My Playlist: Fastball

When I recall a song I haven’t heard in ages, I tend to revisit the band or artist who performed it, especially if I don’t know them well beyond a tune or two. That’s what happened with Fastball when I remembered The Way the other day and included the cool tune in my last Sunday Six feature. After sampling a bunch of other songs from different albums by the American alternative-rock-turned-power pop band, I liked what I heard and decided to put together this profile and playlist.

Fastball were formed in 1985 in Austin, Texas by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Zuniga and Shuffield had known each other from playing together in two other bands, Big Car and Wild Seeds. After Shuffield had introduced Zunigo to Scalzo who had been with California group The Goods, the three of them decided to start their own group.

Following a series of names, including Star 69, Magneto, Magneto USA, Ed Clark’s Business Bible and Starchy, they decided on Fastball. What appears to be a baseball metaphor is definitely more memorable than some of the other names they had considered. Fastball managed to quickly gain popularity in the Austin music scene. After a local journalist had seen them perform, they brought them to the attention of Hollywood Records, which led to a record deal soon thereafter.

Up to that point, Fastball’s story almost looked like a fairytale. Other bands struggle for years to sign with a label if they ever get that far. But the Texas group’s ride wouldn’t be without bumps. While their debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996 yielded a win in the “Best Pop Band” category at the Austin Music Awards (tied with The Wannabes, another Austin group), the record sold poorly (about 5,500 copies as of April 1998). Suddenly, the future was wide open, to creatively borrow from Tom Petty, and all of the band’s members felt compelled to keep their day jobs.

Then came their break – again, something many music artists never get. And it was a big one. In February 1998, Fastball released the above-mentioned The Way, the lead single of their then-upcoming sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy. The Way, which only was the group’s second single, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, as well as in Canada on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts. Overseas, it also reached no. 7 in Sweden and no. 21 in the UK.

By September, only six months after its release, All the Pain Money Can Buy had sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, thus reaching Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Interestingly, the album “only” reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 18 and also charted in a few European countries. Fastball had arrived. But their commercial and chart performance would be short-lived – again, an all-too-familiar playbook in the brutal music business.

In September 2000, Fastball’s third album appeared. It was appropriately titled The Harsh Light of Day. While it received positive reviews, once again, it turned out to be a record that didn’t sell well. As of January 2004, sales totaled a mere 84,000 copies – definitely a harsh drop compared to the predecessor’s million units sold in just six months! It also was the group’s last album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 97.

Despite lacking chart and commercial success, Fastball managed to soldier on. They remain active to this day in their original line-up and have since released four additional studio albums. Their catalog also includes two live records and a compilation. I’d say the time has come to take a closer look at some of their songs. And there’s definitely more to this band than The Way.

I’d like to do this in chronological order starting with Fastball’s debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996. Compared to their sophomore record, the songs on their debut effort sound a bit rawer and remind me a little of Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie. Here’s the title track, written by Scalzo.

Turning to Fastball’s hugely successful second album All the Pain Money Can Buy, I’m skipping The Way, since I just covered it (though the tune is included in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to highlight Out of My Head, the only other song that had sounded vaguely familiar when checking out the band’s music. Penned by Scalzo, the song also became the third single off the album and the last to make the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 20 – interestingly outperforming The Way, which missed the U.S. mainstream chart but as noted above was pretty successful elsewhere.

You’re an Ocean is a catchy pop-rock tune from Fastball’s third album The Harsh Light of Day, the last appearing on the band’s original label Hollywood Records. Once again, the song was written by Scalzo. The record featured some notable guests, including Billy Preston and Brian Setzer.

In June 2004, Fastball released their fourth album. Previously, they had signed with new record label Rykodisc. The record was mixed by Bob Clearmountain who is known for having worked with major acts like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Toto and Bon Jovi. Two tracks, Someday and Red Light, were produced by Adam Schlesinger who among others founded Fountains of Wayne. Here’s Someday written by Miles Zuniga – nice power pop! The album did not chart.

The Beatlesque The Malcontent (The Modern World) is from Fastball’s fifth studio album Keep Your Wig On that came out in April 2009. The band had switched labels, and the record appeared on MRI/RED Distribution. It was co-produced by Miles Zuniga and CJ Eiriksson, with mixing once again done by Bob Clearmountain.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Friend or Foe, the opener of Fastball’s seventh and most recent studio album The Help Machine from October 2019. The song was written by Zuniga. The record appeared on the group’s own 33 1/3 label.

It’s a pity Fastball have largely been under the radar screen for the past 20 years or so. I find their melodic rock and power pop that oftentimes is reminiscent of The Beatles and Badfinger enjoyable. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes by the group.

“When I look at our catalog, there’s not a bad record in there,” notes drummer Joey Shuffield in the band’s online bio, “We’ve been through our ups and downs, but I think we’ve really found our groove over the last few years.”

“We spent a lot of time on a major label, so initially the transition back to being an indie band was a little bumpy,” Shuffield further points out. “But now it feels comfortable being responsible for everything ourselves, because that way we’re more likely to get it right. We’re all so into the music now, and I think you can hear that on the last couple of albums.”

Adds Tony Scalzo: “It’s only natural that you get better at what you do as you get older and more experienced. But you can’t always figure that out when you’re in your 20s. Now that we’re on our own label, the pressure’s all on us, and that’s fine. All I ever really wanted was a consistent creative outlet, and we’ve got that now.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Fastball website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning, at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer and spot the occasional fox. Or watch the squirrels chasing after one another. And did I mention Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and that other guy many of you aren’t fond of (though 100 million fans can’t be wrong!) are Jersey boys, as is Walter Trout (at least originally)? Okay, this is starting to sound like a silly ad for the Garden State, so let’s move on to the business of the day: Six tunes of music of the past and the present.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do

Speaking of the present, let’s start today’s musical journey with some groovy organ jazz by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, an act I’ve previously featured. Founded in 2015, the trio includes self-taught Hammond B-3 organist Delvon Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Dan Weiss. From their website: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio—or as it is sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music.” The ingredients of this intoxicating cocktail include a big helping of the 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkles Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. It’s a soul-jazz concoction that goes straight to your heart and head makes your body break out in a sweat – in other words, it’s some pretty cool shit! Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do is an upfront single that was released on January 6, 2022, from DLO3’s upcoming fourth studio album Cold As Weiss scheduled for February 11 – my kind of music!

The Fabulous Thunderbirds/Wrap It Up

Let’s keep groovin’ and movin’ and slightly pick up the speed. This next tune takes us back to 1986 and a tasty tune by The Fabulous Thunderbirds: Wrap It Up. Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote that song for Stax soul duo Sam & Dave who included it on their fourth studio record I Thank You from 1968. The Thunderbirds did a beautiful job with it, recording it for Tuff Enuff, their fifth studio album that appeared in January 1986. If I see this correctly, it became one of the Texas blues rock-oriented band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 50 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who were founded in 1974, remain active. Their current line-up includes original member Kim Wilson (vocals, harmonica), along with Johnny Moeller (guitar), Kevin Anker (keyboards), Steve Gomes (bass) and Nico Leophonte (drums).

The Merry-Go-Round/Live

Time for a dose of ’60s psychedelic rock. Frankly, I don’t recall how The Merry-Go-Round ended up on my list of earmarked tunes for a Sunday Six installment. I can confirm I wasn’t flying eight miles high on some controlled substance! I suspect it must have been a listening suggestion by my streaming music provider. Anyway, The Merry-Go-Round were a short-lived American band from Los Angeles formed in the summer of 1966 by singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes, along with his friends Gary Kato (lead guitar), Bill Rinehart (bass) and Joel Larson (drums). Inspired by contemporaries like The Beatles, The Byrds and The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round only released one eponymous album in November 1967. It barely made the Billboard 200, reaching no. 190. After various subsequent non-charting singles and an attempt to record a sophomore record, the group disbanded in 1969. Here’s Live, their first and most successful single from 1967, which peaked at no. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also was the opener of the album. Nice tune!

Fastball/The Way

Probably, this has happened to you as well. Suddenly out of nowhere, you recall a great tune you hadn’t heard in years. That’s exactly what prompted this next pick by Fastball and their January 1998 hit The Way. It probably saved the American alternative rock band’s career after their first single and debut album had gone nowhere. Fueled by The Way and a second tune, Out of My Head, Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy went Plantium within six months of its March 1998 release. It also yielded two Grammy and one MTV award nomination. Written by group member Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), The Way was inspired by a story he had read about an elderly Texas couple who had gone missing and eventually were found dead in their car hundreds of miles away from their original destination. The song’s great cinematic story-telling would make a good episode for The Twilight Zone. Fastball are still around in their original line-up, which in addition to Scalzi includes Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Sadly, as is all too common in the tough music business, the band never managed to come anywhere close to replicating the success of their second album. And, based on sampling songs from some of their other records, it wasn’t because of lack of decent music!

Johnny Cash/Give My Love to Rose

Initially, I had planned to feature Johnny Cash’s incredible rendition of John Lennon’s In My Life, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs from their second 1965 album Rubber Soul. Then I started listening from the beginning of American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s studio record from November 2002, the last released during his lifetime. It was also the fourth in his “American” series, which were produced by Rick Rubin and marked a late-stage career resurgence for “The Man in Black.” When I got to Give My Love to Rose, I simply couldn’t resist picking this powerful tune over In My Life, as much as I love the latter. Written by Cash, the song has incredible story-telling, and it’s a tearjerker. Originally, he had composed and recorded the tune with the Tennessee Two at Sun Records in 1957. It first appeared that same year as the B-side of the single Home of the Blues. Cash’s sparse and vulnerable rendition on American IV won him a Grammy in 2003, just days before his 71st birthday. Cash passed away in September of the same year.

Led Zeppelin/Custard Pie

After this powerful tearjerker, I’d like to finish this post on a kickass ’70s rock note. On we go to Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s sixth double-LP studio release from February 1975. It combined eight new songs and some previously unreleased tracks the group had recorded during the sessions for the Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy albums. Here’s the opener Custard Pie, one of the new tunes, credited to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Songfacts notes the song is based on various American blues recordings, including Blind Boy Fuller’s 1939 “I Want Some Of Your Pie” and Brown McGhee’s 1947 “Custard Pie Blues. An influence on this song is “Drop Down Mama,” a 1935 blues song by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon…[It also] includes a snippet from “Shake ’em On Down” by the blues musician Bukka White. In typical Zep fashion, you wouldn’t know any of this from looking at the credits, and I’m making this remark as a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I just wish they would have given credit to the artists whose work they apparently borrowed. It wouldn’t have diminished this great rocker by one iota, at least not in my eyes. The cool clavinet was played by John Paul Jones, while Plant provided some neat harmonica action. As usual, John Bonham’s drumming is outstanding. Dynamite tune all around!

Not to forget, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above picks:

Sources: Wikipedia; Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Doobie Brothers Are Still Runnin’ Strong

Liberté is band’s first album of all-new music in 11 years

The Doobie Brothers are back with new music. After having listened to Liberté a few times, I find there is much to like about the band’s 15th studio album, their first with all new original tunes since World Gone Crazy from September 2010. Their most recent studio release Southbound, which appeared in November 2014, featured remakes of their biggest hits and some other songs recorded in collaboration with artists like Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and Huey Lewis and Brad Paisley.

Released on October 1, Liberté was produced by John Shanks who has worked with a broad array of artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge. Shanks also co-wrote all of the 12 tunes with either Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, vocals) or Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals), who co-founded the Doobies in San Jose, Calif. in 1970, together with Dave Shogren (bass, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and John Hartman (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Doobie Brothers - Official Site
The Doobie Brothers (from left): Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee

The Doobie Brothers’ other core members are John McFee (guitar, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), who has been part of the line-up since 1979, and Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), who has been and off since he first joined in 1975. McDonald was not involved in recording Liberté. He rejoined the Doobies in November 2019 ahead of their planned 50th anniversary tour in 2020. It was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and finally kicked off on August 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

When the Doobies first announced Liberté in early August, they released the first four tracks of the album as a self-titled EP. Previously, I included one of these tunes, Don’t Ya Mess With Me, in a Best of What’s New installment. As such, I will skip the rocker here. Let’s get to some of the album’s other music.

Here’s the opener Oh Mexico. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, the rock tune has a vibe of early Doobies. Johnston sounds great on vocals. I also dig the tune’s neat slide guitar work.

Cannonball is an acoustic-oriented song co-written by Shanks and Simmons. While this doesn’t sounds like classic Doobies, I still like it.

The American Dream, a nostalgic tune reminiscing of the top down and the radio on, and dancin’ in the streets, is another co-write by Shanks and Johnston.

One of my early favorites is the soulful Shine Your Light. The tune was co-written by Shanks and Johnston as well.

The last tune I’d to call out is Just Can’t Do This Alone. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, this tune reminds me a bit of Listen to the Music, the first hit the Doobies scored in 1972, a single off their sophomore album Toulouse Street.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Liberté. While it’s fair to say it’s no Toulouse Street or The Captain and Me, I find the album an enjoyable listening experience.

“How does any band know?,” Johnston said during a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “You’re just trying to get it together and move forward. At the start of this band, we hadn’t done anything yet and we were playing bars like everyone else. Luckily, we did a demo tape that got us a record deal with Warner Bros. Our first album didn’t sell, but the second did. And the rest is history.” Indeed, 51 years and counting; or, if you exclude the band’s five-year hiatus between 1982 and 1987, it’s 46 years – still a mighty long time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Doobie Brothers website; San Diego Union-Tribune; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, this recurring feature celebrates music in many different flavors and from different eras. If you are in my neck of the woods, hope you’re staying cool coz now you’re getting some hot music on top of the heat! 🙂

Dr. Lonnie Smith/Seesaw

Is there a doctor in the house? Okay, I stole that line from Bon Jovi, who I believe frequently uses it during live shows to announce the band’s song Bad Medicine. I got a very cool doctor for you, and I’ve featured him before: Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith launched his solo career with his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967 – then still known as Lonnie Smith. At some point, he decided to become Dr. Smith and wear a traditional Sikh turban. Why? Nobody really knows but why not? Here’s a cover of Seesaw from Smith’s third album Turning Point that came out in 1969. The tune was co-written by Don Covay and Steve Cropper, and first released as a single in September 1965 by Don Coway and the Goodtimers. The song also became the title track of Coway’s sophomore album from 1966. BTW, the mighty doctor is now 78 and is still practicing. His most recent album Breathe appeared in March this year. Okay, nuff said, let’s get some of his groovy medicine!

Stealers Wheel/Stuck in the Middle With You

Warning: When I heard this tune for the first time, it got stuck right in the middle my head. The same may happen to you. But, hey, at least it’s a great song! Steelers Wheel were a Scottish folk rock band formed in 1972 by school friends Joseph Egan and Gerry Rafferty. By the time they disbanded in 1975, three albums had come out. A version of the band that included two members from the original line-up, Rod Coombes (drums) and Tony Williams (bass), briefly reformed in 2008 but only lasted for a few months. Post Steelers Wheel, Rafferty focused on his solo career. In February 1978, he released his biggest hit, the majestic Baker Street, which I featured in a previous Sunday Six installment. Sadly, Rafferty passed away from liver failure on January 4, 2011 at the young age of 63. His Steelers Wheel partner in crime Joseph Egan still appears to be alive. Stuck in the Middle With You, co-written by Rafferty and Egan and included on their eponymous debut album from October 1972, became their biggest hit. It climbed to no. 6 and no. 8 in the U.S. and UK mainstream single charts, respectively, and peaked at no. 2 in Canada. According to Wikipedia, Rafferty’s lyrics are a dismissive tale of a music industry cocktail party written and performed as a parody of Bob Dylan’s paranoia (the vocal impression, subject, and styling were so similar, listeners have wrongly attributed the song to Dylan since its release). This is one catchy tune! Aren’t you glad to be stuck with it? 🙂

Crowded House/Don’t Dream It’s Over

Since I included a new song by the reformed Crowded House in yesterday’s Best of What’s New, the Aussie pop rockers have been on my mind. In particular, it’s their biggest hit Don’t Dream It’s Over, released in October 1986 as the fourth single of their eponymous debut album that had appeared two months earlier. Crowded House were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by former Split Enz members Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, piano) and Paul Hester (drums, backing vocals), along with Nick Seymour (bass). Together with various guest musicians, who included producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards) and Jim Keltner (drums), among others, they recorded their debut album. The band first broke up in June 1996, had a couple of reunions thereafter and was reformed by Finn in December 2019 after he had finished his 2018-2019 tour with Fleetwood Mac. Including their new album Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House have released seven albums to date. Don’t Dream It’s Over was written by Neil Finn. Even though it was overexposed, I’ve always loved that song.

Joe Jackson Band/Awkward Age

For this next tune, let’s jump to the current century and Joe Jackson, a versatile British artist I’ve enjoyed listening to for many years. My introduction to Jackson was his second album I’m the Man from October 1979, which I received on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday the following year. I still own that copy! I’m the Man was recorded by Jackson’s initial band, which apart from him (lead vocals, piano) included Gary Sanford (guitar), Graham Maby (bass, backing vocals) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals). Which brings me to Awkward Age and Volume 4, Jackson’s 16th studio album released in March 2003, featuring the same classic lineup. While the sound of Volume 4 isn’t quite as raw as on I’m the Man, there are some clear similarities between the two albums. Like all other tracks on the record, Awkward Age was written by Jackson. I saw the man in May 2019 in the wake of his most recent album Fool that had come out in January that year and thought he still looked sharp.

Rod Stewart/Maggie May

For several months, I’ve wanted to feature this tune in The Sunday Six, but there was always a reason why I didn’t do it, such as avoiding to have too many ’70s songs in the same installment. Screw it, the time has come to get what is one of my longtime favorite Rod Stewart songs out of my system. Maggie May dates back to the days when the man with the smoky voice did what he does best: Performing roots and blues-oriented rock! Co-written by Stewart and British guitarist Martin Quittenton, the catchy song is from Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells a Story that came out in May 1971 – yet another great record that recently had its 50th anniversary! Quittenton was among the many musicians that backed Stewart on this record, who also included his Faces mates Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, among others. Stewart remained a member of Faces until they disbanded in December 1975, though tensions between him and the rest of the band had been brewing since the making of their final studio album Ooh La La from March 1973. Maggie May was also released separately in July 1971 as the b-side to the album’s first single Reason to Believe. Both songs became major hits, as did the album, which topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, UK and Australia.

The Beatles/If I Needed Someone

Time to wrap up this installment with my favorite band of all time. The song selection was triggered by a recent post from fellow blogger Hans at slicethelife about the top 100 Beatles songs, as voted as the listeners of The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM and presented over the recent Memorial Day holiday. While If I Needed Someone made the list, I thought the placement at no. 70 was measly and it bugged me. I happen to love this tune that was written by George Harrison and included on Rubber Soul, The Beatles’ studio album from December 1965 and the second record they released that year after Help! The track wasn’t featured on the North American release of Rubber Soul. Instead, it appeared on Yesterday and Today, the U.S. album that caused a storm over its cover showing The Beatles dressed in white coats and covered with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat. I guess you can put that one in the “What were they thinking?!” department. If I Needed Someone is a simple tune and more of a deep cut, but I still dig it. In fact, I would even go as far as calling it my favorite Beatles tune, depending on the day of the week! Ah, that jingle-jangle Rickenbacker sound did it once again! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week came and flew by. I can’t believe we are already in June, and the official beginning of summer (June 20) is just two weeks away. As usual, Saturday means taking a look at newly released music. All featured songs are on albums that came out yesterday (June 4).

This collection leads with a pop rock band from down under that initially was formed in 1985, reemerged in December 2019, and is now out with their first new studio album in 11 years. There is also new music by a rock band from New Jersey and, no, it’s not Bon Jovi, as well as a singer-songwriter of Nigerian heritage and a psychedelic folk rock band, both based in Nashville.

Crowded House/Start of Something

New music by Crowded House came as a surprise to me, especially since I had associated Neil Finn with Fleetwood Mac. Of course, he officially joined the band together with former Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell in April 2018 after the firing of Lindsey Buckingham. Finn and Campbell subsequently went on tour with the Mac for their extensive 2018-2019 tour of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Since the tour ended in November 2019, Fleetwood Mac have been in limbo. Mike Campbell went on to focus on his own band The Dirty Knobs and released their debut album in November 2020. And Finn decided to revive Crowded House, the Australian pop rock band he co-founded in Melbourne in 1985. After four studio albums the group broke up in June 1996. Following two reunions and two additional albums, Crowded House were on hiatus as of late 2016. In December 2019, Finn announced a new line-up that apart from him includes the band’s former producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), original co-founder Nick Seymour (bass), as well as Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (drums, guitar). Start of Something, co-written by Liam Finn and Neil Finn, is a track off Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House’s new album, their first since Intriguer from June 2010.

Latewaves/Enough Is Enough

Latewaves are a rock band from Asbury Park, N.J. According to their website, they were formed in 2016 and include Mike Pellegrino (guitars, vocals), Howie Cohen (bass, vocals) and Shawna Grabowski (drums). In August 2017, they released Face Down, the lead single of their debut EP Partied Out that appeared the following month. Latewaves describe their sound as “full of rage and attitude” and “full of explosive, guitar driven riffs.” Based on what I’ve heard thus far, I think that’s a fair characterization. I would also add their songs are relatively melodic. In that sense, they remind me a bit of Green Day. Here’s Enough Is Enough, a tune from their new and first full-length album Hell to Pay. The song is credited to all three members of the band.

Joy Oladokun/Someone That I Used to Be

Joy Oladokun is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who grew up in Casa Grande, Ariz. Both of her parents came to the U.S. as immigrants from Nigeria. According to her profile on Apple Music, Oladokun’s music fuses the deep emotions and confessional nature of classic singer/songwriters with music that encompasses contemporary folk, R&B, and pop…While she has been playing guitar since childhood, it wasn’t until 2015 that Oladokun quit her job and took a shot at realizing her dream of making music full-time. She released a solo acoustic EP, Cathedrals, that year and followed it up with 2016’s Carry, a full-band effort that included the single “Shelter,” which introduced her to a wider online audience...Full of personal, emotionally powerful songs, Carry helped Oladokun expand her audience, and she followed it up with touring in the United States and the United Kingdom. Someone That I Used to Be is the opener of Oladokun’s new and third studio album In Defense of My Own Happiness. I like it!

Sun Seeker/Gettin’ Tired

Sun Seeker are a psychedelic folk rock band from Nashville. Initially formed as a quartet of friends who had known each other from middle school, the band’s current line features Alex Benick (guitar, vocals), Asher Horton (bass guitar), and Ben Parks (drums), according to their website. Their Apple Music profile notes the band’s debut single appeared in 2016 after they had been signed by Third Man. The first EP Biddeford was released in the summer of the following year. Gettin’ Tired, co-written by Benick, Horton and Park, is a tune from Sun Seeker’s first full-length album A Sunrise in a Basement. I find this quite catchy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Latewaves website; Apple Music; Sun Seeker website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 14

Time again to go on some music time travel. For a change, this latest installment of my long-running music history feature around a specific date is skewed toward the ’80s. Usually, my favorite music decades the ’60s and ’70s rule these posts. Given it’s Valentine’s Day, I actually tried to discover a romantic song that was released on February 14, which I thought would be easy-peasy – well, not so. The closest I could find was an album that has various love songs. It’s part of the reason this post is more ’80s-focused.

1964: British beat group The Dave Clark Five released Bits and Pieces in the UK, the second single from their debut album Glad All Over. While it couldn’t quite match the chart success of the record’s title track that had knocked The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the top spot in the UK, the tune came pretty close, climbing to no. 2. Officially, Bits and Pieces was credited to the band’s leader, manager and drummer Dave Clark and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, though British singer-songwriter Ron Ryan claimed he actually had penned the tune. Bits and Pieces also became a U.S. single on March 20 that year, peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In this case, it beat Glad All Over, which had reached no. 6.

1970: Sly & The Family Stone hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). Yes, the words in parentheses are actually written that way. According to Wikipedia, it’s an intentional so-called “sensational spelling” for “thank you for letting me be myself again.” Written by Sly Stone, this great funk tune was part of a double-A single with Everybody Is a Star. Both songs had been intended for a studio album that was subsequently canned. Instead, the tunes ended up on the compilation Greatest Hits that appeared in November of the same year. Thank You was ranked at no. 410 on Rolling Stone’s December 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s one hot funky tune!

1980: Heart released their fifth studio album Bébé le Strange, which became their highest charting on the U.S. Billboard 200 at the time, climbing to no. 4. Here’s the title track co-written by Heart co-founders Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher, together with Sue Ennis, a frequent collaborator. By the time the album came out, Fisher had departed. Bébé le Strange also became the record’s second single but missed the Billboard Hot 100. Heart’s biggest chart success with their eponymous eighth studio album and the smash hit These Dreams was still five years away. I only know a handful of Heart’s songs and had not been familiar with this tune.

1985: Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album appeared. After an initial slow response, the album started to get traction in the summer of that year and eventually topped the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks in 1986. It spawned various singles, including three no. 1 hits. Here’s one of them: Saving All My Love for You, co-written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin. While musically it’s a typical ’80s ballad, Houston’s vocals were just extraordinary. Plus, it’s a fitting tune for all the love birds celebrating today.

1987: Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll on this one. New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Livin’ on a Prayer, their second chart-topper in the U.S. Co-written by frontman and lead vocalist Jon Bon Jovi, then-lead guitarist Richie Sambora and songwriter Desmond Child, Livin’ on a Prayer appeared on the band’s third studio album Slippery When Wet. It became an instant success in the U.S. and internationally and remains Bon Jovi’s best-selling album to date. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I think the band has some great songs. Okay, I have to say I much prefer how Jon Bon Jovi looks nowadays. But, hey, it was the hairy ’80s ! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Rock; YouTube

Clips & Pix: John Diva and the Rockets of Love/Voodoo, Sex and Vampires

I just came across this tune. While I don’t know about the combination of voodoo, sex and vampires and the lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespeare, I know one thing: This song rocks!

According to John Diva’s website, Since the likes of Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Ratt, Cinderella and Mötley Crüe strode the Earth delivering the goods, there has been a slow, steady decline in such dreams, such realities…thankfully, John Diva is here to strut such stuff for rockërs and rollërs worldwide, to spotlight his own hitherto unappreciated talents and to take the blazing  limelight in all it’s pink and purple lazered glory. Clever, huh?

Regardless of how you generally feel about hair or pop metal, a genre I largely ignore except for my occasional indulgence of Scorpions, Voodoo, Sex and Vampires is a great rock tune, at least in my book. Written by Diva, it’s the opener of the band’s new album American Amadeus released January 15. Also known as JDATROL, they have been around since 2009. American Amadeus appears to be their second studio album.

I find Voodoo, Sex and Vampires to be pretty catchy. Also, check out the neat harmony lead guitar action at about 2:15 minutes. They should have kept it going for longer. In addition to Diva, the band features Snake Rocket (guitar), J.J. Love (guitar) Remmie Martin (bass) and Lee Stingray (drums).

Sources: Wikipedia; John Diva website; YouTube

Bon Jovi Turn Political on New Album 2020

Bon Jovi released their long anticipated 15th studio album 2020 on Friday, October 2. Predictably, the reviews I’ve seen thus far are mixed. After some 37 years into their recording career, I think it’s safe to say at this stage the band isn’t going to change many minds one way or the other. And opinions about the Jersey rockers have clearly been divided for a long time.

While Jon Bon Jovi is no Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always liked Bon Jovi for their catchy brand of pop rock. In that regard, 2020 doesn’t break new ground. What’s different are the outspoken political lyrics of some of the songs. Eight of the 10 tracks were solely written by Jon Bon Jovi. Together with the album cover, which is the first to feature Jon Bon Jovi only since the band’s eponymous debut from January 1984, this makes it feel more like a solo record.

Bon Jovi (from left): Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Hugh McDonald, Phil X and Tico Torres

2020 clearly is a reflection of the current unsettling times America is going through. Why did Jon Bon Jovi turn political now? Is it all a calculated move not come across as tone-deaf during what increasingly looks like an unprecedented period in the country? I would argue that Jon Bon Jovi has supported political and social causes for a long time, so it’s not like he suddenly decided to raise issues because it looked convenient. Plus, given how divided the U.S. is, if anything, I could see him lose some fans over his turn to political lyrics. With that, let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Limitless, a classic Bon Jovi rocker with a memorable guitar theme and a catchy melody. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the band’s touring rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist John Shanks, and Billy Falcon, a frequent Bon Jovi collaborator since 2009, the song was first released as a single in February. Unlike most other tracks on the album, while the tune addresses the uncertainties of daily life, it has an upbeat outlook in the chorus: On a night like this/One prayer one wish/step out of the edge/It’s worth the risk/Life is limitless limitless. Perhaps this makes it a more typical Bon Jovi lyric.

Things definitely get darker in American Reckoning, one of the two songs that initially weren’t part of the album. Jon Bon Jovi penned this compelling tune about police brutality against African Americans during the COVID-19 quarantine. Like the opener, it also appeared first as a single, in July. America’s on fire/There’s protests in the street/Her conscience has been looted/And her soul is under siege/Another mother’s crying as history repeats/I can’t breathe/God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets/stay alive, stay alive/Shine a light, stay alive/Use your voice and you remember me/American reckoning…

Lower the Flag is about senseless school shootings we all too often witness in this country. The 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio inspired Jon Bon Jovi to write this tune. Perhaps the song’s most powerful part is toward the end when he lowers his voice, switching from singing to speaking. If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out/ If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out//El Paso, Texas/Dayton, Ohio/Las Vegas, Nevada/ Sebring, Florida/Orlando, Florida/Penn State University/ Aurora, Illinois/Virginia Beach, Virginia/Gilroy, California/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/ Marjory Stoneman Douglas High/ Columbine/Columbine/Sandy Hook Elementary… One really wonders how many more shootings and deaths it will take until those in charge have the backbone to stand up against the NRA and institute sensible gun control laws.

Next up: Blood in the Water, which addresses another big issue the country is facing: the plight of immigrants…Once I came across your border/Now they come to take me back/I sleep with one eye open/I don’t make waves, I don’t leave tracks/For my daughter and my three sons/It’s the only life they’ve known/To me it’s my asylum/These stars and stripes my home

The last tune I’d like to call out is Unbroken, the album’s closer. Yet another track solely written by Jon Bon Jovi, the song is about military veterans and their struggle with PTSD and other challenges. The song first appeared last November and was written for To Be of Service, a documentary about war veterans and their service dogs…We were taught to shoot our rifles/Men and women side by side/Thought we’d be met as liberators/In a thousand-year-old fight/I got this painful ringing in my ear/From an IED last night/But no lead-lined Humvee war machine/Could save my sergeant’s life

2020 was co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and John Shanks. Other musicians on the album include the current core members of Bon Jovi: Phil X (lead guitar, backing vocals), Hugh McDonald (bass), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Everett Bradley, a touring member like Shanks, provided percussion and backing vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another weekend brings another slate of new music. This installment of Best of What’s New features a nice mix of big name and lesser known artists. Genres include country-oriented rock, folk, indie rock and folk rock. Let’s get to it!

Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles/Do What You Can

Jon Bon Jovi and country band Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles joined forces for an updated version of Do What You Can, a tune from Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020 scheduled for October 2. Written during the early days of COVID-19, initially, the song only included the first verse and the chorus. Jon Bon Jovi invited fans via social media to contribute lyrics, essentially asking them to tell their own pandemic stories. He first revealed an acoustic version of the complete song during the Jersey4Jersey benefit online concert. The tune was subsequently released as a single on July 23. “As I finished the mix and did the video, I said, ‘Boy, this song would have such crossover potential’, Bon Jovi told Rolling Stone. “It makes you feel good and the message is just right on at this time that when you can’t do what you do, do what you can,” added Nettles during a recent Facebook chat. Do What You Can very much has the same feel of the artists’ previous collaboration Who Says You Can’t Go Home from 2006. Both tunes remind me of The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite John Mellencamp albums from 1987.

Jeff Tweedy/Love Is the King

American songwriter, musician and record producer Jeff Tweedy is best known as vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco, founded in 1994 by former members of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country group, which Tweedy co-founded as well. Between these two bands and his solo efforts, Tweedy has released close to 20 albums over the past 30 years. Love Is King is the title track of his fourth solo album that is set to come out on October 23. As reported by Pitchfork, Tweedy announced the tune on September 15, together with a second track of the forthcoming album, Guess Again. “At the beginning of the lockdown I started writing country songs to console myself,” he pointed out in an accompanying statement. “Folk and country type forms being the shapes that come most easily to me in a comforting way. “Guess Again” is a good example of the success I was having at pushing the world away, counting my blessings—taking stock in my good fortune to have love in my life. A few weeks later things began to sound like “Love Is the King”—a little more frayed around the edges with a lot more fear creeping in. Still hopeful but definitely discovering the limits of my own ability to self soothe.”

Elizabeth Cook/Perfect Girls of Pop

Elizabeth Cook is an American country singer-songwriter who has been an active recording artist since 2000. Originally, she hails from Wildwood, Fla. where she was born as the youngest of 12 children. Cook already joined her parents on stage at the age of 4. Her mother Joyce was a mandolin and guitar played and her dad Thomas played upright bass, which he had learned while serving time in an Atlanta prison for illicit production of high-proof distilled spirits. Cook holds the distinction of having performed more than 400 times on the Grand Ole Opry since her March 2000 debut, the most appearances to date by a non-member. Her studio debut The Blue Album came out in November 2000. Perfect Girls of Pop is a track from her seventh and most recent album Aftermath released on September 11. It’s catchy tune that sounds much more like indie pop rock than country.

Native Harrow/Carry On

Native Harrow are a folk rock duo from Eastern Pennsylvania, comprised of Devin Tuel (lead vocals, guitar) and her partner Stephen Harms (bass, drums, keyboards, guitar). Unfortunately, publicly available information on them is limited and the following is based on this Facebook piece and a review by Staccatofy. Carry On is a beautiful tune from Native Harrow’s fourth studio album Closeness, which came out on August 21. Two things about this song grabbed me right away: The warm sound, especially the keyboard, and the vocals by Tuel, who apparently is a classically trained singer. I also think the gospel style choir in the last third of the track is a perfect fit to what essentially is a gospel song. Tuel and Harms recorded the album’s 10 tunes at a Chicago studio together with drummer and engineer Alex Hall over the course of only two 3-day sessions in late December 2019 and early January 2020. The basic tracks were captured live in studio with Tuel, Harms and Hall on vocals/guitar, bass and drums, respectively. The album follows their 2019 release Happier Now.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; Facebook; Staccatofy; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A lot of cool new music I came across this week made it tough what to include in this latest installment of my recurring feature. That’s actually a nice problem to have, at least in my book. While you may not be a Bon Jovi fan, have you ever heard the Jersey rocker do an outright protest song? I certainly had not. Or how about a cool Byrds-ey-sounding psychedelic garage band called The Reverberations? Or young and amazingly talented bluegrass and Americana artist Molly Tuttle? These are just three of the artists I’m featuring this week. Do I have your attention?

Bon Jovi/American Reckoning

While a band that has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide has probably done more than one thing right, I realize opinions about Bon Jovi are divided. On most of their 14 studio albums that have come out so far over some 37 years, I can at find at least one or two songs I enjoy. American Reckoning, released July 10, will be on the band’s next album Bon Jovi 2020, which has been pushed back until December 31, 2020 due to you know what. Both the single and the album have something in common that’s new for Bon Jovi: Political lyrics. Written by Jon Bon Jovi, American Reckoning is a protest song reflecting on the death of George Floyd caused by reckless police action. “I was moved to write American Reckoning as a witness to history,” Bon Jovi said in a statement on the band’s website, “I believe the greatest gift of an artist is the ability to use their voice to speak to issues that move us.” All net proceeds from downloads of the song will support the Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative through December 31, 2020. Kudos!

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings/Hello in There

For some 28 years, country, folk, bluegrass and Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch has been writing and performing with her musical partner David Rawlings. The two first met during a music audition at Berklee College of Music in Boston where Welch majored in songwriting. Following her graduation in 1992, she moved to Nashville. Rawlings soon followed and they started to perform as a duo. After getting a record deal with Almo Sounds, they met T-Bone Burnett who had seen them perform. Burnett produced their debut album Revival, which like most of their records appeared under Welch’s name in April 1996. Welch and Rawlings have since released five additional studio albums. Hello in There is from their most recent release All the Good Times Are Past & Gone, a covers album that came out on July 10. The tune was written by John Prine and included on his 1971 eponymous debut album.

Will Hoge/Midway Hotel

Will Hoge is a singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to Wikipedia, which characterizes his music as Americana and southern rock, Hoge grew up in a musical family that influenced him. After enrolling in Western Kentucky University with plans to become a high school history teacher and basketball coach, Hoge realized music was his calling. In 1997, he released an EP with his band at the time Spoonful, but it wasn’t successful and the group disbanded. After self-releasing a live CD and his first studio album Carousel, Hoge managed to get a deal with Atlantic Records in early 2002. While it was short-lived, it resulted in his major label debut Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in March 2003. Hoge has since released seven additional studio records, as well as various EPs and live albums. Midway Motel, co-written by Hoge and Ricky Young, is the opener to Hoge’s most recent studio album Tiny Little Movies that appeared on June 26. I can hear some John Mellencamp in here.

Grace Potter/Eachother (feat. Jackson Browne, Marcus King & Lucius)

Grace Potter is a 37-year-old bluesy, roots rock-oriented singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actress, hailing from Waitsfield, Vt., who has released various albums solo and with her former band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the early 2000s. While studying theater at St. Laurence University, she met drummer Matt Burr. Together with bassist Courtright Beard, they formed the initial lineup of indie rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. In 2004, they self-released their debut album Original Soul. Four additional albums followed. In 2015, Potter’s solo album Midnight appeared. Potter left the band in 2017, shortly after announcing her divorce from Burr with whom she had been married since 2013. Another solo album, Daylight, appeared in October 2019. Eachother is Potter’s latest single released on May 22. Written by her during the early days of the pandemic, the ballad features Jackson Browne, blues artist Marcus King and indie pop band Lucius. Check it out!

Molly Tuttle/Helpless (feat. Old Crow Medicine Show)

Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems Molly Tuttle is what you could call a wunderkind. It’s virtually impossible to do full justice here to the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, banjo player and guitarist, who is focused on bluegrass and Americana. Tuttle is noted for her outstanding guitar skills, and she can definitely sing as well. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively. Molly started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her dad. At age 13, she recorded her first album with Jack. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017, followed by her first full-fledged album When You’re Ready in April 2019, which climbed to no. 5 and no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts. Her multiple accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards and Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association in 2017 and 2018. Molly who has lived in Nashville, Tenn. since 2015, has a new covers album scheduled for August 28, …but I’d rather be with you. It doesn’t include her beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless, which she released on May 22 and features Nashville-based Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show. The tune first appeared on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu album from March 1970.

The Reverberations/Under Your Spell

Let’s wrap things up with some really cool rock. The Reverberations are a five-piece from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” Based on what I’m hearing on their latest single Under Your Spell, that description hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the band has hardly published any information about themselves. Neither their Bandcamp nor their Facebook page provide any background – I don’t get it! Discogs lists two albums, Mess Up Your Mind (2016) and Changes (2019, along with various EPs and singles, dating back as far as 2015. Based on their photos on Facebook and Bandcamp, these guys don’t exactly look like high school kids, and with their Byrds-ey guitars, they certainly don’t sound like it. Whoever is familiar with my music taste knows that’s a sound I never get tired of. On Under Your Spell, which is the B-side of the band’s most recent single Palm Reader, I also love the keyboard work. And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art. Damn, now I feel I’m literally under their spell!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bon Jovi website; Apple Music; Grace Potter website; Molly Tuttle website; The Reverberations Facebook and Bandcamp pages; YouTube