What I’ve Been Listening to: Dawes/Misadventures of Doomscroller

I’m thrilled my first full-fledged album review of 2023 is music by a contemporary band. While I featured Dawes and their song Ghost In The Machine in a Best of What’s New installment last July and also highlighted the great tune again in part 1 of my 2022 year-end feature, it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I finally listened to Misadventures of Doomscroller, their latest album released in July 2022, which includes this track. It was pretty much instant love – something that rarely happens to me, especially when it comes to contemporary artists!

Dawes emerged in 2009 from rock band Simon Dawes after that group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had departed. This led them to both shorten their name to Dawes and change from a post-punk to a folk rock-oriented sound. AllMusic describes it as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” That’s a great characterization. For this album, I would add a pretty sophisticated, progressive rock-like complexity to their music.

The current line-up of Dawes features brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). Misadventures of Doomscroller is their eighth studio album. According to this review by Entertainment Focus, it was produced by the Los Angeles band’s longtime collaborator Jonathan Wilson, who has also worked with Angel Olsen, Benmont Tench, Jackson Browne, Margo Price and Father John Misty, among others.

Dawes (from left): Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber, Taylor Goldsmith and Lee Pardini

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being minimalists. With this record we set out on being MAXIMALISTS,” the band’s main songwriter Taylor Goldsmith told Entertainment Focus. “Still a quartet. Still not letting these songs hide behind any tricks or effects. But really letting the songs breathe and stretch and live however they want to. We decided to stop having any regard for short attention spans. Our ambitions go beyond the musical with this one.”

I’d say it’s time to take a closer look at some of the goodies. Opening the album is the impressive medley Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax. Like all other tracks except for one, it was penned by Taylor Goldsmith. The two tunes are connected by a middle section, creating a feel of a song suite. “The first half of this song could be about tyrants,” Goldsmith explained to Entertainment Focus. “But it could also be about anyone who thinks that a little more control is gonna make everything ok. The second half is a response to that developing reality of the first half. The world might be a scary place sometimes but, to some degree, I want to believe I can decide how I respond to it.” Check out this neat sound and cool groove – so good, all of its 10-plus minutes!

The next track I’d like to call out is Comes In Waves. In a news post on the group’s website, Goldsmith notes: I had this riff and one of the verses for a while. Griffin, Wylie and Mike Viola came over to my backyard (this was peak covid) to just play music together for one of the first times since lockdown. I started sharing the song and Griffin and Mike started singing their background parts you hear on the choruses on the record immediately. It inspired me to finish writing it. The lyric is about the arbitrary demands I make on myself. I want to perceive me or my life a certain way but I make no exceptions for an off day or a misstep. Whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s all transient, and only when I can live in some version of that awareness (which is itself transient) am I able to bat away any fears or anxieties or the consequences of an over indulged ego.

Since I already covered the excellent Ghost In The Machine twice, I’m skipping it in this review. Instead, the last tune I’d like to highlight is titled Everything Is Permanent, the only track on the album Goldsmith co-wrote, with Jimmy Joliff. Evidently quoting Goldsmith again, the above news post notes it’s a song (about how everything about us is tracked, documented, recorded, filed, mined, bought, sold, etc. etc. on some level) that is wrapped around a molten core of a breakdown/ freakout/majorminorinterweave that is probably the moment I’m most proud of on the whole record. After showing you the blood and guts, we gently sew the song back together again and end with what could be the tagline for all of social media and the screen-life-culture that we subscribe to these days to varying degrees: “Did you really need to cry? Or be seen crying?”

Misadventures of Doomscroller is an album I can highly recommend. To start with, Dawes are really fine musicians. If I would have to call out anybody in particular, I would pay close attention to drummer Griffin Goldsmith. I also love Wylie Gelber’s melodic bass playing. The other thing that stands out to me is the group’s neat harmony singing. The comparisons to CSN and The Band are not off-base!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. In case you don’t know it already, hope you will further check it out and dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Entertainment Focus; Dawes website; YouTube; Spotify

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Yearend Musings Part 1

A look back on new songs released in 2022

Happy Saturday and I hope everybody has been enjoying the holiday season. As 2022 is beginning to wind down, it’s time to revisit new music released this year. I decided to do this in two parts. Part 1, which draws on my weekly Best of What’s New feature, looks back at some of the new songs I like. Part 2 focuses on new albums that speak to me. To avoid overlap between the two parts, I won’t feature any tunes in part 1 that are on albums highlighted in part 2.

Following are 12 tunes released this year, one from each month. I’m doing this in chronological order. There’s also a Spotify playlist at the end, which includes all highlighted and some additional 2022 tunes.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

I’d like to kick off this post with the amazing John Mayall, who on November 29 turned 89. On January 28, the Godfather of the British Blues released The Sun is Shining Down, a true late-stage career gem I reviewed here. The soulful blues rocker Can’t Take No More, penned by Mayall, features Marcus King on guitar.

Gregor Barnett/Driving Through the Night

On February 19, Gregor Barnett released his debut solo album Don’t Throw Roses in My Grave during COVID downtime for The Menzingers, the Philadelphia-based punk band he co-founded in 2006. Driving Through the Night was written by Barnett like all other tracks on the Americana rock-focused album, a departure from his more punk-leaning music with The Menzingers.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Young Guv is a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook. After playing in two Canadian hardcore punk bands, Cook launched a solo career in 2015 and has since released five power pop-oriented albums under the Young Guv moniker. I immediately loved the beautiful Byrdsy-sounding Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, included on Guv III, his fourth album that came out on March 11.

The Linda Lindas/Talking to Myself

When I first came across The Linda Lindas in early March, I was struck by the energy of this Los Angeles-based all-female punk pop and garage band. The four-piece was founded in 2018 when their members were still young teenagers. Talking to Myself is a tune from the group’s first full-length album Growing Up, which appeared on April 8.

49 Winchester/All I Need

Va.-based 49 Winchester describe their music as “tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk.” Formed in the mid-2010’s, the group has put out four albums to date. Lynyrd Skynyrd-flavored country rocker All I Need appears on their most recent Fortune Favors the Bold, released on May 13.

Lettuce/RV Dance

American jazz and funk band Lettuce were formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of their founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. Initially a short-lived venture for just one summer, the group reunited in 1994 and released their debut in 2002. RV Dance is a groovy track from their latest album Unify, which came out on June 3. As I said at the time, you could picture James Brown singing to this great tune!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Los Angeles-based folk rock band Dawes emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. Here’s Ghost in the Machine, a cool tune from the group’s eighth and most recent studio album Misadventure of Doomscroller, out since July 22.

Marcus King/Blood On the Tracks

Guitarist and songwriter Marcus King is one of the most exciting young contemporary artists in my book. The 26-year-old has been on stage since he was 8 when he started performing alongside his family. Here’s the soulful rocker Blood On the Tracks from King’s second solo album Young Blood released on August 26.

Ringo Starr/Free Your Soul (feat. Dave Koz and José Antonio Rodriguez)

“Every band deserves a Ringo.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read that great quote, which perfectly describes Ringo Starr. The ex-Beatles drummer always has been all about the music, never about himself. A perfect illustration is the All-Starr Band, his touring rock supergroup Ringo formed in 1989. Now 82 years young, he’s still rocking – and recording! Free Your Soul is the smooth closer of Starr’s most recent release, an EP titled EP 3 that appeared on September 16.

The Star Crumbles/Desperately Wanting

The Star Crumbles is a cool music project by fellow blogger Marc Schuster from Abnominations and his friend Brian Lambert. After meeting on Twitter and working together on one of Lambert’s songs earlier this year, they hit it off and decided to form The Star Crumbles. Both are into ’80s music and bands like The CureEcho & the Bunnymen, New Order and Ultravox, which is noticeable on their first album The Ghost of Dancing Slow released on October 7. Here’s one of my favorites, Desperately Wanting.

Larkin Poe/Southern Comfort

Sister act Larkin Poe have been among my favorite contemporary artists since they entered my radar screen a few years ago. Not only are Rebecca Lovell and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell great songwriters, but they are also really talented musicians and sing together in perfect harmony. Southern Comfort is a sizzling southern blues rocker from their sixth full-length album Blood Harmony, which came out on November 11 and which I reviewed here.

Mthunzi Mvubu/Mom vs the Bad Man

The final pick I’d like to highlight is by South African-based saxophonist, flute player and composer Mthunzi Mvubu. Playing professionally since he was 14, Mvubu has traveled globally with jazz luminaries since he was 18. Mom vs the Bad Man is a track from The 1st Gospel, Mvubu’s debut album as a leader, released on December 2.

Last but not least, here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist. While finding new music I sufficiently like can be quite time-consuming, I feel it’s been another rewarding year. Hope there’s something here that speaks to you as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; 49 Winchester website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope you’re having a great day. Wednesday also means it’s time again for taking a closer look at a particular song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. My pick for today is Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, a great singer-songwriter I had known by name for many years but only started to explore about 18 months ago.

While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille.

Train to Birmingham, penned by Hiatt, is what I would call a deep cut from a studio album titled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which Hiatt released in August 2011. Unlike many of his other records, this one fared better in the charts, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and climbing to no. 59 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it peaked at no. 17 in Sweden, no. 20 in The Netherlands and no. 61 in Germany, among others. The tune was never released as a single.

Train to Birmingham was covered by American country music artist Kevin Welch on his sophomore album Western Beat, released in April 1992 as Kevin Welch @nd The Overtones. Good rendition!

Following are some additional tidbits on Train to Birmingham from Songfacts:

American folk-rock singer-songwriter John Hiatt wrote this song in his late teens, but it didn’t make it onto a disc until his 2011 album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. He explained why he finally decided to record the track in an interview with American Songwriter: “You know what, my wife really loves the song. And she’s been asking me to record it for years, and it kind of seemed right on this record. We were doing all of these songs about cities and different locations and going from the city and the country and back and forth. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year back in June, so I just thought I’d record this song for her.”

Hiatt told the story of how he came to pen a train song to American Songwriter: “I wrote it when I was about 19. I’d been in Nashville a year — I came to Nashville when I was about 18, and I was writing for Tree Publishing Company, and I wasn’t a country songwriter by any stretch, but I was surrounded by those guys. Like Bobby Braddock, who wrote a lot of George Jones and Tammy Wynette hits. And Curly Putnam,who wrote ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Red Lane,’ all these hit country songwriters of the day. I was writing my little folk songs, or whatever they hell they were, and I was trying to pick up the craft, at any rate, and I said, ‘Well how do you write a country song?’ and one of them said one day, ‘Well, you gotta have a train song.’ And I though well s–t, I think I can write a song about a train.

And back in those days on Music Row, all the publishing companies were just in little houses, and the songwriters lived right next door. I lived in a little house with four or five other writers, and none of us were really country writers. One guy was from upstate New York trying to get some rock and roll thing going. Those were some real interesting times in Nashville, as it always is. But this one guy was from Birmingham and he kept going home every damn weekend like he couldn’t stand to be away. And I just though well s–t, there’s my ‘Train To Birmingham.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy humpday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. If you’ve been a frequent visitor to my blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise, you probably know John Mellencamp has been one of my favorite artists for many years. As such, it was only a matter of time before I would cover him as part of this weekly recurring feature.

I guess the heartland-straight-rock-turned-roots-artist from Seymour, Indiana doesn’t need much of an introduction. Mellencamp, who at the time still was John Cougar, first entered my radar screen in 1982 with a little ditty about Jack & Diane, his second big hit single in the U.S. and Canada. Strangely, according to Wikipedia, the tune, off his fifth studio album American Fool, didn’t chart in Germany, even though I seem to remember hearing it on my then-favorite mainstream radio station all the time. The first Mellencamp album I bought was Scarecrow released in August 1985.

By the time Big Daddy appeared in 1989, Mellencamp had started his transition from straight heartland to more roots and Americana-oriented rock. He had begun to take that direction on his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, which remains among my favorite Mellencamp albums to this day. While I continue to dig his earlier straight rock sound, I’ve come to prefer his roots-focused music. I also like how his vocals have become much rougher over the decades.

This brings me to my song pick for this week: Big Daddy of Them All, from the aforementioned Big Daddy, Mellencamp’s 10th studio album – the last released as John Cougar Mellencamp. He hated the Cougar name, which had been given to him by his former manager Tony DeFries who insisted “Mellencamp” was too hard to market and pretty much imposed the awkward stage name Johnny Cougar on him.

Big Daddy of Them All did not become one of the album’s four singles. Like all except one track, it was penned by Mellencamp. While overall Big Daddy didn’t match the chart and sales success of its predecessor The Lonesome Jubilee, it still did pretty well, becoming Mellencamp’s first album to top the Australian charts, climbing to no. 3 and no. 7 in Canada and the U.S., respectively, and charting in various European countries. Eventually, Big Daddy reached 2X Platinum status in Canada and Platinum certification in the U.S. and Australia.

Here’s a live version of the tune from 2005, captured during Mellencamp’s Words and Music Tour.

Following are some additional tidbits on Big Daddy of Them All from Songfacts:

“Big Daddy Of Them All” was inspired by Burl Ives’ portrayal of Big Daddy in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Mellencamp said in the liner notes for the On The Rural Route 7609 box set: “This song was more or less a postcard to myself, saying, ‘You think Burl Ives wasn’t so nice? Guess what, John.'”

This song is one of the more personal in Mellencamp’s canon. By his own admission, he could be bossy and dismissive, and outright hostile to the media. Still, he was one of the most successful recording artists of the ’80s, earning money, fame, and adulation. Just one problem: None of those things were important to him.

In this song, he draws a parallel to the Big Daddy character in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Big Daddy was rich, philandering, and cantankerous, which did him no good when he reached the end of his life. Mellencamp was still in his 30s, but he could see where his life was headed. At the time, his second marriage was crumbling down.

This is the lead track on Mellencamp’s Big Daddy album, and the song that provided the title. It has a very rootsy feel, with a prominent violin (by Lisa Germano) and accordion (by John Cascella). This kind of instrumentation is prominent throughout the Big Daddy album.

It’s worth noting that Paul Newman stars in the 1958 adaptation of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, which inspired this song. He plays Brick, Big Daddy’s son. Paul Newman movies also made their way into Mellencamp’s songs “Paper In Fire,” which cribs a line from Hud, and “Rain On The Scarecrow,” which borrows from dialogue in Cool Hand Luke.

This song was a milestone for Mellencamp, who had a bit of a revelation. “At one time I thought I had all this stuff figured out, then I realized I didn’t,” he explained. “And I realized, like I said in ‘Big Daddy,’ when you live for yourself it’s hard on everybody. I didn’t realize I was hard to live with. It never dawned on me.”

“You gotta grow up and deal with what’s real,” he added. “Happiness, finding out who you are, and learning how to be a human being is what’s real.” (This interview appears in his VH1 “Coming Of Age” documentary.)

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All picks appear on releases that came out yesterday. Let’s get to them without further ado.

Larkin Poe/Southern Comfort

Great to see a new album by Larkin Poe, the roots and blues rock-focused singer-songwriter sister act of Rebecca Lovell (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums) and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell (vocals, lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards). Their website describes their music as “gritty, soulful, and flavored by their southern heritage.” I first came across these two young dynamic ladies, who not only are excellent musicians but also great vocalists, in late 2019. They started out as teenagers with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/ Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. After the trio disbanded in January 2010, Rebecca and Megan decided to forge ahead without Jessica and have since been making music as Larkin Poe. Apart from self-producing their own music, the two sisters have a very active YouTube channel that among others includes a cover channel featuring stripped-back renditions of many well-known rock and blues tunes. If you don’t know Larkin Poe, check them out! Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious! Meanwhile, here’s Southern Comfort, penned by Rebecca Lovell, a nice southern blues rock-flavored tune from their sixth full-length album Blood Harmony.

Jack Kays/Finally Fine

Let’s turn to Jack Kays whose music is “hard to pigeonhole,” according to AllMusic, blending “punk and emo with rugged acoustic folk and occasional detours into cloud rap.” Here’s more from their bio of the young artist: After a handful of independent releases, the Ohio native found viral success with his sparse but aggressive acoustic songs, especially “Morbid Mind.” Signing with Columbia Records, Kays released his debut album, Mixed Emotions, in early 2021. My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP with Travis Barker followed later that year. I featured a tune of that EP in a Best of What’s New installment at the time. Kays who struggled with addiction during his teenage years is now out with his latest EP titled Cessation. One of the songs, Finally Fine, begins…from the perspective of an addict and then transitions midway through to the perspective of someone in recovery, a press release explains. There’s something captivating about Kays’ lyrics and stripped-back approach on this and the EP’s other tracks, which drew me in.

Action/Adventure/Levity

Action/Adventure are a pop punk band from Chicago. From their Apple Music profile: Combining the aggressive melodic approach of pop-punk with the punishing guitar attack of metalcore, Action/Adventure are a band from Chicago who’ve earned a powerful reputation on the city’s underground rock scene. They also upend expectations of what a hardcore band should look like: Action/Adventure is composed of five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) men, and their songs sometimes examine the challenges and contradictions of being part of a dominantly white musical community. They just as often deal with the anger, imaginings, and uncertainty that often fuel hardcore, and they perform with a strong balance of fire and precision. They made an emphatic debut with 2015’s Rumble Pak EP, revealed a greater maturity and ambition on 2018’s Going Heel, and began breaking through to a larger audience with 2021’s Pulling Focus. Action/Adventure include Blake Evaristo (lead vocals), Brompton Jackson (vocals/guitar), Oren Trace (guitar), Manny Avila (bass) and Adrian Brown (drums). Levity, credited to all members, is a tune from their latest album Imposter Syndrome. Metalcore generally isn’t my cup of tea, but Action/Adventure’s pop-flavored type isn’t your usual metalcore.

Franz Nicolay/Wandering Star

Wrapping up this week’s Best of What’s New is a prolific multi-instrumentalist and writer, Franz Nicolay. From his website: In addition to records under his own name, he was a member of cabaret-punk orchestra World/Inferno Friendship Society, “world’s best bar band” the Hold Steady, Balkan-jazz quartet Guignol, co-founded the composer-performer collective Anti-Social Music, was a touring member of agit-punks Against Me!; and recorded (complete discography here) or performed (complete list here) with dozens of other acts. He studied music at New York University and writing at Columbia University (where he was awarded a Felipe P. de Alba Fellowship). He received fellowship residencies in composition at the Rensing Art Center and writing at the Ucross Foundation and the Edward F. Albee Foundation. He has taught at Columbia University and UC-Berkeley, and is currently a faculty member in music and written arts at Bard College. This brings me to New River, Nicolay’s latest solo album, and the opening track Wandering Star. Great tune – check it out! In fact, the entire album looks promising, based on sampling a few of the other tunes.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes by each of the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Larkin Poe website; AllMusic; Sony Music Canada website; Apple Music; Franz Nicolay website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday again and, as such, time to take a closer look at another tune I haven’t covered or only mentioned in passing. This week, I decided to dig into the catalog of Jackson Browne. Since the singer-songwriter entered my radar screen with Running On Empty many moons ago, I’ve enjoyed listening to him on and off over the decades.

Rock Me On the Water is a great tune from Browne’s eponymous debut album, which came out in January 1972. Penned by him like the remaining nine tracks, the song also became the record’s and Browne’s second single in July of the same year. Like his debut single Doctor, My Eyes, it made the U.S. charts, reaching no. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, not as high as its predecessor that peaked at an impressive no. 8.

Like on the album overall, Browne had impressive guests. In the case of Rock Me On the Water, David Crosby and Graham Nash provided backing vocals. Among others, the recording also featured top-notch session musicians Craig Doerge (piano), Leland Sklar (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums), who would play on many other Browne albums as well. They were all part of The Section, the de facto house band of record label Asylum, whose members collectively or individually played on countless records by artists, such as Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Warren Zevon.

Jackson Browne is the first of 15 studio albums issued to date by Browne who continues to go strong 50 years into his recording career. His most recent album Downhill From Everywhere, released in July 2021, earned a 2022 Grammy Award nomination in the Best Americana Album category. Los Lobos’s Native Sons, a great album I reviewed here, ended up winning the category – certainly a worthy winner!

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

Jackson Browne uses biblical imagery in this song, where he makes a point that salvation can be attained outside the church.

“It’s got an apocalyptic theme running through it and it’s meant to be kind of a gospel song,” he said in a radio interview. “I employ this gospel language: ‘stand before the father,’ ‘sisters of the sun.’ But it’s turning that around 180 degrees so it’s not about religion, it’s about society.”

“You have to have an idea in a gospel song,” he added, “and if it’s not going to be Jesus, it has to at least be salvation. It’s a way of lovingly, and in a friendly way, refuting the traditional and conventional messages of redemption having to do with the straight and narrow. I staked a lot on that song because it was that combination of social awareness and paying attention to what’s going on around you with that inner search for spiritual meaning.”

Browne wrote this song around 1970, before he started work on his debut album. He was well known as a songwriter at this point, with songs recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Byrds, and Nico. “Rock Me On The Water” was first recorded in 1971 by Johnny Rivers, then later that year by Brewer & Shipley.

Linda Ronstadt released this song on her self-titled third album early in 1972, around the same time the song appeared on Browne’s album. Her version was the first released as a single, and it went to #85 in March, making it the first song written by Jackson Browne to reach the Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Boss Does The Commodores

I’d like to interrupt the broadcast with some breaking news I just spotted on YouTube. Bruce Springsteen has released a new single from his upcoming studio covers album Only the Strong Survive. Scheduled for November 11, this marks Springsteen’s second covers release, following We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006).

Unlike the Seeger collection, which focused on folk and Americana, Only the Strong Survive celebrates R&B and soul songs from the catalogues of Motown, Gamble and Huff and Stax, among others. Here’s Nightshift, co-written by Walter Orange, lead singer of The Commodores, together with Dennis Lambert and Franne Golde. The tribute to soul/R&B singers Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye became the title track of The Commodores’ 11th studio album released in January 1985 and a major hit for the group.

Nightshift follows Do I Love (Indeed I Do), the first single off Only the Strong Survive, which premiered on September 29. Both renditions sound mighty cool to me!

“I wanted to make an album where I just sang,” Springsteen commented in a recent statement on his website. “And what better music to work with than the great American songbook of the Sixties and Seventies? I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others. I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music. My goal is for the modern audience to experience its beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it. I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”

Here’s more from the above statement: This 21st studio album from Bruce Springsteen will also feature guest vocals by Sam Moore, as well as contributions from The E Street Horns, full string arrangements by Rob Mathes, and backing vocals by Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, Michelle Moore, Curtis King Jr., Dennis Collins and Fonzi Thornton...Only The Strong Survive was tracked at Thrill Hill Recording in New Jersey, produced by Ron Aniello, engineered by Rob Lebret and executive produced by Jon Landau.

I can see some ignorant cynics say the Boss is trying to make a quick buck here or running out of ideas or both. But if you’ve ever been to a Springsteen show, you know how much this man loves soul music. And has prominently featured it during his concerts for decades. In fact, during my first Springsteen concert in Germany in the second half of the ’80s, he delivered at least an hour’s worth of outstanding soul covers. Dare I say it, these renditions were at least as good as his originals. The E Street Band, which at the time still featured sax giant Clarence Clemons, was on fire!

So kudos to Bruce for celebrating some sweet soul music. Count me in among the folks who are looking forward to his new album. The cynics can go and take a hike!

Sources: Wikipedia; BruceSringsteen.net; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday again, which means time to take a fresh look at newly released music. All picks appear on brand-new albums that came out yesterday (October 14). Let’s get to it without further ado!

Miko Marks & The Resurrectors/Feel Like Going Home

How many Americana and country artists can you name who are women of color? I’m thrilled to feature for the second time in Best of What’s New Miko Marks, an African-American singer drawing from both genres, as well as blues, soul and gospel. Born in Flint, Mich., she currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2005, Marks released her debut single Freeway Bound, which also was the title track of her first studio album that appeared in September of the same year. In 2006, she was named Best New Country Artist by U.S. trade magazine New Music Weekly. Marks has also won various music awards and was included in this year’s Country Music Television’s “Next Women of Country 2022” class. Feel Like Going Home is the excellent title track of her fourth and latest studio album. Initially, the tune appeared as a single back in March. As was the case for her previous album, Marks is backed by The Resurrectors, the house band of Redtone Records. I absolutely love her soulful sound and want to further explore this artist!

Souad Massi/Dessine-moi un Pays

Souad Massi is an Algerian Berber singer-songwriter and guitarist, my first such artist on the blog. From her Apple Music profile: Displaying influences as disparate as birdsong, American folk rock, Spanish flamenco, tablas from Pakistan, and Arabic lutes, all held together by a cool, sad-edged voice, Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi possesses one of the most unusual stories and sounds in the pop universe. Born amidst civil-war-torn Algers, her penchant for Westerns, particularly of the Sergio Leoni variety, prompted a specific interest in country music and cowboy culture. Massi joined Atakor, a rock band named after an Algerian mountain range, and in 1997 released a cassette of her own songs backed by Atakor entitled simply Souad. The cassette’s popularity brought death threats in her home country and when invited to play a festival in Paris, she chose to remain in France, where she released critically-favored records like Raoui and Deb. This brings me to Massi’s new album Sequana and the opener Dessine-moi un Pays (“draw a country for me”). While I admittedly don’t understand the lyrics, I find Massi’s music and singing really beautiful.

Enumclaw/Jimmy Neutron

Enumclaw are an indie rock band from Tacoma, Wash., named after a city located about 30 miles east of Tacoma. According to a profile on the website of their record label Luminelle Recordings, the group includes Aramis Johnson (lead vocals, guitar), Nathan Cornell (guitar), Johnson’s younger brother Eli Edwards (bass) and Ladaniel Gipson (drums). Here’s a bit more from their profile: Even though they hail from the home of grunge, their influences stretch a bit further; the group is already well on their way to becoming “the best band since Oasis,” their earliest motto. Aramis says the band led by the Gallagher brothers is a clear inspiration, given their rise from a working-class background, and not just because his own brother is in the group as well. Enumclaw are now out with their full-length debut album Save the Baby. Here’s Jimmy Neutron penned by Johnson. I like the rawness in their sound.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Tippa My Tongue

Only six months after Unlimited Love, their international chart-topper, Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with a new album, their 13th. Just like its predecessor, Return of the Dream Canteen was produced by Rick Rubin, who also had also served in that capacity for six albums in a row released between 1991 and 2011. The current members of the Chili Peppers, who have been around since 1983, include co-founders Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals) and Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals), along with John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and Chad Smith (drums, percussion). Here’s Tippa My Tongue, the cool funky opener. Apart from Flea’s bass-playing, I dig the guitar work on this tune. Check it out!

As usual, following is a Spotify playlist with the above and a few additional tracks by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Luminelle Recordings website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, folks, and hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’m happy to embark on another excursion into the great world of music, “visiting” six great tracks from different decades. Hope you’ll join me.

Dooley Wilson/As Time Goes By

Today, our little journey starts all the way back in 1942 with what has to be one of the greatest motion picture soundtrack songs of all time. I actually cannot believe it took me more than six years to cover As Time Goes By, which of course was featured in what probably is the movie I’ve watched most often: Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre. The plot, the filming, the amazing cast – call me a silly sentimentalist, but they just don’t make them like this anymore! As Time Goes By was written more than 10 years earlier in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for a Broadway musical called Everybody’s Welcome. The tune was first performed by Frances Williams when the show opened on October 31, 1931. The first recording by Rudy Vallée occurred in July 1931. But it was American actor, singer and musician Dooley Wilson whose performance in Casablanca (as Sam) made the song a household name. Play it, Sam, play As Time Goes By.

Steely Dan/Aja

It’s really tough to follow a timeless classic like As Time Goes By, so we have to go to arguably the best album by one of the most sophisticated jazz pop-rock bands I know: Steely Dan and their gem Aja. Released on September 23, 1977, the album recently hit its 45th anniversary. As a fan of the Dan, I’ve covered the ingenious partnership of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and music from their sixth studio recording many times, for example here and here. But this is the first time I feature the album’s title track in The Sunday Six. Like all other tracks on Aja, it was co-written by Becker and Fagen. If I see this correctly, it’s the album’s only tune that didn’t appear separately on a single at the time.

Son Volt/Drown

Alrighty, time for some rock, coz you just can’t live without it! Son Volt only entered my radar screen last year when the alternative country and Americana rock band released their latest album Electro Melodier. It was love at first sight! The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995, which I covered here. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar), Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). One of my favorite tunes on Trace is Drown, which all except one of the additional tracks on the album was penned by Farrar.

The Prisoners/Hurricane

Are you still with me? If you haven’t done so already, buckle your seatbelt, since it’s gonna get stormy and, as such, the ride could get a bit bumpy with great retro-style garage rock by The Prisoners. I have to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Max from Poper Pop, who brought the British band on my radar screen when he recently featured one of their tunes. Formed in 1980 in Rochester, England, The Prisoners released four albums during their initial run that latest until 1986. They subsequently reformed for several live gigs and issued a one-off single in 1997, which is likely their final release. Since the group broke up, their members Graham Day (vocals, guitar), James Taylor (organ), Allan Crockford (bass) and Johnny Symons (drums) played in a broad range of other bands. Perhaps most notable were The Solarflares, who featured Day and Crockford and essentially reprised the sound of The Prisoners. Here’s The Hurricane, written by Day and off The Prisoners’ 1983 sophomore album The Wisermiserdemelza – my kind of garage rock!

Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters/Cry Woman

How about some African music that sounds shall we say a bit different than what I usually feature? As far as I know, not even fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews, who in my book has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and, among others, features artists from Africa and other non-English speaking regions and countries, has covered this act. According to this review on Pan African Music, Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters are a duo comprised of Nyati Mayi, a Congolese singer who plays a stringed instrument called the lulanga, and soFa, a Belgian DJ and producer, aka the Astral Synth Transmitters and soFa elsewhere. Apparently, soFa became aware of Mayi’s music via social media and remixed one of his tracks. Their partnership evolved into Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters and their first album Lulanga Tales, which appeared last month on September 16 – I love these types of stories! Here’s a track from their debut titled Cry Woman. I find this music very relaxing, almost meditative. Check it out!

The Chambers Brothers/All Strung Out Over You

For our final stop today, let’s go back to the ’60s and some groovy psychedelic soul by The Chambers Brothers. Formed in Los Angels in 1954 as a four-piece, the group of four brothers initially focused on performing folk and gospel music throughout Southern California. They remained little known until 1965 when they started to perform in New York. American folk, blues and jazz artists Barbara Dane, who toured with The Chambers Brothers, introduced them to Pete Seeger who in turn helped them put on the bill of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. By the time they released All Strung Out Over You as a single in December 1966, the group – George Chambers (washtub bass, electric bass), Lester Chambers (harmonica), Willie Chambers and Joe Chambers (guitar) – had added drummer Brian Keenan. Written by Rudy Clark, the tune also became the opener of The Chambers Brothers’ debut album appropriately titled The Time Has Come, which appeared in November 1967. They recorded seven additional studio albums until 1975. George Chambers and Keenan passed away in October 2019 and October 1985, respectively.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig and you’ll be back for the next trip. In fact, selfishly, I hope it’s going to be before then!

Sources: Wikipedia; Pan African Music; YouTube; Spotify

Shemekia Copeland’s New Album Features Powerful Blues and Hard-Hitting Lyrics

This album review has an intro, so bear with me. Last Saturday evening, I spontaneously decided to go to Asbury Park, a great town for live music on the Jersey shore not far from my house. My destination was The Stone Pony where during the warmer months of the year they have a Summer Stage series of outdoor concerts. I had seen Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit were scheduled to perform there. I’ve listened to some of Isbell’s music and generally dig what I’ve heard thus far.

Since I didn’t have a ticket and didn’t want to spend money, I joined many other folks just outside the venue where you can perfectly hear the music though only partially see the performing artists. While approaching The Stone Pony, I heard an incredible vocalist who obviously wasn’t Isbell. It turned out to be Shemekia Copeland, who was opening up for him – and, holy cow, this woman was killing it on stage! The next thing I did was to check her music catalog on my phone and, voila, that’s how I learned about Done Come Too Far, her latest album that was released on August 19. To say it right upfront, it’s a real beauty!

I believe the first time I may have heard of Shemekia Copeland was when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast wrote about her. I also previously included her in this blues feature. While I had known Copeland is a compelling artist, until my above live encounter, I had not fully appreciated what a powerhouse vocalist she is! You can certainly realize her vocal capabilities when listening to the new album, but, frankly, she sounds even better live!

I guess you could say Copeland was destined to become a blues artist. She’s the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland who made his recording debut in 1956. Over a 40-plus year career, he recorded with the likes of Albert Collins and Robert Cray and became a popular touring act. He also helped establish Shemekia’s name in blues circles by taking her on the road to open his shows. She had started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 began pursuing a professional career.

LOS ANGELES, CA— MARCH 18, 2022 RECORDING ARTIST, BLUES SINGER, SHEMEKIA COPELAND FOR ALLIGATOR RECORDS. Photos by Victoria Smith Make Up by KATE KATS

After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album. Turn the Heat Up! appeared in April 1998 and put her on the map as a  blues and R&B force. From her website: From her debut through 2005’s The Soul Truth, Shemekia earned eight Blues Music Awards and a host of Living Blues Awards. 2000’s Wicked received the first of her four Grammy nominations. After two successful releases on Telarc (including 2012’s Grammy-nominated 33 1/3), Copeland returned to Alligator Records in 2015 with the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning Outskirts Of Love, melding blues with more rootsy, Americana sounds.

I think it’s time for some music from Done Come Too Far, Copeland’s 11th studio album. Let’s kick it off with the great opener Too Far To Be Gone. Like all other tracks featured in this post, it was co-written by John Hahn and producer Will Kimbrough. Featuring slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth, you kind of know this has to be good! “This album was made by all sides of me — happy, sad, silly, irate — they’re all a part who I am and who we all are,” Copeland explained in a statement that announced the album, as well as Too Far To Be Gone as the lead single. “I’m not political. I’m just talking about what’s happening in this country.” And that she does, and she’s not holding back!

Pink Turns To Red, a powerful song about the madness of school shootings in this country, is perhaps the tune that lyrically stands out to me the most:…When pink turns to red, nowhere to run/Pink turns to red, life’s over and done/Tears will flow, prayers will be said/But it’s too late, pink turns to red…Nothing much to add here!

The Talk, a haunting slow blues, is another powerful tune about a worried black mom’s conversation with her son to be careful or risk being killed. I held my breath, as you took the first steps/I was proud as a mama can get/Now it’s been years, you’ve grown tall/But I’m still worried you’re gonna fall/Got to have the talk/Got to have the talk/You might do nothing wrong, the next moment you’ll be gone/Got to have the talk…”I tell him all the time, ‘Discipline is going to save your life one day,” Copeland told the Houston Press, referring to her 5-year-old son. “He doesn’t know what I’m talking about now, but I want him to remember it and think about it every day of his life. I tell the same thing to my nephews who are 16 and 19.”

On the title track, Copeland teams up with Mississippi Hill country blues icon Cedric Burnside who provides guest vocals. Lyrically, the song presents more candid words on the state of Blacks in present-day America with a defiant stance:…Done come too far to be gone, come too far to be gone/If you think we’re stopping, you got it wrong/We’re done come too far to be gone…If I could end things in this world, racism would be one of the first things. I will never understand or accept it!

The last track I’d like to call out is Fell In Love With a Honky. The country rock-oriented tune shows Copeland’s light-hearted side, setting a welcome contrast on an otherwise lyrically pretty grim album. Saw his long legs walking into Tussie’s/Next thing I knew, we was playing footsies/He wasn’t really handsome, just not my type/Standing by himself, in a jukebox light/But there was something about him that was kind of cute/Made me love him down to his cowboy boots…

Done Come Too Far was recorded in Nashville. Producer Will Kimbrough also served in that capacity on Copeland’s previous two albums. Apart from Sonny Landreth and Cedric Burnside, guests included country blues artist Kenny Brown; prominent Memphis soul keyboarder Charles Hodges; Oliver Wood, guitarist of American roots band The Wood Brothers; Americana singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan; and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, a member of alternative rock band Wilco.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

After having witnessed part of Copeland’s live set and listened to this album, I can understand some of the enthusiastic reactions she has received, which are noted on her website. For example: “Shemekia Copeland has established herself as one of the leading blues artists of our time.” –NPR Music. “Shemekia Copeland is an antidote to artifice. She is a commanding presence, a powerhouse vocalist delivering the truth.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer. And, perhaps most impressively: “I am so happy Shemekia is delivering these songs that the world needs to hear. Her voice is strong and soulful, and her message comes from her heart.” – Mavis Staples.

Reflecting on her musical evolution over her previous two albums and Done Come Too Far, Copeland said, “Once my son was born, I became even more committed to making the world a better place. On America’s Child [Aug 2018 – CMM], Uncivil War [Oct 2020 – CMM] and now Done Come Too Far, I’ve been trying to put the ‘United’ back into United States. Friends, family and home, these things we all value.” In case you’d like to see Copeland, her current tour schedule is here.

To those of you celebrating, happy Labor Day. To everybody else, I hope you have a great Monday as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Shemekia Copeland website; Aligator Records press release; Houston Press; YouTube; Spotify