Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Niecie | Wanted Woman


This CD review was originally published in the December 5, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Niecie – Wanted Woman

Self-release through Ride the Tiger Records

10 tracks / 42:55

If you are an entertainer that is going to go by one name (like Sting, Cher or Bono), you had better have the talent to back it up, and Niecie passes this test easily. Niecie has moved all over the United States in search of the blues, and has done a marvelous job of honing her chops along the way. Originally from Detroit, she left the Motor City for Chicago, where the blues found a home in her heart. From there she tried Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Boston (home of the Berklee College of Music!), but finally settled in Nashville, arguably the songwriting capital of the US. Nashville also has the distinction of being home to some of the finest musicians and producers around, and since moving there Niecie has taken advantage of this and cut three well-received albums, the latest of which is Wanted Woman.

Wanted Woman is a slick piece of work thanks in part to producer Johnny Neel, who you may know from his work with the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and Dickey Betts. Johnny also contributed on the keyboards and Hammond B-3, as well as with his songwriting skills. Other musicians on this project include Dennis Gully on bass, Chris Anderson on guitar, and Daryl Burgess on the skins. Also chipping were Danny Hamelin and Jon Conley on the extra guitar parts and Kim Morrison on backing vocals. Oh, and Niecie on lead vocals, of course!

Not being familiar with Niecie’s previous work, I did not know what to expect so I was pleasantly surprised by how hard she can rock. There are eight original tracks on Wanted Woman, with Neel getting writing credit on all of them, and Niecie on three. The content is huge sounding blues/rock, and things get up to speed quickly as ”Traffic Light” kicks the album off on an upbeat note. This song is more rock than blues, with a classic driving bass line and heavy drums that are perfectly executed by her stellar backline. The lyrics are quite funny, and she delivers each punch line right on cue with her distinctively throaty voice.

Niecie pitched in on the writing for the title track, and it is always cool to hear people sing their own stuff because it just clicks a little better. Johnny Neel helps make the mood on the intro with subtle organ and piano, and later on the catchy chorus with its vocal harmonics makes this an easy tune to get stuck in your head. She also wrote “Typical Chick,” a fun roadhouse song with thundering drums, honkytonk piano and very tasty guitar solos.

The two cover tunes are really neat. “Crying for My Baby” is a number that was penned by Harold Burrage in 1960 for Vee-Jay Records. The simple lyrics are timeless, and Niecie belts them out with a soulful wail that does them justice. “Mother Nature” is her take on Little Milton’s often-copied song, though this one clocks in at over nine minutes thanks to some amazing work on the keys from Johnny Neel and plenty of Zeppelin-esque guitars throughout. Both of these songs work in well with the other tracks on the album, and it was wise to include them in the mix. By the way, I have added “Mother Nature” works so well that I added it into the mix of music that I listen to while I write.

Wanted Woman ends up with a testimonial, “God’s Got This,” which I have to assume is autobiographical because Niecie got writing credit for it. It has a 1970s funk feel with heavy synths, organ, popping bass and syncopated guitars galore. It is not preachy by any stretch of the imagination, but it lets you know where this lady stands, and it is always good to finish an album on a positive note.

Niecie has put in a lot of hard work since she first arrived on the Chicago scene three decades ago, and it has all paid off with her latest album, Wanted Woman. This is a great collection of well-written songs that were recorded by the best in the business, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished. I hope you get a chance to give it a listen!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: Post Audio ARF-68 Ambient Room Reflection Filter


If you have done any vocal recording outside the studio, you know how tough it can be to get a clean sound with no background noise. Your voiceovers and podcasts have the unmistakable quality that make it sound like you recorded them in the bathroom or a tunnel. The Post Audio ARF-68 reflection filter is a tool that can give you a much drier recording for not a lot of cash.

When you open the box, you will see that the filter is made of molded ABS plastic with 1-inch sound-deadening acoustic foam around the inside face; the mounting brackets are aluminum. The whole thing measures about 18” x 12” x 6” not counting the bracket. By the way, save the box, as it makes for a nice place to store it when it is not in use. The box also contains an instruction sheet that will come in handy, as it might be hard to figure out where all the pieces go when installing it on your microphone stand.

Build quality is good, though there was a bit of adhesive that got schmutzed onto the foam on mine. It still works fine, though. It looks like it should last for a good long time.

With the instruction sheet, installation is straightforward. Take the book of you stand (if equipped), thread the longer barrel nut on to the stand, put the bracket over the barrel nut, and then install the shorter barrel nut on top to sandwich the bracket into place. Then you can install the microphone mount over the second barrel nut, adjust the filter (up/down and in/out) and you are set to go.

With its plastic and aluminum construction it is not super heavy so it is less top-heavy than other reflection filters I have seen and it does not require a special stand. It has enough vertical movement (5-inches) that you will be able to center your microphone easily and without tools – there is a clasp and lock on the back of the assembly that can be worked by hand. In actual use for a voiceover with my Shure PG42-USB microphone I did an A/B test with and without the filter, and the tone was much cleaner with none of the strange thuddy tone I had before. Sibilance was reduced and external noises were almost completely mitigated. I am a fan of this thing!

The Post Audio ARF-68 Reflection Filter does everything it is supposed to do and it will not break the bank. It comes in at around $70 on Amazon (the last time I checked) and it is worth every penny. If you are doing podcasts, voiceovers, or other vocal recording at home you should really look into getting one of these. Trust me!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Musical Theatre West’s South Pacific at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, California


I have been a season subscriber to Musical Theatre West for a few years, and have almost always been pleased with their offerings. So, I was thrilled when I saw that South Pacific (one of my favorite musicals) was on the schedule for the 2014-2015 season. I saw it this past weekend as was not disappointed!

Musical Theatre West has been around since 1952, when it started out as the Whittier Civic Light Opera. Their productions evolved over time, and they went from being an all-volunteer operation to producing full seasons, currently under the capable leadership and vision of Executive Director/produce Paul Garman. Their big shows are hosted by the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, which is a lovely venue with plenty of conveniently located parking. And only two bathrooms...

South Pacific is one of the heavy hitters in the musical world, and the original 1949 stage show was based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Tales of the South Pacific.” The original show won 10 Tony awards and spawned the incredible successful 1958 movie of the same name starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi. Undeniably this musical is so awesome thanks to the music of Richard Rodger and lyrics from Oscar Hammerstein II.

In case you have been hidden under a rock for the past 65 years, the plot is straight out of World War II with a cast of rowdy Seabees, hot nurses, harried officers, stereotypical natives, and rich expatriates. There are themes of love, racial tension, and death, and they all come together in a wonder fashion. The musical was a head of its time, and the racial themes must have been controversial at the time, though no less pertinent today.

South Pacific has such a long history and loyal following that effectively producing it is no small chore. Musical Theatre West rose to the challenge, and put all of the pieces together in a convincing manner thanks to the able direction and choreography of Joe Langworth.

Visually, the sets were good enough, with a just few too many elements taken care of by canvas, but Paul Black’s lighting was fantastic. The costumes were mostly period correct (I’m not too sure if they wore bikinis in WWII), and it is not too hard to come up with old military uniforms.

The sound was very good. There was a 28-piece orchestra (very big for a MTW production) under the supervision of musical director Dennis Castellano. Unfortunately the musicians were uncredited in the program, and I have no idea if they were union or not. The sound engineering was better than usual with no glaring errors other than the ear-splitting volume of Bloody Mary and too much reverb on the quieter numbers.

So, the basic foundation was solid, and though this is a well-written show its success depends on the cast, and the performers (mostly equity) all delivered solid performances. Alessa Neeck earned the role of Nellie Forbush and her voice was beautiful but her timing was off right from the start. Her love interest, Emile De Beque, was played by Christopher Carl who has voice galore, and who has been performing this role for years in various venues. .

The the other set of lovers, Lietenant Cable and Liat, were portrayed by Patrick Cummings and Cailan Rose. Cummings has a strong stage presence and looks fabulous with his shirt off, and Rose had the grace that was needed to play a character with almost no lines. Jodi Kimuar did a respectable job with Bloody Mary, though the racial stereotype of the character makes me cringe every time I see the show. My favorite character was Spencer Rowe’s Luther Billis, as there is nothing funnier than a macho guy in drag!

The ensemble turned in a solid performance, and they were very good dancers, and they made good use of Langworth’s choreography. Though I have seen this show many times, I had not noticed that aside from a few major numbers, the chorus has relatively little vocal work.

All of this came together well for very solid performance. Musical Theatre West has outdone itself and South Pacific is a classic show with fine production values and a good cast, and a little something for everyone. If you have the chance you should get out and see it before it is gone, but leave the little kids at home with a sitter. This is a long show and they will be squirming in their seats a long time before the final curtain falls (it clocks in at almost 3 hours), not to mention a few adult themes that you will have to awkwardly explain to on the drive home.

If you want to see it you had better hurry as South Pacific is closing on March 1. There are still a few tickets left, so grab them while you can. And, be sure to check out tickets for the last two shows of this season: Les Miserables and Singin’ in the Rain. Also, now is the time to start thinking about next years season, which will include My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and a surprise, which has not been announced but I think you will like this very recent musical. You can’t beat the value!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Bill Durst – Live


This CD review was originally published in the November 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at Bill Durst – Live

Self Release

10 tracks / 45:21

Under their national MAPL system, Canadian radio stations must allot up to 40% of their airtime for Canadian artists, and this program helps grow local bands in a market that might otherwise be saturated by their brothers from the other side of the border. Some of these artists become big enough that their popularity extends further south, but often times it ends up that these acts get a loyal Canadian following so they enjoy good careers without us Americans ever hearing anything about them. Bill Durst is part of the latter group.

Bill Durst has been around the block a few times, having been active in the music scene for the past four decades, both as a solo artist and with the band, Thundermug. Since 1972, he has cut ten albums and had seven hits on the Canadian charts. Somewhere in there he played with Tres Hombres, a ZZ Top tribute band, which is how he ended up with that fantastic beard!

Live is Bill Durst’s latest effort, with ten tracks that were recorded at The Music Hall in London, Ontario back in late 2010. Seven of these songs are originals that were written by Bill and Joe DeAngelis, his buddy from Thundermug, and there are also three neat cover tunes. Bill takes on the guitar and vocal chores, and he is joined by Corey Thompson on drums and Paul Loeffelholz on bass and backing vocals. This is one tight power trio!

“Love Have Mercy” is the first track up, and we find out that the beard is not the only thing that Durst got from his stint in Tres Hombres – he came out of that band as a consummate blues rocker, with killer guitar chops, a distinctive voice and the heart of a showman. There is a definite ZZ Top influence in his music, albeit with an edgier sound and a much funkier bass presence.

After this sizzling opener, the band settles into two covers written in 1960 by Willie Dixon. The first is “Little Red Rooster,” which was originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, and then “I Want to Be Loved,” which was popularized by Muddy Waters. In case it ever comes up in a trivia contest, the Rolling Stones covered both of these songs too. Anyway, Bill’s versions of these songs have a different vibe than the originals, as they have been converted to his style of Southern/Texas blues rock. These are Bill Durst songs now through and through, and Loeffelholz’s walking bass lines (punctuated by slaps and pops) are nothing like you would find in the originals.

The other cover is ambitious, as it is hard to top the version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” that the Allman Brothers included on their 1971 juggernaut, At Filmore East. Bill and his band rose to the challenge, and they knocked this one out of the park. Once again they reinvented this song in their own style, and this fast-faced roadhouse blues lends itself well to Durst’s guitar skills, which are prodigious. I am not going risk the wrath of the Allman’s fans by directly comparing the two versions, but I will let this one rest by saying that it would be very hard to do better than what these guys did with this classic.

Besides his guitar chops, Bill Durst has his singing down too. On first impression, he seems to have the typical growly bluesman voice, but after listening for a while I was taken by his vocal range, as well as all of the extra nuances he adds in. He can take a grunt, hoot or holler, and interject it so that it really affects the mood of the song. I am sure that you have heard singers try to do this before and fail, because it comes off as phony or contrived, but Durst can do it with such a natural feel that it really adds to the music. You can hear this with his woo hoo’s on the Creole-influenced “CafĂ©’ on the Gaspe” or his ability to mimic his guitar with the vocals on “Wandering Blues” (my favorite track on Live).

noticeable is how he lets his sense of humor take over every now and then. It can be semi-subtle, like reworking a children’s song into a drinking anthem with “Porcelain Bus,” or more overt, such as the “Hole in My Soul” self-improvement plan: “…I’m gonna give up my cocaine and buy me a bag of pot.” You have to love this stuff!

Live performance CDs can be a dicey at times, but this disc avoids the usual pitfalls. The instruments and vocals are well-recorded with good mixing, and the transitions from track to track are seamless. Also, as all three performers are veterans there is not a miscue or clunker to be found. This is particularly impressive when you consider that these guys did not know they were going to use the recordings from this show to cut a live album.

This CD was a fine introduction for me to Bill Durst’s music, and I am going to have to track down some of his other material so I can hear what else he has done. Live is a great snapshot of what he and his band are capable of, and their live show must also really be something to see. Give it a listen, or better yet, go to his website to see if he is playing in your area anytime soon!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

BOSS PH-3 Phase Shifter Guitar Effect Pedal Review


The month would not be complete without a review of some sort of BOSS effect pedal, so today we are looking at the P-3 Phase Shifter. This is probably the main competition for the venerable MXR Phase 90.

Roland’s BOSS division makes effect pedals for the everyday working musician. These are folks that cannot afford the boutique pedals, or more realistically, they realize that good is good enough (sort of a Voltaire attitude). You have seen that you pay whatever you want can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, with the choices include crummy junk for twenty bucks all the way up to hundreds of dollars for stuff that was put together by people in first-world countries. BOSS pedals fall in the middle, as they are reasonably priced and good quality, making them a good value.

What exactly does a phase shifter do? It performs comb filtering by splitting the input signal, introducing a very short delay on one of the signals, and then recombining them. That delay is also modulated (varied), and so the phase of one of the signal (relative to the other) is shifted. Remember the bass part on Nugent’s “Stranglehold” – that is a phase shifter. Do not confuse it with a flanger, which works in a similar manner but with a longer delay.

The PH-3 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2.9 inches wide by 2.4 inches tall by 5.1 inches long, and it weigh in at a touch under one pound. See? The metric system will never catch on as long as I am on watch! This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter (which is a good idea as it burns through batteries like crazy). It draws 50 mA at 9 volts, in case you are thinking of hooking it up to a pedal board power system. By the way, if you run the unit on battery, make sure you unplug the input when you are not using it, as either input jack acts as the power switch.

It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a shocking shade of chartreuse. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a ¼’ input and output jacks, an input jack for hooking up an external footswitch or expression pedal, and a jack for the aforementioned AC adapter. The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include RATE, DEPTH, RES (Resonance), and STAGE. Here is what they do:

- RATE: adjusts the speed at which the filter changes. It you crank it all the way to the left (MIN) the filter is OFF.

- DEPTH: adjusts the depth of the filter change. The filter effect turns OFF when turned all the way to the left unless the STAGE knob is in the RISE of FALL positions.

- RES: adjusts the strength of the filter effect. The more it is turned towards MAX, the more distortion will be heard.

- STAGE: selects the number of phase steps and the phase type. The 4, 8, 10 and 12 steps increase in depth the higher the number goes. RISE, FALL and STEP do exactly what they say: the sound will emulate rising, falling and non-consecutive tone effects.

A little more info about the external switch input is probably in order here. This jack allows the user to control some of the PH-3 functions in a hands-free mode with the EV-5 expression pedal. RATE can be changed with an EV-5 pedal expression, which sounds like a great idea – but I did not have one to try out the feature. Tap tempo can be controlled from a regular FS-5U external footswitch, which I do have, and it worked very well. You can do tap tempo without the footswitch, but it is way easier with one, so spend a couple of extra bucks to pick one up if you do not already have one.

The PH-3 works really well when you put it to work, and it does not take very long to get a good tone out of it. It has the ability to get classic tones (Step 4) and modern tones, and the unique rise and fall modes give a great unidirectional phase effect that is more modern and very usable. The ability to match it to tempo is a godsend, and there is not a lot of noise or hiss added to the signal chain. Pretty much it is a winner no matter how you look at it.

If you are searching for a good quality and effective phase shifter pedal, the BOSS PH-3 fits the bill. It will get the job done and is certainly reasonably priced with a list price of $208.50 and a street price of $129. They hold their value well on the used market, so you are better off buying new and getting the BOSS 5-year warranty.


Monday, February 23, 2015

2006 Taylor Grand Concert 312ce Acoustic Electric Guitar Review


When it comes to acoustic guitars I am pretty much a die-hard Martin enthusiast, but I recently stumbled upon a lovely 2006 Taylor Grand Concert 312ce that I think is a pretty neat piece of work.

In case you are not familiar with Taylor’s models (like me), the 312ce is a small-body acoustic with a Venetian cutaway and onboard electronics. It is a very comfortable size, with the body measuring around 4 3/8”deep, 15” wide, and 19 ½” long. This guitar has a shorter scale than most acoustics (24 7/8” versus the usual 25 1/2 inches), but this is the same as a Les Paul, which should make those switching over to acoustic from electric happier.

The body is made from Sapele, which is very similar to Mahogany, and the top is made from solid Sitka Spruce with forward shifted braces. The top has a glossy finish and the back and sides have a smooth satin finish. The top and back are bound with black plastic, and there is a faux tortoise shell pickguard (newer ones are black).

This Taylor’s unbound neck (newer ones are bound) has 20 frets, 16 of which are free from the body, thanks to the cutaway. The neck is mahogany with an ebony fretboard (the bridge is ebony too), and there is a very pretty Indian Rosewood peghead overlay and trussrod cover. The nut is 1 ¾” wide and it has a Tusq nut to match the bridge saddle. The nickel-plated sealed tuners hold well, and look so much nicer than chrome, which is as played as brown Louis Vuitton. The neck also has a satin finish, so it feels broken in right out of the box.

The last piece of the puzzle is the electronics package, which is Taylor’s dynamic Expression System pickup and preamp. This is an under the saddle-type piezo, while newer guitars get the ES2 system with a behind the saddle piezo. The three control knobs (volume/treble/bass) are on the upper bout, and the battery access is down by the endpin/¼-inch jack.

Nice years after this guitar was made it is still in great shape. The frets are in wonderful shape and perfectly level, and the finish on the top has darkened handsomely. It has a super-fast neck, and though I have heard that these guitars do their best for fingerstyle, it is a nice strummer, even when digging in. It is certainly not the loudest guitar on the planet, but it has an uncanny brightness and clarity. The top has loosened up nicely over the years, and it is as sweet as can be.

Plugged in, things are also very good. Taylor’s pickup system has a very natural and earthy tone, and it works well at very loud amplified levels without feeding back. When plugged directly into the board there is no hiss or hum, and it sounds exactly like it does unplugged. Impressive! It does all of this without putting the right arm at an uncomfortable angle, and it is easy on the back too, weighing in at around 4 ½ pounds.

The Taylor Grand Concert 312ce is well-made, attractive, a good player, and It sounds wonderful. So, you are going to pay a fairly hefty price if you want to get one into your arsenal. It has a list price of $2,318.00 and a street price of $1799.00, which includes a nice hard case. These guitars seem to sell for around a grand on the used market, which brings them more within the realm of us mortal men. Check one out for yourself and see what you think!


Ten Commandments of Bass


This was stolen from a friend's Facebook page: