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.
Last 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.
Fifteen years into this millennium, everything old continues to be seemly new. Like Pokey LaFarge.
Tracks like “Wanna Be Your Man” sound like they were recorded 75 years ago with lyrics to match but believe it or not, most of the tunes here on “Something in the Water” were penned by LaFarge last year. On the cover, this 32 yr old St. Louis singer -songwriter is a dead ringer for the Clash’s Mick Jones circa ’77, but inside, the music is a total throwback to the early jazz, ragtime and country blues of the 20’s and 30’s. Not that we haven’t heard any of this musical nostalgia before re-imagined by a host of other performers. LaFarge is a bit different because, he writes his own slightly humorous lyrics and sets them to the familiar tones and melodies made popular by Mid-West bands, pre WWII. He’s clearly influenced by the likes of Milton Brown and his Brownies, The Mississippi Shieks , the original Skillet Lickers and Bob Wills.
He’s not Normal
32 yr old Pokey LaFarge – Andrew Heissler is his real name- grew up Normal, Illinois – yes that town does exist – but this guy’s far from it! Thanks to Jack White who produced the singer’s early records on his Third Man label, LaFarge has garnered considerable hipster buzz in the last couple of years. His music has been featured on “Boardwalk Empire”. The question is whether LaFarge is the real deal or just another tiresome retro poser born under a pile of Leon Redbone albums?
First class musicianship
To be sure the arrangements and the caliber of the musicianship sound spot on authentic and first class thanks to Chicago producer Jimmy Sutton, a sidekick of JD McPherson. The bottom line is, Pokey LaFarge’s “Something in The Water”, teeters dangerously close at times to sounding… dare I say it… hokey. – Eric Berg
Where: Pokey LaFarge and band plays Don Quixote’s in Felton, on Thursday, July 23, 2015.
Video: This is the album’s goofy title track – “Something in the Water”.
To the boomers who grew up in the early 60’s with their teenage ears glued to transistor radios and watched the Ed Sullivan Show in black and white – To all you present day millennials who shop in stores that pipe classic rock down aisles all day long, and to anyone else who has ever heard a radio jock shout “Here’s a golden oldie…”, Leslie Gore is an essential part of our American pop culture DNA. All because of one song that Gore so famously performed live on the T.A.M.I. Show in Santa Monica, October 1964.
Lesley Gore was just sixteen years old when she recorded “It’s My Party” in the Spring of ‘63. That song became an overnight sensation and a number one summer hit that hung in there for weeks. Gore rocketed to teen queen stardom and quickly recorded another smash – the revenge sequel…“Judy’s Turn to Cry”… followed by a steady stream of hits over the next two or three years. There were times when Gore’s singles went neck to neck with the Beatles for the top two chart positions. Quincy Jones produced most of Gore’s big ones for Mercury Records and hired professional song writers like Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka and Carol King to pen romantic pop songs that would appeal to all American white heterosexual teenagers. One pair of songwriters actually penned a throw-away tune, “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Boy” that Gore recorded with Jones at the helm in ’64.
As the girl group thing began to wane as the Summer of Love rolled around at at the end of the 60’s. Gore also evolved and attempted to keep up with the times and Mercury assigned her a new producer Bob Crewe. (Remember “The Bob Crew Generation?”) Girl pop was out. Folk was in. She began focusing on her own songwriting skills, often composing with her musician brother, Michael who had a band in New York City and was well connected.
Academy Award nominee
Gore’s “Ever Since” released in 2005, her first album in over 30 years.
By 1969, Gore’s pop hits ceased to chart but she toured for years on the “Oldies” circuit including a stop right here at the Santa Cruz Civic as part of a packaged tour. Gore moved on to acting and songwriting in New York where she worked with Michael composing several songs for the late 70’s Broadway Musical “FAME” that were included on the Academy Award winning soundtrack of the 1980 movie version. Gore was nominated for a song she co-wrote, “Out Here on My Own”.
Lesley Gore was also an activist in the lesbian and bisexual community. Gore announced ten years ago that she had been living with her longtime partner, jewelry designer, Lois Sasson, since 1982. The singer was involved with the long running PBS show, In The Life, an award winning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tv news magazine that ran for 18 years.
Her definitive song
Gore recorded her last album called “Ever Since” in 2005, – and it’s one of her best. It’s highlighted by a new if not definitive version of a particular song that Gore didn’t write and had previously recorded it some 40 years prior. For Lesley Gore, who died in February at age 68, her updated remake of “You Don’t Own Me” is proof of the legacy she left behind, long after the party was over. – Eric Berg
This is the JD’s second album for Rounder Records. Produced by Mark Neil and JD McPherson. Released February 10th, 2015. Audio review and text produced and written by KUSP’s Eric Berg.
Retro – yes, he’s a – modern rocker J.D. McPherson’s highly anticipated second album is finally out. It’s called “Let The Good Times Roll” and although it’s not quite as red hot as his 2012 debut, “Signs & Signifiers”, this sophomoric follow up smokes!
A former art teacher and visual artist, Oklahoma native singer-songwriter plus guitarist McPherson skirts the “retro” pigeonhole with his uncanny knack of successfully mixing musical genres and making it all seem…uh…modern, contemporary? He takes just the right amount of traditional Americana – particularly country blues and knockdown rockabilly and lately, soul…and adds a few twists of alt rock. By the way, McPherson has noted he did not grow up on roots music and listened to a lot of rock music like Hendrix, Zeppelin and David Bowie.
All the songs on “Let the Good Times Roll” are written by McPherson including the title track which has nothing to do with Earl King’s song of the same name but obviously inspired by it with a big nod to both Chuck Berry and Arcade Fire.
McPherson is joined on the album once again by the Chicago based Signifier crew – musical partner and bassist Jimmy Sutton and drummer turned recording engineer Alex Hall who mixed the entire album but doesn’t a lick on it. Co-produced by JD himself, “Let The Good Times Roll” is at times little bit too slick as in “commercial sounding” here and there. JD does seem to be venturing in to James Hunter/Jimmie Vaughn territory with a few tracks that are more blue eyed soul than twang . Fortunately these slowed down soul pieces are more than serviceable. At times, the smooth sailing track, “Bridgebuilder” as well as “Precious” both sound at first an awful lot like something Jimmy Cliff might have written. And on first burst of “Everyone’s Talking ‘Bout the All American” my brain screamed “David Bowie!”, but I calmed down and got with the program.
Okay, I really am being too nit picky here, because, J.D. McPherson’s “Let the Good Times Roll” does just that and in a big way. “Shy Boy” and “You Must Have Met Little Caroline?” are real stand outs. By toning the down the wild retro-billy twang a smidgen in favor of a more contemporary, polished sound, McPherson’s second album still has more than a boatload of infectious hooks and the potential to reach a larger audience seeking a little more rock’n’soul in their retro. – Eric Berg
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.
A 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
Bill 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”.
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.
Tess 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.
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.
“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
Austin 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
Spoon performing live at Seattle’s KEXP studios, July 24, 2014
These 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.
Gerald Wilson in 2009, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Photo: Stephen Laufer / KUSP
Gerald Wilson, who was also a trumpet player, wrote the arrangements for such greats as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles. He died Monday at 96 years old. He spoke with Terry Gross in 2006.