What I’ve Been Listening To: David Crosby/Sky Trails

As somebody who considers Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to be one of the best vocal harmony bands, you’d think I’d pay more attention to their individual members. With the exception of Neil Young, I guess I simply accepted that the sum is more than the parts. Even if that’s oftentimes true when it comes to top-notch bands, ignoring the parts can mean missing out on great music. Case in point: David Crosby and his album Sky Trails from September 2017, which is only his sixth solo record – pretty remarkable for an artist who released his solo debut in Feb 1971.

David Crosby

With David Crosby having been a founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Still & Nash (CSN), and CSN having been active on and off between 1968 and 2015 – sometimes with, most of the time without Neil Young – I think it’s fair to say most people associate Crosby with the aforementioned bands. But, as noted above, he has released various solo albums. Sky Trails recently popped up as a listening suggestion in my streaming music platform. I’ve since listened a few times to the album and have to say I really dig it. I was also surprised how jazzy it is. I guess I had expected something more folk rock-oriented.

Let’s get to some music and kick it off with the opener She’s Got To Be Somewhere. This Steely Dan style tune is my favorite on the album. It was written by James Raymond, who produced the record, played keyboards, and, it turns out, is Crosby’s son – one of his four kids, not counting the two children born to Melissa Etheridge via artificial insemination.  Commenting on the tune, Crosby says on his website, “We didn’t consciously do that. We just naturally go to a place where Donald [Fagen] goes. I loved Steely Dan right from the first notes I heard.” Well, the man has good taste!

The album’s dreamy title track was co-written by Crosby with American singer-songwriter and guitarist Becca Stevens. The tune reminds me a bit of music I’ve heard by Clannad. Admittedly, it’s been a long time I’ve listened to the Irish folk band, and it would probably be worthwhile revisiting them. The saxophone fill-ins add a dose of jazz to the tune. “She’s a stunning, amazing singer and a great writer,” Crosby says of Stevens. “I’d rather be in a band with her than almost anybody.”

Here It’s Almost Sunset is a track co-written by Crosby and Mai Agan, an Estonian bass player and composer. It’s another tune on the quieter side. Most tracks on the album are. Again, there are nice saxophone accents. Wikipedia lists three saxophonists who supported the recording, Chris Bullock, Jeff Coffin and Steve Tavaglione, but unfortunately does not reveal who played on which song. Neither do the YouTube clips, which only list the aforementioned core musicians.

Capitol is a protest song co-written by Crosby and Raymond, expressing their less than flattering opinion about legislators: …And you think to yourself/This is where it happens/They run the whole damn thing from here/Money just burns, filling up their pockets/Where no one can see/And no can hear… Sadly, these words seem to ring true more than ever in this country these days.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is called Curved Air. It’s another co-write by Crosby and Raymond. The flamenco guitar sounded was created by Raymond using keyboards. “Hell no, I can’t play like that,” Crosby comments on the track that examines life’s contradictions.  “It’s James on keyboard. So is the bass. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard anybody write singer/songwriter music with flamenco playing.”

In addition to Raymond, Agan and Tavaglione, the core musicians on the album include Jeff Pevar (guitar), British-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter Michelle Willis (keyboards, vocals) and Steve DiStanislao (drums). “All the people in the Sky Trails band are much younger than me, so I have to paddle faster to keep up,” Crosby says with a laugh. This was not the first time he had played with them. Between 1996 and 2004, Crosby performed with Raymond and Prevar in the jazz rock band CPR, or Crosby, Prevar & Raymond. DiStanislao and Tavaglione played on CPR albums as well.

David Crosby, who turned 78 years in August, is still going strong. His most recent studio album Here If You Listen appeared in October last year. With four of his seven solo albums having been released since 2014, it appears Crosby is on some sort of late-career surge. He also continues to tour. In fact, he’s currently on the road in the U.S., with confirmed dates until September 17. The tour schedule is here.

There is also a new documentary, David Crosby: Remember My Name. Released on July 19, the film was directed by A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe, who has known Crosby for many years. Based on the trailer, the film looks intriguing, and I’m going to watch it on Sunday evening at a movie theater in my area.

Sources: Wikipedia, David Crosby website, YouTube

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What I’ve Been Listening To: Paul Simon/Still Crazy After All These Years

My introduction to Paul Simon happened many moons ago with Simon & Garfunkel and their second compilation Greatest Hits from 1972, which my sister owned on vinyl. I loved that record from the very beginning and still do to this day. Not long after I had heard it for the first time, I started taking guitar lessons and eventually got a songbook for that collection. I practiced hard to learn the tunes and soon found out what a formidable acoustic guitarist Paul Simon is. Eventually, I managed to figure out the finger-picking for The Boxer – haven’t tried playing that tune in 20-plus years. Anyway…

While there’s an obvious connection to Simon & Garfunkel, this post is about Paul Simon’s fourth studio album Still Crazy After All These Years, which appeared in October 1975. I would say I know a good deal of Simon’s tunes he recorded as a solo artist, but other than the fantastic Graceland from August 1986, I cannot really make the same claim for his albums. As oftentimes happens, the idea for this post was triggered when my streaming music provider served up the record as a listening suggestion. It didn’t take me long to realize this is a great album with a smooth jazz, blues and soul-influenced sound – my kind of music!

Let’s kick things off with the excellent opener and title track. Like all songs on the record, it was written by Simon, one of my favorite American singer-songwriters. It nicely sets the mood for the album. BTW, the recording features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm SectionBarry Beckett (Fender Rhodes piano), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). Also, check out that beautiful saxophone solo by Michael Brecker, which starts at around 2:12 minutes.

My Little Town reunited Simon with Art Garfunkel. The tune, which also appeared on Garfunkel’s second solo album Breakaway that was released about 10 days prior to Still Crazy, became the first single credited to the duo since America, a single off their above Greatest Hits compilation. Simon and Garfunkel may have had a complicated relationship, but they surely recorded some great music together and their voices blended perfectly with each other. While perhaps a little bit lush in the second part (hey, it’s the ’70s!), the song has a nice build.

The big hit from the album of course is 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Yes, I realize it’s perhaps an obvious choice everybody knows, but I just dig that tune way too much to skip it. I love that cool drum part played by Steve Gadd, as well as the song’s bluesy feel and clever lyrics. It became the record’s third single and Simon’s only solo song to top the Billboard Hot 100.

Next up: Gone At Last, another gem on the album with a great soul and gospel vibe. Phoebe Snow and The Jessy Dixon Singers provided dynamite guest vocals. The track also became the album’s lead single in August 1975. According to Wikipedia, Phoebe received a credit on the single. The song charted in the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Have A Good Time, which nicely sums up what I feel when listening to this record. This is another great song with a nice bluesy feel. Musically, it’s the slide guitar, as well the alto saxophone played by Phil Woods, which speak to me in particular. Check it out!

Still Crazy After All These Years was co-produced by Simon and South African born recording engineer and producer Philip Ramone. The record won Grammy Awards for Album Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1976. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 and received Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America, making it one of Simon’s most successful solo albums.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Katrina And The Waves/Katrina And The Waves

Now here’s a blast from the past! The other day while driving in the car with my wife who likes ’80s music big time, we listened to some sampler of tunes from that decade. One of the songs was Walking On Sunshine, which became a huge hit for Katrina and The Waves in 1985. Unlike some of that sampler’s other tunes I dug at the time but now not so much, I thought Walking On Sunshine still sounds like a perfect summer song. This made me revisit the band’s album on which the tune appeared and realize I also still like most of the other tracks.

According to Wikipedia, Katrina and the Waves were a British-American band that emerged from a pop cover group called Mama’s Cookin’. Founded in 1978, that band from Feltwell, England featured American guitarist and vocalist Katrina Leskanich and Vince de la Cruz (vocals, lead guitar). In late 1980, Alex Cooper joined on drums. He brought in guitarist Kimberley Rew. Rounding out the five-piece was Bob Jaskins on bass. Subsequently, the band renamed themselves The Waves before finally becoming  Katrina and The Waves in August 1982.

Katrina and The Waves Poster
Katrina and The Waves in the ’80s (from left): Alex Cooper, Katrina Leskanich, Vince de la Cruz and Kimberley Rew

In early 1983, the band recorded their self-financed debut album Walking On Sunshine. Eventually, they got a deal with Canadian label Attic Records, which released the record in Canada only. The sophomore Katrina and The Waves 2 appeared in 1984, also in Canada only. The following year, the band signed an international deal with Capitol Records and recorded their third album. Titled Katrina and The Waves, it became their breakthrough, fueled by the single Walking On Sunshine. Interestingly, all tracks on that album were re-recorded, remixed or overdubbed tunes from the band’s two previous Canadian albums. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with the nice opener Red Wine And Whisky. Like all except two of the 10 tracks, the tune was written by Rew.

Here’s the excellent Cry For Me. I dig the nice soulful vibe and Leskanich’s strong lead vocals.

Next up, the above noted Walking On Sunshine. You could not switch on the radio in Germany at the time and not hear that tune. Though according to Wikipedia, it was more successful in other countries, especially in Ireland, Canada, U.K. and the U.S. where it reached no. 2, 3, 8 and 9, respectively on the corresponding singles charts. In Germany, it peaked at no. 28.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer The Game Of Love. The tune features some nice Chuck Berry style guitar, as well as great brass work by Irish saxophonist John Earle.

While Katrina and The Waves continued to release six additional records through the remainder of the ’80s and most of the ’90s, they couldn’t repeat the success of the above album. In 1997, the band scored another hit single with Love Shine A Light, after they won the Eurovision Song Contest with it the same year. Let’s just say it’s quite different from the previously featured tunes. After the band broke up in 1999, Leskanich launched a solo career and has released various albums since then. Apparently, Rew also continued to write, record and release music.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Jontavious Willis/Spectacular Class

I’ve said it before and I say it again. While the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon are gone and Buddy Guy is one of a handful of last men standing from the old guard, the blues is alive and well. It’s particularly encouraging to see young artists embrace it. Perhaps the most compelling example I know is 22-year-old Jontavious Willis. None other than Taj Mahal has called him “Wunderkind.” Recently, he executive-produced the young bluesman’s sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April this year.

In some regards, the story of Willis, who is from Greenville, Ga., mirrors that of other great blues artists. The church and a key event determined his path. According to his website, Willis grew up singing gospel music with his grandfather at a local Baptist house of worship. Then, as a 14-year-old, he saw Muddy Waters on the tube. In the old times, it would have been television, but this is the 21 Century, so it was actually YouTube. Apparently, Willis was instantly hooked and knew that’s the music he wanted to play – I just love these types of stories!

Jontavious Willis and Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal with his Wonderboy, the Wunderkind

I’m not sure how Willis and Taj Mahal found each other. Apparently, Mahal asked Willis to play on stage with him in 2015. Then I guess he became a mentor. “I had an opportunity to have him grace my stage when I came to Atlanta,” said Mahal. “He had a thunderous response from the audience. It was just so great. I’m very, very particular and very private about my stage so – and if somebody is on it giving the full run to go, you know that they must be able do whatever it is that they say they can do, and I say that he can do it and more.”

In 2016, Willis released his debut album Blues Metamorphosis. The following year, he opened up select gigs for Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ during their TajMo tour. That’s were I first heard about Willis and actually saw him.  As you can read here, I was really impressed what this young man who performed solo got out of his acoustic guitar. Fast-forward to the presence and Spectacular Class, which by the way is not some overly confident statement by the artist about his music, though it actually is outstanding, in my humble opinion. Instead it refers to a line in one of the songs called Take Me To The Country: …The folks in the country don’t live too fast got good mannerism and spectacular class

Time to get to some of that spectacular music! Here’s the opener Low Down Ways. Don’t you agree this sounds awesome and certainly not like some 22-year-old kid? It does remind me a little bit of Keb’ Mo’, who served as the record’s producer and also plays guitar on several tracks including this one. By the way, all songs on the album were written by Willis.

In the second track Willis asks the question The Blues Is Dead? But he doesn’t waste much time to offer his perspective: …The blues ain’t going nowhere, gonna be here for a great long time/As long as folks got situations and problems on their mind… According to this upbeat review from Rock and Blues Muse, the tune in addition to Willis on lead vocals and slide guitar features Phil Madera on piano and Andrew Alli on harp. Apart from Mo’ (electric guitar), other musicians on the album include Martin Lynds and Thaddeus Witherspoon on drums, as well as bassist Eric Ramey – clearly, all top-notch craftsmen!

Daddy’s Dough is a delta blues type of tune that nicely showcases Willis’ abilities on acoustic guitar, with nice harp fill-ins by Alli. Dig the groove on this one!

Next up, the above mentioned Take Me To The Country. This is the type of country blues Willis is oftentimes associated with and another nice example of his acoustic guitar chops – just great! Here’s a nice video showing Willis in action. Check out the great fingerpicking!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer The World Is In A Tangle. Here’s the official video – some killer guitar, banjo and mandolin work on this tune! Sadly, the lyrics capture how I sometimes feel about present day America: The world’s in a tangle it’s time to make a change/I’m gonna move away and change my name/I said the world’s in a tangle what’s going on/I’m going to a foreign land and make it my home

Here’s how Willis describes his sound and approach to the blues: “My instrument sound is simple; my voice is what I put on the forefront. I feel that’s what the blues is about. When you start focusing on your instrument more than vocals you are forgetting the purpose of the blues, which is to tell a story.”

Given Taj Mahal’s important role in Willis’ career thus far, it feels appropriate to quote him again: “Jontavious Willis. That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind. He’s a great new voice of the 21st Century in the acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays. He has really just delightful timing and a real voice for the music because he was raised in the tradition and the culture. It’s just wonderful to hear him sing. The way he tunes his guitar is just amazing. There’s not a bluesman alive that could pick his instrument up and play it. You’d have to sit there for a good while to figure those tunings out.” High but well-deserved praise from a living blues legend!

Willis is currently on the road in the U.S., with a few gigs overseas in Switzerland, Denmark and Norway scheduled between August 29 and September 7. On some of his dates later this year, he is playing with Keb’ Mo’, e.g., Charlotte, N.C. (Sep 18), Oklahoma City (Sep 22) and Fort Collins, Colo. (Sep 26) – should be an awesome show! The full schedule is here.

Sources: Jontavious Willis website, Rock and Blues Muse, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Jimmie Vaughan/Baby, Please Come Home

Lately, I’ve been listening to blues music quite a lot. In part, it’s thanks to fellow music blogger Music Enthusiast and his recent New Music Review that featured two excellent artists, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Big Daddy Wilson. The other part is my own curiosity, which led me back to the Billboard Blues Albums chart where the other day I had spotted a surprising entry: a collection of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry covers by George Benson. This time, I came across Baby, Please Come Home, another great covers album by an old hand of Texas blues: Jimmie Vaughan.

Other than the fact that Jimmie is the older brother of electric blues dynamo Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my long-time favorite blues guitarists, admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Jimmie, so had to read up a little. But that happens to be one of the aspects I particularly enjoy about music blogging – learning about new artists and their music. Yes, this can be time-consuming, but I’m not in a hurry. Most importantly, it would be far less fun if I would only write about stuff I knew!

Jimmy Vaughan

Jimmie Vaughan was born on March 20, 1951 in the Dallas area, about three and a half years prior to his brother Stephen Ray. He started playing the guitar as a child and in fact inspired his younger brother to pick up the instrument as well. At the age of 19, Jimmie moved to Austin and played in different blues bar bands for some time. In 1972, he formed his own group, The Storm, which backed many touring blues artists. Two years later, he co-founded The Fabulous Thunderbirds with harmonica player Kim Wilson. While the T-Birds gained a strong fan base in Texas, their first four albums didn’t sell well, and by the end of 1982 their record company Chrysalis had dropped them.

Meanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughan broke through and became a dominating force in the Texas and national blues scene. It took the T-Birds until 1986 to score a success with their fifth studio album Tough Enuff. The record featured more of a mainstream sound, an approach the band replicated on their next two albums. Unhappy about the commercial direction the T-Birds had taken, Jimmie left in 1990 and recorded an album with his brother, Family Style. It came out one month after Stevie Ray’s untimely death in a helicopter crash under the name The Vaughan Brothers.

Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Jimmie Vaughan (left) with his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan

Jimmie’s solo debut Strange Pleasure appeared in 1994. He hasn’t been exactly prolific since then, sometimes leaving many years in-between releasing new studio records and focusing on touring and guest-appearing on albums by other artists. Baby, Please Come Home, which was mostly recorded at Fire Station Studio in San Marcos, Texas, came out on May 17 on the Last Music Co. label. It features deeper cuts from a variety of different artists, such as Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Etta James, Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed. Let’s get to some music.

Here is the opener and title track of the album. The tune was written by Lloyd Price and released as a single in 1955. Often called “Mr. Personality,” after his 1959 million-seller Personality, the R&B singer from Louisiana is also known for Lawdy Miss Clawdy, a song he recorded in 1952, featuring Fats Domino on piano. I just dig the horn section and the cool retro sound on Baby, Please Come Home, which is present throughout this 11-tune collection.

No One To Talk To (But The Blues) is a song by country music singer-songwriter Lefty Frizzell, which he recorded in 1957 as a single with country and rockabilly vocalist  Shirley Caddell, who later became known as Shirley Collie Nelson. From 1963 until 1971, she was married to Willie Nelson.

Another great tune, and frankly I could have selected any other track, is What’s Your Name?  That song was written by blues, R&B and rock & roll singer Chuck Willis and appeared as a single in 1953.

Next up: I’m Still In Love With You by T-Bone Walker, one of Vaughan’s guitar influences. Co-written by Walker and Charles Glenn, the ballad was released by Walker with Marl Young And His Orchestra in 1945. From what I have heard thus far, Jimmie is more of an old-style pre-Jimi Hendrix type blues guitarist whereas his younger brother clearly embraced the virtuosity and sound of Hendrix.

The last track I’d like to highlight is So Glad by Fats Domino, which first appeared on his 1963 album Walking To New Orleans. The song was co-credited to Domino and his musical collaborator Dave Bartholomew.

In addition to playing guitar, Vaughan is also handling all lead vocals, something I understand he hasn’t always done. While I think it’s fair to say he’s a better guitar player than a singer, his vocals go well with the music. Vaughan is backed by outstanding musicians, with some of whom he has worked for a long time: George Rains (drums), Ronnie James (bass), Billy Pittman (rhythm guitar), Mike Flanigan (Hammond B3), T. Jarrod Bonta (piano), Greg Piccolo (tenor saxophone), Doug James (baritone saxophone), Randy Zimmerman (trombone) and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet), as well as the Texas horns: Kaz Kazanoff (tenor saxophone), John Mills (baritone saxophone) and Al Gomez (trumpet). The record also features guest vocalists Georgia Bramhall and Emily Gimble.

Commenting on the eclectic mix of tracks, Vaughan told Guitar World, “When I was young, I didn’t really pay much attention to categories of music. I just heard what I liked and decided to explore that. And that’s really what I’m still doing.” The result is a great-sounding. old style blues record I find very enjoyable. I also agree with one review I read that it was not Vaughan’s goal to make a hit record but simply play music he loves. That being said, the album is currently at no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. No. 1, by the way, is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram with his eponymous debut – that 20-year-old blues guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Miss is just dynamite!

Vaughan is going on the road starting June 19 in Atlanta, and playing what mostly look like smaller venues. Now, that could be fun – I know I’ve been saying I need to restrain myself investing in concerts, but seeing Vaughan up and close in some intimate venue probably would be a great experience! Some of the other dates include Cleveland (Jun 26); Austin, Texas (Jul 6); Boston (Jul 16); Washington, D.C. (Jul 20); Los Angeles (Aug 7); and San Francisco (Sep 11). The last current gig is in Dallas on Sep 21. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Jimmie Vaughan website, Guitar World, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: George Benson/Walking To New Orleans

The other day, I found myself looking at the Billboard Blues Chart, something I rarely do. That’s when I spotted Walking To New Orleans, the latest album by George Benson. While I had known the jazz guitarist had crossed over to other genres like pop, funk and R&B, I had not associated him with the blues. Intrigued by my “discovery,” I looked up the album in my music streaming service and started listening – boy, what a fun and groovy record, which celebrates the music of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry!

Before getting to the album, I’d like to give a bit of background on Benson, who was born in Pittsburgh on March 22, 1943. He started out playing the ukulele as a seven-year-old before he picked up the guitar a year later. At the age of 10, Benson recorded his first single She Makes Me Mad, which appeared on RCA-Victor under the name of Little Georgie. His debut album The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, recorded together with The Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, was released in 1964 when he was 21.

George Benson

In the mid-60s, Benson worked with Miles Davis and appeared as a guest on Davis’ July 1968 studio album Miles In The Sky. Until the mid-70s, Benson recorded a series of albums mainly in the jazz domain. The release of Breezin’ in May 1976 marked his breakthrough into pop and biggest success topping the Billboard 200. Another big mainstream success was Give Me The Night, which appeared in August 1980 and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard 200. I believe this Quincy Jones-produced record was my introduction to Benson. He has since released numerous additional studio, live and compilation albums.

Walking To New Orleans, which came out last month, is Benson’s 45th album and his first new recording since Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole from June 2013. “I’m a great appreciator of the music made by both of those guys,” Benson explained. “Chuck Berry was a great showman and a great musician, and Fats Domino cut nothing but hit after hit after hit.” With that said, let’s get to some music!

The Chuck Berry tune Nadine (It’s You) makes for a great opener. Berry released it as a single in February 1964. I dig the honky tonk piano and the horns, which like on many other tracks on the album give the song a great groove.

Rockin’ Chair is one of the five Fats Domino songs on the record. Co-written by Domino and Alvin E Young, it appeared as a single in 1951 – another great tune that makes you want to move and snip your fingers.

Next up: Chuck Berry classic You Can’t Catch Me. Written by Berry, the tune appeared as a single in 1956. It was also included on Rock! Rock! Rock!, a soundtrack album for a motion picture of the same name.

The last track I like to highlight is the album’s great title song, another Fats Domino tune. Written by Bobby Charles, Domino released it in June 1960 as a single. Featuring Domino’s signature rock & roll piano style, the song also appeared on his album …A Lot Of Dominos! that came out the same year.

The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by Kevin Shirley, a.k.a. “The Caveman.” Shirley has worked with many artists, such as Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Rush and Led Zeppelin. Backing up Benson is a quartet of excellent Nashville musicians, including Greg Morrow (drums, music director), Rob McNelley (guitar), Kevin McKendree (piano) and Alison Prestwood (bass).

“We did have us a ball making this record,” Benson summed up. It’s exactly that sentiment that is evident throughout the album and makes it such a fun listening experience. I think it may also encourage me to pay closer attention to the Billboard Blues Chart going forward.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, George Benson website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: SUSTO/Ever Since I Lost My Mind

Until earlier today when I coincidentally came across a CBS This Morning clip on FacebookI had never heard of SUSTO. And, no, while Mr. Zuckerberg apparently is trying hard to stop spreading misinformation, I’m happy to report this ain’t fake news! If you’re like me and basically have given up on most contemporary music because you feel it sucks, I suspect this may be your first time to hear about SUSTO and the latest studio album Ever Since I Lost My Mind, which came out on February 22nd on Rounder Records.

Okay, who or what exactly is SUSTO? While technically being a five-piece alternative rock-oriented band, SUSTO really is a music project by singer-songwriter Justin Osborne. The above mentioned clip captured a performance of the album’s opener Homeboy. There was something about this tune that grabbed me immediately – the catchy melody, Osborne’s voice, the fact that it involved real musicians, meaning folks who actually know how to play an instrument instead of programming a computer. I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly confident it wasn’t because I lost my mind! 🙂

Justin Osborne.jpg
Justin Osborne

Osborne, who if I correctly interpret his Facebook page is 32 years old, hails from Charleston, S.C. According to the bio on SUSTO’s website, he wrote his first songs at age 14 on his grandpa’s parlor guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch. “So I’d go steal it out of my dad’s closet whenever they were out of the house,” Osborne recalls. “It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked.” Apparently, his family’s concern was about ensuring he and his young brothers wouldn’t break the inherited instrument from their grandfather, not Justin’s early attraction to music.

Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school and college. SUSTO was established in January 2013 – just in time. After years of booking and playing gigs and a feeling of going nowhere, Osborne was about to call it quits. Prior to leaving for a foreign semester in Havana, Cuba as part of this anthropology studies, he set up a website for SUSTO, “a holding tank for demos he couldn’t quite bear to toss.” While Osborne was in Havana, he became friends with Cuban musicians and artists, who apparently convinced him to stick with music.

SUSTO

Six months later, Osborne returned to the States and recorded SUSTO’s eponymous debut album that appeared in April 2014. According to Apple Music, following the release of sophomore & I’m Fine Today in January 2017, SUSTO had their TV debut, which was also on CBS This Morning. This was followed by a tour with The Lumineers. Ever Since I Lost My Mind is SUSTO’s third studio release. Osborne catalog to date also includes a live record, two EPs and a couple of singles.

BTW, in case you’re wondering about the meaning of the name, according to SUSTO’s website, the word describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul––an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne’s full name. “SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning––it felt like me, like a name for myself,” he [Osborne] says. “I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word––that deep fright––was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction.” With that explanation being out of the way, it’s time to get to some music!

Let’s start with the album’s above noted opener Homeboy. The ups and downs in the song create a nice dynamic. I think it’s a cool tune, even though it gets bit grungy at times, and grunge is generally not so much my cup of tea. Then again, I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, who obviously has written many songs that couldn’t be more grungy. Oh, well, I suppose there are always exceptions to rules! 🙂

Here’s the record’s second track If I Was, a quieter tune setting a nice contrast to the opener. It’s got a soothing feel to it, which I like. This somewhat contrasts the lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: …But I am just a singer/With electric guitar in my hands,/ Trying to work through my own set of problems,/Trying to do the best that I can,/The best I can./ And I’m your man…

Livin’ In America is another rocker.

Next up: The album’s title track, another mellow sounding tune. The music and lyrics are credited to Osborne and Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, Osborne’s longtime creative sounding board, who also co-produced the song with the album’s lead producer Ian Fitchuk.

Let’s do one more: Cocaine.

Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal,” Osborne notes. “This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments. It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways.”

According to SUSTO’s website, while it began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it’s really always been: Osborne’s vision. “I come from a background of being in bands, so it’s hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control,” he says. “Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It’s taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be––what it really is.”

In addition to Osborne, SUSTO’s current lineup features Dries Vandenberg (guitar),  Steven Walker (keyboards), Jordan Hicks (bass) and Marshall Hudson (drums). The band has a pretty active tour schedule. After a gig this evening in Washington, D.C., they are off to a series of shows in Europe before returning to the States in mid-May.

Sources: Wikipedia, Justin Osborne Facebook page, SUSTO website, Apple Music, YouTube