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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. My latest look at new music releases is coming together at the last minute, so without further ado, let’s get to it. All picks except for the last tune appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 6).

Halestorm/Brightside

I’m kicking things off with high-energy hard rock by Halestorm. Here’s a bit of background from their Apple Music profile: Emerging in the late 2000s, Halestorm immediately distinguished themselves in hard-rock circles thanks to powerhouse vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale. The Pennsylvania native showed off both a silver-plated yowl and a dynamic lower range on the band’s 2009 breakthrough hit, “I Get Off,” while later singles unleashed a belting siren call (“I Miss the Misery”) and snarling metal ferocity (the Grammy-winning “Love Bites (So Do I)”). Halestorm’s roots date back to the late ’90s, when Hale and her younger brother Arejay, a drummer, started making music together. Following the release of several EPs as a duo, the group expanded into a quartet and made their major-label debut in 2006 with the One and Done live EP. A 2009 self-titled album established Halestorm as a band eager to slip between hard rock, post-grunge, and metal. In addition to Lzzy Hale (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano) and Arejay Hale (drums, backing vocals), Halestorm’s current line-up also features Joe Hottinger (lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Josh Smith (bass, keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Here’s Brightside, a track co-written by Lzzy Hale and Scott Stevens, off the band’s fifth and latest album Back From the Dead. I like it but can’t listen to this level of intensity for too long!

Belle and Sebastian/Prophets On Hold

For this next pick by Scottish indie-pop group Belle and Sebastian, we’re taking it down a few notches. The band started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). Here’s Prophets On Hold from Belle and Sebastian’s new album A Bit of Previous. The catchy tune is credited to all members of the band.

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever/The Way It Shatters

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever are an Australian indie rock band founded in Melbourne in 2013. According to the Apple Music profile, Playing bright, energetic indie rock with lively guitar lines, sharp hooks, and dry wit, the Australian group Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever turn the clock back to the glory days of 1980s jangle pop while giving it a tough, no-nonsense three-guitar update in the process. After two EPs, the band’s first two albums — 2018’s Hope Downs and 2020’s Sideways to New Italy — showed they were in firm control of their songcraft and sound. The band maintains their original line-up to this day: Fran Keaney (vocals, acoustic guitar), Tom Russo (vocals, guitar), Joe White (vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, harmonica), Joe Russo (bass) and Marcel Tussie (drums, percussion). The Way It Shatters, co-written by Keaney, White, Tussie and Tom Russo, appears on the band’s latest album Endless Rooms, their third full-length release. I love their sound!

Simple Plan/Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)

Simple Plan are a Canadian pop-rock band formed in Montreal in 1999. Their members include Pierre Bouvier (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, bass), Jeff Stinco (lead guitar), Sébastien Lefebvre (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Chuck Comeau (drums, percussion), who have been with the group since its inception. Their debut album No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls appeared in March 2002. While the pop-punk record received mixed reviews, it enjoyed significant chart success in Canada and various other countries and reached double-platinum certification in Canada and the U.S. Simple Plan have since issued five additional albums including their latest Harder Than It Looks. Here’s the opener Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over), co-written by Comeau, Bouvier and Nate Campany. Quite catchy!

Sheryl Crow/Live With Me

I just couldn’t resist and throw in two bonus tracks by two of my long-time favorite artists who need no introductions. Technically, these aren’t new songs, but both appear on newly released albums. First up is a great cover of Rolling Stones tune Live With Me from the soundtrack of Sheryl, a documentary directed by Amy Scott about Sheryl Crow, which debuted yesterday evening on Showtime. From a previous statement on Crow’s website: An intimate story of song and sacrifice, “Sheryl” navigates an iconic yet arduous musical career while the artist battles sexism, ageism, depression, cancer, and the price of fame, before harnessing the power of her gift. A career spanning album package including her classic hits and several new tracks will accompany the film, released via Big Machine Label Group, in cooperation with Universal Music Group. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Live With Me first appeared on the Stones album Let It Bleed from November 1969. Crow’s rendition features Jagger on harmonica.

Neil Young & The Restless/Heavy Love

Wrapping up this new music revue is Heavy Love, a great rocker by Neil Young & The Restless. It appears on the EP Eldorado, which originally was released in April 1989 in Japan and Australia only. As of April 29 this year, it’s available worldwide. Heavy Love and Cocaine Eyes, which I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment, are not available on any other recording, while the three remaining tracks Don’t Cry, On Broadway and Eldorado subsequently appeared on Young’s 17th studio album Freedom from October 1989, though in different mixes. The EP is also included in Young’s latest archives vinyl box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Like Cocaine Eyes, Heavy Love would have been a great addition to Freedom.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with the above tunes except for Neil Young, as well as a few additional tracks. Young earlier this year asked that his music be pulled from there in protest to Spotify providing a platform to prominent podcaster Joe Rogan who has been criticized for promoting misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sheryl Crow website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Cranberries

The third installment of my weekly desert island exercise brings me to the letter “c.” Some of the artists and bands I could have selected include J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sheryl Crow. My pick are The Cranberries and Linger, a song I find exceptionally beautiful. The melody, the musical arrangement and the lyrics are all coming together perfectly.

Linger first appeared in February 1993 as the second upfront single of the Irish alternative rock band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? That album was released two weeks thereafter in March.

The Cranberries’ second single became one of their biggest hits. In addition peaking at no. 3 in their native Ireland, it reached no. 4 in Canada, no. 8 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and no. 14 in the UK, among others. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 24 weeks.

A beautiful great acoustic version of Linger was included on the band’s seventh studio album Something Else, released in April 2017. The record featured unplugged and orchestral renditions of 10 previously released singles, along with three new songs. Sadly, it would be the final album with Dolores O’Riordan who passed away on January 15, 2018, at the age of 46 years. The cause of death was determined as drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan wrote the music for this song before Dolores O’Riordan joined the band. Originally, it had lyrics written by the group’s first singer, a bloke named Niall Quinn. When O’Riordan auditioned for the band, she had some ideas for the song, and after she was hired, she wrote her own set of lyrics, turning it into a song of regret based on a soldier she once fell in love with.

The emotional, girlie sound was a huge departure for the band, but wildly successful. The song got lots of airplay from radio stations looking for an alternative to rap or grunge, and MTV put the video in heavy rotation [So did VH1 where I saw it repeatedly during my first semester as a student on Long Island, N.Y. – CMM]. The Cranberries became one of the best-selling bands of the mid-’90s.

In a Songfacts interview with Dolores O’Riordan, she described this as “a love song.” In the lyric, she describes being mistreated by her love and seeing him with another girl, yet unable to break free because he lets their relationship linger. This hardly seems the stuff of dreams, but the feeling of first love is what O’Riordan keyed in on. It brought her back to a time of innocence.

The Cranberries recorded the first version of this song in 1990 at their manager’s studio in Limerick, Ireland. It was one of three songs included on a demo they distributed to local records stores, which found their way to various record companies. Island Records signed the band, which released their first EP, Uncertain, in 1991. “Linger” was not part of that EP, as they wanted to save the song for when they built a bigger fan base.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Elvis Costello Revisits His Roots on Vibrant New Album

Writing an informed review of a new album by a music artist like Elvis Costello who has had an impressive 45-year recording career is a bit tricky when you’ve only listened to a fraction of their previous catalog. But having been a music fan for essentially the same amount of years, I feel confident to proclaim I know great music when I hear it, and The Boy Named If definitely qualifies!

If you’re a long-time Costello listener, which I cannot claim, you may ask which Elvis Costello is showing up on the new album. After all, the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been called a chameleon for nothing, having worked with the likes of Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and The Roots. Based on my limited exposure, I can clearly hear early influences going back to his first few albums, especially This Year’s Model, his sophomore release from March 1978, and the first record with the then-newly formed The Attractions.

The Boy Named If, released Friday, January 14, is Costello’s 32nd studio album. He is backed by The Imposters, the official name of his touring band since 2002, which has had different members. According to this review in Showbiz 411, the current line-up includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davy Faragher (bass and vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums, percussion). Ultimate Classic Rock called this group “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.

“The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories),” Costello noted in a statement on his website. ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Elvis Costello

Well, I’d say ’nuff upfront info, let’s check out some music. For some odd reason, I couldn’t embed YouTube clips for some of the songs. In these cases, I resorted to embeds of Spotify sound files. I’m also including a Spotify link to the entire album toward the end of the post.

I’d like to kick it off with an early favorite, the opener Farewell, OK, which also had appeared separately as one of three singles leading up to the album’s release. “Like a lot of good rock and roll songs this began with a drummer down in a basement and a singer howling outside the backdoor,” Costello stated on his website. “It’s a blurred gaze, a drink too much, an accidental punch and a kiss goodnight all in the tumult of a dancehall.” Like all other tunes on the album, it was penned by Costello. I love Farewell, OK’s cool retro feel, including Nieve’s Vox Continental and the harmony vocal fill-ins.

Here’s the title track Costello mentioned in his above comment, together with the opening verse to give you a flavor of the lyrics.

I’m a lucky so and so
A fortunate stiff
You said you’d never knew me but I’m the one you want to be with
If I tumble from a tightrope or leap from a cliff
I won’t be dashed to pieces
I’m the boy named If

Penelope Halfpenny is another early favorite. Like in the opener, Steve Nieve is back with that seductive Vox Continental keyboard. I just can’t get enough of this cool sound – okay, perhaps once again my nerdy side is rearing its head. But even if you don’t care about the Vox Continental or any other instrument for that matter, you’ve got to admit this is a bloody catchy tune. Check it out!

Costello and the band are slowing things down on Paint The Red Rose Blue. But don’t get fooled by the ballad’s beautiful melody. This ain’t exactly a silly love song. Paint The Red Rose Blue, which first appeared as another upfront single, is “the account of someone who has long-courted theatrical darkness, only for its violence and cruelty to become all too real,” as Costello put it. “In its wake, a bereft couple learn to love again, painting a melancholy blue over the red of romance.”

My Most Beautiful Mistake (reading that title, I keep thinking of Sheryl Crow’s My Favorite Mistake) is another track I’d like to call out. The song features American singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins on backing harmony vocals. I like how her voice bends with Costello’s.

Since I already featured Magnificent Hurt, another highlight on the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the final track I’d like to highlight: the beautiful closer Mr. Crescent.

“Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper,” Costello said in the above statement. “I started ‘The Boy Named If’ with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play.”

He added, “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing, Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

The Boy Named If was co-produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, who also had worked with Costello on his two previous studio albums Hey Clockface (October 2020), Look Now (October 2018). Appearing on EMI, with Capitol Records serving as U.S. release partner, the new album is available in vinyl, CD, cassette and downloadble/streaming formats. There is also a deluxe version that includes an 88-page hardback storybook.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Announce  The Boy Named If & Other Favourites 2022 UK Tour

In early December, Costello announced plans for a 2022 UK tour featuring The Imposters, along with American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton. Among others, he is known for having been a member of Bob Dylan’s backing band starting in 1999. The tour is set to kick off on June 5 in Brighton – keeping my fingers crossed for British fans! For additional details, you can check here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Showbiz 411; Ultimate Classic Rock; Elvis Costello website; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Run Rudolph Run

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are one of my favorite “discoveries” this year. Seeing this country blues trio extraordinaire in action just makes me happy. If you like what’s in the clip below, I can highly recommend their latest album Dance Songs for Hard Times from April this year, which I reviewed here.

Run Rudolph Run, originally credited to Chuck Berry Music and subsequently to Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, first appeared as a single by Berry in November 1958. The popular Christmas rocker has been covered by numerous other artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dave Edmunds, Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Foghat and Brian Setzer Orchestra. And now, of course, Rev. Peyton, a particularly charming rendition with great energy – also love their showmanship!

The trio has been around since 2003 and consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do. Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s hard to believe another week just flew by and it’s Sunday morning again. Let’s get ready for more music time travel. The six stops of this trip include smooth saxophone jazz from 1980, folk-rock from 1967, acoustic guitar pop from 2002, rock from 1976, bluesy folk-rock from 1993 and guitar jazz from 1989. And off we go…

Grover Washington Jr./Winelight

Sunday mornings are perfect for some smooth jazz, so I’d like to start this little music excursion with one of my favorite saxophonists, Grover Washington Jr. In October 1980, he released what became his most successful album in the U.S. mainstream charts, Winelight, which climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard 200. Undoubtedly, much of that performance was fueled by the popularity of the catchy and groovy single Just the Two of Us, a no. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, featuring the great Bill Withers on vocals. Both the record and the tune won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Best R&B Song, respectively. Here’s the album’s great opener and title track, a piece composed by William Eaton. The smooth saxophone combined with the funky groove is sweet music to my ears.

Buffalo Springfield/For What It’s Worth

For our next stop on this mini-excursion, let’s go back to December 1966 when Buffalo Springfield released For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the tune was the Canadian-American folk-rock band’s third single and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 5 in Canada and no. 19 in New Zealand. The song was also added to the second pressing of their eponymous debut album from March 1967, which originally had come out in December 1966. In 1968, Stills; David Crosby who had been kicked out of The Byrds; and Graham Nash, previously with The Hollies, formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young, who had played with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, joined CSN in mid-1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young debuted at Woodstock in August that year and released their debut album Déjà Vu the following March. Okay, before I get carried away any further, here’s For What It’s Worth!

Sheryl Crow/Weather Channel

When my streaming music provider served up Weather Channel by Sheryl Crow the other day, I immediately felt this relaxing acoustic pop tune would be a nice pick for a Sunday Six. Instead of adding it to my list and having it linger there, which has happened for some other tunes, I decided to use it right away. Weather Channel, written by Crow, is the closer of her fourth studio album C’mon C’mon from April 2002 – coincidentally the same record from which I featured another song in my latest Hump Day Picker-Upper: Soak Up the Sun. Unlike that tune, which became one of the album’s four singles and a top 20 mainstream hit in the U.S., Weather Channel is an album track only and what I would call a deep cut – pretty enjoyable!

Boston/More Than a Feeling

When it comes to ’70s rock, I can’t think of many other tunes that sound as great as More Than a Feeling by Boston. Named after the band’s hometown, Boston is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and recording wizard Tom Scholz. After graduating in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, Scholz worked for a few years as a senior design engineer at Polaroid Corporation. Using his salary, he built his own home recording studio and started working on music demos. For the first few years, his demos didn’t gain any traction at record labels. Eventually, Scholz gained interest at Epic Records, which signed him and his vocalist Brad Delp. After some back and forth with the label, Boston’s eponymous debut album appeared in August 1976. The record became a massive success, surging to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and charting in many other countries, including Canada (no. 7), UK (no. 11) and Australia (no. 16), among others. More Than a Feeling, released as the lead single in September that year, closely matched the album’s performance. Like most of the other tracks on the record, it was solely written by Scholz who also played most of the instruments. This is true sound perfection!

Cowboy Junkies/Hard to Explain

For this next tune, let’s jump to the ’90s, which is generally not a decade that has been much on my radar screen. After the ’80s had passed, I started paying less attention to contemporary music and primarily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which remain my favorite decades to this day. Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any ’90s music I love. A great example is Hard to Explain by Cowboy Junkies, another listening suggestion from my streaming music provider. When I heard the tune for the first time the other day, I immediately dug it. Other than their name, I don’t know anything about this Canadian alternative country and folk-rock band. Founded in Toronto in 1986, Cowboy Junkies remain active to this day, apparently with their original line-up. Their sizable catalog includes 18 studio albums, along with multiple live records, compilations, EPs and singles. Hard to Explain, by the band’s songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, is from their fifth studio album Pale Sun, Crescent Moon released in November 1993. It’s got a great bluesy sound.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Riviera Paradise

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final destination of this Sunday Six installment, and it’s a true gem: Riviera Paradise, a beautiful jazzy instrumental by electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan backed by his band Double Trouble. Composed by Vaughan, Riviera Paradise is the final track of Vaughan’s fourth studio album In Step that appeared in June 1989. Here’s a clip of a beautiful live version I found. Vaughan’s guitar playing was just out of this world! Perhaps, him playing jazz is a side of Vaughan you may not be as familiar with – I have to say I wasn’t. Check it out, this is so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

Today, the music doctor’s prescription is Soak Up the Sun by Sheryl Crow, one of my favorite long-time female artists. Every time I hear the catchy pop-rock song, it chases any clouds away that may bother me. I also love the line, It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got. So here you go, take it all in and lighten up!

Soak Up the Sun, co-written by Crow and her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, was first released in February 2002 as the lead single for her fourth studio C’mon, C’mon, which appeared in April that year.

According to Wikipedia, the tune was written after Crow and Trott discussed the weather during a flight from Portland, Ore. to New York City. At the time, Crow was also recovering from surgery, inspiring the two of them to write a happy song that would cheer her up.

Soak Up the Sun became Crow’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 Airplay; it reached no. 17 on the Hot 100 mainstream chart. Outside the U.S., the song topped the charts in Japan, reached no. 16 in the UK, and climbed to no. 24 in Canada.

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Doobie Brothers Are Still Runnin’ Strong

Liberté is band’s first album of all-new music in 11 years

The Doobie Brothers are back with new music. After having listened to Liberté a few times, I find there is much to like about the band’s 15th studio album, their first with all new original tunes since World Gone Crazy from September 2010. Their most recent studio release Southbound, which appeared in November 2014, featured remakes of their biggest hits and some other songs recorded in collaboration with artists like Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and Huey Lewis and Brad Paisley.

Released on October 1, Liberté was produced by John Shanks who has worked with a broad array of artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge. Shanks also co-wrote all of the 12 tunes with either Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, vocals) or Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals), who co-founded the Doobies in San Jose, Calif. in 1970, together with Dave Shogren (bass, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and John Hartman (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Doobie Brothers - Official Site
The Doobie Brothers (from left): Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee

The Doobie Brothers’ other core members are John McFee (guitar, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), who has been part of the line-up since 1979, and Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), who has been and off since he first joined in 1975. McDonald was not involved in recording Liberté. He rejoined the Doobies in November 2019 ahead of their planned 50th anniversary tour in 2020. It was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and finally kicked off on August 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

When the Doobies first announced Liberté in early August, they released the first four tracks of the album as a self-titled EP. Previously, I included one of these tunes, Don’t Ya Mess With Me, in a Best of What’s New installment. As such, I will skip the rocker here. Let’s get to some of the album’s other music.

Here’s the opener Oh Mexico. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, the rock tune has a vibe of early Doobies. Johnston sounds great on vocals. I also dig the tune’s neat slide guitar work.

Cannonball is an acoustic-oriented song co-written by Shanks and Simmons. While this doesn’t sounds like classic Doobies, I still like it.

The American Dream, a nostalgic tune reminiscing of the top down and the radio on, and dancin’ in the streets, is another co-write by Shanks and Johnston.

One of my early favorites is the soulful Shine Your Light. The tune was co-written by Shanks and Johnston as well.

The last tune I’d to call out is Just Can’t Do This Alone. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, this tune reminds me a bit of Listen to the Music, the first hit the Doobies scored in 1972, a single off their sophomore album Toulouse Street.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Liberté. While it’s fair to say it’s no Toulouse Street or The Captain and Me, I find the album an enjoyable listening experience.

“How does any band know?,” Johnston said during a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “You’re just trying to get it together and move forward. At the start of this band, we hadn’t done anything yet and we were playing bars like everyone else. Luckily, we did a demo tape that got us a record deal with Warner Bros. Our first album didn’t sell, but the second did. And the rest is history.” Indeed, 51 years and counting; or, if you exclude the band’s five-year hiatus between 1982 and 1987, it’s 46 years – still a mighty long time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Doobie Brothers website; San Diego Union-Tribune; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again. Today also marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., which I find even more mind-boggling. While this blog is focused on music and rarely addresses other topics, having lived in New York at the time, this sad milestone is something I simply cannot ignore.

Like many other folks, especially those living in America in September 2001, I still remember aspects of this day, as if everything just had happened yesterday: The beautiful late summer weather; my boss telling the staff a jet plane (the first one) had just crashed into the World Trade Center; crossing 7th Avenue from my office in midtown Manhattan in the early afternoon and strangely not seeing any smoke when looking south or anything else unusual, other than more people walking in the street; making it onto a crowded subway train later in the day (after service had been restored) to get back to my apartment in Queens; watching the images of the carnage on CNN over and over again in disbelief…

I also remember something else, and this is the final point I’d like to make about 9/11. In the wake of the attacks, this country came together in many remarkable ways. There was a true sense of community and coping together. Political and other differences apparently didn’t matter much any longer. I just wish some folks who like to divide us would remember that spirit. The country could really use it today!

On to newly released music. This Best of What’s New installment features three music acts that are entirely new to me, as well as well as an artist I’ve listened to for more than 40 years. There’s some indie, some rock, some pop and some alternative, making for a good variety of music. Let’s get to it!

Colleen Green/I Wanna Be a Dog

I’d like to start with Colleen Green, an indie pop artist based in Los Angeles. According to her Apple Music profile, she is known for her sweetly gritty, lo-fi pop sound. Influenced by bands like the Ramones, Sublime, and the Descendents, Green’s early self-recorded tapes like 2010’s Milo Goes to Compton and 2011’s Cujo, were breezy punk- and new wave-inflected productions featuring Green’s home-blended mix of vocals, guitars, keyboards, and simple drum-machine beats. She has retained her lighthearted spirit even as her music has grown more ambitious and musically organic, as on 2015’s I Want to Grow Up and her 2019 EP, Colleen Green. Born in 1984 in Dunstable, Massachusetts, Green spent time in Boston before moving to Oakland in 2009 with a handful of friends. Once there, they began playing live shows in their living room. However, after experiencing some health problems, Green moved to her brother’s house in Los Angeles. It was during this period, armed with little more than a guitar and a drum machine, that she began writing and recording music at home. After releasing an EP and a cassette tape in 2010, Green secured a deal with Hardly Art Records and released her sophomore album Sock It To Me in March 2013. I Wanna Be a Dog is a nice track from her new album Cool that dropped yesterday (September 10) – reminds me a bit of Sheryl Crow!

Hawthorne Heights/The Rain Just Follows Me

Hawthorne Heights are a rock band formed in 2001 in Dayton, Ohio as A Day in the Life – and yep, that was a reference to the Beatles song. After signing with Confined Records, the band released their debut album Nine Reasons to Say Goodbye as A Day in the Life. By the time of their next release, The Silence in Black and White from June 2004, the band had changed their name to Hawthorne Heights. It looks like this album and the follow-on, If Only You Were Lonely from February 2006, have been their most successful releases to date, both in terms of chart performance and sales. The group’s current line-up includes founding members JT Woodruff (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, keyboards) and Matt Ridenour (bass, backing vocals), along with Mark McMillon (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Chris “Poppy” Popadak (drums, percussion, backing vocals). The Rain Just Follows Me, credited to all four members of the group, is the melodic title track from the band’s new album that also came out yesterday.

Sting/If It’s Love

The former frontman of The Police who after the group’s breakup launched his solo career in 1985 doesn’t need an introduction. On September 1, Sting announced a new album titled The Bridge that is scheduled for November 19. This coincided with the release of lead single If It’s Love. From the announcement: The Bridge was written in a year of global pandemic and finds Sting ruminating on personal loss, separation, disruption, lockdown, and extraordinary social and political turmoil...He [Sting – CMM] explains, “These songs are between one place and another, between one state of mind and another, between life and death, between relationships. Between pandemics, and between eras – politically, socially and psychologically, all of us are stuck in the middle of something. We need a bridge.” While this sounds like a somewhat grim description, If It’s Love is an upbeat pop tune penned by Sting, illustrating not all is doom and gloom. “I’m certainly not the first songwriter to equate falling in or out of love with an incurable sickness, nor will I be the last,” Sting commented in the above announcement. “’If It’s Love’ is my addition to that canon where the tropes of metaphorical symptoms, diagnosis, and downright incapacity are all familiar enough to make each of us smile ruefully.”

Pedro Samp/Harlequeen

Concluding this Best of What’s New installment is new music by Pedro Samp, a young talented music artist and multi-instrumentalist who was born in Rio de Janeiro and is based in Reigate, a small town located approximately 23 miles south of London. Samp already was exposed to music as a three-year-old, listening to his dad’s CD collection. Coincidentally, it included The Police. At the age of 11, he traded with one of his friends a Nintendo video game and two Led Zeppelin CDs for a Fender Stratocaster – gotta love this! By the time Samp was 19, he already worked on scoring movie soundtracks and also was the lead guitarist and songwriter for Crooked Kings, a UK indie band that toured nationally. After leaving the group, Samp launched a solo career in October 2019. To date, he has released 14 singles including his latest, Harlequeen, which came out on August 28. Samp does all the writing, singing, recording and arranging by himself. In addition to his main instrument the guitar, he plays bass, piano, synthesizer and also produces his own beats. Admittedly, it took me a couple of listens to appreciate this tune. Now, I’m kind of hooked! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sting website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to Sunday and another installment of The Sunday Six, a journey celebrating music six random tunes at a time. If you’re impacted by tropical storm Henri, I hope you are safe. My area of Central New Jersey has been under a tropical storm warning since Friday afternoon, but other than rain, so far, so good -knock on wood!

Weather Report/A Remark You Made

The fact I’m kicking off this post with jazz fusion group Weather Report has nothing to do with the storm but instead can be attributed to coincidence. A few days ago, my streaming music provider served up A Remark You Made as a listening suggestion. While jazz fusion remains a largely unknown genre to me, this track blew me away immediately. Appearing on Weather Report’s eighth studio album Heavy Weather from March 1977, the tune undoubtedly has to be one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time. Written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the track also features Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Jaco Pastorious (fretless bass) and Alex Acuña (drums). What matters more to me than all these big names is the incredible music, especially Pastorious who literally makes his fretless bass sing – check out that amazing tone! As a huge saxophone fan, I’m also drawn to Shorter’s tenor sax playing – just incredibly beautiful and a perfect match to the singing fretless bass! I realize this very accessible jazz fusion isn’t typical for the genre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heavy Weather became Weather Report’s highest charting album on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 where it peaked at no. 30. It also was one of the group’s two records to top Billboard’s jazz albums chart.

Joe Jackson/Geraldine and John

Let’s stay in the ’70s and move to October 1979. Joe Jackson’s sophomore album I’m the Man brought the versatile British artist on my radar screen in 1980, when I received it on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday – still have that copy. The album is probably best known for its singles I’m the Man, It’s Different for Girls and Kinda Cute, while the song I picked, Geraldine and John, is more of a deeper but nevertheless great cut. And it’s another bassist who absolutely shines on that tune, in my view: Graham Maby. He still plays with Jackson to this day. Rounding up Jackson’s backing band were guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. Jackson worked with them on his first three albums that are among my favorites by the man. Check out Maby’s great melodic bassline on Geraldine and John!

The Beatles/Something

Speaking of great basslines, here’s yet another master bassist who conveniently also played in my favorite band of all time. Not only is Something from the Abbey Road album among the absolute gems written by George Harrison, but I think it’s also The Beatles tune with the best bassline Paul McCartney has ever come up with. In addition to Harrison (vocals, lead guitar) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the tune featured John Lennon (piano), Ringo Starr (drums) and Billy Preston (Hammond). BTW, Something is also a good example of Ringo’s creative drumming. The Beatles Bible notes the song was recorded and mixed during six sessions between April 16 and August 15, 1969. At this late stage of The Beatles when they took full advantage of the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded his bass as one of the last instruments. That way he could hear all other instrumental tracks and come up with complementary basslines. In this case, the outcome was truly magnificent!

Sheryl Crow/If It Makes You Happy

Okay, time to get off my little bass obsession – something I admittedly can get excited about as a former bassist! On to Sheryl Crow, an artist I have dug since her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. Oh, did I mention she also plays bass in addition to guitar and piano? 🙂 Perhaps my favorite tune by Crow is If It Makes You Happy from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. She co-wrote the nice rocker with Jeff Trott who became a longtime collaborator and appeared on almost every Sheryl Crow album thereafter. In August 2019, Crow released what she said would be her final full-length album, Threads, citing changed music consumption habits where most listeners make their own playlists with cherry-picked songs rather than listening to entire albums. I previously reviewed it here. Well, the good news is Crow’s statement at the time apparently didn’t include live albums. On August 13, she released Live From The Ryman & More, a great looking 27-track career spanning set I’ve yet to check out. Meanwhile, here’s the excellent If It Makes You Happy. Yep, it surely does!

Neil Young/Hangin’ On a Limb

Next I like to come back to Hangin’ On a Limb, a Neil Young tune I first had planned to include in the August 1 Sunday Six installment. But inspired by a tornado warning that had been issued for my area of central New Jersey a few days earlier, I decided to go with Like a Hurricane instead. BTW, earlier this week, we had another tornado warning and as noted above, there is a tropical storm warning in effect for my area. You can’t make this stuff up – climate change is real, whether the naysayers like it or not! Anyway, Hangin’ On a Limb is a beautiful tune featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. It’s from Young’s 17th studio album Freedom that appeared in October 1989 and is best known for the epic Rockin’ in the Free World.

Pretenders/Buzz

And this brings me again to the final tune. Wrapping it up is Buzz, a great track from Hate for Sale, the 11th and most recent album by Pretenders released in July 2020. Time has been kind to Chrissie Hynde’s voice that sounds just as compelling as back in 1980, the year the band’s eponymous debut album came out. There’s another commonality: Original drummer Martin Chambers who had returned after eight years. Apart from Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, harmonica) and Chambers, Pretenders’ current line-up also includes James Walbourne (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) Carwyn Ellis (keyboards) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Hate for Sale is pretty solid. In case you’re curious, check out my previous review here. Like all other songs on the album, Buzz was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; YouTube