The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. To those who follow my blog I no longer need to explain the idea behind the weekly recurring feature. For first time visitors, basically, these posts celebrate music in many different flavors from different periods of time, spanning the past 60 to 70 years or so. Ready?

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Let’s start off our little musical excursion with one of the most beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals I know: Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. This track goes all the way back to the Mac’s beginning when they were a blues rock band led by amazing British guitarist, vocalist and co-founder Peter Green who also wrote Albatross. At the time this dreamy track was released as a non-album single in November 1968, Fleetwood Mac also featured co-founders Jeremy Spencer (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), as well as Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) who had just joined two months earlier. In fact, it was Kirwan who helped Green complete Albatross, which was recorded without Spencer. The tune was subsequently included on the U.S. and British compilation albums English Rose (January 1969) and The Pious Bird of Good Omen (August 1969), respectively. Green’s guitar tone is just unbelievable.

Supertramp/Take the Long Way Home

The other day, I found myself listening to Breakfast in America, the sixth studio album by English prog-rock-turned-pop band Supertramp. I got it on vinyl shortly after its release in March 1979 and own that copy to this day. While I played the record over and over again at the time, it’s still in fairly good shape. It also turns out I continue to enjoy the songs – something I certainly cannot say for a good deal of other music I listened to back then as a 13-year-old in Germany. Breakfast in America, which spawned various hit singles, was hugely popular in Germany where it topped the charts, just like in many other countries in Europe and beyond. Take the Long Way Home remains one of my favorite tracks from the album. Written by the band’s co-frontman and principal songwriter Roger Hodgson, the tune also became the record’s fourth single in October 1979. BTW, you also gotta love the cover art, which won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

John Prine/Angel From Montgomery

I still know very little about John Prine, who is widely viewed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation. But I’ve finally started listening to his music. According to Wikipedia, Prine has been called the “Mark Twain of songwriting.” The likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters have called out Prine. He mentored younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile and Margo Price. In fact, I first listened to at least one John Prine song a long time before I even knew his name: Bonnie Raitt’s great cover of Angel From Montgomery, which she recorded for her fourth studio album Streetlights that appeared in September 1974. Here’s the original from John Prine’s eponymous debut album released in 1971. I’m starting to like it as much as Raitt’s rendition.

Peter Frampton/Avalon

If you read my Best of What’s New installment from a week ago, you probably recall it featured a great instrumental cover of George Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity from Peter Frampton’s new album Peter Frampton Forgets the Words. Since my recent “discovery” of the all-instrumental record, I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Here’s another beautiful track that’s perfect for a Sunday morning: Avalon, the title song of the eighth and final studio album by English outfit Roxy Music, released in May 1982. Written by frontman Bryan Ferry, the tune also became the album’s second single in June 1982. I was a bit surprised to see it “only” reached no. 13 in England, while it didn’t chart at all in the U.S. – unlike the record that topped the charts in the UK and climbed to no. 53 in the U.S. and became Roxy Music’s best-selling album. In 1983, Ferry dissolved the band to focus on his solo career. In 2001, Roxy Music reformed for a 30th anniversary tour and was active on and off until they disbanded for good in 2011. Check out this great clip of Frampton and his band. Not only does he sound great, but you can clearly see how he and his fellow musicians enjoyed recording the tune. I don’t think you can fake this!

Traffic/Dear Mr. Fantasy

Time for some more ’60s music, don’t you agree? While I hate traffic when I’m in my car, I love it when it refers to the British rock band. Undoubtedly, much of my affection has to do with Steve Winwood, one of my long-time favorite artists. I get excited to this day when I hear the man sing and play his growling Hammond B-3. But amid all my love for Winwood, let’s not ignore excellent fellow musicians Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Dave Mason (guitar, bass, multiple other instruments, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, Hammond, percussion, vocals), who founded Traffic with Winwood in April 1967. It’s quite amazing that at that time, 18-year-old Winwood already had had a successful four-year career under his belly with The Spencer Davis Group. Dear Mr. Fantasy, co-written by Capaldi, Winwood and Wood, is from Traffic’s debut album Mr. Fantasy released in December 1967. When I saw Winwood live in March 2018, he played guitar on that tune, demonstrating his impressive fretboard chops.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

For the last tune in this Sunday Six installment, let’s have a true rock and soul party. In this context, I can’t think of anything better than this live clip of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, captured in June 2000 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden at the end of the band’s triumphant 1999-2000 reunion tour. In this 19-minute-plus version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the Boss is literally taking his audience to rock & soul church. Yes, it’s long and perhaps somewhat over the top, but I believe Springsteen was authentic when at some point he noted, “I’m not bull-shittin’ back here.” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, written by Springsteen and first appearing on his legendary breakthrough album Born to Run from August 1975, tells the story about the band’s formation. Watching this amazing footage, I get a bit emotional when seeing the big man Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, who sadly passed away in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Though at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful celebration of their lives. If you haven’t seen this, I encourage you to watch it. And even if it’s not your first time, it’s worthwhile watching again. Live music doesn’t get much better!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Top 5 Debut Albums Turning 50

Earlier this week, I wrote about my top 5 studio albums turning 50 this year. That post was inspired by “Top 50 Albums Turning 50,” a fun program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) I had caught the other day. But capturing the greatness of 1971 with just five albums really doesn’t do justice to one of the most remarkable years in music, so I decided to have some more fun with it.

This time, I’m looking at great debut albums from 1971. While that caveat substantially narrowed the universe, an initial search still resulted in close to 10 records I could have listed here. Following are my five favorites from that group, again in no particular order.

Electric Light Orchestra/The Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, were formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, along with drummer Bev Bevan, as an offshoot of British rock band The Move. The idea was to combine Beatlesque pop and rock with classical music. I always thought the result was somewhat weird, feeling like The Beatles and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” on steroids; yet at the same time, ELO created a signature sound and songs that undoubtedly were catchy. The band’s debut album, the only record with Wood, first came out in the UK on December 3, 1971 as The Electric Light Orchestra. In the U.S., it appeared in March 1972, titled No Answer. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, that title was accidental when a representative from U.S. label United Artists Records unsuccessfully tried to reach an ELO contact in the UK and wrote down “no answer” in his notes. Here’s the record’s opener 10538 Overture, a tune Lynne wrote, which initially was recorded by The Move to become a B-side to one of their singles.

Bill Withers/Just As I Am

Bill Withers got a relatively late start in music. By the time his debut single Three Nights and a Morning appeared in 1967, Withers already was a 29 year-old man who previously had served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. It took another four years before his debut album Just As I Am was released in May 1971. Unlike his first single that went unnoticed, the record became a significant success, reaching no. 35 and no. 37 in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, and peaking at no. 9 on the Billboard Soul charts. Much of the popularity was fueled by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, one of Withers’ best known songs and biggest hits. Just As I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones, who also played keyboards and guitar. Some of the other musicians on the album included M.G.’s bassist and drummer Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr., respectively, as well as Stephen Stills (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums). While Ain’t No Sunshine is the crown jewel, there’s more to this record. Check out Do It Good, a soul tune with a cool jazzy groove, written by Withers.

ZZ Top/ZZ Top’s First Album

While guitarist Billy Gibbons recorded ZZ Tops’s first single Salt Lick (backed by Miller’s Farm) in 1969 with Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), the band’s current line-up with Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) has existed since early 1970. This makes ZZ Top the longest-running group in music history with unchanged membership. It was also the current line-up that recorded the band’s debut ZZ Top’s First Album released on January 16, 1971. It was produced by Bill Ham, who was instrumental to ZZ Top’s success. Not only did he produce or co-produce all of their records until their 12th studio album Rhythmeen from September 1996, but he also served as the band’s manager until that year. Here’s the great blues rocker Brown Sugar, one of my favorite early ZZ Top tunes written by Gibbons.

Bonnie Raitt/Bonnie Raitt

As a long-time fan of the amazing Bonnie Raitt, picking her eponymous debut album for this post was an easy choice. According to Wikipedia, it was recorded at an empty summer camp located on an island on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. That location had been recommended to Raitt by John Koerner and Dave Ray, two close friends and fellow musicians. We recorded live on four tracks because we wanted a more spontaneous and natural feeling in the music, a feeling often sacrificed when the musicians know they can overdub their part on a separate track until it’s perfect, Raitt explained in the album’s liner notes. Here’s Mighty Tight Woman written and first recorded by Sippie Wallace as I’m a Mighty Tight Woman in 1926.

America/America

America sometimes are dismissed as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. I’ve loved this band since I was nine years old and listened for the first to their 1975 compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, which my six-year older sister had on vinyl. The folk rock trio of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar, piano) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass, guitar, piano) released their eponymous debut album on December 26, 1971 in the U.K. That was the year after they had met in London where their parents were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. version of the record, which appeared on January 12, 1972, included A Horse with No Name, a song that initially was released as the group’s first single and was not on the UK edition. Remarkably, that single became America’s biggest hit, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and France, and surging to no. 3 in the UK. Here’s a track from the original UK edition: Sandman written by Bunnell. Beckley and Bunnell still perform as America to this day. Peek left the group in 1977, renewed his Christian faith, and pursued a Christian pop music career. He passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. It’s another Sunday, which means it’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. The Sunday Six is where I feel I can stretch out, featuring all types of music from different decades. This new installment illustrates my point. It includes genres like instrumental pop, jazz pop, roots rock, country rock and blues rock, and touches on the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2010s. Are you ready to embark on a little music journey?

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Let’s get in the mood with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana. He may not be the most sophisticated guitarist from a strictly technical standpoint, but his tone is just unbelievable. I know of no other guitarist who sounds like Santana, and that’s what ultimately matters, not whether you’re a fretboard acrobat. While I generally most love his classic period that spans his first three albums, the tune I picked for this post, Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile), is from Moonflower released in October 1977. The double album features both studio and live tracks. She’s Not There, a nice cover of a song originally recorded by The Zombies in the mid-’60s, became a top 30 hit single for Santana. Europa, co-written by Carlos Santana and Tom Coster, first appeared on the March 1976 studio record Amigos. I’m more familiar with Moonflower, so I’m going with the live version here. Listen to this majestic guitar sound – so good!

Gino Vannelli/Brother to Brother

I don’t recall seeing any posts by my fellow bloggers about Gino Vannelli. While the Canadian singer-songwriter has been around as a recording artist since 1973, I suspect he may not necessarily be a household name. That being said, I assume most folks have heard some of his hits, such as the ballads I Just Wanna Stop (1978) and Living Inside Myself (1981), as well as the pop rock tunes Black Cars (1984) and Wild Horses (1987). Vannelli remains active to this day and has released 17 studio records, three live albums and one greatest hits compilation, according to Wikipedia. Brother to Brother is the amazing title track of his sixth studio album that came out in September 1978. While I Just Wanna Stop became the big hit off that album, the jazz-oriented Brother to Brother is far better. Written by Vannelli, the tune reaches the sophistication of Steely Dan’s Aja album, in my humble opinion. If you haven’t listened to this track before and like the Dan, check it out. You might be surprised!

Bonnie Raitt/Love Letter

Those who are familiar with my music taste may wonder what took me so long to feature Bonnie Raitt, one of favorite artists, in The Sunday Six. I don’t really have a good answer other than ‘better late than never!’ My long-time music buddy from Germany introduced me to Raitt in the late ’80s. I guess it must have been her 10th studio album Nick of Time, which to me remains a true gem to this day. While Raitt mostly relies on other songwriters, I love her renditions and her cool slide guitar playing. She also strikes me as no B.S., which is certainly not a very common quality in the oftentimes ego-driven music business. Nick of Time is perhaps best known for the single Thing Called Love, though according to Wikipedia, its chart success was moderate. The John Hiatt tune reached no. 86 on the UK Singles Chart and missed the mainstream chart in the U.S. altogether – though it did climb to no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. My pick from the album is Love Letter, written by another Bonnie, American singer-songwriter Bonnie Hayes. I simply love everything about this tune – the groove, the singing and Raitt’s sweet slide guitar sound.

John Mellencamp/Under the Boardwalk

John Mellencamp is another artist I’ve listened to for many years. If I recall it correctly, it was his eighth studio album Scarecrow released in August 1985 with tunes like Small Town and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. that started my long and ongoing journey exploring the music by the heartland and roots rocker from Seymour, Ind. Sure, I could have selected a track from that album. Or from the excellent successor The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains among my all-time favorite Mellencamp records. Instead, I decided to highlight an album that isn’t as well known but still great, in my view: Rough Harvest. Released in August 1999 (that month appears to be a favorite for his records!), the album features a collection of alternate, roots-oriented versions of Mellencamp originals and covers. Under the Boardwalk, of course, falls into the latter category. The first version of the song I ever heard was the great rendition by The Rolling Stones. Co-written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, it was first recorded by The Drifters in 1964 and became a no. 4 U.S. hit for the American doo-wop, R&B and soul vocal group. I think Mellencamp’s rootsy version takes the tune to a new level – just love it!

Cordovas/This Town’s a Drag

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name Cordovas may sound familiar; or perhaps you’ve heard otherwise of this Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. They first entered my radar screen in the summer of 2018 when I caught them during a free concert in a park not far from my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing proved to be an immediate attraction. So was their sound that reminds me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat. Led by bassist Joe Firstman, Cordovas have been around for more than 10 years. This Town’s a Drag is the opener of That Santa Fe Channel, the band’s third studio album from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Jimi Hendrix/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

I guess the time has come again to wrap up another Sunday Six installment. Let’s make it count with a smoking rocker by Jimi Hendrix who I trust needs no introduction. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is the fiery closer of Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in October 1968. Like most other tracks on this double album, the tune was written by Hendrix. The clip is taken from Live in Maui, one of the many post-mortem releases from the Hendrix archives. It captures an outdoor performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on July 30, 1970 on the Hawaiian island, only six weeks prior to Jimi’s untimely death on September 18 that year. Unlike Electric Ladyland, the band’s line-up during the gig featured Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding. Mitch Mitchell was on drums, just like on the studio album. The 2-CD and 3-LP set came out on November 20, 2020, along with a video documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui. It has received mixed reviews due to less than ideal recording conditions. I still think it’s cool to actually watch Hendrix in action rather than just listening to his blistering performance.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ladies Shaking Up Music – Part 2

Celebrating female artists in blues, country, jazz, rock & roll, soul and pop

Here’s the second part of my two-part post that celebrates some of the amazing female music artists I admire. Part I, which you can read here, covered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, as well as 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees Carole King and Tina Turner. I wouldn’t argue with you, if you’d tell me the aforementioned artists are obvious choices. Undoubtedly, three of the female music artists in this second installment fall in the same category. If you’re curious about my two remaining selections, I encourage you to read on. I also have a fun encore.

Bonnie Raitt

Since my often mentioned dear longtime German music friend introduced me to Bonnie Raitt more than 30 years ago, I’ve dug her both as a terrific slide guitarist and a genuine no BS type of artist. Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time I’m covering Raitt. I also got to see her live in New Jersey in August 2016, which was really cool, and wrote about here. Raitt who grew up in a musical family started playing the guitar as an eight-year-old, teaching herself by listening to blues records. After three years in college studying Social Relations and African Studies, she decided to drop out and follow her real calling: music. Since her eponymous debut from November 1971, 16 additional studio albums have appeared to date. Her most recent release is Dig In Deep from February 2016. My aforementioned concert was part of the supporting tour for that album. Here’s one of my all-time Bonnie Raitt favorites: Angel From Montgomery, a great tune written and first recorded by John Prine for his 1971 eponymous debut. Raitt covered the song on her fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt may “only” have been a cover artist (the same is pretty much true for Bonnie Raitt), but what an amazing and versatile vocalist! There’s a reason why she’s so widely admired. And why she’s the only female artist with five platinum-certified U.S. albums in a row in the ’70s. Between 1969 and 2004, Ronstadt released 24 studio albums in genres that varied from country and rock to traditional Mexican music, jazz and even Broadway/operetta. This woman could sing anything! In 2000, she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star Ronstadt officially stated she had retired from music. Two years later, she disclosed her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. If you’d like to learn more about this incredible artist, I’d encourage you to watch the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Or you can read this previous post. Here’s her pretty rendition of Neil Young tune Love Is a Rose, the opener of her sixth solo album Prisoner in Disguise from September 1975. That release was second of the above noted five platinum records in a row.

Sheryl Crow

If I recall it correctly, the first Sheryl Crow tune I heard was All I Wanna Do from her great 1993 debut Tuesday Night Music Club. I liked her style of catchy pop rock from the get-go and have pretty much listened to her ever since. To date, Crow has released 10 additional studio albums. When putting out her most recent one, Threads, in August 2019, which I reviewed here, Crow said it would probably be her final full-length album. She cited changed listening habits of most music consumers who compile their own playlists with songs from different artists rather than listening to entire albums from one artist. In the age of music streaming, that’s certainly easier than never before. While I still believe in albums, I have to admit most of the time, I listen to playlists as well! One of my favorite Cheryl Crow tunes is from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. Co-written by Crow and her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, it’s appropriately titled If It Makes You Happy. Indeed, it does!

Tierinii Jackson

Chances are this is the first time you hear of Tierinii Jackson, the lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, the latter name could ring a bell. This band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B, and is one of most exciting contemporary acts I know. Ever since I saw a post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast several years ago, I’ve followed the group and have since seen them twice. They are a fantastic live act. To date, Southern Avenue have released two albums: an eponymous debut (February 2017) and Keep On from May 2019. Recently, guitarist Ori Naftaly said on their Facebook fan page the group’s third album is mostly in the can. It’s scheduled for later this year. BTW, I’ve had a chance to exchange a few words with Jackson who is a humble and down to earth person. When I asked her where she learned to sing like this, she casually replied in church. Time for a little demo! Here’s the powerful picker-upper Don’t Give Up, a tune from Southern Avenue’s first album, as captured live by yours truly during a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019, the most recent time I saw them. While it was recorded with an aging iPhone, I think it gives you some idea what happens when Tierinii Jackson gets going. Multiply this by at least three and you probably have what being in the venue that evening felt like.

Molly Tuttle

The last artist I’d like to highlight is Molly Tuttle, who I feel is super-talented and has a great future ahead of her: The 28-year-old grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Nashville since 2015. She comes from a musical family. Tuttle started playing guitar at the age of eight and three years later already performed on stage with her father, Jack Tuttle, a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. She recorded her first album with him as a 13-year-old. In 2015, Tuttle joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Tuttle’s solo debut happened in October 2012 with the EP Rise. That same year, her impressive guitar skills were recognized by the International Bluegrass Association by awarding her Guitar Player of the Year, something she repeated in 2018. Among other accolades, Tuttle also won Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards. Here’s her terrific rendition of The Rolling Stones’ She’s a Rainbow from her most recent album …but I’d rather be with you from August 2020. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune originally appeared on the Stones’ 1967 studio album Their Satanic Majesties Request. Check out Tuttle’s incredibly fluid guitar-playing. This is just awesome! In case you’re wondering about Tuttle’s, she’s living with a condition called alopecia universalis, which results in total body hair loss. Usually, she wears wigs.

I’d like to wrap up things with where I started this two-part post: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I just couldn’t resist to present the following compilation clip of her guitar solos as an encore. Tharpe was a true gospel rock star who among others played a white badass Gibson SG! In case you weren’t aware, now you know where Chuck Berry learned a trick or two. The one caveat is the footage wasn’t published under Tharpe’s name or by a record company, so it’s hard to tell how long this clip will stay on YouTube. Let’s enjoy while it lasts!

Sources: Wikipedia; Southern Avenue Facebook fan page; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Boy, have I been looking forward to this Sunday! While spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, to me, the switch from standard to daylight savings time here in New Jersey and most U.S. states marks the unofficial beginning. Oh, in case I just reminded you and you had forgotten to adjust your watches, you’re welcome! 🙂 Sunday is fun day, so if you’re like me and in the mood for some music, I’ll invite you to read on and check out the clips. I think I put together a nice and diverse set of tracks.

Neil Cowley/Berlin Nights

Let’s kick it off with some beautiful ambient music by English contemporary pianist and composer Neil Cowley. Cowley was born in London in November 1972. He began as a classical pianist and already at the age of 10 performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts I don’t know, including Mission Impossible, The Brand New Heavies, Gabrielle and Zero 7. It looks like his first album Displaced appeared in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. He has since released 14 additional records as a band leader or co-leader. Cowley has also worked as a sideman for various other artists, most notably Adele. Berlin Nights, composed by Cowley, is from his new solo album Hall of Mirrors that appeared on March 5. I find it super relaxing and can literally see a city nightscape before my eyes while listening.

Randy Newman/Guilty

Randy Newman needs no introduction, though he certainly deserves more of my attention. Based on my relatively limited knowledge of his catalog, here is one of my favorites, Guilty, from his fourth studio album Good Old Boys released in September 1974. Written by Newman, the tune was first recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her third studio album Takin’ My Time from October 1973, an excellent cover!

Rosanne Cash/Good Intent

There is lots of talent in the Johnny CashJune Carter Cash family. This includes Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin. Sadly, I’ve yet to explore Rosanne Cash who started her recording career in 1978 with her eponymous solo album and has since released 13 additional studio albums. Good Intent, co-written by Cash and her longtime collaborator John Leventhal, is included on her 12th studio album Black Cadillac from January 2006. I absolutely love the warm sound of that song and Cash’s vocals. This is a true gem!

The Byrds/Goin’ Back

The Byrds have written so many amazing songs. I also don’t get tired of Rickenbacker maestro Roger McGuinn and his jingle-jangle guitar sound. While it’s perhaps not as well known as Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, I’ll Feel a Lot Better and Eight Miles High, Goin’ Back has become one of my absolute favorite tunes by The Byrds. It was wo-written by the songwriting powerhouse of Carole King and Gerry Goffin and is yet another reason why Carole King who is nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year should be inducted! Goin’ Back was first released by Dusty Springfield in July 1966, giving her a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Byrds included their rendition on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers from January 1968. It was less successful, peaking at no. 89 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and missing the charts in the UK altogether. Regardless, I think it’s a terrific tune with a beautiful atmosphere.

Kim Carnes/Mistaken Identity

Kim Carnes is best known for her cover of Bette Davis Eyes, her international smash hit from 1981. The American singer-songwriter’s recording career started 10 years earlier with her first release Rest on Me. More Love, a cover of a Smokey Robinson tune, brought Carnes her first successful U.S. single in 1980, hitting no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis Eyes the following year became the biggest hit of her career. It was part of Carnes’ sixth studio album Mistaken Identity from April 1981. Here’s the title track written by Carnes. I’ve always dug her husky vocals. BTW, now 75 years old, she still appears to be active.

The Beatles/I Saw Her Standing There

This Sunday Six installment has been on the softer side, so as I’m wrapping up, it’s time to step on the gas with a great rock & roll song by my favorite band of all time: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles. Primarily written by Paul McCartney, but as usual credited to him and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener of The Beatles’ UK debut album Please Please Me that came out in March 1963. In December of the same year, Capitol Records released the tune in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want to Hold Your Hand, the label’s first single by The Beatles. Ready? One, two, three, four…

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Great Covers, B.r.u.c.e. Style

Over his nearly 50-year recording career, Bruce Springsteen has amassed an enormous catalog. He could easily fill up his 3 to 4-hour shows he routinely plays with just his own songs and still not even perform half of the tunes he has written over the decades. Yet The Boss has always liked to mix up his sets with covers. Why? I think it’s because Springsteen loves great music and to honor the artists behind it.

The latest reminder is The Live Series: Songs Under Cover Vol. 2, a new album released on March 5 as part of Springsteen’s ongoing series of concert releases. It’s available via digital download at https://live.brucespringsteen.net and on music streaming services. With The E Street Band, Springsteen has the perfect group of road-tested warriors to back him. Just like Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers used to do, these guys can play anything. The new album triggered the idea to do a post on covers, B.r.u.c.e. style.

In the Midnight Hour

I couldn’t think of a better tune to kick things off than with a Stax gem. Here’s Springsteen’s version of In the Midnight Hour. Apparently, this was captured at Nassau Veterans Coliseum on Long Island, N.Y. in 1980 during The River Tour. Written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, the song was first recorded by Pickett, one of my favorite Stax artists, and appeared in June 1965. It also became the title track of Pickett’s second studio album that appeared in the same year.

Who’ll Stop the Rain

Who’ll Stop the Rain is one of my long-time favorite tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Written by John Fogerty, the track was included on the band’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory from July 1970. It’s one of the covers included on Springstreen’s new live release. This was recorded at London’s Wembley Arena in June 1981. Great version. I love the sax work by “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons – just wish his solo would have been longer!

Sweet Soul Music

Here’s an amazing version of Sweet Soul Music, another soul classic. Co-written by Sam Cooke, Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and first released by Conley in 1967. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were on fire that night in Stockholm, Sweden in July 1988. It was around the same time I saw Springsteen first in Frankfurt, Germany. I will never forget that show. Springsteen and the E Street Band belted out one cover after the other for more than one hour. Technically, I guess this was the encore. If I recall it correctly, they also played Sweet Soul Music in addition to gems like In the Midnight Hour, Land of a Thousand Dances and Shout. It was just unbelievable!

Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited is another highlight from Springsteen’s latest live release. For this rendition at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in December 1990, Springsteen got a little help from his friends Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. It really doesn’t get much better! Written by Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited became the title track of his sixth studio album from August 1965. Check this out – this is to die for!

Twist & Shout/La Bamba

This fantastic medley of Twist & Shout and La Bamba was captured during the Human Rights Now! Tour, a series of 20 benefit concerts conducted in 1988 to raise awareness of Amnesty International during the year of the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Twist & Shout, co-written by Bert Berns and Phil Medley, was first recorded and released by American R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961. La Bamba, a Mexican folk song, became broadly popular in 1968 through the amazing rendition by Ritchie Valens – one of the artists who died in that plane crash near Mason City, Iowa in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, together with Buddy Holly.

Rockin’ All Over the World

Let’s wrap up this post with another John Fogerty classic that became the title track for Status Quo’s 10th studio album from November 1977, and a huge hit for the British boogie rockers. Fogerty originally recorded Rockin’ All Over the World for his self-titled sophomore solo album that came out in September 1975. Bruce and the boys played the song during a gig at Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland in July 2012. As Springsteen said, “let’s do it right – alright!” Man, would I have loved to be there!

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube

Woke Up This Morning, With the Blues in My Head (Ahhh)…

Woke up this morning, with the blues in my head…

I don’t even want to pretend I know how to write lyrics, so let’s better stop it right here. But the content of these words largely reflects the truth, if you allow that “the blues in my head” actually was a set of headphones and that I was listening to a Buddy Guy tune, followed by a Walter Trout song this morning.

While I never need an excuse to blog about music I dig, the aforementioned little episode gave me the idea to put together a post about blues and blues rock tunes, so I wanted to acknowledge it. In fact, I would say the majority of my blogging is triggered by spontaneous music encounters. With that explanation out of the way, let’s get to some music!

Buddy Guy/I Suffer With the Blues

Given the intro, it makes sense to kick things off with Buddy Guy. This is a tune from his 1967 debut album Left My Blues in San Francisco. I Suffer With the Blues was written by Guy who today, more than 50 years years later at age 84, still plays his energetic brand of electric guitar blues. I guess he wasn’t kidding when he titled his 17th studio album from July 2015 Born to Play Guitar, an amazing album, btw.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

Boy, would I have loved to see Janis Joplin in concert! Her incredibly powerful voice and her energy were just off the charts. Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) is the incredible opener of what sadly was Joplin’s only solo album that appeared during her short lifetime, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, released in September 1969. The tune was co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor.

Walter Trout/All Out Of Tears

Since I listened to Survivor Blues, Walter Trout’s aptly titled studio album from Jan 2019, I’ve really come to dig this bluesman who originally is from New Jersey. After overcoming alcohol and drug addiction in the ’80s and making it through a liver transplant necessitated by liver failure, Trout perhaps is the ultimate blues rock survivor. All Out Of Tears is a tune from is most recent album Ordinary Madness that came out in August 2020. The great slow blues, which has a bit of a Gary Moore vibe, was co-written by him, his wife and manager Marie Trout and blues fellow artist Teeny Tucker.

Bonnie Raitt/Mighty Tight Woman

While Bonnie Raitt crosses genres, I simply couldn’t do this post without including her. She’s one of my all-time favorite artists, not only because of her extraordinary slide guitar playing, but also because of her sincerity. Raitt covered Mighty Tight Woman, a Sippie Wallace tune, on her eponymous debut album from November 1971.

B.B. King/What Happened

B.B. King needs no further introduction. I pretty much could have picked any tune. What Happened is from Completely Well, King’s 17th studio album released in December 1969, which is best known for his cover of The Thrill Is Gone. What Happened holds the distinction of being the only tune on the album, which was written by King.

Dani Wilde/Bring Your Loving Home

The blues is a genre that has a number of great young female guitarists. One is 35-year-old Dani Wilde from South West England. At age 22, she was signed to Ruf Records, an independent German blues label, a force in blues with an impressive roster of artists. A significant portion of them are women. Bring Your Loving Home, written by Wilde, is the opener of her debut album Heal My Blues from 2008.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

A post about blues tunes really would be incomplete without Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sadly, this amazing guitarist from Texas lost his life already at age 35 in a helicopter crash, one of so many talented musicians who died in air travel accidents. Pride and Joy, written by Vaughan, appeared on his debut album Texas Floods released in June 1983. He’s also an artist I would have loved to see live.

Ana Popović/Fearless

Serbian blues singer and guitarist Ana Popović, who currently resides in Los Angeles, is another talented female artist who started her solo career at Ruf Records with the album Hush! from January 2001. Written by Popović, Fearless is the opener of her fifth studio album Unconditional that came out in August 2011.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Don’t Leave Me Here

One of the coolest collaboration albums I know is TajMo from May 2017, which brought together two blues greats from different generations: Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. I was fortunate to catch them during a tour they did that year to support the album – one of the best shows I’ve seen. Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here cowritten by Gary Nicholson, Mo’ and Mahal.

Eliana Cargnelutti/Just For Me

Time to wrap up this post. How many female blues guitarists from Italy do you know? Had you asked me that question a few years ago, I would have come up completely empty. I “discovered” Eliana Cargnelutti in January 2019, when I did a feature on female blues artists. The 31-year-old from Udine, Italy, who is yet another artist on Ruf Records’ roster, has released two albums to date. Here is Just For Me, a track from Cargnelutti’s sophomore album Electric Woman  released in January 2015.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Of Slides and Bottlenecks

The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!

I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.

How to Play Slide Guitar - Quickstart Guide | Zing Instruments

Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.

The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.

Clockwise starting from left in upper row: Sylvester Weaver, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Brian Jones, Mike Boomfield, Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks

The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.

Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.

One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.

Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.

The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.

Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.

In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.

Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.

A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.

Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!

Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Yola/Walk Through Fire

When I included the latest single by Yola in my last Best of What’s New installment, I noticed her first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire received many accolades. Since the strong voice of the English singer-songwriter immediately grabbed me, I checked it out and have to say it’s a true gem, both musically and in terms of her vocal performance.

Getting to that point wasn’t exactly an easy path for Yola who was born as Yolanda Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England. According to this review in Popmatters, Yola had a tough childhood characterized by poverty and a parent who didn’t care for her and banned music. Later she lived homeless in London for some time before establishing herself as a session singer and touring with acts like DJ collective Bugz in the Attic and electronic music outfit Massive Attack.

Yola Carter

In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. But ultimately, as her artist profile in Apple Music notes, Yola felt the need to strike out on her own. Over the next few years, she started writing her own songs that were influenced by Muscle Shoals era country-soul, R&B and classic singer-songwriter style. In 2016, she released her debut EP Orphan Offering under the name of Yola Carter.

Eventually, Yola went to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach after he had seen a video of her. Apparently, Auerbach was immediately impressed by her. “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice,” he reportedly said. “She has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” Auerbach teamed up with Yola to co-write songs, together with other writers, including Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Dan Penn.

Yola and Dan Auerbach

Auerbach also assembled an impressive group of seasoned studio musicians, including Dave Roe (bass), who played with Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among others; harmonica player Charlie McCoy (credits include Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, etc.) and drummer Gene Crisman, who together with Bobby Wood was a member of the Memphis Boys. They were the house band of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn. where artists like Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield recorded. Auerbach also produced Walk Through Fire, which appeared in February 2019 on his Easy Eye Sound label.

With all of the above, it’s not surprising the album has a retro late ’60s sound. This is also matched by the cover. And yet, to me, Walk Through Fire feels like an album that will hold up well over time. It simply is a work of beauty. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Faraway Look. The track was co-written by Auerbach, McLaughin and Yola. BTW, McLaughlin’s compositions have been performed by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others. Sure, the production might be a bit on the lush side, but this is just a beautiful tune.

Ride Out in the Country is another great track. The song was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Joe Allen. Allen is a county songwriter and bassist who since the early ’70s has worked with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

Next up is the title track, which according to Wikipedia references both a fire that damaged Yola’s home and an abusive relationship from which she escaped. The tune was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Dan Penn. Penn has co-written many soul hits of the ’60s, including The Dark End of the Street and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Cry Like a Baby.

Rock Me Gently is my current favorite on the album. It’s another Auerbach-Allen-Yola co-write.

Let’s do one more: Love All Night (Work All Day), co-credited to Wood, Auerbach and Yola.

As noted above, Walk Through Fire was very well received. The album also generated three Grammy nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song (Faraway Look) and Best New Artist. Walk Through Fire was also nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. And, yes, the album also did score a win: UK Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards.

At age 37, Yola still is relatively young. I look forward to much more great music from this talented songwriter and vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popmatters; Apple Music; YouTube