The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s another Sunday morning in good ole’ New Jersey. The weather looks decent with temperatures supposed to hit the ’60s – perfect for an Easter egg hunt, if you’re into it! In case you prefer music or perhaps combine Easter egg hunting with some great tunes, I encourage you to read on. I think I’ve put together another nice and diverse set of six random tunes: Some instrumental rock, bluegrass, alternative rock, soul and blues rock.

The Shadows/Apache

I’m a huge fan of Hank Marvin, the lead guitarist of The Shadows, whose combination of his Fender Stratocaster and a Vox amplifier created a cool signature sound. Initially founded in 1958 under the name of The Drifters as the backing group for Cliff Richard, the instrumental band became The Shadows in July 1959, after the U.S. vocal group of the same name had threatened legal action. The Shadows soon stepped out of – well – Richards’ shadow and gained popularity on their own. Apache, released in July 1960, became their first no. 1 hit in the UK. It also topped the charts in France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. Written by English composer Jerry Lordan, the tune was first recorded by English guitarist Bert Weedon. But Lordan didn’t like it. I have to agree the version by The Shadows sounds much more dynamic. Still, Weedon’s recording of the track, which came out at the same time, made it to no. 24 on the British charts.

Alison Krauss & Union Station/My Opening Farewell

I’ve yet to more fully explore American bluegrass and country artist Alison Krauss, who I primarily know because of her 2007 collaboration album with Robert Plant. When I came across My Opening Farewell the other day, I immediately liked the tune, so it wasn’t a hard decision to feature it a Sunday Six installment. Written by Jackson Browne, Opening Farewell is the closer of Krauss’ 14th studio album Paper Airplane from April 2011, which she recorded together with her longtime backing band Union Station. While Krauss has continued to perform with Union Station, Paper Airplane is her most recent album with the band. In February 2017, Krauss released Windy City, her fifth and latest solo album. Hope you enjoy Opening Farewell as much as I do!

Counting Crows/Round Here

When I heard Mr. Jones for the first time, I fell in love immediately with American alternative rock band Counting Crows and immediately got their debut album August and Everything After from September 1993. While Mr. Jones, which also became the lead single, is the obvious hit, there are many other great tunes on that record as well. One of them is the opener Round Here. Co-written by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and the band’s guitarist David Bryson, together with Dave Janusko, Dan Jewett and Chris Roldan, the tune also became the album’s second single in 1994. Counting Crows remain active to this day and have released six additional studio albums to date, with Somewhere Under Wonderland from September 2014 being the most recent. Some new music may be on the way. In February 2020, Duritz revealed the band was working in the studio on a suite of songs that could be released as a series of EPs. I guess we have to stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the excellent Round Here.

Marvin Gaye/Mercy Mercy Me

I trust Marvin Gaye doesn’t need an introduction. In my book, he was one of the greatest soul vocalists of all time. After gaining initial fame with a string of hits at Motown and helping shape the Detroit label’s infectious sound, Gaye emancipated himself from Berry Gordy’s production machine in the 1970s and recorded and produced a series of highly regarded albums. The first one was What’s Going On from May 1971, a true ’70s soul gem. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful music and Gaye’s smooth singing. The concept album explored themes like drug abuse, poverty, environmental degradation and the Vietnam War. Just because Gaye didn’t believe in “shouting,” this doesn’t mean his social commentary wasn’t biting. Here’s the amazing Mercy Mercy Me, expressing Gaye’s sadness about ecological decay.

Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

As we start approaching the end of this Sunday Six installment, it’s time to speed things up, don’t you agree? More frequent visitors of the blog have probably noticed my deep affection for Southern Avenue, a band from Memphis, Tenn., which blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I think these guys are dynamite and are one of the best contemporary bands. I also love the racial diversity they represent. Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings backing vocals; white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Here’s 80 Miles From Memphis, a tune written by Naftaly from the band’s eponymous debut album released in February 2017. BTW, in 2016, Southern Avenue became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. How cool is that?

ZZ Top/Tush

Okay, with this last tune, let’s push the pedal to the metal. In my book, Tush by ZZ Top is perhaps the ultimate blues rocker. I just love the guitar riff, the bottleneck action, and how tight the band sounds. Formed in 1969 in Houston, the trio of Billy Gibbons (guitar, vocals), Dusty Hill (bass, vocals) and Frank Beard (drums) is rocking to this day. Fun fact: Beard is the only member of the band without a beard! ZZ Top have released 15 studio albums, four live albums, seven compilations and more than 40 singles to date. Looks like their most recent release was a compilation from 2019 titled Goin’ 50. Tush, credited to all members of the band, is the closer of ZZ Top’s fourth studio album Fandango!, which appeared in April 1975. Take it away, boys!

Last but not least, to those who celebrate it, I’d like to wish you a Happy Easter. To those who don’t, have a great Sunday anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Counting Crows/August And Everything After

The California rock band’s debut album is a timeless gem

I suppose like most folks, the first time I heard of Counting Crows was in late 1993/early 1994 when seemingly out of nowhere they burst on the music scene with Mr. Jones. I instantly loved that tune and still do. It’s yet another example illustrating the formula for many great rock songs: A few chords, a good groove and a catchy melody.

According to a Rolling Stone feature from June 1994, the band from Berkeley, Calif. was generally well received by music critics, though many couldn’t resist the temptation to compare their music to other artists. The long list included The Band, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. The “sha-la-la” passage in the beginning of Mr. Jones was also compared to Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl.

Counting Crows

It is simply amazing to me how meticulously new recording artists are oftentimes analyzed. In this context, I also recall initial criticism of Lenny Kravitz sounding too much like his ’60s influences. To that I say so what! The last time I checked, the ’60s was one of the greatest decades in rock if not the best! Plus, frankly, in how many different ways can you play songs that consist of three to four chords. So let’s stop this silly quest to over-analyze everything and remember what it’s ultimately about – enjoying great music, which brings me back to August And Everything After.

Released in September 1993 on Geffen Records and produced by none other than T-Bone Burnett, Counting Crows’ debut album marked an impressive start for the band. Like so many other music artists, they had struggled only a few years prior to the record’s appearance.

The album kicks off with Round Here, a terrific opener. Duritz wrote the song when he was still with his previous band The Himalayans, together with other members of that rock band Dan Jewett, Chris Roldan and Dave Janusko. The tune has great ups and downs in dynamic. It also became the album’s second single.

Mr. Jones captures the experience of so many struggling music artists and their dreams of making it big someday. In this particular case, it’s about Adam Duritz, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and Marty Jones, bassist of the above noted The Himalayans. Co-written by Duritz and Counting Crows’ guitarist and vocalist David BrysonMr. Jones was also released separately as the album’s lead single in December 1993. It became a major international hit for Counting Crows, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 on April 16, 1994, and hitting no. 1 on the Canada Top Singles chart. The tune also charted in Australia, New Zealand and various European countries.

Perfect New Buildings is another strong tune on the album. Written by Duritz, the song is about the emptiness that being on the road and sleeping in impersonal hotel rooms can bring, according to Songfacts.

Rain King is another co-write by Duritz and Bryson. The song was inspired by Henderson the Rain King, a book Duritz read during his studies at the University of California. According to Songfacts, he explained its meaning on Counting Crows VH1 Storytellers special as follows: “The book became a totem for how I felt about creativity and writing: it was this thing where you took everything you felt inside you and just sprayed it all over everything. It’s a song about everything that goes into writing, all the feelings, everything that makes you want to write and pick up a guitar and express yourself. It’s full of all the doubts and the fears about how I felt about my life at the time.” Rain King also appeared separately as the record’s third single and charted in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the record’s closer, A Murder Of One, which includes the band’s namesake in the lyrics. It also became the album’s fourth and final single. The song was co-written by Duritz and Matt Malley, the band’s bassist and vocalist at the time. In explaining the meaning, Wikipedia quotes Duritz as saying, “I can remember being eight years old and having infinite possibilities. But life ends up being so much less than we thought it would be when we were kids, with relationships that are so empty and stupid and brutal. If you don’t find a way to break the chain and change in some way, then you wind up, as the rhyme goes: a murder of one, for sorrow.”

Songfacts further explains, “the rhyme is a reference to a Mother Goose rhyme which came from an old superstition. It was said that your fortune was dependent upon how many blackbirds you see on your path. This practice was eventually looked upon as silly, as there is another common saying that an action can be “As useless as counting crows.”

In addition to Duritz, Bryson and Malley, the band’s line-up at the time also included Steve Bowman (drums, vocals) and Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, vocals). Among the additional musicians on the record was multi-instrumentalist David Immerglück, of friend of Duritz, who did not become an official member of the band until 1999. He remains with Counting Crows to this day, along with Duritz, Bryson, Gillingham. The current formation also includes Jim Bogios (drums, percussion) and Dan Vickrey (lead guitar).

Since August And Everything After, Counting Crows have released six additional studio albums, six live records and two compilations. About three weeks ago, the band wrapped up an extensive summer tour with Matchbox Twenty. The double-headliner included close to 50 gigs in the U.S. and Canada between July 12 and October 1. I haven’t seen any reports about plans for a new album. In the past, the band has released a new record every three to four years. The last, Somewhere Under Wonderland, appeared in September 2014, so maybe we’ll see something new next year.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard chars, Songfacts, JamBase, YouTube