Julian Lennon’s First New Album In 11 Years Is a Welcome Surprise

Until July, I had not heard the name Julian Lennon for many years. It’s safe to assume I was not the only one – no pun intended! After Saltwater, a nice tune from Lennon’s fourth album Help Yourself released in 1991, he had disappeared from my radar screen. Now, Lennon is back with Jude, his seventh studio album and first in 11 years, which was released last Friday (Sep 9). If you had been waiting and hoping for new music from him, it was definitely worth the wait!

Julian Lennon of course is the son John Lennon had with his first wife Cynthia Lennon (born Powell). After launching a music career in 1984 with the great album Valotte, he started branching out into other areas, including philanthropy, film (both before and behind the camera), photography and book publishing.

Lennon’s endeavors outside of music became more successful than his albums. For example, his 2006 documentary WhaleDreamers about an aboriginal tribe in Australia and its special relationship with whales won multiple awards and was shown at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. In 2019, he completed what became a New York Times best-selling trilogy of children’s books.

After his previous album Everything Changes came out in October 2011, Lennon thought he was done with the music business for good. So what made him change his mind? “I just happened upon a box of old demos initially, which I brought to light and found that there were some really good songs that I still loved but I never quite finished or they just didn’t belong on an album or project back then,” Lennon told Smashing Interviews Magazine in June 2022. “I thought, ‘Okay. Let me fix what needs fixing, update the production and go from there.'” And here we are. Let’s get to some music!

Since I just covered the opener Save Me in my latest Best of What’s New installment I’m skipping it here and go right to Every Little Moment. The tune was co-written by Lennon and longtime collaborator Mark Spiro. Together with Freedom, it became available on April 8, coinciding with Lennon’s 59th birthday. “Every Little Moment,” is a song I wrote many years ago, Lennon stated on his website. The lyrical narrative not only confronts the wars within, but the ongoing battles we face on the outside. Commenting on the song’s official video, he added, it represents a more hopeful vision for the future. It celebrates a time of peace where someday, the weapons of war will be replaced with seeds of love. I love the song’s atmosphere! In addition, Lennon sounds very mature, which also is the case on the album’s 10 other tracks.

Not One Night is a nice acoustically-oriented ballad penned by Spiro. The tune has a personal feel to it. I used to dream of only you/But now I don’t do that/And I used to miss talking to you/But now I don’t do that/Since you’ve been gone I’ve learned to stop/Tryna hold on because there’s not/Only night, one single day/That I wouldn’t give to you/So with all my might, in every way/I’ll try to forget you, too…

Lucky Ones is the most recent single from the album, released on August 3. It is credited to multiple writers who in addition to Lennon include Albin Nedler, Gregg Alexander, Gregory Darling, John Martin, Kristoffer Fogelmark, Martijn Garritsen and Michel Zitron. “”Lucky Ones” is the realization of how lucky we really are,” Lennon told SPIN. “We are faced with being on a beautiful planet, in a beautiful world and have the opportunity to have the most incredible of lives. Unfortunately, there are some negativities in this world, which I don’t think will ever go away. But, we must embrace the good and we must embrace it on such a level that we can share it with people, so that love spreads around the world and we can all “Imagine a world without war.””

The last track I’d like to call out is Stay, which Lennon penned together with yet another writer, Peter-John Vettese. Of course, one has to keep in mind Jude includes songs that were written over a long period of time.

I’d like to touch on two additional things. First, the album’s title, an obvious nod to Hey Jude, which Paul McCartney had penned in 1968 to comfort then-5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation. Originally written as “Hey Jules,” McCartney changed the title to Hey Jude since he felt it sounded better. 

“Calling the album Jude was very much a coming of age,” Lennon explained to Smashing Interviews Magazine. “A lot of people really don’t understand that may have been a great song, a great chanting song, a favorite Beatles song, but it’s a harsh reminder of what actually happened in my life, which was that my Father walked out on my Mother and me. I barely saw him at all before he was taken away. That was a truly, truly difficult time…It’s all about having understood what that was all about, coming to terms with that, coming to terms with me and who I am today and what that means not only for everybody else but for me, too.”

And then there’s also that captivating photo of young Julian on the album cover. “I remember at that point [when the photo was taken – CMM] Dad was seeing May Pang and May Pang and my mother were trying to get Dad and I to spend more time together,” Lennon pointed out to SPIN“It was taken in Disney World in 1974 after Christmas that year. It was just a moment where I looked like I was in another world, where all around was a blur. I guess because although I was happy to see dad again, it was a weird and unique situation not having seen him for years, to finally be with him again. The biggest question for me at this time, was “How long is this going to last?” or “Is he going to disappear again?” I think that’s predominately what the look on my face represents. It’s one big question.”

Jude is a mature pop album by a versatile artist who after nearly 40 years into his career finally appears to be fully comfortable in his own skin. The album appears on BMG. In March, Lennon announced he had signed a new global recordings agreement with that label. Jude was co-produced by Lennon and Justin Clayton, the lead guitarist of Lennon’s backing band who has played on most of his albums.

The final word shall belong to Lennon: “I feel very much that I am my own man, and I’ve built a very serious working foundation on many, many levels, and that cannot be taken away from me,” he told Smashing Interviews Magazine. “So some people think I’ve been a hermit, but no, I’ve just not been on the camera in front of everything. That’s not a place I actually like to be really. I could be there sometimes to do certain things, but for the most part, let me be behind the camera. I’m happiest behind the scenes on most of the things that I do. I just try to be me these days, and that’s part of who I am.”

Here’s a link to the album on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; Smashing Interviews Magazine; Julian Lennon website; SPIN; YouTube; Spotify

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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. All highlighted tunes appear on albums that came out yesterday (Sep 9).

Flogging Molly/Lead The Way

Irish-American Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, founded in 1997, are kicking off this week’s new music revue. I had only heard of their name but hadn’t been aware of their music. From their AllMusic bio: Los Angeles-based seven-piece Flogging Molly are an interesting mix of traditional Irish music and spunky punk rock. Former Fastway acoustic guitarist/frontman and Dublin native Dave King formed the band with fiddle player Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion player (and former pro skateboarder) Matt Hensley, bassist Nathen Maxwell, drummer George Schwindt, and mandolinist Bob Schmidt…Their rowdy folk-rock punk revival sound has been compared to the likes of other Irish bands such as the Pogues and Black 47, but the raucous septet opted for its own unique brashness that defied genre lines. Flogging Molly’s debut studio album Swagger was released in March 2000. The band’s international breakthrough came in March 2008 with their fourth album Float. In the U.S. it peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and charted within the top 50 in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. Lead The Way, credited to Maxwell, Regan, King, Casey and Hensley, is from the group’s seventh and latest album Anthem. I love the combination of Irish folk music and rock, which in addition to The Pogues reminds me of Dropkick Murphys.

The Afghan Whigs/A Line Of Shots

The Afghan Whigs are a rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio. Initially formed in late 1986 by Greg Dulli (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick McCollum (lead guitar), John Curley (bass) and Steve Earle (drums) (no relation to the “other” Steve Earle), the group released six albums until their breakup in 2001. A first reunion in 2006 was short-lived and led to the release of two new tracks that were included on a compilation titled Unbreakable: A Retrospective 1990–2006. The Afghan Wigs came together again in December 2011 and have since released three additional albums including their new one How Do You Burn? Dulli and Curley remain in the band’s current lineup, which also includes Rick Nelson (keyboards, strings, guitar, backing vocals), Christopher Thorn (guitar) and Patrick Keeler (drums). Here’s A Line Of Shots, a track off the group’s new album, penned by Dulli. Nice tune!

The Amazons/Bloodrush

The Amazons are a British rock band formed in 2014. From their Apple Music profile: Playing an arena-sized brand of indie that combines the grandeur of Arcade Fire with the muscle of Nirvana, the Amazons crafted catchy, melodic anthems built for singalongs. At the time of their formation, vocalist Matt Thomson, guitarist Chris Alderton, and bassist Elliot Briggs were already in a group together, but when they recruited Josef “Joe” Emmet — who is also a bassist — on drums, the Reading band was born. Building a grassroots following in their local scene, Thomson, then working at a supermarket, would slip demo CDs into shoppers’ baskets. Their debut EP, 2015’s Don’t You Wanna, was produced by Catherine Marks, who’d previously worked with Wolf Alice and White Lies. In May 2017, The Amazons released their eponymous debut album, which was an instant success in the UK on the Official Albums Chart where it reached no. 8. Two years later, sophomore release Future Dust followed. Once again, it made the top 10 in the UK charts, peaking at no. 9. Bloodrush is a tune from the band’s third and latest album How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? This is great melodic indie rock!

Julian Lennon/Save Me

My last pick for this week is another tune from Julian Lennon’s new album Jude, which is now out. Back in July, I featured Breathe, one of the tracks that had been released upfront. Jude is Lennon’s seventh studio album and his first in 11 years. The title is a nod to the legendary song ‘Hey Jude,’ by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney to comfort 5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation, according to an announcement on Lennon’s website. “Many of these songs have been in the works for several years, so it almost feels like a coming-of-age album,” said Lennon. With great respect for the overwhelming significance of the song written for me, the title JUDE conveys the very real journey of my life that these tracks represent.” Until I learned about Jude a few months ago, I hadn’t thought we would see new music from Lennon, given his other activities over the past 20-plus years, including photography, publishing children’s books and producing film documentaries. Here’s the opener Save Me, co-written by Gregory Darling and Lennon. I really like what I’m hearing here and look forward to checking out the rest of the album!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Julian Lennon website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New. While the first two tracks are included in releases that came out yesterday (July 15), the two remaining tunes are picks from upcoming albums. Let’s get to it.

Interpol/Renegade Hearts

Interpol are an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1997. Apple Music calls them a key player in the 2000s post-punk revival with a dark, atmospheric sound that’s influenced such successors as The Killers. Here’s a bit more from their profile: BBC Radio 1 host John Peel liked their demo and asked them to record a session for his show, leading to a deal with Matador Records. Interpol’s debut LP, 2002’s Turn On the Bright Lights, was named one of the top albums of the decade by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. In 2004, the band had their first Top 20 US hit, “Slow Hands”…Their major-label debut, 2007’s Our Love to Admire, was their biggest chart success, debuting in the Top 5 in both the US and the UK. The band’s current lineup includes co-founders Paul Banks (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass) and Daniel Kessler (lead guitar, piano, keyboards, backing vocals), as well as Sam Fogarino (drums, percussion). Renegade Hearts, credited to all three members, is a track from Interpol’s seventh and new studio album The Other Side of Make-Believe.

Zach Bryan/Oklahoma Smoke Show

Zach Bryan is a talented red dirt country singer-songwriter I featured in previous Best of What’s New installments here and here. Red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Two additional full-length studio albums have appeared since, including an ambitious 34-track triple album that just came out in May. Oklahoma Smoke Show is a song from Bryan’s latest release, Summertime Blues, an EP.

Marcus King/Blood On The Tracks

Marcus King is another great artist who I’m happy to say I covered on previous occasions here and here. From the 26-year-old’s website: GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, performer, and songwriter Marcus King was downright destined to play music. By eight-years-old, the fourth generation Greenville, SC native performed alongside pops, grandpa, and his uncles for the first time. Logging thousands of miles on the road as “The Marcus King Band,” he established himself with unparalleled performance prowess and a dynamic live show. During 2020, he linked up with Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] and cut his solo debut El Dorado, garnering a GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album.” In between packing venues on his own, he performed alongside Chris Stapleton, Greta Van Fleet, and Nathanial Rateliff in addition to gracing the bills of Stagecoach and more with one seismic show after the next. Along the way, he caught the attention of Rick Rubin and signed to American Recordings. Here’s Blood On The Tracks from King’s second solo album Young Blood, scheduled for August 26. His debut on American Recordings will be produced by Auerbach, who also co-wrote the tune with King and Desmond Child. Love this song and really looking forward to the album!

Julian Lennon/Breathe

I’d like to wrap up this week’s new music revue with an artist I thought essentially had retired from music. After all, Julian Lennon has become involved in many other endeavors over the past 20-plus years, including photography, publishing children’s books and producing film documentaries. His 1984 debut album Valotte was great. While I selfishly loved that the title track could have been a John Lennon ballad, I think it was smart for Julian to subsequently record songs that sounded different from his father. After his 1991 single Saltwater, his last more significant chart success, he kind of fell off my radar screen. On September 9, Julian Lennon will be back with Jude, his first new album in 11 years. The title is a nod to the legendary song ‘Hey Jude,’ by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney to comfort 5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation, according to an announcement on Lennon’s website. “Many of these songs have been in the works for several years, so it almost feels like a coming-of-age album,” said Lennon. With great respect for the overwhelming significance of the song written for me, the title JUDE conveys the very real journey of my life that these tracks represent.” Here’s Breathe co-written by Lennon and Peter-John Vettese.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Julian Lennon website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Frankie Miller/The Rock

When Max from PowerPop blog recently posted about I Can’t Change It by Frankie Miller, I was immediately intrigued by the Scottish rock singer-songwriter’s soulful vocals. I also instantaneously recognized the name from an appearance on the German TV concert program Rockpalast I had watched in August 1982, though I still can’t remember any of the songs Miller performed during that show. Anyway, this is what prompted me to start listening to his music including his third studio album The Rock from September 1975.

Before getting to this gem, a few words about Miller are in order. He was born as Francis John Miller in Glasgow on November 2, 1949. Miller’s first exposure to music was his mother Cathy’s record collection. She particularly liked Ray Charles who interestingly ended up covering the above I Can’t Change It on his 1980 album Brother Ray Is at It Again, a song Miller had written as a 12-year-old and recorded for his debut album Once in a Blue Moon released in January 1973.

Going back to Miller’s childhood days, another music music influence were his older sisters Letty and Anne, who introduced him to Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Miller started writing his first songs at the age of nine after his parents had given him a guitar. While still being at school, he started singing in a series of bands. Eventually, he joined Glasgow outfit The Stoics. While Chrysalis signed them in 1970, the band broke up before making any recordings.

In 1971, Miller formed a band called Jude, together with former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, ex Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and James Dewar, a Glasgow bassist and vocalist. While the band got attention from the British music press, they dissolved in April 1972, also without recording any music. Miller ended up signing a contract with Chrysalis later that year and released his above debut album in January 1973.

Frankie Miller at Rockpalast, Germany, 1982

Until 1985, Miller recorded eight additional solo albums. After his second-to-last solo release Standing on the Edge from 1982, he mostly focused on songwriting, including film music. Miller’s professional career came to a tragic end in August 1994 when he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage while writing music for a new band he and Joe Walsh had formed with English keyboarder and drummer Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace, respectively.

According to a bio on Miller’s website, the brain hemorrhage should have killed him but he has shown remarkable courage to claw his way slowly back to health, after spending 15 months in hospital. With massive support from his partner Annette, Frankie is learning to walk and talk again and has even written a new song with lyricist Will Jennings called “Sun Goes Up Sun Goes Down”. But sadly, Miller has not been able to resume performing.

The Rock back cover

While Miller’s records apparently received positive reviews, they were not commercially successful. His singles did not fare much better. Only two of them reached the top 40 in the UK: Be Good to Yourself from May 1977 (no. 27) and Darlin’ from October 1978 (no. 6). Miller’s songs have won writing awards and been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Seger, Roy Orbison, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Joe Walsh and Eagles.

Time to get to The Rock, Miller’s only album officially credited to the The Frankie Miller Band. All tracks were written by Miller. Here’s the excellent opener A Fool in Love. Like other tunes on the album, it reminds me of Joe Cocker. The song was actually covered by Etta James on her 1990 album Stickin’ to My Guns.

The title track was inspired by the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, which could be seen from the studio where the album was recorded. According to Wikipedia, Miller said that music saved him from prison. He dedicated the song to the plight of prisoners, apparently a reference to his second cousin Jimmy Boyle, a Scottish former gangster and convicted murderer who became a sculptor and novelist after his release from prison in October 1981. The Rock has got a cool Faces, early Rod Stewart vibe.

Another gem is Ain’t Got No Money. It’s probably not a coincidence that it became the album’s most covered tune, including by artists like Cher, Chris Farlowe and Bob Seger. Frankly, this would be a great song for The Rolling Stones.

Let’s slow things down with All My Love to You, a dynamite soulful tune. Why this didn’t become a hit beats me. Check it out this beauty!

Frankly, there’s no weak track on this album and I could have selected any other. Let’s do one one more: I’m Old Enough.

The Rock was produced by Elliot Mazer, one of the co-producers of Neil Young’s Harvest album. Musicians included Henry McCullough (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mick Weaver (keyboards), Chrissy Stewart (bass), Stu Perry (drums, percussion) and Miller’s former Jude mate James Dewar. The album also featured two ingredients for shaping its soul sound: The Memphis Horns and The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Sources: Wikipedia; Frankie Miller website; YouTube