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Music Reviews

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March 20, 1996

Lovely Vonda

Looking EastJackson Browne in Concert - Courtesy of Elektra Records (one of the real class acts in the business), Gail and I had the opportunity to see Jackson Browne live at Warnor's Theater. Jackson remains a strong draw, as the show was a sellout.

And no one was left unsatisfied. During the nearly two hour set, Jackson performed over half the tracks from his new album (Looking East), together with a number of his chestnuts.

And those chestnuts have been deeply roasted, as they included such classics as "Doctor, My Eyes," "Rock Me on the Water," "The Pretender," and "Running on Empty."

Jackson took the stage with an energetic eight-piece band, including Kevin McCormick on bass, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Luis Conte on percussion, Jeffrey Young on Hammond organ, and the multi-talented Scott Thurston on guitar, keyboards, and harmony vocals. In all honestsy, I was taken aback at the beginning, as I recall Jackson in more of an acoustic mode. This clearly wasn't an acoustic show (though it did get quiet at times); rather, it was an uptempo, rock 'n roll gig.

Among the featured songs from the new album were "The Barricades of Heaven," a throwback to his earlier days as one of L.A.'s most prolific songwriters, the rocking, "Culver Moon" (about his hometown of Culver City), and the Latin-influenced "Nino." Also included were "Some Bridges," and "Alive in the World," which weren't as strong.

My wife, together with everyone else in the audience, had a glorious time. In fact, by the end of the set (which included two richly requested encores), the audience was all on its feet.

It struck me that Jackson is somewhat of a control freak; I doubt he encounters many surprises during a live performance. On the other hand, this worked in his favor during the show: the band (which has only been on tour for one month) was sharp as a razor on the new material. (In fact, the new material sounds much better live than on disc.)

Vonda SheppardPerforming with Jackson was lovely newcomer Vonda Shepard, who opened the set with a soft pop show before joining Jackson as a backup singer. Vonda has a multi-octave voice, and one of the highlights of the show was her glorious backing vocal on "Stay." In fact, I was hoping that Vonda would sing a duet with Jackson, but it never happened.

Although Jackson's been around for awhile (his heyday occurred when A.M. radio still mattered (and that was a long time ago), he's still a terrific live performer. The crowd at Warnors had a rocking good time, and the rest of the country should enjoy him too.

Tommy Castro, Exception to the Rule (Blind Pig Records 1995) -Tommy Castro is one of the rising stars on the West Coast blues scene. A guitarist who plays with both the power of Albert Collins and the sweet, stinging subtly of B. B. King, he's also a gifted and deeply soulful vocalist who combines a rock n' roll delivery with a touch of Memphis soul.

Tommy CastroTommy's debut studio recording, Exception to the Rule, captures his emotive vocals and fiery, no-nonsense guitar work, and also features his talented and tight band.

Since their formation in 1991, the Tommy Castro Band (which features Castro on lead guitar and vocals, Keith Crossan on sax and backing vocals, Randy McDonald on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Shad Harris on drums and backing vocals) has become one of the hardest-working and most-talked-about groups in the Bay Area. In 1993 and 1994, they were named as "Club Band of the Year" at the prestigious Bay Area Music Awards (also known as the "Bammies"). This award is a indicator of future success, as previous recipients include Chris Isaak, Huey Lewis & The News, 4 Non Blondes, and Greg Khin.

The Tommy Castro Band released its first album in 1993, a live recording entitled No Foolin' on the tiny Saloon label. The album was a strong seller, especially considering its limited distribution. After completing his new studio album, Castro remarked, "I think we have a really good record on our hands. The material is strong, the production is great, and there's some really excellent performances."

It's hard to argue with Tommy. The ten tracks on Exception to the Rule feature a bluesy, rocking sound propelled always by Castro's driving guitar work. Solid cuts include "Had Enough" and "This Soul is Mine." Castro's also not afraid to include a tasty horn lick, which extends the dynamic appeal of this album.

Castro's a hard-working person, and toured the U.S. for two years with the Dynatones before forming his own band. Castro has a solid future, and blues fans will dig this album.

Political Responsibility - The upcoming primary on March 26th brings forth yet another raft of initiatives. I'm not a fan of the initiative process; I recognize its values, but think that most matters put on the ballot would be better handled by our elected legislators.

A particular case in point is Proposition 194. According to the Ballot Pamphlet, this initiative "provides that prisoner's employment in a joint venture program while in prison does not entitle the prisoner to unemployment benefits upon release from prison."

Amazingly, this initiative was placed on the ballot by the legislature. I fail to see what's controversial or alarming in any fashion about this statute, and can't understand why the legislature didn't resolve the issue.

-- Randy Krbechek

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