The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday morning is upon us, at least in my neck of the woods (Central New Jersey, USA). Of course, this means it’s time to embark on another journey to celebrate music of the past six decades, six tunes at a time.

Julius Rodriguez/Gift of the Moon

This trip starts in the present. The immediate present. Julius Rodriguez, aka Orange Julius, is an American pianist, drummer and composer, whose music combines elements of jazz, avant-garde, R&B, hip-hop and pop. He started studying classical piano at a young age, or I should say at an even younger age – he’s only 23 years old! His father, a jazz connoisseur, introduced him to artists like Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. Rodriguez has been an active touring member of New York jazz combo Onyx Collective, and has worked as a sideman with numerous other artists like Macy Gray, Wynton Marsalis and Nick Hakim. And, yes, in addition to all of that, Rodriguez has been releasing music under his own name and the Orange Julius moniker since 2015. Here’s Gift of the Moon, off his new album Let Sound Tell All, which appeared on June 10.

John & Yoko & Plastic Ono Band/New York City

Now let’s kick it up with some great rock & roll. One artist I’ve always loved in this context is John Lennon. I recall reading somewhere that John said the rock & roll covers The Beatles played at the Star-Club in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool before they were famous were the best music they ever performed. Of course, John said many things about The Beatles after they had broken up, which seemed to dismiss their original music. While I don’t agree with some of his remarks, I think he’s right The Beatles were a great rock & roll band. John was a great rock & roll singer, which he not only demonstrated on his 1975 covers album Rock ‘n’ Roll but also on this tune: New York City, a track that appeared in June 1972 on a double LP titled Some Time in New York City, released as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s Memory – rolls right of your tongue! Go, Johnny, go – que pasa New York!

Creedence Clearwater Revival/Born On the Bayou

I don’t know about you, I’m in the mood for more rock. Let’s go to 1969 and the swamp. I trust Creedence Clearwater Revival, aka CCR, don’t need an introduction. If you’d like a crash course, check this AllMusic bio. Like most CCR tunes, Born On the Bayou was penned by the group’s leader John Fogerty. Yes, the man had pretty strong opinions, which he oftentimes imposed on his bandmates. And, yes, I feel sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve. But there’s no doubt John knew what he was doing. Born On the Bayou is the lead track of CCR’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which appeared in January 1969. It also was released separately as the B-side to the record’s single Proud Mary. In my humble opinion, Born On the Bayou should have been a separate single, and it should have been an A-side – man, I love this tune!

Asia/Heat of the Moment

And next, we find ourselves back in ’82. When I caught Heat of the Moment by Asia on the radio the other day, it reminded me of what a catchy tune it is. Growing up in the ’80s back in Germany, I loved much of the music that came out during that decade. I suppose you could say, well, it was in the heat of the moment! While I can’t deny a certain remaining weak spot, nowadays I’m no longer as fond of ’80s music. That being said, some songs are holding up pretty well to me. One is Asia’s debut single, co-written by the band’s John Wetton (lead vocals, bass) and Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals), which appeared on their eponymous debut album, released in March 1982. After they broke up in 1986, Asia reunited in 1989 and remain active to this day, with Downes as the only original member.

The Wallflowers/Shy of the Moon

Undoubtedly, being a music artist and offspring of Bob Dylan poses challenges. But I feel Jakob Dylan, a son of Bob and his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky), has done pretty well. While Jakob played guitar in various high school bands and was featured as a guitar player on his friends’ group’s eponymous 1987 album, Trash Matinee, he didn’t start focusing on a professional music career until 1989. Together with his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) he began forming a band called The Apples. After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. The Wallflowers are still around, though it’s now a music project by Dylan with a revolving cast of touring musicians. Here’s Shy of the Moon, the great openers of The Wallflowers’ above-noted eponymous debut album. Like all except one of the remaining tracks on the album, the tune was penned by Dylan.

Southern Avenue/Keep On

And once again another music trip has arrived at its final stop. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you probably recall Southern Avenue are one of my favorite contemporary bands. They are also among the nicest, down-to-earth professional musicians I’ve met. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. 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. Tellingly, in 2016 they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Here’s the great title track of their sophomore album Keep On, released in May 2019.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube, Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Neville Brothers

It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.

The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.

What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.

Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.

I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).

Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.

A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.

The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.

AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another weekly new music revue. Usually, most of the artists I feature in these posts are new to me. Not so this time! All picks appear on brand new albums released yesterday.

Wilco/All Across the World

American alternative rock band Wilco were formed in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica) and the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo after vocalist and guitarist Jay Farrar had left the alternative country group. Wilco’s studio debut A.M. came out in March 1995. Unlike Trace, the debut by Farrar’s newly founded Son Volt, A.M. missed the charts. But Wilco caught up with and eventually surpassed Son Volt from a chart performance perspective. To date, the band has released 12 albums including its latest Cruel Country, a double album. While Tweedy acknowledged Wilco hadn’t been very comfortable about being called a country band in the past, even though their music always had included country elements, he said with Cruel Country “Wilco is digging in and calling it country.” Here’s All Across the World. I dig that tune and really don’t care much what you call it!

Liam Gallagher/Too Good For Giving Up

English singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher first gained prominence in the 1990s as frontman and lead vocalist of Britain’s overnight sensation Oasis. After Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in August 2009, which ended the group, Liam and the remaining members decided to continue as Beady Eye. When that band broke up in October 2014, Liam launched a solo career, though for some reason, he initially didn’t want to characterize it as such. His solo debut As You Were was met with critical acclaim and debuted at no. 1 on the British albums chart. Now, Liam Gallagher is back with his third and new album C’mon You Know. Here’s a sample: Too Good For Giving Up, co-written by Gallagher and fellow British singer-songwriter Simon Aldred who is also listed as co-producer. Strong tune!

Steve Earle/Hill Country Rain

After a warm tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, released in January 2021, roots rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle is back with another tribute. Jerry Jeff, his 22nd studio release, celebrates the music of outlaw country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. While Walker wrote and interpreted many songs over more than 50 years, he was best known for Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 classic has been covered by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others. And now also Steve Earle, who released his solo debut Guitar Town in March 1986 following a 10-year-plus career as a songwriter and musician. “This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle wrote on his website. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.” Here’s Hill Country Rain, which Walker first recorded in 1972 for a self-titled studio album. Great rendition!

Bruce Hornsby/Tag

When I included Bruce Hornsby in a recent Sunday Six installment, I didn’t anticipate I’d be writing about the American singer-songwriter again so soon. Best known for his 1986 debut gem The Way It Is, Hornsby has drawn from folk-rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country rock, heartland rock and blues rock over a 36-year-and-counting recording career. Bonnie Raitt, whose music I’ve loved for many years, called Hornsby her favorite artist in a recent interview. Perhaps I should finally take a closer look at Hornsby beyond his first two albums! ‘Flicted, his 23rd and latest would be a start. “Thanks to all of our supporters who have followed the multi-genre journey for the last thirty-six years,” Hornsby wrote on his website.”…thanks for being open to change, exploration and a bit of musical mirth and merriment along with the attempts at deep and soulful music-making through the years.” Here’s Tag, which like most tunes on the album were written or co-written by Hornsby. This may not be as catchy as mainstream pop-oriented songs like Every Little Kiss, Mandolin Rain or The Way It Is, but I’m still intrigued and want to hear more.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes from each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Earle website; Bruce Hornsby website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday morning/afternoon/evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s time to resume some music time travel. Today’s six-stop journey starts in the ’60s with stop-overs in the ’90s, ’70s, ’10s and ’80s before coming to an end in the ’00s. Fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Sonny Rollins/Where Are You?

I’d like to ease us into today’s musical trip with some relaxing jazz by Sonny Rollins. Jazz connoisseurs need no introduction to the American tenor saxophone great. For more casual jazz listeners like me, Rollins is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians who over an incredible 70-year-plus career has recorded more than 60 albums as a leader and appeared on many additional records as a sideman. Rollins has played with the likes of Charlie ParkerMiles DavisDizzy GillespieThelonious MonkMax Roach and Modern Jazz QuartetWhere Are You? appeared on his 1962 studio album The Bridge, which Wikipedia notes was Rollins’ first release after a three-year sabbatical. Composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Harold Adamson, the track was written for the 1937 American comedy film Top of the Town and originally performed by Gertrude Niesen. On his rendition, Rollins was joined by Jim Hall (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Ben Riley (drums). I don’t have to be a jazz expert to love this track and neither do you. Just listen to that smooth saxophone sound! Rollins who celebrated his 91st birthday last September is still alive – bless the man!

Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May

Our next stop is the ’90s and beautiful music by Blue Rodeo, which is right up my alley. I’ve featured the Canadian country rock band on the blog before. They were formed in 1984 in Toronto by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, along with Bob Wiseman (keyboards).  Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. 5 Days in May is the opener of the band’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, which appeared in October 1993 in Canada and September 1994 in the U.S. With 6X Platinum certification in Canada, it remains their best-selling album to date. Like most other tunes on the record, 5 Days in May was co-written by Cuddy and Keelor. The harmonica and guitar action are very reminiscent of Neil Young. I also love that keyboard sound. It’s just a great song all around!

The Jaggerz/The Rapper

When I came across The Rapper by The Jaggerz the other day, I earmarked it immediately for an upcoming Sunday Six. The American rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa. was initially active from 1964 until 1977. During that period, they only released three albums. After the third, Come Again from 1975, they broke up in 1977. By that time, frontman and co-founder Dominic Ierace had already left the group and joined American funk rock band Wild Cherry, best known for Play That Funky Music, their only major single success. In 1989, The Jaggerz reunited sans Ierace with three other original founders and three new members. They have since released three additional albums, the most recent of which came out in 2014 – not an exactly overwhelming catalog! The group’s current formation, a six-piece, includes founding members Jimmie Ross (lead vocals, bass) and Benny Faiella (guitar). The Rapper became the band’s breakthrough single and only hit in January 1970, surging to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Ierace, it was included on their sophomore studio album We Went to Different Schools Together, released that same year.

Alison Krauss & Union Station/Miles to Go

For this next pick, let’s go to the current century. Miles To Go is a song from Paper Airplane, released in April 2011 by Alison Krauss & Union Station. The bluegrass and country artist, who is also a talented fiddle player, has been active since 1984. She made her recording debut in 1986 with Different Strokes, a collaboration with Jim Hoiles & Friends and Swamp Weiss. To date, Krauss has released 14 albums, most frequently together with bluegrass and country band Union Station. I’m mostly aware of Krauss because of her two collaboration records with Robert Plant. Miles to Go was co-written by Union Station bassist Barry Bales and Chris Stapleton. Krauss is a great vocalist and I also dig the band’s sound. Yesterday, in addition to further checking out Paper Airplane, I sampled Lonely Runs Both Ways, her preceding album with Union Station from November 2004. Lots of great music only between these two records!

John Hiatt/Memphis in the Meantime

Memphis, Tenn. and its amazing music history are on my bucket list. Graceland, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum surely sound like worthy sites to visit. In the meantime, I’m picking a tune about the city by John Hiatt, a great artist I’ve started to explore in greater detail over the past few years. The singer-songwriter who has been active for 50 years is best known for tunes that have been covered by the likes of B.B. KingBob DylanBonnie RaittEmmylou HarrisEric ClaptonJoe CockerLinda RonstadtRy Cooder and Nick Lowe. While Hiatt’s albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until he finally had an album that made the Billboard 200Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. Memphis in the Meantime is the opener of that great record. It also includes two tunes popularized by two of the aforementioned artists: Thing Called Love, by Bonnie Raitt; and Have a Little Faith in Me, by Joe Cocker.

The Chesterfield Kings/The Rise and Fall

Once again it’s time to wrap things up. For the final stop of our musical mini-excursion, let’s get a dose of psychedelic garage rock by The Chesterfield Kings. Founded in the late ’70s by Greg Prevost (lead vocals, multiple instruments), the band from Rochester, N.Y. was instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, according to Wikipedia. A partial discography there lists 11 albums by the group that was active until 2009. Rise and Fall, co-written by Provost and bandmate Andy Babiuk (bass and multiple other instruments), is a tune from a 2007 album titled Psychedelic Sunrise. The group’s line-up at that time also included Paul Morabito (guitars, mandolin, organ) and Mike Boise (drums, percussion). BTW, the album was produced by garage rock fan Steven Van Zandt. I could picture this tune played by The Rolling Stones during their psychedelic period.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above goodies!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Impressions

All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door/I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…In case these words sound familiar, they are the opening lines of Leaving On a Jet Plane. While I’ve always loved this 1966 song by John Denver, it’s not my desert island pick for this week, but the lyrics fit well thematically.

Doing this feature alphabetically based on my song library, I’m up to the letter “I”. It turned out there weren’t too many choices: The Isley Brothers; two German acts, Ina Deter Band and Ich + Ich and, nope it’s not an illusion, Imagination. And, of course, the music act I picked: The Impressions. When it comes to this great doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group one song has always stood out to me in particular: People Get Ready.

Written by Curtis Mayfield, one of my all-time favorite artists, People Get Ready is the title track of The Impressions’ fourth studio album released in February 1965, the group’s first and only record to top Billboard’s R&B Chart. It also became their biggest success on the mainstream Billboard 200, climbing to no. 23. The beautiful tune also appeared as a single, reaching no. 3 and no. 14 on the U.S. R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The gospel-influenced, which reflected a growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing, rightfully has received much recognition. Rolling Stone named it the 24th greatest song of all time in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The magazine also ranked it at no. 20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Mojo named it as one of Top 10 Best Songs of All Time. Additionally, People Get Ready is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the tune has been covered by a broad range of other artists. Some include Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake and Jeff Beck who teamed up with Rod Stewart. Following is a Spotify playlist featuring some of the song’s renditions.

Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The song embodies a deep sense of spirituality and community, but with enough popular appeal to make it a hit. Mayfield based the song’s lyric on various sermons he heard in church. He wrote the music first, and the gospel feel dictated the words.

This song resonated with African Americans during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. The song speaks for the downtrodden, and Mayfield made it clear that transcended race. “It doesn’t matter what color or faith you have,” he told Goldmine in 1997. “I’m pleased the lyrics can be of value to anybody.”…

After Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 (a light rig fell on him, crushing three vertebrae), royalties from this song – especially the Rod Stewart version – helped keep him financially sound, which he credited for helping him fend off depression and remain active as a songwriter and singer despite his condition. Mayfield released the acclaimed album New World Order two years before his death in 1999...

…Train imagery was popular in traditional spirituals, with songs like “The Gospel Train,” “I Got My Ticket,” and “I’m Gwine Home on de Mornin’ Train” looking forward to a joyous passage to the afterlife aboard the heavenly locomotive. In the decades leading up to the US Civil War, “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe routes and shelters that helped slaves escape to free states, used these songs as codes to alert slaves throughout their journey.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks are on albums that were released yesterday (April 22)

Bonnie Raitt/Livin’ For the Ones

I’m absolutely thrilled to start this post with new music by one of my long-time favorite artists, Bonnie Raitt, who I guess doesn’t need much of an introduction. Raitt grew up in Los Angeles in a musical family and got into the guitar as an eight-year-old, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. She taught herself by listening to blues records. In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. Three years after entering college, she decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. Her eponymous debut album appeared in 1971. Fast-forward nearly 51 years to Just Like That…, Raitt’s 21st studio release and her first in more than six years since Dig In Deep from February 2016. Here’s Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which she wrote the lyrics, with music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. A statement on Raitt’s website notes the song is a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years. It’s got a cool Stonesy sound – love it!

Fontaines D.C./Roman Holiday

Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. have been around since 2017. They were formed by Grian Chatten (vocals), Carlos O’Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), Conor Deegan III (bass) and Tom Coll (drums), who met while attending music college at British and Irish Modern Music (BIMM) Institute in Dublin. After a series of singles released in 2018, the group’s debut album Drogel appeared in April 2019. This brings me to Skinty Fia, their third and latest album. Here’s Roman Holiday, credited to all members of the band. While the video clip isn’t particularly memorable, the song is pretty cool. Check it out!

Old Crow Medicine Show/Honey Chile

Old Crow Medicine Show are a Nashville-based Americana string band formed in 1998. According to their Apple Music profile, they have influenced a generation of 21st-century roots musicians with their infectious mix of hollers, jug band favorites, and pre-rock ’n’ roll blues. The group caught their big break when bluegrass giant Doc Watson watched them busking in Boone, North Carolina, and invited them to participate in his MerleFest roots-music festival in 2000. Relocating from North Carolina to Nashville, they made their Grand Ole Opry debut in 2001, and they were inducted into the esteemed country music institution 12 years later. From 2004 to 2019, seven of their eight albums hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart—the only LP that missed the top spot, 2014’s Remedy, won the Best Folk Album Grammy Award. Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, they’ve cowritten two songs with the legendary singer-songwriter, including their joyous, Platinum-certified 2004 hit, “Wagon Wheel.” Here’s Honey Chile, a great-sounding track from Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album Paint This Town. The song was co-written by Ketch Secor and Joe Andrews, a current and a former member of the group, respectively.

The Million Reasons/If Not For The Fire

Next up is new music by Chicago rock band The Million Reasons. I must give a shout-out to Jeff from Eclectic Music Lover who earlier this week reviewed Haven, the group’s first full-length album released on April 15, which brought these guys on my radar screen. Founded in 2016 as a trio, the band has since grown to a five-piece. Their debut EP The Roundaround appeared in February 2017. A second EP, If Not For the Fire, came out in February 2020. The Million Reasons have also released various singles. Their current line-up, which has been in place since 2019, features Taylor Brennan (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), Jason Cillo (bass) and Colin Dill (drums). For more background on the band, check Jeff’s excellent above review. Here’s If Not For The Fire. Like all other tracks on the album, it’s credited to the entire band. This really rocks – also strong lead vocalist!

Walter Trout/Ghosts

Closing out this week’s new music revue is the latest single by blues-rock veteran Walter Trout, an artist I’ve come to dig over the past few years! During a nearly 53-year recording career, Trout who in March turned 71 has survived many ups and downs. This includes overcoming drug and alcohol addiction in the ’80s, surviving liver failure and recovering from a liver transplant in 1994, and dealing with dishonest management people. Trout really has seen it all! Quite appropriately, he decided to title his 2019 blues covers album Survivor Blues. I reviewed it here and subsequently saw him at the Iridium in New York. I can highly recommend him – a great guitarist and an authentic no BS-type artist. After releasing Ordinary Madness in August 2020 (reviewed here), Trout recently announced his 30th solo album Ride, which is slated for August 30th. The opener Ghosts came out as the first single on April 14. This sounds great, and I’m really looking forward to the new album!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tracks and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; Eclectic Music Lover; Walter Trout Facebook page; YouTube; Spotify

Wolfgang Niedecken Is Coming Full Circle On New Solo Album “Dylanreise”

Following Bob Dylan’s journey, German singer-songwriter revisits important chapters his own life and career

After coincidentally learning that prominent German singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was about to release a new solo album featuring English and Kölsch (a German dialect spoken in West Germany’s Cologne region) interpretations of Bob Dylan songs, I wasn’t planning to explore it. While BAP (Niedeckens BAP since September 2014), the band he founded in Cologne in 1976, has been my favorite German-singing rock group since the early ’80s, I haven’t paid much attention to Niedecken’s solo work. Still, curiosity prompted me to check out Dylanreise (Dylan journey), which dropped last Friday, March 25. To my pleasant surprise, I find Niedecken’s sixth solo album quite engaging.

Of course, I realize for non-German readers and more specifically for folks who don’t understand the Kölsch dialect, Wolfgang Niedecken is likely going to be a challenging proposition. I’m not sure whether liking Dylan’s music helps a great deal; in fact, I could see the opposite since Niedecken sounds very different from Dylan, no matter in which language he sings the maestro’s songs. The renditions are fine, but what I find most intriguing about Dylanreise are the anecdotes Niedecken shares throughout the album. In fact, it’s really more a narrated audiobook than a traditional music album.

Dylanreise is available as a 3-CD set, on vinyl as a double LP and on streaming platforms

As reported by German entertainment outlet Kulturnews, Dylanreise’s origin goes back to 2017 when Wolfgang Niedecken starred in the 5-part docu-series Bob Dylans Amerika (Bob Dylan’s America) produced for French-German cultural TV channel ARTE. In this docu-series, Niedecken traveled to the U.S. to trace key places in Dylan’s life, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Dylan had performed in August 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, or Big Pink, a house in the Woodstock, N.Y. area where the so-called basement tapes sessions had taken place in the summer of 1967.

In turn, the TV series inspired Niedecken to write a book, Wolfgang Niedecken über Bob Dylan (Wolfgang Niedecken about Bob Dylan), which appeared in March 2021. Two months earlier, the German version of the audiobook of Bob Dylan’s 2016 autobiography Chronicles had come out, narrated by Niedecken. Last but not least, Niedecken teamed up with his friend and jazz pianist, Mike Herting, for a series of concerts in German-speaking countries, billed as Niedecken liesst und singt Dylan (Niedecken reads and sings Dylan). The tour has had 40-plus shows to date and is still going on.

Wolfgang Niedecken in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 2017, one of the shoot locations for the ARTE TV docu-series about Bob Dylan

So what’s behind Niedecken’s obvious infatuation with Robert Zimmerman? “To me, he’s the greatest among the American songwriters,” Niedecken said in the above ARTE docu-series. “No other musician has given me a deeper insight into America’s soul, and no one else knows how to express Americans’ troubles and hopes. To many, he’s the polar star, guiding the way. Undoubtedly, without him, I wouldn’t have become a musician, and many of my songs probably wouldn’t have materialized without Dylan’s work.”

In a recent interview with regional German radio channel SR3, Niedecken framed his new album as follows: “It’s actually three journeys…The journey through my life, the journey through Dylan’s life and the 2017 journey throughout the U.S. And the tour, btw – four journeys [laughs].” Dylanreise’s 32 tracks feature 16, mostly Dylan songs and 16 narrated anecdotes, which translate into a total running time of two hours and 14 minutes. That’s pretty heavy, but I found it a worthwhile listening experience. Niedecken is a decent narrator.

Throughout his entire career, in addition to his own tunes, Niedecken has performed Dylan songs. In fact, before founding BAP in 1976, he had gained some local popularity in Cologne as “Bob Dylan of the South Town.” Typically, his versions were performed in the Kölsch dialect, something he continued with BAP. On Dylanreise, there’s a mix of all-English, all-Kölsch and mixed English-Kölsch renditions. The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of five all-English versions. It’s the title track of Dylan’s third studio album from January 1964.

“I used to play bass in a student band since I adored Paul McCartney,” Niedecken told SR3 during the above interview. “The vocalist of our band needed to pass high school graduation. So he showed up to his final gig…and brought along the single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. He had also already written down the lyrics. And we listened to it and this was something quite different (from The Beatles)…And suddenly, it was like lightning had struck. What the hell is he writing about? What do all these words mean? And all these metaphors, ‘Napoleon in rags’…All I knew is that was something I found much more exciting than playing bass and singing harmless lyrics. That same night, I told my friend Heiden, ‘ Heiden, you know what, you have to play bass now. I’m going to sing and write lyrics, just like the dude with the sunglasses.”

From Niedecken’s website: When we got to Woodstock as part of our Dylan journey, among others, we paid a visit to “Big Pink” in the forests of West-Saugerties. A nondescript wooden house painted in pick where rock & roll history was written when Dylan and his band [The BandCMM] recorded countless demos there in 1967, some of which subsequently appeared under the title “Basement Tapes”. There I met with guitarist and vocalist Happy Traum, who four years later had assisted Dylan to re-record “Goin Nowhere” for his second greatest hits album, to record this song for our documentary. Here’s Du Jehs Nirjendwo Hin (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere), a song Dylan wrote in Woodstock in 1967, which first appeared on the aforementioned compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

Before wrapping up this review with another rendition of a Dylan song, I’d like to recap one of my favorite anecdotes Niedecken tells: his eye-to-eye encounter with the maestro. In April 2009, on behalf of German guitar maker Duisenberg, Niedecken was invited to hand Dylan a lap steel he had ordered from the company. After a show in the German city of Saarbruecken, Niedecken was brought backstage and told to wait for Dylan there, all by himself. Finally, Dylan showed up, all by himself as well. He approached Niedecken smiling and with one fist raised.

“‘What’s that supposed to mean?,’ I was asking myself before realizing at the last second it evidently was meant to be a ghetto fist,” Niedecken recalls. “Apparently, I had not been the only person who had shaken his hand too firmly when Wim Wenders [the film director – CMM] who had known Dylan from the ’70s introduced me to him, and obviously I had grabbed his hand a little bit too firmly, leading him to wince…When I mentioned Wim’s name, he was like, ‘yeah, sure.’ And then the time had already come to hand over the guitar.”

“I can no longer remember what he was saying. I only recall how fascinated he was when removing the instrument from the case and looking at it from all sides. Like a small boy who finds an engine underneath the Christmas tree for his toy train – a moving moment I didn’t want to ruin under any circumstances with an unnecessary question or any sentence he presumably had heard a million times. Sure, I’d like to let him know he has significantly impacted my life and thank him for that. But, as I said, I would have ruined this moment and it wasn’t worth it. Eventually, he told me he had a small guitar amp on his tour bus where he would hook up the instrument right away. That same night they would travel to Paris. As such, he would have enough time to spend with the lap steel. Okay, one last ghetto fist, ‘thanks, take care,’ and that was it.”

Here’s Fuer Immer Jung (Forever Young). Recorded in 1973, the tune first appeared in two versions (one slow, one fast) on Dylan’s 14th studio album Planet Waves from January 1974.

Here’s the link to Dylanreise on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kulturnews; SR3; Niedeckens BAP website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Atlanta Rhythm Section

Today I’m launching a new feature titled If I Could Only Take One…The idea is pretty simple: If I had to move to a desert island and could only take one song by artist or band x, which tune would I pick? This weekly series replaces The Hump Day Picker-Upper feature I retired last week.

For now, I’ve decided to identify the artists and bands by going through my streaming music library in alphabetic order, picking one of each, a to z. This would already translate into 26 posts. If I have more endurance, the same process could be repeated with different picks for each letter.

To minimize redundant content, I also envisage focusing on artists and bands I haven’t covered or only covered a few times. This would exclude bands like AC/DC, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and artists, such as Bob Dylan, Carole King or Neil Young, to name a few of the regulars on the blog.

My pick for the inaugural installment is Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section. In this case, the decision of which song to pick was fairly simple since I only know a handful of tunes by the Southern rock band that has been around since 1970. Their take of the groovy tune was included on their eighth studio album Underdog from June 1979. I’ve always dug it!

Spooky, one of ALR’s best-known songs, was also released separately as a single in August 1979. In the U.S., it reached no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in Canada and Australia.

Originally, Spooky was written as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Performed by Shapiro and released under the name Mike Sharpe, the track first appeared in 1967 and climbed to no. 57 on the U.S. pop charts. That was all complete news to me!

The next iteration of Spooky occurred in 1968 when a band called Classics IV recorded it as the title track of their debut album – again something I had not heard before. The group’s guitarist and songwriter James Cobb and producer Buddy Buie added lyrics, for which they earned credits. Mike Shapiro played the saxophone solo. And this is how it sounded – pretty similar to ALR.

Two years later, Classics IV keyboarder Dean Daughtry became a co-founding member of Atlanta Rhythm Section, along with Rodney Justo (vocals), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass) and Robert Nix (drums). James Cobb joined in 1972.

Spooky has also been recorded by numerous other artists, including Dusty Springfield, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, R.E.M. and David Sanborn.

Here’s a playlist of different renditions of Spooky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original instrumental on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Billy Joel

As previously noted, while I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off for more than 40 years and occasionally included him or one of his songs in some previous pieces, I had not dedicated a post to him. After more than five years of writing this blog, it’s about time to change that. It was all seeded by this recent post from fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews. In turn, this led me to include the piano man in that post, which then triggered the idea to do this profile and playlist.

Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island where he has one of his residences to this day. Ironically, Joel wasn’t into the piano initially and only took it up reluctantly after his mother insisted. To be fair, he was only four years old at the time. During his teenage years, Joel got into boxing but decided to stop after he had suffered a broken nose in his 24th boxing match.

While attending high school, Joel was playing piano at a bar to help support himself, as well as his mother and his sister. His parents had divorced when he was eight years old. When he found himself with an insufficient amount of credits to graduate, he decided to forgo his high school diploma. After he had seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Joel knew he wasn’t going to Columbia University but to Columbia Records, according to the 2006 biography Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz.

Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014

In 1965, Joel joined British Invasion cover band The Echoes and played on some of their recordings. By the time he left the group in 1967, they had gone through a couple of name changes and were called Lost Souls. Joel’s new band, The Hassles, had a deal with United Artists Records, and over the next two years released two albums and a few singles, none of which were commercially successful.

In 1969, Joel and Lost Souls’ drummer Jon Small departed, formed the duo Attila and released an eponymous debut album in July 1970. Things unraveled after Joel had started an affair with Small’s wife Elizabeth Weber Small who eventually became Joel’s first wife in 1973 and manager. Making music and getting into relationships oftentimes don’t mix well!

Joel subsequently signed with Family Productions and launched his solo career with the album Cold Spring Harbor, which appeared in November 1971. It was the first of 12 pop albums Joel released between 1971 and 1993. In September 2001, Joel came out with a classical music album, Fantasies & Delusions, his last to date and I guess by now we can safely assume is his final release of original music.

This shall suffice for background. Let’s get to some music. Following, I’ll highlight six songs that are included in a Spotify playlist, together with some additional tunes. Here’s She’s Got a Way, a sweet love song that most likely is about Joel’s above-mentioned wife Elizabeth.

In October 1974, Joel released his third studio album Streetlife Serenade. In The Entertainer, he gets cynical about the music business and being subject to changing public taste where one day an artist is in only to find themselves out the next day.

After a series of only marginally successful records, Joel scored his breakthrough in September 1977 with the release of his fifth studio album The Stranger. It was the first of four records produced by Phil Ramone who worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Here’s Only the Good Die Young. Wikipedia notes the song’s lyrics about a young man’s determination to have premarital sex with a Catholic girl stirred controversy. Pressure from religious groups to have the tune banned from radio stations turned a relatively obscure single into a highly demanded tune overnight and a top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel followed up his breakthrough album The Stranger with 52nd Street in October 1978, his first of four records to reach the top of the Billboard 200. It also earned him two Grammys. Here’s the catchy uptempo song My Life, which became the lead single. Reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also was one of Joel’s highest-charting songs at the time.

If you’d ask me to name my favorite Billy Joel album, I’d go with The Nylon Curtain from September 1982. Joel’s eighth studio album isn’t among the four previously mentioned no. 1 records, though it did pretty well, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The opener Allentown, about the plight of American steelworkers following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure, is one of my favorite Joel songs.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Joel’s most recent and likely final pop album River of Dreams, released in August 1993. At that time, I was a grad student, on Long Island of all places, and frequently listened to the album’s title track on the radio. I also got the record on CD when it was released. The song became Joel’s biggest hit of the ’80s, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, his last top 10 single. I’ve always loved the tune’s combination of pop and gospel elements.

Here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist, which includes the previously featured songs, as well as additional tunes from each of Joel’s 12 pop albums.

Billy Joel is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. During his 22-year pop recording career, he had 33 top 40 hits in the U.S., including three that topped the Billboard Hot 100. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (1999) and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Frankly, I had no idea the latter existed – always nice to learn something new when putting together posts.

While the above accomplishments are very impressive, what I find most amazing is that the piano man continues to sell out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That’s about 20,000 tickets each time. And all of that despite not having released any new pop music in close to 30 years!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify