What I’ve Been Listening to: Frankie Miller/The Rock

When Max from PowerPop blog recently posted about I Can’t Change It by Frankie Miller, I was immediately intrigued by the Scottish rock singer-songwriter’s soulful vocals. I also instantaneously recognized the name from an appearance on the German TV concert program Rockpalast I had watched in August 1982, though I still can’t remember any of the songs Miller performed during that show. Anyway, this is what prompted me to start listening to his music including his third studio album The Rock from September 1975.

Before getting to this gem, a few words about Miller are in order. He was born as Francis John Miller in Glasgow on November 2, 1949. Miller’s first exposure to music was his mother Cathy’s record collection. She particularly liked Ray Charles who interestingly ended up covering the above I Can’t Change It on his 1980 album Brother Ray Is at It Again, a song Miller had written as a 12-year-old and recorded for his debut album Once in a Blue Moon released in January 1973.

Going back to Miller’s childhood days, another music music influence were his older sisters Letty and Anne, who introduced him to Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Miller started writing his first songs at the age of nine after his parents had given him a guitar. While still being at school, he started singing in a series of bands. Eventually, he joined Glasgow outfit The Stoics. While Chrysalis signed them in 1970, the band broke up before making any recordings.

In 1971, Miller formed a band called Jude, together with former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, ex Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and James Dewar, a Glasgow bassist and vocalist. While the band got attention from the British music press, they dissolved in April 1972, also without recording any music. Miller ended up signing a contract with Chrysalis later that year and released his above debut album in January 1973.

Frankie Miller at Rockpalast, Germany, 1982

Until 1985, Miller recorded eight additional solo albums. After his second-to-last solo release Standing on the Edge from 1982, he mostly focused on songwriting, including film music. Miller’s professional career came to a tragic end in August 1994 when he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while writing music for a new band he and Joe Walsh had formed with English keyboarder and drummer Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace, respectively.

According to a bio on Miller’s website, the brain hemorrhage should have killed him but he has shown remarkable courage to claw his way slowly back to health, after spending 15 months in hospital. With massive support from his partner Annette, Frankie is learning to walk and talk again and has even written a new song with lyricist Will Jennings called “Sun Goes Up Sun Goes Down”. But sadly, Miller has not been able to resume performing.

The Rock back cover

While Miller’s records apparently received positive reviews, they were not commercially successful. His singles did not fare much better. Only two of them reached the top 40 in the UK: Be Good to Yourself from May 1977 (no. 27) and Darlin’ from October 1978 (no. 6). Miller’s songs have won writing awards and been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Joe Walsh and Eagles.

Time to get to The Rock, Miller’s only album officially credited to the The Frankie Miller Band. All tracks were written by Miller. Here’s the excellent opener A Fool in Love. Like other tunes on the album, it reminds me of Joe Cocker. The song was actually covered by Etta James on her 1990 album Stickin’ to My Guns.

The title track was inspired by the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, which could be seen from the studio where the album was recorded. According to Wikipedia, Miller said that music saved him from prison. He dedicated the song to the plight of prisoners, apparently a reference to his second cousin Jimmy Boyle, a Scottish former gangster and convicted murderer who became a sculptor and novelist after his release from prison in October 1981. The Rock has got a cool Faces, early Rod Stewart vibe.

Another gem is Ain’t Got No Money. It’s probably not a coincidence that it became the album’s most covered tune, including by artists like Cher, Chris Farlowe and Bob Seger. Frankly, this would be a great song for The Rolling Stones.

Let’s slow things down with All My Love to You, a dynamite soulful tune. Why this didn’t become a hit beats me. Check it out this beauty!

Frankly, there’s no weak track on this album and I could have selected any other. Let’s do one one more: I’m Old Enough.

The Rock was produced by Elliot Mazer, one of the co-producers of Neil Young’s Harvest album. Musicians included Henry McCullough (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mick Weaver (keyboards), Chrissy Stewart (bass), Stu Perry (drums, percussion) and Miller’s former Jude mate James Dewar. The album also featured two ingredients for shaping its soul sound: The Memphis Horns and The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Frankie Miller website; 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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Paul McCartney/Tug of War

As a huge fan of The Beatles and Paul McCartney, I was really excited when Tug of War was released in April 1982. Catching Take It Away on the radio yesterday prompted me to revisit McCartney’s third solo album, which I had not listened to for many years. It turned out I still dig it, though not for the primary reason that initially attracted me back then: Ebony and Ivory, a smash hit in Germany, as well as many other countries.

While McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder isn’t a bad tune, I think it’s fair to say both artists have written better songs. One also must remember the ’80s were a time period when high profile duets were very much en vogue. I still like the ballad’s message, as well as the idea to use the black and white keys on a keyboard as a metaphor for perfect harmony – sadly a state of affairs that nowadays seems to be more elusive than ever.

No matter how you feel about it, Ebony and Ivory was the big hit single from Tug of War, which came out about a month prior to the album. I have to say I wasn’t particular impressed with McCartney II and that record’s hit single Coming Up, even though both had impressive chart success as well. I thought Tug of War was a far superior album. I think I still do but like to caveat the statement by adding that I haven’t listened to McCartney II in a long time.

Tug of War was McCartney’s first album after the breakup of Wings. It also was his first record following the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, which not only impacted the record’s timing but also its content. Initially, McCartney’s plan was to make another album with Wings, but then things changed.

While apparently he had grown weary about continuing his band, McCartney started rehearsing songs with them in October 1980. He brought in George Martin as producer, but they both felt McCartney’s latest compositions weren’t a good fit for Wings and decided to pursue a record without the band.

The project was paused for two months after Lennon had been killed. In February 1981, work on the album resumed. Between February 3rd and March 2nd, recording sessions took place in the Caribbean at AIR Studios in Montserrat, which included Wonder, bassist Stanley Clarke, Carl Perkins and Ringo Starr.

During Tug of War recording sessions at AIR Studios in Montserrat: Paul McCartney with Ringo Starr and I believe Eric Stewart.

Additional sessions at Martin’s AIR Studios in London followed over the summer. They also yielded songs McCartney would use for Pipes of Peace, the follow on to Tug of War from October 1983. Apparently, McCartney and Martin weren’t in a huge hurry and used the remainder of 1981 to put the finishing touches on the record. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above noted Take It Away. Like all other tracks on the album except for one tune, it was written by McCartney. In June 1982, Take It Away also was released separately as Tug of War’s second single. While it charted in many countries, including the UK and the U.S. where it climbed to no. 15 and 10, respectively, the power pop tune didn’t match the success of Ebony and Ivory. It features Ringo Starr on drums, George Martin on piano and 10cc’s Eric Stewart on backing vocals. Take it away, boys!

In addition to Ebony and Ivory, Tug of War included a second duet with Stevie Wonder: What’s That You’re Doing. Apart from providing vocals, Wonder also co-wrote the funky tune with McCartney. In fact, to me it sounds more like a Stevie Wonder song. Stewart made another appearance on backing vocals.

Here Today is a moving tribute to John Lennon, which can still make me emotional. It may not be quite as compelling as Elton John’s Empty Garden, but I still find it beautiful. When I saw McCartney live last time in July 2016, he performed the tune solo with just his acoustic guitar – a quite powerful moment!

Next up: Ballroom Dancing, a nice pop rocker. Guests on this tune include Starr (drums), Stewart (backing vocals) and former Wings band mate Denny Laine (electric guitar).

The last track I’d like to call out is McCartney’s great duet with Carl Perkins, Get It. I love the tune’s rockabilly retro vibe and Perkins’s electric guitar work, which he provided in addition to vocals. You can also literally feel the fun they had when recording the track, and it’s not only because of Perkins’ laughter at the end.

The final words of this post shall belong to Paul McCartney. “I think, you know, with my songs, I have my own approach,” he told Andy Mackay in an in-depth interview about the album in August 1982, which is transcribed on fan website The Paul McCartney Project. “I’ll tell you the way I see it: the thing I like about my stuff, when I like it, is that the listener can take it the wrong way, it may apply to them, you know.”

Sources: Wikipedia; The Paul McCartney Project; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Mick Hayes/My Claim to Fame

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog, the name Mick Hayes may ring a bill. I included him and a tune from his fantastic new album My Claim to Fame in the last installment of my Best of What’s New feature. On his website, Hayes gave the record the tagline “Southern Soul Music with a California Finish.” I’m not sure I understand the California finish, but folks who are aware of my music taste know that I’m all ears when it comes to southern soul.

One of the truly remarkable things about this album is that Hayes recorded it at FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. on vintage equipment, together with musicians who backed artists like Ray CharlesEtta James and B.B. King during their recording sessions at the legendary studio. I’m mean, think about this for a moment, how friggin’ cool is that!

As I complained in my previous Best of What’s New post, Hayes doesn’t do a great job to put out some information on his background, such as a bio. Why still beats me! But at least his website has links to some reviews, and the folks who wrote them apparently got some insights from him.

Additionally, when you google Hayes, his birthday pops up as June 17, 1978, which means he’s 42 years old. Apparently, he was born in Buffalo, N.Y. A review by American Blues Scene notes Hayes became interested in the Muscle Shoals scene while browsing record stores as a young man and seeing albums by the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman and Wilson Pickett, who were recorded at FAME. So using different sources, one can kind of get at least a blurry picture of him.

The American Blues Scene review also reveals some of the above studio musicians and artists they backed: Bassist Bob Wray (Ray Charles, The Marshall Tucker Band), electric piano and organ player Clayton Ivey (Etta James, B.B. King), trumpet and flugelhorn player Vinnie Ciesielski (Gladys Knight, Lyle Lovett), saxophonist and flute player Brad Guin (Jason Isbell) and rhythm guitarist Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm). I mean, damn, let’s face it, Hayes isn’t exactly Stevie Wonder, so having gotten all these musicians is really something!

And the list continues. Also on the record are backing vocalists Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker, aka The Muscle Shoals Singers. Moreover, Hayes secured some impressive “outsiders”: Trombone player Billy Bargetzi (The Temptations, The Four Tops, The O’Jays, Bobby Vinton) and trumpet player Ken Watters (Natalie Cole, W.C. Handy Jazz All-Stars). Hayes provides lead guitar and vocals. And, as I stated in my last Best of What’s New, he co-produced My Claim to Fame with John Gifford III, who assisted with engineering Gregg Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. Okay, on to the real fun part!

Here’s opener Sweet to Me. Like all tunes on the album, it was written by Hayes. He’s definitely got soul. I also think his voice isn’t bad.

Parking Lot Romance is another great tune. It openly pays homage to Ray Charles, undoubtedly one of Hayes’ musical heroes.

Want a bit of funky soul with a message? Ask and you shall receive! Hey, hey, hey, hey, here’s Political Funk.

Next up: No Second Chances. Frankly, I could have picked any other tune. They all sound great, in my opinion!

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Saddest Picture of Me.

You might say, ‘Hayes isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel on this record.’ That’s certainly true, but it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I feel these recordings are beautifully executed, making My Claim to Fame a joyful listening experience. I’m curious to see what Hayes is going to come up with next. I feel with this album he set a high bar for himself.

Sources: Mick Hayes website; American Blues Scene; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Molly Tuttle/When You’re Ready

While I knew I had come across a remarkable young artist and featured her amazing rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless in my previous Best of What’s New installment, I hadn’t planned to follow up with dedicated post on Molly Tuttle so quickly. Things changed when a dear friend and music connoisseur from Germany whose opinion I highly value told me he was blown away by Tuttle (I had mentioned her name to him). So I guess I was, well, ready to take on When You’re Ready, the Americana and bluegrass singer-songwriter’s first full-length album from April 2019.

Before getting to that record, I’d like to recap some background on Tuttle, borrowing somewhat from the above post in case you didn’t get a chance to read it. Apart from writing original music and covering songs by others, Tuttle is an accomplished banjo and guitar player and teacher. The 27-year-old, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Nashville since 2015, comes from a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively.

Tuttle started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her father. At age 13, she recorded her first album with him. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017. That year, Tuttle also won Guitar Player of the Year from the  International Bluegrass Association, something she repeated in 2018. Among other accolades, she also won Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards.

This bring me to When You’re Ready, which appears to have put Tuttle on the map as a solo artist. According to her website, What followed were dates at Telluride, Newport Folk Fest, an appearance on CBS Saturday Morning, and an enthusiastic reception both by critics and her fellow musicians. Rightfully so, in my humble opinion. Time for some music.

Let’s kick it off with the opener Million Miles. The beautiful tune was written by Tuttle together with Jewel Kilcher and Steve Poltz, singer-songwriters from the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I really dig Tuttle’s singing and how about these lyrics: Called the cable man/’Cause my screen was blurry/Seems the more I rush/All I do is worry/I am too much like my mom/All she does is hurry/What’s a girl to do today…

Take the Journey has a very cool acoustically driven groove. The song was co-written by Tuttle and Sarah Siskind, an American folk singer-songwriter.

Light Came In (Power Went Out) shows Tuttle from a more pop-oriented side. Co-written by her, producer Ryan Hewitt and composers Stephony Smith and Maya Elizabeth de Vitry, the catchy track feels more produced with a full-fledged band.

Messed with My Mind is one of four tracks on the album solely written by Tuttle. Another great tune with good lyrics: Paid a quarter to the fortune teller/All she gave me was a bucket of lies/Had me thinkin’ it would all get better/If I could await around for you to be mine//I couldn’t hear my intuition/Blarin’ at me like a smoke alarm/Caughtin’ you lightin’ up a fire in my kitchen/Now you’re actin’ like you never meant me no harm…

The last track I’d like to highlight is another tune Tuttle wrote by herself: Sleepwalking. Her emotional vocals and words are the standouts to me in this song: If I drove into the sea/Float away with the fear/Be my anchor, please/’Cause your voice is all I need//Keep talking/Now we’re sleepwalking/Through a world that disappeared/Bad habits/Burn like TV static/But you’re comin’ in clear… That’s just beautiful!

Molly Tuttle’s first full-length album shows an incredibly talented young solo artist. Her next release will be a covers album scheduled for August 28. And, as Tuttle stated on her website, there’s more: “I have been working on writing for another original album and am still planning to record that this year…but in the meantime I wanted to share these covers that have lifted my spirits, in hopes that you’ll find some much-needed joy as well.” I’m looking forward to both!

Sources: Wikipedia; Molly Tuttle website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Reverberations/Changes

If you read my previous Best of What’s New post all the way to the end and know me a little bit, it probably doesn’t come as a shocking surprise that the ’60s retro sound of The Reverberations proofed way too seductive to leave things at one clip. I’m still somewhat in disbelief this band from Portland, Ore. doesn’t do a better job to make it easier for music fans to find them. In my case, I have to thank Apple Music for including these guys in their most recent New Music Mix playlist.

The good news is in the meantime I uncovered some more background information, but I still feel it’s not nearly enough. According to Discogs, as of Changes, their second and most recent full album released in February 2019, the band’s members are Dave Berkham (lead guitar, vocals), John Jenne (rhythm guitar), Bob Fountain (keyboards), Cam Mazzia (bass) and Ian Bixby (drums, percussion). June Coryell and producer Pat Kearns are listed as guest backing vocalists.

According to Wikipedia, Kearns is a singer-songwriter for Blue Skies for Black Hearts, another Portland-based band, and has done production and engineering work for various other artists, such as The Exploding Hearts, Pat McDonald and Jerry Joseph. None of these names ring a bell, but that doesn’t mean much.

Among things that remain unclear is the origin of the band’s name. Given their psychedelic garage touch, I’m wondering whether it’s a nod to ’60s psychedelic garage rockers The 13th Floor Elevators and their song Reverberation (Doubt). Another clue is the album’s cover art, which was designed by Bixby and has features that are reminiscent of the Elevators’ debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.

But, all of what I said in the preceding paragraph is speculation. It’s also not clear to me how long The Reverberations have been around. The oldest listing in Discogs is a self-released EP from 2015. What I do know is I really dig the band’s sound that heavily borrows from the ’60s, especially The Byrds and The Beatles. And, if you look at the image above, these guys kind of look like transplants from that era. Time for some music!

Here’s the excellent opener Footsteps. It appears all songs are credited to the entire band. Don’t get fooled by the track’s beginning, which sounds psychedelic but perhaps not so much like The Byrds. But wait until about 1:42 minutes into the song when that mighty jingle-jangle Rickenbacker gets going – can’t get enough of it!

Here’s Dream Catcher. Man, again, what a cool sound. And that harmony singing is just awesome!

The beginning of Left Behind has the same chord progression like Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues, while the sitar-sounding instrument (I assume it’s sampled) reminds me of Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones. Not trying to be a smart ass here, but it’s obvious. Plus, the tune then takes off in its own direction. It’s all good!

Another great tune is Levitate Away. And, yes, the beginning sounds like Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. But similarly to the previous track, the song then goes in a different direction. It’s quite catchy!

I’d like to call out one more track: What Can I Do? Coz, I dig these guys, what can I do? It’s another beautiful jingle-jangle guitar-driven tune.

Changes appeared on Beluga Music, which according to Discogs is an independent label based in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been around since 1994. On their website, they describe themselves as “The Home of Punk & Garage Records”. It does seem to be a bit odd for a U.S.-based band to have a Swedish label, but hey, what do I know? Plus, at the end of the day, it’s all about the music. And their music surely sounds sweet to me!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; Beluga Music website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sheila E./Iconic: Message 4 America

Last week, I watched Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Party and thought the highlight of the one-hour virtual event was Sheila E. and her sizzling performance of Come TogetherRevolution. It turned out E. had previously recorded the medley for her most recent eighth studio album Iconic: Message 4 America released in August 2017. A couple of nights ago, I found myself listening to this covers album and liked what I heard – a lot!

For E.’s background, I’m borrowing from a previous August 2017 post about my favorite drummers. Born Sheila Escovedo, E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family. Since the late 60s, her Mexican-American father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente.

At the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George DukeMarvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince who became an important mentor and with whom she worked various times. In 1984, E. started a solo career. She also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006.

As reported by Rolling Stone, it was Donald Trump’s denunciation of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” during his official campaign launch announcement in 2015, along with the death of Prince in April 2016, which prompted E. to record Iconic, an album featuring remakes of social justice anthems. In addition to selecting songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, E. got help from multiple guests, most notably Starr and Freddie Stone, co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Sly and the Family Stone. Her father and two other family members were among the other guests.

“So for the Iconic project, you know, the state that the country is in… I’m doing these songs based on the lyrical content, which, when I grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, these songs were pretty amazing,” E. told Billboard. “They’re relevant. So I wanted to do “Come Together,” The Beatles song with Ringo Starr, which we did, and the only one that wasn’t written [that long] ago was “America.” But it means something…So it was just important to what’s happening in our country.” America is a tune about the state of the U.S. during the Reagan Administration, which Prince had written for his 1985 studio album Around the World in a Day.

Let’s get to some music. Since I previously featured Come TogetherRevolution here, I’m skipping it and go directly to Everyday People. Written by Sly Stone, the tune was originally released as a single by Sly and the Family Stone in November 1968. It was also included on the band’s fourth studio album Stand! from May 1969. As noted above, Freddie Stone joins E. on vocals. He also plays guitar.

Inner City BluesTrouble Man is a cool medley of two songs Marvin Gaye performed. Inner City Blues, co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., appeared on What’s Going On, Gaye’s 11th studio album from May 1971. Trouble Man is the title track of Gaye’s follow-on studio record that came out in December 1972. It was written by him. On the album’s recording, E. is joined on vocals by saxophonist Eddie Mininfield.

With so many great covers on Iconic, it’s hard to select which ones to call out. One of the funkiest undoubtedly is the James Brown Medley, which melds together five tunes: Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, co-written by Brown and Bobby Bird (There It Is, June 1972); Mama Don’t Take No Mess, co-written by Brown, John Starks and Fred Wesley (Hell, June 1974); Soul Power, written by Brown (single, March 1971); Get Involved, co-written by Brown, Bird and Ron Lenhoff (Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume III, December 1971); and Super Bad, written by Brown (Super Bad, 1971). For this recording, E. is joined by Bootsy Collins on vocals, who also provides bass and guitar. Collins played with Brown in the early ’70s and later with Parliament-Funkadelic. Let’s hit it!

Next up: A beautiful version of Blackbird. Per Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote the song about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after he had read the U.S. federal courts had forced racial desegregation in the school system of Little Rock, Ark. Blackbird was first recorded for The White Album that appeared in November 1968. E.’s rendition transforms the acoustic guitar tune to a mellow piano-driven ballad. The lovely cello part is played by studio musician Jodi Burnett.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Curtis Mayfield classic Pusherman. It appeared on Mayfield’s third solo album Super Fly from July 1972. The great guitar part on E.’s version is played by Mychael Gabriel, a musician, songwriter, performer, audio engineer, mixer, producer, who began his career as a 16-year-old, doing record engineering for E.

Iconic: Message 4 America may “only” be a covers album, but I think the excellent song selection and E.’s renditions make listening to it worthwhile.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band/The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

While I don’t ever feel I need a specific reason to write about the blues, I can’t deny the timing of this post isn’t entirely coincidental. The other day, I watched a Q&A with Walter Trout that was streamed online, during which he answered questions fans had submitted. At some point, he talked about his influences and in this context noted The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and their eponymous debut album from October 1965. Well, evidently, Trout’s got great taste!

Frankly, I could have picked any tune from this record, which is just outstanding from the first to the last bar. So let’s kick it off with the opener Born in Chicago. It was written by blues, rock and folk singer-songwriter Nick Gravenites, who became best known as the lead vocalist for The Electric Flag and his work with Janis Joplin and Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Mike Bloomfield.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1966 (from left to right, front: Paul Butterfield (lead vocals, harmonica)& Billy Davenport (drums); back: Jerome Arnold (bass), Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Mark Naftalin (organ) & Elvin Bishop (guitar)

Apart from the great music, I’d like to call out the tune’s lyrics. These words could have been written in present-day America – something to think about as the country’s so-called leaders present alternate facts, while they pretend to celebrate the nation’s birthday with grandiose and thoughtless mass gatherings in the middle of a deadly pandemic!

I was born in Chicago 1941/I was was born in Chicago in 1941/Well, my father told me/”Son, you had better get a gun”/Well, my first friend went down/When I was 17 years old/Well, my first friend went down/When I was 17 years old/Well, there’s one thing I can say about that boy/He gotta go…

As frequent visitors of the blog know, I just dig vocals, so let’s shake things up a little with a great instrumental. Thank You Mr. Poobah was co-written by Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield and the band’s keyboarder Mark Naftalin. I love that tune’s groove fueled by Jerome Arnold’s walking bass and Sam Lay’s drum work. And there’s also Bloomfield’s masterful guitar-playing and Butterfield’s great harmonica work. Frankly – dare I say it – when the music is so nicely rockin’ and rollin’, who needs vocals! Yes, that just came from the guy who likes to wine about certain tracks, especially in prog rock, which seemingly have endless instrumental parts with no vocals! 🙂

While it’s perhaps an obvious choice, I just couldn’t skip I Got My Mojo Working – what a killer rendition of the Muddy Waters tune that originally came out in April 1957! ‘Nuff said, here it is!

Let’s move on to another original, Our Love Is Drifting, co-written by Butterfield and the band’s second guitarist Elvin Bishop. It’s a great mid-tempo blues track. Butterfield’s singing, Bishop’s guitar work and Arnold’s bassline are the standouts to me in this tune.

I’d like to wrap up things with another blues classic: Mystery Train written by Junior Parker and produced by Sam Philips in 1953. Elvis Presley was the first among many other artists who covered the tune.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was the first of six albums Butterfield released under that name between 1965 and 1971. The band saw various line-up changes already starting with its sophomore album East-West from August 1966, which featured Billy Davenport on drums. Bloomfield who had tired of the band’s intense touring schedule left in 1967 to form The Electric Flag. Among others, that band included the above-noted Gravenites (rhythm guitar, vocals), Barry Goldberg (keyboards), Harvey Brooks (bass) and Buddy Miles (drums), who later became a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s eponymous debut album essentially was ignored when it came out, at least from a chart perspective. It only climbed to number 123 on the Billboard 200. I’m also a bit surprised it merely ranked at no. 468 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Well, it least they did include it, along with the following commentary: Where American white kids got the notion they could play the blues. This band had two kiler guitarists: Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Jeez, there’s even a typo in there – what an embarrassment!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Watch

This is another post I can blame on my streaming music provider. When I saw Watch by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band pop up as a listening suggestion the other day, I immediately recalled how much I dug that album as a teenager back in Germany. As such, I was curious to find out whether my opinion had changed since then and gave Watch another “spin.” Turns out I still like it!

Released in February 1978, Watch was the eighth album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own the same copy to this day. The band and that particular record were very popular in Germany. Two of its tracks – Davy’s On the Road Again and Mighty Quinn – received heavy radio play. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Watch peaked at no. 3 in West-Germany and remained in the charts for an impressive 69 weeks.

Wikipedia also notes that Watch was the last album with Earth Band co-founding member and original drummer Chris Slade. Slade has played in many other bands, most notably AC/DC from late 1989 until 1993. He also joined them for their Rock or Bust tour in 2015 and 2016, and has appeared in the band’s promotional materials thereafter. His current status is unclear, given the reported possible return of Phil Rudd.

Watch also marked the first album with Pat King on bass. He’s a great bassist, which frankly I had not fully appreciated until I listened to the record again. King stayed with the Earth Band until 1982. Interestingly, from 1991 until his retirement in 2013, King was the band’s lighting designer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Drowning On Dry Land/Fish Soup. Drowning On Dry Land is credited to Chris Slade, while Fish Soup was co-written by Earth Band lead guitarist David Flett and Manfred Mann (keyboards, backing vocals). The tune definitely cannot hide its ’70s sound, but I think it’s cool and a great example of King’s melodic bass lines. Here’s the official video from Mann’s YouTube channel.

California wraps up the A-side in the album’s vinyl version. The tune was written by Sue Vickers, who according to Discogs was married to Mike Vickers, a member of Manfred Mann, Mann’s band from 1962 until 1969, which had a string of hits in the U.K., including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Mighty Quinn. Mann subsequently formed experimental jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three and, following their break-up, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. California is another beautiful example of King’s melodic bass playing.

Here’s the aforementioned Davy’s On the Road Again, a classic, and the first song of the B-side. That tune, the first of two live tracks on the record, was co-written by John Simon and Robbie Robertson. Simon is primarily known as a producer in the ’60s and ’70s and his work for artists like The Band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Robertson, of course, was The Band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter. Here’s the official video of Davy’s from Mann’s YouTube channel, which features nice live footage. And for the gear geeks, you can nicely see a Moog synthesizer in action! 🙂

Let’s wrap things up with the record’s final tune, The Mighty Quinn, the second live track on the album. Written by Bob Dylan and originally titled Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), it was Mann’s recording that was released first as Mighty Quinn in January 1968. The Earth Band turned the initial folk rock version into a more edgy rock song. Dylan originally recorded the tune during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. His first official release of the song was on his 1970 studio album Self Portrait.

In addition to Mann, Flett, King and Slade, the Earth Band’s core line-up on Watch also featured Chris Hamlet Thompson (lead vocals, guitar). Supporting the band on backing vocals were Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter, Stevie Lange, Victy Silva and Kim Goddy. The album credits list Manfred Mann and Earth Band as producer.

Watch had much better chart success in Europe and New Zealand than elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned performance in Germany, the album also placed in the top 10 in Norway (no. 2) and Sweden (no. 9), and climbed to no. 33 in the U.K. In New Zealand the record peaked at no. 29, while in the U.S. and Canada, it only reached no. 83 and no. 85, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here

I could have titled this post “What I’ve Been Listening to For the Past 40-Plus Years.” Wish You Were Here not only marked the start of my long Pink Floyd journey but also was an essential part of my early discovery of music. This album was one of various gems my sister had on vinyl as a 16-year-old or so. I was ten years old at the time and essentially didn’t understand a word of English. It didn’t matter. The music bug had infected me forever. It’s the most beautiful infection I can think of!

Of course, I also explored the other 14 studio albums Pink Floyd released between 1967 and 2014. That was many moons ago as well. And I realized records like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Meddle or The Dark Side of the Moon match or even exceed the mighty of Wish You Were Here. Still, Floyd’s masterpiece from September 1975 will forever keep a special place in my heart. Always.

I know it may seem to be weird to tout what I believe is perfect music as a natural sleeping aid. Wish You Were Here is great for that! In fact, I started using the record for that purpose when I had my first stereo and first set of headphones. I still love listening to the album at night in bed, nowadays using my smartphone and earbuds, which I have to admit is a less than perfect way to enjoy music. I’m happy to report I also keep listening to Pink Floyd during the daytime while I’m wide awake! 🙂

Pink Floyd in 1975 (from left: Nick Mason David Gilmor, Roger Waters & Richard Wright

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London between January and July 1975, Wish You Were Here is Floyd’s ninth studio album. It’s the band’s second record after The Dark Side of the Moon, which was based on a conceptual theme that was entirely written by Roger Waters. In this case, the topics include biting criticism of the music business and alienation. And, of course not to forget, a tribute to founding member Syd Barrett who had been instrumental to the band’s early phase until his ouster in April 1968 due to mental illness and the use of psychedelic drugs.

In fact, on June 5, 1975, the day when Pink Floyd were completing the mix of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Syd Barrett showed up at the studio out of the blue. Being overweight with shaven head and eyebrows, he barely resembled the 22-year-old man back in 1968. Waters and Nick Mason didn’t recognize him, while David Gilmour first thought he was an EMI staff member. Richard Wright first realized it was Barrett who reportedly said he was happy to help with the recording. But according to Mason’s Pink Floyd memoir Inside Out, Barrett “sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.”

Apparently, Barrett also joined a wedding reception in the canteen at EMI for David Gilmour who a month later got married to his first wife, American artist, sculptor, author and former model Ginger Gilmour. He left the festivities quietly without saying goodbye to anybody. It was the last time the band members had seen Barrett who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006 – what an incredibly sad story!

Syd Barrett at Abbey Road Studios, June 5, 1975

Wikipedia includes this quote from Roger Waters, taken from Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, a 2001 Barrett biography written by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson: I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him. “Shine On” is not really about Syd—he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad.

Interestingly, Alan Parsons, who still was a staff engineer at EMI and had played a key role in shaping the sound of Pink Floyd’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon, declined to continue working with the band. While I couldn’t find any specific explanatory accounts, Wikipedia’s entry for Dark Side notes the members of the band had some disagreements over the style of the mix. Ultimately, they decided to bring in producer Chris Thomas to provide “a fresh pair of ears.” Perhaps that didn’t sit well with Parsons. Instead of him, Brian Humphries served as recording engineer for Wish You Were Here. The band had previously worked with him on the More soundtrack album from June 1969 and again in 1974. Time for some music.

While it’s a long track (not a rarity when it comes to Pink Floyd!), I just couldn’t skip the magnificent opener Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). Of course, this is the tune that even if it’s not an outright tribute to Syd Barrett as the above quote by Waters seems to suggest, at a bare minimum is inspired by him. Especially, the instrumental intro makes me feel like floating in space – which is why the tune is perfect to relax and fall asleep! 🙂 The music is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters.

Next up: Have a Cigar, which on the vinyl edition is the first track of the B-side. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves on doubt what Waters was writing about. I just wonder how the executives at the record company felt when they heard the tune for the first time. I guess somebody there was smart enough to realize that while the words weren’t exactly flattering, they had a masterpiece on their hands that would sell many copies. They call it riding the gravy train!

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar,
You’re gonna go far,

You’re gonna fly high,
You’re never gonna die,

You’re gonna make it if you try,
They’re gonna love you.
I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere;
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?

Both the tune’s lyrics and music were credited to Waters. English folk singer Roy Harper sang on the tune, making Have a Cigar only one of two Floyd songs that featured a guest singer on lead vocals. The other one was The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side with the amazing Clare Torry.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track – undoubtedly one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs. Interestingly, Wish You Were Here wasn’t released as a single at the time, though the tune quickly became a staple on the radio in Germany and elsewhere. Eventually, a live version of the song from the band’s third live album Pulse appeared as a single in September 1994. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the music. Together with Welcome to the Machine, it is one of two tunes on the album featuring Gilmour on lead vocals.

According to Wikipedia, the song’s distinct intro was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio. His guitar intro, played on a 12-string, was processed to sound as if it was playing through an AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though a guitarist were listening to the radio and playing along. As the acoustic part becomes more complex, the ‘radio broadcast’ fades away and Gilmour’s voice enters, while the rest of the band joins in. What a brilliant concept!

Upon its release, Wish You Were Here received a mixed reception from music critics. For example, Rolling Stone cleverly noted the band’s”lackadaisical demeanor”, leaving the subject of Barrett “unrealised; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters’s brother-in-law getting a parking ticket.” The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, on the other hand, was shockingly positive: “The music is not only simple and attractive, with the synthesizer used mostly for texture and the guitar breaks for comment, but it actually achieves some of the symphonic dignity (and cross-referencing) that The Dark Side of the Moon simulated so ponderously.”

Of course, Wish You Were Here has since been frequently regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In fact, it is ranked at no. 211 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – way too low, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion! In the magazine’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time from June 2015, it came in at no. 4. This sounds more acceptable to me!

No matter how you feel about Wish You Were Here, one thing is undisputed: The album became one of Pink Floyd’s most successful records topping the charts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and various European countries including the UK, France, The Netherlands and Switzerland. It has sold an estimated 13 million copies, compared to more than 45 million for Dark Side, Floyd’s best-seller. Gilmour and Wright have called Wish You Were Here their favorite Pink Floyd album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube