September 25 – Lifehouse Sprang To Life

Your childhood church probably didn’t sound like this! Out of the California pews and onto worldwide radio, Lifehouse put out their first – and biggest – single on this day in 2000, “Hanging By A Moment”.

Lifehouse were put together in 1995 under the name Blyss by guitarist/vocalist Jason Wade who was just 15 at the time. He and two friends, drummer Jon Palmer and bassist Sergio Andrade formed the band which was largely spiritual in nature and played churches as well as some colleges. They put out an EP under the name Blyss in 1999, which got them noticed by DreamWorks who signed them. After a name change, Lifehouse went to work on their first album No Name Face with up-and-coming producer Ron Aniello. He seemed to be the perfect man for the job (and would later go on to produce records for the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Jars of Clay and one Bruce Springsteen) seeing as how he seemed to have a Christian background similar to the band’s, and he was multi-talented, filling in their sound with additional guitars, keyboards and percussion! Plus he knew Brendan O’Brien, famous for producing Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam, who he got to do the final mix of the record.

The first song on the CD was the first one they put out as a single, rather wisely. “It was the most up-tempo, radio-friendly song,” Wade explains.

Radio-friendly it was, and probably in Wade’s mind, a true gift from God. And who’s to say he’s wrong? He says it was the easiest song he ever wrote. “I heard the melody in my head before it was written,” he recalls but he noted “I couldn’t tell if it was a song on the radio.” When convinced it wasn’t “I picked up a guitar and it was kind of creepy because the song was almost written by itself. Within five minutes the lyrics and everything were finished.”

That was a very productive five minutes! Although being an unknown band it didn’t instantly jump up charts, it didn’t take long to find a receptive home on several types of radio formats with its catchy rock melody, grungey singing and vague message of love. Before long it would end up going to #2 on Billboard and spend three weeks at #1 on the Alternative Rock chart. It hit #1 in Australia and even got noticed in the UK, where it reached #25. In Canada it didn’t chart due to not being put out as a physical single, but it was the most-played song on radio for 2001; at home in the U.S. it was the #1 song of ’01. Curiously it was only the third song to be the biggest of a year without topping a weekly chart, “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham in 1965 and Faith Hill’s “Breathe” in 2000 being the others. “Hanging By A Moment” accomplished that by staying on the charts for 54 weeks and being dominant on alternative rock, mainstream rock, pop and other types of radio. Wikipedia point out that it was “one of the biggest rock hits ever by a contemporary Christian band crossing over to the mainstream.” And it helped the album, No Name Face, rise into the top 10 at home, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark, selling better than four million copies.

Lifehouse have put out six albums since, scoring another top 10 hit in 2005 with “You and Me” but it’s hard to tell if Lifehouse is still “live.” They haven’t put out a new album since 2015 and recently were scrapped from a Goo Goo Dolls tour for unknown reasons and Wade has been busy with a spin-off band, Ozwald.

September 20 – Maybe Bubblegummy Song Wasn’t Crazy

Maybe it’s appropriate that it came out on the same day that one of the most bubblegummy of all pop hits reached the top 42 years earlier. On this day in 1969, “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies hit #1. And on this day in 2011, one of the century’s biggest – and most bubblegum-sounding – singles came out : “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Love it or hate it, soon there was no escaping the song that was everywhere. The Village Voice put it best by calling it “utterly earwormy.”

Jepsen was by then a 25 year old former barista and Canadian College of Performing Arts student from the Vancouver area. She’d risen to minor fame in Canada being a contestant on Canadian Idol in 2007 (she finished third) and putting out a moderately well-received slightly folkish album, Tug of War.

Fast forward to 2011 and she began working on a new record for the small local 604 Records label. “Call Me Maybe” was one of the first things she’d come up with, writing it with her friend Tavish Crowe. She said the song was “basically a pickup (line). What person hasn’t wanted to approach somebody before and stopped, because it’s scary.” They wrote it as a relatively folk-countryish tune originally but brought in multi-instrumentalist Josh Ramsay, of underground alt rock band Mariana’s Trench, who “helped us pop-ify it.” That he did, as well as between him and Crowe, playing guitars, bass, drums and synthesizers on the now upbeat ditty.

It was the lead single on the Canadian EP Curiosity, which was soon added to and made into a full album, Kiss, which was put out in the States, first on the small Schoolboy label, then when the single took off, being picked up by Interscope. And take off it did.

First it began to get airplay in Canada, which drew the attention of fellow Canuck teen-sensation Justin Bieber, and his then girlfriend Selena Gomez. Both raved about the song on social media and it really took off, no “maybe” about it. Soon it got to #1 at home…and in the U.S., where it spent nine weeks on top, and in the UK, Australia, France…18 countries in all. In an age of diminishing sales of music, it went through the roof (largely through downloads on sites like I-tunes), going diamond in both Canada and the U.S., and 15X platinum Down Under where it was the biggest-seller of 2012. When all it was said and done it had sold “maybe” 18-20 million copies. So far, it’s been streamed 895 million times on Spotify. It was the first #1 song by a Canadian female since Avril Lavigne had scored one in 2007 and is presently the biggest-selling single by any female so far in the 21st Century.

Of course, a song as popular as that would find other sources of fame. “Call Me Maybe” was popular for lip-synching videos, which included American Air Force personnel in Afghanistan. Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster put his own spin on it, singing “Share It Maybe.” It seemed it was everyone’s “guilty pop pleasure,” as VH1 termed it.

Although she’s kept busy singing and at times acting, and has had a couple of chart hits since, she’s never come close to the level of mega-success she had from this single. But she has a new album due next month. She could be back on top soon…”maybe.”

September 5 – The Turntable Talk, Round 6 : Don’t Forget About Power Pop?

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our sixth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?”

This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, its more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

So, today we have Max from Power Pop Blog. There he looks at a slice of pop culture that interests him, primarily music. We know he’s a big fan of the British rock that emerged in the ’60s…he’s the guy to go to if you want to know about The Who or early Rolling Stones. But does he like anything more modern? Well…

When I heard this song I thought it was an older song. That was put to rest when I heard the uncensored version that is titled “F*** You”. When I heard it was CeeLo Green…I was shocked. It’s so catchy and I liked the video. I knew CeeLo Green as a rapper and I’m not a fan of that genre. Modern Country, death metal, and rap just don’t appeal to me very much.

The surprise came when I heard this Motown-sounding song over the radio back in 2010 by him. Uncensored words like that don’t really bother me at all but the shock came from it being CeeLo Green and modern…he sings this really well. 

I had to laugh when I heard the other version but I try to keep my post a little tame so we will go with “Forget You today. But…if you want to hear the other version be my guest. They never thought about releasing a clean version until a little later and it was a surprise hit. Here is a live version with Daryl Hall that is really good. 

This song peaked at #2 on the Billboard 100 in 2011. The songwriters were Bruno Mars, CeeLo Green, Philip Lawrence, and Ari Levine. The song has a good pop hook and it has a few different styles thrown in.

You may have thought the inspiration for this song was from a breakup but Green said the hit came about as a result of creative differences with his label, Elektra Records.

CeeLo Green: “I did ‘F— You’ to be an a–hole, to be spiteful toward the label,” “Because it had taken about three years to do The Lady Killer, and I just felt that after recording almost 70 songs I could not please them.”

Bruno Mars: ‘I wanna work with CeeLo Green.’ We came up with the title and sung the chorus for him. We were a little nervous about it cos we didn’t want it to be like a skit. He said, ‘That’s incredible, let’s go.’ We wrote it in two hours.”

 

 

 

August 23 – Jon Found An Island Home

It wasn’t a fun time for Jon Bon Jovi seven years back. Longtime guitarist Richie Sambora had just quit the band (Bon Jovi) and then on this day in 2015, Jon announced he was “leaving” (some said “being dumped by”) Mercury Records, the only label Bon Jovi had recorded for in their 32 years. This was only two days after they released the tellingly-titled Burning Bridges record. That album had the title track with lyrics noting “here’s the last song you can sell” and “after 30 years of loyalty, they let you dig your grave.”

Jon said “I am the longest tenured artist on Mercury, but my deal was up and that’s that.” It was a bit perplexing perhaps given that he and the band were not only the longest-tenured act on Mercury, they were the biggest-selling one, outdoing others like John Mellencamp, Rush and even Def Leppard who’d at times been label-mates. A few days ago here, we looked at his Slippery When Wet album, which was the label’s biggest-seller of all-time. But it would seem the company was of a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude; Mercury apparently complained his last top 40 single, was way back in 2007, “Make A Memory”. Nonetheless, his previous album, What about Now? had gotten to #1 on the charts in North America and as recently as 2013 he was the biggest concert draw in the world.

He landed on his feet mind you, the next year Bon Jovi had signed to Island Records and that company was re-releasing remastered versions of the back catalog. He’s put out two albums since. This House is Not For Sale , in 2016, became his sixth #1 in the U.S. and gave him a top 10 hit on adult contemporary charts, perhaps surprisingly, with it’s title track while 2020 (which came out not surprisingly in 2020) made the top 10 in the UK and Australia and scored him another adult contemp. hit with “Do What You Can.”.

July 31 – The Turntable Talk, Round 5 : Reznor, Rubin Didn’t ‘Hurt’ Johnny’s Rep

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! By now, if you’re a regular reader here – and if you are, thank you, I appreciate your time here – you know how this runs. We’ve invited several interesting and talented music writers to sound off on the same topic. In the past we’ve looked at topics like why the Beatles are still relevant, whether MTV and the video sensation helped or harmed music and great debut records which took them by surprise. This time around, it’s “Cover Me”. Much of what we hear and love is songs which aren’t original to the artists we hear. So we’re asking what makes a great cover song? Are there any that stand out as being very good, or even better than the original? (I add that we’re restricting this to cover songs in which the original was fairly popular or well-known. Thus ones which are cover songs but where the original was obscure, like perhaps The Clique’s “Superman,” made a hit by R.E.M., wouldn’t be counted.)

Today, we have Max from the Power Pop Blog. He’s taking a bit of a summer break there this month, but usually he’s posting stories of great tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, as well as thoughts on TV, movies and more there daily. He isn’t alone in thinking a legend took a ’90s alt rock hit to a new level:

Trent Reznor: “That song isn’t mine anymore”

A good cover song needs to be somewhat faithful to the original but not an exact replica as in Todd Rundgren’s “Good Vibrations”. Rarely do I hear a cover song that transcends the original in popular culture. Jimi Hendrix did the trick with Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower” and Dylan does it in Jimi’s style even today. Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” adds a different layer to the song…and it works. 

Hurt” written by Trent Reznor seemed unlikely to be covered by Johnny Cash. The producer Rick Rubin convinced Cash to give it a shot and it worked. Johnny was a different kind of artist. There are only a few that can cross genres so easily. I think Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash belong in that category.

The song was born in a house that at one moment in time… was a real house of horrors. Trent Reznor, the singer of Nine Inch Nails, moved into a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. Nine Inch Nails recorded the EP Broken and The Downward Spiral album in that house. “Hurt” was on the later album.

The house was no other than Sharon Tate’s old home where Manson’s followers murdered Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Steve Parent in 1969. After Reznor met Sharon Tate’s sister…he realized he didn’t want to be looked at like he was endorsing serial killers, so he moved out. “When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, ‘What if it was my sister?’ I thought, ‘F— Charlie Manson.’ I don’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bull—-.” Reznor moved out soon after that, but he did take the front door. It was demolished soon after.

The song deals with addiction struggles and isolation but in the hands of Cash it changes but remains true. This is the one song where I say…watch the video also. I don’t say that often, but it adds to Cash’s story. The video was shot in February of 2003. June Cash would die in May and Johnny would die in September. Cash conveys the agony of deteriorating in the song. Movie Director Mark Romanek’s video showed the museum “House of Cash” that had been closed for awhile and was in a state of advanced dereliction to parallel the state of Cash.

It’s a painful video to watch but it’s as close to a work of art as a video can be.

Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers play on the track.  

Trent Reznor: “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. Somehow that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Trent Reznor: “I wasn’t prepared for what I saw, what I had written in my diary was now superimposed on the life of this icon and sung so beautifully and emotionally. It was a reminder of what an important medium music is. Goosebumps up the spine. It really made sense. I thought: ‘What a powerful piece of art.’ I never got to meet Johnny, but I’m happy I contributed in the way I did. It wasn’t my song anymore.”

 

June 28 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Gretchen Sounded Fetchin’

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Kicking it off this time, we have Keith from Nostalgic Italian. A former radio DJ, he has a lot of interesting stories to share and thoughts on music and much more. He goes a little bit country for today’s topic:

Welcome to another edition of Turntable Talk, hosted by Dave at A Sound Day. He has really been coming up with some neat topics for this series. This time around, he is calling it “Out of the Blue.” Dave described it this way: “Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise.  Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found , but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue. So tell us about  a record like that, and if you want, if your interest in the artist was kept alive or if they were a one-off flash in the pan.

I didn’t have to go any further in his email to know exactly what I’d be writing about. I remember this song like it was yesterday. It was 2004 and I was working at 94.5 The Moose in Saginaw.moose

 

As the station’s music director, I received new music daily. Every single song was trying to get a spot on the station’s play list. Each week I would listen to the new songs and then meet with my program director to discuss what song or songs we might consider adding. Often times, it was a difficult decision. Other times, you just went with the new song from a country superstar.

Every year in January or February the Country Radio Seminar would happen in Nashville. Radio people from all across the country would get together to hear new music, network, and attend panels about various radio and records stuff.

I remember going to one of the evening events hosted by one of the record labels that year. I recall them playing some of their new songs from new artists. The one song that had everyone talking that year was “Redneck Woman”. I can still remember the first time I heard it. I was blown away. It was like NOTHING that was on the radio at that time.

The song was by a new artist named Gretchen Wilson. She was a 30 year old single mother who was working as a bartender to earn a living while she sang and wrote songs. She was rough around the edges and didn’t necessarily have the “looks” of a female country singer. That, of course, didn’t matter because the listener was hooked as soon as she started belting out the lyrics.

The song was the lead single from Gretchen’s album Here for the Party. She had written the song with John Rich, who used to be in the group Lonestar and went on to success with Big & Rich. The Album Here for the Party earned her several Grammy-Award nominations, including for Best New Artist, Best Country Album, as well as “Redneck Woman” for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She took home the award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

I remember coming back from the Country Radio Seminar that year anxiously awaiting the single to hit my desk. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be the hit of the summer and would be a number one record!

It was a fun, fresh song that was constantly being requested by listeners. It spent five weeks at the top of the Hot Country Singles chart. That in itself was a huge accomplishment, but it also became the first number-one hit on that chart for a female solo act since Martina McBride’s “Blessed” two years earlier.

Thanks to the success of “Redneck Woman”, the album shot to platinum certification (for sales of a million copies) within just over a month after its May 11, 2004 release. By November 4 of that year, sales amounted to three million. And by late 2006, total sales had climbed to five million.

She continued to collaborate with John Rich and the toured together. I was lucky enough to have the chance to see her perform and her energy on stage was powerful. The audience was just as pumped as she was! They screamed with joy and sang along at the top of their lungs when she performed “Redneck Woman”!

I don’t believe she was a “flash in the pan,” because she certainly had other hit songs. At the same time, you don’t hear much from her today on the radio. One song which I felt should have got more attention was her simple ballad “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today.” Her vocal is the exact opposite of Redneck Woman and I think it is just an amazing song.

I’ve been away from country radio for some time now, and I know that most of what plays on the format today is what they call “bro country” or “country rap.” I don’t really feel the connection to the artists today like I did back then. It was a very different format at the time, and “Redneck Woman” was a country song that was loved by listeners of all formats.

The song was one that has forever stuck with me. I remember hearing it the first time. I remember playing it the first time. I remember seeing her play it live for the first time. So when someone asks me if I like the song, I respond with a big “Hell, yeah!”

Redneck Woman – Lyrics

Well, I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can’t swig that sweet Champagne, I’d rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate

I’ve got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me, but I don’t give a rip
I’ll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip

‘Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey ya’ll” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

Victoria’s Secret, well their stuff’s real nice
Oh, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy
Just as sexy as those models on TV

No, I don’t need no designer tag
To make my man want me
You might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore
But in my neck of the woods I’m just the girl next door

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here’s to all my sisters
Out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)

I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
And I say, “hey y’all” and “yee-haw”
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long

And I know all the words to every ol’ Bocephus song
So here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big “hell yeah”
From the redneck girls like me (Hell yeah)

Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
Hell yeah (Hell yeah)
I said hell yeah

June 27 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Southern Avenue Return Us To Stax

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Kicking it off this time, we have Christian from Christian’s Music Musings. Raised in Europe and now residing in New Jersey, Christian brings a worldview to music and keeps upto date on new releases of note at his site. He tells us of Southern Avenue-

Out of the Blue

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 second to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

I first came across this group from Memphis, Tenn. in July 2017 when fellow blogger Jim, aka Music Enthusiast, included Don’t Give Up, a track off their first album in a post that highlighted various blues tunes. Since I generally love blues music, this got my attention right away.

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Feel in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune “Old Time Rock and Roll”.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

June 23 – Life Gives Duffy Lots Of Material To Give Blue-eyed Soul Treatment

Happy 38th birthday to one of the great new voices of this century, Duffy. Amie Ann Duffy was born into an unhappy household in Wales, at times having to be put into protective custody because of fights and death threats between family members and exes. She quickly set out on her own to work in stores and grocers before entering the Welsh TV competition Wawlfactor. Although she didn’t win, she got a record contract out of that and put out a decent-selling EP in 2004; in time she’d sign to A&M Records in Europe and Mercury in the U.S. Although she’d listened to artists as varied as Marvin Gaye to Arcade Fire before, A&M wanted to expand her range nonetheless. They put her in touch with Bernard Butler of Suede; he in turn heard her and gave her an I-pod full of old soul and R&B music to listen to and helped her write and produce her debut album Rockferry.

The result was startling. Reviews were great, even if almost all of them compared her to Amy Winehouse and both as following in the footsteps of Dusty Springfield. Spin did so but noted the record was a winner and she “a big-voiced, small town girl who expresses herself with rare dignity.” As journalist Jim Harrington put it, Rockferry “evoked a long-gone era when artists like Aretha, Dusty and the Supremes ruled the world.” Duffy went a ways toward doing so too; Rockferry sold close to 10 million copies and went 9X platinum in the UK where it was a #1 hit and won awards aplenty including the Brit Award in 2009 for Best British album and the Grammy for Best Pop album. Over here, it was a top 5 hit in North America and the single “Mercy” (a chart-topper through most of Europe and Australia) got significant airplay; in Britain it took home the Ivor Novello Award for Most Performed Song that year. There it went platinum as did the next single, “Warwick Avenue.” A less successful follow-up album, Endlessly, followed in 2010 but failed to have any singles crack the top 40 even in her homeland. Since then she’s been on “hiatus” from recording.

She tried her hand at acting, appearing in two films, but generally is content to keep a low profile lately it would seem. Little wonder because she feels uncomfortable as a star, saying it’s “scary” to have strangers recognize her. And she seems a magnet for bad luck. Her apartment in London burned down in 2012, taking 60 firefighters to contain the blaze (she and her pets got out alright). She was briefly the European “face” of Diet Coke but that led her to be slammed by critics who didn’t like her promoting an unhealthy drink, nor her appearing in one commercial riding a bike without a helmet. And most famously, and disturbingly, she recently said that she had been drugged, abducted, flown somewhere and raped while held captive, although giving no elaboration on whom was responsible. That, she says led her to spend “almost ten years completely alone.” We hope she recovers and gets back to the recording studio, but even if she goes down in the books as a One Hit Wonder, the one hit was quite a wonder!

June 10 – If They Keep Sounding Like This, They Will ‘Stay Gold’

The U.S.A. is a mirage-like beacon for people around the world; one which holds an almost mythical appeal which is often unnoticed by its residents. But not to outsiders. It might in part explain why in the ’90s, Rolling Stone once opined that America’s best band was Canadian (Blue Rodeo). Or why perhaps the best “Americana” act going these days is not even from the same continent! “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America,” as Simon & Garfunkel once sang. Little surprise that Sweden’s First Aid Kit chose that to be one of their signature tunes. The Swede sisters began to hit it big five years ago with their third album, Stay Gold, released here this day in 2014.

The Soderberg sisters had become stars at home in Sweden about six years earlier, initially through homemade Youtube videos. A couple of well-received albums at home had built their following and gotten them noticed at least in Britain. With a record deal with Columbia, worldwide publicity and distribution followed, beginning with Stay Gold. While it carried on where the first records left off – folksy guitar-based tunes with strong melodies and great harmonies from Klara and Johanna – this one added in a fuller sound and better production values courtesy the bigger budget and more adventurous producing from Bright Eyes’ Mike Magis who played everything from banjo to dulcimer himself to back the girls and their guitars but also brought in a full orchestral string section for several songs, including the title track and “Cedar Lane”, a song the Guardian labeled their “finest moment.” Strong melodies, simple arrangements and lyrics of promised lands and loves lost could have just as easily originated from Tom Petty or Neil Young as a pair of young Swedish women, which helped explain the record’s appeal.

While it went platinum and to #1 in their homeland, as the previous album had, it also ran up to #11 in the UK, #18 in Canada, and #23 in the U.S. they sounded a part of (and where it was recorded, in Omaha of all places, adding to its Heartland authenticity.) All were significant improvements in sales over their small-label predecessors. The lilting “My Silver Lining” became their third top 40 hit in their homeland and the first to get notable airplay in North America, hitting #22 on Adult Contemporary radio in the States.

Critics (as well as yours truly here at A Sound Day) generally loved the album. Many gave it about an 80% rating. For instance, Spin and the NME each gave it 8/10; Q and Britain’s The Guardian each rated it 4-stars (out of 5.) The NME were surprised that “even the big old Columbia paycheque can’t bring a smile to the duo’s faces” but that was a “blessing for fans of lush, melodic symphonic emoting.” Rolling Stone called it “sublime drifter poetry” and suggested they “blossomed into an excellent indie-country act,”

Among the fans of Stay Gold was Peter Buck of R.E.M. who helped out on their 2018 album, Ruins which sold a little better still in North America. Currently the duo appear to be on a bit of a hiatus, perhaps because Johanna had a baby in 2020. However, they did put out a new album quite recently, Who By Fire, a recording of a concert they played in 2017 honoring Leonard Cohen.

May 6 – The Turntable Talk, Round 2 – Jammin’ A Lot Of Pearls Into One Set

Today we continue our second instalment of Turntable Talk. We hope you liked the first one we ran last month which dealt with why the Beatles were still relevant. This time around, we’re pleased to have six guest writers discuss The Live Album. Some people love ’em, some hate ’em. Some musicians put out some of their best work in live, concert recordings, others seem to use them as a stopgap to fulfill contractual obligations and little else. So we’ve asked our panelists to discuss live albums, however they see fit. Do they enjoy them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What are their favorites? So far we’ve had rave reviews of live records by the likes of the J.Geils Band, The Who and Aerosmith.

Today, we jump forward a couple of decades from those and have Lisa, from Tao Talk, talking about Pearl Jam. Lisa a poet who writes about quite a range of topics ranging from foreign movies to current affairs to examples of her poetry at her site, which we encourage you to check out! Here’s what she’s got to say about Eddie Vedder and the boys-

The moment Dave named the topic of live albums, I knew that I wanted it to be one of Pearl Jam‘s, but I wasn’t sure which one to choose. Probably my most favorite one is Live at the Gorge, a “seven CD box set that documents the band’s three performances at the Gorge amphitheater in George, WA in September, 2005 and July, 2006,” but that one seemed a little too ambitious to write up, so instead today’s essay will be about the two-disk, Live at Benaroya Hall. The benefit concert was done on October 22, 2003, to raise funds for youthcare, an organization to end youth homelessness in Seattle, Washington. What makes me love PJ’s live albums are Eddy’s comments between songs. He’s a preacher in his own way and his flock are adoring of his pronouncements.

I decided to put this essay in a format where I will listen to the disks and while doing so write whatever bubbles up during the listen. Notes will be made on Eddy’s comments between songs, as I will also do for audience response. The plan also developed into including what album, if any, each of the songs are on and any orienting tidbits for each of them.

Disc 1 of 2

Of the Girl”

Gossard wrote this one and describes it (elsewhere) as “pretty somber.” And the crowd goes wild. The Jamily is feeling blessed that they are there with the band.

Low Light”

On the Yield album, this is bass player Jeff Ament’s first lyrics contribution. Listening to a live Pearl Jam album is like going to church. Every member is “on” and tweaking it with the vibe of the audience. I love the sound of the wood resonating in the rhythm guitar. Now here comes McCready with his soul-driven flourishes. Eddy’s singing like the benevolent God that he is. There truly is nothing other than the now of the music.

Thumbing My Way”

From Riot Act. “I love you, Eddy!” someone shouts from the audience. Too many hoots and cheers to count. This song is an anthem for every traveler going through this world.

Thin Air”

On the Binaural album. There is something about “Thin Air” that is deceptively simple yet deep and profound. The wordplay and the delicate manifestation of the melody brings tears to my eyes every time. One of the most magical things about live music is that you’ve got thousands of listeners communing with the band at the same time. “taken on on on on” crooned by Eddy urges an almost orgasmic experience. Multiply that by so many supercharged people in the audience and the energy of resonance has got to be off the charts. For those of us listening to a recording at home, we are aural voyeurs that feel it less intensely but are still satisfied. Where’s my cigarette?

Eddy comments about hearing beforehand about the good acoustics of the venue (Benaroya Hall) and talks about his mistake on the “Thin Air”. He introduces a new song, “Fatal,” that is coming out soon on, Lost Dogs, which is a collection of b-sides.

Fatal”

Written by Gossard. From the Lost Dogs album. Previously unreleased and was an out-take from the Binaural album. Lost Dogs is an often-overlooked album, and it shouldn’t be. It’s one I’ve listened to just as much as any of the others. There is more of a potpourri aspect to it than any conceptual thread, but that’s ok. It’s like walking around an amusement park.

Some loudmouth in the crowd is screaming unintelligibly. There is one in every crowd.

Nothing as it Seems”

Written by Ament, from the Binaural album. Rocking sweet McCready solos. Those long, lonely notes. Many audience members are howling and screaming.

Eddy says that Tim Burton sent “Big Fish” to PJ and asked them to write an ending song for it. They had just recorded it a few days before; they asked Tim if it was OK if they performed it at the show and he was ok with it. The song? “Man of the Hour.”

It appears on the “Man of the Hour” CD single. The chord progression in “Man of the Hour” is another one of those songs that seems to squeeze the tears out of my eyes.

Immortality”

On Vitalogy. Rhythm guitar jamming out. Bass prominent. Eddy waffles on whether or not this song was about Kurt Cobain (but not at this concert.)

Off He Goes”

From No Code. One of my most favorite of the favorite of their songs. How many of us have known someone like him? How many of us are him? McCready wails on his guitar to show support for our sorrow and for his lonely way of being.

Around the Bend”

From No Code. Such a sweet serenade! Written by former drummer, Jack Irons, as a lullaby for his son.

Eddy says that one of ushers notified him that someone wanted to talk with him. The person verified he was Eddy and then the man tried to serve Eddy legal papers. Eddy comments that it was, “the most punk ass mother fuckin’ move I ever heard of.”

I Believe in Miracles” (This is a Ramones cover.)

Appears on the 2003 Annual Vinyl Single. How this bridge starts and goes sends me into orbit: I close my eyes and think how it might be. I can’t tell you the number of times this one has done an earworm on me.

Sleight of Hand”

From Binaural. Existentialism is best not dwelled upon too long. McCready uses his wah wah pedal. The acoustics in Benaroya Hall are excellent.

All or None”

From Riot Act. It’s open to interpretation. Extremes are to be avoided in my experience.

Lukin”

From No Code. Stone Gossard introduces the song. The song is short, sweet, and damned intense. It’s about when a woman was stalking Eddy to the point that he was avoiding his own home. Also it is reported that it’s short and sweet because someone criticized PJ’s songs as being too long. Funk dat!

Disc 2 of 2

Parting Ways”

From Binaural. Looking through some comments on websites about this one, there are interesting theories but the consensus seems to be this was about the imminent breakup between Eddy and Beth.

Eddy gives a Public Service Announcement (PSA): 60,000 young adults have been helped through Youthcare. Eddy asks for a round of applause for the staff and the kids involved with the organization, and then to the audience for supporting them.

Down”

On the Lost Dogs album, written by Gossard, McCready, and Vedder. Originally on the, “I Am Mine single”. An up-tempo song with a line that is also the title of a Howard Zinn book, You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

Encore Break 1

Can’t Keep”

From Riot Act. Eddie on ukelele, singing about going to “the other side,” and the refrain is, “you can’t keep me here.” There is a definitely mystical aspect to this song.

Dead Man”

Included on the Lost Dogs album. Originally from the “Off He Goes” single. Originally intended for the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, but passed over in favor of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin.” (Wrong choice, in my opinion.)

Masters of War”

Written by Bob Dylan, I wish I could say this song is obsolete. It feels ever-fresh with new blood being spilled. Why young people continue to choose to die to serve their world chess playing masters is one of the great mysteries of our species.

Black”

This may the best known Pearl Jam tune. It’s unquestioningly one of their signature tunes. The poetry of the lyrics, the way Eddy sings it, and knowing he poured his all into it, trying to get over the one love of his life. Many times he sings with every drop of raw emotion. This time he sings as if the sting of anguish has subsided and it’s more in retrospect. Eddy invites the audience to sing along and it gives me the goosebumps to hear it sung in unison with Mike’s accompanying soulful guitar.

Crazy Mary”

One of my personal favorites. Surprisingly not written by PJ but by Victoria Williams. If you can listen to this song and not feel at least a little compassion for Crazy Mary, you have no heart. I also like the mystical aspect to this one. I wrote a poem in honor of Crazy Mary a few years ago. You can read it here.

25 Minutes to Go”

Johnny Cash wrote this one. It’s about a guy facing capital punishment by hanging. Eddy does it up right with some real nice flourishes by McCready on guitar.

Daughter” A quote from Eddy about it:

“The child in that song obviously has a learning difficulty, and it’s only in the last few years that they’ve actually been able to diagnose these learning disabilities, that before were looked at as misbehavior; as just outright rebelliousness, but no one knew what it was. These kids, because they seemed unable or reluctant to learn, they’d end up getting the shit beaten outta them. The song ends, you know, with this idea of the shades going down—so that the neighbors can’t see what happens next. What hurts about shit like that is that it ends up defining people’s lives. They have to live with that abuse for the rest of their lives. Good, creative people are just f***g destroyed.” – from Jones, Allan. Pearl Jam – The Illustrated Story, A Melody Maker Book. Hal Leonard Corp, 1995.

Eddy introduces the members of the band (Gossard, Ament, Cameron, McCready, and “you know my name, look up the number…”) He sings a few bars of “You’ve got to hide your love away.” and then sings, “you don’t have to hide your love away.”

Encore Break 2

Yellow Ledbetter”

Another song of theirs that got a lot of radio play. About a guy whose brother who has gone off to fight in war and the guy hopes he doesn’t come back in a box or a body bag. The guy gets a letter saying his brother has been killed.

OK, there you have it, a template for how I grok live albums, or at least how I grok live Pearl Jam albums. The musicianship is superior, they sound just as good live as they do on their sanitary studio versions, and you just never know what Eddy is going to say.

Thank you for the prompt, Dave. I enjoyed writing this very much.

I was going to link each song separately, but I found the whole concert out on youtube. There is a track listing where you can click to each song, which is always helpful.

https://youtu.be/mpygOcZYIws