Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New where I typically highlight four new songs. Since I only started paying closer attention to contemporary music on a regular basis when launching this weekly recurring feature close to two years ago, most of the artists included in these posts are new to me. In this installment, that’s the case for my first three picks. The last is one of my longtime favorite artists.

Johnny Marr/Lightning People

I’d like to start with new music by English guitarist and singer-songwriter Johnny Marr, who first gained prominence in the ’80s as a co-founder of English indie rock band The Smiths. Following the group’s break-up, Marr played in various other bands, including Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. In February 2013, Marr released his solo debut album The Messenger, which climbed to no. 10 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. Two additional albums have since come out and another one, Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4, is scheduled for February 25, 2022. Marr has started to release songs from the forthcoming record as EPs. Here’s Lightning People, a track from Fever Dreams Pt. 2 that came out yesterday (December 17). Like the other three songs on the EP, it was co-written by him and James Doviak, co-producer and guitarist in Marr’s band. Sounds pretty good to me!

Arlie/Crashing Down

Arlie are an indie rock band from Nashville. Essentially, that’s all I know, based on this short review in Melodic Magazine. Apple Music lists an EP, Wait, from September 2018, and six singles including the latest titled Crashing Down that appeared on December 14. The tune was co-written by Hayes Helsper and Nathaniel Banks. “”Crashing down” is about this feeling of “everything I’ve built my sense of security upon might suddenly crumble” and how that can really make you re-evaluate your priorities,” Banks who is the band’s lead vocalist told Melodic Magazine. “It’s about how a dream scared me enough to snap me out of taking a lot of things for granted, and enough to make me realize how much I care about being in the physical presence of the people I love most.” When listening to the tune’s upbeat music without paying attention to the lyrics, you’d never guess the song’s topic.

Jack Kays & Travis Barker/Sideways

In connection with his debut album Mixed Emotions from January this year, Apple Music describes Jack Kays as a multi-talented artist who creates a blend of emo rap, pop-punk, and folk music that boldly grapples with questions of insecurity and addiction. This description also is a good fit for Sideways, a track from My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP released December 10. Kays recorded it with Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. According to this press release, the 4-track project continues Jack’s exploration of themes surrounding mental health. The release also quotes Kays: “I feel like society loves to romanticize the successful recovery from mental illness but doesn’t like to address people during the process as they’re trying to combat and overcome it. When people listen to this project, I want those who are experiencing that to feel heard and feel accepted.” Here’s the official video.

John Mellencamp/Chasing Rainbows

Rounding out this post is John Mellencamp whose music I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years. I trust the heartland straight-turned-roots rocker doesn’t need an introduction. Arguably, Seymour, Ind.’s most famous son who turned 70 on October 7, Mellencamp has been active for 45 years. Chasing Rainbows, released December 10, is the second upfront track from his upcoming 24th studio album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack, scheduled for January 21, 2022. Co-written by Mellencamp and John Young, the tune follows Wasted Days, which appeared on September 29 and features Bruce Springsteen. Previously, I wrote about it here. Chasing Rainbows is another reason I look forward to the new album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Melodic Magazine; Apple Music; Columbia Records press release; YouTube

Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & Friends/My Back Pages

I watched this clip on Facebook last evening and simply couldn’t resist posting it: Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison sharing the stage with Bob Dylan to perform My Back Pages – what a terrific moment in music history! It all happened at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album, the start of a recording career that continues to this day, 29 years later.

Written by Dylan who first recorded it for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan released in August 1964, My Back Pages has been covered by various artists. The best-known rendition and the version I first heard and came to dig is by The Byrds, so I guess it’s only appropriate that Roger McGuinn kicked off the song.

The Byrds included My Back Pages on their fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out in February 1967. The tune also became the record’s second single in March of the same year and the group’s last top 40 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 30. My Back Pages has also been covered by Keith Jarrett, Ramones, Steve Earle and The Hollies – quite a diverse group of artists! Frankly, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of these additional versions. I surely will look them up!

Just check out McGuinn, Petty, Young, Clapton and Harrison in this clip. They all seem to have a ball, especially Neil Young who smiles various times – he’s not exactly known for showing his emotions like that. I also have to call out Eric Clapton who plays a beautiful solo and does a solid job when it comes to his turn singing lead vocals.

My Back Pages - Bob Dylan All Star Jam! - Keeping the Blues Alive

Additionally, I should mention the other musicians on stage: The surviving members of Booker T. & the M.G.s, Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Anton Fig (drums, filling in for the late Al Jackson Jr.), along with Jim Keltner as a second drummer. That’s one hell of a band, even for a maestro like Bob Dylan! Speaking of Dylan, he sounds great as well. And while he isn’t smiling, at least not visibly, I have to believe he was smiling inside!

In case you’re curious to read more about Bobfest or watch additional clips of Dylan renditions by artists like John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman and Chrissie Hynde, you can check out my previous, more comprehensive post on Bobfest from March 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Are we really already in October? Hard to believe that’s the case! September, one of my favorite months here in New Jersey, flew by way too fast. ‘Nuff with the whining and on to the business at hand, which is newly released music. My latest picks include some Americana, indie rock, roots rock and acoustic blues. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks are on studio releases that came out yesterday (October 1).

Strand of Oaks/Easter

I’d like to kick off this revue with music by Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter I first introduced in a Best of What’s New post a few weeks ago. You’d think that after 79 installments of the weekly series, including previously featured artists would happen fairly frequently, but at least so far, that’s not been the case. According to Showalter’s Apple Music profilehe specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. Here’s Easter, another tune I like from his new album In Haven.

Arms Akimbo/Now I Know

Atwood Magazine has called Arms Akimbo “one of the West Coast’s hidden treasures.” They also could have characterized them as “mystery”, since neither their website, Facebook page or Soundcloud includes any information on the Los Angeles-based trio. It surprises me time and again when artists don’t post bios or some other background on their website and social media properties, especially when they’re less known! Based on Atwood Magazine, the alternative and indie rock band has been around for five years. Their members are Peter Schrupp (guitar, lead vocals), Colin Boppell (bass), and Matt Sutton (drums). Apparently, they used to be a four piece until the recent departure of their founding member Christopher Kalil (guitar, vocals). Now I Know (that’s the song title, not exactly my state of knowledge about the group) is a track from Arms Akimbo’s new EP Just Basics.

John Mellencamp/Wasted Days (featuring Bruce Springsteen)

I was quite excited to learn that two of my favorite artists, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, came together to cut a single – the first time they have done this, according to an announcement on Mellencamp’s website. Wasted Days was released on September 29, along with the below official video filmed in New Jersey last month. The video was directed and produced by Thom Zimny, a filmmaker who frequently collaborates with Springsteen. The tune is the lead single of a new album by Mellencamp that’s slated for 2022. I also came across this intriguing quote by Springsteen on AZLyrics.com from an interview on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio in June: “I worked on three songs on John’s album and I spent some time in Indiana with him. I love John a lot. He’s a great songwriter and I have become very close and had a lot of fun with him. I sang a little bit on his record.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly on the cheerful side, I love Wasted Days, which sounds like classic Mellencamp – a tune you could imagine on 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite Mellencamp albums. The Boss adds a nice vocal flavor to it – and based on the above, we can look forward to more of the two together!

Buffalo Nichols/How to Love

Let’s wrap up this week’s installment with some great acoustic blues by guitarist Buffalo Nichols. From his website: Since his earliest infatuations with guitar, Buffalo Nichols has asked himself the same question: How can I bring the blues of the past into the future? After cutting his teeth between a Baptist church and bars in Milwaukee, it was a globetrotting trip through West Africa and Europe during a creative down period that began to reveal the answer...Born in Houston and raised in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black North end, the guitar was Nichols’ saving grace as a young man. The instrument captured his fascination, and provided him with an outlet for self-expression and discovery in isolation. While other children chased stardom on the field, court, or classroom, Nichols took to his mother and siblings’ music collections, searching feverishly for riffs to pick out on his instrument. On October 15, Nichols will release his eponymous debut album featuring demos and studio recordings. Here’s How to Love, the third upfront track that became available on September 21 – love that Dobro and Nichols’ singing, and look forward to the album!

Sources: Apple Music; Atwood Magazine; John Mellencamp website; AZLyrics.com; Buffalo Nichols website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions celebrating music I dig from different genres, spanning the past 70 years or so. I think I put together another nice and eclectic set of six tracks, including jazz, heartland rock, ’60s British rock, ’80s pop, ’90s alternative rock and some kickass hard rock & roll from 2014. Let’s play ball!

Thelonius Monk/‘Round Midnight

Starting us off today is beautiful soothing jazz by Thelonious Monk. This pick was inspired by fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk, who not only impresses me with her poetry writing but her music picks she oftentimes uses to accompany her poems – like in this case, a great jazz piece by Charlie Haden and Chet Baker. When I checked out the corresponding album, I noticed another track called ‘Round Midnight. Instead of taking this rendition, I decided to go with the original composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The track has become a standard that has been recorded by many jazz musicians. Apparently, there is some debate when Monk wrote it. The earliest noted date is 1936 when he was just 19 years old. Other accounts put it to 1940 or 1941. Trumpeter Cootie Williams was the first artist who recorded the tune in August 1944. Monk’s earliest recording is on a compilation titled Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 from 1951.

John Mellencamp/A Little Night Dancin’

While it’s safe to assume most readers have heard of John Mellencamp, I imagine this may not necessarily include his pre-1980s music. My entry to the heartland artist was his 1985 Scarecrow album. Only in the ’90s did I begin to explore Mellencamp’s earlier catalog including John Cougar, his third record from July 1979. Prior to the release of Mellencamp’s debut album Chestnut Street Incident in October 1976, his manager Tony Defries had changed his name to Johnny Cougar, convinced an artist with the last name Mellencamp wouldn’t generate much interest. Mellencamp who hated the name kept “Cougar” through Scarecrow before finally adopting his real name John Mellencamp for the follow-on release The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. Here’s A Little Night Dancin’, the opener of the John Cougar album. The tune was also released in 1980 as a single but didn’t match the U.S. chart performance of I Need a Lover. While the latter reached no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100, A Little Night Dancin’ stalled at no. 105. Still, not only do I dig that tune, but I also think it’s much better than I Need a Lover. I can hear a bit of a Van Morrison vibe in this song. Fifteen years later, Mellencamp recorded an excellent cover of Morrison’s Wild Night for his 1994 studio album Dance Naked. Perhaps that’s for a future installment.

Small Faces/Sha-La-La-La-Lee

In last week’s Sunday Six, I did something I rarely do – skip the ’60s, my favorite decade in music apart from the ’70s. I vowed not to repeat it this time, so here’s a tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard it during my teenage years back in Germany: Sha-La-La-La-Lee by Small Faces. It’s from the English rock band’s eponymous debut album that came out in May 1966. The song was written by co-producer Kenny Lynch together with Mort Schuman. The band’s initial line-up included Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Ian McLagan (keyboards, vocals, guitar, bass), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Kenney Jones (drums, percussion, vocals). In March 1968, the Small Faces disbanded and Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. McLagan, Lane and Jones teamed up with former Jeff Beck Group members Ronnie Wood (guitar) and Rod Stewart (vocals) and became Faces. Small Faces reemerged in 1975 after Faces had broken up. They recorded two more albums before disbanding for good in 1978.

Madonna/La Isla Bonita

Here’s a pick that might surprise some folks who visit my blog more frequently. While I’m not a fan of Madonna, there is no denying she’s one of the most influential pop artists of our time. And, yes, while I can’t necessarily say the same for other ’80s tunes I used to dig at the time, I still like some of her songs. This includes the catchy La Isla Bonita, which always puts me in a holiday mood. The track is from Madonna’s third studio album True Blue that came out in June 1986. She co-wrote and co-produced the entire record with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard who also collaborated with Madonna on some of her other albums. La Isla Bonita also became the record’s fifth and final single and yet another major hit in the U.S. , Canada, Australia and various European countries.

The Cranberries/Linger

Next let’s jump to the ’90s and Irish alternative pop rock band The Cranberries. Initially, the group was formed as The Cranberry Saw Us in mid-1989 by brothers Noel Hogan (lead and rhythm guitar) and Mike Hogan (bass), together with Fergal Lawler (drums) and Niall Quinn (vocals). Following Quinn’s departure in early 1990, Dolores O’Riordan joined the band as lead vocalist, completing the line-up that in April 1991 became The Cranberries. In March 1993, they released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? The record became a major success, topping the charts in Ireland and the UK, and placing in the top 20 in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. After four additional albums, The Cranberries went on hiatus in September 2003. They reunited in 2009 and recorded two more albums until the sudden death of O’Riordan in January 2018, who drowned in a London hotel bathtub due to sedation by alcohol poisoning. In April 2019, The Cranberries released their final album In the End, which featured O’Riordan’s vocals taken from demo tapes that had been recorded prior to her death. Here’s the beautiful Linger from the above mentioned debut album. It was also released as a single and became their first major hit, peaking at no. 3 in Ireland, and reaching no. 4, 8 and 14 in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, respectively.

AC/DC/Play Ball

Is it really time to wrap up things again? It is since I’d like to keep these installments to six tunes; otherwise, I could go on forever! But there’s always the next installment! I trust Australian rockers AC/DC need no further introduction. After much drama, including the death of co-founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in November 2017 and vocalist Brian Johnson’s forced departure in April 2016 during the band’s tour that year due to hearing loss, against all odds, AC/DC officially reunited in September 2020 and released their 17th studio album Power Up in November that year. There are so many great AC/DC tunes to pick from. I haven’t even mentioned Bon Scott, their original lead vocalist! I decided to go with what I consider a true late career gem: Play Ball, off AC/DC’s 16th album Rock or Bust from November 2014. It was the first record without Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia and been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. This is classic AC/DC – tight kickass rock & roll!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. It’s another Sunday, which means it’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. The Sunday Six is where I feel I can stretch out, featuring all types of music from different decades. This new installment illustrates my point. It includes genres like instrumental pop, jazz pop, roots rock, country rock and blues rock, and touches on the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2010s. Are you ready to embark on a little music journey?

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Let’s get in the mood with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana. He may not be the most sophisticated guitarist from a strictly technical standpoint, but his tone is just unbelievable. I know of no other guitarist who sounds like Santana, and that’s what ultimately matters, not whether you’re a fretboard acrobat. While I generally most love his classic period that spans his first three albums, the tune I picked for this post, Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile), is from Moonflower released in October 1977. The double album features both studio and live tracks. She’s Not There, a nice cover of a song originally recorded by The Zombies in the mid-’60s, became a top 30 hit single for Santana. Europa, co-written by Carlos Santana and Tom Coster, first appeared on the March 1976 studio record Amigos. I’m more familiar with Moonflower, so I’m going with the live version here. Listen to this majestic guitar sound – so good!

Gino Vannelli/Brother to Brother

I don’t recall seeing any posts by my fellow bloggers about Gino Vannelli. While the Canadian singer-songwriter has been around as a recording artist since 1973, I suspect he may not necessarily be a household name. That being said, I assume most folks have heard some of his hits, such as the ballads I Just Wanna Stop (1978) and Living Inside Myself (1981), as well as the pop rock tunes Black Cars (1984) and Wild Horses (1987). Vannelli remains active to this day and has released 17 studio records, three live albums and one greatest hits compilation, according to Wikipedia. Brother to Brother is the amazing title track of his sixth studio album that came out in September 1978. While I Just Wanna Stop became the big hit off that album, the jazz-oriented Brother to Brother is far better. Written by Vannelli, the tune reaches the sophistication of Steely Dan’s Aja album, in my humble opinion. If you haven’t listened to this track before and like the Dan, check it out. You might be surprised!

Bonnie Raitt/Love Letter

Those who are familiar with my music taste may wonder what took me so long to feature Bonnie Raitt, one of favorite artists, in The Sunday Six. I don’t really have a good answer other than ‘better late than never!’ My long-time music buddy from Germany introduced me to Raitt in the late ’80s. I guess it must have been her 10th studio album Nick of Time, which to me remains a true gem to this day. While Raitt mostly relies on other songwriters, I love her renditions and her cool slide guitar playing. She also strikes me as no B.S., which is certainly not a very common quality in the oftentimes ego-driven music business. Nick of Time is perhaps best known for the single Thing Called Love, though according to Wikipedia, its chart success was moderate. The John Hiatt tune reached no. 86 on the UK Singles Chart and missed the mainstream chart in the U.S. altogether – though it did climb to no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. My pick from the album is Love Letter, written by another Bonnie, American singer-songwriter Bonnie Hayes. I simply love everything about this tune – the groove, the singing and Raitt’s sweet slide guitar sound.

John Mellencamp/Under the Boardwalk

John Mellencamp is another artist I’ve listened to for many years. If I recall it correctly, it was his eighth studio album Scarecrow released in August 1985 with tunes like Small Town and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. that started my long and ongoing journey exploring the music by the heartland and roots rocker from Seymour, Ind. Sure, I could have selected a track from that album. Or from the excellent successor The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains among my all-time favorite Mellencamp records. Instead, I decided to highlight an album that isn’t as well known but still great, in my view: Rough Harvest. Released in August 1999 (that month appears to be a favorite for his records!), the album features a collection of alternate, roots-oriented versions of Mellencamp originals and covers. Under the Boardwalk, of course, falls into the latter category. The first version of the song I ever heard was the great rendition by The Rolling Stones. Co-written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, it was first recorded by The Drifters in 1964 and became a no. 4 U.S. hit for the American doo-wop, R&B and soul vocal group. I think Mellencamp’s rootsy version takes the tune to a new level – just love it!

Cordovas/This Town’s a Drag

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name Cordovas may sound familiar; or perhaps you’ve heard otherwise of this Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. They first entered my radar screen in the summer of 2018 when I caught them during a free concert in a park not far from my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing proved to be an immediate attraction. So was their sound that reminds me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat. Led by bassist Joe Firstman, Cordovas have been around for more than 10 years. This Town’s a Drag is the opener of That Santa Fe Channel, the band’s third studio album from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Jimi Hendrix/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

I guess the time has come again to wrap up another Sunday Six installment. Let’s make it count with a smoking rocker by Jimi Hendrix who I trust needs no introduction. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is the fiery closer of Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in October 1968. Like most other tracks on this double album, the tune was written by Hendrix. The clip is taken from Live in Maui, one of the many post-mortem releases from the Hendrix archives. It captures an outdoor performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on July 30, 1970 on the Hawaiian island, only six weeks prior to Jimi’s untimely death on September 18 that year. Unlike Electric Ladyland, the band’s line-up during the gig featured Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding. Mitch Mitchell was on drums, just like on the studio album. The 2-CD and 3-LP set came out on November 20, 2020, along with a video documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui. It has received mixed reviews due to less than ideal recording conditions. I still think it’s cool to actually watch Hendrix in action rather than just listening to his blistering performance.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Can you believe it’s Sunday morning again? After having done home office for about a year now and also spent most of my other time at my house, I’ve pretty much lost sense of time. On the upside, Sunday morning also means it’s time for another Sunday Six. This new installment, which btw is the sixth of the weekly recurring feature, includes jazz-oriented instrumental music, soul, blues, funky R&B, straight rock and glam rock – in other words, a good deal of variety, and that’s the way uh huh I like it!

Mike Caputo/Space and Time

Let’s kick things off with a beautiful journey through space and time. Not only does this newly produced saxophone-driven instrumental by Mike Caputo feel timely in light of NASA’s recent landing of the Mars rover, but it also represents the kind of smooth music I like to feature to start Sunday Six installments. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, Mike’s name may ring a bell. The New Jersey singer-songwriter, who has been active for more than 50 years, is best known for his incredible renditions of Steely Dan’s music, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino VannelliStevie Wonder and Sting, who have all been major influences. Like many artists have done during the pandemic when they cannot perform, Mike went back into his archives and unearthed Space and Time, which he originally had written as part of a movie soundtrack a few years ago. BTW, that amazing saxophone part is played by Phil Armeno, a member of Good Stuff, who used to be a touring backing musician for Chuck BerryBo Diddley and The Duprees in the ’70s. Check out that smooth sax tone! Vocals? Who needs vocals? 🙂

The Impressions/People Get Ready

Before Curtis Mayfield, one of my favorite artists, launched his solo career with his amazing 1970 album Curtis, he had been with doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group The Impressions for 14 years. When he joined the group at the age of 14, they were still called The Roosters. People Get Ready, written by Mayfield, was the title track of the group’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1965, about seven years after they had changed their name to The Impressions. People Get Ready gave the group a no. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs). On the mainstream Hot 100, the tune climbed to no. 14. Many other artists like Bob Marley, Al Green, Aretha Franklin and The Staple Singers have covered it. Perhaps the best known rendition is by Jeff Beck, featuring Rod Stewart on Beck’s 1985 studio album Flash. But on this one, I always like to go back to the original and the warm, beautiful and soulful vocals by The Impressions – to me, singing doesn’t get much better!

Peter Green/A Fool No More

I think it’s safe to assume Peter Green doesn’t need much of an introduction. The English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as the first leader of Fleetwood Mac, initially called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer, the band he formed following his departure from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with former Bluesbreakers members Mick Fleetwood (drums) and Jeremy Spencer (guitar), as well as Bob Brunning (bass) who was subsequently replaced by Green’s first choice John McVie. What’s perhaps less widely known outside of fan circles is Peter Green’s solo career he launched after leaving Fleetwood Mac in May 1970 due to drug addiction and mental health issues. Unfortunately, these demons would stay with him for a long time and impact his career, especially during the ’70s. A Fool No More, written by Green, is a track from his excellent second solo album In the Skies. The record was released in May 1979 after eight years of professional obscurity due to treatment for schizophrenia in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s. Yikes- it’s pretty scary what havoc LSD can cause! Considering that, it’s even more remarkable how amazing Green sounds. Check it out!

Stevie Wonder/I Wish

Let’s speed things up with the groovy I Wish, a tune by Stevie Wonder from his 18th studio album Songs in the Key of Life released in September 1976. Frankly, I could have selected any other track from what’s widely considered Wonder’s magnum opus. It’s the climax of his so called classic period, a series of five ’70s albums spanning Music of My Mind (1972) to Songs in the Key of Life. I Wish, which like most other tracks on this double-LP were solely written by Wonder, also became the lead single in December 1976 – and his fourth no. 1 ’70s hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also topped the charts in Canada, and was a top 10 in Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands and the UK. Take it away, Stevie!

John Mellencamp/Melting Pot

Here’s what you might call an out-of-left-field pick from John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists. Melting Pot is a great rocker from his 11th studio album Whenever We Wanted that appeared in October 1991. It marked a bit of a departure from Mellencamp’s two previous albums Big Daddy (1989) and The Lonesome Jubilee (1987), on which he had begun incorporating elements of roots music. Instead, Whenever We Wanted is more reminiscent of the straight rock Mellencamp had delivered on earlier albums like American Fool (1982), Uh-Huh (1983) and Scarecrow (1985). Like all other tunes except for one on the album, Melting Pot was written by Mellencamp. While Whenever We Wanted didn’t do as well on the charts as the aforementioned other albums, it still placed within the top 20 in the U.S., reaching no. 17 on the Billboard 200. The album performed best in Australia where it peaked at no. 3.

David Bowie/Suffragette City

Time to wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six. Let’s go with another great rocker: Suffragette City by David Bowie. If you’ve read my blog, you probably know I really dig Bowie’s glam rock period. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favorite. It was released in June 1972. Suffragette City also became the B-side of lead single Starman that appeared ahead of the album in February that year. Eventually and deservedly, Suffragette City eventually ended up on the A-side of a 1976 single that was backed by Stay to promote the fantastic compilation Changesonebowie. This is one kickass rock & roll song. Bowie said it best, or I should say sang it best: Ohhh, wham bam thank you ma’am!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

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

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

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

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

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

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

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

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

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

America/Ventura Highway

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

Cream/Strange Brew

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

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Yola/Walk Through Fire

When I included the latest single by Yola in my last Best of What’s New installment, I noticed her first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire received many accolades. Since the strong voice of the English singer-songwriter immediately grabbed me, I checked it out and have to say it’s a true gem, both musically and in terms of her vocal performance.

Getting to that point wasn’t exactly an easy path for Yola who was born as Yolanda Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England. According to this review in Popmatters, Yola had a tough childhood characterized by poverty and a parent who didn’t care for her and banned music. Later she lived homeless in London for some time before establishing herself as a session singer and touring with acts like DJ collective Bugz in the Attic and electronic music outfit Massive Attack.

Yola Carter

In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. But ultimately, as her artist profile in Apple Music notes, Yola felt the need to strike out on her own. Over the next few years, she started writing her own songs that were influenced by Muscle Shoals era country-soul, R&B and classic singer-songwriter style. In 2016, she released her debut EP Orphan Offering under the name of Yola Carter.

Eventually, Yola went to Nashville where she met Dan Auerbach after he had seen a video of her. Apparently, Auerbach was immediately impressed by her. “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice,” he reportedly said. “She has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” Auerbach teamed up with Yola to co-write songs, together with other writers, including Bobby Wood, Pat McLaughlin and Dan Penn.

Yola and Dan Auerbach

Auerbach also assembled an impressive group of seasoned studio musicians, including Dave Roe (bass), who played with Johnny Cash and John Mellencamp, among others; harmonica player Charlie McCoy (credits include Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, etc.) and drummer Gene Crisman, who together with Bobby Wood was a member of the Memphis Boys. They were the house band of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn. where artists like Elvis, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield recorded. Auerbach also produced Walk Through Fire, which appeared in February 2019 on his Easy Eye Sound label.

With all of the above, it’s not surprising the album has a retro late ’60s sound. This is also matched by the cover. And yet, to me, Walk Through Fire feels like an album that will hold up well over time. It simply is a work of beauty. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Faraway Look. The track was co-written by Auerbach, McLaughin and Yola. BTW, McLaughlin’s compositions have been performed by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others. Sure, the production might be a bit on the lush side, but this is just a beautiful tune.

Ride Out in the Country is another great track. The song was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Joe Allen. Allen is a county songwriter and bassist who since the early ’70s has worked with the likes of Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

Next up is the title track, which according to Wikipedia references both a fire that damaged Yola’s home and an abusive relationship from which she escaped. The tune was co-written by Auerbach, Yola and Dan Penn. Penn has co-written many soul hits of the ’60s, including The Dark End of the Street and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Cry Like a Baby.

Rock Me Gently is my current favorite on the album. It’s another Auerbach-Allen-Yola co-write.

Let’s do one more: Love All Night (Work All Day), co-credited to Wood, Auerbach and Yola.

As noted above, Walk Through Fire was very well received. The album also generated three Grammy nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song (Faraway Look) and Best New Artist. Walk Through Fire was also nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. And, yes, the album also did score a win: UK Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards.

At age 37, Yola still is relatively young. I look forward to much more great music from this talented songwriter and vocalist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popmatters; Apple Music; YouTube