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.
On Friday, Barry Gibb released Greenfields: The Gibbs Brothers’ Songbook (Vol. 1). Barry is the last surviving Gibb brother of the Bee Gees. On Greenfields he reworks a number of Bee Gees hits in collaboration with a who’s who of country music. A lot to get your head around there, but relax – this post isn’t about any of that.
The Bee Gees first major album, Bee Gees’ 1st, was released in 1967 and included “To Love Somebody”. The song was written by Barry and Robin Gibb, intended to be given to Otis Redding to record. But the Bee Gees released it in mid-1967, and Redding never got a chance to cover it before he died at the end of that year. Over the years, though, an incredibly wide range of artists did cover the song, and what a malleable piece of music it has proven to be. Let’s start by watching the Gibb brothers perform the original, decked out in full 1960s splendor.
In 1969 the song got soulful treatments that Redding never got the chance to provide. Nina Simone and Janis Joplin delivered these interpretations that show just how far the song could be stretched.
Nearly 40 years later, Smashing Pumpkins founder Billy Corgan selected the song for his first solo album, TheFutureEmbrace. The album version features Robert Smith of The Cure on backing vocals, but here’s Corgan singing it by himself and delivering a beautiful, hypnotic performance.
Brittany Howard, leader of the band Alabama Shakes, is up for four Grammy Awards this year in four different musical categories. Defying musical categorization is something Howard has done since the beginning of her career, but this year she’s stretched those boundaries even further. Her first solo album, Jaime, was released in September and is up for Best Alternative Music Album. It’s an award Alabama Shakes won as a band in 2016 for Sound & Color.
“Stay High” is nominated for best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. An early release of the single “History Repeats”, which is included on Jaime, was nominated in this category last year, and these awards were won by Alabama Shakes in 2016 for “Don’t Wanna Fight”.
Brittany is also up for Best American Roots Performance for “Short and Sweet”. This is an award Alabama Shakes won in 2018 for “Killer Diller Blues” from the documentary movie American Epic Sessions. Here’s a solo acoustic version.
Finally, Brittany is up for Best R&B Performance for “Goat Head”. This is Howard’s first nomination in this genre. Here’s a live performance featuring the killer band she’s put together, from the Save Our Stages Festival. The lyrics, which start at about 1:30 are worth the wait.
They say that Rock is dead, but don’t tell that to the bands that have been in the game for decades and are still delivering new music.
At it for thirty years, with three of four original band members on board, Smashing Pumpkins will release their eleventh studio album, Cyr, on Black Friday. The thick guitars of their earliest hits like “Cherub Rock” have been replaced by synths, but Billy Corgan’s voice is as distinctive as ever. Here’s the music video from the album’s title track.
Foo Fighters formed in 1995, after the release of the album Foo Fighters on which Dave Grohl played every instrument on every track, save guitar on one song. Grohl has been a standard bearer for guitar rock, from the first track of that first album “This is a Call”, to “Shame” performed for the first time on Saturday Night Live last night.
Though founding member Malcolm Young passed away in 2017, brother Angus, long-time lead singer Brian Johnson, and original drummer Phil Ruud, will release Power Up this week, with tracks that sound like they were made in their early days. Here is “Shot in The Dark”, the first song released form the new album.
Top of the heap of artists who still bring the rock and roll is “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen. Letter to You was released on October 23rd and it made Bruce the first artist to have a top 5 album in 6 consecutive decades. The title track has gotten a lot of airplay in the past few weeks, but here is the second video released from the album, “Ghosts”, that is vintage E-Street Band. You know you want to see this live!
It was 50 years ago Friday that Jimi Hendrix died in London, a bit shy of his 28th birthday. Jimi’s rapid rise from obscurity to stardom spanned little more than a year. He had moved to New York in 1966 where Chas Chandler, bass player for The Animals looking for new artists to produce, saw Hendrix playing in a club with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. Chandler brought Hendrix to London in September of that year. Chas was especially taken with Hendrix’s cover of “Hey Joe”, and in December 1966 the song was released as the first single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, reaching #6 on the UK charts. While Jimi’s fame in Europe was exploding in early 1967, his reputation had not reached the States, that is until he played the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. Here is a clip of The Jimi Hendrix Experience playing “Hey Joe” at Monterey.
The Experience’s set at Monterey is one of the most mesmerizing rock and roll performances ever given. I highly recommend tracking down the documentary by D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hedges that includes the entire set. Here’s the trailer to whet your musical appetite.
A couple of months after Jimi’s death, Yusuf Islam, then known as Cat Stevens, released his breakthrough album Tea for the Tillerman. This past Friday Yusuf released Tea for the Tillerman 2, on which he gives some of the original tracks fresh treatments for their 50th anniversaries. Thanks for the tip, Helga!
One of the most interesting updates is “On the Road to Find Out”. It is not one of his better known songs, so the arrangement and video allow you to approach it as a brand new piece of music. Check out the Tillerman 2 version and a live performance of the original from 1971.