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

Dion Releases Incredible Blues Album

Blues With Friends features Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, John Hammond, Samantha Fish and other impressive guests

Dion DiMucci hasn’t exactly been on my radar screen. While I knew and have always liked his early ’60s hits like Runaround Sue and The Wanderer and was aware that he is revered among many artists, I simply didn’t follow him. I also had no idea that Dion had turned to the blues in more recent years – until Friday when I coincidentally came across his new album Blues With Friends, a true gem I could see win blues awards.

Released on June 5, the record features guests like Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth and Samantha Fish. And the list goes on and on. If you’re cynical, you might say, ‘sure, we’ve seen this before, an aging rocker is getting some help from big name friends.’ But once you start listening to the album, this feels different.

To start with, Dion who is turning 81 years in just a little over a month on July 18, still has a compelling voice. He is not outshined by his formidable guests. It’s also noteworthy this record isn’t a collection of blues covers. These are 14 original songs, of which Dion co-wrote 13 tunes, mostly with Mike Aquilina.

And then there’s this excerpt from the liner notes: Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him. The author? Bob Dylan. I guess it’s time for some music!

Blues Comin’ On is the excellent opener featuring some sizzling slide guitar action by Joe Bonamassa. All of the tracks I’m highlighting in this post were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. This one has a Gary Moore feel!

Let’s move on to some rockabilly: Uptown Number 7. And who better to have as a guest guitarist on this one than Brian Setzer! “I wanted to write an old-fashioned gospel number in the style of the Golden Gate Quartet,” explains Dion in a press release. “I wanted this one to be about moving forward in the spiritual life… having a goal…facing temptations along the way. So, I put it all on a train, because that’s what New Yorkers do if they want to get anywhere: they take the train.”

One of the sonic highlights on the album, perhaps not surprisingly, is when Jeff Beck does his guitar magic: Can’t Start Over Again. “My earliest influences were country blues, especially Hank Williams,” explains Dion. “Any money I earned I took to the neighborhood record store, where the owner used to razz me about my “hillbilly” tastes. I guess I still have that hillbilly inside. For my last album I wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Go Back to Memphis,’ but I go back there with this number. It’s about love and loss and heartache, the classic themes. I believe it’s a true blues song.”

Next up: My Baby Loves to Boogie, featuring John Hammond on harmonica. “John Hammond and I go back to the ’60s at the Gaslight coffee house in Greenwich Village,” Dion points out. “I’ve always admired John. He’s a dear friend. I played him this song and he said he heard harp on it. Well, friends, now you could hear exactly what he was talking’ about. It sounds like ‘Boogie Beyond.'”

A particular moving and beautiful tune is Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America). “I wrote this tune back many years ago,” Dion recalls. “At first I just had the melody and the refrain ‘Here in America.’ A friend suggested I use an episode from my memoir about walking southern streets with Sam Cooke in 1962. I finished the song, but it felt too personal, so I put it aside. Then in 2019 I saw the movie Green Book and after that I couldn’t shake the song.” Sadly, the lyrics remain relevant in present-day America. Paul Simon proves to be a great guest to help bring the song to life. Here’s the official video for the tune.

I’d like to close with What If I Told You, a great tune featuring hot guitar work by Samantha Fish. “Same old story: suspicion,” comments Dion. “The challenge is to make it new and fresh and I think I did. If I put out the same amount of energy and emotion that Samantha Fish put into this song, I wouldn’t be able to walk for three weeks. EPIC!!!”

“I wanted an album of songs that were strong and memorable and told stories that were worth telling,” says Dion. “The blues have been at the heart of my music since the early 1960s. ‘The Wanderer’ is a twelve-bar blues and I was covering Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed in my early years at Columbia – much to the dismay of my corporate masters.”

Blues With Friends was produced by Wayne Hood and appears on Keeping The Blues Alive Records, a new label started by Joe Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. It’s an offshoot of Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, Bonamassa’s non-profit that aims to conserve the art of music and the rich culture and history of the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dion DiMucci website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I could have called this latest installment of the recurring feature best of what’s new in blues. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may have read this sentiment before: In my opinion, unlike classic rock, the blues remains as vibrant as ever. And this, my friends, makes me a very happy camper!

Are you ready for some good ole’ blues, featuring three veterans and three younger female artists? Ready or not, here we go! Coz, to creatively borrow from the American blues artist who was known as Little Milton, hey, hey, the blues is alright, alright (alright), alright (alright) every day and night.

Joe Louis Walker/Blues Comin’ On

How can you go wrong with a guy named Joe Louis Walker and a tune called Blues Comin’ On? From his web bio: Joe Louis Walker, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Blues Music Award winner celebrates a career that exceeds a half a century…A true powerhouse guitar virtuoso, unique singer and prolific songwriter, he has toured extensively throughout his career, performed at the world’s most renowned music festivals, and earned a legion of dedicated fans…Born on December 25, 1949 in San Francisco, at age 14, he took up the guitar. Just two years later, he was a known quantity on the Bay Area music scene, playing blues with an occasional foray into psychedelic rock. For a while, he roomed with Mike Bloomfield, who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. Okay, I have to say I feel a bit ignorant that I don’t recall having heard of this blues veteran before who released his debut Cold Is the Night in 1986. Blues Comin’ On, which features Eric Gales and Dion DiMucci, is the title track of his most recent 26th album that was released on June 5. Dion co-wrote the tune with Mike Aquilina and included his own version on his Blues With Friends album, which interestingly also came out on June 5.

Dion/Bam Bang Boom

Obviously, I couldn’t ignore the above noted Blues With Friends by “The Wanderer” Dion, who after a 63-year career is still marching strong. With those friends including the likes of Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Sonny Landreth, Brian Setzer, Joe Louis Walker and Bruce Springsteen, this surely looks like a killer album! Dion has been active since 1957 and is turning 81 years on July 18 – holy cow, how many other artists can you name with such a long career! And, boy, does he still sound great! “Great songs, great guitarists. What more do you need?” is how Dion confidently summed up the record in a statement. Here’s Bam Bang Boom featuring Billy Gibbons. “Billy Gibbons was a joy to work with on this,” noted Dion in the same statement. “There’s nobody like him.” This surely sounds sweet – damn!

Gina Sicilia/Love Me Madly

Gina Sicilia is a 35-year-old singer-songwriter hailing from Newtown, Pa. Characterizing her music as blues, roots, Americana, soul and R&B, Wikipedia notes Sicilia began singing at 6 years old performing at local talent shows and by the age of 12 she began writing songs. At 14 years old she became interested in blues and classic soul music and decided to pursue singing in that genre. Sicilia’s debut album Allow Me to Confess came out in 2007. She has since released eight additional albums. Love Me Madly is her most recent, which appeared on May 29. Here’s the soulful title track, co-written by her and the album’s producer Cody Dickinson. He is also a member of North Mississippi Allstars, a Southern blues rock band he formed together with his brother Luther Dickinson. I really dig Sicilia’s vocals. Gosh, I can hear some Anita Baker in here!

Dani Wilde/Brave

Here’s another female performer with a compelling voice: 34-year-old Dani Wilde from the village of Hullavington, England. Well, whatever they may have in their water there, it doesn’t seem to damage the vocal chords! According to her website, Over the past 10 years Blues and Country singer-songwriter Dani Wilde has performed at thousands of venues and festivals across Europe, America, Canada and Africa; from the main stage at London’s Royal Albert Hall, to the slum communities of Kenya, to Times Square – New York City…In September 2015, Wilde was awarded ‘Best Female Vocalist” at the British Blues Awards. Wilde has released four studio solo albums to date, starting with Heal My Blues in 2008. Written by Wilde and released on May 6, Brave his her latest single. The tune is dedicated to healthcare professionals and other essential workers around the globe. “I wanted to maintain the organic raw emotion of the blues whilst also taking inspiration from traditional popular song arrangements,” Wilde told Blues Matters. “I love how artists like Patty GriffinPaul Simon and John Mayer take the blues but fuse it with Americana and popular song to create something beautiful.”

Eliza Neals/Black Crow Moan

From her website: Eliza Neals is a prolific songwriter, confident producer, arranger, bandleader, pianist, and one-of-a-kind live performer…Eliza’s history of performing/opening for legendary musicians goes back many years from Detroit’s songwriting godfather Barrett Strong to George Clinton, The Four TopsKenny OlsonMike ZitoTommy CastroWalter TroutPoppa ChubbyAlbert CastigliaMicki Free, Victor Wainwright and recently Blues Foundation HOF man Joe Louis Walker. Kind of ironical – until today, I had not been aware of Walker, and now he seems to be everywhere. I suppose this only confirms my prior ignorance! Black Crow Moan is the title track of Neals’ most recent studio album that was released on April 6; if I interpret it correctly, it’s her seventh. And, yes, you guessed it correctly, the tune features Walker – okay, keep rubbing it in my face!

Mick Clarke/Snappin’ at Your Heel

Let’s wrap things up with another blues veteran: British blues guitarist Mick Clarke, who began his career in 1968 as co-founder of blues rock band Killing Floor. They recorded two albums until their break-up in mid-1972. In 2002, the original line-up reunited. The band remains active with Clarke and Bill Thorndycraft (vocals, harmonica) as original members. During the ’70s, Clarke was also involved in two other bands, Salt and Ramrod, before forming The Mick Clarke Band in the early ’80s. His first solo album Looking For Trouble came out in 1986. Snappin’ at Your Heel is from Clarke’s most recent album Big Wheel released on April 17.

Sources: Wikipedia; Joe Louis Walker website; Dion DiMucci website; Gina Sicilia website; Blues Matters; Eliza Neals website; Mick Clarke website; YouTube

My Playlist: Jackson Browne

“…The Pretender, These Days, For Every Man, I’m Alive, Fountain of Sorrow, Running On Empty, For a Dancer, Before the Deluge. Now, I know the Eagles got in first; but let’s face it it – and I think Don Henley would agree with me – these are the songs they wish they had written. I wish I had written them myself, along with Like a Rolling Stone and Satisfaction…”

The above words were spoken by Bruce Springsteen in 2004 as part of his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech for Jackson Browne. Springsteen also recalled when he first met Browne in New York City at The Bitter End, a storied Greenwich Village performance venue, he knew the singer-songwriter from California was “simply one of the best”. Coming from somebody who has written so many great songs himself and during that same speech also admitted to be “a little competitive”, I think these remarks speak volumes.

The first Jackson Browne record I listened to in its entirety was what I still consider a true ’70s gem: Running On Empty. If I recall it correctly, my brother-in-law had it on vinyl, and I initially copied it on music cassette. I was spending countless hours at the time taping music from records, CDs and certain radio programs. I still have hundreds of tapes floating around. While it’s safe to assume the quality of most is less than stellar at this time, I just cannot throw them out!

Back to Browne with whom I happen to share one fun fact: We were both born in Heidelberg, Germany, though close to 18 years apart. Browne’s dad was stationed in Germany, working for American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Two of his three siblings were born there as well. In 1951 when Browne was three years old, his family relocated to Los Angeles.

During his teenage years, Browne started performing folk songs at local L.A. venues like The Ash Grove and The Troubador Club. After graduating from high school in 1966, he joined country rockers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which would later record some of his songs. After a few months, Browne left and moved to New York City where he became a staff writer for Elektra Records’ publishing company Nina Music.

In 1967, Browne met and became romantically involved with singer Nico of The Velvet Underground. He became a significant contributor to her debut solo album Chelsea Girl. After they broke up in 1968, Browne returned to Los Angeles where he met Glenn Frey soon thereafter. Before he started recording his own songs, Browne’s music was recorded by other artists such as Tom Rush, Gregg Allman, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and of course the aforementioned Nico and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

In 1971, Browne finally managed to get a deal with Asylum Records, and in January 1972, he released his eponymous debut album. Thirteen additional studio records have since appeared, as well as seven compilation and live albums and more than 40 singles. And this brings us to the most fun part of the post: Some of Browne’s music he has released during his close to 50-year recording career.

I’d like to kick things off with Song for Adam from Brown’s above noted eponymous debut album. The mournful memory of Adam Saylor, a friend of Browne who died in 1968 – possibly by suicide – was covered by various other artists, including Gregg Allman, who included a moving rendition with Browne singing harmony vocals on his final studio album Southern Blood from September 2017.

By the time Browne recorded Take It Easy for his sophomore album For Everyman, which appeared in October 1973, the Eagles had released the tune as their first single in May 1972. It gave them their first hit peaking at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of their signature songs. Originally, Browne began writing the tune for his eponymous debut album. But he got stuck with it, so played it to his friend Glenn Frey, who ended up finishing it. When Browne finally recorded the song, he also released it as a single, but it didn’t chart – perhaps it sounds pretty similar to the Eagles‘ version.

Fountain of Sorrow is a great track from Browne’s third studio Late for the Sky. Released in September 1974, it was his first top 20 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Like Take It Easy, the tune also appeared separately as a single but did not chart either.

In November 1976, Browne released The Pretender, his fourth studio album. It was his first major album chart success, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard 200, and marking his first record to chart in the U.K., where it reached no. 26. Here’s the title track, which also became the second single. It did moderately well, reaching no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 – love that tune!

Next is the album that started my Jackson Browne journey: The amazing Running on Empty from December 1977. Frankly, I could list each tune on that record, so let’s go with one that is a less obvious choice: The Road, written by American singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe. Themed around life on the road as a touring musician, Running on Empty was an unusual record featuring live recordings on stage and in other locations associated with touring, such as hotel rooms, tour buses or backstage. The first 2:28 minutes of The Road were captured in a hotel room in Columbia, Md., while the remainder was recorded live at Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., which nowadays is known as PNC Bank Arts Center and a venue where I’ve seen many great shows.

In June 1980, Browne released Hold Out, his sixth studio album. While the record received poor reviews from music critics, ironically, it became his only no. 1 album in the U.S. It also was Browne’s second record to chart in the U.K. Here’s Of Missing Persons, a beautiful tribute to Little Feat co-founder Lowell George, a collaborator and longtime friend of Browne’s who had passed away the year before. The tune was specifically written for George’s then six-year-old daughter Inara George who since became a music artist as well.

For many years, Jackson Browne has been a political activist, e.g., speaking up against the use of nuclear power and supporting environmental causes. But it wasn’t until the ’80s that political themes starting to play a more dominant role in Browne’s lyrics. The album that comes to my mind first in that context is Lives in the Balance, which came out in February 1986. Here’s the catchy opener For America. It also became the lead single and reached no. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

For the next tune, I’m jumping to the ’90s, specifically to February 1996 and Browne’s 11th studio album Looking East. Like many of his previous records, it featured various notable guests, such as Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Ry Cooder and Mike Campbell. Here is Baby How Long, for which Cooder provided a great slide guitar part and Raitt sang harmony vocals, together with Australian singer Renée Geyer.

Let’s do two more from the current millennium. First up: The title track from The Naked Ride Home, Browne’s 12th studio album from September 2002, which my streaming music provider served up as a listening suggestion that in turn triggered the idea to do this post.

The final song I’d like to highlight is from Browne’s most recent 14th studio album Standing in the Breach, which was released in October 2014. Here is the nice opener The Birds of St. Marks. Originally, Browne wrote that tune in 1967 after his breakup with Nico and return from New York to California. While first released on his 2005 live album Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1., it wasn’t until this 2014 studio album that Browne properly recorded the tune. “This is a song I always heard as a Byrds song, and that was even part of the writing of the song,” Brown told Rolling Stone in an August 2014 interview. Standing in the Breach became a remarkable late-stage career chart success, reaching no. 15 on the Billboard 200 and no. 31 in the U.K.

Earlier this year, in the wake of testing positive for COVID-19 (though luckily with relatively light symptoms), Browne released A Little Soon to Say, a song from his next studio album scheduled for October 9, which I featured in this previous Best of What’s New installment. To date Browne has sold more than 18 million albums in the U.S. alone. Apart from the above mentioned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, Browne has also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2007. He is ranked at no. 37 in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Toto/The Seventh One

I fully expect Toto is going to elicit different reactions from readers, ranging from excellent to rather mediocre. Let there be no doubt where I stand: While like every band some of Toto’s songs were more compelling than others, overall, I really dig these guys for their outstanding musicianship and, yes, many of their catchy and well executed pop-rock tunes. The Seventh One from March 1988 is probably my favorite album.

My initial introduction to Toto was Hold the Line, a track from their eponymous debut album from October 1978. It was included on a compilation titled The Rock Album – The Best of Today’s Rock Music, which came out in 1980. A friend gave it to me as a present on music cassette. Then came Toto IV from April 1982, and songs like Rosanna, Africa and I Won’t Hold You Back, which each received extensive radio play in Germany. I was hooked!

Toto’s next two albums, Isolation and Fahrenheit from October 1984 and August 1986, respectively, didn’t excite me as much. As a result, the band started fading a bit from my radar screen. And then The Seventh One was released. I dug this album right from the get-go.

Since Toto IV, the band’s line-up had changed. Lead vocalist Bobby Kimball and bassist David Hungate, who were both part of Toto’s initial members, had been replaced by Joseph Williams and Mike Porcaro, respectively. But frankly, I don’t feel this impacted the quality of the album at all. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener Pamela, co-written by David Paich (keyboards, backing vocals) and Joseph Williams. The tune was also released separately as the lead single in February 1988 ahead of the album. Apart from its catchy melody, I dig Jeff Pocaro’s drums part in particular including the cool breaks. To me, Pocaro was one of the best drummers in rock and pop. Of course, the caveat here is I don’t play the drums myself. But I suppose if you were good enough to pass the audition for perfectionists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, you must have been a bloody good drummer! Not to mention countless other top-notch artists like Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few.

Here’s a tune guitarist Steve Lukather considers to be one of his best compositions: Anna. He co-wrote the ballad with Randy Goodrum, an American songwriter, pianist and producer. In August 1988, it also became the album’s third single.

Stop Loving You with its upbeat groove just is an infectious pop song. Co-written by Lukather and Paich, the track also appeared as the album’s fourth single. While it did well in Europe, hitting no. 2 in each The Netherlands and Belgium and reaching no. 37 in Italy, it didn’t chart in the U.S. Here’s the official video.

Ready for some rock? How about that and with a little help from Linda Ronstadt on vocals and some smoking lap steel guitar by David Lindley? Here’s Stay Away, another Paich-Lukather co-write. Perhaps, they should have released that one as a single!

And since it’s so much fun, how about another pop rocker: Only the Children, co-written by Paich, Lukather and Williams.

Let’s end things on a quieter note with another ballad: A Thousand Years. I actually would have bet that Lukather had a role in writing the tune. But nope, it was co-written by Williams, Paich and Mark Towner Williams.

While Toto and Columbia Records were confident The Seventh One was one of the band’s strongest albums to date, its chart performance remained far below expectations. In part, Wikipedia attributes this to upheaval at the record company with president Al Teller’s departure right in the wake of Pamela’s release. Apparently, this led to waning promotion of the song that ended up stalling at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 – not exactly terrible, but certainly a huge difference to Africa and Rosanna, which had peaked at no. 1 and no. 2 in the U.S., respectively. Of course, chart performance is a double-edged indicator to begin with. Just look at today’s charts!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Bruce Springsteen Releases “Songs of Summer”

Compilation is part of The Live Series and spans recordings from 1975-2016

Not that I would ever need an excuse to write about one of my all-time favorite artists like Bruce Springsteen, but typically, I do so around an occasion like a new album or a concert I visited. In this case, it’s a new compilation of live material released from Springsteen’s archives that’s available on various music platforms for streaming or downloading, such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music. The Live Series: Songs of Summer turned out to be the perfect background music while carrying out a house chore earlier today.

Organized chronologically, the collection spans from Born to Run recorded at The Roxy in West Hollywood, Calif. in October 1975 to Jungleland captured at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on August 30, 2016. The last gig has a special meaning. It was the third of a three-show run at that venue during Springsteen’s River Tour. I was there and remember it pretty well. Let’s get to some of that sweet music.

An extended eleven-and-a-half-minute version of Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), during which Springsteen introduces the E Street Band Band, is a nice way to kick things off. These guys are killing it, especially Clarence Clemons who launches into some great saxophone work at around 6:30 minutes into the tune. It all was captured at Capitol Theatre in Passaic, N.J. in August 1978. Originally, the tune appeared on Springsteen’s sophomore album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle from November 1973.

Here’s Out In The Street from The River, Springsteen’s fifth studio album released in October 1980. This live version is from September 1985 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Next up: A beautiful version of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, which features a bit of Steven Van Zandt on vocals. This is from a gig in Helsinki, Finland from June 2003. Springsteen first recorded the tune for The Rising, his post 9/11 album released in July 2002.

Girls In Their Summer Clothes is a track from The Boss’s 15th studio album Magic, which came out in September 2007. This version was captured at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston in November of the same year.

Let’s do one more. I just couldn’t help it to end with the aforementioned performance of Jungleland at MetLife Stadium. It’s just a beautiful version and frankly a great memory. Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, does an amazing job playing the part of The Big Man. Check out his extended solo starting at 4:30 minutes, making his uncle proud. Jungleland is the closer of my favorite Springsteen album Born to Run, which came out in August 1975.

Here’s the complete tracklist of the collection:

    • Born To Run [Live at The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA – 10/18/75]
    • Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) [Live at Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ – 08/19/78]
    • The Fever [Live at Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA – 12/15/78]
    • 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) [Live at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY – 12/31/80]
    • Thunder Road [Live at Wembley Arena, London, UK – 06/05/81]
    • Spirit Of The Night [Live at Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ – 08/20/84]
    • Out In The Street [Live at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA – 09/27/85]
    • Blinded By The Light [Live at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ – 11/24/96]
    • Waitin’ On A Sunny Day [Live at Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland – 06/16/03]
    • Racing In The Street [Live at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI – 08/03/05]
    • Girls In Their Summer Clothes [Live at TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA – 11/19/07]
    • Seaside Bar Song [Live at Farm Bureau Live, Virginia Beach, VA – 04/12/14]
    • It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City [Live at Croke Park Stadium, Dublin, IE – 05/29/16]
    • Frankie [Live at CASA Arena Horsens, Horsens, Denmark – 07/20/16]
    • Jungleland [Live at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ – 08/30/16]

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

In Appreciation of Healthcare Professionals

Not a day goes by that you don’t see stories on TV and in other news outlets, reporting about the incredible work healthcare professionals are doing around the U.S. to care for people who are sick from the coronavirus. Last night, I caught a segment on CNN, which really got to me. For a change, I wished it was fake news, but it wasn’t!

A CNN anchor interviewed two women who are working as hospital nurses in New York City: A 20-year-old and another nurse who I guess was in her ’50s – hard to tell! Both looked extremely exhausted. The older nurse was working despite having some COVID-19 symptoms herself. Why was she still coming to work? ‘Because that’s what we do,’ she said. In the beginning, the 20-year-old tried to put on an optimistic face as best as she could, but it was obvious she was scared to death. She had just written her will and admitted she had cried a lot over the past week.

Twenty years old and feeling compelled to write her will? That’s only two years older than my son! And this is happening in America in the 21st century?

Both women pleaded with government officials that healthcare workers be provided with the protective equipment they need to continue caring for patients while reducing the risk of getting sick themselves. I have to say I never thought I would witness something like this in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world. WTF!

It’s beyond my comprehension why certain so-called leaders at the state and federal level don’t use their full authorities to help contain the spread of the virus and fight it with all means they have at their disposal. This is not a time to question scientists or view things through an ideological lens. People are dying all around us, for crying out loud!

I’ll stop the rant here to get to the essence of the post – music, more specifically songs that in a broader sense are about doctors. Admittedly, I have to stress the word “broader” here. In any case, the idea is to give a shoutout and honor the selfless work healthcare professionals are doing across the U.S. every day. Typically for lousy pay!

Steely Dan/Dr. WuDonald FagenWalter Becker; Katy Lied (1975)

Bruce Springsteen/The Lady and the DoctorBruce Springstein; Before the Fame (1997)

Jethro Tull/Doctor to My DiseaseIan Anderson; Catfish Rising (1991)

Robert Palmer/Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)Moon Martin; Secrets (1979)

Jackson Browne/Doctor, My EyesJackson Browne; Jackson Browne (1972)

Blue Öyster Cult/Dr. MusicJoe Bouchard, Donald Roeser & Richard Meltzer; Mirrors (1979)

Counting Crows/HospitalCoby Brown; Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) (2012)

Doobie Brothers/The DoctorTom Johnston, Charlie Midnight & Eddie Schwartz; Cycles (1989)

Black Sabbath/Rock ‘n’ Roll DoctorTony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward & Ozzy Osbourne; Technical Ecstasy (1976)

The Fray/How to Save a LifeIsaac Slade & Joe King; How to Safe a Life (2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube