“Bring It On Home/Trouble In Mind ” – Van Morrison with Tom Jones and Jeff Beck

A fun song for a Saturday morning by three incredible artists – Van Morrison, Tom Jones and Jeff Beck, obviously enjoying their time together.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope this tune allows you to drift off for a few moments and brings a smile to your face.

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“Brand New Start” – Paul Weller

I’ve never quite understood why Paul Weller doesn’t get the critical acclaim and respect he deserves in the United States.  In Europe he’s been a big star for a very long time.  Starting in his late teens with the punk rock band The Jam and then in 1980s in his soul, jazz  and classical influenced partnership with Mick Talbot called the Style Council  he has been writing thoughtful, complex and sometimes provocative songs pulling from multiple music genres.  His creative influences are vast and it’s obvious.  It has been a pleasure to follow “The Modfather” on his 35 year artistic journey.  You never know what’s coming next.  He has been solo since the early 1990s and his experimentation and great songwriting have only improved with age like a fine wine.

This particular version of the song ‘Brand New Start” is off a 2002 acoustic tour and follow-up album Days of Speed.   I actually prefer many of the acoustic versions to the original versions of his songs.  There is a rawness and emotion to his voice and playing which is quite captivating.  This song speaks for itself and the lyrics are certainly an inspiration.

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“American Tune” – Paul Simon

From what I’ve read and heard Paul Simon is the favorite songwriter of many of his contemporaries.  It’s not that hard to understand why.  I’ve seen several of his peers cover his songs in concert.  Don Henley rightfully referred to him as an American Treasure and he definitely deserved his Kennedy Center Honors acknowledgement for his “exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts.”  When you step back and listen to his catalogue of music it is quite remarkable.  The breadth and depth of songs is impressive.  As a bonus you get to hear his continued growth and evolution as an artist.

When he was in Simon & Garfunkel I always felt his strength was his lyrics and the ability to be topical and fit in well with the times.  The music was solid but not awe inspiring.  As he has aged he seems to have become even more about the music.  Paul is constantly experimenting with different types of rhythms and influences.  It doesn’t feel like he is worried about being current or topical but rather exploring his own artistic capabilities and what’s possible.  Like all good artists he isn’t content to stand pat and rest on his laurels (which are many). Fortunately for all of us who are fans he still is a great lyricist with a considerable amount to say.  I’ve picked “American Tune” because it has always been one of my favorites.  It is also somewhat nostalgic to see Dick Cavett introducing him.

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“Winning” – Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is a very smooth guitar player.  It never feels like he is worried about impressing his audience with his talent.  He is more interested in harnessing the power and beauty of his instrument.   I’ve always been impressed by his ability to  extend notes and subtly manage the open space between them.   There is a sense that the music comes first and there is an unwillingness to compromise his artistic integrity for popularity.

I’ve been fortunate to see him play live a number of times and I am always struck by the camaraderie and mutual respect within the band.  How many performers have you seen that would voluntarily give up the spotlight and allow his/her colleagues to repeatedly shine?  He seems genuinely impressed by their abilities and enjoys how they play off one another and jam.  Carlos has more of a jazz sensibility on stage which makes every night special and different.

I first heard the song Winningmany years ago and it resonated with me right away.  It has the perfect hook and message.   As I’ve grown older I only appreciate it more.   The theme of resilience despite the personal challenges we all face in life is inspiring.   Just because you may be down doesn’t mean you’re out.   It is very much about attitude and believing in yourself.  You will win again!

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“Harvest Moon” – Neil Young

Neil Young is a song writing machine.  The sheer volume of his work is amazing.  It’s almost as if he is never bereft of ideas.  He also shifts his style and approach like a chameleon: electric, acoustic, rockabilly, country, hard rock, etc.  You’re never quite sure what you are going to get when he releases a new CD.   Sometimes the material is topical and relevant to world events other times it is intensely personal.  He is certainly never boring to listen to as an artist.

I believe the challenge for any songwriter is to be intensely personal while also not being so descriptive that you narrow the interpretation options for your audience.  Once the song is out there it should have a life of its own.  The more people your music resonates with the better.  No one is better at this technique than Neil Young.  It almost feels as if he is writing for you.  His best songs reflect timeless sentiments that transcend generational and time boundaries.

I’ve chosen the song “Harvest Moon” because it is a beautiful love song written by a middle aged man to his wife.  You can sense his genuine appreciation for the relationship.  It could be Neil Young or any other fortunate couple you know.  If you are one of the lucky ones, you too experience these moments of clarity that validate the partner you’ve chosen for your life’s journey.  The dancing together flows effortlessly and the hugs and smiles come easily.  Good relationships do take work and can be hard to hold on to but the rewards are vast if you are resilient and approach them with a patient, generous, supportive and caring nature. Some of us are still searching, some of us are lucky to have found it later in life,  while others should be more grateful for what they already have and not take it for granted. True love is a gift….as is Neil Young’s music.

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“With A Little Luck” – Paul McCartney

There’s not much you can say about Paul McCartney that hasn’t already been written and/or said.  He is one of the most important songwriters of the past century and I’ve always found peace and enjoyment through his music.  He’s been criticized for not having the same edge as his songwriting partner from The Beatles –  John Lennon, but my personal opinion is that this has never been who he is.  His style is more subtle and melodic but also equally full of meaning.  He doesn’t have to hit you over the head with a hammer to get his point across.

I’ve always guessed Paul’s nature to be that of contented not angry man, which is fine by me. Not all of his solo albums have been magical but they have all had moments of magic and beauty.  It also feels like as he ages he has even more personal and profound things to say. It’s a gift that we have such a talented person offering up his thoughts on aging, relationships and navigating the inevitable challenges and wonders of life. I am especially fond of this song from the late 1970s because of its implied hopefulness.  I also believe that at a deeper level the song is about society as a whole, not just a personal relationship.  We could all benefit from more emotional resilience, perspective and “…a little luck.”

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After The Fire” – Roger Daltrey (and Pete Townshend)

There are few combinations in rock music better than Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.  Much to Pete’s chagrin at times, Roger is often the better singer of his songs.  There is something about this pairing which is both powerful and remarkable at the same time.  You have one of the most thoughtful songwriters in rock & roll music history combined with probably the most potent lead singer.   The creative tension is sometimes palpable and there is a sense that these two make each other better whether they like it or not.  It is sometimes awe-inspiring how Roger can give voice to Pete’s songs.

While After the Fire is technically not a song in The Who catalogue it was written by Pete for Roger’s solo album – Under A Raging Moon.  At the time the band had been split for a few years and this song seemed to mark the beginning of reconciliation on both sides.  Without getting too deep, my sense is that it reflects Pete coming to grips with his Who legacy, his complicated relationship with Roger, the passing of time, and becoming a rock elder statesman.  My further interpretation is that the song is about accepting who we are: our past, our dreams and our limitations, as well as being open to change and what’s still possible.

Sadly, for many years it felt like Pete often struggled with his Who identity instead of embracing it.  The good news is that it feels like this hasn’t been the case for quite some time.  Roger and Pete have long since accepted the special connection they have together and the amazing roster of songs they created as partners in one of top rock bands of all time.  I hope they keep the flame burning for years to come…

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