My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dawes/Misadventures of Doomscroller

I’m thrilled my first full-fledged album review of 2023 is music by a contemporary band. While I featured Dawes and their song Ghost In The Machine in a Best of What’s New installment last July and also highlighted the great tune again in part 1 of my 2022 year-end feature, it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I finally listened to Misadventures of Doomscroller, their latest album released in July 2022, which includes this track. It was pretty much instant love – something that rarely happens to me, especially when it comes to contemporary artists!

Dawes emerged in 2009 from rock band Simon Dawes after that group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had departed. This led them to both shorten their name to Dawes and change from a post-punk to a folk rock-oriented sound. AllMusic describes it as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” That’s a great characterization. For this album, I would add a pretty sophisticated, progressive rock-like complexity to their music.

The current line-up of Dawes features brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). Misadventures of Doomscroller is their eighth studio album. According to this review by Entertainment Focus, it was produced by the Los Angeles band’s longtime collaborator Jonathan Wilson, who has also worked with Angel Olsen, Benmont Tench, Jackson Browne, Margo Price and Father John Misty, among others.

Dawes (from left): Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber, Taylor Goldsmith and Lee Pardini

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being minimalists. With this record we set out on being MAXIMALISTS,” the band’s main songwriter Taylor Goldsmith told Entertainment Focus. “Still a quartet. Still not letting these songs hide behind any tricks or effects. But really letting the songs breathe and stretch and live however they want to. We decided to stop having any regard for short attention spans. Our ambitions go beyond the musical with this one.”

I’d say it’s time to take a closer look at some of the goodies. Opening the album is the impressive medley Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax. Like all other tracks except for one, it was penned by Taylor Goldsmith. The two tunes are connected by a middle section, creating a feel of a song suite. “The first half of this song could be about tyrants,” Goldsmith explained to Entertainment Focus. “But it could also be about anyone who thinks that a little more control is gonna make everything ok. The second half is a response to that developing reality of the first half. The world might be a scary place sometimes but, to some degree, I want to believe I can decide how I respond to it.” Check out this neat sound and cool groove – so good, all of its 10-plus minutes!

The next track I’d like to call out is Comes In Waves. In a news post on the group’s website, Goldsmith notes: I had this riff and one of the verses for a while. Griffin, Wylie and Mike Viola came over to my backyard (this was peak covid) to just play music together for one of the first times since lockdown. I started sharing the song and Griffin and Mike started singing their background parts you hear on the choruses on the record immediately. It inspired me to finish writing it. The lyric is about the arbitrary demands I make on myself. I want to perceive me or my life a certain way but I make no exceptions for an off day or a misstep. Whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s all transient, and only when I can live in some version of that awareness (which is itself transient) am I able to bat away any fears or anxieties or the consequences of an over indulged ego.

Since I already covered the excellent Ghost In The Machine twice, I’m skipping it in this review. Instead, the last tune I’d like to highlight is titled Everything Is Permanent, the only track on the album Goldsmith co-wrote, with Jimmy Joliff. Evidently quoting Goldsmith again, the above news post notes it’s a song (about how everything about us is tracked, documented, recorded, filed, mined, bought, sold, etc. etc. on some level) that is wrapped around a molten core of a breakdown/ freakout/majorminorinterweave that is probably the moment I’m most proud of on the whole record. After showing you the blood and guts, we gently sew the song back together again and end with what could be the tagline for all of social media and the screen-life-culture that we subscribe to these days to varying degrees: “Did you really need to cry? Or be seen crying?”

Misadventures of Doomscroller is an album I can highly recommend. To start with, Dawes are really fine musicians. If I would have to call out anybody in particular, I would pay close attention to drummer Griffin Goldsmith. I also love Wylie Gelber’s melodic bass playing. The other thing that stands out to me is the group’s neat harmony singing. The comparisons to CSN and The Band are not off-base!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. In case you don’t know it already, hope you will further check it out and dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Entertainment Focus; Dawes website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? What happened to the bloody week? Okay, let’s try this again: Happy Sunday and I hope everybody had a great week and is enjoying an even better weekend! Nearly anything you can do gets better with great music, so I invite you to join me on another time travel trip. As usual, I’m taking you to six different stops. Are you in? Let’s go!

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane/In a Sentimental Mood

What do you get when combining jazz piano great Duke Ellington and saxophone dynamo John Coltrane? Well, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, a collaboration album released in January 1963, and the first stop on our journey today. Jazz artists love to team up, and this record is one of many collaborative efforts Sir Duke undertook in the early 1960s, which also included artists, such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Rather than a big band setting, it placed Ellington in a quartet, which in addition to Coltrane featured Jimmy Garrison or Aaron Bell (bass) and Elvin Jones or Sam Woodyard (drums). My specific pick is In a Sentimental Mood, which Ellington had composed more than 25 years earlier in 1935, with lyrics written by Manny Kurtz. I guess Ellington’s manager Irving Mills was in the mood for a percentage of the publishing and gave himself a writing credit!

The Jayhawks/Martin’s Song

Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since “discovering” them in August 2020, I’ve come to dig this American alt. country and country rock band. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2019, which still includes Louris and Pearlman. Going back to Hollywood Town Hall, here’s the album’s great closer Martin’s Song, penned by Olson and Louris.

Stephen Stills/Right Now

How ’bout some ’70s? Ask and you shall receive! My pick is Stephen Stills – yep the guy who co-founded Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield with that Canadian fellow Neil Young in 1966, and two years later got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. In 1969, they added Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, played Woodstock and released the classic Déjà Vu in March 1970. Following CSNY’s success, Stills launched a solo career, just like the other three members of the group. In late 1971, he teamed up with Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds) to form the band Manassas. The group also included Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass, backing vocals), Joe Lala (percussion, backing vocals) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Their eponymous debut from April 1972 was the first of two studio albums the group released, as Stephen Stills/Manassas – I assume for name recognition reasons. Plus, Stills wrote or co-wrote all except one of the tunes. Right Now is among the songs solely penned by him – love that tune!

Paul Simon/You Can Call Me Al

In August 1986, Paul Simon released what remains my favorite among his solo albums: Graceland. Evidently, many other folks liked it as well, making it Simon’s best-performing album, both in terms of chart success and sales. It also won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (1987) and Record of the Year (1988) – confusing titles! While the first honors an album in its entirety, the second recognizes a specific track. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock and mbaqanga. The album involved recording sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring local musicians. Therefore, it was criticized by some for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. One can only imagine what kind of firestorm a comparable activity would likely unleash nowadays with so much polarization boosted by social media! If I would have to pick one track from the album, I’d go with You Can Call Me Al, an infectious tune that among others features a crazy bass run by South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.

Little Steven/Soulfire

Let’s keep the groove going with guitarist, songwriter, actor and (unofficial) music professor, the one and only Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven or Miami Steve. Van Zandt gained initial prominence as guitarist in various Bruce Springsteen bands, such as Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen Band, and, of course, the mighty E Street Band. In 1981, Van Zandt started fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The following year, while still being an official member of the E Street Band, he released his debut solo album Men Without Women, credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In April 1984, just before the release of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Van Zant officially left and recorded a series of additional solo albums. After a brief stint in 1995, he permanently rejoined Springsteen’s backing band in 1999. He also got into acting, which most notably included his role as mafioso and strip club owner Silvio Dante in the American TV crime drama series The Sopranos. This finally brings us to Soulfire, his sixth solo album from May 2017. The great title track was co-written by Van Zandt and Anders Bruus, the former guitarist of Danish rock band The Breakers. Here’s a cool live version!

The Sonics/Cinderella

And once again, we’re reaching our final destination of yet another Sunday Six excursion. For this one, let’s go back to the ’60s with some raw garage rock by The Sonics – coz why not! Formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960, they have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. Cinderella is a track from the band’s sophomore release Boom, which appeared in February 1996. The tune was written by Gerry Roslie, the group’s keyboarder at the time. The line-up on the album also included founding members Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals) and his brother Andy Parypa (bass, vocals), along with Rob Lind (saxophone) and Bob Bennett (drums). Based on Wikipedia, The Sonics still appear to be around, with Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa among their current members.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something for you!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Snarky Puppy Shine On Genre-Crossing New Album Empire Central

Snarky Puppy aren’t for everybody – of course, no music ever is. The instrumental genre-crossing group definitely also falls outside of my core wheelhouse. And yet when I came across their new album Empire Central, released last Friday, September 30, I was immediately intrigued. Now I’m hooked, even though there aren’t any vocals – and I usually pay great attention to vocals! In fact, I can go on forever raving about strong voices and great harmony singing and have done so repeatedly on this blog. None of that is here. And dare I say it, in this case, I’m not missing it!

Before taking a closer look at Empire Central, I’d like to provide some background on Snarky Puppy. Other than their great name, I had not heard of them before. Even though they have won four Grammy Awards, I suspect they’re not exactly a household name. Snarky Puppy were founded in Denton, Texas in 2004 by bassist and main composer Michael League as a group of college friends who were in the jazz studies program at the University of North Texas. Initially, they started out as a 10-piece but have since more than doubled in size.

Michael League (front row second from left) with other members of Snarky Puppy

On their website, Snarky Puppy describe themselves as “a collective of sorts with as many as 25 members in regular rotation” who “each maintain busy schedules as sidemen (with such artists as Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and D’Angelo), producers (for Kirk Franklin, David Crosby, and Salif Keïta), and solo artists (many of whom are on the band’s indy label, GroundUP Music).” When it comes to characterizing their music, notably the website focuses on what the group isn’t: “Snarky Puppy isn’t exactly a jazz band. It’s not a fusion band, and it’s definitely not a jam band.” I would call their music a blend of jazz, rock, funk and R&B.

Empire Central, Snarky Puppy’s 16th album, is “a tribute to the band’s hometown of Dallas, recorded over the course of eight nights in front of a live-in-studio audience at Dallas’ Deep Ellum Art Company,” according to this review in Glide Magazine. “The album also features the last recorded performance of ‘80s funk pioneer and major inspiration Bernard Wright, who passed away tragically at age 58 shortly after these recordings were completed.” Glide Magazine adds the recording includes 19 musicians altogether. Empire Central marks the group’s first album, for which members other than League were involved in the writing of the 16 tracks. Let’s take a look at some, together with League’s thoughts he shared with Apple Music.

Since I just included the opener Keep It On Your Mind in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping the track here and go directly to East Bay. “Our woodwind player Chris Bullock wrote ‘East Bay’ while we were on tour in Oakland. He sees Oakland as a sister city to Dallas in terms of its music, and what I love about Chris’ composition style is that he approaches it like J Dilla or a hip-hop artist, interlocking parts in disjointed sections. Somehow, he fits it all together beautifully, with a groove-laden ride-out at the end.”

Next is Bet, written by League, which has a cool funky groove, some neat bass playing and great horn action. “‘Bet’ was written in honor of my good friend RC Williams, who is Erykah Badu’s musical director and essentially the musical heart of Dallas. Every Wednesday night, he runs a jam session in the city, where I was part of the house band for a number of years, and he is just a connector of people who makes things happen. I love midtempo tunes like this that come in, slam it, and get out without trying to be too epic.”

Here’s another great funky tune titled Take It!, featuring the late Bernard Wright. It’s definitely among my early favorite tracks on the album – so good! “This is the only song we’ve recorded as Snarky Puppy that has been previously released by another artist. Our keyboard player Bobby Sparks had this on his MySpace page years ago, and it was a big part of the formation of Snarky Puppy’s sound, since we would listen to it all the time when we were touring in our early days. We kept playing it during sound check for these recordings and decided to throw it into the set list one night. It features the great Bernard Wright for his final recorded performance, where he plays one of the most amazing solos I’ve ever heard.”

The next tune I’d like to call out is Broken Arrow. “Justin Stanton, our keyboard player, wrote ‘Broken Arrow’ to showcase a different side of Texas—its country music. When he brought the tune to the band, he said to think of Crosby, Stills & Nash, which was a fun reference, and it also has a soulful feel, bringing to mind Al Green in sections before going back to being guitar-driven. It’s all over the place, which I love.” Me too!

I’d like to leave you with one more track: RL’s, an homage to Texas blues penned by League. “As a band, we love to take a well-established genre and see what we can do to make it ours. The shuffle is like a religion in Texas, and I wrote this track in homage to a legendary blues shack in south Dallas where I have spent many wonderful nights listening to bands play blues shuffles. ‘RL’s’ is bluesy, but we extrapolate the shuffle, and, at the end, we all come in hard over the foundation of our drummer JT’s groove.”

There is so much more great music on Empire Central, which I cannot include in this post. Here’s a Spotify link to the album in case you’d like to further check it out!

“This album is a chance to say thanks to our home,” League told Apple Music, summing up Empire Central. “It is also a tribute to Bernard and his incredible musical legacy. He left us far too soon.”

In addition to the great music and top-notch musicianship, I love the cultural diversity Snarky Puppy represents, illustrating once again music oftentimes is color blind and knows no narrow-minded racial boundaries. To cite their website one more time: “At its core, the band represents the convergence of both black and white American music culture with various accents from around the world. Japan, Argentina, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Puerto Rico all have representation in the group’s membership.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Snarky Puppy website; Glide Magazine; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Man, it’s been a hot week in my neck of the woods, with daytime highs close to 100 °F. Of course, I realize it’s pretty much been the same across the U.S. and much of Europe. So what’s happening on the new music front this week? I’m happy to report I found plenty that sufficiently grabbed my attention. All of my picks are on albums that appeared yesterday (July 22).

Ty Segall/Looking at You

Kicking things off is versatile American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and record producer Ty Segall. From his AllMusic bio: One of the leaders of the new psych-influenced garage rock scene that erupted in California in the late 2000s, Ty Segall has produced a catalog as prolific as it is diverse. Working as a solo act and in a number of side projects, he has released literally dozens of albums since he left the Epsilons [California garage rock revivalist band where he served as lead vocalist and gained initial acclaim – CMM] and cut his first project on his own in 2008. Depending on the album, Segall can sound raw (2016’s Emotional Mugger) or refined (2013’s Sleeper), and he’s capable of focused one-man-band efforts (2009’s Lemons) as well as sprawling and eclectic releases with a range of collaborators (2018’s Freedom’s Goblin). He proves just as compelling when stripping back the noise and adding synths, as on 2021’s Harmonizer, or composing film music (2022’s Whirlybird). This brings me to Looking at You, a tune from Segall’s latest, 14th studio album Hello, Hi. I like what I’m hearing here!

John Moreland/Ugly Faces

John Moreland is a Tusla, Okla.-based Americana-oriented singer-songwriter. Originally hailing from Longview, Texas, Moreland started playing guitar as a child with the help of his father and already had his first gig when he was 13 or 14. While still in high school, he played in local punk and hardcore bands. His recording debut, Endless Oklahoma Sky, occurred in 2008 with the Black Gold Band, a group he had formed in 2005. Moreland has since released eight additional studio albums, a mix of solo and group efforts. Ugly Faces is the opener of his new solo album Birds in the Ceiling. While I’m not a fan of drum machines and other electronic percussions that Moreland uses in some of the tunes I’ve heard, I still find his music pretty compelling.

Beach Bunny/Gone

I first featured Chicago indie pop rock group Beach Bunny in a January 2021 Best of What’s New installment. Founded in 2015, Beach Bunny started as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Lili Trifilio who released her debut EP  Animalism in 2015. Following the third EP Crybaby in 2017, Beach Bunny became a full-fledged four-piece group. In addition to Trifilio (vocals, guitar), their current lineup features Matt Henkels (guitar), Anthony Vaccaro (bass) and Jon Alvarado (drums). Beach Bunny’s first full-length studio album Honeymoon appeared in February 2020. Now they are back with their sophomore release Emotional Creature. Here’s Gone, which like most other tunes on the album is credited to all members of the group. The bouncy catchy music stands in contrast to the lyrics.

Jack White/A Tip From You to Me

Jack White is best known as the former lead vocalist and guitarist of The White Stripes, the rock duo he formed in 1997 with his then-wife Meg White (drums, vocals). In 2005, he also became a co-founder of rock group The Raconteurs. In addition, four years later, White co-founded The Dead Weather, a rock supergroup. The White Stripes came to an end in February 2011 after six albums. The Raconteurs went on hiatus in 2014 and became active again in 2018. White remains a member. The Dead Weather have been, well, I guess you could say dead since the release of their third album Dodge and Burn in September 2015. In addition to his band activity, White also found the time to launch a solo career. Since his debut Blunderbuss (April 2012), White has released four additional albums including his latest, Entering Heaven Alive. The more acoustic album comes only three months after his previous release, the rock-oriented Fear of the Dawn. Evidently, White is not only quite prolific but also pretty versatile. While I’m still entirely new to his solo work, I sure as heck know I like what I’ve heard thus far from his latest endeavor!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Dawes are a folk rock band from Los Angeles. They emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. The group consists of brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), as well as Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). AllMusic characterizes their music as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” To date, Dawes have released eight studio albums, including their latest project Misadventure of Doomscroller. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds very promising. Here’s a great sample, Ghost in the Machine, penned by Taylor Goldsmith.

Jenny Mitchell/If You Were a Bird

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with Jenny Mitchell, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand. From her website: Multi award winning, alt-country Aotearoa artist, Jenny Mitchell is a storyteller with songs wrapped in wisdom and wit. Her music defies easy categorisation but if you admire music by genre-defying artists from Emmylou Harris to Kasey Chambers and Jason Isbell, you are going to love Jenny Mitchell...Her 2018 record Wildfires, produced by Sydney’s Matt Fell, was awarded the 2019 Tui for Recorded Music NZ Best Country Music Artist and became the first NZ album to receive a nomination for Alt-Country Album of the Year at the 2020 Australian Golden Guitar Awards. This brings me to Tug of War, Mitchell’s third and latest album and the pretty If You Were a Bird.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Jenny Mitchell website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Poco

Happy Wednesday! Are you ready for another imaginary desert island trip? To me that sounds like an attractive proposition, except once again, I have the near-impossible decision to make which one song to take with me – not an album, just one tune!

For first-time visitors of this weekly feature, there are some additional rules to the madness. And they don’t make picking a song any easier. At the same time, going through this exercise is kind of fun, since I usually end up highlighting music I haven’t covered before or only noted in passing.

My pick must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. Additionally, I’m making the selections in alphabetical order, and I’m up to “p.” This means eligible artists (last name) and bands must start with that letter.

Looking at my music library revealed artists and bands like Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, The Pointer Sisters, The Police, Elvis Presley, Pretenders, Prince and Procul Harum. And my pick is Barbados by Poco.

Admittedly, I’m bending my own rules a bit this time, since I covered Poco before (though rarely), unlike Plain White T’s who also showed up in my search, and I do like Hey There Delilah. But the desert island theme and a tune titled Barbados just looked like a perfect fit. And I think it’s a great song!

Barbados was written by Paul Cotton, Poco’s lead guitarist and one of the band’s vocalists, who first joined the group in 1970. The tune appears on their 11th studio album Legend, released in November 1978. My former German band mate and longtime music buddy gave me this great record on vinyl in the late ’80s. I still own that copy!

I loved Barbados and the entire Legend LP from the get-go, and it was actually my introduction to Poco. It’s puzzling to me why Barbados was never released as a single. Three other tunes were, including the title track, Heart of the Night and Crazy Love. The last tune became Poco’s biggest hit. In the U.S., it topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and reached no. 17 on the mainstream Hot 100. In Canada, the tune peaked at no. 4 on the adult contemporary chart and climbed to no. 15 on the main pop chart.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find any more information on Barbados. Songfacts instead features a song of the same title from 1975 by a British duo called Typically Tropical. Apparently, “their” Barbados, the duo’s debut single, became a no. 1 in the UK. Since they obviously don’t own the name “Barbados”, I really can’t imagine this had anything to do with the decision not to release Poco’s song as a single.

Poco were one of two bands that emerged in 1968 following the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. The group’s former guitarists Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed Poco, together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals).

Poco in 1971

Meanwhile, Stephen Stills, David Crosby  and Graham Nash founded Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young launched his solo career and, of course, later joined CSN on various occasions, resulting in the mighty Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Buffalo Springfield might as well have been called “Buffalo Springboard”!

Poco are considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. Their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces came out in May 1969. By the time it appeared Meisner already had left the group, angered by Furay’s insistence to be excluded from the final mix playback sessions for the album – egos in music! Meisner went on to join the Stone Canyon Band and became a founding member of the Eagles in September 1971.

Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who later joined the Eagles as well. Messina left Poco in 1970 and was replaced by Cotton. The group’s line-up kept changing. It took Poco until their third release, a live album, to enjoy some chart success: No. 26 and no. 42 on the U.S. and Canadian charts, respectively. Appropriately, the album was titled Deliverin’.

Poco were active until April 2021 when Rusty Young passed away at the age of 75. Technically, he had retired in late 2013 but participated in reunion concerts thereafter. Paul Cotton died in August that year. He was 78. Altogether, Poco released 19 studio albums, nine live records and multiple compilations. In January 2015, Poco were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Unlike the Eagles, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Poco has yet to receive that recognition.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Hollies

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pack my bags for yet another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, before I leave I must make an important decision about which song I should take along from a band or artist I haven’t covered on the blog or only mentioned once or twice.

I’m up to the letter “H” for this little fun exercise. Looking at my song library, picks could have included Hall & Oates, Jimi Hendrix, Herman’s Hermits, The Hooters and Huey Lewis and the News. Based on the above selection criterion, I decided to go with The Hollies and Bus Stop, a song I loved from the very first time I heard it many moons ago!

The Hollies were formed in December 1962 in Manchester, England. Their original line-up included Allan Clarke (vocals), Vic Steele (lead guitar), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals), Eric Haydock (bass) and Don Rathbone (drums). Over their now 60-year career, the group has seen numerous line-up changes, with Clarke remaining as the only original member. Wikipedia notes that together with The Rolling Stones, they are one of the few UK groups from the early ’60s, who never disbanded.

Bus Stop, written by then-future 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman, is one of the best-known tunes by The Hollies. I also believe it’s their first song I heard on the radio while growing up in Germany. The band’s distinctive three-part harmony singing grabbed me right away. You just don’t hear such great vocals anymore these days.

While at the time it was released as a single in June 1966 The Hollies already had scored a few hits, especially in the UK, Bus Stop became their first top 10 single in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 5. Elsewhere, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from October 1966 topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reached no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Norway, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 9 in Germany.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a couple who meet one rainy day at a bus stop. Love blooms when they share an umbrella.

In a Manchester newspaper, Graham Gouldman said he wrote it whilst riding on the No. 95 bus, which ran from East Didsbury – the route went through Manchester city centre, to Sedgeley Park, Cheetham Hill, Prestwich, and on to Whitefield near Bury. Gouldman was living with his family on this route in Broughton Park Salford at the time.

Graham Gouldman’s father was a talented and creative writer who often helped his son with song ideas. Graham had the idea for bus stop setting, and his dad came up with the first line: “Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, ‘please share my umbrella.'” From that starting point, he was able to finish the song.

In a Songfacts interview with Gouldman, he explained: “He gave me those words and I immediately, as I was reading them, heard the melody in my head, and it just kind of wrote itself. And then the middle part of the song I wrote – I got the melody and the words all in one chunk.”

The timeline in this song is a little askew. We know that love bloomed over the summer, but then we get the line, “Came the sun, the ice was melting.” This harkens spring, so apparently time has passed. In Gouldman’s Songfacts interview, he clarified: “Winter is over, the snow is passed because the sun has melted it, so there’s no need to shelter anymore under the umbrella. You could say the snow is underfoot so you don’t need an umbrella anyway, but it’s poetic license: it could have been snowing so the umbrella can protect you from the snow as well as the rain.”

Graham Nash of The Hollies [who later became part of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungCMM] recalls learning about this song when their manager, Michael Cohen, told them about “this little Jewish kid who lives down the street,” which was Graham Gouldman. When Gouldman played it for them, they knew they had a winner. Nash says they recorded it in just an hour and 15 minutes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Jayhawks/Rainy Day Music

How many times has it happened to you that you come across a great song by a band or music artist you don’t know at all or you’re not well familiar with and tell yourself, ‘I definitely want to further explore them’? With so much music being out there and only limited time to listen, I seem to find myself in this situation all the time! Case in point: The Jayhawks.

I’ve featured a few songs by this American alternative country and rock band on the blog before, for example here or here, but until now haven’t dedicated a post to them. Somewhat randomly, I decided to pick one of their albums titled Rainy Day Music, and started listening. While I have no idea whether the group’s seventh studio album from April 2003 is their best, I pretty much immediately dug what I heard.

The Jayhawks started out as a short-lived trio in 1984 in Minneapolis, Minn. when local musicians Mark Olson (guitar, vocals) and Caleb Palmiter (bass) got together and added Tommy Rey (drums) for their first gigs. The following year, Olson relaunched the group with Steve Retzler (guitar), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). Retzler was replaced later that year by Gary Louris (guitar, vocals). This formation recorded the band’s 1986 eponymous debut album.

The Jayhawks in 2003 (from left); Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Gary Louris & Stephen McCarthy

By the time The Jayhawks went into the studio to start work on Rainy Day Music, only Louris (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Pearlman (bass, mandolin) were left from the above line-up. Tim O’Reagan (drums, percussion, guitar, congas, vocals) and Stephen McCarthy (pedal steel guitar, banjo, lap steel guitar, vocals) completed the group.

Rainy Day Music was executive-produced by Rick Rubin, usually a good indicator for quality, with Ethan Johns serving as producer. Like Rubin, Johns has impressive credits, such as Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Crowded House and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

In addition to a top-notch production team, Rainy Day Music had notable guests, including Bernie Leadon, Jacob Dylan and Matthew Sweet. The album’s initial release encompassed a bonus CD of six songs, titled More Rain, which among others includes a solo live performance by Louris of Waiting For the Sun, the opener of The Jayhawks’ third studio album Hollywood Town Hall from September 1992.

I’d say the time has come to take a look at some of the goodies! I’m focusing on the main album, but the bonus CD is included in the Spotify list at the end of the post. Here’s the beautiful Byrdsy-sounding opener Stumbling Through the Dark. It was co-written by Louris and Sweet. My kind of music!

Tailspin is another great track I’d like to call out. Penned by Louris who wrote most of the songs by himself, the tune features Bernie Leadon on banjo. Leadon, a multi-instrumentalist, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles and a member of The Flying Burrito Brothers. Tailspin also became the album’s second single. Man, I love that sound!

Next up is Save It for a Rainy Day, another track that was solely written by Louris. This tune also appeared separately as the album’s first single. I really dig the harmony singing here – so good!

While as noted, Gary Louris, who had become the band’s principal songwriter following the departure of Mark Olson in 1995, wrote or co-wrote most of the album’s songs, there were some exceptions. Here is Don’t Let the World Get in Your Way, one of two songs penned by Tim O’Reagan.

With so many great songs, I easily could go on and on, but all things must pass – hmm, I wonder who said that before! The last track I’d like to highlight is titled Come to the River. Yet another song written by Louris, it features Jacob Dylan on vocals – great tune!

Here’s the Spotify version of the album including the above-noted bonus disc.

Rainy Day Music was generally well-received by critics. Usually, I don’t care much about music critics, but if they support my opinions, I have no problem shamelessly referencing them. In 2009, music and entertainment digital magazine Paste ranked the record at no. 44 on their list of The 50 Best Albums of the Decade.

Rainy Day Music is also among The Jayhawks’ albums with the best chart performance. In the U.S., it reached a respectable no. 51 on the Billboard 200, making it the group’s second-highest charting record there after Mockingbird Time, the successor from September 2011, which climbed to no. 38. Rainy Day Music also charted in the UK, reaching no. 50 on the Official Albums Chart.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s hard to believe another week just flew by and it’s Sunday morning again. Let’s get ready for more music time travel. The six stops of this trip include smooth saxophone jazz from 1980, folk-rock from 1967, acoustic guitar pop from 2002, rock from 1976, bluesy folk-rock from 1993 and guitar jazz from 1989. And off we go…

Grover Washington Jr./Winelight

Sunday mornings are perfect for some smooth jazz, so I’d like to start this little music excursion with one of my favorite saxophonists, Grover Washington Jr. In October 1980, he released what became his most successful album in the U.S. mainstream charts, Winelight, which climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard 200. Undoubtedly, much of that performance was fueled by the popularity of the catchy and groovy single Just the Two of Us, a no. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, featuring the great Bill Withers on vocals. Both the record and the tune won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Best R&B Song, respectively. Here’s the album’s great opener and title track, a piece composed by William Eaton. The smooth saxophone combined with the funky groove is sweet music to my ears.

Buffalo Springfield/For What It’s Worth

For our next stop on this mini-excursion, let’s go back to December 1966 when Buffalo Springfield released For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the tune was the Canadian-American folk-rock band’s third single and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 5 in Canada and no. 19 in New Zealand. The song was also added to the second pressing of their eponymous debut album from March 1967, which originally had come out in December 1966. In 1968, Stills; David Crosby who had been kicked out of The Byrds; and Graham Nash, previously with The Hollies, formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young, who had played with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, joined CSN in mid-1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young debuted at Woodstock in August that year and released their debut album Déjà Vu the following March. Okay, before I get carried away any further, here’s For What It’s Worth!

Sheryl Crow/Weather Channel

When my streaming music provider served up Weather Channel by Sheryl Crow the other day, I immediately felt this relaxing acoustic pop tune would be a nice pick for a Sunday Six. Instead of adding it to my list and having it linger there, which has happened for some other tunes, I decided to use it right away. Weather Channel, written by Crow, is the closer of her fourth studio album C’mon C’mon from April 2002 – coincidentally the same record from which I featured another song in my latest Hump Day Picker-Upper: Soak Up the Sun. Unlike that tune, which became one of the album’s four singles and a top 20 mainstream hit in the U.S., Weather Channel is an album track only and what I would call a deep cut – pretty enjoyable!

Boston/More Than a Feeling

When it comes to ’70s rock, I can’t think of many other tunes that sound as great as More Than a Feeling by Boston. Named after the band’s hometown, Boston is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and recording wizard Tom Scholz. After graduating in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, Scholz worked for a few years as a senior design engineer at Polaroid Corporation. Using his salary, he built his own home recording studio and started working on music demos. For the first few years, his demos didn’t gain any traction at record labels. Eventually, Scholz gained interest at Epic Records, which signed him and his vocalist Brad Delp. After some back and forth with the label, Boston’s eponymous debut album appeared in August 1976. The record became a massive success, surging to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and charting in many other countries, including Canada (no. 7), UK (no. 11) and Australia (no. 16), among others. More Than a Feeling, released as the lead single in September that year, closely matched the album’s performance. Like most of the other tracks on the record, it was solely written by Scholz who also played most of the instruments. This is true sound perfection!

Cowboy Junkies/Hard to Explain

For this next tune, let’s jump to the ’90s, which is generally not a decade that has been much on my radar screen. After the ’80s had passed, I started paying less attention to contemporary music and primarily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which remain my favorite decades to this day. Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any ’90s music I love. A great example is Hard to Explain by Cowboy Junkies, another listening suggestion from my streaming music provider. When I heard the tune for the first time the other day, I immediately dug it. Other than their name, I don’t know anything about this Canadian alternative country and folk-rock band. Founded in Toronto in 1986, Cowboy Junkies remain active to this day, apparently with their original line-up. Their sizable catalog includes 18 studio albums, along with multiple live records, compilations, EPs and singles. Hard to Explain, by the band’s songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, is from their fifth studio album Pale Sun, Crescent Moon released in November 1993. It’s got a great bluesy sound.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Riviera Paradise

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final destination of this Sunday Six installment, and it’s a true gem: Riviera Paradise, a beautiful jazzy instrumental by electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan backed by his band Double Trouble. Composed by Vaughan, Riviera Paradise is the final track of Vaughan’s fourth studio album In Step that appeared in June 1989. Here’s a clip of a beautiful live version I found. Vaughan’s guitar playing was just out of this world! Perhaps, him playing jazz is a side of Vaughan you may not be as familiar with – I have to say I wasn’t. Check it out, this is so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube