Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the first installment of Best of What’s New for 2021. Hope everybody had a great and safe transition into the new year. I don’t you how you feel, but I’ve already forgotten 2020 – I wish, but well, not quite. In any case, good riddance and hopefully on to a better year!

I’m kicking off the year with three lesser known bands/artists and something new by a band that had their heyday in the ’70s: Badfinger. Yep, you read that correctly, though there are some caveats. It’s really Joey Molland, the only surviving member from their classic line-up who with a little help from some friends has come out with newly recorded versions of Badfinger tunes. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

The Dirty Nil/Done with Drugs

Yes, as hard as it’s to believe, there are actually some new music releases dated January 1st, though based on Apple Music, I could only find a handful. One is from The Dirty Nil, a Canadian alternative rock band from Hamilton, Ontario. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Done with Drugs is from their new album out today cheerfully titled Fuck Art. The song “is actually my commentary on people’s interaction with social media and posting all their resolutions and stuff on the internet, which I just find fascinating…rather than just making life decisions by themselves and being private about it,” Bentham told Apple Music. The band, which combines punk and grunge music with relatively catchy melodies, reminds me a bit of Green Day.

Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights/Ramblewood Parkway

Ramblewood Parkway, a great blues rocker, is the new single by Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights, which was released on December 25. I’ve written before about this New Jersey rock band led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Jarod Clemons, the youngest son of the late Clarence Clemons, the amazing saxophone player of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Founded in June 2019, the band also includes Zach Tyler (guitar, backing vocals), Stephen Verdi (keyboards), Alex Fuhring (bass) and John DiNunzio (drums/percussion).

Henry Nowhere/Sad Songs

Henry Nowhere couldn’t have chosen a better stage name, since background information on him is nowhere to be found. Neither his Facebook page nor his Soundcloud include a profile. I’m sorry but I really don’t get it, especially in this day and age! After a bit of detective work, I came across this Billboard story, which provided some clues. Born Henry Moser, he used to be the touring bassist for Day Wave, an Oakland, Calif. indie rock project formed by musician Jackson Phillips in 2015. In September 2018, Nowhere struck out by himself with an EP, Not Going Back. Again, the title appears to have been appropriate, since Nowhere evidently has continued his solo career and released what appears to be his second EP on December 18: Think About Me. Which definitely would be easier with more of an online presence! Anyway, here’s Sad Songs.

Badfinger featuring Sonny Landreth/Suitcase

Joey Molland, the only surviving member from Badfinger’s classic line-up, has been pretty busy lately. Apart from releasing Be True to Yourself in mid October, his first new solo album in 10 years, Molland has teamed up with different guest artists to put out new versions of various Badfinger songs this year, all released under the Badfinger name. The most recent example is a great remake of Suitcase featuring Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, which appeared December 8. Written by Molland, Suitcase originally was included on Badfinger’s fourth studio album Straight Up, which was first released in the U.S. in December 1971. Other previous newly recorded Badfinger tunes include Midnight Caller (with The Legendary Pink Dots – October 26), Come and Get It (with Rick Wakeman – September 29), Day After Day (with Ian Anderson and Terry Reid – July 30) and Baby Blue (with Matthew Sweet – May 28).

Sources: Wikipedia; Facebook; Billboard; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

New music never stops, even on Christmas. I almost would have forgotten today is Friday, meaning it’s time again for Best of What’s New. BTW, this is the 40th installment of the recurring feature. Let’s get to it!

Eddie Vedder/Matter of Time

Matter of Time is the title track of a new solo EP released by Eddie Vedder today. Initially, the Pearl Jam frontman had put out the tune as a single on November 18. The EP features four additional tracks, including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Growin’ Up. As reported by Blabbermouth.net, Vedder premiered Matter of Time and Say Hi, another tune from the EP, during Venture Into Cures, a digital event presented by EB Research Partnership. Co-founded by Vedder and his wife Jill, the non-profit organization funds research for epidermolysis bullosa, a group of devastating and life-threatening skin disorders that affect children from birth. I salute music artists taking on such noble causes. It’s also quite a powerful tune and video clip!

Slaughter Beach, Dog/Are You There

The first thing that struck me about Slaughter Beach, Dog is “Slaughter Beach, Dog.” Who comes up with such a weird name? It turns out singer-songwriter Jake Ewald, who initially started this indie rock outfit in 2014 as a side project to Modern Baseball, his then primary indie rock band from Philadelphia. In October 2017, Ewald confirmed Modern Baseball is on indefinite hiatus. Slaughter Beach, Dog has since become his main focus. In addition to Ewald (vocals, guitar), the group’s regular line-up also features Nick Harris (guitar), Ian Farmer (bass) and Zack Robbins (drums). Slaughter Beach, Dog put out their debut album Welcome in 2016. Since Modern Baseball’s hiatus, three other albums have appeared, including At the Moonbase released December 24. According to this review in Consequence of Sound, Ewald wrote and recorded the album alone at his house and recording studio. Here’s the opener Are You There.

CMON/Blue-ray Saturday

CMON is a project by Josh Da Costa and Jamen Whitelock who initially started Regal Degal in 2009, a band Apple Music noted dabbled in everything from distorted synth punk to repetitive Krautrock-styled jamming over the next several years. After Regal Degal disbanded, Da Costa and Whitelock formed CMON and released their eponymous EP in 2018. According to Apple Music, The duo kept some of the textural atmospheres of their previous band but leaned heavily into programmed rhythm and disco-pop grooves on their 2020 debut Confusing Mix of Nations. Blue-ray Saturday is CMON’s new single that appeared December 10. The melodic mid-tempo tune doesn’t sound at all like disco-pop. If anything, the melody of the laid-back tune reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. In any case, I like the feel of it. Plus, it’s quite catchy!

Sea Girls/This Is The End

Sea Girls are an indie rock band from England I first featured in an August Best of What’s New installment. They were founded in London in 2015 and include Henry Camamile (vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Noswad (bass) and Oli Khan (drums). Following their June 2017 debut single Call Me Out and a series of additional self-released singles and three EPs, the band secured a deal with Polydor Records in 2019 and released their full-length debut album Open Up Your Head on August 14 this year. This Is The End is their new single that came out on December 4. Back in August, I called the band’s guitar-driven sound catchy. I still stand behind that statement. The title also makes the song an appropriate choice to wrap up this installment.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Consequence of Sound; Apple Music; YouTube

The Year that was 2020 – Part 1 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

At first, the thought of writing a year in review type post didn’t look very appealing. After all, it’s safe to assume most of us can’t wait to kiss 2020 goodbye and erase it from our memories. This certainly describes my sentiments in many ways. But while the past 12 months brought unprecedented challenges, including for the music business, I think not all was doom and gloom. Initially, this was supposed to be one post. Then, it got longer and longer, so I decided to break it up in two parts. Here’s part 1

The good and the bad…

On the positive side, the music industry recorded rising revenue fueled by streaming. As Music Business Worldwide noted in September, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported a 5.6% year-over-over increase in total U.S. recorded music retail revenue to $5.6 billion for the first half of 2020. This included a 12% surge in streaming music revenue to $4.8 billion. If streaming kept that pace in the second half of the year, it would be up one billion year-over-year. However, according to this Billboard story from earlier this week, growth in streaming volume has stalled since the end of June.

At the same time, the concert business, the main source of income for most artists, is in the toilet. The Los Angeles Times recently reported America’s largest concert promoter Live Nation experienced a nosedive in revenue of 98% and 95% during the summer and fall, respectively. The same article also stated 90% of independent performance venues will close for good without government aid, while long-established venues like the Troubador in L.A. are hanging on but face an uncertain future. This doesn’t only put the livelihoods of many artists at risk but also of all the folks working at performance venues or whose job are otherwise tied to live entertainment.

New music kept coming out

Despite COVID-19, new music continued to be released throughout the year – lots of it. In fact, at least some of this activity can be explained by the pandemic. Artists who weren’t able to tour found themselves with more time on their hands to work on new material. New albums by Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney are just some of the examples that come to my mind in this context.

I’m happy new music was a major theme for my blog in 2020, more than ever before. As frequent visitors know, I’m not talking about music you can find in the present mainstream charts. As of this blog post, I reviewed more than 20 new albums. That’s only counting new original music, not other releases, such as new installments from Springsteen’s great live bootleg series or James Taylor’s cover album of the American songbook. Yes, while I know next to nothing about American standards, I did review that album and enjoyed listening to it!

Frankly, I could have reviewed more new albums. I didn’t. In addition to lack of time, part of the reason was because of Best of What’s New. This weekly recurring feature on newly released music, which I launched in March, focuses on songs rather than entire albums.

It’s gratifying to me that except for one time due to a death in my close family, I posted new installments each week, meaning I’ve been able to discover new music week after week I found decent enough to write about. Keep in mind this is the same guy who as recently as last year kept complaining how “terrible” contemporary music is! I forgot one important qualifier: Music that’s in the mainstream charts. Let’s take a look at some of the new music I wrote about over the past 12 months.

My favorite new albums

While it’s hard to narrow things down, from the 20-plus new albums I reviewed the four ones I feel most excited about are AC/DC/Power Up (released November 18), Walter Trout/Ordinary Madness (August 28), Norah Jones/Pick Me Up Off the Floor (June 12) and Ruby Turner/Love Was Here (January 24). Following is a tune from each:

AC/DC: Shot in the Dark (Power Up)

Shot in the Dark, the album’s great lead single, is classic AC/DC and makes you feel you just time-travelled back to 1980. Like all other tracks on Power Up, it was co-written by Angus Young and his older brother Malcolm Young during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. You can read more about Power Up here, a must listen to for AC/DC fans.

Walter Trout: Wanna Dance (Ordinary Madness)

I love Walter Trout, a no BS artist and decent guitarist who has lived through dramatic ups and downs. Perhaps, he’s the ultimate blues rock survivor! Here’s Wanna Dance. “I had Neil Young and Crazy Horse in mind when I wrote the tune,” Trout told American Songwriter. Dancing is a metaphor for enjoying and celebrating every moment in life, since We ain’t gonna live forever, as Trout sings. He knows all too well. This is one hell of a blues rocker! See here for more about Ordinary Madness.

Norah Jones: Flame Twin (Pick Me Up Off the Floor)

I had been aware and always liked Norah Jones and her piano-driven lounge style jazz for ,any years, but had never explored any of her albums. I’m glad Flame Twin from her seventh studio album Pick Me Up Off the Floor finally changed this. Written by Jones, the tune injects a dose of blues, which rarely if ever is a bad thing in my book. I also dig the Hammond B3 accents from Pete Remm who plays electric guitar as well. And, of course, there are Jones’ great soothing vocals and piano playing. Like other songs on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the tune was inspired by poetry. My review of this great album is here.

Ruby Turner: Don’t Cry Over Yesterday (Love Was Here)

Don’t Cry Over Yesterday was the track that made me listen to Love Was Here, a beautiful classic soul album by British soul, gospel and R&B vocalist Ruby Turner. I hadn’t heard of Turner before, even though she’s performed since 1983 and worked with other artists like Bryan FerrySteve WinwoodMick Jagger and UB40. “Discovering” great artists like her is part of the reason why I love music blogging. If you’re into ’70s style soul, I’d encourage you to check out this album, a true gem! You can read more about it here.

Other new 2020 studio releases I’d like to call out include McCartney III (Paul McCartney), Letter to You (Bruce Springsteen), Bless Your Heart (The Allman Betts Band), Hate for Sale (Pretenders), Rough and Rowdy Ways (Bob Dylan), Homegrown (Neil Young), Self-Made Man (Larkin Poe), Blues with Friends (Dion), Early Morning Rain (Steve Forbert) and El Dorado (Marcus King).

In part 2 of this post, I’m revisiting the Best of What’s New feature and concerts before wrapping things up with final thoughts.

Sources: Music Business Worldwide; Billboard; Los Angeles Times; Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week flew by that was pretty busy, which hardly left any opportunity to focus on music. And even as I’m writing this on a Saturday, I feel pressed for time. While this sucks it’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, so I don’t want to wine too much about it.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence the music in this latest Best of What’s New installment is on the quiet side – no crunchy rockers or the kind of smoking hot blues I dig this week. I still like what I found and hope so will folks who read this. All of these tracks are on releases that appeared yesterday (December 11).

David Nail/Roach Motel

Let’s kick it off with David Nail, a Nashville-based country singer-songwriter who was born and grew up in Kennett, Mo. In 2002, he recorded an eponymous album that generated a charting country single, Memphis, but due to staff changes at his then-label Universal Music Group Nashville, the record never appeared. His first released album became the appropriately titled I’m About to Come Alive in August 2009. After putting out three more solo albums, Nail formed David Nail & The Well Ravens in July 2018, an independent project with longtime colleagues Jason Hall and Andrew Petroff. They independently released the album Only This And Nothing More in September 2018. Roach Motel is from Nail’s new solo EP Bootheel. To me, this tune has a Bruce Springsteen feel, which is what drew me in right away.

Helios/Never Will You Be Without

It’s safe to assume ambient music isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I like it on occasion, especially when I’m in the mood to relax. Behind Helios is composer and multi-instrumentalist Keith Kenniff, who according to his Apple Music profile is also known for his neo-classical work as Goldmund. His recordings as Helios typically mix moody synthesizer textures and slow, glitchy beats with fragile melodies played on pianos, guitars, and other acoustic instruments. After establishing the Helios sound and gaining a cult following for his early releases, particularly 2006’s Eingya, Kenniff became an in-demand composer for film, television, and advertising. He remained prolific, regularly issuing albums as both Helios and Goldmund, in addition to making shoegaze/indie pop along with his wife, Hollie Kenniff, as Mint Julep…Keith Kenniff was raised in rural Pennsylvania, where he learned to play drums, guitar, and bass. He began playing piano while studying percussion at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and began recording music as Helios in 2001. Never Will You Be Without is a track from the new album Domicile, Kenniff’s 12th released as Healios.

Taylor Swift/champagne problems

Taylor Swift needs no further introduction. While I’ve always respected Swift for being an artist who writes her own songs and also is a musician and liked some of her early tunes, I haven’t closely followed her. In part that’s because some of her more recent releases I’ve heard sound too much like contemporary mainstream. Regardless how you feel about her, there’s no question Swift who only turns 31 tomorrow is a very talented and accomplished artist. I mean, who am I to judge her in the first place? Plus, champagne problems, a tune from Swift’s new album evermore, sounds very different from the aforementioned mainstream pop. Apple Music characterizes it as “cozy home-studio vibes for more bare soles arrangements and bare-soul lyrics, casually intimate and narratively rich.” Wow, that’s many words I couldn’t have come up with myself, which is why I also could never make it as a music critic! However you want to describe it, I just like champagne problems, which was co-written by Swift and William Bowery, and that’s good enough for me to feature the tune here. Admittedly, it does make me curious to take a closer look at the rest of the album.

Randall King/Around Forever

Randall King is a country singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Texas, and an artist I probably would have ignored as recently as 5-10 years ago when I pretty much didn’t listen to country music. Well, I guess things have changed since then. Blame it in part on John Mellencamp, an artist I’ve loved for many years, and his transition from straight heartland rock to roots/Americana/country-oriented music. Another factor is the evolution of the country genre itself where you have massive crossover action. According to his Apple Music artist profile, King has an ear for steel guitar and the genre’s classic Americana roots. Inspired by country legend George Strait, King released his debut EP, Another Bullet, in 2016. He collaborated with Americana group Flatland Cavalry in 2016, singing a duet with frontman Cleto Cordero on the honky-tonk rocker “Hard Livin’ Illene.”His first album, 2018’s self-produced Randall King, was a major breakthrough, debuting in the Top 10 on iTunes’ Top Country Albums chart. Around Forever, written by King together with singer-songwriters Josh Miller and Will Bundy, is a tune from King’s new EP Leanna.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again for a Rock Marathon

Next Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving, classic rock radio station Q104.3 starts their annual marathon of counting down the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time.” The list, which takes a broad definition that goes beyond classic rock in the traditional sense, is based on listener submissions of their top 10 favorite songs.

Playing the entire list from song no. 1,043 all the way down to no. 1 will take from Wednesday, November 25, 9:00 a.m. (EST) until Sunday, November 29, sometime in the evening, usually between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day at noon, the countdown is interrupted for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

This year marks the 20th time of Q104.3’s holiday tradition. Each year, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the eternal no. 1. While the station doesn’t disclose actual vote counts, each year I’ve listened they said Stairway won by a substantial margin.

Rigged voting? I don’t think so. Q104.3 plays plenty of Zep as part of their regular rotation. One of their DJs, Carol Miller, who has been on the air since 1973, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and hosts the long running segment Get the Led Out. As such, I think it’s safe to assume many folks who listen to Q104.3 dig Zeppelin. And, honestly, if I could only choose one classic rock song, I also would go with Stairway.

Admittedly, the entire exercise is a bit nerdy but quite appealing to a music nut like myself. BTW, each submission is weighted equally, so the order of the picks doesn’t matter. But think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio? Most stations tend to play a limited set of tracks over and over again.

Above is an image of my picks for this year and below are clips of the corresponding tunes. While I still dig all of my picks from last year, this time, I deliberately decided to shake things up and submit an entirely new list. And it doesn’t even include two of my favorite bands of all time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention Led Zeppelin. Here are my choices without further explanation, other than these are all songs I dig, though they aren’t necessarily my all-time favorites.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple Haze (non-album single, March 1967)

Creedence Clearwater RevivalBorn on the Bayou (Bayou Country, January 1969)

The Allman Brothers BandBlack Hearted Woman (The Allman Brothers Band, November 1969)

The WhoThe Seeker (non-album single, March 1970)

Bruce SpringsteenBobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., June 1984)

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersMary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits, November 1993)

Lenny KravitzRock and Roll Is Dead (Circus, September 1995)

Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow, September 1996)

PretendersHate for Sale (Hate for Sale, July 2020)

AC/DCShot in the Dark (Power Up, November 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Still Is the Boss on New Album, Backed by Mighty E Street Band

While not breaking new ground, Letter to You sounds reassuringly fresh and full of energy

Yesterday, Bruce Springsteen released his 20th studio album Letter to You and his first with The E Street Band since High Hopes from January 2014 – wow, until I read that in some reviews, it had not occurred to me it’s been more than six years! While musically speaking Letter to You doesn’t include anything we haven’t heard from Springsteen before, I just love this album!

At 71 years, The Boss demonstrates he still knows how to write great rock songs. The E Street Band sound as mighty sweet as ever and once again prove why they are the ideal backing band for Springsteen. And, yes, admittedly, when you lose a loved one and live through a seemingly never-ending pandemic, listening to great music that in many ways sounds familiar provides reassurance that some things don’t change. I take some stability during these unsettling times!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9216850a) Bruce Springsteen, center, performs with Nils Lofgren, left, and Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band during their concert at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band just don’t want to leave the stage. The concert, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia lasted nearly four hours, four minutes, breaking the previous record for the group’s longest U.S. show set last week Bruce Springsteen Longest Show, Los Angeles, USA – 7 Sep 2016

“The impetus for a lot of the material was the loss of my good friend George Theiss,” Springsteen told Apple Music. Theiss was the guitarist of The Castiles, the first “serious” band Springsteen joined in 1965. According to Castiles.net, the other members were Paul Popkin (guitar, vocals), Frank Marziotti (bass) and Bart Haynes (drums). In May 1966, Springsteen had his first-ever studio session with The Castiles, during which they recorded two original songs. With the death of Theiss in July 2018, Springsteen remains the band’s only surviving member.

“There’s aging and loss of people as time goes by, and that’s a part of what the record is,” Springsteen further pointed out. “And then at the same time, you’re sort of celebrating the fact that the band goes on and we carry their spirits with us.”

But while much of Letter to You sounds familiar, there is one thing that’s new. “It was a great project for us because I don’t think we ever played live together in the studio and then kept everything that we did on the full take – all the singing, all the playing, it’s really, it’s the E Street Band really completely live. And I overdubbed a few solos and things, but it’s really, it’s really the band in one shot,” Springsteen told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview. I’ve yet to listen to all of it. You can watch it here.

The current line-up of The E Street Band features Steven Van Zandt (guitar, vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, vocals), Roy Bittan (piano, vocals), Charles Giodarno (organ, vocals), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Jake Clemons (saxophone), Garry Tallent (bass, vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums, vocals). Except for Clemons and Giodarno, this line-up has been in place since 1995. Van Zandt’s, Bittan’s, Tallent’s and Weinberg’s tenures go back much further to the mid-’70s. Obviously, this is a tight band, and it shows! Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener One Minute You’re Here. “It’s unusual to start a record with its quietest song,” Springsteen commented to Apple Music. “The record really starts with ‘Letter to You,’ but there’s this little preface that lets you know what the record is going to encompass. The record starts with ‘One Minute You’re Here’ and then ends with ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams,’ which are both songs about mortality and death. It was just sort of a little tip of the hat to where the record was going to go and a little slightly connected to [2019’s] Western Stars. It was a little transitional piece of music.”

Since I already covered the album’s great title track in a previous Best of What New installment, I’m skipping it here and go to Janey Needs a Shooter, one of three tracks on Letter to You, which Springsteen wrote prior to his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. All other songs were written more recently. “We were working on a lot of stuff that I have in the vault to put out again at some time, and I went through almost a whole record of pre-Greetings From Asbury Park music that was all acoustic, and these songs were inside them,” Springsteen said. “The guys came in and I said, ‘Okay. Today we’re going to record songs that are 50 years old, and we’re going to see what happens.’ The modern band playing those ideas that I had as a 22-year-old—and for some reason it just fit on the record, because the record skips through time.” Well, I wholeheartedly agree and love the rich sound of that tune!

Last Man Standing is a tribute to George Theiss. “That particular song was directly due to George’s passing and me finding out that out of that group of people, I’m kind of here on my own, honoring the guys that I learned my craft with between the ages of 14 and 17 or 18,” Springsteen said. “Those were some of the deepest learning years of my life—learning how to be onstage, learning how to write, learning how to front the band, learning how to put together a show, learning how to play for all different kinds of audiences at fireman’s fairs, at union halls, at CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances, and just really honing your craft.” This is the perfect tune for some sax work, and Jake Clemons makes his uncle proud.

Next up: House of a Thousand Guitars. “Every piece of music has its demands—what tone in my voice is going to feel right for this particular piece of music—and you try to meet it in the middle,” Springsteen explained. “That’s one of my favorite songs on the record; I’m not exactly sure why yet. It’s at the center of the record and it speaks to this world that the band and I have attempted to create with its values, its ideas, its codes, since we started. And it collects all of that into one piece of music, into this imaginary house of a thousand guitars.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the above noted I’ll See You in My Dreams, which together with One Minute You’re Here bookends the album. “I remember a lot of my dreams and I always have,” Springsteen said. “But that song was basically about those that pass away don’t ever really leave us. They visit me in my dreams several times a year. Clarence will come up a couple times in a year. Or I’ll see Danny. They just show up in very absurd, sometimes in abstract ways in the middle of strange stories. But they’re there, and it’s actually a lovely thing to revisit with them in that way. The pain slips away, the love remains, and they live in that love and walk alongside you and your ancestors and your life companions as a part of your spirit. So the song is basically about that: ‘Hey. I’m not going to see you at the next session, but I’ll see you in my dreams.'”

Letter to You was recorded over just four days in November 2019 at Springsteen’s home studio. The album was co-produced by Springsteen and Ron Aniello, who also produced Western Stars, and co-produced High Hopes and predecessor Wrecking Ball from March 2012. Coinciding with Letter to You is the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You, a 90-minute documentary about the making of the album. It’s available on Apple TV+. If you’re a subscriber, you can watch it here. There are also two free trailers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Castiles.net; YouTube

Bon Jovi Turn Political on New Album 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While sadly my time to blog and read posts by my fellow music bloggers has been very limited over the past couple of weeks, the good news is the music never stops. It’s great to see this includes decent new releases. I’m particularly excited about new music by Bruce Springsteen, one of my all-time favorite artists. This installment of Best of What’s New also features two great blues artists and a soulful roots/Americana singer-songwriter. Let’s get to it.

Bruce Springsteen/Letter to You

Bruce Springsteen announced a new album with the E Street Band on September 10. Letter to You, his 20th album, is slated for October 23. The Boss and his band mates recorded it at his home studio in just five days. The album features nine recently written tracks and three re-recorded but previously unreleased songs from the ’70s. Springsteen’s website characterized Letter to You as a rock album fueled by the band’s heart-stopping, house-rocking signature sound. Apparently, Springsteen is pretty upbeat about it. “I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he stated. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs… It turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.” Here’s the official video of the title track. Sounds like classic Boss to me and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!

Al Basile/Second Wind

When it comes to the blues, you rarely can go wrong, in my completely unbiased opinion. So I was a happy camper when I came across Second Wind by Al Basile – yet another artist I don’t believe I had heard of before, even though he’s been around for close to 50 years! According to his website, Basile began his musical career as a cornet player with Roomful of Blues in 1973, and has worked with the Duke Robillard Band as a songwriter and recording member since 1990, appearing on twelve CDs and a DVD; his songs have been used in films and television and covered by such artists as Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls, and bands New Jump Blues and the Knickerbocker All Stars. He has fifteen solo blues and roots CDs out under his own name, the majority having reached the top 15 on the Living Blues airplay charts in their year of release. They have all been produced by Robillard and feature his guitar playing and many former Roomful members...He is also a prize-winning poet, with two published books, 2011’s A Lit House and 2017’s Tonesmith. But unlike Brian May, Basile is not an astrophysicist – what an underachiever! Second Wind is a tune from Basile’s new album Last Hand, which appeared on August 21.

Kat Riggins/No Sale

And what’s even better than the blues? Of course, more blues, especially when it’s delivered by a great vocalist and rocks! From the website of Kat Riggins, a blues artist born in the blues capital of the world Miami: Inspired by the variety and abundance of music in her parents’ collection, it makes sense that her own music is peppered with hints of R&B, soul, country, gospel, hip-hop, and rock-n-roll. Make no mistake; however, Kat Riggins is undeniably a BLUES WOMAN! She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. While obviously influenced by those icons, Mrs. Riggins has a voice and delivery all her own. Full of power, rasp and grit she can belt out one of her contemporary blues originals one minute, then deliver a tender, sultry standard the next. Based on Discogs, Riggins released her debut Lilly Rose in 2014. No Sale is a nice blues rocker off her new and fourth album Cry Out that appeared on August 14. It’s got a bit of a ZZ Top vibe. As noted in a review on Rock & Blues Muse, the album was produced by blues veteran and songwriter Mike Zito, co-founder of the record’s label Gulf Coast Records, who also played guitar.

Oliver Wood/Soul of This Town

Soul of This Town is the debut solo single by guitarist Oliver Wood, who since 2004 has been playing together with his brother Chris Wood (upright bass) and Jano Rix (drums) in roots/Americana trio The Wood Brothers. Prior to that, he was part of Tinsley Ellis’ touring lineup and headed his own band King Johnson that released six albums over a 12-year span. Evidently, here’s another artist who has been around for 30-plus years and had escaped my attention until now. With The Wood Brothers, he has released six albums to date. Wood co-wrote Soul of This Town with Phil Cook, a singer-songwriter from Raleigh, N.C. The single was released on August 21. I can also recommend the bluesy B-side The Battle is over (But the War Goes On).

Sources: Wikipedia; Bruce Springsteen website; Al Basile website; Kat Riggins website; Discogs; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Releases Latest Installment from Bootleg Live Series

The Live Series: Stripped Down features acoustic versions of songs captured between 1986 and 2005

Without much fanfare, Bruce Springsteen released another collection from his officially sanctioned bootleg live series on July 17. The Live Series: Stripped Down features 15 acoustic renditions of Springsteen tunes captured at seven shows in the U.S. and Europe between 1986 and 2005.

Other than short posts on Springsteen’s Facebook page and Twitter handle, there was no big announcement, and there does not appear to be a significant marketing push behind the album. That’s no longer necessary in the age of social media, especially when your target audience is your longtime fans, which I suspect is the case here. This is not about making a big buck. It’s also save to assume Springsteen is not a poor man.

Examples of previous releases of The Live Series (from left): Songs of Summer, Songs Under Cover, Songs of the Road and Songs of Friendship

In fact, had it not been for my music streaming service, I wouldn’t have known about this album! After searching the Internet, I found some additional background information on Alice Cooper radio show/station Nights with Alice Cooper and ABC News Radio, which are my main sources for this post.

The album combines Springsteen classics, such as Dancing in the Dark, Born to Run and The River, with deeper cuts/rarities like When You’re Alone, Cynthia and Seeds. Previous installments in the Live Series include Songs Of SummerSongs Under CoverSongs Of The RoadSongs Of FriendshipSongs Of HopeSongs Of Love, and Songs From Around The World. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Dancing in the Dark, recorded at a gig in Mountain View, Calif. in October 1986. Originally, the song appeared on the Born in the U.S.A. album from June 1984. I think I prefer this stripped down rendition over the studio version, particular the accordion work by Danny Federici and the female backing vocalist – not sure it’s Patti Scialfa.

Here’s Soul Driver, captured at a show in Los Angeles in November 1990. At the time of the performance, the tune was still unreleased and Springsteen announces it as a new song. It would appear on the Human Touch album from March 1992. Frankly, while I own that record, I haven’t listened to it in a long time, so didn’t recall that particular track. Spontaneously, again I would say I like this acoustic version better than the studio recording.

Bobby Jean is one of my favorite tunes from Born in the U.S.A., so I simply couldn’t skip it – another great acoustic rendition that sounds very Dylanesque to me. It was captured at a show in Belfast, Northern Ireland in March 1996. I feel Springsteen’s emotions come out better in this rendition than the original.

Adam Raised a Cain is the second tune on Darkness on the Edge of Town, the fourth studio album The Boss released in June 1978. This stripped back version was recorded during a gig at Springsteen’s elementary school in his home town of Freehold, N.J. in November 1996 – how cool is that! It’s an interesting contrast to the much more rock-oriented original.

Let’s do one more: This Hard Land, a Springsteen tune that first appeared on his first compilation Greatest Hits from February 1995 as one of four then-previously unreleased tracks. The version on this album is from a show that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in June 2005. The Boss is a great storyteller, and I feel this stripped down acoustic setting really serves him well.

Nights with Alice Cooper included the following quote from Springsteen: “It’s like you come out and you fall in love every night in some way. When you’re doing it right, it’s like a rebirth, y’know? It’s not a repetition — it’s a renewal — so that involves something happening every night for the first time. And, amazingly enough, it’s like your first kiss in that there’s something in playing. There were thousands of other times, but still when you come out there’s some element of the first time that’s very, very present. And it keeps you very open and present and it’s what people feel.”

Here’s the setlist:

Dancing in the Dark (Mountain View, CA, Shoreline Amphitheatre, 10/13/1986)
Seeds (Mountain View, CA, Shoreline Amphitheatre, 10/13/1986)
Born to Run (New York City, NY, Madison Square Garden, 5/23/1988)
Soul Driver (Los Angeles, CA, The Shrine, 11/16/1990)
Bobby Jean (Belfast, UK, King’s Hall, 3/19/1996)
Adam Raised a Cain (Freehold, NJ, St. Rose of Lima School, 11/8/1996)
Youngstown (Belfast, UK, King’s Hall, 3/19/1996)
Independence Day (Asbury Park, NJ, Paramount Theatre, 11/24/1996)
Two Hearts (Freehold, NJ, St. Rose of Lima School, 11/8/1996)
When You’re Alone (Asbury Park, NJ, Paramount Theatre, 11/24/1996)
The River (Grand Rapids, MI, Van Andel Arena, 8/3/2005)
Cynthia (Columbus, OH, Schottenstein Center, 7/31/2005)
This Hard Land (Stockholm, Sweden, Hovet, 6/25/2005)
All That Heaven Will Allow (Trenton, NJ, Sovereign Bank Arena, 11/22/2005)
Empty Sky (Trenton, NJ, Sovereign Bank Arena, 11/22/2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Bruce Springsteen Facebook page; Bruce Springsteen Twitter handle; Nights with Alice Cooper; ABC News Radio; YouTube