Volume 3-2014

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RARADIO

(Click here)

Currently on RARadio:

"Lost the Plot" by Amoureux"

Bright Eyes, Black Soul" by The Lovers Key

"Cool Thing" by Sassparilla

"These Halls I Dwell" by Michael Butler

"St. Francis"by Tom Russell & Gretchen Peters, performance by Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh; 

"Who Do You Love?"by Elizabeth Kay; 

"Rebirth"by Caterpillars; 

"Monica's Frock" by Signel-Z; 

"Natural Disasters" by Corey Landis; 

"1,000 Leather Tassels" by The Blank Tapes; 

"We Are All Stone" and "Those Machines" by Outer Minds; 

"Another Dream" by MMOSS; "Susannah" by Woolen Kits; 

Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and other dead celebrities / news by A SECRET PARTY;

"I Miss the Day" by My Secret Island,  

"Carriers of Light" by Brendan James;

"The Last Time" by Model Stranger;

"Last Call" by Jay;

"Darkness" by Leonard Cohen; 

"Sweetbread" by Simian Mobile Disco and "Keep You" fromActress off the Chronicle movie soundtrack; 

"Goodbye to Love" from October Dawn; 

Trouble in Mind 2011 label sampler; 

Black Box Revelation Live on Minnesota Public Radio;

Apteka "Striking Violet"; 

Mikal Cronin's "Apathy" and "Get Along";

Dana deChaby's progressive rock

 

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ATWOOD - "A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance" -AVAILABLE NOW FOR KINDLE (INCLUDING KINDLE COMPUTER APPS) FROM AMAZON.COM. Use this link.

CCJ Publisher Rick Alan Rice dissects the building of America in a trilogy of novels collectively calledATWOOD. Book One explores the development of the American West through the lens of public policy, land planning, municipal development, and governance as it played out in one of the new counties of Kansas in the latter half of the 19th Century. The novel focuses on the religious and cultural traditions that imbued the American Midwest with a special character that continues to have a profound effect on American politics to this day. Book One creates an understanding about America's cultural foundations that is further explored in books two and three that further trace the historical-cultural-spiritual development of one isolated county on the Great Plains that stands as an icon in the development of a certain brand of American character. That's the serious stuff viewed from high altitude. The story itself gets down and dirty with the supernatural, which in ATWOOD - A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliveranceis the outfall of misfires in human interactions, from the monumental to the sublime. The book features the epic poem "The Toiler" as well as artwork by New Mexico artist Richard Padilla.

 

EXPLORE THE KINDLE BOOK LIBRARY

If you have not explored the books available from Amazon.com's Kindle Publishing division you would do yourself a favor to do so. You will find classic literature there, as well as tons of privately published books of every kind. A lot of it is awful, like a lot of traditionally published books are awful, but some are truly classics. You can get the entire collection of Shakespeare's works for two bucks.

You do not need to buy a Kindle to take advantage of this low-cost library. Use this link to go to an Amazon.com page from which you can download for free a Kindle App for your computer, tablet, or phone.

Amazon is the largest, but far from the only digital publisher. You can find similar treasure troves atNOOK Press (the Barnes & Noble site), Lulu, and others.


 

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA LINKS  

Use this link to go to the San Francisco Bay Area Links Archives.

Finish Ticket

We are clearly back in an age of introspective songwriters and sweet-voiced acoustic strummers. Finish Ticket is one of the best, witness the raw performance video below, in which the perfection of the band's performance is almost jarring against the backyard production of the the show, from Balcony TV-Los Angeles. Brendan Hoye (lead vocals/keyboards), Michael Hoye (bassist), Alex DiDonato (guitarist), all met as students at Alameda High School, with Gabe Stein (drummer) joining later. They have released three EPs and began opening up big name acts in 2010. This summer of 2014 they have been playing in Los Angeles on a bill with Miniature Tigers and Griswolds.

Matt Nathansan

San Francisco Social Tours

If ever you have wondered what is meant by a "radio friendly voice", here is your model. Matt Nathansan is a Lowell, Massachusetts native who went to college in Southern California (Claremont University), before becoming a San Francisco resident.  In all honesty, I'm not sure whether or not the world outside of the San Francisco Bay Area knows Matt Nathansan, and pardon my ignorance if he is a world phenomenon that I happen to know nothing about. I just know that one hears about Nathansan frequently around these parts, and he gets spins on San Francisco's KFOG, which is like a graveyard for folk-rockers, even young ones. Getting airplay on KFOG is almost stigmatizing, if radio play can be that, being that the once-venerable (probably a stretch) Adult Contemporary radio station is now almost entirely a nostalgia offering, so for a young dude or dudette (K.T. Tunstall, Colbie Caillat) to get airplay on that outlet may be perceived as an omen; like maybe these artists are well on their way in their return to dust. (In fact, KFOG at one time felt like an all-Grateful Dead radio station, so there is at least consistency - musical death.) Nathansan gets spins on Sunday's acoustic hours ("Sunrise and Sunset"). But amid all that pain and suffering one does get the occasional bright shiny thing, and here you have Matt Nathansan, who is bright and shiny in an urban sort of way, and San Franicsco urban is what this cute video below is all about. Cute might normally be used semi-derisively, but this video really is cute in a likeable way. Nice work. And while the Nathansan song is not particularly memorable - I just listened to it and I can't remember it - the thing that stays on one's mind (my mind at least, rickety as it is) is the quality of Nathansan's voice, his pitch and timber. Really, really pleasureable. Check it out.-RAR                                              9-6-12       

 

Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers

It is easy to look at Nicki Bluhm and see something that has worked previously for stars including Linda Ronstadt and Leslie Feist. And as a singer, Nicki has a pitch perfect, crystal clear sound to go with considerable charm.

Nicki Bluhm is the wife of The Mother Hips' producer/musician Tim Bluhm, who is responsible for steering her from an amateur singing enthusiast to a professional on the brink of big-time attention, all of which came pretty quickly. Her 2008 debut album, Toby's Song, gained critical attention. In 2011, Nicki Bluhm & The Gamblers - by this time she had a band consisting of guitarist Deren Ney, bass player Steve Adams, guitarist Dave Mulligan, and drummer Mike Curry - released Driftwood. That sophomore effort has helped establish her as a musical presence, and she has been welcomed to share stages with established stars Chris Robinson, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Steve Kimock, Jackie Greene, Pegi Young, and Josh Ritter.

 

Bhi Bhiman

"For lovers of Neal Cassady's ramblings, Jack Keroauc's writing, and John Prine's songs, listen to Bhi Bhiman. He has a time-worn spirit that clearly won't quit..."

There are those who feel that San Francisco singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman is the next big thing. He does have a big ringing voice, an affinity for topical song choices, and that rarest gift of all: people who believe in him. Check out the video below and decide if you are among them. You can learn more about Bhi Bhiman at  http://www.bhibhiman.com/.  

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MOSTLY DYLAN

San Francisco piano man Tim Hockenberry, late of "America's Got Talent" exposure, fronts a Dylan tribute band that doesn't do covers, in the traditional sense, and features a most talented group of players. See below.

Fair Warning, Kind Reader: The story below has no purpose or point other than to notice that a bunch of really well-connected high-end professional musicians live in Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and occasionally they get together and play a gig in one combination or another. This is the story of "Mostly Dylan".

By RAR

That is Tim Hockenberry sitting on the running board of his car. He lives out in the scrub brush where he is on a monk-like voyage of inner Alec Baldwinism, and he is damned near there, wherever Alec is at.

If one's interest is in gravelly soulfulness that fits most comfortably into a ballad, then Tim Hockenberry may be your guy. He has an undeniableness, to fester a word; an innate authenticity that injects the requisite belief in the performance of his material. It did not do that much to help the Mostly Dylan album that the "Mostly Inc" operation released a few years back, but the miss did more to force re-examination of the Dylan songbook than to discredit the musicians who made the recording, with vocals by Hockenberry.

Bob Dylan is such an important figure in the history of modern music that it is easy to excuse Dylan's own liberties, with respect to adherence to pop music norms, as a gratis granted to him, but few others, because Dylan's is not standard fare. In fact, viewing Dylan's work through the expectations of music directors of today, it could be considered jaw dropping in its disregard for conformity and compliance. There are way too many words in a Dylan song, the chord structures are repetitive and largely without dynamic tension, and one can almost never dance to anything from Dylan's pen. One is just supposed to listen to it, but the melodies are largely rote and without particular distinction, making them almost impossible to sing. (Just look what singing with Dylan did to poor Emmylou Harris, whose once distinctive wisps of grey in her otherwise black hair gave way to a full-blown Gandalf the White! Seriously, that's just how it happened.) And Dylan hasn't really given a guitar player anything to do since Mike Bloomfield took "Like A Rolling Stone" to the stratosphere and ushered in a brief golden period of really fabulous electric folk. But that was almost fifty years ago!

Mostly Dylan, as a band rather than a recording studio concept, has been playing around Marin County's swanky places of late, in a five-piece arrangement with Tom Corwin, Gawain Mathews, Tal Morris, and David Tucker.  Of that group, Tom Corwin is most notable for being the brainworks behind "Mostly Dylan", which was born of a collaboration with Hockenberry on a demo of "Like A Rolling Stone" for a film version of the Abbie Hoffman autobiography, Steal This Book.

Corwin is a veteran multi-instrumentalist whose resume includes Patti LaBelle, Booker T., Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, The Blind Boys from Alabama, and the House of Blues Band. As a producer, arranger, and engineer, he has recorded fifteen records with Bonnie Raitt, and recently worked with Kris Kristofferson ("Broken Freedom Song").

Corwin is the guy whose idea it was to do rearranged versions of Dylan's most popular work. What emerged from that collaboration with Hockenberry was a lot of altered tempos, added breaks, and melodic shifts. Judge for yourself it it worked by visiting this link to hear the tracks.

Gawain Mathews is another guitarist-keyboards player who worked with Hockenberry in the studio with the Transiberian Orchestra project. He has played with and produced well over a hundred artists, performed with the Utah Symphony, and appeared on the David Letterman Show with Australian indie pop singer Ben Lee. Besides working in Mostly Dylan, Mathews also tours and plays guitar with Grammy-winning world music and jam-band legend Mickey Hart. Gawain’s original compositions have been featured frequently on Fox’s “SoYou Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol”.

 

Tal Morris is something of a product of San Francisco's Blue Bear School of Music. That is a well-respected training ground for musicians at all levels, but it is probably best known as a place where bands are assembled to learn and perform popular songbooks, such as The Beatles. Morris now teaches at this school, so it seems fitting that his professional experience has included Creedence Clearwater Revisited, another tribute band. But it hasn't stopped there. Morris has worked with The Sons of Champlin, Huey Lewis and the News, Ronnie Montrose, Jeff Watson, and Lone Ranger. Singer Huey Lewis once described Tal as "the quintessential Bay Area guitar prodigy." 

David Tucker is probably a drummer from Santa Cruz, but as of press time we weren't certain.

If we have the correct David Tucker, he must feel like George Gobel in the company of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. (You may need to be old to get that reference, but Tonight Show fans of the Carson era will recall a classic Gobel line - "Do you ever feel like the world is a tuxedo and you are a pair of brown loafers?" Or words to that effect. Review the tape for the exact quote.) 

One is tempted to mention this inasmuch as the whole Mostly Inc. operation is a Mill Valley-based consortium of elites, that has included George Marinelli (guitarist for Bonnie Raitt, Dixie Chicks, Art Garfunkel, Vince Gil and Peter Cetera); drummer Rickie Fataar, who was "Stig O'Hara" ("The Quiet One") in "The Rutles", Eric Idle's send up of The Beatles; drummer Jimmy Sanchez, who has played with virtually every member of the illustrious inner circle of San Francisco popular music (see sidebar); and Bonnie Raitt herself, among others.

WHO IS IN THE ILLUSTRIOUS INNER CIRCLE OF SAN FRANCISCO POPULAR MUSIC?

Here is a pretty good list copied from Jimmy Sanchez' bio on the Mostly Inc. Website. The credit references on the Dylan tunes are for the Mostly Dylan LP released a few years ago with Corwin-Hockenberry, but it is the list of cohorts that grabbed my attention.

 

Lila Rose Out with Heart Machine

Oakland, CA - Canadian-born, San Francisco based artist Lila Rose releases her first full-length album, a genre-bending tour de force titled Heart Machine, Tuesday 1/10 on the Oakland based label, RTFM Records.

Co-produced by David Earl (aka SFLogicninja), the album has been dubbed ‘cinematic indie-pop’ based on the merging of Earl’s grandiose cinematic arrangement, and Lila’s anthemic, emotionally driven lyrical content and striking vocals. From high operatic vocalizations and hooky choruses to deep, haunting harmonies, Lila’s voice leads the listener on a heartful and epic journey of varying tone, texture and intensity. Immersed in sonic landscapes from full orchestras, taiko drum ensembles and big pop beats to gospel choirs, the album is an enchantingly unpredictable journey of raw, evocative songwriting and cutting edge artistry that pushes the envelope at every turn.

Lila’s previous releases include two singles with GRAMMY winning producer Peter Prilesnik, and an EP titled Osmos Your Sonica in 2009. A one-time actress and world traveller, Lila’s passion comes through more than just her music. A strong advocate for LGBT issues, animal rights, native rights and environmental issues, she plans to be the first artist to release an album whose artwork is on 100% tree-free kenaf paper.

Heart Machine will be available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Bandcamp, and other online music outlets January 10th 2012. The preview single “Obsession”, a teaser video (see below), and the coming album can be found at http://www.lilarosemusic.com. The CD release party is planned for Saturday February 18th, 2012, 8pm at The New Parish, 579 18th St. in Oakland, CA.

 

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Americana Especial

Hopeful Romantics

 

The Hopeful Romantics are a Martinez, California-based Americana outfit, about as grounded in musical devotion as one could possibly be while dividing their attentions between thematic issues as diverse as religious conversion, death, loneliness, love, and murder. They are like the Arcade Fire of Americana Sundays at the popular venue Armando's in Martinez, an irreverent blast of satirical wit and wood music excellence fueled by a set of character-laden voices that gift the whole enterprise with lift well above what one could possibly imagine. The Hopeful Romantics are a real delight, a great find for the "pure" music lovers among us. No artifice at all here, just thoughtful, humorous, and wonderfully-executed original music. Testimony to their range and excellence is that I couldn't decide which of their videos to feature, each successive review of alternatives yielding wonders exceeding those of the previous offerings, all of which are great. Check out the one above and then look for them on YouTube and listen to more at their ReverbNation site. - RAR

Blame Sally

San Francisco's quartet of female songwriters who go under the shared pseudonym of Blame Sally - Pam Delgado, Renee Harcourt, Jeri Jones, and Monica Pasqual - has released a new album, Speeding Ticket, and they are touring in support of that CD. In performance the players switch off lead vocals and trade instruments, creating music marked by funky, melodic rhythms, skilled instrumentation, and beautiful, intricate harmonies. Over the near-decade since they formed their band, Blame Sally has gained an ever-growing following that stretches far beyond their home turf, filling concert halls in Boston, Philadelphia, and across the pond in Europe.  

 

 

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Cyndi Harvell and Folk Rock

 

“There are few things more satisfying than a beautifully sung folk song, and Harvell is more than qualified to deliver.”- AbsolutePunk.net

Cyndi's songs are classic heart-on-sleeve tunes, part Americana, part pop and part folk, defying any one specific genre. She was part of 2008's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (a festival drawing over 100,000 music-lovers), included twice on Bay Area KFOG's Local Music Compilation and has been played on Americana radio programs across the U.S. and Europe.

Harvell played Armando's in Martinez in mid-September, on a bill with Lucas Ohio Pattie.

http://www.cyndiharvell.com
http://www.cyndiharvell.com/vid_vid.html

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More Bhi Bhiman

Alvon Johnson

A show by Blues performer Alvon Johnson, shown in the video below at a 2008 show in Paris, is a bit like stepping back to about 1963, when performers such as he crammed aboard R&B Caravan buses and toured the "Urban Theater Circuit", or what used to be called the "Chitlin Circuit". If the acts were big enough, they traveled abroad to European markets that had been open to Black performers, somewhat paralleling the history of the U.S. clubs. Alvon was aboard those buses as a member of the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame band The Coasters ("Charlie Brown", "Yakkety Yak"), for whom he provided rich vocal harmonies. Now years later, Johnson fronts his own band and plays absolutely sizzling electric blues guitar, when he isn't hamming it up with the crowd as in the video below. You can get a better sense for Alvon Johnson blues guitarist by checking out the video sampler from his Website. He is an explosion of musical expression.

Johnson is a showman reminiscent of James Brown and Little Richard and others from that bygone era of musical and cultural revolution.

 

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Noise Pop Acts

San Francisco's version of SXSW, Noise Pop has been "championing independent culture since 1993"

The Noise Pop Festival is San Francisco’s favorite indie music, arts and film festival. Now in its 20th year, Noise Pop has brought early exposure to many emerging artists in the Bay Area and beyond, many of whom have gone on to widespread acclaim. Some notable acts who have played Noise Pop include the White Stripes, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, Bright Eyes, Best Coast, Jeff Tweedy, The Dodos, Girls and Antony and The Johnsons. The festival has also featured musical legends such as Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band, Bob Mould, Yo La Tengo, X, Frank Black (of the Pixies), Sleater-Kinney and Television. In addition, the festival boasts a film series that explores the intersection of music and art; Pop-n-Shop, a local designer fair; Culture Club, an interactive workshop exploring DIY culture; Art Gallery Shows; Happy Hours and much more. (from the Noise Pop site)

A sampling of this year's lineup is provided in videos below. Go to the San Francisco Links page for additional Bhi Bhiman video.

 

LISA BATTLE

Designer Rock

San Francisco Bay Area resident Lisa Battle is one of those "creatives" - they call creative people that around here - who incorporates things from all corners of her world into an expression that fuses fashion, design, image creation, photography, art direction, and a curatorial sense of obligation to the art that brung us (my construction, not hers). And by "us", I mean people who feel uplifted by sublime explorations in all aspects of the creative realm. This is the inspiration that Lisa Battle pours into her work in "Commercial Merchandise Design, Luxury Brand Decor & Fashion Styling, Image Editing & Photo Styling, Commercial AD Design & Editing, Artistic Direction & Promotion, Visual Merchandising Management, and Display Design", as listed on her LinkedIn site. And it is also the inspiration that she brings to another of her outlets, her work as an adult contemporary singer/songwriter. She performs throughout Northern California with her band "The Moving Truth", which aspires to do for "global honesty" what Jennifer Lopez does for a backless gown.

Lisa is an active fashion blogger and the founder of 'Closet Rock', a music fashion business that honors the wardrobes of iconic music stars. Check out her creations and blogging at

WWW.LSTYLE-LISA.BLOGSPOT.COM 

 

Guerneville Cabin Sounds?

The Shrouded Strangers

This fuzz-rock track "Featherbed", from Oakland, California-band The Shrouded Strangers, is just awful! So why does listening to it end with a person liking it so much?

 

When the surf gear community locks the door on you, the IMPOSE doors remain cracked for any and all refugee surf rock sounds. We let these skuzzy Oakland kids party because they recorded their album in the meth-hut riddled woods of Guerneville, CA. The group embraced the wild life, but kept off the meth, and holed up in a cabin with an 8-track and Coors tall boys to record Lost Forever. - IMPOSE Magazine

The Shrouded Strangers formed some time ago in Harrisonburg, VA, but after recording their debut record, relocated to Washington, DC and got quickly sidetracked by other projects; first, as sociopathic proto-punks the Carlsonics, and then as incandescent psych-folkies Nethers. In the embers of these bands they resurrected the Shrouded Strangers, after relocating yet again; this time, 2,809 to the west, to Oakland, California. 2008 saw the Live! In Bedlam Towers EP, and now, Lost Forever. - Christen Thomas/PressWolf PR

IMPOSE MAGAZINE - IMPOSE is an independent media outlet based in Brooklyn, with a widely-respected read on America's independent music and cultural landscape. Originally founded in 2002 as a print magazine, it has grown to include a daily-updated website, a video website, a globally-distributed record label, and national events of all sizes. Visit IMPOSE Site.

 

Red Hot Skillet Lickers

Lavay Smith

Not many entertainments out there can cause one to wince with pain at the sound of the name (re the skillet licking thing) and grin like an opossum at the expectation of sounds to hear. Lavay Smith and this band have been great for seemingly ever, like a Duke Ellington-inspired whale that lives on jazz and sucks up all the cool breezes along the coasts where yesterday's Harlem big band meets with those alluring mists of nostalgia, blowing inland, hard. Sometimes you need to stick your tongue to the griddle to remind yourself just how for real some things are.  Tongue this below. - RAR

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David Thom Band

T-Bone Burnett's "Soggy Bottom Boys" got nothing on these guys.

The David Thom Band has been a fixture on the Bay Area Bluegrass scene since they started playing together 15 years ago. David Thom, lead vocals and guitar, is passionate about the traditional sound but allows his band to range out into new musical territory from time to time. For this band, tradition means respecting the intentions of the original artists while maintaining a unique identity. The hard driving 5-string banjo of Andy Shaw and the rock solid foundation and playful highlights of Mary Shaw’s bass round out the band. Everyone contributes to the vocal mix as well, bringing variety and intense, chilling harmonies. David Thom, himself a masterful instrumentalist, is highly regarded as a talented and creative singer. The David Thom Band has played at Strawberry, Grass Valley, The Great American Music Hall, The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and a long list of smaller festivals and fairs. The central lineup includes: David Thom – guitar, vocals; Andy Shaw – banjo, vocals; Mary Shaw – bass, vocals.

 

 

Amber Rubarth

Singer-songwriter Amber Rubarth is well-known to San Francisco Bay Area music fans, particular those who have followed house concert impresario Drew Pearce over the years. Rubarth is a devoted song stylist, an explorer of the form, and the video presented here does a nice job of exploring her writing process, and her recent recording experience. Her new album "A Common Case of Disappearing" was recorded with Grammy-Award winning producer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Tom Waits) this Spring.

 

Sal Valentino

Beau Brummels and Isolation

By RAR

The San Francisco Band The Beau Brummels, who scored two hits, "Laugh, Laugh" and "Cry Just A Little", were important to the soundtrack of my youth. Visit this link for more on that... I loved the loneliness of their tremelo-drenched sound, and I loved the voice of their lead singer, Sal Valentino. Valentino was a kid from San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood who took has last name from that of a boxer that his dad liked. Born Salvatore Willard Spampinato in 1942, Sal Valentino achieved success in his early 20s, and then went down hill from there. San Francisco music writer Joel Selvin traced the entire arc in a 2006 piece for the Examiner (read here).

Around 2002, Valentino started a slow comeback playing open mic nights as a solo acoustic act in the Sacramento area. There he met Jackie Greene, a dude in his mid-20s at the time, who has since scored successes as a solo artist (his 2003 Gone Wanderin' CD stayed on the Americana charts for over a year) and been a band member of Phil Lesh and Friends.  Greene, who has modeled himself after a young Bob Dylan, has an affinity for classic rock figures and he has helped champion Valentino's comeback. In fact, he wrote a song for Valentino, a live performance of which is shown in the video in the right column, shot at The Palms venue in Winters, California (Sacramento area).

 

Sal Valentino at The Palms in Winters, California

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JINX JONES

Jinx Jones left Colorado years ago for life on the West Coast where he morphed into one of the great Rockabilly players working anywhere today, not that Rockabilly is currently in vogue. Good music played well is always in, witness this video from a recent Rockabilly show in Vegas featuring the subject of our hot roddin' guitar devotions.

 

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VOLKER STRIFLER

Bluesman's Originals Survey Musical Landscape

German-born Northern California club staple Volker Strifler has a 10-song LP available for free download from his ReverbNation site. Eight of these songs are Strifler originals, ranging in feel from Rag Time Jazz to Caribbean Calypso to Blues, the latter being Volker's main calling card. Strifler, whose musical associations have included Robben Ford, The Ford Blues Band, and Chris Cain, always comes across as a true believer, a guy who grew up listening to American Blues and Americana in general, and incorporated those influences into his being. His authentic American Blues wail always comes across as a surprise, but a good one, and he is a knowledgeable composer, which sometimes seems like the greatest of his considerable skills.

Bay Area News

 

 

How Cool is School?

The Amateurs Play Improv Night at Benicia High

 

Begging your pardon, I couldn't help but post this video that my daughter Gillian took on her cell phone, featuring some tripod-like steadiness in hand-held mode.

This video is from Friday the 13th of January (2012) at Benicia High School in Benicia, California, where my two kids are "scholars". The occasion is "Improvisation Night" at which students in the Improv class perform improvisational comedy to a packed house of friends and relatives. The kids are extraordinarily bright and topical with their humor, tending toward cultural references but winking at a broad range of issues, as well. Benicia High School has been one of the higher achieving public schools in a state in which the overall quality of public education has been in steep decline since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the property tax relief measure that should have revealed the soft underbelly of the California real estate market (bubbling for decades before the burst), but instead just gutted the state's education budget. It offered tax relief to property owners at the expense of the future of the state's young population, until finally what was once the top K-12 system in the nation has now disintegrated to 43rd nationally in per-student spending, and 30th among the 50 states in overall academic performance (according to a January 2011 Education Week's Quality Counts survey). (There has been a rebound at the top tier university level, with California universities recently listed by U.S. News & World Report as having six of the top 10 state universities in the nation, with 9 of the 10 U.C. schools listed in the top 40 nationally, leaving out only University of California-Merced.)

The Benicia school system is the principal reason my family moved here, as would be true of many Benicia families, but the dark gloom that has settled over California's K-12 education system has become characterized by staff reductions, teacher pay cuts accompanied by increased workloads, insane levels of administrative micro management of the classroom, and reductions in special offerings such as summer school programs.

None of those sad developments have dented BHS' core strengths, which are its student population and a very special type of teacher that has somehow found purchase in this system and now characterizes the place. It is filled with creative types who teach for pay while having other pursuits for play, and they bring this extended zest for life into their classrooms, often to great effect. The young talent that walks those halls of academe has been sort of jaw dropping, at least for me. I have many times stood in wonder at casual performances of the school's jazz band, for instance, and been entertained by rock and hip-hop units that have surfaced from that young stew. I have no doubt that there are kids, from that group of fortunate young, who will go on to have extraordinary lives, including careers in high profile operations, and they will have been launched to those heights by the support they received through public school programs such as this captured at "Improv Night".

The group on stage in the video above bills themselves as "The Amateurs", which provides comedic opportunities at their introduction (see video). They came out for a musical cap at the end of the improv show, and I am taken by how cool they are once they get going. Half of these band members are still in high school, while the others are just recently graduated. Besides being talented, they are strikingly real.

For an old gas passer such as myself, this Improv program, these musicians, and everything about the obvious support they receive from family and friends at events such as this does that Jerry Lewis thing: it gives you hope to carry on. RARWRITER.com sends its appreciation to the talented kids of Benicia High and the enlightened group of teachers who direct them. - RAR

More Benicia High Talent - Ariana Cabebe

Benicia High School Junior is a natural covering this Corrine Bailey Rae number.

 

Rambling Levon Style in Vallejo

Wednesday Nights at the Empress

Vallejo, California is one of the state's oldest communities, with the now abandoned Mare Island Naval Station having been established before the Civil War (1861-1865) and serving generations of service men and, by extension, fueling the economy of the Vallejo area. The place has produced generations of creative musical talent, including Sly Stone and his band Sly and the Family Stone featuring bass legend Larry Graham, who still runs his own great band Graham Central Station. Vallejo is a hot bed of hip-hop and rap talent, most notably the wildly creative Mac Dre, and E-40.. Slide guitarist Roy Rogers is a Vallejo native.

That really only scratches the surface of the celebrity history (use this link for a list of famous Vallejoans, including political strategist Ed Rollins, actor Raymond Burr, NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, baseball stars C.C. Sabathia, Tug McGraw and Bill Buckner)  of a city (population 116,000) that has been known to tens of generations of Navy men as a port of call where a guy could blow off steam before returning to ship duty. And of the legitimate places Vallejo provided for doing so, the Empress Theatre was a crown jewel, as it remains to this day in its refurbished form. And do to efforts such as those of tireless promoter Rhonda Lucile Hicks (right) it once again presents a constant stream of top-flight talent in every performance genre that can be staged in an art deco movie house.

The energy of the Empress may be best exemplified in the monthly "Wednesday Night Ramble" sessions. Hicks explains, "Everyone keeps asking…. What’s a 'ramble'” The organizers aren’t exactly sure how to define a 'ramble,' but one thing is clear, the monthly event is hugely successful with audiences traveling from all over the Bay Area to attend."

The Wednesday Night Ramble at The Empress was the idea of bass player Don Bassey. Bassey was inspired by the spirit of the Midnight Ramble created by Levon Helm. When Helm was diagnosed with cancer he held concerts in his barn in Woodstock to raise money for his medical bills. Bassey describes the “by invitation only” pro jam as an evening of organized chaos as unannounced guests take the stage and join the North Bay All Stars in a freewheeling extended jam session inspired by Levon Helm, founding member of the influential roots rock group The Band. The invitations are often extended in real time from the stage, with players being called from the audience to join the Bassey band. Ramble performers have included Lynn Asher, Willy Jordan, Mike Rinta, Lisa Battle, Tracy Blackman, Paul Branin, Danny Click, Steve Freund, Willy Jordan, Timm Walker, Kevin Hayes, Ian Lamson, Jesse Brewster, Zoe Ellis, David Ellis, The Sargent Tucker Band, The Wasted Rangers, Allyson Paige, Bonnie Hayes and Cedricke Dennis just to name a few.

 

 

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©Rick Alan Rice (RAR), July, 2014

 

 
   

 

 

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