A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Evidently, yesterday (May 19) was a popular day for new music releases. I also found more than 10 songs I could have highlighted in this latest installment of my weekly new music revue, to which I’d like to welcome you. Let’s get to it!
Kicking things off is country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark. To date, she has released three albums starting with her 2013 debut 12 Stories. Her songs have also been recorded by Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, Reba McEntire and Kacey Musgraves, among others. Off her latest self-titled album here’s Ain’t Enough Rocks, co-written by Clack, Jessie Jo Dillon and Jimmy Robbins – a great tune featuring cool slide guitar action by the amazing Derek Trucks!
Leftover Salmon/Fire and Brimstone (feat. Oliver Wood)
Leftover Salmon are a bluegrass and country-oriented jam band from Boulder, Colo. Since their formation in 1989, they have released eight studio albums, including their new one, Grass Roots. Here’s their cover of Fire and Brimstone, a tune penned by guitarist Link Wray who also first recorded it for his 1971 self-titled studio album. In 1958, Wray’s instrumental Rumble became one of the earliest songs in rock to utilize distortion and tremolo. Leftover Salmon’s rendition features Oliver Wood, of roots band The Wood Brothers. I can hear some Leon Russell in here!
GracieHorse/If You’re Gonna Walk That Straight Line Son, It’s Only Gonna Hurt
Other than she’s an indie artist who evidently has written for at least a decade and who just released a country-flavored debut album, it’s not clear to me who exactly GracieHorse is. From her Bandcamppage: Gracie Horse weaves stories into her songs. On L.A. Shit, her debut record with Wharf Cat, she takes us into the past half a decade of her life…It’s a record of immaculate country music…It’s also a vulnerable record, full of lyrics about the intensity of being alive, all told with a sense of humor and self-awareness. Here’s a cool-sounding tune with an impossibly long title: If You’re Gonna Walk That Straight Line Son, It’s Only Gonna Hurt.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives/Sitting Alone
American country and bluegrass singer Marty Stuart has been active since the late 1960s. Initially working as a touring musician with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, Stuart launched his recording career in 1978 with Marty (With A Little Help From My Friends). He has since released 18 additional albums, including his latest, Altitude, appearing as Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. Let’s check out Sitting Alone, penned by Stuart, which has a bit of a Tom Petty vibe – love it!
PONY are a grungy power pop group from Toronto, Canada, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Sam Bielanski. According to their AllMusicbio, their melodic strain of guitar pop is rooted in early-’90s grunge and classic indie pop. After a series of singles and EPs, they released their full-length debut album TV Baby in April 2021. PONY are now out with their sophomore album Velveteen and here’s the catchy Très Jolie.
Graham Nash/Golden Idols
My last pick for this week is by an artist I trust needs no introduction. Graham Nash who in February turned 81 just released Now, his first new solo album in seven years. It’s also the most personal he has ever made, according to a couple of reviews I’ve seen, for example, this one in Ultimate Classic Rock. Boy, does he sound great, both vocally and musically! And he also has a lot to say, about life, love and politics. I think these won’t be my final words about what looks like a late-career gem. For now, here’s Golden Idols, showing Nash still has some activist fire in the belly!
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.
By now it’s safe to assume you’ve heard of the death of Gordon Lightfoot who sadly passed away at age 84 on Monday night, May 1 at a hospital in Toronto. According to an official statement on his Facebookpage, his death was from natural causes. But the Canadian folk singer-songwriter had some health issues, which last month forced him to cancel his 2023 U.S. and Canadian concert schedule.
Lightfoot was known for melodic, oftentimes personal songs and his distinct soft baritone voice. None other than Bob Dylan once said “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like,” as noted in this New York Timesobituary. He added, “Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
Obviously, a substantial amount of obituaries have been published over the past few days, so I’m not going to add yet another biographical write-up. Instead of focusing on what was, I’d like to celebrate what remains – Lightfoot’s beautiful music. And with a recording career spanning more than 50 years, there’s plenty of it!
While Lightfoot’s output significantly slowed starting from the mid-’80s, he still released 20 studio albums between 1966 and 2020. His catalog also includes three live albums, 16 greatest hits compilations and 46 singles. According to an obituary by The Associated Press, Lightfoot recorded 500 songs. Based on his studio output, that number looks high to me, but I have to assume they verified it.
In the following, I will highlight six tunes. At the end of the post, you will also find a career-spanning playlist of these and additional tracks. Let’s start with Early Mornin’ Rain, off Lightfoot’s debut album Lightfoot!, which came out in January 1966. Written by him in 1965, the tune about a down-on-luck man far from home, who observes the takeoff of a Boeing 707 plane, became one of his most covered songs. Ian & Sylvia (1965), Peter, Paul & Mary (1965), Bob Dylan (1970), Elvis Presley (1972) and Paul Weller (2005) are among the artists who recorded renditions.
Undoubtedly, one of Lightfoot’s best-known tunes is the gem If You Could Read My Mind. Songfactsnotes it’s one of his most personal songs, about the breakup of his first marriage to Brita Ingegerd Olaisson, which Lightfoot acknowledged was due to his infidelity. He recorded the tune for his fifth studio album Sit Down Young Stranger released in April 1970. It also appeared separately as a single and was Lightfoot’s first no. 1 in Canada. It also became his first U.S. single, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Similar to Early Mornin’ Rain, If I Could Read You Mind was covered by multiple other artists, such as Glen Campbell, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Cash.
Another prominent tune by Lightfoot I simply cannot skip since I loved it from the first time I heard it is Sundown, the title track of his ninth studio album from January 1974. The single topped the mainstream charts in Canada and the U.S., his only no. 1 there; reached no. 4 in Australia; and also charted in the UK (no. 33). According to Songfacts, the tune was inspired by Lighfoot’s worries about his good-looking girlfriend who was out at bars all day while he was working on songs. “As a matter of fact, it was written just around sundown,” Lightfoot said, “just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album.”
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the best story-telling songs I know. Lightfoot included it on his 11th studio album Summertime Dream released in June 1976. The tune is based on an actual shipwreck, namely the sinking of the bulk carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, the largest of the Great Lakes of North America. Caused by a storm, the accident killed all 29 crew members. The tune became Lightfoot’s last big hit, topping the charts in Canada and peaking at no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also received a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year at the 1977 Grammy Awards.
In April 1993, Lightfoot released his 17th studio album Waiting For You, his first since East of Midnight from July 1986, which at the time he had called his final album. His popularity had declined during the ’80s and his albums no longer sold as well as during the ’70s. Waiting For You is considered a comeback. It reached no. 24 in Canada, becoming his highest-charting album since Shadows from 1982. Here’s the opener Restless.
For my final pick, I’m going jump a whopping 27 years, though I’m only skipping two albums. In March 2020, Lightfoot released his 20th and final album, Solo. It came 16 years after his previous studio record. The tracks were from demos he had found from 2001 and 2002. He abandoned his initial plan to orchestrate the songs, deciding they were fine as they were. Remarkably, Solo became Lightfoot’s first album without any additional backing musicians. Here’s the lovely opener Oh So Sweet.
Following is a link to the aforementioned career-spanning Spotify playlist. Hope you will check it out!
Gordon Lightfoot received multiple honors and awards, some of which I’d like to mention. To start with, there are sixteen Juno awards in different categories, including top folk singer, top male vocalist and composer, as well as nominations for five Grammy Awards. Lightfoot was also inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1986) and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (2001). In May 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. On June 16, 2014, Lightfoot received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) at their 2014 awards. In 2022, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
Sources: Wikipedia; Gordon Lightfoot Facebook page; The New York Times; The Associated Press; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
It’s Sunday, folks, and I’d like to invite you to join me on another time-travel journey into the amazing world of music. For first-time visitors, our eclectic trip will include six stops in six different decades and involve music in different flavors. Are you with me? All aboard, buckle your seatbelt and let’s go!
Cindy Blackman Santana/Passage
Our first stop today is in May 1998 and some groovy jazz music by Cindy Blackman Santana (then still Cindy Blackman). I first came across this amazing drummer in 2014 while watching this clip of Lenny Kravitz, a longtime favorite artist. At first, I primarily paid attention to him before noticing this stunning African American lady on the drums. Then, as oftentimes happens, I was on to other music and “forgot” about Blackman until fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk prompted me to think of female artists in connection with her excellent Women Music March series. I already committed to pen a contribution for the 2024 run about Blackman who was introduced to the drums as a seven-year-old when she spotted a drum kit at a friend’s house and began playing. Soon thereafter, she joined the school band and persuaded her parents to get her toy drums. At age 11, she studied at Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Conn. and two years later started developing an interest in jazz after she had listened to Max Roach. She got her first professional drum kit at age 14 and subsequently moved to Boston to study Berklee College of Music. I just love everything about this story! In 1988, then-29-year-old Blackman released her debut album as a leader, Arcane, which mostly featured her own compositions. In 1993, she met Lenny Kravitz and was featured in the official video of his great hit single Are You Gonna Go My Way. Yep, she surely did and became his touring drummer for the next 18 years! In December 2010, she married that other famous guitarist, and they remain together to this day. Going back to May 1998, here’s Passage, an original Blackman composition from her studio album In the Now. Blackman was backed by top-notch jazz musicians, including saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of John Coltrane), Ron Carter (bass) and Jacky Terrasson (piano, Fender Rhodes).
Dr. Feelgood/Down At the Doctors
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like going to the doctor, though I’m pretty quick with unsolicited advice to friends, telling them they should go if something bugs them. Miraculously, my reluctance tends to vanish pretty quickly when the treatment is music, so let’s next travel to October 1978 for a shot of R&B. Our doctor are kickass British pub rockers Dr. Feelgood. Fittingly, the treatment is called Down At the Doctors, a great blues rocker penned by Mickey Jupp. They recorded it for their sixth studio album Private Practice, best known for Milk and Alcohol, which became the band’s best-performing single. Founded in 1971, Dr. Feelgood are still around as a touring act, though with none of the co-founders. That said, three of the current members – Gordon Russell (lead and slide guitars, backing vocals), Phil Mitchell (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Kevin Morris (drums, percussion, backing vocals) – first joined in 1983, a whopping 40 years ago! Lead vocalist and harmonica player Robert Kane has been with the group since 1999. Okay, let’s get some rock ‘n roll in the arm. While it’s not clear to me what happened to the eight bars on the piano, I know this: Down At the Doctors always makes me feel good!
Johnny Cash/Folsom Prison Blues
Charged up with a dose of R&B, let’s set our music time machine to October 1957 and the debut album by Johnny Cash. While for many years I essentially dismissed all country as hillbilly music, my obvious ignorance always had one exception. From the very first moment I heard Cash, I thought The Man in Black pretty much had the same coolness factor as early Elvis Presley. It also turned out the two artists started their recording career with producer Sam Phillips, founder of the legendary independent label Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. Folsom Prison Blues, one of Cash’s best-known tunes, first appeared on Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! Nearly 10 years later, the tune also became the de facto title track of his first live album At Folsom Prison. On the original studio recording, Cash (vocals, rhythm guitar) was backed by lead guitarist Luther Perkins and upright bassist Marshall Grant, who ended up serving in that capacity for 25 years. In 1960, drummer W. S. Holland joined, and Cash’s backing band became known as The Tennessee Three. Folsom Prison Blues is a great example of that magic Sun Studios rockabilly sound. It also features one of the greatest storytelling lyrics I can think of: When I was just a baby/My mama told me son/always be a good boy/don’t ever play with guns/But I shot a man in Reno/ just to watch him die/When I hear that whistle blowing/I hang my head and cry – this is poetry!
Paul McCartney/I Don’t Know
While I love visiting music dating back 30, 40 and even more years, let’s not forget the current century. My proposition is September 2018, which saw the release of Paul McCartney’s 17th solo album Egypt Station. Sure, it’s no Band On the Run, but I would still call it a remarkable late career accomplishment and Macca’s best album in many years. Let’s check out I Don’t Know. The beautiful piano-driven ballad also became Egypt Station’s lead single in June 2018. Clearly, Paul’s vocals are weathered, but they are a perfect match for the tune, so I wouldn’t want them to sound any different! Last June, Macca turned 80. I had the thrill to see him at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey just a couple of days prior to his big birthday. He still had a ball on that stage!
Gang of Four/Call Me Up
Our next stop takes us to 1982 and Call Me Up, a cool tune by English post-punk band Gang of Four. Frankly, I can’t quite remember how I came across that song, off their third studio album Songs of the Free. I suspect my streaming music provider served it up as a suggestion after I had listened to Televison’s excellent studio debut Marquee Moon. Obviously, there are some stylistic similarities. Like all other tracks on Songs of the Free, Call Me Up was co-written by the group’s Andrew Gill (guitar, vocals) and Jon King (vocals, melodica). Sara Lee (bass, backing vocals) and Hugo Burnham (drums, percussion) completed their lineup of the band, formed in Leeds in 1976. Along with co-founders King and Burham, Lee remains a Gang of Four member to this day. In October 2021, David Pajo officially was announced as having joined the group. This came in the wake of Gill’s untimely death in February 2020 at the age of 64.
The Kinks/Got My Feet On the Ground
I hate to say it, but all things must pass, and once again we’re reaching the final destination of yet another Sunday Six. Let’s wrap up this trip with one of my all-time favorite bands, The Kinks. Together with The Who, they are early pioneers of punk, who influenced punk bands like Ramones and The Clash. In particular, I dig their ’60s music, which is convenient since we haven’t visited that decade yet on this trip – something that simply cannot occur, as long as I operate the time machine! So here are The Kinks with Got My Feet On the Ground, a deeper but nevertheless great cut. Co-written by the oftentimes feuding brothers Ray Davies (lead vocals, guitars) and Dave Davies (vocals, electric guitar), the song is off the group’s sophomore album Kinda Kinks. It’s one of the tracks featuring Dave on lead vocals. While The Kinks never formally split, the combative brothers’ relationship further deteriorated after their final show in 1996. But, dare I say it, things seem to have improved more recently, with media reports suggesting they have been talking to each other. Inevitably, this brings up the question about a formal reunion. “Ray and I have spoken about it,” Dave Daviestold British online paper The Independent in July 2022, adding, “It’s possible!” We shall see!
Sources: Wikipedia; The Independent; YouTube; Spotify
Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Today’s pick is Amelia by Joni Mitchell.
My intro to the Canadian singer-songwriter happened some 40 years ago with her 11th studio album Wild Things Run Fast from 1982 and I instantly loved Chinese Café / Unchained Melody. That said, I didn’t start to further explore her music until a couple of years ago.
From Mitchell’s albums I’ve heard to date, Hejira has become a favorite. Amelia is the second cut on Side one (speaking in vinyl terms). Like all other tracks on the great record, it was solely written by her. Check out that beautiful and warm sound – I totally dig it!
Amelia was inspired by Mitchell’s breakup of a short relationship with John Guerin, the drummer of jazz fusion ensemble L.A. Express, her backing band from the mid to late ’70s. According to Wikipedia, The song interweaves a story of a desert journey (the “hejira within the hejira”) with the famous aviator Amelia Earhart who mysteriously vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean.
Mitchell has commented on the origins of the song: “I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another… sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do.” Here’s a nice live version from 1983.
Hejira had some notable guests. Amelia featured prominent session guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on hundreds of albums by artists, such as Steely Dan, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Sammy Davis, Jr. Vibraphone was provided by English jazz musician Victor Feldman, who has played with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Gregg Allman, Johnny Cash and Rickie Lee Jones, among many others. Carlton and Feldman also appeared on various other albums by Mitchell.
Hejira, which captures Mitchell’s experiences during a period of frequent travel in late 1975 and early 1976, was received favorably when it appeared but neither matched sales nor chart performance of its predecessors. In Canada, it peaked at no. 22 and in the U.S. it climbed to no. 13. It did best in the UK where it reached no. 11.
But, as happens frequently in music, in the years since its release the album has been considered one of the gems in Mitchell’s recording catalog. The most recent revision of Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, published in September 2020, ranks Hejira at no. 133. It was also voted no. 776 in the third edition (2000) of Colin Larkin’sAll Time Top 1000 Albums.
Following are some additional insights on Amelia by Songfacts:
Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): “I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it… the sweet loneliness of solitary travel...“
Amelia Earhart vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Mitchell alludes to this when she sings:
A ghost of aviation She was swallowed by the sky Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly Like Icarus ascending On beautiful foolish arms
Icarus is a figure from Greek mythology whose father, Daedalus, crafted him a set of wings made of wax. Despite his father’s warnings, Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted, sending him to his death in what is now called the Icarian Sea.
Joni Mitchell sings in the first verse about:
Six jet planes Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain It was the hexagram of the heavens it was the strings of my guitar Amelia, it was just a false alarm
She explained the lyric to Robert Hepburn for Mojo magazine in 1994. “Basically the false alarm was the end of a relationship. Two scorpios couldn’t let each other go. It was done, but we couldn’t let go; we belonged to each other. It was winding down and I am driving solo without a driver’s license across the country. I think of Amelia I think solo flight. I can’t remember how many hotel rooms later it was complete.”
The late David Crosby, who was in a brief relationship with Joni Mitchell in 1967 and remained a friend thereafter, covered Amelia on his sixth solo album Sky Trails, which came out in September 2017. Nice rendition!
Going back to Songfacts, here’s what Crosby reportedly told Uncut about the tune:
“I’ve always wanted to sing that song. I love that song! What a stunning piece of work she did, the two levels of it talking about Amelia Earhart and taking about her own love life at the same time, so eloquently, with such a beautiful set of words. Her version is quite ornate. I tried to sing it very simply.”
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 Newinstallment, 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’sShangri-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 toldApple 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.”
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.'”
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 AllMusicbio: Chuck 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.
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!
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 Musicprofile: 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!
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 AllMusicbio: 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
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 AllMusicbio: 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 is a German-born English-Canadian singer-songwriter. From her Apple Musicprofile: 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