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James Hunter Hits His Soul Stride With New Album: ‘Hold On!’

james-hunter-sixBy Eric Berg | KUSP’s BergAlert  -

On the cover of his latest recording, there’s British R&B singer James Hunter standing an urban rooftop with one heck of a grin. And with good reason.  He just delivered the goods.

Look No further

Hold On! the new 4th album by the James Hunter 6 is destined to be classic. Now signed to Daptone Records, this is the exhilarating breakthrough Hunter’s been looking for. IF he isn’t currently the UK’s greatest soul singer, I don’t know who is. Look no further.

A one time bricklayer who became a background singer for Van Morrison in the 90’’s Hunter fell on hard times put his music career on hold, Hunter’s been slogging away for the last ten years, writing four album’s worth of original material and touring non stop trying to make his voice heard above the pretenders. Now on a new label and with Daptone Records producer Bosco Mann of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the helm who recorded it live on 8 track tape totally in mono.  This new set up has paid off well because Hunter and his longtime band sound totally recharged in the style of Ray Charles and Arthur Alexander right from the get go with “If That Don’t Tell You”.

Masterful Voice

Possessing a masterful voice, Hunter also wears his heart on his sleeve and he pours it out to a new love on “Satchel Foot” and the title song.

Hold On! by the James Hunter 6 is solid dynamite soul and the singers best album yet. You’ll have to hold on just listening to it. –Eric Berg


Album Review: ‘Black Star’ by David Bowie – Goodbye From the Spaceman


bowieOn Friday, January 9th, the day of his 69th birthday, David Bowie released his acclaimed new album Black Star.  I listened to it several times that day and well into Saturday trying to figure what exactly he’s singing about on this densely layered and intense record.  On Sunday, Bowie died.  By Monday the lyrics had a completely new meaning and suddenly much more became clear.

Haunting  track

The haunting and much talked about track “Lazarus”, which is also the title of Bowie’s new musical adaption of his 1976 movie “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, contains these words “looking down from heaven. Now everybody knows me”.  The eerie companion video shows Bowie wearing a rag mask with buttons for eyes, singing from a bed as his body tries to resist levitating upwards and downwards. No explanation needed.

“Black Star” is ten minute opening title track dramatizing three somewhat obtuse song plots stitched together as one bewildering tale. It seems to involve the death of a mysterious leader and the black star that takes his place. When he finishes, Bowie takes a recorded deep breath and launches into “It’s a Pity She’s a Whore” that will forever be known for this choice Bowie-ism: “She punched me like a dude”.

New band and new direction

For Black Star, Bowie jettisoned the usual cohorts he’s worked forever in favor of a group of NYC up and coming young jazz musicians. An alien saxophonist himself, Bowie has formed a sort of cosmic jazz band where horns dominate over guitar. It’s an entirely new musical direction impeccably guided by longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Former Santa Cruzian Donny McCaslin supplies outstanding sax and flute. He’s an absolute killer throughout the album right down to the final touching track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” punctuated with a  tasteful solo as Bowie takes his final bow.

Black Star is an album that it may take many spins to fully comprehend its fascinating lyrical complexity. It’s one last journey through familiar Bowie themes that ponder life and death, anxiety-alienation, space and time, and of course, an infatuation with the cosmos.  David Bowie’s Black Star is an eloquent goodbye from this visionary Star Man.  - Eric Berg


JD McPherson to ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ at KUSP


JDMcPhersonHear JD McPherson and band play live on KUSP 88.9 this Saturday afternoon, January 16 at 3 pm in conjunction with his evening performance at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz at 8 pm.

From KUSP’s BergAlert | By Eric Berg

Vintage Tones

Americana songwriter and  rocker, JD McPherson has new album called  Let The Good Times Roll. It’s a smokin’ sophomoric follow up to his Signs and Signifiers debut that ‘s made it on to several best of 2015 lists including mine.

A former art teacher and Oklahoma native turned singer-songwriter, McPherson skirts the “retro” pigeonhole with his uncanny knack of successfully mixing vintage tones with rock n roll and making it all seem…uh…modern.  He takes just the right amount of traditional Americana roots– particularly country blues and knockdown rockabilly and lately, soul – and adds a few twists of infectious contemporary rock that’s impossible to ignore or remain seated.


Wire: Manchester’s Best Kept Secret


wireEric Berg | KUSP’s BergALERT -

Wire is one of those great – I suppose the word is “alternative” – rock bands no one’s ever heard of.  At least, not in these parts. Hailing from Manchester, England, this band’s been at it since the 70’s. Far as I can tell, Wire remains largely unknown in the States and I just don’t get it.

The band has just released a new self titled album, Wire, their fourteenth, kicking it off with “Blogging” drawing in with sneaky dirty guitar chords against biting sarcastic commentary about society’s obsession with cellphones, the internet and FB.


Last Man Standing: Buddy Guy was ‘Born to Play Guitar’


buddy_guy_born_to_play_guitarBy Eric Berg | KUSP’s BergAlert

Now that BB King’s gone to that great juke joint in the sky, 79-year-old Buddy Guy is the last bluesman standing. And he knows it. He’s just released his latest, Born to Play Guitar, a tribute to the Chicago blues greats including himself.

Chicago Blues

Buddy Guy certainly was born to play guitar and blues from the day he arrived in Chicago, a young 22 yr. old in 1958. He’s played with them all – Muddy, BB, Howlin’ Wolf,  Otis Spann, Little Walter and had a long performing partnership with harmonica player,  Jr. Wells.  And.. Guy’s made many Central Coast appearances.  A couple of cuts like “Kiss Me Quick” feature Kim Wilson on harp capturing that classic Chicago blues style.


Blues Magic at Aptos BBQ

Makin’ magic at Aptos BBQ on a Sunday night! From the left: John Harmon, Rick Estrin, Malachi Johnson, and Kid Anderson.

Makin’ magic at Aptos BBQ on a Sunday night! From the left: James Harmon, Rick Estrin, Malaki Johnson, and Kid Anderson. photo: EB

By Eric Berg | The BergAlert

It was one of those nights when everything clicked. Blues great James Harmon played at Aptos BBQ, Sunday night Nov. 22.  The ever tasteful Big John Atkinson backed him on guitar with Malaki Johnson on drums. Harmon hasn’t played this area in over a decade so I was surprised the place wasn’t wall to wall people. As it was, Harmon and Atkinson got low down and dirty and played two intimate sets of hot blues.


Donny McCaslin Lands Gig in David Bowie’s New Band

Donny McCaslin, backstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Photo: Stephen Laufer / KUSP

Donny McCaslin, backstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 2011. Photo: Stephen Laufer / KUSP

Details are emerging about David Bowie’s next album entitled ★ (Blackstar), and it’s being released shortly. The lineup includes saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who is quite a familiar face to jazz fans around the Monterey Bay.

Mojo Magazine reports in an interview with Bowie’s long-time producer Tony Visconti, that the artist turned to jazz players to help steer his project in a new direction.

Visconti said:

“★’s exciting, adventurous vibe – jazz-informed, but rock-intense – is more than partly down to the cast of young musicians Bowie assembled for the New York sessions.”

Donny McCaslin grew up in Santa Cruz county, playing jazz at an early age. The Grammy-nominated artist appeared many time on stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival and Kuumbwa Jazz Center.


Dearly Departed: Allen Toussaint -The Big Easy’s Prolific Songwriter (1938-2015)


ToussaintBy Eric Berg | KUSP’s BergAlert -

The great Allen Tousaint, the New Orleans pianist, prolific songwriter and record producer, unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack last week after a performance in Spain. He was 77.

What?  You’ve never heard of him? Believe me, you’ve heard his songs.

Prolific songwriter

How ‘bout Robert Plant and Alison Kraus’s version of “Fortune Teller” from their Raising Sand  album? The song was penned by Toussaint  in 1962 and became a hit for Benny Spellman and later the Rolling Stones.

Toussaint wrote “Southern Nights” that was Glen Campbell’s very first no.1 hit single. And how ‘bout Al Hirt’s “Java”, Boz Scaggs’ and Bonnie Raitt’s  “What do You want the Girl to Do”, “Mother In Law” for Ernie K Doe, Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”, “Ride Your Pony” for Lee Dorsey. Devo’s “Working in a Coal Mine” – originally another early hit for Dorsey. And don’t forget Dr. John’s  Toussaint produced album, “Right Place, Wrong Time”.  All this is a mere drop in Toussaint’s royalties bucket with all the other songs he’s written.

Album Review: Blizten Trapper’s Classic Rock History Lesson


91YPqYUG92L._SY355_By Eric Berg | The BergAlert – Blitzen Trapper’s latest album All Across The Land is hot off the presses, but it actually sounds the something you’ve heard before. Many times. This time around, the Portland band has crafted an amiable tribute to 70’s and 80’s classic rock. On the title track alone, you’ve got elements of the Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Stones all rolled into one fat song.

Intentional Rocks

“The classic rock thing is intentional and it captures our live sound”, so says Blitzen Trapper’s chief songwriter and singer Eric Earley. The album does indeed sum up what life is like for a band that’s spent the last decade on the rock and roll highway.  All Across the Land clocks in at a reasonable 39 minutes and along the way you can pick out nods to everybody from Dire Straits to Bob and Bruce particularly on “Nights Were Made For Love” that sounds straight out of Jersey.

There’s plenty of furious 70’s arena style guitar soloing. The blazing twin guitars at the end of Rock and Roll (Was Made For You) will bring back memories of packed to the walls, giant arena concerts and salutatory BIC lighters, sans ear plugs.

What Year Is This?

Despite all the nostalgia, the content of these songs really does address real emotions, relationships, romances and loneliness that’s all part of being in a band perpetually on tour, as in Cadillac Road.

In the long run, there are times when Blitzen Trapper’s All Across The Land seems nothing more a well crafted audio version of the “Trivial Pursuit Classic Rock board game. C’mon guys, do we really need another knockoff impersonation of Bob Dylan and his harmonica to get Across the River? - Eric Berg

Video Proof that Old Vans are In Again:


RIP Allen Toussaint – Seven Decades of Music

The New York Times reports that Allen Toussaint has died:

Allen Toussaint, the versatile producer, songwriter, pianist and singer who was a fixture of New Orleans R&B, died after appearing in concert in Madrid on Monday night. He was 77.

Watch this 60 minute documentary by the BBC from 2012:

Allen Toussaint Photo: Jasper Uhlenbusch / flickr

Allen Toussaint Photo: Jasper Uhlenbusch / flickr