Happy Birthday and Peace & Love

A playlist to celebrate Ringo Starr’s 81st birthday

Today, Ringo Starr has turned 81 years old. It’s so great to see he’s still going strong! I just love the man and not only because he was the drummer of my all-time favorite band The Beatles. Ringo strikes me as a genuinely nice guy with a great sense of humor, who despite his fame comes across as a fairly regular person. A guy you’d love to hang out with. And somebody every band would want to have as a member since it always seems to be about the group, never about him.

Ringo is no technical virtuoso, which I’ve seen him acknowledge in interviews. I think his honesty and humbleness say a lot about him. And yet he’s held in high esteem by other professional drummers for his creative drumming style. That’s especially the case when it comes to certain Beatles songs where you can figure out the tune just by listening to Ringo’s drum part. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool!

But it’s perhaps the concept of Ringo’s All-Starr Band, which best illustrates what he’s all about. Yes, they play some songs from his solo period and his time with The Beatles, but they also perform tunes from the other members. It’s the “all” in the band’s name that matters. I so much hope I’ll finally see Ringo for the first time with the latest incarnation of the All-Starr Band at New York’s Beacon Theatre in June 2022. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate his 81st birthday with a selection of tunes spanning his 50-year-plus solo career.

It Don’t Come Easy – non-album single, April 1971

PhotographRingo, November 1973

No No SongGoodnight Vienna, November 1974

Wrack My BrainStop and Smell the Roses, October 1981

In My CarOld Wave, June 1983

Drift Away (featuring Tom Petty, Steven Tyler and Alanis Morissette) – Vertical Man, June 1998

Walk With You (duet with Paul McCartney) – Y Not, January 2010)

Postcards From ParadisePostcards From Paradise, March 2015

We’re on the Road AgainGive More Love (September 2017)

Waiting for the Tide to TurnZoom In (EP), March 2021

And, remember, wherever you are at noon today, Peace and Love!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Happy birthday to you, Sir Paul!

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Today, Paul McCartney is turning 79 years old – wow! He’s one of my greatest music heroes of all time, who continues to inspire me after an incredible close to 60-year recording career. Paul’s biography has been written up countless times, and it’s safe to assume there is nothing new I could reveal. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Macca’s birthday with some of the great music he has given us over the decades.

...Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party

Things We Said Today (1964)

A song from The Beatles era I’ve always loved, which appeared on the U.K. version of the A Hard Day’s Night album released in July 1964 but wasn’t part of the movie soundtrack. According to The Beatles Bible, McCartney wrote this tune on a yacht in the Virgin Islands in May 1964, where he vacationed with his girlfriend Jane Asher, as well as Ringo Starr and his future first wife Maureen Cox.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The title track and a Macca tune from my favorite Beatles album on most days, which was released in May 1967. The idea of the song and the entire album of an alter-ego band that would perform before an audience came to McCartney in November 1966 on a flight from Nairobi back to England.

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

The highlight of McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. Written in 1969, the tune is about his first wife Linda McCartney (née Eastman). Linda who passed away from breast cancer in 1998 undoubtedly had an enormous impact on Paul. Instead of picking the studio track, I’m cheating a bit here and feature what I feel is a superior version that appeared on the great Wings Over America live album from December 1976.

Band on the Run (1973)

The title track from what I think is the Mount Rushmore of Macca’s solo period, released in December 1973. The tune was McCartney’s response to drug laws he believed unfairly criminalized him and his friends. Noting the latter included the Eagles and The Byrds, Songfacts quotes Macca as follows: “We’re not criminals… We just would rather do this than hit the booze – which had been a traditional way to do it. We felt that this was a better move.”

Letting Go (1975)

A nice rocker from Venus and Mars, McCartney’s fourth studio album with Wings, which came out in May 1975. Letting Go is another tune about Linda McCartney, a reflection on Paul’s relationship with her and that she deserved more freedom to pursue her own interests after she had given up her photography career. Linda received a co-credit for the song.

Here Today (1982)

A moving tribute to John Lennon Macca wrote wrote in the wake of Lennon’s senseless murder in December 1980. It appeared on McCartney’s third solo studio album Tug of War from April 1982, another gem from his solo catalog I previously covered here. This song can still make me well up!

Fine Line (2005)

Time to continue the party by jumping to the current century. Fine Line is the opener to Macca’s 13th solo album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard from October 2005. It’s a great piano-driven pop song that also showcases the multi-instrumental talents of Sir Paul. In addition to piano and vocals, he provided guitar, bass and drums – pretty much the track’s entire instrumentation, except for the strings that were played by London-based session players Millennia Ensemble.

I Don’t Know (2018)

A beautiful piano ballad from Egypt Station, McCartney’s 17th solo studio effort from September 2018 – a late career gem in his solo catalog, in my opinion! You can read more about it here. Yes, Paul’s voice is clearly showing some wear and tear, but I think it works very well for this and the other tracks on the album.

Lavatory Lil (2020)

A nice rocker from McCartney III, which is yet another intriguing late career release in my book. I would also say it’s the charm of Macca’s three DIY home-made albums, as I previously wrote here. Check out the cool descending bass line of Lavatory Lil.

Birthday (1968)

A birthday celebration calls for a birthday song, so I’d like to wrap up this post with exactly that. Conveniently, Sir Paul also wrote the perfect tune for the occasion. It first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968 as the opener to side three (speaking in vinyl terms here!). Instead of picking the original studio track, let’s up the fun with a live version captured during a performance at New York’s Grand Central Station in September 2018 to celebrate the release of the above noted Egypt Station album. It’s just great to see how much fun Macca continues to have when performing in front of an audience. This absolutely makes me want to see him again!

I would like you to dance, birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday
I would like you to dance, birthday
Dance

I would like you to dance, birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday

I would like you to dance, birthday
Dance

You say it’s your birthday
Well it’s my birthday too, yeah
You say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Rock on, Paul, and here’s to good health and many more years to come!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part I

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

The other day, the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles randomly came to my mind. It’s about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

What does this movie have to do with music? Nothing, except it gave me the idea to put together lists of songs that are related to – you guessed it – planes, trains and automobiles. To be fully transparent, in mid-2017, I published tw0 posts with songs for the road and songs for the train. As such, the theme isn’t really new but, hey, it’s been almost four years. Plus, I feel it’s okay to repeat fun ideas every now and then.

In order to avoid creating what would be a rather lengthy post, I decided to make it a mini series and break things up in three parts, with each featuring five tracks listed in chronological order. Here’s part I: Songs related to planes, an entirely new idea! 🙂

Jefferson Airplane/Blues From an Airplane

Blues From an Airplane is the opener of Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. The psychedelic rock tune was co-written by Marty Balin and Skip Spence, Airplane’s lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist and drummer, respectively. The tune also became the b-side of the band’s second single Come Up the Years, which was released ahead of the album in May 1966. Airplane’s actual was take-off, Surrealistic Pillow, was still six months away. The record only reached no. 128 on the Billboard 200, while the single failed to chart altogether.

The Beatles/Back in the U.S.S.R.

Why Back in the U.S.S.R., given the tune doesn’t have “plane” or a related word in the title? Since it’s my bloody list, and it cannot be without my favorite band of all time. Plus, there’s a sound of a jet engine in the beginning and at the very end of the tune, and the first verse prominently includes a rough flight. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and him as usual, is actually a parody to Back in the U.S.A. and California Girls by Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, respectively, poking fun at their patriotic sentiments about the U.S. The song, included on The White Album from November 1968, was recorded without Ringo Starr who temporarily had left the group after McCartney had criticized his drumming. Instead John, Paul and George Harrison created a composite drum track from numerous takes.

Steve Miller Band/Jet Airliner

Jet Airliner was one of the first tunes that came to my mind when thinking about plane songs. The other two were Jet by Paul McCartney and Wings and John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. Since I decided to include Back in the U.S.S.R., I skipped Jet. While Leaving on a Jet Plane is a lovely tune, it would have been another pick from the ’60s. Written by Paul Penna in 1973, Jet Airliner was popularized by Steve Miller Band when they released it in April 1977 as the lead single of their 10th studio album Book of Dreams that appeared the following month. It yielded their fourth and last ’70s top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart.

Indigo Girls/Airplane

After three rockers I thought it was time to include something that’s a bit lighter, so I’m glad I found this lovely acoustic, folk-oriented tune by Indigo Girls. Written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up the duo, Airplane is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage that appeared in May 1992. I really dig the vocals and the harmony singing on this song.

The Black Keys/Aeroplane Blues

There they are again, The Black Keys. The rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered my radar screen recently when I included a tune from their new album Crawling Kingsnake in a Best of What’s New feature. Aeroplane Blues is another edgy blues rock tune, which shall wrap up this first installment. Written by Auerbach and Carney, it appeared on their third studio album Rubber Factory released in September 2004.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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

It’s that time of the week again to take another look at newly released music. This latest Best of What’s New installment turned out to be pretty rock-oriented. All songs are on albums that came out yesterday (April 16).

Greta Van Fleet/Built By Nations

Kicking things off is some great blistering rock by Greta Van Fleet, a rock band from Frankenmuth, Mich. They were formed in 2012 by twin brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals) and Jake Kiszka (guitar) and their younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Hauck left in 2013 and was replaced by Danny Wagner who remains the band’s drummer to this day. Greta Van Fleet have attracted plenty of attention for embracing ’70s classic rock and some criticism from certain music reviewers who accused them of ripping off early Led Zeppelin. While there’s no denying some of the Michigan rockers’ early tunes have a Led Zeppelin I vibe, I always found the criticism overblown. Plus, I dig Zep, so selfishly I didn’t mind in the first place. Greta Van Fleet have since evolved their sound, as illustrated by their latest album The Battle at Garden’s Gate. Some tracks had been released as singles ahead of what is the band’s second full-length studio album, including My Way, Soon and Age of Machine. I previously featured them here and here. Following is Built By Nations. Like all other tracks on the album, it is credited to the entire band.

Eric Church/Heart on Fire

Eric Church is a country singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Church is a gifted storyteller, delivering relatable, regular-guy sing-alongs with a warm, reedy drawl. The North Carolina native started early—he was writing songs at 13 and taught himself to play guitar soon after, eventually getting a taste of touring with his college band, Mountain Boys. But his sharp lyrical observations and sly humor helped him find footing in Nashville’s songwriter circuit and land a solo record deal. His debut album Sinners Like Me appeared in July 2006. The third album Chief from July 2011 brought the big breakthrough, topping both the Billboard Top Country Albums and the Billboard 200 mainstream charts. Heart on Fire, written by Church, is the opener of Heart, the first part of an ambitious triple album titled Heart & Soul that features 25 tracks. Parts 2 and 3, & and Soul, are slated to be released on April 20 and April 23, respectively.

The Offspring/Let the Bad Times Roll

The Offspring were formed in 1984 as Manic Subsidal in Garden Grove, Calif. The band, which changed their name to The Offspring in 1986, has been credited for reviving mainstream interest in punk rock, together with fellow Californian outfits Green Day and Rancid. The current line-up includes founding member Bryan “Dexter” Holland (lead vocals, guitar), along with Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman (guitar), Todd Morse (bass) and Pete Parada (drums). The band released their eponymous debut album in June 1989. Their international breakthrough, appropriately titled Smash, appeared in April 1994. Fueled by hit singles Come Out and Play, Self Esteem and Gotta Get Away, the album surged to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 3 in Canada, topped the charts in Australia, and reached the top 5 in various European countries. Altogether, The Offspring have released 10 studio albums, 4 EPs, two compilations and multiple singles over their now 37-year career. Let the Bad Times Roll, written by Holland, is the catchy title track of their new album.

Paul McCartney & Joshua Homme/Lavatory Lil

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is Paul McCartney who has been on a remarkable roll. Following the release of his 18th solo album McCartney III last December, which I reviewed here, he is back with an encore titled McCartney III Imagined. According to an announcement on his website, the album features an A-List assortment of friends, fans and brand new  acquaintances, each covering and/or reimagining their favorite  McCartney III  moments in their own signature stylesMcCartney III Imagined continues the tradition of the biggest and most diverse names in music covering Paul’s songs — an ever-expanding  lineup that ranges from more recent versions by Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, Dave  Grohl, Coldplay and The Cure, to interpretations over the years from the likes of U2, Guns N’ Roses, Earth Wind & Fire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and so many more.  McCartney III Imagined is a testament of Paul’s enduring and unmatched influence, a legacy that stretches from “Yesterday” being the most covered song in contemporary musical history to the inspiration his current work continues to hold for generations of artists and fans. What I find remarkable is the apparent open-mindedness of McCartney who is turning 79 in June to work with a broad group of contemporary artists, such as Dominic Fike, Khruangbin, Blood Orange, St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers and Beck. Frankly, except for the last two, these are all new names to me! Here’s Lavatory Lil, imagined together with Joshua Homme who is best known as the main songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist of American rock band Queens of the Stone Age.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Bettye LaVette/Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.

The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.

Bettye LaVette - Soulful Detroit

While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.

Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.

Bettye LaVette Interview - Blues Matters Magazine

In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.

LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!

The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John LennonPaul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.

How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!

Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!

Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!

Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!

Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.

Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”

In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”

So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Usually, I keep my forays into newly released music to four tunes. This installment includes two more tracks. Why? Easy, ‘coz I can! On a more serious note, unlike other weeks where I feel more challenged to find music that sufficiently speaks to me, I discovered these tracks fairly quickly. And since I couldn’t quite decide on four, I ended up taking all six. Except for the final song, all tunes are included on releases that appeared yesterday (March 19).

Mason Lively/Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing

Mason Lively is a country/Americana artist from Victoria, Texas. According to his website, he grew up in a country music atmosphere. His appreciation for the genre can be traced back to his childhood. Though he enjoyed and was exposed to many types of music, he would listen to artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price to name a few. Growing up, while also being influenced by Blues and Classic Rock, Mason started to take interest and study the songwriting of artists from his home state’s music scene like Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Hayes Carll, and many more. As a result, when he started playing guitar at age 14, Mason claims that song-writing “sort of snuck up on him” not long after that. Lively’s debut album Stronger Ties appeared in April 2018. Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing is a track from his new eponymous sophomore album.

Michigander/Let Down

Jason Singer, performing as Michigander, is a singer-songwriter hailing from Midland, Mich., who has been active since 2014. His artist profile on Apple Music describes Michigander’s music as a rich blend of hook-driven and radio-ready indie rock with electronic flourishes and earnest, big-hearted storytelling that invokes names like Lord Huron and Mumford & Sons. He is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who spent his formative years building a sonic persona that looked to a wide array of influencers, including Coldplay, Rush, James Taylor, and the White Stripes. After honing his skills playing solo sets, Singer relocated to Kalamazoo in 2014 and began operating under the Michigander moniker. In 2016 he issued the nostalgia-driven single “Nineties,” which garnered over a million online streams. Looking to capitalize on the success of the single, Singer turned his one-man solo project into a fully-fledged rock & roll band and hit the road, sharing bills with contemporaries like Ra Ra Riot, Tokyo Police Club, and Twin Peaks, and released the group’s debut EP, Midland, in 2018. The following year saw the band ink a deal with C3 Records and issue a second EP, Where Do We Go from Here? Well, I suppose the answer is Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, Michigander’s latest EP. Here’s lead single Let Down. I have to say I find this tune quite catchy.

Alice Phoebe Lou/Dusk

South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou first entered my radar screen in July 2020, when I covered her then-latest single Touch in a previous Best of What’s New installment. As noted there, Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, Momentum, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, Orbit. Dusk, written by Lou, is from her new album Glow. Just like I felt previously, her music falls outside my core wheelhouse but there’s just something about it.

Ringo Starr/Waiting For the Tide to Turn

Just like his ex-Beatles mate Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr kept busy during the pandemic. One of the results is a new EP titled Zoom In. A statement on his website notes it features 5 songs all of which were recorded at Starr’s home studio between April-October 2020...Joining Starr were musicians Nathan East (bass), Steve Lukather (guitar), Bruce Sugar (synth guitar), Benmont Tench (piano), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jacob Braun (cello), and Jim Cox (string arrangements and synth strings). Dave Grohl, Ben Harper and Jenny Lewis also joined Starr in the home studio, and all contributed to the first single, Here’s To The NightsI previously covered it hereRingo co-wrote “Waiting For The Tide to Turn” with his engineer Bruce Sugar, adding Tony Chen and his extensive reggae roots; “This was something my engineer Bruce Sugar started, but it didn’t have a lot of words, so we wrote it together. I did my version of reggae and what was great was we had Tony Chen, who played with Bob Marley and lives here in LA, come over and play on it. He said, ‘hey Mon, that you on drums mon?’ and I said yes, and he said ‘great drums mon, very reggae!’ and my heart swelled! It was so great coming from him.” Ringo and reggae was something I didn’t expect, but I think it came out pretty well!

Joyce Wrice/Chandler

Joyce Wrice is an R&B and soul artist from Los Angeles. There isn’t any background on her website and Facebook page, so I’m relying on a news story by MTV. Chandler is the opener of Wrice’s debut album Overgrown. The release follows a series of EPs and publishing covers on YouTube for 10 years. Some of her influences include Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Sade. Apparently, she is also influenced by her Japanese heritage and Buddhism. “One of the things that I’ve learned through my Buddhist practice is to create opportunities within the obstacle or the struggle,” Wrice pointed out to MTV News. “It’s actually helped me to dig deeper and not be swayed by the situation and keep pushing through.” This tune has a cool vibe. I can hear some early ’70s Marvin Gaye in here.

Tigers Jaw/New Detroit

American rock band Tigers Shaw were formed in Scranton, Pa. in 2005. The group was started in high school by Ben Walsh, who played drums at the time, and Adam McIlwee (guitar, vocals). A few months later, they were joined by Brianna Collins (keyboards, vocals). The band released their debut album Belongs to the Dead in October 2006. By the time of their eponymous sophomore album from September 2008, Tigers Shaw had grown to a five-piece and Walsh had switched to guitar and vocals. He and Collins remain part of the current formation that also includes Colin Gorman (bass, rhythm guitar) and Theodore Roberts (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the band’s music evolved from pop punk to Emo to indie rock. New Detroit is from their sixth studio album I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, which appeared on March 5. I really like how melodic and catchy this song is!

Sources: Wikipedia; Mason Lively website; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; MTV News; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Boy, have I been looking forward to this Sunday! While spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, to me, the switch from standard to daylight savings time here in New Jersey and most U.S. states marks the unofficial beginning. Oh, in case I just reminded you and you had forgotten to adjust your watches, you’re welcome! 🙂 Sunday is fun day, so if you’re like me and in the mood for some music, I’ll invite you to read on and check out the clips. I think I put together a nice and diverse set of tracks.

Neil Cowley/Berlin Nights

Let’s kick it off with some beautiful ambient music by English contemporary pianist and composer Neil Cowley. Cowley was born in London in November 1972. He began as a classical pianist and already at the age of 10 performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts I don’t know, including Mission Impossible, The Brand New Heavies, Gabrielle and Zero 7. It looks like his first album Displaced appeared in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. He has since released 14 additional records as a band leader or co-leader. Cowley has also worked as a sideman for various other artists, most notably Adele. Berlin Nights, composed by Cowley, is from his new solo album Hall of Mirrors that appeared on March 5. I find it super relaxing and can literally see a city nightscape before my eyes while listening.

Randy Newman/Guilty

Randy Newman needs no introduction, though he certainly deserves more of my attention. Based on my relatively limited knowledge of his catalog, here is one of my favorites, Guilty, from his fourth studio album Good Old Boys released in September 1974. Written by Newman, the tune was first recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her third studio album Takin’ My Time from October 1973, an excellent cover!

Rosanne Cash/Good Intent

There is lots of talent in the Johnny CashJune Carter Cash family. This includes Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin. Sadly, I’ve yet to explore Rosanne Cash who started her recording career in 1978 with her eponymous solo album and has since released 13 additional studio albums. Good Intent, co-written by Cash and her longtime collaborator John Leventhal, is included on her 12th studio album Black Cadillac from January 2006. I absolutely love the warm sound of that song and Cash’s vocals. This is a true gem!

The Byrds/Goin’ Back

The Byrds have written so many amazing songs. I also don’t get tired of Rickenbacker maestro Roger McGuinn and his jingle-jangle guitar sound. While it’s perhaps not as well known as Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, I’ll Feel a Lot Better and Eight Miles High, Goin’ Back has become one of my absolute favorite tunes by The Byrds. It was wo-written by the songwriting powerhouse of Carole King and Gerry Goffin and is yet another reason why Carole King who is nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year should be inducted! Goin’ Back was first released by Dusty Springfield in July 1966, giving her a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Byrds included their rendition on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers from January 1968. It was less successful, peaking at no. 89 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and missing the charts in the UK altogether. Regardless, I think it’s a terrific tune with a beautiful atmosphere.

Kim Carnes/Mistaken Identity

Kim Carnes is best known for her cover of Bette Davis Eyes, her international smash hit from 1981. The American singer-songwriter’s recording career started 10 years earlier with her first release Rest on Me. More Love, a cover of a Smokey Robinson tune, brought Carnes her first successful U.S. single in 1980, hitting no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis Eyes the following year became the biggest hit of her career. It was part of Carnes’ sixth studio album Mistaken Identity from April 1981. Here’s the title track written by Carnes. I’ve always dug her husky vocals. BTW, now 75 years old, she still appears to be active.

The Beatles/I Saw Her Standing There

This Sunday Six installment has been on the softer side, so as I’m wrapping up, it’s time to step on the gas with a great rock & roll song by my favorite band of all time: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles. Primarily written by Paul McCartney, but as usual credited to him and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener of The Beatles’ UK debut album Please Please Me that came out in March 1963. In December of the same year, Capitol Records released the tune in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want to Hold Your Hand, the label’s first single by The Beatles. Ready? One, two, three, four…

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 9

This is the 60th installment of my music history feature, which explores select happenings on a specific date over time, mostly focusing on the ’60s and ’70s. While not surprisingly by now I have a well-defined system in place how I go about gathering facts for these posts, I still enjoy writing them. So let’s embark on another time travel journey and take a look back at some of the events on March 9 throughout rock and pop music history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete list.

1967: The Beatles began work on Getting Better in Studio 2 of Abbey Road’s EMI Studies as part of the recording sessions for their next studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was mainly written by Paul McCartney with some lyrical input from John Lennon. During the late evening session, the tune’s rhythm track was recorded: McCartney’s rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr’s drums on track one; McCartney’s guide vocals on track two; a pianette (type of electric keyboard) played by George Martin on track three; and some additional drums on track four. Subsequently, a so-called reduction mix was created to free up additional tracks on the tape (eight-track recording would only start to become available in 1968). The Beatles and the studio crew called it a night, or I guess I should rather say an early morning, at 3:30 am (March 10). They devoted three additional sessions to the tune, evidently figuring it was getting better all the time. How do I know all of that? I don’t! Wait, what?! Well, there’s The Beatles Bible that captures all these details for the music geeks among us. 🙂

1973: American blues and boogie rockers Canned Heat released their ninth studio album The New Age. It was the first to feature guitarist James Shane and keyboarder Ed Beyer. At that time, Canned Heat had already lost key co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who had died from a drug overdose in September 1970. Wilson had written and co-written the band’s biggest U.S. hit singles Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, respectively, and sung lead vocals on both. Here’s the opener Keep Clean written by Bob Hite, the band’s other key co-founder who since passed away as well in April 1981, also due to drugs. Unfortunately, Canned Heat has been hit hard with drug-related deaths. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, renowned rock critic Lester Bangs was fired by Rolling Stone for writing a “disrespectful” review of the album at the time it came out.

1987: Irish rock band U2 released their fifth studio album The Joshua Tree. Fueled by hit singles With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Where the Streets Have No Name, it topped the charts in more than 20 countries and became U2’s all-time top-seller. With over 25 million copies sold, it’s also one of the world’s best-selling albums. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, The Joshua Tree yielded two 1988 Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. While it undoubtedly created over-exposure for U2, I feel The Joshua Tree is holding up pretty well to this day. Here’s one of the tunes that wasn’t released as a single, which I’ve come to dig over the years as one of my favorites: Red Hill Mining Town. Like all other tracks on the album, Bono provided the lyrics, while the music was credited to the entire band.

1993: Sting put out his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which remains my all-time favorite by the ex-Police front man. If I see this correctly, it became Sting’s best-selling album. It also received six 1994 Grammy nominations and won three: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best Music Video, Long-Form, and Best Vocal Performance, Male (for If I Ever Lose My Faith in You). Here’s the beautiful Shape of My Heart, co-written by Sting and his longtime sideman, guitarist Dominic Miller.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Some Wise Words From Sir Paul

This morning, I came across a recent tweet from Paul McCartney. It links to a blog post on his website. When asked by a woman via Twitter whether he had any advice how to deal with difficult situations where everything in the news paints a bleak picture of the future, Paul said the following:

I’ve always been an optimistic person, because I don’t like the alternative! I find that even when you go through crisis after crisis, you still come out the other end, and no matter how bad you’re feeling it can often work out OK.

Something I’ve learned is that life’s good, really, but we often screw it up. So I try to tell myself and other people that if we can just work on not screwing it up, it’s going to be better for us and everyone else. I always try and see the good side – the silver lining – and if you’re lucky, it arrives.

I remember as a kid, I would hear old women on the housing estate where we used to live saying ‘ohh me rheumatism, ohh me arthritis, ohh it’s killing me, it’s terrible!’ And I thought well, it’s not going to get any better if you talk like that! I know life’s difficult for a lot of people, but I think a positive thought is often a great help. You’ve got to train yourself not to think the worst.

With Covid, it’s awful. You’ve got to look for the good side, and even though we’re all restricted right now, you’ve got to say – ‘well, on the other hand it gives me loads of time to do all the stuff I wanted to do’. And even though we can’t hug our friends like we wish we could, there will come a time when we’ll be able to, and I have a feeling it’ll be even better than ever.

Also asked whether music could lift up humanity’s spirit and perseverance, he added:

Yeah, definitely. I think music is a great healer. I think that you can be feeling terrible, then put on a piece of music you like and get swallowed up by it. You can go in into the mood of the music and it’s a magical thing. I remember once, again when I was a kid, I was hanging out with my mate from school and I had a headache, and we put on an Elvis record – ‘All Shook Up’ – and at the end of the record I didn’t have the headache! So, I’ve always believed in that power.

Sure, I can see some folks being a bit cynical about the blog post and dismiss it as a gimmick to stay engaged with fans. The intro of the post also mentions Paul’s new album McCartney III. Plus, saying COVID gives you plenty of time to do things you had wanted to do but couldn’t do could come across as being a bit tone-deaf, especially to people who don’t have the luxury of a job that allows them to work from home. I view it differently.

To start with, given Paul’s mega success, he really doesn’t need to resort to any gimmicks to stay connected to his audience. It’s safe to assume his financial wellbeing doesn’t depend on sales of McCartney III. When noting extra time for things because of the pandemic, Paul is really talking about himself. In fact, he likely wouldn’t have done a new album, had it not been for COVID. To me, there’s also no question music can have a positive impact on how you feel. It has done so time and again in my case! But most importantly, I believe Paul when he says he’s a positive guy. It’s very much reflected in many of his songs. Here’s one that comes to mind.

While John Lennon contributed some of the lyrics and the tune was credited to Lennon-McCartney, wrote most of Getting Better. The Beatles recorded the song for their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in May 1967.

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube