Fistful of Mercy are a supergroup founded by three singer-songwriters in February 2010: Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison. According to Wikipedia, it sounds like the band’s formation happened pretty spontaneously. Arthur had asked his friend Harper to accompany him in the studio. In turn, Harper who had met Harrison at a skate park in Santa Monica, suggested that he join the two. Apparently, that’s exactly what happened, and when the three met at Carriage House studio in L.A., they immediately clicked.
Within a short period of time, Harper (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar), Arthur (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) and Harrison (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) co-wrote and recorded nine acoustic tracks. Subsequently, Harrison reached out to longtime session drummer Jim Keltner to overdub percussion. In addition, Jessy Greene was brought in to contribute violin.
The result was As I Call You Down, a beautiful album released in October 2010 under the name of Fistful of Mercy. I had never heard of it or the band until last Friday when I featured Harper in my latest Best of What’s Newinstallment and read up on him a little. Harper’s, Arthur’s and Harrison’s three-part harmony vocals sound great and sometimes remind me of Crosby, Stills & Nash, other times of The Beatles.
While Fistful of Mercy played a series of concerts leading up to and following the release of the album, it doesn’t look like As I Call You Down charted or received much recognition otherwise. With the possible exception of fans of Harper, Arthur and Harrison, I suspect this is a largely obscure record. Well, it may not be widely known, but it sure as heck sounds beautiful to me. Let’s get to some music!
I’d like to kick things off with the opener In Vain or True. Like all of the album’s other eight tracks, the tune is credited to Arthur, Harper and Harrison.
Father’s Son couldn’t be more appropriately titled. When Dhani Harrison starts singing, he really reminds me of this dad. I also dig the bluesy vibe of this track. Check it out.
Here’s the band’s namesake, another great sounding tune.
Let’s mix things up a little with 30 Bones, a beautiful instrumental.
The last tune I’d like to call out is With Whom You Belong, the final track on the “regular” version of the album. There’s an iTunes edition that has live versions of Fistful of Mercy and In Vain or True as bonus tracks. Here’s the official video. Just like the album, it has a charming low key feel to it.
Fistful of Mercy never officially dissolved. In fact, Harper told the Los Angeles Times in August 2016 he, Arthur and Harrison have discussed making additional music. “I think about those songs all the time,” he noted. “My main frustration with Fistful of Mercy is not knowing when the three of us are gonna have the same opening at the same time to get back to the music that’s waiting in the ether for us. We have an email chain that’s going back and forth; we know it’s something we’ve got to do.”
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
I can’t believe it’s October. What happened to summer? Perhaps on the upside, if time continues to race at its current pace, it also means this year will be over soon and we’re into 2021, which will hopefully bring better times. While it remains uncertain when live concerts can safely resume and some artists have delayed releasing new material, it’s great to see decent new music continues to come out.
As more frequent visitors of the blog know, my favorite music decades are the ’60s and the ’70s. As such, I’ve generally given up on what’s in the mainstream charts these days. Yet, in March this year, rather than continuing to complain about generic and soulless music populating the charts, I decided to pay more attention to new music that’s not in the charts, even if it’s not by artists I usually listen to, and to start the weekly recurring feature Best of What’s New. While finding new music I dig forces me to do some detective work, it’s been pretty rewarding, so I have every intention to continue this quest.
This brings me to the latest slate of songs. It’s a diverse set, featuring great music by an African American singer-songwriter reminiscent of a ’60s folk protest song, rich soul by a dynamite husband and wife duo, a delicious Louisiana music gumbo by a New Orleans-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and folk rock by a prolific Canadian artist. Like is oftentimes the case in this series, I had not heard of any of these artists before. Let’s get to it!
Tré Burt/Under the Devil’s Knee (featuring Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Sunny War)
Tré Burt is a Sacramento-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, Burt was drawn to music from an early age. He was raised with his grandfather’s passion for soul music, like the Temptations, Nina Simone, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. A school project on Woody Guthrie opened his eyes to the power of folk songwriting. And he discovered one of his songwriting heroes, Neil Young, through his older brother, Joey. In 2018…[he] self-released his debut album, Caught It From the Rye. The album, which showcases Burt’s literary songwriting and lo-fi, rootsy aesthetic, landed him a handful tour dates and some positive press, but Burt had no idea just how far it would get him: to a spot on the roster at John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. Burt’s first work appearing on Oh Boy is the single Under the Devil’s Knee. Released on September 22, it’s a powerful tune about the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner and the Black Lives Matter movement. To me it has a ’60s protest song vibe. It almost feels like looking at a modern day Richie Havens. Check it out!
The War and Treaty/Little Boy Blue
The War and Treaty is a husband and wife duo of Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Blount. Apple Music describes their style as impassioned soul music that draws on traditional folk, country, R&B, and spirituals, often combining them all. Initially known as Trotter & Blount, they released their debut album Love Affair under that name in 2016. This was followed by the EP Down to the River in July 2017, their first music appearing as The War and Treaty. Healing Tide, the first full-fledged studio album under the current moniker, came out in August 2018. The record, which featured a guest appearance of Emmylou Harris, was well received and reached no. 11 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Albums and no. 26 on the Independent Albums charts. Blount first became prominent in 1993, when she performed a duet with Lauryn Hill in the comedy picture Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. The following year, she released her solo debut album Natural Thing. Little Boy Blue is a terrific soul song from Hearts Town, the second full-length album by The War and Treaty that appeared on September 25.
Ric Robertson/Louisiana Love Thing
Ric Robertson is a New Orleans-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who according to his websitesynthesizes the full canon of American music—New Orleans jazz, classic American pop songsmiths, country, modern funk, swampy blues, and R&B to name a few—and births it into something out of this world…Robertson conjures this musical pedigree into a cohesive potion, a finely-tuned sonic concoction with just enough rock n’ roll to kill, just enough blues to keep you alive, and just enough country to make you hold on to love. It’s stirred by Robertson’s distinct voice: sweet, enticing, and contoured with the finely subtle grit of Mississippi River silt and the warmth of vintage vinyl. Robertson’s debut album The Fool, The Friend was released in June 2018. A review in The Big Takeover characterized it as “a fresh and authentic blend of swampy blues, rock and country” and called Robertson “a force to be reckoned with.” While I haven’t listened to that album yet, I agree based on Robertson’s new tune Louisiana Love Thing. It’s from his new EP Strange World that came out on September 25. That’s one delicious gumbo!
Daniel Romano/Joys Too Often Hollow
Wikipedia describes Daniel Romano (born Daniel Travis Romano in 1985) as a Canadian musician, poet and visual artist based out of his hometown of Welland, Ontario. He is primarily known as a solo artist, though he is also a member of [Canadian indie rock band]Attack in Black and has collaborated with [fellow Canadian music artists]Julie Doiron and Frederick Squire. He has also produced and performed with City and Colour, the recording project of Dallas Green[another Canadian music artist]…and is a partner in his own independent record label, You’ve Changed Records. Romano is a prolific artist. His solo debut Workin’ for the Music Man appeared in 2010. He has since released 11 additional solo records, nine collaboration albums and two EPs. An incredible 10 of these releases all appeared this year, including How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, his fourth 2020 album with his backing band Outfit. Here’s Joys Too Often Hollow, a nice folk rocker from that album released on September 18.
Sources: Wikipedia; Tré Burt website; Apple Music; Ric Robertson website; The Big Takeover; YouTube
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Another weekend brings another slate of new music. This installment of Best of What’s New features a nice mix of big name and lesser known artists. Genres include country-oriented rock, folk, indie rock and folk rock. Let’s get to it!
Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles/Do What You Can
Jon Bon Jovi and country band Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles joined forces for an updated version of Do What You Can, a tune from Bon Jovi’s 15th studio album 2020 scheduled for October 2. Written during the early days of COVID-19, initially, the song only included the first verse and the chorus. Jon Bon Jovi invited fans via social media to contribute lyrics, essentially asking them to tell their own pandemic stories. He first revealed an acoustic version of the complete song during the Jersey4Jersey benefit online concert. The tune was subsequently released as a single on July 23. “As I finished the mix and did the video, I said, ‘Boy, this song would have such crossover potential’, Bon Jovi toldRolling Stone. “It makes you feel good and the message is just right on at this time that when you can’t do what you do, do what you can,” added Nettles during a recent Facebook chat. Do What You Can very much has the same feel of the artists’ previous collaboration Who Says You Can’t Go Home from 2006. Both tunes remind me of The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite John Mellencamp albums from 1987.
Jeff Tweedy/Love Is the King
American songwriter, musician and record producer Jeff Tweedy is best known as vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock band Wilco, founded in 1994 by former members of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country group, which Tweedy co-founded as well. Between these two bands and his solo efforts, Tweedy has released close to 20 albums over the past 30 years. Love Is King is the title track of his fourth solo album that is set to come out on October 23. As reported by Pitchfork, Tweedy announced the tune on September 15, together with a second track of the forthcoming album, Guess Again. “At the beginning of the lockdown I started writing country songs to console myself,” he pointed out in an accompanying statement. “Folk and country type forms being the shapes that come most easily to me in a comforting way. “Guess Again” is a good example of the success I was having at pushing the world away, counting my blessings—taking stock in my good fortune to have love in my life. A few weeks later things began to sound like “Love Is the King”—a little more frayed around the edges with a lot more fear creeping in. Still hopeful but definitely discovering the limits of my own ability to self soothe.”
Elizabeth Cook/Perfect Girls of Pop
Elizabeth Cook is an American country singer-songwriter who has been an active recording artist since 2000. Originally, she hails from Wildwood, Fla. where she was born as the youngest of 12 children. Cook already joined her parents on stage at the age of 4. Her mother Joyce was a mandolin and guitar played and her dad Thomas played upright bass, which he had learned while serving time in an Atlanta prison for illicit production of high-proof distilled spirits. Cook holds the distinction of having performed more than 400 times on the Grand Ole Opry since her March 2000 debut, the most appearances to date by a non-member. Her studio debut The Blue Album came out in November 2000. Perfect Girls of Pop is a track from her seventh and most recent album Aftermath released on September 11. It’s catchy tune that sounds much more like indie pop rock than country.
Native Harrow/Carry On
Native Harrow are a folk rock duo from Eastern Pennsylvania, comprised of Devin Tuel (lead vocals, guitar) and her partner Stephen Harms (bass, drums, keyboards, guitar). Unfortunately, publicly available information on them is limited and the following is based on this Facebookpiece and a review by Staccatofy. Carry On is a beautiful tune from Native Harrow’s fourth studio album Closeness, which came out on August 21. Two things about this song grabbed me right away: The warm sound, especially the keyboard, and the vocals by Tuel, who apparently is a classically trained singer. I also think the gospel style choir in the last third of the track is a perfect fit to what essentially is a gospel song. Tuel and Harms recorded the album’s 10 tunes at a Chicago studio together with drummer and engineer Alex Hall over the course of only two 3-day sessions in late December 2019 and early January 2020. The basic tracks were captured live in studio with Tuel, Harms and Hall on vocals/guitar, bass and drums, respectively. The album follows their 2019 release Happier Now.
Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; Facebook; Staccatofy; YouTube
Inspired by Hans Postcard’s fun 2020 album draft, where 10 participants pick albums in 10 rounds for a total of 100, I decided to put together my list of 10 albums I would take on a desert island. Essentially, I already came up with such a collection in May 2018, but some things have changed in the meantime and this list features five new picks, including three different artists.
While each of the albums are longtime favorites, I still can’t exclude the possibility that my picks might be different in a month or two. Since I couldn’t figure out how to rank my selections, I ingeniously decided to put them in chronological order. Conveniently, this means kicking things off with my favorite band of all time.
The Beatles/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 1967)
While I dig all albums by the Fab Four, on most days, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is my favorite. The innovative use of recording technology, the cover art and the combination of different music styles like vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde and traditional Indian music with pop and rock make Sgt. Pepper a true masterpiece. The first album after The Beatles had stopped touring was influenced by The Beach Boys’Pet Sounds, which Brian Wilson had created in response to Revolver, as well as Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention. Had it not been because of silly pressure from EMI to issue Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane as a single, Sgt. Pepper hands-down would have been the strongest Beatles album. Still, with tunes like the title track, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Within You Without You and the magnificent A Day in the Life, there’s lots of great music.
Carole King/Tapestry (February 1971)
Carole King’sTapestry perhaps is the ultimate singer-songwriter album. Her sophomore release from 1971 featured 10 new tunes and two reinterpretations of songs King had written together with her former husband and lyricist Jerry Goffin in the ’60s. Like many of their other songs, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman became hits, in these cases by The Shirelles and Aretha Franklin, respectively. There’s really no weak tune on Tapestry and I could have selected any. It’s Too Late has always been one of my favorites.
The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers (April 1971)
I know many fans of The Rolling Stones consider Exile on Main St. or Some Girls as their best albums. While I can’t claim to know all of their records in detail, my favorite is Sticky Fingers. This was the second full-length record with Mick Taylor who had replaced Brian Jones in June 1969. Between Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch, Sister Morphine and Dead Flowers, there are so many classics on this album. I just think the Stones never sounded better. And interestingly, it’s the country-influenced Dead Flowers that has become one of my favorite Stones tunes. I just love the guitar work!
Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On (May 1971)
I think Marvin Gaye had one of the most beautiful soulful voices I know. This artist was a smooth operator, even when he sang about serious issues like on this album. …(Oh, crime is increasin’) Oh, woo/Trigger happy policin’/panic is spreadin’/God knows where we’re headin’/Oh baby/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand…It’s remarkable these lyrics were written almost 50 years, yet they sound frighteningly relevant in America in the year 2020.
Neil Young/Harvest (February 1972)
I dig a good number of Neil Young songs and feel his first compilation Decade is one of the best greatest hits collections I can think of. When it comes to his albums, my favorites are Harvest from 1972 and Harvest Moon from 1992. While I think the title track of the latter is among Young’s best tunes, I have a slight preference for Harvest from an overall album perspective. Featuring David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt as guests, it became Young’s most successful record and the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1972 – in part thanks to Heart of Gold, which remains Young’s only no. 1 song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 to this day. There are many other gems on the record, including The Needle and the Damage Done.
Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 1972)
I don’t listen to hard rock a lot these days, but when I do, Deep Purple remain my favorite choice, especially their sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972. I’ve always thought one of the cool things about this band are the equal roles the guitar and the keyboards play as solo instruments. Jon Lord was a true master of the Hammond organ who skillfully blended blues, hard rock and jazz with elements of classical music. Lazy is one of the tracks on which Lord shines in particular.
Pink Floyd/The Dark Side of the Moon (March 1973)
First, I was going to pick Meddle, Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971. With the great Echoes, it foreshadowed the band’s classic mid-’70s sound on The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. All three albums are among my favorite Floyd records. Eventually, I settled on The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a perfect album for headphones, and I’ve listened to it countless times at night in bed. The sound is just phenomenal. One of the standout tracks is The Great Gig In the Sky and the amazing vocal performance by British singer Clare Torry.
Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run (August 1975)
Bruce Springsteen entered my radar screen in 1984 with the Born in the U.S.A. album. While I’m still fond of that record, I subsequently explored and came to appreciate his earlier work. To me, Born to Run turned out to be Springsteen’s Mount Rushmore. After two albums that were critically acclaimed but not successful from a commercial perspective, he really needed a hit. Born to Run would turn out to be exactly that and catapult Springsteen to fame beyond the U.S. Apart from the title song, my favorite tracks on the album include Thunder Road, Backstreets, Jungleland and the beautiful soul-oriented Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
Stevie Wonder/Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976)
Stevie Wonder has been one of my favorite artists for 40 years. I dig many of his songs starting from when he was known as Little Stevie Wonder. But it’s his classic period in the ’70s I like the most, especially the albums Talking Book (October 1972), Innervisions (August 1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976). The latter became the best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of Wonder’s long career. Here’s his beautiful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington who had passed away in May 1974.
Steely Dan/Aja (September 1977)
I’m wrapping up this list with Steely Dan. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen made many great records, but it’s this gem from September 1977 that’s my favorite: Aja. As usual, Becker and Fagen assembled top-notch session musicians to record the album. There were also prominent guests, including Michael McDonald and Timothy B. Schmit. All of the tracks on this album are great. Deacon Blues is my favorite Steely Dan song, but since I previously featured it more than once, I’m going with the closer Josie.
It’s been more than two months since my last installment of this recurring music history feature. And while I’ve already covered 53 different dates since I started the series in 2016, this didn’t include August 8. As always, the idea here is to highlight select events based on my music preferences, not to provide a full listing.
1964: Bob Dylan released his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Th title was appropriate, since the record marked a departure from the more socially conscious songs on predecessor The Times They Are A-Changin’ that had appeared seven months earlier in January 1964. Some critics were quick to complain Dylan was selling out to fame. But Robert Zimmerman rarely seems to care much what others think about his music. Here’s My Back Pages. The tune has been covered by various other artists, including The Byrds, Ramones and Steve Earle, to name a few.
1969: An ordinary pedestrian crossing in London’s City of Westminster inner borough would never be same after it became part of the iconic cover photo of Abbey Road, the actual final studio album by The Beatles from September 1969, even though it was released prior to their official final record Let It Be. The famous shot was taken by Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan, who was then a freelancer. For any photographers, he used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds, according to The Beatles Bible. Following the shoot, Paul McCartney reviewed the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. After the band’s breakup, Mcmillan also worked with John Lennon and Yoko Ono for several years. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that album: George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun.
1970: The third studio album by Blood, Sweat & Tears, ingeniously titled Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, following its release in June that year. After the success of their preceding eponymous second album from December 1968, which also topped the U.S. charts, the record had been widely anticipated. Here’s Lucretia Mac Evil, a great tune written by the band’s lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. The song, which was also released separately as a single, was one of just a handful of original tracks on the album, which mostly included cover versions of tunes from artists like James Taylor, The Rolling Stones and Traffic – apparently part of the reason why it received lukewarm reviews.
1987: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the second single off U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree, topped the Billboard Hot 100, marking the Irish rock band’s second no. 1 song in the U.S. after the record’s lead single With Or Without You. The Joshua Tree, which also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, catapulted U2 to international superstardom. Like all other tracks on album, the lyrics of the tune were written by Bono, while the music was credited to U2. Here’s the official video filmed in Las Vegas in April 1987 after the band’s first show in the city.
Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Rock; The Beatles Bible; Billboard; YouTube
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Another Friday calls for another installment of Best of What’s New. This week, I’m mostly featuring new music by long established artists like Robert Plant, Alanis Morissette and The Jayhawks. There’s also Americana singer-songwriter Ryan Gustafson, who isn’t a newcomer either, though not exactly a household name yet. Rounding out this post are LadyCouch, an exciting, still relatively young soul-oriented band from Nashville. Let’s get to it.
Robert Plant/Charlie Patton Highway (Turn it Up, Pt. 1)
Charlie Patton Highway (Turn it Up, Pt. 1) is a previously unreleased tune from Robert Plant’s upcoming career-spanning solo anthology Digging Deep: Subterranea, which is scheduled for October 2nd. Credited to drummer Marco Giovino, producer Buddy Miller and Plant, the song came out on July 31. It will also be included on Band of Joy Volume 2, Plant’s 12th solo album and the first since Carry Fire from October 2017, which is “soon to be released,” according to his merchandise website. “I spent time in the hill country of north Mississippi around Como, dropping back to Clarksdale, the incredible center of black music talent over the years,” Plant toldRolling Stone about the track. “I weaved my car through the Delta back roads, listening to the remarkable protestations of Mississippi AM radio. I was looking at my world and my times from this unfamiliar place and found myself exposed to a nightmare world of half-truths.” Looks like Robert Plant fans have lots of music they can look forward to.
Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and actress Alanis Morissette is best known for 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, which included various hits like Ironic and Hand in My Pocket. Since then, she has released six additional albums, including her most recent one Such Pretty Forks in the Road, her ninth and first in eight years, which appeared on July 31. Like all other tracks on the album, Her was co-written by Morissette and Michael Farrell. “I’ve had so many mentors who were women, who have really represented the maternal,” Morissette explained to Apple Music. “Especially postpartum, there’s this whole thought of like, ‘Who’s going to mother the mother?’…For me, this song is really about reaching out for mom, the reaching out for the maternal, for the empathic, the skin-on-skin tenderness.”
The Jayhawks/This Forgotten Town
The Jayhawks are an American alternative country and country rock band that was initially founded in Minneapolis in 1985. The original line-up included Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). Their eponymous debut album appeared the following year. The Jayhawks released six additional records before they went on hiatus in 2004. Five years later, they reunited and have since come out with four additional albums. In addition to original co-founders Louris and Perlman, the band’s other current members are Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals), Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals) and John Jackson (acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin). This Forgotten Town, co-written by Louris, Perlman and O’Reagan, is from their new album XOXO released on July 10. I dig the warm sound, and there’s some great harmony singing as well.
The Dead Tongues/Déjá Vu
Déjá Vu is a track from Transmigration Blues, the new album released on June 26 by The Dead Tongues, a project of singer-songwriter, musician and producer Ryan Gustafson, according to his Facebookpage. “I gave this album everything I had, over and over again,” Gustafson notes in a June 26 post. “Songwriting is a mirror, a safe space, a place to explore my limits of thought and emotion, a way to communicate when other avenues seem unaccessible or hidden to me, its where I learn to fail, fall apart and persist, its where I go inward ultimately to recycle it outward again, it’s where I’m alive and where i consider silence…To live is to change and this is the time to truly be present and alive.” Given all of Gustafson’s efforts to make the record, I find it remarkable there’s no further information about him on his Facebook page. And this isn’t his first time at the rodeo. Searching Discogs revealed Transmigration Blues is Gustafson’s fourth album appearing under The Dead Tongues alias. The oldest listed entry is the self-released Desert from 2013. I can hear a Neil Young vibe in Déjá Vu but can’t deny the fact I could be biased, given this also happens to be the title of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s iconic studio album from March 1970.
LadyCouch are a Nashville-based band around Keshia Bailey and Allen Thompson. According to their website, the band was born out of Keshia Bailey and Allen Thompson’s love for one another and their love for honest, soulful music. Although their friendship stretches back years, it wasn’t until the winter of 2017 they decided to share a stage…The pair seem to come from two different worlds, musically, with Keshia hailing from the straight-ahead throwback Soul group Magnolia Sons, and Allen from the psychedelic folk of the Allen Thompson Band. But their similar Appalachian upbringings and their genuine appreciation for Soul, Rock, Funk, Country and Folk allow them to build bridges across genres to create a sound all its own. In addition to Bailey and Thompson, the band’s other core members include guitarists Grayson Downs, Clint Maine and Mike Ford Jr., as well as Jimmy Matt Rowland (keyboards), Ray Dunham (drums) and Gordon Persha (bass). Heartache appears to be their second single that came out on July 17. Boy, do I love their warm and soulful sound!
Sources: Wikipedia; Robert Plant official store website; Rolling Stone; Apple Music; Discogs; YouTube
While I knew I had come across a remarkable young artist and featured her amazing rendition of Neil Young’sHelpless in my previous Best of What’s Newinstallment, I hadn’t planned to follow up with dedicated post on Molly Tuttle so quickly. Things changed when a dear friend and music connoisseur from Germany whose opinion I highly value told me he was blown away by Tuttle (I had mentioned her name to him). So I guess I was, well, ready to take on When You’re Ready, the Americana and bluegrass singer-songwriter’s first full-length album from April 2019.
Before getting to that record, I’d like to recap some background on Tuttle, borrowing somewhat from the above post in case you didn’t get a chance to read it. Apart from writing original music and covering songs by others, Tuttle is an accomplished banjo and guitar player and teacher. The 27-year-old, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Nashville since 2015, comes from a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively.
Tuttle started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her father. At age 13, she recorded her first album with him. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017. That year, Tuttle also won Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association, something she repeated in 2018. Among other accolades, she also won Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards.
This bring me to When You’re Ready, which appears to have put Tuttle on the map as a solo artist. According to her website, What followed were dates at Telluride, Newport Folk Fest, an appearance on CBS Saturday Morning, and an enthusiastic reception both by critics and her fellow musicians. Rightfully so, in my humble opinion. Time for some music.
Let’s kick it off with the opener Million Miles. The beautiful tune was written by Tuttle together with Jewel Kilcher and Steve Poltz, singer-songwriters from the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I really dig Tuttle’s singing and how about these lyrics: Called the cable man/’Cause my screen was blurry/Seems the more I rush/All I do is worry/I am too much like my mom/All she does is hurry/What’s a girl to do today…
Take the Journey has a very cool acoustically driven groove. The song was co-written by Tuttle and Sarah Siskind, an American folk singer-songwriter.
Light Came In (Power Went Out) shows Tuttle from a more pop-oriented side. Co-written by her, producer Ryan Hewitt and composers Stephony Smith and Maya Elizabeth de Vitry, the catchy track feels more produced with a full-fledged band.
Messed with My Mind is one of four tracks on the album solely written by Tuttle. Another great tune with good lyrics: Paid a quarter to the fortune teller/All she gave me was a bucket of lies/Had me thinkin’ it would all get better/If I could await around for you to be mine//I couldn’t hear my intuition/Blarin’ at me like a smoke alarm/Caughtin’ you lightin’ up a fire in my kitchen/Now you’re actin’ like you never meant me no harm…
The last track I’d like to highlight is another tune Tuttle wrote by herself: Sleepwalking. Her emotional vocals and words are the standouts to me in this song: If I drove into the sea/Float away with the fear/Be my anchor, please/’Cause your voice is all I need//Keep talking/Now we’re sleepwalking/Through a world that disappeared/Bad habits/Burn like TV static/But you’re comin’ in clear… That’s just beautiful!
Molly Tuttle’s first full-length album shows an incredibly talented young solo artist. Her next release will be a covers album scheduled for August 28. And, as Tuttle stated on her website, there’s more: “I have been working on writing for another original album and am still planning to record that this year…but in the meantime I wanted to share these covers that have lifted my spirits, in hopes that you’ll find some much-needed joy as well.” I’m looking forward to both!
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
This week’s installment of my recurring new music feature presents another combination of younger and older artists. I’ve kept it to four tunes. There’s some folk, jazz, space rock and indie pop. Let’s get to it!
David Gilmour/Yes, I Have Ghosts
At first, I was a bit lukewarm about David Gilmour’s new single, which appeared on July 3. I really dig him as a guitarist and think his solo in Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb is one of the most epic rock guitar solos I know. To be clear, Yes, I Have Ghosts is no Comfortably Numb; but the more often I listen to it, the more I like this tune. The lyrics were written by Gilmour’s wife and long time collaborator, English novelist, lyricist and journalist Polly Samson. Gilmour composed the music, which to me is pretty obvious, based on the chord changes. The track was inspired by Samson’s the new novel A Theatre for Dreamers. Interestingly, the song features Gilmour’s 18-year-old daughter Romany on harmony vocals and harp. While that had not been his initial plan and he ended up working with her because of the COVID-19 lockdown, I think the two of them really sound great together. This largely explains why I dig Yes, I Have Ghosts. There is also beautiful violin work by John McCusker. As reported by Rolling Stone, Gilmour’s single is his first new song in five years. Perhaps the beginning of another solo album? Who knows… Meanwhile, I’d be curious how you feel about this tune. Perhaps, give it more than one listen.
According to his website, Aaron Parks is a forward-thinking jazz musician who came to the public’s attention during his time with trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Born in Seattle, Washington, Parks began playing piano at a young age and by the time he was 14 had enrolled in an early entrance degree program at the University of Washington. Originally, Parks pursued both science and music degrees; however, his prodigious talent won out and by age 16 he had transferred to the Manhattan School of Music. While there, he studied with noted pianist Kenny Barron…At age 18 he joined Blanchard’s ensemble and subsequently recorded four albums with the veteran trumpeter…Besides playing with Blanchard, Parks has performed with a variety of artists including trumpeter Christian Scott, drummer Kendrick Scott, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and others. In 1999, Parks released his debut album The Promise as a band leader. Solace, composed by him, is a relaxing instrumental from his most recent album Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man, which appeared on May 8. It has a bit of a late night bar background music flair.
Going from a relaxing jazz instrumental to a full-blown space rock attack may be a bit of a leap, but why not? Hawklords initially were formed in 1978 as a spin-off from Hawkwind, a British space rock band fellow blogger Vinyl Connections featured in a recent post. Hawklords’ former Hawkwind members were Robert Calvert (vocals), Dave Brock (guitar) and Simon King (drums), who teamed up with Harvey Bainbridge (bass), Martin Griffin (drums) and Steve Swindells (keyboards). The first active phase of Hawklords only lasted until 1979. In 2008, a new version of the band emerged around Bainbridge, together with Dave Pearce (drums), Jerry Richards (guitar, keyboards), Tom Ashurst (bass) and ex-Hawkwind vocalist Ron Tree. Aerospaceage Inferno is from the band’s latest album Hawklords Alive released on May 29. Written by Calvert, the tune first appeared on his second solo album Lucky Leif and the Longships from September 1975. Calvert died from a heart attack in August 1988 at the age of 43. As reported by Louder, Hawklords’ new live album was recorded during a concert at Live Rooms in Chester, England in May 2019 during the band’s Hawklords Generations Tour.
Alice Phoebe Lou/Touch
Alice Phoebe Lou is a soon-to-be 27-year-old singer-songwriter hailing from Kommetjie, South Africa. According to her website, Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, MOMENTUM, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, ORBIT. She has since released two additional albums and two EPs. Touch is Lou’s new single, which I don’t believe is associated with an album (yet).
Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Aaron Parks website; Louder; Alice Phoebe Lou website; YouTube
While I had known her name for decades, it really wasn’t until July 2017 that I started paying closer attention to Emmylou Harris when seeing her in Philadelphia as part of a concert headlined by John Mellencamp. There was something special about this lady with her all-white hair who recently had turned 70. Now 73, Harris has been active for more than 50 years, released dozens of solo and collaborative albums, scored 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard country charts and collected numerous Grammy and other awards. This playlist is an attempt to shine a light on her long and impressive career.
Harris was born on April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. Her dad, Walter Harris, was a Marine Corps officer, while her mom Eugenia was a wartime military wife. After high school graduation in Woodbridge, Va., Harris went to the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. It was there where she started to learn songs by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on guitar and develop her musical aspirations. Harris dropped out, moved to New York City during the second half of the ’60s, and started performing on the folk circle in Greenwich Village while waiting tables.
In 1969, Harris married fellow songwriter Tom Slocum who wrote the title track for her debut album Gliding Bird. The folk record also included five songs written by Harris. The label Jubilee Records went under shortly after the release, so all distribution and promotion was ceased. Subsequently, Harris disowned the record. She regards her second release Pieces of the Sky from February 1975 as her official debut.
In 1971, after he had seen her perform, Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman introduced Harris to his music partner Gram Parsons who became a key figure in her early career. Harris worked with Parsons on his solo debut GP from January 1973 and toured as a member of his band the Fallen Angels. Later that year, she also worked with Parsons on his second and final solo album Grievous Angel, which was released in January 1974, following his death from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol in September 1973.
In February 1975, the aforementioned Pieces of the Sky appeared. It’s the album that launched Harris’ career as a country artist and established what she became mainly known, i.e., covering songs written by other artists. The album also coincided with the formation of The Hot Band, Harris’ high-profile backing band until 1991. The initial lineup included James Burton (guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), Hank DeVito (pedal steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass) and John Ware (drums).
To date, Harris has released 21 solo studio albums, three live records and a dozen compilations. Additionally, her impressive catalog includes seven collaboration albums with artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Rodney Crowell. Harris also has worked as a guest with numerous other artists, including The Band, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle, among others. Let’s get to some music!
While perhaps not as representative of Harris as her other records, I’d like to kick off this playlist with a tune from 1969’s Gliding Bird, which was written by her: Black Gypsy.
If I Could Only Win Your Love from her second album Pieces of the Sky became Harris’ first hit single, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1975. Co-written by Charlie Louvin and Ira Louvin who formed the country and gospel duo The Louvin Brothers, it also marked the first of only a handful of Harris singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in this case at no. 58. Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on the album.
While Emmylou Harris is best known as a country artist, her song choices can be eclectic. Here’s an example from her third studio album Elite Hotel released in December 1975: A beautiful cover of The Beatles tune Here, There and Everywhere. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the McCartney ballad originally appeared on the Revolver album from August 1996.
Harris’ next album Luxury Liner from December 1976 included the first cover of Townes Van Zandt’sPancho and Lefty, which subsequently became the revered singer-songwriter’s best known composition. The tune has also been covered by other artists, most notably Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded it as the title track of their collaboration album that came out in January 1983.
Roses in the Snow, Harris’ first ’80s album, appeared in May 1980. Unlike her preceding country and country rock records, this album was more bluegrass-oriented. Here’s a great rendition of the Paul Simon tune The Boxer, featuring beautiful harmony singing by Cheryl White and her sister Sharon White. The Boxer first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water from January 1970.
In February 1985, Harris released The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album loosely based on her relationship with Gram Parsons. The record also stood out for another reason. Like her debut 16 years earlier, it illustrates Harris is more than just a cover artist. All songs were co-written by her, mostly together with her then-second husband Paul Kennerley, an English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, who also produced this record. Here’s White Line, one of the record’s two singles.
Next, I’d like to jump to the ’90s and Wrecking Ball, Harris’ 18th studio album. The record became her first since Pieces of the Sky that did not make the country charts. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising, given the music moved away from her traditional acoustic to a more edgy and atmospheric sound. Producer Daniel Lanois who produced and co-produced various U2 albums like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby undoubtedly had something to do with it. Here’s the title track written by Neil Young who also provided harmony vocals. Young had first recorded the tune for his 1989 studio album Freedom. And, coming back to U2, Larry Mullen, Jr. played drums on most of the album’s songs including this one.
Given the significance of collaboration albums in Harris’ catalog, I’d like to at least acknowledge one: Trio II from February 1999, the second album she did together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. All tracks had actually been recorded in 1994, but label disputes and conflicting schedules had prevented the release at the time. While I’ve featured it on the blog before, I just couldn’t resist including the ladies’ angelic rendition of After The Gold Rush, the title track of Neil Young’s third studio album from September 1970. Interestingly, while the remake did not chart when it was released as a single from Trio II, it won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The intensity of this version is just killing me. This is why I dig vocals!
In September 2003, Harris released Stumble into Grace, her second album of the current century. Like some of her previous records, it includes a significant number of her own compositions. She also co-wrote most of the remaining tracks. Here’s the opener Here I Am, one of her tunes.
I’d like to wrap up this playlist with a track from what is Harris’ most recent solo album, Hard Bargain, released in April 2011. Her two latest records are collaborations with Rodney Crowell from February 2013 and March 2015. There’s also the Complete Trio Collection, a compilation of the Trio I and Trio II collaborative albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, which came out in September 2016. Given the enormous role of Gram Parsons, it felt right to highlight opener The Road, a tune Harris penned about her musical mentor – the first to focus on his death since Boulder to Colorado, a song from Pieces of the Sky. It’s also noteworthy that Hard Bargain became Harris’ highest chart entry since the above Roses in the Snow from 1980, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums. It also hit no. 18 on the Billboard 200, her highest mainstream chart success since 1977’s Luxury Liner, a remarkable late-stage career success.
Emmylou Harris has sold 75 million records in the U.S. alone. She has won 14 Grammy awards out of 48 for which she had been nominated. She has also won numerous country, bluegrass and Americana awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2008.
It’s been a long time coming. Some 45 years. But it was worth the wait. Today, Neil Young officially released Homegrown, an album he initially had planned to put out in 1975. But written in the wake of the breakup of his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress, it felt too personal to him, so he decided to shelf it.
According to Apple Music, Young also had an entire second album written: Tonight’s the Night. In fact, he already had recorded it in August and September 1973, but had not released it. After deciding to stash away Homegrown in the drawer, he put out Tonight’s the Night.
Back to Homegrown. While these songs were written during what arguably was Young’s most creative period, I think it’s fair to say we’re not looking at another Harvest or Harvest Moon, to name two of my favorite Young albums. Still, this is a fine record, which takes Neil Young fans on what I think is a fascinating time travel journey back to the mid-’70s.
All of the 12 tracks on Homegrown were written by Young. Five of the tunes previously found their way on other Young records: Love Is a Rose (Decade, 1977), Homegrown (American Stars ‘n Bars, 1977), White Line (Ragged Glory, 1990), Little Wing (Hawks & Doves, 1980) and Star of Bethlehem (American Stars ‘n Bars). Additionally, Young had performed other songs like Separate Ways or Try live but not officially released on a record.
I’d like to start with the opener Separate Ways, a tune directly addressed at Snodgrass: …Though we go our separate ways/Lookin’ for better days/Sharin’ our little boy/Who grew from joy back then…The little boy is Zeke, who was born in September 1972. According to this New York Times Magazine story from September 2012, Zeke has a very mild case of cerebral palsy and works at Home Depot. Young’s second son Ben who he had with his second wide Pegi Young (née Morton) is quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and non-verbal. Young also has a daughter, Amber Jean Young, his second child with Pegi, who is a visual artist. To me, Tim Drummond’s melodic bass line and the pedal steel fill-ins by Ben Keith are the song’s musical highlights. BTW, none other than Levon Helms manned the drums on this track.
As previously noted, Homegrown first appeared on Young’s eighth studio album American Stars ‘n Bars from May 1977. While the two versions are similar, the original take feels “less produced,” starting out with some studio banter. Karl Himmel played drums on this recording.
We Don’t Smoke It No More is a nice, largely instrumental blues tune. Unlike the title may suggest, it actually does smoke quite a bit. Ben Keith, who also provided backing vocals and produced the track, did a nice job on slide guitar. And Young proofed that when it come to the harmonica he also some blues chops.
White Line is one of the album’s gems. The original acoustic country-oriented version we hear here sounds significantly different from Young’s previously released grungy take on Ragged Glory. I also feel it’s superior. In addition to Young on vocals, guitar and harmonica, this recording featured Robbie Robertson on guitar. According to Wikipedia, Young also recorded White Line for Chrome Dreams, yet another album that wasn’t released at the time – gee, I don’t believe I’m aware of any other music artists who creates entire only to shelf them! In October 2007, Young released Chrome Dreams II, but other than being an obvious reference to the shelved record, I don’t believe the two have anything in common.
The last track I’d like to call out is Star Of Bethlehem. While this recording is pretty much identical to the version Young previously included on American Stars ‘n Bars, it’s another highlight and as such simply too good to skip. Undoubtedly, that’s largely because of the beautiful harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris. Ben Keith also provided backing vocals, as well as dobro, but it’s really Harris who makes the song shine.
Like most of Young’s records since 1989, Homegrown appears on Reprise. The album was co-produced by him, Elliot Mazer, Ben Keith and Tim Mulligan. Apart from the above mentioned, additional musicians include Stan Szelest (piano) and Sandy Mazzeo (backing vocals.)
The final word here shall belong to Young. If you’ve read my previous posts related to this record, these words probably sound familiar. “This album should have been there for you a couple of years after Harvest, Young wrote on his website. It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind….but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; New York Times Magazine; Neil Young website; YouTube