The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. I always look forward to writing these weekly posts. It feels very liberating to explore the music of the past 60 years or so with no set theme or rules other than I have to like it and keep my picks to six tracks at a time. That being said, frequent readers may have noticed that I’ve kind of settled into a groove on how I tend to structure these posts.

Usually, they kick off on a softer note, given I’m publishing these installments on Sunday mornings, at least in my neck of the woods. I feel these intros present a nice opportunity to feature some jazz and other instrumental music. From there, the posts are pretty much all over the place, jumping back and forth between different decades and featuring different genres. With my methodology behind the madness now having been officially revealed in case you hadn’t already noticed, let’s get to this week’s picks!

Federico Albanese/The Stars We Follow

I’d like to begin today’s journey with beautiful instrumental music by Federico Albanese, an Italian composer, pianist and music producer. He emerged in Spotify after I had looked up the latest composition by English contemporary pianist Neil Cowley I featured in two previous Sunday Six installments, most recently here. From Albanese’s website: Albanese’s compositions are airy and cinematic, blending classical music, pop and psychedelia...When Federico Albanese was just two years old, a local music store owner told his mother that her son had a gift for music...After an early childhood playing piano, the next stop on Albanese’s musical journey was jazz. Inspired by a Woody Allen film, his father gave the young teenager a clarinet, and booked him lessons...Next came the bass guitar, because he wanted to play in a punk rock band. In addition to playing in several rock bands, he and his friends were listening to new age music of the late 90s, from Brian Eno to William BasinskiAll of these musical interests have combined to influence his genre-fusing piano soundscapes, which also incorporate guitar, bass, violin and electronica. This brings me to The Stars We Follow, which is part of a soundtrack released in May 2019 Albanese wrote for a motion picture titled The Twelve. I find this music very relaxing and a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy/Dark End of the Street

Next, let’s turn to Eva Cassidy, a versatile American vocalist who was known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country and pop songs. Sadly, Cassidy’s life was cut short at age 33 when she passed away from melanoma. What a loss and at such a young age – truly heartbreaking! Cassidy gained most of her popularity after her death, especially overseas where three of her postmortem releases – a studio album, a live record and a compilation – topped the Offical Albums Chart in the UK and also reached the top 20 in various other European countries. Cassidy’s cover of Dark End of the Street appeared on The Other Side from January 1992, the only album released during her lifetime. She recorded it together with American guitarist, bandleader and vocalist Chuck Brown who was known as The Godfather of Go-Go. Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman in 1967, Dark End of the Street was first recorded by R&B and soul singer James Carr that same year. Check out Cassidy’s beautiful rendition – I find it incredible!

The Box Tops/The Letter

After two mellow tracks, it’s time to speed things up. Here’s a great tune that became the first and biggest hit for American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops: The Letter, which first appeared as a single in May 1967. The tune, written by Wayne Carson, was also included on the group’s first album The Letter/Neon Rainbow. It was quickly put together and released in November of the same year after The Letter had reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Letter featured 16-year-old Alex Chilton on lead vocals, who after The Box Tops had disbanded in February 1970 became a co-founder of power pop group Big Star. The original line-up of The Box Tops also included Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). I’ve always loved The Letter, an excellent rendition of which was also recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970.

The Hooters/All You Zombies

While I was thinking about the ’80s the other day and a tune I could feature in a Sunday Six installment, suddenly, I recalled American rock band The Hooters. They became quite popular in Germany in the mid-’80s. The first song that brought them onto my radar screen was All You Zombies. I vaguely seem to recall rocking out on the dance floor to this great tune during high school parties and festivities as a young college student. The song was co-written by the band’s founding members Eric Brazilian (lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, saxophone) and Rob Hyman (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion, melodica) who remain with the still-active group to this day. An initial version of All You Zombies first appeared on The Hooters’ debut album Amore and as a single, both released in 1983, and went unnoticed. I can see why it was the re-recorded and extended version from 1985, which became a hit. That take appeared on the band’s sophomore album Nervous Night from May 1985 and also separately as a single. The tune was most successful in Australia where it climbed to no. 8. It also charted in the top 20 in New Zealand and Germany (no. 16 and no. 17, respectively). In the U.S., it peaked at no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Billy Joel/New York State of Mind

The other day, Graham who pens the great Aphoristic Album Reviews blog did a post titled “10 Worst Billy Joel Lyrics”. Just in case any Billy Joel fans are reading this, Graham digs the piano man, just not necessarily all of his lyrics, and I think he explains it very well. Joel also happens to be one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve yet to dedicate a post to him – I guess a new idea was just born. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the artist from Long Island, N.Y. is that while he hasn’t released a new pop album since his 12th studio record River of Dreams from August 1993, he remains as popular as ever. Joel is selling out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a venue that can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts. One of my favorite songs by the piano man, especially musically, is New York State of Mind. The track appeared on Joel’s fourth studio album Turnstiles from May 1976. Surprisingly, this gem wasn’t released as a single at the time. Eventually, it appeared as a single in 2001, off a Tony Bennett album titled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. You can check out Joel’s and Bennett’s jazzy bar tune-like take here – beautiful!

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

And once again, it’s time to wrap up, so let’s make it count. Are you ready to groovin’? Ready to movin’? Ready to rockin’? Ready to rollin’? Get shakin’ with one of the best tunes by The Killer. I give you Jerry Lee Lewis, who at age 86 is the last man standing of the classic rock & roll era, and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On! Written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, the original jazzy version of the tune appeared as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by American R&B singer Big Maybelle in 1955. While it’s pretty groovy, Jerry Lee Lewis took the tune to a new level when he released his high-charged rendition as a non-album single in April 1957. Lewis’ propulsive boogie piano was backed by Sun Records session drummer J. M. Van Eaton and rockabilly guitarist Roland E. Janes, literally turning the tune into a killer rendition. “I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” a confident Lewis later proclaimed. “Sam Phillips [Sun Records founder – CMM] thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risqué, well, I’m sorry.” Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On became one of Lewis’ highest-charting hits, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, and topping both Billboard’s country and R&B charts. In the UK, the tune reached no. 8. Since it’s so much fun, I give you both the studio version and an incredible extended live take from 1964- and, yes, feel free to shake along!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist including the above picks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Federico Albanese website; YouTube; Spotify

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