The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday music mini-excursion. I’m excited this is the first Sunday Six to feature music from my native country Germany, though admittedly you wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t told you. The trip is going to involve some contemporary jazz, blues rock, rock, blues, psychedelic garage rock and R&B. It’ll be touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the first two decades of the current century. I think it’s another pretty eclectic set of tunes that will hopefully have something for every reader. Hop on board!

Klaus Graf Quartett/Homezone

The first stop on this little journey in Germany and some great contemporary jazz by Klaus Graf Quartett. And, nope, that’s not a typo, “Quartett” is the German word for quartet. I have to give credit to my brother-in-law, who knows much more about jazz than I do and who recently brought the German alto saxophone player Klaus Graf to my attention. According to his website, Graf started playing the clarinet at the age of 10 but soon thereafter switched to the alto saxophone. He found his true love for jazz as a 15-year-old after he had joined a youth music school big band. Following his studies of the saxophone at Cologne University of Music, Graf mainly played as a sideman in various German and international jazz bands. In 2002, he founded his own quartet and released his debut album Changes in Life. In addition to him, the present line-up includes Olaf Polziehn (piano), Axel Kühn (upright bass) and Meinhard Obi Jenne (drums). Klaus Graf Quartett is one of various music projects of Graf who also teaches jazz saxophone at Nuremberg University of Music. Here’s Homezone, a composition by Graf from a 2007 album album titled Moving On. According to the credits listed on Discogs, the recording features all of the quartet’s current members, except for the bassist who on that album was Uli Glaszmann.

The Rolling Stones/Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Next we go back to May 1968 when The Rolling Stones first released their non-album single Jumpin’ Jack Flash in the UK, backed by Child of the Moon. The single also appeared in the U.S. the following month. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards only as usual, even though Bill Wyman contributed, this tune has one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. I recall reading several years ago that Richards during an interview said he still gets excited when he plays that riff – who can blame him! Speaking of Richards, according to Songfacts, he explained the tune’s title to Rolling Stone in 2010 as follows: “The lyrics came from a gray dawn at Redlands. Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside, and there was the sound of these boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’ I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.” Now you know how to write an iconic rock song! After the Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request album, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was considered to be a return to their blues roots. It became a major hit, topping the mainstream charts in the UK and Germany, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S., and reaching no. 2 in France, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia, as well as no. 5 in Canada. Man, this just rocks!

Steve Miller Band/Rock’n Me

On October 5, Steve Miller turned 78. Amazingly, the man still fronts the Steve Miller Band, the group he founded in 1966 as the Steve Miller Blues Band. And had it not been because of this dreadful pandemic, he would probably be out on the road. As he told Billboard earlier this year, the group had to cancel a planned 55-city tour with Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives that was supposed to kick off in June 2020. On the upside, Miller put the downtime to good use and dug into his archives. Out came a concert film, Breaking Ground concert, and a companion album, Steve Miller Band Live! Breaking Ground: August 3, 1977, which were released on May 14 this year. You can watch a trailer of the film here. And here’s Rock’n Me from the companion album. Originally, the tune was recorded for the Steve Miller Band’s ninth studio album Fly Like an Eagle released in May 1976. It also appeared separately as a single in August 1976 and became the group’s second no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It topped the charts in Canada as well. This is neat rock & roll!

Buddy Guy/Stay Around a Little Longer (feat. B.B. King)

Next, let’s slow it down for some great blues by two of the best electric blues guitarists: Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Guy at age 85 thankfully is still with us and still playing, while King sadly passed away in May 2015 at the age of 89. This beautiful recording is from Guy’s 15th studio album Living Proof that came out in October 2010. The tune was co-written by producer Tom Hambridge and country and blues singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson, who both have become frequent collaborators ever since. It’s just great to hear B.B. King sing on this tune, in addition to playing guitar. His voice sounds so good. He was 85 years at the time, Guy’s current age. I can’t deny I find this tune and clip quite emotional. That’s what great music does – it touches you!

The Fuzztones/Cinderella

After some emotional blues, it’s time to step on the gas again with a terrific tune by American garage rockers The Fuzztones. According to their profile on Apple Music, the New York City-based psychedelic/garage rock combo played a large role in the mostly underground ’60s revival during the 1980s. Led by the enigmatic Rudi Protrudi, the Fuzztones were one of the major “successes” (particularly in Europe) of the revival that flourished in 1984 and that also boasted the Chesterfield Kings, the Cynics, the Miracle Workers, and Plasticland. Their debut studio LP, Lysergic Emanations, was released in 1985. Thanks to praise from Ian Astbury of the Cult, the newly refitted Los Angeles-based Fuzztones were one of the few to get a major-label deal, and a second album, In Heat, was released by Beggars Banquet in 1989. Due to the album’s lackluster sales performance, the Fuzztones went back to the indies. That might have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Thanks to a hugely successful tour of Europe in 1985, the group built a loyal and dedicated fan base there, and one version or another of the Fuzztones has toured there regularly ever since. Here’s Cinderella from the band’s above noted 1985 debut album, which mostly featured covers, including this tune that originally was recorded by The Sonics in 1965. With that cool organ, the rendition reminds me a bit of The Animals. Founding member Rudi Protrudi (vocals, guitar, harmonica) remains with the band’s current line-up.

Ray Charles/Hit the Road Jack

Let’s conclude this mini-excursion with a tune that randomly popped up in my head the other day. When it did, I immediately thought it would be a terrific song to feature: Hit the Road Jack by the great Ray Charles. They didn’t call the singer-songwriter and pianist “The Genius” for nothing. Frank Sinatra reportedly said Charles was the “only true genius in show business.” Charles identified Nat King Cole as a primary influence. Others included Louis Jordan and Charles Brown. Hit the Road Jack, written by R&B artist Percy Mayfield and first recorded as an a cappella demo in 1960, was Charles’ second of three no. 1 mainstream hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The other two were Georgia on My Mind and I Can’t Stop Loving You. Any of them would have been great picks as would have many other tunes by Charles, but I felt like finishing with a more up-tempo song like Hit the Road Jack.

Sources: Wikipedia; Klaus Graf website; Discogs; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New, a look at new or recently released music that sufficiently speaks to me to write about it. If you’re a first-time visitor of the blog, I should point out that oftentimes my picks in these posts represent the first exposure to the featured artists. That’s certainly the case this week, which includes different flavors of rock from the U.S. and Australia, as well as beautiful pop-oriented folk from England. Let’s get to it!

Wavves/Hideaway

Wavves is an alternative rock music project started in San Diego, Calif. in 2008 by singer-songwriter Nathan Williams. Apple Music characterizes his music as a blend of distorted no-fi and refined sunshiny melodies. Charmingly messy, most of his lyrics, while difficult to decipher, generally revolve around the subjects of weed, boredom, and the beach — when he isn’t poking jabs at the gloomy subculture of goth rock (a common theme, found in “Goth Girls,” “California Goths,” “Summer Goths,” “Surf Goths,” and “Beach Goths”). Current members of Wavves also include Alex Gates (guitar, backing vocals) and Stephen Pope (bass guitar, backing vocals). Wavves’ eponymous debut album appeared in September 2008. Their third album King of the Beach received generally positive reviews and was the first to enter the U.S. charts, climbing to no. 28 and no. 168 on the Billboard Independent Albums and 200 charts, respectively. Hideaway, co-written by Williams and producer Dave Sitek, is the title track of Wavves‘ upcoming seventh studio album slated for July 16. The tune was released as the third upfront single on June 8.

The Murlocs/Bittersweet Demons

The Murlocs are a rock band from Melbourne, Australia, which was founded in 2011. Their current line-up features Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica), Cal Shortal (guitar), Tim Karmouche (keyboards), Cook Craig (bass) and Matt Blach (drums). Kenny-Smith and Craig are also members of fellow Aussie act King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Both bands also share the same label, Flightless Records. On their Bandcamp profile, The Murlocs describe their music as “firmly placed in their own blown-out, distorted brand of soulful RnB.” After two EPs in 2012, the band released their first full-length studio album Loopholes in April 2014. Rolling On, the second single from September 2015 off their sophomore album Young Blindness, marked a breakthrough for The Murlocs and remains one of their most popular songs. Their third and fourth albums from July 2017 and March 2019, respectively, reached the top 20 on the main Australian music charts. Bittersweet Demons, credited to The Murlocs, is the title track of the band’s upcoming fifth studio album set for release on June 25. According to this review by Melodic Magazine, the piano-driven tune was inspired by the death of a close friend of Kenny-Smith. I dig the catchy melody and the cool retro sound.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich/Full Full Colour

Benjamin Francis Leftwich is a singer-songwriter from York, England. According to his Apple Music profile, he is known for his introspective, acoustic folk sound. Leftwich emerged in 2011 with Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, which peaked at number 35 on the U.K. Albums Chart. He continued to hone his melancholic brand of acoustic folk-pop on subsequent efforts like After the Rain (2016) and To Carry a Whale (2021), which drew similar acclaim and elicited comparisons to the likes of Jose Gonzalez and Iron & Wine. Born in York in 1989 to South African and Australian parents, Leftwich lived a nomadic childhood, spending as much time in Sydney as in his native U.K. Inspired by Elliott Smith and Bruce Springsteen, he taught himself to play the guitar at age ten, and fronted indie pop outfit the Nicoles in his teens before embarking on a solo career. The above mentioned To Carry a Whale is Leftwich’s fourth full-length studio album released yesterday (June 18). Here’s the closer Full Full Colour co-written by him and fellow English musician Samuel Duckworth. The track was also previously released as a single on May 14. It’s a lovely mellow tune!

Reigning Sound/Let’s Do It Again

Reigning Sound are a rock and soul band founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 2001 by garage punk musician Greg Cartwright (vocals/ guitar). Apple Music describes them as blending “the hot wired energy of garage rock with the deep emotional resonance of classic soul music in a manner that suggests a cross between the early Rolling Stones and the Sonics.” Cartwright is also known for his involvement in Compulsive Gamblers and Oblivians, two other Memphis garage rock bands. Reigning Sound’s lineup has changed over the years. After their first single Two Sides to Every Man from early 2001, the band released Break Up, Break Down, their country folk-oriented debut album in May of the same year. Let’s Do It Again is the seductive opener of Reigning Sound’s eight and new studio album A Little More Time with Reigning Sound that came out on May 21. According to this Pitchfork review, it reunites Cartwright with Alex Greene (organ, guitar, backing vocals), Jeremy Scott (bass, backing vocals) and Greg Roberson (drums), the band’s lineup before Cartwright relocated to Ashville, N.C. in 2004 where he has since been based.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Murlocs Bandcamp profile; Melodic Magazine; Pitchfork; YouTube