If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The O’Jays

It’s it really Wednesday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. This means it’s time to pack my bags anew and head to that imaginary desert island. But before leaving, I must pick one song to take along.

It can’t be just any tune. It must be a song by an artist or a band I’ve rarely covered or not covered at all. And it must be an artist or a band whose name starts with the letter “o” since I’m doing this exercise alphabetically and did my pick for “n” last week.

For the letter “o”, some of the choices included Oasis, Sinead O’Connor, Phil Ochs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Roy Orbison and Ozzy Osborne. And my pick is a smooth Philly soul tune I’ve always loved but not covered yet: Back Stabbers by The O’Jays.

Back Stabbers, co-written by Philadelphia International label songwriters Leon Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, is the title track of The O’Jays’ sixth studio album. Released in August 1972, it was their breakthrough and the first for Philadelphia International Records, a label that had only been founded in 1971. I dig the nice contrast between Levert’s rough voice and Williams’ smooth singing.

The O’Jays originally hailed from Canton, Ohio and were formed in 1958 as The Mascots by Eddie Levert, Walter Lee Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles while they were still in high school. They changed their name to The Triumphs before becoming The O’Jays in 1963 in tribute to Eddie O’Jay, a Cleveland radio DJ.

In 1963, The O’Jays released Lonely Drifter, their first charting U.S. single, which reached no. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their debut album that came out in 1965. But as noted above, the group’s breakthrough didn’t happen until they signed with Philadelphia International Records and released the Back Stabbers album. By that time, The O’Jays had become a trio featuring Levert, Williams and Powell.

After 64 years, The O’Jays are still around, with Levert and Williams remaining part of the current line-up that also includes Eric Nolan Grant. In fact, they have upcoming tour dates in July and August. To date, they have released 29 studio albums, 20 compilations, one live album and nearly 100 singles. The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2004), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005) and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame (2013).

Back Stabbers ranks among The O’Jays most successful U.S. singles, topping the R&B chart and reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Only Love Train, another track from Back Stabbers, ever topped the Hot 100. Other hits included Put Your Hands Together (1973), For the Love of Money (1974), I Love Music (1975), Livin’ For the Weekend (1976) and Use ta Be My Girl (1978).

Here’s a nice clip of The O’Jays’ 2005 Rock Hall induction performance, a medley of Back Stabbers, For the Love of Money and Love Train.

Following are some additional tidbits on Back Stabbers from Songfacts:

This song starts with a piano roll that Leon Huff played. He explained in an interview with National Public Radio: “‘Back Stabbers sounds like something eerie, so that roll was like something horrible, because that’s what back stabbers are. It reflected that type of drama.”

Regarding the elaborate production and orchestral sound, he added: “Our dream was to play so many counter-melodies that came with those songs, and the orchestra was able to put that together. Plus, stereo radio had just come around, and you had a lot of space to fill up. Stereo was much more soothing than mono, so we thought about the mixes we could do. The music was funky and classical at the same time.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; O’Jays website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, my weekly look at newly-released music. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks are on albums that were released yesterday (April 22)

Bonnie Raitt/Livin’ For the Ones

I’m absolutely thrilled to start this post with new music by one of my long-time favorite artists, Bonnie Raitt, who I guess doesn’t need much of an introduction. Raitt grew up in Los Angeles in a musical family and got into the guitar as an eight-year-old, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. She taught herself by listening to blues records. In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. Three years after entering college, she decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. Her eponymous debut album appeared in 1971. Fast-forward nearly 51 years to Just Like That…, Raitt’s 21st studio release and her first in more than six years since Dig In Deep from February 2016. Here’s Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which she wrote the lyrics, with music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. A statement on Raitt’s website notes the song is a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years. It’s got a cool Stonesy sound – love it!

Fontaines D.C./Roman Holiday

Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. have been around since 2017. They were formed by Grian Chatten (vocals), Carlos O’Connell (guitar), Conor Curley (guitar), Conor Deegan III (bass) and Tom Coll (drums), who met while attending music college at British and Irish Modern Music (BIMM) Institute in Dublin. After a series of singles released in 2018, the group’s debut album Drogel appeared in April 2019. This brings me to Skinty Fia, their third and latest album. Here’s Roman Holiday, credited to all members of the band. While the video clip isn’t particularly memorable, the song is pretty cool. Check it out!

Old Crow Medicine Show/Honey Chile

Old Crow Medicine Show are a Nashville-based Americana string band formed in 1998. According to their Apple Music profile, they have influenced a generation of 21st-century roots musicians with their infectious mix of hollers, jug band favorites, and pre-rock ’n’ roll blues. The group caught their big break when bluegrass giant Doc Watson watched them busking in Boone, North Carolina, and invited them to participate in his MerleFest roots-music festival in 2000. Relocating from North Carolina to Nashville, they made their Grand Ole Opry debut in 2001, and they were inducted into the esteemed country music institution 12 years later. From 2004 to 2019, seven of their eight albums hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart—the only LP that missed the top spot, 2014’s Remedy, won the Best Folk Album Grammy Award. Heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, they’ve cowritten two songs with the legendary singer-songwriter, including their joyous, Platinum-certified 2004 hit, “Wagon Wheel.” Here’s Honey Chile, a great-sounding track from Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album Paint This Town. The song was co-written by Ketch Secor and Joe Andrews, a current and a former member of the group, respectively.

The Million Reasons/If Not For The Fire

Next up is new music by Chicago rock band The Million Reasons. I must give a shout-out to Jeff from Eclectic Music Lover who earlier this week reviewed Haven, the group’s first full-length album released on April 15, which brought these guys on my radar screen. Founded in 2016 as a trio, the band has since grown to a five-piece. Their debut EP The Roundaround appeared in February 2017. A second EP, If Not For the Fire, came out in February 2020. The Million Reasons have also released various singles. Their current line-up, which has been in place since 2019, features Taylor Brennan (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar), Jason Cillo (bass) and Colin Dill (drums). For more background on the band, check Jeff’s excellent above review. Here’s If Not For The Fire. Like all other tracks on the album, it’s credited to the entire band. This really rocks – also strong lead vocalist!

Walter Trout/Ghosts

Closing out this week’s new music revue is the latest single by blues-rock veteran Walter Trout, an artist I’ve come to dig over the past few years! During a nearly 53-year recording career, Trout who in March turned 71 has survived many ups and downs. This includes overcoming drug and alcohol addiction in the ’80s, surviving liver failure and recovering from a liver transplant in 1994, and dealing with dishonest management people. Trout really has seen it all! Quite appropriately, he decided to title his 2019 blues covers album Survivor Blues. I reviewed it here and subsequently saw him at the Iridium in New York. I can highly recommend him – a great guitarist and an authentic no BS-type artist. After releasing Ordinary Madness in August 2020 (reviewed here), Trout recently announced his 30th solo album Ride, which is slated for August 30th. The opener Ghosts came out as the first single on April 14. This sounds great, and I’m really looking forward to the new album!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tracks and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; Eclectic Music Lover; Walter Trout Facebook page; YouTube; Spotify

Keb’ Mo’s Latest Feel-Good Album Comes At the Right Time

On January 21, Keb’ Mo’ released his latest studio album Good to Be…, and I finally got to spend some time with it. I’ve been enjoying the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter whose real name is Kevin Roosevelt Moore since May 2017 and the release of TajMo, his fantastic collaboration album with Taj Mahal. Good to Be… is a warm-sounding feel-good album that in my view couldn’t have come out at a better time. I love it!

In case you’re planning to listen to Good to Be…, you should realize this isn’t a blues album, even though it’s categorized that way. Based on what I’ve heard to date, Keb’ Mo’ has never been a “hardcore” blues artist. While some of his music undoubtedly has blues elements, it also includes soul, folk, roots, Americana and country.

Good to Be… comes less than two years after Oklahoma, a roots-oriented album from June 2019 I reviewed here at the time. In October 2019, Mo’ also released Moonlight, Mistletoe & You, a collection of Christmas tunes I haven’t heard.

A review in Glide Magazine notes Good to Be… has various producers. In addition to Mo’, they include Vince Gill, Tom Hambridge and Keith Secor, who each also play on certain tracks. Among other guests are Darius Rucker (of Hootie & the Blowfish), Americana string group Old Crow Medicine Show and blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. I’d say it’s time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with the opener Good to Be (Home Again), one of the tunes co-produced by Vince Gill. Evidently, it’s a song about Mo’s return to Compton, the Southern California city where he was born in October 1951. The tune’s positive vibe sets the tone for most of the album. Here’s the official video.

Sunny And Warm is one of my early favorites. I dig the warm and laid back sound of this tune. “Basically, ‘Sunny and Warm’ is my older self talking to my younger self, looking back at those summer days of beaches and dreams of finding love,” Mo’ said about the tune. “I would never want to be a teenager again, and I won’t, because there’s no going back.”

On The Medicine Man, which features Old Crow Medicine Show, things do get more serious and the lyrics are darker with obvious references to the pandemic. “I was taking some time out at our house in California with my family,” Mo’ recalled. “We were locked in and staying away from people. Doing Zoom writing appointments, watching Dr Fauci on TV doing interviews, and it sparked some ideas. This was one of those songs that just came to me, and quickly. I woke up early one morning and wrote the whole thing in about 15 minutes.”

Did we need another rendition of Lean On Me? Under normal circumstances, I would have said ‘no.’ But with a pandemic that only in the U.S. has killed about one million people and now war raging in Europe, these aren’t normal times. Granted when Mo’ decided to record this beautiful Bill Withers song, one of the tracks co-produced by Tom Hambridge, the Russian 21st-century czar wannabe had not unleashed his reckless assault on the Ukrainian people. Even without the war, Lean On Me was the right song at the right time. “What makes this version special to me is the contribution from my lifelong friend, the Freedom Rider, Ernest “Rip” Patton, who passed on this year,” Mo’ said. “This was the last time I got to record his booming bass voice. I’m gonna miss calling on my brothers.”

Let’s finish with a nice car song: ’62 Chevy, another tune co-produced by Mo’ and Gill…I got my hands on the wheel, Y’all/Rolling steady/Rubber on the road, in my ’62 Chevy/ My ’62 Chevy gonna take you to town/ I got the dog in the back baby/ Top down (Whoa, Yeah)

Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify.

The final word shall belong to Keb’ Mo’. “I may be turning 70,” Mo’ says in his bio posted on his website [actually, he already did, on October 2, 2021 – CMM]. “But I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I’m still out there going for it every single day.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Keb’ Mo’ website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday and the new music show must go on! This installment of Best of What’s New includes two familiar names and two artists who are completely new to me, featuring Celtic punk, instrumental rock, pop and country rock. Nuff said – let’s get to some music!

Dropkick Murphys/Turn Up That Dial

Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic punk rock band formed in the Boston area in 1996. They are named after former pro wrestler Dr. John “Dropkick” Murphy, who also operated an rehab facility for alcoholics in Action, Mass. The band gained first attention when fellow Bostonian ska punk group The Mighty Mighty Bosstones invited them as opening act for their 1997 tour. Later that year, Dropkick Murphys got a deal with Hellcat Records, which was followed by their debut studio album Do or Die in January 1998. Fast-forward 23 years. The band’s present line-up, which has been together since 2008, consists of original co-founder Ken Casey (bass, lead vocals), along with Al Barr (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (lead guitar, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, keyboards, piano, tin whistle, backing vocals), James Lynch (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar, keyboards, piano, harmonica, tin whistle, backing vocals) and Matt Kelly (drums, bodhran, backing vocals). Dropkick Murphys first entered my radar screen in 2013 when they teamed up with Bruce Springsteen to record a new version of their song Rose Tattoo. The single appeared in May that year in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing – hard to believe it’s been eight years! Turn Up That Dial is the title track from Dropkick Murphys’ new album released yesterday (April 30).

Peter Frampton/Isn’t It a Pity

I trust Peter Frampton doesn’t need much of an introduction. The self-taught guitarist has been playing in bands since the age of 12. He first gained prominence in 1966 as a 16-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist in English rock band The Herd. In 1969, he co-founded Humble Pie together with Steve Marriott, frontman and guitarist of Small Faces. Frampton left Humble Pie in 1971 and launched a solo career. After four largely unnoticed studio albums, he got his big breakthrough with Frampton Comes Alive! The huge success led to an infamous shirtless photo on the cover of Rolling Stone, which turned Frampton into a teen idol and diminished his credibility as an artist. He continued to release albums but was unable to repeat the success of Frampton Comes Alive! In early 2019, Frampton announced his retirement from touring due to a progressive autoimmune disease causing muscle inflammation, weakness and atrophy, which eventually is going to impact his ability to play guitar. He launched a farewell tour in June that year. The UK leg, which had been slated for May 2020, was canceled because of you know what! Isn’t it a Pity is a track from Frampton’s new album of instrumental covers ingeniously titled Peter Frampton Forgets the Words and released on April 23. “This album is a collection of ten of my favorite pieces of music,” he stated on his website. My guitar is also a voice and I have always enjoyed playing my favorite vocal lines that we all know and love.” This is certainly a beautiful rendition of the George Harrison tune that originally appeared on his 1970 solo debut All Things Must Pass.

Parker Millsap/The Real Thing

Parker Millsap is an American singer-songwriter from Purcell, OK. According to his profile on Apple Music, As a youth, Millsap alternately spent time singing hymns at his local Pentecostal church and saturating himself in old blues albums, which influenced his unique style along with folk, country, and vintage Elvis-flavored rock & roll. While still in his late teens, Millsap recorded his mostly acoustic debut, Palisade, with childhood friend Michael Rose accompanying him on double bass. Two years later in 2014, his self-titled second LP introduced his signature sound, bringing him national acclaim and leading to support slots with heavy-hitting roots acts like Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Lake Street Dive. Millsap’s new album Be Here Instead, which is his fifth, came out on April 9. As is the case for most artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to his music. The Real Thing grabbed me right away. To me, it’s got a bit of a Paul McCartney vibe!

The Pink Stones/Put Me On

The last tune I’d like to call out here is Put Me On, a song by The Pink Stones, a country rock band from Athens, Ga. According to their website, the group revolves around Hunter Pinkston, a former punk rocker who discovered country in 2015 when listening to the B-side of the The Lemonheads’ rendition of Brass Buttons, which featured the original by Gram Parsons. This led him not only to explore Parsons’ catalog but also listen to similar other artists. In 2016, Pinkston who is from Albany, Ga. transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens for their music business program. He immersed himself into the local music scene and eventually met what became the core of The Pink Stones: Will Anderson (organ, piano, vocals), Logan Brammer (guitar, vocals), Adam Wayton (guitar, vocals) and Jack Colclough (drums). John Neff (pedal steel guitar), a founding member of Drive-By Truckers, is also part of the band’s current line-up. Put Me On, written by Pinkston, is a track from their debut album Introducing… the Pink Stones released on April 9. Check out this beautiful warm sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Peter Frampton website; Apple Music; The Pink Stones website; AllMusic; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A lot of cool new music I came across this week made it tough what to include in this latest installment of my recurring feature. That’s actually a nice problem to have, at least in my book. While you may not be a Bon Jovi fan, have you ever heard the Jersey rocker do an outright protest song? I certainly had not. Or how about a cool Byrds-ey-sounding psychedelic garage band called The Reverberations? Or young and amazingly talented bluegrass and Americana artist Molly Tuttle? These are just three of the artists I’m featuring this week. Do I have your attention?

Bon Jovi/American Reckoning

While a band that has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide has probably done more than one thing right, I realize opinions about Bon Jovi are divided. On most of their 14 studio albums that have come out so far over some 37 years, I can at find at least one or two songs I enjoy. American Reckoning, released July 10, will be on the band’s next album Bon Jovi 2020, which has been pushed back until December 31, 2020 due to you know what. Both the single and the album have something in common that’s new for Bon Jovi: Political lyrics. Written by Jon Bon Jovi, American Reckoning is a protest song reflecting on the death of George Floyd caused by reckless police action. “I was moved to write American Reckoning as a witness to history,” Bon Jovi said in a statement on the band’s website, “I believe the greatest gift of an artist is the ability to use their voice to speak to issues that move us.” All net proceeds from downloads of the song will support the Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative through December 31, 2020. Kudos!

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings/Hello in There

For some 28 years, country, folk, bluegrass and Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch has been writing and performing with her musical partner David Rawlings. The two first met during a music audition at Berklee College of Music in Boston where Welch majored in songwriting. Following her graduation in 1992, she moved to Nashville. Rawlings soon followed and they started to perform as a duo. After getting a record deal with Almo Sounds, they met T-Bone Burnett who had seen them perform. Burnett produced their debut album Revival, which like most of their records appeared under Welch’s name in April 1996. Welch and Rawlings have since released five additional studio albums. Hello in There is from their most recent release All the Good Times Are Past & Gone, a covers album that came out on July 10. The tune was written by John Prine and included on his 1971 eponymous debut album.

Will Hoge/Midway Hotel

Will Hoge is a singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to Wikipedia, which characterizes his music as Americana and southern rock, Hoge grew up in a musical family that influenced him. After enrolling in Western Kentucky University with plans to become a high school history teacher and basketball coach, Hoge realized music was his calling. In 1997, he released an EP with his band at the time Spoonful, but it wasn’t successful and the group disbanded. After self-releasing a live CD and his first studio album Carousel, Hoge managed to get a deal with Atlantic Records in early 2002. While it was short-lived, it resulted in his major label debut Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in March 2003. Hoge has since released seven additional studio records, as well as various EPs and live albums. Midway Motel, co-written by Hoge and Ricky Young, is the opener to Hoge’s most recent studio album Tiny Little Movies that appeared on June 26. I can hear some John Mellencamp in here.

Grace Potter/Eachother (feat. Jackson Browne, Marcus King & Lucius)

Grace Potter is a 37-year-old bluesy, roots rock-oriented singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actress, hailing from Waitsfield, Vt., who has released various albums solo and with her former band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the early 2000s. While studying theater at St. Laurence University, she met drummer Matt Burr. Together with bassist Courtright Beard, they formed the initial lineup of indie rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. In 2004, they self-released their debut album Original Soul. Four additional albums followed. In 2015, Potter’s solo album Midnight appeared. Potter left the band in 2017, shortly after announcing her divorce from Burr with whom she had been married since 2013. Another solo album, Daylight, appeared in October 2019. Eachother is Potter’s latest single released on May 22. Written by her during the early days of the pandemic, the ballad features Jackson Browne, blues artist Marcus King and indie pop band Lucius. Check it out!

Molly Tuttle/Helpless (feat. Old Crow Medicine Show)

Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems Molly Tuttle is what you could call a wunderkind. It’s virtually impossible to do full justice here to the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, banjo player and guitarist, who is focused on bluegrass and Americana. Tuttle is noted for her outstanding guitar skills, and she can definitely sing as well. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively. Molly started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her dad. At age 13, she recorded her first album with Jack. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017, followed by her first full-fledged album When You’re Ready in April 2019, which climbed to no. 5 and no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts. Her multiple accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards and Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association in 2017 and 2018. Molly who has lived in Nashville, Tenn. since 2015, has a new covers album scheduled for August 28, …but I’d rather be with you. It doesn’t include her beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless, which she released on May 22 and features Nashville-based Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show. The tune first appeared on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu album from March 1970.

The Reverberations/Under Your Spell

Let’s wrap things up with some really cool rock. The Reverberations are a five-piece from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” Based on what I’m hearing on their latest single Under Your Spell, that description hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the band has hardly published any information about themselves. Neither their Bandcamp nor their Facebook page provide any background – I don’t get it! Discogs lists two albums, Mess Up Your Mind (2016) and Changes (2019, along with various EPs and singles, dating back as far as 2015. Based on their photos on Facebook and Bandcamp, these guys don’t exactly look like high school kids, and with their Byrds-ey guitars, they certainly don’t sound like it. Whoever is familiar with my music taste knows that’s a sound I never get tired of. On Under Your Spell, which is the B-side of the band’s most recent single Palm Reader, I also love the keyboard work. And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art. Damn, now I feel I’m literally under their spell!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bon Jovi website; Apple Music; Grace Potter website; Molly Tuttle website; The Reverberations Facebook and Bandcamp pages; YouTube