Happy St. Paddy’s Day Weekend!

With S. Paddy’s Day weekend being underway, it felt right to post this clip of Fisherman’s Blues by British-Irish folk rockers The Waterboys. Apparently, the footage was captured during a 2007 gig in Germany as part of the long-running TV music show Rockpalast.

Co-written by founding member Mike Scott (vocals, guitar, piano) and Steve Wickham (fiddle, mandolin), who joined The Waterboys in 1985, Fisherman’s Blues is the title track of the band’s fourth studio album released in October 1988. Scott and Wickham continue to be part of the present line-up, which has seen many changes since the band was formed in 1983.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

John Fogerty & ZZ Top Bring Blues & Bayous Tour To Holmdel, NJ

Yesterday evening, it was finally time for John Fogerty and ZZ Top at PNC Bank Arts Center. I’ve been fortunate to see a number of great shows there over the past few years and have come to like this amphitheater-style venue in Holmdel, NJ. The Allman Brothers Band, Santana and Steve Winwood are a few of the concerts that come to mind. Of course, one of the potential caveats with outdoor venues is the weather, and things started off a bit dicey on that front.

While driving to PNC, I was blasting Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain from my car stereo, literally living the song: seeing the rain, coming down on a sunny day – at times pretty heavily! I arrived right in the middle of an early evening thunderstorm with lots of lightning and thunder, and it wasn’t hard to imagine to see a bad moon rising. But I had waited for Fogerty for some 40 years and was determined not to allow some rain to get into the way. Luckily, the thunderstorm dissipated before the show got underway and I could ride it out in my car in the parking lot.

Blues & Bayous Tour

ZZ Top started the main part of the evening. There was an opening act I missed due to surprisingly long lines to enter the facility – the first time I ever recall encountering that at PNC. The Texan rockers’ set was identical to the song lineup they played during the tour opener in Atlantic City the night before, mostly drawing from their ’70s albums and 1983’s Eliminator, the band’s most commercially successful release. That was the record that first brought ZZ Top on my radar screen, long before I listened to their first three albums, which I now generally like better than their ’80s recordings.

As usual, I didn’t record any videos with one exception, so I’m relying on YouTube clips from previous live shows. To make it as similar as possible, I tried to find the most recent footage with an acceptable quality. I realize this approach not 100% ideal, but for the most part I believe it captures the overall feel of the show.

Things kicked off with Got Me Under Pressure from Eliminator followed by a nice cover of I Thank You, first recorded by Sam & Dave in 1968 – it’s hardly impossible to ever go wrong with a Stax tune, at least in my book! Next up was Waitin’ For The Bus, one of my favorite ZZ Top tunes. It is the opener of their third studio album Tres Hombres from July 1973. Unlike most other original tunes that are credited to all three members, only guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill share credits for this song. ZZ Top combined it with Jesus Left Chicago, another track from the same album. Here’s a nice clip from Bonnaroo 2013 where they did the same.

Another song I’d like to highlight is I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide. It is from Degüello, ZZ Top’s sixth studio release from November 1979. One thing I thought was fun to watch was Gibbons and Hill trading guitar and bass parts toward the end of the song.

Close to the end of the regular set came Sharp Dressed Man. The track, which is also from the Eliminator album, remains a classic to this day despite its noticeable ’80s sound. Surprisingly to me, when it came out in 1983, it only reached no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it did better, peaking at no. 8 on the singles chart.

The encore was reserved for two other ZZ Top classics: La Grange from Tres Hombres and Tush, which in my opinion perhaps is the ultimate blues rocker – at least the studio version, on which the band sounds super-tight and just rocks! Tush is the closer of Fandago!, the follow-on album to Tres Hombres, which came out in April 1975.

ZZ Top certainly delivered a solid performance. All three of them are top-notch musicians, who have played together forever. The one thing I thought was missing a bit was joy and spontaneity. At times, the performance felt like a routine, a show they had done a million times – which undoubtedly must be true for most of the songs they played.

After a 15- to 20-minute intermission, John Fogerty and his band got on stage. Not only did they play a fantastic set, though no encore, but in marked contrast to ZZ Top, you could see these guys had fun, especially Fogerty. He was upbeat in his announcements and moved around the stage quite a bit, projecting an almost youthful joy of playing that reminded me a bit of Paul McCartney.

John and Shane Fogerty
John Fogerty with his son Shane Fogerty who plays guitar and his backing band

The set featured mostly featured classics from all CCR albums, except the last one, Mardi Gras, and tunes from Fogerty’s excellent 1985 solo record Centerfield. It also included a new tune Fogerty had recorded with Gibbons leading up to the tour, and a few covers. Unlike ZZ Top, Fogerty made a few variations to the set he played during the tour opener in Atlantic City.

The first track I’d like to highlight is Rock And Roll Girls from the Centerfield album that was released in January 1985. I’ve always liked this tune. One of the distinct features last night was a great Clarence Clemons-style solo by young saxophone dynamo Nathan Collins, giving the tune a nice Bruce Springsteen  vibe. According to his blog on John Fogerty’s official website, he will be a senior at the University of Southern California in the Popular Music Performance program – way to go! The quality of the following clip isn’t great, but it’s the only recent version I could find that features the sax part.

Who’ll Stop The Rain appeared on Cosmo’s Factory, CCR’s fifth studio album from July 1970. Fogerty introduced it by pointing out he was playing the tune with the same Rickenbacker guitar he had used at Woodstock – a 325 Sunburst from 1969. How cool is that! And, as has been reported by Rolling Stone and other entertainment media, Fogerty actually gave away that guitar in 1972/73 and it was “lost” for some 44 years, until his wife Julie was able to recover it in 2016 after an extensive search and gave it to John as a Christmas present that year – wow!

Apart from showing an upbeat spirit throughout the night, Fogerty also made it very clear he’s a proud dad. In fact, one of the members of his backup band is his son Shane Fogerty, who did a nice job on guitar, frequently trading solos with his father. The gig also featured another son, Tyler Fogerty, who like his brother is a musician playing guitar and singing. In fact, in 2012, the two brothers were among the co-founding members of Hearty Har in Los Angeles, which describe themselves as a psychedelic rock band. Tyler shared vocals on a few covers, one of which was Good Golly, Miss Molly, the rock & roll classic that first was made famous by Little Richard in 1958.

The next song I’d like to highlight is Holy Grail, Fogerty’s new song he had recorded with Gibbons leading up to the tour. It’s got a nice La Grange groove to it. It’s the only tune I recorded myself, since I figured it might be tough to find it on YouTube. Fogerty and Gibbons had only performed it live once before during the tour opener the night before. That song and a cover of the Moon Martin tune Bad Case Of Loving You, which they also played together, was when Gibbons seemed to be most engaged.

Another standout of the show was a string of New Orleans songs, during which the band truly shined. Here’s New Orleans, a great tune co-written by Frank Guida and Joseph Royster for Gary U.S. Bonds, who recorded it in 1960. The following clip nicely captures last night’s groove, though it’s a slightly different band. The guy on the bass who is visibly having a ball is producer Don Was.

I could go on and on, but this post is already getting very long. So the last song I’d like to highlight is one of my all-time favorite CCR tunes, Have You Ever Seen The Rain. They recorded it for their sixth studio album Pendulum released in December 1970. It also appeared separately and became the band’s eighth gold-selling single. In another dad moment, Fogerty dedicated the tune to his 16-year-old daughter Kelsy Cameron Fogerty. Sure, this wasn’t the first time he did that, but it still felt genuine.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the other musicians in Fogerty’s band: Kenny Aronoff (drums), Bob Malone (keyboards), James LoMenzo (bass) and Devon Pangle (guitar). In addition to Collins, the horn section includes two other very talented young musicians: Steve Robinson (trombone) and Ethan Chilton (trumpet). Each of them also has a blog on Fogerty’s website. The fact that John Fogerty gives these young musicians this great opportunity for exposure tells me this man not only has soul but also is a true class act.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; Rolling Stone; Hearty Har website; John Fogerty Facebook page and official website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Brandi Carlile/The Joke

Boy am I out of touch when it comes to music by contemporary artists! I just listened to an episode of the NPR program All Songs Considered called “The Year In Music 2017.” For close to 1.5 hours, the hosts cheerfully discussed new music released during 2017 by artists I had never heard of for the most part. Most of the music wasn’t my cup of tea, but the track above by Brandi Carlile really blew me away. It once again illustrates you ignore contemporary artists at your own risk!

According to Wikipedia, Carlile is an American folk rock and Americana singer-songwriter, who released her eponymous debut album in 2005. In the meantime, she’s put out four additional records and has a new one scheduled for February 2018, which is called By The Way, I Forgive You. The above track The Joke is from the new album and was released as a single last month. This incredibly powerful tune encourages me to further explore this artist.

Sources: Wikipedia, Brandi Carlile website, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Lumineers/Cleopatra

The folk-rock trio’s sophomore album proves staying power in the wake of gaining overnight fame

Until a few days ago, Ho Hey was the only song I had ever heard from The Lumineers. The catchy tune was the lead single from their eponymous 2012 debut album, which brought them overnight fame and two Grammy nominations. On Thursday night, they played their 13th and last gig opening for U2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the Irish rock band’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour 2017. I liked what I heard, so I decided to take a closer look at this Americana trio from Denver.

The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), who have been writing music and playing together since 2005. Cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek joined them in 2010. During live performances the trio is supported by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Byron Isaacs (bass). Cleopatra is the band’s most recent studio album, which was released in April 2016.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059
The Lumineers (from left): Neyla Pekarek, Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz.

According to band’s website,  the record “is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock.” The band had tried to write new music while being on the road, but realized touring almost 300 days a year since 2013 made that impossible. “It was such overkill for what we needed.” Schultz told Rolling Stone last April. “What we quickly realized is it would be just as useful to have our iPhones with the voice memo on it.”

Apparently, The Lumineers had become wary about the wide popularity their debut album had brought them and wanted to prove they have staying power while remaining true to themselves. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally,” says Schultz on the band’s website. “Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”

The album opens with Sleep On the Floor, written by Schultz and Fraites who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s additional 10 tunes. The song has a nice dynamic, starting off with Schultz’s vocals and guitar and Fraites’ sparingly played drums, picking up in the middle, and slowing down again toward the end. It became the album’s fourth single in November 2016.

Next up is Ophelia, which was the record’s lead single released in February 2016. With “Oh, Ophelia” in its chorus, it is a bit reminiscent of Ho Hey. While the song received mixed reception from critics, the public evidently liked it. The tune reached the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s 2016 year-end charts for alternative songs and rock airplay songs.

The album’s title track was co-written with Simone Felice, formerly a member of the Felice Brothers, a folk-rock band that has inspired The Lumineers. He also produced Cleopatra. The tune became the record’s second single in March 2016.

Another track I’d like to call out is Angela, which is also a co-write with Felice, and the album’s third single released in April 2016. Together with Sleep On the Floor, it’s my favorite tune on the record. Here is a nice clip of a live performance.

Cleopatra is a convincing sophomore album from a band that after years of making music in obscurity quickly rose to stardom and had to prove they are more than a one-time phenomenon. Even in the absence of another anthem like Ho Hey, the record was generally well received by critics and performed strongly in the charts. In the U.S., the album reached the top of the Billboard 200, even outperforming its predecessor that peaked at no. 2. It also hit no. 1 on the UK Official Charts and the Canadian Albums Chart.

As for his reaction when U2 invited The Lumineers to open for them, Schultz told Rolling Stone last month, “We said yes quickly, and I think the reason was because we had said no to at least two bands that are all-time amazing bands, and at the time we were like, ‘We’d rather play to 200 people than 20,000 or 40,000, because those [200] people will be listening to us.’ At the time, that was our mantra, that made sense. But I look back and I would have loved to be around those bands and seen … there’s something about being around that energy, and I think that authenticity, that’s really a privilege to be around.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Lumineers website, Rolling Stone, YouTube