Jane Lee Hooker Deliver Strong New Album Rollin’

Today, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ and it’s a fun listening experience! The New York rock band has been on my radar screen since I caught them live at a summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017. Two things struck me right away: Their raw power and that they were an all-female band, something that remains relatively rare to this day. Four and a half years later, the group delivers an album that offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul.

While Jane Lee Hooker’s music is generally categorized as blues-rock, I feel their own characterization as being a blend of rock & roll, blues, punk, R&B and soul is more accurate. That’s especially the case on the new album. Jane Lee Hooker were founded in 2013 by Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass), Tracy Hightop (guitar) and Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston  (drums) – in addition to the cool band name, you just gotta love these stage names! The group’s original line-up remains in place to this day, except for Houston who left in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo

Jane Lee Hooker (from left): Tina Gorin, Dana Athens, Ron Salvo, Mary Zadroga, Tracy Hightop. Photo by Rob Carter.

In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with Ruf Records, a prominent independent German blues and blues-rock label, and released their debut No B! in April 2016, a collection of high-energy blues covers. This was followed by sophomore release Spiritus in November 2017, which featured originals. According to the band’s Facebook page, Rollin’ was written and recorded during the pandemic, which resulted in Jane Lee Hooker trying out new methods of songwriting and recording.

With COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing requirements in effect in NYC, the band found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Says singer Dana Athens, “Aside from Jericho and Lucky, which were written before 2020, the rest of the songs on Rollin’ were primarily written on acoustic instruments in my backyard while social distancing underneath the grapevines my Greek grandparents planted in 1968. We had this oasis to gather and make music and pass the time the pandemic had afforded us.”

She continues, “…we recorded this record very differently than we have done with our other albums. Beginning with focusing on drums at one studio, then tracking vocals, guitars, and other things at two other locations. This process was very different from our “plug-and-play’ attitude of yore.” Let’s check out some music!

Here’s the opener Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker. Like all of the other six original tunes on the album, the song is credited to the entire band. “I love how “Lucky” came together because it was written in Fred’s studio on Stanton St. during practice out of the blue,” Zadroga recalled. “We took a smoke break and were saying we needed to write something new. All of it. Together!”

Drive is one of three tracks that were released as upfront singles. The soul-oriented rock ballad is my personal favorite on the album. “I was not intending to write about travel, the song is really about long-standing plans to see a friend and how you can still feel connected to someone no matter the distance between you,” Athens told Blues Matters! “Lockdown made these friends seem even further away, so I guess the song also contains a bit of escapism and fantasy – wishing that you could be together.” I love Athens’ vocals and keyboards and the beautiful guitar work.

Next up is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, one of two covers on Rollin’. The original is a jazz tune written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and composer Joe Zawinul in 1966 for Cannonball Adderley. Athens, who had not known the instrumental until she coincidentally came across it on Spotify, added lyrics. “Dana picked this cover months before recording, but we hadn’t arranged much less played it, until the end of our session,” explained Salvo. “It came together perfectly and Dana’s lyrical stamp made it our own.” Jane Lee Hooker did a great job with their rendition. If you’re curious, you can check out the original here.

White Gold, a neat acoustic blues tune, provides a nice contrast to the otherwise electric sound of the album. “I can’t remember the name of the studio in Woodstock [Dreamland Recording StudiosCMM], but it was an old church,” Hightop said. “Matt [producer Matt ChiaravalleCMM] and Ron [drummer Ron SalvoCMM] had already gone to sleep and Dana, T-Bone and I snuck back into the old dark church to practice the song. Just two guitars and Dana’s massive voice filling the church.” Added Gorin: “I always knew we had a song like this in us. It doesn’t even feel like a departure for us to me. We always had roots in our music and this shows our purer side of that.”

The last track I’d like to call is Runaway Train, another blues rocker. “I guess I started writing this one in late 2019,” Athens pointed out. “I didn’t want to
use the potentially over-used train theme, but the song just came out. At this time Mary and I were getting together at my house to write and jam. The very first recording of this song is a voice memo from December 2019 of just Mary and I fleshing it out.” Salvo added, “Sounds exactly as the name implies! High speed and off the rails.” Gorin concluded, “Very JLH tune. We love dealing out energy and this one is the perfect vehicle for that.”

“Somehow, amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, we were able to write and record what I feel is our best work as a band yet,” Athens summed up the album. “Astounding that some things, like writing music with each other, will always be a beautiful and safe world, even during a worldwide health disaster like COVID19,” added Gorin. Hightop concurred, stating, “We were really able to take our time and do these amazing songs justice. This album is just next level in so many respects.” I have to agree. With a more diversified sound, Rollin’ feels like a step up from the band’s two previous albums.

Rollin’, a self-released album, was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle who has worked with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon and Courtney Love. It was recorded at three studios: Virtue and Vice Studios in Brooklyn, NY; Dreamland Recording Studios in Woodstock, NY; and Mercy Sound Recording Studios in New York, NY).

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

As a bonus, here’s a live version of Drive I captured at a recent album release party in New York City. Thanks again to the band’s manager Gregg Bell who kindly invited me to the fun event and took the time to chat for a few minutes. He’s actually based in Australia, and this gig was the first time for him to see the band live – well, they certainly rocked the place!

On May 13, Jane Lee Hooker are scheduled to kick off a European tour to support the new album, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Their current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; JLH Facebook page & website; JHL press kit; Blues Matters; YouTube, Spotify

Advertisement

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means time again for a new journey to celebrate the music of the past and present in different flavors, six tunes a pop. Before we get to that, just a quick reminder to readers in the U.S. that as of 2:00 a.m. this morning, we’re back to daylight savings time, except for Hawaii and Arizona (sans the Navajo Nation who observes DST). While I won’t get into debating the merits of DST, I like the fact that it reminds me we’re one step closer to spring.

Stan Getz and João Gilberto/Girl from Ipanema

I love the saxophone, so I’m always looking for great players I could feature in The Sunday Six. The other day, I came across Stan Getz. When I started reading about him, it didn’t take long to get to Brazilian jazz writer and guitarist João Gilberto and a song I’ve always loved: Girl from Ipanema. The popular bossa nova tune was written in 1962 by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, with Portoguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. American lyricist Norman Gimbel subsequently wrote the English lyrics. Brazilian bossa nova singer Pery Ribeiro first recorded the tune in 1962, but it was the rendition by Getz and Gilberto, featuring Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto (nee Astrud Evangelina Weinert) on vocals, which became a hit. Appearing on the album Getz/Gilberto from March 1964, Girl from Ipanema climbed to no. 5 on the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, reached no. 8 in New Zealand and peaked at no. 29 in the UK. Feel free to groove along!

Sade/Your Love Is King

Let’s stay on the smooth side with smooth operator Sade (nee Helen Folasade Adu) and the British group that carries her name, who make their second appearance on The Sunday Six. Once again, I decided to pick a tune from their great debut album Diamond Life, released in July 1984: Your Love Is King, which first appeared in February that year as the lead single. The tune was penned by Sade together with saxophonist Stuart Matthewman who remains a member of the group to this day. The single made a strong debut in the UK where it surged to no. 6. It also did very well in New Zealand (no. 2) and Ireland (no. 7). In the U.S., the best performance was on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart (no. 8). By comparison, it only got to no. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the picture in the UK and U.S. was reversed for Smooth Operator. What probably is Sade’s best-known and my favorite tune reached no. 19 in the UK and no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ramones/I Wanna Be Sedated

Time to speed things up with American punk rock pioneers Ramones. Unlike the title may suggest, I think it’s safe to assume I Wanna Be Sedated won’t put you to sleep. While the Ramones, formed in New York in 1974, never achieved any significant commercial success, they still became highly influential in the punk rock genre. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they are often cited as the first true punk rock group. I Wanna Be Sedated, written together by co-founders Dee Dee Ramone (bass), Joey Ramone (lead vocals) and Johnny Ramone (guitar), appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Road to Ruin, which came out in September 1978. At the time, Marky Ramone (drums) rounded out their line-up. The song also became the b-side to the single She’s the One, released in parallel with the record, one of the group’s numerous non-charting singles. I find this a pretty catchy tune and wonder whether it may have had more success as an A-side.

4 Non Blondes/What’s Up

The next stop on our music journey are the ’90s and what must be one of the best-known tunes of that decade. Yes, What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure, but it’s what I would call an epic tune I continue to enjoy. I was reminded of the song when I caught it on the radio the other day while driving my car. Luckily, it’s not exactly a 911 but a sexy Japanese compact SUV, so when you hit the accelerator, nothing overly dramatic happens – probably a good thing when you listen to a kickass tune like this. If I see this correctly, 4 Non Blondes were largely a one-hit-wonder. They only released one studio album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, in October 1992. What’s Up was penned by the group’s lead vocalist and main songwriter Linda Perry. The band, which was active from 1989 to 1994, at the time of What’s Up also featured Roger Rocha (lead guitar), Christa Hillhouse (bass) and Dawn Richardson (drums).

The Cars/Sad Song

Every time it comes to The Cars, I feel that while I hardly know anything about the American new wave and pop rock group, I am familiar with a good deal of their songs. The group was mainly active between 1976 and 1988. During that period, they recorded six of their seven studio albums and scored 13 top 40 hits in the U.S. alone. Their biggest was Drive from July 1984, which climbed to no. 3 in the U.S., Ireland and Switzerland, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. I decided to pick a tune from their reunion and final album Move Like This, which came out in May 2011: Sad Song. Written by frontman Ric Ocasek, who passed away in September 2019, it was one of the group’s few singles that didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100. Sad Song did reach no. 33 on the Mainstream Rock chart. This sounds like classic Cars. Perhaps a more cheerful title would have helped.

Julian Lage/Emily

And once again we have reached the final stop of this music excursion. Hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. I will leave you on a quiet and relaxing note with beautiful guitar jazz by Julian Lage. Borrowing from a June 2021 post when I featured him for the first time, according to Apple Music’s profileLage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Emily, composed by John Mandel and John Mercer, is a track from Lage’s most recent album Squint, released in June 2021. Check out his beautiful tone!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; 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

When I started Best of What’s New in March 2020, I really didn’t know whether there would be enough newly released music I sufficiently like to make this a frequently recurring feature. After all, while one occasionally encounters new artists who embrace aspects of the ’60s and ’70s, I’m under no illusion that the kind of music from my two favorite decades won’t come back. And yet, except for one occasion due to a family matter, I’ve been posting new installments weekly.

After more than a year it’s very clear to me some decent new music continues to come out. Since it’s not as easy as simply checking the charts, this can take some time. And, yes, it also requires me to be open-minded and occasionally push beyond my comfort zone. I think my selections for this week, which all appeared yesterday (May 28), illustrate the point, especially when it comes to a young artist from Canada who is of Sudanese heritage.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall some of my previous posts about this blues rock-oriented band from New York. Jane Lee Hooker have been around since 2015. Their current line-up features founding members Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar) and Hail Mary Z (bass), along with ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo who joined as the band’s new drummer last year. To date, Jane Lee Hooker have released two full-length albums, No B! (April 2016) and Spiritus (November 2017), which I covered here and here. Drive is their latest single, following Jericho from February. Both tunes will be on the band’s next album that’s slated for later this year. The new track is a departure from their hard-charging blues rock sound. A statement explained due to COVID-19 restrictions Jane Lee Hooker “found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Out of necessity, band catch-ups were moved to the grapevine-filled backyard of singer Dana Athens’ family home in Brooklyn – with tiny practice amps, acoustic guitars and drummer Ron Salvo keeping the beat on upturned plastic garbage cans and recycling bins.” Well, whatever impact the new setting may have had, I dig the outcome, which is more like a rock ballad with a nice soul vibe.

Lou Barlow/In My Arms

Lou Barlow is an alternative rock singer-songwriter who has been active since the early 1980s. Viewed as a pioneer of low-fi rock, Barlow has been a founding member of various bands, including Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion. Just five weeks ago, Dinosaur Jr. released their latest album Sweep It Into Space, from which I featured a track in a previous Best of What’s New installment. After 25 years, Barlow remains involved with indie rock band Sebadoh as well. In addition to his group engagements, he has also released various solo albums including his latest, Reason to Live. Here’s the opener In My Arms. I like the laid back vibe and also find this tune quite catchy.

Mustafa/Stay Alive

Mustafa Ahmed, aka Mustafa the Poet and Mustafa, is a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and filmmaker from Toronto, who is of Sudanese heritage. According to his Apple Music profile, Mustava became known for socially conscious poetry during his youth. When he was 18, in 2014, he made his first recorded appearance as Mustafa the Poet on Lorraine Segato’s “Rize Time.” Shortly thereafter, he gained more notice when a poem he wrote was shared by Drake on social media. In 2016, Mustafa was named to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, in addition to contributing to “Feel” by Halal Gang partner SAFE, he also gained his first major songwriting credit on the Weeknd’s “Attention,” contained on the chart-topping Starboy. Over the next few years, he continued to write poetry and collaborate with other artists, and, following the murder of friend and Halal member Smoke Dawg, he made Remember Me, Toronto, a short documentary addressing gun violence and its root causes (with Drake among those whom he filmed for it). Fast-forward to the present and When Smoke Rises, Mustava’s solo debut. Here’s the album’s opener Stay Alive, co-written by him, Frank Dukes, Mohammed Omar and Simon Hessmann. Don’t let the tune’s soft acoustic sound and lovely melody distract you from the serious lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: A bottle of lean, a gun in your jeans/And a little faith in me/A plane in the sky, the only starlight/On this never-ending street/The cameras and cops, we could’ve been stars/On our mothers news screens…It’s almost a Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On approach.

Blackberry Smoke/Ain’t the Same

The last track I’d like to highlight in this Best of What’s New is a great song by Blackberry Smoke, a southern rock band formed in Atlanta, Ga. in 2000. Their line-up includes Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass, vocals) and Brit Turner (drums). Blackberry Smoke released their debut album Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime in 2003. The third album The Whippoorwill from August 2012 brought the band their first chart success in the U.S. and the UK. They have performed throughout the U.S. as headliner and supporting acts for the likes of Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ain’t the Same, co-written by Starr and Keith Nelson, is a track from Blackberry Smoke’s new album You Hear Georgia, their seventh studio release. I’ll be sure to check it out more closely!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube