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

Clips & Pix: Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets/See Emily Play

I just came across the above clip of See Emily Play performed by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. It’s from an upcoming album titled Live at the Roundhouse, which is scheduled for September 18 and will be available as a double-CD/DVD package, double-vinyl and on Blu-ray. The material was taken from concerts the band played at the famous London venue in May 2019.

Nick Mason, of course, is the former co-founder and drummer of Pink Floyd and the band’s only member who played on all of their studio albums. In 2018, he formed Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets together with guitarist Lee Harris. Other members of the band, which takes their name from Floyd’s 1968 sophomore album, include Gary Kemp (guitar, vocals), formerly with Spandau Ballet; Guy Pratt (bass, vocals) and Dom Beken (keyboards).

The idea behind Saucerful is to perform Pink Floyd’s early music prior to the The Dark Side of the Moon album. “We’re not a tribute band,” Mason told Uncut in May 2018. “It’s not important to play the songs exactly as they were, but to capture the spirit.”

Whatever you want to call them, I think it’s great fans of Floyd’s early years including the Syd Barrett era have an opportunity to hear tracks that haven’t been played live for decades like Interstellar Overdrive, Astronomy Domine, If, The Nile Song and, of course, See Emily Play. Written by Barrett, the tune appeared on Floyd’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Now that I’ve watched the clip and other footage that’s on YouTube, I’m starting to regret I didn’t catch the band in April 2019 when they played the Beacon Theatre in New York City. A few weeks earlier, I had seen outstanding tribute band Brit Floyd, so I didn’t feel like going to another show of Pink Floyd music. Due to COVID-19, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets had to reschedule many gigs in England and elsewhere in Europe until next year. Their currently planned schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Uncut; Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets website; YouTube

Walter Trout Releases Powerful New Album

Ordinary Madness reflects on blues rock veteran’s eventful life and himself

When I saw Walter Trout at The Iridium in New York City last April, I was struck how openly he talked about the challenges life has thrown at him. One sentence stayed with me in particular: “Personally, I’m happy to be anywhere.” Overcoming drug and alcohol addiction in the ’80s, surviving liver failure and recovering from a liver transplant in 1994, and dealing with dishonest management people are some of the chapters in Trout’s long career. Now, the 69-old blues rock veteran is out with his 29th album Ordinary Madness, on which he reflects about his life and himself.

“There’s a lot of extraordinary madness going on right now,” said Trout in a statement issued by Mascot Label Group, which includes his label Provogue. “This album started because I was dealing with the flaws and weakness inside me. But it ended up being about everyone.” Ordinary Madness may also well be one of Trout’s most compelling albums he has released in his 50-year-plus music career.

When Trout’s previous blues cover collection Survivor Blues came out in January 2019, it was supposed to be packaged with a second album of original songs, he told American Blues Scene. But the second album wasn’t ready and Trout didn’t have the time to finish it, since he went on the road to support Survivor Blues, the tour during which I caught him. After he returned home and listened to the previously recorded material, he decided to scrap most of it and start over.

Photo credit: Bob Steshetz

“When you are in a blues band you are either in a bus or a van driving for five to six hours at a time,” Trout said, reflecting on his last tour. “I was doing a lot of looking out the window and watching cities, cornfields, and forests go by. I found myself doing a lot of self-reflection about my life and myself. I started writing little notes to myself and I didn’t expect them to be lyrics.” Well, they did, and together with Trout’s great guitar playing, they make for a compelling listening experience. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the album’s opener and title track. The song starts with what Trout called “a little electronic psychedelia thing,” before launching into a powerful mid-tempo blues. That intro was created by Jon Trout, one of Walter’s three sons who are all musicians. “Jon is getting ready to start at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Denmark as an Electronic Music Major,” Trout proudly noted. “As great of a guitar player as he is, since he has been twelve, he has also done electronic music.” The tune’s lyrics set the tone for the album. It’s ordinary madness/It’s the everyday kind/It ain’t nothing special/It’s just there in your mind/It’s the sadness and the fear/And the anger that you feel every day/It just lays there in your gut/And it won’t go away/It’s just ordinary madness/And it’s here inside of me/Yes, it’s here inside of me…

While I highlighted Wanna Dance in a previous Best of What’s New installment, I just couldn’t could skip this tune, which to me is one of the standouts on the album. “I had Neil Young and Crazy Horse in mind when I wrote the tune,” Trout told American Songwriter. “The way the two guitars play off each other. I recorded the song and brought it home and was playing it for my kids and my 18-year old said it sounds more like Neil Van Halen and walked out of the room!” Dancing is a metaphor for enjoying and celebrating every moment in live, since We ain’t gonna live forever, as Trout sings. This tune just grabs me with what I feel is an epic vibe.

On My Foolish Pride Trout shows he can write more than just blistering blues rockers. The acoustic ballad’s theme came from a phrase he had written down during his last tour on one of the above long bus rides, he told American Blues Scene. “I had my little notebook that I write in on the road and I went through it and found, “Sometimes I do my best, but I fail and I know that happens to everyone. Then I try to hide away my shame, but I get all wrapped up in myself.”…I had not written it to be lyrical. I started strumming my guitar at home and that became the first verse of my song “Foolish Pride.” That is why the first verse of the song does not rhyme because it wasn’t written to be lyrical. I had to write the rest of the song, but I already had the theme to the song which was examining my own limitations, flaws, and weaknesses. Dealing with your humanity, aging, and relationships are all themes examined on this record.” I just love the warm sound of this tune and the Hammond organ’s beautiful contribution in this context.

The slow blues All Out Of Tears is another highlight on the album. I also have to say while Trout undoubtedly is a better guitarist and songwriter than a vocalist, I feel his singing on this and other tracks works very well. I woke up thinking/ That you might be coming home/Then I realized I was dreamin’/That I just laid there all alone/Everyday without you/You know it feel just like a hundred years/My heart is crying/But my eyes are dry/And I’v run out of tears to cry/I’m all out of tears… It’s a classic blues that reminds me a bit of Gary Moore.

I’d like to feature one more song Trout called out when American Blues Scene asked whether he had a favorite tune on the album: Heaven In Your Eyes. “It has sentimental value to me because I was sitting around the living room when I was putting it together,” Trout explained. “I was strumming my acoustic guitar and I came up with this very melodic kind of tune. The melody was very much like a McCartney song. It needed a lot of words and the only line I had was heaven in your eyes. I didn’t know what to do with it. I played it for Marie [Trout’s wife Marie Braendgaard]. She walked out of the room and came back half an hour later with the lyrics. Lyrically the song is all her. She is also the lyricist on three other songs on the record. We have become the songwriting team.”

On Ordinary Madness Trout is backed by his touring band featuring Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis (keyboards), Johnny Griparic (bass) and Michael Leasure  (drums). There is also his long-time producer Eric Corne and special guests including Skip Edwards (keyboards), Drake ‘Munkihaid’ Shining (keyboards) and Anthony Grisham (guitar). The album was recorded at former Doors guitarist Robby Krieger’s private studio in Los Angeles and completed just days before the U.S. shutdown due to COVID-19.

“It is my favorite studio in the world,” Trout said to American Blues Scene. “The guy who runs the studio and is Robby’s partner is Michael Dumas. Michael is the nicest guy and he is there to help you however he can. Robby has a huge collection of gear. There are all sorts of guitars, amps, drums, and keyboards. Everything you can imagine is there…One day, on my song “Wanna Dance” Robby came in and listened to my solo. He stood there and at the end of the solo he looked over at me and he had a great big smile on his face. That felt great.”

I’d like to wrap things up with something Trout told American Songwriter, which I think perfectly sums up what he’s all about. “The word authentic with the blues can get you into trouble. People say, ‘you’re a white kid from the suburbs, how can you be authentic?’ I’m not from Clarksdale, Mississippi and I didn’t pick cotton. To me, the only way for me to be authentic is to play from my heart and my soul with all the honesty and meaning I can put into the music. If I can play a gig and then get to the hotel and look in the mirror and say I gave them everything I have tonight and played from my heart with all the emotion and feeling I can convey to them, then that’s how I can be authentic. I have to be authentic to who I am.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Mascot Label Group; American Blues Scene; American Songwriter; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Norah Jones/Pick Me Up Off the Floor

In May, I featured Tryin’ to Keep it Together in one of my Best of What’s New installments, a bonus track from Norah Jones’ then-upcoming Pick Me Up Off the Floor. Then, I completely forgot about the album that since appeared on June 12 – until a few days ago, when Jones popped up in my streaming service provider. While the title doesn’t exactly sound cheerful, listening to Jones puts me at ease, especially after a quite busy week. I find there’s something really special about her voice and the warm sound of her music. Both draw me in.

For a long time, I’ve been aware of Norah Jones and her piano-driven lounge style jazz, though I haven’t really explored her music. Jones was born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar on March 30, 1979 in New York City to American concert producer Sue Jones and Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar. After her parents separated in 1986, Jones lived with her mother and grew up in Grapevine, TX. When reading about Jones for this post, I realized she’s been around for 20 years. That’s kind of mind-boggling to me. I still well remember when Jones emerged in 2002 as a 23-year-old!

Pick Me Up Off the Floor is the seventh studio album by the now 41-year-old singer-songwriter who returned to New York in 1999 and still lives there. It follows her EP Begin Again from April 2019, and is her first full-length studio effort since Day Breaks released in October 2016. According to a song-by-song review Jones did for Apple Music, Pick Me Up Off the Floor is her first album inspired by poetry. Emily Fiskio, her friend and a poet, encouraged Jones to give it try. The two women ended up collaborating, and two of the resulting tunes are on the album.

In this June 8, 2020 photo, singer-songwriter Norah Jones poses for a portrait in Hudson, N.Y., to promote her latest album “Pick Me Up Off the Floor.” (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Poetry “…opened me up to a different avenue of writing,” Jones explained. “Plus, when you read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to your kids every night, weird rhymes float around in your head.” Apparently, Jones had not set out to make another album. Instead, she recorded tunes spontaneously as they came together. “I was collaborating with different people and just trying to make singles rather than forcing an album. It was very freeing.” Let’s hear some of the results!

Here’s the opener How I Weep written by Jones. “This song began as a poem, and then I sat on it for a few months, unsure what was going to happen,” Jones told Apple Music. “I knew I eventually had to try to turn it into a song, because that’s what I do, so one night, I waited until the house was quiet, and played and sang until it came together.” It certainly did! How I/How I/Weep for the loss/And it creeps down my chin/For the heart and the hair/And the skin and the air/That swirls itself around the bare…The lyrics sound deeply personal, yet Jones’ voice and the string arrangement soften the impact.

Flame Twin, another tune solely written by Jones, injects a dose of blues. I dig the Hammond B3 accents from Pete Remm who also plays electric guitar. And, of course, there’s more of Jones’ great singing. I also enjoy her piano playing. “This is another song that came from a poem,” Jones stated. “I brought it into the studio one day and was like, ‘Well, let’s see if I could put some music to this real quick and record it.’ And it came together pretty quickly.”

Heartbroken, Day After is one of her favorite tunes on the album, Jones told Apple Music. “I love how it came out with the pedal steel. It’s very mournful and heartfelt. And of course it references something specific, but I like that it’s still open to your own interpretation. It’s interpretable to the listener. So I’m not going to tell.” But again, Jones’ delivery and even some of the lyrics don’t make it an all-out bleak song…Hey, Hey/It’s gonna be okay/At least that’s what I tell myself/Anyway/Hey, hey/Don’t look so sad/It’s not that bad/Or is it?/It might be today…

For writing and recording I’m Alive, Jones teamed up with singer-songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy, who is best known as the lead vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco. ” I’ve known Jeff for a long time,” Jones pointed out. “He was one of the first people I thought to call when I wanted to start doing collaboration singles, because I thought it’d be a great way to connect.” The tune’s lyrics have clear political undertones…He screams, he shouts/The heads on the TV bow/They take the bait/They mirror waves of hate…No name calling needed here!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Were You Watching, one of the tracks Jones co-wrote with Emily Fiskio. “I wrote this song in March of 2018, and it was the very first session I did for anything that wound up on this album,” Jones said. “I knew it needed harmonies and I liked the idea of adding vocals that weren’t me, so I called my friend Ruby Amanfu. She and her husband Sam Ashworth came to New York and did a bunch of harmonies on four or five songs. Then I had this great violinist, Mazz Swift, who I’ve always wanted to work with, come in and add violin. She did a great job. She sounded like she was on the original live recording. It felt perfectly spontaneous.” Nothing to add other than the clip.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Americana Rockers Cordovas Release New Single and Announce New Album

Cordovas recently released High Feeling, the first song from their new album Destiny Hotel that’s slated for October 16. The Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. first entered my radar screen two years ago, when I caught them during a free outdoor summer concert close to my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing got my immediate attention. Together with their guitar-driven sound, they remind me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat.

“We just wanted to write something true and easy,” bassist and vocalist Joe Firstman told Rolling Stone about the new single that appeared on August 5. “That was the vibe from the very beginning,” added Firstman, a singer-songwriter, who founded Cordovas in 2011, following a six-year stint as bandleader for NBC late-night show Last Call with Carson Daly. The band’s other current core members include include Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals) and Sevans Henderson (keyboards).

Cordovas (from left): Lucca Soria, Sevans Henderson, Joe Firstman and Toby Weaver

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Rick Parker, Destiny Hotel is the third full-length album by Cordovas, following their first label release That Santa Fe Channel from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Rolling Stone also calls out contributions from Black Pumas. I included the psychedelic soul band from Austin, Texas in a recent installment of my Best of What’s New feature. The group’s Adrian Quesada  provided additional production, guitar, and mixing work for High Feeling, which also features backing vocals by Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes, who are both touring members of Black Pumas.

According to Cordovaswebsite, Destiny Hotel is a work of wild poetry and wide-eyed abandon, set to a glorious collision of folk and country and groove-heavy rock-and-roll…[The album] expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. While the statement certainly doesn’t lack confidence, I think the record’s first single lives up to it, and I look forward to listening to the entire album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Cordovas website; Discogs; YouTube

LeRoux’s First New Album in 18 Years Serves Tasty Gumbo of Blues, Southern Rock and Zydeco

Until Friday, I had never heard of LeRoux, aka Louisiana’s LeRoux. Then I came across their great song Lucy Anna and featured it in my latest Best of What’s New installment. The tune, which has a nice Little Feat vibe, is from the Baton Rouge-based group’s new album One of Those Days. Earlier today, I found myself in the car and spontaneously decided to listen into the album. All it really took to realize I’m going to dig this music were the first minute or two of the opener and title track – sometimes you just know right away!

Released on July 24, One of Those Days is LeRoux’s first new album in 18 years since 2002’s Higher Up. Prior to that, five of their six earlier records came out between 1978 and 1983. What evidently were the band’s most active years coincided with the period that lasted until their first breakup in 1984 after they had been dropped by their label RCA. However, they already regrouped in 1985. As explained on their website, the band took their name from “the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo,” a rich, thick soup with meat or shellfish and vegetables that’s popular in Louisiana.

LeRoux (from left): Front: Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Jim Odom (guitars); Back: Randy Carpenter (drums), Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals), Jeff McCarty (vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards)

It doesn’t look like LeRoux ever had a significant national breakthrough, at least not based on chart performance. Their most successful single, which somewhat ironically was titled Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights), peaked at no. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – to be clear, I’m not saying this makes them a bad band. After all, I wouldn’t be writing about them if I thought they suck. I’m simply stating some facts.

As you would expect from a group that has been around for more than 40 years, LeRoux have seen many changes in their line-up. Apparently, two of the co-founding members, Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards), are still around. The current line-up also features Jim Odom (guitars), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Randy Carpenter (drums), Jeff McCarty (vocals) and Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals). Except for Decker who joined in 2014, most of the other members have been with the band for at least 10 years.

Let’s get to some music. A great place to start is the aforementioned opener and title track co-written by Odom and Haselden. Here’s the official video. I just love the warm sound, the guitars and keyboard work. I can hear some Allman Brothers and some Doobies in here. What a great tune! Why aren’t these guys better known, or is it just my ignorance?

No One’s Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do) is another great tune. It was written by Dustin Ransom, who per Wikipedia is a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, arranger, music transcriber and film composer – jeez, I guess they forgot to add over-achiever! And, oh, yeah, he’s 33 years old. Man, check out these harmonies and tell me this doesn’t sound friggin’ awesome!

Next up: Don’t Rescue Me, another Odom-Haselden co-write. This one reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter what influence may be in there, it’s just a solid tune – love that opening guitar riff, and there’s more great harmony singing!

On After All, LeRoux are slowing it down a bit. Coz you gotta take a break from going full throttle every now and then after all! 🙂 The tune was co-written by Randy Sharp and Donald Anderson. According to Wikipedia, over the past 40 years, Sharp’s songs have been performed by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat and Tears, Edgar Winter and Emmylou Harris.

Here’s one more: Lifeline (Redux), a groovy rocker co-written by Odom, Haselden and McCarty. Apparently, it’s a new version of a tune the band initially recorded for their fifth studio album So Fired Up from 1983, the last release prior their first breakup.

“It’s the best combination of LeRoux’s musical palette and represents the abilities of the band better than any album we’ve probably ever done,” Haselden notes in a statement on the band’s website. “It covers a wide spectrum of blues, southern rock, and zydeco.” Now you know from where I got the inspiration for the post’s headline!

I can’t speak to other LeRoux records, but what I do know is One of Those Days is a great-sounding album I’m very happy I found. Last but not least, I should also mention some notable guests: Blues guitarist Tab Benoit; original Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball; and Bill Champlin, former longtime keyboarder and guitarist of Chicago.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; YouTube

The Pretenders Are Back And Sound Mighty

“Hate for Sale” will go in music history as one of the English-American rock band’s best albums ever

Back in May, I included The Pretenders in a Best of What’s New installment with You Can’t Hurt a Fool, a great tune and the third single from their then-upcoming new album Hate for Sale. Yesterday, I randomly remembered that post and it occurred to me I had forgotten about the album that came out two weeks ago on July 17. I’m not going to pretend (no pun intended here) I know each and every record of the band in and out, but based on what I’ve heard, Hate for Sale must be one of the best albums they’ve ever released.

Not counting Alone from October 2016, a Chrissie Hynde solo album she recorded with a different backing band and released under the Pretenders name, Hate for Sale is the band’s first new album in nearly 12 years since Break Up the Concrete from October 2008. When I say the band, I’m referring to Hynde, James Walbourne (guitar, backing vocals) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Drummer and original co-founder Martin Chambers, who is back in the fold, had not been on a Pretenders record since Loose Screw released in November 2002.

The Pretenders (from left): Nick Wilkinson, Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers and James Walbourne. Not pictured: Carwyn Ellis

Welsh singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carwyn Ellis is also listed as a member on the band’s website but neither is on the album cover nor seems to appear in official press photos. Perhaps that’s because Ellis is also the founder and front man of British alternative band Colorama.

All songs on Hate for Sale were co-written by Hynde and Walbourne. Not only is that different from Break Up the Concrete, which saw Hynde as the sole writer, but I think it also benefits the album. In addition to strong tunes, what stands out to me on Hate for Sale are a great, oftentimes raw rock sound and Hynde’s singing, which sounds as great as ever. But don’t take it from me. Let’s get to some music!

Here’s the official video of the title track. I like the false start. It’s also really a kickass tune!

One of Hate of Sale’s highlights is The Buzz. That track was also one of the three singles that came out leading up to the album’s release. Quite a catchy tune!

Lightning Man has a cool ska-ish groove, providing a nice contrast to the other tunes.

Next up: Turf Accountant Daddy, another great tune.

The songs I’ve highlighted thus far are the album’s first four tracks. I’m only skipping the fifth song You Can’t Hurt a Fool, since I previously wrote about it. I think this goes to show what a compelling album Love for Sale is! Let’s do one more: Maybe Love Is in NYC.

Hate for Sale is the 11th studio album by The Pretenders. It was produced by Stephen Street, who had worked with the band on ¡Viva El Amor!, their seventh studio album from May 1999, which he co-produced with Stephen Hague. Street is also known for his work with The Smiths, The Cranberries and English alternative rock band Blur. According to Wikipedia, Hate for Sale has been well received. Frankly, if you like the early music by The Pretenders, it’s hard for me to see how you couldn’t dig Love for Sale. My only regret is that with 30 minutes, the album definitely is on the short side!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Pretenders website; YouTube