Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This week was a bit of a drag, so I’m not unhappy it’s over. Of course, this also means it’s time to take another look at newly released music. Between an unusual but great sounding bluesy country trio, gospel from an amazing singer who is primarily known as a backing vocalist, as well as some alternative and indie rock, I think I’ve put together a pretty solid collection of songs. Unless noted otherwise, all music appeared yesterday, April 9. Let’s get to it!

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Too Cool to Dance

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (this has got to be one of the coolest band names!) are an American country blues trio from Brown County, Ind. and have been around since 2003. Their members include Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). According to Apple Music, the band’s sound is characterized by thick, bass-heavy, blues-based guitar figures and growling vocals accompanied by muscular but minimal drumming and the metallic percussive scratch of a washboard (making them one of the first rock bands to regularly feature the latter instrument since Black Oak Arkansas). Their style is informed by rural blues, honky-tonk country, and the rebellious spirit of rock & roll, as Reverend Peyton’s raw and wiry guitar figures add texture to their straightforward melodies. To date, they have released 10 full-length albums and one EP. Too Cool to Dance is from their new album Dance Songs for Hard Times, which addresses the hopes and fears of life during this seemingly never-ending pandemic. But, as the band’s website notes, don’t expect to hear depressing music. “I like songs that sound happy but are actually very sad,” Peyton says. “I don’t know why it is, but I just do.” Well, he isn’t kidding – check this out!

Merry Clayton/A Song For You

American soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton, who began her recording career in 1962, is best known for providing killer backing vocals on Gimme Shelter, the 1969 tune by The Rolling Stones. Moreover, Clayton sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and recorded with Elvis Presley, The Supremes, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Carole King, among others. In addition, Clayton was a member of Charles’ vocal backing group The Raelettes from 1966-1968. In 1963, her solo debut single When the Doorbell Rings appeared. Clayton has also released various solo albums since 1970. In the ’80s, she did some acting as well. A Song for You, which was written by Leon Russell and included on his eponymous debut solo album from March 1970, is a track from Clayton’s new album Beautiful Scars. She first covered the tune on her eponymous third solo album released in 1971. This may be an old tune and “only” a cover, but I just love Clayton’s singing!

The Natvral/New Moon

According to his Bandcamp profile, The Natvral is the new project of Kip Berman, who previously founded American indie rock band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and was their main songwriter. Between 2009 and 2017, the New York group released four studio albums. As reported by Paste, in November 2019, Berman announced the band had dissolved and that he intended to focus on his new project The Natvral. Well, he did, and the result is Tethers, Berman’s debut album under his new name, which came out on April 2nd. Call me crazy, I seem to hear some Bob Dylan in this tune! Regardless, it sounds great to me!

Major Murphy/In the Meantime

Let wrap things up with Major Murphy, an indie rock from Grand Rapids, Mich. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, they were formed in 2015 behind the songwriting of singer/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Bullard. Jacki Warren (synth, bass, vocals) and Brian Voortman (drums) rounded out the lineup. A home-recorded debut EP called Future Release was issued by Winspear later in 2015, and the trio soon committed to performing live regularly and went on their first tours. Winspear released the follow-up EP On & Off Again in July 2017. That November, Major Murphy previewed a more vibrant sound with “Mary,” the lead track off their full-length debut. Recorded mostly live in the studio with producer/mixer Mike Bridavsky, No. 1 arrived on Winspear in March 2018. That same year, Chad Houseman joined Major Murphy on guitar, keyboards and percussion. He is on the band’s new sophomore album Access, which came out on April 2nd. Here’s In the Meantime, written by Bullard. It’s a catchy tune that has a bit of a Tom Petty vibe.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band website; YouTube

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Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part V

On we go with the next installment of my series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Tapestry, the signature album by the great Carole King. Parts I through IV featured the first five tracks of the record’s A-side: I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again and Beautiful. This brings me to Way Over Yonder, one of my favorite tunes on the album.

Way Over Yonder is the sixth and last track of Tapestry’s A-side. It’s another beautiful ballad solely written by Carole. This tune always puts me at ease with its mellow music and the lyrics. Way over yonder/Is a place that I know/Where I can find shelter/From a hunger and cold/And the sweet tastin’ good life/Is so easily found/A way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound…

One of the musical standouts on this track is the amazing tenor saxophone solo by Curtis Amy. There’s just so much feeling behind it. James Taylor is playing acoustic guitar. Last but least, the backing vocals by Merry Clayton still give me the chills. So good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ural Thomas May be the Greatest Soul Artist You Didn’t Know

This is just an incredible story I wanted to share right away. Until earlier today, I had never heard of Ural Thomas. It’s safe to assume many other fans of soul music are in the same boat. Then I caught a performance of the now 80-plus-year-old Thomas with his band called The Pain at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore. that was streamed earlier today on local listener-funded radio station KBOO-FM. And I can assure you, it was everything else but painful!

Before we get to some sweet soul music, here’s some background on Thomas from his website. Obviously written a few years ago, this text captures the story better than I could ever do, especially given than other than this website, there appears to be little publicly available information on Thomas out there. Therefore, I decided to do something I rarely do: Copy and paste, except for the images.

If life was at all fair Ural Thomas would be a household name, his music slotted into countless sweet, seductive mixtapes between James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder (all of whom Thomas has performed with.) Straddling the line between hot soul shouter and velvety-smooth crooner, Thomas released a few singles in the late 60’s and early 70’s; most notably “Can You Dig It”, which featured backing vocals from soul luminaries Merry Clayton, Mary Wells and Brenda Holloway. Thomas played over forty shows at the legendary Apollo Theater before turning his back on an unkind business and heading home to Portland, OR.

It goes without saying that a man practically built out of rhythm would never stop playing music. Thomas began hosting a regular Sunday night jam session at his home that ran for nearly twenty years. A de facto mentor to many of the younger players, Thomas reminds us all that “If you care about what you’re doing, you need to build those muscles and do the work. Don’t get discouraged, do it for love. Even if you’re digging ditches, do it with passion.”

In 2014, local soul DJ Scott Magee sat in on drums. The two became fast friends and at Magee’s urging Thomas decided to give his musical career another shot. Magee became the musical director, they put together a band, and in 2016 released a self-titled album on Mississippi Records.

In 2017 Thomas signed with Tender Loving Empire and began work on what, in many respects, will be his debut full length. Diving deep into lifetime of melodic creativity, Thomas and his band got to work. Recorded in Magee’s studio Arthur’s Attic, The Right Time features the air-tight work of Magee on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, Bruce Withycombe (The Decemberists) on baritone sax, Portland jazz scene fixture Brent Martens on guitars and vibraphone, Arcellus Sykes on bass, Steve Aman (Lady Rizo) on piano and organ, Dave Monnie on trumpet, Willie Matheis (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) on tenor sax, and Jasine Rimmel, Joy Pearson, Sarah King, Rebecca Marie Miller on backing vocals. The Arco Quartet performed the strings, and the record was engineered and mixed by Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Blitzen Trapper) and mastered by JJ Golden (Sharon Jones, Ty Segall).  

One might think after a sizeable taste of early success Thomas would be more than a touch bitter – yet the opposite is true. “We have to be positive if we want the world to get better” Thomas advises. “We’ve come a long way, but if you carry a grudge with the whole world you’ll stop your growth. We’re a family, all just brothers and sisters, descendants of Adam. You can’t get anywhere without an open heart.”

A developing artist at nearly eighty years old, for Thomas music has always been about bringing people together. “If we play for twenty people we cook it like it’s twenty thousand” says Thomas. “If we make someone smile we’re satisfied. They’re ain’t no difference between us. It’s all love and brotherhood. If folks listen to my record and feel that I’ll feel very blessed.”

Standing in bold defiance of the idea that aging is a reason to slow down and stop living, for Thomas the right time to get down is the next time someone plugs in a guitar or puts on a record. Ural is ready – are you?

Well, that’s a perfect segue into some music. Let’s kick it off with the above noted Can You Dig It? Co-written by Russ Regan and producer Jerry Goldstein, Thomas released this funky soul tune in 1967. And, yes, I sure as heck dig it!

Following are a few tracks from the above noted debut album by Ural Thomas and The Pain. It’s titled The Right Time and appeared in 2018. Here’s No Distance (Between You and Me).

Next up: Smoldering Fire. Oh, man, I just love this tune! How come pretty much nobody knows about it? It’s just incredible!

Here’s the album’s funky title track!

Let’s do one more tune from this great album: Show Ya.

I’ll leave you with one more song I found on YouTube: A 2015 live performance of a tune called Deep Soul. Holy moly. It’s a got a dose of a James Brown vibe!

As for the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival, it’s still streaming today and tomorrow at https://kboo.fm/media/81471-blues-fest-air. I’m currently listening to Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn. I’ve covered on numerous previous occasions. Coming up later today:  Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Bettye Lavette with Texas Horns, among others. Tomorrow’s line-up looks great as well!

Sources: Ural Thomas website; Discogs; YouTube