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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to a new Sunday Six and another hot weekend, at least in my area of Central New Jersey. This is the latest installment of my recurring weekly feature that celebrates music I love in different flavors and from different periods, six tunes at a time.

In some cases, my picks are songs that I earmarked over the course of the week. On other occasions, the posts are coming together pretty spontaneously at the last minute. This one predominantly falls into the latter category. I’m happy with the way it turned out. Hope you find something in here you dig!

Colin McLeod/Old Soul (featuring Sheryl Crow)

Starting this week’s set is Colin McLeod, a Scottish singer-songwriter and farmer I had not heard of until yesterday. McLeod got my attention when I spotted a clip on Facebook, featuring a song he recorded with Sheryl Crow and included on his new album Hold Fast, which was released on June 18. The mellow atmospheric tune spoke to me right away – I love these types of coincidences! For a bit of additional background, here’s an excerpt from his Apple Music profile: Raised on the Isle of Lewis, the largest island of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides archipelago, MacLeod amassed a wide array of influences, from regional folk and pop to widescreen Springsteen-esque rock, before leaving the island in 2009 to test his mettle as a performer. An A&R scout from Universal caught one of MacLeod’s gigs in Aberdeen, which resulted in the release of his debut album Fireplace, which he issued under the moniker Boy Who Trapped the Sun in 2010. The experience left a bad taste in his mouth, so, exhausted and homesick, he returned to the Isle of Lewis, where he spent his days raising sheep and growing crops. It proved to be a fortuitous move. Inspired by the sights, sounds, smells, and stories of his remote part of the world, MacLeod was able to parlay those experiences into his music, culminating in the release of the acclaimed Ethan Johns-produced Bloodlines, his first collection of songs to be issued under his own name. McLeod’s new album is his sophomore release. Old Soul was written by him. Call me crazy, I can hear a bit of Bono in his voice. I also think his vocals beautifully blend with Sheryl Crow’s.

Buddy Guy/Kiss Me Quick (featuring Kim Wilson)

On to some great electric guitar blues. Yes, it’s quite a leap. But you see, that’s the thing about The Sunday Six – it can be arbitrary. If you’re into the blues and see the names Buddy Guy and Kim Wilson, you know you’re in for a treat. What can I say about the amazing Buddy Guy? He’s the last man standing from the old Chicago blues guard, who played with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. Guy who is turning 85 in July is a force of nature. I’ve been fortunate to see him live twice over the past five years. Wilson, of course, is best known as the lead vocalist and frontman of blues rockers The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I’d love to see these guys as well! So what do get when combining the two artists? A nice blues shuffle titled Kiss Me Quick that appeared on Guy’s 17th studio album appropriately titled Born to Play Guitar, which won the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2016. The tune was co-written by Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge. Makes me want to listen to the entire bloody album!

The Who/The Real Me

Let’s kick things up a notch with The Who and The Real Me. Why pick the second track from side one of Quadrophenia? To begin with, The Who’s sixth studio album from October 1973 is one of the gems in their catalog. Another reason why I chose this particular tune is John Entwistle and his outstanding bass work. As a former hobby bassist, perhaps I pay closer attention and get a little bit more excited about bass runs than some other folks. All I can tell you is this: Seeing The Ox with The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2001 was an unforgettable event. In typical fashion, Entwistle was standing pretty much motionless on one side of the stage, while Pete Townshend launched from one windmill attack to the other, Roger Daltrey engaged in impressive lasso acrobatics with his microphone, and Zak Starkey (yep, Ringo Starr’s son) was working that drum kit. It was really something else! Sadly, Entwistle passed away about six months after that show in Las Vegas, the day before The Who were scheduled to kick off their 2002 U.S. tour. He was only 57 years old – what a loss!

Seals & Crofts/Summer Breeze

Time to slow things down again. And since summer is in full swing, here’s one of the warmest sounding tunes I can think of in this context: Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts. Every time I hear this song, it puts me at ease. Behind the soft rock duo were multi-instrumentalists James Eugene “Jim” Seals  and Darrell George “Dash” Crofts. Summer Breeze, the title track of their fourth studio album from September 1972, probably is their best known song. It peaked at no. 7 and no. 6 on the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, respectively. The album marked their commercial breakthrough. Seals & Crofts also scored two other hits: Diamond Girl (1973) and Get Closer (1976). Unlike Summer Breeze, I had to sample these tracks to remember them. Then the hits stopped, and in 1980, after their record company had dropped them, Seals & Crofts decided to go on hiatus. They have since reunited a few times. There are also younger torch bearers. Wikipedia notes in 2018, Jim Seals’ cousin Brady Seals and Darrell Crofts’ daughter Lua Crofts began touring as Seals and Crofts 2, performing Seals & Crofts music as well as some originals.

The Zombies/She’s Not There

The first time I heard She’s Not There was the cover by Santana from their excellent 1977 Moonflower album. Since it certainly sounds very much like a Carlos Santana tune, I simply assumed it was their song. Only years later did I find out She’s Not There was written by Rod Argent, the keyboarder of The Zombies. The tune first appeared in the UK in July 1964 as the British rock band’s debut single. Two months later, it came out in the U.S. She’s Not There was also included on The Zombies’ debut album. In this case, the self-titled U.S. version was first out of the gate in January 1965. The U.K. edition, titled Begin Here, appeared in April that year. As was common at the time, there were some differences between the two versions. After the breakup of The Zombies in 1969 and a couple of impersonating bands, Argent and original lead vocalist and guitarist Colin Blunstone reunited in 2000, moved to the U.S. and recorded an album, Out of the Shadows, released in 2001. Starting from 2004, they began touring again as The Zombies. There have also been three additional albums since, released under the name Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent/The Zombies. The most recent one, Still Got That Hunger, appeared in October 2015. The band is still around. Ticketmaster currently lists some gigs for 2022.

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

The time has come again to wrap up things. My final pick is by Gregg Allman. He and The Allman Brothers Band were a very late discovery for me. Fortunately, it happened just in time to see them once in New Jersey on their very last tour in 2014, a couple of months before their final curtain at the Beacon Theatre in New York. After exploring the band, I also got into Gregg Allman’s solo catalog. I particularly dig Low Country Blues from January 2011 and his final album Southern Blood, which I got on vinyl. It came out in September 2017, four months after Allman had passed away at the age of 68 due to complications from liver cancer. Even though I had only become fond of his music a few years earlier, his death really moved me. I still get emotional about it. There was something very special about Gregg Allman when he was singing and hitting those keys of his Hammond B3. I can’t quite explain it. Here’s Southern Blood’s opener My Only True Friend, the sole track on the album that was co-written by Allman. The other writer was Scott Sharrad, lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s backing band. You can read more about the album here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Ladies Shaking Up Music – Part 2

Celebrating female artists in blues, country, jazz, rock & roll, soul and pop

Here’s the second part of my two-part post that celebrates some of the amazing female music artists I admire. Part I, which you can read here, covered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, as well as 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees Carole King and Tina Turner. I wouldn’t argue with you, if you’d tell me the aforementioned artists are obvious choices. Undoubtedly, three of the female music artists in this second installment fall in the same category. If you’re curious about my two remaining selections, I encourage you to read on. I also have a fun encore.

Bonnie Raitt

Since my often mentioned dear longtime German music friend introduced me to Bonnie Raitt more than 30 years ago, I’ve dug her both as a terrific slide guitarist and a genuine no BS type of artist. Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time I’m covering Raitt. I also got to see her live in New Jersey in August 2016, which was really cool, and wrote about here. Raitt who grew up in a musical family started playing the guitar as an eight-year-old, teaching herself by listening to blues records. After three years in college studying Social Relations and African Studies, she decided to drop out and follow her real calling: music. Since her eponymous debut from November 1971, 16 additional studio albums have appeared to date. Her most recent release is Dig In Deep from February 2016. My aforementioned concert was part of the supporting tour for that album. Here’s one of my all-time Bonnie Raitt favorites: Angel From Montgomery, a great tune written and first recorded by John Prine for his 1971 eponymous debut. Raitt covered the song on her fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt may “only” have been a cover artist (the same is pretty much true for Bonnie Raitt), but what an amazing and versatile vocalist! There’s a reason why she’s so widely admired. And why she’s the only female artist with five platinum-certified U.S. albums in a row in the ’70s. Between 1969 and 2004, Ronstadt released 24 studio albums in genres that varied from country and rock to traditional Mexican music, jazz and even Broadway/operetta. This woman could sing anything! In 2000, she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star Ronstadt officially stated she had retired from music. Two years later, she disclosed her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. If you’d like to learn more about this incredible artist, I’d encourage you to watch the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Or you can read this previous post. Here’s her pretty rendition of Neil Young tune Love Is a Rose, the opener of her sixth solo album Prisoner in Disguise from September 1975. That release was second of the above noted five platinum records in a row.

Sheryl Crow

If I recall it correctly, the first Sheryl Crow tune I heard was All I Wanna Do from her great 1993 debut Tuesday Night Music Club. I liked her style of catchy pop rock from the get-go and have pretty much listened to her ever since. To date, Crow has released 10 additional studio albums. When putting out her most recent one, Threads, in August 2019, which I reviewed here, Crow said it would probably be her final full-length album. She cited changed listening habits of most music consumers who compile their own playlists with songs from different artists rather than listening to entire albums from one artist. In the age of music streaming, that’s certainly easier than never before. While I still believe in albums, I have to admit most of the time, I listen to playlists as well! One of my favorite Cheryl Crow tunes is from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. Co-written by Crow and her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, it’s appropriately titled If It Makes You Happy. Indeed, it does!

Tierinii Jackson

Chances are this is the first time you hear of Tierinii Jackson, the lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, the latter name could ring a bell. This band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B, and is one of most exciting contemporary acts I know. Ever since I saw a post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast several years ago, I’ve followed the group and have since seen them twice. They are a fantastic live act. To date, Southern Avenue have released two albums: an eponymous debut (February 2017) and Keep On from May 2019. Recently, guitarist Ori Naftaly said on their Facebook fan page the group’s third album is mostly in the can. It’s scheduled for later this year. BTW, I’ve had a chance to exchange a few words with Jackson who is a humble and down to earth person. When I asked her where she learned to sing like this, she casually replied in church. Time for a little demo! Here’s the powerful picker-upper Don’t Give Up, a tune from Southern Avenue’s first album, as captured live by yours truly during a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019, the most recent time I saw them. While it was recorded with an aging iPhone, I think it gives you some idea what happens when Tierinii Jackson gets going. Multiply this by at least three and you probably have what being in the venue that evening felt like.

Molly Tuttle

The last artist I’d like to highlight is Molly Tuttle, who I feel is super-talented and has a great future ahead of her: The 28-year-old grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Nashville since 2015. She comes from a musical family. Tuttle started playing guitar at the age of eight and three years later already performed on stage with her father, Jack Tuttle, a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. She recorded her first album with him as a 13-year-old. In 2015, Tuttle joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Tuttle’s solo debut happened in October 2012 with the EP Rise. That same year, her impressive guitar skills were recognized by the International Bluegrass Association by awarding her Guitar Player of the Year, something she repeated in 2018. Among other accolades, Tuttle also won Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards. Here’s her terrific rendition of The Rolling Stones’ She’s a Rainbow from her most recent album …but I’d rather be with you from August 2020. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune originally appeared on the Stones’ 1967 studio album Their Satanic Majesties Request. Check out Tuttle’s incredibly fluid guitar-playing. This is just awesome! In case you’re wondering about Tuttle’s, she’s living with a condition called alopecia universalis, which results in total body hair loss. Usually, she wears wigs.

I’d like to wrap up things with where I started this two-part post: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I just couldn’t resist to present the following compilation clip of her guitar solos as an encore. Tharpe was a true gospel rock star who among others played a white badass Gibson SG! In case you weren’t aware, now you know where Chuck Berry learned a trick or two. The one caveat is the footage wasn’t published under Tharpe’s name or by a record company, so it’s hard to tell how long this clip will stay on YouTube. Let’s enjoy while it lasts!

Sources: Wikipedia; Southern Avenue Facebook fan page; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again to take a look at newly released music. This installment of Best of What’s New features tunes from an Irish instrumental post-rock band, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, as well as a hard rock outfit and a blues rock band, which are both from New York. All music except for one noted tune came out yesterday (February 12).

The Pretty Reckless/Rock and Roll Heaven

The Pretty Reckless are a hard rock band that was formed in New York in 2009. The group is fronted by Taylor Momsen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), a former actress and model. The other members, who have each been part of the band since 2010, include Ben Phillips (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums). After signing with Interscope, they released their eponymous debut EP in June 2010, followed by their first full-length album Light Me Up in August of the same year. The band’s studio albums have enjoyed decent success on mainstream albums charts in the U.S. and the UK. According to Wikipedia, The Pretty Reckless also hold the distinction of being the only female-fronted band to date with five no. 1 singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Rock and Roll Heaven, co-written by Phillips and Momsen, is from their fourth and new album Death by Rock and Roll.

God Is An Astronaut/In Flux

God Is An Astronaut are an instrumental post rock band from Ireland, formed in 2002 by brothers Torsten Kinsella (guitars, keyboards) and Niels Kinsella (bass, guitars). The current line-up also includes Jamie Dean (keyboards, synthesizer, guitar) and Lloyd Hanney (drums). The band’s Apple Music profile notes their music combines the epic melodies of post-rock, the precision of electronic-fueled Krautrock à la Tangerine Dream, and elements of space rock…[The brothers], the group’s driving force,…played in a number of local bands before teaming up with drummer Lloyd Hanney, the disciple of the famous jazzman Johnny Wadham, to form God Is an Astronaut. Their electro-tinged album The End of the Beginning came out on their own label, Revive Records, in 2002. The two singles off the CD, “The End of the Beginning” and “From Dust to the Beyond,” got airplay on several European MTV channels. Their second album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright, followed in 2005, and included the single “Fragile.” The band has continued to issue new albums pretty frequently. In Flux is from God Is An Astronaut’s new album (their 10th) Ghost Tapes #10. While I prefer music with vocals most of the time, I find the band’s spacey sound pretty cool.

Jillette Johnson/Jealous

Jillette Johnson, who grew up in New York, is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, she started writing songs at age 8; by her teens, she was playing three-hour sets of original music at a restaurant near her suburban New York home. Soon, she was generating enough outside interest that she attended her public high school only one day a year while she developed and recorded her music. That dedication landed Johnson a record deal that resulted in two albums, 2013’s Water in a Whale and 2017’s All I Ever See in You Is Me, the latter of which was produced by fellow Nashvillian Dave Cobb. She began touring 200+ days each year, earning slots at major music festivals, TV appearances and press accolades from outlets ranging from Billboard, Rolling Stone Country, and Paste  to Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan. Jealous is a tune from Johnson’s third album It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You – nice pop rock tune that has a bit of a Sheryl Crow vibe.

Jane Lee Hooker/Jericho

Jane Lee Hooker are a dynamic blues rock band from New York I have covered on a few previous occasions, for example here and here. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Hail Mary Z (bass) and ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums), who joined last year after the departure of original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston. In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with German independent blues label Ruf Records and released their debut No B! in April 2016. This was followed by their sophomore release Spiritus from November 2017. Jericho is the band’s new single that came out on January 29. “Jericho is one of those songs that kind of wrote itself, the music and lyrics just poured out of me,” stated Athens on the group’s website.  “A lot of songs have been written about the Battle of Jericho, it’s a timeless anecdote for having the strength inside to use our voices to break down the walls that divide us and change our world for the good.” 

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jillette Johnson website; Jane Lee Hooker website; YouTube