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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.


Listen to the first released track below. Bowie’s album ‘Blackstar’ is scheduled for release January 16, 2016.

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

Album Review: Dead Weather Kicks Up a Storm with ‘Dodge and Burn’



By Eric Berg | The BergAlert -

Dead Weather’s new third album Dodge and Burn is a deliciously ferocious, flame spewing collection of noisy energized rock that owes a lot to Led Zeppelin and not surprisingly…the White Stripes.

Side Project

That’s because Dead Weather is another type A side project from guitarist Jack White, of the Stripes, Raconteurs and founder of Nashville’s Third Man Records. With these guys, White sticks to exhuberant drumming throughout and occasional voice, leaving most of the  singing and songwriting duties to Alison Mosshart from the Kills whose take no prisoners vocals sting with urgency like she does with her love on the road look-back called “Mile Markers”.


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.