Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again to take a look at newly released music. This installment of Best of What’s New features tunes from an Irish instrumental post-rock band, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, as well as a hard rock outfit and a blues rock band, which are both from New York. All music except for one noted tune came out yesterday (February 12).

The Pretty Reckless/Rock and Roll Heaven

The Pretty Reckless are a hard rock band that was formed in New York in 2009. The group is fronted by Taylor Momsen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), a former actress and model. The other members, who have each been part of the band since 2010, include Ben Phillips (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums). After signing with Interscope, they released their eponymous debut EP in June 2010, followed by their first full-length album Light Me Up in August of the same year. The band’s studio albums have enjoyed decent success on mainstream albums charts in the U.S. and the UK. According to Wikipedia, The Pretty Reckless also hold the distinction of being the only female-fronted band to date with five no. 1 singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Rock and Roll Heaven, co-written by Phillips and Momsen, is from their fourth and new album Death by Rock and Roll.

God Is An Astronaut/In Flux

God Is An Astronaut are an instrumental post rock band from Ireland, formed in 2002 by brothers Torsten Kinsella (guitars, keyboards) and Niels Kinsella (bass, guitars). The current line-up also includes Jamie Dean (keyboards, synthesizer, guitar) and Lloyd Hanney (drums). The band’s Apple Music profile notes their music combines the epic melodies of post-rock, the precision of electronic-fueled Krautrock à la Tangerine Dream, and elements of space rock…[The brothers], the group’s driving force,…played in a number of local bands before teaming up with drummer Lloyd Hanney, the disciple of the famous jazzman Johnny Wadham, to form God Is an Astronaut. Their electro-tinged album The End of the Beginning came out on their own label, Revive Records, in 2002. The two singles off the CD, “The End of the Beginning” and “From Dust to the Beyond,” got airplay on several European MTV channels. Their second album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright, followed in 2005, and included the single “Fragile.” The band has continued to issue new albums pretty frequently. In Flux is from God Is An Astronaut’s new album (their 10th) Ghost Tapes #10. While I prefer music with vocals most of the time, I find the band’s spacey sound pretty cool.

Jillette Johnson/Jealous

Jillette Johnson, who grew up in New York, is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, she started writing songs at age 8; by her teens, she was playing three-hour sets of original music at a restaurant near her suburban New York home. Soon, she was generating enough outside interest that she attended her public high school only one day a year while she developed and recorded her music. That dedication landed Johnson a record deal that resulted in two albums, 2013’s Water in a Whale and 2017’s All I Ever See in You Is Me, the latter of which was produced by fellow Nashvillian Dave Cobb. She began touring 200+ days each year, earning slots at major music festivals, TV appearances and press accolades from outlets ranging from Billboard, Rolling Stone Country, and Paste  to Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan. Jealous is a tune from Johnson’s third album It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You – nice pop rock tune that has a bit of a Sheryl Crow vibe.

Jane Lee Hooker/Jericho

Jane Lee Hooker are a dynamic blues rock band from New York I have covered on a few previous occasions, for example here and here. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Hail Mary Z (bass) and ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums), who joined last year after the departure of original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston. In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with German independent blues label Ruf Records and released their debut No B! in April 2016. This was followed by their sophomore release Spiritus from November 2017. Jericho is the band’s new single that came out on January 29. “Jericho is one of those songs that kind of wrote itself, the music and lyrics just poured out of me,” stated Athens on the group’s website.  “A lot of songs have been written about the Battle of Jericho, it’s a timeless anecdote for having the strength inside to use our voices to break down the walls that divide us and change our world for the good.” 

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jillette Johnson website; Jane Lee Hooker website; YouTube

My Playlist: Sting

Sting is an artist I’ve admired for a long time, both as a songwriter and a musician. The idea to put together a playlist of some of his songs came to me the other day when I was exchanging emails with a friend who is fond of Sting as well. BTW, he’s also a gifted vocalist and musician who does an outstanding job capturing the voice of Donald Fagen and on top also writes his own music. I’m sure I’ll have to say more about him when the time is right.

Back to Sting whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – I suppose it’s obvious why he adopted a different stage name! Sting was born on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, a small town in northeastern England with a history of shipbuilding. This would later inspire The Last Ship, a Broadway show for which Sting wrote the music and the lyrics.

While Sting performed in various jazz bands on the side during his college years and while working as a teacher for a couple of years, his full-time professional music career didn’t start until January 1977, when he got together with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani to form The Police. In August 1977, Padovani was replaced by Andy Summers who initially had joined the band as a second guitarist.

The Police
The Police during a show in The Netherlands in 1983. From left to right: Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers

The Police released their debut album Outlandos d’Amour in November 1978. They had financed the recording with £1,500 borrowed from Copeland’s brother Miles. While initially it performed poorly, the record ended up selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone. The Police recorded four more albums before they disbanded in 1986. By that time, Sting had already released his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which had appeared in June 1985.

As of November 2016, 11 additional solo studio records from Sting have appeared, apart from various live and compilation albums. A new record, which is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Orville Richard Burrell (known as Shaggy), is set to come out in April. Combining the solo albums with his Police recordings, Sting has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most commercially successful music artists. Time for the playlist!

This compilation only focuses on Sting’s solo work. First up: Fortress Around Your Heart. Written by Sting, the tune is from The Dream of the Blue Turtles and became one of the album’s four hit singles. Here’s what appears to be a clip of the official video.

Fragile is one of most powerful Sting tunes Sting I know, in my opinion. It is from his second solo record …Nothing Like the Sun released in October 1987. According to Wikipedia, the song is a tribute to an American civil engineer, who was killed by anti-Communist para-military group the Contras in Nicaragua while working there on a hydroelectric project. Following is a clip of an emotional version Sting performed live on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy, to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Another Sting gem is the title track from his third studio record Soul Cages, which appeared in January 1991, following the death of his father in the late ’80s. The lyrics of the concept album focus on Sting’s relationship with his dad and how he felt after his old man had passed. Soul Cages also appeared separately as the album’s third single in April 1991.

Ten Summoner’s Tales is perhaps Sting’s Aja album. The relaxed and more upbeat songs stand in stark contrast to the introspective predecessor. To me the highlight of Sting’s fourth solo record from March 1993 is Fields of Gold, a timeless ballad that is just beautiful. Below is a really cool clip. I seem to hear slight deviations here and there from the version that is on the album. There also appears to be slightly more echo. It doesn’t matter, it’s a terrific take captured a beautifully shot video.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot became the lead single from Mercury Falling, Sting’s fifth solo record from March 1996. Like most of his tunes, it was entirely written by Sting. The song was about a sick friend with HIV/AIDS. “The first time he went to the hospital I visited him and I was really at a loss to know what to bring him,” Sting told Unmask Us. “I’d just read a book by a Buddhist monk…The premise of the book is that dying is a process that we all need to be training for in that we’re all dying whether we have AIDS or not. I thought that would be a good book to bring him and he loved the book and got a lot of pleasure from it.”

Sting’s sixth solo album Brand New Day from September 1999 became particularly known for its second single Desert Rose, a collaboration with Algerian folk singer Cheb Mami, and the title track, which earned Sting his third Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance. I’m more intrigued by Fill Her Up, a unexpected tune with a country flair, featuring James Taylor on vocals and acoustic guitar.

In September 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, his seventh studio album. At that point, he had largely been gone from my radar screen. On this record Sting demonstrated he is not afraid to experiment and explore new terrain, such as R&B and dance-oriented music, and collaborating with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. While these collaborations demonstrate Sting’s versatility, I prefer This War, which has a nice rock flavor that’s more up my alley.

Starting with 2006’s Songs From The Labyrinth, which features lute music from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, through The Last Ship, the 2013 companion album to his musical with the same name, Sting had lost me completely. I was very encouraged when he released 57th & 9th, his first album in 13 years that is much closer to the Sting I’ve come to like. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised how rock-oriented this record is, which I previously reviewed here. Following is a clip of the opener and lead single I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a rocker with a catchy melody, which is a bit reminiscent of The Police.

Last but not least, here is a clip of Don’t Make Me Wait, the lead single from Sting’s above mentioned upcoming collaboration album with Shaggy, which is titled 44/876. The Caribbean-influenced record shows yet another side of Sting’s versatility. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” Sting told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration – by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Unmask Us, Rolling Stone, You Tube