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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.


New Album: Pokey LaFarge Says There’s “Something in the Water”


pokeyFifteen 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”.

Remembering Lesley Gore (1946-2015)


leslie_gore2To 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.

Sweet sixteen

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.

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