San Diego Singer/Songwriter Reviews by Acoustic Pie


San Diego Songwriter and CD Reviews

Alphabetical by Artist

Berkley Hart
Band Review
by Kelley Martin,, 2004

Infectiously entertaining, Berkley Hart, the San Diego based duo of Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart, has been one of the most appealing acts in town since these two talented songwriters joined forces in 1999. Their performances are unusually captivating for even the first-time listener. Their acoustic guitar-based, melody and lyric-driven songs are truly engaging, their stage personas charming and the repartee funny. Their ability to capture and hold an audience is very much a function of the wonderful variety which springs intrinsically from a dynamic musical partnership like this one in which the songwriting and lead vocal duties are shared. You don't get the feeling that they're making creative restrictions in order to maintain a particular sound or conform to a specific musical genre. A Berkley Hart show will showcase original songs ranging from contemporary folk to alternative country and the songwriting is top notch.

Calman Hart (one of San Diego's sexiest voices) can be counted on for witty lyrics and story ballads while Jeff Berkley ~ a winner of the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Songwriter award ~ delivers introspective lyrics full of metaphors and imagery. And did I mention the harmonies? No matter who's singing lead, there's always a kind of hold-your-breath magic when the harmony vocal sidles over to join the melody line.

Berkley Hart are San Diego leaders in what they've coined "The House Concert Revolution" and the private, unplugged, acoustic house concert is unequivocally my favorite venue for hearing these guys. In fact, if you think you could round up a few dozen appreciative listeners, they might even come play in your living room. Check out the Calendar section of their web site at to find a show near you - you'll find them absolutely irresistible.

Kelley Martin,, 2004

Album Review
by Kelley Martin,, 2004

Artist: Berkley Hart
Album: Twelve (2004)
Genre: Contemporary Folk
Sort of goes with: David Wilcox, Jim Croce

There really should have been a warning label on this CD. You know the one, "Do not drive or operate heavy machinery, etc., etc.", because I do a lot of CD screening on my daily commute and I innocently popped Berkley Hart's Twelve into the car player during a rush hour drive home from work. The first sign of trouble was when I drifted out of my lane on the I-805 trying to read the credits for "Big Bad Barbie Doll": Who was that playing the incredible, machine-gun, boogie-woogie piano accompaniment? Turns out it's A. J. Croce on the ivories in this very driving, funny, high-energy track. I fought my way back into my lane only to discover within minutes that I was flying past my exit while enthusiastically singing along with the oh-so-catchy "Slide". This CD is dangerously beguiling.

My favorite song may be the title track "Twelve". It's really clever, it's singable, it's funny, it's touching, and it's trademark Calman Hart songwriting. Calman sings lead on this classic country arrangement in that singular hybrid style of his which somehow manages to combine the tongue-in-cheek with heart-felt sincerity. "I Ain't Nothin'" is a gorgeous love song by Jeff Berkley in a lovely and simple acoustic guitar arrangement with a heart-breaking harmonica line. "Gimme Back My Heart" is probably the most addictive tune on the album - running through your head long after the CD player's been turned off.

Twelve is more acoustic and folk-based than their last CD Something to Fall Back On, harking back to their debut album Wreck 'n Sow. In addition to A. J. Croce's contribution, Twelve is jam-packed with other San Diego musical talent including multi-instrumentalist Dennis Caplinger on fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and banjo, and Gregory Page on electric guitar. Smoothly self-produced by Jeff Berkley, the album has a clean, true sound throughout.

The album art itself can provide hours of entertainment. Not to get too "Paul is dead" here, but references to the number twelve are generously tucked and hidden away among the twelve cryptically numbered art frames including, but not limited to, a dozen eggs, the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve (sort of) tracks, and a 12-string guitar.

I loved this record. It stayed in my car player for weeks despite my civic misgivings as to the safety of listening to such an engaging CD while driving. So consider yourself duly warned - please exercise caution while listening.

Songs in current rotation on Acoustic Pie Radio
Click on linked titles to hear a short clip
Buy the CD

Kelley Martin,, 2004

Carlos Olmeda
Artist Review
by Kelley Martin,, 2006

If you love state-of-the-art songwriting then you will love Carlos Olmeda. His songs are finely crafted, lyrically intriguing, melodically captivating, and always beautifully, thoughtfully arranged. Carlos is a Singer/Songwriter with two capital S's: He is not only a world-class songwriting talent but has a glorious voice to match -- a multi-octave vocalist who can use range and texture to set the tone of a song or to create emotional dynamics within a piece. Add inventive, commanding guitar playing and you have one of San Diego's masters of the genre.

But Carlos refuses to stay put in any genre. His "Dear Anna" is a classically styled, torch song lament. "Shine" is a jazzy love song with a tension-building transition that can make you forget to breathe. "Willamina" has a country-barn dance beat and a hip-hop theme while "The Other American" is a stirring political anthem through which it can be terribly difficult to remain politely seated. He writes primarily in English and occasionally in Spanish, sometimes mixing both deliciously with nonsense verse as he does in one of my very favorite songs "Warrior Girl". He writes 30s-style ditties and Spanish-style dances, funny, light tunes like "Ducks in Heaven", and sad, insightful love ballads like "A Devil Like Me" (which, if there were such a thing, would win the blue ribbon for provoking tissue-fumbling moments from this hardened concert goer).

There is no more powerful performer on the San Diego stage than Carlos Olmeda, and he has been a key player on this stage for over a decade. His stylistic wanderlust is a major factor in engaging the audience; the ear just doesn't have time to become habituated to a particular sound or style. Whether performing solo with acoustic guitar or with a handpicked ensemble of musicians, each song is meticulously arranged to set the mood of the piece and to provide it with its own distinctive geography. Dynamic framing is used to this purpose not only along the length of the song but also within the phrases with a musicality that is both studied and fresh.

His orchestrative abilities are even more pronounced in his recorded works. He's released five CDs to date, all as an independent. Sensitive Groove is possibly his most well-known work, having won a San Diego Music Award in 1999, and including such popular tracks as "Power and Motion" and "A Devil Like Me". If you're just starting your collection, then the two "must-haves" are the early acoustic gem Learning to Walk (1995) and the newest as of this writing The Other American (2005), a real powerhouse collection of Olmeda songwriting in a fun mix of production types. A bountiful supply of lyrics and song samples are found on his website at

Loving music is sometimes about hearing it two or three times. In general, it is the more straight-forward music or the songs that sound like something you've heard a hundred times before that capture the highest percentage of listeners on a first listen. I would say that Carlos is a third-date love affair and that lovers of fine lyrics are going to fall hardest, second only to the voice aficionados.

I once heard Carlos use the metaphor of tending a garden to describe songwriting and the distinctive qualities of a songwriter's body of work. Since then, I often think in terms of his metaphor when listening to artists. Here in the San Diego landscape, I imagine that Calman Hart cultivates a mid-western garden populated with rows of sunflowers and sweet corn while Gregory Page tends an exotic patch of sparse desert ground. Carlos' garden is lush and eclectic -- an oasis that defies geographic and climatic borders -- where everything from long-stem roses to whimsical wildflowers flourishes. When you visit this wonderful greenhouse of musical botanicals, be sure and pack well as you won't soon want to leave, and you're sure to bring home an elegant hyacinth or a California poppy or two dancing about in your head.

Kelley Martin,, 2006

Gregory Page
Artist Review
by Kelley Martin,, 2005

[Artist's original publicity photo removed at request of artist.]

Gregory Page is San Diego's gentleman troubadour- in-residence, the prince of thrift store chic, the coolest crooner to ever blow a mouth trumpet, and one of my favorite songwriters on the planet. The first time I ever heard Gregory Page was at the sort of show that you might want to avoid if your passion is contemporary songwriting -- The Multi-Artist Christmas Concert. The potential for trouble here is that there's a better than even chance that the talented group of songwriters you've come to hear will be so swept up in holiday sing-along fervor that the program dissolves into way too many variations of "Jingle Bells" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". It was many years ago, before I'd ever heard him sing a note, that I found myself at just such an event with Gregory Page on the bill among others. So it's possible that when "White Christmas" was announced I may have let out a teeny, little groan. But Gregory proceeded to play the most interesting, original, and beautiful arrangement of "White Christmas" I had ever heard.  It was love at first verse. Treetops have never glistened quite so enchantingly before. I was hooked instantly without ever hearing an original work because I knew that a man who could re-find that kind of beauty in an old chestnut like "White Christmas" was a songwriter to be reckoned with.  Dozens of shows and innumerable songs later, that first conviction has been confirmed many times over.

Gregory is a compelling and sophisticated songwriter, rightfully revered by other San Diego songwriters in a town jam-packed with talent. His songs might not be as immediately accessible to a listener's ear as less complex works would be. And it's a good thing he's such an agile singer because those intricate melody lines are tough to sing - lots of chromaticism - half-steps that aren't in the song's musical scale - and unpredictable interval jumps. He doesn't cater to the Top 20 audience's predilection for an up-tempo beat with predictable melodies and chord changes. He likes ballads and is drawn to sad, love-lost topics. In his lyrics, he ranges from the abstract and metaphorical to the impressionistic with very little visual imagery or story line to help hook you into the music. The effect is somewhat like listening to poetry in that you may need to hear a song several times before the full impact registers.

Sometimes I wonder how a songwriter with over twelve albums of original works can continue to write, well, original works. And yet each new song is as fresh and interesting as the last. Each new CD invariably becomes my new very favorite Gregory Page CD. If you're wanting to purchase an album or two, the array can be a little daunting. Here's what I recommend for a starter set: Happiness is Being Lonely (the latest release as of this writing), And I Look Up (very acoustic with a quiet hymn-like ambiance), Love Made Me Drunk (very fun and very French 1930's film era), and The Romantic Adventures of Harry (the first release, maybe the most accessible, too). You can buy CDs using the email form on Gregory's web site at and you'll find a calendar of upcoming shows there as well.

I'm sorry to resort to an old cliché like "casts a spell" but once a listener connects to this music that is exactly what a Gregory Page show feels like ~ a little trance-like and a little starry-eyed~ as those smooth, haunting melodies float over you. He has an unparalleled ear for beauty both in performance and in recording. In a roomful of musicians renowned for their guitar playing, he will invariably deliver the most beautiful guitar sound from an instrument that he's likely to claim was found in a dumpster. He rarely uses an electric pick-up in his guitars and prefers to perform with no amplification at all. His guitar work is artistic and thoughtful and classically influenced. So go to a show, preferably a house concert or unplugged venue like Bamboo, and then go to another show, and when the hypnotic spell kicks in you can email me to thank me for introducing you to San Diego's most magical songwriter.

Kelley Martin,, 2005

San Diego Singer/Songwriter Reviews by Acoustic Pie
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