Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As another busy week that left little opportunity for blogging is drawing to a close, the time has come again to take a look at newly released music. The selections in this latest Best of What’s New installment all fall into the pop rock and blues areas. Artists include a rock band from England teaming up with a U.S. rock singer-songwriter, two blues artists from down under, a gothic blues singer-songwriter from Nashville and Sheryl Crow with her latest single.

The Struts with Albert Hammond Jr./Another Hit of Showmanship

The Struts are a British rock band from Derby, England, which was founded in 2012. According to their website, In just a few years, The Struts have found themselves massively embraced by some of the greatest icons in rock-and-roll history. Along with opening for The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Guns N’ Roses, the U.K.-bred four-piece was hand-picked by Mötley Crüe to serve as the supporting act for their last-ever performances, while Dave Grohl praised them as the best band to ever open for Foo Fighters. To date, The Struts have released two full-fledged studio albums, 3 EPs and numerous singles. For their latest single Another Hit of Showmanship, which appeared today, they teamed up with singer-songwriter Albert Hammond Jr., who is best known as guitarist in American rock band The Strokes. “‘Another Hit of Showmanship’ reminds me of being at a club night called Ramshackle years ago at the O2 Academy in Bristol, where they’d play bands like the Libertines and Razorlight and Scissor Sisters, and of course the Strokes,” Struts vocalist Luke Spiller stated, as reported by Rolling Stone. “I hit up Albert out of the blue and told him, ‘We’ve got this song, and I’m so excited to see what you would do with it.’ As soon as he got his hands on it, he took it to a whole different level — it really just shows why he’s so brilliant at what he does.” It’s quite a catchy tune!

Josh Teskey & Ash Grunwald/Thinking ‘Bout Myself

Vocalist and guitarist Josh Teskey is a co-founding member of The Teskey Brothers, an Australian blues rock band formed in 2008. Ash Grunwald is a blues musician who hails from down under as well and has been active for 20 years. What do you get when you combine the two? Josh Teskey and Ash Grunwald, and an album, Push the Blues Away, scheduled for November 13. NME reported Thinking ‘Bout Myself is the first single released August 24. The two artists have worked together before. In 2019, they recorded a single, Ain’t My Problem, and while filming a clip for the song ended up jamming. “Somebody filmed our little jam,” Grunwald stated. “And it became the seed of a great idea: Why don’t we do an acoustic blues album? No bells and whistles, something from the heart.” All except two of the eight tracks were written either by Teskey or Grunwald. Well, based on this single, it certainly sounds promising.

Adia Victoria/South Gotta Change

Adia Victoria is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who according to Wikipedia is known for her “gothic blues” musical style. After a friend had given Victoria a guitar for her 21st birthday, she got into blues music. In 2010, she moved to Nashville and began performing locally. Her debut single Stuck in the South appeared in early 2015. Rolling Stone included her in a 10 New Artists You Need to Know feature, calling the tune a “swampy, bluesy track that put Adia Victoria on the map.” Her debut studio album Beyond the Bloodhounds came out in May 2016, followed by her sophomore release Silences from February 2019. South Gotta Change is Victoria’s new single released today and produced by none other than veteran T-Bone Burnett. Victoria’s compelling vocals and a great sound make this tune a real gem. Check out the official video.

Cheryl Crow/In The End

Threads may have been Cheryl Crow‘s final full-fledged album, as she stated when it came out a year ago. I previously reviewed it here. Luckily, Crow also said she’s not retiring from touring or releasing new music. Going forward, she added, she wanted to focus on singles or perhaps EPs. Apparently, Crow is following through. After releasing a cover of Bill Withers’ Lonely Town, Lonely Street in April and the original Woman in the White House on August 10, Crow is out with another single today: In the End. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves no doubt what’s on her mind these days. There’s a fly on the wall in the house on the hill/Where the king of the world watches TV/And the people await for his latest mandate/To a nation of angry believers/His words are a trap while his loyal band of thugs/Cover up all his many transgressions/The fly lands on his ear and whispers, “What’s there to fear/As long as you’re still the obsession?/As long you’re still the obsession”… Co-written by Crow and her long-time collaborator Jeff Trott, the nice pop rocker is classic Sheryl Crow.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Struts website; Rolling Stone; NME; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This has been an extremely busy week on the work and family fronts, which hardly left any time to listen to music and reading posts written by my fellow music bloggers – not to mention writing something myself. Time to start catching up! A great place to begin is to take a look at newly released music. And I found some really good stuff, mostly by bands I had not heard of before. There’s also a nice collaboration single by former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather.

South of Eden/The Talk

South of Eden, formerly known as Black Coffee, are a four-piece rock band from Columbus, Ohio: Ehab Omran (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Justin Young (lead guitar, vocals), Tom McCullough (drums) and Nick Frantianne (bass). According to their website, the band has already performed alongside everyone from the Foo Fighters to System of a Down, and invite you to join them on their journey of looking at rock ‘n’ roll through a modern lensOriginally from the country of Jordan, Ehab primarily listened to the Arabic music his parents would play, in addition to superstars like Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and James Brown. After coming to America, he was introduced to a wider range of music that inspired him: eighties and nineties rock including Guns N’ Roses and notably QueenEhab and Nick performed together in various bands (channeling Iron Maiden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Alice In Chains) and eventually joined Justin and Tom who had been working on their own band (influenced by Van Halen and Black Sabbath). The Talk is the title track of the band’s debut EP, which came out yesterday (August 21). Credited to Omran, Young, McCullough and producer Greg Wells, this nice rocker reminds me a bit of Greta Van Fleet. While it’s more on the aggressive side, it’s got a catchy melody. Check it out!

The Lemon Twigs/Hell on Wheels

The Lemon Twigs are a rock band from Long Island, N.Y., fronted by brothers and multi-instrumentalists Brian D’Addario and Michael D’Addario. Brian and Michael, who had significant stage experience as children, formed The Lemon Twigs in 2014 when they were still in high school. The band’s touring line-up also includes Daryl Johns (bass), Tommaso Taddonio (keyboards) and Andres Valbuena (drums). Their first release was a cassette, What We Know, issued as a limited edition in 2015. This was followed by the debut studio album Do Hollywood from October 2016. They have since released two additional albums, an EP and various singles. Co-written by the brothers, Hell on Wheels is the opener of the band’s new studio album Songs for the General Public, which appeared yesterday (August 21). I think it’s a catchy tune.

Steve Lukather/Run to Me

Last October, following Toto’s final show in Philadelphia to wrap up their 40th anniversary tour, Steve Lukather told Pennsylvania local newspaper The Morning Call the gig marked “certainly the end of this configuration of Toto.” But apparently Lukather already had other plans. He was supposed to join Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band for a tour earlier this year, which of course didn’t happen and has been postponed until 2021. Now he’s out with a new song, Run to Me, the first single from an upcoming solo album, which as reported by Rolling Stone, is set for release sometime next year. The tune was co-written by Lukather together with his former Toto band mates David Paich and Joseph Williams. In addition to Paich and Williams, it features Ringo Starr and Huey Lewis and the News bassist John Piece. “This is a happy summer single for less than happy times,” commented Lukather on his website. “It just seemed like this was the right time to release the song…A little out of character for myself, but fun.  Inspired by my youth…” There’s definitely a ’60s vibe in this melodic tune, which came out on August 20. Here’s the official video.

Sea Girls/Forever

Let’s wrap up this new music installment with some indie rock from England. Sea Girls, formed in London in 2015, feature Henry Camamile (vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Noswad (bass) and Oli Khan (drums). The band’s debut single Call Me Out appeared in June 2017. This was followed by various additional singles and three EPs, which were all self-released. Last year, the band managed to get a deal with Polydor Records. After a few more singles and another EP, Sea Girls recorded their full-fledged studio debut Open Up Your Head, released on August 14. It includes the above tune Forever, which was written by Young. I really dig the guitar-driven sound of this tune – pretty catchy song!

Sources: Wikipedia; South of Eden website; The Morning Call; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Toto/The Seventh One

I fully expect Toto is going to elicit different reactions from readers, ranging from excellent to rather mediocre. Let there be no doubt where I stand: While like every band some of Toto’s songs were more compelling than others, overall, I really dig these guys for their outstanding musicianship and, yes, many of their catchy and well executed pop-rock tunes. The Seventh One from March 1988 is probably my favorite album.

My initial introduction to Toto was Hold the Line, a track from their eponymous debut album from October 1978. It was included on a compilation titled The Rock Album – The Best of Today’s Rock Music, which came out in 1980. A friend gave it to me as a present on music cassette. Then came Toto IV from April 1982, and songs like Rosanna, Africa and I Won’t Hold You Back, which each received extensive radio play in Germany. I was hooked!

Toto’s next two albums, Isolation and Fahrenheit from October 1984 and August 1986, respectively, didn’t excite me as much. As a result, the band started fading a bit from my radar screen. And then The Seventh One was released. I dug this album right from the get-go.

Since Toto IV, the band’s line-up had changed. Lead vocalist Bobby Kimball and bassist David Hungate, who were both part of Toto’s initial members, had been replaced by Joseph Williams and Mike Porcaro, respectively. But frankly, I don’t feel this impacted the quality of the album at all. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener Pamela, co-written by David Paich (keyboards, backing vocals) and Joseph Williams. The tune was also released separately as the lead single in February 1988 ahead of the album. Apart from its catchy melody, I dig Jeff Pocaro’s drums part in particular including the cool breaks. To me, Pocaro was one of the best drummers in rock and pop. Of course, the caveat here is I don’t play the drums myself. But I suppose if you were good enough to pass the audition for perfectionists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, you must have been a bloody good drummer! Not to mention countless other top-notch artists like Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few.

Here’s a tune guitarist Steve Lukather considers to be one of his best compositions: Anna. He co-wrote the ballad with Randy Goodrum, an American songwriter, pianist and producer. In August 1988, it also became the album’s third single.

Stop Loving You with its upbeat groove just is an infectious pop song. Co-written by Lukather and Paich, the track also appeared as the album’s fourth single. While it did well in Europe, hitting no. 2 in each The Netherlands and Belgium and reaching no. 37 in Italy, it didn’t chart in the U.S. Here’s the official video.

Ready for some rock? How about that and with a little help from Linda Ronstadt on vocals and some smoking lap steel guitar by David Lindley? Here’s Stay Away, another Paich-Lukather co-write. Perhaps, they should have released that one as a single!

And since it’s so much fun, how about another pop rocker: Only the Children, co-written by Paich, Lukather and Williams.

Let’s end things on a quieter note with another ballad: A Thousand Years. I actually would have bet that Lukather had a role in writing the tune. But nope, it was co-written by Williams, Paich and Mark Towner Williams.

While Toto and Columbia Records were confident The Seventh One was one of the band’s strongest albums to date, its chart performance remained far below expectations. In part, Wikipedia attributes this to upheaval at the record company with president Al Teller’s departure right in the wake of Pamela’s release. Apparently, this led to waning promotion of the song that ended up stalling at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 – not exactly terrible, but certainly a huge difference to Africa and Rosanna, which had peaked at no. 1 and no. 2 in the U.S., respectively. Of course, chart performance is a double-edged indicator to begin with. Just look at today’s charts!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Is Monkee-Mania Still Alive?

Yesterday, I coincidentally listened to a new live album by The Monkees. And, nope, this isn’t some old material somebody had dug out from an archive. It was actually recorded in March 2019 from the so-called Mike & Micky Show and is the first live album released by Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, who toured as The Monkees in 2018/2019. No matter how you feel about what initially was a fictitious band created for an American television show in the mid-’60s, listening to the 24 tracks isn’t only fun but also vividly illustrates how many great songs The Monkees have had. Plus, let’s not forget that Nesmith and Peter Tork had instrumental skills from the beginning and Davy Jones was a capable vocalist, while Dolenz eventually learned how to play the drums.

The collection spans the entire 50-plus year catalog of The Monkees. Frankly, I had not realized how active the band had remained in more recent years. Their latest studio album Christmas Party appeared in October 2018. And while it has a Christmas theme, it’s not just pop versions of holiday tunes. It also came out only less than two years after Good Times!, their previous studio release from May 2016. By the way, both of these albums were co-produced by Fountains of Wayne co-founder and key song contributor Adam Schlesinger, who passed away last Tuesday from complications caused by COVID-19. It’s kind of crazy how much the coronavirus already has impacted the music industry in less than two months!

Michael Nesmith & Micky Dolenz
Michael Nesmith (left) & Micky Dolenz

Even after The Monkees had become a “real” band, they largely continued to rely on outside writers like the songwriting duos of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and Jerry Goffin and Carole King. But they also penned some of their songs themselves, especially Michael Nesmith. The album features various tunes he wrote, such as The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Listen to the Band and Papa Gene’s Blues. Two of them, St. Matthew and Auntie’s Municipal Court, the band didn’t perform during their heyday. ‘Nuff talk, let’s get to some music!

The album kicks off with Last Train to Clarksville, the band’s debut single released in August 1966. It’s one of the tunes written by Boyce and Hart. And it’s certainly no coincidence that it sounds very Beatle-esque. Frankly, this is an awesome song that is comparable to some of the mid-’60s tunes by The Beatles, and I say this as a fierce Fab Four fan! Here’s the official video.

Nesmith wasn’t the only member who contributed to the band’s own songs. For Pete’s Sake was co-written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. The tune appeared on The Monkees’ third studio album Headquarters from May 1967.

A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You, a tune written by Neil Diamond, was the band’s third single released in March 1967. It didn’t quite match the chart success of their previous smash hit I’m a Believer, but still climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 1 in Canada, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. It’s a fun tune that reminds me a bit of That’s What I Like About You by The Romantics.

Next up, one of the above noted Nesmith tunes: Papa Gene’s Blues. As Nesmith points out, it’s an acoustic version. Originally, that song appeared on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966. Apart from the track, it’s kind of entertaining to listen to the announcement, with Nesmith and Dolenz trading jokes.

Let’s do two more. I’ve always loved these tunes and simply couldn’t skip them. Daydream Believer, written by John Stewart, is a track from the band’s fifth studio album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees released in April 1968. It’s the perfect sing-along, and not surprisingly, Mike & Micky asked the audience to join them – feel free to follow their lead!

And, of course, no concert by The Monkees would be complete without I’m a Believer. Their second single from November 1966 and biggest hit topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and numerous European countries is another Neil Diamond composition. It also was included on the band’s sophomore album More of the Monkees, which came out in January 1967.

At the time Nesmith and Dolenz were planning their 2018/2019 tour, Tork was still alive but declined to join. Sadly, he since passed away in February 2019. Jones had died seven years earlier in February 2012. Initially, Nesmith and Dolenz had planned to take their show out on the road again in the U.S. and Canada starting later this month. But given COVID-19, most dates have been pushed back until July and September. The current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Monkees website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music I like

This is the third installment of my new series in as many weeks. While I’m not sure I can keep it up at that rate, I’m happy that lately more newly released music makes it on my radar screen. Best of all, three of the five artists featured in this post are entirely new to me, while I had not heard from one of the remaining two in 35 years. It also turns out the fifth and most famous artist and I were born in the same town in Germany.

Jackson Browne/A Little Soon to Say

It’s safe to assume Jackson Browne needs no introduction. Ever since I listened to the Running on Empty album in the late ’70s or early ’80s, I’ve loved the singer-songwriter. By the way, while researching the post, I realized Brown was born in Heidelberg, Germany, which also happens to be my place of birth. That’s where the commonalities end! 🙂 Browne released his latest song last Friday shortly after he had learned a test for COVID-19 had come back positive – yikes! While he had written A Little Soon to Say prior to the pandemic, Browne told Rolling Stone he decided, “Just put it out now while these things are so uncertain.” Fortunately, his symptoms appear to be mild and he is currently at home in quarantine.

Kendall Rucks/Bloom

From her website: With her powerful vocals and sultry sound, Kendall Rucks fuses elements of rock, blues and dream pop to create music that is both provocative and captivating. A Florida native now based in Los Angeles, Kendall has recently released her latest single SKIN THE SUN while also juggling multiple writing and recording projects. With her band, The Zodiac Mafia, Kendall is preparing for a US tour in 2020 as well as the release of multiple new singles…With artist inspirations such as Fiona Apple, Lana Del Rey, and Cat Power as well as groups like Nirvana, Radiohead and Garbage, Kendall makes music that is deep, thought-provoking and has soul with a sultry edge. Apparently, her bio is slightly outdated. Released March 6, Bloom is Rucks’ most recent single. Pretty good – reminds me a bit of Tanita Tikaram.

Cory Vincent/I’d Love to Change the World

With that title, how could I not have selected this tune during these crazy times? From Vincent’s website: What do you get when you combine the hard edged, dreary sounds of the Pacific Northwest with the soulful, southern themed voicings of the blues? The fans of Cory Vincent have appropriately coined it, “Grunge Blues.” Drawing inspiration from genre-blending trailblazers like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Jack White; Cory’s songwriting is a throwback to an era where the song was the king…Born and raised in the small town of Sedro-Woolley, Cory’s passion for music and songwriting began at young age, with a heavy influence of Country music from legends like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Garth Brooks. It wasn’t until the age of 13, when his father brought home the Stevie Ray Vaughan album “Texas Flood,” that Cory decided to pick up the guitar. Often saying that there are way too many influences to list, Cory sums up his guitar background as follows- “I play guitar because of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) changed the way I thought about guitar, and Warren Haynes confirmed it all!” All sounds good to me! I’d Love to Change the World is his latest single that came out on March 15. Written by Alvin Lee, the song was first recorded by British blues rock band Ten Years After for their sixth studio album Space in Time from October 1971.

Kings Ransome/Solo

From the band’s website: Kings Ransome started years ago as Vannare when future rock icon Porter Dowdy realized his dream of holding a guitar every day for the rest of his life. He teamed up with longtime friend, shampoo model candidate, and bassist Davis Huggins to do this band thing. Funk/fusion drummer Matt Malphrus joined the gang with a charming smile and a stellar high school football career. Not long after – enter guitarist Leo Santana. With hair that contains more rock’n’roll than most people have in their whole body, Leo upped the band’s sound and image. The guys created a kickin’ EP, but the singer quit during recording. Luckily Porter knew a guy. Trey Duncan had quit his job and was trying to pay the bills as a solo artist. Porter called him the day he told his girlfriend he needed a band to boss around, and the rest, as they say, is history. Credited to all members of the band, Solo is their most recent single that came out on January 1. Nice guitar-oriented rock – check it out!

Heinz Rudolf Kunze/Die Zeit Ist Reif

Wow, the last time I had heard from Heinz Rudolf Kunze was some 35 years ago when the German singer-songwriter and book author suddenly was everywhere on the radio with Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz (rough translation: You’re my everything). Some critics called Kunze “Oberlehrer” (secondary schoolteacher) for his often didactic lyrics. Including his 1981 debut, he has released 28 albums to date. Cowritten by Kunze and Heiner Lürig, Die Zeit Ist Reif (the time is now) is from his most recent album Der Wahrheit Die Ehre (pay attention to the truth), which was released on February 21. It’s a nice pop rock ballad.

Sources: Wikipedia; Kendall Rucks website; Cory Vincent website; Kings Ransome website; YouTube

Toto Delivers Top-Notch Musicianship at State Theatre New Jersey

40th anniversary tour gig features career-spanning set, including big hits, deeper cuts and covers

While I have listened to Toto for more than 30 years, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. But my wife really likes them, so when I mentioned to her a couple of months ago they would play in our neck of the woods as part of their 40th anniversary tour, she suggested that we see them. I’m glad we did Wednesday night at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick, since the show was fun and definitely exceeded my expectations.

When I checked setlist.fm for the most recent gigs of the 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, initially, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see any songs from Toto’s second studio album Hydra, especially 99. I also found it interesting that they chose to include three somewhat random-looking covers in their set, though it turned out these selections weren’t coincidental. 

Toto
Core members of Toto (from left): Joseph Williams, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather

I’ve always appreciated Toto for their outstanding musicianship, which was on full display Wednesday night and a key reason why I enjoyed the show. Not only did they sound fantastic, but some of the music they played had pretty impressive complexity that nicely illustrated the band’s top-notch craftsmanship. Shockingly, to me the highlight in this context was Jake To The Bone, an instrumental from 1993. I say “shockingly” since I generally really like vocals and I’m less into instrumentals. With that, let’s get to some music.

The first time I heard about Toto must have been in the late ’70s when a friend gave me a rock compilation as a present, which included Hold The Line. I liked this tune right away and still do to this day, especially the keyboard and guitar parts. Written by keyboardist David Paich, the song first appeared on the band’s eponymous studio album from October 1978.

Next up is the above mentioned Jake To The Bone from the band’s eighth studio record Kingdom Of Desire, released in Europe in September 1992 and in the U.S. in May 1993. It was credited to all core members of the band at the time: Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Paich (piano, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals), Mike Porcaro (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion).  Unfortunately, I missed videotaping this great instrumental, so I’m relying on another clip I found on YouTube. Apparently, it was captured during the opening show of the tour’s European leg in Helsinki, Finland back in February.

Toto’s fourth studio album from April 1982, ingeniously called Toto IV, became their most successful record. Apart from top 10 chart placements in various countries, including Australia (no. 1), Canada (no. 1), U.S. (no. 4) and U.K. (no. 4), Toto IV also won a Grammy for Album Of The Year and five additional Grammy Awards in 1983. Here is the record’s lead single Rosanna, another Paich composition.

During the second half of the set, there was a sitdown section featuring shortened versions of various songs, including Holyanna, No Love, Stop Loving You and a cover of Human Nature, one of the tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Originally, that tune was written by keyboardist Steve Porcaro. The tune I’d like to feature from this section is Stop Loving You. Toto first recorded it for The Seventh One, their seventh studio album from March 1988. Co-written by Paich and Lukather, the tune also became one of the record’s six singles.

Of course, no Toto gig would be complete without Africa, another track from Toto IV. Co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the song became Toto’s most successful single. It hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to no. 3 in the U.K., and scored top 20 positions in various other countries. Africa was the last song of the regular set, and the band stretched it into a close to 13-minute jam version that featured a cool percussion and drums solo.

There was only one encore: A cover of Hash Pipe, a 2001 song by American rock band Weezer. Toto decided to record and release the tune in August 2018, after Weezer had come out with cover versions of Africa and Rosanna. While it’s nice the bands recognize each other’s music with these covers, I still found it a bit of an odd choice for the encore, especially given that was the only additional song Toto performed. To me it would have made more sense to throw in an original tune like the above mentioned 99. That being said, the entire show lasted two hours, which I felt was pretty solid.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band that performed on Wednesday night. Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro and David Paich are still part of the core line-up. The fourth core member is Joseph Williams (lead vocals). Paich is sitting out the U.S. leg of the tour. According a previous announcement, the European gigs earlier this year took a toll on his health, but Lukather assured the audience his recovery is going well. Sitting in for Paich is Dominique “Xavier” Talpin, an excellent keyboardist who among others had played with Prince. The other touring members include Lenny Castro (percussion, congas), multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (saxophone, harmonica, flute, backing vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass, backing vocals).

Upcoming tour dates include Brookville, N.Y. tonight and the closer of the American leg in Lynn, Mass. tomorrow night. The band resumes the tour at the end of December with a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, before going to Japan in February. Then they take a break and return to Europe in June and July. The last currently posted date is Salem, Germany (Jul 18). The full schedule is here. This may not be the end of the tour. The dates in Australia and Japan were announced fairly recently, and I could see additional announcements, such as a second U.S. leg. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto website, YouTube

Buckingham/McVie Is Fleetwood Mac Sans Stevie Nicks

New album sticks to Fleetwood Mac’s tried and true pop rock formula

Initially, it was supposed to become the first new studio album of the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup since 1987’s Tango In the Night, after Stevie Nicks had announced plans to work with the band on new music in 2015. Then in Sep 2016, Nicks unexpectedly revealed she was going on the road with the Pretenders in support of her last solo album 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault. So Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, who had started to work together on new material in 2014, decided to forge ahead as a duo, sort of – they did have a little help from their band mates Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

“I just woke up one morning and said I have two years off before Fleetwood Mac comes knocking on my door [for another tour],” Nicks told The New York Times in Sep 2016, as she was gearing up for her tour with the Pretenders. “Why would I want to sit around and do nothing?” More recently, she voiced doubts there would be another (full) Fleetwood Mac record during an interview with Rolling Stone. “I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.” Apparently, her Mac compatriots begged to differ. And the result?

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie in studio

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, which was released on June 9, pretty much sounds like a Fleetwood Mac album without Stevie Nicks. Given what a terrific songwriter she is, not to speak of her distinct voice, I was a bit skeptical what to expect. When listening to the album for the first time, I thought it sounded okay, but none of the ten tracks really stood out to me. After having listened to the record a few more times, I feel it’s solid pop rock. It doesn’t get close to Rumours, my favorite Mac album and one of the best records I know. But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison.

Buckingham/McVie saw the two artists work together on new material for the first time since 1987 – the year Fleetwood Mac released Tango In the Night. Buckingham left in Aug that year and Nicks followed him three years later. In 1997, McVie essentially retired from music after the band’s successful reunion tour with Buckingham and Nicks, which is captured on the fantastic live album The Dance. McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014. At that time, Buckingham and Nicks had returned as well, so the band’s classic lineup was finally back together.

Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie in studio 2

In a just-published Rolling Stone story, Buckingham said he noticed “within the first hour” that “it was like, ‘Holy shit, whatever we used to have” was still working. “We’ve always connected musically in Fleetwood Mac,” added McVie, referring to their respective roles as the band’s guitarist and keyboard player. “We’re the only people who play more than one note. I’m not the best pianist, but I know how to interlace around what Lindsey’s playing.”

Explaining their approach to record the new album as a duo as opposed to making an official Fleetwood Mac record, Buckingham noted, “In the context of the band, there might have been more politics.” As the Rolling Stone story pointed out, Buckingham and McVie didn’t have a previous romantic relationship, unlike Buckingham and Nicks, Fleetwood and Nicks and of course McVie’s marriage to John McVie. “We are free of baggage,” McVie added. With the band’s complicated relationship entanglements out of the way, let’s finally turn to the music!

The album kicks off with Sleeping Around the Corner, a tune Buckingham initially had included as a bonus track on his 2011 solo album Seeds We Sow. The tune starts off in a somewhat grim manner: She called to me, “Meet me at the border”/Oh, wake me up, oh, when my papers are in order. It then launches into a cheerful sounding chorus: “Lord, I don’t wanna bring you down/No, I never meant to give you a frown/I’m just sleepin’ around the corner.” The apparent disconnect between the music and the lyrics isn’t new for Fleetwood Mac. A Rolling Stone review of the album cleverly called it “California sunshine on the surface, but with a heart of darkness.” Okay, I’m not going to over-analyze it!

Next up is Feel About You, one of album’s three Buckingham/McVie co-writes. Here’s a clip from a recent performance on CBS This Morning Saturday.

In My World, the third track, is the album’s lead single. Written by Buckingham, the catchy tune sounds like hit material. Buckingham’s and McVie’ alternating “oh”, “aah”, “oh” are reminiscent of Big Love, one of the many hits from Tango In the Night. Here’s a nice clip from a recent performance on Jimmy Fallon.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Carnival Begin, one of the two songs solely credited to McVie.

Buckingham/McView was recorded at Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, the same studio Fleetwood Mac used for the 1979 album Tusk. “There was some worry about whether it was a good idea to come back here,” Fleetwood told the Los Angeles Times in early May. “Maybe it would be better to go someplace new, someplace we hadn’t worked before. But since we started working here, it couldn’t be more fantastic.” As noted at the outset, Fleetwood and John McVie were actively involved in the recording of the album, “the greatest rhythm section there is,” as Buckingham put it.

Speaking of great musicianship, I think Buckingham is an outstanding musician and one of the most underrated guitarists, both electric and acoustic. Like on many Fleetwood Mac albums, sadly, his talent on this record oftentimes gets a bit lost in the production. Perhaps the best way to experience Buckingham’s craftsmanship is to witness it live. In 2014, I saw a Fleetwood Mac show, just a few months prior to McVie rejoining the band. His performance was truly amazing. One of the highlights I still recall was his solo performance of Big Love on acoustic guitar. It was much better than the studio version on Tango In the Night and needed nothing else – no additional instruments, no additional vocals. Check out this clip!

Buckingham/McVie was produced by Buckingham, Mitchell Froom and Mark Needham. Froom has produced more than 60 albums and worked with numerous other top-notch artists, such as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few. He also contributed keyboards on the album. Needham’s impressive credits include Fleetwood Mac (mixing of Say You Will [2003] and Live in Boston [2004]), John Hiatt, Elton John and Stevie Nicks, among others.

Buckingham and McVie will go on the road to promote the new album. The tour, which includes 14 dates, will kick off in Atlanta on June 21 and wrap up in Denver on July 27. On July 15 & 16 and July 29 & 30, they will join their Fleetwood Mac mates for performances at the Classic West and Classic East festivals. For additional thoughts on these events, read here.  Fleetwood Mac is also planning a big tour in 2018. “We’re going to start rehearsing in March, next year,” Christine McVie told NME. “The tour is around June. It will be global.” Separately, she characterized it as a “farewell tour” during an interview with Uncut, but then appeared to caveat it: “But you take farewell tours one at a time. Somehow we always come together, this unit. We can feel it ourselves.”

Finally, here’s a nice clip about the making of Buckingham/McVie.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, YouTube, Los Angeles Times, Lindsey Buckingham web site, NME, Uncut

Sheryl Crow’s New Album Is a Nice Return to Her 90s Pop Rock Roots

After a winding road via Memphis soul and country music, Sheryl Crow returns to her pop rock origins of her early records in the 90s.

The title of Sheryl Crow’s new album, Be Myself, is a statement that you shouldn’t try to be somebody else than you really are. It also nicely fits the singer-songwriter’s conclusion that seeking success in the world of country came with unexpected roadblocks and requirements, which ultimately made the genre the wrong fit for her.

While Crow said she enjoyed the songwriting for her 2013 country album, which ironically was titled Feels Like Home, there were other things she didn’t like. “What I didn’t expect is that [country radio programmers] really don’t play women unless it’s Carrie [Underwood] and Miranda [Lambert], ” Crow told the Los Angeles Times. “The other thing I didn’t expect is how much you have to make yourself available to record promoters and radio programmers,” a tough proposition for Crow who is raising two young school-age children by herself.

Released last Fri (Apr. 21), Be Myself is Crow’s 10th studio album. Not only did she decide to return to her pop rock-oriented style of the 90s, she also collaborated with two people who played an important role during that period: Songwriter Jeff Trott and audio engineer Tchad Blake, who had been involved in Crow’s 1996 eponymous studio album and the 1998 follow-on, The Globe Sessions. Both albums sold well and won Gammy awards. Trott, who also co-produced the new record together with Crow, co-wrote many of her hits over the years, such as Everyday is a Winding Road, My Favorite Mistake, Soak Up the Sun and If It Makes You Happy, which is perhaps my favorite Crow song.

Cheryl Crow

Fans of Crow’s early work won’t be disappointed with the new album. The opener Alone in the Dark pretty much reflects the style of the record: mid-tempo, guitar-oriented pop rock with catchy melodies. Halfway There, which was released as the first single in early March, has a nice grove with effective touches of funky guitar and horns. Other standouts are the title song with a nice rock guitar solo, and Roller Skate, which has a cool guitar riff. Another aspect I like about the album is the music craftsmanship. At 55 years old, Crow comes from a generation of musicians who believes music should be played on real instruments rather than generated in the computer.

Initial reactions to the album have been positive. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield called it “excellent” and her “toughest, best in a decade.” Writing for AllMusic, Steven Thomas Erlewine characterized the album as “strong, sophisticated pop.” Blurt’s Tiffini Taylor concluded, “Sheryl Crow is presenting a great musical journey with Be Myself. It’s a journey that everyone should get on board with, one that will be listened to for a very long time.”

I’m less optimistic than Taylor about the album’s longevity, given it sounds very different from most of the mediocre stuff dominating the charts nowadays. But Crow, who has proven has herself and – it’s safe to assume – also made good money in the process, seems to be at ease. “There is something really fantastic about being my age,” she said in an interview with USA Today.  “I don’t worry about repeating myself or wanting to be a better producer, a better songwriter, a better this or that. On this record, I was like, screw that. Let’s just close the door and not worry about who hears this.”

Here’s a nice clip of a live performance of Alone in the Dark, which apparently was captured just a few days ago from a show in New York City’s Bowery Ballroom.

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, AllMusic, Blurt, USA Today, YouTube