The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. In case you’re a first time visitor of the blog, this recurring feature celebrates the beauty of music six random tunes at a time, meaning songs from different genres and different decades. Pretty much anything goes in the same post. A jazz instrumental from the ’50s could be followed by a ’70s hard rock tune. A blues track from the ’60s could appear together with a pop song from the ’80s. My only condition is I have to like the tracks and how they work together. With that being said, let’s get to it!

John Barry & Orchestra/James Bond Theme

“Bond, James Bond.” These words started to fascinate me when I was a young teenager back in Germany. I still like the James Bond movies, as ridiculously unrealistic as they are. Especially the older pictures with Sean Connery and Roger Moore are classics in my book. Of course, part of every Bond picture is the soundtrack, including the James Bond Theme, which has been featured in every 007 film since the first one, Dr. No, from 1962. The signature theme was written by English singer and film composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, a composer and conductor of film music. Barry also wrote the scores for 11 Bond pictures between 1963 and 1987. I always loved the track’s distinct guitar part played by English session guitarist Vic Flick, using a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe electric/acoustic vintage guitar from 1939.

Al Jarreau/Take Five

I know of no other artist who had such an amazing ability to use his voice as an instrument like Al Jarreau. Perhaps the most compelling example is his rendition of jazz standard Take Five, which was included on a May 1977 live album titled Look to the Rainbow. I’ve always loved the original written by Paul Desmond and first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for the album Time Out from December 1959. But Al Jarreau took the track to a different level. I guess many folks at the time agreed. Look to the Rainbow became Jarreau’s breakthrough in Europe and the U.S. It won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Performance. If you haven’t heard this, check it out. If you already know Jarreau’s rendition, listen to it again anyway! 🙂

Joe Jackson/Down to London

Let’s jump to the late ’80s with a great tune by Joe Jackson. The British singer-songwriter first entered my radar screen in 1980, when I received his excellent sophomore studio album I’m the Man for my 14th birthday. I still own that vinyl copy. I’ve since listened on and off to Jackson, a versatile artist who has played many genres over the decades, including punk, new wave, pop, rock, jazz and Latin. He’s also fun live. I saw him in May 2019 at a mid-size theater in New Jersey. You can read about it here and watch some clips I took. Down to London is one of my favorite tracks from Blaze of Glory, Jackson’s 10th studio album that came out in April 1989. Like all other tunes on the record, he wrote the song.

The Wallflowers/6th Avenue Heartache

Next we’re on to the ’90s. I guess, I’m going chronologically this time. When The Wallflowers released their sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse in May 1996, they were still a standing roots rock-oriented band. Their origins date back to 1989 when Jakob Dylan (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) began forming a band called The Apples. Jakob is a son of Bob Dylan and his first wife Sara Dylan (nee Noznisky). After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1991 and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. Five additional studio albums appeared thereafter until 2012. Since 2013, Dylan has been the only remaining original member, relying on touring musicians for shows. A new album titled Exit Wounds is slated for July 9, the first to appear under The Wallflowers name in nine years. Apparently, it will be supported by a tour. For now, here’s 6th Avenue Heartache, written by Dylan, one of the band’s best known tunes and certainly one of my favorites.

Alicia Keys/Fallin’

Alicia Keys is an interesting artist in my book. While much of her music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I still like her. Undoubtedly, Keys’ amazing voice has a lot to do with it, but it’s also her stage presence. There’s just something about Keys that draws me in. It’s like she’s radiating – I can’t quite explain it. Anway, Fallin’ is a breathtaking tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor, which came out in June 2001. The record had a long history, which I hadn’t known until I read about it in Wikipedia. Keys, a classically trained pianist, already began writing songs for the record as a 14-year-old in 1995. She recorded the album in 1998 for Columbia Records, but the label rejected it. Eventually, it appeared in June 2001 on J Records, a new label that had been formed by Clive Davis who had sensed Keys’ talent and bought her contract from Columbia. His instincts turned out to be right. Songs in A Minor topped the Billboard 200 and won five Grammy Awards in 2002. As of 2015, the album had sold 7.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide. Fallin’ was solely written by Keys. That tune still gives me goosebumps.

Dirty Honey/Tied Up

I guess this already brings me to the last track of this Sunday Six installment. It’s time for some kickass rock and one of my new “discoveries,” Dirty Honey. I first featured this great rock band from Los Angeles a week ago in this Best of What’s New installment. The band, which has been around since 2017, features Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their classic rock-oriented sound is reminiscent of groups like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Here’s Tied Up, credited to the entire band, from their eponymous studio debut album released on April 23. This is a fun tune that nicely rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

James Taylor Releases American Songbook Cover Album

I suppose if you’re a cynic you could point out that when an artist releases a cover album of American standards or Christmas tunes for that matter, it’s a sign they’ve run out of ideas and may consider retirement, or they simply are trying make a quick buck. While in some cases this notion may not be unfounded, I feel differently when it comes to James Taylor. To me, his just-released new album American Standard is a legitimate undertaking by an artist who wants to highlight songs that have played an important role in his musical journey.

I’ve admired James Taylor for many years for his warm and soothing vocals and his impressive acoustic guitar chops. I wish I could play like that! His cover of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend is one of my all-time favorite tunes. And, yes, Taylor has also written beautiful songs like Carolina in My Mind, Sweet Baby James and of course the amazing Fire and Rain. I realize this may make me a bit biased when it comes to his latest release.

So why come out with a cover album of American standards? Do we really need another version of Moon River and God Bless the Child? Here’s what the album’s liner notes say, as reported by American Songwriter: “These are songs I have always known. Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina…Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album.”

James Taylor in this studio
James Taylor in his barn studio in Western Mass.

“My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius. I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements.”

Call me naive, but to me Taylor doesn’t sound like some artist who is just out there to cash in on his big name late in his recording career. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on the American songbook. I’m not. It’s simply not the kind of music I typically listen to. I also doubt this will change all for a sudden. What I do know is that I love how Taylor and Pizzarelli arranged these tunes. I think it’s time to let the music do some of the talking or writing.

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 by pianist Gene De Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This jazz standard has been covered by Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau and Stevie Wonder, among other countless artists. I dig the beautiful arrangement, including the trumpet solo and percussion played by Walt Fowler and Luis Conte, respectively. Here’s the official video.

Another beautiful tune is Almost Like Being in Love. The music and the lyrics were written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, respectively, for the score of their 1947 musical Brigadoon. The song was first performed on Broadway by David Brooks. Gene Kelly sang the 1954 film version. The tune was also recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. As a fan of old James Bond movies, she entered my radar screen with Goldfinger, perhaps the best 007 tune.

My Heart Stood Still was composed by Richard Rodgers in 1927, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It was written for a British musical revue by Charles Cochran, which opened in London in May 1927. It was also featured later that same year in the American Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee. Like with most other tracks on the album, it’s a tune that was recorded by many artists over the decades, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The lovely violin part is played by Stuart Duncan.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Only a Paper Moon, which I previously only knew from the 1973 motion picture Paper Moon. But the song’s origin dates all the way back to 1932, when it was titled If You Believed in Me and first performed by Claire Carleton during a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose. According to Wikipedia, the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings being made by Nat King ColeElla Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

American Standard, which was released yesterday (Feb 28), is Taylor’s 20th studio album. It was co-produced by Dave O’Donnell, Taylor and Pizzarelli. O’Donnell has worked in different capacities (engineering, mixing, producing) with an impressive array of artists, who in addition to Taylor include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, isn’t exactly obscure either. According to Wikipedia, apart from recording more than 20 solo albums, he has appeared on more than 40 albums, including Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones and Natalie Cole.

Taylor will be touring Canada and the U.S., starting in mid-April and featuring special guests. In Canada, it is going to be Bonnie Raitt, while for most U.S. gigs Jackson Browne will be his special guest. This surely does sound tempting to me. If Raitt would be the special guest in the U.S., I’d probably get a ticket right away. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Jackson Browne as well but saw him relatively recently in May 2018. My previous and so far only Bonnie Raitt show, on the other hand, dates back to August 2016. And, yes, I admit it, I do have a weak spot for her – she’s just an amazing lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; James Taylor website; Dave O’Donnell website; YouTube