The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another mini-excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Most of the U.S. including my neck of the woods fell back to standard time overnight. If this affects you as well, don’t forget to adjust your watch – if you didn’t and believe you must head out for an activity that starts at a specific time, relax, you have an additional hour! This means you may have time to join me on today’s music trip! Even if you turned back your clocks by an hour, hop on anyway!

Ornette Coleman/Lonely Woman

Let’s start today’s journey in November 1969 with American jazz great Ornette Coleman. The saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer is known as a principal founder of the free jazz genre, a term derived from his 1961 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Coleman who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, began playing R&B and bebop in the late ’40s before joining Silas Green from New Orleans, a traveling show that was part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show. Later on, he became part of the band of R&B, blues guitarist and vocalist Pee Wee Crayton. He ended up in California, assembled his own band and recorded his debut album Something Else!!!! By the time his sophomore release Tomorrow Is the Question! had come out, Coleman had shaken up the jazz world with his “alien” music. Apparently, some jazz musicians went as far as calling him a fraud. None other than conductor Leonard Bernstein disagreed, praising him. Lonely Woman, composed by Coleman, is a track from his third album confidently titled The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was released in November 1959. Coleman (alto saxophone) is backed by Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums).

Steve Earle/You’re Still Standin’ There

Our next stop takes us to March 1996 and a tune by roots-oriented singer-songwriter Steve Earle, which was love at first listen: You’re Still Standin’ There, off his six studio album I Feel Alright. And that is safe to assume he did after he had overcome his drug addiction to cocaine and heroin in the fall of 1994. Like all other tracks on the album, You’re Still Standin’ There was penned by Earle. Lucinda Williams, another artist I’ve come to dig, joined him on vocals for this great Dylan-esque tune. I can also hear some Springsteen in here! After playing music for nearly 55 years and a recording career of more than 35 years, Earle is still going strong. His most recent album with his longtime backing band The Dukes, Jerry Jeff, came out on May 27 this year.

Cream/Politician

Time to hop to the ’60s, coz why not! Politician is one of my absolute favorites by British power trio Cream. I love that super cool guitar riff. With important midterm elections coming up in America, which could significantly impact the direction of the county, I also have to admit the song choice isn’t entirely coincidental. To the extent possible, I’d like to keep this blog uplifting and free of politics, which has become so toxic. All I will say is this: Never take anything for granted. The right to vote is a privilege. If you have it, exercise it! Politician, co-written by Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce and English poet, lyricist, and singer Pete Brown, appears on Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire, a part studio, part live double LP that first came out in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK in August of the same year.

Dire Straits/Tunnel of Love

Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post earlier this week about Love Over Gold, the excellent fourth studio album by Dire Straits, for which I’ve gained new appreciation. That’s why I’m featuring a song from the British rock band’s predecessor Making Movies, which came out in October 1980! 🙂 Joking aside, both of these albums rank among my top three Dire Straits releases, together with their eponymous debut that features this great signature Fender Stratocaster sound by Mark Knopfler. While that album and the similar-sounding sophomore Communiqué were great, Making Movies represented a leap in Knopfler’s songwriting. Here’s the excellent opener Tunnel of Love.

The Rolling Stones/Dead Flowers

Recently, I participated in another round of Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature by Dave from A Sound Day, for which he invites fellow bloggers to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. This time, he asked contributors to write about their favorite year in music. The submissions were amazing (not talking about mine, though “my” year obviously was the best! 🙂 ). One key takeaway from this latest installment is how much great music appeared, especially in the 1965-1975 timeframe. A close second to my choice, 1969, was 1971, though frankly, I pretty much could have picked any other year during the above period. Longwinded way of bringing me to Sticky Fingers, my favorite album by The Rolling Stones released in April 1971 and a tune I absolutely love: Dead Flowers. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the country-oriented song was influenced by Richards’ friendship with Gram Parsons. I just don’t get tired of the great honky tonk guitar fill-ins by Richards and the amazing Mick Taylor. Did somebody say they don’t like country?

Giovannie and the Hired Guns/Can’t Answer Why

For the final tune of this installment of The Sunday Six, we’re going all the way to the present with a great tune by Giovannie and the Hired Guns, a rock band from Texas I recently featured as part of my Best of What’s New music revue series. The group from Stephenville around frontman Giovannie Yanez, which also includes guitarists Carlos Villa and Jerrod Flusche, bassist Alex Trejo and Milton Toles on drums, taps into a variety of genres, such as Southern rock, country, stoner metal, musica norteña and even Latin hip-hop. Here’s Can’t Answer Why, credited to Yanez and the band, off their third and latest full-length album Tejano Punk Boyz. Great melodic rock!

‘So where’s the Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes’, you might wonder. Ask you shall receive. As always, thanks for reading and listening, and hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! I always look forward to putting together this weekly recurring feature, which allows me to explore music from different styles and decades without any limits, except keeping it to six tracks I dig. Are you ready to accompany me on another excursion? Hop on and let’s go!

Mose Allison/Crespuscular Air

Today our journey begins in November 1957 with Local Color, the sophomore album by Mose Allison. Shoutout to Bruce from Vinyl Connection whose recent post about the American jazz and blues pianist inspired me to include him in a Sunday Six. According to Wikipedia, Allison has been called “one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues.” Let’s just put it this way: Pete Townshend felt Allison’s Young Man Blues was good enough to be featured on The Who’s Live at Leeds album released in February 1970. John Mayall was one of the dozens of artists who recorded Allison’s Parchman Farm for his 1966 debut album with the Blues Breakers, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Allison’s music has also influenced many other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits. Here’s Crespuscular Air, a mellow jazz instrumental composed by Allison and included on the above-mentioned Local Color – the same record that featured Parchman Farm.

Steve Earle/Goodbye

Our next stop takes us to February 1995, which saw the release of Steve Earle’s fifth studio album Train a Comin’. I’m still relatively new to Earle but have quickly come to appreciate his music, which over the decades has included country, country rock, rock, blues and folk. Train a Comin’, while not a commercial or chart success, was an important album for Earle who had overcome his drug addiction in the fall of 1994. The bluegrass, acoustic-oriented album was his first in five years and marked a departure from the more rock-oriented predecessor The Hard Way he had recorded with his backing band The Dukes. Goodbye, penned by Earle, is one of nine original tunes on Train a Comin’, which also includes four covers.

Boz Scaggs/Georgia

For this next pick, let’s go back to February 1976. While I’ve known the name Boz Scaggs for many years, mainly because of his ’70s hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, I’ve yet to explore his music catalog. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with the group for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. Georgia, a smooth groovy song written by Scaggs, is included on his seventh solo album Silk Degrees, which is best known for the aforementioned Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Now 78 years, Scaggs still appears to be active and has released 19 solo albums to date.

Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne/You’re a Friend of Mine

Are you ready for some ’80s music? Yes, You’re a Friend of Mine definitely can’t deny the period during which it was recorded, but it’s such an upbeat song – I love it! It brought together dynamite saxophone player Clarence Clemons and legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, the tune was released in October 1985 as the lead single of Clemons’ solo debut album Hero, which came out in November of the same year. By that time Clemons had best been known as the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which “The Big Man” had joined in the early ’70s. Sadly, Clemons who also appeared in several movies and on TV died of complications from a stroke in June 2011 at the age of 69. Man, what an amazing sax player. He could also sing!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All right, time to jump back to the ’60s and some psychedelic rock by an artist who I trust needs no introduction: Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, was included on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968. The tune also appeared separately as a single, first in the U.S. at the time of the album and subsequently in the UK in October 1970, one month after Hendrix had passed away in London at the age of 27. Prominent American guitarist Joe Satriani has called Voodoo Child “the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the bold statement, it’s a hell of a song. Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists, included an excellent cover on his 1983 sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Shemekia Copeland/It’s 2 A.M.

Time to wrap up another Sunday Six with a real goodie. Since I recently witnessed part of a live gig of Shemekia Copeland and reviewed her new album Done Come Too Far, this great blues vocalist has been on my mind. Shemekia, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 knew she wanted to pursue a music career. After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album Turn the Heat Up! It’s 2 A.M., written by Rick Vito, is the excellent opener of her sophomore album Wicked that came out in September 2000. I could totally picture The Rolling Stones play this song. Check it out!

And, of course, I won’t leave you without a Spotify playlist featuring the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday, which means the time has come again to take a fresh look at newly released music. All highlighted tunes appear on albums that came out yesterday (Sep 9).

Flogging Molly/Lead The Way

Irish-American Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, founded in 1997, are kicking off this week’s new music revue. I had only heard of their name but hadn’t been aware of their music. From their AllMusic bio: Los Angeles-based seven-piece Flogging Molly are an interesting mix of traditional Irish music and spunky punk rock. Former Fastway acoustic guitarist/frontman and Dublin native Dave King formed the band with fiddle player Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion player (and former pro skateboarder) Matt Hensley, bassist Nathen Maxwell, drummer George Schwindt, and mandolinist Bob Schmidt…Their rowdy folk-rock punk revival sound has been compared to the likes of other Irish bands such as the Pogues and Black 47, but the raucous septet opted for its own unique brashness that defied genre lines. Flogging Molly’s debut studio album Swagger was released in March 2000. The band’s international breakthrough came in March 2008 with their fourth album Float. In the U.S. it peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and charted within the top 50 in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. Lead The Way, credited to Maxwell, Regan, King, Casey and Hensley, is from the group’s seventh and latest album Anthem. I love the combination of Irish folk music and rock, which in addition to The Pogues reminds me of Dropkick Murphys.

The Afghan Whigs/A Line Of Shots

The Afghan Whigs are a rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio. Initially formed in late 1986 by Greg Dulli (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick McCollum (lead guitar), John Curley (bass) and Steve Earle (drums) (no relation to the “other” Steve Earle), the group released six albums until their breakup in 2001. A first reunion in 2006 was short-lived and led to the release of two new tracks that were included on a compilation titled Unbreakable: A Retrospective 1990–2006. The Afghan Wigs came together again in December 2011 and have since released three additional albums including their new one How Do You Burn? Dulli and Curley remain in the band’s current lineup, which also includes Rick Nelson (keyboards, strings, guitar, backing vocals), Christopher Thorn (guitar) and Patrick Keeler (drums). Here’s A Line Of Shots, a track off the group’s new album, penned by Dulli. Nice tune!

The Amazons/Bloodrush

The Amazons are a British rock band formed in 2014. From their Apple Music profile: Playing an arena-sized brand of indie that combines the grandeur of Arcade Fire with the muscle of Nirvana, the Amazons crafted catchy, melodic anthems built for singalongs. At the time of their formation, vocalist Matt Thomson, guitarist Chris Alderton, and bassist Elliot Briggs were already in a group together, but when they recruited Josef “Joe” Emmet — who is also a bassist — on drums, the Reading band was born. Building a grassroots following in their local scene, Thomson, then working at a supermarket, would slip demo CDs into shoppers’ baskets. Their debut EP, 2015’s Don’t You Wanna, was produced by Catherine Marks, who’d previously worked with Wolf Alice and White Lies. In May 2017, The Amazons released their eponymous debut album, which was an instant success in the UK on the Official Albums Chart where it reached no. 8. Two years later, sophomore release Future Dust followed. Once again, it made the top 10 in the UK charts, peaking at no. 9. Bloodrush is a tune from the band’s third and latest album How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me? This is great melodic indie rock!

Julian Lennon/Save Me

My last pick for this week is another tune from Julian Lennon’s new album Jude, which is now out. Back in July, I featured Breathe, one of the tracks that had been released upfront. Jude is Lennon’s seventh studio album and his first in 11 years. The title is a nod to the legendary song ‘Hey Jude,’ by The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney to comfort 5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation, according to an announcement on Lennon’s website. “Many of these songs have been in the works for several years, so it almost feels like a coming-of-age album,” said Lennon. With great respect for the overwhelming significance of the song written for me, the title JUDE conveys the very real journey of my life that these tracks represent.” Until I learned about Jude a few months ago, I hadn’t thought we would see new music from Lennon, given his other activities over the past 20-plus years, including photography, publishing children’s books and producing film documentaries. Here’s the opener Save Me, co-written by Gregory Darling and Lennon. I really like what I’m hearing here and look forward to checking out the rest of the album!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Julian Lennon website; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jake Thistle/Down the Line

Young New Jersey singer-songwriter with incredible story looks like star in the making

As a music lover for 40-plus years, I enjoy coming across young talented artists. I also love a great story. New Jersey singer-songwriter Jake Thistle represents both. It’s safe to assume most of my readers haven’t heard of the recent high school graduate. My gut tells me this may change, and I’m not only referring to this post.

If I recall it correctly, I first came across Thistle about a year ago on Facebook where he’s pretty active and has amassed some 14,000 likes. The other day, I saw him at a free summer outdoor concert, performing a Jackson Browne show – a perfect fit, in my view, since he reminds me of Browne. During the gig, Thistle casually mentioned a CD. Before getting to that, I’d like to touch on his cool story.

The following is based on an interview the then 14-year-old Thistle gave to New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 four years ago. One month prior to his fourth birthday, he watched the 2008 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It turned out to be a life-changing moment for the little boy. I guess you could call it the equivalent of seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Jake Thistle at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Bitten by the Tom Petty bug, Thistle began watching videos of the man from Gainesville, Fla. on YouTube. The platform soon also suggested other similar artists and before long, the young boy became a classic rock fan. Listening to great music eventually turned into picking up the guitar at the age of nine; and starting to post his own videos on YouTube. And then something really incredible happened.

Tom Petty saw one of Thistle’s videos and sent him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Not only did Thistle get to see one of his music heroes, but he also met the man and the Heartbreakers backstage. It sounds like Mike Campbell was instrumental in all of this happening. Thistle told Q104.3 host Jim Kerr he does an annual fundraiser for Rock the Dogs, an animal charity co-founded by Campbell, who wanted to meet the young musician.

Thistle has also played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle and Tom Morello – not bad for a young cat who just graduated high school!

Jake Thistle with Steve Ferrone, former drummer of the Heartbreakers

This brings me to Down the Line, Thistle’s first CD that came out in June 2021. It was not what he initially had envisaged. “I’ve been wanting to get more original music out for a long time,” he explained in a Q&A on his website. “I had a deal in place with a major studio for a full, professionally-produced EP that I was going to record with some great musicians in the Spring, and I had some amazing offers to record at other studios with some of my heroes that I was looking forward to—then COVID happened, and those things had to be put on hold for now.”

But Thistle still wanted to put out some of his music, so he recorded the album at his home studio, using instruments he knew how to play himself. “I’ve never been one of those musicians who likes to sit in front of a computer—I like to play music— so I bought a new soundboard that allowed me to record and mix tracks right on the board…In addition to arranging and recording every instrument myself, I didn’t use any computer-based enhancements, instruments or sounds.”

After eight graphs into this post, I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s kick it off with the album’s opener and title track. When I listened to the tune for the first time, I was immediately struck by how mature Thistle sounds – certainly not your usual high school student. To be clear, I love when high school students get into music, so it’s not meant in a disparaging way. But just check out the remarkable songwriting and Thistle’s voice – so good!

In addition to the guitar, Thistle also managed to pick up the piano. Here’s a beautiful example: Frontier of Time. I could totally picture Jackson Browne playing this song. In fact, as I mentioned at the outset, if there’s any particular artist Thistle reminds me of it’s Browne. The slight occasional rasp in his voice is a bit reminiscent of Bryan Adams.

Another gem on the album is Lines On the Road. Check out the lyrics: Well I’m hypnotized by lines rushing by on the road/Measuring a time in song, feeling the highway below/I’m not worried about figuring out my life/No one ever seems to make it out alive/No I’m just seeing how long I can survive… This is mature singer-songwriter material. “The inspiration was from that sense of serenity and hope I’d get when taking long road trips, often for gigs in other states,” a then-16-year-old Thistle told American Songwriter in December 2020. “I’m a year away from being able to drive myself, so I have a lot of time to look out the window.”

Let’s do one more: Hometown, another neat piano-driven track. While it would be interesting to hear more produced renditions of the album’s 12 tunes, I actually find Thistle’s stripped-down approach pretty engaging. He certainly did a remarkable job leveraging the means he had to his full advantage. I couldn’t find a clip off the album, so here’s a live version from what looks like Thistle music cave at home. Some nice stuff hanging on the wall behind him, including what looks like a Rickenbacker 360/12.

So what’s next for Thistle? Apparently, he still has plans to record in the studio, which would be the logical next step. “Yes, the offers I had are still open, but we need to wait for the effects of the pandemic to get better,” he noted in the above Q&A. “I have a wide range of songs, and some I think would better for a full band with a studio. I write all the time, and I’m very much looking forward to getting in the studio for the next album even as I’m just releasing this one.”

I feel a full band and studio production would also allow Thistle to record some more uptempo rock-oriented songs a la Running On Empty, to stay with Jackson Browne. In the meantime, take a listen to Thistle’s CD below. It’s also available on Apple Music and on Amazon. Or you can purchase it for download on Thistle’s website here.

I think Jake Thistle is on an exciting path. There’s no question he’s both a very talented songwriter and a pretty solid musician. And, again, think about it: He’s only 18 and already so good! The remarkable relationships he has built with other music artists also look like great opportunities. My gut tells me we may well be looking at a classic singer-songwriter star in the making. I certainly look forward to hearing more music from him!

Sources: Jake Thistle website; Q104.3; YouTube; Spotify

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