On January 21, Keb’ Mo’ released his latest studio album Good to Be…, and I finally got to spend some time with it. I’ve been enjoying the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter whose real name is Kevin Roosevelt Moore since May 2017 and the release of TajMo, his fantastic collaboration album with Taj Mahal. Good to Be… is a warm-sounding feel-good album that in my view couldn’t have come out at a better time. I love it!
In case you’re planning to listen to Good to Be…, you should realize this isn’t a blues album, even though it’s categorized that way. Based on what I’ve heard to date, Keb’ Mo’ has never been a “hardcore” blues artist. While some of his music undoubtedly has blues elements, it also includes soul, folk, roots, Americana and country.
Good to Be… comes less than two years after Oklahoma, a roots-oriented album from June 2019 I reviewed here at the time. In October 2019, Mo’ also released Moonlight, Mistletoe & You, a collection of Christmas tunes I haven’t heard.
A review in Glide Magazine notes Good to Be… has various producers. In addition to Mo’, they include Vince Gill, Tom Hambridge and Keith Secor, who each also play on certain tracks. Among other guests are Darius Rucker (of Hootie & the Blowfish), Americana string group Old Crow Medicine Show and blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. I’d say it’s time for some music!
Let’s kick it off with the opener Good to Be (Home Again), one of the tunes co-produced by Vince Gill. Evidently, it’s a song about Mo’s return to Compton, the Southern California city where he was born in October 1951. The tune’s positive vibe sets the tone for most of the album. Here’s the official video.
Sunny And Warm is one of my early favorites. I dig the warm and laid back sound of this tune. “Basically, ‘Sunny and Warm’ is my older self talking to my younger self, looking back at those summer days of beaches and dreams of finding love,” Mo’ said about the tune. “I would never want to be a teenager again, and I won’t, because there’s no going back.”
On The Medicine Man, which features Old Crow Medicine Show, things do get more serious and the lyrics are darker with obvious references to the pandemic. “I was taking some time out at our house in California with my family,” Mo’ recalled. “We were locked in and staying away from people. Doing Zoom writing appointments, watching Dr Fauci on TV doing interviews, and it sparked some ideas. This was one of those songs that just came to me, and quickly. I woke up early one morning and wrote the whole thing in about 15 minutes.”
Did we need another rendition of Lean On Me? Under normal circumstances, I would have said ‘no.’ But with a pandemic that only in the U.S. has killed about one million people and now war raging in Europe, these aren’t normal times. Granted when Mo’ decided to record this beautiful Bill Withers song, one of the tracks co-produced by Tom Hambridge, the Russian 21st-century czar wannabe had not unleashed his reckless assault on the Ukrainian people. Even without the war, Lean On Me was the right song at the right time. “What makes this version special to me is the contribution from my lifelong friend, the Freedom Rider, Ernest “Rip” Patton, who passed on this year,” Mo’ said. “This was the last time I got to record his booming bass voice. I’m gonna miss calling on my brothers.”
Let’s finish with a nice car song: ’62 Chevy, another tune co-produced by Mo’ and Gill…I got my hands on the wheel, Y’all/Rolling steady/Rubber on the road, in my ’62 Chevy/ My ’62 Chevy gonna take you to town/ I got the dog in the back baby/ Top down (Whoa, Yeah)…
Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify.
The final word shall belong to Keb’ Mo’. “I may be turning 70,” Mo’ says in his bio posted on his website [actually, he already did, on October 2, 2021 – CMM]. “But I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I’m still out there going for it every single day.”
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
It’s hard to believe another week just flew by and it’s Sunday morning again. Let’s get ready for more music time travel. The six stops of this trip include smooth saxophone jazz from 1980, folk-rock from 1967, acoustic guitar pop from 2002, rock from 1976, bluesy folk-rock from 1993 and guitar jazz from 1989. And off we go…
Grover Washington Jr./Winelight
Sunday mornings are perfect for some smooth jazz, so I’d like to start this little music excursion with one of my favorite saxophonists, Grover Washington Jr. In October 1980, he released what became his most successful album in the U.S. mainstream charts, Winelight, which climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard 200. Undoubtedly, much of that performance was fueled by the popularity of the catchy and groovy single Just the Two of Us, a no. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, featuring the great Bill Withers on vocals. Both the record and the tune won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Best R&B Song, respectively. Here’s the album’s great opener and title track, a piece composed by William Eaton. The smooth saxophone combined with the funky groove is sweet music to my ears.
Buffalo Springfield/For What It’s Worth
For our next stop on this mini-excursion, let’s go back to December 1966 when Buffalo Springfield released For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the tune was the Canadian-American folk-rock band’s third single and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 5 in Canada and no. 19 in New Zealand. The song was also added to the second pressing of their eponymous debut album from March 1967, which originally had come out in December 1966. In 1968, Stills; David Crosby who had been kicked out of The Byrds; and Graham Nash, previously with The Hollies, formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young, who had played with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, joined CSN in mid-1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young debuted at Woodstock in August that year and released their debut album Déjà Vu the following March. Okay, before I get carried away any further, here’s For What It’s Worth!
Sheryl Crow/Weather Channel
When my streaming music provider served up Weather Channel by Sheryl Crow the other day, I immediately felt this relaxing acoustic pop tune would be a nice pick for a Sunday Six. Instead of adding it to my list and having it linger there, which has happened for some other tunes, I decided to use it right away. Weather Channel, written by Crow, is the closer of her fourth studio album C’mon C’mon from April 2002 – coincidentally the same record from which I featured another song in my latest Hump Day Picker-Upper: Soak Up the Sun. Unlike that tune, which became one of the album’s four singles and a top 20 mainstream hit in the U.S., Weather Channel is an album track only and what I would call a deep cut – pretty enjoyable!
Boston/More Than a Feeling
When it comes to ’70s rock, I can’t think of many other tunes that sound as great as More Than a Feeling by Boston. Named after the band’s hometown, Boston is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and recording wizard Tom Scholz. After graduating in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, Scholz worked for a few years as a senior design engineer at Polaroid Corporation. Using his salary, he built his own home recording studio and started working on music demos. For the first few years, his demos didn’t gain any traction at record labels. Eventually, Scholz gained interest at Epic Records, which signed him and his vocalist Brad Delp. After some back and forth with the label, Boston’s eponymous debut album appeared in August 1976. The record became a massive success, surging to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and charting in many other countries, including Canada (no. 7), UK (no. 11) and Australia (no. 16), among others. More Than a Feeling, released as the lead single in September that year, closely matched the album’s performance. Like most of the other tracks on the record, it was solely written by Scholz who also played most of the instruments. This is true sound perfection!
Cowboy Junkies/Hard to Explain
For this next tune, let’s jump to the ’90s, which is generally not a decade that has been much on my radar screen. After the ’80s had passed, I started paying less attention to contemporary music and primarily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which remain my favorite decades to this day. Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any ’90s music I love. A great example is Hard to Explain by Cowboy Junkies, another listening suggestion from my streaming music provider. When I heard the tune for the first time the other day, I immediately dug it. Other than their name, I don’t know anything about this Canadian alternative country and folk-rock band. Founded in Toronto in 1986, Cowboy Junkies remain active to this day, apparently with their original line-up. Their sizable catalog includes 18 studio albums, along with multiple live records, compilations, EPs and singles. Hard to Explain, by the band’s songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, is from their fifth studio album Pale Sun, Crescent Moon released in November 1993. It’s got a great bluesy sound.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Riviera Paradise
And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final destination of this Sunday Six installment, and it’s a true gem: Riviera Paradise, a beautiful jazzy instrumental by electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan backed by his band Double Trouble. Composed by Vaughan, Riviera Paradise is the final track of Vaughan’s fourth studio album In Step that appeared in June 1989. Here’s a clip of a beautiful live version I found. Vaughan’s guitar playing was just out of this world! Perhaps, him playing jazz is a side of Vaughan you may not be as familiar with – I have to say I wasn’t. Check it out, this is so good!
Earlier this week, I wrote about my top 5 studio albums turning 50 this year. That post was inspired by “Top 50 Albums Turning 50,” a fun program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) I had caught the other day. But capturing the greatness of 1971 with just five albums really doesn’t do justice to one of the most remarkable years in music, so I decided to have some more fun with it.
This time, I’m looking at great debut albums from 1971. While that caveat substantially narrowed the universe, an initial search still resulted in close to 10 records I could have listed here. Following are my five favorites from that group, again in no particular order.
Electric Light Orchestra/The Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, were formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, along with drummer Bev Bevan, as an offshoot of British rock band The Move. The idea was to combine Beatlesque pop and rock with classical music. I always thought the result was somewhat weird, feeling like The Beatles and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” on steroids; yet at the same time, ELO created a signature sound and songs that undoubtedly were catchy. The band’s debut album, the only record with Wood, first came out in the UK on December 3, 1971 as The Electric Light Orchestra. In the U.S., it appeared in March 1972, titled No Answer. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, that title was accidental when a representative from U.S. label United Artists Records unsuccessfully tried to reach an ELO contact in the UK and wrote down “no answer” in his notes. Here’s the record’s opener 10538 Overture, a tune Lynne wrote, which initially was recorded by The Move to become a B-side to one of their singles.
Bill Withers/Just As I Am
Bill Withers got a relatively late start in music. By the time his debut single Three Nights and a Morning appeared in 1967, Withers already was a 29 year-old man who previously had served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. It took another four years before his debut album Just As I Am was released in May 1971. Unlike his first single that went unnoticed, the record became a significant success, reaching no. 35 and no. 37 in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, and peaking at no. 9 on the Billboard Soul charts. Much of the popularity was fueled by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, one of Withers’ best known songs and biggest hits. Just As I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones, who also played keyboards and guitar. Some of the other musicians on the album included M.G.’s bassist and drummer Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr., respectively, as well as Stephen Stills (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums). While Ain’t No Sunshine is the crown jewel, there’s more to this record. Check out Do It Good, a soul tune with a cool jazzy groove, written by Withers.
ZZ Top/ZZ Top’s First Album
While guitarist Billy Gibbons recorded ZZ Tops’s first single Salt Lick (backed by Miller’s Farm) in 1969 with Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), the band’s current line-up with Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) has existed since early 1970. This makes ZZ Top the longest-running group in music history with unchanged membership. It was also the current line-up that recorded the band’s debut ZZ Top’s First Album released on January 16, 1971. It was produced by Bill Ham, who was instrumental to ZZ Top’s success. Not only did he produce or co-produce all of their records until their 12th studio album Rhythmeen from September 1996, but he also served as the band’s manager until that year. Here’s the great blues rocker Brown Sugar, one of my favorite early ZZ Top tunes written by Gibbons.
Bonnie Raitt/Bonnie Raitt
As a long-time fan of the amazing Bonnie Raitt, picking her eponymous debut album for this post was an easy choice. According to Wikipedia, it was recorded at an empty summer camp located on an island on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. That location had been recommended to Raitt by John Koerner and Dave Ray, two close friends and fellow musicians. We recorded live on four tracks because we wanted a more spontaneous and natural feeling in the music, a feeling often sacrificed when the musicians know they can overdub their part on a separate track until it’s perfect, Raitt explained in the album’s liner notes. Here’s Mighty Tight Woman written and first recorded by Sippie Wallace as I’m a Mighty Tight Woman in 1926.
America sometimes are dismissed as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. I’ve loved this band since I was nine years old and listened for the first to their 1975 compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, which my six-year older sister had on vinyl. The folk rock trio of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar, piano) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass, guitar, piano) released their eponymous debut album on December 26, 1971 in the U.K. That was the year after they had met in London where their parents were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. version of the record, which appeared on January 12, 1972, included A Horse with No Name, a song that initially was released as the group’s first single and was not on the UK edition. Remarkably, that single became America’s biggest hit, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and France, and surging to no. 3 in the UK. Here’s a track from the original UK edition: Sandman written by Bunnell. Beckley and Bunnell still perform as America to this day. Peek left the group in 1977, renewed his Christian faith, and pursued a Christian pop music career. He passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
It’s that time of the week again to take another look at newly released music. This latest Best of What’s New installment turned out to be pretty rock-oriented. All songs are on albums that came out yesterday (April 16).
Greta Van Fleet/Built By Nations
Kicking things off is some great blistering rock by Greta Van Fleet, a rock band from Frankenmuth, Mich. They were formed in 2012 by twin brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals) and Jake Kiszka (guitar) and their younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Hauck left in 2013 and was replaced by Danny Wagner who remains the band’s drummer to this day. Greta Van Fleet have attracted plenty of attention for embracing ’70s classic rock and some criticism from certain music reviewers who accused them of ripping off early Led Zeppelin. While there’s no denying some of the Michigan rockers’ early tunes have a Led Zeppelin I vibe, I always found the criticism overblown. Plus, I dig Zep, so selfishly I didn’t mind in the first place. Greta Van Fleet have since evolved their sound, as illustrated by their latest album The Battle at Garden’s Gate. Some tracks had been released as singles ahead of what is the band’s second full-length studio album, including My Way, Soon and Age of Machine. I previously featured them here and here. Following is Built By Nations. Like all other tracks on the album, it is credited to the entire band.
Eric Church/Heart on Fire
Eric Church is a country singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Church is a gifted storyteller, delivering relatable, regular-guy sing-alongs with a warm, reedy drawl. The North Carolina native started early—he was writing songs at 13 and taught himself to play guitar soon after, eventually getting a taste of touring with his college band, Mountain Boys. But his sharp lyrical observations and sly humor helped him find footing in Nashville’s songwriter circuit and land a solo record deal. His debut album Sinners Like Me appeared in July 2006. The third album Chief from July 2011 brought the big breakthrough, topping both the Billboard Top Country Albums and the Billboard 200 mainstream charts. Heart on Fire, written by Church, is the opener of Heart, the first part of an ambitious triple album titled Heart & Soul that features 25 tracks. Parts 2 and 3, & and Soul, are slated to be released on April 20 and April 23, respectively.
The Offspring/Let the Bad Times Roll
The Offspring were formed in 1984 as Manic Subsidal in Garden Grove, Calif. The band, which changed their name to The Offspring in 1986, has been credited for reviving mainstream interest in punk rock, together with fellow Californian outfits Green Day and Rancid. The current line-up includes founding member Bryan “Dexter” Holland (lead vocals, guitar), along with Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman (guitar), Todd Morse (bass) and Pete Parada (drums). The band released their eponymous debut album in June 1989. Their international breakthrough, appropriately titled Smash, appeared in April 1994. Fueled by hit singles Come Out and Play, Self Esteem and Gotta Get Away, the album surged to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 3 in Canada, topped the charts in Australia, and reached the top 5 in various European countries. Altogether, The Offspring have released 10 studio albums, 4 EPs, two compilations and multiple singles over their now 37-year career. Let the Bad Times Roll, written by Holland, is the catchy title track of their new album.
Paul McCartney & Joshua Homme/Lavatory Lil
Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is Paul McCartney who has been on a remarkable roll. Following the release of his 18th solo album McCartney III last December, which I reviewed here, he is back with an encore titled McCartney III Imagined. According to an announcement on his website, the album features an A-List assortment of friends, fans and brand new acquaintances, each covering and/or reimagining their favorite McCartney III moments in their own signature styles…McCartney III Imagined continues the tradition of the biggest and most diverse names in music covering Paul’s songs — an ever-expanding lineup that ranges from more recent versions by Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Dave Grohl, Coldplay and The Cure, to interpretations over the years from the likes of U2, Guns N’ Roses, Earth Wind & Fire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and so many more. McCartney III Imagined is a testament of Paul’s enduring and unmatched influence, a legacy that stretches from “Yesterday” being the most covered song in contemporary musical history to the inspiration his current work continues to hold for generations of artists and fans. What I find remarkable is the apparent open-mindedness of McCartney who is turning 79 in June to work with a broad group of contemporary artists, such as Dominic Fike, Khruangbin, Blood Orange, St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers and Beck. Frankly, except for the last two, these are all new names to me! Here’s Lavatory Lil, imagined together with Joshua Homme who is best known as the main songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist of American rock band Queens of the Stone Age.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Paul McCartney website; YouTube
The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.
Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues
Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s Newinstallment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.
John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me
Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.
Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods
Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.
Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads
Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.
Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know
Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!
Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions
Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!
It’s Sunday morning again, which means yet another week has flown by. But here in the U.S. it also brings us one week closer to the start of daylight savings time and another step toward spring – take this, winter! I’m also really happy how this latest installment of The Sunday Six came out. With smooth saxophone jazz, electric guitar-driven roots rock, pop, soul and some kickass rock, I think it’s another selection illustrating great music comes in many flavors.
Grover Washington Jr./Take Me There
I’d like to kick off the set with some beautiful smooth saxophone playing by Grover Washington Jr. with a tune from his 11th album Winelight released in 1980. When I listened to the record for the first time, which I believe was shortly after it had come out, I feel in love with the music right away. Hard core jazz fans may dismiss it as too pop-oriented. To me as an infrequent listener of jazz, I find it very accessible. More importantly, I really dig Washington Jr.’s smooth tone. Winelight, his highest charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 (no. 5), became best known for Just the Two of Us, featuring the amazing Bill Withers on vocals. Take Me There was written by Washington Jr., who released 24 albums over a nearly 30-year recording career. His 25th and final record Aria appeared in March 2000 after his untimely death in December 1999 from a massive heart attack at age 56. What a loss!
Mark Knopfler/The Fizzy and the Still
Let’s do some more relaxing music. How about some magic Stratocaster played by maestro Mark Knopfler? The Fizzy and the Still is from his fifth solo album Kill to Get Crimson released in September 2007. I’ve always been a fan of Knopfler’s melodic guitar-playing ever since I listened to Dire Straits’ eponymous debut from October 1978. Like on all except one of his solo albums, Knopfler’s backing musicians included multi-instrumentalist Guy Fletcher, who had served as keyboarder in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s dissolution in 1995.
Cindy Lauper/Time After Time
Yep, this is an ’80s pop song. I dug Time After Time from the very first moment I heard it on the radio when it came out in 1984. Unlike many other ’80s tunes I also liked back then, this one holds up well to me. Time After Time was co-written by Cindy Lauper and Bob Hyman who is best known to be among the founding members of American rock band The Hooters (there’s another blast from the past!). The tune appeared on Lauper’s October 1983 debut album aptly titled She’s So Unusual. And what a start it was! Fueled by multiple hit singles, which in addition to Time After Time included Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Bop and All Through the Night, She’s So Unusual became Lauper’s best-selling album. It also topped the charts in Canada, and made the top 10 in the U.S. (no. 4), Austria (no.5), Switzerland (no. 8), Australia (no. 5) and Japan (no. 5). Since then, Lauper has released 10 additional studio albums, various compilations and Broadway cast album Kinky Boots (2013), which was produced by Lauper who also wrote the songs. Now 67, Lauper remains active to this day.
The Rolling Stones/Hitch Hike
Let’s kick up the speed by a notch with a great cover by the The Rolling Stones: Hitch Hike. Originally, this tune was recorded and first released as a single in December 1962 by Marvin Gaye, who also co-wrote it with Clarence Paul and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson. Hitch Hike was also included on Gaye’s second studio album That Stubborn Kinda Fellow from January 1963. The Stones recorded the song for their fourth U.S. and third UK studio album Out of Our Heads released in July and September 1965, respectively. It was one of six tracks that appeared on both versions of the album.
Little Feat/Teenage Nervous Breakdown
The Stones may be the greatest rock & roll band in the world, but that doesn’t mean other groups can’t match them. Here’s the fun Teenage Nervous Breakdown by Little Feat. Penned by the band’s primary original guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Lowell George, the tune is from Little Feat’s sophomore album Sailin’ Shoes that came out in May 1972. Sadly, George died from a heart attack in June 1979 shortly after he had declared Little Feat would disband. The group reformed in 1987 and has since continued with different lineups. Vocalist and keyboarder Bill Payne remains as the only founding member in the current formation. To date, Little Feat have released 12 studio albums, as well as numerous live records and compilations. One of my favorites I feel like revisiting is Waiting for Columbus, which I previously reviewed here. For now, let’s have some fun with Teenage Nervous Breakdown. Tell me this doesn’t rock!
Queen/Tie Your Mother Down
And that we’re on this accelerating rock & roll train, let’s wrap things up with yet another rock gem in my book: Tie Your Mother Down by Queen. But before getting to it, I need to credit Angie Moon from The Diversity of Classic Rock blog, who brought the tune back on my radar screen with her recent post about Queen. Written by guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May CBE, Tie Your Mother Down first appeared on Queen’s fifth studio album A Day at the Races that came out in December 1976. It was also released separately as the album’s second single in March 1977. I just can’t get enough of that main guitar riff – Status Quo simple, to borrow from Angie who also compared it to Rory Gallagher, but so good!
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
As another busy week that left little opportunity for blogging is drawing to a close, the time has come again to take a look at newly released music. The selections in this latest Best of What’s New installment all fall into the pop rock and blues areas. Artists include a rock band from England teaming up with a U.S. rock singer-songwriter, two blues artists from down under, a gothic blues singer-songwriter from Nashville and Sheryl Crow with her latest single.
The Struts with Albert Hammond Jr./Another Hit of Showmanship
The Struts are a British rock band from Derby, England, which was founded in 2012. According to their website, In just a few years, The Struts have found themselves massively embraced by some of the greatest icons in rock-and-roll history. Along with opening for The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Guns N’ Roses, the U.K.-bred four-piece was hand-picked by Mötley Crüe to serve as the supporting act for their last-ever performances, while Dave Grohl praised them as the best band to ever open for Foo Fighters. To date, The Struts have released two full-fledged studio albums, 3 EPs and numerous singles. For their latest single Another Hit of Showmanship, which appeared today, they teamed up with singer-songwriter Albert Hammond Jr., who is best known as guitarist in American rock band The Strokes. “‘Another Hit of Showmanship’ reminds me of being at a club night called Ramshackle years ago at the O2 Academy in Bristol, where they’d play bands like the Libertines and Razorlight and Scissor Sisters, and of course the Strokes,” Struts vocalist Luke Spiller stated, as reported by Rolling Stone. “I hit up Albert out of the blue and told him, ‘We’ve got this song, and I’m so excited to see what you would do with it.’ As soon as he got his hands on it, he took it to a whole different level — it really just shows why he’s so brilliant at what he does.” It’s quite a catchy tune!
Josh Teskey&Ash Grunwald/Thinking ‘Bout Myself
Vocalist and guitarist Josh Teskey is a co-founding member of The Teskey Brothers, an Australian blues rock band formed in 2008. Ash Grunwald is a blues musician who hails from down under as well and has been active for 20 years. What do you get when you combine the two? Josh Teskey and Ash Grunwald, and an album, Push the Blues Away, scheduled for November 13. NME reportedThinking ‘Bout Myself is the first single released August 24. The two artists have worked together before. In 2019, they recorded a single, Ain’t My Problem, and while filming a clip for the song ended up jamming. “Somebody filmed our little jam,” Grunwald stated. “And it became the seed of a great idea: Why don’t we do an acoustic blues album? No bells and whistles, something from the heart.” All except two of the eight tracks were written either by Teskey or Grunwald. Well, based on this single, it certainly sounds promising.
Adia Victoria/South Gotta Change
Adia Victoria is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who according to Wikipedia is known for her “gothic blues” musical style. After a friend had given Victoria a guitar for her 21st birthday, she got into blues music. In 2010, she moved to Nashville and began performing locally. Her debut single Stuck in the South appeared in early 2015. Rolling Stone included her in a 10 New Artists You Need to Knowfeature, calling the tune a “swampy, bluesy track that put Adia Victoria on the map.” Her debut studio album Beyond the Bloodhounds came out in May 2016, followed by her sophomore release Silences from February 2019. South Gotta Change is Victoria’s new single released today and produced by none other than veteran T-Bone Burnett. Victoria’s compelling vocals and a great sound make this tune a real gem. Check out the official video.
Cheryl Crow/In The End
Threads may have been Cheryl Crow‘s final full-fledged album, as she stated when it came out a year ago. I previously reviewed it here. Luckily, Crow also said she’s not retiring from touring or releasing new music. Going forward, she added, she wanted to focus on singles or perhaps EPs. Apparently, Crow is following through. After releasing a cover of Bill Withers’ Lonely Town, Lonely Street in April and the original Woman in the White House on August 10, Crow is out with another single today: In the End. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves no doubt what’s on her mind these days. There’s a fly on the wall in the house on the hill/Where the king of the world watches TV/And the people await for his latest mandate/To a nation of angry believers/His words are a trap while his loyal band of thugs/Cover up all his many transgressions/The fly lands on his ear and whispers, “What’s there to fear/As long as you’re still the obsession?/As long you’re still the obsession”… Co-written by Crow and her long-time collaborator Jeff Trott, the nice pop rocker is classic Sheryl Crow.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Struts website; Rolling Stone; NME; YouTube
This week, my foray into recently released music includes a beautiful tribute to Bill Withers, a thoughtful reminder of the power of gratitude and two furious rockers. Let’s get to it.
Sheryl Crow featuring Citizen Cope/Lonely Town, Lonely Street
Lonely Town, Lonely Street is a Bill Withers tune included on his sophomore album Still Bill from May 1972. As a tribute to Withers, who passed away recently, Sheryl Crow on April 5 released a cover of what is one of her favorite songs by him. She had recorded it a while back with American singer-songwriter Clarence Greenwood, who is known as Citizen Cope, and producer Steve Jordan. “Times like these remind us about what’s really important in life – love, family, living life in harmony with each other and our planet,” Crow wrote on her website. “Bill’s music was about that, and so much more.” Jordan said, “I’d been working on getting Bill to record for over a decade. He would send me a tune and say “I need a certain kind of person to record this.” The truth is, he was the only person that could record it first! He would visit me in the studio and we would have a blast, he loved hanging with the studio cats… everyone would get such a thrill with Bill just being there, he was a GURU! There was only one Bill Withers.” Cope added, “Bill Withers is such a huge influence on me as a songwriter and a transmitter of energy and emotion. His music will move and touch people forever.”
While I’m well familiar with the name Jewel, I don’t know anything about the singer-songwriter’s music. Her new single Grateful, which came out on April 7, makes me want to hear more. Here is what she wrote about the tune on her website: “Anxiety has been a teacher to me. It has caused me to learn there are only two basic states of being: dilated and contracted- and that every thought feeling and action led to one of those two states. Fear, anxiety, jealousy, anger, greed all led to contraction. Joy, curiosity, observation, love, gratitude all led to dilation. I learned that if I was headed into a panic attack, I could hack my way into a dilated state by focusing very hard on a different feeling. I chose gratitude. It’s amazing how profound such a single thing can be if you feel it deeply enough. It’s a practice I still use today. I’m pleased to release this new song inspired by the transformative capability of a simple feeling.” This song is coming at a time when it’s good to be grateful for many small things most of us used to take for granted.
Brother Man/Price I Pay
There is little public information about this rock band from Nashville, which apparently was founded in 2015 and consists of Chris Winfree (guitar) and Dalton Smith (drums). According to their website, Chris Winfree and Dalton Smith are a two piston engine firing on all cylinders – fine tuned and raring to go at a moment’s notice, they’re a rock n roll band well worth the envy of all comers in Nashville. Ask anyone that’s seen a Brother Man show, and they’ll tell you they’re simply the best. A perfect combination of frenzied fills and unparalleled pocket from Smith on skins, and Winfree as the king of cavorting, with a scream that would make Screamin Jay Hawkins blush, Brother Man have gone from cutting their teeth to securing a corner in the Nashville rock n roll scene. There’s no scuzz, no garage, just fully fledged rock n roll with just enough soul. It’s always been back to the basics with a modern edge. Okey dokey. Co-written by Winfree and Will Boley, Price I Pay is from Brother Man’s EP Run It Back, which was released on April 3rd. While these guys may sound a bit full of themselves, that tune is a nice rocker.
Mondo Silicone/Hammer Hit Home
This rock band is even more obscure than Brother Man, with apparently no public information on their members or other background – how this is possible when based on their Facebookpage they have been around at least since May 2016 beats me! Other than that they are a four-piece group (two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer) with two singles and a live EP on Apple Music/iTunes and Spotify, I’ve not been able to find anything on these guys. Hammer Hit Home is their most recent single that came out on April 7. It’s on the heavy side and not something I could listen to every day, but when you’re in the mood for heavy, it ain’t bad – check it out!
Sources: Sheryl Crow website; Jewel website; Brother Man website; Mondo Silicone Facebook page; YouTube
Sadly, earlier today, The Associated Press and many other media outlets reported Bill Withers passed away on Monday from heart complications at the age of 81. Perhaps best known for Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean On Me and the above tune Just the Two of Us, Withers not only was a gifted songwriter but also a great vocalist.
I’ve never gotten much into jazz. One of the few exceptions is Grover Washington, Jr. who I dug from the very first time I listened to his 1980 studio album Winelight. That great record includes the seductive Just the Two of Us, a perfect marriage of Washington, Jr.’s smooth saxophone sound and Withers’ warm voice. Co-written by Withers, William Salter and Ralph MacDonald, the tune has always made me happy.
An edited single version of the song made it all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1982.