The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, whatever time it is in your neck of the woods when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in lovely Central New Jersey, U.S.A., and I’m ready to take you on another journey visiting music of the past and the present. Hop on board!

Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd/Samba de uma Nota Só

To get us all into the groove without coming on too strong, I’d like to start today’s music time travel in 1962 with a beautiful bossa nova. Samba de uma Nota Só (one note samba) was penned by Brazilan composer Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Newton Mendonça. There are also English lyrics, which were written by Jon Hendricks. The tune was first recorded by Brazilian bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto and included on this studio album O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor released in 1961. Samba de uma Nota Só gained wide popularity the following year when it appeared in February on the Grammy-winning Jazz Samba, a bossa nova album by American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and U.S. jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. Hitting no. 1 on the U.S. pop albums chart, Jazz Samba “marked the beginning of the bossa nova craze in America,” according to Wikipedia.

Bette Midler/Wind Beneath My Wings

Our next stop are the ’80s and a pick that may surprise some of you. Wind Beneath My Wings was co-written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley. The ballad has been recorded by various artists, such as Sheena Easton, Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight and the Pips. But the recording that will always remain special to me is the rendition by Bette Midler, included in the November 1988 soundtrack for the motion picture Beaches, in which the American actress and vocalist also co-starred. ‘What’s the big deal?’, you may wonder. Wind Beneath My Wings was the song my dear wife and I chose for the first dance at our wedding. With our recent 25th wedding anniversary, this love song has been on my mind. Midler’s rendition became the most successful version, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the 1990 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Midler is a great vocalist and these lyrics are just beautiful!

The Districts/Long End

Let’s jump to the present with a tune by The Districts, which I find pretty seductive: Long End. The group was founded in 2009 in Lititz, Pa. by high school students Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Mark Larson (guitar), Connor Jacobus (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums). Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The Districts are an American indie rock band whose work embraces the organic sounds of classic rock and indie folk while incorporating an adventurous side that recalls alternative rock of several eras, ambitious pop, and noisy experimentation that grew more eclectic with time. The unifying thread behind it all is the emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics of Rob Grote, who is fearless when it comes to sharing his feelings about relationships or the world around him. The rootsy and more direct era of the Districts’ music was documented well on their 2014 debut Telephone, while 2017’s Popular Manipulations found them in a more energetic and experimental mood. 2020’s You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere reflected a cooler and more layered sound, with keyboards playing a bigger role in the arrangements; 2022’s Great American Painting was more guitar oriented, but maintained the polished tone of its immediate precursor. Penned by Grote, Long End is a tune from Great American Painting, which came out on March 11.

The Doobie Brothers/Rockin’ Down the Highway

Time to step on the gas with some great ’70s rock by The Doobie Brothers, a band I’ve always loved for their catchy tunes and great harmony singing. It’s quite amazing the group from San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1970, is still around. The current line-up features two co-founders, Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals) and Tom Johnston (vocals, guitar, harmonica), and longtime member John McFee (guitar, violin, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, vocals). Since 2019, Michael McDonald (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, accordion) who first had joined the band during a 1975 tour to fill in for Johnston, is back in the fold. All four will be part of the Doobies’ upcoming tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Actually, it’s “only” 47 years, considering the group’s hiatus between 1982 and 1987, but still a pretty amazing run. And they remain a compelling live act, as I was fortunate to witness firsthand in July 2018. Rockin’ Down the Highway, penned by Johnston, is from the group’s sophomore album Toulouse Street, released in July 1972 – just a great rocker!

Pearl Jam/Jeremy

Our next stop are the early ’90s and music by Pearl Jam, who are considered one of the leading bands in the grunge and alternative rock genres. I can’t deny the fact I largely ignored contemporary music in the ’90s and know very little about bands and artists who started out in that decade. Pearl Jam were founded in Seattle in 1990 as Mookie Blaylock by Stone Gossard (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jeff Ament (bass, backing vocals), who had played together since the mid-80s in two grunge and rock bands, along with Mike McCready (lead guitar), Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Krusen (drums). By the time their studio debut Ten appeared in August 1991, they had changed their name to Pearl Jam. While the album wasn’t an immediate success, it reached no. 2 on the Billboard 200 in late 1992. Jeremy, with lyrics by Vedder and music by Ament, was one of three hit singles off Ten. The intense song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder had seen about a high school student who had shot himself in front of his English class. Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder remain part of Pearl Jam’s current line-up, which since 1998 has also included drummer Matt Cameron.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of yet another zig-zag music excursion. For this last pick, I’d like to go back to the present and Young Guv, a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook I first featured last month. Cook was a co-founder of Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning that was initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, he joined another local hardcore punk cheerfully named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of four that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, co-written by Cook, Ryan Gavel and Thom Yorke, is from Young Guv’s latest album Guv III that came out on March 11. That jangly Byrdsy sound is right up my alley!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Doobie Brothers website; YouTube; Spotify

Edgar Winter Celebrates Brother’s Legacy With All-Star High-Octane Tribute Album

To any more frequent visitors of the blog or folks who know my music taste otherwise, this post shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As somebody who digs blues and blues-rock, I simply couldn’t ignore Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter’s blazing new tribute to his older brother and Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, which came out last Friday (April 15). Sure, packing an album with impressive guests like Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr doesn’t automatically guarantee a great outcome but, man, this album truly cooks!

In addition to renditions of Johnny Winter originals Mean Town Blues, I’m Yours and I’m Hers, Stranger, Guess I’ll Go Away and Self Destructive Blues, the 17 tracks on Brother Johnny feature a number of classics the guitar slinger from Beaumont, Texas covered, such as Johnny B. Goode, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Got My Mojo Workin’. There are also two new songs written by Edgar Winter.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the idea for a tribute album first emerged in the wake of Johnny Winter’s death in July 2014 at the age of 70.  “Many people immediately started trying to convince me to do a Johnny Winter tribute album,” Edgar recalled. “But I was totally devastated, and the timing just didn’t feel right to me.”

Edgar added, “It wasn’t until after I completed the Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, a tour we were meant to do together with our respective bands, that the idea of a tribute record started to take form.” Looks like from there it still took quite a bit of additional time for the project to materialize, but the wait was certainly worth it. Let’s check out some of the goodies!

The fireworks start with the opener Mean Town Blues, featuring Joe Bonamassa on badass slide guitar. First released on February 18, the track is one of three songs that appeared as singles ahead of the album. Johnny Winter originally recorded Mean Town Blues for his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment.

On Lone Star Blues, one of the tunes penned by Edgar Winter, things turn acoustic, sparse and personal. Keb’ Mo’ does a neat job on what sounds like a resonator guitar and also shares vocals with Edgar. “I don’t think this album would be complete without at least one, heartfelt, personal tribute from me to my brother–in the form of a song,” Edgar wrote in the album’s liner notes, as separately reported by Rock & Blues Muse. Well, I was born in Beaumont left when I was in my teens/I hit the highway, going down to New Orleans/I was playing music, searching for just what life means

One of Brother Johnny’s standouts is I’m Yours and I’m Hers, featuring Billy Gibbons and Derek Trucks. Winter included this original tune on his eponymous sophomore album that came out in April 1969. With Trucks arguably being one the best contemporary slide guitarists and Gibbons being no slouch either, you just know this rendition has to be good. Well, check it out!

This review wouldn’t be complete without highlighting Johnny B. Goode, a track Winter recorded for his third studio release from October 1969, a double album somewhat misleadingly titled Second Winter. Johnny B. Goode became a regular of Winter’s live set. On Brother Johnny, the Chuck Berry classic is delivered with help from Joe Walsh (lead vocals), David Grissom (lead guitar), Bob Glaub (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums). Meanwhile, Edgar Winter demonstrates his saxophone chops with a nice solo. Additional vocals are provided by guitarist Phil X. Yes, Johnny B. Goode has been covered a million times, but this is just a killer rendition.

Let’s do one more: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Winter included what is one of my all-time favorite Rolling Stones songs on his first live album Live Johnny Winter And, released in March 1971. Johnny Winter And was actually the name of Winter’s band at the time. This new version features the above-mentioned Phil X.

Some additional comments about the other musicians on the album. The above-mentioned Gregg Bissonette provides drums on all tracks except Stranger, which features Ringo Starr. Sean Hurley and Bob Glaub share duties on bass. Other guests include Doyle Bramhall II, John McFee, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Michael McDonald, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Waddy Wachtel.

The album also features the late Taylor Hawkins who provides lead vocals on Guess I’ll Go Away. This marks the ex-Foo Fighters drummer’s first posthumous recording following his untimely death on March 25, as reported by Rolling Stone.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album.

The album was produced by Edgar Winter and Ross Hogarth. According to Discogs, his previous production credits include artists, such as Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Rita Coolidge and Gov’t Mule. The album appears on Quarto Valley Records. According to Rock & Blues Mule, label founder Bruce Quarto was and remains a loyal and enthusiastic fan of Johnny, classic rock, and blues music. It was his positive energy that made Edgar realize that the time to pay musical respects to his departed brother had finally arrived.

Brother Johnny is a true labor of love. The one thing I find a bit unfortunate is the total absence of female artists. It certainly cannot be for lack of talent. Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popović, Dani Wilde and Sue Foley are some who in my mind could have been great fits. I understand Raitt and Wilde have shared the stage with Johnny Winter. Of course, there could be legitimate reasons for what on the surface does look a bit surprising.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Rolling Stone; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of the diversity of music of the past and the present, six tracks at a time. If you’ve looked at the blog before chances are you know what’s about to unfold. In case this is your inaugural visit welcome, and I hope you’ll be back. The first sentence pretty much sums up the idea behind the weekly feature. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Gerald Clayton/Peace Invocation (feat. Charles Lloyd)

I’d like to embark on today’s journey with beautiful music by Dutch-born American contemporary jazz pianist Gerald Clayton. From his website: The four-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition...Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, John Scofield…[the list goes on and on – CMM] Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles LloydThe son of beloved bass player and composer John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. This brings me to Bells on Sand, Clayton’s brand new album released on April 1. Peace Invocation, composed by Clayton, features the above-mentioned now-84-year-old sax maestro Charles Lloyd. Check out his amazing tone – feels like he’s caressing you with his saxophone!

Billy Joel/Allentown

Next, let’s go to another piano man and the year 1982. When I think of pop and piano men, the artists who come to mind first are Elton John and Billy Joel. While John recently announced the remaining dates of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road The Final Tour, as reported by Billboard, the piano man from New York apparently has no plans to retire. Instead, he continues to sell out show after show at Madison Square Garden, even though he hasn’t released any new pop music since August 1993 when his 12th studio album River of Dreams came out. I was fortunate to see the man at MSG in the early 2000s, and it was a really great show – in terms of the atmosphere think Bruce Springsteen playing MetLife Stadium in New Jersey! The Nylon Curtain, Joel’s eighth studio release from September 1982, remains among my favorites. Here’s Allentown, his blue-collar anthem about the plight and resilience of steelworkers in the Allentown, Pa. region in the early ’80s following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure.

Buddy Guy/Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck, Keith Richards)

Hopefully, I don’t jinx myself with this next pick, but I just couldn’t help it! Undoubtedly, more frequent visitors of the blog have noticed my love of the blues, especially electric guitar blues. One of the artists I keep going back to in this context is the amazing, now 85-year-old Buddy Guy. I’m beyond thrilled I got a ticket to see him on Wednesday night at a midsize theater in New Jersey – a total impulse purchase! It would be my third time. After a near-70-year career, Guy continues to be a force of nature. Here’s Cognac, a track from his most recent studio album The Blues Is Alive and Well, released in June 2018. Co-written by Guy, Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the song features Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. It really doesn’t get much better when three guitar legends come together to play some blistering blues while taking sips of liquid gold! You can read more about the album here.

The Rolling Stones/The Last Time

Getting to The Rolling Stones from Keith Richards isn’t a big leap, but there’s more to it than you may realize. Long before Keef got together with Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck to play guitar and sip some cognac, there was a special connection between British blues rock-oriented artists, such as Eric Clapton, Beck and the Stones, and American blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy. When U.S. musical variety TV series Shindig! invited the Stones in 1965 to perform on the program, Mick Jagger agreed under one condition: They would have to let Muddy Waters on as well. Apparently, the bookers had no clue who that was. “You mean to tell me you don’t know who Muddy Waters is?”, Jagger asked in complete disbelief. Guy likes to tell the story during his shows to this day – and to express his appreciation that British acts like the Stones, Beck and Clapton played a key role to introduce white American audiences to African American blues artists. Here’s one of my favorite early Stones songs. The Last Time, which first appeared in February 1965 as a single in the UK, holds the distinction of being the first original Stones tune released as an A-side. Credited to Jagger/Richards, as would become usual, the tune was also included on the U.S. version of Out of Our Heads, the band’s fourth American studio record from July 1965.

Christopher Cross/Ride Like the Wind

Our next stop takes us to the late ’70s and Christopher Cross. Call me a softie, I’ve always had a thing for the American singer-songwriter whose eponymous debut album from December 1979 is regarded as a key release of the yacht rock genre. Perhaps it helped that one of his best-known songs was titled Sailing and appeared on that record. On a more serious note, I think Cross has written some nice songs. Here’s my favorite, Ride Like the Wind, which together with Sailing and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) became his biggest hits. Cross dedicated the catchy tune to Little Feat co-founder and leader Lowell George who had passed away in June 1979. It features Michael McDonald on backing vocals and a pretty good guitar solo played by Cross. Now 70 years old, Cross is still around and to date has released 15 studio albums. Apart from the debut I’ve only listened to his sophomore release Another Page.

Stone Temple Pilots/Plush

And once again we’ve reached the end of our journey. I’ll leave you with some ’90s alternative rock by Stone Temple Pilots. Plush, off their debut album Core, became their first single to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and one of their biggest hits. Frankly, I mostly know the band by name, but that tune seemingly was everywhere when it came out in May 1993 as the album’s second single. The song was co-written by Scott Weiland, Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo, who at the time were the Pilots’ lead vocalist, drummer and bassist, respectively. Kretz and DeLeo remain with the band’s current lineup, which also includes DeLeo’s older brother and co-founder Dean DeLeo (guitar) and Jeff Gutt (lead vocals). The Pilots’ eighth and most recent album Perdida appeared in February 2020. Excluding the group’s 5-year hiatus between 2003 and 2008, they have been around for some 28 years – pretty impressive! Perhaps I should check ’em out one of these days.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; Gerald Clayton website; Billboard; YouTube; Spotify

The Doobie Brothers Are Still Runnin’ Strong

Liberté is band’s first album of all-new music in 11 years

The Doobie Brothers are back with new music. After having listened to Liberté a few times, I find there is much to like about the band’s 15th studio album, their first with all new original tunes since World Gone Crazy from September 2010. Their most recent studio release Southbound, which appeared in November 2014, featured remakes of their biggest hits and some other songs recorded in collaboration with artists like Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and Huey Lewis and Brad Paisley.

Released on October 1, Liberté was produced by John Shanks who has worked with a broad array of artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge. Shanks also co-wrote all of the 12 tunes with either Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, vocals) or Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals), who co-founded the Doobies in San Jose, Calif. in 1970, together with Dave Shogren (bass, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and John Hartman (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Doobie Brothers - Official Site
The Doobie Brothers (from left): Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee

The Doobie Brothers’ other core members are John McFee (guitar, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), who has been part of the line-up since 1979, and Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), who has been and off since he first joined in 1975. McDonald was not involved in recording Liberté. He rejoined the Doobies in November 2019 ahead of their planned 50th anniversary tour in 2020. It was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and finally kicked off on August 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

When the Doobies first announced Liberté in early August, they released the first four tracks of the album as a self-titled EP. Previously, I included one of these tunes, Don’t Ya Mess With Me, in a Best of What’s New installment. As such, I will skip the rocker here. Let’s get to some of the album’s other music.

Here’s the opener Oh Mexico. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, the rock tune has a vibe of early Doobies. Johnston sounds great on vocals. I also dig the tune’s neat slide guitar work.

Cannonball is an acoustic-oriented song co-written by Shanks and Simmons. While this doesn’t sounds like classic Doobies, I still like it.

The American Dream, a nostalgic tune reminiscing of the top down and the radio on, and dancin’ in the streets, is another co-write by Shanks and Johnston.

One of my early favorites is the soulful Shine Your Light. The tune was co-written by Shanks and Johnston as well.

The last tune I’d to call out is Just Can’t Do This Alone. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, this tune reminds me a bit of Listen to the Music, the first hit the Doobies scored in 1972, a single off their sophomore album Toulouse Street.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Liberté. While it’s fair to say it’s no Toulouse Street or The Captain and Me, I find the album an enjoyable listening experience.

“How does any band know?,” Johnston said during a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “You’re just trying to get it together and move forward. At the start of this band, we hadn’t done anything yet and we were playing bars like everyone else. Luckily, we did a demo tape that got us a record deal with Warner Bros. Our first album didn’t sell, but the second did. And the rest is history.” Indeed, 51 years and counting; or, if you exclude the band’s five-year hiatus between 1982 and 1987, it’s 46 years – still a mighty long time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Doobie Brothers website; San Diego Union-Tribune; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, according to my calendar it is! And, if you’re in the U.S., we’re two weeks out from Labor Day weekend – that’s just crazy! Though I’d quickly like to add it’s a widely held misconception the holiday marks the end of summer. The good news is summer officially lasts until September 22, so we still have about a month left! On to newly released music that caught my attention!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter. According to her Apple Music profile, Cut from the same cloth as fiery crooners Jana Kramer, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, country singer Maggie Rose was born Margaret Rose Durante in 1988 in Potomac, Maryland. Durante took to the stage at the age of 16, performing frequently with the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover group, before heading off to Clemson University. She left school in her sophomore year to focus on music, eventually relocating to Nashville, Tennessee on the advice of industry icon Tommy Mottola. Mottola helped her ink a deal with Universal Republic, which released her debut single, a 2009 cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” She left the label the following year and signed with Emrose Records, releasing a pair of singles and an EP under her birth name before assuming the moniker Maggie Rose for the 2012 single “I Ain’t Your Mama.” A debut full-length album, Cut to Impress, produced by Blake Chancey, Stephony Smith, and James Stroud, appeared from RPM Records in the spring of 2013. Here’s What Are We Fighting For, the soulful opener of Rose’s third album Have a Seat that dropped yesterday (August 20). Rose wrote this great tune together with guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman (background vocals, percussion), who according to her website are longtime band members/collaborators.

The Joy Formidable/Into the Blue

The Joy Formidable are a UK alternative rock band from Wales. They were formed in 2007 by childhood friends Ritzy Bryan (guitar, vocals) and Rhydian Davies (bass), who had previously played together in Manchester group Tricky Nixon, and Justin Stahley (drums). In 2009, following the band’s debut EP, current drummer Matthew James Thomas replaced Stahley. The following year, The Joy Formidable signed with Atlantic subsidiary Canvasback Records. Their debut album The Big Roar from January 2011 led to immediate chart success in the UK, climbing to no. 31 on the Official Albums Chart. Charting in the U.S. didn’t occur until the group’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, which reached no. 51 and 11 on the Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums charts, respectively. Into the Blue is the title track of The Joy Formidable’s fifth and new album released yesterday. Like all other tracks on it, the song was co-written by Bryan and Davies.

Andrea von Kampen/That Spell

Andrea von Kampen is a Lincoln, Neb.-based f0lk singer-songwriter. From her website: With the successful release of two EP’s, Another Day (2015) and Desdemona (2016), a Christmas EP (2016), an Audiotree Live album (2017), and her debut full-length album Old Country (2019), Andrea has quickly established herself in the recording studio and on the road. She has shared the stage with artists such as Tall Heights, Ira Wolf, Dead Man Winter, The Brother Brothers, Dead Horses, Darling West and many more…Inspiration for Andrea’s songs often come from literature, art, and nature; in particular the literature and nature of Nebraska and the Midwest… Andrea von Kampen first appeared in the public eye with her submission of Let Me Down Easy into the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. Within 24 hours of submission, NPR Music, All Songs Considered tweeted her video as the featured artist of the day, saying “we were completely blown away.” Ultimately, Andrea finished the competition as a top ten finalist, which lead to increased popularity of her EP, Another Day, specifically her song Trainsong. Since then, her EPs have amassed millions of streams on Spotify and continue to grow. On August 6, van Kampen released her sophomore album That Spell. Here’s the title track that had first appeared on July 23 as the lead single – nice music to sit down to listen.

The Doobie Brothers/Don’t Ya Mess With Me

I trust The Doobie Brothers need no introduction. It’s great to see a band that has been active for more than 45 years (with a 5-year hiatus between 1982 to 1987) is still releasing new music. Their official current line-up includes original members Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, piano, lead and backing vocals) and Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, lead and backing vocals), along with longtime on-and-off member John McFee (guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals). Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, lead and backing vocals), another on-and-off member over the decades, will join the Doobies on their upcoming tour. On October 1, they are scheduled to release their 15th studio album Liberté. The album, which doesn’t include McDonald, is the group’s first new studio release in seven years since Southbound from November 2014, and their first of new original material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy. Here’s lead single Don’t Ya Mess With Me, one of four tracks released upfront as a self-titled EP on August 6 when the band announced Liberté. Johnston penned the rocker with co-producer John Shanks. It may be no China Grove, Rockin’ Down the Highway or Long Train Runnin’, but it still makes me a happy camper!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Maggie Rose website; Andrea van Kampen website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors know what’s about to happen. To new readers, The Sunday Six is all about enjoying the diversity and beauty of music. I make a deliberate effort to feature different music genres including some I don’t listen to frequently. While the resulting picks, therefore, can appear to be random, these posts don’t capture the first six tunes that come to my mind. At the end of the day, anything goes as long as it speaks to me.

George Benson/Breezin’

Kicking is off is some groovy guitar pop jazz by George Benson. Benson started to play the guitar as an eight-year-old, following the ukulele he had picked up a year earlier. Incredibly, he already recorded by the age of 9, which means his career now stands at a whooping 57 years and counting! He gained initial popularity in the 1960s, performing together with jazz organist Jack McDuff. Starting with the 1963 live album Brother Jack McDuff Live!, Benson appeared on various McDuff records. In 1964, he released his debut as a bandleader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, which featured McDuff on piano and organ. In the ’70s, Benson started to venture beyond jazz into pop and R&B. Breezin’ from May 1976 is a good example. Not only did it top Billboard’s jazz chart, but it also climbed to no. 1 on the R&B and mainstream charts. Here’s the title track, written by Bobby Womack who also originally recorded it in December 1970, together with Hungarian jazz guitar great Gábor Szabó. It appeared on Szabó’s 1971 album High Contrast. Here’s Benson’s version. The smooth and happy sound are perfect for a Sunday morning!

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Let’s stay in pop jazzy lane for a bit longer with Steely Dan, one of my all-time favorite bands. I trust Messrs. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for jazz and other music, don’t need much of an introduction. By the time they met guitarist Denny Dias in the summer of 1970, they already had written a good amount of original music. Steely Dan’s  first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters. It was also Katz who signed the Dan to the label. By the time their sixth and, in my opinion, best album Aja appeared in September 1977, Steely Dan had become a studio project by Fagen and Becker who surrounded themselves with a changing cast of top-notch session musicians and other artists. In this case, the latter included Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), among others. Here’s Home at Last, which like all other tracks on the album was co-written by Fagen and Becker. In addition to them, the track featured Carlton (though the solo was played by Becker who oftentimes left lead guitar responsibilities to a session guitarist like Carlton), Rainey (bass), Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Bernard Purdie (drums), Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals), and of course an amazing horn section, including Jim Horn (what an appropriate name!), Bill Perkins, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Chuck Findley, Lou McCreary and Dick Hyde.

The Temptations/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Time to start switching up things with a dose of ’70s funk and psychedelic soul, don’t you agree? Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations is one of the coolest tunes I can think of in this context. Co-written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song was first released as a single in May 1972 by the label’s recording act The Undisputed Truth. While the original to which you can listen here is pretty good as well, it’s the great rendition by The Temptations I heard first and have come to love! They recorded an 11-minute-plus take for their studio album All Directions from July 1972. In September that year, The Temptations also released a 6:54-minute single version of the song. While it still was a pretty long edit for a single, it yielded the group their second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’70s. It would also be their last no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. By the time Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone appeared, the group already had seen various changes and only featured two members of the classic line-up: Otis Williams (baritone) and Melvin Franklin (bass). The other members were Dennis Edwards (tenor), Damon Harris (tenor) and Richard Street (second tenor). Amazingly, The Temptations still exist after some 60 years (not counting the group’s predecessors), with 79-year-old Otis Williams remaining as the only original member. I have tickets to see them together with The Four Tops in early November – keeping fingers crossed! Meanwhile, here’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, of course, the mighty album version, coz I don’t do things half ass here! 🙂

Peter Gabriel/Don’t Give Up (feat. Kate Bush)

Let’s go to a different decade with another artist I’ve come to dig, which in no small part was due to this album: Peter Gabriel and So, his fifth studio release from May 1986. It’s probably Gabriel’s most mainstream-oriented album. Much of the former Genesis lead vocalist’s other solo work has been more of an acquired taste. I also didn’t pay much attention after his follow-on Us that appeared in September 1992. Fueled by the hit single Sledgehammer, which topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, peaked at no. 3 in Australia and New Zealand, and reached the top 10 in Germany and various other European countries, So became Gabriel’s best-selling solo album. I did catch him during the supporting tour in Cologne, Germany, and still have fond memories of that gig. Here’s Don’t Give Up, a haunting duet with Kate Bush. Inspired by U.S. Depression era photos from the 1930s Gabriel had seen, he applied the theme to the difficult economic conditions in Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s England. While the tune is a bit of a Debbie Downer, I find it extremely powerful. You can literally picture the lyrics as a movie. I also think the vocals alternating between Gabriel and Bush work perfectly.

The Turtles/Happy Together

I suppose after the previous tune, we all could need some cheering up. A song that always puts me in a good mood is Happy Together by The Turtles. Plus, it broadens our little musical journey to include the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. The Turtles started performing under that name in 1965. Their original members, Howard Kaylan (lead vocals, keyboards), Mark Volman (backing vocals, guitar, percussion), Al Nichol (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jim Tucker (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chuck Portz (bass) and Don Murray (drums), had all played together in a surf rock-oriented band called The Crossfires. That group turned into The Tyrtles, a folk rock outfit, before becoming The Turtles and adopting more of a sunshine pop style. The band’s initial run lasted until 1970. Vollman and Kaylan subsequently launched pop duo Flo & Eddie and released a series of records between 1972 and 2009. In 1983, Vollman and Kaylan legally regained the use of the name The Turtles and started touring as The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie. Instead of seeking to reunite with their former bandmates, Vollman and Kaylan relied on other musicians. The group remains active in this fashion to this day. Their website lists a poster for a Happy Together Tour 2021 “this summer,” though currently, no gigs are posted. Happy Together was the title track of the band’s third studio album from April 1967. Co-written by Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner, the infectious tune became The Turtles’ biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in Canada, and reaching no. 12 in the UK, marking their first charting single there.

Simple Minds/Stand by Love

I can’t believe it’s already time to wrap up this latest installment of The Sunday Six. For this last tune, I decided to pick a song from the early ’90s: Stand by Love by Simple Minds. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Scottish new wave and pop rock band and don’t follow them closely, I generally enjoy their music. I also got to see them live once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s and remember it as a good show. Simple Minds emerged in late 1977 from the remains of short-lived punk band Johnny & The Self-Abusers. By late 1978, the band’s first stable line-up was in place, featuring Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Mick MacNeil (keyboards), Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums). That formation recorded Simple Minds’ debut album Life in a Day released in April 1979. Their fifth studio album New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) was the first to bring more significant commercial success in the UK and Europe. This was followed by a series of additional successful albums that appeared between 1984 and 1995, which included the band’s biggest hits, such as Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive and Kicking, Belfast Child and Let There Be Love. Today, more than 40 years after their formation, Simple Minds are still around, with Kerr and Burchill remaining part of the current line-up. Here’s Stand by Love, co-written by Burchill and Kerr, from the band’s ninth studio album Real Life that came out in April 1991. This is quite a catchy tune. I also dig the backing vocals by what sounds like gospel choir, which become more prominent as the song progresses.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie website; YouTube

My Playlist: Steely Dan

Together with a handful of other bands and artists I’ve dug for many years, I couldn’t think of a better group to dedicate the first playlist of 2021 than to the amazing Steely Dan. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve put together a career-spanning playlist.

Before getting to some music, as usual, I’d like to provide a bit of background, for which I’m going to borrow from previous posts. The original masterminds behind Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.

The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a “bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops.” Becker was playing bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later. When they met Dias, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.

Donald Fagan & Walter Becker
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for each of the band’s following seven studio albums: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).

Steely Dan: The Very Best Of | Music | Entertainment | Express.co.uk
Steely Dan in 1972 (from left): Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Walter Becker, David Palmer, Denny Dias, Donald Fagen and Jim Hodder

In June 1981, Fagen and Becker disbanded and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career.

In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited for an American tour in support of Fagen’s second studio album Kamakiriad, which had appeared in May that year and had been produced by Becker. While Fagen and Becker continued Steely Dan tours, it took until February 2000 before their next new album Two Against Nature appeared. One more album followed: Everything Must Go from June 2003.

UPDATED] Walter Becker Estate Issues Statement Regarding Donald Fagen  Lawsuit
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

After the release of Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat in March 2006, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. On September 3, 2017, Becker passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 67.

At the time of Becker’s death, Donald Fagen said on his Facebook page, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” And that’s exactly what he has been doing until COVID-19 hit. I was fortunate to see him twice in 2018 and wrote about it here and here. I’m currently scheduled to see him again open air in early July together with Steve Winwood – keeping fingers crossed. Time for some music!

I’d to kick things off with the aforementioned Dallas, Steely Dan’s first single. Like all tracks in this post, the song was co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sung by drummer Jim Hodder, the county-flavored tune was not included on Steely Dan’s debut album but appeared in 1978 on a compilation titled Steely Dan.

Perhaps my favorite early Dan tune is the rocker Reelin’ In the Years, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill from November 1972. It also became the album’s second single in March 1973. The song’s kickass guitar solo was played by session musician Elliott Randall, which none other than Jimmy Page called his favorite guitar solo of all time.

Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore release from July 1973, was the band’s first album without vocalist David Palmer that saw Donald Fagen sing lead on every tune. Here’s the album’s second single My Old School. While the record didn’t have a hit and couldn’t match the debut’s chart success, it was well received by critics at the time, and My Old School became a fan favorite.

Pretzel Logic, Dan’s third studio album released in February 1974, was the last to feature the full core lineup of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Baxter and Hodder. It also included contributions from many prominent LA musicians, such as future Toto members David Paich (piano, keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), then-Poco bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals) who would later join the Eagles, and session bassist Chuck Rainey. Here’s opener Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which also became the lead single in April 1974.

By the time Steely Dan’s next album Katy Lied came out in March 1975, most of their original members had left. The band essentially became Becker and Fagen who continued to hire top-notch musicians to support their recording sessions. In addition to Paich and Porcaro, the latter included Rick Derringer and Michael McDonald. Katy Lied also became the first Dan album to feature amazing session guitarist Larry Carlton. Here’s Doctor Wu. The alto saxophone solo was played by jazz saxophonist Phil Woods.

Next up: Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s fifth studio album. Both appeared in May 1976. The funky tune features the above noted Larry Carlton whose guitar solo was ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in May 2008. I also dig Chuck Rainey’s bass work on that tune.

This brings me to Aja, which to me is Steely Dan’s Mount Rushmore. Released in September 1977, this album is pure perfection. While I could have selected any track, I simply couldn’t ignore my all-time favorite Dan tune: Deacon Blues. Even after having listened to it countless times, I still get excited about this song. I think it represents a perfect blend of jazz, pop and rock, and I love the smooth sound. BTW, Becker played bass on this one. But the real standout are the horns.

Steely Dan’s next album Gaucho from November 1980 proved to be a huge challenge to make, which ultimately resulted in the above breakup in June 1981. Driven by Fagen’s and Becker’s perfectionism, the recording sessions used at least 42 musicians and took more than a year. In January 1980, Becker’s girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley died of a drug overdose at his home. Her family subsequently brought a $17.5 million lawsuit, charging he had introduced her to drugs. The case was settled out of court. Shortly after Stanley’s death, Becker was hit by a taxi shattering his right leg. During his six-month recovery, he and Fagen collaborated via phone. Here’s the album’s lead track Babylon Sisters.

February 2000 saw the release of Two Against Nature, Fagen’s and Becker’s first new Steely Dan studio album in 20 years since Gaucho. It became one of their most successful albums. In addition to earning a Platinum certification in the U.S., Two Against Nature won four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year. Here’s the groovy Cousin Dupree, which won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track of Steely Dan’s ninth studio album Everything Must Go, the final with Walter Becker, released in June 2003. I think Apple Music correctly notes the lyrics sound like the song is a permanent sign-off: Guess it’s time for us to book it/Talk about the famous road not taken/In the end we never took it/And if somewhere on the way/We good a few good licks in/No one’s ever gonna know/Cause we’re goin’ out of business/Everything must go.

If Everything Must Go indeed signaled Steely Dan’s final studio album, it wasn’t a total sign-off. Fagen and Becker continued to tour as Steely Dan almost every year thereafter until 2017. Becker’s final performance was on May 27 that year at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Conn.

Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Steely Dan at No. 15 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Doobie Brothers/Rockin’ Down the Highway

The news this morning that The Doobie Brothers are among the 2020 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made me happy. This band represents two worlds I generally dig: Great ’70s rock and precious multi-part vocal harmonies. While I didn’t have time to write a longer post, at least I wanted to celebrate the occasion with a nice clip of one of my favorite Doobie tunes: Rockin’ Down the Highway.

This great footage was captured in July 2004 at Wolf Trap National Park in Virginia. The Doobies also recorded an album from that gig in October of the same year, titled Live at Wolf Trap. Written by Tom Johnston, the great rocker first appeared on the band’s sophomore album Toulouse Street released in July 1972.

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of The Doobie Brothers are Patrick Simmons (guitar, vocals), the only member who has been in all of the band’s line-ups from the beginning; additional founding members Tom Johnston (guitar, vocals) and John Hartman (drums); as well as members who joined later, including John McFee (guitar, vocals), Michael Hossack (drums, percussion), Tiran Porter (bass, vocals), Keith Knudsen (drums, backing vocals), Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (guitar) and Michael McDonald (keyboards, vocals).

2020 promises to be an eventful year for The Dobbie Brothers. In addition to the induction, the band will release an EP with five new songs in the spring, as Simmons told Rolling Stone today. The Doobies will also tour North America to celebrate their 50th anniversary, for which current core members Simmons, Johnston and McFee reunite with McDonald. The 50-plus-date tour is set to kick off in West Plam Beach, Fla. on June 9. Some of the other dates include Nashville, Tenn. (June 17); Mansfield, Mass. (July 3); Toronto, Canada (July 19); Indianapolis (July 30); St. Louis (Aug 14); Denver (Aug 30); Los Angeles (Sep 18); and Houston (Oct 10). The final currently announced gig is Memphis, Tenn. (Oct 17). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; Rolling Stone; Doobie Brothers website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Something in the Air

Boy, do I love this catchy tune, and now it’s stuck in my head! I heard it for the first time by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 1993 Greatest Hits compilation. Because it sounds so much like he could have written it, for a long time, I thought Something in the Air was a Tom Petty song! The original version was first released in May 1969 by Thunderclap Newman, a British band with an intriguing history that involves Pete Townshend who founded and produced them – something I might explore in a separate post. Townshend also played bass on the recording under the alias Bijou Drains. The tune was written by John David Percy “Speedy” Keen, Townshend’s former chauffeur who also penned Armenia in the City, a song The Who included on their 1967 album The Who Sell Out. Something In The Air topped the UK Singles Chart in July 1969 and was the sole no. 1 hit for Thunderclap Newman who only recorded one study album before they disbanded in April 1971.

Since I really dig the Tom Petty cover, here it is, taken from The Live Anthology, released in November 2009. This fantastic box set nicely illustrates that in addition to great original songs, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a top-notch cover band – a potential fun topic for yet another post!

And, coz’ three make a charm, let’s throw in yet another version of the song that until today I had no idea existed: The Dukes of September. Formed in 2010, this American “supergroup” included Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. Essentially, it was a revival of The New York Rock and Soul Revue, a music project produced by Fagen’s then-future wife Libby Titus. Led by Fagen, the project involved a series of concerts between 1989 and 1992, which also featured McDonald, Scaggs and various other prominent music artists who performed a mix of their own songs and covers.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube