Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another weekly new music revue. Usually, most of the artists I feature in these posts are new to me. Not so this time! All picks appear on brand new albums released yesterday.

Wilco/All Across the World

American alternative rock band Wilco were formed in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica) and the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo after vocalist and guitarist Jay Farrar had left the alternative country group. Wilco’s studio debut A.M. came out in March 1995. Unlike Trace, the debut by Farrar’s newly founded Son Volt, A.M. missed the charts. But Wilco caught up with and eventually surpassed Son Volt from a chart performance perspective. To date, the band has released 12 albums including its latest Cruel Country, a double album. While Tweedy acknowledged Wilco hadn’t been very comfortable about being called a country band in the past, even though their music always had included country elements, he said with Cruel Country “Wilco is digging in and calling it country.” Here’s All Across the World. I dig that tune and really don’t care much what you call it!

Liam Gallagher/Too Good For Giving Up

English singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher first gained prominence in the 1990s as frontman and lead vocalist of Britain’s overnight sensation Oasis. After Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in August 2009, which ended the group, Liam and the remaining members decided to continue as Beady Eye. When that band broke up in October 2014, Liam launched a solo career, though for some reason, he initially didn’t want to characterize it as such. His solo debut As You Were was met with critical acclaim and debuted at no. 1 on the British albums chart. Now, Liam Gallagher is back with his third and new album C’mon You Know. Here’s a sample: Too Good For Giving Up, co-written by Gallagher and fellow British singer-songwriter Simon Aldred who is also listed as co-producer. Strong tune!

Steve Earle/Hill Country Rain

After a warm tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, released in January 2021, roots rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle is back with another tribute. Jerry Jeff, his 22nd studio release, celebrates the music of outlaw country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. While Walker wrote and interpreted many songs over more than 50 years, he was best known for Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 classic has been covered by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others. And now also Steve Earle, who released his solo debut Guitar Town in March 1986 following a 10-year-plus career as a songwriter and musician. “This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle wrote on his website. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.” Here’s Hill Country Rain, which Walker first recorded in 1972 for a self-titled studio album. Great rendition!

Bruce Hornsby/Tag

When I included Bruce Hornsby in a recent Sunday Six installment, I didn’t anticipate I’d be writing about the American singer-songwriter again so soon. Best known for his 1986 debut gem The Way It Is, Hornsby has drawn from folk-rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country rock, heartland rock and blues rock over a 36-year-and-counting recording career. Bonnie Raitt, whose music I’ve loved for many years, called Hornsby her favorite artist in a recent interview. Perhaps I should finally take a closer look at Hornsby beyond his first two albums! ‘Flicted, his 23rd and latest would be a start. “Thanks to all of our supporters who have followed the multi-genre journey for the last thirty-six years,” Hornsby wrote on his website.”…thanks for being open to change, exploration and a bit of musical mirth and merriment along with the attempts at deep and soulful music-making through the years.” Here’s Tag, which like most tunes on the album were written or co-written by Hornsby. This may not be as catchy as mainstream pop-oriented songs like Every Little Kiss, Mandolin Rain or The Way It Is, but I’m still intrigued and want to hear more.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes from each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Earle website; Bruce Hornsby website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

Time to take another trip down memory lane. In June 2017, this blog reached its one-year mark. I had recently introduced a new feature titled “The Hardware.” In a nutshell, the idea was to write about iconic music gear in rock, take a look at the technology without going overboard, and feature some of the artists who played the corresponding piece of equipment.

Among my all-time favorite instruments are Rickenbacker guitars, especially 12-string versions, even though I never owned one. I’ve always loved their distinct jangly sound. And, who knows, one of these days I might be crazy enough to get one, even though my guitar skills have become terribly rusty, and the electric guitar and I never became good friends. I suppose it can be tricky when you take classical guitar lessons and then try to apply what you learned to the electric.

Anyway, the following post first appeared on CMM on June 24, 2017. It has been slightly edited for style. I also added a Spotify playlist.

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

The “jangling” sound of the legendary 12-string guitar had a huge impact on 60s rock

Perhaps no other ’60s band is more closely associated with the chiming sound of the Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar than The Byrds. The first time I distinctly noticed its beautiful sound must have been on Mr. Tambourine Man, though the musician who put the 360/12 initially on the map was not Roger McGuinn but George Harrison in early 1964.

Founded in 1931 as Ro-Pat-In Corporation by Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp, later named Electro String and eventually Rickenbacker, the company became a pioneer in electric musical instruments. It was the world’s first manufacturer of electric guitars. Initially, the company made electric Hawaiian guitars before starting to produce a large range of electric and bass guitars.

In 1963, Rickenbacker created the first 12-string electric guitar. In early 1964, Frances C. Hall, who had bought the company in the 1940s, met with The Beatles in New York during their first U.S. tour to show different models to them. John Lennon checked out a 360/12 but thought it would be better suited for Harrison, who was sick and didn’t attend the meeting. When Harrison eventually saw the guitar, he liked it right away. His use of the instrument in the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night would give Rickenbacker electric guitars an enormous boost in popularity.

And then, there was of course McGuinn who introduced The Byrds’ chiming signature guitar sound to the music world on the band’s 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Coming from a folk tradition and using a 12-string  Rickenbacker, McGuinn essentially created folk-rock, a new genre at the time.

Asked during an interview with Guitar.com how he came up with the jingle-jangle sound, McGuinn explained, “It was a natural process. It wasn’t like we popped it out of the oven fully grown. I was playing folk music and we played a lot of fingerpicking stuff…And when I heard the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the movie A Hard Days Night, that’s where I first got the idea to use that [in my music]. And it made a difference in the sound. It was a much cleaner and bigger and fuller sound.” How about a little demo from the maestro on his Roger McGuinn limited edition Rickenbacker 12-string – isn’t that sound absolutely magical?

As for his preference for the Rickenbacker, McGuinn said, “it sounds different from any other 12-string on the market. I have a Fender 12-string and it sounds completely different even though I put Rickenbacker pickups on it. Maybe it’s the wood or the dimensions of the wood or the semi-hollow-body construction. It could be a lot of different things. But it’s got a distinctive sound. Also they do something different with the stringing. Normal 12-string guitars have an octave string and then the low string. Rickenbacker does it backwards. They have the low string first and then the octave. So the last thing you hear kind of rings out. It’s like you’re picking backwards.”

One of the 360/12’s defining features is the headstock and the way the 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs. Like on a standard guitar, there are three tuners mounted on each side, with the tuner posts projecting out from the face of the headstock. In addition, three tuners are attached to the side of the headstock, with the tuner knobs pointing toward the rear of the headstock. This design allows the headstock to have the same size as a headstock of a standard six-string, which in turn avoids the head-heavy feel other 12-string guitars tend to have. Are you still with me? 🙂

Another distinct feature of the 360/12 is the string set-up. In a conventional 12-string, the high (octave) string is the first in each pair of strings. On the 360/12, the octave string is the second in each pair. Together with the semi-hollow body design, this string set-up creates the guitar’s signature sound.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, according to a recent story in Guitar World, adding with other 12-string guitars, “you spend hours trying to tune it.” I’ve never owned a 12-string, but the idea to tune the string pairs in exact octaves and relative to each other sounds pretty challenging to me, especially without a guitar tuner!

Not surprisingly, the Rickenbacker 360/12 became a very popular guitar. Following are some clips that prominently feature this beautiful instrument:

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/The Waiting

The Byrds/Turn! Turn! Turn!

Okay, this is the second update to this post, so I hope the third version will make a charm! A dear friend brought to my attention this awesome take of If I Needed Someone, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, from McGuinn – sounds a bit like So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star meeting Harrison! I have to admit, I almost like it better than the original!

– End –

Following is a Spotify playlist including the above tunes and some others, allegedly featuring a Rickenbacker 360/12. In some cases, it’s definitely more obvious than in others.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Guitar.com; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday calls for another Best of What’s New. This latest installment of my weekly music revue is coming together at the last minute, and it’s got six instead of the usual four picks, so let’s get to it right away. Unless noted otherwise, all featured tunes were released yesterday (March 18).

The Dream Syndicate/Where I’ll Stand

Starting us off today are The Dream Syndicate, an alternative rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 1981. Their Apple Music profile calls them one of the most celebrated bands to come out of the Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” scene of the ’80s, adding, A hit on the college rock circuit, they never made it through to the mainstream. Until the group’s break-up in 1989, they released four studio albums. Since the band’s reunion in 2012, four additional albums have appeared, the first of which only came out in 2017. The Dream Syndicate’s current line-up includes original member Steve Wynn (lead vocals, guitar), along with Jason Victor (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Walton (bass) and Dennis Duck (drums). Where I’ll Stand, released on March 8 and written by Wynn, is the lead single of the band’s upcoming studio album Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions, scheduled for June 10.

Midlake/Bethel Woods

Midlake are a folk rock group from Denton, Texas, who have been around since 1999. According to their Apple Music profile, the band was formed by a group of musicians who had attended the North Texas School of Music. They were signed to Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label in the U.K., leading to European concerts and their first full-length album, 2004’s Bamnan and Slivercork. For their next LP, Midlake changed gears and moved away from the psychedelic leanings of their debut toward a more ’70s-influenced sound. Released in 2006, The Trials of Van Occupanther was a critical success, resulting in bigger sales and an enhanced reputation for subsequent recordings like 2010’s The Courage of Others. A key lineup change followed in 2012 when frontman Tim Smith departed and long-time guitarist Eric Pulido stepped into his place on lead vocals. 2013’s Antiphon was their first record without Smith. Fast-forward to Midlake’s new album For the Sake of Bethel Woods, which appeared after an extended hiatus and is their first since the aforementioned Antiphon. Here’s Bethel Woods, credited to all of the band’s current members who in addition to Pulido include Jesse Chandler, Joey McClellan, McKenzie Smith and Eric Nichelson.

Oso Oso/Father Tracy

Oso Oso are a rock band from Long Beach, N.Y. around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jade Lilitri (Jonathan Dimitri), the group’s only permanent member. Here’s more from Apple Music: Originally Oso Oso was solely the work of Lilitri, who wrote and released an EP, 2014’s Osoosooso, and an album, 2015’s Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Look Like Monsters…, through Soft Speak Records. Wanting to embark on more ambitious tours, Lilitri enlisted a full band to join him, including the addition of Aaron Wims on drums. Subsequently, the band took part in the recording of The Yunahon Mixtape in 2017 and sophomore full-length album Basking in the Glow in 2019, the latter of which saw release through Triple Crown Records. This brings me to Sore Thumb, Oso Oso’s fourth and latest album. Here’s Father Tracy, which like all other tunes was written or co-written by Dimitri.

Hailey Whitters/Raised

Hailey Whitters is a country artist who originally hails from Shueyville, Iowa. Here’s more from her website: On her 2020 breakthrough album The Dream, the singer-songwriter wrote about escaping her hometown of Shueyville, Iowa, to pursue stardom in Nashville. It was a fantasy record at first, full of far-off plans, hopes, and dreams. But it soon became Hailey’s reality — she signed a label deal with Big Loud/Songs & Daughters, went on tour with Luke Combs and Midland, and made her first of many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry...In the midst of that whirlwind, Hailey found herself reconnecting with her Midwestern roots. Shueyville was always in the back of her mind and the memories she made there — getting her first kiss; partying in the cornfields; gathering for Sunday supper — started to shape her writing. Over the past two years, she channeled those memories into her new album, Raised. Following is the title track.

Mavis Staples & Levon Helm/You Got to Move

I trust R&B and gospel vocalist Mavis Staples, who initially became known in the 1950s as a member of gospel, soul and R&B family group The Staple Singers, doesn’t need much of an introduction. Fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk featured her the other day as part of her ongoing Women Music March 2022 series. As reported by Pitchfork, on March 15, Staples announced a forthcoming live album that was recorded in 2011 with Levon Helm, former drummer and vocalist of The Band. Captured at Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Carry Me Home is among the final recordings by Helm who passed away from throat cancer in April 2012 at the age of 71. The announcement of the album, which is slated for May 20, coincided with the release of a great single, You Got to Move. Staples, now 82, remains active and has a busy touring schedule ahead of her throughout the entire year. What an amazing lady! And check out that great clip with Helm.

Neil Young & The Restless/Cocaine Eyes

I leave you with another goodie by “an old hand.” Neil Young has announced a new box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Continuing the chronological re-releasing of his official releases, remastered where analog tapes exist, the decade-spanning box set includes Hawks & Doves (1980), Re•ac•tor (1981), This Note’s for You (1988) and the Eldorado EP (1989),  a 5 track mini-album, previously only released on CD in Australia and Japan. The EP features two tracks not available on any other album and different versions of three songs that appeared on the Freedom album. Here’s one of the two tracks, Cocaine Eyes, a classic blistering grungy Neil Young rocker.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above tunes and a few others sans Neil Young who recently pulled his music from the platform.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Hailey Whitters website; Pitchfork, Mavis Staples website; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Son Volt/Trace

Son Volt, an American band I only came across a few months ago, have become one of my favorite groups I’ve “discovered” this year. Over the decades, they have touched the alternative rock, alternative country, folk-rock and Americana genres. In fact, they are considered a staple of the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994, following the break-up of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country-rock band he had founded in 1987 together with Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, Tweedy went on to form alternative rock group Wilco.

In addition to Farrar, Son Volt’s initial line-up included ex-Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, along with brothers Dave Boquist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, lap steel, dobro) and Jim Boquist (bass, backing vocals). By the time the group had secured a deal with Warner Bros. and went into the studio to record their debut album Trace, Eric Heywood (mandolin, pedal steel) had joined them.

Trace, which came out in September 1995, is the first of 10 studio albums Son Volt have released to date, the most recent being the excellent Electro Melodier from July 30 this year. The band’s catalog also includes the 2020 live album Live At The Orange Peel. Let’s take a closer look at Trace!

I’d like to start with the opener Windfall, one of the acoustics tracks on the album. Like all except one track, the beautiful tune was penned by Farrar. I love the fiddle and pedal steel guitar, which give the song a warm country sound.

Route is a nice crunchy rocker. Apple Music notes Farrar’s Neil Young-influenced sound. This is one of the tunes that does remind me a bit of Crazy Horse.

On Ten Second News, things slow down and turn acoustic again. Another great-sounding song with a bit of a bluesy touch.

Drown, another rocker, did well on two U.S. Billboard charts: Mainstream Rock Tracks (no. 10) and Modern Rock Tracks (no. 25). According to Wikipedia, it became Son Volt’s only single to make either of the charts. I find that a bit hard to believe!

Let’s do two more, starting with another acoustic tune: Out of the Picture.

And here’s another great rocker to wrap up: Catching On.

For the above and the remaining tracks, you can check out the playlist below.

Trace was co-produced by Brian Paulson and Son Volt. Paulson is best known for his work with Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk and Wilco. He also produced Son Volt’s sophomore album Straightaways from April 1997. Other musicians on Trace include Craig Krampf (drums on Live Free), Dan Newton (accordion on Too Early) and Marc Perlman (bass on Mystifies Me).

While Trace only reached no. 166 on the Billboard 200, the album was well-received by music critics. In this context, Wikipedia highlights AllMusic’s review, which stated, “Throughout Son Volt’s debut, Trace, the group reworks classic honky tonk and rock & roll, adding a desperate, determined edge to their performances.” AmericanaUK characterized the album as “a graceful masterpiece, a positive turning of the page for Farrar, and a gentle reminder of the power and long-lasting influence of Uncle Tupelo.” The album also placed within the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 1995 critics’ list.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, which means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. My picks for this week include melodic punk, pop country, indie rock and some contemporary reggae. All tunes appear on releases that came out yesterday (August 6).

Fake Names/It Will Take a Lifetime

Fake Names are a supergroup featuring members from Swedish and American punk bands I’m not familiar with. According to this review in Broadway World, the line-up includes guitarists Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), lead vocalist Dennis Lyxzén (Refused, International Noise Conspiracy, INVSN) and bassist Johnny Temple (Girls Against Boys, Soulside). In May 2020, Fake Names released their eponymous debut album. It Will Take a Lifetime is the opener of their new self-titled EP. The tune is credited to all four members. The recording also includes guest drummer Brendan Canty (Rites of Spring, Fugazi). I rarely listen to punk but find this pretty accessible. Obviously, it’s not hardcore, which isn’t my cup of tea, plus it’s pretty melodic!

Allison Ponthier/Cowboy

Allison Ponthier is a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York, who originally hails from the Dallas area. This feature in Atwood Magazine describes her music as “equal parts Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Phoebe Bridgers.” Cowboy is from Ponthier’s debut EP Faking My Own Death. The tune first appeared in March as her debut single. “”Cowboy” is the story of when I moved from my hometown in Texas to Brooklyn and ended up coming out as a queer person,” Ponthier explained to Atwood Magazine. “I was always trying to run away from different aspects of myself, and I guess it was time to live my truth as a gay cowboy.” According to the publication, “Ponthier is quickly asserting herself as one of 2021’s freshest and most exciting new singer/ songwriters.” While I know way too little about her music to comment on the statement, I find Cowboy pretty intriguing.

Laura Stevenson/Continental Divide

Laura Stevenson is a folk and indie rock-oriented singer-songwriter from Long Island, New York. According to her Apple Music artist profile, Stevenson is the granddaughter of Harry Simeone, an arranger and conductor who was co-credited with writing the Christmas classic “Little Drummer Boy.” Simeone’s wife, Margaret McCravy, sang for Benny Goodman’s Orchestra in the 1930s under the name Margaret McCrae. By her late teens, Stevenson was already writing her own songs and performing locally when she befriended members of band the Arrogant Sons of Bitches. They temporarily disbanded in 2004, and when lead singer Jeff Rosenstock quickly formed the ska-punk collective Bomb the Music Industry!, Stevenson was enlisted as keyboard player. She continued to play solo shows during her time with the group, with members often contributing to her backing band. Credited as Laura Stevenson & the Cans, she made her solo recording debut in 2009 on a split EP with BTMI, adding the three-track “Holy Ghost!” later the same year. Her full-length debut, A Record, followed on Asian Man Records in 2010 and included collaborations with Rosenstock. Fast-forward 11 years to Stevensons’ new and self-titled sixth album, for which she wrote all tracks. Here’s Continental Divide – check out that great warm sound – very nice!

Sizzla/On a High

When being asked about reggae music, I’m quick to say I dig it because it’s groovy and makes you want to move. The truth is I mostly base this on Bob Marley, the only reggae artist I’ve explored beyond just a song or two. Perhaps tellingly, I had not heard of Sizzla (born Miguel Orlando Collins), who according to Wikipedia is “one of the most commercially and critically successful contemporary reggae artists.” Well, if they say so. Sizzla was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1995, he met Jamaican record producer Philip “Fatis” Burrell, who produced his debut album Burning Up that appeared in September of the same year. Sizzla is a prolific recording artist who has since released more than 50 additional albums, frequently several during the same year. On a High, written by Collins, is the title track of Sizzla’s new album. Feel free to groove along!

Sources: Wikipedia; Broadway World; Atwood Magazine; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week came and flew by. I can’t believe we are already in June, and the official beginning of summer (June 20) is just two weeks away. As usual, Saturday means taking a look at newly released music. All featured songs are on albums that came out yesterday (June 4).

This collection leads with a pop rock band from down under that initially was formed in 1985, reemerged in December 2019, and is now out with their first new studio album in 11 years. There is also new music by a rock band from New Jersey and, no, it’s not Bon Jovi, as well as a singer-songwriter of Nigerian heritage and a psychedelic folk rock band, both based in Nashville.

Crowded House/Start of Something

New music by Crowded House came as a surprise to me, especially since I had associated Neil Finn with Fleetwood Mac. Of course, he officially joined the band together with former Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell in April 2018 after the firing of Lindsey Buckingham. Finn and Campbell subsequently went on tour with the Mac for their extensive 2018-2019 tour of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Since the tour ended in November 2019, Fleetwood Mac have been in limbo. Mike Campbell went on to focus on his own band The Dirty Knobs and released their debut album in November 2020. And Finn decided to revive Crowded House, the Australian pop rock band he co-founded in Melbourne in 1985. After four studio albums the group broke up in June 1996. Following two reunions and two additional albums, Crowded House were on hiatus as of late 2016. In December 2019, Finn announced a new line-up that apart from him includes the band’s former producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), original co-founder Nick Seymour (bass), as well as Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (drums, guitar). Start of Something, co-written by Liam Finn and Neil Finn, is a track off Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House’s new album, their first since Intriguer from June 2010.

Latewaves/Enough Is Enough

Latewaves are a rock band from Asbury Park, N.J. According to their website, they were formed in 2016 and include Mike Pellegrino (guitars, vocals), Howie Cohen (bass, vocals) and Shawna Grabowski (drums). In August 2017, they released Face Down, the lead single of their debut EP Partied Out that appeared the following month. Latewaves describe their sound as “full of rage and attitude” and “full of explosive, guitar driven riffs.” Based on what I’ve heard thus far, I think that’s a fair characterization. I would also add their songs are relatively melodic. In that sense, they remind me a bit of Green Day. Here’s Enough Is Enough, a tune from their new and first full-length album Hell to Pay. The song is credited to all three members of the band.

Joy Oladokun/Someone That I Used to Be

Joy Oladokun is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who grew up in Casa Grande, Ariz. Both of her parents came to the U.S. as immigrants from Nigeria. According to her profile on Apple Music, Oladokun’s music fuses the deep emotions and confessional nature of classic singer/songwriters with music that encompasses contemporary folk, R&B, and pop…While she has been playing guitar since childhood, it wasn’t until 2015 that Oladokun quit her job and took a shot at realizing her dream of making music full-time. She released a solo acoustic EP, Cathedrals, that year and followed it up with 2016’s Carry, a full-band effort that included the single “Shelter,” which introduced her to a wider online audience...Full of personal, emotionally powerful songs, Carry helped Oladokun expand her audience, and she followed it up with touring in the United States and the United Kingdom. Someone That I Used to Be is the opener of Oladokun’s new and third studio album In Defense of My Own Happiness. I like it!

Sun Seeker/Gettin’ Tired

Sun Seeker are a psychedelic folk rock band from Nashville. Initially formed as a quartet of friends who had known each other from middle school, the band’s current line features Alex Benick (guitar, vocals), Asher Horton (bass guitar), and Ben Parks (drums), according to their website. Their Apple Music profile notes the band’s debut single appeared in 2016 after they had been signed by Third Man. The first EP Biddeford was released in the summer of the following year. Gettin’ Tired, co-written by Benick, Horton and Park, is a tune from Sun Seeker’s first full-length album A Sunrise in a Basement. I find this quite catchy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Latewaves website; Apple Music; Sun Seeker website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: S.T.S./Da Kummt Die Sunn

For this one, I have to give a shoutout to my fellow German blogger sori1982, who currently resides in Austria and recently brought to my attention this amazing cover of Here Comes the Sun, performed in German Austrian style.

I’m sure many of Sori’s visitors have heard this already, but at least in my case, I can say the clip she called out at the time didn’t work on my end – likely due to silly YouTube legal restrictions. So for the benefit of North American and perhaps other ex-European audiences, I hope this will do the trick!

S.T.S., which stands for Steinbäcker, Timischl & Schiffkowitz, were an Austrian trio from Graz, the second largest city in Austria. They were founded in 1975 by Gert Steinbäcker, Günter Timischl and Schiffkowitz (Helmut Röhrling). Between 1981 and 2007, S.T.S. released 11 albums. At first, half of their lyrics were written in English before they settled on the Austrian dialect spoken in the southeast region of Styria. In July 2014, the trio officially called it quits, citing health issues for Timischl.

Da kummt die Sunn appeared as a single in 1981. Apart from beautiful harmony singing, I love how S.T.S. ingeniously translated George Harrison’s original lyrics to the Styrian dialect. This gives it a unique charm. Tell me this doesn’t sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Here Comes the Spring

While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.

The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun

I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.

Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky

Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now

This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.

Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring

While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!

Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime

Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!

The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring

Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s New installment.

Sources: Google; Wikipedia; Judy Collins website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube