December 2017

Following the tribute show, the Devon Allman Project embarked on a year-long world tour, with Duane Betts opening for the band and joining them for Allman Brothers songs. While they played some tunes by the Brothers, the Devon Allman Project was not a tribute band. In fact, Devon and Duane mostly performed songs from their respective solo careers. Inspired by the favorable audience reception, they decided to take things to the next level by writing songs together.

They also reached out to Berry Duane Oakley, son of Berry Oakley, former Allman Brothers bassist and another founding member, to ask whether he would join them. All three had known each other and been friends since 1989 when they met during the 20th anniversary tour of The Allman Brothers Band. Oakley was on board. Johnny Stachela (slide guitar), John Lum (drums) and R Scott Bryan (percussion) were brought in to complete the lineup, and in November 2018, The Allman Betts Band was officially announced.

The Allman Betts Band (from left): front: Devon Allman & Duane Betts; back: John Ginty, R Scott Bryan, Johnny Stachela, Berry Duane Oakley & John Lum

Subsequently, the band worked with producer Matt Ross-Spang to record their debut album Down to the River at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Guests included keyboarder Peter Levin, former member of Gregg Allman’s band, and pianist and organ player Chuck Leavell, a current member of The Rolling Stones’ touring band. The album appeared in June 2019. For a subsequent world tour, the band brought in John Ginty as keyboarder, who remains part of the current lineup.

This brings me to Bless Your Heart. While you can hear traces, just like the Devon Allman Project, The Allman Betts Band does not try to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band. I think it’s a smart choice they want to find their own way. It seems to me this reflects what Devon and Duane set out to do from the beginning of their careers in the early ’90s and late ’90s, respectively. Time for some music.

Here’s the aforementioned Pale Horse Rider, the album’s opener and second single. It’s a great example of a tune where the twin lead guitars are reminiscent of the Allman Brothers but that otherwise doesn’t sound much like them. “‘Pale Horse Rider’ was a really fun one to write,” Devon Allman, told Rolling Stone Country, as reported by Rock & Blues Muse. “Duane had this almost vertigo-inducing descending melodic pattern that was so unique. Once I started the lyric about a man feeling so lost and isolated with the world out to get him, the story just kind of wrote itself. The Wild West seemed like the perfect setting to tell the tale.”

Carolina Song is one of my early favorite tracks on the album. It’s got a great sound. Johnny Stachela’s slide guitar, John Ginty’s keyboard work and the singing including the backing vocals stand out to me in particular. BTW, just like their debut, Bless Your Heart was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with Matt Ross-Spang serving again as producer.

On King Crawler, things turn honky tonky. With Art Edmaiston’s saxophone work, the band almost sounds like The Rolling Stones – great tune!

Things get personal on Southern Rain, were Devon is singing about the death of his father and his mother, who had passed shortly before Gregg had died. “There’s elements in there of being OK with the lumps we’ve taken,” Devon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He noted the song had come to him while being on the road on a tour bus. He also shared the last time he saw Gregg his dad told him how proud he was of his son. “It was amazing to finally hear that from my dad. The chorus is ‘I believe in you and I will be with you,’ from my dad’s perspective. That was a heavy day when my dad told me that. I left his house, and I knew I would never see him again. It’s a pretty cathartic experience to put that in a song, and it felt good to share that with people.”

I’d like to call out one more tune: Magnolia Road, another standout on the album that also became the lead single. It was written by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Stoll Vaughan, who also had collaborated with the band on five tracks from their debut release. Here’s the official video.

Asked by Cleveland.com how the band is planning to deal with the legacy of the Allman Brothers, Devon said, “I think that you’ve got to be careful. You can dip into the well a bit, but it’s also important to balance the visitation of nostalgia with stepping forward into the future because we don’t want to be just some kind of rerun band. We really want to have a legacy of our own music and our own exploring. We’re getting to a place where we can rise to this challenge, we can throw some stuff into that long body of work our heroes did and feel good about it.” While I’ve yet to listen to the band’s debut album, I think they off to a very promising start.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Allman Betts Band website; Rock & Muse; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Cleveland.com; YouTube