My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Mule Rule Stone Pony Summer Stage But Not Weather Gods

Jersey jam rockers Resurrextion open evening at storied Asbury Park venue

While I had heard of Gov’t Mule before, my introduction to the band only happened about a year ago when I went to see one of their excellent Dark Side of the Mule Pink Floyd tribute shows. Recently, New Jersey jam rock band Resurrextion invited me to their kickoff yesterday of an evening of music at The Stone Pony to be headlined by Mule. I’ve visited the Asbury Park performance venue many times, but last evening was my inaugural for a summer stage show – and a reminder that outdoor events aren’t immune from inclement weather! 🙂

But first things first. Initially formed in Jersey City in 2006, Resurrextion  started out as a jam rock cover band. After beginning to work on own material, they released their studio debut Comin’ Home in 2013. As the band gained more visibility and opened for national acts like Dickey Betts, Foghat, Poco and Blues Traveler, music increasingly started to interfere with their day jobs and families, so they decided to take a break.

Ressurrextion
Resurrextion (from left): Phil Ippolito, Johnny Burke, Joey Herr and Lou Perillo

Last year, Resurrextion reunited and have since performed at many Jersey venues in Asbury Park and beyond. In April, they opened for Iron Butterfly at The Wonder Bar. Earlier this month, they played the Stonehenge Music Festival in Pennsylvania. They’re also currently working on a new album while still continuing their daytime jobs, not to mention their family responsibilities. It looks like things are coming together nicely again for this band! The current lineup includes Phil Ippolito (lead vocals, keyboards),  Joey Herr (guitar, vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, vocals). I’ve known most of the guys for a couple of years.

Here’s Highway, an original tune with a nice southern rock vibe from the aforementioned debut album – my personal favorite!

And here’s another song they wrote, I Know, also from their first record.

On to The Mule. The southern jam rock band was co-founded by Warren Haynes and Allen Woody in 1994 as a side project to The Allman Brothers Band, where at the time they played guitar and bass, respectively. Their eponymous debut album came out in June 1995. They have since released 21 additional albums, including various life records. Their most recent studio album Revolution Come…Revolution Go appeared in June 2017.

Gov't Mule
Gov’t Mule (from left): Matt Abts, Danny Louis, Jorgen Carlsson and Warren Haynes

The band’s current lineup features Haynes (guitar, lead vocals), Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jorgen Carlsson (bass). Haynes and Abts are the only original members. Woody passed away in August 2000. Louis joined Mule prior to their sixth studio album Déjà Voodoo from September 2004, while Carlsson has been with the band since 2008. Time for more music!

Here’s Beautifully Broken. Co-written by Haynes and Louis, the tune is from The Deep End, Volume 1, Mule’s fourth studio album released in October 2001.

Next up: I’m A Ram, the opener from Mule’s eighth studio album Mighty High from October 2007. The song was co-written by Al Green and Mabon Hodges and first appeared on Green’s 1971 studio album Al Green Gets Next To You. I dig the combination between rock and reggae on this one, though I guess I would have been okay, had the band stuck to the already mighty 7:41-minute studio version rather than stretching the track even further to more than 9 minutes. Note to self: When seeing another jam rock band, bring a friggin’ tripod!

Following a 20-minute intermission, Mule opened their second set with my personal highlight of the night: Stone Cold Rage. It’s the opener from the Revolution Come…Revolution Go album and another Haynes/Louis co-write.

After one more tune, Kind Of Birth, a Stone Pony official walked up on stage and told something in Haynes’ ear. And before people knew it, Haynes told the crowd there was lightening close by, and the concert needed to be interrupted. Immediately thereafter, security cleared the outdoor area and directed everybody inside the Pony where another band was playing. Minutes later, rain came down heavily.  While the downpour only lasted about 20 to 25 minutes, Mule did not resume their show.

It certainly was a less than ideal ending of the evening, and based on Facebook comments, some folks were pretty pissed about how the situation was handled. My guess is the primary culprit were local noise ordinances, which probably prevented the band from resuming the concert after the rain had stopped – or at least would not have allowed them to complete their second set. One also wonders whether the weather situation could have been monitored more closely and Mule could have skipped their break to play more music. In fairness, I will add it was pretty hot, at least when they started their first set, so one can defend taking a break after playing some 45 to 60 minutes.

Here’s last night’s set list:

Set 1:
– Hammer & Nails
– Rocking Horse
– Game Face
– Mountain Jam
– Game Face
– Beautifully Broken
– Birth Of The Mule
– I’m A Ram
– Broke Down On The Brazos
– Tributary Jam

Set 2:
– Stone Cold Rage
– Kind Of Bird with Les Brers In A Minor tease

Overall, I thought Mule’s musicianship was outstanding. Haynes undoubtedly is a kickass guitarist and a pretty capable vocalist. The other standout to me, and I’m of course completely unbiased here, was Carlsson who really killed it on bass. 🙂 To be clear, Abts and Louis were excellent as well. Perhaps my one point of criticism is the jam aspect, which at times felt a bit overwhelming to me, with songs frequently exceeding seven or eight minutes in length. Yes, you might say, long tracks and instrumental parts are kind of the essence of jam music, and I understand that. I still would have preferred a bit more of a mix between longer and shorter pieces.

Mule continues their current tour tonight at the Smoky Run Music Festival in Butler, Ohio. This is followed by a series of dates in North Carolina, including Asheville (Jul 3), Charlotte (Jul 5), Greensboro (Jul 6) and Manteo (Jul 7). Then it’s on to Charlottesville, Va. (Jul 10) and Baltimore (Jul 11). The full schedule is, well, jam-packed and available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Gov’t Mule website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Toronzo Cannon/The Chicago Way

Fourth album was the bus-driving Chicago blues man’s recording breakthrough

This is starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day. Lately, I find myself spotting a listening recommendation from my music streaming service, and before too long blogging about it. But I just can’t help it, when music grabs me, I get excited!😀

Should I have heard of Toronzo Cannon before? Probably yes, based on the recognition this contemporary Chicago blues guitarist singer/songwriter has received. But just because I’m a music fan who likes to write about his passion doesn’t mean I’m a know-it-all expert – in fact, I’m far from that; and if anything, this only becomes more clear the deeper I get into music blogging. And that’s quite okay with me, since I like exploring stuff I don’t know.

According to the bio on his website, when Cannon isn’t touring, he’s driving a Chicago Transit Authority bus during the day and playing the blues at night, “using every vacation day and day off and working four ten-hour shifts a week.” I know it sounds a bit cliche, but where other than in America do you hear about such stories?

I suppose if Cannon continues to work as a bus driver, this means one of two things or possibly both: Driving the bus helps him write his lyrics. Notes Cannon’s bio: His songwriting is inspired by his deep, homegrown Chicago roots, his years observing the public while working as a city bus driver on the West Side, and his own battles and triumphs. And/or Cannon still depends on his additional income as a bus driver, since he isn’t making enough money with his music. If it’s the latter, maybe Cannon isn’t that well known after all beyond Chicago blues circles, which would make me feel a bit better that I had not heard of him before. Regardless, he sure as heck plays a groovy blues guitar and has a great soulful voice.

Toronzo Cannon

Cannon is a native Chicagoan. He was born there on February 14, 1968 and grew up on the South Side of the city. He bought his first guitar as a 22-year-old and apparently was a quick study. Interestingly, he focused on reggae in the beginning, but soon found the blues was his real calling.  “It was dormant in me,” he says in his bio. “But when I started playing the blues, I found my voice and the blues came pouring out.” The bio also reveals he was influenced by the likes of Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, J.B. Hutto, Lil’ Ed and others – surely a list of fine artists!

The Chicago Way, which appeared in 2016, is Cannon’s breakthrough album and the fourth album in his recording career that started in 2007. It’s his first release on Alligator and was co-produced by Cannon and the independent Chicago blues label’s president Bruce Iglauer. Cannon first had gained broader attention when he performed as one of the headliners at the Chicago Blues Festival in June 2015.

BTW, at the time The Chicago Way appeared, Cannon was 48 years old, in other words not exactly a young kid. Once again, this proves that age doesn’t have to be a hurdle when you got great talent like Cannon, though being younger in the brutal music business probably isn’t a disadvantage either! The record earned Cannon a nomination for a Blues Music Award in 2017 by the Blues Foundation as Album of the Year. While Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ ended up winning that award for their outstanding collaboration record TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, being nominated with these guys in the first place says a lot about Cannon. Time to get to some music!

The album opens with a great funky tune called The Pain Around Me. Like all of the other 10 tracks, the tune was written by Cannon. Except for one track, I couldn’t find any clips on YouTube of the studio recordings, so I’m relying on live footage. But in my opinion, that’s not a disadvantage – if there’s one music genre that’s made to be experienced live, it’s the blues!

Another great song is Walk It Off. It’s got some of that cool Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man and Mannish Boy vibe. I also dig the classic blues lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: She didn’t mean it, that’s what she said/He was an old friend and she lost her head/I know my woman is nice and kind/but now we don’t know if the baby is his or mine/I got to walk it off/I got to walk it off/The feeling’s so strong I might do something wrong/So I’m gonna just walk it off. I just love the story-telling!

Fine Seasoned Woman has a cool driving jazzy groove. I also dig the Hammond-like organ sound.

Midlife Crisis is another great tune featuring some classic blues lyrics: Woke up this morning feeling kind of strange/Some of you men might feel the same/Looked in the mirror the other day/My chest hair was turning gray/My old friends are far too old/Don’t wanna hang with them no more/Went to the doctor say, “what’s wrong with me?”/He looked in my eyes, “There’s one thing I see”/You having a midlife crisis/You having a midlife crisis, Lord/Don’t know what to do because you ain’t 22/You having a midlife crisis.

The last song I’d like to call out is When Will You Tell Him About Me? I think Cannon’s soulful voice comes out particularly nice out on this slow blues. Here’s a clip of the studio version for a change.

So what did some of the music reviews have to say about the album? Usually, I don’t care much about the critics, but if they agree with me, hey, I don’t mind!

“Deep, contemporary Chicago blues…razor-sharp guitar and compelling, forceful singing” – The Chicago Tribune

“One of Chicago’s new greats”  — The Chicago Sun-Times

“Progressive as he is rootsy…Slow, simmering riffs and smoldering licks” – Chicago Reader

“Among the cream of the next generation of Chicago blues musicians” — Blues & Rhythm

Yep, I can support all of the above!

Looking at Cannon’s remaining 2018 schedule, his next gigs are in Poland and the Czech Republic in mid-October, followed by U.S. shows in San Diego (Oct 28), Cleveland (Nov 9) and Auburn Hills, Mich. (Nov 10 & 11). If any of these places would be closer to Central New Jersey, I’d seriously consider seeing him. But I suppose there’s always hope for 2019!

Sources: Wikipedia, Toronzo Cannon website, YouTube