The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s another Sunday morning in good ole’ New Jersey. The weather looks decent with temperatures supposed to hit the ’60s – perfect for an Easter egg hunt, if you’re into it! In case you prefer music or perhaps combine Easter egg hunting with some great tunes, I encourage you to read on. I think I’ve put together another nice and diverse set of six random tunes: Some instrumental rock, bluegrass, alternative rock, soul and blues rock.

The Shadows/Apache

I’m a huge fan of Hank Marvin, the lead guitarist of The Shadows, whose combination of his Fender Stratocaster and a Vox amplifier created a cool signature sound. Initially founded in 1958 under the name of The Drifters as the backing group for Cliff Richard, the instrumental band became The Shadows in July 1959, after the U.S. vocal group of the same name had threatened legal action. The Shadows soon stepped out of – well – Richards’ shadow and gained popularity on their own. Apache, released in July 1960, became their first no. 1 hit in the UK. It also topped the charts in France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. Written by English composer Jerry Lordan, the tune was first recorded by English guitarist Bert Weedon. But Lordan didn’t like it. I have to agree the version by The Shadows sounds much more dynamic. Still, Weedon’s recording of the track, which came out at the same time, made it to no. 24 on the British charts.

Alison Krauss & Union Station/My Opening Farewell

I’ve yet to more fully explore American bluegrass and country artist Alison Krauss, who I primarily know because of her 2007 collaboration album with Robert Plant. When I came across My Opening Farewell the other day, I immediately liked the tune, so it wasn’t a hard decision to feature it a Sunday Six installment. Written by Jackson Browne, Opening Farewell is the closer of Krauss’ 14th studio album Paper Airplane from April 2011, which she recorded together with her longtime backing band Union Station. While Krauss has continued to perform with Union Station, Paper Airplane is her most recent album with the band. In February 2017, Krauss released Windy City, her fifth and latest solo album. Hope you enjoy Opening Farewell as much as I do!

Counting Crows/Round Here

When I heard Mr. Jones for the first time, I fell in love immediately with American alternative rock band Counting Crows and immediately got their debut album August and Everything After from September 1993. While Mr. Jones, which also became the lead single, is the obvious hit, there are many other great tunes on that record as well. One of them is the opener Round Here. Co-written by lead vocalist Adam Duritz and the band’s guitarist David Bryson, together with Dave Janusko, Dan Jewett and Chris Roldan, the tune also became the album’s second single in 1994. Counting Crows remain active to this day and have released six additional studio albums to date, with Somewhere Under Wonderland from September 2014 being the most recent. Some new music may be on the way. In February 2020, Duritz revealed the band was working in the studio on a suite of songs that could be released as a series of EPs. I guess we have to stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s the excellent Round Here.

Marvin Gaye/Mercy Mercy Me

I trust Marvin Gaye doesn’t need an introduction. In my book, he was one of the greatest soul vocalists of all time. After gaining initial fame with a string of hits at Motown and helping shape the Detroit label’s infectious sound, Gaye emancipated himself from Berry Gordy’s production machine in the 1970s and recorded and produced a series of highly regarded albums. The first one was What’s Going On from May 1971, a true ’70s soul gem. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful music and Gaye’s smooth singing. The concept album explored themes like drug abuse, poverty, environmental degradation and the Vietnam War. Just because Gaye didn’t believe in “shouting,” this doesn’t mean his social commentary wasn’t biting. Here’s the amazing Mercy Mercy Me, expressing Gaye’s sadness about ecological decay.

Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

As we start approaching the end of this Sunday Six installment, it’s time to speed things up, don’t you agree? More frequent visitors of the blog have probably noticed my deep affection for Southern Avenue, a band from Memphis, Tenn., which blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I think these guys are dynamite and are one of the best contemporary bands. I also love the racial diversity they represent. Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings backing vocals; white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Here’s 80 Miles From Memphis, a tune written by Naftaly from the band’s eponymous debut album released in February 2017. BTW, in 2016, Southern Avenue became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. How cool is that?

ZZ Top/Tush

Okay, with this last tune, let’s push the pedal to the metal. In my book, Tush by ZZ Top is perhaps the ultimate blues rocker. I just love the guitar riff, the bottleneck action, and how tight the band sounds. Formed in 1969 in Houston, the trio of Billy Gibbons (guitar, vocals), Dusty Hill (bass, vocals) and Frank Beard (drums) is rocking to this day. Fun fact: Beard is the only member of the band without a beard! ZZ Top have released 15 studio albums, four live albums, seven compilations and more than 40 singles to date. Looks like their most recent release was a compilation from 2019 titled Goin’ 50. Tush, credited to all members of the band, is the closer of ZZ Top’s fourth studio album Fandango!, which appeared in April 1975. Take it away, boys!

Last but not least, to those who celebrate it, I’d like to wish you a Happy Easter. To those who don’t, have a great Sunday anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; 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

The Year that was 2020 – Part 2 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

This is second and last installment of my two-part year in review. In case you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Celebrating new music one song at a time

With more than 150 songs highlighted since the launch of the Best of What’s New feature, I find it impossible to call out the best tunes. As I wrote in the inaugural March 21 post, While I don’t see myself starting to write about electronic dance music or Neue Deutsche Haerte a la Rammstein, I’m hoping to keep these posts a bit eclectic. I realize the characterization “best” is pretty subjective. If a song speaks to me, it’s fair game. I should perhaps have added that I don’t need to like other tunes by an artist to include them. It’s literally about the specific song.

Best of What’s New installments have featured tunes ranging from prominent artists like Sheryl Crow, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty to lesser known acts like rock bands Brother Man and Mondo Silicone and Austin, Texas-based band leader Joe Sparacino, aka. Dr. Joe. Frequently, these posts triggered new album reviews, e.g., LeRoux (One of Those Days), Mick Hayes (My Claim to Fame) and Niedeckens BAP (Alles Fliesst). Following are four songs I discovered in the context of Best of What’s New.

Dr. Joe: Believer

From Dr. Joe’s websiteBased in Austin TX but raised on a farm outside Salina, Kansas, band leader Joe Sparacino spent his early childhood learning piano from a southern gospel choir matron and listening to his family’s old vinyl collection of Ray Charles, Leon Russell and James Booker. Released on April 10, Believer was Dr. Joe’s then-latest single and it’s cooking!

The Reverberations: Under Your Spell

The Reverberations are a five-piece band from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” I’d call it psychedelic garage rock. Under Your Spell, the B-side to their single Palm Reader released May 28, features some cool Byrds-ey guitars and nice keyboard work. Did I mention it’s also got a quite catchy melody? And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art – super cool all around! For more on this great band, you can read my review of their February 2019 album Changes, their most recent full-fledged studio release.

Kat Riggins: No Sale

Kat Riggins is a blues artist hailing from Miami. According to her website, She travels the world with the sole mission of keeping the blues alive and thriving through her Blues Revival Movement. She has been vocally compared to Koko Taylor, Etta James and Tina Turner to name a few. The nice blues rocker No Sale, which has a bit of a ZZ Top vibe, is from Riggins’ fourth album Cry Out released on August 14. That woman’s got it!

Greta Van Fleet: Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album The Battle at Garden’s Gate, which is scheduled for April 16, 2021. I think this kickass rocker provides more evidence the young band has evolved their style, moving away from their initial Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. Looking forward to the album!

Live music in the year of the pandemic…

Except for two tribute band concerts in January, pretty measly for the ‘King of the Tribute Band,’ I didn’t go to any live gigs this year. Shows for which I had tickets, including The Temptations and The Four Tops, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, and Steely Dan with special guest Steve Winwood, were rescheduled until April, June and July 2021, respectively. Perhaps with the exception of the last concert, I hope all other shows will be rescheduled a second time and moved back to the second half of the year. For somebody who loves live music and over the past 4-5 years has gotten into the habit of seeing an average 20-30 shows per year (counting lower cost tribute band and free summer type concerts), seizing live concerts it’s a bitter but necessary pill to swallow until this lethal pandemic is behind us.

I ended up watching two live concerts via Internet stream: Southern Avenue at Instrumenthead Live Studio in Nashville, Tenn. last week, and Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs at the Troubador in Los Angeles in late November. It was fun and also a nice opportunity to support music via voluntary donations in lieu of buying official tickets, but no virtual experience can replace the real deal.

Some final musings…

While my primary motivation for the blog has always been the joy I get from writing about a topic I love, i.e., music, it’s nice to see continued growth in visitor traffic, followers and feedback. Just like in 2019, the most popular post remained my January 2018 piece about Bad Company’s live CD/DVD collection from their May 15, 2016 show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; personally, I find the post average at best. By comparison, my July 12, 2020 post about the mellotron, which I’m proud of, received less than one percent of traffic than the Bad Company post. Perhaps, it was too geeky! 🙂 It’s funny how these things sometimes go.

I’d like to thank all visitors of the blog. If you’re here for the first time, you’re welcome back anytime. If you’re a regular, I hope you keep coming back. I also enjoy receiving comments, including different opinions. All I ever ask is to keep things civil.

Last but not least, I’d like to leave you with a great song by Southern Avenue they also played during the above noted virtual concert. I feel it’s a great message, especially during these crazy times: Don’t Give Up, from their eponymous debut album released in February 2017. Since I couldn’t capture footage from the above gig, here’s an alternative I can offer: a clip I recorded during a show at The Wonder Bar, a small venue in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019.

Sources: Christian’s Music Music Musings; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I suppose by now folks who frequently check out my blog won’t be surprised that another Friday brings another installment of Best of What’s New. For first-time visitors, the weekly recurring feature highlights new music I dig, which was released over the past two to three months. Since most of my blog focuses on the ’60s and ’70s, I try to include as many young artists in these posts as I can find. In most cases, it ends up being a mix of young and established acts.

This week’s batch includes a nice solo debut by a young female African-American artist you may know as the drummer of a great band from Memphis, as well as songs by my favorite German-singing rock band, one of “Nova Scotia’s busiest singer-songwriters” and somebody you may still remember from the ’80s, though he was performing under a different name back then. Let’s get cooking!

Tikyra Jackson/No More Fear

If you follow my blog, chances are you’ve seen some of my posts about Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn., blending traditional blues and soul with elements of contemporary R&B. Tikyra Jackson is the band’s drummer and backing vocalist. It turns out she’s also a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist who just released her solo debut single No More Fear on August 12. Apparently, the effort was driven by Jackson’s reflections on the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Southern Avenue’s current pause from touring due to COVID-19. “I have a responsibility as a young, African-American and also as a woman to use my voice and platform to amplify the message that we are not going to tolerate inequality,” Jackson told American Songwriter. “I had a moment to breathe and be with myself,” she added. “Before Quarantine, it was just the road. But to be able to take a break and feel my emotions and cry has been a beautiful thing.” No word yet whether Jackon’s ultimate ambitions are an entire album. For now, here’s her funky debut single.

Niedeckens BAP/Volle Kraft voraus

Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) is the fourth and latest upfront single from Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), the new album by German rock band Niedeckens BAP’s, scheduled for September 18. Since about 1980, the group from Cologne around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, founded in 1976 and for many years simply known as BAP, has been my favorite band singing in German. More specifically, they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered them here and on various other previous occasions. Released August 13, Volle Kraft voraus was written by the band’s guitarist Ulrich Rode with lyrics by Niedecken. The tune could work as a picker upper that’s badly needed in these corona times, writes Niedecken on the band’s website: “Try to remember what happiness feels like!” No nostalgia but more something like self-therapy.

Guy Paul Thibault/Shipwrecked

According to his website, Guy Paul Thibault is one of Nova Scotia’s busiest singer songwriters. He is loved by audiences for his marathon shows, his stories and his knowledge of the history behind the songs he performs. He performs both his originals and fan favourites from every genre and era…Guy Paul is proud to be able to write, record, mix, master and produce all his music from his hometown of Cole Harbour Nova Scotia. His album “The Road Between” was awarded International Album of the Year 2019 from the International Singer Songwriters Association (ISSA)…Guy Paul has continued his busy pace as a recording songwriter, releasing a continuous stream of singles and new songs in 2020. His most recent one is Shipwrecked, a nice ballad that came out on July 15.

Sananda Maitreya/The MadHouse

When I listened to The MadHouse for the first time earlier today, I immediately thought the voice of Sananda Maitreya sounds very similar to Terence Trent D’Arby whose 1987 debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby was a huge success in Germany and many other countries. That’s because Maitreya and D’Arby are one and the same person! Following his successful debut, D’Arby released three additional records that each performed poorer than their predecessor. By time his fifth album appeared in 2001, he had changed his stage name to Sananda Maitreya, though the record appeared under the name Terence Trent D’Arby/Sananda Maitreya – probably a deliberate transition move. Since 2005, all of his albums have been released under the name Sananda Maitreya. “Terence Trent D’Arby was dead,” Maitreya explained to The New Yorker in June 2013. “He watched his suffering as he died a noble death. After intense pain I meditated for a new spirit, a new will, a new identity.” This new identity continues to this day and his latest single The MadHouse, which came out on July 3. Frankly, D’Arby had completely fallen off my radar screen many moons ago, and I’ve no idea about any of his music he released between his debut and this latest song. But I know one thing: Maitreya’s voice still sounds pretty soulful and that tune’s got a nice funky groove!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; BAP website; Guy Paul Thibault website; The New Yorker; YouTube

Ural Thomas May be the Greatest Soul Artist You Didn’t Know

This is just an incredible story I wanted to share right away. Until earlier today, I had never heard of Ural Thomas. It’s safe to assume many other fans of soul music are in the same boat. Then I caught a performance of the now 80-plus-year-old Thomas with his band called The Pain at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore. that was streamed earlier today on local listener-funded radio station KBOO-FM. And I can assure you, it was everything else but painful!

Before we get to some sweet soul music, here’s some background on Thomas from his website. Obviously written a few years ago, this text captures the story better than I could ever do, especially given than other than this website, there appears to be little publicly available information on Thomas out there. Therefore, I decided to do something I rarely do: Copy and paste, except for the images.

If life was at all fair Ural Thomas would be a household name, his music slotted into countless sweet, seductive mixtapes between James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder (all of whom Thomas has performed with.) Straddling the line between hot soul shouter and velvety-smooth crooner, Thomas released a few singles in the late 60’s and early 70’s; most notably “Can You Dig It”, which featured backing vocals from soul luminaries Merry Clayton, Mary Wells and Brenda Holloway. Thomas played over forty shows at the legendary Apollo Theater before turning his back on an unkind business and heading home to Portland, OR.

It goes without saying that a man practically built out of rhythm would never stop playing music. Thomas began hosting a regular Sunday night jam session at his home that ran for nearly twenty years. A de facto mentor to many of the younger players, Thomas reminds us all that “If you care about what you’re doing, you need to build those muscles and do the work. Don’t get discouraged, do it for love. Even if you’re digging ditches, do it with passion.”

In 2014, local soul DJ Scott Magee sat in on drums. The two became fast friends and at Magee’s urging Thomas decided to give his musical career another shot. Magee became the musical director, they put together a band, and in 2016 released a self-titled album on Mississippi Records.

In 2017 Thomas signed with Tender Loving Empire and began work on what, in many respects, will be his debut full length. Diving deep into lifetime of melodic creativity, Thomas and his band got to work. Recorded in Magee’s studio Arthur’s Attic, The Right Time features the air-tight work of Magee on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, Bruce Withycombe (The Decemberists) on baritone sax, Portland jazz scene fixture Brent Martens on guitars and vibraphone, Arcellus Sykes on bass, Steve Aman (Lady Rizo) on piano and organ, Dave Monnie on trumpet, Willie Matheis (Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) on tenor sax, and Jasine Rimmel, Joy Pearson, Sarah King, Rebecca Marie Miller on backing vocals. The Arco Quartet performed the strings, and the record was engineered and mixed by Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Blitzen Trapper) and mastered by JJ Golden (Sharon Jones, Ty Segall).  

One might think after a sizeable taste of early success Thomas would be more than a touch bitter – yet the opposite is true. “We have to be positive if we want the world to get better” Thomas advises. “We’ve come a long way, but if you carry a grudge with the whole world you’ll stop your growth. We’re a family, all just brothers and sisters, descendants of Adam. You can’t get anywhere without an open heart.”

A developing artist at nearly eighty years old, for Thomas music has always been about bringing people together. “If we play for twenty people we cook it like it’s twenty thousand” says Thomas. “If we make someone smile we’re satisfied. They’re ain’t no difference between us. It’s all love and brotherhood. If folks listen to my record and feel that I’ll feel very blessed.”

Standing in bold defiance of the idea that aging is a reason to slow down and stop living, for Thomas the right time to get down is the next time someone plugs in a guitar or puts on a record. Ural is ready – are you?

Well, that’s a perfect segue into some music. Let’s kick it off with the above noted Can You Dig It? Co-written by Russ Regan and producer Jerry Goldstein, Thomas released this funky soul tune in 1967. And, yes, I sure as heck dig it!

Following are a few tracks from the above noted debut album by Ural Thomas and The Pain. It’s titled The Right Time and appeared in 2018. Here’s No Distance (Between You and Me).

Next up: Smoldering Fire. Oh, man, I just love this tune! How come pretty much nobody knows about it? It’s just incredible!

Here’s the album’s funky title track!

Let’s do one more tune from this great album: Show Ya.

I’ll leave you with one more song I found on YouTube: A 2015 live performance of a tune called Deep Soul. Holy moly. It’s a got a dose of a James Brown vibe!

As for the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival, it’s still streaming today and tomorrow at https://kboo.fm/media/81471-blues-fest-air. I’m currently listening to Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn. I’ve covered on numerous previous occasions. Coming up later today:  Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Bettye Lavette with Texas Horns, among others. Tomorrow’s line-up looks great as well!

Sources: Ural Thomas website; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Southern Avenue/80 Miles From Memphis

Prompted by a clip of Southern Avenue on Facebook, I spontaneously decided to do another post on 80 Miles From Memphis. I’ve dug this band and this song since I listened to their eponymous debut album about three years ago, which was released on the re-activated Stax Records label.

Southern Avenue from Memphis, Tenn. blend elements of traditional blues and Stax-style soul with contemporary R&B. The band’s first album and this tune have a more traditional sound, while their sophomore release Keep On from May 2019 is more funk and R&B-oriented. I can highly recommend both records!

80 Miles From Memphis was written by the band’s guitarist Ori Naftaly, who originally is a blues guitarist from Israel. In 2015, he decided to relocate to Memphis where he formed Southern Avenue with vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals). You can read more about the band’s remarkable background story and a great concert I attended in New York in August 2018 here.

I saw Southern Avenue a second time in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019 and posted about it here. Both gigs proved the band is a strong live act. I’m definitely planning to see them again when the opportunity arises and the time is right.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Year That Was 2019

Highlights of my rock & roll journey during the past 12 months

It feels unreal to me Christmas and New Year’s are upon us again – not to mention a new decade! I still recall a conversation with a school friend when we were 12 years old. He and I imagined where we might be when the year 2000 comes. At the time, the turn of the century was still more than two decades out. It seemed so far away. Now, not only has 2000 come and go, but we’re 20 years down the road, baby – crazy how time flies!

Well, this post doesn’t span decades. The idea is much more moderate: Looking back at my personal music journey over the past 12 months, as documented by this blog. While to some extent it reflects what happened in music this year, it’s not a broad review piece. Since I mostly listen to ’60s and ’70s artists or new music they release, I couldn’t do a legitimate comprehensive look-back on 2019 in music.

In the past, I’ve said more than once most new music nowadays lacks true craftsmanship and sounds generic and soulless to me. And while I still largely ignore what dominates today’s charts, I’ve finally come to accept contemporary music isn’t inherently bad. It’s just different and I generally don’t like it. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to. There’s so much “old” music out there I’ve yet to discover, and while artists may retire or pass away, their music will stay. Forever. That’s the beauty of music. It means for those of us who dig it, rock & roll will never die! Okay, enough with the wise-cracking and on to some highlights of my music journey this year.

Concerts

As a retired band-turned-closet musician, live music remains the ultimate thrill to me. Yes, ticket prices continue to be outrageous for most top acts, and that’s not going to change. But this hasn’t deterred me yet from seeing artists I dig. However, it did require being more selective (for example, I skipped Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, since I had seen both in 2018) and oftentimes settling for cheaper seats.

My two concert highlights this year were The Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in early August and The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May. I had seen both before, but since they are among my longtime favorite bands and in the twilight of their careers, I simply did not want to miss the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to catch both, especially The Who. At the time I bought my ticket, I had not realized this wasn’t a “regular” gig but The Who backed by a symphonic orchestra. Had I understood this, it may have deterred me. But the concept worked pretty well, so I’m happy I didn’t read the fine print! Here’s a clip from each show: Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Love Reign O’er Me, two tunes that will never go out of style in my book!

I also saw various other great shows: Walter Trout (The Iridium, New York, April 9), Joe Jackson (State Theatre, New Jersey, New Brunswick, May 18), Govt’ Mule (The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, N.J., June 28), Southern Avenue (The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J., July 11) and Hall & Oates (Fairgrounds, Allentown, Pa.). I wouldn’t have gone to that last concert, had it not been for my wife. While I wouldn’t call myself a Hall & Oates fan, it was a great show.

As King/Emperor of Tribute Bands (blame Music Enthusiast for the title! 🙂 ), this concert section wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the many tribute shows that continued to attract me. I know some folks roll their eyes when they hear the word tribute band. I find nothing wrong listening to music I dig, especially when it’s faithfully captured. Among the many tribute concerts I saw, two stood out: Pink Floyd tribute Brit Floyd (Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, Pa., March 30) and the annual Rock The Farm Tribute Festival (Seaside Heights, N.J., September 28). Here’s a clip from the Brit Floyd gig: Comfortably Numb – epic!

And then there’s of course Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. I finally got to see the director’s cut of the documentary on the big screen. While I can’t deny 224 minutes is pretty massive, I enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s the main post I did to commemorate the festival. And here’s a clip of one of the most iconic rock performances of all time: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends.

New Music

As stated above, for the most part, new music means new albums released by “old” artists I dig. As I looked back through my previous posts, I was surprised to find that I reviewed 22 new albums. Granted this number includes three live albums (The Doobie Brothers/Live From The Beacon Theatre, The Rolling Stones/Bridges To Bremen and Paul McCartney/Amoeba Gig) and an excellent posthumous compilation by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (The Best Of Everything), which do not feature new music. Even if you exclude these, it still leaves you with 18 albums. This makes me wonder what I would do if I also paid more attention to contemporary artists. It pretty much would be impossible to review their new music as well, given I have a family and a full-time job – another good reason to focus on what I truly dig! 🙂

Albums by “old hands” I’d like to call out are The Who (WHO), Booker T. (Note By Note), Neil Young (Colorado), Ringo Starr (What’s My Name), Santana (Africa Speaks),  Little Steven And The Disciples of Soul (Summer of Sorcery), Joe Jackson Fool and Sheryl Crow (Threads). One artist who seems to be missing here is Bruce Springsteen and Western Stars. While I dig Springsteen and don’t think it’s a bad record, it just doesn’t speak to me the way other music by The Boss does, so I ended up skipping a review. Crow said Threads is her final full-fledged release, explaining in the age of streaming music, most people make playlists and no longer listen to entire albums. Boy, this statement really reflects how much listening habits and the music business have changed! Here’s Live Wire, a nice bluesy tune co-written by Crow and Jeff Trott and featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples.

There were also some new blues releases I enjoyed by both older and younger artists, including Walter Trout (Blues Survivor), Jimmie Vaughan (Baby, Please Come Home), Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (The Traveler) and “wunderkind” Jontavious Willis (Spectacular Class), as Taj Mahal has called him. How about some music from Willis’ sophomore album? By the way, it was executive-produced by Mahal. Here’s opener Low Down Ways.

I also would like to call out albums from three other contemporary artists: Rick Barth (Fade), SUSTO (Ever Since I Lost My Mind) and Southern Avenue (Keep On). If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall Southern Avenue is one of the very few young bands I truly dig. I just love how these guys blend blues, soul and R&B, and the vocals are just killer! Here’s the title track from the above album, which is their second one. The tune was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly, lead vocalist Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black. There’s just something about Southern Avenue’s sound I find really seductive.

Coolest Clip

I think I came across a number of great clips I posted throughout the year. One of the best has to be this footage of The Who performing Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s the raw power of rock & roll! It was filmed on May 25, 1978 at England’s Shepperton Studios, about 20 miles southwest of London, for the closing sequence of the band’s rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. And then, there’s this very different but equally mesmerizing clip: a live demonstration of the Hammond B3 by the amazing Booker T. Jones. To really get excited about it, I realize maybe you need to be a musician.

And Finally…

2019 marks the third full year I’m doing this blog. While I really wanted to start writing about my passion, I wasn’t sure whether I could keep it going when I set out in June 2016. Due to personal reasons, I had to slow down a bit during the past couple of months. But music and writing about artists I dig is therapy to me, so I have every intention to continue and hopefully pick up the pace again. When starting the blog, I also felt I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, not to become some “Internet sensation.” While that is still the case, I can’t deny it’s great to see visitors and that traffic has trended up nicely. Of course, growing from tiny numbers is relatively easy, and there is realistically no way I can keep up the current momentum.

Blog Stats

I’m leaving you with a clip from my most popular post this year (measured by total views): The above mentioned Rock The Farm Tribute Festival. The positive reception made me really happy, since it’s great music for a great cause. Here’s It’s Late by Canadian Queen tribute Simply Queen.

I’d like to thank all visitors for reading and especially those who go through the trouble of leaving comments. I always love getting feedback, even if I may not agree with everything folks say. But that’s cool.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Emoji

Sources: Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

Southern Avenue Come In Hot In Asbury Park

Memphis soul, blues and R&B band delivers energetic set at Wonder Bar

Southern Avenue weren’t kidding when they posted on Facebook yesterday, “our show at Jams On The Sand in Asbury Park, NJ has been moved indoors due to tonight’s forecast of severe thunderstorms. We’re still coming in hot though!” The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn., which blends traditional southern soul and blues with more contemporary R&B, is one of the few bright stars I know in today’s music world, a world I generally find uninspiring. So I was really excited to get the opportunity to see them for the second time last evening.

Initially, Southern Avenue were scheduled to play at Jams On The Sand, a weekly free open air concert series held in Asbury Park during the summer. But the weather gods weren’t kind, and it was great the organizers managed to move the event inside to The Wonder Bar, a well-known local performance venue. While the circumstances were unfortunate and likely decreased attendance, they may well have been a blessing in disguise from a performance perspective. The band had incredible energy and blew the roof off the place. My ears were still ringing this morning!

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierinii Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

More frequent visitors of the blog likely know that I have covered Southern Avenue on various occasions since I started paying attention to them about two years ago, for example here, here and and most recently here. Therefore, instead of recapping band’s history and their members yet another time, let’s get to the action right away!

Southern Avenue’s set included a mix of tunes from their two studio albums they have released to date and some covers. Here’s a nice funky song off their most recent record Keep On from May 2019, which is called Switchup. Co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly and lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson, it’s got a cool vibe that reminds me of Commodores.

Most of the songs the band performed were upbeat tunes, with Tierinii displaying an amazing amount of energy, seemingly feeding off the enthusiastic crowd. Every now and then, they slowed things down a bit, such as with It’s Gonna Be Alright, a tune that appeared on their eponymous debut album from February 2017. It certainly was alright!

Here’s another fun track from Keep On: Jive, which was co-written by Ori, Tierinii and her sister Tikyra Jackson who is the band’s drummer. It’s got a great driving beat and nice instrumental parts that in addition to Ori and Tikyra also feature keyboarder Jeremy Powell and bassist Gage Markey.

Next up: A cool bluesy jam take of The Beatles’ 1969 song Come Together, which blends into Keep On, the title track from Southern Avenue’s latest album. That track is credited to Ori, Tierinii and producer Johnny Black.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Southern Avenue’s usual concert closer Don’t Give Up and, it seems to me, is their signature song. Another track from their eponymous debut album, the powerful tune is one of Tierinii’s highlights, who is not only an incredible vocalist but also a compelling front woman.

In addition to being talented musicians and songwriters, Southern Avenue’s members are nice, approachable and down-to-earth people. Last night, prior to the gig, I chatted for a while with keyboarder Jeremy about their current tour and latest album – such a nice guy! I also ran into Tierinii who spontaneously gave me a hug after mentioning that I had seen them previously in New York last year.

Southern Avenue are a fantastic live band. If anything, their extensive touring has made them even better than the band I saw last August. In addition to touring the U.S. and Canada, they also do gigs in Europe. In fact, they just recently returned from a series of dates spanning various European countries, including England, France and Germany, among others. Tonight, they are playing a blues festival in Nescopeck, Pa. Upcoming gigs include Ottawa, Canada (Jul 13); Scranton, Pa. (Jul 26); Edmonton, Canada (Jul 28); and Mad Creek, CO (Jul 31). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Southern Avenue Facebook page and website; YouTube

Southern Avenue Keep On Delivering Distinct Blend of Powerful Soul, Blues And R&B On New Album

Southern Avenue perhaps couldn’t have chosen a better title for their sophomore album. Released yesterday, Keep On continues to effectively draw from different musical backgrounds of the band’s members. Southern Avenue skillfully blend Stax-style soul with blues, R&B, gospel, funk and rock. The result is powerful music combining familiar with new influences and a sound that has noticeably matured and become more distinct since the band’s eponymous debut from February 2017.

The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn. has been on my radar screen since I listened to the first album about two years ago. I also witnessed what a great live act Southern Avenue are when I saw them in New York City last August. At the time, I briefly chatted with guitarist Ori Naftaly, who mentioned their new album. My anticipation grew further with the release of the lead single Whiskey Love in early April, followed by the appearance of the second single Savior.

For brief background, Southern Avenue were founded in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards rounds out the band’s core line-up. Bassist Gage Markey has been a touring member for the past couple of years and also plays on the new record. Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they are not a Stax revival act.

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierinii Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

Keep On features some impressive guests. In this context, I first would like to mention the great horn section comprised of saxophonist Art Edmaiston and trumpet player Mark Franklin. They are an important factor for the above noted more mature sound. Edmaiston has played with artists like Levon Helm and Gregg Allman, while Franklin  has supported sessions for the likes of Aretha FranklinB.B. KingSolomon Burke and Booker T. & the M.G.s. Another prominent guest is William Bell, who is perhaps best known for co-writing Born Under a Bad Sign with Booker T. Jones. The tune was first recorded by Albert King in 1967 and popularized by Cream the following year.

Alright, I think it’s time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. Co-written by Ori Naftaly, Tierinii Jackson and producer Johnny Black, the tune is a nice example of how Southern Avenue blend different genres. Naftaly clearly is a blues guitarist at heart and I can hear some Cream in his cool riff. The horns add a dose of soul while Jackson’s strong vocals throw in some R&B.

Since I previously wrote about the first two singles Whiskey Love and Savior, I’m skipping these great tracks here and jump to the nice funky Switchup. Like the title track, the song is co-credited to Naftaly, Jackson and Black.

Next up: Lucky. Co-written by Naftaly and Jackson, this song has a beautiful retro Stax vibe to it. But, as if to emphasize that Southern Avenue don’t want to be a retro Memphis soul band, Naftaly throws in a fairly rock-oriented guitar solo.

Another great number is Jive, a co-write by Naftaly, Black and both Jackson sisters. I dig the tune’s driving beat, which makes you want to get up and dance. The horns and the backing vocals set great accents.

On the upbeat We’ve Got The MusicWilliam Bell joins Tierinii Jackson on vocals. Bell also shares writing credits with Naftaly and her. I like the song’s message about the power of music and how it can bridge differences among people: If you don’t look like me/If you don’t talk like me, that’s alright/We’ve got the music/If you don’t know my face/But you’re feeling the sound, it’s okay/We’ve got the music…

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer We’re Gonna Make It. I think music publication No Depression nicely described the tune in their review of Keep On. “This gospel-inflected song opens with a nod to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and builds a message of love, persistence, and encouragement layer-by-layer. The song takes up where the Staple Singers left off, carrying the torch of hope in a world of darkness and giving us a new anthem for these times.”

“Making this album was an interesting journey,” Ori explained. “Our first album was recorded very fast and released very fast. With this one, we spent a long time planning, and we knew how we wanted it sound. For me, it’s a big progression from the first album.” Added Tierinii: “The experience was completely different from making the first one. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the band.”

One of the cool things about Keep On is that the album was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording. The studio was opened in Memphis in 1960 by no one other than legendary Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips, who worked with artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and B.B. King. Wow, one can only imagine what it must have felt like for this young band to record in that studio – the thought of it gives me goosebumps!

Southern Avenue In Concert

“The thing that stood out most to me about Southern Avenue is their dedication to making this record ‘the hard way’,” stated producer Johnny Black. “Even in their selection of studios; by picking Sam Phillips Recording, the band, in essence, forced themselves to record within the same parameters as some of their heroes. And while that process may have taken extra time, it was well worth the effort.” In my humble opinion, I think Black is spot on.

Southern Avenue currently is where they seem to be most of the time – on the road. Their tour schedule is packed between now and mid-November and mostly includes U.S. dates. From late May to mid-June, the band is also playing a series of shows in Europe. I have no doubt Southern Avenue will keep on wowing audiences with their performances that are passionate, authentic and humble at the same time. As a communications professional, I also have to commend the band for their effective use of Facebook to build their fan base. I’m planning to catch them again on July 11 during Jams on the Sand, a free outdoor event in Asbury Park, N.J.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website, William Bell website, No Depression, YouTube