Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New where I typically highlight four new songs. Since I only started paying closer attention to contemporary music on a regular basis when launching this weekly recurring feature close to two years ago, most of the artists included in these posts are new to me. In this installment, that’s the case for my first three picks. The last is one of my longtime favorite artists.

Johnny Marr/Lightning People

I’d like to start with new music by English guitarist and singer-songwriter Johnny Marr, who first gained prominence in the ’80s as a co-founder of English indie rock band The Smiths. Following the group’s break-up, Marr played in various other bands, including Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. In February 2013, Marr released his solo debut album The Messenger, which climbed to no. 10 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. Two additional albums have since come out and another one, Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4, is scheduled for February 25, 2022. Marr has started to release songs from the forthcoming record as EPs. Here’s Lightning People, a track from Fever Dreams Pt. 2 that came out yesterday (December 17). Like the other three songs on the EP, it was co-written by him and James Doviak, co-producer and guitarist in Marr’s band. Sounds pretty good to me!

Arlie/Crashing Down

Arlie are an indie rock band from Nashville. Essentially, that’s all I know, based on this short review in Melodic Magazine. Apple Music lists an EP, Wait, from September 2018, and six singles including the latest titled Crashing Down that appeared on December 14. The tune was co-written by Hayes Helsper and Nathaniel Banks. “”Crashing down” is about this feeling of “everything I’ve built my sense of security upon might suddenly crumble” and how that can really make you re-evaluate your priorities,” Banks who is the band’s lead vocalist told Melodic Magazine. “It’s about how a dream scared me enough to snap me out of taking a lot of things for granted, and enough to make me realize how much I care about being in the physical presence of the people I love most.” When listening to the tune’s upbeat music without paying attention to the lyrics, you’d never guess the song’s topic.

Jack Kays & Travis Barker/Sideways

In connection with his debut album Mixed Emotions from January this year, Apple Music describes Jack Kays as a multi-talented artist who creates a blend of emo rap, pop-punk, and folk music that boldly grapples with questions of insecurity and addiction. This description also is a good fit for Sideways, a track from My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP released December 10. Kays recorded it with Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. According to this press release, the 4-track project continues Jack’s exploration of themes surrounding mental health. The release also quotes Kays: “I feel like society loves to romanticize the successful recovery from mental illness but doesn’t like to address people during the process as they’re trying to combat and overcome it. When people listen to this project, I want those who are experiencing that to feel heard and feel accepted.” Here’s the official video.

John Mellencamp/Chasing Rainbows

Rounding out this post is John Mellencamp whose music I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years. I trust the heartland straight-turned-roots rocker doesn’t need an introduction. Arguably, Seymour, Ind.’s most famous son who turned 70 on October 7, Mellencamp has been active for 45 years. Chasing Rainbows, released December 10, is the second upfront track from his upcoming 24th studio album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack, scheduled for January 21, 2022. Co-written by Mellencamp and John Young, the tune follows Wasted Days, which appeared on September 29 and features Bruce Springsteen. Previously, I wrote about it here. Chasing Rainbows is another reason I look forward to the new album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Melodic Magazine; Apple Music; Columbia Records press release; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The J. Geils Band/The J. Geils Band

Ultimate party band’s studio debut went largely unnoticed

At first sight it’s somewhat puzzling. When The J. Geils Band released their eponymous studio debut in November 1970, they already had established themselves as a dynamic live act opening shows all around the country for top-notch artists like B.B. King, Johnny Winter and The Allman Brothers Band. Yet this dynamite album went largely unnoticed, barely making the Billboard 200 at no. 195, and not charting at all in other countries.

I was reminded how great this record is when Apple Music served it up to me as a listening suggestion. I also think this observation from their bio of the band is spot on: While their muscular sound and the hyper jive of frontman Peter Wolf packed arenas across America, it only rarely earned them hit singles. Seth Justman, the group’s main songwriter, could turn out catchy R&B-based rockers like “Give It To Me” and “Must Of Got Lost,” but these hits never led to stardom, primarily because the group had trouble capturing the energy of its live sound in the studio.

J. Geils Band 1970
The J. Geils Band (promotional photo from 1970)

The J. Geils Band started out as an acoustic blues trio in the mid-’60s, calling themselves Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels (clearly a ’60s name!) and consisting of J. Geils (guitar), Danny Klein (bass) and Richard Salwitz, known as “Magic Dick” (harmonica). In 1968, the band adopted an electric sound, hired Stephen Bladd (drums) and Peter Wolf (vocals), and became The J. Geils Blues Band. They completed their line-up when Seth Justman (keyboards) joined later that year. By the time they signed with Atlantic Records in 1970, the band had dropped “Blues” from their name and become The J. Geils Band.

Time for some music. Here’s the great opener Wait. One of the album’s five original tunes, it was co-written by Justman and Wolf.

Next up: Icebreaker (For The Big “M”), an excellent instrumental composed by Geils. Check out the cool guitar and harmonica harmony playing. This tune is cooking, even without Wolf’s vocals!

Hard Drivin’ Man is another terrific original track. It was co-written by Wolf and Geils.

I’d like to conclude this post with two covers by The J. Geils Band I’ve always liked. The first is called Homework, a tune co-written by Otis Rush, Al Perkins and Dave Clark. I believe the song was first recorded and released as a single in 1965 by Perkins and soul singer Betty Bibbs.

Last but not least, here’s First I Look At The Purse. Initially recorded by Motown act The Contours in 1965, the tune was co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers. It’s perhaps the example on the album, which best illustrates the above observation from the Apple Music bio. While it’s a great take, it feels a bit timid compared to the live version that can be found on the excellent Live Full House album from September 1972.

The J. Geils Band would go and record 10 additional studio albums and three live records, and release various compilations. Only one of their ’70s studio records, Bloodshot, charted in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 at no. 10. Ironically, shortly after the band finally hit commercial success with Freeze-Frame from October 1981, fueled by the singles Centerfold and the title track, The J. Geils Band started to fall apart.

Peter Wolf left in 1983. The band released one more album in October 1984, You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd, and called it quits the following year. The J. Geils Band has since reunited for various tours. In 2012, J. Geils who after the 1985 breakup had gotten into auto racing and restoration, sewed the other band members, charging they had planned a tour without him. He quit permanently thereafter and sadly passed away in April 2017 at the age of 71.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, YouTube