Thursday, December 29, 2005

Best of 2005: 20 gems to recommend

It should come as no surprise that selecting and ranking the best albums of the year is among the most difficult tasks a pop critic undertakes. This list ranks albums, with my top choice being first (Neil Young being #1) and so on. I often get asked why a specific artist didn't make my list; often it's because I never received or had a chance to hear the album. For example, I never heard the Rolling Stones' "A Bigger Bang" or Kanye West's "Late Registration" so they were not considered. I only list albums I have heard.

Neil Young “Prairie Wind” (Reprise) – Rock’s most consistently-winning songwriter returns to the alt country territory of “Harvest” but with a lifetime of reflection to craft his first masterpiece of the ‘00s.

Sigur Ros “Takk” (Geffen) – As otherworldly as it is beautiful; this Icelandic outfit thankfully charts its own course and sounds glorious.

New Order “Waiting for the Sirens’ Call” (Warner Brothers) – Maybe because I heard this in the wake of the band’s Coachella appearance, but this set finds the band breaking new ground with its accessible and influential style.

Coldplay “X&Y” (Capitol) – The band’s strongest collection yet, highlighted by “Til Kingdom Come,” “Speed of Sound” and “What If.”

Embrace “Out of Nothing” (LAVA) – I’ve played this CD to death since its release earlier this year. Britpop with melodic and emotional depth.

Paul McCartney “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” (Capitol) – Sir Paul crafted one of the most subtle and powerful albums of the year. Clearly his best work since the 1980s.

Aimee Mann “The Forgotten Arm” (Superego) – In an age of iPods and over-produced singles, 2005 found the onetime Til Tuesday singer releasing an intelligent and well-crafted concept album.

Doves “Some Cities” (Capitol) – Both symphonic and sparse, this album will continue to challenge and thrill listeners for many years to come.

The Magic Numbers “The Magic Numbers” (Capitol) – This genre-defying outfit comprised of two sets of siblings released the best debut of 2005. Magic indeed.

Gary Allan “Tough All Over” (MCA Nashville) – In the wake of the suicide death of his wife, songs such as “Best I Ever Had,” “I Just Got Back from Hell” and “Puttin’ Memories Away” convey a real world weight not heard in country music since Johnny Cash’s final recordings.

Honorable Mentions:

Franz Ferdinand “You Could Have It So Much Better” (Sony) – No sophomore slump here. The Scottish quartet unleashes an album worth of memorable material right for the times.

Ringo Starr “Choose Love” (Koch Records) – It’s easy to overlook Ringo’s contributions with the Beatles, or his dozen or so solo albums. Listen again; “Choose Love” boasts plenty of fun fireworks, specifically “Give Me Back the Beat” and Fab Four reminiscent “I Do.”

Glen Phillips “Winter Pays for Summer” (Lost Highway) – The third solo album from one-time Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips, “Winter Pays for Summer” is also his best. Standouts include “Duck and Cover,” “Thankful” and “Don’t Need Anything.”

Moby “Hotel” (V2) – Until a few weeks ago, I was still thinking of placing this album in my Top 10, primarily because of the strength of two amazing tracks on the release, “Raining Again” and “Slipping Away.” A very strong album.

Hootie & the Blowfish “Looking for Lucky” (Vanguard) – Anyone who has actually listened to this album won’t be surprised it appears here. Anchored by political-charged material such as “State Your Peace” and “The Killing Stone,” clearly Darius Rucker and company’s best recording since 1994’s “Cracked Rear View.”

Bruce Cockburn “Speechless” (Rounder) – Although there are only three new works on this instrumentals-only collection, the strength of hearing Bruce Cockburn’s virtuoso guitar work shine is worth running out and grabbing this album. Cockburn, a hero in his native Canada, is a master at blues, jazz and country styles and works that defy categorization. Just listen to “The End of All Rivers.”

The John Butler Trio “Sunrise Over Sea” (Lava) – Jam rock, Americana, blues and more are minded by Australia’s John Butler Trio across this wonderful album. Great tunes to listen to on a long drive.

Various Artists/Soundtrack “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” (Disney) – Although I’m indifferent to Alanis Morissette’s “Wunderkind” song, the three other songs and instrumental music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams on the soundtrack are so strong it more than makes up for that one misstep. Particularly strong are Tim Finn’s “Winter Light” and Lisbeth Scott’s “Where.”

Various Artists “Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe” (Brewery Records) – Truly a labor of love, “Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe” finds singer-songwriter Walter Clevenger not only having produced the two-disc collection and releasing it on his Costa Mesa label, but also contributing an energetic version of “There’s a Cloud in my Heart.”
More than two dozen of Lowe’s songs are reworked by leading power pop, alt country and roots rock artists selected from around the world, including a number of Clevenger’s Orange County-based contemporaries. The Glimmer Stars (“Rollers Show”), Sparkle*Jets U.K. (“When I Write the Book”) and Chris Gaffney (“Crying in my Sleep”) rank among the many high achieving artists on the superb tribute. Other highlights on the collection include Eric Ambel’s version of “12 Step Program (To Quit You Babe)” and Michael Carpenter’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”

Various Artists/Soundtrack “Walk the Line” (Wind-Up) – Nothing but praise for the vocal performances by Joaquin Phoenix (as Johnny Cash) and Reese Witherspoon (playing June Carter). Sure their acting was wonderful in the film, but the musical performances are just as wonderful. And any chance to hear Cash’s wonderful songs in the spirit of the originals gets thumbs up from me, even if these reworkings inevitably fall short of the original masterworks.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

No false Alarm; another fight worth noting

I read today that Alarm frontman Mike Peters has begun undergoing chemo treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. My heartfelt hopes for Mike to beat this thing.

I first saw the Alarm when the band opened for U2 in the early 1980s and was very impressed. I saw them again when I worked at a headlining show they had at Cal State Fullerton, and I reviewed the revamped Alarm a few years ago at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana.

Peters never disappoints in concert and I wish him the best in his treatments and recovery!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Grammys silliness, remembering John Lennon

Okay, here we go again.

The Grammy Awards are all about popularity. Period. Today they announced the 48th Annual Grammy Awards Nominee list. The fact that anything credible in the pop and rock fields got on the list is really amazing.

How else to explain the following...

Aimee Mann's "The Forgotten Arm" was nominated in the Best Recording Package. But what about the amazing songs on the concept album? Ignored completely. I can think of a number of great songs off that disc that deserve to be in the Record Of The Year category. But what we get are the embarrassing likes of Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" and Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl."

In the Album of the Year category, if Mariah Carey wins for "The Emancipation of Mimi," they better allow some time. It took something like 20 people to produce, engineer and mix the thing. Gwen Stefani also needed a bit of help on "Love. Angel. Music. Baby"; there are at least 10 other names credited with creating that forgettable effort. It only took a handful (specifically producer Nigel Godrich) to complete Paul McCartney's amazing "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" in the same field.

In Category 4, Best New Artist, it's funny. Keane is there; didn't their debut come out in early 2004 here (and even sooner in England)? Grammy voters are often confused and can't read a calendar.

And why, oh why, didn't New Order's excellent "Waiting for the Sirens' Call" or Moby's strong "Hotel" (songs "Raining Again" and "Slipping Away" are epic) get nominated in the Best Electronic/Dance Album category? Those were two of the best albums of 2005, especially New Order's latest. That keeps finding its way back into my CD player.

Let me remind the Grammy voters of some other great albums they forgot to mention. Embrace's "Out of Nothing," Bruce Cockburn's "Speechless" (which had a trio of new instrumentals that could fit in somewhere I'm sure), singer-songwriter Glen Phillips' "Winter Pays for Summer" and Limbeck's "Let Me Come Home" (which could fit in any of a number of country, pop or rock fields).

Well, at least they didn't totally forget Neil Young's "Prairie Wind," U2's "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" and Coldplay's "X&Y."

And on a more serious note, much has been written this week about John Lennon. It was 25 years ago today that he was murdered. I always try to put aside all of the endless controversy about his life, and legacy as seemingly directed by Yoko Ono and go back and enjoy his music. His songs remain a mirror into his soul, and often into our own. Whether it was his early gems such as "In My Life," "Help" and "Nowhere Man," or his later solo work, it holds up and still speaks to me. And his voice, it just conveyed an honesty increasingly rare in rock - especially when you look at the slim list of notable young rockers on the Grammy list today. Rob Thomas...are you kidding?

True, it doesn't seem like it has been 25 years since John Lennon was taken from us. It's a loss that hurts as much now as it did then. In his wonderful "God," Lennon confessed "I just believe in me." Truth be told, music lovers still believe too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Rock Hall names inductees; excuse me while I yawn

With the exception of the Sex Pistols, I just can't work up any kind of excitement about the list of names going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2006.

Miles Davis, jazz great. No connection to rock.

Black Sabbath, Blondie, Lynyrd Skynyrd...are you kidding me? Is this the best they can do. I have said it before, I'll say it today and again. Music put in the hall should have some lasting and artistic value. It should represent rock artists who craft original music that sounded great when it was recorded, and will have a lasting influence on listeners and other musicians. I really don't believe the work of Black Sabbath, Blondie and Lynyrd Skynyrd meets that test in the long run.

Artists are eligible to be inducted into the Rock Hall after at least 25 years have passed since their first record was released. Still no Hall & Oates, still no Gram Parsons, still no Cure. All those artists have been commercial successes, but also paved the way for others who came after.

But we get Blondie. You think she belongs alongside the Beatles and Buddy Holly? I didn't think so...with that kind of logic, I think we are doomed to see plenty of lightweight types join the ranks in the years to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pay to Play? Think Green Day

There have been an untold number of critics who have fallen over each other in praise of Green Day's "American Idiot" seemingly for all of 2005 (the album was released in September 2004).

You would think the Green Day CD was so great that every radio music director in the land thought this was the best album since Nirvana's "Nevermind." And yet many of the year's best albums (including especially strong releases by Embrace, Neil Young, Aimee Mann, Bruce Springsteen and New Order) have sadly been largely ignored by commercial radio.

But after revelations today that Warner Music Group has had to pay up $5 million to settle a payola probe, we now know that Green Day, My Chemical Romance and even R.E.M. were among the bands who won airplay after the record company reportedly ponied up paid vacations, laptop computers, iPods and even Super Bowl tickets to get their music played over the airwaves. Sick, huh?

This isn't the first time New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has shined a legal spotlight on the problem. Earlier this year, Sony BMG had to pay out $10 million to the state of New York for using so-called payola to get Jennifer Lopez some air time.

Spitzer, according to media reports, is still setting out after Universal Music Group and EMI Group, as well as Clear Channel Communications and others. If only radio would focus on playing good music, not worrying about collecting "goods" for themselves.

I would love to think this legal victory in the fight against pay-to-play tactics would make a difference. Somehow, I don't think it will.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Depeche Mode still wields sonic might

On Saturday, Nov. 19, it was time to make the trek to San Diego's ipayOne Center to see Depeche Mode. I didn't know what to expect because I had been playing the band's latest disc, "Playing the Angel," for a few days before the show and honestly was mixed on the CD.

But Depeche Mode didn't disappoint, and neither did the material from their new disc. Leading off with "A Pain That I'm Used to" and leading into "blues-tinged "John the Revelator," the new material was wonderful and blended well with the electronica act's classic material drawn from its seminal '80s and '90s releases.

Lead singer Dave Gahan remains most of rock's most energetic frontmen, and would pace and incite the crowd while twirling and getting many in the crowd to scream. And armed with a setlist that included propulsive songs such as "Behind the Wheel," "Personal Jesus" (featuring Martin Gore delivering some distinctive guitar work), "Policy of Truth" and "Enjoy the Silence," the concert grew stronger over its two-hour length. And with the well-crafted encore - including "Everything Counts" and "Nver Let Me Down Again" - the audience seemed as if it could dance all night.

I would love to tell you what Andrew Fletcher was doing behind his sci-fi styled console, but I really couldn't tell you. Despite my great view of him (I was seated to the side and he was often the only one I could see on stage clearly), he adds little to the proceedings. That made it even more clear how talented Gahan and Gore are as Depeche Mode continues to amaze fans and challenge itself musically.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

dada: yes, rock still matters

dada and the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano share a bond that is legendary among fans of the Los Angelesbased original rock outfit. Little did bassist-singer Joie Calio and guitarist-singer Michael Gurley know that when they took the stage for the first time together to open for Mary’s Danish at the legendary venue in 1991, that it was the beginning of something very special.

dada – completed several months later with the addition of drummer Phil Leavitt and which has never boasted any other lineup – has gone on to record some of the most original and powerful albums of the 1990s and ‘00s. And there have always been performances at the Coach House to reconnect with fans who love seeing Calio, Gurley and Leavitt deliver marathon-length shows that stretch long into the night. dada returns to headline at the Coach House on Saturday night, November 19th.

In addition to performing songs from the trio’s acclaimed debut "Puzzle" (including tracks such as “Dizz Knee Land,” “Dim” and “Dorina”), dada will likely be performing material from the trio’s latest full-length release. “How To Be Found,” released in March 2004, finds the band exploring the vast stretches of the rock universe with excellent songs such as “The Next Train Out Of My Mind,” “Nothing Like You” and the accessible “Any Day The Wind Blows.”

The band’s catalog also includes 2003’s “Live: Official Bootleg (Vol. 1),” released by Coach House Records. “There is no other show for us like the Coach House; it has all the emotions of being the first show,” Calio told me in a May 2004 phone interview. “We were never that big in California, but we’ve done really well at the Coach House. It’s a very good synergy between us as a band and the Coach House as a venue.”

Audiences catching dada this Saturday night will get to see something increasingly rare in modern rock; musicians who exhibit equal measures of skill as songwriters, experts on their instruments and singers capable of dazzling with harmonies that recall the magic of the Byrds, Badfinger and – yes – even the Beatles.

Songs such as “Ask the Dust,” “Feet to the Sun” and “Hollow Man” are among the great songs that dada frequently features in concert. dada, Boxcar and Thriving Ivory will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, SJC, at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19. Admission is $17.50. Information: (949) 496-8930.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Paul McCartney concert is truly out of this world

A night after performing a full-length 37-song set at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Nov. 11 that I unfortunately missed, Paul McCartney returned to perform an equally-ambitious show that stretched from 8:40 p.m. until 11:35 p.m. - that was just short of three hours!

The reason McCartney's Saturday night show on Saturday, Nov. 12 stretched beyond its normal 2-1/2 hour length was out of this world. Really! Sir Paul announced early in the show that it was arranged with NASA for this evening's show to mark the first time that a live music event was being broadcast into space. True enough, the time came after he had already delivered 16 memorable songs. Via big screens, Sir Paul and the two astronauts on the International Space Station (flying by at 220 miles above Earth) were able to communicate and the sold-out crowd could view and cheer and be part of the historic event as well. Paul McCartney and his excellent band delivered a wonderful version of "English Tea" while NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev sipped some tea/coffee/some kind of liquid out of their squeeze packets. McCartney and company also performed "Good Day Sunshine," a perfect song to complete the task of waking the astronauts at the beginning of their day. McArthur got cheers from the crowd when he did a flip in space, and toward the end of the live feed, did a command flip performance when asked to do so by McCartney.

McCarthur seemed especially thrilled that the Space Station residents were being treated to a show from the legendary performer.
"That was simply magnificent," McArthur said, adding he considered McCartney an explorer too noting his creative contributions.

The overall show was magical. Kicking off with "Magical Mystery Tour" and performing another three dozen tracks after that, the concert was equally a celebration of his unmatched catalog and the magic that greets his performances. There were the blistering rockers (notably "Live and Let Die" and "Helter Skelter" - oh joy!), the great new material from "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" ("Fine Line," "Jenny Wren," "Follow Me"), the Beatles gems ("Blackbird," "Yesterday," "Let It Be," "I Will," and many more) and underappreciated solo/Wings material ("Let Me Roll It," "Maybe I'm Amazed").

And this is McCartney's best band since the Fab Four. No question. Virtuoso lead guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist-bassist Brian Ray, animated drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens all contribute vocals and energy that further enhances these shows (I caught the same lineup at the Pond in October 2002, and enjoyed the blend even more this past weekend). Indeed, Brian Ray nailed it when late in the show he stepped up to the mic and said, "This truly is the happiest place on Earth."

I encourage anyone reading this who lives in Southern California to catch McCartney when he plays at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Nov. 29 or Nov. 30. I've caught McCartney a number of times stretching back to the mid-1970s when he fronted Wings. He truly keeps better and his shows have a kind of power and mystery that touches people of all ages. Even when he isn't being beamed into the heavens, McCartney is in a universe of his own.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bruce Cockburn, Rusty Anderson: what's not to like?

Sorry about the extended delay in my posts. I truly have been busy and have actually not spent much time in front of my keyboard over the past week.

Where to start?
Last Friday, Nov. 4, I caught one of the best shows I've seen this year. Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn appeared in a solo setting at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. No openers or fill, just the Canadian great impressing a near-capacity crowd from 8:18 p.m. until 10:40 p.m. (there was a break from 9 p.m. to 9:27 p.m.).

But the show couldn't have been stronger. Bruce performed 21 selections, featuring instrumentals off his latest CD "Speechless," but also performing great songs such as "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "If a Tree Falls," "Put It in Your Heart" and "Pacing the Cage" (one of the most beautiful and tender songs I've ever heard) off his 1996 album "The Charity of Night." But then, I love just about everything he has written and recorded.

Although best known for penning probing songs that often tackle a mix of political and religious themes, Cockburn is an amazing guitar player and displayed those skills across his rewarding set at the Coach House. Highlights included the newly-penned "Elegy" and blues-flavored "King Kong Goes to Tallahassee."

He closed the show with a powerful and distinctive new song, titled "Mystery," that I hope is included on his next studio disc. A great night.

Also, check out my Orange Pop column in the Orange County Register today. It is a feature story on Rusty Anderson, who plays guitar in Paul McCartney's band. He is also an amazing guitarist, and his latest album, "Undressing Underwater," will appeal to fans of virtuoso guitar playing and good songwriting.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sheryl Crow, Gavin DeGraw at the Hollywood Bowl

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is one of the few artists to emerge in the first half of the 1990s who has continued to craft new material well into this decade that is still greeted with widespread commercial airplay and welcomed by mainstream audiences eager to hear her latest project.
In a two-hour headlining show Sunday night, Oct. 23, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, the nine-time Grammy winner delivered a generous retrospective of her hits-filled career while also casting the spotlight on her latest disc, "Wildflower."
That album, released Sept. 27, is filled with confessional tales focusing on her well-publicized romance with cyclist Lance Armstrong and larger explorations of the world such as her stirring, anti-war "Where has All the Love Gone" and her probing "Letter to God."
Performing more than 20 of her own songs and a few reworked covers by Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Elton John, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter seemed genuinely delighted to be performing at the fabled Hollywood Bowl, proclaiming during her encore, "It's so nice to come back and play in your back yard."
Backed by her four-member band and a large string section under the direction of David Campbell, Crow used the concert as a showcase for her skills as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who moved from guitar to bass to piano throughout the night.
The bad news for the enthusiastic audience was not Crow's choice of material or her performance, but rather the sound itself.
The band (drums, guitars, bass, keyboards) continuously drowned out the string section (which featured more than a dozen musicians), except in the quietest moments.
So while a countrified take on Dylan's "Mississippi" and her own "Strong Enough" were clearly enhanced by strings in the overall mix, they sounded muddled on straightforward rockers such as "If It Makes You Happy" and "My Favorite Mistake."
And, during many songs, such as the reworking of Stevens' "First Cut is the Deepest," the additional musicians simply came off like window dressing.
However, there is no doubt that the majority of fans came to hear Crow deliver her collection of hits, and she did not disappoint.
Many in the audience sat politely through much of the concert, but became more animated and enthusiastic when she performed titles such as "All I Wanna Do," "A Change Will Do You Good" and "Soak Up the Sun."
Show opener Gavin DeGraw is clearly looking to position himself as an artist who can carve out a lasting career in the tradition of Crow.
His seven-song set, highlighted by material such as the emotive "Crush" and accessible "Chariot," pleased many in the crowd, especially when the young singer-keyboardist ventured into the audience.
While songs such as "Chemical Party" and his biggest hit, "I Don't Want to Be," were delivered with zest, his sonic approach clearly recalls artists such as Maroon 5, Train and Billy Joel, and time will tell if he is able to develop a sound he can truly call his own.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Aimee Mann just keeps getting better

Only three nights after catching an impressive show from power-pop rockers 9 Ball in Fullerton on Oct. 11, I took in a stunning concert from Aimee Mann. I have seen the talented singer-songwriter a number of times, and she continues to amaze enthusiastic and loyal audiences whenever she performs. Count me as one who is both enthusiastic and amazed.

At the Anaheim House of Blues where I caught her two-hour performance on Friday, Oct. 14, she featured songs off her latest CD, "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that continues to showcase her skills as a songwriter and keen observer of people and this crazy planet we call home.

She seemed to be especially confident and chatty with the crowd, encouraging people to write down their requests and throw them up to the stage. Dozens seem to take her up on the offer, resulting in her playing many of her classics such as "Red Vines," "Invisible Ink," "Deathly" and "4th of July." She even took a good-natured attempt at "Ray," a song she admitted wasn't ready for its sonic close-up this night. And her band continues to get better everytime I catch them.

But it was an incredible show, and I spent the weekend listening to her music - a bright spot as the Anaheim Angels lost 3 games in a row and the Chicago White Sox are now World Series bound. If I had Aimee's gift, I could turn that into a song...

Friday, October 07, 2005

Society's shift shakes music

There was a time - before interactive cellphones, high speed internet and on-demand everything - when movies were more about quality than box office positioning and music was a connection fans had with a particular act as they journeyed through albums growing and exploring new ground. Think Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel and U2 - you get the idead.

That sounds like a world away, huh? I can think of a number of classic artists who would have never released anything beyond a debut if they had come of age in the late '90s or this century. Cheap Trick is a famous example used by critics; the band's amazing self-titled debut was ignored. You still never hear anything from that LP, even on classic rock stations.

It wasn't until the band's third album they sold anything and scored a hit. Today, if an artist signed to a major label doesn't create a buzz or go Gold from the start, a major label is likely going to cut the chord.

That's one of the reasons I love writing the Orange Pop column for the Orange County Register. It runs just about every Friday (including today, where Michele Rene is featured). Here are artists who aren't selling millions of CDs. In fact, they are likely doing pretty good if they are selling hundreds. But they are doing it because they have no choice; the music matters to them and when it comes to playing original music in So Cal, getting paid is no given either.

This fall is a promising time to go out and see some of these real artists. Sure, the celebrated likes of Aimee Mann, Doves, U2, Paul McCartney and Bruce Cockburn are all coming to town either this month or next, but be sure to check out my column to get wind of the underground. You can read it at www.ocregister.com.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Never-Speechless Bruce Cockburn, Thunderhand Joe

On Wednesday morning, Sept. 28th, I had the chance to chat with Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn for about 20 minutes or so. It marked the second time I've been able to interview him, and my preview story built around that insightful phone interview should be published on Nov. 3 in the Dana Point News and Capistrano Valley News, both published by the Orange County Register. After the story runs, I'll also check back with you here; I hope to catch his solo acoustic show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday night, Nov. 4th.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to run out and purchase his latest album, "Speechless," released this past Tuesday. It is a wonderful all-instrumentals CD that fully casts the spotlight on his amazing skills as a guitarist and composer. In addition to featuring instrumentals stretching back throughout his 30+ career, the Rounders Records release features three new tracks that showcase an artist who keeps exploring new sonic territory. And the results are never less than wonderful. My story will focus on a discussion of his latest CD, "Speechless," as well as a bit about his participation at the Canadian Live 8 Concert held July 2, 2005 in Toronto. Other artists who played at the show included Bryan Adams, the Tragically Hip, Gordon Lightfood and Neil Young...

Also, check out today's edition of the Show section of the Orange County Register. I have a full-length story on one-time Redbone drummer Thunderhand Joe. His story is inspiring. Writing the feature earlier this week, it struck me how few Native Americans have their musical voices heard. For more information on Thunderhand Joe, or to hear selections from his debut CD, check out: http://cdbaby.com/cd/thunderhand

Looking ahead, I'll be checking out the Keane show at the Greek Theatre tonight. I loved the trio's set at Coachella earlier this year; some critics don't appreciate the band. I for one think they're crazy... This will also mark my first time seeing the openers, the Long Winters. I'll report back on the show next week. Promise.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dead Can Dance, indeed

On Sunday, Sept. 25, I was fortunate to see another great show. Dead Can Dance, the Australia-based duo that crafted music that truly defied all genres in the 1980s and 1990s, came to the Hollywood Bowl as part of their first tour since 1994 or something.

Amazing. Performing with the LA Philharmonic, singer-guitarist Brendan Perry and vocalist Lisa Gerrard sounded perfect and performed a mix of Celtic, Renaissance-tinged folk, goth and Middle Eastern-flavored music to lasting and emotional impact. The concert was like being immersed in a sonic dream. Any of the songs performed, including well-known selections such as "How Fortunate the Man With None" and the sparse reworking of the traditional "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," would have been a highlight at any show. But across the more than two hours on Sunday that the concert stretched, it would be impossible to find an artistic element that didn't work.

Lisa Gerrard has a voice that recalls an opera diva, but with the otherworldly sound of a singer one might hear in a Irish pub. And Brendan Perry's far-reaching baritone also hit its marks whether singing alone or with Lisa. A simply wonderful experience.

Now, if only Cocteau Twins might return for another run.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hall of Confusion

Okay, let me get this. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has just announced its next list of those being considered for induction. I get John Mellencamp; put him in pronto. The Sex Pistols and Lynyrd Skynyrd likely should be included, although their contributions don't match the likes of the Fab Four, Elvis and Stones.

But Miles Davis. Wasn't he jazz? Put him in the Jazz hall or something. Should they include opera tenor Placido Domingo too? Or Luciano Pavarotti?

And while they didn't put in Gram Parsons (the most significant alt country rock architect of the 20th century), they also have Blondie, the J. Geils Band and Cat Stevens on the list of those eligible. And the J. Geils Band. If they are simply looking at well-known names, shouldn't they have put in Hall & Oates? They scored a ton of hits and they have crafted great Blue-Eyed soul since the 1970s; put them in...

The Percy Sledge and O'Jays thing drove me crazy. Each had one hit that people know today. Shouldn't the Chantays ("Pipeline") and Surfaris ("Wipe Out") get in too?

By putting in weaker artists, the Hall of Confusion waters down the contributions of those pioneering artists who deserve a spot there. There is a reason the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young have crafted rock music that has lasted. If it doesn't meet that test, flunk it...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Smithereens, Katrina concerts keep me listening

I think I heard so much music over the weekend, my eardrums are buzzing!

It started Friday night, Sept. 9th. There was a long night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. After listening to two opening bands (one was awful, bad, ughh!), the Smithereens finally came on well after 10 p.m. - I think it was actually around 10:30 or something. But the good news is they rocked so hard and so effectively, I forgot how tired I was.

They performed all their classic cuts, including "Blood and Roses," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," "Only a Memory," etc. Although their bassist Mike Mesaros was not there (his wife just had a baby and he was busy being dad), the fill-in guy was good and the show was loose and indicitive of the magic the ultimate bar band delivers everytime I see them.

Pat DiNizio remains a strong singer, while lead guitarist Jim Babjak smiles as he plays distinctive licks and Dennis Diken still plays with fury when the song ("Room Without a View" notably) demands. A great show.

On Saturday, I caught up and watched the tape of the hour-long "Shelter from the Storm" concert broadcast on Friday, as well as the four-hour benefit videocast by Vh1 and MTV. The highlights were in short supply. Neil Young was great both days, performing material off his forthcoming "Prairie Wind" CD. On Saturday he performed the beautiful "When God Made Me," a song that songs like it could have been penned another time. Especially the way he played it at the piano, with the beautiful but sparse backing efforts of a choir.

On Saturday, he was joined by Emmylou Harris and sang "This Old Guitar," a simple but authentic-sounding country western song. Can't wait to hear this CD when it's released later this month.

Also turning in solid entries were the Foo Fighters, with the flannel shirt-attired Dave Grohl leading the quartet through CCR's "Born on the Bayou," and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood teaming up for CCR's "Who'll Stop the Rain?"

The important thing about the Hurricane Katrina efforts is obviously helping get people to donate and help out. But I'm just nitpicking about the music here. Mary J. Blige ruined U2's version of "One." I repeat, she ruined it. She has a vast range and big voice, but her voice was not up to the emotional challenge of singing the song.

At the Sunday event, leaders included U2 powering through "Love and Peace or Else," while Trent Reznor - in a hushed performance featuring him alone at his piano - brought chills with an emotive "Hurt." Pearl Jam ("Given to Fly") and Coldplay ("Fix You") also played well in support of the Gulf Coast suffering.

My thoughts were also with the survivors of 9/11 and their loved ones. Where have the four years gone, and have we forgotten?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane relief

Many of you are worn out by the endless coverage of Hurricane Katrina-related news 24/7. Of course, that is nothing compared to those who have endured the tragedy. My heart really goes out to them; the loss is simply beyond words or pictures or anything I've experienced.

There have already been countless efforts on behalf of the victims and I really believe most Americans do want to help, and many have. It's great that the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Neil Young are among those going to perform this weekend on MTV/VH1. I hope in addition to asking us poor folk to give, they do something themselves. Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger wouldn't miss $1 million, so lets hope they are willing to give a bit. Neil Young's assistance with Farm Aid and his Bridge School Benefit demonstrates clearly where his heart and wallet are. America has been pretty good to them, so it would be great for them to go the extra mile this weekend! I don't expect Motley Crue, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge or Usher to be any good, but then they might look pretty fine compared to Kid Rock!

I didn't need to have a rock star tell me to give. I did it twice last weekend on my own, and I'll give more when I can. I did after 9/11 too. I'll be watching.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Topeka leads to Gypsy's Kiss

Is it Tuesday? Yes, it's Tuesday. Catching up late on the weekends musical happenings.
I caught two wonderful local shows this past weekend. On Saturday night, it was a double bill with Topeka and Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings at the Bamboo Terrace restaurant in Costa Mesa, while on Sunday I enjoyed an afternoon show at with Irish music outfit Gypsy's Kiss at the Harp Inn - also in C.M.

Topeka features singer-songwriter-guitarist Fletcher Harrington (of Cowboy Buddha fame), lead guitarist Brit Collins (of Moonhead) and singer Tanya Livingstone (of Blind Ruby). Performing excellent songs from their first CD, "Land Rush," as well as material from Fletcher's most recent solo CD, it was a powerful show. This is alt country with heart. The blending of voice and layers and arrangements worked strongly on Saturday night. I'm hooked. Information: www.lopie.com.

Next was the always rocking-good-time Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings. When a band rocks out with original tunes such as "Radio Sea" and "Supermarket Checkout Queen," as well as the infectious "Jonathan Doe," well the night is great. Clevenger is a songwriter whose material draws comparisons with artists ranging from Buddy Holly and Tom Petty to Nick Lowe, but his blend of power pop meets country is definitely his own. And his band is great. Learn more about this wonderful artist at www.walterclevenger.com.

And on to Sunday for a totally different kind of show. Gypsy's Kiss is an acoustic-styled Irish-Celtic music ensemble. The group put on a wonderful show, playing a blend of instrumental numbers and emotive songs.
"Star of the County Down" and "Black Velvet Band" were among many of the group's highlights. The group features the talents of Krysta Townsend (fiddle), Fred Salmon (electric bass, guitar), Kevin Moran (guitar, whistle, vocals), Heidi Kuyper (lead vocals) and Heidi Halbur (wooden flute, whistles).
Information: www.gypsykiss.us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More thoughts about "greatest hits"

Not long ago I wrote how funny it was that artists who were too young to yet deserve a career retrospective, as well as those who never really had enough hits to warrant such a collection.

I was online today and discovered some other funny people who already have released such offerings. "The Best of Mandy Moore" is available, why? I likely couldn't name a single hit she has released, and even if I could, I'm sure it isn't worth the disc it's burned on.

Here are some "best of" collections you should seek out, in addition to my recommendations from earlier this month.
"The Best of...Lee Rocker - Burnin' Love"; this disc is great. If you think Rocker's career ended with the Stray Cats, you owe it to yourself to get this disc.

"Anything Anytime Anywhere," Bruce Cockburn's amazing 2001 collection of his best-known material. "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," "Pacing the Cage" and "The Coldest Night of the Year" are only a few of the great songs on this powerful set.

Neil Young's "Greatest Hits" is exactly that. After all, we're talking "Like a Hurricane," "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done" and the list goes on. If you haven't discovered his music yet, do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tale of two concerts

Wow, don't be surprised I'm so tired. On Sunday night, Aug. 21st, I went to Coldplay in Irvine. Last night, Monday, I went to James Taylor at the Hollywood Bowl.

Both concerts were worth attending, but it was the James Taylor show that really blew me away. Surprised? Don't be. Coldplay was amazing when I saw the band at Coachella on April 30, 2005. But here, with a longer set and only a night after playing a full-length show at the same venue (Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine), the band was good, but not great. Maybe it was because I was way back in the lawn area, a million miles from the stage. But there were plenty of great moments; "Yellow" and "Speed Of Sound" immediately coming to mind. Chris is a great lead singer, but the natural comparisons with U2 will always hurt. There is only one U2.

James Taylor is an original, and draws comparisons to ... James Taylor! He was amazing! It was my first time ever catching him in concert and it was worth the long drive to L.A. and the even more daunting journey home.

With the possible exception of recent shows by Aimee Mann and some of the better sets at Coachella, I can’t recall a concert where so many people stopped chattering and ignoring their cell phones in favor of listening to the music making – which is exactly the way it should be at a James Taylor concert.
Performing before an enthusiastic and capacity crowd at the legendary Hollywood Bowl on Monday night, the personable singer-songwriter demonstrated that his skills as vocalist, guitarist, bandleader – and comedian – remain formidable.
And while the audience was unusually hushed during beautifully-rendered acoustic-styled songs such as “Fire and Rain” (a masterpiece that never sounds dated; it brought tears to my eyes), “Carolina in My Mind” and “Sweet Baby James,” they would clap along without prompting during upbeat numbers such as “Your Smiling Face” and Latin-flavored “Mexico.”
Performing 25 songs stretching across more than two hours, Taylor and his 11-member band performed plenty of hits, but also took the audience on well-timed detours displaying his skills playing the blues, Celtic and even country-western styled material. His reading of the traditional Irish folk song “The Water is Wide” was simply gorgeous, with his rich baritone and acoustic guitar conquering the song’s timeless melody with a mix of authenticity and emotion as he was accompanied by virtuoso fiddle player Andrea Zonn.
Early in his show, Taylor introduced two songs he had written for the late Ray Charles. Both the tender “Nothin’ Like a Hundred Miles” and more driving “Everybody Has the Blues” also featured Taylor’s impressive guitar playing.
And recalling how he had toured with the Dixie Chicks last year, his band performed a rousing country version of that group’s “Some Days You Gotta Dance.”
Between songs, Taylor would tell stories and engage in humorous exchanges that usually hit home. At one point, a woman yelled out, “I love you James.” The singer replied, “I love you too,” before pausing and adding with a Bob Newhart-styled manner, “It seems like a funny time to bring it up.”
At another point, someone yelled out a request for a song. Taylor picked up a small chalkboard that featured the set list, looked at it and noted the band would get to that song later in the night.
His stories often recalling when and why specific songs were written, as well as engaging exchanges with the audience – including signing autographs for fans who made it to the edge of the stage – only added a dimension to the concert. Who knew “Sweet Baby James” was a cowboy lullaby or that a photo he saw in National Geographic magazine inspired the introspective “The Frozen Man”?
Toward the end of the night, Taylor and company performed energetic songs such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” “Steamroller Blues” and “Summertime Blues” getting the audience to their feet.To close the night, Taylor returned to the stage with his three backing singers to perform a hushed and beautiful “You Can Close Your Eyes.” This was a night where offering up classic hits and nostalgia took a unquestionably back seat to Taylor’s loving and emotional delivery of the songs.

Friday, August 19, 2005

It gets more silly by the second

Are our attention spans really that short? Have computers, MTV, American Idol and all the rest of that stuff really blown out our collective ability to hang in there with an audience?

I don't know how old Hiliary Duff is and I don't really care, but I'm pretty sure she is still in her teens. She already has a greatest hits collection? Do people really need her "Most Wanted" collection. I bet she knows (and the money makers directing her career) know they better strike while the iron is hot.

It reminds me of what they did with Martika earlier this year, a nothing late '80s artist who had been forgotten by the masses. But when Eminem took her sole big hit "Toy Soldiers" and turned it into a hit ("Like Toy Soldiers") on his 2004 "Encore", Sony BMG hurried and released a Martika greatest hits collection. Anyone who saw (or met Martika - we were both on a television show together around 1986?) her knows she had little to no talent.

Here are other greatest hits collections that are a joke (they only had a hit or two, why bother?):

"The Best of Toni Basil: Mickey & other love songs" (I can't believe this was released!)
"Walking On Sunshine: the Greatest Hits of Katrina & the Waves" (Oh, please)
"Belinda Carlisle - Her Greatest Hits" (do any of these hold up, no!)
"Tiffany - Greatest Hits" (she should even be embarrassed)
"The Best of Naked Eyes" (if I hear "Always Something There to Remind Me again, I'll scream)


But there are a few bands that only scored big a time or two that should be checked out...Listen to these, really!

"The Very Best of Soft Cell" (artisty beyond "Tainted Love" to be sure)
"Look of Love: the Very Best of ABC" (sounds as good today as ever)
"The Fixx: Ultimate Collection" ("Driven Out," "Red Skies," "Stand Or Fall," "Saved By Zero," and much more. This is great)
"Blown to Smithereens: The Best of the Smithereens" (you can't go wrong here. One great rocker after another...)
"Big Star Story" (if you don't know this band, you should!)
"The Hollies' Greatest Hits" (they are great too)
"Retrospective: the Best of Buffalo Springfield" (Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay - amazing stuff)

Friday, August 12, 2005

You're kidding, right

It's Friday. Why not have some fun.

Billboard reports Ashlee Simpson is in talks with "Saturday Night Live" to host and perform in connection with the release of her second CD in early October. Sick.

Wasn't faking it once bad enough? So "SNL" can't find any real musicians to feature on the show. Are they kidding? Here are a few suggestions: Dada, Dead Can Dance, Neil Young, Keane, Snow Patrol, New Order, Color Theory, Michael Ubaldini, Lee Rocker, Trespassers William, Rusty Anderson, Social Distortion, Aimee Mann, Bruce Cockburn and hundreds more. Maybe they can actually champion some real music. Now that's a stretch...

Check out my Orange Pop column in the Orange County Register today. I talk about Summerfest, a promising six-hour power pop-minded show coming to Stanton tomorrow, kicking off at noon. And it's free. All ages. You can read it via www.ocergister.com and click on the ENTERTAINMENT button on the left and you'll find my story under the Music area.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Classical Mystery Tour

Last Friday, I was able to catch a time machine back to the 196os. Indeed, Classical Mystery Tour is just that. Featuring a top-notch Beatles tribute band that performs with a 40-member orchestra, the performance was wonderful.

What makes the experience so amazing isn't simply that the four key players look so much like John, Paul, George and Ringo. But it it how they sound like them, move like them and how the arrangements of classics such as "A Day in the Life" and "Yesterday" benefit from the layers provided by violins, cellos, brass, etc. It truly elevates these concerts to a level seldom reached at rock 'n' roll shows.

The cast features Jim Owen (as Lennon), Tony Kishman (as McCartney), Tom Teeley (as Harrison) and Chris Camilleri (as Starr). Kishman was particularly strong and if he was left handed, people might think he was Paul his voice and look were so dead on...

Information: www.ClassicalMysteryTour.com.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Down and About

Hi Friends,

Where have I been. Listening to tunes - music.

Cowboy Junkies. Remember them? On August 16, they have a new record coming out.
It's called "Early 21st Century Blues" and is a strong 11-song collection featuring a mix of reworked covers by the likes of Bruce Springsteen ("Brothers Under the Bridge" and "you're Missing"), George Harrison ("Isn't It a Pity") and Bob Dylan ("License To Kill"), as well as several original songs penned by Cowboy Junkies guitarist Michael Timmins. And Margo Timmins still is armed with the most haunting and emotive of voices.

Berlin. Another name, band out of the past. The Fullerton-launched outfit, featuring singer Terri Nunn, performed a show at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa last month and among the songs played was an energetic version of Prince's "Erotic City." It led me to seek out getting a copy of the disc featuring the remake, the recently-released "4Play." Not bad, not bad at all. And fans of Peter Gabriel will love the rousing "Big Time." Nunn sounds strong on the album and it works...

On a sad note, I missed yesterday's performance by Harry and the Potters at the Dana Point Branch Library. I kid you not; there really is a punk band where they dress up like the popular wizards and crank out songs such as "Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock" and "Wizard Chess."
Check mate.

That's all folks. Pass me a pork chop.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Payola probe reveals what we all suspect

I'm sure by now many of you have read news reports about major labels allegedly buying airplay for artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Good Charlotte, Franz Ferdinand, Jessica Simpson. This news has come about because of an investigation by the New York state attorney general's and a report written by Fox News columnist Roger Friedman that was published at www.foxnews.com today.

If these charges are true, it should come as no surprise. After all, how do you explain commercial radio's inability to break great music outside of that pushed, promoted and pawned off by the big labels. In my Orange Pop column - which celebrates its 10th anniversary in the Orange County Register on Aug. 1, 2005 - I have written about dozen of great acts that simply can't get any airplay. Even when releasing a well-produced, professional compact disc - they hit one roadblock after the other.

Let me list the names of a number of artists you should all check out. Forget about the hype of the industry. Seek out music that connects with you. Don't listen to Franz Ferdinand or the White Stripes just because the hitmakers tell you to. Listen to national acts that don't get the acclaim they deserve; Aimee Mann (folk rock), DADA (rock), Walter Trout (blues), Lee Rocker (roots-rockabilly), Ocean Colour Scene (Brit rock), Glen Phillips (formerly with Toad the Wet Sprocket). And there are some great Orange County, CA artists worth listening to:

Roots and Americana: Michael Ubaldini. His Web site is at www.rocknrollpoet.com.

Pop-rock/melodic rock: John Hoskinson, Joe Ongie, Walter Clevenger, John Carrillo; all have urls with their name and dot-com. And check out 9 Ball at www.9ballmusic.com.

Singer-songwriters also worth noting: Jannel Rap (www.jannel.org), Bright Blue Gorilla (www.brightbluegorilla.com), Joy Flying (www.joyflying.net), and the list really keeps going. Just read my OC Reg column on Friday and stay up with how great the local scene is!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

we'll try it again

Yesterday, I had just about finished my blog entry relating to this past weekend when I had to get off the computer and it was lost.

Anyway, rather than try to rewrite what I penned yesterday, I'll start from scratch. I caught Tears for Fears, Gin Blossoms and Dishwalla on Sunday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa. It's an 8,500-seat venue and it was pretty close to capacity. I had seen Tears for Fears before - a decade or so ago at the Universal Amphitheatre - but when it was the version that boasted only Roland Orzabal (so was missing Curt Smith).

This performance, although clocking in at a mere 75 minutes, was so much better than that mid-1990s show. Coming on the heels of last year's "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending" comeback disc, this was a performance that demonstrated Tears for Fears still matters. Indeed, time has only strengthened the craft of some of the duo's best '80s and '90s material. So while the highlight for me was "Call Me Mellow" off the 2004 album, older material such as "Break It Down Again," "Sowing the Seeds of Love" and "Mad World" filled the summer night with a magic that won't be forgotten any time soon.

Like Tonic - who I caught on a bill with Cracker and Hootie & the Blowfish a week ago - I would have ditched Dishwalla and allowed both Tears for Fears and Gin Blossoms to each play a bit more. Gin Blossoms, like the Smithereens, play loose in concert. And like the Smithereens, the style works for them. Songs such as "Until I Fall Away," "Follow You Down," "Allison Road" and "Lost Horizons" continue to sound beautiful in that pop-rock-dipped-in-melancholy kind of way. And just about everyone got to their feet to dance when the band closed with a strong "Hey Jealousy."

2005 is turning out to be a great year for concertgoing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Oldies, some goodies

I had another busy musical week. I was assigned to review two shows at the Orange County Fair. I covered Hootie & the Blowfish, Tonic and Cracker on July 12, while I covered another triple act bill last night, July 14, featuring headliner Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, Berlin and the Motels. Although you can see my reviews that ran in the Orange County Register to get the full story, general impressions are some of these acts are a lot better than many of the so-called musical press want to admit. Hootie & the Blowfish continue to prove they are the best bar band in America (being a long-time fan of the Smithereens, that's saying a lot for me!). And Cracker rocked. "Low" could be a hit on modern rock radio today - more than a decade since its release.

I was never much of a fan of Pat Benatar (my mom and brother loved them), but I really enjoyed the authentic connection she and husband-guitarist Neil had with the audience and their own music in Costa Mesa last night. Neil is a great guitarist and seems to only have improved over the years too.

I really excited about the weekend; I get to see Tears for Fears and the Gin Blossoms on Sunday night. I'll check in with you early next week about that concert.

I'm also hoping to check out Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the movies this weekend. Composer Danny Elfman, who led the great Oingo Boingo, is back singing for the first time since "The Nightmare Before Christmas" with the soundtrack here and it should be good. I'll let you know.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Look Ahead

Every Friday, time permitting, I'll go ahead and use this space to recommend a few upcoming shows and good reads. I will include the basics and contact info...

First, check out my story in the Orange County Register today. The subject of my Orange Pop column is Lee Rocker, the one-time Stray Cats bassist and a talented solo artist on his own. I saw him at the Hootenanny last Saturday and he was epic. He has two new albums coming out on July 12th. I cover all that and more in my feature story on him today...www.ocregister.com and click on the Entertainment button, etc.

If you don't have any plans for tonight, James Grey and Tyrone Wells perform songs and tell stories at Martini Blues, 5874 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, sometime after dark. Call (714) 840-2129 or visit www.jamesgrey.com for more details.

Anyone going to the Orange County Fair on Saturday, July 9th should plan on catching Grampas Grass when they perform from 4-6 p.m. on the Sun Stage. The show is free to anyone with fair admission. The band blends folk, rock, Southern rock and Latin styles. Nice outdoor music, perfect for a July afternoon while you enjoy all the great food in So Cal! Info: www.grampasgrass.com.

My continued prayers and good thoughts for our friends in London who have suffered an attack by suspected al Qaeda bombers. The victims are people like you and I, innocent people going about their lives. Going to work, to see family and friends, etc. It is sick stuff and I hope we never loose touch with how far this evil movement will go to destroy all of the freedoms we enjoy...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Sad Day

Today recalls the saddness of 9/11/2001. The terrible attacks by murdering terrorists in London today reminds all of us who value freedom and human life of how far many will go to destroy our way of life.

I've been to London several times, in 1980 and again in June 1995. I loved both my stays in that great city and my thoughts go out to all those who suffer there. I hope authorities catch the terrorists responsible and kill them. Soon.

I hope many of the musicians who worked so hard at Live 8 - especially those who are British - will do something for their own nation. Instead of just slamming how terrible the Western World is, etc...It will be interesting to see if any of the hundreds of nations that Great Britain has helped go to her aid now...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Weekend remembered

I didn't post over the 4th of July weekend. But I have a multiple of excuses.

There was Hootenanny '05, a day-long festival next to Irvine Lake on Saturday, July 2nd. I got there early, so I could park next to the gate. And I was there all day, getting in early enough to check out Social Distortion's 30-minute soundcheck that kicked off at 11:45 or so, and was there until the Orange County band's actual set ended around 7:30 p.m. It was a long day and the music was generally very strong. And it was a hot one! Those energy drinks were a lifesaver.

In addition to the strong performance from Social D (highlights came off the band's latest album, notably the songs "Reach for the Sky" and "Highway 101"), I really enjoyed Lee Rocker's set. He delivered some great moments across 30 minutes, particularly a reworking of his old band, the Stray Cats, "Rock This Town" and a song titled "Runnin' from the Hounds" that really rocked.

Ever heard of Ricky Warwick? I hadn't either until I saw him perform at Hootenanny in 2004, and the Irish singer-songwriter returned this year. I enjoyed his set even more this weekend. He has that Steve Earle-John Mellencamp element and put on a great show.

Other great moments came courtesy of punk-styled Throw Rag, James Intveld and Deke Dickerson.

What about Live 8? Because I was at Hootenanny, I taped the day-long broadcast from VH1 and caught the ABC highlights special live that night. I also caught part of the CMT hour special last night. I was disgusted by the coverage. The stupid veejays injecting penny thoughts in the middle of songs. No Neil Young, no Cure, no Bruce Cockburn? I understand Paul McCartney played "Helter Skelter," but never a second of it on the tube. MTV is about anything but music these days.

Hopefully, some of the performances will be released later on DVD minus the chit chat...

Friday, July 01, 2005

No June gloom; Ringo Starr, Beyond 7

Looking back at the last week of June, there was little gloom.

I got to spend time with my wonderful wife Kim as she celebrated another birthday, and I got to see two great shows.

On June 29, I was lucky enough to get to cover a special club show at the El Rey in Los Angeles featuring Ringo Starr & the Roundheads. It was great to see the former Beatle and his six-man band tear it up front a standing room spot only 20 or so feet from the stage.

I never saw him more relaxed. And despite the fact he will turn 65 next week, he was in top form. He delivered the Fab Four gems, his early solo hits such as "Photograph" and "It Don't Come Easy," as well as the great tracks from his two latest albums with equal power.

The highlight of the 75-minute show for me - and the time when I got complete chills - was when he performed "Never Without You," his emotional tribute to his late friend George Harrison that was featured on his 2003 album "Ringorama." His latest album, "Choose Love," is wonderful and I've been listening to it (as well as Coldplay's "X&Y") a lot this past week.

Last night, I drove down to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano to catch an acoustic set by Beyond 7. The band was great, and featured a number of songs off "Smoke," the forthcoming 3rd album from the band. Greg Stoddard remains one of the world's best-kept secrets. A singer with a great voice and fiery passion, he is supported by a strong group of virtuoso players with an artistic approach and melodic bent that makes for soaring performances.

Check out www.beyond7music.com for more info on this great band!

Happy Independence Day everyone. I am covering the big Hootenanny Festival with Social D., Lee Rocker and Throw Rag tomorrow, so I'll have lots to share next week!

Monday, June 27, 2005

LIVE 8; cynic in me speaks

LIVE 8 sounds so promising. The list of notables just keeps growing. Just today they announced Alicia Keys, Toby Keith, the Black Eyed Peas and Toby Keith will perform in Philadelphia. And while the excitement builds with the prospect of catching Coldplay, Keane, Paul McCartney, the Cure, U2 and many other legendary acts on MTV (reality check, will they show complete sets by anyone I like? doubtful), I don't hold out much hope that this event will end poverty.

Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof has his heart in the right place. But look at all the world attention pegged on the Sudan over the last few years, and the killing goes on. The U.S. can't get any other countries in Europe or Africa to give a damn. Other than the U.S., the world seems afraid to act. And throwing money here and there will not solve anything.

Even if the November 2005 release of the Live 8 shows proves to be the biggest selling DVD of all time, as Geldof hopes it to be, poverty will not end. Nor will peace come. All the celebrity performers will gather on July 2nd and perform and feel great. But the tragedy will go on.

I'm so very sorry.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rusting, fading away

No, I'm not dead.
But I have been away for a spell. I was actually out of commission because of health stuff, including a painful procedure on my back at the beginning of the week. It still smarts (or, to put in bluntly, it kills!)

Anyway, I wanted to get back in the ring.

Can you believe that Carrie Underwood's 'Inside Your Heaven' song debuts as Best Selling Song in the Nation and Breaks Chart History? Does anyone really believe she is going to be a significant artist whose career will last? Is "American Idol" the answer to the record industry's woes? You tell me...

In other news, with LIVE8 coming up, isn't it clear that London is the place to be. U2, Travis, Keane, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, McCartney...it sounds promising.

On a more serious note, please see the following. It revolves around a very sad incident that hit the local community earlier this month:

LIT TRAGEDY - PARENTS INVOLVED IN FATAL MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT
June 7, 2005 – Los Angeles, CA - A. Jay & Jeremy Popoff of the Orange County rock band Lit received terrible news this past weekend. Their mother, Sheri Suglia, and their step-father Kerry Suglia, were travelling on the Ortega Highway following an afternoon visit with A. Jay, Jeremy and their children when their motorcycle was struck by a drunk driver in an SUV. Kerry Suglia was killed on impact and Sheri is in extremely critical condition with massive multiple injuries. A memorial fund has been established:

Kerry Suglia Memorial Fundc/o R & R Business Management17609 Ventura Blvd. Suite 203Encino, CA 91316

The Kerry Suglia Memorial Fund was set up for those who wish to make a donation. The money will go to Sheri to help out with things that may not be covered by insurance. Due to the extent of her injuries the rehabilitation process and future medical expenses will be astronomical. Proceeds not used will go to a charity of her choice, or a foundation may be set up in his name to help others. Cards may be sent to the address as well, but we ask that flowers not be sent until she is moved out of the Intensive Care Unit. Thank you for your love, support and prayers.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Coldplay's latest lives up to hype

Since picking up Coldplay's "X&Y," it suddenly dawned on me. Although there are many talented groups that can produce strong albums, every generation can only boast a handful of great bands capable of producing epic works that define their time.

Until a week ago, I remained on the fence, despite being a big fan of Coldplay's first two albums ("Parachutes" and "A Rush of Blood to the Head"). But no more. Like the love affair I developed with U2's creative and continuing growth after catching them at the US Festival in May 1983, seeing Coldplay explode at Coachella in May 2005 and then listening (rather than ignoring the backlash via critics who have suddenly turned on Chris Martin and company) to "X&Y," it's clear Coldplay is the best band to emerge in the '00s. After hearing excellent songs such as "Yellow" when the band began getting airplay on KCRW at the beginning of the decade, I wondered if Coldplay was a fluke; I truly believed Travis was likely a stronger contender. But time has proved me wrong. Coldplay deserves comparisons with U2, while Travis has joined Oasis as a band that was unable to live up to its potential.

With each listen, the songs on "X&Y" open themselves up. Soaring choruses, beautifully moody vocals by tenor Martin, distinctive guitar work by Jon Buckland and driving rhythms courtesy of drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman. Coldplay is a group that writes and records great songs that bond with listeners on a widespread level that has not happened since U2.

Sure, people enjoyed Nirvana. But that was anger. A sonic revolution. Coldplay is all about the music, and the songs, and the energy that transports a weary and exhausted audience to a better place. Forget about the naysayers who haven't even listened to Coldplay's "X&Y." I have and I intend to keep on listening...

Monday, June 13, 2005

No surprise: MJ walks free

If you are a celebrity in America, you can get away with anything.

O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, and now Michael Jackson. With jurors having just acquited the one-time pop star on all 10 counts, he can go back and make plans for his future. Any parent that allows their child near the Neverland Ranch is unfit to be a parent. But everyone reading this right now knows very well there are going to be parents who gleefully send their little ones there.

It is as sad as anything I can think of.

Why can't our society convict famous people? I don't get it.

The verdict is coming

The world waits. Within 20 - 25 minutes, the cat will be out of the bag. We will know whether Michael Jackson, a one-time icon who couldn't sell out an arena if his life depended on it stateside, will be found guilty on any or all of the counts relating to child molestation and conspiracy.

The world waits. Ever the jaded journalist, I can't help but think Destiny's Child selected the wrong day to announce their upcoming split following their fall tour.

Don't cry for me California...

Friday, June 03, 2005

News and notes for Friday

Some quick thoughts go into the first weekend of June.

Andrew McMahon, Lead Singer of Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin, Has Been Diagnosed With Acute Lymphatic Leukemia. I first met Andrew when he was in high school and Something Corporate was just getting started. I have talked with him several times and seen him perform and he is a winning personality and talented musician. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and I hope he is well soon!

I heard Pavarotti pulled out of a planned concert tomorrow. Why is that tenor still singing? He sounds terrible; his voice no longer soars and he hasn't been good in years!

Best not to get me started on the Michael Jackson trial. I would only be putting down here what so many of you are already thinking anyway. Hope to catch you all next week and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Steve Winwood

I was asked to cover Steve Winwood last night, Tuesday. It was a last minute thing and I was at the show until almost midnight and had to get the review in early today. I'm tired, so tired.

Best to read my review when it runs in the OC Register tomorrow, on June 2nd to get the full story. My first time seeing him and I enjoyed it, jams and all.

I'll write more later. I just want to keep this moving. I tend to have days where I am so submerged, I don't have the strength to write another word. It's all those deadlines, and even worse, the stacks of CDs I need to get to! Where does the time go? We've all asked that, right...

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Live 8

By now, everyone with any kind of passing interest in pop music has heard about the upcoming Live 8 series of shows being organized by Bob Geldof, with the poverty fight-minded shows coming to various sites in Europe and the U.S.

It sounds promising, especially with Coldplay, U2, Paul McCartney, the Cure and Keane among the artists set to perform.

But I do want to share my thoughts on Elton John. Yes, he is legendary and all that. But my feeling is he is really consumed with himself and doesn't much care about others. I attended a Disney party in connection with the DVD release of the Lion King in October 2003 and he performed at the theater, and then was at the party afterwards. Of all the notables there, including comedian George Lopez, CCR frontman John Fogerty (who couldn't have been cooler) and others, Elton John was the only one who would not talk to everyday "normal" (meaning non-celebrity) people.

Elton John is going to perform at Live 8 for the simple fact it keeps him in the public eye. There is not a warmth to him, like when you see Bono going out to greet fans before a show and such. I haven't met a bunch of rockers outside my role as a pop scribe, but of those who I have, I can tell you Mark McGrath, Danny Elfman, John Fogerty, the members of the Smithereens and the guys in Offspring were so much cooler than Elton John. Maybe he was having a bad day? Then why did he go to the party after, just to sit at a table in a roped off area and have celebrities come by to worship him? I wish the "in crowd" among rockers would disown him. After all, isn't that what Live 8 is about? Helping the helpless?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Is Anyone Listening?

Can we be honest here?

I tuned into Yahoo’s online Adult Alternative radio station today. Things started out great; heck Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” was the first cut that was played. But things went downhill from there (with the exception of U2’s “With or Without You” somewhere along the way). Both Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty, Jewel, Sheryl Crow – that is not exactly my idea of alternative. More of the same old’ same ‘ol.
And like throwing the poor penguin out in the sands of the Sahara, why play any cut from Kelly Clarkson. I guess it’s the theory about reaching down to the lowest common denominator. If you want to really offer up some great cuts from the so-called Adult Alternative genre, what about some of the latest work courtesy of Ocean Colour Scene, Glen Phillips, Aimee Mann or Bruce Cockburn? Or the Finn Brothers, Ron Sexsmith, Ryan Adams or Bright Eyes…I could be wrong. I wish I were wrong.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

All Music, all the time

Well, I not only survived, I thrived at the 8th annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point over the weekend (May 21-22, 2005). I saw many great artists, including a number where it was my first in-person look and listen. And, overall, my impressions were this was almost Coachella on the Coast. And, thankfully, not a Gram Rabbit in the bunch!

The winners came from across the country, and represented young guns and the old guard. If you haven't seen the Blind Boys of Alabama, you should. They are entertaining and deliver gospel-blues with an energy that defies age. I have seen them several other times, and they never disappoint.

About the acts I had not caught before. Roomful of Blues fuse neo-swing, blues and R&B with musical craft; the horn section is rivaled only by the strengths of the lead singer and guitarist.

And there is something wonderful about standing in the shadow of the mighty Pacific and listening to a talented guitarist tear it up on his Fender (or Gibson) in an outdoor setting fitting the power of his delivery. Guitarists Walter Trout, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mato Nanji (Indigenous) and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) did exactly that over the weekend. And acoustic performances by Roy Rogers & Norton Buffalo, as well as David Lindley were equally impressive especially given the cozy presentation afforded by the Backporch Stage.

Make sure you hit it in May 2006 if you are into the blues!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Week's Worth awaits

Hello all,

I have not blogged this week. But that doesn't mean I've been quiet. Make sure to get the Orange County Register on Wednesday, May 18th (or visit the paper at www.ocregister.com) to read my in-depth feature on Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the Doheny Blues Festival. I interviewed the virtuoso guitar player last week and the story runs tomorrow. He is a champion of the blues and couldn't have been cooler when we talked over the phone on May 12.

Also, make sure to attend the Doheny Blues Fest this week. Not only is the event thankfully back in the hands of Omega Events, but the lineup on Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22, is great. Several of my favorite artists are back too! Steve Copeland & Raging Sun and the Blind Boys of Alabama perform on Saturday, while the amazing Roy Rogers (no, not the cowboy! the slide guitar master), Walter Trout and Shepherd all will be tearing up frets on Sunday. Not to be missed. Check out www.omegaevents.com for more details...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

iPod, Cellphones; what about the music?

All over the internet news sites today, much is being made of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talking about Apple's iPod maybe not having a bright future despite its current popularity. He says cellphones may replace iPods as the gadget of choice to serve as a portable music player.

Again, I ask, what about the music? I'd say I was sounding like a broken record. But then, does anybody remember records (albums, vinyl, you know!) anymore!

I encourage everyone, no matter how you get your tunes, to seek out good ones. Ignore the hype from Billboard, MTV, VH1 and Spin and even yours truly. Don't forget the classics and the music that moved you back in the day, but forge ahead.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doheny Blues Fest; it's coming

Although the 8th Annual Doheny Blues Festival doesn't arrive until May 21 and 22, I am already swamped writing a trio of preview stories on the blues event that arrives on the shores of Dana Point every May.

Make sure to check out my story on Steve Copeland & Raging Sun when it runs in the Show section on Friday, May 13. Steve had a stroke and was in the hospital in critical condition last December, yet has made an amazing recovery and will be bringing his amazing blues outfit to the festival on Saturday, May 21. If you plan on going to the festival, arrive by noon so you can catch his set.

I'm also writing a story on headliner Kenny Wayne Shepherd and that will run sometime in the middle of next week. I haven't talked to him yet, so I don't know the shape of the story. But with his most recent album a good, wide-ranging affair, I'm looking forward to our phone chat and catching him at the fest too....

For more information about this always-fun fest, visit www.omegaevents.com

That's it for now...

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Another magical night

On Friday, May 6th, I had the thrill of seeing headliner Aimee Mann and opener Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) at the Hollywood House of Blues. Performing songs off her newly-released concept album, "The Forgotten Arm," as well as the wonderful "Lost in Space" and "Bachelor No. 2" solo releases and the acclaimed "Magnolia" soundtrack, it was a set that never faltered. How many artists kick off their night with a song that they halt because it doesn't sound right and then immediately hit it out of the park to the obvious delight of a crowd.

And while her best-known songs ("Red Vines," "Save Me" and "Wise Up") received the biggest cheers, the attentive and devout capacity crowd connected with the new material off her fifth solo effort, the aptyly-titled "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that tells the story about a Vietnam War vet/drug-addicted boxer and a girl who fall in love in 1972. While she didn't perform the entire album, she and her wonderful 4-man band played a number of the album's gems, including "Goodbye Caroline," "Going Through the Motions" and the emotive "I Can't Help You Anymore."

I have seen Mann a number of times since the 1990s and her skills as a musician and live performer continue to grow. On Friday, she was more relaxed and confident than any time I've seen her. Mann and company's night-ending "Deathly" boasted the kind of power and boldness that is rare among folk-rockers. Clearly Mann has grown beyond the singer-songwriter and folk rock genre where her solo career began and she has joined that rare field of artists who defy easy categorization.

Maybe Mann's magic is rubbing off on Phillips. Always a wonderful singer and songwriter, his solo career has admittedly always been overshadowed by his role as lead singer and frontman of Toad the Wet Sprocket. But on the heels of his wonderful third solo disc, "Winter Pays for Summer," Phillips delivered a strong 50-minute set of material on Friday. Although he received cheers when offering up acoustic takes on Toad tunes (notably an incredible version of "Something's Always Wrong"), his new solo stuff is equally powerful. "Duck and Cover," "Thankful" and "True" were among the highlights of his 14-song set.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Recovery almost complete

Believe it or not, I am catching up on my sleep post Coachella. Last night (as in Cinco de Mayo), I went to Martini Blues to catch a fine night of music. In addition to strong sets by Corday and Vesper, I was utterly blown away by Bayadera. I had seen the wonderful quintet at the Orange County Music Awards last month, but that was only for a song. A complete set gave them time to build momentum, explore the various reaches of their territory and take the crowd to a make believe world somewhere between Latin America, the Middle East and a Grateful Dead concert.
Magical stuff.

All night long at Martini Blues, friends and musicians would come up and chat. Many asked me for details about Coachella. The myth is more than that. It is real. A place where - mostly - the music comes first. And people - young and old - go to listen to music. To be challenged by music.

When I told people that I enjoyed a wide-ranging field including the likes of New Order, Nine Inch Nails and Jem, as well as Bright Eyes, Snow Patrol and Keane, they seemed in disbelief that someone can like so many different kinds of music with a passion. I do. Don't ask why. I think I got it from my parents. A little kid, I was raised listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the 5th Dimension (hey, I was a toddler!) and Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" and even Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. You get the idea, my parents had a wide range of tastes too.

At Coachella, you are immersed in great music. Imagine being lost in the woods on the most beautiful day, with a gentle wind, the sound of birds and filtered sunlight raining down. But here, it was music and loads of it...

Ignore the Billboard charts, and the mindless entertainment shows that tell you how important the trillionth reunion from Cher or Aerosmith or whoever. Go to Coachella next year. Fall in love with music again. And again.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

2005 Coachella - If only Time Travel was possible!

Wondering where I've been?
I'm still dizzy and wiped out from a wonderful, inspiring and fun-filled weekend in Indio. You know, that non-descript desert city somewhere east of Palm Springs. I survived the two-day fest, but could hardly get off my chair on Monday. But I'd do it all again. How is that Time Machine coming; forget the damn cell phones...

It was hot, but worth it as I pushed my sonic-feeding tubes (ears) to their limits with a full day on Saturday and Sunday. Best just to free flow some thoughts and impressions. I simply didn't see a single bad performance on day one. How many bands did I see? I caught all of Coldplay, Bauhaus, Weezer, Keane, Snow Patrol, and most (if not all) of sets from the Raveonettes, Jamie Cullum, Katie Melua and Gratitude. All week I've been asking myself who stood out on Saturday. Bauhaus might have delivered the single greatest set, but any one of the performances could well have been a stand-out set somewhere else. I had worried Snow Patrol might not be as strong as they were last year because they fired their original bass player, but have no fear. The Irishmen still rock. And Keane? They replicate all the magic of their wonderful debut live in spades.

What about day two? Before we get to the good stuff, let me be direct. Gram Rabbit is terrible. If you think the moniker begs comparisons with Gram Parsons, run!!! And Orange County's Thrice; a word of advice. Stop your screaming. It is supposed to be music.

But most of the day swept over me like the burning rays of the sun. Headliners Nine Inch Nails. Believe the hype. I've never been a big fan of Trent Reznor's heavy metal-goth mix. But live, he and his hard-rocking outfit slew the capacity crowd in ruins. Songs such as "With Teeth" never failed to convey emotional turmoil. And while NIN's sound might seem at odds with the dance-minded vibe of New Order, that band also turned in a commanding showcase immediately before highlighted by a number of great songs from the newly-released "Waiting for the Sirens' Call." The title track of that album, as well as a rocking "Bizarre Love Triangle" were epic.

Other highlights? A reignited and reunited Gang of Four. And sure-fire turns from the Futureheads and Sweden's Shout Out Louds. Kasabian also rocked and lived up to the buzz.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Oops! Now that is a mistake!

This blog thing! I admit it, I screwed up. In my post I talked about a talented singer that joined Greg Markel & company on stage last Friday. It should have been Cindy Alexander.

For more information about Cindy, visit www.cindyalexander.com.

'enuff said...

Monday, April 25, 2005

An unlikely reunion

For those of us old enough to have caught shows here in Orange County, CA both the 1980s and 1990s, there are two bands that put on shows as unforgettable as they were artistic. In the 1980s, the Living Daylights were simply the best band in town. And in the early 1990s, Altered State (which released two amazing albums on Warner Brothers) likely picked up the torch thanks to singer Gregory Markel leading both those outfits.

On Friday, April 22, 2005, it was an eerie and powerful show that featured singer-songwriter Greg Markel backed by members of both those bands, including virtuoso guitarist Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney's guitarist for the past four years or so) from Living Daylights, and Chip Moreland of Altered State and Dread Zeppelin fame. Performing at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles, it was amazing how incredible this collection of players is. In an event not to be repeated, Markel led the band through a brief 30-minute set highlighted by a mind-bending "Into the Strange." The crowd was thrilled, especially when the night's headliner Cindy Russell joined the ensemble.

It was a thrilling night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

That ain't news!

I used to have a great editor at the Orange County News that was brutally honest. If you pitched a story and he saw it as mere "P.R." or a so-called "puff piece," he would growl and exclaim, "That ain't news."

I often think that when I receive updates on the latest goings-on from pop stars. Take the announcement that Alanis Morissette will embark on her first ever acoustic tour and will be releasing an acoustic version of her album "Jagged Little Pill" revamped. Why? I mean, does anyone really care? I guess it will sell loads when Starbucks sells it exclusively for six weeks. I guess it takes a savvy marketing push to sell her music now...

But tour news that truly is news; the Orange County Fair has announced a bunch of concerts and the schedule includes an appearance by the legendary Plimsouls (on a bill with X) on Friday, July 15th. Now that's worth waiting for, to see Peter Case back in action with one of the best bands to ever call L.A. home.

That ain't news

I used to have a great editor at the Orange County News that was brutally honest. If you pitched a story and he saw it as mere "P.R." or a so-called "puff piece," he would growl and exclaim, "That ain't news."

I often think that when I receive updates on the latest goings-on from pop stars. Take the announcement that Alanis Morissette will embark on her first ever acoustic tour and will be releasing an acoustic version of her album "Jagged Little Pill" revamped. Why? I mean, does anyone really care? I guess it will sell loads when Starbucks sells it exclusively for six weeks. I guess it takes a savvy marketing push to sell her music now...

But tour news that truly is news; the Orange County Fair has announced a bunch of concerts and the schedule includes an appearance by the legendary Plimsouls (on a bill with X) on Friday, July 15th. Now that's worth waiting for, to see Peter Case back in action with one of the best bands to ever call L.A. home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sorry about the delay

Hi Friends,

Sorry about the delay since my last posting. I actually have been listening to loads of new music - and surprisingly - much of it has been great. I'm not telling many of you anything you don't know when I celebrate Moby's "Hotel." A great double-disc set, with the first one full of strong songs ("Raining Again" and "Slipping Away" are my favorites today), while the second disc is filled with trance-minded instrumental gems that are perfect for those lazy, late afternoons.

Also, Aimee Mann has kindly posted her forthcoming "The Forgotten Arm" on her Web site, although the album doesn't come out until May 3. It's a fantastic album and go to her official site (www.aimeemann.com) to check it out. According to notes on her site, it's a concept album whose story involves a couple and their journey (physical and emotional) across America in the 1970s. She is that rare singer-songwriter who crafts music that is as accessible as it is intelligent.

Also, any of you who can pick up the latest copy of LIVE magazine (available throughout Orange County and parts of L.A.) can read my monthly Kinslerscope music DVD column; I review Aimee's "Live at St. Ann's Warehouse" DVD that was released in November, as well as the latest DVDs featuring Johnny Cash, Snow Patrol and Steppenwolf.

I'm always behind in my listening because I get so much stuff and there are not enough hours in the day. But all of you know that too...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rock's sad path

Is it me or do too many of rock's finest die long before their time?

I'm sure many of you noted the passing of Split Enz/Crowded House drummer Paul Hester when it was reported on March 27th. While be beat away in the shadow of Neil Finn, listening to some of those bands great recordings again it's very obvious how his skills lent themselves so much to the music. And how glorious the music of those bands continues to be!

Crowded House is one of the best and most underrated bands of all time, and it was sad I didn't hear a single CH or SE track played on the radio in the wake of Hester's apparent suicide in a park somewhere in the south of Australia.

Get out those iPods and make sure you take a listen. "Distant Sun," "Don't Dream It's Over" and "Weather With You" sound as great today as when they were actually played over the airwaves...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hall of Fame: U2 still rules

As time goes on, it will likely be increasingly rare to get excited about the annual induction concert/party/ceremony that is held in connection with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although I didn't get to go to the real ceremony held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York earlier this month (only celebrities such as Richard Gere, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Zeta-Jones seem to get a seat at the table), I did catch the broadcast over VH1 on Saturday night, March 19.

A few points to ponder:

I knew they would save U2 for last. Why else would anyone stay tuned in? They performed an energetic and strong set of four originals, with Bruce Springsteen joining them on stage.

The Pretenders are not in the same league as U2, but I would have likely cast a vote for them; especially in the wake of undeserving artists such as Billy Joel, Aerosmith and ZZ Top gaining entry in years past. There are a zillion Major League ball players who have hit home runs or thrown a shut out; do they all get in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Of course not.

Buddy Guy is a great guitarist, although I think of him more in the blues camp than rock. But it was great to see him square up and play with Eric Clapton and B.B. King on stage at the event.

Isn't it the "rock 'n' roll" hall of fame. I think Percy Sledge had a great song with "When a Man Loves a Woman," but that isn't rock 'n' roll, and does one song alone get you into the hall? The same goes for fellow inductees, the O'Jays. "Love Train" is a cool, but shouldn't these guys be in the Soul music hall or something? If those artists are welcomed, why leave out Hall & Oates? They have had more influence than Sledge, and fused soul with rock and are undoubtedly more influential?

And why isn't Gram Parsons in the hall; I can't tell you how many up-and-coming alt country-roots rockers are influenced by him today. I think the hall will loose credibility as the years go by and they continue to let in artists who don't rank up there with the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and U2.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Adore; the real deal

I somehow got out last night (I'm in the middle of a major move - sorry about posting so seldom lately), and made it to the Anaheim House of Blues on a Monday night. I got to check out two bands, with Adore really hitting a sonic fastball out of the yard. The quartet can rock hard, but songwriting, hooks and focus were never far away during the band's energetic 30-minute set.

The songs off their new CD, "Children At Play," were great, especially "Weight of the Dead" and the closing tune, "Bedridden." Guitarist Jimmy "Vayps" Galinato really delivered some excellent harmonic touches during a solo displayed early in their set, while singer Grant "Sizzo" Vanderboom involved the crowd from start to finish. And the rhythm section has a solid one-two punch with drummer Shawn Yeager and bassist Russ Fyne.

This is a band that rocks without cliche, and with a conviction that is refreshing.
For more information on the band, please visit www.adoremusic.net.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Day the Music Died

Word comes from Universal's Geffen record label that an ambitious retrospective CD and DVD collection dedicated to Buddy Holly & the Crickets is coming in April. Although Holly died on February 3, 1959, his music remains a joy for long-time listeners and those lucky enough to discover it today.

Although Elvis Presley is often heralded as rock 'n' roll's first star, songwriters and musicians often credit Holly as the father of the modern school of original rock. My view; Lennon and McCartney (and the rest of the Fab Four) owed more to Holly than Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry combined.

I have been to Clear Lake, Iowa twice; both times I made the trip to visit the site where Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson) died in a tragic plane crash on a cold winter night after performing at the Surf Ballroom. Walking through the tall fields of corn for the 1/2 mile or so to the fan-created memorial to the rockers is a trip back in time, and the long walk through the rural ghost of America's heartland is a time to reflect on the birth of rock - what it meant in those early days and its disputed role in the world today.

With Holly, the music, the songs, the style - they all had meaning. The connection between the man, his music and his audience mattered. Today, it's all part of some business plan. It's about opening week sales and the Billboard 200. About MTV. About radio station adds.

Walking through the cornfield to the place where a small plane went down on a cold winter morning long ago was truly a glimpse back at the day the music died.

Friday, February 18, 2005

That ain't music!

Isn't Billboard a music magazine?

Why the heck do any of us care about Shania Twain developing a fragrance with Stetson? Why did Billboard post that story on the front page of their Web site? They can't be bothered with wonderful new releases by the George Fryer Combo, Ken Garcia Band or Eric Anders (you have to read my Orange Pop column in the Register today to get the goods on those discs), but have plenty of electronic ink to showcase the so-called Canadian country singer.

Other thoughts after reading a bunch of music stuff on the Net today.

I agree with just about every credible critic that Ashlee Simpson was terrible before her "Saturday Night Live" stint and is still bad. And I didn't even catch her show in Orange County earlier this week. I heard her CD and that was bad enough...and another thing, Jessica Simpson is equally bland.

And while I'm on that subject, I think every music fan can celebrate the announcement that Jennifer Lopez has cancelled her European tour. Maybe the undiscerning listeners who would have attended those shows will happen to pursue something where real music is in the offering...

Have a great weekend! Go out and listen to something worthwhile. Snow Patrol today, Neil Young tomorrow...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Grammys 101; history repeating itself

Grammys 101
If you record a high profile album and release it right after your death, you have a good chance to win. That was the lesson provided by the late Ray Charles, who picked up a leading eight Grammys on Sunday, Feb. 13. Was his recent duets album, "Genius Loves Company," the best work of his career? You know the answer to that; he was great all along and should have been recognized with this kind of acclaim decades ago.

Ray Charles' songs, including classics such as "Hit the Road Jack," as well as recent recordings such as "Here We Go Again" (a duet with Norah Jones that won best pop collaboration with vocals and record of the year on Sunday), provide another lesson. How hungry we are to embrace music that is lasting.

Does anyone really believe that fellow winners such as Usher, Tim McGraw and Kanye West will be celebrated when they are 73 years old? I doubt many will even know who they are. Alicia Keyes, armed with a powerful but undistinctive voice and the ability to play the piano, won big a few years back in the wake of her debut "Songs in A Minor." She extended her 15 minutes of fame on Sunday night, but I seriously doubt discerning listeners will be spinning "My Boo" 25 years from now.

Another question to ponder in the wake of this year's Grammys...
there was talk about Kanye West being upset for losing out in the best new artist category to Maroon 5 (at least it looked like that on TV). Not that I care much about Maroon 5 either, but why no shock about Brian Wilson (as in Beach Boys) never earning a single Grammy after crafting some of the most timeless and influential music until he picked one up for best rock instrumental performance for "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." More than 40 years after crafting the first of countless pop gems, he finally won - and for an instrumental? But what is a Grammy worth? After all, Britney Spears picked up her first Grammy as well. So Britney wins for "Toxic," while Brian Wilson was never recognized for a single Beach Boys recording. God only knows (that song didn't win either).

Another thought; here are a few of the winners they should have been put on television to perform; Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Steve Earle, Howard Shore (who deservedly won for his epic soundtrack "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"), Ozomatli and Etta James. U2 was the lone great performer of the night.

Remember when Fugees member Lauryn Hill scored five Grammys for her 1998 solo debut "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." When was the last time you heard the music, or anyone talk about it? Let that be a listen to us too...

On a related note, I saw the Finn Brothers perform an incredible show on Saturday night, Feb. 12, at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. Featuring songs off their 2004 album, "Everyone Is Here," they were incredible as was that album. Was that even nominated for a Grammy? If you want to hear great music, the Grammys seldom get it right.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Monday musings

Sir Paul rocks
I read on the Associated Press that television writer David Bauder thought Paul McCartney put on a safe show during the halftime show at the Super Bowl yesterday. Mr. Bauder tried to be hip stating that McCartney's show was "offputting for the kids." Huh?

The problem with Bauder's conclusion was he is wrapped up in the world of here today, gone today. The Beatles, like artists stretching from Bach to U2, pushed music forward but did not do so at the expense of crafting art that is timeless and will win over fans with each passing generation.

McCartney and his top-notch band delievered an excellent 12-minute set of music that was crafted for a mass audience without pandering to the lowest common denominator. With the possible exception of U2's incredible performance three years ago, I can't remember a better Super Bowl halftime show that Sir Paul's four-song set yesterday.

As for Bauder, I doubt his prose will be remembered past its publication date...He might want to note that very few of today's new crop of pop music entertainers can expect to command a successful career lasting anything close to a decade. McCartney has been thrilling fans for more than 40 years and has not lost his place at the front of the line...