Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Today, I’m introducing a new recurring feature ingeniously titled Song Musings, in which I take a closer look at, yes, you correctly guessed it, specific songs. It can pretty much be any tune, new or old or in-between, as long as I haven’t covered it to date. This series replaces the If I Could Only Take One desert island song feature, which I finally wrapped up last week.

For my inaugural Song Musings post, I picked A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun by Welch rock band Manic Street Preachers. ‘Why that song?’ you may wonder. Because I came across it while browsing Songfacts, which I have a feeling is going to serve as a key source for Song Musings. I can’t possibly come up myself with different tunes all the time!

A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun was composed by Manics vocalist James Dean Bradfield and the band’s drummer Sean Moore, with lyrics by bassist and vocalist Nicky Wire. It appeared on their 10th studio album Postcards from a Young Man. I’m surprised this great tune didn’t become a single!

Manic Street Preachers, aka the Manics, were formed in 1986 at Oakdale Comprehensive School, Blackwood, South Wales, which all the band members attended. Bradfield and Moore were part of the initial line-up, which also featured Miles “Flicker” Woodward on bass. Three years later, they were joined by Richey Edwards (rhythm guitar, backing vocals).

Manic Street Preachers (from left): Sean Moore, Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield

That line-up recorded the band’s debut album Generation Terrorists released in February 1992. It received some favorable reviews and reached an impressive no. 13 on the British albums chart. Each of the next four albums climbed to even higher chart positions until the Manics hit no. 1 with their fifth album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, their most successful to date, which also performed strongly outside of Britain.

Manic Street Preachers are still around, with Bradfield, Wire and Moore remaining as the band’s core line-up. Their 14th and most recent album The Ultra Vivid Lament came out in September last year.

Following are some additional tidbits on A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun by Songfacts:

The song title is taken from a passage in writer J.G. Ballard’s 1996 novel, Cocaine Nights. Ballard wrote: “A billion balconies facing the sun; still, it means a final goodbye to wars and ideologies. But how do you energize people, give them some sense of community? A world lying on it’s back is vulnerable to any cunning predator.”

As befits a song title referencing JG Ballard, this pulsing rock assault blames technology and lambasts today’s laptop generation.

Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan guests on this track. Bassist Nicky Wire told Q magazine: “We were derided for wearing Guns T-shirts when we first moved to London, but they were such an important group for us growing up.”

“A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun” was previously used in 2008 by American rock band God Fires Man as the title of their debut album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, July 3 and a long holiday weekend for folks in the U.S. Perfect timing to embark on another mini-excursion to celebrate music from different decades, six tunes at a time. If you don’t have anything better to do, hop on; if you’re busy, hop on anyway – most things go better with great music! 🙂

Lettuce/Insta-Classic

Usually, I start these trips with a jazz instrumental from the past. This time, let’s get underway with music from the presence by Lettuce, a neat American jazz and funk band I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, this group came together in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, they reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, Lettuce released their debut album Outta There. They have been pretty productive since then with seven additional albums. Insta-Classic is a cool-sounding track from their latest release Unify, which appeared on June 3.

Keith Richards/Take It So Hard

I trust guitarist Keith Richards doesn’t need an introduction. Obviously, Keef is best known as co-founder of The Rolling Stones and for his longtime writing partnership with Mick Jagger. But, of course, no good rock & roll story is without big egos and drama, and the Glimmer Twins are no exception. By the time Richards’ solo debut Talk Is Cheap came out, his relationship with Jagger was, well, on the rocks. The Stones were in their third decade. While Jagger wanted to stay hip and follow music trends, Richards wanted to preserve the band’s roots. After Jagger had released two solo albums in relatively short order (She’s the Boss, 1985; and Primitive Cool; 1987) and appeared to be more interested in continuing his solo career, Keef decided to strike out by himself as well. The result was the above-mentioned Talk Is Cheap, his first of three solo efforts to date. Let’s check out Take It So Hard, which Keef wrote with co-producer Steve Jordan who also provided bass and backing vocals – good traditional Stonesy tune I frankly take any day over Undercover of the Night.

Elvis Presley/Blue Suede Shoes

While I haven’t watched the new Elvis biopic, I can’t deny the movie is the reason why Elvis Presley is on my mind again these days. I’ve mentioned before I adored Elvis when I was a young kid. It all goes back to the start of my music journey. Soon after I got my first turntable (must have been around the age of 10 – frankly, I don’t remember), I received a 40 greatest hits sampler as a Christmas present. The 2-LP set had pink discs, which I thought was pretty cool. While I’ve since matured (at least that’s what I want to believe) and no longer idolize Elvis or anybody else for that matter, I still get a kick out of the King of Rock and Roll. In particular, I keep going back to his ’50s classic rock & roll tunes he recorded and performed with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. One of my favorites remains their rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, which also features D.J. Fontana on drums. The classic was written and first released by Carl Perkins in January 1956. Elvis’ version, which appeared in September of the same year, surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – almost matching Perkins who scored his only no. 1 with Blue Suede Shoes on the same chart. Let’s go, cats!

Dr. Feelgood/She Does It Right

Let’s slightly slow it down but keep rockin’ and rollin’ with a killer tune by Dr. Feelgood. I guess the first time I heard of the English pub and blues rockers was in the late ’70s when they scored their biggest hit with Milk and Alcohol, a tune I loved from the get-go. Dr. Feelgood were formed on Canvey Island, England in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals), who soon added John Martin (drums). That line-up remained in place until 1977 and recorded the group’s dynamite debut album Down by the Jetty (January 1975), as well as two additional records. Dr. Feelgood are still around, though their current line-up hasn’t included any founding members since 1994. She Does It Right, penned by Johnson, is a tune off Down by the Jetty. Man, I love their raw sound!

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

Alrighty, after a series of rockers the time has come to really take it down. Gregg Allman is another artist I trust doesn’t need an introduction. For the longest time, the only tune I had known by The Allman Brothers Band had been Ramblin’ Man. Finally, eight or nine years ago, I decided to explore what has since become one of my favorite groups – just in time to see them once in New Jersey in the summer of 2014, a few months prior to their final curtain at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Soon my exploration of the Brothers also led to Gregg Allman’s solo work. Even though he started releasing albums by himself early, in 1973, his solo catalog is relatively moderate, featuring seven studio albums, two live recordings and a few compilations. My Only True Friend, co-written by Allman and guitarist Scott Sharrad, is the great opener of Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. It was released in September 2017, four months after his death at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer. Sharrad who also served as musical director had been a member of Allman’s backing band since 2008. Gosh, I love this tune and album!

Lenny Kravitz/Always On The Run

And once again, another Sunday Six excursion is coming to an end. For this last pick, let’s go back to April 1991 and Mama Said, the sophomore album by Lenny Kravitz. It came less than two years after his debut Let Love Rule, which he wrote and produced nearly all by himself and on which he played nearly all instruments. For Mama Said, he got a little help from some friends, including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Kravitz has since released nine additional studio albums, with the most recent being Raise Vibration in September 2018. I previously reviewed here. Back to Mama Said and the album’s great lead single Always On The Run. Kravitz wrote the tune together with Slash, who also played guitar including a cool solo – just a great funky rocker!

Before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While plenty of new music keeps coming week after week, picking songs I like can be tricky. As much as I try to be open-minded, I simply cannot deny my strong ’60s and ’70s influences. During some weeks, this means it can take a long time to identify tunes I sufficiently enjoy. On other occasions, I find myself with more options than I want to feature. This week fell into the latter category – a nice problem to have! All picks appeared yesterday (June 24). Let’s get to it!

Goose/Hungersite

Goose are an American jam band from Norwalk, Conn. They were formed in 2014 by Rick Mitarotonda (vocals, guitar), Trevor Weekz (bass), Jeff Arevalo (vocals, percussion, drums) and Ben Atkind (drums). Following the release of the debut album Moon Cabin in 2016, the group added Peter Anspach (keyboards, guitar, vocals) in late 2017. Wikipedia notes Goose have been compared to jam bands like Phish and Umphrey’s McGee, while the group itself has characterized their music as indie groove. Hungersite, penned by Mitarotonda, is a track from Goose’s third and latest full-length studio album Dripfield – nice tune!

The Warning/Amour

The Warning are a Mexican rock band from Monterrey, Nuevo León, a state in the country’s northeast region. The trio was formed in 2013 by sisters Daniela Villarreal (guitar, lead vocals), Alejandra Villarreal (bass guitar, piano, backing vocals) and Paulina Villarreal (drums, lead vocals, piano). Apple Music describes The Warning as a “familial Mexican hard rock band that blends savvy riffage, fist-pumping beats, and stadium-ready choruses.” Here’s a bit more from their Apple Music profile: The Villarreal sisters began posting videos online around 2014 and soon attracted attention due to the teen siblings’ instrumental precocity as well as a repertory made up of heavy metal covers by Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and AC/DC. Signed by Victoria Records, the Warning issued their first EP, Escape the Mind, in 2015. The band’s debut album, XXI Century Blood, appeared in 2017, and before long the trio was sharing the stage with the likes of Def Leppard and the Killers. This brings me to Amour, a track from the group’s third and new studio album Error. These ladies rock!

Young Guv/Too Far Gone

It’s just been a little over three months since I first featured Young Guv, a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook. Cook co-founded Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning, initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, he joined another local hardcore punk group named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of now five that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker, including the latest Guv IV. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. Too Far Gone is a song from the aforementioned Guv IV – catchy tune!

Caamp/Come With Me Now

I first learned about Caamp from fellow blogger Eclectic Music Lover, who included the American folk band from Athens, Ohio in a recent installment of his weekly top 30’s feature. From their Apple Music profile: Taylor Meier and Evan Westfall, founders of the folk band Caamp, met as kids at summer camp and began performing together in parking lots and at charity shows while in high school. After bass player Matt Vinson joined the band, Caamp independently released their 2016 self-titled debut, which features the breakthrough viral hit “Ohio.” Meier, who is Caamp’s guitarist and lead vocalist, said Ray LaMontagne and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon are two of his biggest vocal influences. Caamp’s lineup also includes Joseph Kavalec (keyboards). Apart from an EP, they have released three full-length studio albums, including the latest, Lavender Days. Here’s the pleasant opener Come With Me Now, credited to all four members.

Jack Johnson/Open Mind

Jack Johnson is an American singer-songwriter, filmmaker and former professional surfer. From his AllMusic bio: A professional surfer turned chart-topping rocker, Jack Johnson rose to fame in the 2000s with an easygoing, acoustic singer/songwriter style punctuated by an unassuming voice and a mellow, beach-bum demeanor. The combination proved to be particularly potent on the commercial front, as his first five major-label albums all climbed to platinum status, with his most lauded being 2005’s In Between Dreams. While not as prolific, he continued to find success in the 2010s with well-received efforts including From Here to Now to You (2013) and All the Light Above It Too (2017). A handful of collaborations and singles, including 2020’s “The Captain Is Drunk,” ushered Johnson into the next decade ahead of his eighth album, 2022’s Meet the Moonlight. Here’s Open Mind, the beautiful first track off Meet the Moonlight.

Mary Devlin/Lover’s Hands

For this last pick, I’d like to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Angie from The Diversity of Classic Rock. Angie first covered Lover’s Hand, a great rock-oriented tune by Mary Devlin. From her Spotify profile: New Jersey native Mary Devlin made her first debut as a performer at the age of 14 on the streets of her hometown in Ocean City, and has since been actively pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter. Mary’s music is eclectic, ranging from ’80s inspired synth beats to soft acoustic numbers. Yet all Mary Devlin songs are tied together by similar lyrical themes of youth, love, and learning to navigate the world as a 20 something. Devlin has many inspirations, including but not limited to world defining bands such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, legendary figures such as Robert Johnson, contemporary acts such as Lorde, Hozier, Marika Hackman and of course all of the Top Hits of the 80s that her mother has raised her on. Angie noted Lover’s Hand is Devlin’s first professionally recorded single produced and mastered by Brandon Ireland and Tyler Sarfert, respectively – very neat!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of all the above and a few additional tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; Goose website; Apple Music; AllMusic; The Diversity of Classic Rock; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Golden Earring

Happy Wednesday! Once again, the desert island is calling and I must make an important music decision. This time it’s picking a band or artist starting with the letter “G”.

Looking at my library, I could have selected Peter Gabriel, Marvin Gaye, Genesis, Greta Van Fleet, Grateful Dead, Green Day and Guns N’ Roses, among others, but didn’t since I wrote about all of them previously. Instead, I picked Dutch rock band Golden Earring and one of the coolest driving songs I know: Radar Love.

Co-written by the band’s Barry Hay (lead and backing vocals, flute, saxophone, percussion) and George Kooymans (guitar, lead and backing vocals), Radar Love first appeared on Golden Earring’s ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Subsequently, a shortened version of the tune was released as a single in Europe in August 1973, except for the UK where it appeared in November that year. The U.S. release of the single took even longer, until April 1974. Here’s the album version.

Radar Love became Golden Earring’s biggest hit. In addition to topping the charts in The Netherlands, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Belgium, no. 7 in the UK, no. 10 in Austria and no. 13 in the U.S. Undoubtedly, the tune also helped make Moontan the band’s most successful album.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Before you could send a text message or call someone in their car, there was no way to communicate to a driver – unless you had a certain telepathic love that could convey from a distance your desire to be with that person, something you might call – Radar Love. In this song, the guy has been driving all night, but keeps pushing the pedal because he just knows that his baby wants him home.

Like many of Golden Earring’s songs, this began with the title and grew from there. Originally intended only as an album track, it turned out to be the only cut on their US debut album Moontan that they could whittle down to a single for radio. It became their showstopper at concerts, and provided a striking moment for their drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, who would take a few steps back and leap at the drum kit near the end of the song.

Following is a smoldering live version, which according to the clip was captured in 1973:

And here’s something for the geeks among us: 🙂

The song is all in 4/4 time, and the original tempo is around 100 BPM. It’s a very clever arrangement: the intro is on the beat of each bar at the start. The shuffle on the snare is semi triplets which give the illusion of the song speeding up. You have to quantize drum machines to a 6th beat. Consequently the chorus is doubled up to give the impression that the tempo has speeded up to 200 BPM. You have to transpose the 4/4 bar so it can be played with in 1 beat of the bar. It does take a bit of lateral thinking to get your head around the math, but the song is all 4/4 at 100 BPM.

Golden Earring, initially formed as The Tornadoes in 1961 in The Hague, were active until last year. Since 1970, their line-up had consisted of co-founders Rinus Gerritsen (bass, keyboards) and Kooymans, along with Hay and Cesar Zuiderwijk (drums, percussion). In 2021, they disbanded following Kooymans’ diagnosis with ALS, a devastating neurodegenerative condition aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

With highs in the low ’60s and high ’50s yesterday and today, respectively, dare I say it, it does feel a bit like spring. Or perhaps global warming, since having spring in mid-February really sounds way too early? In any case, looks like it’s short-lived: In typical New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area fashion, tomorrow, the forecast high is 35.

What the heck does any of this have to do with music? Nothing, so why don’t we get to some new releases! All my picks this week appear on albums that came out yesterday. Once again, it’s a mix of artists who are entirely new to me and two names I’ve known for a long time, though I can’t claim deep familiarity with their music either.

Spoon/The Devil & Mr. Jones

Kicking it off today are Spoon, a rock band from Austin, Texas, formed as a trio in 1993. They named themselves after a song by German avant-garde group Can. Only Britt Daniel (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion) and Jim Eno (drums, percussion, programming) remain as original members in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Gerardo Larios (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Ben Trokan (bass, keyboards). Spoon, whose music Apple Music characterizes as being inspired by new wave, power pop and soul-influenced rock, released their debut album Telephono in April 1996. The Devil & Mr. Jones, penned by Daniel and fellow Austin songwriter Andrew Cashen, is a track from Spoon’s 10th and new album Lucifer on the Sofa. Good tune!

alt-j/Bane

alt-j are an English alternative rock band. According to their Apple Music profile, they wear their geeky math side with pride, right down to their name, a reference to the keyboard shortcut for a delta (triangle) sign. But it was their proclivity for the liberal arts that brought them together in 2007 at Leeds University, where lead singer/guitarist Joe Newman, guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury, and drummer Thom Green studied fine art and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton read English literature. The quartet first started tinkering with minimal equipment in their dorm rooms, but soon after graduation their sound had evolved into multilayered melodies that mixed, mashed, and manipulated elements of indie pop, trip-hop, folk, dubstep, psychedelia, and a capella harmonies. It all came together beautifully on tracks like “Breezeblocks” and “Tessellate” from their 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, which garnered them the coveted Mercury Prize. Fast-forward 20 years to The Dream, the latest album by alt-j who since Sainsbury’s departure in 2014 have been a trio. Here’s Bane, credited to all three members. Admittedly, it’s outside my core wheelhouse but there’s something about it!

Eddie Vedder/Try

Eddie Vedder is a name I first and foremost associate with Pearl Jam, the Seattle rock band he co-founded in 1990 and whose lead vocalist and guitarist he remains to this day. In addition to his work with Pearl Jam, Vedder has also released three solo albums starting in 2007 with Into the Wild, which was based on his contributions to the soundtrack of a biographical adventure drama picture of the same name. Vedder’s latest effort, Earthling, is his first solo record in nearly 11 years since Ukulele Songs, a folk-oriented album released in May 2011. Here’s Try featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica, one of three prominent guests on Earthling. The other two are Elton John and Ringo Starr. Mrs. Mills, the tune with Ringo on drums, is included in the Spotify playlist at the end of the post. Try was co-written by Vedder, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and drummer Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith, respectively, and producer Andrew Votman, aka Andrew Watt. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Stevie Wonder play on a rock song, but he proves he’s definitely up to the task!

Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators/The River is Rising

Closing out today’s Best of What’s New is Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson). In addition to the band he’s best known for and joined shortly after they were formed in 1985, Slash has been involved in various other music projects. Primarily, that was the case following his departure from Guns N’ Roses in 1996 until his return in 2016. One of these projects has been billed to Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. The first album Slash recorded with that backing band was Apocalyptic Love, released in May 2012. The fourth and latest is appropriately titled 4. Here’s the opener The River is Rising, which first had appeared as the lead single in October 2021. Co-written by Hudson and Kennedy, the tune has some of that Guns N’ Roses swagger in it, minus Axl Rose whose voice I find a bit difficult to take after a few songs.

Last but not least here’s the above noted Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Rock the Farm Triumphantly Returns to Jersey Shore

Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts

After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.

Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).

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Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!

Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.

One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move

As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!

Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson

Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.

Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator

Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.

Decade/Almost Cut My Hair

Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the Déjà Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.

The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line

Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.

Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine

Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as Axl Rose (lead vocals), Eamonn as Slash (guitar), Chris as Duff McKagan (bass), David as Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Martin as Steven Adler (drums) and Chris as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!

TUSK/You Make Loving Fun

TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as  Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.

Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.

This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube

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 another look at newly released music. This latest Best of What’s New installment turned out to be pretty rock-oriented. All songs are on albums that came out yesterday (April 16).

Greta Van Fleet/Built By Nations

Kicking things off is some great blistering rock by Greta Van Fleet, a rock band from Frankenmuth, Mich. They were formed in 2012 by twin brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals) and Jake Kiszka (guitar) and their younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Hauck left in 2013 and was replaced by Danny Wagner who remains the band’s drummer to this day. Greta Van Fleet have attracted plenty of attention for embracing ’70s classic rock and some criticism from certain music reviewers who accused them of ripping off early Led Zeppelin. While there’s no denying some of the Michigan rockers’ early tunes have a Led Zeppelin I vibe, I always found the criticism overblown. Plus, I dig Zep, so selfishly I didn’t mind in the first place. Greta Van Fleet have since evolved their sound, as illustrated by their latest album The Battle at Garden’s Gate. Some tracks had been released as singles ahead of what is the band’s second full-length studio album, including My Way, Soon and Age of Machine. I previously featured them here and here. Following is Built By Nations. Like all other tracks on the album, it is credited to the entire band.

Eric Church/Heart on Fire

Eric Church is a country singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Church is a gifted storyteller, delivering relatable, regular-guy sing-alongs with a warm, reedy drawl. The North Carolina native started early—he was writing songs at 13 and taught himself to play guitar soon after, eventually getting a taste of touring with his college band, Mountain Boys. But his sharp lyrical observations and sly humor helped him find footing in Nashville’s songwriter circuit and land a solo record deal. His debut album Sinners Like Me appeared in July 2006. The third album Chief from July 2011 brought the big breakthrough, topping both the Billboard Top Country Albums and the Billboard 200 mainstream charts. Heart on Fire, written by Church, is the opener of Heart, the first part of an ambitious triple album titled Heart & Soul that features 25 tracks. Parts 2 and 3, & and Soul, are slated to be released on April 20 and April 23, respectively.

The Offspring/Let the Bad Times Roll

The Offspring were formed in 1984 as Manic Subsidal in Garden Grove, Calif. The band, which changed their name to The Offspring in 1986, has been credited for reviving mainstream interest in punk rock, together with fellow Californian outfits Green Day and Rancid. The current line-up includes founding member Bryan “Dexter” Holland (lead vocals, guitar), along with Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman (guitar), Todd Morse (bass) and Pete Parada (drums). The band released their eponymous debut album in June 1989. Their international breakthrough, appropriately titled Smash, appeared in April 1994. Fueled by hit singles Come Out and Play, Self Esteem and Gotta Get Away, the album surged to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 3 in Canada, topped the charts in Australia, and reached the top 5 in various European countries. Altogether, The Offspring have released 10 studio albums, 4 EPs, two compilations and multiple singles over their now 37-year career. Let the Bad Times Roll, written by Holland, is the catchy title track of their new album.

Paul McCartney & Joshua Homme/Lavatory Lil

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is Paul McCartney who has been on a remarkable roll. Following the release of his 18th solo album McCartney III last December, which I reviewed here, he is back with an encore titled McCartney III Imagined. According to an announcement on his website, the album features an A-List assortment of friends, fans and brand new  acquaintances, each covering and/or reimagining their favorite  McCartney III  moments in their own signature stylesMcCartney III Imagined continues the tradition of the biggest and most diverse names in music covering Paul’s songs — an ever-expanding  lineup that ranges from more recent versions by Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Dave  Grohl, Coldplay and The Cure, to interpretations over the years from the likes of U2, Guns N’ Roses, Earth Wind & Fire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and so many more.  McCartney III Imagined is a testament of Paul’s enduring and unmatched influence, a legacy that stretches from “Yesterday” being the most covered song in contemporary musical history to the inspiration his current work continues to hold for generations of artists and fans. What I find remarkable is the apparent open-mindedness of McCartney who is turning 79 in June to work with a broad group of contemporary artists, such as Dominic Fike, Khruangbin, Blood Orange, St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers and Beck. Frankly, except for the last two, these are all new names to me! Here’s Lavatory Lil, imagined together with Joshua Homme who is best known as the main songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist of American rock band Queens of the Stone Age.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

AC/DC Roar Back With Power Up

New album dedicated to Malcolm Young

When AC/DC finished their world tour four years ago in support of their previous album Rock or Bust, they looked more bust than rock. Now the Aussie band is back in full force with a new album, released yesterday, and suddenly it feels like time was turned back 40 years. While Power Up may not have anthems like Hells Bells, Back in Black and You Shock Me All Night Long, AC/DC’s 17th studio album delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans.

The fact AC/DC are still alive borders on a miracle. In April 2016, six months prior to the end of the Rock or Bust tour, lead vocalist Brian Johnson had to bow out due to severe hearing issues. This forced the band to reschedule the remaining 22 gigs and bring in Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses to finish the tour. At the end of the tour, bassist Cliff Williams was a spent force and announced his retirement. Drummer Phil Rudd had missed the entire tour in the first place due to legal issues. As had rhythm guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young, who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia. He passed away in November 2017 at the age of 64.

AC/DC in 2020 (from left): Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd, Angus Young, Brian Johnson and Stevie Young

Essentially, this only left lead guitarist Angus Young, who had formed AC/DC with his older brother Malcolm in 1973. Fast-forward to August 2018 when Angus Young; Stevie Young, who had joined the band in April 2014 following the departure of his uncle Malcolm; Phil Rudd; Cliff Williams; and Brian Johnson who thanks to a special hearing aid is able to sing again were photographed near a recording studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ever since rumors had been floating around about a new album. The long wait is over.

Produced by Brendan O’Brien who had also worked with AC/DC on their previous two albums Rock or Bust and Black Ice, Power Up was largely recorded in Vancouver over a six-week period between August and September 2018. All of the songs had been co-written by Angus and Malcolm during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. Power Up is a tribute to Malcolm, another parallel to the above mentioned Back in Black that was dedicated to Bon Scott, Johnson’s predecessor who died in February 1980 due to acute alcohol poisoning.

After so much death and despair, how about some music! Here’s the opener Realize. With the power guitar riffs and Johnson’s screaming vocals, it sounds like classic AC/DC. The tune also appeared separately as a single three days ago.

Shot in the Dark became the album’s lead single released on October 11. It’s perhaps the “hit” on the record, reaching the top of the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s the official video.

When a band like AC/DC names a track Demon Fire, you know pretty much what to expect.

Wild Reputation has a great main riff that sounds a bit Stonesy.

Let’s do one more: Here’s the cool closer Code Red.

“Malcolm and myself over the years, whenever we’d come to an album we always walked in with a lot of A-grade songs,” Angus Young told the Associated Press. “We always had a stack full more left that were all great, great tracks…I concentrated on the ones I knew were Mal’s favorites. It’s a fitting project for him. He always liked being simple and direct, so I felt, what better than his music?”

“We all felt Malcolm around us, he was there,” added Brian Johnson. “We’re not spiritual type people, but, boy, oh boy. Malcolm was a very strong character in real life, and him passing away wasn’t gonna stop that. He was there, everywhere, and I think you can tell it on the record.”

It’s fair to say AC/DC aren’t breaking any new ground on Power Up. While for many other bands this may be a point of criticism, AC/DC have been great at what they’ve done for decades, so you really don’t want them to change. Plus, there may be more. During a separate interview with Apple Music, Angus Young revealed there are hundreds of unpublished songs in the AC/DC vault he and Malcom had written together. Young also joked, “You can’t call an album ‘rock or bust’ and then go bust.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; Apple Music; YouTube

A Look Back on Rock the Farm Festival

The annual 11-hour marathon on the Jersey shore combines first rate tribute music with a great cause

Today would have been the 7th annual Rock the Farm festival, a great music tribute event conducted each year in the New Jersey shore town of Seaside Heights. But in light of the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers made the responsible decision to cancel, hoping they can bring back the 11-hour music marathon in 2021.

I think the idea behind Rock the Farm is ingenious: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process! It’s almost like a mini Live Aid, except of course The Beatles or The Doors could have never have shared a bill with the Eagles, Guns N’ Roses or Tom Petty.

Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK at Rock the Farm 2019

The event is organized by Jersey non-profit community organization CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which offers post-rehab support programs to individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. Rock the Farm serves as their main annual fundraiser.

I realize that unless you are from Jersey and/or have been to the festival, this is a bit of an inside baseball post. But as more frequent visitors of the blog may recall, I dig seeing tribute bands, especially when they are of the high caliber Rock the Farm has attracted over the years. This year would have been my fourth time in a row to attend. Instead, I’m taking a look back at highlights from the past two years.

Let’s kick things off with a Guns N’ Roses tribute band from Dallas called Guns 4 Roses. While I haven’t found any information on when they were formed, their website lists gigs going back to 2009. Here’s their rendition of Sweet Child O’ Mine captured at Rock the Farm 2018.

TUSK are an outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, mirroring the Rumours  lineup. This band from New Jersey, which tours nationally, features Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Here’s Dreams and You Make Loving Fun, from Rock the Farm 2018.

Another highlight at Rock the Farm 2018 were Free Fallin’, a Tom Petty tribute from Minneapolis, founded in 2007. Their members are Tom Brademeyer  (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Craig Volke  (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals), Russ Lund  (as Ron Blair, bass) and Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums). Here they are with Refugee, one of my favorite Petty tunes.

The headliner at Rock the Farm 2018 were Live/Wire, a kickass AC/DC tribute from New York. Founded in 2000, the band includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). Based on their current schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to be the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). Despite some apparent technical issues with the bagpipe, it’s a pretty cool rendition.

One Fine Tapestry are a tribute to Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different shows. At Rock the Farm 2019, they were backed by a full band. Here’s their rendition of King’s Sweet Seasons.

Decade is an act revolving around great Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway, who is also from New Jersey and performs with different line-ups of talented backing musicians. Frequent members include guitarist Gordon Bunker Strout, pedal steel player Joseph Napolitano, bassists Ken Ramos and John Dickson and keyboarder Steve Cunniff. Sometimes, Hathaway’s band also features a female backing vocalist as was the case at Rock the Farm 2019 with Pam McCoy. Here’s Cinnamon Girl.

Always fun to watch are Rolling Stones tribute The Glimmer Twins from Philly. Named after the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound fantastic: Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ). Check ’em out with Can You Hear Me Knocking.

The final band I’d like to highlight in this look back were the headliner last year: Simply Queen. This Canadian tribute to Queen, which has been around for 15 years, features Rick Rock (as Freddie Mercury), Bob Wegner (as Brian May), Phil Charrette (as Roger Taylor) and Mitch Taylor (as John Deacon). While Simply Queen mostly perform in Canada, they venture out to the U.S. fairly frequently. Here’s a nice rocker called It’s Late.

Sources: YouTube