The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another week is coming to an end, and I can’t believe we’re almost in March. Before we embark on another music journey, I feel compelled to express my shock and sadness about the tragic events and human suffering unfolding in Ukraine.

Usually, I don’t discuss politics or any other topics on this blog outside of music. I also strive to keep things positive. Both are deliberate choices since I feel we’re already bombarded with so much negativity every day in traditional and social media. I want CMM to be a destination where you can forget about all the everyday crap life can throw at you. Music is a great escape hatch that has helped me more than once to keep it together.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv, a city within the city initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051

Why break my own rules now? Ukraine is different. In some regards it’s personal. In my former professional career, I worked in the UN Office in Kyiv from January 1995 through March 1997. As such, not only do I know the Ukrainian capital – well, at least how it looked at the time – but I also had the opportunity to visit many different regions of the country, such as Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014, and the so-called breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which they are now claiming to protect from neo Nazis – it’s like you’re watching an episode of the Twilight Zone!

Witnessing what looks like the re-emergence of a Russian czar who apparently wants to restore the old empire of the U.S.S.R. seems unreal in 21st Century Europe. I just hope these unprovoked and illegal actions by this warmonger can be stopped, and he eventually will have to pay a high personal price for his crimes. I’d like to dedicate this post to the people of Ukraine, including my former colleagues and their families many of whom still live there. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians, and I hope this madness will come to an end soon.

Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny)/Файне мiсто Тернопiль

In light of the above, I’d like to kick off this Sunday Six with some kickass rock by Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny), which according to Wikipedia is one of the most successful Ukrainian bands from Lviv. The largest city in Western Ukraine is located about 60 miles east of the border to Poland. Braty Hadiukiny, which means “Hadyukin Brothers”, were mainly active between 1988 and 1996. This was followed by what looks like a 10-year hiatus and a reunion in 2006. Wikipedia characterizes their music as a combination of different genres like rock & roll, blues, punk, reggae, funk and folk. Файне мiсто Тернопiль (translation: Fine city of Ternopil) is a great rock tune from the band’s 1994 album Було не любити (translation: It was not to love). Ternopil is another bigger city in Western Ukraine.

Paul McCartney/Drive My Car

In case you haven’t heard the news today about lucky me who made the grade, the news wasn’t sad and I just had to laugh. Yesterday, I got a ticket to ride for Paul McCartney on June 16 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.! While I fully anticipate there will be some differences between this show and the two previous gigs I saw, my words can’t express how excited I am. In case you’d like to check out dates for the Got Back Tour, which is scheduled to get underway in late April in Spokane, Wash. and wrap up on June 16 in Jersey, you can check on Macca’s website here. To get in the mood, here’s Paul’s opener Drive My Car, off his November 2009 live album Good Evening New York City. It captures songs performed during three nights in July 2009 to formally open New York’s Citi Field, a baseball park built to replace the legendary Shea Stadium, where The Beatles played one of their most famous shows in 1965. Primarily written by Macca with lyrical contributions from John Lennon, Drive My Car originally appeared on Rubber Soul, the second of two albums The Beatles released in 1965. Take it away!

John Miles/Music

After two uptempo rockers, it’s time to catch a breath coz, hey, I’m not exactly 16 years any longer. I’m already 26! 🙂 I literally just remembered what I feel is a great tune for the occasion by British artist John Miles. Born John Errington in April 1949, Miles was active for more than 50 years from 1970 until his death in December 2021 at the age of 72 after a short illness. His catalog includes 10 studio, two live and five compilation albums. Undoubtedly, he is best remembered for the song I picked, Music, off his debut solo album Rebel from March 1976. Solely penned by Miles, this beautiful tune was also released separately as a single that same year and became his biggest hit. It topped the charts in Switzerland, peaked at no. 3 in the UK and reached no. 4 in The Netherlands. Beyond Europe, the chart performance was more moderate, including no. 38 in Australia and no. 88 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It may be lush and monumental, but it’s an incredibly powerful orchestral rock ballad, which btw was produced by Alan Parsons.

Joey DeFrancesco/Inner Being

Under different circumstances, an instrumental like this would have been my first pick. If you’ve seen some of the previous Sunday Six installments, you probably noticed that I tend to start nice and easy, and then sometimes turn to nice and rough. Anyway, this next track takes us to March 2019 and a studio album by jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco who also plays the trumpet and the saxophone. DeFrancesco, who signed his first record deal in 1987 at the age of 16, has played with the likes of David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and George Benson, and recorded with artists, such as Ray Charles, Bette Midler and Van Morrison before he went loonie. According to Wikipedia, DeFrancesco’s discography to date includes 31 studio, one live and one studio album – they had to count them all! Inner Being, composed by DeFrancesco, opens the above-noted album titled In the Key of the Universe. The record, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, features American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Tina Turner/Nutbush City Limits

It’s funny how sometimes one thing leads to another. You may have noticed that in the description of my previous pick, I creatively borrowed from the lyrics of Ike & Tina Turner’s rendition of Proud Mary. From the moment I did this, I couldn’t get Tina out of my head. Nutbush City Limits, written by her, was first recorded as part of her duo with her ex-husband Ike Turner and became the title track of their studio album from November 1973. Nearly three years later, Tina managed to flee from Ike with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. While Ike was a talented musician he also was a psychotic abuser. Beating and verbally abusing your wife or anyone else for that matter isn’t cool and will forever tarnish you! Anyway, here’s a life version of the song from Tina’s live record and video album Tina Live. Released in September 2009, it captures a gig Tina did in March that year in The Netherlands. This must have been right before her second and permanent retirement. She was 70 years at the time and still in incredible shape working that stage and dancing in high-heeled shoes – what an amazing performer!

Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy)/З нею

I’d like to conclude this post with more rock from Ukraine. Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy) are another group from Lviv. They were formed in 1994 and apparently have been active to this day. Their present lineup features original members Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (lead vocals) and Denys Hlinin (drums, percussion), along with Denys Dudko (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Miloš Jelić (piano, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Vladimir Opsenica (guitars, backing vocals). Wikipedia lists 10 studio albums released between 1998 and 2016. Here’s З нею (translation: With her), the opening track of a 2013 album titled Земля (translation: The land).

Following is a playlist of the above tracks, as usual.

Mr. Putin, stop your reckless assault on the Ukrainian people and from going down in the history books as a war criminal! Rock & roll will never die and outlive any psychopathic emperor!

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Van Morrison Teams Up With Joey DeFrancesco On New Jazz Album

After almost 60 years, Van the Man shows no signs of slowing down

Van Morrison has kept pretty busy over the past few years. Since September 2016, he has released four studio albums, the latest of which, You’re Driving Me Crazy, just appeared yesterday. Think about this for a moment, how many septuagenarian music artists do you know who are as productive as Van the Man? Of course, ultimately, it should be about quality, not quantity. After having listened to this new album, I have to say I really dig it!

So, how does Morrison’s 39th studio release compare to his other albums? Frankly, given my significant knowledge gaps about his music, I can’t give a fully informed answer. I certainly like Moondance better, but I’m not sure this comparison makes a lot of sense. Is it a good jazz record? That’s another tough question for me to answer, since I rarely listen to jazz. But while this isn’t Morrison’s first jazz album and jazz has been a key influence for his music over the decades, it’s safe to assume the Belfast Cowboy isn’t on the radar screen of most hard-core jazz fans.

Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco

Here’s the deal, as far as I’m concerned. After having listened to music for some 40 years and as a past hobby musician who still occasionally grabs a guitar, I’m confident enough to say I know good music when I hear it. To my ears, Morrison and his partner in crime Joey DeFrancesco delivered a beautiful record that is smooth and grooves nicely throughout. While recording the tracks live in the studio, they apparently also had a lot of fun – you can literally hear laughter during and after some of the songs!

The album’s 15 tunes feature a mix of reworked jazz and blues songs like Every Day I Have The Blues (Peter Chatman), The Things I Used To Do (Eddie Jones) and Miss Otis Regrets (Cole Porter), together with new takes of orignal Morrison tracks, such as All Saints Day (Hymns To The Silence, 1991), The Way Young Lovers Do (Astral Weeks, 1968) and Close Enough For Jazz (Too Long In Exile, 1993). Morrison shares writing credits for Evening Shadows with Bernard Stanley “Acker” Bill, an English clarinettist and vocalist  who passed away in November 2014. He first recorded the tune with Bill for his 2002 studio album Down The Road.

With DeFrancesco, Morrison selected a heavy hitter. Over a now 30-year professional career, the 47-year-old American jazz organist, trumpeter and vocalist has worked with the likes of Miles Davis, David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and Ray Charles. I love DeFrancesco’s playing on the album, especially his work on the Hammond organ. According to Rolling Stone, it was also DeFrancesco who put together the backing musicians for the recording sessions: Dan Wilson (guitar), Michael Ode (drums) and Troy Roberts (saxophone). I’d say the time has come for some music!

The record opens with Miss Otis Regrets, a relaxing jazz standard composed by Cole Porter in 1934. The piece is a testament to Morrison’s apparent appreciation of old jazz.

The Way Young Lovers Do takes Morrison back all the way to 1968 and his second studio album Astral Weeks, which I understand is widely considered to be one of his best records. I think this new version presents a nice slightly smoother take, though one certainly needs to consider the whooping 50 years that separate the two recordings.

Another great cover is The Things I Used To Do. Originally, this 12-bar blues tune was written by Eddie Jones, better known as Guitar Slim, and released in 1953. By the way, the producer was then-23-year-old Ray Charles. I like how Morrison and DeFrancesco give the tune a nice jazz feel that makes you want to snip your fingers. The tune is a great example of DeFrancesco’s ace work on the Hammond. I also dig Wilson’s guitar-playing.

Close Enough For Jazz originally was recorded by Morrison as an instrumental for Too Long In Exile, his 22nd studio record from 1993. This new version is a tick faster and more immportantly adds vocals, a nice take.

Everyday I Have The Blues is a blues standard by John Chatman, also known as Memphis Slim. The American blues pianist, singer and composer first recorded the tune in 1947. In addition to Morrison, many other artists covered the song, including B.B. King, Elmore James and Fleetwood Mac during their blues days with Peter Green.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Have I Told You Lately, a Morrison tune he first recorded as a ballad for his 19th studio album Avalon Sunset, which appeared in 1989. Admittedly, until now, I only had known the Rod Stewart version from his 1993 Unplugged…And Seated album. Morrison’s new take speeds up the original and gives it a jazz groove. The updated version also uses a female backup singer whose name I haven’t been able to find. But she surely sounds great, as do the Hammond and the horns.

This post wouldn’t be complete without some commentary from Van The Man himself. During a rare phone interview with The New York Times he said, “My thing is not talking about music. It’s about doing it. Other people talk about it, and they make a living talking about it. I make a living kind of singing it and playing it. If it feels right, and it’s the right kind of vibe, then you should just go with it.” Amen to that!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, YouTube