Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! 🙂

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist StĂ©phane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far — this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Albums Turning 50 This Year

A first look back at 1972, another outstanding year in music

With the 50-year anniversaries of 1971 gems like The Who’s Who’s Next, Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Pink Floyd’s Meddle now behind us, it’s time to take a first look at 1972 albums that are hitting the big milestone this year. And like in the case of 1971, I think the caliber of music released in 1972 is just breathtaking!

Checking Wikipedia revealed an impressive amount of records that appeared 50 years ago. Of these albums, I picked 30 studio releases that are represented in the below Spotify playlist with one song each. Following, I’d like to briefly highlight six of them. I’m planning more in-depth posts timed to their and possibly some of the other albums’ actual 50th-anniversary dates.

Neil Young/Harvest (February 14, 1972)

Undoubtedly, Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest is one of his best known and most beloved. With gems like Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man and A Man Needs a Maid, it’s no wonder. Not only did Harvest top the Billboard 200 for two weeks, but it also became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. But Neil Young, who is always good for a surprise, had a different reaction. Feeling alienated by the huge success of Harvest, he decided to release what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Times Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While the ditch albums didn’t perform as well as Harvest, let’s just say they didn’t exactly harm Neil’s standing with his fans!

Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 25, 1972)

Machine Head, Deep Purple’s sixth studio release, remains the ultimate ’70s hard rock album in my book. While I literally dig each of the record’s seven tracks, the band’s most commercially successful album is best-known for the classics Smoke on the Water, which is safe to assume must be a nightmare for anybody working in a store selling electric guitars, and Highway Star. Machine Head topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands – yes, I had to name them all, hoping Wikipedia’s account is accurate and complete! The thought of a hard rock album topping the mainstream charts is unreal, especially from today’s perspective! In the U.S., Machine Head reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest-charting record there.

The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. (May 12, 1972)

While I prefer Sticky Fingers, there’s no doubt Exile on Main St. is among the top albums by The Rolling Stones. Many Stones fans regard the double LP as their best record – hey, I won’t argue, it’s great rock & roll, and I like it! Some of the highlights include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Happy and All Down the Line. Given Keith Richards’ frequent no-shows to the recording sessions since he was, well, stoned, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well, supposedly for other reasons, it’s a near-miracle to me how great this album turned out. That being said, initial reactions among critics were mixed, but as is not uncommon, opinions subsequently changed.

David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 6, 2022)

Of course, there was no way this upfront section would skip my favorite David Bowie album of all time. The British artist’s fifth studio release, revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him, is a true glam rock gem. Similar to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I feel there’s no weak song on this record. Starman, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and the title track are a few of the amazing tunes that come to mind. The Ziggy Stardust album climbed to no. 5 in the UK and also charted in various other European countries. In the U.S., where there was generally less of an appetite for glam rock, the record still reached a respectable no. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Curtis Mayfield/Superfly (July 11, 1972)

Curtis Mayfield is another longtime favorite artist of mine, so I’m more than happy to call out Superfly. His third studio album appeared as the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation motion picture of the same name. Rightfully, this record is widely considered a classic of ’70s soul and funk music. In addition to the title track, some of the other tunes on the album include Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Eddie You Should Know Better. Superfly was hugely successful in the U.S., topping both the Billboard 200 and the R&B chart. It also became Mayfield’s highest-charting album in the UK where it reached no. 26. Side note: It seems to me music listeners in the UK were into glam rock but not so much into psychedelic soul and funk.

Santana/Caravanserai (October 11, 1972)

The final album I’d like to highlight in this section of the post is a less obvious choice for me. I absolutely love the first three studio albums by Santana, which make up the band’s so-called classic period. I find the combination of Latin rhythms and rock electrifying. On Caravanserai, Carlos Santana and his band went in a very different direction. The album mostly features jazz-like, improvisational instrumentals – definitely posing a challenge for a guy like me who digs catchy hooks and great vocals, especially harmony singing. But sometimes it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Musically, I think there’s no question Caravanserai is an outstanding record. Given its radical departure from Santana’s first three albums, it did remarkably well in the charts. In the UK it peaked at no. 6, matching its predecessor Santana III, which previously had been the band’s highest-charting album there. It did even better in The Netherlands, climbing to no. 3, again matching Santana III. Elsewhere, Caravanserai reached no. 8 in the U.S., no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia.

Following is a playlist featuring the above tracks, as well as tunes from 24 other albums that were released in 1972. Since Spotify, unfortunately, doesn’t have Status Quo’s Piledriver (neither does Apple Music!), I included a pretty good, more recent live version of Paper Plane. Again, I have to say 1972 was another amazing year in music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

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

Elvis Costello & The Imposters/Magnificent Hurt

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

The Lumineers/Reprise

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

Cat Power/Pa Pa Power

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

Punch Brothers/Church Street Blues

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

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

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again – boy, this first week of 2022 flew by really quickly! Well, this means it’s time for another installment of my favorite weekly feature where I time-travel to celebrate music of the past and sometimes the present, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble/Chitlins con Carne

Let’s kick it off with a great jazzy instrumental by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists. Chitlins con Carne is from the fifth and final album of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble, appropriately titled The Sky Is Crying. This record appeared in November 1991, 14 months after Vaughan’s tragic and untimely death in a helicopter crash. He was only 35 years old – what a huge loss! Chitlins con Carne, composed by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was first released on his 1963 album Midnight Blue. In case you’re curious you can check out the original here. Following is Vaughan’s excellent rendition!

Christine McVie/Got a Hold on Me

Christine McVie is best known as keyboarder, vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1970, coming from British blues band Chicken Shack. At the time she became a member of the Mac, she was the wife of bassist John McVie whom she had married in 1968. Their union fell apart after Christine had an affair with the band’s lighting engineer Curry Grant during the production of the Rumours album in 1976. Let’s just say there were many on and off relationships within Fleetwood Mac! Christine McVie wrote some of the band’s best-known songs, such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun (about her affair with Grant, though at the time she claimed it was about a dog!) and Say You Love Me. To date, she has also recorded three solo albums. Got a Hold on Me, co-written by her and Todd Sharp, is from her second solo effort Christine McVie, which came out in January 1984. I’ve always loved this pop-rock tune – simple and a bit repetitive, but quite catchy!

James Taylor/Fire and Rain

Last Sunday, I caught a great CNN documentary, Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, focused on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour – I could still kill myself that I completely missed that tour! Anyway, one of the tunes they played was Fire and Rain, my favorite James Taylor original song. I also love his rendition of King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Fire and Rain is off Taylor’s sophomore album Sweet Baby James from February 1970. The tune also appeared separately as a single in August that year. It became his first hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 in Canada and no. 6 in Australia. It also charted in the UK (no. 48) and The Netherlands (no. 18). Here’s a beautiful live performance captured from the BBC’s In Concert series in November 1970. James Taylor, his smooth voice and his great guitar-playing – that’s really all you need!

Them/Gloria

Next, let’s jump back further to December 1964 and some dynamite British garage rock: Gloria by Them, a band formed in April 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fronted by Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), the group’s original line-up also included Billy Harrison (guitar, vocals), Eric Wrixon (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Milling (drums). Gloria, penned by Morrison, was first released in November 1964 as the B-side to Baby, Please Don’t Go, Them’s second single. The tune was also included on the group’s debut album The Angry Young Them from June 1965, which in the U.S. was simply titled Them. This song’s just a classic. I wish I could say the same about Van Morrison these days!

Elvis Presley/Heartbreak Hotel

As frequent visitors of the blog may recall, my childhood idol was Elvis Presley who, btw, would have turned 87 yesterday (January 8). While I no longer idolize him or anyone else for that matter, I still dig Elvis, especially his early period. One of the coolest songs I can think of in this context is Heartbreak Hotel. Credited to Tommy Durden, Mae Boren Axton and Presley, the slow jazzy blues tune first appeared as a single in January 1956 and became Elvis’ first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in the UK. Heartbreak Hotel was also included on the compilation Elvis’ Golden Records from March 1958. In addition to Presley’s regular backing musicians Scotty Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (double bass), the recording featured Chet Atkins (acoustic guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano) and D.J. Fontana (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Mark Knopfler/Prairie Wedding

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final track in this installment. It’s yet another tune my streaming music provider recently served up as a listening suggestion: Prairie Wedding by Mark Knopfler. The song is from the former Dire Straits frontman’s second solo album Sailing to Philadelphia that came out in September 2000. Written by Knopfler like all other tunes on the album, the track features Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings on backing vocals, as well as Guy Fletcher on keyboards. Fletcher also served in that role in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s final dissolution in 1995. Great tune with a nice cinematic feel!

Here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

When Two Make One

A playlist of songs by duos

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop posted about Cathy’s Clown, a great tune by The Everly Brothers. He wrote, “When Phil and Don would sing….their two voices would become one.” I couldn’t agree more! In this context, I thought about Simon & Garfunkel, another example of beautiful vocals in perfect harmony. Sometimes it takes two artists to make magic happen, not only when it comes to singing but also when creating music – a good topic for a post, I thought!

After doing a bit of research, I was quickly reminded of the large number of musical duos. The following doesn’t include one-offs. I’m also excluding songwriting partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to name a few. All of my picks were or are permanent pairings. Apart from six tracks released in different decades, which are highlighted in the upfront, I’ve included numerous additional tunes in a playlist at the end of the post.

The Everly Brothers/Wake Up Little Susie

Since this post was inspired by an Everly Brothers tune, it felt right to kick things off with a song they performed. Wake Up Little Susie, co-written by Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant, was my introduction to Don Everly and Phil Everly sometime during my teenage years back in Germany. First released as a single in September 1957, Wake Up Little Susie became their first no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream Billboard Hot 100. What a great acoustic rock & roll tune!

Simon & Garfunkel/The Sound of Silence

One of my favorite songs by Simon & Garfunkel is The Sound of Silence. Penned by Paul Simon, this gem is off their debut studio record Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. from October 1964. It was also released separately as a single in September 1965 and became their first hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in New Zealand, and reaching no. 3 in each Australia and Austria. It also charted in a few other European countries.

Hall & Oates/She’s Gone

While Daryl Hall and John Oates have written many great tunes, I’m mostly drawn to their ’70s output. Here’s She’s Gone, a track from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that appeared in November 1973. The song was also released as a single that same month and became their first charting tune in the U.S., reaching no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve always loved its great soul vibe.

Eurythmics/Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

When I think about duos and the ’80s, Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears and Eurythmics come to mind first. The first time I heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart was in 1983 when they came out with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Penned by Stewart and released in January that year, the tune became their first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada, and reached no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. While I’m generally not fond of synth pop, this is a pretty catchy tune and Annie Lenox’s voice is stunning!

Indigo Girls/Galileo

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first met in elementary school and were performing together by the time they were in high school. After going separate ways, they again found themselves studying at the same institution (Atlanta’s Emory University) in the mid-’80s and became Indigo Girls. Galileo, written by Saliers, is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage, which came out in May 1992. The tune was the first single off the record and their only top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The White Stripes/Seven Nation Army

This brings me to the present century and the last tune I’d like to call out: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Written by Jack White, it first appeared in March 2003 as the lead single of their fourth studio album Elephant released the following month. Seven Nation Army topped the Alternative Airplay chart in the U.S., making it one of the biggest hits of the duo, which also includes Meg White. I dig the song’s raw garage feel.

Last but least, here’s the above-mentioned playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife  “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz, at its core, this still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; YouTube

The Horse Has Left the Barn

Recorded high in the Rocky Mountains, Neil Young’s new album with Crazy Horse sounds spontaneous and relaxed

Neil Young’s new album with Crazy Horse is out today (December 10). While Barn doesn’t break new ground, its classic Neil Young feel makes for a great listening experience fans of the Canadian-turned-American singer-songwriter will love. His 41st studio release appears 52 years after 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and follows Colorado from October 2019, the first and most recent albums, respectively, which Young recorded with his longtime backing band.

The title of the new album couldn’t be more fitting: It was recorded in June this year in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, using Le Mobile Recording Studio. “Made it just like in the old drawings and photographs,” Young told Apple Music about the barn. “It used to be a stage stop, so you’d see these pictures with the carriages and the horses and the ladies with their big dresses with the metal ring and everything.”

From left: Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Nils Lofgren and Neil Young

Young also explained the album’s unusual recording process to Apple. The sessions were scheduled at night, so he and his Crazy Horse members Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums) could work in the moonlight. Getting to the barn involved walking for a couple of miles “across the meadows, through the valley.” Further describing the scene Young added, “The Rockies are everywhere. And it’s just beautiful. I like that.” 

Three of the 10 tracks, Song of the Seasons, Heading West and Welcome Back, had been released upfront. I previously covered these tunes here, here and here. As such, I’m skipping them in this post. Let’s take a look at some of the other songs. All tunes were written by Young.

Change Ain’t Never Gonna has a bluesy vibe. Young, a strong supporter of biofuels, criticizes the opponents of alternative fuels: Ten men workin’ had to get a new job/Try to save the planet from a fuel-burnin’ mob/Who turned on everyone for bein’ so controllin’/Takin’ away all the freedom they’ve been knowin’…

On crunchy rocker Canerican, Young who became an American citizen in 2020 reflects on his new status: …I am American, American is what I am/I was born in Canada, came south to join a band/got caught up in the big time, traveling through the land/Up on the stage I see the changes coming to this country/I am Canerican/ Canerican is what I am…

They Might Be Lost is one of the acoustic tunes on the album. It’s not clear to me what the song is about. This review in Riff Magazine notes it may or may not be about a marijuana grower waiting for couriers to come pick up the latest shipment. While I guess it’s possible, I’m not sure how they came up with this explanation.

On Human Race, the speed picks up and the sound gets crunchy again. There’s also less ambiguity about the lyrics…Who’s gonna save the human race/Where are all the children gonna run and hide (children of the fires and floods/From the fires and floods today’s people have left behind

The last track I’d like to highlight is Tumblin’ Thru the Years. The piano-driven ballad appears to be a thank you to Young’s wife Daryl Hannah for sticking with him. They started a relationship in 2014 and got married three years ago. Well, I was walking down the road/one step at a time heading home/I was thinkin’ about the love we share, you and me/It’s a complicated thing, this life/If I wasn’t here with you/Tumblin’ thru the years without our love

Barn was co-produced by Young and Niko Bolas, who also worked in this capacity on Young’s previous albums Living with War (2006), Freedom (1989) and This Note’s for You (1988). On Barn, nothing seems to be overthought, a common characteristic of other Crazy Horse albums. In fact, the recordings sound pretty spontaneous, occasionally somewhat imperfect and relaxed. Perhaps those moonlight recording sessions and walks to the barn contributed to this feel!

Barn’s release is accompanied by a documentary about the making of the album, BARN/A Band – A Brotherhood – A Barn, directed by Hannah. The film was screened on December 9 for one night only at select theaters in Chicago; Santa Monica, Calif. and New York City. Another screening is scheduled in Toronto for tomorrow evening. The documentary will also stream on Young’s website NeilYoungArchives.com and streaming services in January.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Riff Magazine; YouTube

Time Again For a Nice Thanksgiving Tradition

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant

There’s a certain degree of irony about this post coming from me. In general, I’m not much into traditions, plus we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at my house. In Germany where I grew up this holiday isn’t observed. My native country has something called Erntedankfest (harvest festival), a regional annual celebration in the Rhineland area, which takes place in early October. But it’s not comparable to the national Thanksgiving holiday. As a Jehovah’s Witness, my wife doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, so we don’t feel we’re missing out. But none of this shall prevent me from writing about Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie, one of the most hilarious tunes I know, which always makes me smile.

This song is called Alice’s Restaurant, and it’s about Alice, and the
Restaurant, but Alice’s Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant,
That’s just the name of the song, and that’s why I called the song Alice’s
Restaurant.
..

Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant indeed is just the name of the song. It’s also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album. The following borrows from my post I did on the tune last year:

Alice’s Restaurant is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

…Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on – two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
Restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the
Church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog. And livin’ in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
Room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin’ all that room,
Seein’ as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn’t
Have to take out their garbage for a long time…

At 18 minutes and 34 seconds, Alice’s Restaurant can easily compete with some Pink Floyd tunes, except it’s much more upbeat. Because of its length, the track is rarely heard on the radio, except on Thanksgiving when many stations play it in its entirety. This includes Q104.3, the New York classic rock station I mentioned in a post on Tuesday, which always plays the song at noon on Thanksgiving day. It’s the only interruption of their annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. I’m listening to the countdown as I’m writing this post.

At more than 18 minutes, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree takes up all of side 1 of Guthrie’s debut album

…Came to talk about the draft.

They got a building down New York City, it’s called Whitehall Street,
Where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected,
Neglected and selected. I went down to get my physical examination one
Day, and I walked in, I sat down, got good and drunk the night before, so
I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning. ‘Cause I wanted to
Look like the all-American kid from New York City, man I wanted, I wanted
To feel like the all-, I wanted to be the all American kid from New York,
And I walked in, sat down, I was hung down, brung down, hung up, and all
Kinds o’ mean nasty ugly things. And I waked in and sat down and they gave
Me a piece of paper, said, “Kid, see the phsychiatrist, room 604.”…

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film with the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Commenting on what became his signature tune, Guthrie said, “I never expected it to be so popular,” as quoted by Songfacts. “An 18-minute song doesn’t get airplay. You can’t expect that. So the fact that it became a hit was absurd on the face of it. It wasn’t part of the calculation.”

Well, whether intentional or not, I’m sure it helped Guthrie pay some bills. The tune undoubtedly was the key factor for making Guthrie’s debut album his biggest chart success, a no. 17 on the Billboard 200. The single fared more moderately, reaching no. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 67. Plus, the tune IS getting airplay, at least on Thanksgiving!

…And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a
Study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I’m
Singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar
Situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a
Situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
The shrink wherever you are, just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
Anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
One person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
They won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
They may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
Singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
Organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said
Fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and
Walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement…

Last but not least, to all folks who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving and be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly celebration of music in different flavors from the past seven decades, six tunes at a time. Get ready for another eclectic zigzag journey. It starts with some contemporary ambient electronic music. The trip then takes us to an acoustic folk gem from 1972, soft grunge from 1993, new wave from 1984 and a beautiful pop ballad from 2004, before we wrap up with a ’60s rock gem. Hop on board and let’s go!

Leif/Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere

I’d like to start this post with a music genre I rarely pick: Ambient electronic music. Recently, I stumbled upon British electronic music producer Leif Knowles. According to his Apple Music profile, Knowles who is known as Leif creates lush, emotive music ranging from the deep, smooth house of his 2013 debut Dinas Oleu to the warm, soothing ambient of 2019’s Loom Dream. Born in Barmouth, Wales and brought up by a musician father who played the Celtic harp and the guitar — which he taught his son — Leif grew up with a love of music, playing in guitar bands in high school. Through the radio, he was introduced to electronic acts such as Tricky and the Orb, before discovering house and techno through free outdoor raves in the forest…Owing to his formative experiences, his music was inspired by a fusion of the natural world and the dancefloor, and he incorporated organic elements such as guitar, bass, and percussion into a sound produced using a fairly simple setup of computer and synth. I’m completely new to Leif and can’t quite explain what drew me into Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere, a track from his new album 9 Airs released on October 29. I find it very soothing.

Jim Croce/Time in a Bottle

Next, I’d like to go back to April 1972 and a song I’ve always loved because of its beautiful lyrics, melody and neat acoustic guitar-playing: Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. At the time I first heard this gem, I was taking (acoustic) guitar lessons. Croce’s great finger-picking was an immediate attraction and a motivation to work hard on my finger technique. Time in a Bottle is from Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim that appeared in April 1972. He wrote it like all other songs on the record. Sadly, in September of the following year, Croce became yet another music artist who perished in a plane crash. Time in a Bottle was also released separately as a single in the wake of Croce’s death in November 1973. It became his signature song and biggest hit, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada. Reminds me of John Lennon and the post-mortem success of (Just Like) Starting Over – the bitter cruelty of an artist’s success when they have passed and can no longer enjoy it!

Collective Soul/Shine

This next song takes me back to my grad school days at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y. I can easily say these two years (1993 and 1994) were the most intense period of my student life where I felt I studied as much as during the prior six years of university in Germany! At the time, there was lots of academic freedom in Germany, and you pretty much could study at your own pace – let’s just say I allowed myself to be distracted and wasn’t exactly in a hurry to finish my graduate degree. Anyway, I well remember Shine by Collective Soul. The lead single, off their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, received frequent play on the Connecticut FM mainstream radio station I usually had on in the car (blanking on the name now). Originally, the song was released in 1993 on the independent label Rising Storm Records. Subsequently, Collective Soul got a deal with Atlantic Records, which reissued the single and the album in October 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I find it a quite catchy tune and also like the soft grunge sound. Collective Soul, which were founded in 1992, are still together, with three original members remaining in the current lineup.

The Stranglers/No Mercy

Continuing a bit of nostalgia, let’s go back another 10 years to 1984 and The Stranglers. I hadn’t heard that name in ages until I saw their tune The Raven was picked by A Sound Day as part of a song draft by fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life – thanks, guys! In my case, The Stranglers are similar to The Cars – I know a number of their songs based on radio play but haven’t further explored the group. The first Stranglers tune I recalled after the song draft prompt was Golden Brown, their first hit from 1992. When I checked Wikipedia, some of their other ’80s songs popped up like Always the Sun (1986), Skin Deep and my favorite No Mercy. The last two tracks were on the group’s eighth studio album Aural Sculpture from November 1984. Credited to all four members of the band at the time – Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (percussion) – No Mercy didn’t match Golden Brown’s chart success but still gave them a decent hit. Call me crazy: If The Rolling Stones would have gone new wave, this is how I imagine they could have sounded! BTW, like Collective Soul, The Stranglers exist to this day and released their 18th studio album Dark Matters on September 10. Based on sampling a few tunes, it doesn’t sound bad.

Anna Nalick/Breathe (2 AM)

Time to leave the ’80s and ’90s behind and travel to the current century, specifically the year 2004. In October that year, American singer-songwriter Anna Nalick released Breathe (2 AM), the lead single from her debut album Wreck of the Day that appeared in April of the following year. Let’s just say, both the beautiful ballad and the record weren’t exactly a wreck. They became Nalick’s most successful song and album, respectively. Breathe (2 AM) is the only tune by Nalick I can name. She’s still around (in fact she’s only 37) and has released three additional albums to date, most recently The Blackest Crow from December 2019. I find Breathe (2 AM) a pretty compelling and catchy pop ballad. Yes, it’s a bit on the lush side, but the intensity and Nalick’s vocals are just stunning!

The Moody Blues/Go Now

Sadly, on Thursday (November 11), Graeme Edge, co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, passed away from cancer at the age of 80. As such, I’d like to wrap up this post with some music by the Moodies whose 1967 sophomore album Days of Future Passed has become one of my favorite ’60s records. Pre-dating this gem is Go Now, the band’s second single from November 1964. Co-written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, the song originally was released by Larry’s wife, American soul singer Bessie Banks, in January 1964. But it was the version by The Moody Blues that gained international popularity, topping the charts in the UK, reaching no. 10 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, no. 2 in Canada and no. 12 in Australia. The tune was also included on the band’s debut album The Magnificent Moodies from July 1965, which in the U.S. and Canada was titled Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 and had a different song lineup. It was the only Moodies album to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine who in 1971 joined Paul McCartney’s Wings.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & Friends/My Back Pages

I watched this clip on Facebook last evening and simply couldn’t resist posting it: Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison sharing the stage with Bob Dylan to perform My Back Pages – what a terrific moment in music history! It all happened at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album, the start of a recording career that continues to this day, 29 years later.

Written by Dylan who first recorded it for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan released in August 1964, My Back Pages has been covered by various artists. The best-known rendition and the version I first heard and came to dig is by The Byrds, so I guess it’s only appropriate that Roger McGuinn kicked off the song.

The Byrds included My Back Pages on their fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out in February 1967. The tune also became the record’s second single in March of the same year and the group’s last top 40 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 30. My Back Pages has also been covered by Keith Jarrett, Ramones, Steve Earle and The Hollies – quite a diverse group of artists! Frankly, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of these additional versions. I surely will look them up!

Just check out McGuinn, Petty, Young, Clapton and Harrison in this clip. They all seem to have a ball, especially Neil Young who smiles various times – he’s not exactly known for showing his emotions like that. I also have to call out Eric Clapton who plays a beautiful solo and does a solid job when it comes to his turn singing lead vocals.

My Back Pages - Bob Dylan All Star Jam! - Keeping the Blues Alive

Additionally, I should mention the other musicians on stage: The surviving members of Booker T. & the M.G.s, Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Anton Fig (drums, filling in for the late Al Jackson Jr.), along with Jim Keltner as a second drummer. That’s one hell of a band, even for a maestro like Bob Dylan! Speaking of Dylan, he sounds great as well. And while he isn’t smiling, at least not visibly, I have to believe he was smiling inside!

In case you’re curious to read more about Bobfest or watch additional clips of Dylan renditions by artists like John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman and Chrissie Hynde, you can check out my previous, more comprehensive post on Bobfest from March 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube