Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As a busy week is nearing its end, admittedly, the thought of skipping Best of What’s New this time crossed my mind. But the release of new music doesn’t stop, so the show must go on. I’m also quite happy with my latest findings – quite a bit of rock in different flavors in this installment. Each of these tracks is on albums that appeared yesterday (May 14). Let’s get it to it!

The Steel Woods/Out of the Blue

Kicking things off are The Steel Woods, a band from Nashville, Tenn., blending country, southern rock and blues rock. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, they lay claim to the sound pioneered by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like Skynyrd, the Steel Woods balance heavy blues-rock with Southern poetry, and they add a bit of plainspoken outlaw country to the mix, as evidenced on their 2017 debut Straw in the Wind. The band was co-founded in 2015 by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Wes Bayliss and lead guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope. Johnny Stanton (bass) and Isaac Senty (drums) completed the line-up. A more recent permanent member is guitarist Tyler Power, who had supported the band during tours. Tragically, Cope passed away in January this year just after The Steel Woods had completed their new album All of Your Stones, due to severe complications from diabetes. Here’s Out of the Blue, which like most other tracks was co-written by Cope. For this tune he teamed up with Aaron Raitiere, a singer-songwriter from Kentucky. There’s definitely a dose of Skynyrd here.

Babe Rainbow/California

Babe Rainbow are a band from Byron Bay, Australia. Formed in 2014, they initially became known for playing ’60s style psychedelic rock. They have also ventured into soft rock with influences from Latin music. Their bassist Lu-Lu-Felix Domingo originally hails from Venezuela. The other members are Angus Dowling (vocals, drums), Jack “Cool-Breeze” Crowther (guitar) and Elliot O’Reilly (guitar). After an eponymous EP from 2015, Babe Rainbow released their first full-length album in 2017, which was also self-titled. California, co-written by Dowling, Crowther and O’Reilly is a nice laid back track from their fourth and new album Changing Colours.

The Black Keys/Crawling Kingsnake

The Black Keys are a rock band from Akron, Ohio, co-founded in 2001 as a duo by high school friends Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums). After recording a demo and sending it to a dozen of record labels, they got a deal in 2002 with small Los Angeles indie label Alive. Their debut album The Big Come Up, which was recorded in Carney’s basement on an 8-track tape recorder in lo-fi, appeared in March 2002. While it didn’t chart or sell well, the record got them a new deal with Fat Possum Records. Their third album Rubber Factory, issued by that label, was their first to chart in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Commercial breakthrough came with the sixth studio album Brothers, fueled by the singles Tighten Up and Howlin’ for You. The Black Keys have since released four additional albums including their latest Delta Kream, a cover album of hill country blues songs. Between August 2015 and March 2019, the duo was on hiatus, with Auerbach and Carney each working on their own projects. Here’s Crawling King Snake, the opener of Delta Kream. The tune was first recorded under that title by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in March 1941. John Lee Hooker, one of the many other artists who recorded Crawling King Snake, turned the song into one of his most successful singles in 1949.

Myles Kennedy/In Stride

Let’s wrap up this installment of Best of What’s New with rock from Myles Kennedy. The singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of rock band Alter Bridge, and lead vocalist of Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, the backing band of Slash. Kennedy has also worked as a session musician and songwriter. In March 2018, he released his solo debut album Year of the Tiger. His new album The Idles of March is his sophomore release. Here’s In Stride, a blues-oriented rocker with nice slide guitar action written by Kennedy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Watch

This is another post I can blame on my streaming music provider. When I saw Watch by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band pop up as a listening suggestion the other day, I immediately recalled how much I dug that album as a teenager back in Germany. As such, I was curious to find out whether my opinion had changed since then and gave Watch another “spin.” Turns out I still like it!

Released in February 1978, Watch was the eighth album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own the same copy to this day. The band and that particular record were very popular in Germany. Two of its tracks – Davy’s On the Road Again and Mighty Quinn – received heavy radio play. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Watch peaked at no. 3 in West-Germany and remained in the charts for an impressive 69 weeks.

Wikipedia also notes that Watch was the last album with Earth Band co-founding member and original drummer Chris Slade. Slade has played in many other bands, most notably AC/DC from late 1989 until 1993. He also joined them for their Rock or Bust tour in 2015 and 2016, and has appeared in the band’s promotional materials thereafter. His current status is unclear, given the reported possible return of Phil Rudd.

Watch also marked the first album with Pat King on bass. He’s a great bassist, which frankly I had not fully appreciated until I listened to the record again. King stayed with the Earth Band until 1982. Interestingly, from 1991 until his retirement in 2013, King was the band’s lighting designer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Drowning On Dry Land/Fish Soup. Drowning On Dry Land is credited to Chris Slade, while Fish Soup was co-written by Earth Band lead guitarist David Flett and Manfred Mann (keyboards, backing vocals). The tune definitely cannot hide its ’70s sound, but I think it’s cool and a great example of King’s melodic bass lines. Here’s the official video from Mann’s YouTube channel.

California wraps up the A-side in the album’s vinyl version. The tune was written by Sue Vickers, who according to Discogs was married to Mike Vickers, a member of Manfred Mann, Mann’s band from 1962 until 1969, which had a string of hits in the U.K., including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Mighty Quinn. Mann subsequently formed experimental jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three and, following their break-up, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. California is another beautiful example of King’s melodic bass playing.

Here’s the aforementioned Davy’s On the Road Again, a classic, and the first song of the B-side. That tune, the first of two live tracks on the record, was co-written by John Simon and Robbie Robertson. Simon is primarily known as a producer in the ’60s and ’70s and his work for artists like The Band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Robertson, of course, was The Band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter. Here’s the official video of Davy’s from Mann’s YouTube channel, which features nice live footage. And for the gear geeks, you can nicely see a Moog synthesizer in action! 🙂

Let’s wrap things up with the record’s final tune, The Mighty Quinn, the second live track on the album. Written by Bob Dylan and originally titled Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), it was Mann’s recording that was released first as Mighty Quinn in January 1968. The Earth Band turned the initial folk rock version into a more edgy rock song. Dylan originally recorded the tune during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. His first official release of the song was on his 1970 studio album Self Portrait.

In addition to Mann, Flett, King and Slade, the Earth Band’s core line-up on Watch also featured Chris Hamlet Thompson (lead vocals, guitar). Supporting the band on backing vocals were Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter, Stevie Lange, Victy Silva and Kim Goddy. The album credits list Manfred Mann and Earth Band as producer.

Watch had much better chart success in Europe and New Zealand than elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned performance in Germany, the album also placed in the top 10 in Norway (no. 2) and Sweden (no. 9), and climbed to no. 33 in the U.K. In New Zealand the record peaked at no. 29, while in the U.S. and Canada, it only reached no. 83 and no. 85, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube