John Mellencamp’s New Album Features His Now-Familiar Roots Sound With A Twist

“Other People’s Stuff” presents selection of covers from seminal albums, compilations, unearthed sessions and documentaries

John Mellencamp today released his new previously announced 24th studio album Other People’s Stuff. Fans of his transformation from straight rock to a roots-oriented sound, which has been gradual and begun with the excellent The Lonesome Jubilee from 1987, are going to dig what they hear – count me as one of them! Whether Other People’s Stuff will gain Mellencamp new fans is perhaps less certain. Something tells me the fiercely independent-minded Indiana rocker, who clearly is comfortable with the place to which his long musical journey has taken him, won’t be losing any sleep over it!

According to an announcement accompanying its release, Other People’s Stuff presents a collection of covers Mellencamp has recorded throughout his long career. It also includes a new version of Eyes On The Prize, a song he originally performed at The White House during a 2010 Obama Administration celebration of music from the civil rights movement, as I previously covered here. Yes, it still is hard to believe that not long ago America had a leader who truly cared about these issues – and the arts I might add. Eyes On The Prize also became the album’s lead single in early November, coinciding with the record’s initial announcement.

John Mellencamp 2019 Tour Poster

“Most, if not all, of the songs on Other People’s Stuff come from The Great American Songbook,” Mellencamp reiterated. “These are songs that have been recorded over the last 40 years of my career, but had never been put together as one piece of work. Now, they have.”

So there’s your little twist – rather than your traditional covers album an artist typically records at given time period, here you have recordings Mellencamp initially captured at different times during his career and subsequently put a collection of thesm on one record. The other commonality of all these tunes are lyrics that are clearly on the darker side – probably a reflection of Mellencamp’s sentiments about the current state of the country. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s Teardrops Will Fall, which Mellencamp first recorded for the Trouble No More album from June 2003. His great take, which prominently features accordion and violin, would have been a perfect fit for The Lonesome Jubilee. The song was co-written by singer and record producer Gerry Granaham and Marion Smith. Granaham had a string of charting singles in the late 1950s and early ’60s, performing as Dickey Doo & The Don’ts.

Next up: Stones In My Passway, a great Robert Johnson blues tune Mellencamp also first recorded for Trouble No More. It features some nice slide guitar-playing – I assume by multi-instrumentalist Andy York, who has been part of Mellencamp’s band for some 20 years.

Wreck Of The Old ’97 is a song Mellencamp initially recorded for a 2004 compilation album titled The Rose & The Briar: Death, Love And Liberty In The American Ballad. Credited to Fred Lewey, Henry Whitter and Charles Noell, the old country song was inspired by a bad rail accident in September 1903 when a Southern Railway mail train derailed near Danville, Va. The accident, which became known as the Wreck of the Old ’97, killed seven on-board personnel, injured seven others and destroyed a bridge as the train careened off the side of the structure.

The last track I’d like to highlight is I Don’t Know Why I Love You. Interestingly, it’s a Stevie Wonder tune from his ninth studio album For Once In My Life, which was released in December 1968. I didn’t think Wonder, one of my favorite artists, was on Mellencamp’s radar screen, so I was surprised about this pick. Mellencamp’s cover first appeared on a sampler from June 2003 called Conception – An Interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s Songs. The tribute to the soul legend also featured Eric Clapton, Mary J. Blige and Brian McKnight, among other artists.

Mellencamp will support his new album with The John Mellencamp Show (see tour poster above). Appropriately, the 2019 tour is scheduled to kick off on February 7 in South Bend, Ind. The dense 40-date schedule among others includes Cincinnati (Feb 10), Baltimore, Md. (Feb 20), New York (Feb 25-27), Kansas City, MO (Mar 14), Nashville, Tenn. (Mar 19-20) and Wichita (Apr 16), before it concludes on Apr 20 in Albuquerque, N.M.

One of the other stops is right in my backyard in New Brunswick, NJ (Feb 23) at a great theatre. The thought of seeing Mellencamp for what would be my third time is certainly appealing. I guess I just need to find another reason to justify buying a ticket – and hope by the time I do remaining seats will be reasonably affordable!

Sources: Wikipedia, John Mellencamp website, YouTube

Music of Cream Shines at New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre

Relatives of original members pay tribute to legendary power rock trio

While I’ve seen many tribute bands over the past couple of years, Tuesday night was a first: a tribute act whose members were relatives of the original band’s musicians. Meet Music of Cream: Malcolm Bruce (bass) and Kofi Baker (drums), sons of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker; and Will Johns (guitar), nephew of Eric Clapton.

The closest case I can think of is Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who pays tribute to the English rockers with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. But I’ve never seen a tribute act where the entire lineup is blood-related to the members of the original band.

Apart from being true masters of their craft, Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns also have impressive other accomplishments, as their bios on the Music of Cream website show. Malcolm is a composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and engineer. In addition to having recorded and performed with his father, he can be heard on recordings of other artists like Little Richard, Eric Clapton or Elton John. Last year, Malcolm also released his debut solo album Salvation.

Kofi first performed live with his father on the BBC TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test when he was just six years old. In addition to Jack Bruce, he has also played and toured with other rock musicians, such as Uli Jon Roth (former lead guitarist of Scorpions), UFO guitarist Vinnie Moore and Rick Derringer. He also released a solo record, Lost City, and recorded an album with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane called Abstract Logic.

Kofi, Malcolm and Will
Music of Cream (from left): Kofi Baker, Malcolm Bruce and Will Johns

In addition to Jack Bruce, Will has performed with Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman. Will’s strong connection to members of The Rolling Stones is likely due to his father Andy Johns, recording engineer and producer, who apart from the Stones has worked with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Will is also the nephew of Glyn Johns who has produced for The Who, Eric Clapton and Eagles. To date, he has released three solo albums: Count On Me, Hooks & Lines and Something Old, Something New.

Yes, it’s safe to assume that all their connections haven’t hurt Malcolm, Kofi and Will, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are highly talented musicians and accomplished artists. Music of Cream’s shows are billed as a 50th anniversary tour, which was launched in Australia and New Zealand last year. Cream’s debut album Fresh Cream appeared in December 1966.

Tuesday night’s show was divided in two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission. Based on what I’ve seen on Setlist.fm, this appears to be the typical format. In addition to great music, I also thought the projection of psychedelic color patterns mixed with historical footage of Cream on the stage background was pretty cool. While the band was taking a break, documentary film footage was shown. During both sets, Kofi, Macolm and Will also shared anecdotes about Ginger, Jack and Eric.

Time for some clips! Here are two from the first set. Politician appeared on Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third album released in August 1968. It was written by Jack Bruce and lyricist and singer Pete Brown who frequently collaborated with Bruce.

Next up: Strange Brew, the opener of Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. The tune is credited to Eric Clapton, the record’s producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins.

Some of the other tunes from the first set included N.S.U., Badge and Sleepy Time Time.

The second set kicked off with I’m So Glad, followed by Crossroads. Following is a clip of the latter, a Robert Johnson tune arranged by Eric Clapton.

White Room was another tune Music of Cream performed during the second half of show. Co-written by Bruce and Brown, the song was the opener of the Wheels Of Fire album.

Some other tunes from the second sets included Born Under A Bad Sign, Sitting On Top Of The World, Toad and Sunshine Of Your Love. Here’s a clip of the latter, another track from Disraeli Gears, co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Brown. The band stretched it into an 11-minute-plus jam.

Music of Cream also threw in Spoonful as an encore. Including the intermission, the show lasted a solid three hours. Not only did Malcolm Bruce, Kofi Baker and Will Johns do a great job to capture the music of Cream, but they were also clearly enjoying themselves.

Upcoming tour dates include Baltimore, Md. (Oct 25), Greensburg, Pa. (Oct 26), Bristol, Tenn. (Oct 28) and Richmond, Va. (Oct 30). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Music of Cream website, Setlist.fm, 

 

Cordovas, Seductive Americana Rock From Nashville

Last year, Rolling Stone included them as one of “10 new country artists you need to know.” Now, Cordovas are about to release their studio debut on ATO Records

It’s simply amazing what kind of bands you sometimes encounter when going to free summer-concert-in-the-park events, at least in my neck of the woods. Until yesterday, I had never heard of Americana/country rock band Cordovas. Since it was a beautiful summer evening and – big shocker – I enjoy seeing live music, I decided to go to Parker Press Park in Woodbridge, N.J. I’m glad I did!

While this central Jersey town may not exactly be a metropolis, they surely have an impressive summer concert series. Between late June and mid-September, there are frequent concerts each day of the week except for Saturdays. Most days even have a dedicated theme: Mondays are oldies, on Tuesdays they have tribute bands, and on Fridays it’s jazz. As the “king of tribute bands,” my eyes lightened up when I saw their Tuesday theme, so chances are I’ll be back! Anyway, Wednesdays appear to be reserved for artists playing original music. And last night, it was Cordovas.

So who the hell are Cordovas? A five-piece band hailing from Nashville, Tenn. While it’s not entirely clear to me when they were founded, these guys definitely are no beginners, and this isn’t their first trip to the rodeo! Pictured above, the band’s members include (left to right) Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Graham Spillman (drums), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals), Sevans Henderson (keyboards) and Joe Firstman (bass, vocals).

Cordovas’ music features impressive triple harmony vocals and nice double-lead guitar lines. When Rolling Stone described them in the above story, they dropped names like Grateful Dead, Little Feat and The Allman Brothers Band. I could definitely hear some influences from all of these mighty bands last night. Some others that come to mind are CSNY, The Band and early-phase Eagles.

The band’s set included a mix of covers and original tunes. Following is a clip I recorded – frankly, not sure whether that’s one of their own compositions or a cover. In any case, it gives you a nice flavor of the band’s style.

Here’s a second clip featuring the two guitarists performing a nice version of Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago, while the rest of the band took a short break. Blues just never gets boring!

According to a May 6 announcement, Cordovas are set for their debut album on ATO Records for August 10. Based on the band’s website, this record doesn’t appear to be their first. The merchandise section lists their eponymous album on vinyl, adding it is out of stock. One can still get it on Amazon. Apparently, it’s from 2017 and weirdly listed as an import.

Anyway, speaking of the new album, two tunes already are out. Here’s a clip of opener This Town’s A Drag – more great harmony singing and a great Telecaster twang!

And here’s the second track: Frozen Rose. Does this sound great or what?!

I’ll be surely to keep Cordovas on my radar screen. BTW, the band has a busy performance schedule. They just returned to the U.S. from a European tour that had started in early June. Between now and the end of September, they have some 20 domestic dates lined up at what appear to be smaller venues. Some of their upcoming gigs are in Boston (Jul 20), New York (Jul 30), Chicago (Aug 16), Washington (Aug 23) and Cleveland (Sep 5). Frankly, while I never mind a free show, I’d pay money to see these guys!

Sources: Cordovas Facebook page and official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Eric Clapton/461 Ocean Boulevard

1974 album marked Slowhand’s triumphant return to music after three-year heroin addiction

461 Ocean Boulevard represented a clear break for Eric Clapton from his hardcore blues rock-oriented days with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos. I’m a fan of all the aforementioned bands but also dig the more laid back side Clapton showed on his second studio solo album, which was released in July 1974.

It’s important to remember this record came after a three-year hiatus during which Clapton had overcome a heroin addiction. As the great documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars tells, he tragically ended up replacing heroin with alcohol before finally getting sober in 1987. Clapton had also grown weary about his previous status as a “guitar god,” so he was clearly looking for a new start.

The album opens with a cover of Motherless Children, a blues standard that was first recorded by American gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The sped up beat gives the tune a great groove. I also like Clapton’s slide guitar playing.

The second track Give Me Strength is one of three tunes, for which Clapton has writing credits. I dig the dobro he plays on that track, something that at the time of the album’s release seemed to irritate a Rolling Stone critic, who also noted, “What’s disturbing is not that Clapton plays differently, but that he plays so little.” In my humble opinion, knowing when and how to show restraint is part of being a great guitarist.

Willie And The Hand Jive is one of two songs that were also released separately as singles. The tune was written by Johnny Otis and first appeared in 1958. Like the original version, Clapton’s take has a cool Bo Diddley beat.

The second and undoubtedly much better known single from the record is I Shot The Sheriff, a nice cover of the Bob Marley tune. I really like the slightly funky guitar sound and the keyboard part on this recording. It became a big hit for Clapton, hitting no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, and also topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, years later Marley told Clapton he liked his cover.

Next up: Let It Grow, which is my personal favorite on the album and another tune written by Clapton and on which he plays the dobro. Yvonne Elliman sings backup vocals. Before joining Clapton’s band in 1974, she had played Mary Magdalene in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. Elliman also scored a hit with If I Can’t Have You in 1978, which became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Saturday Night Fever. Music critics noted the chord progression of Let It Grow is similar to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, something Clapton himself acknowledged. I wonder whether those same critics also worried about the similarity between Stairway and Taurus, the instrumental by Spirit.

The last track I’d like to call out is Steady Rollin’ Man, a song written by Robert Johnson, one of Clapton’s influences. In fact, 30 years later, he would record Me And Mr. Johnson, an entire album dedicated to the delta blues artist. This is another example where Clapton took an old blues tune and gave it new life and a nice groove by speeding it up.

While 461 Ocean Boulevard received mixed reviews from music critics, it became one of Clapton’s most successful albums with strong chart performances in the U.S. and many other countries. In August 1974, it was awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America. And, oh yes, it’s also listed at no. 409 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Albums Of All Time – the same publication whose critic ripped it apart when it originally appeared.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the musicians who helped Clapton record the album. Some critics felt they were less than capable – yes, there was no John Mayall, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce or Duane Allman, but to say that Clapton’s band essentially was mediocre is simply ridiculous, in my opinion.

The musicians included Dick Sims (keyboards), George Terry (guitar, vocals), Carl Radle (bass), Jamie Oldacker (drums, percussion), Al Jackson Jr. (drums on Give Me Strength and Albhy Galuten (synthesizer, piano, clavichord). In addition to Elliman, Tom Bernfield and Marcy Levy were backing vocalists.

Last but not least, the album was produced by studio wizard Tom Dowd. This certainly helps explain the great sound.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube