The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

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

Jeff Beck/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

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

The Walkabouts/Nightdrive

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

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

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

Bruce Cockburn/Wondering Where the Lions Are

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

Southern Avenue/Control

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Bruce Springsteen Celebrates Soul and R&B on New Covers Album

Bruce Springsteen released his anticipated new album of soul and R&B covers on Friday, November 11. First revealed by Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in mid-September and formally announced by Springsteen at the end of that same month, Only the Strong Survive is his 21st studio album. If you follow The Boss, you may have seen reviews to date have been mixed. While I feel some of the criticism is fair, overall, I think Springsteen has delivered an enjoyable album.

Only the Strong Survive comes two years after Letter to You (October 2020), and is Springsteen’s second all-covers collection since We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (April 2006). Springsteen made the album at his Thrill Hill Recording studio in New Jersey “in early lockdown during “off hours”, as reported by Pitchfork. Perhaps that explains in part why producer Ron Aniello played nearly all instruments (drums, bass, percussion, guitar, vibes, piano, organ, glockenspiel, keyboards, farfisa). Springsteen himself mostly provided lead vocals and also played some guitar.

The number of other contributors was limited. Most notable is the now 87-year-old Sam Moore, one half of legendary Stax duo Sam & Dave. Other listed contributors include backing vocalists Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, Michelle Moore, Curtis King Jr., Dennis Collins and Fonzi Thornton, as well as The E Street Horns and Rob Mathes who provided string arrangements. Notably absent were soul fan Steven Van Zandt, who came up with the great horn arrangement for Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and other members of the E Street Band. Again, perhaps it’s a reflection of the circumstances, or Springsteen simply wanted to leave no doubt the album was a solo effort.

“I wanted to make an album where I just sang,” he stated. “And what better music to work with than the great American songbook of the Sixties and Seventies? I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others. I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music.”

Time to get to some of the goodies. Let’s kick it off with Soul Days, written by Jonnie Barnett and recorded by Dobie Gray as the title track of his 2001 studio album – perhaps not the most obvious choice if Springsteen’s goal was to highlight ’60s and ’70s soul music. That said, I think it’s a great rendition. It’s also one of two tunes featuring Sam Moore on backing vocals. Just like with the other tracks on the album, Springsteen evidently did not aim to remake any of these songs – appropriate for an album that pays homage.

Another tune I think came out really well is Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). It was written by Motown producer Frank Wilson, who also recorded it as a single in 1965. But Berry Gordy felt lukewarm about Wilson’s singing. More importantly, he wanted his producers to focus on producing rather than becoming recording artists. None of the pressed copies of the single were formally released and apparently are now prized items among collectors. Yes, the strings on Springsteen’s cover are perhaps a bit lush, but the tune has that infectious Motown beat that wants you to be dancing in the street. I also think Springsteen’s raspy vocals work rather well. Of course, he does get a little help from a potent backing choir. Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) also became the album’s first single on September 29.

Turn Back the Hands of Time, co-written by Jack Daniels and Bonnie Thompson, was first released as a single in February 1970 and became the second major hit for blues and soul singer Tyrone Davis. Again, Springsteen does a nice job of delivering a faithful cover.

For the most part, Springsteen chose to cover tunes that aren’t known very widely, which I think was a smart choice. While his raspy vocals go well with the rock-oriented music he usually makes, the reality is his vocal range has limitations. One of the exceptions is I Wish It Would Rain, which became a no. 4 hit for The Temptations in 1967 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of their numerous ’60s tunes to top the R&B chart. It was penned by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong and Rodger Penzabene. Taking on the mighty Temptations is gutsy, but once again Springsteen does a commendable job. He even throws in some falsetto. The backing vocals are excellent as well.

The last track I’d like to call out is the second tune featuring Sam Moore on backing vocals: I Forgot to Be Your Lover. Co-written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones, Bell recorded and first released the beautiful soul ballad in late 1968. The tune reached no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 10 on the Hot R&B Singles chart.

Only the Strong Survive appears on Columbia Records. It was engineered by Rob Lebret and executive-produced by long-time Springsteen collaborator Jon Landau. Following is a Spotify link to the album.

“My goal is for the modern audience to experience [the music’s] beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it,” Springsteen explained. “I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”

Throughout his entire career, Springsteen has included soul songs in his sets, so I feel there can be no doubt his proclaimed love for this music is genuine. Could some of his picks have been different? Sure. Is it odd he had Sam Moore as a guest and didn’t cover a Sam & Dave tune? Perhaps. Or that there weren’t any members of the E Street Band, especially since he will be touring with them next year? Not necessarily, given the album came together during COVID lockdown.

One important aspect is Springsteen picked songs that work well with his voice. Together with great backing vocals and musical arrangements that largely stay faithful to the original songs, Only the Strong Survive is a pleasant listening experience. Another question is how the album will be remembered in the context of Springsteen’s overall catalog. Time will tell.

Sources: Wikipedia; Pitchfork; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This doesn’t happen very often. As I was browsing and sampling newly released songs, I quickly realized there were a good amount of new tunes I could have featured in this Best of What’s New installment. During most weeks, it’s relatively easy to select four tracks that rise to the top based on my taste. This time, I could have included nine or 10, so I decided to broaden the set from the usual four to six tunes.

The result is an eclectic selection, including indie rock, post-hardcore rock, alternative rock, pop-oriented country, searing rock and even some bossa nova. All tracks appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 21). Hope you find some music in here you like!

Storefront Church/Smile-Shaped Scar

According to an artist page on the website of their record label Sargent House, Storefront Church is a Los Angeles-based project around singer-songwriter Lukas Frank. Smile-Shaped Scar, co-written by Frank and guitarist Waylon Dean Reactor, is a tune from the outfit’s debut album As We Pass. The project included more than 20 collaborators. Sargent House describes the outcome as “a sweeping artistic statement that paints dark, weathered landscapes paired with Frank’s mournful croon and howls summoned via poignant songwriting that recalls the likes of Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, and Jeff Buckley.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly cheerful, I really dig the sound of this tune, which is quite catchy as well. Check it out!

Fiddlehead/Million Times

Fiddlehead, which has been active since 2014, are a rock band from Boston, featuring Patrick Flynn (vocals), Alex Henery (guitar), Alex Dow (guitar), Casey Nealon (bass) and Shawn Costa (drums). Wikipedia characterizes them as a post-hardcore supergroup bringing together former members from various other bands, including Have Heart, Basement, Big Contest, Intent, Youth Funeral, Death Injection and Glory – frankly, all groups I don’t know! Fiddlehead released their debut EP Out of the Bloom in 2014. Their first full-length album Springtime and Blind followed in 2018. Million Times, credited to the entire band, is a fairly melodic rocker from Fiddlehead’s new sophomore album Between the Richness. Here’s the official video that was released in March.

Counting Crows/Elevator Boots

There’s a name I hadn’t heard for quite some time. Alternative rock band Counting Crows entered my radar screen in late 1993 with Mr. Jones, the catchy lead single from their excellent debut album August and Everything After. The band was formed by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and producer and guitarist David Bryson in San Francisco in 1991. Together with Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, clarinet, backing vocals), Duritz and Bryson remain as original members in the group’s current line-up, which also features David Immerglück (guitars, bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), Millard Powers (bass, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Dan Vickrey (lead guitar, banjo, backing vocals) and Jim Bogios (drums). To date, Counting Crows have released seven studio and various compilation and live albums. Elevator Roots, written by Duritz, is a song from the band’s new EP Butter Miracle Suite One, their first studio release since 2014. I like it!

Jordan Davis/I Still Smoked

Jordan Davis is a Nashville-based pop-oriented country singer-songwriter who originally hails from Shreveport, La. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Davis had music in his bloodline. His uncle Stan Paul Davis wrote country hits for Tracy Lawrence and others in the ’90s, and in 2012, Jordan made his way to Music City to give his own songs a push. Five years later, his debut single, “Singles You Up,” stampeded up the country charts and went double platinum. His next couple of singles, “Take It From Me” and “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot,” became country smashes too, as did the album they appeared on, 2018’s Home State (his studio debut album). I Still Smoked, co-written by Davis, Jonathan Singleton and Randy Montana, is a melodic tune from Davis’ new sophomore album Buy Dirt.

Ayron Jones/Mercy

Ayron Jones is a guitarist and singer-songwriter from Seattle. Jones has been active since the age of 19 when he started performing at local bars. In 2010, he formed Ayron Jones and the Way, a trio influenced by the likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, and Prince and the Revolution. A gig at a Seattle bar in 2012 led to their discovery by local rapper, songwriter and record producer Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-a-Lot. The band’s debut album Dream appeared in October 2013. Jones has since released two additional albums including his new one Child of the State. Here’s Mercy co-written by Jones, Marti Fredericksen and Scott Stevens. Jones’ guitar-playing style has been compared to Gary Clark Jr. and Vaughan. This rocks quite furiously. Check out the official video.

Marinero/Through the Fog

Let’s wrap up this post on a softer note: Through the Fog, a track from Hella Love, the debut album by Marinero. According to his Bandcamp profile, Marinero is the moniker for Jess Sylvester. Sylvester who grew up in San Francisco and is now based in Los Angeles, is of Mexican heritage. It’s difficult to classify or generalize about Marinero’s music or identity, notes his profile. To him, it’s important to let his music do the talking. “I’m Chicanx, a bay native, biracial, and I’ve luckily gotten to travel and spend time in Mexico and I feel like my personality and specific musical tastes come through on this album… Pulling sonic influences from classic Latin American groups and international composers from the 60’s & 70’s: Los Terricolas, Ennio Morricone, Esquivel, Carole King and, Serge Gainsbourg Hella Love finds Sylvester fusing classical arrangements with a variety of different genres, evoking a sonic nostalgia blended with other contemporary artists like Chicano Batman, Connan Mockasin, and Chris Cohen. I dig this tune’s jazzy bossa nova groove.

Sources: Wikipedia; Storefront Church Sargent House artist page; Apple Music; Marinero Bandcamp profile; YouTube