What I’ve Been Listening To: Eric Clapton/461 Ocean Boulevard

1974 album marked Slowhand’s triumphant return to music after three-year heroin addiction

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461 Ocean Boulevard represented a clear break for Eric Clapton from his hardcore blues rock-oriented days with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos. I’m a fan of all the aforementioned bands but also dig the more laid back side Clapton showed on his second studio solo album, which was released in July 1974.

It’s important to remember this record came after a three-year hiatus during which Clapton had overcome a heroin addiction. As the great documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars tells, he tragically ended up replacing heroin with alcohol before finally getting sober in 1987. Clapton had also grown weary about his previous status as a “guitar god,” so he was clearly looking for a new start.

The album opens with a cover of Motherless Children, a blues standard that was first recorded by American gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The sped up beat gives the tune a great groove. I also like Clapton’s slide guitar playing.

The second track Give Me Strength is one of three tunes, for which Clapton has writing credits. I dig the dobro he plays on that track, something that at the time of the album’s release seemed to irritate a Rolling Stone critic, who also noted, “What’s disturbing is not that Clapton plays differently, but that he plays so little.” In my humble opinion, knowing when and how to show restraint is part of being a great guitarist.

Willie And The Hand Jive is one of two songs that were also released separately as singles. The tune was written by Johnny Otis and first appeared in 1958. Like the original version, Clapton’s take has a cool Bo Diddley beat.

The second and undoubtedly much better known single from the record is I Shot The Sheriff, a nice cover of the Bob Marley tune. I really like the slightly funky guitar sound and the keyboard part on this recording. It became a big hit for Clapton, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and also topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, years later Marley told Clapton he liked his cover.

Next up: Let It Grow, which is my personal favorite on the album and another tune written by Clapton and on which he plays the dobro. Yvonne Elliman sings backup vocals. Before joining Clapton’s band in 1974, she had played Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. Elliman also scored a hit with If I Can’t Have You in 1978, which became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever. Music critics noted the chord progression of Let It Grow is similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, something Clapton himself acknowledged. I wonder whether those same critics also worried about the similarity between Stairway and Taurus, the instrumental by Spirit.

The last track I’d like to call out is Steady Rollin’ Man, a song written by Robert Johnson, one of Clapton’s influences. In fact, 30 years later, he would record Me And Mr. Johnson, an entire album dedicated to the delta blues artist. This is another example where Clapton took an old blues tune and gave it new life and a nice groove by speeding it up.

While 461 Ocean Boulevard received mixed reviews from music critics, it became one of Clapton’s most successful albums with strong chart performances in the U.S. and many other countries. In August 1974, it was awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America. And, oh yes, it’s also listed at no. 409 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Albums Of All Time – the same publication whose critic ripped it apart when it originally appeared.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the musicians who helped Clapton record the album. Some critics felt they were less than capable – yes, there was no John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce or Duane Allman, but to say that Clapton’s band essentially was mediocre is simply ridiculous, in my opinion.

The musicians included Dick Sims (keyboards), George Terry (guitar, vocals), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldacker (drums, percussion), Al Jackson Jr. (drums on Give Me Strength and Albhy Galuten (synthesizer, piano, clavichord). In addition to Elliman, Tom Bernfield and Marcy Levy were backing vocalists.

Last but not least, the album was produced by studio wizard Tom Dowd. This certainly helps explain the great sound.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Buddy Guy/Left My Blues in San Francisco

Guy’s fantastic debut could have been called ‘Left My Blues In Memphis’

When it comes to Buddy Guy, I’ve yet to hear a bad song, so I feel you pretty much can’t go wrong. After Apple Music served up Left My Blues In San Francisco as a suggestion, I said to myself, ‘sure, why not.’ Other than I Suffer With The Blues and Leave My Girl Alone, which I had previously included in my iTunes Guy playlist, I don’t recall having listened to his debut in its entirely. When I did so this morning, my first spontaneous thought was, ‘boy, not only do I dig his guitar playing, but I also like his soulful voice.’ In fact, this whole album has a Wilson Pickett/Stax feel to it. As it turns out, this wasn’t accidental.

Remarkably, by the time Guy released Left My Blues In San Francisco, he already had been a professional guitarist for more than 15 years. According to Wikipedia, Guy, who was born and raised in Louisiana, had been performing with different bands in Baton Rouge since the early 1950s. In 1957, he moved to Chicago and met Muddy Waters. Soon thereafter, he became a session guitarist for Waters and other local blues artists, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. They were all under contract with Chess or that label’s subsidiary Checker.

Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters & Buddy Guy
Willie Dixon (l), Muddy Water (m) and Buddy Guy (r) at Chess Records, 1964

Apparently, company founder Leonard Chess felt Guy’s blues guitar playing sounded like “noise.” So Chess told Guy to play R&B ballads, jazz instrumentals and soul tunes and recorded him, but none of this material was released. In fact, Left My Blues In San Francisco became the only Guy record that appeared on the Chess label. I suppose, Leonard’s attitude explains the soulful sound of the record. While it pains me to think the album probably wasn’t the one Guy would have cut had Chess given him full artistic freedom, it’s a true gem, in my opinion.

As for Leonard Chess, according to an interview Guy gave to Rolling Stone in November 2015, he eventually realized how wrong he had been about Guy. “The first thing he said was, ‘I want you to kick me in my ass.’ And I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Because you’ve been trying to show us this shit ever since you came here and we was too goddamn dumb to listen. So now this shit is selling and I want you to come in here — you can have your way in the studio.’ But by then I was gone.” Well, Chess had their chance and they blew it – tough luck! Time for some music.

The album kicks off with Keep It To Myself, a terrific opener that sets the soul mood for the record. The tune was written by Williamson who recorded it in 1956.

Next up: Crazy Love, another excellent song, which was written by Dixon. Guy’s take was the first recorded version of the track.

I Suffer With The Blues is one of three tunes on the album, which are credited to Guy.

Buddy’s Groove is another gem on the record. The song is credited to Gene Barge, who also produced the album and played the tenor saxophone on various songs, though not this one.

She Suits Me To A Tee is another original Guy tune. I really dig the groove and Guy’s vocal on this track.

The last song I’d like to call out is Every Girl I See, the album’s closer. The tune was co-written by Dixon and Michael M.P. Murphy.

To date, Guy has recorded sixteen additional solo albums. His most recent studio release is Born To Play Guitar, another fantastic record that appeared in July 2015. It won Guy the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album in 2016, his seventh. While Guy has been admired by many other guitar greats like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana early on, it took until the early 1990s until those Grammy awards started coming.

Today, Guy can rightly be called the last man standing from the great Chicago blues artists. I’m thrilled I’m going to see him on April 18 at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City, which will be my second time after July 2016. Given ticket prices these days, there aren’t many artists I see more than once. When I learned Guy was coming to New York, it didn’t take long to convince me.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Little Feat/Waiting For Columbus

Band’s 1978 double LP is one of the best live gems

Little Feat is one of the many bands whose names I’ve known for a long time but for some reason never got around to listen to. When I recently asked a dear friend who is also a huge fan of the band which album he’d recommend to start me off, he half-jokingly said all of them. Then he noted some box set. But he quickly realized none of these recommendations would be, well, exactly a little feat, for a guy with a family and a full-time job, so he mentioned Waiting For Columbus. Let’s just say, he has a pretty good idea what makes me tick!

I’ve now listened to this album for a few times and pretty much dig it from the first to the last bar. The caliber of the musicians around co-founder, songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George is simply outstanding. Together with the fantastic backing horn section Tower Of Power, this double LP from February 1978 truly makes for a compelling listening experience. In fact, I would go as far as calling it one of the very best live albums I’ve come across to date, and for what it’s worth, I’ve definitely listened to many over last 40 years.

With that being said, it’s hard to decide where to even start. How about the beginning? The album, which captures recordings from seven different shows that took place in London and Washington, D.C. in August 1977, kicks off with a nice short acappella version of Join The Band, a traditional, followed by Fat Man In The Bathtub. Written by George, like the majority of the band’s tunes until his death in June 1979, the song is from their third studio album Dixie Chicken.

All That You Dream is a track from The Last Record Album, the band’s fifth studio release from November 1975. It is one of the few tunes that doesn’t include George in the writing credits. Instead, it was created by Paul Barrere, who joined Little Feat in 1972 as a guitarist, and band co-founder and keyboarder Bill Payne. With a nice funky groove driven by a cool guitar riff and strong harmony vocals, it’s got the key ingredients that make for a great tune.

Oh Atlanta is from Little Feat’s fourth studio album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, released in August 1974. The song was written by Payne, who also sang lead. I guess this explains the cool honky tonk style piano that draws you in immediately, along with the nice harmony vocals and a groove that makes you move – my kind of music!

Dixie Chicken is the title track from Little Feat’s aforementioned 1973 album. Wikipedia and AllMusic call this record the band’s signature release. While I haven’t listened enough to their music to make such a definitive statement, I know good music when I hear it, and this track definitely makes my list! It was co-written by George and Martin Kibbee (credited as Fred Martin), a collaborator with whom George initially had played in a garage punk band after high school, according to American Songwriter. Like other tunes on Waiting For Columbus, this is an extended version – again, it’s the honky tonk piano I love and the horns, which give the song a nice New Orleans feel.

Rocket In My Pocket is another I tune I’d like to call out, though I find it really hard to choose one track over the other. Also composed by George, the song is from Little Feat’s sixth studio record Time Loves A Hero, which came out in May 1977. If I see this correctly, it’s the band’s last studio album that was released during George’s lifetime.

Spanish Moon is another track from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. To me it’s again the groove that stands out on this George tune. I love the intro with the conga and the bass, and how the track picks up from there. The horn accents give it a seductive soul touch – just awesome!

Willin’ appears on Little Feat’s second studio album Sailin’ Shoes, released in May 1972. According to Wikipedia, it’s a reworked version of a song George had written that made Frank Zappa fire him from The Mothers Of Invention in May 1969. However, there is some dispute about the exact circumstances. George had joined Zappa’s backing band in November 1968 as rhythm guitarist and vocalist.

As I noted above, I could easily go on forever about this record, but as George Harrison once wisely sang, “all things must pass.” The last track I’d like to highlight is another co-write by George and Martin called Rock & Roll Doctor, the opener from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. 

In addition to George, Barrere and Payne, Little Feat’s line-up at the time of Waiting For Columbus included Sam Clayton (congas, vocals), Kenny Gradney (bass) and Richard Hayward (drums, vocals). There were also two prominent guests: Ace guitarist Mick Taylor (yep, that Mick Taylor from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and The Rolling Stones!) played lead and slide guitar on A Apolitical Blues. Doobie Brothers vocalists Michael McDonald and Patrick Simmons provided backing vocals on Red Streamliner. The Tower Of Power horn section included Emilio Castillo (tenor saxophone), Greg Adams (trumpet), Lenny Pickett (alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet on Dixie Chicken), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone saxophone) and Mic Gillette (trombone, trumpet).

In April 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Waiting For Columbus at no. 49 on their list of 50 Greatest Live Albums Of All Time. While I may have rated this recorded higher, it certainly is in mighty company with other artists and records like James Brown (Live At The Apollo, 1963; no. 1), The Allman Brothers Band (At Fillmore East, 1971; no. 2), The Who (Live At Leeds, 1970; no. 4), The Rolling Stones (Get Ya Ya-Ya’s Out, 1970; no. 17), Jimi Hendrix (Jimi Plays Monterey, 1986; no. 18), Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (Live/1975-85, 1986; no. 20), Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (Live Bullet, 1976; no. 26) and U2 (Under A Bloody Red Sky, 1983; no. 44), to name some.

Following George’s death and the release of the band’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November 1979, Little Feat called it quits. In 1987, the band’s surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne reunited, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up. Little Feat has since released nine additional studio records, as well as various live and compilation albums. They remain active to this day, with Barrere, Clayton, Payne and Tackett still being part of the mix. Their official website lists multiple shows for this year, mostly featuring different members of the band.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, American Songwriter, Rolling Stone, Little Feat official website, YouTube

Bad Company Live At Red Rocks

English rock supergroup’s 2016 live album becomes more broadly available

Paul Rodgers is one of my favorite male rock vocalists. So I was intrigued when a live album from Bad Company popped up under “New Releases” in my Apple Music last week. It turns out that while Live At Red Rocks appeared on iTunes and I assume other online/streaming platforms on January 12, it first went on sale exclusively at Wal-Mart last September.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the CD/DVD set captures a May 15 show during the band’s 2016 U.S. tour with Joe Walsh at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre close to Denver. A concert review in the Denver Post noted that Walsh opened the night backed by a 10-piece band, telling the audience, “We’ll get you sweaty and Bad Company will finish you off.” This must have been one hell of a show!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Col.

Rochester, N.Y. classic rock radio station WCMF 96.5 FM noted that while co-founder and ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs is credited on the recording, he was no longer part of the band’s lineup due to health issues. Rich Robinson of The Black Crows stood in for him. Also on guitar was touring musician Howard Leese, formerly with Heart, who has played with the Paul Rodgers Band and Bad Company since 2008. According to Wikipedia, the band’s current lineup also includes Simon Kirke (drums), another co-founding member who played with Rodgers in Free; and Todd Ronning (bass).

Time to get to some music. Feel Like Makin’ Love is one of Bad Company’s best known songs. Co-written by Rodgers and Ralphs, the tune is included on the band’s second studio album Straight Shooter, which appeared in April 1975. It was also released separately as a single in August that year. Here’s a fairly decent video clip.

Burnin’ Sky is the title track from the band’s fourth studio record from March 1977. It was written by Rodgers and also came out separately as the album’s second single.

Seagull is one of the acoustic tracks of the set. Another Rodgers/Ralphs co-write, it is the closer to Bad Company’s eponymous studio album, which appeared in June 1974. During this live performance, Kirke joined Rodgers, Leese and Robinson on acoustic guitar and threw in a nice solo. Here’s a great video clip.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy, another Bad Company classic, is from Desolation Angels, the band’s fifth studio album released in March 1979. The tune, which was written by Rodgers, also was the record’s lead single.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Bad Company, the title track of the band’s eponymous debut record. Co-written by Rodgers and Kirke, the song also became the album’s third single. Here’s a great video clip.

Rodgers’ website currently lists four dates for 2018. One solo show is coming up this Saturday, January 20 in Bensalem, Pa. The remaining dates are Bad Company gigs: two in Florida in mid-February, and one in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at the end of April. The last show sounds like an attractive proposition to me, especially with an outside temperature of 19F as I’m writing this!

Sources: Ultimate Classic Rock, Denver Post, WCMF 96.5 FM, Paul Rodgers website, Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real/ The Visitor

Not ready to fade away, Young is still feisty after more than five decades

Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?

So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.

Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”

Neil Young & Promise Of The Real

Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!

The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.

As I started listening to the acoustic Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.

Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.

Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!

And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called Diggin’ A Hole.

The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.

Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.

Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago: My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Little River Band/Little River Band

A compelling yet underappreciated debut by Australian rock band

From the very first time I heard It’s A Long Way There, I thought the combination of smooth harmonizing vocals, a catchy melody and crunchy rock guitars made for a terrific song. The tune by the Little River Band is from their eponymous debut album.

Not only do they often remind me of the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers on their records released between the mid-70s and early 80s, but I also feel many tracks from that period are on par with music by those two American bands. Yet while the Little River Band (later also called LRB) enjoyed success in their native Australia from the get-go, it took them longer to get attention internationally.

LRB emerged from folk rock group Mississippi and was formed in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. The band’s initial lineup, which after the first two albums underwent numerous changes over the years, included Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Graham Davidge (lead guitar), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graham Goble (vocals, guitar), Dave Orams (bass) and Derek Pellicci (drums). LRB’s debut was released in November 1975.

The album opens with the gem It’s A Long Way There. Written By Goble, it clocks in at 8:44 minutes. While this certainly didn’t make it radio-friendly, I think this tune is pretty much as close to rock perfection as its gets for the above mentioned reasons. A shortened version appeared separately as the record’s third single.

Next up is Curiosity Killed The Cat. Funny title. It’s also how I sometimes feel about my cats! The tune, which was written by Birtles, has a nice soft and funky groove. Like the opener, LRB also released in separately in September 1975 as the album’s lead single.

Meanwhile is another nice rocker. The tune was written by Shorrock. I particularly dig the electric guitar harmony parts, especially the extended solo that starts at 1:45 min. Almost reminds me a bit of Thin Lizzy.

I’ll Always Call Your Name is a lovely ballad written by Birtles. One thing that stands out to me is a nice slide guitar solo starting at about 2:00 min. The other thing is the part that immediately follows thereafter, which is more rock-oriented – it’s almost a little song within the song.

The last track I’d like to call out is Emma, another tune written by Shorrock. It has an upbeat, joyous feel to it and also features nice electric guitar harmonies.

Little River Band reached no. 12 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums chart in 1975, a pretty impressive showing for a debut album. In the U.S., the record fared more moderately, peaking at no. 60 on the Billboard 200 in 1976. Curiosity Killed The Cat was the most successful single in Australia, climbing to no. 15 on the Kent Music Report Singles chart. Interestingly, It’s A Long Way There only reached no. 35 there. In the U.S., on the other hand, the tune climbed to no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another charting single there was I’ll Always Call Your Name, which reached no. 62.

LRB went on to become one of Australia’s most significant bands that has sold more than 30 million records. A version that doesn’t include any of the founding members continues to perform to this day. Current lead singer and bassist Wayne Nelson first joined LRB in 1980, when original members Shorrock, Birtles, Goble and Pellicci were still part of the lineup. Nelson also sang lead on The Night Owls, which became one of the band’s hit singles. But due to the lack of original members some people regard LRB’s current lineup essentially as a cover band.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Kat Wright/By My Side

Vermont soul singer has been called “frighteningly good”

Chances are you haven’t heard of Kat Wright. I certainly had not until I spotted her name in the lineup of artists for an upcoming show at City Winery in New York City I’m considering to attend. After listening to By My Side, I’m very impressed about the 31-year-old vocalist from Vermont. While Boston Public Radio’s declaration that she’s “frighteningly good” is pretty bold, it may not be exaggerated.

Backed by a great-sounding seven-piece band that used to be called The Indomitable Soul Band, Wright’s music is reminiscent of Stax and Motown style soul, my kind of music! I think it’s very cool and courageous when a relatively new and young artist embraces what essentially is old-fashioned music recorded during an era that required true craftsmanship, including real singing and real instruments – such a refreshing contrast to the largely soulless, computer-generated stuff that sadly dominates much of today’s charts.

Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band

Wright and the band got together in December 2010. They released their debut in 2013, a six-track EP appropriately titled Introducing. According to a Burlington Free Press story, the band then proceeded to record a full-length follow-up record. But they didn’t release it, feeling it didn’t represent the artistic leap they were looking for. Fast-forward to November 2016, when that feat became reality with the appearance of By My Side. Time to get to some music!

The album opens with the title track that immediately sets the tone for the record. The way the horns and the keyboard are played gives it a sound that is retro yet doesn’t come across as dusty – very cool!

Come Dance has a Four Tops Can’t Help Myself type of groove that just makes you want to get up and dance. Again, I dig the horns and the keyboards on that tune.

The Light is an example of a song that sounds less like Stax and Motown and more psychedelic. It’s an illustration of how Wright described the band’s artistic aspirations to the Burlington Free Press. “I don’t want to be stuck in soul-band land,” she said. “For us, soul is the starting place, it’s not the ending place.”

On Who’s Your Fool the sound is back to retro style soul. The singing, the horns, the groove – I just love everything about this tune!

The last track I’d like to highlight is The River, which blends soul and blues elements and features some nice slide guitar playing.

By My Side was recorded in just one week by Joel Hamilton, a co-owner of Studio G in Brooklyn, New York. According to the studio’s website, Hamilton is a four-time Grammy nominated producer and engineer, who has worked with Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Elvis Costello, among other artists. Wright largely credits him for the record. “They let Joel be the boss, they let him be the producer,” Wright stated in the above Burlington Free Press article. “The band really rallied around trust and respect for the producer and making a really beautiful album.”

In addition to Wright, the members of the band include Bob Wagner (guitar), Josh Weinstein (bass), Ezra Oklan (drums), Shane Hardiman (keyboards), Luke LaPlant (baritone saxophone), Jake Whitesell (tenor saxophone) and Dave Purcell (trumpet). Prior to the album’s release, Wright and the band decided to drop “The Indomitable Soul Band” from their name – probably a smart decision, given they apparently don’t want to get boxed into the soul label.

Initially becoming a staple on the Burlington music scene, the band has since branched out and also performed in other Eastern U.S. states. Currently, their website lists three upcoming gigs, which in addition to City Winery (Jan 13) include Jam Cruise (Miami, Fla., Jan 17) and Quai Des Brumes (Montreal, Canada, Feb 17). BTW, another relatively new soul band that excites me, Southern Avenue, will also play City Winery on Jan 13, along with various other artists. That’s how I found out about Wright.

Sources: Wikipedia, Kat Wright Facebook page and website, Burlington Free Press, Studio G Brooklyn website, YouTube