Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the latest installment of my weekly recurring feature where I take a look at new music. In case you are a first-time visitor, my favorite decades in music are the ’60s and ’70s, and until March 2020 when I started Best of What’s New, I essentially had written off contemporary music. I’ve since realized that while the ’60s and ’70s won’t come back (d’uh!), I can still find some good new music if I look beyond the charts and do some digging.

Yes, discovering new music I reasonably like takes time – after all, my taste hasn’t really changed fundamentally. I still love the British invasion, blues rock, classic rock and ’70s soul, to name a few examples. As such, exploring contemporary music requires a certain degree of open-mindedness and to occasionally go beyond my comfort zone. Usually, it all results in picking artists who are entirely new to me.

This brings me to this week’s installment. Three of the featured four acts fall in the entirely-new-to-me category: Two rock bands and a psychedelic pop outfit. Yep, you can still find some psychedelic music! Interestingly, all three were formed in southern California. The fourth artist, who hails from Kansas and I believe also resides in California, represents the only kind of new music I listened to in the past, i.e., new releases by “old” artists. All tracks are from albums that were released yesterday (September 17). ‘Nuff said, let’s get to some music!

Dead Sara/All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead

My first pick are Dead Sara, a rock band from Los Angeles. The group’s origins go back to 2002 when guitarists Emily Armstrong and Siouxsie Medley met as 16-year-olds and began writing songs together. In March 2005, they first performed as a band, calling themselves Epiphany. Later that same year, they changed their name to Dead Sara, a reference to Fleetwood Mac’s song Sara. Their debut EP The Airport Sessions appeared in 2008. Since the release of their eponymous first full-length album in April 2012, two additional albums have appeared, including the latest Ain’t It Tragic. In addition to Armstrong (lead vocals) and Medley (lead guitar, bass), Dead Sara’s current line-up includes Sean Friday (drums, guitar). Here’s All I Know is That You Left Me for Dead.

Mild High Club/Dionysian State

Mild High Club is a psychedelic pop outfit from Los Angeles around songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Brettin, who started the band in 2013. While the latest recording list additional musicians, I’m not sure there are other standing members. According to Apple Music’s profile, Brettin studied jazz guitar at Chicago’s Columbia College before deciding he was more interested in creating his own Steely Dan-inspired mix of jazz, pop, and psychedelia. Impressed by Brettin’s home recordings, Stones Throw Records head Peanut Butter Wolf [now that’s a name! – CMM] signed Mild High Club to the label in 2014. The group’s second album, 2016’s Skiptracing, received rave reviews for its dreamy, ’70s soft-pop vibe. Sketches of Brunswick East, Mild High Club’s 2017 jazz-oriented collaboration with psych-rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard [previously featured in Best of What’s New here – CMM], reached No. 4 on Australia’s Top Albums chart. This brings me to Mild High Club’s new album Going Going Gone and the track Dionysian State. I can definitely hear some Steely Dan in here. As a fan of the Dan, that’s definitely not a disadvantage!

Thrice/Northern Lights

On to Thrice, an American rock band formed in 1998 and yet another group from Southern California (Irvine). According to Apple Music, “Multi-genre rock band Thrice is one of the most notable groups of the 2000s post-hardcore/emo scene, with four of their albums topping the Billboard  Independent Albums chart.” Frankly, that was news to me! The band was founded by Dustin Kensrue (guitar, vocals) and Teppei Teranishi (lead guitar) while they were in high school. Teranishi brought in his friend Eddie Breckenridge (bass) who in turn asked his brother Riley Breckenridge to join on drums. A self-released EP in 1999 was followed by the group’s first full-length album Identity Crisis in June 2000. After seven additional albums and following a tour in the spring of 2012, Thrice went on hiatus. They reemerged in 2015 and have since released three additional albums including their latest Horizons/East. Here’s Northern Lights written by Kensrue – check out this neat sound!

Melissa Etheridge/As Cool As You Try

Time to wrap up this installment with a great blues rock tune by Melissa Etheridge from her new album. The American singer-songwriter and guitarist first entered my radar screen with her excellent eponymous debut album that came out in May 1988. Her raspy voice and great songs grabbed me right away. Fast-forward 33 years to One Way One, Etheridge’s 16h and new studio album. According to this review in Louder, it’s a collection of previously unreleased songs she wrote in the late ’80s and early ’90s. To realize the project Etheridge decided to reconnect with musicians who played on her early albums, including Kevin McCormick (bass), Fritz Lewak (drums) and John Shanks. Here’s As Cool As You Try, which was first released as an upfront track on August 19. This rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; YouTube

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Melissa Etheridge Releases Title Track of Forthcoming New Album One Way Out

There’s a name I had not heard for some time: Melissa Etheridge who on Saturday turned 60. On May 25, she released One Way Out, the title track of her new album slated for September 17.

The material on Etheridge’s 16th studio album isn’t new. In fact, it’s decades old from the late ’80s and early ’90s, according to this article in Dallas Voice. These songs go all the way back to the beginning of her recording career and in some cases even further. In 2013, Etheridge had planned to include the tracks in a retrospective box set. But shortly after the songs had been recorded, she severed ties to her record label Island, and the box set never appeared.

Etheridge subsequently founded her own label ME Records and started working on new songs. The result was the September 2014 album This Is M.E. Last year when going through old files these tracks resurfaced. “I’m so excited to bring these songs to my fans,” Etheridge stated. “Years later I am still moved and can’t wait to share these tracks live.”

Here’s the official video for One Way Out, a great rocker featuring Etheridge’s distinct raspy vocals. In addition to guitar, she plays a mean harmonica. This surely wants me to listen to the entire album once it’s out. It follows The Medicine Show from April 2019.

Here’s the album’s track list, as reported by Illinois radio station 1430 WCMY. I suspect some additional songs might be released upfront.

One Way Out
As Cool as You Try
I’m No Angel Myself
For the Last Time
Save Myself
That Would Be Me
Wild Wild Wild
You Have No Idea (Live)*
Life Goes On (Live)*
* = Recorded at the Roxy in Los Angeles in 2002

You can read more about Melissa Etheridge here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dallas Voice; 1430 WCMY; YouTube

Of Slides and Bottlenecks

The sound of a well played slide guitar is one of the coolest in music in my opinion. I’ve always loved it. It’s also one of the most challenging techniques that requires great precision and lots of feeling. You can easily be off, which to me is the equivalent of a violin player who hasn’t mastered yet how to properly use the bow or a trumpet player who is still working on their blowing technique – in other words real torture, if you miss!

I thought it would be fun putting together a post that features great slide guitarists from different eras. Before getting to some music, I’d like to give a bit of background on the technique and a very brief history. More specifically, I’m focusing on slide guitar played in the traditional position, i.e., flat against the body, as opposed to lap steel guitar where the instrument is placed in a player’s lap and played with a hand-held bar.

How to Play Slide Guitar - Quickstart Guide | Zing Instruments

Slide guitar is a technique where the fret hand uses a hard object called a slide instead of the fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The slide, which oftentimes is a metal of a glass tube aka “bottle neck,” is fitted on one of the guitarist’s fingers. Holding it against the strings while moving it up and down the fretboard creates glissando or gliding effects and also offers the opportunity to play pronounced vibratos. The strings are typically plucked, not strummed with the other hand.

The technique of holding a hard object against a plucked string goes back to simple one-string African instruments. In turn, these instruments inspired the single-stringed diddley bow, which was developed as a children’s toy by Black slaves in the U.S. It was considered an entry-level instrument played by adolescent boys who once they mastered it would move on to a regular guitar.

Clockwise starting from left in upper row: Sylvester Weaver, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Brian Jones, Mike Boomfield, Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks

The bottleneck slide guitar technique was popularized by blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta near the beginning of the twentieth century. Country blues pioneer Sylvester Weaver made the first known slide guitar recording in 1923. Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and other blues artists popularized the use of slide guitar in the electric blues genre. In turn, they influenced the next generation of blues and rock guitarists like Mike Bloomfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) and Ry Cooder.

Time for some music. Here’s Sylvester Weaver with the instrumental Guitar Blues, one of the earliest slide guitar recordings.

One of the masters of Delta blues who prominently used slide guitar was Robert Johnson. Here’s the amazing Cross Road Blues from 1936 from one of only two recording sessions in which Johnson participated. If you haven’t heard this version but it somehow sounds familiar, chances are you’ve listened to Cream’s cover titled Crossroads.

Are you ready to shake it? Here’s smoking hot Shake Your Money Maker written by Elmore James. James released this classic blues standard in December 1961.

The Rolling Stones were fans of the Chicago blues. One of their blues gems featuring Brian Jones on slide guitar was Little Red Rooster, which they released as a single in the UK in November 1964. It was also included on their third American studio album The Rolling Stones, Now! from February 1965. Written by Willie Dixon, the tune was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in October 1961.

Next is Walkin’ Blues, which The Paul Butterfield Blues Band covered on their second studio album East-West from August 1966, featuring Mike Bloomfield on slide guitar. The tune was written by Delta blues artist Son House in 1930.

In May 1969, Muddy Waters released his sixth studio album After the Rain. Here’s slide guitar gem Rollin’ and Tumblin’, which was first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern (gotta love this name!) in 1929. It’s unclear who wrote the tune.

Here’s one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time: Duane Allman with The Allman Brothers Band and One Way Out. This amazing rendition appeared on an expanded version of At Fillmore East released in October 1992. The original edition appeared in July 1971, three months prior to Duane’ deadly motorcycle accident. Co-written by Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James, the tune was first recorded and released in the early to mid-’60s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and James.

A post about slide guitar wouldn’t be complete without the amazing Bonnie Raitt, an artist I’ve dug for many years. Here’s Sugar Mama, a song co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, which she recorded for her fifth studio album Home Plate from 1975.

Let’s do two more tracks performed by two additional must-include slide guitar masters. First up is Ry Cooder with Feelin’ Bad Blues, a tune Cooder wrote for the soundtrack of the 1986 picture Crossroads, which was inspired by the life of Robert Johnson. This is a true slide beauty!

Last but not least, here’s Derek Trucks who is considered to be one of the best contemporary slide guitarists. Trucks is best known as an official member of the Allmans from 1999-2014 and as co-founder of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which he formed together with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2010. Here’s a great live performance of Desdemona by The Allman Brothers, featuring some amazing slide guitar playing by Trucks. Co-written by Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes, the tune was included on the band’s final studio album Hittin’ the Note that came out in March 2003.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube