The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to Sunday and another installment of The Sunday Six, a journey celebrating music six random tunes at a time. If you’re impacted by tropical storm Henri, I hope you are safe. My area of Central New Jersey has been under a tropical storm warning since Friday afternoon, but other than rain, so far, so good -knock on wood!

Weather Report/A Remark You Made

The fact I’m kicking off this post with jazz fusion group Weather Report has nothing to do with the storm but instead can be attributed to coincidence. A few days ago, my streaming music provider served up A Remark You Made as a listening suggestion. While jazz fusion remains a largely unknown genre to me, this track blew me away immediately. Appearing on Weather Report’s eighth studio album Heavy Weather from March 1977, the tune undoubtedly has to be one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time. Written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the track also features Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Jaco Pastorious (fretless bass) and Alex Acuña (drums). What matters more to me than all these big names is the incredible music, especially Pastorious who literally makes his fretless bass sing – check out that amazing tone! As a huge saxophone fan, I’m also drawn to Shorter’s tenor sax playing – just incredibly beautiful and a perfect match to the singing fretless bass! I realize this very accessible jazz fusion isn’t typical for the genre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heavy Weather became Weather Report’s highest charting album on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 where it peaked at no. 30. It also was one of the group’s two records to top Billboard’s jazz albums chart.

Joe Jackson/Geraldine and John

Let’s stay in the ’70s and move to October 1979. Joe Jackson’s sophomore album I’m the Man brought the versatile British artist on my radar screen in 1980, when I received it on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday – still have that copy. The album is probably best known for its singles I’m the Man, It’s Different for Girls and Kinda Cute, while the song I picked, Geraldine and John, is more of a deeper but nevertheless great cut. And it’s another bassist who absolutely shines on that tune, in my view: Graham Maby. He still plays with Jackson to this day. Rounding up Jackson’s backing band were guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. Jackson worked with them on his first three albums that are among my favorites by the man. Check out Maby’s great melodic bassline on Geraldine and John!

The Beatles/Something

Speaking of great basslines, here’s yet another master bassist who conveniently also played in my favorite band of all time. Not only is Something from the Abbey Road album among the absolute gems written by George Harrison, but I think it’s also The Beatles tune with the best bassline Paul McCartney has ever come up with. In addition to Harrison (vocals, lead guitar) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the tune featured John Lennon (piano), Ringo Starr (drums) and Billy Preston (Hammond). BTW, Something is also a good example of Ringo’s creative drumming. The Beatles Bible notes the song was recorded and mixed during six sessions between April 16 and August 15, 1969. At this late stage of The Beatles when they took full advantage of the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded his bass as one of the last instruments. That way he could hear all other instrumental tracks and come up with complementary basslines. In this case, the outcome was truly magnificent!

Sheryl Crow/If It Makes You Happy

Okay, time to get off my little bass obsession – something I admittedly can get excited about as a former bassist! On to Sheryl Crow, an artist I have dug since her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. Oh, did I mention she also plays bass in addition to guitar and piano? 🙂 Perhaps my favorite tune by Crow is If It Makes You Happy from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. She co-wrote the nice rocker with Jeff Trott who became a longtime collaborator and appeared on almost every Sheryl Crow album thereafter. In August 2019, Crow released what she said would be her final full-length album, Threads, citing changed music consumption habits where most listeners make their own playlists with cherry-picked songs rather than listening to entire albums. I previously reviewed it here. Well, the good news is Crow’s statement at the time apparently didn’t include live albums. On August 13, she released Live From The Ryman & More, a great looking 27-track career spanning set I’ve yet to check out. Meanwhile, here’s the excellent If It Makes You Happy. Yep, it surely does!

Neil Young/Hangin’ On a Limb

Next I like to come back to Hangin’ On a Limb, a Neil Young tune I first had planned to include in the August 1 Sunday Six installment. But inspired by a tornado warning that had been issued for my area of central New Jersey a few days earlier, I decided to go with Like a Hurricane instead. BTW, earlier this week, we had another tornado warning and as noted above, there is a tropical storm warning in effect for my area. You can’t make this stuff up – climate change is real, whether the naysayers like it or not! Anyway, Hangin’ On a Limb is a beautiful tune featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. It’s from Young’s 17th studio album Freedom that appeared in October 1989 and is best known for the epic Rockin’ in the Free World.

Pretenders/Buzz

And this brings me again to the final tune. Wrapping it up is Buzz, a great track from Hate for Sale, the 11th and most recent album by Pretenders released in July 2020. Time has been kind to Chrissie Hynde’s voice that sounds just as compelling as back in 1980, the year the band’s eponymous debut album came out. There’s another commonality: Original drummer Martin Chambers who had returned after eight years. Apart from Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, harmonica) and Chambers, Pretenders’ current line-up also includes James Walbourne (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) Carwyn Ellis (keyboards) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Hate for Sale is pretty solid. In case you’re curious, check out my previous review here. Like all other songs on the album, Buzz was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Here’s the latest installment of my recurring new music feature. It nicely illustrates that great new music isn’t a matter of age. In fact, I’ve said it all along: Old guys rock! 🙂 Three of the following artists have been around for 50 years, while the remaining three represent a younger generation. There’s some blues rock, coz you rarely can go wrong with it; some prog and art rock; some post punk rock; and some indie rock and pop. Let’s get to it!

Walter Trout/Wanna Dance

Long-time blues rocker Walter Trout, who originally hails from Ocean City, N.J., is a survivor – literally. He started his music career on the Jersey shore scene in the late 1960s. After relocating to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, the guitarist became a sideman for John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex, among others. From 1981 to 1984, Trout was the lead guitarist for Canned Heat. In 1984, he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and, as he noted during a recent one-hour online chat, it was Mayall who encouraged him not to copy other previous Bluesbreakers’ lead guitarists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton but to develop his own style. Trout did, left the Bluesbreakers in 1989 and launched his solo career. He has since released more than 20 albums. In 2014, things got dicey when Trout was diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. A liver transplant saved his life just in time. After a long recovery, Trout was able to return to music, which as he has said is the only thing he could ever do. Released on June 12, Wanna Dance is a great blues rocker from Ordinary Madness, an upcoming album of all original music, scheduled for August 28. I saw Trout in New York City in April 2019 and witnessed firsthand he is a compelling, no BS artist. Really looking forward to this record!

Ohmme/Flood Your Gut

Ohmme (formerly know as Homme) are an indie rock band from Chicago formed in 2014 by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. In 2016, Matt Carroll joined the two young women on drums. Apple Music characterizes them as “an experimental indie pop band who use their striking vocal harmonies and lean, angular guitar patterns to create songs that are spare but full-bodied, making clever use of dynamics to generate a rich sound out of a small number of elements” – jeez, you wonder whether they pay reviewers by the number of words they stick in one sentence! Ohmme takes the opposite approach on their Facebook page: “An experiment with voice, guitar, and sound.” The band released their debut single in November 2015, followed by an eponymous EP in 2017. Flood Your Gut is the opener to Ohmme’s new (second) studio album Fantasize Your Ghost, released on June 5. Admittedly, the somewhat monotonous trance-inducing sound of this tune didn’t grab me immediately, but the more often I listen to it, the more I dig it – there’s something weirdly catchy about it!

Kansas/Jets Overhead

American rock band Kansas may have formed in the early ’70s, but evidently, they aren’t dust in the wind yet. Frankly, I wasn’t aware the band is still active. Granted, Kansas have gone through many lineup changes in their 50-year history; if I see this correctly, it appears guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Erhart are the only remaining founding members, who have been on all of the band’s 15 studio releases that came out between 1974 and 2016, as well as their upcoming album The Absence of Presence, scheduled for July 17. I’m mostly familiar with Kansas’ better known tunes like Carry On Wayward Son, Dust in the Wind, Point of No Return and Play the Game Tonight. I oftentimes feel rock that’s based on simple guitar riffs is best and consider the fantastic Carry On Wayward Son as an exception that proves the rule. Jets Overhead, which was written by guitarist Zak Rizvi and appeared on June 5, is the third track released ahead of the album. You rarely hear a violin solo in a rock song these days. Sounds pretty good to me!

Phoebe Bridgers/Graceland Too

Phoebe Bridgers is a Los Angeles-based 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Apple Musics characterization of her music as “folk-based” with “a dreamy and hook-filled indie pop heart” sounds right to me. Apart from her solo work, she’s also a member of indie rock band Boygenius and performs with Conor Oberst in indie rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center. In March 2014, Bridgers released her debut, an EP cheerfully titled Killer. Following what appears to be a live album, 2016 Tour CD, her first full-length studio release Stranger in the Alps appeared in September 2017. Graceland Too is a country-flavored tune from Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher, which came out on June 18. This song has a beautiful warm sound that nicely blends with Bridgers’ voice.

Elvis Costello/No Flag

Released June 5, No Flag is the first new song by Elvis Costello since Purse, an EP from April 2019, featuring four previously unreleased songs recorded with his band the Imposters. According to a news announcement, Costello recorded No Flag alone in Finland in February this year. “I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me,” he explained. “So, this is ‘The Helsinki Sound.’” The announcement also asks readers to “look out for the next installment of this story on July 10th” – perhaps a hint to a forthcoming new album? With an unsettling melody and dark lyrics like No time for this kind of love/No flag waving high above/No sign for the dark place that I live/No God for the damn that I don’t give, the timing of the release during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence.

JJ Wilde/Cold Shoulder

JJ Wilde is a singer-songwriter hailing from Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, which is located about 60 miles of Toronto. Wilde started writing and playing guitar during her teenage years. Despite a massive amount of songs and gigging, she apparently struggled in the early part of her career, and ended up working three jobs. When Wilde about to give up music professionally in 2018, she finally got a break, signing with Black Box Recordings. Last year, her debut EP Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands appeared. Ruthless, Wilde’s first full album, was released on June 12. “This album has felt like a long time coming, and no time at all,” wrote Wilde on her Facebook page. “Most of the inspiration for the album came from an apartment I lived in two years before I started this journey. I was in a dark place, and was very unsure of where my life was going. Almost 4 years later, with countless shows, tours, travelling, writing sessions, I now feel like this album is the complete first draft of an inside look into my world.” Here’s Cold Shoulder. I like this melodic rocker – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ohmme Facebook page; Kansas website; Elvis Costello website; JJ Wilde Facebook page; YouTube

Simple Minds Release New Studio Album

Scottish band still alive and kicking after 40 years

While I never was a huge fan of Simple Minds, I listened to them in my late teens and early 20s. Waterfront, Alive And Kicking, Belfast Child and Stand By Love are some of the tunes I liked at the time – and do to this day, though it’s fair to say my taste has evolved since then. Still, when saw in Apple Music the Scottish band just released a new studio album, I was intrigued – frankly, I didn’t even know they were still around!

In various ways, Simple Minds have always reminded me a bit of U2. Both bands started out around the same time, i.e., the second half of the ’70s. Both are led by charismatic vocalists. I saw them once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s; similar to Bono, Jim Kerr was a pretty strong front man. And guitarist Charlie Burchill’s work at times is a bit reminiscent of The Edge. Kerr and Burchill are the only remaining original members of Simple Minds, which were formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1977.

Simple Minds
Current line-up of Simple Minds (from left to right): Sarah Brown (backing vocals), Cherisse Osei (drums, percussion), Ged Grimes (bass), Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Gordy Goudie (multi-instrumentalist) and Catherine AD (backing vocals), 

So how about the new album? Titled Walk Between Worlds, it’s the band’s 17th studio record, which was released yesterday (Feb 2). I’ve now listened to it a few times. Not to overdo the comparisons with U2, but there is indeed another similarity I find between this album and the Irish band’s last studio release Songs Of Experience. In an apparent attempt to stay contemporary, both bands combined old and new elements.

While part of me sometimes wishes bands wouldn’t chase the latest trends and stick to their old sound, I respect artists who don’t just want to keep repeating what they’ve done before. After all, had The Beatles used that approach and stuck to their early sound, there never would have been gems like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.

Commenting on the band’s new (younger) members and change more broadly, Kerr said this to Billboard: “It’s been a bit controversial with some of the social network sites, because people, fans — and where would we be without them — they don’t like it when you change around things too much. But we do change things around and we feel that it’s good to open the door. It’s great to say ’40 years!’ and all that; There’s a lot of strength in that. But there’s a lot of dangers as well — autopilot being one of them, doing the same old same old. You’ve got to open the door and let new opportunities walk in.”

Alright, time to get to some music. First up: Magic, the album’s opener and lead single first released online on January 4, 2018. Co-written by Kerr and Burchill like the majority of songs, the tune is an example of Burchill’s Edge-esque guitar work. It kind of got a catchy chorus. Here’s the tune’s official video clip:

In The Signal And The Noise, another Kerr/Burchill co-write, I can clearly hear some vintage Simple Minds. The sound reminds me of the band’s synthesizer and guitar-driven power pop from the early ’80s. The groove isn’t much different from Don’t You (Forget About Me), though the latter song has a more catchy melody. Like the opener, the track also appeared ahead of the album as its second single.

A sonic standout is Barrowland Star, another Kerr/Burchill co-write. I love Burchill’s fairly aggressive guitar work in a song that is otherwise synth-driven with strings layered on top. Simple Minds’ website calls it “one of the album’s key tracks.” It further points out that the song’s title refers to a popular ballroom in Glasgow, where the band has performed many times. This tune has something!

The last track I’d like to highlight is Sense Of Discovery. The track is credited to Kerr, Burchill and Owen Parker, a London-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. At around 2:40 minutes into the song comes the ultimate throwback to Simple Minds’ ’80s heydays: a melodic fraction borrowed from Alive And Kicking from 1985’s Once Upon A Time, the band’s most successful album. Sense Of Discovery is also the album’s third single, released January 25.

Walk Between Worlds was co-produced by Simple Minds and two experienced producers: Andy Wright and Gavin Goldberg. In addition to working together with Goldberg on Simple Minds’ two previous albums Acoustic (2016) and Big Music (2014), Wright’s previous credits include Simply Red, Jeff Beck and Eurythmics, among others. Goldberg has worked with artists, such as Chrissie Hynde, Neil Young and The Faces (2010 reunion and live album) – cool stuff!

“Records take their own direction and possibilities, and that’s what this was,” Kerr also told Billboard. “We were on such a high after the last one (2014’s Big Music) that we almost went straight into this as soon as the tour ended. With the idea the band was now officially 40 years old, we were praying and hoping that whatever we came out with would sound like it had vitality and energy, a commitment that perhaps belies the 40 years. Really, that’s what it was about, a continuation of the story of music and who we are.”

Simple Minds will go on the road later this month to promote the new album, playing it in its entirety, together with their old hits. The seven-date European tour gets underway on February 13, appropriately at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, and concludes in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 20. Their website lists plenty of other gigs throughout the UK and many other European countries, starting in May through the first half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Simple Minds website, Andy Wright website, Gavin Goldberg website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Joe Jackson/I’m the Man

After recently rediscovering this 1979 gem from Joe Jackson, I decided “I’m the Man” is definitely worth a post.

The first time I listened to I’m the Man was when I got it as a surprise present for my 14th birthday many moons ago. While I liked the music, I didn’t appreciate how brilliant this record is. At the time, I was primarily into mainstream pop and oldies. Today, I consider Joe Jackson’s second studio album to be one of the jewels in my vinyl collection.

When I listened to the album again recently, I was asking myself which genre best describes Jackson’s music. Undoubtedly, there are traces of punk throughout I’m the Man, though the catchy melodies are not what you typically associate with punk. And if you look at Jackson’s later releases, his music is all over the place, including new wave, jazz and R&B – he has even composed some classical music. This guy is one of the most versatile contemporary music artists!

Reportedly, after the release of his debut album Look Sharp!, Jackson told Rolling Stone, “I think people always want to put a label on what you do, so I thought I’d be one step ahead and invent one myself – spiv rock.” I think he was spot on. It really doesn’t matter whether music fits any genre. The only thing that matters is whether it’s great music, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to I’m the Man and pretty much all of Jackson’s other work I’m aware of.

When it comes to I’m the Man, the thing that stands out to me is how tight the band sounds. The first musician I have to mention here is bassist Graham Maby. Combining an edgy punk-like sound with great melodic runs, he is driving much of the music’s groove. As a former bassist, I think I fully appreciate Maby’s brilliant playing – and, yes, I’m probably also a bit biased! David Haughton (drums) and Gary Sanford (guitar) round out the band’s sound, together with Jackson’s piano, harmonica and melodica.

The album is full of energy, with the majority of songs being mid and uptempo tunes. Things kick off furiously with On Your Radio, both in terms of its fast and pumping beat, and Jackson’s lyrics telling ex-friends, ex-lovers and enemies that unlike him who’s on the radio they’re nowhere – no wonder some people called him “an angry young man!” The second song, Geraldine and John, is one of two slower numbers. It’s also one of the best examples on the album of Maby’s great melodic bass lines. The second slow tune is Amateur Hour, which also has a great bass track. Okay, I guess it’s abundantly clear I’m a big fan of Maby’s bass playing!

From a lyrics perspective, It’s Different for Girls is the album’s most outstanding song. In a twist, Jackson reverses the cliche that all men want is sex, while women are longing for love. In this case, it’s the woman who tells the man, “who said anything about love…don’t you know that it’s different for girls.” In an interview with Songfacts in 2012, Jackson explained, “It was something that I had heard somewhere that stuck me as a cliche…And maybe the idea was to turn it on its head and have a conversation between a man and a woman and what you’d expect to be the typical roles are reversed.”

It’s Different for Girls was the second single from the album. It became Jackson’s highest charting single in the U.K. where it climbed to no. 5 on the singles chart. U.S. audiences apparently were less receptive. The song just missed cracking the top 100 on the Billboard charts, peaking at no. 101. The album’s other single was the title track, I’m the Man. It’s similar in musical style and “angry young man” lyrics to On Your Radio. Unlike It’s Different for Girls, it did not chart in the U.K. and the U.S.

Released in October 1979, I’m the Man peaked at no. 12 on the U.K. Albums Chart and no. 22 on the U.S. Billboard 200 – a remarkable success for a sophomore album. It was produced by David Kershenbaum, who has also worked with many other well known music artists, such as Duran Duran, Tracy Chapman, Bryan Adams, Supertramp and Cat Stevens. Kershenbaum had signed Jackson to A&M Records in 1978 and also produced three of his other albums: Look Sharp! (1979), Body and Soul (1984) and Night and Day (1982), Jackson’s most successful album.

Here’s a great clip of a stripped down version of It’s Different for Girls, featuring Jackson on piano only. Apparently, it was recorded during his 2016 Fast Forward Tour.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Songfacts, YouTube