Merry Clayton, she of the iconic backing vocals on the Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”, released an album of her own, Beautiful Scars, this past Friday. Thanks for the tip, Helga! In the 50 years since she sang on the Stone’s track, Merry not only sang backup for many famous artists and on other famous songs (including improbably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”), but released albums of her own, acted on TV and on stage, and was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.
The title track for the new album was written especially for her and for this project by uber-songwriter Diane Warren. The final track is a medley that includes pieces of 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and 1970’s “O-o-h Child”.
While Tina Turner performed the role of the Acid Queen in the 1975 film of the Who’s Tommy, Merry preceded Turner, singing the role on a 1972 album by the London Symphony Orchestra that also featured vocal tracks by Rod Stewart, Richie Havens, Steve Winwood and Ringo Starr.
And here’s Merry and Mick telling the story of “Gimme Shelter” from “20 Feet from Stardom”. Merry had already spent a couple of years as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, and was the kind of person you dragged out of bed in the middle of the night when you needed a crack vocalist.
I wrote my first post about Lake Street Dive in 2013, and a few more since. This past Friday they released their new album, Obviously. The band is celebrating fifteen years together, and throughout that time has defied categorization. Whatever buckets they jump between, the constants are the incredible voice and vocal stylings of Rachel Price, backed by a very talented and tasteful set of writers and musicians.
The lead single from the new album, “Hypotheticals”, has been rattling around the web for a few weeks. They performed it on The Late Show last week (thanks for the heads up, Barry), and here’s a studio video version that seems to have Bridget Kearney’s great bass work tweaked up a bit in the mix – put those good headphones on!
Here’s Rachel performing an unplugged version of “Nobody’s Stopping You Now”, from a livestream last summer.
In addition to working on Obviously, the band fit in time to have some fun during the COVID times. Carole King’s Tapestry was released in February 1971, and I’m sure she appreciated this cover of “So Far Away”. Enjoy Rachel’s voice and, again, Bridget’s exquisitely tasteful backing.
And here’s the band on a Brooklyn rooftop reprising the Beatles’ iconic performance, complete with outfits and facial hair. Not quite the energy of the original, but where did Rachel find that coat?
Jaten Dimsdale (aka Teddy Swims) has launched his career the new-fashioned way – posting covers on YouTube. So far it’s earned him over a million YouTube subscribers, over a million Facebook followers, and a record deal with Warner Brothers.
Swims’ voice can genre bend all over the map. I really don’t need to say much except watch these videos to see what this guy can do. If you like what you see, check out teddyswims.com where you can link to pretty much everything he’s got out there.
Here is Swims’ take on “Tennessee Whiskey”, a song covered over the years by George Jones and Chris Stapleton.
On this video of Swims’ original tune, “Broke”, he lends his soulful voice to a playful collaboration with Thomas Rhett – the reigning Entertainer of the Year from the Academy of Country Music 2020 Awards.
And now for something completely different, here’s Teddy throwing down some modern R&B on “Night Off”.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away on Monday at the age of 101. He was a central figure in the cultural life of San Francisco for decades, as an acclaimed poet and as owner of the City Lights bookstore and publishing company of Beat Generation fame. Many fascinating obituaries have been written in the past couple of days, wonderful reading for fans – like myself – and for folks not that familiar with his place in American letters. I’ve especially enjoyed Emma Brown’s in today’s Washington Post (hope you can read it behind the paywall).
In 1958 Ferlinghetti published his best selling volume of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, now over a million copies in print. Seven of the poems in the volume were “conceived specifically for jazz accompaniment and as such should be considered as spontaneously spoken ‘oral messages’ rather that as poems written for the printed page.” And indeed, in 1957 he’d recorded two of the seven on “Poetry Readings in the Cellar”, joined by Kenneth Rexroth, a senior figure in San Francisco poetry.
The first 20 minutes of the record feature Rexroth reading “Thou Shalt Not Kill (In Memory of Dylan Thomas)”. Jump past that to hear Ferlinghetti recite “Autobiography” (at 21:00) and “Junkman’s Obbligato” (at 33:45), separated by a shorter poem about a statue of St. Francis (at 31:30). If you try to read along, you’ll find that “Junkman’s Obbligato” is not precisely the version in print.
Modern jazz lost one of its greats a few days ago. Take some time to search the web to read about pianist Chick Corea’s amazing, 60-year career. Like all jazz greats, Corea collaborated with many, many fellow artists, and in his case a who’s who of the genre. Below are just a few – and I’m leaving out his jazz fusion defining work with Miles Davis!
One of his earliest collaborations was on Stan Getz’s 1967 album, Sweet Rain. The album represented a move in a modern jazz direction for Getz following years of bossa nova innovations. Corea not only played on the album, but wrote two of the tracks, including “Windows”. Here are Getz and Corea performing that song live in 1972, featuring bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Tony Williams.
In that same year of 1972, Chick formed the band Return to Forever with Stanley and others. They recorded two albums that year, the second of which featured “Spain”, perhaps Corea’s best known composition. Here is a live performance of the song from 1975 featuring several of that year’s DownBeat magazine’s best jazz musician poll winners. OMG. Stanley Clarke, George Benson on guitar, Hubert Laws on flute, Lenny White on drums, and listen to what Bill Waltrous can do on a trombone (2:40)! (you may have to do a “double click” to get to this video, but it’s worth it).
Chick’s collaborations with vibes master Gary Burton spanned over 40 years. Their first album together was 1973’s Crystal Silence, and their last was 2012’s Hot House (see this post from a few years ago). Here’s an intimate two-song set from the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series, starting with “Love Castle” from their 2008 collaboration The New Crystal Silence, and the title track from the original Crystal Silence.