Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Jackson Browne Still Strong And Far From Running On Empty

Vonda Shepard delivers soulful opening

Jackson Browne must have a secret, and I wanna know what it is. While the man supposedly has been running on empty for the past 40 years, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After I had heard the song for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late ’70s, Browne quickly became one of my favorite artists. Not surprisingly, I was really psyched when I finally saw him for the first time Sunday night at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pa.

After a 45-year-plus recording career, Browne’s voice still sounded just as great as it did back in the days of Running On Empty. Heck, he even largely looked the same with the same hairstyle – okay, now with grey hair and glasses, but overall, time has been relatively kind to Browne. And what an ace backing band! But let’s start from the beginning.

Jackson Browne Concert Poster

Have you ever been to a rock & roll show that started on time? I don’t recall any, but this one actually did! At 7:30 PM on the dot, Browne walked out on stage to personally introduce his opening act: American singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Frankly, I had never heard of her before. Browne called her a great songwriter who for sometime had been part of his band. Oh, and he also allowed her to use his current backing band – what a class act!

I have to say I was impressed with Shepard, who reminded a bit of Sheryl Crow. Her voice has a nice soulful vibe. She also is a musician, playing the piano, bass and guitar.  Shepard started out as a backing singer, eventually got a record contract, and released her eponymous debut album in 1989. After her third record had appeared in 1996, she was hired for the TV sitcom Ally McBeal, for which she recorded two companion soundtrack albums. She scored a hit with Searchin’ My Soul, a catchy pop rock tune she co-wrote with Paul Howard Gordon. To date Shepard has released 14 albums. Here is a clip of Searchin’ My Soul, which was the closer of her 25-minute set.

Then the time had finally come for Jackson Browne. From the opening bars of Before The Deluge to the final notes of the encore, I was amazed by Browne’s voice and his musicianship. With a 45-year-plus recording career, he certainly had an enormous catalog he could pull from and he did. I wasn’t familiar with all of the tunes he performed, but with the help of Setlist.fm, I figured out the entire set except for one song.

The first tune I’d like to call out is The Long Way Around, a track from Browne’s last studio album Standing In The Breach, which appeared in October 2014. One thing I liked about the song was the great solo by Browne’s lead guitarist Val McCallum, whose guitar work shined throughout the evening. I just dig the clear and transparent sound he got out of his Fender Telecaster. Here’s a nice clip.

Another highlight was Lives In The Balance, the title song from Browne’s eighth studio album released in February 1986. The stripped back version prominently featured his terrific backing vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, who added a dose of gospel and soul. Check it out.

Amid all his songs, Browne also threw in a cover of I’m A Patriot, a tune written by Little Steven for his second solo album Voice Of America from May 1984. Again, backing singers Mills and Stewart featured prominently in the laid back tune and did a beautiful job.

In addition to being a great songwriter and vocalist, Browne is a pretty decent guitarist. One standout in this context was Your Bright Baby Blues from his fourth studio album The Pretender released in November 1976. It featured some nice slide guitar work by Browne. You can watch it here.

Speaking of The Pretender, here is the great title track of the album. It was one of the tunes Browne played on the piano.

Running On Empty was the last track of the regular set. I still love this song after all these years. Greg Leisz did a beautiful job on pedal steel guitar. Like the amazing David Lindley, this guy is an impressive multi-instrumentalist.

Browne waited to the encore to play one of his other major hits: Take It Easy, which he co-wrote with Glenn Frey. It became the first single for the Eagles in May 1972. Browne included the tune on his sophomore album For Everyman, which came out in October 1973. On Sunday night, he blended it into Our Lady Of The Well, the second tune on that record. Leisz provided more beautiful pedal steel guitar. It’s all nicely captured in the following clip.

In addition to McCallum, Leisz, Mills and Stewart, Browne’s excellent backing band included Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums) and Jeff Young (keyboards). Here is the entire set list.

  • Regular
    • Before The Deluge
    • Some Bridges
    • You Love the Thunder
    • The Long Way Around
    • The Dreamer
    • Lives In The Balance
    • Doctor My Eyes
    • These Days
    • Shaky Town
    • Never Stop
    • I’m A Patriot
    • Somebody’s Baby
    • Looking East
    • Your Bright Baby Blues
    • World in Motion (together with Vonda Shepard)
    • Unknown song
    • I’m Alive
    • Sky Blue and Black
    • Shape of the Heart
    • The Pretender
    • Running on Empty
  • Encore:
    • Take It Easy
    • Our Lady Of The Well

Source: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube