Alrighty, it’s Wednesday and time again to prep for another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, in the context of this recurring feature, this means I need to pick another song to take with me – one bloody tune, not an album, though I’m not suggesting the latter would be much easier.
Plus, there are a few additional rules. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the silly exercise in alphabetical order.
This week I’m up to “u”. Artists (last name) and bands starting with that letter include U2, UFO, Ultravox, Umphrey’s McGee, Uncle Kracker, Uncle Tupelo, Utopia and Uriah Heep. Given my above rules, U2 and Uriah Heep are out. I also just recently wrote about Umphrey’s McGee. And since I don’t feel like dancing with tears in my eyes, Ultravox are out as well.
This still leaves me with four choices, none of which I’ve covered to date. And my pick is Utopia, aka Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Now that I’ve figured out the artist/band, the question is which song to pick? Love Is the Answer.
Written by Todd Rundgren, Love Is the Answer is a tune from Utopia’s third studio album Oops! Wrong Planet, released in September 1977. Initially, the pop-oriented song missed the charts. Two years later, American soft rock duo England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded a version of the tune and took it to no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. It also reached no. 10 on the mainstream pop chart Hot 100. Sounds very yachty!
Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:
Todd Rundgren wrote this hopeful song about the power of love for his band Utopia, which released it on their 1977 album Oops! Wrong Planet. The song became a hit in 1979 when England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded a slicker version perfect for the adult contemporary market, and scored their last of six US Top 40 hits with their cover.
In our 2015 interview with Todd Rundgren, he explained that Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet was a “bummer album,” and that they included this song on it to make it more uplifting. [Perhaps that made Rundgren want to bang the drum all day? CMM]
Todd Rundgren performed this song when he toured as part of Ringo Starr’s “All Starr Band” in 2015. Ringo insists on three hits from his guests, and along with “I Saw The Light” and “Bang the Drum All Day,” he wanted Todd to do “Hello It’s Me.” Rundgren didn’t think that one was a good fit in the set, as it’s a very introspective song and Ringo’s shows are very communal. Todd convinced him to go with “Love Is The Answer,” which he thought was the perfect song for Ringo – “Mr. Peace And Love” as Rundgren calls him. The plan worked: the song went over very well at these shows and fit the vibe perfectly.
Son Volt, an American band I only came across a few months ago, have become one of my favorite groups I’ve “discovered” this year. Over the decades, they have touched the alternative rock, alternative country, folk-rock and Americana genres. In fact, they are considered a staple of the alternative rock movement of the 1990s.
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994, following the break-up of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country-rock band he had founded in 1987 together with Jeff Tweedy. Meanwhile, Tweedy went on to form alternative rock group Wilco.
In addition to Farrar, Son Volt’s initial line-up included ex-Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn, along with brothers Dave Boquist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, lap steel, dobro) and Jim Boquist (bass, backing vocals). By the time the group had secured a deal with Warner Bros. and went into the studio to record their debut album Trace, Eric Heywood (mandolin, pedal steel) had joined them.
Trace, which came out in September 1995, is the first of 10 studio albums Son Volt have released to date, the most recent being the excellent Electro Melodier from July 30 this year. The band’s catalog also includes the 2020 live album Live At The Orange Peel. Let’s take a closer look at Trace!
I’d like to start with the opener Windfall, one of the acoustics tracks on the album. Like all except one track, the beautiful tune was penned by Farrar. I love the fiddle and pedal steel guitar, which give the song a warm country sound.
Route is a nice crunchy rocker. Apple Music notes Farrar’s Neil Young-influenced sound. This is one of the tunes that does remind me a bit of Crazy Horse.
On Ten Second News, things slow down and turn acoustic again. Another great-sounding song with a bit of a bluesy touch.
Drown, another rocker, did well on two U.S. Billboard charts: Mainstream Rock Tracks (no. 10) and Modern Rock Tracks (no. 25). According to Wikipedia, it became Son Volt’s only single to make either of the charts. I find that a bit hard to believe!
Let’s do two more, starting with another acoustic tune: Out of the Picture.
And here’s another great rocker to wrap up: Catching On.
For the above and the remaining tracks, you can check out the playlist below.
Trace was co-produced by Brian Paulson and Son Volt. Paulson is best known for his work with Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Superchunk and Wilco. He also produced Son Volt’s sophomore album Straightaways from April 1997. Other musicians on Trace include Craig Krampf (drums on Live Free), Dan Newton (accordion on Too Early) and Marc Perlman (bass on Mystifies Me).
While Trace only reached no. 166 on the Billboard 200, the album was well-received by music critics. In this context, Wikipedia highlights AllMusic’s review, which stated, “Throughout Son Volt’s debut, Trace, the group reworks classic honky tonk and rock & roll, adding a desperate, determined edge to their performances.” AmericanaUK characterized the album as “a graceful masterpiece, a positive turning of the page for Farrar, and a gentle reminder of the power and long-lasting influence of Uncle Tupelo.” The album also placed within the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 1995 critics’ list.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly recurring feature where I stretch out across different genres and different decades to celebrate music I dig, six tracks at a time. This edition features blue-eyed soul/R&B, Americana rock and Stax soul, bookended by two beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals. It touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021.
Marisa Anderson & William Tyler/Hurricane Light
Kicking off this post is beautiful instrumental music by Portland, Ore.-based guitarist and composer Marisa Anderson. From her website: Marisa Anderson channels the history of the guitar and stretches the boundaries of tradition. Her deeply original work applies elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone and 20th century classical music to compositions based on blues, jazz, gospel and country music, re-imagining the landscape of American music…Classically trained, she honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands. Originally from Northern California, Anderson dropped out of college at age nineteen to walk across the US and after more than decade of wandering landed in Portland, Oregon, where she currently lives. Hurricane Light is a track from Anderson’s new album, Lost Futures, which appeared on August 27 and which she recorded together with William Tyler, a fellow guitarist from Nashville, Tenn. I find this music super relaxing. It’s got a cinematic feel to it, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Anderson’s website also notes she writes scores for short films and soundtracks.
Let’s jump back 45 years to a very cool tune by Boz Scaggs. Lowdown, which features a seductive funky bassline and is smooth at the same time, is from Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees released in February 1976. Co-written by Scaggs and then-future Toto co-founder David Paich, the song also became the highest-charting single off the album, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2. It also charted in the UK and Australia. BTW, that neat bassline was played by David Hungate, another soon-to-become original member of Toto. And there was a third musician who would join Paich and Hungate to form Toto the following year, together with Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball: drummer Jeff Porcaro. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with them for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. He is still active and has released 19 solo albums to date, the most recent of which, Out of the Blues, appeared in July 2018.
Steve Earle & The Dukes/I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
When my streaming music provider served up I Ain’t Ever Satisfied the other day, I was immediately hooked. I’ve listened to some of Steve Earle’s catalog, but there is a lot left for me to explore. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied, written by Earle, appeared on his sophomore album Exit 0 from May 1987, which he recorded together with his backing band The Dukes. The album placed in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts at no. 90 and no. 36, respectively, and earned Earle two 1988 Grammy nominations for Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song. Earle has released 21 studio albums to date, including collaborations with Del McCoury Band and Shawn Colvin. His most recent album J.T., a tribute to his oldest son Justin Townes Earle who passed away from a drug overdose in August 2020, was released in early January this year. I previously reviewed it here.
Son Volt/Driving the View
Alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt are a recent discovery for me. They entered my radar screen with their latest album Electro Melodier, which came out at the end of July. I featured a tune from it in a previous Best of What’s Newinstallment. The group around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar was formed by him in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995. To date, the band has released 10 albums. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar), Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). Here’s Driving the View, a great track from Son Volt’s third studio album Wide Swing Tremolo that appeared in October 1998.
Wilson Pickett/In the Midnight Hour
Next we’re going back to 1965 and Memphis, Tenn. for some sweet soul music recorded at the Stax studio. By the time Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett recorded In the Midnight Hour, Stax founder Jim Stewart had signed a formal national distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a contract that would come to haunt him when Atlantic Records was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967 and Stax would lose the rights to all Atlantic-distributed recordings between 1960 and 1967. Coming back to a happier subject, In the Midnight Hour was co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, a founding member of Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.s, who also was the label’s A&R man. M.G.s members Al Jackson Jr. (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) participated in the recording session. In the Midnight Hour, which appeared in June 1965, also was the title track of Pickett’s sophomore album released the same year. The tune became Pickett’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and his highest charting song at the time on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, where it reached no. 21. Just a timeless soul classic!
Robben Ford/A Dragon Tail
For the last track in this installment, we’re going back to the present time and a killer instrumental by guitarist extraordinaire Robben Ford, off his new album Pure that came out on August 27. Ford, who began playing the saxophone at age 10 before he discovered the guitar as a 13-year-old, has had a remarkable career. He has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Charlie Musselwhite, Larry Carlton and Little Feat, among many others. His solo debut Schizophonic, a jazz album, came out in 1976. Ford has since released close to 30 additional records under his name. This doesn’t include any of his collaboration albums. While primarily being associated with blues, Ford has played many other genres, including jazz, rock and funk. He has been nominated for five Grammys and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by trade publication Musician magazine that folded in 1999. Here’s A Dragon Tail from Ford’s above mentioned new album. Check out this amazing sound!
Sources: Wikipedia; Marissa Anderson website; YouTube
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to another installment looking at newly released music, which oftentimes features artists and bands I encounter for the first time. This week, it’s a blend of new and familiar names, including what perhaps is my favorite contemporary band and an artist I first discovered through Best of What’s New last October. Let’s do it!
If you are a more frequent visitor of the blog, you will likely have seen previous posts about Southern Avenue. This cool group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. Their members include guitarist Ori Naftaly, who originally hails from Israel; sisters Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals) and Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals); as well as Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). From the time I first came across Southern Avenue in July 2017, thanks to a post by fellow blogger Music Enthusiast, I’ve dug this band. Control, co-written by Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson and released yesterday (August 13), is the latest single from Southern Avenue’s upcoming third studio album Be the Love You Want scheduled for August 27 – yet another great tune with killer vocals and an infectious groove!
A Great Big Pile of Leaves/Halloween
A Great Big Pile of Leaves is what I face around my house each autumn – actually make that many! It also is the name of an indie rock band from Brooklyn, New York. I can safely say I much prefer the group over the piles of autumn leaves! According to their Apple Musicprofile, they were founded by guitarist/singer Pete Weiland and drummer Tyler Soucy, Connecticut natives who moved to New York after their band Farewell to Arms split up in 2007. Their sound was rooted in both breezy classic indie pop and ’90s American underground acts like the Dismemberment Plan. The duo worked on and self-released two EPs, Fiery Works, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. After the release of these recordings, they expanded to include Tucker Yaro and Matt Fazzi. As the band gained momentum, they began touring, eventually doing shows with Saves the Day, Motion City Soundtrack, and Say Anything. In 2010 they completed their first full-length album Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?. Fast-forward to August 13, 2021 and Pono, the band’s third studio album, their first new one in eight years. Somewhere along the way, Fazzi departed, making A Great Big Pile of Leaves a trio. Here’s Halloween credited to the group.
Son Volt/The Globe
Son Volt are an alternative country and Americana rock band around singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar. Farrar formed the group in 1994 after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, another alt. country outfit he had co-founded in 1987. Son Volt’s studio debut Trace appeared in September 1995. The band has since released nine additional records, including the latest, Electro Melodier, which came out on July 30. The group’s line-up has changed over the years. In addition to Farrar, the current members include Chris Frame (guitar), Mark Spencer (keyboards, steel guitar), Andrew DuPlantis (bass) and Mark Patterson (drums). Here’s The Globe, which like all other tracks on the album was written by Farrar. The band’s website calls out the Moog line from Won’t Get Fooled Again – something I hadn’t noticed at first. It’s at around 2:13 minutes. The tune reminds me more of Bruce Springsteen than The Who – check it out!
Daniel Romano/Nocturne Child
Let’s wrap up things for this week with an artist I first featured in a Best of What’s Newinstallment last October: Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Romano. From that post: Wikipedia describes Daniel Romano (born Daniel Travis Romano in 1985) as a Canadian musician, poet and visual artist based out of his hometown of Welland, Ontario. He is primarily known as a solo artist, though he is also a member of [Canadian indie rock band]Attack in Black and has collaborated with [fellow Canadian music artists]Julie Doiron and Frederick Squire. He has also produced and performed with City and Colour, the recording project of Dallas Green[another Canadian music artist]…and is a partner in his own independent record label, You’ve Changed Records. Romano is a prolific artist. His solo debut Workin’ for the Music Man appeared in 2010. He has since released 12 additional albums under his name. Only since last year, he has also issued seven records together with his road band The Outfit as Daniel Romano’s Outfit. And this doesn’t count various additional collaboration albums. Nocturne Child, written by Romano, is a single that appeared on July 16 from yet another Daniel Romano’s Outfit album, Cobra Poems, scheduled for September 10. Check out the Stonesy guitars – love it!
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Son Volt website; YouTube