Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Man, it’s been a hot week in my neck of the woods, with daytime highs close to 100 °F. Of course, I realize it’s pretty much been the same across the U.S. and much of Europe. So what’s happening on the new music front this week? I’m happy to report I found plenty that sufficiently grabbed my attention. All of my picks are on albums that appeared yesterday (July 22).

Ty Segall/Looking at You

Kicking things off is versatile American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and record producer Ty Segall. From his AllMusic bio: One of the leaders of the new psych-influenced garage rock scene that erupted in California in the late 2000s, Ty Segall has produced a catalog as prolific as it is diverse. Working as a solo act and in a number of side projects, he has released literally dozens of albums since he left the Epsilons [California garage rock revivalist band where he served as lead vocalist and gained initial acclaim – CMM] and cut his first project on his own in 2008. Depending on the album, Segall can sound raw (2016’s Emotional Mugger) or refined (2013’s Sleeper), and he’s capable of focused one-man-band efforts (2009’s Lemons) as well as sprawling and eclectic releases with a range of collaborators (2018’s Freedom’s Goblin). He proves just as compelling when stripping back the noise and adding synths, as on 2021’s Harmonizer, or composing film music (2022’s Whirlybird). This brings me to Looking at You, a tune from Segall’s latest, 14th studio album Hello, Hi. I like what I’m hearing here!

John Moreland/Ugly Faces

John Moreland is a Tusla, Okla.-based Americana-oriented singer-songwriter. Originally hailing from Longview, Texas, Moreland started playing guitar as a child with the help of his father and already had his first gig when he was 13 or 14. While still in high school, he played in local punk and hardcore bands. His recording debut, Endless Oklahoma Sky, occurred in 2008 with the Black Gold Band, a group he had formed in 2005. Moreland has since released eight additional studio albums, a mix of solo and group efforts. Ugly Faces is the opener of his new solo album Birds in the Ceiling. While I’m not a fan of drum machines and other electronic percussions that Moreland uses in some of the tunes I’ve heard, I still find his music pretty compelling.

Beach Bunny/Gone

I first featured Chicago indie pop rock group Beach Bunny in a January 2021 Best of What’s New installment. Founded in 2015, Beach Bunny started as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Lili Trifilio who released her debut EP  Animalism in 2015. Following the third EP Crybaby in 2017, Beach Bunny became a full-fledged four-piece group. In addition to Trifilio (vocals, guitar), their current lineup features Matt Henkels (guitar), Anthony Vaccaro (bass) and Jon Alvarado (drums). Beach Bunny’s first full-length studio album Honeymoon appeared in February 2020. Now they are back with their sophomore release Emotional Creature. Here’s Gone, which like most other tunes on the album is credited to all members of the group. The bouncy catchy music stands in contrast to the lyrics.

Jack White/A Tip From You to Me

Jack White is best known as the former lead vocalist and guitarist of The White Stripes, the rock duo he formed in 1997 with his then-wife Meg White (drums, vocals). In 2005, he also became a co-founder of rock group The Raconteurs. In addition, four years later, White co-founded The Dead Weather, a rock supergroup. The White Stripes came to an end in February 2011 after six albums. The Raconteurs went on hiatus in 2014 and became active again in 2018. White remains a member. The Dead Weather have been, well, I guess you could say dead since the release of their third album Dodge and Burn in September 2015. In addition to his band activity, White also found the time to launch a solo career. Since his debut Blunderbuss (April 2012), White has released four additional albums including his latest, Entering Heaven Alive. The more acoustic album comes only three months after his previous release, the rock-oriented Fear of the Dawn. Evidently, White is not only quite prolific but also pretty versatile. While I’m still entirely new to his solo work, I sure as heck know I like what I’ve heard thus far from his latest endeavor!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Dawes are a folk rock band from Los Angeles. They emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. The group consists of brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), as well as Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). AllMusic characterizes their music as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” To date, Dawes have released eight studio albums, including their latest project Misadventure of Doomscroller. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, it sounds very promising. Here’s a great sample, Ghost in the Machine, penned by Taylor Goldsmith.

Jenny Mitchell/If You Were a Bird

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with Jenny Mitchell, a singer-songwriter from New Zealand. From her website: Multi award winning, alt-country Aotearoa artist, Jenny Mitchell is a storyteller with songs wrapped in wisdom and wit. Her music defies easy categorisation but if you admire music by genre-defying artists from Emmylou Harris to Kasey Chambers and Jason Isbell, you are going to love Jenny Mitchell...Her 2018 record Wildfires, produced by Sydney’s Matt Fell, was awarded the 2019 Tui for Recorded Music NZ Best Country Music Artist and became the first NZ album to receive a nomination for Alt-Country Album of the Year at the 2020 Australian Golden Guitar Awards. This brings me to Tug of War, Mitchell’s third and latest album and the pretty If You Were a Bird.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of all the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Jenny Mitchell website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday, so here we go again taking a fresh look at new music. All picks appear on releases that came out yesterday (June 10). Here we go!

Calder Allen/Shine

My first pick this week is music from the debut album by Americana singer-songwriter Calder Allen. From his website: At only 19 years of age, Calder Allen is one of the newest rising acts to emerge out of Austin, Texas. Both audibly and lyrically beyond his years, Allen is a prolific singer-songwriter and self-taught guitarist who completed the recording of his first album in August 2021 at none other than the historic Arlyn Studios, shortly followed by his inaugural performance at Austin City Limits Music FestivalA fifth generation Austinite, Calder Allen’s natural ability and love for music is embedded into his DNA; among his music inspirations includes his grandfather Terry Allen, the legendary visual artist, and Buddy Holly Walk of Fame songwriter. His album producer Charlie Sexton, and other prolific artists like Gary Clark Jr., Caamp, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are also impactful influences on Allen’s music. His debut album is titled The Game. Here’s the opener Shine. I really like what I’m hearing here!

Vance Joy/Solid Ground

Next, I’m turning to Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy, born James Gabriel Keogh. From his AllMusic bio: Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy was vaulted into the mainstream when his 2013 single “Riptide” became a massive international hit. His blend of thoughtful indie folk and breezy melodic pop helped both his EP and subsequent debut album, Dream Your Life Away, go multi-platinum. Joy maintained his success throughout the rest of the decade, topping the charts again with his 2018 follow-up Nation of Two. His third album, In Our Own Sweet Time, was released in 2022. Among the 12 tracks is Solid Ground, which Joy co-wrote with Dave Bassett. Pretty enjoyable tune!

Nick Mulvey/Another Way To Be

Nick Mulvey is an English singer-songwriter who has been active since 2007. From his Apple Music profile: After a successful stint with Portico Quartet — which included a Mercury Prize nomination in 2008, 150 shows worldwide, and signing to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records — Nick Mulvey set about creating a sound that was both striking and individual, intertwining influences of great musicians such as Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waits with a variation of African styles, including guitarist Kawele. His solo debut, 2014’s First Mind, landed in the U.K. Top Ten and was also nominated for the Mercury Prize. This brings me to New Mythology, Mulvey’s third and latest album, and Another Way To Be, a song written by him. While it’s not in my core wheelhouse, I like it!

Rise Against/The Answer

Let’s wrap up this revue with new music by Chicago punk rock band Rise Against. Formed in 1999, the group’s current line-up includes original members Tim McIlrath (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Joe Principe (bass, backing vocals), along with Zach Blair (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Brandon Barnes (drums, percussion), who have been with Rise Against since 2007 and 2000, respectively. In April 2001, the group released their debut album The Unraveling. Their fourth album The Sufferer & the Witness brought them first significant chart success in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard 200, as well as their first charting album abroad, most notably in Canada where it peaked at no. 5. To date, the group’s catalog includes nine studio albums, two compilations and 10 EPs, among others. Their latest release is an EP titled Nowhere Generation II. Here’s the opener The Answer, credited to the entire band. This nicely rocks!

Before wrapping up, following is a Spotify playlist with all of the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Calder Allen website; AllMusic; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the latest installment of my new music revue. As still oftentimes happens, even after having done this weekly feature for about two years, all of my picks represent artists who are entirely new to me. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (March 25).

Camp Cope/Running With the Hurricane

Kicking things off are Aussie alternative rock trio Camp Cope from Melbourne. Formed in 2015, the all-female group includes singer-songwriter and guitarist Georgia “Georgia Maq” McDonald, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich (bass) and Sarah “Thomo” Thompson (drums). Apple Music characterizes Camp Cope’s music as “an angst-ridden sound sitting somewhere between confessional folk-punk and lo-fi pop-punk.” The trio released their eponymous debut album in April 2016. Their sophomore effort How to Socialise & Make Friends from March 2018 marked their breakthrough in the land from down under, reaching no. 6 on the domestic charts. Camp Cope have also toured the U.S. and Europe, which included a headlining tour of North America in 2019. Running With the Hurricane, credited to the entire band, is the pleasant title track of their third and latest album.

Wallows/Missing Out

Wallows are an alternative rock band based in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Wallows’ synth-spiked, sun-soaked indie rock captures an aching nostalgia for romances come and gone, and all the innocence lost in between. It’s a sound inspired by the Los Angeles-based trio’s own evolution: The members have experienced many of their growing pains together, after all. As preteens, singers/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters met drummer Cole Preston in Santa Clarita, California, and founded Feaver (who played 2011’s Warped Tour), which became The Narwhals and eventually Wallows in 2017. The group’s debut studio album Nothing Happens yielded the single Are You Bored Yet?, which peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. Missing Out, written by Tevin Toriano Walls, is a track from Tell Me That It’s Over, the second and new full-length record by Wallows.

The Wilder Blue/Feelin’ the Miles

There were many country releases this week, including the eponymous sophomore album by Texas five-piece The Wilder Blue. According to their website, the band features Zane Williams (lead vocals), Paul Eason (lead guitar), Andy Rogers (multi-instrumentalist), Sean Rodriguez (bass) and Lyndon Hughes (drums). It sounds like the band came together in 2019. Their debut album Hill Country appeared in May 2020. Here’s Feelin’ the Miles, a nice laid-back track written by Williams.

Jensen McRae/Take It Easy

Jensen McRae is a singer-songwriter originally hailing from Santa Monica, Calif. McRae who is of Black and white Jewish descent has been singing since her childhood and began taking piano lessons as a 7-year-old. She also plays guitar. Her early influences included Carole King, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. McRae who has been compared to folks artists like Tracy Chapman has described her music as “folk-alternative-pop”. Her debut EP Who Hurt You? came out in June 2021. On March 22, McRae released her first full-length album Are You Happy Now? Here’s Take It Easy, which like all other songs on the record was solely written by McRae. I’m really impressed with this young lady who sometimes reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell. Check out Wolves, which is included in the below Spotify playlist.

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Wilder Blue website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s Saturday again. It was a busy week that hardly left any opportunity for blogging, both writing and reading. I’m glad the time has come for another installment of Best of What’s New. I also look forward to catching up on the latest posts from my fellow bloggers soon! I’m quite happy with my picks this week and hope you’ll find something you like. Unless noted otherwise, all tunes are included on albums that were released yesterday (March 4).

Melissa Aldana/12 Stars

I’d like to kick off this week’s new music review with relaxing jazz music by Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. According to her Apple Music profile, she is known for her fluid harmonic lines and strong sense for the acoustic post-bop tradition. Discovered by pianist Danilo Pérez while still a teenager, Aldana debuted with Free Fall in 2010. She then earned wider acclaim winning the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Busy as a leader and sideman, she has recorded with Terri Lyne Carrington and Cécile McLorin Salvant, and issued her own albums including 2014’s Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio and 2016’s Back Home. Aldana, the daughter of renowned tenor saxophonist Marcos Aldana, began formal saxophone instruction at the age of six. By the time she was 16, she already headlined jazz clubs in Santiago. With the help of Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, Aldana auditioned at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory and subsequently won a scholarship to Berklee. Following her above-noted debut in 2010, Aldana has released five additional albums including her latest 12 Stars. Here’s the title track.

Johnny Burke/Hold On

It’s always great to see when a musician you personally know is releasing new music you dig – and when they have no idea (yet) you’re writing about them. 🙂 Such is the case with Johnny Burke, the drummer of New Jersey jam rock band Resurrextion aka ResX. It turns out Burke isn’t only talented manning the skins, but also is a capable guitarist and singer-songwriter who on February 13 released his first solo album, Johnny. He had a little help from some friends, including ResX bandmates Joey Herr (guitar), Billy Gutch (guitar) and Phil Ippolito (keyboards), as well as Mike Flynn (guitar), Sandy Mack (harmonica) and Lou Perillo (bass). And let’s not forget Johnny’s wife MaryBeth Burke who supports vocals on some of the songs. Hold On is a nice, warm-sounding Americana-style rock tune with a neat guitar solo.

Guided By Voices/Eye City

And on we go with more rock by indie rock group Guided By Voices. Initially, they were founded in 1983 in Dayton, Ohio. After releasing 15 albums between 1987 and 2004, the band broke up in December 2004. Six years later, they reunited and over a two-year span released an impressive five albums. In September 2014, they disbanded for the second time only to come together again in February 2016. Since that second reunion, 13 additional records have appeared including the band’s latest, Crystal Nuns Cathedral. Guided By Voices’ line-up has changed many times over their long history. The one constant member has been lead vocalist and guitarist Robert Pollard, who is the group’s principal songwriter. The current line-up also features Doug Gillard (guitar, backing vocals), Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Shue (bass, backing vocals) and Kevin March (drums, backing vocals). Here’s the opener Eye City. Based on this and listening to some of the other tunes on the album, they remind me a bit of Son Volt.

The Weather Station/Marsh

The Weather Station is the project of Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman. According to her Apple Music profile, her songs are too musically and emotionally nimble to be easily classified. On Lindeman’s earliest albums, like 2011’s All of It Was Mine, she cultivated a down-to-earth style informed by her time in Toronto’s folk scene and driven by her guitar, banjo, and confessional lyrics. By the time she released 2015’s Loyalty, however, her music had grown more abstract. Later, Lindeman matched the intricacy of her words with equally ambitious music, pairing her version of rock & roll with feminist insights on 2017’s The Weather Station, and combining musings on climate change with luxurious jazz and soft rock on 2021’s Ignorance. Amidst the Weather Station’s changes, Lindeman’s silvery voice and clear-eyed songwriting remained consistently compelling, proving the comparisons to forebears like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and contemporaries such as Weyes Blood and Bill Callahan were more than warranted. This brings me to Marsh, a tune from The Weather Station’s new album How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars. I find this pretty relaxing.

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs/Wicked Man

Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs, now officially Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, are back with a new album. External Combustion comes only 16 months after the release of their debut Wreckless Abandon, which I reviewed here at the time. Campbell formed the group in the early 2000s as a side project to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, where he played guitar at the time. The Dirty Knobs were active in-between Heartbreakers tours and studio projects. They played small venues and did some recordings but weren’t looking for a record deal. After Tom Petty had passed away in 2017, Campbell decided to focus on The Dirty Knobs. The current line-up of the band also includes Jason Sinay (guitar), Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Laug (drums). “About half of the songs are new songs,” Campbell told American Songwriter about the new record. “I went back through my whole analog tape vault and found a few songs from maybe even twenty years ago that I’d forgotten about that were pretty good, so I included them on the album.” Based on my initial impression, External Combustion is a solid record. I could definitely see some of the tunes on Tom Petty albums. Check out Wicked Mind!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above and a few other songs.


Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; American Songwriter; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 28

Welcome to the 75th installment of my irregularly recurring music history feature where I celebrate birthdays of notable artists and look back at events that happened on a certain date throughout the decades. Today, my picks revolve around December 28.

1968: The Miami Pop Festival kicked off north of Miami, Fla. The three-day event took place at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track in Hallandale. Not to be confused with another festival that had been held at the same place seven months earlier, the Miami Pop Festival was the first major rock festival on the U.S. East Coast, drawing approximately 100,000 people. Performing acts came from a wide variety of music and included Chuck Berry, José Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf, among others. The only footage I could find is this clip of Turn On Your Lovelight by Grateful Dead. Good tune, actually, and it’s only 12 and a half minutes long! 🙂

1970: John Lennon released Mother as a single in the U.S. The haunting tune became the lead single of Lennon’s debut solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that had appeared two weeks earlier on December 11. Songfacts notes Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing “Primal Scream” therapy, where he was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics: He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk-driving, off-duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk, and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, “Mother you had me, but I never had you.” His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and for work. “I wanted you, you didn’t need me” explains his feelings about his dad. Lennon’s primal screaming on this song expresses the pain of his childhood. It’s one of Lennon’s most personal and powerful songs.

1976: Guitarist Freddie King, who together with B.B. King and Albert King was known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” died at age 42 from complications of stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. King who hailed from Gilmer, Texas, picked up the guitar as a six-year-old, initially learning from his mother and uncle. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and eventually got a deal with Federal Records after Chess Records had repeatedly turned him down. In 1960, King recorded his first single Have You Ever Loved a Woman with that label. Written by Billy Myles, the tune also appeared on King’s 1961 debut album Freddy King Sings. Over his 14-year recording career, he released 13 studio records.

1978: Rolling Stone magazine voted Some Girls by The Rolling Stones as album of the year. The band’s 16th studio release became their sixth no. 1 album in a row on the U.S. Billboard 200 since 1971’s Sticky Fingers and is considered to be among their best records by many of their fans. It also holds the distinction of being the only Stones record to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. There was some controversy surrounding the cover showing the Stones with select female celebrities and lingerie ads. Following the threat of legal action from the likes of Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett and Liza Minnelli, the album was quickly reissued with a different cover that replaced all celebrities with black and punk-style garish colors with the phrase “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction”. Here’s a track off the record, When the Whip Comes Down, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as usual.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Current/Minnesota Public Radio; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to my latest weekly foray into newly released music. This time, my picks include two artists I’ve listened to for more than 40 years and two who are completely new to me, though both are well established. There’s some blues, alternative rock, pop and soul, making for a good mix. All tracks are on albums that came out yesterday (November 19). Let’s get to it!

Mississippi MacDonald/It Can’t Hurt Me

When I spotted this review on Rock & Blues Muse earlier this week, I immediately had a feeling I would dig this contemporary British blues guitarist. From his website: Mississippi MacDonald is a 3 times British Blues Awards nominee, from London, England. He has been playing since he was 11 years old and has travelled extensively on the US blues trail, meeting, amongst others, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Otis Clay and BB King…Mississippi’s albums, “Dress For The Money[third studio album from 2016 – CMM] and “American Accent[2015 sophomore album – CMM] reached number 1 and 3 respectively in the UK IBBA Blues Charts. American Accent was one of the top 10 IBBA albums of 2016, and was the “Blues Is Back” Album of the Year, 2017. This brings me to MacDonald’s seventh and new album Do Right, Say Right. Here’s the official video for lead single It Can’t Hurt Me, which was first released on October 15 – man, this sounds mighty sweet!

Elbow/After the Eclipse

Elbow are a British alternative rock band formed in the Manchester area in 1997. According to their Apple Music profile, they began as a Sly Stone-influenced funk act called Soft, before deciding to change their name and take musical cues from The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, and U2. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses are two of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey’s favorite albums from childhood. Elbow has had three consecutive No. 1 UK albums: 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 2017’s Little Fictions, and 2019’s Giants of All Sizes. The band won Britain’s Mercury Prize for 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid, which has sold more than 1 million copies. Looks like Elbow have had significant success in the UK. Remarkably, they still have their original line-up: Guy Garvey (lead vocals, guitar), Craig Potter (keyboard, piano, backing vocals), Mark Potter (guitar, backing vocals) and Pete Turner (bass, backing vocals). Here’s After the Eclipse, a track from their just-released ninth studio album Flying Dream 1, credited to all four members. I find this very soothing.

Sting/Rushing Water

On September 1, ex-Police frontman Sting announced his new studio album The Bridge, which is now out: The Bridge was written in a year of global pandemic and finds Sting ruminating on personal loss, separation, disruption, lockdown, and extraordinary social and political turmoil…Representing various stages and styles from throughout his career and drawing inspiration from genres including rock n’ roll, jazz, classical music and folk, the eclectic album features Sting’s quintessential sound on pop-rock tracks such as the album’s opening rock salvo “Rushing Water” and new indie-pop sounding “If It’s Love,” to the smoldering electronic ballad “Loving You” and the romantic “For Her Love” which evokes Sting’s trademark “Fields of Gold” period. Here’s the aforementioned Rushing Water, first released on September 30 as the album’s second upfront single. “The song ‘Rushing Water’ is a fitting start to an album that seeks to bridge all of the petty differences that can separate us,” Sting noted in a separate announcement. The tune was co-written by him, Martin Kierszenbaum and Gavin Brown. It’s an upbeat pop tune with a guitar sound that in part appears to be sampled from Every Breath You Take.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss/Searching For My Love

After 14 years, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have come together for another album, Raise the Roof. It marks the second collaboration between the British ex-Led Zeppelin lead vocalist and the American bluegrass and country singer following Raising Sand from October 2007. Like the predecessor, Raise the Roof was produced by T Bone Burnett. Fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured one of the upfront tunes, Can’t Let Go, in a recent new music revue. Here’s another track: Searching For My Love. Like all except one song, it’s a cover, in this case of a tune written by Robert Moore and first released by soul group Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces in 1966. Plant and Krauss sound great together on this nice soul tune.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Mississippi MacDonald website; Apple Music; Sting website; YouTube

At 50, Led Zeppelin IV Continues to Shine

Another 1971 gem in my book is hitting the big anniversary. Today, 50 years go, Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin IV, an album that to me hasn’t lost any of its magic. And it’s not just because of Stairway to Heaven. I will add, and I’ve said this before, Led Zeppelin and even the song that would be my choice if I could only pick one rock tune were an acquired taste.

The 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV certainly deserves to be celebrated, so let’s go back to November 8, 1971. Actually, let’s make that 11 months earlier. Zep’s fourth studio album was recorded between December 1970 and February 1971 at Headley Grange, a historic 18th-century three-story stone workhouse in the southern English county of Hampshire, which was a popular recording and rehearsal venue in the ’60s and ’70s for artists like Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, Genesis and Led Zeppelin.

Not only did the informal setting inspire the band to try different musical arrangements in various styles, but the absence of any bar or other leisure facilities allowed them to stay focused. “…there was no, ‘Let’s get stoned or go to the pub and get pissed.’,” Jimmy Page told Mojo in a recent interview for a cover story, as reported by Louder. He also said, “It’s like there was a magical current running through that place and that record. Like it was meant to be.”

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Headley Grange

Apparently, not all of Zep’s members were quite as enthusiastic about the place. “Headley Grange was cold, damp, dirty, smelly,” noted John Paul Jones in the same Mojo story. Page was quick to dismiss the comment, saying, “Why is John complaining? We were there to work.” Yet implicitly, Page seemed to least somewhat agree with Jones, adding, “I don’t want to say anything to embarrass Mrs. Smith, the lady in charge. Headley was a bit austere.”

To make the album Led Zeppelin were using The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, along with engineer Andy Jones who had just worked on engineering the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, one of my other favorite albums from 1971. Zep also had assistance from Stones co-founder and keyboarder Ian Stewart who played piano on the record’s tune Rock and Roll. And, speaking of other artists, Sandy Denny, the vocalist of Fairport Convention was another guest.

Headley Grange wasn’t the band’s first choice. In fact, recording sessions had started at Island Records’ Basing Street Studios in London in December 1970. Zep also had considered recording at Mick Jagger’s home and recording location Stargroves but felt it was too pricey! I guess the band had yet to make big bucks, or perhaps they were a bit skittish about cost, given the lukewarm reception of Led Zeppelin III by critics.

Once the basic tracks were in the can, Zep added overdubs at Island Studios in February. Initial mixing was done at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. But the group wasn’t happy with the outcome, so following a tour in the spring and early summer, Page remixed the entire album in July 1971. Further delays occurred over discussions about whether Led Zeppelin IV should be a double album or be released as a set of EPs.

Nuff said – it’s time to turn to some music. Side one kicks of with Black Dog, a great rocker with a cool guitar riff. According to Songfacts, Jones got the idea for the song after he had listened to Electric Mud, a 1968 album by Muddy Waters: He wanted to try “electric blues with a rolling bass part,” and “a riff that would be like a linear journey.”…When they started putting the album together, Jones introduced this riff, the song started to form. The first version Jones played was comically complex. “It was originally all in 3/16 time, but no one could keep up with that,” he said.

The Battle of Evermore is a great example of Zep’s outstanding acoustic songs. As noted by Songfacts, it holds the distinction of being the band’s only tune that featured a guest vocalist: Sandy Denny, an excellent choice! Robert Plant’s lyrics were inspired by a book on Scottish history he had read. The music was written by Page using a mandolin he had borrowed from Jones. “The band was sitting next to the chimney in Headley, drinking tea, when Jimmy grabbed a mandolin and started playing,” Andy Jones recalled. “I gave him a microphone and stuck a Gibson echo on his mandolin. Jimmy had brought this stuff before and had asked me to take a look at it. Suddenly Robert started singing and this amazing track was born from nowhere.” What a mighty tune indeed!

Of course, no homage to Led Zeppelin IV would be complete without the big enchilada that’s closing out side one. Sadly, in addition to being one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Stairway to Heaven will always be remembered because of the copyright infringement litigation it triggered. Much has been written about this. All I will say is only a deaf person could possibly conclude that Page’s opening acoustic guitar arpeggios weren’t pretty much identical to Spirit’s 1968 instrumental Taurus whether done deliberately or not. By the way, again referring to Mojo, the above Louder piece notes the working title for Stairway was Cow And Gate – something I’m sure you always wanted to know but never dared to ask! That working title was inspired by Robert Plant who had recently bought a farm. I also found Cow & Gate was the name of a British dairy products company. Apparently, today the name lives on as a specialist baby food brand owned by a Dutch company.

On to side two. Similar to side one, it starts with a cool rocker, Misty Mountain Hop co-written by Page, Plant and Jones. “It’s about a bunch of hippies getting busted, about the problems you can come across when you have a simple walk in the park on a nice sunny afternoon,” Plant explained, as noted by Songfacts. “In England it’s understandable, because wherever you go to enjoy yourself, ‘Big Brother’ is not far behind.” Seems like somebody had some beef here! BTW, there are Misty Mountains in Wales.

Going to California is another acoustic gem I’d like to highlight. Songfacts explains the Page-Plant co-write was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s California: Mitchell lived in the musically fertile but earthquake-prone Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles; “California” finds her recalling her adventures on a trip to Europe but looking forward to a return home. In “Going To California,” Plant plays the part of a guy who’s looking to leave his no-good woman behind and make a fresh start in California.

This leaves me with the album’s excellent closer When the Levee Breaks. The song’s original lyrics are based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and were written by Memphis Minnie. The tune was first recorded as a country blues by Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929. Plant who had the record in his collection kept most of the original lyrics while Page rearranged the music. Zep’s version is credited to the entire band and Minnie.

Unlike its predecessor, Led Zeppelin IV was widely praised by music critics. Fans liked it as well. The record topped the charts in the UK, U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria and Italy, and also strongly performed in many other countries. Additionally, it became Led Zeppelin’s most commercially successful album with more than 37 million copies sold worldwide, and one of the best-selling albums in the U.S.

Last but not least, Led Zeppelin IV is included in many lists, such as Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (no. 58 in 2020) and Colin Larkin’s All Time 1000 Albums (no. 42 in 2000). In June 2004, Pitchfork also ranked it at no. 7 on their list of Top 100 Albums of the 1970s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday, which means the time has come again to take a fresh look at newly-released music. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, my favorite decades are the ’60s and the ’70s, which can make finding contemporary music that speaks to me a tough proposition. But after having written this weekly feature for some 20 months, I can safely say there’s still some new music out there I dig. Some weeks it’s a longer process to find it than others. This time, putting together the post went pretty quickly. My picks include some country, rock and indie rock. All tunes are on albums that were released yesterday (October 29).

Emily Scott Robinson/Things You Learn the Hard Way

I’d like to start with Emily Scott Robinson, who according to her website is a Colorado-based singer-songwriter: Robinson grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and turned toward guitar at age 13, after a summer camp counselor closed out the nights by playing songs by Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and Dar Williams every night. She taught herself to play in the early 2000s by printing guitar tabs from the internet and singing to CDs by Indigo Girls and James Taylor. But she didn’t pursue songwriting until after seeing Nanci Griffith perform in Greensboro in 2007… Graduating from Furman University with degrees in history and Spanish, Robinson took a job as a social worker and translator in 2011…In 2013, she found kindred spirits at Planet Bluegrass’ The Song School, a songwriting retreat in Lyons, Colorado, where other participants encouraged her talent, and just as importantly, showed her that being a touring musician could be a viable financial option. I wonder how many other young artists share that view. Robinson’s debut album Magnolia Queen appeared in 2016. Things You Learn the Hard Way is a track from her new album American Siren, a mix of bluegrass, country and folk. Like all other tunes on the record, the song was written by her – pretty music, and I also like Robinson’s voice.

Jerry Cantrell/Brighten

Jerry Cantrell is best known as lead guitarist, lead vocalist and the main songwriter of Seattle rock band Alice in Chains, which he formed in 1987. While I definitely know their name, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of their music. In addition to recording six albums with the group and collaborations with Ozzy Osborne and other artists, Cantrell has released four solo albums to date, starting with Boggy Depot from March 1998. Brighten, written by Cantrell, is the title track of his new album. Nice rocker!

Charlotte Cornfield/Blame Myself

Charlotte Cornfield is a Canadian singer-songwriter who was born in Toronto. According to Wikipedia, her music has been compared to the likes of The Band, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young. Cornfield has also mentioned David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch among her influences – many big names here! During her childhood, Cornfield played the piano, drums and French horn. Following her relocation to Montreal where she studied jazz drumming at Concordia University, Cornfield decided to pursue a professional career as a solo artist. Her debut EP It’s Like That Here came out in 2008. Her first full-length album Two Horses was released in March 2011. Blame Myself, penned by Cornfield, appears on her new album Highs in the Minuses, her fouth.

The War on Drugs/Change

The War on Drugs are an indie rock band that was founded in Philadelphia in 2005. Again, while I’m definitely familiar with their name, I can’t identify any of their songs. According to their profile on Apple Music, the group has been a vehicle for singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel, whose synth-infused folk-rock storytelling has drawn comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. The War on Drugs began as a duo with Granduciel and singer-songwriter Kurt Vile, who appeared on 2008’s debut Wagonwheel Blues before making a name for himself as a solo artist. Their breakout LP Slave Ambient, which landed at No. 5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, was named on Pitchfork’s list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011. This brings me to the band’s fifth and new studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Here’s a great tune called Change, co-written by Granduciel, together with band members Anthony LaMarca (guitar, percussion, drums, vibraphone, pedal steel guitar) and Dave Hartley (bass, guitar). Based on this and a few other songs I’ve heard from the new album, I want to further explore this band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Emily Scott Robinson website; Apple Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature where I stretch out across different genres and different decades to celebrate music I dig, six tracks at a time. This edition features blue-eyed soul/R&B, Americana rock and Stax soul, bookended by two beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals. It touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021.

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler/Hurricane Light

Kicking off this post is beautiful instrumental music by Portland, Ore.-based guitarist and composer Marisa Anderson. From her website: Marisa Anderson channels the history of the guitar and stretches the boundaries of tradition. Her deeply original work applies elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone and 20th century classical music to compositions based on blues, jazz, gospel and country music, re-imagining the landscape of American music…Classically trained, she honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands. Originally from Northern California, Anderson dropped out of college at age nineteen to walk across the US and after more than decade of wandering landed in Portland, Oregon, where she currently lives. Hurricane Light is a track from Anderson’s new album, Lost Futures, which appeared on August 27 and which she recorded together with William Tyler, a fellow guitarist from Nashville, Tenn. I find this music super relaxing. It’s got a cinematic feel to it, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Anderson’s website also notes she writes scores for short films and soundtracks.

Boz Scaggs/Lowdown

Let’s jump back 45 years to a very cool tune by Boz Scaggs. Lowdown, which features a seductive funky bassline and is smooth at the same time, is from Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees released in February 1976. Co-written by Scaggs and then-future Toto co-founder David Paich, the song also became the highest-charting single off the album, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2. It also charted in the UK and Australia. BTW, that neat bassline was played by David Hungate, another soon-to-become original member of Toto. And there was a third musician who would join Paich and Hungate to form Toto the following year, together with Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball: drummer Jeff Porcaro. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with them for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. He is still active and has released 19 solo albums to date, the most recent of which, Out of the Blues, appeared in July 2018.

Steve Earle & The Dukes/I Ain’t Ever Satisfied

When my streaming music provider served up I Ain’t Ever Satisfied the other day, I was immediately hooked. I’ve listened to some of Steve Earle’s catalog, but there is a lot left for me to explore. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, written by Earle, appeared on his sophomore album Exit 0 from May 1987, which he recorded together with his backing band The Dukes. The album placed in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts at no. 90 and no. 36, respectively, and earned Earle two 1988 Grammy nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song. Earle has released 21 studio albums to date, including collaborations with Del McCoury Band and Shawn Colvin. His most recent album J.T., a tribute to his oldest son Justin Townes Earle who passed away from a drug overdose in August 2020, was released in early January this year. I previously reviewed it here.

Son Volt/Driving the View

Alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt are a recent discovery for me. They entered my radar screen with their latest album Electro Melodier, which came out at the end of July. I featured a tune from it in a previous Best of What’s New installment. The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar),  Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). Here’s Driving the View, a great track from Son Volt’s third studio album Wide Swing Tremolo that appeared in October 1998.

Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour

Next we’re going back to 1965 and Memphis, Tenn. for some sweet soul music recorded at the Stax studio. By the time Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett recorded In the Midnight Hour, Stax founder Jim Stewart had signed a formal national distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that would come to haunt him when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967 and Stax would lose the rights to all Atlantic-distributed recordings between 1960 and 1967. Coming back to a happier subject, In the Midnight Hour was co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, a founding member of Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.s, who also was the label’s A&R man. M.G.s members Al Jackson Jr. (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) participated in the recording session. In the Midnight Hour, which appeared in June 1965, also was the title track of Pickett’s sophomore album released the same year. The tune became Pickett’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and his highest charting song at the time on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it reached no. 21. Just a timeless soul classic!

Robben Ford/A Dragon Tail

For the last track in this installment, we’re going back to the present time and a killer instrumental by guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford, off his new album Pure that came out on August 27. Ford, who began playing the saxophone at age 10 before he discovered the guitar as a 13-year-old, has had a remarkable career. He has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Carlton and Little Feat, among many others. His solo debut Schizophonic, a jazz album, came out in 1976. Ford has since released close to 30 additional records under his name. This doesn’t include any of his collaboration albums. While primarily being associated with blues, Ford has played many other genres, including jazz, rock and funk. He has been nominated for five Grammys and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by trade publication Musician magazine that folded in 1999. Here’s A Dragon Tail from Ford’s above mentioned new album. Check out this amazing sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Marissa Anderson website; YouTube