Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Yes, folks, it’s Saturday again, which kind of amazes me. Where did the week go? Anyway, Saturday means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music. Unlike most previous Best of What’s New installments, which largely featured artists who are new to me, this week presents a mix of familiar and new names. All picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (July 8).

The Deslondes/Ways & Means

Kicking things off today are The Deslondes, a group formed in 2013 in New Orleans, blending folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, R&B, American roots music, blues, gospel, country and zydeco – quite a stew! From their Apple Music profile: Bringing their own style of down-home, rootsy twang to the home of the blues, the Deslondes are a band of rough but tuneful troubadours who found their voice when they settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. The quintet members adopted their name from a street in the Lower Ninth’s Holy Cross neighborhood, and they found kindred spirits in another New Orleans outfit, Hurray for the Riff Raff. Between developing a loyal following at home and impressing audiences on the road opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff, word began to spread about the Deslondes, and New West Records signed them to a recording contract, releasing their self-titled debut album in June 2015. Two additional albums have since come out, including their latest Ways & Means. Here’s the title track – like their sound!

Wet/Canyon

Wet are an indie pop group from Brooklyn, New York. They were formed in 2012 by Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow who had met in the city while they were students at NYU and Cooper Union. In 2013, after they had gained some attention through local gigs and posting music online, they signed with boutique record label Neon Gold and subsequently with Columbia. Wet’s self-titled debut EP came out in May 2014. Their first full-length album Don’t You was released in January 2016. Canyon, written by Zutrau, is a track from the group’s fourth and new studio album Pink Room. I find Zutrau’s vocals quite soothing.

Journey/Come Away With Me

After releasing The Way We Used to Be in June 2021, their first new music in 10 years, Journey are back with a new album. Yes, I know, some folks dismiss them as shallow arena rock or pop rock. I fully stand behind the fact that I have always liked a good number of their songs. Formed as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former Santana members  Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums), the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves  Journey, and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry joined as lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. While following Perry’s departure in 1998 Journey’s success began to wane and the group has seen various lineup changes over the decades, they have hung on, with Schon remaining as the only original member. The current core lineup also includes Arnel Pineda (lead vocals) and Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals). Here’s Come Away With Me, a track off the new album Freedom, Journey’s 15th studio release – their first in 11 years since Eclipse from May 2011.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Goin’ Home

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with something really cool – well, at least it excites me. Neil Young, one of my all-time favorite artists, is back with yet another previously abandoned album. In 2000, Young convened his longtime backing band Crazy Horse at Toast recording studio in San Francisco. But according to this review in Uncut, things didn’t work out, and while after playing some shows in South America the band returned to the studio invigorated, Young wasn’t happy with the outcome. Instead, he recorded an album with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Titled Are You Passionate? and released in April 2002, it included some leftover songs from the record he abandoned, which appropriately is titled Toast. From Young’s website neilyoungarchives.com: For the past two decades, Toast has been whispered about in collectors’ circles in hushed tones, as Young has dropped pieces of information about it here and there, especially as it contains three never-before-released songs. Here’s one of them: Standing in the Light of Love, a great Neil rocker – I just love the man!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above and some additional songs sans Neil Young. Most of his music remains off the platform after Young asked Spotify to remove it in April, protesting the company’s hosting of controversial podcaster Joe Rogan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Uncut; Neil Young Archives; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are when reading this – welcome to another Sunday Six. In this weekly feature, I’m embarking on imaginary time travel journeys to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors from different decades, six tunes at a time. Hop on for the ride and fasten your seatbelt.

Wayne Krantz/For Susan

Today, I’d like to start our little trip with beautiful instrumental music by Wayne Krantz, an American guitarist and composer who has been active since the ’80s. Telling you he “was good enough” for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to tour with Steely Dan and appear on Fagen’s 2006 solo album Morph the Cat should suffice. Krantz has also worked with jazz artists Billy Cobham, Chris Potter, David Binney and Carla Bley. And since 1990, he has released eight studio albums as a band leader. Let’s give a listen to For Susan, a soothing track from what appears to be Krantz’s first solo album Signals, released in 1990. Check out this amazing guitar tone – not surprisingly, it was instant love for me!

Fleetwood Mac/Sometimes

I think it’s safe to assume most folks best know Fleetwood Mac from their “classic period” between 1975 and 1987, which among others includes their most successful album Rumours (February 1977). But there’s more to the Mac who started out as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in July 1967, a blues rock band led by amazing blues guitarist Peter Green. In April 1970, Green who was in the throes of drug addiction and mental illness left the group. This started an interesting transitional era that initially featured Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan on guitars, in addition to co-founders John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums). They were soon officially be joined by Christine McVie (born Anne Christine Perfect), who in 1968 had married John McVie – the first of many complicated relationships among members of the Mac! By the time they released their fifth studio album Future Games in September 1971, Spencer had been replaced by guitarist Bob Welch. Here’s Sometimes, a great country rock tune off that record, penned by Kirwan – the Mac’s early blues rock days were in the distant past!

Fastball/Fire Escape

With their recent release of a nice new album, The Deep End, Fastball have been on my mind. The Texan band was formed in 1994 in Austin by Tony Scalzo  (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar),  Miles Zuniga  (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion), a lineup that remarkably remains in place to this day. You can read more about the group and their ups and downs in this feature I posted in February this year. I’d like to take us to March 1998, which saw the release of Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy, their breakthrough and most successful record. Instead of The Way, their biggest hit that initially brought the band on my radar screen, I’d like to highlight Fire Escape, another excellent tune. Written by Zuniga, the song also became the album’s second single. While it made various charts in the U.S. and Canada, surprisingly, it did fare far more moderately than The Way.

World Party/The Ballad of the Little Man

I still remember when I heard Ship of Fools for the first time in the ’80s and thought, ‘gee, the vocalist sounds a bit like Mick Jagger.’ The vocalist, of course, was singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger, who had started World Party in 1986 as a solo music project after his departure from The Waterboys. His debut album under the World Party moniker was Private Revolution, which came out in March 1987. It would be the first of five released over the following 13 years. In February 2001, Wallinger had an aneurysm that left him unable to speak and sidelined his career until 2006. While over the next 14 years he occasionally toured with a backing band as World Party and released the compilation Arkeology (2012) and a live album, World Party Live! (2014), Wallinger appears to have been inactive since 2015. Here’s The Ballad of the Little Man, a tune from Private Revolution. I love the cool ’60s vibe in many of Wallinger’s tunes!

The Doors/Light My Fire

The time has come to travel back to the ’60s for real. In January 1967, The Doors, one of my favorite groups, released their eponymous debut, and what a great record it was! Break On Through (To the Other Side), Soul Kitchen, Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) and the apocalyptic The End are among the gems here. And, of course, the mighty Light My Fire, which was primarily written by guitarist Robbie Krieger, though it was credited to the entire band. The song also became the group’s second single and their breakthrough. But I’m not featuring the shortened single edit. At CMM, we don’t do things half-ass! Ray Manzarek’s organ part is sheer magic to my ears. I never get tired of it!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

Once again we’re entering the final stretch of yet another Sunday Six. When it comes to Carlos Santana, who has been a favorite since I listened to the 1974 compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits as an 8-year-old, I’ve always loved his first three albums the most. This “classic period” spanned the years 1969 to 1971 and includes gems like Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Black Magic Woman, Samba Pa Ti and Everybody’s Everything. Needless to point out I was intrigued when sometime in early 2016 I learned Carlos had reunited with most of the surviving members from the band’s early ’70s lineup for a new album: Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboards), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals) and Michael Shrieve (drums). Sure, 46 years is a very long time and I couldn’t expect Santana IV would sound the same as those first three records. But I still liked what I heard. Perhaps best of all, I got to see that version of Santana live during a short supporting tour, which also featured Journey. I’m leaving you with Anywhere You Want to Go, penned by Rolie. Feel free to groove along!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify list of all the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday. I find it hard to believe we’ve already come to the end of January. Once again it’s time to embark on another mini-excursion to explore music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. Fasten your seatbelt and off we go!

Jimmy Smith/The Organ Grinder’s Swing

Our first stop on today’s time travel is groovy jazz by organist Jimmy Smith who helped popularize the magnificent Hammond B-3. Smith was already on stage in clubs as a 6-year-old when he joined his father for a song-and-dance routine. After Smith had taught himself how to play the piano, he won a Philadelphia radio talent contest as a boogie-woogie pianist when he was nine years old. Following service in the U.S. Army, Smith attended Royal Hamilton College of Music in Hamilton, Ontario in 1948, followed by Leo Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia a year later. He began exploring the Hammond organ in 1951, and played piano and organ in various Philadelphia R&B bands before switching to organ permanently in 1954. When Alfred Lion, co-founder of jazz label Blue Note Records, heard Smith perform in a local club, he signed him right away. Already his sophomore release The Champ from 1956 established Smith as a new jazz star. Between 1956 and 2005, he released an enormous amount of albums both as a leader and as a sideman playing with other prominent jazz musicians. The Organ Grinder’s Swing, a composition by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, is from a 1965 album titled Organ Grinder Swing. It features Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums. Take it away, boys!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

After this groovy start, let’s jump to April 2016 and keep groovin’ while adding some Latin flavor. If you are a more frequent visitor of the blog, chances are you have seen me write that I dig Carlos Santana, particularly his first three albums with the classic Santana band, which appeared between 1969 and 1971. As such, I was quite excited when I learned in 2016 that Carlos had reunited most of the band’s surviving members for a new album aptly called Santana IV. It was released in April that year, and Santana also toured with the band. I caught one of the fantastic shows in Allentown, Pa. You can see the setlist here. And here’s a tune from Santana IV, Anywhere You Want to Go. Keyboarder Gregg Rolie wrote that song, which they also played during the above-mentioned show. Other original members from the classic Santana band playing on the album and during the tour included Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals).

Bonnie Raitt/All At Once

For my next pick, I’m slowing things down with a beautiful tune by Bonnie Raitt, another artist I’ve loved for many years. Not only is Raitt an outstanding slide guitarist, but she’s also a no BS artist: What you get is what you see! All At Once, penned by her, is from Luck of the Draw, Raitt’s 11th studio album. It appeared in June 1993 and became her second hugely successful record following Nick of Time from March 1989, her commercial breakthrough that had come after years of personal and professional struggles. While unlike Nick of Time it didn’t top the U.S. charts (but reached a close no. 2), Luck of the Draw sold even more copies than its predecessor. Raitt dedicated the album to Stevie Ray Vaughan who had died in a helicopter crash in 1990 and had encouraged her to stop drinking. Apparently, Vaughan’s encouragement had a huge impact on Raitt’s becoming sober.

Badfinger/No Matter What

I would now like to turn to Badfinger, a band I’ve come to appreciate largely thanks to fellow blogger Max, aka badfinger20 from PowerPop. The Welsh rock band, widely recognized for their influence on ’70s power pop, evolved from The Iveys, a group formed in 1961. In 1968, they became the first band that was signed by The Beatles’ Apple label. Following the release of their debut album Maybe Tomorrow in July 1969, the group changed their name to Badfinger. From 1970 until 2000, nine albums appeared under that name. While Badfinger had four consecutive hits between 1970 and 1972, things tragically unraveled after Apple folded in 1973, and they struggled with a host of legal, managerial and financial problems. It drove two of the band’s members to commit suicide, Pete Ham in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983 – one of the saddest stories in pop rock history! Here’s No Matter What, Badfinger’s second hit released in the U.S. and UK in October and November 1970, respectively. Written by Ham, the beautiful power pop tune was also included on the group’s third studio album No Dice, released in November of the same year.

You’re Among Friends/Don’t Borrow Trouble

The next stop on this musical journey is the present. Shout-out to fellow blogger Eclectic Music Lover who does a great job in highlighting contemporary artists and bands who oftentimes aren’t widely known. One great example is You’re Among Friends, an indie rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. According to their blog/website, they were formed in 2007 by Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals), together with Chris Tarka (drums). Their current drummer Mike Janowitz has been with the group since 2019. Their website notes, Tagged as “casual rock” by Powerpopaholic, their music has been described as having “rollicking blues at its core with a sugary coating of power pop” by Cleveland Scene and as “a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock” by Eclectic Music Lover. To date, You’re Among Friends have released four full-length albums, as well as a couple of EPs and singles. Don’t Borrow Trouble is the catchy opener of the band’s fourth and latest album Good Enough Sometimes, released on January 10 this year.

Men At Work/Down Under

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth and final pick. This one’s by a band that came from a land down under: Men at Work. The group was formed in Melbourne in 1979 by Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), Ron Strykert (bass) and Jerry Speiser (drums), who were subsequently joined by Greg Ham (flute, sax, keyboards). By the time Men at Work recorded their debut album Business as Usual in 1981, they had added John Rees on bass and Strykert had switched to guitar. Down Under, co-written by Hay and Strykert, became the record’s second single in November that year and Men at Work’s biggest hit, topping the charts in Australia, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the UK and various other European countries. The tune introduced most of the world to the Vegemite sandwich, an Australian snack, as well as Australian slang terms, such as “fried-out” (overheated) and “a head full of zombie” (a marijuana reference). Late last year, Australian producer Christian “Luude” Benson remixed Down Under featuring Hay on vocals, which in January charted in the UK and Australia at no. 32 and no. 48, respectively – not my cup of tea, though I really like the original.

As usual, here’s a playlist with all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; You’re Among Friends website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest Best of What’s New installment coincides with the fifth anniversary of the blog, which was yesterday (June 25). If you’re curious, my inaugural post is here. Frankly, when I started this endeavor in June 2016, I really wasn’t sure whether I would stick with it. Lately, my time has been pretty limited to the point where I considered taking a break. But writing about music is way too much fun, so the show must go on! This brings me to my new music picks for this week: Three acts I had not heard of before, as well as a band I’ve known since the late ’70s and that is out with their first new music in a decade.

Lightning Bug/The Return

Lightning Bug are an indie pop band from Brooklyn, New York, which has been around for about 10 years. Unfortunately, there is very little official public information available on this band, so I’m largely relying on reviews by Spectral Nights, Stereogum and Americana Highways. Lightning Bug started out as a trio consisting of multi-instrumentalists Audrey Kang (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocal loops, violin, synthesizer, electronics, bowed cymbal, bowed pedal steel), Kevin Copeland (background vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, sampler, piano, bass guitar, bowed electric guitar, drum programming) and Logan Miley (sampler, modular synthesizer, drum programming, bass synthesizer, piano, electric guitar, electronics). After signing with record label Fat Possum in 2020, they added Vincent Puleo (bass, acoustic guitar) and Dane Hagen (drums, acoustic guitar) to the line-up. The Return, co-written by Kang, Copeland and Miley, is the opener to Lightning Bug’s third and new album A Color of the Sky released yesterday. I find the dreamy and spacy sound and Kang’s soft voice quite soothing.

The Mountain Goats/Mobile

The Mountain Goats are an indie folk rock band founded by singer-songwriter John Darnielle in Claremont, Calif. in 1991. For many years, the group’s sole permanent member was Darnielle who relied on collaborators. The first release under the name The Mountain Goats was a cassette in 1991, titled Taboo VI: The Homecoming. The first full-length album Zopilote Machine appeared in 1994. Starting with their seventh album Tallahassee from November 2002, The Mountain Goats started recording as a full band. The catalog released to date under the name The Mountain Goats includes about 20 albums and more than 25 EPs and singles. In addition to Darnielle (vocals, guitar, keyboards), the band’s current core members include Matt Douglas (flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Peter Hughes (bass, backing vocals) and Jon Wurster (drums). Here’s Mobile from their new album Dark in Here, which came out yesterday. Like all other tracks, it was written by Darnielle. Great sound!

Journey/The Way We Used to Be

Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll when they see the name Journey. Call it arena rock or pop rock or whatever else you want. Since I first heard Wheel in the Sky on the radio in Germany back in the late ’70s, I always thought Journey had some good songs. Formed as Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former members of the Santana band Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and future drummer of The Tubes, Prairie Prince, the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves Journey and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry became Journey’s lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. Following Perry’s departure in 1998, the band brought in Steve Augeri as their new lead vocalist. Due to vocal issues his tenure with Journey ended in July 2006. In December 2007, Filipino singer-songwriter Arnel Pineda became the band’s new vocalist after Neal Schon had seen videos of him on YouTube. Journey have also been through multiple other changes in their line-up over the decades. The current formation features Schon (lead guitar, backing vocals), Pineda (lead vocals), Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals) and Randy Jackson (bass), along with new members Narada Michael Walden (drums) and Jason Derlatka (keyboards, backing vocals). On June 24, Journey released The Way We Used Be, a single and their first new music since their most recent studio album Eclipse from May 2011. Based on this Billboard story, a new album is in the works as well. It’s not exactly Who’s Crying Now, Don’t Stop Believin’ or Open Arms, but it still does sound like Journey.

Mannequin Pussy/To Lose You

Mannequin Pussy are a punk and indie rock band from Philadelphia. They were initially founded in October 2010 as a duo by Marisa Dabice (vocals, guitar) and Athanasios Paul (drums) who had met each other in school. In early 2013, Drew Adler joined on drums and Paul moved to guitar. In October that year, the band’s first album appeared as a limited cassette-only edition. It was subsequently re-released in 2014 by their new label Tiny Engines and later renamed Mannequin Pussy. In 2016, Mannequin Pussy became a four piece with the addition of Colins “Bear” Regisford on bass. Two additional albums have since come out, as well as two EPs. Dabice remains as the only original member of the band’s current line-up, which also features Regisford and Kaleen Reading (drums) who replaced Adler in 2015. To Lose You is a track from the latter from the EP Perfect, released on May 21. Kind of catchy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Spectral Nights; Stereogum; Americana Highway; Billboard; YouTube