Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

All tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 13).

The Black Keys/Good Love

My first pick this week is new music by The Black Keys. While I had been aware of their name, I only started paying attention a year ago when the rock duo of high school friends Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) released their then-latest album Delta Kream. Now, they are back with Dropout Boogie, their 11th studio release. When they started work on the album in the summer of 2021, Auerbach and Carney first envisaged recording it as a duo but subsequently decided to collaborate with other artists. One includes Billy Gibbons, a longtime friend of the duo from Akron, Ohio. Here’s Good Love, co-written by Auerbach, Carney and Gibbons and featuring the ZZ Top guitarist. Like on predecessor Delta Kream, I dig the rawness of The Black Keys’ sound. Gibbons is a great match!

49 Winchester/All I Need

49 Winchester are a Russell County, Va.-based group who on their website describe their music as “tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk.” Following is a bit more from their website: Formed eight years ago on Winchester Street in the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), the band started as a rag tag bunch of neighborhood teenagers who just wanted to get together for the sake of playing together. Aside from Gibson [Isaac Gibson, singer/guitarist – CMM], there’s also his childhood friend, bassist Chase Chafin, alongside other Castlewood cronies — guitarist Bus Shelton, and Noah Patrick on pedal steel. Here’s All I Need, a track from the group’s fourth and latest studio album Fortune Favors The Bold. The country rocker, credited to Blaine Gibson, reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Good stuff!

State Champs/Here to Stay

Next up are Albany, N.Y.-based pop-punk band State Champs, who according to Apple Music are known for their vocal harmonies and layered guitar riffs. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The group’s first album, 2013’s The Finer Things, reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. They won two Alternative Press Music Awards, including Best Breakthrough Band in 2016 and Music Video of the Year in 2017, for “Losing Myself.” Both 2015’s Around the World and Back and 2018’s Living Proof include two songs cowritten with All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth. “Time Machine,” from 2018’s Living Proof, featured a guest vocal appearance from blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. This brings me to the group’s new album Kings of the New Age and the opener Here to Stay. Much of contemporary pop isn’t my cup of tea, but in this case, the combination with rock works for me.

Say Sue Me/Still Here

I’m pleased to wrap up this week’s music revue with indie rock from South Korea, Say Sue Me, the first time I feature a band from that country. From their website: Cited as one of 2018’s ‘break-out bands‘, Say Sue Me are a Surf Rock inspired indie band from Busan, South Korea. Members consist of Byungkyu Kim on lead guitar, Sumi Choi on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jaeyoung Kim on Bass and Sungwan Lim on Drums. Releasing their first album “We’ve Sobered Up” in 2014, and EP “Big Summer Night” in 2015, on Korean label Electric Muse, UK label Damnably Records released a self-titled compilation that paired their first record and EP in 2017, marking the band’s first release outside of Korea, which served as their introduction to International audiences. Fast forward five years to The Last Thing Left, which appears to be their third full-length album. Here’s Still Here written by Choi, a tune with a pleasant laidback sound. Also, check out her vocals – cool!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tracks and a few others.

Sources: Wikipedia; 49 Winchester website; Apple Music; Say Sue Me website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us. Today, Best of What’s New is hitting a milestone of sorts with its 100th installment. Since the publication of the weekly feature’s inaugural post on March 21, 2020, I’ve covered more than 400 newly released songs. Discovering tunes I sufficiently like can be a challenge, given I’m primarily into the ’60s and ’70s. But I continue to be encouraged it’s still possible to find decent new music, as long as you are willing to look for it. Let’s get to this week’s picks, which all are on albums that were released yesterday (February 18).

Gregor Barnett/Driving Through the Night

I’d like to kick things off with new music from the debut solo album by Gregor Barnett. He is best known as a co-founder of Philadelphia-based punk band The Menzingers, which has been around since 2006. Here’s an excerpt from Barnett’s bio on the website of his label Epitaph Records: “It was this perfect storm,” says Menzingers guitarist/co-vocalist Gregor Barnett. “The band couldn’t tour, I was going through a really difficult time, and I was stuck at home watching my family struggle with illness and death and hardship. The only thing I could do was write my way through it.”And yet, despite all the turbulence surrounding its creation, there’s something deeply hopeful and reassuring about Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave, Barnett’s debut release under his own name. Written and recorded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collection is a sonic departure from Barnett’s more punk-leaning work with The Menzingers, drawing on the gritty, off-kilter Americana of Tom Waits or Warren Zevon as it faces down loss and doubt in search of relief and redemption. Here’s Driving Through the Night, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Barnett. I like his sound!

The Heavy Hours/Wasting All Our Time

The Heavy Hours are an alternative rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio. Here’s more from their website: On the heels of releasing their acclaimed Wildfire EP (2021) in the midst of a global pandemic, The Heavy Hours now return with Gardens, a full-length album that further exemplifies their distinctive strain of warm-hearted, open-armed alternative rock. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based quartet recorded Gardens several years ago, long before the group had management, an agent or a record label in their corner. With money they had collectively saved up, each of the members took a week off of work and set out to record a pocket full of songs at Montrose Recording located on remote farmland in Richmond, Virginia with producer Adrian Olsen (Nate Smith, Foxygen, Futurebirds). Somehow these early studio recordings found their way into the hands of multi GRAMMY award-winning producer/songwriter and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach who immediately took a shine to the band and in turn led to organizing a writing session in Nashville, TN, which crafted tracks released on the Wildfire EP. This brings me to Gardens, which according to this mini-documentary was recorded in 2018. Here’s Wasting All Our Time, credited to all four members of the band: Andrew Yorio, Michael Marcagi, Jonathan Todd Moon and Ian Malott. I’m glad The Heavy Hours were finally able to release this great music.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers/Been Lovin’ You Too Long

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are a band around country singer-songwriter Sarah Shook. According to her Apple Music profile, Shook was born in Rochester, New York in 1985. She was raised in a deeply religious household, home schooled, and only allowed to listen to classical or Christian praise music as she grew up. Despite these restrictions, Shook taught herself to play guitar in high school and began writing songs…In 2010, she put together her first band, Sarah Shook & the Devil, who issued an EP in 2013, Seven. By the end of 2013, that band had split, and Shook & the Devil guitarist Eric Peterson started over with the group Sarah Shook & the Dirty Hand, a stopgap project that played live around the Chapel Hill area. Meanwhile, Shook had found a fan in producer and engineer Ian Schreier, who was eager to make a record with her. In 2015, she and Peterson assembled a new band to record with Schreier, which also included Aaron Olivia on bass, Phil Sullivan on pedal steel, and John Howie, Jr. (who is also Shook’s partner) on drums. The new combo, dubbed the Disarmers, cut their debut album live in the studio with Schreier at the controls. Sidelong was self-released in late 2015. Fast-forward about six years and two months to Nightroamer, the third album by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. All tunes on the record were written by Shook. Here’s Been Lovin’ You Too Long.

Goodbye June/Breathe and Attack

My last pick for this week is by Goodbye June, a rock band from Nashville, Tenn., formed in 2005. I first featured them in a Best of What’s New installment in December 2021. The group consists of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. Breathe and Attack is from their fourth and latest studio album See Where the Night Goes. I said it before, I’ll say it again: This band reminds me of AC/DC. Milbourn has some of that Bon Scott swagger, and their guitar-playing stylistically is pretty similar to the rock & roll band from down under. Check it out!

Before I wrap up, here’s a playlist of the above tunes. As usual, I threw in a few others by the featured bands.

Sources: Wikipedia; Epitaph Records website; The Heavy Hours website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Year That Was – Part 2 of 2

Best new songs of 2021

This is the second installment of my 2-part review of 2021. Here I’m going to focus on songs released over the past 12 months, which I like in particular. The picks are based on my Best of What’s New weekly recurring feature. Part 1, which you can read here, highlighted my six favorite albums that came out over the past year.

Altogether, Best of What’s New featured more than 200 songs that were released in 2021. From there I narrowed things down to 4o tunes, which are included in the playlist at the end of this post. Following I’d like to highlight 10 out of these 40 songs. It wasn’t easy to pick those 10 tunes. In my view, that’s a good sign since it means there were many great choices.

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

Kicking things off is If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a terrific soul tune by Aaron Frazer, a Brooklyn, New York-based singer-songwriter. The song, co-written by Frazer, Dan Auerbach and David Ferguson, is off Frazer’s debut album Introducing…, which appeared on January 8 and was produced by Auerbach. Check out that neat falsetto, which is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield – so good!

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Next, let’s turn to contemporary jazz by California native Gretchen Parlato. É Preciso Perdoar is the beautiful opener of her fifth studio album Flor (Portuguese for flower) that appeared on March 5. The tune is credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, as well as Parlato – just beautiful and so relaxing!

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Dirty Honey are a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. I love their classic rock sound that has traces of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. California Dreamin’, credited to the entire band, is from Dirty Honey’s eponymous first full-length album released April 23.

Lord Huron/Mine Forever

Indie folk-rock band Lord Huron are one of the most seductive contemporary groups I can think of. Their moody sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb is pretty cool – very cinematic! Frankly, their latest record Long Lost, which came out on May 21, easily could have been in part 1 of this year-in-review feature. Here’s my favorite tune off that record, Mine Forever, penned by guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider who founded Lord Huron in 2010.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

While I’ve started to pay much closer attention to new music, I only follow very few contemporary acts. One is Jane Lee Hooker, formed in 2013 in New York as an all-female blues rock band. Drive is more of a rock ballad with a nice soulful vibe. Released as a single on May 28, the tune will be on the band’s next album Rollin’ that is scheduled for January 2022. Definitely looking forward to that one!

The Wallflowers/Roots and Wings

On July 9, The Wallflowers released Exit Wounds, their first new album in nine years. With its warm melodic roots rock, the record sounds like it could be a follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Jacob Dylan’s band that brought them commercial success and two Grammy awards. Here’s one of my favorite tracks off the new album: Roots and Wings.

Son Volt/The Globe

While alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt have been around since 1994, I had not heard of them until August of this year after the release of their ninth and latest album Electro Melodier on July 30. Check out The Globe written by the band’s founder, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar. It’s got a bit of a Springsteen vibe, and there’s also a brief homage to The Who. Check out the Moog line at around 2:15 minutes… Love that tune!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose, born Margaret Rose Durante, is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter, who released her debut single under her maiden name in 2009, a cover of Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody. In the spring of 2013, when her first full-length album appeared, she already had adopted the Maggie Rose moniker. What Are We Fighting For is the opener of her latest album Have a Seat that came out on August 20. The great soulful tune was written by Rose, together with her longtime collaborators, guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman  (background vocals, percussion).

Joey Landreth/Two Trains

While he shares a famous last name and also is a slide guitarist, Canadian artist Joey Landreth isn’t related to Sonny Landreth. But he sure as heck is talented and has a great sound! Check out Two Trains, the catchy funky closer from his third and most recent album All That You Dream, which appeared on November 26.

Blue Rodeo/When You Were Wild

When You Were Wild is a great tune by Blue Rodeo, a Canadian country rock band founded in 1984 in Toronto. I first came across the group in February of this year. This tune, co-written by founders Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), is from their 15th studio album Many a Mile released on December 3. I love that beautiful warm sound!

That’s it for the 10 tracks I wanted to call out. There are many more great tunes in the below playlist. Hope you will check them out!

Finally, to those celebrating, I wish you a merry Christmas and please be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s already been another week since the last Best of What’s New and that we’re at the end of July. This installment of my recurring new music feature includes an English goth punk-influenced rock group, a South African-turned-U.S. post grunge band, as well as an Americana singer-songwriter and a British retro soul artist who are both based in Nashville. All songs appeared on releases that came out yesterday (July 30).

Creeper/Midnight

Creeper are an English rock band from Southampton. Apple Music describes them as a versatile English goth-punk unit that draws inspiration from a deep well of post-punk, emo, and glam rock…Creeper was founded in 2014 by vocalist Will Gould, guitarists Ian Miles and Oliver Burdett, bassist Sean Scott, drummer Dan Bratton, and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. They issued their eponymous debut EP shortly after formation, and in 2015 they inked a deal with Roadrunner Records and put out a second EP, The Callous Heart…A third EP, The Stranger, dropped the following year, and in 2017, Creeper unleashed their full-length debut, the well-received Eternity, In Your Arms. After seemingly announcing their breakup in 2018, the band unexpectedly returned a year later. In 2020 they unleashed their second album, the grandiosely titled Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. Yesterday, Creeper’s fourth EP American Noir appeared. Here’s Midnight, a melodic rocker co-written by Greenwood, Miles and Gould.

Parker McCollum/Wait Outside

Next up is Parker McCollum, a Nashville-based Americana singer-songwriter. While growing up in the Houston area, McCollum listened to artists like Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. At age 13, he started playing the guitar and began writing his own songs. When he was 16, McCollum was performing at local venues. After his high school graduation, he moved to Austin. While starting to attend college there, he continued to perform. In June 2013, McCollum released his debut single Highway. His debut album Limestone Kid followed in February 2015. In June 2019, he signed with MCA Nashville. That label just issued his third and new album Gold Chain Cowboy. Here’s the opener Wait Outside co-written by him, Randy Rogers and producer Jon Randall – great sound and check out that slide guitar!

Yola/Barely Alive

British singer-songwriter Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, first entered my radar screen last October when I included her then-latest single Hold On in a previous Best of What’s New installment. Her powerful voice immediately grabbed my attention and subsequently led to the review of her compelling first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire from February 2019. Following a tough childhood characterized by poverty, and a period during which she was homeless, Yola managed to establish herself as a session singer in England. In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. After the group dissolved and a hiatus, Yola launched her solo career and released a well received debut solo EP, Orphan Offering. Eventually, she came to the U.S. and met Dan Auerbach who produced her above noted first full length album. Barely Alive is the opener of Yola’s new sophomore release Stand For Myself that was produced by Auerbach as well. Together with Joy Oladokun, he also co-wrote the tune with her. If you’re new to Yola and like retro ’70s style soul, check her out. I can hear a bit of Roberta Flack in her voice.

Seether/Wasteland

Seether are a post-grunge rock band founded as Saron Gas in Pretoria, South Africa in 1999. Their debut album Fragile came out in October 2000 on Johannesburg-based independent label Musketeer Records. After it came to the attention of American label Wind-up Records, they signed them, and the band relocated to the U.S. Due to the similarity to sarin gas, they were told to change their name, so they decided to call themselves Seether, after the song by American alternative rock band Veruca Salt, one of their influences. Another one is Nirvana. Their first U.S. album Disclaimer was released in August 2002. Seven additional albums and six EPs have since appeared, including their new EP Wasteland-The Purgatory. Seether’s current line-up includes original member Shaun Morgan (lead vocals, guitar, piano), together with Corey Lowery (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dale Stewart (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and John Humphrey (drums, percussion). Here’s Wasteland written by Morgan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part I

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

The other day, the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles randomly came to my mind. It’s about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

What does this movie have to do with music? Nothing, except it gave me the idea to put together lists of songs that are related to – you guessed it – planes, trains and automobiles. To be fully transparent, in mid-2017, I published tw0 posts with songs for the road and songs for the train. As such, the theme isn’t really new but, hey, it’s been almost four years. Plus, I feel it’s okay to repeat fun ideas every now and then.

In order to avoid creating what would be a rather lengthy post, I decided to make it a mini series and break things up in three parts, with each featuring five tracks listed in chronological order. Here’s part I: Songs related to planes, an entirely new idea! 🙂

Jefferson Airplane/Blues From an Airplane

Blues From an Airplane is the opener of Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. The psychedelic rock tune was co-written by Marty Balin and Skip Spence, Airplane’s lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist and drummer, respectively. The tune also became the b-side of the band’s second single Come Up the Years, which was released ahead of the album in May 1966. Airplane’s actual was take-off, Surrealistic Pillow, was still six months away. The record only reached no. 128 on the Billboard 200, while the single failed to chart altogether.

The Beatles/Back in the U.S.S.R.

Why Back in the U.S.S.R., given the tune doesn’t have “plane” or a related word in the title? Since it’s my bloody list, and it cannot be without my favorite band of all time. Plus, there’s a sound of a jet engine in the beginning and at the very end of the tune, and the first verse prominently includes a rough flight. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and him as usual, is actually a parody to Back in the U.S.A. and California Girls by Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, respectively, poking fun at their patriotic sentiments about the U.S. The song, included on The White Album from November 1968, was recorded without Ringo Starr who temporarily had left the group after McCartney had criticized his drumming. Instead John, Paul and George Harrison created a composite drum track from numerous takes.

Steve Miller Band/Jet Airliner

Jet Airliner was one of the first tunes that came to my mind when thinking about plane songs. The other two were Jet by Paul McCartney and Wings and John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. Since I decided to include Back in the U.S.S.R., I skipped Jet. While Leaving on a Jet Plane is a lovely tune, it would have been another pick from the ’60s. Written by Paul Penna in 1973, Jet Airliner was popularized by Steve Miller Band when they released it in April 1977 as the lead single of their 10th studio album Book of Dreams that appeared the following month. It yielded their fourth and last ’70s top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart.

Indigo Girls/Airplane

After three rockers I thought it was time to include something that’s a bit lighter, so I’m glad I found this lovely acoustic, folk-oriented tune by Indigo Girls. Written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up the duo, Airplane is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage that appeared in May 1992. I really dig the vocals and the harmony singing on this song.

The Black Keys/Aeroplane Blues

There they are again, The Black Keys. The rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered my radar screen recently when I included a tune from their new album Crawling Kingsnake in a Best of What’s New feature. Aeroplane Blues is another edgy blues rock tune, which shall wrap up this first installment. Written by Auerbach and Carney, it appeared on their third studio album Rubber Factory released in September 2004.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As a busy week is nearing its end, admittedly, the thought of skipping Best of What’s New this time crossed my mind. But the release of new music doesn’t stop, so the show must go on. I’m also quite happy with my latest findings – quite a bit of rock in different flavors in this installment. Each of these tracks is on albums that appeared yesterday (May 14). Let’s get it to it!

The Steel Woods/Out of the Blue

Kicking things off are The Steel Woods, a band from Nashville, Tenn., blending country, southern rock and blues rock. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, they lay claim to the sound pioneered by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like Skynyrd, the Steel Woods balance heavy blues-rock with Southern poetry, and they add a bit of plainspoken outlaw country to the mix, as evidenced on their 2017 debut Straw in the Wind. The band was co-founded in 2015 by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Wes Bayliss and lead guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope. Johnny Stanton (bass) and Isaac Senty (drums) completed the line-up. A more recent permanent member is guitarist Tyler Power, who had supported the band during tours. Tragically, Cope passed away in January this year just after The Steel Woods had completed their new album All of Your Stones, due to severe complications from diabetes. Here’s Out of the Blue, which like most other tracks was co-written by Cope. For this tune he teamed up with Aaron Raitiere, a singer-songwriter from Kentucky. There’s definitely a dose of Skynyrd here.

Babe Rainbow/California

Babe Rainbow are a band from Byron Bay, Australia. Formed in 2014, they initially became known for playing ’60s style psychedelic rock. They have also ventured into soft rock with influences from Latin music. Their bassist Lu-Lu-Felix Domingo originally hails from Venezuela. The other members are Angus Dowling (vocals, drums), Jack “Cool-Breeze” Crowther (guitar) and Elliot O’Reilly (guitar). After an eponymous EP from 2015, Babe Rainbow released their first full-length album in 2017, which was also self-titled. California, co-written by Dowling, Crowther and O’Reilly is a nice laid back track from their fourth and new album Changing Colours.

The Black Keys/Crawling Kingsnake

The Black Keys are a rock band from Akron, Ohio, co-founded in 2001 as a duo by high school friends Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums). After recording a demo and sending it to a dozen of record labels, they got a deal in 2002 with small Los Angeles indie label Alive. Their debut album The Big Come Up, which was recorded in Carney’s basement on an 8-track tape recorder in lo-fi, appeared in March 2002. While it didn’t chart or sell well, the record got them a new deal with Fat Possum Records. Their third album Rubber Factory, issued by that label, was their first to chart in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Commercial breakthrough came with the sixth studio album Brothers, fueled by the singles Tighten Up and Howlin’ for You. The Black Keys have since released four additional albums including their latest Delta Kream, a cover album of hill country blues songs. Between August 2015 and March 2019, the duo was on hiatus, with Auerbach and Carney each working on their own projects. Here’s Crawling King Snake, the opener of Delta Kream. The tune was first recorded under that title by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in March 1941. John Lee Hooker, one of the many other artists who recorded Crawling King Snake, turned the song into one of his most successful singles in 1949.

Myles Kennedy/In Stride

Let’s wrap up this installment of Best of What’s New with rock from Myles Kennedy. The singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of rock band Alter Bridge, and lead vocalist of Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, the backing band of Slash. Kennedy has also worked as a session musician and songwriter. In March 2018, he released his solo debut album Year of the Tiger. His new album The Idles of March is his sophomore release. Here’s In Stride, a blues-oriented rocker with nice slide guitar action written by Kennedy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Masters of the High Register

A selection of great falsetto vocalists

In late December, I did a four-part series on the Bee Gees here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). One of the group’s distinct features was the frequent use of falsetto singing, starting with their 1975 studio album Main Course. My most recent Best of What’s New installment included Aaron Frazer, a young vocalist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also happens to be a falsetto singer. In fact, while I’m not a voice expert, I think he’s incredible! These posts triggered the idea to write about music artists I like, who are masters of the falsetto.

Before getting to some great music and singing, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. I’ll keep it light! According to Wikipedia, falsetto “is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.” Essentially, modal voice generates the richest tone that unlike falsetto isn’t breathy. It’s the most frequently used vocal register in speech and singing in most languages.

I always thought falsetto and head voice are the same – not so! As this post on Ramsey Voice explains, “While falsetto and head voice have been used interchangeably in the past, falsetto is understood to be a breathy version of high notes and head voice produces a richer and more balanced tone on the high pitches in a singer’s voice. Falsetto and head voice are two different modes for singing the same notes in the upper registers of the voice.” Didn’t you always want to know that? 🙂

If you’re curious to learn more about different voice registers and singing modes, the above Ramsey Voice post goes into all the gory details, illustrated with video clips. The only thing I’d like to add is that females have falsetto as well, though I think it’s fair to say this singing mode is primarily associated with male singers, and the examples in this post are all male artists. But as Ramsey Voice notes, “plenty of studies have…shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in basically the same way, and everyone is capable of falsetto singing.” Time for some falsetto action!

Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire/September

September, one of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs, initially appeared as a single in November 1978. Co-written by Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis, it became one of the group’s biggest hits. The song was also included on the compilation The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which came out a few days after the single. The tune, on which Bailey shared lead vocals with White, is a great example of Bailey’s amazing falsetto.

Smokey Robinson, of The Miracles/OOO Baby Baby

OOO Baby Baby is one of the most beautiful examples of falsetto I can think of. Smokey Robinson’s voice sounds so sweet and gentle that it almost makes me want to cry! Robinson was also a co-writer of the ballad, together with Miracles bass vocalist Pete Moore. OOO Baby Baby became the lead singles of The Miracles’ studio album Going to a Go-Go in March 1965. The album came out in November that year.

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

When thinking of great falsetto vocalists, one of the first artists who came to my mind was Curtis Mayfield. While there are other tunes where his falsetto is more dominant, Move On Up is one of my absolute favorites, so I simply couldn’t skip it. Written by Mayfield, the song was first recorded for his debut solo album Curtis from September 1970. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in June 1971. I just love that tune – the infectious groove, Mayfield’s singing and his effortless switching between modal voice and falsetto – it’s just perfect!

Marvin Gaye/Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

Marvin Gaye is another exceptional vocalist, no matter what singing mode you’re talking about. On Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler), co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., the boundaries between Gaye’s head voice and falsetto are so fluid that to me it’s hard to tell, which is which. The tune was first recorded for his 11th studio album What’s Going On, a true gem released in May 1971. In September of the same year, it became the album’s third single.

Prince/Kiss

No post about falsetto vocalists would be complete without Prince. The funky Kiss was one of his biggest hits. Written by Prince, it became the lead single to his eighth studio album Parade, released in February 1986, just ahead of the album that followed in March. Frankly, the tune wasn’t love at first sight for me, but I’ve come to dig it.

The last two tracks shall belong to the artists who inspired the post. Here’s Nights on Broadway, the tune that started the frequent use of falsetto for the Bee Gees.

Co-written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, Nights on Broadway was recorded for the Bee Gees’ 13th studio album Main Course released in June 1975 in the U.S. and the following month in the U.K. The groovy track also became the album’s second single in September of the same year.

Aaron Frazer/Bad News

Bad News is another great tune from Aaron Frazer’s impressive debut album  Introducing…. The song was co-written by Frazer and producer Dan Auerbach. It actually reminds me a bit of Gaye’s Inner City Blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ramsey Voice; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

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

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

Denison Witmer/River of Music

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

Morgan Wallen/Livin’ the Dream

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

Barry Gibb/To Love Somebody

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

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

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

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

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