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Album Review: Banana Revisits The Youngbloods


bananaThe fabled Summer of Love happened in 1967 and one song truly captured the hippie spirit of the day and ruled the AM-FM airways those hot summer nights. It was The Youngblood’s Byrdsy sounding but San Francisco drenched version of  “Get Together” that, for a short time, became the anthem of the psychedelic generation.

Psychedelic anthem

That song featuring Jesse Colin Young on lead vocals was composed by the late Dino Valenti, a folksinger turned psychedelic rocker with Quicksilver Messenger Service.  It was the Youngbloods only top ten hit. Celebrating those times is the new bluegrass tinged album  “Get Together: Banana Recalls Youngbloods Classics”. Banana’s revisits the song accompanied by mandolin maestro, David Grisman.


‘Let’s Put Harry in the Hall’

Harry Nilsson is not the first musician that’s enjoyed a concerted effort by others to get them inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Nilsson died in 1994, but now there’s has a song dedicated to the Hall of Fame effort and over 30 professional musicians, artists, friends and family contributed. A video was made it the recording studio where the track was cut.

Public radio’s KPCC in Pasadena interviewed a number of the musicians in the project:

 “He was innovative, creative, his music is incredible,” says 60’s pop chanteuse Evie Sands.“People love it to this day, even those who may not be aware that it’s Harry Nilsson’s music.”


Get To Know One Of The Most-Performed Living Composers


Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is the subject of a new documentary.

By Tom Huizenga | NPR Music – Originally published on September 11, 2015.

Mystical, monk-like, reclusive — those are a few words often used to describe Arvo Pärt. His music gets labeled as timeless, spiritual and meditative. The Estonian composer, born 80 years ago today, is perhaps all of these things … and maybe none of them.

Recently, Pärt allowed a film crew follow him for a year. The result is a new documentary by Günter Atteln called The Lost Paradise, an excerpt of which the producers at Accentus Music are sharing prior to its fall release. The excerpt here finds the composer at his piano, at a rehearsal of his music with his wife and musing about a healthy kind of pain in art.


Album Review: Los Lobos Goes for the Gold in ‘Gates’


Los Lobos Gates of Gold

Playing together for over 40 years now without any band member changes, Los Lobos is still going strong. Very strong. With family ties to Watsonville, this East LA band remains a perennial Monterey Bay favorite with an upcoming 2 night local appearance in October. Gates of Gold is their latest album and their 22nd. On this one, The wolves recall their guitar fueled Slash Records days and strike another golden bullseye kicking off with the first track, “Made to Break Your Heart”.

Contemplating life

Gates of Gold finds Lobos guitarists David Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, and Louie Perez in superb form, leading bassist Conrad Lozano and sax-keyboard player Steve Berlin down very familiar roads with inspired energy, wicked guitar playing and a lot of brotherly love. The title track sets the theme for the entire album. The band members who are now in their early 60’s are pondering what’s behind those Golden Gates as well as reminiscing about their past – “When We Were Free”- and looking to the future, “Gates of Gold”.

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.



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


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


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.