Thursday, December 28, 2006

My top 10 CDs of 2006: the List had to come...

Top 10 albums of 2006 (With first album - Carbon Leaf - being best album of 2006)

Carbon Leaf “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat” (Vanguard) – The potency of “Learn to Fly,” “Under the Wire” and “A Girl and Her Horse” alone might have landed this album in my top 10 for the year, but it is the strength and timeless territory of all the songs on “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat” that make this a modern-day classic. Anyone wondering whatever happened to the supernatural quality of 1980s-era R.E.M. will find that rekindled with a listen to the latest disc from Richmond, Virginia-based Carbon Leaf.

L.E.O. “Alpacas Orgling” (Cheap Lullaby) – If you haven’t heard this album, make sure you do. There are echoes of Electric Light Orchestra, Cheap Trick and Traveling Wilburys all over the place. But with the kind of unrestrained elation exhibited across this 10-song effort, I’ll be playing these songs years from now. L.E.O. is a modern day version of the Traveling Wilburys, conceived by Bleu and also featuring notables like Mike Viola (The Candy Butchers), Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes) and Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish).

Rosanne Cash “Black Cadillac” (Capitol) – Written in the wake of the death of her mother (Vivian Liberto Cash Distin), father (Johnny Cash) and stepmother (June Carter Cash), Rosanne Cash’s “Black Cadillac” is a layered and emotional tribute that is a musical memoir to her loved ones and served to remind the rest of us that she is one of modern music’s most overlooked voices.

The Decemberists “The Crane Wife” (Capitol) – A beautiful and literate album that showcases this Portland, Oregon outfit’s unique and wide-ranging sound. From the instantly-memorable “O Valencia!” and folk rock-styled title track to the 70s-minded prog rock of the 12-1/2 minute “The Island,” Colin Meloy and company delivered a masterwork on “The Crane Wife.”

Keane “Under the Iron Sea” (Island Records) – Only time will likely tell if Keane’s broader brush strokes employed on the sophomore effort “Under the Iron Sea” will equal the accessible hits such as “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everything’s Changing” on the trio’s “Hopes and Fears” debut. However, the darker shades that provide a strong undercurrent on “Crystal Ball,” “Try Again” and “Atlantic” made “Under the Iron Sea” one of the best rock albums of 2006.

Bruce Springsteen “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” (Columbia) – This collection may boost material taken mostly from singer-songwriter-musicologist Pete Seeger’s songbook, but there is no denying that the sound and hootenanny- fashioned performances here capture the innumberable gifts that Bruce Springsteen brings to the musical table. Get the “American Land Edition” released in October 2006. It features an expanded 40-minute documentary and an 18-song CD that features some of the most compelling recordings released in 2006. “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” “Erie Canal,” “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Mrs. McGrath” are standouts.

The Gin Blossoms “Major Lodge Victory” (Hybrid/Red) – Every rock fan has a guilty pleasure that will bring them scorn – even from friends. I’ll admit it; I am a long-time fan of the Gin Blossoms. “Major Lodge Victory” marked a welcome return by the Tempe, Arizona rockers. And loaded with infectious rockers (“Long Time Gone,” “Learning the Hard Way”) and melodic ballads (“Heart Shaped Locket,” “The End of the World”), what’s not to love here?

The Distants “Broken Gold” (Blue Cave Records) – If members of the Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction teamed to record an album in 2006, it might well sound like the Distants’ “Broken Gold.” The Los Angeles quartet is able to mix up ethereal moodiness with driving modern rock across the 10-song disc, which also includes a winning cover of the Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.”

Neil Young “Living with War” (Reprise) – Leave it to one of rock’s most prolific and unpredictable champions to release another classic. Written and recorded in under a month and featuring a 100-voice choir hastily recruited in Los Angeles, Neil Young’s “Living With War” rocks in a way that even the loudest contemporary metal and punk bands can’t. And more amazing, “Living with War” came a mere eight months after the release of Young’s beautiful acoustic gem “Prairie Wind.”

Los Lobos “The Town and the City” (Hollywood Records) – Is it my imagination, or does Los Lobos just keep getting better? Thirty or so years after the East L.A. outfit embarked on its musical journey, “The Town and the City” supplies a warm and wonderful overview of the quintet’s blend of rock ‘n’ roll, country, blues, country and Tex-Mex styles that make them one of rock’s most original music making groups.

Honorable Mentions, or the infamous 11-20 ranking:

Aimee Mann "One More Drifter in the Snow" (SuperEgo)

Tom Petty "Highway Companion" (Warner Bros.)

Garrison Starr “The Sound of You & Me” (Vanguard Records)

Nils Lofgren "Sacred Weapon" (Hilmer Music Publishing Co.)

Morrissey “Ringleader of the Tormentors” (Sanctuary Records Group)

Trespassers William “having” (Nettwerk)

Rock Kills Kid “Are You Nervous?” (Reprise/Warner Bros.)

Snow Patrol “Eyes Open” (A&M)

Glen Phillips “Mr. Lemons”

Delerium “Nuages Du Monde” (Nettwerk)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The return of No Doubt, the Grammys: who cares?

Okay, the phrase for today is "Humbug."

Billboard ran an article penned by Jonathan Cohen yesterday (Dec. 12, 2006) that focused on the release of Gwen Stefani's newly-released second solo album. Rather than giving me cause for concern (as if I really care if No Doubt ever completes another album), the story only served to remind me how little her music ever really mattered.

Gwen is really just a product, like Madonna. The airbrushed, Adobe PhotoShop-styled flawless image of her with these silly sunglasses and alien hairstyle only cements that perception that even if she rejoined No Doubt, music would be the last thing on the band's mind. I have to be honest I hardly glanced at the recent Grammy nominations announcement. Does it really matter?

At the end of the day, those of you who really love music and feel excited about specific songs or artists won't be influenced by who wins what award. I won't stop listening to Paul McCartney, Neil Young or Keane if they miss out in their respective fields. Just as I know fans of John Mayer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and overhyped Dixie Chicks won't stop listening whether or not they have field days when the 49th Grammy Awards are broadcast on Feb. 11, 2007.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Robert Lockwood Jr., gone but not forgotten

I would guess that it was Chuck Berry, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Ike Turner that were the biggest draws at the Doheny Blues Festival when it was staged in Dana Point in September 2004.

But the best performer of the day was not among the headliners, nor among the young up-and-comers on the bill that day. In fact, it was the appearance of Robert Lockwood Jr. that made the fest so memorable for me. Lockwood, then nearing age 90, sang and played his electric 12-string guitar with emotional weight and purpose that defied his age. Lockwood, who was taught guitar by Robert Johnson and was likely the last living music link with the legendary bluesman, performed a magical 45-minute set at the Backporch Stage, including great versions of "C.C. Rider" and "Ramblin on My Mind."
He will be missed...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

News & Notes: The Fallen Stars, Coachella

Whew! Been awhile, eh?

Last Saturday night, Nov. 18, I caught a great bill at Marlin's Bar in Huntington Beach. I caught the entire hour-long set from a band I had never seen before, the quartet The Fallen Stars. Look for my feature on the band in the Orange County Register this Friday, Nov. 24.

The band delivered a great set. Wonderful songs, a strong chemistry on stage, everything really clicked. Inspired by a range of artists from Gram Parsons and Fleetwood Mac to Wilco and the Clash, the band plays frequently and there is no excuse not to catch them if you are in So Cal. Check out the band at

Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings headlined. As always the band was terrific, and singer-songwriter Kenny Howes was filling in on keys for the night. Anyone who missed Walter & company can see him play a free show at the Galaxy Theatre on a bill with Scarlet Crush on Friday night, Dec. 1. Visit for more details about that special night...

Did you hear the latest? Coachella has been announced and it's growing from two days to three days. April 27, 28 and 29. How are we all to survive? Pray for cool days and cool music. It's only five months away...

Monday, November 06, 2006

DADA at the Coach House (a lifetime ago)

Has it really been more than a week since I caught DADA at the Coach House? Yes, it was way back on Saturday, Oct. 28th. And it was a great show that ran well past midnight.

I could go on and on about how the trio performed its usual blend of power-pop, alt-rock and jamming to great effect. But long-time fans of the band know all about that. What's impressive is how despite a lack of commercial airplay (at least here in So Cal) and relative lack of support by the media, the fans keep filling the Coach House whenever drummer-vocalist Phil Leavitt, bassist-vocalist Joie Calio and guitarist-vocalist Michael Gurley take the stage together.

At the Oct. 28 show, the band played plenty of classics ("Dizz Knee Land," "Dim," "Dorina"), but they also played a number of great new originals off the 2007 EP "A Friend of Pat Robertson." Talk about some great new songs! Gurley sang with hushed power during ""If Tears Were Balloons." And the song "72 Hours" was wonderful too. Another magical night courtesy of dada!

Friday, October 27, 2006

DADA is coming! DADA is coming!

Although it has been more than 2½ years since Los Angeles-based dada released a full-length album of new material, fans of the much-admired trio have been getting a well-deserved taste of dada’s latest songs online. “7.1 Stereo” is a brawny riff rocker, while “A Friend of Pat Robertson” is filled with shimmering vocal harmonies layered atop a textured sonic landscape. Both songs can be heard at, and a new EP featuring those songs should be available commercially before the end of 2006.
In addition, Gurley’s side project, Mike Gurley and the Nightcaps, recently issued the full-length “Euphoria.” The superb disc features 10 of Gurley’s originals (including a revamped take on dada’s “Last Train Out of My Mind”), a John Gilmore tune and several standards reworked in a style sure to please lovers of neo-swing and lounge music. Gurley delivers a strong vocal performance on the classic “My Funny Valentine,” as well as his own “Spoken For.”
The Coach House is a legendary destination for fans of dada since it was at the San Juan Capistrano venue that singer-guitarist Michael Gurley and bassist-singer Joie Calio took the stage for the first time together to open for Mary’s Danish in 1991. Several months later, with the addition of drummer Phil Leavitt, dada set out on a course that has led to the release of some of the best original rock music of the 1990s and this decade.
Dada makes an eagerly-anticipated return to the Coach House on Saturday night.
In addition to performing songs from the band’s memorable debut (Dizz Knee Land,” “Dim,” “Dorina”), dada will likely be performing several songs from the trio’s forthcoming EP, and 2003’s “Live: Official Bootleg (Vol. 1),” released by Coach House Records.
The crowd on hand to catch dada this weekend will get to see something increasingly rare in modern rock; musicians who exhibit equal measures of skills as songwriters, virtuoso musicians and singers capable of dazzling with harmonies that recall the magic of the Byrds, Badfinger and Crowded House. Dada typically performs energetic and marathon-length shows at the Coach House stretching close to three hours.
Citizen Joe and Boxcar will also perform on the bill with dada at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $20.
Information: 949-496-8930.
See you there!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tom Petty, Jackson Browne; magic in the desert

Life is hard, no doubt.
But, on occasion, it can be a blast.
Such was the case last Saturday night (Oct. 21), when I was lucky enough to catch full-length sets from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Jackson Browne at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
On a beautiful autumn night, it wasn't hard to enjoy two Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers in action under the stars on a comfortable night.

Of the two artists, headliner Petty & company delivered the stronger set. As part of his current 30th anniversary tour, Petty and his strong supporting cast (notably lead guitarist Mike Campbell, singer-multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston and keyboardist Benmont Tench) played many of their best-known songs before an adoring crowd. And, at least for this listener, the finely-tuned troupe played Petty's three best rockers too: "I Need to Know" (lead vocals courtesy of Stevie Nicks), and later in the night, "Refugee" and "Runnin' Down A Dream" in a back-to-back blowout.

This was no mere bit of nostalgia. Rather, the band really rocked. Petty, smiling and greeting the audience after just about every song, really seemed to be having a great time. This was not the intense kind of experience that greets you at a Pearl Jam, Neil Young or U2 show, but rather the kind of festive celebration associated with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's marathon-length encores that were so fun in the 1980s.

Honorary Heartbreaker Nicks took to the stage several times to play with Petty, including her first stint joining the group to play the classic "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." She proved her pipes still carry that magical fire, and it was consistent magic throughout the night when she and Petty would sing together, including on the acoustic-styled "Insider."

Other highlights of the night? Although he has apparently played it live before, for me the inclusion of George Harrison's Traveling Wilburys gem "Handle With Care" was incredible. Always among my favorite songs, it was a moment where I wanted to sing, but didn't because you wanted to take in each magic note washing over you.

Opener Jackson Browne was in fine voice and came with a strong band, but his set focused a bit to heavily on recent material that was often lost on the crowd. When he did connect on all cylinders, it was with his better-known material, notably the forceful "For America" and hits such as "Running on Empty" and "Doctor My Eyes." But missing were great cuts such as "Tender is the Night" and "Boulevard." When playing 70 or so minutes, he could have offered a more balanced mix of old and new.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Yoko Ono: Peace, Love and 'Show Me the Money'

There are countless Beatles fans who dislike Yoko Ono. And countless rock fans who love U2. So what do the two have in common?

Yoko Ono is a phony, a hitchhiker on the road to undeserved riches. All the way back to the 1960s, she has pretended her goal is to support and champion peace in the world, help deliver understanding for everyone else. Earth to Ono, "Start in your own Backyard."

It's not just the way she treated John Lennon's oldest son, Julian Lennon, keeping musical keepsakes from him that ultimately led to a well-publicized dispute a few years ago. Now, today comes word that Yoko has sued music company EMI Group PLC and a subsidiary for $10 million, claiming she was cheated out of royalties due from the sale of music by John Lennon.

I'm not a defender of the record industry. But the latest move from Yoko Ono, as well as recent news about Bono and the rest of U2 moving their music publishing company to the Netherlands to reduce their taxes can turn anyone into a cynic. According to a report published in Bloomberg on Oct. 16, at the same time the wealthy Bono is asking the Irish government to contribute more to Africa, he and the other members of U2 are effectively avoiding paying full taxes on the $110 million they earned in 2005. "Do as I say, not as I do" is an adage that works well here.

The Bloomberg story went on to note that guitarist David Evans (okay, okay, The Edge) has gone on the defensive, appearing on a radio station Newstalk on Oct. 2, stating "Our business is a very complex business...Of couse we're trying to be tax-efficient. Who doesn't want to be tax efficient."

I guess I wouldn't be so sarcastic if I didn't see so many people I know, specifically a number of struggling musicians, who live in small apartments or rented rooms in the decaying metropolis known as Southern California, while the members of U2 live in great big houses in wonderful neighborhoods while taking first-class vacations all around the globe. And Bono wants us to spend all of America's tax dollars too. I know a few people here at home who could use the dime.

I understand the music business is just that, a business. I just think these musicians want it both ways. They love to get up in front of a cheering crowd or at a press conference and talk about how evil big corporations and governments are. But at the end of the day, they really only care about themselves. Rock on.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Beyond 7 bringing its sound to San Clemente

With an extensive and rewarding discography that includes late 1990s efforts with Psychic Rain as well as Beyond 7’s 2004 debut “Here and Now,” the surefire duo of lead singer-guitarist Greg Stoddard and lead guitarist Brian Stewart have raised the bar again with the recently-released “Smoke.”
Armed with a dozen original songs and a strong rhythm section, Beyond 7’s “Smoke” boasts a winning combination of uptempo modern rock (“Drowning,” “Light of Day”) and strong ballads (“When You’re Gone,” “Last Man in the World”).
And, admits Stoddard, there is a kind of mathematical blueprint for the rock quartet’s winning formula.
“The songs we reject are great, but they are not quite good enough,” singer-guitarist Greg Stoddard said of the power of sonic subtraction. I interviewed him last spring in connection with the release of Beyond 7's latest studio disc. “We don’t want to cheat anybody. We want these songs to be a part of you.”
Since founding Psychic Rain a decade ago (he launched Beyond 7 with much-admired lead guitarist Brian Stewart in 2001), Stoddard has been writing and recording some of the most memorable and accessible modern rock in earshot, winning legions of fans while sharing the bill with groups such as the Gin Blossoms, Smithereens, Fixx, dada and Dramarama; in fact, Beyond 7 celebrated the release of the band’s full-length sophomore release “Smoke” when it opened for Dramarama at House of Blues in Anaheim in May.
In addition to Stoddard and Stewart, the Buena Park rock troupe features a strong one-two punch in the rhythm department courtesy of drummer Raul Hinojosa Jr. and bassist Moses Guerrero.
“We’re fortunate in all the shows we get; we couldn’t ask for anything else,” Stoddard said.
Although U2, Queen, Oasis, Cheap Trick and the Smiths might not seem to have much in common, each came to the forefront with the talents of a powerful singer and distinctive guitar player. Stoddard and Stewart bring that kind of magic chemistry to Beyond 7.
“We want to write and record great albums,” said Stoddard, noting while he continues to write many songs on his own, “Smoke” features five songs that he wrote with Stewart. “We take great pride in that.”
“Smoke” is not a concept album, yet it has that feel. Indeed, the album kicks off with the fiery “Light of Day,” which was the first song Stoddard wrote for the album.
“Since 9/11, not just myself but everybody kind of woke up; they use that as the beginning of a new era,” said Stoddard, explaining he has found many people often to refer to events having nothing to do with the War on Terror as either “pre” or “post” 9/11.
In “Light of Day,” Stoddard reflects on how he senses life has changed since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when he opens the song: “I can’t find my sunshine, rewind/I close my eyes, realize things aren’t quite right/morning’s turned to night.”
And “Smoke” ends its dozen-song run with the title cut, a poignant look at how quickly people can feel defeated by life’s relatively short run and limited chances to get it all right.
“This (the new album) is more about finding yourself and finding yourself in the world. ‘Smoke’ says everything we have is a temporary possession…our life is just like smoke,” Stoddard said. “It’s best to enjoy it while you have it and appreciate what you have.”
Beyond 7 will perform acoustic versions of the band's songs to Gordon James Grill & Bar, 110 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, 9 p.m.-midnight on Saturdays, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.
Information: 949- 498-9100

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I can't stop listening to Carbon Leaf

Although there are more than two months remaining in 2006, I am pretty sure my favorite album of 2006 is "Love Loss Hope Repreat," the latest release from Carbon Leaf.

I can't say enough great things about this disc, which somehow blends a bunch of legendary sounds and influences into something new. The Byrds-tinged 12-string guitar on "Learn to Fly" and the early-R.E.M. vibe on "Under the Wire" seem somewhat obvious, but there is something very refreshing and timeless about all the music here. So many of the songs explode with infectious hooks, but this is not power pop where the melodies hit you over the head. But it's hard not to hit repeat after "A Girl and Her Horse" or "Texas Stars" or even the introspective "The War Was in Color" end.

A truly great disc. Released by Vanguard Records, Carbon Leaf's "Love Loss Hope Repeat" is a great album.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ASIA (late, late - I know....)

I've been busy. Very busy.
So sorry, but just today I want to update you on the most recent show I caught - has it really been a full week already? I was lucky enough to catch a reunion of ASIA on Wednesday night, Sept. 20. It was my first time ever to hit the Vault 350 in Long Beach (Warning, get there late like I did and be prepared to stand).

I am old enough to have caught ASIA when they played in Long Beach (I don't recall where now; it has been 23 years or something) after the release of the band's self-titled 1982 debut. I can tell you while guitarist Steve Howe (of Yes fame), keyboardist Geoff Downes (the Buggles, Yes), singer-bassist John Wetton (King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer) were great that night eons ago, they were magical on the last night of summer '06.

Performing all of the great songs from "Asia" and the sophomore effort "Alpha" with fire would have made the show memorable. But throwing in seminal tracks from their various other projects added to the power of the night.

While "Heat of the Moment" is the song best known to casual listeners and was a great way to cap the night, several of the other songs were delivered showcased the many strengths of the fifty- and sixty-something players. "Sole Survivor" has remained one of the best recordings from the 1980s and its power was increased in the live setting. The complicated arrangements of that song and others worked well, with the melodic hooks and emotive vocals of Wetton clearly hitting their marks. Other highlights of the winning night included "Don't Cry," a sparse "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes," "Only Time Will Tell" and "Roundabout." And the night's most unlikely moment came when the foursome performed a lively "Video Killed the Radio Star" (the first song/video ever aired on MTV).

And while the majority of citics continue to dismiss prog rock, I have to be honest. Far more than a guilty pleasure, songs such as "Cutting It Fine" and "Here Comes the Feeling" just flat out rocked.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Return of The Tickets!

On Friday night, Sept. 15th, I should have been asleep. After all, I had got up at 5 a.m. (East Coast time) to catch a flight to return to Orange County from Washington, D.C. But here I was at Fitzgerald's Pub in Huntington Beach. A lack of sleep was fine, thanks to great sets from Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings (who opened the show with a 45-minute set), and then two-length sets from The Tickets.

It was great to see The Tickets. I hadn't seen them perform since the 1980s when I caught them at a Battle of the Bands show at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. The good news, the band rocked. And although it was a one-night only show (the band was celebrating the release of a CD collection issued by Brewery Records), it was magic. The band played a number of their best original songs during the opening set, and then returned to play reworked covers of songs from bands such as Led Zep and the Knack later in the night.

Here is a copy of my preview that ran in the Orange County Register on Sept. 15. Get this CD folks!

Orange Pop: Tickets finally make a CD
Special to the Register

One of the most eagerly anticipated power-pop releases of the year is actually a long-lost treasure recorded more than 17 years ago.
"The Tickets Make a Record," a 1990 cassette-only release by Orange County's the Tickets, has been scrupulously remastered by Walter Clevenger and is finally seeing the light of day in 2006. It includes a number of bonus tracks. Moreover, the longest-running lineup of the original band has reunited to perform at a CD release party tonight at Fitzgerald's in Huntington Beach.
Copies of the 14-song "The Tickets" CD will be available at the show. The Tickets featured singer-lead guitarist Bryan Shaddix, singer-rhythm guitarist Brian Martin (who replaced Donald Mabbott in 1988), drummer Marcos De La Cruz (currently a member of the popular Tijuana Dogs) and bassist Andy Winston, and were likely Orange County's most popular and talented unsigned outfit during most of the group's 1985-95 run.
"Walter gave me a call one day (in 2005) and got me interested in making a record," said Shaddix, who moved from his native Washington to Orange County in the mid-1980s to play music, but then moved to Modesto "to relax a little" in 2000.
Shaddix is thrilled with Clevenger's remix and remastering of the album. In addition to cleaning up the overall sound of the original tracks, he removed some of the dated-sounding echo and reverb that were commonly used throughout the 1980s. Clevenger also brought up the lead guitar solo in "Heartland," enhancing one of the standout songs on the disc.
"I think Walter got it. We didn't go overboard," Shaddix said. "It's definitely 'now,' but still has the Tickets feel to it."
The release of "The Tickets" on Brewery Records and the one-time reunion show by the band tonight isn't the end of renewed interest in the group. An alternative version of the song "Dream About Me" (slightly different than the cut included on "The Tickets") will also be featured on a companion CD that is being included with copies of John Borack's "Shake Some Action: The History of Power Pop," a forthcoming published guide to the 200 most essential power-pop CDs being sold by the nation's leading pop-rock label, Not Lame Recordings.
This year may long be recognized as the year that provided the world long-thought-lost recordings. Just last month, the release of YMC Records' "Waylon Sings Hank Williams" showcased a dozen Hank Williams songs recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1985. And Amoeba Records announced earlier this year that the label is preparing an album of unreleased material by the late alt-country pioneer Gram Parsons (who died in 1973) for release. Power-pop fans around the globe that have worn-out copies of the Tickets' vinyl and cassette releases will be amazed by Clevenger's remixing and mastering efforts across the disc.
"Eric (Garten) was surprised anyone contacted him after so many years; the original sessions were in 1989," Clevenger said. "He said Brian (Shaddix) was one of the most talented guys he ever worked with. And he was excited about this getting out on CD."
Garten, who co-produced "The Tickets Make a Record" with Shaddix at his For the Record studio in Anaheim, wasn't sure if he still had the master 24-track tapes. Frequently when artists don't purchase the tapes, they are wiped clean and reused. After a week-long search, Garten phoned Clevenger with the good news that he still had the master tapes with all of the original recordings.
"Eric called and said 'It sounds like it was recorded yesterday,' " Clevenger recalled.
Indeed, "The Tickets" sounds like something from the digital age, with Beatles-styled harmonies layered atop ringing guitars and in-the-pocket rhythms that equal the strong songs themselves.
"We went into it with the sense as if you are in the studio when we were recording the album," Shaddix said.
For Clevenger, imagining that he had traveled back in time to 1989 to participate in the original recording sessions couldn't have been easier.
"I've listened to this album so many times, I had it committed to memory," Clevenger said. "I made it sound as good as I could."
The Tickets' CD release party is at 9 tonight at Fitzgerald's, 19171 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach. Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings will open the show. Admission is $5.

Friday, September 08, 2006

George Fryer Combo rocks, off to NYC

I'm flying off to New York City tomorrow on a vacation and won't be blogging for another week or so. But before I left town I wanted to share with you about this great band I caught last Sunday, Sept. 3.
While the George Fryer Combo is one of Orange County's most talented bands, the group is equally among the most accessible and fan-friendly of music-making outfits.
There is generally never a charge when the quartet performs, and what could be more accommodating than regularly playing both evening and afternoon shows? Whereas Fryer's original songs, such as "You Make Me Happy" and "Still a Pawn," are highlights of any show, the Huntington Beach-based band gladly plays classic and modern-rock covers while making them their own.
That wide-ranging, easygoing approach has been extended into the recording studio and makes the George Fryer Combo's "New American Standards" CD a true gem.
George Fryer (lead vocals, guitar), Phil Vandermost (lead guitar, backing vocals), Dave Felde (bass) and Wolf Scheffler (drums) are uniformly strong, whether performing original material or reinterpreting the varied likes of Van Morrison, X, The Beatles and Herb Alpert.
"I (had) put out four original CDs. Every time we played a gig, I got asked, 'Do you have stuff you play live?' We went to Phil's studio and did it live," Fryer said of tracking the 15 songs on "New American Standards" in June and July of 2005. "All the instruments were live; we overdubbed vocals and guitars to sweeten it."
Vandermost had just started putting together a home studio when the George Fryer Combo was ready to record a follow-up to "Meow" (released at the beginning of 2005).
Fryer noted that "New American Standards" provides a snapshot of what the combo is doing right now. The troupe can play hundreds of songs, and many of the combo's best concert tunes are featured on the new CD. Herb Alpert's "The Lonely Bull (El Solo Toro)," Van Morrison's "Domino" and a strong and innovative medley of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen," Santana's "Evil Ways" and Cream's "Crossroads" are among the formidable classics redone, while seven of Fryer's originals are also showcased.
"We've been playing with this lineup for three years and developed a sound no one else has," Fryer said. The George Fryer Combo is the perfect house band for King Neptune's, a relaxed tavern in Sunset Beach where regulars and visitors can hang out, watch Sunday football and then catch live music.
"If someone comes in with a request, we'll try it even if we don't know it," Fryer admitted. On a recent Sunday afternoon at King Neptune's, the George Fryer Combo performed memorable versions of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and "One After 909," Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," as well as Fryer's own "Teenage Lovesong" and "Goodbye (I Guess This Is)."
But which do they like most?
"My favorite song is everything we play," Vandermost said. "Plus, I like what George is doing with his own songs. I like to add to that."
The George Fryer Combo will perform at King Neptune's, 17115 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach, at 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 and 24. Admission to all shows is free.
Orange Slices
Orange County-based post-hard-core outfit Saosin will open for AFI at a string of upcoming area shows, including dates at the Bren Events Center in Irvine on Tuesday and the Long Beach Convention Center on Sept. 15. Saosin will be playing material off the band's self-titled Capitol Records debut, set for release Sept. 26. Several songs from "Saosin" (pronounced say-o-sin) can be heard on the band's MySpace page. Saosin will headline at the Troubadour in Hollywood on Sept. 26 in celebration of the CD release.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dylan talks, but is he listening?

Reuters has published a story ("Dylan says modern recordings 'atrocious') today that got me to do some thinking.

According to the article filed from Los Angeles, the 65-year-old singer-songwriters was quoted by Rolling Stone magazine as saying "I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really."

I wonder if Robert Zimmerman has actually taken the time to listen. Neil Young has made a few classics during that stretch, notably "Harvest Moon" (1992) and "Mirror Ball" (1995). In fact, including efforts such as the rocking "Ragged Glory" (1990), beautiful "Prairie Wind" (2005) and raging "Living With War" (released earlier this year), Neil Young has released as many great albums since turning 40 as he did in the first part of his music-making career.

The same can be said for Canadian great Bruce Cockburn. Start with "Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu" (1999), and then get a well-worth-it earful of "You've Never Seen Everything" (2003) and this year's powerful "Life Short Call Now."

Let me point Bob to another few artists who didn't even get started until the 1990s or '00s. The Cranberries' "Bury the Hatchet" is one of the best rock albums I've ever heard and Dolores O'Riordan never sounded better. The disc boasts a lyrical journey that blends global concerns with intimate struggles, and the music soars. American radio just didn't have the guts to give it a try when it was released in 1999.

And anyone who reads this blog frequently knows how strongly I feel about the work of a number of other '90s outfits, notably dada ("Puzzle," "American Highway Flower" and "El Subliminoso" are timeless efforts), Toad the Wet Sprocket ("Fear," "Dulcinea" and "Coil" still sound as fresh as ever).

And, of course, there well-recognized landmark efforts from the Cure ("Disintegration," "Wish"), U2 ("Achtung Baby," "All That You Can't Leave Behind"), Moby ("Play"), Keane ("Hopes and Fears") and Snow Patrol ("Final Straw") that are among the countless original music masterworks released during the stretch. Again, dismissing all music is great fodder for magazine articles. But, I think Bob Dylan might be better off listening to some music once in awhile.

And if all else fails, get a soundcheck courtesy of notable releases from Charlie Musselwhite, Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Coldplay, World Party, Vinnie James, Altered State, Pearl Jam, Lee Rocker, Bright Blue Gorilla, Scarlet Crush, Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings, Mel, Lunar Rover, Michael Ubaldini, Social Distortion...the list goes on.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Toad the Wet Sprocket conjures up magic at Galaxy

For me, the 1990s will forever be the decade about a handful of great bands who released strong and timeless material that has been largely overlooked by the world.
DADA, Altered State, the Cranberries and Toad the Wet Sprocket rank on the top of my list and the reason is obvious; excellent songs played with the perfect lineup of players.
On Saturday (August 19, 2006), I got to see the reunited Toad the Wet Sprocket when they made a highly-anticipated stop before a capacity crowd at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.
Singer-guitarist Glen Phillips, guitarist-singer Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss were truly firing on all sonic cylinders throughout the 22-song set, which kicked off at 9:30 p.m. and didn’t end until 11:10 p.m. I wish the band could have played all night.
Toad the Wet Sprocket – which played its first show on Sept. 3, 1986 – revisited material from throughout its small but decisive catalog, including audience favorites such as “Something’s Always Wrong” (which kicked off the 100-minute concert), “All I Want,” Crowing,” "Walk on the Ocean" and “Fly From Heaven."
The show was kind of split in half because Glen Phillips played a solo, 2-song acoustic set in the middle to showcase several recent songs. An affected “Easier” (off his “Winter Pays for Summer” disc) was especially strong, with Glen’s distinctive voice driving every line home.
It was also great to hear the ghost of Gram Parsons when the entire band played “Everything But You,” a country-styled song off his most recent disc, “Mr. Lemons.”
Toad the Wet Sprocket has always been a band able to fit comfortably into the folk rock category, but the cast artfully blends rock, pop, country and folk into a magic potion all its own.
For those who like a rock edge, “Hold Her Down” “Fall Down” and “Brother” (with Glen delivering some wah wah-anchored electric guitar work) delivered. For those who like the wistful and emotive songs, Todd sang lead vocals on a tender “Inside” and there were great readings of countrified tracks such as “Stupid,” “Nanci” and “Nightingale Song.”
And one song from 1997's tragically-overlooked “Coil” worked exceptionally well here; the confessional “Whatever I Fear” was among the night's highlights.
An aptly-placed “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” closed the emotional show; it painfully clear the incredible night was coming to a close.
Come back soon guys, okay? We need you.

Toad the Wet Sprocket set list on Saturday, August 19, 2006:

Something’s Always Wrong
Whatever I Fear
Fly From Heaven
All I Want
Inside (Todd sang)
Hold Her Down
Come Back Down

Back On My Feet (off "Abulum")
Easier (off “Winter Pays for Summer”)

Everything But You (off “Mr. Lemons”)
Nightingale Song
Good Intentions
Fall Down

Crazy Life (Todd sang)
Walk on the Ocean
I Will Not Take These Things for Granted

Earth, Wind & Fire shows that less is more

When Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago toured last year, each group performed separate sets and segments of the show together, with EW&F clearly delivering the best moments at a September stop at the Greek Theatre. However, because of the dual design of that bill, the most magical moments of EW&F’s set were spread over 3 1/2 hours.
In a wonderful show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Friday night (August 18, 2006) clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, the genre- and time-defying EW&F performed a mix of energetic dance numbers and emotional ballads in ways simply not possible the last time the group rolled through the region.
What has always set EW&F apart from just about any other artist is the way the large ensemble can lock into a dance groove and use a blend of R&B, Motown harmonies, pop, funk and blues to joyous effect. “Shining Star” and “Saturday Nite” were highlights in the early part of the set, but the overall energy and excitement of the band and the connection with the audience continued to build.
And while the range of material covered by the 12-member touring version of the troupe stretched from disco to soulful ballads, there was cohesiveness courtesy of lead vocalist Philip Bailey, bassist Verdine White and the three-member horn section that lifted the performance of all of the songs. Even though inserting a ballad into the middle of a set could easily squash the momentum, EW&F had no worries on this night. During beautiful renditions of “Reasons” and “After the Love Has Gone,” Bailey’s soaring vocals provided the dramatics. During dynamic dance tunes such as “Sing A Song” and “September,” the mix of funky grooves, lush vocals, layered guitars and horn blasts propelled the music in unison with the moving crowd.
In fact, many in the near-capacity crowd stood for much of the concert, providing an additional boost to EW&F as the band played most of its big hits from the 1970s and early 1980s.
In a rare moment as concerts go, the performance of “Fantasy” boasted that magical moment when the combination of great song, talented players and tuned-in audience arrive at some distant place together.
Opener Chris Botti, an accomplished trumpet player, played a solid hour-long set that was a true amalgamation of smooth and adventurous jazz material. Botti and his excellent quartet excelled during instrumental versions of “Cinema Paradiso,” “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Attraction pushes punk's envelope

It's no wonder the Attraction picked up honors in the Best Punk category at the Southern California Music Awards in February of 2006, and then nabbed top honors in the same category at the Orange County Music Awards two months later.
The group's 12-song debut, "Step Right Up!" is a must have for discerning listeners who love punk. And the Huntington Beach-based outfit's sound is vast enough to include alt-rock, power pop and reggae. The Roundhouse Productions-issued disc features instantly-memorable melodic tracks such as "Tales of a Liar" and "Farewell," as well as the wistful U2-flavored "Christmas Song," the hardcore assault of "Bleed" and reggae tune "Subject to Change." While the original July 2005 pressing of "Step Right Up!" recently sold out, the Attraction is repressing the disc in a special edition format that will include some live cuts.
"These are the greatest and most easy going guys I've ever been with in a band," said drummer Humper T, in an interview conducted after the Attraction tore through a strong 45-minute set at diPiazza in Long Beach on Aug. 10. The band's all-original lineup also features lead singer Lance Romance, guitarist Master John and bassist Beaver.
Watching the quartet perform together on stage, connect with a crowd and talk about the magic of firing on all cylinders, it's easy to see why the Attraction is likely the most aptly-titled outfit around. It's not the great songs alone; dressing in colorful attire and using some select lighting and sound effects to open their performances, they deliver a show that truly combines a powerful rock aesthetic with theater.
"It's fun. We all have grown," said Master John. "We've come in with an open mind. We throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks." Added Lance Romance: "It's not just a band, it's a bond."
The Attraction has found a fast-growing fan base, thanks to airplay on Los Angeles' Indie 103.1 FM, as well as shows at large venues such as the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana and opening for Guttermouth at Vault 350 in Long Beach. The band also headlined at the 15th annual Inkslinger's Ball, performing in front of its largest-ever audience at Angel Stadium in April.
Since playing its first show at Gallagher's in Huntington Beach on Oct. 11, 2003, the band has been writing, recording and playing music – all built around a mix of melodic choruses, catchy guitar riffs and enthralling shows. Very soon the Attraction will see if far-off audiences are as receptive as those in their own backyard; the band is playing at the Celebrity Night Club in Las Vegas tonight. In addition, it is going on a nationwide tour in October, including shows in connection with the CMJ Music Marathon festival in New York.
"This band is a second chance at life for me," admitted Beaver, who hadn't played music in several years before the Attraction. "I met Lance and we started the band three years ago. This is everything music should have been when I first started, being involved with a band that is more than four guys playing music. There is so much heart behind every song, but at the same time it's pure fun."
Lance Romance agrees: "I'm of the opinion, that (live) music has lost its entertainment value." That said there is no lack of substance in the Attraction's material. The ramifications of war ("Johnny") and the loss of loved ones ("Still Breathing" was written in the wake of the death of the lead singer's sister three years ago) are among the Attraction's most memorable songs.
"The word of mouth on us is ridiculous," Beaver said. "We haven't done pay to play (the system in which some clubs require artists to sell a minimum number of tickets to play). Once they (audiences) see us, they're sold."
The Attraction will perform at the South Bay Music Awards, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, at 8 p.m. on Sept. 9.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Santana; a sound of his own

Like B.B. King, Carlos Santana is one of a handful of guitarists who have a sound so readily recognizable it has become a timeless style all its own. Performing before a near-capacity crowd at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Monday night, July 31, 2006, the legendary guitarist led his nine-member troupe on a 2-1/2-hour journey that reached artistic highs even while making some missteps. Before Santana was catapulted back into the spotlight with the success of his 1999 album “Supernatural,” he was best known by fans for his distinctive guitar work and his band’s puercussion-heavy jams. But with that release, and the similarly-formatted followups(“Shaman” and “All That I Am”) boasting well-known guests such as Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews and Los Lonely Boys, Santana has also become a hitmaker. Over the course of his concert on what should have been a beautiful night under the stars (I barely survived all the cigarette smoke engulfing me from every which way...), the 59-year-old guitarist juggled those two sides of his career effectively. There were extended jams where he traded solos with wonderful organ player ChesterThompson and several other members of his band, and he mixed up the set list to reflect flamenco, blues andLatin rock genres he has explored since forming his first group 40 years ago. His fiery and virtuoso guitar work, often delivered amidst a backdrop of horns, congas, timbales and the driving work of drummer Dennis Chambers usually was on the mark. Santana’s guitar work was great throughout the night, but the ensemble at large scored best with material that broke up the extended jams and solos that frequently slowed the momentum of the show. Indeed, along drum solo delivered during the early part of the encore actually proved to be the perfect incentive formany concertgoers to beat the traffic and call it anight. So when Santana and company performed relatively faithful versions of hits such as “Smooth” and the classic “Black Magic Woman,” it actually swept the audience back into the show, getting many on their feet to dance and bring a necessary ingredient to Santana’s pleasing mix. “No One to Depend On” was particularly effective in fusing the best musical and vocal elements that define the Santana sound. Singer Andy Vargas was an energetic and strong-voiced singer throughout the night, while trombone player JeffCressman’s work was particularly strong. All eight songs in Anthony Hamilton’s eight-song set were played well and the Charlotte, North Carolina native delivered serviceable R&B with the help of a strong six-man band and three female backing vocalists. But with the exception of a rousing “Chyna Black,” there was predictability to the sound and the set ultimately didn't catch fire.

Moody Blues deliver a wide-ranging night of music

Who knew the Moody Blues remain one of classic rock’s most powerful rock outfits? Performing before a near-capacity crowd at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on July 30, the band delivered amemorable concert featuring strong material pulled from across four decades. In a performance that outdistanced the combined efforts of a four act 1960s-themed bill that shared the same stage a week earlier (Vanilla Fudge,Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Starship and John Kay & Steppenwolf), the Moody Blues made a powerful case for an often-overlooked legacy across a gracious 19-song set that is the band’s only performance this summer. And fans of the group’s most recent collection, 2005’s “Lovely to See You: Live from the Greek,” were basically treated to that same set list here in Costa Mesa. The group (which features three long-time members, as well as four strong supporting members used this night) wasn’t afraid to rework original hits, notably when singer-guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist-singer John Lodge wanted to jam. While “Nights in White Satin” (off the group’s 1967 debut “Days of Future Passed”) remains their best-known album rock track, it was truly only one of a number of highlights. In concert, the group’s psychedelic-styled lush 1960s material (“Nights inWhite Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon”) blended well with 1970s rockers and more recent pop-styled material that led to a bona fide comeback for the Moody Blues in the1980s. Not many bands have strong material stretching across 40 years, and the Moody Blues didn’t waste that vast repertoire over the course of two hours on Sunday. And rather than just playing hits that mirrored the classic album versions, the seven-member troupe brought urgency to many of the songs. “Tuesday Afternoon” was enhanced by Hayward’s finger-picking style and the support from Norda Mullen on flute.The Moody Blues broke the show into two parts, with each half featuring folk-styled rock and more upbeat rockers. “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “The Story in Your Eyes”showcased the band’s natural rock instincts in the first half, while the beautiful “Lean on Me (Tonight)” featured Lodge’s emotive vocals in a setting that showcased the group’s ability to connect with an audience in quieter moments. But truly, the Moody Blues really took off when they delivered a second set. Hayward remains a virtuoso and expressive guitarist, and his skills on the frets were showcased during a muscular “I’m Just A Singer (in aRock and Roll Band)” and again during an extended “Ride My Seesaw” that had everyone in the theater on their feet. And while the haunting “Nights in White Satin” was understandably effective with Hayward’s voice soaring, more recent material (notably the beautiful “DecemberSnow”) was just as thrilling.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nils Lofgren, Marcus Eaton, the Blooms; great night!

I'm still reeling after catching a trio of wonderful artists at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano several nights ago (Tuesday, July 18).
Headlined by E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren, the bill also included singer-guitarist Marcus Eaton and the Blooms (featuring singer-songwriter Allan Goodman).
The magic kicked in at 8 p.m.
Right on time, Fullerton-based The Blooms (singer Allan Goodman, lead guitarist Marcus McMillan and singer Kimberly Ann) took the stage. I had seen Goodman years ago (likely in the mid to late 1990s) as a solo acoustic act, but this show was far greater than any of those performances. His skills as a singer and songwriter are impressive, and the harmonies with Kimberly Ann worked really well. The trio's set included "Someday Maria," "I Wish I Knew What You Wanted," the country-tinged "All the World," "Still," and the infectious rocker "Good Enough." It was a wonderful 30-minute set and I look forward to hopefully catching a fully-electric set from Goodman with a full band soon.

I had never seen Marcus Eaton before Tuesday. Wow, what a guitarist. He performed solo, using a variety of effects and looping devices to build songs on stage and then play guitar and sing over those structures over the course of his 48-minute set. Eaton, whose voice often sounded like that of John Mayer to my ears, featured a number of new songs from his latest CD, "The Story of Now," including the Bruce Cockburn-styled "Drug" (which served as his set opener), rocking "Candle to the Sun" and "Standing Still." Eaton is a singular talent and that was obvious after catching him for the first time.

There is something completely unjust about an artist with Lofgren's talent performing before a less-than-capacity crowd at the Coach House. But those at the show know they were part of the fortunate few; this was a concert that will not be quickly forgotten. His 90-minute show featured Lofgren performing solo (the last time he performed at the Coach House in the 1990s was with a full band) and showcasing his skills as singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist. He opened with the beautiful "Blue Skies" and then picked things up with "You." Both songs provided a chance to hear some of Lofgren's wonderful early 1990s solo work before he introduced a song off his latest album, the aptly-titled "Sacred Weapon." He noted that "Frankie Hang On" was written about a soldier wounded, but in a hurry to get better so he could go back and rejoin his fellow troops again. But his wife didn't want him to go back. It was a serious moment, but Lofgren broke the ice when he apologized that David Crosby and Graham Nash (who sing with him on the CD) couldn't be with him on stage since they were busy with the current CSNY reunion tour. The song was delivered with the kind of emotional and melodic intensity that has matched his supporting work for Springsteen and Neil Young.

The highlights came frequently throughout Lofgren's set: "Girl in Motion" (his extended solo was a gem), "Keith Don't Go" (written for Keith Richards), and a blistering version of Bruce Springsteen's "Because the Night," as well as his entire encore (which included an acoustic "No Mercy" and set-ending "Shine Silently").

There are those anxious for the Boss & E Street Band to regroup and play again soon. But I, for one, am glad Lofgren had a break from that gig to record an impressive new album and head out on tour. One of the best shows I've seen this year. Come again soon Nils...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Uneven vibrations: Only Pato Banton soars at Reggaefest

No matter how many times Shaggy told the crowd to "throw your hands in the air" during his hour-long set at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday night, July 16, 2006, there was never the sense the less-than-capacity audience was ready to fully succumb to the dancehall reggae star.
Shaggy (whose real name is Orville Richard Burrell) brought plenty of good-time party music, blending reggae and hip-hop in equal measures with his ladies-man persona, to his headlining slot at the Orange County Fair ReggaeFest, which also featured Pato Banton and Wailing Souls.
That's not to say Shaggy's 11-song set completely faltered. There were moments, particularly during a strong cover of the Folkes Brothers' 1960 single "Oh Carolina," that he and several others singers blended R&B vocals with a "Peter Gunn"-style surf guitar lick to great effect.
The best stretch came when he delivered "In the Summertime" and "Angel" (a reworking of the country-Western classic "Angel of the Morning") back-to-back. However, some of his most recent material, "Hey Sexy Lady" and "Strength of a Woman," lacked punch.
Because of the seemingly endless between-songs chatter and efforts to get the crowd to respond to his pleas to wave their hands or call out this way or that, his performance never gained any lasting momentum. He might well take a pointer or two from his energetic namesake in the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons to keep the action moving ahead.
Birmingham, England's Pato Banton has been a force on the reggae scene for almost 25 years and continues to inspire, as he proved over the course of his 10-song set.
Backed by the powerful six-member Mystic Roots Band, the talented singer/toaster sang songs geared toward having a good time, but with deeper messages centering on his religious faith, the need for world peace and the legalization of marijuana (even while discouraging the use of hard drugs during a lively "Don't Sniff Coke").
However, his hour-long appearance really captured the artistic heights of the genre during performances of "One World (Not Three)," "Good News" and a spirited cover of Bob Marley's "Jamming" that got just about everyone dancing to the beat.
The Wailing Souls opened with a 40-minute set of Jamaican roots reggae that rarely impressed. With the notable exception of the speedy "Shark Attack," the set simply lacked the magic to touch the audience.

The Steve Miller Band dazzles in Costa Mesa

It’s worth noting that despite the wide-ranging string of radio hits that the Steve Miller Band scored in the 1970s and early 1980s, Miller and company can be an inconsistent live act.
However, in a 140-minute concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on July 14, 2006, Miller, 62, showcased his considerable skills as a singer-songwriter – and most striking – as a guitarist before a sold-out crowd. Fans hoping to hear Miller play his hits were rewarded with energetic takes on “Swingtown” (which kicked off the night), “Living in the U.S.A.,” “Jungle Love” and “Jet Airliner.”
And those who wanted to tap into Miller’s 40-year love of the blues got rousing covers of Freddie King’s “Tore Down” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” as well as a reworked take of his own “Abracadabra” highlighted by virtuoso fret work.
Most of the evening’s highlights came while the ensemble was showcasing material off “Fly Like An Eagle,” an album that Miller told the crowd has just been remastered and is newly-available in a deluxe edition featuring 5.1 Surround Sound and includes previously unreleased material. A countrified “Dance, Dance, Dance,” psychedelic “Wild Mountain Honey” and infectious sing- and clap-along “Take the Money and Run” were among that 1976 album’s songs revisted by Miller during the 23-song set.
An epic version of “Fly Like An Eagle” was used to showcase the distinct talents of his five-man band, notably harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo and keyboardist-rapper Joseph Wooten. Buffalo’s strong skills on the blues harp were artfully mixed with full vocal harmonies during the encore, when a beautiful “Winter Time” reinforced that many of the Steve Miller Band’s strongest songs have been ignored by commercial radio.
Indeed, Miller has always been overshadowed by his commercial hits, stretching from “The Joker” in 1973 to “Abracadabra” in 1982. However, during his performance in Costa Mesa, he seemed to make a strong case for celebrating his unique style of blending blues and rock as uniquely as any artist of his generation. In fact, “The Joker” was reworked with a funk-rock feel that peaked when Miller and guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis played a twin-lead guitar attack reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.
The troupe ended the night with a haunting and powerful version of “Serenade,” which provided the perfect mix of rock and atmosphere to sum up a memorable evening of classic rock hits and electric blues.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nils Lofgren ready to draw "Sacred Weapon" in OC

What do Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Ringo Starr have in common?
Well, in addition to being notable members of the Rock‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, all three of the legendary artists have counted singer-guitarist Nils Lofgren as a seminal member of their band.
Now, Orange County residents have a rare chance to see one of rock’s most talented singer-guitarists when he performs an intimate solo acoustic show at the Coach House on Tuesday night, July 18.
Lofgren is on tour in support of his latest CD, “Sacred Weapon.” The newly-released disc features a dozen of Lofgren’s original songs, and features guest appearances by Willie Nelson (on the wonderful “In Your Hands”), David Crosby and Graham Nash (their beautiful harmonies are on display across the rocking “Frankie Hang On”), as well as Margo Reed, Martin Sexton, Bob Berberich and Mary Ann Redmond.
Lofgren, 54, comes to the Coach House on the heels of a two standout guest stints in June. He began the month by being invited to come on stage and perform with Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band when the ensemble came to Phoenix on June 3, and then on June 11 Lofgren performed at the Key Club in Cabazon with singer Paul Rodgers (Queen, Free, Bad Company), playing guitar on “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” and other songs.
Lofgren got his first commercial break in 1970 when the then 17-year-old unknown was invited to play piano on Young’s seminal “After the Gold Rush” album. Lofgren is also a long-time member of Springsteen’s famed E Street Band, having replaced Little Stevie Van Zandt in 1984. He has continued to play with Springsteen, and toured as part of drummer Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1989. In addition to the recentlyreleased gem “Sacred Weapon,” Lofgren’s catalog of excellent solo releases includes 1991’s “Silver Lining,” 1992’s “Crooked Line” and 2001’s “Breakaway Angel.”
Nils Lofgren, Marcus Eaton and Los Angeles’ excellent roots rockers the Blooms will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, SJC, at 8 p.m. on July 18. Admission is $20. Information: 949-496-8930.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Springsteen continues to amaze

Last night, June 5th. A beautiful and only slightly chilly Monday night at the legendary Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Performing with the 17-member Seeger Sessions Band before a sold-out crowd, Bruce Springsteen did what I've seen him do countless times since the early 1980s. He lit a sonic fire, and the crowd responded. Anyone (myself included) who has come to believe folk music is largely about a solo artist or few artists playing a couple of acoustic instruments such as guitars and mandolins was likely shocked at the power of the folk-estra witnessed last night. Stretching folk and Americana in ways hardly imagined, vocal harmonies, sing-alongs with the audience, tinges of gospel, Dixie jazz, bluegrass and Delta blues and more were mixed in ways authentic and natural.

Whether singing American standards, or his own classics, Springsteen was truly a man on a mission. There was an anti-war thread to his between-song speak, but the music bounced artfully back and forth between strong spiritual-styled material ("O Mary Don't You Weep," "We Shall Overcome") and the upbeat, celebrative songs that got most concertgoers to their feet ("My Oklahoma Home," the night-ending "When the Saints Go Marching In"). The players in his band were amazing, truly. The horn section was a thrill and there was an energy equal, while different from his beloved E Street Band.

This was a show that ranks with the other seminal tours where I caught the Boss, ranking from the River tour to Born in the U.S.A. and the powerful Rising dates, post 9/11.

Here (as posted today in the Orange County Register) was his set list:
John Henry
O Mary Don't You Weep
Johnny 99
Old Dan Tucker
Eyes on the Prize
Jesse James
Atlantic City
Erie Canal
My Oklahoma Home
If I Should Fall Behind
Mrs. McGrath
How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?
Jacob's Ladder
We Shall Overcome
Open All Night
Pay Me My Money Down
Bring Them Home
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
When the Saints Go Marching In

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Okay and Out?

I've been a bit out of it because of medical-related stuff, not feeling 100 percent and all that stuff, so the blog has been dry. Sorry.

I have been listening to music, but most of it has been related to getting articles finished for the Register. For example, I interview Van Morrison's daughter, singer-songwriter Shana Morrison tomorrow, so I have been busy listening to her 1999 CD ("Caledonia") this week getting ready for that phone chat. I'm also reviewing a bunch of local CDs for my May 26th column, notably the latest from The Attractions and The Prisoners Dilemma. There is also a new compilation CD with songs about Superman coming out in connection with the new movie "Superman Returns" and I'm going to review that too.

I'll check in again soon with a more comprehensive update!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coachella 2006 - Day Two

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The morning (or early afternoon) after Depeche Mode delivered an energetic performance of “Never Let Me Down Again,” I wondered if that might well be the theme of the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. After all, after witnessing all or part of almost two dozen sets on day one of the fest, artists here seldom disappoint.

Of course, I had to take a detour before getting to that Dave Gahan-promised land of never letting me down again courtesy of the noise of the Octopus Project. Performing at noon on the Outdoor Theatre stage, I could only listen in horror thinking of so many more talented artists that could be showcased. They made Gram Rabbit’s 2005 performance sound good.

Things got better quickly when Giant Drag took the same stage next around 1:05 p.m. I caught the first six songs delivered by the duo (singer-guitarist Annie Hardy and drummer/keyboardist Micah Calabrase). Although Hardy is often compared to Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, I thought she was funny and a true original. The Laguna Beach native is armed with loads of charisma and freely chatted with members of the audience positioned at the front of the stage. She delivered the funniest line of the weekend (“I saw Kanye yesterday; so did a bunch of lame white people”) and Giant Drag’s version of “Wicked Game” was an absolute winner.

Then it was off to see Youth Group, where I arrived near the Coachella Stage about 10 minutes into their set just in time to hear an amazing version of “Forever Young” (the band’s version of the Alphaville ‘80s classic is featured on “Music from the O.C.: Mix 5”), before the Sydney, Australia-based band played some great originals, notably the Pet Shop Boys meets Wire Train-styled “Shadowland.”

By this time Sunday, the temperature was clearly around 100 so I sat down in a shady area to catch the full set from Los Amigos Invisibles (2:14-3:10 p.m.) on the Coachella Stage. The Venezuela-born Latin dance group played an intoxicating mix of disco, funk and acid jazz that was perfect for the afternoon heat.

Looking back, the next band I caught was likely the most thrilling performance of Sunday. The Magic Numbers, two sets of siblings (Sean and Angela Gannon, Romeo and Michelle Stodart), are clearly as original as they are talented. During the group’s Coachella set (3:31-4:20 p.m. on the Coachella Stage), I heard musical echoes of artists ranging from the 1960s’ West Coast rock scene (the Mamas & the Papas, clearly), but there is something timeless about Romeo’s natural approach. Listening to the folk-tinged “Don’t Give Up the Fight” or the pretty vocal harmonies-rendered “I See You, You See Me,” I could envision those songs having been big hits 40 years ago. And (radio and Vh1 willing) they could be huge today too. “Love’s a Game” could have been penned by Burt Bacharach, while several new songs penned for the group’s forthcoming sophomore effort (notably the uptempo “Take a Chance”) sound like they are expanding the sonic reach of the quartet without any loss of magic.

Next, it was off to grab some pizza (as hot as it was, I needed more than water after spending 5 or 6 hours on the polo field) and check out Matisyahu’s 45-minute set from the shady comfort of a hill overlooking the big stage. His reggae-rock hybrid is catchy and his performance outdistanced the more celebrated Kanye West appearance a day earlier. “King Without a Crown” is an accessible track, but ultimately the mix of Hasidic chant, crunchy guitars and beatboxing left me somewhat cold. However, I can see hardcore fans of reggae being drawn by his spiritual fervor in ways that didn’t connect with me.

With the impending storm known as “Madonna” set to arrive at the Sahara Tent around 8:10 p.m., it was time to head over to get a place inside. First, there was a full-length set of sounds and sights courtesy of celebrated DJ-remixer-producer Paul Oakenfold. Despite the incredible heat inside the tent, people danced and danced during his extended set.

Madonna was set to play just after 8, but went on much later (I think she went on 30 minutes late, almost unheard of at Coachella) and only played around 35 minutes. I was positioned toward the back of the tent and really could only see the diva via the video screens. She seemed to put on an energetic show, but the heat and lack of clear sight lines left me ultimately disappointed. Damn, not being 6’4” when I go to these types of shows…I should have gone and checked out Bloc Party and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead.

Sunday night was a whirlwind of walking around and trying to see as much as I could before Coachella 2006 disappeared into the past. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Tool and only watched a few songs. Massive Attack, whose performance preceded Tool on the Coachella Stage, was better – especially when performing the more ethereal trip-hop side. When the band rocked, it was not as effective.

The Scissor Sisters were the perfect act to close things out, performing into the midnight hour. All fun, with the cool night and grassy plain in front of the Outdoor Theatre providing a spacious place to dance and groove.

Looking back, I caught all or parts of sets from more than two dozen acts. I only wish I had been able to check out twice that many. I wish I could have caught Cat Power, Imogen Heap, the Like, Bloc Party, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Wolf Parade and Nine Black Alps.
And I’m sure many more were worth a look and listen too…

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coachella 2006 - Day One

How to cover a concert event that spans two 12+ hour-long days?

Having attended my first weekend Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2005, I was definitely more prepared for the 2006 event. It is impossible for any person to catch all the action at the fest, which played out at the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California on Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30. But, unlike many of the hipsters who hang out in the V.I.P. area and only take in an occasional glance from the huge shady outdoor bar positioned overlooking the main Coachella Stage, I bravely fought off the heat (drank more water than a fish) and attempted to catch as much music as possible over both days this year.
I took notes when I could, wanting to jot down notable moments as they sprang up. Here is my account of day one.

Saturday, April 29, 2006
12:15 p.m.
The Section Quartet performed at the Coachella Stage, performing their Bach-to-basics baroque meets rock material. Of the 15 minutes I caught, I enjoyed the vigorous version of the Clash’s “London Calling” best; I thought versions of material penned by Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand were not as strong. Great musicians, but ultimately still a novelty-styled act.

12:38 p.m.
Walked over to the Sahara Tent to catch part of the set from Melbourne, Australia’s Infusion. A three-member ensemble with an electronic vibe; very enticing and had many in the crowd nodding their heads to the band. An extended version of a song that was performed while the words “Drop Down There” flashed on a large screen was really good; the trio’s sound often reminded me of New Order. Not a bad thing.

1 p.m.
Walked nearby to the Mojave Tent to catch an excellent set from Rob Dickinson. One of the highlights of Saturday. Performing songs off his 2005 solo disc, “Fresh Wine for the Horses,” as well as his work with Catherine Wheel, his entire 33-minute set was required, must-see stuff. Highlights ranged from his opening remarks (“You rock, hopefully I do”) to the wonderful songs themselves: a beautiful falsetto-anchored “My Name Is Love,” the gorgeous “Oceans” and a raw version of the Catherine Wheel gem “Crank.” And he closed out his amazing set with that band’s classic “Black Metallic.” Even performing solo with just a guitar, this was a powerful and memorable set.

1:38 p.m.
I high-tailed it back to the Coachella Stage (the sweltering afternoon sun be damned) to catch the already-rocking New Amsterdams. Being a Gram Parsons lover, the four or so songs I caught impressed me with an authentic solid alt-country vibe. I enjoyed “Bad Liar,” “Proceed with Caution” and several other songs performed by the quintet.

2:05 p.m.
Being from Orange County, Matt Costa was on my list of artists I absolutely had to catch. His set, played out on the Outdoor Theatre stage, kicked off with a solo stint performing accompanied by his guitar and harmonica before his band joined him to play material such as “Yellow Taxi” off his 2006 commercial debut, “Songs We Sing.” Costa has an appealing, laid back approach. Although his songs often lack punch, he provided a good change of pace to some of the high octane artists that came before and after him. He would be killer in a coffee shop or small venue.

2:43 p.m.
Back to the Coachella Stage. I tuned into the Walkmen to catch a few of their songs. The highlight of the portion of their set I caught was “Good For You’s Good For Me,” a song from their forthcoming album “A Hundred Miles Off.” Strong indie rock and I hope to catch a full-length set from the band sometime soon.

3:25 p.m.
Back and forth I went, seeing as much as I could despite the heat. Sometime around 3:25 I made it to the Outdoor Theatre to check out the Zutons, a band out of Liverpool (so I’ve read). Infectious, indie-styled alt rock. Faves I caught included the hard rocking “It’s the Little Things We Do,” vocal harmonies-anchored “Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done)” and 70s sing-along “You Will You Won’t.”

3:51 p.m.
I arrived at the Coachella Stage just after 3:50 p.m. to catch The Duke Spirit already in sonic motion. A very energetic and spirited performance, based on the 20 or so minutes I caught. Frontwoman Liela Moss is often compared to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith and I can confirm that struck me as pretty accurate.

5:09 p.m.
After a quick refreshment break, I was off and running across the grasslands to the Mojave Tent to catch Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (I love that band name!). It was packed and I honestly couldn’t get close enough to get a good look or listen at the band. Damn! What I can report is that the crowd loved them.

5:35 p.m.
Another long walk back to the Coachella Stage, this time to catch Common. Cliches aplenty, despite his being championed by Kanye West. It might have been the setting, or my mood, but I just didn’t even feel like listening. After a couple of songs, I was off to…

5:56 p.m.
Wow! I had heard of My Morning Jacket, but I admit to being clueless about this great band out of Kentucky until I heard ‘em in Cochella. The quintet floored me and I watched the Louisville-spawned outfit’s entire eight song set. I kept thinking they reminded me a bit of Neil Young & Crazy Horse meets the Replacements meets the Velvet Underground or something. I went out on Monday (the day after Cochella ended) and purchased the group’s 2005 album “Z.” I’ll be picking up My Morning Jacket’s other discs soon.

6:38 p.m.
Kanye West. A very popular artist who attracted huge crowd to the Coachella Stage. I still don’t get why he was at the fest. Especially after seeing his performance. Because he is such a big act or something, he went on late messing up everyone else’s set times to come, including Sigur Ros…

7:15 p.m.
Sigur Ros was set to take the stage at 7 p.m., but because of Kanye and that fall-out, the Icelandic troupe didn’t get to play until 7:15 and wound up only getting to play 45 minutes (instead of the before-promised 50 minutes). I have grown to love Sigur Ros over the past six or so months and the group definitely delivered in the precious time when the sun dropped and temps began to thankfully cool. Performing with string and horn players, my favorite chills came when they lifted the sky with a great song from “Takk..” (I think it was “Glosoli” – the Icelandic language is definitely foreign to yours truly). Like on CD, the group’s music is vast and otherworldly, and the setting of Coachella enhanced the sound. “Hoppipolla” also blew me away. Sigur Ros ranks with the Cocteau Twins and late-1980s U2 as having produced some of the most beautiful rock soundscapes ever.

8:30 p.m.
It has been a long day. I got up at 6 a.m. to drive out from Orange County to Coachella. So after the heat and all that, I’m at the point where I’m going to hang out by the Coachella Stage to catch the headliners for a bit and rest my burning, blistered feet. I’m glad I did. I had never seen Franz Ferdinand and they rocked. I loved the band, their youthful and loose energy. Rousing versions of “Take Me Out,” “Walk Away” and “Do You Want to,” as well as pretty much everything the Scotland band played worked on this night.

9:45 p.m.
Depeche Mode’s headlining set was strong, with the only “exception” being that frontman Dave Gahan sounded a bit weary in the vocal department. He hit the notes, but his voice lacked the punch when I saw him last year when the group first went on tour in support of “Playing the Angel.” But no doubt, the group was energetic and tight in performances of new gems such as “Precious” (as good as anything they’ve done), as well as many of their hits. I didn’t take many notes during the band’s set; I was too busy dancing to the groove.

11:30 and after
I ended the night catching a few minutes of She Wants Revenge and Daft Punk. It was a great way to cap a memorable day. Can anyone truly resist “One More Time”? It’s not likely, based that even right around midnight, it was impossible to get close to the Sahara Tent and I had to watch the performance projected on a big screen outside the tent.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Neil Young and "Living With War"

For any music fan, the place to be today is at Neil Young's official Web site where his forthcoming album "Living With War" is being played in full throughout the day. Some thoughts as it streams over my computer.

Track #1, "After the Garden," immediately establishes this is a project that may have put together quickly, but sounds great in terms of the performance. Neil has a great solo too; says lots with a simple melody line.

Track #2, the title song, has a gentle and forceful power with the chorus and his guitar sharing the audiospace; very nice. The thrid song, "The Restless Consumer," is more in the spirit on his work with Pearl Jam in the 1990s (think "Throw Your Hatred Down"), but more raw and almost like spoken word.

No matter one's specific political views, I think the universal themes Neil Young addresses are something most good people agree with. No more lies, an end to hunger, peace; I think where the difference between Americans are the causes of society's and the world's ills and how best to address them.

Track #4, "Shock and Awe" really rocks. It delivers with the fiery beat and crunch that Neil put to use with "Rocking in the Free World." Neil's voice and passion are evident; a great song. I'll be hitting repeat on this track when I get the disc for sure. When he sings "Thousands of bodies in the ground," it brings to mind the ultimate price that soliders and civilians often pay in places plagued by war. A nice horn (trumpet?) solo segues into a soaring chorus; this is the standout track so far, especially as a strong rocker. Neil unleashes blistering guitar work too, positioned around the trumpet and the song builds and builds. A real winner!

With a title like "Families," you know Neil is going to look at the ties that bind. The melody and delivery are emotive, and the chorus is just right. I'm now thinking this is truly one of the best albums of 2006, and Neil's best release since "Harvest Moon" (1992) or "Silver and Gold" (2000).

"Flags of Freedom," another strong vibe, midtempo and great vocal performance from the 60-year-old artist (can you believe he's 60, wow)...the harmonica is a great touch as well.

"Let's Impeach the President" has the feel of a 1960s protest song. "Roger and Out" sounds like some of Neil's alt country material - think 1978's "Comes a Time."

The album ends with "America the Beautiful," the many voices of the chorus that Young put together for the project coming together in an emotional finale. This is an outstanding album and even after a single listen, I'm impressed. I'm going to give it another listen.

I'm off to Coachella tomorrow morning and I'll check back with you next week when I return from Indio to OC.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jack's Mannequin; a full-length show!

On April 14, Jack's Mannequin played a full-length headlining show at the Anaheim House of Blues. I saw Andrew McMahon and his band play a 35-minute show last month at the same venue, but seeing how they could pull off a more ambitious set was worth a return visit to Downtown Disney last Friday night.

Andrew appears to be getting stronger and stronger following his much-chronicled battle against leukemia, and even got up on top of his grand piano let in the set to perform before the capacity crowd. And the songs sounded great. "Bruised" (my favorite), "The Mixed Tape" and "I'm Ready" all sounded fiery and connected with the enthusiastic crowd.

I can't wait to hear the sophomore effort from Jack's Mannequin; hopefully we get that in 2007...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

OCMAs, Stavesacre

I've been ever-so-busy lately. I went and was a presenter at the Orange County Music Awards last Saturday night. I forgot who actually won in the category where I was a presenter (Best Classic Rock), but they didn't show. Not nice. I saw many music friends throughout the night. Michael Ubaldini, Hugh, 9 Ball, Scarlet Crush - great to see all you talented folks!

Check my column out in the Show section of the Register on Friday. I had a long chat with Mark Salomon yesterday. He was very sick, but still talked to me for more than 30 minutes and it will lend itself to a good preview...

Less than a month until Coachella. Can't wait!

Friday, March 31, 2006

trespassers william; quiet fury

trespassers william is that rare band, like the Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros, able to stir the air with a mix of emotive vocals, effects-drenched guitar work and artistic attention to using a evocative mix of spacious sounds to enhance intricate melodies.

It’s a recipe best heard to appreciate, and that’s exactly what an increasing number of listeners are doing. Sigur Ros’ latest effort “Takk…” was truly one of the best albums of 2005 and has earned the Icelandic outfit a featured slot at the upcoming Coachella Music Festival next month, and now Orange County-spawned trespassers william has matched that style of brilliance on its third full-length effort, “having”(released Feb. 28, 2006). Among the best songs on trespassers williams’ “having” are the remarkable “safe, sound,” melodic “my hands up,” sparse “no one” and haunting “low point.”
The disc closes with “matching weight,” an ambitious song that builds and immerses the listener in layers of sound including for the last six or so minutes when notes both dissonant and beautiful dance a sonic ballet together outside the confines of any traditional structure.

“Mostly it was just a change of pace. We had done some touring up here and we had started to fall in love with the area,” said guitarist-keyboardist Matt Brown of the group’s decision to relocate to Seattle inJanuary 2005. I interviewed him by phone earlier this month.
“We were all scattered throughout Southern California– in L.A., Long Beach and Orange County and all over the place – it was taking an hour and a half to get to rehearsal. It was getting kind of complicated and we didn’t necessarily all want to move to L.A. and Seattle was a city we all kind of agreed we could be central at that had a really great music scene and was beautiful,” Brown explained. In addition to Brown, trespassers william alsoincludes singer-guitarist Anna-Lynne Williams and bassist-keyboardist Ross Simonini. Long-time drummerJamie Williams recently left the group; drummer Nathan Skolrud will be playing for the group when they tour this spring. The tour will include a number ofSouthern California dates, including a homecoming show at the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on Thursday, April 20.

Completing “having” was remarkably easy, despite the fact that it marked the first time in the 10-year-old troupe’s career they chose to include an outside producer in the process.
“We pretty much did everything by our selves except when we went to Buffalo (Tarbox Road Studios) to mix it. Dave Fridmann has such a distinct style that even though he just mixed it; he is credited with co-production because of the arrangements – some he totally flipped on their heads. Some he left intact,”Brown recalled. “So it’s really probably the most of both (working alone, and collaborating with someone outside of theband); we’ve kind of been self-produced before but we’ve also had to sneak into the studio when we had a few free hours. So this is the first time we’ve actually had a big chunk of time to really make a record.”

The results are stunning and fans of artful otherworldly rock are lavishing “having” with praise.

“The record (‘having’) actually happened really fast. ‘Different Stars’ we did at the studio where I used to work at in Orange County (Sonikwire Studios in Irvine)– those guys were nice enough if there was free time to drag everyone, that’s why it took so long,” Brown said. “And then ‘having’ took so long, (but) not because we didn’t have the songs. ‘Different Stars’ got picked up by Bella Union first and then we did touring and then it got picked up by Nettwerk and all of these things just happened one after another, we did a lot of the writing at our rehearsal space in Santa Ana and at the end of last year, October to December (of 2004) a lot of the arranging and then pretty much over the course of just one month did all of the recording (in January2005). And then we did a couple of weeks here and a touch up at home and then about nine days of mixing with Dave and then we sat on it for awhile waiting forit to get mastered just because of label release dates and all that…”

And because of modern technology, fans going to see the band will hear trespassers william with the kind of expansive sound featured on record, a clear departure from the band’s semi-acoustic early live shows.
“Actually, it’s more like the records than it has been,” said Brown.“We have a set-up where there is a keyboard and synth-bass, and then like a little desk with a mixer and some effects…it’s probably more electric than acoustic these days.”

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Catching up

Okay, okay. I don't post enough. Sorry!

But I've been busy listening and writing. You can read my Laurence Juber preview story in today's edition of the Orange County Register's Dana Point News. The legendary guitarist, who was with Paul McCartney's Wings from 1978 until 1981, is an amazing fingerstyle guitarist. He plays in Dana Point on Friday, March 24 and in Mission Viego on Sunday, March 26.

Also, make sure to catch up with my weekly Orange Pop column that runs on Fridays in the Show section of the OC Register. I featured Handsome Devil last Friday (March 17th) and I review a trio of local debuts in my column that runs tomorrow (March 24).

I'll check in with you again later today or tomorrow. Promise!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rock Hall fall; does anyone care?

I saw today on all the reporting from the 21st annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner, held on March 13 (I can't say I'm sorry I missed it; I was watching a great new episode of "24").

Looking over the list of so-called rock icons and those inducted, I have to honestly say "Who cares?" Black Sabbath didn't perform; Ozzy Osbourne is burned out and should just fade away. Apparently, whenever he was asked a question in the press room, he apparently couldn't really hear very well and didn't say anything very insightful. Kind of like that stupid MTV show he did a few years ago that I couldn't stomach.

When it came to the Sex Pistols, they didn't even show up.

Blondie was kind of bizarre, with apparently some of the various members not getting along anymore. I wouldn't have cared 25 years ago and I still don't care. Especially when a band is celebrated for such disposable fluff as "Call Me" and "Rapture." I would much rather have seen the Cars (the most successful American new wave band of the late 1970s) or the Smithereens (they released their debut "Girls About Town" in 1980) get in there.

I'm torn about Lynyrd Skynyrd. I guess they deserve to get in. I just don't hear their music and think it belongs in the company of U2, the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Queen. It's like bands such as ZZ Top, Billy Joel and Aerosmith - they are pretty good (and commercially successful) bands but shouldn't the Hall be reserved for the best of the best in terms of artistry? I guess in an age where we can't give any child a failing grade because it might hurt their self esteem, that's what we're left with...

Miles Davis was a great jazz musician. Very deserving of many accolades. But until rockers such as Hall & Oates, the Cure, Badfinger and Cheap Trick get in, why is the Rock Hall worrying about jazz players? I don't get it...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Catch-up time

I have not been posting lately. Sorry.

I have been listening to music, writing my weekly columns for the OC Register and all that stuff, but nothing significant has compelled me to put down anything here as of late. So I just wanted to check in, say "hello" to you and share a non-music related item here.

I read today that NASA is honoring Walter Cronkite with an actual moon rock. I have a story about Walter Cronkite to share with you. In spring of 2004, I went to Orlando, Florida to attend a communications conference. While on my way back to Orange County, California, at the Orlando airport and waiting for the security check, right next to me in a wheelchair being wheeled by several airport/security persons was legendary CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite. Everyone in line pretty much recognizes him and is pointing at him, etc. Although he has difficulty moving (he was in his late 80s two years ago), security makes him take off his shoes and checks him out as if he might be a terrorist. Is this junk silly or not? How many of the terrorist attacks in America, Israel, Iraq and everywhere Islamic facists are targeting innocents have been carried out by retired American newscasters?

I understand NASA is giving Cronkite, who is now around 90, a piece of the moon in rcognition of his decades of covering the space program. Our society should be going after the real terrorists, checking people coming from places such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen and making sure we know where all those people are.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Junos join race to bottom

We just survived the Grammys. Now, what to make of the upcoming Juno Awards, Canada's answer to the America's Grammy Awards.

I'm not going to reflect on every category. I don't have time, and I truthfully don't know all the artists well enough. But in the International Album Of The Year category, they have two albums that are a joke. Gwen Stefani's "Love.Angel.Music.Baby" and Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" are up for consideration. Artistry is obviously not the issue. I agree that female artists should be in the category; what about Aimee Mann's "The Forgotten Arm" or the Magic Numbers' self-titled debut - both released last year.

And I'm not sure, but why wasn't Neil Young (a native of Canada) nominated for "Prairie Wind" in that category. A wonderful album, at least it earned Young nominations in Best Songwriter and Adult Alternative Album categories where the winners will be announced on April 2.

However, credit our friends up north for nominated the LIVE 8 show from Toronto that featured a range of artists including Young, Bruce Cockburn and Tom Cochrane in the Music DVD of the Year field. Nice going.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Grammys: the good, the bad & the ugly

In the big scheme of things, I guess it doesn’t really matter.
The 48th annual Grammy Awards were staged at Staples Center in Los Angeles last night, and there was that anticipated mix of well-deserved prizes and ones that just left me shaking my head in disgust.
I tend to be negative when discussing the Grammys, so let me start out being positive. U2 was awarded “Album of the Year” for its great release “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.”
In fact, much is being made today about U2 upstaging Mariah Carey because the Irish quartet took home a total of five Grammys – winning in all of its nominated categories. Hello! I’m sure most of the readers of this column agree U2 crafts epic, lasting songs that will be listened to decades from now. Mariah Carey? Are you kidding?
Her over-the-top performance left me reaching for the mute button on my remote!
But her performance outdistanced the peculiar return by Sly Stone. I know Sly is a funk icon and all that, but it wasn’t just the clownish white Mohawk extending high above his head; he looked like he couldn’t hit the right note on his keyboard if his life depended on it. It’s not surprising he hasn’t made a public performance that anyone knows about in forever. Pathetic.
It was great to see a few of the performances: U2 tearing through “Vertigo” (how sad that the duet with Mary J. Blige ruined “One”), McCartney and his band conquering “Fine Line” and trying to wake up the comatose crowd with boisterous “Helter Skelter.” I thought Bruce Springsteen appeared to be trying too hard (maybe because he was focusing on how he could get his anti-war quip in, “Bring them home” under the tape-delay censors), but “Devils and Dust” is an excellent song not heard enough by the industry-centric crowd that filled the L.A. arena on Wednesday night. And don’t forget about Coldplay, who delivered the band’s great “Talk.”
And I have to admit to enjoying the way Stevie Wonder and co-presenter Alicia Keys got the crowd singing along with an a cappella version of “Higher Ground,” much better than Madonna’s been-there-done-that dance-minded performance with poorly-animated apes Gorillaz. Bore-ing.
Perhaps the most interesting performance was the fusion of rockers Linkin Park, rapper Jay-Z and McCartney joining forces to perform “Yesterday.” It was every bit the success that the U2-Blige pairing was not.
Am I the only one who doesn’t get John Legend? Technically the guy can hit the right notes when he is singing and on his keyboard; but his voice lacks the distinctive beauty of a Wonder or even Maroon 5’s lead singer. It’s amazing he bested British rock trio Keane for Best New Artist. Hype often rules the day.
And did you know the much-deserving Aimee Mann won a Grammy? Well, sort of. Actually, she won a Grammy for the Best Recording Package. And her amazing music? Not even nominated.
That is a good place to note that the disposable Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” (coming soon to a used bin near you) won over McCartney’s “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” in the Best Pop Vocal Album race. Sad.
Perhaps the most ironic note was how comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out to introduce Paul McCartney, noting “Our next performer needs no introduction” before she left the stage.
Ironically, looking at the industry crowd and deciphering how McCartney, as well as Neil Young, failed to pick up a single Grammy, it’s easy to see a time when great artists will need introductions. Kelly Clarkson winning multiple Grammys and the aforementioned seminal artists none?
Some things never change.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grammys Eve

Tomorrow the Grammy Awards arrive. It's interesting to see where the focus is today on the eve of the event. I just read an article by Associated Press Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, with the focus of that piece on Mariah Carey and how timely her comeback is as the Wednesday night, Feb. 8th awards night approaches.

Does anyone really think this so-called diva's music will be remembered beyond the hype of today? I could be wrong, of course, but listening to her over-the-top bombast and emotionally-chilled vocals, I can't help but think "who cares?" Is it just me? And she is in fine company this year, with Gwen Stefani nominated for something or another related to her forgettable solo debut "Love. Angel. Music. Baby."

U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and Paul McCartney's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" are also nominated and deserve to be; now those are wonderful albums full of emotional depth and musical craft that showcase why pop music can still weave magic decades after it was born. Yet, McCartney has never won a Grammy for best album. He has won Grammys, dating back to his epic work with the Beatles. But it's amazing to think that Stefani and Carey might rob an artist of McCartney's standing from earning that prize.

But don't be surprised. It's the Grammys and that often means music comes last...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coachella; then and next

Of course, lots to report on "Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival."

Before I get into today's announcements, I did get to attend the L.A. premiere of the film on January 19, 2006. I meant to post my thoughts about the full-length film the next day, but I had to cover NAMM (the huge music conference) in Anaheim that day and all day the following day, so I was beat.

But the film is excellent. It's impossible to include performances from every act that has played since the fest's launch last century. So the director of the film, Drew Thomas (who was at the screening and made introductions), kind of puts you there. You get a sense of what makes Coachella so unique and so real. And all about the music. My favorite performances in the film came from Morrissey and Radiohead, but the overall film itself captures the magic in a way most recent concert pics have failed. When Zero 7 played, it reminded me of Hendrix at the Woodstock, a kind of saddness that rarely comes across on the silver screen in rock movies...

Now, today they announced the initial list of acts performing at the upcoming 7th annual Coachella, to be held in Indio on Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30. We already knew about Depeche Mode, but now comes word that Depeche Mode will be the final act on Saturday, while Tool will close the whole thing on Sunday. Other acts include two I haven't seen before and am really looking forward to seeing, Scotland outfit Franz Ferdinand and Iceland's Sigur Ros.

Sunday's highlights will likely come in sets delivered by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Scissor Sisters, Bloc Party and Sleater-Kinney. But then part of the magic of Coachella is not knowing who will blow you away.