Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As we head into the long Labor Day weekend here in the U.S., it’s time for another look at recently released new music. Before I get to it, let me use this opportunity to address the common misconception that’s driving me crazy, which is this holiday marks the end of summer. It does not. Summer 2020 officially ends on September 22.

Of course, with the ongoing COVID-19 national crisis, this season hasn’t felt much like summer except for heat and, depending on where you live, humidity. In fact, this entire year is pretty much lost in my book and I can’t wait for it to be over, hoping 2021 will bring back better times – this country desperately needs change!

Back to the much more pleasant subject of music. This is actually the 25th installment of Best of What’s New. This week features a nice mix of music styles, including high-energy rock, pop, indie surf rock (does that genre even exist? Who cares!) and country. With artists coming from the Houston, TX area; Los Angeles; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and the Canadian province of Alberta, there is also decent geographic diversity. Let’s get to it.

JunkBunny/Another Summer Song

JunkBunny are a rock trio from Montgomery County, Texas, which is north of Houston. According to their website, the band consists of 3 young musicians – Mac Johnson (lead vocals & guitar, 18), Cayden Diebold (vocals & bass, 17), and Jake Douglas (drums, 17). Like their heroes in Green Day or Blink-182, these childhood best friends save the “serious” for their songs, offering up anthems with the scale of Foo Fighters without sacrificing youthful exuberance and good-natured mischief...Over the past few years, the trio’s live reputation has continued to grow, as they performed with ZZ Top, The Struts, Sammy Hagar and more, as well as at festivals like Louder Than LifeThe trio celebrated 17th and 18th birthdays the year they entered the studio with Howard Benson, Grammy-winning producer of landmark rock records by My Chemical Romance and P.O.D., to make their debut album for Lava Records, home to Greta Van Fleet and Lorde. Another Summer Song is the opener to JunkBunny’s new EP Down the Rabbit Hole, their sophomore release from September 2. Credited to all members of the band, the catchy rocker first appeared as a single on July 24. There’s definitely some of Greta’s energy and Green Day’s sound in that tune.

FINNEAS/What They’ll Say About Us

There’s something very soothing about What They’s Say About Us, the new single by 23-year-old American singer-songwriter, record producer, and actor Finneas Baird O’Connell, aka FINNEAS. He’s the older brother of pop artist Billie Eilish who last year broke through internationally with her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and earlier this year scored a hit with No Time to Die, the theme song of the upcoming James Bond picture of the same name. FINNEAS produced the album and co-wrote the Bond tune. When he’s not working with his sister, he’s making his own music. To date, he has released his debut EP Blood Harmony from October 2019 and some 15 singles, including his latest What They’ll Say About Us, which appeared on September 2. Reminds me a bit of Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

Surfer Blood/Summer Trope

Surfer Blood are an American indie rock band from West Palm Beach, Fla., which were founded in 2009. Their members include John Paul Pitts (lead vocals, guitars) and Tyler Schwarz (drums), who had played together in an early incarnation of the band called TV Club. Mike McCleary (guitars, backing vocals), and Lindsey Mills (bass, backing vocals) complete the current lineup. Their debut single Swim from 2009 was well received and ended up at no. 37 on Pitchfork’s 100 Best Songs of 2009. Surfer Blood followed it up with the release of their debut album Astro Coast in January 2010. Four additional studio albums, two EPs and more than 15 singles have since come out. Written by Pitts, Summer Trope is from the band’s upcoming sixth studio album Carefree Theatre scheduled to appear on September 25. While the clip isn’t the most exciting, I do like sound of that tune.

Tenille Townes/The Way You Look Tonight

Let’s wrap up this installment of Best of What’s New with Canadian country singer-songwriter Tenille Townes, who hails from Grande Prairie, Alberta, and has been active since 2009. The now 26-year-old artist released her debut single Home Now at age 15. Her first studio album Real came out in June 2011. That same year, Townes was also nominated for a Canadian Country Music Award for Female Artist of the Year. Her published catalog to date includes two additional studio albums, 2 EPs and more than 10 singles. The Way You Look Tonight is a track from Townes’ most recent album The Lemonade Stand released on June 26. It was co-written by her, Daniel Tashian and Nashville-based singer-songwriter Keelan Donovan who also contributed vocals. Nice pop-oriented country that’s a bit reminiscent of Lady Antebellum.

Sources: Wikipedia; JunkBunny website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Joss Stone/Mind, Body & Soul

Joss Stone is only 33 years old, yet already has been active for two decades. In 2001 at the age of 13, the British singer, songwriter and actress auditioned for the BBC Television talent show Star for a Night. Not only did she pass the audition but she went on to win the entire contest.

From there, things moved very quickly. The following year, Stone was signed by S-Curve Records. Her studio debut The Soul Sessions, a covers album of ’60s and ’70s soul songs, was released in September 2003. Mind, Body & Soul is Stone’s sophomore record. She regards it as her actual debut – understandably so, given this was her first record, for which in addition to performing lead vocals she also co-wrote most of the tracks.

Until yesterday when I came across her 2005 Grammy Awards Janis Joplin tribute performance with Melissa Etheridge, I had only been casually aware of Stone. But, as frequent readers of the blog know, one thing that typically gets my attention are great vocals. And Jess Stone undoubtedly has compelling pipes, which her online bio nicely characterize as “gravely-but-lustrous.”

Released in September 2004, Mind, Body & Soul is blend of mainly soul, R&B and pop. It combines elements of “old” soul with more contemporary R&B and hip-hop influences. While the album is a bit more commercial than what I usually listen to, I still find it pretty enjoyable. The sound is great and that woman can sing!

Here’s the opener Right to Be Wrong. The tune was co-written by Stone, Desmond Child and Betty Wright. It also became the album’s second single in November 2004 and reached no. 29 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart.

Next up is the groovy You Had Me, which became Stone’s first major hit. Apart from climbing to no. 9 in the U.K., the song charted in numerous other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Canada. Co-written by Stone, Wright, Francis White and Wendy Stoker, the tune became the lead single released on September 13, 2004, two days prior to the album.

Spoiled, yet another single, is one of the record’s highlights. The song was co-written by Stone, Lamont Dozier and his son and Stone’s then-boyfriend Beau Dozier. And, yes, that’s the Lamont Dozier of Motown fame who wrote many hits for Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Isley Brothers. He was part of the songwriting and production team with brothers Brian Holland and Eddie Holland, better known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. Now, that’s my kind of music!

How about throwing in some Jamaican groove? Ask and you shall receive. Okay, Less Is More doesn’t exactly sound like Bob Marley, since it’s really a blend of reggae and R&B. Still, it’s a pretty groovy affair! The tune was co-written by Stone, Jonathan Shorten and Conner Reeves.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Killing Time. It was co-written by Stone, Wright and Beth Gibbons. Well, listening to this tune certainly doesn’t feel like killing time to me!

Mind, Body & Soul is an impressive production, especially for a sophomore album. It features ten different producers, with head of S-Curve Records Steve Greenberg serving as executive producer. The making of the record involved five different studios in New York City, New Jersey and Miami. The army of musicians backing Stone includes drummer Cindy Blackman, who is also the wife of Carlos Santana, and Nile Rodgers (guitar), among others.

The album was generally well received by music critics. It won Stone two 2005 Brit Awards for British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act. The same year, Stone also received three Grammy nominations in the categories Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for You Had Me and Best Pop Vocal Album.

Mind, Body & Soul became Stone’s best chart success and second best selling album to date. It entered the UK charts at no. 1, making 17-year-old Stone the youngest female artist accomplishing the feat at the time. In April 2019, that record was broken by Billie Eilish for her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Eilish is two months younger than Stone. The album also charted in numerous other countries, gaining top 10 positions in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. In the U.S., it just missed the top 10, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard 200.

Sources: Wikipedia; Joss Stone website; YouTube

Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube