The Doobie Brothers Are Still Runnin’ Strong

Liberté is band’s first album of all-new music in 11 years

The Doobie Brothers are back with new music. After having listened to Liberté a few times, I find there is much to like about the band’s 15th studio album, their first with all new original tunes since World Gone Crazy from September 2010. Their most recent studio release Southbound, which appeared in November 2014, featured remakes of their biggest hits and some other songs recorded in collaboration with artists like Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and Huey Lewis and Brad Paisley.

Released on October 1, Liberté was produced by John Shanks who has worked with a broad array of artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge. Shanks also co-wrote all of the 12 tunes with either Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, vocals) or Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals), who co-founded the Doobies in San Jose, Calif. in 1970, together with Dave Shogren (bass, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and John Hartman (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Doobie Brothers - Official Site
The Doobie Brothers (from left): Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee

The Doobie Brothers’ other core members are John McFee (guitar, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), who has been part of the line-up since 1979, and Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), who has been and off since he first joined in 1975. McDonald was not involved in recording Liberté. He rejoined the Doobies in November 2019 ahead of their planned 50th anniversary tour in 2020. It was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and finally kicked off on August 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

When the Doobies first announced Liberté in early August, they released the first four tracks of the album as a self-titled EP. Previously, I included one of these tunes, Don’t Ya Mess With Me, in a Best of What’s New installment. As such, I will skip the rocker here. Let’s get to some of the album’s other music.

Here’s the opener Oh Mexico. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, the rock tune has a vibe of early Doobies. Johnston sounds great on vocals. I also dig the tune’s neat slide guitar work.

Cannonball is an acoustic-oriented song co-written by Shanks and Simmons. While this doesn’t sounds like classic Doobies, I still like it.

The American Dream, a nostalgic tune reminiscing of the top down and the radio on, and dancin’ in the streets, is another co-write by Shanks and Johnston.

One of my early favorites is the soulful Shine Your Light. The tune was co-written by Shanks and Johnston as well.

The last tune I’d to call out is Just Can’t Do This Alone. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, this tune reminds me a bit of Listen to the Music, the first hit the Doobies scored in 1972, a single off their sophomore album Toulouse Street.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Liberté. While it’s fair to say it’s no Toulouse Street or The Captain and Me, I find the album an enjoyable listening experience.

“How does any band know?,” Johnston said during a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “You’re just trying to get it together and move forward. At the start of this band, we hadn’t done anything yet and we were playing bars like everyone else. Luckily, we did a demo tape that got us a record deal with Warner Bros. Our first album didn’t sell, but the second did. And the rest is history.” Indeed, 51 years and counting; or, if you exclude the band’s five-year hiatus between 1982 and 1987, it’s 46 years – still a mighty long time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Doobie Brothers website; San Diego Union-Tribune; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the latest installment of my weekly recurring feature where I take a look at new music. In case you are a first-time visitor, my favorite decades in music are the ’60s and ’70s, and until March 2020 when I started Best of What’s New, I essentially had written off contemporary music. I’ve since realized that while the ’60s and ’70s won’t come back (d’uh!), I can still find some good new music if I look beyond the charts and do some digging.

Yes, discovering new music I reasonably like takes time – after all, my taste hasn’t really changed fundamentally. I still love the British invasion, blues rock, classic rock and ’70s soul, to name a few examples. As such, exploring contemporary music requires a certain degree of open-mindedness and to occasionally go beyond my comfort zone. Usually, it all results in picking artists who are entirely new to me.

This brings me to this week’s installment. Three of the featured four acts fall in the entirely-new-to-me category: Two rock bands and a psychedelic pop outfit. Yep, you can still find some psychedelic music! Interestingly, all three were formed in southern California. The fourth artist, who hails from Kansas and I believe also resides in California, represents the only kind of new music I listened to in the past, i.e., new releases by “old” artists. All tracks are from albums that were released yesterday (September 17). ‘Nuff said, let’s get to some music!

Dead Sara/All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead

My first pick are Dead Sara, a rock band from Los Angeles. The group’s origins go back to 2002 when guitarists Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley met as 16-year-olds and began writing songs together. In March 2005, they first performed as a band, calling themselves Epiphany. Later that same year, they changed their name to Dead Sara, a reference to Fleetwood Mac’s song Sara. Their debut EP The Airport Sessions appeared in 2008. Since the release of their eponymous first full-length album in April 2012, two additional albums have appeared, including the latest Ain’t It Tragic. In addition to Armstrong (lead vocals) and Medley (lead guitar, bass), Dead Sara’s current line-up includes Sean Friday (drums, guitar). Here’s All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead.

Mild High Club/Dionysian State

Mild High Club is a psychedelic pop outfit from Los Angeles around songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Brettin, who started the band in 2013. While the latest recording list additional musicians, I’m not sure there are other standing members. According to Apple Music’s profile, Brettin studied jazz guitar at Chicago’s Columbia College before deciding he was more interested in creating his own Steely Dan-inspired mix of jazz, pop, and psychedelia. Impressed by Brettin’s home recordings, Stones Throw Records head Peanut Butter Wolf [now that’s a name! – CMM] signed Mild High Club to the label in 2014. The group’s second album, 2016’s Skiptracing, received rave reviews for its dreamy, ’70s soft-pop vibe. Sketches of Brunswick East, Mild High Club’s 2017 jazz-oriented collaboration with psych-rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard [previously featured in Best of What’s New here – CMM], reached No. 4 on Australia’s Top Albums chart. This brings me to Mild High Club’s new album Going Going Gone and the track Dionysian State. I can definitely hear some Steely Dan in here. As a fan of the Dan, that’s definitely not a disadvantage!

Thrice/Northern Lights

On to Thrice, an American rock band formed in 1998 and yet another group from Southern California (Irvine). According to Apple Music, “Multi-genre rock band Thrice is one of the most notable groups of the 2000s post-hardcore/emo scene, with four of their albums topping the Billboard  Independent Albums chart.” Frankly, that was news to me! The band was founded by Dustin Kensrue (guitar, vocals) and Teppei Teranishi (lead guitar) while they were in high school. Teranishi brought in his friend Eddie Breckenridge (bass) who in turn asked his brother Riley Breckenridge to join on drums. A self-released EP in 1999 was followed by the group’s first full-length album Identity Crisis in June 2000. After seven additional albums and following a tour in the spring of 2012, Thrice went on hiatus. They reemerged in 2015 and have since released three additional albums including their latest Horizons/East. Here’s Northern Lights written by Kensrue – check out this neat sound!

Melissa Etheridge/As Cool As You Try

Time to wrap up this installment with a great blues rock tune by Melissa Etheridge from her new album. The American singer-songwriter and guitarist first entered my radar screen with her excellent eponymous debut album that came out in May 1988. Her raspy voice and great songs grabbed me right away. Fast-forward 33 years to One Way One, Etheridge’s 16h and new studio album. According to this review in Louder, it’s a collection of previously unreleased songs she wrote in the late ’80s and early ’90s. To realize the project Etheridge decided to reconnect with musicians who played on her early albums, including Kevin McCormick (bass), Fritz Lewak (drums) and John Shanks. Here’s As Cool As You Try, which was first released as an upfront track on August 19. This rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, according to my calendar it is! And, if you’re in the U.S., we’re two weeks out from Labor Day weekend – that’s just crazy! Though I’d quickly like to add it’s a widely held misconception the holiday marks the end of summer. The good news is summer officially lasts until September 22, so we still have about a month left! On to newly released music that caught my attention!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter. According to her Apple Music profile, Cut from the same cloth as fiery crooners Jana Kramer, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, country singer Maggie Rose was born Margaret Rose Durante in 1988 in Potomac, Maryland. Durante took to the stage at the age of 16, performing frequently with the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover group, before heading off to Clemson University. She left school in her sophomore year to focus on music, eventually relocating to Nashville, Tennessee on the advice of industry icon Tommy Mottola. Mottola helped her ink a deal with Universal Republic, which released her debut single, a 2009 cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” She left the label the following year and signed with Emrose Records, releasing a pair of singles and an EP under her birth name before assuming the moniker Maggie Rose for the 2012 single “I Ain’t Your Mama.” A debut full-length album, Cut to Impress, produced by Blake Chancey, Stephony Smith, and James Stroud, appeared from RPM Records in the spring of 2013. Here’s What Are We Fighting For, the soulful opener of Rose’s third album Have a Seat that dropped yesterday (August 20). Rose wrote this great tune together with guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman (background vocals, percussion), who according to her website are longtime band members/collaborators.

The Joy Formidable/Into the Blue

The Joy Formidable are a UK alternative rock band from Wales. They were formed in 2007 by childhood friends Ritzy Bryan (guitar, vocals) and Rhydian Davies (bass), who had previously played together in Manchester group Tricky Nixon, and Justin Stahley (drums). In 2009, following the band’s debut EP, current drummer Matthew James Thomas replaced Stahley. The following year, The Joy Formidable signed with Atlantic subsidiary Canvasback Records. Their debut album The Big Roar from January 2011 led to immediate chart success in the UK, climbing to no. 31 on the Official Albums Chart. Charting in the U.S. didn’t occur until the group’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, which reached no. 51 and 11 on the Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums charts, respectively. Into the Blue is the title track of The Joy Formidable’s fifth and new album released yesterday. Like all other tracks on it, the song was co-written by Bryan and Davies.

Andrea von Kampen/That Spell

Andrea von Kampen is a Lincoln, Neb.-based f0lk singer-songwriter. From her website: With the successful release of two EP’s, Another Day (2015) and Desdemona (2016), a Christmas EP (2016), an Audiotree Live album (2017), and her debut full-length album Old Country (2019), Andrea has quickly established herself in the recording studio and on the road. She has shared the stage with artists such as Tall Heights, Ira Wolf, Dead Man Winter, The Brother Brothers, Dead Horses, Darling West and many more…Inspiration for Andrea’s songs often come from literature, art, and nature; in particular the literature and nature of Nebraska and the Midwest… Andrea von Kampen first appeared in the public eye with her submission of Let Me Down Easy into the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. Within 24 hours of submission, NPR Music, All Songs Considered tweeted her video as the featured artist of the day, saying “we were completely blown away.” Ultimately, Andrea finished the competition as a top ten finalist, which lead to increased popularity of her EP, Another Day, specifically her song Trainsong. Since then, her EPs have amassed millions of streams on Spotify and continue to grow. On August 6, van Kampen released her sophomore album That Spell. Here’s the title track that had first appeared on July 23 as the lead single – nice music to sit down to listen.

The Doobie Brothers/Don’t Ya Mess With Me

I trust The Doobie Brothers need no introduction. It’s great to see a band that has been active for more than 45 years (with a 5-year hiatus between 1982 to 1987) is still releasing new music. Their official current line-up includes original members Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, piano, lead and backing vocals) and Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, lead and backing vocals), along with longtime on-and-off member John McFee (guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals). Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, lead and backing vocals), another on-and-off member over the decades, will join the Doobies on their upcoming tour. On October 1, they are scheduled to release their 15th studio album Liberté. The album, which doesn’t include McDonald, is the group’s first new studio release in seven years since Southbound from November 2014, and their first of new original material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy. Here’s lead single Don’t Ya Mess With Me, one of four tracks released upfront as a self-titled EP on August 6 when the band announced Liberté. Johnston penned the rocker with co-producer John Shanks. It may be no China Grove, Rockin’ Down the Highway or Long Train Runnin’, but it still makes me a happy camper!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Maggie Rose website; Andrea van Kampen website; YouTube

Bon Jovi Turn Political on New Album 2020

Bon Jovi released their long anticipated 15th studio album 2020 on Friday, October 2. Predictably, the reviews I’ve seen thus far are mixed. After some 37 years into their recording career, I think it’s safe to say at this stage the band isn’t going to change many minds one way or the other. And opinions about the Jersey rockers have clearly been divided for a long time.

While Jon Bon Jovi is no Bruce Springsteen, I’ve always liked Bon Jovi for their catchy brand of pop rock. In that regard, 2020 doesn’t break new ground. What’s different are the outspoken political lyrics of some of the songs. Eight of the 10 tracks were solely written by Jon Bon Jovi. Together with the album cover, which is the first to feature Jon Bon Jovi only since the band’s eponymous debut from January 1984, this makes it feel more like a solo record.

Bon Jovi (from left): Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, Hugh McDonald, Phil X and Tico Torres

2020 clearly is a reflection of the current unsettling times America is going through. Why did Jon Bon Jovi turn political now? Is it all a calculated move not come across as tone-deaf during what increasingly looks like an unprecedented period in the country? I would argue that Jon Bon Jovi has supported political and social causes for a long time, so it’s not like he suddenly decided to raise issues because it looked convenient. Plus, given how divided the U.S. is, if anything, I could see him lose some fans over his turn to political lyrics. With that, let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Limitless, a classic Bon Jovi rocker with a memorable guitar theme and a catchy melody. Co-written by Jon Bon Jovi, the band’s touring rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist John Shanks, and Billy Falcon, a frequent Bon Jovi collaborator since 2009, the song was first released as a single in February. Unlike most other tracks on the album, while the tune addresses the uncertainties of daily life, it has an upbeat outlook in the chorus: On a night like this/One prayer one wish/step out of the edge/It’s worth the risk/Life is limitless limitless. Perhaps this makes it a more typical Bon Jovi lyric.

Things definitely get darker in American Reckoning, one of the two songs that initially weren’t part of the album. Jon Bon Jovi penned this compelling tune about police brutality against African Americans during the COVID-19 quarantine. Like the opener, it also appeared first as a single, in July. America’s on fire/There’s protests in the street/Her conscience has been looted/And her soul is under siege/Another mother’s crying as history repeats/I can’t breathe/God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets/stay alive, stay alive/Shine a light, stay alive/Use your voice and you remember me/American reckoning…

Lower the Flag is about senseless school shootings we all too often witness in this country. The 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio inspired Jon Bon Jovi to write this tune. Perhaps the song’s most powerful part is toward the end when he lowers his voice, switching from singing to speaking. If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out/ If there’s something we can talk about, let’s talk about it/If there’s something we can figure out, let’s figure it out//El Paso, Texas/Dayton, Ohio/Las Vegas, Nevada/ Sebring, Florida/Orlando, Florida/Penn State University/ Aurora, Illinois/Virginia Beach, Virginia/Gilroy, California/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/ Marjory Stoneman Douglas High/ Columbine/Columbine/Sandy Hook Elementary… One really wonders how many more shootings and deaths it will take until those in charge have the backbone to stand up against the NRA and institute sensible gun control laws.

Next up: Blood in the Water, which addresses another big issue the country is facing: the plight of immigrants…Once I came across your border/Now they come to take me back/I sleep with one eye open/I don’t make waves, I don’t leave tracks/For my daughter and my three sons/It’s the only life they’ve known/To me it’s my asylum/These stars and stripes my home

The last tune I’d like to call out is Unbroken, the album’s closer. Yet another track solely written by Jon Bon Jovi, the song is about military veterans and their struggle with PTSD and other challenges. The song first appeared last November and was written for To Be of Service, a documentary about war veterans and their service dogs…We were taught to shoot our rifles/Men and women side by side/Thought we’d be met as liberators/In a thousand-year-old fight/I got this painful ringing in my ear/From an IED last night/But no lead-lined Humvee war machine/Could save my sergeant’s life

2020 was co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and John Shanks. Other musicians on the album include the current core members of Bon Jovi: Phil X (lead guitar, backing vocals), Hugh McDonald (bass), Tico Torres (drums) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Everett Bradley, a touring member like Shanks, provided percussion and backing vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube