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.
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’sThe 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.
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!
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 Newinstallment, 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
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 Sixinstallment last month with a tune of his then-upcoming new album Windless Day. Borrowing again from his Facebookpage: You’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 Dylan, Willie 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
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 PeteKleinow, 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.
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).
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: ÁsgeirTrausti Einarsson, a singer-songwriter from the tiny village of Laugarbakki in the northeastern part of Iceland. According to his Apple Musicprofile, 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 Musicprofile, 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
You say it’s your birthday It’s my birthday too, yeah They say it’s your birthday We’re gonna have a good time I’m glad it’s your birthday Happy birthday to you…
Today, Paul McCartney is turning 79 years old – wow! He’s one of my greatest music heroes of all time, who continues to inspire me after an incredible close to 60-year recording career. Paul’s biography has been written up countless times, and it’s safe to assume there is nothing new I could reveal. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Macca’s birthday with some of the great music he has given us over the decades.
...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.
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. This absolutely makes me want to see him again!
…I would like you to dance, birthday Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday I would like you to dance, birthday Dance
I would like you to dance, birthday Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday I would like you to dance, birthday Dance
You say it’s your birthday Well it’s my birthday too, yeah You say it’s your birthday We’re gonna have a good time I’m glad it’s your birthday Happy birthday to you
Rock on, Paul, and here’s to good health and many more years to come!
Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube
It’s a gray and rainy Sunday morning in New Jersey, at least in my neck of the woods. But I’m determined not to let that bring me down. Plus, we’ve had plenty of sunshine over the past couple of weeks, so there’s no good reason to complain and every reason to expect the sun will come back. Most importantly, bad weather isn’t a deterrent to listen to great music. In fact, one could argue a rainy day is a perfect opportunity to do just that. And, guess what, I have some suggestions! 🙂
ShwizZ /Clock Tower
Let’s get into the mood with an amazing brand new rock instrumental by ShwizZ. I had never heard of the group until Friday when I spotted the below clip on Facebook. I’m not even sure how to properly pronounce that name! According to their website, ShwizZ is a one of a kind powerhouse from Nyack, New York. Drawing a substantial influence from classic progressive rock and funk, they consistently put their musical abilities to the test to deliver a high intensity and musically immersive show.ShwizZ call out Frank Zappa, Yes, P-Funk and King Crimson as their influences – notably, all artists I essentially don’t listen to, except for Yes. Still, Clock Tower grabbed me right away! The band’s members include Ryan Liatsis (guitar), Will Burgaletta (keyboards), Scott Hogan (bass) and Andrew Boxer (drums). I know Scott who is a very talented bassist. Frankly, when I see him play, sometimes, I ask myself ‘what’s the point’ of me trying. But while skill is great, at the end of the day, playing an instrument should be about fun first and foremost. Anyway, after I watched the video, I messaged Scott with a few inquisitive questions. I think he has no idea I’m writing about him – sneaky, huh? Anyway, he told me ShwizZ have been around for about 10 years. He joined them 1.5 years ago. Most of their music is instrumental. Their website lists a few albums and singles, including Clock Tower, which was released as a single on Friday, April 8. Apparently, they’re working on other new music. Meanwhile, let’s give this cool-sounding tune a listen!
Gerry Rafferty/Baker Street
From the very first moment I heard Baker Street by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, I loved that tune. The saxophone part by Raphael Ravenscroft and the guitar solo by Hugh Burns still give me the chills. Rafferty wrote Baker Street for his second studio album City to City that came out in January 1978. The song was also released separately as a single and became Rafferty’s biggest hit, peaking at no. 2 and no. 3 in the U.S. and the UK, respectively, and charting within the top 10 in various other European countries. In Australia, it went all the way to no. 1. Rafferty had a complicated relationship with fame and the music industry, and unfortunately, he struggled with alcoholism and depression. On January 4, 2011, Rafferty passed away from liver failure at the untimely age of 63. Primarily fueled by Baker Street, City to City ended up to become his most successful album. Altogether, Rafferty released 10 albums during his solo recording career from 1971 to 2009. He also gained popularity as co-founder of Scottish folk rock band Stealers Wheel and their hit Stuck in the Middle with You.
Muddy Magnolias/Broken People
In December 2016, about seven months after I had started the blog, I named Muddy Magnolias “my new discovery for 2016 I’m most excited about.” Then the now-defunct duo of African American singer-songwriter Jesse Wilson from Brooklyn, New York, and Kallie North, a white pianist from Beaumont, TX, kind of fell off my radar screen until I remembered them out of the blue the other day. They got together in 2014 and released an amazing album titled Broken People in October 2016. The music represents an intriguing blend of each artist’s background. Wilson’s influences include Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G., while North grew up listening to artists like The Carpenters, Alison Krauss, James Taylor and Eagles. Unfortunately, the duo dissolved at the end 0f 2017. Wilson went on by herself and released her debut solo album Phase in May 2019, which was produced by Patrick Carney, the drummer of The Black Keys. No idea what happened to North who apparently initiated the duo’s breakup. While Muddy Magnolias only released one album, they certainly made it count. Here’s the cool title track.
Tom Faulkner/Lost in the Land of Texico
A few weeks ago, my longtime music buddy from Germany recommended that I check out Tom Faulkner and his 1998 album Lost in the Land of Texico. Usually, he has a good idea what will appeal to me, and once again he was right! While the singer-songwriter and producer, who was born in New Orleans, already at the age of five knew music was his calling, unfortunately, it appears he never quite broke through as a music artist. To date, decades into his career, Faulkner has only released two albums: Lost in the Land of Texico (1997) and Raise the Roof (2002). For the most part, he has made his living with commercial music for radio and TV. As his bio on last.fm notes, Faulkner has created hundreds of national jingles and scores, including some of the most memorable commercial music on television and radio. Most notably, he composed and sang the wildly popular “I Want My Baby Back” for Chili’s, a jingle that has since found its way into motion pictures (Austin Powers) and over a dozen major network TV shows. He also created the multi-award winning music theme for Motel 6 and Tom Bodett, the longest running commercial campaign in the history of advertising (23 years, 5 CLIOs, and counting). As of June 2019, when his bio was last updated, Faulkner was working on his third CD. Here’s the bluesy title track, which has a nice musical New Orleans flavor.
The Subdudes/Light in Your Eyes
Let’s stay with New Orleans and The Subdudes, another great tip from my German music friend. This band from The Big Easy blends folk, swamp pop, New Orleans R&B, Louisiana blues, country, cajun, zydeco, funk, soul and gospel into a tasty musical gumbo. They have been around since 1987 with breaks from 1996-2002 and 2011-2014. The band’s current members include Tommy Malone (vocals, guitar), John Magnie (vocals, accordion, keyboards), Steve Amedée (tambourine, drums, other percussions, vocals), Tim Cook (percussion, bass, vocals) and Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar), which is almost still their original line-up. Since their eponymous debut from 1989, The Subdudes have released nine additional studio and two live albums. Light in Your Eyes is a track from the band’s first album. It was co-written by Malone and Johnny Ray Allen, the band’s former bassist. The Subdudes’ harmony singing and the warm sound of their music are sweet. Check it out!
As has sort of become a Sunday Six tradition, the last tune I’d like to highlight is a rocker: Free by Chicago. Formed as The Chicago Transit Authority in The Windy City in 1967, a name that after the threat of legal action from Chicago’s actual transit authority was shortened to Chicago, the band doesn’t need much of an introduction. They started out as a rock group with horns before moving to an easy listening sound that was dominated by ballads, especially in the late ’70s and ’80s. Over their nearly 55-year career, Chicago have seen numerous line-up changes, as you’d expect. Notably, the current 10-piece still includes original members Robert Lamm (keyboards, lead vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, flugelhorn, backing vocals) and James Pankow (trombone, backing vocals). Free dates back to a period when Chicago were rockin’ and on a true roll: Chicago III, the group’s third consecutive double album in less than two years. Written by Lamm, Free is part of the so-called Travel Suite of tunes that make up side 2 of the double LP. Featuring amazing lead guitarist Terry Kath on lead vocals, the tune also became the album’s lead single in February 1971. It’s hard for me to say and I’m sorry, while Chicago’s ’80s ballads were popular, it’s the rock & horns songs like Free where the band truly shines.
Together with a handful of other bands and artists I’ve dug for many years, I couldn’t think of a better group to dedicate the first playlist of 2021 than to the amazing Steely Dan. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve put together a career-spanning playlist.
Before getting to some music, as usual, I’d like to provide a bit of background, for which I’m going to borrow from previous posts. The original masterminds behind Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.
The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a “bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops.” Becker was playing bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later. When they met Dias, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.
Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.
In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for each of the band’s following seven studio albums: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).
In June 1981, Fagen and Becker disbanded and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career.
In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited for an American tour in support of Fagen’s second studio album Kamakiriad, which had appeared in May that year and had been produced by Becker. While Fagen and Becker continued Steely Dan tours, it took until February 2000 before their next new album Two Against Nature appeared. One more album followed: Everything Must Go from June 2003.
After the release of Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat in March 2006, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. On September 3, 2017, Becker passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 67.
At the time of Becker’s death, Donald Fagen said on his Facebookpage, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” And that’s exactly what he has been doing until COVID-19 hit. I was fortunate to see him twice in 2018 and wrote about it here and here. I’m currently scheduled to see him again open air in early July together with Steve Winwood – keeping fingers crossed. Time for some music!
I’d to kick things off with the aforementioned Dallas, Steely Dan’s first single. Like all tracks in this post, the song was co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sung by drummer Jim Hodder, the county-flavored tune was not included on Steely Dan’s debut album but appeared in 1978 on a compilation titled Steely Dan.
Perhaps my favorite early Dan tune is the rocker Reelin’ In the Years, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill from November 1972. It also became the album’s second single in March 1973. The song’s kickass guitar solo was played by session musician Elliott Randall, which none other than Jimmy Page called his favorite guitar solo of all time.
Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore release from July 1973, was the band’s first album without vocalist David Palmer that saw Donald Fagen sing lead on every tune. Here’s the album’s second single My Old School. While the record didn’t have a hit and couldn’t match the debut’s chart success, it was well received by critics at the time, and My Old School became a fan favorite.
Pretzel Logic, Dan’s third studio album released in February 1974, was the last to feature the full core lineup of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Baxter and Hodder. It also included contributions from many prominent LA musicians, such as future Toto members David Paich (piano, keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), then-Poco bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals) who would later join the Eagles, and session bassist Chuck Rainey. Here’s opener Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which also became the lead single in April 1974.
By the time Steely Dan’s next album Katy Lied came out in March 1975, most of their original members had left. The band essentially became Becker and Fagen who continued to hire top-notch musicians to support their recording sessions. In addition to Paich and Porcaro, the latter included Rick Derringer and Michael McDonald. Katy Lied also became the first Dan album to feature amazing session guitarist Larry Carlton. Here’s Doctor Wu. The alto saxophone solo was played by jazz saxophonist Phil Woods.
Next up: Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s fifth studio album. Both appeared in May 1976. The funky tune features the above noted Larry Carlton whose guitar solo was ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in May 2008. I also dig Chuck Rainey’s bass work on that tune.
This brings me to Aja, which to me is Steely Dan’sMount Rushmore. Released in September 1977, this album is pure perfection. While I could have selected any track, I simply couldn’t ignore my all-time favorite Dan tune: Deacon Blues. Even after having listened to it countless times, I still get excited about this song. I think it represents a perfect blend of jazz, pop and rock, and I love the smooth sound. BTW, Becker played bass on this one. But the real standout are the horns.
Steely Dan’s next album Gaucho from November 1980 proved to be a huge challenge to make, which ultimately resulted in the above breakup in June 1981. Driven by Fagen’s and Becker’s perfectionism, the recording sessions used at least 42 musicians and took more than a year. In January 1980, Becker’s girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley died of a drug overdose at his home. Her family subsequently brought a $17.5 million lawsuit, charging he had introduced her to drugs. The case was settled out of court. Shortly after Stanley’s death, Becker was hit by a taxi shattering his right leg. During his six-month recovery, he and Fagen collaborated via phone. Here’s the album’s lead track Babylon Sisters.
February 2000 saw the release of Two Against Nature, Fagen’s and Becker’s first new Steely Dan studio album in 20 years since Gaucho. It became one of their most successful albums. In addition to earning a Platinum certification in the U.S., Two Against Nature won four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year. Here’s the groovy Cousin Dupree, which won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track of Steely Dan’s ninth studio album Everything Must Go, the final with Walter Becker, released in June 2003. I think Apple Music correctly notes the lyrics sound like the song is a permanent sign-off: Guess it’s time for us to book it/Talk about the famous road not taken/In the end we never took it/And if somewhere on the way/We good a few good licks in/No one’s ever gonna know/Cause we’re goin’ out of business/Everything must go.
If Everything Must Go indeed signaled Steely Dan’s final studio album, it wasn’t a total sign-off. Fagen and Becker continued to tour as Steely Dan almost every year thereafter until 2017. Becker’s final performance was on May 27 that year at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Conn.
Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Steely Dan at No. 15 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.
This is it – well, almost! As the remaining hours of 2020 are ticking away, the time has come for my final post of this year. Since I’ve already expressed my thoughts about this year in comments to posts by fellow bloggers, I’m keeping this short and sweet.
I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy new year and hope you come back for more. Also, please keep the comments coming. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, even though we may not agree all the time on the music we post about. Thank goodness! Can you imagine how boring it would be, if everybody always had the same taste? Reading different perspectives is a good thing!
I’d like to leave you with a few new year’s songs. They aren’t all happy, but I feel choices are limited to begin with. Plus, obviously, the following is based on what I could find. I’m sure there are other tunes that would have been worthwhile to include. Plus, I wanted to keep it to a handful only.
Death Cab For Cutie/The New Year
I only know this indie rock band from Bellington, Wa. by name. Credited to all four members of the band at the time, Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, piano), Nick Harmer (bass), Chris Walla (guitar) and Jason McGerr (drums), The New Year is the opener of their fourth studio album Transatlanticism from October 2003.
Eagles/Funky New Year
Co-written by Don Henley and Glen Frey in 1978 but apparently not released at the time, Funky New Year was included in the Eagles’ box set Legacy, which appeared in 2018. Groovy!
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas/New Year’s Resolution
How about throwing in some sweet Stax soul music? My kind of music. Here’s New Year’s Resolution by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Co-written by Randle Catron, Willie Dean “Deanie” Parker and Mary Frierson, the tune was included on a studio album titled King & Queen. It appeared in March 1967 and was Redding’s final album prior to his untimely death in an airplane crash on December 10, 1967.
U2/New Year’s Day
Let’s wrap it up with what’s perhaps my favorite tune related to the new year: New Year’s Day by U2. The Irish rock band recorded it for their third studio album War from February 1983. Like all other tracks on the record, it was credited to U2. Here’s the live version from Under a Bloody Red Sky, released in November 1983, which I’ve always preferred over the studio take.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
After having compiled this weekly recurring feature for about nine months, I’ve developed a pretty good methodology to find new music. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, the madness doesn’t include the mainstream charts. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, other times it requires more work. This week fell into the latter category. I’m still quite happy with this new installment that features various flavors of rock, including alternative, kickass classic, indie and country.
Glom from Brooklyn, New York are a classic alt-rock inspired, fuzzy alt-rock act, according to their profile on Bandcamp. Based on this interview with Two Story Melody from March 2019, it sounds like while members of Glom have been friends and played together in various bands since their early high school years, the group only formed in 2017. Bandcamp lists Sean Dunnevant (guitar, bass, vocals), Peter Beiser (guitar, piano, vocals), Sahil Ansari (guitar, drums, percussion, synthesizer), Jonathan Crandall (synthesizer, piano, percussion), Jonathan Harwood (percussion) and Jordan Wolfe (drums, percussion, synthesizer). Merit, written by Dunnevant, is the title track of Glom’s new album released yesterday (Dec 4). It’s a quite catchy tune. Based on sampling a few other tracks on the album, these guys seem to have a knack for melodies that are easy on the ears.
Greta Van Fleet/Age of Machine
Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album. When the kick-ass rocker appeared yesterday, the Michigan band also revealed their second full-length studio release will come out on April 16, 2021 and be titled The Battle at Garden’s Gate, Spinreported. “There was a lot of self-evolution happening during the writing of this album that was prompted by experiences I had, experiences we all had, so a lot of contemplation occurred,” explained vocalist Josh Kiszka. “It’s reflecting a lot of the world that we’ve seen, and I think that it’s reflecting a lot of personal truth,” observed guitarist Jake Kiszka. “I suppose that everything has changed except what got us here in the first place,” added Sam Kiszka, the third of the Kiszka brothers and bassist of the band that also includes drummer Danny Wagner. Greta Van Fleet’s classic rock orientation has generated lots of excitement and, as you’d expect, some criticism over its Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. I think the new single provides more evidence that Greta Van Fleet have evolved in finding their own unique style. Really looking forward to hearing more from that album!
Juniper are an indie rock band from the Boston area. They were formed in the spring of 2017 by Scott Johnson, Ahren Shreeve and Alejandro Marin. In September that year, they released their eponymous debut EP. Another EP, For the First Time, came out one year later. On their website, Juniper describe their sound as “unique” with “diverse influences of alternative rock, folk, R&B and bedroom pop” – the latter being yet another genre I had not heard of before. Currently, they are working on their debut album. Meanwhile, here’s their new single Angelina. And, nope, the lovely young woman in the video isn’t Angelina.
The Wild Feathers/My Truth
Let’s wrap it up with The Wild Feathers, a country rock band founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. 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. 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 Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. My Truth is a new original song from the band’s most recent fourth album Medium Rarities, which according to a review in Glide Magazine is a collection of covers, demos, B-sides and a handful of new tunes. My Truth is a great track co-written by King, Young and country singer-songwriter Brett James.
Sources: Wikipedia; Bandcamp; Two Story Melody; Spin; Juniper website; Juniper Facebook page; AllMusic; Glide Magazine; YouTube