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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Yearend Musings Part 1

A look back on new songs released in 2022

Happy Saturday and I hope everybody has been enjoying the holiday season. As 2022 is beginning to wind down, it’s time to revisit new music released this year. I decided to do this in two parts. Part 1, which draws on my weekly Best of What’s New feature, looks back at some of the new songs I like. Part 2 focuses on new albums that speak to me. To avoid overlap between the two parts, I won’t feature any tunes in part 1 that are on albums highlighted in part 2.

Following are 12 tunes released this year, one from each month. I’m doing this in chronological order. There’s also a Spotify playlist at the end, which includes all highlighted and some additional 2022 tunes.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

I’d like to kick off this post with the amazing John Mayall, who on November 29 turned 89. On January 28, the Godfather of the British Blues released The Sun is Shining Down, a true late-stage career gem I reviewed here. The soulful blues rocker Can’t Take No More, penned by Mayall, features Marcus King on guitar.

Gregor Barnett/Driving Through the Night

On February 19, Gregor Barnett released his debut solo album Don’t Throw Roses in My Grave during COVID downtime for The Menzingers, the Philadelphia-based punk band he co-founded in 2006. Driving Through the Night was written by Barnett like all other tracks on the Americana rock-focused album, a departure from his more punk-leaning music with The Menzingers.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Young Guv is a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook. After playing in two Canadian hardcore punk bands, Cook launched a solo career in 2015 and has since released five power pop-oriented albums under the Young Guv moniker. I immediately loved the beautiful Byrdsy-sounding Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, included on Guv III, his fourth album that came out on March 11.

The Linda Lindas/Talking to Myself

When I first came across The Linda Lindas in early March, I was struck by the energy of this Los Angeles-based all-female punk pop and garage band. The four-piece was founded in 2018 when their members were still young teenagers. Talking to Myself is a tune from the group’s first full-length album Growing Up, which appeared on April 8.

49 Winchester/All I Need

Va.-based 49 Winchester describe their music as “tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk.” Formed in the mid-2010’s, the group has put out four albums to date. Lynyrd Skynyrd-flavored country rocker All I Need appears on their most recent Fortune Favors the Bold, released on May 13.

Lettuce/RV Dance

American jazz and funk band Lettuce were formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of their founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. Initially a short-lived venture for just one summer, the group reunited in 1994 and released their debut in 2002. RV Dance is a groovy track from their latest album Unify, which came out on June 3. As I said at the time, you could picture James Brown singing to this great tune!

Dawes/Ghost in the Machine

Los Angeles-based folk rock band Dawes emerged from Simon Dawes in 2009 after that rock group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had left. His departure did not only result in a new name but also in a change of music style from post-punk to folk rock. Here’s Ghost in the Machine, a cool tune from the group’s eighth and most recent studio album Misadventure of Doomscroller, out since July 22.

Marcus King/Blood On the Tracks

Guitarist and songwriter Marcus King is one of the most exciting young contemporary artists in my book. The 26-year-old has been on stage since he was 8 when he started performing alongside his family. Here’s the soulful rocker Blood On the Tracks from King’s second solo album Young Blood released on August 26.

Ringo Starr/Free Your Soul (feat. Dave Koz and José Antonio Rodriguez)

“Every band deserves a Ringo.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read that great quote, which perfectly describes Ringo Starr. The ex-Beatles drummer always has been all about the music, never about himself. A perfect illustration is the All-Starr Band, his touring rock supergroup Ringo formed in 1989. Now 82 years young, he’s still rocking – and recording! Free Your Soul is the smooth closer of Starr’s most recent release, an EP titled EP 3 that appeared on September 16.

The Star Crumbles/Desperately Wanting

The Star Crumbles is a cool music project by fellow blogger Marc Schuster from Abnominations and his friend Brian Lambert. After meeting on Twitter and working together on one of Lambert’s songs earlier this year, they hit it off and decided to form The Star Crumbles. Both are into ’80s music and bands like The CureEcho & the Bunnymen, New Order and Ultravox, which is noticeable on their first album The Ghost of Dancing Slow released on October 7. Here’s one of my favorites, Desperately Wanting.

Larkin Poe/Southern Comfort

Sister act Larkin Poe have been among my favorite contemporary artists since they entered my radar screen a few years ago. Not only are Rebecca Lovell and her slightly older sister Megan Lovell great songwriters, but they are also really talented musicians and sing together in perfect harmony. Southern Comfort is a sizzling southern blues rocker from their sixth full-length album Blood Harmony, which came out on November 11 and which I reviewed here.

Mthunzi Mvubu/Mom vs the Bad Man

The final pick I’d like to highlight is by South African-based saxophonist, flute player and composer Mthunzi Mvubu. Playing professionally since he was 14, Mvubu has traveled globally with jazz luminaries since he was 18. Mom vs the Bad Man is a track from The 1st Gospel, Mvubu’s debut album as a leader, released on December 2.

Last but not least, here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist. While finding new music I sufficiently like can be quite time-consuming, I feel it’s been another rewarding year. Hope there’s something here that speaks to you as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; 49 Winchester website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Making Your Christmas Groove

It’s been about seven weeks since the last Musings of the Past, a feature that roughly runs once a month where I revisit previous posts published at a time when this blog was in its younger days. I guess I missed November! With the holiday season being in full swing, I thought this would be an opportune moment to republish a post from December 2017, which featured a variety of modern Christmas songs from various music genres. The Spotify playlist at the end wasn’t in the original post.

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year [December 2016 – CMM]. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe at the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies suddenly discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano & Daryl Hall/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 21, 2017, ended here. And, yes, I kept Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, even though I snarkily commented the other day this tune has been overexposed – oh, well, it was part of the original post. Plus, it’s certainly not terrible!

The Spotify playlist is an addition. Instead of The Ravers, it features a rendition of It’s Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas by UK pop punk band Majorettes. Feliz Navidad is the studio version José Feliciano recorded in 1970, not the live performance with Daryl Hall captured in the clip. The playlist also includes some additional tunes. Season’s Greetings!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature, in which I explore music from different genres over the past 60-70 years. As always, I do this in a time-travel fashion, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me for the ride. Let’s go!

Lonnie Smith/Twenty-Five Miles

Our journey today starts in 1970 with some groovy jazz by Hammond B3 maestro Lonnie Smith. Given how much I dig the sound of this organ, perhaps it’s not a huge surprise I featured Smith before. He first came to prominence in the mid-’60s as a member of George Benson’s quartet. After recording two albums with the jazz guitarist, Smith launched a solo career in 1967 with his delicious debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ. At some point during the ’70s, he decided to wear a traditional Sikh turban and become Dr. Lonnie Smith, though he neither converted to Sikhism nor obtained an academic doctor title. After a 50-year-plus recording career, Smith sadly passed away in September 2021 at the age of 79. Twenty-Five Miles, penned by him, appeared on his 1970 solo album Drives when he was still known as Lonnie Smith. He was backed by Dave Hubbard (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Larry McGee (guitar) and Joe Dukes (drums). That track gets me in the mood for more music!

John Lennon/Nobody Told Me

Earlier this week (December 8) marked the sad 42nd anniversary of John Lennon’s senseless murder in New York City – really hard to believe it’s been 42 years! Rather than picking Imagine, the seasonal Happy Xmas (War Is Over) or another perhaps more obvious tune, I decided to go with Nobody Told Me, a track that appeared on the posthumous album Milk and Honey released in January 1984. Assembled by Yoko Ono and Geffen, it includes new music Lennon had recorded in the last months of his life during and following the Double Fantasy sessions. Originally, he had written Nobody Told Me for Ringo Starr to include on his 1981 album Come and Smell the Roses, but due to John’s death, Ringo decided against recording it. Nobody Told Me, a song I dug from the very first moment I heard it, also became the first single from Milk and Honey and a top 10 hit in various countries, including the U.S. (no. 5), Canada (no. 4), the UK and Australia (no. 6 in each), as well as Norway (no. 7). Here’s a cool video!

The Easybeats/Friday On My Mind

Our next stop is May 1967, which saw the release of Good Friday, the fourth studio album by The Easybeats and their first after the Australian band had relocated to London and had signed an international recording deal with United Artists Records. In North America, a slightly different version appeared in the same month under the title Friday On My Mind. The Easybeats had been founded in Sydney in late 1964 by Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar), Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy” Fleet (drums). Notably, they each came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from The Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. During their six-year run, The Easybeats scored 15 top 10 hits in Australia, including one of my all-time favorite ’60s tunes, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, their biggest hit topped the charts in Australia, reached no. 2 in New Zealand, and climbed to no. 6, no. 13 and no. 16 in the UK, Canada and the U.S., respectively. The band’s popularity waned thereafter, and they broke up in October 1969. Man, what a great tune!

Kenny Wayne Shepherd/Baby Got Gone

Let’s jump to the current century and some great blues rock by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The Louisiana guitarist first entered my radar screen about five years ago. Shepherd who is completely self-taught started his recording career in 1995 at the age of 18. Since his debut album Ledbetter Heights, which came out in September that year, he has released nine additional studio albums and two live records, and established himself as an influential force in the contemporary blues realm. Baby Got Gone is from Shepherd’s August 2017 album Lay It Down. I haven’t listened to Shepherd in a while. This great tune makes me want to hear more!

Gene Vincent/Be-Bop-a-Lula

This next tune takes us back to 1956 and one of the pioneers of rockabilly and rock & roll: Gene Vincent. In June of that year, Vincent released his debut single Woman Love backed by what became his biggest U.S. hit: Be-Bop-a-Lula, credited to him and his manager Bill “Sheriff Tex” Davis. According to Vincent (born Vincent Eugene Craddock) and his label Capitol Records, he wrote the tune in 1955 while recuperating from a motorcycle accident at the US Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., inspired by the newspaper cartoon strip Little Lulu. That story was disputed by Dickie Harrell, the drummer in Vincent’s backing band The Blue Caps, who told Mojo in 2000 the tune had been penned by Donald Graves, and that Vincent and Davis subsequently purchased it from Graves for $25. Yet another version is that Vincent and Graves wrote it together. Whatever the truth is, there can be no doubt Be-Bop-a-Lula is a ’50s gem. The fact that it sounded very much like a Sun Records production probably wasn’t a coincidence. Capitol Records had eagerly sought an artist similar to Elvis Presley. Unlike Elvis, Vincent’s chart career in the U.S. only lasted until 1957. In the UK, he had a total of eight top 40 hits between 1956 and 1961. Vincent’s life was cut short in October 1971 when he passed away at the age of 36 from a combination of a ruptured ulcer, internal hemorrhage and heart failure – yikes!

The Wallflowers/Sugarfoot

Once again it’s time to wrap up another music journey. For this final pick, we jump to August 1992 and the eponymous debut album by The Wallflowers. Initially formed as The Apples in 1989 by Jakob Dylan and his childhood friend and guitarist Tobi Miller, the group changed their name to The Wallflowers in 1991. After six studio albums including the hugely successful sophomore release Bringing Down the Horse (May 1996), Dylan turned The Wallflowers into a project in 2013, relying on hired musicians for his recurring tours. The most recent Wallflowers album Exit Wounds from July 2021, the first in nine years, in many ways feels like it could have been the follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse. I reviewed it here at the time. Going back to the debut, the album missed the charts. In my view, it certainly wasn’t because it lacked decent music. Here’s Sugarfoot, which like all other tracks except for one was written by Dylan.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Happy Birthday, Mick Jagger

At 79, Jagger still can’t get no satisfaction

Today, Mick Jagger turned 79 years. Admittedly, I almost missed it. To celebrate the happy occasion and hopefully many returns, I’m republishing a post I did for Jagger’s 75th birthday. I feel everything I said four years ago still applies!

No matter whether you like him or not (and I love him!!!), I think there’s no question Mick Jagger has to be one of the coolest rock artists on the planet. To me, he’s the embodiment of rock & roll in all of its crazy shapes. Unlike the other members of The Rolling Stones, Jagger doesn’t show many signs of aging. He still has the energy and swagger he did when the Stones started out in the early ’60s.

I also don’t believe I know of any other rock artist who studied at the London School of Economics, though evidently, Jagger figured out pretty quickly that Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes weren’t as sexy as rock & roll. And, dare I say it, there are many economists but there’s only one Mick Jagger!

Jagger’s biography has been told a million times, so I’m not going to write yet another iteration. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Sir Michael Philip Jagger’s 79th birthday, which is today, with what he’s all about: rock & roll.

Let’s kick it off with the first officially recorded song Jagger co-wrote with his longtime partner in crime Keith RichardsTell Me (You’re Coming Back), the only original track on the Stones’ eponymous U.K. album released in April 1964. While the tune’s early ’60s pop vibe doesn’t sound much like The Rolling Stones, I still find it charming.

Yes, it’s probably the most over-played song The Rolling Stones have ever released, but since it’s such a signature tune, how could I not include (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in this post? Plus, the song from the Stones’ third British studio album Out Of Our Heads really seems to be a perfect fit for Jagger.

She’s A Rainbow from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request may be an uncharacteristic tune by The Glimmer Twins, but I’ve always loved it.

I know many Stones fans consider Exile On Main Street or Some Girls as the band’s best studio album. If I would have to select one, I think it would be Sticky Fingers. Here’s Dead Flowers.

The song’s title sums it up perfectly: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It). It was the lead single to the Stones’ 1974 studio album It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, their 12th and 14th in the U.K. and U.S., respectively.

Here’s When The Whip Comes Down. According to Wikipedia, Jagger wrote the lyrics to the song, which first appeared on the Some Girls album from 1978, though it is credited to Jagger/Richards.

Tattoo You is considered by many folks to be the last decent album the Stones released in August 1981. The lead single was Start Me Up, which remains one of the band’s most recognizable tunes and a staple during their live concerts where they often play it as the opener. It’s a great tune and with its simple riff yet another example that less is oftentimes more in rock & roll.

I’ve always liked Steel Wheels, which the Stones released in August 1989. By that time Jagger and Richards had patched up their fragile relationship and wrote a great set of songs that are reminiscent of the Stones’ classic sound. Here’s Mixed Emotions.

To date, A Bigger Bang from September 2005 is the Stones’ most recent full studio album featuring original music. Here’s the opener Rough Justice.

I’d like to conclude this celebratory playlist with an amazing live clip: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, from the Stones’ Sticky Fingers show on May 20, 2015 at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was captured in a great live album released last September as part of the band’s From The Vault series. To me, the Stones rarely sounded as fresh as they did that night!

Do Mick and the boys have enough gas for another album? In April, NME  reported that Jagger was working on new material ahead of the Stones’ U.K. tour. He’s quoted as saying, “I’m just writing. It is mostly for the Stones at the moment.” Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, happy birthday!

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Yes, folks, it’s Saturday again, which kind of amazes me. Where did the week go? Anyway, Saturday means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music. Unlike most previous Best of What’s New installments, which largely featured artists who are new to me, this week presents a mix of familiar and new names. All picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (July 8).

The Deslondes/Ways & Means

Kicking things off today are The Deslondes, a group formed in 2013 in New Orleans, blending folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, R&B, American roots music, blues, gospel, country and zydeco – quite a stew! From their Apple Music profile: Bringing their own style of down-home, rootsy twang to the home of the blues, the Deslondes are a band of rough but tuneful troubadours who found their voice when they settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. The quintet members adopted their name from a street in the Lower Ninth’s Holy Cross neighborhood, and they found kindred spirits in another New Orleans outfit, Hurray for the Riff Raff. Between developing a loyal following at home and impressing audiences on the road opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff, word began to spread about the Deslondes, and New West Records signed them to a recording contract, releasing their self-titled debut album in June 2015. Two additional albums have since come out, including their latest Ways & Means. Here’s the title track – like their sound!

Wet/Canyon

Wet are an indie pop group from Brooklyn, New York. They were formed in 2012 by Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow who had met in the city while they were students at NYU and Cooper Union. In 2013, after they had gained some attention through local gigs and posting music online, they signed with boutique record label Neon Gold and subsequently with Columbia. Wet’s self-titled debut EP came out in May 2014. Their first full-length album Don’t You was released in January 2016. Canyon, written by Zutrau, is a track from the group’s fourth and new studio album Pink Room. I find Zutrau’s vocals quite soothing.

Journey/Come Away With Me

After releasing The Way We Used to Be in June 2021, their first new music in 10 years, Journey are back with a new album. Yes, I know, some folks dismiss them as shallow arena rock or pop rock. I fully stand behind the fact that I have always liked a good number of their songs. Formed as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former Santana members  Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums), the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves  Journey, and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry joined as lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. While following Perry’s departure in 1998 Journey’s success began to wane and the group has seen various lineup changes over the decades, they have hung on, with Schon remaining as the only original member. The current core lineup also includes Arnel Pineda (lead vocals) and Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals). Here’s Come Away With Me, a track off the new album Freedom, Journey’s 15th studio release – their first in 11 years since Eclipse from May 2011.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Goin’ Home

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with something really cool – well, at least it excites me. Neil Young, one of my all-time favorite artists, is back with yet another previously abandoned album. In 2000, Young convened his longtime backing band Crazy Horse at Toast recording studio in San Francisco. But according to this review in Uncut, things didn’t work out, and while after playing some shows in South America the band returned to the studio invigorated, Young wasn’t happy with the outcome. Instead, he recorded an album with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Titled Are You Passionate? and released in April 2002, it included some leftover songs from the record he abandoned, which appropriately is titled Toast. From Young’s website neilyoungarchives.com: For the past two decades, Toast has been whispered about in collectors’ circles in hushed tones, as Young has dropped pieces of information about it here and there, especially as it contains three never-before-released songs. Here’s one of them: Standing in the Light of Love, a great Neil rocker – I just love the man!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above and some additional songs sans Neil Young. Most of his music remains off the platform after Young asked Spotify to remove it in April, protesting the company’s hosting of controversial podcaster Joe Rogan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Uncut; Neil Young Archives; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday morning is upon us, at least in my neck of the woods (Central New Jersey, USA). Of course, this means it’s time to embark on another journey to celebrate music of the past six decades, six tunes at a time.

Julius Rodriguez/Gift of the Moon

This trip starts in the present. The immediate present. Julius Rodriguez, aka Orange Julius, is an American pianist, drummer and composer, whose music combines elements of jazz, avant-garde, R&B, hip-hop and pop. He started studying classical piano at a young age, or I should say at an even younger age – he’s only 23 years old! His father, a jazz connoisseur, introduced him to artists like Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. Rodriguez has been an active touring member of New York jazz combo Onyx Collective, and has worked as a sideman with numerous other artists like Macy Gray, Wynton Marsalis and Nick Hakim. And, yes, in addition to all of that, Rodriguez has been releasing music under his own name and the Orange Julius moniker since 2015. Here’s Gift of the Moon, off his new album Let Sound Tell All, which appeared on June 10.

John & Yoko & Plastic Ono Band/New York City

Now let’s kick it up with some great rock & roll. One artist I’ve always loved in this context is John Lennon. I recall reading somewhere that John said the rock & roll covers The Beatles played at the Star-Club in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool before they were famous were the best music they ever performed. Of course, John said many things about The Beatles after they had broken up, which seemed to dismiss their original music. While I don’t agree with some of his remarks, I think he’s right The Beatles were a great rock & roll band. John was a great rock & roll singer, which he not only demonstrated on his 1975 covers album Rock ‘n’ Roll but also on this tune: New York City, a track that appeared in June 1972 on a double LP titled Some Time in New York City, released as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s Memory – rolls right of your tongue! Go, Johnny, go – que pasa New York!

Creedence Clearwater Revival/Born On the Bayou

I don’t know about you, I’m in the mood for more rock. Let’s go to 1969 and the swamp. I trust Creedence Clearwater Revival, aka CCR, don’t need an introduction. If you’d like a crash course, check this AllMusic bio. Like most CCR tunes, Born On the Bayou was penned by the group’s leader John Fogerty. Yes, the man had pretty strong opinions, which he oftentimes imposed on his bandmates. And, yes, I feel sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve. But there’s no doubt John knew what he was doing. Born On the Bayou is the lead track of CCR’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which appeared in January 1969. It also was released separately as the B-side to the record’s single Proud Mary. In my humble opinion, Born On the Bayou should have been a separate single, and it should have been an A-side – man, I love this tune!

Asia/Heat of the Moment

And next, we find ourselves back in ’82. When I caught Heat of the Moment by Asia on the radio the other day, it reminded me of what a catchy tune it is. Growing up in the ’80s back in Germany, I loved much of the music that came out during that decade. I suppose you could say, well, it was in the heat of the moment! While I can’t deny a certain remaining weak spot, nowadays I’m no longer as fond of ’80s music. That being said, some songs are holding up pretty well to me. One is Asia’s debut single, co-written by the band’s John Wetton (lead vocals, bass) and Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals), which appeared on their eponymous debut album, released in March 1982. After they broke up in 1986, Asia reunited in 1989 and remain active to this day, with Downes as the only original member.

The Wallflowers/Shy of the Moon

Undoubtedly, being a music artist and offspring of Bob Dylan poses challenges. But I feel Jakob Dylan, a son of Bob and his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky), has done pretty well. While Jakob played guitar in various high school bands and was featured as a guitar player on his friends’ group’s eponymous 1987 album, Trash Matinee, he didn’t start focusing on a professional music career until 1989. Together with his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) he began forming a band called The Apples. After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. The Wallflowers are still around, though it’s now a music project by Dylan with a revolving cast of touring musicians. Here’s Shy of the Moon, the great openers of The Wallflowers’ above-noted eponymous debut album. Like all except one of the remaining tracks on the album, the tune was penned by Dylan.

Southern Avenue/Keep On

And once again another music trip has arrived at its final stop. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you probably recall Southern Avenue are one of my favorite contemporary bands. They are also among the nicest, down-to-earth professional musicians I’ve met. 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; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings 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. Here’s the great title track of their sophomore album Keep On, released in May 2019.

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

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube, Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I’d like to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors over the past 60 years or so, six tunes at a time. Let’s embark on today’s journey.

Wayne Shorter/Infant Eyes

Getting us underway today is soothing jazz by saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. In addition to being a sideman playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Shorter started his recording career as a bandleader in 1959 with Introducing Wayne Shorter – the first of more than 20 additional albums he has made in that role. In 1970, Shorter became a co-founder of jazz fusion band Weather Report. Here’s Infant Eyes, a beautiful track he composed for his sixth album Speak No Evil, which appeared in June 1966. After an incredible 60-year-plus recording career Shorter (88 years) is now retired.

John Cougar Mellencamp/Rain On The Scarecrow

Next, let’s go to August 1985 and the eighth studio album by heartland-turned-roots rock artist John Mellencamp, who I trust doesn’t need much of an introduction. Scarecrow was the record that brought Mellencamp on my radar screen. At the time, he was still known as John Cougar Mellencamp and nine years into his recording career that had started in 1976 with the Chestnut Street Incident, released as Johnny Cougar. His manager at the time, Tony Defries, had come up with this name, convinced an artist with the last name Mellencamp wouldn’t generate much interest. Mellencamp who hated the name kept “Cougar” through Scarecrow before finally adopting his real name John Mellencamp for the follow-on album The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. While Scarecrow is best known for its U.S. top 10 hits R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., Small Town and Lonely Ol’ Night, I decided to highlight Rain On The Scarecrow, a tune I’ve always loved. Mellencamp penned it together with his childhood friend and longtime writing partner George Green.

The Byrds/Tiffany Queen

Every time I hear the name The Byrds, my first thought is the jingle-jangle guitar sound perfected by Rickenbacker maestro guitarist and vocalist Roger McGuinn. From the very first moment I heard songs like Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want to Do and Turn! Turn! Turn! I was hooked, and I still get excited about the sound of a Rickenbacker to this day. While I knew there was more to The Byrds than a jangly guitar sound and great harmony singing, until the other day, I had not been aware of Tiffany Queen. Written by McGuinn, it became the opener of their 11th studio album Farther Along from November 1971. By that time, McGuinn was the band’s only original member, though the other co-founders Gene Clarke, David Crosby, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman reunited with McGuinn one more time for the group’s 1973 eponymous final album. Here’s Tiffany Queen, which compared to the three above-mentioned tunes has more of a straight rock sound- I like it!

Fats Domino/Blueberry Hill

Yes, it may seem a bit arbitrary to throw in Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. But then again, this goes to the central idea of The Sunday Six to feature music from different eras, in a zig-zag fashion. Plus, it’s a timeless classic! Written by Vincent Rose with lyrics by John L. Rooney, Blueberry Hill was first recorded by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra in May 1940, featuring Tommy Ryan on vocals. In 1940 alone, the tune was recorded five more times, including by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the most successful of the six versions, which reached no. 2 on the U.S. charts. But to this day, Blueberry Hill is best remembered by Fats Domino’s amazing rendition released in 1956. It was also included on Domino’s third studio album This Is Fats Domino!, which came out in December that year. It became his sixth no. 1 on the U.S. R&B chart and his biggest hit on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 (no. 2), then-called the Top 100. Feel free to groove along!

Peter Gabriel/Steam

Recently, fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day hosted another great installment of his Turntable Talk feature, which focused on the MTV music video era. Dave was kind enough to invite me back to participate, and as I noted in my contribution, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer would get my vote for best video. With the ex-Genesis lead vocalist on my mind, perhaps it’s not a big surprise a Gabriel tune is included in this Sunday Six. While I generally prefer So and his earlier albums, I decided to pick a song from Us, the follow-on to So, released in September 1992. Here’s Steam, a nice funky pop tune. It also appeared separately as a single in January 1993 and became Gabriel’s final significant chart success. This included a no. 1 in Canada and top 10 placements in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. In the U.S., the song steamed to no. 2 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. Songfacts notes similarities to Sledgehammer, including prominent horn lines and lyrics “loaded with sexual references.” I guess that’s a fair observation. It doesn’t bother me!

Sheryl Crow/Real Gone

And once again it’s time to wrap up. Since Sheryl Crow entered my radar screen in 1993 with All I Wanna Do, her breakthrough hit from her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. When she released Threads in August 2019, which I reviewed here, she noted the collaboration album was her final full-length release. Crow cited changed listening habits where most people build their own playlists rather than listen to albums. As sad as it is, it’s a fair point. Plus, Crow hasn’t retired from the music business and has since released a few additional singles. Plus, she’s currently on the road. Real Gone is a nice rock tune from the soundtrack of the 2006 animated film Cars, which appeared in May 2006. My son was four and a half years old at the time and liked the toy cars from Cars – dad liked them as well! Real Gone, which also was released in June 2006 as the second single from the soundtrack, was co-written by Crow and John Shanks who also produced the tune.

Last but least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above picks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Sheryl Crow website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Los Lobos

It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.

I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.

Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!

Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport ConventionRandy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.

In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major-label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. 

Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”

In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”

Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Songfacts

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! After another busy week on other fronts, I’m ready to time-travel to explore different flavors of the music world. Hope you’ll join me!

The Horace Silver Quartet/Serenade to a Soul Sister

Today’s journey starts in June 1968. This month saw some notable new music releases by artists like Aretha Franklin (Aretha Now), Iron Butterfly (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) and Pink Floyd (A Saucerful of Secrets). And Serenade to a Soul Sister, a studio album by The Horace Silver Quartet. The group was formed in 1956 by jazz pianist Horace Silver after he had left The Jazz Messengers which had co-founded with drummer Art Blakey in the early 1950s. The Horace Silver Quartet became Silver’s long-term combo he led into the ’80s. He continued to release albums until 1998. In 2007 and passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85. Here’s the groovy title track of the aforementioned record, composed by Silver. He was backed by Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Mickey Roker (drums).

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs/Maggie Mae

Ever since I first listened to power pop artist Matthew Sweet’s collaborations with Susanna Hoffs, who is best-known as a co-founder of The Bangles, I was hooked by how well their vocals blend in their covers of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s songs. Here’s their version of Rod Stewart classic Maggie Mae, which Stewart co-wrote with Martin Quittenton and recorded for his studio album Every Picture Tells a Story. Sweet and Hoffs included the tune on Under the Covers, Vol. 2, their second of three collaborative efforts that appeared in July 2009. The album featured covers of ’70s songs. From a vocal perspective, admittedly, there are perhaps more compelling examples of the Sweet/Hoffs harmony singing, but I just love that Rod Stewart tune!

Leon Russell/A Song For You

Our next stop takes us to March 1970 and the solo debut album by Leon Russell. Over a 60-year career that started as a 14-year-old in 1956, Russell proved to be a versatile artist spanning multiple genres, including rock & roll, country, gospel, bluegrass, R&B, southern rock, blues rock, folk, surf and Tulsa Sound. A Song For You from his eponymous solo debut album that came out in March 1970 is one of his best-known compositions. It’s probably not a coincidence the soulful ballad is Russell’s most popular song on Spotify. In addition to singing and playing the piano, he also provided the tune’s tenor horn part. The album featured multiple notable guests, including George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and most members of The Rolling Stones.

Sting/The Soul Cages

Ever since my wife and I recently considered seeing Sting who is currently on the road, the ex-Police frontman has been on my mind. I was going to pick a track off Ten Summoner’s Tales, my favorite solo album by the British artist but then decided to select the title track from predecessor The Soul Cages. Sting’s third full-length solo effort from January 1991 was a concept album focused on the death of his father. It helped him overcome a prolonged period of writer’s block he had developed after his dad’s passing in 1987. I always dug the rock vibe of the title track, which also yielded Sting his first Grammy award in 1992, for Best Rock Song.

Bruce Hornsby and The Range/Mandolin Rain

During a recent interview, Bonnie Raitt revealed that Bruce Hornsby is her favorite artist, citing his versatility if I recall it correctly. I guess this planted a bug in my brain to feature a track from the album that brought Hornsby on my radar screen in April 1986: The Way It Is, the first with The Range, his backing band during his early recording career. And what a debut it was it was for the singer-songwriter and pianist who had been active since 1974. Led by the huge success of the title track, The Way It Is achieved multi-Platinum status and helped the band the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1987. I pretty much love every tune on that album. Here’s the beautiful Mandolin Rain, co-written by Bruce Hornsby and his brother John Hornsby.

Quaker City Night Hawks/Suit in the Back

And once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our little music excursion. In the past, I’ve repeatedly recognized examples of great music suggestions Apple Music had served up. This time the credit needs to go to Spotify. That streaming platform has what I find is an interesting feature where once you’ve listened to all songs in a playlist you created they continue playing music, selecting tunes they feel fit with your playlist. And that’s exactly how I came across this tune, Suit in the Back, by Quaker City Night Hawks. I had never heard of the Texas band combing southern rock, country and blues, who released their debut ¡Torquila Torquila! in May 2011. Suit in the Back, written by the band’s vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Sam Anderson, is from their most recent album QCNH released in March 2019. Quaker City Night Hawks, who also include David Matsler (vocals, guitar) and Aaron Haynes (drums), certainly look like a band worthwhile to further out.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tune. Hope you enjoyed this Sunday’s mini-trip.

Sources: Wikipedia; Quaker City Night Hawks website; YouTube; Spotify