The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? What happened to the bloody week? Okay, let’s try this again: Happy Sunday and I hope everybody had a great week and is enjoying an even better weekend! Nearly anything you can do gets better with great music, so I invite you to join me on another time travel trip. As usual, I’m taking you to six different stops. Are you in? Let’s go!

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane/In a Sentimental Mood

What do you get when combining jazz piano great Duke Ellington and saxophone dynamo John Coltrane? Well, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, a collaboration album released in January 1963, and the first stop on our journey today. Jazz artists love to team up, and this record is one of many collaborative efforts Sir Duke undertook in the early 1960s, which also included artists, such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Rather than a big band setting, it placed Ellington in a quartet, which in addition to Coltrane featured Jimmy Garrison or Aaron Bell (bass) and Elvin Jones or Sam Woodyard (drums). My specific pick is In a Sentimental Mood, which Ellington had composed more than 25 years earlier in 1935, with lyrics written by Manny Kurtz. I guess Ellington’s manager Irving Mills was in the mood for a percentage of the publishing and gave himself a writing credit!

The Jayhawks/Martin’s Song

Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since “discovering” them in August 2020, I’ve come to dig this American alt. country and country rock band. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2019, which still includes Louris and Pearlman. Going back to Hollywood Town Hall, here’s the album’s great closer Martin’s Song, penned by Olson and Louris.

Stephen Stills/Right Now

How ’bout some ’70s? Ask and you shall receive! My pick is Stephen Stills – yep the guy who co-founded Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield with that Canadian fellow Neil Young in 1966, and two years later got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. In 1969, they added Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, played Woodstock and released the classic Déjà Vu in March 1970. Following CSNY’s success, Stills launched a solo career, just like the other three members of the group. In late 1971, he teamed up with Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds) to form the band Manassas. The group also included Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass, backing vocals), Joe Lala (percussion, backing vocals) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Their eponymous debut from April 1972 was the first of two studio albums the group released, as Stephen Stills/Manassas – I assume for name recognition reasons. Plus, Stills wrote or co-wrote all except one of the tunes. Right Now is among the songs solely penned by him – love that tune!

Paul Simon/You Can Call Me Al

In August 1986, Paul Simon released what remains my favorite among his solo albums: Graceland. Evidently, many other folks liked it as well, making it Simon’s best-performing album, both in terms of chart success and sales. It also won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (1987) and Record of the Year (1988) – confusing titles! While the first honors an album in its entirety, the second recognizes a specific track. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock and mbaqanga. The album involved recording sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring local musicians. Therefore, it was criticized by some for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. One can only imagine what kind of firestorm a comparable activity would likely unleash nowadays with so much polarization boosted by social media! If I would have to pick one track from the album, I’d go with You Can Call Me Al, an infectious tune that among others features a crazy bass run by South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.

Little Steven/Soulfire

Let’s keep the groove going with guitarist, songwriter, actor and (unofficial) music professor, the one and only Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven or Miami Steve. Van Zandt gained initial prominence as guitarist in various Bruce Springsteen bands, such as Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen Band, and, of course, the mighty E Street Band. In 1981, Van Zandt started fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The following year, while still being an official member of the E Street Band, he released his debut solo album Men Without Women, credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In April 1984, just before the release of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Van Zant officially left and recorded a series of additional solo albums. After a brief stint in 1995, he permanently rejoined Springsteen’s backing band in 1999. He also got into acting, which most notably included his role as mafioso and strip club owner Silvio Dante in the American TV crime drama series The Sopranos. This finally brings us to Soulfire, his sixth solo album from May 2017. The great title track was co-written by Van Zandt and Anders Bruus, the former guitarist of Danish rock band The Breakers. Here’s a cool live version!

The Sonics/Cinderella

And once again, we’re reaching our final destination of yet another Sunday Six excursion. For this one, let’s go back to the ’60s with some raw garage rock by The Sonics – coz why not! Formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960, they have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. Cinderella is a track from the band’s sophomore release Boom, which appeared in February 1996. The tune was written by Gerry Roslie, the group’s keyboarder at the time. The line-up on the album also included founding members Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals) and his brother Andy Parypa (bass, vocals), along with Rob Lind (saxophone) and Bob Bennett (drums). Based on Wikipedia, The Sonics still appear to be around, with Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa among their current members.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something for you!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Blues Is My Business

I guess the title of the post, which I creatively borrowed from an Etta James song, pretty much gives it away. I’ve been into the blues and blues rock on and off for close to 40 years. My relatively short-lived period as a hobby bassist many moons ago started in a blues band.

After primarily focusing on other genres, I’ve turned more of my attention back to the blues over the past few years. While the old blues guard, i.e., the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, is largely gone, encouragingly, a good number of relatively young artists including a significant amount of females are keeping the blues alive and putting their own stamp on it.

The idea for this post, which celebrates blues and blues rock from young and old artists, was triggered the other day when I came across Worried Life Blues, as covered by B.B. King and Eric Clapton on their great collaboration album Riding with the King from June 2000. Most of the music I feature here is in a Spotify playlist at the end of the post. I’m highlighting six of the tunes in the upfront.

B.B. King and Eric Clapton/Worried Life Blues

Starting with the song that inspired this post felt appropriate. Worried Life Blues was written by American blues pianist Major Merriweather, better known as Big Maceo Merriweather, and county blues artist Samuel John “Lightnin’”  Hopkins, who was known as Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was first recorded and released by Merriwater in 1941. The tune was based on Someday Baby Blues, a Sleepy John Estes song from 1935. Worried Life Blues became one of the most recorded blues standards of all time.

The Boneshakers/Let’s Straighten It Out

My longtime music friend from Germany recently brought this excellent tune to my attention. The Boneshakers were formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Let’s Straighten It Out is from The Boneshakers’ debut album Book of Spells, which appeared in January 1997. The tune was penned by blues vocalist Benny Latimore, who recorded it for his 1974 album More More More. The original is great, but this rendition is killer!

Shemekia Copeland/Salt In My Wounds

Shemekia Copeland, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland, is an incredible blues vocalist who has released 10 albums to date. Salt In My Wounds is from her April 1998 debut Turn the Heat Up! The track was penned by blues guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Alan Mirikitani. Copeland’s delivery is riveting.

Jontavious Willis/Take Me to the Country

Next up is Jontavious Willis, a young country blues guitarist from Greenville, Ga. Taj Mahal, one of his mentors, has called him “wunderkind”. I saw Willis open up for him and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 and was very impressed. Mahal also executive-produced Willis’ sophomore album Spectacular Class, which appeared in April 2019. I previously reviewed it here. Following is a tune from that album, Take Me to the Country. Check this out. Not only is the guitar-playing outstanding, but the singing is great as well!

Danielle Nicole/Save Me

Danielle Nicole (né Danielle Nicole Schnebelen) is a blues and soul musician from Kansas City, Mo. Prior to releasing her solo debut Wolf Den in 2015, Nicole co-founded Kansas City soul and blues rock band Trampled Under Foot in 2000 and was their lead vocalist and bassist. The band recorded five albums before it dissolved in 2015. Save Me, co-written by Schnebelen and drummer and producer Tony Braunagel, is a tune from Nicole’s third and most recent studio album Cry No More. It features Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar.

Little Steven/Blues Is My Business

It may seem a bit odd to highlight Little Steven’s version of the above-noted tune that was first recorded by Etta James as The Blues Is My Business for her 26th studio Let’s Roll. James’ version is great. Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) takes the song, which was co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cherney, to the next level with a soulful rendition that reminds me of Joe Cocker. He included it on his excellent studio album Soulfire from May 2017.

Here’s the above-mentioned playlist with plenty of additional music. Hope you find something you like.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Playlist: Huey Lewis And The News

In the ’80s when I was still living in Germany, you couldn’t switch on the radio without encountering Huey Lewis And The News. By the end of that decade, I think it’s fair to say their popularity had significantly decreased. Just recently, I was reminded of the band when it was, well, back in the news, revealing a new single and their upcoming 10th studio album scheduled for next year. That announcement came after Huey Lewis revealed last April he was suffering from hearing loss as a result of Ménière’s disease. According to Wikipedia, it’s an incurable disorder of the inner ear, which leads to a variety of symptoms, including vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss and a fullness in the ear. The condition forced Lewis to cancel all upcoming tour dates.

I started paying attention to Huey Lewis And The News when they released their third studio album Sports in September 1983. The record, which yieled four top 10 hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, catapulted the band to international stardom. I got the album on vinyl at the time and really dug it. I like the group to this day and saw them first in the ’80s in Germany and a second time in July 2011 at a local theatre in New Brunswick, N.J. The second show was in the wake of their last studio from 2010,  Soulsville, a nice tribute to artists and music of Stax Records. The band still sounded great. I thought it would be fun putting together a playlist featuring some their songs.

I’d like to kick things off with Do You Believe In Love, the first top 10 hit for Huey Lewis And The News on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, it appeared on their sophomore album Picture This from January 1982.

On to the aforementioned hugely successful Sports. How successful? How about seven times Platinum! Records selling like this simply no longer exist these days. Here is the great opener The Heart of Rock & Roll. Co-written by Huey Lewis and the band’s co-founding member, guitarist and saxophone player Johnny Colla, the uptempo pop rocker showcases Colla’s nice sax chops.

Next up is The Power Of Love, which gave the band their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Lewis, Colla and lead guitarist Chris Hayes, it’s probably their best known song, largely because it was featured in the 1985 blockbuster motion picture Back To The Future staring Michael J. Fox. Here’s a clip with footage from the film, one of the most memorable of that decade, in my opinion.

In August 1986, Huey Lews And The News released their fourth studio album Fore! Not only did the album top the Billboard 200, but it also gave the band two additional no. 1 hits: Jacob’s Ladder and tune I’d like to feature here: Stuck With You, a co-write by Lewis and Hayes. In addition to Lewis’ lead vocals, the song nicely illustrates the News’ great harmony singing.

The band’s next album Small World from 1988 featured a full-blown horn section, giving it a nice soulful vibe. But while the record climbed into the top 20 on the Billboard 200, it wasn’t as successful as Fore! and Sports. Here’s Perfect World, a tune written by Alex Call, guitarist, vocalist and founding member of a country rock band called Clover, in which Lewis had played with Call from 1972 until 1979, prior to forming Huey Lewis And The News.

In 1993, the band recorded a beautiful a cappella cover of the Curtis Mayfield tune It’s All Right for a tribute album titled People Get Ready: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield. It’s another impressive illustration of the News’ vocal harmony abilities. Mayfield wrote the song in 1963 and recorded it with his band The Impressions for their eponymous debut record that came out in August that year. Feel free to snip along!

For the next tune, I’d like to jump to the News’ most recent album, the aformentioned Soulsville that was released in October 2010. Here’s the band’s great take of Respect Yourself. It features gospel singer Dorothy Combs Morrison who is sharing vocals with Lewis. Co-written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice, the song was first recorded by The Staple Singers for their 1972 album Be Altitude: Respect Yourself.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the band’s new single Her Love Is Killing Me, a nice rocker with a bluesy touch, featuring a great sounding Lewis on vocals and harmonica, the band’s first new tune in more than a decade. According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, the song was recorded and produced by the News at their own studio in San Rafael, Calif. In addition to Lewis, the band still includes three co-founding members: Colla, Bill Gibson (drums) and Sean Hopper (keyboards). The title and exact timing for the new album have not been announced yet.

Will fans be able to see Huey Lewis And The News on the road again? While Lewis, who is 69 years old, obviously was able to record the song and sounds well, the prospects for doing concerts look less certain. “My hearing fluctuates episodically from bad to almost deaf,” Lewis told the Chronicle. “When it’s simply ‘bad,’ with the use of my earpieces, I can hear speech. I’m hoping fluctuating is a good sign and I can improve enough to hear music and sing.” He also said, “I haven’t sung with the band in a year and 10 months.”

Sources: Wikipedia, San Francisco Chronicle, YouTube

Little Steven Releases New Album Summer Of Sorcery

Van Zandt’s first studio record of new original material in 20 years features mighty backing band The Disciples of Soul

Steven Van Zandt is back in full force on Summer of Sorcery, and he’s pulling all the stops on what is his first album of new original music in 20 years. The launch activities include record release shows this evening in Los Angeles and next Wednesday in Asbury Park, N.J. Since yesterday afternoon, Van Zandt has also “taken over” SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26), where he presents vintage and classic rock tracks, as well as songs from the new album throughout the weekend. Moreover, Summer of Sorcery will be supported with an extended tour through Europe and North America.

Little Steven clearly has been reenergized as a solo artist since the May 2017 release of predecessor Soulfire and that record’s supporting tour, which was also captured on last April’s Soulfire Live! album. He cut down the time between solo record releases from almost 20 to two years – Born Again Savage, the album prior to Soulfire, came out in 1999. And why not? With Bruce Springsteen’s previous Broadway engagement and his upcoming solo album Western Stars, the timing has been perfect for the E Street Band guitarist to focus on his own music.

Little Steven Tour Banner

In many ways, Summer of Sorcery represents a continuation of Soulfire. On both albums, Little Steven is backed by the impressive 14-piece band The Disciples of Soul, and both releases represent a musical journey back to the ’60s and ’70s. If one music artist can pull this off, it is Van Zandt, who frequently showcases his encyclopedic knowledge of music history on his SiriusXM program Underground Garage. He also did so when I saw him and the Disciples in September 2017 during the Soulfire tour.

The key difference between the two records is that Summer of Sorcery features new original music, whereas Soulfire includes songs Van Zandt wrote or co-wrote throughout his career. Most of the tracks on Soulfire also did not appear under his name but were released by other artists, such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the band Van Zandt co-founded with John Lyon (“Southside Johnny”) in the mid-70s and whose first three albums he produced, and Gary U.S. Bonds. You can read more about Soulfire here. Time to get to some new music!

Here’s the opener Communion, a brassy soul rocker and one of the 10 original tunes on the album.

Next up perhaps is a bit of a surprise, at least from my perspective: a Latin song called Party Mambo! I asked my wife who is from Puerto Rico about the tune. She expressed some doubts that fellow Hispanics will like it. While it may not 100 percent authentic, I think it’s groovy.

Vortex throws in blaxploitation, a genre that Little Steven clearly seems to like. Soulfire features a cool cover of Down And Out In New York City, which James Brown first recorded for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. Unlike that tune, Vortex is an original, which sounds like an homage to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. When I’m listening to the tune, I can literally hear the backing vocalists in Shaft.

The title of the next track I’d like to call out pretty much says it all: Soul Power Twist. Another original, the soul horns-meet rock tune could have appeared on an album by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. It has a Sam Cooke vibe to it.

How about some blues? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s I Visit The Blues.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track and closer. “The whole theme of the album is summed up in that song, that wizardry, that magic mixture of falling in love in the summer,” Van Zandt stated in a press release. With clocking in at over eight minutes, it’s perhaps not your typical love song.

“With this record I really wanted to travel back to a time when life was exciting, when unlimited possibilities were there every day,” Van Zandt further pointed out. “That was the feeling in the ’60s, the thrill of the unexpected coming at you. Our minds were blown every single day, one amazing thing after another, constantly lifting you up. So you kind of walked around six inches off the ground all the time, there was something that kept you buoyant in your spirit. I wanted to try and capture that first and foremost.”

Van Zandt seems to be a smart man, so I assume his above statement refers to the world of music, or he simply got carried away by excitement over his new album. The real world in America during the ’60s certainly was much more complicated, with racial segregation, the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War, to name some the events that happened during that period.

Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul in concert (2017)

Summer of Sorcery, which was produced by Van Zandt and appears on Wicked Cool/UMe, is available on CD, digitally, and on vinyl as double LP on 180-gram black vinyl. There is also a limited edition double LP on 180-gram psychedelic swirl vinyl one can get exclusively via uDiscover. The album was mixed and mastered by veteran Bob Clearmountain, who has worked in various capacities with Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Toto and many other top music artists.

In my opinion, Summer of Sorcery is a fun listening experience, even though it’s perhaps not quite as compelling as Soulfire. Like on that album, the production is a bit massive, but The Disciples of Soul are a hell of a band. Directionally speaking, I also agree with American Songwriter, which wrote the tracks “are often little more than revitalized riffs, melodies and rhythms of already existing songs retrofitted with new words and creative, even complex, rearrangements” – a little harsh, in my opinion. They added the album pulls out “all the stops to make this sonic smorgasbord explode out of the speakers with passion and clout.” I don’t think Van Zandt would claim the music represents anything new; in fact, I would argue it was his clear intention to pay homage to artists and music of the past, so the album’s retro sound isn’t surprising and doesn’t bother me.

As noted above, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul are going on the road. Following the above two album release gigs in the U.S., a 19-date European tour kicks off on May 16 in Liverpool, UK. Some of the other gigs include Berlin, Germany (May 28); Stockholm, Sweden (June 1); Brussels, Belgium (June 7) and Zurich, Switzerland (June 11), before that leg wraps up on June 23 in Paris, France. This is followed by 13 North American gigs, starting on June 29 in Syracuse, N.Y. and finishing on July 28 in Annapolis, Md. Then it’s back again to Europe until the beginning of September, before the band returns to North America with four shows in Las Vegas from September 5-8. There are plenty of additional dates during that second North American leg, including Tuscon, Ariz. (Sep 15); Austin, Texas (Sep 29); Birmingham, Ala. (Oct 3); Chicago (Oct 23); and New York City (Nov 6), the last listed gig. The current tour schedule is included in the above press release.

Sources: Wikipedia, UMe press release, Little Steven website, American Songwriter, YouTube

Little Steven Captures 2017 Tour In Great Live Album

“Soulfire Live!” is a journey through rock history

Today, I coincidentally came across this great new live album from Steven Van Zandt and his excellent Disciples Of Soul backing band in Apple Music. I had completely missed Soulfire Live! when it appeared on April 27 on digital platforms for streaming and downloading. According to an announcement, the “surprise release” came just before Little Steven and the band embarked on a new tour through the U.S. in late April, which will last through May and be followed by dates in Europe in late June and July.

Recorded at 2017 shows in Europe and North America, the 24-track collection features original tunes by Little Steven and covers. It includes various tracks from his excellent last studio album Soulfire from May 2017, his first new record in nearly 18 years and one of my favorite albums from last year. I previously wrote about it here. And since I really dig the music, I also decided to catch Little Steven and The Disciples at one of their U.S. gigs in September last year. I also had something to say about that show here.

Soulfire Live! nicely captures the concert atmosphere. At least as intriguing as the music are some of Little Steven’s announcements, during which he provides his perspective on music and shares anecdotes from the past, reminiscent to what he does on his excellent Underground Garage radio show. But the highlight of the talking undoubtedly is Mike Stoller, who the introduced the band at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles last October – yep, The Mike Stoller who together with Jerry Leiber wrote numerous legendary tunes for artists like Big Mama Thornton (Hound Dog), The Drifters (Fools Fall In Love), Ben E. King (Stand By Me) and of course Elvis Presley (Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Treat Me Nice, etc.).

Stoller notes he was an usher at the theatre 67 years ago until got into an argument with his boss and was fired. After that he says he decided to team up with his friend Jerry Leiber to write songs, dryly adding it worked out pretty good. Listen for yourself – it’s priceless!

On to some music. Here is one of my favorite covers from this collection, which also appeared on the Soulfire studio album: Blues Is My Business, a tune co-written by Kevin Bowe and Todd Cerney and sung by Etta James on her 2003 blues record Let’s Roll. The band is just killing it!

One of the original Little Steven tunes is Angel Eyes, which he recorded for his 1982 solo debut record Men Without Women. That tune has a nice soul groove.

Standing In The Line Of Fire is another song by Little Steven. He wrote it for Gary U.S. Bonds, and it became the title track of a studio album Bonds released in September 1984. Little Steven also co-produced the record. I like the song’s Hank Marvin-style guitar intro.

Another superb cover is the blaxploitation tune Down And Out In New York City. It was written by Bodie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, and recorded by James Brown for Black Caesar, a soundtrack album for the motion picture of the same name, which appeared in February 1973. The track was also included on Soulfire, though the live version is extended.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is another cover, Groovin’ Is Easy, by American blues rock and soul band The Electric Flag. The song was written by the band’s guitarist Nick Gravenites and appeared on their debut album A Long Time Comin’ from March 1968. Based on some of their music I’ve heard, I have to check out these guys more closely.

Soulfire Live! was produced and arranged by Van Zandt, and appears on his rock and roll label Wicked Cool Records. It was mixed by heavy hitter Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and The Who, among many others. The album will also become available on CD, Blu-ray and vinyl editions this summer.

Sources: Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) press release, NJArts.net, Wikipedia, YouTube