Monday, March 31, 2008

7th annual Orange County Music Awards recap

LANCE "ROMANCE" FAULK: The lead singer for the Attraction died of a heart attack in his Huntington Beach home on Nov. 10. He was honored at the Orange County Music Awards on March 29, 2008.

I went to the Orange County Music Awards on Saturday night (March 29). Even if I had not been a presenter, I would have gone to catch all the fine performances and say "hello" to so many of my friends in the local music scene.

For my mind, the performances from The Attraction, Jessica Callahan, CPO (Chris Paul Overall, formerly singer of the incredible Wonderlove), Deccatree and blues outfit Buck Wildstar were all great. The Attraction performed a song written in tribute to Lance "Romance" Faulk, the band's gifted singer who passed away on Nov. 10, 2007. I had a chance to catch up with Attraction guitarist Chris Master John and he plans to keep playing music; that is the ultimate tribute to Lance Romance's winning style and spirit.
Jessica Callahan's performance of "City Streets" was especially sweet, since the talented singer-songwriter-keyboardist was honored a bit earlier with the Best Female trophy.
I got a chance to chat with singer-guitarist TJR, three members of Americana rockers the Fallen Stars and Robert Steffen. Thanks to everyone who came out to support local music, and thanks for the nice applause when I came out on stage. A critic who gets cheered; geez, I must be doing something wrong!
Here is a complete list of winners and congrats to all of you!

Best song: "Red Shoes," Bayadera
Best alternative: Bayadera
Best male: Jonathan Blake
Best female: Jessica Callahan
Best pop rock: Lunar Fiction
Best high school: Marliese
Best jazz: Rare Form Band
Best instrumental:Evan Stone
Best Surf: Reventlos
Best R&B: Jimi E
Best country: Fertitta and McClintock
Best classic Rock: Shawn Jones
Best indie: CPO
Best folk: Marianne Keith
Best electronic: Dead Amps
Best punk: Longway
Best blues: Pamela G
Best rock: Union of Saints
Best hip-hop:Brawdcast
Best urban: Mic Moses and C4mula
Best international: Juan Coronado
Best out of county: A Living Daylight
Best hard rock: Star Off Machine
Best swing: Gary Tole
Best live acoustic band: The Fallen Stars
Best live acoustic female: Robin Lore
Best live acoustic male: AJ DeGrasse
Best metal: Sacred Storm
Best live electric band: Franki Doll and the Broken Toys
Lance Romance Memorial Award: Franki Doll

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Local acts release a spring bounty of new albums

VENDETTA VALENTINE: The Orange County band recalls the sounds of the late '70s and early '80s on its new album, "There's Nothing Safe."

Vendetta Valentine “There’s Nothing Safe” (Jungle Music) – Over the past few years, there has been a number of great Orange County artists mining the electronica-anchored sounds of the late 70s and early 80s for new life.
On its 13-song debut released on March 4, Santa Ana-based Vendetta Valentine joins the celebrated likes of Vale, the Dear & Departed and Her Voice Remains as strong proponents of the regional retro-fueled movement.
From the decidedly upbeat synth pop of “Let It Burn” and “Dissidents” to the haunting low-fi rocker “Golden” and gorgeous “Brave New World,” “There’s Nothing Safe” is great from start to finish.
The trio features the strong talents of Daniel Powell (lead guitar, bass, programming), Anna Judd (keyboards) and Thomas Monroe (vocals, rhythm guitar).
You might like if you enjoy: New Order, early Cure, the Lucy Show.

Bastard Winos “Empty Bottles…” (independent) – If members of AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd joined forces with blues greats Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, the sonic outcome might well sound like the new debut from Bastard Winos.
Fronted by singer Chile Thomas, the rip roaring outfit also includes guitarist-singer Harlis Sweetwater, bassist Chris Garcia and drummer Greg Garcia.
Echoes of everyone from Little Richard (“100 Proof Juice”) to the Georgia Satellites (“Bottle of Ink”) abound on this set of raucous rock ‘n’ roll.
Is this band’s boisterous approach the real deal? You bet.
Bastard Winos and Barrelhouse will perform at Fitzgerald’s Pub, 19171 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach, at 9 p.m. on March 29.
You might like if you enjoy: AC/DC, early Led Zeppelin, the Georgia Satellites.

Andrea Emmes “I’m On My Way” (Aselah Productions) – Armed with songs centered on her Christian faith, Buena Park-based Andrea Emmes has crafted a heartfelt debut.
The 11-song “I’m On My Way” has enough room for ‘80s styled rock (“Lost”), R&B-tinged ballads (“Father”), folk (“Don’t Cry”) and authentic blues (“Thank You”). Emmes has a wealth of experience in the entertainment industry (including stints singing at Disneyworld and as a production assistant on the TV show “Making the Band: O-Town”), but has found a decidedly more personal niche with “I’m On My Way” thanks to uplifting songs that showcase her effective vocals.
You might like if you enjoy: Amy Grant, Natalie Grant.

NEVERWONDER “(3-song demo)” (independent) – Even when singers get voted off “American Idol,” the widespread exposure can often help them launch a successful career in music.
Such should be the case with vocalist Megan Bobo, who finished in the top 24 during Season 5 of the popular show and has now been recruited as the singer of the band NEVERWONDER.
The group (whose members come from Los Angeles and Orange counties) has just released a three-song sampler from a forthcoming sophomore effort and the results are solid. The band’s ability to deliver accessible pop is displayed courtesy of “Is This the End,” while NEVERWONDER’s full-force rock instincts come via “Movin’ On” and “Lucky.”
Information: or
You might like if you enjoy: Evanescence, Taming Ingrid.


What does Orange County’s RX Bandits have in common with classic rockers such as Neil Young, John Lennon, Roger Waters and Bruce Springsteen?
Tracks by all those artists are featured on “Body of War: Songs That Inspired an Iraq War Veteran,” issued by Sire Records on March 18.
Inclusion of the RX Bandits’ reggae-styled rocker “Overcome (The Recapitulation)” will put a well-deserved renewed spotlight on the band’s dazzling 2003 effort “The Resignation” (the album where the song first appeared).
“Body of War” also features songs from Eddie Vedder, Bad Religion, Ben Harper, Pearl Jam and Bright Eyes.

Swallow's Day in San Juan Capistrano

With the arrival of Swallow’s Day in San Juan Capistrano this week, it’s no surprise the Swallow’s Inn is hosting top-notch entertainment all weekend.

The Working Cowboy Band will perform traditional country-western music on Thursday and Saturday night, while acclaimed singer Jann Browne will perform at the venue on Friday evening. In addition, the Road Kill Kings will perform a special afternoon concert from 2-6:30 p.m. on Friday, while the Dalton Gang will play classic rock there at noon on Saturday.
The Working Cowboy Band was founded by singer-guitarist Rick Robledo in 1995 and has been a mainstay on the regional country music scene for more than a decade.
What happens when a band blends traditional country-western, rockabilly and bluegrass with rock ‘n’ roll?

The results more than likely sound something like the intoxicating sound made by Orange County’s own Road Kill Kings.
Given the group’s wide-range of influences and original sound, it’s no wonder that the Road Kill Kings have played in support of such well-known artists as Hank Williams III, Junior Brown, Robert Earl Keen, the Knitters and Big Sandy.
The quintet features fiddle player Mike Stave, singer-guitarist Darren Ellis (a founding member of the James Theroux Band), drummer Mark Obey, lead guitarist Jeremy Long and upright bass fiddle player Randy Cochran. The group’s original and energetic remakes celebrate its Americana influences, with songs such as “Truck Driving Man,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Thrown Out of the Bar” favorites with the band’s fans.

Released in 2007, Jann Browne’s most recent commercial disc “Buckin’ Around” is an authentic set that will please fans of traditional country pioneer Buck Owens, as well as audiences who enjoy contemporary roots music. Browne is a wonderful singer and brings a wealth of style to the 11 timeless Owens gems covered on “Buckin’ Around,” including “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and “I Don’t Care.”
However, the Anderson, Indiana native’s acclaimed career includes a wealth of releases encompassing both honky tonk and singer-songwriter instincts wrapped in blues and other related styles.

The Dalton Gang is a Temecula-based outfit that performs performs classic rock. However, singer-guitarist Gary Dalton, bassist Billy Dalton, keyboardist-guitarist Doc Dalton and drummer Bob Dalton specialize in playing popular bands’ lesser-known songs.

The Working Cowboy Band will perform at Swallow’s Inn, 31786 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on March 27 and at 8 p.m. on March 29. Jann Browne will perform at the same venue at 7:30 p.m. on March 28.
Road Kill Kings will play from 2 to 6:30 p.m. on March 28, while the Dalton Gang will play at noon on March 29.
Admission to the shows is free.
Information: 949-493-3188.

Friday, March 21, 2008

TJR takes a side trip to Liverpool

The Fullerton artist gets Fab on latest release

Millions tuned into "American Idol" over the past two weeks to see contestants on the popular TV show sing Beatles classics.
Fullerton-based singer-songwriter Timothy John Ramirez (better known by his performance moniker TJR) has just released a decidedly daring counterpart to that show's proponents, releasing "In My Life: A Piano Tribute to the Beatles."

The 7-track release marks TJR's first digital-only album and features instrumental versions of Lennon & McCartney classics such as "The Long and Winding Road," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "She's Leaving Home," as well as a ragtime-tinged "Got to Get You Into My Life."
"Between writing and recording, it took three years to record my last album," TJR said of his 2007 disc "Another Roll of the Dice." That CD features original songs such as the bluesy folk rocker "Peace Love and Don't Trust MTV" and affecting acoustic ballad "Home to Me."
"Then I started to learn to record at home with my Apple (computer). I was tinkering with Beatles songs and thought, 'Why not record an album of this?' I became a better pianist as a result."

Although fans of TJR are well aware of his fiery and virtuoso skills playing guitar, they might be surprised to learn that his first instrument was the piano. Indeed, he was recently recruited to play keyboards in singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini's band.
"Working on these arrangements, I wanted to make them interesting and good. I looked at this as a way to get my (piano) chops back up. It also allowed me to play with Michael (Ubaldini) too," said TJR, noting his most recent show with the acclaimed Fountain Valley artist was a St. Patrick's Day show at Fitzgerald's in Huntington Beach on March 17.
"Another Roll of the Dice" was released in September 2007 and TJR went on a tour of England, Ireland and France in October.
"In November, I started arranging the (tracks for) the Beatles CD," TJR recalled.
"I didn't want to just (mirror the original arrangement of) each song. I think most have a light classical feel."
It took five months to arrange, record and master the tracks for "In My Life: A Piano Tribute to the Beatles." Because of the high cost to issue the collection of copyrighted songs on a physical CD, TJR is offering the set as a digital album via his Web site and
And while his tribute to the Beatles will be sure to please fans of the Fab Four and piano music, his original rock songs are also worth getting a hold of courtesy of "Another Roll of the Dice" and 2003's "Mixed Emotions."
And TJR couldn't make it easier for discerning listeners to connect with his song craft.
"I want people to join my e-mail list. I give them eight free songs," he said.
TJR performs a free solo acoustic show at Fitness Grill, 103 W. Imperial Highway, Brea, from 6-9 p.m. every Thursday.
He will also perform at Lighthouse Café, 30 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, at 11 a.m. on April 19. Admission to that is also free.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

7th Annual Orange County Music Awards are coming

The Fallen Stars were nominated in several live music categories this year.
Although the 7th annual Orange County Music Awards ceremony won't be held until March 29 at the Grove of Anaheim, there are a number of live music performances leading up to the event where the public can help participate in the selection of winners in each of the live music categories.

Artists vying for best live acoustic female, best live acoustic male and best live acoustic band will be playing at the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana from noon to 7 p.m. on March 9, while 18 acts will perform at DiPiazza's in Long Beach over the course of three nights, March 7, 15 and 16 in hopes of earning best live electric band/artist honors.
"Corvette" Sandy Struckhoff, who oversees the OCMA live music competition categories, said there are several nominees who have competed in their respective categories before, but many new names are on the bill this year.
"It will be difficult and intense for the judges to make their determinations and interesting for the public, who will no doubt, be sitting on the edge of their seats at the Gypsy Den this Sunday," she said. "Part of the judging criteria is based upon the audience reaction and response, so we will no doubt be observing and vigilant regarding their performance. The 'grace under fire' factor comes into play, as each participant only has 15 minutes to bring us their message through music."

Martin Brown, founder and producer of the OCMAs, said the forces that inspired him to launch the event still ring true today.
"This give exposure and recognition for local, unsigned artists who slave away week after week and get no recognition," Brown said.
Artists interviewed agreed with Brown's overview of the OCMAs.
"The OCMAs give artists a chance to play in front of people and that's all you can ask for," said singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini, a finalist performing in the acoustic field on Sunday afternoon. "It has brought me followers from different audiences and broadened my fan base."

The Fallen Stars recently opened for Ubaldini at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and will be sharing the bill with him again this Sunday at the Gypsy Den.
"It's definitely an honor for the Fallen Stars to be nominated for best live band and best live acoustic band as well," said Gregg Braught, lead guitarist of the Huntington Beach-based Americana rock troupe.
"The OCMAs are a fine opportunity for us and our fellow musicians to be seen, heard and recognized as forces to be reckoned with in the music business. This is especially true now with artists seeing that a successful career isn't necessarily dependent on being signed to a major label anymore. You can record and distribute your music to fans old and new, locally and around the globe, and have more control over your musical future than ever before," Braught said.
Singer-songwriter Sarah Green noted the OCMAs are an event that actually builds a bridge between talented artists and discerning music listeners.
"There are a handful of us in Orange County trying to get good music to you the fan, and the people who make the OCMAs happen understand the battle it can be to be an artist in a place where there's not many places to play. Being nominated for an OCMA bridges another gap between the artist and the fan; it makes a lot of noise in a place where people hardly listen."
Brown said while he received submissions from about 300 artists representing a wide range of styles including punk, hip-hop, country-western, modern rock and world music this year. There is a core of about 50 artists who have submitted every year since the launch of the OCMAs.
"It's interesting to see the progression of some of the artists. It's rewarding to see even though they were not nominated (in the early years), they stuck with it and they have improved so much, their nomination is pretty much assured now," Brown explained.
Added Ubaldini: "It started from a grass roots level and provides a chance for artists to be heard."

Monday, March 03, 2008

Beoga thrills at San Juan Capistrano Regional Library

Beoga (from left) features guitarist Seán Óg Graham , accordian player Damian McKee, bodhrán champion Eamon Murray and singer-fiddle player Niamh Dunne.
The San Juan Capistrano Regional Library might not share much in common with an Irish pub or a musical destination such as the nearby Swallow's Inn, but not everything is always as it seems.
On Saturday evening, March 1, Irish music quintet Beoga (Irish word for "lively") made their first-ever appearance in San Juan Capistrano and (and if I heard Eamon Murray correctly) the band's first-ever performance at a library. At the first of two shows that evening, Beoga delivered a breathtaking performance featuring material off the troupe's two full-length CDs.
Performing strong instrumentals such as "Soggy's" and "Mischief," as well as artful songs with fiddle player/singer Niamh Dunne taking the spotlight, Beoga is the perfect ambassador for traditional Irish music. Material from the group's 2007 second album was especially well-chronicled at the show, with a sing-along cover of the Steely Dan classic "Dirty Work" and the jazzy-styled "Please Don't Talk" among many highlights of the memorable set. All five musicians were excellent and the arrangements couldn't have been better.
I had a very difficult time not tapping my fingers and feet throughout this infectious night of music making and that was a good thing.

Going Acoustic a good move for Chris Cruz

Photo credit: Craig Yoneda

For more than a decade Chris Cruz has played bass in Orange County-based Doom Kounty Electric Chair, a hard rocking band headed by his brother, singer-guitarist Jose Cruz.

So it may come as a surprise that Chris Cruz has not only stepped out from the shadow of that alternative rock band to his release his first-ever solo CD, but that "In My Heart" is at the opposite end of the sonic universe; the 11-song disc is a beautiful and sparse acoustic album filled with material sure to please fans of heartfelt folk music.

"I was ground up with Doom Kounty," Chris Cruz admitted in an interview at a coffee shop near his Anaheim home last week. "We started in '95 and put our first record out in '97. I was just ground up by the music business."

So when Curt Sautter, a producer who runs Upland-based Delirium Records, offered to demo some of his songs in 2006, Cruz decided that the timing seemed right.
"Curt and I get along great," Cruz said. "He has a punk rock ethic and great ears."
Despite the seemingly simple process of recording an album built around straightforward acoustic material, "In My Heart" took more than a year to complete. Cruz would first record demos of the material at his home and then drive to Delirium Records almost every Saturday to record final sessions with Sautter.
He acknowledged that during the extended period, he also did a good deal of listening to other acoustic recordings to see how many of his favorite artists were able to create magic.
"I listened to a lot of old (Bob) Dylan, Woody Guthrie. I also got into (Bruce Springsteen's) 'Nebraska' and Michael Ubaldini's 'Acoustic Rumble.' I wanted to do an acoustic record, so I thought I'd listen to everything acoustic and start from there.
"Curt has instilled in me: it's about emotion."

"In My Heart" sparkles. Although there is a simplicity to the recordings, the melodies and Cruz's affecting delivery of the songs shine across the CD. Echoes of the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison come to mind listening to gems such as "I'm In Love With a Girl," "When You Look at Me," "Blame it on Love" and "The Other Side."
Although Cruz has been playing music for most of his life, "In My Heart" might seem at odds with the majority of his time making music. He sang in a church choir during elementary and junior high school, and played trumpet in the jazz, concert and marching bands at Cerritos High School.
While at Cal State Long Beach, Cruz picked up guitar and began playing and writing songs, going on to form Arbitrage with fellow Cerritos High School alumni Marc Ford (best known for his subsequent stints in Burning Tree and the Black Crowes) and Jim Ashhurst (Broken Homes, Buckcherry).
After the demise of that band, Cruz taught himself bass and joined his brother's band.
In addition to his burgeoning solo acoustic career, Cruz recently joined power pop band the Relatives. His strong skills as a songwriter and singer should prove to be an asset to that group on stage and in the studio. The band will open for Stan Ridgway at the Coach House on March 14.
But Cruz acknowledged that he is very serious about touring and promoting his solo project.
"Around October 2006, I entertained the idea to do two records. I'd come into the studio. Some songs were political, and some songs sappy love songs. We thought, 'Why don't we record two records.' "
So while "In My Heart" will see its official release in March 2008, an album of political-minded material will be issued later in July or August.
"People have said I'm punk rock with this record because of the quirkiness of the arrangements," Cruz explained.
"I'm going with the theory that it's tough to screw up a good song," Cruz said.

The Relatives open for Stan Ridgway at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 14.
For more information on getting tickets to that show, email Cruz at
For more information on Cruz' solo project, visit