The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and I hope everybody is doing well. Earlier this week, the passing of David Crosby at age 81 once again reminded us we shouldn’t take music artists of his generation who fortunately are still with us for granted. One consolation is their great music will live on as long as this planet exists – that’s one of the incredible beauties of this art form. Let’s celebrate with another excursion into the amazing world of music with six tunes and, yes, Crosby will be one of our stops.

Bobby Timmons/Moanin’

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with groovy music by Bobby Timmons. The American jazz pianist and composer, who started performing during the first half of the ’50s, was best known as a member of Art Blakey’s band The Jazz Messengers, who he first joined in 1958. After his initial stint with this group, he moved on to Cannonball Adderley’s band in October 1959. Timmons was instrumental in creating soul jazz, a subgenre blending influences from hard bop, blues, soul, gospel and R&B. Several of his well-known compositions were written while he was playing with the two aforementioned bands. One is Moanin’, which first appeared as the title track on a 1958 album by The Jazz Messengers. I’m featuring a version Timmons subsequently recorded for an album released under his name in 1960, This Is Here Is Bobby Timmons. On his first album as the sole leader, Timmons was backed by Sam Jones (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

The Rainmakers/Rainmaker

Let’s jump to the ’80s for our next stop and The Rainmakers, an American pop rock band from Kansas City. When my former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany first introduced me to them with their third studio album Tornado, released in 1987, I instantly loved their jangly guitar sound. Formed in 1983 as a three-piece bar band and fronted by singer-songwriter Bob Walkenhorst, The Rainmakers have put out seven studio albums to date. While their most recent release, Cover Band, dates back to 2015, The Rainmakers still appear to be around as a touring act. After two breakup periods from 1990 to 1994 and 1998 to 2011, the band has been together in their original lineup since 2011. In addition to Walkenhorst (guitar, vocals), their current members include Jeff Porter (guitar, vocals), Rich Ruth (bass, vocals) and Pat Tomek (drums). Here’s the seductive Rainmaker, off the aforementioned Tornado album.

Little Village/Take Another Look

Little Village were a supergroup founded in 1991 by Ry Cooder (guitar, vocals), John Hiatt (guitar, piano, vocals), Nick Lowe (bass, vocals) and Jim Keltner (drums). They had worked together on Hiatt’s eighth solo album Bring the Family (May 1987) and decided to form a dedicated band during a break from their own musical projects. Like most supergroups, Little Village were short-lived and only released one eponymous album in February 1992. After a supporting tour of the U.S. and Europe, they disbanded later that same year. While the album didn’t do well commercially, it received a nomination for the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or a Group. The record also peaked at no. 23 on the UK Albums Chart. Here’s Take Another Look, credited to Little Village and featuring Lowe on lead vocals.

Grateful Dead/Shakedown Street

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s with a funky tune by the Grateful Dead. While in July 2018, I jokingly declared I had evolved to become a Deadhead from a bonehead, the reality is my knowledge of the Dead remains fairly limited and mostly includes their earlier albums. As such, I had completely forgotten about Shakedown Street, the groovy title track of their 10th studio album from November 1978, produced by the great Lowell George who is best known as the original frontman of Little Feat. Composed by Jerry Garcia with lyrics by longtime collaborator Robert Hunter, the tune also appeared separately as a single, but like most of their other singles, it was dead on arrival and didn’t chart anywhere. The album performed better, reaching no. 41 and no. 42 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. I guess the Dead were never about chart success in the first place. Regardless, I dig this funky tune, which soundwise reminds me a bit of 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday. That tune predated Shakedown Street by about four months.

Los Lobos/Made to Break Your Heart

Our journey continues in the current century. We’re going to September 2015, which saw the release of Gates of Gold, the 15th studio album by Los Lobos. I would argue this group blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros and norteños, is not just another band from East L.A. where they were founded in 1973 as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. They are also much more than La Bamba, their great rendition of the tune first popularized by Ritchie Valens. It became a no. 1 single for Los Lobos in the U.S. and many other countries in 1987 and remains their best-known song. They remain active to this day and released their most recent album Native Sons in late July 2021. I reviewed it here at the time. For now, let’s listen to Made to Break Your Heart. Co-written by David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez, two of the four co-founding members who are still with Los Lobos, the tune is the opener of the above-mentioned Gates of Gold.

Crosby, Stills & Nash/Long Time Gone

Time to wrap up another trip and come back to celebrate the music by David Crosby. In order to do that, let’s go back to May 1969 and the eponymous debut album by Crosby, Stills & Nash. Crosby who was a brilliant musician but had a volatile character co-founded CSN in 1968 together with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, after he had been dismissed from the Byrds. With Nash joining from The Hollies and Stills coming from the dissolved Buffalo Springfield, CSN are an early example of a supergroup. They became even “more super” when Neil Young joined them as a fourth member in August 1969, just ahead of Woodstock. Among my favorite tunes on CSN’s debut is Long Time Gone, one of the album’s two songs solely penned by Crosby. Another gem on the record, Wooden Ships, was co-written by him, Stills and Paul Kantner. Stills also joined Crosby on lead vocals for Long Time Gone.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above songs. As always, I hope there’s something that tickles your fancy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I take little journeys into the beautiful world of music, including different eras and different flavors, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me!

Jeff Beck/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Earlier this week, we lost one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, Jeff Beck, who suddenly passed away near his home in Southern England at the age of 78 from bacterial meningitis. As such, it feels right to start today’s mini-excursion in March 1975 and Blow By Blow. Beck’s second album that appeared under his name followed Beck, Bogert & Appice, the eponymous and only release by the short-lived power trio Beck had formed after he had dissolved the Jeff Beck Group. Beck gained initial prominence as a member of The Yardbirds where he succeeded Eric Clapton. For a short time, he intersected with Jimmy Page. Somewhere I read all three of these British ‘guitar gods’ grew up in the same geographic area. Unlike Clapton and Page, Beck never achieved huge chart success or record sales. It didn’t take away anything from his brilliance. Here’s his beautiful instrumental rendition of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers, a tune written by Stevie Wonder. I was happy to see it’s Beck’s most streamed track on Spotify.

The Walkabouts/Nightdrive

We will visit the ’70s one more time. For now, let’s continue our trip with a stop in December 1994 and Setting the Woods On Fire, the seventh album by The Walkabouts. Before continuing, I’d like to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Hotfox63 who covered one of the band’s other records last December, which brought them on my radar screen. The Walkabouts were formed in Seattle, Wa. in 1984. Inspired by folk and country music from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, the group released 13 studio albums before they disbanded in 2015. Their rich sound also drew from other genres and artists, such as Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel. This brings me to Nightdrive, a song off the above-mentioned album. It’s credited to all members of the group, who at the time included co-founders Chris Eckman (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, lyrics) and Carla Torgerson (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, cello), along with Glenn Slater (piano, organ, accordion, loops), Michael Wells (bass guitar, harmonica) and Terri Moeller (drums, percussion, backup vocals) – love that tune!

R.E.M./It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

And we’re on to the ’80s with a song by R.E.M. I had earmarked for a Sunday Six several months ago. Coincidentally, fellow blogger Mike from Ticket to Ride just took a look back at the studio catalog of the American band that started in 1980 in Athens, Ga., and was active until 2011. While I like R.E.M. for their melodic songs and jangly guitar sound, I only know them based on certain songs and have yet to take a deeper dive into their albums. One of the tunes I’ve been aware of for a long time is It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Credited to all members and co-founders of the band – Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, backing vocals), the tune first appeared on R.E.M.’s fifth studio album Document released in September 1987, their most successful at the time. It also became the record’s second single but didn’t match the success of the lead single The One I Love. I’ve always dug both tunes.

Bruce Cockburn/Wondering Where the Lions Are

When I was recently in Germany, I met with my longtime friend and music buddy who has given me many great tips since the days when we were bandmates during the second half of the ’80s. One of the artists he mentioned during our recent get-together is Bruce Cockburn (pronounced KOH-bərn). Frankly, other than the name, I wasn’t familiar at all with the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Where do you start with an artist who has been active since 1967 and released 30-plus albums? Admittedly, I took a shortcut and checked Spotify. The most streamed tune there is Wondering Where the Lions Are. While I can’t tell you at this time whether it’s Cockburn’s best song, I liked it right away. Included on his 1979 album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw, the tune is his only U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 21. In his native Canada, it got to no. 39 on the mainstream chart and no. 7 on the adult contemporary chart. Overall, it looks like Cockburn has been most successful in his home country. Based on another album I heard, he appears to be pretty versatile and definitely is an artist I’d like to further explore. For now, here’s Wondering Where the Lions Are, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Cockburn – a beautiful folk tune that reminds me a bit of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot!

Southern Avenue/Control

Time to pay a visit to the present. When it comes to contemporary artists one of the bands I keep coming back to are Southern Avenue. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent.  Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; three amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sisters Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals) and Ava Jackson (backing vocals); white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016, they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Control, co-written by Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, is from the band’s most recent third studio album Be the Love You Want, released in August 2021, which I reviewed here at the time. The funky tune also appeared separately as a single leading up to the album’s release. I find this music is full of soul and pretty seductive.

Byrds/So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star

The sixth tune means we’re once again about to reach the final stop of yet another music excursion. Let’s make it count with a ’60s gem by the Byrds: So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Co-written by co-founders Roger McGuinn (credited as Jim McGuinn) and Chris Hillman, the tune has been characterized by Byrds expert Tim Conners as “an acerbic, but good-natured swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like the Monkees.” While I’m not a fan of how The Monkees came to be, I love their music. Plus, once Don Kirshner was out of the picture, the group’s members started playing their own instruments and getting more control over their music. So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star first appeared in January 1967 as the lead single of the Bryrds’ fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out the following month.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring each of the highlighted six tunes. Hope there’s something for here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday and another week just flew by. This also means it’s time again to take a fresh look at new music releases. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (January 13).

Margo Price/Been to the Mountain

Kicking off this new music revue is Nashville-based country singer-songwriter Margo Price. While growing up in the small town of Aledo, Ill., Price picked up the piano and sang in the church choir. She later started studying dance and theater at Northern Illinois University but decided to drop out at the age of 20 and moved to Nashville. While doing various odd jobs there, Price began developing a music career. After meeting her future husband, bassist Jeremy Ivy, they formed the group Buffalo Clover and subsequently Margo and the Pricetags. In March 2016, Price released her debut studio album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. It was very well-received by music critics, topped the UK country charts and climbed to no. 10 on the U.S. country charts. Been to the Mountain is the opener of Price’s fourth and latest studio album Strays. Written by Price, the tune first appeared as the lead single in August 2022. I dig her rock-oriented sound, not what you may typically associate with country music!

Blessing Offor/Won’t Be Long Now

Blessing Offor is a Nigerian-born singer-songwriter who blends pop, R&B, gospel and soul. From his AllMusic bio: The youngest of six siblings, Offor was born with congenital glaucoma, which caused blindness in one eye. Sent by his parents to the United States with his uncle to receive medical care, he later lost sight in his other eye after injuring his retina in an accident involving a powerful water gun. He spent his formative years in Connecticut listening to Motown, jazz, and pop and began playing piano at the age of nine. As a teenager, Offor started writing his own songs, and he honed those skills further at Belmont University in Nashville. While Music City afforded him plenty of opportunities, his soulful pop style was an outlier, so he relocated to New York City. In 2014 he appeared on season seven of The Voice…He moved back to Nashville the following year with plenty of wind in his sails…In February 2022, Offor released his debut EP Brighter Days. Now he’s out with his first full-length album My Tribe. Here’s the soulful Won’t Be Long Now, co-written by Offor, Hank Bentley and Jessie Parker-Early. This beautiful tune first appeared on December 9.

Belle and Sebastian/So in the Moment

Scottish indie pop group Belle and Sebastian started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). So in the Moment, credited to all members of the group, is a track from their twelfth and new album Late Developers – a pleasant pop song!

Myron Elkins/Factories, Farms & Amphetamines

My final pick for this week is Myron Elkins, a compelling 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich., whose music combines elements of classic rock, country and blues. According to his web bio, Elkins started working as a welder at the age of 17 after high school graduation and never intended to become a professional musician. His trajectory changed when a relative signed him up for a local battle of the bands competition. Even though Elkins had very limited live experience and put together a group only three weeks prior to the event, they came in second. More importantly, it made him realize music is what he wanted to do. Fast-forward four years to Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines. It was produced by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, The Highwomen and Rival Sons. Let’s check out the impressive title track. Unless you knew, you’d never guess you’re listening to a 21-year-old artist. He sounds like an “old soul” you could picture in the ’70s!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Myron Elkins website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2023 installment of The Sunday Six! This also marks the 100th time that I’d like to invite you to join me on a time-travel journey into the beautiful world of music. As usual, the zig-zag trip includes six tunes in different flavors from different decades. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Lee Morgan/The Sidewinder

The March 7, 2021 installment, the eighth of this weekly recurring feature, was the first to open with a jazz tune. I’ve since continued to start these mini-music excursions with an instrumental, typically a jazz track, and intend to continue the tradition, at least for now. Today, my pick is Lee Morgan, an American jazz trumpeter and composer. He started to record as an 18-year-old in 1956 with his solo debut Lee Morgan Indeed! After playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band from 1956 until 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and between 1957 and 1966 was featured on numerous of their albums. Morgan’s prolific recording career came to an abrupt end in February 1972 at the age of 33, when his common-law wife Helen Moore shot him during an altercation at a jazz club in New York City where Morgan was performing with his band. Morgan is regarded as one of the key hard bop players of the 1960s. The Sidewinder, a Morgan composition, is the title track of a July 1964 album released under his name. He was backed by Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Sidewinder became Morgan’s best-known track and even made the U.S. pop mainstream charts.

Natalie Imbruglia/Torn

For this next stop on our little trip, we jump to November 1997 and the solo music debut by Natalie Imbruglia. The singer from down under started her professional career as an actress in the early 1990s on Australian soap opera Neighbours. Left of the Middle, Imbruglia’s first of seven albums she released to date, became a huge international success, topping the charts in Australia and placing in the top 5 in The Netherlands (no. 2), Switzerland (no. 3), Germany and Italy (no. 4 each), as well as the UK (no. 5). In the U.S., it reached no. 10 on the Billboard 200. Left of the Middle also became her most commercially successful album with more than 7 million copies sold to date. The impressive performance was fueled by lead single Torn, a tune co-written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and co-producer Phil Thornalley. Originally, the song had been recorded in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein. While Rein’s version reached no. 10 on the charts in Norway, it was Imbruglia’s rendition that became a major internal hit. Imbruglia, now 47, remains active, both as a music artist and an actress. Even though Torn has a pretty commercial sound, I’ve always liked the tune.

Squeeze/Black Coffee in Bed

The time has come to pay a quick visit to the ’80s with a nice track by English pop rock and power pop band Squeeze. The group was initially formed in March 1974 by Chris Difford (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (vocals, guitar, music). Jools Holland (keyboards, backing and occasional lead vocals), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Paul Gunn (drums) rounded out the initial line-up. After five albums, Difford and Tilbrook decided to break up the band in 1982 and released an eponymous album as a duo the following year. In 1985 Squeeze reformed. The band’s second incarnation lasted until 1999 and saw seven additional albums. In late 1999, they broke up again. Their third incarnation started in 2007 and remains active to this day, with Difford and Tilbrook remaining as the only original members. Black Coffee in Bed, penned by Difford and Tilbrook, appeared in April 1992 as the lead single from Squeeze’s fifth album Sweets from a Stranger, released in September of the same year. It enjoyed moderate success in the UK where it reached no. 51 on the Official Singles Chart. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 26 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

The Clash/London Calling

One of the few punk bands I liked from the get-go were The Clash. During their 10-year career from 1976 until 1986, the British group released six studio albums. The third, London Calling, was their most successful one. The critically acclaimed record from December 1979, which has sold over five million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US for sales of one million, blends a traditional punk rock sound with elements of reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Overall, it also became the band’s best-performing album on the charts, reaching no. 2 in Sweden, no. 4 in Norway and no. 9 in the UK, among others. In Rolling Stone’s most recent 2020 version of its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, London Calling was ranked at no. 16, only down 8 spots from the 2003 and 2012 editions. Here’s the great title track, co-written by vocalist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones. London Calling also appeared separately in December 1979 as the record’s lead single.

Plain White T’s/Hey There Delilah

For this next tune let’s jump to the current century. Like I suspect is the case for the majority of folks, I only know Plain White T’s because of their one no. 1 hit Hey There Delilah. The rock and pop punk band was formed as a trio in early 1997 by high school friends Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Tirio (guitar, drums percussion), and Ken Fletcher (bass), and rounded out by Steve Mast (lead guitar, backing vocals) shortly thereafter. In 2000, they recorded their debut Come On Over. Hey There Delilah first appeared on the group’s third studio album All That We Needed, released in January 2005. But the beautiful ballad wasn’t noticed until May 2006 when it appeared as a single. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and Germany, and surged to no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and Belgium. Until that single, Plain White T’s essentially had been an underground act in Chicago. Hey There Delilah was also included as a bonus track on the group’s fourth studio album Every Second Counts, which came out in September 2006. It’s safe to assume the tune helped fuel the success of that record, which became their best-selling album to date and charted in multiple countries, including Ireland (no. 2), UK (no. 3) and the U.S. (no. 10), among others. Plain White T’s are still around. Their eighth and most recent studio album Parallel Universe came out in August 2018.

The Box Tops/Cry Like a Baby

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of another music trip. My pick is Cry Like a Baby, the title track of a studio album by American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops, released in April 1968. In February that same year, the tune had appeared as the record’s lead single. Overall, it became their second-biggest hit after The Letter, reaching no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 3 in Canada, no. 15 in the UK and no. 46 in Australia. Formed as The Devilles in Memphis, Tenn. in 1967, the band soon thereafter changed their name to The Box Tops in 1967. Cry Like a Baby was the last album featuring the original line-up of Alex Chilton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). In 1971 after the first break-up of The Box Tops, Chilton became a co-founder of American rock and power pop band Big Star. In 1996, Cunningham organized the first reunion of The Box Tops, which lasted until 2010. Following the death of Chilton from a heart attack in March 2010, the group split again. In mid-2015, Cunningham and Talley reformed The Box Tops who have remained active since then.

Of course, The Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Smokey Shines at Philly Met

Motown legend takes audience on a miraculous journey with music and memories

Shop Around by The Miracles must have been among the very first Motown songs I heard many moons ago. Motown and the infectious groove of the tunes that came out of the Detroit label started my lifelong love of soul music. When I coincidentally saw a couple of months ago that Motown legend Smokey Robinson was touring and scheduled to play the Met in Philadelphia, I immediately got tickets – yes, it totally was an impulse purchase. Saturday night, the time had finally come, and ooo, baby baby, what a miraculous show it was!

Smokey Robinson. Where do you even start? Now 82 years young, the man has enjoyed a 67-year career and counting – 67 years! It all started in 1955 when he formed the first lineup of the Five Chimes, the group that a couple of years later would become The Miracles. In August 1957, Robinson and his band met Berry Gordy Jr., who in 1959 with Robinson’s encouragement borrowed $800 from his family to create Tamla Motown and changed music history.

In September 1960, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles became Motown’s first stars with Shop Around. Credited to Robinson and Gordy, the tune topped Billboard’s R&B Chart and became a no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In the following years, Robinson continued to write hits for the group, including You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, The Tears of a Clown (a co-write with Stevie Wonder) and I Second That Emotion, to name a few.

In the mid-’60s, Robinson also became Vice President of Motown Records, serving as in-house producer, talent scout and songwriter. Apart from The Miracles, he penned and produced hits for other Motown acts, such as The Temptations, Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. Robinson also became a successful solo artist with hits like Quiet Storm (1976), Cruisin’ (1979), Being with You (1981) and Just to See Her (1987). According to his online bio, he has amassed writing credits for more than 4,000 songs.

Smokey Robinson (front, right) with The Miracles: Claudette Robison (front left), as well as (back left to right) Bobby Rogers, Marv Taplin and Ronald White

Robinson has won numerous accolades, including the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate (Howard University), Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts Award from the President of the United States. He’s also in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

While it is impossible to do Robinson’s impressive career justice with a brief summary, I’d like to mention two additional things. Bob Dylan once called him America’s “greatest living poet.” Among the bands who covered Robinson’s songs are two of the greatest of all time: The Beatles (You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me – 1963) and The Rolling Stones (Going to a Go-Go – 1982).

Smokey Robinson, Met gig shots and yours truly with the real star of the show

Let’s get to some music! Robinson’s set featured a nice mix of songs spanning five decades, including some of the big ’60s hits by The Miracles, a medley of mid-’60s Temptations tunes he co-wrote, as well as select solo tunes from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2018. He also included a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon, which he covered on his 2006 standards album Timeless Love. Not only did Robinson still hit extremely high notes with his falsetto, but the man’s physical flexibility was astonishing and frankly age-defying!

I Second That Emotion, co-written by Robinson and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland, first appeared as a single by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in October 1967. It was their third no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their second-highest charting single there since Shop Around in 1960, which had made it to no. 2. The tune was later also recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes and separately by Diana Ross & the Supremes with The Temptations.

On Ooo Baby Baby, Smokey slowed it down and went very high – the ladies loved it! And, yes, yours truly was impressed as well. Ooo Baby Baby, co-written by Robinson and Pete Moore, the bass singer of The Miracles, was released as a single by The Miracles in March 1965. It reached no. 2 on the Hot R&B Singles chart and no. 16 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The tune has been covered by numerous other artists over the years, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt.

With The Tears of a Clown, Robinson presented yet another hit billed as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, though with the distinction that it was the group’s only ’70s single in his set. Co-written by Robinson, Hank Cosby and Stevie Wonder in 1967, The Tears of a Clown wasn’t released as a single until July 1970 when it first appeared in the UK. In September of the same year, it also became a U.S. single. The tune ended up topping the Hot R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S., as well as the UK Official Singles Chart, making it the group’s biggest hit. The Tears of a Clown had first been included on the group’s August 1967 album Make It Happen.

The last two songs I’d like to highlight are both from Smokey Robinson’s solo career. Just to See Her, co-written by Jimmy George and Lou Pardini, was first recorded by Robinson and released as the lead single of his popular 1987 studio album One Heartbeat in March of that year. The tune is his last big U.S. hit to date, peaking at no. 8 and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively, and topping the Adult Contemporary chart. In the UK, it reached no. 52.

And then the time had come for the final song of the night and Smokey to take us on a cruise by car – a long cruise! Cruisin’, one of his best-known solo songs, first appeared on his studio album Where There’s Smoke…, which came out in May 1979. Penned by Robinson, the tune was also released separately as a single in August of the same year. It climbed to no. 4 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, as well as no. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Personally, I would have been okay with a shorter cruise and instead a couple of additional tunes, such as my beloved Shop Around. At the same time, it was heart-warming to see Smokey evidently having a ball and engaging with the audience, including two ladies he asked to come up on stage.

Following is Saturday night’s setlist:

Intro – Overture
Being With You (1981)
I Second That Emotion (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover – 1962)
Quiet Storm (1975)
Ooo Baby Baby (The Miracles song – 1965)
The Way You Do the Things You Do / Get Ready / My Girl (The Temptations covers – 1964, 1966 & 1964)
The Tears of a Clown (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
I Love Your Face (1992)
Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) (Kaye Ballard cover – 1954)
La Mirada (2018)
Just to See Her (1987)
The Tracks of My Tears (The Miracles cover – 1965)
Cruisin’ (1979)

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist that captures all songs of the above setlist sans La Mirada, the most recent solo tune Robinson performed, which I couldn’t find in Spotify. Robinson joked it hasn’t come out yet. By that, he meant the tune hasn’t been included on an album. It did appear digitally as a single in June 2018.

Sources: Wikipedia; Smokey Robinson website; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another Sunday Six where I embark on time travel into the great world of music, six tracks at a time. If you’re in the U.S., celebrated Thanksgiving and had a long weekend, hope you had a great time with family and friends with no stress while traveling or cooking. Regardless of your situation, music can work its magic on pretty much any occasion, so I invite you to join me on yet another excursion.

Lester Young & Harry Edison/Red Boy Blues

Today, our journey starts in 1955 when two American jazz musicians, saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Harry Edison, teamed up for an album titled Pres & Sweets. Young, nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was active between 1993 and 1959. He first gained prominence with the Count Basie Orchestra, in which he played from 1933 until 1940. After the Second World War, Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and frequently toured with the troupe for the next 12 years. Harry Edison who started playing the trumpet as a 12-year-old became a member of the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in 1933 before joining Basie’s orchestra in 1937. That’s where he played first with Young who nicknamed him “Sweets”. In the ’50s, he also toured with the Jazz at the Philharmonic and played with other orchestras, in addition to leading his own groups. This brings me back to Pres & Sweets, and Red Boy Blues, a composition by Young. He and Edison got a little help from some formidable friends: Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums).

The Wild Feathers/The Ceiling

My recent post for Thanksgiving reminded me of The Wild Feathers, a country rock band I first came across two years ago when featuring a tune from their then-latest album Medium Rarities. The group was founded in 2010 in Nashville. Their current line-up includes founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, sharing bills with the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Since the release of their eponymous debut in August 2013, they have released four additional studio albums, most recently Alvarado (October 2021), which I reviewed here. The Ceiling, co-written by King, Young and Burns, is a great tune from the band’s aforementioned first album.

Stevie Wonder/Sir Duke

Next, let’s pay a visit to the ’70s with an absolute soul gem by Stevie Wonder who I trust needs no further introduction. Sir Duke, off Wonder’s 1976 masterpiece Songs in the Key of Life, is a beautiful tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington who had passed away in 1974. The lyrics also mention Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Sir Duke was Wonder’s first tribute to people he admired. In the early 1980s, he also recorded Master Blaster, dedicated to Bob Marley, and Happy Birthday, which pleaded for what would eventually become the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in the United States. Sir Duke is one of these tunes that immediately put me in a great mood and make me move. Feel free to groove along!

Chuck Prophet/Credit

Are you ready for a stop-over in the ’90s? Ready or not, here we go with great music by Chuck Prophet. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is a relatively recent discovery for me. Blending rock, country, blues and folk, Prophet has released 16 solo albums since 1990, according to Wikipedia. Before launching his solo career in 1990, he was a member of rough-edged Paisley Underground band Green on Red and can be heard on 10 of their albums. He also been a guest musician on more than 20 albums by other artists, such as True West, Cake, Warren Zevon and Kim Carnes. Most recently, he worked with songwriter Jenifer McKitrick for her forthcoming album Road Call scheduled for December 1. Credit, penned by English singer-songwriter Pete Shelley, co-founder of early punk band Buzzcocks, is the opener of Prophet’s 1997 solo album Homemade Blood. The more I hear of Prophet, the more I like him!

The Impressions/It’s All Right

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some more soul, and I got a true beauty that takes us back to August 1963: It’s All Right by The Impressions. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune first appeared on the eponymous debut album by The Impressions. The gospel, doo-wop, R&B and soul group was co-founded by Mayfield and Jerry Butler in 1958 as Jerry Butler & the Impressions, along with Sam Gooden, Arthur Brooks and his brother Richard Brooks, who all had been members of doo-wop group the Roosters. After releasing 12 additional albums with The Impressions, Mayfield left them in 1970 to launch a solo career. The group went on without Mayfield until their retirement in 2018, after a 60-year career. It’s All Right was also released as a single in October 1963 and became The Impressions’ biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides chart and climbing to no. 4 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In my book, it’s one of the most beautiful and uplifting songs I know. The tune also shows the magic music can do. Listening to it instantly makes you feel okay.

Pat Benatar/Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Once again, we’re reaching the final destination of yet another Sunday Six. My proposition for this week is a great rocker by 2022 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Pat Benator. I was glad to see this great lady inducted. Hit Me With Your Best Shot, penned by Canadian musician Eddie Schwartz, first appeared on Benatar’s sophomore album Crimes of Passion, released in August 1980. It also became the album’s second single in September of that year and Benatar’s first top 10 U.S. hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Of her songs I know, I think it’s my favorite. Pat Benator, now 69 years and in the 50th year of her career, is still going strong. I happened to catch her recent Rock Hall induction performance and she was still kicking butt showing the younger cats how it’s done. So was her longtime partner in crime lead guitarist Neil Giraldo who also has been her husband since 1982.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: The Boss Does The Commodores

I’d like to interrupt the broadcast with some breaking news I just spotted on YouTube. Bruce Springsteen has released a new single from his upcoming studio covers album Only the Strong Survive. Scheduled for November 11, this marks Springsteen’s second covers release, following We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006).

Unlike the Seeger collection, which focused on folk and Americana, Only the Strong Survive celebrates R&B and soul songs from the catalogues of Motown, Gamble and Huff and Stax, among others. Here’s Nightshift, co-written by Walter Orange, lead singer of The Commodores, together with Dennis Lambert and Franne Golde. The tribute to soul/R&B singers Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye became the title track of The Commodores’ 11th studio album released in January 1985 and a major hit for the group.

Nightshift follows Do I Love (Indeed I Do), the first single off Only the Strong Survive, which premiered on September 29. Both renditions sound mighty cool to me!

“I wanted to make an album where I just sang,” Springsteen commented in a recent statement on his website. “And what better music to work with than the great American songbook of the Sixties and Seventies? I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others. I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music. My goal is for the modern audience to experience its beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it. I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”

Here’s more from the above statement: This 21st studio album from Bruce Springsteen will also feature guest vocals by Sam Moore, as well as contributions from The E Street Horns, full string arrangements by Rob Mathes, and backing vocals by Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, Michelle Moore, Curtis King Jr., Dennis Collins and Fonzi Thornton...Only The Strong Survive was tracked at Thrill Hill Recording in New Jersey, produced by Ron Aniello, engineered by Rob Lebret and executive produced by Jon Landau.

I can see some ignorant cynics say the Boss is trying to make a quick buck here or running out of ideas or both. But if you’ve ever been to a Springsteen show, you know how much this man loves soul music. And has prominently featured it during his concerts for decades. In fact, during my first Springsteen concert in Germany in the second half of the ’80s, he delivered at least an hour’s worth of outstanding soul covers. Dare I say it, these renditions were at least as good as his originals. The E Street Band, which at the time still featured sax giant Clarence Clemons, was on fire!

So kudos to Bruce for celebrating some sweet soul music. Count me in among the folks who are looking forward to his new album. The cynics can go and take a hike!

Sources: Wikipedia; BruceSringsteen.net; YouTube

Snarky Puppy Shine On Genre-Crossing New Album Empire Central

Snarky Puppy aren’t for everybody – of course, no music ever is. The instrumental genre-crossing group definitely also falls outside of my core wheelhouse. And yet when I came across their new album Empire Central, released last Friday, September 30, I was immediately intrigued. Now I’m hooked, even though there aren’t any vocals – and I usually pay great attention to vocals! In fact, I can go on forever raving about strong voices and great harmony singing and have done so repeatedly on this blog. None of that is here. And dare I say it, in this case, I’m not missing it!

Before taking a closer look at Empire Central, I’d like to provide some background on Snarky Puppy. Other than their great name, I had not heard of them before. Even though they have won four Grammy Awards, I suspect they’re not exactly a household name. Snarky Puppy were founded in Denton, Texas in 2004 by bassist and main composer Michael League as a group of college friends who were in the jazz studies program at the University of North Texas. Initially, they started out as a 10-piece but have since more than doubled in size.

Michael League (front row second from left) with other members of Snarky Puppy

On their website, Snarky Puppy describe themselves as “a collective of sorts with as many as 25 members in regular rotation” who “each maintain busy schedules as sidemen (with such artists as Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and D’Angelo), producers (for Kirk Franklin, David Crosby, and Salif Keïta), and solo artists (many of whom are on the band’s indy label, GroundUP Music).” When it comes to characterizing their music, notably the website focuses on what the group isn’t: “Snarky Puppy isn’t exactly a jazz band. It’s not a fusion band, and it’s definitely not a jam band.” I would call their music a blend of jazz, rock, funk and R&B.

Empire Central, Snarky Puppy’s 16th album, is “a tribute to the band’s hometown of Dallas, recorded over the course of eight nights in front of a live-in-studio audience at Dallas’ Deep Ellum Art Company,” according to this review in Glide Magazine. “The album also features the last recorded performance of ‘80s funk pioneer and major inspiration Bernard Wright, who passed away tragically at age 58 shortly after these recordings were completed.” Glide Magazine adds the recording includes 19 musicians altogether. Empire Central marks the group’s first album, for which members other than League were involved in the writing of the 16 tracks. Let’s take a look at some, together with League’s thoughts he shared with Apple Music.

Since I just included the opener Keep It On Your Mind in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping the track here and go directly to East Bay. “Our woodwind player Chris Bullock wrote ‘East Bay’ while we were on tour in Oakland. He sees Oakland as a sister city to Dallas in terms of its music, and what I love about Chris’ composition style is that he approaches it like J Dilla or a hip-hop artist, interlocking parts in disjointed sections. Somehow, he fits it all together beautifully, with a groove-laden ride-out at the end.”

Next is Bet, written by League, which has a cool funky groove, some neat bass playing and great horn action. “‘Bet’ was written in honor of my good friend RC Williams, who is Erykah Badu’s musical director and essentially the musical heart of Dallas. Every Wednesday night, he runs a jam session in the city, where I was part of the house band for a number of years, and he is just a connector of people who makes things happen. I love midtempo tunes like this that come in, slam it, and get out without trying to be too epic.”

Here’s another great funky tune titled Take It!, featuring the late Bernard Wright. It’s definitely among my early favorite tracks on the album – so good! “This is the only song we’ve recorded as Snarky Puppy that has been previously released by another artist. Our keyboard player Bobby Sparks had this on his MySpace page years ago, and it was a big part of the formation of Snarky Puppy’s sound, since we would listen to it all the time when we were touring in our early days. We kept playing it during sound check for these recordings and decided to throw it into the set list one night. It features the great Bernard Wright for his final recorded performance, where he plays one of the most amazing solos I’ve ever heard.”

The next tune I’d like to call out is Broken Arrow. “Justin Stanton, our keyboard player, wrote ‘Broken Arrow’ to showcase a different side of Texas—its country music. When he brought the tune to the band, he said to think of Crosby, Stills & Nash, which was a fun reference, and it also has a soulful feel, bringing to mind Al Green in sections before going back to being guitar-driven. It’s all over the place, which I love.” Me too!

I’d like to leave you with one more track: RL’s, an homage to Texas blues penned by League. “As a band, we love to take a well-established genre and see what we can do to make it ours. The shuffle is like a religion in Texas, and I wrote this track in homage to a legendary blues shack in south Dallas where I have spent many wonderful nights listening to bands play blues shuffles. ‘RL’s’ is bluesy, but we extrapolate the shuffle, and, at the end, we all come in hard over the foundation of our drummer JT’s groove.”

There is so much more great music on Empire Central, which I cannot include in this post. Here’s a Spotify link to the album in case you’d like to further check it out!

“This album is a chance to say thanks to our home,” League told Apple Music, summing up Empire Central. “It is also a tribute to Bernard and his incredible musical legacy. He left us far too soon.”

In addition to the great music and top-notch musicianship, I love the cultural diversity Snarky Puppy represents, illustrating once again music oftentimes is color blind and knows no narrow-minded racial boundaries. To cite their website one more time: “At its core, the band represents the convergence of both black and white American music culture with various accents from around the world. Japan, Argentina, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Puerto Rico all have representation in the group’s membership.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Snarky Puppy website; Glide Magazine; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six! Once again it’s time to embark on some music time travel. As usual, I got six tunes lined up. Let’s go!

Benny Golson/Terminal 1

Today, our trip starts in 2004 with some great jazz by American bebop/hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. Before launching his solo career in the late 1950s, Golson had gained prominence in the big bands s of Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie, more as a writer than a performer. Apart from releasing multiple albums as a leader, he co-founded and The Jazztet in 1959 together with trumpeter Art Farmer, which the two musicians co-led until the 1990s. Golson also was a sought-after arranger for film and TV from the late ’60s through the ’70s, a period during which he was less active as a performer. Terminal 1, composed by Golson, is the title track of an album he released in June 2004. Golson, who in January turned 93, was backed by Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums).

The Crusaders/Street Life

Staying in the jazz lane but going more pop and funk, our next stop is 1979 and a groovy tune by The Crusaders, featuring great vocalist Randy Crawford. The Crusaders were formed as The Jazz Crusaders in 1960. Their debut album Freedom Sound appeared in 1961. After close to 20 additional records, the group became The Crusaders in 1971 and performed under that shortened name until 2010. Street Life is the title track of the band’s most successful album on the U.S. pop charts, which was released in December 1979. The tune was co-written by Jazz Crusaders co-founder Joe Sample and songwriter Will Jennings. The latter is best known for penning Titanic soundtrack tune My Heart Will Go On performed by Celine Dion, and co-writing Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven. Street Life also appeared separately as a single and became a U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (no. 36). The single did even better in Europe where it hit the top 10 in the UK (no. 5), Norway (no. 6) and Sweden (no. 8). Here’s the album version in all of it’s 11-minute mighty – my type of music!

Spencer Davis Group/I’m a Man

Time for some ’60s rock and one of my favorite British bands from that decade: Spencer Davis Group. They were formed in Birmingham, England in 1963 by Spencer Davis (guitar), Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar), his 5-year-older brother Muff Winwood (bass guitar) and Pete York (drums). At the time Steve joined, he was 14 and still in school! I’m a Man was released as a non-album single in January 1967. Written by Steve Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller, the tune became Spencer Davis Group’s last top 10 hit in the UK and U.S. (no. 9 and no. 10, respectively). Three months later, Steve Winwood left the band to form Traffic with Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. Spencer Davis Group disbanded in July 1969 and had various reunions thereafter with Davis but sans Steve Winwood. Davis passed away in October 2020 at age 81 while being treated for pneumonia. There’s also an incredible cover of I’m a Man by Chicago, then known as Chicago Transit Authority, which they recorded for their eponymous debut album released in April 1969.

Blue Rodeo/Fallen From Grace

On to the ’90s and a tune by a Canadian band I’ve come to dig: Blue Rodeo. The country rock group was formed in 1984 in Toronto by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, along with Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, Blue Rodeo released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. The band’s fifth studio project 5 Days in July, which appeared in October 1993 in Canada and September 1994 in the U.S, remains their best-selling album in Canada. It’s also my favorite I’ve explored to date, and I’ve featured various of its tunes. Fallen From Grace, co-written by Cuddy and Keelor, is a song off Tremolo, the group’s seventh studio album released in July 1997. It holds the distinction of being Blue Rodeo’s only no. 1 album in Canada.

The Subdudes/Need Somebody

The Subdudes are a cool band from New Orleans, blending folk, swamp pop, R&B, Louisiana blues, country, cajun, zydeco, funk, soul and gospel into a tasty musical gumbo. They have been around since 1987 with breaks from 1996-2002 and 2011-2014. The band’s current members include Tommy Malone (vocals, guitar), John Magnie (vocals, accordion, keyboards), Steve Amedée (tambourine, drums, other percussions, vocals), Tim Cook (percussion, bass, vocals) and Jimmy Messa (bass, guitar), which is almost still their original line-up. Since their eponymous debut from June 1989, The Subdudes have released nine additional studio and two live albums. Need Somebody, co-written by Magnie, Malone and the band’s former bassist Johnny Ray Allen, is from their first album. I love this band’s warm sound and want to check them out further.

Jane Lee Hooker/Lucky

Before wrapping up yet another Sunday Six, I got one more tune for you by one of the hottest contemporary bands I know: Jane Lee Hooker. If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog, their cool name may sound familiar. Or perhaps you’ve read about the group on fellow blogger Robert Horvat’s Rearview Mirror, who recently included them in a 2022 best new albums post. Founded in 2013, the band from New York currently features four co-founding ladies – Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Hail Mary Zadroga (bass) and Tracy Hightop (guitar) – and one gent: ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums). In April this year, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’, which offers their familiar hard-charging guitar-driven rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. Here’s Lucky, a smoking mid-tempo blues rocker credited to the entire band, for which they recently released an official video.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify