Songs du Jour, 3/4/23

The first time I heard Neil Young’s “Little Wing” was in early 1982, when I came home with my second-ever Neil Young album, Hawks & Doves. That 1980 LP was a hodgepodge, of course, with four older songs on Side 1 and five recently recorded country jams on Side 2. “Little Wing,” which opens the set, dates to the 1974-75 Homegrown sessions; after he abandoned that project in favor of Tonight’s the Night, the song sat on the shelf until H&D in October 1980. It’s less a song than a mood, just two verses and a refrain accented by harmonica, acoustic guitar and Neil’s wintry vocal; and, yet, it fluttered into my soul all the same.

I start there because of this: A live version of “Little Wing” performed by the short-lived Ducks during the summer of 1977 is the first single from an upcoming “official bootleg” titled High Flyin’. (For those not up on their rock lore, the band included Neil and singer-songwriter Jeff Blackburn on guitars, Moby Grape’s Bob Mosby on bass, and Johnny Craviotto on drums; it was somewhat akin to Buffalo Springfield in that everyone got a chance to shine.) The song loses none of its luster in a band setting; in fact, the guitar tone reminds me of the bluesy tone Neil utilized on Toast. 

There’s more good news on the Neil front, too, as the “official bootleg” Somewhere Under the Rainbow, which captures a 1973 London concert by Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers, is also slated for release. Here’s a taste of that…

Sticking to the theme of new-but-not-new songs, up-and-coming singer-songwriter Jackie Minton released a stripped-down version of “Wherever I Go” last week that is truly stunning. (She released the original single a while back; it’s also available on her recent Genesis EP.)

A few “new” new songs have caught my ears over the past few weeks. I don’t have time enough to spotlight them all, so will go with the most recent for these next two since they are linked. Yesterday morning, I pushed play on Meg McRee’s Is It Just Me? It’s a solid country-flavored set with a few highs and no lows that I may feature in the coming weeks. It sent me digging into the rabbit hole known as YouTube, where I unearthed this recent acoustic rendition of one of the aforementioned highs, “Mary Jane & Chardonnay”:

Then, yesterday afternoon, I skipped my way through Apple Music’s New Music Mix playlist for the first time since last fall and almost gave up somewhere near the middle. I’m glad I didn’t. The last song on the 25-song set was this one, “Somebody” by Harper O’Neill, which is now almost two months old. It’s a dose of pure country soul that left me slack jawed. Think Shelby Lynne, Tambourine-era Tift Merritt and even Dusty in Memphis. As I learned more about O’Neill, I discovered that she and McRee are friends and that she co-wrote one of the songs on McRee’s album. Hopefully she has an album of her own in the works.

Finally: Whenever the stresses of my days get a bit much, I’ve been pulling up folksinger Maggie Pope’s slim oeuvre in Apple Music and pressing play. Her vocals are etched with sadness, yet I hear a transcendent quality in them, as well. (Similar, in some respects, to Shawn Colvin circa “Shotgun Down the Avalanche.”) A recent addition to the lineup is the song that she and Cate Monaco sing backup on, “Darling Eye.” Written by fellow Philly folksinger Chris Peace, and sung by newcomer Eryn Michel, it’s a pure delight:

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