Jethro Tull Release First New Album in More Than 20 Years

Lately, it almost starts feeling like I live in some parallel universe of March 1971 and the present. In March 1971, both Jethro Tull and John Mayall released new albums, Aqualung and Back to the Roots, respectively. Last Friday, January 28, the same thing happened again. While I had known about Mayall’s record The Sun is Shining Down, which I reviewed here yesterday, Jethro Tull’s The Zealot Gene came as a total surprise. Not only is history’s repetition remarkable, but also the fact that both new releases are truly compelling.

The Zealot Gene is Tull’s 22nd studio album and their first new record since The Jethro Tull Christmas Album from September 2003. It also is their first new album of all-new music since J-Tull Dot Com that came in August 1999. Of course, four-fifths of 2022 Tull are different compared to 1971. But the most important original member, Ian Anderson, is still around, and, boy, does he sound great! His vocals and multi-instrumental chops including his distinguished flute-playing remain in mighty shape.

Jethro Tull (clockwise from upper left): Ian Anderson, Joe Parrish, David Goodier, John O’Hara and Scott Hammond

The other members of Tull aren’t exactly newbies either. Joe Parrish (guitar), John O’Hara (piano, keyboards, accordion), David Goodier (bass, double bass) and Scott Hammond (drums, percussion) each are experienced musicians. Except for Parish who became a member in 2020, each has been part of the band’s touring lineup for various years. The album also features Florian Opahle on electric guitar, who played with Tull from 2003 until 2019.

Here’s some additional background on The Zealot Gene from Tull’s website: A record that began to take shape as early as 2017, ‘The Zealot Gene’, in many ways, seeks to defy convention during a time when the business of being a touring and recording artist has never faced more uncertainties. Tull bandleader Ian Anderson holds no reservations about the role for which the mythos and themes of Biblical storytelling played in the lyrical content of the new album, saying:

“While I have a spot of genuine fondness for the pomp and fairytale story-telling of the Holy Book, I still feel the need to question and draw sometimes unholy parallels from the text. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly rear their heads throughout, but are punctuated with elements of love, respect, and tenderness.

Looking back on the earth-shaking disruption of the Coronavirus pandemic, which ultimately ended the band’s touring plans and hopes of a 2020 release for ‘The Zealot Gene’, Anderson shares, “It was so sudden. Amidst the concerns and warnings of the scientific community and a few more enlightened politicians, we all retreated in disbelief to our homes to wait out the storm.”

I’d say let’s go for some music. Here’s the opener Mrs Tibbets. Like all other tracks on the album, it was written by Anderson. “One of the words that I wrote was ‘retribution,’ which was visited upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah by the angry God, Yahweh,” Anderson told Apple Music in discussing some of the tracks in greater detail. “Lot and his wife escaped, but she turned around to look at the destruction behind her and was turned into a pillar of salt, according to biblical tales. That brought up the inevitable comparison with someone turning to face a 2,000-foot air burst above Hiroshima. So I decided to write an analogous song based on the visitation of Little Boy, dropped by the air crew captain Paul Tibbets, son of Enola Gay Tibbets.” Check out that cool sound!

The title track is “about the polarization of opinion-making in contemporary society, largely through social media, but also through—quite rightly in a democratic world—freedom of speech, the right to express your opinion,” Anderson explained to Apple Music. “But these days that opinion reaches further and faster and in more forcible terms as a result of social media—and can be used in a way that is often very hurtful, very cruel, very socially divisive.” Here’s the official video – reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Shoshana Sleeping “is a slightly erotic observation of the human form, but in a respectful and hands-off kind of a way,” Anderson noted. “Hopefully you would get the impression in the lyrics that the person singing the song is already in some kind of a relationship with the person that he’s observing sleeping. In terms of biblical references, I read some verses from the Song of Solomon. In the original text, sometimes it takes on a pretty macho and unpleasant form—the biblical format is not terribly woke. Nonetheless, there are parts of the Song of Solomon which are very moving and spiritually generous.” Once again, an interesting official video.

Where Did Saturday Go? [this is also what I’m often asking myself once Monday hits – CMM] is one of the acoustic-focused tunes. “Again, it could be seen as a reference to waking up and not being able to remember what you did on a weekend,” Anderson said. “But there’s obviously the reference of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Saturday following Good Friday—before Easter Sunday, the resurrection day. In this story, Saturday is very rarely mentioned. And in this 24-hour period you have to wonder what was happening in the minds of those followers of Jesus after his death but before his resurrection. But it’s never discussed to any degree in the Bible, so I’m just pondering that notion of a missing day in the narrative of Jesus.”

Let’s do one more: The closer The Fisherman of Ephesus. “In that particular song I do stay more closely to the biblical stories of what happened to the disciples of Jesus…And so the song is about guilt survival, something I know from talking to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, who lost their buddies, and who were scarred for life as a result of surviving when others around them died. And that happens, obviously, in car crashes, plane crashes, and probably in terms of COVID mortalities…So guilt survival is applicable right across the board. And that’s essentially the message of the song.”

I’ve heard a good deal of Jethro Tull songs, including those that are on the great 1985 compilation Original Masters, which spans the band’s first nine albums. I’ve also listened to select records like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick. This certainly doesn’t make me a Tull expert. But based on what I’ve heard, I feel confident enough to say this new album really sounds like Tull, sometimes reminding me of Aqualung. And that’s not only because of that album’s biblical references, though I will add The Zealot Gene doesn’t have obvious gems like Hymn 43 or Locomotive Breath. Still, it’s a pretty solid record. If you dig Tull, I see no reason why you wouldn’t like it.

The Zealot Gene appears on Inside Out Music, a German independent label focused on progressive rock and progressive metal. In addition to being available on streaming platforms, the album is offered in additional formats, including a special edition digipak CD, a gatefold 2LP+CD+LP-booklet, a limited 2CD+Blu-ray artbook and a limited deluxe 3LP+2CD+Blu-ray artbook.

Both artbook editions feature a second CD of demos and initial ideas, plus extended liner notes and an interview with Ian Anderson undertaken by Tim Bowness (no-man). Jeez – the days when artists simply issued their new albums on vinyl are definitely over!

Sources: Wikipedia; Jethro Tull website; Apple Music; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; 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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy New Year and welcome to my first post of 2022! Yes, as hard as it is to believe, apparently, some new music appeared yesterday (December 31). While I didn’t see anything that sufficiently excited me, the show must go on with other new releases that came out earlier in December. I think I got some good stuff here!

Corey Kent/There’s Always Next Year

Kicking off this first Best of What’s New installment of 2022 is some rock by Nashville, Tenn.-based country singer-songwriter Corey Kent. According to a bio on the website of his record label Combustion Masters, Music chose Corey Kent early in his life. At age 11, Corey was touring as the lead singer of a Western Swing band opening for legends like Roy Clark & The Oak Ridge Boys. By the time he could drive, he was playing weekly in his hometown of Bixby, OK. In December of 2010, Corey found himself on stage singing Milk Cow Blues with country music icon, Willie Nelson. By 17, he said goodbye to his family & moved out to Nashville, TN…Shortly after graduating with his business degree, Corey wrote his first #1 Hit (William Clark Green’s hit, “You Where It Hurts”). On December 28, Kent released what looks like his sophomore album ’21. Here’s There’s Always Next Year, co-written by fellow country artists David Garcia, Jameson Rodgers and Jonathan Singleton.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

John Mayall is 88 years old, but apparently, the Godfather of the British Blues ain’t slowing down. This is just amazing and makes me happy! Mayall is best known as the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band that featured some of the finest British guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. ‘Is this for real?’, you might ask. It is, but wait there’s more. On January 28, Mayall is scheduled to come out with a new album. According to his website, on The Sun is Shining Down, he teams up with a stellar cast to deliver a funky soulful affair punctuated by brass, violins, harmonica and electric ukulele. Special guests include, The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, fast rising roots rocker Marcus King, Americana icon Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Chicago blues guitar mainstay Melvin Taylor and Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. And, yes, apparently Mayall is planning to take this baby on the road starting in late February. Here’s the tasty Can’t Take No More, a soulful blues rocker written by Mayall and featuring Marcus King. The tune was released upfront on December 17. Man, this is so good I can’t take it no more to wait for the new album!

Best Coast/Leading

American rock duo Best Coast, comprised of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases: a self-titled 7″ single on Art F*g; a cassette tape release, Where the Boys Are, on the U.K. label Blackest Rainbow; a split 7″, Up All Night, on Atelier Ciseaux; an EP, Make You Mine, on Group Tightener; and a self-titled 7″ on Black Iris. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. In July 2010, the duo released Crazy for You, the first of five albums that have appeared to date. Leading, co-written by Cosentino and Bruno, is Best Coast’s new single that came out on December 14 – a quite catchy rocker!

Tinsley Ellis/Beat the Devil

Wrapping up this first Best of What’s New of the new year is more sweet blues rock, by Tinsley Ellis. From his website: Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He acquired his first guitar at age seven, soon after seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. He took to it instantly, developing and sharpening his skills as he grew up. Ellis discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night in 1972, he and a friend were listening to Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfield’s Super Session record when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked that, they should really go see B.B. King, who was in town that week. Tinsley and his friends went to the Saturday afternoon performance, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on his guitar, Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. And the rest is history and a recording career of 40 years to date. Beat the Devil, penned by Ellis and released on December 6, is a single from his upcoming album Devil May Care set to drop on January 21 – another one I’m looking forward to. I really like how this new year starts!

And, I almost forgot, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; Combustion Master website; John Mayall website; Apple Music; Tinsley Ellis website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Savoy Brown/Street Corner Talking

What do you do when you’re in the mood for some great blues rock? You get some! And so I did with Street Corner Talking by Britain’s Savoy Brown released in September 1971. As it oftentimes goes with these types of posts, I got the idea to listen to their seventh studio album after my streaming music provider had served up Tell Mama, the record’s dynamite opener.

Savoy Brown – btw, what a cool name! – have been around for a bit. ‘How long’, you might wonder. How about more than 55 years! Not surprisingly, their line-up has changed many times over the decades, though the founder is still around and going strongly. Before getting to the album, a bit of history is in order. The following background is taken from the band’s bio on their website.

Savoy Brown was formed in 1965 by guitarist Kim Simmonds in London, England. Simmonds has been the group’s guiding hand from the first singles released in 1966 through the band’s newest effort, their forty-first album “Ain’t Done Yet” [released in August 2020. At the time, I featured one of the album’s tunes in a Best of What’s New installment]

Energetic blues has been the calling card of the band from the beginning. Blues Rock became the catch-all phrase in the late 1960s to describe the band’s music along with that of contemporaries including Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and Jimi Hendrix

...Through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980’s songs such as “I’m Tired”, “Train to Nowhere”, “Tell Mama” and “Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone” became Hot 100 entries. Two of the band’s albums in the 1970s, “Looking In” and “Hellbound Train”, appeared on the Billboard Top Forty charts…Along the way, Savoy Brown has toured continuously, making it one of the longest running blues rock bands in existence. Through the years, the band has headlined concerts at many prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore East, the Fillmore West, and London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall...

…Former [Savoy Brown] members, having cut their teeth under Simmonds’ leadership, have gone on to complete their careers with other bands. Among others, these include singer Dave Walker with Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath, Bill Bruford with King Crimson, Andy Pyle with the Kinks and Paul Raymond with UFO… Three other band alumni – Lonesome Dave Peverett, Roger Earl, and Tony Stevens, went on to become the founding members of the multi-platinum act Foghat. Sounds a bit like John Mayall to me!

Kim Simmonds (guitar, vocals), who has lived in the U.S. since 1980, remains the only original member of Savoy Brown’s current line-up. The other core members include Pat DeSalvo (bass, backing vocals) and Garnet Grimm (drums). Both have been with the band since 2009. With that, let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the song that inspired the post. Tell Mama, the first track on the album, was co-written by Simmonds and Paul Raymond, the band’s keyboarder at the time. Just a great catchy rocker with some cool slide guitar action.

Taking on The Temptations perhaps is a near-impossible task, but I have to say I really dig where Savoy Brown took I Can’t Get Next to You. Co-written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, this psychedelic soul gem was first released by The Temptations as a single in July 1969. It also appeared on their 11th studio album Puzzle People that came out in September of the same year. Check out how nicely Savoy Brown’s version of the tune is shuffling along. I also dig the keyboard work.

Time Does Tell is another great track. It was written by Simmonds. Andy Sylvester’s bass work gives this tune a great groove. I also like Simmonds’ guitar solo that starts at about 2:42 minutes. Damn, this is really cool – don’t take it from me, give it a listen!

Here’s the title track, another song Simmonds wrote. I can hear some Cream in that guitar riff. And that’s never a bad thing!

I’d like to wrap things up with another nice cover: Willie Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle. Dixon wrote that tune in 1960, and it was first released by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. Haven’t we all felt like hanging out with automatic slim, razor totin’ jim, butcher knife totin’ annie and fast talkin’ fanny to pitch a wang dang doodle all night long? 🙂

This is the first album by Savoy Brown I’ve explored in greater depth, and I really dig it – can you tell? 🙂 This certainly wants me to listen to more from this band. Any tips are welcome!

Sources: Wikipedia; Savoy Brown website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sonny Landreth/Blacktop Run

Sonny Landreth is one of various top-notch guitarists I could have included in my recent slide guitar feature. This is what prompted me to check what Landreth who is also known as “the King of Slydeco” has been up to. Well, it turns out he released his 14th solo album Blacktop Run in February this year. While it’s classified as blues, I’d call it a tasty rootsy gumbo that includes flavors of blues, swamp rock, zydeco and jazz rock.

Before I get to it, first a few words about the man. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Landreth was born February 1, 1951, in Canton, Mississippi, and his family lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for a few years before settling in Lafayette, Louisiana. Landreth began playing guitar after a long tenure with the trumpet. His earliest inspiration came from Scotty Moore, the guitarist from Elvis Presley’s band, but as time went on, he learned from the recordings of musicians and groups like Chet Atkins and the Ventures. As a teen, Landreth began playing with his friends in their parents’ houses.

Sonny Landreth: "How Not to Sound Awful" | WWNO

After his first professional gig with accordionist Clifton Chenier in the ’70s (where he was the only white guy in the Red Beans & Rice Revue for awhile), Landreth struck out on his own, but not before he recorded two albums for the Blues Unlimited label out of Crowley, Louisiana, Blues Attack in 1981 and Way Down in Louisiana in 1985…The second of those two albums got him noticed by some record executives in Nashville, which in turn led to his recording and touring work with John Hiatt.

That led to still more work with John Mayall, who recorded Landreth’s radio-ready “Congo Square.” More recently, he’s worked with New Orleans bandleader and pianist Allen Toussaint (who guests on several tracks on South of I-10, as does Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler). Eric Clapton has called Landreth one of the most advanced guitarists in the world, notes Wikipedia, and one of the most under-appreciated. Landreth’s accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year (Americana Music Association, 2005) and a 2016 Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener and title track. It’s among the eight of the ten tacks that were written by Landreth.

Mule is a catchy up-tempo rocker that makes you want to dance. It features great slide guitar and accordion work.

Groovy Goddess is one of four instrumentals on the album. And groovy it certainly is! Its improvisational nature gives it a jazzy feel. And there’s more of Landreth’s amazing slide guitar work.

Two tracks on the album were written by Steve Conn, who also played electric piano, organ and accordion. Somebody Gotta Make a Move is one of them. Landreth’s website notes the newly arranged song features a guitar tuning Landreth developed but had not used in the studio.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Many Worlds, another instrumental.

Most of Blacktop Run’s tracks were recorded live in-studio at the storied Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, La., where artists like Dr. John, B.B. King and Taj Mahal are among past clients. In addition to Conn, Landreth was backed by David Ranson (bass) and Brian Brignac (drums).

The album was co-produced by Landreth, R.S. Field and Tony Daigletto. Field previously co-produced three of Landreth’s other albums. “His [Field’s] brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth stated. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”

He added, “All told, the different elements of this project came together and I’m really happy about it. Blacktop Run is probably the most eclectic recording I’ve done. And sonically, I think this is the best album we’ve ever made.” While I haven’t explored any of Landreth’s other albums, I know one thing: Blacktop Run is excellent and makes me want to hear more of his catalog.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sonny Landreth website; YouTube

A Green Guitar God with a Unique Tone and Soulful Voice

In memoriam of Peter Green

“Playing fast is something I used to do with John [Mayall] when things weren’t going well. But it isn’t any good. I like to play slowly and feel every note.” I think this quote from Peter Green, which was included in a June 16, 2020 feature by Guitar World, nicely reflects the philosophy of the English guitarist. About six weeks after that story had been published, Green passed away “peacefully in his sleep” on July 25, 2020 at the age of 73, as reported by the BBC and many other media outlets. This post is a late recognition of a great artist I only had known from some of his excellent work with the early Fleetwood Mac.

It’s really unfortunate that oftentimes it takes a death or other tragic event to get somebody on your radar screen. When it came to Peter Green, I first and foremost viewed him as this great British guitarist who wrote the fantastic tune Black Magic Woman, which I initially thought was a Santana song, and Albatross, an instrumental with one of the most beautiful guitar tones I’ve ever heard. As I started to explore some of Green’s post-Fleetwood Mac work, perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that apart from his guitar chops he also had a pretty good voice.

This post doesn’t aim to be a traditional obituary. You can find plenty of such pieces elsewhere. Instead, I’d like to focus on Green’s music, especially beyond Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, Peter Allen Greenbaum who was born in London on October 29, 1946, started his music career as a bassist. According to the above BBC story, it was an encounter with none other than a young Eric Clapton that convinced Green to switch to guitar. “I decided to go back on lead guitar after seeing him with the Bluesbreakers. He had a Les Paul, his fingers were marvellous. The guy knew how to do a bit of evil, I guess.”

Not only did Green manage to retool fairly quickly, but before he knew it, he ended up replacing Clapton in The Bluesbreakers. Here’s a nice anecdote that’s included in the previously noted feature in Guitar World. When John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers assembled for the sessions to record their sophomore album A Hard Road in October 1966, producer Mike Vernon nervously asked, “Where’s Eric Clapton?” Mayall replied, “He’s not with us any more, but don’t worry, we’ve got someone better.” Apparently, somewhat in disbelief, Vernon said, “You’ve got someone better – than Eric Clapton?” Mayall responded, “He might not be better now, but in a couple of years, he’s going to be the best.” The Godfather of British Blues simply knew talent when he saw it!

Here’s The Supernatural from A Hard Road, a track Green wrote. Check out that mighty guitar tone! It reminds me a bit of Black Magic Woman. The instrumental helped establish Green’s trademark sound and earn him the nickname “The Green God.” In case you didn’t know what inspired the post’s headline, now you do!

By July 1967, Green had left The Bluesbreakers and formed his new band initally called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac Featuring Jeremy Spencer. Apart from Green (vocals, guitar, harmonica), the lineup included Mick Fleetwood (drums), Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and John McVie (bass). Not only had all of them been previous members of The Bluesbreakers, but John Mayall turned out to be the band’s enabler by offering Green free recording time. Mayall strikes me as somebody who was more than happy to provide apprenticeships to talented up and coming musicians! Here’s Long Grey Mere, a tune Green wrote for Fleetwood Mac, the February 1968 debut by the band that by then was called Peter Greene’s Fleetwood Mac. Bob Brunning, who technically was the band’s first bassist before John McVie joined, played bass on the track.

In early 1970, Fleetwood Mac were on tour in Europe. At that time, Green had become a frequent user of LSD. In Munich, Germany, he ended up visiting a hippie commune and “disappearing” for three days. A New York Times obituary included a later quote from Green saying he “went on a trip, and never came back.” After a final performance on May 20 that year, he left Fleetwood Mac. The following month, Green started work on what became his first solo album, The End of the Game. Released in December of the same year, the record featured edited free-form jazz rock jam sessions, marking a radical departure from his music with the Mac. Here’s the title track.

Following his solo debut, Green’s output became unsteady. In 1971, he briefly reunited with Fleetwood Mac, filling in for Jeremy Spencer after his departure to help the band complete their U.S. tour under the pseudonym Peter Blue. Beasts of Burden is a single Green recorded with fellow British guitarist Nigel Watson, who many years later would become part of Peter Green Splinter Group. The tune later was added to an expanded version of the above album.

Eventually, Green’s mental health issues took a heavy toll. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and ended up being in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s, undergoing electroconvulsive therapy – yikes! To me, this frighteningly sounds like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 picture starring Jack Nicholson, one of his best performances I’ve ever watched. Luckily, Green reemerged professionally and in May 1979 released his sophomore solo album In the Skies. Here’s the great title track and opener, which Green co-wrote with his wife Jane Greene (nee Samuels) whom he had married in January 1978. Sadly, the marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce in 1979.

Starting with his next album Little Dreamer from April 1980, Green mostly relied on others to write songs for him, including his brother Mike Green (born Michael Greenbaum) for next few years. Here’s the groovy opener Loser Two Times. While the song was written by Mike Green, one cannot help but notice these words feel very autobiographic. I’m a loser two times/I’m a loser two times/I tried to change my ways but I was too blind/I lost my money, I lost my girl/And now I’ve almost lost my mind/Yes, I’m a loser two times…

Peter Green’s first reemergence from his health challenges ended with Kolors, his sixth solo album from 1983, which largely consisted of songs from previous recording sessions that had been unreleased. According to The New York Times, Green’s medications essentially incapacitated him. Eventually, he managed to wean himself from prescription tranquilizers in the ’90s. In 1997, he returned to music for the second time with Peter Green Splinter Group. Here’s Homework from their eponymous first album, a tune by Dave Clark and Al Perkins I had known and liked for many years by The J. Geils Band. The Splinter Group’s rendition features Green on lead vocals.

Time Traders, which appeared in October 2001, was the Splinter Group’s sixth album. Unlike their predecessors that had largely featured covers, especially of Robert Johnson, Time Traders entirely consisted of original tunes that had been written by members of the band. Here’s Underway, an instrumental by Green, which first had appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s third studio album Then Play On from September 1969. The track showcases more of that magic tone Green got out of his guitar.

February 2003 saw the release of the Splinter Group’s eighth and final album Reaching the Cold 100. Here’s Don’t Walk Away From Me, written by Roger Cotton, who played guitar, keyboards and organ in the band, featuring Green on guitar and vocals. Beautiful tune with a great sound – and yet another good example of Green’s vocal abilities!

The final track I’d like to highlight is Trouble in Mind, which Peter Green released together with Ian Stewart, Charlie Hart, Charlie Watts and Brian Knight in February 2009. Written by jazz pianist Richard M. Jones, the blues standard was first recorded by singer Thelma La Vizzo in 1924. It was also covered by Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and many other artists.

Peter Green was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 together with Fleetwood Mac, including Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Christine McVie. In June 1996, Green was voted the third greatest guitarist of all time in Mojo magazine. And in December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 58 in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. No matter how you rank Peter Green, there’s no doubt the “Green God” was a master of tone and I think an undervalued vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; BBC; The New York Times; Rolling Stone; YouTube

John Mayall Has Turned 85 And No Plans For Retirement After More Than 50 Years

The Godfather of British Blues has announced a tour and a new album for 2019

What do Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce have in common? Together with Ginger Baker, they formed what perhaps was the ultimate blues rock power trio Cream. How about Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood? Well, they became part of the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. Andy Fraser? He joined Free as a 15-year-old bass player. Last but not least, Mick Taylor? He of course became a member The Rolling Stones during what is widely considered their musical peak. What else do all these top-notch artists share? They all played with John Mayall, mostly before they became famous.

As a ’60s blues rock fan, it is pretty much impossible not to come across the name of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. That being said, I’m the first to admit that oftentimes my music knowledge is still pretty insular. While I was well aware of Eric Clapton’s connection with Mayall, I didn’t know about all of the other above mentioned artists. I also had not heard much of John Mayall’s music and had not appreciated that in addition to being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s a pretty good vocalist. What finally caught my attention was a great story about him for his recent 85th birthday in German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which I spotted on Facebook the other day. It made me start listening to some of Mayall’s more recent solo albums I dug instantly, which in turn inspired this post.

John Mayall was born on November 29, 1933 in Macclesfield, England, and grew up in a village close to Manchester. He was first exposed to jazz and blues as a young teenager when he listened to the 78 record collection of his father Murray Mayall, a guitarist and jazz music fan. So it certainly was no coincidence that young John initially became attracted to the guitar and guitarists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Josh White and Leadbelly. As a 14-year-old, he began to learn the basics for playing the piano. A couple of years later, he also picked up the harmonica. Not only does this mean Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s also self-taught – pretty cool!

Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ca. 1966 (from left): John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Hughie Flint and John McVie

While Mayall had been playing music since his teenage years and during his twenties, it wasn’t until 1962 that he decided to make a living with music. He gave up his job as a graphic designer and moved from Manchester to London. Soon thereafter, he started The Bluesbreakers. In the spring of 1964, the band recorded their first two tracks: Crawling Up A Hill and Mr. James. Afterwards, they backed John Lee Hooker on his 1964 British tour. At the end of the year, Mayall signed with Decca and recorded his debut John Mayall Plays John Mayall, a live record that appeared in March 1965, but it was not successful.

Things started cooking for The Bluesbreakers when Eric Clapton joined the band in April 1965. While initially Clapton only stood until August and left for another venture called The Glands, he returned in November. A few months later, the band recorded Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. But by the time the album was entering the charts, Clapton and then-Bluesbreakers bassist Jack Bruce had already left to form Cream. The next few years saw a succession of guitarists who came and left, including Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Mark and Harvey Mandel. In fact, frequent line-up changes would become a constant for Mayall, yet I haven’t read anything that he was ever annoyed about it.

John Mayall 2018
John Mayall at 2018 Jazz Fest in New Orleans

In 1969, Mayall moved from England to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles and began playing with American musicians. Over the next three decades, he recorded many albums featuring artists like Blue Mitchell, Red Holloway, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Albert Collins and Mick Taylor. In 2008, Mayall decided to retire The Bluesbreakers name. The following year, he started touring with Rocky Athas (guitar), Jay Davenport (drums) and Greg Rzab (bass). In 2016, after Athas had been unable to attend a festival gig due to airline cancellations, Mayall was left with Davenport and Rzab. He liked the trio format and decided to keep it until May of this year, when guitarist Caroyln Wonderland joined the band.

With a recording career of more than 50 years and 60-plus albums, it’s impossible to do Mayall and his music full justice, so the following selection can only scratch the surface. Let’s start with the above mentioned Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton. Here’s Double Crossin’ Time, a tune co-written by Mayall and Clapton. Apart from them, the core line-up of The Bluesbreakers at the time also included John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).

In September 1967, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers released their fourth album Crusade. It was the first record with then-18-year-old Mick Taylor. Check out this hot track called Snowy Wood, which is credited to Mayall and Taylor.

To A Princess is an unusual tune from Mayall’s 13th album Empty Rooms, which appeared in 1970. It includes a bass duet featuring band member Steven Thompson and former Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor as a guest. In addition to Mayall (vocals, harmonica, guitars, keyboards), Thompson and Taylor, other musicians on the record were Jon Mark (guitar) and Johnny Almond (saxophone, flute). Mark and Almond left right after the album’s recording to form the duo Mark-Almond.

Next up: The title track of Mayall’s 19th album Ten Years Are Gone released in September 1973. I dig the brass work on this groovy tune, which gives it a cool jazzy and soulful vibe. The musicians on the record included Mayall (piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals), Freddy Robinson (guitar), Victor Gaskin (bass), Keef Hartley (drums), Sugarcane Harris (violin), Blue Mitchell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Red Holloway (saxophone, flute).

In 1975, Mayall’s 22nd album Notice To Appear came out. For the most part, it featured covers, including the following hot funky take of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The track features Mayall (vocals), Rick Vito (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Soko Richardson (drums), Jay Spell (keyboards), Don Harris (violin) and Dee McKinnie (backing vocals).

In 1988, Mayall recorded his 34th album called Archives To Eighties. It included revised versions of select tunes that originally had appeared on his 1971 release Back To The Roots. Just like the earlier record, Archives To Eighties featured Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor. Here’s Force Of Nature.

Wake Up Call was Mayall’s 39th album. The Grammy-nominated record from 1994 brought together many prominent musicians, including Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins and Mavis Staples, among others. Here’s the smoking hot title track with Taylor on guitar and Staples on vocals.

In 2005, Mayall released his 53rd album called Road Dogs, one of the last under The Bluesbreakers name. The band’s line-up at the time included Buddy Whittington (guitars), Hank Van Sickle (bass) and Joe Yuele (drums), in addition to Mayall (vocals, keyboard, harmonica). Following is the record’s closer Scrambling.

Here’s the title track of Mayall’s 61st record A Special Life from May 2014. It featured his then-core backing band Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass, percussions) and Jay Davenport (drums), as well as C. J. Chenier (accordion, vocals). As usually, Mayall provided vocals, guitar, harmonica and keyboards.

The last album I’d like to touch on is Mayall’s most recent, Three For The Road. Released in February 2018, it is his 66th record – unbelievable! It presents live recordings from two 2017 concerts in Germany, performed by the trio format of Mayall, Rzab and Davenport. Here’s Lonely Feelings.

Just before his 85th birthday on November 29, Mayall made two announcements. After completing a few shows in California, he is planning a 2019 tour and has started booking gigs in Europe. A look on the current schedule already reveals 22 dates starting February 26 in Tampere, Finland and stretching out to March 24 in Ancona, Italy. U.S. dates are supposed to be announced soon. Mayall also revealed a new studio album, Nobody Told Me, which is scheduled to be released on February 22, 2019. Apart from his new guitarist Carolyn Wonderland, it includes numerous prominent guest guitarists, including Todd Rundgren, Steven Van Zandt and Alex Lifeson.

I’d like to finish this post with a few quotes posted on Mayall’s website, which I think speak for themselves:

John Mayall has actually run an incredible school for musician. (Eric Clapton)

John Mayall, he was the master of it. If it wasn’t for the British musicians, a lot of us black musicians in America would still be catchin’ the hell that we caught long before. So thanks to all you guys, thank you very much! (B.B. King)

I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night. He was a kind of DJ-type guy. You’d go back to his place, and he’d sit you down, give you a drink, and say “Just check this out.” He’d go over to his deck, and for hours he’d blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton – he was sort of showing me where all of Eric’s stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening’s education in that. I was turned on after that, and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. (Paul McCartney)

As far as being a blues-guitar sideman, the Bluesbreakers gig is the pinnacle. That’s Mount Everest. You could play with B.B. King or Buddy Guy, but you’re just gonna play chords all night. This guy features you. You get to play solos. He yells your name after every song, brings you to the front of the stage, and lets you sing. He creates a place for you in the world. (Walter Trout)

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mayall website, YouTube