The Year That Was 2019

Highlights of my rock & roll journey during the past 12 months

It feels unreal to me Christmas and New Year’s are upon us again – not to mention a new decade! I still recall a conversation with a school friend when we were 12 years old. He and I imagined where we might be when the year 2000 comes. At the time, the turn of the century was still more than two decades out. It seemed so far away. Now, not only has 2000 come and go, but we’re 20 years down the road, baby – crazy how time flies!

Well, this post doesn’t span decades. The idea is much more moderate: Looking back at my personal music journey over the past 12 months, as documented by this blog. While to some extent it reflects what happened in music this year, it’s not a broad review piece. Since I mostly listen to ’60s and ’70s artists or new music they release, I couldn’t do a legitimate comprehensive look-back on 2019 in music.

In the past, I’ve said more than once most new music nowadays lacks true craftsmanship and sounds generic and soulless to me. And while I still largely ignore what dominates today’s charts, I’ve finally come to accept contemporary music isn’t inherently bad. It’s just different and I generally don’t like it. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to. There’s so much “old” music out there I’ve yet to discover, and while artists may retire or pass away, their music will stay. Forever. That’s the beauty of music. It means for those of us who dig it, rock & roll will never die! Okay, enough with the wise-cracking and on to some highlights of my music journey this year.

Concerts

As a retired band-turned-closet musician, live music remains the ultimate thrill to me. Yes, ticket prices continue to be outrageous for most top acts, and that’s not going to change. But this hasn’t deterred me yet from seeing artists I dig. However, it did require being more selective (for example, I skipped Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers,¬†since I had seen both in 2018) and oftentimes settling for cheaper seats.

My two concert highlights this year were The Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in early August and The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May. I had seen both before, but since they are among my longtime favorite bands and in the twilight of their careers, I simply did not want to miss the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to catch both, especially The Who. At the time I bought my ticket, I had not realized this wasn’t a “regular” gig but The Who backed by a symphonic orchestra. Had I understood this, it may have deterred me. But the concept worked pretty well, so I’m happy I didn’t read the fine print! Here’s a clip from each show: Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Love Reign O’er Me, two tunes that will never go out of style in my book!

I also saw various other great shows: Walter Trout (The Iridium, New York, April 9), Joe Jackson (State Theatre, New Jersey, New Brunswick, May 18), Govt’ Mule (The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, N.J., June 28), Southern Avenue (The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J., July 11) and Hall & Oates (Fairgrounds, Allentown, Pa.). I wouldn’t have gone to that last concert, had it not been for my wife. While I wouldn’t call myself a Hall & Oates fan, it was a great show.

As King/Emperor of Tribute Bands (blame Music Enthusiast for the title! ūüôā ), this concert section wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the many tribute shows that continued to attract me. I know some folks roll their eyes when they hear the word tribute band. I find nothing wrong listening to music I dig, especially when it’s faithfully captured. Among the many tribute concerts I saw, two stood out: Pink Floyd tribute Brit Floyd (Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, Pa., March 30) and the annual Rock The Farm Tribute Festival (Seaside Heights, N.J., September 28). Here’s a clip from the Brit Floyd gig: Comfortably Numb¬†– epic!

And then there’s of course Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. I finally got to see the director’s cut of the documentary on the big screen. While I can’t deny 224 minutes is pretty massive, I enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s the main post I did to commemorate the festival. And here’s a clip of one of the most iconic rock performances of all time: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends.

New Music

As stated above, for the most part, new music means new albums released by “old” artists I dig. As I looked back through my previous posts, I was surprised to find that I reviewed 22 new albums. Granted this number includes three live albums (The Doobie Brothers/Live From The Beacon Theatre, The Rolling Stones/Bridges To Bremen¬†and Paul McCartney/Amoeba Gig) and an excellent posthumous compilation by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (The Best Of Everything), which do not feature new music. Even if you exclude these, it still leaves you with 18 albums. This makes me wonder what I would do if I also paid more attention to contemporary artists. It pretty much would be impossible to review their new music as well, given I have a family and a full-time job – another good reason to focus on what I truly¬†dig! ūüôā

Albums by “old hands” I’d like to call out are The Who (WHO), Booker T. (Note By Note), Neil Young (Colorado), Ringo Starr (What’s My Name), Santana (Africa Speaks),¬† Little Steven And The Disciples of Soul (Summer of Sorcery), Joe Jackson Fool¬†and Sheryl Crow (Threads). One artist who seems to be missing here is Bruce Springsteen and Western Stars. While I dig Springsteen and don’t think it’s a bad record, it just doesn’t speak to me the way other music by The Boss does, so I ended up skipping a review. Crow said Threads is her final full-fledged release, explaining in the age of streaming music, most people make playlists and no longer listen to entire albums. Boy, this statement really reflects how much listening habits and the music business have changed! Here’s Live Wire, a nice bluesy tune co-written by Crow and Jeff Trott and featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples.

There were also some new blues releases I enjoyed by both older and younger artists, including Walter Trout (Blues Survivor), Jimmie Vaughan (Baby, Please Come Home),¬†Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (The Traveler) and “wunderkind” Jontavious Willis (Spectacular Class), as Taj Mahal has called him. How about some music from Willis’ sophomore album? By the way, it was executive-produced by Mahal. Here’s opener Low Down Ways.

I also would like to call out albums from three other contemporary artists:¬†Rick Barth (Fade), SUSTO (Ever Since I Lost My Mind) and¬†Southern Avenue (Keep On). If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall Southern Avenue is one of the very few young bands I truly dig. I just love how these guys blend blues, soul and R&B, and the vocals are just killer! Here’s the title track from the above album, which is their second one. The tune was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly, lead vocalist Tierini Jackson¬†and producer¬†Johnny Black. There’s just something about Southern Avenue’s sound I find really seductive.

Coolest Clip

I think I came across a number of great clips I posted throughout the year. One of the best has to be this footage of The Who performing Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s the raw power of rock & roll! It was filmed on May 25, 1978 at England‚Äôs Shepperton Studios, about 20 miles southwest of London, for the closing sequence of the band‚Äôs rockumentary¬†The Kids Are Alright. And then, there’s this very different but equally mesmerizing clip: a live demonstration of the Hammond B3 by the amazing Booker T. Jones. To really get excited about it, I realize maybe you need to be a musician.

And Finally…

2019 marks the third full year I’m doing this blog. While I really wanted to start writing about my passion, I wasn’t sure whether I could keep it going when I set out in June 2016. Due to personal reasons, I had to slow down a bit during the past couple of months. But music and writing about artists I dig is therapy to me, so I have every intention to continue and hopefully pick up the pace again. When starting the blog, I also felt I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, not to become some “Internet sensation.”¬†While that is still the case, I can’t deny it’s great to see visitors and that traffic has trended up nicely. Of course, growing from tiny numbers is relatively easy, and there is realistically no way I can keep up the current momentum.

Blog Stats

I’m leaving you with a clip from my most popular post this year (measured by total views): The above mentioned Rock The Farm Tribute Festival. The positive reception made me really happy, since it’s great music for a great cause. Here’s It’s Late by Canadian Queen tribute Simply Queen.

I’d like to thank all visitors for reading and especially those who go through the trouble of leaving comments. I always love getting feedback, even if I may not agree with everything folks say. But that’s cool.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Emoji

Sources: Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

Southern Avenue Keep On Delivering Distinct Blend of Powerful Soul, Blues And R&B On New Album

Southern Avenue¬†perhaps couldn’t have chosen a better title for their sophomore album. Released yesterday,¬†Keep On continues¬†to effectively draw from different musical backgrounds¬†of the band’s members. Southern Avenue skillfully blend¬†Stax-style soul with blues, R&B, gospel, funk and rock. The result is powerful music combining familiar with new influences and a sound that has noticeably matured and become more distinct since the band’s eponymous debut from February 2017.

The five-piece band from Memphis, Tenn. has been on my radar screen since I listened to the first album about two years ago. I also witnessed what a great live act Southern Avenue are when I saw them in New York City last August. At the time, I briefly chatted with guitarist Ori Naftaly, who mentioned their new album. My anticipation grew further with the release of the lead single Whiskey Love in early April, followed by the appearance of the second single Savior.

For brief background, Southern Avenue were founded in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierini Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell¬†on keyboards rounds out the band’s core line-up. Bassist¬†Gage Markey has been a touring member for the past couple of years and also plays¬†on the new record. Southern Avenue took their name from a street that¬†runs from East Memphis to ‚ÄúSoulsville,‚ÄĚ the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they are not a Stax revival act.

Southern Avenue_Keep On Press Photo
Southern Avenue (from left): Tierini Jackson, Jeremy Powell, Gage Markey, Tikyra Jackson and Ori Naftaly

Keep On features some impressive guests. In this context, I first would like to mention the great horn section comprised of saxophonist Art Edmaiston and trumpet player Mark Franklin. They are an important factor for the above noted more mature sound. Edmaiston has played with artists like Levon Helm and Gregg Allman, while Franklin  has supported sessions for the likes of Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Solomon Burke and Booker T. & the M.G.s. Another prominent guest is William Bell, who is perhaps best known for co-writing Born Under a Bad Sign with Booker T. Jones. The tune was first recorded by Albert King in 1967 and popularized by Cream the following year.

Alright, I think it’s time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. Co-written by Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black, the tune is a nice example of how Southern Avenue blend different genres. Naftaly clearly is a blues guitarist at heart and I can hear some Cream in his cool riff. The horns add a dose of soul while Jackson’s strong vocals throw in some R&B.

Since I previously wrote about the first two singles Whiskey Love and Savior, I’m skipping these great tracks here and jump to the nice funky¬†Switchup. Like the title track, the song is co-credited to Naftaly, Jackson and Black.

Next up: Lucky. Co-written by Naftaly and Jackson, this song has a beautiful retro Stax vibe to it. But, as if to emphasize that Southern Avenue don’t want to be a retro Memphis soul band, Naftaly throws in a fairly rock-oriented guitar solo.

Another great number is Jive, a co-write by Naftaly, Black and both Jackson sisters. I dig the tune’s driving beat, which makes you want to get up and dance. The horns and the backing vocals set great accents.

On the upbeat¬†We’ve Got The Music,¬†William Bell joins Tierini Jackson¬†on vocals. Bell also shares writing credits with Naftaly and her. I like the song’s message about the power of music and how it can bridge differences among people: If you don’t look like me/If you don’t talk like me, that’s alright/We’ve got the music/If you don’t know my face/But you’re feeling the sound, it’s okay/We’ve got the music…

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer We’re Gonna Make It. I think music publication No Depression¬†nicely described the tune in their review of Keep On. “This gospel-inflected song opens with a nod to Sam Cooke‚Äôs ‚ÄúA Change is Gonna Come,‚ÄĚ and builds a message of love, persistence, and encouragement layer-by-layer. The song takes up where the Staple Singers left off, carrying the torch of hope in a world of darkness and giving us a new anthem for these times.”

‚ÄúMaking this album was an interesting journey,‚ÄĚ Ori explained. ‚ÄúOur first album was recorded very fast and released very fast. With this one, we spent a long time planning, and we knew how we wanted it sound. For me, it‚Äôs a big progression from the first album.‚ÄĚ Added Tierini:¬†‚ÄúThe experience was completely different from making the first one. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the band.‚ÄĚ

One of the cool things about Keep On is that the album was recorded at Sam Phillips Recording. The studio was opened in Memphis in 1960 by no one other than legendary Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips, who worked with artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and B.B. King. Wow, one can only imagine what it must have felt like for this young band to record in that studio Рthe thought of it gives me goosebumps!

Southern Avenue In Concert

‚ÄúThe thing that stood out most to me about Southern Avenue is their dedication to making this record ‚Äėthe hard way‚Äô,‚ÄĚ stated producer¬†Johnny Black. ‚ÄúEven in their selection of studios; by picking Sam Phillips Recording, the band, in essence, forced themselves to record within the same parameters as some of their heroes. And while that process may have taken extra time, it was well worth the effort.‚ÄĚ In my humble opinion, I think Black is spot on.

Southern Avenue currently is where they seem to be most of the time – on the road. Their tour schedule is packed between now and mid-November and mostly includes U.S. dates. From late May to mid-June, the band is also playing a series of shows in Europe. I have no doubt Southern Avenue will keep on wowing audiences with their performances that are passionate, authentic and humble at the same time. As a communications professional, I also have to commend the band for their effective use of Facebook to build their fan base. I’m planning to catch them again on July 11 during Jams on the Sand, a free outdoor event in Asbury Park, N.J.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website, William Bell website, No Depression, YouTube

1,100 Miles From Memphis, Keeping It Real With Funky Blues And Soul

Southern Avenue shines live in New York City

Southern Avenue has been on my radar screen since I listened to their great eponymous debut album a year ago. When I learned the funky blues and soul band was coming to New York City, I decided right away that I wanted to see them. And so I did, Tuesday night at Joe’s Pub at The Public, a terrific small music venue in the Big Apple’s West Village. The band’s powerful performance made it worth every minute!

Founded in Memphis in 2015, Southern Avenue include¬†Tierini Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Ori Naftaly (guitar), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Gage Markey (bass), who is a touring member. According the band’s website, they are named after a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of the legdendary¬†Stax Records.

Southern Avenue
Southern Avenue (left to right): Tikyra Jackson, Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and Jeremy Powell

Naftaly, a blues guitarist who came to Memphis from Israel in 2013 for a blues competition, decided to stay and tour the U.S. with his own band. Later he met Memphis native Tierini Jackson and immediately was impressed with her powerful voice. Soon thereafter, they started writing music together. Tierini introduced him to her sister, other members joined the band, and they began touring in the U.S. and Europe.

Less than a year after their formation, Southern Avenue got a contract with none other than Stax Records.¬†Sure, that label has seen many changes since the days of¬†Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and its house band Booker T. & The M.G.s. Still, appearing on a label that’s associated with such a glorious history is pretty cool! Southern Avenue’s¬†eponymous debut studio album was released in February 2017. It entered the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 and topped the iTunes Blues Chart, an impressive and well-deserved showing. Time to get to some music.

Tuesday night’s set predominantly featured tunes from the band’s debut album, along with various covers, such as great takes of¬†Chain Of Fools, first recorded by Aretha Franklin in November 1967, and Come Together by The Beatles, the opener of the Abbey Road album from September 1969. Here’s a clip of Wildflower, an original song from the band’s first record.

I do not know the title of the tune featured in the next clip. I believe it is also an original song. Since it is not included on the band’s debut album, I assume it hasn’t been released yet.

Next up is one of my Southern Avenue favorites, 80 Miles From Memphis. I just love the bluesy groove of that tune! When I told Naftaly during a meet and greet with the band after the show that I had noticed they had slowed it down a bit, he explained that was done deliberately. The speed of the tune varies based on the audience and where it is in the set during the show. If it’s more of a blues crowd or they use it to warm up the audience, the band speeds it up. Last night, it came right before the closer Don’t Give Up, a slower tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, the opener of Southern Avenue’s debut album. It nicely illustrates Tierini’s powerful voice, who is often supported by her sister on harmony vocals. When I asked Tierini¬†where she had learned to sing like this, she mentioned the church and that her parents were musicians. One really wonders what soul would be without gospel music and church choirs!

Commenting on Tueday night’s set overall, Naftaly said they mostly filled it with slower and quieter songs, given the small size of the venue. He added if they would have rocked with full force, they would have blown away the audience – I actually would have been fine with that, though blew me away in a different manner! ūüôā When I told Tierini that unlike what’s mostly in the charts today I love their music, she moderately replied, “We’re trying to keep it real.”

Asked by somebody else when their next album is coming out, Naftaly said it will be released in February, hinting it is ready. In the meantime, Southern Avenue will continue to tour. The schedule on their Facebook page lists gigs until March 1, 2017. Upcoming shows are in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Aug 30), East Stroudsburg, Pa. (Aug 31) and Effingham, Ill (Sep 1). This is an exciting young band I will continue to follow.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website and Facebook page, YouTube