What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final Sunday Six of 2021 – can’t believe I’m writing this! To those celebrating, I hope you had a nice Christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season. To everybody else, hope you’ve been having a great time anyway! Today, this weekly recurring feature is hitting a milestone with its 50th installment. It’s another eclectic set of music touching the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021. Ready for the last mini music excursion of the year? Let’s do it!

Frank Zappa/Pink Napkins

I’d like to start today’s music time travel with an artist I never thought I’d feature. While I recognize Frank Zappa was widely acclaimed, except for the weirdly catchy Bobby Brown Goes Down, I always found it difficult to listen to his music and never warmed to him. That being said, I’ve always known he was a pretty talented musician. When my streaming music provider served up Pink Napkins the other day, I was immediately intrigued by this guitar-driven instrumental. And, yes, I was quite surprised to learn I had just listened to Frank Zappa! Pink Napkins is from Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, the second in a series of three all-instrumental albums released in May 1981, which subsequently appeared as a box set in 1982. It’s a very improvisational collection of what essentially are guitar solos. While hey there, people, you may wonder, wonder, why Zappa released a massive collection of guitar solos, dare I say it, I actually dig Pink Napkins!

Pink Floyd/Stay

Next is what I would call a deep track from Pink Floyd’s catalog. Stay, co-written by the band’s keyboarder Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour, was included on the group’s seventh studio album Obscured by Clouds that came out in June 1972. It was the soundtrack for a French motion picture titled La Vallée and directed by Iranian-born Swiss film director and producer Barbet Schroeder. Among others, he’s known for directing Hollywood films Barfly (1987) and Single White Female (1992). While Obscured by Clouds didn’t match the chart performance of the group’s two preceding records Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, it still reached a respectable no. 6 in the UK. By comparison, it remained, well, a bit more obscure in the U.S. where it stalled at no. 46. This was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd’s next album The Dark Side of the Moon.

Little Richard/Good Golly, Miss Molly

Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to get movin’ and groovin’ with some killer classic rock & roll by the great Little Richard: Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball, whoo/Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball/When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’/Can’t hear your momma call…Even though I’ve listened to Good Golly, Miss Molly countless times since I first heard it 40-plus years ago, I’m still amazed by Richard’s energy. This man was a force of nature and an incredible performer. Good Golly, Miss Molly was co-written by John Marascalco and producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It was first recorded by Richard and appeared as a single in January 1958. It was also included on Richard’s eponymous sophomore album released in July of the same year.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Ways and Means

Let’s keep rockin’ and jump to 2021 and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. If you happened to read part 1 of my recent year-in-review feature, you may recall the name of this unusual country blues trio, which has been around since 2003. Ways and Means is the opener of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s energetic 10th studio album that came out back in April. Check out the official video, which is fun to watch. These guys are just amazing! Peyton is a really talented guitarist, and his singing ain’t too shabby either – my kind of reverend!

The Mamas & The Papas/Monday Monday

After two high-energy tunes, I’d like to slow it down a little with some beautiful sunshine pop from the ’60s. For the purposes of this feature, the tune really should have been titled “Sunday Sunday”, but I’ll gladly go with Monday Monday. The third single by The Mamas & The Papas, released in March 1966, became the L.A. vocal group’s only no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the group’s leader John Philipps, aka Papa John Phillips, the tune was a big hit outside the U.S. as well, reaching no. 2 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands; no. 3 in the UK; and no. 4 in Australia, among others. Monday Monday was also included on The Mamas & The Papas’ debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears from February of the same year. I’ve always loved their beautiful harmony singing.

Bonnie Raitt/You

I’d like to wrap up this installment with one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. Since I was introduced to her with Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve come to love her music and amazing slide guitar-playing. I also finally had a chance to see her in August 2016 in New Jersey. If you’re curious you can read more about the show here and watch a clip of the entire gig, which is still up! For this post, I’ve picked You, a beautiful tune from Raitt’s 12th studio album Longing in Their Hearts that appeared in March 1994. The song was co-written by John Shanks, Bob Thiele and Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian). Bonnie Raitt will tour in 2022. Man, would I love to catch her again – we’ll see whether conditions are going to responsibly allow it!

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Hiatt Done by Others

A playlist of the singer-songwriter’s tunes covered by other artists

Lately, I’ve been getting more into John Hiatt’s music. Last week, when writing about his excellent ninth studio album Slow Turning, I noted many other artists have covered the singer-songwriter’s tunes over the decades. The man is a true goldmine! This triggered the idea for this post to look at great renditions of Hiatt songs, some of which ended up becoming hits, unlike his originals. For each pick, I’m going to feature both a cover and Hiatt’s original version. I’m also adding a playlist at the end with additional covers and originals.

B.B. King & Eric Clapton/Riding with the King

In 2000, B.B. King and Eric Clapton teamed up for a collaboration album. They cleverly named it Riding with the King, after the title track of Hiatt’s sixth studio release from 1983. Released in June 2000, King’s and Clapton’s record hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart and won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.

Bob Dylan/The Usual

Here’s a terrific Bob Dylan cover of The Usual. This is from a soundtrack of the 1987 American motion picture Hearts of Fire, in which Dylan also co-starred, alongside Fiona Flanagan and Rupert Everett. I love the soulful vibe of this version! Hiatt recorded the original for his seventh studio album Warming Up to the Ice Age that appeared in January 1985. George Thorogood and the Destroyers also did a nice cover of The Usual on their 10th studio album Rockin’ My Life Away released in March 1997. Since I couldn’t find Dylan’s rendition in Spotify, I included Thorogood’s cover in the below playlist instead.

Bonnie Raitt/Thing Called Love

I suppose one of the best-known John Hiatt renditions is Thing Called Love by Bonnie Raitt. She included the tune on her tenth studio album Nick of Time from March 1989, which after years of personal and professional struggles finally gave her commercial breakthrough and her first no. 1 album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The song’s official video featured a flirtatious Dennis Quaid. Bonnie did not seem to mind! I was actually surprised to see the song didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, though it reached no. 11 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Hiatt included that tune on Bring the Family, his eighth studio record that appeared in May 1987.

Delbert McClinton/Have a Little Faith in Me

Have a Little Faith in Me is one of the most beautiful John Hiatt songs I know. Like Thing Called Love, it appeared on Bring the Family. Delbert McClinton included a great cover on his studio album from April 1992, titled Never Been Rocked Enough. This is just neat!

Emmylou Harris/Icy Blue Heart

The last tune I’d like to highlight in this post is Icy Blue Heart, a powerful track off Hiatt’s above noted Slow Turning album from August 1988. Emmylou Harris recorded a beautiful cover for her 15th studio album Bluebird released in January 1989. It features Bonnie Raitt on background vocals – what an amazing pairing! Frankly, Harris’ angelic voice can make me well up. I also love how her vocals bend with Bonnie’s. This is just stunning!

The below playlist includes some additional Hiatt covers by Aaron Neville (It Feels Like Rain), Iggy Pop (Something Wild), Linda Ronstadt (When We Ran), Willie Nelson (The Most Unoriginal Sin) and Jimmy Buffett (The Tiki Bar is Open). Hope you enjoy it as much, as I did putting together this post and playlist. And, as always, feel free to comment, especially if I missed your favorite John Hiatt cover!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Slow Turning

Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.

While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.

John Hiatt - Slow Turning - Amazon.com Music

What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.

In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.

Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.

Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.

This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!

Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.

Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Fanny/Fanny

Early ’70s group was an all-female rock trailblazer

When listening to the eponymous debut album by Fanny the other day, I knew immediately I was going to love this all-female rock band. I have to thank fellow blogger Max from PowerPop, who pointed them out to me. Not only were Fanny’s songs and musicianship compelling, but these four young women were true trailblazers for all-female rock in the early ’70s. Bands like The Runaways, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles were still unheard of. What’s also intriguing is that Fanny were formed by two Philippine-American sisters.

Before getting to some music, here’s a bit more background. Fanny were founded by June Millington (guitar) and her sister Jean Millington (bass) after they had moved from the Philippines to Sacramento, Calif. in 1961. Initially, the group was called Wild Honey that in turn had evolved from The Svelts, a group the sisters had started in high school. As Wild Honey were about to call it quits since they felt they didn’t have a chance to make it in a male-dominated rock scene, they were spotted during an open-mic appearance at LA’s prominent Troubadour Club by the attentive secretary of record producer Richard Perry.

Perry, who apparently had been looking for an all-female band to mentor, liked what he heard and convinced Warner Bros. to sign them to their Reprise Records label. Prior to recording their debut album, the group was renamed Fanny. According to their AllMusic profile, the name was suggested to Perry by none other than George Harrison. At the time, the band’s line-up included June Millington (vocals, guitar), Jean Millington (bass, vocals), Nickey Barclay (keyboards, vocals) and Alice de Buhr (drums). The Millington sisters had previously played with de Buhr in The Svelts.

This brings me to the band’s self-titled debut album, which appeared in December 1970 and was produced by Perry. Let’s kick it off with opener Come and Hold Me co-written by the Millington sisters. I love this tune, which sounds a song Christine McVie could have written for Fleetwood Mac in the ’70s. The excellent harmony singing is reminiscent of The Bangles. And check out Jean’s melodic bassline – so good!

I Just Realised is a great mid-tempo rocker penned by Barclay and June Millington. The raspy vocals are fantastic, which I believe are Barclay’s. I also love her honky-tonk style piano. Again, Jean does a great job on bass. June’s guitar work is cool as well. Man, these ladies were rockin’ and doing so at a pretty sophisticated level!

As I started listening to Conversation With a Cop, a great ballad by Barclay, I thought, ‘wait a moment, when was that tune written, in 1970 or in 2021?’ Check out the lyrics: …And I wonder how it feels to be afraid of everyone you see/I wonder why you keep those nervous fingers on your gun/I’ve done no wrong; I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog/Yeah, now don’t get me wrong, I’m just looking for some place to walk my dog. Just remarkable!

Here’s a cover of Cream’s Badge, which earned Fanny some radio play. Co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison, the tune appeared on Cream’s final studio album Goodbye from February 1969, and became their second-to-last single – all after the group already had broken up. I like how Fanny made the rendition their own!

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Seven Roads – and, boy, what an outstanding final track! The smoking rocker was co-written by the Millington sisters and de Buhr. Again, there’s great guitar work and a killer keyboard solo by Barclay.

According to Wikipedia, Fanny weren’t happy with Perry’s production of the record. They thought it didn’t show them at their best or reflect their live performances. Apparently, their sentiment improved on the next two records, which Perry produced as well.

Fanny was the first of five studio albums during the band’s run. June Millington, who felt constrained by the group’s format and had clashes with Barclay, left after the September 1973 release of Fanny’s forth album Mother’s Pride that had been produced by Todd Rundgren. Subsequently, De Buhr also departed. Fanny with a different line-up released one more album, Rock and Roll Survivors in 1974, before they split in 1975.

A forthcoming film, Fanny: The Right to Rock, documents the band’s history. For more information, visit https://www.fannythemovie.com. Here’s the trailer. This looks quite intriguing! As Bonnie Raitt notes, “Fanny was the first all-female rock band that could really play and really get some credibility within the musician community.” I think Raitt’s statement captures the essence of what made Fanny trailblazers, i.e., their high level of musicianship and great songs, I should add, not the fact that they were an all-female group.

To conclude, here’s what David Bowie wrote in colorful words about the group in Rolling Stone in late December 1999, as documented by the website Fanny Rocks: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Fanny Rocks website; YouTube

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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jackson Browne/For Everyman

The other day, I found myself listening to Redneck Friend, a great early rocker by Jackson Browne. This prompted me to pull up For Everyman, Browne’s sophomore album that came out in October 1973. While he’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve listened to him for 40 years, for the most part, I really didn’t know this record. Just like for many other artists I dig, I’m mostly familiar with certain songs and perhaps a handful of albums. It didn’t take me long to recognize what a gem For Everyman is, and I decided then and there to blog about it once I would get a chance.

As I started reading up on the album, one of the things that struck me first is the impressive cast of guests. David Crosby, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt are among Browne’s songwriter peers. In addition, you have top notch session musicians like David Lindley, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel, David Paich and Leland Sklar. Kunkel and Sklar were part of The Section, a group of top-notch musicians who together or individually backed the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Warren Zevon and, well, Jackson Browne.

While I completely realize that having high-caliber guests on an album doesn’t automatically guarantee high quality, a good rule of thumb is that great artists play with other great artists. These guys knew what they had in Jackson Browne. Yes, he already had released his well received eponymous debut album in January 1972. And, yes, he had written songs since the mid-’60s and given the Eagles their first single and top 40 U.S. hit with Take It Easy. Still, I find it impressive how well established the then-25-year-old artist already was at this early stage in his own recording career.

Let’s get to some music. Here’s Browne’s version of the aforementioned Take It Easy, the album’s opener. Originally, Browne began work on the song in 1971 and wanted to include it on his debut album. But he couldn’t finish it at the time. When he played the unfinished tune to his friend Glenn Frey, who lived in the same building, Frey completed the song and received a co-writing credit. At first, I preferred the Eagles’ version but over time, I’ve increasingly come to like Browne’s recording and now dig it at least as much as the rendition by the Eagles. That sweet pedal steel guitar was provided by Sneaky Pete Kleinow, an original member of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

What can I say about Colors of the Sun other than it’s a beautiful singer-songwriter type song. In addition to singing lead, Brown played piano on this track. Don Henley provided harmony vocals. It’s simply a great tune – no need to over-analyze. The neat acoustic guitar fill-ins were provided by David Lindley, an incredible musician who bears a significant degree of responsibility for the album’s great sound.

The last track on side one is These Days, a song Browne wrote as a 16-year-old. German singer-songwriter Nico was the first of many artists to record the tune. It was included on her debut album Chelsea Girl from October 1967. Another great version appeared in October 1973 on Gregg Allman’s first solo album Laid Back. Until Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood came out in September 2017, which features Browne as a guest on Allman’s cover of Brown’s Song for Adam, I had no idea these seemingly very different artists had great appreciation of each other and had been good friends. The beautiful harmony vocals on Browne’s original were provided by Doug Haywood who also played a great bass line. Once again Lindley shined, this time on slide guitar.

One to side two and the first track there, Redneck Friend, the tune that prompted my deep exploration of this album. This is one seductive melodic rocker featuring a killer cast of guests: Lindley (slide guitar), Elton John (piano) and Frey (backing vocals), along with Haywood (bass) and Keltner (drums). In addition to lead vocals, Browne provided rhythm guitar. Redneck Friend was also released separately as a single. While it spent 10 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, it only peaked at no. 85, significantly lower than Browne’s previous two singles Rock Me On the Water (no. 48) and Doctor, My Eyes (no. 8).

Next up: The Times You’ve Come. In addition to the track’s great melody, the standout to me is the melodic bass part by Leland Sklar – absolutely beautiful! I also want to call out Bonnie Raitt who sang harmony and Lindley’s acoustic guitar work.

This brings me to the title track, which is the album’s closer. The idea of the song came to Browne while he was temporarily living with David Crosby on his boat in the San Francisco Bay and met two of Crosby’s neighbors who also owned boats. All three boat owners shared the vision to escape on their boats and create a new civilization elsewhere – essentially the same theme Crosby, Stills & Nash had voiced on their 1969 single Wooden Ships. For Everyone featured Crosby on harmony vocals. Sklar (bass) and Lindley (acoustic and electric guitar) once again were among Browne’s backing musicians.

For Everyman was produced by Jackson Browne. Just like his eponymous debut album, For Everyman made the U.S. and Australian mainstream album charts, reaching no. 43 and no. 48, respectively. It was ranked at no. 450 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 edition of the list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album didn’t make the most recent revision from September 2020. While Browne’s Mount Rushmore Running on Empty was still four years away, For Everyman is a great early album by a singer-songwriter who after a close to 50-year recording career as a solo artist is still going strong.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music feature. It’s hard to believe we’re in September and that the Labor Day weekend is upon folks in the U.S. But as I’ve said before, summer doesn’t end until September 22, so we still got almost three weeks left! This week’s Best of What’s New includes four singer-songwriters: two from Nashville, one from Austin and the second-ever featured artist on my blog from Iceland. All tunes were released yesterday (September 3).

Vinnie Paolizzi/Babylon

I like to open this week’s post with a very promising looking young artist: Vinnie Paolizzi, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who originally hails from Philadelphia. According to his website, he brings thoughtful lyrics and old school sounds back to modern music. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his heroes; Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles, he moved to Nashville in 2017 and assembled a powerful band while making inroads in the songwriter community. Over the course of 2020 he released music he had written since leaving his hometown behind. Both full band and acoustic tracks were recorded at the legendary “Sound Emporium” studio in Nashville, TN with an all-star band including fellow songwriter Gabe Lee on keys and backing vocals, long time Philly musician Alexander Saddic on drums and vocals, and Nashville handyman Dalton Ray Brown on bass and vocals. Babylon, co-written by Paolizzi and Gabe Lee, who also supports Paolizzi on vocals, is the great closer of Paolizzi’s new EP Private Sky. Paolizzi’s soulful vocals remind me a bit of Marcus King. Looking forward to hearing more from him!

Ashland Craft/Travelin’ Kind

This next artist is also based in Nashville and like Vinnie Paolizzi didn’t grow up there: Ashland Craft, from South Carolina. From her profile on Bandsintown: Craft’s soul-infused vocals and ability to make a song her own landed her in the Top Ten on The Voice, before leading her to opening tour slots for major artists like Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and other notable acts. Since moving to Nashville in 2019, Craft has won fans with her catchy fusion of edgy country and soulful Southern rock…A true, lifelong music lover, Craft found her honky-tonk spirit and cut her teeth singing country and rock covers at a bar in South Carolina, and counts Def Leppard, Gretchen Wilson, Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer among her eclectic musical influences. Here’s the title track of her debut album Travelin’ Kind. I can definitely hear some Bonnie Raitt in this nice rocker and also dig Craft’s raspy voice.

Ásgeir/On the Edge

With this next track, I’m turning to an artist from Iceland, only the second from the Nordic island country, who is featured on my more than 5-year-old blog after rock band KALEO: Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, a singer-songwriter from the tiny village of Laugarbakki in the northeastern part of Iceland. According to his Apple Music profile, Many of his early lyrics were written by his poet father, Einar Georg Einarsson, who was in his seventies when his son’s debut album, Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, was released in 2012. Within his native Iceland, Ásgeir’s Dýrð í Dauðaþögn is the top-selling debut album ever, besting Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Björk. Following the success of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, Ásgeir worked with American singer-songwriter John Grant to develop an English-language version of the album, titled In the Silence. Einarsson who performs as Ásgeir has since released two additional English-language albums, various singles and his latest work, the EP The Sky is Painted Gray Today. Here’s On the Edge, which like the other three tracks on the EP is a gentle acoustic guitar tune.

Strand of Oaks/Somewhere in Chicago

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is music from Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter. According to his Apple Music profile, he specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. The next Strand of Oaks album In Heaven is scheduled for October 1. Here’s Somewhere in Chicago, the new and third upfront single. Love that sound – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Vinnie Paolizzi website; Bandsintown; Apple Music; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Perfectly Good Guitar

John Hiatt is a great artist I’ve been aware of for many years. I’m glad his excellent recent collaboration album with Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings, brought the acclaimed singer-songwriter back on my radar screen. It finally made me start exploring some of Hiatt’s other albums in their entirety, including Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio release that appeared in September 1993. I’m sure Hiatt aficionados are well aware of it; if you’re not and dig heartland and roots-oriented rock, you’re in for a treat.

Hiatt who was born in Indianapolis had a difficult childhood. After the death of his older brother and his father, he used watching IndyCar races and listening to music by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and blues artists as escape mechanisms. At the age of 11, Hiatt learned to play guitar and started his music career as a teenager in Indianapolis, playing local venues with the a variety of bands.

When he was 18, Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tenn. where he landed a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company. He also continued local performances, both solo and with a band called White Duck. Hiatt got his break in June 1974 when Three Dog Night turned his song Sure As I’m Sitting Here into a top 40 hit. His original version he had released as a single in February that year had gone nowhere.

In July 1973, Hiatt recorded his debut album Hangin Around The Observatory, which came out the following year. While it received favorable reviews, the album was a commercial failure. When the same thing happened with his sophomore release Overcoats, his label Epic Records was quick to drop him. Meanwhile, other artists kept covering Hiatt’s songs. Unfortunately, the story pretty much kept repeating itself until Bring the Family from May 1987, finally giving Hiatt his first album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 107.

Bring the Family featured the gems Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Willy DeVille, and the list goes on and on.

To date, Hiatt has released 28 albums, including two live records and two compilations. In 1991, he also formed the short-lived group Little Village together with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Previously, Hiatt had worked with each of the three artists on Bring the Family. After issuing a self-titled album in February 1992 and a short supporting tour the group disbanded.

Let’s get to some music from Perfectly Good Guitar. Here’s the great opener Something Wild. Like all other tracks except one, the tune was solely written by Hiatt. I dig the nice driving drum part by Brian McLeod. With the recent death of Charlie Watts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Satisfaction came to mind right away!

The title track perfectly captures my sentiments when I see footage of Pete Townshend trashing his guitar at the end of a Who gig; or Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire for that matter. Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars/ Smashing a perfectly good guitar/I don’t know who they think they are/Smashing a perfectly good guitar…Yes, of course, it was all for show and I believe Townshend at least glued some of his smashed guitars back together. And while I certainly don’t support jail sentences for guitar-smashing, destroying instruments still rubs me the wrong way! Instead, make some kid happy and give it to them! Who knows, you might even change their trajectory!

Another nice track is Buffalo River Home. I really like the guitar work on that tune.

Another track that got my attention, primarily because of the drum part, is Blue Telescope. McLeod’s drum work reminds me a bit of Steve Gadd’s action on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I have no idea whether Gadd’s unique drum part served as an inspiration here. Regardless, it sure as heck sounds cool to me!

The last track I’d like to call out is Old Habits, which has a great bluesy vibe. It’s the one song on the album Hiatt co-wrote with somebody else: Female singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. Similar to Hiatt, it appears her songs have been covered by many other artists, such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Irma Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d to acknowledge the other fine musicians on this great album. In addition to Hiatt (guitar, vocals, piano, organ) and MacLeod (drums, percussion), they include Michael Ward (guitar), Ravi Oli (electric sitar; Ravi Oli is a pseudonym of David Immerglück), Dennis Locorriere (harmony vocals) and John Pierce (bass guitar).

Perfectly Good Guitar was Hiatt’s last studio album with A&M Records. Once again, another great record failed to meet the commercial expectations of the label, though ironically, it became Hiatt’s most successful record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date, peaking at no. 47 on the Billboard 200. Hiatt subsequently signed with Capitol Records, which released his next two studio albums, including the Grammy-nominated Walk On from October 1995.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube