Paul Simon, Chris Thile and Peyton Manning (?)

Paul Simon released his thirteenth solo album on June 3rd, a few months shy of his 75th birthday. “Wristband” was the first track released from the album, and here is what may have been the first performance of the song.  It took place on A Prairie Home Companion backed by Chris Thile, Chris’ Punch Brothers outfit, and PHC regulars. Listen to all the lyrics, and you’ll be reminded that Simon remains one of our great social observers and poets.

Chris Thile, by the way, will become the new host of A Prairie Home Companion this October.  He’ll take over from Garrison Keillor who hosted his final episode this week after 42 years at the helm of the live radio variety show he originated. Keillor could not have chosen anyone to bring better music and musicianship to the future of the show than Thile, and Chris has also shown he can keep the comedy flowing.

Paul Simon’s performance of “Wristband” took place on February 6th, the day before Superbowl 50.  Enjoy Thile’s homage to Peyton Manning on the eve of the quarterback’s final performance.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Are Back, And An Unreleased Track Surfaces

In mid-June the Red Hot Chili Peppers will release “The Getaway”, their first new album in almost five years.  Breaking a 25-year, 6-album string with uber-producer Rick Rubin, “The Getaway” is produced by uber-producer Danger Mouse.  “Dark Necessities” is the album’s first single, and it features Flea playing piano as well as bass (remember that Flea’s first instrument was the trumpet).

Dave Navarro played guitar for the band for five years in the mid-90’s, a tenure that by all reports featured a clash of musical sensibilities between Dave and the other band members.  Recently an unreleased track from that era surfaced, “Circle of the Noose”, which reveals Dave’s straight rock influence and little of the funk that had been the band’s hallmark. Give a listen to this piece of newly recovered history, and also to the Number 1 single “My Friends” from the only album Navarro recorded with the band, “One Hot Minute”.  Dave’s guitar work on “My Friends” is really special.

A Shredder Lost Before His Time – RIP Prince

We’ve recently had to face the shock of Rock and Roll royalty of the 60’s and 70’s, now in their 60’s and 70’s, leaving us in increasing numbers. David Bowie, Maurice White, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson and Paul Kantner – to name a few – have all received their homages and retrospectives in the first few months of this year.  Prince was of a slightly more recent vintage, though, and losing him at age 57 was an especially rude shock.

I can’t add anything to what’s been written in the past few days about his amazing talent and career, but I can share a few favorite videos recalling that when it came to playing guitar, “Baby there ain’t nobody better”.

First, his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison in 2004. The solo starts at about 3:30 and is worth the wait.

This next video tends to get pulled off YouTube quickly, so enjoy it while you can. It’s a performance Prince gave at a press conference in the run-up to his 2007 Superbowl halftime show. May be the purest rock guitar playing I’d ever seen from him, and I’d never seen anyone else play with his arm around a girl (5:30)!  Darn he made it look easy.

Finally, from an MTV Unplugged set, his acoustic playing was a rarely seen treat.

New Albums from Loretta Lynn and Margo Price (with a little Jack White backstory)

Loretta Lynn released “Full Circle” on March 4th, her first new album since 2004.  Work on the album began in 2007 under the guidance of daughter Patsy Lynn and John Carter Cash. Its fourteen tracks were culled from hundreds of recordings made in those past eight years.  At 83 Lynn’s voice is still pitch perfect, and the duet “Lay Me Down” sung with her contemporary, Willie Nelson, is sure to be a favorite. The song was written by Mark Marchetti, the husband of Patsy’s twin sister Peggy.

I’ll wager that both the album and the duet will win Grammys this year. If they do, it would be a repeat of the success of Lynn’s last album, “Van Lear Rose”. Here’s the Grammy-winning duet “Portland Oregon” from that album, featuring its producer, Jack White.

Margo Price has been singing in Nashville for a dozen years, and her debut album “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” is reportedly the first by a new country artist for Jack White’s Third Man Records. This album doesn’t feature White or bear his production imprint though, Price recorded it at Sun Studios in Memphis and Third Man released it just as Price recorded it.

Here’s the upbeat first official video from the album, “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)”. Perhaps she’ll sing it when she performs on Saturday Night Live on April 9th!

More Jazz – Esperanza Spalding

Been covering a lot of jazz so far this year, but there’s so much good stuff out there!

Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, an unusual feat for a a singing, songwriting, bass-playing jazz artist.  She beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + The Machine that year – gives you a feel for the impression she made to stand out in that decidedly non-jazz company.

Spalding released her fifth album “Emily’s D+Evolution” on March 4th.  It was co-produced by Tony Visconti who also co-produced David Bowie’s “Blackstar” (see our recent post).  The psychedelic visuals for the album’s first track “Good Lava” go with its progressive rock/jazz vibe, and you know you want to see her in concert after watching the live video for the album’s second track “Unconditional Love”.

While the new album shows off her eclectic side, Spalding’s career features plenty of straight jazz sensibility as well, winning her praise from the likes of Gary Burton, Pat Matheny, and Joe Lovano. Here she is playing live at the White House earlier this year, and a couple of years ago with Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing Sting’s “Fragile”