The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of music in different flavors of the past and the present, six tunes at a time. To those celebrating, Happy Easter! If you don’t observe the holiday, I still hope you’re enjoying the weekend. And just in case you’re looking for some great music, I have some humble suggestions. Hope on our magical time machine and let’s go!

Ahmad Jamal/For All We Know

Today’s journey starts in 1960 with relaxing jazz music by Ahmad Jamal. According to his website, he was born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and already began playing the piano at the age of 3. By the age of 10, Jamal was composing, orchestrating and performing works by Franz Liszt, exploring the music of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner and a host of music notables...At 17, he left home at the request of the George Hudson Orchestra and began touring the country...He formed his own group in 1951 and with the help of John Hammond started his recording career with Okeh Records. Today, more than 70 years later, the now-91-year-old Jamal still appears to be active. His most recent album Ballads appeared in September 2019 – what an amazing career! For All We Know, which initially had been published in 1934 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, was included on Happy Moods, a 1960 album Jamal recorded with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums – my type of music to start a Sunday morning!

Big Star/September Gurls

Next, we turn to the ’70s and power-pop band Big Star, to which Max from PowerPop blog introduced me and safe to assume other readers a while ago. Formed in Memphis, Tenn. in 1971 by Alex Chilton (guitars, piano, vocals), Chris Bell (guitars, vocals), Andy Hummel (bass, vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums), the group was initially active until 1975, during which they recorded two albums. While each received excellent reviews, both records were “commercial failures” due to ineffective marketing and other record label issues. For more on the band’s unfortunate history, I’d encourage you to visit Max’s blog, who has written about them various times, most recently here. One of Big Star’s best-known tunes is September Gurls, written by Chilton, off their sophomore album Radio City that appeared in February 1974. It’s hard to believe this catchy power-pop gem didn’t become a hit at the time. Twelve years later, the Bangles included a great cover on their hugely successful second album Different Light, the version I had known and loved for many years. When I listened to the original first, I immediately dug it just as much!

Bonnie Raitt/Made Up Mind

I’m very excited about this next pick, which is the most recent single by one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you’ve probably seen me rave about Raitt and her great musicianship as a slide guitarist before. I think she’s an exceptional artist who has battled and overcome significant challenges during her 50-year-plus career. Made Up Mind, released on February 25, is from Raitt’s upcoming new album Just Like That…, slated for April 22. The tune was co-written by David Landreth, Joseph Sydney Landreth and Jonathan Singleton. Damn, now I want to see Bonnie again even more than I did before! If you like her music and haven’t been to one of her shows, I’d encourage you to catch her if you can. Her current national tour kicked off last evening in Hampton, N.H. Here’s the schedule. This lady is just amazing!

John Mellencamp/Paper in Fire

As fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day posted a few days ago, April 12, 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of American Fool, the fifth studio album by John Mellencamp who at the time was still known as John Cougar. The thought the little ditty about Jack and Diane was on the radio four decades ago is mind-boggling to me! In a comment, I noted that my favorite album by the heartland rocker from Indiana is The Lonesome Jubilee, which appeared in August 1997. Don’t get me wrong, I also still dig Mellencamp’s straight rock albums he put out during the first half of the ’80s. But I love his transition into roots rock even more. It started on The Lonesome Jubilee with the introduction of instruments like accordion, fiddle and banjo. Here’s Paper in Fire, which was also released separately as a lead single a week ahead of the album. Like all other tracks except one, the song was written by Mellencamp.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Under the Bridge

Including two songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers off their latest album Unlimited Love in recent Best of What’s New posts here and here reminded me of a band I had known primarily by name for many years. One of the few songs I could name was Under the Bridge, a tune I’ve always liked. Credited to all four members of the band – Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals); Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals); John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals); and Chad Smith (drums, percussion) – Under the Bridge is from their fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991. Today, 21 years and seven albums later, the group from the city of angels is rocking on with the same line-up. One of the things I dig about Under the Bridge is Frusciante’s guitar part. That sound is just awesome!

Green Day/Wake Me Up When September Ends

Okey-doke, time to wrap up another Sunday Six. My final pick for this installment takes us back to the ’90s and one of the best-known tunes by Green Day: Wake Me Up When September Ends, off their seventh studio album American Idiot, released in September 2004. I’ve always liked how this band, which has been around since 1987, oftentimes combines grunge, punk and alternative rock with pop, especially on this album. Wake Me Up When September Ends was written by Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong about the death of his father when he was 10 years old. Bandmates Mike Dirnt (bass, backing vocals) and Tré Cool (drums, percussion, backing vocals) received co-writing credits for the music. The three of them still form Green Day’s current core line-up. Beware, this is a bloody catchy tune that might get stuck in your head! 🙂

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ahmad Jamal website; Bonnie Raitt website; YouTube; Spotify

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

Dion Releases Incredible Blues Album

Blues With Friends features Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, John Hammond, Samantha Fish and other impressive guests

Dion DiMucci hasn’t exactly been on my radar screen. While I knew and have always liked his early ’60s hits like Runaround Sue and The Wanderer and was aware that he is revered among many artists, I simply didn’t follow him. I also had no idea that Dion had turned to the blues in more recent years – until Friday when I coincidentally came across his new album Blues With Friends, a true gem I could see win blues awards.

Released on June 5, the record features guests like Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth and Samantha Fish. And the list goes on and on. If you’re cynical, you might say, ‘sure, we’ve seen this before, an aging rocker is getting some help from big name friends.’ But once you start listening to the album, this feels different.

To start with, Dion who is turning 81 years in just a little over a month on July 18, still has a compelling voice. He is not outshined by his formidable guests. It’s also noteworthy this record isn’t a collection of blues covers. These are 14 original songs, of which Dion co-wrote 13 tunes, mostly with Mike Aquilina.

And then there’s this excerpt from the liner notes: Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him. The author? Bob Dylan. I guess it’s time for some music!

Blues Comin’ On is the excellent opener featuring some sizzling slide guitar action by Joe Bonamassa. All of the tracks I’m highlighting in this post were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. This one has a Gary Moore feel!

Let’s move on to some rockabilly: Uptown Number 7. And who better to have as a guest guitarist on this one than Brian Setzer! “I wanted to write an old-fashioned gospel number in the style of the Golden Gate Quartet,” explains Dion in a press release. “I wanted this one to be about moving forward in the spiritual life… having a goal…facing temptations along the way. So, I put it all on a train, because that’s what New Yorkers do if they want to get anywhere: they take the train.”

One of the sonic highlights on the album, perhaps not surprisingly, is when Jeff Beck does his guitar magic: Can’t Start Over Again. “My earliest influences were country blues, especially Hank Williams,” explains Dion. “Any money I earned I took to the neighborhood record store, where the owner used to razz me about my “hillbilly” tastes. I guess I still have that hillbilly inside. For my last album I wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Go Back to Memphis,’ but I go back there with this number. It’s about love and loss and heartache, the classic themes. I believe it’s a true blues song.”

Next up: My Baby Loves to Boogie, featuring John Hammond on harmonica. “John Hammond and I go back to the ’60s at the Gaslight coffee house in Greenwich Village,” Dion points out. “I’ve always admired John. He’s a dear friend. I played him this song and he said he heard harp on it. Well, friends, now you could hear exactly what he was talking’ about. It sounds like ‘Boogie Beyond.'”

A particular moving and beautiful tune is Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America). “I wrote this tune back many years ago,” Dion recalls. “At first I just had the melody and the refrain ‘Here in America.’ A friend suggested I use an episode from my memoir about walking southern streets with Sam Cooke in 1962. I finished the song, but it felt too personal, so I put it aside. Then in 2019 I saw the movie Green Book and after that I couldn’t shake the song.” Sadly, the lyrics remain relevant in present-day America. Paul Simon proves to be a great guest to help bring the song to life. Here’s the official video for the tune.

I’d like to close with What If I Told You, a great tune featuring hot guitar work by Samantha Fish. “Same old story: suspicion,” comments Dion. “The challenge is to make it new and fresh and I think I did. If I put out the same amount of energy and emotion that Samantha Fish put into this song, I wouldn’t be able to walk for three weeks. EPIC!!!”

“I wanted an album of songs that were strong and memorable and told stories that were worth telling,” says Dion. “The blues have been at the heart of my music since the early 1960s. ‘The Wanderer’ is a twelve-bar blues and I was covering Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed in my early years at Columbia – much to the dismay of my corporate masters.”

Blues With Friends was produced by Wayne Hood and appears on Keeping The Blues Alive Records, a new label started by Joe Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. It’s an offshoot of Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, Bonamassa’s non-profit that aims to conserve the art of music and the rich culture and history of the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dion DiMucci website; YouTube