A Blues & Soul Playlist That’s Cooking

Yesterday, my streaming music service suggested the enclosed great playlist of blues-oriented tunes. To be clear, this isn’t some hidden advertising. While I’ve acknowledged Apple Music on previous occasions as an inspiration for some of my posts, not all of their listening suggestions, which are supposed to reflect your previous music choices, are great; in fact, sometimes I find it outright bizarre what they serve up because I like genre X or have listened to artist Y. While overall their music selection algorithm works pretty well, there’s clearly some room left for improvement. I guess this proves algorithms, which also have started to be utilized in other creative fields like journalism, can never fully replace actual human beings, which is a good thing!

Here’s how Apple Music describes the playlist that features 26 songs: Blues is tradition, but it’s also evolution—the sound of hard times and healing, then and now. Filled with gritty, Howlin’ Wolf-style throwbacks, progressive hybrids, and sophisticated soul, this mix represents the best of the blues right now—with a few old favorites thrown in for balance. We regularly update these tunes, so if you hear something that rips you up or breaks you down (in that good way, of course), add it to your library.

Following I’d like to highlight a few of these tunes. I’m deliberately leaving out tracks I already featured in previous posts, such as Leave The Light On (Beth Hart), Too Cold To Cry (Lindsay Beaver) or Cognac (Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck and Keith Richards). But in case you haven’t listened to these songs and like blues and soul, you definitely should. On to some music clips!

Got To Go Where The Love Is, Van Morrison

Van Morrison may no longer release another Astral Weeks or Moondance, but at age 73, the Belfast Cowboy surely isn’t done yet with music. In fact, if anything, for the past two years, he seems to be on some sort of recording spree! Here’s Got To Go Where The Love Is, a great soulful Morrison tune from his most recent album The Prophet Speaks, his 40th studio release, which appeared last December.

We Made It, Cedric Burnside

Frankly, I had never heard of Cedric Burnside before. Wikipedia describes him as an American electric blues drummer, guitarist, singer and songwriter. He definitely has blues in his genes. Burnside is the son of blues drummer Calvin Jackson and grandson of blues singer, songwriter and guitarist R. L. Burnside. Since his 2006, he has released eight albums. We Made It is from his most recent record Benton County Relic that came out in September 2018. I really dig the rough sound and the energy of this tune.

Whipping Post, Nakia

Nakia, another name I hadn’t heard before, is a musician, singer-songwriter and actor from Austin, Texas. From his website: Before he was on “The Voice” [semi-finalist on the first season of the NBC singing competition], Nakia was a Blues Grifter. Named for the age-old concept of stealing from the greats, the Blues Grifters formed in 2010. In August 2018, Nakia released his latest album appropriately called Blues Grifter, a smoking hot compilation of blues covers. Instead of Double Trouble, which the Apple Music playlist features, I decided to highlight Nakia’s soulful take of Whipping Post. While taking an Allman Brothers Band classic and changing it up is a gutsy move, I like the outcome!

Home, Janiva Magness (featuring Cedric Burnside)

Janiva Magness is a blues, soul and Americana singer-songwriter from Detroit. Apparently, she has been an active artist since the 1980s. Between 1991 and February 2018, she has released 14 albums. In 2009, Magness became only the second woman after Koko Taylor named B.B. King Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation. She has also received seven Blues Music Awards from the foundation and other accolades. Here’s Home, a powerful duo with the above noted Cedric Burnside. It appears on Magness’ most recent album Love Is An Army from February 2018.

Cry No More, Danielle Nicole

Another great soul-oriented tune is Cry No More by Danielle Nicole, a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. I previously included her in a post about ladies who excel at singing the blues. Written by Nicole, Cry No More is the title track from her last album, which was released in February 2018.

Here’s the entire playlist:

Leave the Light On (Live), Beth Hart

Got To Go Where The Love Is, Van Morrison

Too Cold To Cry, Lindsay Beaver

We Made It., Cedric Burnside

Double Trouble, Nakia

Another Mule, Elvin Bishop

Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck & Keith Richards), Buddy Guy

Revolution, Eric Lindell

Rock and Stick, Boz Scaggs

Ain’t Got Time For Hate, Shemekia Copeland

Shine Bright, Marcia Ball

Plastic Hamburgers, Fantastic Negrito

Soul Shake, Tommy Castro

Things Have Changed, Bettye LaVette

Home (feat. Cedric Burnside), Janiva Magness

Damn Your Eyes, Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa

Blue No More (feat. James Bay), Buddy Guy

Upper Hermosa Mountain Blues, Casey Wickstrom

Sound of a Broken Man, Tinsley Ellis

When I Go, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

Come Together, Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL

I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish), Curtis Salgado & Alan Hager

Cry No More, Danielle Nicole

The High Cost of Low Living, Nick Moss

Cannonball (feat. Fantastic Negrito) [Acoustic], ZZ Ward

We’re All In This Together (feat. Joe Bonamassa), Walter Trout

If you have access to Apple Music, you can find the playlist at https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/the-a-list-blues/pl.a9faca07cf8f47e19f1819b0f5a2e765

Sources: Apple Music, Wikipedia, Nakia website, YouTube

 

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What I’ve Been Listening To: Simply Red/Picture Book

Frequent visitors of the blog perhaps may be a bit surprised that I chose to highlight Picture Book by Simply Red. After all, sometimes it may appear I just can’t get enough of classic rock and blues. And while it’s certainly true these two genres form my core wheelhouse, I also enjoy other music.

Released in October 1985, Picture Book was the debut album by Simply Red. I’ve always dug it for its smooth soul and funky sound and Mick Hucknall’s distinct lead vocals. Before getting to some of the record’s music, I’d like to briefly touch on the band’s background.

Simply Red were formed in Manchester, England in 1984. Surprisingly, and I had not known about this until I read it on Wikipedia, most of the initial members came from musical backgrounds that were very different from Simply Red. Lead vocalist Mick Hucknall’s previous music venture was a punk band called The Frantic Elevators. That band was founded in 1976 and in addition to Hucknall (vocals) included Neil Moss (guitar), Brian Turner (bass) and Kevin Williams (drums). After seven years, The Frantic Elevators called it quits – ironically after the release of their fourth and final single Holding Back The Years had finally gotten them some attention.

Simply Red 1985
Simply Red 1985 (from left): Tim Kellett, Sylvan Richardson, Tony Bowers, Fritz McIntyre, Mick Hucknall & Chris Joyce

Following the demise of the Elevators Hucknall teamed up with band manager Elliot Rashman, and they put together a band of local session musicians, which became Simply Red. Their initial line-up consisted of Hucknall (lead vocals), David Fryman (guitar), Tony Bowers (bass), Fritz McIntyre (keyboards and vocals), Tim Kellett (brass, live backing vocals) and Chris Joyce (drums). Bowers, Kellett and Joyce each had previously been members of post-punk bands.

In 1985, Simply Red got a record deal with Elektra and started working in the studio. After recording one tune, Red Box, which would become the B-side of their first single Money’s Too Tight To Mention, Fryman left the band and was replaced by Sylvan Richardson on guitar. Let’s get to some music from Picture Book.

Here’s the opener Come To My Aid, a funky tune with a catchy melody. Co-written by Hucknall and McIntyre, the track also appeared separately as the album’s second single in August 1985.

One of my favorite songs on Picture Book is the second track Sad Old Red. I love the jazz and blues groove of the tune, which was written by Hucknall. It’s the kind of music that makes you snip your fingers.

Next up: A fantastic cover of Heaven, which was co-written by David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and initially appeared on the band’s third studio album Fear Of Music from August 1979. I like the original but feel Simply Red kicked it up a notch by turning the tune into a beautiful soul ballad.

The second great cover on the album is the above mentioned Money’s Too Tight (To Mention). The song was co-written by brothers John Valentine and William Valentine who performed as The Valentine Brothers and first recorded it in 1982.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Holding Back The Years, the previously noted tune by The Frantic Elevators. Co-written by Hucknall and the band’s guitarist Neil Moss, the song also became Simply Red’s most successful single, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at no. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

Simply Red went on to record nine additional studio albums before disbanding in 2010. By that time, Hucknall was the only remaining original member and Simply Red essentially had become his solo project. In 2015, the band reunited and has since released a new studio album, Big Love, in May 2015 and conducted two anniversary tours.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: The Temptations/Silent Night

Usually, I’m not much into traditional Christmas music, but this rendition of Silent Night by The Temptations is one of the most beautiful holiday tunes I know. It truly touches me every time I listen to it.

Silent Night (original German title: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht) is a Christmas carol from 1818, written by Austrian church organist and composer Franz Xaver Gruber, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian Roman Catholic priest and writer. The Temptations recorded it for their second Christmas album Give Love At Christmas released in August 1980.

I feel The Temptations are in a category by themselves. There’s simply no other vocal group I’m aware of, who can sing in perfect four or five-part vocal harmony like the legendary Motown quintet.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Bitmoji

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Soul Men Comin’ To You With Good Lovin’

Sam & Dave were Stax top act along with Otis Redding

With the country teetering from one crisis to the other, the news isn’t great these days, but not all is bleak. When I spotted this recent story from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, it put a smile on my face. Sam & Dave will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019. While I don’t ever need a reason to cover great music, this well-deserved honor provides a great angle to celebrate “The Dynamic Duo” that became Stax Records’ top performers in the ’60s, together with Otis Redding.

Sam Moore, born on October 12, 1935 in Miami, and Dave Prater, born on May 9, 1937 in Sycamore, Ga., met at the King of Hearts Club in Miami in 1961 while working on the gospel music circuit. At the time, they had already individually established themselves in the gospel groups The Melionaires and the Sensational Hummingbirds, respectively. They decided to team up but success didn’t come right away.

Sam & Dave In Concert
Sam Moore & Dave Prater

Shortly after meeting at the above Miami club, Moore and Prater got a contract with Roulette Records. They released a series of six singles that went unnoticed. In late 1964, Billboard journalist turned record company partner Jerry Wexler signed them to Atlantic Records. Moore and Prater were excited about the prospect to record at the label’s headquarters in New York or perhaps at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. But, as the above Commercial Appeal story notes, “instead they were given two bus tickets to Memphis, home of Stax Records.”

To further quote from the article, “When Moore and Prater got off the bus, they were shocked at what they found: an integrated collection of musicians working out of a funky old studio on the city’s south side.” And I might add all of that during a time and in a place where racial segregation was still very much a reality despite the enactment of the Civil Rights Act on June 2, 1964.

Sam & Dave at Stax
Sam & Dave at Stax Records ca. 1970 (from left): Sam Moore, Isaac Hayes, Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, Dave Prater, Jim Stewart and Steve Cropper

Initially, Sam & Dave worked with Stax producer and engineer Jim Stewart and songwriter Steve Cropper, guitarist of Stax dynamite house band Booker T. & The M.G.s. Then they moved to Isaac Hayes and David Porter, who at the time were still relative newcomers to writing and producing music. Sam & Dave’s first two singles didn’t make the charts. But success came with the third release You Don’t Know Like I Know, a no. 7 on the R&B chart.

In April 1966, Sam & Dave released their debut album Hold On, I’m Comin’. And comin’ they did. Both the record and the title track became hugely successful. Over the next three years, Sam & Dave scored eight additional consecutive top 20 R&B chart hits. Then their luck ran out. After a series of unsuccessful singles in 1969 and early 1970, they broke up in June that year.

Sam & Dave_Back at 'Cha

Each went on to record some solo singles that didn’t make an impact, and in August 1971, Sam & Dave decided to reunite, just before their contract with Atlantic expired. While they didn’t have a label, they continued to be a sought after live act. In 1975, they released a new studio album, Back At ‘Cha via United Artists. Produced by Steve Cropper and featuring the M.G.s and The Memphis Horns, the record yielded a top 100 single appropriately titled A Little Bit Of Good (Cures A Whole Lot Of Bad).

The emergence of The Blues Brothers in the late ’70s and their cover of Soul Man brought Sam & Dave back into the limelight. A series of concert appearances and two compilation albums (Soul Study Vol. 1 and Soul Study Vol. 2) followed, before The Dynamic Duo gave their last concert as a pair on new year’s eve in 1981.

Sam Moore at the White House
Sam Moore performing at The White House in July 2013

Following the second and final break-up, Prater hired singer Sam Daniels to perform the Sam part and started touring under the “Sam & Dave” name or as “The New Sam & Dave Revue.” This didn’t go over well with Moore, who tried to block Prater from using the name. On April 9, 1988, Prater was killed in a car accident in Sycamore, Ga.

Since 1981, Moore has continued to tour with other famous soul artists, such as Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & The M.G.s and Carla Thomas. He has also done some recording, for example, You Must Not Be Drinkin’ Enough, together with Don Henley for his 1984 album Building The Perfect Beast. In 1986, he also re-recorded Soul Man with Lou Reed for a motion picture with the same name. In October, Moore turned 83 and still appears to be active. Let’s get to some music!

What better tune to start off this playlist than with Hold On, I’m Comin’, the title track of Sam & Dave’s debut studio album released in April 1966. The song was co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Initially, I was going to include a clip of the studio recording. Then I came again across this killer live footage. Damn’, if this doesn’t make you get up and dance or at least groove along by snipping your fingers, you’ve probably had too much eggnog or too many Christmas cookies!

In addition to Hayes and Porter, other Stax musicians were involved in writing music for Sam & Dave. One such example is If You Got The Loving, another tune from the debut album, for which Steve Cropper received a co-writing credit, along with Hayes and Porter.

Here’s Soul Man from Sam & Dave’s third studio album Soul Men, which appeared in October 1967. Another Hayes-Porter composition, Soul Man became a no. 1 single on what was then the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart, nowadays known as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It also peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Like for many other Stax recordings at the time, the label’s killer house band Booker T. & The M.G.s  provided the instrumentation. It’s acknowledged in the second chorus with the line, I‘m a soul man, play it Steve, a reference to guitarist Steve Cropper.

Next up: Broke Down Piece Of Man, another great tune from the Soul Men album. This song was written by Cropper and Joe Shamwell, a frequent co-writer of Stax music.

In 1968, Sam & Dave released I Thank You, their fourth and final studio album prior their first official breakup. Here’s the title track

I Thank You was the title track from Sam & Dave’s fourth studio album from 1968, the final record prior to their first official breakup. Another great Hayes-Porter co-write, the tune became Sam & Dave’s last top 10 single.

Here’s another hot tune from the record: Wrap It Up, yet another co-write by Hayes and Porter. If the song sounds familiar, yet you haven’t heard this version, you may know it from The Fabulous Thunderbirds, who included a great cover on their January 1986 studio album Tuff Enuff.

I’d like to close this post with two tunes from Sam & Dave’s final studio album released in May 1974. First is the above mentioned A Little Bit Of Good (Cures A Whole Lot Of Bad). The song was co-written by Gary Dalton and Kent Dubarri, who also performed as Dalton & Dubarri and released four records in the ’70s.

Last but not least, here’s Shoo Rah, Shoo Rah, a nice cover of a tune written by Allen Toussaint and first recorded by American soul and R&B singer Betty Wright.

In addition to the upcoming Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Sam & Dave have received various other accolades. In 1992, they were induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. According to Wikipedia, they are also members of the Grammy Hall of Fame, Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame – gee, frankly, I didn’t know there were so many different halls of fame. Apart from Soul Man, their songs have been covered by many other top music artists, such as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton & B.B. King.

Sources: Wikipedia, Memphis Commercial Appeal, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Lenny Kravitz/Raise Vibration

Eleventh studio album illustrates that after 30 years Kravitz maintains his gift to combine retro with modern sounds and write catchy tunes

Somehow I completely missed Lenny Kravitz’s new album Raise Vibration when it was released on September 7. I guess I should perhaps subscribe to a music publication to better stay on top of new music, except of course I’m not into most music that’s coming out these days. Anyway, I “discovered” Raise Vibration earlier today after I had seen a related clip on Facebook. Most of the reviews I read were quick to point out Kravitz’s 11th studio release doesn’t break any new ground. I mostly agree and that’s just fine with me.

I feel many critics have given Kravitz a hard time since he emerged in September 1989 with Let Love Rule. Some have said his music too much reflects his ’60s influences like Jimi Hendrix or early Led Zeppelin. Last time I checked both were among the most outstanding artists on the planet. Some folks have maintained Kravitz doesn’t sound black enough, while others have found he sounded too white. All of this is complete and utter nonsense, in my opinion!

Lenny Kravitz

When I look at Kravitz, I see an incredibly talented artist who writes, sings and produces his own music. Oh, and apart from being a capable guitarist, he also plays most of the other instruments on his records. Most importantly, Kravitz has the gift to mix retro elements with modern sounds and write catchy tunes. All of these qualities are present on Raise Vibration, his first new album in four years since Strut from September 2014.

But evidently, Kravitz found himself in a very different place three years ago after he had finished his last world tour, he told Rolling Stone in April this year. “I really wasn’t sure where I was going musically,” Kravitz explained. “After doing this for 30 years, I wasn’t feeling it. I’d never felt that confused about what to do. And it was kind of a scary place. You don’t know when it’s going to come.” While there are techniques that can stimulate creativity, ultimately, you can’t force it.

Lenny Kravitz In Concert

Kravitz bravely rejected the advice from others to collaborate with producers and songwriters who know how to score hits. “I’ve never really worked that way, following trends or doing what people think you should do,” he further noted to Rolling Stone. “I’ve always made music that came naturally out of me.” And fortunately that’s exactly what happened when one night Kravitz woke up at 4:00 am in his house in the Bahamas with a song in his head, which would become Low, one of the standouts on the album. It proofed to be the catalyst he needed to spur his artistic creativity. “I learned you have to trust yourself and the artist in yourself. Always trust what you have.” Yes! And with that let’s get to some music.

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Low. Like all other tunes on Raise Vibration except for two, it was written by Kravitz. The song also became the second single released ahead of the album on May 29. If the “oohs” in the track sound like Michael Jackson, that’s because it features posthumous, presumably sampled “guest vocals” from the King of Pop. This is one great funky tune!

Next up: The album’s title track. I just love the guitar sound and the cool breaks on that track. The native American chants and drums toward the end ad an unusual element. So much for not breaking any new ground!

Johnny Cash, a moving tribute to the country legend, is based on an encounter Kravitz had with the Man in Black and his wife June Carter Cash in 1995, when they were all staying at producer Rick Rubin’s apartment in Los Angeles. At the time his mother was receiving treatment for breast cancer. After getting a call from the hospital that this mom had passed away, Johnny and June consoled Kravitz. “…they decided at that moment (to) treat me like they would treat someone in their family,” Kravitz said during a BBC interview, as reported by Music-News.com. “It was a beautiful moment of humanity and love.”

Another gem on the album is Here To Love, a nice piano-driven ballad.

The last tune I’d like to call out is It’s Enough, which also became the album’s lead single released on May 11. It’s got a cool Marvin Gaye vibe that lyrically is reminiscent of  What’s Going On with a bass line that sounds like it could have been inspired by Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). Also check out the horns that start at around 6 minutes into the song: nice touch of ’70s Temptations – super cool!

Like he usually does, Kravitz produced the album and plays most of the instruments. Other than string and horn players, the only other musicians are longtime collaborator and guitarist Craig Ross, who also co-wrote two of the tracks with Kravitz, as well as keyboardist and orchestrator David Baron. Kravitz is supporting the album with a world tour. The 2018 section started in April ahead of the record’s release and mostly focused on Europe. It also included 10 dates in the U.S., which wrapped up in Las Vegas in late October. According to the schedule, the tour will resume in March 2019 with a series of gigs in South America before traveling back to Europe. Currently, the last date is June 11, 2019 in London, U.K.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Music-News.com, Lenny Kravitz website, YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Beth Hart/Leave The Light On

Sometimes you come across music that blows you away. Completely. It rarely happens. When it does it’s a beautiful thing. Check out the above clip of Beth Hart performing Leave The Light On. Turn up the volume and tell me this isn’t powerful shit! Frankly, I was close to tears when I did.

Leave The Light On is the title track of Hart’s fourth studio album. The above clip is from an upcoming record called Live At The Royal Albert Hall, which is scheduled for release on November 30th. I’ll be looking for that one!

Hart is an American singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, who according to Wikipedia began playing clubs in Hollywood at the age of 15. Based on her birthday, that was back in 1987. Six years later, she released her first record as Beth Hart and the Ocean of Souls. After sampling a few tunes, this seems to be one smoking hot record! She has since released eight additional studio albums, one extended play, three collaboration albums and three live records, including the upcoming one. I’ll be sure to further check her out!

Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics of Leave The Light On. This is painful stuff:

Daddy ain’t that bad he just plays rough
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up 
I leave the light on 
Little girl hiding underneath the bed was it something I did 
Must be something I said 
I leave the light on, better leave the light on.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

Clips & Pix: Aretha Franklin/Rock Steady

While the memorial for Aretha Franklin is still going on in Detroit, it felt right to celebrate her with more great music. My previous post about the Queen of Soul is here. Apparently, the above clip of Rock Steady was captured in 1972 during a performance on the TV show Soul Train. I just love the funky groove of this tune!

Rock Steady was written by Franklin, who was mostly known for performing songs by other writers and making them her own. She first recorded the tune for her eighteenth studio album Young, Gifted And Black from January 1972. It was also released separately as the record’s third single in August 1971.

The single peaked at no. 9 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It climbed all the way to no. 2 on the Best Selling Souls Singles chart, now called the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube