The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, afternoon, evening, night…in whichever time zone you are, I’d like to welcome you! Is 2023 already starting to feel old? Are you struggling with sticking to any new year’s resolutions? I hope you can put aside any such thoughts you may have and join me on another trip into the amazing world of music. Let’s all escape the present and have a great time together while it lasts!

Red Garland/Almost Like Being in Love

Today, our journey starts in June 1957 with some groovy jazz by pianist Red Garland. Born in 1923 in Dallas, Tx., Garland started playing the clarinet and alto. saxophone before switching to the piano in 1941. In the ’40s, he also had a short-lived career as a welterweight boxer. Garland who helped popularize the block chord style of playing in jazz piano, gained prominence when he joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1954. In addition to Davis, it featured jazz greats John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. After leaving the quintet in 1958, Garland formed his own trio. They recorded with many other artists, such as Pepper Adams, Nat Adderley, Ray Barretto, Kenny Burrell and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Garland continued to work until his death from a heart attack at age 60 in April 1984. Almost Being in Love, composed by Allen Jay Learner and Frederick Loewe, is a great track from Garland’s album Red Garland’s Piano. He was backed by Chambers (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Toad The Wet Sprocket/All I Want

Our next stop takes us to the early ’90s and a great tune I was reminded of the other day when I coincidentally caught it on the radio: All I Want by Toad The Wet Sprocket. Formed in 1986 in Santa Barbara, Calif., this alternative rock band took their peculiar name from a Monty Python comedy sketch. After their first two albums, which didn’t receive much attention, the band broke through with their third studio release, Fear, which appeared in August 1991. That success was fueled by All I Want, the second single off the album and the group’s first to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 15. Toad the Wet Sprocket had a few additional charting songs and disbanded in 1998 after their fifth album Coil. Yet they continued to work on and off until 2008. As of 2009, the band has officially reunited and released two additional albums to date. All I Want was written by Glen Philips (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, mandolin, keyboards), one of three founding members who remain with the group to this day. This jangly guitar sound and beautiful harmony singing are right up my alley!

The Georgia Satellites/Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Time to pay a visit to Atlanta, Ga. The year is 1986 and it’s the month of October. That’s when southern rock band The Georgia Satellites released their eponymous debut album. The record became their most successful to date, surging to no. 5 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. In turn, that was thanks to Keep Your Hands to Yourself. Their biggest hit peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 3 in Canada. Elsewhere, it reached no. 20 in Australia and no. 69 in the UK. After two more albums and a few additional charting singles, the group went on hiatus in 1990. The Georgia Satellites reemerged in 1993, released another album in 1996, and have since been a touring act. Their current line-up features original member Rick Richards (lead guitar, backing and lead vocals), together with Fred McNeal (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Bruce Smith (bass, backing vocals) and Todd Johnston (drums). Keep Your Hands to Yourself was penned by the group’s original lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Dan Baird. That Stonesy rocker just makes me smile, but no touching, please!

Pink Floyd/See Emily Play

After three tunes into our current excursion, we must turn to the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. Our destination is the second single by Pink Floyd, See Emily Play. I love the early stage of the British group, formed in London in 1965 by Syd Barrett (guitar, lead vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals), Roger Waters (bass guitar, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums). See Emily Play, penned by Floyd’s initial leader and key songwriter Barrett, first appeared in the UK in June 1967 as a non-album single. This early gem was also included on the U.S. edition of the band’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which came out in August of the same year. Unfortunately, it was the only album featuring Barrett as a full member of Pink Floyd. Due to heavy drug use and mental illness, his behavior became increasingly erratic and led to his departure in April 1968. At that time, David Gilmour had already joined the group. While Floyd’s June 1968 sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets still included some contributions from Barrett, Gilmour had fully taken over on guitar. Sadly, Barrett passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006, after he essentially had lived in obscurity since the late ’70s.

Bob Dylan/Tangled Up in Blue

On to the ’70s and an artist I trust needs no introduction. When it comes to Bob Dylan, I’ve always had sentiments ranging from admiration to indifference. If anything, I’ve regained appreciation of Robert Zimmerman since his most recent studio album Rough and Rowdy Ways. To me, it’s a late-career gem. One of Dylan’s earlier tunes I’ve loved from the very first time I heard it is Tangled Up in Blue. In fact, I would count it among my all-time favorites by the Nobel Prize-winning singer-songwriter. It first appeared as a single on January 17, 1975, three days ahead of the release of Blood On the Tracks. Initially, Dylan’s 15th studio album received mixed reviews, but as we’ve seen all too often, the critics came around and now regard it as one of his greatest albums. Fans apparently agreed all along. Blood On the Tracks became Dylan’s second album to top the U.S. charts. It also was no. 1 in Canada and reached the top 5 in the UK (no. 4), Spain (no. 3), Norway (no. 2) and The Netherlands (no. 5). Man, I just love that song!

Melissa Etheridge/Hold On, I’m Coming

Once again, we’re reaching the final stop of yet another music journey. For this last pick, we turn to the current century, though it’s a ’60s Stax tune. You see what I did there? I sneaked in another song from one of my favorite decades in music! In October 2016, Melissa Etheridge released Memphis Rock and Soul, a great tribute to Memphis soul label Stax. One of my favorite tracks on that album is her sizzling rendition of Hold On, I’m Coming. Co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the tune was first recorded by Sam & Dave. Released in March 1966, it became one of their biggest hits. And, yes, it’s been covered by many other artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings and Tina Turner, but I just dig Etheridge’s funky version.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify list of the above goodies. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Advertisement

James Taylor Releases American Songbook Cover Album

I suppose if you’re a cynic you could point out that when an artist releases a cover album of American standards or Christmas tunes for that matter, it’s a sign they’ve run out of ideas and may consider retirement, or they simply are trying make a quick buck. While in some cases this notion may not be unfounded, I feel differently when it comes to James Taylor. To me, his just-released new album American Standard is a legitimate undertaking by an artist who wants to highlight songs that have played an important role in his musical journey.

I’ve admired James Taylor for many years for his warm and soothing vocals and his impressive acoustic guitar chops. I wish I could play like that! His cover of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend is one of my all-time favorite tunes. And, yes, Taylor has also written beautiful songs like Carolina in My Mind, Sweet Baby James and of course the amazing Fire and Rain. I realize this may make me a bit biased when it comes to his latest release.

So why come out with a cover album of American standards? Do we really need another version of Moon River and God Bless the Child? Here’s what the album’s liner notes say, as reported by American Songwriter: “These are songs I have always known. Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina…Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album.”

James Taylor in this studio
James Taylor in his barn studio in Western Mass.

“My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius. I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements.”

Call me naive, but to me Taylor doesn’t sound like some artist who is just out there to cash in on his big name late in his recording career. I won’t pretend I’m an expert on the American songbook. I’m not. It’s simply not the kind of music I typically listen to. I also doubt this will change all for a sudden. What I do know is that I love how Taylor and Pizzarelli arranged these tunes. I think it’s time to let the music do some of the talking or writing.

Teach Me Tonight was written in 1953 by pianist Gene De Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This jazz standard has been covered by Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau and Stevie Wonder, among other countless artists. I dig the beautiful arrangement, including the trumpet solo and percussion played by Walt Fowler and Luis Conte, respectively. Here’s the official video.

Another beautiful tune is Almost Like Being in Love. The music and the lyrics were written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, respectively, for the score of their 1947 musical Brigadoon. The song was first performed on Broadway by David Brooks. Gene Kelly sang the 1954 film version. The tune was also recorded by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. As a fan of old James Bond movies, she entered my radar screen with Goldfinger, perhaps the best 007 tune.

My Heart Stood Still was composed by Richard Rodgers in 1927, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It was written for a British musical revue by Charles Cochran, which opened in London in May 1927. It was also featured later that same year in the American Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee. Like with most other tracks on the album, it’s a tune that was recorded by many artists over the decades, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. The lovely violin part is played by Stuart Duncan.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Only a Paper Moon, which I previously only knew from the 1973 motion picture Paper Moon. But the song’s origin dates all the way back to 1932, when it was titled If You Believed in Me and first performed by Claire Carleton during a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The music was composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose. According to Wikipedia, the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings being made by Nat King ColeElla Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

American Standard, which was released yesterday (Feb 28), is Taylor’s 20th studio album. It was co-produced by Dave O’Donnell, Taylor and Pizzarelli. O’Donnell has worked in different capacities (engineering, mixing, producing) with an impressive array of artists, who in addition to Taylor include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. Pizzarelli, a jazz guitarist and vocalist, isn’t exactly obscure either. According to Wikipedia, apart from recording more than 20 solo albums, he has appeared on more than 40 albums, including Paul McCartney, Rickie Lee Jones and Natalie Cole.

Taylor will be touring Canada and the U.S., starting in mid-April and featuring special guests. In Canada, it is going to be Bonnie Raitt, while for most U.S. gigs Jackson Browne will be his special guest. This surely does sound tempting to me. If Raitt would be the special guest in the U.S., I’d probably get a ticket right away. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Jackson Browne as well but saw him relatively recently in May 2018. My previous and so far only Bonnie Raitt show, on the other hand, dates back to August 2016. And, yes, I admit it, I do have a weak spot for her – she’s just an amazing lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; James Taylor website; Dave O’Donnell website; YouTube