L.A. Funk Rock Band Cohort Releases Eponymous Studio Album

With Cohort being the second contemporary band I “discovered” in one day, it starts to feel a bit like I’m on a roll with stepping out of my ’60s and ’70s zone. At this time, it’s mostly some music from their new eponymous album I can offer, since there hardly seems to be any public information on this funk-oriented rock band. Cohort don’t even have a Facebook page, which I find somewhat puzzling. The following insights are based on Soundcloud and this YouTube clip.

Weirdly, just like my previous discovery Dustbowl Revival, Cohort hail from Venice, Los Angeles. What’s up with that? This beachfront neighborhood seems to be a hotbed for music! Cohort’s members include Tula Jussen (guitar, vocals), Josh Lipp (guitar), Miles Tobel (keyboards, saxophone), Jack Ross (bass) and Emilio Anamos (drums). They all seem to be quite young. The above YouTube clip, which was posted in July 2017, introduced them as a “teenage rock band.” But here’s the thing. No matter their age, they sound pretty mature on what seems to be their first full-fledged album.

Check out the following clips. Let’s kick things off with the funky opener Et, which features nice bass, guitar and sax work. This doesn’t exactly sound like some high school band!

Here’s another cool groovy tune: Oddball. Certainly nothing odd about this song.

Okay, do I have your attention? How about a softer tune? It still has a funky sound. Here’s Waiting (Return of the Relaxation).

Let’s do one more track. Here’s the nice closer Santa Ana. It’s another tune with a great groove. I also like the sax intro. Overall, I can hear a bit of a Santana vibe in here, especially if you imagine some congas and other percussion.

What else can I tell you about Cohort? In the above video, Jussen said, “We take a lot of influence from everywhere, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.” That’s perhaps more obvious for the music they play in the clip than the tracks on this album.  I think this talented young band is on a promising path!

Sources: Soundcloud; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Dirty Knobs/Wreckless Abandon

I just saw Mike Campbell turned 70 years today, so thought it would be fun to post the above official clip of Reckless Abandon, a new song he wrote. It’s the title track of the upcoming debut album by The Dirty Knobs, a side-band to The Heartbreakers Campbell founded nearly 12 years ago. The album is set for release on March 20 – can’t wait to hear all of it!

Happy birthday!

Sources: Relix; YouTube

California Roots Collective Dustbowl Revival Just Released Intriguing New Album

This year is still young, and I feel my journey to discover new music is off to a promising start. Is it coincidence or, dare I say it, am I more willing to step out of my all too comfortable ’60s and ’70s bubble? I suppose it’s a little bit of both, but no reason to start sounding like a shrink and go deeper into self-analysis. At the end of the day, all that matters is the music. And the music by Collective Dustbowl on their just-released new album Is It You, Is It Me sounds intriguing to my ears.

Until earlier today, I had never heard of this band that hails from Los Angeles beachfront neighborhood Venice and has been around for close to 12 years. Is It You, Is It Me, which came out yesterday, is their fourth full-fledged studio album. Their catalog also includes a “super EP” and a live album. So who are these guys?

According to their website, Dustbowl Revival has always been about pushing the boundaries of what American roots music can be. In many ways, they could have continued creating joyful, booty-shaking songs and cut-to-heart folk-rock ballads that lift up their transcendent live shows – and mining new energetic material from the place where folk music, funk and soul meet.

But the band’s newest album, Is It You, Is It Me, coming January 31 via their own Medium Expectations label and Nashville’s Thirty Tigers, is something different entirely. Produced by Sam Kassirer [Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter, David Ramirez] and engineered by Brian Joseph [Bon Iver, Local Natives, Sufjan Stevens], it represents the latest stage in a band that never stops evolving and refuses to stand still.

Dustbowl Revival
Dustbowl Revival (from left): Connor Vance, Matt Rubin, Liz Beebe, Zachary (Zach) Lupetin, Ulf Bjorlin and Josh Heffernan

This is my first exposure to Dustbowl Revival, so I can’t tell how the new album is different from their previous releases. But as a semi-retired hobby musician and a music fan for more than 40 years, I’m confident enough to state I know good music when I hear it. And what I hear are catchy songs, nice harmony vocals and solid musician craftsmanship. Of course, I also realize assessing music is very subjective.

Dustbowl Revival’s core members are founder Zach Lupetin (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Liz Beebe (lead vocals, ukulele), Josh Heffernan (drums), Connor Vance (violin), Ulf Bjorlin (trombone) and Matt Rubin (trumpet). So, how does a band with this interesting sound like? Let’s get to some music to find out!

While their website doesn’t make it clear who is writing their music, I found this document suggesting all tunes are credited to the entire band. But I’m not sure this is 100 percent accurate since all songs co-credit Daniel Mark, who according to the website was their long-time co-writer and mandolin player, who co-wrote “several” of the songs and recently left. Their bassist James Klopfleisch exited as well, but none of these departures appear to have prevented the band from recording a great album. For the recording sessions, he was replaced by Yosmel Montejo.

Take a listen to the opener Dreaming, apparently a tune about stage anxiety. I dig the harmony vocals, which sometimes remind me a bit of Fleetwood Mac (check out the lines, Well, I lost all control/and I don’t know how to get it back) and the horn work on that one in particular.

Enemy has a cool brass groove and features compelling vocals by Beebe. Yes, it’s pretty pop-oriented, but I don’t have a problem with it since it sounds great! Apparently, this track was the album’s lead single.

On Get Rid of You, things get political with school shootings that sadly seem to have become the new normal in America: Well it seems every week there’s another one on the TV/you change the channel, say it’s never happen to me/but just you wait and see ‘cause you can’t stop the kids from hearing that kind of blasting/Echoing down the hallway like a bell ringing out in hell… “The gun control debate and the stubbornness with which our country refuses to adapt and pass meaningful legislation has been one of those things that really rankles me,” Lupetin told Rolling Stone. “But the kids in Florida seemed to refuse to believe that that was OK anymore. That was really inspiring to me…A lot of our popular music now feels very nihilistic, consumer-driven, and empty. I feel like there was a way to write a song where it could have an almost punk-rock fun chorus but also be about kids standing up to their elders.”

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Let It Go, a quiet and reflective tune, featuring more of Lupetin’s and Beebe’s beautiful harmony vocals.

I’ve been trying so hard to be
a better version of me
I found that note I wrote
When I was twenty one years old
I thought I’d figured it out

And I still don’t know my fate
And maybe I’ll never escape
I’m trying to let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go…

“We’ve always tried to explore different sounds within Americana/roots music and never wanted to stay in one place, which maybe confuses some people but also intrigues other people who always want to see what’s happening next,” Lupetin commented on the album to Billboard. “We’re trying to bring our music to a bigger audience. I think at a certain point we never fit into just the folk and acoustic world, and I’ve always been a huge fan of rock ‘n’ roll and of artists that can transcend genre. I wanted to be able to tell a bigger story that could be heard by more people than just the group that supports folk music.”

The music press seems to be pretty upbeat about the album. “Is It You, Is It Me highlights the topical songwriting and eclectic sound of the L.A. collective,” noted Rolling Stone. “…like nothing Dustbowl Revival has ever created during its four-album run. And that’s just the way frontman Zach Lupetin and his bandmates wanted it,” asserts Billboard. Finally Glide Magazine: “Close your eyes – if one were to imagine the kind of music played in heaven, this may well be it…this is a stunning record with lush sonic layers, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and infectious tunes.” Okay, while “music played in heaven” might be a bit over the top, this is a fun album that prooves (note to myself) that not all new music is generic and soulless.

Sources: Dustbowl Revival website and Facebook page; All Eyes Media website; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Glide Magazine; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Donald Fagen/The Nightfly

The other day, I found myself listening to Donald Fagen’s excellent solo debut album The Nightfly. More frequent visitors of the blog know I dig Steely Dan big time, so one wonders what took me so long to write about this record released in October 1982. Well, to my defense, I included The Nightfly in a previous post about Fagen’s 70th birthday in January 2018 but haven’t dedicated an entire piece to this gem. Until now.

In many ways, The Nightfly mirrors previous Steely Dan albums. To start with, the producer was Gary Katz, who also had produced all of the Dan’s seven records that had appeared by then. Driven by Fagen’s and Katz’s perfectionism and some technical challenges, The Nightfly took eight months to record, about on par with the Aja album, though shorter than Gaucho, Steely Dan’s final album prior to their 20-year recording hiatus. Like previous Steely Dan records, The Nightfly featured an army of top-notch session musicians. Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jeff Porcaro (drums), Rick Derringer (guitar) and many other of these guys had played on Steely Dan albums.

Donald Fagen_The Nightfly Back Cover

But one musician was absent: Fagen’s long-time collaborator Walter Becker. While initially, Fagen thought he could easily handle the song-writing by himself, there came a point when he began to struggle. After the album’s release, he developed a full-blown writer’s block. It would take more than 11 years for his second solo album Kamakiriad to come out. That record was produced by Becker and was the first time he and Fagen collaborated since their breakup in 1981. Another key difference compared to Steely Dan albums were the largely autobiographical lyrics. Many of the songs incorporated topics from Fagen’s childhood in suburban New Jersey. Unlike most Steely Dan albums that were recorded live, for The Nightfly, Fagen opted to overdub each part separately.

Let’s get to some music. I was going to skip the excellent opener I.G.Y., since it was included in my above-mentioned post on Fagen’s 70th birthday. But as one of the album’s standouts, I simply couldn’t resist. I.G.Y, which stands for International Geophysical Year, captures America’s widespread optimistic vision about the country’s future in the late 1950s. The song includes concepts like undersea rail, solar-powered cities and public space travel – and a good dose of sarcasm. I.G.Y. also became the album’s lead single. It peaked at no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is Donald Fagen’s only solo top 40 single on that chart.

According to Wikipedia, the title of the next song Green Flower Street was inspired by the jazz standard On Green Dolphin Street. During his childhood, Fagen became a huge jazz fan. It’s no coincidence that the album’s cover pictures him as a radio DJ with a turntable and a copy of 1958 jazz album Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

Ruby Baby is the only cover on the album. Co-written by music songwriting machine Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the tune was first recorded by The Drifters in 1956. Fagen’s take is jazzier than the original doo-wop version. It also was released as the record’s third and final single.

Another great tune is New Frontier. The title was taken from a quote by John F. Kennedy, who said during his acceptance speech for the Presidential nomination in 1960: “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.” The lyrics are about teenage romance, which prompted a Wall Street Journal reporter to speculate the title may be a humorous metaphor to sex and adulthood. Here’s the song’s official video clip, which combines animation and live action, and is considered an early classic played on MTV. The tune also appeared separately as a single.

I’m Lester the Nightfly
Hello Baton Rouge
Won’t you turn your radio down
Respect the seven second delay we use

This is the first verse from the album’s title track, which captures Fagen’s fascination with jazz during his teenage years and his dream to become a late-night radio DJ. It’s the final tune I’d like to call out.

During a British radio segment about The Nightfly, which apparently aired around the time of Fagen’s 70’s birthday and featured archive interview soundbites of him from 1982, he commented: “I guess I’m 34 now, and I started to think back about how I came to be a musician. And in exploring that, I started thinking about the late ’50s and early ’60s when I first started listening to jazz and rhythm and blues and that kind of music. And that’s the kind of music that formed a lot of my attitudes at the time, not only the music but the whole culture connected with jazz and late-night radio and hipster culture and all those things, which I thought of as an alternative to the rather bland life I was leading out in the suburbs near New York City. So that theme runs through most all of the songs in the album.”

The Nightfly was not only a standout musically, but also technologically. It is one of the earliest fully digitally recorded albums. In fact, it brought to a successful conclusion Fagen’s and Katz’s previous experimentation with digital recording on Steely Dan’s Gaucho, which ended up being an analog record. But it wasn’t an easy feat and led to various challenges with the digital recording machines. In a 1983 story by Billboard magazine, Fagen said, “I was ready to transfer to analog and give it up on several occasions, but my engineering staff kept talking me into it.”

The album was positively received by music critics. It was also nominated for seven Grammy Awards in 1983. While performing worse commercially than Dan’s Gaucho, The Nightfly still was certified platinum in the U.S. and the UK. It climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard 200, making it Fagen’s second-best chart performing solo album after Kamakiriad, which peaked at no. 10 on that chart.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard Magazine; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Moon Jocks/The Moon Jocks

Until yesterday, I had never heard of The Moon Jocks. That’s when my music streaming provider served them up as part of a new music mix. I just love to live in my ’60s and ’70s bubble, so admittedly, my expectations about this playlist were quite moderate. Then that tune Have You came on, which is the band’s latest single that was released two weeks ago. There was something about this retro funky sound and the vocals that grabbed me, so I looked up the band and, voila, got to their eponymous debut album, which appeared last June.

To start with, who are these guys? Unfortunately, there is very little information out there. Their Facebook page indicates they are from Philly and provides a link to their website, which is pretty bare-bones as well. Their bio reads, “The Moon Jocks are a Philadelphia-based trio specializing in delivering chill vibes straight to your ear drums.” It also lists their members: Nick DiGiacomo (guitar), Lou DiGiacomo (drums) and David O’Day (vocals). The website also has a tab about the debut album. One can stream it there, which is kind of cool, and also see the credits. So with the scarcity of information, let some music do the talking!

Here’s the opener Take Control. In addition to the above members, the band relied on a bassist named Mike Palardy on this track and most of the other eight songs on the album. O’Day provides both lead and backing vocals on most tunes. I don’t know who writes and arranges their music, but the soft funky wah-wah guitar and the vocals sound pretty cool to me. Check it out!

None of That brings more of that funky guitar. I also like the drum part, which has a ’70s vibe to it – almost sounds a bit like a disco drum! In fact, I would say, retro is an accurate characterization for The Moon Jocks’ overall sound. It’s one of the few tunes where Nick also plays bass.

Next up: Headspace, a largely instrumental piece.

The last track I’d like to call out is called Time Is Electric. It’s another groovy tune.

The album was recorded at Catapult Sound in North Wales, Pa., which is in the Philadephia vicinity. Sound engineer Brett Kull assisted the band with mixing and also did the mastering.

I’m always happy to come across new music I like, and I really dig The Moon Jocks’ sound. What I will say is the music on the album does become a bit repetitive and predictable after listening to the first few tunes. But let’s be honest here: It’s not like my favorite band of all time, i.e., The Beatles, didn’t sound repetitive, especially in their early phase. This is a pretty good studio debut by what looks to me are still fairly young musicians. I’m sure we’ll hear more from these guys.

Sources: The Moon Jocks website; YouTube

 

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 20

January 20 presented various memorable moments in music history, from surf rock to The Fab Four to Dylan to an all-star concert to celebrate the first official Martin Luther King Day. Let’s get to it!

1962: Dick Dale (born Richard Anthony Monsour) and The Del-Tones entered the Billboard Hot 100 with the instrumental Let’s Go Trippin‘ at no. 60, marking the first surf rock song to chart. While Dale became known as The King of the Surf Guitar, he never reached the success and popularity of fellow surf rockers like Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys. In addition to being a surf music pioneer, Dale was also instrumental in advancing guitar amplifier technology. Working with guitar manufacturer Fender, he helped develop customized amplifiers, including the first 100-watt amp. Dale who was of Lebanese descent incorporated Middle Eastern music scales in his playing and experimented with reverb, which both became key elements of his surf rock sound. He also had an unusual technique, playing a left-handed guitar upside down, i.e., without restringing the instrument.

1964: Meet the Beatles, The Beatles’ second U.S. album and the first on Capitol Records was released. While the cover cheerfully stated, “The First Album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo,” the record actually was the second U.S. release. Ten days prior to its appearance, Vee-Jay Records issued the Fab Four’s actual U.S. debut Introducing… The Beatles. Originally, that album had been scheduled for July 1963. Still, Meet the Beatles beat Introducing…The Beatles in the charts, entering the Billboard 200 one week prior to the latter and peaking at no. 1, denying the top spot to Vee-Jay’s release that got stuck at no. 2. While the cover of Meet the Beatles looked almost identical to the UK album With the Beatles, the song line-up on each record was different. Here’s I Saw Her Standing There, a tune that in the UK already had appeared on The Beatles’ debut Please Please Me and therefore was not on With the Beatles.

1968: John Fred & and his Playboy Band topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Judy in Disguise (With Glasses). Co-written by John Fred Gourrier and Andrew Bernard, the song was the only hit for the U.S. band. The title was a play on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles. Apparently, when he first heard the Beatles tune, Gourrier understood the words as Lucy in disguise with diamonds. Ironically, Judy in Disguise knocked Beatles song Hello, Goodbye out of the Billboard Hot 100 top position. The tune also became a no. 1 hit in Australia, Germany, South Africa and Switzerland, and climbed to no. 3 in Canada, Ireland and the UK. Well, John Fred & and his Playboy Band may have hit it big time only once, but at least they made it count!

1975: Bob Dylan released his 15th studio album Blood on the Tracks. After receiving mixed reviews initially, the album has since been acclaimed as one of Dylan’s greatest. Isn’t it funny how music critics oftentimes change their minds? Apparently, people were faster to embrace the record. By March 1, 1975, Blood on the Tracks stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand and climbed to no. 3 in the UK. In 2003, it was ranked at no. 16 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time. Here’s Shelter From the Storm.

1986: Stevie Wonder commemorated the first official celebration of Martin Luther King Day with a star-studded concert in Washington, D.C. For many years, Wonder had supported the idea for the national holiday, which first had been proposed in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. But sadly it took Congress many years to embrace the idea. During the Carter administration, a bill to establish Martin Luther King Day was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives. This prompted Wonder to write the song Happy Birthday and release it as a single in September 1980. After Congress received petitions in excess of six million signatures, the Senate and the House passed legislation, which was signed by President Regan in November 1983. The first official observance of Martin Luther King Day took three more years. Here’s a clip of the above concert’s finale, featuring Diana Ross and Wonder, along with many other artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Music; Songfacts History Calendar; YouTube

My Playlist: Thin Lizzy

While I wouldn’t call myself an all-out Thin Lizzy fan, I dig many of the Irish rock band’s songs I know and definitely feel they would have deserved getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, how many rock bands can you name that were fronted by a kick-ass black bassist and lead vocalist? Wikipedia calls Phil Lynott the “first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in the field of rock music.” While I’m not sure how many other black rock artists come from Ireland, Thin Lizzy were more than just a multi-cultural band. They also transcended religious division, featuring both Catholic and Protestant members during the period of the Northern Ireland conflict. Before getting to some of Thin Lizzy’s music, a few words about their history are in order.

Thin Lizzy were founded in December 1969, when former Them members guitarist Eric Bell and keyboard player Eric Wrixon met drummer Brian Downey and vocalist and songwriter Phil Lynott in a Dublin pub. Downey and Lynott were performing there with their band Orphanage. Wrixon exited before Thin Lizzy released their debut single The Farmer. After the band (then a trio) had signed with Decca Records at the end of 1970, they recorded their eponymous debut album that appeared in April 1971. Subsequently, except for Lynott and Downey, the band had many different members that notably included guitarist Gary Moore from 1974 to 1977 and 1978 to 1979.

Thin Lizzy with Gary Moore
Thin Lizzy’s 1979 lineup with Gary Moore (from left): Brian Downey, Scott Gorham, Phil Lynott and Moore

In November 1972, Thin Lizzy scored their first hit with the non-album single Whiskey in the Jar, an Irish traditional song that had first been popularized in 1968 by Irish folk band The Dubliners. I still remember that song received a good deal of radio play in Germany during the ’70s and for a long time was the only Thin Lizzy tune I knew. After their initial success, the band lost momentum, and it took them three more years to have their first charting album in the UK, Fighting, released in September 1975. The follow-on Jailbreak from March 1976 finally brought commercial breakthrough and chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 18 on the Billboard 200.

Until their breakup in August 1983, Thin Lizzy recorded six more studio albums. Lynott who had released two solo records in 1980 and 1982 went on to form rock band Grand Slam. They didn’t manage to secure a recording contract and folded in late 1984. On January 4, 1986, Lynott passed away at the age of 36 from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicemia. In 1996, John Sykes, one of the guitarists in Thin Lizzy’s final lineup, decided to revive the band as a tribute. They conducted various tours over the years until Sykes’ departure in June 2009. Shortly thereafter, Scott Gorham who had played guitar with Thin Lizzy since 1974, started putting together another lineup. In 2012, Thin Lizzy offspring Black Star Riders was formed to record new material. Thin Lizzy has continued to gig occasionally, most recently last summer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Whiskey in the Jar. The song’s great twin lead guitar parts were one of the features that attracted me to Thin Lizzy. I still dig that sound. Apparently, the band wasn’t happy about Decca’s release of their cover of the tune, feeling it did not represent their sound.

Here’s a nice rocker appropriately titled The Rocker. Co-written by Bell, Downey and Lynott, the song was included on Vagabonds of the Western World, Thin Lizzy’s third studio album that came out in November 1973 in the wake of the Whiskey in the Jar single. Unlike that tune, The Rocker only charted in Ireland where it went to no. 14.

Next up: Rosalie, the great opener to Thin Lizzy’s fifth studio album Fighting. The track was written by Bob Seger who first recorded it on his 1973 album Back in ’72.

The follow-on album Jailbreak became Thin Lizzy’s best-selling record and also their highest-charting in the U.S. Undoubtedly, that performance was fueled by the classic The Boys Are Back in Town, which remain a staple on classic rock rock to this day. Written by Lynott, the band’s most successful single is another beautiful example of their seductive twin lead guitar sound.

The soulful Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight) is another Lynott tune I dig. It appeared on Thin Lizzy’s eighth studio album Bad Reputation from September 1977. The saxophone part was played by Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell. Call me crazy, I can hear some influence from Irish fellow artist Van Morrison.

Black Rose: A Rock Legend, released in April 1979, was the only Thin Lizzy album featuring Gary Moore despite his two stints with the band. Here’s opener and lead single Waiting for an Alibi written by Lynott. I like the tune’s driving bass line, and these twin lead guitar parts never get boring. It became one of the band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 9 in the UK and no. 6 in Ireland.

How about two more songs? First is Killer on the Loose, another Lynott composition released in September 1980, just ahead of Thin Lizzy’s 10th studio album Chinatown that appeared the following month. Perhaps not surprisingly, the song’s lyrics and video, in which Lynott took the persona of a Jack-the-Ripper-type serial killer, created controversy. It probably didn’t help that the single coincided with a string of murders by an English serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper. But one thing is for sure – chart performance didn’t suffer. The band scored another top 10 hit in the UK and a no. 5 in Ireland.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Cold Sweat. Co-written by Lynott and Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, it was included in the band’s final studio record Thunder and Lightning from March 1983. Here’s a clip from Thin Lizzy’s supporting farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; Thin Lizzy website; YouTube