Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another weekly new music revue. Usually, most of the artists I feature in these posts are new to me. Not so this time! All picks appear on brand new albums released yesterday.

Wilco/All Across the World

American alternative rock band Wilco were formed in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica) and the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo after vocalist and guitarist Jay Farrar had left the alternative country group. Wilco’s studio debut A.M. came out in March 1995. Unlike Trace, the debut by Farrar’s newly founded Son Volt, A.M. missed the charts. But Wilco caught up with and eventually surpassed Son Volt from a chart performance perspective. To date, the band has released 12 albums including its latest Cruel Country, a double album. While Tweedy acknowledged Wilco hadn’t been very comfortable about being called a country band in the past, even though their music always had included country elements, he said with Cruel Country “Wilco is digging in and calling it country.” Here’s All Across the World. I dig that tune and really don’t care much what you call it!

Liam Gallagher/Too Good For Giving Up

English singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher first gained prominence in the 1990s as frontman and lead vocalist of Britain’s overnight sensation Oasis. After Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in August 2009, which ended the group, Liam and the remaining members decided to continue as Beady Eye. When that band broke up in October 2014, Liam launched a solo career, though for some reason, he initially didn’t want to characterize it as such. His solo debut As You Were was met with critical acclaim and debuted at no. 1 on the British albums chart. Now, Liam Gallagher is back with his third and new album C’mon You Know. Here’s a sample: Too Good For Giving Up, co-written by Gallagher and fellow British singer-songwriter Simon Aldred who is also listed as co-producer. Strong tune!

Steve Earle/Hill Country Rain

After a warm tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, released in January 2021, roots rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle is back with another tribute. Jerry Jeff, his 22nd studio release, celebrates the music of outlaw country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. While Walker wrote and interpreted many songs over more than 50 years, he was best known for Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 classic has been covered by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others. And now also Steve Earle, who released his solo debut Guitar Town in March 1986 following a 10-year-plus career as a songwriter and musician. “This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle wrote on his website. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.” Here’s Hill Country Rain, which Walker first recorded in 1972 for a self-titled studio album. Great rendition!

Bruce Hornsby/Tag

When I included Bruce Hornsby in a recent Sunday Six installment, I didn’t anticipate I’d be writing about the American singer-songwriter again so soon. Best known for his 1986 debut gem The Way It Is, Hornsby has drawn from folk-rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country rock, heartland rock and blues rock over a 36-year-and-counting recording career. Bonnie Raitt, whose music I’ve loved for many years, called Hornsby her favorite artist in a recent interview. Perhaps I should finally take a closer look at Hornsby beyond his first two albums! ‘Flicted, his 23rd and latest would be a start. “Thanks to all of our supporters who have followed the multi-genre journey for the last thirty-six years,” Hornsby wrote on his website.”…thanks for being open to change, exploration and a bit of musical mirth and merriment along with the attempts at deep and soulful music-making through the years.” Here’s Tag, which like most tunes on the album were written or co-written by Hornsby. This may not be as catchy as mainstream pop-oriented songs like Every Little Kiss, Mandolin Rain or The Way It Is, but I’m still intrigued and want to hear more.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes from each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Earle website; Bruce Hornsby website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of May 2022! It’s been a bit on the chilly side in my neck of the woods. But the weather in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tri-state area can change rapidly, and before we know it, we may have summer-like temperatures. One thing is for sure: Spring has definitely arrived! Now that we’ve got the weather covered, let’s get to a new set of six songs to celebrate music of the past and the present.

Joel Ross/Wail

I’d like to start today’s musical journey in the year 2022 with jazz by 26-year-old New York composer Joel Ross. A bio on the website of the renowned Blue Note Records jazz label calls him “the most thrilling new vibraphonist in America.” Here’s a bit more: The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based player and composer has a way of being everywhere interesting at once: from deeply innovative albums (Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings and Deciphering the Message, Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens’ In Common) to reliably revolutionary combos (Marquis Hill’s Blacktet, Peter Evans’ Being & Becoming) to his own acclaimed Blue Note albums: KingMaker, Who Are You?, and The Parable of the Poet. This brings me to Wail, a track off Ross’s latest Blue Note album released April 15. “Almost every take is a first take, since our years improvising together have shaped these compositions into something with more meaning than we ever could know,” he told Apple Music. Oftentimes, free-form jazz isn’t my cup of tea, but I do like this music!

Ace/How Long

Our next stop is the ’70s and a tune by British pop-rock band Ace I’ve always loved: How Long. I was reminded of the catchy song when I heard it on the radio the other day. How Long was written by the group’s frontman and keyboarder Paul Carrack. It was Ace’s debut single and appeared on their first album Five-A-Side, released in January 1974. How Long became their biggest hit, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. and Canada, and reaching no. 20 in the UK. I think it’s the only tune I know from Ace, who were active from 1972 until 1977. Following their breakup, Carrack became a member of various prominent bands, including Roxy Music, Squeeze and Mike + The Mechanics. In 1980, Carrack also launched a solo career, which continues to this day.

Willie Nelson/Night Life

If you saw my latest Best of What’s New installment, you probably noticed it included new music by Willie Nelson who just turned 88 years and remains a viable artist. This reminded me of a tune I had earmarked for The Sunday Six a few months ago after my streaming service provider had served it up as a listening suggestion. Night Life, co-written by Nelson, Paul Buskirk and Walt Breeland, was first released as a single in 1960. Wikipedia notes the following interesting anecdote: Due to financial issues, Nelson sold the song to guitar instructor Paul Buskirk for $150. The recording of the song was rejected by Pappy Daily, owner of Nelson’s label, D Records. Daily believed that the song was not country. Encouraged by the amount of money he received for the song, Nelson decided to master it at another studio. To avoid legal actions, it was recorded as “Nite Life” under the artist name of “Paul Buskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” In 1963 Bellaire Records reissued the single under the original title of “Night Life,” recrediting it to “Willie Nelson.” While it may not be among Nelson’s most popular songs, to me Night Life feels like a timeless classic.

John Lennon/Watching the Wheels

Next, we go to November 1980 and Watching the Wheels, one of my favorite John Lennon tunes from his solo career. It first appeared on Double Fantasy from November 1980, which sadly turned out to be Lennon’s last album released during his lifetime. Only three weeks after the release, he was murdered by a deranged individual in front of The Dakota, the New York City building in which he was living with Yoko Ono and their then-six-year-old son Sean. Watching the Wheels also appeared separately as the album’s third single in March 1981. Unlike the two preceding singles Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over, which reached no. 2 and no. 1, respectively, in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, Watching the Wheels “only” climbed to no. 10. Interestingly, in the UK where the first two singles topped the charts, the song stalled at no. 30.

Oasis/Wonderwall

Okay, time for a stop-over in the ’90s and Wonderwall, a massive hit by English pop-rock band Oasis. Written by the group’s co-founder Noel Gallagher, the tune appeared on their sophomore album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, released in October 1995. The record became even more successful than the band’s strong debut Definitely Maybe that had appeared in August 1994. Wonderwall also was one of six singles Morning Glory spawned. It surged to no. 2 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart and also did well elsewhere: No. 1 in Australia; no. 2 in Ireland; no. 5 in Canada; and no. 8 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, among others. During their active period between 1991 and 2009, Oasis sold over 70 million records worldwide and were one of the most successful acts in the UK.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown/Fire

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six, and I give you the god of hellfire! The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are an English psychedelic rock band formed in 1967 by vocalist Arthur Brown. The group’s initial run spanned three years and their only hit Fire, co-written by Brown, the band’s keyboarder Vincent Crane, as well as Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker. Appearing on the group’s eponymous debut album from June 1968 and separately as a single, Fire topped the charts in the UK and Canada, climbed to no. 2 in the U.S., and reached no. 3 in each Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. It also charted in the top 10 in The Netherlands (no. 4) and Austria (no. 7). After this phenomenal start and sharing bills with the likes of The Who, The Doors and Small Faces, the group ran out of, well, fire and disbanded in June 1969. They reformed in 2000 with a different line-up and Brown as the only original member, and apparently remain active to this day. Bown has also issued various solo releases and has a new album scheduled for June 24. In case you’re curious how he sounds these days at age 79, the first track is already out.

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Blue Note Records website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube