New Music for Old People: Candi Staton, Dawes, Ashley Cleveland, and More

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Hubert Sumlin/Howard Tate

Rest in Peace

Hubert Sumlin, 80, well known as the pivotal guitarist for the late blues innovator Howlin' Wolf, passed away this week. Howard Tate, 72, one of the masters of soul singing, also moved on to higher ground this week. I want to take a moment to say how much each of these men contributed to my education and how blessed I was to be able to play with each of them when I was a young man doing everything I could to learn what they already well knew (especially their choice of guitars — yowee!). God bless them both. Amen.

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This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.

I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!

Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.

TMR1209 by Lisa on Grooveshark

1. "The Californian" — Bob Schneider (3:24)

You don’t often hear well-done, tongue-in-cheek Led Zep. This is really spot-on musically and pretty hilarious lyric-wise, but just tucked in enough to not be noticeably humorous unless you’re really studying it. But for a rocking listen it’s pretty freakin’ good. Bob is an Austin, TX musician and plays around town as well as touring the States regularly. He dated Sandra Bullock long enough to have songs in three of her films.

2. "I Idolize You" — Lizz Wright (3:23)

I’m a fan of the fact that she picks good covers and does different arrangements of songs you’ve previously heard the usual way. Here she dips into the late Ike Turner’s songbook and calms it down a bit from the original Tina version. This is a great groove and a great introduction to Lizz. Also a chance to praise the New York Post’s headline for Ike Turner’s obituary: "IKE BEATS TINA TO DEATH."

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3. "What Good Can Drinkin' Do?" — Carolyn Wonderland (2:59)

As a blue-eyed soul blues shouter, Carolyn is one of my current favorites. I’ve not seen her live yet, but it’s not 'cause I don’t try. This is one of my favorite tracks by her. The band is great, the arrangement is good, and she sings just perfectly.

4. "Starting All Over" — Jeremiah (3:05)

Finally. A brown-eyed soul singer born in 1987 who writes and plays the instruments as well as doing all the voices. This is kind of an homage to Stevie Wonder, but I don’t mind at all. At first I thought it was a woman, so I looked it up. Stevie's first song, "Fingertips," sounded like a gal as well! This really grew on me. Hope it works on you, too.

5. "Twilight Hour" — Ashley Cleveland (2:37)

When I lived in Nashville in the '90’s I made the acquaintance of this musical couple, singer-songwriter Ashley and her mate, guitarist Kenny Greenberg. They are wonderful people and amazing in their talents. This is a song Ashley wrote about the two of them turning 50 and refusing to act accordingly. Kenny plays the great electric guitar parts and bass, Ashley sings all the vocals and plays acoustic guitar. There is great rock 'n' roll in Nashville as well as country music.

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6. "All Her Crooked Ways" — Simon Dawes (3:43)

This was their original name for their first two albums (middle names of band members) but now they are just called Dawes and doing quite well, thank you. So this is early stuff and a little Wilco-ish, but that’s a good thing in my book. This is circa 2006 and if you like this, go see them live as they’ve improved in many good ways and tour frequently.

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7. "Long Goodbye" — The Nadas (2:42)

From the latest album Almanac by this Des Moines, IA aggregation. Compared to the 2005/2006 albums which were good power pop tunes, this is a more experimental album, with this track being the standout. If you don’t know the band at all, it sounds like they might have the same instrumentation as Electric Light Orchestra but with only subtle Beatle influences as compared to Jeff Lynne’s proto-Lennon stance. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this track...

8. "I Feel the Same" — Candi Staton (3:10)

From Honest Jon’s Records, a European label that put out a double album of her entire singles collection from the '70’s last year, comes what appears to be a newly recorded album called Who’s Hurting Now. Everything stands up to the quality of the originals, although her voice has aged a touch (à la Betty LaVette) and it doesn’t really lyrically stand up to her watershed crop — but the band is great, the recording captures the old days, and Candi will always be one of the premier female soul singers. This is my pick from this new album released a month ago. Her discography contains many spiritual records, so one has to be careful if you don’t go that way, to otherwise just select her output from the famed FAME Alabama label or, if you like, go with God as well. Couldn’t hurt...

9. "It Is Well" — Mary Mary (4:00)

In the early ‘70’s Andrae Crouch singlehandedly changed black gospel music from a basic doo-wop base, to the equivalent of modern R&B at the time; i.e. Earth Wind & Fire, etc. By 2000, the generation raised on Andrae put forth their efforts and with Andrae and God’s inspiration, artists like Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary became the second generation of the original Andrae Crouch makeover. With three Grammy Awards in hand, Mary Mary (two sisters) incorporate a usually only-employed-in-electronica vocoder on this bare track and make it work for them. They even might have been influenced a smidgen by electronica princess Imogene Heap! Mary 1 sings the lead and Mary 2 sings background parts through the eerie-sounding vocoder and it works — because they believe in what they’re doing and love to experiment. I have always felt that the best vocals come out of gospel music because the singers aren’t singing to make the charts or to make $$$; they’re singing what they TRULY believe in. People who originated in gospel and made the pop transition are still regarded as the best singers, i.e. Aretha, Ray Charles, Al Green, etc.

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10. "Rise and Shine" — Kokomo (3:39)

This is an oldie from the ‘70’s, a UK band with members of King Crimson and The Grease Band in the ranks that channeled modern R&B of that time period a la The Average White Band. This band also backed Bob Dylan on a few tracks from the Desire album all those years ago. I close with this title track from their second album because I think it would be a great theme song for the American Occupy protesters. I don’t know how to get there with this suggestion but I suspect someone who reads this will hopefully know what to do. Imagine all those people singing along to this on Wall Street. It would be mind-boggling and sooooo appropriate! See ya next week!

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