Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again to take another look at newly released music. This latest Best of What’s New installment turned out to be pretty rock-oriented. All songs are on albums that came out yesterday (April 16).

Greta Van Fleet/Built By Nations

Kicking things off is some great blistering rock by Greta Van Fleet, a rock band from Frankenmuth, Mich. They were formed in 2012 by twin brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals) and Jake Kiszka (guitar) and their younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Hauck left in 2013 and was replaced by Danny Wagner who remains the band’s drummer to this day. Greta Van Fleet have attracted plenty of attention for embracing ’70s classic rock and some criticism from certain music reviewers who accused them of ripping off early Led Zeppelin. While there’s no denying some of the Michigan rockers’ early tunes have a Led Zeppelin I vibe, I always found the criticism overblown. Plus, I dig Zep, so selfishly I didn’t mind in the first place. Greta Van Fleet have since evolved their sound, as illustrated by their latest album The Battle at Garden’s Gate. Some tracks had been released as singles ahead of what is the band’s second full-length studio album, including My Way, Soon and Age of Machine. I previously featured them here and here. Following is Built By Nations. Like all other tracks on the album, it is credited to the entire band.

Eric Church/Heart on Fire

Eric Church is a country singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Church is a gifted storyteller, delivering relatable, regular-guy sing-alongs with a warm, reedy drawl. The North Carolina native started early—he was writing songs at 13 and taught himself to play guitar soon after, eventually getting a taste of touring with his college band, Mountain Boys. But his sharp lyrical observations and sly humor helped him find footing in Nashville’s songwriter circuit and land a solo record deal. His debut album Sinners Like Me appeared in July 2006. The third album Chief from July 2011 brought the big breakthrough, topping both the Billboard Top Country Albums and the Billboard 200 mainstream charts. Heart on Fire, written by Church, is the opener of Heart, the first part of an ambitious triple album titled Heart & Soul that features 25 tracks. Parts 2 and 3, & and Soul, are slated to be released on April 20 and April 23, respectively.

The Offspring/Let the Bad Times Roll

The Offspring were formed in 1984 as Manic Subsidal in Garden Grove, Calif. The band, which changed their name to The Offspring in 1986, has been credited for reviving mainstream interest in punk rock, together with fellow Californian outfits Green Day and Rancid. The current line-up includes founding member Bryan “Dexter” Holland (lead vocals, guitar), along with Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman (guitar), Todd Morse (bass) and Pete Parada (drums). The band released their eponymous debut album in June 1989. Their international breakthrough, appropriately titled Smash, appeared in April 1994. Fueled by hit singles Come Out and Play, Self Esteem and Gotta Get Away, the album surged to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 3 in Canada, topped the charts in Australia, and reached the top 5 in various European countries. Altogether, The Offspring have released 10 studio albums, 4 EPs, two compilations and multiple singles over their now 37-year career. Let the Bad Times Roll, written by Holland, is the catchy title track of their new album.

Paul McCartney & Joshua Homme/Lavatory Lil

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is Paul McCartney who has been on a remarkable roll. Following the release of his 18th solo album McCartney III last December, which I reviewed here, he is back with an encore titled McCartney III Imagined. According to an announcement on his website, the album features an A-List assortment of friends, fans and brand new  acquaintances, each covering and/or reimagining their favorite  McCartney III  moments in their own signature stylesMcCartney III Imagined continues the tradition of the biggest and most diverse names in music covering Paul’s songs — an ever-expanding  lineup that ranges from more recent versions by Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Dave  Grohl, Coldplay and The Cure, to interpretations over the years from the likes of U2, Guns N’ Roses, Earth Wind & Fire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and so many more.  McCartney III Imagined is a testament of Paul’s enduring and unmatched influence, a legacy that stretches from “Yesterday” being the most covered song in contemporary musical history to the inspiration his current work continues to hold for generations of artists and fans. What I find remarkable is the apparent open-mindedness of McCartney who is turning 79 in June to work with a broad group of contemporary artists, such as Dominic Fike, Khruangbin, Blood Orange, St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers and Beck. Frankly, except for the last two, these are all new names to me! Here’s Lavatory Lil, imagined together with Joshua Homme who is best known as the main songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist of American rock band Queens of the Stone Age.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s another Sunday morning in good ole’ New Jersey. The weather looks decent with temperatures supposed to hit the ’60s – perfect for an Easter egg hunt, if you’re into it! In case you prefer music or perhaps combine Easter egg hunting with some great tunes, I encourage you to read on. I think I’ve put together another nice and diverse set of six random tunes: Some instrumental rock, bluegrass, alternative rock, soul and blues rock.

The Shadows/Apache

I’m a huge fan of Hank Marvin, the lead guitarist of The Shadows, whose combination of his Fender Stratocaster and a Vox amplifier created a cool signature sound. Initially founded in 1958 under the name of The Drifters as the backing group for Cliff Richard, the instrumental band became The Shadows in July 1959, after the U.S. vocal group of the same name had threatened legal action. The Shadows soon stepped out of – well – Richards’ shadow and gained popularity on their own. Apache, released in July 1960, became their first no. 1 hit in the UK. It also topped the charts in France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. Written by English composer Jerry Lordan, the tune was first recorded by English guitarist Bert Weedon. But Lordan didn’t like it. I have to agree the version by The Shadows sounds much more dynamic. Still, Weedon’s recording of the track, which came out at the same time, made it to no. 24 on the British charts.

Alison Krauss & Union Station/My Opening Farewell

I’ve yet to more fully explore American bluegrass and country artist Alison Krauss, who I primarily know because of her 2007 collaboration album with Robert Plant. When I came across My Opening Farewell the other day, I immediately liked the tune, so it wasn’t a hard decision to feature it a Sunday Six installment. Written by Jackson Browne, Opening Farewell is the closer of Krauss’ 14th studio album Paper Airplane from April 2011, which she recorded together with her longtime backing band Union Station. While Krauss has continued to perform with Union Station, Paper Airplane is her most recent album with the band. In February 2017, Krauss released Windy City, her fifth and latest solo album. Hope you enjoy Opening Farewell as much as I do!

Counting Crows/Round Here

When I heard Mr. Jones for the first time, I fell in love immediately with American alternative rock band Counting Crows and immediately got their debut album August and Everything After from September 1993. While Mr. Jones, which also became the lead single, is the obvious hit, there are many other great tunes on that record as well. One of them is the opener Round Here. Co-written by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and the band’s guitarist David Bryson, together with Dave Janusko, Dan Jewett and Chris Roldan, the tune also became the album’s second single in 1994. Counting Crows remain active to this day and have released six additional studio albums to date, with Somewhere Under Wonderland from September 2014 being the most recent. Some new music may be on the way. In February 2020, Duritz revealed the band was working in the studio on a suite of songs that could be released as a series of EPs. I guess we have to stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the excellent Round Here.

Marvin Gaye/Mercy Mercy Me

I trust Marvin Gaye doesn’t need an introduction. In my book, he was one of the greatest soul vocalists of all time. After gaining initial fame with a string of hits at Motown and helping shape the Detroit label’s infectious sound, Gaye emancipated himself from Berry Gordy’s production machine in the 1970s and recorded and produced a series of highly regarded albums. The first one was What’s Going On from May 1971, a true ’70s soul gem. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful music and Gaye’s smooth singing. The concept album explored themes like drug abuse, poverty, environmental degradation and the Vietnam War. Just because Gaye didn’t believe in “shouting,” this doesn’t mean his social commentary wasn’t biting. Here’s the amazing Mercy Mercy Me, expressing Gaye’s sadness about ecological decay.

Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

As we start approaching the end of this Sunday Six installment, it’s time to speed things up, don’t you agree? More frequent visitors of the blog have probably noticed my deep affection for Southern Avenue, a band from Memphis, Tenn., which blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I think these guys are dynamite and are one of the best contemporary bands. I also love the racial diversity they represent. Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings backing vocals; white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Here’s 80 Miles From Memphis, a tune written by Naftaly from the band’s eponymous debut album released in February 2017. BTW, in 2016, Southern Avenue became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. How cool is that?

ZZ Top/Tush

Okay, with this last tune, let’s push the pedal to the metal. In my book, Tush by ZZ Top is perhaps the ultimate blues rocker. I just love the guitar riff, the bottleneck action, and how tight the band sounds. Formed in 1969 in Houston, the trio of Billy Gibbons (guitar, vocals), Dusty Hill (bass, vocals) and Frank Beard (drums) is rocking to this day. Fun fact: Beard is the only member of the band without a beard! ZZ Top have released 15 studio albums, four live albums, seven compilations and more than 40 singles to date. Looks like their most recent release was a compilation from 2019 titled Goin’ 50. Tush, credited to all members of the band, is the closer of ZZ Top’s fourth studio album Fandango!, which appeared in April 1975. Take it away, boys!

Last but not least, to those who celebrate it, I’d like to wish you a Happy Easter. To those who don’t, have a great Sunday anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week has flown by, which means it’s time again to take a look at newly released music. After some digging, I think I’ve found a decent and diverse set of tunes. This installment of Best of What’s New features a great Hammond B-3 jazzy rendition of a popular Donovan song, melodic indie rock, pop folk-oriented alternative country and soulful Americana. All tunes appear on albums that came out yesterday (March 26). Sounds intriguing? Let’s get to it!

Dr. Lonnie Smith/Sunshine Superman (feat. Iggy Pop)

An artist calling himself Dr. Lonnie Smith who teams up with the godfather of punk Iggy Pop to cover a great Donovan tune was sure to get my attention. Born in Buffalo, N.Y. in July 1942, Smith is a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith released his solo debut Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967. Twenty-six additional records have since appeared under his name. According to his website, Smith has recorded everything from covers of the Beatles, the Stylistics and the Eurythmics, to tribute albums of Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Beck-all by employing ensembles ranging from a trio to a fifteen-piece big band. He also appeared on close to 80 albums by other artists, such as Lou Donaldson, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ponder, Ron Holloway, Eric Gale and Nora Jones. His artist profile on Apple Music notes Smith at some point became Dr. Lonnie Smith (for “no particular reason,” the same reason he gives for why he always wears a traditional Sikh turban). His rendition of Sunshine Superman, the title track of Donovan’s third studio album from August 1966, is the closer of the doctor’s new album Breathe. Iggy Pop provides vocals on this tune, as well as album opener Why Can’t We Live Together. This is just cool stuff!

Real Estate/Half a Human

Real Estate are an indie rock band from Ridgewood, N.J. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, Real Estate’s core members were childhood friends, but the band didn’t take shape until 2008, after they’d all completed college and returned to their hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Arriving in 2009, the group’s self-titled debut album earned a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork—a distinction that was also given to their next two LPs. Days, their 2011 sophomore LP, hit No. 11 on  Billboard’s Alternative Albums chart, and 2014’s Atlas did even better, reaching No. 7. Following the departure of guitarist Matthew Mondanile in 2016, lo-fi pop specialist Julian Lynch—another childhood friend from New Jersey—took his place in the band. In addition to Lynch, Real Estate’s current lineup includes co-founders Martin Courtney (vocals, guitar) and Alex Bleeker (bass, vocals), along with Matt Kallman (keyboards) and Sammi Niss (drums). Half a Human, co-written by Bleeker, Lynch, Courtney, Kallman and the band’s former drummer Jackson Pollis, is the title track of their sixth and new album. The melodic and laid back sound of this tune drew me in right away.

Esther Rose/Songs Remain

Esther Rose is a country artist from New Orleans, La. She began her career by collaborating with her then-husband and guitarist Luke Winslow-King. In 2017, Rose released her solo debut album This Time Last Night. Songs Remain is a track from her third and latest album How Many Times. On this record, Rose expands her alt-country sound into a blossoming world of folk pop and tender harmonies, notes her website. A collection of complete takes recorded live to tape with rich instrumentation, soul-tugging hooks, and resonating vocal melodies, How Many Times carries you into the room in which it was made. There to help realize this was co-producer Ross Farbe of synthpop band Video Age, who Rose also credits for bringing a stereo pop glow to these new songs. I like what I’m hearing here!

Miko Marks & The Resurrectors/Ancestors

Let’s wrap up things with African American country singer Miko Marks who was born in Flint, Mich. In 2005, she released her debut single Freeway Bound, which also was the title track of her first studio album that appeared in September that year. The sophomore It Feels Good followed in August 2007. In 2006, Marks was named Best New Country Artist by U.S. trade magazine New Music Weekly. She also won various awards at the Independent Music Awards in 2006, 2007 and 2008. After a pretty successful looking early career, it appears things slowed down for Marks. Ancestors is the opener of Our Country, her first album since It Feels Good. She’s backed by The Resurrectors, the impressive sounding house band of Redtone Records. Well, it may have been more than 13 years since Marks’ last release, but it surely looks like the wait was worth it. I just love the soulful southern rock sound of Ancestors, which first appeared as a single in December 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dr. Lonnie Smith website; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Usually, I keep my forays into newly released music to four tunes. This installment includes two more tracks. Why? Easy, ‘coz I can! On a more serious note, unlike other weeks where I feel more challenged to find music that sufficiently speaks to me, I discovered these tracks fairly quickly. And since I couldn’t quite decide on four, I ended up taking all six. Except for the final song, all tunes are included on releases that appeared yesterday (March 19).

Mason Lively/Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing

Mason Lively is a country/Americana artist from Victoria, Texas. According to his website, he grew up in a country music atmosphere. His appreciation for the genre can be traced back to his childhood. Though he enjoyed and was exposed to many types of music, he would listen to artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price to name a few. Growing up, while also being influenced by Blues and Classic Rock, Mason started to take interest and study the songwriting of artists from his home state’s music scene like Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Hayes Carll, and many more. As a result, when he started playing guitar at age 14, Mason claims that song-writing “sort of snuck up on him” not long after that. Lively’s debut album Stronger Ties appeared in April 2018. Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing is a track from his new eponymous sophomore album.

Michigander/Let Down

Jason Singer, performing as Michigander, is a singer-songwriter hailing from Midland, Mich., who has been active since 2014. His artist profile on Apple Music describes Michigander’s music as a rich blend of hook-driven and radio-ready indie rock with electronic flourishes and earnest, big-hearted storytelling that invokes names like Lord Huron and Mumford & Sons. He is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who spent his formative years building a sonic persona that looked to a wide array of influencers, including Coldplay, Rush, James Taylor, and the White Stripes. After honing his skills playing solo sets, Singer relocated to Kalamazoo in 2014 and began operating under the Michigander moniker. In 2016 he issued the nostalgia-driven single “Nineties,” which garnered over a million online streams. Looking to capitalize on the success of the single, Singer turned his one-man solo project into a fully-fledged rock & roll band and hit the road, sharing bills with contemporaries like Ra Ra Riot, Tokyo Police Club, and Twin Peaks, and released the group’s debut EP, Midland, in 2018. The following year saw the band ink a deal with C3 Records and issue a second EP, Where Do We Go from Here? Well, I suppose the answer is Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, Michigander’s latest EP. Here’s lead single Let Down. I have to say I find this tune quite catchy.

Alice Phoebe Lou/Dusk

South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou first entered my radar screen in July 2020, when I covered her then-latest single Touch in a previous Best of What’s New installment. As noted there, Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, Momentum, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, Orbit. Dusk, written by Lou, is from her new album Glow. Just like I felt previously, her music falls outside my core wheelhouse but there’s just something about it.

Ringo Starr/Waiting For the Tide to Turn

Just like his ex-Beatles mate Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr kept busy during the pandemic. One of the results is a new EP titled Zoom In. A statement on his website notes it features 5 songs all of which were recorded at Starr’s home studio between April-October 2020...Joining Starr were musicians Nathan East (bass), Steve Lukather (guitar), Bruce Sugar (synth guitar), Benmont Tench (piano), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jacob Braun (cello), and Jim Cox (string arrangements and synth strings). Dave Grohl, Ben Harper and Jenny Lewis also joined Starr in the home studio, and all contributed to the first single, Here’s To The NightsI previously covered it hereRingo co-wrote “Waiting For The Tide to Turn” with his engineer Bruce Sugar, adding Tony Chen and his extensive reggae roots; “This was something my engineer Bruce Sugar started, but it didn’t have a lot of words, so we wrote it together. I did my version of reggae and what was great was we had Tony Chen, who played with Bob Marley and lives here in LA, come over and play on it. He said, ‘hey Mon, that you on drums mon?’ and I said yes, and he said ‘great drums mon, very reggae!’ and my heart swelled! It was so great coming from him.” Ringo and reggae was something I didn’t expect, but I think it came out pretty well!

Joyce Wrice/Chandler

Joyce Wrice is an R&B and soul artist from Los Angeles. There isn’t any background on her website and Facebook page, so I’m relying on a news story by MTV. Chandler is the opener of Wrice’s debut album Overgrown. The release follows a series of EPs and publishing covers on YouTube for 10 years. Some of her influences include Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Sade. Apparently, she is also influenced by her Japanese heritage and Buddhism. “One of the things that I’ve learned through my Buddhist practice is to create opportunities within the obstacle or the struggle,” Wrice pointed out to MTV News. “It’s actually helped me to dig deeper and not be swayed by the situation and keep pushing through.” This tune has a cool vibe. I can hear some early ’70s Marvin Gaye in here.

Tigers Jaw/New Detroit

American rock band Tigers Shaw were formed in Scranton, Pa. in 2005. The group was started in high school by Ben Walsh, who played drums at the time, and Adam McIlwee (guitar, vocals). A few months later, they were joined by Brianna Collins (keyboards, vocals). The band released their debut album Belongs to the Dead in October 2006. By the time of their eponymous sophomore album from September 2008, Tigers Shaw had grown to a five-piece and Walsh had switched to guitar and vocals. He and Collins remain part of the current formation that also includes Colin Gorman (bass, rhythm guitar) and Theodore Roberts (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the band’s music evolved from pop punk to Emo to indie rock. New Detroit is from their sixth studio album I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, which appeared on March 5. I really like how melodic and catchy this song is!

Sources: Wikipedia; Mason Lively website; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; MTV News; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s Sunday morning again, which means yet another week has flown by. But here in the U.S. it also brings us one week closer to the start of daylight savings time and another step toward spring – take this, winter! I’m also really happy how this latest installment of The Sunday Six came out. With smooth saxophone jazz, electric guitar-driven roots rock, pop, soul and some kickass rock, I think it’s another selection illustrating great music comes in many flavors.

Grover Washington Jr./Take Me There

I’d like to kick off the set with some beautiful smooth saxophone playing by Grover Washington Jr. with a tune from his 11th album Winelight released in 1980. When I listened to the record for the first time, which I believe was shortly after it had come out, I feel in love with the music right away. Hard core jazz fans may dismiss it as too pop-oriented. To me as an infrequent listener of jazz, I find it very accessible. More importantly, I really dig Washington Jr.’s smooth tone. Winelight, his highest charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 (no. 5), became best known for Just the Two of Us, featuring the amazing Bill Withers on vocals. Take Me There was written by Washington Jr., who released 24 albums over a nearly 30-year recording career. His 25th and final record Aria appeared in March 2000 after his untimely death in December 1999 from a massive heart attack at age 56. What a loss!

Mark Knopfler/The Fizzy and the Still

Let’s do some more relaxing music. How about some magic Stratocaster played by maestro Mark Knopfler? The Fizzy and the Still is from his fifth solo album Kill to Get Crimson released in September 2007. I’ve always been a fan of Knopfler’s melodic guitar-playing ever since I listened to Dire Straits’ eponymous debut from October 1978. Like on all except one of his solo albums, Knopfler’s backing musicians included multi-instrumentalist Guy Fletcher, who had served as keyboarder in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s dissolution in 1995.

Cindy Lauper/Time After Time

Yep, this is an ’80s pop song. I dug Time After Time from the very first moment I heard it on the radio when it came out in 1984. Unlike many other ’80s tunes I also liked back then, this one holds up well to me. Time After Time was co-written by Cindy Lauper and Bob Hyman who is best known to be among the founding members of American rock band The Hooters (there’s another blast from the past!). The tune appeared on Lauper’s October 1983 debut album aptly titled She’s So Unusual. And what a start it was! Fueled by multiple hit singles, which in addition to Time After Time included Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Bop and All Through the Night, She’s So Unusual became Lauper’s best-selling album. It also topped the charts in Canada, and made the top 10 in the U.S. (no. 4), Austria (no.5), Switzerland (no. 8), Australia (no. 5) and Japan (no. 5). Since then, Lauper has released 10 additional studio albums, various compilations and Broadway cast album Kinky Boots (2013), which was produced by Lauper who also wrote the songs. Now 67, Lauper remains active to this day.

The Rolling Stones/Hitch Hike

Let’s kick up the speed by a notch with a great cover by the The Rolling Stones: Hitch Hike. Originally, this tune was recorded and first released as a single in December 1962 by Marvin Gaye, who also co-wrote it with Clarence Paul and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson. Hitch Hike was also included on Gaye’s second studio album That Stubborn Kinda Fellow from January 1963. The Stones recorded the song for their fourth U.S. and third UK studio album Out of Our Heads released in July and September 1965, respectively. It was one of six tracks that appeared on both versions of the album.

Little Feat/Teenage Nervous Breakdown

The Stones may be the greatest rock & roll band in the world, but that doesn’t mean other groups can’t match them. Here’s the fun Teenage Nervous Breakdown by Little Feat. Penned by the band’s primary original guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Lowell George, the tune is from Little Feat’s sophomore album Sailin’ Shoes that came out in May 1972. Sadly, George died from a heart attack in June 1979 shortly after he had declared Little Feat would disband. The group reformed in 1987 and has since continued with different lineups. Vocalist and keyboarder Bill Payne remains as the only founding member in the current formation. To date, Little Feat have released 12 studio albums, as well as numerous live records and compilations. One of my favorites I feel like revisiting is Waiting for Columbus, which I previously reviewed here. For now, let’s have some fun with Teenage Nervous Breakdown. Tell me this doesn’t rock!

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down

And that we’re on this accelerating rock & roll train, let’s wrap things up with yet another rock gem in my book: Tie Your Mother Down by Queen. But before getting to it, I need to credit Angie Moon from The Diversity of Classic Rock blog, who brought the tune back on my radar screen with her recent post about Queen. Written by guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May CBE, Tie Your Mother Down first appeared on Queen’s fifth studio album A Day at the Races that came out in December 1976. It was also released separately as the album’s second single in March 1977. I just can’t get enough of that main guitar riff – Status Quo simple, to borrow from Angie who also compared it to Rory Gallagher, but so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Masters of the High Register

A selection of great falsetto vocalists

In late December, I did a four-part series on the Bee Gees here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). One of the group’s distinct features was the frequent use of falsetto singing, starting with their 1975 studio album Main Course. My most recent Best of What’s New installment included Aaron Frazer, a young vocalist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also happens to be a falsetto singer. In fact, while I’m not a voice expert, I think he’s incredible! These posts triggered the idea to write about music artists I like, who are masters of the falsetto.

Before getting to some great music and singing, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. I’ll keep it light! According to Wikipedia, falsetto “is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.” Essentially, modal voice generates the richest tone that unlike falsetto isn’t breathy. It’s the most frequently used vocal register in speech and singing in most languages.

I always thought falsetto and head voice are the same – not so! As this post on Ramsey Voice explains, “While falsetto and head voice have been used interchangeably in the past, falsetto is understood to be a breathy version of high notes and head voice produces a richer and more balanced tone on the high pitches in a singer’s voice. Falsetto and head voice are two different modes for singing the same notes in the upper registers of the voice.” Didn’t you always want to know that? 🙂

If you’re curious to learn more about different voice registers and singing modes, the above Ramsey Voice post goes into all the gory details, illustrated with video clips. The only thing I’d like to add is that females have falsetto as well, though I think it’s fair to say this singing mode is primarily associated with male singers, and the examples in this post are all male artists. But as Ramsey Voice notes, “plenty of studies have…shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in basically the same way, and everyone is capable of falsetto singing.” Time for some falsetto action!

Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire/September

September, one of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs, initially appeared as a single in November 1978. Co-written by Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis, it became one of the group’s biggest hits. The song was also included on the compilation The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which came out a few days after the single. The tune, on which Bailey shared lead vocals with White, is a great example of Bailey’s amazing falsetto.

Smokey Robinson, of The Miracles/OOO Baby Baby

OOO Baby Baby is one of the most beautiful examples of falsetto I can think of. Smokey Robinson’s voice sounds so sweet and gentle that it almost makes me want to cry! Robinson was also a co-writer of the ballad, together with Miracles bass vocalist Pete Moore. OOO Baby Baby became the lead singles of The Miracles’ studio album Going to a Go-Go in March 1965. The album came out in November that year.

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

When thinking of great falsetto vocalists, one of the first artists who came to my mind was Curtis Mayfield. While there are other tunes where his falsetto is more dominant, Move On Up is one of my absolute favorites, so I simply couldn’t skip it. Written by Mayfield, the song was first recorded for his debut solo album Curtis from September 1970. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in June 1971. I just love that tune – the infectious groove, Mayfield’s singing and his effortless switching between modal voice and falsetto – it’s just perfect!

Marvin Gaye/Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

Marvin Gaye is another exceptional vocalist, no matter what singing mode you’re talking about. On Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler), co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., the boundaries between Gaye’s head voice and falsetto are so fluid that to me it’s hard to tell, which is which. The tune was first recorded for his 11th studio album What’s Going On, a true gem released in May 1971. In September of the same year, it became the album’s third single.

Prince/Kiss

No post about falsetto vocalists would be complete without Prince. The funky Kiss was one of his biggest hits. Written by Prince, it became the lead single to his eighth studio album Parade, released in February 1986, just ahead of the album that followed in March. Frankly, the tune wasn’t love at first sight for me, but I’ve come to dig it.

The last two tracks shall belong to the artists who inspired the post. Here’s Nights on Broadway, the tune that started the frequent use of falsetto for the Bee Gees.

Co-written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, Nights on Broadway was recorded for the Bee Gees’ 13th studio album Main Course released in June 1975 in the U.S. and the following month in the U.K. The groovy track also became the album’s second single in September of the same year.

Aaron Frazer/Bad News

Bad News is another great tune from Aaron Frazer’s impressive debut album  Introducing…. The song was co-written by Frazer and producer Dan Auerbach. It actually reminds me a bit of Gaye’s Inner City Blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ramsey Voice; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s October. What happened to summer? Perhaps on the upside, if time continues to race at its current pace, it also means this year will be over soon and we’re into 2021, which will hopefully bring better times. While it remains uncertain when live concerts can safely resume and some artists have delayed releasing new material, it’s great to see decent new music continues to come out.

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, my favorite music decades are the ’60s and the ’70s. As such, I’ve generally given up on what’s in the mainstream charts these days. Yet, in March this year, rather than continuing to complain about generic and soulless music populating the charts, I decided to pay more attention to new music that’s not in the charts, even if it’s not by artists I usually listen to, and to start the weekly recurring feature Best of What’s New. While finding new music I dig forces me to do some detective work, it’s been pretty rewarding, so I have every intention to continue this quest.

This brings me to the latest slate of songs. It’s a diverse set, featuring great music by an African American singer-songwriter reminiscent of a ’60s folk protest song, rich soul by a dynamite husband and wife duo, a delicious Louisiana music gumbo by a New Orleans-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and folk rock by a prolific Canadian artist. Like is oftentimes the case in this series, I had not heard of any of these artists before. Let’s get to it!

Tré Burt/Under the Devil’s Knee (featuring Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Sunny War)

Tré Burt is a Sacramento-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, Burt was drawn to music from an early age. He was raised with his grandfather’s passion for soul music, like the Temptations, Nina Simone, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. A school project on Woody Guthrie opened his eyes to the power of folk songwriting. And he discovered one of his songwriting heroes, Neil Young, through his older brother, Joey. In 2018…[he] self-released his debut album, Caught It From the Rye. The album, which showcases Burt’s literary songwriting and lo-fi, rootsy aesthetic, landed him a handful tour dates and some positive press, but Burt had no idea just how far it would get him: to a spot on the roster at John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. Burt’s first work appearing on Oh Boy is the single Under the Devil’s Knee. Released on September 22, it’s a powerful tune about the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner and the Black Lives Matter movement. To me it has a ’60s protest song vibe. It almost feels like looking at a modern day Richie Havens. Check it out!

The War and Treaty/Little Boy Blue

The War and Treaty is a husband and wife duo of Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Blount. Apple Music describes their style as impassioned soul music that draws on traditional folk, country, R&B, and spirituals, often combining them all. Initially known as Trotter & Blount, they released their debut album Love Affair under that name in 2016. This was followed by the EP Down to the River in July 2017, their first music appearing as The War and Treaty. Healing Tide, the first full-fledged studio album under the current moniker, came out in August 2018. The record, which featured a guest appearance of Emmylou Harris, was well received and reached no. 11 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Albums and no. 26 on the Independent Albums charts. Blount first became prominent in 1993, when she performed a duet with Lauryn Hill in the comedy picture Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. The following year, she released her solo debut album Natural Thing. Little Boy Blue is a terrific soul song from Hearts Town, the second full-length album by The War and Treaty that appeared on September 25.

Ric Robertson/Louisiana Love Thing

Ric Robertson is a New Orleans-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who according to his website synthesizes the full canon of American music—New Orleans jazz, classic American pop songsmiths, country, modern funk, swampy blues, and R&B to name a few—and births it into something out of this worldRobertson conjures this musical pedigree into a cohesive potion, a finely-tuned sonic concoction with just enough rock n’ roll to kill, just enough blues to keep you alive, and just enough country to make you hold on to love. It’s stirred by Robertson’s distinct voice: sweet, enticing, and contoured with the finely subtle grit of Mississippi River silt and the warmth of vintage vinyl. Robertson’s debut album The Fool, The Friend was released in June 2018. A review in The Big Takeover characterized it as “a fresh and authentic blend of swampy blues, rock and country” and called Robertson “a force to be reckoned with.” While I haven’t listened to that album yet, I agree based on Robertson’s new tune Louisiana Love Thing. It’s from his new EP Strange World that came out on September 25. That’s one delicious gumbo!

Daniel Romano/Joys Too Often Hollow

Wikipedia describes Daniel Romano (born Daniel Travis Romano in 1985) as a Canadian musician, poet and visual artist based out of his hometown of Welland, Ontario. He is primarily known as a solo artist, though he is also a member of [Canadian indie rock band] Attack in Black and has collaborated with [fellow Canadian music artists] Julie Doiron and Frederick Squire. He has also produced and performed with City and Colour, the recording project of Dallas Green [another Canadian music artist]…and is a partner in his own independent record label, You’ve Changed Records. Romano is a prolific artist. His solo debut Workin’ for the Music Man appeared in 2010. He has since released 11 additional solo records, nine collaboration albums and two EPs. An incredible 10 of these releases all appeared this year, including How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, his fourth 2020 album with his backing band Outfit. Here’s Joys Too Often Hollow, a nice folk rocker from that album released on September 18.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tré Burt website; Apple Music; Ric Robertson website; The Big Takeover; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sheila E./Iconic: Message 4 America

Last week, I watched Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Party and thought the highlight of the one-hour virtual event was Sheila E. and her sizzling performance of Come TogetherRevolution. It turned out E. had previously recorded the medley for her most recent eighth studio album Iconic: Message 4 America released in August 2017. A couple of nights ago, I found myself listening to this covers album and liked what I heard – a lot!

For E.’s background, I’m borrowing from a previous August 2017 post about my favorite drummers. Born Sheila Escovedo, E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family. Since the late 60s, her Mexican-American father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente.

At the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George DukeMarvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince who became an important mentor and with whom she worked various times. In 1984, E. started a solo career. She also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006.

As reported by Rolling Stone, it was Donald Trump’s denunciation of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” during his official campaign launch announcement in 2015, along with the death of Prince in April 2016, which prompted E. to record Iconic, an album featuring remakes of social justice anthems. In addition to selecting songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, E. got help from multiple guests, most notably Starr and Freddie Stone, co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Sly and the Family Stone. Her father and two other family members were among the other guests.

“So for the Iconic project, you know, the state that the country is in… I’m doing these songs based on the lyrical content, which, when I grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, these songs were pretty amazing,” E. told Billboard. “They’re relevant. So I wanted to do “Come Together,” The Beatles song with Ringo Starr, which we did, and the only one that wasn’t written [that long] ago was “America.” But it means something…So it was just important to what’s happening in our country.” America is a tune about the state of the U.S. during the Reagan Administration, which Prince had written for his 1985 studio album Around the World in a Day.

Let’s get to some music. Since I previously featured Come TogetherRevolution here, I’m skipping it and go directly to Everyday People. Written by Sly Stone, the tune was originally released as a single by Sly and the Family Stone in November 1968. It was also included on the band’s fourth studio album Stand! from May 1969. As noted above, Freddie Stone joins E. on vocals. He also plays guitar.

Inner City BluesTrouble Man is a cool medley of two songs Marvin Gaye performed. Inner City Blues, co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., appeared on What’s Going On, Gaye’s 11th studio album from May 1971. Trouble Man is the title track of Gaye’s follow-on studio record that came out in December 1972. It was written by him. On the album’s recording, E. is joined on vocals by saxophonist Eddie Mininfield.

With so many great covers on Iconic, it’s hard to select which ones to call out. One of the funkiest undoubtedly is the James Brown Medley, which melds together five tunes: Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, co-written by Brown and Bobby Bird (There It Is, June 1972); Mama Don’t Take No Mess, co-written by Brown, John Starks and Fred Wesley (Hell, June 1974); Soul Power, written by Brown (single, March 1971); Get Involved, co-written by Brown, Bird and Ron Lenhoff (Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume III, December 1971); and Super Bad, written by Brown (Super Bad, 1971). For this recording, E. is joined by Bootsy Collins on vocals, who also provides bass and guitar. Collins played with Brown in the early ’70s and later with Parliament-Funkadelic. Let’s hit it!

Next up: A beautiful version of Blackbird. Per Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote the song about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after he had read the U.S. federal courts had forced racial desegregation in the school system of Little Rock, Ark. Blackbird was first recorded for The White Album that appeared in November 1968. E.’s rendition transforms the acoustic guitar tune to a mellow piano-driven ballad. The lovely cello part is played by studio musician Jodi Burnett.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Curtis Mayfield classic Pusherman. It appeared on Mayfield’s third solo album Super Fly from July 1972. The great guitar part on E.’s version is played by Mychael Gabriel, a musician, songwriter, performer, audio engineer, mixer, producer, who began his career as a 16-year-old, doing record engineering for E.

Iconic: Message 4 America may “only” be a covers album, but I think the excellent song selection and E.’s renditions make listening to it worthwhile.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube