Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week flew by and I can’t believe we’re in June. Time to take a fresh look at new music releases. All of my picks for this revue are on albums released yesterday (June 3).

The Black Moods/Youth Is Wasted On The Young

Let’s kick it off with rock from Tempe, Ariz. The Black Moods, a trio of Josh Kennedy (vocals, guitar), Jordan Hoffman (bass) and Chico Diaz (drums), have been around since 2012. From their Apple Music profile: Combining a bluesy hard rock approach with a bit of grungy swagger, the Black Moods rose from regional Arizona bar band status to major-label touring act with the release of their sophomore LP, Medicine, in 2016. A classic guitar-bass-drums power trio, the band takes inspiration from a host of hard-hitting bands from Led Zeppelin to Foo Fighters, adding their own distinctive nuances to the rock & roll canon…Nicking their name from an offhand comment made by Ray Manzarek describing one of Jim Morrison’s stormy moods in a Doors documentary, they self-released their eponymous debut in 2012 and began establishing themselves as a road band, touring the country…gigs with acts like Jane’s Addiction, Shinedown, Everclear, and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger helped boost their profile over the next couple of years. This brings me to Into the Night, the fourth and latest studio album by The Black Moods and Youth Is Wast On the Young. Credited to the three members of the band and producer Johnny Karkazis, the album opener is a nice rocker!

Crobot/Better Times

Let’s throw in some more rock with Cobot who hail from Pottsville, Pa., a small city about 50 miles west of Allentown. Formed in mid-2011, the band currently includes co-founders Brandon Yeagley (lead vocals, harmonica) and Chris Bishop (guitar, backing vocals), together with Tim Peugh (bass) and Dan Ryan (drums). AllMusic characterizes their music as “rooted in groove-laden, fuzz-drenched hard rock delivered with greasy swagger and reckless abandon.” The group’s new album, their fourth, is titled Feel This. “This is the record we’ve been wanting to do ever since we started,” Yeagley stated on the band’s website. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as a live act,” he explained, adding they recorded 16 songs live in-studio in just 21 days. How about a sample? Here’s Better Times, co-written by Yeagly, Bishop and Ryan. This is fun when you’re in the mood for kickass rock!

Andrew Bird/Faithless Ghost

Time to take it down a notch. Andrew Bird doesn’t fit well into a specific genre. From his AllMusic bio: A virtuosic violinist, singer, songwriter, composer, actor, and expert whistler, Andrew Bird’s career has undergone a variety of stylistic shifts since his early days playing jazz and swing music. While folk and roots music has always played a part in his music, he’s also conversant in contemporary pop and indie rock, and he’s consistently shown a willingness to experiment, even within his more traditionally oriented projects. Bird has been active since 1992 and has released 16 studio albums to date, which includes his latest, Inside Problems. Here’s Faithless Ghost, which like all except one of the 10 other tracks on the album was penned by Bird. It’s an unusual yet catchy tune. In addition to singing, Bird also plays guitar and violin. I like the latter in particular.

Lettuce/RVA Dance

My last pick for this week is new music by American jazz and funk band Lettuce, who I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, the group was formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, the members reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, their debut album Outta There appeared. And outta there they’ve been, with seven additional albums having since appeared. This includes their latest release Unify. Check out opener RVA Dance. I could picture James Brown singing to this funky groove. But it’s pretty cool as is, sans vocals!

And, yes, before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Crobot website; YouTube; Spotify

Keb’ Mo’s Latest Feel-Good Album Comes At the Right Time

On January 21, Keb’ Mo’ released his latest studio album Good to Be…, and I finally got to spend some time with it. I’ve been enjoying the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter whose real name is Kevin Roosevelt Moore since May 2017 and the release of TajMo, his fantastic collaboration album with Taj Mahal. Good to Be… is a warm-sounding feel-good album that in my view couldn’t have come out at a better time. I love it!

In case you’re planning to listen to Good to Be…, you should realize this isn’t a blues album, even though it’s categorized that way. Based on what I’ve heard to date, Keb’ Mo’ has never been a “hardcore” blues artist. While some of his music undoubtedly has blues elements, it also includes soul, folk, roots, Americana and country.

Good to Be… comes less than two years after Oklahoma, a roots-oriented album from June 2019 I reviewed here at the time. In October 2019, Mo’ also released Moonlight, Mistletoe & You, a collection of Christmas tunes I haven’t heard.

A review in Glide Magazine notes Good to Be… has various producers. In addition to Mo’, they include Vince Gill, Tom Hambridge and Keith Secor, who each also play on certain tracks. Among other guests are Darius Rucker (of Hootie & the Blowfish), Americana string group Old Crow Medicine Show and blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. I’d say it’s time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with the opener Good to Be (Home Again), one of the tunes co-produced by Vince Gill. Evidently, it’s a song about Mo’s return to Compton, the Southern California city where he was born in October 1951. The tune’s positive vibe sets the tone for most of the album. Here’s the official video.

Sunny And Warm is one of my early favorites. I dig the warm and laid back sound of this tune. “Basically, ‘Sunny and Warm’ is my older self talking to my younger self, looking back at those summer days of beaches and dreams of finding love,” Mo’ said about the tune. “I would never want to be a teenager again, and I won’t, because there’s no going back.”

On The Medicine Man, which features Old Crow Medicine Show, things do get more serious and the lyrics are darker with obvious references to the pandemic. “I was taking some time out at our house in California with my family,” Mo’ recalled. “We were locked in and staying away from people. Doing Zoom writing appointments, watching Dr Fauci on TV doing interviews, and it sparked some ideas. This was one of those songs that just came to me, and quickly. I woke up early one morning and wrote the whole thing in about 15 minutes.”

Did we need another rendition of Lean On Me? Under normal circumstances, I would have said ‘no.’ But with a pandemic that only in the U.S. has killed about one million people and now war raging in Europe, these aren’t normal times. Granted when Mo’ decided to record this beautiful Bill Withers song, one of the tracks co-produced by Tom Hambridge, the Russian 21st-century czar wannabe had not unleashed his reckless assault on the Ukrainian people. Even without the war, Lean On Me was the right song at the right time. “What makes this version special to me is the contribution from my lifelong friend, the Freedom Rider, Ernest “Rip” Patton, who passed on this year,” Mo’ said. “This was the last time I got to record his booming bass voice. I’m gonna miss calling on my brothers.”

Let’s finish with a nice car song: ’62 Chevy, another tune co-produced by Mo’ and Gill…I got my hands on the wheel, Y’all/Rolling steady/Rubber on the road, in my ’62 Chevy/ My ’62 Chevy gonna take you to town/ I got the dog in the back baby/ Top down (Whoa, Yeah)

Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify.

The final word shall belong to Keb’ Mo’. “I may be turning 70,” Mo’ says in his bio posted on his website [actually, he already did, on October 2, 2021 – CMM]. “But I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I’m still out there going for it every single day.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Keb’ Mo’ website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

John Mellencamp Delivers Warm Roots Music and Cranky Lyrics on New Album

“I’m not for everybody,” John Mellencamp told NPR about his new album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack – a fair observation, and I say this as a longtime fan. I also saw this statement in some of the other reviews I read about the record that was released on Friday, January 21. It’s evident to me the heartland former straight rocker who turned 70 last October has found his sweet spot with roots music. He gradually embraced that style starting with The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains one of my favorite Mellencamp records to this day. If you dig his previous records like Plain Spoken (2014) and Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, I think it’s a safe bet you will like his new album – unless perhaps you expect something new.

Strictly A One-Eyed Jack was written and produced by Mellencamp at his own Belmont Mall Studios in Bloomington, Ind., notes his website. His 24th studio album, the first with new original songs since the above-mentioned Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, includes three collaborations with Bruce Springsteen. One of the tunes, Wasted Days, was first released as an upfront single on December 10, 2021. I covered it here at the time. Overall, I can hear some musical and lyrical traces from other artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Earle and Woody Guthrie, and of course Mellencamp’s familiar style, including a raspy voice shaped by more than 50 years of smoking.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs starting with the opener I Always Lie to Strangers. Like most other tunes on the album, it was solely written by Mellencamp. During an interview with Forbes.com, he elaborated on the title: “The average person hears 300 or 400 lies a day and will tell 150 himself and not even know it. ‘Cause you turn the news on, you get lies. You turn advertising on, you get lies. You talk to people, they lie to you. Even as simple as, “How are you doing today?” “I’m doing great.” No, they’re not, but they say it anyway. So it was just that simple of the thought that led to that song.” While I don’t know the source of Mellencamp’s highly inflated-looking stats, I guess his general point is legit.

The title of the bluesy I’m A Man That Worries pretty much says it all. Here’s the first verse for illustration:

I am a man that worries
Worries occupy my brain
I’m worried about tomorrow

I worry about today
I’m worried about the words I’m hearing
I’m worried about all this bad news
I know it’s a curse
That ain’t ever gonna go away

So how about some of these collaborative tunes with Springsteen? I’m skipping Wasted Days since as noted above, I already wrote about it previously. Here’s one of the other two tunes: Did You Say Such A Thing. I love the rock feel Springsteen’s guitar-playing adds. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, he also plays the solo. Hearing the two sing together sounds pretty cool as well. During the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp characterized the collaboration as “quite by accident.” He said, “For my entire career I was always like the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. And Bruce and I have known each other for years…But we did a rainforest thing for Sting…And all of a sudden he was like my big brother, and he treated me like I was his sibling, and I treated him with respect. And then we became really good friends, and it just kind of happened. He came to Indiana, he stayed at the house. It was great.” If only all accidents would have such great outcomes!

Gone So Soon surprised me a bit with its jazzy feel. I suppose this proves that while John Mellencamp clearly has become a roots-oriented artist, he isn’t a one-trick pony. Based on credits available on Discogs, the great piano part of this tune is played by Troye Kinnett, while Joey Tartell provides the beautiful trumpet solo. I also love the backing vocals by Merritt Lear. It all gets perfectly complemented with Mellencamp’s rough vocals. Check it out – very moody!

Here’s the title track. When asked, ‘Who is the one-eyed Jack to you?’, during the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp explained, “You can’t write about yourself all the time. But I have grown to be a good observer and good listener, so I hear what other people think and what people say. Then I’m open to suggestions, which means that sometimes I’ll be doing something and a voice in my head will go, “Well, you better write this down.” And I think, “Ah, f**k I’m painting, I don’t want to write this down.” And I’m like, “You need to write this down, John.” And that happened quite a bit with this record.” BTW, that one-eyed Jack portrait of Mellencamp was painted by Speck Mellencamp, his younger son with his ex-wife, the model Elaine Irwin. John Mellencamp is an avid painter as well. His artwork has been exhibited numerous times, including at museums like the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

The final track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer. A Life Full Of Rain is another collaborative recording with Springsteen. Unlike the two other songs, this tune is on the quieter side. Lyrically, it’s yet another not exactly cheerful song.

Following is how Mellencamp summed up the album to Forbes.com: “I’m not for everyone anymore. I was someplace the other night and some guy came up to me and he said, “You know, music is just not the same.”And he said, “It’s just not the same. And there’s not any good songwriters anymore.” And I went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” I go, “Wait a minute. Have you heard my last record?” [Mellencamp clearly doesn’t lack self-confidence, though I agree with him – CMM] He goes, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Bruce’s last record?” He goes, “No”. I go, “Have you heard Dylan’s last record?” He went, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Woody Guthrie’s last record?” He said, “No.” I said, “Maybe there’s still music out there. You’re just not listening. There’s the problem. You’re not listening. It’s still being made. It’s still out there, but you’re just not listening. You grew up. Too bad for you.”

I don’t want to wrap up this review without acknowledging the other musicians on the album, who do a beautiful job: Music director Andy York (acoustic and electric guitar, autoharp, banjo, bass, backing vocals), Mike Wanchic (electric guitar, backing vocals), Miriam Sturm (violin), Jon Gunnell (bass) and Dane Clark (drums, percussion) – the same musicians who backed up Mellencamp on his two previous albums. In fact, Sturm has played on all of his records since Mr. Happy Go Lucky from September 1996. York and especially Wanchic go back with Mellencamp even further. For York, it’s until Dance Naked, Mellencamp’s 13th studio album that appeared in June 1994. And for Wanchic the oldest Mellencamp album I could verify is Uh-huh from October 1983. These are remarkable long-term relationships in an ego-driven industry that’s notorious for volatility.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; NPR; Forbes.com; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube; Spotify

John Hiatt’s New Collaboration Album with Jerry Douglas is a Blues-Oriented Americana Gem

In late March, I spotted and covered Mississippi Phone Booth, a tune from John Hiatt’s then-upcoming new collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. Leftover Feelings since came out last Friday, May 21. While based on my still relatively limited knowledge of Hiatt’s previous catalog he doesn’t break new ground, I love the sound and high-quality handcrafted feel of the music, and feel confident enough to say if you dig Hiatt you’ll like this album!

As I noted in my previous post, while Hiatt and Douglas had known each other for years, the album marked the first time they recorded music together. Initially, Leftover Feelings was supposed to be released in April of last year. Like in so many other cases, COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into everything. But there was one upside.

Hiatt and Douglas recorded the album at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the shutdown, which they otherwise couldn’t have done. Usually, the space is used by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for public tours. The cool thing is the storied studio is the very same place where they likes of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings once recorded.

From left: Jerry Douglas, Daniel Kimbro & John Hiatt

“The room’s just got a feel to it,” Hiatt told Paste. “My mind started pedaling back to when I was a little boy hearing ‘Blue Christmas’ every Christmas and ‘Love Me Tender,’ and all of the great songs recorded there just kinda blew my mind.”

“The whole time you’re there, when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about who has been in that room and played,” added Douglas. “All these great music producers and musicians walked in and out through that room, and it was their playhouse.” One can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to record in this famous place!

This brings me to the musicians playing on the album. Apart from Hiatt (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Douglas (Dobro, lap steel guitar, backing vocals), they include Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). In addition, there’s Carmella Ramsey (backing vocals). ‘So who’s playing the drums?’ you might ask yourself. Well, nobody – frankly, there’s no drummer needed in this case!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s opener Long Black Electric Cadillac. Like all of the 10 other tracks, the song was written by Hiatt. As this review by The Associated Press cleverly observed, the tune introduces “a new musical form — the 12-bar blues gone green.” A little excerpt from the lyrics helps illustrate the point: I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I’m runnin’ subterranean air conditioning/And a full electron photo array in my backyard…

While Mississippi Phone Booth is one of my early favorite tunes, I’m skipping it here, given I covered it before and go right to All the Lilacs in Ohio. It’s an acoustic stripped back version of a song Hiatt previously recorded for The Tiki Bar is Open, a studio album released on September 11, 2001.

I’m in Ashville is “a song about a guy who’s left his lover in all but his mind and heart,” Hiatt told Relix. “Jerry’s aching steel guitar floating above the rolling fiddle and the pulse of the bass and rhythm just expands on the dubious decision this fellow has made.” I love this tune. The warm sound is just beautiful!

On Little Goodnight things become slightly more electric, which is good for sound variety. It’s another tune Hiatt had released previously, in this case on his 2012 compilation Collected.

Let’s do one additional track: Keen Rambler. The above AP review characterizes the song as “spirited” (agree), comparing it to “a Chuck Berry car song, but it’s about walking.” Less sure about that. What I do know is I like the tune and that’s good enough for me to highlight it in this post.

Leftover Feelings is Hiatt’s 26th album and follows The Eclipse Sessions, his second live album from 2018. It was produced by Douglas and mastered by engineer Paul Blakemore. The album appears on New West Records, Hiatt’s eighth release on that label based in Nashville, Tenn. and Athens, Ga.

Sources: Wikipedia; Paste; Associated Press; Relix; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. It’s another Sunday, which means it’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. The Sunday Six is where I feel I can stretch out, featuring all types of music from different decades. This new installment illustrates my point. It includes genres like instrumental pop, jazz pop, roots rock, country rock and blues rock, and touches on the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2010s. Are you ready to embark on a little music journey?

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Let’s get in the mood with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana. He may not be the most sophisticated guitarist from a strictly technical standpoint, but his tone is just unbelievable. I know of no other guitarist who sounds like Santana, and that’s what ultimately matters, not whether you’re a fretboard acrobat. While I generally most love his classic period that spans his first three albums, the tune I picked for this post, Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile), is from Moonflower released in October 1977. The double album features both studio and live tracks. She’s Not There, a nice cover of a song originally recorded by The Zombies in the mid-’60s, became a top 30 hit single for Santana. Europa, co-written by Carlos Santana and Tom Coster, first appeared on the March 1976 studio record Amigos. I’m more familiar with Moonflower, so I’m going with the live version here. Listen to this majestic guitar sound – so good!

Gino Vannelli/Brother to Brother

I don’t recall seeing any posts by my fellow bloggers about Gino Vannelli. While the Canadian singer-songwriter has been around as a recording artist since 1973, I suspect he may not necessarily be a household name. That being said, I assume most folks have heard some of his hits, such as the ballads I Just Wanna Stop (1978) and Living Inside Myself (1981), as well as the pop rock tunes Black Cars (1984) and Wild Horses (1987). Vannelli remains active to this day and has released 17 studio records, three live albums and one greatest hits compilation, according to Wikipedia. Brother to Brother is the amazing title track of his sixth studio album that came out in September 1978. While I Just Wanna Stop became the big hit off that album, the jazz-oriented Brother to Brother is far better. Written by Vannelli, the tune reaches the sophistication of Steely Dan’s Aja album, in my humble opinion. If you haven’t listened to this track before and like the Dan, check it out. You might be surprised!

Bonnie Raitt/Love Letter

Those who are familiar with my music taste may wonder what took me so long to feature Bonnie Raitt, one of favorite artists, in The Sunday Six. I don’t really have a good answer other than ‘better late than never!’ My long-time music buddy from Germany introduced me to Raitt in the late ’80s. I guess it must have been her 10th studio album Nick of Time, which to me remains a true gem to this day. While Raitt mostly relies on other songwriters, I love her renditions and her cool slide guitar playing. She also strikes me as no B.S., which is certainly not a very common quality in the oftentimes ego-driven music business. Nick of Time is perhaps best known for the single Thing Called Love, though according to Wikipedia, its chart success was moderate. The John Hiatt tune reached no. 86 on the UK Singles Chart and missed the mainstream chart in the U.S. altogether – though it did climb to no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. My pick from the album is Love Letter, written by another Bonnie, American singer-songwriter Bonnie Hayes. I simply love everything about this tune – the groove, the singing and Raitt’s sweet slide guitar sound.

John Mellencamp/Under the Boardwalk

John Mellencamp is another artist I’ve listened to for many years. If I recall it correctly, it was his eighth studio album Scarecrow released in August 1985 with tunes like Small Town and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. that started my long and ongoing journey exploring the music by the heartland and roots rocker from Seymour, Ind. Sure, I could have selected a track from that album. Or from the excellent successor The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains among my all-time favorite Mellencamp records. Instead, I decided to highlight an album that isn’t as well known but still great, in my view: Rough Harvest. Released in August 1999 (that month appears to be a favorite for his records!), the album features a collection of alternate, roots-oriented versions of Mellencamp originals and covers. Under the Boardwalk, of course, falls into the latter category. The first version of the song I ever heard was the great rendition by The Rolling Stones. Co-written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, it was first recorded by The Drifters in 1964 and became a no. 4 U.S. hit for the American doo-wop, R&B and soul vocal group. I think Mellencamp’s rootsy version takes the tune to a new level – just love it!

Cordovas/This Town’s a Drag

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name Cordovas may sound familiar; or perhaps you’ve heard otherwise of this Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. They first entered my radar screen in the summer of 2018 when I caught them during a free concert in a park not far from my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing proved to be an immediate attraction. So was their sound that reminds me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat. Led by bassist Joe Firstman, Cordovas have been around for more than 10 years. This Town’s a Drag is the opener of That Santa Fe Channel, the band’s third studio album from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Jimi Hendrix/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

I guess the time has come again to wrap up another Sunday Six installment. Let’s make it count with a smoking rocker by Jimi Hendrix who I trust needs no introduction. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is the fiery closer of Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in October 1968. Like most other tracks on this double album, the tune was written by Hendrix. The clip is taken from Live in Maui, one of the many post-mortem releases from the Hendrix archives. It captures an outdoor performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on July 30, 1970 on the Hawaiian island, only six weeks prior to Jimi’s untimely death on September 18 that year. Unlike Electric Ladyland, the band’s line-up during the gig featured Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding. Mitch Mitchell was on drums, just like on the studio album. The 2-CD and 3-LP set came out on November 20, 2020, along with a video documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui. It has received mixed reviews due to less than ideal recording conditions. I still think it’s cool to actually watch Hendrix in action rather than just listening to his blistering performance.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Steve Earle’s New Album J.T. is Warm Tribute to His Late Son Justin Townes Earle

…I wish I could have held you when/You left this world like I did then/Last time we spoke was on the phone/Then we hung up and now you’re gone/Last thing I said, “I love you”/Your last words to me were, “I love you too”…

On January 4, Steve Earle released his new album J.T., backed by his longtime band The Dukes. The background story behind this tribute to his late son, the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, is quite sad. On August 20 last year, Justin passed away at the age of 38 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine. January 4 would have been his 39th birthday.

The thought of losing a child at such a young age is horrible enough. But there’s more to the story. The two men had a complicated relationship. Steve left Justin and his mother Carol Ann Hunter Earle when the boy was just three years old. Between music, touring, drug addiction and serving prison time for drug possession, Steve Earle was out of his son’s life for the next 12 years.

Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999.
Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999. Credit: Sara Sharpe

By the time Justin, whose middle name was in honor of Steve’s musical mentor Townes van Zandt, reunited and lived with his then-sober father in 1994, he had developed a drug addiction as well. The two men developed a close musical relationship, and for some time, Justin played in his father’s band. But according to a review in American Songwriter, he was kicked out after his drug addiction had deteriorated and essentially prevented him from functioning.

American Songwriter notes Justin’s forced exit caused the distance to Steve to grow again, though apparently, they made up in recent years. Unlike his dad, Justin wasn’t able to become sober despite multiple rehab attempts. Yet he still managed to have a music career that included stints in Nashville bands the Swindlers and the Distributors, and a solo recording career that encompassed an EP and eight studio albums between February 2007 and May 2020.

Time for some music. Ten of the 11 tracks on J.T., titled after Justin’s nickname as a child, are songs by Justin Townes Earle, of which he co-wrote two with Scotty Melton. The closer Last Words was penned by Steve Earle. Let’s kick it off with the opener I Don’t Care, a tune from Justin’s debut EP Yuma released in February 2007.

Far Away in Another Town is the closer from Justin’s first full-length solo album The Good Life that appeared in March 2008. It’s one of the two songs he co-wrote with Melton.

Another tune from The Good Life that certainly took on a new meaning is Turn Out My Lights. This also happens to be the second of the aforementioned co-writes with Melton.

Harlem River Blues is the title track of Justin’s third studio album. Released in September 2010, it became his first to enter the Billboard 200, reaching no. 47. It also climbed to no. 3 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the above noted closer Last Words, the most personal track on the album. The lyrical excerpt in the beginning of the post is from that song.

Recording the album “wasn’t cathartic as much as it was therapeutic,” Earle told The New York Times. “I made the record because I needed to.” The Times also noted Earle went through Justin’s catalog together with his other son Ian to select the 10 tracks.

I wasn’t familiar at all with Justin’s music. Based on listening to the original tunes, Justin’s versions for the most part were more stripped back than the covers on this album. Much of my initial attraction to J.T. came from the warm sound. Which brings me to the fine musicians of The Dukes: Chris Masterson (guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (fiddle), Ricky Ray Jackson (pedal steel guitar), Jeff Hill (bass) and Brad Pemberton (drums).

“It felt positive,” Earle’s longtime recording engineer Ray Kennedy told The New York Times, referring to the recording sessions. “It felt like we were taking an expression of somebody’s art and creativity and giving it back to the world in a different package.”

The last word shall belong to Steve Earle: “I’ve never loved anything in this world more than him,” he said. “I was connected to him in ways that, you know — he’s my first born, he did the same thing I did and we both had this disease.”

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; The New York Times; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sonny Landreth/Blacktop Run

Sonny Landreth is one of various top-notch guitarists I could have included in my recent slide guitar feature. This is what prompted me to check what Landreth who is also known as “the King of Slydeco” has been up to. Well, it turns out he released his 14th solo album Blacktop Run in February this year. While it’s classified as blues, I’d call it a tasty rootsy gumbo that includes flavors of blues, swamp rock, zydeco and jazz rock.

Before I get to it, first a few words about the man. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Landreth was born February 1, 1951, in Canton, Mississippi, and his family lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for a few years before settling in Lafayette, Louisiana. Landreth began playing guitar after a long tenure with the trumpet. His earliest inspiration came from Scotty Moore, the guitarist from Elvis Presley’s band, but as time went on, he learned from the recordings of musicians and groups like Chet Atkins and the Ventures. As a teen, Landreth began playing with his friends in their parents’ houses.

Sonny Landreth: "How Not to Sound Awful" | WWNO

After his first professional gig with accordionist Clifton Chenier in the ’70s (where he was the only white guy in the Red Beans & Rice Revue for awhile), Landreth struck out on his own, but not before he recorded two albums for the Blues Unlimited label out of Crowley, Louisiana, Blues Attack in 1981 and Way Down in Louisiana in 1985…The second of those two albums got him noticed by some record executives in Nashville, which in turn led to his recording and touring work with John Hiatt.

That led to still more work with John Mayall, who recorded Landreth’s radio-ready “Congo Square.” More recently, he’s worked with New Orleans bandleader and pianist Allen Toussaint (who guests on several tracks on South of I-10, as does Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler). Eric Clapton has called Landreth one of the most advanced guitarists in the world, notes Wikipedia, and one of the most under-appreciated. Landreth’s accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year (Americana Music Association, 2005) and a 2016 Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener and title track. It’s among the eight of the ten tacks that were written by Landreth.

Mule is a catchy up-tempo rocker that makes you want to dance. It features great slide guitar and accordion work.

Groovy Goddess is one of four instrumentals on the album. And groovy it certainly is! Its improvisational nature gives it a jazzy feel. And there’s more of Landreth’s amazing slide guitar work.

Two tracks on the album were written by Steve Conn, who also played electric piano, organ and accordion. Somebody Gotta Make a Move is one of them. Landreth’s website notes the newly arranged song features a guitar tuning Landreth developed but had not used in the studio.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Many Worlds, another instrumental.

Most of Blacktop Run’s tracks were recorded live in-studio at the storied Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, La., where artists like Dr. John, B.B. King and Taj Mahal are among past clients. In addition to Conn, Landreth was backed by David Ranson (bass) and Brian Brignac (drums).

The album was co-produced by Landreth, R.S. Field and Tony Daigletto. Field previously co-produced three of Landreth’s other albums. “His [Field’s] brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth stated. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”

He added, “All told, the different elements of this project came together and I’m really happy about it. Blacktop Run is probably the most eclectic recording I’ve done. And sonically, I think this is the best album we’ve ever made.” While I haven’t explored any of Landreth’s other albums, I know one thing: Blacktop Run is excellent and makes me want to hear more of his catalog.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sonny Landreth website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

While sadly my time to blog and read posts by my fellow music bloggers has been very limited over the past couple of weeks, the good news is the music never stops. It’s great to see this includes decent new releases. I’m particularly excited about new music by Bruce Springsteen, one of my all-time favorite artists. This installment of Best of What’s New also features two great blues artists and a soulful roots/Americana singer-songwriter. Let’s get to it.

Bruce Springsteen/Letter to You

Bruce Springsteen announced a new album with the E Street Band on September 10. Letter to You, his 20th album, is slated for October 23. The Boss and his band mates recorded it at his home studio in just five days. The album features nine recently written tracks and three re-recorded but previously unreleased songs from the ’70s. Springsteen’s website characterized Letter to You as a rock album fueled by the band’s heart-stopping, house-rocking signature sound. Apparently, Springsteen is pretty upbeat about it. “I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he stated. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs… It turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.” Here’s the official video of the title track. Sounds like classic Boss to me and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!

Al Basile/Second Wind

When it comes to the blues, you rarely can go wrong, in my completely unbiased opinion. So I was a happy camper when I came across Second Wind by Al Basile – yet another artist I don’t believe I had heard of before, even though he’s been around for close to 50 years! According to his website, Basile began his musical career as a cornet player with Roomful of Blues in 1973, and has worked with the Duke Robillard Band as a songwriter and recording member since 1990, appearing on twelve CDs and a DVD; his songs have been used in films and television and covered by such artists as Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls, and bands New Jump Blues and the Knickerbocker All Stars. He has fifteen solo blues and roots CDs out under his own name, the majority having reached the top 15 on the Living Blues airplay charts in their year of release. They have all been produced by Robillard and feature his guitar playing and many former Roomful members...He is also a prize-winning poet, with two published books, 2011’s A Lit House and 2017’s Tonesmith. But unlike Brian May, Basile is not an astrophysicist – what an underachiever! Second Wind is a tune from Basile’s new album Last Hand, which appeared on August 21.

Kat Riggins/No Sale

And what’s even better than the blues? Of course, more blues, especially when it’s delivered by a great vocalist and rocks! From the website of Kat Riggins, a blues artist born in the blues capital of the world Miami: Inspired by the variety and abundance of music in her parents’ collection, it makes sense that her own music is peppered with hints of R&B, soul, country, gospel, hip-hop, and rock-n-roll. Make no mistake; however, Kat Riggins is undeniably a BLUES WOMAN! She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. While obviously influenced by those icons, Mrs. Riggins has a voice and delivery all her own. Full of power, rasp and grit she can belt out one of her contemporary blues originals one minute, then deliver a tender, sultry standard the next. Based on Discogs, Riggins released her debut Lilly Rose in 2014. No Sale is a nice blues rocker off her new and fourth album Cry Out that appeared on August 14. It’s got a bit of a ZZ Top vibe. As noted in a review on Rock & Blues Muse, the album was produced by blues veteran and songwriter Mike Zito, co-founder of the record’s label Gulf Coast Records, who also played guitar.

Oliver Wood/Soul of This Town

Soul of This Town is the debut solo single by guitarist Oliver Wood, who since 2004 has been playing together with his brother Chris Wood (upright bass) and Jano Rix (drums) in roots/Americana trio The Wood Brothers. Prior to that, he was part of Tinsley Ellis’ touring lineup and headed his own band King Johnson that released six albums over a 12-year span. Evidently, here’s another artist who has been around for 30-plus years and had escaped my attention until now. With The Wood Brothers, he has released six albums to date. Wood co-wrote Soul of This Town with Phil Cook, a singer-songwriter from Raleigh, N.C. The single was released on August 21. I can also recommend the bluesy B-side The Battle is over (But the War Goes On).

Sources: Wikipedia; Bruce Springsteen website; Al Basile website; Kat Riggins website; Discogs; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube

Larkin Poe Largely Stick to Their Great Old Guns on New Album

“Self Made Man” mostly features sister act’s familiar brand of roots-oriented blues rock

While breaking new ground can be exciting, sometimes it makes sense to stick to your old guns, especially if your fire power is as mighty as the raw and high-energy roots-oriented blues rock by Larkin Poe. And that’s pretty much what sisters Megan Lovell and Rebecca Lovell have decided to do on their fifth full-length studio album Self Made Man, which appeared today.

I really dig Larkin Poe, so if you’ve visited the blog in recent weeks, chances are you’ve seen some of my previous posts. If you’re new to this band, which at its core is the Lovell sisters, and would like some background, you can find it here. Without further ado, let’s get to some music.

The album kicks off with what essentially is the title track: She’s a Self Made Man. Co-written by the sisters, this tasty blues rocker nicely sets the stage for the record. Typically, Rebecca takes the role of the front woman, providing lead vocals and guitar, while her 2-year-older sister Megan plays smoking lap steel fill-ins and sings backing vocals. Here’s the official video.

I’m going to skip the next three tunes – Holy Ghost Fire, Keep Diggin’ and Back Down South – since I already previously covered them here, here and here. Together with the title track, each of these songs already appeared as singles leading up to the release of the album. Instead, here’s Tears of Blue to Gold, another co-write by the sisters, which illustrates Larkin Poe isn’t a pure breed southern blues rock one-trick pony but also blends in other music styles – in this case country rock.

Every Bird That Flies introduces some keyboards, which I understand are played by Rebecca as well. This adds some welcome variety to the soundscape. The other standout to me here is Megan’s lap steel work. The sisters co-wrote this tune with singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin, who like them is based in Nashville, Tenn. It’s got a cool vibe.

Next up: Scorpion written by Rebecca. This tune has a great riff and a nice driving beat. Check it out!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Easy Street. Co-written by Rebecca and Megan with Tony Esterly, another Nashville-based singer-songwriter, the tune is an interesting mix of gospel, country and blues. It’s also a nice illustration that Megan and Rebecca sound great harmonizing together.

According to this review by Glide Magazine, other musicians on the album include Tarka Layman (bass on three tunes) and Kevin McGowan (percussion). In addition, blues rock artist Tyler Bryant plays lead guitar on Back Down South.

Like Larkin Poe’s predecessor Venom & Faith from November 2018, which by the way topped the Billboard Blues Albums chart and received a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Self Made Man is self-produced by the sisters and appears on the band’s own label Tricki-Woo Records. While I think it’s fair to say the latter may explain the relatively basic sound quality, it does give the album a bare bones character that I find charming.

I’m going to leave you with another nice clip of a recent Behind the Mic live streaming performance presented by American Songwriter. It gives you a great idea about these two engaging ladies and their infectious energy together.

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; American Songwriter; You Tube

California Roots Collective Dustbowl Revival Just Released Intriguing New Album

This year is still young, and I feel my journey to discover new music is off to a promising start. Is it coincidence or, dare I say it, am I more willing to step out of my all too comfortable ’60s and ’70s bubble? I suppose it’s a little bit of both, but no reason to start sounding like a shrink and go deeper into self-analysis. At the end of the day, all that matters is the music. And the music by Collective Dustbowl on their just-released new album Is It You, Is It Me sounds intriguing to my ears.

Until earlier today, I had never heard of this band that hails from Los Angeles beachfront neighborhood Venice and has been around for close to 12 years. Is It You, Is It Me, which came out yesterday, is their fourth full-fledged studio album. Their catalog also includes a “super EP” and a live album. So who are these guys?

According to their website, Dustbowl Revival has always been about pushing the boundaries of what American roots music can be. In many ways, they could have continued creating joyful, booty-shaking songs and cut-to-heart folk-rock ballads that lift up their transcendent live shows – and mining new energetic material from the place where folk music, funk and soul meet.

But the band’s newest album, Is It You, Is It Me, coming January 31 via their own Medium Expectations label and Nashville’s Thirty Tigers, is something different entirely. Produced by Sam Kassirer [Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter, David Ramirez] and engineered by Brian Joseph [Bon Iver, Local Natives, Sufjan Stevens], it represents the latest stage in a band that never stops evolving and refuses to stand still.

Dustbowl Revival
Dustbowl Revival (from left): Connor Vance, Matt Rubin, Liz Beebe, Zachary (Zach) Lupetin, Ulf Bjorlin and Josh Heffernan

This is my first exposure to Dustbowl Revival, so I can’t tell how the new album is different from their previous releases. But as a semi-retired hobby musician and a music fan for more than 40 years, I’m confident enough to state I know good music when I hear it. And what I hear are catchy songs, nice harmony vocals and solid musician craftsmanship. Of course, I also realize assessing music is very subjective.

Dustbowl Revival’s core members are founder Zach Lupetin (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Liz Beebe (lead vocals, ukulele), Josh Heffernan (drums), Connor Vance (violin), Ulf Bjorlin (trombone) and Matt Rubin (trumpet). So, how does a band with this interesting sound like? Let’s get to some music to find out!

While their website doesn’t make it clear who is writing their music, I found this document suggesting all tunes are credited to the entire band. But I’m not sure this is 100 percent accurate since all songs co-credit Daniel Mark, who according to the website was their long-time co-writer and mandolin player, who co-wrote “several” of the songs and recently left. Their bassist James Klopfleisch exited as well, but none of these departures appear to have prevented the band from recording a great album. For the recording sessions, he was replaced by Yosmel Montejo.

Take a listen to the opener Dreaming, apparently a tune about stage anxiety. I dig the harmony vocals, which sometimes remind me a bit of Fleetwood Mac (check out the lines, Well, I lost all control/and I don’t know how to get it back) and the horn work on that one in particular.

Enemy has a cool brass groove and features compelling vocals by Beebe. Yes, it’s pretty pop-oriented, but I don’t have a problem with it since it sounds great! Apparently, this track was the album’s lead single.

On Get Rid of You, things get political with school shootings that sadly seem to have become the new normal in America: Well it seems every week there’s another one on the TV/you change the channel, say it’s never happen to me/but just you wait and see ‘cause you can’t stop the kids from hearing that kind of blasting/Echoing down the hallway like a bell ringing out in hell… “The gun control debate and the stubbornness with which our country refuses to adapt and pass meaningful legislation has been one of those things that really rankles me,” Lupetin told Rolling Stone. “But the kids in Florida seemed to refuse to believe that that was OK anymore. That was really inspiring to me…A lot of our popular music now feels very nihilistic, consumer-driven, and empty. I feel like there was a way to write a song where it could have an almost punk-rock fun chorus but also be about kids standing up to their elders.”

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Let It Go, a quiet and reflective tune, featuring more of Lupetin’s and Beebe’s beautiful harmony vocals.

I’ve been trying so hard to be
a better version of me
I found that note I wrote
When I was twenty one years old
I thought I’d figured it out

And I still don’t know my fate
And maybe I’ll never escape
I’m trying to let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go
Let it go…

“We’ve always tried to explore different sounds within Americana/roots music and never wanted to stay in one place, which maybe confuses some people but also intrigues other people who always want to see what’s happening next,” Lupetin commented on the album to Billboard. “We’re trying to bring our music to a bigger audience. I think at a certain point we never fit into just the folk and acoustic world, and I’ve always been a huge fan of rock ‘n’ roll and of artists that can transcend genre. I wanted to be able to tell a bigger story that could be heard by more people than just the group that supports folk music.”

The music press seems to be pretty upbeat about the album. “Is It You, Is It Me highlights the topical songwriting and eclectic sound of the L.A. collective,” noted Rolling Stone. “…like nothing Dustbowl Revival has ever created during its four-album run. And that’s just the way frontman Zach Lupetin and his bandmates wanted it,” asserts Billboard. Finally Glide Magazine: “Close your eyes – if one were to imagine the kind of music played in heaven, this may well be it…this is a stunning record with lush sonic layers, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and infectious tunes.” Okay, while “music played in heaven” might be a bit over the top, this is a fun album that prooves (note to myself) that not all new music is generic and soulless.

Sources: Dustbowl Revival website and Facebook page; All Eyes Media website; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Glide Magazine; YouTube