Ural Thomas May be the Greatest Soul Artist You Didn’t Know

This is just an incredible story I wanted to share right away. Until earlier today, I had never heard of Ural Thomas. It’s safe to assume many other fans of soul music are in the same boat. Then I caught a performance of the now 80-plus-year-old Thomas with his band called The Pain at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore. that was streamed earlier today on local listener-funded radio station KBOO-FM. And I can assure you, it was everything else but painful!

Before we get to some sweet soul music, here’s some background on Thomas from his website. Obviously written a few years ago, this text captures the story better than I could ever do, especially given than other than this website, there appears to be little publicly available information on Thomas out there. Therefore, I decided to do something I rarely do: Copy and paste, except for the images.

If life was at all fair Ural Thomas would be a household name, his music slotted into countless sweet, seductive mixtapes between James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder (all of whom Thomas has performed with.) Straddling the line between hot soul shouter and velvety-smooth crooner, Thomas released a few singles in the late 60’s and early 70’s; most notably “Can You Dig It”, which featured backing vocals from soul luminaries Merry Clayton, Mary Wells and Brenda Holloway. Thomas played over forty shows at the legendary Apollo Theater before turning his back on an unkind business and heading home to Portland, OR.

It goes without saying that a man practically built out of rhythm would never stop playing music. Thomas began hosting a regular Sunday night jam session at his home that ran for nearly twenty years. A de facto mentor to many of the younger players, Thomas reminds us all that “If you care about what you’re doing, you need to build those muscles and do the work. Don’t get discouraged, do it for love. Even if you’re digging ditches, do it with passion.”

In 2014, local soul DJ Scott Magee sat in on drums. The two became fast friends and at Magee’s urging Thomas decided to give his musical career another shot. Magee became the musical director, they put together a band, and in 2016 released a self-titled album on Mississippi Records.

In 2017 Thomas signed with Tender Loving Empire and began work on what, in many respects, will be his debut full length. Diving deep into lifetime of melodic creativity, Thomas and his band got to work. Recorded in Magee’s studio Arthur’s Attic, The Right Time features the air-tight work of Magee on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, Bruce Withycombe (The Decemberists) on baritone sax, Portland jazz scene fixture Brent Martens on guitars and vibraphone, Arcellus Sykes on bass, Steve Aman (Lady Rizo) on piano and organ, Dave Monnie on trumpet, Willie Matheis (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) on tenor sax, and Jasine Rimmel, Joy Pearson, Sarah King, Rebecca Marie Miller on backing vocals. The Arco Quartet performed the strings, and the record was engineered and mixed by Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Blitzen Trapper) and mastered by JJ Golden (Sharon Jones, Ty Segall).  

One might think after a sizeable taste of early success Thomas would be more than a touch bitter – yet the opposite is true. “We have to be positive if we want the world to get better” Thomas advises. “We’ve come a long way, but if you carry a grudge with the whole world you’ll stop your growth. We’re a family, all just brothers and sisters, descendants of Adam. You can’t get anywhere without an open heart.”

A developing artist at nearly eighty years old, for Thomas music has always been about bringing people together. “If we play for twenty people we cook it like it’s twenty thousand” says Thomas. “If we make someone smile we’re satisfied. They’re ain’t no difference between us. It’s all love and brotherhood. If folks listen to my record and feel that I’ll feel very blessed.”

Standing in bold defiance of the idea that aging is a reason to slow down and stop living, for Thomas the right time to get down is the next time someone plugs in a guitar or puts on a record. Ural is ready – are you?

Well, that’s a perfect segue into some music. Let’s kick it off with the above noted Can You Dig It? Co-written by Russ Regan and producer Jerry Goldstein, Thomas released this funky soul tune in 1967. And, yes, I sure as heck dig it!

Following are a few tracks from the above noted debut album by Ural Thomas and The Pain. It’s titled The Right Time and appeared in 2018. Here’s No Distance (Between You and Me).

Next up: Smoldering Fire. Oh, man, I just love this tune! How come pretty much nobody knows about it? It’s just incredible!

Here’s the album’s funky title track!

Let’s do one more tune from this great album: Show Ya.

I’ll leave you with one more song I found on YouTube: A 2015 live performance of a tune called Deep Soul. Holy moly. It’s a got a dose of a James Brown vibe!

As for the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival, it’s still streaming today and tomorrow at https://kboo.fm/media/81471-blues-fest-air. I’m currently listening to Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn. I’ve covered on numerous previous occasions. Coming up later today:  Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Bettye Lavette with Texas Horns, among others. Tomorrow’s line-up looks great as well!

Sources: Ural Thomas website; Discogs; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe this already is the 15th weekly post in a row in my recurring feature about newly/recently released music. Frankly, I did not expect that when I started the endeavor 15 weeks ago! This installment includes three singer-songwriters, a jazz funk outfit and a rock & roll band. I had not heard of any of these artists before and surely plan to further explore their music. Let’s get to it!

Sarah Jarosz/Johnny

Sarah Jarosz is a 29-year-old singer-songwriter hailing from Austin, Texas. Wikipedia characterizes her music as Americana, country folk and bluegrass. Jarosz who is of Polish ancestry learned how to the play the mandolin as a 10-year-old and later added guitar, claw-hammer banjo and octave mandolin. While still being a senior in high school, she signed with Sugar Hill Records and released her debut album Song Up in Her Head in June 2009. Written by Jarosz, Johnny is a great tune from her new album World on the Ground, her fifth studio release that appeared on June 5. The record was produced by John Leventhal, who has also worked in that capacity with an impressive array of other artists, such as Michelle Branch, Shawn Colvin and Joan Osborne. I hear some Sheryl Crow in here.

Tim Burgess/Empathy For the Devil

While Tim Burgess has been active since 1989 and apparently is best known as the lead vocalist of alternative rock band The Charlatans, I had not heard of the English musician, singer-songwriter and record label owner before. I generally don’t listen a lot to alternative rock, which at least in part may explain my ignorance. After recording seven albums with The Charlatans, Burgess launched a solo career in parallel and came out with his debut I Believe in September 2003. Empathy For the Devil, which Burgess wrote, is a track from his fifth solo album I Love the New Sky that was released on May 22. There’s just something about this tune that attracted me right away. Check it out.

Jess Williamson/Infinite Scroll

According to her website, Jess Williamson is a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter who makes deeply felt songs that orbit around her powerful voice, a voice that’s strong and vulnerable, big room flawless, quietly ecstatic, and next-to-you intimate...Williamson grew up in the suburbs of Dallas. An only child, she was raised by music-loving parents on a healthy diet of Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, and K.T. Oslin…In her last year of school [at the University of Texas where she was a photography major], following an impulse after seeing Austin’s Ralph White play the banjo at a house show in her friends’ basement, Williamson took up banjo lessons at South Austin Music, and soon after was writing songs and making home recordings. In 2011, the young artist self-released her debut EP Medicine Wheel/Death Songs. Following her relocation to L.A. in 2016, Williamson started work on what would become her first album released with a record label: The 2018 Cosmic Wink. Infinite Scroll is a song she wrote for her latest album Sorceress that came out on May 15. Here’s the official video.

Lettuce/Blaze

Lettuce is something I generally like as a side to a steak or other piece of meat or fish. It also happens to be the name of an American jazz and funk band initially formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. It was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, but the members reunited in 1994 when all them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, their debut album Outta There appeared. And ever since the band has been, well, out there! Blaze is the opener of their new studio album Resonate that was released on May 8, their seventh studio record. Today, Lettuce are a six-piece, with four of their members remaining from the original lineup. Ready for some cool groove? Wait a moment, no vocals? Jeez, indeed! I don’t know who specifically wrote the track but I just dig when they play that funky music!

Low Cut Connie/Private Lives

“If an alien landed and asked what rock ‘n’ roll is, you could start here.” This is what Low Cut Connie confidently proclaim on their Facebook page. Wikipedia apparently agrees, describing them as an American rock & roll band based in Philadelphia. And I love rock & roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby, to creatively borrow from rock dynamo Joan Jett! Low Cut Connie were formed in 2010. I’m afraid I hadn’t noticed! They self-released their debut album Get Out the Lotion in 2011. After their sophomore, another self-release, the band got a deal with Contender Records that issued their first label release in 2015. Private Lives is a single and the title track of Connie’s forthcoming double LP, which is scheduled for October 13. The cool rocker was written by frontman, pianist and songwriter Adam Weiner, who appears to be the band’s driving force. While it’s the only song I currently know, Low Cut Connie sound very promising to me. Here’s the official video.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jess Williamson website; Lettuce Facebook page; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

Prompted by a clip of Southern Avenue on Facebook, I spontaneously decided to do another post on 80 Miles From Memphis. I’ve dug this band and this song since I listened to their eponymous debut album about three years ago, which was released on the re-activated Stax Records label.

Southern Avenue from Memphis, Tenn. blend elements of traditional blues and Stax-style soul with contemporary R&B. The band’s first album and this tune have a more traditional sound, while their sophomore release Keep On from May 2019 is more funk and R&B-oriented. I can highly recommend both records!

80 Miles From Memphis was written by the band’s guitarist Ori Naftaly, who originally is a blues guitarist from Israel. In 2015, he decided to relocate to Memphis where he formed Southern Avenue with vocalist Tierini Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals). You can read more about the band’s remarkable background story and a great concert I saw in New York in August 2018 here.

I saw the band a second time in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019 and posted about it here. Both gigs proved the band is a strong live act. I’m definitely planning to see them again when the opportunity arises and the time is right.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Stevie Wonder/Innervisions

“Innervisions gives my own perspective of what’s happening in my world, to my people, to all people. That’s why it took me seven months to get together – I did all the lyrics – and that’s why I think it is my most personal album. I don’t care if it only sells five copies – this is the way I feel.” (Stevie Wonder, The New York Times, July 20, 1973)

On May 13, Stevie Wonder turned 70 years old. Yesterday, I came across his moving acceptance speech at the 1989 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Both of these events prompted me to post about one of my longtime favorite artists. Instead of a playlist, which I’m sure I’m going to do at some point, I decided to write about Innervisions. This album from August 1973 may well be Wonder’s equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry or Steely Dan’s Aja, i.e., a career-defining true masterpiece.

Stevie Wonder at Madison Square Garden in March 1974

The comment from Wonder in the lead paragraph appeared in a New York Times story that reported about an interesting PR tactic to create some buzz among journalists two weeks ahead of the album’s official release. A group of blindfolded journalists boarded a bus in New York City’s Times Square and was brought to a nearby recording study. Upon arrival, each member – still blindfolded – was assigned an individual guide, allowed to taste various foods, touch various musical instruments and dance to the music of Innervisions, which was playing in the background.

And, yes, Wonder was there as well. Though he was delayed coming in from Texas, but thanks to a police escort from the airport, he just made it in time to receive the group of journalists at the studio for this unusual album preview listening party. “The idea of the blindfolds was to try to give people an idea of what’s happening in my mind,” Wonder explained. “When you look at something, your hearing is distracted by your eye.” While doubt the temporary blindfolds allowed the participants to enter the mind of a musical genius, Wonder and his PR folks certainly deserve credit for coming up with a creative tactic.

Which brings me to Innervisions, Wonder’s 16th studio album. Rightfully, it’s widely considered to be a landmark. According to Wikipedia, it made Wonder “the first artist to experiment with the ARP synthesizer on a large scale”, adding this had a huge impact on the future of commercial black music. Based on this apparently well researched post by The Music Aficionado, it sounds like it would be more accurate to describe Wonder as one of a number of artists who were experimenting with ARP synthesizers in the early ’70s. But I don’t think this context diminishes the significance of the record!

Innervisions also marked an important step in Wonder’s transition away from primarily romantic tunes to musically and lyrically more mature songs. Arguably, that journey began with Music of My Mind, Wonder’s 14th studio album released in March 1972, which some consider the first record of his “classic period” that culminated in Songs in the Key of Life from September 1976.

Stevie Wonder in 1973

Innervisions tackles a broad range of issues, including drugs, racism and religion, and only includes three love songs. In fact, there’s a quote from Wonder I read somewhere and now can no longer find (I hate when that happens!), where he essentially said people no longer want to hear love songs. Looking at this comment today, I think it’s important to keep in mind the context of 1973 America, a country that was struggling with racism, poverty, and a rampant drug epidemic, not to mention a crook in the White House – sound familiar?

Okay, time to get to some music. Let’s kick it off with the album’s opener Too High. Like all of the other eight tracks, the tune was written, arranged and produced by Wonder. It’s also one of four songs, on which he played all instruments, in this case a Fender Rhodes electric piano, harmonica, drums and Moog (synthesizer) bass. I’m too high/I’m too high/I can’t ever touch the sky/ I’m too high/I’m so high/I feel like I’m about to die, Wonder sings, leaving no doubt this ain’t some romantic ballad. BTW, just to be clear, I’m with Paul McCartney here: Nothing wrong with a silly love song!

Next up is what to me is the stand-out track on the album: Living for the City, the cinematic tale of a poor young African American man from Mississippi who innocently ends up in a rotten jail in New York City just after he had arrived to what he had thought would be his big city dream. The tune was also released separately as a single in November 1973, reaching no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping what was then called the Hot Soul Singles chart (now known as Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs). Songfacts quotes Wonder: “I think the deepest I really got into how I feel about the way things are was in ‘Living For The City.’ I was able to show the hurt and the anger. You still have that same mother that scrubs the floors for many, she’s still doing it. Now what is that about? And that father who works some days for 14 hours. That’s still happening.”

Higher Ground is the first track on the (vinyl) album’s B-side. According to a track-by-track review in Billboard, it’s a call to action (maybe the grooviest ever?), where he encourages people to “keep on learnin’,” outs politicians that talk while their “people keep on dyin’,” and those doing nothing to “stop sleepin’.” Adds Songfacts: Guided by a mix of Christian morality and astrological mysticism, Wonder believed he was writing a “special song” whose lyrics suggested a coming day of judgment. “I did the whole thing in three hours” he told Q magazine. It was almost as if I had to get it done. I felt something was going to happen. I didn’t know what or when, but I felt something.” One thing’s for sure: That song, which also became the album’s lead single in July 1973, grooves like hell! Evidently, people noticed. The tune climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was another chart-topper on the Hot Soul Singles.

One of the “lighter” tunes is Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing, which has an upbeat Latin vibe. According to Songfacts, Stevie Wonder encourages his lady to be fearless in exploring all life has to offer because he’ll always be by her side. Although he claims to speak fluent Spanish in the intro, saying “Todo está bien chévere” (“Everything’s really great” or “Everything’s cool”), Wonder didn’t really know the language…The Spanish lyric was inspired by a Puerto Rican woman that Wonder met in a record store. He recalled: “I remember the night I was going to do this song. And I just so happened to meet this girl named Rain. And she was beautiful. And she worked at this record shop – this record store. And I’m like saying to her, hey, you know, it’s amazing. You know, she sings. You know, she’s Puerto Rican. I say, yeah, OK, well, you know, I’m doing a little thing and like a little something called ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.’ What can I – I mean, give me something, something. I’ll let you come to the studio if you have anything to say. I’ll say some things, and it will be a wonderful day. And she said, ‘todo esta bien chevere.’ And that’s how I got that in a song. And, you know, we fell in love, and it was a beautiful thing.”

The final tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer He’s Misstra Know-It-All. He’s a man/With a plan/Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand/He’s Misstra Know-It-All, Wonder sings. Playing hard/Talking fast/Making sure that he won’t be the last/He’s Misstra Know-It-All, he carries on. Makes a deal/With a smile/Knowing all the time that his lie’s a mile/He’s Misstra Know-It-All…The above Billboard review calls the song “a cautionary tale about a hustler.” According to Wikipedia, It has been alleged has been alleged that this is a reference to United States’ President Richard Nixon. Considering the album’s context and other songs, this looks like a safe bet to me.

Three days after the release of Innervisions, Wonder was involved in a bad car accident that nearly killed him when he was hit by a log into his forehead. He was hospitalized with a severe brain contusion that caused him to be in a coma for four days. It took Wonder more than a year to completely recover from his injuries. Kind of creepy, especially if you consider his above quote about Higher Ground.

And, yes, Innervisions sold more than five copies. While I didn’t come across specific sales figures in the U.S. and elsewhere, the album reached Gold status in Canada and the U.K. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and hit no. 1 on the Top R&B Albums chart, which since 1999 has been called Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. At the 1974 Grammy Awards, the record won Album of the Year and Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. Living for the City captured Best R&B Song. Innervisions is ranked at no. 24 on the 2012 edition of Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; The Music Aficionado; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope everybody is doing well! I decided to do another installment of my long-running music history feature, which hit 50 with the previous post. It turns out April 12 was a pretty eventful date, so let’s get to it.

1968: Pink Floyd released their fourth single in the UK, It Would Be So Nice. The tune, which was written by keyboarder Richard Wright, had a rather uplifting, almost pop-like sound unlike many other Floyd songs at the time. It was the band’s first release after the exit of Syd Barrett. Idiotically, the BBC is said to have banned the initial version of the song due to a passing reference of the London newspaper The Evening Standard, which violated their strict no-advertising policy. Apparently, this prompted the band to record an alternate, BBC friendly version. It didn’t help from a popularity perspective, and the song failed to chart in the UK or elsewhere. Apparently, Roger Waters and Nick Mason didn’t like the tune either. Waters called it a “lousy record.” Mason was even more outspoken: “Fucking awful, that record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles.” Ouch!

1973: The American children’s TV series Sesame Street has seen many celebrities over its 50-plus-year history. One of the coolest and funkiest guests ever must have been Stevie Wonder who appeared on the program 47 years ago. Then 23 years old, Wonder performed Superstition, the lead single from his latest album at the time Talking Book. I always loved that funky tune. Check out the apparent joy Wonder got out of this and his kickass backing band – priceless!

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band released the excellent live album Live Bullet. The material came from a 1975 gig at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Interestingly, Seger was still a largely regional act at the time. This would change with the band’s next studio album Night Moves that came out in October of the same year and finally put them on the map nationally. Over the years, tracks from Live Bullet became staples on rock radio. Undoubtedly, the best known is the road tale Turn the Page, which was written by Seger. Check out the official video I came across on YouTube. Love that tune!

1976: That evening, Paul McCartney with his wife Linda visited John Lennon at his apartment in the Dakota. Lennon was watching the late-night NBC comedy show Saturday Night, the predecessor to Saturday Night Live. During this particular episode, co-creator and producer Lorne Michaels invited The Beatles to reunite on the show for the deliberately measly offer of $3,000 (approximately the equivalent of $13,900 today). Michaels had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching the whole thing – and actually considered showing up at the show’s studio that night just for fun. The Beatles Bible quotes Lennon from his final major interview he gave to book author David Sheff in 1980: “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.” Now, that would have been something!

1983: R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur. Shockingly, the music critics got it right for once and gave it a warm reception. It also peaked at no. 36 on the Billboard 200, not shabby for a debut. A re-recorded version of Radio Free Europe appeared separately as a single and reached no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In spite of the critical acclaim, Murmur only sold approximately 200,000 copies by the end of the year, which back then wasn’t considered special – wow, how the times have changed! Eventually, the album reached Gold certification (500,000 units sold) in 1991. Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and Michael Stipes’ vocals are right up my alley. Here’s Radio Free Europe. Like all other songs except for one, the tune was credited to all four members of the band, which in addition to Buck, Mills and Stipes also included drummer Bill Berry.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

L.A. Funk Rock Band Cohort Releases Eponymous Studio Album

With Cohort being the second contemporary band I “discovered” in one day, it starts to feel a bit like I’m on a roll with stepping out of my ’60s and ’70s zone. At this time, it’s mostly some music from their new eponymous album I can offer, since there hardly seems to be any public information on this funk-oriented rock band. Cohort don’t even have a Facebook page, which I find somewhat puzzling. The following insights are based on Soundcloud and this YouTube clip.

Weirdly, just like my previous discovery Dustbowl Revival, Cohort hail from Venice, Los Angeles. What’s up with that? This beachfront neighborhood seems to be a hotbed for music! Cohort’s members include Tula Jussen (guitar, vocals), Josh Lipp (guitar), Miles Tobel (keyboards, saxophone), Jack Ross (bass) and Emilio Anamos (drums). They all seem to be quite young. The above YouTube clip, which was posted in July 2017, introduced them as a “teenage rock band.” But here’s the thing. No matter their age, they sound pretty mature on what seems to be their first full-fledged album.

Check out the following clips. Let’s kick things off with the funky opener Et, which features nice bass, guitar and sax work. This doesn’t exactly sound like some high school band!

Here’s another cool groovy tune: Oddball. Certainly nothing odd about this song.

Okay, do I have your attention? How about a softer tune? It still has a funky sound. Here’s Waiting (Return of the Relaxation).

Let’s do one more track. Here’s the nice closer Santa Ana. It’s another tune with a great groove. I also like the sax intro. Overall, I can hear a bit of a Santana vibe in here, especially if you imagine some congas and other percussion.

What else can I tell you about Cohort? In the above video, Jussen said, “We take a lot of influence from everywhere, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.” That’s perhaps more obvious for the music they play in the clip than the tracks on this album.  I think this talented young band is on a promising path!

Sources: Soundcloud; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Moon Jocks/The Moon Jocks

Until yesterday, I had never heard of The Moon Jocks. That’s when my music streaming provider served them up as part of a new music mix. I just love to live in my ’60s and ’70s bubble, so admittedly, my expectations about this playlist were quite moderate. Then that tune Have You came on, which is the band’s latest single that was released two weeks ago. There was something about this retro funky sound and the vocals that grabbed me, so I looked up the band and, voila, got to their eponymous debut album, which appeared last June.

To start with, who are these guys? Unfortunately, there is very little information out there. Their Facebook page indicates they are from Philly and provides a link to their website, which is pretty bare-bones as well. Their bio reads, “The Moon Jocks are a Philadelphia-based trio specializing in delivering chill vibes straight to your ear drums.” It also lists their members: Nick DiGiacomo (guitar), Lou DiGiacomo (drums) and David O’Day (vocals). The website also has a tab about the debut album. One can stream it there, which is kind of cool, and also see the credits. So with the scarcity of information, let some music do the talking!

Here’s the opener Take Control. In addition to the above members, the band relied on a bassist named Mike Palardy on this track and most of the other eight songs on the album. O’Day provides both lead and backing vocals on most tunes. I don’t know who writes and arranges their music, but the soft funky wah-wah guitar and the vocals sound pretty cool to me. Check it out!

None of That brings more of that funky guitar. I also like the drum part, which has a ’70s vibe to it – almost sounds a bit like a disco drum! In fact, I would say, retro is an accurate characterization for The Moon Jocks’ overall sound. It’s one of the few tunes where Nick also plays bass.

Next up: Headspace, a largely instrumental piece.

The last track I’d like to call out is called Time Is Electric. It’s another groovy tune.

The album was recorded at Catapult Sound in North Wales, Pa., which is in the Philadephia vicinity. Sound engineer Brett Kull assisted the band with mixing and also did the mastering.

I’m always happy to come across new music I like, and I really dig The Moon Jocks’ sound. What I will say is the music on the album does become a bit repetitive and predictable after listening to the first few tunes. But let’s be honest here: It’s not like my favorite band of all time, i.e., The Beatles, didn’t sound repetitive, especially in their early phase. This is a pretty good studio debut by what looks to me are still fairly young musicians. I’m sure we’ll hear more from these guys.

Sources: The Moon Jocks website; YouTube

 

Woodstock 50 Clips & Pix: Sly And The Family Stone/I Want To Take You Higher (Part 3 of 4)

Here is part 3 of a 4-part mini series of Woodstock clips to supplement my recent post about the festival. The above footage of Sly And The Family Stone is from Woodstock’s third day, Sunday, August 17, 1969. The band’s gig fell into the early morning hours (3:30 to 4:20 am ET, according to Wikipedia).

I Want To Take You Higher was written by front man Sly Stone. The tune is from their fourth studio album Stand!, which appeared in May 1969. It also became the b-side to the record’s single of the record’s title track released during the same year. The song is a great example of the band’s mixture of social messages with high-energy rock, soul, R&B, soul and psychedelia. It is simply impossible to watch this clip without starting to groove.

Formed in late 1966, the band’s members included singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, Sly’s brother Freddie Stone (guitar, vocals), his sister Rose Stone (keyboards, vocals) and his cousin Larry Graham (bass), as well as Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Greg Errico (drums) and Jerry Martini (saxophone). The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, into which Sly And The Family Stone were inducted in 1993, called them rock’s first integrated, multi-gender band and Woodstock their greatest triumph.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, YouTube

Southern Avenue Come In Hot In Asbury Park

Memphis soul, blues and R&B band delivers energetic set at Wonder Bar

Southern Avenue weren’t kidding when they posted on Facebook yesterday, “our show at Jams On The Sand in Asbury Park, NJ has been moved indoors due to tonight’s forecast of severe thunderstorms. We’re still coming in hot though!” The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn., which blends traditional southern soul and blues with more contemporary R&B, is one of the few bright stars I know in today’s music world, a world I generally find uninspiring. So I was really excited to get the opportunity to see them for the second time last evening.

Initially, Southern Avenue were scheduled to play at Jams On The Sand, a weekly free open air concert series held in Asbury Park during the summer. But the weather gods weren’t kind, and it was great the organizers managed to move the event inside to The Wonder Bar, a well-known local performance venue. While the circumstances were unfortunate and likely decreased attendance, they may well have been a blessing in disguise from a performance perspective. The band had incredible energy and blew the roof off the place. My ears were still ringing this morning!

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierinii Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

More frequent visitors of the blog likely know that I have covered Southern Avenue on various occasions since I started paying attention to them about two years ago, for example here, here and and most recently here. Therefore, instead of recapping band’s history and their members yet another time, let’s get to the action right away!

Southern Avenue’s set included a mix of tunes from their two studio albums they have released to date and some covers. Here’s a nice funky song off their most recent record Keep On from May 2019, which is called Switchup. Co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly and lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson, it’s got a cool vibe that reminds me of Commodores.

Most of the songs the band performed were upbeat tunes, with Tierinii displaying an amazing amount of energy, seemingly feeding off the enthusiastic crowd. Every now and then, they slowed things down a bit, such as with It’s Gonna Be Alright, a tune that appeared on their eponymous debut album from February 2017. It certainly was alright!

Here’s another fun track from Keep On: Jive, which was co-written by Ori, Tierinii and her sister Tikyra Jackson who is the band’s drummer. It’s got a great driving beat and nice instrumental parts that in addition to Ori and Tikyra also feature keyboarder Jeremy Powell and bassist Gage Markey.

Next up: A cool bluesy jam take of The Beatles’ 1969 song Come Together, which blends into Keep On, the title track from Southern Avenue’s latest album. That track is credited to Ori, Tierinii and producer Johnny Black.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Southern Avenue’s usual concert closer Don’t Give Up and, it seems to me, is their signature song. Another track from their eponymous debut album, the powerful tune is one of Tierinii’s highlights, who is not only an incredible vocalist but also a compelling front woman.

In addition to being talented musicians and songwriters, Southern Avenue’s members are nice, approachable and down-to-earth people. Last night, prior to the gig, I chatted for a while with keyboarder Jeremy about their current tour and latest album – such a nice guy! I also ran into Tierinii who spontaneously gave me a hug after mentioning that I had seen them previously in New York last year.

Southern Avenue are a fantastic live band. If anything, their extensive touring has made them even better than the band I saw last August. In addition to touring the U.S. and Canada, they also do gigs in Europe. In fact, they just recently returned from a series of dates spanning various European countries, including England, France and Germany, among others. Tonight, they are playing a blues festival in Nescopeck, Pa. Upcoming gigs include Ottawa, Canada (Jul 13); Scranton, Pa. (Jul 26); Edmonton, Canada (Jul 28); and Mad Creek, CO (Jul 31). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Southern Avenue Facebook page and website; YouTube

Southern Avenue Keep On Delivering Distinct Blend of Powerful Soul, Blues And R&B On New Album

Southern Avenue perhaps couldn’t have chosen a better title for their sophomore album. Released yesterday, Keep On continues to effectively draw from different musical backgrounds of the band’s members. Southern Avenue skillfully blend Stax-style soul with blues, R&B, gospel, funk and rock. The result is powerful music combining familiar with new influences and a sound that has noticeably matured and become more distinct since the band’s eponymous debut from February 2017.

The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn. has been on my radar screen since I listened to the first album about two years ago. I also witnessed what a great live act Southern Avenue are when I saw them in New York City last August. At the time, I briefly chatted with guitarist Ori Naftaly, who mentioned their new album. My anticipation grew further with the release of the lead single Whiskey Love in early April, followed by the appearance of the second single Savior.

For brief background, Southern Avenue were founded in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierini Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards rounds out the band’s core line-up. Bassist Gage Markey has been a touring member for the past couple of years and also plays on the new record. Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they are not a Stax revival act.

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierini Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

Keep On features some impressive guests. In this context, I first would like to mention the great horn section comprised of saxophonist Art Edmaiston and trumpet player Mark Franklin. They are an important factor for the above noted more mature sound. Edmaiston has played with artists like Levon Helm and Gregg Allman, while Franklin  has supported sessions for the likes of Aretha FranklinB.B. KingSolomon Burke and Booker T. & the M.G.s. Another prominent guest is William Bell, who is perhaps best known for co-writing Born Under a Bad Sign with Booker T. Jones. The tune was first recorded by Albert King in 1967 and popularized by Cream the following year.

Alright, I think it’s time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. Co-written by Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black, the tune is a nice example of how Southern Avenue blend different genres. Naftaly clearly is a blues guitarist at heart and I can hear some Cream in his cool riff. The horns add a dose of soul while Jackson’s strong vocals throw in some R&B.

Since I previously wrote about the first two singles Whiskey Love and Savior, I’m skipping these great tracks here and jump to the nice funky Switchup. Like the title track, the song is co-credited to Naftaly, Jackson and Black.

Next up: Lucky. Co-written by Naftaly and Jackson, this song has a beautiful retro Stax vibe to it. But, as if to emphasize that Southern Avenue don’t want to be a retro Memphis soul band, Naftaly throws in a fairly rock-oriented guitar solo.

Another great number is Jive, a co-write by Naftaly, Black and both Jackson sisters. I dig the tune’s driving beat, which makes you want to get up and dance. The horns and the backing vocals set great accents.

On the upbeat We’ve Got The MusicWilliam Bell joins Tierini Jackson on vocals. Bell also shares writing credits with Naftaly and her. I like the song’s message about the power of music and how it can bridge differences among people: If you don’t look like me/If you don’t talk like me, that’s alright/We’ve got the music/If you don’t know my face/But you’re feeling the sound, it’s okay/We’ve got the music…

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer We’re Gonna Make It. I think music publication No Depression nicely described the tune in their review of Keep On. “This gospel-inflected song opens with a nod to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and builds a message of love, persistence, and encouragement layer-by-layer. The song takes up where the Staple Singers left off, carrying the torch of hope in a world of darkness and giving us a new anthem for these times.”

“Making this album was an interesting journey,” Ori explained. “Our first album was recorded very fast and released very fast. With this one, we spent a long time planning, and we knew how we wanted it sound. For me, it’s a big progression from the first album.” Added Tierini: “The experience was completely different from making the first one. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the band.”

One of the cool things about Keep On is that the album was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording. The studio was opened in Memphis in 1960 by no one other than legendary Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips, who worked with artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and B.B. King. Wow, one can only imagine what it must have felt like for this young band to record in that studio – the thought of it gives me goosebumps!

Southern Avenue In Concert

“The thing that stood out most to me about Southern Avenue is their dedication to making this record ‘the hard way’,” stated producer Johnny Black. “Even in their selection of studios; by picking Sam Phillips Recording, the band, in essence, forced themselves to record within the same parameters as some of their heroes. And while that process may have taken extra time, it was well worth the effort.” In my humble opinion, I think Black is spot on.

Southern Avenue currently is where they seem to be most of the time – on the road. Their tour schedule is packed between now and mid-November and mostly includes U.S. dates. From late May to mid-June, the band is also playing a series of shows in Europe. I have no doubt Southern Avenue will keep on wowing audiences with their performances that are passionate, authentic and humble at the same time. As a communications professional, I also have to commend the band for their effective use of Facebook to build their fan base. I’m planning to catch them again on July 11 during Jams on the Sand, a free outdoor event in Asbury Park, N.J.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website, William Bell website, No Depression, YouTube