Critic's Choice for the week of March 26-April 1, 2003 

A socially aware metalhead, Celtic and British folk fused with rock, a Buena Vista Social Club superstar, clean and sober salsa, and a bluegrass reunion.

ROCK

Metal god Rob Halford earned his leather chaps during his three decades as lead singer of British heavy metal pioneers Judas Priest, yet he's about much more than just alcohol-and-crystal-meth-fueled party anthems. Behind the banshee-like wails, mirrored shades, and pointy spikes lurks a surprisingly poignant social commentator. "The world is a manacled place ... the world is defiled in disgrace," Halford sang on "Screaming for Vengeance," a statement which certainly rings true at press time. Halford appears at the top of an extremely metallic bill Saturday at the Avalon Ballroom (415-847-4043), along with Vio-Lence, Testament, Death Angel, Exhumed, Cattle Decapitation, Impaled, and Social Evil. (Eric K. Arnold)

CELTIC

Tempest, founded in 1988 by Norwegian singer, folklorist, and multi-instrumentalist Lief Sorbye, has carved out an international niche with a sound that combines Sorbye's love of Celtic and British folk music with a solid rock beat. Tempest currently includes fiddler Sue Draheim, who has played with John Renbourn and Richard Thompson; Mark Skowronek, former bassist for Bill Spooner's Folk-Ups; guitarist Ronan Carroll; and Cuban born drummer Adolfo Lazo. Friday at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. 510-841-2082 (j. poet)

FOLK

Ian Tyson was one of the prime movers of the '60s folk revival. Ian & Sylvia recorded Dylan's tunes a year before Peter, Paul, and Mary and Gordon Lightfoot's before anybody. They scored pop hits with "Someday Soon" and "You Were on My Mind." After Ian & Sylvia splintered, Tyson retreated to his Alberta farm, reappearing in the '80s as a cowboy singer with a series of solid albums mixing contemporary and traditional themes. At sixty he's still a powerful vocalist and sterling picker, with a lifetime of tall tales to tell. Friday at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)

CUBAN JAZZ

Ibrahim Ferrer emerged from the Buena Vista Social Club to become an unlikely superstar. The 76-year-old singer's energy and enthusiasm is obvious as he croons his favorite boleros or belts out the tongue-twisting lyrics to "La Musica Cubana," a jaunty tune he wrote for his new album Buenos Hermanos. For his Bay Area debut he'll front an eighteen-piece band featuring some of Cuba's top musicians. Friday at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco. 415-776-1999. (j. poet)

SALSA

Last year, violinist Alfredo De La Fe returned to NYC after twenty years of running from drug charges. During that time he lived in Colombia and later Italy. Renowned for his virtuosic abilities with the salsa bands of Jose Fajardo and Tipica 73, he was granted a pardon with the condition that he bring an antidrug message to the public. This Thursday at Cafe Cocomo in San Francisco, De La Fe returns with a new attitude and some sizzling salsa. 415-824-6910. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

BLUEGRASS

Better than the soundtrack to "that movie," Friday's old time/bluegrass festival at the all-ages Ashkenaz features the reunion of the Bay Area's most important women bluegrass-country singers: Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick (cofounders of beloved '70s all-woman band Good Ol' Persons) with an all-star backing band, plus the old-timey Stairwell Sisters and Bluegrass Intentions. A good cause for dancing! 510-525-5054. (Larry Kelp)

CLASSICAL

Youth and venerable masters unite in Berkeley's First Congo Saturday night, as the Bay Area's prized American Bach Soloists, directed by Jeffrey Thomas, welcome flutist Amy Guitry and oboist Debra Nagy, first-place winners in ABS' Third International Young Artists Competition, plus girlish-sounding soprano Ann Monoyios for a program that includes Bach's Wedding Cantata and his soprano setting of Ich habe genug. 415-621-7900. (Jason Serinus)

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