What I’ve Been Listening to: Bettye LaVette/Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.

The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.

Bettye LaVette - Soulful Detroit

While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.

Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.

Bettye LaVette Interview - Blues Matters Magazine

In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.

LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!

The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John LennonPaul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.

How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!

Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!

Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!

Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!

Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.

Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”

In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”

So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

It’s Only A Cover But I Like It

The Rolling Stones done by other artists

Cover versions of songs can be intriguing and sometimes even better than the originals. An example of the latter I always come back to is Joe Cocker’s incredible rendition of With a Little Help From My Friends. There are also other great covers of Beatles tunes. Fellow blogger Hanspostcard is currently dedicating an entire series to this topic, titled Under The Covers: Other Artists Covering Beatles Songs. In part, it was his great series that inspired the idea for this post. Since I already wrote about covers of Fab Four tunes, I decided to focus on another of my all time favorite bands: The Rolling Stones.

While I figured it shouldn’t be very difficult to find renditions of Stones tunes by other artists, I only knew a handful of covers and wasn’t sure what else I would find. It turned out that seven of the 10 covers I ended up selecting for this post were new to me. My picks span the Stones’ music from the ’60s and early ’70s, which is I generally feel is their best period. All tunes were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Let’s get to it.

The Grass Roots/Tell Me

Kicking it off are The Grass Roots, an American rock band that has been around since 1965. Their debut studio album Where Were You When I Needed You from October 1966 featured a few covers including Tell Me, a tune that first appeared on The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut album in the UK released in April 1964. The U.S. version, which had a slightly different track list, appeared six weeks later.

Mekons/Heart of Stone

In 1988, British post punk rock band Mekons released their seventh studio album So Good It Hurts. It included this nice rendition of Heart of Stone, a Stones tune that first came out in December 1964 as a U.S. single. It also was included on the U.S. and U.K. albums The Rolling Stones, Now! (February 1965) and Out of Our Heads (September 1965), respectively.

The Who/The Last Time

After Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been busted and imprisoned on drug charges in 1967, their friends The Who went to the studio to record a single intended to help them make bail: The Last Time, backed by Under My Thumb. Even though everything was done in a great rush, by the time the single hit the stores, the Glimmer Twins already had been released. Since John Entwistle was away on his honeymoon, he gave his okay to proceed without him. Pete Townshend ended up overdubbing the bass parts. Initially, The Last Time was the first original The Rolling Stones song released as a single in the UK in February 1965, yielding their third no. 1 hit on the Singles Chart. It came out in the U.S. two weeks later, reaching no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Alexis Korner/Get Off Of My Cloud

Alexis Korner, who has rightfully been called “a founding father of British blues,” had a major influence on the British music scene in the 1960s. His band Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated was a breeding ground for UK musicians who at various times included artists like Jack Bruce, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, Cyril Davies, as well as then-future Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. Get Off Of My Cloud became the title track of Korner’s 1975 studio album. Originally, the Stones released the song as the follow-on single to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in September 1965, matching that tune’s previous chart-topping success in the U.S., UK and Germany. Get Off Of My Cloud was also included on the Stones’ fifth U.S. album December’s Children (And Everybody’s) released in December that year.

Melanie/Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday has been among my favorite Stones tunes for a long time. I also think the cover by American singer-songwriter Melanie is among the most compelling renditions of Stones songs. Melanie’s great version first appeared on her third studio album Candles in the Rain from April 1970 and was also released as a single in December of the same year. The Stones recorded the original for their 1967 studio album Between the Buttons that appeared in January and February that year in the UK and U.S., respectively. The song also became the album’s lead single and another no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it climbed to no. 3 on the Singles Chart.

Molly Tuttle/She’s a Rainbow

While I’ve featured Molly Tuttle’s version of She’s a Rainbow before, I simply couldn’t resist including it in this post as well. Similar to Ruby Tuesday and Melanie, the tune represents both one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs and one of the greatest renditions I know. Tuttle, an incredibly talented acoustic guitarist, included it on her most recent album …but i’d rather be with you, which came out in August 2020. She’s a Rainbow first appeared on Their Satanic Majesties Request, a studio album the Stones put out in December 1967. Two weeks after its release, it also became the record’s second single.

Bettye LaVette/Salt of the Earth

Here’s another really cool cover: Salt of the Earth by American vocalist Bettye LaVette, who has touched many genres, including soul, blues, rock & roll, funk, gospel and country. She recorded Salt of the Earth for an album titled Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook and released in May 2010. The soul and gospel vibe is perfect for this tune, which the Stones included on their Beggars Banquet album from December 1968.

Larry McCray/Midnight Rambler

Larry McCray is an American blues guitarist and singer, who has been active since the ’80s and released his debut album Ambition in 1990. I had not heard of him before. His cover of Midnight Rambler is included on a Stones tribute album from August 2002, which is called All Blues’d Up: Songs of The Rolling Stones. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet, but based on the track list and other participating artists, it surely looks intriguing. The Stones recorded Midnight Rambler for their studio album Let It Bleed that came out in December 1969. According to Wikipedia, Keith Richards has called it “the quintessential Jagger-Richards song.”

Santana/Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (feat. Scott Weiland)

Now we’ve come to Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, a gem from what I consider to be the best Stones album: Sticky Fingers released in April 1971. Carlos Santana covered the tune on his 21st studio album Guitar Heaven from September 2010, a compilation of classic rock covers featuring many guest vocalists: In this case, Scott Weiland, former lead vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland who had struggled with addiction and other health issues for many years died in December 2015 from a drug overdose.

The Pointer Sisters/Happy

I’d like to wrap up this post on a happy note, literally, with a great rendition of Happy by The Pointer Sisters. It was included on their sixth studio album Priority, which came out in September 1979 and was their second foray into rock. Their first was predecessor Energy from November 1978, which among others featured one of their biggest hits: Fire, the Bruce Springsteen tune. Originally, Happy appeared on what many Stones fans consider the band’s best album: Exile on Main St. from May 1972. Happy, backed by All Down the Line, also became the record’s second single in July 1972.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week has flown by, which means it’s time again to take a look at newly released music. After some digging, I think I’ve found a decent and diverse set of tunes. This installment of Best of What’s New features a great Hammond B-3 jazzy rendition of a popular Donovan song, melodic indie rock, pop folk-oriented alternative country and soulful Americana. All tunes appear on albums that came out yesterday (March 26). Sounds intriguing? Let’s get to it!

Dr. Lonnie Smith/Sunshine Superman (feat. Iggy Pop)

An artist calling himself Dr. Lonnie Smith who teams up with the godfather of punk Iggy Pop to cover a great Donovan tune was sure to get my attention. Born in Buffalo, N.Y. in July 1942, Smith is a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith released his solo debut Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967. Twenty-six additional records have since appeared under his name. According to his website, Smith has recorded everything from covers of the Beatles, the Stylistics and the Eurythmics, to tribute albums of Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Beck-all by employing ensembles ranging from a trio to a fifteen-piece big band. He also appeared on close to 80 albums by other artists, such as Lou Donaldson, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ponder, Ron Holloway, Eric Gale and Nora Jones. His artist profile on Apple Music notes Smith at some point became Dr. Lonnie Smith (for “no particular reason,” the same reason he gives for why he always wears a traditional Sikh turban). His rendition of Sunshine Superman, the title track of Donovan’s third studio album from August 1966, is the closer of the doctor’s new album Breathe. Iggy Pop provides vocals on this tune, as well as album opener Why Can’t We Live Together. This is just cool stuff!

Real Estate/Half a Human

Real Estate are an indie rock band from Ridgewood, N.J. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, Real Estate’s core members were childhood friends, but the band didn’t take shape until 2008, after they’d all completed college and returned to their hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Arriving in 2009, the group’s self-titled debut album earned a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork—a distinction that was also given to their next two LPs. Days, their 2011 sophomore LP, hit No. 11 on  Billboard’s Alternative Albums chart, and 2014’s Atlas did even better, reaching No. 7. Following the departure of guitarist Matthew Mondanile in 2016, lo-fi pop specialist Julian Lynch—another childhood friend from New Jersey—took his place in the band. In addition to Lynch, Real Estate’s current lineup includes co-founders Martin Courtney (vocals, guitar) and Alex Bleeker (bass, vocals), along with Matt Kallman (keyboards) and Sammi Niss (drums). Half a Human, co-written by Bleeker, Lynch, Courtney, Kallman and the band’s former drummer Jackson Pollis, is the title track of their sixth and new album. The melodic and laid back sound of this tune drew me in right away.

Esther Rose/Songs Remain

Esther Rose is a country artist from New Orleans, La. She began her career by collaborating with her then-husband and guitarist Luke Winslow-King. In 2017, Rose released her solo debut album This Time Last Night. Songs Remain is a track from her third and latest album How Many Times. On this record, Rose expands her alt-country sound into a blossoming world of folk pop and tender harmonies, notes her website. A collection of complete takes recorded live to tape with rich instrumentation, soul-tugging hooks, and resonating vocal melodies, How Many Times carries you into the room in which it was made. There to help realize this was co-producer Ross Farbe of synthpop band Video Age, who Rose also credits for bringing a stereo pop glow to these new songs. I like what I’m hearing here!

Miko Marks & The Resurrectors/Ancestors

Let’s wrap up things with African American country singer Miko Marks who was born in Flint, Mich. In 2005, she released her debut single Freeway Bound, which also was the title track of her first studio album that appeared in September that year. The sophomore It Feels Good followed in August 2007. In 2006, Marks was named Best New Country Artist by U.S. trade magazine New Music Weekly. She also won various awards at the Independent Music Awards in 2006, 2007 and 2008. After a pretty successful looking early career, it appears things slowed down for Marks. Ancestors is the opener of Our Country, her first album since It Feels Good. She’s backed by The Resurrectors, the impressive sounding house band of Redtone Records. Well, it may have been more than 13 years since Marks’ last release, but it surely looks like the wait was worth it. I just love the soulful southern rock sound of Ancestors, which first appeared as a single in December 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dr. Lonnie Smith website; Apple Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Spring has officially arrived – Yay, finally, as it’s been a long and lonely winter! I’m also happy to report that with today’s installment, The Sunday Six has hit its first mini-milestone: This is the 10th post in the weekly recurring series that celebrates the beauty of music from different periods and genres, six random tunes at a time. I think I found a nice set of tracks I hope you will like.

Sonny Rollins Quartet/My Reverie

Let’s kick things off with some amazing saxophone action by American tenor sax player Sonny Rollins. I have to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead, who recently posted about Tenor Madness, a studio album Rollins released in 1956 as the Sonny Rollins Quartet. In addition to him, it also featured Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) – what a cool name, Philly Joe Jones – I love the flow! Oh, and there was this other fellow called John Coltrane, who joined the band on tenor sax for the album’s opener and title track. The track I’m featuring is called My Reverie. Apparently, the first jazz recording was by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra in 1938, featuring Bea Wain on vocals, with lyrics by Clinton. The music is based on Rêverie, a piano piece by French classical composer Claude Debussy, dating back to 1890. This really goes to show there’s such a thing as truly timeless and beautiful music!

The Horace Silver Quartet/Song for My Father

Let’s shake up things a bit on The Sunday Six with another another instrumental and another jazz track back to back. And, nope, Donald Fagen or Walter Becker are not Horace Silver’s father or otherwise related to the American jazz pianist, composer and arranger. But Becker and Fagen both loved listening to jazz. Undoubtedly, they also got inspired by the intro of Song for My Father. Somehow, it became the introductory riff of Steely Dan’s 1974 single Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, their most successful U.S. single, peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Whether consciously or unconsciously, to me, this looks a bit like yet another case where a credit should have been given to the original composer. Perhaps Messrs. Becker and Fagen lost his number! Silver who began taking classical piano lessons as a child was active between 1946 and 2004. Initially, he started as a sideman before leading mainly smaller jazz groups. In the early ’50s, he became a co-founder of The Jazz Messengers, which at first he ran together with drummer Art Blakey. After leaving the band in 1956, Silver formed his own five-piece combo, which he led into the 1980s. He continued to release albums until 1998. In 2007, it became known that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85. Song for My Father, composed by Silver, is the title track of an album he released with his band in late 1965. Great tune!

Jackson Browne/Shaky Town

I trust Jackson Browne needs no introduction. The American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1966 is one of my all-time favorite music artists. I dig both his vocals and his songwriting. I also have something in common with him: We were both born in the lovely town of Heidelberg, Germany. He went on to become a rock star. I ended up playing bass in two bands in my late teens and early ’20s with short-lived ambitions to become a professional musician. It’s probably a good thing it didn’t happen (though never say never! 🙂 ), and I’m a daddy though not rocking in the U.S.A. Instead, I get to enjoy listening to great music by fantastic artists and giving my two cents as a hobby blogger – not such a terrible thing, after all! The one Jackson Browne album I keep coming back to is Running on Empty, his fifth studio release that appeared in December 1977. When I had that aforementioned dream to become a professional musician, I actually envisaged sounding like Browne on Running on Empty, notably, not like The Beatles – true story. I was tempted to go with the title track. Instead, perhaps somewhat ironically, I decided to pick a tune that’s not by Browne: Shaky Town. The song was written by guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who has worked with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Neil Young, Carly Simon and not to forget Carole King. Kortchmar also provided harmony vocals. And check out that sweet lap steel guitar by the amazing David Lindley.

The Church/Under the Milky Way

The Church are an alternative rock band from down under, formed in Sydney in 1980. Their debut album Of Skins and Heart appeared in April 1981. Since then, the band that remains active to this day, has released 16 additional studio albums. Their most recent one, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, came out in October 2017. I covered it here at the time. But it was their fifth international breakthrough album Starfish from February 1988, which brought the Aussie band on my radar screen. I just love the sound, and it remains one of my favorite ’80s records. Here’s the fantastic lead single Under the Milky Way. It was co-written by the band’s bassist and vocalist Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow). The atmospheric sound and Kilbey’s distinct vocals still give me good chills.

George Harrison/Blow Away

What’s better than enjoying some sweet slide guitar? You guessed it – more sweet slide guitar action! One of the artists I’ve always admired in this context for his unique tone is George Harrison. I don’t know of any guitarist who got that same sweet slide sound. Blow Away was first released in February 1979 as the lead single from Harrison’s eighth, eponymous studio album that came out a few days later. Written by him, it became one of eight top 20 mainstream hits Harrison had in the U.S., peaking at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did even better in Canada, hitting no. 7, one of his nine top 10 hits there. The recording features former Sly and the Family Stone member and session drummer Andy Newmark. Nuff said – let’s get blown away!

Elton John/Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)

Time to wrap things up. How about kicking ass with some good ole rock & roll Elton John style? Ask and you shall receive! I guess Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) is more of a deep track. As usual, the lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, while Sir Elton composed the music. According to Songfacts, the tune is a “throwback to music of the late ’50s and early ’60s when lots of songs were about dance crazes and teenage girls.” Songfacts also quotes John from a 1973 interview with now-defunct American rock magazine Circus, in which he reportedly characterized the tune as “a cross between surfing music and Freddie Cannon records” that was intended “to end the ‘Crocodile Rock’ thing.” Sounds like John had hoped it would help people forget about that latter tune. While it’s a great song that appeared on his masterpiece Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from October 1973, it’s fair to say Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) was completely overshadowed by other tunes from the album, such as Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Bennie and the Jets, Candle in the Wind and of course the title track. John also didn’t release it as a single.

Source: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Usually, I keep my forays into newly released music to four tunes. This installment includes two more tracks. Why? Easy, ‘coz I can! On a more serious note, unlike other weeks where I feel more challenged to find music that sufficiently speaks to me, I discovered these tracks fairly quickly. And since I couldn’t quite decide on four, I ended up taking all six. Except for the final song, all tunes are included on releases that appeared yesterday (March 19).

Mason Lively/Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing

Mason Lively is a country/Americana artist from Victoria, Texas. According to his website, he grew up in a country music atmosphere. His appreciation for the genre can be traced back to his childhood. Though he enjoyed and was exposed to many types of music, he would listen to artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price to name a few. Growing up, while also being influenced by Blues and Classic Rock, Mason started to take interest and study the songwriting of artists from his home state’s music scene like Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Hayes Carll, and many more. As a result, when he started playing guitar at age 14, Mason claims that song-writing “sort of snuck up on him” not long after that. Lively’s debut album Stronger Ties appeared in April 2018. Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing is a track from his new eponymous sophomore album.

Michigander/Let Down

Jason Singer, performing as Michigander, is a singer-songwriter hailing from Midland, Mich., who has been active since 2014. His artist profile on Apple Music describes Michigander’s music as a rich blend of hook-driven and radio-ready indie rock with electronic flourishes and earnest, big-hearted storytelling that invokes names like Lord Huron and Mumford & Sons. He is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who spent his formative years building a sonic persona that looked to a wide array of influencers, including Coldplay, Rush, James Taylor, and the White Stripes. After honing his skills playing solo sets, Singer relocated to Kalamazoo in 2014 and began operating under the Michigander moniker. In 2016 he issued the nostalgia-driven single “Nineties,” which garnered over a million online streams. Looking to capitalize on the success of the single, Singer turned his one-man solo project into a fully-fledged rock & roll band and hit the road, sharing bills with contemporaries like Ra Ra Riot, Tokyo Police Club, and Twin Peaks, and released the group’s debut EP, Midland, in 2018. The following year saw the band ink a deal with C3 Records and issue a second EP, Where Do We Go from Here? Well, I suppose the answer is Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, Michigander’s latest EP. Here’s lead single Let Down. I have to say I find this tune quite catchy.

Alice Phoebe Lou/Dusk

South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou first entered my radar screen in July 2020, when I covered her then-latest single Touch in a previous Best of What’s New installment. As noted there, Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, Momentum, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, Orbit. Dusk, written by Lou, is from her new album Glow. Just like I felt previously, her music falls outside my core wheelhouse but there’s just something about it.

Ringo Starr/Waiting For the Tide to Turn

Just like his ex-Beatles mate Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr kept busy during the pandemic. One of the results is a new EP titled Zoom In. A statement on his website notes it features 5 songs all of which were recorded at Starr’s home studio between April-October 2020...Joining Starr were musicians Nathan East (bass), Steve Lukather (guitar), Bruce Sugar (synth guitar), Benmont Tench (piano), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jacob Braun (cello), and Jim Cox (string arrangements and synth strings). Dave Grohl, Ben Harper and Jenny Lewis also joined Starr in the home studio, and all contributed to the first single, Here’s To The NightsI previously covered it hereRingo co-wrote “Waiting For The Tide to Turn” with his engineer Bruce Sugar, adding Tony Chen and his extensive reggae roots; “This was something my engineer Bruce Sugar started, but it didn’t have a lot of words, so we wrote it together. I did my version of reggae and what was great was we had Tony Chen, who played with Bob Marley and lives here in LA, come over and play on it. He said, ‘hey Mon, that you on drums mon?’ and I said yes, and he said ‘great drums mon, very reggae!’ and my heart swelled! It was so great coming from him.” Ringo and reggae was something I didn’t expect, but I think it came out pretty well!

Joyce Wrice/Chandler

Joyce Wrice is an R&B and soul artist from Los Angeles. There isn’t any background on her website and Facebook page, so I’m relying on a news story by MTV. Chandler is the opener of Wrice’s debut album Overgrown. The release follows a series of EPs and publishing covers on YouTube for 10 years. Some of her influences include Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Sade. Apparently, she is also influenced by her Japanese heritage and Buddhism. “One of the things that I’ve learned through my Buddhist practice is to create opportunities within the obstacle or the struggle,” Wrice pointed out to MTV News. “It’s actually helped me to dig deeper and not be swayed by the situation and keep pushing through.” This tune has a cool vibe. I can hear some early ’70s Marvin Gaye in here.

Tigers Jaw/New Detroit

American rock band Tigers Shaw were formed in Scranton, Pa. in 2005. The group was started in high school by Ben Walsh, who played drums at the time, and Adam McIlwee (guitar, vocals). A few months later, they were joined by Brianna Collins (keyboards, vocals). The band released their debut album Belongs to the Dead in October 2006. By the time of their eponymous sophomore album from September 2008, Tigers Shaw had grown to a five-piece and Walsh had switched to guitar and vocals. He and Collins remain part of the current formation that also includes Colin Gorman (bass, rhythm guitar) and Theodore Roberts (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the band’s music evolved from pop punk to Emo to indie rock. New Detroit is from their sixth studio album I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, which appeared on March 5. I really like how melodic and catchy this song is!

Sources: Wikipedia; Mason Lively website; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; MTV News; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Boy, have I been looking forward to this Sunday! While spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, to me, the switch from standard to daylight savings time here in New Jersey and most U.S. states marks the unofficial beginning. Oh, in case I just reminded you and you had forgotten to adjust your watches, you’re welcome! 🙂 Sunday is fun day, so if you’re like me and in the mood for some music, I’ll invite you to read on and check out the clips. I think I put together a nice and diverse set of tracks.

Neil Cowley/Berlin Nights

Let’s kick it off with some beautiful ambient music by English contemporary pianist and composer Neil Cowley. Cowley was born in London in November 1972. He began as a classical pianist and already at the age of 10 performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts I don’t know, including Mission Impossible, The Brand New Heavies, Gabrielle and Zero 7. It looks like his first album Displaced appeared in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. He has since released 14 additional records as a band leader or co-leader. Cowley has also worked as a sideman for various other artists, most notably Adele. Berlin Nights, composed by Cowley, is from his new solo album Hall of Mirrors that appeared on March 5. I find it super relaxing and can literally see a city nightscape before my eyes while listening.

Randy Newman/Guilty

Randy Newman needs no introduction, though he certainly deserves more of my attention. Based on my relatively limited knowledge of his catalog, here is one of my favorites, Guilty, from his fourth studio album Good Old Boys released in September 1974. Written by Newman, the tune was first recorded by Bonnie Raitt for her third studio album Takin’ My Time from October 1973, an excellent cover!

Rosanne Cash/Good Intent

There is lots of talent in the Johnny CashJune Carter Cash family. This includes Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny and his first wife Vivian Liberto Cash Distin. Sadly, I’ve yet to explore Rosanne Cash who started her recording career in 1978 with her eponymous solo album and has since released 13 additional studio albums. Good Intent, co-written by Cash and her longtime collaborator John Leventhal, is included on her 12th studio album Black Cadillac from January 2006. I absolutely love the warm sound of that song and Cash’s vocals. This is a true gem!

The Byrds/Goin’ Back

The Byrds have written so many amazing songs. I also don’t get tired of Rickenbacker maestro Roger McGuinn and his jingle-jangle guitar sound. While it’s perhaps not as well known as Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, I’ll Feel a Lot Better and Eight Miles High, Goin’ Back has become one of my absolute favorite tunes by The Byrds. It was wo-written by the songwriting powerhouse of Carole King and Gerry Goffin and is yet another reason why Carole King who is nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year should be inducted! Goin’ Back was first released by Dusty Springfield in July 1966, giving her a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. The Byrds included their rendition on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers from January 1968. It was less successful, peaking at no. 89 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and missing the charts in the UK altogether. Regardless, I think it’s a terrific tune with a beautiful atmosphere.

Kim Carnes/Mistaken Identity

Kim Carnes is best known for her cover of Bette Davis Eyes, her international smash hit from 1981. The American singer-songwriter’s recording career started 10 years earlier with her first release Rest on Me. More Love, a cover of a Smokey Robinson tune, brought Carnes her first successful U.S. single in 1980, hitting no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bette Davis Eyes the following year became the biggest hit of her career. It was part of Carnes’ sixth studio album Mistaken Identity from April 1981. Here’s the title track written by Carnes. I’ve always dug her husky vocals. BTW, now 75 years old, she still appears to be active.

The Beatles/I Saw Her Standing There

This Sunday Six installment has been on the softer side, so as I’m wrapping up, it’s time to step on the gas with a great rock & roll song by my favorite band of all time: I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles. Primarily written by Paul McCartney, but as usual credited to him and John Lennon, I Saw Her Standing There was the opener of The Beatles’ UK debut album Please Please Me that came out in March 1963. In December of the same year, Capitol Records released the tune in the U.S. as the B-side to I Want to Hold Your Hand, the label’s first single by The Beatles. Ready? One, two, three, four…

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 9

This is the 60th installment of my music history feature, which explores select happenings on a specific date over time, mostly focusing on the ’60s and ’70s. While not surprisingly by now I have a well-defined system in place how I go about gathering facts for these posts, I still enjoy writing them. So let’s embark on another time travel journey and take a look back at some of the events on March 9 throughout rock and pop music history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete list.

1967: The Beatles began work on Getting Better in Studio 2 of Abbey Road’s EMI Studies as part of the recording sessions for their next studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was mainly written by Paul McCartney with some lyrical input from John Lennon. During the late evening session, the tune’s rhythm track was recorded: McCartney’s rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr’s drums on track one; McCartney’s guide vocals on track two; a pianette (type of electric keyboard) played by George Martin on track three; and some additional drums on track four. Subsequently, a so-called reduction mix was created to free up additional tracks on the tape (eight-track recording would only start to become available in 1968). The Beatles and the studio crew called it a night, or I guess I should rather say an early morning, at 3:30 am (March 10). They devoted three additional sessions to the tune, evidently figuring it was getting better all the time. How do I know all of that? I don’t! Wait, what?! Well, there’s The Beatles Bible that captures all these details for the music geeks among us. 🙂

1973: American blues and boogie rockers Canned Heat released their ninth studio album The New Age. It was the first to feature guitarist James Shane and keyboarder Ed Beyer. At that time, Canned Heat had already lost key co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who had died from a drug overdose in September 1970. Wilson had written and co-written the band’s biggest U.S. hit singles Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, respectively, and sung lead vocals on both. Here’s the opener Keep Clean written by Bob Hite, the band’s other key co-founder who since passed away as well in April 1981, also due to drugs. Unfortunately, Canned Heat has been hit hard with drug-related deaths. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, renowned rock critic Lester Bangs was fired by Rolling Stone for writing a “disrespectful” review of the album at the time it came out.

1987: Irish rock band U2 released their fifth studio album The Joshua Tree. Fueled by hit singles With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Where the Streets Have No Name, it topped the charts in more than 20 countries and became U2’s all-time top-seller. With over 25 million copies sold, it’s also one of the world’s best-selling albums. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, The Joshua Tree yielded two 1988 Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. While it undoubtedly created over-exposure for U2, I feel The Joshua Tree is holding up pretty well to this day. Here’s one of the tunes that wasn’t released as a single, which I’ve come to dig over the years as one of my favorites: Red Hill Mining Town. Like all other tracks on the album, Bono provided the lyrics, while the music was credited to the entire band.

1993: Sting put out his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which remains my all-time favorite by the ex-Police front man. If I see this correctly, it became Sting’s best-selling album. It also received six 1994 Grammy nominations and won three: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best Music Video, Long-Form, and Best Vocal Performance, Male (for If I Ever Lose My Faith in You). Here’s the beautiful Shape of My Heart, co-written by Sting and his longtime sideman, guitarist Dominic Miller.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Here Comes the Spring

While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.

The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun

I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.

Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky

Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now

This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.

Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring

While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!

Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime

Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!

The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring

Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s New installment.

Sources: Google; Wikipedia; Judy Collins website; YouTube

Some Wise Words From Sir Paul

This morning, I came across a recent tweet from Paul McCartney. It links to a blog post on his website. When asked by a woman via Twitter whether he had any advice how to deal with difficult situations where everything in the news paints a bleak picture of the future, Paul said the following:

I’ve always been an optimistic person, because I don’t like the alternative! I find that even when you go through crisis after crisis, you still come out the other end, and no matter how bad you’re feeling it can often work out OK.

Something I’ve learned is that life’s good, really, but we often screw it up. So I try to tell myself and other people that if we can just work on not screwing it up, it’s going to be better for us and everyone else. I always try and see the good side – the silver lining – and if you’re lucky, it arrives.

I remember as a kid, I would hear old women on the housing estate where we used to live saying ‘ohh me rheumatism, ohh me arthritis, ohh it’s killing me, it’s terrible!’ And I thought well, it’s not going to get any better if you talk like that! I know life’s difficult for a lot of people, but I think a positive thought is often a great help. You’ve got to train yourself not to think the worst.

With Covid, it’s awful. You’ve got to look for the good side, and even though we’re all restricted right now, you’ve got to say – ‘well, on the other hand it gives me loads of time to do all the stuff I wanted to do’. And even though we can’t hug our friends like we wish we could, there will come a time when we’ll be able to, and I have a feeling it’ll be even better than ever.

Also asked whether music could lift up humanity’s spirit and perseverance, he added:

Yeah, definitely. I think music is a great healer. I think that you can be feeling terrible, then put on a piece of music you like and get swallowed up by it. You can go in into the mood of the music and it’s a magical thing. I remember once, again when I was a kid, I was hanging out with my mate from school and I had a headache, and we put on an Elvis record – ‘All Shook Up’ – and at the end of the record I didn’t have the headache! So, I’ve always believed in that power.

Sure, I can see some folks being a bit cynical about the blog post and dismiss it as a gimmick to stay engaged with fans. The intro of the post also mentions Paul’s new album McCartney III. Plus, saying COVID gives you plenty of time to do things you had wanted to do but couldn’t do could come across as being a bit tone-deaf, especially to people who don’t have the luxury of a job that allows them to work from home. I view it differently.

To start with, given Paul’s mega success, he really doesn’t need to resort to any gimmicks to stay connected to his audience. It’s safe to assume his financial wellbeing doesn’t depend on sales of McCartney III. When noting extra time for things because of the pandemic, Paul is really talking about himself. In fact, he likely wouldn’t have done a new album, had it not been for COVID. To me, there’s also no question music can have a positive impact on how you feel. It has done so time and again in my case! But most importantly, I believe Paul when he says he’s a positive guy. It’s very much reflected in many of his songs. Here’s one that comes to mind.

While John Lennon contributed some of the lyrics and the tune was credited to Lennon-McCartney, wrote most of Getting Better. The Beatles recorded the song for their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in May 1967.

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube