EML’s Favorite Songs – “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire

One of my favorite songs of the 1970s is the enchanting and soulful “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire. The song was the title track from their magnificent sixth studio album That’s the Way of the World, released in March 1975. I loved the entire album, and had it on repeat that summer when I also experienced my first significant love affair.

Named for band founder and front man Maurice White’s astrological sign of Sagittarius (which has a primary elemental quality of fire and seasonal qualities of earth and air), Earth, Wind & Fire was formed in Chicago in 1969. White had formerly been a session drummer for Chess Records, as well as a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He eventually moved the band to Los Angeles, where it grew to include as many as nine members.

Their extensive lineup underwent numerous changes over the years, but some of the notable members have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Robert Brookins, Sonny Emory, Fred Ravel, Ronnie Laws, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. They’re known for their exotic kalimba sound (characterized by the Mbira, a family of traditional musical instruments of the Shona people of Zimbabwe), exuberant horn section, elaborate stage shows, and the dynamic contrast between Philip Bailey’s falsetto and Maurice White’s baritone vocals.

Their first five albums each met with successively greater success, and two of the singles, “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”, from their fifth album Open Our Eyes cracked the Billboard Top 40. But it was “Shining Star”, the lead single from That’s the Way of the World, that would be their breakout hit, going all the way to #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but I digress…

“That’s the Way of the World” was the second track from the album to be released as a single, in June 1975. It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, but only #12 on the Hot 100, which I always thought was a travesty, as the song is so phenomenal. I used to compile my own Weekly Top 10 back then, and it was a #1 hit as far as I was concerned. To this day, it remains my favorite of Earth, Wind & Fire’s many great songs.

It’s a beautiful and uplifting song of love, hope and optimism, but with a darker undercurrent touching on how racism and intolerance can corrupt an innocent child. The serene R&B melody is sublime, and I love the jazzy horns, lovely keyboards and funky guitars. And, as always, the dual vocal harmonies of Maurice White and Philip Bailey are fabulous.

Hearts of fire creates love desire
Take you high and higher to the world you belong
Hearts of fire creates love desire
High and higher to your place on the throne

We've come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days
Future, past, they disappear

You will find (you will find) peace of mind (yeah yeah)
If you look way down in your heart and soul
I don't hesitate 'cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart 'cause you're never old at heart

That's the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart so cold

On their 2004 version of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Rolling Stone ranked “That’s the Way of the World” at #329, however, the song was dropped altogether on their revised list that just came out on the 15th of this month (a list with which I have many issues). Surprisingly, the inferior (to me) and grossly overplayed “September” ranks at #65 on the more recent list. But it’s their most popular and most-streamed song by far, so what do I know?

One thing I learned in researching for this write-up is that the album That’s the Way of the World was initially written as a soundtrack for a film of the same name that was produced and directed by Sig Shore, who also produced the 1972 film Super Fly.  The film starred Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, and Earth, Wind & Fire as “The Group”. Keitel played a record producer who hears The Group performing and is impressed by their act. The band was convinced the film would be a flop (which it was), and decided to release the soundtrack prior to the film’s premier. It turned out to be a smart move, as while the film bombed, the album became a huge hit.

New Compilation Album “V4Velindre” to Raise Funds for Welsh Cancer Center

Welsh music journalist Kevin McGrath has embarked on an ambitious effort to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Center in Cardiff, Wales, where he’s received treatment for his own cancer. A regular contributor to Wales Arts Review and New Sound Wales, McGrath came up with the idea to create a massive 40-track digital album release as a way to not only raise money for a worthy cause, but also pay back in kind for the life-saving care he’s received.

Accordingly, he reached out to some of his favorite musicians in Wales, as well as in places such as Italy, Finland and America, to donate a song, old or new, released or unreleased, toward the creation of a 40-track mixtape album. Well, the response was beyond what he expected, and the album, entitled V4Velindre, now has a whopping 50 tracks by some of the best bands in Wales, including Bandicoot, Climbing Trees, Campfire Social, and Head Noise, as well as established singer/songwriters such as Jodie Marie, Evans McRae and Dan Bettridge.

McGrath explains his mission for creating the album: “V4Velindre exists because from the minute that we are born our lives intersect with the National Health Service. We all have stories (happy and sad) of the crucial role the NHS plays in our very existence. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for the sacrifice that NHS staff all over the country made to keep us safe during the COVID pandemic. Just between March 2020 and December 2020 883 NHS staff members died from COVID doing their duty and so much more. As the NHS, and the nation, seeks to rebuild in the wake of the pandemic we need to come together and make our contribution. As Nye Bevan famously said, ‘the NHS will last only as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it’. That fight comes in many measures – some will work for the NHS, some will vote for the NHS, some will protest for the NHS, and some will help finance its upkeep through jumble sales and sponsored walks. Please consider purchasing V4Velindre. Every single penny of the proceedings that comes to me from the sale of this album (minus the Bandcamp commission) will be passed straight to the Velindre Cancer Centre, where I have been cared for as an outpatient for the past eight years.

Among its 44 tracks, the album features songs by the last three winners of the Welsh Music Prize, including “O Silly Me” by young singer-songwriter Boy Azooga, “Brassneck” by indie legends The Wedding Present (an exclusive re-working of one of their all-time classics), “Who You Are” by BOB and “Enemy of Promise” by the Nightingales. In addition, the album includes songs donated by outstanding new Indie bands from Italy (Smile) Finland (That Forgotten Band) and the U.S. (Walter Etc, Eggs on Mars and Parker Woodland). Two of the songs are by Welsh artists I’ve previously featured on this blog: “Deal With the Devil” by the hyper-talented singer-songwriter GG Fearn, and “Stage Fright!” by electro-punk band Head Noise. There are also some newly-recorded tracks from Armstrong, Silent Forum, Burning Ferns and Y Dail that cannot be heard anywhere else but on this album.

Here’s a sampling of the wonderful songs included on V4Velindre:

V4Velindre will be available exclusively through Bandcamp as a digital-only release on October 1st, and may be pre-ordered here. If you pre-order, you will get five tracks now (streaming via the free Bandcamp app and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more).

ALEX SOUTHEY – EP Review: “My Nights On the Island”

Alex Southey is a Canadian singer-songwriter and musician who makes outstanding music that can generally be described as alternative indie folk, but it’s so much more than that. Originally from Vancouver and currently based in Toronto, the busy artist has released quite a bit of music over the past few years, including three albums: Christmastown in 2019, You’re Not Just a Body to Me in 2020 and, most recently …And the Country Stirred this past February. Prior to that album’s release, I featured one of its singles “Rosie” – a deeply personal and haunting love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver – on a Fresh New Tracks post.

Now he’s back with an exquisite new EP My Nights On the Island, which dropped September 17th. All the songs were written, performed, and produced by Alex, and mastered by Aaron Hutchinson. The beautiful cover artwork was designed and created by Felicia Wetterlin. The EP is a departure from his more typical indie folk sound, though truth be told, his music style is rather eclectic and hard to pin down, genre-wise. Like all creative artists, he’s not afraid to explore and experiment with his music, and as a result, each of his albums sound different from one another.

In an interview with Spill Magazine, Alex explained his creative process behind “My Nights On the Island: “I was trying to make an EP that would please my 17-year-old self. So, there is a little bit of Hip Hop and beats; I am not rapping, but in terms of beats. There are a bunch of acoustic guitars, and electric guitars and there is a theme, which is breaking up.” In a later Instagram post, he further elaborated “The EP encompasses a lot of things I wanted to do, and to not do the same thing again. Instead of starting with folk songs and dressing them up with an arrangement, I tried to go backwards, starting with what might be considered secondary or accent instruments (at least for my taste) as the main instrument. It forced me to write in a slightly different way. Of course, there are some pretty simply structured songs on here, like ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’, but there are also plenty of moments where it’s totally abstract in a way that at least absorbed ME and continued to pique my interest enough that I followed through with them.”

Well, the result is a fascinating and sonically complex work that’s pure delight for the senses. I’ve now listened to the EP six times, and discover new atmospheric sounds, instrumental textures and vocal nuances with each successive play. While there are common threads running through all the tracks, each one sounds uniquely different, surprising and thrilling us at every turn. Using nature sounds of water, waves and birds, he takes us right to that island.

The darkly beautiful opening track “The Gods Are Fighting” starts off with sounds of a boat slowly moving through what I’m imagining to be nighttime waters, accompanied by far-off ominous synths. At around 45 seconds, the song abruptly transitions to a lovely acoustic guitar-driven melody, highlighted by gorgeous strings and what sounds like a Mellotron, soaring to a dramatic crescendo. The track calms back down at the end with gentle sounds of breaking waves. About the track, Alex told Spill Magazine“I wrote the song around the time my last significant relationship ended. That also happened to be when it felt as though Toronto and its relationship with many of its citizens was at an all-time low. The song describes the dual positions of a relationship that has soured – where even dreams are muted and the agreed upon etiquette is out the window.” His richly layered vocals are captivating, with a melancholy quality that nicely conveys the sadness and pain of his break-up.

On the moody, atmospheric “Evergreen“, which sounds a bit like a song Bon Iver could have recorded, Alex experiments with lush, otherworldly synths and sounds, over which he layers delicate notes of what sounds like a mandolin or possibly a ukelele. The lyrics are spare, but he wistfully laments of how his feelings of love have died: “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t love you. I turned yesterday into stone.” And as its title suggests, the instrumental piece “Mellotron and Juliet” features a stunning Mellotron and his enchanting falsetto croon, creating a dreamy, yet melancholy soundscape.

My Nights On the Island / Rich In Experience” is an interesting track, as it’s actually two distinct, but related mostly instrumental tracks that Alex has fashioned into a couplet. The first half, which is the title track, starts off with Alex’s charming strummed acoustic guitar, then deeply resonant brass sounds from what I’m guessing is his Mellotron wash over us as he sings in almost exotic-sounding ethereal vocals, accompanied by somber piano keys and a languid hip hop beat. The song appears to end at 2:30, and after a 10-second lull, we hear sounds of birds chirping along with a return of the beautiful Mellotron. Eventually, horns enter as the music swells into a lush, idyllic soundscape befitting its “Rich in Experience” title.

Perhaps the most unusual song is the dramatic and trippy “As Close As You’ll Ever Be”, which Alex first released as a single in July. The song opens and closes with sounds of a large crowd cheering, as if at a rock concert. He explained this technique to Spill Magazine: “On this song, there is kind of a crowd atmosphere which is influenced from listening to albums by Hip Hop artists and bands like Pink Floyd who would use crowd noises, and weirdly also influenced by Oasis. On their best albums they kind of do this tiny little intro and tiny little outro leading into songs.” Musically, the song features blaring, almost tortured synths and sounds, with acoustic guitar during quieter moments. The lyrics seem to speak to his partner’s lack of appreciation for his worth as a musician: “I’m the hit in your head / I’m all on your bedspread / But that’s as close as you’ll ever be. And it’s true I earn half of what the next dance gets, but I’ve got a heart of gold you’ll pay to see.” I love his vocals, which sound radically different on each track.

On the bittersweet closing track “There’s Anneko, Down the Fire Escape“, Alex comes to terms with the fact that the relationship is over for good, and that they must each let go and move on. The song has a wonderful dominant bassline throughout, overlain with mournful cinematic synths and acoustic guitar notes. His vocals are filled with sadness and regret as he laments “There’s a neat trick, that I taught myself. To let go. Let go. / I can never love you how you want. So let go. Let go.” It’s a fine, albeit dark, finish to this beautiful EP. My Nights On the Island is an impressive, masterfully-crafted work that should make Alex feel quite proud.

Follow Alex Southey:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

Top 30 Songs for September 19-25, 2021

twenty øne piløts have been my favorite band since around 2015, and though I’m not quite as enamored with their latest album Scaled And Icy as I am with their previous offerings Trench, Blurryface and Vessel (all masterpieces in my not so humble opinion) I do love two of its tracks: “Shy Away” (which spent 3 weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 this past May), and “Saturday”. Though much more pop-oriented than a lot of their previous music, “Saturday” is a sweet tune with an irresistible dance groove, and my new #1 song this week, dislodging The Neighbourhood’s “Stargazing” after a two-week run. Otherwise, no other significant changes to this week’s list. Possible future #1’s are Willow Smith’s bombastic gem “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”, which climbs a spot to #4 and Lord Huron’s gorgeous “Mine Forever”, which climbs two spots to #5. Debuting this week are three songs: “Talk to Me” by Canadian alt-rock band Bealby Point, the trippy “Pigs in the Sky” by electronic artist Grabbitz, and “How Not to Start a Fight” by Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna.

  1. SATURDAY – twenty øne piløts (3)
  2. STARGAZING – The Neighbourhood (1)
  3. MISSING PIECE – Vance Joy (2)
  4. TRANSPARENTSOUL – WILLOW featuring Travis Barker (5)
  5. MINE FOREVER – Lord Huron (7)
  6. LAST TRAIN HOME – John Mayer (6)
  7. DEVIL – Two Feet (4)
  8. WRECKED – Imagine Dragons (9)
  9. STOP MAKING THIS HURT – Bleachers (8)
  10. BE A WOMAN – DeLaurentis (11)
  11. THE ANGEL OF 8TH AVE. – Gang of Youths (17)
  12. BAD DREAM – Cannons (14)
  13. WHAT YOU SAY – Cold War Kids (15)
  14. TAKE THE L – Roadkeeper (16)
  15. ENNUI – Dawning (12)
  16. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X (13)
  17. LIKE I USED TO – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen (10)
  18. I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin (20)
  19. TAKE MY MONEY – Ships Have Sailed (21)
  20. MAKING A FIRE – Foo Fighters (22)
  21. CAN YOU HANDLE MY LOVE?? – WALK THE MOON (23)
  22. DISTORTED LIGHT BEAM – Bastille (26)
  23. NDA – Billie Eilish (27)
  24. HUSH – The Marías (28)
  25. NEVER LOOKED BACK – The Zangwills (30)
  26. EVERY WINDOW IS A MIRROR – Joywave (18)
  27. FREAKS – Surf Curse (29)
  28. TALK TO ME – Bealby Point (N)
  29. PIGS IN THE SKY – Grabbitz (N)
  30. HOW NOT TO START A FIGHT – Caitlin Lavagna (N)

LOWRY LANE – Single Review: “Angel Falls”

Back in November 2017 (hard to believe it’s been nearly four years!), I first wrote about the young German artist Lowry Lane and his wonderful debut single “Find a Way” (you can read my review here). Based in Regensburg, an historic mid-sized city in eastern Bavaria, Lowry was born Paul Friebe, but chose to name his solo music project after English painter L.S. Lowry as a way of exploring “his musical self discovery, which aims to recklessly unfold the inherent conflicts he finds within himself and in the world around him.” He names an extensive and eclectic list of artists and bands as influences for his melodic and complex style of alternative rock, including The Smiths, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Libertines, Joy Division, The Cure, Nirvana, Wavves, Pavement, The Strokes and Kurt Vile. 

The earnest and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist followed his debut single with “Why Bother” in early 2018, and had planned to release a full-length album later that year. However, his struggles with personal and financial issues, as well as trying to juggle university studies with making music, led Lowry to put the album on hold, though he continued writing and recording new songs. Now, I’m happy to report that he’s back with new music, and sounding better than ever. In July, he dropped “New Waves”, his first single in more than three years, and quickly followed a month later with “Ghosts”, then “Angel Falls” on September 10, which I’m reviewing today. The songs will be included on his forthcoming debut album Lonely War, due out later this year. I’m fortunate to have been allowed a preview of the album, and it’s quite marvelous.

Many of the songs on the album deal with darker topics like failed relationships, loss and mental health, while still offering glimmers of hope and optimism, and “Angel Falls” is no exception. The lyrics may be open to one’s own interpretation, but my take is that they’re about someone who’s losing touch with reality, and possibly having a mental breakdown or experiencing a drug overdose: “Messy wiring, Flashing images, Neurons firing, Hidden messages, Thoughts expiring, Brain cells in distress, Oh so tiring, Oh so limitless.” Lowry then softly repeats the line “I’m coming home” numerous times, which is barely audible against the droning bass, guitars and synths before he sings the chorus: “Voices in the walls, Haunting silent calls, Echo through the halls, Another angel falls.

To drive home his message, Lowry uses a rapid driving beat that to my ears sounds like a glorious hybrid of new wave and punk, with elements of Joy Division and early The Cure. He’s a fine guitarist, and I love his edgy mix of psychedelic and jangly riffs, which are perfectly layered over a chugging bassline, assertive drumbeats and ominous swirling synths, all creating a dark, almost menacing soundscape. His vocals are understated, and sung in a somewhat monotone manner, expressing just the right amount of emotion for the music and lyrics. It’s a superb track.

Connect with Lowry:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Find a Way”:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube
 Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

JADED JANE & OLIVIA RUFF – Single Review: “Bogotá”

As a music blogger, I’ve gotten to know hundreds or perhaps even thousands of musicians and bands over the past six years, many of whom I’ve written about on this blog. And like many relationships – whether casual or deep – that each of us form throughout our lives with neighbors, classmates, co-workers, social media followers or even fellow bloggers, the same goes for artists. For a variety of reasons, we sometimes just connect with certain people on a deeper, more meaningful level and, over time, develop a genuine friendship based on mutual admiration and respect.

Axel and Adam Olsson

One such artist I’ve grown quite fond of is Axel Jane Olsson, who along with his brother Adam make up the Swedish act Jaded Jane. Since learning about them in early 2019, I’ve come to admire these guys, both for their wonderful, uplifting music and the positive vibes they spread through their kindness, love and joy. Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, and now split between Gothenburg and Glasgow, Scotland, the duo celebrate humanity and diversity through their music, writing compelling songs with positive, life-affirming lyrics and delivered with gorgeous piano-driven melodies and lush soundscapes. The brothers are hard-working and prolific musicians, and have released six outstanding albums since 2015, most recently Everythism in April, along with numerous singles. I’ve previously written about them three times, including an extensive artist spotlight and interview in April 2019, and a review in April 2020 of their gorgeous song “Heaven is Heart” (which ranks #71 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list). You can read those reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.

Now Jaded Jane is back with a beautiful new single “Bogotá“, which dropped September 10th. The song is a collaboration with soulful-voiced American singer-songwriter Olivia Ruff, her father Michael Ruff (a Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter and BMI and Cable Ace Award winner who’s worked with such notable artists as India Arie, Bonnie Raitt, David Sanborn, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Kenny Loggins, Ricky Lee Jones, Diane Schuur, John Lee Hooker and The Jacksons), and Swedish drummer Per Lindvall, who’s played drums for many Swedish artists and bands, including ABBA, as well as in the Michael Ruff Band.

Olivia Ruff (photo by Mallory Francks)

An uplifting song about living in the present and recognizing yourself in a loved one’s smile, “Bogotá” was written by Axel in 2017 while on a plane to Colombia. For the song’s recording, he sang lead vocals, played Moog bass and various instruments, his brother Adam played acoustic guitar, Olivia Ruff sang backing vocals, Michael Ruff played piano, organ and synths, and Per Lindvall played drums. Others involved in the recording and/or production include Rubens Millet Herrera on percussion, Jerry Sillah and Bylund Strings & Horns on vocal recordings and edits, and Åke Linton on engineering and sound mixing. The beautiful artwork for the single was designed by Tora Söderberg.

The song has a breezy retro 80s pop vibe, thanks no doubt to the influence of Michael Ruff and his experience working with many artists from that time period. But it also sounds refreshing and current, with a sunny, almost exotic feel. The combination of Michael’s sparking keyboards and Axel’s pulsating Moog bass, accompanied by Per’s gentle drumbeats, make for an incredibly pleasing listen and a perfect backdrop for Axel and Olivia’s captivating vocal harmonies as they sing of love’s simple joys: “Bogotá, I see heaven in your eyes. Bogotá, you find ways to make me smile. Tonight we’ll stay in this moment, to share the purest love we have. In love, together we are strong“.

Connect with Jaded Jane:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Tidal
Purchase on iTunesBandcamp

Top 30 Songs for September 12-18, 2021

L.A. band The Neighbourhood hold the top spot for a second week with their beautiful single “Stargazing”. Moving up to #2 is “Missing Piece” by Vance Joy. Though I’ve liked the Australian singer-songwriter ever since hearing his 2014 hit “Riptide”, it took a while for “Missing Piece” to grow on me. But it’s such a sweet love song, it’s hard not to like it. A band I’ve really come to love is Lord Huron, and their song “Mine Forever” leaps 14 spots to #7. Imagine Dragon’s poignant “Wrecked” jumps 10 spots to #9. Debuting this week are “Freak” by L.A. band Surf Curse and “Never Looked Back” by British alt-rock band The Zangwills.

  1. STARGAZING – The Neighbourhood (1)
  2. MISSING PIECE – Vance Joy (3)
  3. SATURDAY – twenty øne piløts (4)
  4. DEVIL – Two Feet (2)
  5. TRANSPARENT SOUL – WILLOW featuring Travis Barker (6)
  6. LAST TRAIN HOME – John Mayer (7)
  7. MINE FOREVER – Lord Huron (21)
  8. STOP MAKING THIS HURT – Bleachers (9)
  9. WRECKED – Imagine Dragons (19)
  10. LIKE I USED TO – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen (5)
  11. BE A WOMAN – DeLaurentis (13)
  12. ENNUI – Dawning (12)
  13. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X (8)
  14. BAD DREAM – Cannons (16)
  15. WHAT YOU SAY – Cold War Kids (17)
  16. TAKE THE L – Roadkeeper (18)
  17. THE ANGEL OF 8TH AVE. – Gang of Youths (20)
  18. EVERY WINDOW IS A MIRROR – Joywave (11)
  19. SOLAR POWER – Lorde (9)
  20. I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE – Måneskin (23)
  21. TAKE MY MONEY – Ships Have Sailed (24)
  22. MAKING A FIRE – Foo Fighters (25)
  23. CAN YOU HANDLE MY LOVE?? – WALK THE MOON (26)
  24. CAN WE GO BACK – The Frontier (14) 20th week on list
  25. WE ARE BETWEEN – Modest Mouse (15)
  26. DISTORTED LIGHT BEAM – Bastille (28)
  27. NDA – Billie Eilish (29)
  28. HUSH – The Marías (30)
  29. FREAKS – Surf Curse (N)
  30. NEVER LOOKED BACK – The Zangwills (N)

EML’s Favorite Songs – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by The Walker Brothers

1966 is arguably one of the greatest years in the history of recorded music, and one of the many standout songs that year was The Walker Brothers’ gorgeous “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Even though I was only 11 years old when the song came out, I loved it, and it still has the power to cover me with chills 55 years later. The magnificent cinematic arrangement and orchestration, combined with Scott Walker’s achingly beautiful baritone vocals, make it one of the most dramatically compelling songs of its time. The lyrics speak to feelings of desolation and loneliness after a break-up.

Loneliness
Is a cloak you wear
A deep shade of blue
Is always there

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

Emptiness
Is a place you’re in
With nothing to lose
But no more to win

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love

Lonely
Without you baby
Girl I need you
I can’t go on

The song was originally written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio for fellow Four Seasons band member Frankie Valli, who’s solo 1965 recording of it failed to chart. The Walker Brothers recorded their version the following January, and that spring the song went all the way to #1 in the UK and #2 in Canada, but only peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although American by birth, The Walker Brothers relocated to England in 1965, where they became much more successful and popular than they were in the U.S.

Interestingly, The Walker Brothers were not brothers, nor were any of them born with the name Walker. John Walker was born John Joseph Maus, but began using the surname Walker in his teens, while Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, and Gary Walker was born Gary Leeds. John and Scott originally formed The Walker Brothers Trio in Los Angeles in 1964, along with Al “Tiny” Schneider, with John on guitars and lead vocals, Scott on bass and backing harmonies, and Al on drums.

Later that year, they met Gary Leeds, who’d played drums with The Standells from 1962-64, and eventually replaced Al Schneider on drums. They changed their name to simply The Walker Brothers, and eventually both Scott and Gary took the surname Walker as well. Leeds, along with the help of Rolling Stones band member Brian Jones, persuaded his bandmates to consider relocating to England, where their early rock and roll and blues style would go down well in “swinging London”. (Wikipedia)

Once in London, they signed a recording contract with Philips Records, whereupon Philips producer and A&R man Johnny Franz began refashioning their sound from upbeat R&B to more dramatic pop ballads similar to those of The Righteous Brothers (another brother act who weren’t really brothers). With this new direction, Scott Walker become the group’s de facto frontman and lead vocalist, as his distinct baritone was better suited to their new sound. Under Franz’ direction, and with full ‘wall of sound’ orchestral arrangements by Ivor Raymonde and performed by session musicians, The Walker Brothers scored their first #1 hit in the UK in 1965 with their cover of “Make It Easy on Yourself,” a Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad originally recorded by Jerry Butler. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” would be their second and final song to top the UK charts, as well as chart on the Billboard Top 40.

They continued to have more chart hits in the UK through 1967, but with diminishing commercial success as pop continued to evolve, making their music sound dated. They also had to leave the UK for six months in 1967 because of work permit problems, which didn’t help. By the end of 1967, the pressures of stardom, internal tensions and ‘artistic differences’ had taken their toll, and The Walker Brothers officially disbanded in 1968. All three members continued to release solo records, however, in late 1974 all three agreed to reform The Walker Brothers, and in 1975, they released the album No Regrets, followed by two more albums Lines and Nite Flights, which were less commercially successful. They drifted apart for good by the end of 1978. The three went on with their individual music careers, with Scott having the most success by far. He’s been cited as an influence by many British recording artists, including David Bowie and Radiohead. John passed away in 2011 and Scott in 2019.

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” has come to be considered The Walker Brothers’ signature song, as well as an important song of the so-called Rock Era. NME ranked it at No. 357 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Pitchfork ranked it at No. 187 on its list of The 200 Best Songs of the 1960s, and it is listed in the 2010 book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

New Song of the Week – MARS MOTEL: “Don’t Move On Yet”

One of my favorite indie bands is Brooklyn, New York-based Mars Motel. Formed in 2017 by singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarik Kumar, their beautiful music melds a dreamy 90s Brit-pop vibe with an immersive, guitar-driven wall of sound, and highlighted by Kumar’s captivating vocals that remind me of Young the Giant’s Sameer Gadhia. They’ve undergone a few changes in lineup over time, and are now a duo consisting of Kumar and bassist Justin Lieberthal. I previously featured them on this blog twice in 2019, when I reviewed their gorgeous singles “Coming Up For Air” (which ranks at #16 on my Top 100 Songs of 2019 list) and “My House is About to Fall Apart”, almost two years ago to the day. You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.

After a nearly two year absence, Mars Motel is back with a brand new single “Don’t Move on Yet“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. It’s their first official release since their debut album Passenger X in October 2019, and sees them going in a slightly different direction in terms of their sound and music style. “Don’t Move on Yet” has a somewhat more introspective, laid-back feel, while still featuring their signature exquisite melodies, outstanding instrumentation and stellar arrangements. I’m glad they’re still making music, and that they haven’t lost their touch.

The music was written by Kumar and Lieberthal, and the lyrics by Kumar and his long-time friend Samuel Arnoqyan, with whom he’s been collaborating since their high school days, but never on a Mars Motel song. For the song’s recording and production, they enlisted the help of Los Angeles-based drummer Dana LaMarca to play drums, and their friend Matt Maroulakos who produced, mixed and engineered the track. Mastering was done by Mike Piacentini.

The song is haunting and beautiful, with a languid groove propelled by Liebenthal’s marvelous smoldering bassline and LaMarca’s measured, perfectly syncopated drumbeats. Kumar’s intricate chiming and psychedelic guitars are gorgeous, accompanied by spacy atmospheric synths that give the song a bit of an otherworldly feel, especially toward the end. As always, Kumar’s vocals are lovely and heartfelt as he plaintively sings the simple, yet powerful lyrics spoken from a man to his partner, trying to reason with her that he works long hours in order to make them a better life, and pleading with her to not abandon him: “I explained I worked all for you. All for you. You say that’s all I ever do. Ever do. Don’t you see that it’s only me, trying to say. And how can I show you why you should stay? Don’t move on yet.”

The arresting video was created by Noah Wilskey.

Mars Motel will be performing the single at a show on September 17 at the Mercury Lounge in New York. Check this link for ticket info.

Connect with Mars Motel: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes

SATIN – Album Review: “Origami Heart”

Satin is a Los Angeles-based alternative rock band, whose music is influenced by a range of rock subgenres, including but not limited to classic, alternative, progressive, hard and even Southern rock. Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Robert Cross, the group also includes David Bucci (lead guitar), Scott Wintermute (bass) and producer Tim Frantz (drums, keyboards). Cross also plays keyboards and synthesizers. They released their debut album Drop Dead Gorgeous in 2019, and on September 2nd, dropped their follow-up album Origami Heart, which they’ve asked me to review.

The album’s fairly long with 13 tracks, many of them addressing the minefields of love and relationships, and the heartache and pain that result when love dies or things go terribly wrong. But for the most part, the band lives up to their Satin moniker, delivering honest, relatable lyrics with pleasing melodies, tight rhythms, outstanding guitar work and Cross’s mostly laid-back vocal style.

Case in point is the pretty opening and title track “Origami Heart“, with it’s gently upbeat Southern rock vibes. The sweet lyrics celebrate the euphoria of feeling strong romantic love for another: “Oh I can’t escape the joy of being close to your nape. Feeling the softness of your skin as I catch your scent as I breathe in. As I fold you in my arms like an origami heart.” But the euphoria turns to sadness on the lovely Tom Petty-esque “Sabotage“, as Cross laments about how his actions damaged his relationship beyond repair: “It didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t come without cause. But I’ll never hold you again, as our love’s come to end. Yes I’m a master of sabotage.”

Continuing on that theme of feeling remorse, the dark “My Every Nightmare” speaks to the negative outcomes resulting from one’s self-destructive behavior: “Somehow it seems that by chasing my dreams, I made my every nightmare come true.” And on “Useless“, Cross sings of his sad realization that it’s now too late to make up for his bad behavior: “Cuz it tears at me from the inside out, knowing I was so naïve and clueless somehow. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that any love I have for you is useless now.”

Satin dip their toe into prog rock on the stunning “In This Wonderland“, one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitars are gorgeous, and the bass and measured percussion are perfection, flawlessly transitioning from subtle to tumultuous. The lyrics are filled with fairy tale references to describe feelings of losing touch with reality, unable to make sense of anything anymore: “Madness descends and surrounds me like a prison cell, As harlequins all around me chase white rabbits and dragon’s tails. This nonsense is hard to believe So forgive me if I don’t understand Cuz nothing is quite what it seems In this wonderland.”

They channel their harder rock side on “My One and Only“, where they let loose with a volley of heavy riffs and driving rhythms. Similar to “My Every Nightmare”, the lyrics speak of being unable to escape from self-destructive behaviors: “I constantly find myself wasting my precious time engaged in actions destructive to me. Deep down I know I’ve been holding on to something selfishly. My one and only love.” “Music Box” is a brief but grandiose cinematic instrumental interlude that immediately segues into “Love to Be Loved“, a lively head-bopping rocker about wanting another to love you as much as you love them.

Another favorite is “Move On“, a beautiful anthemic ballad with stirring orchestral strings and twangy guitars that lend a bit of a Western feel in the vein of great songs like “Wichita Lineman”. The poignant lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that a relationship is over and that it’s time to let it go and move on: “Those times went by so fast and now they’re gone. Left with the right choices and the wrong. And I’ve spent a long time waiting… And now it’s time to move on.”

Album closer “Fearless” ends things on a decidedly pessimistic note. The biting lyrics are somewhat ambiguous in that they could be directed by the singer toward another or perhaps to themselves: “Could you take a look at the lines on your face and recognize them as your own? Could you realize the scars, they can’t be erased? They only get worse as you sit there alone within your home. And there’s not a thing you can do to save your soul. Fearless as you are, you’re still out of control.” This song has a bit of prog rock feel as well, with interesting time signatures and dramatic guitar runs.

I’ll be honest, it took a couple of listens for this album to really grab me, but once it did, I came to more fully appreciate the many nuances of the music, as well as the album’s fine arrangements and production values. This is why I’m a strong believer in giving music a chance before hearing it once and quickly dismissing it. So listen to Origami Heart with open ears and an open mind, and hopefully you’ll come to like it as much as I do.

Connect with Satin:  TwitterInstagramFacebook

Stream/purchase their music:  SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp