Yesterday marked 17 years since my life ‘turned on a dime’, getting diagnosed with cancer. As time rolls on, the less and less I hang onto that day; but the gratitude for recovery never leaves. So on occasion, I try to share a little piece of my story with the humble hope that, even in the smallest way, it helps someone, somewhere, going through their own tough battles. Aside from faith and family, songs are my refuge. It has always been my place to celebrate all I love in this world and my escape and defense mechanism against everything I find wrong with it.

About 8 months into my unexpected journey –- immediate surgery, weeks of radiation, losing 50 pounds, constant pain & nausea, lack of sleep and a tremendous amount of anxiety — a disciplined nightly exercise routine, set to a continuous soundtrack of music (“The List”), had finally started to have positive effects for me physically. But mentally and emotionally I was still struggling and needed some confidence against the uncertainties life now presented. That is when God’s grace again pointed me to a music piece critical in my recovery – Paul Westerberg’s Stereo/Mono. Westerberg (aka Grandpaboy) and The Replacements had always been my ‘go-to’ rock-n-roll inspiration representing the beautiful-struggle that comes with doing things your own way. The Good Lord apparently must have nudged the former ‘Mats front-man to release not only a new record, but a double-record at that – perfect timing and exactly what I needed for a little ‘attitude’ as I adjusted back into the world.

I know as an adult the term ‘attitude’ can seem sophomoric. But believe me, the first time life awakens you from the carefree invincibility of youth and you realize life truly has a beginning and an end, no exceptions, including for yourself, you are exposed to an unsettling new vulnerability that never leaves. Acceptance was absolutely necessary for coming to terms with this fact, but adopting a slightly defiant mindset helped me more convincingly begin to work through the onslaught of fears and doubts that came with everything I experienced, and spurred me to continue to move forward. Stereo/Mono contains 25 songs and I could post any one of them because they are all important to me, but this reflective track pretty much summarizes it best . . .

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Singer/songwriter Diana Chittester, who resides in NE Ohio, is one of the finer ‘finger-pickers’ around. She has performed her “percussive-playing style” all over the U.S and Canada, usually alone onstage surrounded by her arsenal of guitars. The new featured track “Freedom”, off her upcoming release PARADOX due out May 11th, was written on a ukulele. She decided to try something new and record with additional instrumentation and full production. She absolutely nails it with great feel on this song and as a bonus I hear a little Ani DiFranco influence built in (Ani is one of my all-time favorite indie artists.) In addition to her 5/11 record release party at Beachland Ballroom, Diana will be opening for Joan Osborne (“What if God Was One of Us”) and Lisa Loeb (“Stay (I Missed You”)) at Cain Park on August 10th. Check her out . .

If you have not heard the new Imelda May record LIFE LOVE FLESH BLOOD, then stop. Just listen.

Let me start by saying I am not a music critic. http://www.greatsongsneverdie.com is my avenue to write about great songs and songwriters. Discovering favorite tunes started when I was three years old. After 45 years, there are now thousands. Over the past 5 years, I have been sharing many of these songs through ‘The List’ on GSND.com website, Facebook Group and Twitter. A great song to my ears always has an ‘it’ factor, which can be a catchy hook and melody, unique vocal phrasing, a groove with space to catch musical overtones, and without fail, an energy that evolves and builds to a crescendo over the course of the song — but there are so many nuances that can contribute to making a song great. I know an ‘it’ song immediately and it usually stops me dead in my tracks. It energizes me and results in replaying, dissecting and analyzing the song over and over for a period of time. The song becomes a permanent part of me, then the search for the next ‘it’ song continues. As fired up as I always get from the initial listens to an incredible new song, I can never recall being so positively stunned by what I was hearing quite like I was this past week with Imelda May’s new album. My God, what a voice.

I first heard Imelda May on a PBS special honoring guitar legend Les Paul back around 2011. Jeff Beck was performing with a swinging band led by a mesmerizing female vocalist I was not familiar with. Doing some quick online research, I learned about the Irish-born singer with the throwback Jazz-era voice who was making a big musical mark in Ireland and U.K. with her rockabilly sound and style. Subsequently, after buying her LOVE TATTOO, then MAYHEM and TRIBAL records, I have been a fan ever since despite never really hearing much about her in the U.S.

With the release of her new record in April, one thing became immediately apparent – this is a different Imelda May. Gone is her trademark two-tone quaff hair style that made her so easily identifiable. The transformation from her fiery rockabilly persona to her new look is so drastic, I wasn’t sure the picture I first saw on her website http://www.imeldamay.com was really her. Musically, the change is equally as drastic. As much as I love her earlier works, when May performs her new songs, it just seems the world is finally seeing and hearing the real Imelda May. Maybe the vibrant rockabilly front-woman with three Irish chart-topping albums was the real Imelda before. Maybe the naturally created persona evolved into an tired expectation from people over the years. Regardless, life is about growing and changing. Give her credit for pulling the plug and shedding any potential disguise of who she is today.

The shift in a new direction has produced the most amazing results in her songwriting. I love how she openly states in interviews that in the past she wrote “like a good politician, saying what I want to say but also secretly hiding things.” Not anymore. Great songwriting is about creating a strong connection with listeners. Songwriters are blessed with an ability to express themselves. The best will pour real feelings and conviction into their songs. On LIFE LOVE FLESH BLOOD, Imelda May does just that. Her writing is very open and personal. She reveals her vulnerabilities with extreme honesty and perfectly captures her raw emotions – pain, heartbreak, doubt, anger, fear, love, regret – universal topics people everywhere can relate to. This added maturity as a writer has elevated her songs to a much higher level.

Without a doubt, my favorite standout track is the heartfelt “Should’ve Been You.” Every time I replay the song, which has been almost non-stop, I think to myself: WOW! WOW! WOW! Just give her the Grammy for ‘Best Female Vocal Performance’ now. And why is this record not rocketing up the Billboard Charts?! Starting out, May’s singing of the verses surprisingly reminds me a bit of Chrissie Hynde but soon changes to all Imelda. When she belts out the bridge, you cannot help but recognize and become a part of the overwhelming emotion. An absolute ‘tears-in-your-eyes’ and ‘goosebumps’ performance. And I’m Angry/And I’m Sad/ I’m the best thing that you ever had . . ./ is sung with such beautiful intensity, it is as if May is delivering the lines not only as a cathartic release for herself but as a channel for every person who has ever been angry, sad or suffered from a broken-heart. Kudos to producer T. Bone Burnett for a brilliant recording.
What makes May so special is how she can repeatedly and consistently transfer the same powerful emotions into live performances of the song.

It’s fun when an artist or band feels like your own little secret. Songwriters that have had the biggest impact on me personally, for some reason, never quite get ‘over the top’ in terms of the commercial success they really deserve. Paul Westerberg, The Replacements, Ani DiFranco, Tom Waits – respected artists with a dedicated, almost cult-like following. Sometimes I jokingly think I have cursed them by being a fan (this comes from being a Cleveland sports fan). I include Imelda May in this group. But with her revamped image and making the “Record of Her Life”, I strongly sense the secret is rightly slipping away. I fully hope and predict her fan-base will broaden immensely. If there is any musical justice, her incredible voice will become well-known and make Imelda a house-hold name like Adele.

For now though, I am forgetting about appearances, Billboard charts, worldwide commercial success, comparing artists, and simply enjoying a record that represents everything music and songwriting, and most of all, a person is supposed to be.

And if she isn’t handed a Grammy next January in New York City, someone please tell Imelda May I am sorry, somehow it’s probably my fault. Wake up America!

Chris Cornell, such an immediately identifiable singer, has been at the forefront of so many great songs. I personally think back to 1989 when I first got my hands on a full promotional cassette of Soundgarden’s LOUDER THAN LOVE and could not believe what I was hearing – the power and rawness of the music . . . . and that voice, that distinctive, screaming, yet somehow melodic voice. So many musical highlights captured in his work with Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave. Honestly though, my favorite Cornell moment came a couple years ago when he took Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, stripped it down and made it all his own with this incredible performance. R.I.P. to one of Rock’s Greatest Vocalists.

SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER, the debut album released by The Black Crowes in 1990, is still start-to-finish one of the best records ever made. Spawning hits “Jealous Again”, “Twice As Hard”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Seeing Things”, as well as their successful and swaggered cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”, SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER remains The Black Crowes best-selling studio release (over 5 million copies sold).

You know you have a killer record when a song as great as “Struttin’ Blues”, my personal favorite, ends up pushed into the #9 track slot near the end of the record. Chuck Leavell, who was a member of the Allman Brothers and long-time touring musician with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, provides the incredible Hammond B-3 organ licks that really elevate this song along with the typical standout playing of guitarist Rich Robinson.