The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are when reading this – welcome to another Sunday Six. In this weekly feature, I’m embarking on imaginary time travel journeys to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors from different decades, six tunes at a time. Hop on for the ride and fasten your seatbelt.

Wayne Krantz/For Susan

Today, I’d like to start our little trip with beautiful instrumental music by Wayne Krantz, an American guitarist and composer who has been active since the ’80s. Telling you he “was good enough” for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to tour with Steely Dan and appear on Fagen’s 2006 solo album Morph the Cat should suffice. Krantz has also worked with jazz artists Billy Cobham, Chris Potter, David Binney and Carla Bley. And since 1990, he has released eight studio albums as a band leader. Let’s give a listen to For Susan, a soothing track from what appears to be Krantz’s first solo album Signals, released in 1990. Check out this amazing guitar tone – not surprisingly, it was instant love for me!

Fleetwood Mac/Sometimes

I think it’s safe to assume most folks best know Fleetwood Mac from their “classic period” between 1975 and 1987, which among others includes their most successful album Rumours (February 1977). But there’s more to the Mac who started out as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in July 1967, a blues rock band led by amazing blues guitarist Peter Green. In April 1970, Green who was in the throes of drug addiction and mental illness left the group. This started an interesting transitional era that initially featured Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan on guitars, in addition to co-founders John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums). They were soon officially be joined by Christine McVie (born Anne Christine Perfect), who in 1968 had married John McVie – the first of many complicated relationships among members of the Mac! By the time they released their fifth studio album Future Games in September 1971, Spencer had been replaced by guitarist Bob Welch. Here’s Sometimes, a great country rock tune off that record, penned by Kirwan – the Mac’s early blues rock days were in the distant past!

Fastball/Fire Escape

With their recent release of a nice new album, The Deep End, Fastball have been on my mind. The Texan band was formed in 1994 in Austin by Tony Scalzo  (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar),  Miles Zuniga  (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion), a lineup that remarkably remains in place to this day. You can read more about the group and their ups and downs in this feature I posted in February this year. I’d like to take us to March 1998, which saw the release of Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy, their breakthrough and most successful record. Instead of The Way, their biggest hit that initially brought the band on my radar screen, I’d like to highlight Fire Escape, another excellent tune. Written by Zuniga, the song also became the album’s second single. While it made various charts in the U.S. and Canada, surprisingly, it did fare far more moderately than The Way.

World Party/The Ballad of the Little Man

I still remember when I heard Ship of Fools for the first time in the ’80s and thought, ‘gee, the vocalist sounds a bit like Mick Jagger.’ The vocalist, of course, was singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger, who had started World Party in 1986 as a solo music project after his departure from The Waterboys. His debut album under the World Party moniker was Private Revolution, which came out in March 1987. It would be the first of five released over the following 13 years. In February 2001, Wallinger had an aneurysm that left him unable to speak and sidelined his career until 2006. While over the next 14 years he occasionally toured with a backing band as World Party and released the compilation Arkeology (2012) and a live album, World Party Live! (2014), Wallinger appears to have been inactive since 2015. Here’s The Ballad of the Little Man, a tune from Private Revolution. I love the cool ’60s vibe in many of Wallinger’s tunes!

The Doors/Light My Fire

The time has come to travel back to the ’60s for real. In January 1967, The Doors, one of my favorite groups, released their eponymous debut, and what a great record it was! Break On Through (To the Other Side), Soul Kitchen, Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) and the apocalyptic The End are among the gems here. And, of course, the mighty Light My Fire, which was primarily written by guitarist Robbie Krieger, though it was credited to the entire band. The song also became the group’s second single and their breakthrough. But I’m not featuring the shortened single edit. At CMM, we don’t do things half-ass! Ray Manzarek’s organ part is sheer magic to my ears. I never get tired of it!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

Once again we’re entering the final stretch of yet another Sunday Six. When it comes to Carlos Santana, who has been a favorite since I listened to the 1974 compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits as an 8-year-old, I’ve always loved his first three albums the most. This “classic period” spanned the years 1969 to 1971 and includes gems like Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Black Magic Woman, Samba Pa Ti and Everybody’s Everything. Needless to point out I was intrigued when sometime in early 2016 I learned Carlos had reunited with most of the surviving members from the band’s early ’70s lineup for a new album: Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboards), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals) and Michael Shrieve (drums). Sure, 46 years is a very long time and I couldn’t expect Santana IV would sound the same as those first three records. But I still liked what I heard. Perhaps best of all, I got to see that version of Santana live during a short supporting tour, which also featured Journey. I’m leaving you with Anywhere You Want to Go, penned by Rolie. Feel free to groove along!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify list of all the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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What I’ve Been Listening To: Larkin Poe/Venom & Faith

A few weeks ago, Facebook served me up a video of two young women rocking out: One with an electric guitar, the other one with a pedal steel. Apart from compelling musicianship, the clip featured great harmony vocals, but what really stood out to me was their infectious raw energy. More recently, I watched another clip of 28-year-old Rebecca Lovell and her two-year older sister Megan Lovell, who since January 2010 have performed as Larkin Poe. This prompted me to listen to Venom & Faith, an intriguing album with a stripped back sound blending a strong dose of traditional blues and roots with more modern elements, such as electronic drum loops and handclaps.

Rebecca and Megan, who originally hail from Georgia and now live in Nashville, Tenn. started out as teenagers in 2005 with their eldest sister Jessica Lovell in a bluegrass/Americana formation called The Lovell Sisters. They released two studio records and one live album before disbanding in January 2010. Rebecca and Megan regrouped as Larkin Poe immediately thereafter. They got the name from their great-great-great-grandfather who according to this review in Glide Magazine was a distant cousin to Edgar Allan Poe.

Released in November 2018, Venom & Faith is Larkin Poe’s fourth and most recent studio album. Wikipedia also lists Tarka Layman (bass) and Kevin McGowan (drums) as band members, though I assume the two session musicians are part of the touring lineup. All Venom & Faith reviews I’ve seen only mention Rebecca and Megan, along with slide guitarist Tyler Bryant and recording engineer Roger Alan Nichols with whom the sisters co-produced the album.

Larkin Poe
Rebecca (l) and Megan Lovell

The stripped-back approach Larkin Poe used on this album largely mirrors their YouTube “Tip o’ The Hat” video series, where they take mostly well-known tunes, such as Aerosmith’s Pink, Steelers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You and Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town, and create their own bare-bones versions. Check it out, these clips are fun to watch!

Let’s get to some music from Venom & Faith. The opener Sometimes is one of only two covers on the record. Co-written by Alan Lomax and folk and gospel singer Bessie Jones, the tune was first released by Jones in 1960.

Beach Blonde Bottle Blues is one of the album’s eight original tunes.

Next up: Mississippi. It features the above mentioned Tylor Bryant on resonator slide guitar.

Here’s Blue Ridge Mountains, another nice bluesy track.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hard Times Killing Floor Blues, the only other cover on the record. The song was written by delta blues artist Skip James in 1932.

I think Venom & Faith is a pretty cool album overall by two highly talented musicians. Perhaps my only point of criticism is the lack of real drums. The reliance on handclaps and drum loops does get a bit monotonous after a while. “For our previous records, we wanted to put our best foot forward, so there was a lot more production,” Megan told Guitar Player. You want to take out your mistakes, layer the guitars and double the vocals, and before you know it, you’ve covered up all the humanity in your performances…[For Venom & Faith] we didn’t want to smooth over the imperfections or the raw emotion, because often those are the very things listeners wind up loving.” Fair point!

Added Rebecca, “The production process was about how modern sounds could work with roots music to create a hybrid. We very much wanted to show that we are a female-fronted blues band in the 21st century.”

Venom & Faith has been nominated for the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. I see great potential in Larkin Poe and look forward to more great music from these highly skilled and dynamic ladies.

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Guitar Player; YouTube