They Say It’s Your Birthday

At 80 years, Paul McCartney remains an artist full of energy who still gets a kick on stage

Two days ago, I saw Paul McCartney at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey where he wrapped up his North American Got Back Tour. It’s hard to believe today is Sir Paul’s 80th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I’m republishing a post I did for Paul’s birthday last year. It has been slightly edited and the Spotify playlist at the end is an addition. The next installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music, will run on Monday.

You say it’s your birthday

...Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party

Things We Said Today (1964)

A song from The Beatles era I’ve always loved, which appeared on the U.K. version of the A Hard Day’s Night album released in July 1964 but wasn’t part of the movie soundtrack. According to The Beatles Bible, McCartney wrote this tune on a yacht in the Virgin Islands in May 1964, where he vacationed with his girlfriend Jane Asher, as well as Ringo Starr and his future first wife Maureen Cox.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The title track and a Macca tune from my favorite Beatles album on most days, which was released in May 1967. The idea of the song and the entire album of an alter-ego band that would perform before an audience came to McCartney in November 1966 on a flight from Nairobi back to England.

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

The highlight of McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. Written in 1969, the tune is about his first wife Linda McCartney (née Eastman). Linda who passed away from breast cancer in 1998 undoubtedly had an enormous impact on Paul. Instead of picking the studio track, I’m cheating a bit here and feature what I feel is a superior version that appeared on the great Wings Over America live album from December 1976.

Band on the Run (1973)

The title track from what I think is the Mount Rushmore of Macca’s solo period, released in December 1973. The tune was McCartney’s response to drug laws he believed unfairly criminalized him and his friends. Noting the latter included the Eagles and The Byrds, Songfacts quotes Macca as follows: “We’re not criminals… We just would rather do this than hit the booze – which had been a traditional way to do it. We felt that this was a better move.”

Letting Go (1975)

A nice rocker from Venus and Mars, McCartney’s fourth studio album with Wings, which came out in May 1975. Letting Go is another tune about Linda McCartney, a reflection on Paul’s relationship with her and that she deserved more freedom to pursue her own interests after she had given up her photography career. Linda received a co-credit for the song.

Here Today (1982)

A moving tribute to John Lennon Macca wrote wrote in the wake of Lennon’s senseless murder in December 1980. It appeared on McCartney’s third solo studio album Tug of War from April 1982, another gem from his solo catalog I previously covered here. This song can still make me well up!

Fine Line (2005)

Time to continue the party by jumping to the current century. Fine Line is the opener to Macca’s 13th solo album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard from October 2005. It’s a great piano-driven pop song that also showcases the multi-instrumental talents of Sir Paul. In addition to piano and vocals, he provided guitar, bass and drums – pretty much the track’s entire instrumentation, except for the strings that were played by London-based session players Millennia Ensemble.

I Don’t Know (2018)

A beautiful piano ballad from Egypt Station, McCartney’s 17th solo studio effort from September 2018 – a late career gem in his solo catalog, in my opinion! You can read more about it here. Yes, Paul’s voice is clearly showing some wear and tear, but I think it works very well for this and the other tracks on the album.

Lavatory Lil (2020)

A nice rocker from McCartney III, which is yet another intriguing late-career release in my book. I would also say it’s the charm of Macca’s three DIY home-made albums, as I previously wrote here. Check out the cool descending bass line of Lavatory Lil.

Birthday (1968)

A birthday celebration calls for a birthday song, so I’d like to wrap up this post with exactly that. Conveniently, Sir Paul also wrote the perfect tune for the occasion. It first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968 as the opener to side three (speaking in vinyl terms here!). Instead of picking the original studio track, let’s up the fun with a live version captured during a performance at New York’s Grand Central Station in September 2018 to celebrate the release of the above-noted Egypt Station album. It’s just great to see how much fun Macca continues to have when performing in front of an audience.

I would like you to dance, birthday

Rock on, Paul, and here’s to good health and many more years to come!

Following is a Spotify playlist with the above and some other tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Poco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poco in 1971

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Earth, Wind & Fire

Are you ready to take another imaginary desert island trip? Ready or not, here we go. Continuing to explore my streaming music library in an alphabetical fashion, the next letter is “e”. My pick is a group I can’t believe I had not covered in a dedicated post after more than six years of writing this blog: Earth, Wind & Fire – unlike Eagles, Steve Earle and Melissa Etheridge, to name some others I could have selected.

I seem to vaguely remember that it was my dear brother-in-law who first introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire. And my song choice Fantasy was either the very first tune or was among the first tracks I heard by the group. I loved Fantasy from the get-go both because of the great vocals, especially Phillip Bailey, and the funky yet smooth groove, and I still do.

Fantasy was co-written by Earth, Wind & Fire founder and leader Maurice White and founding member, bassist and his half-brother Verdine White, along with Argentinian composer and pianist Eddie del Barrio. The tune was included on Earth, Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album All ‘n All from November 1977. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in January 1978.

While I would consider Fantasy to be one of the group’s best-known songs, I was surprised to see this catchy tune only reached no. 32 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100; it did better on the R&B chart where it climbed to no. 12. Fantasy did best in The Netherlands and Sweden where it got to no. 7 and no. 8, respectively.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts: Earth, Wind & Fire made a smooth transition into the disco era, adapting their R&B sound to the new groove. “Fantasy,” written by group members Maurice and Verdine White along with the keyboard player/composer Eddie del Barrio, fit right in at Studio 54, but also had a deeper meaning, which was typical of Maurice White’s productions: he would put a message on top of an infectious beat. [While Fantasy is a great dance tune, it’s not disco, in my view – CMM]

Talking about the message in this song, Maurice told Melody Maker: “The song ‘Fantasy’ is motivated about escapism in the sense of living on a world that is untrue, a world that is unjust, a world that is very selfish and envious, there is a place that everyone can escape to which is their own fantasy. I had to write the song in the sense of sharing this place with people. It’s an escape mechanism.”

“Fantasy” is a showcase for EWF singer Phillip Bailey, who could handle the very high vocal range. The day he recorded his vocal, he got elbowed in the mouth playing basketball, so he did it that night with a loose tooth and busted lip.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Slow Turning

Sometimes one song is enough to draw me in, and I love when all of this happens coincidentally. Case in point: Is Anybody There? by John Hiatt. The tune, off his ninth studio album Slow Turning from August 1988, was included in yet another playlist my streaming music provider had served up to me the other day.

While I’ve started exploring Hiatt’s music, I still can’t claim anything resembling close familiarity with his catalog. But I’ve heard enough to know one thing: I love what this singer-songwriter does. Evidently, so do many other artists who have ranged from Aaron Neville, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris…and the list goes on and on.

John Hiatt - Slow Turning - Amazon.com Music

What’s Hiatt’s secret? Quite simply, the man writes great songs! At the same time, he’s a perfect example that great songs don’t necessarily translate into chart success, at least not for himself.

In fact, if I see this correctly, Hiatt’s best-performing record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date is Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio album from September 1993, which reached no. 47 on the Billboard 200. I previously covered it here. His most successful U.S. single to date is the title track of the Slow Turning album, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 song.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies on Slow Turning. All of the 12 tracks except one were solely written by Hiatt. Here’s the opener Drive South. Subsequently, it was covered by country vocal group The Forester Sisters who in 1990 took it to no. 63 in the U.S. on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also made the Canada Country Tracks chart, reaching no. 60 there.

Tennessee Plates is the only aforementioned co-write on the album. Hiatt penned it together with Mike Porter. The tune was featured in the 1991 motion picture Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Gina Davis. A rendition of the song by American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton was included in the soundtrack album.

Another great tune I’d like to highlight is Icy Blue Heart. How about these great opening lines? She came onto him like a slow movin’ cold front/An’ his beer was warmer than the look in her eye… Frankly, I could have picked any other track. There’s really no weak song on this album, but these opening lines are just great. Emmylou Harris ended up covering the track on her 1989 studio album Bluebird, featuring Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar – what a dream pairing! In case you’re curious, their beautiful rendition is here.

This post would be incomplete without the above noted Slow Turning, the album’s title track. Again I’d like to call out some memorable lyrics: …Now I’m in my car/Ooh, I got the radio down/Now I’m yellin’ at the kids in the back/’Cause they’re banging like Charlie Watts… Gotta love this!

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the song that prompted me to listen to this gem of an album: Is Anybody There? Once again, Hyatt delivers great lyrics and a beautiful and warm sound. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like the gospel-style backing vocals were provided by Ashley Cleveland and Dennis Locorriere. And check out Hiatt’s falsetto fill-ins!

Taking a closer look at the album’s credits reveals two guests I find particularly intriguing: Blues guitarist Sonny Landreth who provides electric guitar, acoustic slide guitar, twelve-string guitar and steel guitar; and singer-songwriter Bernie Leadon who contributes guitar, mandolin, banjo and mandocello. Leadon, of course, is best known as a co-founder of the Eagles.

Last but not least, Slow Turning was produced by Glyn Johns – yep, that Glyn Johns who recently could be prominently seen in Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back documentary. Johns has also done production and/or engineering work for the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton…you get the picture. I guess it’s safe to say working with The Beatles didn’t exactly harm Jones’ career.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Wild Feathers Soar With Melodic Rock on New Album

My paying closer attention to new releases by contemporary artists is starting to pay off nicely. The most recent albums by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dirty Honey and Lord Huron are some that come to mind. My latest “discovery” I feel quite excited about is Alvarado, the new album by The Wild Feathers, a band I first introduced on my blog last December with a tune from predecessor Medium Rarities.

Released on October 8, Alvarado is the band’s fifth studio album. The Wild Feathers were formed in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. by high school friends Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Preston Wimberly (guitar, vocals), along with Ricky Young (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals). Ben Dumas joined on drums following the August 2013 release of the group’s eponymous debut album. Burns, Young, King and Dumas remain part of the current line-up, which also includes Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin). Wimberly left in late 2015.

The Wild Feathers combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing. And I should add catchy melodies, a joy to my pop ear I can’t deny always lingers in the background, no matter what genre of music I listen to! The group has cited Tom Petty, Eagles, The Band and Otis Redding as some of their influences. A bio on AllMusic also notes The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band – all artists I love!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-wild-feathers-1.jpg

According to an exclusive preview by American Songwriter, The Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the new album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived Medium Rarities. “We made every previous studio album with Jay Joyce [a prominent Nashville producer – CMM] in these big magical studios which was awesome,” Young told the publication. “But over the years, we’ve listened back to old demos like ‘Man there was really nothing wrong with that.’ It’s kind of cool there are mistakes…those things make it unique and human.”

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. American Songwriter noted this tune was originally written for the band’s eponymous debut album, making it the oldest track on the record. “Some songs just can’t find their way onto the actual album, but we always loved that one and wanted to record it someday,” explained Young who wrote the tune. Well, I’m glad they finally did!

Ain’t Lookin’ is a great rocker written by country singer-songwriter Jeffrey Steele together with the band’s King, Young and Burns. It’s got some nice guitar work, and that sound is just awesome!

Next up: Over the Edge, a tune written by King about some of the challenges in present day America, including violence and political division. We’ve gone too far to go back/We don’t know how to turn around/We’ve gone too far, I think that we’re/Going over the edge, going over the edge/Going over the edge, going over the edge…I can hear some Tom Petty in here.

Since I included the excellent Side Street Shakedown in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping this track and go to Out on the Road penned by Burns. While it’s certainly not the first tune that describes life as a touring musician and the challenges it can bring, it’s a nice rocker featuring some neat slide guitar action.

Off Your Shoulders, co-written by King and Young, has an Eagles vibe. I really love how this tune sounds. Once again, the guitar work is great and includes some nice harmony action. Check it out.

Let’s do one more, coz why not? Here’s Flashback, another tune solely written by King. In a flashback/Oh, we never knew how good we had it/Take me back/I wanna hold on to the memories as long as I can/Hold on to the memories as best as you can…The lyrics are on the sentimental side and perhaps a bit cliche, but I think it’s safe to assume many folks have thought about “the old times,” especially during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

The final word shall belong to Ricky Young. Alvarado “is about us, taking the reins and being in control and doing exactly what we want to do, and taking it where we want to go—putting a blindfold on and hoping it works out,” he told American Songwriter. “By taking control musically, we can last a lot longer than just having a hit early on and trying to chase that for the rest of your career.” Well said – I certainly look forward to hearing more from The Wild Feathers.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; American Songwriter; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New, my weekly revue of newly released music. This time, my picks include some alternative, rock, country and prog rock from a stalwart of the genre. All featured tunes except for the last one are on albums that came out yesterday (October 8).

Scott Hirsch/Big Passenger

Kicking off this week’s post is new music by Scott Hirsch, a producer and singer-songwriter I first featured in a Sunday Six installment last month with a tune of his then-upcoming new album Windless Day. Borrowing again from his Facebook pageYou’ve heard the sound of Scott Hirsch. You might not know it, but his audio production has lurked deep in the cut of many admired recordings from the late 1990s to the present. A founding member of Hiss Golden Messenger, he was integral to the band’s formative years in the studio and on the road. His sonic imprint remains on their productions; most recently mixing the forthcoming album Quietly Blowing It. He recorded and mixed a Grammy nominated record by the legendary folk-singer Alice Gerrard and has produced and played on records by William Tyler, Mikael Jorgensen, Orpheo McCord and Daniel Rossen. Here’s Big Passenger, another track from Hirsch’s above noted new album. To me it’s got a J.J. Cale vibe with an updated contemporary sound. Check it out!

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown

Here’s another group I first encountered in the context of Best of What’s New: The Wild Feathers, which I first featured in this installment from last December. According to a bio on AllMusic, they prefer the term “American” over Americana when describing their sound, which falls somewhere between the earnest, neo-Southern rock of the Black Crowes, the bluesy swagger of the Black Keys, and the wide-open-road country-rock of the Eagles. Founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn., the band’s current lineup features founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, playing with artists like Bob DylanWillie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. Side Street Shakedown is a track from the band’s fifth and new album Alvarado. This nice rocker was co-written by King, Young and Burns.

Natalie Hemby/It Takes One To Know One

Natalie Hemby is a country singer-songwriter who is also based in Nashville. According to her Apple Music profile, she first gained notice as a hit songwriter for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Toby Keith, penning the hits “White Liar,” “Only Prettier,” and “Automatic” (all recorded by Lambert), “Pontoon” and “Tornado” (two hits by Little Big Town), and “Drinks After Work” (Keith). After establishing this résumé, Hemby struck out as a recording artist, releasing her debut, Puxico, early in 2017. She became a Billboard 200 Top Ten-charting artist as a member of the Highwomen (Hemby, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires), who topped the country chart with their self-titled debut in 2019. Here’s It Takes One To Know One, a tune from Hemby’s new sophomore album Pins and Needles.

Yes/Minus the Man

I’d like to conclude this post with new music by progressive rock stalwarts Yes, who I trust don’t need an introduction. They are among a handful of bands I warmed to in prog rock, a genre I haven’t fully embraced. Since they were formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson (vocals), Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums), Yes have seen numerous line-up changes. The group’s last original member Squire passed away in 2015. The current line-up includes Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass) and Alan White (drums). Howe, White and Downes are longtime members who first joined in 1970, 1972 and 1980, respectively. Last Friday (October 1), Yes released their 22nd studio album The Quest, their first with new music in seven years. “Much of the music was written in late 2019 with the rest in 2020,” Howe who produced the album said in a statement. “We commissioned several orchestrations to augment and enhance the overall sound of these fresh new recordings, hoping that our emphasis on melody, coupled with some expansive instrumental solo breaks, keeps up the momentum for our listeners.” Let’s check out Minus the Man, which was co-written by Davison and Sherwood. Davison’s vocals sound remarkably similar to Jon Anderson, even more so on some of the other tunes I’ve sampled thus far.

Sources: Wikipedia; Scott Hirsch Facebook page; Apple Music; Yes website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jackson Browne/For Everyman

The other day, I found myself listening to Redneck Friend, a great early rocker by Jackson Browne. This prompted me to pull up For Everyman, Browne’s sophomore album that came out in October 1973. While he’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve listened to him for 40 years, for the most part, I really didn’t know this record. Just like for many other artists I dig, I’m mostly familiar with certain songs and perhaps a handful of albums. It didn’t take me long to recognize what a gem For Everyman is, and I decided then and there to blog about it once I would get a chance.

As I started reading up on the album, one of the things that struck me first is the impressive cast of guests. David Crosby, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt are among Browne’s songwriter peers. In addition, you have top notch session musicians like David Lindley, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel, David Paich and Leland Sklar. Kunkel and Sklar were part of The Section, a group of top-notch musicians who together or individually backed the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Warren Zevon and, well, Jackson Browne.

While I completely realize that having high-caliber guests on an album doesn’t automatically guarantee high quality, a good rule of thumb is that great artists play with other great artists. These guys knew what they had in Jackson Browne. Yes, he already had released his well received eponymous debut album in January 1972. And, yes, he had written songs since the mid-’60s and given the Eagles their first single and top 40 U.S. hit with Take It Easy. Still, I find it impressive how well established the then-25-year-old artist already was at this early stage in his own recording career.

Let’s get to some music. Here’s Browne’s version of the aforementioned Take It Easy, the album’s opener. Originally, Browne began work on the song in 1971 and wanted to include it on his debut album. But he couldn’t finish it at the time. When he played the unfinished tune to his friend Glenn Frey, who lived in the same building, Frey completed the song and received a co-writing credit. At first, I preferred the Eagles’ version but over time, I’ve increasingly come to like Browne’s recording and now dig it at least as much as the rendition by the Eagles. That sweet pedal steel guitar was provided by Sneaky Pete Kleinow, an original member of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

What can I say about Colors of the Sun other than it’s a beautiful singer-songwriter type song. In addition to singing lead, Brown played piano on this track. Don Henley provided harmony vocals. It’s simply a great tune – no need to over-analyze. The neat acoustic guitar fill-ins were provided by David Lindley, an incredible musician who bears a significant degree of responsibility for the album’s great sound.

The last track on side one is These Days, a song Browne wrote as a 16-year-old. German singer-songwriter Nico was the first of many artists to record the tune. It was included on her debut album Chelsea Girl from October 1967. Another great version appeared in October 1973 on Gregg Allman’s first solo album Laid Back. Until Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood came out in September 2017, which features Browne as a guest on Allman’s cover of Brown’s Song for Adam, I had no idea these seemingly very different artists had great appreciation of each other and had been good friends. The beautiful harmony vocals on Browne’s original were provided by Doug Haywood who also played a great bass line. Once again Lindley shined, this time on slide guitar.

One to side two and the first track there, Redneck Friend, the tune that prompted my deep exploration of this album. This is one seductive melodic rocker featuring a killer cast of guests: Lindley (slide guitar), Elton John (piano) and Frey (backing vocals), along with Haywood (bass) and Keltner (drums). In addition to lead vocals, Browne provided rhythm guitar. Redneck Friend was also released separately as a single. While it spent 10 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, it only peaked at no. 85, significantly lower than Browne’s previous two singles Rock Me On the Water (no. 48) and Doctor, My Eyes (no. 8).

Next up: The Times You’ve Come. In addition to the track’s great melody, the standout to me is the melodic bass part by Leland Sklar – absolutely beautiful! I also want to call out Bonnie Raitt who sang harmony and Lindley’s acoustic guitar work.

This brings me to the title track, which is the album’s closer. The idea of the song came to Browne while he was temporarily living with David Crosby on his boat in the San Francisco Bay and met two of Crosby’s neighbors who also owned boats. All three boat owners shared the vision to escape on their boats and create a new civilization elsewhere – essentially the same theme Crosby, Stills & Nash had voiced on their 1969 single Wooden Ships. For Everyone featured Crosby on harmony vocals. Sklar (bass) and Lindley (acoustic and electric guitar) once again were among Browne’s backing musicians.

For Everyman was produced by Jackson Browne. Just like his eponymous debut album, For Everyman made the U.S. and Australian mainstream album charts, reaching no. 43 and no. 48, respectively. It was ranked at no. 450 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 edition of the list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album didn’t make the most recent revision from September 2020. While Browne’s Mount Rushmore Running on Empty was still four years away, For Everyman is a great early album by a singer-songwriter who after a close to 50-year recording career as a solo artist is still going strong.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music feature. It’s hard to believe we’re in September and that the Labor Day weekend is upon folks in the U.S. But as I’ve said before, summer doesn’t end until September 22, so we still got almost three weeks left! This week’s Best of What’s New includes four singer-songwriters: two from Nashville, one from Austin and the second-ever featured artist on my blog from Iceland. All tunes were released yesterday (September 3).

Vinnie Paolizzi/Babylon

I like to open this week’s post with a very promising looking young artist: Vinnie Paolizzi, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who originally hails from Philadelphia. According to his website, he brings thoughtful lyrics and old school sounds back to modern music. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his heroes; Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles, he moved to Nashville in 2017 and assembled a powerful band while making inroads in the songwriter community. Over the course of 2020 he released music he had written since leaving his hometown behind. Both full band and acoustic tracks were recorded at the legendary “Sound Emporium” studio in Nashville, TN with an all-star band including fellow songwriter Gabe Lee on keys and backing vocals, long time Philly musician Alexander Saddic on drums and vocals, and Nashville handyman Dalton Ray Brown on bass and vocals. Babylon, co-written by Paolizzi and Gabe Lee, who also supports Paolizzi on vocals, is the great closer of Paolizzi’s new EP Private Sky. Paolizzi’s soulful vocals remind me a bit of Marcus King. Looking forward to hearing more from him!

Ashland Craft/Travelin’ Kind

This next artist is also based in Nashville and like Vinnie Paolizzi didn’t grow up there: Ashland Craft, from South Carolina. From her profile on Bandsintown: Craft’s soul-infused vocals and ability to make a song her own landed her in the Top Ten on The Voice, before leading her to opening tour slots for major artists like Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and other notable acts. Since moving to Nashville in 2019, Craft has won fans with her catchy fusion of edgy country and soulful Southern rock…A true, lifelong music lover, Craft found her honky-tonk spirit and cut her teeth singing country and rock covers at a bar in South Carolina, and counts Def Leppard, Gretchen Wilson, Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer among her eclectic musical influences. Here’s the title track of her debut album Travelin’ Kind. I can definitely hear some Bonnie Raitt in this nice rocker and also dig Craft’s raspy voice.

Ásgeir/On the Edge

With this next track, I’m turning to an artist from Iceland, only the second from the Nordic island country, who is featured on my more than 5-year-old blog after rock band KALEO: Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, a singer-songwriter from the tiny village of Laugarbakki in the northeastern part of Iceland. According to his Apple Music profile, Many of his early lyrics were written by his poet father, Einar Georg Einarsson, who was in his seventies when his son’s debut album, Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, was released in 2012. Within his native Iceland, Ásgeir’s Dýrð í Dauðaþögn is the top-selling debut album ever, besting Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Björk. Following the success of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, Ásgeir worked with American singer-songwriter John Grant to develop an English-language version of the album, titled In the Silence. Einarsson who performs as Ásgeir has since released two additional English-language albums, various singles and his latest work, the EP The Sky is Painted Gray Today. Here’s On the Edge, which like the other three tracks on the EP is a gentle acoustic guitar tune.

Strand of Oaks/Somewhere in Chicago

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is music from Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter. According to his Apple Music profile, he specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. The next Strand of Oaks album In Heaven is scheduled for October 1. Here’s Somewhere in Chicago, the new and third upfront single. Love that sound – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Vinnie Paolizzi website; Bandsintown; Apple Music; YouTube