Welcome to another Sunday Six. I can’t believe we’ve already made it through the first month of 2023. I hope you’re feeling groovy and are in the mood for some time travel into the magic world of music. As always, the trip includes six stops in different decades. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!
Barney Kessel/A Foggy Day
Our journey today starts in 1956 with American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, a name I first heard from my brother-in-law in the late ’70s or early ’80s, then still my sister’s boyfriend. Kessel, who was active from the early ’40s until the early ’90s when a stroke put an end to his career, was particularly known for chord-based melodies. He was a sought-after session guitarist who worked with many other jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. During the ’60s, Kessel was a member of the prominent LA-based session group The Wrecking Crew, playing on recordings by The Monkees, The Beach Boys and others. Eventually, he left studio work to focus on his jazz career, both as a solo artist and sideman. In 1973, Kessel also co-founded Great Guitars, a jazz supergroup with fellow jazz guitarists Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. A Foggy Day, composed by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, is a track from Kessel’s 1956 album Kessel Plays Standards. Check out this amazing guitar tone!
Donald Fagen/The Nightfly
Let’s next jump to October 1982 and The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. His solo debut and first release without his longtime Steely Dan collaborator Walter Becker remains my favorite Fagen album. The Nightfly came 16 months after Fagen and Becker had dissolved Steely Dan in the wake of the Gaucho album, whose recording had been hampered by numerous creative, personal and professional setbacks. Fagen’s first solo album touches on topics from his childhood in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including late-night jazz disc jockeys, fallout shelters and tropical vacations. As such, it is very autobiographical, unlike his earlier compositions for the Dan. Notably, due to writer’s block, it would take Fagen 10 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad, which was produced by Walter Becker who also contributed guitar and bass. It also led to a supporting tour of Fagen and Becker, their first as Steely Dan since 1974. Coming back to The Nightfly, here’s the great title track.
Etta James/At Last
Time to pay a visit to the ’60s and the debut album by Etta James, an amazing vocalist who over a nearly 60-year career performed in multiple genres, such as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul. James had an eventful life and career, which included heroin addiction, severe physical abuse and incarceration. In spite of her struggles, except for an eight-year gap in the ’80s, James released albums at a pretty steady pace. Following her 1988 comeback album Seven Year Itch, James received multiple recognitions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), Grammy Hall of Fame (1999) and Blues Hall of Fame (2001), as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). Sadly, James passed away from leukemia in January 2012, five days prior to what would have been her 74th birthday. Let’s celebrate this outstanding artist with the title track of her very first album At Last! Co-written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Sun Valley Serenade, the tune was first recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, becoming a no. 2 on the U.S. pop chart in 1942. James’ beautiful rendition, one of her best-known songs, reached no. 47 on the U.S. pop chart and no. 2 on the R&B chart. What a voice!
Ry Cooder/Little Sister
Our next stop is July 1979, which saw the release of Bop Till You Drop, the eighth studio album by Ry Cooder. If I recall it correctly, the first time I heard about him was in connection with the 1984 Wim Wenders picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score – one of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I know. Cooder is a versatile artist who in addition to 17 film scores has released a similar amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Over his 55-year-and-counting career, Cooder has also collaborated with numerous other artists like John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt and David Lindley. Bop Till You Drop, yet another album to which my then-bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany introduced me, mostly is a collection of R&B and rock & roll covers. This includes the opener Little Sister, penned by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961. While I dig that version, especially Hank Garland’s lead guitar, I like Ray Cooder’s soulful rendition even more!
Matthew Sweet/I Belong to You
I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some sweet power pop. This takes us to the current century, more specifically May 2018 and Tomorrow’s Daughter, the 13th studio album by Matthew Sweet. I first came across the singer-songwriter in January 2021 when his most recent studio album Catspaw appeared, and featured one of the tunes in a Best of What’s New installment. After playing in various bands in the ’80s and releasing two unrecognized solo records (Inside, 1986; and Earth 1989), Sweet achieved commercial breakthrough with his third studio album Girlfriend, which came out in October 1991 and to date is one of two records that reached Gold certification in the U.S. Between 2006 and 2013, Sweet collaborated on a series of cover albums (Under the Covers Vol. 1 – Vol. 3) with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. I featured two of their great renditions in previous Sunday Six installments here and here. From the above-noted Tomorrow’s Daughter, here’s I Belong to You, a lovely pop rock tune.
Before yet another musical journey comes to an end, let’s visit one more tune. The year is 1992 and the month is October. That’s when American band Mudhoney came out with their fourth studio album Piece of Cake. Formed in Seattle in 1988, the group is viewed as instrumental in creating grunge and an inspiration for many other bands who embraced that genre, as well as alternative rock. Mudhoney are still active and have released 10 studio albums to date. A new one, Plastic Eternity, is in the can and scheduled for April 7. At the time they recorded Piece of Cake, their only charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 to date, Mudhoney featured Mark Arm (vocals, guitar, organ, piano), Steve Turner (guitar, harmonica, banjo, vocals) and Dan Peters (drums, percussion, vocals), who remain part of the current lineup, and Matt Lutkin (bass, vocals) who was replaced by Guy Maddison in 2001. Here’s Blinding Sun, credited to all members of the band at the time. I like their garage sound.
Last but not least, below is a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. As always, I hope there’s something here you enjoy!
Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify