What I’ve Been Listening to: The Marcus King Band/Carolina Confessions

I first came across Marcus King in March 2020 when working on a post about the multinational music project Playing for Change and was immediately impressed. Taking a subsequent look at his solo debut album El Dorado in April that year confirmed my initial positive impression of the then-24-year-old guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, S.C. And just last Friday, I was reminded of King who plays on a tune from John Mayall’s upcoming new album, which I included in my Best of What’s New installment that day. So I decided to explore more of his music.

According to King’s website, Marcus started learning guitar at age three or four. He has played professionally since he was 11 and always knew he wanted to make music his life. A fourth-generation musician, Marcus has followed in his family’s footsteps. His grandfather was a country guitarist, and his father continues to perform live. [His father is Marvin King, a well-known blues guitarist in South Carolina – CMM]

The Marcus King Band founded in Greenville, South Carolina in 2013, is his tight knit group. Drummer Jack Ryan, bass player Stephen Campbell, trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson, sax/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell along with Marcus—bring an irreplaceable combination of commitment, craft and soul to their work and are one of the hardest working bands today.

In 2015, The Marcus King Band released their debut album Soul Insight, which reached an impressive no. 8 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. King was only 19 years at the time! Their eponymous sophomore release from 2016 did even better, climbing all the way to no. 2 on the blues chart. Carolina Confessions is the band’s third full-length LP that came in August 2018. Let’s take a closer look! Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by King.

Here’s the opener Where I’m Headed. All it takes is to listen to the first few bars to make two observations: The music is warm and rich, and King’s vocals sound very soulful – not what you’d expect from a then-22-year-old! The horns further boost the music’s soul vibe. This is so good!

Homesick is a great bluesy and funky tune. Again, the horns give this track a soulful vibe. Here’s a neat lyric video, in which you can see King and the band in action. He looks so young, and yet he sounds so mature!

Here’s How Long, another funky tune. It’s the only track that included other writers: Dan Auerbach, who produced King’s solo debut album, and Pat McLaughlin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based singer-songwriter whose tunes have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and Al Kooper, among others.

Let’s do one more: Confessions, a slow-burning, blues-oriented rocker. I don’t mean to sound stereotypical here, but I just find it mind-boggling how a white artist in his early 20s can channel so much soulfulness in his singing. I mean, holy cow, check this out!

Carolina Confessions was recorded at the renowned RCA Studio A in Nashville, originally known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios. The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn and Leon Russell are among the many artists who have recorded at the storied studio.

The album was produced and mixed by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Rival Sons, The Highway Women, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. Like its predecessor, Carolina Confessions climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Heatseekers Albums. I feel Marcus King has a bright future and look forward to hearing more music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Marcus King Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife  “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz, at its core, this still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; YouTube

The Wild Feathers Soar With Melodic Rock on New Album

My paying closer attention to new releases by contemporary artists is starting to pay off nicely. The most recent albums by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dirty Honey and Lord Huron are some that come to mind. My latest “discovery” I feel quite excited about is Alvarado, the new album by The Wild Feathers, a band I first introduced on my blog last December with a tune from predecessor Medium Rarities.

Released on October 8, Alvarado is the band’s fifth studio album. The Wild Feathers were formed in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. by high school friends Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Preston Wimberly (guitar, vocals), along with Ricky Young (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals). Ben Dumas joined on drums following the August 2013 release of the group’s eponymous debut album. Burns, Young, King and Dumas remain part of the current line-up, which also includes Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin). Wimberly left in late 2015.

The Wild Feathers combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing. And I should add catchy melodies, a joy to my pop ear I can’t deny always lingers in the background, no matter what genre of music I listen to! The group has cited Tom Petty, Eagles, The Band and Otis Redding as some of their influences. A bio on AllMusic also notes The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band – all artists I love!

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According to an exclusive preview by American Songwriter, The Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the new album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived Medium Rarities. “We made every previous studio album with Jay Joyce [a prominent Nashville producer – CMM] in these big magical studios which was awesome,” Young told the publication. “But over the years, we’ve listened back to old demos like ‘Man there was really nothing wrong with that.’ It’s kind of cool there are mistakes…those things make it unique and human.”

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. American Songwriter noted this tune was originally written for the band’s eponymous debut album, making it the oldest track on the record. “Some songs just can’t find their way onto the actual album, but we always loved that one and wanted to record it someday,” explained Young who wrote the tune. Well, I’m glad they finally did!

Ain’t Lookin’ is a great rocker written by country singer-songwriter Jeffrey Steele together with the band’s King, Young and Burns. It’s got some nice guitar work, and that sound is just awesome!

Next up: Over the Edge, a tune written by King about some of the challenges in present day America, including violence and political division. We’ve gone too far to go back/We don’t know how to turn around/We’ve gone too far, I think that we’re/Going over the edge, going over the edge/Going over the edge, going over the edge…I can hear some Tom Petty in here.

Since I included the excellent Side Street Shakedown in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping this track and go to Out on the Road penned by Burns. While it’s certainly not the first tune that describes life as a touring musician and the challenges it can bring, it’s a nice rocker featuring some neat slide guitar action.

Off Your Shoulders, co-written by King and Young, has an Eagles vibe. I really love how this tune sounds. Once again, the guitar work is great and includes some nice harmony action. Check it out.

Let’s do one more, coz why not? Here’s Flashback, another tune solely written by King. In a flashback/Oh, we never knew how good we had it/Take me back/I wanna hold on to the memories as long as I can/Hold on to the memories as best as you can…The lyrics are on the sentimental side and perhaps a bit cliche, but I think it’s safe to assume many folks have thought about “the old times,” especially during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

The final word shall belong to Ricky Young. Alvarado “is about us, taking the reins and being in control and doing exactly what we want to do, and taking it where we want to go—putting a blindfold on and hoping it works out,” he told American Songwriter. “By taking control musically, we can last a lot longer than just having a hit early on and trying to chase that for the rest of your career.” Well said – I certainly look forward to hearing more from The Wild Feathers.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; American Songwriter; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Feat/Dixie Chicken

In March 2018, I listened to Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat after a dear longtime friend from Germany had highly recommended this great live album from 1978. I also wrote about it at the time. Then, as oftentimes happens, before I knew it, I was on to other music avenues, and the band fell off my radar screen again. Luckily, my streaming music provider served up the song Dixie Chicken as part of a playlist the other day. The title track of Little Feat’s third studio album from January 1973 prompted me to take a closer look at the record. It didn’t take long to realize that Dixie Chicken is a true gem.

Before I get to some music, I like to provide a bit of background on the group. Little Feat were formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Lowell George and pianist Bill Payne, together with Roy Estrada (bass) and Richie Hayward (drums). George and Estrada had played together in The Mothers of Invention.

Little Feat in 1975 (from left): Kenney Gradney, Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Lowell George, Paul Barrere & Richie Hayward

While Frank Zappa was instrumental in the formation of Little Feat and getting them a recording contract, the details are disputed. One version is that Zappa encouraged George to form his own group after he had listened to George’s song Willin’. A second version is that Zappa who was strongly opposed to drugs fired George from the Mothers after he noticed some references to drugs in the lyrics of Willin’. The third version is the weirdest: Zappa kicked out George after George had played a 15-minute guitar solo with his amplifier off!

Whatever the true circumstances were, Little Feat signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records and soon thereafter started recording their eponymous debut album, which appeared in January 1971. By the time Little Feat went into the studio to make Dixie Chicken, the group had become a six-piece. Estrada had been replaced by Kenney Gradney on bass, and the band had added Paul Barrere (guitar, vocals) and Sam Clayton (congas). Among additional guest musicians were Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie fame; Danny Hutton, vocalist in Three Dog Night; and Bonnie Raitt, who each provided backing vocals.

On to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track, which is widely viewed as the band’s signature song. Dixie Chicken was co-written by George, who had established himself as Little Feat’s frontman, producer and main songwriter, and Martin Kibbee, who according to Songfacts was credited as Fred Martin. Bramlett supported Lowell on lead vocals. Love the New Orleans vibe this tune has!

Two Trains, another George composition, is a nice groovy track. I dig the guitar work and the great singing. Check out the mighty group of backing vocalists: Bramlett, Raitt, Daring Dan Hutton, Debbie Lindsey and Gloria Jones.

Another tune on side one (in vinyl speak) is a great cover of On Your Way Down, a song by influential R&B New Orleans artist Allen Toussaint. It first appeared on his 1972 studio album Life, Love and Faith.

On to side two and Walkin’ All Night. Co-written by Barrere and Payne, it’s one of only three tracks on the album that were not penned by George. It’s got a bit of a Stones vibe. Of course, that’s also true for many of the other tunes on the record.

Fat Man in the Bathtub (gotta love that title!) was also written by George. Not much more that I can say here other than it’s yet another gem on an album that’s packed with great music.

Let’s do one more. Here’s Juliette, yet another song written by George.

Dixie Chicken is viewed as Little Feat’s landmark album that defined their sound, a tasty gumbo of southern rock, roots rock, blues rock, New Orleans R&B and swamp rock. Just like the band’s first two records, Dixie Chicken missed the charts, though it did reach Gold certification. This just goes to show that chart positions and sales certifications don’t necessarily capture an album’s greatness.

Following George’s death in late June 1979 from a cocaine overdose-induced heart attack at the age of 34 and the release of Little Feat’s seventh studio album Down On The Farm in November that year, the band called it quits. In 1987, surviving members Barrere, Clayton, Gradney, Hayward and Payne revived Little Feat, and added songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Craig Fuller and Fred Tackett (guitar, mandolin, trumpet) to the line-up.

Between 1988 and 2012, Little Feat released nine additional albums. Barrere passed away from cancer in October 2019. He was 71. The group remains active to this day, with Clayton, Gradney, Tackett and founding member Payne being part of the current line-up. According to Little Feat’s official website, they have scheduled a series of U.S. dates starting November 11 in Port Chester, N.Y. Also, if you feel like catching them in Jamaica, together with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams and Band, Tommy Emmanuel and Jack Broadbent, and have the time, not to mention the necessary dollars to go on a music adventure, you can do so from January 30 – February 5, 2022 at Featcamp.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Little Feat website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music feature. It’s hard to believe we’re in September and that the Labor Day weekend is upon folks in the U.S. But as I’ve said before, summer doesn’t end until September 22, so we still got almost three weeks left! This week’s Best of What’s New includes four singer-songwriters: two from Nashville, one from Austin and the second-ever featured artist on my blog from Iceland. All tunes were released yesterday (September 3).

Vinnie Paolizzi/Babylon

I like to open this week’s post with a very promising looking young artist: Vinnie Paolizzi, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who originally hails from Philadelphia. According to his website, he brings thoughtful lyrics and old school sounds back to modern music. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of his heroes; Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, and The Eagles, he moved to Nashville in 2017 and assembled a powerful band while making inroads in the songwriter community. Over the course of 2020 he released music he had written since leaving his hometown behind. Both full band and acoustic tracks were recorded at the legendary “Sound Emporium” studio in Nashville, TN with an all-star band including fellow songwriter Gabe Lee on keys and backing vocals, long time Philly musician Alexander Saddic on drums and vocals, and Nashville handyman Dalton Ray Brown on bass and vocals. Babylon, co-written by Paolizzi and Gabe Lee, who also supports Paolizzi on vocals, is the great closer of Paolizzi’s new EP Private Sky. Paolizzi’s soulful vocals remind me a bit of Marcus King. Looking forward to hearing more from him!

Ashland Craft/Travelin’ Kind

This next artist is also based in Nashville and like Vinnie Paolizzi didn’t grow up there: Ashland Craft, from South Carolina. From her profile on Bandsintown: Craft’s soul-infused vocals and ability to make a song her own landed her in the Top Ten on The Voice, before leading her to opening tour slots for major artists like Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and other notable acts. Since moving to Nashville in 2019, Craft has won fans with her catchy fusion of edgy country and soulful Southern rock…A true, lifelong music lover, Craft found her honky-tonk spirit and cut her teeth singing country and rock covers at a bar in South Carolina, and counts Def Leppard, Gretchen Wilson, Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt and John Mayer among her eclectic musical influences. Here’s the title track of her debut album Travelin’ Kind. I can definitely hear some Bonnie Raitt in this nice rocker and also dig Craft’s raspy voice.

Ásgeir/On the Edge

With this next track, I’m turning to an artist from Iceland, only the second from the Nordic island country, who is featured on my more than 5-year-old blog after rock band KALEO: Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, a singer-songwriter from the tiny village of Laugarbakki in the northeastern part of Iceland. According to his Apple Music profile, Many of his early lyrics were written by his poet father, Einar Georg Einarsson, who was in his seventies when his son’s debut album, Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, was released in 2012. Within his native Iceland, Ásgeir’s Dýrð í Dauðaþögn is the top-selling debut album ever, besting Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Björk. Following the success of Dýrð í Dauðaþögn, Ásgeir worked with American singer-songwriter John Grant to develop an English-language version of the album, titled In the Silence. Einarsson who performs as Ásgeir has since released two additional English-language albums, various singles and his latest work, the EP The Sky is Painted Gray Today. Here’s On the Edge, which like the other three tracks on the EP is a gentle acoustic guitar tune.

Strand of Oaks/Somewhere in Chicago

Wrapping up this Best of What’s New installment is music from Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter. According to his Apple Music profile, he specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. The next Strand of Oaks album In Heaven is scheduled for October 1. Here’s Somewhere in Chicago, the new and third upfront single. Love that sound – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Vinnie Paolizzi website; Bandsintown; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

When I started Best of What’s New in March 2020, I really didn’t know whether there would be enough newly released music I sufficiently like to make this a frequently recurring feature. After all, while one occasionally encounters new artists who embrace aspects of the ’60s and ’70s, I’m under no illusion that the kind of music from my two favorite decades won’t come back. And yet, except for one occasion due to a family matter, I’ve been posting new installments weekly.

After more than a year it’s very clear to me some decent new music continues to come out. Since it’s not as easy as simply checking the charts, this can take some time. And, yes, it also requires me to be open-minded and occasionally push beyond my comfort zone. I think my selections for this week, which all appeared yesterday (May 28), illustrate the point, especially when it comes to a young artist from Canada who is of Sudanese heritage.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall some of my previous posts about this blues rock-oriented band from New York. Jane Lee Hooker have been around since 2015. Their current line-up features founding members Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar) and Hail Mary Z (bass), along with ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo who joined as the band’s new drummer last year. To date, Jane Lee Hooker have released two full-length albums, No B! (April 2016) and Spiritus (November 2017), which I covered here and here. Drive is their latest single, following Jericho from February. Both tunes will be on the band’s next album that’s slated for later this year. The new track is a departure from their hard-charging blues rock sound. A statement explained due to COVID-19 restrictions Jane Lee Hooker “found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Out of necessity, band catch-ups were moved to the grapevine-filled backyard of singer Dana Athens’ family home in Brooklyn – with tiny practice amps, acoustic guitars and drummer Ron Salvo keeping the beat on upturned plastic garbage cans and recycling bins.” Well, whatever impact the new setting may have had, I dig the outcome, which is more like a rock ballad with a nice soul vibe.

Lou Barlow/In My Arms

Lou Barlow is an alternative rock singer-songwriter who has been active since the early 1980s. Viewed as a pioneer of low-fi rock, Barlow has been a founding member of various bands, including Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion. Just five weeks ago, Dinosaur Jr. released their latest album Sweep It Into Space, from which I featured a track in a previous Best of What’s New installment. After 25 years, Barlow remains involved with indie rock band Sebadoh as well. In addition to his group engagements, he has also released various solo albums including his latest, Reason to Live. Here’s the opener In My Arms. I like the laid back vibe and also find this tune quite catchy.

Mustafa/Stay Alive

Mustafa Ahmed, aka Mustafa the Poet and Mustafa, is a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and filmmaker from Toronto, who is of Sudanese heritage. According to his Apple Music profile, Mustava became known for socially conscious poetry during his youth. When he was 18, in 2014, he made his first recorded appearance as Mustafa the Poet on Lorraine Segato’s “Rize Time.” Shortly thereafter, he gained more notice when a poem he wrote was shared by Drake on social media. In 2016, Mustafa was named to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, in addition to contributing to “Feel” by Halal Gang partner SAFE, he also gained his first major songwriting credit on the Weeknd’s “Attention,” contained on the chart-topping Starboy. Over the next few years, he continued to write poetry and collaborate with other artists, and, following the murder of friend and Halal member Smoke Dawg, he made Remember Me, Toronto, a short documentary addressing gun violence and its root causes (with Drake among those whom he filmed for it). Fast-forward to the present and When Smoke Rises, Mustava’s solo debut. Here’s the album’s opener Stay Alive, co-written by him, Frank Dukes, Mohammed Omar and Simon Hessmann. Don’t let the tune’s soft acoustic sound and lovely melody distract you from the serious lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: A bottle of lean, a gun in your jeans/And a little faith in me/A plane in the sky, the only starlight/On this never-ending street/The cameras and cops, we could’ve been stars/On our mothers news screens…It’s almost a Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On approach.

Blackberry Smoke/Ain’t the Same

The last track I’d like to highlight in this Best of What’s New is a great song by Blackberry Smoke, a southern rock band formed in Atlanta, Ga. in 2000. Their line-up includes Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass, vocals) and Brit Turner (drums). Blackberry Smoke released their debut album Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime in 2003. The third album The Whippoorwill from August 2012 brought the band their first chart success in the U.S. and the UK. They have performed throughout the U.S. as headliner and supporting acts for the likes of Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ain’t the Same, co-written by Starr and Keith Nelson, is a track from Blackberry Smoke’s new album You Hear Georgia, their seventh studio release. I’ll be sure to check it out more closely!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part II

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

Here’s part II of a mini series of three posts featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Each installment includes five tunes in chronological order from oldest to newest. Part I focused on planes. Now it’s on to trains. Hop on board!

In case you didn’t read the previous installment, the idea of the mini series came from the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Elvis Presley/Mystery Train

Let’s kick of this installment with Mystery Train, written and first recorded by Junior Parker as a rhythm and blues track in 1953. When Elvis Presley decided to cover the song, it was turned into a rockabilly tune featuring him on vocals and rhythm guitar, together with his great trio partners Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). Produced by Sam Philips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., Presley’s version was first released in August 1955 as the B-side to I Forgot to Remember to Forget, which became his first charting hit in the U.S., hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This has got to be one of the best rockabilly tunes ever!

The Monkees/Last Train to Clarksville

Last Train to Clarksville is the debut single by The Monkees, which was released in August 1966. While at that time they still were a fake band that didn’t play the instruments on their recordings, which as a musician is something that generally makes me cringe, I just totally love this song. It was co-written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who used their band Candy Store Prophets to record the tune’s instrumental parts. At least there was one member from The Monkees on the recording: Micky Dolenz, who would become the band’s drummer for real, performed the lead vocals. Last Train to Clarksville, a Vietnam War protest song disguised by ambiguous lyrics and a catchy pop rock tune inspired by The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, was also included on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966.

The Doobie Brothers/Long Train Runnin’

Long Train Runnin’ has been one of my favorite tunes by The Doobie Brothers since I heard it for the first time many moons ago. As such, it was a must to include in this post. Written by Tom Johnston, the groovy rocker is from the band’s third studio album The Captain and Me that appeared in March 1973. The song was also released separately later that month as the album’s lead single, backed by Without You. Long Train Runnin’ became the first U.S. top 10 hit for the Doobies on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 8, as it did in Canada. In the U.K., it reached no. 7, marking their highest charting single there.

The Allman Brothers Band/All Night Train

I had not known about this tune by The Allman Brothers Band and wouldn’t have found it without a Google search. All Night Train, co-written by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell, is included on the band’s 11th studio album Where It All Begins, their second-to-last studio release that appeared in May 1994. The track features some nice guitar action by Haynes and Dickey Betts and, of course, the one and only Gregg Allman on lead vocals and keys. Great late-career tune!

AC/DC/Rock ‘n’ Roll Train

For the final track let’s kick it up. How much? How about kick-ass rock & roll level with AC/DC! Rock ‘n’ Roll Train is the opener to their October 2008 studio release Black Ice. By then, the time periods in-between AC/DC albums had significantly lengthened, especially compared to the ’70s and ’80s. Predecessor Stiff Upper Lip had come out in February 2000. The next release, Rock or Bust, would be another six years away. Obviously, AC/DC has had their share of dramatic setbacks, but last November’s Power Up album proved one shouldn’t count them out yet. There has been some chatter about touring, though I haven’t seen any official announcements. Earlier this month, Brian Johnson joined Foo Fighters at a Global Citizen Vax Live concert in Los Angeles to perform Back in Black. Of course, one song is different from an entire concert, not to speak of an entire tour. Still, I guess it gives AC/DC fans some hope that maybe they’ll get another chance to see the band. Meanwhile, let’s hop on the rock ‘n’ roll train!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As a busy week is nearing its end, admittedly, the thought of skipping Best of What’s New this time crossed my mind. But the release of new music doesn’t stop, so the show must go on. I’m also quite happy with my latest findings – quite a bit of rock in different flavors in this installment. Each of these tracks is on albums that appeared yesterday (May 14). Let’s get it to it!

The Steel Woods/Out of the Blue

Kicking things off are The Steel Woods, a band from Nashville, Tenn., blending country, southern rock and blues rock. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, they lay claim to the sound pioneered by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like Skynyrd, the Steel Woods balance heavy blues-rock with Southern poetry, and they add a bit of plainspoken outlaw country to the mix, as evidenced on their 2017 debut Straw in the Wind. The band was co-founded in 2015 by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Wes Bayliss and lead guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope. Johnny Stanton (bass) and Isaac Senty (drums) completed the line-up. A more recent permanent member is guitarist Tyler Power, who had supported the band during tours. Tragically, Cope passed away in January this year just after The Steel Woods had completed their new album All of Your Stones, due to severe complications from diabetes. Here’s Out of the Blue, which like most other tracks was co-written by Cope. For this tune he teamed up with Aaron Raitiere, a singer-songwriter from Kentucky. There’s definitely a dose of Skynyrd here.

Babe Rainbow/California

Babe Rainbow are a band from Byron Bay, Australia. Formed in 2014, they initially became known for playing ’60s style psychedelic rock. They have also ventured into soft rock with influences from Latin music. Their bassist Lu-Lu-Felix Domingo originally hails from Venezuela. The other members are Angus Dowling (vocals, drums), Jack “Cool-Breeze” Crowther (guitar) and Elliot O’Reilly (guitar). After an eponymous EP from 2015, Babe Rainbow released their first full-length album in 2017, which was also self-titled. California, co-written by Dowling, Crowther and O’Reilly is a nice laid back track from their fourth and new album Changing Colours.

The Black Keys/Crawling Kingsnake

The Black Keys are a rock band from Akron, Ohio, co-founded in 2001 as a duo by high school friends Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums). After recording a demo and sending it to a dozen of record labels, they got a deal in 2002 with small Los Angeles indie label Alive. Their debut album The Big Come Up, which was recorded in Carney’s basement on an 8-track tape recorder in lo-fi, appeared in March 2002. While it didn’t chart or sell well, the record got them a new deal with Fat Possum Records. Their third album Rubber Factory, issued by that label, was their first to chart in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Commercial breakthrough came with the sixth studio album Brothers, fueled by the singles Tighten Up and Howlin’ for You. The Black Keys have since released four additional albums including their latest Delta Kream, a cover album of hill country blues songs. Between August 2015 and March 2019, the duo was on hiatus, with Auerbach and Carney each working on their own projects. Here’s Crawling King Snake, the opener of Delta Kream. The tune was first recorded under that title by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in March 1941. John Lee Hooker, one of the many other artists who recorded Crawling King Snake, turned the song into one of his most successful singles in 1949.

Myles Kennedy/In Stride

Let’s wrap up this installment of Best of What’s New with rock from Myles Kennedy. The singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of rock band Alter Bridge, and lead vocalist of Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, the backing band of Slash. Kennedy has also worked as a session musician and songwriter. In March 2018, he released his solo debut album Year of the Tiger. His new album The Idles of March is his sophomore release. Here’s In Stride, a blues-oriented rocker with nice slide guitar action written by Kennedy.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s Saturday again and another week just flew by. But, hey, I’m not complaining about the weekend! This also means it’s time to take another look at newly released music. All of the following tunes are on albums that were released yesterday (May 7).

Iceage/Gold City

Iceage are a Danish rock band from Copenhagen, the first group from Denmark I feature on the blog. They were formed in 2008 by four long-time friends whose average age was 17 at the time: Elias Bender Rønnenfelt (vocals, guitar), Johan Surrballe Wieth (guitar, backing vocals), Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass) and Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums). The current line-up also includes guitarist Casper Morilla. According to their profile on Apple Music, they started out as an abrasive punk rock quartet before exploring a more multi-faceted approach to songwriting... In 2009, they issued their first self-titled EP, and by 2011 they’d teamed up with Tambourhinoceros Records to issue their debut album, a nervy and hard-hitting set called New Brigade. When the album was issued in the United States in mid-2011, Iceage made their American debut with a performance in Brooklyn, New York. Four additional albums have since come out including the latest, Seek Shelter. Here’s Gold City, credited to Rønnenfelt and Iceage.

Travis Tritt/Stand Your Ground

Travis Tritt is an established country singer-songwriter and actor who hails from Marietta, Ga. He got his first guitar as an eight-year-old and taught himself how to play. When he was in fourth grade, he already did some performances in school. Tritt started writing his own music during his high school years. After finishing school, he worked in a series of jobs while playing music on the side. Eventually, Tritt met Danny Davenport who worked for Warner Bros. Records and helped him record demos. Over the next few years, the two put together a demo album titled Proud of the Country. After Davenport had presented it to Warner Bros. Records in Los Angeles, the label’s Nashville division signed Tritt in 1987. His debut album Country Club came out in February 1990. Tritt has since released numerous additional studio, live and compilation albums and enjoyed significant success, especially on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. He has also had five no. 1 and many additional top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Stand Your Ground is a nice southern country rocker with a Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe. Co-written by Channing Wilson, James Tritt, Travis Tritt and Wyatt B. Durrette, III., the tune is the opener of Tritt’s new album Set in Stone, his first in nearly 14 years.

TEKE::TEKE/Kala Kala

TEKE::TEKE are a Montreal-based psych-rock group. According to their website, their members are Maya Kuroki (vocals), Serge Nakauchi Pelletier (guitar), Hidetaka Yoneyama (guitar), Yuki Isami (flute), Etienne Lebel (trombone), Mishka Stein (bass) and Ian Lettre (drums). They describe their music as follows: Featuring traditional Japanese instruments, flute and trombone alongside raging guitars and a pulsing rhythm section, TEKE::TEKE creates a sound reminiscent of 1960’s and 70’s era psychedelic Japanese soundtracks, with a frenetic, modern twist. And about their debut album, which features the above tune Kala Kala, they note: On their debut album Shirushi, TEKE::TEKE blend classic Japanese balladry, surf rock, psychedelia, and more to produce a set of songs that play like soundtracks to a wildly eccentric epic film saga…By tearing apart roaring punk guitar riffs, folk instrumentation, poetic Japanese lyrics, and big band energy, Shirushi builds a dazzling mosaic of styles and eras. While this music falls far outside my core wheelhouse, I find it intriguing how the band blends Japanese music with rock.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones/I Don’t Believe in Anything

Coincidentally, I noted The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in my last Best of What’s New installment in connection with Celtic punk rockers Dropkick Murphys’ new album Turn Up That Dial. It was the very same ska punk group who invited their fellow Bostonians as opening act for their 1997 tour, which helped Dropkick Murphys gain broader attention at the time. Now The Bosstones are out with their own new studio album, When God Was Great, their 11th. The formation of The Bosstones in 1983 predates Dropkick Murphys by some 13 years. Remarkably, the band’s current line-up still includes four original members: Dick Barrett (lead vocals), Joe Gittleman (bass), Tim “Johnny Vargas” Burton (tenor saxophone) and Ben Carr (dancer). The present line-up also features Lawrence Katz (guitar), John Goetchius (keyboards), Chris Rhodes (trombone), Leon Silver (saxophone) and Joe Sirois (drums). According Wikipedia, the band is “often credited as one of the progenitors of ska punk and the creators of its subgenre ska-core, which mixes elements of ska with hardcore punk. As Music Enthusiast noted in a comment to my previous Best of What’s New, “Murphys and Bosstone guys are, of course, a big deal in these parts. Every year at year’s end the Bosstones do what they call a Hometown Throwdown in a local small club and it’s impossible to get in.” Here they are with I Don’t Believe in Anything, credited to the entire band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; TEKE::TEKE website; YouTube

My Top 5 Live Albums Turning 50

Three make a charm. Here’s my third and probably last look for now at 1971. Previously, I mused about my top 5 studio records and my top 5 debut albums that appeared during this remarkable year in music. Now it’s time for my top 5 live albums turning 50 this year.

Similar to debuts, narrowing the universe to live albums substantially reduced the choices compared to studio albums. That being said, I was surprised how many live albums appeared in 1971. For the purposes of my fun exercise, I considered 14 live records. Here are my five favorites. This time, I decided to list them according to their release date.

Elton John/17-11-70

This early Elton John album was new to me. Released on April 1, 1971, it was John’s fifth record overall and his first live release – and, boy, what a great album! It captured a live radio broadcast from November 17, 1970 – hence the title. This was an unplanned album, which was triggered by bootlegs. From a strictly commercial perspective, it turned out it didn’t quite work. A 60-minute bootleg, which included 12 more minutes of John’s music than the officially sanctioned live album, is believed to have impacted sales of the latter. An extended 2-LP edition was released for Record Store Day in 2017. Regardless of the original album’s commercial performance, the music is fantastic. Here’s closer Burn Down the Mission, a tune John initially included on his third studio album Tumbleweed Connection from October 1970. As usual, he composed the music while his long-time partner Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. This is an extended version that incorporates parts of Arthur Crudup’s My Baby Left Me (starting at around 10:30) and The Beatles’ Get Back (starting at about 14:10). At 18 minutes plus, it can compete with prog rock, but listening to John demonstrating his rock piano chops is a lot of fun! BTW, the guy playing that groovy bass is Dee Murray, who was a longtime member of John’s backing band.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

4 Way Street, released on April 7, 1971, is the first live album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It includes footage from gigs at Fillmore East (New York), The Forum (Los Angeles) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago) recorded during CSNY’s 1970 tour. By the time they played these shows, tension between the members had grown to intense levels, and the band dissolved shortly after the double-LP’s appearance – egos in rock! Sides one and two are acoustic and are primarily focused on the individual members, while sides 3 and 4 are electric, featuring the full band playing together. Here’s Ohio, written by Neil Young, and first released as a single by CSNY in June 1970 to protest the Kent State shooting that had occurred on May 4 of the same year.

The Allman Brothers Band/At Fillmore East

At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band is perhaps the ultimate southern and blues rock album and one of the best live albums ever. Released on July 6, 1971, it features music from three of the band’s concerts at the legendary New York City music venue that occurred in March 1971. The Allman Brothers’ third album overall also marked the band’s commercial breakthrough, climbing to no. 13 on the Billboard 200. As of August 1992, At Fillmore East has reached Platinum status. In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone ranked the album at no. 49 in their 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the list’s latest revision from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 105. Here’s Hot ‘Lanta, an instrumental the Allman Brothers debuted on this live album. It is credited to all members of the band at time: Duane Allman (lead guitar, slide guitar), Gregg Allman (organ, piano, vocals), Dickey Betts (lead guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, congas, timbales) and Butch Trucks (drums, tympani). These harmony guitar parts combined with Greg Allman’s Hammond are just out of this world!

Chicago/Chicago at Carnegie Hall

Chicago’s fourth album overall and their first live release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released on October 25, 1971, falls into the band’s early period, which is my favorite. As such, it immediately made my list of live albums I considered for my top picks. The 4-LP set was recorded from shows Chicago played at New York’s prominent concert venue for a week in April 1971 during their supporting tour for Chicago III, the band’s third studio album that had come out in January of the same year. “The reason behind the live record for Carnegie Hall is, we were the first rock ‘n’ roll group to sell out a week at Carnegie Hall, and that was worth rolling up the trucks for, putting the mikes up there, and really chronicling what happened in 1971,” co-founding band member Walter Parazaider told William James Ruhlmann, who wrote the liner notes for the 1991 Chicago compilation Group Portrait. Not all members were happy with the outcome. James Pankow, one of three co-founders who remain in the current line-up of Chicago, felt the venue’s acoustics weren’t made for amplified music, comparing the sound of the brass to kazoos. In 2005, a remastered version of the album with improved sound quality appeared. And earlier this month, Rhino Records announced a 50th anniversary 16-CD box set titled Chicago Live At Carnegie Hall Complete. It’s slated for July 16. Meanwhile, here’s the amazing 25 Or 6 To 4. Written by Robert Lamm, the tune first appeared on Chicago’s eponymous second studio album from January 1970 (also known as Chicago II).

George Harrison & Friends/The Concert for Bangladesh

I trust The Concert for Bangladesh doesn’t need much of an introduction. This 3-LP album captured the pioneering music charity event that had been organized by George Harrison to raise money for war-ravaged and disaster-stricken Bangladesh and took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The two concerts conducted for UNICEF, which raised from than $243,000 at the time, featured an incredible line-up of artists, who in addition to Harrison included Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton, among others. The event brought Harrison and Starr together on stage for the first time since 1966 when The Beatles had stopped to tour. It also marked Dylan’s first major concert appearance in the U.S. for five years. I recall reading somewhere Harrison literally didn’t know whether Dylan would show up until he walked out on stage. Here’s Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube