The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2023 installment of The Sunday Six! This also marks the 100th time that I’d like to invite you to join me on a time-travel journey into the beautiful world of music. As usual, the zig-zag trip includes six tunes in different flavors from different decades. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Lee Morgan/The Sidewinder

The March 7, 2021 installment, the eighth of this weekly recurring feature, was the first to open with a jazz tune. I’ve since continued to start these mini-music excursions with an instrumental, typically a jazz track, and intend to continue the tradition, at least for now. Today, my pick is Lee Morgan, an American jazz trumpeter and composer. He started to record as an 18-year-old in 1956 with his solo debut Lee Morgan Indeed! After playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band from 1956 until 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and between 1957 and 1966 was featured on numerous of their albums. Morgan’s prolific recording career came to an abrupt end in February 1972 at the age of 33, when his common-law wife Helen Moore shot him during an altercation at a jazz club in New York City where Morgan was performing with his band. Morgan is regarded as one of the key hard bop players of the 1960s. The Sidewinder, a Morgan composition, is the title track of a July 1964 album released under his name. He was backed by Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Sidewinder became Morgan’s best-known track and even made the U.S. pop mainstream charts.

Natalie Imbruglia/Torn

For this next stop on our little trip, we jump to November 1997 and the solo music debut by Natalie Imbruglia. The singer from down under started her professional career as an actress in the early 1990s on Australian soap opera Neighbours. Left of the Middle, Imbruglia’s first of seven albums she released to date, became a huge international success, topping the charts in Australia and placing in the top 5 in The Netherlands (no. 2), Switzerland (no. 3), Germany and Italy (no. 4 each), as well as the UK (no. 5). In the U.S., it reached no. 10 on the Billboard 200. Left of the Middle also became her most commercially successful album with more than 7 million copies sold to date. The impressive performance was fueled by lead single Torn, a tune co-written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and co-producer Phil Thornalley. Originally, the song had been recorded in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein. While Rein’s version reached no. 10 on the charts in Norway, it was Imbruglia’s rendition that became a major internal hit. Imbruglia, now 47, remains active, both as a music artist and an actress. Even though Torn has a pretty commercial sound, I’ve always liked the tune.

Squeeze/Black Coffee in Bed

The time has come to pay a quick visit to the ’80s with a nice track by English pop rock and power pop band Squeeze. The group was initially formed in March 1974 by Chris Difford (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (vocals, guitar, music). Jools Holland (keyboards, backing and occasional lead vocals), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Paul Gunn (drums) rounded out the initial line-up. After five albums, Difford and Tilbrook decided to break up the band in 1982 and released an eponymous album as a duo the following year. In 1985 Squeeze reformed. The band’s second incarnation lasted until 1999 and saw seven additional albums. In late 1999, they broke up again. Their third incarnation started in 2007 and remains active to this day, with Difford and Tilbrook remaining as the only original members. Black Coffee in Bed, penned by Difford and Tilbrook, appeared in April 1992 as the lead single from Squeeze’s fifth album Sweets from a Stranger, released in September of the same year. It enjoyed moderate success in the UK where it reached no. 51 on the Official Singles Chart. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 26 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

The Clash/London Calling

One of the few punk bands I liked from the get-go were The Clash. During their 10-year career from 1976 until 1986, the British group released six studio albums. The third, London Calling, was their most successful one. The critically acclaimed record from December 1979, which has sold over five million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US for sales of one million, blends a traditional punk rock sound with elements of reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Overall, it also became the band’s best-performing album on the charts, reaching no. 2 in Sweden, no. 4 in Norway and no. 9 in the UK, among others. In Rolling Stone’s most recent 2020 version of its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, London Calling was ranked at no. 16, only down 8 spots from the 2003 and 2012 editions. Here’s the great title track, co-written by vocalist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones. London Calling also appeared separately in December 1979 as the record’s lead single.

Plain White T’s/Hey There Delilah

For this next tune let’s jump to the current century. Like I suspect is the case for the majority of folks, I only know Plain White T’s because of their one no. 1 hit Hey There Delilah. The rock and pop punk band was formed as a trio in early 1997 by high school friends Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Tirio (guitar, drums percussion), and Ken Fletcher (bass), and rounded out by Steve Mast (lead guitar, backing vocals) shortly thereafter. In 2000, they recorded their debut Come On Over. Hey There Delilah first appeared on the group’s third studio album All That We Needed, released in January 2005. But the beautiful ballad wasn’t noticed until May 2006 when it appeared as a single. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and Germany, and surged to no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and Belgium. Until that single, Plain White T’s essentially had been an underground act in Chicago. Hey There Delilah was also included as a bonus track on the group’s fourth studio album Every Second Counts, which came out in September 2006. It’s safe to assume the tune helped fuel the success of that record, which became their best-selling album to date and charted in multiple countries, including Ireland (no. 2), UK (no. 3) and the U.S. (no. 10), among others. Plain White T’s are still around. Their eighth and most recent studio album Parallel Universe came out in August 2018.

The Box Tops/Cry Like a Baby

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of another music trip. My pick is Cry Like a Baby, the title track of a studio album by American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops, released in April 1968. In February that same year, the tune had appeared as the record’s lead single. Overall, it became their second-biggest hit after The Letter, reaching no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 3 in Canada, no. 15 in the UK and no. 46 in Australia. Formed as The Devilles in Memphis, Tenn. in 1967, the band soon thereafter changed their name to The Box Tops in 1967. Cry Like a Baby was the last album featuring the original line-up of Alex Chilton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). In 1971 after the first break-up of The Box Tops, Chilton became a co-founder of American rock and power pop band Big Star. In 1996, Cunningham organized the first reunion of The Box Tops, which lasted until 2010. Following the death of Chilton from a heart attack in March 2010, the group split again. In mid-2015, Cunningham and Talley reformed The Box Tops who have remained active since then.

Of course, The Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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What I’ve Been Listening to: Yola/Walk Through Fire

When I included the latest single by Yola in my last Best of What’s New installment, I noticed her first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire received many accolades. Since the strong voice of the English singer-songwriter immediately grabbed me, I checked it out and have to say it’s a true gem, both musically and in terms of her vocal performance.

Getting to that point wasn’t exactly an easy path for Yola who was born as Yolanda Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England. According to this review in Popmatters, Yola had a tough childhood characterized by poverty and a parent who didn’t care for her and banned music. Later she lived homeless in London for some time before establishing herself as a session singer and touring with acts like DJ collective Bugz in the Attic and electronic music outfit Massive Attack.

Yola Carter

In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. But ultimately, as her artist profile in Apple Music notes, Yola felt the need to strike out on her own. Over the next few years, she started writing her own songs that were influenced by Muscle Shoals era country-soul, R&B and classic singer-songwriter style. In 2016, she released her debut EP Orphan Offering under the name of Yola Carter.

Eventually, Yola went to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach after he had seen a video of her. Apparently, Auerbach was immediately impressed by her. “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice,” he reportedly said. “She has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” Auerbach teamed up with Yola to co-write songs, together with other writers, including Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Dan Penn.

Yola and Dan Auerbach

Auerbach also assembled an impressive group of seasoned studio musicians, including Dave Roe (bass), who played with Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among others; harmonica player Charlie McCoy (credits include Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, etc.) and drummer Gene Crisman, who together with Bobby Wood was a member of the Memphis Boys. They were the house band of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn. where artists like Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield recorded. Auerbach also produced Walk Through Fire, which appeared in February 2019 on his Easy Eye Sound label.

With all of the above, it’s not surprising the album has a retro late ’60s sound. This is also matched by the cover. And yet, to me, Walk Through Fire feels like an album that will hold up well over time. It simply is a work of beauty. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Faraway Look. The track was co-written by Auerbach, McLaughin and Yola. BTW, McLaughlin’s compositions have been performed by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others. Sure, the production might be a bit on the lush side, but this is just a beautiful tune.

Ride Out in the Country is another great track. The song was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Joe Allen. Allen is a county songwriter and bassist who since the early ’70s has worked with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

Next up is the title track, which according to Wikipedia references both a fire that damaged Yola’s home and an abusive relationship from which she escaped. The tune was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Dan Penn. Penn has co-written many soul hits of the ’60s, including The Dark End of the Street and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Cry Like a Baby.

Rock Me Gently is my current favorite on the album. It’s another Auerbach-Allen-Yola co-write.

Let’s do one more: Love All Night (Work All Day), co-credited to Wood, Auerbach and Yola.

As noted above, Walk Through Fire was very well received. The album also generated three Grammy nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song (Faraway Look) and Best New Artist. Walk Through Fire was also nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. And, yes, the album also did score a win: UK Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards.

At age 37, Yola still is relatively young. I look forward to much more great music from this talented songwriter and vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popmatters; Apple Music; YouTube