Women Who Shred

My pal Barry contacted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know he had tickets to see Ana Popović perform in Boston, and today he followed up with a glowing report on the show. Ana is a Serbian blues singer and guitarist with a career reaching back 25 years, and a resume that includes nearly a dozen studio and live albums, and a guest spot on the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix released back in 2000. At a time when blues and rock guitar chops are at a nadir relative to days of yore, Ana is channeling the greats of the art form – men and women. Here she is live a couple of months ago, paying respects to Stevie Ray Vaughn, and in a rock video bringing a bit of the Lita Ford.

Coincidentally, in the past couple of weeks I learned about Samantha Fish. This fall she’ll release Faster, bringing her career total to a dozen albums. Like Popović, Fish can flat out play, and can bring the glamour too. Fun to see her smash things, but respect her guitars in “Twisted Ambition”

Watching and listening to these two women rock and shred, caused me to hunt around for others, and I turned up Orianthi, another amazing talent. The Australian was chosen by Michael Jackson to be the lead guitarist for his “This Is It” concerts – cancelled due to his untimely death. She’s played Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival, recorded with Dave Stewart, Richie Sambora and the Hollywood Vampires, opened for Steve Vai, and recently released her solo album, O. Like Popović and Fish, Orianthi can flat out play and can melt the camera.

Favorite Cover of the Year

On July 23rd David Crosby will release a new album, For Free, weeks short of his 80th birthday. The title of the album is taken from one of the advance release singles, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s song from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon. And, wow, what a cover it is! Crosby is at his best singing with others, and for this cover he teamed with the exquisite Sarah Jarosz.

Joni Mitchell is not often covered. Her vocal range, her musicianship, and her very personal styling on her very personal songs seem hard to improve upon. I think this version, though, is even more beautifully executed than Mitchell’s compelling live performance from the year of the song’s release if you’d like to compare.

One cover that took a Joni Mitchell song to a wholly different level, also involved David Crosby and was also a track from Ladies of the Canyon. “Woodstock” was written by Mitchell shortly after the 1969 music festival took place, and was released both by Joni and by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1970. Enjoy comparing CSNY’s iconic album cut, and what is billed as Joni’s first performance of the song in September 1969. And if you watch to the very end of the video I’m pretty sure that’s Graham Nash, who was Joni’s love interest at the time – not too long after her relationship with David Crosby had ended.

All in the Family

On Friday Wolfgang Van Halen, son of guitar legend Eddie Van Halen, released his first album, Mammoth. Wolfgang began playing alongside his dad, as bassist in the band Van Halen, in 2007 at age sixteen. Though the full album just came out, the song “Distance” was released in November 2020, a few weeks after Eddie’s death. The song and video are moving tributes to the close relationship between this father and son.

There have been, of course, many well known parent / child musicians. Think Natalie Cole, Mylie Cyrus, Arlo Guthrie and Nora Jones among the most famous, with Jakob Dylan, Dweezil Zappa, Sean Lennon, and the trio of Wilson Phillips all having solid careers as well. But it isn’t often that musicians get to play with their parents as Wolfgang and Eddie did.

Roseanne and Johnny Cash recorded “September When It Comes”, and released it in 2003, just a few months before Johnny died. Roseanne played it at his memorial service.

Nas is the son of jazz / American roots musician Olu Dara, and in 2004 they teamed up on “Bridging the Gap”. The song was featured on Nas’ album, Street’s Disciple. By the way, if you are not familiar with Olu Dara, check him out.

Robert Finley – You’re Never Too Old

In 2019 Robert Finley was introduced to a national audience on America’s Got Talent – at age 65. That slipped by me until Helga tipped me off to the excitement surrounding the release of his new album, Sharecropper’s Son. Thanks, Helga!

As with most “overnight success” stories, Finley’s musical career goes back many, and in his case many, many, years. He played guitar while an enlisted man in the Army in Europe in the early 70’s. After his discharge, back home in Louisiana, he led Brother Finley and the Gospel Sisters in the 80’s. Fast forward a few decades, making a living as a carpenter, and Finley was heard busking at the 2015 King Biscuit Blues Festival in Arkansas by Tim Duffy. Duffy heads the Music Maker Relief Foundation that assists aging Southern roots artists. By September 2016 Finley released his debut studio album, Age Don’t Mean a Thing. Listen to the whole album or at least check out the first track, “Just Want to Tell You”, to get a listen to this classic voice.

Shortly after the release of Age Don’t Mean a Thing, Finley began working with Black Keys co-founder and uber-producer, Dan Auerbach. Finley’s second album, Goin’ Platinum!, was released at the end of 2017 on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label. Here is the official video for “Medicine Woman”, co-written by Finley and Auerbach. In addition to Finley’s incredible voice, you can hear Auerbach’s influence on the arrangement and his unmistakeable guitar tone.

Here’s the video for the title track from Sharecropper’s Son. If you like what you hear, listen to Finley rock out on “Make Me Feel Alright” and feature his falsetto on “Country Boy”.

Roger Hawkins – Muscle Shoals Drummer

Roger Hawkins, drummer for the Swampers, the famous Muscle Shoals rhythm section, died this past week at age 75. His work on seminal recordings by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, and Percy Sledge in the 1960’s earned him #31 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.

In the many obits written about Hawkins, his work on Top 40 hits like “Land of 1000 Dances”, “Chain of Fools” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” are most often mentioned. Click on the links in the last sentence to remember how central his drum beats were to the memorable sound of those songs.

The internet lists over 200 tracks credited to Hawkins, including a number of 1970s hits for a diverse set of artists. “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers was recorded in 1972. It lifted an intro from a 1969 reggae instrumental “The Liquidator”, and Hawkins brought the song an early reggae beat.

Paul Simon wanted the rhythm section from “I’ll Take You There” to play a track on his album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and was surprised to learn they weren’t Jamaican musicians. So he headed to Muscle Shoals, were he wound up using the Swampers for three tracks, including the lead single from the album, “Kodachrome”.

Hawkins and other members of the Swampers played on Traffic’s album “Shoot out at the Fantasy Factory”, and joined the band on tour. In this live performance, Hawkins and Traffic’s Jim Capaldi are both playing drums and Swampers David Hood and Barry Beckett are playing bass and organ respectively.