The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Happy St. Paddy’s Day Weekend!

With S. Paddy’s Day weekend being underway, it felt right to post this clip of Fisherman’s Blues by British-Irish folk rockers The Waterboys. Apparently, the footage was captured during a 2007 gig in Germany as part of the long-running TV music show Rockpalast.

Co-written by founding member Mike Scott (vocals, guitar, piano) and Steve Wickham (fiddle, mandolin), who joined The Waterboys in 1985, Fisherman’s Blues is the title track of the band’s fourth studio album released in October 1988. Scott and Wickham continue to be part of the present line-up, which has seen many changes since the band was formed in 1983.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The John Byrne Band/The Immigrant And the Orphan

Album mixes Americana with traces of Irish folk

During this time of the year, I like to go to free outdoor concerts. Fortunately, there are many parks and other facilities within about an one-hour driving radius from my house, featuring summer concert series. This is how I came across John Byrne, who I’m going to see this evening at one of these venues. Until a few hours ago, I had never heard about this Irish-American singer-songwriter.

Other than his website, there is very limited information about Byrne on the Internet. Surprisingly, Wikipedia does not appear to have any write-up on him. If I were his publicist, frankly, that’s something I would change. When I checked Apple Music, I noticed Byrne has released three albums as The John Byrne Band since 2010, though his website suggests he started recording music in 1999. Immigrant And the Orphan, which appeared in September 2015, is his most recent studio release.

Byrne was born in Dublin, Ireland, and lives in Philadelphia. He and the band he leads tour in two configurations: an acoustic four-piece formation, including banjo/accordion, fiddle/cello, guitars and horns, and a six-seven-piece band that adds drums and bass to its lineup. I have no idea which of the two I’m going to see tonight.

In a YouTube video about the making of Immigrant And the Orphan, Byrne notes, “My biggest influence has always been folk music from Ireland and America…because to me it encompasses all manner of real organic music, and that’s what I love.” Following are clips of some of the record’s songs. This selection is based on my initial impression, after browsing the record a couple of times.

The album opens with Sing On Johnny, a song about Byrne’s father. Like the majority of tracks on the record, it’s predominantly acoustic.

Dirty, Used Up, Chewed Up, Screwed Up Love, one of the few tunes that cross over into folk rock, has a catchy chorus and some nice ups and downs.

Lie to You has a country flavor. It’s one of the tunes that stood out to me.

Me Over Him is another acoustic track I like.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track, which features a beautiful string arrangement.

Immigrant and the Orphan, which apparently at least in part was financed via a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, was recorded at Spicehouse Studios in Fishtown, Philadelphia. The record was produced by Rob Schaffer, who also plays guitar and banjo in Byrne’s band. I’d like to finish this post with the above noted video clip about the making of the album.

Sources: John Byrne Band web site, YouTube