Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Garth Brooks and Melissa Etheridge to be honored by NAMM during 'Believe in Music Week'

 Here is a timely media release in connection with the upcoming Believe in Music Week being presented by NAMM next month...

Garth Brooks and Melissa Etheridge to be Honored With The Music for Life Award at NAMM'S Believe in Music Week 
- Global gathering to start each morning featuring luminaries who have inspired and evolved during the pandemic –
CARLSBAD, Calif. – December 28, 2020 – NAMM is pleased to announce that at Believe in Music week, multi-platinum, GRAMMY® award winners Garth Brooks and Melissa Etheridge will be the recipients of the organization's "Music for Life" award. The annual award will be presented at the opening interview sessions on Thursday, January 21 and Friday, January 22, 2021, and recognizes individuals or organizations for their musical accomplishments and inspiring more music makers. 
“NAMM Members are often the folks behind the scenes, creating the tools and technologies that artists use to bring their voice and music to the world. And as kindred musical spirits, we were particularly inspired by this year’s Music for Life recipients for their enduring commitment to musical excellence. When the pandemic disrupted everything, the honorees found new and creative ways to connect and encourage others when it was needed the most,” shares Joe Lamond, NAMM President and CEO.
On Thursday, January 21, Brooks will join Lamond for a conversation about adapting in uncertain times and his storied career — Brooks is a seven-time CMA "Entertainer of the Year," a first for any artist, and is the first and only artist in history to receive nine Diamond Awards for the now nine
albums certified by the RIAA at more than 10 million album sales each. He remains the No. 1-selling solo artist in U.S. history, certified by the RIAA with 157 million album sales. Last March, Brooks received the esteemed Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. In 2019, Pollstar announced that The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour was the best-selling country music tour of 2019. In 2017, Brooks finished the three-and-a-half-year long Garth Brooks World Tour with Trisha Yearwood. The tour sold more than 6.3 million tickets, making it the biggest North American tour in history and the biggest American tour in the world. 
Earlier this year, Billboard announced that Brooks was the first artist to make it on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the 1980s, '90s, '00s, '10s and now '20s, with "Dive Bar," a duet he sang with Blake Shelton. Amid tour cancellations, Brooks launched "Inside Studio G," a weekly Facebook Live series from his home studio. It airs every Monday on his Facebook page at 7:00 p.m. EST.
On Friday, January 22, Melissa Etheridge, one of music's great female icons, will join Lamond for an interview and discussion about reinvention in the time of COVID and her new venture, EtheridgeTV.comEtheridge's popularity is built around such memorable songs as "Bring Me Some Water," "No Souvenirs" and "Ain't It Heavy," for which she won her first Grammy for "Best Female Rock Vocal." Etheridge hit her commercial and artistic stride in 1993 with her fourth album, Yes I Am, featuring the massive hits "I'm the Only One" and "Come to My Window," a searing song of longing that brought her a second Grammy and went six-times platinum. In 2007, Etheridge celebrated a career milestone with a victory in the "Best Song" category at the Academy® Awards for "I Need to Wake Up," written for the Al Gore documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.
On October 7, 2016, Etheridge released Memphis Rock & Soul, her first album since 2014's critically lauded This Is M.E. Recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, the album received stellar reviews from the likes of Entertainment WeeklyParadeRolling StoneAmerican Songwriter and more. She followed that up with the April 2019 release of The Medicine Show, an album that addressed the universal themes of renewal, reconciliation, reckoning, compassion and, most profoundly, healing. 
In June, Etheridge launched her own live streaming subscription and single ticket concert platform, Etheridge TV. Etheridge plays five unique shows Tuesday-Saturday at 3:00 p.m. PT and has done over 200 live streams in 2020.That same month, Etheridge also announced the launch of The Etheridge Foundation. Through the foundation, the singer said she hopes to raise money to support healthy new research into the causes and effects of opioid addiction. 
Brooks and Etheridge join past recipients of the "Music for Life" award musicians, including Graham Nash, Stevie Wonder, Yoko Ono, Henry Mancini, Bob Weir, Nancy Wilson and, in 2020, Jason Mraz, among others. The award is traditionally given each January during the global music, pro audio and entertainment technology gathering, The NAMM Show, held in Anaheim, California. 
Brooks and Etheridge interviews will join a growing roster of artist interviews at Believe in Music week from among the likes of Chick Corea, Deadmau5, Diane Warren, Jackson Browne, Lzzy Hale and others. In total, Believe in Music week will offer 150-plus interviews; professional development and training sessions for all sectors of the music products, pro audio and entertainment technology industries; and NAMM Foundation education for music educators and administrators, nonprofit professionals and college-aged students and faculty, among others. Education and training tracks include Business, Audio Production and Technology, Entertainment Technology and Artists, as well as others. 

Believe in Music week (January 18, 2021) is the online, global gathering to unite and support the people who bring music to the world. To register for free or to learn more, please visit https://attend.believeinmusic.tv

My favorite Reissues, Retrospectives and Concert Recordings of 2020

In a year where yours truly was mostly sheltering in place at home in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak I had plenty of time to enjoy a treasure-trove of special releases including multi-format reissues, retrospectives and concert recordings. Here are my favorites of 2020...Robert Kinsler


Title: Heritage II: Demos/Alternate Takes 1971-1976 (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: America, Andrew Gold, Neil Young, David Crosby
Tell me more: Time has been more than kind to the music of America. Recent headlining tours have helped shed a welcome reassessment of the groundbreaking trio (Dan Peek died in 2011, but Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley have carried on with a top-tier touring band). Add to the renewed interest in the band the 2020 release Heritage II: Demos/Alternate Takes 1971-1976, an essential collection of demos, alternate studio takes and live jams captured during the beginning of America's time working with producer Sir George Martin. The evocative lure of "Cornwall Blank," piano-anchored Beckley ballad "Mandy" (a song previously not released), an alternate mix of the hit "Tin Man" with a focus on the backing vocals, and alternate mix of the winning "Simple Life" all add depth to America's legacy. Other highlights include an intimate demo of Beckley's baroque ballad "What Does It Matter," luxurious vocals-and-strings slice of Peek's "You" produced by Martin and engineered by Geoff Emerick, and the Bunnell folk rock original "Amber Cascades." The biggest surprise on the disc may well be the ambitious instrumental jam "Jameroony" featuring Bunnell, Beckley and Peek showcasing their skills on acoustic guitars for more than 12 glorious minutes. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com and venturahighway.com.

The B-52s
Title: Live At US Festival (Shout! Factory)
You might like if you enjoy: the B-52's, Devo, the US Festival
Tell me more: Thirty-eight years after the B-52s took the stage at the inaugural US Festival in September 1982, the group's fabled appearance  featuring the band's classic era lineup  is available to see via a terrific DVD. The groundbreaking forerunner to Coachella, the US Festival was a music, technology and culture event staged in Glen Helen Regional Park in the Southern California desert in 1982 and again in 1983. The B-52s' performance has long been considered one of the finest of the two-year event and its showcase on the Shout! Factory release delivers on that promise in spades. The B-52s are on fire throughout the performance, fueling a bona fide dance party with one surefire uptempo post-punk New Wave track after another. Led by singer Fred Schneider, singer-percussionist Cindy Wilson, singer-keyboardist Kate Pierson, guitar great Ricky Wilson (who passed away in 1985) and drummer Keith Strickland, the band is also joined by a two-man horn section (sax player Ralph Carney, trumpeter Dave Buck) to further power the dance-minded material in the performance.  The fast-moving set includes 13 classic originals including beloved favorites "Party Out Of Bounds," "Planet Claire," "Mesopotamia," "Private Idaho" and "Rock Lobster." There are also interview segments where Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson discuss the US Festival performance, Ricky Wilson's contributions, and their enduring career. Information: ShoutFactory.com.

 Blue Öyster Cult

Title: iHeart Radio Theater N.Y.C. 2012 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)
You might like if you enjoy: Rush, Asia, Blue Öyster Cult
Tell me more: Blue Öyster Cult's performance at iHeartRadio Theater in New York City on Dec. 17, 2012 was staged before an intimate setting of 200 fans as part of a special concert in connection with the band's 40th Anniversary and release of a boxset The Columbia Albums Collection. Fortunately the special webcast was also captured by high-res video cameras and state-of-the-art recording equipment for the newly-released iHeart Radio Theater N.Y.C. 2012. The rock quintet (singer-lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, singer-guitarist Eric Bloom, guitarist-keyboardist Richie Castellano, bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Jules Radino) opens with the blistering "R U Ready 2 Rock" and never looks back, delivering up powerful and convincing versions of many of the troupe's most beloved originals. Blending progressive and psychedelic rock styles, early highlights include the dynamic "Golden Age of Leather," an extended take on the infectious hit "Burnin' For You" and heavy metal favorite "This Ain't the Summer of Love." Later Blue Öyster Cult escalates the concert's power quotient with the lead guitar-anchored rocker "Shooting Shark," hard rocker "Cities On Flame with Rock and Roll," the enthralling prog rocker "The Vigil," and bona fide rock radio classics "Godzilla" and "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." The band's blend of virtuoso musicianship, creative and full harmonies and unflinching song craft make for a powerful presention across the title. iHeart Radio Theater N.Y.C. 2012 is available via audio CD/DVD, Blu-ray and vinyl formats. Information: BlueOysterCult.com.

Def Leppard
Title: London to Vegas (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: Def Leppard, Queen
Tell me more: Those who pick up Def Leppard's latest release will see the band in not one but two full-length performances. The first performance, "Hysteria At The O2," finds the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers celebrating their 1987 album Hysteria with a concert set revisiting that multi-platinum album from start to finish before a hometown crowd in London in December 2018. To be sure this is an important outing for the quintet, and the members of Def Leppard (singer Joe Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick "Sav" Savage and drummerRick Allen) offer up powerful arena rock-ready takes of classics including "Love Bites," "Pour Some Sugar On Me," "Animal," "Gods of War" and the rest of Hysteria before delving into other moments in their history for choice cuts including the set-ending "Let's Get Rocked," "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph." 
The second performance "Hits Vegas"  filmed at Zappos Theater in Planet Hollywood a few months after the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019  features a far-flung set offering some choice deep cuts from the band. The hard-rocking "Die Hard The Hunter," harmonies-drenched "Too Late for Love," ambitious "Billy's Got a Gun" (bolstered by the tandem lead guitar work of Collen and Campbell) and "Paper Sun" as well as the acoustic-styled "Let Me Be The One" and "We Belong" are delivered with power and perfection. The hits are here as well, including terrific runs through "Foolin'," "Bringin' On The Heartbreak," "Rocket," "Action" and "Armageddon It." Bonus features include interviews with all five members of the band discussing the legacy of Hysteria and preparing for the concert events in London and Las Vegas. "London to Vegas" is available as a deluxe 2Blu-ray+4CD, 2DVD+4CD, and via digital formats. Information: eagle-rock.com.

The Doors
Titles: Morrison Hotel: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Elektra)
You might like if you enjoy: The Doors, classic rock 
Tell me more: Back in February 1970, The Doors released what was to be their second-to-last studio album featuring singer Jim Morrison. Now the band's fifth album  Morrison Hotel — is available via a terrific 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition that includes the original album newly remastered by The Doors' longtime engineer and mixer Bruce Botnick, plus a bonus disc of unreleased studio outtakes along with the original album on 180-tram virgin vinyl. There are 19 previously-unreleased studio outtakes providing more than an hour of material that will be new to followers of the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame quartet (Morrison, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore). Among the must-hear tracks on the reissue are early versions of "Peace Frog" and "Blue Sunday" along with the bona fide rarity "I Will Never Be Untrue." Get this limited edition title while you can. Information: TheDoors.com.

Bob Dylan

Title: Masked and Anonymous (Shout Select / Shout! Factory)
Tell me more: What do actors Jeff BridgesPenélope CruzJohn GoodmanJessica LangeLuke WilsonAngela BassettVal Kilmer and Bruce Dern have in common? All are among the Hollywood greats who appear alongside legendary Bob Dylan in the genre-defying cult classic "Masked And Anonymous." The essential 2020 Blu-ray edition features the film in high definition and immersive 5.1 audio. Seventeen years after its release, "Masked and Anonymous" remains a groundbreaking and revealing film that works on a myriad of levels. Dylan portrays folk singer-songwriter Jack Fate, a one-time traveling troubadour who is released from jail by his desperate manager to headline an ill-fated benefit concert. The 2003 Larry Charles-directed masterwork ultimately provides a deep appreciation of Dylan's music and mythos amidst a storyline that was far ahead of its time in terms of its look at a nation in decline, the unethical music business, brutal governments and a less-than-objective press. Performing alongside a long parade of acting greats, Dylan is an arresting presence on camera and that palpable on-camera command is enhanced when he performs with his band throughout the movie. In addition to the brilliant feature film, bonus features on the title include a new interview with the director, deleted scenes, a "making of" feature and theatrical trailers. Information: ShoutFactory.com.

 Flying Colors
Title: Third Stage: Live in London (Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group)
You might like if you enjoy: Asia, Kansas, Steve Morse
Tell me more: Acclaimed prog-rock supergroup Flying Colors issued a wonderful deluxe collection Third Stage: Live in London, a five-disc set that includes a full December 2019 concert on two audio CDs, the full show on DVD, along with a bonus Morsefest show and four music videos on DVD, and a blu-ray with the same contents as both aforementioned DVDs in high definition. That impressive limited edition yearbook package is equaled by the performance and song craft displayed by guitar master Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple, Kansas), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band), keyboardist-vocalist Neal Morse (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic), drummer-vocalist Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and lead singer-rhythm guitarist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) across their actual performance. This is a stellar and spellbinding concert thanks to astounding tracks such as the enthralling opener "Blue Ocean," magnificent "A Place In Your World," dazzling hard rocker "More," melodic acoustic rock offering "You Are Not Alone," elevated "Infinite Fire" and anthemic sing-along "The Storm." Information: FlyingColorsMusic.com.

Game Theory

Title: Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Game Theory, The Three O'Clock, Big Star, the Loud Family
Tell me more: History is filled with immensely talented top-tier artists who earned the well-deserved accolade of the music press and a dedicated cult following without scoring much-deserved commercial success. Such was the case with Davis, California-spawned Game Theory, a band led by singer-guitarist Scott Miller that released some of the most eclectic and impressive albums of the 1980s. Following Miller's tragic death at the age of 53 in April 2013, Los Angeles label Omnivore Recordings began issuing a series of deluxe reissue editions of a parade of masterworks from Game Theory; now the band's final chapter (1989-90) never previously showcased outside of some rare tour dates is chronicled via the marvelous just-released Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript. In addition to Miller, this late edition version of the troupe featured bassist-singer Michael Querico (of The Three O'Clock fame), Gil Ray (guitar, keyboards), and Jozef Becker (drums). Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript features a total of two dozen tracks including a score of terrific demos, live tracks and home recordings. The compilation opens with a powerful home recording of the Beatles' "All My Loving" where Miller sings the first verse completely a cappella. The driving rocker "My Free Ride," wistful home demo of "Go Back To Sleep Little Susie (Aerodeliria)," psychedelia-laced "Forget All About It" and jangle pop jewel "Inverness" are early collection highlights on the collection. The dreamy pop of "Water," acoustic baroque sortie "Even You," the probing "Some Grand Vision" and fiery acoustic home demo of "Idiot Son" hit their mark with equal potency later on the disc. Among the other winning selections on the fantastic disc is a live version of the Monkees' classic "The Door Into Summer" and radio session recording of Miller covering Alex Chilton's Big Star favorite "Back Of A Car." Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Title: Live Baby Live (Eagle Vision)
You might like if you enjoy: INXS
Tell me more: The release of Live Baby Live has provided a magical way to rediscover INXS. Filmed at Wembley Stadium in London, Live Baby Live chronicles the Australian outfit's full-length headlining concert in front of more than 73,000 fans on July 13, 1991. The band was on fire throughout the satisfying set, and the title (available via 4K and HD digital download, 4K Ultra High Definition Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD) looks and sounds fantastic. Indeed, the original 35mm film was completely restored for the debut commercial run shown in theaters around the world in late 2019; additionally the audio was remixed and remastered by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios  the concert is presented in full for the first time and is spectacular. Watching the captivating performance by charismatic singer Michael Hutchence and his five bandmates thrill the crowd for more than 90 minutes, the parade of hits and satisfying deep cuts never falters.  Exciting takes on "New Sensation," "Original Sin" (the band's first #1 hit in their native Australia), "Mystify," "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside" and many more are obvious favorites; the band's powerful dance rocker "Suicide Blonde," soulful "Disappear," acoustic ballad "By My Side" and ornate "Lately" are among the other delights showcased across the film. The physical packages feature new 4K-sourced photography from the show, new notes from the band and an essay by broadcaster and super INXS fan Jamie East, who was in the crowd that day. Information: eagle-rock.com.

Little Richard
Titles: The Rill Thing, King of Rock, Southern Child, The Second Coming, Lifetime Friends 
 (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Little Richard, Prince, James Brown, Vintage Trouble
Tell me more: Little Richard's passing on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87 did little to silence the legacy of one of rock and roll's most gifted and influential founders. Omnivore Recordings issued five essential expanded reissues of some of his finest late career albums and they are glorious. So rather than focus on any single one of the titles, I prefer to celebrate The Rill Thing, King of Rock and Roll, Southern ChildThe Second Coming and Lifetime Friends — spanning the years of 1970 to 1986. Not only is the artist sounding better than ever on these titles, but the mix of styles explored is especially impressive. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Bob Marley
Title: Uprising Live! (Eagle Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, reggae music
Tell me more: In celebration of the 75th birthday of the late reggae great Bob MarleyEagle Records and the Bob Marley Estate have released Uprising Live! on vinyl for the first time. The classic recording captures a performance on the Jamaica native's "Uprising Tour" that ran through Europe from May to July 1980 with five additional dates in the U.S. in September of that year. Sadly, it was Marley's final tour before his death from cancer in May 1981. He was only 36. Uprising Live! was recorded at Dortmund's Westfalenhalle on June 13, 1980 and is a must have for fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. After a short set featuring his backing trio I Threes(Rita MarleyMarcia GriffithsJudy Mowatt), Marley is front and center to perform inspired and riveting versions of many of his most beloved anthems. The intoxicating likes of "Natural Mystic," "Could You Be Loved," "No Woman No Cry," "Exodus," "Redemption Song" and "Get Up, Stand Up" are among the galvanizing performances showcased on the title. In addition to the 3LP being available on black vinyl, a limited-edition colored vinyl release is also available. Marley is widely credited with introducing reggae to millions of fans around the world and his legacy is celebrated spectacularly across Uprising Live! Information: BobMarley.com.

 Paul McCartney

Title: Flaming Pie (Capitol Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne
Tell me more: Originally released in May 1997, Paul McCartney's wonderful Flaming Pie remains one of his most beloved and treasured solo efforts. Now the classic has arrived as the 13th release in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, supervised by McCartney and remastered at Abbey Road Studios. The new version sounds incredible; that 2020 edition of Flaming Pie fully delivers on the rich contributions of the slew of talents who joined forces to craft the original LP. Indeed, McCartney, Jeff Lynne and George Martin produced the album's tracks while Geoff Emerick assisted with engineering duties. McCartney, Ringo StarrSteve MillerLinda McCartney and son James McCartney were among the notables who played across the 14-track disc. The songs here frequently equal the emotional power, melodic force and spirited exuberence of his Beatles-era classics; listen to the infectious "The World Tonight," reflective baroque pop gem "Someday," the power pop salvo "Young Boy," lovely acoustic ballad "Calico Skies" and ravishing "Little Willow" to be reminded why McCartney is rightly considered one of the greatest recording artists of all time. The two-disc version of Flaming Pie reviewed by this writer features the original album remastered on disc one, while the second disc includes 21 tracks of bonus material including home recordings, demos and rough mixes of the songs that would appear on the final album along with non-album singles from that period. In addition to the 2CD version I have, a 5CD/2DVD/4LP Collector's Edition, 5CD/2DVD Delue Edition and 3LP edition are available. An essential addition to any music lover's library. Information: PaulMcCartney.com.

The Monkees
The Mike & Micky Show (Rhino Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Monkees, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith
Tell me more: Hard to believe, but the Monkees' latest release The Mike & Micky Show marked the first-ever official live album from the '60s hitmakers. While the group's lineup is down to Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith(Davy Jones died in February 2012, while Peter Tork passed away in February 2019). This terrific collection sounds fantastic, with oft-shimmering harmonies, a joyful spirit, timeless strength of songcraft and sparkling storytelling shining across the 25-track set. Dolenz is one of his generation's most gifted lead singers, able to elevate power pop, garage rockers, Americana and tender ballads with equal potency. Even now, his voice remains a wonder as evidenced by top-flight singing on the freewheeling rocker "Mary, Mary," the wistful "For Pete's Safe," jubilant "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and rollicking "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." Nesmith's strong signature baritone takes center stage on original country-flavored gems including "Sunny Girlfriend," "Listen to the Band," "Sweet Young Thing," "Circle Sky" and "St. Matthew." Together, their duel voices create magic on "Birth of an Accidental Hipster" (a psychedelic gift penned by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller), country-western original "Papa Gene's Blues," the Ben Gibbard-penned baroque ballad "Me & Magdalena" and inspired "I'm a Believer." Information: monkees.com.

Title: In • Frequencies (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: NRBQ, Carbon Leaf, Brian Wilson
Tell me more: Although groundbreaking Louisville, Kentucky-spawned troupe NRBQ has been recording and releasing music since the late 1960s the band waited until 2020 to issue their first-ever set of rarities and outtakes. In • Frequencies fully delivers on the promise of a stockpile of hidden gems finally seeing the light of day. A brief instrumental recording captured at a soundcheck in 1968 ("Dogwood Winter") opens the collection and the diversity and adventuresome spirit of NRBQ is displayed with equal aplomb on the more than dozen tracks that follow. The band's mastery of an infinite of genres is exhibited; jazz ("Get Real," "Love Came To Me"), swing revival ("That's All"), progressive folk ("Sho' Need Love,"), R&B (the New Orleans-mining "We'll Make Love"), power pop ("It's a Wild Weekend"), art damage ("Everybody's Smokin' "), country blues ("Sourpuss") and genre-defying nuggets ("Orioles," "Let Me Tell You 'Bout My Girl") resonate across the myriad of styles and decades represented. All but four of the selections on In • Frequencies are previously unissued. The packaging includes insightful liner notes, commentary and photographs. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Tom Petty
Title: Wildflowers
 & All the Rest (Warner Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Tell me more: From the rousing rocker "You Wreck Me" and gorgeous ballad "Crawling Back to You" to the shimmering Byrds-flavored "A Higher Place," the material across Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest reveals a sophistication, ambition and unadulterated diversity that is a reminder how great the 1994 album Wildflowers was. The expanded Wildflowers & All the Rest includes all 25 songs originally envisioned to be part of a double album; standouts on "All The Rest" (disc 2) include the dreamy "Something Could Happen," melodious "Leave Virginia Alone," Southern fried blues rocker "Confusion Wheel," Americana foray "Harry Green" and genre-busting "Climb That Hill." There are several deluxe configurations of the title available; I have the 4-disc version which includes a disc of home recordings and another disc of tracks from Wildflowers performed live. Information: TomPetty.com.

The Rolling Stones
Title: Goats Head Soup 2020 (Interscope Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Rolling Stones, Mick Taylor
Tell me more: Listening to the remastered reissue of The Rolling Stones' 1973 classic Goats Head Soup (released on Sept. 4, 2020) is to gain a far greater appreciation of the masterwork. The freewheeling opener "Dancing With Mr D," volcanic "100 Years Ago," edgy "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," sentimental ballad "Angie," rollicking "Silver Train," rowdy "Star Star" and other timeless songs introduced to the world 47 years ago remain an essential part of the British band's legacy. What's more, the bonus material from the period available for the first time adds depth to the 2020 reissue. Three previously-unheard studio tracks ("Criss Cross," "All The Rage" and "Scarlet") are also revealed; "Scarlet" is the jewel here, a signature-styled Stones blues rocker featuring guests Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Rick Grech (of Blind Faith) joining for an especially enticing collaboration. Another standout is a demo of "100 Years Ago" featuring Mick Jagger singing the cut to the lone accompaniment of piano. That bonus disc of unreleased tracks features a number of great unissued mixes by Rolling Stones insider and celebrated producer Glyn Johns. A third disc in the box set editions includes "Brussels Affair," a 15-track live concert recorded in Belgium in 1973. That fiery concert set, mixed by Bob Clearmountain, was previously only available in The Rolling Stones' "official bootleg" series of live recordings in 2012. The Goats Head Soup reissue is available in multiple configurations, including four-disc CD and vinyl box set editions. Those deluxe box sets offer the original 10-track album in 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Atmos and Hi-Res mixes, along with the videos for several of the songs. An exclusive 100-page book with captivating images from the era and details about the recording of the album as well as the iconic album artwork is also included. Information: RollingStones.com.

 The Rolling Stones
Title: Steel Wheels Live  Atlantic City, New Jersey (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
You might like if you enjoy: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker
Tell me more: While The Rolling Stones had to postpone their 15-date "No Filter" tour of North America in the spring and summer of 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak, fans of the British rockers can catch up on the band's historic legacy via Steel Wheels Live – Atlantic City, New Jersey multiple format title. The previously-unreleased December 1989 concert film is the latest release from the Rolling Stones' rich archives; it has been completely restored, remixed and remastered  it looks and sounds great. The performance is a fine one to be sure, with the band's marathon-length set a mix of hits and choice selections (including "Mixed Emotions" and "Rock and a Hard Place") off their acclaimed comeback Steel Wheels album released a few months before the concert date. The fast-moving set includes a fiery "Bitch," R&B-flavored "Harlem Shuffle," playful "Miss You," freewheeling "Can't Be Seen" (featuring Keith Richards' lead vocals), magnificent "Gimme Shelter" and many more. As if the Stones' talents alone were not great enough the special night featured some high-profile guests joining Richards, Mick JaggerCharlie WattsRonnie Wood, and Bill WymanGuns N' Roses' singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin joined the band for their first-ever live performance of "Salt Of The Earth" (from 1968's Beggars Banquet album); Eric Clapton unleashes some impressive guitar work on "Little Red Rooster" before bluesman John Lee Hooker takes center stage for an inspired "Boogie Chillen." Backing vocalist Lisa Fischer and saxophone master Bobby Keys shine throughout the show. Information: Eagle-Rock.com.

 Marty Stuart
Title: The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey (BMG Books)
You might like if you enjoy: Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Johnny Cash
Tell me more: At 192 pages and weighing well over three pounds, the astounding hardcover title The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey fully expands and sheds light anew on country icon Marty Stuart's brilliant The Pilgrim. Released in 1999, The Pilgrim was Stuart's 10th album and marked a true artistic turning point for the artist. In addition to Stuart's considerable talents as singer-songwriter and musician, he is joined by the likes of Emmylou HarrisPam TillisGeorge Jones and Johnny Cash on the ambitious album inspired by true events that occurred in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. The lushly-illustrated coffee table volume features countless details about the recording of the project and what the seminal album has meant to Stuart's celebrated career; additionally, the title is enhanced by the inclusion of an audio CD featuring the original album along with 10 unreleased bonus tracks. Information: www.bmg.com.

Hank Williams

Title: Pictures From Life's Other Side: The Man and His Music in Rare Recordings and Photos (BMG)
You might like if you enjoy: Hank Williams, traditional country music
Tell me more: In addition to the wonderful edition of Marty Stuart's The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey, BMG released the equally-crucial Hank Williams table-top book Pictures From Life's Other Side: The Man and His Music in Rare Recordings and Photos. The book includes more than 200 photos (many never-before-seen!) of the late country music hero as well as six full-length audio CDs of remastered performances pulled from his "Mother's Best" radio series. More than 65 years after his death at the age of 29 on New Year's Day in 1953, Williams remains among the most influential and important country music artists of all time. This splendid coffee table book  that comes in a slipcase and is bolstered by a treasure trove of audio recordings  serves as an enduring reminder that Williams classics such as "Cold Cold Heart," "Lovesick Blues," "I Saw the Light," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and many more set a template for country music and Americana styles that live on in 2020. Information: www.bmg.com.

Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks

Title: Orange Crate Art
(Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach
Tell me more: Fans of The Beach Boys' most adventuresome music will want to get the wonderful 25th anniversary reissue of Orange Crate Art, the ambitious 1994 collaboration between icon Brian Wilson and producer-arranger Van Dyke ParksIt is a wonderful companion to 2011's The Smile Sessions, a project that completed the Beach Boys album SMiLE (that was originally recorded in 1966 and 1967 but never completed; that LP was composed by Wilson with Dyke Parks providing the lyrics). Orange Crate Art features a collection of genre-defying songs penned by Parks, who recruited Wilson back into the studio to sing the songs; this was no easy task since Wilson was coached to sing lead vocals and all harmony vocals on the songs (just listen to "Palm Tree and Moon" and "Summer in Monterey"). This is an outstanding album of songs that collectively celebrate the mythical Southern California of yesterday; the Baroque pop title track, Beach Boys-flavored "Sail Away" and lounge chamber pop "My Hobo Heart" are early highlights. The artful rocker "San Francisco," Calypso-tinged "Hold Back Time," orchestral pop gem "Movies Is Magic" and Americana mining "This Town Goes Down at Sunset" capture the bold and zealous spirit of this truly original and captivating title. The end of the first disc includes three previously-unissued session outtakes. A second disc on the 2-CD package features 11 instrumental versions of the songs heard on the first disc. Orange Crate Art is available as a 2-CD or 2-LP vinyl set. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Ronnie Wood
Title: Somebody Up There Likes Me (Eagle Rock Films)
You might like if you enjoy: The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, The Faces
Tell me more: "Somebody Up There Likes Me" is a Mike Figgis-directed film tracing guitar great Ronnie Wood's 50-year career as a member of The BirdsThe Jeff Beck GroupThe Faces and The Rolling Stones. The documentary film will be released in North America as a virtual cinema event starting on Sept. 18 and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment. The documentary features brand new interviews with Wood's long-time Rolling Stones band mates Mick JaggerKeith Richards and Charlie Watts, as well as his Faces band mate Rod Stewart, his wife Sally Wood and several other notable players in the music industry. In addition to a wealth of interviews, the documentary features performance segments of Wood playing guitar and harmonica, as well as footage of him painting in the studio (he has increasingly become celebrated for his fine paintings). The pacing of the film is wonderful, with segments of quiet beauty where Wood is immersed creating art in his studio intermixed with historic and recent performance footage along with a wealth of revealing interviews touching on his hardships (including abusing himself with addictions to drugs, heavy smoking and alcohol) and successes (beating cancer and emphysema, discovering a love of music early in life). "He's as tough as nails," Richards says of Wood in one interview. What the film ultimately reveals is how Wood also has a profound gratitude for the music, people and fateful events in his life that have made it so rich. Information: RonnieWoodMovie.com.

Neil Young

Title: Homegrown (Reprise Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Bob Dylan
Tell me more: When it comes to tales of long lost musical treasures, it's tough to beat the backstory of Neil Young's latest offering Homegrown released on June 19, 2020. Originally set for release in 1975, Homegrown was recorded between June 1974 and January 1975. Indeed, Young himself cancelled the initial commercial release of HomegrownIs the album worth the more than 45-year wait? To be sure. Things commence with the wonderfully-ragged "Separate Ways," a mix of rootsy rock and alternative country stylings. A feel good and positive "Try" follows, a romantic invitation whose lyricism is the equal of the track's sweet-tempered grace. Another joyful standout is "White Line," where Young's acoustic delivery is enhanced by some sweet lead guitar work from Robbie Robertson sprinkled artfully throughout. A quiet and inviting "Star of Bethlehem," embellished with Young's gentle harmonica play and additional lovely vocals from Emmylou Harris bolster the LP closer. The overall feel and tone of the album is alt country, with Young mixing that soundscape with injections of the blues ("We Don't Smoke It No More"), spoken word narration ("Florida"), rock ("Vacancy") and folk ("Kansas"). "Mexico" and "Little Wing"  songs that Young delivers alone  are particularly affecting. There is a profound elegance displayed via the songs, stellar musicianship and the resplendent sound of the 12 memorable tracks lovingly restored from the original master tapes by John Hanlon. Information: NeilYoungArchives.com.


Artist: John Lennon
Title: Gimme Some Truth (Capitol Records)
You might like if you enjoy: John Lennon, The Beatles
Tell me more: In celebration of what would have been John Lennon's 80th birthday, Capitol/UMe released Gimme Some Truth on Oct. 9, 2020. Released via several configurations (including a Deluxe 2CD/Blu-ray edition that includes a 124-page book and much more), the 2CD version I have revisits three dozen of the artist's most beloved solo songs, all upgraded via the work of engineer Paul Hicks, engineer Sam Gannon and mastering pro Alex Wharton at Abbey Road Studios. Listening to these glorious new mixes is to be swept up again by Lennon's monumental talent as a singer-songwriter able to address love, loss, social justice, marriage, world peace, racism, feminism and a myriad of other topics with a brutal honesty that rings true long after his tragic death in December 1980. The range of songs astound even today; the timeless rocker "Instant Karma!," sparse "Working Class Hero," intimate "Love," adored "Imagine," stirring "Oh My Love" and timely "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" are among this writer's favorites. Gimme Some Truth is available as a 19-track CD or 2LP, a 36-track 2CD, or 4 LP, the aforementioned Deluxe edition, and several digital versions for download and streaming including in 24 bit/96 KHz audio and hi-res Dolby Atmos. Information: JohnLennon.com.

Monday, December 28, 2020

My favorite 20 albums of 2020

While I will not be sorry to see 2020 positioned firmly in the rear-view mirror, I have to admit the parade of potent new album releases was strong. Check out my favorite studio releases of 2020 (releases are listed in alphabetical order by the name of the artist)...Robert Kinsler

Title: Power Up (Columbia Records Group)
You might like if you enjoy: AC/DC, Deep Purple's 2020 "Whoosh!" 
Tell me more: Few bands have faced their demons and battled back with the kind of aplomb displayed by AC/DC. This is band that was seemingly doomed from the time founding lead singer Bon Scott died in February 1980. Major hearing issues for long-time vocalist Brian Johnsonthat led him to being temporarily replaced by Axl Rose in 2016, the death of founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017 and legal issues aplenty for drummer Phil Rudd were somehow overcome as evidenced on the hard rockers' brilliant 2020 return Power Up. Those worrying the Australia-spawned Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have lost a step fear not; this album rocks as hard as anything in their storied discography. My favorite tracks are the head-banging "Shot In The Dark" and "Systems Down," catchy instant-classic "Witch's Spell," bluesy "Kick You When You're Down" and "No Man's Land," and probing "Through The Mists Of Time." Truth be told, every cut on the album rocks. Information: acdc.com.

Action Skulls

Title: A Different World (Action Skulls Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, the Cowsills, America
Tell me more: Action Skulls' sophomore album A Different World is a resounding, perfectly-crafted response to 2020's coronavirus pandemic. Armed with their winning vocal harmonies, obvious sonic chemistry, impressive musicianship and terrific songs, Vicki Peterson (the Banglesthe Continental Drifters), her husband John Cowsill (the Cowsills, a long-time member of Mike Love's Beach Boys touring band) and Bill Mumy (co-founder of the duo Barnes & Barnes, and a celebrated actor known for his memorable roles on "Lost In Space" and "Twilight Zone") wrote and recorded the Americana-flavored disc in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. In a recent video interview, Mumy noted that he was very inspired to write about how Americans have reacted to the crisis, penning specific songs from different character points of view  amazingly he wrote 12 songs over a 14-day span. The songs stir with listeners sure to relate to numbers created in the early days of the new world we now all share. The baroque pop title track is bolstered by the refrain "Woke Up This Morning in a Different World," a line that is offered at first intimately and later via intoxicating Beach Boys-flavored vocal counterpoint. The album's first countrified single, "Social Distancing Blues," takes a calm and relaxed look at the state of the world when the pandemic arrived. Other songs provide a wry escape; the old-time bluegrass strains of "When I See You Again" and "I've Had Me Gin" along with the aptly-pegged "The Stay at Home Blues" artfully explore the challenges of sheltering in place in 2020. More poignant in tone are the wistful "Until Now," the lovely piano-anchored "You Heal My Soul," haunting "Cured by Love" and evocative "We've Got a Baby in Our House." The instrumental solo piano piece "Quarantined" is simply exquisite. Information: Facebook.com/actionskulls.

Title: Sad Hunk (Brushfire Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bahamas, Dave Matthews, Donavon Frankenreiter
Tell me more: Bahamas (the moniker for Toronto, Canada-based singer-songwriter/self-taught guitar master Afie Jurvanen) has returned with Sad Hunk, his first full-length album since 2018's Earthtones. The good news for fans of the artist is that his winning streak of delivering nuanced and intimate originals blending pop, rock, R&B, soul, folk and even Caribbean styles continues to be fully on display across the 10-track LP. The nimble "Trick To Happy" is a breezy and confessional ride where the artist wonders if there is "Is there a trick to being happy" as he admits "life is moving past me." The beautiful acoustic ballad "Half Your Love" showcases his expressive baritone vocals while simultaneously examining how to mine the deepest reaches of romantic bliss. Other standouts on the new LP include the driving "Own Alone" (bolstered by some flashy guitar licks), the playful blues-tinged "Done Did Me No Good," acoustic surf rocker "Up With The Jones," true genre mash-up "Wisdom Of The World" and self-deprecating "Not Cool Anymore." The witty and literate songs that fill the disc are delivered with authenticity and artful arrangements, each adorned with inviting and skilled guitar work. Information: BahamasMusic.net.

 Blue Öyster Cult
Title: The Symbol Remains (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)
You might like if you enjoy: Blue Öyster Cult, classic rock
Tell me more: Before the release of Blue Öyster Cult's outstanding new release The Symbol Remains in early October, it had been nearly two decades since the classic rock quintet had last issued a new studio album (2001's Curse of the Hidden Mirror). The great news is The Symbol Remains was well worth the wait, an epic return where the American rockers prove they have plenty to say musically and lyrically. Rich harmonies, in-the-pocket riffs, prog-rock virtuosity and an obvious chemistry among the players add up to 14 tracks that hit their mark. Indeed, dueling guitar leads between Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Richie Castellano on "Nightmare Epiphany" recall the thrilling firepower the two greats display at any BÖC concert.  The band's long-recognized wide-ranging signature approach to creating songs that tap into a mix of rock styles plays out here; the razor sharp rockers "That Was Me" and "Box In My Head," dark goth-tinged "Edge of the World," infectious riff rocker "The Machine" (enhanced by a super melodic chorus), blues rocker "Train True (Lennie's Song)," driving "The Return of St. Cecilia," and colorful tale "Florida Man" are among the killer cuts on The Symbol Remains. In addition to the aforementioned Roeser and Castellano, BÖC's long-time lineup features singer-guitarist Eric Bloom, bassist Danny Miranda and drummer Jules RadinoInformation: Blueoystercult.com/.

Joe Bonamassa
Title: Royal Tea (J&R Adventures)
You might like if you enjoy: Walter Trout, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa
Tell me more: Joe Bonamassa's latest album Royal Tea is his strongest album to date, a compelling tour de force that showcases the New York native's amazing guitar work and commanding vocals served up with a full plate of killer original songs. Recorded at legendary Abbey Road Studios in January 2020 and produced by Kevin Shirley, Royal Tea thrills as a potent mixture of British blues and Bonamassa's own fusion of various strains of blues across 10 incredible cuts that serve as an immediate reminder why nothing beats the magic of a cohesive album. Bonamassa's guitar work continues to astound; what's more the infectious riffs and jaw-dropping solos always come in the service of absorbing song craft. Royal Tea is obvious nod to British blues rock but tagged with Bonamassa's spellbinding fretwork and backing gospel vocals. "A Conversation With Alice" mines '70s greats ranging from Bad Company and The Who to Steely Dan while still sounding fully like a Bonamassa track. The moody "Beyond The Silence" – featuring the talents of keyboardist Reese Wynans – is as beautiful as it is haunting. The heavy "Lookout Man!" shatters any stereotypes about blues being relegated to the past with Bonamassa and his musical mates equaling the might of any of their hard rock and punk contemporaries. Crank this one up. Information: JBonamassa.com.

Deep Purple

Title: Whoosh! (earMusic / Edel)
You might like if you enjoy: Deep Purple, Rainbow
Tell me more: Deep Purple's 2020 release Whoosh! marked the 21st studio album from the hard-rocking British legends. Those wondering if the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have lost a step need not fear. Part of the so-called "unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal" (along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath), Deep Purple continues to defy the ages on its latest full-length album. It's remarkable to hear how forceful and compelling the outfit's timeless approach sounds in 2020; the 13-track album kicks off with the majestic "Throw My Bones," a great melodic rock rock track bolstered by Ian Gillan's signature vocals and Steve Morse's astonishing guitar work. The magic doesn't end there; Deep Purple (whose lineup also includes founding drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover and keyboardist Don Airey) thrill with songs that earn a place alongside bona fide band classics like "Highway Star," "Perfect Strangers" and "Knockin' at Your Back Door." The rocker "Drop the Weapon" is an assertive call for at-risk teens to step away from the dangers of crime in the big city  adorned with prog rock-worthy musicianship, lush vocals and an artfully plaintive ending. The probing "Nothing At All" is a true baroque rocker, with super enveloping vocal layers that lift the lofty choruses and buoyant keyboards. Another stellar original is the "The Power of the Moon," which blends goth rock stylings in the verses that perfectly offsets the more positive pull of the instrumental breaks and dynamic choruses. Listening to the album it's obvious the band  working for the third time with producer Bob Ezrin  continues to follow its rightful path to propel its sound to new depths. The striving "Long Way Round," purposeful "Man Alive" and apt album closer "Dancing In My Sleep" reflect that adventuresome wide ranging spirit. Elsewhere the quintet delivers winning straightforward rockers, notably "No Need To Shout," the old time rock 'n' roll-flavored "What the What" and blistering blues-tinged instrumental "And The Address." Whoosh! is another must-hear album from one of rock's enduring great bands. Information: DeepPurple.com.

Title: Song Machine: Season One–Strange Timez (Warner Bros./Parlophone)
You might like if you enjoy: Damon Albarn, Gorillaz, Beck
Tell me more: What do BeckElton JohnPeter HookSt. Vincent and The Cure's Robert Smith have in common? They join among the large cast of musical notables who guest on tracks – also known as "episodes" – across the ambitious Gorillaz album Song Machine: Season One – Strange Timez. The 7th album from the planet's most celebrated virtual band (featuring non-virtual singer/musician-producer Damon Albarn, artist Jamie Hewlett and producer-percussionist Remi Kabaka Jr.), the two-disc deluxe edition of the album features an additional five tracks beyond the standard release's dozen episodes and is worth exploring. Things blastoff with Robert Smith beaming in from a far-off corner of the sonic universe for the the synth-pop sortie "Strange Timez." Beck follows on the funk-flavored "The Valley of the Pagans." Peter Hook's signature bass playing adds New Order-styled dance floor urgency to the propulsive "Aries," a cut that simultaneously swirls around and immerses the listener in reflective bliss. Equally infectious is the driving "Désolé," featuring Albarn's melancholy vocals and Ivory Coast native Fatoumata Diawara's amazing soprano in a perfect creative union. Elton John (featured on "The Pink Phantom") hasn't sounded this relevant since his full-length collaboration with Leon Russell in 2010 (The Union). The deluxe edition of Strange Timez comes to a rousing finale with "How Far?"; that poignant episode features the late afrobeat ace Tony Allen (who also drummed in Albarn's The Good, The Bad & The Queen; Allen sadly passed away in April 2020). The masterful mix of genres artfully blended together and several dozen A-list artists who join Gorillaz on what is the troupe's best album since 2010's Plastic Beach make for a compelling journey to be sure. Information: Gorillaz.com.

Michael Gurley
Title: Ultrasound (Smoke Street Records)
You might like if you enjoy: dada, Jason Falkner, Blur's "The Magic Whip," the Beatles' "Abbey Road" and "Magical Mystery Tour"
Tell me more: As a member of the groundbreaking American rock trio dadaMichael Gurley's gifts as a top-tier vocalist, songwriter and guitar virtuoso have been impressing audiences since the early '90s. Along the way, the talented SoCal artist has also showcased his wide-ranging music abilities in a number of other projects including modern rock outfit Butterfly Jones, the jazz standards ensemble Mike Gurley and the Nightcaps  and until recently  lead guitarist for country music great Kiefer Sutherland. Now Gurley has released a full-length solo album Ultrasound, one of my favorite albums of 2020. As listenable as it is inventive, Ultrasound is filled with songs bolstered by soaring melody, dynamic choruses, nuanced lead vocals and Gurley's incredible lead guitar work. The atmospheric "I Don't Know Much" is an ambitious and spectacular opening, mixing folk and art rock styles along its alluring run. The stylish title track is a super cool rocker albeit with an exhilarating power pop-styled chorus that explodes amidst a sea of lush harmonies. The driving "Yes Yes Yes" boasts a dazzling British blues rock vibe complete with a searing guitar solo backed by the strong rhythm section of bassist Sean Hurley and drummer Victor Indrizzo. Turning on a dime, the gentle Baroque folk offering "Good Morning Girl" is enhanced by Gurley's subtle work on guitar as well as piano, organ, Mellotron and Wurzlitzer. "I Had A Dream Last Night That I Had A Dream" is flat out amazing; similarly the chamber pop gem "Madison Ellington" finds Gurley singing to the accompaniment of keyboards and a string section. Other standouts on this brilliant LP include the psychedelia-tinged "I Love Your Guitar," hypnotic rocker "Everything All The Time," '60s-mining "Tibetan Proverb" and beautiful guitar-anchored ballad "Under The Moon." Make sure to listen to this album with headphones everybody! Information: michaelgurleymusic.com.

The Jayhawks

Title: XOXO (Sham/Thirty Tigers)
You might like if you enjoy: The Jayhawks, The Fallen Stars, Mark Olson
Tell me more: The Jayhawks 11th full-length studio LP XOXO, released July 10, ranks with the Minneapolis-spawned troupe's most beloved albums. The intoxicating opening track "This Forgotten Town" welcomes listeners with a reflective moodscape, the band's nuanced and detailed approach revealed via a rich pastel of guitars, piano, rhythm section and lush vocal harmonies that build artfully before descending into a comforting quiet. A true democratic effort, all long-time core members (Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg and Tim O’Reagan) share lead vocal and songwriting duties across the album. The range of material reflects the team effort as evidenced by the tuneful power pop-styled rocker "Dogtown Days," Beatlesque "Living in a Bubble," piano-anchored chamber pop ballad "Ruby" and indie rocker "Society Pages" on the first half of the disc. The power of the album's track listing never dims; the country-tinged "Bitter Pill" finds Louris providing a tale about a weary wanderer's endless quest for happiness. The Jayhawks' lyrical portraits are as real and affecting as their music making to be sure; the lovely "Across My Field," ambitious harmonies-anchored rocker "Little Victories" and acoustic romantic lament "Looking Up Your Number" are exquisite. Those who buy the initial pressing of XOXO (on vinyl or audio CD) will be getting the deluxe edition of the LP, which offers three bonus tracks ("Jewel of the Trimbelle," "Then You Walked Away," "Hypocrite's Lament"), all of which add power and purpose to this wonderful return. Information: JayhawksOfficial.com.


Title: The Absence of Presence (Century Media)
You might like if you enjoy: Yes, Genesis, Kansas
Tell me more: Kansas returned in July with the ambitious The Absence of Presence, a full-length release produced by Zak Rizvi, which marked the prog-rock band's first new album since 2016's outstanding The Prelude Implicit. The Topeka, Kansas-spawned group's trademark sound rooted in dazzling virtuosity is displayed everywhere. The title track opens the proceedings, luxurious with violin, guitar, keyboards and rhythm section joining forces for an awe-inspiring soundscape that dials back when singer Ronnie Platt comes in with a probing lyrical verse. That song has a number of sections  some that race at breakneck speed and others that soar with symphonic splendor; all flow effortlessly and artfully together sans bombast. "Jets Overhead" starts with a solo piano before the band jumps in for an impressive instrumental display. "Circus of Illusion" begins with a relatively straightforward melodic rock approach that recalls '80s favorite ASIA, albeit adorned by David Ragsdale's distinctive violin play. Every cut on The Absence of Presence conjures up the magic of the band's best work, including the hard rocking "Throwing Mountains," reflective "Memories Down The Line" and thrilling "Animals on the Roof." Information: KansasBand.com.

Larkin Poe
Title: Self Made Man (Tricki-Woo Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Larkin Poe, Samantha Fish, The Record Company
Tell me more: Larkin Poe  sisters Rebecca Lovell and Megan Lovell  reached new heights on their stellar 2020 LP Self Made Man. The hard-hitting material on their fifth studio album is ideally suited for the Nashville-based duo's freewheeling approach with heavy Southern blues rockers "She's A Self Made Man" and "Holy Ghost Fire," the vocals-heavy "Keep Diggin'," inspired "Back Down South" and Delta blues dive "Danger Angel" fully celebrating the sisters' Southern roots with a decidedly contemporary sonic edge. Megan's soulful soprano shines across the disc, as evidenced by her amazing vocals on "God Moves On The Water," the soulful ballad "Every Bird That Flies" and lush "Tears Of Blue To Gold." Everywhere, Megan Lovell's artful and dazzling work lap steel guitar work and backing vocals lend welcome power and depth to the material. One of the summer of 2020's most exciting and welcome new releases. The duo provided some icing on the cake courtesy of their fantastic covers-mining album Kindred Spirits that was released on Nov. 20, 2020. Information: LarkinPoe.com.

Paul McCartney
Title: McCartney III (Capitol Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Paul McCartney's 1970 "McCartney," Neil Young, Beck
Tell me more: As the final great release of 2020, Sir Paul McCartney's decidedly lo-fi 18th solo album McCartney III (released Dec. 18) is the must-hear follow-up to 1970's McCartney, 1980's McCartney II and his 2005 disc Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. The material is diverse and there are definite treasures to be found for the faithful. The mostly-instrumental "Long Tailed Winter Bird," genre-bending "Find My Way," baroque folk flavored "Pretty Boys" and wistful piano-anchored "Women And Wives" are early enticing entries on McCartney III. The buoyant rocker "Lavatory Lil" and gentle "The Kiss Of Venus" recall McCartney's early solo work; "Deep Deep Feeling" is haunting and bolstered by some emotive lead guitar work. Late disc standouts include the sparse and tempting "Deep Down," and breezy unassuming acoustic closer "Winter Bird / When Winter Comes" (a "lost classic" collaboration between McCartney and the late George Martin). Although McCartney's youthful tenor is mostly in absentia, the 78-years-old artist's brilliant songwriting and musicianship  he plays nearly all instruments on the album  are on full display. Information: PaulMcCartney.com.

 Joey Molland
Title: Be True To Yourself (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Badfinger, the Beatles
Tell me more: Classic rock aficionados often cite the story of Welsh/English rock band Badfinger as one of the era's most tragic tales. Despite being the first non-Beatles artist signed to Apple Records and scoring a number of timeless hits (including "Come and Get It," "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue"), the band was struck with the suicide of several members (Pete Ham in 1975, Tom Evans in 1983) and sudden death of Mike Gibbins following a brain aneurysm in 2005. Singer-guitarist Joey Molland  the band's only surviving member of the quartet's classic early '70s lineup  is set to release his first album of new material (Be True To Yourself) in nearly 10 years on Friday, Oct. 16. And what a glorious collection of power pop it is. Lovingly produced by Mark Hudson (who also co-wrote the tracks with Molland), Be True To Yourself explodes with tunefulness, exceptional song craft and undeniable hooks associated with Badfinger's best recordings. The shimmering "Better Tomorrow," Beatlesque "Rainy Day Man," dreamy "Heaven," melodic power pop ballad "Loving You" and chamber pop foray "Be True To Yourself" only begin to paint a sonic picture of the magic displayed across "Be True To Yourself." Among the notable names contributing to the recording are Julian Lennon (who also took the amazing front and back cover photographs seen on the album), Micky DolenzJason Scheff and Steve Holley. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.

Old 97's

Title: Twelfth (ATO Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Old 97's, Wilco, Rhett Miller
Tell me more: Rollicking, rowdy and twangy alt country rock offered up with wry and colorful literate tales are Old 97's' stock-in-trade. The band's August 2020 offering Twelfth delivers the goods with welcome zeal. Fans of the Dallas-spawned quartet (whose lineup is the same that was heard on their 1994 debut and every release since) will be swept up by the originals that fill Twelfth, their first since 2017's Graveyard Whistling. The razor sharp rocker "This House Got Ghosts" has a wonderfully dreamy sonic vibe layered atop a particularly effective tale of romantic loss. The hard charging "Turn Off The TV," wistful drinking song "Happy Hour" and reflective "I Like You Better" are other early LP standouts. The raucous indie-styled rocker "Confessional Boxing," gorgeous "Diamonds On Neptune," rockabilly-on-steroids romp "Bottle Rocket Baby," shimmering melodic nugget "Absence (What We've Got)" and rapt "Why Don't We Ever Say We're Sorry" are among the highlights later on. Twelfth is a terrific return. Information: old97s.com.

The Pretenders
Title: Hate For Sale (BMG)
You might like if you enjoy: The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde, Concrete Blonde
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter Chrissie Hynde and founding drummer/backing vocalist Martin Chambers, along with long-time touring members James Walbourne (lead guitar) and Nick Wilkinson (bass) returned in July with a batch of hard-hitting originals on Hate For Sale, including a title track that must be included in any reliable list ranking the Pretenders's most explosive-ever rockers. There are other uptempo forays splashed across the 10-track LP as well, with the '50s-tinged "Didn't Want To Be This Lonely" and biting "Turf Accountant Daddy" among this writer's other faves.  Hynde is no one-trick pony, as evidenced by the beautiful retro-leaning ballad "You Can't Hurt a Fool" where she offers up some especially emotive vocals, and a yearning celebration of the mysteries of romantic passion detailed in "The Buzz." Other wonderful songs include the wistful "Maybe Love is in NYC," reggae-flavored "Lightning Man," high-octane rocker "I Didn't Know When To Stop" and tender disc-ending ballad "Crying In Public." Produced by legendary Stephen Street (The SmithsBlur), the Pretenders' 11th studio album Hate For Sale marks a solid and exciting return that taps into the outfit's timeless resonance while forging into the future with weighty hooks in the here and now. Information: ThePretenders.com.

The Psychedelic Furs

Title: Made of Rain (Cooking Vinyl)
You might like if you enjoy: The Psychedelic Furs, The Church
Tell me more: With the release of their eighth studio album Made of Rain  their first new album since 1991  the Psychedelic Furs remind the world why the band remains one of the elite modern rock heroes to have emerged in the early 1980s.  The London-spawned troupe's 12-song set released in late July 2020 is brilliant; this is a masterwork filled with cascading rockers, heaven-sent dream fields and golden sonic blasts that burst without faltering into hapless noisescapes. Singer-songwriter Richard Butler and his brother bassist Tim Butler, saxophonist Mars Williams, drummer Paul Garisto, keyboardist Amanda Kramer and guitarist Rich Good have an otherworldly ability to connect amidst the luxurious wall of sound, that approach aided by the stellar co-production of Richard Fortus (formerly of Richard and Tim Butler's mid-1990s band Love Spit Love, and a current member of Guns N' Roses). But a cool sound, top-tier musicianship and great production wouldn't mean much without great songs; thankfully fantastic tracks fill Made of Rain. The riveting "The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll," surging "Don't Believe," hypnotic "Wrong Train" and poignant "Ash Wednesday" help lead the charge on the first half of the LP. The decidedly raucous "Come All Ye Faithful," yearning rocker "No-One," tranquil "Tiny Hands" and disc ending arc of the ambitious "Stars" are among the standout on the last half of the LP. Information: ThePsychedelicFurs.com.

Bobby Rush
Title: Rawer Than Raw (Deep Rush/Thirty Tigers)
You might like if you enjoy: Bobby Rush, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters
Tell me more: Anytime we get new music from Bobby Rush  now 86  it is reason for true celebration. The fact that the Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Famer has released an album as potent as Rawer Than Raw is all the more sweet. The 11-track disc finds Rush covering a handful of legends from his adopted home state of Mississippi who influenced him when he was learning to play music and first performing. Although he was born in Louisiana, Rush has long called Mississippi home. Listening to his decidedly-loose acoustic covers of material from pioneering blues greats Robert Johnson and Skip James along with his 1950s and '60 contemporaries Howlin' WolfMuddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson II is to be transported back to the beginnings of the genre. The joyful "Shake It For Me" (a Willie Dixon-penned track originally recorded in the 1960s by Wolf), sparse "Sometimes I Wonder" and hypnotic blues harp-adorned "Let's Make Love Again," expressive "Honey Bee, Sail On" and blazing "Dust My Broom" are among the enthralling cuts on the outstanding album. Information: BobbyRushBluesman.com.

Sweet Lizzy Project

Title: Technicolor (Mono Mundo Recordings / Thirty Tigers)
You might like if you enjoy: Sass Jordan, The Mavericks
Tell me more: Lovers of both classic and modern rock will discover plenty to love about Cuban quintet Sweet Lizzy Project. The emerging Havana-spawned band's full-length American debut LP Technicolor bristles with a palpable energy and true originality across 10 alluring tracks. From the experimental psychedelic title cut to the reggae-tinged "Turn Up The Radio," there is a confidence and ambition that defies the group's humble roots planted far from from the long-established American rock scene. Case in point: the edgy "Ain't Nobody To Call" is an exhilarating and mesmerizing 3½-minute rush. Lead vocalist and lyricist Lisset Diaz has an expressive and lovely soprano, her vocals resonating whether singing in English or Spanish (just listen to the power ballad "These Words"). Her duet with Mavericks singer Raul Malo – the Baroque pop sortie "The Flower's In The Seed" – is another standout on the wonderful album. On "Travel to the Moon," Diaz sings of hopes for a peaceful future when humanity will venture into the cosmos while leaving behind the turmoil that grips our world in the here and now. The disc-ending "December 31st" is a gorgeous and sweeping genre-defying masterpiece that draws favorable comparisons with the heights reached by modern day heroes Radiohead, Other Lives and elbow. Sweet Lizzy Project's winning lineup is completed by co-writer and bandleader Miguel Comas (guitar), keyboardist Wilfredo Gatell, bassist Alejandro Gonzalez and drummer Angel Luis Millet. This is one writer  and admitted fan  who hopes America and the rest of the world catches on to this amazing young band. Information: SweetLizzyProject.com.

Walter Trout
Title: Ordinary Madness (Provogue)
You might like if you enjoy: Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales
Tell me more: Released on Aug. 28, Walter Trout's latest album Ordinary Madness showcases the wide range of the artist's strengths in full  his fiery fretwork, emotive lead vocals and confessional songwriting are on display everywhere. The 11-track disc finds Trout exploring a vast number of topics with purposeful candor. The title track that opens the collection somehow captures this uncertain time where months of quarantine, economic hardship and burgeoning turmoil in society have millions questioning their immediate and long-term future. But Trout can still see the good in the frayed world; just crank up "Wanna Dance," a blues rocker that finds the artist battling demons and mortality but armed with his music to heal — an explosive and infectious track that builds with each measure. Now 69, Trout celebrates his life and Baby Boomer generation with the rousing "OK Boomer." Loss and doubt are explored on the mid tempo "All Out Of Tears" and soulful ballad "My Foolish Pride; deep and consequential romantic love is revealed in the gorgeous "Heaven In Your Eyes." The inspired "Heartland" is an expressive account of a young woman who dreams of a larger world than the one she knows; this song is bolstered by rich Americana stylings (including Terry Andreadis' accordion and Drake "Munkihaid" Shining's Hammond B3 organ) and particularly expressive playing from Trout. Perhaps the most poignant selection on the album is "The Sun Is Going Down," where Trout  who survived liver failure and received a transplant in May 2014  acknowledges the ill effects of time. The song starts with a laid back Delta-tinged vibe that gradually builds to a full-on rocking tour de force rife with his masterful lead guitar play.  An epic return to be sure. Information: WalterTrout.com.

Michael Ubaldini

Title: Music Notes From The Underground (Blackwater Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Woody Guthrie
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini is a true American treasure, having issued a long and acclaimed discography exploring a myriad of corners of the roots music universe including rockabilly, blues, folk, rock 'n' roll and Americana bound together by sophisticated songcraft. On the rock 'n' roll poet's latest LP Music Notes From The Underground, Ubaldini continues his life-long quest to share tales from the far-flung world around him via his rich and beguiling signature approach. We live in tumultuous times so it's no surprise that Ubaldini has more than a bit to say about the world at large even when armed with nothing more than his rich baritone vocals and acoustic guitar. On the well-aimed acoustic cut "Labels," he looks at the popular pastime of using bumper sticker tags to identify people: "Culture warrior, a redneck or a hick / a red or blue state, eccentric or sick / Put you in a space, easy to classify / From the time your born, until after you die." On "King Of The Paupers," he targets a pampered and angry know-it-all who is "one of the haves / and not one of the have nots." Followers of Ubaldini know he is far more than a one-trick troubadour. The tender "Blue Eyes Down On You" is a beautiful folk ballad, adorned by Ubaldini's outstanding and expressive harmonica work. The beautiful "Bells Of Harmony" is hopeful while "New Winds of Change" takes a more realistic look at a sky filled with dark clouds on the horizon  "I Aint Ta' Returnin' Home" is a poetic and lushly-rendered confessional of farewell wrapped in a simple and elegant song. "Little Mama Everything's Alright" is a warm and reassuring dispatch of calm to close things out on another terrific album from the artist. Information: rocknrollpoet.com.


Kathleen Edwards
Title: Total Freedom (Dualtone)
You might like if you enjoy: Jenny Lewis, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega
Tell me more: A masterwork of palpable power and artful perfection, Kathleen Edwards' eagerly-awaited return Total Freedom is the Canadian songstress' first new album since 2012's Voyageur. Back from her much-publicized six-year hiatus from the music industry (she opened and has been running a successful coffee shop and cafe called Quitters in her hometown of Stittsville, Ottawa), Edwards reflects on the people, places, dreams and challenges of a life renewed in a way that evokes the emotional might of fellow Canadian greats Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn but with a woman's voice. Like those artists' best work, Edwards' songs provide a potent and electrifying experience for discerning listeners. Emotional hurt is at the core of the weighty "Hard On Everyone," the track bolstered by layers of distant backing vocals, a driving rhythm and otherworldly guitar textures. Her renewed approach to creating music and charting her own path is displayed on the tender "Birds on a Feeder," an absorbing acoustic gem where amidst the arrival of spring she mines the album's title during the choruses when she proclaims "I've got total freedom" in recognition of her self-won independence. "Options Open" also tackles her newfound strength and sense of purpose, but from the perspective of turning 39 and knowing 40 looms. The aching "Feelings Fade," sparse "Ashes to Ashes," and swirling "Fools Ride" are emotional master strokes, her beautiful soprano working its magic amidst wondrous arrangements and Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Fitchuk's knockout touch in the studio. The touching "Who Rescued Who" and heart-rending ballad "Take It With You When You Go" close out the outstanding disc. Edwards' sound is a blend of Americana, pop and folk blended into a signature style that is displayed majestically across Total Freedom. Information: KathleenEdwards.com.


Title: ALPHABETLAND (Fat Possum Records)
You might like if you enjoy: X, John Doe, early punk rock
Tell me more: Listening to the new album ALPHABETLAND, it's unbelievable to think this marks the Los Angeles quartet's first new album with their original lineup in 35 years. Released without advance notice on April 23, the music is explosive, raw and powerful, offering up that same potent spirit that marked the essential titles featuring singer Exene Cervenka, co-singer/bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake spanning from 1980's Los Angeles to 1985's Ain't Love Grand! Kicking things off with the driving title track, the signature co-vocals from Cervenka and Doe shimmer in unison over the driving rhythm. The anthemic "Free" soars, its run enhanced by some edgy lead guitar lines from Zoom. The infectious rocker "Strange Life," rapid-fire "Delta 88 Nightmare" and haunting "Angel On The Road" are early standouts. The wonderfully melodic "Cyrano DeBerger's Back" (enhanced by a dance groove and Zoom's saxophone play), raw punk rock blast "Goodbye Year, Goodbye" and poetic spoken word finale "All The Time in The Year" cap this welcome return from one of L.A. great bands. Information: xtheband.com.