The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and I hope everybody is doing well. Earlier this week, the passing of David Crosby at age 81 once again reminded us we shouldn’t take music artists of his generation who fortunately are still with us for granted. One consolation is their great music will live on as long as this planet exists – that’s one of the incredible beauties of this art form. Let’s celebrate with another excursion into the amazing world of music with six tunes and, yes, Crosby will be one of our stops.

Bobby Timmons/Moanin’

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with groovy music by Bobby Timmons. The American jazz pianist and composer, who started performing during the first half of the ’50s, was best known as a member of Art Blakey’s band The Jazz Messengers, who he first joined in 1958. After his initial stint with this group, he moved on to Cannonball Adderley’s band in October 1959. Timmons was instrumental in creating soul jazz, a subgenre blending influences from hard bop, blues, soul, gospel and R&B. Several of his well-known compositions were written while he was playing with the two aforementioned bands. One is Moanin’, which first appeared as the title track on a 1958 album by The Jazz Messengers. I’m featuring a version Timmons subsequently recorded for an album released under his name in 1960, This Is Here Is Bobby Timmons. On his first album as the sole leader, Timmons was backed by Sam Jones (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

The Rainmakers/Rainmaker

Let’s jump to the ’80s for our next stop and The Rainmakers, an American pop rock band from Kansas City. When my former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany first introduced me to them with their third studio album Tornado, released in 1987, I instantly loved their jangly guitar sound. Formed in 1983 as a three-piece bar band and fronted by singer-songwriter Bob Walkenhorst, The Rainmakers have put out seven studio albums to date. While their most recent release, Cover Band, dates back to 2015, The Rainmakers still appear to be around as a touring act. After two breakup periods from 1990 to 1994 and 1998 to 2011, the band has been together in their original lineup since 2011. In addition to Walkenhorst (guitar, vocals), their current members include Jeff Porter (guitar, vocals), Rich Ruth (bass, vocals) and Pat Tomek (drums). Here’s the seductive Rainmaker, off the aforementioned Tornado album.

Little Village/Take Another Look

Little Village were a supergroup founded in 1991 by Ry Cooder (guitar, vocals), John Hiatt (guitar, piano, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals) and Jim Keltner (drums). They had worked together on Hiatt’s eighth solo album Bring the Family (May 1987) and decided to form a dedicated band during a break from their own musical projects. Like most supergroups, Little Village were short-lived and only released one eponymous album in February 1992. After a supporting tour of the U.S. and Europe, they disbanded later that same year. While the album didn’t do well commercially, it received a nomination for the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. The record also peaked at no. 23 on the UK Albums Chart. Here’s Take Another Look, credited to Little Village and featuring Lowe on lead vocals.

Grateful Dead/Shakedown Street

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s with a funky tune by the Grateful Dead. While in July 2018, I jokingly declared I had evolved to become a Deadhead from a bonehead, the reality is my knowledge of the Dead remains fairly limited and mostly includes their earlier albums. As such, I had completely forgotten about Shakedown Street, the groovy title track of their 10th studio album from November 1978, produced by the great Lowell George who is best known as the original frontman of Little Feat. Composed by Jerry Garcia with lyrics by longtime collaborator Robert Hunter, the tune also appeared separately as a single, but like most of their other singles, it was dead on arrival and didn’t chart anywhere. The album performed better, reaching no. 41 and no. 42 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I guess the Dead were never about chart success in the first place. Regardless, I dig this funky tune, which soundwise reminds me a bit of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday. That tune predated Shakedown Street by about four months.

Los Lobos/Made to Break Your Heart

Our journey continues in the current century. We’re going to September 2015, which saw the release of Gates of Gold, the 15th studio album by Los Lobos. I would argue this group blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros and norteños, is not just another band from East L.A. where they were founded in 1973 as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. They are also much more than La Bamba, their great rendition of the tune first popularized by Ritchie Valens. It became a no. 1 single for Los Lobos in the U.S. and many other countries in 1987 and remains their best-known song. They remain active to this day and released their most recent album Native Sons in late July 2021. I reviewed it here at the time. For now, let’s listen to Made to Break Your Heart. Co-written by David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez, two of the four co-founding members who are still with Los Lobos, the tune is the opener of the above-mentioned Gates of Gold.

Crosby, Stills & Nash/Long Time Gone

Time to wrap up another trip and come back to celebrate the music by David Crosby. In order to do that, let’s go back to May 1969 and the eponymous debut album by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Crosby who was a brilliant musician but had a volatile character co-founded CSN in 1968 together with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, after he had been dismissed from the Byrds. With Nash joining from The Hollies and Stills coming from the dissolved Buffalo Springfield, CSN are an early example of a supergroup. They became even “more super” when Neil Young joined them as a fourth member in August 1969, just ahead of Woodstock. Among my favorite tunes on CSN’s debut is Long Time Gone, one of the album’s two songs solely penned by Crosby. Another gem on the record, Wooden Ships, was co-written by him, Stills and Paul Kantner. Stills also joined Crosby on lead vocals for Long Time Gone.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above songs. As always, I hope there’s something that tickles your fancy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I take little journeys into the beautiful world of music, including different eras and different flavors, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me!

Jeff Beck/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Earlier this week, we lost one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, Jeff Beck, who suddenly passed away near his home in Southern England at the age of 78 from bacterial meningitis. As such, it feels right to start today’s mini-excursion in March 1975 and Blow By Blow. Beck’s second album that appeared under his name followed Beck, Bogert & Appice, the eponymous and only release by the short-lived power trio Beck had formed after he had dissolved the Jeff Beck Group. Beck gained initial prominence as a member of The Yardbirds where he succeeded Eric Clapton. For a short time, he intersected with Jimmy Page. Somewhere I read all three of these British ‘guitar gods’ grew up in the same geographic area. Unlike Clapton and Page, Beck never achieved huge chart success or record sales. It didn’t take away anything from his brilliance. Here’s his beautiful instrumental rendition of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers, a tune written by Stevie Wonder. I was happy to see it’s Beck’s most streamed track on Spotify.

The Walkabouts/Nightdrive

We will visit the ’70s one more time. For now, let’s continue our trip with a stop in December 1994 and Setting the Woods On Fire, the seventh album by The Walkabouts. Before continuing, I’d like to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Hotfox63 who covered one of the band’s other records last December, which brought them on my radar screen. The Walkabouts were formed in Seattle, Wa. in 1984. Inspired by folk and country music from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, the group released 13 studio albums before they disbanded in 2015. Their rich sound also drew from other genres and artists, such as Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel. This brings me to Nightdrive, a song off the above-mentioned album. It’s credited to all members of the group, who at the time included co-founders Chris Eckman (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, lyrics) and Carla Torgerson (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, cello), along with Glenn Slater (piano, organ, accordion, loops), Michael Wells (bass guitar, harmonica) and Terri Moeller (drums, percussion, backup vocals) – love that tune!

R.E.M./It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

And we’re on to the ’80s with a song by R.E.M. I had earmarked for a Sunday Six several months ago. Coincidentally, fellow blogger Mike from Ticket to Ride just took a look back at the studio catalog of the American band that started in 1980 in Athens, Ga., and was active until 2011. While I like R.E.M. for their melodic songs and jangly guitar sound, I only know them based on certain songs and have yet to take a deeper dive into their albums. One of the tunes I’ve been aware of for a long time is It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Credited to all members and co-founders of the band – Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, backing vocals), the tune first appeared on R.E.M.’s fifth studio album Document released in September 1987, their most successful at the time. It also became the record’s second single but didn’t match the success of the lead single The One I Love. I’ve always dug both tunes.

Bruce Cockburn/Wondering Where the Lions Are

When I was recently in Germany, I met with my longtime friend and music buddy who has given me many great tips since the days when we were bandmates during the second half of the ’80s. One of the artists he mentioned during our recent get-together is Bruce Cockburn (pronounced KOH-bərn). Frankly, other than the name, I wasn’t familiar at all with the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Where do you start with an artist who has been active since 1967 and released 30-plus albums? Admittedly, I took a shortcut and checked Spotify. The most streamed tune there is Wondering Where the Lions Are. While I can’t tell you at this time whether it’s Cockburn’s best song, I liked it right away. Included on his 1979 album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw, the tune is his only U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 21. In his native Canada, it got to no. 39 on the mainstream chart and no. 7 on the adult contemporary chart. Overall, it looks like Cockburn has been most successful in his home country. Based on another album I heard, he appears to be pretty versatile and definitely is an artist I’d like to further explore. For now, here’s Wondering Where the Lions Are, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Cockburn – a beautiful folk tune that reminds me a bit of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot!

Southern Avenue/Control

Time to pay a visit to the present. When it comes to contemporary artists one of the bands I keep coming back to are Southern Avenue. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent.  Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; three amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sisters Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals) and Ava Jackson (backing vocals); white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016, they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Control, co-written by Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, is from the band’s most recent third studio album Be the Love You Want, released in August 2021, which I reviewed here at the time. The funky tune also appeared separately as a single leading up to the album’s release. I find this music is full of soul and pretty seductive.

Byrds/So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star

The sixth tune means we’re once again about to reach the final stop of yet another music excursion. Let’s make it count with a ’60s gem by the Byrds: So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Co-written by co-founders Roger McGuinn (credited as Jim McGuinn) and Chris Hillman, the tune has been characterized by Byrds expert Tim Conners as “an acerbic, but good-natured swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like the Monkees.” While I’m not a fan of how The Monkees came to be, I love their music. Plus, once Don Kirshner was out of the picture, the group’s members started playing their own instruments and getting more control over their music. So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star first appeared in January 1967 as the lead single of the Bryrds’ fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out the following month.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring each of the highlighted six tunes. Hope there’s something for here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday and another week just flew by. This also means it’s time again to take a fresh look at new music releases. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (January 13).

Margo Price/Been to the Mountain

Kicking off this new music revue is Nashville-based country singer-songwriter Margo Price. While growing up in the small town of Aledo, Ill., Price picked up the piano and sang in the church choir. She later started studying dance and theater at Northern Illinois University but decided to drop out at the age of 20 and moved to Nashville. While doing various odd jobs there, Price began developing a music career. After meeting her future husband, bassist Jeremy Ivy, they formed the group Buffalo Clover and subsequently Margo and the Pricetags. In March 2016, Price released her debut studio album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. It was very well-received by music critics, topped the UK country charts and climbed to no. 10 on the U.S. country charts. Been to the Mountain is the opener of Price’s fourth and latest studio album Strays. Written by Price, the tune first appeared as the lead single in August 2022. I dig her rock-oriented sound, not what you may typically associate with country music!

Blessing Offor/Won’t Be Long Now

Blessing Offor is a Nigerian-born singer-songwriter who blends pop, R&B, gospel and soul. From his AllMusic bio: The youngest of six siblings, Offor was born with congenital glaucoma, which caused blindness in one eye. Sent by his parents to the United States with his uncle to receive medical care, he later lost sight in his other eye after injuring his retina in an accident involving a powerful water gun. He spent his formative years in Connecticut listening to Motown, jazz, and pop and began playing piano at the age of nine. As a teenager, Offor started writing his own songs, and he honed those skills further at Belmont University in Nashville. While Music City afforded him plenty of opportunities, his soulful pop style was an outlier, so he relocated to New York City. In 2014 he appeared on season seven of The Voice…He moved back to Nashville the following year with plenty of wind in his sails…In February 2022, Offor released his debut EP Brighter Days. Now he’s out with his first full-length album My Tribe. Here’s the soulful Won’t Be Long Now, co-written by Offor, Hank Bentley and Jessie Parker-Early. This beautiful tune first appeared on December 9.

Belle and Sebastian/So in the Moment

Scottish indie pop group Belle and Sebastian started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). So in the Moment, credited to all members of the group, is a track from their twelfth and new album Late Developers – a pleasant pop song!

Myron Elkins/Factories, Farms & Amphetamines

My final pick for this week is Myron Elkins, a compelling 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich., whose music combines elements of classic rock, country and blues. According to his web bio, Elkins started working as a welder at the age of 17 after high school graduation and never intended to become a professional musician. His trajectory changed when a relative signed him up for a local battle of the bands competition. Even though Elkins had very limited live experience and put together a group only three weeks prior to the event, they came in second. More importantly, it made him realize music is what he wanted to do. Fast-forward four years to Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines. It was produced by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, The Highwomen and Rival Sons. Let’s check out the impressive title track. Unless you knew, you’d never guess you’re listening to a 21-year-old artist. He sounds like an “old soul” you could picture in the ’70s!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Myron Elkins website; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings, a weekly feature taking a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not written about at all to date. Today, I’m turning to Unknown Legend by Neil Young, one of my favorite artists.

Unknown Legend is the opener of Harvest Moon, which I think is one of the best albums by the Canadian-American singer-songwriter, released in November 1992. Young wrote this great country-flavored tune prior to the release of his 1978 album Comes a Time. Some critics saw a stylistic similarity to that record, pointing in particular to the song Motorcycle Mama – other than the motorcycle and a female singer supporting Young on vocals, it doesn’t seem to be very obvious to me!

The gorgeous backing vocals in the refrain of Unknown Legend were provided by Linda Ronstadt. The album’s co-producer Ben Keith played the great pedal steel guitar on the recording. It’s a simple yet beautiful song!

Even though Unknown Legend wasn’t released as a single, it proved to be popular, reaching no. 38 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album continued Young’s commercial resurgence that had started with his two previous releases Freedom (October 1989) and Ragged Glory (September 1990), eventually outselling both. In Canada, Harvest Moon also won the 1994 Juno Award for Album of the Year. Here’s a nice “electric” live version of the song.

Following are some additional insights about Unknown Legend from Songfacts:

The woman in “Unknown Legend” is Neil Young’s wife (at the time), Pegi Morton Young. The two met in 1974, while Morton was working as a waitress at a diner near Young’s ranch.

The song talks about a waitress, now mother of two, who had once lived a life of travel and restlessness. The chorus harks back to her years of riding a Harley Davidson through the desert, with its chrome and steel “Collidin’ with the very air she breathes.” The song sounds both triumphant and sad. It laments the woman’s situation (“Now she’s dressin’ two kids, lookin’ for a magic kiss”) while celebrating the wild rambling imagery of her past, all while sweetly observing her graceful movements across the diner floor.

A historically interesting note is that “Unknown Legend,” which is an ode to Pegi, appeared on an entire album Young had made about keeping marriage alive. “This album here [Harvest Moon], it’s about making things last, how to keep that interest, how to keep the fire burning,” Young told New Musical Express in 1992. “Never get bored with the fact that you’ve been with someone for a long time, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Relationships should enrichen with age, that kind of thing.”

The marriage did indeed enrichen for over a decade after the song’s release, but then collapsed. In that same New Musical Express piece, writer Gavin Martin prophetically wrote, “No marriages are easy, rock ‘n’ roll relationships are particularly fraught. Placid and healing on the surface, Harvest Moon doesn’t try to deny the troubles and heartbreak beneath.”

Pegi spoke a lot about her divorce from Young on her album Raw. It’s an interesting dynamic – the “Unknown Legend” herself singing candidly about the harsher aspects of being married to the man who once immortalized her in song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to the first 2023 installment of Best of What’s New, a weekly feature looking at newly released music. For first-time visitors, my picks typically fall outside the current mainstream pop charts, where I tend to find much more music that speaks to me. All featured tunes in this post are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 6), except for the last track.

Brandon Ratcliff/Tale of Two Towns

Kicking off things is Brandon Ratcliff, a young singer-songwriter who combines country, pop and R&B. From his website: From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family. Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world…After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound...In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. This brings me to Tales of Two Towns, the title track of Ratcliff’s ambitious debut double album. He wrote the tune together with Josh Jenkins and Peter Good. I like it!

Allen Epley/Thousand Yard Stare

Allen Epley was born in Louisville, Ky. and grew up in a musical family. After playing in a college band, he co-founded Orchid in 1992, which soon became Shiner, a post-hardcore/alternative rock band. After four studio albums and their split, Epley formed indie rock band The Life and Times in 2002, who remain active to this day. Since 2012, Shiner have played reunion shows and in 2020 released another album. Apart from Epley’s continued engagements with both groups, he frequently collaborates with other bands. And he also managed to record his solo debut album Everything. Let’s check out the great-sounding Thousand Yard Stare.

Anti-Flag/Nvrevr

Anti-Flag are a punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa., who have been around since 1988. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Justin Sane (vocals, guitar) and Pat Thetic (drums), along with Chris Head (guitar) and Chris No. 2 (vocals, bass). Anti-Flag who are known for their extensive political activism, released their debut album Die For the Government in August 1996. Since then, 12 additional albums have come out including their latest Lies They Tell Our Children. According to AllMusic, Anti-Flag have gained a “reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”” Frankly, “fast” and “loud” don’t sound like particularly attractive musical attributes to me, but when combined with a good melody can still work. Here’s Nvrever featuring Stacey Dee, guitarist and vocalist of pop punk group Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Credited to all members of Anti-Flag, the rocker first appeared as a single last November.

Iggy Pop/Strung Out Johnny

Frankly, Iggy Pop wasn’t exactly on my radar screen, so I was surprised to see a new album by the now 75-year-old “Godfather of Punk.” That said, I know his name much better than his music. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr., started his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-’60s. In 1967, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges who became The Stooges the following year. After three albums and a short break-up in between, they split a second time in 1974. Three years later, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career, which has yielded 19 studio albums to date. Between 2003 and 2019, Pop played with different versions of The Stooges who released two additional albums during that period. Pop’s new solo album, titled Every Loser, features guest appearances from Duff McKagan (ex Guns N’ Roses bassist), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction guitarist) and the late Taylor Hawkins (former Foo Fighters drummer), among others. Here’s Strung Out Johnny, co-written by Andrew Watt, Chad Smith, Pop and Josh Klinghoffer – cool rocker!

The Hold Steady/Sideways Skull

My final pick for this week is Sideways Skull, the great new single by New York indie rock band The Hold Steady. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Since their 2004 debut Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have released seven additional studio albums. Their new single, co-written by Finn, Nicolay and Kubler, is from their upcoming ninth studio album The Price of Progress, scheduled for March 31.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Brandon Ratcliff website; Allen Epley website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Neil Young Celebrates “Harvest” With 50th Anniversary Edition and Documentary

On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released Harvest, his fourth studio album, which is near and dear to most of his fans including yours truly. Last Friday, a long-awaited 50th-anniversary reissue came out. Back in February, on its actual anniversary date, I already wrote about the record, covering the background and popular songs, including Out On the Weekend, A Man Needs a Maid, Heart of Gold, Old Man, Alabama and The Needle and the Damage Done. I’m not going to repeat what I already wrote about. Before getting to the meat of this post, let me say upfront what perhaps is obvious when it comes to most anniversary reissues: They are predominantly made for fans and oftentimes not the ideal introduction to an artist if you are new to them. The beautiful Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition is no exception.

The anniversary edition isn’t the first reissue of this album. This poses the question of what is new about it. It comes down to an unreleased solo live performance of Young at the BBC in 1971, which features songs from Harvest obviously before the record was released. Also new is a 2-hour documentary that premiered worldwide in movie theaters on December 1, 2022, with select encores yesterday (December 4). I caught the latter at a movie theater in my area. In addition to a 2009 remastered edition of the actual album, the reissue includes three outtakes from the Harvest sessions. Everything is beautifully packaged in what appears to be a high-quality box set. This clip of Neil Young unboxing the 50th-anniversary edition gives you a good idea of what’s in the box and also provides a nice intro to the album.

Of course, the above-mentioned 1971 BBC solo concert isn’t the first such early Neil Young live set that features songs from Harvest prior to the album’s release. The one that comes to my mind first is Young’s legendary Massey Hall show captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which was released in March 2007 as part of his Archives Performance Series. Another great set I recall is Young Shakespeare, an archives release from March 2021, which I covered here. Given how prolific Young has been about unearthing material from his archives, there’s a good chance there are other such early solo live performances he has released. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to keep up with him!

Let’s take a look at a few clips from the live set included in the Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition. This performance feels very intimate, which is nice. I recommend listening to it with headphones. Apparently, this must have been a small venue. Here’s Journey Through the Past, a nice piano ballad that also appears separately as one of the aforementioned studio outtakes. If I see this correctly, the first released version of this tune appeared on Live at Massey Hall 1971.

Don’t Let It Bring You Down is a tune Young first recorded for his third album After the Gold Rush, which appeared in September 1970. I really dig his vocals here.

Love in Mind is another tune featuring Young on piano. He first released the ballad on Time Fades Away, a live album captured during the supporting tour for Harvest, which Young conducted with The Stray Gators, the band he used to record Harvest.

The BBC live set once again reminded me how great Neil Young is as a live artist by himself with acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano. While I also dig his “electric performances” backed by a band like Crazy Horse or The Stray Gators, oftentimes, I find his solo live performances even more compelling.

Previously, I mentioned three outtakes from the Harvest sessions. These outtakes aren’t new, but I haven’t covered them before. I’m skipping the already above-featured Journey Through the Past. Bad Fog of Loneliness is another tune Young didn’t release until 2007 as part of Live at Massey Hall 1971.

Dance Dance Dance was first recorded in 1969 by Young with Crazy Horse and intended for a county rock album that didn’t come to fruition – sounds like typical Neil to me! Instead, it ended up on the February 1971 eponymous debut album by Crazy Horse, the band’s only record to feature Danny Whitten. Notably, it did not include Young.

Let me also say a few words about the documentary Harvest Time. Filmed between January and September 1971, the film includes non-narrated footage of Young and The Stray Gators during their “barn sessions” at Young’s Broken Arrow ranch in Northern California, scenes of his work with the London Symphony Orchestra for A Man Needs a Maid and There’s a World, as well as footage from a studio in Nashville where further tracking and overdubbing was done. Overall, the film has a fly-on-the-wall feel, which is kind of fascinating. At times, it comes across as a bit disorganized. Clocking in at just over two hours, the documentary is also a bit on the long side.

I think the most compelling footage is seeing Young and The Stray Gators in action during the barn sessions, as well as the scenes at the studio in Nashville where Young is working on harmony vocals with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash for Words (Between the Lines of Age) – man, do they sound great together! Also noteworthy are scenes of Young’s then-wife (soon-to-be ex-wife) Carrie Snodgress and the caretaker of Young’s ranch – the one he sang about in Old Man. Here’s a clip from the film.

Neil Young stated the following about the documentary on this website: Many unseen performances from the era’s session appear in Harvest Time. As I watched the Nashville sessions, London symphony sessions, Harvest Barn sessions, rare never heard or seen performances, I was transported back to those days.

Jack Nitzsche, Kenny Buttrey, Ben Keith, Tim Drummond (members of The GatorsCMM), John Harris (piano on HarvestCMM), Elliot Mazer (producer – CMM), are all there with me making Harvest. It’s beautiful and a bit lonely. They are all gone now, these old friends, musicians, except for their unforgettable music and our collective memories together. So great to see all of them at their peak.

Soon after Harvest was released for the first time and Neil Young scored the biggest hit of his career, Heart of Gold, he started to become alienated by the success, feeling he had gone too far to the middle of the road, so should steer “to the ditch” instead. Eventually, this would lead to what became known as his “Ditch trilogy” of albums, Time Fades Away, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. While their chart performance and sales didn’t match Harvest, ironically, these records became classics nevertheless.

Looking at Young’s above words and his filmed intro to the documentary, it becomes clear that time has changed his perspective. Now, he seems to be at peace with himself about Harvest, acknowledging the great accomplishment this album represents. There are also clear sentimental feelings when he points out that the members of The Gators and producer Elliott Mazer who were instrumental in making the record have all passed away.

In Young’s intro to the documentary, he suggests he “always” likes to document things he does. With so much material he has released via his archives series over the years, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder how much additional film footage remains in Young’s archives, which hasn’t been released yet, not to speak of recordings. Time may tell!

Sources: Wikipedia; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday again, and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All featured tunes came out yesterday (December 2). Without further ado, let’s get to it.

NOFX/Darby Crashing Your Party

Kicking off this post are punk rock band NOFX who were founded in Los Angeles in 1983. Following numerous personnel changes in the group’s early days, their current line-up has been in place since 1991 and includes founding members Fat Mike (vocals, bass), Eric Melvin (guitar) and Erik Sandin (drums), along with El Hefe (lead guitar, trumpet). After a demo, Thalidomide Child, in 1984, NOFX released a self-titled EP in 1985. Their first full-length studio album Liberal Animation came out in 1988. This brings me to Double Album, the band’s 15th and latest album and the opener Darby Crashing Your Party. Unlike other punk I’ve heard, NOFX’s music is pretty easy on the ears. Lyrically, these guys don’t seem to take themselves too seriously.

Brendan Benson/I Missed the Plane

Next up is new music by American singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. From his AllMusic bio: A Michigan-bred singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who occupies the more rock-driven end of the power pop spectrum, Brendan Benson earned critical acclaim during the front half of the 2000s with albums like Lapalco and The Alternative to Love. Benson’s profile was significantly raised when he and fellow Michigander Jack White formed the rock & roll supergroup the Raconteurs, cracking the Top Ten in the U.K. and America with a pair of highly regarded albums in 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely. Benson remains a member of The Raconteurs and has also continued to release solo albums, including Low Key, his eighth and latest one. Let’s check out I Missed the Plane, written by Benson. I really like this!

White Lung/Mountain

I believe this is the first Best of What’s New installment featuring two punk bands. I also don’t recall having had a punk group from Canada. White Lung were formed in Vancouver in 2006. From their Apple Music profile: White Lung coalesce influence of riot grrrl, post-punk, and hardcore punk into their own dynamic, take-no-prisoners sound. They first grabbed audiences’ attention as part of the Vancouver Emergency Room art space scene of the 2000s with albums like 2010’s It’s the Evil and 2012’s Sorry. While the raw intensity of punk remains a core aesthetic, they’ve honed their approach, tackling issues of feminism, body dysmorphioa, and sexual assault – issues that drove 2014’s Deep Fantasy and 2016’s Paradise. White LungMish Barber-Way (vocals), Kenneth William (guitar) and Anne-Marie Vassiliou (drums) – are now out with Premonition, their first album in more than five years. The band’s website describes it as chaotic, bold, and hook-driven,…a whirlwind of driving drums, intricate guitar work, and no-holds-barred lyrics about motherhood, pregnancy, and growth – couldn’t have said it any better! Here’s Mountain credited to all three members of the group, as well as producer Jesse Gandner. Similar to NOFX, my pop ear is receptive to this melodic type of punk.

Adeem the Artist/Redneck, Unread Hicks

Adeem the Artist (born Adem Bingham), aka Adeem Maria, is a country singer-songwriter. The non-binary and pansexual artist began performing on cruise ships in their 20s. After moving to Knoxville, Tenn., they began to record music. In 2021, following several independent albums put out via Bandcamp, they released Cast-Iron Pansexual, an album largely funded through Patreon. Now they’re back with White Trash Revelry. Here’s Redneck, Unread Hicks, which Adeem told Apple Music they wrote to draw a more refined picture of the South. “It becomes really easy to, I don’t know, kind of view the South through a very myopic lens,” he said. Pointing to Martin Luther, Jr., a local founder of Black Lives Matters and “a lot of queer folks who have fought hard”, he added, “There’s a lot more diversity here and a lot more nuance than people want to give it credit for.” I feel stereotypes about folks from the South are quite common, even in music (think of Neil Young’s Southern Man). Adeem is to be commended for addressing this topic.

The Rolling Stones/Happy (Live)

My last pick for this week are The Rolling Stones with Happy. ‘Wait a moment,’ you may think, ‘that song is 50 years old, how can it be new?’ Well, yeah, but it’s my friggin’ blog, isn’t it? On a more serious note, yes, the Stones first included the tune on their May 1972 gem Exile on Main St. It also appeared separately as a single in July of the same year. But they also just newly released a live version as the first track of their upcoming album and concert film GRRR Live!, and that’s good enough for me. Slated for February 10, 2023, it comes less than one year after El Mocambo 1977, which appeared in May this year and was just covered by fellow blogger Jim, aka. the Music Enthusiast. GRRR Live! includes 24 tracks captured in December 2012 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. during the Stones’ 50th-anniversary tour. It features guest appearances by The Black Keys (Who Do You Love?), Gary Clark Jr. & John Mayer (Going Down), Lady Gaga (Gimme Shelter), Mick Taylor (Midnight Rambler) and Bruce Springsteen (Tumbling Dice). While I don’t know yet whether it will be as great as El Mocambo 1977, it certainly looks like fun and the version of Happy makes this Stones fan, well, pretty happy. Here’s a teaser clip about the album and film the Stones tweeted out. BTW, we’re now 10 years down the road from that gig, which means the Stones have now been together for 60 years – mind-boggling!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; White Lung website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope you’re having a great day. Wednesday also means it’s time again for taking a closer look at a particular song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. My pick for today is Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, a great singer-songwriter I had known by name for many years but only started to explore about 18 months ago.

While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille.

Train to Birmingham, penned by Hiatt, is what I would call a deep cut from a studio album titled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which Hiatt released in August 2011. Unlike many of his other records, this one fared better in the charts, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and climbing to no. 59 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it peaked at no. 17 in Sweden, no. 20 in The Netherlands and no. 61 in Germany, among others. The tune was never released as a single.

Train to Birmingham was covered by American country music artist Kevin Welch on his sophomore album Western Beat, released in April 1992 as Kevin Welch @nd The Overtones. Good rendition!

Following are some additional tidbits on Train to Birmingham from Songfacts:

American folk-rock singer-songwriter John Hiatt wrote this song in his late teens, but it didn’t make it onto a disc until his 2011 album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. He explained why he finally decided to record the track in an interview with American Songwriter: “You know what, my wife really loves the song. And she’s been asking me to record it for years, and it kind of seemed right on this record. We were doing all of these songs about cities and different locations and going from the city and the country and back and forth. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year back in June, so I just thought I’d record this song for her.”

Hiatt told the story of how he came to pen a train song to American Songwriter: “I wrote it when I was about 19. I’d been in Nashville a year — I came to Nashville when I was about 18, and I was writing for Tree Publishing Company, and I wasn’t a country songwriter by any stretch, but I was surrounded by those guys. Like Bobby Braddock, who wrote a lot of George Jones and Tammy Wynette hits. And Curly Putnam,who wrote ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Red Lane,’ all these hit country songwriters of the day. I was writing my little folk songs, or whatever they hell they were, and I was trying to pick up the craft, at any rate, and I said, ‘Well how do you write a country song?’ and one of them said one day, ‘Well, you gotta have a train song.’ And I though well s–t, I think I can write a song about a train.

And back in those days on Music Row, all the publishing companies were just in little houses, and the songwriters lived right next door. I lived in a little house with four or five other writers, and none of us were really country writers. One guy was from upstate New York trying to get some rock and roll thing going. Those were some real interesting times in Nashville, as it always is. But this one guy was from Birmingham and he kept going home every damn weekend like he couldn’t stand to be away. And I just though well s–t, there’s my ‘Train To Birmingham.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another mini-excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Most of the U.S. including my neck of the woods fell back to standard time overnight. If this affects you as well, don’t forget to adjust your watch – if you didn’t and believe you must head out for an activity that starts at a specific time, relax, you have an additional hour! This means you may have time to join me on today’s music trip! Even if you turned back your clocks by an hour, hop on anyway!

Ornette Coleman/Lonely Woman

Let’s start today’s journey in November 1969 with American jazz great Ornette Coleman. The saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer is known as a principal founder of the free jazz genre, a term derived from his 1961 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Coleman who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, began playing R&B and bebop in the late ’40s before joining Silas Green from New Orleans, a traveling show that was part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show. Later on, he became part of the band of R&B, blues guitarist and vocalist Pee Wee Crayton. He ended up in California, assembled his own band and recorded his debut album Something Else!!!! By the time his sophomore release Tomorrow Is the Question! had come out, Coleman had shaken up the jazz world with his “alien” music. Apparently, some jazz musicians went as far as calling him a fraud. None other than conductor Leonard Bernstein disagreed, praising him. Lonely Woman, composed by Coleman, is a track from his third album confidently titled The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was released in November 1959. Coleman (alto saxophone) is backed by Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums).

Steve Earle/You’re Still Standin’ There

Our next stop takes us to March 1996 and a tune by roots-oriented singer-songwriter Steve Earle, which was love at first listen: You’re Still Standin’ There, off his six studio album I Feel Alright. And that is safe to assume he did after he had overcome his drug addiction to cocaine and heroin in the fall of 1994. Like all other tracks on the album, You’re Still Standin’ There was penned by Earle. Lucinda Williams, another artist I’ve come to dig, joined him on vocals for this great Dylan-esque tune. I can also hear some Springsteen in here! After playing music for nearly 55 years and a recording career of more than 35 years, Earle is still going strong. His most recent album with his longtime backing band The Dukes, Jerry Jeff, came out on May 27 this year.

Cream/Politician

Time to hop to the ’60s, coz why not! Politician is one of my absolute favorites by British power trio Cream. I love that super cool guitar riff. With important midterm elections coming up in America, which could significantly impact the direction of the county, I also have to admit the song choice isn’t entirely coincidental. To the extent possible, I’d like to keep this blog uplifting and free of politics, which has become so toxic. All I will say is this: Never take anything for granted. The right to vote is a privilege. If you have it, exercise it! Politician, co-written by Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce and English poet, lyricist, and singer Pete Brown, appears on Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire, a part studio, part live double LP that first came out in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK in August of the same year.

Dire Straits/Tunnel of Love

Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post earlier this week about Love Over Gold, the excellent fourth studio album by Dire Straits, for which I’ve gained new appreciation. That’s why I’m featuring a song from the British rock band’s predecessor Making Movies, which came out in October 1980! 🙂 Joking aside, both of these albums rank among my top three Dire Straits releases, together with their eponymous debut that features this great signature Fender Stratocaster sound by Mark Knopfler. While that album and the similar-sounding sophomore Communiqué were great, Making Movies represented a leap in Knopfler’s songwriting. Here’s the excellent opener Tunnel of Love.

The Rolling Stones/Dead Flowers

Recently, I participated in another round of Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature by Dave from A Sound Day, for which he invites fellow bloggers to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. This time, he asked contributors to write about their favorite year in music. The submissions were amazing (not talking about mine, though “my” year obviously was the best! 🙂 ). One key takeaway from this latest installment is how much great music appeared, especially in the 1965-1975 timeframe. A close second to my choice, 1969, was 1971, though frankly, I pretty much could have picked any other year during the above period. Longwinded way of bringing me to Sticky Fingers, my favorite album by The Rolling Stones released in April 1971 and a tune I absolutely love: Dead Flowers. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the country-oriented song was influenced by Richards’ friendship with Gram Parsons. I just don’t get tired of the great honky tonk guitar fill-ins by Richards and the amazing Mick Taylor. Did somebody say they don’t like country?

Giovannie and the Hired Guns/Can’t Answer Why

For the final tune of this installment of The Sunday Six, we’re going all the way to the present with a great tune by Giovannie and the Hired Guns, a rock band from Texas I recently featured as part of my Best of What’s New music revue series. The group from Stephenville around frontman Giovannie Yanez, which also includes guitarists Carlos Villa and Jerrod Flusche, bassist Alex Trejo and Milton Toles on drums, taps into a variety of genres, such as Southern rock, country, stoner metal, musica norteña and even Latin hip-hop. Here’s Can’t Answer Why, credited to Yanez and the band, off their third and latest full-length album Tejano Punk Boyz. Great melodic rock!

‘So where’s the Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes’, you might wonder. Ask you shall receive. As always, thanks for reading and listening, and hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify