The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hard to believe it’s Sunday again, and we’ve reached the second weekend in spring. In typical tri-state (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut) fashion, we’ve had some wild temperature swings, and for tomorrow, the weatherman has forecast a whooping daytime high of 35 F – keeping fingers crossed they’re wrong like most of the time! Meanwhile, let’s keep the weather behind us and embark on another journey celebrating the music of the past and the present with six tunes.

Carlos Santana/Bella

I’d like to start today’s trip with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana, one of the first guitarists I admired after I had started to pick up the guitar as a 12 or 13-year-old. Santana’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from July 1971, which spans the band’s first three albums, was one of the vinyl records my six-year-older sister had at the time. While I’m most familiar with the band’s classic period and it remains my favorite Santana music, I’ve also come to like some of their other work. Bella, co-written by Sterling Crew (keyboards, synthesizer), Carlos Santana (guitar) and Chester D. Thompson (keyboards), is from a solo album by Carlos, titled Blues for Salvador. Released in October 1987, the record is dedicated to his son Salvador Santana, who was born in May 1983 and is one of three children he had with his first wife Deborah King. Salvador Santana is a music artist as well, who has been active since 1999 when he collaborated with his father on composing El Farol, a Grammy-winning track from Santana’s hugely successful Supernatural album that came out in June that year.

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Last night, I saw an outstanding tribute band to Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli. I’ve covered Good Stuff on previous occasions, for example here. After having felt skittish about going to concerts for the longest time, I’ve recently resumed some activities. It felt so good to enjoy some top-notch live music! As such, I guess it’s not a surprise that Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are on my mind. While they have written many great songs, the one album I keep coming back to is Aja, a true masterpiece released in September 1977. Here’s Home at Last. That’s kind of how I felt last night!

The Chambers Brothers/Time Has Come Today

All righty, boys and girls, the time has come to go back to the ’60s and step on the gas a little with some psychedelic soul – coz, why not? The inspiration for this next pick came from a playlist titled 60s Rock Anthems, which I saw on Spotify. Regardless of whether you consider Time Has Come Today by American psychedelic soul group The Chambers Brothers a “rock anthem,” I think it’s a pretty cool tune. The title track of their debut album from November 1967 became the group’s biggest hit single, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The trippy song was co-written by brothers Willie Chambers (vocals, guitar) and Joseph Chambers (guitar), who made up the band together with their brothers Lester Chambers (harmonica) and George Chambers (bass), along with Brian Keenan (drums). Since the studio cut came in at 11 minutes, they edited it down to 2:37 minutes for the original single. Subsequently, there were also 3:05 and 4:45-minute single versions. Since we don’t do things half-ass here, of course, I present you with the full dose – sounds like a tasty stew of early Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix!

The Style Council/Shout to the Top

After the previous 11-minute psychedelic soul tour de force, I thought something more upbeat would be in order. The other day, I remembered and earmarked British outfit The Style Council. Formed in late 1982 by singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Weller (formerly with punk rock band The Jam) and keyboarder Mick Talbot (formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners, among others), The Style Council became part of a wave of British pop outfits that embraced blue-eyed soul and jazz. Others that come to mind are Simply Red, Matt Bianco and Everything But The Girl. Shout to the Top, written by Weller, was the group’s seventh single that came out in October 1984. It was included on the band’s sophomore album Our Favourite Shop from June 1985 and part of the soundtrack of the American romantic drama picture Vision Quest released in February of the same year. Warning, the catchy tune might get stuck in your brain!

Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May

Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and some beautiful Neil Young-style Americana rock. Blue Rodeo are a relatively recent “discovery.” The first time I featured the Canadian country rock band, who has been around since 1984, was in early December 2021. Borrowing from this post, they were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. Co-written by Keelor and Cuddy, 5 Days in May is from Blue Rodeo’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, first released in Canada in October 1993. It only appeared in the U.S. in September of the following year. The band has since released 16 additional studio albums. I reviewed their most recent one, Many a Mile, here.

Foo Fighters/Medicine At Midnight

Once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our musical mini-excursion. Late on Friday sad news broke that Taylor Hawkins, who had been the drummer of Foo Fighters since 1997, passed away at the age of 50. The tragic event happened just before the band was scheduled to play a gig in Bogota, Colombia as part of their South America tour. The cause of death is still under investigation but may have been heart-related. I generally don’t follow the Foos and as such know next to nothing about their music. But I think Dave Grohl is a pretty cool dude, and I sympathize with what must be a difficult loss to him and his bandmates, the Hawkins family and Foo fans. An AP story quoted Grohl from his 2021 book The Storyteller: “Upon first meeting, our bond was immediate, and we grew closer with every day, every song, every note that we ever played together…We are absolutely meant to be, and I am grateful that we found each other in this lifetime.” Here’s the title track from Foo Fighters’ tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight released in February 2021. Like all other tracks on the record, it’s credited to the entire band.

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again, and another week just flew by since my last revue of newly released music. Most of the times, Best of What’s New features artists I’m not familiar with or only have heard of in passing. This week is different. Two of my picks include artists who have been around for more than five decades, and I’ve listened to each for some 40 years. I had not been aware of the other two, though they’re not new artists. All tunes except for the last one are on releases that came out yesterday (October 15).

Santana/Joy (feat. Chris Stapleton)

I’d like to start with Carlos Santana who I trust needs no introduction. He first entered my radar screen when I was 8 or 10 years old. That’s when I listened to his band’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from 1974, which my older sister had on vinyl. I loved the combination of Latin rhythms and rock right away, which was front and center on that record, since it covers Santana’s first three studio albums. Of course, Santana’s music has since evolved. Which brings me to the band’s new and 26th studio album Blessings and Miracles. After the Latin rock-focused Africa Speaks and Santana IV, released in 2019 and 2016, respectively, Blessings and Miracles is reminiscent of previous records like Supernatural and All That I Am, marking return to a more pop-oriented sound and a collaborative approach. Here’s Joy, a tune co-written by Carlos Santana and Chris Stapleton, one of the many guests on the new album, who also include Rob Thomas (remember Smooth?), Steve Winwood and Chick Corea, among others. I didn’t expect Stapleton to sing a reggae-like tune, but it works and has a cool groove!

Wilderado/The Worst of It

Wilderado are an indie rock band that originally hails from Tulsa, Okla. and is currently based in Los Angeles. According to their Apple Music profile, their expansive indie rock fuses soaring vocals and rumbling guitars with an open-road, Americana-inspired feel…Co-songwriters Max Rainer (vocals, guitar) and Tyler Wimpee (vocals, guitar) began working together in college, initially using the name Bird Dog. By 2016, the band also included bassist Colton Dearing and drummer Justin Kila and the quartet, now called Wilderado, released their debut EP, Misty Shrub. The Worst of It, written by all four members of the band, together with co-producers Chad Copelin and James McAlister, is a track from Wilderado’s new eponymous album, their first full-length release. I like this!

Erin Enderlin/Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey

Erin Enderlin is a Nashville-based county singer-songwriter who originally is from Conway, Ark. She has written songs for a number of other country artists, such as Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire. Some became hits on the Billboard Country Chart, such as Jackson’s Monday Morning Church from 2004 and Womack’s Last Call from 2008, which reached no. 5 and no. 14, respectively. In August 2013, Enderlin released her debut album I Let Her Talk. Two additional records have since appeared, as well as Enderlin’s new EP Ballroom Mirrors. Here’s the opener Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey. The tune was co-written by Enderlin and Ben Chapman. Looks like it was first released back in July. I suppose three months still count as newish. Plus, the EP is definitely new.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Song of the Seasons

I’d like to finish this Best of What’s New post with the latest from Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Song of the Seasons is the first track from their forthcoming album Barn scheduled to drop on December 10. This is Young’s 40th studio album and his 14th with Crazy Horse, and follows Colorado from October 2019, which he also recorded with the band. According to a short statement on Young’s website, Song of the Seasons was written about a year ago (by him) and is the oldest tune on the record. Released on October 14, the song features Young (guitar, harmonica, vocals), together with band members Nils Lofgren (accordion, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). This acoustic folk tune sounds like classic Neil Young – love it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Neil Young website; YouTube

Santana Celebrates Africa On Seductive New Studio Album

Deep in the jungle, beyond the reach of greed/You hear the voices of spirits/With their frequency of light/Making sounds like the crackling of stars at night/Communicating with plants, animals and mankind/Affirming the universal truth…All and everything was conceived here in Africa/The cradle of civilization. These words, spoken by Carlos Santana, are the intro to his new album Africa Speaks that was released yesterday. After having listened to it for a couple of times, I’m pretty excited about the infectious grooves and Carlos’ guitar-playing, which continues to amaze me. This record is made for summer!

Appearing on Concord Records, Africa Speaks is Santana’s 25th studio album and his first with producer Rick Rubin. It was recorded together with Santana’s band at Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu. The record also features two female singers with African heritage: Spanish vocalist María Concepción Balboa Buika, who goes by Buika, and on one track British singer Laura Mvula. Santana’s website characterizes the music as inspired by the melodies, sounds and rhythms of Africa, but in many ways, this is a classic Santana album combining Latin Afro-Cuban rhythms with Carlos’ mighty signature guitar sound.

Carlos Santana

In January, Santana told this to Rolling Stone about the upcoming album, which then was supposed to be titled Global Revelation: “I went to Rick to see if he would, as Miles Davis would say, ‘Would you have eyes to do something with me? I know you’ve worked with everybody like Johnny Cash and the Chili Peppers and Metallica,’ And he goes, ‘Well, what are you interested in doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing but African music.’ So can you believe it? We record 49 songs in 10 days. He was very gracious, because it was like a hurricane to record six, seven songs in a day. Rick said, ‘With Clive Davis, you had a bunch of guest stars and singers. Who do you want in here?’ I said, ‘I only want two women: Laura Mvula and Buika.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ So we called them and they said yes.”

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the opener Africa Speaks. The tune has a bit of a mysterious vibe to it. I also like how it builds. And once Santana comes in with his great guitar sound, man, the track just takes off!

Oye Este Mi Canto starts with a smooth laid back Latin jazz feel to it, with Buika shining on vocals. Then check out what happens at around 2 minutes and 28 seconds: Things pick up, with Santana coming in playing a great wah-wah guitar solo. And all for a sudden, it feels like going back 50 years to Woodstock. Then at around 3 minutes and 50 seconds, the song resumes its initial groove – so cool!

Here’s Blue Skies, the track featuring Laura Mvula, who is sharing vocals with Buika. Not sure why Apple Music and YouTube don’t mention her – either an embarrassing oversight or outright disrespectful!

Paraísos Quemados is one of my favorite tunes on the album. I just dig the funky groove and the excellent bassline by Benny Rietveld. As a Hammond fan, I also like what David K. Mathews is doing on the keys. Oh, and did I mention Carlos on guitar?

The last track I’d like to highlight is Breaking Down The Door, which according to a Rolling Stone review is a cover of the Calypso Rose song Abatina, written by Manu Chao. Another nice tune that perhaps is a bit more conventional compared to most other tracks that have more of a fusion feel to it.

This review would be incomplete without acknowledging Santana’s excellent backing band. In addition to the above mentioned bassist and keyboarder Rietveld and Mathews, respectively, the line-up features Carlos’ wife Cindy Blackman Santana (drums),  Tommy Anthony (guitars and vocals), Andy Vargas and Ray Greene (both vocals), as well as percussionists Karl Perazzo and Paoli Mejías.

So what does Rick Rubin think about the album and its making? “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said during a filmed conversation. “Hearing it on record is one thing, but being in the room and watching it happen was another. I couldn’t imagine anyone who loves music sitting in the position I was in watching this not being blown away.”

“Carlos asked to meet and I had never met him before. He said he wanted to go into to the studio and start recording. And I said, ‘well, let’s talk about the songs and let’s listen to songs’ and he said, ‘well, I don’t really have any songs.’ And I said, ‘okay, interesting,’ and he said, ‘well, I have an idea.’ He played me some pieces of music and then he sent me an iPod filled with African music. And he said, ‘live with this for a little bit and then we’ll talk about it.’ I lived with it and it was fantastic!”

“And he said, ‘I think that’s the energy of what I wanna do, and I wanna start by jamming with the band, using these kinds of rhythms and see where it goes.’ Very unusual to work for me in that way. Usually, the song comes first, and the studio is more about documenting the thing we already know how it’s gonna go. In in this case, it was really, we went to the studio completely blank, jamming on these instrumental pieces, and it was really great – really, really great!” You can watch the full clip here.

I have to say this album has reignited my enthusiasm about Carlos Santana and makes me feel like seeing again.  There would definitely be opportunity this year. Later this month, Santana is embarking on a tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his 1999 Supernatural studio album. While it definitely resulted in a resurgence of his career, I’m not particularly fond of this record and much prefer his first three albums with the classic Santana band. Santana is also playing two Woodstock-related festivals in August, which I likely can’t afford. But he told People he is planning a series of dates next year to support his new album. Now, that may be something worthwhile looking into.

Sources: Wikipedia, Santana website, Rolling Stone, People, YouTube