Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Perhaps it’s not surprising that checking iTunes yesterday hardly revealed any new music releases dated December 24. Which artist would really want to issue an album or a single that day when many folks are focused on Christmas and are done with gift shopping. Of course, I realize release dates are mostly determined by record labels, though December 24 shouldn’t be in their best interest either. Anyway, I still found some music I like that came out fairly recently and, as such, still qualifies as new, at least in my book. My picks this week all fall within different types of rock. Here we go!

Black Map/Witching Hour

Black Map are a post-hardcore supergroup formed in 2014 in San Francisco after the trio’s respective bands had gone on hiatus. Their members include Dredg guitarist Mark Engles; vocalist and guitarist Ben Flanagan, from The Trophy Fire; and drummer Chris Robyn, formerly with Far (all groups I don’t know). A debut EP, Driver, released in February 2014 was followed by the group’s first full-length album …And We Explode in October that year. Witching Hour is an upfront track from Black Map’s upcoming third full-length studio release Melodoria scheduled for Feb 18, 2022. It appeared on December 17. I can hear a bit of U2 here – check out the neat sound!

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Nashville, Tenn. group Goodbye June were formed in 2005. Their lineup features Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. See Where the Night Goes is the title track of the band’s upcoming fourth album set to drop on February 18, 2022. Released on December 14, this tune sounds very classic rock. I find it great to see contemporary bands embrace a genre that has often been called dead. Reminds me a bit of AC/DC!

Austin Meade/Loser Mentality

I hardly could find any public information on Texas rock guitarist and vocalist Austin Meade. Not even his own website includes a bio! According to his Apple Music mini-profile, he cranks out twangy hard-rock albums like 2021’s Black Sheep that boast growling riffs and an outlaw swagger that would make Tyler Childers proud. Wikipedia describes Childers as an American singer-songwriter who blends neotraditional country, bluegrass and folk. I guess this shall suffice. Loser Mentality is Meade’s new single, released on December 9. It was co-written by him and David James Willie. I like it!

Superchunk/Endless Summer

Superchunk are an indie rock band from Chapel Hill, N.C., which were formed in 1989. Their members include Mac McCaughan (vocals, guitar), who I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment this September; Jim Wilbur (guitar), Laura Ballance (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums). Since the release of their eponymous debut album in September 1990, 10 additional records have come out. Endless Summer is a track from Superchunk’s upcoming 12th studio album, Wild Loneliness, scheduled for February 25, 2022. Credited to the entire group, the melodic rock tune was released on December 7 – nice!

Here’s a playlist that includes the above tunes.

Once again, to those celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

‘Tis the Season – Lighten Up!

If you’d asked me over the past couple of weeks whether I was ready for Christmas and New Year’s, most days, I would have said ‘nope’ to the former and ‘hell yes!’ to the latter. Undoubtedly, the second year of this dreadful pandemic has brought many challenges, and with omicron spreading quickly and furiously, the outlook for the near future isn’t great either. Still, while it’s always easy to find reasons to complain, I feel I really shouldn’t do it.

Instead, I should be grateful for many things I oftentimes take for granted: A loving wife and son who haven’t gotten sick; the fact thus far I’ve been able to escape the bloody virus; a roof above my head, even though we literally just needed to have it replaced, which wasn’t cheap; a job I’ve been able to do from home for the past two years; writing this blog about music, a topic I love; and so on and so forth.

As such, it’s time to stop having the blues about the inconveniences the pandemic has brought, especially missing out on live music, and to embrace the holiday season. And, yes, you guessed it, music can help. Following are some contemporary Christmas songs in different genres, including pop, rock, punk, rap, funk, classic rock & roll and even hard rock – as well as one breathtaking rendition of a traditional Christmas carol. I’m borrowing picks from a post I did four years ago. All songs are also captured in a Spotify playlist at the end.

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (1970)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

The Temptations/Silent Night

Below is the Spotify playlist. In the case of (It’s Gonna Be a) Punk Rock Christmas, the version by The Ravers wasn’t available, but I found another rendition of the song by what sounds like a female punk band, The Majorettes.

Happy Holiday Season! If you don’t celebrate Christmas and/or the New Year, I hope this won’t prevent you from having a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I time-travel through the past 70 years or so to celebrate the diversity of music by picking six tunes. This installment features saxophone jazz from 2013, pop from 1980, rock & roll from 1977, blues-rock from 1990, rockabilly from 1957 and rock from 1969. Can you guess what and the last one might be?

Kenny Garrett/Homma San

Today, I’d like to kick off our little music excursion with American post-bop jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett. According to his Apple Music profile, Garrett is among the most distinctive instrumentalists to emerge from Detroit’s 1980s and 1990s jazz scenes. A versatile musician, he is equally at home playing classic jump-and-rhythm & blues, standards, modal music and jazz-funk. Garrett’s professional career took off in 1978 when he became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra as an 18-year-old. He also played and recorded with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, among others. In 1985, he released his debut album as a bandleader, Introducing Kenny Garrett. Wikipedia lists 16 additional records in this capacity to date. Here’s Homma San, a Garrett composition that’s perfect for a Sunday morning. It’s from a September 2013 studio album titled Pushing the World Away. It reached no. 6 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Paul Simon/Long Long Day

Let’s stay on the mellow side with this beautiful tune by Paul Simon. Long Long Day is a song from the soundtrack of One-Trick Pony, a 1980 film written by and starring Simon as a once-popular but now struggling folk-rock musician. The soundtrack, Simon’s fifth solo album released in August 1980, is best known for Late in the Evening. The Grammy-nominated tune reached no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Simon’s final top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. Long Long Day became the B-side of the album’s second single One-Trick Pony. Written by Simon, Long Long Day features Patti Austin on backing vocals. Other musicians on the recording, among others, include Richard Tee (piano), Toni Levin (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums), who also appeared in the film as members of Simon’s backing band.

AC/DC/Whole Lotta Rosie

After two quiet tunes, I’d say it’s time to push the pedal to the metal. In order to do that I could hardly think of any better band than hard-charging Australian rock & rollers AC/DC. Here’s one of my favorites among their early tunes: Whole Lotta Rosie, off their fourth studio album, Let There Be Rock from March 1977. Co-written by the band’s Angus Young (lead guitar), Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Bon Scott (lead vocals), Whole Lotta Rosie also appeared separately as the album’s second single. It became AC/DC’s first charting tune in the U.K. and The Netherlands where it reached no. 68. and no. 5, respectively. Their international breakthrough hit Highway to Hell was still two years away. Whole Lotta Rosie rocks just as nicely!

Gary Moore/Walking By Myself

Let’s keep up the energy level with some electric blues-rock by Gary Moore. The Northern Irish guitarist started his career in the late ’60s as a member of Irish blues-rock band Skid Row. In 1971, he left to start a solo career. Following the release of the album Grinding Stone in May 1973, credited to The Gary Moore Band, he became a member of Thin Lizzy in early 1974. This reunited him with Phil Lynott, Skid Row’s lead vocalist at the time Moore joined that group. While still playing with Thin Lizzy, Moore released his first album solely under his name, Back on the Streets, in 1978. After his departure from the band in 1979, he focused on his solo career. This brings me to Walking By Myself, a great cover of a blues tune written by Jimmy Rogers and released in 1956, together with Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Moore’s rendition was included on his eighth solo album Still Got the Blues from March 1990. It became his most successful solo record climbing to no. 13 in the UK and no. 5 in Australia, topping the charts in Finland and Sweden, and charting within the top 5 in Germany, Norway and Switzerland. Walking By Myself also appeared as a single in August that year, reaching no. 48 and no. 55 in the UK and Australia, respectively.

Carl Perkins/Matchbox

For this next pick, let’s go back to early 1957 and rockabilly classic Matchbox by Carl Perkins. According to Wikipedia, the tune was sparked when Perkins’ father Buck told him to write a song based on some lines of lyrics he remembered from Match Box Blues, a tune Blind Lemon Jefferson had recorded in 1927. As Perkins began to sing these lyrics at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. in December 1956, a session pianist called Jerry Lee Lewis started playing a boogie-woogie riff. In turn, this prompted Perkins to improvise on his guitar, and the rest is history. While Matchbox ended up as the B-side to Perkins’ single Your True Love, it still became one of his best-known songs. The tune was also included on his debut record Dance Album Of Carl Perkins that appeared in 1957. Matchbox has been covered by various other artists, most notably The Beatles who included it on their UK EP Long Tall Sally released in June 1964. In the U.S., it appeared on their fifth American album Something Else from July 1964 and subsequently as a single in August of the same year.

The Beatles/Don’t Let Me Down

Speaking of The Beatles, having just watched the Disney+ premiere of Peter Jackson’s docuseries The Beatles: Get Back, not surprisingly, the four lads have been very much on my mind. As such, I’d like to end this installment of The Sunday Six with Don’t Let Me Down. Written by John Lennon as a love song for Yoko Ono and credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, the tune became the B-side of the single Get Back that came out in April 1969. Not only did both songs feature Billy Preston on electric piano, but they also were released as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Here’s a clip with footage from the rooftop performance in late January 1969, the last time The Beatles played in front of an audience.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Turkey Day Rock Marathon Is On Again

Earlier this evening, it dawned on me it’s Thanksgiving week, which means New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 once again is doing their annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list.

The countdown starts tomorrow morning at 9:00 am EST and stretches all the way to sometime this Sunday evening. That’s how long it takes to play all 1,043 songs. The only interruption of the countdown will happen at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful!

While after 20 years in a row (yep, that’s how long they’ve done this!) it’s a forgone conclusion that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again will be no. 1 and the top 20 will be largely occupied by the same songs from previous years, listening to the countdown is still fun. Think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio. Most stations have a much smaller set of songs in rotation.

Below is a screenshot of my selections for this year. Once again, I decided to come up with 1o previously unpicked songs. This time, I included two tunes from 2021: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers). Both are probably very long shots to make the list, as are I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), but that’s okay

Following are clips of my selections:

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street ShakedownAlvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As HardShake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter SkelterThe Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette CityThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother DownA Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real MeQuadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t UnderstandThe Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/CinderellaLysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening to Q104.3’s countdown at different times over the next five days. Though this year, there will be stiff competition from Peter Jackson’s Get Back Beatles three-part docu-series!

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Heading West

On October 28, Neil Young announced Heading West on his Neil Young Archives website, the second upfront tune from his upcoming new album with Crazy Horse, Barn. The below official video appeared on November 4.

The crunchy electric rocker follows the acoustic folk tune Song of the Seasons from October 15, which I previously featured here. Both of these tracks sound like classic Neil, and I’m looking forward to the album that’s scheduled to drop on December 10.

My mom and I travelled across the country together, heading west, Young wrote on his website. She was on her way back home to start over. I was on my way there with her. Here’s a song about me and my mom and those ‘growing up’ times. It’s so great to remember her this way!

Heading West features Young (guitar, lead vocals) and his Crazy Horse band mates Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). The tune was recorded in the Rocky Mountains on June 21 this year at Le Mobile Remote Recording Studio. Housed in a remote recording truck, Le Mobile is a rolling recording studio that over its nearly 50-year history has been used by countless music artists from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

I think this comment by Young perfectly sums the ragged melodic tune: What a great ride with the Horse on this one! Larry Cragg [Young’s longtime guitar tech – CMM] had my guitar sounding so alive.

Neil Young with his mother Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) – undated photo from Neil Young Archives

In a separate statement on his website, Young also had this to say about the forthcoming album: All of BARN is real. It came from the heart. We may have cried after some takes…in happiness…in elation…A band of brothers, we have all known one another since our beginnings. We made ‘Only love can break your Heart’ and ‘Southern Man’ on the same album. We made ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Down by the River’ on the same album. We made ‘Don’t forget about Love’ and ‘Human Race’ on the same album. Welcome back. It’s not the same. Barn may be our best album ever.

That conclusion certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of confidence. One of the things I find intriguing about Neil Young is his spontaneity. He doesn’t seem to overthink his recording projects. Overall, I feel this approach has served him well, though it’s also fair to say the outcomes have varied.

Young is also known for having made impulsive decisions and having scrapped entire albums at the last minute. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case for Barn. If anything, for the past few years, Young seems to have been on a mission to release more of his music, as evidenced by his Archives Performance Series, not withhold it. Keeping fingers crossed!

Sources: Wikipedia; NeilYoungArchives.com; Le Mobile website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions celebrating music I dig from different genres, spanning the past 70 years or so. I think I put together another nice and eclectic set of six tracks, including jazz, heartland rock, ’60s British rock, ’80s pop, ’90s alternative rock and some kickass hard rock & roll from 2014. Let’s play ball!

Thelonius Monk/‘Round Midnight

Starting us off today is beautiful soothing jazz by Thelonious Monk. This pick was inspired by fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk, who not only impresses me with her poetry writing but her music picks she oftentimes uses to accompany her poems – like in this case, a great jazz piece by Charlie Haden and Chet Baker. When I checked out the corresponding album, I noticed another track called ‘Round Midnight. Instead of taking this rendition, I decided to go with the original composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The track has become a standard that has been recorded by many jazz musicians. Apparently, there is some debate when Monk wrote it. The earliest noted date is 1936 when he was just 19 years old. Other accounts put it to 1940 or 1941. Trumpeter Cootie Williams was the first artist who recorded the tune in August 1944. Monk’s earliest recording is on a compilation titled Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 from 1951.

John Mellencamp/A Little Night Dancin’

While it’s safe to assume most readers have heard of John Mellencamp, I imagine this may not necessarily include his pre-1980s music. My entry to the heartland artist was his 1985 Scarecrow album. Only in the ’90s did I begin to explore Mellencamp’s earlier catalog including John Cougar, his third record from July 1979. Prior to the release of Mellencamp’s debut album Chestnut Street Incident in October 1976, his manager Tony Defries had changed his name to Johnny Cougar, convinced an artist with the last name Mellencamp wouldn’t generate much interest. Mellencamp who hated the name kept “Cougar” through Scarecrow before finally adopting his real name John Mellencamp for the follow-on release The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. Here’s A Little Night Dancin’, the opener of the John Cougar album. The tune was also released in 1980 as a single but didn’t match the U.S. chart performance of I Need a Lover. While the latter reached no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100, A Little Night Dancin’ stalled at no. 105. Still, not only do I dig that tune, but I also think it’s much better than I Need a Lover. I can hear a bit of a Van Morrison vibe in this song. Fifteen years later, Mellencamp recorded an excellent cover of Morrison’s Wild Night for his 1994 studio album Dance Naked. Perhaps that’s for a future installment.

Small Faces/Sha-La-La-La-Lee

In last week’s Sunday Six, I did something I rarely do – skip the ’60s, my favorite decade in music apart from the ’70s. I vowed not to repeat it this time, so here’s a tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard it during my teenage years back in Germany: Sha-La-La-La-Lee by Small Faces. It’s from the English rock band’s eponymous debut album that came out in May 1966. The song was written by co-producer Kenny Lynch together with Mort Schuman. The band’s initial line-up included Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Ian McLagan (keyboards, vocals, guitar, bass), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Kenney Jones (drums, percussion, vocals). In March 1968, the Small Faces disbanded and Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. McLagan, Lane and Jones teamed up with former Jeff Beck Group members Ronnie Wood (guitar) and Rod Stewart (vocals) and became Faces. Small Faces reemerged in 1975 after Faces had broken up. They recorded two more albums before disbanding for good in 1978.

Madonna/La Isla Bonita

Here’s a pick that might surprise some folks who visit my blog more frequently. While I’m not a fan of Madonna, there is no denying she’s one of the most influential pop artists of our time. And, yes, while I can’t necessarily say the same for other ’80s tunes I used to dig at the time, I still like some of her songs. This includes the catchy La Isla Bonita, which always puts me in a holiday mood. The track is from Madonna’s third studio album True Blue that came out in June 1986. She co-wrote and co-produced the entire record with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard who also collaborated with Madonna on some of her other albums. La Isla Bonita also became the record’s fifth and final single and yet another major hit in the U.S. , Canada, Australia and various European countries.

The Cranberries/Linger

Next let’s jump to the ’90s and Irish alternative pop rock band The Cranberries. Initially, the group was formed as The Cranberry Saw Us in mid-1989 by brothers Noel Hogan (lead and rhythm guitar) and Mike Hogan (bass), together with Fergal Lawler (drums) and Niall Quinn (vocals). Following Quinn’s departure in early 1990, Dolores O’Riordan joined the band as lead vocalist, completing the line-up that in April 1991 became The Cranberries. In March 1993, they released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? The record became a major success, topping the charts in Ireland and the UK, and placing in the top 20 in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. After four additional albums, The Cranberries went on hiatus in September 2003. They reunited in 2009 and recorded two more albums until the sudden death of O’Riordan in January 2018, who drowned in a London hotel bathtub due to sedation by alcohol poisoning. In April 2019, The Cranberries released their final album In the End, which featured O’Riordan’s vocals taken from demo tapes that had been recorded prior to her death. Here’s the beautiful Linger from the above mentioned debut album. It was also released as a single and became their first major hit, peaking at no. 3 in Ireland, and reaching no. 4, 8 and 14 in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, respectively.

AC/DC/Play Ball

Is it really time to wrap up things again? It is since I’d like to keep these installments to six tunes; otherwise, I could go on forever! But there’s always the next installment! I trust Australian rockers AC/DC need no further introduction. After much drama, including the death of co-founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in November 2017 and vocalist Brian Johnson’s forced departure in April 2016 during the band’s tour that year due to hearing loss, against all odds, AC/DC officially reunited in September 2020 and released their 17th studio album Power Up in November that year. There are so many great AC/DC tunes to pick from. I haven’t even mentioned Bon Scott, their original lead vocalist! I decided to go with what I consider a true late career gem: Play Ball, off AC/DC’s 16th album Rock or Bust from November 2014. It was the first record without Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia and been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. This is classic AC/DC – tight kickass rock & roll!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part II

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

Here’s part II of a mini series of three posts featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Each installment includes five tunes in chronological order from oldest to newest. Part I focused on planes. Now it’s on to trains. Hop on board!

In case you didn’t read the previous installment, the idea of the mini series came from the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Elvis Presley/Mystery Train

Let’s kick of this installment with Mystery Train, written and first recorded by Junior Parker as a rhythm and blues track in 1953. When Elvis Presley decided to cover the song, it was turned into a rockabilly tune featuring him on vocals and rhythm guitar, together with his great trio partners Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). Produced by Sam Philips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., Presley’s version was first released in August 1955 as the B-side to I Forgot to Remember to Forget, which became his first charting hit in the U.S., hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This has got to be one of the best rockabilly tunes ever!

The Monkees/Last Train to Clarksville

Last Train to Clarksville is the debut single by The Monkees, which was released in August 1966. While at that time they still were a fake band that didn’t play the instruments on their recordings, which as a musician is something that generally makes me cringe, I just totally love this song. It was co-written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who used their band Candy Store Prophets to record the tune’s instrumental parts. At least there was one member from The Monkees on the recording: Micky Dolenz, who would become the band’s drummer for real, performed the lead vocals. Last Train to Clarksville, a Vietnam War protest song disguised by ambiguous lyrics and a catchy pop rock tune inspired by The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, was also included on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966.

The Doobie Brothers/Long Train Runnin’

Long Train Runnin’ has been one of my favorite tunes by The Doobie Brothers since I heard it for the first time many moons ago. As such, it was a must to include in this post. Written by Tom Johnston, the groovy rocker is from the band’s third studio album The Captain and Me that appeared in March 1973. The song was also released separately later that month as the album’s lead single, backed by Without You. Long Train Runnin’ became the first U.S. top 10 hit for the Doobies on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 8, as it did in Canada. In the U.K., it reached no. 7, marking their highest charting single there.

The Allman Brothers Band/All Night Train

I had not known about this tune by The Allman Brothers Band and wouldn’t have found it without a Google search. All Night Train, co-written by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell, is included on the band’s 11th studio album Where It All Begins, their second-to-last studio release that appeared in May 1994. The track features some nice guitar action by Haynes and Dickey Betts and, of course, the one and only Gregg Allman on lead vocals and keys. Great late-career tune!

AC/DC/Rock ‘n’ Roll Train

For the final track let’s kick it up. How much? How about kick-ass rock & roll level with AC/DC! Rock ‘n’ Roll Train is the opener to their October 2008 studio release Black Ice. By then, the time periods in-between AC/DC albums had significantly lengthened, especially compared to the ’70s and ’80s. Predecessor Stiff Upper Lip had come out in February 2000. The next release, Rock or Bust, would be another six years away. Obviously, AC/DC has had their share of dramatic setbacks, but last November’s Power Up album proved one shouldn’t count them out yet. There has been some chatter about touring, though I haven’t seen any official announcements. Earlier this month, Brian Johnson joined Foo Fighters at a Global Citizen Vax Live concert in Los Angeles to perform Back in Black. Of course, one song is different from an entire concert, not to speak of an entire tour. Still, I guess it gives AC/DC fans some hope that maybe they’ll get another chance to see the band. Meanwhile, let’s hop on the rock ‘n’ roll train!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Year that was 2020 – Part 1 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

At first, the thought of writing a year in review type post didn’t look very appealing. After all, it’s safe to assume most of us can’t wait to kiss 2020 goodbye and erase it from our memories. This certainly describes my sentiments in many ways. But while the past 12 months brought unprecedented challenges, including for the music business, I think not all was doom and gloom. Initially, this was supposed to be one post. Then, it got longer and longer, so I decided to break it up in two parts. Here’s part 1

The good and the bad…

On the positive side, the music industry recorded rising revenue fueled by streaming. As Music Business Worldwide noted in September, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported a 5.6% year-over-over increase in total U.S. recorded music retail revenue to $5.6 billion for the first half of 2020. This included a 12% surge in streaming music revenue to $4.8 billion. If streaming kept that pace in the second half of the year, it would be up one billion year-over-year. However, according to this Billboard story from earlier this week, growth in streaming volume has stalled since the end of June.

At the same time, the concert business, the main source of income for most artists, is in the toilet. The Los Angeles Times recently reported America’s largest concert promoter Live Nation experienced a nosedive in revenue of 98% and 95% during the summer and fall, respectively. The same article also stated 90% of independent performance venues will close for good without government aid, while long-established venues like the Troubador in L.A. are hanging on but face an uncertain future. This doesn’t only put the livelihoods of many artists at risk but also of all the folks working at performance venues or whose job are otherwise tied to live entertainment.

New music kept coming out

Despite COVID-19, new music continued to be released throughout the year – lots of it. In fact, at least some of this activity can be explained by the pandemic. Artists who weren’t able to tour found themselves with more time on their hands to work on new material. New albums by Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney are just some of the examples that come to my mind in this context.

I’m happy new music was a major theme for my blog in 2020, more than ever before. As frequent visitors know, I’m not talking about music you can find in the present mainstream charts. As of this blog post, I reviewed more than 20 new albums. That’s only counting new original music, not other releases, such as new installments from Springsteen’s great live bootleg series or James Taylor’s cover album of the American songbook. Yes, while I know next to nothing about American standards, I did review that album and enjoyed listening to it!

Frankly, I could have reviewed more new albums. I didn’t. In addition to lack of time, part of the reason was because of Best of What’s New. This weekly recurring feature on newly released music, which I launched in March, focuses on songs rather than entire albums.

It’s gratifying to me that except for one time due to a death in my close family, I posted new installments each week, meaning I’ve been able to discover new music week after week I found decent enough to write about. Keep in mind this is the same guy who as recently as last year kept complaining how “terrible” contemporary music is! I forgot one important qualifier: Music that’s in the mainstream charts. Let’s take a look at some of the new music I wrote about over the past 12 months.

My favorite new albums

While it’s hard to narrow things down, from the 20-plus new albums I reviewed the four ones I feel most excited about are AC/DC/Power Up (released November 18), Walter Trout/Ordinary Madness (August 28), Norah Jones/Pick Me Up Off the Floor (June 12) and Ruby Turner/Love Was Here (January 24). Following is a tune from each:

AC/DC: Shot in the Dark (Power Up)

Shot in the Dark, the album’s great lead single, is classic AC/DC and makes you feel you just time-travelled back to 1980. Like all other tracks on Power Up, it was co-written by Angus Young and his older brother Malcolm Young during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. You can read more about Power Up here, a must listen to for AC/DC fans.

Walter Trout: Wanna Dance (Ordinary Madness)

I love Walter Trout, a no BS artist and decent guitarist who has lived through dramatic ups and downs. Perhaps, he’s the ultimate blues rock survivor! Here’s Wanna Dance. “I had Neil Young and Crazy Horse in mind when I wrote the tune,” Trout told American Songwriter. Dancing is a metaphor for enjoying and celebrating every moment in life, since We ain’t gonna live forever, as Trout sings. He knows all too well. This is one hell of a blues rocker! See here for more about Ordinary Madness.

Norah Jones: Flame Twin (Pick Me Up Off the Floor)

I had been aware and always liked Norah Jones and her piano-driven lounge style jazz for ,any years, but had never explored any of her albums. I’m glad Flame Twin from her seventh studio album Pick Me Up Off the Floor finally changed this. Written by Jones, the tune injects a dose of blues, which rarely if ever is a bad thing in my book. I also dig the Hammond B3 accents from Pete Remm who plays electric guitar as well. And, of course, there are Jones’ great soothing vocals and piano playing. Like other songs on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the tune was inspired by poetry. My review of this great album is here.

Ruby Turner: Don’t Cry Over Yesterday (Love Was Here)

Don’t Cry Over Yesterday was the track that made me listen to Love Was Here, a beautiful classic soul album by British soul, gospel and R&B vocalist Ruby Turner. I hadn’t heard of Turner before, even though she’s performed since 1983 and worked with other artists like Bryan FerrySteve WinwoodMick Jagger and UB40. “Discovering” great artists like her is part of the reason why I love music blogging. If you’re into ’70s style soul, I’d encourage you to check out this album, a true gem! You can read more about it here.

Other new 2020 studio releases I’d like to call out include McCartney III (Paul McCartney), Letter to You (Bruce Springsteen), Bless Your Heart (The Allman Betts Band), Hate for Sale (Pretenders), Rough and Rowdy Ways (Bob Dylan), Homegrown (Neil Young), Self-Made Man (Larkin Poe), Blues with Friends (Dion), Early Morning Rain (Steve Forbert) and El Dorado (Marcus King).

In part 2 of this post, I’m revisiting the Best of What’s New feature and concerts before wrapping things up with final thoughts.

Sources: Music Business Worldwide; Billboard; Los Angeles Times; Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again for a Rock Marathon

Next Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving, classic rock radio station Q104.3 starts their annual marathon of counting down the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time.” The list, which takes a broad definition that goes beyond classic rock in the traditional sense, is based on listener submissions of their top 10 favorite songs.

Playing the entire list from song no. 1,043 all the way down to no. 1 will take from Wednesday, November 25, 9:00 a.m. (EST) until Sunday, November 29, sometime in the evening, usually between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day at noon, the countdown is interrupted for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

This year marks the 20th time of Q104.3’s holiday tradition. Each year, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the eternal no. 1. While the station doesn’t disclose actual vote counts, each year I’ve listened they said Stairway won by a substantial margin.

Rigged voting? I don’t think so. Q104.3 plays plenty of Zep as part of their regular rotation. One of their DJs, Carol Miller, who has been on the air since 1973, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and hosts the long running segment Get the Led Out. As such, I think it’s safe to assume many folks who listen to Q104.3 dig Zeppelin. And, honestly, if I could only choose one classic rock song, I also would go with Stairway.

Admittedly, the entire exercise is a bit nerdy but quite appealing to a music nut like myself. BTW, each submission is weighted equally, so the order of the picks doesn’t matter. But think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio? Most stations tend to play a limited set of tracks over and over again.

Above is an image of my picks for this year and below are clips of the corresponding tunes. While I still dig all of my picks from last year, this time, I deliberately decided to shake things up and submit an entirely new list. And it doesn’t even include two of my favorite bands of all time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention Led Zeppelin. Here are my choices without further explanation, other than these are all songs I dig, though they aren’t necessarily my all-time favorites.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple Haze (non-album single, March 1967)

Creedence Clearwater RevivalBorn on the Bayou (Bayou Country, January 1969)

The Allman Brothers BandBlack Hearted Woman (The Allman Brothers Band, November 1969)

The WhoThe Seeker (non-album single, March 1970)

Bruce SpringsteenBobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., June 1984)

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersMary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits, November 1993)

Lenny KravitzRock and Roll Is Dead (Circus, September 1995)

Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow, September 1996)

PretendersHate for Sale (Hate for Sale, July 2020)

AC/DCShot in the Dark (Power Up, November 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

AC/DC Roar Back With Power Up

New album dedicated to Malcolm Young

When AC/DC finished their world tour four years ago in support of their previous album Rock or Bust, they looked more bust than rock. Now the Aussie band is back in full force with a new album, released yesterday, and suddenly it feels like time was turned back 40 years. While Power Up may not have anthems like Hells Bells, Back in Black and You Shock Me All Night Long, AC/DC’s 17th studio album delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans.

The fact AC/DC are still alive borders on a miracle. In April 2016, six months prior to the end of the Rock or Bust tour, lead vocalist Brian Johnson had to bow out due to severe hearing issues. This forced the band to reschedule the remaining 22 gigs and bring in Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses to finish the tour. At the end of the tour, bassist Cliff Williams was a spent force and announced his retirement. Drummer Phil Rudd had missed the entire tour in the first place due to legal issues. As had rhythm guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young, who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia. He passed away in November 2017 at the age of 64.

AC/DC in 2020 (from left): Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd, Angus Young and Stevie Young

Essentially, this only left lead guitarist Angus Young, who had formed AC/DC with his older brother Malcolm in 1973. Fast-forward to August 2018 when Angus Young; Stevie Young, who had joined the band in April 2014 following the departure of his uncle Malcolm; Phil Rudd; Cliff Williams; and Brian Johnson who thanks to a special hearing aid is able to sing again were photographed near a recording studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ever since rumors had been floating around about a new album. The long wait is over.

Produced by Brendan O’Brien who had also worked with AC/DC on their previous two albums Rock or Bust and Black Ice, Power Up was largely recorded in Vancouver over a six-week period between August and September 2018. All of the songs had been co-written by Angus and Malcolm during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. Power Up is a tribute to Malcolm, another parallel to the above mentioned Back in Black that was dedicated to Bon Scott, Johnson’s predecessor who died in February 1980 due to acute alcohol poisoning.

After so much death and despair, how about some music! Here’s the opener Realize. With the power guitar riffs and Johnson’s screaming vocals, it sounds like classic AC/DC. The tune also appeared separately as a single three days ago.

Shot in the Dark became the album’s lead single released on October 11. It’s perhaps the “hit” on the record, reaching the top of the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s the official video.

When a band like AC/DC names a track Demon Fire, you know pretty much what to expect.

Wild Reputation has a great main riff that sounds a bit Stonesy.

Let’s do one more: Here’s the cool closer Code Red.

“Malcolm and myself over the years, whenever we’d come to an album we always walked in with a lot of A-grade songs,” Angus Young told the Associated Press. “We always had a stack full more left that were all great, great tracks…I concentrated on the ones I knew were Mal’s favorites. It’s a fitting project for him. He always liked being simple and direct, so I felt, what better than his music?”

“We all felt Malcolm around us, he was there,” added Brian Johnson. “We’re not spiritual type people, but, boy, oh boy. Malcolm was a very strong character in real life, and him passing away wasn’t gonna stop that. He was there, everywhere, and I think you can tell it on the record.”

It’s fair to say AC/DC aren’t breaking any new ground on Power Up. While for many other bands this may be a point of criticism, AC/DC have been great at what they’ve done for decades, so you really don’t want them to change. Plus, there may be more. During a separate interview with Apple Music, Angus Young revealed there are hundreds of unpublished songs in the AC/DC vault he and Malcom had written together. Young also joked, “You can’t call an album ‘rock or bust’ and then go bust.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; Apple Music; YouTube