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!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Andy Drudy Disorder – Spark

Hello!

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

The Andy Drudy Disorder – Spark

Splash Point Records

www.andydrudy.com

www.splashpointrecords.com

7 tracks / 34:59

The Andy Drudy Disorder has to be one of the best band names in recent memory, and besides having a cool moniker this blues-rock project can really deliver the goods. They just put out their second EP, Spark, on Splash Point Records, but Mr. Drudy is no newcomer to the music business. Andy has been playing out and in the studio since the 1980s, plus he has produced some instructional publications and contributed his writings to guitar publications. Along the way he has traveled the world, including a stint at Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he got to learn from artists that included Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, and Eddie Van Halen.

Andy is an outstanding front man with mad guitar skills, and this United Kingdom denizen put together a notable crew from both sides of the Atlantic to make his dream become a reality, as you will soon see. The seven tracks on Spark are all originals, and each brings something unique to the table.

The set kicks off with the title track, and “Spark” is an energetic boogie that features none other than Pat Travers on slide guitar and Stu Hamm on bass. Pat was a big influence on Andy, and it sounds like they have a ball on this cut. Rounding out the instrumentation on this song are Adam Bushell on drums and the horn section of Sue Richardson and Andy Panayi. Boogie might be too simple of a way to describe this song, as there are some tricky rhythms, a few bass solo breaks from Hamm, and outro that has a bit of a swing feel.

Drudy follows this up with “Jefferson County Blues,” which is completely different from the opener as it is stripped back to just Andy and his drum machine. On this relaxed piece of swamp blues the listener will find that Andy’s vocals are comfortably worn with a touch of gravelly character, and his acoustic guitar playing is clean. Again there is a coda to this song, this time with a seemingly drunken chorus accompanied by a mandolin. Interesting!

The vocals for “Don't Ever Let Me See Your Face Again” are provided by Jessica Greenfield, and her alto voice is simply gorgeous. The music that accompanies her is equally compelling, with a rich combination of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as multiple layers of vocal harmonies. For this track, the bass parts were played by Guy Pratt, a true bass hero who you may know from another British band - Pink Floyd. Guy lays down a killer groove with drummer Hugo Degenhardt, and this is essential for bringing this hard rocking tune together. This is one of the standout tracks on the album, and not coincidentally it is also radio-friendly and accessible.

“Cold Classical” finishes the set, and this instrumental is the brainchild of Andy and David Hentschel. David co-wrote this song and provided the keyboard parts, and his experience as an engineer and producer with bands such as Genesis and Queen results in a uniquely theatrical experience. As this is slower-paced tune with more sparse instrumentation, Drudy has the chance to soar melodically. His playing here brings to mind other British guitar heroes such David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, and Gary Moore - what a cool way to bring things to a close.

Andy Drudy has shown flexibility by stepping outside the “normal” confines of modern blues-rock with Spark, and his willingness to try new things has paid off in a big way. His guitar playing certainly is amazing, but the music he has written to accompany it is equally good and this project represents a lot of hard work. Head over to his website and listen to a few of the sample tracks, I think you will be impressed!

1985 Fender Squier Stratocaster ST-331 Guitar Review

Aloha!

Most of the 1980s JV and A-series made in Japan Fender guitars stayed fairly close to vintage specifications, though there were a few locking tremolos and nuts to be found. Squier instruments from the same time period had a few models that were more way out there, including the ST-331 Stratocaster that we are looking at today.

This Squier by Fender Stratocaster was built at the revered Fujigen factory on January 24, 1985, and it caries an A-prefix serial number. Deviations from the vintage norm include a sinister black appearance, complete with a matching headstock, a single humbucking pickup and a lone control knob. Metal!

The neck has a nice chunk of rosewood for the fretboard, and there are 21 frets and a plastic nut set into it. The frets show a little wear, but are in amazingly good shape for a 33-year-old guitar. As mentioned earlier, the headstock is painted black and there are 1970s style closed-back tuners installed. The back of the neck has a comfy oval profile to it and it feels just a little different than other Strats because this instrument has a shorter scale than normal: 24.75” instead of 25.5”.

The body has the traditional Stratocaster shape with a nice thick coat of poly finish. Hardware includes a classic tremolo with bent steel saddles, and a single-ply pickguard that looks dreadfully cheap. There is supposed to be a matching cover for the cavity on the back, but it has gone missing over the years. By the way, it is pretty light too, weighing in at under 7 pounds.

Last in the description is the electronics package, which is about as simple as it gets. There is a single Dragster humbucker pickup (7.61 Ohm) at the bridge, and a single volume control. And nothing else: no capacitors, circuit boards, or switches. So, it does just about exactly what you think it would, and that is provide a crunchy rock experience when driven hard. It is refreshing to play, as the tone is all about gain and whatever talent you have in your fingers.

This Strat is a good player and it sounds good, and I think it looks nice too. It has been played out so there are some dings and scratches, as well as some rust on the hardware, but it appears ready to go for another 33 years with a minimum of maintenance. I’m not sure where this fits in with collection, but I could definitely see unloading my LTD George Lynch Kamikaze and keeping this Squier instead. Hmmm.

Mahalo!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine DVD Review: Women of the Country Blues Guitar

Hello!

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

Women of the Country Blues Guitar

Stan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop

www.guitarvideos.com

One DVD / 124 Minutes

If you are looking for a good value in guitar instruction it would be a fine idea to head on over to Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop website and see what they have to offer for you. For less than the price of one in-person lesson you can pick up a DVD or two that will get you a good head start towards your guitar playing goals.

Stefan Grossman is a music publisher AND a serious guitar slinger. He hails from Brooklyn, and was taught by the esteemed Reverend Gary Davis as well as other legends that include Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. After endless touring, in the late 1960s he started to produce instructional albums with play-along tablature, including his famous 1967 LP, How to Play Blues Guitar. As time went on the catalog grew and these titles became available on CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs; now there are downloadable lessons too!

There are dozens of titles available from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, and there is a diverse collection of artists that provide the instruction. One of these fine instructors is Erin Harpe, talented guitarist and vocalist with serious on-stage experience. Her contribution to the catalog is a two-hour lesson, Women of the Country Blues Guitar. This is a not only a cool opportunity to learn some classic tunes, but it is also an important history lesson for the learner. The subjects of this lesson include artists that you probably have heard of, such as Memphis Minnie, but there may be a few surprises for you too.

Memphis Minnie is one of the best known women of blues guitar, having recorded over 200 songs between 1929 and 1959. Erin Harpe guides the student through seven of Minnie’s tunes, and after playing through a song (and singing it too!), Erin provides a little history and a description of how to play the song along with split screen examples. Where necessary, Harpe goes through solos in more detail too. Each of these is broken up neatly into chapters so the learner can jump back and forth to the parts they need more help with. Memphis Minnie songs in this lesson include, “I’m a Bad Luck Woman,” “Nothing in Rambling,” “Can I do it for You,” “ Where is My Good Man At,” “What’s the Matter with the Mill,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

A similar learning strategy is used with the other four songs, each of which was originally performed by artists with fascinating backstories. Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ”Elvie” Thomas made their way from Houston, Texas to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record country blues for Paramount Records, and you will find “Pick Poor Robin Clean” and “Motherless Chile” included in the lessons. There is also “I’m So Glad” from Mississippi’s Jessie Mae Hemphill. Jessie started playing guitar in 1930, but never was in the limelight, and did not start releasing albums until the 1980s. Lastly, there is the mystery of Mattie Delaney from Mississippi, who recorded only two songs in 1930 for Vocalion Records. There is nothing written about her after this, and it is beyond cool that her version of “Down The Big Road Blues” has not been forgotten.

As some of these songs were originally recorded in open G tuning (also know as Spanish tuning), Erin demonstrates tuning the guitar in this manner as well as some common chords that are used with this tuning. This is a handy reference and it is nice that Harpe guides the learner through this before teaching the songs that use this tuning.

There are a few bonus features on the Women of the Country Blues Guitar DVD. For starters, there is a .pdf booklet on the disc that includes tablature and lyrics for each song. This document does not come up on the DVD menu, but you can find it with Internet Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac). Also, there are audio tracks by the original artists for each of the ten songs in the lesson; this provides a nice comparison to see how close the student is to achieving competency with the source material.

This DVD is a professional project with good lighting, clean editing, plenty of camera angles, and crystal clear sound. The guitar cuts through nicely, both through headphones and laptop speakers, but it would be nice to play it through a quality pair of speakers if you have the opportunity. It is helpful that the learner can move along at their own pace, though these lessons would probably be most appropriate for intermediate and higher level students. There are plenty of other blues DVDs available from guitarvideos.com that would be more appropriate for beginners.

Women of the Country Blues Guitar from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop has a lot going for it, as Erin Harpe is an outstanding teacher, and this is a well-made DVD with compelling subject matter. Better yet, it is also a great value, as the learner only has to pay $29.95 for a two-hour lesson. Even if you are not a guitar player, it is fascinating to see how the songs are constructed, as well as the effort that goes into learning and playing these tunes!

1982 Greco SS-600 Electric Guitar Review

Aloha!

I hope you are all doing well today! Today we are looking at a super-nice SG knockoff, an early 80s Greco SS-600. These guitars were not imported to the U.S., so this is the only one I have ever actually seen in person on this side of the pond. This thing just screams lawsuit, doesn’t it?

This Greco was built in Japan by Fujigen in August of 1982, and it is closer to a real Gibson SG than a lot of the Japanese copies I have run into over the years. It is a set-neck guitar with a mahogany body and neck that are finished in the classic Wine Red. Also in the looks department, this instrument got MOP block fretboard inlays, neck binding, and a nice 3-ply pickguard.

The neck is beefier than I thought it would be, but would still be an easy player for those with smaller hands. I like that they did inlays in the rosewood fretboard, but they are a little on the small side and are not trapezoidal, so this kills a bit of the Gibson vibe. The headstock has an inlay that kind looks like a flowerpot if you are not paying attention, and the Greco logo is kind of Gibson-like too. The tulip tuners are sealed-back unit that have Greco logos on them. The neck is in good shape, with little fret wear and so a few bumps and bruises on the back.

The electronics are solid, with a pair of humbuckers with typical Gibson wiring and controls. The hardware is a bit odd, but appears to be original to the instrument. There are two things (besides the inlays) that just do not look right on this guitar: it came with speed knobs and the bridge is a weird big rectangular thing. Looking through the old Greco catalogs, these are what they came from, but they just do not work aesthetically. If I was going to keep it, both of these things would be changed out in a heartbeat…

The overall condition is very good with just a few dings and scratches, and no unseemly modifications (even though it could use a few). This SS-600 sounds authentic and it plays well too, which is surprising because this was a fairly cheap instrument at the time. The “600” in the model name means that this guitar originally coset 60,000 Yen, which worked out to around $250 at the time. That was a heck of a deal for a sharp-looking guitar that played well and sounded good too. Not to mention that the quality is also top notch, even though it is not a upmarket instrument.

Anyway, I think this 1982 Greco SS-600 is really cool, and if I did not have so many other guitars I would keep it. But I do have those other guitars, including a very good Gibson SG, so this is the one that will have to go. Drop me a line if you are interested in purchasing it.

Mahalo!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Paul Reddick – Ride the One

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the January 26, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Paul Reddick – Ride the One

Stony Plain Records

www.paulreddick.ca

www.stonyplainrecords.com

11 tracks / 45:05

Paul Reddick is one of the pillars of the Canadian blues community, and he is working to ensure that the genre continues to grow in his country, going so far as to create the Cobalt Prize to honor songwriters who further this art form. He is also an accomplished poet, songwriter, vocalist and harpman, and he has been leading the charge for Canadian blues since 1990 when he formed the Sidemen. He recently released his first album for Stony Plain Records, and Ride the One is a wonderful effort that is a departure from what he has done before.

Reddick wrote all eleven of the tracks for Ride the One, which was recorded at Union Sound Company in Toronto, Ontario. Paul provided the vocals and harmonica parts, and he was joined by Anna Ruddick on bass, Greg Cockerill and Colin Cripps on guitar, and jack-of-all-trades Derek Downham on drums, piano, and the talkbox. Special guest Steve Marriner from Monkeyjunk helped out with guitar and Fender Rhodes; this is a form a payback as Monkeyjunk is one of the bands that benefited from the groundwork that Reddick helped to lay down.

If you are familiar with Reddick’s previous albums, Ride the One will not be what you expect as it has many more layers of sound and a decidedly intense feel. This is modern blues with an edge to it, and it takes a few listens to get the whole picture of what Paul is trying to accomplish, but he definitely succeeds. The opening track, “Shadows,” is a perfect example of this as it hits the listener solidly with Downham and Ruddick laying down a fervent beat. Over this there is a thunderous chorus of guitars and Paul carrying the melody with his howling vocals and growly harp, both of which are served up with a bit of distortion. There is a lot going on here.

The intensity does not let up for the next song, “Celebrate,” but it does have a more melodic feel with cool stereo guitar effects and a melodic bass line from Anna Ruddick. Then the listener gets a breather with “Mourning Dove,” which has a heavy swamp rock beat, sparser instrumentation, and a plethora of killer guitar tones. This is one the standout tracks on the album, as it does such a fabulous job of setting the mood.

There are also some more accessible tunes on Ride the One, and “Gotta Find A…” delivers more conventional vocals that are accompanied by organic-sounding instrumentation. The backing vocals and harmonies are a welcome addition to this track, moving it into an almost radio-friendly format. Another catchy tune is “Watersmooth” which has lyrics that are delivered in short phrases over a slick blues-rock beat. Downham adds a little piano into the choruses as a counterpoint to the guitar solo, which is a nice contrast to the inherent weight of this track.

From there, the listener will encounter modern electric blues (“Diamonds”), Midwestern rock and roll (“Living in Another World”), and moody rhythm and blues (“Love and Never Know”). Before you know it, things come to a close with “Moon and Star” which is a poem that is presented with muffled vocals (and a touch of echo) alongside Reddick’s harmonica. This bare-bones formula works, and it is a cool acoustic coda to an otherwise heavy and complicated album.

Ride the One is a strong effort from Paul Reddick, and it is a satisfying 45-minute set of hard-hitting blues-rock that is played by a very tight crew. It has been four years since Paul last released an album, but he took his time to get everything right, and he certainly has not lost a step. Check it out for yourself to hear some awesome modern blues out of Canada, and head over to Reddick’s website to see if he is gigging anywhere near you – it will definitely be worth your time!