Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another installment of song musings where I take a look at great tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or even better not covered at all. Today, I have a true gem by American country and folk singer-songwriter John Prine, an artist I’ve yet to explore in greater detail.

Hello In There is a beautiful story-telling tune from Prine’s eponymous debut album, which appeared in October 1971. It was not released as a single. In fact, very few of his songs were. The record peaked at no. 55 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, making it one of his better chart performers.

Most of Prine’s 18 albums he released over his 50-year career didn’t make the top 100. His highest-charting record on the Billboard 200 was his final, The Tree of Forgiveness, which came out in April 2018 and peaked at no. 5. It also became his only album to top the U.S. Folk Charts.

But overall lack of chart performance didn’t prevent John Prine from becoming one of the most influential and celebrated singer-songwriters of his generation, whose songs were covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and Paul Westerberg. He also mentored many younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price.

Prine who in 2018 needed to undergo major surgery for neck cancer passed away in April 2020 from complications of COVID. In 2020, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also won two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991 and 2005, as well as two post-mortem Grammys for Best Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song in 2021.

Following is some additional background on Hello In There from Songfacts:

Folk singer-songwriter John Prine explained in a Performing Songwriter interview how this track was sparked from a John Lennon tune and evolved into a poignant song about growing old:

“I heard the John Lennon song ‘Across The Universe,’ and he had a lot of reverb on his voice. I was thinking about hollering into a hollow log, trying to get through to somebody – ‘Hello in there.’ That was the beginning thought, then it went to old people.

I’ve always had an affinity for old people. I used to help a buddy with his newspaper route, and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples home where we’d have to go room-to-room. And some of the patients would kind of pretend that you were a grandchild or nephew that had come to visit, instead of the guy delivering papers. That always stuck in my head.

It was all that stuff together, along with that pretty melody. I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing ‘Hello in There.’ Nothing in it wears on me.”

Prine on choosing the name Loretta for the song’s aging wife (as told to Bruce Pollock): “The names mean a lot. You know, like Loretta in ‘Hello In There.’ I wanted to pick a name that could be an old person’s name, but I didn’t want it to stick out so much. People go through phases one year where a lot of them will name their kids the same… and I was just thinking that it was very possible that the kind of person I had in mind could be called Loretta. And it’s not so strange that it puts her in a complete time period.”

As for the name of old factory friend Rudy, Prine explains: “We used to live in this three-room flat and across the street there was this dog who would never come in and the dog’s name was Rudy. And the lady used to come out at five o’clock every night and go ‘Ru-dee! Ru-dee!’ And I was sitting there writing and suddenly I go ‘Rudy! Yeah! I got that.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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Buddy Guy Fires On All Cylinders On New Album

“The Blues Don’t Lie” coincides with 65th anniversary of legendary guitarist’s arrival to Chicago

Last Friday (September 30), Buddy Guy’s anticipated new album The Blues Don’t Lie came out. Once I started listening to what is yet another late-career gem by the now 86-year-old blues guitar dynamo, I literally couldn’t stop. Sure, Guy doesn’t reinvent the blues, but you can be damn sure the man still got the blues, firing on all cylinders and leaving no doubt he was born to play the guitar.

The release date of the album, Guy’s 19th, coincided with the 65th anniversary of his arrival to Chicago from Louisiana to pursue his calling to play the blues. Once again, production was handled by the great Tom Hambridge, Guy’s longtime collaborator, who also played the drums and co-wrote most of the original tunes.

The Blues Don’t Lie also features notable guests, which according to this review in Rock & Blues Muse include Mavis Staples, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Reese Wynans, a former member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble, plays keyboards – certainly an impressive cast, but frankly, which musician who digs the blues wouldn’t want to record with Buddy Guy?

I’d say it’s finally time to take a closer look at some of the music on this new album. The opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking provides a perfect entry point. Co-written by Guy and Hambridge, the tune recalls the above-noted 65th anniversary of Guy’s arrival to the windy city. Now let his guitar do the talking. Check it out – damn!

If I don’t have your attention by now, this post may not be for you. Or maybe give it one more try? How about The World Needs Love, the only tune solely penned by Guy. Sadly, Guy’s words ring very true: The world needs love like never before/The world needs love like never before/People are hurtin’ and killin’ people/People they don’t know…This tune is a great example that the soft-spoken Guy is a great vocalist, in addition to being a killer guitar player!

I’m skipping Guy’s amazing duo with Mavis Staples since I recently covered it here and go right to another guest appearance: Symptoms of Love featuring Elvis Costello. The tune was co-written by Richard Fleming, another longtime collaborator, and Hambridge.

Are you ready for some funky blues? Ready or not, here’s What’s Wrong With That featuring Bobby Rush. Of course, there’s nothing with that! The smoking hot tune, another Fleming-Hambridge co-write, is one of my early favorites.

In addition to 13 original tracks, The Blues Don’t Lie includes three covers. Here’s one of them, which I have a feeling deep inside you may have heard of before: I’ve Got a Feeling, by four lads from Liverpool called The Beatles. The combination of two unfinished songs – Paul McCartney’s I’ve Got a Feeling and John Lennon’s Everybody Had a Hard Year – appeared on Let It Be, the final released (though not the final recorded) album by The Beatles that came out in May 1970. I’ve also got a feeling Sir Paul likes this groovy rendition.

Let’s do one more, another cover: King Bee, a swamp blues classic written by James Moore, aka. Slim Harpo, who also first released it in 1957. The tune has since been recorded by numerous other artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and even early Pink Floyd, who at the time (December 1964) were still called The Tea Set. It’s notable to recall Syd Barrett derived the name Pink Floyd by combining the first names of two blues musicians who were part of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. I love Guy’s stripped-back acoustic delivery and his slightly fragile vocals. So good! You also gotta love his final words: “Is that enough? [laughs] All right.”

If you’re still with me, I would encourage you to check out the entire album. Here’s a Spotify link:

So what’s Buddy Guy’s reaction to The Blues Don’t Lie? One clue is the album’s opener: I don’t say too much/I let my guitar do the talking…Another is the following image that accompanied a recent tweet. As they say, a picture speaks more than a thousand words!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube; Spotify

Shemekia Copeland’s New Album Features Powerful Blues and Hard-Hitting Lyrics

This album review has an intro, so bear with me. Last Saturday evening, I spontaneously decided to go to Asbury Park, a great town for live music on the Jersey shore not far from my house. My destination was The Stone Pony where during the warmer months of the year they have a Summer Stage series of outdoor concerts. I had seen Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit were scheduled to perform there. I’ve listened to some of Isbell’s music and generally dig what I’ve heard thus far.

Since I didn’t have a ticket and didn’t want to spend money, I joined many other folks just outside the venue where you can perfectly hear the music though only partially see the performing artists. While approaching The Stone Pony, I heard an incredible vocalist who obviously wasn’t Isbell. It turned out to be Shemekia Copeland, who was opening up for him – and, holy cow, this woman was killing it on stage! The next thing I did was to check her music catalog on my phone and, voila, that’s how I learned about Done Come Too Far, her latest album that was released on August 19. To say it right upfront, it’s a real beauty!

I believe the first time I may have heard of Shemekia Copeland was when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast wrote about her. I also previously included her in this blues feature. While I had known Copeland is a compelling artist, until my above live encounter, I had not fully appreciated what a powerhouse vocalist she is! You can certainly realize her vocal capabilities when listening to the new album, but, frankly, she sounds even better live!

I guess you could say Copeland was destined to become a blues artist. She’s the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland who made his recording debut in 1956. Over a 40-plus year career, he recorded with the likes of Albert Collins and Robert Cray and became a popular touring act. He also helped establish Shemekia’s name in blues circles by taking her on the road to open his shows. She had started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 began pursuing a professional career.

LOS ANGELES, CA— MARCH 18, 2022 RECORDING ARTIST, BLUES SINGER, SHEMEKIA COPELAND FOR ALLIGATOR RECORDS. Photos by Victoria Smith Make Up by KATE KATS

After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album. Turn the Heat Up! appeared in April 1998 and put her on the map as a  blues and R&B force. From her website: From her debut through 2005’s The Soul Truth, Shemekia earned eight Blues Music Awards and a host of Living Blues Awards. 2000’s Wicked received the first of her four Grammy nominations. After two successful releases on Telarc (including 2012’s Grammy-nominated 33 1/3), Copeland returned to Alligator Records in 2015 with the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning Outskirts Of Love, melding blues with more rootsy, Americana sounds.

I think it’s time for some music from Done Come Too Far, Copeland’s 11th studio album. Let’s kick it off with the great opener Too Far To Be Gone. Like all other tracks featured in this post, it was co-written by John Hahn and producer Will Kimbrough. Featuring slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth, you kind of know this has to be good! “This album was made by all sides of me — happy, sad, silly, irate — they’re all a part who I am and who we all are,” Copeland explained in a statement that announced the album, as well as Too Far To Be Gone as the lead single. “I’m not political. I’m just talking about what’s happening in this country.” And that she does, and she’s not holding back!

Pink Turns To Red, a powerful song about the madness of school shootings in this country, is perhaps the tune that lyrically stands out to me the most:…When pink turns to red, nowhere to run/Pink turns to red, life’s over and done/Tears will flow, prayers will be said/But it’s too late, pink turns to red…Nothing much to add here!

The Talk, a haunting slow blues, is another powerful tune about a worried black mom’s conversation with her son to be careful or risk being killed. I held my breath, as you took the first steps/I was proud as a mama can get/Now it’s been years, you’ve grown tall/But I’m still worried you’re gonna fall/Got to have the talk/Got to have the talk/You might do nothing wrong, the next moment you’ll be gone/Got to have the talk…”I tell him all the time, ‘Discipline is going to save your life one day,” Copeland told the Houston Press, referring to her 5-year-old son. “He doesn’t know what I’m talking about now, but I want him to remember it and think about it every day of his life. I tell the same thing to my nephews who are 16 and 19.”

On the title track, Copeland teams up with Mississippi Hill country blues icon Cedric Burnside who provides guest vocals. Lyrically, the song presents more candid words on the state of Blacks in present-day America with a defiant stance:…Done come too far to be gone, come too far to be gone/If you think we’re stopping, you got it wrong/We’re done come too far to be gone…If I could end things in this world, racism would be one of the first things. I will never understand or accept it!

The last track I’d like to call out is Fell In Love With a Honky. The country rock-oriented tune shows Copeland’s light-hearted side, setting a welcome contrast on an otherwise lyrically pretty grim album. Saw his long legs walking into Tussie’s/Next thing I knew, we was playing footsies/He wasn’t really handsome, just not my type/Standing by himself, in a jukebox light/But there was something about him that was kind of cute/Made me love him down to his cowboy boots…

Done Come Too Far was recorded in Nashville. Producer Will Kimbrough also served in that capacity on Copeland’s previous two albums. Apart from Sonny Landreth and Cedric Burnside, guests included country blues artist Kenny Brown; prominent Memphis soul keyboarder Charles Hodges; Oliver Wood, guitarist of American roots band The Wood Brothers; Americana singer-songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan; and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, a member of alternative rock band Wilco.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

After having witnessed part of Copeland’s live set and listened to this album, I can understand some of the enthusiastic reactions she has received, which are noted on her website. For example: “Shemekia Copeland has established herself as one of the leading blues artists of our time.” –NPR Music. “Shemekia Copeland is an antidote to artifice. She is a commanding presence, a powerhouse vocalist delivering the truth.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer. And, perhaps most impressively: “I am so happy Shemekia is delivering these songs that the world needs to hear. Her voice is strong and soulful, and her message comes from her heart.” – Mavis Staples.

Reflecting on her musical evolution over her previous two albums and Done Come Too Far, Copeland said, “Once my son was born, I became even more committed to making the world a better place. On America’s Child [Aug 2018 – CMM], Uncivil War [Oct 2020 – CMM] and now Done Come Too Far, I’ve been trying to put the ‘United’ back into United States. Friends, family and home, these things we all value.” In case you’d like to see Copeland, her current tour schedule is here.

To those of you celebrating, happy Labor Day. To everybody else, I hope you have a great Monday as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Shemekia Copeland website; Aligator Records press release; Houston Press; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. All picks are from albums that came out yesterday. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Kolby Cooper/Woke Up Hungover

Kicking us off today is Kolby Cooper, a young country singer-songwriter from East Texas. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Possessing a honeyed twang and an enduring affection for the smoother sounds of ’90s country, Kolby Cooper wasn’t as gritty as some of his peers on the Red Dirt circuit of the Southwest during the last days of the 2010s...Kolby Cooper started playing guitar at the age of 12, inspired equally by classic country and ’90s alt rock. His adolescence turned out to be tumultuous. His father died of cancer when Cooper was 14 and shortly afterward, he started writing songs, eventually finding his way to local talent competitions. When he was 18, Cooper became a father and husband in short order. Initially, he planned to attend nursing school but he decided to give the music business a shot. His 2017 debut single Every Single Kiss was followed by an EP, Vol. 1, in February 2018, and Cooper’s first full-length album Good Ones Never Last in 2019. Woke Up Hungover is a tune from his second and latest album Boy From Anderson County To The Moon – country rock with a pleasant dose of pop!

Cass McCombs/Music Is Blue

Cass McCombs is an eclectic singer-songwriter hailing from California. After playing in numerous bands in the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest during the ’90s, McCombs launched a solo career in 2001 with his debut EP Not The Way E.P. Two years later, A, his first of now 10 studio albums appeared. McCombs’ music has blended elements of different genres, such as rock, folk, psychedelic and alt country. Music Is Blue is the opener of his new album Heartmind. As happens most of the time with artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to Cass McCombs, but I sure like what I’m hearing here!

Silversun Pickups/Stillness (Way Beyond)

Silversun Pickups are an indie rock band from Los Angles, formed in 2000. Five years later, they released their debut EP Pikul. Their debut album Carnavas made the U.S. Billboard 200, reaching no. 80, and peaked at no. 5 on the Independent Albums chart. It has since been certified Gold in the U.S. The group’s sophomore album Swoon peaked at an impressive no. 7 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Independent Albums chart. It also enjoyed success outside the U.S., especially in Australia and Canada where it climbed to no. 14 and no. 23, respectively. The group’s current line-up includes founding members Brian Aubert (lead vocals, guitar) and Nikki Monninger (bass, backing vocals), along with Joe Lester (keyboards, guitar) and Chris Guanlao (drums, percussion) who joined in 2002. This brings me to Stillness (Way Beyond), the first track of their sixth and latest studio album Physical Thrills. Like the other 13 songs on the album, it’s credited to all four members of the band. I like it – check it out!

Early James/Pigsty

My final pick for this week is new music by Early James (born Fredrick James Mullis Jr.), a singer-songwriter from Alabama. Shortly after he had received his first guitar as a Christmas present at the age of 15, he started writing his own songs. James Taylor and Johnny Cash were among his early influences. Here’s more from his AllMusic bio: Early James draws from a deep well of American roots music. Backed by upright bassist Adrian Marmolejo, James’ expressive voice and stripped-down blend of Southern blues, country, folk, and jazz evokes Jason Isbell by way of early Tom Waits and Harry Chapin. In 2019, James inked a deal with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound and headed into the studio to lay down tracks for a debut album. The deeply southern and luminous Singing for My Supper, which featured a full-band, was released in 2020. James is now out with his sophomore album Strange Time To Be Alive, and based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds mightily sweet. Here’s a sample: Pigsty.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist that features the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Man, it’s been a hot week in my neck of the woods, with daytime highs close to 100 °F. Of course, I realize it’s pretty much been the same across the U.S. and much of Europe. So what’s happening on the new music front this week? I’m happy to report I found plenty that sufficiently grabbed my attention. All of my picks are on albums that appeared yesterday (July 22).

Ty Segall/Looking at You

Kicking things off is versatile American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and record producer Ty Segall. From his AllMusic bio: One of the leaders of the new psych-influenced garage rock scene that erupted in California in the late 2000s, Ty Segall has produced a catalog as prolific as it is diverse. Working as a solo act and in a number of side projects, he has released literally dozens of albums since he left the Epsilons [California garage rock revivalist band where he served as lead vocalist and gained initial acclaim – CMM] and cut his first project on his own in 2008. Depending on the album, Segall can sound raw (2016’s Emotional Mugger) or refined (2013’s Sleeper), and he’s capable of focused one-man-band efforts (2009’s Lemons) as well as sprawling and eclectic releases with a range of collaborators (2018’s Freedom’s Goblin). He proves just as compelling when stripping back the noise and adding synths, as on 2021’s Harmonizer, or composing film music (2022’s Whirlybird). This brings me to Looking at You, a tune from Segall’s latest, 14th studio album Hello, Hi. I like what I’m hearing here!

John Moreland/Ugly Faces

John Moreland is a Tusla, Okla.-based Americana-oriented singer-songwriter. Originally hailing from Longview, Texas, Moreland started playing guitar as a child with the help of his father and already had his first gig when he was 13 or 14. While still in high school, he played in local punk and hardcore bands. His recording debut, Endless Oklahoma Sky, occurred in 2008 with the Black Gold Band, a group he had formed in 2005. Moreland has since released eight additional studio albums, a mix of solo and group efforts. Ugly Faces is the opener of his new solo album Birds in the Ceiling. While I’m not a fan of drum machines and other electronic percussions that Moreland uses in some of the tunes I’ve heard, I still find his music pretty compelling.

Beach Bunny/Gone

I first featured Chicago indie pop rock group Beach Bunny in a January 2021 Best of What’s New installment. Founded in 2015, Beach Bunny started as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Lili Trifilio who released her debut EP  Animalism in 2015. Following the third EP Crybaby in 2017, Beach Bunny became a full-fledged four-piece group. In addition to Trifilio (vocals, guitar), their current lineup features Matt Henkels (guitar), Anthony Vaccaro (bass) and Jon Alvarado (drums). Beach Bunny’s first full-length studio album Honeymoon appeared in February 2020. Now they are back with their sophomore release Emotional Creature. Here’s Gone, which like most other tunes on the album is credited to all members of the group. The bouncy catchy music stands in contrast to the lyrics.

Jack White/A Tip From You to Me

Jack White is best known as the former lead vocalist and guitarist of The White Stripes, the rock duo he formed in 1997 with his then-wife Meg White (drums, vocals). In 2005, he also became a co-founder of rock group The Raconteurs. In addition, four years later, White co-founded The Dead Weather, a rock supergroup. The White Stripes came to an end in February 2011 after six albums. The Raconteurs went on hiatus in 2014 and became active again in 2018. White remains a member. The Dead Weather have been, well, I guess you could say dead since the release of their third album Dodge and Burn in September 2015. In addition to his band activity, White also found the time to launch a solo career. Since his debut Blunderbuss (April 2012), White has released four additional albums including his latest, Entering Heaven Alive. The more acoustic album comes only three months after his previous release, the rock-oriented Fear of the Dawn. Evidently, White is not only quite prolific but also pretty versatile. While I’m still entirely new to his solo work, I sure as heck know I like what I’ve heard thus far from his latest endeavor!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Dawes are a folk rock band from Los Angeles. They emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. The group consists of brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), as well as Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). AllMusic characterizes their music as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” To date, Dawes have released eight studio albums, including their latest project Misadventure of Doomscroller. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds very promising. Here’s a great sample, Ghost in the Machine, penned by Taylor Goldsmith.

Jenny Mitchell/If You Were a Bird

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with Jenny Mitchell, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand. From her website: Multi award winning, alt-country Aotearoa artist, Jenny Mitchell is a storyteller with songs wrapped in wisdom and wit. Her music defies easy categorisation but if you admire music by genre-defying artists from Emmylou Harris to Kasey Chambers and Jason Isbell, you are going to love Jenny Mitchell...Her 2018 record Wildfires, produced by Sydney’s Matt Fell, was awarded the 2019 Tui for Recorded Music NZ Best Country Music Artist and became the first NZ album to receive a nomination for Alt-Country Album of the Year at the 2020 Australian Golden Guitar Awards. This brings me to Tug of War, Mitchell’s third and latest album and the pretty If You Were a Bird.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Jenny Mitchell website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! Hope you join me in taking a fresh look at newly-released music. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday. (May 20).

Zach Bryan/Something in the Orange

Kicking things off today is Zack Bryan, a red dirt country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma I first featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment in November 2020. According to Wikipedia, red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Now Bryan is out with his third studio effort, American Heartbreak, an ambitious 34-track triple album. Check out Something in the Orange. I can hear traces of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Jason Isbell – great song!

Cola/At Pace

Cola are a Canadian post-punk band from Toronto. The group’s origins date back to late 2019 when Tim Darcy (vocals, guitar) and Ben Stidworthy (bass) who were members of Ought, another Toronto post-punk group, started working on music with Evan Cartwright, drummer of U.S. Girls, which Wikipedia describes as an experimental pop project by musician and record producer Meghan Remy – all completely new names to me. I’m also a bit puzzled how a group can name themselves Cola and not get in trouble with the mighty American beverage maker! Anyway, here’s At Pace, a track co-written by Stidworthy and Darcy from the group’s debut album Deep in View. There’s something about it – I kind of like their bare bones sound. What do you think?

Courtney Jaye/Hymns and Hallelucinations

Next up is folk singer-songwriter Courtney Jaye. Here’s more from her Apple Music profile: Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, singer/songwriter Courtney Jaye was signed on the spot after a mutual friend managed to set up an audition with several A&R executives at Island Def Jam Music Group. She made her major-label debut with 2005’s Traveling Light, and several of her songs found their way onto TV programs like Laguna Beach and One Tree Hill. Her partnership with Island proved to be short-lived, however, and she spent the rest of the decade issuing independent albums like 2007’s Who’ll Stop the Rain. The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye, her most accomplished album to date, followed in 2010, and featured a combination of Laurel Canyon folk and tropical pop. Which brings me to Hymns and Hallelucinations, the title track of her sixth and latest album (yes, it’s spelled that way) – kind of a riveting tune!

Alex Izenberg/Gemini Underwater

Alex Izenberg is an English chamber pop singer-songwriter. From his AllMusic bio: Touching on influences like Harry NilssonVan Dyke Parks, and King Crimson, the intimate chamber pop of singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg is colored by vintage Baroque and psychedelic pop as well as a flair for the romantic. He emerged with his full-length debut, Harlequin, in 2016. He drew inspiration from Alan Watts‘ writings on situational personas for his third album, 2022’s I’m Not Here. Here’s a track off that album, Gemini Underwater, which like all other tunes was penned by Izenberg.

SOAK/Purgatory

My last pick for this week is SOAK, the stage name of Northern Irish singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson. The stage name is a combination of soul and folk. Here’s more from Monds-Watson’s Apple Music profile: Bridie Monds-Watson’s breathy, emotionally revealing songs and evocative, often spare performing style are certainly soulful and folk-influenced, but there’s just as much indie rock in their musical formula. SOAK released a series of EPs beginning in 2012 before issuing their debut album, Before We Forgot How to Dream, as a teen in 2015. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize. The songwriter grappled with the realities of young adulthood on 2019’s Grim Town, then revisited formative experiences on 2022’s If I Never Know You Like This Again after embracing a non-binary identity. The opener of that album, Purgatory, was co-written by Monds-Watson and Thomas McLaughlin.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. To those who follow my blog I no longer need to explain the idea behind the weekly recurring feature. For first time visitors, basically, these posts celebrate music in many different flavors from different periods of time, spanning the past 60 to 70 years or so. Ready?

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Let’s start off our little musical excursion with one of the most beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals I know: Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. This track goes all the way back to the Mac’s beginning when they were a blues rock band led by amazing British guitarist, vocalist and co-founder Peter Green who also wrote Albatross. At the time this dreamy track was released as a non-album single in November 1968, Fleetwood Mac also featured co-founders Jeremy Spencer (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), as well as Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) who had just joined two months earlier. In fact, it was Kirwan who helped Green complete Albatross, which was recorded without Spencer. The tune was subsequently included on the U.S. and British compilation albums English Rose (January 1969) and The Pious Bird of Good Omen (August 1969), respectively. Green’s guitar tone is just unbelievable.

Supertramp/Take the Long Way Home

The other day, I found myself listening to Breakfast in America, the sixth studio album by English prog-rock-turned-pop band Supertramp. I got it on vinyl shortly after its release in March 1979 and own that copy to this day. While I played the record over and over again at the time, it’s still in fairly good shape. It also turns out I continue to enjoy the songs – something I certainly cannot say for a good deal of other music I listened to back then as a 13-year-old in Germany. Breakfast in America, which spawned various hit singles, was hugely popular in Germany where it topped the charts, just like in many other countries in Europe and beyond. Take the Long Way Home remains one of my favorite tracks from the album. Written by the band’s co-frontman and principal songwriter Roger Hodgson, the tune also became the record’s fourth single in October 1979. BTW, you also gotta love the cover art, which won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

John Prine/Angel From Montgomery

I still know very little about John Prine, who is widely viewed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation. But I’ve finally started listening to his music. According to Wikipedia, Prine has been called the “Mark Twain of songwriting.” The likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters have called out Prine. He mentored younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile and Margo Price. In fact, I first listened to at least one John Prine song a long time before I even knew his name: Bonnie Raitt’s great cover of Angel From Montgomery, which she recorded for her fourth studio album Streetlights that appeared in September 1974. Here’s the original from John Prine’s eponymous debut album released in 1971. I’m starting to like it as much as Raitt’s rendition.

Peter Frampton/Avalon

If you read my Best of What’s New installment from a week ago, you probably recall it featured a great instrumental cover of George Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity from Peter Frampton’s new album Peter Frampton Forgets the Words. Since my recent “discovery” of the all-instrumental record, I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Here’s another beautiful track that’s perfect for a Sunday morning: Avalon, the title song of the eighth and final studio album by English outfit Roxy Music, released in May 1982. Written by frontman Bryan Ferry, the tune also became the album’s second single in June 1982. I was a bit surprised to see it “only” reached no. 13 in England, while it didn’t chart at all in the U.S. – unlike the record that topped the charts in the UK and climbed to no. 53 in the U.S. and became Roxy Music’s best-selling album. In 1983, Ferry dissolved the band to focus on his solo career. In 2001, Roxy Music reformed for a 30th anniversary tour and was active on and off until they disbanded for good in 2011. Check out this great clip of Frampton and his band. Not only does he sound great, but you can clearly see how he and his fellow musicians enjoyed recording the tune. I don’t think you can fake this!

Traffic/Dear Mr. Fantasy

Time for some more ’60s music, don’t you agree? While I hate traffic when I’m in my car, I love it when it refers to the British rock band. Undoubtedly, much of my affection has to do with Steve Winwood, one of my long-time favorite artists. I get excited to this day when I hear the man sing and play his growling Hammond B-3. But amid all my love for Winwood, let’s not ignore excellent fellow musicians Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Dave Mason (guitar, bass, multiple other instruments, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, Hammond, percussion, vocals), who founded Traffic with Winwood in April 1967. It’s quite amazing that at that time, 18-year-old Winwood already had had a successful four-year career under his belly with The Spencer Davis Group. Dear Mr. Fantasy, co-written by Capaldi, Winwood and Wood, is from Traffic’s debut album Mr. Fantasy released in December 1967. When I saw Winwood live in March 2018, he played guitar on that tune, demonstrating his impressive fretboard chops.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

For the last tune in this Sunday Six installment, let’s have a true rock and soul party. In this context, I can’t think of anything better than this live clip of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, captured in June 2000 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden at the end of the band’s triumphant 1999-2000 reunion tour. In this 19-minute-plus version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the Boss is literally taking his audience to rock & soul church. Yes, it’s long and perhaps somewhat over the top, but I believe Springsteen was authentic when at some point he noted, “I’m not bull-shittin’ back here.” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, written by Springsteen and first appearing on his legendary breakthrough album Born to Run from August 1975, tells the story about the band’s formation. Watching this amazing footage, I get a bit emotional when seeing the big man Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, who sadly passed away in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Though at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful celebration of their lives. If you haven’t seen this, I encourage you to watch it. And even if it’s not your first time, it’s worthwhile watching again. Live music doesn’t get much better!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday and the new music show must go on! This installment of Best of What’s New includes two familiar names and two artists who are completely new to me, featuring Celtic punk, instrumental rock, pop and country rock. Nuff said – let’s get to some music!

Dropkick Murphys/Turn Up That Dial

Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic punk rock band formed in the Boston area in 1996. They are named after former pro wrestler Dr. John “Dropkick” Murphy, who also operated an rehab facility for alcoholics in Action, Mass. The band gained first attention when fellow Bostonian ska punk group The Mighty Mighty Bosstones invited them as opening act for their 1997 tour. Later that year, Dropkick Murphys got a deal with Hellcat Records, which was followed by their debut studio album Do or Die in January 1998. Fast-forward 23 years. The band’s present line-up, which has been together since 2008, consists of original co-founder Ken Casey (bass, lead vocals), along with Al Barr (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (lead guitar, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, keyboards, piano, tin whistle, backing vocals), James Lynch (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar, keyboards, piano, harmonica, tin whistle, backing vocals) and Matt Kelly (drums, bodhran, backing vocals). Dropkick Murphys first entered my radar screen in 2013 when they teamed up with Bruce Springsteen to record a new version of their song Rose Tattoo. The single appeared in May that year in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing – hard to believe it’s been eight years! Turn Up That Dial is the title track from Dropkick Murphys’ new album released yesterday (April 30).

Peter Frampton/Isn’t It a Pity

I trust Peter Frampton doesn’t need much of an introduction. The self-taught guitarist has been playing in bands since the age of 12. He first gained prominence in 1966 as a 16-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist in English rock band The Herd. In 1969, he co-founded Humble Pie together with Steve Marriott, frontman and guitarist of Small Faces. Frampton left Humble Pie in 1971 and launched a solo career. After four largely unnoticed studio albums, he got his big breakthrough with Frampton Comes Alive! The huge success led to an infamous shirtless photo on the cover of Rolling Stone, which turned Frampton into a teen idol and diminished his credibility as an artist. He continued to release albums but was unable to repeat the success of Frampton Comes Alive! In early 2019, Frampton announced his retirement from touring due to a progressive autoimmune disease causing muscle inflammation, weakness and atrophy, which eventually is going to impact his ability to play guitar. He launched a farewell tour in June that year. The UK leg, which had been slated for May 2020, was canceled because of you know what! Isn’t it a Pity is a track from Frampton’s new album of instrumental covers ingeniously titled Peter Frampton Forgets the Words and released on April 23. “This album is a collection of ten of my favorite pieces of music,” he stated on his website. My guitar is also a voice and I have always enjoyed playing my favorite vocal lines that we all know and love.” This is certainly a beautiful rendition of the George Harrison tune that originally appeared on his 1970 solo debut All Things Must Pass.

Parker Millsap/The Real Thing

Parker Millsap is an American singer-songwriter from Purcell, OK. According to his profile on Apple Music, As a youth, Millsap alternately spent time singing hymns at his local Pentecostal church and saturating himself in old blues albums, which influenced his unique style along with folk, country, and vintage Elvis-flavored rock & roll. While still in his late teens, Millsap recorded his mostly acoustic debut, Palisade, with childhood friend Michael Rose accompanying him on double bass. Two years later in 2014, his self-titled second LP introduced his signature sound, bringing him national acclaim and leading to support slots with heavy-hitting roots acts like Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Lake Street Dive. Millsap’s new album Be Here Instead, which is his fifth, came out on April 9. As is the case for most artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to his music. The Real Thing grabbed me right away. To me, it’s got a bit of a Paul McCartney vibe!

The Pink Stones/Put Me On

The last tune I’d like to call out here is Put Me On, a song by The Pink Stones, a country rock band from Athens, Ga. According to their website, the group revolves around Hunter Pinkston, a former punk rocker who discovered country in 2015 when listening to the B-side of the The Lemonheads’ rendition of Brass Buttons, which featured the original by Gram Parsons. This led him not only to explore Parsons’ catalog but also listen to similar other artists. In 2016, Pinkston who is from Albany, Ga. transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens for their music business program. He immersed himself into the local music scene and eventually met what became the core of The Pink Stones: Will Anderson (organ, piano, vocals), Logan Brammer (guitar, vocals), Adam Wayton (guitar, vocals) and Jack Colclough (drums). John Neff (pedal steel guitar), a founding member of Drive-By Truckers, is also part of the band’s current line-up. Put Me On, written by Pinkston, is a track from their debut album Introducing… the Pink Stones released on April 9. Check out this beautiful warm sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Peter Frampton website; Apple Music; The Pink Stones website; AllMusic; YouTube