The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, July 3 and a long holiday weekend for folks in the U.S. Perfect timing to embark on another mini-excursion to celebrate music from different decades, six tunes at a time. If you don’t have anything better to do, hop on; if you’re busy, hop on anyway – most things go better with great music! 🙂

Lettuce/Insta-Classic

Usually, I start these trips with a jazz instrumental from the past. This time, let’s get underway with music from the presence by Lettuce, a neat American jazz and funk band I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, this group came together in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, they reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, Lettuce released their debut album Outta There. They have been pretty productive since then with seven additional albums. Insta-Classic is a cool-sounding track from their latest release Unify, which appeared on June 3.

Keith Richards/Take It So Hard

I trust guitarist Keith Richards doesn’t need an introduction. Obviously, Keef is best known as co-founder of The Rolling Stones and for his longtime writing partnership with Mick Jagger. But, of course, no good rock & roll story is without big egos and drama, and the Glimmer Twins are no exception. By the time Richards’ solo debut Talk Is Cheap came out, his relationship with Jagger was, well, on the rocks. The Stones were in their third decade. While Jagger wanted to stay hip and follow music trends, Richards wanted to preserve the band’s roots. After Jagger had released two solo albums in relatively short order (She’s the Boss, 1985; and Primitive Cool; 1987) and appeared to be more interested in continuing his solo career, Keef decided to strike out by himself as well. The result was the above-mentioned Talk Is Cheap, his first of three solo efforts to date. Let’s check out Take It So Hard, which Keef wrote with co-producer Steve Jordan who also provided bass and backing vocals – good traditional Stonesy tune I frankly take any day over Undercover of the Night.

Elvis Presley/Blue Suede Shoes

While I haven’t watched the new Elvis biopic, I can’t deny the movie is the reason why Elvis Presley is on my mind again these days. I’ve mentioned before I adored Elvis when I was a young kid. It all goes back to the start of my music journey. Soon after I got my first turntable (must have been around the age of 10 – frankly, I don’t remember), I received a 40 greatest hits sampler as a Christmas present. The 2-LP set had pink discs, which I thought was pretty cool. While I’ve since matured (at least that’s what I want to believe) and no longer idolize Elvis or anybody else for that matter, I still get a kick out of the King of Rock and Roll. In particular, I keep going back to his ’50s classic rock & roll tunes he recorded and performed with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. One of my favorites remains their rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, which also features D.J. Fontana on drums. The classic was written and first released by Carl Perkins in January 1956. Elvis’ version, which appeared in September of the same year, surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – almost matching Perkins who scored his only no. 1 with Blue Suede Shoes on the same chart. Let’s go, cats!

Dr. Feelgood/She Does It Right

Let’s slightly slow it down but keep rockin’ and rollin’ with a killer tune by Dr. Feelgood. I guess the first time I heard of the English pub and blues rockers was in the late ’70s when they scored their biggest hit with Milk and Alcohol, a tune I loved from the get-go. Dr. Feelgood were formed on Canvey Island, England in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals), who soon added John Martin (drums). That line-up remained in place until 1977 and recorded the group’s dynamite debut album Down by the Jetty (January 1975), as well as two additional records. Dr. Feelgood are still around, though their current line-up hasn’t included any founding members since 1994. She Does It Right, penned by Johnson, is a tune off Down by the Jetty. Man, I love their raw sound!

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

Alrighty, after a series of rockers the time has come to really take it down. Gregg Allman is another artist I trust doesn’t need an introduction. For the longest time, the only tune I had known by The Allman Brothers Band had been Ramblin’ Man. Finally, eight or nine years ago, I decided to explore what has since become one of my favorite groups – just in time to see them once in New Jersey in the summer of 2014, a few months prior to their final curtain at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Soon my exploration of the Brothers also led to Gregg Allman’s solo work. Even though he started releasing albums by himself early, in 1973, his solo catalog is relatively moderate, featuring seven studio albums, two live recordings and a few compilations. My Only True Friend, co-written by Allman and guitarist Scott Sharrad, is the great opener of Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. It was released in September 2017, four months after his death at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer. Sharrad who also served as musical director had been a member of Allman’s backing band since 2008. Gosh, I love this tune and album!

Lenny Kravitz/Always On The Run

And once again, another Sunday Six excursion is coming to an end. For this last pick, let’s go back to April 1991 and Mama Said, the sophomore album by Lenny Kravitz. It came less than two years after his debut Let Love Rule, which he wrote and produced nearly all by himself and on which he played nearly all instruments. For Mama Said, he got a little help from some friends, including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Kravitz has since released nine additional studio albums, with the most recent being Raise Vibration in September 2018. I previously reviewed here. Back to Mama Said and the album’s great lead single Always On The Run. Kravitz wrote the tune together with Slash, who also played guitar including a cool solo – just a great funky rocker!

Before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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What I’ve Been Listening To: Lenny Kravitz/Raise Vibration

Eleventh studio album illustrates that after 30 years Kravitz maintains his gift to combine retro with modern sounds and write catchy tunes

Somehow I completely missed Lenny Kravitz’s new album Raise Vibration when it was released on September 7. I guess I should perhaps subscribe to a music publication to better stay on top of new music, except of course I’m not into most music that’s coming out these days. Anyway, I “discovered” Raise Vibration earlier today after I had seen a related clip on Facebook. Most of the reviews I read were quick to point out Kravitz’s 11th studio release doesn’t break any new ground. I mostly agree and that’s just fine with me.

I feel many critics have given Kravitz a hard time since he emerged in September 1989 with Let Love Rule. Some have said his music too much reflects his ’60s influences like Jimi Hendrix or early Led Zeppelin. Last time I checked both were among the most outstanding artists on the planet. Some folks have maintained Kravitz doesn’t sound black enough, while others have found he sounded too white. All of this is complete and utter nonsense, in my opinion!

Lenny Kravitz

When I look at Kravitz, I see an incredibly talented artist who writes, sings and produces his own music. Oh, and apart from being a capable guitarist, he also plays most of the other instruments on his records. Most importantly, Kravitz has the gift to mix retro elements with modern sounds and write catchy tunes. All of these qualities are present on Raise Vibration, his first new album in four years since Strut from September 2014.

But evidently, Kravitz found himself in a very different place three years ago after he had finished his last world tour, he told Rolling Stone in April this year. “I really wasn’t sure where I was going musically,” Kravitz explained. “After doing this for 30 years, I wasn’t feeling it. I’d never felt that confused about what to do. And it was kind of a scary place. You don’t know when it’s going to come.” While there are techniques that can stimulate creativity, ultimately, you can’t force it.

Lenny Kravitz In Concert

Kravitz bravely rejected the advice from others to collaborate with producers and songwriters who know how to score hits. “I’ve never really worked that way, following trends or doing what people think you should do,” he further noted to Rolling Stone. “I’ve always made music that came naturally out of me.” And fortunately that’s exactly what happened when one night Kravitz woke up at 4:00 am in his house in the Bahamas with a song in his head, which would become Low, one of the standouts on the album. It proofed to be the catalyst he needed to spur his artistic creativity. “I learned you have to trust yourself and the artist in yourself. Always trust what you have.” Yes! And with that let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Low. Like all other tunes on Raise Vibration except for two, it was written by Kravitz. The song also became the second single released ahead of the album on May 29. If the “oohs” in the track sound like Michael Jackson, that’s because it features posthumous, presumably sampled “guest vocals” from the King of Pop. This is one great funky tune!

Next up: The album’s title track. I just love the guitar sound and the cool breaks on that track. The native American chants and drums toward the end ad an unusual element. So much for not breaking any new ground!

Johnny Cash, a moving tribute to the country legend, is based on an encounter Kravitz had with the Man in Black and his wife June Carter Cash in 1995, when they were all staying at producer Rick Rubin’s apartment in Los Angeles. At the time his mother was receiving treatment for breast cancer. After getting a call from the hospital that this mom had passed away, Johnny and June consoled Kravitz. “…they decided at that moment (to) treat me like they would treat someone in their family,” Kravitz said during a BBC interview, as reported by Music-News.com. “It was a beautiful moment of humanity and love.”

Another gem on the album is Here To Love, a nice piano-driven ballad.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Enough, which also became the album’s lead single released on May 11. It’s got a cool Marvin Gaye vibe that lyrically is reminiscent of  What’s Going On with a bass line that sounds like it could have been inspired by Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). Also check out the horns that start at around 6 minutes into the song: nice touch of ’70s Temptations – super cool!

Like he usually does, Kravitz produced the album and plays most of the instruments. Other than string and horn players, the only other musicians are longtime collaborator and guitarist Craig Ross, who also co-wrote two of the tracks with Kravitz, as well as keyboardist and orchestrator David Baron. Kravitz is supporting the album with a world tour. The 2018 section started in April ahead of the record’s release and mostly focused on Europe. It also included 10 dates in the U.S., which wrapped up in Las Vegas in late October. According to the schedule, the tour will resume in March 2019 with a series of gigs in South America before traveling back to Europe. Currently, the last date is June 11, 2019 in London, U.K.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Music-News.com, Lenny Kravitz website, YouTube