If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Madonna

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song exercise. If you’re a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll stick around and come back.

My song choice this week falls outside my ’60s and ’70s core wheelhouse, so in case you dig music from these two decades but are less excited about this pick, I hope you’ll check out some of the other posts and return. Should you love the tune I selected but are less sure about the ’60s and ’70s, come back anyway and allow me to demonstrate how much great music these two decades have to offer. BTW, you’ll also find some contemporary music on this blog.

After this shameless attempt of self-promotion, here are the rules: I’m about to embark on an imaginary trip to a desert island and need to decide which one song (not an album!) to take with me. Moreover, it must be a tune by an artist or a band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. I’m doing this exercise in alphabetical order, based on my music library, and I’m up to the letter “m”.

Artists (their last names) and bands starting with the letter “m” are a sizeable pool in my music universe and, for example, include The Mamas & The Papas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Men At Work, The Moody Blues and Mumford & Sons. And my pick is La Isla Bonita by Madonna.

Yes, I like a good number of her songs but must immediately qualify for the most part I’m referring to music on her first four albums. I’m also not familiar at all with her two most recent albums Rebel Heart (March 2015) and Madame X (June 2019). I vaguely recall sampling a few tunes from MDNA (March 2012). Afterwards, I stopped paying attention altogether. Other contenders for my specific song choice included Borderline, Into the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Prayer. Not only has La Isla Bonita been among my favorite Madonna tunes for many years, but I also felt it’s a perfect fit for the occasion.

The Spanish pop-flavored tune was co-written by Madonna and co-producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. It first appeared on Madonna’s third studio album True Blue, which came out in May 1986. The song was also released separately as the album’s fifth and last single in February 1987.

Both the single and the album enjoyed substantial international chart success. La Isla Bonita went to no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland in the UK, while the album topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Europe definitely loved Madonna!

True Blue also became Madonna’s most commercially successful record globally, with more than 25 million units sold worldwide, and her third-highest seller in the U.S. where it reached 7x Platinum certification (verified sales of 7 million units) as of February 1995. In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called True Blue “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer who knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it.” The album was also well-received by many other music critics.

How about La Isla Bonita gypsy style. This cool live reinterpretation captured in 2007 features guitarist Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, both from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band formed in New York City in 1999. Check this out – man, what a performance!

I’m leaving you with a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

“La Isla Bonita” means “The Beautiful Island” in Spanish. In the song, Madonna sings about the beautiful island of San Pedro, where she longs to be. San Pedro is not a real island. In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, “I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”

This song provided yet another look and sound for Madonna, as it had a Spanish theme. In an interview with the New York Times, she called the song, “A tribute to the beauty and mystery of Latin American people.”

Songwriter and producer Patrick Leonard wrote this for Michael Jackson, but Jackson claimed he didn’t like the title and turned down the song. Leonard then offered it to Madonna, who rewrote some of the lyrics in her style. Leonard worked with Madonna on many of her other hits including: “Live To Tell,” “Who’s That Girl,” “The Look Of Love,” “Like A Prayer,” “Cherish,” “Oh, Father,” “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Cordovas Release New Album That Santa Fe Channel

Harmony vocals and warm guitar-driven sound feel like trip back to late ’60s and early ’70s

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of Cordovas. Then I saw the Americana rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. in a free summer concert in the park in Woodbridge, N.J. and immediately liked what I heard. Frankly, I’m still a bit in disbelief they played there in the first place but, hey, that’s how they got on my radar screen, so I’m not complaining! Today, they released what I understand is their second studio album, That Santa Fe Channel, and it’s a real beauty.

Listening to Cordovas feels a bit like taking a journey back in time to the late ’60s and early ’70s, a period in music I love. Sometimes, my dear wife tells me I grew up during the wrong decade – she may be right about it!:-) Anyway, Cordovas’ beautiful triple-stacked harmony vocals and guitar-driven sound remind me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Band, Grateful Dead, Eagles and Little Feat.

Billboard called Cordovas’ music a blend of Southern and California Americana. Rolling Stone, in a June 2017 feature titled 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know, described their sound as “decidedly American” and “caught halfway between Duane Allman’s Telecaster twang, the Dead’s hazy harmonies and the stoned swoon of California’s folk-rock heyday.”

I could never come up with such clever attributes, which is why I probably wouldn’t get far as a music journalist. But while I may be challenged to find the right buzz words, given my former band days as a bassist (admittedly many moons ago!) and close to four decades of listening experience, I feel confident enough to say that This Santa Fe Channel is great music, since I know it when I hear it! Of course, ultimately, it comes down to individual taste.

Cordovas
Cordovas (left to right): (left to right) Toby Weaver, Graham Spillman, Lucca Soria, Sevans Henderson and Joe Firstman

Led by bassist Joe Firstman, Cordovas have been around for some time. According to Billboard, the first album released under their name appeared in 2011 and essentially was a solo effort by Firstman. Firstman has a long history predating the band, which includes a 2002 solo debut album, War Of Women, and a stint as music director on Last Call with Carson Daly. “For this one [the new album] we had the idea to make it a band and go forward to do it,” he told Billboard. “I saw the weaknesses in that first (solo) process and I recognized that I felt like I was much stronger in the band, with guys that I really trust and are like-minded individuals. I wanted to build something that would last.”

The band’s current line-up, which also includes Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals), Sevans Henderson (keyboards) and Graham Spillman (drums), has been together for five years. Cordovas are exceptionally tight-knit. Not only are they band mates who tour prolifically, but they also live together in the same compound in East Nashville. “The Cordovas are a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week job,” explains Firstman on the band’s Facebook page. “We’re eating dinner together, hanging out together, and making art. We don’t have rehearsal times, because rehearsal is always. You have to honor the art first, and everything else comes second.” I think it’s fair to say these conditions wouldn’t work for most bands, so kudos to Cordovas for their extraordinary commitment. Time to let some music do the talking, or perhaps I should better say the writing!

Here’s the album’s opener This Town’s A Drag. This tune nicely sets the tone for the record: Great harmony singing and a warm sound blending electric and pedal steel guitar.

Selfish Loner is the longest track on the album, clocking in at just over four and a half minutes. Most tunes are only around three minutes or less. In fact, the nine songs on the album only total about 29 minutes altogether.

Here’s Frozen Rose, one of two tunes Cordovas had released as a single ahead of the album.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Standin’ On The Porch, which in addition to country rock throws in some blues. I also dig the tune’s groove.

That Santa Fe Channel was produced by Kenneth Pattengale, a singer and guitarist in American indie folk duo The Milk Carton Kids. The album appears on ATO Records, an independent New York-based label founded in 2000 by Dave Matthews and manager Coran Capshaw. Among others, their roster includes Alabama Shakes.

Cordovas are currently where they appear to be most of the time – on the road. Their present U.S. schedule posted on their website goes until early October. Upcoming gigs include Chicago (Aug 16), Washington, D.C. (Aug 23), Fort Worth (Aug 30) and Cleveland (Sep 5). Earlier this year, the band toured in Europe.

Sources: Billboard, Rolling Stone, Cordovas Facebook page and website, ATO Records website, YouTube

Cordovas, Seductive Americana Rock From Nashville

Last year, Rolling Stone included them as one of “10 new country artists you need to know.” Now, Cordovas are about to release their studio debut on ATO Records

It’s simply amazing what kind of bands you sometimes encounter when going to free summer-concert-in-the-park events, at least in my neck of the woods. Until yesterday, I had never heard of Americana/country rock band Cordovas. Since it was a beautiful summer evening and – big shocker – I enjoy seeing live music, I decided to go to Parker Press Park in Woodbridge, N.J. I’m glad I did!

While this central Jersey town may not exactly be a metropolis, they surely have an impressive summer concert series. Between late June and mid-September, there are frequent concerts each day of the week except for Saturdays. Most days even have a dedicated theme: Mondays are oldies, on Tuesdays they have tribute bands, and on Fridays it’s jazz. As the “king of tribute bands,” my eyes lightened up when I saw their Tuesday theme, so chances are I’ll be back! Anyway, Wednesdays appear to be reserved for artists playing original music. And last night, it was Cordovas.

So who the hell are Cordovas? A five-piece band hailing from Nashville, Tenn. While it’s not entirely clear to me when they were founded, these guys definitely are no beginners, and this isn’t their first trip to the rodeo! Pictured above, the band’s members include (left to right) Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Graham Spillman (drums), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals), Sevans Henderson (keyboards) and Joe Firstman (bass, vocals).

Cordovas’ music features impressive triple harmony vocals and nice double-lead guitar lines. When Rolling Stone described them in the above story, they dropped names like Grateful Dead, Little Feat and The Allman Brothers Band. I could definitely hear some influences from all of these mighty bands last night. Some others that come to mind are CSNY, The Band and early-phase Eagles.

The band’s set included a mix of covers and original tunes. Following is a clip I recorded – frankly, not sure whether that’s one of their own compositions or a cover. In any case, it gives you a nice flavor of the band’s style.

Here’s a second clip featuring the two guitarists performing a nice version of Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago, while the rest of the band took a short break. Blues just never gets boring!

According to a May 6 announcement, Cordovas are set for their debut album on ATO Records for August 10. Based on the band’s website, this record doesn’t appear to be their first. The merchandise section lists their eponymous album on vinyl, adding it is out of stock. One can still get it on Amazon. Apparently, it’s from 2017 and weirdly listed as an import.

Anyway, speaking of the new album, two tunes already are out. Here’s a clip of opener This Town’s A Drag – more great harmony singing and a great Telecaster twang!

And here’s the second track: Frozen Rose. Does this sound great or what?!

I’ll be surely to keep Cordovas on my radar screen. BTW, the band has a busy performance schedule. They just returned to the U.S. from a European tour that had started in early June. Between now and the end of September, they have some 20 domestic dates lined up at what appear to be smaller venues. Some of their upcoming gigs are in Boston (Jul 20), New York (Jul 30), Chicago (Aug 16), Washington (Aug 23) and Cleveland (Sep 5). Frankly, while I never mind a free show, I’d pay money to see these guys!

Sources: Cordovas Facebook page and official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube