Steve Winwood Shows He’s Still The Man And New Jersey Gives Him Some Lovin’

Singer-Songwriter Lilly Winwood opens “2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour” gig at NJPAC

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While mainstream music these days generally doesn’t excite me, luckily, some great artists from my preferred decades of the ’60s and ’70s are still around and tour. Even though their number is decreasing, I couldn’t possibly see all of them. Too many rock & roll shows, too little time and not enough dough means making tough choices. This can be tricky, especially when it comes to artists I’ve seen before like Steve Winwood. In his case it didn’t take long to convince myself that another gig would be worth it. That show happened last night at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark and was a true blast, a blast from the past!

Things kicked off when a young woman walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and casually introduced herself as Lilly Winwood. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who released her debut EP Silver Stage last year, is one of Winwood’s four children. I would describe her music as folk-oriented Americana. She has a decent voice and did a beautiful job. Here’s a clip of The Hard Way, a tune from the aforementioned EP. Apparently, it was captured last April at another opening for her dad with whom she has toured for the past couple of years in this role, which also includes singing backup vocals on some of his songs.

Following Lilly’s short set and a brief intermission, it was finally Steve’s turn to take the stage. And he didn’t waste any time to remind the audience that he still is The Man with a great voice who can make that Hammond roar mightily. Winwood’s set kicked off with I’m A Man, released as a single by Spencer Davis Group in January 1967. Here’s a clip. Also, take a look at that kick ass backing band!

In addition to being a master of the Hammond, Winwood is a pretty decent guitarist – frankly, something I sometimes forget. In fact, the bio on his official website notes he also plays the mandolin. Here’s Can’t Find My Way Home, one of the two Blind Faith tunes he played. As he was performing the song, I selfishly thought that I’d be quite okay if the couldn’t find his way home and just would keep on playing all night!

While the show was billed as a journey through the more than five decades of Winwood’s music, most of the set focused on this early work with Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and of course Traffic. Here is a classic by the latter he played, Empty Pages, from the John Barleycorn Must Die album released in July 1970.

At the outset of the concert, Winwood stated they eventually would get to playing songs that are more present. After an hour or so into the set, he started to deliver on that promise. Domingo Morning is a tune from his eighth solo album About Time, which appeared in June 2003 – at least something from this century, as Winwood dryly observed. The performance featured a cool extended solo by percussionist Edwin Sanz together with drummer Richard Bailey. Here’s a clip. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s the only live footage of the track I could find on YouTube.

This was followed by the final two songs of the regular set, Roll With It and Higher Love, Winwood’s only hits that topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and 1986, respectively. For both tunes, Lilly joined on backing vocals. I actually thought Steve and her sounded really nice together. Here’s Roll With It, the title track of his fifth solo album from June 1988, my favorite among his more pop-oriented records.

The show’s encore brought three other highlights: John Barleycorn Must Die, Dear Mr. Fantasy and Gimme Some Lovin’. Since I can’t decide which of the three to select, heck, let’s just post clips for each! John Barleycorn Must Die, a traditional arranged by Winwood, is the title track from the above mentioned Traffic album. While the cameraman apparently was quite excited and his hand shook in the beginning of the clip, it gets better as the tune goes on!

Dear Mr. Fantasy is from Traffic’s debut record Fantasy, which appeared in December 1967. I thought this tune featured Winwood’s most impressive guitar work of the night.

Last but not least, Gimme Some Lovin’, the Spencer Davis Group classic from 1967. What a great tune to finish a terrific show!

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Winwood’s fantastic backing band: In addition to Bailey (drums) and Sanz (percussion), the line-up included José Neto (guitar) and Paul Booth (saxophone, flute, keyboards) – no bass! With Baily and Sanz forming a compelling rhythm section, I can’t say I was missing a bass, which somewhat pains to admit as a former bassist.

According to the schedule, The 2018 Greatest Hits Live Tour is hitting Upper Darby, Pa. tonight and will travel to Mashantucket, Conn. tomorrow. The sold out tour wraps up on March 15 in Bethlehem, Pa.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Steve Winwood official website, Billboard Chart History, YouTube

 

My Playlist: Bonnie Raitt

While I previously wrote about an amazing Bonnie Raitt show I saw in 2016 and included her in a few other posts, it occurred to me I haven’t done anything related to her recorded music. Considering how highly I think of this lady as a musician and songwriter, this feels like a big miss that is overdue to be corrected.

First a bit of history. Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born on November 8, 1949 in Burbank, Calif. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad was John Raitt, an actor and acclaimed Broadway singer. Bonnie’s mom, Marjorie Haydock, was a pianist and John’s first wife. According to her online bio, Raitt was raised in LA “in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism,” all important influences that shaped her future life.

Raitt got into the guitar at the age of eight, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. According to an AP story in a local paper, she taught the instrument herself by listening to blues records – yet another example of a self-taught musician who turned out to be exceptional!

Bonnie Raitt 1969

In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. She also began her lifetime involvement as a political activist. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she notes in her online bio. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”

Three years after entering college, Raitt decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. She already had become a frequent performer on the local coffeehouse scene, exploring slide guitar blues and other styles. Soon thereafter, she opened shows for surviving blues legends, such as Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Word spread about her great talent, which led to her first record contract with Warner Bros.

Bonnie Raitt_Bonnie Raitt

Since her 1971 eponymous debut, Raitt has released 16 additional studio albums, three compilations and one live record. Over her now 45-year-plus career, she has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is also listed at no. 50 and no. 89 in Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, respectively.

Like many artists, Raitt’s life wasn’t all easy peasy. She struggled with alcohol and drug abuse but became sober in 1987. “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead,” Raitt told Parade magazine in April 2012, adding, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Yep – time to get to some music!

Mighty Tight Woman is from Raitt’s 1971 debut record – just love that tune, which was penned by Sippie Wallace and recorded in 1929.

In September 1974, Raitt released her fourth studio album Streetlights. One of the gems on that record and frankly Raitt’s entire catalog is Angel From Montgomery, a country tune written and first recorded by John Prine.

Among the early ’60s pop songs I’ve always dug is Runaway by Del Shannon, a tune he co-wrote with keyboarder Max Crook for his 1961 debut Runaway With Del Shannon. Raitt’s version of the tune, which is included on her sixth studio album Sweet Forgiveness from 1977, is a brilliant cover with a cool bluesy soul touch. Here’s a great live performance, which apparently was captured at the time the album came out.

In addition to recording songs from other artists, Raitt also writes her own music. Here is Standin’ By The Same Old Love from 1979’s The Glow, which prominently features Raitt seductive electric slide guitar work.

Can’t Get Enough just about sums up how I oftentimes feel about Raitt’s music. Co-written by her and keyboarder Walt Richmond, the track appears on Raitt’s 1982 record Green Light. I just love the cool reggae style groove of this track and the saxophone accents.

Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time perhaps is the equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry. In fact, even though King’s music is quite different and unlike Raitt she’s a full-blown singer-songwriter, Raitt does remind me of King in another aspect. Like King, she has that warm and timeless quality to her music, a rare gift. While better known for its title track and Thing Called Love, Nick Of Time includes another track that is one of my favorites from Raitt: Love Letter. The tune was written by another Bonnie, Bonnie Hayes, who according to Wikipedia is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer. Here’s a cool live version that makes me want to groove along!

Oh, and did I mention Raitt also knows how to perform beautiful ballads? Here’s I Can’t Make You Love Me from 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. The tune was co-penned by country music artist Mike Reid and country songwriter Allen Shamblin. Following is what appears to be the official music video.

Another powerful ballad Raitt recorded for her 13th studio album Fundamental from 1998 is Lover’s Will. This tune is from John Hiatt, one of Raitt’s favorite writers. He recorded and released it as a mid-tempo track in 1983 on his studio album Riding With The King. It’s beautiful how Raitt slowed it down, making it her own, similar to Runaway!

Used To Rule The World is from Slipstream, which appeared in April 2012. Widely acclaimed, Raitt’s 16th studio release became her highest charting album in 18 years, climbing to no. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and hitting no. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Top Blues Albums charts. The tune, which is another great example of Raitt’s feel for groove, was written by Randall Bramblett, a singer-songwriter, session keyboarder and touring musician. Here’s a nice live performance.

When it comes to an artist like Raitt with so many great tunes and such a long career, it’s hard to keep a playlist to ten tunes, but that’s the maximum I’m setting myself. I’d like to conclude with Gypsy In Me from Raitt’s most recent studio album Dig In Deep, which appeared in February 2016. The song is a co-write by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, two Nashville-based songwriters and musicians.

While I haven’t seen any hints about a new album, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy year for Raitt. Her tour schedule lists a steady stream of U.S. gigs from mid-March to the beginning of July, immediately followed by various concerts in Europe. Among the highlights are an opening/special guest appearance for James Taylor & His All-Star Band during his U.S. tour from May to the beginning of July, and Paul Simon’s farewell concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt official website; Bonnie Raitt discovers her roots in Scotland (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, Jul 14, 1991); Parade; YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Brandi Carlile/The Joke

Boy am I out of touch when it comes to music by contemporary artists! I just listened to an episode of the NPR program All Songs Considered called “The Year In Music 2017.” For close to 1.5 hours, the hosts cheerfully discussed new music released during 2017 by artists I had never heard of for the most part. Most of the music wasn’t my cup of tea, but the track above by Brandi Carlile really blew me away. It once again illustrates you ignore contemporary artists at your own risk!

According to Wikipedia, Carlile is an American folk rock and Americana singer-songwriter, who released her eponymous debut album in 2005. In the meantime, she’s put out four additional records and has a new one scheduled for February 2018, which is called By The Way, I Forgive You. The above track The Joke is from the new album and was released as a single last month. This incredibly powerful tune encourages me to further explore this artist.

Sources: Wikipedia, Brandi Carlile website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: The John Byrne Band/The Immigrant And the Orphan

Album mixes Americana with traces of Irish folk

During this time of the year, I like to go to free outdoor concerts. Fortunately, there are many parks and other facilities within about an one-hour driving radius from my house, featuring summer concert series. This is how I came across John Byrne, who I’m going to see this evening at one of these venues. Until a few hours ago, I had never heard about this Irish-American singer-songwriter.

Other than his website, there is very limited information about Byrne on the Internet. Surprisingly, Wikipedia does not appear to have any write-up on him. If I were his publicist, frankly, that’s something I would change. When I checked Apple Music, I noticed Byrne has released three albums as The John Byrne Band since 2010, though his website suggests he started recording music in 1999. Immigrant And the Orphan, which appeared in September 2015, is his most recent studio release.

Byrne was born in Dublin, Ireland, and lives in Philadelphia. He and the band he leads tour in two configurations: an acoustic four-piece formation, including banjo/accordion, fiddle/cello, guitars and horns, and a six-seven-piece band that adds drums and bass to its lineup. I have no idea which of the two I’m going to see tonight.

In a YouTube video about the making of Immigrant And the Orphan, Byrne notes, “My biggest influence has always been folk music from Ireland and America…because to me it encompasses all manner of real organic music, and that’s what I love.” Following are clips of some of the record’s songs. This selection is based on my initial impression, after browsing the record a couple of times.

The album opens with Sing On Johnny, a song about Byrne’s father. Like the majority of tracks on the record, it’s predominantly acoustic.

Dirty, Used Up, Chewed Up, Screwed Up Love, one of the few tunes that cross over into folk rock, has a catchy chorus and some nice ups and downs.

Lie to You has a country flavor. It’s one of the tunes that stood out to me.

Me Over Him is another acoustic track I like.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track, which features a beautiful string arrangement.

Immigrant and the Orphan, which apparently at least in part was financed via a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, was recorded at Spicehouse Studios in Fishtown, Philadelphia. The record was produced by Rob Schaffer, who also plays guitar and banjo in Byrne’s band. I’d like to finish this post with the above noted video clip about the making of the album.

Sources: John Byrne Band web site, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Lumineers/Cleopatra

The folk-rock trio’s sophomore album proves staying power in the wake of gaining overnight fame

Until a few days ago, Ho Hey was the only song I had ever heard from The Lumineers. The catchy tune was the lead single from their eponymous 2012 debut album, which brought them overnight fame and two Grammy nominations. On Thursday night, they played their 13th and last gig opening for U2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the Irish rock band’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour 2017. I liked what I heard, so I decided to take a closer look at this Americana trio from Denver.

The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), who have been writing music and playing together since 2005. Cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek joined them in 2010. During live performances the trio is supported by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Byron Isaacs (bass). Cleopatra is the band’s most recent studio album, which was released in April 2016.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059
The Lumineers (from left): Neyla Pekarek, Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz.

According to band’s website,  the record “is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock.” The band had tried to write new music while being on the road, but realized touring almost 300 days a year since 2013 made that impossible. “It was such overkill for what we needed.” Schultz told Rolling Stone last April. “What we quickly realized is it would be just as useful to have our iPhones with the voice memo on it.”

Apparently, The Lumineers had become wary about the wide popularity their debut album had brought them and wanted to prove they have staying power while remaining true to themselves. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally,” says Schultz on the band’s website. “Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”

The album opens with Sleep On the Floor, written by Schultz and Fraites who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s additional 10 tunes. The song has a nice dynamic, starting off with Schultz’s vocals and guitar and Fraites’ sparingly played drums, picking up in the middle, and slowing down again toward the end. It became the album’s fourth single in November 2016.

Next up is Ophelia, which was the record’s lead single released in February 2016. With “Oh, Ophelia” in its chorus, it is a bit reminiscent of Ho Hey. While the song received mixed reception from critics, the public evidently liked it. The tune reached the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s 2016 year-end charts for alternative songs and rock airplay songs.

The album’s title track was co-written with Simone Felice, formerly a member of the Felice Brothers, a folk-rock band that has inspired The Lumineers. He also produced Cleopatra. The tune became the record’s second single in March 2016.

Another track I’d like to call out is Angela, which is also a co-write with Felice, and the album’s third single released in April 2016. Together with Sleep On the Floor, it’s my favorite tune on the record. Here is a nice clip of a live performance.

Cleopatra is a convincing sophomore album from a band that after years of making music in obscurity quickly rose to stardom and had to prove they are more than a one-time phenomenon. Even in the absence of another anthem like Ho Hey, the record was generally well received by critics and performed strongly in the charts. In the U.S., the album reached the top of the Billboard 200, even outperforming its predecessor that peaked at no. 2. It also hit no. 1 on the UK Official Charts and the Canadian Albums Chart.

As for his reaction when U2 invited The Lumineers to open for them, Schultz told Rolling Stone last month, “We said yes quickly, and I think the reason was because we had said no to at least two bands that are all-time amazing bands, and at the time we were like, ‘We’d rather play to 200 people than 20,000 or 40,000, because those [200] people will be listening to us.’ At the time, that was our mantra, that made sense. But I look back and I would have loved to be around those bands and seen … there’s something about being around that energy, and I think that authenticity, that’s really a privilege to be around.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Lumineers website, Rolling Stone, YouTube