Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to my latest look at newly-released music, which is slightly delayed due to a very busy week on the home and work fronts. But the show must go on, even if it’s a bit later than usual, so let’s get to it right away. Except for the final tracks, all songs appear on releases that dropped yesterday (November 5).

David Nail/Comeback History

First up is the latest by David Nail, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment in December 2020. Nail who, grew up in Kennett, Mo., recorded an eponymous album in 2002, which generated a charting country single, Memphis, but due to staff changes at his then-label Universal Music Group Nashville, the record never appeared. His first released album became the appropriately titled I’m About to Come Alive in August 2009. After putting out three more solo albums, Nail formed David Nail & The Well Ravens in July 2018, an independent project with longtime colleagues Jason Hall and Andrew Petroff. They independently released the album Only This And Nothing More in September 2018. This bring me to Comeback History, a track off Nail’s new solo solo EP Bootheel 2021. It’s another great song that once again reminds me a bit of Bruce Springsteen. Check it out!

Emma Ruth Rundle/Return

On to another American singer-songwriter, Emma Ruth Rundle, who was born in Los Angeles is based in Seattle, Wa. From her Apple Music profile: The singer and guitarist for California post-rock/psych-metal outfit Marriages, a member of Isis-connected post-rockers Red Sparowes, and frontwoman for atmospheric psych-folk/slowcore collective Nocturnes, singer/songwriter, guitarist, and visual artist Emma Ruth Rundle is also an accomplished solo artist. Since debuting in 2014 with the acclaimed gothic folk/post-rock effort Some Heavy Ocean, Rundle has issued a string of evocative albums, including a 2020 collaboration with Louisiana sludge metallers Thou and 2021’s stripped-down and unflinching Engine of Hell. Here’s Return, the opener of the aforementioned Engine of Hell. The haunting song and Rundle’s vocals make for a powerful combination that drew me in right away.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats/The Future

Denver, Colo.-based Americana-influenced singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff is best known as frontman of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, a band he formed in 2013. Prior to launching The Nights Sweats and a solo career, Rateliff founded two other groups, Born in the Flood and The Wheel, and released an album with each, If This Thing Should Spill (February 2007) and Desire and Dissolving Men (November 2007), respectively. The latter could be viewed as his debut solo album. The first record to appear under Rateliff’s name only was In Memory of Loss from May 2010. Fast-forward 11 years to The Future, the third and new album by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Here’s the title track. The warm roots sound is right up my alley. The horns add a great soulful vibe. Great music I got to check out more closely!

Jane Lee Hooker/All Good Things

I’d like to wrap up this installment with the latest single from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jane Lee Hooker, a great female-led blues rock band I’ve featured several times on the blog before, for example here and here. Here’s All Good Things, the band’s third new single this year, which came out on October 29. Here’s more from a press release: The origin of All Good Things goes back to August of 2020 when, in addition to dealing with the Covid pandemic, guitarist Tracy Hightop’s NJ neighborhood was hit with a severe storm that ravaged the area and knocked out power in the community. With her family headed out of town, Tracy was left at home with her two French bulldogs, no electricity and a small fan plugged into a neighbor’s generator. “That first night they were gone was miserable – the storm left the weather so hot and humid.” Hightop recalls. “I made my way through a couple bottles of wine that evening before falling asleep on the couch with the dogs. When I woke up the next morning the electricity was still off, I was hung-over as hell, it was still very warm and the sound of the generators was deafening. I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone and came across an old photo of Howlin’ Wolf with his guitar, drinking out of a bottle of whiskey – and I thought this picture is exactly how I feel right now. I picked up my Gibson Hummingbird and as soon as I started playing, All Good Things came pouring out. I recorded a rough version on my phone and sent it to (singer) Dana…” [Dana Athens – CMM]. All Good Things was produced and mixed by Matt Chiaravalle (Joe Bonamassa, Warren Zevon, Courtney Love), and mastered by Grammy winner Emily Lazar (Foo Fighters, Garbage, Beck, The Killers, Linkin Park). While the tune’s origins sound like a classic blues story, the outcome is actually a feel-good blues rocker. The tune will also appear on the band’s upcoming new album Rollin’ slated for January 2022. Looking forward to that one!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jane Lee Hooker press release; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jackson Browne/For Everyman

The other day, I found myself listening to Redneck Friend, a great early rocker by Jackson Browne. This prompted me to pull up For Everyman, Browne’s sophomore album that came out in October 1973. While he’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve listened to him for 40 years, for the most part, I really didn’t know this record. Just like for many other artists I dig, I’m mostly familiar with certain songs and perhaps a handful of albums. It didn’t take me long to recognize what a gem For Everyman is, and I decided then and there to blog about it once I would get a chance.

As I started reading up on the album, one of the things that struck me first is the impressive cast of guests. David Crosby, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt are among Browne’s songwriter peers. In addition, you have top notch session musicians like David Lindley, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel, David Paich and Leland Sklar. Kunkel and Sklar were part of The Section, a group of top-notch musicians who together or individually backed the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Warren Zevon and, well, Jackson Browne.

While I completely realize that having high-caliber guests on an album doesn’t automatically guarantee high quality, a good rule of thumb is that great artists play with other great artists. These guys knew what they had in Jackson Browne. Yes, he already had released his well received eponymous debut album in January 1972. And, yes, he had written songs since the mid-’60s and given the Eagles their first single and top 40 U.S. hit with Take It Easy. Still, I find it impressive how well established the then-25-year-old artist already was at this early stage in his own recording career.

Let’s get to some music. Here’s Browne’s version of the aforementioned Take It Easy, the album’s opener. Originally, Browne began work on the song in 1971 and wanted to include it on his debut album. But he couldn’t finish it at the time. When he played the unfinished tune to his friend Glenn Frey, who lived in the same building, Frey completed the song and received a co-writing credit. At first, I preferred the Eagles’ version but over time, I’ve increasingly come to like Browne’s recording and now dig it at least as much as the rendition by the Eagles. That sweet pedal steel guitar was provided by Sneaky Pete Kleinow, an original member of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

What can I say about Colors of the Sun other than it’s a beautiful singer-songwriter type song. In addition to singing lead, Brown played piano on this track. Don Henley provided harmony vocals. It’s simply a great tune – no need to over-analyze. The neat acoustic guitar fill-ins were provided by David Lindley, an incredible musician who bears a significant degree of responsibility for the album’s great sound.

The last track on side one is These Days, a song Browne wrote as a 16-year-old. German singer-songwriter Nico was the first of many artists to record the tune. It was included on her debut album Chelsea Girl from October 1967. Another great version appeared in October 1973 on Gregg Allman’s first solo album Laid Back. Until Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood came out in September 2017, which features Browne as a guest on Allman’s cover of Brown’s Song for Adam, I had no idea these seemingly very different artists had great appreciation of each other and had been good friends. The beautiful harmony vocals on Browne’s original were provided by Doug Haywood who also played a great bass line. Once again Lindley shined, this time on slide guitar.

One to side two and the first track there, Redneck Friend, the tune that prompted my deep exploration of this album. This is one seductive melodic rocker featuring a killer cast of guests: Lindley (slide guitar), Elton John (piano) and Frey (backing vocals), along with Haywood (bass) and Keltner (drums). In addition to lead vocals, Browne provided rhythm guitar. Redneck Friend was also released separately as a single. While it spent 10 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, it only peaked at no. 85, significantly lower than Browne’s previous two singles Rock Me On the Water (no. 48) and Doctor, My Eyes (no. 8).

Next up: The Times You’ve Come. In addition to the track’s great melody, the standout to me is the melodic bass part by Leland Sklar – absolutely beautiful! I also want to call out Bonnie Raitt who sang harmony and Lindley’s acoustic guitar work.

This brings me to the title track, which is the album’s closer. The idea of the song came to Browne while he was temporarily living with David Crosby on his boat in the San Francisco Bay and met two of Crosby’s neighbors who also owned boats. All three boat owners shared the vision to escape on their boats and create a new civilization elsewhere – essentially the same theme Crosby, Stills & Nash had voiced on their 1969 single Wooden Ships. For Everyone featured Crosby on harmony vocals. Sklar (bass) and Lindley (acoustic and electric guitar) once again were among Browne’s backing musicians.

For Everyman was produced by Jackson Browne. Just like his eponymous debut album, For Everyman made the U.S. and Australian mainstream album charts, reaching no. 43 and no. 48, respectively. It was ranked at no. 450 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 edition of the list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album didn’t make the most recent revision from September 2020. While Browne’s Mount Rushmore Running on Empty was still four years away, For Everyman is a great early album by a singer-songwriter who after a close to 50-year recording career as a solo artist is still going strong.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Church/ Starfish

Australian rock band’s 1988 breakthrough remains great-sounding album to this day

Like I suspect most folks living outside of Australia, I first heard about The Church in the late 1980s when they released Under The Milky Way. The tune’s spacey sound created by combining a 12-string acoustic with an electric guitar and keyboards in the background proofed to be an immediate attraction and made me buy the album Starfish on CD, even though I didn’t know any of the other tracks. Clearly, this was in the pre-streaming age where somebody like me who wasn’t much into singles had to buy entire albums to own certain songs.

Released in February 1988, Starfish was the Australian rock band’s international breakthrough, fueled by Under The Milky Way, the lead single that got plenty of radio play in Germany. While the lyrics of this and the other tracks on Starfish are rather dark and psychedelic, the combination of great sound and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey’s distinct voice make for an album that continues to be seductive to this day. I can’t necessarily say this about many other ’80s records.

the church 1988

The Church in 1988

The Church were formed in Sydney, Australia in March 1980. The founding members included singer, songwriter and bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. Marty Wilson-Piper joined one month later as the band’s second guitarist. Later that year, The Church signed with EMI-Parlophone and recorded their debut Of Skins And Heart. It was released in Australia in April 1981 and internationally the following January as The Church with a slightly altered track listing.

Starfish was the band’s fifth studio record. By then Richard Ploog had taken over on drums for Nick Ward, who had left in early 1981. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by session musicians and producers Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi. At the time, Wachtel who more recently played in Keith Richard’s backing band X-Pensive Winos, already had worked with other heavy weights, such as Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt. Ladanyi had an impressive credits as well, including production work with the likes of Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Don Henley. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the album’s great opener Destination. The tune, which also came out separately as the record’s third single in July 1988, was credited to all four members of The Church.

Next is the aforementioned Under The Milky Way. How could I possibly skip it? The song was co-written by Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow).

According to the record’s description on Apple Music, the lyrics for North, South, East And West reflect Kilbey’s dark impressions about Los Angeles in the ’80s. Here’s an excerpt:  War’s being waged and the world’s just a stage (in this city)/The real estate’s prime, the number plates rhyme (liquidity)/Wear a gun and be proud, but bare breasts aren’t allowed (in this city)/ Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams (liquidity)…The tune was credited to all members of the band.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Spark. The song was written by guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper who also sang lead.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Reptile. Credited to all four band members, the song also was released separately as the album’s second single in April 1988. Another track featuring great interplay between the two guitars, it sounds a bit like combining a Byrdsy jingle-jangle with a U2/The Edge-like guitar sound.

Since Starfish, The Church have recorded 12 additional studio albums to date, the latest of which, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, appeared in October 2017. I previously reviewed it hereStarfish remains the band’s most successful commercial release to this day. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1992 and has sold 600,000 copies in the U.S. only.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube