Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Since the sudden death of my beloved mother-in-law Carmen Anaya Acevedo last week, I essentially took a break from blogging, including Best of What’s New. It just didn’t feel right. Meanwhile, new music didn’t pause, which is good news. This week’s installment could have easily been longer, but I’d like to keep these posts to four to six songs.

I’m particularly excited about new music by Stevie Wonder, one of my favorite artists, who last July announced he needed a kidney transplant. The surgery happened in December, and apparently Wonder, who turned 70 in May, is doing well. There’s also new music by Tom Petty, Americana rockers Cordovas, as well as three additional artists including a German alternative rock band. Let’s get to it!

Tom Petty/Leave Virginia Alone

Leave Virginia Alone is a tune from Wildflowers & All the Rest, the substantially enhanced reissue of Tom Petty’s second solo album, which came out on October 16. Written in 1995, the song was first recorded by Rod Stewart for his 17th studio album A Spanner in the Works from May that year. While Stewart’s version, which I hadn’t heard before until now, isn’t bad, I much prefer Petty’s take. The track also appeared separately as a single on October 1. I really miss Tom Petty, and it’s great to hear his voice.

Cordovas/Destiny

Cordovas are an Americana rock band from Memphis, Tenn. formed in 2011. The members are vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Firstman, Sevans Henderson (keyboards), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals) and Toby Weaver, another vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Destiny is a track and the lead single of the band’s new album Destiny Hotel released on October 16. According to the band’s website, the album expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. I covered it here at the time.

Stevie Wonder/Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate (feat. Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes)

Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate is one of two new tunes Stevie Wonder released on October 13, coinciding with the 36th birthday of his oldest son Mumtaz Morris. He is joined by hip hop artists Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes, which definitely makes this a song that’s outside my core wheelhouse. But I actually love it! Lyrically, it’s almost a present day version of You Haven’t Done Nothin’ or Living For the City, both tunes Wonder recorded in the ’70s. “In these times, we are hearing the most poignant wake-up calls and cries for this nation and the world to, please, heed our need for love, peace and unity,” he stated, as reported by Jambase. According to Billboard, Wonder will also release a new full-length album to be titled Through the Eyes Of Wonder. His last such album A Time to Love dates back to September 2005.

Jeremy Ivey/Hands Down in Your Pocket

Jeremy Ivey is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. According to Apple Music, he established himself in the early 2010s as a member of the country-soul band Buffalo Clover alongside his wife, singer/songwriter Margo Price. When Price’s career took off in 2016, Ivey served as her guitarist and sideman before signing a deal with Anti- and launching a solo career of his own with 2019’s The Dream and the Dreamer. Hands Down in Your Pocket is a tune from Ivey’s sophomore solo album Waiting Out the Storm, which was produced by Price and came out on October 9. “I think that having the opportunity to put out my own records, I’ve got a lot of pent-up inspiration,” Ivey told Apple Music. “Because there are just certain freedoms that I can take when I’m singing the song that I can’t take when I’m writing it for someone else to sing.”

Yola/Hold On (feat. Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby & Jason Isbell)

Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, is an English singer-songwriter from Bristol, England. She was the lead vocalist of English country and soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two albums with them in 2008 and 2012. In February 2016, she released her solo EP Orphan Offering. A full-length debut album Walk Through Fire followed in February 2019. Yola has also sung backing vocals for numerous artists, including Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Iggy Azalea. In addition, she was a guest on the 2019 eponymous debut album by country super group The Highwomen, together with Sheryl Crow. Yola’s latest single Hold On, released October 9, features Crow on piano, Jason Isbell on guitar, as well as The Highwomen’s Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby on backing vocals. As reported by Pitchfork, a portion of the tune’s proceeds will benefit MusiCares and the National Bailout Collective.

Die Happy/Story of Our Life (feat. Daniel Wirtz)

I’d like to wrap up this post with new music by alternative rock band Die Happy, formed by Czech singer Marta Jandová and guitarist Thorsten Mewes in 1993 in Ulm, Germany. The current line-up also includes Ralph Rieker (bass) and Jürgen Stiehle (drums). Die Happy’s debut album Better Than Nothing appeared in 1994. They have since released 13 additional albums including their most recent Guess What from April this year. Story of Our Life featuring Daniel Wirtz, a German rock singer-songwriter, is on the bonus version of the album and was released as a single on September 18.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cordovas website; Jambase; Billboard; Apple Music; Pitchfork; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

The weeks seem to be flying by these days. After having spent so much time at home since March due to the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, I frequently find myself forgetting what day of the week it is. Anyhow, my calendar tells me today is Saturday, which means it’s time to take another look at newly released music. Without any further delay, let’s get to some great stuff I found!

Bob Mould/Siberian Butterfly

American guitarist and songwriter Bob Mould, who has been active since 1979, is primarily known for his work with punk and alternative rock bands Hüsker Dü in the late ’70s and ’80s, and Sugar in the ’90s. He also has released 13 solo albums to date. Siberian Butterfly is a catchy grungy pop rocker that reminds me a bit of Green Day. The tune came out on September 9 ahead of Mould’s 14th studio album Blue Hearts, which is scheduled for September 25. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Doves/Broken Eyes

Doves are an English alternative rock band from Manchester, England. There were formed in 1998. After going on hiatus in 2010, they regrouped in December 2018. The band includes twin brothers Jez Williams (guitar, vocals) and Andy Williams (drums, vocals), along with Jimi Goodwin (bass, vocals, guitar). Martin Rebelski (keyboards) is part of Doves’ touring line-up and has also been involved in their recording sessions. Co-written by the Williams brothers and Goodwin, Broken Eyes is a tune from the band’s fifth and latest studio album The Universal Want that appeared on September 11. Check out the track’s great sound, which drew me in right away.

The Flaming Lips/Mother Don’t Be Sad

The Flaming Lips are an American band with an eclectic style, which were formed in Oklahoma City in 1983. They include founding members Wayne Coyne (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Michael Irvins (bass), as well as Steven Drozd (guitar, keyboards), Derek Brown (guitar, keyboards), Jake Ingall (keyboards, guitar), Matt Duckworth Kirksey (drums) and Nick Ley (percussion). The current line-up has existed since 2014. According to Wikipedia, the band’s music has varied over time and included alternative, psychedelic and experimental rock and noise pop, among others. Their mainstream breakthrough came with their ninth studio album The Soft Bulletin in 1999. The band also won three Grammy awards, including Best Surround Sound Album for their 2006 studio release At War With the Mystics. Mother Don’t Be Sad is a track from their new album American Head released on September 11. Credited to the entire band, the tune also appeared separately on August 28 as the album’s sixth upfront single. This intriguing power ballad is beautiful and haunting at the same time.

Savoy Brown/Rocking in Louisiana

Okay, we’ve come to the final tune of this Best of What’s New installment, and there hasn’t been any blues rock. Of course, I can’t let this happen! Rocking in Louisiana is a terrific tune by longtime British blues rockers Savoy Brown from their new album appropriately titled Ain’t Done Yet, which came out on August 28. This band has been around since 1965, when it was founded by guitarist Kim Simmonds and harmonica player John O’Leary. The original line-up also included Brice Portius (vocals), Trevor Jeavons (keyboards), Ray Chappell (bass) and Leo Manning (drums). Since their debut album Shake Down from September 1967, Savoy Brown have released some 40 additional studio, live and compilation records. Simmonds remains as the only original member in the band’s current version that since 2009 has also featured Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums). These guys are nicely rockin’, with Simmonds throwing in some sweet slide guitar work. My kind of music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope everybody is doing well! I decided to do another installment of my long-running music history feature, which hit 50 with the previous post. It turns out April 12 was a pretty eventful date, so let’s get to it.

1968: Pink Floyd released their fourth single in the UK, It Would Be So Nice. The tune, which was written by keyboarder Richard Wright, had a rather uplifting, almost pop-like sound unlike many other Floyd songs at the time. It was the band’s first release after the exit of Syd Barrett. Idiotically, the BBC is said to have banned the initial version of the song due to a passing reference of the London newspaper The Evening Standard, which violated their strict no-advertising policy. Apparently, this prompted the band to record an alternate, BBC friendly version. It didn’t help from a popularity perspective, and the song failed to chart in the UK or elsewhere. Apparently, Roger Waters and Nick Mason didn’t like the tune either. Waters called it a “lousy record.” Mason was even more outspoken: “Fucking awful, that record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles.” Ouch!

1973: The American children’s TV series Sesame Street has seen many celebrities over its 50-plus-year history. One of the coolest and funkiest guests ever must have been Stevie Wonder who appeared on the program 47 years ago. Then 23 years old, Wonder performed Superstition, the lead single from his latest album at the time Talking Book. I always loved that funky tune. Check out the apparent joy Wonder got out of this and his kickass backing band – priceless!

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band released the excellent live album Live Bullet. The material came from a 1975 gig at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Interestingly, Seger was still a largely regional act at the time. This would change with the band’s next studio album Night Moves that came out in October of the same year and finally put them on the map nationally. Over the years, tracks from Live Bullet became staples on rock radio. Undoubtedly, the best known is the road tale Turn the Page, which was written by Seger. Check out the official video I came across on YouTube. Love that tune!

1976: That evening, Paul McCartney with his wife Linda visited John Lennon at his apartment in the Dakota. Lennon was watching the late-night NBC comedy show Saturday Night, the predecessor to Saturday Night Live. During this particular episode, co-creator and producer Lorne Michaels invited The Beatles to reunite on the show for the deliberately measly offer of $3,000 (approximately the equivalent of $13,900 today). Michaels had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching the whole thing – and actually considered showing up at the show’s studio that night just for fun. The Beatles Bible quotes Lennon from his final major interview he gave to book author David Sheff in 1980: “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.” Now, that would have been something!

1983: R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur. Shockingly, the music critics got it right for once and gave it a warm reception. It also peaked at no. 36 on the Billboard 200, not shabby for a debut. A re-recorded version of Radio Free Europe appeared separately as a single and reached no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In spite of the critical acclaim, Murmur only sold approximately 200,000 copies by the end of the year, which back then wasn’t considered special – wow, how the times have changed! Eventually, the album reached Gold certification (500,000 units sold) in 1991. Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and Michael Stipes’ vocals are right up my alley. Here’s Radio Free Europe. Like all other songs except for one, the tune was credited to all four members of the band, which in addition to Buck, Mills and Stipes also included drummer Bill Berry.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: SUSTO/Ever Since I Lost My Mind

Until earlier today when I coincidentally came across a CBS This Morning clip on FacebookI had never heard of SUSTO. And, no, while Mr. Zuckerberg apparently is trying hard to stop spreading misinformation, I’m happy to report this ain’t fake news! If you’re like me and basically have given up on most contemporary music because you feel it sucks, I suspect this may be your first time to hear about SUSTO and the latest studio album Ever Since I Lost My Mind, which came out on February 22nd on Rounder Records.

Okay, who or what exactly is SUSTO? While technically being a five-piece alternative rock-oriented band, SUSTO really is a music project by singer-songwriter Justin Osborne. The above mentioned clip captured a performance of the album’s opener Homeboy. There was something about this tune that grabbed me immediately – the catchy melody, Osborne’s voice, the fact that it involved real musicians, meaning folks who actually know how to play an instrument instead of programming a computer. I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly confident it wasn’t because I lost my mind! 🙂

Justin Osborne.jpg
Justin Osborne

Osborne, who if I correctly interpret his Facebook page is 32 years old, hails from Charleston, S.C. According to the bio on SUSTO’s website, he wrote his first songs at age 14 on his grandpa’s parlor guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch. “So I’d go steal it out of my dad’s closet whenever they were out of the house,” Osborne recalls. “It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked.” Apparently, his family’s concern was about ensuring he and his young brothers wouldn’t break the inherited instrument from their grandfather, not Justin’s early attraction to music.

Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school and college. SUSTO was established in January 2013 – just in time. After years of booking and playing gigs and a feeling of going nowhere, Osborne was about to call it quits. Prior to leaving for a foreign semester in Havana, Cuba as part of this anthropology studies, he set up a website for SUSTO, “a holding tank for demos he couldn’t quite bear to toss.” While Osborne was in Havana, he became friends with Cuban musicians and artists, who apparently convinced him to stick with music.

SUSTO

Six months later, Osborne returned to the States and recorded SUSTO’s eponymous debut album that appeared in April 2014. According to Apple Music, following the release of sophomore & I’m Fine Today in January 2017, SUSTO had their TV debut, which was also on CBS This Morning. This was followed by a tour with The Lumineers. Ever Since I Lost My Mind is SUSTO’s third studio release. Osborne catalog to date also includes a live record, two EPs and a couple of singles.

BTW, in case you’re wondering about the meaning of the name, according to SUSTO’s website, the word describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul––an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne’s full name. “SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning––it felt like me, like a name for myself,” he [Osborne] says. “I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word––that deep fright––was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction.” With that explanation being out of the way, it’s time to get to some music!

Let’s start with the album’s above noted opener Homeboy. The ups and downs in the song create a nice dynamic. I think it’s a cool tune, even though it gets bit grungy at times, and grunge is generally not so much my cup of tea. Then again, I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, who obviously has written many songs that couldn’t be more grungy. Oh, well, I suppose there are always exceptions to rules! 🙂

Here’s the record’s second track If I Was, a quieter tune setting a nice contrast to the opener. It’s got a soothing feel to it, which I like. This somewhat contrasts the lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: …But I am just a singer/With electric guitar in my hands,/ Trying to work through my own set of problems,/Trying to do the best that I can,/The best I can./ And I’m your man…

Livin’ In America is another rocker.

Next up: The album’s title track, another mellow sounding tune. The music and lyrics are credited to Osborne and Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, Osborne’s longtime creative sounding board, who also co-produced the song with the album’s lead producer Ian Fitchuk.

Let’s do one more: Cocaine.

Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal,” Osborne notes. “This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments. It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways.”

According to SUSTO’s website, while it began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it’s really always been: Osborne’s vision. “I come from a background of being in bands, so it’s hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control,” he says. “Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It’s taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be––what it really is.”

In addition to Osborne, SUSTO’s current lineup features Dries Vandenberg (guitar),  Steven Walker (keyboards), Jordan Hicks (bass) and Marshall Hudson (drums). The band has a pretty active tour schedule. After a gig this evening in Washington, D.C., they are off to a series of shows in Europe before returning to the States in mid-May.

Sources: Wikipedia, Justin Osborne Facebook page, SUSTO website, Apple Music, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Church/ Starfish

Australian rock band’s 1988 breakthrough remains great-sounding album to this day

Like I suspect most folks living outside of Australia, I first heard about The Church in the late 1980s when they released Under The Milky Way. The tune’s spacey sound created by combining a 12-string acoustic with an electric guitar and keyboards in the background proofed to be an immediate attraction and made me buy the album Starfish on CD, even though I didn’t know any of the other tracks. Clearly, this was in the pre-streaming age where somebody like me who wasn’t much into singles had to buy entire albums to own certain songs.

Released in February 1988, Starfish was the Australian rock band’s international breakthrough, fueled by Under The Milky Way, the lead single that got plenty of radio play in Germany. While the lyrics of this and the other tracks on Starfish are rather dark and psychedelic, the combination of great sound and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey’s distinct voice make for an album that continues to be seductive to this day. I can’t necessarily say this about many other ’80s records.

the church 1988

The Church in 1988

The Church were formed in Sydney, Australia in March 1980. The founding members included singer, songwriter and bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. Marty Wilson-Piper joined one month later as the band’s second guitarist. Later that year, The Church signed with EMI-Parlophone and recorded their debut Of Skins And Heart. It was released in Australia in April 1981 and internationally the following January as The Church with a slightly altered track listing.

Starfish was the band’s fifth studio record. By then Richard Ploog had taken over on drums for Nick Ward, who had left in early 1981. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by session musicians and producers Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi. At the time, Wachtel who more recently played in Keith Richard’s backing band X-Pensive Winos, already had worked with other heavy weights, such as Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt. Ladanyi had an impressive credits as well, including production work with the likes of Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Don Henley. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the album’s great opener Destination. The tune, which also came out separately as the record’s third single in July 1988, was credited to all four members of The Church.

Next is the aforementioned Under The Milky Way. How could I possibly skip it? The song was co-written by Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow).

According to the record’s description on Apple Music, the lyrics for North, South, East And West reflect Kilbey’s dark impressions about Los Angeles in the ’80s. Here’s an excerpt:  War’s being waged and the world’s just a stage (in this city)/The real estate’s prime, the number plates rhyme (liquidity)/Wear a gun and be proud, but bare breasts aren’t allowed (in this city)/ Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams (liquidity)…The tune was credited to all members of the band.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Spark. The song was written by guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper who also sang lead.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Reptile. Credited to all four band members, the song also was released separately as the album’s second single in April 1988. Another track featuring great interplay between the two guitars, it sounds a bit like combining a Byrdsy jingle-jangle with a U2/The Edge-like guitar sound.

Since Starfish, The Church have recorded 12 additional studio albums to date, the latest of which, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, appeared in October 2017. I previously reviewed it hereStarfish remains the band’s most successful commercial release to this day. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1992 and has sold 600,000 copies in the U.S. only.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Cranberries/Zombie

This is kind of crazy. Yesterday, I listened to Zombie by The Cranberries and thought I should take a closer look at this Irish alternative rock band for a post. Today, I’m finding myself writing this piece after the incredible news that lead vocalist Dolores O’Riordan suddenly passed away at age 46. I think her distinct way of singing and intense delivery make this song one of the most memorable tunes of the ’90s.

According to Rolling Stone, O’Riordan had been in London for a short recording session. The cause of her death hasn’t been revealed. Apparently, she struggled with some health issues that forced the band to cancel shows last year. The Rolling Stone story also noted a diagnosis with bipolar disease in 2014.

Zombie was the lead single to The Cranberries’ second studio album No Need To Argue, which appeared in October 1994. Written by O’Riordan in 1993 to commemorate two children who were killed during an IRA bombing in England earlier that year, Zombie was the band’s biggest hit. It reached no. 1 in Australia, France, Germany and various other countries. In their native Ireland, it peaked at no. 3, while in the UK, it climbed to no. 14. In the U.S., the tune didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it entered various other Billboard charts, most notably Alternative Songs, which it topped.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Doctors Who Rock, Literally!

Using the power of music to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring hope to patients

Have you ever walked into a doctor’s office and see a fully set up drum kit? I had not until earlier today when accompanying my wife to an appointment. As a former bassist, I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I asked Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth about the drums. He confirmed he is a drummer, casually mentioning recorded music and that “we are on iTunes.” Before I knew it, he handed me two CDs. It turned out I just had met a doctor who rocks, literally.

After I had returned to the waiting room, I took a closer look at the CDs and noticed they said N.E.D. – cool name, I thought, which somewhat reminded me of R.E.M. Then I saw N.E.D. stands for “no evidence of disease.” Now I was really intrigued and started googling the name and looking for N.E.D. in Apple Music. What I found truly impressed me.

According to Wikipedia and their website, N.E.D. is a six-piece rock band of American gynecologic cancer surgeons from different parts of the country. They got together in 2008 at the annual meeting of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, a U.S. patient advocacy organization, to entertain the conference’s attendees as a cover band. After an enthusiastic reception from the audience, the doctors decided to continue playing together. Eventually, they started writing their own songs and released their eponymous debut album in September 2009.

N.E.D. In Concert

But to me the most remarkable thing about N.E.D. is that they are using their music to raise awareness of gynecological cancers, which include cervical, ovarian, uterine and other reproductive cancers. “GYN cancers are not things people talk about in our culture, and they’re woefully underfunded and misunderstood,” N.E.D. singer, guitarist and keyboarder Dr. John Boggess told the The Washington Post in 2011. “We really believe that we’re starting a conversation. Because there are worse things than getting cancer, and that’s feeling isolated and without help and understanding.” Dr. Boggess’s day job? Medical Director at UNC Gynecologic Oncology at REX Hospital in Raleigh, N.C.

In addition to Dr. Boggess and Dr. Nagarsheth, who practices at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J., the members of N.E.D. include Dr. Joanie Hope (vocals, guitar), Alaska Women’s Cancer Care, Anchorage; Dr. Robert Burger (bass, harmonica, vocals), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Dr. John Soper (guitar, mandolin), UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill; and Dr. William Winter (lead guitar), Compass Oncology, Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore.

So how do these doctors who are all in different locations handle rehearsals? According to the above Washington Post story, much of it relies on emailing and using audio tracks. “As surgeons, we’re just really used to doing what it takes to get things accomplished, and we have high expectations for ourselves,” Dr. Boggess explained. “We don’t walk into things thinking we can’t do it.”

Let’s take a look at some of N.E.D.’s music, which sounds really professional. If you didn’t know, you’d never guess that recording music isn’t their main job. Following are two clips from the band’s debut album. First up: False Pretenses.

Here is Rhythm Heals.

In June 2011, N.E.D. released their sophomore album, Six Degrees. Here is a track called Nevermind.

From this album I also like to highlight We Never Mattered – I wish they also would have used that wah wah guitar in the intro in other parts of the tune.

As N.E.D. continued to perform concerts to raise awareness of gynecologic cancers and bring together cancer survivors, they came to the attention of socially conscious documentary production company Spark Media and producer Andrea Kalin. Kalin and her crew ended up following the band and their patients over a three-year period and put together an 84-minute feature film called No Evidence of Disease. Tagline: Six GYN Cancer Surgeons On A Rock & Roll Mission To Save Women’s Lives.

“They boiled all of that [film footage] down into a story that is really human and really breaks down the wall between physicians and patients and really talks about an experience but about a topic that’s not typically talked about, which is cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs,” said Dr. Boggess during an interview with North Carolina public television network UNC-TV in March 2015. Here is the official trailer of the documentary, which was shown at 44 U.S. movie theaters on February 4, 2015 for World Cancer Day and has aired on PBS.

Last September, N.E.D. released their third album Love & Pain, an EP. Here is the opener Bring You Back.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the record’s title track.

I’d like to finish this post with quotes from each members of N.E.D, which are published on the band’s website. I think they nicely illustrate where these remarkable doctors are coming from.

“It’s not so much that we’re trying to cure cancer with this effort… I think even if you can’t cure the problem, if people feel connected and understood they sure feel a lot stronger and a lot better supported.” (Dr. Boggess)

“I’m hoping it makes them feel good and relaxed and hopeful and brings a smile to their face and makes them feel like there’s something bigger going on here.” (Dr. Hope)

“You can learn a lot from patients with cancer. And they see the world in a way that’s much different from the way that someone else sees the world.” (Dr. Nagarsheth)

“Music, laughter and compassion go hand in hand with medicine and surgery in the care of our patients.” (Dr. Burger)

“We want to make a noise. There’s been a wall of silence around it and hopefully we can, we can bring some noise to that so that we’re heard and so that our patients are heard.” (Dr. Soper)

“Medicine is not all science. Medicine is an art, surgery is an art. Taking care of a cancer patient is an art. There is a lot of art in medicine, as well as music, so I think it really parallels in terms of what I do in the operating room.” (Dr. Winter)

Sources: Wikipedia, N.E.D. website, The Washington Post, UNC-TV, YouTube

 

R.E.M. Releases 25th Anniversary Edition Of “Automatic For The People”

Reissue of 1992 landmark album includes 4-Disc Deluxe Edition and other formats

On October 5, 1992, R.E.M. released Automatic For The People, which is widely considered a highlight in the band’s catalog. Yesterday, a special 25th anniversary reissue appeared on Craft Recordings, a good reason to write about one of my favorite alternative rock bands.

Automatic For The People was R.E.M.’s 8th studio album. It came on the heels of Out Of Time, a Grammy-winning record that had brought R.E.M. broad international success. The song Losing My Religion became their highest-charting single in the U.S., peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

R.E.M

The original intent for Automatic was to make an album that was more rock-oriented than its predecessor. Instead it turned out to be more subdued, focusing on the themes of mortality and dying. This was a big contrast to Shiny Happy People, which lead singer Michael Stipe during a recent NPR interview called a “great bubble gum pop song” and a tune he is not particularly proud of.

Reflecting on Automatic, Stipe noted in a press release announcing the anniversary edition, “Mortality is a theme that writers have chosen to work with throughout time. It speaks of the fragility and beauty of life and living life to the fullest in the present moment. It happens all too quickly and we all know that.” Added R.E.M. co-founding member and bassist Mike Mills, “I think it’s our most cohesive record…It’s the strongest from first to last.”

The album opens with Drive, which also was the lead single released a few days prior to the record. Like all tracks on the album, Drive is credited to all four members of R.E.M., who in addition to Stipes and Mills included Peter Buck (lead guitar) and Bill Berry (drums). According to Songfacts, Stipe commented on the tune in the November 12, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone: “There were, before Punk, a few songs that resonated with me. One was David Essex’s “Rock On”. “Drive” is an homage to that.” The line, “Hey kids, rock n’ roll” was taken from that song.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite with an upbeat melody is a deliberate contrast to the rest of the album. The beginning sounds very similar to the Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens. In fact, R.E.M. decided to pay for the rights to use it. Stipe told NPR he wouldn’t have put the track on the record, had the band not insisted, though he admitted it is catchy. One of the tune’s characteristics is Stipe’s laughter following his inability to properly pronounce the name Dr. Seuss. The band felt it reflected the song’s joy and decided to keep it.

Everybody Hurts is the standout on the album. According to Songfacts, the anti-suicide song was mostly written by Berry who in particular wanted to address young people. Apparently, it had a strong reaction among fans. “The number of times people have said, ‘you’ve saved my life or ‘the song was there at a time when I really needed it, thank you’… that’s my academy award,” said Stipe during the NPR interview. “That’s bigger and better than anything anyone could say to me. Something we did had a positive impact on their life in a moment of great need and a moment when they needed something like that it was there. So that makes me really happy.”

Another tune I’d like to highlight from the original record is Man On The Moon, a tribute to American comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman, and one of R.E.M.’s best known songs. During the above NPR interview, Stipe said he initially felt the tune didn’t need a voice but the band insisted. Watching a VHS tape of Kaufman finally inspired the lyrics. “Somehow he became my hero with the 1,000 faces and these kinds of larger than life questions,” Stipe reflected,  “literally larger than life questions about existence and what happens after we’re gone, or did the man really walk on the moon.”

The 25th anniversary issue is available in various formats: a vinyl LP, a 2-CD edition and a 3-CD + Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition. The latter comes in a lift-top box, together with a 60-page booklet. In addition to the original record, the box includes a CD with 20 demos from the album’s recording sessions, a live recording from November 1992, and a remix of the album in Dolby Atmos on Blu-Ray. According to the above press release, it “delivers a leap forward from surround sound with expansive, flowing audio that immerses the listener far beyond what stereo can offer.” Automatic For The People is the first commercial release using this new technology.

The original album was produced by Scott Litt, who together with recording engineer Cliff Norell also created the Dolby Atmos remix. Litt also produced four additional R.E.M. albums (Green, 1988; Out Of Time, 1991; Monster, 1994; and New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996) and has worked with many other artists, such as Nirvana, Incubus and Counting CrowsLed Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones contributed string arrangements for the original recording.

Automatic For The People earned R.E.M. significant commercial success and was generally well received by music critics. The album peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts and topped the U.K. albums chart four times. The record has sold more than 3.5 million copies in the U.S. as of 2017. It was ranked no. 249 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Records of All Time in 2012. In 2006, it also placed no. 37 on the list of 100 best albums ever, as voted by 40,000 people who participated in a worldwide survey conducted by British Hit Singles & Albums and NME.

I’d like to close this post with one of the demos on the anniversary issue. Mike’s Pop Song, one of two previously unreleased songs, has a nice 60s vibe that is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR “All Songs Considered”, R.E.M. press release, Songfacts, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips And Pix: The Church/Under The Milky Way Tonight

After raving about Under The Milky Way Tonight in my previous post, I thought I might as well put up a clip of the tune. Apparently, this live performance was captured during the induction of The Church into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2010.

Steve Kilbey, the band’s songwriter and bassist co-wrote the tune with his then domestic partner Karin Jansson, guitarist of the Swedish punk band Champagne. It was included on The Church’s fifth studio album Starfish, released in February 1988. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single.

Under The Milky Way Tonight brought The Church significant mainstream success in Australia and beyond. In the U.S., the track peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed all the way up to no. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It also charted in New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and The Netherlands. While I don’t know about the German charts, I definitely recall the song got significant radio play at the time. That’s where I first heard it.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Church Sticks To Its Religion On New Album

Aussie band continues signature sound that cemented its ’80s cult status

Readers of the blog may be surprised that I’m posting about The Church, which clearly falls outside the type of music I typically cover. While Classic Rock, Blues and British Invasion represent my main wheel house, I actually have a fairly eclectic taste. This Australian band is one example.

The Church first entered my radar screen in 1988 when they released a seductive song called Under The Milky Way Tonight, the lead single for their fifth studio album Starfish. The tune combines spacey sound and psychedelic lyrics with a catchy melody. It also features a cool bagpipes-resembling solo. I ended up buying the album at the time, which I still dig to this day.

The Church

Fast-forward almost 30 years to October 6, 2017, when The Church released their 26th studio album Man Woman Life Death Infinity – quite a heavy title! I only came across it coincidentally when browsing Apple Music earlier today. Admittedly, I never explored the band’s catalog beyond Starfish and had completely lost track of them.

The Church’s long history goes far beyond the scope of this post. In a nutshell, the band was formed in Sydney in 1980. Two of the founding members, Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass) and Peter Koppes (guitar) are still around, though Koppes left the band in 1992 and returned in 1997. The current line-up also includes Tim Powles (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), who has been with the band since 1994, and guitarist Ian Haug, who joined in 2013. While The Church didn’t have mainstream success beyond Starfish, the band retains a large international cult following, according to Wikipedia.

After listening to Man Woman Life Death Infinity a few times, the music clearly reminds me of Starfish, except I haven’t discovered any tune yet that stands out to me like Under The Milky Way Tonight or Reptile do on the 1988 album. The record’s opener Another Century pretty much sets the stage for the album’s sound. AllMusic describes it as “atmospheric space rock with a hooky pop sensibility.” I think that’s not a bad characterization of what essentially is the band’s signature sound. Here is the official video of the track.

A recurring topical theme on the record is water. Australian music site Music Feeds quotes Kilbey, who typically writes the lyrics to the band’s songs: “I guess water is my element. I’ve always marvelled at the sea and rivers and rain. It wasn’t conscious at all but on reflection, it definitely is a preoccupation on this record. What that means, I don’t know.” Well, if Kilbey doesn’t know, how would anyone else? Here’s a clip of Undersea.

I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know is another tune I like, which AllMusic describes as “moody Byrdsian.” I suppose the guitar is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds, though the track’s sound is much more layered, but let’s not over-analyze it. The song also appears to establish a pattern where Kilbey doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – on a more serious note, here is a clip of the tune.

The last song I’d like to highlight is Something Out There Is Wrong – that may well be the case, though not with this tune! Here’s a clip.

Man Woman Life Death Infinity was produced by Ted Howard, who has frequently worked with the band since the early 2000s. While the music becomes a bit repetitive after a while, there is just something about it. I’ve always been drawn to spacey music. I suppose that’s why I’m such a huge fan of Pink Floyd, especially their ’70s albums up to Wish You Were Here. I also know no other band that sounds quite like The Church. At some point, I may start to further explore their catolog. If anyone reading this is familiar with the band, please feel free to send any recommendations you may have.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Music Feeds, YouTube