Each year for about the past 20 years, I have made a Summer Cruisin' mixtape or CD or Google Drive folder or whatever's next of songs for a friend to play as he drives around in his car during the hot months. A week or so ago, I posted this year's model.
But, really, that was just a surf through stuff that was on my computer that I thought might sound good together. I give it a "B."
As for me, I wanted a reliable group of songs that will keep me grooving as the grill is going or as the beer is chilling or as the grass is growing (having just been cut) or as the party is starting or as the short night is descending or as the car is sweltering at a stop light. And for that, this year, I took a different approach.
Armed with a bit of monthly cash on my eMusic account, after deciding I really didn't want the new Chrissie Hynde or Jack White CDs all that much, I stumble from link to link to link and hit upon a band called Sugarman Three. I had no idea who they were, but I started listening, and what I heard, sounded like the summer I was looking for. And from there I arrived at a new kind of mix (for me): 4 CDs in a playlist on shuffle. They would have to be different, but compatible. When the list was finished, here's what I had:
Sugarman Three, Sugar's Boogaloo--I think they call this "acid jazz." These three cats (because we're talking about a retro jazzy sound here) play mostly old cover in an instrumental combo of Hammond organ, saxophone, and drums. Occasionally, they add a guitar or another instrument. When I sampled their songs, especially a funky, instrumental version of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman," I thought, 'This is just familiar enough, but just different enough, to keep my interest for quite awhile.'
The Robert Cray Band, In My Soul--I've been a Cray fan for decades, but in his middle period, he seemed to become more of an R + B singer and less of the guitarist I admired so much. A click into the "Blues" section on email revealed this latest CD of his, and a quick sampling of it revealed to a sparer sound and a more intimate production that told me it would be a good fit. Cray's CD is full of interesting changes, superb vocals, and tasteful, sometimes lengthy, and, most of all, clean guitar parts. It sounds like he's been listening to Dusty Springfield and channeling her stellar production into his blues.
Lafayette Afro Rock Band, Soul Makossa--I only heard a few seconds of a few of these songs before I knew I'd give this one a try. I didn't know what "afro rock" is, but the sampling I did took be back to Hugh Masekela in the 1960's--wah-wah guitar, horn charts, sax solos, sometimes vocals layered over a hypnotic, repetitive groove. These are the kinds of songs where you have no idea how long they are. You only know that while they were playing, you were inside of them and that was a good place to be.
Benmont Tench, You Should Be So Lucky--Tench is Tom Petty's keyboardist and an original member of the Heartbreakers. His first solo CD is a low-key affair, with tight production and stellar songwriting. Tench isn't the singer Petty is, and his songs aren't rockers. Instead, they tend to be mid-tempo songs and ballads in the older style, a touch of Randy Newman or early Tom Waits. The songs sneak up on you, with strong melodies and vocals that are evocative, if not polished. Petty sings back-up on "Blonde Girl, Blue Dress," one of the strongest numbers.
What ties them all together? A couple of things I'd say. Musically, there is a keyboard underpining, mostly organ, that says nothing is in too great of a rush here. Sonically, they all sound like summer to me, songs to be heard when the weather is hot.
Put these babies on your Spotify playlist or whatever you're using these days, put a lime in your Red Stripe Light, open a folding chair, and give a listen.