What I’ve Been Listening to: The Jayhawks/Rainy Day Music

How many times has it happened to you that you come across a great song by a band or music artist you don’t know at all or you’re not well familiar with and tell yourself, ‘I definitely want to further explore them’? With so much music being out there and only limited time to listen, I seem to find myself in this situation all the time! Case in point: The Jayhawks.

I’ve featured a few songs by this American alternative country and rock band on the blog before, for example here or here, but until now haven’t dedicated a post to them. Somewhat randomly, I decided to pick one of their albums titled Rainy Day Music, and started listening. While I have no idea whether the group’s seventh studio album from April 2003 is their best, I pretty much immediately dug what I heard.

The Jayhawks started out as a short-lived trio in 1984 in Minneapolis, Minn. when local musicians Mark Olson (guitar, vocals) and Caleb Palmiter (bass) got together and added Tommy Rey (drums) for their first gigs. The following year, Olson relaunched the group with Steve Retzler (guitar), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). Retzler was replaced later that year by Gary Louris (guitar, vocals). This formation recorded the band’s 1986 eponymous debut album.

The Jayhawks in 2003 (from left); Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Gary Louris & Stephen McCarthy

By the time The Jayhawks went into the studio to start work on Rainy Day Music, only Louris (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Pearlman (bass, mandolin) were left from the above line-up. Tim O’Reagan (drums, percussion, guitar, congas, vocals) and Stephen McCarthy (pedal steel guitar, banjo, lap steel guitar, vocals) completed the group.

Rainy Day Music was executive-produced by Rick Rubin, usually a good indicator for quality, with Ethan Johns serving as producer. Like Rubin, Johns has impressive credits, such as Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Crowded House and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In addition to a top-notch production team, Rainy Day Music had notable guests, including Bernie Leadon, Jacob Dylan and Matthew Sweet. The album’s initial release encompassed a bonus CD of six songs, titled More Rain, which among others includes a solo live performance by Louris of Waiting For the Sun, the opener of The Jayhawks’ third studio album Hollywood Town Hall from September 1992.

I’d say the time has come to take a look at some of the goodies! I’m focusing on the main album, but the bonus CD is included in the Spotify list at the end of the post. Here’s the beautiful Byrdsy-sounding opener Stumbling Through the Dark. It was co-written by Louris and Sweet. My kind of music!

Tailspin is another great track I’d like to call out. Penned by Louris who wrote most of the songs by himself, the tune features Bernie Leadon on banjo. Leadon, a multi-instrumentalist, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles and a member of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Tailspin also became the album’s second single. Man, I love that sound!

Next up is Save It for a Rainy Day, another track that was solely written by Louris. This tune also appeared separately as the album’s first single. I really dig the harmony singing here – so good!

While as noted, Gary Louris, who had become the band’s principal songwriter following the departure of Mark Olson in 1995, wrote or co-wrote most of the album’s songs, there were some exceptions. Here is Don’t Let the World Get in Your Way, one of two songs penned by Tim O’Reagan.

With so many great songs, I easily could go on and on, but all things must pass – hmm, I wonder who said that before! The last track I’d like to highlight is titled Come to the River. Yet another song written by Louris, it features Jacob Dylan on vocals – great tune!

Here’s the Spotify version of the album including the above-noted bonus disc.

Rainy Day Music was generally well-received by critics. Usually, I don’t care much about music critics, but if they support my opinions, I have no problem shamelessly referencing them. In 2009, music and entertainment digital magazine Paste ranked the record at no. 44 on their list of The 50 Best Albums of the Decade.

Rainy Day Music is also among The Jayhawks’ albums with the best chart performance. In the U.S., it reached a respectable no. 51 on the Billboard 200, making it the group’s second-highest charting record there after Mockingbird Time, the successor from September 2011, which climbed to no. 38. Rainy Day Music also charted in the UK, reaching no. 50 on the Official Albums Chart.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Nude Party/The Nude Party

This has happened to me before and I love it! Until about a week ago, I had never heard of The Nude Party. Then my streaming music provider served up a playlist that included one of the American band’s tunes off their eponymous debut album from July 2018. I immediately dug the ’60s vibe of their sound blending garage and psychedelic rock, The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground. When I checked out the album, I realized the song from that playlist wasn’t a one-off.

The Nude Party were formed in 2012 when freshman students at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. decided to start a band. Their members are Patton Magee (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Shaun Couture (guitar, vocals), Don Merrill (piano, vocals), Alexander Castillo (bass, vocals), Austin Brose (percussion, vocals) and Connor Mikita (drums). At the end of their freshman year, they all moved together to a house outside of town and learned how to play their instruments. It almost sounds a bit like a fairytale!

nudeparty_midnightmanor0395_smaller.jpg

The group quickly gained a following in Boone where they oftentimes performed in the nude at a local party venue. You can’t make this stuff up! They became known as “the naked party band,” which in turn inspired their name The Nude Party. Before moving on to playing other venues in the area, they put on some clothes. After their members had graduated, the band started touring nationally.

In 2014, they met Oakley Munson, the drummer of garage rock band Black Lips. Munson recorded The Nude Party’s debut EP Hot Tub EP, which was released in early 2016. The band continued to build their reputation through heavy touring and supporting higher profile groups like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Cold War Kids and The Murlocs. By early 2018, they had secured a deal with New West Records and went into the studio to record their eponymous debut album. This finally brings me to some music!

Here’s the opener Water on Mars. Like all other tracks on the album, it’s credited to all members of the group. The song is pretty representative of their cool sound.

Chevrolet Van, which also became the record’s lead single, is the tune that caught my attention and made me listen to the album. Following the brilliant suggestion by Munson, it features Jon “Catfish” DeLorme on pedal steel, who subsequently became a touring member. This sounds like a ’70s country tune by the Stones. Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Tuner and the band’s drummer Matt Helders included the song in their top 5 during a 2018 interview with Matt Wilkinson for Beats 1 Radio, as reported by NME. This further boosted their visibility.

War is Coming has a nice psychedelic flavor. In particular, I dig the keyboard that could be my beloved Vox Continental. I just don’t get tired of that sound!

Live Like Me has more of that seductive keyboard sound and a cool guitar riff. This is quite catchy!

Let’s do one more: Gringo Che. This could be a song by The Animals. It also reminds me a bit of Them. I just love it!

According to Wikipedia, the band’s debut album was well received. Rolling Stone called it “equal parts ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ Velvet Underground and Exile on Main Street Stones” – clever! American Songwriter opined The Nude Partyblow the roof off but do it with style and class, nodding to the past without slavishly imitating it.”

Like Hot Tub EP, the album was produced by Oakley Munson. The Nude Party have since released their second full-length album Midnight Manor, which appeared in October 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Uriah Heep/Salisbury

The other day, fellow blogger Darren from Darren’s music blog wrote about recent solo releases from members of Uriah Heep. This reminded me how my journey with the British rock band began as a teenager back in Germany in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I’m pretty sure it must have been the rock ballad Lady in Black, a big hit in Germany, which caught my initial attention. I also recall receiving a gift from a friend, a music cassette titled The Rock Album, which included Free Me, another popular Uriah Heep tune in Germany. Since I preferred Lady in Black, I ended up buying Salisbury, the album that included the tune. I own that vinyl copy to this day.

The origins of Uriah Heep date back to 1967 when Mick Box, then a 19-year-old guitarist, founded a cover band called Hogwash. After David Garrick joined, who later changed his last name to Byron, Box formed a songwriting partnership with him and established a new band called Spice, which focused on original songs. In 1969, Spice became Uriah Heep, named after the fictional character in the 1850 Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield.

Uriah Heep in December 1970

In addition to Box (guitars, backing vocals) and Byron (vocals), the group’s initial line-up included Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). That formation recorded the band’s 1970 debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. By the time Uriah Heep went into the studio for their sophomore album, Salisbury, Napier had been replaced by Keith Baker – the first of numerous line-up changes throughout the group’s 50-plus-year history.

Interestingly, Salisbury appeared first in the U.S. in January 1971 before it was released in the UK the following month. Unlike the group’s first album that credited the music to most members of the band, Salisbury saw the emergence of Hensley as a key songwriter, with half the tracks attributed solely to him. Let’s get to some music! This review is based on the album’s UK/European edition.

Here’s the opener Bird of Prey. First included on the U.S. version of Uriah Heep’s debut album, it’s the only track credited to four members of the group: Box, Byron, Hensley and Newton. As you listen to the powerful rocker, you can literally picture the rumbling tank on the front cover of the album. I’m a bit surprised Bird of Prey wasn’t released as a single. Nevertheless, it has become one of Heep’s most popular tunes, at least among their fans.

After the furious opener, things slow down on The Park, a ballad and one of three tracks solely written by Hensley. I realize Byron’s high vocals may be an acquired taste, especially for first-time listeners. Interestingly, I never had a problem with it, though I can see why some folks might consider his singing to be a bit weird. It’s certainly quite distinct!

Side A closes with the above-mentioned Lady in Black. The tune, another song penned by Hensley alone, also appeared separately as a single in June 1971. Remarkably, it didn’t chart in the UK. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Switzerland and no. 16 in Finland. Based on Wikipedia’s chart overview, this lack of success in the UK seems to be pretty consistent when it comes to the band’s singles.

Side B only includes two tracks: High Priestess, the third tune solely penned by Hensley that also became a U.S. single in January 1971, and the title track. Here’s the latter, co-written by Box, Byron and Hensley. And, yep, it’s a massive, largely instrumental prog-rock type tune featuring a 24-piece orchestra.

Salisbury was produced by Gerry Bron who also produced or co-produced Heep’s other 12 albums released during the band’s first 10 years of their recording career, including Conquest from February 1980. Salisbury was most successful in Finland where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it reached no. 19 in Australia, no. 31 in Germany, no. 47 in Japan and no. 103 in the U.S. Uriah Heep’s first chart entry in the UK would have to wait until Look at Yourself, their third studio album that came out in September 1971.

To date, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, most recently Living the Dream from September 2018. According to Wikipedia, numerous other acts have identified the British rock band as an influence, including Iron Maiden, Queen, Accept, Dio, Krokus and Demons & Wizards, among others.

In November 2021, Mick Box, Heep’s only remaining original member, told heavy metal and hard rock news website Blabbermouth.net they had finished recording sessions for a new album. “And it’s over in L.A. now being mixed,” he added. “So a new album is on the horizon.” Details have yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile, Uriah Heep announced a “mammoth European tour, a delayed celebration of their 50th anniversary. The 61 dates will span 28 countries. Current shows are listed here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Uriah Heep website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Obscured by Clouds

Prompted by a recent comment from Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews that he was happy to see Obscured by Clouds being included in my previous Sunday Six installment, I decided to revisit Pink Floyd’s seventh studio album. Even though its June 1972 release falls between Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, two of my favorite Floyd records, Obscured by Clouds was, well, a little obscure to me. After having listened to it again, I agree with Ultimate Classic Rock, which called the album ‘underrated.’ They also said it was “one of rock’s most under-appreciated treasures — and perhaps the most underrated album in Pink Floyd’s impressive discography.” I’m less sure about that statement.

Obscured by Clouds was set in motion when film director Barbet Schroeder approached Pink Floyd to ask whether they could do another soundtrack for his upcoming film project La Vallée. Previously, the British group had written and performed the soundtrack for More, Schroeder’s 1969 theatrical feature film directorial debut. Obscured by Clouds was recorded at Strawberry Studios at Château d’Hérouville close to Paris, France over a span of just six weeks.

The two sessions took place between late February and early April 1972 during two breaks from Pink Floyd’s Japan tour. At the time, the band had already started early work on what would become the brilliant album The Dark Side of the Moon. Quoting from drummer Nick Mason’s autobiography Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, Ultimate Classic Rock noted Mason confirmed the group utilized the same methods employed on More, where Pink Floyd could be found “following a rough cut of the film, using stopwatches for specific cues and creating interlinking musical moods that would be cross-faded to suit the final version.”

French TV station ORTF captured a short segment during the first recording session, which featured interviews with Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and David Gilmour (guitar, vocals). After they had completed recording the album, Pink Floyd had a falling out with the film company and decided to release the record under the title Obscured by Clouds rather than La Vallée. As a result, the French film was retitled La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) when it appeared in July 1972. Time for some music!

Side 1 kicks off with the title track, an instrumental co-written by Gilmour and Waters. The monotonous synthesizer line and drum part combined with Gilmour’s slide guitar give the tune a haunting sound. It has a largely improvisational feel to it.

Burning Bridges, another Waters-Gilmour co-write, is the only song off the album I had been able to name prior to this review and perhaps the most memorable tune. It also features Waters and Gilmour on vocals.

Wot’s… Uh the Deal? is a nice acoustic tune featuring multi-tracked vocals by Gilmour. The lyrics were written by Waters, though the song is credited to both him and Gilmour. According to Wikipedia, the words “Flash the readies, Wot’s…Uh the Deal” is a phrase Floyd roadie Chris Adamson apparently used.

Side 2 kicks off with Childhood’s End. Notably, this was the last Pink Floyd song entirely written by Gilmour until A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the band’s thirteenth studio album from September 1987, and the first without Waters. The tune was named after a 1953 science fiction novel by English sci-fi writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke. I have to say I really like that track!

Free Four became the record’s only single released in July 1972. Solely written and sung by Waters, it did not chart. Songfacts notes, The lyrics are rather depressing, but the song is very upbeat (including Roger Waters gleefully uttering a line about the angel of death). It’s about how our lives pass by – most of the time with no real effect on the cycle by which we all live and pass. Wikipedia cites a review of the single by music industry trade magazine Cash Box, asking “Would you believe a happy song about death?”

The final track I’d like to call out is the closer Absolutely Curtains. Credited to all four members of the band – Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) – Absolutely Curtains is a largely instrumental tune that ends with a chant of the New Guinea indigenous Mapuga tribe who is also seen in the film. The instrumental section has a cool spacey sound reminiscent of Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here albums.

Overall, I think Obscured by Clouds is a pretty solid studio effort by Pink Floyd. Perhaps the problem is that unlike Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon, it lacks easily memorable tracks like One of These Days or Money. Still, to me, Burning Bridges and Childhood’s End are standout songs.

Remarkably, Obscured by Clouds climbed to no. 6 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. It also went all the way to no. 1 in France – I assume because of the film – and reached no. 3 in The Netherlands. In the U.S., Obscured by Clouds got to no. 46 on the Billboard 200, marking Pink Floyd’s highest-charting record there at the time. The band’s relative obscurity drastically changed when the clouds were chased away by The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here that topped the Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube


What I’ve Been Listening to: Son Volt/Trace

Son Volt, an American band I only came across a few months ago, have become one of my favorite groups I’ve “discovered” this year. Over the decades, they have touched the alternative rock, alternative country, folk-rock and Americana genres. In fact, they are considered a staple of the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994, following the break-up of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country-rock band he had founded in 1987 together with Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, Tweedy went on to form alternative rock group Wilco.

In addition to Farrar, Son Volt’s initial line-up included ex-Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, along with brothers Dave Boquist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, lap steel, dobro) and Jim Boquist (bass, backing vocals). By the time the group had secured a deal with Warner Bros. and went into the studio to record their debut album Trace, Eric Heywood (mandolin, pedal steel) had joined them.

Trace, which came out in September 1995, is the first of 10 studio albums Son Volt have released to date, the most recent being the excellent Electro Melodier from July 30 this year. The band’s catalog also includes the 2020 live album Live At The Orange Peel. Let’s take a closer look at Trace!

I’d like to start with the opener Windfall, one of the acoustics tracks on the album. Like all except one track, the beautiful tune was penned by Farrar. I love the fiddle and pedal steel guitar, which give the song a warm country sound.

Route is a nice crunchy rocker. Apple Music notes Farrar’s Neil Young-influenced sound. This is one of the tunes that does remind me a bit of Crazy Horse.

On Ten Second News, things slow down and turn acoustic again. Another great-sounding song with a bit of a bluesy touch.

Drown, another rocker, did well on two U.S. Billboard charts: Mainstream Rock Tracks (no. 10) and Modern Rock Tracks (no. 25). According to Wikipedia, it became Son Volt’s only single to make either of the charts. I find that a bit hard to believe!

Let’s do two more, starting with another acoustic tune: Out of the Picture.

And here’s another great rocker to wrap up: Catching On.

For the above and the remaining tracks, you can check out the playlist below.

Trace was co-produced by Brian Paulson and Son Volt. Paulson is best known for his work with Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk and Wilco. He also produced Son Volt’s sophomore album Straightaways from April 1997. Other musicians on Trace include Craig Krampf (drums on Live Free), Dan Newton (accordion on Too Early) and Marc Perlman (bass on Mystifies Me).

While Trace only reached no. 166 on the Billboard 200, the album was well-received by music critics. In this context, Wikipedia highlights AllMusic’s review, which stated, “Throughout Son Volt’s debut, Trace, the group reworks classic honky tonk and rock & roll, adding a desperate, determined edge to their performances.” AmericanaUK characterized the album as “a graceful masterpiece, a positive turning of the page for Farrar, and a gentle reminder of the power and long-lasting influence of Uncle Tupelo.” The album also placed within the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 1995 critics’ list.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Slow Turning

Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.

While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.

John Hiatt - Slow Turning - Amazon.com Music

What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.

In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.

Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.

Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.

This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!

Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.

Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jean-Michel Jarre/Oxygène

In general, I’m not much into electronic music. One of the exceptions is Oxygène by Jean-Michel Jarre, an album I loved right away when got it on vinyl as a teenager. This must have been around 1980. I own that copy to this day and it’s still in reasonable condition.

Jarre’s third studio album, released in December 1976, first entered my radar screen when I heard the single Oxygène (Part IV) on the radio back in Germany. It became quite popular, which is remarkable for an instrumental. On the other hand, I guess I’m not surprised. The track has a memorable melody, and that spacy sound is just cool, especially if you listen to it with headphones.

Jean-Michel Jarre, who was 28 when Oxygène came out

According to Wikipedia, Jarre recorded Oxygène in a makeshift home recording studio, using various analogue synthesizers, a digital synthesizer, and other electronic instruments and effects. You can see some of the gear in the below clip of Oxygène (Part IV).

Let’s take a closer look at the music, which was all composed by Jarre. Each of the six tracks is fairly long. Here’s the opener Oxygène (Part I).

Oxygène (Part III), the third and final track on side one (in vinyl speak), is the shortest. There isn’t really much to say about the individual tracks. I find this music perfect to relax. In fact, I’ve listened to it many times over the decades in bed to fall asleep.

This brings me to Side two and the tune that started my fascination with this record that makes you feel like you’re floating in space: Oxygène (Part IV).

And finally, here’s the last track Oxygène (Part VI). The sound effects are just amazing, which is why I highly recommend using headphones when listening to the album.

Even though many music critics were lukewarm about Oxygène, it enjoyed substantial mainstream chart success, hitting no. 1 in Jarre’s native France, no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Sweden, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 8 in Germany, among others. Except for Australia where it reached no. 10, the album’s success beyond Europe was more moderate: No. 29 in Australia and no. 78 in the U.S.

I also own Équinoxe on vinyl, the follow-on to Oxygène, which appeared in December 1978. Once again, it took Jarre to no. 1 in France, though overall, the album wasn’t as successful as Oxygène. While it’s not a bad record, for some reason, I like it much less than Oxygène – not exactly sure why. Perhaps, it no longer had the novelty factor.

Jean-Michel Jarre, who is now 73 years old, is still active. Since Équinoxe he has released 20 additional albums. His most recent, Amazônia, appeared in April this year. Other than Oxygène and Équinoxe, I haven’t explored his music.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Fanny/Fanny

Early ’70s group was an all-female rock trailblazer

When listening to the eponymous debut album by Fanny the other day, I knew immediately I was going to love this all-female rock band. I have to thank fellow blogger Max from PowerPop, who pointed them out to me. Not only were Fanny’s songs and musicianship compelling, but these four young women were true trailblazers for all-female rock in the early ’70s. Bands like The Runaways, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles were still unheard of. What’s also intriguing is that Fanny were formed by two Philippine-American sisters.

Before getting to some music, here’s a bit more background. Fanny were founded by June Millington (guitar) and her sister Jean Millington (bass) after they had moved from the Philippines to Sacramento, Calif. in 1961. Initially, the group was called Wild Honey that in turn had evolved from The Svelts, a group the sisters had started in high school. As Wild Honey were about to call it quits since they felt they didn’t have a chance to make it in a male-dominated rock scene, they were spotted during an open-mic appearance at LA’s prominent Troubadour Club by the attentive secretary of record producer Richard Perry.

Perry, who apparently had been looking for an all-female band to mentor, liked what he heard and convinced Warner Bros. to sign them to their Reprise Records label. Prior to recording their debut album, the group was renamed Fanny. According to their AllMusic profile, the name was suggested to Perry by none other than George Harrison. At the time, the band’s line-up included June Millington (vocals, guitar), Jean Millington (bass, vocals), Nickey Barclay (keyboards, vocals) and Alice de Buhr (drums). The Millington sisters had previously played with de Buhr in The Svelts.

This brings me to the band’s self-titled debut album, which appeared in December 1970 and was produced by Perry. Let’s kick it off with opener Come and Hold Me co-written by the Millington sisters. I love this tune, which sounds a song Christine McVie could have written for Fleetwood Mac in the ’70s. The excellent harmony singing is reminiscent of The Bangles. And check out Jean’s melodic bassline – so good!

I Just Realised is a great mid-tempo rocker penned by Barclay and June Millington. The raspy vocals are fantastic, which I believe are Barclay’s. I also love her honky-tonk style piano. Again, Jean does a great job on bass. June’s guitar work is cool as well. Man, these ladies were rockin’ and doing so at a pretty sophisticated level!

As I started listening to Conversation With a Cop, a great ballad by Barclay, I thought, ‘wait a moment, when was that tune written, in 1970 or in 2021?’ Check out the lyrics: …And I wonder how it feels to be afraid of everyone you see/I wonder why you keep those nervous fingers on your gun/I’ve done no wrong; I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog/Yeah, now don’t get me wrong, I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog. Just remarkable!

Here’s a cover of Cream’s Badge, which earned Fanny some radio play. Co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison, the tune appeared on Cream’s final studio album Goodbye from February 1969, and became their second-to-last single – all after the group already had broken up. I like how Fanny made the rendition their own!

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Seven Roads – and, boy, what an outstanding final track! The smoking rocker was co-written by the Millington sisters and de Buhr. Again, there’s great guitar work and a killer keyboard solo by Barclay.

According to Wikipedia, Fanny weren’t happy with Perry’s production of the record. They thought it didn’t show them at their best or reflect their live performances. Apparently, their sentiment improved on the next two records, which Perry produced as well.

Fanny was the first of five studio albums during the band’s run. June Millington, who felt constrained by the group’s format and had clashes with Barclay, left after the September 1973 release of Fanny’s forth album Mother’s Pride that had been produced by Todd Rundgren. Subsequently, De Buhr also departed. Fanny with a different line-up released one more album, Rock and Roll Survivors in 1974, before they split in 1975.

A forthcoming film, Fanny: The Right to Rock, documents the band’s history. For more information, visit https://www.fannythemovie.com. Here’s the trailer. This looks quite intriguing! As Bonnie Raitt notes, “Fanny was the first all-female rock band that could really play and really get some credibility within the musician community.” I think Raitt’s statement captures the essence of what made Fanny trailblazers, i.e., their high level of musicianship and great songs, I should add, not the fact that they were an all-female group.

To conclude, here’s what David Bowie wrote in colorful words about the group in Rolling Stone in late December 1999, as documented by the website Fanny Rocks: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Fanny Rocks website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Feat/Dixie Chicken

In March 2018, I listened to Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat after a dear longtime friend from Germany had highly recommended this great live album from 1978. I also wrote about it at the time. Then, as oftentimes happens, before I knew it, I was on to other music avenues, and the band fell off my radar screen again. Luckily, my streaming music provider served up the song Dixie Chicken as part of a playlist the other day. The title track of Little Feat’s third studio album from January 1973 prompted me to take a closer look at the record. It didn’t take long to realize that Dixie Chicken is a true gem.

Before I get to some music, I like to provide a bit of background on the group. Little Feat were formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention.

Little Feat in 1975 (from left): Kenney Gradney, Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Lowell George, Paul Barrere & Richie Hayward

While Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract, the details are disputed. One version is that Zappa encouraged George to form his own group after he had listened to George’s song Willin’. A second version is that Zappa who was strongly opposed to drugs fired George from the Mothers after he noticed some references to drugs in the lyrics of Willin’. The third version is the weirdest: Zappa kicked out George after George had played a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off!

Whatever the true circumstances were, Little Feat signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and soon thereafter started recording their eponymous debut album, which appeared in January 1971. By the time Little Feat went into the studio to make Dixie Chicken, the group had become a six-piece. Estrada had been replaced by Kenney Gradney on bass, and the band had added Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals) and Sam Clayton (congas). Among additional guest musicians were Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie fame; Danny Hutton, vocalist in Three Dog Night; and Bonnie Raitt, who each provided backing vocals.

On to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track, which is widely viewed as the band’s signature song. Dixie Chicken was co-written by George, who had established himself as Little Feat’s frontman, producer and main songwriter, and Martin Kibbee, who according to Songfacts was credited as Fred Martin. Bramlett supported Lowell on lead vocals. Love the New Orleans vibe this tune has!

Two Trains, another George composition, is a nice groovy track. I dig the guitar work and the great singing. Check out the mighty group of backing vocalists: Bramlett, Raitt, Daring Dan Hutton, Debbie Lindsey and Gloria Jones.

Another tune on side one (in vinyl speak) is a great cover of On Your Way Down, a song by influential R&B New Orleans artist Allen Toussaint. It first appeared on his 1972 studio album Life, Love and Faith.

On to side two and Walkin’ All Night. Co-written by Barrere and Payne, it’s one of only three tracks on the album that were not penned by George. It’s got a bit of a Stones vibe. Of course, that’s also true for many of the other tunes on the record.

Fat Man in the Bathtub (gotta love that title!) was also written by George. Not much more that I can say here other than it’s yet another gem on an album that’s packed with great music.

Let’s do one more. Here’s Juliette, yet another song written by George.

Dixie Chicken is viewed as Little Feat’s landmark album that defined their sound, a tasty gumbo of southern rock, roots rock, blues rock, New Orleans R&B and swamp rock. Just like the band’s first two records, Dixie Chicken missed the charts, though it did reach Gold certification. This just goes to show that chart positions and sales certifications don’t necessarily capture an album’s greatness.

Following George’s death in late June 1979 from a cocaine overdose-induced heart attack at the age of 34 and the release of Little Feat’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November that year, the band called it quits. In 1987, surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne revived Little Feat, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up.

Between 1988 and 2012, Little Feat released nine additional albums. Barrere passed away from cancer in October 2019. He was 71. The group remains active to this day, with Clayton, Gradney, Tackett and founding member Payne being part of the current line-up. According to Little Feat’s official website, they have scheduled a series of U.S. dates starting November 11 in Port Chester, N.Y. Also, if you feel like catching them in Jamaica, together with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Band, Tommy Emmanuel and Jack Broadbent, and have the time, not to mention the necessary dollars to go on a music adventure, you can do so from January 30 – February 5, 2022 at Featcamp.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Little Feat website; YouTube