New Music for Old People: Sam Cooke, John Hiatt, Olu Dara and More

By , Columnist

The Honeydogs

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.

1. "Balaclava" — The Honeydogs (3:35)

This longstanding Minneapolis band has been a personal favorite since the late '90s. This is from a comparatively recent release and is a good opener as it rocks hard and true. Leader Adam Levy says this song is about questioning what is right and wrong in the world and a balaclava is a sort of ski mask worn in the Crimean War. Maybe I shouldn't have asked...

2. "Same Old Man" — John Hiatt (2:47)

John ALWAYS speaks his mind and here I believe his thoughts are probably shared by many men of the same age out there (hopefully). A great down-to-earth vocal with a perfect backing track, this put a smile on my face on the first listen.

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3. "A Man Like Me" — Robert Downey Jr. (2:34)

I was sorely tempted to use a pseudonym for this artist because this is unexpectedly very, very strong; I think if he had hidden his name this would have been a huge track but in this case, fame worked against him. See if you can judge this just for what it actually is — an original composition, written and sung wonderfully by someone you never thought had a strong talent in the musical area. I hope he remains undaunted and gives us a second album sooner than later. A first-rate track from a first-rate singer/songwriter/actor. And no — we don't know each other.

4. "Rat Race" — The Drifters (2:11)

For some reason this is an obscure A-side from their hit-making days that just didn't click at the time. Written by Quincy Jones and produced by the esteemed Leiber & Stoller, I am hoping someone on Mad Men reads and hears this, because it's a great opener or closer for any episode of that award-winning TV show. Vintage '60s drifting done to perfection and sadly overlooked. The B side, "If You Don't Come Back," is another overlooked contender we used to cover when I was in The Blues Project. I'm sure I'll get to that original in another column.

5. "Ice on Her Lashes" — Brooke Fraser (4:15)

A 27-year-old Newfoundland woman with deep talent is now here for you to peruse with your eyes, ears, and brains. I was extremely impressed with this lyric, which you can read here. This arrangement is very sensitive to the lyric as well. It's wonderful when you're a singer/songwriter and you are able to harness all the elements to work the best for your song. This is a great example of that.

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6. "Sweet Home Alabama" — Committed (2:53)

This gospel aggregation does a very Take 6 thang with this extremely white song and actually squeezes out whatever soul was hiding inside for all to hear. They weren't powerful enough to tackle the verse about the governor, however, but a tough task fulfilled anyway.

7. "Zora" — Olu Dara (2:44)

This 70-year-old African-influenced blues jazzer was actually born Charles Jones III in Natchez, Mississippi. His son is a the noted rapper Nas, and dad has appeared playing trumpet on various recordings of his. On this track he is strictly roots with a lovely touch of hard-core Africa thrown in for good measure. This is a great recording and retains a truly live feel sadly usually eschewed by studio surroundings.

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8. "Can't Let Go" — Anthony Hamilton (3:53)

While everyone waits for the next Al Green to surface, Anthony does his best here to quell the long delay. Anthony certainly understands the mood of a vintage Al Green ballad; can the rest be far from his grasp? Only time and his next recordings will tell the answer. I walked around singing this song involuntarily for quite awhile.

9. "Stealin' In the Name of the Lord" — Paul Kelly (3:32)

This was a great intro for a new artist in the R&B field back in the day. Ballsy, too, in terms of lyrical content. After this, Kelly became one of the best yet overlooked soul ballad singers of the early '70s. His two Warner Bros. albums would probably be great collector's items today. I'll get to some of those tracks in later columns.

10. "Lost and Looking for My Baby" — Sam Cooke (2:12)

With just a stand-up bass and occasional hi hat cymbal behind him, the late Sam sings circles around practically everyone else who ever wailed in the same genre. Coming from a powerful gospel group didn't really hinder his chances in the secular world; although the gospel community was up in arms over his departure at first, they soon forgave him. This is true simplistic artistry at work and that's the best way to leave you for this week.

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