If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Velvet Underground

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song challenge. Before I can head out to the imaginary island in the sun, I need to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly feature, there are a few additional rules that guide my picks. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the song selections in alphabetical order. This means the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter, which this week is “v”.

Frankly, even after doing a bit of research, I only found a handful of bands and music artists whose names start with “v”: Van Halen; Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven; Vangelis and The Velvet Underground. Of course, there’s also the great former Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but I’m not aware of any solo music that appeared under his name.

Applying my criteria, it came down to Vangelis or The Velvet Underground. And my pick is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground. While I’ve only heard a handful of the band’s tunes and as such, it was a bit of a tricky decision, I’m quite happy with my choice!

Penned by Lou Reed, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter, Sunday Morning was the opener of their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which appeared in March 1967. It featured German vocalist Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on three tracks, at the insistence of their manager Andy Warhol who co-produced the album with Tom Wilson. Earlier in the ’60s, Wilson had produced three of Bob Dylan’s albums as well as the debut by Simon & Garfunkel.

The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 in New York City. By the time they recorded their above-mentioned debut, their line-up included co-founders Lou Reed (vocal, guitar, piano), John Cale (viola, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sterling Morrison (guitar, bass, backing vocals), along with Moe Tucker (drums) who had replaced the band’s original percussionist Angus MacLise in late 1965.

By the early 1970s, Doug Yule who had joined The Velvet Underground in 1968 to replace John Cale, was the group’s only remaining member. While there was one more album released under The Velvet Underground name (Squeeze, February 1973), essentially it was a Yule solo album he recorded together with a few backing musicians. Yule subsequently did some session and touring work for Lou Reed who had left the band in 1970 to launch a solo career.

In 1992, The Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour featuring Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker. But it was short-lived and a discussed U.S. tour didn’t materialize when Cale and Reed fell out again – the old story of egos in rock & roll! In August 1995, Morrison passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 53. Reed, Tucker and Cale reformed the group one last time in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed died from liver disease in October 2013. He was 71. In 2017, Cale and Tucker came together at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert for a performance of I’m Waiting for the Man, a tune from The Velvet Underground’s first album. They remain the only survivors of the group’s original line-up.

Following are some additional tidbits on Sunday Morning from Songfacts:

Lou Reed wrote this on a Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Andy Warhol, who helped finance the album, suggested he write a song about the paranoia associated with the effects of a drug wearing off.

Reed wrote this for Nico but then decided not to let the German ex-model sing it. Instead he impersonated her himself.

The production on this song is more lavish than the other tracks on the album. It was intended for release as a single and they wanted to make it radio friendly...

…This song is all about last-minute changes. The inclusion of the track on their first album was literally penciled in, Reed decided to take over vocals at the last minute as they walked into the studio to record it, and John Cale noticed a celesta in the studio and decided to include the instrument for the song on the spot. Cale also played the viola on the song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six zigzag journey to the beautiful world of music, six tunes at a time. While writing about music typically makes me a happy camper, I always particularly look forward to putting together another installment of this weekly feature. As long as I dig the track, these posts can include any type of music. Not being limited to a particular album or specific theme feels very liberating. Let’s do it!

Clifford Brown and Max Roach/Sandu

Today, I’d like to start our little trip in 1956. Clifford Brown was an American jazz trumpeter and composer, who during only four years of recording left an impressive legacy. Sadly, he passed away in a car accident at the age of 25 en route to Chicago for a gig, along with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy Powell who was at the wheel when their car went off the road for unknown reasons. Max Roach, a pioneer of bebop, is regarded as one of the most important drummers in history. In 1954, the two musicians formed a quintet and over the next few years recorded a series of albums. One of them was Study In Brown, which included the great Brown composition Sandu. In addition to Brown, Roach and Powell, at the time, the quintet featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone) and George Morrow (double bass). My kind of music for a Sunday morning to get in the mood…

Bruce Springsteen/Bobby Jean

I trust Herr Springsteen doesn’t need an introduction. While I’ve covered The Boss multiple times since I started penning this blog in June 2016, based on a quick search, apparently, this is only the second time I feature Bruuuuuuuuce in The Sunday Six. With so many songs Bruce Springsteen has written over nearly six decades, it’s hard to pick one. I decided to go back to June 1984 and the album that brought the New Jersey rocker on my radar screen: Born in the U.S.A. One of the tunes I’ve always loved and think would have made a good single is Bobby Jean. The story about a guy who wants to visit somebody important to him only to find out the person left is “a good song about youthful friendship”, according to Springsteen, as noted by Songfacts. Apparently, the tune was written as a farewell message to E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions decided to leave to focus on his solo career. Of course, Little Steven has been back since 1999 and is set to join Bruce and the band for a 2023 international tour. Man, it just feels so good hearing the great Clarence Clemons blowing that saxophone – nobody did it quite like the big man!

Otis Redding/(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sweet soul music. And when it comes to that genre, nowadays, my first preference tends to be Stax – you know, the real good stuff! The Memphis soul label is associated with so many great artists like Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and Kim Weston. And, of course, Otis Redding, who by the time (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released as a single on January 8, 1968, had become the label’s biggest star. Sadly, he wasn’t able to witness the huge success of the tune, which became his only no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard Hot 100. Only three days earlier, Redding had died in a plane crash at the age of 26. The song, co-written by him and Steve Cropper, the guitarist of Stax killer house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, also became the de facto title track of Redding’s seventh studio album The Dock of the Bay, which he had finished recording two days prior to his untimely death. And, yep, you guessed it correctly, the record also became Redding’s most successful on the Billboard 200. Life can be so unfair!

Dwight Twilley Band/I’m On Fire

Going from Otis Redding to the Dwight Twilley Band does seem to be a leap. Who’s Dwight Twilley anyway? But you see, to borrow from a famous Tom Hanks movie, I’d like to think of The Sunday Six like a box of chocolate: You never know what you’re going to get! BTW, had you asked me about Twilley a couple of weeks ago, I would have drawn a blank. Then Spotify served up I’m On Fire as a listening suggestion. While it perhaps didn’t set me on fire, I quite liked how this catchy tune rocks. If you don’t know it, you should give it try. It turned out I’m On Fire, first released as a single in April 1975, is one of two U.S. top 20 singles Twilley is best known for, according to Wikipedia. The other one is called Girls (1984). I’m On Fire, written by Twilley, was also included on Sincerely, his debut album released as Dwight Twilley Band. The “band” really was a duo and in addition to Twilley (guitar, piano, lead and harmony vocals) only included his music partner Phil Seymour (drums, bass, percussion, lead and harmony vocals). They released a second studio album in 1977. Each subsequently recorded solo albums. Seymour also sang backing vocals on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ tunes American Girl and Breakdown. Twilley still seems to be around. Sadly, Seymour passed away from lymphoma at age 41 in August 1993.

Sonny Landreth/Congo Square

Time for a stop-over in the ’90s before heading to our final destination. If you’re into guitar-driven blues chances are you’ve heard of Sonny Landreth. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to check out this slide guitarist from Louisiana, who has been active for nearly 50 years and released close to 20 albums under his name. Given his talent, it’s not surprising he’s played with the likes of John Hiatt, John Mayall, Mark Knopfler, Gov’t Mule and Little Feat. Congo Square, which Landreth wrote together with Roy Melton and David Ranson, is a tasty tune from his fourth studio album South of I-10. Released in February 1995, the record marked the first time Landreth collaborated with Knopfler who played guitar on Congo Square and two other tunes. Cool stuff!

Dirty Honey/The Wire

Let’s go out with a great rocker: Gypsy by Dirty Honey. If you’re a frequent reader of the blog, you may recall me raving about this contemporary rock band from L.A., founded in 2017. I just love their classic rock sound, which reminds me of groups like AerosmithLed Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. To date, they have released a self-titled EP and debut album, as well as a bunch of singles. The Wire, credited to the band, is from their first album that came out in April 2021. It was also released separately as the third single. Dirty Honey aren’t reinventing classic rock, but this is kick ass and I love it – and that’s good enough for me!

This post wouldn’t be complete without an accompanying Spotify playlist. Hope you’ll find something here you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Little Steven Releases New Album Summer Of Sorcery

Van Zandt’s first studio record of new original material in 20 years features mighty backing band The Disciples of Soul

Steven Van Zandt is back in full force on Summer of Sorcery, and he’s pulling all the stops on what is his first album of new original music in 20 years. The launch activities include record release shows this evening in Los Angeles and next Wednesday in Asbury Park, N.J. Since yesterday afternoon, Van Zandt has also “taken over” SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26), where he presents vintage and classic rock tracks, as well as songs from the new album throughout the weekend. Moreover, Summer of Sorcery will be supported with an extended tour through Europe and North America.

Little Steven clearly has been reenergized as a solo artist since the May 2017 release of predecessor Soulfire and that record’s supporting tour, which was also captured on last April’s Soulfire Live! album. He cut down the time between solo record releases from almost 20 to two years – Born Again Savage, the album prior to Soulfire, came out in 1999. And why not? With Bruce Springsteen’s previous Broadway engagement and his upcoming solo album Western Stars, the timing has been perfect for the E Street Band guitarist to focus on his own music.

Little Steven Tour Banner

In many ways, Summer of Sorcery represents a continuation of Soulfire. On both albums, Little Steven is backed by the impressive 14-piece band The Disciples of Soul, and both releases represent a musical journey back to the ’60s and ’70s. If one music artist can pull this off, it is Van Zandt, who frequently showcases his encyclopedic knowledge of music history on his SiriusXM program Underground Garage. He also did so when I saw him and the Disciples in September 2017 during the Soulfire tour.

The key difference between the two records is that Summer of Sorcery features new original music, whereas Soulfire includes songs Van Zandt wrote or co-wrote throughout his career. Most of the tracks on Soulfire also did not appear under his name but were released by other artists, such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the band Van Zandt co-founded with John Lyon (“Southside Johnny”) in the mid-70s and whose first three albums he produced, and Gary U.S. Bonds. You can read more about Soulfire here. Time to get to some new music!

Here’s the opener Communion, a brassy soul rocker and one of the 10 original tunes on the album.

Next up perhaps is a bit of a surprise, at least from my perspective: a Latin song called Party Mambo! I asked my wife who is from Puerto Rico about the tune. She expressed some doubts that fellow Hispanics will like it. While it may not 100 percent authentic, I think it’s groovy.

Vortex throws in blaxploitation, a genre that Little Steven clearly seems to like. Soulfire features a cool cover of Down And Out In New York City, which James Brown first recorded for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. Unlike that tune, Vortex is an original, which sounds like an homage to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. When I’m listening to the tune, I can literally hear the backing vocalists in Shaft.

The title of the next track I’d like to call out pretty much says it all: Soul Power Twist. Another original, the soul horns-meet rock tune could have appeared on an album by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It has a Sam Cooke vibe to it.

How about some blues? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s I Visit The Blues.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track and closer. “The whole theme of the album is summed up in that song, that wizardry, that magic mixture of falling in love in the summer,” Van Zandt stated in a press release. With clocking in at over eight minutes, it’s perhaps not your typical love song.

“With this record I really wanted to travel back to a time when life was exciting, when unlimited possibilities were there every day,” Van Zandt further pointed out. “That was the feeling in the ’60s, the thrill of the unexpected coming at you. Our minds were blown every single day, one amazing thing after another, constantly lifting you up. So you kind of walked around six inches off the ground all the time, there was something that kept you buoyant in your spirit. I wanted to try and capture that first and foremost.”

Van Zandt seems to be a smart man, so I assume his above statement refers to the world of music, or he simply got carried away by excitement over his new album. The real world in America during the ’60s certainly was much more complicated, with racial segregation, the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War, to name some the events that happened during that period.

Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert (2017)

Summer of Sorcery, which was produced by Van Zandt and appears on Wicked Cool/UMe, is available on CD, digitally, and on vinyl as double LP on 180-gram black vinyl. There is also a limited edition double LP on 180-gram psychedelic swirl vinyl one can get exclusively via uDiscover. The album was mixed and mastered by veteran Bob Clearmountain, who has worked in various capacities with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Toto and many other top music artists.

In my opinion, Summer of Sorcery is a fun listening experience, even though it’s perhaps not quite as compelling as Soulfire. Like on that album, the production is a bit massive, but The Disciples of Soul are a hell of a band. Directionally speaking, I also agree with American Songwriter, which wrote the tracks “are often little more than revitalized riffs, melodies and rhythms of already existing songs retrofitted with new words and creative, even complex, rearrangements” – a little harsh, in my opinion. They added the album pulls out “all the stops to make this sonic smorgasbord explode out of the speakers with passion and clout.” I don’t think Van Zandt would claim the music represents anything new; in fact, I would argue it was his clear intention to pay homage to artists and music of the past, so the album’s retro sound isn’t surprising and doesn’t bother me.

As noted above, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul are going on the road. Following the above two album release gigs in the U.S., a 19-date European tour kicks off on May 16 in Liverpool, UK. Some of the other gigs include Berlin, Germany (May 28); Stockholm, Sweden (June 1); Brussels, Belgium (June 7) and Zurich, Switzerland (June 11), before that leg wraps up on June 23 in Paris, France. This is followed by 13 North American gigs, starting on June 29 in Syracuse, N.Y. and finishing on July 28 in Annapolis, Md. Then it’s back again to Europe until the beginning of September, before the band returns to North America with four shows in Las Vegas from September 5-8. There are plenty of additional dates during that second North American leg, including Tuscon, Ariz. (Sep 15); Austin, Texas (Sep 29); Birmingham, Ala. (Oct 3); Chicago (Oct 23); and New York City (Nov 6), the last listed gig. The current tour schedule is included in the above press release.

Sources: Wikipedia, UMe press release, Little Steven website, American Songwriter, YouTube

Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul/ Blues Is My Business

The other day, Soulfire Live! popped up in my music streaming service as a listening suggestion. The excellent live album by Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul, which came out in April this year and captures their 2017 tour, is right up my alley. One of my favorite tunes on this record is Blues Is My Business.

Co-written by Kevin Bowe and Kevin Cerney, the tune was first recorded by Etta James for her 2003 album Let’s Roll. The man with the bandana is a cool dude and The Disciples Of Soul are one freaking hell of a backing band. Watching the above footage, which apparently was captured only 10 days ago, makes me want to see them again.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Busy 2018 Music Journey Part 2: New Music & 2019 Preview

Part 1 of this 2-part series looked back on the concerts I was fortunate to catch this year. Another significant aspect of my 2018 journey was listening to music, both familiar and new. While most of the music that’s coming out these days isn’t my cup of tea, I still ended up reviewing 24 new releases this year. About half (13) are studio albums, while the remainder is a mix of reissues, vault type releases and live records. Even if you only consider the new studio releases, 13 albums over the course of one year, or an average of approximately one per month, isn’t so bad for somebody who almost entirely lives in the past when it comes to music.

From the above studio albums, I’d like to call out the following: John Mellencamp, Other People’s Stuff, Dec 7 (review); Greta Van Fleet, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, Oct 19 (review); Paul McCartney, Egypt Station, Sep 7 (review); Buddy Guy, The Blues Is Alive And Well, Jun 15 (review); Roger Daltrey, As Long As I Have You, June 1 (review); and Sting & Shaggy, 44/876, Apr 20 (review). Following are some clips.

Teardrops Will Fall, a ’60s tune co-written by Gerry Granaham and Marion Smith, was first recorded by John Mellencamp for his June 2003 album Trouble No More. But it actually sounds he could have taken the tune from his 1987 gem The Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp’s first record where he moved away from straight rock toward a more roots-oriented sound.

While Greta Van Fleet will probably need to find a more original style to ensure their longevity, selfishly, I can’t deny getting a kick out of their Led Zeppelin-style rock. The Cold Wind from their new album is a great example. I don’t know of any other band that sounds like the mighty early Zep. One thing is for sure: Robert Plant can no longer deliver vocals with this degree of intensity.

Egypt Station is Paul McCartney’s 17th solo study album. Here’s I Don’t Know, a classic McCartney piano-driven pop song. Yes, Macca’s voice has noticeably changed since New from October 2013, but I actually think it goes pretty well with his latest songs. Based on YouTube clips I’ve watched, I’m less sure about Beatles tunes. Many are in high keys and as such tough to sing, so Macca may have to make some adjustments.

Moving on to Buddy Guy, who at age 82 shows no signs of slowing down. One of the highlights of his latest record is Cognac, where he trades guitar licks with Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. If you’re a guitarist with basic blues skills, you just feel like grabbing your instrument and joining in!

As Long As I Have You is Roger Daltrey’s first solo album in close to 26 years. Here’s the excellent title track, a cover of a tune that initially was recorded by soul singer Garnet Mimms in 1964. The Who also played it in their early days.

Last but not least in the new studio album category is what at first sight may look like a somewhat odd pairing: Sting & Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy. But they actually blend quite well, and here’s some pretty groovy evidence: Just One Lifetime.

This year also saw various great reissues and songs from the vault type albums. The two releases I’d like to highlight here are the reissue of The Beatles’ White Album (review) and Songs For Judy, an excellent Neil Young compilation of live solo performances from his November 1976 tour with Crazy Horse (review).

To me the true revelation of the Beatles’ reissue are the so-called Esher Demos, early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the White Album. They were all recorded at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. Here’s the Esher demo of Revolution.

The song I’d like to call out from Neil Young’s recent vault release is The Needle And The Damage Done. It remains one of my favorite tunes from Harvest, Young’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1972.

I also would like to acknowledge two Jimi Hendrix releases: The reissue of Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Both Sides Of The Sky, the third in a trilogy of posthumous albums after Valleys Of Neptune  (2010) and People, Hell and Angels (2013).

The last category of 2018 albums I’d like to touch on are live releases. I already noted Neil Young’s record. Three others that deserve to be called out are Bruce Springsteen’s Springsteen On Broadway (review), Sheryl Crow’s Live At The Capitol Theatre (review) and Soulfire Live (review) by Little Steven and The Disciples of SoulSpringsteen On Broadway is one of the best new albums I’ve heard this year. While Bruce Springsteen as a great music performer wasn’t any news to me, I had not fully appreciated his compelling verbal story-telling capabilities. There’s a bit of that on the Live/1975-1985 box set where Springsteen talks about how he was drafted for Vietnam and that his dad was happy they didn’t take him. Springsteen on Broadway takes his story-telling to another level. In fact, Springsteen’s monologues that precede his songs are almost more compelling than the music performances. Here’s part 1 of the introduction to My Hometown.

Next up: Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy is one of my favorite Crow tunes from her eponymous second studio album released in September 1996. On the new live album, she starts off with another unidentified song I don’t recognize, before launching into Happy.

On to Little Steven. Soulfire Live captures his 2017 tour with The Disciples of Soul in support of his excellent Soulfire album, one of my favorite new records from that year. Among the live album’s highlights is a terrific cover of the Etta James tune Blues Is My Business. In addition to Steven demonstrating that he can be more than just a side-kick,  The Disciples of Soul prove what a terrific backing band they are.

So what’s in store for my music journey next year? On the concert front the only thing I can say for sure is I’m thrilled I got a ticket for The Rolling Stones on June 13 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It will only be my second time to see the Stones. Three other artists who are currently on my radar screen are John Mellencamp, John Mayall  and Paul McCartney.

Mellencamp has a series of gigs in New Jersey and New York at the end of February. I’d definitely enjoy seeing him again! Mayall has started booking dates in Europe for February and March. I’ve never been to one of his shows and hope he’ll add a U.S. leg to the tour that includes at least one logistically feasible concert. As for McCartney, his current tour schedule shows U.S. gigs between late May and mid-June. Unfortunately, none of them are within reasonable reach, so hopefully there will be additional dates closer to my location.

To frequent visitors of the blog it won’t come as a shock that I have every intention to continue seeing tribute bands. In fact, I already have a ticket for Neil Young tribute Decade for January 11 in Asbury Park, N.J., where they are going to recreate Young’s MTV Unplugged concert from 1993 – should be pretty cool! On February 23, I’m hoping to see Good Stuff, a great new tribute to Steely Dan, Gino Vannelli, Sting and Stevie Wonder. I’m planning to do more about these guys in the near future. Assuming the above British Invasion and Rock The Farm festivals will happen again in 2019, I certainly want to return to both events. Undoubtedly, there will also be plenty of other tribute opportunities.

2019 Outlook

Before finally wrapping up this post, I also would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the current status of the blog. I’m generally pretty happy where things stand at this time. Sticking with it wasn’t necessarily a given when I started out in late June 2016. While I’ve always emphasized I’m doing this because of my passion about the subject of music, not to become “famous,” I cannot deny that getting recognition in the form of comments, likes and followers is encouraging. I’m happy traffic has multiplied from 2017 and to date includes visitors from more than 70 countries.

I’d like to thank all readers, especially those who keep returning and leave comments. Apart from learning new stuff about music, feedback can also help me gain new perspectives. Whether you’re a fist-time visitor or one of the regulars, I’d like to wish you a great and peaceful Holiday season. And if you’re a fellow music blogger, to borrow creatively from Neil Young, keep on rockin’ in the blogosphere!

Christian

Rocking Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, Christian’s Music Musings, YouTube

Jackson Browne Still Strong And Far From Running On Empty

Vonda Shepard delivers soulful opening

Jackson Browne must have a secret, and I wanna know what it is. While the man supposedly has been running on empty for the past 40 years, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After I had heard the song for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late ’70s, Browne quickly became one of my favorite artists. Not surprisingly, I was really psyched when I finally saw him for the first time Sunday night at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pa.

After a 45-year-plus recording career, Browne’s voice still sounded just as great as it did back in the days of Running On Empty. Heck, he even largely looked the same with the same hairstyle – okay, now with grey hair and glasses, but overall, time has been relatively kind to Browne. And what an ace backing band! But let’s start from the beginning.

Jackson Browne Concert Poster

Have you ever been to a rock & roll show that started on time? I don’t recall any, but this one actually did! At 7:30 PM on the dot, Browne walked out on stage to personally introduce his opening act: American singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Frankly, I had never heard of her before. Browne called her a great songwriter who for sometime had been part of his band. Oh, and he also allowed her to use his current backing band – what a class act!

I have to say I was impressed with Shepard, who reminded a bit of Sheryl Crow. Her voice has a nice soulful vibe. She also is a musician, playing the piano, bass and guitar.  Shepard started out as a backing singer, eventually got a record contract, and released her eponymous debut album in 1989. After her third record had appeared in 1996, she was hired for the TV sitcom Ally McBeal, for which she recorded two companion soundtrack albums. She scored a hit with Searchin’ My Soul, a catchy pop rock tune she co-wrote with Paul Howard Gordon. To date Shepard has released 14 albums. Here is a clip of Searchin’ My Soul, which was the closer of her 25-minute set.

Then the time had finally come for Jackson Browne. From the opening bars of Before The Deluge to the final notes of the encore, I was amazed by Browne’s voice and his musicianship. With a 45-year-plus recording career, he certainly had an enormous catalog he could pull from and he did. I wasn’t familiar with all of the tunes he performed, but with the help of Setlist.fm, I figured out the entire set except for one song.

The first tune I’d like to call out is The Long Way Around, a track from Browne’s last studio album Standing In The Breach, which appeared in October 2014. One thing I liked about the song was the great solo by Browne’s lead guitarist Val McCallum, whose guitar work shined throughout the evening. I just dig the clear and transparent sound he got out of his Fender Telecaster. Here’s a nice clip.

Another highlight was Lives In The Balance, the title song from Browne’s eighth studio album released in February 1986. The stripped back version prominently featured his terrific backing vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, who added a dose of gospel and soul. Check it out.

Amid all his songs, Browne also threw in a cover of I’m A Patriot, a tune written by Little Steven for his second solo album Voice Of America from May 1984. Again, backing singers Mills and Stewart featured prominently in the laid back tune and did a beautiful job.

In addition to being a great songwriter and vocalist, Browne is a pretty decent guitarist. One standout in this context was Your Bright Baby Blues from his fourth studio album The Pretender released in November 1976. It featured some nice slide guitar work by Browne. You can watch it here.

Speaking of The Pretender, here is the great title track of the album. It was one of the tunes Browne played on the piano.

Running On Empty was the last track of the regular set. I still love this song after all these years. Greg Leisz did a beautiful job on pedal steel guitar. Like the amazing David Lindley, this guy is an impressive multi-instrumentalist.

Browne waited to the encore to play one of his other major hits: Take It Easy, which he co-wrote with Glenn Frey. It became the first single for the Eagles in May 1972. Browne included the tune on his sophomore album For Everyman, which came out in October 1973. On Sunday night, he blended it into Our Lady Of The Well, the second tune on that record. Leisz provided more beautiful pedal steel guitar. It’s all nicely captured in the following clip.

In addition to McCallum, Leisz, Mills and Stewart, Browne’s excellent backing band included Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums) and Jeff Young (keyboards). Here is the entire set list.

  • Regular
    • Before The Deluge
    • Some Bridges
    • You Love the Thunder
    • The Long Way Around
    • The Dreamer
    • Lives In The Balance
    • Doctor My Eyes
    • These Days
    • Shaky Town
    • Never Stop
    • I’m A Patriot
    • Somebody’s Baby
    • Looking East
    • Your Bright Baby Blues
    • World in Motion (together with Vonda Shepard)
    • Unknown song
    • I’m Alive
    • Sky Blue and Black
    • Shape of the Heart
    • The Pretender
    • Running on Empty
  • Encore:
    • Take It Easy
    • Our Lady Of The Well

Source: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

Little Steven Captures 2017 Tour In Great Live Album

“Soulfire Live!” is a journey through rock history

Today, I coincidentally came across this great new live album from Steven Van Zandt and his excellent Disciples Of Soul backing band in Apple Music. I had completely missed Soulfire Live! when it appeared on April 27 on digital platforms for streaming and downloading. According to an announcement, the “surprise release” came just before Little Steven and the band embarked on a new tour through the U.S. in late April, which will last through May and be followed by dates in Europe in late June and July.

Recorded at 2017 shows in Europe and North America, the 24-track collection features original tunes by Little Steven and covers. It includes various tracks from his excellent last studio album Soulfire from May 2017, his first new record in nearly 18 years and one of my favorite albums from last year. I previously wrote about it here. And since I really dig the music, I also decided to catch Little Steven and The Disciples at one of their U.S. gigs in September last year. I also had something to say about that show here.

Soulfire Live! nicely captures the concert atmosphere. At least as intriguing as the music are some of Little Steven’s announcements, during which he provides his perspective on music and shares anecdotes from the past, reminiscent to what he does on his excellent Underground Garage radio show. But the highlight of the talking undoubtedly is Mike Stoller, who the introduced the band at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles last October – yep, The Mike Stoller who together with Jerry Leiber wrote numerous legendary tunes for artists like Big Mama Thornton (Hound Dog), The Drifters (Fools Fall In Love), Ben E. King (Stand By Me) and of course Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Treat Me Nice, etc.).

Stoller notes he was an usher at the theatre 67 years ago until got into an argument with his boss and was fired. After that he says he decided to team up with his friend Jerry Leiber to write songs, dryly adding it worked out pretty good. Listen for yourself – it’s priceless!

On to some music. Here is one of my favorite covers from this collection, which also appeared on the Soulfire studio album: Blues Is My Business, a tune co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cerney and sung by Etta James on her 2003 blues record Let’s Roll. The band is just killing it!

One of the original Little Steven tunes is Angel Eyes, which he recorded for his 1982 solo debut record Men Without Women. That tune has a nice soul groove.

Standing In The Line Of Fire is another song by Little Steven. He wrote it for Gary U.S. Bonds, and it became the title track of a studio album Bonds released in September 1984. Little Steven also co-produced the record. I like the song’s Hank Marvin-style guitar intro.

Another superb cover is the blaxploitation tune Down And Out In New York City. It was written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, and recorded by James Brown for Black Caesar, a soundtrack album for the motion picture of the same name, which appeared in February 1973. The track was also included on Soulfire, though the live version is extended.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is another cover, Groovin’ Is Easy, by American blues rock and soul band The Electric Flag. The song was written by the band’s guitarist Nick Gravenites and appeared on their debut album A Long Time Comin’ from March 1968. Based on some of their music I’ve heard, I have to check out these guys more closely.

Soulfire Live! was produced and arranged by Van Zandt, and appears on his rock and roll label Wicked Cool Records. It was mixed by heavy hitter Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and The Who, among many others. The album will also become available on CD, Blu-ray and vinyl editions this summer.

Sources: Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) press release, NJArts.net, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part II

New music that moved me

Of the more than 20 albums I reviewed over the year, TajMo (Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’), Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter) and Southern Blood (Gregg Allman) touched me the most. There were new releases from younger artists in the blues rock arena I find exciting. If there is any truth to the often heard sentiment that (classic) rock music is dying, this certainly doesn’t seem to the case for blues and blues rock!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/TajMo (May 5)

Overall, TajMo represents uplifting blues, which sounds like an oxymoron. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” explained Mahal who has been known to mix blues with other music genres. From the very first moment I listened to it, this record drew me in, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it! You can read more about it here.

Here’s the fantastic opener Don’t Leave Me Here.

John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter/Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (April 28)

John Mellencamp is one of my long-time favorite artists. I know pretty much all of his albums. While I dig the straight rock-oriented music on his ’80s records like American Fool, Uh-Huh and Scarecrow, I’ve also come to appreciate his gradual embrace of stripped down roots-oriented music. That transition started with my favorite Mellencamp album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies probably is as rootsy as it gets for the Indiana rocker. For more on this outstanding record, you can read here.

Following is one of the album’s gems, Indigo Sunset, which Mellencamp performs together with Carlene Carter, who co-wrote the tune with him.

Gregg Allman/Southern Blood (Sep 8)

Southern Blood, the eighth and final studio album by the great Gregg Allman, is the 2017 release that touched me the most emotionally. Reminiscent of his 1973 debut solo release Laid Back, this album feels like Allman came full circle. Given how ill he was at the time he recorded the ten tracks, it is remarkable that the record doesn’t project an overly dark mood like David Bowie did on Blackstar. Instead, it portrays a man who appeared to have accepted his time was running short and who took a reflective look back on his life. I also find it striking how strong Allman’s voice sounds throughout.

Here is the official video of My Only True Friend, the only original song Allman co-wrote with Scott Sharrad, the lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s band. Damn, watching is getting to me!

New music from young blues rock artists

There are some kick-ass younger blues rock artists who released new music this year. The first coming to my mind are Jane Lee Hooker and their sophomore album Spiritus, which appeared last month. This five-piece all-female band from New York delivers electrifying raw blues rock power. While you can read more the record here, how better to illustrate my point than with a clip: Gimme That, an original tune with a cool Stonesey sound.

Another hot young blues rock band is Greta Van Fleet, who also came out with their sophomore album in November. It’s called From The Fires. These Michigan rockers almost sound like a reincarnation of early Led Zeppelin. I previously reviewed the album here. Check out this clip of Safari Song. At first sight, these guys might look like some high school band, but they sure as heck don’t sound like one!

Next up are two blues rock dudes who are more established than Jane Lee Hooker and Greta Van Fleet but who are still fairly young artists at least in my book: 35-year-old Casey James and 40-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Plus, ultimately it’s about their music, not their age.

Casey James from Fort Worth, Texas, who was a third-place finalist on American Idol in 2010, started out playing pop-oriented country rock music. While his eponymous debut album from March 2013 brought some success, it didn’t bring him the happiness he was looking for as an artist. So he decided to leave the country world behind for electric blues and in June this year released Strip It Down. Here’s a clip of the nice opener All I Need.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is hardly a newcomer. The guitarist from Shreveport, La. has been active as a musician since 1990. In August this year, he released Lay It On Down, his eighth album. In my opinion, Shepherd is one of the most exciting younger artists out there, who are keeping the blues alive. Here is the official clip of the record’s great opener, Baby Got Gone – my kind of music!

Anniversary editions of standout albums

As a die-hard fan of The Beatles, to readers of the blog it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I was particularly excited about the 50th anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which appeared in May – in fact, so much that I decided to get the double LP-set, my first new vinyl in 30 years! Producer Giles Martin, the son of the “fifth Beatle” George Martin, and music engineer Sam Okell created what The Beatles may well have wanted the iconic album to sound like, had they cared about the stereo mix in 1967. Here is more about this amazing reissue. Following is the official anniversary trailer.

Another great anniversary reissue, which was released about four weeks ago, is a deluxe edition of Hotel California by the Eagles. The original album appeared in December 1976, so this special edition came out almost one year after the actual 40th anniversary. While Hotel California is my favorite Eagles album, more than the studio versions of the original record, it’s the live tracks that excite me in particular. Released for the first time, they were recorded prior to the album’s appearance during the band’s three-night stand at the Los Angeles Forum in October 1976. For additional thoughts on this anniversary edition, read here. Meanwhile, here is a clip of one of the live tracks, Hotel California, one of the first live performances of the epic tune.

The last special release I’d like to highlight is the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People by R.E.M., which appeared in November. As I previously pointed out here, the 1992 release was the band’s 8th studio album, earning significant commercial success and a general positive reception from music critics. Here is a clip of what to me is the album’s standout, Everybody Hurts.

Other notable new releases

It is impossible to cover all new 2017 music I liked, even with breaking down this year-in-review feature into four parts. But at least, I’d like to mention other albums that are noteworthy to me: Ryan Adams/Prisoner (Feb 17), Deep Purple/inFinite (Apr 7), John Mayer/The Search For Everything (Apr 14), Sheryl Crow/Be Myself (April 21), Little Steven/Soulfire (May 19), Chuck Berry/Chuck (Jun 9), Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Jun 16), Alice Cooper/Paranormal (July 28), Steve Winwood/Greatest Hits Live (Sep 1), Ringo Starr/Give More Love (Sep 15), The Church/Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Oct 6), Bob Seger/I Knew You When (Nov 17), U2/Songs Of Experience (Dec 1) and The Rolling Stones/On Air (Dec 1).

The next part of this year-in-review feature will look at some of concerts I attended this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Little Steven’s “Soul-Meets-Rock Thing” Comes Alive

The man with the bandana and his Disciples of Soul play historic theater in Staten Island, N.Y.

Steven Van Zandt had not been on my radar screen as a solo artist until recently. Things changed in May when he released Soulfire, his first solo album since 1999. It quickly became one of my favorite new records this year, which I previously reviewed here. When I found out he was kicking off a tour at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., that show in late May – his only scheduled U.S. gig at the time – was already sold out! So I was glad that after a European leg, he brought the tour back to the U.S. Last Thursday, I was able to see his great show at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, N.Y.

Unlike the Count Basie Theatre, the venue wasn’t sold out; in fact, I would say only half of the seats were taken, which was unfortunate. But it didn’t seem to have an impact. Little Steven and his top-notch band The Disciples of Soul delivered a powerful performance that lasted for close to two and a half hours. And while the audience wasn’t the biggest, people certainly were engaged.

The show kicked off with the soul classic Sweet Soul Music. Written by Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was first released by Conley in 1967. This was followed right away by Soulfire, the title track from Van Zandt’s above mentioned latest album. In a Rolling Stone interview ahead of the record’s release, Van Zandt noted he co-wrote the song with a member of Danish rock and soul band The Breakers, which first released it on their eponymous album in June 2011. Here’s a clip of Soulfire captured in Leipzig, Germany back in June.

Tunes from almost the entire Soulfire album were sprinkled throughout the show, and I have to say those were the tracks I generally liked the most. One of the highlights of the record that was also a standout of the show was Blues Is My Business, a great cover of an Etta James tune included on her 2003 album Let’s Roll. Here’s a cool clip.

Another great song from Soulfire and highlight of the set was Down And Out In New York City. Written by Bobbie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, the track was first recorded by James Brown for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. The performance showcased the band’s terrific five-piece horn section, with each musician playing solo back-to-back. Here’s a nice clip of the tune recorded at another gig earlier this month.

In addition to Soulfire, Little Steven also played songs from his earlier solo records with The Disciples of Soul, especially their debut Men Without Women (1982) and Voice Of America (1984). Among these tunes was Angel Eyes, written by Van Zandt and included on the 1982 record.

And then there was of course Van Zandt’s previous work with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He was a co-founding member and produced various of their records. The set included three tunes from that band: I’m Coming Back and I Don’t Want To Go Home, two Van Zandt tunes that also appear on the Soulfire album, and Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, which he co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen. Here is a clip of I Don’t Want To Go Home, the title track of Southside Johnny’s 1976’s studio debut. It was part of the encore.

This post would not be complete without further acknowledging the musicians of The Disciples of Soul, a mighty 14-piece and truly amazing band. The line-up includes Marc Ribler (guitar), Charley Drayton  (drums), Everett Bradley (percussion, backing vocals), Lowell “Banana” Levinger (piano, mandolin), Andy Burton (organ, strings, accordion), Jak Daley (bass), Eddie Manion (baritone saxophone), Stan Harrison (tenor saxophone, flute), Clark Gayton (trombone), Ravi Best (trumpet), Ron Tooley (trumpet), and backing vocalists Jessica Wagner, Erika Jerry and YahZarah.

According to the tour schedule posted on Little Steven’s web site, the band will continue touring the U.S. throughout October. In early November, they are scheduled to return to Europe for another six weeks, with shows in England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Rolling Stone, Little Steven’s website, YouTube