The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Steve Forbert Releases New Album Early Morning Rain

Collection features 11 covers of singer-songwriter’s favorite tunes by Gordon Lightfoot, Elton John, Ray Davies, Leonard Cohen and other artists

While I’ve heard of Steve Forbert before, included one of his songs in my previous Best of What’s New installment and some fellow music bloggers I follow have covered him, I still feel I know next to nothing about this longtime American singer-songwriter. But here’s one thing I know for sure: I dig Early Morning Rain, Forbert’s first covers album in a 40-plus-year career, which came out today.

Forbert was born on December 13, 1954 in Meridian, Miss. He started writing songs as a 17-year-old and moved to New York City in 1976. He became a street performer in Greenwich Village and soon started playing CBGB and other local clubs. In 1978, Forbert got a record contract with Nemperor and later that year released his debut album Alive on Arrival. The record was well-received, and some critics were quick to call him “the new Dylan,” a label Forbert dismissed as a cliche.

His sophomore album Jackrabbit Slim from 1979 included Romeo’s Tune, which also was released separately as a single and became what essentially has been his only hit to date. In the U.S., the tune climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in other countries, including Canada where it peaked at no. 8, as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I don’t recall hearing the song on the radio in Germany back then.

Steve Forbert

Forbert’s songs have been covered by a wide range of artists, including Keith Urban, Rosanne Cash, Marty Stuart and John Popper. In 2004, his album Any Old Time, a tribute to Jimmy Rodgers, was nominated for a Grammy in the category of “Best Traditional Folk.” In 2006, Forbert was inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame, and just earlier this year, he received a 2020 Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Music from that state. But it seems to me all this recognition hasn’t translated much into chart or other commercial success for Forbert.

Early Morning Rain is Forbert’s 21st studio album. The tracks represent what he calls 11 of his favorite folk-rock songs. Artists he covers include Gordon Lightfoot, Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Ray Davies – quite an interesting group. Forbert told American Songwriter he made his choices from an initial list of 150 tracks. So why does this album speak to me? To start with, I love the warm sound. I also like how Forbert approached the songs and made them his own. While his voice is distinct and certainly not exactly opera quality, I think it greatly matches the song arrangements.

Let’s get to some music. Since on YouTube you currently cannot access clips unless you’re a premium subscriber, following are links to the album on Soundcloud and Spotify. Hope that at least one of these platforms will work for readers. If you have Apple Music, you also can get it there.

While I think it’s worthwhile listening to the entire album, I’d like to call out some of the tunes. The opener and title track Early Morning Rain was written by Gordon Lightfoot. It appeared on his debut album Lightfoot! from January 1966. The beautiful steel guitar fill-ins that according to the credits listed in this review by Americana Highways were provided by Marc Muller, particularly stand out to me in this tune.

Your Song is one of my favorite Elton John tunes. Composed by John with lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, the track first appeared on John’s sophomore eponymous studio album released in April 1970. The backing vocals in Forbert’s version were provided by New Jersey singer-songwriter Emily Grove.

Pretty much all of the tunes on the album are on the quieter side. One exception is Supersonic Rocketship. Interestingly, Forbert’s take sounds more rock-oriented than the relatively mellow original by The Kinks. Written by Ray Davies, the track was included on the band’s 11th studio album Everybody’s in Show-Biz, which appeared in August 1972. Again, Grove features on backing vocals and nicely blends with Forbert.

Someday Soon is a country & western song by Ian Tyson written in 1964. The Canadian singer-songwriter recorded with his wife Sylvia Tyson as part of their duo Ian & Sylvia. It appeared on their third studio album Northern Journey. For this cover, Forbert is supported on backing vocals by Anthony Crawford, a singer-songwriter from Birmingham, Ala.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, a song I’ve dug for many years. Suzanne was first published as a poem in 1966 before it was recorded as a song by Judy Collins later that year. Cohen included it on his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen from December 1967. It also appeared separately as the lead single to that record.

In addition to Muller, Grove and Crawford, I like to acknowledge the other musicians listed in the credits: George Naha (electric guitar), Rob Clores (keyboards), Aaron Comess (drums), and John Conte and Richard Hammond (both bass). The album was produced, mixed and engineered by Steve Greenwell. Based on AllMusic, Greenwell also produced Forbert’s previous albums The Magic Tree (2018) and Compromised (2015).

“I’ve never done a cover record, and after 40 years, that’s a lot of pent up thinking,” Forbert told American Songwriter. “The point was to be able to really make a contribution. It’s not that much different from making an album of my own material. I wanted to pick things that hopefully fit like a glove…I do have a style and so like I’m presenting my style instead of playing out my heart and soul with original material.”

Given the large initial list of songs, Forbert also didn’t rule out the possibility of a sequel. Some of the tunes he mentioned in this context include Dance the Night Away (Cream), I Should Have Known Better (The Beatles), North Country Blues (Bob Dylan), Are You Lonesome Tonight (Elvis Presley) and Lather (Jefferson Airplane). As a fan, I’m delighted to see a Beatles tune, but I’d be even more curious to hear Forbert’s take on Dance the Night Away.

I realize there is a certain degree of irony that Forbert’s first record I explored more closely and decided to write about is a covers album. But I suppose you got to start somewhere, and Early Morning Rain is a new album I happened to know was coming out today. Plus, I’m definitely encouraged and certainly curious to listen to more of Fobert’s music.

Sources: Wikipedia; Steve Forbert website; American Songwriter; Americana Highways; AllMusic; YouTube