Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again, and another week just flew by since my last revue of newly released music. Most of the times, Best of What’s New features artists I’m not familiar with or only have heard of in passing. This week is different. Two of my picks include artists who have been around for more than five decades, and I’ve listened to each for some 40 years. I had not been aware of the other two, though they’re not new artists. All tunes except for the last one are on releases that came out yesterday (October 15).

Santana/Joy (feat. Chris Stapleton)

I’d like to start with Carlos Santana who I trust needs no introduction. He first entered my radar screen when I was 8 or 10 years old. That’s when I listened to his band’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from 1974, which my older sister had on vinyl. I loved the combination of Latin rhythms and rock right away, which was front and center on that record, since it covers Santana’s first three studio albums. Of course, Santana’s music has since evolved. Which brings me to the band’s new and 26th studio album Blessings and Miracles. After the Latin rock-focused Africa Speaks and Santana IV, released in 2019 and 2016, respectively, Blessings and Miracles is reminiscent of previous records like Supernatural and All That I Am, marking return to a more pop-oriented sound and a collaborative approach. Here’s Joy, a tune co-written by Carlos Santana and Chris Stapleton, one of the many guests on the new album, who also include Rob Thomas (remember Smooth?), Steve Winwood and Chick Corea, among others. I didn’t expect Stapleton to sing a reggae-like tune, but it works and has a cool groove!

Wilderado/The Worst of It

Wilderado are an indie rock band that originally hails from Tulsa, Okla. and is currently based in Los Angeles. According to their Apple Music profile, their expansive indie rock fuses soaring vocals and rumbling guitars with an open-road, Americana-inspired feel…Co-songwriters Max Rainer (vocals, guitar) and Tyler Wimpee (vocals, guitar) began working together in college, initially using the name Bird Dog. By 2016, the band also included bassist Colton Dearing and drummer Justin Kila and the quartet, now called Wilderado, released their debut EP, Misty Shrub. The Worst of It, written by all four members of the band, together with co-producers Chad Copelin and James McAlister, is a track from Wilderado’s new eponymous album, their first full-length release. I like this!

Erin Enderlin/Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey

Erin Enderlin is a Nashville-based county singer-songwriter who originally is from Conway, Ark. She has written songs for a number of other country artists, such as Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire. Some became hits on the Billboard Country Chart, such as Jackson’s Monday Morning Church from 2004 and Womack’s Last Call from 2008, which reached no. 5 and no. 14, respectively. In August 2013, Enderlin released her debut album I Let Her Talk. Two additional records have since appeared, as well as Enderlin’s new EP Ballroom Mirrors. Here’s the opener Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey. The tune was co-written by Enderlin and Ben Chapman. Looks like it was first released back in July. I suppose three months still count as newish. Plus, the EP is definitely new.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Song of the Seasons

I’d like to finish this Best of What’s New post with the latest from Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Song of the Seasons is the first track from their forthcoming album Barn scheduled to drop on December 10. This is Young’s 40th studio album and his 14th with Crazy Horse, and follows Colorado from October 2019, which he also recorded with the band. According to a short statement on Young’s website, Song of the Seasons was written about a year ago (by him) and is the oldest tune on the record. Released on October 14, the song features Young (guitar, harmonica, vocals), together with band members Nils Lofgren (accordion, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). This acoustic folk tune sounds like classic Neil Young – love it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Neil Young website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music feature. It’s hard to believe we’re in September and that the Labor Day weekend is upon folks in the U.S. But as I’ve said before, summer doesn’t end until September 22, so we still got almost three weeks left! This week’s Best of What’s New includes four singer-songwriters: two from Nashville, one from Austin and the second-ever featured artist on my blog from Iceland. All tunes were released yesterday (September 3).

Vinnie Paolizzi/Babylon

I like to open this week’s post with a very promising looking young artist: Vinnie Paolizzi, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who originally hails from Philadelphia. According to his website, he brings thoughtful lyrics and old school sounds back to modern music. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his heroes; Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles, he moved to Nashville in 2017 and assembled a powerful band while making inroads in the songwriter community. Over the course of 2020 he released music he had written since leaving his hometown behind. Both full band and acoustic tracks were recorded at the legendary “Sound Emporium” studio in Nashville, TN with an all-star band including fellow songwriter Gabe Lee on keys and backing vocals, long time Philly musician Alexander Saddic on drums and vocals, and Nashville handyman Dalton Ray Brown on bass and vocals. Babylon, co-written by Paolizzi and Gabe Lee, who also supports Paolizzi on vocals, is the great closer of Paolizzi’s new EP Private Sky. Paolizzi’s soulful vocals remind me a bit of Marcus King. Looking forward to hearing more from him!

Ashland Craft/Travelin’ Kind

This next artist is also based in Nashville and like Vinnie Paolizzi didn’t grow up there: Ashland Craft, from South Carolina. From her profile on Bandsintown: Craft’s soul-infused vocals and ability to make a song her own landed her in the Top Ten on The Voice, before leading her to opening tour slots for major artists like Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and other notable acts. Since moving to Nashville in 2019, Craft has won fans with her catchy fusion of edgy country and soulful Southern rock…A true, lifelong music lover, Craft found her honky-tonk spirit and cut her teeth singing country and rock covers at a bar in South Carolina, and counts Def Leppard, Gretchen Wilson, Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer among her eclectic musical influences. Here’s the title track of her debut album Travelin’ Kind. I can definitely hear some Bonnie Raitt in this nice rocker and also dig Craft’s raspy voice.

Ásgeir/On the Edge

With this next track, I’m turning to an artist from Iceland, only the second from the Nordic island country, who is featured on my more than 5-year-old blog after rock band KALEO: Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, a singer-songwriter from the tiny village of Laugarbakki in the northeastern part of Iceland. According to his Apple Music profile, Many of his early lyrics were written by his poet father, Einar Georg Einarsson, who was in his seventies when his son’s debut album, Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, was released in 2012. Within his native Iceland, Ásgeir’s Dýrð í Dauðaþögn is the top-selling debut album ever, besting Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Björk. Following the success of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, Ásgeir worked with American singer-songwriter John Grant to develop an English-language version of the album, titled In the Silence. Einarsson who performs as Ásgeir has since released two additional English-language albums, various singles and his latest work, the EP The Sky is Painted Gray Today. Here’s On the Edge, which like the other three tracks on the EP is a gentle acoustic guitar tune.

Strand of Oaks/Somewhere in Chicago

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is music from Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter. According to his Apple Music profile, he specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. The next Strand of Oaks album In Heaven is scheduled for October 1. Here’s Somewhere in Chicago, the new and third upfront single. Love that sound – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Vinnie Paolizzi website; Bandsintown; Apple Music; YouTube

The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band Release Damn Good New Album

Unusual country blues trio’s energetic 10th album was recorded using best 1950s technology

To anyone who knows me and my music taste, perhaps it was predictable that I would follow up my latest Best of What’s New installment with a dedicated post on The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The energetic music by this unusual country blues trio, which released their new album Dance Songs for Hard Times on Friday, April 9, is just too damn good to do otherwise.

In case you didn’t read my aforementioned post, the trio has been around since 2003 and consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines.

As noted on the band’s website, Dance Songs for Hard Times was written during the dreadful pandemic and reflects the ups and downs life can throw at you. To start with a story that has become all too familiar, COVID-19 completely derailed the band’s touring schedule. Pre-pandemic they played a whooping more than 250 dates per year. Added to this were a lingering illness affecting Peyton’s wife – possibly an undiagnosed case of COVID – and a cancer diagnosis for his father. On top of all, bad weather knocked off power for multiple days at the Peyton’s 150-year-old log cabin in Southern Indiana – jeez!

While his wife rested and recovered, Peyton wrote the album’s songs in near darkness. “It’s been a struggle the entire time,” he explained. “Nothing’s been easy. Other than the music. The music came easy.” Given all of that rather bleak context, you might expect to hear a downcast album. Not so! “I like songs that sound happy but are actually very sad,” Peyton noted. “I don’t know why it is, but I just do.”

It’s also notable that at the suggestion of Nashville producer Vance Powell, who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton and Jack White, production relied on analog eight-track recording. Peyton’s vocals and guitar-playing were captured live in the studio, and overdubs were kept to a minimum. Together with the use of Peyton’s 1954 Supro Dual Tone electric guitar and other “old” gear, this gives the album a great vintage sound. Let’s get to some music!

Here’s the opener Ways and Means, which nicely sets the mood for the entire album. Peyton’s guitar playing is really impressive, and his vocals neatly fit the songs. “‘Ways and Means’ was written for all those folks who have the moves, the style, the substance, the talent, but maybe not the seed money or the famous last name,” Peyton stated. “All those people who had to work extra hard because they didn’t get to start way ahead. Folks who have been playing catch-up since they were born and had to get really good just to make it to zero.” And all of that is packaged in upbeat music. The video is also fun to watch!

On Rattle Can, the band is pushing the pedal to the metal. Peyton sings in such rapid fire motion that it’s difficult at times to understand the words. An excerpt: I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do/ I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do /I need the whole enchilada, I need the who shebang, I need all the marbles too/I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do/rattle, rattle, rattle, rattle, shake, shake/Shake it like a rattle can, baby, oh yeah…

Here’s Too Cool to Dance, the tune I highlighted in my previous Best of What’s New. I guess it was just too cool to skip! “I was thinking about all the times where I’ve been somewhere and felt too cool to dance,” Peyton noted about the song. “I didn’t want to be that way. Not being able to do anything last year, I had this feeling of, ‘Man, I’m not going to waste any moment like this in my life – ever.'” Another engaging video to watch. The energy is just infectious!

Time to slow down things a little with No Tellin’ When. The words make it pretty clear what the tune is about. No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll see my mom again/No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll see my mom again// No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll get to work again/No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll get to work again…

Let’s do one more: Nothing’s Easy but You and Me. I wonder what that song is all about! 🙂 Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Back it up mama it don’t cost nothing/Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Nothing’s cheap and nothing’s free/Nothing’s easy but you and me…

“Despite the hardships of this moment in history, it created this music that I hope will maybe help some people through it,” Peyton summed up the album. “Because it helps me through it to play it.” The band’s website also revealed some other positive news. After undergoing surgery, Peyton’s father was declared cancer free last year. The band has also been able to stay connected with their fans and make some money through a page on Patreon, a service to support musicians and other artists through recurring monetary contributions in exchange to gaining access to exclusive content created by the artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After the unprecedented events we witnessed in this country earlier this week, it feels somewhat surreal to blog about something completely unrelated. At the same time, the fact new music keeps coming out is reassuring to me. In fact, music has always had a degree of healing power during challenging times and provided a welcome distraction. While ignoring reality can be dangerous, I believe occasionally escaping from it is a good thing to clear your mind and gather strength.

I’m very excited about this week’s Best of What’s New installment, which features indie and country singer-songwriters, a young incredibly talented vintage soul vocalist who knocked my socks off and…well, you’ll need to continue reading to find out yourself. All of this great music was just released yesterday (January 8).

Denison Witmer/River of Music

Dension Witmer is a singer-songwriter from Lancaster, Pa. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Tagged by many music journalists as one of the most likely songwriters to fill the void left by Elliott Smith in the acoustic indie singer/songwriter movement, [he] catalogs the experiences of young adulthood in almost painfully honest detail. With a soft and sensitive voice that perfectly matches his laid-back 1970s California pop production and subtly expressive guitar work, he has gone from writing in his journal to becoming an intimate of like-minded artists like Damien Jurado and Pedro the Lion over the span of a few albums. Growing up in Lancaster, PA, Witmer picked up the guitar at the age of 16 and was soon showing enough promise to draw the interest of the Innocence Mission’s Don Peris. As Peris became Witmer’s musical mentor, he would oversee and play guitar and keyboard on his apprentice’s first recordings, 2000’s River Bends EP and the much-heralded Safe Away. Here’s the great River of Music, a track from Witmer’s new EP American Foursquare (Simplified). It surely feels good listening to his soothing voice and beautiful guitar-playing. And the lyrics about the power of music perfectly illustrate what I wrote in the intro of this post.

Morgan Wallen/Livin’ the Dream

Country music singer-songwriter Morgan Wallen, who hails from the tiny Tennessee town of Sneedville (about 250 miles east of Nashville), first gained some prominence as a contestant on season 6 of The Voice in 2014. While Wallen didn’t make it to the final, his stint eventually led to a deal with Panacea Records and his debut EP Stand Alone from August 2015. Wallen switched to Big Loud Records thereafter and released his first full-length studio album If I Know Me in April 2018. Livin’ the Dream is a track from his sophomore release Dangerous: The Double Album. This double album features a hefty 30 tunes, many prominent country songwriters and a guest appearance by Chris Stapleton. Livin’ the Dream, a tale about life as a “rock star,” was co-written by Wallen, Ben Burgess, Jacob Durrett and Michael Wilson Hardy, aka Hardy.

Barry Gibb/To Love Somebody

Yep, that’s Barry Gibb, formerly of the Bee Gees. I recently covered them in a four-part series here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). All I’d like to say in this post is if you think the Bee Gees were just a disco band, I’d encourage to take a closer look at their music or read my series. Was it necessary for Gibb, the group’s only surviving member, to come out with Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol 1., an album of newly recorded versions of mostly famous Bee Gees songs? Probably not – on the other hand, why not! The Bee Gees’ catalog is full with well crafted songs. Co-written by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb, To Love Somebody is among my favorite early Bee Gees tunes. It initially appeared on Bee Gees’ 1st, the group’s first internationally released full-length studio album that was released in July 1967 in the UK and appeared the following month in the U.S. The newly recorded version features Jay Buchanan, lead vocalist of American rock band Rival Sons. The album also includes many other guests, mostly from country music, a favorite genre of Barry’s, such as Little Big Town, Dolly Parton and Sheryl Crow. Be cynical about it, if you like. I dig and stand behind these songs and the Bee Gees!

Aaron Frazer/ If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

According to his website, Aaron Frazer is a Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised songwriter [who] first came into the international spotlight as multi-instrumentalist and co-lead singer for Durand Jones & The Indications. He penned some of the group’s most notable tracks, including ‘Morning In America,’ and sang lead on ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ – the latter an instant sweet soul classic anchored by Aaron’s falsetto, which caught the ear of producer and Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach…Soft-spoken with the look of a slightly disaffected 1950s matinee idol, Aaron Frazer possesses a unique voice that’s both contemporary and timeless. His higher register conveys a wide emotional palate and a progressive worldview in the tradition of musical masterminds like Curtis Mayfield. While Aaron’s stirring falsetto and thoughtful songwriting have made him established in the world of revival soul music, he refuses to be pigeonholed. That falsetto is in beautiful action on If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a tune from Aaron’s debut album Introducing…, which was produced by Auerbach. The song was co-written by Frazer, Auerbach and David Ferguson. So good! check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Aaron Frazer website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While McCartney III kept me busy yesterday, Paul McCartney’s new album wasn’t the only great new music. Ringo Starr also released a new single. I wonder how many times has it happened before that two ex-Beatles come out with new music during the same week! But wait, there’s more.

How about an indie rock band from LA and a young R&B artist and producer from South Korea? Or a prolific Australian rock band I had never heard of before, which apparently is considered to be one of the most genre-hopping bands of all time.

Last but not least, this latest Best of What’s New installment also features a longtime New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician, who is perhaps best known for having performed the music of Steely Dan for more than 26 years, faithfully capturing the vocals of Donald Fagen.

The Wrecks/Static

The Wrecks are a band from the Los Angeles area, which was formed in 2016. Apple Music’s profile describes their music as exuberant, melodic, emo- and punk-influenced indie rock. The group found early success with their 2016 breakout single, “Favorite Liar,” and after a pair of EPs signed to the Big Noise label for their 2020 full-length Infinitely Ordinary. Hailing from Thousand Oaks, California, singer/guitarist Nick Anderson, guitarist Nick Schmidt, guitarist Westen Weiss, bassist Aaron Kelley, and drummer Billy Nally had barely formed when they chanced on the opportunity for a few covert days in a local studio. In just three hectic days, they recorded their 2016 debut EP, We Are the Wrecks, which featured the catchy single “Favorite Liar.” The song picked up steam online and helped the Wrecks land some key gigs opening for Paramore and the Struts along with festival slots at Lollapalooza and BottleRock. A second EP, Panic Vertigo, arrived in 2018, followed in 2020 by the Wrecks’ first LP, Infinitely Ordinary, on the Big Noise imprint. Static, co-written by Anderson and Schmidt, is the title track of The Wrecks’ new EP, which appeared yesterday. Admittedly, it falls outside my core wheelhouse, but my pop ear can’t deny it’s catchy.

Mike Caputo/Maya Lee

Unless you’ve read my blog for a long time, you probably haven’t heard of New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician Mike Caputo. Mike has been active for over 50 years. According to a bio on his website, A vocalist who plays keyboards and drums, Mike was signed to ABC Dunhill records at 15 years old after playing the Cafe Wha? in NYC in 1967. From that point he performed as a lead vocalist and either drummer, or keyboardist in a variety of local bands in the club circuit. Performing 5 to 6 nights a week playing Pop, Progressive, Jazz, R&B, Funk and his own Original Compositions, led him to more studio experience at Private Stock Records in the 70’s...Mike is also a published writer who wrote lyrics and melody for “A Question Of  Time” by B.J. Thomas from the album “Once I Loved” and “Manhattan Blue” for Rich Cecere’e Big Band. For the past more than 26 years, he has performed the music of Steely Dan, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino Vannelli, Stevie Wonder and Sting, all artists who influenced him. Mike’s also a dear friend, and I’ve been to many of his shows. This doesn’t mean I’m featuring Maya Lee, a song he recently wrote, to do him a favor. In fact, he has no idea what’s coming at him! 🙂 When I saw this tune on Facebook the other day, I immediately dug it. It’s got a great smooth pop jazzy sound – and, yes, I can definitely hear some Donald Fagen/Steely Dan in here. I also really like the bass and guitar work, provided by Scott Hogan and Don Regan, respectively, who are also members of Good Stuff.

Ringo Starr/Here’s to the Nights

It turns out Paul McCartney wasn’t the only ex-Beatle who was busy working on new music during the pandemic. His former band mate Ringo Starr released Here’s to the Nights on Wednesday (December 16), the lead single from his forthcoming EP Zoom In scheduled for March 19, 2021. An announcement on his website notes, As this crazy year comes to a close, Ringo is offering a song of peace, love and friendship – “Here’s To The Nights” available today as a single…Written by Diane Warren, Ringo is joined by his friends, some longtime and some new, including: Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, FINNEAS, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola. Of course, I can see cynics dismissing this as an aging pop star getting a little help from celebrity musician friends. While it’s coming out just prior to the holidays, I don’t think this is about making a quick buck. Instead, I fully buy Ringo’s statement: “This is the kind of song we all want to sing along to, and it was so great how many wonderful musicians joined in. I wanted it out in time for New Years because it feels like a good song to end a tough year on. So here’s to the nights we won’t remember and the friends we won’t forget – and I am wishing everyone peace and love for 2021.”

Miso/Let It Go

Here’s another selection that’s not the kind of music I usually listen to, but there’s just something about Miso, a 28-year-old R&B artist and producer from South Korea. According to a mini bio on last.fm, Miso lived in England during her childhood. Her songs are characterized by a very peculiar modern and soft beat. Her name has often been associated with artists like DEAN and she has worked with CRUSH too – no idea who these artists are. Let It Go, for which Miso wrote both the music and lyrics, is from her new EP Metanoia released December 14. I guess it’s mostly her voice that drew me in. And check out that cool bassline! This tune definitely has something.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard/If Not Now, Then When?

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (what a name!) are an Australian rock band founded in 2010 in Melbourne. Initially, they started as a group of friends jamming together until a mutual friend asked them to play at a show – sounds like the rest is history. The current line-up features Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica, keyboards), Cook Craig (guitar, bass, vocals), Joey Walker (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Lucas Harwood (bass, keyboards) and Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh (drums, percussion). Their profile on Apple Music notes they have built a reputation as one of the most prolific and adventurous genre-hopping bands of all time. Their debut studio album 12 Bar Bruise appeared in September 2012. And, yes, this band has been pretty prolific indeed ever since, releasing 15 additional studio albums, six live albums, two EPs, one compilation and more than 40 singles. If Not Now, Then When? is their latest single that came out on December 10. This is just a cool tune. The groove and the falsetto vocals remind me a bit of Prince. Check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; last.fm; YouTube

The Dirty Knobs Release Long Awaited Debut Album Wreckless Abandon

Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs finally released their debut album yesterday (November 20). Originally, Wreckless Adandon had been scheduled for March 20 but was pushed back after Campbell announced in early March he had to deal with “some health issues, which, while fully treatable, need to be addressed” and that “I’m going to be just fine,” as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock at the time. In a way, the eight-month delay was relatively minor, considering the band has been around for some 20 years.

Campbell formed The Dirty Knobs in the early 2000s as a side project to Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. In August 2001, he told Rolling Stone he had recruited original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair and the band’s drummer at the time Steve Ferrone, together with guitarist Jason Sinay. Apart from Campbell and Sinay, the Knobs’ current lineup includes Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Laug (drums). “It’s rougher-edged [than the Heartbreakers],” Campbell described their music at the time. “It’s slightly over-driven, less polished, lots of Sixties influence — the Kinks, Zeppelin, the Animals. It’s something I probably should have done a long time ago, but I didn’t ’cause I was wrapped up in the Heartbreakers.”

The Dirty Knobs were active in-between Heartbreakers tours and studio projects. They played small venues and did some recordings but weren’t looking for a record deal. “We would go and play clubs and do some recordings and it just got better and better,” Campbell said during a recent interview with Cleveland.com. “I always had in the back of my mind it would be a great project to do if the Heartbreakers ever took a hiatus or whatever. So now here we are, and I’m all fired up to do this band.” Of course, Campbell had also been pretty busy working with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Johnny Cash and many other artists and since September 2018 as an official new member of Fleetwood Mac.

The Dirty Knobs (from left): Jason Sinay, Mike Campbell, Lance Morrison and Matt Laug

While Reckless Abandon isn’t meant to sound like a Heartbreakers album, perhaps inevitably, you find yourself looking for similarities, and there are definitely some influences. After all, Campbell and Petty had a long songwriting partnership, and it’s not a coincidence Campbell earned co-writing credits for two to three songs on many Heartbreakers albums and two of Petty’s solo records.

At times, even their voices sound a bit similar. “In the beginning I realized I had a lot of Tom’s nuances in my delivery ‘cause we grew up together, so I focused hard on trying to filter that out as much as possible and find my own voice and personality,” Campbell explained to Cleveland.com. “I don’t want to sound like Tom, of course, but I do from time to time ‘cause we have the same accents and this and that. But I think I found my own self.”

Time for some music. Here’s the opener and title track that had previously been released as the album’s lead single back in January. Like all other except for two songs, it was written by Campbell. Great tune – dig Campbell’s Rickenbacker sound. Frankly, this track could be a Heartbreakers song. One difference is there are no keyboards.

Pistol Packin’ Mama features Chris Stapleton on vocals. Stapleton also contributed a tune, Fuck That Guy. Likewise, Campbell was a guest on and co-wrote two songs for Stapleton’s new album Starting Over released on November 13. “He’s a great writer, a great artist, so I’m fortunate to be able to work with him,” Campbell told Cleveland.com. “I met Chris the first time just in passing; The Heartbreakers were headlining at (Chicago’s) Wrigley Field, and he was opening. He was going to take (Dirty Knobs) out to open for him in the summer.”

Next up: Southern Boy, another nice bluesy rocker. Again, I could also picture Tom Petty singing that tune.

On Irish Girl, The Dirty Knobs take it down a few notches. Released as the album’s most recent single on November 16, it’s among the tracks I like the best so far. “Irish Girl is my favorite lyric on the record,” Campbell told American Songwriter. “It’s whimsical and more poetic than most of the Knobs’ songs. I was inspired to write it driving home late one-night listening to Van Morrison on the radio. When I got home, the song just came to me. It’s very simple musically and I love the sound of the record. It reminds me of Ireland.” Here’s the official video.

Let’s wrap it up with one more bluesy rocker: Aw Honey. Ex-Heartbreaker Benmont Tench contributes piano.

Asked by Cleveland.com whether he feels a sense of mission to continue the legacy he had with Tom Petty, Campbell said, “Well, maybe subconsciously. I don’t perceive myself as on a mission, per se; my only mission is to have fun, really, and try to make great music and try to get better. He’s not here, obviously, so now it’s up to me, and I’ve got to carry on making music the best I can. I have a legacy to live up to. I hope the stuff that I do going forward holds up against that stuff. It’s kind of a high bar, but my only mission is just to enjoy myself and keep making music. That’s what keeps this alive.”

In addition to the album, The Dirty Knobs also postponed their supporting tour. It’s now scheduled to kick off in San Bernardino, Calif on June 5, 2021 and wrap up in New Orleans on November 2. Some of the other gigs include Denver (June 25 & 26), Chicago (July 17), Gainesville, Fla. (September 10 & 11), Nashville, Tenn. (September 14), Asbury Park, N.J. (September 18), Boston (September 23 & 24), Indianapolis (October 2 & 3), San Francisco (October 15 & 16) and Austin, Texas (October 30 & 31). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; Cleveland.com; American Songwriter; The Dirty Knobs website; YouTube

Singer-Songwriter Jason Isbell Releases New Album

“Reunions” may have been his most challenging record to make so far

While I had heard of Jason Isbell before and listened to some of his past music, I had not taken a closer look at the singer-songwriter from Green Hill, Ala., who at age 41 has experienced both remarkable success and full-blown addiction to alcohol and cocaine in his late ’20s. Both sides of his story provide important context for Reunions, Isbell’s new album, which he recorded with his backing band The 400 Unit. It was broadly released yesterday, May 15.

Apparently, Isbell grew up in a musical family. His grandfather and uncle showed him how to play various instruments. As a 6-year-old, he learned the mandolin, and in high school, he played the trumpet and French horn. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the guitar and started playing in a garage band and a country cover band. Eventually, he met session bassist David Horn, whose son Patterson Hood was a co-founder of alternative country and Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers. When he was 21, Isbell got a publishing deal with FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where he worked until he joined Drive-By-Truckers the following year during their supporting tour for their third studio album Southern Rock Opera.

Isbell stayed for six years and recorded three studio albums with the band, contributing guitar and vocals, and writing some of their songs. During these years with Drive-By Truckers, Isbell developed his alcohol and cocaine addiction. Apparently, it did not slow him down much. Following his departure from the band in April 2007, Isbell wasted no time to launch a solo career and released his solo debut Sirens of the Ditch in July that year.

Jason Isbell

The 400 Unit, weirdly named after a colloquial name for the psychiatric ward of a local hospital in Florence, Ala., came together for Isbell’s sophomore album Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit released in February 2009. Two years later, Isbell agreed to enter a rehab program at a Nashville facility. He managed to overcome his addiction and has been sober since. In February 2013, Isbell married singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires. Since 2011, she had been a guest on his albums and eventually became a member of The 400 Unit. In parallel, Shires continued to pursue her solo career. In 2019, she also formed country band The Highwomen. Isbell played guitar on their eponymous debut album, which appeared last September.

Since Isbell got out of drug rehab, he won many accolades for his music, which among others include four Grammy awards and various Americana Music Honors & Awards. They turned out to be a mixed blessing when making his new album. “For some reason, I felt really pressured,” Isbell told The New York Times. “You think, ‘If I make a record that’s not great, everybody’s going to dismiss me entirely. If I [expletive] up my relationship, everybody’s going to be so shocked that they’ll write me off completely.’ All those things, when you say them out loud sound ridiculous, but they stay in there and gnaw at you.”

Jasom Isbell & Amanda Shires
Jason Isbell with Amanda Shires

The pressure took a toll on his marriage and at some point prompted Shires to move to a motel, since she felt belittled. “I want him to make the best art he can but not at the expense of making me feel less,” she noted to The New York Times. “I needed space because lines were getting crossed.” So with all the drama surrounding the album, how did it turn out? Pretty good, in my opinion, though one hopes this outcome happened despite the aforementioned challenges, not because of them. Let’s get to some music!

Here is the opener What’ve I Done to Help. Like all of the remaining nine tracks on the album, the tune was written by Isbell. “It seems like this song set the right mood for the record,” Isbell told Apple Music. “It’s a little bit indicting of myself, but I think it’s also a positive message: Most of what I’m talking about on this album is trying to be aware as possible and not just get lost in your own selfish bubble, because sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be honest with yourself.” BTW, none other than David Crosby provides harmony vocals on the tune!

In Overseas, Isbell was trying to write a song that’s about multiple things at once, which he views as a big challenge. “On the one hand, you have an expatriate who had just had enough of the country they’re living in and moved on and left a family behind,” he explained to Apple Music. “And the other is more about my own personal story, where I was home with our daughter when my wife was on tour for a few months.” Apparently, the song was inspired by Eric Clapton, who once said in an interview he didn’t feel he would ever be a great songwriter since he wasn’t able to write allegorically. “I was probably 12 or 13 when I read that,” Isbell said, “and it stuck with me.”

Running With Your Eyes Closed has a little bit of a Mark Knopfler guitar vibe, which is definitely part of the reason it speaks to me. According to Isbell, “It’s a love song, but I really try hard to look at relationships from different angles, because songs of the initial spark of a relationship – that territory has been covered so many times before and so well that I don’t know that I would have anything new to bring.” I really dig the sound of this track. Check it out!

One of the most personal tracks on the album is It Gets Better. “I was awake until four in the morning, just sort of laying there, not terribly concerned or worried about anything,” Isbell explained. “And there was a time where I thought, ‘Well, if I was just drunk, I could go to sleep’. But then I also thought, ‘Well, yeah, but I would wake up a couple hours later when the liquor wore off.’ I think it’s important for me to remember how it felt to be handicapped by this disease and how my days actually went. I’ve finally gotten to the point now where I don’t really hate that guy anymore, and I think that’s even helped me because I can go back and actually revisit emotions and memories from those times without having to wear a suit of armor.”

Let’s do one more. Here’s the closer Letting You Go, a tune Isbell wrote for his four-year-old daughter, recalling her as a baby and fast-forwarding to picture her getting married and leaving the house. Well, that certainly looks like a big jump into the future; then again, time flies, as I can attest when it comes to my own son who is 18 now – how did that happen so quickly? “Once, when my daughter was very little, my wife said, ‘Every day, they get a little bit farther away from you’,” Isbell reflected. “And that’s the truth of it: It’s a long letting-go process.” He clearly is very attached to the little girl.

Reunions is Isbell’s fourth straight album produced by Dave Cobb, who has also produced for Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and John Prine, among others. In addition to Shires (fiddle, backing vocals), The 400 Unit features Sadler Vaden (guitar, backing vocals), Jimbo Hart (bass, backing vocals), Derry DeBorja (keyboard, accordion, backing vocals) and Chad Gamble (drums, backing vocals).

So what does David Crosby think about Isbell? “Jason has become one of the best writers in the country,” he commented to The New York Times. “And my idea of really good writers is Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan. His singing is emotional. It’s honest. He’s really trying to tell you the story.” Hopefully, Crosby’s praise won’t put additional pressure on Isbell when comes to making his next record. As strange as it sounds, it might actually be a good thing for Isbell if he doesn’t get a ton of accolades for Reunions!

Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; Apple Music; YouTube