The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final Sunday Six of 2021 – can’t believe I’m writing this! To those celebrating, I hope you had a nice Christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season. To everybody else, hope you’ve been having a great time anyway! Today, this weekly recurring feature is hitting a milestone with its 50th installment. It’s another eclectic set of music touching the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021. Ready for the last mini music excursion of the year? Let’s do it!

Frank Zappa/Pink Napkins

I’d like to start today’s music time travel with an artist I never thought I’d feature. While I recognize Frank Zappa was widely acclaimed, except for the weirdly catchy Bobby Brown Goes Down, I always found it difficult to listen to his music and never warmed to him. That being said, I’ve always known he was a pretty talented musician. When my streaming music provider served up Pink Napkins the other day, I was immediately intrigued by this guitar-driven instrumental. And, yes, I was quite surprised to learn I had just listened to Frank Zappa! Pink Napkins is from Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, the second in a series of three all-instrumental albums released in May 1981, which subsequently appeared as a box set in 1982. It’s a very improvisational collection of what essentially are guitar solos. While hey there, people, you may wonder, wonder, why Zappa released a massive collection of guitar solos, dare I say it, I actually dig Pink Napkins!

Pink Floyd/Stay

Next is what I would call a deep track from Pink Floyd’s catalog. Stay, co-written by the band’s keyboarder Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour, was included on the group’s seventh studio album Obscured by Clouds that came out in June 1972. It was the soundtrack for a French motion picture titled La Vallée and directed by Iranian-born Swiss film director and producer Barbet Schroeder. Among others, he’s known for directing Hollywood films Barfly (1987) and Single White Female (1992). While Obscured by Clouds didn’t match the chart performance of the group’s two preceding records Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, it still reached a respectable no. 6 in the UK. By comparison, it remained, well, a bit more obscure in the U.S. where it stalled at no. 46. This was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd’s next album The Dark Side of the Moon.

Little Richard/Good Golly, Miss Molly

Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to get movin’ and groovin’ with some killer classic rock & roll by the great Little Richard: Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball, whoo/Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball/When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’/Can’t hear your momma call…Even though I’ve listened to Good Golly, Miss Molly countless times since I first heard it 40-plus years ago, I’m still amazed by Richard’s energy. This man was a force of nature and an incredible performer. Good Golly, Miss Molly was co-written by John Marascalco and producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It was first recorded by Richard and appeared as a single in January 1958. It was also included on Richard’s eponymous sophomore album released in July of the same year.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Ways and Means

Let’s keep rockin’ and jump to 2021 and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. If you happened to read part 1 of my recent year-in-review feature, you may recall the name of this unusual country blues trio, which has been around since 2003. Ways and Means is the opener of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s energetic 10th studio album that came out back in April. Check out the official video, which is fun to watch. These guys are just amazing! Peyton is a really talented guitarist, and his singing ain’t too shabby either – my kind of reverend!

The Mamas & The Papas/Monday Monday

After two high-energy tunes, I’d like to slow it down a little with some beautiful sunshine pop from the ’60s. For the purposes of this feature, the tune really should have been titled “Sunday Sunday”, but I’ll gladly go with Monday Monday. The third single by The Mamas & The Papas, released in March 1966, became the L.A. vocal group’s only no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the group’s leader John Philipps, aka Papa John Phillips, the tune was a big hit outside the U.S. as well, reaching no. 2 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands; no. 3 in the UK; and no. 4 in Australia, among others. Monday Monday was also included on The Mamas & The Papas’ debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears from February of the same year. I’ve always loved their beautiful harmony singing.

Bonnie Raitt/You

I’d like to wrap up this installment with one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. Since I was introduced to her with Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve come to love her music and amazing slide guitar-playing. I also finally had a chance to see her in August 2016 in New Jersey. If you’re curious you can read more about the show here and watch a clip of the entire gig, which is still up! For this post, I’ve picked You, a beautiful tune from Raitt’s 12th studio album Longing in Their Hearts that appeared in March 1994. The song was co-written by John Shanks, Bob Thiele and Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian). Bonnie Raitt will tour in 2022. Man, would I love to catch her again – we’ll see whether conditions are going to responsibly allow it!

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, 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. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz, at its core, this still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; 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

Of Slides and Bottlenecks

The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!

I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.

How to Play Slide Guitar - Quickstart Guide | Zing Instruments

Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.

The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.

Clockwise starting from left in upper row: Sylvester Weaver, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Brian Jones, Mike Boomfield, Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks

The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.

Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.

One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.

Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.

The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.

Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.

In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.

Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.

A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.

Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!

Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube