If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Julian Lennon’s First New Album In 11 Years Is a Welcome Surprise

Until July, I had not heard the name Julian Lennon for many years. It’s safe to assume I was not the only one – no pun intended! After Saltwater, a nice tune from Lennon’s fourth album Help Yourself released in 1991, he had disappeared from my radar screen. Now, Lennon is back with Jude, his seventh studio album and first in 11 years, which was released last Friday (Sep 9). If you had been waiting and hoping for new music from him, it was definitely worth the wait!

Julian Lennon of course is the son John Lennon had with his first wife Cynthia Lennon (born Powell). After launching a music career in 1984 with the great album Valotte, he started branching out into other areas, including philanthropy, film (both before and behind the camera), photography and book publishing.

Lennon’s endeavors outside of music became more successful than his albums. For example, his 2006 documentary WhaleDreamers about an aboriginal tribe in Australia and its special relationship with whales won multiple awards and was shown at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. In 2019, he completed what became a New York Times best-selling trilogy of children’s books.

After his previous album Everything Changes came out in October 2011, Lennon thought he was done with the music business for good. So what made him change his mind? “I just happened upon a box of old demos initially, which I brought to light and found that there were some really good songs that I still loved but I never quite finished or they just didn’t belong on an album or project back then,” Lennon told Smashing Interviews Magazine in June 2022. “I thought, ‘Okay. Let me fix what needs fixing, update the production and go from there.'” And here we are. Let’s get to some music!

Since I just covered the opener Save Me in my latest Best of What’s New installment I’m skipping it here and go right to Every Little Moment. The tune was co-written by Lennon and longtime collaborator Mark Spiro. Together with Freedom, it became available on April 8, coinciding with Lennon’s 59th birthday. “Every Little Moment,” is a song I wrote many years ago, Lennon stated on his website. The lyrical narrative not only confronts the wars within, but the ongoing battles we face on the outside. Commenting on the song’s official video, he added, it represents a more hopeful vision for the future. It celebrates a time of peace where someday, the weapons of war will be replaced with seeds of love. I love the song’s atmosphere! In addition, Lennon sounds very mature, which also is the case on the album’s 10 other tracks.

Not One Night is a nice acoustically-oriented ballad penned by Spiro. The tune has a personal feel to it. I used to dream of only you/But now I don’t do that/And I used to miss talking to you/But now I don’t do that/Since you’ve been gone I’ve learned to stop/Tryna hold on because there’s not/Only night, one single day/That I wouldn’t give to you/So with all my might, in every way/I’ll try to forget you, too…

Lucky Ones is the most recent single from the album, released on August 3. It is credited to multiple writers who in addition to Lennon include Albin Nedler, Gregg Alexander, Gregory Darling, John Martin, Kristoffer Fogelmark, Martijn Garritsen and Michel Zitron. “”Lucky Ones” is the realization of how lucky we really are,” Lennon told SPIN. “We are faced with being on a beautiful planet, in a beautiful world and have the opportunity to have the most incredible of lives. Unfortunately, there are some negativities in this world, which I don’t think will ever go away. But, we must embrace the good and we must embrace it on such a level that we can share it with people, so that love spreads around the world and we can all “Imagine a world without war.””

The last track I’d like to call out is Stay, which Lennon penned together with yet another writer, Peter-John Vettese. Of course, one has to keep in mind Jude includes songs that were written over a long period of time.

I’d like to touch on two additional things. First, the album’s title, an obvious nod to Hey Jude, which Paul McCartney had penned in 1968 to comfort then-5-year-old Julian following his parents’ separation. Originally written as “Hey Jules,” McCartney changed the title to Hey Jude since he felt it sounded better. 

“Calling the album Jude was very much a coming of age,” Lennon explained to Smashing Interviews Magazine. “A lot of people really don’t understand that may have been a great song, a great chanting song, a favorite Beatles song, but it’s a harsh reminder of what actually happened in my life, which was that my Father walked out on my Mother and me. I barely saw him at all before he was taken away. That was a truly, truly difficult time…It’s all about having understood what that was all about, coming to terms with that, coming to terms with me and who I am today and what that means not only for everybody else but for me, too.”

And then there’s also that captivating photo of young Julian on the album cover. “I remember at that point [when the photo was taken – CMM] Dad was seeing May Pang and May Pang and my mother were trying to get Dad and I to spend more time together,” Lennon pointed out to SPIN“It was taken in Disney World in 1974 after Christmas that year. It was just a moment where I looked like I was in another world, where all around was a blur. I guess because although I was happy to see dad again, it was a weird and unique situation not having seen him for years, to finally be with him again. The biggest question for me at this time, was “How long is this going to last?” or “Is he going to disappear again?” I think that’s predominately what the look on my face represents. It’s one big question.”

Jude is a mature pop album by a versatile artist who after nearly 40 years into his career finally appears to be fully comfortable in his own skin. The album appears on BMG. In March, Lennon announced he had signed a new global recordings agreement with that label. Jude was co-produced by Lennon and Justin Clayton, the lead guitarist of Lennon’s backing band who has played on most of his albums.

The final word shall belong to Lennon: “I feel very much that I am my own man, and I’ve built a very serious working foundation on many, many levels, and that cannot be taken away from me,” he told Smashing Interviews Magazine. “So some people think I’ve been a hermit, but no, I’ve just not been on the camera in front of everything. That’s not a place I actually like to be really. I could be there sometimes to do certain things, but for the most part, let me be behind the camera. I’m happiest behind the scenes on most of the things that I do. I just try to be me these days, and that’s part of who I am.”

Here’s a link to the album on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; Smashing Interviews Magazine; Julian Lennon website; SPIN; 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

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Zager & Evans

Happy hump day! Once again, I need to pick a song I would take with me on a desert island. Not any tune. My selection needs to come from an artist or band I have only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. And the name of the chosen group or artist (last name) must start with a specific letter, which for this installment is “z.”

Z-options that came to mind include Zager & Evans, Frank Zappa, The Zombies and ZZ Top. I decided to go with American pop rock one-hit wonder Zager & Evans and In the Year 2525. It’s a bit of an odd song, but I’ve always liked it.

Written by one of the duo’s members, Rick Evans, the tune was first released as a single in June 1969. It ended up topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia – they certainly made that one count! The song, completely titled In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), also appeared on Zager & Evans’ debut studio album 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) that came out in July of the same year.

Denny Zager (guitar, vocals) and Rick Evans (guitar, vocals) met at Nebraska Wesleyan University in the year 1962. Initially, they formed a band called The Eccentrics, together with Danny Schindler (drums). The group disbanded when Schindler departed for his tour of Vietnam in 1965. Evans reunited with Zager in 1968. By the time they recorded In the Year 2525, they were backed by Mark Dalton (bass) and Dave Trupp (drums).

Following the success of 2525, which peaked at a respectable no. 30 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, Zager & Evans’ record label White Whale Records released an album titled The Early Writings of Zager & Evans and Others. It featured recordings of The Eccentrics on side one and songs by a band called J.K. and Co., on side two. That latter group had absolutely no connection to Zager & Evans. It all looks like an attempt to make a quick buck in the wake of a big hit. But it didn’t work. The album failed to chart.

Zager & Evans released two additional records, Zager & Evans (1970) and Food for the Mind (1971), before calling it quits. Evans later put out a record with Pam Herbert titled I Need This Song. In the late 1970s, he formed his own label, Fun Records, and released Fun Songs, Think Songs, an album featuring new songs and re-recordings of Zager & Evans material. Today, Zager builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska. Evans who had largely retired from public life passed away in February 2018.

Here’s more on In the Year 2525 from Songfacts:

This bleak futuristic tale is a very unusual song, but 1969 was a very unusual year, with hippie anthems like “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” going to #1 along with bubblegum songs like “Sugar, Sugar.” The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Temptations all had classic #1s as well, but one of the top songs was “In the Year 2525,” which stayed at #1 for six weeks.

The song reflected the apprehension of the times and also the wonder of technology. It started its run at the top of the US chart the week before the Apollo 11 moon landing.

…The song was subtitled “Exordium & Terminus,” which is a fancy way of saying “Beginning & End.” The song took itself quite seriously in its description of what will become of man as technology takes over.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and hope your weekend is off to a great start! For many folks in the U.S., with Labor Day coming up on Monday, it’s a three-day stretch off work. And, nope, even though there is this notion, the holiday doesn’t mark the end of summer! In North America, that date is September 22 this year. With that important clarification out of the way, let’s get to new music. All picks are on albums or EPs that appeared yesterday (Sep 2).

Luke Sital-Singh/Can’t Get High

I’d like to kick off this new music revue with Luke Sital-Singh, a Los Angeles-based British indie folk singer-songwriter. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Raised in the southwest London suburb of New Malden,…Sital-Singh released his first EP, Fail for You, in late 2012. Produced by veteran Irish producer Iain Archer (Snow Patrol, Jake Bugg), the four songs had a haunting, intimate quality that drew comparisons to Bon Iver and Jeff Buckley, and earned Sital-Singh considerable airplay in the U.K. He released a second EP in the spring of 2013 called Old Flint, which opened the door to several tours and key spots on the U.K. festival circuit, and eventually landed him a deal with British major Parlophone Records. Sital-Singh’s first full-length album The Fire Inside appeared in August 2014. Now, his fourth studio album Dressing Like a Stranger is out. Here’s Can’t Get High, a nice pop rock tune he wrote together with Nashville-based songwriter and frequent collaborator Ben Cramer, better known as Old Sea Brigade.

Mo Troper/I Fall Into Her Arms

Mo Troper is a Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter and guitarist. From his AllMusic bio: His music takes listeners on an emotional trip, with the beauty of his classic-style pop melodies facing up against lyrics that ask pointed, sardonic questions about the world around him...Troper’s father was an obsessive Beatles fan, and Mo grew up absorbing the influences of the Fab Four and other ’60s pop acts. At an early age, Troper had developed a passionate interest in music, and in his teens he began making his way into the Portland D.I.Y. music scene. While in high school, Troper and drummer Nate Sonefeld formed the band Your Rival, who specialized in “fun songs about horrible things.” In 2013, they released an album, Here’s to Me, through the local punk label Party Damage Records. The band soon broke up, and Troper worked with the groups TeenSpot and Sancho before he decided it was time to strike out on his own. His solo debut album Beloved was released in April 2016. Fast-forward six and a half years to MTV, Troper’s fifth studio album, and I Fall Into Her Arms. Like all other tracks except for one, the power pop tune was solely penned by Troper.

Rodell Duff/Tell Me Twice

Rodell Duff who originally hails from Trinidad & Tobago is a Texas-based country singer. From his website: He moved to Houston, TX as a kid[, which] has been his home since then. Music has always been a part of his life. From being in the choir during his school years, to now garnering over 7 million plus streams on Spotify with just 5 releases under his belt. Now residing in Kemah, TX, Rodell Duff has been all over Texas performing in front of live crowds. He recently opened up for acts such as The Josh Abbott Band, Michael Ray & Corey Kent, just to name a few. His first official single “Wrecked” was released in 2021 & ended up landing on Spotify’s “Hot Country” playlist. Rodell Duff has now released his first EP, Red Dirt Cursed, and I like what I’m hearing. Check out opener Tell Me Twice, which Duff co-wrote with Dylan Maloney, Eric Dodd and Haley Ganis.

The Front Bottoms/Hello World

Wrapping up my new music picks for this week are The Front Bottoms, an indie rock duo from Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Consisting of Brian Sella (vocals, guitar) and his childhood friend Mat Uychich (drums), The Front Bottoms were formed in 2006. Uychich’s brother Brian Uychich (keyboard, vocals) completed their original line-up, which recorded their first two self-released albums. In September 2011, The Front Bottoms’s eponymous third album appeared, their first released with a record label. Following the departure of Brian Uychich, Ciaran O’Donnell (guitar, trumpet, keyboards) joined as an official member in 2012. After the release of their fourth studio album Going Grey in October 2017, The Front Bottoms became a duo. Their music has been eclectic, blending elements of pop, rock and punk. This brings me to Hello World, a tune from their latest pop rock-oriented EP Theresa.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; AllMusic; Rodell Duff website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. Next week, we’re already headed into September and, in the U.S., Labor Day weekend – crazy! On a more upbeat note, Best of What’s New is hitting a milestone of sorts this week with its 125th installment. The occasion coincides with plenty of new music I found. The first three picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (Aug 26), while the remaining tunes came out a week ago.

Ezra Furman/Train Comes Through

I’d like to kick off this post with Ezra Furman, an indie art pop singer-songwriter from Chicago. She first came to prominence as lead vocalist and guitarist of Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, an indie rock band that was active between 2006 and 2011. After their third studio album Mysterious Power, released in April 2011, the group called it quits, and Furman launched a solo career. To date, she has released six solo studio albums, three EPs and various singles. Her AllMusic bio describes Furman as “a fiery, androgynous folk-punk provocateur” with “Lennon-esque sneer and raw, open-hearted lyrics, plus a flamboyant style, [which] have helped to make her one of the most engaging and unpredictable art-pop confectioners of her era.” Since I’m completely new to her, I could never have come up with this, but I know one thing: I’m intrigued by Furman’s new album All of Us Flames. Check out the opener Train Comes Through, which like most of the other tunes was solely penned by her.

Pat Green/Bad Bones

Pat Green is a country and Americana singer-songwriter from Texas. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: Green comes from the rich tradition of Texas country-music mavericks carving their own niche for themselves, and he has done that with a combination of deep-down roots, alt-country innovation, and rich, reflective lyricism. Born in San Antonio in 1972, Green kicked off his career working in and around the musical hub of Lubbock. He started recording in the mid-’90s, with local legend Lloyd Maines producing. Eventually he caught the attention of Willie Nelson, who invited Green to play his annual July 4th blowout in 1998. By the new millennium, Green had signed with a major label and hit the Country Top 10 with Three Days, an album that showed off his knack for country-rocking hooks and storytelling savvy. Green’s latest album is titled Miles and Miles of You. Here is Bad Bones, co-written by Green, Jondan McBride and Sean Michael Giddings – love that funky rock-oriented sound!

Thee Sacred Souls/Lady Love

Thee Sacred Souls are a soul trio from Southern California, who just released their eponymous debut album, and, man, how sweet it sounds! From their website: For Thee Sacred Souls, the first time is often the charm. The band’s first club dates led to a record deal with the revered Daptone label; their first singles racked up more than ten million streams in a year and garnered attention from Billboard, Rolling Stone, and KCRW; and their first fans included the likes of Gary Clark Jr., The Black Pumas, Princess Nokia, and Timbaland...Indeed, there’s something inevitable about the sound of Thee Sacred Souls, as if [drummer Alex] Garcia and his bandmates—bassist Sal Samano and singer Josh Lane—have been playing together for a lifetime already...Thee Sacred Souls is a warm and textured record, mixing the easygoing grace of sweet ’60s soul with the grit and groove of early ’70s R&B…[with] hints of Chicano, Philly, Chicago, Memphis, and even Panama soul…Check out Lady Love, written by Garcia and Lane. This is so good!

Katy Guillen & The Drive/Another One Gained

Katy Guillen & The Drive is a project by singer-songwriter and guitarist Katy Guillen. Here’s more from her website: After six years of persistent touring, performing and writing with her previous project, Katy Guillen & The Girls, singer, songwriter and guitarist Guillen found herself at the painful end of two long-term relationships. Katy Guillen & The Girls reached an extensive audience through performances at Montreal International Jazz Festival and the International Blues Challenge, a tour of Sweden via Kultur i Vast, and support for artists including The Revivalists, Robin Trower and The Doobie Brothers. With their burgeoning career put on hold, Guillen and long-time drummer Stephanie Williams set off for uncharted territory as Katy Guillen & The Drive. While distinguishing themselves as a new group with a fresh sound, the two continued crafting their musical and personal identities together. After dropping two EPs in 2020 and 2021, Katy Guillen & The Drive have now released their first full-length album Another One Gained. Here’s the title track, co-written by Guillen and Williams – love this!

Rock Eupora/Can You Feel the Weight?

Rock Eupora is the moniker of Nashville-based artist Clayton Waller who originally hails from Mississippi. From his website: From his earliest recordings, Waller has never been afraid to ask the big, searching questions of life. Catchy, hooky pop sensibilities have similarly been a consistent through-line in Rock Eupora’s catalogue. Featuring singable, fuzzed-out guitar hooks and stuck-in-your-head-all-afternoon choruses, the discography of Rock Eupora––including three full-length albums, two EPs, and a smattering of singles to date––brings to mind Blue Album-era Weezer or the high-energy, hard-charging, harmony-laden early Beatles singlesRock Eupora began when Waller was a senior in college. Each subsequent release has seen a broadening of scope and range. This brings me to Pick At the Scab, Rock Europa’s new album and Can You Feel Weight? Pretty catchy tune with a great sound – check it out!

Barney Cortez/Into the Void

Time to wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with one more pick: Barney Cortez, a Philadelphia-based artist who is out with his debut album Hullabaloo. Here’s some info I found on the website of his label La Reserve Records, posted in connection with the release of the album’s title track and third single back in March: Energetic, sharp-edged, and with lyrics worth sitting down to read, Hullabaloo is a fitting title track to Cortez’s upcoming debut LP, capturing the singer-songwriter’s state of mind during the time he wrote the album’s ten songs…“‘Hullabaloo’ was the perfect title for this album, because it spoke to all the turmoil and confusion I saw in the world and in myself as covid spread,” he [Cortez] continues. “It was just complete — and still is — whiplash, not knowing what each day was going to bring. The country was going through a really strange period. So I wasn’t feeling great during that time. I still try to make pop music around it, and music that feels good.” Let’s give a listen to Into the Void.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; Thee Sacred Souls website; Katy Guillen & The Drive website; Rock Eupora website; La Reserve Records 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 installment of Best of What’s New. While the first two tracks are included in releases that came out yesterday (July 15), the two remaining tunes are picks from upcoming albums. Let’s get to it.

Interpol/Renegade Hearts

Interpol are an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1997. Apple Music calls them a key player in the 2000s post-punk revival with a dark, atmospheric sound that’s influenced such successors as The Killers. Here’s a bit more from their profile: BBC Radio 1 host John Peel liked their demo and asked them to record a session for his show, leading to a deal with Matador Records. Interpol’s debut LP, 2002’s Turn On the Bright Lights, was named one of the top albums of the decade by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. In 2004, the band had their first Top 20 US hit, “Slow Hands”…Their major-label debut, 2007’s Our Love to Admire, was their biggest chart success, debuting in the Top 5 in both the US and the UK. The band’s current lineup includes co-founders Paul Banks (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass) and Daniel Kessler (lead guitar, piano, keyboards, backing vocals), as well as Sam Fogarino (drums, percussion). Renegade Hearts, credited to all three members, is a track from Interpol’s seventh and new studio album The Other Side of Make-Believe.

Zach Bryan/Oklahoma Smoke Show

Zach Bryan is a talented red dirt country singer-songwriter I featured in previous Best of What’s New installments here and here. Red dirt is a music genre named after the color of soil found in Oklahoma, which includes elements of Americana, folk, alt-country and a few other genres. Soon after receiving his first guitar as a 14-year-old, Bryan learned how to play and started writing songs. Later he followed in the footsteps of his family and enlisted in the Navy. But he didn’t give up music, and during a break in Jacksonville, Fla., Bryan and his friends spontaneously decided to record some tunes that would become his 2019 debut album DeAnn. Two additional full-length studio albums have appeared since, including an ambitious 34-track triple album that just came out in May. Oklahoma Smoke Show is a song from Bryan’s latest release, Summertime Blues, an EP.

Marcus King/Blood On The Tracks

Marcus King is another great artist who I’m happy to say I covered on previous occasions here and here. From the 26-year-old’s website: GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, performer, and songwriter Marcus King was downright destined to play music. By eight-years-old, the fourth generation Greenville, SC native performed alongside pops, grandpa, and his uncles for the first time. Logging thousands of miles on the road as “The Marcus King Band,” he established himself with unparalleled performance prowess and a dynamic live show. During 2020, he linked up with Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] and cut his solo debut El Dorado, garnering a GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album.” In between packing venues on his own, he performed alongside Chris Stapleton, Greta Van Fleet, and Nathanial Rateliff in addition to gracing the bills of Stagecoach and more with one seismic show after the next. Along the way, he caught the attention of Rick Rubin and signed to American Recordings. Here’s Blood On The Tracks from King’s second solo album Young Blood, scheduled for August 26. His debut on American Recordings will be produced by Auerbach, who also co-wrote the tune with King and Desmond Child. Love this song and really looking forward to the album!

Julian Lennon/Breathe

I’d like to wrap up this week’s new music revue with an artist I thought essentially had retired from music. After all, Julian Lennon has become involved in many other endeavors over the past 20-plus years, including photography, publishing children’s books and producing film documentaries. His 1984 debut album Valotte was great. While I selfishly loved that the title track could have been a John Lennon ballad, I think it was smart for Julian to subsequently record songs that sounded different from his father. After his 1991 single Saltwater, his last more significant chart success, he kind of fell off my radar screen. On September 9, Julian Lennon will be back with Jude, his first new album 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.” Here’s Breathe co-written by Lennon and Peter-John Vettese.

Last but not least, following is a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes.

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

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

The other day while browsing the blog for older content that would be worthwhile to republish, I came across a post from August 2018 about my favorite David Bowie album. That’s when I realized that I had actually missed the 50th-anniversary date of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But since June 16 only passed about four weeks ago, I felt it was still close enough to celebrate this milestone with a repost of the above.

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space OddityThe Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for StarmanZiggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography  Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be secondary to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off-topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s  Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been its own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling  Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s musical arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part of his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder  (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the  Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton JohnPink FloydMahavishnu OrchestraJeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

– End –

The original post, first published on August 28, 2018, ended here. The following link to the album on Spotify has been added:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

A Debut Album I Love

A “Turntable Table Talk” contribution

Fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day is currently hosting Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature where he invites some fellow music fans and writers to weigh in on music subjects. After participating in previous installments about the pros and cons of live albums and the impact of MTV, I was glad Dave invited me back to share my thoughts about a great music debut.

In his own words: I’m calling it “Out of the Blue.”Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise. Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found, but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue.  So no Beatles, unless of course you were around in 1963 and had the luck to suddenly hear ‘she Loves You’ or ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and went ‘Wow, who are these mop-topped lads I’ve never heard the likes of?”…in which case, then that would be a great story! 

Well, I wish I would have been around to see The Beatles! Without further ado, following is my contribution:

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 seconds to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

Southern Avenue (from left): Evan Sarver, Tikyra Jackson; Tiernii Jackson, Ori Naftaly and Jeremy Powell

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became the first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune Old Time Rock and Roll.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify