By now it’s safe to assume folks have heard of Tina Turner’s passing yesterday (April 24) at age 83 at her home near Zurich, Switzerland. While neither a notification on Turner’s Facebook page nor a statement by her publicist provided the cause, she had been in poor health in recent years. Based on concerts in Germany and the U.S. in 1985 and 1993, respectively, the Queen of Rock & Roll was among the most energetic performers I’ve seen to date, together with Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and U2.
This post is all about celebrating Tina Turner’s music, which will stay with us. In case you are looking for a traditional obituary, you have plenty of other choices, such as The New York Times, CNN or Rolling Stone. My focus will be on six tunes from Turner’s 40-year-plus performing career, followed by a Spotify playlist of these and some additional songs.
River Deep – Mountain High (1966)
River Deep – Mountain High is one of my favorite tunes Tina Turner recorded with her then-husband Ike Turner as Ike & Tina Turner. Written by producer Phil Spector, together with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, River Deep – Mountain High was first released as a single in May 1966 as the title track of a studio album by Ike & Tina Turner. That album first appeared in the UK in September 1966 and three years later was also issued in the U.S.
Private Dancer (1984)
Private Dancer is the title track of Turner’s fifth solo and comeback album released in May 1984. The tune, penned by then-Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, was one of multiple hit singles from what became Turner’s best-selling album with more than 12 million copies sold worldwide. It catapulted her to international stardom as a solo artist – eight years after she had fled from her abusive husband with just 36 cents and a Mobil card.
Proud Mary (1971)
Ike & Tina Turner’s version of Proud Mary is one of the best remakes I can think of. The song was written by John Fogerty who first recorded it with his band Creedence Clearwater Revival for their second studio album Bayou Country, released in January 1969. The tune also appeared as a single at the same time and became one of CCR’s biggest hits, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ike and Tina Turner’s version, which was included on their 1970 studio album Workin’ Together, did nearly as well, peaking at no. 4 on the U.S. pop chart. Unlike CCR, it also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group in 1972.
What You Get Is What You See (1986)
When it comes to Tina Turner’s solo career, I tend to favor her rock over her more pop-oriented songs. One tune in this context is What You Get Is What You See, off her sixth solo studio album Break Every Rule, which came out in September 1986. Turner’s follow-on to Private Dancer was another major internal chart and commercial success. What You Get Is What You See, co-written by Terry Bitten and Graham Lyle and produced by Bitten, also became the album’s third single in February 1987.
Acid Queen (1975)
Turner recorded Acid Queen as the title track of her second solo album released in August 1975. The tune was written by Pete Townshend and first appeared as The Acid Queen on The Who’s rock opera album Tommy from May 1969. A different recording of the song was also included on the March 1975 soundtrack album to the 1975 film Tommy, in which Turner starred as the Acid Queen. Her second solo album was inspired by that performance.
Nutbush City Limits (live) (1988)
The last track I’d like to highlight is a killer live version of Nutbush City Limits that was included on Turner’s first live solo album Tina Live in Europe. Notably, part of that album was recorded at Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany on April 14, 1985 – one of the above-mentioned Tina Turner shows I attended! Written by Tina Turner, the semi-autobiographical tune about her rural hometown of Nutbush, Tenn. was the title track of a 1973 studio album by Ike & Tina Turner. It also became the duo’s most successful single and one of the last hits they released together.
Here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes. The Queen of Rock & Roll sadly has left us, but her music will continue to reign!
Sources: Wikipedia; Tina Turner Facebook page; YouTube; Spotify
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
It’s hard to believe another Sunday is upon us when it feels like the previous one only passed a couple of days ago! In any case, I hope everybody is spending a nice weekend. To make it even better, once again, I’d like to invite you to join me on another music time travel journey!
Our first stop today only takes us back a few years, to September 2019, and the second-to-most-recent studio album, Spectrum, by Japanese jazz pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara. Professionally known as Hiromi, she started her recording career in April 2003 and has since released 11 additional studio albums. Hiromi blends diverse musical genres, such as post-bop, progressive rock, classical music and pop, and is known for her virtuosic technique and energetic live performances. Off the above album is her lovely rendition of The Beatles’Blackbird.
Fats Domino/Ain’t That a Shame
Next, we set our magical music time machine to April 1955 and a song that makes me smile every time I hear it: Ain’t That a Shame by the incredible Fats Domino, who first released the classic as a single. Credited to his birth name Antoine Domino, as well as prominent New Orleans music artist and producer Dave Bartholomew, the tune also appeared on Domino’s March 1956 debut album Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino. Man, I love how that song swings. You don’t hear that type of music much these days and, yes, that’s a shame!
Bob Marley and the Wailers/Could You Be Loved
Now that we’re all movin’ and groovin’, let’s kick it up a notch and travel to the early ’80s and a Jamaican who was instrumental in popularizing reggae all over the world: Bob Marley. Creatively borrowing from a 1971 John Lennon quote about Chuck Berry, if you tried to give reggae another name, you might call it Bob Marley. Here’s Could You Be Loved, the best-known track from Uprising, the 12th studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, released in June 1980. Sadly, it turned out to be the final release during the life of Bob Marley who passed away in May 1981 at age 36 from melanoma that had spread to his lungs and brain.
B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone
The time has come for some blues. When I think of that genre, B.B. King is among the first artists who come to mind. One of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, King never showed off when playing his beloved Gibson ES-355, a semi-hollow body electric guitar he called “Lucille”. Here’s The Thrill Is Gone, off King’s December 1969 studio album Completely Well. Co-written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951 and first recorded by Hawkins that year, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1970. With its lush and somewhat trippy string arrangement, it may not be what you traditionally associate with the blues, but it’s one heck of a gem!
Golden Smog/Red Headed Stepchild
Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and Golden Smog, an alternative country supergroup formed in the late ’80s by members of Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, Run Westy Run, Wilco and The Honeydogs. After releasing their debut EP On Golden Smog in December 1992, which entirely consisted of covers, the group came out with their first full-length album of original songs in 1995, Down By the Old Mainstream. Red Headed Stepchild was co-written by Dan Murphy and Marc Perlman, of Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks, respectively, who like the band’s other members used pseudonyms for the credits.
Bruce Springsteen/Prove It All Night
You know and I know that once again we need to wrap up another trip with the magical music time machine. We also still need to pay a visit to the ’70s. Let’s do both with The Boss! Prove It All Night, penned by Bruce Springsteen, is a track from Darkness on the Edge of Town, his fourth studio album that came out in June 1978. Like its legendary predecessor Born to Run, the album was recorded with the E Street Band and as usual released under the Bruce Springsteen name only. Well, they don’t call him boss for nothing!
Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. I enjoyed being your imaginary music time travel guide and hope we all do this again next Sunday!
Last week (May 11), Eric Burdon turned 82 years. Since the first moment I heard him I’ve always thought he’s one of the most compelling white blues vocalists. It also reminded me of a post I published in February 2019. Here it is again with the added bonus of a Spotify playlist at the end. Yes, it’s a bit of a beast! 🙂
Tumultuous Path Of A Journeyman And Survivor
For more than 50 years, Eric Burdon has been one of rock’s most distinctive vocalists
Oftentimes, I feel the best blog ideas are inspired by a previous post. In this case, it was my writing about great covers performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which included I’m Crying by The Animals. The tune reminded me of Eric Burdon and a voice I’ve always felt was made for singing the blues. Just like many other blues artists or more generally those who started out during the ’60s and ’70s, Burdon has experienced it all, from the highest high to the deepest low and everything else in-between. Unlike many fellow artists, he’s still there, which I think makes him one of the ultimate survivors.
Eric Victor Burdon was born on May 11, 1941, in the northeastern English industrial town of Newcastle upon Tyne. His upbringing in a lower-class working family was rough. Burdon started smoking at the age of 10 and skipping school with friends to drink beer. He described his early school years as a Dickens novel-like “dark nightmare,” which included bullying, sexual molestation and sadistic teachers hitting kids with a leather strap. While his father Matt Burdon struggled as an electric repairman, this allowed the family to have a TV by the time Eric was 10. Yet again the TV sparking it all!
Seeing Louis Armstrong on the tube triggered Burdon’s initial interest in music, first in the trombone, then in singing. The next decisive stage in his life was secondary school and a teacher named Bertie Brown who helped him get into the local art college. There he met John Steele, the original drummer of The Animals. They ended up playing in a band called The Pagan Jazzmen. By early 1959, keyboardist Alan Price had joined. After a few iterations and name changes, the band evolved into The Animals in 1962.
The initial lineup featured Burdon (lead vocals), Steele (drums), Price (keyboards), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Chas Chandler (bass), who later became the manager of Jimi Hendrix. Between September and December 1963, The Animals developed a following in Newcastle by playing local clubs there. During that period, Burdon met some of his blues heroes, including John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. The Animals also backed Williamson during a local gig.
In December 1963, The Animals recorded their first single Baby Let Me Take You Home. It climbed to a respectable no. 22 on the UK singles chart. But it was the second single, The House Of The Rising Sun from June 1964, which brought the big breakthrough, topping the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada and Sweden. It also started the beginning of the band’s demise when the arrangement of the traditional was only credited to Price who collected all the songwriting royalties.
The band’s first studio album The Animals appeared in the U.S. in September 1964. Their British debut record followed two months later. As was quite common at the time, the track listing between the two versions differed. Altogether, the original incarnation of The Animals released five U.S. and three U.K. studio albums. Here’s the above-mentioned I’m Crying, which was included on the second U.S. record The Animals On Tour, a peculiar title for a studio album. Co-written by Burden and Price, it’s one of only a few original tracks by the band that was mostly known for fiery renditions of blues and R&B staples by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Ray Charles.
In May 1966, The Animals released Don’t Bring Me Down. Co-written by songwriter duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the tune became Burdon’s favorite single, he toldLouder/The Blues during a long interview in April 2013. The song also became the opening track to the band’s fourth U.S. album Animalization released in July 1966. The great tune is characterized by a distinct Hammond B3 sound played by Dave Rowberry, who had replaced Alan Price following his departure in late 1965, and Hilton Valentine’s fuzz guitar. Burdon recalled the song’s recording in a hotel in the Bahamas. “There was an old record player in the room where we were recording and it had this strange, thin electrostatic speaker. Dave Rowberry connected it to his Hammond B3 and that’s where the sound comes from on that track.”
By September 1966, The Animals had dissipated and Burdon started work on his first solo album Eric Is Here, which wouldn’t appear until the following year. Meanwhile, in December 1966, he formed Eric Burdon & The Animals. In addition to him, the band included Barry Jenkins, who had replaced John Steel on drums during the first incarnation of The Animals, John Weider (guitar, violin, bass), Vic Briggs (guitar, piano) and Danny McCulloch (bass). The band subsequently relocated from the U.K. to San Francisco. By that time, Burdon had become a heavy user of LSD.
In October 1967, Eric Burdon & The Animals released their debut. Appropriately titled Winds Of Change, it featured mostly original tracks and psychedelic-oriented rock, a major departure from the past. But, as Louder/The Blues noted, except for San Franciscan Nights, “the British public were reluctant to accept Eric’s transformation from hard-drinking Geordie bluesman to LSD-endorsing, peace and love hippy.” Three more albums followed before this second incarnation of The Animals dissolved in late 1968. Here’s Monterey, the opener to their second record The Twain Shall Meet from May 1968. Reflecting the band’s drug-infused experiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, where they also had performed, the tune is credited to all five members.
Disillusioned with the music business, Burdon went to LA to try acting. But after one year, he returned to music, fronting a Californian funk rock band that would be called War. Together they recorded two original albums in 1970. Here’s Spill The Wine from the first, Eric Burden Declares “War”, which appeared in April 1970. Credited to the members of War, the tune became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked Burdon’s last major chart success.
Burdon’s relationship with War abruptly unraveled after the band had decided to record their next album without him. It was around the same time his friend Jimi Hendrix passed away. Burdon was devastated. “That became the end of the parade because it affected us so much,” he stated during the above Louder/The Blues interview. “It was tough for me. It was tough for everybody.” Unfortunately, one of Burdon’s answers was drugs and more drugs.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Burdon had numerous drug excesses. In 1983, this led to an arrest in Germany where he had lived since 1977. Subsequently, he returned to the U.S. Yet despite all the upheaval, Burdon still managed to continue recording albums and touring. In 1971, he teamed up with American jump blues artist Jimmy Witherspoon for a record titled Guilty! Here’s Home Dream, a great slow blues tune written by Burdon.
In August 1977, the first incarnation of The Animals released the first of two reunion albums, Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, billed as The Original Animals. Despite positive reviews, the record only reached no. 70 on the Billboard 200. Lack of promotion, no supporting tour and most importantly appearing at a time when punk and disco ruled were all factors. Here’s the great opener Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt), a tune co-written by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Clyde Otis.
Next up: Going Back To Memphis, a song co-written by Burdon and Steve Grant. It appeared on Burdon’s 1988 album I Used To Be An Animal. Released in the wake of his autobiography I Used To Be An Animal, But I’m Alright Now, it was Burdon’s first new album in almost four years.
In April 2004, My Secret Life appeared, Burdon’s first new solo record in almost 16 years. Here’s the opener Once Upon A Time, a nice soulful tune co-written by Burdon and Robert Bradley.
‘Til Your River Runs Dry is Burdon’s most recent studio release, which came out in January 2013. His website calls it his “most personal album to date.” Here’s Old Habits Die Hard, co-written by Burdon and Tom Hambridge. “This song is dedicated to the people in Egypt and Libya trying to throw off the shackles of all those centuries of brutality,” Burdon toldRolling Stone a few days prior to the record’s release. “It reminds me of Paris in 1968 when I saw the kids going up against the brutal police force or the L.A. uprising. I went through these experiences and they’re still with me today. The struggle carries on. I wrote this song so I won’t forget and to say, even though I’m older now, I am still out there with you.”
Burdon’s most recent recording is a nice cover of For What It’s Worth, written by Stephen Stills and originally released by Buffalo Springfield in December 1966. He commented on his website: The whole idea of recording this song came as a result of a conversation I had with a young fan backstage, when she asked me, “Where are the protest songs today?” Right then and there, I wanted to write something about the brutality that’s going on in the world today but I couldn’t find any better way to say it than Buffalo Springfield did in “For What It’s Worth.
In 1994, Eric Burdon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as part of The Animals, along with the other original members of the band. He did not attend the induction ceremony. Burdon remains active to this day and uses the name The Animals for his backing band, which includes Evan Mackey (trombone), Davey Allen (piano), Dustin Koester (drums), Johnzo West (guitar), Justin Andres (bass) and Ruben Salinas (saxophone).
While Burdon’s website currently does not list any upcoming gigs for this year, according to Consequence of Sound, Eric Burdon & The Animals are part of the lineup for the KAABOO Festival in Arlington, Texas, May 10-12. The band is also scheduled to perform on May 26 at Avila Beach Blues Festival in California.
Asked by Louder/The Blues during the above interview how he would sum up the past 50 years, Burdon said, “I’d been screwed by [War], I’d been screwed by The Animals. All use Burdon because he’s a great front guy and then come payday where’s the money? A lot of people had a great ride off me being on stage and I didn’t get much of it.” With a little chuckle he added, “I’m not bitter. I’m bittersweet.”
– END –
The original post, which was published on February 10, 2019, ended here. One thing that happened since then is a 2020 British TV documentary titled Eric Burdon, Rock’ n’ Roll Animal, which was written and directed by Hannes Rossacher, an Austrian film director and producer. It featured interviews with Burdon, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, George Thorogood and Patti Smith. An edited version is available here.
Other than an awkward 2022 remix of Spill the Wine, I’m not aware of any music associated with Burdon, which has appeared since the time the above post was published first. The most recent evidence of live performances I could find on Setlist.fm was from November 2019. The lack of more recent concerts could largely be explained by the pandemic. There’s an Eric Burdonwebsite, but other than what looks like a fairly recent photo, it’s not evident whether it is active. Perhaps Eric is simply taking it easy these days, which after 60-plus years since the start of his career would be more than deserved!
Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist. It features all of the above tracks except For What It’s Worth, as well as a good number of additional tunes from throughout Burdon’s recording career.
Sources: Wikipedia; Louder/The Blues; Deutsche Welle; Eric Burdon website; Rolling Stone; Consequence of Sound; Eventbrite; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify
Here we go again: Another Monday brings another installment of The Follow-Up! The idea of this recently introduced feature is to supplement my weekly new music revue Best of What’s New with short takes of new music I missed or didn’t cover for other reasons.
Taj Mahal – Savoy
When music artists put out Christmas albums or Great American Songbook cover compilations, one could be forgiven to wonder whether they’ve run out of ideas, especially if they’re in the later stages of their careers. To me, this is definitely not the case when it comes to Savoy, the latest release by Taj Mahal, which appeared on April 28.
While I had known the name for many years, it wasn’t until May 2017 and TajMo, his dynamite collaboration album with Keb’ Mo’, that I started paying closer attention to Taj Mahal (born Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr.). I quickly realized he’s much more than “just a blues artist” and yet his renditions of tunes by the likes of Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Benny Golson took me by surprise. Not only do his vocals work beautifully but the musical arrangements beam with vibrancy!
The album is an homage to the Savoy, the iconic ballroom in New York’s Harlem where Mahal’s parents met in 1938 to see Ella Fitzgerald, backed by the Chick Webb Orchestra. Why don’t we hear it from the man himself, in the spoken introduction to Stompin’ At the Savoy, a 1933 jazz standard written by Edgar Sampson and first popularized by Chick Webb and Benny Goodman. The lyrics were subsequently added by Andy Razaf.
Okay, Follow-up posts are meant to be short takes, so let’s highlight one more track: Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby, a song co-written by Louis Jordan and Billy Austin, and first recorded by Jordan in October 1943.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, according to this AllMusicreview, Mahal’s fine backing band features Danny Caron (guitar); John Simon (piano), Mahal’s longtime friend who talked him into recording the album; Ruth Davies (bass); and Leon Joyce, Jr. (drums), along with backing vocalists Carla Holbrook, Leesa Humphrey, and Charlotte McKinnon, as well as a neat horn section.
Lucinda Williams – Stolen Moments
Stolen Moments is the second excellent track by Lucinda Williams from her upcoming album Stories from a Rock N Roll Heart, scheduled for June 30. Released on April 21, the song was written as a tribute to Tom Petty who passed away in October 2017 – man, I can’t believe it’s been already five and half years!
“Tom was a down-to-earth, sweet, loving person, and I miss his music but I miss him more,” said Williams, according to this JamBasereview. “I wrote this song after he passed away. I was just heartbroken, and I’m still reeling.” Admittedly, I started welling up after reading that statement. Check out how great this tune sounds!
Stolen Moments follows the lead single New York Comeback, which appeared on April 4, featuring Bruce Springsteen and his wife and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa. I previously covered it here. I’m really looking forward to Stories from a Rock N Roll Heart, which is shaping up to be a great album!
Ever since I sawLucinda Williams open up for Bonnie Raitt in Philadelphia last June, I’ve been wanting to take a deeper dive into her music. This post is a first attempt to further explore the singer-songwriter who has been active since 1978. Over a 45-year-and-counting career, Williams has released 14 studio albums with no. 15, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, scheduled to drop June 30. I recently featured the excellent lead single New York Comeback in a Best of What’s Newinstallment.
Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide some background. From Williams’ website: Lucinda Williams’ music has gotten her through her darkest days. It’s been that way since growing up amid family chaos in the Deep South, as she recounts in her candid new memoir, Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I told You [Crown, April 25, 2023 – CMM].
Over the past two years, it’s been the force driving her recovery from a debilitating stroke she suffered on November 17, 2020, at age 67. Her masterful, multi-Grammy-winning songwriting has never deserted her. To wit, her stunning, sixteenth studio album, Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, brims over with some of the best work of her career. And though Williams can no longer play her beloved guitar – a constant companion since age 12 – her distinctive vocals sound better than ever.
“I’m singing my ass off,” she told Vanity Fair in February, following her first European tour since 2019. The love emanating from audiences and her musical family onstage and in the studio exemplify the healing power of music, says Williams. In 2020, she spent a week in intensive care, followed by a month in rehab before returning home. The blood clot on the right side of her brain impaired the left side of her body’s motor skills, forcing her to relearn some of the most basic of activities, like walking.
In July 2021, she played her first gig, opening for Jason Isbell at Red Rocks. She began seated in a wheelchair, but soon she was upright. “Just the energy of the audiences being so welcoming and warm and the band playing so great and being so supportive gave me so much strength,” Williams relates. “I figured, ‘Hell, all I have to do is stand up there and sing. How hard can that be?”
Williams got into songwriting and music at an early age. She started writing as a six-year-old and was playing guitar by the time she was 12. Five years later, she found herself on stage in Mexico City for her first live performance, together with her friend and banjo player Clark Jones. This was followed by gigs in Austin and Houston, Texas in her early 20s. In 1978, a then-25-year-old Williams move to Jackson, Miss. and recorded her debut album Ramblin’ on My Mind, which appeared the following year.
Williams first gained critical acclaim with her third, eponymous studio album from 1988, which was voted the 16th best album of the year in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll. Lucinda Williams has since been viewed as a leading work in the development of the Americana movement. In 1998, Williams broke through into the mainstream with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Her fifth album topped the aforementioned Pazz & Jop poll and won the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It also became her first album to chart on the Billboard 200, climbing to no. 68.
Time for some music! I’m going to highlight six tunes, followed by a Spotify playlist featuring these and additional songs from all of her albums. Kicking it off is a great rendition of Robert Johnson’s Ramblin’ on My Mind, the title track of Williams’ above-mentioned 1979 debut album, which she recorded together with guitarist John Grimaudo.
After two blues, country and folk-oriented albums, Lucinda Williams started to embrace a more Americana and roots rock-oriented sound on her third, eponymous album. Here’s Changed the Locks, which also became the album’s first single. Like all except one tune, it was penned by Williams. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers covered this song on their 1996 soundtrack album She’s the One.
This brings me to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Williams’ acclaimed fifth album. It featured guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle who in addition to Williams served as one of the producers, along with Ray Kennedy who was working with Earle at the time, as well as Roy Bittan, best-known as longtime keyboarder of Bruce Springsteen’sE Street Band. While the recording process was drawn out, in part due to some tensions between Earle and Williams who ended up bringing in Bittan to finish the album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road overall became her most successful album to date. Here’s the great opener Right in Time – love the guitar sound on that cut!
Next, let’s jump to October 2008 and Little Honey, Williams’ ninth studio album. It featured guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Sweet and Charlie Louvin. Little Honey earned a nomination for the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album, the category’s inaugural year, which was won by Levon Helm for Electric Dirt. Here’s the excellent opener Real Love, which also appeared separately as a single. Penned by Williams, with backing vocals by Hoffs and Sweet, the roots rocker was also featured in the 2007 American comedy-drama The Lucky Ones.
In September 2014, Williams released her 11th studio record Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, the first on her own label Highway 20 Records. The double album debuted at no. 13 on the Billboard 200, becoming one of Williams’ highest-charting on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also won the 2015 Americana Music Award for Album of the Year. Once again, there were various guests, including Jakob Dylan, Tony Joe White, Ian McLagan and Elvis Costello, among others. Here’s the great Burning Bridges, penned by Williams.
Fast forward to April 2020 and Good Souls Better Angels, Williams’ 14th and most recently released studio album. Another widely acclaimed album, it earned Williams yet another Grammy nomination, for Best Americana Album. Here’s When the Way Gets Dark. Like all except one other track on the album, it was co-written by Williams and Tom Overby who also served as producer, along with Williams and Ray Kennedy.
Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist featuring the above and some other Lucinda Williams tunes. This artist is a true treasure! Hope you have as much fun listening to her music as I had putting together this post. I’m really looking forward to her new album, which based on the lead single sounds very promising.
Sources: Wikipedia; Lucinda Williams website; YouTube; Spotify
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. To me, my last music revue feels like it just happened rather than a week ago. Anyway, all picks except for the final tune, which I say upfront is the gem here, are from albums that came out yesterday (April 7).
Blondshell is the moniker of Los Angeles-based indie pop rock-oriented singer-songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum. After starting out in 2016 with a more pop-focused project named BAUM, Teitelbaum began writing more rock-oriented music during the COVID-19 pandemic. This culminated in the launch of Blondshell in June 2022 with her single Olympus. Teitelbaum followed it up with two other singles, Kiss City and Sepsis, in July and August, respectively. In December, she signed with independent label Partisan Records and is now out with her eponymous debut album. Here’s the opener Veronica Mars, which first appeared as a single in December. Like most tracks on the album, it was solely written by Teitelbaum. The building guitar sound that explodes into hard-charging rock at around 54 seconds into the song provides an intriguing contrast to Teitelbaum’s mellow vocals.
Ruston Kelly/Holy Shit
Singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly, who I first covered in July 2020, was born in Georgetown, S.C., grew up in Wyoming, Ohio and is now based in Nashville. He got into music at a young age and, according to Wikipedia, had a full album in high school with songs like “Bluebird” and “I’m Leavin’”. After signing a publishing deal with BMG Nashville in 2013, he co-wrote the song Nashville Without You recorded by Tim McGraw for his studio album Two Lanes of Freedom, which appeared in February that year. In 2017, Kelly released his debut EP Halloween. His first full-length album Dying Star came out the following year. Holy Shit is track from Kelly’s third and latest album The Weakness. Good tune!
Wednesday/Hot Rotten Grass Smell
Wednesday are a band from Ashville, N.C., who started out in 2017 as a songwriting project by guitarist Karly Hartzman. While attending college in Ashville, she met vocalist Daniel Gorham and recorded with him yep definitely, the first album as Wednesday. The moniker was inspired by British alternative rock band The Sundays, who were active from 1988 to 1997. Subsequently, Hartzman formed another group, Diva Sweetly. When her bandmates didn’t want to make shoegaze, she assembled new members for Wednesday and released their sophomore album, I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, in February 2020. This brings me to the group’s new album Rat Saw God, which is their fifth. In addition to Hartzman (guitar, vocals), it features MJ Lenderman (guitar, backing vocals), Xandy Chelmis (lap steel), Margo Schultz (bass) and Alan Miller (drums). Here’s the opener Hot Rotten Grass Smell, credited to the entire band.
Lucinda Williams/New York Comeback
I’m particularly excited about my last pick for this week, New York Comeback by Lucinda Williams, the lead single single from her upcoming album Stories From a Rock n Roll Heart. Released on April 4, the great tune features Bruce Springsteen and his wife and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa. Williams first entered my radar screen in June 2022 when I saw her open up for Bonnie Raitt in Philadelphia, a great concert you can read more about here. In November 2020, Williams suffered a stroke from which she has recovered, though during the aforementioned gig, she still seemed to have some mobility challenges and did not play guitar. Stories From a Rock n Roll Heart, set for release on June 30, is Williams’ 15th studio album and the first since her stroke. According to this review by Consequence Sound, the album was recorded during her stroke recovery: At the time, she wasn’t able to write songs using her guitar and continued collaborating with her husband/manager Tom Overby while also bringing in singer-songwriter Jessie Malin to co-write three tracks and flesh out melodies. Williams’ longtime road manager, Travis Stephens, also co-wrote six songs on the album. Man, I love New York Comeback, which is credited to Williams, Overby and Malin, and I can’t wait to hear more music from the album!
Of course, the post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes!
This is only the second installment of my recently launched feature intended to supplement my weekly new music revue, which runs Saturdays, and I’ve already decided to adjust the rules. Going forward, The Follow-Up will be a catch-all of new music I “missed” for Best of What’s New. It could be albums or singles, and I also don’t necessarily want to limit these posts to two items. One thing I continue to envisage is keeping each shorter than standalone reviews.
Pete Townshend – Can’t Outrun the Truth
Can’t Outrun the Truth is a new song by Pete Townshend released last Friday (March 24). It also is The Who guitarist and key songwriter’s first new solo single in 29 years! According to his website, the track was composed and produced by [his wife] Rachel Fuller under her nom de plume Charlie Pepper, and all proceeds from vinyl sales plus at least 10p from every download will go to the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The song was inspired by the difficulties everyone had encountered emotionally due to the lack of human interaction caused by the pandemic. It also occurred to Rachel that young people undergoing cancer treatment may identify with these feelings of isolation. You just gotta love this. And it sounds pretty good!
Pete Townshend “The pandemic years were terrible for charities; the Teenage Cancer Trust was created in order to take the money from a series of concerts at the Albert Hall every year and various other things and that had all dropped out. So, the idea of doing this, which is it’s something that has sprung out of lockdown about mental illness, but also for this particular charity. If you’ve got a scenario in which somebody in your family or a teenager has got cancer, they’re being treated, lockdown hits, and you’re not allowed to go and visit them. There’s a poignancy to the whole thing about the song.”
Summing up the song Rachel says, “I think one of the things about the song is that it felt like we drew a line, and it was, okay, back to normal. Nobody’s really talking about Covid anymore. There aren’t stories in the papers, and no one wants to talk about those two years. And I think for so many people, there is a long tail, people really, really struggled and just because people are saying let’s move on. I think a lot of people are still finding it really hard.”
Jake Thistle – The Dreamer
Jake Thistle is a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey who first entered my radar screen on Facebook in 2021. Last summer I saw him perform a Jackson Browne tribute show at a free summer outdoor concert. Subsequently, I reviewed his then-new debut CD Down the Line, released in June 2021.
Thistle has been into music for most of his young life. It all started in 2008 one month prior to his fourth birthday when he watched Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during the Super Bowl halftime show. This led him to watch videos of Petty on YouTube and become a music fan. At the age of nine, he picked up the guitar and subsequently started posting his own videos on YouTube. None other than Tom Petty spotted Thistle’s videos and was impressed enough to send him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. to see and meet him and the Heartbreakers. This says a lot about Tom!
Thistle played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle and Tom Morello. It almost sounds like a fairytale, especially if you consider Thistle only graduated from high school in 2021!
This brings me to The Dreamer, Thistle’s newly released single that came out on Friday as well. Here’s a clip of an acoustic guitar rendition. I really find it quite impressive how mature he comes across as a songwriter. I’ve said it before I can hear some Jackson Browne in Thistle’s writing! Vocally, he reminds me a bit of Bryan Adams.
And here’s a Spotify link to the official piano-driven single. I encourage you to check it out!
Sources: Pete Townshend website; Jake Thistle website; YouTube; Spotify
Happy Wednesday and I’d like to welcome you to another installment of Song Musings, in which I take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. This week, my pick is Shape of My Heart by Sting, a gem off his fourth studio album Ten Summoner’s Tales. And guess what, today happens to be the 30th anniversary of that very album, which I feel is Sting’s artistic Mount Rushmore. A dear friend reminded me of the anniversary last week after I had earmarked the tune for today’s post – so, yes, I suppose the stars were aligned!
Co-written by guitarist Dominic Miller and Sting (credited with his birthname Gordon Sumner), Shape of My Heart first appeared as the 10th track on Ten Summoner’s Tales. Five months later, on August 23, 1993, it was also released separately as the album’s fifth single. While unlike If I Ever Lose My Faith In You and Fields of Gold, the album’s first and fourth singles, respectively, Shape of My Heart didn’t gain much traction in the charts, Wikipedia notes the tune has become a “pop classic” and one of the songs that are most closely associated with Sting’s solo career.
The official music video for Shape of My Heart (see below), filmed at Sting’s lake house in Wiltshire, southern England, was directed by Doug Nichol. Apart from Sting, the American filmmaker and video director also worked with the likes of David Bowie, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and U2 and was the director of photography on Madonna’s 1991 documentary Truth or Dare. Nichol won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for Ten Summoner’s Tales.
Upon its release as a single, Shape of My Heart reached an underwhelming no. 57 on the UK Official Singles Chart. In Canada, it did somewhat better, climbing to no. 44. Elsewhere, including the U.S., Australia and various European countries other than the UK, the single didn’t chart at all. I find that a bit mind-boggling. Perhaps, audiences felt it was too mellow!
When it comes to the album, fortunately, the picture looks very different. Ten Summoner’s Tales topped the Austrian charts, reached no. 2 in the UK, the U.S., France and Germany, no. 3 in Norway and Switzerland, and no. 5 in The Netherlands, among others. It also became one of Sting’s best-selling albums, gaining 3x and 2x Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK, respectively, as well as Platinum status in each Australia, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. The album was also nominated for multiple awards in the U.S. and UK, and won three Grammy Awards and one Brit Award.
Sting talked about “Shape Of My Heart” in a 1993 promotional interview: “I wanted to write about a card player, a gambler who gambles not to win but to try and figure out something; to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance; some kind of scientific, almost religious law. So this guy’s a philosopher, he’s not playing for respect and he’s not playing for money, he’s just trying to figure out the law – there has to be some logic to it. He’s a poker player so it’s not easy for him to express his emotions, in fact he doesn’t express anything, he has a mask, and it’s just one mask and it never changes.”
This is one of the rare songs that is co-written by Sting’s longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller. In Lyrics By Sting, the singer remembered Miller bringing him the “beautiful guitar riff” and going for a walk along the riverbank and through the woods to figure out the lyrics. “When I got back, the whole song was written in my head. Dominic now thinks that I find lyrics under a rock somewhere… He could, of course, be right,” Sting wrote.
This song was edited into the end of the 1994 movie Leon: The Professional.
Both the Sugababes and Craig David sampled this and had hit singles with it in 2003 in the UK. The Sugababes’ “Shape” made #11, and Craig David’s “Rise And Fall” made #2. On the latter, Sting even made an appearance in the video and performed the track with Craig David on live music shows.
15 years later, US rapper Juice WRLD had a worldwide hit with “Lucid Dreams (Forget Me)”, which also makes major use of this track.
Renowned harmonica player Larry Adler played on this song. Before collaborating with popular musicians like Sting, Elton John and Kate Bush in his later career, Adler worked with composers like George Gershwin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Darius Milhaud – many of whom composed works specifically for him. Unfortunately, he would be blacklisted during the anti-Communist crusade led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the ’50s.
This was featured on the TV crime drama Hustle in the 2011 episode “The Delivery.”
Miller was just warming up his fingers by playing Chopin-style chords on the guitar when he happened to catch Sting’s ear. He explained in a 2018 interview at Jazzklub Divino in Denmark: “I was just playing that in front of the fireplace at Sting’s house in England and he said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s nothing, it’s just a little movement.’ He said, ‘That’s a song.’ I went, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ Then ten minutes later we went into the studio – ’cause we were at his studio anyway in his lake house – and we put a drum machine up, just the two of us. And then he went out in the garden for a walk and he came back with those lyrics. And so we recorded it! It was just an acoustic guitar and it was finished in one day – it was written in one day and recorded.”
He continued: “It’s one of those nice moments that happen in your life when things just fall on top of each other naturally, like nature. It’s not always like that… Sting’s genius with lyrics made it into a very, very ambiguous kind of narrative, which really goes well with that kind of arpeggio, with those Chopin-esque chords, you know? That Chopin-esque harmony kind of lends itself to those kind of lyrics, with Sting’s timbre of his voice and the sound of my guitar and just a little bit of a groove. It was the perfect storm.”
GRRR Live! captures star-studded New Jersey gig during 50 & Counting Tour
Following 10-plus official live albums and multiple concert releases from their vault, it’s fair to ask whether the world really needs another live collection by The Rolling Stones. After all, what could possibly trump gems like 1970’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! or 2017’s Sticky Fingers: Live At The Fonda Theater 2015, to name two of my all-time favorites. Well, GRRR Live!, which was released last Friday (February 10), may be no Ya-Ya’s, but it sure as heck is a great and surprisingly fresh-sounding collection!
The album and concert film mainly captures the Stones’ December 15, 2012 gig at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., which was part of the 50 & Counting Tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The tour featured guest appearances from The Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr., Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen and Mick Taylor. Since its original airing on pay-per-view in 2012, the show hasn’t been available. The concert has been re-edited and the audio has been remixed.
I’d say, let’s check out some of the goodies! And what could be better than starting us up with a great motto: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It). Yes, I do! Man, it’s so nice to see Charlie Watts! Mick Jagger once again proves he’s one of the most compelling frontmen in rock & roll. Both Keef and Ronnie Wood evidently had a great night as well! Simply put: The Stones were on fire!
Next up is Gimme Shelter feat. Lady Gaga. Let’s be honest here. Sometimes, guest appearances can be a bit awkward. But holy cow, Gaga surely made Merry Clayton proud! Since I couldn’t find a clip from GRRR Live! that included video (grrr!), I grabbed footage from somebody who was in the audience that night. Unfortunately, it’s cut off at the 5-minute mark and misses the last 2 minutes, but I still thought it’s pretty good!
After that scorching Gaga performance let’s slow it down and set those horses free. Here’s Wild Horses!
Are we ready for another guest appearance? Here are John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. Ironically, the song is titled Going Down, but I can promise you there was none of that! Both guitarists demonstrated impressive guitar chops. So did Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards. This is solo guitar porn! Again, I’m relying on a clip that’s not from GRRR Live! Best of all, this one isn’t cut off!
Even Doom and Gloom, a Jagger-Richards cowrite I wouldn’t consider ranking among their best tunes, sounds pretty compelling here. The Stones included it on their greatest hits compilation GRRR!, which came out in November 2012.
How ’bout Midnight Rambler featuring Mick Taylor? Ask and you really receive! Yeah, it may not be quite up there with Ya-Yah’s, but it sure as heck nicely shuffles!
Let’s throw in one Keef sang. And, yep, he looked pretty content. Also, check out Ronnie Wood on lap steel – damn! How does all of this make me feel? Happy!
Time to wrap things up. Did somebody say Bruuuuuuuce? Tumbling Dice! The Boss visibly seems to have a ball. I mean, he’s rockin’ with the f…ing Rolling Stones and even throwing in a guitar solo!
Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the entire album.
Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career
Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.
When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.
In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.
Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.
Set That Baggage Down – Croz (January 2014)
Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”
Somebody Other Than You – Lighthouse (October 2016)
This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”
Sky Trails – Sky Trails (September 2017)
Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.
1974 – Here If You Listen (October 2018)
1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he toldSongfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”
Rodriguez For a Night – For Free (July 2021)
The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfactsnotes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.