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Album Revisited: Joe Cocker’s 1982 Overlooked Masterpiece, ‘Sheffield Steel’

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Photo: monosnaps/flickr

Photo: monosnaps/flickr

Joe Cocker – who passed away in December 2014, was once billed on a tour poster as the “rotating rocker” because of that frenzied…disjointed air guitar thing he did with his arms back in the Woodstock era.  He also possessed a grizzled voice that not only complemented his roughshod appearance but also went down like a glass of really fine port. Cocker was not a songwriter, but an incredible interpreter of other people’s songs.  He recorded some 23 albums’ worth. One of which is the rock- reggae influenced “Sheffield Steel”, released in 1982 to a resounding thud. Too bad,because it’s one of Cocker’s finest album and my personal favorite.

Compass Point Allstars

Titled after the British industrial steel city where Cocker was born in 1944,  “Sheffield Steel” stands apart from all his other albums thanks the Island Records house studio band that backed him up – The Compass Point Allstars.  This was then, ultra hot Jamaican progressive rhythm section anchored by Sly and Robbie on drums and bass with Wally Badarou on keyboards and under the radar, English rock guitarist, Barry Reynolds. (By the way, he still tours with Marianne these days!) These are the same guys who made monumental albums for Black Uhuru, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones back in the early 80’s.

sheffieldA new direction

“Sheffield Steel” marked a new direction for Cocker – intended to revitalize his career, which was in a bit of a lull, to say the least, in the late 70’s. Although the album failed miserably to chart the top 100,  Cocker’s 10 grit sandpaper of a voice carried the album along in top form.  Fighting his own demons at the time, Cocker delivered ten emotionally charged, perfect tracks about the ups and downs of relationships and the struggle to make it through to the other side.. songs all written by other people.  Listen to the pure pain in Cockers voice on “Shocked” and you’ll see what I mean.

His version of “Many Rivers To Cross” is beyond inspiring and stands right along side Jimmy Cliff.

It’s Bob Dylan’s “7 Days” that may be the real reason to own this album. No explanation needed. Just listen to it.

“Sheffield Steel”, is a gem of an album by the late Joe Cocker and one of his best. It’s well worth revisiting.  Long out of print, Island Records issued an expanded cd version in 2002 with a four extra bonus tracks. –Eric Berg

Video : Joe Cocker singing  a short version of “Seven Days” live, 8/20/1983 minus the Compass Point Allstars

Album Review: Bill Frisell’s ‘Guitar in the Space Age’

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FrisellBill Frisell’s new album, “Guitar in the Space Age” (Okeh Records) is a fun gravity free, instrumental spaced out walk into the future past. Except for two Frisell originals, all of these 14 tracks on “Space Age” harkens back to the early 60’s when satellites, sputniks, and purple people eaters hogged the transistor radios of the day.

“Pipeline”  and “Telstar” book end the album

After a first all the way through listen, starting with Frisell’s 7 minute space jam of the class surf hit, “Pipeline”, right down to the last tune, Joe Meek’s space age hit “Telstar”, I could imagine how fine it would be to listen to this record with set of headphones while circling the Earth in one of those old Mercury space capsules. Thing is, this album could use a bit more rocket fuel here and there. Frisell and fellow guitarist – steel pedal player Greg Leisz, seldom get pas the initial booster stage, preferring to lock everything in cruise control mode. Well, it is a space album, right?

Frisell is well known for themed albums – his John Lennon tribute was fabulous – but don’t expect any Los Straightjackets’ fireworks here.  “Space Age” slowly creeps up on you and makes for perfect on board space station listening. It’s Leisz outstanding pedal steel playing that gives this album it’s luster. In some ways, he over shadows Frisell as he does when he cuts loose on Link Wray’s “Rumble”.

Odd tracks

There are a couple of peculiar track choices on “Space Age”. A slow mo’ take of Brian Wilson’s “Surfer Girl”, Pete Seeger’s Brydsy “Turn, Turn, Turn” and, of all things, The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting for You”.

It may take some adjusting to the slow pace of Frisell’s “Guitar in the Space Age”, but once you get on board with his space program, it’s a relaxing 14 track journey that warrants use of the repeat mode button and achieves a perfect “Lift Off”, which just so happens to be the title of one of two tracks this chameleon of a guitarist penned. – Eric Berg

VIDEO – This is an entire performance of Frisell and group playing the album and much more.

7th Avenue Project: Rick Doblin & MAPS: Psychedelics and Psychotherapy

Visit: 7th Avenue Project webapge.

The criminalization of psychedelic drugs in the 60s did little to halt their recreational use, but succeeded in making it nearly impossible to do legitimate research on their safety, effects and medicinal potential. Rick Doblin has spent most of his life trying to change that, and over the last 30 years, he and the organization he founded, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), have been making steady headway. After a series of successful government-authorized pilot studies on the therapeutic use of drugs like LSD, MDMA and psilocybin for a variety of psychological disorders, large-scale trials and FDA approval may soon follow. MDMA, for example, may be greenlighted for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder as early as 2021.

On today’s show, I spoke to Rick about the long road from proscription to prescription; where the previous generation of psychedelic advocates went wrong and what’s going right this time; how psychedelics might work to assist psychotherapy for PTSD, severe anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and other conditions; and how that model differs from conventional psychopharmaceutical approaches. Also Rick talks about his own psychedelic experiences and why mind-altering drugs can be so life-altering.

Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download icon on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Check out these audio extras:

Rick Doblin on psychedelics and placebos: in a placebo-controlled drug study test subjects aren’t supposed to know whether they’ve gotten the real thing or a dummy dose. That’s the whole point. But how do you pull the old switcheroo in psychedelic research, where the difference between a sugar pill and a hallucinogen is, er, noticeable? Rick discussed some novel solutions he and his colleagues have come up with.

Anthropologist, ethnobotanist and explorer Wade Davis from a recent conversation we had, on his own cross-cultural psychedelic investigations and those of his mentor, ethnobotanical trailblazer Richard Evans Schultes.

Writer Don Lattin on his book The Harvard Psychedelic Club, from our 2010 interview. I also spoke to Paul Lee, one of psilocybin-takers in the original 1962 Good Friday Experiment at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel.

Don Lattin on an earlier wave of consciousness explorers, including Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard.

CD Review: “Daydreamers” by Tess Dunn is Her Best Yet!

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albumart_tessdunn4_200x200Tess Dunn and band is celebrating her 20th birthday with a performance this coming Sunday night Dec 14th over at Moe’s Alley in Santa  Cruz at 7 pm. Dunn who has cystic fibrosis will be donating the evening’s proceeds to benefit Cystic Fibrosis Research and Organ Donor Awareness. Her latest recording is “Daydreamers”.

Like the college freshman she is, who just moved on from high school, Santa Cruz singer/songwriter Tess Dunn’s new 4 song EP “Daydreamers” shows just how far her budding music career has graduated with this polished third recording.  Check out the 3rd cut, “Stay” where  she’s asking “why didn’t you?” and feel the sting.

Love bites

Yes, Tess Dunn is still writing edgy songs about her love life – real and imagined – which she says in the liner notes, is way TMI according to her dad, Santa Cruz writer and historian,  Geoffrey Dunn.  Yeah, well ok… but one thing for sure, the EP is loaded with  smart power pop-punk music and mature vocals, but  a couple of the songs on the EP seem almost overly angry. I really feel sorry for the person on the receiving end of  “Say You Fell” who’s told “I hope you like it in hell”. Ouch. It’s one of Dunn’s best songs yet- tight, catchy and nasty.

T.Dunn

Tess Dunn

 “Daydreamers” was recorded in Portland, Oregon where Dunn and her band have attracted a following.This recording was made possible thanks to a very successful web fundraising campaign.  It was produced again by Ari Shine who worked on her previous cd’s and who  plays most of the instruments.  Co-producing along with Dunn, Sean Flora mixed the tunes and contributed some bass and vocals. Ms. Dunn wrote all the songs and plays piano, synthesizer and ukulele.  The title song is the one you want to play over and over. It’s got hit written all over it.

Closing out Dunn’s “Daydreamers” EP is the very romantic piece titled “Steady” that opens with her elegant piano playing followed by some goofing off way after the song ends.  With this EP, Tess Dunn has proved that she has staying power and has progressed a long ways. She’s tuff.

Can we hope for a LP and no EP next time? –Eric Berg

 VIDEO:  “Stay” by Tess Dunn

 

7th Avenue Project: Poet & Word Warlock Michael Robbins

Visit: 7th Avenue Project website.

Michael Robbins says he wanted to be a rock star even more than a poet. His devotion to music, from rap to rock to pop and country, is audible in almost every line of his verse — not just in the lyrics he samples and remixes, but in the sonics and the syllables themselves. “Poetry for me has always been a kind of magic produced by sound,” he says, “like a spell or incantation.”

Michael’s just released his second poetry collection, The Second Sex, following up on 2012’s critical smash, Alien Vs. Predator. In this interview, he read a few selections from the new book while discussing some of the works – literary and musical – that have ensorcelled him over the years. Also, his thoughts on pop music tropes; ornamental overreach and epiphanic excess in poetry; rappers and their rhymes; faith and rationalism; and the virtuosity of Taylor Swift.

Here’s a mini-syllabus of some of the works discussed and heard in the interview:

Julia Reynolds Radio Interview: Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang

This episode was originally broadcast on The 7th Avenue Project , September 14, 2014.

Julia Reynolds never planned on becoming an expert on gang violence. But as a reporter covering towns like Salinas, CA, she found the carnage hard to ignore, and she wondered why so many young men were keen for a career that often ends in an early grave or a prison cell.

After a decade of getting to know gang members, their families and anti-gang law enforcement officials, she’s produced a vivid portrait of life and death in one of California’s most notorious crime organizations. Drawing on her own first-hand reporting as well as police surveillance tapes and court discovery documents, her new book Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang has a novelistic, you-are-there immediacy while remaining resolutely factual.

Album Review: Spoon Refuses to Give Up It’s Soul

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SpoonAustin indie rock band, Spoon, has a genuine sleeper on their hands with their 8th and latest album, “They Want My Soul”, that quietly reached no. 4 briefly on the billboard charts late this past summer.  It’s sleeper because it might take you two or three listening’s until Spoon’s own infectious “Soul” creeps up and hooks you.  For example, the albums’ catchy second track “Inside Out” that has a cascading keyboard solo that sounds just like a harp.

First new album in 4 years

Last fall, after a four year absence which is a long time in the music biz -the band members needed a break – singer-guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno reconvened Spoon – the group they founded some 20 years ago –and started laying down tracks for “They Want My Soul”.  The album was released last August but in July, the band offered a one of a kind, vinyl gratification gift immediately handed out to anyone who pre-ordered the vinyl album – a ten inch 45 with 3 preview songs.

Less guitars – more synth

Working with new producers, Daniel has expanded Spoon’s sound with less electric guitars and more synth – pop and it pays off as it does on  “Knock Knock Knock” and the very 80’s sounding synth of  “Outlier”.

Not to worry though Daniels’ guitars still dominate a few cuts like the crunchy opener “Rent I Pay”, one of three songs off this album Spoon performed on John Stewart’s election “Democalypse 2014” TV special Oct. 30th.

Spoon still forking it over

When it gets right down to it, Spoon has always been singer Britt Daniels’ baby ever since the group’s inception back in 1993.  Seemingly not interested in breaking away from it’s indie rock labeling and going after mainstream acceptance, probably by design, Spoon remains a relevant band by continually updating continually their sound- although somewhat slowly- with each new release. The 43 yr. old Daniels seems content to keep his group on even keel and steady as she goes while doing it his way on Spoon’s title track  “They Want My Soul”.  One thing for sure, he’s not caving in. Thank goodness for that. – Eric Berg

VIDEO:

Spoon performing live at Seattle’s KEXP studios, July 24, 2014

New Led Zeppelin Remasters Sound Outstanding!

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Led_Zeppelin__coverThese past few months I’ve been listening over and over to a brand new edition of an album that was released some 45 years ago – January 12th 1969. Led Zeppelin I – you know it- it has that  black and white image of the exploding Hindenburg dirigible on the cover.  Zep’s powerful blend of rock and blues on this album sounds more refreshing and addicting than ever. Why? Because guitarist and the guardian of Zep’s legacy, Jimmy Page spent the better part of this decade painstakingly remastering each of the band’s 9 albums with stunningly crystal clear results.

 

The Perfect Mix

Working with John Davis who remastered  2007’s Mothership compilation and later live reunion Celebration Day, Page used the original ¼ inch master tapes to punch up the over all sound of the band on Zep I. To my ears he has properly placed Robert Plant’s vocals and the band members instruments in the mix right where they’ve always needed to be in terms of superb, distortion free, high volume stereo separation as a good pair of headphones or speakers will attest.  At last  you can hear John Paul Jones’  bass and keyboards upfront and center and John Bonham’s drums are crisper than ever.

So far only Led Zeppelin albums I – III have been released, issued in lavish double cd cardboard packaging with lots of new photos. Each album comes with a second companion disc of alternative takes and rough mixes, although there are no real surprises. More like a glimpse of how Page and the band sculpted each song on their way to the finished product.  Call them works in progress.  Zeppelin I’s extra disc is the exception.  It’s an edited mono version of a fiery live October 1969 Paris show that features several songs that appeared on their second album released that very month.  Unlike the source material used for the companion discs on II and III, this one came from a file recording of  French radio broadcast that was emailed to Page.

3rd Time’s the Charm

Although Jimmy  Page hasn’t really put out any new music of his own since Led Zeppelin called it a day, he has done an admirable job of curating, if that is the word, the audio history of  this band that was clearly his baby and vision from the beginning. Although  this is the third time Zeppelin’s catalog has been remastered, Page can rest assured that with these editions he’s finally nailed it and he can now sit back and be proud.

Of the three releases, Led Zeppelin I remains my favorite of the entire catalog. This recording is simple and raw and was originally well engineered in the first place, without the overuse of filters, dubbing and extra tracking that was to follow. Led Zeppelin I is a monumental rock album that harkens back to a time when pop music was meant to stick in your head for months even years to come and possibly change your life.  And the best part about this ultimate remaster?  You can crank the volume all the way up to ten and it sounds absolutely gorgeous, despite what your neighbors next door might say – Eric Berg

Just released this week: Led Zeppelin IV  (The “Stairway to Heaven” lp) and Houses of the Holy were released on Tuesday, Oct. 28th. I’ve listened to both of them once and the improved audio far surpasses any previous version. Next time I’ll critically listen with headphones.

The 1969 London concert:

How to Get Ahead On Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me

Robert Plant – Live Webcast – 9/28/14

From NPR | Front Row -

Join NPR Music for a live video webcast of Robert Plant and his new band The Sensational Space Shifters.

CLICK HERE, Sunday, September 28th at 5:45 p.m. PT. a live video webcast featuring rock ‘n’ roll legend Robert Plant and his band. We’ll webcast the show from the Nonesuch At BAM music festival in Brooklyn. The former Led Zeppelin singer released a new solo album, titled lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, earlier this month.

Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters include Justin Adams (guitar), John Baggott (keyboards), Juldeh Camara (gologo and a one-string West African violin called the riti), Billy Fuller (bass), Liam “Skin” Tyson (guitar) and Dave Smith (percussion).

Photo: Ed Miles/Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Ed Miles/Courtesy of the artist.