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. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, my favorite decades are the ’60s and the ’70s, which can make finding contemporary music that speaks to me a tough proposition. But after having written this weekly feature for some 20 months, I can safely say there’s still some new music out there I dig. Some weeks it’s a longer process to find it than others. This time, putting together the post went pretty quickly. My picks include some country, rock and indie rock. All tunes are on albums that were released yesterday (October 29).

Emily Scott Robinson/Things You Learn the Hard Way

I’d like to start with Emily Scott Robinson, who according to her website is a Colorado-based singer-songwriter: Robinson grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and turned toward guitar at age 13, after a summer camp counselor closed out the nights by playing songs by Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and Dar Williams every night. She taught herself to play in the early 2000s by printing guitar tabs from the internet and singing to CDs by Indigo Girls and James Taylor. But she didn’t pursue songwriting until after seeing Nanci Griffith perform in Greensboro in 2007… Graduating from Furman University with degrees in history and Spanish, Robinson took a job as a social worker and translator in 2011…In 2013, she found kindred spirits at Planet Bluegrass’ The Song School, a songwriting retreat in Lyons, Colorado, where other participants encouraged her talent, and just as importantly, showed her that being a touring musician could be a viable financial option. I wonder how many other young artists share that view. Robinson’s debut album Magnolia Queen appeared in 2016. Things You Learn the Hard Way is a track from her new album American Siren, a mix of bluegrass, country and folk. Like all other tunes on the record, the song was written by her – pretty music, and I also like Robinson’s voice.

Jerry Cantrell/Brighten

Jerry Cantrell is best known as lead guitarist, lead vocalist and the main songwriter of Seattle rock band Alice in Chains, which he formed in 1987. While I definitely know their name, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of their music. In addition to recording six albums with the group and collaborations with Ozzy Osborne and other artists, Cantrell has released four solo albums to date, starting with Boggy Depot from March 1998. Brighten, written by Cantrell, is the title track of his new album. Nice rocker!

Charlotte Cornfield/Blame Myself

Charlotte Cornfield is a Canadian singer-songwriter who was born in Toronto. According to Wikipedia, her music has been compared to the likes of The Band, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young. Cornfield has also mentioned David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch among her influences – many big names here! During her childhood, Cornfield played the piano, drums and French horn. Following her relocation to Montreal where she studied jazz drumming at Concordia University, Cornfield decided to pursue a professional career as a solo artist. Her debut EP It’s Like That Here came out in 2008. Her first full-length album Two Horses was released in March 2011. Blame Myself, penned by Cornfield, appears on her new album Highs in the Minuses, her fouth.

The War on Drugs/Change

The War on Drugs are an indie rock band that was founded in Philadelphia in 2005. Again, while I’m definitely familiar with their name, I can’t identify any of their songs. According to their profile on Apple Music, the group has been a vehicle for singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel, whose synth-infused folk-rock storytelling has drawn comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. The War on Drugs began as a duo with Granduciel and singer-songwriter Kurt Vile, who appeared on 2008’s debut Wagonwheel Blues before making a name for himself as a solo artist. Their breakout LP Slave Ambient, which landed at No. 5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, was named on Pitchfork’s list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011. This brings me to the band’s fifth and new studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Here’s a great tune called Change, co-written by Granduciel, together with band members Anthony LaMarca (guitar, percussion, drums, vibraphone, pedal steel guitar) and Dave Hartley (bass, guitar). Based on this and a few other songs I’ve heard from the new album, I want to further explore this band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Emily Scott Robinson website; Apple Music; YouTube

The Wild Feathers Soar With Melodic Rock on New Album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; American Songwriter; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This week, Best of What’s New hits another mini-milestone with the 75th installment of the recurring feature. As somebody, who according to my dear wife grew up in the wrong decade (the ’80s as opposed to the ’60s), I find it encouraging that each week I continue to discover new music that sufficiently speaks to me. In most cases, it’s the first time I encounter the artists who are oftentimes relatively young – all great!

Until not so long ago, I used to pretty much reject any contemporary music, unless it was something new from an “old artist.” Once I was willing to do the necessary digging, I quickly noticed how narrow-minded my initial stance was. Let’s turn to this week’s installment. All picks are on albums that were released yesterday (August 27), except the final track, which is from an upcoming album.

Indigo De Souza/Bad Dream

Kicking it off this time is Indigo De Souza, a young singer-songwriter from North Carolina, whose music includes elements of pop grunge and indie rock. Even though De Souza has her own website, there is only limited official background information on her that’s publicly available, which is unfortunate. Bad Dream is a track from De Souza’s new sophomore album Any Shape You Take. Here’s more from her label Saddle Creek’s website: Faithful to its name, Any Shape You Take changes form to match the tenor of each story it tells. “The album title is a nod to the many shapes I take musically. I don’t feel that I fully embody any particular genre—all of the music just comes from the universe that is my ever-shifting brain/heart/world,” says Indigo. This sonic range is unified by Indigo’s strikingly confessional and effortless approach to songwriting, a signature first introduced in her debut, self-released LP,  I Love My Mom.

The Bronx/Watering the Well

While their name may suggest a New York band, The Bronx are a punk rock group from Los Angeles formed in 2002. Their self-titled debut album appeared in August 2003. According to Apple Music, in 2006, they also created Mariachi El Bronx, an alter ego “born out of a desire to challenge themselves musically.” Apparently, the idea to explore Latin sounds emerged after the band had been asked to perform an acoustic set. To date, the group has released seven albums as The Bronx and five albums under their Latin moniker. The band’s current line-up includes original members Matt Caughthran (vocals) and Joby Ford (guitar, backing vocals), along with Ken Mochikoshi-Horne (guitar, backing vocals), Brad Magers (bass, backing vocals) and Joey Castillo (drums). Watering the Well is a track from their new studio album The Bronx VI. It’s pretty much mainstream rock, unlike their origin of hardcore punk – a genre that generally isn’t my cup of tea.

Madi Diaz/Resentment

Madi Diaz is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. Her Apple Music profile characterizes her music as passionate, searching songs [drawing] on indie rock, country and folk, synth pop, and more while always keeping emotion front and center. Here’s more from Apple Music: Madi Diaz spent her formative years in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she was home-schooled by her Peruvian mother and studied piano with her Danish father, a musician who introduced her to the likes of the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac as she grew up in the 1990s. She switched to guitar in her early teens and began composing at the age of 16 after the family relocated to nearby Philadelphia. It was there that Diaz achieved minor celebrity status as one of the more precocious and engaging students in director Don Argott’s hit 2005 documentary about the Paul Green School of Rock Music. While attending Berklee, Diaz spent time in the indie rock outfit Talk Radio before embarking on a solo career in 2006. Her debut album Skin and Bone came out in 2007. Diaz has since released three EPs and five full-length albums including her latest, History of a Feeling. Here’s a track from it titled Resentment, co-written by Diaz, Stephen Wrabel and Jamie Floyd. Nice tune!

Colin Linden/Until the Heat Leaves Town

Wrapping up this week’s Best of What’s New is contemporary blues music by Canadian guitarist, producer and songwriter Colin Linden. According to his Apple Music profile, he has been delivering his own blues-oriented rock since the early ’70s. He plays into heavy gospel and folk as well, making Linden’s work most recognizable across Canada. He has released a slew of records throughout the ’80s and ’90s, most notably winning a Juno Award for South at Eight-North at Nine (1993) in 1994. He made quite an impression on the American homefront with his 1997 release Through the Storm, Through the Night, but Linden continued making music into the new millennium and issued Raised By the Wolves in February 2000. His collaborations also include work with Kim Wilson, Bruce Cockburn, the Band, and Mavis Staples. To date, Linden has released 13 solo albums. Until the Heat Leaves Town is a track from his upcoming album bLOW scheduled for September 17. Co-written by him, Gary Craig and Johnny Dymond, the tune was released upfront on August 11 – right up my alley!

Sources: Wikipedia; Indigo De Souza website; Saddle Creek website; Apple Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. It’s another Sunday, which means it’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. The Sunday Six is where I feel I can stretch out, featuring all types of music from different decades. This new installment illustrates my point. It includes genres like instrumental pop, jazz pop, roots rock, country rock and blues rock, and touches on the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2010s. Are you ready to embark on a little music journey?

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Let’s get in the mood with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana. He may not be the most sophisticated guitarist from a strictly technical standpoint, but his tone is just unbelievable. I know of no other guitarist who sounds like Santana, and that’s what ultimately matters, not whether you’re a fretboard acrobat. While I generally most love his classic period that spans his first three albums, the tune I picked for this post, Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile), is from Moonflower released in October 1977. The double album features both studio and live tracks. She’s Not There, a nice cover of a song originally recorded by The Zombies in the mid-’60s, became a top 30 hit single for Santana. Europa, co-written by Carlos Santana and Tom Coster, first appeared on the March 1976 studio record Amigos. I’m more familiar with Moonflower, so I’m going with the live version here. Listen to this majestic guitar sound – so good!

Gino Vannelli/Brother to Brother

I don’t recall seeing any posts by my fellow bloggers about Gino Vannelli. While the Canadian singer-songwriter has been around as a recording artist since 1973, I suspect he may not necessarily be a household name. That being said, I assume most folks have heard some of his hits, such as the ballads I Just Wanna Stop (1978) and Living Inside Myself (1981), as well as the pop rock tunes Black Cars (1984) and Wild Horses (1987). Vannelli remains active to this day and has released 17 studio records, three live albums and one greatest hits compilation, according to Wikipedia. Brother to Brother is the amazing title track of his sixth studio album that came out in September 1978. While I Just Wanna Stop became the big hit off that album, the jazz-oriented Brother to Brother is far better. Written by Vannelli, the tune reaches the sophistication of Steely Dan’s Aja album, in my humble opinion. If you haven’t listened to this track before and like the Dan, check it out. You might be surprised!

Bonnie Raitt/Love Letter

Those who are familiar with my music taste may wonder what took me so long to feature Bonnie Raitt, one of favorite artists, in The Sunday Six. I don’t really have a good answer other than ‘better late than never!’ My long-time music buddy from Germany introduced me to Raitt in the late ’80s. I guess it must have been her 10th studio album Nick of Time, which to me remains a true gem to this day. While Raitt mostly relies on other songwriters, I love her renditions and her cool slide guitar playing. She also strikes me as no B.S., which is certainly not a very common quality in the oftentimes ego-driven music business. Nick of Time is perhaps best known for the single Thing Called Love, though according to Wikipedia, its chart success was moderate. The John Hiatt tune reached no. 86 on the UK Singles Chart and missed the mainstream chart in the U.S. altogether – though it did climb to no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. My pick from the album is Love Letter, written by another Bonnie, American singer-songwriter Bonnie Hayes. I simply love everything about this tune – the groove, the singing and Raitt’s sweet slide guitar sound.

John Mellencamp/Under the Boardwalk

John Mellencamp is another artist I’ve listened to for many years. If I recall it correctly, it was his eighth studio album Scarecrow released in August 1985 with tunes like Small Town and R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. that started my long and ongoing journey exploring the music by the heartland and roots rocker from Seymour, Ind. Sure, I could have selected a track from that album. Or from the excellent successor The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains among my all-time favorite Mellencamp records. Instead, I decided to highlight an album that isn’t as well known but still great, in my view: Rough Harvest. Released in August 1999 (that month appears to be a favorite for his records!), the album features a collection of alternate, roots-oriented versions of Mellencamp originals and covers. Under the Boardwalk, of course, falls into the latter category. The first version of the song I ever heard was the great rendition by The Rolling Stones. Co-written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, it was first recorded by The Drifters in 1964 and became a no. 4 U.S. hit for the American doo-wop, R&B and soul vocal group. I think Mellencamp’s rootsy version takes the tune to a new level – just love it!

Cordovas/This Town’s a Drag

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name Cordovas may sound familiar; or perhaps you’ve heard otherwise of this Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. They first entered my radar screen in the summer of 2018 when I caught them during a free concert in a park not far from my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing proved to be an immediate attraction. So was their sound that reminds me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat. Led by bassist Joe Firstman, Cordovas have been around for more than 10 years. This Town’s a Drag is the opener of That Santa Fe Channel, the band’s third studio album from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Jimi Hendrix/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

I guess the time has come again to wrap up another Sunday Six installment. Let’s make it count with a smoking rocker by Jimi Hendrix who I trust needs no introduction. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is the fiery closer of Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, released in October 1968. Like most other tracks on this double album, the tune was written by Hendrix. The clip is taken from Live in Maui, one of the many post-mortem releases from the Hendrix archives. It captures an outdoor performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience on July 30, 1970 on the Hawaiian island, only six weeks prior to Jimi’s untimely death on September 18 that year. Unlike Electric Ladyland, the band’s line-up during the gig featured Billy Cox on bass instead of Noel Redding. Mitch Mitchell was on drums, just like on the studio album. The 2-CD and 3-LP set came out on November 20, 2020, along with a video documentary titled Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui. It has received mixed reviews due to less than ideal recording conditions. I still think it’s cool to actually watch Hendrix in action rather than just listening to his blistering performance.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s Sunday again and hope everybody is doing well. I think I’ve put together another fairly eclectic collection of songs. Like in previous installments of The Sunday Six, I’d like to start things nice and easy, before hitting the accelerator and going a little bit more rough toward the end. I also spontaneously decided to throw in a bonus.

Sting/Fields of Gold

Let’s kick it off with one of my favorite tunes by Sting, Fields of Gold, a perfect song for a Sunday. It appeared on his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales from March 1993. I’d consider that album to be the Mount Rushmore of his solo catalog. Like most tracks on Ten Summoner’s Tales, Sting wrote Fields of Gold all by himself. The song also appeared separately as a single in May of the same year. Unlike the album, which peaked at no. 2 in the UK and the U.S. and topped the charts in Austria, Fields of Gold only made it to no. 16, no. 23 and no. 85, respectively, on these countries’ single charts.

Lou Reed/Caroline Says II

Why a tune by an artist I admittedly do not know as well as I probably should? Coz I came across it the other day and I like it. Now you know what oftentimes ends up driving my picks for The Sunday Six – hence the subtitle Celebrating music with six random songs at a time. Penned by Lou Reed, Caroline Says II was included on his third solo album Berlin released in July 1973. The lyrics that appear to be about physical spouse abuse are rather grim:…Caroline says/as she gets up from the floor/You can hit me all you want to/but I don’t love you anymore… The album also includes a track titled Caroline Says I. Both of these tunes came out as a single in 1973 as well. BTW, Reed had some notable guests on Berlin, who apart from producer Bob Ezrin (piano, mellotron) included Jack Bruce (bass), prolific drummer Aynsley Dunbar and Steve Winwood (Hammond, harmonium). To the mainstream audience, Reed, who passed away from liver disease in October 2013 at the age of 71, is probably best known for Walk on the Wild Side, his biggest single chart success.

The Jayhawks/This Forgotten Town

I love this tune by American alternative country and country rock band The Jayhawks. In fact, I previously featured it last August in a Best of What’s New installment. The Jayhawks were formed in Minneapolis in 1985. After seven records, they went on hiatus in 2014 and reemerged in 2019. Their current line-up consists of original co-founders Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals) and  Marc Perlman (bass), together with Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals), Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals) and John Jackson (acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin). This Forgotten Town, co-written by Louris, Perlman and O’Reagan, is from their most recent album XOXO from July 2020. I still stand behind what I said in August 2020. I dig the warm sound, and there’s some great harmony singing as well. And now that I’ve listened to the tune again, it does remind me a bit of The Band.

Lenny Kravitz/Fields of Joy

Lenny Kravitz entered my radar screen in France in late 1991 when his sophomore album Mama Said, which had come out in April that year, happened to play in the background in a restaurant I was visiting. I immediately liked what I heard. So did my brother-in-law, who asked the waiter about the music. After my return to Germany, I got the CD. I’ve since continued to listen to Kravitz who has faced all kinds of criticism. Some of the clever commentary, especially early in his career, included “not sounding Black enough” (no idea what exactly that’s even supposed to mean!) and being too close to some of his ’60s influences, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles – jeez, how horrible to have been inspired by two of the greatest music acts of all time! Anyhoo, Fields of Joy, co-written by Michael Kamen and Hal Fredricks with musical arrangement by Doug Neslund and Kravitz, is the opener of Mama Said. It also became one of the album’s seven singles.

Alice Cooper/Rock & Roll

“Mr. Shock Rock” is always good for some kickass music. Rock & Roll is the opener of Alice Cooper’s upcoming studio album Detroit Stories scheduled for February 26 – based on Wikipedia, it’s his 21st, not counting the seven records released with the band that had been named after him between 1969 and 1973. Written by Lou Reed (there he is again!), the tune was first recorded by The Velvet Underground for their fourth studio album Loaded from November 1970. I think Cooper does a nice job giving the tune more of a rock vibe. I also like how he’s dialing up the soulful backing vocals. In addition to Rock & Roll, two (original) tunes from Detroit Stories are already out. Looks like we can look forward to a fun album.

The Byrds/Eight Miles High

Okay, admittedly, a pattern seems to emerge for The Sunday Six. After doing five tunes from other decades, it suddenly occurs to me I just cannot leave out the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. Not sure whether this pattern is going to continue, but I just noticed it myself. The Byrds and probably also this tune need no introduction. Co-written by Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, Eight Miles High is from their third studio album Fifth Dimension  released in July 1966. It remains one of my all-time favorite ’60s tunes. I think it’s pretty cool how the band combined their jingle-jangle pop rock a la Mr. Tambourine Man with psychedelic influences – simply a great song!

And just as I was about to wrap up this post, I came across this instrumental live version of Eight Miles High. Did I mention I dig this tune? 🙂 Apparently, this footage was captured at New York’s Fillmore East in September 1970 – kinda feels like The Byrds embracing the jam style of The Grateful Dead. Okay, do we really need an almost 10-minute instrumental of Eight Miles High? I’m leaving it up to you to decide. I think it’s pretty cool, showing the band’s impressive instrumental chops.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: November 26

After more than three months, I felt it was time for another installment of my recurring music history feature I started shortly after launching the blog in June 2016. While I previously did a post about music happenings on Thanksgiving (with different dates over the years), I had not specifically covered November 26. Yes, looking at a certain date is kind of arbitrary, but I continue to find it interesting what comes up. And in theory I still have many other dates to cover to make up the full year – 310 to be precise! 🙂

1962: The Beatles recorded their second single Please Please Me during a three-hour session at Abbey Road studio two. The tune was written by John Lennon but credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usually. After capturing 18 takes, George Martin was, well, pleased, telling John, Paul, George and Ringo, “Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one.” It’s all documented on The Beatles Bible, which may not be quite as popular as Jesus but is the ultimate source of truth about The Fab Four! Please Please Me topped the lists of Melody Maker and New Musical Express and Disc and rose to no. 2 in the Record Retailer chart. When the song was released on January 11, 1963, the UK didn’t have a standard singles chart yet. By the time The Beatles‘ third single From Me to You came out, things had changed, and that tune ended up being their first no. 1 on what became the official UK Singles Chart.

1968: Cream played their final farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the second of two sold out gigs at the venue. Both concerts were captured for a BBC documentary and released on video as Farewell Concert in early January 1969. While the two concerts received more attention than other Cream concerts, supposedly, they didn’t show the band at their best. “It wasn’t a good gig,” stated Ginger Baker, according to Wikipedia. “Cream was better than that…We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off, getting it over with.” Here’s an excerpt from the film featuring Sunshine of Your Love. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, the tune first appeared on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Frankly, if this was Cream “sucking”, just imagine how amazing they must have been when they were at their best.

1969: The Band’s eponymous second album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, which means it had reached one million sold copies in only just a little over two months after its release. Also known as The Brown Album, The Band features gems like Rag Mama Rag, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up on Cripple Creek. The album peaked at no. 9 on the Billboard 200 and has been on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, reaching no. 57 in the most recent update from September this year. Here’s one of my all-time favorites, Up on Cripple Creek, written by Robbie Robertson. The tune was also released as a single on November 29, 1969 and climbed to no. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1976: The Sex Pistols released their debut single Anarchy in the U.K. Credited to all of the British punk rock band’s original members John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten (lead vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums), the song caused controversy in England over its lyrics some viewed as advocating violence against the government. The tune was also included on the band’s only studio album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – and part of the reason it almost took one year for that record to appear in October 1977. The controversy didn’t do much damage to the song. It peaked at no. 38 on the official UK Singles Chart, came in at no. 53 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music.com; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day In Rock.com; YouTube

Americana Rockers Cordovas Release New Single and Announce New Album

Cordovas recently released High Feeling, the first song from their new album Destiny Hotel that’s slated for October 16. The Americana and country rock band from East Nashville, Tenn. first entered my radar screen two years ago, when I caught them during a free outdoor summer concert close to my house. The group’s multi-part harmony singing got my immediate attention. Together with their guitar-driven sound, they remind me of bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungThe BandGrateful DeadEagles and Little Feat.

“We just wanted to write something true and easy,” bassist and vocalist Joe Firstman told Rolling Stone about the new single that appeared on August 5. “That was the vibe from the very beginning,” added Firstman, a singer-songwriter, who founded Cordovas in 2011, following a six-year stint as bandleader for NBC late-night show Last Call with Carson Daly. The band’s other current core members include include Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals) and Sevans Henderson (keyboards).

Cordovas (from left): Lucca Soria, Sevans Henderson, Joe Firstman and Toby Weaver

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Rick Parker, Destiny Hotel is the third full-length album by Cordovas, following their first label release That Santa Fe Channel from August 2018, which I previously reviewed here. Rolling Stone also calls out contributions from Black Pumas. I included the psychedelic soul band from Austin, Texas in a recent installment of my Best of What’s New feature. The group’s Adrian Quesada  provided additional production, guitar, and mixing work for High Feeling, which also features backing vocals by Angela Miller and Lauren Cervantes, who are both touring members of Black Pumas.

According to Cordovaswebsite, Destiny Hotel is a work of wild poetry and wide-eyed abandon, set to a glorious collision of folk and country and groove-heavy rock-and-roll…[The album] expands on the harmony-soaked roots rock of Cordovas’ ATO Records debut That Santa Fe Channel, a 2018 release that earned abundant praise from outlets like Rolling Stone and NPR Music. While the statement certainly doesn’t lack confidence, I think the record’s first single lives up to it, and I look forward to listening to the entire album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Cordovas website; Discogs; YouTube

My Playlist: Emmylou Harris

While I had known her name for decades, it really wasn’t until July 2017 that I started paying closer attention to Emmylou Harris when seeing her in Philadelphia as part of a concert headlined by John Mellencamp. There was something special about this lady with her all-white hair who recently had turned 70. Now 73, Harris has been active for more than 50 years, released dozens of solo and collaborative albums, scored 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard country charts and collected numerous Grammy and other awards. This playlist is an attempt to shine a light on her long and impressive career.

Harris was born on April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. Her dad, Walter Harris, was a Marine Corps officer, while her mom Eugenia was a wartime military wife. After high school graduation in Woodbridge, Va., Harris went to the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. It was there where she started to learn songs by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on guitar and develop her musical aspirations. Harris dropped out, moved to New York City during the second half of the ’60s, and started performing on the folk circle in Greenwich Village while waiting tables.

In 1969, Harris married fellow songwriter Tom Slocum who wrote the title track for her debut album Gliding Bird. The folk record also included five songs written by Harris. The label Jubilee Records went under shortly after the release, so all distribution and promotion was ceased. Subsequently, Harris disowned the record. She regards her second release Pieces of the Sky from February 1975 as her official debut.

In 1971, after he had seen her perform, Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman introduced Harris to his music partner Gram Parsons who became a key figure in her early career. Harris worked with Parsons on his solo debut GP from January 1973 and toured as a member of his band the Fallen Angels. Later that year, she also worked with Parsons on his second and final solo album Grievous Angel, which was released in January 1974, following his death from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol in September 1973.

In February 1975, the aforementioned Pieces of the Sky appeared. It’s the album that launched Harris’ career as a country artist and established what she became mainly known, i.e., covering songs written by other artists. The album also coincided with the formation of The Hot Band, Harris’ high-profile backing band until 1991. The initial lineup included James Burton (guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), Hank DeVito (pedal steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass) and John Ware (drums).

To date, Harris has released 21 solo studio albums, three live records and a dozen compilations. Additionally, her impressive catalog includes seven collaboration albums with artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Rodney Crowell. Harris also has worked as a guest with numerous other artists, including The Band, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle, among others. Let’s get to some music!

While perhaps not as representative of Harris as her other records, I’d like to kick off this playlist with a tune from 1969’s Gliding Bird, which was written by her: Black Gypsy.

If I Could Only Win Your Love from her second album Pieces of the Sky became Harris’ first hit single, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1975. Co-written by Charlie Louvin and Ira Louvin who formed the country and gospel duo The Louvin Brothers, it also marked the first of only a handful of Harris singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in this case at no. 58. Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on the album.

While Emmylou Harris is best known as a country artist, her song choices can be eclectic. Here’s an example from her third studio album Elite Hotel released in December 1975: A beautiful cover of The Beatles tune Here, There and Everywhere. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the McCartney ballad originally appeared on the Revolver album from August 1996.

Harris’ next album Luxury Liner from December 1976 included the first cover of Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, which subsequently became the revered singer-songwriter’s best known composition. The tune has also been covered by other artists, most notably Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded it as the title track of their collaboration album that came out in January 1983.

Roses in the Snow, Harris’ first ’80s album, appeared in May 1980. Unlike her preceding country and country rock records, this album was more bluegrass-oriented. Here’s a great rendition of the Paul Simon tune The Boxer, featuring beautiful harmony singing by Cheryl White and her sister Sharon White. The Boxer first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water from January 1970.

In February 1985, Harris released The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album loosely based on her relationship with Gram Parsons. The record also stood out for another reason. Like her debut 16 years earlier, it illustrates Harris is more than just a cover artist. All songs were co-written by her, mostly together with her then-second husband Paul Kennerley, an English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, who also produced this record. Here’s White Line, one of the record’s two singles.

Next, I’d like to jump to the ’90s and Wrecking Ball, Harris’ 18th studio album. The record became her first since Pieces of the Sky that did not make the country charts. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising, given the music moved away from her traditional acoustic to a more edgy and atmospheric sound. Producer Daniel Lanois who produced and co-produced various U2 albums like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby undoubtedly had something to do with it. Here’s the title track written by Neil Young who also provided harmony vocals. Young had first recorded the tune for his 1989 studio album Freedom. And, coming back to U2, Larry Mullen, Jr. played drums on most of the album’s songs including this one.

Given the significance of collaboration albums in Harris’ catalog, I’d like to at least acknowledge one: Trio II from February 1999, the second album she did together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. All tracks had actually been recorded in 1994, but label disputes and conflicting schedules had prevented the release at the time. While I’ve featured it on the blog before, I just couldn’t resist including the ladies’ angelic rendition of After The Gold Rush, the title track of Neil Young’s third studio album from September 1970. Interestingly, while the remake did not chart when it was released as a single from Trio II, it won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The intensity of this version is just killing me. This is why I dig vocals!

In September 2003, Harris released Stumble into Grace, her second album of the current century. Like some of her previous records, it includes a significant number of her own compositions. She also co-wrote most of the remaining tracks. Here’s the opener Here I Am, one of her tunes.

I’d like to wrap up this playlist with a track from what is Harris’ most recent solo album, Hard Bargain, released in April 2011. Her two latest records are collaborations with Rodney Crowell from February 2013 and March 2015. There’s also the Complete Trio Collection, a compilation of the Trio I and Trio II collaborative albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, which came out in September 2016. Given the enormous role of Gram Parsons, it felt right to highlight opener The Road, a tune Harris penned about her musical mentor – the first to focus on his death since Boulder to Colorado, a song from Pieces of the Sky. It’s also noteworthy that Hard Bargain became Harris’ highest chart entry since the above Roses in the Snow from 1980, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums. It also hit no. 18 on the Billboard 200, her highest mainstream chart success since 1977’s Luxury Liner, a remarkable late-stage career success.

Emmylou Harris has sold 75 million records in the U.S. alone. She has won 14 Grammy awards out of 48 for which she had been nominated. She has also won numerous country, bluegrass and Americana awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2008.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Watch

This is another post I can blame on my streaming music provider. When I saw Watch by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band pop up as a listening suggestion the other day, I immediately recalled how much I dug that album as a teenager back in Germany. As such, I was curious to find out whether my opinion had changed since then and gave Watch another “spin.” Turns out I still like it!

Released in February 1978, Watch was the eighth album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own the same copy to this day. The band and that particular record were very popular in Germany. Two of its tracks – Davy’s On the Road Again and Mighty Quinn – received heavy radio play. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Watch peaked at no. 3 in West-Germany and remained in the charts for an impressive 69 weeks.

Wikipedia also notes that Watch was the last album with Earth Band co-founding member and original drummer Chris Slade. Slade has played in many other bands, most notably AC/DC from late 1989 until 1993. He also joined them for their Rock or Bust tour in 2015 and 2016, and has appeared in the band’s promotional materials thereafter. His current status is unclear, given the reported possible return of Phil Rudd.

Watch also marked the first album with Pat King on bass. He’s a great bassist, which frankly I had not fully appreciated until I listened to the record again. King stayed with the Earth Band until 1982. Interestingly, from 1991 until his retirement in 2013, King was the band’s lighting designer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Drowning On Dry Land/Fish Soup. Drowning On Dry Land is credited to Chris Slade, while Fish Soup was co-written by Earth Band lead guitarist David Flett and Manfred Mann (keyboards, backing vocals). The tune definitely cannot hide its ’70s sound, but I think it’s cool and a great example of King’s melodic bass lines. Here’s the official video from Mann’s YouTube channel.

California wraps up the A-side in the album’s vinyl version. The tune was written by Sue Vickers, who according to Discogs was married to Mike Vickers, a member of Manfred Mann, Mann’s band from 1962 until 1969, which had a string of hits in the U.K., including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Mighty Quinn. Mann subsequently formed experimental jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three and, following their break-up, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. California is another beautiful example of King’s melodic bass playing.

Here’s the aforementioned Davy’s On the Road Again, a classic, and the first song of the B-side. That tune, the first of two live tracks on the record, was co-written by John Simon and Robbie Robertson. Simon is primarily known as a producer in the ’60s and ’70s and his work for artists like The Band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Robertson, of course, was The Band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter. Here’s the official video of Davy’s from Mann’s YouTube channel, which features nice live footage. And for the gear geeks, you can nicely see a Moog synthesizer in action! 🙂

Let’s wrap things up with the record’s final tune, The Mighty Quinn, the second live track on the album. Written by Bob Dylan and originally titled Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), it was Mann’s recording that was released first as Mighty Quinn in January 1968. The Earth Band turned the initial folk rock version into a more edgy rock song. Dylan originally recorded the tune during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. His first official release of the song was on his 1970 studio album Self Portrait.

In addition to Mann, Flett, King and Slade, the Earth Band’s core line-up on Watch also featured Chris Hamlet Thompson (lead vocals, guitar). Supporting the band on backing vocals were Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter, Stevie Lange, Victy Silva and Kim Goddy. The album credits list Manfred Mann and Earth Band as producer.

Watch had much better chart success in Europe and New Zealand than elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned performance in Germany, the album also placed in the top 10 in Norway (no. 2) and Sweden (no. 9), and climbed to no. 33 in the U.K. In New Zealand the record peaked at no. 29, while in the U.S. and Canada, it only reached no. 83 and no. 85, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube