Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another weekly new music revue. Usually, most of the artists I feature in these posts are new to me. Not so this time! All picks appear on brand new albums released yesterday.

Wilco/All Across the World

American alternative rock band Wilco were formed in 1994 by singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, guitars, bass, harmonica) and the remaining members of Uncle Tupelo after vocalist and guitarist Jay Farrar had left the alternative country group. Wilco’s studio debut A.M. came out in March 1995. Unlike Trace, the debut by Farrar’s newly founded Son Volt, A.M. missed the charts. But Wilco caught up with and eventually surpassed Son Volt from a chart performance perspective. To date, the band has released 12 albums including its latest Cruel Country, a double album. While Tweedy acknowledged Wilco hadn’t been very comfortable about being called a country band in the past, even though their music always had included country elements, he said with Cruel Country “Wilco is digging in and calling it country.” Here’s All Across the World. I dig that tune and really don’t care much what you call it!

Liam Gallagher/Too Good For Giving Up

English singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher first gained prominence in the 1990s as frontman and lead vocalist of Britain’s overnight sensation Oasis. After Liam’s brother Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in August 2009, which ended the group, Liam and the remaining members decided to continue as Beady Eye. When that band broke up in October 2014, Liam launched a solo career, though for some reason, he initially didn’t want to characterize it as such. His solo debut As You Were was met with critical acclaim and debuted at no. 1 on the British albums chart. Now, Liam Gallagher is back with his third and new album C’mon You Know. Here’s a sample: Too Good For Giving Up, co-written by Gallagher and fellow British singer-songwriter Simon Aldred who is also listed as co-producer. Strong tune!

Steve Earle/Hill Country Rain

After a warm tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, released in January 2021, roots rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle is back with another tribute. Jerry Jeff, his 22nd studio release, celebrates the music of outlaw country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. While Walker wrote and interpreted many songs over more than 50 years, he was best known for Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 classic has been covered by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others. And now also Steve Earle, who released his solo debut Guitar Town in March 1986 following a 10-year-plus career as a songwriter and musician. “This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle wrote on his website. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.” Here’s Hill Country Rain, which Walker first recorded in 1972 for a self-titled studio album. Great rendition!

Bruce Hornsby/Tag

When I included Bruce Hornsby in a recent Sunday Six installment, I didn’t anticipate I’d be writing about the American singer-songwriter again so soon. Best known for his 1986 debut gem The Way It Is, Hornsby has drawn from folk-rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country rock, heartland rock and blues rock over a 36-year-and-counting recording career. Bonnie Raitt, whose music I’ve loved for many years, called Hornsby her favorite artist in a recent interview. Perhaps I should finally take a closer look at Hornsby beyond his first two albums! ‘Flicted, his 23rd and latest would be a start. “Thanks to all of our supporters who have followed the multi-genre journey for the last thirty-six years,” Hornsby wrote on his website.”…thanks for being open to change, exploration and a bit of musical mirth and merriment along with the attempts at deep and soulful music-making through the years.” Here’s Tag, which like most tunes on the album were written or co-written by Hornsby. This may not be as catchy as mainstream pop-oriented songs like Every Little Kiss, Mandolin Rain or The Way It Is, but I’m still intrigued and want to hear more.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes from each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Earle website; Bruce Hornsby website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Earth, Wind & Fire

Are you ready to take another imaginary desert island trip? Ready or not, here we go. Continuing to explore my streaming music library in an alphabetical fashion, the next letter is “e”. My pick is a group I can’t believe I had not covered in a dedicated post after more than six years of writing this blog: Earth, Wind & Fire – unlike Eagles, Steve Earle and Melissa Etheridge, to name some others I could have selected.

I seem to vaguely remember that it was my dear brother-in-law who first introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire. And my song choice Fantasy was either the very first tune or was among the first tracks I heard by the group. I loved Fantasy from the get-go both because of the great vocals, especially Phillip Bailey, and the funky yet smooth groove, and I still do.

Fantasy was co-written by Earth, Wind & Fire founder and leader Maurice White and founding member, bassist and his half-brother Verdine White, along with Argentinian composer and pianist Eddie del Barrio. The tune was included on Earth, Wind & Fire’s eighth studio album All ‘n All from November 1977. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in January 1978.

While I would consider Fantasy to be one of the group’s best-known songs, I was surprised to see this catchy tune only reached no. 32 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100; it did better on the R&B chart where it climbed to no. 12. Fantasy did best in The Netherlands and Sweden where it got to no. 7 and no. 8, respectively.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts: Earth, Wind & Fire made a smooth transition into the disco era, adapting their R&B sound to the new groove. “Fantasy,” written by group members Maurice and Verdine White along with the keyboard player/composer Eddie del Barrio, fit right in at Studio 54, but also had a deeper meaning, which was typical of Maurice White’s productions: he would put a message on top of an infectious beat. [While Fantasy is a great dance tune, it’s not disco, in my view – CMM]

Talking about the message in this song, Maurice told Melody Maker: “The song ‘Fantasy’ is motivated about escapism in the sense of living on a world that is untrue, a world that is unjust, a world that is very selfish and envious, there is a place that everyone can escape to which is their own fantasy. I had to write the song in the sense of sharing this place with people. It’s an escape mechanism.”

“Fantasy” is a showcase for EWF singer Phillip Bailey, who could handle the very high vocal range. The day he recorded his vocal, he got elbowed in the mouth playing basketball, so he did it that night with a loose tooth and busted lip.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

John Mellencamp Delivers Warm Roots Music and Cranky Lyrics on New Album

“I’m not for everybody,” John Mellencamp told NPR about his new album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack – a fair observation, and I say this as a longtime fan. I also saw this statement in some of the other reviews I read about the record that was released on Friday, January 21. It’s evident to me the heartland former straight rocker who turned 70 last October has found his sweet spot with roots music. He gradually embraced that style starting with The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains one of my favorite Mellencamp records to this day. If you dig his previous records like Plain Spoken (2014) and Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, I think it’s a safe bet you will like his new album – unless perhaps you expect something new.

Strictly A One-Eyed Jack was written and produced by Mellencamp at his own Belmont Mall Studios in Bloomington, Ind., notes his website. His 24th studio album, the first with new original songs since the above-mentioned Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, includes three collaborations with Bruce Springsteen. One of the tunes, Wasted Days, was first released as an upfront single on December 10, 2021. I covered it here at the time. Overall, I can hear some musical and lyrical traces from other artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Earle and Woody Guthrie, and of course Mellencamp’s familiar style, including a raspy voice shaped by more than 50 years of smoking.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs starting with the opener I Always Lie to Strangers. Like most other tunes on the album, it was solely written by Mellencamp. During an interview with Forbes.com, he elaborated on the title: “The average person hears 300 or 400 lies a day and will tell 150 himself and not even know it. ‘Cause you turn the news on, you get lies. You turn advertising on, you get lies. You talk to people, they lie to you. Even as simple as, “How are you doing today?” “I’m doing great.” No, they’re not, but they say it anyway. So it was just that simple of the thought that led to that song.” While I don’t know the source of Mellencamp’s highly inflated-looking stats, I guess his general point is legit.

The title of the bluesy I’m A Man That Worries pretty much says it all. Here’s the first verse for illustration:

I am a man that worries
Worries occupy my brain
I’m worried about tomorrow

I worry about today
I’m worried about the words I’m hearing
I’m worried about all this bad news
I know it’s a curse
That ain’t ever gonna go away

So how about some of these collaborative tunes with Springsteen? I’m skipping Wasted Days since as noted above, I already wrote about it previously. Here’s one of the other two tunes: Did You Say Such A Thing. I love the rock feel Springsteen’s guitar-playing adds. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, he also plays the solo. Hearing the two sing together sounds pretty cool as well. During the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp characterized the collaboration as “quite by accident.” He said, “For my entire career I was always like the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. And Bruce and I have known each other for years…But we did a rainforest thing for Sting…And all of a sudden he was like my big brother, and he treated me like I was his sibling, and I treated him with respect. And then we became really good friends, and it just kind of happened. He came to Indiana, he stayed at the house. It was great.” If only all accidents would have such great outcomes!

Gone So Soon surprised me a bit with its jazzy feel. I suppose this proves that while John Mellencamp clearly has become a roots-oriented artist, he isn’t a one-trick pony. Based on credits available on Discogs, the great piano part of this tune is played by Troye Kinnett, while Joey Tartell provides the beautiful trumpet solo. I also love the backing vocals by Merritt Lear. It all gets perfectly complemented with Mellencamp’s rough vocals. Check it out – very moody!

Here’s the title track. When asked, ‘Who is the one-eyed Jack to you?’, during the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp explained, “You can’t write about yourself all the time. But I have grown to be a good observer and good listener, so I hear what other people think and what people say. Then I’m open to suggestions, which means that sometimes I’ll be doing something and a voice in my head will go, “Well, you better write this down.” And I think, “Ah, f**k I’m painting, I don’t want to write this down.” And I’m like, “You need to write this down, John.” And that happened quite a bit with this record.” BTW, that one-eyed Jack portrait of Mellencamp was painted by Speck Mellencamp, his younger son with his ex-wife, the model Elaine Irwin. John Mellencamp is an avid painter as well. His artwork has been exhibited numerous times, including at museums like the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

The final track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer. A Life Full Of Rain is another collaborative recording with Springsteen. Unlike the two other songs, this tune is on the quieter side. Lyrically, it’s yet another not exactly cheerful song.

Following is how Mellencamp summed up the album to Forbes.com: “I’m not for everyone anymore. I was someplace the other night and some guy came up to me and he said, “You know, music is just not the same.”And he said, “It’s just not the same. And there’s not any good songwriters anymore.” And I went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” I go, “Wait a minute. Have you heard my last record?” [Mellencamp clearly doesn’t lack self-confidence, though I agree with him – CMM] He goes, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Bruce’s last record?” He goes, “No”. I go, “Have you heard Dylan’s last record?” He went, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Woody Guthrie’s last record?” He said, “No.” I said, “Maybe there’s still music out there. You’re just not listening. There’s the problem. You’re not listening. It’s still being made. It’s still out there, but you’re just not listening. You grew up. Too bad for you.”

I don’t want to wrap up this review without acknowledging the other musicians on the album, who do a beautiful job: Music director Andy York (acoustic and electric guitar, autoharp, banjo, bass, backing vocals), Mike Wanchic (electric guitar, backing vocals), Miriam Sturm (violin), Jon Gunnell (bass) and Dane Clark (drums, percussion) – the same musicians who backed up Mellencamp on his two previous albums. In fact, Sturm has played on all of his records since Mr. Happy Go Lucky from September 1996. York and especially Wanchic go back with Mellencamp even further. For York, it’s until Dance Naked, Mellencamp’s 13th studio album that appeared in June 1994. And for Wanchic the oldest Mellencamp album I could verify is Uh-huh from October 1983. These are remarkable long-term relationships in an ego-driven industry that’s notorious for volatility.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; NPR; Forbes.com; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & Friends/My Back Pages

I watched this clip on Facebook last evening and simply couldn’t resist posting it: Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison sharing the stage with Bob Dylan to perform My Back Pages – what a terrific moment in music history! It all happened at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album, the start of a recording career that continues to this day, 29 years later.

Written by Dylan who first recorded it for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan released in August 1964, My Back Pages has been covered by various artists. The best-known rendition and the version I first heard and came to dig is by The Byrds, so I guess it’s only appropriate that Roger McGuinn kicked off the song.

The Byrds included My Back Pages on their fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out in February 1967. The tune also became the record’s second single in March of the same year and the group’s last top 40 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 30. My Back Pages has also been covered by Keith Jarrett, Ramones, Steve Earle and The Hollies – quite a diverse group of artists! Frankly, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of these additional versions. I surely will look them up!

Just check out McGuinn, Petty, Young, Clapton and Harrison in this clip. They all seem to have a ball, especially Neil Young who smiles various times – he’s not exactly known for showing his emotions like that. I also have to call out Eric Clapton who plays a beautiful solo and does a solid job when it comes to his turn singing lead vocals.

My Back Pages - Bob Dylan All Star Jam! - Keeping the Blues Alive

Additionally, I should mention the other musicians on stage: The surviving members of Booker T. & the M.G.s, Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Anton Fig (drums, filling in for the late Al Jackson Jr.), along with Jim Keltner as a second drummer. That’s one hell of a band, even for a maestro like Bob Dylan! Speaking of Dylan, he sounds great as well. And while he isn’t smiling, at least not visibly, I have to believe he was smiling inside!

In case you’re curious to read more about Bobfest or watch additional clips of Dylan renditions by artists like John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman and Chrissie Hynde, you can check out my previous, more comprehensive post on Bobfest from March 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, and this means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. All featured tracks in this post appear on releases that came out yesterday (September 24). Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Third Eye Blind/Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen

Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band founded in San Francisco in 1993. In the early 1990s, singer-songwriter and guitarist Stephan Jenkins set out to start the group. He worked on early material with bassist Jason Slater that resulted in the band’s first demo. In their early years, Third Eye Blind experienced frequent line-up changes. After Slater’s departure, guitarist Kevin Cadogan joined with whom Jenkins developed a songwriting partnership. In June 1996, the group signed with Elektra Records. Despite significant challenges, Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut album finally appeared in April 1997. It reached no. 25 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, also charted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has sold more than six million copies, becoming the band’s best-selling album to date. Third Blind Eye have since since released six additional records including their latest, Our Bande Apart. Here’s the nice opener Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen penned by Jenkins who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s remaining tracks.

Jesse Malin/Greener Pastures

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jesse Malin started his career in 1980 when he was only 12 years old as frontman of New York hardcore group Heart Attack. In 1991, he co-founded D Generation, a glam punk band, in which he continues to perform as lead vocalist to this day. After the group’s break-up in 1999 (they reunited in 2011), Malin launched a solo career. Influenced by Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, he changed his sound. His solo debut The Fine Art of Self-Destruction first came out in the UK in October 2002 before it appeared in the U.S. in January 2003. Eight additional solo albums by Malin have since been released. Here’s Greener Pastures, a beautiful tune from Malin’s new Americana-oriented album Sad and Beautiful World.

Mac McCaughan/The Sound of Yourself

According to his profile on Apple Music, Mac McCaughan wears multiple hats. He is a co-founder of the seminal indie band Superchunk, founder and leader of Portastatic, a former member of Seam and Go Back Snowball, and co-owner of Merge Records, one of America’s most successful and influential independent labels. Despite his success, McCaughan has strayed little from his punk rock principles in terms of both music and business, and after more than 25 years of making records, he opted to launch a belated solo career in 2015 with the release of the synthy Non-Believers...While Superchunk continued releasing albums of the high-energy fuzz pop they were known for, McCaughan furthered his deepening fascination with synth sounds, collaborating with ambient harpist Mary Lattimore on a series of improvisations that was released in 2019 as the New Rain Duets album by the Three Lobed label. This brings me to his latest solo release, The Sound of Yourself. Here’s the title track. I like it!

Ringo Starr/Let’s Change the World

Only six months after Zoom In, Ringo Starr is out with another EP, Change the World. Of course, I couldn’t ignore it! Just like the previous EP, the four tracks were recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West studio, according to a recent announcement on his website. “I’ve been saying I only want to release EPs at this point and this is the next one,” he commented. “What a blessing it’s been during this year to have a studio here at home and be able to collaborate with so many great musicians, some I’ve worked with before and some new friends.” Guest artists include Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather, both from Toto, as well as Joe Walsh and Nathan East, among others. Here’s the title track co-written by Williams and Lukather. Backing vocals were provided by Amy Keys, Zelma Davis, Billy Valentine and Darryl Phinnessee. Let’s Change the World perfectly fits the hope and optimism Ringo Starr continues to radiate at age 81 – I just love the man!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s already been another week since the last Best of What’s New and that we’re at the end of July. This installment of my recurring new music feature includes an English goth punk-influenced rock group, a South African-turned-U.S. post grunge band, as well as an Americana singer-songwriter and a British retro soul artist who are both based in Nashville. All songs appeared on releases that came out yesterday (July 30).

Creeper/Midnight

Creeper are an English rock band from Southampton. Apple Music describes them as a versatile English goth-punk unit that draws inspiration from a deep well of post-punk, emo, and glam rock…Creeper was founded in 2014 by vocalist Will Gould, guitarists Ian Miles and Oliver Burdett, bassist Sean Scott, drummer Dan Bratton, and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. They issued their eponymous debut EP shortly after formation, and in 2015 they inked a deal with Roadrunner Records and put out a second EP, The Callous Heart…A third EP, The Stranger, dropped the following year, and in 2017, Creeper unleashed their full-length debut, the well-received Eternity, In Your Arms. After seemingly announcing their breakup in 2018, the band unexpectedly returned a year later. In 2020 they unleashed their second album, the grandiosely titled Sex, Death & The Infinite Void. Yesterday, Creeper’s fourth EP American Noir appeared. Here’s Midnight, a melodic rocker co-written by Greenwood, Miles and Gould.

Parker McCollum/Wait Outside

Next up is Parker McCollum, a Nashville-based Americana singer-songwriter. While growing up in the Houston area, McCollum listened to artists like Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. At age 13, he started playing the guitar and began writing his own songs. When he was 16, McCollum was performing at local venues. After his high school graduation, he moved to Austin. While starting to attend college there, he continued to perform. In June 2013, McCollum released his debut single Highway. His debut album Limestone Kid followed in February 2015. In June 2019, he signed with MCA Nashville. That label just issued his third and new album Gold Chain Cowboy. Here’s the opener Wait Outside co-written by him, Randy Rogers and producer Jon Randall – great sound and check out that slide guitar!

Yola/Barely Alive

British singer-songwriter Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, first entered my radar screen last October when I included her then-latest single Hold On in a previous Best of What’s New installment. Her powerful voice immediately grabbed my attention and subsequently led to the review of her compelling first full-length solo album Walk Through Fire from February 2019. Following a tough childhood characterized by poverty, and a period during which she was homeless, Yola managed to establish herself as a session singer in England. In 2005, she co-founded country-soul band Phantom Limb and recorded two studio albums and a live record with them. After the group dissolved and a hiatus, Yola launched her solo career and released a well received debut solo EP, Orphan Offering. Eventually, she came to the U.S. and met Dan Auerbach who produced her above noted first full length album. Barely Alive is the opener of Yola’s new sophomore release Stand For Myself that was produced by Auerbach as well. Together with Joy Oladokun, he also co-wrote the tune with her. If you’re new to Yola and like retro ’70s style soul, check her out. I can hear a bit of Roberta Flack in her voice.

Seether/Wasteland

Seether are a post-grunge rock band founded as Saron Gas in Pretoria, South Africa in 1999. Their debut album Fragile came out in October 2000 on Johannesburg-based independent label Musketeer Records. After it came to the attention of American label Wind-up Records, they signed them, and the band relocated to the U.S. Due to the similarity to sarin gas, they were told to change their name, so they decided to call themselves Seether, after the song by American alternative rock band Veruca Salt, one of their influences. Another one is Nirvana. Their first U.S. album Disclaimer was released in August 2002. Seven additional albums and six EPs have since appeared, including their new EP Wasteland-The Purgatory. Seether’s current line-up includes original member Shaun Morgan (lead vocals, guitar, piano), together with Corey Lowery (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dale Stewart (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and John Humphrey (drums, percussion). Here’s Wasteland written by Morgan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Steve Earle’s New Album J.T. is Warm Tribute to His Late Son Justin Townes Earle

…I wish I could have held you when/You left this world like I did then/Last time we spoke was on the phone/Then we hung up and now you’re gone/Last thing I said, “I love you”/Your last words to me were, “I love you too”…

On January 4, Steve Earle released his new album J.T., backed by his longtime band The Dukes. The background story behind this tribute to his late son, the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, is quite sad. On August 20 last year, Justin passed away at the age of 38 from an accidental overdose of fentanyl-laced cocaine. January 4 would have been his 39th birthday.

The thought of losing a child at such a young age is horrible enough. But there’s more to the story. The two men had a complicated relationship. Steve left Justin and his mother Carol Ann Hunter Earle when the boy was just three years old. Between music, touring, drug addiction and serving prison time for drug possession, Steve Earle was out of his son’s life for the next 12 years.

Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999.
Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle in 1999. Credit: Sara Sharpe

By the time Justin, whose middle name was in honor of Steve’s musical mentor Townes van Zandt, reunited and lived with his then-sober father in 1994, he had developed a drug addiction as well. The two men developed a close musical relationship, and for some time, Justin played in his father’s band. But according to a review in American Songwriter, he was kicked out after his drug addiction had deteriorated and essentially prevented him from functioning.

American Songwriter notes Justin’s forced exit caused the distance to Steve to grow again, though apparently, they made up in recent years. Unlike his dad, Justin wasn’t able to become sober despite multiple rehab attempts. Yet he still managed to have a music career that included stints in Nashville bands the Swindlers and the Distributors, and a solo recording career that encompassed an EP and eight studio albums between February 2007 and May 2020.

Time for some music. Ten of the 11 tracks on J.T., titled after Justin’s nickname as a child, are songs by Justin Townes Earle, of which he co-wrote two with Scotty Melton. The closer Last Words was penned by Steve Earle. Let’s kick it off with the opener I Don’t Care, a tune from Justin’s debut EP Yuma released in February 2007.

Far Away in Another Town is the closer from Justin’s first full-length solo album The Good Life that appeared in March 2008. It’s one of the two songs he co-wrote with Melton.

Another tune from The Good Life that certainly took on a new meaning is Turn Out My Lights. This also happens to be the second of the aforementioned co-writes with Melton.

Harlem River Blues is the title track of Justin’s third studio album. Released in September 2010, it became his first to enter the Billboard 200, reaching no. 47. It also climbed to no. 3 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the above noted closer Last Words, the most personal track on the album. The lyrical excerpt in the beginning of the post is from that song.

Recording the album “wasn’t cathartic as much as it was therapeutic,” Earle told The New York Times. “I made the record because I needed to.” The Times also noted Earle went through Justin’s catalog together with his other son Ian to select the 10 tracks.

I wasn’t familiar at all with Justin’s music. Based on listening to the original tunes, Justin’s versions for the most part were more stripped back than the covers on this album. Much of my initial attraction to J.T. came from the warm sound. Which brings me to the fine musicians of The Dukes: Chris Masterson (guitar), Eleanor Whitmore (fiddle), Ricky Ray Jackson (pedal steel guitar), Jeff Hill (bass) and Brad Pemberton (drums).

“It felt positive,” Earle’s longtime recording engineer Ray Kennedy told The New York Times, referring to the recording sessions. “It felt like we were taking an expression of somebody’s art and creativity and giving it back to the world in a different package.”

The last word shall belong to Steve Earle: “I’ve never loved anything in this world more than him,” he said. “I was connected to him in ways that, you know — he’s my first born, he did the same thing I did and we both had this disease.”

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; The New York Times; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

As another eventful week is drawing to a close, the time has come again to venture into the world of newly released music. This latest Best of What’s New installment features great power pop, indie pop rock and art pop from the U.S. and rock from the U.K.

While two of these acts are well established and have been around for many years, all are new to me. Broadening my music universe by “discovering” artists and bands is a key reason why I enjoy writing the series. All of the featured songs were just released yesterday. Let’s get going!

Matthew Sweet/Stars Explode

Matthew Sweet is a singer-songwriter who played in various bands during the ’80s and was part of the vibrant local music scene in Athens, Ga., before gaining traction as a solo artist in the ’90s. According to his profile on Apple Music, he skillfully navigates the line between the power pop underground and the mainstream end of alternative rock. Matthew Sweet was a master of potent pop tunes and catchy melodic hooks, but he also knew how to make his songs rock, and his inspired use of incisive guitar work gave his songs an edge that was fresh and satisfying. Sweet spent most of the ’80s in the background, performing with the groups Oh-OK and Buzz of Delight, playing in Lloyd Cole’s backing band, and releasing a pair of overlooked solo albums (1986’s Inside and 1989’s Earth) as he honed his skills. His this solo album Girlfriend from October 1991 brought him commercial breakthrough. Between 2006 and 2013, Sweet collaborated on a series of cover albums (Under the Covers Vol. 1 – Vol. 3) with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. Stars Explode, written by Sweet, is from his 15th studio album Catspaw. It illustrates he hasn’t lost his ability to write catchy power pop tunes that nicely rock. Sounds like Sweet is right up my alley, so I’m planning to further explore his music.

Beach Bunny/Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)

Beach Bunny are an indie pop rock band formed in Chicago in 2015. The group started as a solo project by vocalist and guitarist Lili Trifilio who released her debut EP Animalism in 2015. Following the third EP Crybaby in 2017, Beach Bunny became a full-fledged four-piece group. In addition to Trifilio (vocals, guitar), their current lineup features Matt Henkels (guitar), Anthony Vaccaro (bass) and Jon Alvarado (drums). Beach Bunny’s first full-length studio album Honeymoon appeared in February 2020. Good Girls (Don’t Get Used) is the opener of the group’s latest EP Blame Game. Like the three other tracks on the EP, the song is credited to Lili Trifilio and Beach Bunny. The catchy track reminds me a bit of some early Taylor Swift tunes I’ve heard.

You Me At Six/Beautiful Way

You Me At Six are an English rock band formed in 2004 in the greater London area. Apple Music notes post-hardcore and alt-rock influences in their music. I don’t know the band and take this at face value. After two self-released EPs in 2006 and 2007, their debut album Take Off Your Colours came out in October 2008. It peaked at no. 25 on the British albums chart and yielded two UK award nominations. Their fourth album Cavalier Youth from January 2014 topped the UK and Scottish albums charts and also made the Billboard 200, reaching no. 124. The band’s current core lineup consists of co-founding members Josh Franceschi (lead vocals), Chris Miller (lead guitar), Max Helyer (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Matthew Barnes (bass, backing vocals), as well as Daniel Flint (drums) who has been with the group since 2007. Beautiful Way, credited to all members of the band, is from You Me At Six’s seventh studio album Suckapunch. The track’s guitar part drew me in – it definitely has something!

Midnight Sister/Foxes

Rounding out today’s new music collection is the duo of Juliana Giraffe and Ari Balouzian, professionally known as Midnight Sister. A profile on Apple Music describes their style as art pop with a cinematic flair…Both natives of the San Fernando Valley [Calif.] and graduates of the same high school a few years apart, they met when Balouzian, a classically trained musician, wrote the score for a short film scripted by Giraffe and her sister, a friend of Balouzian’s. When he followed up by sending some instrumental music to Giraffe, and she returned it with vocals, they liked the results and decided to keep working together. Midnight Sister was Balouzian’s first pop project aside from doing arrangements for Tobias Jesso, Jr. and Alex Izenberg, and Giraffe’s first musical endeavor. Their full-length debut album Saturn Over Sunset appeared in 2017. Foxes is a track from their sophomore release Painting the Roses. It’s an intriguing tune with portions that sound Beatle-esque.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: August 8

It’s been more than two months since my last installment of this recurring music history feature. And while I’ve already covered 53 different dates since I started the series in 2016, this didn’t include August 8. As always, the idea here is to highlight select events based on my music preferences, not to provide a full listing.

1964: Bob Dylan released his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Th title was appropriate, since the record marked a departure from the more socially conscious songs on predecessor The Times They Are A-Changin’ that had appeared seven months earlier in January 1964. Some critics were quick to complain Dylan was selling out to fame. But Robert Zimmerman rarely seems to care much what others think about his music. Here’s My Back Pages. The tune has been covered by various other artists, including The Byrds, Ramones and Steve Earle, to name a few.

1969: An ordinary pedestrian crossing in London’s City of Westminster inner borough would never be same after it became part of the iconic cover photo of Abbey Road, the actual final studio album by The Beatles from September 1969, even though it was released prior to their official final record Let It Be. The famous shot was taken by Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan, who was then a freelancer. For any photographers, he used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds, according to The Beatles Bible. Following the shoot, Paul McCartney reviewed the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. After the band’s breakup, Mcmillan also worked with John Lennon and Yoko Ono for several years. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that album: George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun.

1970: The third studio album by Blood, Sweat & Tears, ingeniously titled Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, following its release in June that year. After the success of their preceding eponymous second album from December 1968, which also topped the U.S. charts, the record had been widely anticipated. Here’s Lucretia Mac Evil, a great tune written by the band’s lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. The song, which was also released separately as a single, was one of just a handful of original tracks on the album, which mostly included cover versions of tunes from artists like James Taylor, The Rolling Stones and Traffic – apparently part of the reason why it received lukewarm reviews.

1987: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the second single off U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree, topped the Billboard Hot 100, marking the Irish rock band’s second no. 1 song in the U.S. after the record’s lead single With Or Without You. The Joshua Tree, which also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, catapulted U2 to international superstardom. Like all other tracks on album, the lyrics of the tune were written by Bono, while the music was credited to U2. Here’s the official video filmed in Las Vegas in April 1987 after the band’s first show in the city.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Rock; The Beatles Bible; Billboard; YouTube