The Latest From the Horse’s Mouth Brings More Classic Neil Young

It’s hard to keep up with Neil Young. The Canadian-American singer-songwriter truly is on a mission to publish his music, both old and new, and he’s not slowing down. Since December 2021, Young who recently turned 77, has put out three live and three studio albums. The latter includes his new studio project with Crazy Horse, World Record, released on November 18.

I think there are two ways to look at World Record. One is to conclude the album presents nothing new we haven’t heard from Neil Young before, which is a fair statement. The other way to look at it is he is giving us more of classic Neil, the kind of music his fans love. If you’ve been a frequent visitor of my blog or know my music taste otherwise, you will not be much surprised I wholeheartedly embrace the second view.

World Record is the 42nd studio album by Young and his 15th with Crazy Horse, according to Wikipedia. They had to count them all! It comes less than a year after its predecessor Barn, which appeared in December 2021 and which I reviewed here. Like Barn, World Record features Young’s longtime backing band Crazy Horse, including Nils Lofgren (guitar, upright piano, dobro, slide guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, accordion, sweep percussion, vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums, vocals). In addition to vocals and guitar, Young provides upright piano, vibes, harp, harmonica, Marxophone, pump organ, Wurlitzer and kick tub.

From left: Rick Rubin, Neil Young and New Zealand radio DJ, record producer and TV presenter Zane Lowe during an interview conducted for Apple Music at Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif.

Unlike its predecessor, the new album was co-produced by Rick Rubin. While he has worked with countless other artists over the past 40 years, including the likes of Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Sheryl Crow, Santana and ZZ Top, if I see this correctly, World Record marks his debut with Neil Young. Well, there’s always a first time! The album has a spontaneous and laid-back feel to it. According to Apple Music, Most of the songs started as melodies Young whistled to himself while walking in the woods, and were written from start to finish in just two days. I’d say it’s time to check out some music!

Let’s kick things off with the opener Love Earth. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Young. “The reason I wrote Love Earth is because I see it as a simple message,” he explained in a post on his website Neil Young Archives. “If you do good things to Earth and try to keep the planet clean and taken care of, she will take care of you and your grandchildren in return.” Young has been singing about environmental concerns since 1970 and the days of After the Gold Rush.

When I first heard the beginning of I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone), the heavily distorted guitar sounded immediately reminded me of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). Young doesn’t fool around when it comes to distortion! The lyrics leave no doubt about the message:…I look out at the change and I wonder how the earth could be going to somewhere I’ve never seen/Walk with me now to the ends of the earth and you’ll see what the damage can be/Fight with me now to the end of the wars and believe what they’ve done for you, if you now are free

The World (Is In Trouble Now) dials back the distortion in favor of Young’s pump organ and harmonica. In this tune, Young goes beyond describing troubling signs of change to calling for activism:…On this street we walk together now/To send this message here/Let me wait beyond the things I know/And try to be a light

Walkin’ On the Road (To the Future) is another acoustically focused song. As he oftentimes does, in this tune, Young offers some hope amid the doom and gloom of the planet’s decline:..Walkin’ on the road to the future is scary/We want to make the best of the past and not tarry/These are the things we’ve done and they have a cost/But we will take it on and try to make the best of us

A standout tune on the album is the 15-minute-plus Chevrolet, seemingly a bit of a contradiction lyrically speaking on an album that is focused on environmental decay. Since I already covered the song in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here. Instead, the final track I’d like to call out is The Wonder Won’t Wait.

World Record, which appears on Reprise Records, was recorded live and mixed to analog tape at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif. BTW, in case you’re wondering about the cover, it’s a shot of Neil Young’s father, Scott Alexander Young, who was a Canadian journalist, sportswriter and novelist.

The final word shall belong to Neil: “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told Apple Music. “It’s probably the only time in the world that you could ever see where all the people of all the countries all around the world could have the same idea: ‘Wait a minute, we got to do something because this is no good.’ We’re all feeling it.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouYube

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Rock the Farm Once Again Fired On All Cylinders

Eighth annual tribute festival for a cause returned to Jersey shore

Saturday, the time had finally come for the long-awaited Rock the Farm to return to the Jersey shore. The annual tribute festival in Seaside Heights, N.J. once again delivered 10 hours of great music for a cause. And that cause – helping individuals and families struggling with addiction to drugs, alcohol and other substances – has gained even more urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock the Farm is the main annual event of the nonprofit New Jersey CFC Loud N Clear Foundation to raise funds for programs designed to prevent relapse after drug rehab, a particularly challenging time to stay sober. CFC notes that since it was established in 2012, the foundation has assisted over 20,000 families struggling with addiction and has received numerous accolades and rewards for the innovative, groundbreaking approach to recovery. Throughout the event, individuals who have benefitted from CFC’s programs stepped on stage to share some of their stories, which was both pretty inspiring and moving. You can read more about CFC’s important work here. Let’s get to some music!

Kicking off the festival once again were One Fine Tapestry, a great tribute to Carole King and the music she co-wrote with Jerry Goffin for many other artists. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo who for many years have performed a variety of tribute shows. My all-time favorite Carole King album remains Tapestry. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move.

We May Be Right are a fun Billy Joel tribute led by pianist and lead vocalist Karl Dietel, a 20-year veteran of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area live music scene. The band also features Perry Andrews (brass, woodwinds, percussion, backing vocals), Derek Davodowich (guitars), Luke Kessel (bass, backing vocals) and Andy Janowiak (drums). I know I’ve said this before, it’s amazing to me how popular Billy Joel remains to this day, nearly 30 years since the piano man released his final pop album River of Dreams. There were definitely many Billy Joel fans among the Rock the Farm audience. One of the tunes they enjoyed was Big Shot, off Joel’s sixth studio album 52nd Street from October 1978.

And then it was time to really put the rock into Rock the Farm with La Grange. This New Jersey-based tribute to ZZ Top includes Sean Peronard as “Billy Fibbons” (Billy Gibbons)Pete Perrina as “Frank Goatee” (Frank Beard) and Jim Capobianco as “Rusty Hill” (Dusty Hill). It was all there: The sound, the singing, the beards and even the fury guitar and bass – the only things missing were the rotation of the instruments and my all-time ZZ Top favorite Tush! But, hey, they played plenty of other great tunes. It was a ball. Check out Cheap Sunglasses from the Texan rockers’ sixth studio album Degüello.

How about some more kickass rock? Ask and you shall receive with Stiff Upper Lip! This New Jersey tribute to AC/DC, formed in 2007, features Glenn Taglieri  (vocals), Joe Witterschein (guitar), Mike Cusumano (guitar), Peter Lee (bass) and Steve Villano (drums). One of my all-time AC/DC favorites is their song with the longest title: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). The tune initially appeared on AC/DC’s second, Australia-only record T.N.T. Subsequently, it was also included on their first international release High Voltage, which came out in April 1976. Here we go, featuring some enthusiastic, dancing ladies with glowing devil’s horns!

Okay, I’d say it’s time for a little breather. Here’s a little photo collage with different impressions from Rock the Farm.

Clockwise from upper left corner: Rock the Farm audience with bubbles from foam dance floor; the cameraman with another enthusiastic attendee; Jagged Little Thrill – The Alanis Morisette Experience (https://www.facebook.com/jlttribute); reminder of the event’s purpose; Winslow an Evening of the Eagles (https://www.facebook.com/WinslowEaglestribute); and once again the (exhausted) cameraman after 10 hours on his feet

All right, on to part II of this post and The ELO Tribute Show – yep, they make no bones about whose music they are celebrating! The group of Philly area-based musicians includes Mick Bodine (lead vocals, guitar), Andre “Virus” Karkos (guitars, vocals), Chris McCoy (keyboards, vocals), Julie Meyers (violin, vocals), Tommy Grasso (bass, vocals) and Dave Ramani (drums, percussion). Check out their cool rendition of Evil Woman, a tune from ELO’s September 1975 record Face the Music, their fifth studio release.

One could argue that holding a tribute festival in New Jersey without featuring music by at least one artist from the Garden State would be an oversight. Coming to the rescue were Keep The Faith from – nope, I bet you didn’t guess that one – Canada! This Bon Jovi tribute from Ontario includes Chris Newman (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Tondreau (guitar), Dan Benezra (keyboards, vocals), Doug Adams (bass) and Mark MacPherson (drums). Shall we check out their rendition of Born to Be My Baby, off Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album? Well, it’s really a rhetorical question since it’s my frigging blog! Are you one of the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans who can’t be wrong? If so, you should know the title of Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album. Yes, New Jersey!

And then things got pretty groovy with Funky Monks who shall we say aren’t your typical monks. Formed in 2003, this Chicago-based tribute to Red Hot Chili Peppers has performed across the U.S. and even internationally. The band consists of Ryan “Ryanthony” Machnica (vocals), Mike Walker (guitar), Jeff “Jefflea” Genualdi (b-b-b-bass) and Paul Guziec (drums). In case you ever wondered why I like to say bassists are cool dudes, Jeff is one of the reasons. Yes, I know, it’s the obvious Peppers tune to feature, but I couldn’t help it. Here’s Under the Bridge, included on Peppers’ fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991.

All things must pass, as the wise George Harrison once sang. This also applies to Rock the Farm, which brings me to the final act of the night: Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK – what a great way to end yet another outstanding event! Founded in 2008, TUSK primarily focus on the Mac’s pop-rock period. In addition, they feature some music from Stevie Nicks’ solo catalog and on Saturday night also threw in a cool blues medley of the Peter Green era. TUSK are Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Here’s Little Lies, off Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album Tango in the Night, which came out in April 1987.

Rock the Farm 2022 is over. Sadly, the same cannot be said about addiction, which continues to upend the lives of those impacted and their friends and families. Many lives have been lost, even more so during the pandemic, leaving empty chairs in kitchens across this country.

The reality is addiction can happen to all of us. Nobody is immune! People struggling with drugs, alcohol and other substances deserve our compassion rather than stigmatization. That’s why it is so important that organizations like the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation continue their work. Once again, in case you’d like to find out more about their programs, visit https://healingus.org.

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC website; One Fine Tapestry Facebook page; We May Be Right website; La Grange Facebook page; Stiff Upper Lip website; The ELO Tribute Show website; Slippery When Wet website; Funky Monks website; TUSK website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Zager & Evans

Happy hump day! Once again, I need to pick a song I would take with me on a desert island. Not any tune. My selection needs to come from an artist or band I have only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. And the name of the chosen group or artist (last name) must start with a specific letter, which for this installment is “z.”

Z-options that came to mind include Zager & Evans, Frank Zappa, The Zombies and ZZ Top. I decided to go with American pop rock one-hit wonder Zager & Evans and In the Year 2525. It’s a bit of an odd song, but I’ve always liked it.

Written by one of the duo’s members, Rick Evans, the tune was first released as a single in June 1969. It ended up topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia – they certainly made that one count! The song, completely titled In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), also appeared on Zager & Evans’ debut studio album 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) that came out in July of the same year.

Denny Zager (guitar, vocals) and Rick Evans (guitar, vocals) met at Nebraska Wesleyan University in the year 1962. Initially, they formed a band called The Eccentrics, together with Danny Schindler (drums). The group disbanded when Schindler departed for his tour of Vietnam in 1965. Evans reunited with Zager in 1968. By the time they recorded In the Year 2525, they were backed by Mark Dalton (bass) and Dave Trupp (drums).

Following the success of 2525, which peaked at a respectable no. 30 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, Zager & Evans’ record label White Whale Records released an album titled The Early Writings of Zager & Evans and Others. It featured recordings of The Eccentrics on side one and songs by a band called J.K. and Co., on side two. That latter group had absolutely no connection to Zager & Evans. It all looks like an attempt to make a quick buck in the wake of a big hit. But it didn’t work. The album failed to chart.

Zager & Evans released two additional records, Zager & Evans (1970) and Food for the Mind (1971), before calling it quits. Evans later put out a record with Pam Herbert titled I Need This Song. In the late 1970s, he formed his own label, Fun Records, and released Fun Songs, Think Songs, an album featuring new songs and re-recordings of Zager & Evans material. Today, Zager builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska. Evans who had largely retired from public life passed away in February 2018.

Here’s more on In the Year 2525 from Songfacts:

This bleak futuristic tale is a very unusual song, but 1969 was a very unusual year, with hippie anthems like “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” going to #1 along with bubblegum songs like “Sugar, Sugar.” The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Temptations all had classic #1s as well, but one of the top songs was “In the Year 2525,” which stayed at #1 for six weeks.

The song reflected the apprehension of the times and also the wonder of technology. It started its run at the top of the US chart the week before the Apollo 11 moon landing.

…The song was subtitled “Exordium & Terminus,” which is a fancy way of saying “Beginning & End.” The song took itself quite seriously in its description of what will become of man as technology takes over.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Get Ready to Rock the Farm

Eighth annual 10-hour festival on Jersey shore to feature top notch tribute music for great cause

On September 24, the annual music festival Rock the Farm returns to Seaside Heights, N.J. Since my first attendance five years ago, I’ve loved the idea behind the 10-hour spectacle to combine top-notch tribute acts with a great cause. And with the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic now being well into its third year, that cause has taken on a new urgency: supporting individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction.

Drug overdose-related deaths in the U.S. have soared by 28.5% to an estimated 100,306 during the 12 months ended in April 2021, according to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2021. That’s up from 78,056 for the corresponding period a year earlier. The latest CDC insights also show that estimated overdose deaths from opioids totaled 75,673 for the latest 12-month period, a 35% increase from 56,064 the year before. Imagining all the empty seats these lost lives have left at kitchen tables around the country paints a pretty grim picture.

While there are no barns and cows and Rock the Farm doesn’t take place on a farm, it rocks anyway!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation. The New Jersey non-profit community organization offers programs for individuals and families battling to overcome addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. Their efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment in rehab, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging.

The CFC Loud N Clear Foundation was established by the Regan family in 2012 after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother, Lynn Regan, developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for Daniel and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of establishing a foundation.

CFC Loud n Clear Foundation is celebrating over 10 years of building strong communities of recovery,” said Alyssa Regan, CFC Assistant Executive Director who was kind enough to provide a quote for this post. “Rock the Farm is in its eighth year of bringing family fun and incredible music to Seaside Heights, New Jersey. However, this festival is more than just a great day during summer down the shore! Rock the Farm is about smashing the stigma of addiction, living life in recovery out loud, and the importance of aftercare and relapse prevention! This festival, which hosted 15,000 people last year, is entirely run by our community of recoverees and their families in order to raise funds for the program that has helped them gain a new life!”

Rock the Farm’s foam dance floor is a huge attraction for kids. Many mamas and papas like it as well!

Let’s take a look at the great line-up for the upcoming event, which includes tributes to Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC, ELO, Eagles, Billy Joel, Carole King, Alanis Morissette, ZZ Top and Bon Jovi. Just imagine for a second seeing all the real acts in one festival, not to mention this particular line-up wouldn’t even be possible any longer, given Carole King has retired from performing! Fleetwood Mac and Carole King tributes TUSK and One Fine Tapestry performed at all four previous Rock the Farm events I attended. On separate previous occasions, I also saw Stiff Upper Lip and Keep The Faith, tributes to AC/DC and Bon Jovi, respectively. The other tribute artists are new to me.

Following are clips to preview some of the tribute acts who will play at Rock the Farm 2022. Kicking things off are TUSK with You Make Loving Fun, footage I captured at last year’s event. Focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac, the group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums).

Next up are One Fine Tapestry with one of my all-time favorite Carole King tunes from the iconic Tapestry album: I Feel the Earth Move. At the core of this tribute act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife couple performing a variety of different tribute shows, sometimes as a duo, other times backed by a full band, which was the case here. This clip is also from Rock the Farm 2021.

Let’s do two more, using YouTube clips I didn’t create. Here are Stiff Upper Lip with Back in Black. The New Jersey band has been around since 2007 and includes Glenn Taglieri (vocals), Joe Witterschein (guitar), Mike Cusumano (guitar), Peter Lee (bass) and Steve Villano (drums).

As a blues rock fan, I couldn’t resist including ZZ Top tribute La Grange. The band features Sean Peronard as “Billy Fibbons” (Billy Gibbons), Pete Perrina as “Frank Goatee” (Frank Beard) and Jim Capobianco as “Rusty Hill” (Dusty Hill) – clever stage names! Here’s a fun promo video, including snippets of Waiting For the Bus, Under Pressure and Gimme All Your Lovin’.

In addition to plenty of great music, Rock the Farm features food trucks, a wine and beer garden and beach yoga. They also have some fun activities for kids, including a Kidzone Arts & Crafts, face painting, braid bar and “the world’s greatest FOAM dance floor.” While I can’t verify that claim, I can confirm kids and adults have had a lot of fun with the foam in the past!

“All of the members of CFC get the opportunity to create something magical that positively impacts the community, be inspired by purpose, and uplift others who are in search of hope and connection,” Regan added. “CFC has impacted over 20,000 families since its foundation and continues to come up with new and innovative ways to make recovery fun. We can’t wait to rock out with everyone on September 24th and end Recovery month in the best way possible!”

If you’re into live music, dig the above bands, want to support an important cause and can get there, I can highly recommend Rock the Farm. For tickets and more info, visit https://www.rockthefarmnj.com. You can also read more about the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation and their important work here.

Sources: CDC National Center for Health Statistics; CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; TUSK website; One Fine Tapestry website; Stiff Upper Lip website; La Grange Facebook page; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

All tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 13).

The Black Keys/Good Love

My first pick this week is new music by The Black Keys. While I had been aware of their name, I only started paying attention a year ago when the rock duo of high school friends Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) released their then-latest album Delta Kream. Now, they are back with Dropout Boogie, their 11th studio release. When they started work on the album in the summer of 2021, Auerbach and Carney first envisaged recording it as a duo but subsequently decided to collaborate with other artists. One includes Billy Gibbons, a longtime friend of the duo from Akron, Ohio. Here’s Good Love, co-written by Auerbach, Carney and Gibbons and featuring the ZZ Top guitarist. Like on predecessor Delta Kream, I dig the rawness of The Black Keys’ sound. Gibbons is a great match!

49 Winchester/All I Need

49 Winchester are a Russell County, Va.-based group who on their website describe their music as “tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk.” Following is a bit more from their website: Formed eight years ago on Winchester Street in the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), the band started as a rag tag bunch of neighborhood teenagers who just wanted to get together for the sake of playing together. Aside from Gibson [Isaac Gibson, singer/guitarist – CMM], there’s also his childhood friend, bassist Chase Chafin, alongside other Castlewood cronies — guitarist Bus Shelton, and Noah Patrick on pedal steel. Here’s All I Need, a track from the group’s fourth and latest studio album Fortune Favors The Bold. The country rocker, credited to Blaine Gibson, reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Good stuff!

State Champs/Here to Stay

Next up are Albany, N.Y.-based pop-punk band State Champs, who according to Apple Music are known for their vocal harmonies and layered guitar riffs. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The group’s first album, 2013’s The Finer Things, reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. They won two Alternative Press Music Awards, including Best Breakthrough Band in 2016 and Music Video of the Year in 2017, for “Losing Myself.” Both 2015’s Around the World and Back and 2018’s Living Proof include two songs cowritten with All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth. “Time Machine,” from 2018’s Living Proof, featured a guest vocal appearance from blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. This brings me to the group’s new album Kings of the New Age and the opener Here to Stay. Much of contemporary pop isn’t my cup of tea, but in this case, the combination with rock works for me.

Say Sue Me/Still Here

I’m pleased to wrap up this week’s music revue with indie rock from South Korea, Say Sue Me, the first time I feature a band from that country. From their website: Cited as one of 2018’s ‘break-out bands‘, Say Sue Me are a Surf Rock inspired indie band from Busan, South Korea. Members consist of Byungkyu Kim on lead guitar, Sumi Choi on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jaeyoung Kim on Bass and Sungwan Lim on Drums. Releasing their first album “We’ve Sobered Up” in 2014, and EP “Big Summer Night” in 2015, on Korean label Electric Muse, UK label Damnably Records released a self-titled compilation that paired their first record and EP in 2017, marking the band’s first release outside of Korea, which served as their introduction to International audiences. Fast forward five years to The Last Thing Left, which appears to be their third full-length album. Here’s Still Here written by Choi, a tune with a pleasant laidback sound. Also, check out her vocals – cool!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tracks and a few others.

Sources: Wikipedia; 49 Winchester website; Apple Music; Say Sue Me website; YouTube; Spotify

The Wanderer Stays On Blues Path

Dion continues to have fun on new blues collaboration album Stomping Ground

The first time I heard of Dion DiMucci dates back at least 40 years when listening to The Wanderer on a Sunday evening oldies show that aired on my favorite FM radio station back in Germany. While I immediately loved that tune then and every time I heard it thereafter, I pretty much had forgotten about Dion – until last year’s Blues With Friends, a great album of collaborations with prominent other artists. Now he’s back with an encore, and though I’m not as surprised as I wrote in June 2020, Stomping Ground still is a fun album most blues fans will likely enjoy.

As reported by Rock & Blues Muse, Stomping Ground appeared on November 19 and was produced by Wayne Wood and Dion, and recorded during the pandemic. Wood had also worked with Dion on Blues With Friends. And just like on that album, Dion wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on Stomping Ground with Mike Aquilina. Blues With Friends ended up topping Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart. And guess who the current no. 1 is, so who can blame Dion for sticking with the formula – what a remarkable late-stage career triumph!

Let’s get to some music. Unless noted otherwise, all featured tracks were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. Here’s the opener Take It Back featuring blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa who also is a co-founder of Keeping the Blues Alive Records (KTBA), the label on which the album appears. At 82 years, Dion sounds and looks great! Bonamassa’s guitar work is pretty neat as well.

If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll, written solely by Dion, features Eric Clapton. Love how that tune shuffles along!

Here’s a nice slower blues, There Was a Time. Dion’s guest artist on that tune is Peter Frampton. Sadly, more recent news on Frampton hasn’t been great. In 2019, he announced a farewell tour and revealed he had been diagnosed with a progressive muscle inflammation and wasting disorder called inclusion body myositis. As such, it’s particularly great to hear the disease evidently hasn’t started to noticeably impact his ability to play guitar.

Here’s the title track, a fun rocker featuring Billy Gibbons. ZZ Top’s long-bearded guitarist sounds in fine shape. Sadly, the Texas blues rock trio lost co-founding member and bassist Dusty Hill in late July. As anticipated, they will continue with Hill’s guitar tech Elwood Francis who filled for Hill after he had been side-lined during ZZ Top’s last tour.

The last track I’d like to call out is Angel in the Alleyways. For this tune, Dion teamed up with Patti Scialfa and her husband Bruce Springsteen, an intriguing pairing. Check out the song’s great sound. I love Scialfa’s harmony singing that at times resembles gospel, and how about Springsteen’s cool harmonica fill-ins? Here’s the official video.

I could not think of a better way to end this post than with Dion’s following comments about Stomping Ground, taken from the album’s notes, courtesy of YouTube: When I was young, I was always striving for accolades and admiration. Those were my goals. But when I reached them, they didn’t satisfy. I discovered joy when I learned to stop caring about all that – when I learned to relax and make music with friends… music that would make more friends for us through its joy. To make music with friends, and to make friends through music: I can’t imagine a better life than this. I am grateful to my friends who made Stomping Ground with me – and my new friends who are listening.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Heading West

On October 28, Neil Young announced Heading West on his Neil Young Archives website, the second upfront tune from his upcoming new album with Crazy Horse, Barn. The below official video appeared on November 4.

The crunchy electric rocker follows the acoustic folk tune Song of the Seasons from October 15, which I previously featured here. Both of these tracks sound like classic Neil, and I’m looking forward to the album that’s scheduled to drop on December 10.

My mom and I travelled across the country together, heading west, Young wrote on his website. She was on her way back home to start over. I was on my way there with her. Here’s a song about me and my mom and those ‘growing up’ times. It’s so great to remember her this way!

Heading West features Young (guitar, lead vocals) and his Crazy Horse band mates Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). The tune was recorded in the Rocky Mountains on June 21 this year at Le Mobile Remote Recording Studio. Housed in a remote recording truck, Le Mobile is a rolling recording studio that over its nearly 50-year history has been used by countless music artists from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

I think this comment by Young perfectly sums the ragged melodic tune: What a great ride with the Horse on this one! Larry Cragg [Young’s longtime guitar tech – CMM] had my guitar sounding so alive.

Neil Young with his mother Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) – undated photo from Neil Young Archives

In a separate statement on his website, Young also had this to say about the forthcoming album: All of BARN is real. It came from the heart. We may have cried after some takes…in happiness…in elation…A band of brothers, we have all known one another since our beginnings. We made ‘Only love can break your Heart’ and ‘Southern Man’ on the same album. We made ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Down by the River’ on the same album. We made ‘Don’t forget about Love’ and ‘Human Race’ on the same album. Welcome back. It’s not the same. Barn may be our best album ever.

That conclusion certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of confidence. One of the things I find intriguing about Neil Young is his spontaneity. He doesn’t seem to overthink his recording projects. Overall, I feel this approach has served him well, though it’s also fair to say the outcomes have varied.

Young is also known for having made impulsive decisions and having scrapped entire albums at the last minute. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case for Barn. If anything, for the past few years, Young seems to have been on a mission to release more of his music, as evidenced by his Archives Performance Series, not withhold it. Keeping fingers crossed!

Sources: Wikipedia; NeilYoungArchives.com; Le Mobile website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. Can you believe we’re already in August? It feels like July came and went before we knew it – crazy how time seems to fly these days! So what’s in store for this installment? In a nutshell six tracks representing different flavors of rock, a dose of Americana, and some classic rock & roll, spanning the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and the current decade. Ready to embark on another unpredictable music excursion? Let’s do it!

Spirit/I Got a Line on You

Kicking it off today are Spirit, and I’m not talking about liquor. The American rock band perhaps is best remembered for writing the signature acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Let me rephrase that. Somehow, Jimmy Page unconsciously got inspired by Spirit’s instrumental Taurus after Led Zeppelin had opened up for Spirit during their first American tour. Evidently, Messrs. Page and Robert Plant also had better lawyers, leading to a favorable verdict in a copyright infringement lawsuit the estate of Taurus composer Randy California had brought several years ago. To be clear, I love Stairway to Heaven and have come to dig Led Zeppelin big time. I just wish they would have given credit where credit was clearly warranted – nuff said! Let’s get to what I really wanted to highlight: I Got a Line on You, Spirit’s second single released in October 1968 and another tune written by California. The great song also appeared on the band’s second album The Family That Plays Together, which came out in December of the same year.

Beki Hemingway/Cost Me Everything

Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kirkman are an Americana wife and husband duo based in the Americana hot spot of Dundalk, Ireland. Shout-out to fellow blogger Darren Johnson who through his recent review of Hemingway’s latest album Earth & Asphalt brought the duo on my radar screen. For some additional context, following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s online bio: Her long and varied career has found her singing in several bands, including comical punk-rockers This Train, as well as singing live and studio backup vocals on everything from industrial to inspirational music. Things really clicked when she started collaborating with Randy Kerkman in the late 1990’s, releasing 5 CDs on the Minneapolis-based indie Salt Lady Records, performing up to 150 shows per year, and sharing the stage with nationally and internationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters such as Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and Duke Special. After several years on hiatus living a “normal life” as a tour guide and Deputy Sheriff in Denver, Beki and Randy released a 6-song ep entitled I have big plans for the world and followed up with 2017’s Whins and Weather. Since the fall of 2016, Hemingway and Kirkman have lived in Ireland. Here’s Cost Me Everything, a tune from the aforementioned Earth & Asphalt album that was released in December 2020. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Neil Young/Like a Hurricane

I trust Neil Young doesn’t need an introduction. A couple of weeks ago, my streaming music provider served up Hangin’ On a Limb, and I was going to feature this nice deep cut from Young’s 17th, 1989 studio album Freedom that’s best known for the anthemic Rockin’ in the Free World. Things changed on Thursday when my family and I found ourselves seeking shelter in our basement for two hours after a tornado warning had been issued for my area. Of course, tornadoes are pretty common in certain regions of the U.S. but in friggin’ central New Jersey? While there were several confirmed tornadoes that caused significant damage in other areas of the state, luckily, we were spared. It was a surreal and pretty humbling experience, and it wasn’t the first time. With getting blown away on my mind, I suppose Like a Hurricane wasn’t much of a leap. Appearing on American Stars ‘n Bars, Young’s eighth studio album from May 1977, the track also happens to be my all-time favorite among his crunchy rock songs.

ZZ Top/Heard It on the X

Sadly, longtime ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72. I think it’s fair to say guitarist Billy Gibbons has gotten most of the attention when it comes to the Texan rockers. That’s because he has played the cool guitar riffs and solos and has done most of the lead vocals. While I’ve enjoyed ZZ Top’s music since their 1983 Eliminator album and hits like Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, I’m far from being an expert on the band. In fact, until the news about Hill’s untimely death, I had not realized it was actually Hill who sang lead on my favorite ZZ Top tune Tush. Well, he did! And here’s another track from the Fandango! album, featuring Hill on vocals – in this case sharing duties with Gibbons. When that record appeared in April 1975, the difference between their voices wasn’t as pronounced as in later years. Check out this cool clip from Live from Texas released in various video and audio formats in June 2008. It captured ZZ Top’s November 1, 2007 gig at Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas. Makes you wonder a bit why Hill didn’t get to sing more often.

The Kinks/Sunny Afternoon

The other day, fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life picked Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks as part of his ongoing fun 2021 song draft. Not only did this remind me of the great tune but also that The Kinks are among my longtime favorite British rock bands, together with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Cream, to name a few others. When it comes to the group from Muswell Hill, I’m mostly familiar with their ’60s and early ’70s output. I still love You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Got My Feet On the Ground, A Well Respected Man, Till the End of the Day, Dead End Street…The list of great tunes that were mostly written by Ray Davies goes on and on. One of my favorite songs by The Kinks is Sunny Afternoon, yet another track penned by Ray. It first appeared as a single in the UK in June 1966, yielding the band’s third and final no. 1 hit there. In the U.S., where it was released the following month, Sunny Afternoon peaked at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also included on The Kinks’ fourth studio album Face to Face that came out in October and December 1966 in the UK and U.S., respectively. According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while recovering from a challenging period of group tensions and lawsuits. The song’s success “did bring Davies out of his funk for a while.”

Elvis Presley/Jailhouse Rock

And once again this brings me to the last tune for this installment. Elvis Presley was my childhood idol and, come to think of it, my only idol. Usually, I don’t idolize people, not even The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. Well, when I adored Elvis and would do crazy stuff like trying to impersonate him in front of a mirror I was pretty young – 12 years or so. Anyway, while I no longer idolize Elvis, I still think he was one of the most compelling music artists I know, especially during his early phase before he entered the U.S. Army. Here’s an absolute classic rock & roll gem: Jailhouse Rock, one of many great tunes co-written by the songwriting and record-producing duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. First released as a single in September 1957, Jailhouse Rock also became the title track of the third movie starring Elvis Presley. While Elvis movies are generally pretty dismal, this picture will forever be remembered for its amazing dance routine. In some regards, this feels like looking at an early version of a Michael Jackson video. The choreography is pretty stunning. Come on Spider Murphy, play that tenor saxophone, and Little Joe, blow that slide trombone!

Sources: Wikipedia; Beki Hemingway website; Songfacts; YouTube

Clips & Pix: ZZ Top/Tush

I’m still somewhat in disbelief about the sudden death of Dusty Hill at age 72, which was announced earlier today on ZZ Top’s website. According to the statement, Hill who had been the band’s bassist for more than 50 years died in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

Not surprisingly, word has spread quickly, and multiple media outlets like The Associated Press, USA Today, CNN and Rolling Stone, have already reported the sad news. I received a push notification on my phone to the aforementioned CCN story late this afternoon while being at work.

Referring to another statement on ZZ Top’s website from last week, CNN reported that Hill recently had been sidelined due a hip issue and that at Hill’s request, the band’s longtime guitar technician Elwood Francis had stepped in, as this apparently all happened while the band was touring.

Instead of writing yet another obituary, I’d like to pay tribute to Hill with the above live clip of one of ZZ Top’s best known tunes: Tush. Not only is it one of my all-time favorite songs by the Texan rockers, but it also happens to feature Hill as lead vocalist, a role typically taken by guitarist Billy Gibbons.

Tush, credited to Gibbons, Hill and drummer Frank Beard, is the final track of ZZ Top’s fourth studio album Fandango! from April 1975. It’s one of the tightest blues rockers I know and, as such, a perfect closer.

The final words of this post shall belong to ZZ Top. Here’s the statement from their website:

We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX. We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature, and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’. We will forever be connected to that “Blues Shuffle in C.”

You will be missed greatly, amigo.

Frank & Billy

Sources: Wikipedia; ZZ Top website; CNN; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

When I started Best of What’s New in March 2020, I really didn’t know whether there would be enough newly released music I sufficiently like to make this a frequently recurring feature. After all, while one occasionally encounters new artists who embrace aspects of the ’60s and ’70s, I’m under no illusion that the kind of music from my two favorite decades won’t come back. And yet, except for one occasion due to a family matter, I’ve been posting new installments weekly.

After more than a year it’s very clear to me some decent new music continues to come out. Since it’s not as easy as simply checking the charts, this can take some time. And, yes, it also requires me to be open-minded and occasionally push beyond my comfort zone. I think my selections for this week, which all appeared yesterday (May 28), illustrate the point, especially when it comes to a young artist from Canada who is of Sudanese heritage.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall some of my previous posts about this blues rock-oriented band from New York. Jane Lee Hooker have been around since 2015. Their current line-up features founding members Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar) and Hail Mary Z (bass), along with ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo who joined as the band’s new drummer last year. To date, Jane Lee Hooker have released two full-length albums, No B! (April 2016) and Spiritus (November 2017), which I covered here and here. Drive is their latest single, following Jericho from February. Both tunes will be on the band’s next album that’s slated for later this year. The new track is a departure from their hard-charging blues rock sound. A statement explained due to COVID-19 restrictions Jane Lee Hooker “found themselves locked out of their Brooklyn rehearsal room – the creative space where they write and rehearse with amps cranked up at maximum volume. Out of necessity, band catch-ups were moved to the grapevine-filled backyard of singer Dana Athens’ family home in Brooklyn – with tiny practice amps, acoustic guitars and drummer Ron Salvo keeping the beat on upturned plastic garbage cans and recycling bins.” Well, whatever impact the new setting may have had, I dig the outcome, which is more like a rock ballad with a nice soul vibe.

Lou Barlow/In My Arms

Lou Barlow is an alternative rock singer-songwriter who has been active since the early 1980s. Viewed as a pioneer of low-fi rock, Barlow has been a founding member of various bands, including Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion. Just five weeks ago, Dinosaur Jr. released their latest album Sweep It Into Space, from which I featured a track in a previous Best of What’s New installment. After 25 years, Barlow remains involved with indie rock band Sebadoh as well. In addition to his group engagements, he has also released various solo albums including his latest, Reason to Live. Here’s the opener In My Arms. I like the laid back vibe and also find this tune quite catchy.

Mustafa/Stay Alive

Mustafa Ahmed, aka Mustafa the Poet and Mustafa, is a Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and filmmaker from Toronto, who is of Sudanese heritage. According to his Apple Music profile, Mustava became known for socially conscious poetry during his youth. When he was 18, in 2014, he made his first recorded appearance as Mustafa the Poet on Lorraine Segato’s “Rize Time.” Shortly thereafter, he gained more notice when a poem he wrote was shared by Drake on social media. In 2016, Mustafa was named to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, in addition to contributing to “Feel” by Halal Gang partner SAFE, he also gained his first major songwriting credit on the Weeknd’s “Attention,” contained on the chart-topping Starboy. Over the next few years, he continued to write poetry and collaborate with other artists, and, following the murder of friend and Halal member Smoke Dawg, he made Remember Me, Toronto, a short documentary addressing gun violence and its root causes (with Drake among those whom he filmed for it). Fast-forward to the present and When Smoke Rises, Mustava’s solo debut. Here’s the album’s opener Stay Alive, co-written by him, Frank Dukes, Mohammed Omar and Simon Hessmann. Don’t let the tune’s soft acoustic sound and lovely melody distract you from the serious lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: A bottle of lean, a gun in your jeans/And a little faith in me/A plane in the sky, the only starlight/On this never-ending street/The cameras and cops, we could’ve been stars/On our mothers news screens…It’s almost a Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On approach.

Blackberry Smoke/Ain’t the Same

The last track I’d like to highlight in this Best of What’s New is a great song by Blackberry Smoke, a southern rock band formed in Atlanta, Ga. in 2000. Their line-up includes Charlie Starr (vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass, vocals) and Brit Turner (drums). Blackberry Smoke released their debut album Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime in 2003. The third album The Whippoorwill from August 2012 brought the band their first chart success in the U.S. and the UK. They have performed throughout the U.S. as headliner and supporting acts for the likes of Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ain’t the Same, co-written by Starr and Keith Nelson, is a track from Blackberry Smoke’s new album You Hear Georgia, their seventh studio release. I’ll be sure to check it out more closely!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube