It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.
The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.
What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.
Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.
I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).
Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.
A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.
The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.
AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music. This time, three of the four featured artists are entirely new to me, while the last pick I’ve primarily known by name for more than 30 years. All tunes came out yesterday (February 4).
Eric Krasno/Lost Myself
My first pick this week is Eric Krasno, a versatile New York-based guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer. According to his Apple Musicprofile, he is best known for his work with Soulive [a funk/jazz trio – CMM] and Lettuce [a Boston funk group – CMM], both of which he co-founded. His own musical roots lie in funk, jazz, rock, and hip-hop, and he has written songs and produced records for a variety of artists in a range of genres including Norah Jones, Aaron Neville, Talib Kweli, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Ledisi, 50 Cent, and Matisyahu…His earliest influences were his musician grandfather, a professional pianist who played gypsy jazz and swing, as well as his older brother and father, also accomplished musicians though amateurs. His early attraction to classic rock records from Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jeff Beck, and Grateful Dead influenced his decision to become a guitarist. He began playing in local bands during high school. After graduating, he attended the Berklee School of Music for one semester before transferring to Hampshire College. Despite its brevity, it was at Berklee that he encountered other founding members of the funk/jam unit Lettuce during a summer program…In 1999, he joined brothers Alan and Neal Evans, and Sam Kininger, to co-found Soulive, a jazz/hip-hop/folk/groove unit that recorded for several labels including Blue Note and, like Lettuce, they’re known for a rigorous touring schedule. In 2010, Krasno released his first solo album Reminisce. This brings me to this third and latest studio release Always and Lost Myself. The funky, soulful, bluesy tune was co-written by Krasno and David Gutter. Krasno’s vocals remind me a bit of John Mayer.
Black Country, New Road/The Place Where He Inserted the Blade
Black Country, New Road are an English rock band established in London in 2018. The initial lineup included Tyler Hyde (bass), Lewis Evans (saxophone), May Kershaw (keyboards), Charlie Wayne (drums) and Isaac Wood (lead vocals, guitar), who all had been members of Cambridge, England-based group Nervous Conditions. After the release of their debut single Athen’s, France, guitarist Luke Mark joined the band. That formation subsequently recorded Black Country, New Road’s debut album For the First Time that came out in February 2021. The Place Where He Inserted the Blade, credited to all members, is a tune from the group’s sophomore and latest album Ants from Up There. It’s an unusual, interesting track, mixing rock, pop and classical music elements. Four days prior to the record’s release, Wood announced his departure from the band due to mental health issues. Bassist Hyde will assume lead vocals for now.
Muscadine Bloodline/Dead on Arrival
Muscadine Bloodline are a Nashville-based duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton who blend country and Southern rock. From their website: Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton grew up in Mobile, Alabama, but didn’t cross paths until they each started to pursue their musical dreams. In 2012, they forged a friendship when Stanton opened a show for Muncaster’s band at Soul Kitchen in Mobile. Charlie’s contemporary vocals complimented by Gary’s harmonies and masterful guitar licks showcase a powerfully refreshing mix of talent, passion and unfiltered authenticity. Since naming themselves Muscadine Bloodline in 2015, they’ve had two Billboard-charting critically-acclaimed EP’s, have sold out shows across the country, opened concerts for hundreds of artists and earned a standing ovation at their Grand Ole Opry debut in 2018. The guys’ Southern roots carry over to their band name as well: Muscadine grapes grow in the South while Bloodline represents their heritage. In September 2020, they released their debut record Burn It at Both Ends. Bluesy country rocker Dead on Arrival is a song from the duo’s second and new album Dispatch to 16th Ave. The tune was co-written by Muncaster and Stanton, along with Adam Hood and producer Gary Stanton.
Red Hot Chili Peppers/Black Summer
Wrapping up this week’s music revue is the latest single by Red Hot Chili Peppers. While they have been around since 1983, other than Under the Bridge and Californication, I can’t name any other tunes by the rock band from Los Angeles. As expected, the group has had numerous line-up changes over the decades. The current members include co-founders Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals) and Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals), along with John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and Chad Smith (drums, percussion). To date, the Chili Peppers have released 11 studio, two live and 12 compilation albums. A new album, their first in nearly six years, is coming out on April 1: Unlimited Love. It was produced by Rick Rubin, who previously had served as their producer for six albums in a row, released between 1991 and 2011. Here’s Black Summer, the lead single from the new album, credited to all four members. I think it’s a great tune that makes me want to hear more.
Last but not least, as usual, here’s a playlist of the above songs, along with a few others.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Muscadine Bloodline website; YouTube; Spotify
A playlist of the singer-songwriter’s tunes covered by other artists
Lately, I’ve been getting more into John Hiatt’s music. Last week, when writing about his excellent ninth studio album Slow Turning, I noted many other artists have covered the singer-songwriter’s tunes over the decades. The man is a true goldmine! This triggered the idea for this post to look at great renditions of Hiatt songs, some of which ended up becoming hits, unlike his originals. For each pick, I’m going to feature both a cover and Hiatt’s original version. I’m also adding a playlist at the end with additional covers and originals.
B.B. King & Eric Clapton/Riding with the King
In 2000, B.B. King and Eric Clapton teamed up for a collaboration album. They cleverly named it Riding with the King, after the title track of Hiatt’s sixth studio release from 1983. Released in June 2000, King’s and Clapton’s record hit no. 1 on Billboard’sTop Blues Albums chart and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Bob Dylan/The Usual
Here’s a terrific Bob Dylan cover of The Usual. This is from a soundtrack of the 1987 American motion picture Hearts of Fire, in which Dylan also co-starred, alongside Fiona Flanagan and Rupert Everett. I love the soulful vibe of this version! Hiatt recorded the original for his seventh studio album Warming Up to the Ice Age that appeared in January 1985. George Thorogood and the Destroyers also did a nice cover of The Usual on their 10th studio album Rockin’ My Life Away released in March 1997. Since I couldn’t find Dylan’s rendition in Spotify, I included Thorogood’s cover in the below playlist instead.
Bonnie Raitt/Thing Called Love
I suppose one of the best-known John Hiatt renditions is Thing Called Love by Bonnie Raitt. She included the tune on her tenth studio album Nick of Time from March 1989, which after years of personal and professional struggles finally gave her commercial breakthrough and her first no. 1 album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The song’s official video featured a flirtatious Dennis Quaid. Bonnie did not seem to mind! I was actually surprised to see the song didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it reached no. 11 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Hiatt included that tune on Bring the Family, his eighth studio record that appeared in May 1987.
Delbert McClinton/Have a Little Faith in Me
Have a Little Faith in Me is one of the most beautiful John Hiatt songs I know. Like Thing Called Love, it appeared on Bring the Family. Delbert McClinton included a great cover on his studio album from April 1992, titled Never Been Rocked Enough. This is just neat!
Emmylou Harris/Icy Blue Heart
The last tune I’d like to highlight in this post is Icy Blue Heart, a powerful track off Hiatt’s above noted Slow Turning album from August 1988. Emmylou Harris recorded a beautiful cover for her 15th studio album Bluebird released in January 1989. It features Bonnie Raitt on background vocals – what an amazing pairing! Frankly, Harris’ angelic voice can make me well up. I also love how her vocals bend with Bonnie’s. This is just stunning!
The below playlist includes some additional Hiatt covers by Aaron Neville (It Feels Like Rain), Iggy Pop (Something Wild), Linda Ronstadt (When We Ran), Willie Nelson (The Most Unoriginal Sin) and Jimmy Buffett (The Tiki Bar is Open). Hope you enjoy it as much, as I did putting together this post and playlist. And, as always, feel free to comment, especially if I missed your favorite John Hiatt cover!
Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.
While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.
What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.
In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.
Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.
Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.
This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!
The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!
Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.
Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’sThe Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.
A tribute to the amazing voice and versatility of Linda Ronstadt
The other night, I caught the great documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on CNN. While I had been well aware of Linda Ronstadt’s amazing vocals, I had not fully appreciated her musical versatility. I’d like to focus this post on the latter, since it’s safe to assume her biography has been covered a million times.
Yes, Ronstadt “only” performed music written by others, which perhaps in part explains why it took me so long to write about her. But it would be a serious mistake to underappreciate her. You don’t need to take it from me.
Let’s start with a few comments from other artists I dig, who are featured in the documentary. “Linda could literally sing anything” (Dolly Parton). “Linda was the queen. She was what Beyoncé is right now” (Bonnie Raitt). “Linda was a very determined woman” (Don Henley). “There’s just no one that will have a voice like Linda’s” (Emmylou Harris). “Try following Linda Ronstadt every night” (Jackson Browne).
And then there’s Ronstadt’s sheer success. The documentary noted she “was the only female artist with five platinum albums in a row:” Heart Like a Wheel (November 1974), Prisoner in Disguise (September 1975), Hasten Down the Wind (August 1976), Simple Dreams (September 1977) and Living in the USA (September 1978). I assume that statement refers to the ’70s only. According to Wikipedia, Mad Love from February 1980 also hit platinum, which would actually make it six such albums in a row. Plus, there’s another series of five platinum records in a row Ronstadt released between September 1983 and October 1989.
Let’s get to some music. I’d like to kick things off with Rescue Me, from Ronstadt’s eponymous album, released January 1973, her third record. Co-written by Raynard Miner and Carl Smith, this nice rocker was recorded live at The Troubador in Los Angeles. In addition to Ronstadt’s great vocals, I’d like to call out her impressive backing band: Glenn Frey (guitar, backing vocals), Don Henley (drums, backing vocals) and Randy Meisner (backing vocals), along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar), Moon Martin (guitar), Michael Bowden (bass). Among the album’s many other guests was Bernie Leadon. Following the record’s release and with Ronstadt’s approval Frey, Henley, Leadon and Meisner formed that other band called the Eagles.
When Will I Be Loved is one of the gems on Ronstadt’s breakthrough album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974. The Phil Everly tune nicely illustrates her ability to select great songs and make them her own. I dig the original by The Everly Brothers, but Ronstadt took it to another level. Apart from beautiful harmony singing, it’s the guitar work by Andrew Gold that stands out to me. Similar to her eponymous album, Heart Like a Wheel features an impressive array of guests, including Frey, Henley, J.D. Souther, Timothy B. Schmidt, Russ Kunkel, David Lindley and Emmylou Harris, among others. Once again, it goes to show great artists like to play with other great artists.
In September 1977, Ronstadt released her eighth studio album Simple Dreams, which became one of the most successful records of her entire career. Among others, it includes Blue Bayou, one of her best-known songs. And then there’s this fantastic version of Rolling Stones classic Tumbling Dice. Check out that great slide guitar solo by Waddy Wachtel, who in addition to electric also played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals, together with Kenny Edwards. According to It Came With The Frame, Ronstadt at the time had a fling with Mick Jagger who helped her overcome challenges in mastering the song’s lyrics. That little help from her friend came to end when Bianca Jagger flew straight to California to confront her husband. Apparently, she actually liked Ronstadt as long as she didn’t get too cozy with Mick!
After having become one of the biggest female music artists on the planet and having firmly established herself in the country, pop and rock genres, Ronstadt took the gutsy decision to turn to Broadway in the summer of 1980. She became the lead in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Gilbert and Sullivan’sThe Pirates of Penzance, alongside actor and vocalist Kevin Kline. While people in the music industry tried to talk her out of it, saying it would be the end of her career, it all made perfect sense to Ronstadt. Her grandfather Fred Ronstadt had once created a musical arrangement of The Pirates of Penzance. Ronstadt also co-starred in the 1983 film version of the operetta, for which she won several Tony Awards and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Here’s Poor Wandering One.
During her Broadway and operetta phase and beyond, Ronstadt continued to release studio albums and took excursions into new musical territory.First up: An album of pop standards, ironically titled What’s New and featuring songs by the likes of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Sammy Kahn. It was the first in a trilogy of jazz-oriented albums. Again, Ronstadt’s record company Asylum and her manager Peter Asher were quite reluctant to produce such a record. But Don Henley didn’t call her “a very determined woman” for nothing, and in the end, the record label and Asher knew they couldn’t talk Ronstadt out of it. The album actually turned out to be a success, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and spending 81 weeks on the chart. Here’s Ronstadt’s take of I’ve Got a Crush On You, co-written by George Gershwin and his older brother Ira Gershwin.
In 1987, Ronstadt took yet another musical turn. Inspired by her Mexican heritage (her father Gilbert Ronstadt was of German, English and Mexican ancestry) and her exposure to Mexican music, which was sung by her family throughout her childhood, she recorded Canciones De Mi Padre, an album of traditional Mariachi music. Released in November 1987, it became the first of four Spanish language albums Ronstadt released. It also remains the biggest-selling non-English language album in American record history, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. and nearly 10 million worldwide as of 2012. According to Wikipedia, it also is the only recording production that used the three best Mariachi bands in the world: Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey. Ronstadt simply didn’t do anything half-ass! Here’s Tú Sólo Tú.
If you’re new to Linda Ronstadt, I suppose by now, nothing would really surprise you. Plus country isn’t perhaps as big a leap as operetta and Mariachi music. Here’s a tune from Trio II, the second country collaboration album Ronstadt recorded with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris: Neil Young’sAfter the Gold Rush. The album appeared in February 1999. I have to say I’ve rarely heard such beautiful harmony vocals. It’s like angels singing. And dare I add it as a huge Neil Young fan, I like Ronstadt’s take better than the original, which is one of my favorite Young tunes.
I’d like to wrap things up with one more song: Back in the U.S.A. Ronstadt’s cover of the Chuck Berry tune was the opener of Living in the USA, released in September 1978, her third and last record to peak the Billboard 200. Back in the U.S.A. also became the album’s lead single in August of the same year. Dan Dugmore and Waddy Wachtel on guitar and Don Grolnick on the piano do a beautiful job. Russ Kunkel (drums), Kenny Edwards (bass, backing vocals) and Peter Asher (backing vocals) round out the backing musicians.
Linda Ronstadt has had an exceptional career. In addition to having released more than 30 studio albums, including three no. 1 records on the Billboard 200, she has appeared on approximately 120 albums by other artists. According to her former producer and manager Peter Asher, Ronstadt has sold over 45 million albums in the U.S. alone. She has also produced for other artists like David Lindley, Aaron Neville and Jimmy Webb. In April 2014, Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also became a Kennedy Center Honoree last year.
In a February 2019 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Ronstadt said that it was in 2000 when she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. “I would start to sing and it would start clamp up. It was like a cramp. It was like a freeze…It’s very slow-moving this disease, so it took a really long time to fully manifest.” After these first signs, Ronstadt recorded one more album, Hummin’ to Myself, released in November 2004. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, she said, “I’m 100 percent retired and I’m not doing anything any more. I’m at the ripe old age of getting to be 65 and I find that I don’t have the power that I had and that’s not worth inviting people to spend their money.”
While Parkinson’s is a bad disease, especially for a vocalist, Ronstadt is very gracious about it. “You know, I’m grateful for the time I had,” she said in the documentary. “I got to live a lot of my dreams and I feel lucky about it…Another person with Parkinson’s said that life after death isn’t the question. It’s life before death. So how you gonna do it? How you gonna live?” BTW, in good old CNN fashion to repeat content, the documentary airs again tonight at 9:00 pm ET and tomorrow (January 5, 12:00-2:00 am ET). If you like Linda Ronstadt, I highly recommend it.
Sources: Wikipedia; It Came With The Frame; CBS Sunday Morning; Arizona Daily Star; YouTube