Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s hard to believe another week has flown by. I’m happy to present my latest picks of newly released music. This time, the collection features red dirt country (yes, apparently that’s a music genre), a beautiful melodic acoustic tune by a New York rock band, an indie rock artist from New Zealand, a longtime singer-songwriter taking on an iconic Steely Dan tune, as well as an artist who has been associated with various genres like new wave, post-punk, R&B, rap and indie rock – or is it perhaps music folks trying to slap a label on him? Let’s get to it!

Zach Bryan/Quiet, Heavy Dreams

Zach Bryan is a young singer-songwriter hailing from Oklahoma. An artist profile on Apple Music calls him a plaintive, quivering country troubadour indebted to the literary side of Red Dirt Country. According to Wikipedia, red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Encouraged by a favorable reception among red dirt fans, he recorded his follow-on Elisabeth that appeared in May this year. Quiet, Heavy Dreams is the title track of Bryan’s new EP released today (November 27). His voice and the bare bones approach drew me in.

Bayside/Light Me Up

Bayside are a rock band named after the neighborhood in Queens, New York, where they were founded in October 2000 by lead vocalist Anthony Raneri and his childhood friend Mike Kozak (drums). Kozak left the following year to form his own group. Bayside released their debut album Sirens and Condolences in January 2004. The eponymous sophomore album from August 2005 was the band’s first to chart in the U.S., peaking at no. 153 on the Billboard 200. They have since released six additional full-length albums. Their catalog also features a live album and 10 EPs. The band’s line-up has changed various times over the years and currently includes Jack O’Shea (lead guitar, backing vocals), Nick Ghanbarian (bass, backing vocals) and Chris Guglielmo (drums, percussion), along with Raneri, the only remaining original member. Light Me Up is a single credited to all members of the band, released on November 20. It’s from Bayside’s upcoming 11th EP Acoustic Volume Three, which is scheduled for December 11. Check out the melodic sound of this tune and the harmony singing – love it!

KennyHoopla/Estella (feat. Travis Barker)

KennyHoopla is a 23-year-old Milwaukee-based singer-songwriter who was born as Kenneth La’ron in Cleveland. According to his Apple Music artist profile, he emerged out of the midwestern underground in the latter years of the 2010s with a series of buzz-worthy singles that merged aspects of new wave, post-punk, and R&B...Hoopla began making music at a young age, influenced by acts like Funeral Suits, Passion Pit, and the Drums…His early tracks were loosely labeled rap, though his dark-toned, guitar-based songs and aching contemplative vocals had more in common with indie rock and alt-R&B. He gained traction both regionally and online with 2017’s “Waves//” single and its 2018 follow-up, “Sickness.” Admittedly, I had never of heard of these tunes or KennyHoopla before. With so many genres flying around in the above profile, it also appears to be tricky to characterize his music. I’ve said it before and say it again: It all comes down to whether music speaks to you, not the genre. And there’s something about Hoopla’s new single Estella, which came out on November 20, featuring Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. At just under two minutes, it could almost be a contemporary version of a Ramones tune.

Emily Edrosa/Drinking During the Day

Emily Edrosa is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Auckland, New Zealand. According to a bio on the website of her record label Park The Van, Edrosa had fronted New Zealand indie rock band Street Chant for 10 years before she decided to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016 and start over. While living there, she continued to work on songs that ended up on her new solo record Another Wave Is Coming released November 20. Edrosa wrote the parts for all instruments. Except for the drums, which were provided by Bosh Rothman (U.S.) and New Zealand peers Alex Freer and Liz Stokes, she also played all instruments by herself. A review of the album in No Depression notes Edrosa recently returned to New Zealand. Here’s Drinking During the Day. Check out the neat transition from mid tempo to a slower pace starting at around 2:24 minutes with a somewhat Beatle-esque guitar part – pretty cool!

Bill Callahan/Deacon Blues (feat. Bill Mackay)

Let me preface this last clip by saying that Steely Dan are one of my all-time favorite bands and their album Aja from September 1977 is music perfection to my ears. As such, I think covering Deacon Blues, one of the album’s tracks that also happens to be my favorite Dan tune, does take a good deal of self-confidence. American singer-songwriter and guitarist Bill Callahan, who has been around for three decades, not only decided to take on the challenge but turn the jazz pop-oriented original co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker into a stripped back acoustic version. In addition to Callahan, this cover only features composer and guitarist Bill MacKay and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the adopted artist name of American singer-songwriter Joseph Will Oldham. With no horns and most other instruments that are on Steely Dan’s original and Callahan’s voice sounding much closer to Yusuf/Cat Stevens than Donald Fagen, this is quite different. I imagine not all Dan fans may be with me here, but I think Callahan did an amazing job, making an iconic tune truly his own.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Park The Van website; No Depression; YouTube

Joe Jackson At State Theatre NJ: Looking Sharp And Still The Man

I almost would have missed Joe Jackson, just like my recent Who concert. Here’s to hoping that my apparent lack of music attention doesn’t become a trend, though it would probably not hurt my wallet! ūüôā Wait, what did I want to say? Right, the British artist who they called an “angry young man” when he broke through with his studio debut Look Sharp! in January 1979. While I don’t know whether Jackson was pissed then, he certainly doesn’t look angry to me these days! Instead, the man who once sang, “Everybody wants a happy ending,”¬†comes across as feeling very comfortable in his skin and happy to still be making music people want to hear. I suppose that’s really all you can ask for as an artist!

By the time Jackson’s ongoing Four Decade Tour registered on my radar screen, all tickets I could afford seemed to be gone, and I just wasn’t willing to throw hundreds of bucks at some greedy reseller!¬† Then I received an email from State Theatre New Jersey, a nice midsize venue in New Brunswick, cheerfully announcing Jackson’s gig there. I thought, ‘what the hell,’ so checked out the situation one more time. And, voila, while there weren’t many seats left, I managed to get one without losing my blue shirt. Last night was showtime – and, yes, you probably already guessed it, after 40 years as a professional recording artist, Jackson continued to look sharp and proofed he’s definitely still the man!

‚ÄúSo, here comes a big tour,” Jackson said in an announcement last October. “We want to¬†celebrate¬†the fact that this is happening after 40 years ‚Äď anything else, would be like sulking in a room by yourself on your own birthday party. Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade:¬†Look Sharp¬†(1979)¬†Night And Day¬†(1982)¬†Laughter And Lust¬†(1991)¬†Rain¬†(2008) and¬†Fool¬†(2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers. I can’t wait. Let’s party.‚ÄĚ

Joe Jackson and Band 2019
Joe Jackson and band (from left): Jackson, Graham Maby, Doug Yowell and Teddy Kumpel

And, boy, what a party it was! In addition to singing splendid lead vocals, Jackson played keyboards – something I read he typically didn’t do during past tours. If that’s true, it was certainly great he changed his mind this time. After all, he’s a true musician and multi-instrumentalist, who spent three years in his late teens and early twenties at London’s Royal Academy of Music, studying composition, piano and percussion. During that period, Jackson also learned jazz¬†at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Apart from writing pop-oriented songs in genres like punk, new wave, rock, jazz and Latin,¬†Jackson has also composed classical music. The question really becomes what the man has NOT done musically!

Once again the notion that great musicians tend to play with other great musicians turned out to be true. Jackson’s backing band¬†was simply top-notch! The first guy I need to call out here is Graham Maby¬†– and yes, I’m probably bassed, I mean biased. One of my favorite bassists, Maby still has a superb tone and a great sense for rhythmic and melodic basslines. Paul McCartney is who I wanna be when I grow up, but I’d also happily settle with Maby! ūüôā Jackson’s long-time friend and musical collaborator effectively drove the groove together with excellent drummer Doug Yowell, who by the way hails from New Jersey. They really breed musicians in the Garden State – just sayin’! Last but not least,¬†Teddy Kumpel¬†did an outstanding job on guitar. Man, what a fucking great band! Okay, I think it’s time to get to some music, shall we?

The set kicked off with Alchemy, the closer from Jackson’s great new album Fool,¬† released this January, and then launched right into the furious¬†One More Time, the opener from his debut Look Sharp!¬†– a cool 40-year jump back in time, not to mention style, and a nice illustration of the band’s versatility. I thought Kumpel’s guitar-playing shined in particular during the more rock-oriented tunes. Unfortunately, my smartphone outsmarted me at the wrong time,¬†so I’m relying on another clip I found that cut off the beginning of Alchemy, but it still gives a good impression of the tune.

Jackson’s new album featured prominently in the show with three tracks, one of which (Alchemy) was repeated at the very end, providing nice bookends to the set. I have to say the new songs absolutely held up to his older, better known material. Here’s Fabulously Absolute, a rocker that was also released as a single. Stylistically, the tune isn’t that much different from Jackson’s first two albums. Whatever genre the man plays, he always has a great ear for catchy melodies, though he never aspired to become a pop star and never did – at least not in the traditional sense.

Next is a track from an album I don’t know well: Goin’ Downtown from Laughter And Lust,¬† released in April 1991. The tune is co-credited to Jackson and a British singer-songwriter named Drew Barfield.

My personal highlight of the evening was a medley of three songs: A cover of Rain by The Beatles, Invisible Man and It’s Different For Girls. Jackson announced it by saying they are now playing the title track from an album called Rain (January 2008). He dryly added no such track exists, so they borrowed it, deciding to change some of the chords. Invisible Man is the opener of¬†Rain, a fantastic song I frankly had forgotten about, which reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan.¬†Apparently, Jackson digs the Dan; in fact,¬†later in the show, he covered King Of The World from Countdown To Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore album from July 1973. And then there’s It’s Different For Girls, featuring Jackson’s lyrics reversing the stereotypical roles of men and women when it comes to sex and love – one of two tunes he played from I’m The Man.

His sophomore release from October 1979 remains my favorite Joe Jackson album. In fact, it was my introduction to him when I received it as a birthday present in July 1980. I own the vinyl record to this day, and it’s still in perfect shape! Instead of relying on his band, Jackson treated the audience to a solo performance of It’s Different For Girls.¬†Okay, nuff said! This is a long clip, and the video is sometimes out of focus, but, hey, it least it’s authentic! Plus, the¬†sound is pretty decent and, most of all, the musicianship is just outstanding. What I’m trying to say in so many words is if you dig Jackson, you should watch the friggin’ clip!

Another Jackson tune I’ve always liked is You Can’t Get What You Want. It appeared on his March 1984 gem¬†Body And Soul¬†blending pop, jazz and Latin. Even though the horns from the studio version are “missing” and Jackson plays their fill-ins on keyboards instead, I think the band does a beautiful job capturing the tune. Check out Kumpel’s funky guitar, which is really cool!

The last track of the regular set was I’m The Man. The title track from Jackson’s sophomore album was another highlight of the evening, which once again showed this band can rock. Not surprisingly, it brought the audience up to their feet!

The regular set was followed by a three-track encore, starting with Jackson’s biggest hit: Steppin’ Out, from the Night And Day album released in June 1982. I’m not a fan of drum machines, and that aspect has always bothered me about an otherwise great tune; but I just couldn’t resist filming it, especially after Jackson noted they’re about to do something truly shocking – playing a song almost exactly the way it appears on an album! Jackson is known for altering studio tracks for live performances, which has frustrated some of his fans in the past – a fact he acknowledged during the announcement of the tune, teasingly adding he doesn’t quite get it, since it’s so much fun changing up songs.

Next a roadie walked out on stage, carrying a small box. It was the original drum machine Jackson had used for the recording. He proudly explained he got that drum machine in 1979, adding it’s pretty much impossible to get this gear nowadays. On Night And Day, Jackson played all of the instruments by himself,¬†except for the drum snare, which doubled the drum machine’s snare, a natural task for Yowell. Jackson also explained the other instruments on the studio recording, including a Glockenspiel that last night was played by Maby. Of course, they also had the programmed synthesizer bassline – again, something else I’m less than fond of! Kumpel took over the organ part on the keyboards, while Jackson handled the electric piano. The following clip captures some of Jackson’s introductory explanations. If you’re bit of a music nerd like I am, this footage may be for you.

Joe Jackson is definitely worthwhile seeing, and I’m glad I finally did so! The ongoing second U.S. leg of the Four Decade Tour lasts until June 1. Some of the upcoming gigs include Miami (May 24), New Orleans (May 28), Houston (May 29) and Dallas (June 1). Afterwards, Jackson is returning to Europe, with shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The last date on the current schedule is Tel Aviv, Israel on July 28.

Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Setlist.fm, YouTube

My Playlist: Sting

Sting is an artist I’ve admired for a long time, both as a songwriter and a musician. The idea to put together a playlist of some of his songs came to me the other day when I was exchanging emails with a friend who is fond of Sting as well. BTW, he’s also a gifted vocalist and musician who does an outstanding job capturing the voice of Donald Fagen and on top also writes his own music. I’m sure I’ll have to say more about him when the time is right.

Back to Sting whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – I suppose it’s obvious why he adopted a different stage name! Sting was born on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, a small town in northeastern England with a history of shipbuilding. This would later inspire The Last Ship, a Broadway show for which Sting wrote the music and the lyrics.

While Sting performed in various jazz bands on the side during his college years and while working as a teacher for a couple of years, his full-time professional music career didn’t start until January 1977, when he got together with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani to form The Police. In August 1977, Padovani was replaced by Andy Summers who initially had joined the band as a second guitarist.

The Police
The Police during a show in The Netherlands in 1983. From left to right: Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers

The Police released their debut album Outlandos d’Amour¬†in November 1978. They had financed the recording with¬†¬£1,500 borrowed from Copeland’s brother Miles. While initially it performed poorly, the record ended up selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone. The Police recorded four more albums before they disbanded in 1986. By that time, Sting had already released his first solo album¬†The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which had appeared in June 1985.

As of November 2016, 11 additional solo studio records from Sting have appeared, apart from various live and compilation albums. A new record, which is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Orville Richard Burrell (known as Shaggy), is set to come out in April. Combining the solo albums with his Police recordings, Sting has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most commercially successful music artists. Time for the playlist!

This compilation only focuses on Sting’s solo work. First up: Fortress Around Your Heart. Written by Sting, the tune is from The Dream of the Blue Turtles and became one of the album’s four hit singles. Here’s what appears to be a clip of the official video.

Fragile is one of most powerful Sting tunes Sting I know, in my opinion. It is from his second solo record …Nothing Like the Sun released in October 1987. According to Wikipedia, the song is a tribute to an American civil engineer, who was killed by anti-Communist para-military group the Contras in Nicaragua while working there on a hydroelectric project. Following is a clip of an emotional version Sting performed live on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy, to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Another Sting gem is the title track from his third studio record¬†Soul Cages, which appeared in January 1991, following the death of his father in the late ’80s. The lyrics of the concept album focus on Sting’s relationship with his dad and how he felt after his old man had passed. Soul Cages also appeared separately as the album’s third single in April 1991.

Ten Summoner’s Tales is perhaps Sting’s Aja album. The relaxed and more upbeat songs stand in stark contrast to the introspective predecessor. To me the highlight of Sting’s fourth solo record from March 1993 is Fields of Gold, a timeless ballad that is just beautiful. Below is a really cool clip. I seem to hear slight deviations here and there from the version that is on the album. There also appears to be slightly more echo. It doesn’t matter, it’s a terrific take captured a beautifully shot video.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot became the lead single from Mercury Falling, Sting’s fifth solo record from March 1996. Like most of his tunes, it was entirely written by Sting. The song was about a sick friend with HIV/AIDS. “The first time he went to the hospital I visited him and I was really at a loss to know what to bring him,” Sting told Unmask Us. “I‚Äôd just read a book by a Buddhist monk…The premise of the book is that dying is a process that we all need to be training for in that we‚Äôre all dying whether we have AIDS or not. I thought that would be a good book to bring him and he loved the book and got a lot of pleasure from it.”

Sting’s sixth solo album Brand New Day¬†from September 1999 became particularly known for its second single Desert Rose, a collaboration with Algerian folk singer Cheb Mami, and the title track, which earned Sting his third Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance. I’m more intrigued by Fill Her Up, a unexpected tune with a country flair, featuring James Taylor on vocals and acoustic guitar.

In September 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, his seventh studio album. At that point, he had largely been gone from my radar screen. On this record Sting demonstrated he is not afraid to experiment and explore new terrain, such as R&B and dance-oriented music, and collaborating with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. While these collaborations demonstrate Sting’s versatility, I prefer¬†This War, which has a nice rock flavor that’s more up my alley.

Starting with 2006’s Songs From The Labyrinth, which features lute music from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, through The Last Ship, the 2013 companion album to his musical with the same name, Sting had lost me completely. I was very encouraged when he released 57th & 9th, his first album in 13 years that is much closer to the Sting I’ve come to like. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised how rock-oriented this record is, which I previously reviewed here. Following is a clip of the opener and lead single I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a rocker with a catchy melody, which is a bit reminiscent of The Police.

Last but not least, here is a clip of Don’t Make Me Wait, the lead single from Sting’s above mentioned upcoming collaboration album with Shaggy, which is titled¬†44/876. The Caribbean-influenced record shows yet another side of Sting’s versatility. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” Sting told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration ‚Äď by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Unmask Us, Rolling Stone, You Tube

Simple Minds Release New Studio Album

Scottish band still alive and kicking after 40 years

While I never was a huge fan of Simple Minds, I listened to them in my late teens and early 20s. Waterfront, Alive And Kicking, Belfast Child and Stand By Love are some of the tunes I liked at the time – and do to this day, though it’s fair to say my taste has evolved since then. Still, when saw in Apple Music the Scottish band just released a new studio album, I was intrigued – frankly, I didn’t even know they were still around!

In various ways, Simple Minds have always reminded me a bit of U2. Both bands started out around the same time, i.e., the second half of the ’70s. Both are led by charismatic vocalists. I saw them once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s; similar to Bono, Jim Kerr was a pretty strong front man. And guitarist Charlie Burchill’s work at times is a bit reminiscent of The Edge. Kerr and Burchill are the only remaining original members of Simple Minds, which were formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1977.

Simple Minds
Current line-up of Simple Minds (from left to right): Sarah Brown (backing vocals), Cherisse Osei (drums, percussion), Ged Grimes (bass), Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Gordy Goudie (multi-instrumentalist) and Catherine AD (backing vocals), 

So how about the new album? Titled Walk Between Worlds, it’s the band’s 17th studio record, which was released yesterday (Feb 2). I’ve now listened to it a few times. Not to overdo the comparisons with U2, but there is indeed another similarity I find between this album and the Irish band’s last studio release Songs Of Experience. In an apparent attempt to stay contemporary, both bands combined old and new elements.

While part of me sometimes wishes bands wouldn’t chase the latest trends and stick to their old sound, I respect artists who don’t just want to keep repeating what they’ve done before. After all, had The Beatles used that approach and stuck to their early sound, there never would have been gems like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

Commenting on the band’s new (younger) members and change more broadly, Kerr said this to Billboard: “It’s been a bit controversial with some of the social network sites, because people, fans — and where would we be without them — they don’t like it when you change around things too much. But we do change things around and we feel that it’s good to open the door. It’s great to say ’40 years!’ and all that; There’s a lot of strength in that. But there’s a lot of dangers as well — autopilot being one of them, doing the same old same old. You’ve got to open the door and let new opportunities walk in.”

Alright, time to get to some music. First up: Magic, the album’s opener and lead single first released online on January 4, 2018. Co-written by Kerr and Burchill like the majority of songs, the tune is an example of Burchill’s Edge-esque guitar work. It kind of got a catchy chorus. Here’s the tune’s official video clip:

In The Signal And The Noise, another Kerr/Burchill co-write, I can clearly hear some vintage Simple Minds. The sound reminds me of the band’s synthesizer and guitar-driven power pop from the early ’80s. The groove isn’t much different from Don’t You (Forget About Me), though the latter song has a more catchy melody. Like the opener, the track also appeared ahead of the album as its second single.

A sonic standout is Barrowland Star, another Kerr/Burchill co-write. I love Burchill’s fairly aggressive guitar work in a song that is otherwise synth-driven with strings layered on top. Simple Minds’ website calls it “one of the album’s key tracks.” It further points out that the song’s title refers to a popular ballroom in Glasgow, where the band has performed many times. This tune has something!

The last track I’d like to highlight is Sense Of Discovery. The track¬†is credited to Kerr, Burchill and Owen Parker, a London-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. At around 2:40 minutes into the song comes the ultimate throwback to Simple Minds’ ’80s heydays: a melodic fraction borrowed from Alive And Kicking from 1985’s Once Upon A Time, the band’s most successful album. Sense Of Discovery is also the album’s third single, released January 25.

Walk Between Worlds was co-produced by Simple Minds and two experienced producers: Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg. In addition to working together with Goldberg on Simple Minds’ two previous albums Acoustic (2016) and Big Music (2014), Wright’s previous credits include Simply Red, Jeff Beck and Eurythmics, among others. Goldberg has worked with artists, such as¬†Chrissie Hynde, Neil Young and The Faces (2010 reunion and live album) – cool stuff!

“Records take their own direction and possibilities, and that’s what this was,” Kerr also told Billboard. “We were on such a high after the last one (2014’s¬†Big Music) that we almost went straight into this as soon as the tour ended. With the idea the band was now officially 40 years old, we were praying and hoping that whatever we came out with would sound like it had vitality and energy, a commitment that perhaps belies the 40 years. Really, that’s what it was about, a continuation of the story of music and who we are.”

Simple Minds will go on the road later this month to promote the new album, playing it in its entirety, together with their old hits. The seven-date European tour gets underway on February 13, appropriately at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, and concludes in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 20. Their website lists plenty of other gigs throughout the UK and many other European countries, starting in May through the first half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Simple Minds website, Andy Wright website, Gavin Goldberg website, YouTube