Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rex and the Bass 2016 Year in Review

Happy New Year’s Eve!

This wraps up my 7th year of blogging, and Rex and the Bass is still plodding along. I appreciate the support of my readers, and I read all of the comments that you post on this site. If nobody looked at these pages, I would lose motivation and move on to something else.

2016 is done and this page is on the verge of a few significant milestones: the blog has almost 1,000 posts, and Rex and the Bass is rapidly approaching 1,000,000 page views. Wow!

The side project of a blog has led to a few other side projects – writing gigs for Blues Blast Magazine and Chicago Blues Guide. Many thanks to their editors for having faith in me! It was a bit of a stretch this year as I was finishing up my master’s thesis, but somehow nothing went off the tracks.

As in previous years, here is a list of the top ten most read posts of all time for Rex and the Bass:

1. Apple A1121 iPod Hi-fi

2. Fender Jazz Bass Special Re-issue

3. Crystal Castles (2010) Album Review

4. Philip Kubicki Factor Basses

5. Little Dot Mark III Headphone Amplifier Review

6. Memory Lane: Pulp Fiction Soundtrack

7. Art and Lutherie Ami Cedar Parlour Acoustic Guitar

8. Gallien-Krueger 400RB Bass Amplifier Review

9. Fender Jazz Bass Special

10. Honda EU2000i Portable Generator Review

I have always said that I would stop writing this blog when it is no longer fun. Well, I am not there yet, so I look forward to another year of sharing with you!

Mahalo!

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Deb Ryder – Let it Rain

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the May 7, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Deb Ryder – Let it Rain | Album Review

Bejeb Music

www.debryder.com

11 tracks / 46:54

Sometimes an album comes along that just has everything going for it: solid songwriting, talented personnel that click with each other, and top-shelf production values. Deb Ryder’s sophomore solo album, Let it Rain, checks all of these boxes and then some. This disc proves that her excellent debut CD was no fluke, and that she definitely has a role in the future of blues music in the United States.

Deb Ryder is originally from Illinois, where she got an introduction to the Chicago music scene courtesy of her father, an in-demand musician and club owner. Her family moved to Los Angeles, where she often had the opportunity to sing at the Topanga Corral (owned by her step-father), opening for great artists such as Big Joe Turner, Charlie Musselwhite, and Taj Mahal, as well as her mentor, Etta James. Fast forward a few years, and you will find her still in the City of Angels, and making a name for herself as a powerful singer and songwriter.

For Let it Rain, Ryder could not have done any better than having Grammy-winner Tony Braunagel come on board as producer and drummer. They were joined in the famed Ultratone Studios in Studio City by bassist Ric Ryder (her husband), Mike Finnigan on the keys, Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher on guitar, and the killer horn section of Lee Thornburg and Lon Price. These folks are all first-call musicians, and there are also a few guest artists that joined in to really make this a special project.

Like her debut, Might Just Get Lucky, this album is made up solely of songs that were written by Deb, and you will find that she is a very good songwriter and she does not limit herself to one sound. This record is a journey from Illinois to Louisiana, and she nails the blues sound as it is found in both of these places, as well as everywhere in between. The set opens strongly with “That’s Just How It Is” and the band is tight with killer leads from Fletcher’s guitar, and Finnigan setting the tone with his Hammond B3 as Ric Ryder and Braunagel hold the bottom end down. Deb’s voice is worthy of this fine accompaniment, as her voice is powerful and dripping with soul.

The next track brings the well-arranged horns and Schell’s guitar into the mix with the cool Latin-tinged shuffle, “Can’t Go Back Again.” This song is backed up by the swinging “You Won’t Be True” and gloriously dark “Guilty As Sin,” couple of tunes about a woman done wrong. A tasty bonus is some righteous harmonica work from guest artist Kim Wilson on the latter. You know, you just cannot beat lines like, “You’ve been talking in your sleep, and Betsy ain’t my name.” Ryder’s timing and phrasing are spot on as she adds plenty of drama to the proceedings.

Deb Ryder is not afraid of jumping into the deep end of the pool and she wrote a couple of heartfelt gospel and soul tunes, “Cry Another Tear” and “Hold Your Lamp High” to really change things up. Her voice can take on all of the genres that she tried on this disc, and these two songs are no exception. Of course, she is helped out by her steady backline and some wonderful work from Finnigan on the organ. This record really delivers the goods, and things never get dull!

On “Ma Misere,” Braunagel lays down a heavy Cajun beat as he is joined by David Fraser on accordion, and none other than Albert Lee on guitar. There are definitely benefits to recording in LA, and having Mr. Telecaster just down the hill from you in Malibu has to be near the top of the list. After this super-fun song, the disc closes out with “Round and Around,” a more bare-bones Delta and gospel-inspired track that features lovely resonator guitar from Schell and some nice harp courtesy of Wilson. This was a wise choice to end the set, as it brings the listener back to the roots of blues music.

There is not a miscue through all eleven of these tracks and kudos for this studio magic need to go out to Schell, who recorded and mixed the album.

Deb Ryder’s Let it Rain is the real deal, and we will certainly be hearing more from her. Though you will certainly love this disc, keep in mind that her talents go beyond the studio. Judging by her show last month at Malarkey’s in Long Beach she is a tremendous live performer too, so you should be sure to check out her live show if you are around the Southland -- it will definitely be a good use of your time and money!

Mahalo!

Friday, December 30, 2016

IK Multimedia MODO BASS Plug-in Review

Howdy!

As a bass player I am skeptical of any electronic device that wants to replace me, but I was still excited to try out IK Multimedia’s new MODO BASS modeling software. You see, I have used their amplifier modeling programs before and was blown away, so I expected them to do a fine job with this plug-in too. I was not disappointed!

IK Multimedia touts a total bass experience, with the ability of the user to choose their own bass, amplifier and effects, but it goes much further than this, with options for different fingerstyles, and even choices for how fresh you want the strings to be. It is hard to find anything that their engineers missed, really. This goes way beyond what other companies have provided for the bass modeling software. Way beyond.

To get started, I downloaded MODO BASS onto my 2014 MacBook Pro, and it installed without a hitch, with the program taking up less than 200 megs of memory. From there it was time to mess around with the program and see what I could make it do. There is not much in the way of a help function, but you will not need one. This program is like using a smart phone – you can figure it out by yourself. If you cannot figure it out on your own then you are going to have way bigger problems with the rest of the process for making your electronic music.

Let’s see what MODO BASS can do!

First off, you get to choose a bass, and there are a dozen popular models to choose from: two P Basses, two Jazz Basses, Hofner Beatle Bass, EB-O, Warwick, Rickenbacker, Music Man SR5, Yamaha RB5, Gibson Thunderbird, and Ibanez Soundgear. Some of the names have been changed, probably due to licensing issues. Surely there will be some people out there who will say, “Why isn't there a _____ bass?” Well, maybe because whatever you are looking for isn't terribly popular. Maybe those really picky people will need to practice and play their Steinberger, Dingwall, or Wal straight into the board…

But you do not have to be done once you choose your bass. You can add active electronics and do unholy things with pickup selections. Do you want a Piezo or two P-bass pickups in your Jazz Bass? No problem! Maybe you want to throw a Musicman pickup in that Hofner bass – why not? This program will make it fit! Then you can choose the number of strings (4, 4 drop D, or 5), flat or round-wound strings, old or new strings, and even your reference pitch. You might also want to set your action: High, low or standard are available. I do not see a setting for eBay purchase with nasty fret buzz or broken trussrod. Thank goodness!

There are also options for how you would like to play this bass, and you can pick it, pluck it, or slap it. From there you can dial in how much muting you want, how aggressively you want to strike the strings, and how much you want them to ring. There are even choices for whether you want to use open strings and if you want to add in that roundwound zing when you slide from note to note.

Then you can add in effects. After going through the bass selection process, you might be a little disappointed, as there are only seven effects to choose from (compressor, distortion, octave, chorus, envelope filter, graphic EQ, and delay) and only four slots to put them in. You do not get to choose different brand of effects, but there are full controls for each one. The amp choices are also a bit more slim, but this plug-in is obviously more about the bass that the rest of the equipment. You can choose from solid state or tube. Fair enough.

Once again – all of this is really easy to accomplish as the interface is really intuitive. When seeing it all written out it may seem daunting, but it practice it is really cool.

When it comes time to pay, there are a few choices of how you want to input the note. You can simply click on the strings between the frets, or you can use the piano keyboard at the bottom of the screen. My preferred method is the keyboard but you experience may vary – that why it is neat that the designers provided a couple of choices.

I have owned almost every bass that they modeled in this software, and I agree that instruments sound like the real deal, even with subtleties such as the difference in tone between the ash and alder Fender basses. The sounds are universally warm and live, and do not sound the least bit contrived. Of course there are basses I would like to see added (making me just like the people I ranted about a couple of paragraphs ago), but there is more than enough variety, and there are sounds for every type of music you will want to record.

As far as fitting this program into my life, I do still love having a bass in my hands, but there is definitely a place in my world for this plug in. I dig MODO BASS because I don't always have an analog bass on hand. This program allows me to experiment and put together bass lines in airports, hotels, and endless overseas flights.

Overall, I think IK Multimedia’s MODO BASS is a winner: the company delivered on all it promised, with a clean interface that ensures that great bass sounds are just a click away. And it is not super expensive, coming in at $299, or $199 with crossgrade pricing if you are one of their loyal customers. Check out their free trial – I think you will dig it too! You can find more information at www.modobass.com

Mahalo!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

1989 Ibanez EX405 Electric Bass Review

Hi there!

I have always had a place in my heart for oddball imported guitars and basses, and the subject of today’s blog post is a fine example. This is an Ibanez EX 405 bass that was made in Japan in 1989, and it is a pretty cool instrument (in my opinion, anyway).

Specs are similar to what you would find in many Fender bass copies that wer made overseas in the late 1980s. The basswood body is carved into a pseudo-precision bass shape with really pointy horns, and covered in a very pretty pearl red finish. The maple neck has a slim jazz bass profile (1.5-inch nut width) and a rosewood fretboard that has 22 medium-sized frets set into it. And, of course, it has a pointy headstock. How could you go wrong?

The equipment list is fairly typical until you get to the electronics package, which is unique as the folks at Ibanez chose to load it up with a pair of passive split-coil P-bass pickups. These are wired through two volume pots and a tone pot, which is fairly intuitive if you have ever played a jazz bass before.

This bass is in great shape, but it is not entirely original. A previous owner upgraded the wimpy chrome-plated tuners and bridge, and changed over to black hardware at the same time. This resulted in a beefier bridge and tuners that work well, as well as a neck plate that is kind amateurishly painted in a nubbly black-ish finish. Since this plate is on the back of the instrument, it does not bother me very much.

The finish is clean, there are not many dings despite the softness of basswood, which give it a total weight of only 7 pounds, 8 ounces. Despite its age there is little fret wear, and it plays very well. As far as tone goes, it ends up being pretty much like a louder precision bass, so there are no surprises here. I dig it because it looks different, but it will probably not be sticking around too long as aside from the looks it does not really stand out sonically. Drop me a line if you are interested!

Mahalo!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

DR Pro DJ Laptop Stand Review

Aloha!

When I take a laptop to a gig I like to have it closer to eye height, so a laptop stand comes in pretty handy. I recently picked up a DR Pro model DRDJLS1 DJ laptop stand, and I thought I would let you know how it is working out.

The DRDJLS1 is billed as being easily adjustable, and I am not going to argue with this very much. The way that is constructed allows the height to be adjusted from 8 inches to 12 inches, and the width from 9 inches to 11 inches. There is also flexibility in mounting this unit, as it can be set on a table, or mounted to a case with sturdy clamps that are included in the kit. An added bonus is a removable shelf that is a handy place to put accessories, like effect pedals, hard drives, and whatnot. Whatnot.

Assembling this laptop stand was pretty straightforward, as all of the parts were well-organized in the box and the instructions were pretty clear. The only tool that was needed for assembly was a Philips-head screwdriver, and may of the pieced screwed together with plastic knobs. Everything lines up ok, and a lot of extra screws were included. This is obviously a quality piece of equipment, made of heavier steel than other stands I have seen on the market. Of course this means it is heavy, and it comes in at around 5 ½ pounds, which makes it not very fun to cart around.

This bulk makes the DR Pro laptop stand really solid, and I am not worried about it falling apart. I am annoyed by the lack of adjustment for the angles of the laptop stand and the shelf. Also, it does not easily break down. It actually has to be disassembled if you want it easier to stow for your gigs. Although it is well made, there are only a certain number of times you can unscrew things before the threads start to wear out and the plastic knobs start to crack.

So, this stand is not exactly portable, and it is pretty much delegated to my office, where it does a wonderful job of getting my laptop and docking station off of my desk. What I use it for

The DR Pro DJ laptop stand is a pretty good piece of equipment, but its weight, the lack of angle adjustment, and the inability to quickly break it down will relegate this to home use only for me. The marketing of this stand exacerbates this situation, as none of the sellers I found online mention any useful details about the unit, such as its actual dimensions or its weight.

But still, it is really nice for home of office use, and if you are looking for one, it will be worth your time to research the best deal. The list price for the DRDJLS1 is $99.99, making it one of the more expensive stands on the market. But, they sell on Amazon for $$67.97, and I have seen them on sale for as low as $30, which is a pretty darned good deal, as long as you don't need to haul it around on a regular basis

Mahalo!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Los Tijuana Blues – Thunderbird Motel

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 26, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Los Tijuana Blues – Thunderbird Motel

Self Release

10 tracks / 30:17

Los Tijuana Blues is a band out of Valencia, Spain that has found inspiration from the Chess Records and Excello Records catalogs of the 1950 and 1960s, and added a healthy dose of Tex-Mex style to end up with the Spanish equivalent of the whacky North Carolina band, Southern Culture on the Skids. Their first album, Thunderbird Motel, is a fun and fascinating blend of blues-rock, rockabilly, rhythm and blues, and surf rock.

Guitarist Javier Tijuana founded the band a few years back, and he is joined on this release by vocalist Vince Lewinsky, and a rhythm section of J.C. Mota on the bass and Alexis Alemany behind the drums. Coming in at 30 minutes, this is a short album (almost an EP), and it is made up of ten tracks, eight of them originals written by Tijuana. None of these songs lasts more than four minutes, so you will not find any epic guitar solos or psychedelic experimentation here.

This quartet hits hard right from the start with “Sweet Evil Mama” and Javier’s jangly Telecaster hammers this catchy blues rocker into your head. Get used to it, you are going to hear a lot of this over the next nine songs. Lewinsky’s vocals are raw and enthusiastic while Alemany’s dry snare keeps the beat with precision.

After the opener they run through the two cover tunes, both of which they put their own spin on. Bobby Fuller’s 1964 song “Wine Wine Wine” has been roughed up into a country rocker, which is a debatable improvement over the original. And the Midnighters’ “Open Up Your Backdoor” loses the piano and do-wop and ends up as a slightly faster blues rocker. Javier is quite a good guitarist, and he gets to cut loose a bit on this track, which ends up being one of the standouts from Thunderbird Motel.

After some straight-up blues (“Last in Line”) and a little rhythm and blues (“Callin’ Me Blues”), Los Tijuana Blues gives a quick nod to their Spanish heritage. This break starts with an instrumental “Corrido Amoroso,” which is a Latin-tinged surf rock tune, then segues into “Dices Que Te Alegras,” the only song from the disc that is sung in Spanish. When these lyrics are presented with old-style reverb-soaked guitar the effect is mesmerizing, and it turns vintage-feeling rock and roll into something special.

Lewinsky croons on the swinging “Caught by the Tail,” showing a smoothness that has not appeared previously on the album, while Tijuana matches him with slick chords and a very pretty guitar solo. But they keep changing the tempo and feel from track-to-track so the listener never gets bored, and after the Texas boogie of “She’s a Hot One” the band finishes up their set with a another surf instrumental, “Blue Monkey.” Before you know it the album is over.

Unfortunately, there are a few hitches along the way. For starters, for ten bucks it would definitely be good to get more than a half hour of music. Also, the album is mixed with really heavy guitar and vocals, so much that the kick drum is lost and Mota’s bass is very hard to hear, either through speakers or headphones. That being said, it is still a fun record with very catchy tunes that would be a great soundtrack for your next cookout.

Los Tijuana Blues is off to a good start and they have created their own distinctive sound that should have staying power. Check out a few of their songs from Thunderbird Motel on iTunes, and see what you think!