Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Sometimes it’s funny how things go. Even though my employer observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, as such, I was officially off on Monday, this week still felt very long. Finally, Saturday and another installment of my weekly new music feature are here. This time, my picks include three artists/bands who are entirely new to me and two I’m familiar with, especially one I’ve known since the ’80s. Except for the last tune, all tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (January 21).

Miles Kane/Change the Show

My first pick is Miles Kane, who is known as a solo artist and as a member of English supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. He also used to be the lead vocalist of English rock band The Rascals, who were active from 2007 until 2009 when Kane decided to launch a solo career. His Apple Music profile describes him as an artist with a “resonant croon and charismatic stage swagger” who is “known for his vintage ’60s- and ’70s-inspired rock sound.” Here’s more from Apple Music: Born in 1986 in Merseyside, Kane was an 18-year-old guitarist when he formed his first band Little Flames with childhood friends vocalist Eva Petersen, guitarist Mat Gregory, bassist Joe Edwards, and drummer Greg Mighall. However, after Petersen and Gregory left the band due to creative differences, Kane and the remaining members formed the Rascals with Kane taking on vocal duties...In 2011, he delivered his full-length solo debut, Colour of the Trap. This brings me to Change the Show, the title track of Kane’s new and fourth solo album. The tune was co-written by him and Jamie Biles – catchy pop/rock with a retro flavor.

Texas Hill/Heaven Down Here

Texas Hill are an alternative country trio founded in 2020. According to their website, Craig Wayne Boyd offers a voice full of gospel-tinged country smoke, Adam Wakefield blends a rootsy bluegrass-and-Americana rasp, and Casey James wraps it with a blue-eyed soul quality and deft blues guitar chops. [Casey James did ring a bell, and it turned out in June 2017, I covered his sophomore solo album Strip It Down.]…The Voice and American Idol worked in creating a fan base for all three...That connection helped forge Texas Hill. James and Boyd, who grew up 60 miles apart on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, ran into one another at a 2019 event in Nashville and dove into conversation…Roughly a month later, Boyd brought Wakefield into the musical conversation, and when the three of them met up, Boyd introduced a song he’d just written. In September 2020, Texas Hill released their eponymous debut EP. Heaven Down There, credited to all three members, is the title track of their first full-length album. Great country rock with beautiful harmony singing – the kind of music that makes me happy!

Keb’ Mo’/Good Strong Woman

Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Roosevelt Moore) probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. While typically characterized as a blues artist, the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter also integrates elements of pop and Americana into his music. I grew fond of Moore when he teamed up with Taj Mahal for their great 2017 “uplifting blues” collaboration album TajMo, which I reviewed here. I also saw the two later that same year during the tour that supported TajMo. Good Strong Woman, which features former Hootie & the Blowfish lead vocalist Darius Rucker, is a track from Keb’ Mo’s new album Good To Be…The soulful, country-flavored tune was co-written by Moore and Jason Gantt. This sounds really sweet! Here’s the official video.

Penny & Sparrow/Voodoo

Penny & Sparrow are an indie folk duo of Texas singer-songwriters Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke. According to their Apple Music profile, they rose out of Austin, Texas, in the early part of the 2010s, combining rich harmonies and a modern sensibility inspired by acts like Bon Iver, the Swell Season, and Mumford & Sons. After honing their sound with a few indie releases, they signed with Southern indie Single Lock Records and issued a trio of well-received albums including 2016’s Let a Lover Drown You and 2019’s Finch. Voodoo is a tune off Penny & Sparrow’s new album Olly Olly. Like all except one of the other 11 tracks on the record, it was co-written by Baxter and Jahnke. Sounds pretty!

Scorpions/Rock Believer

This brings me to my final pick, which comes from Scorpions. When I last featured the German rock/pop metal stalwarts in a Best of What’s New installment in May 2020, I referenced a statement by the group that noted they “are working on lot’s of Hard‘n Heavy Rockers for our new album these days.” That album, Rock Believer, is now in the can and scheduled for February 25. Here’s the title track, which was released on January 14 as the second upfront single of what will be the band’s 19th studio album. Scorpions were formed in 1965 in Hannover, Germany by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, who remains with the group to this day. The present line-up also features Klaus Meine (lead vocals, guitar; since 1969), Matthias Jabs (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals; since 1978), Paweł Mąciwoda (bass, backing vocals; since 2003) and Mikkey Dee (drums; since 2016). Scorpions first entered my radar screen with their immensely successful 1984 album Love at First Sting. In general, I dig their melodic pop metal, though whether I want to listen to it also depends on my mood, which I think applies to most other music as well.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Texas Hill website; Scorpions website; YouTube; Spotify

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Playing for Change – Reimaging a World Connected by Music

The other day, I came across an amazing video clip featuring Robbie Robertson and a bunch of well-known and to me unknown, yet pretty talented other musicians from all over the world, playing The Weight, one of my favorite tunes by The Band. At first, I only paid attention to their great version of the iconic song and ignored the chiron at the beginning and the end of the clip that notes “Playing for Change.” Then, I noticed other video clips on YouTube, which were also put together by Playing for Change. Finally, I got curious. Who or what is Playing for Change?

It didn’t take long to find their website, which describes their story as follows: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music… Playing For Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

PFC Co-Founders
PFC co-founders Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke

In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” Roger had so much soul and conviction in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing “Stand By Me” as a Song Around the World. Roger agreed, and when Mark returned with recording equipment and cameras he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger replied, “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.” Ever since that day the Playing For Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.

Creating Songs Around the World inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey and form the Playing For Change Band. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language. Songs Around The World The PFC Band is now touring the world and spreading the message of love and hope to audiences everywhere.

I realize the above may embellish things a bit; still, PFC sounds like an intriguing concept. They also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded through donations and supports arts and music programs for children around the world. Based on the foundation’s website, it looks like a legitimate organization. That being said, this isn’t an endorsement. Let’s get back to what originally brought me here – recorded musicians all over the world performing the same song and everything being neatly put together in pretty compelling video clips. Before getting to the above mentioned Robbie Roberson clip, let’s take a look at some of PFC’s other videos.

Walking Blues (Son House)

Walking Blues was written and first recorded by delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other blues musicians recorded their own versions. This clip features Kevin Roosevelt Moore, aka Keb’ Mo’, along with other musicians from Argentina, South Africa, Spain and Morocco. Apparently, the clip was put together in honor of Johnson’s birthday. Check it out!

Soul Rebel (Bob Marley)

Written by Bob Marley, Soul Rebel is the opener to Soul Rebels, the second studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which appeared in December 1970. This clip features Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Wailers, French guitarist Manu Chao and Jamaican reggae singer Bushman, along with other musicians from Jamaica, Spain, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina and the U.S. Feel free to groove along!

Listen to the Music (Tom Johnston)

Listen to the Music is a classic by The Doobie Brothers from their second studio album Toulouse Street released in July 1972. It was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, one of the band’s founding members. Apart from Johnston and fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the clip features other musicians from Venezuela, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Japan, Argentina, Senegal, Congo, South Africa and the U.S., including a gospel choir from Mississippi. This is just a joy to watch!

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

While perhaps best known by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan. He first recorded it for John Wesley Harding, his eighth studio album from December 1967. Check out this riveting take featuring Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, John Densmore of The Doors and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, along with other musicians from Italy, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Niger, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali and the U.S. The latter include singers and dancers from the Lakota, a native American tribe that is part of the Great Sioux Nation. This is just mind-boggling to watch!

The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

And finally, here comes the crown jewel that inspired the post: The Weight written by Robbie Robertson, and first recorded for the debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink, released in July 1968. This clip was co-produced by PFC co-founder Mark Johnson and Robbie’s son Sebastian Johnson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song. And it’s quite a star-studded affair: In addition to Robertson, the clip features Ringo Starr, blues guitarist Marcus King, roots rockers Larkin Poe and country-rock guitarist Lucas Nelson, along with other musicians from Italy, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal and Jamaica – what a beautiful tribute to this great tune. Just watch the smile on Robertson’s face at the end. He knows how figgin’ awesome this came out – priceless!

PFC clearly has their go-to musicians in each country, and they’re not hobby musicians. Based on PFC’s website, all musicians are professionals who appear to be recognized within their countries. While as such one could argue PFC doesn’t seem to use amateur/ hobby musicians, it doesn’t take away anything of the concept’s beauty, in my view. Most of their videos capture songs performed by individual artists from different countries or by the PFC band. But it’s the song-around-the-world videos I find most impressive. You can watch all of PFC’s clips on their YouTube channel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Playing For Change website; Playing for Change Foundation website; YouTube

Keb’ Mo’ Releases Roots-Oriented Album Oklahoma

Keb’ Mo’ fully entered my radar screen only two years ago with TajMo, a collaboration album with Taj Mahal and one of my favorite new records from 2017. My fondness for Mo’ grew further when I saw him together with Mahal during the TajMo supporting tour, one of the greatest shows I’ve been to in recent years. Perhaps not surprisingly, I was full of anticipation about Mo’s new album Oklahoma, which appeared yesterday. Let me say this right upfront: It’s very different from TajMo, but after having listened to the 10 tracks for a few times, I like it and with every additional run-through, I like it even better.

Typically, the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter whose real name is Kevin Roosevelt Moore, is characterized as a blues artist. But based on my understanding, Mo’ has frequently ventured beyond the blues into other styles like R&B, Americana and roots music. While Oklahoma has some bluesy moments, it primarily falls into the Americana/roots genre.

Keb' Mo' & Dara Tucker
Dara Tucker & Keb’ Mo’

According to Mo’s website, the inspiration for the album’s title track came to Mo’ after he had visited the state for a benefit show in the aftermath of a tornado and seen all the destruction. But it wasn’t until he met American vocalist and Oklahoma native Dara Tucker that the idea of making an album focused on The Sooner State was born. As Mo’s website puts its, Together, they set about to portray the complicated depth of American history played out in her home state. Native American connection and tragedy, natural and man made disasters, incredible musicians and the Tulsa Sound, and western ruggedness and fortitude are all themes.

Initially, Mo’ had set out to make an acoustic solo album, and it wasn’t supposed to be called Oklahoma. “I just wanted some good songs, like I always do—I wanted 10 really good, authentic songs,” Mo told Blues Rock Review. “I had this idea about Oklahoma, and I was like, ‘Oh god, Oklahoma—that’s just crazy. That has nothing to do with me.’ I had a writing session with a writer I’d never written with, Dara Tucker. I said, ‘Where are you from?’ She says, “Oklahoma.” I go, ‘Okay—there might be something with this Oklahoma idea. Let’s just write this idea; I don’t know what’s going to come of it.'”

Well, let’s find out! Here’s the title track co-written by Mo’ and Tucker. The tune features great lap steel guitar playing by Robert Randolph.

Put A Woman In Charge features singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash. The track was co-written by Mo’, John Lewis Parker and Beth Nielsen Chapman. “That was supposed to be a stand-alone single, but I loved the way it turned out, so I had to put it on the album,” Mo’ noted on his website. “I’d never worked with Rosanne before, but somebody suggested that she might like it. She said yes, and she put down her part, and it was just so badass.” The message of the groovy tune is pretty clear. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics.

Way back when/In the beginning of time/Man made the fire then the wheel/Went from a horse to an automobile

He said “the world is mine”/He took the oceans and the sky/He set the borders – build the walls/He won’t stop till he owns it all

And here we are/Standing on the brink of disaster/Enough is enough is enough is enough/I know the answer

Put a woman in charge/Put a woman in charge/Put a woman in charge/Put a woman in charge…

Since I previously wrote about This Is My Home, one of my favorite tunes on Oklahoma, I’m skipping it here and jump right to Don’t Throw It Away. Co-written by Mo, Charles Esten and Colin Linden, Mo’s friend and the album’s primary producer, with Mo’ co-producing, the bluesy tune about the virtues of recycling features Taj Mahal and is the closest it gets to TajMo.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Ridin’ On A Train, another bluesy tune co-written by Mo’ and Jenny Yates. The song only features Mo’ on vocals and resonator guitar and drummer Marcus Finnie.

Commenting on the album overall on his website, Mo’ said, “I’m more interested in pleasing myself, and making records that make me feel proud and make me feel like I’ve done my best. And if other people like it, that’s gravy.” He further pointed out, “When you are in a certain part of your life, the concept of an album is woven into the process. All of these songs stemmed from important issues and topics worldwide that really resonated with me during the time we were recording the project.”

Oklahoma appears on Concord Records. Mo’ dedicated the album to his late mother, Lauvella Cole, who passed away in September 2018 at the age of 91. Mo’ is currently on the road to support the record. After finishing a U.S. leg, he is headed overseas at the end of the month for a series of dates in Europe, lasting well into the second half July, before returning to the U.S. in late August after taking a break. The full schedule is on his website.

Sources: Wikipedia, Keb’ Mo’ website, Blues Rock Review, Glide Magazine, YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Keb’ Mo’/The Worst Is Yet To Come

Here’s a pretty cool tune from somebody I admire as an excellent musician and songwriter, who also seems to be a pretty regular person – not necessarily something you can say about other well-known music artists: The Worst Is Yet To Come by Kevin Roosevelt Moore, artistically known as Keb’ Mo’. Co-written by him, Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis, the song is the opening track of Mo’s 12th studio album BLUESAmericana from April 2014.

The fact I’m highlighting this tune at this time probably isn’t a coincidence. The lyrics seem to ring true in my life lately. I spare you the details other than saying it’s to the point where I’m waiting for the next “mini disaster” to happen and laughing out loud once it does. I don’t mean to trivialize and wish my recent misfortunes were comparable, but just before starting to write this post, I flipped a light switch and guess what happened: The last working bulb of my ceiling fan burst!

But you know what? There are so many people out there who are truly hurting. These days, some are forced to work without even getting a paycheck since the so-called leader of this country is having a tantrum. That’s bad! My recent challenges don’t even register by comparison. I’m glad to be alive, have a job for which I actually get paid, and be able to provide a safe home to my family. That’s all that matters. As for my “mini-catastrophes”? Fuck them!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube