Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday and the new music show must go on! This installment of Best of What’s New includes two familiar names and two artists who are completely new to me, featuring Celtic punk, instrumental rock, pop and country rock. Nuff said – let’s get to some music!

Dropkick Murphys/Turn Up That Dial

Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic punk rock band formed in the Boston area in 1996. They are named after former pro wrestler Dr. John “Dropkick” Murphy, who also operated an rehab facility for alcoholics in Action, Mass. The band gained first attention when fellow Bostonian ska punk group The Mighty Mighty Bosstones invited them as opening act for their 1997 tour. Later that year, Dropkick Murphys got a deal with Hellcat Records, which was followed by their debut studio album Do or Die in January 1998. Fast-forward 23 years. The band’s present line-up, which has been together since 2008, consists of original co-founder Ken Casey (bass, lead vocals), along with Al Barr (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (lead guitar, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, keyboards, piano, tin whistle, backing vocals), James Lynch (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar, keyboards, piano, harmonica, tin whistle, backing vocals) and Matt Kelly (drums, bodhran, backing vocals). Dropkick Murphys first entered my radar screen in 2013 when they teamed up with Bruce Springsteen to record a new version of their song Rose Tattoo. The single appeared in May that year in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing – hard to believe it’s been eight years! Turn Up That Dial is the title track from Dropkick Murphys’ new album released yesterday (April 30).

Peter Frampton/Isn’t It a Pity

I trust Peter Frampton doesn’t need much of an introduction. The self-taught guitarist has been playing in bands since the age of 12. He first gained prominence in 1966 as a 16-year-old lead vocalist and guitarist in English rock band The Herd. In 1969, he co-founded Humble Pie together with Steve Marriott, frontman and guitarist of Small Faces. Frampton left Humble Pie in 1971 and launched a solo career. After four largely unnoticed studio albums, he got his big breakthrough with Frampton Comes Alive! The huge success led to an infamous shirtless photo on the cover of Rolling Stone, which turned Frampton into a teen idol and diminished his credibility as an artist. He continued to release albums but was unable to repeat the success of Frampton Comes Alive! In early 2019, Frampton announced his retirement from touring due to a progressive autoimmune disease causing muscle inflammation, weakness and atrophy, which eventually is going to impact his ability to play guitar. He launched a farewell tour in June that year. The UK leg, which had been slated for May 2020, was canceled because of you know what! Isn’t it a Pity is a track from Frampton’s new album of instrumental covers ingeniously titled Peter Frampton Forgets the Words and released on April 23. “This album is a collection of ten of my favorite pieces of music,” he stated on his website. My guitar is also a voice and I have always enjoyed playing my favorite vocal lines that we all know and love.” This is certainly a beautiful rendition of the George Harrison tune that originally appeared on his 1970 solo debut All Things Must Pass.

Parker Millsap/The Real Thing

Parker Millsap is an American singer-songwriter from Purcell, OK. According to his profile on Apple Music, As a youth, Millsap alternately spent time singing hymns at his local Pentecostal church and saturating himself in old blues albums, which influenced his unique style along with folk, country, and vintage Elvis-flavored rock & roll. While still in his late teens, Millsap recorded his mostly acoustic debut, Palisade, with childhood friend Michael Rose accompanying him on double bass. Two years later in 2014, his self-titled second LP introduced his signature sound, bringing him national acclaim and leading to support slots with heavy-hitting roots acts like Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Lake Street Dive. Millsap’s new album Be Here Instead, which is his fifth, came out on April 9. As is the case for most artists I feature in Best of What’s New, I’m completely new to his music. The Real Thing grabbed me right away. To me, it’s got a bit of a Paul McCartney vibe!

The Pink Stones/Put Me On

The last tune I’d like to call out here is Put Me On, a song by The Pink Stones, a country rock band from Athens, Ga. According to their website, the group revolves around Hunter Pinkston, a former punk rocker who discovered country in 2015 when listening to the B-side of the The Lemonheads’ rendition of Brass Buttons, which featured the original by Gram Parsons. This led him not only to explore Parsons’ catalog but also listen to similar other artists. In 2016, Pinkston who is from Albany, Ga. transferred to the University of Georgia in Athens for their music business program. He immersed himself into the local music scene and eventually met what became the core of The Pink Stones: Will Anderson (organ, piano, vocals), Logan Brammer (guitar, vocals), Adam Wayton (guitar, vocals) and Jack Colclough (drums). John Neff (pedal steel guitar), a founding member of Drive-By Truckers, is also part of the band’s current line-up. Put Me On, written by Pinkston, is a track from their debut album Introducing… the Pink Stones released on April 9. Check out this beautiful warm sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; Peter Frampton website; Apple Music; The Pink Stones website; AllMusic; YouTube

My Top 5 Studio Albums Turning 50

The other day while driving in my car, I caught a cool program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) titled the “Top 50 Albums Turning 50.” Hosted by former Doors guitarist and drummer Robby Krieger and John Densmore, respectively, it was a countdown of records that came out in 1971, as voted by listeners. Once again, this reminded me what an outstanding period the early ’70s were for music, and I’m not only talking about classic rock. The radio show also triggered the idea for this post. While I don’t want to call this a series, I have a funny feeling I’ll do more about 1971, now that I’ve been bitten by the bug.

The amount of great albums released in 1971 is mind-boggling, especially from today’s perspective. It’s a true gold mine! Some artists and bands like Johnny Cash, Carole King, Faces and Yes released even more than one record. Following are my top five albums turning 50 this year. I’m not great at ranking, so I’m listing my picks in no particular order. Live records and debuts are excluded, since I’m contemplating separate posts for these categories. I guess it’s another way to admit that if you love early ’70s music, summing up 1971 with just five albums is mission impossible!

The Who/Who’s Next

As my favorite album by The Who, including Who’s Next in this short list was a no-brainer. The fifth studio album by the British rockers appeared on August 14, 1971. It came out of Lifehouse, another rock opera Pete Townshend had conceived as a follow-up to Tommy. Eight of the nine songs from Who’s Next had initially been written for Lifehouse. Additional tracks from the abandoned project were subsequently released as singles and appeared on other Who and Townshend (solo) records. Except for My Wife, which was penned by John Entwistle, Townhend wrote all tracks. I pretty much could have highlighted any song from the album. Here’s Bargain, which according to Songfacts is an homage to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment, which also influenced songs like Baba O’Riley and See Me, Feel Me. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment.

Carole King/Tapestry

Folks who follow the blog or know me otherwise won’t be shocked by this pick. When it comes to the singer-songwriter category, Carole King will always remain one of my all-time favorite artists. Tapestry, released on February 10, 1971, is her Mount Rushmore in my book. A couple of months ago, leading up to the 50th anniversary date, I devoted a 10-part series to the album (“Ten Days of Tapestry”, see final part here, which includes links to all previous installments). Therefore, I’m keeping it brief here. Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move was solely written by King, like most other tracks on the album.

Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway to Heaven marked the start of my Led Zeppelin journey. While they were an acquired taste, Led Zeppelin have become one of my favorite rock bands. To me, their fourth studio album, which came out on November 8, 1971, remains one of the most exciting ’70s rock albums, though I’ve also come to really dig their other records. Instead of the obvious tune Stairway, which I would select if I could only choose one classic rock song, let’s do Rock and Roll. It’s the record’s only tune credited to all four members of the band. In addition to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Rock and Roll features Rolling Stones co-founder Ian Stewart on keyboards.

The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers

Speaking of the Stones, Sticky Fingers is another must-include on my top five short list of the greatest albums released in 1971. You can read more about my favorite Stones album in this recent post I published a few days ahead of the April 23 50th anniversary date. Here I’d like to highlight a track I did not call out in that post: Sway, which also became the b-side of the album’s second single Wild Horses, released on June 12, 1971. The slower blues track features some sweet slide guitar action by Mick Taylor. Another factoid worthwhile noting is the song marked Mick Jagger’s first electric guitar performance on a Stones album. Oh, and there were some notable backing vocalists: Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces) and Billy Nichols, an American guitarist and songwriter who first came to prominence during the ’60s for his work with Motown.

Pink Floyd/Meddle

With so many great albums that were released in 1971, it’s tricky to keep this list to five, but that’s what I set out to do, at least for now. Meddle was the sixth studio album by Pink Floyd, which appeared on October 31, 1971. It foreshadowed the band’s mid ’70s masterpieces The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, especially on the 23-minute-plus track Echoes. While I was tempted to feature this epic track, I think it’s safe to assume very few readers would listen. Instead, let’s go with the opener One of These Days. The characteristic pumping bass line was double-tracked, played by bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. The instrumental is credited to all members of the band, which in addition to Waters and Gilmour included Richard Wright (organ, piano) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion). The only spoken line in the song, the cheerful and digitally warped “One of these days I’m gonna cut you up into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Baby, You Can Drive My Car, and Yes, You’re Gonna Be a Star!

Since my recent post about Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman, the above creatively borrowed and somewhat adjusted phrase had been stuck in my head, just like the catchy song. The first part of the statement is true, the second half is perhaps debatable. But while this British rock band only had one real hit, there’s no doubt in my mind Thunderclap Newman was more than just a one-hit-wonder.

As a fan of The Who, I’m intrigued by Pete Townshend’s role in the band’s history – in fact, without Townshend, there would have been no Thunderclap Newman. He brought the band’s core members together in late 1968/early 1969: Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Speedy Keen (born John David Percy Keen), Dixieland jazz pianist Thunderclap Newman (born Andrew Lawrence Newman) and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (born James McCulloch). They are pictured in that order from left to right in the above photo.

Something in the Air Single

Interestingly, prior to the band’s formation, Keen had been The Who’s chauffeur and shared an apartment with Townshend. He also had written Armenia In the Sky, the opener to The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Apparently, Townshend was impressed with the songwriting talents of Keen who had played in different bands since 1964, so he decided to introduce him to Newman and McCulloch. Townshend was also instrumental in getting the band a contract with Track Records, an independent label established by The Who’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

The first song Thunderclap Newman recorded was their big hit Something in the Air written by Keen. The sessions took place at Townshend’s home studio. He also produced the single and played bass on the recording under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Released in May 1969, Something in the Air topped the UK Singles Chart only three weeks after its appearance, replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko. The tune’s original title was Revolution, but it was changed because The Beatles already had a song with that title, which had come out in 1968.

Thunderclap Newman_Hollywood Dream

Following the success of Something in the Air, an initially reluctant Thunderclap Newman agreed to go on the road. They brought in Jim Pitman-Avery (bass) and Jack McCulloch (drums), Jimmy’s older brother, to support Deep Purple on a 26-date tour of England and Scotland from July to August 1969. After the tour, Pitman-Avery and Jack McCulloch exited and formed country-rock band Wild Country, leaving Thunderclap Newman with their three core members. Keen, Newman and McCulloch went back into the studio and recorded Hollywood Dream, their only studio album.

Like Something in the Air, Townshend played a key role, producing Hollywood Dream and again playing bass under the name of Bijou Drains. And while the final track Something in the Air undoubtedly is the hit, there are other gems on this album. Let’s kick things off with the nice opener Hollywood #1, which like most of the other tracks was written by Keen.

Here’s Open the Door Homer, a great cover of a Bob Dylan song. If I see it correctly, Dylan did not release the tune until 1975 when he included it on The Basement Tapes, a collection of tracks he had recorded in 1967, mostly with backing by The Band. In particular, I dig Keen’s singing on this tune.

Next up: Accidents, another original tune written by Keen. There’s a lot going on in this more than nine-minute track, including some great piano and guitar work. In fact, as much as I dig Something in the AirAccidents is the album’s tue standout to me. A shorter version was released separately and peaked at no. 46 on the UK Singles Chart in June 1970, becoming Thunderclap Newman’s only other single to make the charts.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. To readers who know my affection for vocals, it may come as a bit of a surprise that I chose to highlight an instrumental. Well, it’s not that I don’t like instrumentals – after all, I’m a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ’70s albums that are filled with instrumental parts. But after a while, I simply feel the need to hear some vocals! In part, I also chose Hollywood Dream since it was co-written by the McCulloch brothers, making it the only original that wasn’t penned by Keen. BTW, Jimmy McCulloch was only 15 years when he recorded this tune with the band.

In early 1971, Thunderclap Newman brought in Australian musicians Roger Felice (drums) and Ronnie Peel (bass) to create a new touring lineup. This was followed by another tour with Deep Purple through England and Scotland between January and April 1971. And then it was suddenly all over for the band. Why? Referencing a 1972 interview Newman gave to the New Musical Express (now known as NME), Wikipedia hints to personal friction between Newman and Keen. It’s unfortunate when egos clash, but certainly not unheard of, especially in music!

Keen went on to record two solo albums, Previous Convictions (1973) and Y’ Know Wot I Mean? (1975), and also played as a session musician with Rod Stewart, The Mission and Kenny G. Sadly, he passed away from heart failure at the age of 62 on March 12, 2002.

Newman also recorded a solo album, Rainbow, which appeared in 1971. Other than that he was “was musically dormant and worked as an electrician, until he put together a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. In addition to Newman, the band’s new line-up featured Tony Stubbings (bass), Nick Johnson (lead guitar), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Pete Townshend’s nephew Josh Townshend (rhythm guitar and vocals). Shortly thereafter, the band released Beyond Hollywood, an album of studio and live tracks of old Thunderclap Newman songs. In 2011, they toured the UK with Big Country. The last two gigs listed on the band’s official website are from 2012. Newman died on March 29, 2016 at the age of 73.

Jimmy McCulloch formed his own group in October 1971 and also played guitar in various other bands, most importantly Paul McCartney’s Wings, which he joined in August 1974. After exiting Wings in September 1977, McCullogh joined the reformed Small Faces. Another own band and a few additional stints followed. On September 27, 1979, McCulloch was found dead, apparently having died from a heart attack attributed to morphine and alcohol poisoning. He was only 26 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Guardian; YouTube