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Album Review: Neil Young Protests GMO’s on ‘The Monsanto Years’

neil-young-the-monsanto-yearsOn his latest album, “The Monsanto Years”, Neil Young, is angry. Really angry.  He’s unleashed a fiery burst of rock n roll fury aimed squarely at box stores, corporate farming and ag chemical use.

For the most part the premise works, but Neil does stretches his credibility with a few “you can see it coming” groaners like rhyming “GMO” with “Monsanto” on the whistling-snappy “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop”. How’s that for a title?

Nelson Brothers Rock

Young, who will be turning 70 this year, has long championed the family farmer and protested the use of GMOs, donating money to various causes and years of gratis performances at Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concerts. Young’s new five piece backup band is called Promise of the Real, featuring guitar singer brothers, Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of Willie. These young’ns are the perfect foil for Young’s style of frenzied guitar grunge and sense of urgency. The Promise certainly seems to be drinking their elder’s kool aid because they rock every bit as solid as Young’s old band Crazy Horse and seem just as upset about these earthly matters.

Young lets no one off the hook with stinging lyrics about Walmart, Safeway, Starbucks and consumers alike who all get their britches toasted on several songs such as “Big Box”, where the people “line up for more” at the expense of Main Street’s mom and pop small businesses.

In many ways, Neil Young and Promise of the Real have made  “The Monsanto Years” his most energized political rock album since “Ragged Glory”.  Despite the over all raucous, snappy hard driving rock and all eco-politics aside, not everyone wants to “realty check” along to four songs about Monsanto and 5 more targeting other corporations. And Young is fully aware of this and says so on “People Just Want to Hear About Love”.

American Gothic?

Is Neil Young’s “The Monsanto Years” just an aging geezer’s rant or a rallying call for action? It’s both. What Young is saying loud and clear, is that we need to pay attention to what’s going on with the world’s food chain right now instead of  later.  Or there will be no more Harvest Moon.

- Eric Berg

Additional notes: Check out the album cover which is a takeoff of the “American Gothic” painting with farmer Neil and his current flame, actress turned eco-activist, Daryl Hanna, holding the pitchfork. The cd version of “The Monsanto Years” includes a very good dvd of Young and The Promise rocking out in a studio setting.



KUSP Classical Programming: 12 Hours a Week of Remarkable Music

to a remarkable selection of hand-picked Classical programming.






Listen/Stream the full shows for one week (except for OnSite).
Click on an image to get the player on show page.

Monday – Thursday 7-9:30 p.m. / Friday 8-10 p.m.

Monday Night at the OperaMonday / Jim Emdy, Barbara Smythe
20/21 - Tuesday / Joe Truskot
Classical Tune-Up - Wednesday / Christopher Smith
Musical della seraThursday / Nicolas Michell, Meera Collier
KUSP OnSite - Friday / Robin Whitehouse

Album Review: Will Butler’s Fired Up ‘Policy’



Will Butler is the lead guitarist for Montreal’s indie rock band Arcade Fire and the younger brother of the lead singer.  The guitarist has just released his first solo effort “Policy” and it’s a slam dunk, innovative breath of rock n roll fresh air. A short, but jam packed  28 minutes of exhilarating, humorous, quirky pop and gospel tinged tunes.

A multi-instrumentalist who can play just about anything, the thirty something Butler recorded “Policy” aided by only a single drummer, two saxophonists and a set of great background singers that include his wife, Jenny. Butler claims the policy of this album reflects his broad musical tastes, which appear to be all over the place as evidenced by “Anna”.

Sense of Humor

Butler certainly expresses a funny sense of dark humor in the songs he’s written here punctuating by stabbing synths and guitars, rockabilly beats and terrific girl group back ground vocals. Butler uses them to great effect on his humorous  poke at the notion that the end of the  world is near on “Something’s Coming”. (Check out the video below.) And “What I Want” is about a hilarious tongue twisted guy who can’t express himself romantically and totally misses the boat.

Zippy 28 Minutes Long

At a zippy 28 minutes long, “Policy” is a terrific first solo album from Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. It’s upbeat and percolating smart- snappy pop from a guy who knows his music, Butler ends the album with the gospel influenced “Witness”, that would make Marvin Gaye chuckle. One of the best albums of the year. – Eric Berg


Stephen Kessler Translates Spanish Poet, Luis Cernuda


Layout 1On the June 21, 2015 Poetry Show, local poetry luminary (and past Poetry Show host) Stephen Kessler joined host Dennis Morton to read from and discuss his new book, a hefty volume of translations titled Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems [1924-1949], by the Spanish writer Luis Cernuda. Published by Black Widow Press, the 400+ page book features Kessler’s new English translations, side-by-side on the pages with the original Spanish text.

Cernuda was one of the “Generation of ’27” (Spanish: Generación del 27), a group of young poets that arose during the 1920s. The members were scattered by the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Best-known to Americans of the group is probably Federico Garcia Lorca, who was assassinated in the early days of the war. Cernuda spent many years in the UK and US before ending up in Mexico late in life. He never returned to Spain.

20 - S. KesslerThe stars have been in alignment for the Poetry Show (or maybe it’s the hard work of Dennis Morton in scheduling guests and subjects). Last week we learned that a previous guest, Juan Felipe Herrera, has just been named United States Poet Laureate. In honor of that honor, we re-broadcast Mr. Herrera’s 2014 visit to the show. This week’s guest, Stephen Kessler, was also a guest on that 2014 show because of his long-time association with both Herrera and the Poetry Show.

Forbidden Pleasures will have its official Santa Cruz introduction on July 18 at Felix Kulpa Gallery, presented by A New Cadence Poetry Series.

Sara Solovitch: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright

This program originally aired on The 7th Avenue Project, June 21, 2015.

“If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world,” Mark Twain wrote, “it is stage fright.” Twain is credited with coining the term, though he says he experienced the condition only once, as a fledgling public speaker. Many others haven’t been so lucky, as Sara Solovitch’s new book reminds us. Horowitz and Olivier had to be dragged bodily from their dressing rooms, fighting every inch of the way. Michael Gambon was twice hospitalized from the stress. And countless would-be performers have had careers interrupted or cut short when their nerves became too much.

'Playing Scared. A History and Memoir of Stage Fright', by Sara Solovitch. Photo: Courtesy of the author.

‘Playing Scared. A History and Memoir of Stage Fright’, by Sara Solovitch. Photo: Courtesy of the author.

Sara herself abandoned piano at 19 after years of serious study; chronic stage fright had made every concert and competition a panicky, sweat-soaked ordeal. She became a successful journalist, raised a family, and life was good. But there was still a nagging sense of unfinished business with the piano, and 30 years after running away, she took it up again, resolved to face her fear and maybe brave the stage again. She tells the story in Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright. We talked about Sara’s on-again, off-again affair with the piano, fear of failure, perfectionism and the culture of classical performance, the psychology of stage fright and some useful coping techniques (for a longer list, see Sara’s 12 Ways To Tame Stage Fright).

Album Flashback: ‘Wooly Bully’ – Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs


Wooly-BullySeems like every time I go grocery shopping, classic rock tunes segue down the aisles from above. Everything from Elvis to Nirvana as well as last week’s Lady Gaga. Songs we shoppers are way too familiar with. There I was perusing the locally grown organic broccoli when “Wooly Bully” lit up the vegetable department and my cart started a rock’n and rollin’.

Huge Smash

Written and performed by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Wooly Bully” was a worldwide smash in 1965. Recorded by Sun Studios founder, Sam Phillips in Memphis, the song spent 14 weeks on the US top 40 charts despite overall domination by what was then called the “British music invasion”.”Wooly Bully” was named “Single of the Year” by Billboard Magazine and was the title of the Pharaoh’s first full-length record and the opening track.  So… what about the rest of it album? Listen to my audio piece at the top of this article and find out.

Sam the Sham is Memphis R&B singer Domingo Samudio. He was one of the first musicians to incorporate pop rock with Tex-Mex rhythms. Samudio also had a penchant for humorous novelty tunes that gave him

What a Sham!

Samudio supposedly came up with the name “Sam the Sham” after somebody joked he couldn’t sing. Sham had a hipster beard and always sported a turban and a shiny dinner jacket and played organ. He dressed his band in Middle Eastern outfits and, if the tour warranted it, employed a trio of backup singers dressed like Aladdin princesses.  The singer also owned a 1950’s hearse and used it to lug his organ and the band’s equipment to gigs.  Despite the shtick and novelty hits, this Wooly Bully version of Sham and the originals Pharaohs were a solid Tex-Mex R&B band that mixed Memphis blues with soul punctuated by Butch Gibson’s wailing saxophone.  By second album, the Pharaohs were gone, Sam the Sham having replaced them all.

Learn to Dance

What the heck is a “Wooly Bully” anyway? As Hattie tells Mattie in the lyrics, it’s the latest dance craze. Word had it that Samudio wanted to knock off the then popular “Hully Gully” twist dance with a dance of his own and just needed something to call it.  He’s always claimed it was the name of his cat. Whatever a “Wooly Bully” is, those two words are a permanent part of classic rock lexicon. Just ask Ry Cooder. - Eric Berg


Kelly O’Brien and Terry Green: Time is Now to Plan KUSP’s Future

This piece also appeared  in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Sunday, May 31, 2015.

Meeting in Monterey, May 21, 2015.

Meeting in Monterey, May 21, 2015.

By Kelly O’Brien and Terry Green

Public radio depends on public support — and public participation. In the next few weeks, you will have an exceptional opportunity to shape the future of public radio in the Monterey Bay area.

Only one of the public radio stations in this region is owned by a local nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to serving the community through public media: 88.9 KUSP. And KUSP faces some critical decisions about what that public service will look like in the months and years ahead.

KUSP’s audience size is at its highest level ever, and with a month to go in our current fiscal year we have already broken our all-time record for donations from listeners (which make up about 55% of our overall budget). But these successes can’t mask some uncomfortable truths about what’s happening to the economics of local media in smaller communities like ours.

Competition for listeners’ ears has never been greater — from other AM/FM radio, from podcasts, from satellite radio and from online services like Pandora. Our business supporters have an ever-growing range of options for their marketing dollars. Government support for public broadcasting is stretched thinner every year.

Despite this financial stress, KUSP has continuously searched for ways to bring you better public radio. For many years we have advocated for collaboration among public stations that would improve the service you get by reducing duplication of programming by stations and gaining efficiency through economies of scale. Unfortunately, our efforts at bringing stations together have not been successful, and the time has come to look at a wider range of possible strategies for KUSP.

When we began looking beyond Central California for prospective collaborators, we heard from some unexpected places, including the parent organization of classical stations KDFC in San Francisco and KUSC in Los Angeles. They were interested in seeing if, by working with us, there would be ways to include Monterey Bay area listeners in what they do.

Their interest prompted us to think about whether there might be ways KUSP could meet its mission through approaches we had not seriously considered before. Our Board of Directors, made up of 13 community members from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, believed we should begin by asking our employees and volunteers whether the kind of idea floated by KDFC and KUSC was too “out of the box” for us to consider, or whether we should begin a serious exploration of what might be possible. While 81% of the group supported opening the discussion, there are voices in the community strongly opposed, and we recognize that broaching the idea at all has hit a nerve.

The start of the wider discussion has brought forth a number of interesting ideas for KUSP — some that involve bigger partners in one way or another, and some that the station would do on its own. As we bring these ideas into focus, we want to know what you think. Public meetings to discuss the ideas brought to us so far are going on now; a Santa Cruz County meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, June 2, at the Jack & Peggy Baskin Center for Philanthropy – Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, in Aptos. To learn more about current ideas and to review answers to frequently asked questions, please engage with KUSP at kusp.org/participate.

The time to plan the future is now, and we want your voice to be heard. Please join us.

Kelly O’Brien, KUSP President and Board Chair
Terry Green, KUSP General Manager

Album Review: Rhiannon Gidden’s Solo Debut ‘Tomorrow Is My Turn’


giddens-tomorrow-is-my-turn-450x409Rhiannon Giddens, lead singer and a founding member of the Grammy winning string band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, has just released her first solo album called “Tomorrow Is My Turn”.  It’s an impressive vocal tour de force that shows off Gidden’s superlative voice and extensive range.

Her rendition of  “Waterboy  floored the audience with in 2013 at the “Another Day, Another Time” folk concert honoring the Cohen Bros movie “Inside Lewyn Davis”.  Giddens caught the ear of T-Bone Burnett who asked to record with her and produced “Tomorrow Is My Turn” which features her percussive but strikingly updated version of “Waterboy”, a song most famously associated with Odetta.

Operatic background

Giddens , a classically trained opera singer seems quite at ease covering all genres of music. For this album, she purposely chose tracks that didn’t fit the Chocolate Drops’ M.O. picking out songs written or at least interpreted by women singer who inspired her like Elizabeth Cotton, Nina Simone, Patsy Cline. Her version of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” is absolutely stunning and so is her gospel prowess on Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head”.

The group of musicians Burnett picked to back Giddens on “Tomorrow Is My Turn” are also outstanding, notably fiddle player Gabe Witcher from the Punch Brothers. Chocolate Drop bandmates Hubby Jenkins and Adam Matta are also present.  The only fully composed song  is the self revealing “Angel City” penned by Giddens that gives closes the album.

Future bodes well

Rhiannon Giddens debut “Tomorrow Is My Turn” shows she has a voice to be reckoned with and the potential to become a legendary singer in her own right.  Can’t wait to see what Giddens does next. – Eric Berg



Album Review: All Killer, No Filler: ‘This Is The Sonics’


the-sonics-this-is-the-sonicsIt’s been 50 plus years since a young teenage guitarist Larry Parypa and brother Andy started Tacoma’s legendary proto-garage band, the Sonics, in the family living room. And they have inspired endless punk and garage bands ever since. Now it’s 2015 and the group is back in action going full throttle with all amps cranked to 11 on their new album, called “This Is the Sonics”. Recorded in gorgeous mono that demands to be played loud, the Sonics blast through 12 tracks of high energy, hard edged rock n roll in a quick 34 minutes.

No Doctors Needed.

To prove they mean business, the five Sonics blast off starting with the first track, a kick ass cover of “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, a clever start to the band’s first new record in 4 decades. These senior citizen thrash rockers, who are now in their late 60’s-early 70’s, certainly sound like they don’t need one.

It wasn’t until lead singer and keyboardist Jerry Roslie joined the popular Pacific Northwest band in 1964 that the Sonics burst upon the scene with their first album  “Here are the Sonics’’  that featured fired up teen-age hits like “Psycho”, “The Witch”, “Boss Hog” and “Strychnine”.

Current Lineup

Many players have come and gone in the Sonics over the last 50 years but three original members of the are still in the current incarnation of the band’s five man lineup. Rob Lind, the Sonics’ wildman on bleating sax and harmonica, is up front and present on every track. Larry Parypa’s lightning bolt guitar sounds better than ever thanks to the great mix, and singer Jerry Roslie bellows out vocals like it was 1964 all over again. They absolutely shred on the old Kink’s tune, “The Hard Way”.  Never thought I’d consider asking a bunch of senior citizens to turn it down a notch.

Since 2008, the three Sonics have been joined by drummer Dusty Hill, who’s played with Agent Orange, Dick Dale, The Supersuckers just to mention a few, and Freddie Dennis on bass and vocals.

Relentless Rock n Roll

“This Is the Sonics” is welcome, relentless rock n roll, loud from beginning to end. That’s what makes album so much fun. Today’s Sonics play with so much urgency and vitality, it’s astonishing as well as invigorating.  A lot of today’s young bands could learn a thing or two from these guys, if they haven’t already. Good to have them back. – Eric Berg


The Sonics today, April 2015

The Sonics then.  Although this vid does not actually show them, it’s still killer and no filler.


Tom Paxton’s 62nd Album, ‘Redemption Road’


Legendary folksinger, Tom Paxton, is retiring from touring in 2015 although he still plans on making records. Paxton and fellow folksinger, Janis Ian, drop by Santa Cruz for one last time on Wednesday, April 22 at the Rio Theatre.

RedemptionLast summer my 30 yr old niece mentioned that she had a great time singing with this really famous old folk singer from the 60’s at an after hours jam at the Kate Wolf Festival. Some guy she said named Tom Paxton. Had I heard of him?

“The Last Thing on My Mind” is probably one of Paxton’s most popular songs that can be found on his classic first album “Ramblin’ Boy” released in 1964.  The prolific Paxton was one of the first folksingers to write his own songs pre-Bob Dylan and performed frequently at the legendary Gaslight Café in New York’s Greenwich Village during the era that Dave Van Ronk coined The Great Folk Scare of the early 60’s. His vast catalog of songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists and he’s inspired generations of  new folk singers since.

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