CD Review: Tolan Shaw (self-titled)
by Tim Mudd – San Diego Troubadour – June 2013

Every now and again, unfortunately less often than I’d like, a record comes along where I sit back, listen and just think “Wow.” I experienced this for the first time this year when Tolan Shaw emailed me a download link for the final masters of his full-length solo debut, Tolan Shaw.

The very first thought I had, roughly nine seconds into the listening experience, was surprise. I even muttered, “This is not what I was expecting.” The opening groove of “Unstoppable” introduced something pleasantly different from Shaw’s previous work; a warm Muscle Shoals-style soul with a genuine instinct for mixing just the right amount of musical technique and feel. Continuing into the bayou revival of “Waiting,” Shaw’s voice flows around the backing singers and horn section effortlessly as you’re transported into the front row of one of New Orleans’ smoky Frenchman Street clubs where that level of musical intuition doesn’t often leave the city limits. By track three, without losing steam or interest, Tolan Shaw slows just enough on “Meant To Be,” a song that in another time or place could easily be mistaken for a Wilson Pickett classic played out by The Commitments. There are a dozen or so moments during Tolan Shaw where many vocalists would choose to overreach; the beauty of fireside gems such as “Satisfaction”, “Come Back” (a personal favorite) and “Awake” are where Shaw lays back and allows the music to breathe around his thoughtful lyrical messages. If there are any concerns that Shaw is unable to fully open up and reach that magical moment reserved for only the best vocalists on their best recordings, the rousing apex of songs such as “Mama” and “Change” dismiss those negative notions immediately. “Change”, along with “Why Me?” and “Everything’s Not Lost” flex Shaw’s admitted penchant for electric guitar-driven Blues, executed in a way that permit them to stand comfortably with the greats – no excuses necessary.

It would be a grave injustice for this review to ignore the masterful production of Tolan Shaw in the informed and capable hands of Jeff Berkley. Shaw said it best during our interview where he felt Berkley knew technically when to produce and instinctively when to lay back. Not only is this an accurate summary of the resulting production, but a skill set such as this is almost mandatory when tackling instrumentation as fluid as that required to truly capture the intended Muscle Shoals sound. Since that sound originated, there have been many more examples of mere imitators than genuine successes in the quest to reproduce and Tolan Shaw is a clear victory, sitting squarely in the latter category of success. The all-star cast of session players only amplifies the strong musicality behind this record, each of whom should be very proud to include this record on their résumé.

Tolan Shaw is a giant leap forward for a relatively young artist. This is a record that will turn even the most casual listener into an instant fan.

Tolan Shaw: Journey’s End, Journey’s Begin
by Tim Mudd – San Diego Troubadour – June 2013 (excerpt)

SDT: It really is a great record. I was immediately struck at the depth and soul that came through. It’s very reminiscent to me of the original Muscle Shoals work and then in a similar vein over the last decade to artists such as Cat Power and Ray LaMontagne who have brought that sound back and introduced it to a new generation of listeners. I think your record is inevitably going to draw those comparisons…

TS: That’s kind of what I was hoping for…

SDT: Well, mission accomplished!

TS: I went in and sat with producer Jeff Berkley; it seemed like the right fit and he really knew how to give it that cool, fuzzy, vintage sound. That was really what I wanted: the original Muscle Shoals sound mixed with a newer Ray LaMontagne style. I’m also a big fan of acoustic guitarist and songwriter Michael Kiwanuka and electric guitarist Gary Clark Jr. Some of my more guitar-driven bluesy tunes are inspired by them – as well as Jimi Hendrix, my first and longest influence – but the sound I was mostly looking for derived from ’60s and ’70s soul.

SDT: Tell me about the recording process with Jeff Berkley?

TS: It was amazing. Very collaborative. Before working with Jeff, I wasn’t sure exactly what a producer’s role was. I was under the impression that I did a lot of the producing because I arranged a lot of the pieces, brought other musicians in… but by the end of the process I realized that in his laying back and letting me do my thing when he needed to, he’d interject and say, “No, lets lay off this – it needs a little space here” or “Let’s add this little bit here.” What really came through were those moments when he didn’t touch anything or when he did, it was just perfect. Jeff does everything so organically. He has a real instinct for knowing how and when to be “the producer.” He lays off just the right amount to let the music be itself and breathe so perfectly without trying to control it and strap it into some arbitrary and rigid guidelines. When other musicians came in to contribute, he’d start the process by saying, “These are the parts we were thinking of for this but just do what feels right.” He had a really great analogy that he shared while we were working together: he said that his role is similar to being a jeweler – he doesn’t create the diamond, he creates the setting that allows the diamond to be the best that it can be.

SDT: How did you guys meet and decide to work together?

TS: It was actually thanks to Cathryn Beeks’ San Diego Studio Sampler. She gave a number of songwriters the prompt of “Every Second.” We were to write a song to that, record a rough take in our home studios, and then she had 20 different producers from around San Diego choose the songs they wanted to reproduce in a more professional setting to demonstrate the before and after versions. Jeff chose my song during that process and we really clicked. His style and way of going about the recording worked well with my song and when it came to the material I was thinking of producing next he told me he wanted to do the record.

CD Review: Folding Mr. Lincoln – Two Rivers
by Tim Mudd – San Diego Troubadour – June 2013

Two Rivers, the new album by Folding Mr Lincoln, is one of those rare musical statements where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The songs tell individual tales, but also combine for a chronological storybook, best heard from start to finish; it requires an emotional investment from the listener, but one that is paid off handsomely.

Vocalist and guitarist Harry Mestyanek wrote all but one of the 12 originals and co-wrote the other with wife and singer Nancy. Also on board are regular members Charlie Loach (guitars), Alicia Previn (violin, backing vocals), and Jeff Stasny (drums and percussion). The pristine sound was recorded and mixed by Jeff Berkley, and ace local musicians Greg Gohde and Dennis Caplinger help out on bass and stringed instruments.

The new disc tells the life story, much like the screenplay of a movie, about a couple, Lynne and Eugene. “Under Western Skies” introduces Nancy singing as Lynne about meeting a new boy, “kind and roudy rolled into one” in her Central Valley life, as harmonies and slide guitar licks convey a wide open landscape. Harry becomes Eugene for “Chances Are,” with a foreboding vibe from Previn’s violin bow: the two have decided to take that next step in their journey, from which there is no turning back. It works out, as the title tune (and disc highlight) reaffirms their joining as two rivers to become one. This song is a catchy, radio-ready triumph.

Things get plugged in for “I Wish I Was,” as Harry sings about self-doubt; the choruses hit with real impact as Loach’s fuzzed guitar lines push the envelope on another standout track. Nancy expresses Lynne’s moments of frustration in “Not Clear to Me Now.” Then – no surprise – in “Lynne and Eugene,” the two talk things out and “share a few secrets they have now and then,” then embrace and “they’re going to try this again.” The next chapter, “Forgive for Love,” is also sung by Harry and is musically similar to “Lynne and Eugene.” The result is that the story moves forward, but the music stalls as the two straighten out their relationship in their middle years.

By “Sunday Morning,” all is well, and they are falling in love again and being old friends; the up-tempo song seems to break the musical slow streak as well. After a spoken interlude about Lynne’s illness ending their time together, “Every Step of the Way” is an upbeat look back by Harry at their time together, the pleasant memories, how she was always there; it is a catchy tune with a poignant and touching message. Finally, the sun is setting on Harry/Eugene for “Angels and Cowboys,” another disc highlight. He’s at the “end of this lonesome highway,” recalling the good times and bad, and ready to sing with the angels and cowboys. This song is memorable, with stand-alone power and dignity.

Listening to Two Rivers is more than listening to music. It is experiencing a lifelong relationship. Kudos to Folding Mr Lincoln for the artistic courage to create it.

Watch this! From the Lexington Field sessions… (5 of 5)

June 2013

CD Review: Lexington Field – No Man’s War
by – May 2013

A unique blend of Irish folk with an aggressive punk sound that never strays far from outright rocking and rolling. This band shreds genre’s and masterfully puts the pieces back together in what they aptly call American fiddle rock. Part of the San Diego music scene since 2007, Lexington Field are releasing their second full-length album, No Man’s War, on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 on New Folk Records, in conjunction with Blind Eye Records. Both labels are based out of Minneapolis, MN. Lead singer Beau Gray, had the following to say about the new album.

“No Man’s War is the ultimate American Fiddle Rock album. These 14 songs are dynamic, heartfelt, emotional, and very high-energy. It was an honor to work with such talented musicians during this whole project and to have Jose Pimienta return to provide amazing artwork. Jeff Berkley and Gavin Lurssen are top notch professionals and truly captured our sound. We are so excited to share our American Fiddle Rock songs with the rest of the world!”

No Man’s War features guest appearances by singer-songwriter Steve Poltz (vocals), Veronica May from The Lovebirds (vocals), Dennis Caplinger (banjo), Anthony Belluto from Horde of Sirens (guitar), Josh Linden from Hoist the Colors (mandolin & vocals) and Matt Maulding from Brick Top Blaggers (accordion).

CD Review: The Lovebirds – and a one and a two
by Frank Kocher – San Diego Troubadour – May 2013

Three years ago, Lindsay White joined up with Veronica May, as both life and musical partners, grabbing plenty of attention last year with their debut disc together, Nutsy Pants, a quirky delight that pulled in the considerable vocal and songwriting talents of both local artists, adding an intangible joy that seemed to flow from their collaboration on harmonies and love songs, like “Life Is So Good.” The debut set the bar for their follow-up sky high, but they don’t disappoint on And a One, And a Two. The pair wisely stick with what got them here: richly harmonious folk-pop, captured in an arresting, pared-down recording by Jeff Berkley. The singers in turn arrange many of the 13 originals with few additions to the mix beyond their guitars and ukulele.

The opener, “Sleepwalk,” is instantly memorable, as Berkley’s electric guitar and bass add power to May’s picked uke figures and achingly beautiful, overlapping harmonies dance like flames in a mysterious trance. The standout track’s lyrics about dreams and lullabies are equally ethereal. On the softer “Landmine,” the two trade lead vocals and celebrate their relationship for all its volatility, worth running the risks – like dancing on a landmine because “we don’t know when the pin will pull again.” Continuing in a mellow vein, “Hook” similarly celebrates what the two have found in each other in metaphors about fishing and clicks with a delicate charm.

The lyrical imagery throughout the disc is strong, and the slice of life “Cellar Door” is like a trip through the childhood memory of the writers, recalling an old house and family members in intricate detail. “Goldmine” is an answer to the earlier “Landmine,” but more somber; settled in together, now the coast is clear and sea is calm; the payoff is long-term togetherness, “passing the test of time.” After “Words Against the Wall” demonstrates that even in the Lovebirds’ world, there are misunderstandings, “FightFlight” follows a catchy keyboard hook to another disc highlight. This tune uses a full band, diminished chords and smooth harmonies to get a distinctly jazz vibe.

Many 13-track discs are like a big house with lots of rooms all similarly painted and furnished, and can drag as a result. Not this one. “Round and Round” is buried in the playlist and starts innocuously with finger-picked ukulele, then a soft but elegant exchange of harmonies about the fleeting playground of life; the spare spell is broken after three minutes as a powerful, full-throttle coda drives home the message with electric guitar, and drums – and it works surprisingly well. Wrapping matters is the quirkiest track, “Love You Like the ‘80s,” “Let’s rewind the VHS tape back to a time when things were easy,” White and May sing to a uke strum and goofy beeping synthesizer, as they sneak in  pop references from Laverne and Shirley to Jessica Rabbit.

And a One, and a Two is a must-have for fans of good roots music.

From One Berkley Sound Artist to Another
by Beau Gray of Lexington Field – April 2013

As many of you know by now, we recorded our brand new album, No Man’s War, with Jeff Berkley at his home studio called Berkley Sound.  At the same time we were tracking, there was another band he was working with who was recording their sophomore album as well.  They are called The Lovebirds, they are also based out of San Diego, and their new album is AMAZING!  We had the privilege to hear snippets of songs from time to time as we were chillin in the studio, and were blown away.  The Lovebirds consist of Veronica May and Lindsay White, two incredible talents on there own, so imagine when they join forces!  Veronica also sang harmonies on most of the No Man’s War songs too and gave them such character and depth.  It was an honor to have her sing on our record.  In the meantime you have to hear The Lovebirds’ new album, “and a one, and a two”, and go to the Ruby Room this Thursday to celebrate the release!  We will be there for the party too!

Josh Damigo’s Hope nominated for 2012 LA Music Critics Award in the Best Male CD category
by Bob Leggett for – January 2013

Damigo has pulled out all the stops for his latest CD project, also funded through Kickstarter. The CD includes incredible duets with Rob Deez, Nina Storey and the amazing A.J. Croce (son of the late Jim Croce), and reflects the best collaboration effort of Damigo to date. This is definitely a “desert island” CD and a must for the serious music fan.

Savannah Philyaw “ready to jump into the pool” Feb. 1 w/ Normal Heights concert
by Jay Allen Sanford – The Reader – January 2013

“I don’t actually have a band,” says singer/songwriter Savannah Philyaw. “I’m occasionally accompanied by friends of mine; violinists, drummers, guitarists, etc. I always have a great time when other musicians play shows with me, though. It’s just difficult to find musicians that are available to play when the band is not their top priority.”

As noted in this week’s new Record Release Roundup in the Blurt column, Philyaw’s self-titled debut EP will be released on CD at Lestat’s on Friday, February 1. “Since it’s my first official CD,” she tells the Reader, “my producer, Jeff Berkley, recommended a self titled EP. I tried to think of different titles, but nothing seemed to fit. Each song on the CD is pretty unique and I couldn’t seem to find a title that fit for all of them.”

Introduced to me by one long-established local musico as potentially “The next Jewel” (who also came from the San Diego music scene), Philyaw is barely out of her teens. “I am pretty young, so that comes through in the CD, but I also feel that the songs express my maturity…I’d say my music is fun and lighthearted. There are songs that are sad for times you aren’t feeling bubbly. My music reflects my life experiences and those of the people around me.”

Citing influences such as Ingrid Michaelson and Tyler Lyle, Philyaw says “My favorite female musician is Brandi Carlile. Don’t get me started! I went to the House Of Blues SD to see her show on November 7th. I guess I should have been more observant when I bought the tickets because the show was 21+. That didn’t stop me. After fighting with the security guard, José, I decided to go to the Orpheum Theater in LA three nights later. I basically think I died. I have never seen such a powerful performance. She is such a fierce and confident woman and just so inspirational. I could feel her music pulsing through my entire body.”

For the release show, “I’m going to bring fun, homemade merchandise items as well. I always play one cover song that I feel a majority of the audience can relate to. I love to ask for cover ideas prior to a show to get a feel for what people would want to hear. I really like to make my shows different each time so, to be honest, I’m not even really sure what to expect!”

The CD’s local all-star lineup of supporting players is indicative of the growing buzz surrounding Philyaw, including Jeff Berkley, Calman Hart, Miranda Hart, Brian “Nucci” Cantrell, Dennis Caplinger, Ben Moore, Sharon Whyte, Kevin Ryan, and John Foltz.

“I decided to invest myself into my music career as a teen, because I found myself thinking of nothing other than music. Growing up, I never had any intentions or dreams of becoming a musician. The thought of the stage never appealed to me. When I was fifteen, I was given my first opportunity to perform. I was going to open for Tyler Hilton, one of my favorite musicians in the world. I had hardly any songs written but I could NOT turn it down. All of my family and friends came out to the show to support.”

She says that the minute she stepped off the stage, “I knew music was all I ever want to do. It is a little scary at times though. In a way, my songwriting is my public diary. I could never imagine standing in front of a crowd reading a diary entry, so what makes a song any easier? I am so thankful to have found a passion that I know will last me my whole life long. In starting this career, I feel like a kid again. I am a kid standing at the edge of a diving board ready to jump into the pool. I am excited for all of the musical adventures I have ahead of me.”

Philyaw got an early taste of stage flop during the second gig she ever played. “I was fifteen and I was unbelievably nervous. The headlining act demanded to play first, rather than third, so I had to be the headliner of my second show. When it came time for me to play, it was about eleven o’clock and I had warmed up my voice at eight. I had planned to play four songs but I ended up playing more, ones that I had not practiced.”

“It was overall a terrifying experience, but I learned more from it than I lost. I always laugh about it now.”

When Jack Tempchin speaks…

“Local friends Jeff Berkley & Cathryn Beeks have done a great original version of Peaceful Easy Feeling at Berkley Sound…”

by Jack Tempchin – January 2013

Watch this! From the Lexington Field sessions… (4 of 5)

January 2013

Watch this! From the Lexington Field sessions… (3 of 5)

January 2013

Watch this! From the Lexington Field sessions… (2 of 5)

December 2012

Watch this! From the Lexington Field sessions… (1 of 5)

December 2012

CD Review: Josh Damigo – Hope
by Richard James – San Diego Troubadour – September 2012

Roots rocker Josh Damigo doesn’t have to worry about the sophomore slump. Damigo’s second effort, Hope, is an hour-long outburst of unfettered human emotion, showcasing a heavy heart practically exploding with a wide spectrum of feelings, ranging from love, lust, confusion, resignation, pride, fear, and humor. Damigo’s humble demeanor and youthful energy are infectious, easily cajoling the listener to come along for the ride. His no-frills fearlessness is admirable as he confidently conveys the inherent frailties of a man lost in the swirl of infatuation and vulnerability. Damigo’s strong vocal skills are the perfect counterpart to his rough and ready backing band. This combination brings an ironic heft to his lyrical expression and the juxtaposition works like a charm. Spinning mystical observations about affairs of the heart in a tone wizened beyond his years, Damigo’s rugged voice portrays an everyman persona akin to early Springsteen.

The lyrics to “Portland” white-knuckle the heartstrings from its opening strains, while the song’s string arrangement lifts this beautiful ballad gently into the stratosphere. Its elements spare and subtle, the tune is a gem on every level from performance to production. The album also features the torchy, gospel-tinged “I Can’t Be Your Man,” an excellent duet with Nina Storey on “So Far So Good,” and a cover of Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.” Croce’s son A.J. also appears on the record, contributing some tasteful bluesy piano work to “Slow Goin’.” With the exception of one tune that delves into novelty song territory, this is pretty straightforward stuff. And, frankly, even that tune has a catchy chorus that got stuck in my head after one listen. Which means of course that regardless of my criticism, the songwriter has done his job.

While sometimes it seems like the marketing machinery of the music industry frantically slaps hyphenated genre labels on many new artists like a blind man playing Whack-a-Mole, it’s guys like Josh Damigo that continue to prove that the best gimmick is no gimmick. Confidently shuffling between rock, pop, country, blues, and acoustic ballads without the slightest hint of stumbling, a young artist firing on all pistons like this quite simply is a rarity. Damigo’s previous recordings have earned him numerous accolades from the local press and his profile continues to grow on a national level with a busy touring schedule that takes him all over the country. With the release of his nearly flawless Hope, the only sensible advice one might offer Damigo would be the suggestion that maybe it’s time to clear a little more space on the mantle for the additional awards soon to come. There’s no new ground broken on Hope, but Damigo has a strong gift for the songwriting craft. In a field where it’s often said that three chords and the truth are the only tools you need, the youthful Damigo shows early signs of natural mastery.

CD Review: The Lovebirds – Nutsy Pants
by Sara Cardoza for – August 2012

While an initial listen to The Lovebirds new album, Nutsy Pants, may leave you with the impression that this compilation of folksy tunes and high trilling notes is simply a light hearted group of songs for a day that needs a little giddy background music, you may want to listen again. Nutsy Pants’ secret weapon is not a secret at all. Lindsey White and Veronica May’s chosen name, The Lovebirds, spells the reason for the hidden depth found within their songs, despite what the cartoonish album title may imply. Partners both professionally and romantically, White and Mays live for each other spills from each track, reflecting a journey that is silly, sweet, sad, and everything else in between.

Elements of folk, jazz, and blues combine with the sweet vintage quality of the duo’s voices as they incorporate sounds that are both old and new. Starting off the album with a chirpy rendition of Pharrell’s “Beautiful,” listeners may not expect the small tokens of sadness that underlie the sweetness of the vocals and the happy accompaniment of the piano, upbeat saxophone, and whimsical accordion. “Ring Around the Roses,” serves as a playfully adult ode to childhood, painting a playground scene of swings and childhood chants, “I know you are but what am I,” before delving into tracks like “Love is All it Takes,” and “Forever For Now,” that deal with weightier matter.

Being in love is a powerful force in the duo’s lyrics. “Love is All it Takes,” champions the strength of their passion’s power over societal labels and definitions of permanence. “I picture you and me, two little girls at sea,” they sing, evoking the image of trying to navigate emotional wreckage and perception with the line, “Don’t cry….there’s enough salt out here.”  White promises, “If something tries to break us I won’t let it, I don’t need a judge to tell me that I’m wedded to you.” However, their special brand of bittersweet is well spaced within the album between tracks that are clever and light like “Life Is So Good,” and “Victim & The Villain.”

White channels a type of nostalgia with the quality of her voice, which makes songs such as “Forever For Now,” detailing fervent wishes that may never come to pass, and “Love Letters,” which laments the lack of handwritten X’s and O’s in the world these days,  small treasures to keep in your musical pocket. The Lovebirds are just that, and their album serves as a love letter to those who pause to listen, signed with a heart in the shape of plucky guitar strings, piano notes, and sweet harmonies.

Nutsy Pants was nominated for Best Local Recording for the 2012 San Diego Music Awards, so visit their website to snag your own copy, or see them live in San Diego!

Blue Sky Pie
August 2012

Experiencing Blue Sky Pie is like going on a picnic on a beautiful sunny day on a grassy field surrounded by lovely daisies. Let the wind blow through your hair and close your eyes and go on a magic ride to happy land.  Don’t miss this show!  I repeat… don’t miss this show!“  - Steve Poltz

Blue Sky Pie will warm their way inside your heart and feed your soul.  You’ll never be the same again.“ - Jeff Berkley/Berkley Hart

Rosebud and Scott Ireland met in San Diego while playing in their respective punk bands, Night Soil Man and The Pulltoys. At some point, they wound up getting out their acoustic guitars to jam together, and a magical connection was made.  After a serious accident left Scott temporarily paralyzed, the bands broke up.  What followed was a long, slow, but successful recovery… after which they picked up their guitars again and decided to go at it as a duo. After numerous incarnations, from the Swamp Poets to Bug Guts, they are now flying high as Blue Sky Pie.

With their rich harmonies, intricate guitar work and playful sense of humor, BSP delight the listener.. and though a challenge to pigeonhole, their music has been described as “Free-Range Post-Cynical Misfit Folk”.

They’ve shared the stage with such talent as Shawn Colvin, Gilliam Welch, Jason Mraz, and Jewel, and at a combined height of over twelve and half feet, Blue Sky Pie is the tallest folk duo in the known world.

CD Review: The Lovebirds – Nutsy Pants
by Lafe Dutton – San Diego Troubadour – June 2012

Inventive and unconventional songwriters Lindsay White and Veronica May are The Lovebirds, a San Diego-based vocal duo releasing a winning debut CD called Nutsy Pants.

If you’re over 50, think Simon and Garfunkel with a sense of humor. If you’re under 50, think Nora Jones, multiply by two and add substance.

Produced, recorded, and mixed by Jeff Berkley, the quality of the vocals and instruments is superb. The Lovebirds wrote eight of the 10 songs, and contributed additional verses to the other two.

Doug Walker plays delicious bass throughout. May and White both contribute guitar, although May’s is predominate and assured through the hints of jazz, ragtime, back country, folk, and swing. May also adds incredibly tasty piano and playful ukulele. Berkley adds drums and percussion. Jeffrey Joe Morin adds harmonica on one cut, and Lou Fanucci actually makes you like the accordion and transports you to Venice on “Love Letters.” Michael Fryer whips you off to Leprechaun land with a delightful penny whistle.

Some of the stand out cuts:
2. “Ring Around the Roses”
The song starts out prose-less and boring, then subtly metamorphoses into intricate vocal weavings and punch-in-the-kneecap revelations:
“…the clouds cave in so you can land on me.”

4. “Life Is So Good”
Like the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” on paper the lyrics beg to be tossed. But, also like the Beatles, the Lovebirds pull it off by combining a catchy melody, a simple but brilliant arrangement, crisp enunciation with clipped syllables, “such a great smile, you got: such a great smile” and attitude: “such a great butt, you got, such a great rump.”

Girl scouts in the next century will be singing this one around nuclear fires. “Such a great life, I got, such a great life.”

6. “Oh My”Freckles playing chase, midnight hair, pity for the light: if Dylan had a sense of humor you’d think this was one of his songs.

8. “Love Letters”
One of those songs that is so cloyingly clever and cute that you hate to love it, but you can’t help yourself. Like drooling babies.
“There’s got to be somebody, somewhere that you know,
That could use a few X’s and O’s”

The recording does have a few flaws and missed opportunities: some pitchy vocals, some missing oxygen on a few power notes, plus a couple of the songs would have benefited from another round of editing. A couple of the songs are simply clever and cute with no skeleton. But overall, this is one of the finer recordings to come out of San Diego in some time.

CD Review: Tim Flannery – The Restless Kind
by Mark Pulliam – San Diego Troubadour – February 2012

Tim Flannery is an amazing phenomenon. Most people struggle to distinguish themselves in one career; at 54, Flannery is already on his illustrious fourth. He has been a professional baseball player (including 11 years as a utility infielder with the San Diego Padres), a major league coach (with the Padres and the 2010 World Series champions S.F. Giants), a TV and radio broadcaster, and an accomplished Americana songwriter-musician. The indefatigable Flannery’s latest album, his 11th (including a live album), titled The Restless Kind, explores the theme of travel, with which he is well familiar, due to the peripatetic nature of his first and second careers – think 200 nights a year on the road for the past 30 years. Travel has profoundly influenced Flannery. The opening track of his first album, Looking Back (1995) is titled “Back Out on the Highway,” and his prior albums include Highway Song (2002), The Wayward Wind (2007), and Travelin’ Shoes (2009). Many of his songs have been composed on the road. Unlike the tales of loneliness and despair that often emerge from homesick road warriors, The Restless Kind focuses on the importance of savoring every moment of the journey and the joy of returning home. The word “maudlin” is not in Flannery’s vocabulary.

Flannery’s “sweet spot” (to use a baseball term) is “feel good” songs with personal lyrics and upbeat messages, emphasizing hope, faith, and devotion. His palette tends toward country-folk, ballads, and bluegrass. Flannery’s voice is as pleasing as his disposition, and it is a testament to his appeal that he manages to surround himself (here and elsewhere) with first-rate musicians. Flannery penned six of the 11 songs on The Restless Kind. The original tunes range from tender ballads (“Whatever Comes,” “Kiss Me Like It’s Saturday Night,” “Breaking Things”) to country- folk (“Thousand Roads,” “Climbing”) to bluesy (“The Restless Kind”). The rest are covers of Kacey Chambers’ bluegrass romp “The House That Never Was,” Robert Earl Keen’s theme-appropriate “I’m Coming Home,” the bluegrass standard “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” Gregory Page’s moving “Right or Wrong” (“It’s never too late to be the person you were meant to be”), and Vince Gill’s reflective “Somethings Never Get Old.”

Flannery is backed by his excellent band, The Enablers, consisting of multi-instrumentalist virtuosos Dennis Caplinger (banjo, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, ukele) and Doug Pettibone ( electric, acoustic, slide, lap steel, and pedal steel guitars), with Jeff Berkley (who also produced) on drums, percussion, guitars and piano, joined by Erin Breen (L.A. Philharmonic) on cello (to great effect on “Whatever Comes” and “Right or Wrong”) and Doug Walker on upright bass. The backing vocals of Randi Driscoll and Barbara Nesbitt perfectly complement the deft arrangements, particularly on “The House That Never Was,” “Kiss Me Like It’s Saturday Night,” and “Climbing.”

All of the tracks are well-rendered, but “Right or Wrong” and “Thousand Roads” stand out as nearly perfect.

CD Review: Chris Clarke – Pale Moonlight Blues
by Frank Kocher – San Diego Troubadour – September 2011

Part of Virginia native Chris Clarke’s development as a traditional and bluegrass artist involved exposure to master musicians in the genre while attending college in West Virginia and spending the early ‘90s living in a log cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains while further absorbing musical knowledge and mentoring that he brought to California.

For over a decade he has been part of the San Diego acoustic scene as a solo performer, with his trio Plow, and as part of the Monroe Avenue String Band. The connection made by his guitar and mandolin skills and easy vocal presence is enhanced by his ability to write songs; these fit in seamlessly with the established bluegrass and old-time country blues songs he sings that are traditional or by other artists.

His new album is Pale Moonlight Blues, and Clarke serves up 15 tasty samples of the mountain music and songs about country girls, trains, heartbreak, and the open road that have made up the Americana lexicon for over a century. “Caroline” is a foot-stomping rave up, with fiddle, banjo, and sharp harmonies all joining in the dance. Another Clarke tune, “The 4th of July” is a slower country ballad with haunting pedal steel answers to his lines about desertion and loss after a lover departs. “High on a Mountain” features (gasp) drums and electric guitar, but no worries – the arrangement clicks and the song has a deadly catchy chorus and has a mountain music soul; it’s a standout track. More traditional, country-folk approaches mark “Midnight on the Stormy Deep” and “East Virginia Blues.” The stripped-down latter track in particular sounds like the style of the old Bob Dylan and Joan Baez folk classics, though her cover of it is softer and more wistful.

A who’s who of top local acoustic musicians are on hand to help out on the disc, including Jeff Berkley, Robin Henkel, Dennis Caplinger, Cathryn Beeks, John Mailander, Lindsay White, Doug Pettibone, and others including Plow members Joe Pomianek and Doug Walker. Berkley recorded it with just the right touch of restraint, to keep a taste of old-fashioned feel in the mix.

CD Review: Berkley Hart – Crow
by Frank Kocher – San Diego Troubadour – September 2011

After nearly 12 years playing together, with five previous award-winning studio CDs, local Americana veterans Berkley Hart are back with Crow, and their latest album offers the kind of music for which they have become known. There are the laid-back, personal stories of Calman Hart, delivered in his smooth, folksy, talking-blues style. Jeff Berkley has more of a rasp in his voice that can add some country smoke to the occasional song that gets a full-band arrangement. But the reason for their success is the ability to step beyond these obvious strengths and write engaging songs that make full use of their warm harmonies and expert, primarily acoustic musical accompaniment.

“Little Boxes” is the only cover among the dozen songs here, and this early-sixties satire of consumer culture by Malvina Reynolds fits the duo’s harmonizing style nicely. Hart weaves a tale of family life and relationships, “My Name is Sam,” observing the circle of life from family dog to hospitalized grandpa with touching lyrical statements. (No lyrics for the new CD on their website yet, but all of their other discs’ lyrics are there). “I Still Dream in California” has a country-rock feel, with pedal steel, banjo, lots of keyboards, and electric guitar. Berkley is singing over the big production, “Though I meditate on the Western gate/ I only visit in my head.”

The two flash their versatility on “Barn Sour Horses,” an imaginative Hart tune that tells of his crumbling home town, with the lingering “old men, old dogs, and old Chevrolets.” The riveting musical framework for the tale is a Middle-East-influenced, droning raga that uses Berkley’s banjo to create oud and sitar effects, and nice work by John Mallander on violin playing exotic Eastern modes and scales on a tune that is a creative triumph and highlight. Another great track is “Up the River”; it has a super hook, a moody, harmonized vibe and great percussion touches that give it depth.

Berkley recorded the new disc in his studio; his skills as a studio musician shine throughout and the vocals and guitars are superbly recorded. The separation and mix sounds like the band is sitting in the listener’s room, including session men Barnaby Finch and Ben Moore on keys, upright bassist Doug Walker, Mailander, and others.

Two folk songs use lyrical imagery to tell tales of life’s ironies: “No Place Like Home” is a quiet ballad from the viewpoint of a young girl who mentally flees her loveless family situation by clicking her heels, hoping to be transported to somewhere that is not like her home. Then, Berkley warns an approaching lover to slow things down in “Stay Away a Little Closer.” A country swing treatment helps “Not My Heart” score, as Berkley plays dobro and sings about giving up your car and home, but keeping what’s important.

Crow is excellent Americana music from a pair of musicians that have shown the ability to sustain this level for years. For fans, it will not disappoint; for new listeners: try it, you’ll like it.

Jeff Berkley Wants to Produce Your Next Record
by Dave Good – The Reader – August 2011

Jeff Berkley is an award-winning songwriter and one half of the local singer/songwriter duoBerkley Hart. Berkley Hart have received multiple nominations for San Diego Music Awards. They won their first SDMA in 2004 as Best Americana Album for 12. But Berkley’s also a record producer. At 22, he got his first co-producer credit for a Joel Raphael record. He’s since worked with a roster of talent including such notable locals as Gregory Page, Lisa Sanders, and Tim Flannery.

Dave Good: For those of us who’ve never actually made a record, could you describe what it is that a producer does?

Jeff Berkley: My job as a producer changes with every artist’s project. Writing music, editing, choosing songs, rehearsing the band, choosing instruments, recording, directing, setting the stage, resolving arguments, choosing tones, recording, playing, or keeping quiet and staying out of the way, promoting, finding a budget, etc. I just fill in the blanks where I’m needed. Recording artists all want and need different things. I do what needs doing to make what’s in the artist’s head and heart into a reality. I actually produce a real copy of their dreams. Cool job!

Hi-Staxx: What was your approach to producing that band?

Berkley: What happened with his record and most of the records I do is that Stevie’s [Harris] dreams became mine. I learned to see with his eyes and hear with his ears. The most important thing I can do for any musician is to help draw the best performances possible from them without any negative energy. Add to that any experiences I may have had that apply and, voila!

Rick Rubin to me defies studio logic because he can produce anything, and I mean anything, from a Neil Diamond comeback to death metal. All of his records sound great, but none sounds alike.

Berkley: He’s on my top five list of faves for sure. His records are truly diverse from a genre perspective, but you can tell it’s him from the tones and performances he pulls from his artists. I can always tell its Rick. It’s the same with all the greats from T-Bone Burnett to Phil Spector.

Have you ever gotten to the point that you wanted to fire a pistol during a session like Spector did?

Berkley: Yes, but not out of anger. More as a celebratory shot to cheer a good vocal take or a perfect guitar solo.

Do you have a favorite genre as a producer?

Berkley: Nope. I used to, but I fall in love with every record I’m doing and find out what’s cool about that style. Right now, I’m doing a retro 80′s record.

Do you cringe when you hear some records?

Berkley: I suppose so.

Big cringe factor for me on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The choir and the French horns reek, even though the idea belongs to a first rate studio guy named Al Kooper.

Berkley: There’s something to learn from that, though. People can be moved by music that is made in all sorts of different ways. Recording technique is important to us dorks, but in the grand scheme it’s about the song and vibe every time.

As a musician and recording artist yourself, have you had bad experiences at the hands of a producer?

Berkley: Thankfully, no. I’ve worked with a lot of folks, some big-time and some local, and they all did the right thing. I learned everything from them including my dad James Berkley, Andy Mingione, Bob Johnson, Dave Sharp, Ben Moore, Joel Rafael, Paul Dieter, Kevin McCormack, Gavin Lurssen, Sven Eric Seaholm, and John Katchur.

A reporter once asked Tom Petty what he found to be the most difficult part of his job. “Telling the A songs from the B songs,” he said. “They can sound a lot alike.” So, how do you tell an A song from a B song?

Berkley: Instinct is all I can cite for that one. Years of seeing audiences react to my own tunes has really refined that skill.

Stevie & the Hi-Staxx – Old Soul
April 2011

it started out as a live acoustic album. it grew. jeff berkley and i started listening to bill withers and al green and bobby womack in the studio and one thing led to another.

CD Review: Barbara Nesbitt – The Bees
by Allan Wilkinson  – Northern Sky Radio – April 2011

Second solo album release from Georgia-born, San Diego-based singer-songwriter Barbara Nesbitt, whose strong assured vocal delivery dominates this collection of a dozen original compositions and just the one cover, Boudleaux Bryant’s timeless Like Strangers, previously known through the singing of the Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris. With a steady musical development that has seen terms with such diverse bands as Rare Daze, Cradle and The Perpetrators, together with an impressive solo debut in 2007, A MILLION STORIES, Nesbitt appears to have found her stride as a solo performer. Produced by Jeff Berkley, THE BEES demonstrates a fully developed personal style, which deserves to be brought to further attention.

With a core band of Marcia Claire on bass and baritone guitar (Citizen Band, Cindy Lee Berryhill), Bill Coomes on drums (Deadline Friday, The Grams) and Mike Spurgat on lead guitar (Citizen Band, Deadline Friday), the album also includes contributions from Dennis Caplinger, who takes care of banjo, Dobro, mandolin and high strung guitar. Doug Pettibone provides some tasty pedal steel, lap steel and mini 12 string guitar, whilst Jeff Berkley adds rhythm guitar to his production duties.

These musicians more than adequately flesh out the songs with some startling instrumental fills, particularly Caplinger’s fiddle on Losin’ Time and the guitar work on The Big Picture, not to mention the clever Dobro buzzing sound effects on the intro to the title song. Without dwelling too much on the puns, THE BEES is reportedly creating a buzz Stateside and there is no reason why Barbara Nesbitt shouldn’t be doing some overdue cross pollination over here (musically speaking). As far as I’m concerned, she’s the bee’s knees.

Gregory Page – Heartstrings
April 2011

The focus on Heartstrings is evident on first listen; it is a trip back in time several decades to a dim, relaxed jazz club that could be anywhere.

To accomplish this, Page enlisted some help from co-producer Jeff Berkley, pianist Sky Ladd, and a cadre of San Diego’s top session players. Ladd’s grand piano is out front, but Gilbert Castellanos’ hatted trumpet accents and Randy Hoffman’s vibes have their moments. The sound, like some of Page’s other recordings, is soaked in nostalgia, and his unforced, crooning vocals feel right at home.

The first three tracks take the relaxed listener back to a musically simpler time, when all the songs had catchy melodies, themicrophones were huge chrome behemoths, there weren’t any big amps crowding the stage, and all of the singers sounded a little bit like Rudy Vallee.

“Promise of a Dream,” the opener, is one of the seven Page originals and sounds like a Tin Pan Alley standard, or maybe a song from a ‘40s musical – as do many of his songs on the disc. A combination of Page’s gift for capturing the sound of the era, the melodious song structure and lyrics, and the instrumental flourishes crystallize this nugget, and it works again on “Don’t Cry,” and the title tune. This song, an unforgettable highlight, has an airy, upbeat lyric about “a brand new sunny day,” sung over one of those scales of notes that lock the listener in. “Tuesday Night at Croce’s” is a soft, solo jazz piano piece by Ladd, one of two on the disc that add to the club date feel.

Page the crooner is in top form on “One and Only Love,” and “Rewind Me Back to You.” These both have that old-time flavor, and “Rewind” makes no bones about reminiscing about the good old days: “Life looked bright in black and white.” If the rest of the disc were not so effective, to close with a smooth cover of Edith Piaf’s ‘40s classic “La Vie En Rose” might be risky, but Page manages to make it fit the mood of the other songs. Or, he actually made them to fit it, and succeeded.

Heartstrings is a great listen. It shows that many of the things that made good music 70 years ago still work. It also stands up as a considerable statement of Gregory Page’s talent and musical direction.

CD Review: Barbara Nesbitt – The Bees
from – February 2011

San Diego-based songstress Barbara Nesbitt captures all that’s pretty and earthy on “The Bees”, a carefully-nurtured album that ought to ensure that her popularity extends across the Atlantic Ocean. Simply put, this is an album of all-round Americana splendour.

Through the soulful opener (“Come to Find Out”) to the absorbing title track, an immediate confidence is detected in Ms Nesbitt’s approach to her craft. Backed by a stellar cast of contributing musicians, Ms Nesbitt has suitable license to exercise her lyrical and vocal talents. A major part of this is knowing how to achieve maximum effect with vocals and lyrics and Ms Nesbitt certainly scores high. “Losin’ Time” is commendable as a modern-day take on the Bakersfield sound with Dennis Caplinger also laying down some delightful fiddle. There’s some old-time sentimentality on offer, too, on “Good for Something”. In either instance, Nesbitt’s voice is wholesome and warm; so much so that you may need to convince yourself that “Message to You” is not in fact addressed to you. “The Big Picture” is almost anthemic, benefitting from some delightfully rootsy instrumentation, while “Give In”, by contrast, takes on the form of a sombre (yet melodious) intervention in a situation concerning one’s struggles with love.

Once again, Nesbitt has the listener by the heart. There’s a genuine feeling of sadness on “When Summer Is Over”, and such reflective tones carry into “Quicksand”, on which imagery is more important than ever.

A borrowed song (“Like Strangers” by Boudleaux Bryant) proves to be a winning end to the album. Sang as a duet with Bill Coomes – whose influence on the musical side of the album should not be overlooked – it caps off an album that doubles as an emotional round-trip on a positively sweet note. A point that shouldn’t go amiss is that this album has been released by no label but Ms Nesbitt herself. Listening to the album does not give that impression, however. Plaudits should also go to Jeff Berkley for some excellent production work. It could be said that the “Americana” scene has been waiting for an album like this for a long time. While never straying far from a surprisingly mature country-folk sound, this album could easily propel Barbara Nesbitt into mainstream country fame. A truly excellent release. – McGee

Beeks stays busy on air, behind the scenes and onstage
by Jim Trageser – North County Times – May 2010

Cathryn Beeks admits that longtime fans of her band, the Cathryn Beeks Ordeal, might be a bit surprised by her new release, “Mood Swing.” Having carved out a loyal following in the local roots music scene for her folkie, country-infused brand of Americana, Beeks changed direction a bit on her latest outing, particularly when compared with her previous release, “Desert Music.”

“It’s half kind of a mellow country, and half that’s kind of rock,” she said of “Mood Swing.” Beeks said the stylistic difference came out of the different process for assembling the music this go-round.

“It was made up of all songs that I had written, both music and the lyrics. All my other releases previously had been a collaboration, and I would write the lyrics.”

She started playing The Game, a local songwriting exercise that gives participants a song title and have a month to write a song with that title. “Through that, I had a bunch of songs that (guitarist) Matt (Silvia) started playing on and sounded really good. Jeff Berkley offered me some studio time. I didn’t have time to teach the songs to the band, so I just hired studio cats.”

But those who come hear her Friday night at Anthology as part of the KPRi Homegrown Fridays will find that Beeks is still the same country-rocker at heart that she’s always been.

“We sound like my band, which sounds like (her album) ‘Desert Music.’ We’re playing those songs that are on the new album, but for the most part we still sound like we did on ‘Desert Music.’”

Cathryn Beeks Ordeal – Mood Swing
by Justin Roberts – City Beat – 2009

“Strong vocals, genuine lyrics, great musicianship: Cathryn Beeks and her “ordeal” create Americana/alt-country music to remind you that decent country songwriters actually still exist. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Shawn Colvin and Neko Case, Beeks’ music sounds skillfully produced and ready for the stage…”

CD Review: Gregory Page – Bird in a Cage
by Ben Watson for – 2009

American songwriter and crooner Gregory Page had a significant leg-up in his music career. He is one of those lucky bastards born into a musical family who, by his own admission on this largely autobiographical album, was playing guitar by the time he was 12 years old.

Now in his mid-40s, Bird In A Cage is Page’s twelfth album. Full of relaxed country and western flavoured roots music, it’s the perfect record for a chilled out Sunday afternoon.

The number 12 is, in fact, a common theme here. In addition to himself, Page and co-producer Jeff Berkley assembled a dozen other performers, who have added everything from mandolin and banjo, to cello and piano. Despite the big group of players, the album retains a minimalist feeling throughout and the instrumentation is arranged subtly with little reference to wall-of-sound production styles.

With one of the tracks recorded in Brisbane, and with reference to Melbourne landmarks, Page clearly has a soft spot for Australia, too, which is kind of nice. All in all, the lyrics are earnest and inspiring: ‘it’s never too late to be the person you were meant to be’ he sings in Right Or Wrong.

An old school album – nostalgic without being sentimental, crooning sans schmaltz. Worth a listen!

CD Review: Barbara Nesbitt – A Million Stories
by Craig Yerkes – San Diego Troubadour – July 2007

A Million Stories, the debut CD from Barbara Nesbitt, is some downright heavenly music. What you have here is simply a girl with a tremendous, angelic voice singing wonderfully crafted songs while backed by a band that never once strays from the goal of selflessly supporting the music. The artists that come to mind as I listen are Suzy Boggus, Gretchen Wilson, Emmylou Harris, and Shawn Colvin. The opening title track hits you between the eyes and let’s you know what you’re in for. The lead and harmony vocals are so powerful, pristine, and alive that you might start looking around the room to see if Nesbitt herself and her band have somehow beamed themselves into your personal space. The drums and the bass (played by San Diego over-achievers Marcia Claire and Billy Coomes) provide a thundering bottom end to anchor it all and Mike Spurgat peppers the musical landscape with guitar work that can only be described as, well – perfect.

Many Miles is a perky, ear pleasing country/pop joint that started my toes happily tapping, but then the track turned around and sucker punched me with a bridge that goes full throttle with syncopated harmony vocals so amazing that I literally found my jaw open when it was all over. Speaking of notching up the intensity with mind blowing harmony vocals, Three Between Us delivers the same brand of shock and awe when this cleverly catchy break up song (‘two reasons to be alone, that’s all this is’) changes key toward the end and the already biblical vocals shoot straight into outer space. Flicker struck me as the track that probably has the widest, dare I say, commercial appeal, and I love the way that the fluffy pop format adds the perfect punctuation mark to the comically tragic subject matter. Speaking of subject matter, the lyrics that Nesbitt spins are fantastic and not to be missed. Here is a woman who sees life and love through a very balanced set of eyes, understanding the fine lines between drama and silliness, between youthful hope and the limitations brought by human frailty. The good news is that the stellar lyrics are matched up with wonderfully effective melodic hooks throughout the entire disc.

Broken Girl, the beautiful closing ballad, takes producer Jeff Berkley from behind the control board to the role of harmonizer and backup musician with predictably amazing results. Nesbitt and Berkley effortlessly blend their voices together like tequila and lime juice with Berkley’s resonator guitar work slowly pouring some Grand Marnier over the mix. What an exquisite way to end this A+ effort from a remarkable artist and her top notch cast of supporting players. A Million Stories will be released on July 19 at the Belly Up Tavern. More info at

There’s a Million Stories Out There, and Her’s is a Good One
by George Varga – San Diego Union Tribune – July  2007

If Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless or the Dixie Chicks are looking for new material for their upcoming albums, they’d be wise to check out A Million Stories, the superb solo debut by Barbara Nesbitt. Impeccably produced by local music guru Jeff Berkley, it features an all-star lineup that includes multi-instrumental wiz Dennis Caplinger and ex-Bonnie Raitt bassist Freebo. Each song showcases Nesbitt’s warm, evocative vocals, which make no secret of her admiration for Harris’ luminous delivery and Loveless’ backwoods grit.

But Nesbitt, who also cites Jeff Buckley and Patty Griffin among her favorites, seems to be honing her own style. And its refreshing to hear a debut that boasts so many accomplished songs with such a keen sense of purpose and personality, be it the aching torch balladry of Horrible Moon or the pop-rock charm of Everything I See. On A Million Stories, Nesbitt sings, “The sun shines all the time here / And that’s good for breeding fair weather friends.” This smart couplet takes on far greater resonance with the next two lines, “But I need rain and conversation / And I need to see you believe in me when the day ends.”

Then, there’s the blues-tinged Fly. It chronicles how she overcame a broken heart, without letting on that Nesbitt did so in large part by earning a commercial pilot’s license and a degree in aeronautical science, “Now I behave as the wind behaves / I’m free, lucky me.”

She moved here from Virginia in late-2005 and quickly became an in-demand collaborator for such ace local musicians as Gregory Page, Cathryn Beeks, Michael Tiernan and Tim Flannery, who features her on his latest album, The Wayward Wind.

Nesbitt and her crack band perform a CD release gig tonight at the Belly Up Tavern, followed by a Saturday afternoon show as part of the LISTENLOCALSD.COM-sponsored “Company Picnic” at the Mission Bay Boat and Ski Club. You’d do well to attend both.

CD Review: Lisa Sanders – Last Night in Roseburg
by Chuck Schiele – San Diego Troubadour – June 2007

The range of sound goes from a few solo songs to full productions, ranging in style from honky tonk, to R&B, to a hint of gospel, a bit o’ blues all the while piggy-backing on the folky sound of Lisa-pop. By looking at the roster of talent (too many to list) I kind of expected this to be kinda loud. But actually, it remains rather quiet. Gentle without trying to be. Casual and understated as opposed to trying to take over the world through over-arrangement. It feels good. Gold is one of the highlights in this collection of groovy tunes. It’s the sexy tonk that makes you down a whole beer in a two-second swig, slam it on the bar, grab the first girl in sight, and start diggin’ a hole on the sultry dance floor. Lisa sounds marvelously urgent on this track. Of all the tracks, this one courses her vocal talent through an ambitious slalom of melodic themes.

Daddy is also a serious highlight. Here’s Lisa alone with her song, her guitar, and her voice, which has proved over time to be a very comfortable place for Lisa as well as her fans. This solemn take finds the lonesome road into your heart as she recalls things that will, in turn, resonate within you as a listener, recalling certain moments in your own life. It takes about two minutes to notice the lump in your throat, and then it’s over. Her ability to do this is like your ability to drink water. Last Night in Roseburg, co-written with Jenny Yates (Garth Brooks, Keb’ Mo’, and more) is an introspective ballad, stripped naked to the production bone. It is a simple, no fuss, mix.

Sounds Like San Diego: Lisa Sanders – Last Night in Roseburg
by Nina Garin – San Diego Union Tribune – June 2007

Best song: Gold

Overall: At first this album feels like a musical version of chick lit. But even if you don’t like blues or acoustic singer/songwriter stuff, there’s something about Sanders’ soulful voice that’s captivating. This album mixes quiet, reflective songs with plenty of Melissa Etheridge-type rockers.

Marcia Claire is Everywhere
San Diego Troubadour – April 2007

“Jeff Berkley is a phenom, plain and simple. He has a better ear for music than anyone I know. It is absolutely wonderful to work with someone who is so accomplished on their instruments but who is also just a natural. Plus, he’s hilarious.”

CD Review: Deadline Friday – Days Gone
by Chuck Schiele – San Diego Troubadour – April 2007

Here’s a CD that’ll make you plan a road trip for the sake of driving lost highways, listening to your favorite CDs. Loyal rock and rollers will dig this scary good CD. It’s rock and roll, baby… it’s got some ‘tuff twang’ to it, but for the most part, this is straight ahead, no bullshit, testosterone-driven rock and roll, written and performed by seasoned pros Jim Diez, Mike Spurgat, Earl Schreyer, and Bill Coomes, all of whom are way above the usual curve as individual players but who fully exercise the ol’ ‘sum of the parts being greater than the whole’ adage. Everything is here: stinging sweet guitars, a rockin’ rhythm section, great singing. It possesses authority without trying to prove it – that is, it kicks ass, but it also remains as casual and unpretentious as your drinking buddies next door. It doesn’t sound like they wanna conquer the world. It sounds like they wanna rock. Getting down is so much more fun.

Think one part Allman Brothers, one part Cream, one part Meters. The jam-ability of the group also reminds me of the Fillmore days, in they often take psychedelic, existentialist rides, bouncing over grooves of Americana and southern rock. Broken Man is the most striking case, with a creepy John Lee Hooker-esque swamp strut that feels like it’s coming to get you. Get Out is the tune that actually hunted me down, driving hard in 4/4 telecaster funk, while lyrically kicking some girl to the door. The enlisted help of Jeff Berkley as producer proves to be an excellent chemistry, with the sonic approach that remains loyal to old-school ’70s-era tonality while seamlessly blending their acoustic side with their electric side. The guitars are gritty-smooth. The vocals are warm. Minus the scratches, it sounds like vinyl.

“Among of the most impressive hallmarks of Deadline Friday is their facility for vocals. With three lead vocalists who’ve been singing together for a long time, their knack for three-part harmony is ridiculous. Days Goneopens with a very ‘Pink’ guitar with an ‘Eaglesque’ harmony, which also demonstrates the range of style that’s factored into the deadline while offering sage, downhome advice to ‘get busy livin’, stop wasting time…’ Backyard Moon is easily the sweet repose to an otherwise chunky collection of tunes. If you like songs like Sweet Melissa, you’ll go nuts over Deadline Friday when they go here. St. Cecilia will also have you singing along.

While the CD stands firm in its commitment to an American sound, it also collects odd nuggets of interesting ideas now and then. For instance they take a solo over the top of the band and bail out of the mix for a few moments, which I found to be rather ballsy. My ears stood at attention much like a dog that hears all the stuff that’s out of human range. Stick Figure hardly begins before it goes off, so-to-speak, entering the beach-bar-jam-band quality that has earned this band many a fan. I think something truly special happens when you give these guys 10 loose minutes and a lot of electricity. If Woodstock happened on a beach, this could be one of its instrumental anthems.

San Francisco-Bound Flannery Leaves Fans with a Gem
excerpted from the San Diego Troubadour, April 2007

Flannery closed out his fall-winter music tour in February with a CD release party at the historic La Paloma Theater in Encinitas. There he treated those in attendance to a free copy of The Wayward Wind, possibly his best CD. “By this time, after eight records, we kind of know what we are doing,” Flannery said of his latest release. “If anything, you learn how to make a recording. And I think I’ve learned to sing a little bit better and with pain in my voice. It is not about being pretty and perfect, it’s about being real. This is a California country album.” At this point in the interview, singer/songwriter and Wayward Wind producer Jeff Berkley appeared and jokingly suggested that Flannery owed all his success to him. The two are longtime friends and collaborators and tend to bring out the best in each other. “Jeff is the kind of guy that convinces you to make an album when you are not even planning to make one,” Flannery said. “I went over to his house to just have a nice day with him, and I came away with an album that was almost done. It’s comfortable at his house. I’ve done records where the record label paid a lot of money to put us in a comfortable studio with $30,000 mics, but I get the same thing doing a record at his house. He’s my friend and it’s very comfortable there, so he gets the most out of me. He calls it like it is. If a song needs to be done again, he’ll tell me.”

This time Berkley helped him to capture a particular sound he was looking for. “With this one I tried to make a 1970s-style California country record. There is even a photo of me from 1975 inside the album,” Flannery said. “I was influenced by songs like these when I was in high school and I have always loved this music. That’s why I wanted to record it.”

Some of Flannery’s best songs have been his duets with such gifted vocalists as Randi Driscoll and Eve Selis. On his new CD he teams up on a cover of the early 1950s’ hit The Wayward Wind with recent San Diego arrival Barbara Nesbitt. He liked the results so much that he made it the title song. “I told her flat out that I didn’t want to put any pressure on her, but if it wasn’t perfect I was probably not going to do this record. She nailed it! She sounds like Emmylou Harris. She is the real deal, so we had her sing on a couple more and she was great.” Flannery has never had any trouble attracting topnotch musicians to perform on his albums and The Wayward Wind is no exception. There is a lot to like about this 11-song offering. It features the wizardry of Caplinger on banjo, fiddle, and dobro, and Doug Pettibone’s distinctive sound on the pedal steel guitar. Flannery in fact recruited a virtual who’s who of local artists to join him — everyone from A.J. Croce to Peter Bolland either play or sing on it, 16-top-flight musicians in all, which is quite a tribute to Flannery’s charismatic personality and growing reputation as a solid musician. San Diego music fans will really like this CD, but San Diego Padres fans may be a different story, at least initially.

Hometown CD Reviews: Cathryn Beeks Ordeal – Desert Music
by Ollie – San Diego Reader – January 2007

Desert Music is a great album. It’s tight and professional. The album has a cohesive motif without all the songs being too similar.

Beeks’s voice is a mixture of Bonnie Raitt and Jewel, whose music can also be compared to Beeks’s. Some of the songs lean toward acoustic and folky; others use more electric guitar and pedal steel to drive home a rockin’ country sound.

The first three songs explore the topics of traveling, aging, and becoming successful. Drive America is a good road-trip song. Special Words and Good to Be are uplifting, inspirational tunes without being schmaltzy or saccharine. Special Words features hand-clapping and a chorus of voices lifting to a sentimental tone without being overdone. The only thing I wanted more of from the Ordeal is a faster, get-up-and-kick-some-ass saloon song. I’d like to hear the band in a beer bar with the High Rolling Loners.

A Guide to the Local Music Industry: Where to Begin and How to Excel in the Scene
San Diego Troubadour – October 2006

Analog vs. digital?

“This one question could spark hours of debate between the two schools of audio thinking and hearing. What I’ve found is that high-resolution digital will record whatever you plug into it exactly as it sounds. It all starts with the player, instrument, and recording environment. But, if an engineer has a decent microphone, a decent pre-amp, and a great A-D converter for converting the signal from analog to digital, then digital is the way to go. However, every one of those things costs money. It is the fusing of both worlds within the same signal chain that seems to work the best at Miracle Recording.”
- Jeff Berkley, Miracle Recording

Saving Time in the Studio:

“Be prepared! Be prepared! Be prepared!”
- Jeff Berkley, Aaron Bowen, Sven-Erik Seaholm

“You can’t really. Get yourself prepared and the recording will go as quickly as it can go. The truth is that your record deserves your full attention while you’re in session. Sometimes that takes some time. Get someone with a lot of recording experience to help.”
- Jeff Berkley

“What about instrumentation? As far as choosing instrumentation, just make sure you choose instruments that complement each other sonically. Don’t overload on one sonic color or another. Have balance wherever possible.”
- Jeff Berkley

Influential Producers:

“It depends on who you ask. I like T-Bone Burnett, Rick Rubin, Daniel Lanois, Mark Howard, Ethan Johns, Glyn Johns, Paul Dieter, Sven Eric-Seaholm, George Martin, Ben Moore, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Marti Amado, John Katchur, Steve Lillywhite, Gregory Page, and myself because I can produce one hell of a turkey freakin’ sandwich. That’s an old joke: ‘You’re the producer, right? Why don’t you produce me a turkey f##kin’ sandwich!’ I love that one.”
- Jeff Berkley

“What are the common challenges for you when you record first-timers?
The recording process is weird and a little unnatural, so bridging that gap can be difficult sometimes. The main thing is to just make them feel at ease so they can deliver the performance that both of you want.”
- Jeff Berkley

“Just talk it all out and then play it all out before you roll the tape. Prepare them for the weirdness to come.”
- Jeff Berkley

Jeff Berkley, Miracle Recording:
Jeff Berkley has been involved in the process of recording for nearly 20 years. His studio, Miracle Recording, established in 2003, has produced many local artists, including Lisa Sanders, the Grams, Tim Flannery, Eve Selis, the Shambles, and A.J. Croce. As half of the popular duo Berkley Hart, Berkley produced their third album, Twelve, which was awarded Best Americana Album at the 2003 San Diego Music Awards.

Ring Around the Sun by Tim Flannery: Old Number 11 Comes Through with Number 7
by Keith Miller. Madison KPRI Morning Show Host

Assisting with the heavy lifting in the album is veteran multi-instrumentalist Doug Pettibone who had just finished a tour with Lucinda Williams when he hooked up with Flannery to do a little surfing. It’s a great collaboration rounded out by the always-organic production wizardry of Jeff Berkley as assisted by Jon Edwards.

CD Review: Tim Flannery – Highway Song

Highway Song opens with Son Of A Coal Minin’ Man, which begins with a haunting combination of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and Uilleann Pipes, and swells into a rollicking bluegrass hoedown tribute to the coal miners in his family and its Kentucky homeland.

The vocals on this album are mixed a little bit more out front than on Pieces and, although the instrumental accompaniment still contains plenty of hot licks, the effect is a slightly more subdued overall sound. The upside is that the lyrics are easy to understand, and Flannery’s pleasant voice never gets lost in the mix.

It’s a very good album, filled with very good songs of comparable quality and appeal. Highway Song is very highly recommended.

CD Reviews: Lizzie Wann – A Wing & A Prayer

“4 Stars…Goes well with Janis Joplin, Irish whiskey and love…In her breathy yet solid voice, Wann looses poetic observations — local and worldly — on daily life, love and the comfort in uncertainty. A Wing & a Prayer is part art celebration, part loss, and a fully insightful, intoxicating display of the English language’s intrinsic melodies.”

-Troy Johnson SLAMM, September 2000

“Lizzie Wann’s been blessed with a voice that is exceedingly pleasant to listen to. Soothing as soft purrs from a cat, it’s free from hoity toity affectation — a rare treat in the world of the spoken word and poetry readings. The lyricism that conjoins poetry and music emerges when her pals join in. Speaking through their guitars, they subtly enhance the spoonfuls of imagery, steamy sexuality and love dished out by Lizzie.”
-Dylan Roberts, September 2000