Buddy Guy Fires On All Cylinders On New Album

“The Blues Don’t Lie” coincides with 65th anniversary of legendary guitarist’s arrival to Chicago

Last Friday (September 30), Buddy Guy’s anticipated new album The Blues Don’t Lie came out. Once I started listening to what is yet another late-career gem by the now 86-year-old blues guitar dynamo, I literally couldn’t stop. Sure, Guy doesn’t reinvent the blues, but you can be damn sure the man still got the blues, firing on all cylinders and leaving no doubt he was born to play the guitar.

The release date of the album, Guy’s 19th, coincided with the 65th anniversary of his arrival to Chicago from Louisiana to pursue his calling to play the blues. Once again, production was handled by the great Tom Hambridge, Guy’s longtime collaborator, who also played the drums and co-wrote most of the original tunes.

The Blues Don’t Lie also features notable guests, which according to this review in Rock & Blues Muse include Mavis Staples, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Reese Wynans, a former member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble, plays keyboards – certainly an impressive cast, but frankly, which musician who digs the blues wouldn’t want to record with Buddy Guy?

I’d say it’s finally time to take a closer look at some of the music on this new album. The opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking provides a perfect entry point. Co-written by Guy and Hambridge, the tune recalls the above-noted 65th anniversary of Guy’s arrival to the windy city. Now let his guitar do the talking. Check it out – damn!

If I don’t have your attention by now, this post may not be for you. Or maybe give it one more try? How about The World Needs Love, the only tune solely penned by Guy. Sadly, Guy’s words ring very true: The world needs love like never before/The world needs love like never before/People are hurtin’ and killin’ people/People they don’t know…This tune is a great example that the soft-spoken Guy is a great vocalist, in addition to being a killer guitar player!

I’m skipping Guy’s amazing duo with Mavis Staples since I recently covered it here and go right to another guest appearance: Symptoms of Love featuring Elvis Costello. The tune was co-written by Richard Fleming, another longtime collaborator, and Hambridge.

Are you ready for some funky blues? Ready or not, here’s What’s Wrong With That featuring Bobby Rush. Of course, there’s nothing with that! The smoking hot tune, another Fleming-Hambridge co-write, is one of my early favorites.

In addition to 13 original tracks, The Blues Don’t Lie includes three covers. Here’s one of them, which I have a feeling deep inside you may have heard of before: I’ve Got a Feeling, by four lads from Liverpool called The Beatles. The combination of two unfinished songs – Paul McCartney’s I’ve Got a Feeling and John Lennon’s Everybody Had a Hard Year – appeared on Let It Be, the final released (though not the final recorded) album by The Beatles that came out in May 1970. I’ve also got a feeling Sir Paul likes this groovy rendition.

Let’s do one more, another cover: King Bee, a swamp blues classic written by James Moore, aka. Slim Harpo, who also first released it in 1957. The tune has since been recorded by numerous other artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and even early Pink Floyd, who at the time (December 1964) were still called The Tea Set. It’s notable to recall Syd Barrett derived the name Pink Floyd by combining the first names of two blues musicians who were part of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. I love Guy’s stripped-back acoustic delivery and his slightly fragile vocals. So good! You also gotta love his final words: “Is that enough? [laughs] All right.”

If you’re still with me, I would encourage you to check out the entire album. Here’s a Spotify link:

So what’s Buddy Guy’s reaction to The Blues Don’t Lie? One clue is the album’s opener: I don’t say too much/I let my guitar do the talking…Another is the following image that accompanied a recent tweet. As they say, a picture speaks more than a thousand words!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube; Spotify

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On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 15

Today in my recurring music history feature I’d like to take a look at select events that happened on February 15. And, as oftentimes is the case, it all starts with this band from Liverpool, England.

1965: The Beatles released Eight Days a Week as a single in the U.S., backed by I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party. The song had first appeared on the UK album Beatles for Sale that had come out on December 4, 1964. It was also included on the U.S. album Beatles VI released on June 14, 1965. According to Songfacts, most of the tune was written by Paul McCartney, though as usual, it was credited to John Lennon and him. Unlike the usual arrangement where whoever of the two wrote most of the song would sing lead, John ended up taking over lead vocals here. Songfacts also maintains Eight Days a Week was the first pop song that fades up from silence. The tune became the seventh no. 1 Beatles single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip with footage around their legendary August 1965 performance at New York City’s Shea Stadium.

1969: Sly and the Family Stone hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Everyday People, their first of three chart-topping hits on the U.S. mainstream chart. Written by Sly Stone, the song had first appeared as a single in November 1968. It was also included on the psychedelic soul and funk group’s fourth studio album Stand!, released in May 1969. Songfacts notes the tune is about how everyone is essentially the same, regardless of race or background, adding, Sly & the Family Stone was a mash-up of musical styles, with band members of different genders and ethnic backgrounds. It also states Billy Preston played keyboards on the recording.

1975: Linda Ronstadt reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with You’re No Good. While between 1967 and 2006 she scored 20 top 40 hits on the U.S. mainstream chart, You’re No Good was her only no. 1. Written by Clint Ballard Jr., the tune was first recorded and released in 1963 by American soul singer Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of Dionne Warwick. You’re No Good has been covered by numerous other very different artists like The Swinging Blue Jeans, Elvis Costello, Ike & Tina Turner and Van Halen. Remarkably, You’re No Good’s chart-topping position coincided with Heart Like a Wheel, the album on which the tune appeared, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard 200. It became the first of three no. 1 records for Ronstadt on that chart.

1979: The Bee Gees ruled the 21st Annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack won Album of the Year, and the Bee Gees won Best Vocal Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for Saturday Night Fever and Best Arrangement for Voices for Stayin’ Alive. Billy Joel and Donna Summer had a good night as well. The piano man scored Record of the Year and Song of the Year for Just the Way You Are. The tune is from Joel’s fifth studio album The Stranger that came out in September 1977 and also appeared separately as a single at that time. Summer won two Grammys for Last Dance: Best R&B Vocal and Best R&B Song.

1980: Elvis Costello released his fourth studio album Get Happy!!, the third with his backing band The Attractions. Wikipedia notes the record marked “a dramatic break in tone from Costello’s three previous albums, and for being heavily influenced by R&B, ska and soul music.” Apparently, that change didn’t have much of an impact on the record’s chart performance. Like predecessor Armed Forces it reached no. 2 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart, while in the U.S. it climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard 200, just a notch below no. 10 for Armed Forces. Get Happy!! was ranked at no. 11 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, published in November 1989. Here’s I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down. Co-written by Homer Banks and Allen Jones, the tune was first recorded in 1967 by soul duo Sam & Dave.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

Elvis Costello Revisits His Roots on Vibrant New Album

Writing an informed review of a new album by a music artist like Elvis Costello who has had an impressive 45-year recording career is a bit tricky when you’ve only listened to a fraction of their previous catalog. But having been a music fan for essentially the same amount of years, I feel confident to proclaim I know great music when I hear it, and The Boy Named If definitely qualifies!

If you’re a long-time Costello listener, which I cannot claim, you may ask which Elvis Costello is showing up on the new album. After all, the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been called a chameleon for nothing, having worked with the likes of Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and The Roots. Based on my limited exposure, I can clearly hear early influences going back to his first few albums, especially This Year’s Model, his sophomore release from March 1978, and the first record with the then-newly formed The Attractions.

The Boy Named If, released Friday, January 14, is Costello’s 32nd studio album. He is backed by The Imposters, the official name of his touring band since 2002, which has had different members. According to this review in Showbiz 411, the current line-up includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davy Faragher (bass and vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums, percussion). Ultimate Classic Rock called this group “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.

“The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories),” Costello noted in a statement on his website. ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Elvis Costello

Well, I’d say ’nuff upfront info, let’s check out some music. For some odd reason, I couldn’t embed YouTube clips for some of the songs. In these cases, I resorted to embeds of Spotify sound files. I’m also including a Spotify link to the entire album toward the end of the post.

I’d like to kick it off with an early favorite, the opener Farewell, OK, which also had appeared separately as one of three singles leading up to the album’s release. “Like a lot of good rock and roll songs this began with a drummer down in a basement and a singer howling outside the backdoor,” Costello stated on his website. “It’s a blurred gaze, a drink too much, an accidental punch and a kiss goodnight all in the tumult of a dancehall.” Like all other tunes on the album, it was penned by Costello. I love Farewell, OK’s cool retro feel, including Nieve’s Vox Continental and the harmony vocal fill-ins.

Here’s the title track Costello mentioned in his above comment, together with the opening verse to give you a flavor of the lyrics.

I’m a lucky so and so
A fortunate stiff
You said you’d never knew me but I’m the one you want to be with
If I tumble from a tightrope or leap from a cliff
I won’t be dashed to pieces
I’m the boy named If

Penelope Halfpenny is another early favorite. Like in the opener, Steve Nieve is back with that seductive Vox Continental keyboard. I just can’t get enough of this cool sound – okay, perhaps once again my nerdy side is rearing its head. But even if you don’t care about the Vox Continental or any other instrument for that matter, you’ve got to admit this is a bloody catchy tune. Check it out!

Costello and the band are slowing things down on Paint The Red Rose Blue. But don’t get fooled by the ballad’s beautiful melody. This ain’t exactly a silly love song. Paint The Red Rose Blue, which first appeared as another upfront single, is “the account of someone who has long-courted theatrical darkness, only for its violence and cruelty to become all too real,” as Costello put it. “In its wake, a bereft couple learn to love again, painting a melancholy blue over the red of romance.”

My Most Beautiful Mistake (reading that title, I keep thinking of Sheryl Crow’s My Favorite Mistake) is another track I’d like to call out. The song features American singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins on backing harmony vocals. I like how her voice bends with Costello’s.

Since I already featured Magnificent Hurt, another highlight on the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the final track I’d like to highlight: the beautiful closer Mr. Crescent.

“Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper,” Costello said in the above statement. “I started ‘The Boy Named If’ with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play.”

He added, “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing, Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

The Boy Named If was co-produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, who also had worked with Costello on his two previous studio albums Hey Clockface (October 2020), Look Now (October 2018). Appearing on EMI, with Capitol Records serving as U.S. release partner, the new album is available in vinyl, CD, cassette and downloadble/streaming formats. There is also a deluxe version that includes an 88-page hardback storybook.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Announce  The Boy Named If & Other Favourites 2022 UK Tour

In early December, Costello announced plans for a 2022 UK tour featuring The Imposters, along with American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton. Among others, he is known for having been a member of Bob Dylan’s backing band starting in 1999. The tour is set to kick off on June 5 in Brighton – keeping my fingers crossed for British fans! For additional details, you can check here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Showbiz 411; Ultimate Classic Rock; Elvis Costello website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it only me, or is 2022 already starting to feel old? Regardless of my sentiment, let’s focus on the positive – it’s Saturday and time to take a fresh look at newly-released music! Unlike some of the recurring feature’s other previous installments, this week, I didn’t have much of a challenge to identify four picks I sufficiently like to highlight in a post. Next week, it could be entirely different, so I should enjoy it while it lasts! All tunes are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 14).

Elvis Costello & The Imposters/Magnificent Hurt

I’d like to start with a longtime artist who I trust doesn’t need much of an introduction: Elvis Costello, who started his recording career in 1977 and has been on a roll over the past few year. After Hey Clockface from October 2020 and a Spanish re-interpretation of his 1978 sophomore album This Year’s Model released in September of last year, he’s out with a new studio album, The Boy Named If. Based on sampling some of the tunes, I’m quite excited about it. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, Costello is backed by The Imposters, “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.” UCR characterizes The Boy Named If as sounding similar to Look Now, his 30th studio album from October 2018. I’ve listened to some of Costello’s early music, especially his 1977 debut My Aim Is True, which I dig. Clearly, I have much more to explore. Meanwhile, here’s the Magnificent Hurt. I love that cool retro sound – check out that seductive keyboard!

The Lumineers/Reprise

The Lumineers first entered my radar screen in July 2017 when I saw them open for U2 in New Jersey. Prior to that, I had only heard their 2012 hit Ho Hey. This prompted me to review their sophomore album Cleopatra released in April 2016. At the core, The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), though there have been additional members over the years. At the time they started collaborating in the early 2000s, they performed under various different names, including Free Beer, 6Cheek and Wesley Jeremiah. In 2005, they became The Lumineers. When I saw them in 2017, they were a trio that also included cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek who left the following year. Reprise, co-written by Schultz and Fraites, is a track off their fourth and latest studio album Brightside. They also played most of the instruments.

Cat Power/Pa Pa Power

Cat Power (born Charlyn Marie Marshall) is a singer-songwriter born in Atlanta, Ga. According to her Apple Music profile, Growing up in the South, Charlyn “Chan” Marshall was influenced by church hymns, country music, the blues played by her musician father, and her stepfather’s rock ’n’ roll records. After seeing a man wearing a trucker cap emblazoned with the words “Cat Diesel Power,” she named her first band Cat Power, before adopting the moniker for herself. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn were so impressed by her live performances that they became her bandmates during the mid-’90s. Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl contributed to 2003’s You Are Free, the first Cat Power album to make the Billboard 200 chart…After helping Marshall through a time of self-doubt, Lana Del Rey collaborated with her on the feminist anthem “Woman,” which became one of Cat Power’s biggest hits. The single appeared in August 2018. To date, Marshall has released 11 studio albums, including her latest, a collection of covers appropriately titled Covers. Here’s Pa Pa Power, co-written by Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields who make up the rock duo Dead Man’s Bones (gotta love that name!) and included the tune on their 2009 eponymous debut album. I’m intrigued by Cat Power’s sound!

Punch Brothers/Church Street Blues

Let’s wrap things up with Punch Brothers, a folk band that has been around since 2006. Wikipedia notes their music has been described as “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the structures of modern classical” and “American country-classical chamber music” – couldn’t have said it any better! 🙂 Their current members include Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals, mandola, bouzouki), Gabe Witcher (fiddle, vocals, drums), Noam Pikelny (banjo, vocals, steel guitar), Chris Eldridge (guitar, vocals) and Paul Kowert (double bass, vocals). Since their debut album Punch, which remarkably gave the Punch Brothers a chart-topper right from the get-go on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums, five additional full-length records by the group have come out. Their latest is titled Hell on Church Street. Here’s the opener Church Street Blues, written by guitarist and singer-songwriter Norman Blake. He first recorded the song for his 1976 studio album Whiskey Before Breakfast. Punch Brothers do a beautiful job with their rendition. I really dig the warmth that comes across in their music, which makes me want to hear more, even though I don’t listen much to bluegrass. But beautiful music remains beautiful, no matter the genre!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you there!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means the time has come again to go a music excursion where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. Because anything goes, any genre, any decade, as long as I dig the music. It feels very liberating not to limit myself to a specific album or theme in these posts. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Sunday Six continues to be my favorite feature of the blog.

Dr. Lonnie Smith/For Heaven’s Sake

I’d like to start this little music journey with Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist I’ve featured a few times before. Sadly, he passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on September 28 at the age of 79. Smith first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, he launched his solo career with his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967 – then still known as Lonnie Smith. At some point, he decided to become Dr. Smith and wear a traditional Sikh turban. While he neither obtained an academic doctor title nor did he covert to Sikhism, Dr. Lonnie Smith was an amazing musician in my book. As a fan of the Hammond B3 sound, this isn’t exactly a leap for me. I’d like to celebrate the doctor’s music with For Heaven’s Sake, a track he wrote and recorded for his 2016 album Evolution. The backing band included Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), Joe Lovano (saxophone), John Ellis (bass clarinet) and two drummers: Joe Dyson and Johnathan Blake.

Norah Jones/Don’t Know Why

For this next tune, let’s go back 14 years to February 2002 and the first album by jazz-oriented singer-songwriter and pianist Norah Jones. Come Away With Me was one heck of a debut for the then-23-year-old. It surged to no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and received Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Jones, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones, a New York concert promoter, has since released six additional solo albums, as well as various collaboration records, EPs and compilations. Here’s Don’t Know Why, the lead single off Jones’ debut album. The tune was written by American singer-songwriter Jesse Harris who first recorded it for his 1999 sophomore album Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. Until today, I had not heard the lovely guitar-based original. I’ve always loved Jones’ version.

The Traveling Wilburys/Rattled

Let’s pick up the pace with a great tune by The Traveling Wilburys. The super-group was conceived by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne during recording sessions for Harrison’s 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine that was co-produced by Lynne. The Wilburys came together in April 1998 and in addition to Harrison and Lynne included Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. While initially Harrison had envisaged a series of Wilburys albums and a film about the band, the group ended up releasing only two records. Six weeks after the release of their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in October 1988, Roy Orbison died from a heart attack at age 52. The second and final Wilburys album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 appeared in October 1990. While Lynne, Petty and Dylan were interested in continuing the group, it was Harrison who apparently lacked enthusiasm to keep things going. Here’s Rattled, a neat rockabilly tune from the Wilburys’ first album, featuring Lynne on lead vocals – rrrrrrrrr!

James Brown/It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Time to go back to the ’60s and James Brown. I trust the Godfather of Soul who by the early ’70s had become a major funk artist needs no introduction. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, which first appeared as a single in April 1966, was co-written by Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. It became Brown’s third no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart and his third top 10 hit on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World also was the title track of a compilation album that was released in August of the same year. Each time I listen to this tune, I still get goosebumps. Here’s an extended live version that nicely illustrates what an amazing performer Brown was – the singing, the passion, the moves – just incredible!

Elvis Costello and the Imposters/Go Away

For this next pick, let’s return to the current millennium and a tune I love by Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Costello has frequently used this backing band since his 2002 album When I Was Cruel. The group includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davey Farahger (bass, backing vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums). Go Away, written by Costello, is the closer of Momofuku, his 21st studio album from April 2008. The tune was also released separately as a single. The album reached a meager no. 112 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart and peaked at no. 59 on the U.S. Billboard 200, while the single didn’t chart at all. At the time, Costello explained the record’s title was a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle, as reported by Billboard. “Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water,” he said.

Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane/Rough Mix

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final tune. This instrumental is the title track of a collaboration album released in September 1977 by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, who was best known as the bassist and founding member of Small Faces and that band’s successor Faces. Rough Mix was Townshend’s second record outside The Who and is his only collaboration album to date. While Lane also wanted to co-write songs with Townshend, the title track is the only tune where that happened. Rough Mix enjoyed moderate chart success in the UK and the U.S., reaching no. 44 and no. 45 on the respective mainstream album charts. The title track is a groovy tune, which among others features Eric Clapton (guitar) and John Bundrick (organ).

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; YouTube

Best of What’s New

This is the 30th installment of Best of What’s New. When I started the new music feature 30 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I’d find enough material I dig to blog on a weekly basis. So far it’s been a rewarding experience, and I’m optimistic I can get going at that rate.

Usually, I keep the installments to four tunes. This time, however, before I knew it, I found eight songs I could have featured. I decided to cut down the selection to the following six tunes. The set is quite rock-oriented, but there’s also a great jazz tune that just makes me happy and a beautiful guitar instrumental.

Black Stone Cherry/Again

Black Stone Cherry are a hard rock band formed in Edmonton, Ky. in 2001. Chris Robertson (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and John Fred Young (drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals) had played together since they were young teenagers. They were soon joined by Ben Wells (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass, backing vocals) to complete the band’s lineup. In May 2006, they released their eponymous debut album. Again is a track from the band’s upcoming 7th studio album The Human Condition scheduled for October 30. Black Stone Cherry announced the album on August 6 and debuted the tune and music video. “There was a real urgency and fear of the unknown during those sessions – it was a scary time,” Young told Louder.  “Every song on this album tells a story of the experiences we all go through – our happiness, our struggles, and how we have to adapt.” I hardly listen to present day hard rock, but this tune got something.

Puscifer/The Underwhelming

Puscifer is a project from rock singer-songwriter and producer Maynard James Keenan, who also is the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. Between these bands, Keenan has released 12 albums over the past 30 years. Other members of Puscifer, which is currently a trio, include Carina Round (vocals, guitar, ukelele, tambourine) and Mat Mitchell (lead guitar). The Underwhelming is a tune from Puscifer’s upcoming fourth studio album Existential Reckoning due out October 30. The tune became the album’s second single on September 17.

Elvis Costello/Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?

I believe Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? is the first jazz tune I ever heard by Elvis Costello. When I came across it yesterday, I immediately knew I had to include it in this installment of Best of What’s New. According to a review in Stereogum, Costello recorded it together with a small jazz ensemble in Paris about a month before Covid-19 changed the world. It also turns out the tune and Costello’s other singles he has released over the past few months are all part of a new studio album titled Hey Clockface scheduled for October 30. According to Wikipedia’s count, it should be Costello’s 33rd studio release. Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? first appeared as the album’s fourth upfront single on September 11. This tune just has an infectious groove. Check it out!

Ben Harper/Paris

American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper has been a recording artist since 1992. He began playing guitar as a child and had his first gig at the age of 12. During his teenage years in the ’80s, Harper began playing slide guitar, influenced by Delta blues artist Robert Johnson. In 1992, he recorded the album Pleasure and Pain with Tom Freund. This was followed by his solo debut Welcome to the Cruel World from February 1994. Since then, he has released 13 additional studio albums. In 2010, Harper formed folk rock-oriented band Fistful of Mercy, together with George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Harper has also collaborated with Charlie Musslewhite and various other artists. Paris is a beautiful, sparse instrumental featuring only Harper on his lap steel guitar. It’s on an upcoming new all-instrumental album, Winter Is For Lovers, set to appear on October 23. Two other tunes, Inland Empire and London, from the 15-track collection are already out as well, and they sound just as great!

Blue Öyster Cult/The Alchemist

While Blue Öyster Cult is a very familiar name, the rock band that was founded all the way back in 1967 in Stony Brook, N.Y. had not released new music since Curse of the Hidden Mirror from June 2001. That changed yesterday (October 9) with The Symbol Remains, their 15th studio album. Of course, Blue Öyster Cult have had numerous line-up changes over the decades, though founding member and lead guitarist Donald Roeser, known as Buck Dharma, is still around. As is Eric Bloom, who joined BÖC as lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboarder in April 1969, replacing Les Braunstein. Like Dharma, Bloom has been on all of the band’s albums released to date. Here’s The Alchemist, written by Richie Castellano, who has been part of Blue Öyster Cult since 2004. This makes The Symbol Remains his first studio with the band after 16 years – remarkable! The Alchemist may not be Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, (Don’t Fear) the Reaper or Burnin’ For You, but it still sounds pretty cool to me. Check out the sweet harmony guitar playing featuring Dharma and Castanello, which starts at about 3:33 minutes. These guys are still rockin’!

Greta Van Fleet/My Way, Soon

Speaking of rockin’, what could be a better way to end this installment than with the latest single by Greta Van Fleet, one of the most exiting contemporary bands, in my opinion: May Way, Soon, which was also released just yesterday. “This song was inspired by what three years of touring did by opening so many doorways,” vocalist Josh Kiszka told Louder. “This is my truth, how I feel about all of our travels, but I know it echoes the experiences and changes of perspectives for [his GVF bandmates] Jake, Sam, and Danny as well.” May Way, Soon is the first tune from Greta’s next studio album (title and release date still to be announced). “The definition of ’normal’ has very much broadened over the past couple of years, and it has affected us as musicians, especially in the writing and recording of this new album,” added drummer Danny Wagner. While My Way, Soon delivers the energetic type of rock fans of the band have come to dig, it sounds less influenced by Led Zeppelin. I think only does this show Greta is evolving musically, but it’s also a good thing from a longevity perspective.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Stereogum; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Here’s the latest installment of my recurring new music feature. It nicely illustrates that great new music isn’t a matter of age. In fact, I’ve said it all along: Old guys rock! 🙂 Three of the following artists have been around for 50 years, while the remaining three represent a younger generation. There’s some blues rock, coz you rarely can go wrong with it; some prog and art rock; some post punk rock; and some indie rock and pop. Let’s get to it!

Walter Trout/Wanna Dance

Long-time blues rocker Walter Trout, who originally hails from Ocean City, N.J., is a survivor – literally. He started his music career on the Jersey shore scene in the late 1960s. After relocating to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, the guitarist became a sideman for John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex, among others. From 1981 to 1984, Trout was the lead guitarist for Canned Heat. In 1984, he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and, as he noted during a recent one-hour online chat, it was Mayall who encouraged him not to copy other previous Bluesbreakers’ lead guitarists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton but to develop his own style. Trout did, left the Bluesbreakers in 1989 and launched his solo career. He has since released more than 20 albums. In 2014, things got dicey when Trout was diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. A liver transplant saved his life just in time. After a long recovery, Trout was able to return to music, which as he has said is the only thing he could ever do. Released on June 12, Wanna Dance is a great blues rocker from Ordinary Madness, an upcoming album of all original music, scheduled for August 28. I saw Trout in New York City in April 2019 and witnessed firsthand he is a compelling, no BS artist. Really looking forward to this record!

Ohmme/Flood Your Gut

Ohmme (formerly know as Homme) are an indie rock band from Chicago formed in 2014 by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. In 2016, Matt Carroll joined the two young women on drums. Apple Music characterizes them as “an experimental indie pop band who use their striking vocal harmonies and lean, angular guitar patterns to create songs that are spare but full-bodied, making clever use of dynamics to generate a rich sound out of a small number of elements” – jeez, you wonder whether they pay reviewers by the number of words they stick in one sentence! Ohmme takes the opposite approach on their Facebook page: “An experiment with voice, guitar, and sound.” The band released their debut single in November 2015, followed by an eponymous EP in 2017. Flood Your Gut is the opener to Ohmme’s new (second) studio album Fantasize Your Ghost, released on June 5. Admittedly, the somewhat monotonous trance-inducing sound of this tune didn’t grab me immediately, but the more often I listen to it, the more I dig it – there’s something weirdly catchy about it!

Kansas/Jets Overhead

American rock band Kansas may have formed in the early ’70s, but evidently, they aren’t dust in the wind yet. Frankly, I wasn’t aware the band is still active. Granted, Kansas have gone through many lineup changes in their 50-year history; if I see this correctly, it appears guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Erhart are the only remaining founding members, who have been on all of the band’s 15 studio releases that came out between 1974 and 2016, as well as their upcoming album The Absence of Presence, scheduled for July 17. I’m mostly familiar with Kansas’ better known tunes like Carry On Wayward Son, Dust in the Wind, Point of No Return and Play the Game Tonight. I oftentimes feel rock that’s based on simple guitar riffs is best and consider the fantastic Carry On Wayward Son as an exception that proves the rule. Jets Overhead, which was written by guitarist Zak Rizvi and appeared on June 5, is the third track released ahead of the album. You rarely hear a violin solo in a rock song these days. Sounds pretty good to me!

Phoebe Bridgers/Graceland Too

Phoebe Bridgers is a Los Angeles-based 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Apple Musics characterization of her music as “folk-based” with “a dreamy and hook-filled indie pop heart” sounds right to me. Apart from her solo work, she’s also a member of indie rock band Boygenius and performs with Conor Oberst in indie rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center. In March 2014, Bridgers released her debut, an EP cheerfully titled Killer. Following what appears to be a live album, 2016 Tour CD, her first full-length studio release Stranger in the Alps appeared in September 2017. Graceland Too is a country-flavored tune from Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher, which came out on June 18. This song has a beautiful warm sound that nicely blends with Bridgers’ voice.

Elvis Costello/No Flag

Released June 5, No Flag is the first new song by Elvis Costello since Purse, an EP from April 2019, featuring four previously unreleased songs recorded with his band the Imposters. According to a news announcement, Costello recorded No Flag alone in Finland in February this year. “I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me,” he explained. “So, this is ‘The Helsinki Sound.’” The announcement also asks readers to “look out for the next installment of this story on July 10th” – perhaps a hint to a forthcoming new album? With an unsettling melody and dark lyrics like No time for this kind of love/No flag waving high above/No sign for the dark place that I live/No God for the damn that I don’t give, the timing of the release during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence.

JJ Wilde/Cold Shoulder

JJ Wilde is a singer-songwriter hailing from Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, which is located about 60 miles of Toronto. Wilde started writing and playing guitar during her teenage years. Despite a massive amount of songs and gigging, she apparently struggled in the early part of her career, and ended up working three jobs. When Wilde about to give up music professionally in 2018, she finally got a break, signing with Black Box Recordings. Last year, her debut EP Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands appeared. Ruthless, Wilde’s first full album, was released on June 12. “This album has felt like a long time coming, and no time at all,” wrote Wilde on her Facebook page. “Most of the inspiration for the album came from an apartment I lived in two years before I started this journey. I was in a dark place, and was very unsure of where my life was going. Almost 4 years later, with countless shows, tours, travelling, writing sessions, I now feel like this album is the complete first draft of an inside look into my world.” Here’s Cold Shoulder. I like this melodic rocker – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ohmme Facebook page; Kansas website; Elvis Costello website; JJ Wilde Facebook page; YouTube

Ringo Starr to Throw Virtual Charity Concert For Upcoming Big Birthday

You just gotta love Ringo Starr. He may not be the most sophisticated drummer or songwriter, but he’s just an awesome guy! As reported by Rolling Stone earlier today, Ringo is planning a virtual charity concert for his 80th birthday on July 7. The one-hour event will be broadcast on YouTube starting at 8:00 pm ET, and feature Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark, Jr., Sheila E and Ben Harper, among others. Appropriately called Ringo’s Big Birthday Show, the event will benefit Black Lives Matter Global Network, The David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares and WaterAid.

“…for 12 years, we have celebrated it by at noon going ‘peace and love’, wherever you are,” said Ringo during a more than 30-minute video interview with Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt. “We’re still doing it, but this year is going to be a little different…there’s no big get-together, there’s no brunch for 100, and there’s no gangs of people outside.” Below is a clip of the entire interview. If you dig Ringo, I can highly recommend it. BTW, I do agree with Hiatt, he doesn’t look like 80!

As further reported by Rolling Stone, the event will also debut a special version of Give More Love, the title track of Ringo’s 2017 studio album, featuring guests like Jackson Browne, Jeff Bridges, Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson. Ringo will also launch a series of tribute performances on his YouTube channel, including artists like Steve Earle, Peter Frampton and Judy Collins. Last but not least, he is asking fans to “say, think, or post #peaceandlove at noon their local time on July 7th.” 

Here’s the official video of the above noted Give More Love. Co-written by Ringo and Gary Nicholson, the tune is the title track of Ringo’s 19th studio release, which appeared in September 2017. His most recent album What’s My Name came out in October 2019. I previously wrote about it here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

The Hardware: Vox Continental

Compact keyboard with characteristic sound became hit among touring bands in ’60s

When I listened to Light My Fire by The Doors the other day, I was reminded of Ray Manzarek’s distinct keyboard on that tune, a sound I’ve always loved. It also came to me that I hadn’t done a post on important music hardware in a long time – two good reasons to write about the Vox Continental, a handy and cool-looking organ that became popular in the ’60s and can be heard on many songs released during that decade and thereafter.

For those who are visiting my blog for the first time or haven’t seen one of my previous hardware posts, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not an engineering guy; in fact, having two left hands, it’s more of the opposite! As such, one could say there’s a certain degree of irony that I write about the subject. But while I’m not exactly a techie and therefore don’t go deeply into the technical aspects, music gear can still excite me like a little child, primarily from a sound and visual perspective. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Thomas Walter Jennings
Jennings Organ Company founder Thomas Walter Jennings at his Dartford factory in Kent, England in 1964

Prior to the Vox Continental’s introduction in England in 1962, the Vox brand name had been synonymous with guitar amplifiers, especially the Vox AC30 used by The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other ’60s bands. However, as its name already indicates, the company that made the amps, The Jennings Organ Company founded by Thomas Walter Jennings in Kent, England after the Second World War and renamed Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957, started out as a manufacturer of home and church organs. Their first successful product was the Univox, an electronic keyboard similar to the Clavioline.

The Vox Continental is a so-called combo keyboard. Does it come with French fries and a Coke you might ask? Well, not quite. Combo actually is another (British) term for band. Okay, it’s a keyboard for a band, but so is a Hammond or a regular piano, so what’s the big deal? While pianos were frequently used in the recording studio, amplifying their sound during live performances was tricky. Hammond organs like the mighty B3 certainly could meet volume requirements, but they were pretty clunky. A compact combo keyboard like the Vox Continental offered a great solution. It also looked pretty cool!

Vox Continental Electronics
The electronic inside of a Vox Continental

The Vox Continental was made possible by the invention of transistors that were less heavy and smaller than the electron tubes used in big electronic organs. The handy keyboard came in two basic variations, a single manual and a dual manual. One of the Continental’s distinct visual features is its reversed colored keys: what on a regular keyboard are the white keys are black, while the traditionally black keys are white (see image on top of the post). The top part covering the electronics with its orange or grey finish stands out as well. The curving and removable chrome stand is another distinct feature. Without a bass section, no bass pedals, no percussion, no sustain and only a single-speed vibrato, the Vox Continental was fairly archaic. Yet because of its sound and the aforementioned design features, the instrument became very popular.

Initially, Vox Continental keyboards were made at two plants in Kent: JMI’s facility in Dartford and the Vox Sound plant in Erith. In 1964, Jennings signed a licensing deal with the Thomas Organ Company in the U.S. JMI and Thomas subsequently also formed EME (Elletronica Musicale Europea), a joint venture with Italian guitar and keyboard manufacturer EKO. With the advent of the Moog and other more elaborate keyboards by the early ’70s, the appeal of Vox Continental organs started to decrease, and production was phased out. While it continued to have a significant following and remains sought-after, it took until September 2017 that Vox revived the Continental with an updated version. Since 1992, the company has been owned by Japanese electronics corporation Korg.

As noted at the outset, the Vox Continental is featured in many songs released during the ’60s and thereafter. This post wouldn’t be complete without some examples.

The House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)

The version of the traditional by The Animals featuring Alan Price on keys is one of the most compelling showcases of the Vox Continental, in my humble opinion as somebody who isn’t a keyboard player. Sure, the sound isn’t as fat and growling as the Hammond B3; in fact, it’s rather thin by comparison, and yet it still sounds awesome at least to my ears!

Because (The Dave Clark Five)

Written by Dave Clark, Because was recorded for the band’s third U.S. studio album American Tour from August 1964. The song also appeared as a single and became the band’s second most successful hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of an appearance on American music variety TV program Shindig! from 1965. While it is much less dominant than in The House Of The Rising Sun, one can nicely see Mike Smith playing the organ.

I’m A Believer (The Monkees)

I’m A Believer appeared on More Of The Monkees, the band’s second studio album released in January 1967, and as the record’s lead single in November the previous year. Written by Neil Diamond, the song became the band’s most successful hit, topping the charts in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and Germany, among others. While Peter Tork had known how to play keyboards, the keyboarder on the studio recording was Stan Free. Initially formed a musical acting quartet for a TV series, all of The Monkees eventually learned how to play their instruments.

Light My Fire (The Doors)

Credited to all members of the band, Light My Fire was included on The Doors’ eponymous debut album issued in January 1967. It also became the record’s second single released in April that year. It was the first of their two no. 1 U.S. hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune is another great example where the Vox Continental is quite dominant.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the title track of Iron Butterfly’s second studio album from June 1968. It was written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Doug Ingle. Clocking at more than 17 minutes, the track makes up the record’s entire side B. Iron Butterfly also released a single version, which was shortened to just under three minutes. Here’s a clip of the track in its entire mighty.

Watching The Detectives (Elvis Costello)

After production of Vox Continental keyboards had seized, the combo organs remained popular, as previously noted. One of their champions was Steve Nieve, who among others became known as keyboarder in Elvis Costello’s backing band The Attractions. Here’s a clip of Watching The Detectives from Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, released in July 1977. Written by Costello, the tune became his first hit, peaking at no. 15 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart.

Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Do Me Like That, the last song I’d like to highlight in this post, is another post ’60s example featuring a Vox Continental, played by Benmont Tench in this case. It appears on Damn The Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from October 1979. In November that year, the song also came out as the record’s lead single. Written by Petty, it became the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Engineering And Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Combo Organ Heaven, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 22

1967: The Pink Floyd, as they called themselves then, played The Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen, Scotland. At the time, the band was still led by Syd Barrett (lead guitar, vocals). The other members included Roger Waters (bass, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums). Famous for its dance floors, The Beach Ballroom also attracted other famous acts, such as The Beatles, Cream and The Who. While I was able to confirm the date of the performance, I could not find the set list. But given the concert happened only a few months after the band had recorded their studio debut The Piper At the Gates of the Dawn, it’s safe to assume tunes like Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Bike and Arnold Lane were part of the set. Here is a clip of Astronomy Domine, apparently captured in May 1967 on the BBC’s broadcast Look of the Week – the closest I could find.

1969: During a studio session for The Beatles’ Abbey Road, John Lennon recorded his lead vocals for Come Together. Paul McCartney did an overdub of the electric piano. Electric guitar and maracas were also overdubbed. In addition, McCartney made his next to last attempt to record the lead vocals for Oh! Darling. The final take was captured during the next day’s session, the culmination of a week-long effort. McCartney wanted his voice to sound as if he had performed the song on stage all week.

The Beatles_Abbey Road

1973: David Bowie released Life On Mars as a single, backed by The Man Who Sold the World. Both tunes were written by Bowie. Life On Mars initially appeared on his fourth studio album Honky Dory, which was released in Dec 1971. The Man Who Sold the World was the title song of Bowie’s third studio release in November 1970. Life On Mars became one of his biggest hits, climbing to no. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and charting for 13 weeks. It was one of many songs that reflected Bowie’s fascination with space. Examples of other space tunes he wrote include Space Oddity, Moonage Daydream, Starman, Hallo Spaceboy and Dancing Out In Space.

1977: My Aim Is True, the debut album from English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, was released in the U.K. According to the liner notes, “My Aim Is True was recorded at Pathway Studios, Islington in a total of Twenty four hours studio time and at a cost of 2000 pounds. As I still had my “day-job” these sessions had to take place on “sick days” and holidays during late 1976 and early 1977. The musicians were members of the Marin county band Clover, who could not be credited at the time due to contractual reasons.” My Aim Is True was the first of five Costello albums in a row that were produced by Nick Lowe. The record received many accolades. In 1997, Rolling Stone named it as one of the best albums of the year and in 2004 also ranked it at no. 168 in its 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list. Pitchfork ranked Costello’s debut at no. 37 of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2007, the album was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Here’s a clip of the record’s fourth single Watching the Detectives.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Setlist.fm; Wikipedia; Billboard; http://www.elviscostello.info: My Aim Is True (1993) Liner Notes; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; YouTube