Sara Petite, Circus Comes to Town. When any new roll call of mind-busting singer-songwriters is put together, include Sara Petite near the top of that list. Though it sometimes seems she is socked into Southern California San Diego-way, no such thing is true. This woman is bad and nationwide, one song away from busting the game wide open. On Petite's new album there are a couple of contenders that could do just that, and to hear her revel in the joy of knowing she's outdone even herself is a study in smiles. The lady has enough warmth inside these songs to heat a large house, and a vocal and instrumental attack that sounds like a suitcase full of firecrackers is exploding all at once. Some tracks, like "Movin' On" and "Drinkin' to Remember," head for the country side of the Southern Pacific tracks, while others like title song "Circus Comes to Town" and "Someday I'm Gonna Fly" are sitting snug with infinity itself, offering glimpses of a life lived above the stormy clouds that continually throw humans off balance.
Sara Petite is no newcomer to the music bazaar, and is another artist the Americana brigade warmly embrace. A better way of hearing what she has to offer, though, is to remember that singers once existed before genres were invented to categorize them, and did a damn good job of staying free. That's what Petite continues to do, even when the twangometer is turned up high and the Telecasters are at full treble, because she knows a great song doesn't depend only on style but also delivery. Petite comes across hotter than a pistol when necessary, but also can hang a blue moon in a sky full of weeping stars, hinting at the promised land while the sidewalks feel like they're being rolled up for good. Listen to these lyrics: "Sometimes I feel like that dancin' bear / the master's standing on his chair / he laughs at me the crowd does too / he cracks his whip tells me what to do / I waltz and sparkle 'round the room / and open up my heart for you to view / hey mister I've got troubles just like you / looky here, I've come down with the blues." To seal the deal try and listen to "Forever Blue" and keep a dry eye. Case closed.
Mark "Pocket" Goldberg, Off the Wire. Beatnik blues at its very finest, the music of Mark "Pocket" Goldberg is something you might find in a bountiful forest in Marin County, a dive bar down on the Nickel or even a regular ol' coffee and croissants shop in Santa Monica. He can work any waterfront put in front of him, and walk away with a roomful of new friends and most likely some fresh ideas for songs. Goldberg comes from the school of awareness where every experience is added to the gumbo pot, cooked until ready and then served with a personal flair that is impossible to resist. But before the blues tagline brings fear of over-seriousness, also know that the man's laugh is up there in Jackie Gleason territory and will not stop.
Off the Wire sounds like a primer on putting broken hearts back together, healing psychic wounds that can never be fully fixed and understanding that life is a temporary ticket with an expiration date for everyone. Any album that starts with "According to You" and finishes with "End of His Trail" is a prime contender for Philosophy 101, as taught on the back bench of the Metro 761 bus line as it barrels down the semi-destroyed 405 freeway right into the massive Federal Building in Westwood, California, home of the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and every other government agency dedicated to scaring the hell out of us. There are enough humongous satellites dishes and monstrous antennas on the roof of that concrete-and-glass behemoth to pull in communications from beyond our solar system. Boil it all down, though, and what Mark "Pocket" Goldberg really captures is those elusive moments when life almost makes sense and the mysteries of the soul don't feel quite so daunting. The back cover is a photo that includes a spinet piano, acoustic guitar, standup bass, aging amplifier and hooked rug. Which is all a truly great musician needs, minus a snare drum and sticks. This man has all that and more, and will be heard. It is written.
Grateful Dead, Dick's Picks Volume Twenty-Two. It was the start of 1968, and the Grateful Dead had traveled up northern California to Lake Tahoe for a three-night run at King's Beach Bowl. 1967 had been a total trip. The band's first album was released on Warner Bros. Records, they'd made it through the Summer of Love, realizing the initial installment of the long strange ride was ending and now it was time to take their musical mayhem to the world. Near the Nevada border the Dead probably had packed a sturdy stash of LSD for the occasion, and were poised to spring the songs from the upcoming Anthem of the Sun album on an unsuspecting public. The six-piece outfit, now sporting two drummers, was like a sonic beast sprung to life, one that could conquer the world and just maybe move audiences into the stratosphere. On the first night, after a couple of set staples the Dead open the curtain into the next life with "Dark Star," and before you can say "Augustus Owsley Stanley III," giant clear tubes seem to have extended from the sky carrying liquid thought waves into each of the band members' brains, obviously controlling cerebral patterns and musical moves alike. What in the world was happening? The pudding started getting thick very quick, and Pig Pen is turned loose on a burning "Turn on Your Lovelight," followed by Jerry Garcia and company veering into "Born Cross-Eyed" and "Spanish Jam" to close the first set. The huge trees surrounding the Bowl have sprung to life, dancing ecstatically with each other as the massive mountains edging dangerously closer and closer to the bandstand set free an avalanche of white snow. Great googlymoogly, the spacemen have arrived.
Naturally, things get even more translucent on the second disc, as the Grateful Dead take off into the ozone on "That's It for the Other One," "New Potato Caboose" and "China Cat Sunflower," and then roar right into "The Eleven," "Alligator" and, yes, finally "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)." The Dead eerily sign off with five minutes of sheer feedback. What has become abundantly clear is the Grateful Dead, above and beyond all the other '60s bands, were the real pioneers. They turned their back on rock and roll reality and headed fearlessly into new territory. Looking back 45 years with all the hindsight that affords still leaves a lifelong follower breathless over the sheer wonder the band created. Through a wild and woolly history that will stand forever, there was, is, and never will be anything like a Grateful Dead concert. And these nights captured with fire-breathing brilliance in Lake Tahoe still shine like a diamond in a many-jeweled crown of glory. As the poster says, "Trip and Ski." Always.