Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another weekend brings another slate of new music. This installment of Best of What’s New features a nice mix of big name and lesser known artists. Genres include country-oriented rock, folk, indie rock and folk rock. Let’s get to it!

Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles/Do What You Can

Jon Bon Jovi and country band Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles joined forces for an updated version of Do What You Can, a tune from Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020 scheduled for October 2. Written during the early days of COVID-19, initially, the song only included the first verse and the chorus. Jon Bon Jovi invited fans via social media to contribute lyrics, essentially asking them to tell their own pandemic stories. He first revealed an acoustic version of the complete song during the Jersey4Jersey benefit online concert. The tune was subsequently released as a single on July 23. “As I finished the mix and did the video, I said, ‘Boy, this song would have such crossover potential’, Bon Jovi told Rolling Stone. “It makes you feel good and the message is just right on at this time that when you can’t do what you do, do what you can,” added Nettles during a recent Facebook chat. Do What You Can very much has the same feel of the artists’ previous collaboration Who Says You Can’t Go Home from 2006. Both tunes remind me of The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite John Mellencamp albums from 1987.

Jeff Tweedy/Love Is the King

American songwriter, musician and record producer Jeff Tweedy is best known as vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco, founded in 1994 by former members of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country group, which Tweedy co-founded as well. Between these two bands and his solo efforts, Tweedy has released close to 20 albums over the past 30 years. Love Is King is the title track of his fourth solo album that is set to come out on October 23. As reported by Pitchfork, Tweedy announced the tune on September 15, together with a second track of the forthcoming album, Guess Again. “At the beginning of the lockdown I started writing country songs to console myself,” he pointed out in an accompanying statement. “Folk and country type forms being the shapes that come most easily to me in a comforting way. “Guess Again” is a good example of the success I was having at pushing the world away, counting my blessings—taking stock in my good fortune to have love in my life. A few weeks later things began to sound like “Love Is the King”—a little more frayed around the edges with a lot more fear creeping in. Still hopeful but definitely discovering the limits of my own ability to self soothe.”

Elizabeth Cook/Perfect Girls of Pop

Elizabeth Cook is an American country singer-songwriter who has been an active recording artist since 2000. Originally, she hails from Wildwood, Fla. where she was born as the youngest of 12 children. Cook already joined her parents on stage at the age of 4. Her mother Joyce was a mandolin and guitar played and her dad Thomas played upright bass, which he had learned while serving time in an Atlanta prison for illicit production of high-proof distilled spirits. Cook holds the distinction of having performed more than 400 times on the Grand Ole Opry since her March 2000 debut, the most appearances to date by a non-member. Her studio debut The Blue Album came out in November 2000. Perfect Girls of Pop is a track from her seventh and most recent album Aftermath released on September 11. It’s catchy tune that sounds much more like indie pop rock than country.

Native Harrow/Carry On

Native Harrow are a folk rock duo from Eastern Pennsylvania, comprised of Devin Tuel (lead vocals, guitar) and her partner Stephen Harms (bass, drums, keyboards, guitar). Unfortunately, publicly available information on them is limited and the following is based on this Facebook piece and a review by Staccatofy. Carry On is a beautiful tune from Native Harrow’s fourth studio album Closeness, which came out on August 21. Two things about this song grabbed me right away: The warm sound, especially the keyboard, and the vocals by Tuel, who apparently is a classically trained singer. I also think the gospel style choir in the last third of the track is a perfect fit to what essentially is a gospel song. Tuel and Harms recorded the album’s 10 tunes at a Chicago studio together with drummer and engineer Alex Hall over the course of only two 3-day sessions in late December 2019 and early January 2020. The basic tracks were captured live in studio with Tuel, Harms and Hall on vocals/guitar, bass and drums, respectively. The album follows their 2019 release Happier Now.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; Facebook; Staccatofy; YouTube

Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

A trip back to ’60s psychedelic music

While it’s quite possible that more than three weeks of social distancing are starting to have an impact, I can say without hesitation that my interest in psychedelic music predates COVID-19 – I would say by at least three decades. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

I guess a good way to start would be to define what I’m writing about. According to Wikipedia, psychedelic music (sometimes called psychedelia) is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.

To be clear, I don’t want to judge people using drugs but personally don’t take any and never had any particular interest to explore stuff. With the exception of alcohol, which I occasionally like to enjoy, I guess the furthest I ever took it was to try cigarettes during my early teenage years. Around the same time, I also smoked a cigar, cleverly thinking that just like with a cigarette, you’re supposed to inhale. As you can see, I was definitely young and stupid. And, yes, I did feel a bit funny afterwards! 🙂

Psychedelic Music Collage 2

Psychedelic music has some characteristic features. Again, Wikipedia does a nice job explaining them: Exotic instrumentation, with a particular fondness for the sitar and tabla are common. Songs often have more disjunctive song structures, key and time signature changes, modal melodies and drones than contemporary pop music. Surreal, whimsical, esoterically or literary-inspired, lyrics are often used. There is often a strong emphasis on extended instrumental segments or jams. There is a strong keyboard presence, in the 1960s especially, using electronic organs, harpsichords, or the Mellotron, an early tape-driven ‘sampler’ keyboard.

Elaborate studio effects are often used, such as backwards tapes, panning the music from one side to another of the stereo track, using the “swooshing” sound of electronic phasing, long delay loops and extreme reverb. In the 1960s there was a use of electronic instruments such as early synthesizers and the theremin. Later forms of electronic psychedelia also employed repetitive computer-generated beats.

Before getting to some examples, I should add that psychedelic music developed in the mid-’60s among folk and rock bands in the U.S. and the U.K. It included various subgenres, such as psychedelic folk, psychedelic rock, acid rock and psychedelic pop. The original psychedelic era, which is the focus of this post, ended in the late ’60s, though there have been successors like progressive rock and heavy metal and revivals, e.g., psychedelic funk, psychedelic hip hop and electronic music genres like acid house and trance music.

Apparently, the first use of the term psychedelic rock can be attributed to The 13th Floor Elevators, an American rock band formed in Austin, Texas in December 1965. Here’s their debut single You’re Gonna Miss Me. Written by guitarist and founding member Roky Erickson, the tune reached no. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became their only charting song.

Eight Miles High by The Byrds is one of my favorite tunes from the psychedelic era. Written by co-founding members Roger McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals), Gene Clark (tambourine, vocals) and David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), the song first appeared as a single in March 1966 and was also included on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension released in July of the same year. That jingle-jangle guitar sound and the brilliant harmony singing simply do it for me every time!

In May 1966, The Rolling Stones released Paint It Black. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was also included on the U.S. edition of Aftermath, the band’s fourth British and sixth U.S. studio album. Not only did Paint It Black top the charts in the UK, U.S., The Netherlands, Australia and Canada, but it also had the distinction to become the first no. 1 hit to feature a sitar.

One of the hotspots for psychedelic music in the U.S. during the second half of the ’60s was San Francisco. Among the key bands based in the city by the bay were Jefferson Airplane. Here’s White Rabbit, a tune written by lead vocalist Grace Slick. Initially, it was recorded for the band’s sophomore album Surrealistic Pillow from February 1967. It also came out separately as a single in June that year.

After ten paragraphs into the post, it’s about time I get to the band that probably is one of the first that comes to mind when thinking about psychedelic rock: Pink Floyd, especially during their early phase with Syd Barrett. Here’s a tune I’ve always dug: Arnold Layne, their debut single from March 1967, written by Barrett. According to the credits, this video was directed by Derek Nice and filmed on the beach in East Wittering, West Sussex, England in late February 1967.

March 1967 also saw the release of Purple Haze, the second single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix tunes. The track features blues and Eastern modalities, along with novel recording techniques and sound effects like the Octavia pedal that doubled the frequency of the sound it was fed. The song also marked the first time Hendrix worked with sound engineer Eddie Kramer who would play a key role in his future recordings. Purple Haze climbed all the way to no. 3 in the UK; in the U.S., it only reached no. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Two months later, in May 1967, The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It included the psychedelic gem Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, the tune that inspired the headline of the post:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

While credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney as usual, the song was primarily written by Lennon.

After the break-up of The Animals, lead vocalist Eric Burdon formed Eric Burdon & The Animals in December 1966. The band subsequently relocated to San Francisco. In May 1968, they released their second album The Twain Shall Meet. Among the record’s tunes is the anti-war song Sky Pilot. Credited to Burdon and each of the other members of the band Vic Briggs (guitar), John Weider (guitar, violin), Barry Jenkins (drums) and Danny McCulloch (bass), the tune also appeared separately as a single. Due to its length, the track had to be split across the A and B sides. Remarkably, Sky Pilot reached no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 7 in Canada and Australia. Chart success in the UK was more moderate, where it peaked at no. 40.

In June 1968, Iron Butterfly released their sophomore album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The 17-minute title track, which occupied all of the record’s B-side, was written by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Doug Ingle. Separately, a shortened version appeared as a single and became the band’s biggest hit reaching no. 30 in the U.S. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida not only is psychedelic rock, but is also considered to be an early example of heavy metal. Here’s the single edit.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Shotgun by Vanilla Fudge. It was included on their fourth studio album Near the Beginning from February 1969. “Near the End” perhaps would have been a more appropriate title, since by that time, the original psychedelic era was entering the twilight zone. Written by Autry DeWalt, the tune was first recorded by Junior Walker & the All Stars in 1965.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube