Sunday, August 26, 2018

2008 Epiphone Les Paul Custom Guitar Review

Howdy!

Today we are looking at an Epiphone limited edition Silverburst Les Paul Custom guitar that was only sold for a brief time in 2008, though they must have made o ton of them because I see them pretty often. It is a fine looking instrument and is well built, but the electronics have not held up too well over the years.

The Custom has always been the top of the Les Paul line-up, and this one is a tribute to the original Silverburst instruments that were made from 1979 to 1985. The vintage Silverburst Les Pauls have been the go-to axe for Adam Jones from Tool, so they have developed a cult following and they are stupidly expensive now.

Les Paul Customs are set apart from the Standard models by more intricate inlays, as well as multi-ply body binding. This Epiphone got these adornments, but not the usual gold-plated hardware (thankfully).

Other than the color, the specs are fairly standard for an imported Les Paul. It has a mahogany body with a carved alder top, which is surprising considering that these usually have maple tops. The 24.75-inch scale set neck is mahogany, which is normal, but differs from the maple necks on the original Silverburst Les Pauls. The whole thing has a coat of thick poly and the Silverburst fade is only on the front. The back is glossy black, while the originals were Silverburst back there instead.

The neck has a 1 11/16-inch wide nut, and a fairly fat profile. The rosewood fretboard has trapezoid pearl inlays, and it has an evenly applied cream binding. The headstock carries the 5-ply binding over from the body, and it is equipped with chrome Grover sealed-back tuners. In case you care, there is a diamond mother of pearl inlay on the front of the headstock, and an Epiphone Custom Shop Logo on the back. I would be curious to see their Custom Shop…

The rest of the hardware is standard fare, with a chrome Tune-o-matic bridge with a stopbar tail piece and a multi-ply black pickguard. And the electronics are just about what you would expect on an Epiphone. These Customs come with plain-Jane Alnico humbucker with the usual Les Paul 2 volume / 2 tone knobs set-up.

In the end, this turns out to be a good collection of parts, and Epiphone’s Chinese (factory did a fab job of sticking them together. I am continually astonished that the public continues real-deal Gibson Les Pauls with terrible necks and frets when there are much better alternatives out there for less money.

This Silverburst Les Paul Custom has a nice neck with perfect frets and a pretty low action with no fiddling around or modifications. It has a C profile and its thickness is right in the middle between the 50’s and 60’s neck profiles that are so popular. This translates into a lot smoother playing experience for me, which is worth a bunch because I do not have much talent.

Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to the electronics on this one, as one of the pickups has dies and the other has a whacky tone that is super muddy. It certainly could benefit from new pickups and wiring, and I think a set of Burstbuckers (maybe out of phase) would be magical in this guitar. If you are going for the full Tool mod, Jones says he uses a Seymour Duncan JB at the bridge, though I have my doubts that he is being truthful, and without a maple neck and ebony fretboard it just will not sound the same anyway…

When this run of Epiphone Silverburst Les Paul Customs was originally on sale their street price was around $600 (with no case), which is pricy for an Epiphone Les Paul. But nowadays they go for around $300 to $400, which is a good price for a nice guitar. But, make sure you plug it in before you buy…

Mahalo!

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Peach and the Almost Blues Band – A Night in Copenhagen

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the March 9, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Peach and the Almost Blues Band – A Night in Copenhagen

Magic Music

www.almostbluesband.dk

8 tracks / 36:28

A cool thing about the blues is that the form easily translates to different cultures and allows musicians from all parts of the world to get together and create killer music. Language is not much of a barrier, as the chord patterns and song structures are familiar to anyone who has played the blues for a while. Peach totally gets this, and this fixture of the Los Angeles music scene has released a cool set of blues that she laid down with some friends in Denmark, titled A Night in Copenhagen.

Peach (her last name is Reasoner) grew up in the Midwest, but found work and built her musical career on the West Coast as a jazz and blues singer and guitarist. Along the way she has toured the world and collaborated with folks that include Taj Mahal, Jim Messina, Keb' Mo' and Condoleezza Rice. Yep, it is the Condoleezza you are thinking of – she was Peach’s accompanist at the University of Denver.

A Night in Copenhagen was recorded in February 2016 straight out of the mixing board at Café Bartof. Peach handled the lead vocals and played her sparkly Tele; she was joined by locals Michael Engman Ronnow on guitar, Helge Solberg on bass, and Niclas Campagnol on the skins. Her longtime band mate, Ken Stange from Los Angeles, made the trip across the Atlantic and sat in on keys and harmonica for this gig. This disc includes eight songs from the show, and most of them are covers that perfectly fit Peach’s vocal style.

First up in the set is “Tonight I’ll Be Stayin Here With You,” a Bob Dylan tune from 1969. Things get off to a soulful start with Stange’s sweet harp work, and it is not long before Peach joins in. Her voice has all the right things going on - it is strong and has a weathered character that sets it apart, but that is not all. Her phrasing and timing are both spot on, and she comes off like the true pro that she is. This gives Peach the ability to take this song from a Nobel laureate and make it her own. The same can be said about the second song on the album, B.B. King’s oft-covered 1978 hit, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” This song comes off as a roadhouse tune with Peach howling the vocals over Solberg’s thumping bass, Campagnol’s hard-hitting snare, and Stange’s barroom piano.

This is pretty much how the album proceeds, as the band is not afraid to take on songs that were made famous by others, but they consistently prove that they have the talent to pull them off. Junior Wells’ 1960 song, “Little by Little” is a tough shuffle with lovely organ from Stange and a walking bassline from Solberg. The lyrics translate well to having a woman sing them and Peach delivers them with sass! There is also Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds’ “Love-It is,” which most folks will associate with the J. Geils Band. The guitars shine on this rocker, and the band kicks in with backing vocals on the super-catchy chorus, which really helps to bring this tune together.

The covers are all great, but one of the standout tunes on the disc is an original that was written by Peach, “Tell Me You Love Me.” Maybe it is because this song is a ballad, but the change of mood is striking as Peach’s emotional lyrics rise to the top over multiple layers of keys and the heavy high-hat and snare of Niclas Campagnol. This song could make the listener wish that the band had snuck a few more originals into the mix.

This is a short set, and a little over a half hour in the band takes on the finale, Frankie Miller’s “Ain’t Got no Money,” a song that was also done by Cher and Bob Seger. This uptempo romp is barroom blues at its best, and after a slick break on the piano from Stange, the band brings things to a close on a high note

A Night in Copenhagen is a neat recording of a fun show by Peach and the Almost Blues Band. Her jazzy blues interpretations of classic songs work very well, and the band was definitely hitting on all cylinders that chilly winter night in Denmark. Give it a listen for yourself – there is plenty here for blues fans to like!

Lazy Lester: June 20, 1933 to August 22, 2018

Rest in peace, Leslie Carswell Johnson.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Dave Orban and the Mojo Gypsies – I Heard You Twice the First Time

Aloha!

This CD review was originally published in the March 23, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Dave Orban and the Mojo Gypsies – I Heard You Twice the First Time

Self Release

www.mojogypsies.com

14 tracks / 66:45

Many folks dream of becoming a musician some day, but Dave Orban actually went out and did it – twice! Inspired by the British invasion of the 1960s he joined the throngs of kids who purchased instruments and figured out how to sound like their heroes, though Dave took it a step further and learned about the blues that inspired many of these groups. As time went on, he made the “sensible” decision to do the whole school and day job thing, and for 17 years Orban dropped out of the music scene completely.

Then one day an old friend got ahold of Dave and asked him to come to a jam. With his borrowed guitar Orban realized that he had forgotten everything he had ever learned, but this experience ignited a fire in him that made him realize how much he missed the music. Skipping forward a few more decades, we find that he got his groove back and that his current lineup of the Mojo Gypsies has released an album of 14 of Dave’s very respectable original tunes. I Heard You Twice the First Time is a solid set of guitar-driven modern blues that draws on music from all over the United States, and it is definitely worth a listen.

On this disc, Dave Orban lays down the vocal and guitar tracks, and he is joined by the Mojo Gypsies, all of who are from the same New Jersey / Pennsylvania area. These fellows include Jeff Michael (aka Flourtown Fats) on bass, Mark A. Shewchuk on the skins, and Mike Scott on the tenor sax. Besides writing all of the songs Dave acted as the producer for the project, and the album was cut by Bobby Dreher and mixed by Brett Kull; these guys did a marvelous job of getting a clear and well-balanced sound.

The band kicks their set off with “Got That Woman on My Mind” which begins with a raunchy guitar intro and then rolls down into a luscious Chicago-style mix. Right from the start the Mojo Gypsies click, with a slow walking bass line from Michael, three or four layers of Dave’s guitars (in stereo), and bright and crisp drums from Shewchuk.

This is a big album (66 minutes!), so there is not enough room here for a blow-by-blow on every track, but there is a little bit of everything on I Heard You Twice the First Time. This includes straight-up guitar blues (“Baby, Take Your Time” and “Big-Boned Baby”), sweet Louisiana beats (“Ain’t No Lie” and “Dallas”), a touch of jazz (“The Told You So Blues” and “Trouble-Makin’ Woman”), and even a little rockabilly (“What’s Wrong”). The band carries all of these with no trouble at all, held down Shewchuk’s drums and augmented by Scott’s horn arrangements.

There are guest harmonica players on a few of the tracks too, and their presence provides a little extra spice for the sauce. Dave Holtzman (Little Red Rooster Blues Band and AC Steel) joins in for “I’m Sayin’ ‘Yes’ to Everything” and his haunting tone works magic alongside Orban’s jangly slide guitar for this Delta-tinged burner. And “Marky B” Berkowitz brings his harp to “Someone Else’s Woman,” a conventional acoustic blues song with a decidedly vintage vibe.

The Mojo Gypsies end their set with “Lookin’ for a Woman,” a righteous chunk of 70’s vintage funky blues. The bass and guitar tones are to die for on this track, and Shewchuk works the snare with a heavy backbeat. Topping all of this off, Mike Scott lays down a breathy solo break that nestles perfectly into the groove. This is nothing but the right stuff, and it is a perfect way to bring things to a close.

Dave Orban and the Mojo Gypsies did a fine job with I Heard You Twice the First Time, and as I said earlier, it is worth a listen. But you will want to listen to it more than once, as the songs are well written and provide a personal feel that is hard to find in the cover songs that fill many of the new blues albums.

And be sure to head over to the Mojo Gypsies website to peruse their gig schedule – if you are anywhere near Philly you just have to see their live show!

Aretha Franklin - March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018

Rest in peace, and hopefully you are leading the choir in heaven

Monday, July 30, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Adam Karch – Moving Forward

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the March 2, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Adam Karch – Moving Forward

Disques Bros Records

www.adamkarchmusic.com

www.bros.ca

12 tracks / 44:37

Adam Karch produces knockout roots music and acoustic blues from his hometown of Montreal, and his latest album, Moving Forward, is his best work yet. Karch got an early start on his music career, first taking a leading role in bands as a teen and then releasing his first album when he was still in his early 20s. Through endless touring he moved further from his rock beginnings and developed his own acoustic fingerstyle sound; the handful of albums he has released over his career reflects this growth. Evidence of this is his 2014 release, Blueprints, which is an amazingly effective reworking of classic songs into an acoustic blues context.

Moving Forward represents a further movement along the same arc, and most of its twelve tracks are originals that were written last winter, when Adam was in a time of transition. The resulting music has a personal sound and thoughtful lyrics, and there are also a handful of cover tunes are just too cool. Karch provided the vocals and guitars for this album (as well as acting as co-producer), and he was joined in the studio by a few of his friends from Quebec: Marc André Drouin on bass and Bernard Deslauriers behind the drum kit.

Adam has a strong synergy with Marc and Bernard, and the listener will discover this as the trio comes together for the opener, “Seaside Venues.” This is slick acoustic rocker that allows to Karch to shine both with his fancy picking and his voice, which is strong and equal parts smooth and gritty. There are only a few of songs on the disc that include this trio, but in each case the backline of Drouin and Deslauriers really delivers the goods. This includes the blues rock of “Lil’ Black Dress,” the pop / soft rock of “The Contract,” and the laid back feel of two California country songs, “On a Cold Grey Sky and “Those Steady Lights.” By the way, Kim Richardson provides sweet vocal harmonies on that last one, which is a welcome addition to an already strong song.

The majority of the tracks on Moving Forward are solo acoustic numbers, and on some of these Karch’s friends sit in to help make the mood. Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre lends his pedal steel to the country blues of “Louis Collins,” and his tastefully restrained playing is quite a complement to Adam’s tricky picking. Also, Guy Bélanger brings his harp to a cover of Keb’ Mo’s “City Boy,” which wisely retains a similar pace and feel as the original, but with considerably less instrumentation. The listener will agree that this arrangement is a beautiful and simple accompaniment to the heartfelt lyrics. Towards the end of the song, Bélanger first makes himself heard with a lovely solo, and his wailing harp helps Adam bring this one home. This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album.

There are a few other covers on Moving forward, including a re-do of one of Adam’s own songs, “Did You Get the Latest News,” which was originally released on his 2002 debut album, Crossroad Diaries. Then there are a few others that will definitely grab your attention when you look at the track list. Karch takes a successful run at Bob Seger’s 1981 hit, “Night Moves,” with a healthy serving of fancy fingerpicking and a steady beat. Then there is an acoustic country version of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” that features a fun break before the chorus is reprised one last time. In both of these popular tunes, Adam does a very respectable job with the vocals, which is no small feat as these songs were both originally recorded by vocalists with very distinctive styles.

Is there anything missing here? Well, if you were thinking you would like to hear a solo acoustic instrumental then you are in luck as “Somewhere in El Paso” is a clean showcase of Karch’s guitar work, and this song is a fine tutorial for young players who need to learn a thing or two about the use of dynamics and repeated forms.

After listening to the whole disc, there is no doubt that Adam Karch can cut a mean record, but he is also a solid live performer. On his website you will find gig dates for the first half of 2017, and if you are going to be in Quebec you will be happy as there are plenty of shows coming up. On his site you can also listen to samples of each of the dozen tracks on Moving Forward, and you will dig them if you are into roots music and acoustic country and blues. Listen for yourself and see what you think!

2004 Fender Stratocaster XII 12-String Guitar Review

Aloha!

Today we are looking at something a little different – an early 2000s Fender Stratocaster XII that is a pretty neat piece of work. These guitars are somewhat based on the Electirc XII that was built back in 1965 to 1969 era and are very collectible, even in today’s slower market. Fortunately for us Fender Japan reproduced this version from 1985 to 1995 and 2004-2009 so we can achieve a similar sound and feel for a lot less cash.

This one has a Crafted in Japan Q-prefix serial number, so it was built in 2004. It has a pretty sunburst finish over its alder body, and a rosewood fretboard on its maple neck. It got a white pickguard, pickup covers and knobs, and they have a nicely aged vintage cream look to them.

The neck has a 25 ½-inch scale length with a 7.25-inch fretboard radius. There are 21 vintage style frets set into it. The profile is not much different than a 6-strint Strat, and there is a comfy C profile to the back of the neck. The headstock is quite a deviation from the usual Fender shape, so that it can accommodate those 12 tuners.

The tuners are Ping style finished in chrome, as is the hardtail bridge. The bridge is set up so the primary strings feed through the back of the body and the secondary strings are loaded from the top of the body. The electronics are standard Stratocaster fare, including 3 single coil pickups, a 5 5-way selector switch, a volume control , and two tone controls.

The guitar we are looking at here is in excellent original condition, with no repairs or modifications. It is very well built, with gorgeous paintwork and fabulous fretwork. It is a tad heavy, coming in at just under 8 pounds, but it is still 3 or 4 pounds less than my Les Paul. It is one of the easiest playing 12-strings I have ever run into, as it does not feel very lot different than the 6-string version.

Sound-wise, it is (of course) more full than a regular Strat, and probably a bit janglier than a Rickenbacker 12-string. Don't take that the wrong way – it does have a very lovely and useable tone. Pretty much, it is a winner for not a lot of dough. If you ever have the chance to try one of these out you should give it a go. See what you think!

Mahalo!