Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again. With a four-day get-away from home, somehow, this week felt even shorter than usual. All picks in this latest Best of What’s New installment appear on albums that came out yesterday (April 29).

Bloc Party/Day Drinker

Kicking things off today are English alternative rock band Bloc Party. According to their Apple Music profile, the group began in 1999, when Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack decided to form a band inspired by their love of Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Pixies, and DJ Shadow. They landed their big break when Okereke got the demo of “She’s Hearing Voices” to BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, who played it on his show. During the band’s formative years, Okereke studied English Literature at King’s College London but dropped out after Bloc Party signed with Wichita Recordings. Silent Alarm [their 2005 debut album – CMM] was nominated for Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize and was named Album of the Year by NME. Their sophomore album, A Weekend in the City, hit No. 12 on the US charts and made the Top 10 in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand. In addition to co-founders Okereke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Lissack (lead guitar, keyboards), Bloc Party’s current lineup includes Justin Harris (bass, backing vocals, synthesizer, glockenspiel, saxophone) and Louise Bartle (drums, percussion, backing vocals), who each joined the band in 2015. Here’s Day Drinker, the opener of Bloc Party’s sixth and new studio album Alpha Games. Even though it’s not in my core wheelhouse, I find this tune pretty catchy.

Willie Nelson/Live Every Day

I trust Willie Nelson, who has been active for 65-plus years, doesn’t need an introduction. Yesterday, the American country legend turned 88 years and released his 72nd solo record A Beautiful Time, featuring original songs, as well as covers by The Beatles and Leonard Cohen, among others. The record comes only five months after The Willie Nelson Family, a collaborative album by Nelson, his sons Lucas and Micah, his daughters Paula and Amy and his sister Bobbie Nelson. Live Every Day, co-written by Nelson and Buddy Cannon who produced the album with Nelson, offers some smart advice and shows Nelson in admirable shape: Live every day like it was your last one/And one day you’re gonna be right/Treat everyone like you wanna be treated/See how that changes your life…

The Head and the Heart/Every Shade of Blue

The Head and the Heart combine pop with indie-folk and Americana. Founding members Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion), Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, guitar, vocals), Kenny Hensley (piano), Chris Zasche (bass) and Tyler Williams (drums) met through a series of open mic nights at a local club in Seattle in the summer of 2009. After their well-received self-released and self-distributed eponymous debut album, the band signed with Sub Pop in November 2010. The label remastered and expanded the album and re-released it in January 2011. Johnson left shortly after the group’s third album Signs of Light had come out in September 2016 and was replaced by Matt Gervais (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards). Every Shade of Blue, credited to Casey Smith, Jesse Shatkin, Nate Cyphert, Samuel Dent and the entire band, is the title track of the group’s fifth and latest album.

Trombone Shorty/Good Company

My last new music pick for this week is by New Orleans-based Trombone Shorty who is best known as a trombone and trumpet player. Born Troy Andrews, he has worked with some of the biggest names in rock, pop, jazz, funk and hip hop. To give you a flavor of the 36-year-old’s career, already at the age of four, Andrews appeared on stage with Bo Diddley at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. By the age of six, he became the leader of a brass parade band. In 2005 when he was 19 years old, he toured around the world with Lenny Kravitz as a member of his horn section. Since 2002 Andrews has also released numerous albums, both as a bandleader and as a sideman. This brings me to Lifted, which according to his website, is Trombone Shorty’s second release for Blue Note Records [and his 12th recording as a bandleader, based on WikipediaCMM]. Apple Music categorizes the album as jazz, but it’s also pop, funk and soul. Here’s the groovy closer Good Company, co-written by Andrews, Chris Seefried and Cobi Mike.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list with the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Trombone Shorty website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

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

Melissa Aldana/12 Stars

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

Johnny Burke/Hold On

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

Guided By Voices/Eye City

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

The Weather Station/Marsh

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

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs/Wicked Man

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

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


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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Watch

This is another post I can blame on my streaming music provider. When I saw Watch by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band pop up as a listening suggestion the other day, I immediately recalled how much I dug that album as a teenager back in Germany. As such, I was curious to find out whether my opinion had changed since then and gave Watch another “spin.” Turns out I still like it!

Released in February 1978, Watch was the eighth album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own the same copy to this day. The band and that particular record were very popular in Germany. Two of its tracks – Davy’s On the Road Again and Mighty Quinn – received heavy radio play. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Watch peaked at no. 3 in West-Germany and remained in the charts for an impressive 69 weeks.

Wikipedia also notes that Watch was the last album with Earth Band co-founding member and original drummer Chris Slade. Slade has played in many other bands, most notably AC/DC from late 1989 until 1993. He also joined them for their Rock or Bust tour in 2015 and 2016, and has appeared in the band’s promotional materials thereafter. His current status is unclear, given the reported possible return of Phil Rudd.

Watch also marked the first album with Pat King on bass. He’s a great bassist, which frankly I had not fully appreciated until I listened to the record again. King stayed with the Earth Band until 1982. Interestingly, from 1991 until his retirement in 2013, King was the band’s lighting designer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Drowning On Dry Land/Fish Soup. Drowning On Dry Land is credited to Chris Slade, while Fish Soup was co-written by Earth Band lead guitarist David Flett and Manfred Mann (keyboards, backing vocals). The tune definitely cannot hide its ’70s sound, but I think it’s cool and a great example of King’s melodic bass lines. Here’s the official video from Mann’s YouTube channel.

California wraps up the A-side in the album’s vinyl version. The tune was written by Sue Vickers, who according to Discogs was married to Mike Vickers, a member of Manfred Mann, Mann’s band from 1962 until 1969, which had a string of hits in the U.K., including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Mighty Quinn. Mann subsequently formed experimental jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three and, following their break-up, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. California is another beautiful example of King’s melodic bass playing.

Here’s the aforementioned Davy’s On the Road Again, a classic, and the first song of the B-side. That tune, the first of two live tracks on the record, was co-written by John Simon and Robbie Robertson. Simon is primarily known as a producer in the ’60s and ’70s and his work for artists like The Band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Robertson, of course, was The Band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter. Here’s the official video of Davy’s from Mann’s YouTube channel, which features nice live footage. And for the gear geeks, you can nicely see a Moog synthesizer in action! 🙂

Let’s wrap things up with the record’s final tune, The Mighty Quinn, the second live track on the album. Written by Bob Dylan and originally titled Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), it was Mann’s recording that was released first as Mighty Quinn in January 1968. The Earth Band turned the initial folk rock version into a more edgy rock song. Dylan originally recorded the tune during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. His first official release of the song was on his 1970 studio album Self Portrait.

In addition to Mann, Flett, King and Slade, the Earth Band’s core line-up on Watch also featured Chris Hamlet Thompson (lead vocals, guitar). Supporting the band on backing vocals were Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter, Stevie Lange, Victy Silva and Kim Goddy. The album credits list Manfred Mann and Earth Band as producer.

Watch had much better chart success in Europe and New Zealand than elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned performance in Germany, the album also placed in the top 10 in Norway (no. 2) and Sweden (no. 9), and climbed to no. 33 in the U.K. In New Zealand the record peaked at no. 29, while in the U.S. and Canada, it only reached no. 83 and no. 85, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Steve Forbert Releases New Album Early Morning Rain

Collection features 11 covers of singer-songwriter’s favorite tunes by Gordon Lightfoot, Elton John, Ray Davies, Leonard Cohen and other artists

While I’ve heard of Steve Forbert before, included one of his songs in my previous Best of What’s New installment and some fellow music bloggers I follow have covered him, I still feel I know next to nothing about this longtime American singer-songwriter. But here’s one thing I know for sure: I dig Early Morning Rain, Forbert’s first covers album in a 40-plus-year career, which came out today.

Forbert was born on December 13, 1954 in Meridian, Miss. He started writing songs as a 17-year-old and moved to New York City in 1976. He became a street performer in Greenwich Village and soon started playing CBGB and other local clubs. In 1978, Forbert got a record contract with Nemperor and later that year released his debut album Alive on Arrival. The record was well-received, and some critics were quick to call him “the new Dylan,” a label Forbert dismissed as a cliche.

His sophomore album Jackrabbit Slim from 1979 included Romeo’s Tune, which also was released separately as a single and became what essentially has been his only hit to date. In the U.S., the tune climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in other countries, including Canada where it peaked at no. 8, as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I don’t recall hearing the song on the radio in Germany back then.

Steve Forbert

Forbert’s songs have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Keith Urban, Rosanne Cash, Marty Stuart and John Popper. In 2004, his album Any Old Time, a tribute to Jimmy Rodgers, was nominated for a Grammy in the category of “Best Traditional Folk.” In 2006, Forbert was inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame, and just earlier this year, he received a 2020 Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Music from that state. But it seems to me all this recognition hasn’t translated much into chart or other commercial success for Forbert.

Early Morning Rain is Forbert’s 21st studio album. The tracks represent what he calls 11 of his favorite folk-rock songs. Artists he covers include Gordon Lightfoot, Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Ray Davies – quite an interesting group. Forbert told American Songwriter he made his choices from an initial list of 150 tracks. So why does this album speak to me? To start with, I love the warm sound. I also like how Forbert approached the songs and made them his own. While his voice is distinct and certainly not exactly opera quality, I think it greatly matches the song arrangements.

Let’s get to some music. Since on YouTube you currently cannot access clips unless you’re a premium subscriber, following are links to the album on Soundcloud and Spotify. Hope that at least one of these platforms will work for readers. If you have Apple Music, you also can get it there.

While I think it’s worthwhile listening to the entire album, I’d like to call out some of the tunes. The opener and title track Early Morning Rain was written by Gordon Lightfoot. It appeared on his debut album Lightfoot! from January 1966. The beautiful steel guitar fill-ins that according to the credits listed in this review by Americana Highways were provided by Marc Muller, particularly stand out to me in this tune.

Your Song is one of my favorite Elton John tunes. Composed by John with lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, the track first appeared on John’s sophomore eponymous studio album released in April 1970. The backing vocals in Forbert’s version were provided by New Jersey singer-songwriter Emily Grove.

Pretty much all of the tunes on the album are on the quieter side. One exception is Supersonic Rocketship. Interestingly, Forbert’s take sounds more rock-oriented than the relatively mellow original by The Kinks. Written by Ray Davies, the track was included on the band’s 11th studio album Everybody’s in Show-Biz, which appeared in August 1972. Again, Grove features on backing vocals and nicely blends with Forbert.

Someday Soon is a country & western song by Ian Tyson written in 1964. The Canadian singer-songwriter recorded with his wife Sylvia Tyson as part of their duo Ian & Sylvia. It appeared on their third studio album Northern Journey. For this cover, Forbert is supported on backing vocals by Anthony Crawford, a singer-songwriter from Birmingham, Ala.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, a song I’ve dug for many years. Suzanne was first published as a poem in 1966 before it was recorded as a song by Judy Collins later that year. Cohen included it on his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen from December 1967. It also appeared separately as the lead single to that record.

In addition to Muller, Grove and Crawford, I like to acknowledge the other musicians listed in the credits: George Naha (electric guitar), Rob Clores (keyboards), Aaron Comess (drums), and John Conte and Richard Hammond (both bass). The album was produced, mixed and engineered by Steve Greenwell. Based on AllMusic, Greenwell also produced Forbert’s previous albums The Magic Tree (2018) and Compromised (2015).

“I’ve never done a cover record, and after 40 years, that’s a lot of pent up thinking,” Forbert told American Songwriter. “The point was to be able to really make a contribution. It’s not that much different from making an album of my own material. I wanted to pick things that hopefully fit like a glove…I do have a style and so like I’m presenting my style instead of playing out my heart and soul with original material.”

Given the large initial list of songs, Forbert also didn’t rule out the possibility of a sequel. Some of the tunes he mentioned in this context include Dance the Night Away (Cream), I Should Have Known Better (The Beatles), North Country Blues (Bob Dylan), Are You Lonesome Tonight (Elvis Presley) and Lather (Jefferson Airplane). As a fan, I’m delighted to see a Beatles tune, but I’d be even more curious to hear Forbert’s take on Dance the Night Away.

I realize there is a certain degree of irony that Forbert’s first record I explored more closely and decided to write about is a covers album. But I suppose you got to start somewhere, and Early Morning Rain is a new album I happened to know was coming out today. Plus, I’m definitely encouraged and certainly curious to listen to more of Fobert’s music.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Forbert website; American Songwriter; Americana Highways; AllMusic; YouTube