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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, whatever time it is in your neck of the woods when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in lovely Central New Jersey, U.S.A., and I’m ready to take you on another journey visiting music of the past and the present. Hop on board!

Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd/Samba de uma Nota Só

To get us all into the groove without coming on too strong, I’d like to start today’s music time travel in 1962 with a beautiful bossa nova. Samba de uma Nota Só (one note samba) was penned by Brazilan composer Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Newton Mendonça. There are also English lyrics, which were written by Jon Hendricks. The tune was first recorded by Brazilian bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto and included on this studio album O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor released in 1961. Samba de uma Nota Só gained wide popularity the following year when it appeared in February on the Grammy-winning Jazz Samba, a bossa nova album by American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and U.S. jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. Hitting no. 1 on the U.S. pop albums chart, Jazz Samba “marked the beginning of the bossa nova craze in America,” according to Wikipedia.

Bette Midler/Wind Beneath My Wings

Our next stop are the ’80s and a pick that may surprise some of you. Wind Beneath My Wings was co-written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley. The ballad has been recorded by various artists, such as Sheena Easton, Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight and the Pips. But the recording that will always remain special to me is the rendition by Bette Midler, included in the November 1988 soundtrack for the motion picture Beaches, in which the American actress and vocalist also co-starred. ‘What’s the big deal?’, you may wonder. Wind Beneath My Wings was the song my dear wife and I chose for the first dance at our wedding. With our recent 25th wedding anniversary, this love song has been on my mind. Midler’s rendition became the most successful version, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the 1990 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Midler is a great vocalist and these lyrics are just beautiful!

The Districts/Long End

Let’s jump to the present with a tune by The Districts, which I find pretty seductive: Long End. The group was founded in 2009 in Lititz, Pa. by high school students Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Mark Larson (guitar), Connor Jacobus (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums). Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The Districts are an American indie rock band whose work embraces the organic sounds of classic rock and indie folk while incorporating an adventurous side that recalls alternative rock of several eras, ambitious pop, and noisy experimentation that grew more eclectic with time. The unifying thread behind it all is the emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics of Rob Grote, who is fearless when it comes to sharing his feelings about relationships or the world around him. The rootsy and more direct era of the Districts’ music was documented well on their 2014 debut Telephone, while 2017’s Popular Manipulations found them in a more energetic and experimental mood. 2020’s You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere reflected a cooler and more layered sound, with keyboards playing a bigger role in the arrangements; 2022’s Great American Painting was more guitar oriented, but maintained the polished tone of its immediate precursor. Penned by Grote, Long End is a tune from Great American Painting, which came out on March 11.

The Doobie Brothers/Rockin’ Down the Highway

Time to step on the gas with some great ’70s rock by The Doobie Brothers, a band I’ve always loved for their catchy tunes and great harmony singing. It’s quite amazing the group from San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1970, is still around. The current line-up features two co-founders, Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals) and Tom Johnston (vocals, guitar, harmonica), and longtime member John McFee (guitar, violin, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, vocals). Since 2019, Michael McDonald (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, accordion) who first had joined the band during a 1975 tour to fill in for Johnston, is back in the fold. All four will be part of the Doobies’ upcoming tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Actually, it’s “only” 47 years, considering the group’s hiatus between 1982 and 1987, but still a pretty amazing run. And they remain a compelling live act, as I was fortunate to witness firsthand in July 2018. Rockin’ Down the Highway, penned by Johnston, is from the group’s sophomore album Toulouse Street, released in July 1972 – just a great rocker!

Pearl Jam/Jeremy

Our next stop are the early ’90s and music by Pearl Jam, who are considered one of the leading bands in the grunge and alternative rock genres. I can’t deny the fact I largely ignored contemporary music in the ’90s and know very little about bands and artists who started out in that decade. Pearl Jam were founded in Seattle in 1990 as Mookie Blaylock by Stone Gossard (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jeff Ament (bass, backing vocals), who had played together since the mid-80s in two grunge and rock bands, along with Mike McCready (lead guitar), Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Krusen (drums). By the time their studio debut Ten appeared in August 1991, they had changed their name to Pearl Jam. While the album wasn’t an immediate success, it reached no. 2 on the Billboard 200 in late 1992. Jeremy, with lyrics by Vedder and music by Ament, was one of three hit singles off Ten. The intense song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder had seen about a high school student who had shot himself in front of his English class. Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder remain part of Pearl Jam’s current line-up, which since 1998 has also included drummer Matt Cameron.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of yet another zig-zag music excursion. For this last pick, I’d like to go back to the present and Young Guv, a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook I first featured last month. Cook was a co-founder of Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning that was initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, he joined another local hardcore punk cheerfully named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of four that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, co-written by Cook, Ryan Gavel and Thom Yorke, is from Young Guv’s latest album Guv III that came out on March 11. That jangly Byrdsy sound is right up my alley!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Doobie Brothers website; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

A popular New Jersey pop-rocker during his concerts likes to pose the question, ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ His fans undoubtedly know who I’m talking about. But don’t worry, I’m not going to offer you bad medicine. After all, these posts are supposed to treat the Wednesday blues you may feel, so we need something good.

Undoubtedly, music can be a fantastic therapy to cheer us up. Music is the doctor makes you feel like you want to/Yo`u gotta listen to the doctor just like you ought to/Music is the doctor of my soul. No matter whether you’re a man who lives in the city, you’re a man who lives in the street, from FLA up to Frisco bay and ev’rywhere in between, I give you The Doctor by The Doobie Brothers.

It’s safe to assume some folks have mixed feelings about this tune, which appeared on the Doobies’ 10th studio album Cycles released in May 1989. Sure, at that time, Toulouse Street (1972) and The Captain and Me (1973, arguably the crown jewels of their catalog, were ancient history. And, yes, both are gems, but I also find Cycles, the group’s reunion album following their 1982 breakup pretty enjoyable.

The Doctor, written by Doobies co-founder and guitarist Tom Johnston, together with producers Charlie Midnight and Eddie Schwartz, was first released on May 3, 1989, as the album’s lead single, two weeks ahead of the record. It climbed to no. 9 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and also became a top 40 hit in Canada (no. 14), Australia (no. 32) and The Netherlands (no. 37). Here’s a real live take of the tune from the Doobies’ second live album Rockin’ down the Highway: The Wildlife Concert released in July 1996.

Following is what Johnston told Songfacts: “I actually wrote that song before the band even re-formed. It wasn’t called ‘The Doctor’ then. I was playing with some guys around here in Marin County. I was in a band called Border Patrol, and the chorus that you hear where the actual ‘doctor’ part is, ‘I need to go to the doctor, yadda yadda,’ didn’t exist. That was written by Charlie Midnight and Eddie Schwartz, that whole – if you want to call it – hit lead chorus.”

“I was never that nuts about that song, I gotta be honest with you. It just sounded way too poppy and slick for me. I just didn’t think it really had quite the balls as some of our previous tunes. And, you know, it served its purpose. It got us national attention for a little bit. It didn’t last very long. But you know, people are paying attention again, and we had just come out with a new album, so that was a good thing.”

There you have it, folks. Even Johnston had mixed feelings about the song. He also makes what I think is a fair point that’s easy to forget for those of us who have a “regular job”. Professional music artists need attention and also make some money, at least every now and then, to sustain themselves. Plus, dare I say it, stylistically, I don’t think The Doctor is that much different from China Grove, another Johnston tune from the above noted The Captain and Me album.

Happy Hump Day, and always remember George Harrison’s wise words: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions exploring different styles of music over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. This installment kicks off with jazz from 1956, followed by new jazzy pop-rock from 2021, country rock from 1976, new wave from 1984 and soft rock from 2013, before finishing up with some rock from 1967.

Charles Mingus/Profile of Jackie

I’d like to embark on this little journey with beautiful music by Charles Mingus, who is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians. Over a 30-year career, the double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader played with many other greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and released about 50 albums as a bandleader. Initially, Mingus started on the trombone and later studied the cello before picking up the double bass. As a teenager, he felt excluded from the classical music world since he couldn’t join a youth orchestra because of his inability to read musical notation quickly enough due to a poor education. These experiences, along with lifelong racism Mingus encountered influenced his music that oftentimes focused on themes like racial discrimination and injustice. By the mid-70s, sadly, Mingus had ALS. Eventually, this heinous disease made it impossible for him to play bass. Mingus continued to compose music until his untimely death in January 1979 at the age of 56. Here’s Profile of Jackie, a composition from a 1956 album titled Pithecanthropus Erectus. Mingus’ backing musicians included Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), J.R. Monterose (tenor saxophone), Mal Waldron (piano) and Willie Jones (drums).

ShwizZ/Overboard

For this next tune, I’d like to jump to the present and a cool band I first featured on the blog back in April as part of another Sunday Six installment: ShwizZ. Their website describes them as a one of a kind powerhouse from Nyack, New York. Drawing a substantial influence from classic progressive rock and funk, they consistently put their musical abilities to the test to deliver a high intensity and musically immersive show. ShwizZ note Frank ZappaYesP-Funk and King Crimson as their influences. The band, which has been around for about 10 years, features Ryan Liatsis (guitar), Will Burgaletta (keyboards), Scott Hogan (bass) and Andrew Boxer (drums). Here’s their latest single Overboard. Not only do I love the cool Steely Dan vibe, but I also find the clip pretty hilarious.

Hoodoo Rhythm Devils/Safecracker

Any band that calls itself the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils gets my attention. Until a week ago or so, I had never heard of this ’70s American group until I came across their tune Safecracker. According to Apple Music, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils blended blues boogie with country-rock, rock & roll and some soul. Initially, they were formed in San Francisco in 1970 by guitar teacher John Rewind (guitar), his student Lee Humphries (guitar) and Humphries’ friend Joe Crane (vocals). They were later joined by Glenn Walter (drums) and Richard Greene (bass). Between 1971 and 1978, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils released five studio albums. The group’s line-up changed various times over the years until they disbanded in 1980 following Crane’s death from leukemia. Here’s the above-mentioned Safecracker, an awesome tune from the band’s fourth studio album Safe In Their Homes from 1976. The song also appeared separately as a single that year. I can hear some Doobies in here.

The Cars/You Might Think

The Cars are a band I always realize know much better than I think I do once I start listening to their music. While I’m not very familiar with their background and can only name a few of their songs off the top of my head, I recognize a good deal of their songs when I hear them. It’s not really surprising since the American new wave and pop-rock band had hits throughout much of their career. The Cars were formed in Boston in 1976 and included Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Ric Ocasek (rhythm guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards), Benjamin Orr (bass) and David Robinson (drums). During their initial run until 1988, six studio albums appeared. After reuniting in 2010, The Cars released one more album before going on another hiatus in 2011. A second reunion followed in 2018 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In September 2019, Ocasek was found dead in his apartment in New York at the age of 75. You Might Think, written by Ocasek, is from the band’s fifth studio album Heartbeat City that appeared in March 1984. It also became the record’s lead single that same month, and one of the band’s biggest U.S. hits, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Mainstream Rock chart. Quite a catchy tune!

Lenny Kravitz/I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa)

For this next track, let’s go to January 2013 and the 20th-anniversary edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way, which initially appeared in March 1993 as the third studio album by Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz entered my radar screen in late 1991 when I first heard his excellent sophomore album Mama Said that had been released in March of the same year. Since he started his recording career in 1989, Kravitz has released 11 studio albums, one greatest hits collection and various box set compilations, among others. I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa) is a bonus track on the aforementioned 20th-anniversary reissue of the Are You Gonna Go My Way album. I came across the tune coincidentally the other day. With the only lyrics being baby, I may not be a star, it sounds like an unfinished song – still, I dig it! I assume Vanessa refers to French singer and model Vanessa Paradis who Kravitz was dating at the time the original record came out.

The Doors/Break On Through (To The Other Side)

And once again, it’s time to wrap up things. For my final pick, I’d like to jump back to January 1967 when The Doors released their eponymous debut album. It was the first of six albums recorded by all four members of the great L.A. rock group, Jim Morrison (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Robby Krieger (guitar, vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards, keyboard bass, vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals). After Morrison’s death in July 1971 in Paris, France, The Doors released two more albums, Other Voices (October 1971) and Full Circle (1972), before they disbanded in 1973. A third Morrison post-mortem album, An American Prayer, appeared in 1978. Krieger and Densmore are still alive and remain active. Manzarek passed away in May 2013. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from the band’s first album, Break On Through (To The Other Side), credited to all four members.

Sources: Wikipedia; ShwizZ website; YouTube

The Doobie Brothers Are Still Runnin’ Strong

Liberté is band’s first album of all-new music in 11 years

The Doobie Brothers are back with new music. After having listened to Liberté a few times, I find there is much to like about the band’s 15th studio album, their first with all new original tunes since World Gone Crazy from September 2010. Their most recent studio release Southbound, which appeared in November 2014, featured remakes of their biggest hits and some other songs recorded in collaboration with artists like Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and Huey Lewis and Brad Paisley.

Released on October 1, Liberté was produced by John Shanks who has worked with a broad array of artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge. Shanks also co-wrote all of the 12 tunes with either Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, vocals) or Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals), who co-founded the Doobies in San Jose, Calif. in 1970, together with Dave Shogren (bass, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and John Hartman (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

Doobie Brothers - Official Site
The Doobie Brothers (from left): Michael McDonald, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee

The Doobie Brothers’ other core members are John McFee (guitar, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals), who has been part of the line-up since 1979, and Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), who has been and off since he first joined in 1975. McDonald was not involved in recording Liberté. He rejoined the Doobies in November 2019 ahead of their planned 50th anniversary tour in 2020. It was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and finally kicked off on August 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

When the Doobies first announced Liberté in early August, they released the first four tracks of the album as a self-titled EP. Previously, I included one of these tunes, Don’t Ya Mess With Me, in a Best of What’s New installment. As such, I will skip the rocker here. Let’s get to some of the album’s other music.

Here’s the opener Oh Mexico. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, the rock tune has a vibe of early Doobies. Johnston sounds great on vocals. I also dig the tune’s neat slide guitar work.

Cannonball is an acoustic-oriented song co-written by Shanks and Simmons. While this doesn’t sounds like classic Doobies, I still like it.

The American Dream, a nostalgic tune reminiscing of the top down and the radio on, and dancin’ in the streets, is another co-write by Shanks and Johnston.

One of my early favorites is the soulful Shine Your Light. The tune was co-written by Shanks and Johnston as well.

The last tune I’d to call out is Just Can’t Do This Alone. Co-written by Shanks and Johnston, this tune reminds me a bit of Listen to the Music, the first hit the Doobies scored in 1972, a single off their sophomore album Toulouse Street.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Liberté. While it’s fair to say it’s no Toulouse Street or The Captain and Me, I find the album an enjoyable listening experience.

“How does any band know?,” Johnston said during a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “You’re just trying to get it together and move forward. At the start of this band, we hadn’t done anything yet and we were playing bars like everyone else. Luckily, we did a demo tape that got us a record deal with Warner Bros. Our first album didn’t sell, but the second did. And the rest is history.” Indeed, 51 years and counting; or, if you exclude the band’s five-year hiatus between 1982 and 1987, it’s 46 years – still a mighty long time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Doobie Brothers website; San Diego Union-Tribune; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it really Saturday again? Yep, according to my calendar it is! And, if you’re in the U.S., we’re two weeks out from Labor Day weekend – that’s just crazy! Though I’d quickly like to add it’s a widely held misconception the holiday marks the end of summer. The good news is summer officially lasts until September 22, so we still have about a month left! On to newly released music that caught my attention!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter. According to her Apple Music profile, Cut from the same cloth as fiery crooners Jana Kramer, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, country singer Maggie Rose was born Margaret Rose Durante in 1988 in Potomac, Maryland. Durante took to the stage at the age of 16, performing frequently with the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover group, before heading off to Clemson University. She left school in her sophomore year to focus on music, eventually relocating to Nashville, Tennessee on the advice of industry icon Tommy Mottola. Mottola helped her ink a deal with Universal Republic, which released her debut single, a 2009 cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” She left the label the following year and signed with Emrose Records, releasing a pair of singles and an EP under her birth name before assuming the moniker Maggie Rose for the 2012 single “I Ain’t Your Mama.” A debut full-length album, Cut to Impress, produced by Blake Chancey, Stephony Smith, and James Stroud, appeared from RPM Records in the spring of 2013. Here’s What Are We Fighting For, the soulful opener of Rose’s third album Have a Seat that dropped yesterday (August 20). Rose wrote this great tune together with guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman (background vocals, percussion), who according to her website are longtime band members/collaborators.

The Joy Formidable/Into the Blue

The Joy Formidable are a UK alternative rock band from Wales. They were formed in 2007 by childhood friends Ritzy Bryan (guitar, vocals) and Rhydian Davies (bass), who had previously played together in Manchester group Tricky Nixon, and Justin Stahley (drums). In 2009, following the band’s debut EP, current drummer Matthew James Thomas replaced Stahley. The following year, The Joy Formidable signed with Atlantic subsidiary Canvasback Records. Their debut album The Big Roar from January 2011 led to immediate chart success in the UK, climbing to no. 31 on the Official Albums Chart. Charting in the U.S. didn’t occur until the group’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, which reached no. 51 and 11 on the Billboard 200 and Alternative Albums charts, respectively. Into the Blue is the title track of The Joy Formidable’s fifth and new album released yesterday. Like all other tracks on it, the song was co-written by Bryan and Davies.

Andrea von Kampen/That Spell

Andrea von Kampen is a Lincoln, Neb.-based f0lk singer-songwriter. From her website: With the successful release of two EP’s, Another Day (2015) and Desdemona (2016), a Christmas EP (2016), an Audiotree Live album (2017), and her debut full-length album Old Country (2019), Andrea has quickly established herself in the recording studio and on the road. She has shared the stage with artists such as Tall Heights, Ira Wolf, Dead Man Winter, The Brother Brothers, Dead Horses, Darling West and many more…Inspiration for Andrea’s songs often come from literature, art, and nature; in particular the literature and nature of Nebraska and the Midwest… Andrea von Kampen first appeared in the public eye with her submission of Let Me Down Easy into the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest. Within 24 hours of submission, NPR Music, All Songs Considered tweeted her video as the featured artist of the day, saying “we were completely blown away.” Ultimately, Andrea finished the competition as a top ten finalist, which lead to increased popularity of her EP, Another Day, specifically her song Trainsong. Since then, her EPs have amassed millions of streams on Spotify and continue to grow. On August 6, van Kampen released her sophomore album That Spell. Here’s the title track that had first appeared on July 23 as the lead single – nice music to sit down to listen.

The Doobie Brothers/Don’t Ya Mess With Me

I trust The Doobie Brothers need no introduction. It’s great to see a band that has been active for more than 45 years (with a 5-year hiatus between 1982 to 1987) is still releasing new music. Their official current line-up includes original members Tom Johnston (guitar, harmonica, piano, lead and backing vocals) and Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, lead and backing vocals), along with longtime on-and-off member John McFee (guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals). Michael McDonald (keyboards, synthesizers, lead and backing vocals), another on-and-off member over the decades, will join the Doobies on their upcoming tour. On October 1, they are scheduled to release their 15th studio album Liberté. The album, which doesn’t include McDonald, is the group’s first new studio release in seven years since Southbound from November 2014, and their first of new original material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy. Here’s lead single Don’t Ya Mess With Me, one of four tracks released upfront as a self-titled EP on August 6 when the band announced Liberté. Johnston penned the rocker with co-producer John Shanks. It may be no China Grove, Rockin’ Down the Highway or Long Train Runnin’, but it still makes me a happy camper!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Maggie Rose website; Andrea van Kampen website; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part II

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

Here’s part II of a mini series of three posts featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Each installment includes five tunes in chronological order from oldest to newest. Part I focused on planes. Now it’s on to trains. Hop on board!

In case you didn’t read the previous installment, the idea of the mini series came from the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Elvis Presley/Mystery Train

Let’s kick of this installment with Mystery Train, written and first recorded by Junior Parker as a rhythm and blues track in 1953. When Elvis Presley decided to cover the song, it was turned into a rockabilly tune featuring him on vocals and rhythm guitar, together with his great trio partners Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). Produced by Sam Philips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., Presley’s version was first released in August 1955 as the B-side to I Forgot to Remember to Forget, which became his first charting hit in the U.S., hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This has got to be one of the best rockabilly tunes ever!

The Monkees/Last Train to Clarksville

Last Train to Clarksville is the debut single by The Monkees, which was released in August 1966. While at that time they still were a fake band that didn’t play the instruments on their recordings, which as a musician is something that generally makes me cringe, I just totally love this song. It was co-written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who used their band Candy Store Prophets to record the tune’s instrumental parts. At least there was one member from The Monkees on the recording: Micky Dolenz, who would become the band’s drummer for real, performed the lead vocals. Last Train to Clarksville, a Vietnam War protest song disguised by ambiguous lyrics and a catchy pop rock tune inspired by The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, was also included on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966.

The Doobie Brothers/Long Train Runnin’

Long Train Runnin’ has been one of my favorite tunes by The Doobie Brothers since I heard it for the first time many moons ago. As such, it was a must to include in this post. Written by Tom Johnston, the groovy rocker is from the band’s third studio album The Captain and Me that appeared in March 1973. The song was also released separately later that month as the album’s lead single, backed by Without You. Long Train Runnin’ became the first U.S. top 10 hit for the Doobies on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 8, as it did in Canada. In the U.K., it reached no. 7, marking their highest charting single there.

The Allman Brothers Band/All Night Train

I had not known about this tune by The Allman Brothers Band and wouldn’t have found it without a Google search. All Night Train, co-written by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell, is included on the band’s 11th studio album Where It All Begins, their second-to-last studio release that appeared in May 1994. The track features some nice guitar action by Haynes and Dickey Betts and, of course, the one and only Gregg Allman on lead vocals and keys. Great late-career tune!

AC/DC/Rock ‘n’ Roll Train

For the final track let’s kick it up. How much? How about kick-ass rock & roll level with AC/DC! Rock ‘n’ Roll Train is the opener to their October 2008 studio release Black Ice. By then, the time periods in-between AC/DC albums had significantly lengthened, especially compared to the ’70s and ’80s. Predecessor Stiff Upper Lip had come out in February 2000. The next release, Rock or Bust, would be another six years away. Obviously, AC/DC has had their share of dramatic setbacks, but last November’s Power Up album proved one shouldn’t count them out yet. There has been some chatter about touring, though I haven’t seen any official announcements. Earlier this month, Brian Johnson joined Foo Fighters at a Global Citizen Vax Live concert in Los Angeles to perform Back in Black. Of course, one song is different from an entire concert, not to speak of an entire tour. Still, I guess it gives AC/DC fans some hope that maybe they’ll get another chance to see the band. Meanwhile, let’s hop on the rock ‘n’ roll train!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

In Appreciation of Healthcare Professionals

Not a day goes by that you don’t see stories on TV and in other news outlets, reporting about the incredible work healthcare professionals are doing around the U.S. to care for people who are sick from the coronavirus. Last night, I caught a segment on CNN, which really got to me. For a change, I wished it was fake news, but it wasn’t!

A CNN anchor interviewed two women who are working as hospital nurses in New York City: A 20-year-old and another nurse who I guess was in her ’50s – hard to tell! Both looked extremely exhausted. The older nurse was working despite having some COVID-19 symptoms herself. Why was she still coming to work? ‘Because that’s what we do,’ she said. In the beginning, the 20-year-old tried to put on an optimistic face as best as she could, but it was obvious she was scared to death. She had just written her will and admitted she had cried a lot over the past week.

Twenty years old and feeling compelled to write her will? That’s only two years older than my son! And this is happening in America in the 21st century?

Both women pleaded with government officials that healthcare workers be provided with the protective equipment they need to continue caring for patients while reducing the risk of getting sick themselves. I have to say I never thought I would witness something like this in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world. WTF!

It’s beyond my comprehension why certain so-called leaders at the state and federal level don’t use their full authorities to help contain the spread of the virus and fight it with all means they have at their disposal. This is not a time to question scientists or view things through an ideological lens. People are dying all around us, for crying out loud!

I’ll stop the rant here to get to the essence of the post – music, more specifically songs that in a broader sense are about doctors. Admittedly, I have to stress the word “broader” here. In any case, the idea is to give a shoutout and honor the selfless work healthcare professionals are doing across the U.S. every day. Typically for lousy pay!

Steely Dan/Dr. WuDonald FagenWalter Becker; Katy Lied (1975)

Bruce Springsteen/The Lady and the DoctorBruce Springstein; Before the Fame (1997)

Jethro Tull/Doctor to My DiseaseIan Anderson; Catfish Rising (1991)

Robert Palmer/Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)Moon Martin; Secrets (1979)

Jackson Browne/Doctor, My EyesJackson Browne; Jackson Browne (1972)

Blue Öyster Cult/Dr. MusicJoe Bouchard, Donald Roeser & Richard Meltzer; Mirrors (1979)

Counting Crows/HospitalCoby Brown; Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) (2012)

Doobie Brothers/The DoctorTom Johnston, Charlie Midnight & Eddie Schwartz; Cycles (1989)

Black Sabbath/Rock ‘n’ Roll DoctorTony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward & Ozzy Osbourne; Technical Ecstasy (1976)

The Fray/How to Save a LifeIsaac Slade & Joe King; How to Safe a Life (2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Playing for Change – Reimaging a World Connected by Music

The other day, I came across an amazing video clip featuring Robbie Robertson and a bunch of well-known and to me unknown, yet pretty talented other musicians from all over the world, playing The Weight, one of my favorite tunes by The Band. At first, I only paid attention to their great version of the iconic song and ignored the chiron at the beginning and the end of the clip that notes “Playing for Change.” Then, I noticed other video clips on YouTube, which were also put together by Playing for Change. Finally, I got curious. Who or what is Playing for Change?

It didn’t take long to find their website, which describes their story as follows: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music… Playing For Change was born in 2002 as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, to hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians.”

PFC Co-Founders
PFC co-founders Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke

In 2005, Mark Johnson was walking in Santa Monica, California, when he heard the voice of Roger Ridley singing “Stand By Me.” Roger had so much soul and conviction in his voice, and Mark approached him about performing “Stand By Me” as a Song Around the World. Roger agreed, and when Mark returned with recording equipment and cameras he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger replied, “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people.” Ever since that day the Playing For Change crew has traveled the world recording and filming musicians, creating Songs Around the World, and building a global family.

Creating Songs Around the World inspired us to unite many of the greatest musicians we met throughout our journey and form the Playing For Change Band. These musicians come from many different countries and cultures, but through music they speak the same language. Songs Around The World The PFC Band is now touring the world and spreading the message of love and hope to audiences everywhere.

I realize the above may embellish things a bit; still, PFC sounds like an intriguing concept. They also created the Playing for Change Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded through donations and supports arts and music programs for children around the world. Based on the foundation’s website, it looks like a legitimate organization. That being said, this isn’t an endorsement. Let’s get back to what originally brought me here – recorded musicians all over the world performing the same song and everything being neatly put together in pretty compelling video clips. Before getting to the above mentioned Robbie Roberson clip, let’s take a look at some of PFC’s other videos.

Walking Blues (Son House)

Walking Blues was written and first recorded by delta blues musician Son House in 1930. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and other blues musicians recorded their own versions. This clip features Kevin Roosevelt Moore, aka Keb’ Mo’, along with other musicians from Argentina, South Africa, Spain and Morocco. Apparently, the clip was put together in honor of Johnson’s birthday. Check it out!

Soul Rebel (Bob Marley)

Written by Bob Marley, Soul Rebel is the opener to Soul Rebels, the second studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, which appeared in December 1970. This clip features Bunny Wailer, an original member of the Wailers, French guitarist Manu Chao and Jamaican reggae singer Bushman, along with other musicians from Jamaica, Spain, Morocco, Cuba, Argentina and the U.S. Feel free to groove along!

Listen to the Music (Tom Johnston)

Listen to the Music is a classic by The Doobie Brothers from their second studio album Toulouse Street released in July 1972. It was written by guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston, one of the band’s founding members. Apart from Johnston and fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee, the clip features other musicians from Venezuela, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Japan, Argentina, Senegal, Congo, South Africa and the U.S., including a gospel choir from Mississippi. This is just a joy to watch!

All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)

While perhaps best known by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower was written by Bob Dylan. He first recorded it for John Wesley Harding, his eighth studio album from December 1967. Check out this riveting take featuring Cyril Neville of The Neville Brothers, John Densmore of The Doors and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule, along with other musicians from Italy, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Niger, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali and the U.S. The latter include singers and dancers from the Lakota, a native American tribe that is part of the Great Sioux Nation. This is just mind-boggling to watch!

The Weight (Robbie Robertson)

And finally, here comes the crown jewel that inspired the post: The Weight written by Robbie Robertson, and first recorded for the debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink, released in July 1968. This clip was co-produced by PFC co-founder Mark Johnson and Robbie’s son Sebastian Johnson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song. And it’s quite a star-studded affair: In addition to Robertson, the clip features Ringo Starr, blues guitarist Marcus King, roots rockers Larkin Poe and country-rock guitarist Lucas Nelson, along with other musicians from Italy, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Bahrain, Spain, Argentina, Nepal and Jamaica – what a beautiful tribute to this great tune. Just watch the smile on Robertson’s face at the end. He knows how figgin’ awesome this came out – priceless!

PFC clearly has their go-to musicians in each country, and they’re not hobby musicians. Based on PFC’s website, all musicians are professionals who appear to be recognized within their countries. While as such one could argue PFC doesn’t seem to use amateur/ hobby musicians, it doesn’t take away anything of the concept’s beauty, in my view. Most of their videos capture songs performed by individual artists from different countries or by the PFC band. But it’s the song-around-the-world videos I find most impressive. You can watch all of PFC’s clips on their YouTube channel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Playing For Change website; Playing for Change Foundation website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 15

Time for another installment in my long-running, somewhat geeky music history feature. I still get a kick out of researching what happened on a certain date throughout the decades in rock & roll, even though it’s such an arbitrary concept. Admittedly, I’m using the term rock & roll loosely here. It pretty much includes all music genres I dig – hey, it’s my blog, so I get to make the rules. Without further ado, let’s get to March 15!

1967: The Beatles began work on Within You Without You, a song by George Harrison. According to The Beatles Bible, Harrison had written the tune at the London home of longtime Beatles friend Klaus Voormann who first had met the band in Hamburg and had shared a flat with Harrison and Ringo Starr in the British capital in early ’60s. Several musicians from the collective Asian Music Circle played traditional Indian instruments during the recording session. They were joined by Harrison and The Beatles’ then-personal assistant Neil Aspinall on tamburas. “The tabla had never been recorded the way we did it,” commented sound engineer Geoff Emerick. “Everyone was amazed when they first heard a tabla recorded that closely, with the texture and the lovely low resonances.” Within You Without You was included on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band instead of Only a Northern Song, another Harrison tune that would later appear on Yellow Submarine.

1969: Cream hit the top spot on the UK Albums Chart with their fourth and final studio album appropriately titled Goodbye. It would stay in that position for two weeks. Here’s one of the record’s tracks, Politician, which also is one of my favorite Cream tunes. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, Politician was one of three live tracks on the record that were captured on October 19, 1968, at The Forum in Los Angeles during the band’s farewell tour. By the time Goodbye came out in February 1969, Cream had already disbanded.

1975: Black Water, a classic by The Doobie Brothers, climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the first of only two no. 1 hits the band had in the U.S. The second one was What a Fool Believes in 1979. Penned by Patrick Simmons who also sang lead, Black Water first appeared on the Doobies’ fourth studio album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits released in February 1974. Interestingly, the initial single release of Black Water was as the b-side to the record’s lead single Another Park, Another Sunday. While it’s not a bad song, you still have to wonder about that decision, which seems to suggest that between the band and the record company, they hadn’t quite noticed what a gem Black Water was.

1986: The Bangles reached no. 2 on the UK Singles Chart with Manic Monday, scoring their first hit, which also peaked at no. 2 in the U.S., Australia, Germany and Ireland, and placed in the top 5 in Austria, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland. Written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher, the tune was included on the American pop-rock band’s sophomore album Different Light, which had appeared in January of the same year. I generally find listening to The Bangles fairly enjoyable. In particular, I like their harmony singing, plus they have some pretty catchy songs. Just please spare me with Eternal Flame, which at the time was hopelessly burned by overexposure on the radio back in Germany and I suspect in many other countries. BTW, The Bangles are still around in almost their original lineup. Following the band’s breakup in 1989, they reunited in 1998.

1999: Curtis MayfieldDel ShannonDusty SpringfieldPaul McCartneyThe Staple SingersBilly Joel, and Bruce Springsteen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Sean Combs, Art Alexakis, Elton John, Neil Young, Lauryn Hill, Ray Charles and Bono, respectively –  sounds fucking unreal to me! Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band to perform at the ceremony. Here are Bruce and the boys with Wilson Pickett, performing a scorching version of In The Midnight Hour, a Stax classic Pickett had co-written with Steve Cropper in 1965. Watching Pickett say he wants to kick Bruce in the ass but will keep it light since he’s The Boss and Bruce responding ‘Let’s give it a shot’ is priceless –  damn, this wants me to go and listen to some kickass live music, so badly – fuck you, COVID-19!

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