The past few years, I’ve been developing a system to organize my almost 50,000 song (and growing) music library. Currently, I group my songs by yearly, then monthly playlists, each containing the albums I acquired during that month. I can go to any month and see images of all the albums for that month, and rate each song as I listen to it the first time. My favorites on each album get the “heart” (fave pick) rating, and at any time, I can sort by those hearts to create a favorites playlist. Works great!
Even though I’ll never be a professional musician, a music keyboard sits between my Mac and PC keyboards for creative interludes. I thank my music loving parents for my Chicago blues/jazz interests, but the rock side is all my own. And I especially enjoy exploring the roots and connections of individual musicians over their lifetimes. Not many careers allow such flexibility and attempt such levels of camaraderie.
Music is a passion of mine so I’m going to start writing about it more often. Today I’m presenting four artists’ stories—two older musicians I’ve followed for decades and two I’ve discovered this year. Their common bond: all found in recent monthly playlists with solid “heart” ratings.
Jack Bruce: In the history of the 1960’s “British Invasion”, the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Animals were the best of the first wave. The next few years brought a wealth of blues-influenced British bands like the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The first British “superband” was Cream, whose members had played with Mayall and with The Graham Bond Organisation, the seminal 60’s English bands that explored American blues and jazz roots to create their own sound. When Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker left those bands to form Cream, the world was ready. Jack (pictured above) was a bassist, but like Sting with the Police a decade later, he was also a great singer, and with his lyricist partner Pete Brown, wrote most of Cream’s hits, although Clapton appeared more as the front man. I learned Jack was writer and singer of “Sunshine of Your Love” years after I fell in love with it. Months before he died at 71 in 2014, he made one last album, “Silver Rails”, as a way of looking back on his career. He is joined by Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Robin Trower (Procol Harum), and his own son Malcolm Bruce. It’s a beautiful, closing statement to an amazing musician’s career, with songs like “Rusty Lady “and “Keep It Down” showing he still had vision and a unique voice.
Andy Narell: When I moved to Oakland in 1975, I spent most weekends hanging out on the nearby UC Berkeley campus. A recent grad from Berkeley Cal was jazz steel drummer Andy Narell, who often played on the Berkeley streets on Saturday afternoons. I loved his music and bought his albums when them came out. Last fall, Maren and I were doing our Saturday farmer’s market run, and the live music was a steel drummer. I stopped and talked with him. I said his style reminded me of Andy Narell, and it turned out he happened to be an old friend of his. I checked out Andy’s website and got his latest offering. I highly recommend “Dis 1.4. RAF”, a two hour extravaganza. Then, go back and listen to “Stickman”, his first from 1981, for possibly the greatest steel drum recording of all time.
Ana Popovic: Back to the present. Ana, a native of Belgrade, Serbia, now lives in Memphis. Thank her father for turning her on to American blues. Her 2013 album, “Can You Stand the Heat” is a perfect blues mix of Bonny Raitt, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and I highly recommend it. Her latest, “Trilogy” is a wide-ranging 23 song mix of jazz, blues and rock. Not every one of her rock songs succeeds, but her blues collaboration with Joe Bonamassa on the cut “Train” is a standout. She is a powerful, innovative blues guitarist who was a great discovery for me this year
Joanne Shaw Taylor: She’s another female blues guitarist who caught my attention this year. Joanne is from Birmingham, England with a blues style that reminds me of Stevie Ray Vaughn at times. She was already playing professionally at 16. Her 2012 album “Almost Always Never” is filled with songs that really move me almost always every time. She has a great voice combined with an amazing blues guitar style. It is especially satisfying to see more outstanding women playing blues guitar.
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