Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This week, Best of What’s New is appearing a day earlier, coinciding with the date when most of the featured music was released. One exception is the last tune. You may be surprised my latest picks include a song by a Disney teenage actress-turned pop artist who has enjoyed significant mainstream success.

While I generally continue to be underwhelmed by the music that dominates today’s mainstream charts, this doesn’t mean I would never listen to an artist just because they have been on the Billboard Hot 100 or other mainstream charts in recent years. This latest installment also features some indie rock, country and pop-oriented punk/grunge.

The Fratellis/Half Drunk Under a Full Moon

The Fratellis are an indie rock trio from Glasgow, Scotland, who have been around since 2005. They took the name from the criminal family in the 1985 American comedy picture The Goonies. Originally founded as a four-piece, The Fratellis became a trio after their third live performance. Their lineup remains unchanged to this day, featuring Jon Fratelli (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Barry Fratelli (bass) and Mince Fratelli (drums, percussion). It only took less than 10 shows for the band to be signed to Fallout Records, where their debut album Costello Music appeared in September 2006. It became an instant success in the UK, peaking at no. 2 on the Official Albums Chart. In 2007, The Fratellis won the Brit Award for Best British Breakthrough Act. To date, the band has released five additional studio albums, four EPs and various singles. Half Drunk Under a Full Moon, written by John Lawler (Jon Fratelli), is the opener and title track of the band’s new album. Quite catchy!

Canaan Smith/Catch Me If You Can

Canaan Smith is a country singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to his Apple Music profile, Smith began playing guitar as a coping mechanism after his brother died in a car accident. The album Bronco [his debut from June 2015] is named in his brother’s honor. Well before his own songs found an audience, Smith scored a Top 10 Country hit as cowriter of Love and Theft’s “Runaway.” “Love You Like That,” the first single from Bronco, spent almost an entire year climbing Billboard’s Country Airplay chart before landing at No. 1. When his college pals Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line launched Round Here Records in 2019, Smith was their first signing. Catch Me If You Can, co-written by Smith, Kelley, Hubbard and Jason Affable, is a nice uptempo country rock tune from Smith’s new sophomore album High Country Sound. Smith is sharing vocals on the tune with Georgia-based singer-songwriter Brent Cobb on vocals.

Demi Lovato/Dancing with the Devil

Frankly, other than her name, I hadn’t known about Demi Lovato. Lovato who was brought up in Dallas started playing the piano as a seven-year-old and picked up the guitar three years thereafter. She started her professional career in 2002 as an actress on the American children’s TV series Barney & Friends. Her acting breakthrough came in 2007 to 2008 with roles on Disney Channel TV series As the Bell Rings, followed by TV film Camp Rock and sitcom Sonny with a Chance. Lovato sang four songs of the Camp Rock soundtrack, one of which, This Is Me, became her first single in June 2008. Featuring Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, the tune debuted at an impressive no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was followed by her debut album Don’t Forget from September 2008, which debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200. From the outside, it appeared Lovato was on top of the word. In reality, she struggled with bipolar disease, anorexia, self harm, alcoholism, and cocaine and heroin addiction, and suffered sexual assault as a teenager. This brings me to Dancing with the Devil … the Art of Starting Over, Lovato’s 7th and new release. The album, which is accompanied by a documentary of the same title, addresses her past in compelling detail. It was really Lovato’s soul-baring lyrics that caught my attention. Check out the title track Dancing with the Devil. “I wrote this song with a really good friend of mine named Blush at the end of 2018,” Lovato told Apple Music. “That was a very difficult year for me, and I wanted to tell that story in a song. It was really important to me that I introduced that song in the documentary…It’s so significant and means so much to me.” This is pretty deep stuff!

Kali Masi/Guilt Like a Gun

There’s very limited public information available on Kali Masi. According to their Bandcamp profile, Kali Masi is an American punk rock band from the Chicago. They’ve been heavily touring and self-promoting for the last 6 years; steadily evolving the heavy, emotive, and urgent sound found on their 2017 LP ‘WIND INSTRUMENT’ and the much anticipated 2021 followup ‘[laughs]. Well, the wait is over. [laughs] appeared on March 26. Here’s Guilt Like a Gun. I really like this tune, both in terms of the sound and the quite catchy melody. It reminds me a bit of Green Day’s pop-oriented grunge rock.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Bandcamp; YouTube

My Playlist: Bonnie Raitt

While I previously wrote about an amazing Bonnie Raitt show I saw in 2016 and included her in a few other posts, it occurred to me I haven’t done anything related to her recorded music. Considering how highly I think of this lady as a musician and songwriter, this feels like a big miss that is overdue to be corrected.

First a bit of history. Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born on November 8, 1949 in Burbank, Calif. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad was John Raitt, an actor and acclaimed Broadway singer. Bonnie’s mom, Marjorie Haydock, was a pianist and John’s first wife. According to her online bio, Raitt was raised in LA “in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism,” all important influences that shaped her future life.

Raitt got into the guitar at the age of eight, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. According to an AP story in a local paper, she taught the instrument herself by listening to blues records – yet another example of a self-taught musician who turned out to be exceptional!

Bonnie Raitt 1969

In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. She also began her lifetime involvement as a political activist. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she notes in her online bio. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”

Three years after entering college, Raitt decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. She already had become a frequent performer on the local coffeehouse scene, exploring slide guitar blues and other styles. Soon thereafter, she opened shows for surviving blues legends, such as Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Word spread about her great talent, which led to her first record contract with Warner Bros.

Bonnie Raitt_Bonnie Raitt

Since her 1971 eponymous debut, Raitt has released 16 additional studio albums, three compilations and one live record. Over her now 45-year-plus career, she has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is also listed at no. 50 and no. 89 in Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, respectively.

Like many artists, Raitt’s life wasn’t all easy peasy. She struggled with alcohol and drug abuse but became sober in 1987. “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead,” Raitt told Parade magazine in April 2012, adding, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Yep – time to get to some music!

Mighty Tight Woman is from Raitt’s 1971 debut record – just love that tune, which was penned by Sippie Wallace and recorded in 1929.

In September 1974, Raitt released her fourth studio album Streetlights. One of the gems on that record and frankly Raitt’s entire catalog is Angel From Montgomery, a country tune written and first recorded by John Prine.

Among the early ’60s pop songs I’ve always dug is Runaway by Del Shannon, a tune he co-wrote with keyboarder Max Crook for his 1961 debut Runaway With Del Shannon. Raitt’s version of the tune, which is included on her sixth studio album Sweet Forgiveness from 1977, is a brilliant cover with a cool bluesy soul touch. Here’s a great live performance, which apparently was captured at the time the album came out.

In addition to recording songs from other artists, Raitt also writes her own music. Here is Standin’ By The Same Old Love from 1979’s The Glow, which prominently features Raitt seductive electric slide guitar work.

Can’t Get Enough just about sums up how I oftentimes feel about Raitt’s music. Co-written by her and keyboarder Walt Richmond, the track appears on Raitt’s 1982 record Green Light. I just love the cool reggae style groove of this track and the saxophone accents.

Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time perhaps is the equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry. In fact, even though King’s music is quite different and unlike Raitt she’s a full-blown singer-songwriter, Raitt does remind me of King in another aspect. Like King, she has that warm and timeless quality to her music, a rare gift. While better known for its title track and Thing Called Love, Nick Of Time includes another track that is one of my favorites from Raitt: Love Letter. The tune was written by another Bonnie, Bonnie Hayes, who according to Wikipedia is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer.

Oh, and did I mention Raitt also knows how to perform beautiful ballads? Here’s I Can’t Make You Love Me from 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. The tune was co-penned by country music artist Mike Reid and country songwriter Allen Shamblin. Following is what appears to be the official music video.

Another powerful ballad Raitt recorded for her 13th studio album Fundamental from 1998 is Lover’s Will. This tune is from John Hiatt, one of Raitt’s favorite writers. He recorded and released it as a mid-tempo track in 1983 on his studio album Riding With The King. It’s beautiful how Raitt slowed it down, making it her own, similar to Runaway!

Used To Rule The World is from Slipstream, which appeared in April 2012. Widely acclaimed, Raitt’s 16th studio release became her highest charting album in 18 years, climbing to no. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and hitting no. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Top Blues Albums charts. The tune, which is another great example of Raitt’s feel for groove, was written by Randall Bramblett, a singer-songwriter, session keyboarder and touring musician. Here’s a nice live performance.

When it comes to an artist like Raitt with so many great tunes and such a long career, it’s hard to keep a playlist to ten tunes, but that’s the maximum I’m setting myself. I’d like to conclude with Gypsy In Me from Raitt’s most recent studio album Dig In Deep, which appeared in February 2016. The song is a co-write by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, two Nashville-based songwriters and musicians.

While I haven’t seen any hints about a new album, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy year for Raitt. Her tour schedule lists a steady stream of U.S. gigs from mid-March to the beginning of July, immediately followed by various concerts in Europe. Among the highlights are an opening/special guest appearance for James Taylor & His All-Star Band during his U.S. tour from May to the beginning of July, and Paul Simon’s farewell concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt official website; Bonnie Raitt discovers her roots in Scotland (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, Jul 14, 1991); Parade; YouTube