My Playlist: Melissa Etheridge

I still remember when I first heard Bring Me Some Water by Melissa Etheridge, which received lots of radio play in Germany when it came out in 1988. Her raspy vocals and the tune’s catchy melody grabbed my attention right away. Then except for occasional songs on the radio, she largely disappeared from my radar screen until 2016 when I came across her killer cover of Sam & Dave’s Hold On, I’m Coming. It was on a great album titled Memphis Rock and Soul, a compilation of classic Stax tunes.

Melissa Etheridge was born on May 29, 1961 in Leavenworth, Kan., which is in the Kansas City metropolitan area. During her teenage years, she started performing in local country bands. Following high school graduation in 1979, Etheridge went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. After three semesters, she decided to call it quits and moved to Los Angeles to start a career in music. Eventually, she was discovered by Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records where in May 1988 her eponymous debut album appeared.

The record did pretty well, climbing to no. 22 on the Billboard 200. The lead single, the above noted Bring Me Some Water, peaked at no. 10 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, but surprisingly missed the Hot 100 altogether. Etheridge has since released 14 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, The Medicine Show, came out in April 2019. Her best-selling record became Yes I Am from September 1993, which was certified six times Platinum in the U.S. Her highest charting record on the Billboard 200 was Your Little Secret from November 1995. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s Bring Me Some Water from Etheridge’s eponymous debut. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks in this playlist were written by her. In addition to singing vocals, Etheridge also plays acoustic guitar. It’s just a great tune!

In September 1989, Etheridge released her sophomore album Brave and Crazy. Here’s the You Used to Love to Dance.

I’m the Only One, a nice slow rocker, became Etheridge’s highest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100 where it climbed to no. 8. It topped the Adult Contemporary chart. The tune appeared on the above mentioned Yes I Am, which was her fourth studio album.

In November 1995, the follow-on album Your Little Secret appeared. I Want to Come Over became the second single. Here’s the official video for the tune.

Tuesday Morning is a moving tribute to the victims of 9/11, in particular Mark Bingham, a PR executive who was on United Airlines Flight 93 and one of the four passengers who attempted to retake control of the plane from the hijackers. This resulted in the tragic crash into a field near Shankville, Pa., preventing the plane from hitting its intended target in Washington, D.C. Co-written by Etheridge and Jonathan Taylor, the tune was included on Etheridge’s eighth studio album Lucky from February 2004.

At the 2005 Grammy Awards, Etheridge and Joss Stone performed a great tribute to Janis Joplin. Stone kicked it off with Cry Baby and was joined by Etheridge for a scorching rendition of Piece of My Heart. Etheridge, who appeared bold, had undergone chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer following her diagnosis shortly after the release of the Lucky album. The medley was subsequently made available as a download-only single. Here’s a clip of the Grammy performance. What a triumphant return for Etheridge to the stage!

Let’s do two more. I simply can’t skip the above noted cover of Hold On, I’m Coming. Co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the tune was first recorded by Sam & Dave and released in March 1966. It became one of their biggest hits that has been covered by countless other artists. Etheridge’s smoking hot rendition has to be one of the best. Check it out!

The last track I’d like to call out is from Etheridge’s most recent album, The Medicine Show, her fifteenth from April 2019. Here’s Faded By Design, which also appeared separately as a single.

I also want to acknowledge the recent news of the tragic death of Etheridge’s 21-year-old son Beckett Cypher from opioid addiction, as reported by CBS News. Etheridge’s former wife Julie Cypher had given birth to Beckett in 1998 after artificial insemination. Later the couple revealed the donor had been David Crosby.

Etheridge has won multiple music awards, including a 2007 Grammy in the category of Best Original Song for I Need to Wake Up, a tune from the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. Over the course of her 30-year-plus recording career, she has had five Platinum and two Gold certified albums and six top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Etheridge has given close to 60 daily live performances on Facebook throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the bio on her website rightly calls her “one of rock music’s great female icons.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Melissa Etheridge website; CBS News; YouTube

Southern Avenue Keep On Delivering Distinct Blend of Powerful Soul, Blues And R&B On New Album

Southern Avenue perhaps couldn’t have chosen a better title for their sophomore album. Released yesterday, Keep On continues to effectively draw from different musical backgrounds of the band’s members. Southern Avenue skillfully blend Stax-style soul with blues, R&B, gospel, funk and rock. The result is powerful music combining familiar with new influences and a sound that has noticeably matured and become more distinct since the band’s eponymous debut from February 2017.

The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn. has been on my radar screen since I listened to the first album about two years ago. I also witnessed what a great live act Southern Avenue are when I saw them in New York City last August. At the time, I briefly chatted with guitarist Ori Naftaly, who mentioned their new album. My anticipation grew further with the release of the lead single Whiskey Love in early April, followed by the appearance of the second single Savior.

For brief background, Southern Avenue were founded in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards rounds out the band’s core line-up. Bassist Gage Markey has been a touring member for the past couple of years and also plays on the new record. Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they are not a Stax revival act.

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierinii Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

Keep On features some impressive guests. In this context, I first would like to mention the great horn section comprised of saxophonist Art Edmaiston and trumpet player Mark Franklin. They are an important factor for the above noted more mature sound. Edmaiston has played with artists like Levon Helm and Gregg Allman, while Franklin  has supported sessions for the likes of Aretha FranklinB.B. KingSolomon Burke and Booker T. & the M.G.s. Another prominent guest is William Bell, who is perhaps best known for co-writing Born Under a Bad Sign with Booker T. Jones. The tune was first recorded by Albert King in 1967 and popularized by Cream the following year.

Alright, I think it’s time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. Co-written by Ori Naftaly, Tierinii Jackson and producer Johnny Black, the tune is a nice example of how Southern Avenue blend different genres. Naftaly clearly is a blues guitarist at heart and I can hear some Cream in his cool riff. The horns add a dose of soul while Jackson’s strong vocals throw in some R&B.

Since I previously wrote about the first two singles Whiskey Love and Savior, I’m skipping these great tracks here and jump to the nice funky Switchup. Like the title track, the song is co-credited to Naftaly, Jackson and Black.

Next up: Lucky. Co-written by Naftaly and Jackson, this song has a beautiful retro Stax vibe to it. But, as if to emphasize that Southern Avenue don’t want to be a retro Memphis soul band, Naftaly throws in a fairly rock-oriented guitar solo.

Another great number is Jive, a co-write by Naftaly, Black and both Jackson sisters. I dig the tune’s driving beat, which makes you want to get up and dance. The horns and the backing vocals set great accents.

On the upbeat We’ve Got The MusicWilliam Bell joins Tierinii Jackson on vocals. Bell also shares writing credits with Naftaly and her. I like the song’s message about the power of music and how it can bridge differences among people: If you don’t look like me/If you don’t talk like me, that’s alright/We’ve got the music/If you don’t know my face/But you’re feeling the sound, it’s okay/We’ve got the music…

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer We’re Gonna Make It. I think music publication No Depression nicely described the tune in their review of Keep On. “This gospel-inflected song opens with a nod to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and builds a message of love, persistence, and encouragement layer-by-layer. The song takes up where the Staple Singers left off, carrying the torch of hope in a world of darkness and giving us a new anthem for these times.”

“Making this album was an interesting journey,” Ori explained. “Our first album was recorded very fast and released very fast. With this one, we spent a long time planning, and we knew how we wanted it sound. For me, it’s a big progression from the first album.” Added Tierinii: “The experience was completely different from making the first one. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the band.”

One of the cool things about Keep On is that the album was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording. The studio was opened in Memphis in 1960 by no one other than legendary Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips, who worked with artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and B.B. King. Wow, one can only imagine what it must have felt like for this young band to record in that studio – the thought of it gives me goosebumps!

Southern Avenue In Concert

“The thing that stood out most to me about Southern Avenue is their dedication to making this record ‘the hard way’,” stated producer Johnny Black. “Even in their selection of studios; by picking Sam Phillips Recording, the band, in essence, forced themselves to record within the same parameters as some of their heroes. And while that process may have taken extra time, it was well worth the effort.” In my humble opinion, I think Black is spot on.

Southern Avenue currently is where they seem to be most of the time – on the road. Their tour schedule is packed between now and mid-November and mostly includes U.S. dates. From late May to mid-June, the band is also playing a series of shows in Europe. I have no doubt Southern Avenue will keep on wowing audiences with their performances that are passionate, authentic and humble at the same time. As a communications professional, I also have to commend the band for their effective use of Facebook to build their fan base. I’m planning to catch them again on July 11 during Jams on the Sand, a free outdoor event in Asbury Park, N.J.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website, William Bell website, No Depression, YouTube