Best of What’s New

This is the 30th installment of Best of What’s New. When I started the new music feature 30 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I’d find enough material I dig to blog on a weekly basis. So far it’s been a rewarding experience, and I’m optimistic I can get going at that rate.

Usually, I keep the installments to four tunes. This time, however, before I knew it, I found eight songs I could have featured. I decided to cut down the selection to the following six tunes. The set is quite rock-oriented, but there’s also a great jazz tune that just makes me happy and a beautiful guitar instrumental.

Black Stone Cherry/Again

Black Stone Cherry are a hard rock band formed in Edmonton, Ky. in 2001. Chris Robertson (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and John Fred Young (drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals) had played together since they were young teenagers. They were soon joined by Ben Wells (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass, backing vocals) to complete the band’s lineup. In May 2006, they released their eponymous debut album. Again is a track from the band’s upcoming 7th studio album The Human Condition scheduled for October 30. Black Stone Cherry announced the album on August 6 and debuted the tune and music video. “There was a real urgency and fear of the unknown during those sessions – it was a scary time,” Young told Louder.  “Every song on this album tells a story of the experiences we all go through – our happiness, our struggles, and how we have to adapt.” I hardly listen to present day hard rock, but this tune got something.

Puscifer/The Underwhelming

Puscifer is a project from rock singer-songwriter and producer Maynard James Keenan, who also is the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. Between these bands, Keenan has released 12 albums over the past 30 years. Other members of Puscifer, which is currently a trio, include Carina Round (vocals, guitar, ukelele, tambourine) and Mat Mitchell (lead guitar). The Underwhelming is a tune from Puscifer’s upcoming fourth studio album Existential Reckoning due out October 30. The tune became the album’s second single on September 17.

Elvis Costello/Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?

I believe Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? is the first jazz tune I ever heard by Elvis Costello. When I came across it yesterday, I immediately knew I had to include it in this installment of Best of What’s New. According to a review in Stereogum, Costello recorded it together with a small jazz ensemble in Paris about a month before Covid-19 changed the world. It also turns out the tune and Costello’s other singles he has released over the past few months are all part of a new studio album titled Hey Clockface scheduled for October 30. According to Wikipedia’s count, it should be Costello’s 33rd studio release. Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? first appeared as the album’s fourth upfront single on September 11. This tune just has an infectious groove. Check it out!

Ben Harper/Paris

American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper has been a recording artist since 1992. He began playing guitar as a child and had his first gig at the age of 12. During his teenage years in the ’80s, Harper began playing slide guitar, influenced by Delta blues artist Robert Johnson. In 1992, he recorded the album Pleasure and Pain with Tom Freund. This was followed by his solo debut Welcome to the Cruel World from February 1994. Since then, he has released 13 additional studio albums. In 2010, Harper formed folk rock-oriented band Fistful of Mercy, together with George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Harper has also collaborated with Charlie Musslewhite and various other artists. Paris is a beautiful, sparse instrumental featuring only Harper on his lap steel guitar. It’s on an upcoming new all-instrumental album, Winter Is For Lovers, set to appear on October 23. Two other tunes, Inland Empire and London, from the 15-track collection are already out as well, and they sound just as great!

Blue Öyster Cult/The Alchemist

While Blue Öyster Cult is a very familiar name, the rock band that was founded all the way back in 1967 in Stony Brook, N.Y. had not released new music since Curse of the Hidden Mirror from June 2001. That changed yesterday (October 9) with The Symbol Remains, their 15th studio album. Of course, Blue Öyster Cult have had numerous line-up changes over the decades, though founding member and lead guitarist Donald Roeser, known as Buck Dharma, is still around. As is Eric Bloom, who joined BÖC as lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboarder in April 1969, replacing Les Braunstein. Like Dharma, Bloom has been on all of the band’s albums released to date. Here’s The Alchemist, written by Richie Castellano, who has been part of Blue Öyster Cult since 2004. This makes The Symbol Remains his first studio with the band after 16 years – remarkable! The Alchemist may not be Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, (Don’t Fear) the Reaper or Burnin’ For You, but it still sounds pretty cool to me. Check out the sweet harmony guitar playing featuring Dharma and Castanello, which starts at about 3:33 minutes. These guys are still rockin’!

Greta Van Fleet/My Way, Soon

Speaking of rockin’, what could be a better way to end this installment than with the latest single by Greta Van Fleet, one of the most exiting contemporary bands, in my opinion: May Way, Soon, which was also released just yesterday. “This song was inspired by what three years of touring did by opening so many doorways,” vocalist Josh Kiszka told Louder. “This is my truth, how I feel about all of our travels, but I know it echoes the experiences and changes of perspectives for [his GVF bandmates] Jake, Sam, and Danny as well.” May Way, Soon is the first tune from Greta’s next studio album (title and release date still to be announced). “The definition of ’normal’ has very much broadened over the past couple of years, and it has affected us as musicians, especially in the writing and recording of this new album,” added drummer Danny Wagner. While My Way, Soon delivers the energetic type of rock fans of the band have come to dig, it sounds less influenced by Led Zeppelin. I think only does this show Greta is evolving musically, but it’s also a good thing from a longevity perspective.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Stereogum; YouTube

A Change Is Gonna Come, Ooo, Yes It Is

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

This great song by Sam Cooke popped up in my mind yesterday. While he wrote it in a very different context, I still felt it fits the current situation where so many of us are hunkered down at home, hoping this bloody COVID-19 pandemic is going to turn a corner and that eventually, the country can get back to more normal circumstances.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

The tune was inspired by unfortunate events Cooke experienced in Louisiana in October 1963. On October 8, Cooke called a local motel in Shreveport to reserve rooms for his wife and himself, as well as his entourage. But it turned out to be a “whites-only” motel, so when they arrived, a nervous front desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. Cooke got angry and demanded to speak with the manager, but his wife convinced him to leave. After he eventually agreed, they drove away voicing insults and blowing their horns. When they got to another local motel, the police were waiting and arrested them for “disturbing the peace.”

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke New York Times 1963

The news agency UPI reported on the incident with the headline Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport. The piece was picked up by The New York Times on October 9 (see picture above). The story lead reads as follows: SHREVEPORT, La., Oct. 8 (UPI) – Sam Cooke of Los Angeles, a Negro band leader; his wife and two associates were arrested for disturbing the peace today after they tried to register at a white motel. George D’Artois, Public Safety Commissioner, said the four were not arrested for trying to register at the motel, but for creating a disturbance after they failed to get accommodations

Last year – that’s 56 years after the despicable incident – Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event – well, I suppose better late than never! He also posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city. Sadly, something tells me his actions were not embraced by everybody. Ignorance and racism are a bit like the coronavirus – they persist, at least in certain circles. Let’s leave at that!

Another factor that prompted Cooke to write the song was Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. According to Songfacts, he couldn’t believe that tune had been penned by a white man. After hearing it, he became determined to write something similar. And he did. Following Christmas in 1963, Cooke presented the tune to J.W. Alexander, a close music associate. Apparently, Alexander cautioned Cooke the song may not be as successful as his previous lighter, poppier songs, but Cooke decided to proceed anyway, saying he wanted to make his father proud.

A Change Is Gonna Come was recorded at RCA Studios in Los Angeles on January 30, 1964. The session was conducted by Cooke’s musical arranger and guitarist René Hall. Production is credited to songwriting and producer duo and cousins Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. They worked out of New York City’s storied Brill Building and are also known for having produced other Cooke songs like Twistin’ the Night Away and Another Saturday Night, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens, and Shout by The Isley Brothers.

A Change Is Gonna Come first appeared on Cooke’s final studio album Ain’t That Good News released on March 1, 1964. It wasn’t issued as a single until December 11, 1964, two weeks after Cooke had been shot to death under mysterious circumstances by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. The manager claimed she had acted in self-defense after Cooke had forced himself into her office, half-naked, looking for a woman who had spent the evening with him. The single version omitted the verse and chorus preceding the bridge (“I go to the movies…”) for radio airplay.

The tune became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Interesting, Cooke only performed it once in public, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964 – and only after his manager Allen Klein had pushed him to do so. Cooke told him there was no time to pull together the necessary musical arrangement, but Klein managed for RCA to pay for a full string section. According to Wikipedia, after that performance, Cooke had second thoughts about the tune, apparently in part triggered by Bobby Womack who felt it sounded “like death.” Cooke reportedly answered, “Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.”

As you’d expect, a gem like A Change Is Gonna Come has been covered by many other artists. One of my favorite takes is by Solomon Burke, who made it the title track of a studio album he released in 1986. He truly made it his own with a riveting version that takes the song to the then-present time of the mid-’80s. If you haven’t heard it, give this a listen!

I’d like to close with another intriguing cover by rock band Greta Van Fleet. Yep, you read this right – they included it on their second EP From the Fires that came out in November 2017. And, holy smoke, their gifted lead vocalist Josh Kiszka is absolutely killing it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Greta Van Fleet’s Widely Anticipated Full-Length Debut Album Is Out And It Rocks

Anthem Of The Peaceful Army shows young Michigan rockers can move beyond Zeppelin-like crunchers

“Greta Van Fleet can’t get the Led out of its sound,” declares the headline of a Chicago Tribune review. V.e.r.y.  c.l.e.v.e.r.! “They come bearing shamelessly recycled Zeppelin-isms with a frontman who seems to have heard Rush’s “2112” a few times,” opines Rolling Stone. Did they just identify a second band Greta Van Fleet “rips off?” Asks Consequence of Sound: “The throwback rockers can resurrect the sounds of the past, but what about the future?” Gee, how about giving this young band some time beyond their first full-length album Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, which was released on Friday.

As I’m looking at the reviews of the widely anticipated record, I feel like telling certain critics to take a chill pill. Yes, there’s no denying the Michigan rockers have tunes with a Led Zeppelin I vibe. But, frankly, what’s so terrible to sound similar to one of the greatest rock bands of all time? Especially in an era where mediocrity gets most of the limelight? Plus, at least to my ears, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army proves there’s actually more to Greta Van Fleet than Zep-style rockers. Caveat: As a former bassist and someone who has listened to loud music many times, I can’t deny a certain degree of hearing loss!😆

Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet (from left): Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner and Jake Kiszka

All tracks on the album are credited to all four members of the band. They include Josh Kiszka (lead vocals) and his brothers Jake Kiszka (guitar, backing vocals), who is Josh’s twin, and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), as well as Danny Wagner (drums, backing vocals). Let’s kick things off with the opener Age Of Man. Except perhaps for the lead vocals, right out of the gate there’s a tune I don’t feel sounds particularly like Led Zeppelin.

Next up: The Cold Wind. Okay, this kick-ass rocker has an undeniable Zeppelin vibe. I can already see some critics getting their knickers twisted over it. But guess what? I don’t care – on the contrary, I love the fact that here we have a young band that embraces full throttle classic rock, a genre that generally isn’t doing particularly well these days. Wouldn’t it be cool if the tune would top the Billboard Hot 100?

You’re The One introduces acoustic-oriented rock. But wait, didn’t Zep also do plenty of acoustic stuff? So is it yet another rip off? I don’t worry much about it. All I can say is I like this tune. It’s got a catchy melody. I also dig the organ part.

Anthem is another acoustic track. Here’s the first verse of the reflective song: Read the news/There’s something every day/So many people/Thinkin’ different ways/You say “Where is the music/A tune to free the soul/A simple lyric/To unite us all?”

Let’s throw in one more tune: Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer), another nice rocker and the album’s closer.

According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, Anthem of the Peaceful Army was produced by the Rust Brothers, three “veteran Detroit music guys” who are connected to Kid RockAl Sutton, the owner of Rustbelt Studios and Rock’s longtime recording engineer; Marlon Young, lead guitarist of Twisted Brown Tucker, Rock’s longtime backing band; and Herschel Boone, a songwriter and producer, who also worked with Rock as a backing vocalist. The album, which appears on Lava Records, was produced at Rustbelt and at Blackbird Studio in Nashville.

I guess some of what is happening to Greta Van Fleet is perhaps unavoidable for a band that has received a lot of attention in a relative short amount of time. Add to this the fact that none other than Robert Plant during an interview with Australia’s Network 10 said of the band, “They are ‘Led Zeppelin I'” and called lead vocalist Josh Kiszka “a beautiful little singer,” as reported by the Detroit Free Press in a separate article, and you can see why there’s so much buzz around Greta Van Fleet. And buzz oftentimes also brings less than flattering commentary to the forefront.

I think Greta Van Fleet is on a promising trajectory. Keep in mind they are very young guys. Josh and Jake are 22, while Sam and Denny are 19. Their talent is undeniable. With Anthem Of The Peaceful Army they have taken a step forward. Let’s just give them time to find their own unique style and sound. And if in the meantime, they continue to throw in some Zeppelin-like rockers I have no problem with that whatsoever!

Sources: Wikipedia, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, Consequence Of Sound, Detroit Free Press, YouTube