Caravanserai Is Another ’70s Gem Hitting the Big 50

Santana’s fourth studio album marked a radical departure from successful Latin rock formula

Today, on October 11, 1972, Santana released their fourth studio album Caravanserai. While it’s a gem and did pretty well at the time, looking at it from today’s perspective, one has to say Carlos Santana made a gutsy decision to abandon a Latin rock formula that had generated three high-selling and high-charting albums and various hit singles, such as Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Oye Cómo Va and Everybody’s Everything. Most of all, it was bloody good music! But many great artists don’t rest on their laurels.

According to an AllMusic review of the album, Carlos Santana was “obviously very hip to jazz fusion”. It’s also fair to say that with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, jazz fusion had emerged as a new music genre that was getting some attention. But Columbia Records president Clive Davis wasn’t convinced. Reportedly, he called Caravanserai “career suicide” after his first listening to the album, which is largely instrumental and blends jazz, rock and Latin. An October 2018 post on The Music Aficionado blog does a terrific job telling the story behind Caravanserai in great detail. This post informs part of my review.

Apparently, Santana drummer and jazz lover Michael Shrieve who also co-produced Caravanserai had a major influence on Carlos Santana. He introduced him to artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Shrieve and Santana were also inspired by other artists like Pharoah Sanders, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alice Coltrane and Weather Report. The Music Aficionado quotes Carlos: “We were looking for our identities in the same places with a spirit of exploration and the courage to try something new, even if it didn’t make sense or we weren’t supposed to do it. Caravanserai was the album we weren’t supposed to do.”

Another important influence that helped shape the sound of Caravanserai were changes in the Santana band. By the time they went into the studio to start work on the album, Michael Carabello (percussion) and David Brown (bass) had been replaced by James Mingo Lewis and Dough Rauch, respectively. Gregg Rolie (organ, piano, vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) were on the album, but by the end of the recording sessions, they also had left. Subsequently, together with members of Steve Miller Band and Frumious Bandersnatch, Rolie and Schon co-founded backing band Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the group that became Journey.

I’d say let’s take a look at some tunes. One of my favorite tracks on Side one is Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down), co-written by Rauch, Rolie and Santana. To me, the standout here is Dough Rauch’s funky bass playing. Carlos Santana: “You can hear what he brought to All the Love of the Universe and Look Up (to See What’s Coming Down) – when we heard those tracks, we realized how much we needed Dougie”. The Music Aficionado also quotes Shrieve saying Rauch was one of the first bassists “to play with the thumb and popping technique that was later made famous by Larry Graham [Sly and the Family StoneCMM] and Stanley Clarke [Return to ForeverCMM].”

Another gem on Side A I’d like to highlight is Song of the Wind. The beautiful instrumental, credited to Rolie, Santana and Schon, for the most part, is a guitar duet between Santana and Schon where they each trade beautiful melodic solos. Citing Santana’s memoir, The Music Aficionado quotes him on Rolie’s contribution: “To this day I listen to Song of the Wind and break down inside hearing Gregg’s playing on that one – no solo, just a simple supportive organ part that is not flashy or anything but supremely important to that song.”

Closing out Side one is the great All the Love of the Universe. Co-written by Santana and Schon, it’s one of the album’s three tracks with vocals. Vocals are provided by Santana, Mingo Lewis and Rico Reyes. The song is another showcase of Rauch’s outstanding bass playing.

On to Side two and Stone Flower. The tune was written as an instrumental by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Santana added lyrics written by Shrieve who provided vocals together with Carlos. The Music Aficionado also rightfully calls out the contributions of Tom Rutley (acoustic bass) and Wendy Haas (electric piano).

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the closer Every Step of the Way. Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, the instrumental is the longest track on Caravanserai. According to The Music Aficionado, it’s Carlos Santana’s favorite tune on the album. Quoting Carlos from his biography The Universal Tone: “For two reasons my favorite song on Caravanserai is Every Step of the Way – first because it sounds like what we really loved back then: Herbie Hancock’s Crossings [Hancock’s 10th album released in May 1972 – CMM]. The song also reminds me of Shrieve because he wrote it and because of how we played together.”

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

Caravanserai performed surprisingly well. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. In the UK, it reached no. 6, notably matching its predecessor Santana III. Caravanserai did best in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it climbed no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia. In addition, the album also became a solid seller, reaching Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold in each Canada and France. Caravanserai was also voted no. 609 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Long before I heard this album for the first time, I had listened to and really come to dig Santana’s first three records. Undoubtedly, Caravanserai is very different from the classic Santana sound. As such, the album was an acquired taste, which got better every time I listened to it. If you are where I was initially, I’d say give it a few more spins. You might come to love it as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The Music Aficionado blog; YouTube; Spotify

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My “Shocking” Song Revelations

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Dave from A Sound Day hosts a fun recurring feature titled Turntable Talk, for which he asks fellow bloggers to share their thoughts on a given topic. I was happy when he recently invited me back to contribute. This time, it was a challenging topic he called “shock rock.”

In his own words: This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, it’s more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

I really had to think hard about the topic and what I would say that would be reasonably surprising or shocking. Following is what I submitted:

Thanks, Dave, for inviting me back to share my thoughts for another round of “Turntable Talk” – given the topic, hopefully, this won’t be the last time!😊

Since I feel I’ve been pretty transparent about my music taste on my blog and in comments, I really needed to figure out how to tackle this topic. Yes, I’m mostly a ‘60s and ‘70s guy who likes blues, British invasion, classic rock and soul. But on more than one occasion, I’ve also revealed preferences that clearly fall outside my core wheelhouse, which probably have surprised some readers.

For example, I’ve acknowledged I dig a good number of songs by Bon Jovi and Journey, bands I know are not particularly popular among some of my fellow bloggers. Additionally, I’ve admitted I like some disco, a genre that can make many rock fans break out in hives. I’ve also expressed positive sentiments about certain electronic/new age music artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze – something you could argue contradicts my general mantra that “good music” should be played with “real” instruments instead of synthesizers.

Given the above, I asked myself the question what I could say that might surprise readers who know my music taste based on my blog. At first, I had contemplated writing about ELO’s 1979 studio album Discovery, which has a bunch of disco/dance-oriented tunes I like. I also considered doing a post on Klaus Schulze’s Timewind, his fifth album from 1975. But based on what I noted at the outset of this post, I don’t think any of these choices would have been particularly revealing.

In the end, I decided to highlight three songs I like by artists who may surprise you. Warning: Some of you may be shocked!

Let’s start with something gentler. In February 1982, British trio Imagination released what would become their biggest hit: Just an Illusion. While it’s not disco, it’s definitely dance music. Wikipedia characterizes the album In the Heat of the Night, on which the tune appeared, as post-disco, funk and soul. And, nope, it’s not an illusion, I think this is a pretty groovy and catchy tune. Are you still with me?

Moving on to my next pick. How many of you would have thought I dig a tune by two French electronic music dudes who performed in robot outfits and concealed their faces with helmets? Yes, it’s Daft Punk, baby! And I’m talking about a song that became an international sensation in 2013. Not only did it top the charts in France, but it also hit no. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK. In Sweden and the U.S., it peaked at no. 2. Aptly, it was titled Get Lucky and featured Pharrell Williams on vocals and Nile Rodgers on guitar. Like Just an Illusion, it’s really the groove that won me over. The latter is due to Rodgers’ seductive funky guitar sound. I also like Pharrell’s singing.

Okay, are you ready for one more shocker? Ready or not, here it comes, the one you may find a real stinker that may push you over the edge: Waiting For a Star to Fall, a top 10 hit in the U.S. (no. 5) and the UK (no. 9) in 1988 by Boy Meets Girl. There’s definitely more than one reason why I shouldn’t be fond of this song, including the outfit’s corny name and the lyrics. Waiting for a star to fall/And carry your heart into my arms/That’s where you belong/In my arms, baby, yeah…Not exactly Shakespeare. And yet I can’t deny I find this song pretty catchy. In fact, it’s been stuck in my brain since I remembered it when reflecting on the topic.

BTW, behind Boy Meets Girl are vocalists and songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam who at the time Waiting For a Star to Fall came out were a married couple. Now isn’t that sweet? But wait, there’s more. They also wrote two no. 1 hits for Whitney Houston: How Will I Know (1985) and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987).

So, what’s the main takeaway to all of this? I guess there are two possible answers. Number one: I finally proved my music taste is terrible after all! Number two: Music doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes you like songs, even though they contradict your taste. I would argue that’s a good thing!

– END –

There you have it, my darkest music secrets, the songs I secretly sing in the shower! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Yes, folks, it’s Saturday again, which kind of amazes me. Where did the week go? Anyway, Saturday means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music. Unlike most previous Best of What’s New installments, which largely featured artists who are new to me, this week presents a mix of familiar and new names. All picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (July 8).

The Deslondes/Ways & Means

Kicking things off today are The Deslondes, a group formed in 2013 in New Orleans, blending folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, R&B, American roots music, blues, gospel, country and zydeco – quite a stew! From their Apple Music profile: Bringing their own style of down-home, rootsy twang to the home of the blues, the Deslondes are a band of rough but tuneful troubadours who found their voice when they settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. The quintet members adopted their name from a street in the Lower Ninth’s Holy Cross neighborhood, and they found kindred spirits in another New Orleans outfit, Hurray for the Riff Raff. Between developing a loyal following at home and impressing audiences on the road opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff, word began to spread about the Deslondes, and New West Records signed them to a recording contract, releasing their self-titled debut album in June 2015. Two additional albums have since come out, including their latest Ways & Means. Here’s the title track – like their sound!

Wet/Canyon

Wet are an indie pop group from Brooklyn, New York. They were formed in 2012 by Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow who had met in the city while they were students at NYU and Cooper Union. In 2013, after they had gained some attention through local gigs and posting music online, they signed with boutique record label Neon Gold and subsequently with Columbia. Wet’s self-titled debut EP came out in May 2014. Their first full-length album Don’t You was released in January 2016. Canyon, written by Zutrau, is a track from the group’s fourth and new studio album Pink Room. I find Zutrau’s vocals quite soothing.

Journey/Come Away With Me

After releasing The Way We Used to Be in June 2021, their first new music in 10 years, Journey are back with a new album. Yes, I know, some folks dismiss them as shallow arena rock or pop rock. I fully stand behind the fact that I have always liked a good number of their songs. Formed as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former Santana members  Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums), the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves  Journey, and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry joined as lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. While following Perry’s departure in 1998 Journey’s success began to wane and the group has seen various lineup changes over the decades, they have hung on, with Schon remaining as the only original member. The current core lineup also includes Arnel Pineda (lead vocals) and Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals). Here’s Come Away With Me, a track off the new album Freedom, Journey’s 15th studio release – their first in 11 years since Eclipse from May 2011.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Goin’ Home

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with something really cool – well, at least it excites me. Neil Young, one of my all-time favorite artists, is back with yet another previously abandoned album. In 2000, Young convened his longtime backing band Crazy Horse at Toast recording studio in San Francisco. But according to this review in Uncut, things didn’t work out, and while after playing some shows in South America the band returned to the studio invigorated, Young wasn’t happy with the outcome. Instead, he recorded an album with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Titled Are You Passionate? and released in April 2002, it included some leftover songs from the record he abandoned, which appropriately is titled Toast. From Young’s website neilyoungarchives.com: For the past two decades, Toast has been whispered about in collectors’ circles in hushed tones, as Young has dropped pieces of information about it here and there, especially as it contains three never-before-released songs. Here’s one of them: Standing in the Light of Love, a great Neil rocker – I just love the man!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above and some additional songs sans Neil Young. Most of his music remains off the platform after Young asked Spotify to remove it in April, protesting the company’s hosting of controversial podcaster Joe Rogan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Uncut; Neil Young Archives; YouTube; Spotify

Fortune Child Celebrate ’70s Style Classic Rock on Debut Album

Lately, it’s starting to feel classic rock is making a comeback, at least in my music world. I first noticed the trend in 2017 when I listened to Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet. Last year, one of my favorite new records was California Dreamin’, the first full-length studio release by Dirty Honey. In February this year, another band called Goodbye June released their latest excellent album See Where the Night Goes. And now there’s Fortune Child and their impressive debut Close to the Sun.

I first came across the four-piece from Jacksonville, Fla. in February, after they had issued their latest single Tie the Line from the then-forthcoming album. Close to the Sun was since released on March 1. How I missed it at the time remains a bit of a mystery. Fortunately, my latest Sunday Six installment, which included a tune from Goodbye June, reminded me of Fortune Child.

From their website:

Deprive a person of something, and they will surely go out and find it. In an age where Rock N’ Roll has fallen by the wayside, few have heeded the call to preserve its integrity and importance in most of the music we hear today. It’s time to put the question to rest: Rock N’ Roll is here to stay, and Fortune Child will be commanding the ship.

Founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 2021, it is no secret that these lovers of good ol’ fashioned Rock were inspired by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alice in Chains, The Black Crowes and so many more. The four-piece band plans to take the Rock N’ Roll scene by storm, and to remind the people of what truly matters: the music itself.

Fortune Child (from left): Jon Ward, Melanie Jo, Christian Powers and Buddy Cramp

The band (Christian Powers/ vocals, Buddy Crump/ lead guitar, Melanie Jo/ drums, and Jon Ward/bass) has quickly garnered significant support from the Southeast US Rock N’ Roll scene opening for national touring acts such as Blacktop Mojo and will continue to do so as they leave crowds wanting more and more after each show. It’s loud, it’s dirty, and it’s down-right badass…For 2022, the band has partnered with legendary rock producer Kevin Elson of Journey, Mr. Big, Europe, and Lynyrd Skynyrd to produce their full length debut album “Close to the Sun”…

Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies. Here’s the opener The Way, which pretty much sets the tone for the album. Like all other tunes except for the last track, it’s credited to the entire band. Hearing a group embracing 70s style classic rock makes me happy. I find it even more remarkable when it’s a new band. Perhaps, there’s still some life left in rock after all!

Here’s Don’t Shoot Me Down and the official video, another great rocker! These guys are having fun and they’re kicking butt – love it! It’s also cool to see a female rock drummer. While being a bit more common nowadays, it still is something you don’t encounter every day.

Next up is the title track. Perhaps the one thing I will say is there isn’t much variety in the band’s tunes. But since I dig their sound, it’s a minor wrinkle in my book.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the closer Conscious. Its acoustic sound and slower tempo provide a nice contrast to the other songs. It’s also the album’s sole tune credited to Powers and Crump only. I think Closer to the Sun would have benefitted from another song like Conscious to mix things up a little more.

Following is a Spotify link to the entire album:

Fortune Child are off to a great start. I certainly look forward to hearing more from them.

Sources: Fortune Child website; Fortune Child Facebook page; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. I hope everybody is spending a peaceful morning, afternoon, evening – wherever you are when reading this. The six picks in this installment of The Sunday Six include jazz fusion, classic style rock, psychedelic garage rock, folk, pop rock and pop, touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and the present. Hope you’ll find something you like.

Passport/Homunculus

Let’s start today’s music time travel to the year 1975 with music by German jazz fusion band Passport. I’d like to thank Bruce from Vinyl Connection for the inspiration. He included the group’s sophomore release Second Passport in a recent installment of his ongoing countdown of 1972 albums. Passport were formed by German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger in 1971. Doldinger who is also a known film music composer has had an amazing 70-year career and at age 85 doesn’t think of retirement. Passport, aka Klaus Doldinger’s Passport, are still active as well. Their most recent studio album of original music, Motherhood, appeared in 2020. Homunculus, composed by Doldinger, is a track from Cross Collateral, the second of two albums Passport released in 1975. In addition to Doldinger (saxophones, Moog synthesizer, electric piano, Mellotron), their line-up at the time included Wolfgang Schmid (bass, guitar), Kristian Schultze (keyboards) and Curt Cress (drums).

Fortune Child/Tie the Line

Let’s jump to the present and Tie the Line, the new single by Fortune Child, a cool-sounding classic rock style band founded last year in Jacksonville, Fla. From their website: …it is no secret that these lovers of good ol’ fashioned Rock were inspired by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alice in Chains, The Black Crowes and so many more. The four-piece band plans to take the Rock N’ Roll scene by storm, and to remind the people of what truly matters: the music itself. The band (Christian Powers/ vocals, Buddy Crump/ lead guitar, Melanie Jo/ drums, and Jon Ward/bass) has quickly garnered significant support from the Southeast US Rock N’ Roll scene opening for national touring acts such as Blacktop Mojo…It’s loud, it’s dirty, and it’s down-right badass…For 2022, the band has partnered with legendary rock producer Kevin Elson of Journey, Mr. Big, Europe, and Lynyrd Skynyrd to produce their full length debut album “Close to the Sun,” due out in early March. “Old-fashioned” kickass rock sounds like a great proposition to me in an era where rock often is called “dead.” Released on February 18, Tie the Line is the third single appearing ahead of Fortune Child’s above noted upcoming record.

Count Five/Psychotic Reaction

After some kickass rock from the present, how about jumping back 50-plus years for a dose of ’60s rock? Count Five were an American garage rock band formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1964. Initially known as The Squires, the group’s original formation included John Byrne (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), John “Mouse” Michalski (lead guitar), Kenn Ellner (backing and lead vocals, tambourine, harmonica), Roy Chaney (bass) and Craig “Butch” Atkinson (drums). The Count Five who during live performances were wearing Count Dracula-style capes only made one album, Psychotic Reaction, which appeared in October 1966. The title track, written by Byrne and subsequently refined by the band (hence credited to all members), was released as a single ahead of the record in June 1966. Climbing to no. 5 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 3 in Canada, the tune became the band’s only hit. It was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Wikipedia notes the song was among the first successful psychedelic rock tunes, containing the characteristics that would come to define acid rock: the use of feedback and distortion replacing early rock music’s more melodic electric guitars. Neither the album nor any other songs by The Count Five came anywhere near to replicating the success of Psychotic Reaction, and the band broke up in 1969.

Gordon Lightfoot/Beautiful

More recently, a few of my fellow bloggers like Jim from Music Enthusiast and Lisa from Tao Talk have covered Gordon Lightfoot, which inspired my next pick. I best know the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist because of gems like If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which were all chart-toppers in Canada during the first half of the ’70s. Now 83 years old, Lightfoot who has been called Canada’s greatest songwriter remains active. His impressive catalog to date includes 20 studio albums, a similar amount of compilations and three live records, among others. In May 2020, I included a song from Lightfoot’s most recent album Solo in a Best of What’s New installment. Beautiful, written by Lightfoot, is from his eighth studio record Don Quixote that came out in February 1972. The nice love song was also released as a single in May of the same year. It reached no. 13 and no. 58 on the Canadian and U.S. mainstream charts, respectively. The tune topped Canada’s adult alternative chart and climbed to no. 30 on the corresponding U.S. chart.

Eddie Money/Take Me Home Tonight

For this next pick, I’d like to go to the ’80s and American pop rock singer-songwriter Eddie Money. When Take Me Home Tonight popped up on the radio in Germany in 1986, I immediately loved the tune and decided to get the album, on which it appeared, Can’t Hold Back. Other than this record, Money’s sixth studio release from August 1986, and a few additional songs I don’t know his music. But I surely enjoy what I’ve heard. Take Me Home Tonight is credited to Mick Leeson and Peter Vale, along with Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector who wrote The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, which was interpolated in the chorus of Money’s song. Apparently, this was the only charting track for him in Germany. Money clearly was much more successful in the U.S. and Canada where he had 12 and 9 top 40 hits, respectively during his 40-plus-year recording career. Sadly, Money died of complications from esophageal cancer at the age of 70 in September 2019.

Annie Lennox/Why

And once again we’ve reached the end of yet another musical mini-excursion. Today, the final stop takes us to the ’90s and a beautiful tune by Annie Lennox: Why off her solo debut album Diva from April 1992. Lennox recorded it after Eurythmics, her duo with Dave Stewart, had gone on hiatus, in 1990 and the subsequent birth of her first daughter Lola Lennox, who also became a music artist. To date, Lennox has released five additional solo records. In the late ’90s, Eurythmics came back together for another album, Peace, released in October 1999, and had occasional reunions thereafter. Diva became a huge chart and commercial success, topping the charts in the UK and reaching 4x Platinum certification there. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 23 on the Billboard 200 and reached 2X Platinum status. In March 1992, Why was released separately as the album’s lead single. The song also did well in the charts, reaching no. 5 in the UK and Ireland, no. 17 in Australia and no. 34 in the U.S.

And here is a Spotify playlist with the above tunes, as usual:

Sources: Wikipedia; Fortune Child website; YouTube; Spotify

Fakefest Celebrated Triumphant Return to Atlantic City

Free four-day open air festival featured tributes to nine rock bands

It may be called Fakefest, but there’s very little that’s fake about it. Unless of course you consider tribute bands as fake. Or that nowadays you couldn’t have a music festival that features Tom Petty and Van Halen.

Fakefest is a free tribute band festival conducted annually on the outdoor deck of the Golden Nuggets hotel & casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Just like pretty much any other entertainment event, it was cancelled last year due to know what.

The line-up for the four-day event (July 8-11) featured tributes to Bruce Springsteen, Journey, Van Halen, Chicago, The Police, The Who, Tom Petty, U2 and The Rolling Stones. I was there on Saturday to see Beginnings, New York’s Finest and Who’s Next – tributes to Chicago, The Police and The Who, respectively. Following are some impressions.

Beginnings

According to their website, New York-based Beginnings, which were formed in 2002, perform music of Chicago from across the band’s 50-plus year songbook. At Fakefest, their set focused on Chicago’s late ’60s and ’70s phase, which I welcomed since I’m not particularly fond of their ’80s ballads!

I first saw this nationally touring tribute band in the summer of 2019. A few weeks later, I learned on Facebook that the band’s longtime leader, vocalist and bassist Mason Swearingen had died from a heart attack – on stage at a gig – yikes! After a four-month break, Beginnings resumed shows in December 2019.

The band put on an impressive set. Some of the tunes they played included Saturday in the Park, Beginnings, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Just You ‘n’ Me, Feelin’ Stronger Every Day and 25 or 6 to 4.

Here’s their rendition of Just You ‘n’ Me. Written by James Pankow, the track appeared on Chicago’s fifth studio album Chicago VI from June 1973. Check it out!

How about another sample? Ask you shall receive: Feelin’ Stronger Every Day. This tune, co-written by Peter Cetera and Pankow, is another track from Chicago VI.

New York’s Finest

Next up were New York’s Finest, a tribute to The Police. They have played together for 10 years and are based in New York as well. According to a short video clip on the band’s Facebook page, their members Mark Rinzel (vocals, bass), Oscar Bautista (guitar) and Alan Camlet (drums) had known each other prior to starting the tribute. One day they were asked whether they would like to perform The Police’s first album for a classic album night show. They agreed, rehearsed and subsequently formed the band.

The set spanned music from all five Police studio albums, including Murder By Numbers, Walking on the Moon, Driven to Tears, Synchronicity II, Roxanne and Can’t Stand Losing You, among others. I thought Rinzel did a great job performing Sting’s vocals. The band also sounded fantastic. It was obvious these guys had played together for a long time.

Here’s set opener Murder By Numbers. Co-written by Andy Summers and Sting, the tune was the B-side of the single Every Breath You Take. It was also a bonus track on the CD and cassette versions of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album released in June 1983.

In my opinion, one of the highlights of the set was a medley of Driven to Tears and Synchronicity II. The former is from Zenyatta Mondatta (October 1980), while the latter appeared on Synchronicity. Both tunes were written by Sting.

Who’s Next

This brings me to the final band of the day: Who’s Next. Named after the 1971 fifth studio album by The Who, their members include Bill Canell as Pete TownshendDoug Zahn as Roger DaltreyMike Conte as John Entwistle  and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. I had previously seen them at British Invasion festivals at the same venue in June 2017 and June 2018.

Among the songs the band performed were Who Are You, Love Reign O’er Me, Baba O’Riley, You Better You Bet, Won’t Get Fooled Again and Long Live Rock. One difference from the last time I saw Who’s Next was lead vocalist Doug Zahn. Just like his predecessor Dave McDonald, he did a great job capturing Roger Daltrey, both vocally and visually.

Here’s Who Are You, the title track written by Pete Townshend from The Who’s eighth studio album released in August 1978 – the last to feature Keith Moon.

Let’s do one more: the mighty Love Reign O’er Me, another Townshend composition. The track is the closer of Quadrophenia, the sixth studio album by The Who, which came out in October 1973. Zahn did an impressive job with what must be a tough song to sing. Frankly, the clip doesn’t do it full justice, though I think one can still get a good idea.

While as noted above I had been to British Invasion tribute events at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic before, this was my first time at Fakefest. Until a few weeks ago, I had not known about it. Given how much of a ball I had, there’s a good chance I’ll be back.

Sources: Wikipedia; Beginnings website; New York Finest website and Facebook page; Who’s Next Facebook page; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest Best of What’s New installment coincides with the fifth anniversary of the blog, which was yesterday (June 25). If you’re curious, my inaugural post is here. Frankly, when I started this endeavor in June 2016, I really wasn’t sure whether I would stick with it. Lately, my time has been pretty limited to the point where I considered taking a break. But writing about music is way too much fun, so the show must go on! This brings me to my new music picks for this week: Three acts I had not heard of before, as well as a band I’ve known since the late ’70s and that is out with their first new music in a decade.

Lightning Bug/The Return

Lightning Bug are an indie pop band from Brooklyn, New York, which has been around for about 10 years. Unfortunately, there is very little official public information available on this band, so I’m largely relying on reviews by Spectral Nights, Stereogum and Americana Highways. Lightning Bug started out as a trio consisting of multi-instrumentalists Audrey Kang (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocal loops, violin, synthesizer, electronics, bowed cymbal, bowed pedal steel), Kevin Copeland (background vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, sampler, piano, bass guitar, bowed electric guitar, drum programming) and Logan Miley (sampler, modular synthesizer, drum programming, bass synthesizer, piano, electric guitar, electronics). After signing with record label Fat Possum in 2020, they added Vincent Puleo (bass, acoustic guitar) and Dane Hagen (drums, acoustic guitar) to the line-up. The Return, co-written by Kang, Copeland and Miley, is the opener to Lightning Bug’s third and new album A Color of the Sky released yesterday. I find the dreamy and spacy sound and Kang’s soft voice quite soothing.

The Mountain Goats/Mobile

The Mountain Goats are an indie folk rock band founded by singer-songwriter John Darnielle in Claremont, Calif. in 1991. For many years, the group’s sole permanent member was Darnielle who relied on collaborators. The first release under the name The Mountain Goats was a cassette in 1991, titled Taboo VI: The Homecoming. The first full-length album Zopilote Machine appeared in 1994. Starting with their seventh album Tallahassee from November 2002, The Mountain Goats started recording as a full band. The catalog released to date under the name The Mountain Goats includes about 20 albums and more than 25 EPs and singles. In addition to Darnielle (vocals, guitar, keyboards), the band’s current core members include Matt Douglas (flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Peter Hughes (bass, backing vocals) and Jon Wurster (drums). Here’s Mobile from their new album Dark in Here, which came out yesterday. Like all other tracks, it was written by Darnielle. Great sound!

Journey/The Way We Used to Be

Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll when they see the name Journey. Call it arena rock or pop rock or whatever else you want. Since I first heard Wheel in the Sky on the radio in Germany back in the late ’70s, I always thought Journey had some good songs. Formed as Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former members of the Santana band Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and future drummer of The Tubes, Prairie Prince, the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves Journey and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry became Journey’s lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. Following Perry’s departure in 1998, the band brought in Steve Augeri as their new lead vocalist. Due to vocal issues his tenure with Journey ended in July 2006. In December 2007, Filipino singer-songwriter Arnel Pineda became the band’s new vocalist after Neal Schon had seen videos of him on YouTube. Journey have also been through multiple other changes in their line-up over the decades. The current formation features Schon (lead guitar, backing vocals), Pineda (lead vocals), Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals) and Randy Jackson (bass), along with new members Narada Michael Walden (drums) and Jason Derlatka (keyboards, backing vocals). On June 24, Journey released The Way We Used Be, a single and their first new music since their most recent studio album Eclipse from May 2011. Based on this Billboard story, a new album is in the works as well. It’s not exactly Who’s Crying Now, Don’t Stop Believin’ or Open Arms, but it still does sound like Journey.

Mannequin Pussy/To Lose You

Mannequin Pussy are a punk and indie rock band from Philadelphia. They were initially founded in October 2010 as a duo by Marisa Dabice (vocals, guitar) and Athanasios Paul (drums) who had met each other in school. In early 2013, Drew Adler joined on drums and Paul moved to guitar. In October that year, the band’s first album appeared as a limited cassette-only edition. It was subsequently re-released in 2014 by their new label Tiny Engines and later renamed Mannequin Pussy. In 2016, Mannequin Pussy became a four piece with the addition of Colins “Bear” Regisford on bass. Two additional albums have since come out, as well as two EPs. Dabice remains as the only original member of the band’s current line-up, which also features Regisford and Kaleen Reading (drums) who replaced Adler in 2015. To Lose You is a track from the latter from the EP Perfect, released on May 21. Kind of catchy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Spectral Nights; Stereogum; Americana Highway; Billboard; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

My latest exploration of newly released music includes songs from rock veterans Pretenders and three other artists most readers likely don’t know. Highlighting work from the latter really is what mostly inspired me to introduce this recurring feature six weeks ago, since it’s fair to say the blog mostly focuses on prominent acts. Let’s get to it!

Pretenders/You Can’t Hurt a Fool

Initially, the 11th studio album by the Pretenders was scheduled to be released yesterday, May 1. Because of COVID-19, Hate for Sale (gee, what a cheerful title!) is now slated for July 17. Interestingly, if I see this correctly, their 5-month North American tour with Journey has not been postponed yet and is still scheduled to kick off in Ridgefield, Wash. on May 15. Remember, that’s the one of the first states that became a hotspot for the coronavirus when it wrecked havoc at the local nursing home? Hate for Sale is the Pretenders’ first new album as a band since Break Up the Concrete from October 2008. In October 2016, Chrissie Hynde released the aptly titled Alone under the Pretenders name, but it only featured her with different backing musicians. In addition to Hynde (guitar, vocals), the Pretenders’ current line-up includes co-founding member Martin Chambers (drums), as well as Carwyn Ellis (keyboards), James Walbourne (guitar) and Nick Wilkinson (bass), who all joined sometime after 2000. Released on April 14, You Can’t Hurt a Fool is the third and most recent single from the album. Like all other tunes on Hate for Sale, the ballad was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Robert Francis/Amaretto

Robert Francis is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles in the indie folk and Americana arena. He released his debut album One by One at age 19 in August 2007. Junebug, the lead single for his sophomore Before Nightfall from October 2009, became successful in Europe, topping the French charts and also charting in various other European countries. Amaretto, Francis’ eighth album, came out yesterday. It features notable guests: Ry Cooder, Marty Stuart and Terry Evans who since passed away. This means that at least some of songs must have been recorded as ealy as 2017, since Evans died in January 2018. Here’s the title track. If you dig Americana, I’d encourage you to check out this tune and the entire album.

Sawyer Fredericks/Flowers For You

In February 2015, Sawyer Fredericks, a soft-spoken 16-year-old teenager from Newtown, Conn., became the youngest winner of The Voice at the time. Meanwhile, that record was broken by a 15-year-old female vocalist in February 2018. Since I dig good vocals, I was watching the TV singing competition frequently back then. About a year or two ago, I stopped since I felt everything had become too predicatble. Unlike American Idol, which sparked the careers of some big-selling artists, such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert, most winners of The Voice haven’t accomplished real breakthroughs. As such, I’m particularly happy to see a previous winner who went on to become a recording artist. Since The Voice, Fredericks has released an EP and four albums, including his latest Flowers For You, which appeared yesterday. The now 21-year-old singer-songwriter definitely has something. Not only is Fredericks a pretty talented musician, but his voice is quite unique, varying from a deeper raspy sound to a very high range. And the young artist writes pretty good songs. Here’s the bluesy title track from the new album.

Resurrextion/Hold On

Resurrextion are a New Jersey jam rock band I follow. Full disclosure: I’m also friends with these guys, but that’s not the reason why I feature them – in fact, they have no idea (yet) that I do. Resurrextion were initially founded in Jersey City in 2006 and started out as a cover band. After beginning to work on own material, they released their studio debut Comin’ Home in 2013. As the band gained more visibility and opened for national acts like Dickey BettsFoghatPoco and Blues Traveler, music increasingly started to interfere with their day jobs and families, so they decided to take a break. In 2018, they reunited and have since performed at many Jersey venues in Asbury Park and beyond. Resurrextion mostly remain a jam rock cover band but also play their own songs – and evidently work on new material. The current lineup includes Phil Ippolito (lead vocals, keyboards),  Joey Herr (guitar, vocals), Billy Gutch (guitar, vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, vocals). Hold On is a mid-tempo rock tune the band released last month, while laudably practicing social distancing. Each member recorded their part at their respective homes. Thanks to technology, I think everything came nicely together!

Sources: Wikipedia; Resurrextion Facebook page; YouTube

Journey’s Trip Leads to Rock & Hall of Fame

Journey, one of my favorite rock bands, joins a long list of music artists to receive one of music’s biggest honors.

Friday night (April 7) was the moment Neal Schon thought would never come. Journey was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And what initially had looked like against all odds, Steve Perry joined his former band mates on stage to accept the honor, marking his first appearance with Journey in 26 years. Though some rumors persisted until the last minute, he did not perform.

While Journey had become eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than 15 years ago, they were only nominated last year and made it in right away. That’s unlike many other inductees, who had been eligible for even longer periods and/or been nominated multiple times prior to their induction.

Sadly, the induction ceremonies are notorious for drama surrounding former and present members of bands. More recent examples include Chicago and Peter Cetera, and Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore. Journey was no exception, though in their case, the outcome was mostly a happy end!

A certain degree of creative tension in a band can help their music evolve, so it’s not an inherently bad dynamic. But unfortunately, all too often such differences turn personal and bring out big egos. Ironically, for many bands this seems to happen after they become successful. When more is at stake, all the brotherhood and time and effort to get to that stage seem to be forgotten!

Steve Perry clearly was bitter when Journey continued to travel without him in 1998. Following the band’s recording of their 1996 reunion album Trial by Fire, Perry suffered a hip injury in Hawaii. He was told it required hip replacement surgery. This put the band’s planned tour in support of the album on hold. After Perry had refused to undergo the procedure for 17 months, Schon and keyboarder Jonathan Cain lost their cool. They told him to either get under the knife so Journey could resume touring upon his recovery, or they would look for a new singer. Perhaps not surprisingly, Perry was taken aback by this ultimatum and decided to leave the band.

Steve Augeri & Journey 2

Journey went on to hire Steve Augeri as their new lead singer and also replaced Steve Smith on drums with Deen Castronovo, who Schon and Cain had known from their common time with Bad English. I saw that lineup of Journey in the late 90s and was really impressed. I had doubts it was possible to replace Perry, who in his prime time had a voice like no other rock singer. But Augeri sounded surprisingly similar to Perry, and he also did an incredible job hitting and holding these impossibly high notes. From my distant vantage point, he even looked a bit like Perry – frankly, it was almost a bit creepy!

Unfortunately, belting out Journey songs and hitting these crazy high notes night after night took a toll on Augeri’s voice. First challenges started to emerge in 2003, and in 2006, he was dropped from the band. The officially stated explanation was a “chronic throat infection.” For some time, Jeff Scott Soto from Swedish hard rock band Talisman filled in on lead vocals. Finally, in the summer of 2007, Cain and Schon found Arnel Pineda on the Internet. The Filipino singer had been a big Journey fan and performed some of their songs with his cover band The Zoo, which were posted on YouTube – what an incredible story!

I also saw the current Journey lineup with Pineda last April in a superb double bill with the classic Santana band – one of only a handful of gigs the two bands did together. The show predated my blog, so I never got to write a review. In a nutshell, it was absolutely amazing seeing guitar legend Carlos Santana reunite with Schon, Gregg Rollie and other members of the classic Santana band, and playing iconic tunes from their first three albums, as well as their then-new release, Santana IV. Journey’s set was also fantastic, and Pineda did an amazing job on lead vocals.

Arnel Pineda Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Back to the induction ceremony. Journey played three of their best known songs, all from the Perry era, their most commercially successful period: Lights (Infinity, 1978), Don’t Stop Believin’ (Escape, 1981) and Separate Ways (Frontiers, 1983). After reports had emerged that Perry would be there, naturally, fans didn’t stop believin’ he’d also perform. In a couple of interviews leading up to the big night, Schon seemed to be very open about the idea; recognizing Perry’s vocal abilities have changed, he also offered to lower the key of one of their songs.

Steve Perry Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2

While it’s sad Perry ended up not performing, especially for Journey fans, I think he deserves a lot of credit for joining his former band mates on stage and giving a very gracious speech. I thought one the high points was when he called out Pineda: “I must give a complete shout out to someone who sings his heart out every night, and it’s Arnel Pineda…To Arnel, I love you.” While Perry certainly couldn’t blame Pineda for his painful departure from Journal, putting aside all his past bitterness and showing up for the fans really was a class act!

Following are excerpts from the remarks from some of the other Journey inductees, as reported by Rolling Stone:

Neal Schon Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Schon: “Steve Perry [Applause] If it wasn’t for him, there would be no Journey. [Former Journey manager] Herbie Herbert, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for finding me after Gregg was picking me up in high school when I was 15. Soon after that, I was in the Santana group.”

Gregg Rolie Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rolie: “This is my second trip here. And what a trip this has been. First Santana, Journey, Ringo Starr [since 2012, Rolie has been a member of Ringo’s All-Star Band] and back here with Journey…And Neal Schon…saving me from the restaurant business. Don’t ever do it. Just start Journey.”

Steve Smith Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Steve Smith: “I’ve started out in 1963 at nine years old as a jazz drummer…it wasn’t until 1969 that I discovered rock & roll…As disc jockey Alan Freed, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee once said, “Rock & Roll is really swing with a modern aim. It began in the levies and in the plantations, and featured blues and rhythm.” He said this in the 1950s.”

In addition to Perry, Schon, Rollie and Smith, Journey inductees included current keyboarder and bassist Cain and Ross Valory, respectively, as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar was the drummer on Journey’s first four albums Journey (1975); Look Into the Future (1976); Next (1977); and breakthrough Infinity, the only overlap with Perry. Since Pineda only joined Journey in 2007 and as such was not eligible yet, he wasn’t inducted.

Here’s a clip of Journey’s performance of Don’t Stop Believin’ during the induction. It doesn’t do great justice to the band’s sound and Pineda’s outstanding voice the way I remember it from last year, but it’s the best footage I could find.

Excerpts from the induction will be shown on HBO on April 29 at 8:00 PM ET/PT. It should be awesome!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube