Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review of The Lion King on Broadway


I might be one of the only people on the planet that has not seen The Lion King movie. I have seen The Lion King Jr. musical a bunch of times, as my son acted in it this past summer, so at least I am familiar with some of the material. Well, I finally got the see the full stage musical this past weekend at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway, and I walked away very impressed.

The Lion King musical is based on the 1994 film, which is one of the most successful in history with almost a billion dollars in box office sales. The movie featured five songs written by Tim Rice and Elton John, “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared,” Hakuna Matata,” and “Can you Feel the Love Tonight;” all of these carried over to the stage version. You probably know the story, but if not it is a typical hero’s journey of a young lion, Simba, who takes out on his own after the untimely death of his father, later to return and take his rightful place in the world. Fairly predictable, yet satisfying!

The musical version of The Lion King debuted in 1997, with a bunch more songs and a few twists to the original plot (or so I have been told, never having actually seen the movie). And it has never closed down – that is an 18-year run on Broadway, making it the third longest running show ever, and it has won 70 major theatre awards. There is also a touring version, and all told over 80 million people have seen this show. Wow!

Since 2006, The Lion King has been playing at the 1600-seat Minskoff Theatre at 1515 Broadway in Manhattan. It is a nice theatre with good acoustics and line of sight, though the first few rows are pretty far below stage level, so the folks in the “good” seats will miss parts of the action.

The production was really quite amazing, in every respect.

The cast was wonderful, which is not surprising as the biggest and best singers and dancers flock to New York with dream of being on Broadway, and this show got the cream of the crop. Young Simba (Jahi Diallo Winston) and Young Nala (K’Lynn Jackman) had amazing stage presence and really delivered the goods. Note that these roles are played by two sets of actors so they doe not have to play every show – that would be a lot to ask of a kid. Two of the side characters, Rafiki (Tshidi Manye) and Zazu (Jeffrey Kuhn) actually overshadowed the other leads were their outstanding performances. And lastly, Scar (Patrick R. Brown) was simply amazing. He reminded me a bit of Professor Snape, at times!

But the costumes, masks and puppetry stole the show for me. These elements combined together to provide realistic animal characteristics and movements. Major props go out to Julie Taymor and Michael Curry for their work in making this magic happen.

The sets were also first-rate, with elements re-used creatively, and innovations used to show a flowing river and the famous rescue of Simba by Mufasa. The lighting was perfect, and there were no distractions from the crew.

The sound is the only area where I have any recommendations for improvement. Generally the volume was good, but adult Nala was hard to hear when she was singing. Also, there was a lot of reverb dialed into the mix for the solo singing parts, which is unusual for a musical, and distracting at times. It is a stage show, after all, not a record album and just because you have a tool does not mean you should be using it.

I wholeheartedly recommend seeing the Lion King on Broadway if you are ever in the tri-state area. If you like musical theatre, it really delivers the whole package and this production comes in a close second place to my favorite show ever, Wicked. Trust me!


Monday, November 23, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: David Reo – Life is Good

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the June 26, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

David Reo – Life is Good |Album Review

Self Release

12 tracks / 44:00

After growing up in Rhode Island, David Reo has made the entertainment industry his life’s work, having attended the venerable Berklee College of Music in Boston and then moving on to Tinseltown to make a go of the television genre. While working on a few standout series (remember Happy Days?) he started writing and recording his own music in 1984. Since then he has produced other acts as well as playing a couple thousand shows with The Preachers Blues Band around the Los Angeles basin.

David’s fourth album, Life is Good, is a collection of a dozen blues-based and country songs, eight of which are originals. Besides writing these songs, Reo provided the vocals and guitar for the album. A score of other musicians contributed to this project, including Evan Grosswirth on bass, Pete Gallagher on the skins, Jim Calire on keyboards and sax, and Bill Flores on the pedal steel. Jeff Cowan was the engineer and producer for the album, which was cut in Ventura.

The album is divided into two parts: the first act is a set of original blues tunes that were written by Reo, and the second part is a collection of country songs that includes a few cool covers. The blues portion of the show kicks off with “Shell Shocked” a big-sounding song with in your face horns and slick guitar fills. This is our introduction to David’s pleasant tenor voice and it is readily apparent that he has a good feel for the rhythm and blues he is slinging.

“Uzbekastan” is really unexpected, with a Benny Goodman feel that is provided by righteous clarinet from Geoff Nudell and Gene Krupa-esque tom pounding from Gallagher. This song does not go whole-hog big band, as the guitar provides most of the melodies, but it still swings like mad and the lyrics are funny and fit well with the musical theme. This is followed up with “You Won’t Matter,” a more conventional slow-burning blues song with a hot horn section and fantastic piano and organ work throughout.

Reo finishes up his blues set with a “Too Far from Home,” which has a laid-back California-themed feel and lyrics. Michelle Corbin sings lovely harmonies on this one and Nic Mancini brings his vibraphone into play, which is something that does not happen much on blues albums that come across my desk.

There is a definite break when the country action starts with Led Zeppelin’s “Hot Dog” from their 1979 album, In Through the Out Door. The original is an Elvis-infused blues song with country elements, but David and his crew takes it all the way to Nashville with a bit of Albert Lee chicken pickin’ guitar, which is an improvement over what was kind of a strange song to start with.

Other country covers include Buddy Holly’s “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” which was made popular by The Bobby Fuller Four, and Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” which was taken to number one by Merle Haggard back in 1984. A standout track from the country side of things is Reo’s take on Juice Newton’s “River Of Love,” a lovely song with fine vocal harmonies and prominent fiddle and cello parts.

To close out the set, Reo takes a completely different direction with “Jimi Jam,” which is a heavy dose of the psychedelic blues rock that was pioneered by Hendrix back in the late 1960s. It is well set up as Grosswirth and Gallagher play a nifty backline jam that allows Reo and Guy Martin to cut loose a little. The rest of the album is all about the songs so David had to put his guitar on the back burner, and it is nice that he finishes up with a cut that illustrates what a masterful axeman he is.

Life is Good is a solid effort from David Reo, and if you like your blues served up country style this CD will be right up your alley. If you want to hear more from David, he is playing regularly with The Preachers Blues Band in clubs around L.A., and he also just released an album of country classics which should be a real gas.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones Review


These days, it seems like I rarely listen to music except through headphones, and Sennheiser is pretty much my go to brand. Recently I had the chance to try out a pair of their HD 600 cans, and not surprisingly, they are quite a bit nicer than my usual HD 280 Pros. If you are familiar with their products, the higher the model number the better (and more expensive) they are.

The HD 280s are very good phones, and if you are going to spend five times the price for a new set, there had better be a noticeable improvement in sound. The HD 600 phones deliver this is spades. These are open-back headphones, so these are not the ones you are going to use at the office or gym or on the airplane. A lot of ambient sound will make their way in, and you will disturb your neighbors.

Physically, these phones are open back (as I just said), and they fit comfortably around the ears (circumaural) with cozy user-replaceable ear pads. They weigh in at around a half pound, but they are nicely adjustable and they are some of the most comfortable ones I have ever stuck on my head. The coiled cord is three meters long, with a ¼-inch jack and a 1/8-inch mini jack adapter is included. The cord is replaceable should it happen to be damaged. Overall they are very smart-looking with a snazzy finish and an imposing size.

The specification sheet provided by Sennheiser for the HD 600 contain no surprises for headphones in this price range. They are equipped with neodymium magnets and frequency response is supposed to be 12 to 39,000 Hz, with a total harmonic distortion of less than 0.1%. With 300 ohms of resistance, these things will take a lot of power to drive. They will not work well with an iPod or laptop unless a headphone amplifier is used.

I tested these headphones with a variety of audio sources, including my home stereo, my iPod and iPad, as well as my laptop. I used them with and without headphone amplifiers (solid state and tube-type) and with my usual assortment of music and movies. This includes mostly rock and blues, with a little country, classical and show tunes to round things out.

The HD 600s perform magnificently. They have virtually even output, and the lightweight aluminum voice coils are very sensitive and crisp with no distortion at any normal volume levels. The highs are clear and do not have any unnatural elements to them. The mid ranges seem slightly boosted, mostly in the upper mids. This is not distracting to me, and I like the effect for most music. The bass is the best I ever heard, very crisp and powerful, but still well-balanced with the mids and highs. I found that they sounded best with classical and jazz music, and using them with a home theatre system is mind-blowing. They are maybe a little lacking for hard-rocking music. Of course, these are subjective observations, and depending on what kind of music you are listening to you might find other headphoens that you prefer (but I doubt it).

In the real world, due to their design there is not much isolation, so if there is any background noise it will makes its way in too. This means that they are really not the best headphones for me, as I am never anywhere that it is quiet enough to get the full benefit from these headphones. But, if you are an audiophile that has a quiet place to enjoy these, they should be close to the top of your shopping list.

But, when you go shopping, make sure that you have plenty of cash in your pockets. The Sennheiser HD 600 headphones sell for around $400, which makes these a serious purchase. But they are worth it, and if you ever get a chance to try a pair out, you will be amazed!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall


I have been to New York City many times, and each time I am there I manage to catch at least one show. Though I have walked by the Radio City Music Hall before, I have never attended a show there nor seen the world famous Rockettes. Well, that changed last weekend as I attended one of the first few shows of this year’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular!

This show has been going on since 1933, and the Radio City Music Hall is an amazing place to see it (there is also a touring version of the show). Located in Rockefeller Plaza, the theatre was built in 1933 and it is huge! It holds around 6,000 guests and has one of the biggest pipe organs ever made.

Well, they put that pipe organ to work, and a few minutes before the 8:00 PM start time, two of the consoles slid out of the wall and the organists played a few holiday tunes to warm the crowd up. After that, there was just one crazy thing after another, and the show truly lived up to its “spectacular” name.

What defines the holidays for you?

If it is Santa Claus, you are going to be thrilled. The jolly stereotype played a big part in the show: he sang some songs, showed a god-awful 3D movie (glasses included), helped some kids find the true meaning of Christmas, made a few tame jokes about the smoking hotness of the Rockettes, and he somehow cloned himself into a mob of dancing fat guys.

If you think the holidays are about the virgin birth of Christ, there is a little something for you too. They put on a full-on processional across the desert with camels and donkeys, and the biggest manger scene ever. I’m sure it was pretty accurate to how things really happened.

How about the Nutcracker? They did an abridged version of that too, albeit with all of the characters being represented by giant teddy bears.

If it is Christmas music you like, they did not skimp on that either. There was a full orchestra, and groups of singers throughout. All of these nutty segments were accompanied by the Rockettes, who really do put on quite a show. Supposedly there have 1300 costumes backstage that these 36 amazingly non-diverse dancers go through each evening, and I believe it. That represents a lot of stitching and dry cleaning….

The music and dancing were perfect, and there was even an ice rink with a couple of skaters (not to mention giant snowflake orbs that floated around in the cavernous hall). The singing was amazingly perfect, which kind of makes me wonder if it was all pre-recorded. Hmm.

Anyway, after 90 minutes of this (right around the time I was praying for an intermission), the show was over. It was definitely cool to see once, though I would be hard-pressed to go again as I cannot imagine that it really changes that much each year. If you have not seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at least once, I recommend that you give it a shot. They will be playing dozens of shows through the end of the year, with the last one on January 3. Trust me!


Monday, November 16, 2015

JP Soars – Full Moon Night in Memphis | Album Review

JP Soars – Full Moon Night in Memphis

Self Release

14 tracks / 57:00

JP Soars is a seasoned guitarist, singer, and songwriter out of Florida, and his latest release Full Moon Night in Memphis is a heady piece of work. If you have not heard of him, you should have: he won the 2009 IBC in Memphis, a Blues Blast Music Award for Best New Artist Debut, and he teamed up with Damon Fowler and Victor Wainwright to form the all-star band, Southern Hospitality. This is his third solo album, and he was joined in the studio by Todd Edmunds on Bass and Chris Peet behind the drum kit. The disc comes in at nearly an hour, and includes twelve original songs and two covers.

The band kicks off their set with the title track, and there is nothing here but pure hard-rocking blues. “Full Moon Night in Memphis” is full of greasy electric slide guitar, growly vocals from JP, fat bass, sharp drums, and a little harmonica help from the ace-high harpman, Brandon Santini. Santini also sits in on “The Road Has Got Me Down,” a countrified tune with pedal steel and sassy backing vocals from Teresa James.

This track is recorded well, with a good mix and writing, which bodes well for the rest of the album. As things move along, there are no distractions in the production or lyrics to keep you from enjoying each song. Besides Santini, there are a few other guest artists sprinkled throughout the album, including Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach on the Hammond B3. He appears on the funky second track “Back to Broke” as well as on “The Back Room” and “Thorn in My Side.” The latter is a bit of a departure from the rest of the material as it has a more of a contemporary southern rock feel with the B3 setting the mood and some wonderful slide work from Soars.

The two cover tunes are pretty cool, too. T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World” shows that JP respects the history of blues, and also that he is creative enough to spice things up a bit where needed; he tuned this up with a slightly funkier beat to make it fit in with the rest of the material on this release. Soars brought in a few horns (Chaim Rubinov and Scott Ankrom) and a quartet of backing singers for Cab Calloway’s scandalous 1932 hit, “Reefer Man.” JP does a respectable Calloway imitation and honks along on the guitar in this high-energy song, which is one of the standout tracks on the disc

Nobody is going dispute that JP Soars is a fine guitar player, and if they did have any doubts about his talent “Lil’ Mamacita” should be enough to convince them. This acoustic instrumental is full of guitar fireworks, cool Latin groove on the drums, and a simple yet satisfying bass line. Raul Hernandez adds a little Latin percussion punch to the proceedings on this one. After this, the set draws to a close with “Missin’ Your Kissin’,” a lovely swing song that features Terry Hanck on the saxophone. Soars and Hanck are completely off the leash for this track, and they each deliver red-hot solos. What a cool way to finish things off!

Full Moon Night in Memphis from JP Soars is his finest work to date and a must buy CD for blues fans as every track is a very good listen. And if you are around south Florida any time soon check out his website as he has a few gigs scheduled before the end of year. You will have a blast, guaranteed!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Laura Tate – I Must Be Dreaming | Album Review

Laura Tate – I Must Be Dreaming

Self Release

12 tracks / 40:37

Laura Tate has done quite a lot with her life, as she has forged successful careers as an actress and award-winning filmmaker, as well as being an advocate for educational and humanitarian causes. But if you are reading this you are probably most interested in her singing. She has an impressive voice and has not limited herself to just one genre; she is equally capable in singing rock, jazz, country, blues, or musical theatre.

This is fortunate for us, as her new album, I Must Be Dreaming, is a wonderful blend of cool American music, and a worthy tribute to the master songwriter, Mel Harker. Though Laura started out in Dallas and now lives near El Paso, she spent a good portion of her life in Los Angeles, where she became acquainted with Harker. She used some of his songs on her previous two albums, but this time she set aside all twelve of the tracks for his work, and it is awesome!

Tate took care of the vocals on this new release (of course), and she was joined in a Los Angeles studio by a fine crew that included Terry Wilson (guitars, bass, and drums), Billy Watts (guitar), Lee Thornberg (brass), Paulie Cerra (sax), David Fraser (harmonica), Lewis Stephens and Jeff Paris (keys), Karen Hammack (piano), Teresa James (backing vocals), and Wally Ingram (percussion). This is a huge crew, but they were needed to get all of the sounds that can be heard on I Must Be Dreaming.

The songs cover a lot of ground, but they are all have positive feel and the lyrics are clever with vivid imagery that draws the listener in. Though she chose material from Harker’s existing library of work, these songs all sound like they were put together with her voice in mind. It kicks off with a country Rocker, “Snake Tattoo,” and from then on no two songs sound the same. There is lounge jazz for the title track, a beautiful ballad (“If Ever Forever Should End”), a little “Cowboy Jazz,” and even the reggae/ska-inspired “Counting Up the Ways.” Besides these examples, there are bits and pieces of blues, rock, western swing and big band.

Throughout all of this, Laura maintains her cool and exerts an impressive vocal presence. She is able to sing brassy, sultry, and rocking sounds with no problem, and doing a country twang or bold blues is no problem at all. But this is not just the output of a talented voice - she is able to overlay heartfelt emotion, which moves her abilities to a higher plane. There are also no issues with hearing her, as the engineering and mixing are first rate; I have no complaints at all with this disc, which is a rare thing.

I Must Be Dreaming is a fun album, and Laura Tate has the chops to pull off all of these well-written songs. Check it out and hear it for yourself, and keep an eye on her website to see if she has any shows coming up!

Stewart-MacDonald Adjustable Toggle Switch Wrench Review


The toggle switch nut on Gibson Les Paul guitars can be a frustrating part to remove or install, despite the fact that it is super easy to get to. You see, since it is on the front of the guitar and so easy to see, Gibson wanted it to have a nice appearance. So they used a knurled ring to hold the switch in place, and there are no flats on which to fit a conventional wrench.

This means that most folks end up using a pair of pliers to get it loose, which can easily lead to a scratch in the finish or a chewed up nut. Plus, if you are really careful not to damage the nut when installing it, chances are good that it will not be tight enough and that it will loosen up over time.

There are special tools available, but they are made of plastic and strip out quickly. Fortunately, there is an answer to this problem. The marketplace for luthiers, Stewart-MacDonald, offers exactly the tool for the job: the adjustable toggle switch wrench.

This thing is made of metal with a plastic screwdriver-type handle. You can rotate the barrel around the wrench part so it fits snugly on the nut, and it does exactly what the company says it will do. You might think it is a waste of money to buy such a specialized tool that may not be used very often, but $17.71 is cheap insurance when working on your treasured guitars. Check out Stewart-MacDonald’s website for ordering details!