Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After a two-week hiatus due to a vacation in Germany, I’m happy to be back. The first two songs highlighted in this post are from albums that were released yesterday (August 12). The two remaining picks reflect music that appeared while I was out. Let’s get to it!

Tony Molina/The Last Time

Kicking things off today is Tony Molina. From his Apple Music profile: California native Tony Molina spent years working in the punk and hardcore scenes before venturing out into his much poppier solo work. Living in the Bay Area, Molina played in various D.I.Y. hardcore acts starting in his teenage years. In 2013, while still fronting the much more aggressive Caged Animal, Molina released his solo debut, Dissed and Dismissed, a collection of 12 short and fuzzy tunes that took notes from ’90s indie and power pop acts like Weezer, Dinosaur Jr., and Teenage Fanclub. The incredibly brief album (the 12 tunes rush by in as many minutes) caught the ears of various labels and booking agents, and within the year, Molina was scheduled to release singles with indie luminaries like Matador and Slumberland. Fast forward nine years to Molina’s third solo album In the Fade. Here’s The Last Time, a nice fuzzy rocker!

Collective Soul/Reason

The first time I heard of Collective Soul was in March 1993 when they seemingly emerged out of nowhere with their debut single Shine. I immediately dug what became their biggest hit to date. Then the alternative rock band completely fell off my radar screen. Frankly, I had no idea they are still around and have since released 10 additional studio albums, including their latest titled Vibrating. Three of the group’s founding members are still part of the current line-up: Ed Roland (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards), his brother Dean Roland (rhythm guitar) and Will Turpin (bass, percussion backing vocals). Jesse Triplett (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Johnny Rabb (drums, percussion) have been with the band since 2014 and 2012, respectively. Reason, penned by Ed Roland, is a nice melodic rock tune.

Sheryl Crow/Circles

I trust Sheryl Crow, one of my favorite pop rock artists, needs no further introduction. When Crow released Threads in August 2019, she said her 11th studio album would be her last full-length effort, citing changed listening habits in the era of music streaming. I reviewed it here at the time. But the singer-songwriter also noted this didn’t mean retirement or no more new music. While Crow hasn’t been exactly prolific since Threads, she has followed through on her announcement. The latest example is her rendition of Circles, a tune written by Post Malone who first released the song as a single in August 2019, off his third studio album Hollywood’s Bleeding that appeared in September of the same year. Crow put out her cover of the tune as a single on August 2.

Tedeschi Trucks Band/Emmaline

My last pick for this Best of What’s New installment is Emmaline, a song off Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am the Moon: III. The Fall, the third of their ambitious four-album I Am the Moon studio project, released July 29. I covered the first two installments here. The fourth and final album I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell is scheduled for August 23. I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, a group founded in 2010 by married couple Susan Tedeschi  (guitar, vocals) and slide guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks, who among others was a member of The Allman Brothers Band from 1999 until they disbanded in 2014. Emmaline was written by Mike Mattison, one of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s harmony vocalists – great tune!

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

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Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am The Moon Dubbed Their Most Ambitious Studio Project to Date

Part I: I. Crescent & II. Ascension

Since I came across I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, which Tedeschi Trucks Band released on CD and digitally on Friday, I’ve been listening to their latest album and quickly come to dig it. It’s the second in a series of four I Am The Moon albums the band calls “the most ambitious studio project of their storied career” on their website. While I’m still new to the group’s music though not their name, I’ve no doubt that claim is true.

A series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs, all of which were inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem certainly sounds like an extraordinary effort. Intriguingly, that same poem also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. There’s a lot to unpack here, so please bear with me. 🙂

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I’m The Moon includes four albums: I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, who were founded in 2010 and are led by married couple Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar). After touring together in 2007 as the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to create a mighty 11-piece band. In 2015, they added another member and have since been a 12-piece – what an army of musicians!

Trucks, an incredible slide guitarist, started playing guitar at the age of nine and two years later performed his first paid gig. He was a former member of The Allman Brothers Band from 1999 until they disbanded in 2014. Derek is the nephew of the late Butch Trucks, a founder of the Allmans and their drummer. Tedeschi is no slouch either. She has played in bands since the age of 13, formed her first all-original group at 18, and in 1995 released the first of seven studio albums under her name. Tedeschi met Trucks in 1999 when her band opened for the Allmans. They hit it off, both personally and professionally.

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Led by Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar), the group also includes original members Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals) and Kebbi Williams (saxophone). Isaac Eady (drums & percussion), Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Brandon Boone (bass) and Gabe Dixon (keyboards & vocals) complete the current 12-piece lineup

Back to I Am The Moon. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest project was inspired by Layla and Majnun, a poem written by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The romantic narrative poem has been called the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by English poet Lord Byron, who according to Wikipedia is considered one of the greatest English poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement. I’m not a poetry expert, but I’m taking that statement at face value.

An album essay written by renowned American music journalist David Fricke notes I’m The Moon is inspired by classical literature but emotionally driven by the immediate drama, isolation and mourning of the pandemic era. There is the recurring fight for hope too, the reaching across damaged connections – all of that trial and urgency unfolding over a robust tapestry of blues, funk, country, jazz and gospel in collaborative writing, luminous singing and the instant fire of improvisation.

The initial idea to write an album based on the Layla and Majnun poem came from vocalist Mike Mattison in May 2020, two months after the group had been forced to stop touring by the pandemic. Nine months earlier, Tedeschi Trucks Band had performed the entire Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs live at the LOCKN’ Festival, which was released in July 2021 as Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’). Apparently, that created the initial spark.

“We get so carried away with the music – everyone knows it so well,” Mattison said, according to Fricke’s album essay. “That album is one point of view, Layla as this love object: ‘I want you, I can’t have you.'” But after Mattison read the original work, “I realized there are many things going on from different perspectives” and proposed “revisiting this source material as a band, as writers.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: Mike Mattison of Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at The Greek Theatre on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Golden/WireImage)

This review includes I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, as well as the first album, I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, which appeared on June 3. The corresponding films premiered on May 31 and June 28, respectively. The two remaining albums, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, are slated for July 29 and August 23, respectively, with their corresponding films scheduled to come out July 26 and August 23. I’m planning to review the two outstanding albums together in late August.

I’d say it’s finally time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the opener of I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, Hear My Dear. The beautiful tune was co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Gabe Dixon, the band’s keyboarder and one of the vocalists. Check out that warm sound – this is really sweet!

Another highlight on the first album of the series is the title track, which Dixon penned by himself. Pulling from Fricke’s album essay: “That was my idea, on the demo,” Dixon says of the space and crescendo at the end where Trucks solos, promising an even longer trip when this song goes into the setlists. “It was just me, playing some piano fills and singing over those chords. But of course, I thought, ‘This is going to be a solo section that can go however long we feel.'”

Let’s do one more from the first album: Circles ‘Round The Sun, co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Tyler Greenwell, one of the group’s two drummers. There’s a great soul vibe in that tune. With the gospel-like backing vocals, it also feels “churchy.” Check it out!

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

And, in case you’re curious, here’s the accompanying film. Like the other three films, it was directed by American documentary filmmaker and television writer Alix Lambert.

On to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, the current album in the series, which finally prompted me to take a closer look at Tedeschi Trucks Band. Since I just highlighted it in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping the excellent Playing With My Emotions and go right to the second track. Ain’t That Something is credited to Trucks, Dixon, Mattison and Tedeschi. It’s another soulful gem. I could see Bonnie Raitt play that tune. For some reason, I had always thought of Tedeschi Trucks Band as a “straight blues rock band.” Sure, there’s some of that here, but they also blend in soul and gospel. It’s one tasty stew!

Blues rock-oriented So Long Savior is closer to what I pictured Tedeschi Trucks Band to sound like. Written together by Trucks, Mattison and Tedeschi, the song shuffles along nicely and has some cool slide guitar action.

The last track I’d like to highlight from the second album is the closer. Hold That Line, a slower beautiful tune, was written together by Trucks, Dixon, Tedeschi and Greenwell. It’s neat the group has all these different writers!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension:

The companion film for the album is here.

Some remaining thoughts: Why four albums, you may wonder when the 24 songs could have fit on two or three CDs. According to Fricke’s album essay, the group looked at records they love such as Axis: Bold as Love, the 1967 album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “It’s 36 minutes long,” Trucks said. “That’s the way to digest a record.” That’s probably true for my and older generations. When it comes to most young folks, I’m afraid they no longer listen to albums and instead create their own playlists. Then again, teens and twenty-something-year-olds probably aren’t the group’s target audience in the first place.

As I noted at the beginning of the post, which at this point you can probably barely remember, I’m still new to Teschedi Trucks Band. As such, it’s a bit tricky to put I Am The Moon in the broader context of the band’s catalog to date. But having been a music fan for more than 45 years, I’m confident enough to say when I see greatness. To me, this album series has the ingredients of a career-defining Mount Rushmore-type release. I’d be curious to hear from readers who are more familiar with the group whether they agree with my assessment.

I Am The Moon certainly makes me want to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band who have been on the road since June 24. The Wheels of Soul 2022 tour is coming next to Westville Music Bowl, New Haven, Conn. (July 6) before moving on to Philly’s great The Mann Center for the Performing Arts (July 8) and Midway Lawn, Essex Junction, Vt. (July 9). Their U.S. tour concludes with a series of gigs at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in late September and early October before launching a European leg. The full schedule is here.

Last but not least, to all my readers in the United States, if you celebrate it, have a Happy Fourth of July. Most of all stay safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part II

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. This is the second part of a two-part post celebrating great live performances of blues and blues rock gems. In case you missed part I, you can check it out here. Now, come on, let’s have some more fun!

Buddy Guy/Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues

Having mentioned Buddy Guy more than once in part I, it’s about damn time that I feature the man. Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, written by Guy, is the title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991. The video footage documents his performance of the tune in September 2018 at the Americana 17th Annual Honors, held at the storied Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Guy was 82 at the time – an unbelievable force of nature! I saw him in April that year in New York City at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, where he was on fire was well. Sadly, his gig marked one of the last shows at that venue before they closed it down!

Jimi Experience Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

This post wouldn’t be complete without this killer performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, first appeared on the band’s third and final studio album Electric Ladyland that came out in October 1968. The clip is from a documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui, which chronicles the Experience’s visit to the Hawaiian island in July 1970 including their two performances there. The film and a companion album were released in November 2020.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Pride and Joy

Don’t get me started on Stevie Ray Vaughan. In my book, he was the most talented non-black electric blues guitarist I can think of. Buddy Guy during the previously noted documentary said Vaughan was to the blues what Michael Jordan was to basketball – great observation! Pride and Joy, written by the guitar virtuoso, was included on his debut studio album Texas Flood released in June 1983. The clip captures a performance of Vaughan and his backing band at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 – not exactly a match in heaven, since the audience clearly was less than enthusiastic about the band’s performance – I guess it was simply too much for their jazz ears! The band took it with pride, perhaps less with joy, though they still put on a killer performance!

Walter Trout/Bullfrog Blues

Walter Trout perhaps is the ultimate blues survivor. At about 2:30 minutes into his 2019 rendition of Bullfrog Blues at a jazz festival in Bavaria, Germany, Trout hints at what I mean, saying, “My life was saved by an organ donor. So sign up, be an organ donor and do something good for humanity.” In 2013, Trout’s past use of drugs and alcohol had caught up with him, and he found himself with end-stage liver disease, requiring a transplant to live or die. Luckily, a donor liver was found in time, and after a lengthy recovery during which Trout needed to relearn how to speak, walk and play the guitar, he was able to resume his career. Bullfrog Blues, a traditional, became the B-side of Canned Heat’s debut single Rollin’ and Tumblin’ from 1967. At the time, Trout was a 16-year-old growing up in New Jersey. Little did he know that he would join the band’s version that existed in 1981 and become their lead guitarist until 1985.

Ana Popović/Ana’s Shuffle

Time to feature another contemporary female blues rock artist: Ana Popović who was born in Serbia and has lived in the U.S. since 2016. It was her father Milton Popović, who introduced her to the blues, and she started playing guitar in Serbia at the age of 15. Four years later in 1995, she founded R&B band Hush there. The group disband in 1998 when Popović went to The Netherlands to study jazz guitar. The following year, she launched the Ana Popović Band in the Netherlands. In 2001, her solo debut Hush! appeared. Here’s a great live version of Ana’s Shuffle, an instrumental Popović first recorded for her sixth studio album Can You Stand the Heat from March 2013. It was co-written by her and co-producer Tony Coleman who was B.B. King’s drummer for 25 years. The following clip is from a March 2017 performance at a blues festival in Bethlehem, Pa.

Tedeschi Trucks Band/Midnight in Harlem

Since this two-part post was inspired by Tedeschi Trucks Band, it feels right to end it with a tune by what I would consider to be the best contemporary blues rock band. Here’s an August 2011 performance of Midnight in Harlem recorded in Atlanta. Co-written by the band’s harmony vocalist Mike Mattison and slide guitarist extraordinaire Derek Trucks, the track first appeared on their debut album Revelator released in June of the same year. Trucks absolutely shines on slide guitar, while Susan Tedeschi demonstrates her solid vocal skills. She’s also a great guitarist. The entire army of a band is just killer – this is what perfect musicianship looks like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part I

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. I was reminded of this on Saturday when thanks to fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride I listened to Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’).

This cool live album by Tedeschi Trucks Band, released back in July, celebrates Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the sole 1970 studio album by Derek and the Dominos. And just like blues musicians often feed off one another, I let this inspire me and decided to come up with a post of great live blues and blues rock performances. I’m going to do this in two parts. Hope you dig this as much as I do!

B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone

Let’s kick off part I with the king of electric guitar blues, the amazing B.B. King. He demonstrated that it’s not about speed and how many notes you play, it’s what you play. And when it comes to this man, he made every note count he played on his beloved “Lucille”. Check out this cool rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, captured in Chicago at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell and first recorded by Hawkins in 1951, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1969 and I would argue his signature song. King is joined by many of the musicians he influenced, including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan, among others. Check it out, this is just amazing!

John Lee Hooker/Boogie Chillen’

Recently, I watched the great documentary Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away, in which Guy identified John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’ as the first single he bought, and the song that got him hooked to the guitar and the blues! I’m thrilled I found this clip of Hooker performing the tune with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones in 1989 in Atlantic City, N.J. That’s what I call a cool backing band! Hooker wrote and first recorded the song in 1948. Clapton and the Stones, who are huge fans of American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker and have done a lot to promote their music, especially in the U.S., clearly cherished the moment.

Muddy Waters/Rollin’ Stone

Speaking of Muddy Waters, here’s a great live performance of Rollin’ Stone, the very song that inspired the name of the “world’s greatest rock & roll band.” An interpretation of delta blues tune Catfish Blues, Waters recorded Rollin’ Stone in 1950. The clip shows his performance of the song at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. It’s the oldest footage features in this two-part post.

Cream/Crossroads

Cream possibly are my all-time favorite blues rock band. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker perfectionated the art of the power trio. Here’s a great clip of Crossroads performed by the band in March 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium & Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Written by Robert Johnson who originally recorded it as Cross Road Blues in 1936, Crossroads (arranged by Clapton) appeared on Cream’s 1968 album Wheels of Fire. The live version on the record seems to be the same than the one that is captured in this clip.

Dani Wilde/Mississippi Kisses

Buddy Guy, who together with Taj Mahal is one of the last men standing of what I would call the old blues guard, often speaks about the need for young artists to come along to keep the blues alive when he will be gone. I’m actually pretty optimistic about this. Some great examples coming to mind include 22-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram; 24-year-old Jontavious Willis who has been called “wunderkind” by none other than Mahal; or 44-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But guess what? There are also some dynamite female blues and blues rock artists out there like 36-year-old British singer-songwriter Dani Wilde. Ana Popović, Shemekia Copeland and Eliana Cargnelutti are among some of the others who come to mind. Here’s a 2015 performance by Wilde of Mississippi Kisses, a tune she wrote for her 2012 album Juice Me Up.

J. Geils Band/First I Look at the Purse

A post about great live renditions of blues rock tunes would be amiss without the ultimate party group, the J. Geils Band, don’t you agree? I think it’s also a perfect way to wrap up part I. Here’s a cool clip taken from what looks like a 1979 appearance of the band on the German music TV program Rockpalast. One of my all-time favorites by the J. Geils Band is their high energy rendition of First I Look at the Purse. It’s the main part of this encore medley, which starts at around 4 minutes into the clip. Co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, the song was first released by Motown R&B group The Contours in 1965. J Geils Band recorded their cover of the tune for their eponymous debut album from November 1970, but it’s really their live rendition that brings out the song’s true magic. When watching this, don’t you feel like dropping anything you’re doing right now and going to a fuckin’ rock & roll show? What a killer performance by a killer live band!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube