Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Usually, I keep my forays into newly released music to four tunes. This installment includes two more tracks. Why? Easy, ‘coz I can! On a more serious note, unlike other weeks where I feel more challenged to find music that sufficiently speaks to me, I discovered these tracks fairly quickly. And since I couldn’t quite decide on four, I ended up taking all six. Except for the final song, all tunes are included on releases that appeared yesterday (March 19).

Mason Lively/Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing

Mason Lively is a country/Americana artist from Victoria, Texas. According to his website, he grew up in a country music atmosphere. His appreciation for the genre can be traced back to his childhood. Though he enjoyed and was exposed to many types of music, he would listen to artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price to name a few. Growing up, while also being influenced by Blues and Classic Rock, Mason started to take interest and study the songwriting of artists from his home state’s music scene like Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Hayes Carll, and many more. As a result, when he started playing guitar at age 14, Mason claims that song-writing “sort of snuck up on him” not long after that. Lively’s debut album Stronger Ties appeared in April 2018. Love Ain’t Done a Damn Thing is a track from his new eponymous sophomore album.

Michigander/Let Down

Jason Singer, performing as Michigander, is a singer-songwriter hailing from Midland, Mich., who has been active since 2014. His artist profile on Apple Music describes Michigander’s music as a rich blend of hook-driven and radio-ready indie rock with electronic flourishes and earnest, big-hearted storytelling that invokes names like Lord Huron and Mumford & Sons. He is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who spent his formative years building a sonic persona that looked to a wide array of influencers, including Coldplay, Rush, James Taylor, and the White Stripes. After honing his skills playing solo sets, Singer relocated to Kalamazoo in 2014 and began operating under the Michigander moniker. In 2016 he issued the nostalgia-driven single “Nineties,” which garnered over a million online streams. Looking to capitalize on the success of the single, Singer turned his one-man solo project into a fully-fledged rock & roll band and hit the road, sharing bills with contemporaries like Ra Ra Riot, Tokyo Police Club, and Twin Peaks, and released the group’s debut EP, Midland, in 2018. The following year saw the band ink a deal with C3 Records and issue a second EP, Where Do We Go from Here? Well, I suppose the answer is Everything Will Be Ok Eventually, Michigander’s latest EP. Here’s lead single Let Down. I have to say I find this tune quite catchy.

Alice Phoebe Lou/Dusk

South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou first entered my radar screen in July 2020, when I covered her then-latest single Touch in a previous Best of What’s New installment. As noted there, Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, Momentum, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, Orbit. Dusk, written by Lou, is from her new album Glow. Just like I felt previously, her music falls outside my core wheelhouse but there’s just something about it.

Ringo Starr/Waiting For the Tide to Turn

Just like his ex-Beatles mate Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr kept busy during the pandemic. One of the results is a new EP titled Zoom In. A statement on his website notes it features 5 songs all of which were recorded at Starr’s home studio between April-October 2020...Joining Starr were musicians Nathan East (bass), Steve Lukather (guitar), Bruce Sugar (synth guitar), Benmont Tench (piano), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jacob Braun (cello), and Jim Cox (string arrangements and synth strings). Dave Grohl, Ben Harper and Jenny Lewis also joined Starr in the home studio, and all contributed to the first single, Here’s To The NightsI previously covered it hereRingo co-wrote “Waiting For The Tide to Turn” with his engineer Bruce Sugar, adding Tony Chen and his extensive reggae roots; “This was something my engineer Bruce Sugar started, but it didn’t have a lot of words, so we wrote it together. I did my version of reggae and what was great was we had Tony Chen, who played with Bob Marley and lives here in LA, come over and play on it. He said, ‘hey Mon, that you on drums mon?’ and I said yes, and he said ‘great drums mon, very reggae!’ and my heart swelled! It was so great coming from him.” Ringo and reggae was something I didn’t expect, but I think it came out pretty well!

Joyce Wrice/Chandler

Joyce Wrice is an R&B and soul artist from Los Angeles. There isn’t any background on her website and Facebook page, so I’m relying on a news story by MTV. Chandler is the opener of Wrice’s debut album Overgrown. The release follows a series of EPs and publishing covers on YouTube for 10 years. Some of her influences include Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Sade. Apparently, she is also influenced by her Japanese heritage and Buddhism. “One of the things that I’ve learned through my Buddhist practice is to create opportunities within the obstacle or the struggle,” Wrice pointed out to MTV News. “It’s actually helped me to dig deeper and not be swayed by the situation and keep pushing through.” This tune has a cool vibe. I can hear some early ’70s Marvin Gaye in here.

Tigers Jaw/New Detroit

American rock band Tigers Shaw were formed in Scranton, Pa. in 2005. The group was started in high school by Ben Walsh, who played drums at the time, and Adam McIlwee (guitar, vocals). A few months later, they were joined by Brianna Collins (keyboards, vocals). The band released their debut album Belongs to the Dead in October 2006. By the time of their eponymous sophomore album from September 2008, Tigers Shaw had grown to a five-piece and Walsh had switched to guitar and vocals. He and Collins remain part of the current formation that also includes Colin Gorman (bass, rhythm guitar) and Theodore Roberts (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the band’s music evolved from pop punk to Emo to indie rock. New Detroit is from their sixth studio album I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, which appeared on March 5. I really like how melodic and catchy this song is!

Sources: Wikipedia; Mason Lively website; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; MTV News; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest selection of newly released music marks a bit of a milestone: It’s the 50th installment of Best of What’s New. With one exception, the recurring feature has appeared each week since I started it on March 21, 2020. While I doubt any new releases can truly reach my favorite artists and songs from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s still encouraging to me that I keep finding new music I like. My picks for this week include contemporary jazz, indie folk rock, rock and a form of post-rock called math rock, a genre I had never heard of before! All tunes came out yesterday (March 5).

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Gretchen Parlato is a contemporary jazz vocalist. Her profile on Apple Music describes her as a forward-thinking jazz singer with an emotive, languid style and a bent toward mixing various musical influences into a modern creative jazz aesthetic. A California native, Parlato grew up listening to a variety of musical genres before focusing on jazz. In 2001, Parlato became the first vocalist ever admitted into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. Three years later, she won first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Subsequently, she has appeared on a bevy of other artists’ albums, including recordings by bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist Kenny Barron, and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others. Since her independent eponymous 2005 debut, Parlato has released five additional albums including the latest, Flor (Portuguese for flower). According to her website, Flor is a gorgeous synthesis of original material, American popular music, European classical music, and Brazilian standards. It exemplifies the many ways in which motherhood has reconnected Parlato to her own inner child, revisiting the enchantment of falling in love with music for the first time, particularly the various Brazilian genres she became enamored with as a young teenager. Here’s the opener É Preciso Perdoar, credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, and Parlato. Check out her beautiful vocals and the laid back groove of this tune. I love this!

Fruit Bats/The Balcony

Fruit Bats are an indie folk rock band around singer-songwriter Eric D. Johnson. The group was initially founded in 1997 in Chicago as a side project for Johnson who also led space rock group I Rowboat and played guitar in several other bands. Fruit Bats evolved into a band in 2001 when I Rowboat members Dan Strack (guitar) and Brian Belval (drums) joined Johnson’s project. They released their debut album Echolocation in September that year. Since then, the group has had many lineup changes, with Johnson as the only constant member. The Balcony, written by Johnson, is from Fruit Bats’ new album The Pet Parade, their eighth. While according to the band’s website, many of the songs were written prior to the pandemic, Johnson and the other musicians had to self-record their parts separated from each other at their homes. Yet everything came together quite nicely. Here’s the official video for The Balcony. The footage may be a bit creepy, but the music is quite catchy.

Kings of Leon/The Bandit

While the name Kings of Leon immediately rang a bell, I believe this is the first time I’ve actually listened to any of their music. Formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 1999, this rock band has been a family affair for the past 20-plus years. The lineup includes brothers Caleb Followill (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jared Followill (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Nathan Followill (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and their cousin Matthew Followill (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals). Initially, Kings of Leon enjoyed significant chart success in the UK before starting to gain similar traction in the U.S. with their fourth album Only by the Night. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and is their best-selling album to date. The Bandit, a tune from Kings of Leon’s new studio release When You See Yourself, is credited to all members of the band. “I really dug deep into my love of Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson and stuff like that,” Caleb told Apple Music. “I was like, ‘I’m going to write a song about a bandit, and then a bounty hunter who’s paid to find this man.’ In the meantime, they become such a part of each other’s life that they’re the two people that matter the most to them. The chase is more thrilling than the catch.” I have to say based on this great song, I’d like to further explore the band.

toe/The Latest Number

Let’s wrap things up with Japanese rock band toe, which were formed in Tokyo in 2000. According to their Apple Music profile, Toe are a primarily instrumental rock quartet…consisting of guitarists Mino Takaaki and Yamazaki Hirokazu, drummer Kashikura Takashi, and bassist Yamane Satoshi. Often categorized as post-rock or math rock, their free-flowing, highly melodic songs feature splashy yet tightly controlled drumming and dynamic guitar interplay, as well as occasional electronic elements and additional instruments such as vibraphone and Rhodes piano…Restless live performers, Toe have toured at home and abroad with bands such as the Album Leaf, Mogwai, and Envy, in addition to notable appearances at festivals such as Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival. Having established their jazz-influenced instrumental sound with several EPs and full-lengths such as 2005’s The Book About My Idle Plot on a Vague Anxiety, Toe incorporated more vocals on later releases such as 2015’s Hear You. The Latest Number appears on the band’s new live album ‘DOKU-EN-KAI’ that captures a 2019 gig at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. The tune was first included on a 2018 EP titled Our Latest Number. As such, technically, it’s not exactly their latest number. But it’s on a newly released album, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, how often do I get to write about Japanese rock bands? And they’re not just some band from Tokyo; these guys are remarkable musicians!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Gretchen Parlato website; Fruit Bats website; YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After having compiled this weekly recurring feature for about nine months, I’ve developed a pretty good methodology to find new music. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, the madness doesn’t include the mainstream charts. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, other times it requires more work. This week fell into the latter category. I’m still quite happy with this new installment that features various flavors of rock, including alternative, kickass classic, indie and country.

Glom/Merit

Glom from Brooklyn, New York are a classic alt-rock inspired, fuzzy alt-rock act, according to their profile on Bandcamp. Based on this interview with Two Story Melody from March 2019, it sounds like while members of Glom have been friends and played together in various bands since their early high school years, the group only formed in 2017. Bandcamp lists Sean Dunnevant (guitar, bass, vocals), Peter Beiser (guitar, piano, vocals), Sahil Ansari (guitar, drums, percussion, synthesizer), Jonathan Crandall (synthesizer, piano, percussion), Jonathan Harwood (percussion) and Jordan Wolfe (drums, percussion, synthesizer). Merit, written by Dunnevant, is the title track of Glom’s new album released yesterday (Dec 4). It’s a quite catchy tune. Based on sampling a few other tracks on the album, these guys seem to have a knack for melodies that are easy on the ears.

Greta Van Fleet/Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album. When the kick-ass rocker appeared yesterday, the Michigan band also revealed their second full-length studio release will come out on April 16, 2021 and be titled The Battle at Garden’s Gate, Spin reported. “There was a lot of self-evolution happening during the writing of this album that was prompted by experiences I had, experiences we all had, so a lot of contemplation occurred,” explained vocalist Josh Kiszka.  “It’s reflecting a lot of the world that we’ve seen, and I think that it’s reflecting a lot of personal truth,” observed guitarist Jake Kiszka. “I suppose that everything has changed except what got us here in the first place,” added Sam Kiszka, the third of the Kiszka brothers and bassist of the band that also includes drummer Danny Wagner. Greta Van Fleet’s classic rock orientation has generated lots of excitement and, as you’d expect, some criticism over its Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. I think the new single provides more evidence that Greta Van Fleet have evolved in finding their own unique style. Really looking forward to hearing more from that album!

Juniper/Angelina

Juniper are an indie rock band from the Boston area. They were formed in the spring of 2017 by Scott Johnson, Ahren Shreeve and Alejandro Marin. In September that year, they released their eponymous debut EP. Another EP, For the First Time, came out one year later. On their website, Juniper describe their sound as “unique” with “diverse influences of alternative rock, folk, R&B and bedroom pop” – the latter being yet another genre I had not heard of before. Currently, they are working on their debut album. Meanwhile, here’s their new single Angelina. And, nope, the lovely young woman in the video isn’t Angelina.

The Wild Feathers/My Truth

Let’s wrap it up with The Wild Feathers, a country rock band founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. According to a bio on AllMusic, they prefer the term “American” over Americana when describing their sound, which falls somewhere between the earnest, neo-Southern rock of the Black Crowes, the bluesy swagger of the Black Keys, and the wide-open-road country-rock of the Eagles. The band’s current lineup features founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, playing with artists like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. My Truth is a new original song from the band’s most recent fourth album Medium Rarities, which according to a review in Glide Magazine is a collection of covers, demos, B-sides and a handful of new tunes. My Truth is a great track co-written by King, Young and country singer-songwriter Brett James.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bandcamp; Two Story Melody; Spin; Juniper website; Juniper Facebook page; AllMusic; Glide Magazine; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

My weekly quest to uncover new music continues. This latest Best of What’s New installment features another diverse collection of music genres/styles, all of which was released yesterday (November 20). It includes country rock, grungy pop punk, alternative and, yes, more African-rooted music. Let’s kick it off with the latter.

Ausecuma Beats/Yelena

Ausecuma Beats is named after the countries/ geographic regions of their members: Australia, Senegambia, Cuba and Mali. According to their profile on Bandcamp, they are more than just a band, they are a philosophy. Led by master djembe player [an African drum], Boubacar Gaye [from Senegal], the nine-strong ensemble, demonstrate artists coming together based on an idea – the idea of place, of transplanting cultural heritage into a contemporary city. Ausecuma Beats is people from all corners of the world finding themselves together in new environments, as a community. Their website also calls out the following additional members: Yusupha Ngum (lead vocals; from Gambia); Rodolfo Hechavarria, known as “Panga” (congas; Cuba); Ed Crocker (drums; Australia); Bassidi Koné (balafon, an African wooden xylophone-like instrument; Mali); and Adam Halliwell (electric guitar; Australia). While I haven’t been able to find when the band was formed, the tune Yelena appears on their eponymous debut album. This is music radiating joy with an infectious groove. I take this any day, especially during these unreal times we are currently witnessing!

Ward Davis/Ain’t Gonna be Today

Ward Davis, originally hailing from Monticello, Ark., is a country singer-songwriter who has been based in Nashville since 2000. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Davis first gained attention in Nashville as a songwriter, placing songs on albums by Trace Adkins, Wade Hayes, Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, and Cody Jinks. The latter was a pivotal connection for Davis. After he co-wrote three songs for Jinks’ 2018 album Lifers, Jinks chose to go out on tour with the like-minded Davis, thereby raising the profile of this practitioner of lean, literary neo-outlaw country...Davis spent his first decade attempting to fit into the commercial confines of Nashville, but success took a while to materialize. His first break arrived in 2011, when he placed “My Kind of Crowd” on Premium Country from David Adam Byrnes. In 2014, he released an EP, No Bridges. His debut album 15 Years in a 10 Year Town followed in 2015. Ain’t Gonna be Today is the opener of Davis’ sophomore album Black Cats and Crows. Co-written by Davis and Kendell Marvel, the country rocker features nice harmony guitar and pedal steel action.

I Am the Avalanche/Better Days

I Am the Avalanche are a punk rock band from Brooklyn, N.Y., founded in 2004. ‘Fugetaboutit’, used to be my kneejerk reaction when it comes to punk. But over the years, I’ve come to realize not all punk is created equal, and there’s actually some I like to listen to, at least occasionally. Since I rarely can lose my pop instinct entirely, a tune generally needs to have some melody to appeal, not just be noise. Based on their new studio album Dive, I Am the Avalanche seems to fit the bill. The band features Vinnie Caruana (lead vocals, guitar), Brandon Swanson (guitar), Michael Ireland (guitar), Kellen Robson (bass) and Brett “The Ratt” Romnes (drums). Their eponymous studio debut came out in September 2005. Better Days, co-written by Ireland and Caruana, is the opener of the new album, the band’s fourth studio album. The grungy pop rocker reminds me a bit of Green Day.

Anna McClellan/Feel You

According to her Facebook page, Anna McClellan began performing original songs in her hometown of Omaha, NE at the age of seventeen and has been actively recording and touring ever since. Her debut, Fire Flames [2015], earned her an opening slot on a Frankie Cosmos tour. Through the doors that tour opened, McClellan eventually met Father/Daughter Records which led to the release of her second full-length record, Yes and No, in 2018. After a stint in NYC, several subsequent tours and meandering, Anna returned to Omaha and recorded I saw first light, her latest effort for Father/Daughter. The album was recorded over two weeks with a multitude of local cohorts, and it documents Anna’s journey from the Midwest to the east coast and back again, probing both the roots of her creative impetus and her ongoing commitment to social issues. Here’s Feel You from McClellan’s new album I Saw First Light.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bandcamp; Ausecuma Beats website; Apple Music; Facebook; YouTube

My Playlist: Emmylou Harris

While I had known her name for decades, it really wasn’t until July 2017 that I started paying closer attention to Emmylou Harris when seeing her in Philadelphia as part of a concert headlined by John Mellencamp. There was something special about this lady with her all-white hair who recently had turned 70. Now 73, Harris has been active for more than 50 years, released dozens of solo and collaborative albums, scored 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard country charts and collected numerous Grammy and other awards. This playlist is an attempt to shine a light on her long and impressive career.

Harris was born on April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. Her dad, Walter Harris, was a Marine Corps officer, while her mom Eugenia was a wartime military wife. After high school graduation in Woodbridge, Va., Harris went to the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. It was there where she started to learn songs by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on guitar and develop her musical aspirations. Harris dropped out, moved to New York City during the second half of the ’60s, and started performing on the folk circle in Greenwich Village while waiting tables.

In 1969, Harris married fellow songwriter Tom Slocum who wrote the title track for her debut album Gliding Bird. The folk record also included five songs written by Harris. The label Jubilee Records went under shortly after the release, so all distribution and promotion was ceased. Subsequently, Harris disowned the record. She regards her second release Pieces of the Sky from February 1975 as her official debut.

In 1971, after he had seen her perform, Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman introduced Harris to his music partner Gram Parsons who became a key figure in her early career. Harris worked with Parsons on his solo debut GP from January 1973 and toured as a member of his band the Fallen Angels. Later that year, she also worked with Parsons on his second and final solo album Grievous Angel, which was released in January 1974, following his death from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol in September 1973.

In February 1975, the aforementioned Pieces of the Sky appeared. It’s the album that launched Harris’ career as a country artist and established what she became mainly known, i.e., covering songs written by other artists. The album also coincided with the formation of The Hot Band, Harris’ high-profile backing band until 1991. The initial lineup included James Burton (guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), Hank DeVito (pedal steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass) and John Ware (drums).

To date, Harris has released 21 solo studio albums, three live records and a dozen compilations. Additionally, her impressive catalog includes seven collaboration albums with artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Rodney Crowell. Harris also has worked as a guest with numerous other artists, including The Band, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle, among others. Let’s get to some music!

While perhaps not as representative of Harris as her other records, I’d like to kick off this playlist with a tune from 1969’s Gliding Bird, which was written by her: Black Gypsy.

If I Could Only Win Your Love from her second album Pieces of the Sky became Harris’ first hit single, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1975. Co-written by Charlie Louvin and Ira Louvin who formed the country and gospel duo The Louvin Brothers, it also marked the first of only a handful of Harris singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in this case at no. 58. Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on the album.

While Emmylou Harris is best known as a country artist, her song choices can be eclectic. Here’s an example from her third studio album Elite Hotel released in December 1975: A beautiful cover of The Beatles tune Here, There and Everywhere. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the McCartney ballad originally appeared on the Revolver album from August 1996.

Harris’ next album Luxury Liner from December 1976 included the first cover of Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, which subsequently became the revered singer-songwriter’s best known composition. The tune has also been covered by other artists, most notably Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded it as the title track of their collaboration album that came out in January 1983.

Roses in the Snow, Harris’ first ’80s album, appeared in May 1980. Unlike her preceding country and country rock records, this album was more bluegrass-oriented. Here’s a great rendition of the Paul Simon tune The Boxer, featuring beautiful harmony singing by Cheryl White and her sister Sharon White. The Boxer first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water from January 1970.

In February 1985, Harris released The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album loosely based on her relationship with Gram Parsons. The record also stood out for another reason. Like her debut 16 years earlier, it illustrates Harris is more than just a cover artist. All songs were co-written by her, mostly together with her then-second husband Paul Kennerley, an English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, who also produced this record. Here’s White Line, one of the record’s two singles.

Next, I’d like to jump to the ’90s and Wrecking Ball, Harris’ 18th studio album. The record became her first since Pieces of the Sky that did not make the country charts. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising, given the music moved away from her traditional acoustic to a more edgy and atmospheric sound. Producer Daniel Lanois who produced and co-produced various U2 albums like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby undoubtedly had something to do with it. Here’s the title track written by Neil Young who also provided harmony vocals. Young had first recorded the tune for his 1989 studio album Freedom. And, coming back to U2, Larry Mullen, Jr. played drums on most of the album’s songs including this one.

Given the significance of collaboration albums in Harris’ catalog, I’d like to at least acknowledge one: Trio II from February 1999, the second album she did together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. All tracks had actually been recorded in 1994, but label disputes and conflicting schedules had prevented the release at the time. While I’ve featured it on the blog before, I just couldn’t resist including the ladies’ angelic rendition of After The Gold Rush, the title track of Neil Young’s third studio album from September 1970. Interestingly, while the remake did not chart when it was released as a single from Trio II, it won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The intensity of this version is just killing me. This is why I dig vocals!

In September 2003, Harris released Stumble into Grace, her second album of the current century. Like some of her previous records, it includes a significant number of her own compositions. She also co-wrote most of the remaining tracks. Here’s the opener Here I Am, one of her tunes.

I’d like to wrap up this playlist with a track from what is Harris’ most recent solo album, Hard Bargain, released in April 2011. Her two latest records are collaborations with Rodney Crowell from February 2013 and March 2015. There’s also the Complete Trio Collection, a compilation of the Trio I and Trio II collaborative albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, which came out in September 2016. Given the enormous role of Gram Parsons, it felt right to highlight opener The Road, a tune Harris penned about her musical mentor – the first to focus on his death since Boulder to Colorado, a song from Pieces of the Sky. It’s also noteworthy that Hard Bargain became Harris’ highest chart entry since the above Roses in the Snow from 1980, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums. It also hit no. 18 on the Billboard 200, her highest mainstream chart success since 1977’s Luxury Liner, a remarkable late-stage career success.

Emmylou Harris has sold 75 million records in the U.S. alone. She has won 14 Grammy awards out of 48 for which she had been nominated. She has also won numerous country, bluegrass and Americana awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2008.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Ringo Starr to Throw Virtual Charity Concert For Upcoming Big Birthday

You just gotta love Ringo Starr. He may not be the most sophisticated drummer or songwriter, but he’s just an awesome guy! As reported by Rolling Stone earlier today, Ringo is planning a virtual charity concert for his 80th birthday on July 7. The one-hour event will be broadcast on YouTube starting at 8:00 pm ET, and feature Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark, Jr., Sheila E and Ben Harper, among others. Appropriately called Ringo’s Big Birthday Show, the event will benefit Black Lives Matter Global Network, The David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares and WaterAid.

“…for 12 years, we have celebrated it by at noon going ‘peace and love’, wherever you are,” said Ringo during a more than 30-minute video interview with Rolling Stone senior writer Brian Hiatt. “We’re still doing it, but this year is going to be a little different…there’s no big get-together, there’s no brunch for 100, and there’s no gangs of people outside.” Below is a clip of the entire interview. If you dig Ringo, I can highly recommend it. BTW, I do agree with Hiatt, he doesn’t look like 80!

As further reported by Rolling Stone, the event will also debut a special version of Give More Love, the title track of Ringo’s 2017 studio album, featuring guests like Jackson Browne, Jeff Bridges, Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson. Ringo will also launch a series of tribute performances on his YouTube channel, including artists like Steve Earle, Peter Frampton and Judy Collins. Last but not least, he is asking fans to “say, think, or post #peaceandlove at noon their local time on July 7th.” 

Here’s the official video of the above noted Give More Love. Co-written by Ringo and Gary Nicholson, the tune is the title track of Ringo’s 19th studio release, which appeared in September 2017. His most recent album What’s My Name came out in October 2019. I previously wrote about it here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Best of “Bobfest”

Sometimes one beautiful thing leads to another. In my previous post, I wrote about Tom Petty’s affection for The Byrds and how he covered some of their tunes. One of the clips I included was a performance of Mr. Tambourine Man, the Bob Dylan tune popularized by The Byrds with their beautiful jingle-jangle version in the mid-’60s. The footage came from a concert that celebrated the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album. This prompted me to further check out that tribute show and boy, do I love what I found!

The four-hour concert took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 16, 1992. Regardless of what you think of Dylan, the fact that he is revered by so many top-notch artists speaks for itself. It was certainly reflected in the concert’s line-up, which featured John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roger McGuinn, among others.

The house band for the show included Booker T. Jones (organ) and other former members of the MG’s Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Steve Cropper (guitar), along with Anton Fig and Jim Keltner (each on drums). And there were countless other musicians in different capacities I haven’t even mentioned. This was possibly a one-of-a-kind concert!

Let’s kick off the music with Like a Rolling Stone performed by John Mellencamp and special guest Al Kooper on the organ – great way to open the night! Dylan first recorded the classic tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited from August 1965.

Among the show’s true gems was Stevie Wonder’s performance of Blowin’ in the Wind. One of the defining protest songs of the ’60s, it was the opener to Dylan’s sophomore album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan released in May 1963. As Wonder eloquently said, it’s a tune that “will always be relevant to something that is going on in this world of ours.” I’m afraid his words still ring true today.

Next up: Tracy Chapman and her beautiful version of The Times They Are A-Changin’. Recently, I’ve gained new appreciation of the singer-songwriter thanks to badfinger20, who covered Chapman the other day on his great PowerPop blog. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track of Dylan’s third studio album that appeared in January 1964.

Ready for some hardcore blues? Enter Johnny Winter and his scorching version of Highway 61 Revisited, the title track of the above-noted album from August 1965. Ohhh, wham bam thank you man, to borrow creatively from David Bowie. Unfortunately, I could only find the audio version, but I think you can still picture it.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is yet another tune from the Highway 61 Revisited album. If I would have to name my favorite Dylan record, I think this would be it. Of course, the caveat is I haven’t listened to all of his records, not even close! The artist who got to perform the tune during the concert was Neil Young, who did a great job. BTW, he dubbed the concert “Bobfest,” according to Wikipedia.

Here’s a great cover of I Shall Be Released by Chrissie Hynde. The first officially released version of the song was on the July 1968 debut album by The Band, Music From Big Pink. Dylan’s first recording occurred during the so-called Basement Tapes sessions with The Band in 1967, which was released on The Bootleg Series 1-3 in 1991. In 1971, Dylan recorded a second version that appeared on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November that year.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is one of my favorite Dylan tunes, so I faithfully followed his advice and didn’t hesitate to call it out. It’s another song from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Eric Clapton did a beautiful job making it his own. Don’t think twice, check it out!

George Harrison’s appearance at the show was remarkable. It marked his first U.S. concert performance in 18 years. Sadly, it would also be his last time performing in public, as Rolling Stone noted in a January 2014 story previewing the March 2014 super deluxe reissue of the concert. Harrison covered Absolutely Sweet Marie, a tune from Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s seventh studio album from June 1966.

Of course, I couldn’t write about the bloody concert without including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who performed Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, another track from Blonde on Blonde. Love it!

For the final clip in this post, it’s about time to get to the man himself and My Back Pages. He first recorded the tune for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which appeared in August 1964. For his rendition at the show, he got a little help from his friends Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. That’s what friends are for, and they did a great job!

The last word shall belong to guitarist and the show’s musical director G.E. Smith, who is quoted in the above Rolling Stone story: “That gig was one of the highlights of my career… There aren’t a lot of people that can attract a lineup like that, and everyone was on their best behavior. Lou Reed and Neil Young can be prickly, but not in the three days we were prepping that show. I also got to talk to Johnny Cash. What’s cooler than that?”

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Huey Lewis and The News Release New and Likely Final Album

“We’ve had a little bit of weather these last couple of years, so it seemed appropriate,” commented Huey Lewis during a recent TV interview on NBC’s Today show when asked about the title of his new album with The News. “Besides,” he jokingly added, “‘Business’ didn’t ring right” – unlike Sports, the band’s best-selling third studio album from September 1983, which catapulted them to international stardom and brought them on my radar screen at the time. While undoubtedly radio-friendly pop, I think many of their songs are well-crafted, and I like them to this day.

Weather, which was released last Friday, marks the first new Huey Lewis and The News album with original material in 19 years since Plan B from July 2001. In October 2010, the band released a well-executed record of Stax soul covers. Usually, a new record with original material would be a reason to celebrate, and during the above Today interview, Lewis said they are proud of it. But the news has been a mixed bag for him over the past couple of years.

In April 2018, Lewis revealed he essentially had lost his hearing due to an inner ear condition called Ménière’s disease, which forced him to cancel all upcoming shows. While he was diagnosed with the disorder 33 years ago after he had lost 80 percent of hearing in his right ear, he continued his career, relying on his left ear. That worked well until two years ago when he lost hearing in that ear as well.

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Lewis’s condition fluctuates, and with the help of a hearing aid, he has some hearing most of the time. But it hasn’t allowed him to perform since he can’t find pitch. If you’re Peter Frampton and lose your ability to play guitar due to a neurological disorder impacting the feeling in your fingers, that’s pretty bleak; but at least you can still hear. Though Frampton is a guitarist first and foremost, so perhaps it was not surprising he decided to bow out with a still-ongoing farewell tour while still being on top of his game. But losing your hearing? I can’t possibly think of a more cruel fate for a musician.

Lewis and his band had worked on Weather for quite some time. They managed to record seven tracks until he lost hearing in his left ear. All of this translates into about 26 minutes. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the Her Love Is Killing Me, a feelgood tune you could well imagine on one of the band’s ’80s albums like Fore. In fact, it does remind me a bit of Hip to be Square. That’s not a coincidence. According to an AP story, the tune “is nearly that old, having been written back when guitarist Chris Hayes was still in the band.”

Next up: Hurry Back Baby, co-written by Lewis and News co-founding member Bill Gibson (drums, percussion, backing vocals), who remains with the band to this day. The tune’s combination of rock guitar, horns and organ make for another classic Huey Lewis and The News sound.

Remind Me Why I Love You Again is another fun tune with a good groove. The horns give it a nice soul feeling. The track is credited to Lewis, Gibson and two other News co-founding members: Johnny Colla (rhythm guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) and Hays (lead guitar, backing vocals). Like Gibson, Colla is still part of The News. Hayes left in 2000, an indication this song at least in part must have been written more than 20 years ago.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer One of the Boys. The track stands out for two reasons. Essentially, it’s a country song, the first I recall hearing from the band. As reported by Billboard, Lewis had been commissioned to write it for Willie Nelson. But what is really striking to me are the lyrics, especially in light of Lewis’ current condition.

Well, I remember way back when
I must’ve been 9 or 10
When I saw my very first band
Playing a little Dixieland
Yeah, I knew immediately
That’s where I wanted to be
With them boys up on the stand
Playin’ in a honky-tonk band

One of the boys
Making beautiful noise
Playing with my friends
Until the music ends
One of the boys

Well, it’s plain to see, I got my wish
And I’ve been lucky ever since then
And one day, I’m meeting my maker
I don’t know where or when
But I still love the gypsy life
Yeah, I’m still havin’ fun
And though I ain’t gettin’ any younger, I’m a
Long way from done…

In spite of everything, Lewis seems to have come to grips with his situation. “First of all, you can kind of get used to almost anything,” he told NPR. “And number two, I remind myself that there’s lots of people that are worse off than I am … I’m still, overall, a lucky guy.” The same segment and other reports I’ve seen noted Lewis did not always have such a positive attitude. Initially, he was pretty devastated over his hearing loss and considered taking his own life.

Nowadays, Lewis projects a hopeful outlook. “I’m hoping to recover my hearing so we can get the band back together and play live, but can’t right now, and I can’t tell you that I’m certain that I ever will again,” he said during the above NPR interview. “In the meantime, I’m staying as creative as I can.” This involves what has become popular among an increasing number of music artists who are in the twilight of their careers: work on a Broadway musical. In the case of Huey Lewis, it’s The Heart of Rock & Roll, with Tony Award-winning producer Hunter Arnold. He told the Today hosts they will bring it to Broadway next season.

Sources: Wikipedia; NBC Today; Associated Press; Billboard; YouTube

Leiber-Stoller, Songwriting Partnership Extraordinaire

I believe Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller first entered my radar screen as a 13-year-old when I got an Elvis Presley songbook for guitar. It was shortly after I had started taking lessons and was able to play a few chords. Elvis was my idol at the time. What I didn’t know then and frankly didn’t fully appreciate until conducting some research for this post was the enormous scope of Leiber-Stoller’s work, which goes far beyond some of the best-known early classic rock & roll tunes.

For some time, I had contemplated writing about important songwriting partnerships including Leiber-Stoller, but once I noticed how many songs these guys wrote and how many artists they worked with, I felt they warranted a dedicated post. I also decided to largely exclude their production work and primarily focus on their writing during the ’50s and early ’60s, which is their most exciting period, in my opinion.

Lyricist Jerry Leiber was born as Jerome Leiber on April 25, 1933 in Baltimore, Md. Composer Michael Stoller, who later changed his legal fist name to Mike, was born on March 13, 1933 in Belle Harbor, Queens, N.Y. In addition to being born the same year to Jewish families, Leiber and Stoller also shared a love for blues, boogie-woogie and black culture. They met in Los Angeles in 1950, while Leiber was a senior in high school and Stoller was a college freshman.

Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
Mike Stoller (l) & Jerry Leiber in 1980

According to an extended interview Lieber and Stoller gave to NAMM Oral History Program in December 2007, Leiber had written some lyrics and knew he wanted to be a songwriter. What he didn’t know was how to write music. A drummer referred him to piano player Mike Stoller. Once they met and Stoller looked at some of Leiber’s lyrics, he noticed they were 12-bar blues. He said, “I love the blues” and started playing the piano, with Leiber singing along. And Stoller said, “Mike, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Okay, I made up that last quote, borrowing from one of my favorite black and white movies of all time. What is true is that day the two men agreed to form a partnership that would generate some of the best-known songs of the ’50s and ’60s.

The first artist who recorded a Leiber-Stoller composition was Jimmy Witherspoon, one of the blues singers the duo followed to help them develop their “black style” of writing music and lyrics. Real Ugly Woman appeared as a single in 1951. The words are just as lovely as the title! 🙂 A little excerpt: Well, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yeah, she’s a real ugly woman/Don’t see how she got that way/Yes, and every time she comes around/she runs all my friends away

The following year in 1952, Leiber and Stoller scored their first hit with Hard Times, which was recorded by Charles Brown. The tune climbed to no. 7 on the Billboard R&B Chart.

1952 also saw one of Leiber and Stoller’s best-known songs, Hound Dog, which was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton. It was also the first time the duo produced music, though the production credits went to Johnny Otis, who was supposed to lead the recording session but ended up playing the drums on the tune. Released in February that year, it sold more than half a million copies and topped the Billboard R&B Chart. Three years later, Elvis Presley turned Hound Dog into a mega-hit. I like his version but have to say Thornton really killed it, so here’s her original.

Another early rock & roll classic penned by Lieber-Stoller is Kansas City, which according to Wikipedia is one of their most recorded tunes with over three hundred versions – they had to count them all! Initially, the tune was titled K.C. Loving and recorded by American boogie-woogie pianist and singer Little Willie Littlefield. It appeared in August 1952. While the song had some regional success, it didn’t chart nationally. That changed in April 1959 when Wilbert Harrison released his version, which became a no. 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts. Here’s the original. Feel free to shuffle along!

Going back to Elvis, while Leiber and Stoller didn’t mind having written a million-seller with Hound Dog, they weren’t particularly fond of Presley’s cover. But it led to writing more songs for Elvis, including one of my favorite ’50s rock & roll tunes of all time: Jailhouse Rock. Released in September 1957, is was the title track of the Elvis motion picture that came out in November of the same year. Leiber-Stoller played a prominent role in the making of the film’s soundtrack. Apart from Jailhouse Rock, they wrote three other tunes and worked with Elvis in the studio. Of course, I had to take a clip from the picture, which has to be one of the most iconic dance scenes ever captured on film. Doesn’t it feel a bit like watching an early version of a Michael Jackson music video?

Blues and rock & roll represent the early years of Leiber and Stoller’s songwriting. Beginning in the mid-’50s after they had started working for Atlantic Records, the duo branched out and became more pop-oriented. Among other artists, they wrote a number of songs for The Drifters and The Coasters. Here’s Ruby Baby, a great soulful, groovy, doo-wop tune from 1956. More than 25 years later, Donald Fagen became one of the other artists covering the song, when he included it on his excellent debut solo album The Nightfly from October 1982.

Next up: Yakety Yak by The Coasters. The song was released in April 1958 and topped the Billboard Pop Chart, Billboard R&B Chart and Cash Box Pop Chart. The track was also produced by Leiber-Stoller and became the biggest hit for The Coasters.

The last Leiber-Stoller tune I’d like to highlight is Stand By Me, which they co-wrote with Ben E. King. He first recorded it in April 1961, a year after he had left The Drifters to start a solo career. In addition to writing, once again Leiber-Stoller also produced the beautiful track, which remains one of my favorite ’60s songs to this day.

Asked during the above NAMM interview to comment on the fact that “nice Jewish boys didn’t really write a whole lot of hit records for blues singers at that point” (in the early ’50s), Stoller said, “Actually, they did later on, or at least later on we did know…It was considered to be somewhat peculiar at the time.” Added Lieber: “Black people always thought we were black until they came in contact with us and saw that we weren’t.” BTW, if you’re into rock & roll history, you may enjoy watching the entire interview, even though it’s close to 90 minutes. Again, you can do so here.

Altogether, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote or co-wrote 70-plus chart hits. According to lieberstoller.com, their songs have been performed by more than 1,000 artists, who in addition to the above include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Joe Williams, Tom Jones, Count Basie, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin and even Edith Piaf, among others – wow, it almost poses the question which artists did not sing their songs!

Leiber-Stoller’s work has extensively and rightly been recognized. Accolades include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and 1985, respectively, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Songwriters in 1996. As reported by The New York Times, Jerry Leiber died from cardio-pulmonary failure on August 22, 2011 in Los Angeles at the age of 78. Mike Stoller is 86 years old and still alive. He can be heard introducing Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul on their great 2018 Soulfire Live! album for a gig at the Orpheum Theatre in New York – priceless!

Sources: Wikipedia; NAMM; Leiberstoller.com; The New York Times; YouTube