The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Caravanserai Is Another ’70s Gem Hitting the Big 50

Santana’s fourth studio album marked a radical departure from successful Latin rock formula

Today, on October 11, 1972, Santana released their fourth studio album Caravanserai. While it’s a gem and did pretty well at the time, looking at it from today’s perspective, one has to say Carlos Santana made a gutsy decision to abandon a Latin rock formula that had generated three high-selling and high-charting albums and various hit singles, such as Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Oye Cómo Va and Everybody’s Everything. Most of all, it was bloody good music! But many great artists don’t rest on their laurels.

According to an AllMusic review of the album, Carlos Santana was “obviously very hip to jazz fusion”. It’s also fair to say that with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, jazz fusion had emerged as a new music genre that was getting some attention. But Columbia Records president Clive Davis wasn’t convinced. Reportedly, he called Caravanserai “career suicide” after his first listening to the album, which is largely instrumental and blends jazz, rock and Latin. An October 2018 post on The Music Aficionado blog does a terrific job telling the story behind Caravanserai in great detail. This post informs part of my review.

Apparently, Santana drummer and jazz lover Michael Shrieve who also co-produced Caravanserai had a major influence on Carlos Santana. He introduced him to artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Shrieve and Santana were also inspired by other artists like Pharoah Sanders, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alice Coltrane and Weather Report. The Music Aficionado quotes Carlos: “We were looking for our identities in the same places with a spirit of exploration and the courage to try something new, even if it didn’t make sense or we weren’t supposed to do it. Caravanserai was the album we weren’t supposed to do.”

Another important influence that helped shape the sound of Caravanserai were changes in the Santana band. By the time they went into the studio to start work on the album, Michael Carabello (percussion) and David Brown (bass) had been replaced by James Mingo Lewis and Dough Rauch, respectively. Gregg Rolie (organ, piano, vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) were on the album, but by the end of the recording sessions, they also had left. Subsequently, together with members of Steve Miller Band and Frumious Bandersnatch, Rolie and Schon co-founded backing band Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the group that became Journey.

I’d say let’s take a look at some tunes. One of my favorite tracks on Side one is Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down), co-written by Rauch, Rolie and Santana. To me, the standout here is Dough Rauch’s funky bass playing. Carlos Santana: “You can hear what he brought to All the Love of the Universe and Look Up (to See What’s Coming Down) – when we heard those tracks, we realized how much we needed Dougie”. The Music Aficionado also quotes Shrieve saying Rauch was one of the first bassists “to play with the thumb and popping technique that was later made famous by Larry Graham [Sly and the Family StoneCMM] and Stanley Clarke [Return to ForeverCMM].”

Another gem on Side A I’d like to highlight is Song of the Wind. The beautiful instrumental, credited to Rolie, Santana and Schon, for the most part, is a guitar duet between Santana and Schon where they each trade beautiful melodic solos. Citing Santana’s memoir, The Music Aficionado quotes him on Rolie’s contribution: “To this day I listen to Song of the Wind and break down inside hearing Gregg’s playing on that one – no solo, just a simple supportive organ part that is not flashy or anything but supremely important to that song.”

Closing out Side one is the great All the Love of the Universe. Co-written by Santana and Schon, it’s one of the album’s three tracks with vocals. Vocals are provided by Santana, Mingo Lewis and Rico Reyes. The song is another showcase of Rauch’s outstanding bass playing.

On to Side two and Stone Flower. The tune was written as an instrumental by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Santana added lyrics written by Shrieve who provided vocals together with Carlos. The Music Aficionado also rightfully calls out the contributions of Tom Rutley (acoustic bass) and Wendy Haas (electric piano).

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the closer Every Step of the Way. Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, the instrumental is the longest track on Caravanserai. According to The Music Aficionado, it’s Carlos Santana’s favorite tune on the album. Quoting Carlos from his biography The Universal Tone: “For two reasons my favorite song on Caravanserai is Every Step of the Way – first because it sounds like what we really loved back then: Herbie Hancock’s Crossings [Hancock’s 10th album released in May 1972 – CMM]. The song also reminds me of Shrieve because he wrote it and because of how we played together.”

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

Caravanserai performed surprisingly well. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. In the UK, it reached no. 6, notably matching its predecessor Santana III. Caravanserai did best in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it climbed no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia. In addition, the album also became a solid seller, reaching Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold in each Canada and France. Caravanserai was also voted no. 609 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Long before I heard this album for the first time, I had listened to and really come to dig Santana’s first three records. Undoubtedly, Caravanserai is very different from the classic Santana sound. As such, the album was an acquired taste, which got better every time I listened to it. If you are where I was initially, I’d say give it a few more spins. You might come to love it as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The Music Aficionado blog; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sheila E./Iconic: Message 4 America

Last week, I watched Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Party and thought the highlight of the one-hour virtual event was Sheila E. and her sizzling performance of Come TogetherRevolution. It turned out E. had previously recorded the medley for her most recent eighth studio album Iconic: Message 4 America released in August 2017. A couple of nights ago, I found myself listening to this covers album and liked what I heard – a lot!

For E.’s background, I’m borrowing from a previous August 2017 post about my favorite drummers. Born Sheila Escovedo, E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family. Since the late 60s, her Mexican-American father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente.

At the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George DukeMarvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince who became an important mentor and with whom she worked various times. In 1984, E. started a solo career. She also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006.

As reported by Rolling Stone, it was Donald Trump’s denunciation of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” during his official campaign launch announcement in 2015, along with the death of Prince in April 2016, which prompted E. to record Iconic, an album featuring remakes of social justice anthems. In addition to selecting songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, E. got help from multiple guests, most notably Starr and Freddie Stone, co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Sly and the Family Stone. Her father and two other family members were among the other guests.

“So for the Iconic project, you know, the state that the country is in… I’m doing these songs based on the lyrical content, which, when I grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, these songs were pretty amazing,” E. told Billboard. “They’re relevant. So I wanted to do “Come Together,” The Beatles song with Ringo Starr, which we did, and the only one that wasn’t written [that long] ago was “America.” But it means something…So it was just important to what’s happening in our country.” America is a tune about the state of the U.S. during the Reagan Administration, which Prince had written for his 1985 studio album Around the World in a Day.

Let’s get to some music. Since I previously featured Come TogetherRevolution here, I’m skipping it and go directly to Everyday People. Written by Sly Stone, the tune was originally released as a single by Sly and the Family Stone in November 1968. It was also included on the band’s fourth studio album Stand! from May 1969. As noted above, Freddie Stone joins E. on vocals. He also plays guitar.

Inner City BluesTrouble Man is a cool medley of two songs Marvin Gaye performed. Inner City Blues, co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., appeared on What’s Going On, Gaye’s 11th studio album from May 1971. Trouble Man is the title track of Gaye’s follow-on studio record that came out in December 1972. It was written by him. On the album’s recording, E. is joined on vocals by saxophonist Eddie Mininfield.

With so many great covers on Iconic, it’s hard to select which ones to call out. One of the funkiest undoubtedly is the James Brown Medley, which melds together five tunes: Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, co-written by Brown and Bobby Bird (There It Is, June 1972); Mama Don’t Take No Mess, co-written by Brown, John Starks and Fred Wesley (Hell, June 1974); Soul Power, written by Brown (single, March 1971); Get Involved, co-written by Brown, Bird and Ron Lenhoff (Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume III, December 1971); and Super Bad, written by Brown (Super Bad, 1971). For this recording, E. is joined by Bootsy Collins on vocals, who also provides bass and guitar. Collins played with Brown in the early ’70s and later with Parliament-Funkadelic. Let’s hit it!

Next up: A beautiful version of Blackbird. Per Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote the song about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after he had read the U.S. federal courts had forced racial desegregation in the school system of Little Rock, Ark. Blackbird was first recorded for The White Album that appeared in November 1968. E.’s rendition transforms the acoustic guitar tune to a mellow piano-driven ballad. The lovely cello part is played by studio musician Jodi Burnett.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Curtis Mayfield classic Pusherman. It appeared on Mayfield’s third solo album Super Fly from July 1972. The great guitar part on E.’s version is played by Mychael Gabriel, a musician, songwriter, performer, audio engineer, mixer, producer, who began his career as a 16-year-old, doing record engineering for E.

Iconic: Message 4 America may “only” be a covers album, but I think the excellent song selection and E.’s renditions make listening to it worthwhile.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube