The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I take little journeys into the beautiful world of music, including different eras and different flavors, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me!

Jeff Beck/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Earlier this week, we lost one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, Jeff Beck, who suddenly passed away near his home in Southern England at the age of 78 from bacterial meningitis. As such, it feels right to start today’s mini-excursion in March 1975 and Blow By Blow. Beck’s second album that appeared under his name followed Beck, Bogert & Appice, the eponymous and only release by the short-lived power trio Beck had formed after he had dissolved the Jeff Beck Group. Beck gained initial prominence as a member of The Yardbirds where he succeeded Eric Clapton. For a short time, he intersected with Jimmy Page. Somewhere I read all three of these British ‘guitar gods’ grew up in the same geographic area. Unlike Clapton and Page, Beck never achieved huge chart success or record sales. It didn’t take away anything from his brilliance. Here’s his beautiful instrumental rendition of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers, a tune written by Stevie Wonder. I was happy to see it’s Beck’s most streamed track on Spotify.

The Walkabouts/Nightdrive

We will visit the ’70s one more time. For now, let’s continue our trip with a stop in December 1994 and Setting the Woods On Fire, the seventh album by The Walkabouts. Before continuing, I’d like to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Hotfox63 who covered one of the band’s other records last December, which brought them on my radar screen. The Walkabouts were formed in Seattle, Wa. in 1984. Inspired by folk and country music from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, the group released 13 studio albums before they disbanded in 2015. Their rich sound also drew from other genres and artists, such as Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel. This brings me to Nightdrive, a song off the above-mentioned album. It’s credited to all members of the group, who at the time included co-founders Chris Eckman (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, lyrics) and Carla Torgerson (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, cello), along with Glenn Slater (piano, organ, accordion, loops), Michael Wells (bass guitar, harmonica) and Terri Moeller (drums, percussion, backup vocals) – love that tune!

R.E.M./It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

And we’re on to the ’80s with a song by R.E.M. I had earmarked for a Sunday Six several months ago. Coincidentally, fellow blogger Mike from Ticket to Ride just took a look back at the studio catalog of the American band that started in 1980 in Athens, Ga., and was active until 2011. While I like R.E.M. for their melodic songs and jangly guitar sound, I only know them based on certain songs and have yet to take a deeper dive into their albums. One of the tunes I’ve been aware of for a long time is It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Credited to all members and co-founders of the band – Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, backing vocals), the tune first appeared on R.E.M.’s fifth studio album Document released in September 1987, their most successful at the time. It also became the record’s second single but didn’t match the success of the lead single The One I Love. I’ve always dug both tunes.

Bruce Cockburn/Wondering Where the Lions Are

When I was recently in Germany, I met with my longtime friend and music buddy who has given me many great tips since the days when we were bandmates during the second half of the ’80s. One of the artists he mentioned during our recent get-together is Bruce Cockburn (pronounced KOH-bərn). Frankly, other than the name, I wasn’t familiar at all with the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Where do you start with an artist who has been active since 1967 and released 30-plus albums? Admittedly, I took a shortcut and checked Spotify. The most streamed tune there is Wondering Where the Lions Are. While I can’t tell you at this time whether it’s Cockburn’s best song, I liked it right away. Included on his 1979 album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw, the tune is his only U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 21. In his native Canada, it got to no. 39 on the mainstream chart and no. 7 on the adult contemporary chart. Overall, it looks like Cockburn has been most successful in his home country. Based on another album I heard, he appears to be pretty versatile and definitely is an artist I’d like to further explore. For now, here’s Wondering Where the Lions Are, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Cockburn – a beautiful folk tune that reminds me a bit of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot!

Southern Avenue/Control

Time to pay a visit to the present. When it comes to contemporary artists one of the bands I keep coming back to are Southern Avenue. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent.  Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; three amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sisters Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals) and Ava Jackson (backing vocals); white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016, they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Control, co-written by Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, is from the band’s most recent third studio album Be the Love You Want, released in August 2021, which I reviewed here at the time. The funky tune also appeared separately as a single leading up to the album’s release. I find this music is full of soul and pretty seductive.

Byrds/So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star

The sixth tune means we’re once again about to reach the final stop of yet another music excursion. Let’s make it count with a ’60s gem by the Byrds: So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Co-written by co-founders Roger McGuinn (credited as Jim McGuinn) and Chris Hillman, the tune has been characterized by Byrds expert Tim Conners as “an acerbic, but good-natured swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like the Monkees.” While I’m not a fan of how The Monkees came to be, I love their music. Plus, once Don Kirshner was out of the picture, the group’s members started playing their own instruments and getting more control over their music. So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star first appeared in January 1967 as the lead single of the Bryrds’ fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out the following month.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring each of the highlighted six tunes. Hope there’s something for here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Latest From the Horse’s Mouth Brings More Classic Neil Young

It’s hard to keep up with Neil Young. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter truly is on a mission to publish his music, both old and new, and he’s not slowing down. Since December 2021, Young who recently turned 77, has put out three live and three studio albums. The latter includes his new studio project with Crazy Horse, World Record, released on November 18.

I think there are two ways to look at World Record. One is to conclude the album presents nothing new we haven’t heard from Neil Young before, which is a fair statement. The other way to look at it is he is giving us more of classic Neil, the kind of music his fans love. If you’ve been a frequent visitor of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you will not be much surprised I wholeheartedly embrace the second view.

World Record is the 42nd studio album by Young and his 15th with Crazy Horse, according to Wikipedia. They had to count them all! It comes less than a year after its predecessor Barn, which appeared in December 2021 and which I reviewed here. Like Barn, World Record features Young’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, including Nils Lofgren (guitar, upright piano, dobro, slide guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, sweep percussion, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). In addition to vocals and guitar, Young provides upright piano, vibes, harp, harmonica, Marxophone, pump organ, Wurlitzer and kick tub.

From left: Rick Rubin, Neil Young and New Zealand radio DJ, record producer and TV presenter Zane Lowe during an interview conducted for Apple Music at Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif.

Unlike its predecessor, the new album was co-produced by Rick Rubin. While he has worked with countless other artists over the past 40 years, including the likes of Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sheryl Crow, Santana and ZZ Top, if I see this correctly, World Record marks his debut with Neil Young. Well, there’s always a first time! The album has a spontaneous and laid-back feel to it. According to Apple Music, Most of the songs started as melodies Young whistled to himself while walking in the woods, and were written from start to finish in just two days. I’d say it’s time to check out some music!

Let’s kick things off with the opener Love Earth. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Young. “The reason I wrote Love Earth is because I see it as a simple message,” he explained in a post on his website Neil Young Archives. “If you do good things to Earth and try to keep the planet clean and taken care of, she will take care of you and your grandchildren in return.” Young has been singing about environmental concerns since 1970 and the days of After the Gold Rush.

When I first heard the beginning of I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone), the heavily distorted guitar sounded immediately reminded me of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Young doesn’t fool around when it comes to distortion! The lyrics leave no doubt about the message:…I look out at the change and I wonder how the earth could be going to somewhere I’ve never seen/Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be/Fight with me now to the end of the wars and believe what they’ve done for you, if you now are free

The World (Is In Trouble Now) dials back the distortion in favor of Young’s pump organ and harmonica. In this tune, Young goes beyond describing troubling signs of change to calling for activism:…On this street we walk together now/To send this message here/Let me wait beyond the things I know/And try to be a light

Walkin’ On the Road (To the Future) is another acoustically focused song. As he oftentimes does, in this tune, Young offers some hope amid the doom and gloom of the planet’s decline:..Walkin’ on the road to the future is scary/We want to make the best of the past and not tarry/These are the things we’ve done and they have a cost/But we will take it on and try to make the best of us

A standout tune on the album is the 15-minute-plus Chevrolet, seemingly a bit of a contradiction lyrically speaking on an album that is focused on environmental decay. Since I already covered the song in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here. Instead, the final track I’d like to call out is The Wonder Won’t Wait.

World Record, which appears on Reprise Records, was recorded live and mixed to analog tape at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif. BTW, in case you’re wondering about the cover, it’s a shot of Neil Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, who was a Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist.

The final word shall belong to Neil: “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told Apple Music. “It’s probably the only time in the world that you could ever see where all the people of all the countries all around the world could have the same idea: ‘Wait a minute, we got to do something because this is no good.’ We’re all feeling it.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouYube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another installment of song musings where I take a look at great tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or even better not covered at all. Today, I have a true gem by American country and folk singer-songwriter John Prine, an artist I’ve yet to explore in greater detail.

Hello In There is a beautiful story-telling tune from Prine’s eponymous debut album, which appeared in October 1971. It was not released as a single. In fact, very few of his songs were. The record peaked at no. 55 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, making it one of his better chart performers.

Most of Prine’s 18 albums he released over his 50-year career didn’t make the top 100. His highest-charting record on the Billboard 200 was his final, The Tree of Forgiveness, which came out in April 2018 and peaked at no. 5. It also became his only album to top the U.S. Folk Charts.

But overall lack of chart performance didn’t prevent John Prine from becoming one of the most influential and celebrated singer-songwriters of his generation, whose songs were covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and Paul Westerberg. He also mentored many younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price.

Prine who in 2018 needed to undergo major surgery for neck cancer passed away in April 2020 from complications of COVID. In 2020, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also won two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1991 and 2005, as well as two post-mortem Grammys for Best Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song in 2021.

Following is some additional background on Hello In There from Songfacts:

Folk singer-songwriter John Prine explained in a Performing Songwriter interview how this track was sparked from a John Lennon tune and evolved into a poignant song about growing old:

“I heard the John Lennon song ‘Across The Universe,’ and he had a lot of reverb on his voice. I was thinking about hollering into a hollow log, trying to get through to somebody – ‘Hello in there.’ That was the beginning thought, then it went to old people.

I’ve always had an affinity for old people. I used to help a buddy with his newspaper route, and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples home where we’d have to go room-to-room. And some of the patients would kind of pretend that you were a grandchild or nephew that had come to visit, instead of the guy delivering papers. That always stuck in my head.

It was all that stuff together, along with that pretty melody. I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing ‘Hello in There.’ Nothing in it wears on me.”

Prine on choosing the name Loretta for the song’s aging wife (as told to Bruce Pollock): “The names mean a lot. You know, like Loretta in ‘Hello In There.’ I wanted to pick a name that could be an old person’s name, but I didn’t want it to stick out so much. People go through phases one year where a lot of them will name their kids the same… and I was just thinking that it was very possible that the kind of person I had in mind could be called Loretta. And it’s not so strange that it puts her in a complete time period.”

As for the name of old factory friend Rudy, Prine explains: “We used to live in this three-room flat and across the street there was this dog who would never come in and the dog’s name was Rudy. And the lady used to come out at five o’clock every night and go ‘Ru-dee! Ru-dee!’ And I was sitting there writing and suddenly I go ‘Rudy! Yeah! I got that.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday calls for another expedition into the great world of music and all its different beautiful flavors. In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, you may ask yourself why throw all kinds of tracks from different eras into a post in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Well, I have a fairly eclectic taste and find it liberating not to limit myself to a specific theme like I typically do in my other posts. Hope you’ll join me!

Wes Montgomery/In Your Own Sweet Way

The first stop on today’s journey is April 1960, which saw the release of a studio album by Wes Montgomery. Even if you’re not a jazz aficionado, chances are you’ve heard of this amazing American jazz guitarist. His unusual technique to play the guitar, including plucking the strings with the side of his thumb and his frequent use of octaves, created a distinct and beautiful sound. During his active career spanning the years 1947-1968, Montgomery regularly worked with his brothers Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone, piano) and Monk Montgomery (bass), as well as Melvin Rhyne (organ). Sadly, Wes Montgomery’s life was cut short at age 45 when he suffered a heart attack in June 1968. In Your Own Sweet Way, composed by Dave Brubeck in 1952, is a track off an album aptly titled The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery.

Chuck Prophet/Summertime Thing

Obviously, here in America, we’re into the summer season, so picking a tune titled Summertime Thing didn’t look far-fetched. The artist is Chuck Prophet, who only entered my radar screen earlier this year, and we now find ourselves in June 2002. From his AllMusic bioChuck Prophet is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has created a handful of impressive solo albums when he isn’t busy collaborating with some of the most respected figures in roots rock. A songwriter with a naturalistic sense of storytelling and drawing characters, and a melodic sense that brings together the impact of rock with the nuance of country, blues, and folk, Prophet has been releasing worthwhile solo albums since 1990, when he brought out his first solo LP, Brother Aldo. Prior to that, he was a key member of the rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red, who had a small cult following in the United States and a significantly larger one overseas, and in between solo efforts, he worked as a sideman, collaborator, or producer for Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Warren Zevon, Cake, Kim Richey, and many more. Summertime Thing, written by Prophet, is from his 2002 solo album No Other Love. I really dig what I’ve heard from him thus far – good reminder to keep exploring!

Stray Cats/Rock This Town

Let’s pick up the speed with some fun ’50s rockabilly brought to us by Stray Cats. Formed in the U.S. in 1979 by guitar virtuoso Brian Setzer, double bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom (gotta love that stage name!), the trio initially established a following in the New York music scene. After a gig in London, they met Welsh singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer Dave Edmunds who co-produced their eponymous debut album. First released in the UK in February 1981, the record generated an impressive three top 40 hits on the Official Singles Chart: Runaway Boys (no. 9), Stray Cat Strut (no. 11) and the tune I decided to pick, Rock This Town (no. 9), which was penned by Setzer. The Cats are still roaming the streets, though they’ve had a few breaks along the way. Remarkably, their current line-up is the original formation. Coinciding with their 40th anniversary, they put 40 in May 2019, their 10th and first new studio album in 26 years. Let’s shake it, baby – meow!

Little Feat/Rock and Roll Doctor

Time to see a doctor. ‘What kinda doctor?’ you may wonder. Well, obviously not any doctor. What we need is a Rock and Roll Doctor. And this brings us to Little Feat and August 1974. I had this tune earmarked for Sunday Six use a while ago. The group was formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention. Notably, Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract. After George’s death in 1979, the group finished one more album, Down On the Farm, before disbanding. They reunited in 1987 and have had a history since then that is too long to recap here. Rock and Roll Doctor, co-written by George and Martin Kibbee, appeared on the band’s fourth studio release Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, their first charting album, reaching no. 36, no. 40 and no. 73 in the U.S., Canada and Australia, respectively.

Lucinda Williams/Knowing

Let’s pay the current century another visit with this gem by Lucinda Williams: Knowing, off her ninth studio album Little Honey, released in October 2008. While I had been aware of her name for many years, it wasn’t until June of this year that I started paying attention to her when she opened for Bonnie Raitt in Philly. The American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1978 blends Americana, folk, country and heartland rock. Her fifth studio album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road brought her commercial breakthrough. Nine additional albums have since come out. In November 2020, Williams suffered a debilitating stroke. While she has managed to largely recover and resume performing, some signs are still visible. Like most tunes on Little Honey, Knowing was solely written by Williams – great lady!

Elvis Presley/Suspicious Minds

And once again, we’re reaching the final stop of our music journey. I’d like to go back to 1969 and one of my all-time favorite Elvis Presley renditions: Suspicious Minds. The tune was written by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, who also first recorded it that year. Not sure what kind of impact the original single had but I know this: Presley’s version, which was released in August 1969, was a huge success, becoming his 18th and final no. 1 single in the U.S. Notably, as Wikipedia points out, session guitarist Reggie Young played on both the James and Presley versions. A leading session musician, Young also worked with the likes of Joe Cocker, John Prine, J.J. Cale, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Man, I love that song!

Thanks for accompanying me on another zig-zag music excursion. Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all featured tunes. Here you go – hope there’s some stuff you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. All picks are from albums that came out yesterday. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Kolby Cooper/Woke Up Hungover

Kicking us off today is Kolby Cooper, a young country singer-songwriter from East Texas. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Possessing a honeyed twang and an enduring affection for the smoother sounds of ’90s country, Kolby Cooper wasn’t as gritty as some of his peers on the Red Dirt circuit of the Southwest during the last days of the 2010s...Kolby Cooper started playing guitar at the age of 12, inspired equally by classic country and ’90s alt rock. His adolescence turned out to be tumultuous. His father died of cancer when Cooper was 14 and shortly afterward, he started writing songs, eventually finding his way to local talent competitions. When he was 18, Cooper became a father and husband in short order. Initially, he planned to attend nursing school but he decided to give the music business a shot. His 2017 debut single Every Single Kiss was followed by an EP, Vol. 1, in February 2018, and Cooper’s first full-length album Good Ones Never Last in 2019. Woke Up Hungover is a tune from his second and latest album Boy From Anderson County To The Moon – country rock with a pleasant dose of pop!

Cass McCombs/Music Is Blue

Cass McCombs is an eclectic singer-songwriter hailing from California. After playing in numerous bands in the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest during the ’90s, McCombs launched a solo career in 2001 with his debut EP Not The Way E.P. Two years later, A, his first of now 10 studio albums appeared. McCombs’ music has blended elements of different genres, such as rock, folk, psychedelic and alt country. Music Is Blue is the opener of his new album Heartmind. As happens most of the time with artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to Cass McCombs, but I sure like what I’m hearing here!

Silversun Pickups/Stillness (Way Beyond)

Silversun Pickups are an indie rock band from Los Angles, formed in 2000. Five years later, they released their debut EP Pikul. Their debut album Carnavas made the U.S. Billboard 200, reaching no. 80, and peaked at no. 5 on the Independent Albums chart. It has since been certified Gold in the U.S. The group’s sophomore album Swoon peaked at an impressive no. 7 on the Billboard 200 and topped the Independent Albums chart. It also enjoyed success outside the U.S., especially in Australia and Canada where it climbed to no. 14 and no. 23, respectively. The group’s current line-up includes founding members Brian Aubert (lead vocals, guitar) and Nikki Monninger (bass, backing vocals), along with Joe Lester (keyboards, guitar) and Chris Guanlao (drums, percussion) who joined in 2002. This brings me to Stillness (Way Beyond), the first track of their sixth and latest studio album Physical Thrills. Like the other 13 songs on the album, it’s credited to all four members of the band. I like it – check it out!

Early James/Pigsty

My final pick for this week is new music by Early James (born Fredrick James Mullis Jr.), a singer-songwriter from Alabama. Shortly after he had received his first guitar as a Christmas present at the age of 15, he started writing his own songs. James Taylor and Johnny Cash were among his early influences. Here’s more from his AllMusic bio: Early James draws from a deep well of American roots music. Backed by upright bassist Adrian Marmolejo, James’ expressive voice and stripped-down blend of Southern blues, country, folk, and jazz evokes Jason Isbell by way of early Tom Waits and Harry Chapin. In 2019, James inked a deal with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound and headed into the studio to lay down tracks for a debut album. The deeply southern and luminous Singing for My Supper, which featured a full-band, was released in 2020. James is now out with his sophomore album Strange Time To Be Alive, and based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds mightily sweet. Here’s a sample: Pigsty.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist that features the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A busy last week with two back-to-back concerts and time-consuming related posts, unfortunately, left me no choice but to push back this latest installment of my weekly new music revue, which usually runs on Saturdays. All featured songs appear on albums, released last Friday, June 17.

Foals/Wake Me Up

British rock band Foals were founded in Oxford, England in 2005. From their AllMusic bio: Foals emerged in the late 2000s with an off-balance indie rock influenced by catchy new wave, math rock, and atmospheric post-rock. It proved a successful formula; their first album, 2008’s Antidotes, reached number three in their native U.K. Over the next decade, they developed a distinctive balance between jittery dance rock and spacy atmosphere on albums such as 2013’s Holy Fire, 2019’s Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, and 2022’s Life Is Yours. The group’s current core lineup includes co-founders Yannis Philippakis (lead vocals, guitar, bass), Jimmy Smith (guitar, keyboards) and Jack Bevan (drums, percussion). Wake Me Up, credited to all three members, is the lead single of the above-mentioned Life Is Yours album. While it’s not in my core wheelhouse, the tune’s funky groove drew me in – reminds me a bit of INXS.

Hank Williams, Jr./Rich White Honky Blues

Randall Hank Williams, professionally known as Hank Williams, Jr. or Bocephus, is an American singer-songwriter and the son of country legend Hank Williams. During his childhood, artists like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino and Lightnin’ Hopkins, visited his family. Not only did they turn out to be major influences, but they also taught young Randall various music instruments. Already at the age of 8, four years after his father’s death, Hank Jr. performed his old man’s songs on stage. In 1964, he made his recording debut with Long Gone Lonesome Blues, one of his father’s classics. By the mid-’70s, Williams, Jr. had stopped covering his dad’s songs and started to develop his own style, establishing himself with his 26th studio album Hank Williams Jr. and Friends. Williams, who is now 73 years, has released more than 50 studio albums to date. Here’s the title track of his latest, Rich White Honky Blues, a tune he wrote. The blues album also features various covers of songs by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins. After I had seen this album, there was no way I was going to ignore it!

Alice Merton/Loveback

Alice Merton is a German-born English-Canadian singer-songwriter. From her Apple Music profile: Merton was born in Germany, but she soon moved with her family to the United States. They later relocated to Canada before returning to Germany, where Merton finished high school. After a move to England, she again landed in Germany to begin studying songwriting. Before releasing “No Roots” [her 2016 breakthrough single – CMM], Merton contributed to the 2015 album The Book of Nature by the German duo Fahrenhaidt. After an EP in 2018, Merton released her full-length debut, Mint, in 2019. Described by The New York Times as a “rousing take on centrist 1980s pop with a disco tempo and the faintest texture of Southern rock,” Mint reached No. 2 in Germany and No. 3 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart in the US. Merton has described her influences as a mix of opera, indie-rock bands like The Killers, and the English singers Florence Welch and Sam Smith. This brings me to her new album S.I.D.E.S. and the opener Loveback – definitely a leap for me, musically speaking, but there’s something about it, and it’s okay to push beyond your comfort zone every now and then!

Fastball/Real Good Problem to Have

My fourth and last pick for this Best of What’s New installment is from the latest album by Fastball, The Deep End, which I almost missed. For the longest time, I had only known The Way, the group’s cool breakthrough single from February 1998. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I explored the Texan band’s music in greater detail. You can read more about it here. Fastball were formed in 1994 in Austin by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar),  Miles Zuniga  (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Remarkably, that same lineup remains in place to this day. The Deep End, Fastball’s eighth studio album, sounds great, based on what I’ve heard thus far. Here’s a sample, Good Problem to Have, written by Zuniga. Ironically, the title nicely describes how I increasingly feel when it comes to artists who are new to me: There are many more than I have time to explore!

As usual, following is a Spotify list that includes the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning, at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer and spot the occasional fox. Or watch the squirrels chasing after one another. And did I mention Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and that other guy many of you aren’t fond of (though 100 million fans can’t be wrong!) are Jersey boys, as is Walter Trout (at least originally)? Okay, this is starting to sound like a silly ad for the Garden State, so let’s move on to the business of the day: Six tunes of music of the past and the present.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do

Speaking of the present, let’s start today’s musical journey with some groovy organ jazz by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, an act I’ve previously featured. Founded in 2015, the trio includes self-taught Hammond B-3 organist Delvon Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Dan Weiss. From their website: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio—or as it is sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music.” The ingredients of this intoxicating cocktail include a big helping of the 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkles Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. It’s a soul-jazz concoction that goes straight to your heart and head makes your body break out in a sweat – in other words, it’s some pretty cool shit! Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do is an upfront single that was released on January 6, 2022, from DLO3’s upcoming fourth studio album Cold As Weiss scheduled for February 11 – my kind of music!

The Fabulous Thunderbirds/Wrap It Up

Let’s keep groovin’ and movin’ and slightly pick up the speed. This next tune takes us back to 1986 and a tasty tune by The Fabulous Thunderbirds: Wrap It Up. Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote that song for Stax soul duo Sam & Dave who included it on their fourth studio record I Thank You from 1968. The Thunderbirds did a beautiful job with it, recording it for Tuff Enuff, their fifth studio album that appeared in January 1986. If I see this correctly, it became one of the Texas blues rock-oriented band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 50 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who were founded in 1974, remain active. Their current line-up includes original member Kim Wilson (vocals, harmonica), along with Johnny Moeller (guitar), Kevin Anker (keyboards), Steve Gomes (bass) and Nico Leophonte (drums).

The Merry-Go-Round/Live

Time for a dose of ’60s psychedelic rock. Frankly, I don’t recall how The Merry-Go-Round ended up on my list of earmarked tunes for a Sunday Six installment. I can confirm I wasn’t flying eight miles high on some controlled substance! I suspect it must have been a listening suggestion by my streaming music provider. Anyway, The Merry-Go-Round were a short-lived American band from Los Angeles formed in the summer of 1966 by singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes, along with his friends Gary Kato (lead guitar), Bill Rinehart (bass) and Joel Larson (drums). Inspired by contemporaries like The Beatles, The Byrds and The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round only released one eponymous album in November 1967. It barely made the Billboard 200, reaching no. 190. After various subsequent non-charting singles and an attempt to record a sophomore record, the group disbanded in 1969. Here’s Live, their first and most successful single from 1967, which peaked at no. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also was the opener of the album. Nice tune!

Fastball/The Way

Probably, this has happened to you as well. Suddenly out of nowhere, you recall a great tune you hadn’t heard in years. That’s exactly what prompted this next pick by Fastball and their January 1998 hit The Way. It probably saved the American alternative rock band’s career after their first single and debut album had gone nowhere. Fueled by The Way and a second tune, Out of My Head, Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy went Plantium within six months of its March 1998 release. It also yielded two Grammy and one MTV award nomination. Written by group member Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), The Way was inspired by a story he had read about an elderly Texas couple who had gone missing and eventually were found dead in their car hundreds of miles away from their original destination. The song’s great cinematic story-telling would make a good episode for The Twilight Zone. Fastball are still around in their original line-up, which in addition to Scalzi includes Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). Sadly, as is all too common in the tough music business, the band never managed to come anywhere close to replicating the success of their second album. And, based on sampling songs from some of their other records, it wasn’t because of lack of decent music!

Johnny Cash/Give My Love to Rose

Initially, I had planned to feature Johnny Cash’s incredible rendition of John Lennon’s In My Life, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs from their second 1965 album Rubber Soul. Then I started listening from the beginning of American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s studio record from November 2002, the last released during his lifetime. It was also the fourth in his “American” series, which were produced by Rick Rubin and marked a late-stage career resurgence for “The Man in Black.” When I got to Give My Love to Rose, I simply couldn’t resist picking this powerful tune over In My Life, as much as I love the latter. Written by Cash, the song has incredible story-telling, and it’s a tearjerker. Originally, he had composed and recorded the tune with the Tennessee Two at Sun Records in 1957. It first appeared that same year as the B-side of the single Home of the Blues. Cash’s sparse and vulnerable rendition on American IV won him a Grammy in 2003, just days before his 71st birthday. Cash passed away in September of the same year.

Led Zeppelin/Custard Pie

After this powerful tearjerker, I’d like to finish this post on a kickass ’70s rock note. On we go to Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s sixth double-LP studio release from February 1975. It combined eight new songs and some previously unreleased tracks the group had recorded during the sessions for the Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy albums. Here’s the opener Custard Pie, one of the new tunes, credited to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Songfacts notes the song is based on various American blues recordings, including Blind Boy Fuller’s 1939 “I Want Some Of Your Pie” and Brown McGhee’s 1947 “Custard Pie Blues. An influence on this song is “Drop Down Mama,” a 1935 blues song by Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon…[It also] includes a snippet from “Shake ’em On Down” by the blues musician Bukka White. In typical Zep fashion, you wouldn’t know any of this from looking at the credits, and I’m making this remark as a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I just wish they would have given credit to the artists whose work they apparently borrowed. It wouldn’t have diminished this great rocker by one iota, at least not in my eyes. The cool clavinet was played by John Paul Jones, while Plant provided some neat harmonica action. As usual, John Bonham’s drumming is outstanding. Dynamite tune all around!

Not to forget, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above picks:

Sources: Wikipedia; Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Rod Stewart/Born to Boogie

Rod Stewart can still rock if he wants to. Usually, I don’t wanna talk about it when a music artist I once considered truly great goes off the ranch, singing stuff like Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? I wish he was only joking. Well, he wasn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact the British artist who has been around in music for some 60 years has one of the most distinct voices. And if he puts it to good use, the outcomes can be compelling to this day.

Born to Boogie (A Tribute to Marc Bolan), co-written by Stewart and his band’s guitarist Emerson Swinford, is a nice homage to the British glam rocker. It’s a track from Stewart’s new album The Tears of Hercules that came out on November 12. Based on what I’ve heard, his 32nd studio release is a mixed bag, but there are at least a couple of fairly decent tunes on there. And let’s be honest here: Stewart’s raspy smoky pipes remain pretty darn cool!

…He stood five-foot-four
But was a giant of his generation

Just an eastern kid who became a rock ‘n’ roll sensation
A dandy of a superstar
Who led a sexual revolution

Now when he played guitar he was a rock god, babyface assassin
He wore a black bowler hat and a jacket made of cherry red satin
He was a hero of mine
That’s why I wrote a song about him…

An announcement on Stewart’s website notes The Tears of Hercules is his fourth new album of original songs since 2013. He co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks. The album also includes covers of Some Kind of Wonderful, a 1967 tune by American R&B outfit Soul Brothers Six, and Johnny Cash’s These Are My People, a tune the man in black recorded for his 1972 concept album America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song.

“I’ve never said this before about any previous efforts, but I believe this is by far my best album in many a year,” Stewart confidently notes. Well, I seem to recall he has made similar statements about some of his previous albums in the past.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rod Stewart website; YouTube

When the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band Goes Country

A playlist of country-influenced songs by The Rolling Stones

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones have been on my mind lately. When my streaming music provider served up Far Away Eyes the other day, the seed for this post was planted. In addition to rock & roll and blues, the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” has always had a thing for country, so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of country-influenced Stones songs.

“As far as country music was concerned, we used to play country songs, but we’d never record them – or we recorded them but never released them,” Mick Jagger is quoted on Songfacts. “Keith and I had been playing Johnny Cash records and listening to the Everly Brothers – who were SO country – since we were kids. I used to love country music even before I met Keith. I loved George Jones and really fast, s–t-kicking country music, though I didn’t really like the maudlin songs too much.” For all of those among us who aren’t native English speakers like myself, maudlin means “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” and “weakly and effusively sentimental,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

All featured tracks in this list were credited to Jagger and Keith Richards, as usual. One could argue most picks aren’t “pure” country and mix in elements from blues and other genres. While I suppose there isn’t much debate that a tune like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry qualifies as maudlin, it’s really hard to define what is a pure country song in the first place. After all, with all the crossover action that has been going on in country for many years, I would argue the genre has become one of the broadest in music. Should we be shattered? Does it matter?

Dear DoctorBeggars Banquet (1968)

Let’s kick off this list with Dear Doctor from Beggars Banquet. The tune featured Brian Jones on harmonica and slide guitar. Sadly, Beggars Banquet was the last Stones album that appeared during his lifetime. “The country songs, like “Factory Girl” or “Dear Doctor” on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche,” Jagger said. “There’s a sense of humor in country music, anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” The Stones clearly seemed to have fun with Dear Doctor.

Country HonkLet It Bleed (1969)

Country Honk is the country version of Honky Tonk Women. “On Let It Bleed, we put that other version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on because that’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers, ’30s country song,” Richards explained, as captured by Songfacts. “And it got turned around to this other song by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall completely.” Wikipedia notes the fiddle was played by Byron Berline in a park, who by his own account had been recommended for the part by Gram Parsons.

Dead FlowersSticky Fingers (1971)

Dead Flowers, the tune every bar band must know how to play, perhaps is the most famous country-influenced song by the Stones. I’ve really come to love it over the years. The guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor are among the very best the Stones have ever played, in my humble opinion. Here’s another quote from Jagger Songfacts provides in connection with this tune: “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Sweet VirginiaExile on Main St. (1972)

Another country-influenced Stones gem is Sweet Virginia, off what many fans regard as the band’s best album, Exile on Main St. Among others, the track features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Bobby Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, per Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.” Okay, let’s scrape that s–t right off our shoes! 🙂

Far Away EyesSome Girls (1978)

Obviously, I can’t skip the tune that triggered the brilliant idea for this post. In addition to being included on Some Girls, Far Away Eyes became the B-side to the album’s lead single Miss You. Referring to a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Songfacts includes the following quote by Jagger: “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield [Calif. – CMM] on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to.” During that same interview, Jagger also confirmed that the girl in the song was “a real girl.” Well, that’s a shocker!

The WorstVoodoo Lounge (1994)

Let’s finish this post with The Worst, one of two tunes from Voodoo Lounge Keith Richards sang. Among others, the track features Chuck Leavell on piano and fiddle and flute player Frankie Gavin, a member of De Danaan, a traditional folk group from Ireland where the Stones recorded the album. “It’s funny, but a lot of these songs were written in kitchens,” said Richards in 1994, according to Songfacts. “That one I wrote in the kitchen in Barbados, and I thought, That’s a pretty melody, but what to do with it, I really didn’t know. I guess that’s where Ireland comes in, because Ireland has its own traditional music, and it’s not country music as such, but it’s the roots of it, you know? It’s that Irish feel.” Pirate laughter – okay, I made that up, but I could just picture him do it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. To those who follow my blog I no longer need to explain the idea behind the weekly recurring feature. For first time visitors, basically, these posts celebrate music in many different flavors from different periods of time, spanning the past 60 to 70 years or so. Ready?

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Let’s start off our little musical excursion with one of the most beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals I know: Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. This track goes all the way back to the Mac’s beginning when they were a blues rock band led by amazing British guitarist, vocalist and co-founder Peter Green who also wrote Albatross. At the time this dreamy track was released as a non-album single in November 1968, Fleetwood Mac also featured co-founders Jeremy Spencer (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), as well as Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) who had just joined two months earlier. In fact, it was Kirwan who helped Green complete Albatross, which was recorded without Spencer. The tune was subsequently included on the U.S. and British compilation albums English Rose (January 1969) and The Pious Bird of Good Omen (August 1969), respectively. Green’s guitar tone is just unbelievable.

Supertramp/Take the Long Way Home

The other day, I found myself listening to Breakfast in America, the sixth studio album by English prog-rock-turned-pop band Supertramp. I got it on vinyl shortly after its release in March 1979 and own that copy to this day. While I played the record over and over again at the time, it’s still in fairly good shape. It also turns out I continue to enjoy the songs – something I certainly cannot say for a good deal of other music I listened to back then as a 13-year-old in Germany. Breakfast in America, which spawned various hit singles, was hugely popular in Germany where it topped the charts, just like in many other countries in Europe and beyond. Take the Long Way Home remains one of my favorite tracks from the album. Written by the band’s co-frontman and principal songwriter Roger Hodgson, the tune also became the record’s fourth single in October 1979. BTW, you also gotta love the cover art, which won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

John Prine/Angel From Montgomery

I still know very little about John Prine, who is widely viewed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation. But I’ve finally started listening to his music. According to Wikipedia, Prine has been called the “Mark Twain of songwriting.” The likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters have called out Prine. He mentored younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile and Margo Price. In fact, I first listened to at least one John Prine song a long time before I even knew his name: Bonnie Raitt’s great cover of Angel From Montgomery, which she recorded for her fourth studio album Streetlights that appeared in September 1974. Here’s the original from John Prine’s eponymous debut album released in 1971. I’m starting to like it as much as Raitt’s rendition.

Peter Frampton/Avalon

If you read my Best of What’s New installment from a week ago, you probably recall it featured a great instrumental cover of George Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity from Peter Frampton’s new album Peter Frampton Forgets the Words. Since my recent “discovery” of the all-instrumental record, I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Here’s another beautiful track that’s perfect for a Sunday morning: Avalon, the title song of the eighth and final studio album by English outfit Roxy Music, released in May 1982. Written by frontman Bryan Ferry, the tune also became the album’s second single in June 1982. I was a bit surprised to see it “only” reached no. 13 in England, while it didn’t chart at all in the U.S. – unlike the record that topped the charts in the UK and climbed to no. 53 in the U.S. and became Roxy Music’s best-selling album. In 1983, Ferry dissolved the band to focus on his solo career. In 2001, Roxy Music reformed for a 30th anniversary tour and was active on and off until they disbanded for good in 2011. Check out this great clip of Frampton and his band. Not only does he sound great, but you can clearly see how he and his fellow musicians enjoyed recording the tune. I don’t think you can fake this!

Traffic/Dear Mr. Fantasy

Time for some more ’60s music, don’t you agree? While I hate traffic when I’m in my car, I love it when it refers to the British rock band. Undoubtedly, much of my affection has to do with Steve Winwood, one of my long-time favorite artists. I get excited to this day when I hear the man sing and play his growling Hammond B-3. But amid all my love for Winwood, let’s not ignore excellent fellow musicians Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Dave Mason (guitar, bass, multiple other instruments, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, Hammond, percussion, vocals), who founded Traffic with Winwood in April 1967. It’s quite amazing that at that time, 18-year-old Winwood already had had a successful four-year career under his belly with The Spencer Davis Group. Dear Mr. Fantasy, co-written by Capaldi, Winwood and Wood, is from Traffic’s debut album Mr. Fantasy released in December 1967. When I saw Winwood live in March 2018, he played guitar on that tune, demonstrating his impressive fretboard chops.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

For the last tune in this Sunday Six installment, let’s have a true rock and soul party. In this context, I can’t think of anything better than this live clip of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, captured in June 2000 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden at the end of the band’s triumphant 1999-2000 reunion tour. In this 19-minute-plus version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the Boss is literally taking his audience to rock & soul church. Yes, it’s long and perhaps somewhat over the top, but I believe Springsteen was authentic when at some point he noted, “I’m not bull-shittin’ back here.” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, written by Springsteen and first appearing on his legendary breakthrough album Born to Run from August 1975, tells the story about the band’s formation. Watching this amazing footage, I get a bit emotional when seeing the big man Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, who sadly passed away in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Though at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful celebration of their lives. If you haven’t seen this, I encourage you to watch it. And even if it’s not your first time, it’s worthwhile watching again. Live music doesn’t get much better!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube