Saturday, August 1, 2015

Album Review: David Michael Miller – Same Soil

David Michael Miller – Same Soil | Album Review

Food for the Soul Records

11 tracks / 54:56


I do not get a lot of new Blues music out of Buffalo, New York, but apparently there is some pretty awesome stuff going on there judging by the CD from David Michael Miller, Same Soil. Miller grew up just south of there the Buffalo, where he started his musical endeavors by playing at church, while still getting a wonderful education into the ways of blues, R&B, and soul. After years of playing gospel music, he formed a few bands to explore the world of blues and soul music, including Beautiful Bones and Dive House Union.

A few years ago he started recording solo projects, and Same Soil is his sophomore disc. David crammed the studio full of vintage equipment, and put his voice and guitar to work. He was joined by plenty of awesome sidemen, but his core band included keyboardist Jim Ehinger (Bonnie Raitt and Albert Collins), drummer Carlton Campbell (The Campbell Brothers), and saxman Jason Moynihan (Buddy Guy). Miller penned all eleven tracks for the disc, and it clocks in at a respectable 55 minutes – that is a lot of music for the money!

The first track in the set is “All the Blues to You,” which is an encouragement to enjoy blues in all of its forms. This is a great intro for the album, as David walks the walk: there are no two songs that sound the same, and he leads the listeners on a journey through many of the sub-genres of the blues. His voice is marvelous with clear and consistent tone, great intonation and outstanding diction. You will not need a lyrics sheet for this one!

Miller is also a very talented guitarist, and he lays down respectable acoustic and electric riffs throughout. His choice of vintage instruments was worth the effort as his tone is amazing. Likewise, Moynihan does a marvelous job of arranging the horns, Campbell has a heavy beat, and Ehinger is the master of the keys.

There is a little bit of most everything related to blues going on here: roots, rhythm and blues, soul, rock, blues rock and southern rock. There is even a killer live track, “Got Them Blues,” which was recorded at Buffalo’s bastion of the blues: The Market Bar. One of the standout tracks is “Doing Me In, Doing Me Wrong,” a killer stop time blues song with only riffs to die for.

This collection of diverse music all fits together into a cool package and none of the songs stand out or do not fit in. David Michael Miller turned in a solid performance on Same Soil with mature songwriting, good musicianship, and excellent production values. It is totally worth your time, so check it out if you get a chance!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Martin C1K Concert Ukulele Review


Though I have owned and played many Martin guitars over the years, I have only had experience with a few of their ukuleles, and today we are going to take a look at one of their more affordable offerings: the C1K concert-sized uke.

If you know anything about guitars, you are probably aware that Pennsylvania’s Martin Guitars is the premier mass-production luthier in the world. Every major artist has played their instruments at one time or another, from Eric Clapton to Johnny Cash to Elvis. Well, they make other instruments too, and they have been in the ukulele business for a long time, and they currently make instruments that cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5000 and more.

The C1K is a handsome little ukulele, with a clear satin finish over the solid Hawaiian Koa body and top, with a nice network of Spruce bracing to keep to top in place. There is a Spartan aesthetic with no binding to be found anywhere, and a simple white and black rosette. No electronics are available, and you can get one of these as a lefty (I think).

The neck looks like Mahogany and it has a Morado(looks like Rosewood) fretboard. The fretwork on this one excellent, and I cannot ever imagine wearing them out with nylon uke strings. The bridge is also made of Morado, and there is a Tusq nut and compensated saddle. The machined Grover tuners are open gear, and they are just beautiful.

The C1K ukuleles are made in Mexico, but the quality appears to be about as good Martin’s domestically produced instruments, which is not something I would ordinarily say about some of their south of the border offerings. The finish is clear and even, the joints are tight, and this one came out of the box with a good set-up and ready to play. Don’t sniff at where they are made – there is no way Martin could hit this price point if these things were built in the America.

It plays very well, with good intonation, a sweet neck feel, and it is comfortable to hold. It also sounds very good, with nice projection and a sweet tone that makes it sound older than it is. The strings it comes with are pretty iffy, but they are easy enough to change. It is perfect companion for traveling, especially with the uber-nice TKL gig bag that it comes with.

The Martin C1K is a good instrument that comes in at a reasonable price (list = $629, street = $479), and I am glad that Martin stepped up and made a better instrument this time around. But, it is not as good of a value as the horde of medium-grade ukuleles that are coming out of China by the container load. Those instruments are at least $100 cheaper, are often prettier, and sound almost as good. You will not go wrong with the Martin, but you might want to compare before you buy.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Memory Lane: MXR 6-Band Equalizer Pedal Review


My son and I enjoy heading to the Long Beach Antique Flea Market each month as it is nice to spend some time together poking around through piles of treasures, and we usually find something cool to bring home. He seeks out old coins and vintage video game gear, and I am always on the lookout for music equipment, old Zero Halliburton cases, and vintage skateboard crap. I have had a good run the past few months, bringing home a 1960s Acoustic brand 260 guitar amp (Jaco!) and a super clean Yamaha BB bass (not to mention a cool od Viking board). Well, I did ok this month too, as I found a neat old MXR equalizer pedal!

Judging by the logo, this one was made in the mid to late 1970s. It is on the smallish size for a pedal, measuring just 2 ¾ x 4 ¼ x 1 ½ inches, but it certainly is solid as it weighs in at just a half ounce under a pound.

This MXR unit is about as simple as they come, with single ¼-inch input and output jacks, and six sliders. The sliders each provide 18 dB of cut or boost on these frequencies: 100Hz, 200Hz, 400Hz, 800Hz, 1.6kHz, and 3.2 kHz. There is no bypass switch on these vintage pedals, so just plug it into your signal chain and you are good to go.

And this 6-band EQ is a product that does exactly what it is supposed to. It provides a lot of flexibility to your tone that you might not be able to get with your guitar or amp settings, and it does not color the tone – it is very transparent with no added buzz. It works well for guitars, and passably for bass and keyboards due to its lack of lower end.

This pedal works fine, and it is in reasonable shape for its age with some scuffs and scratches and some flaking of the original silkscreen printing. Amazingly it still has all of the little rubber slider tips, which are often missing on these. It certainly works fine, with not much of anything in the way of added noise to my signal chain, and it is definitely worth the sawbuck I turned over to get my paws on it.

If you need a basic EQ to clean up your guitar tone, you do not need much more than the MXR 6-Band EQ to do the job, and you can find nice ones on eBay for $75 to $100. Or you can buy the brand new updated ones for around $80, but they are a bit more complicated as they added a bypass switch and a clipping circuit, so you have to deal with batteries or an AC adapter.


Vic Firth: June 2, 1930 to July 27, 2015

Rest in peace, brother.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Ibanez MTZ11 Multi-Purpose Tool for Guitars

Good day!

It is disheartening to arriving for a gig to find out that your guitar is not playing well, and not having any tools to try to make things right. At the least, a guitarist should make sure that they have a few basic tools with them at all time, and there are dozens of different multi-tools out there that fit the bill. I found my favorite a few years ago when I was in Japan and I needed to do some work on an axe I picked up over there. This tool is the Ibanez MTZ11.

The MTZ11 comes in cool colors (I chose red), and it is small enough to fit into any gig bag pocket. It measures around 3.75 inches long by 1.4 inches wide by 1.3 inches tall. It has 11 tools in it, including two Phillips head and a flat head screwdriver, 5 hex wrenches (1.5 to 5mm), a 7mm hex that will accept standard bits, and a 50mm ruler. These tools are made of high-grade steel, and I have not noted any wear to the screwdrivers or hex wrenches despite fairly heavy use.

But what really sets this one apart from the other tools on the market is the 50mm steel ruler. This is really handy for setting action and pick-up heights, and I would not buy a multi-tool that does not have a ruler in it if I had to buy another one.

The Ibanez MTZ11 multi-tool is cheaper than buying all of these tools separately, and it certainly is a tidy package. It is not terribly expensive, coming in at around $21 on Amazon, which is really cheap insurance if your gig is at stake. Check one out if you get the chance!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review of Musical Theatre West’s Singin’ in the Rain at the Carpenter Center


I have been a season subscriber to Musical Theatre West for a few years, and they are one of the best entertainment values in town. They put on very good shows for a modest price, and though I gripe about minor things, overall I am a big fan of what they do. So, I was beside myself when I saw that Les Miserables, one of the most popular musicals of all time, was on their schedule for the 2014-2015 season, and I was a little disappointed to see Singin’ in the Rain on list. I was completely wrong – Les Mis was so-so, and Singin’ in the Rain was fabulous! It even rained when we went to the show, which is no small feat in a Southern California summer.

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 $5 parking. And only two bathrooms...

The Singin’ in the Rain stage show is based on MGM’s 1952 hit film that starred Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. The show was adapted with a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics from Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown. It stays fairly true to the movie version, and it includes your favorite songs from the movie, including the title song, “Good Morning,” and “Moses Supposes.” The show originated in 1983 in London then made its way to the states where it premiered on Broadway in 1985, with a run of 367 performances. Since then it has been revived regularly, as it is still a popular show.

It is a fun story, and if you are not familiar with it, here is the skinny. The play is set in Hollywood in the transitional era from silent films to talkies. Don Lockwood (Leigh Wakeford) and Lina Lamont (Rebecca Ann Johnson) are an on-screen couple who run into trouble because Lina has a voice that can make little kids cry and old ladies faint. Don falls for a nobody actress, Kathy Selden (Natalie MacDonald), and his old pal Cosmo (Justin Michael Wilcox) brings a bit of hilarity to the action. There is a little bit of everything in the story, but the guy gets his girl in the end. Of course.

In the Musical Theatre West version, the leads are very good, with a standout performance by Leigh Wakeford. This man is an excellent singer, a gifted dancer, and a pretty good actor too. Rebecca Ann Johnson is perfect as Lina, and her shrieking voice is still rattling around in my head a few days later. Wilcox almost stole the show with his comic timing, and MacDonald is a very convincing Kathy, though her hair was done terribly -- this show is set in Hollywood, not some mousy-haired east coast city (or Detroit). The rest of the leads and the chorus also do a fine job and this is a huge show, with over thirty on-stage characters. They were ably led by Jon Engstrom who takes care of both the director and choreographer roles.

MTW also provides a very good orchestra for Singin’ in the Rain, with more than twenty musicians in the pit. John Glaudini is the musical director, and he does a great job of bringing Brown’s music to life. As always, it is disappointing to see that the musicians get no credit in the program, and there is no indication of whether they are union members or not. Shameful.

Making up for the terrible job they did on the sound for Les Miserables, the production staff really step things up a notch for this show by bringing on a new sound company. There is none of the previous confusion about which microphones were supposed to be turned on, and everything is easy to hear with a good balance between the orchestra and the cast. There are no problems with the rain sequence, though there is a bit more noise from the umbrella than I would prefer – but that is an almost impossible task for live theatre. They even tape microphones to Wakeford’s tap shoes, so the audience gets the full Gene Kelly cinematic effect.

Karen St. Pierre’s costumes certainly seem authentic, and Dan Weingarten’s lighting is spot-on, but the real props have to go out to Michael Anania for his set designs (pun intended). The show takes up a huge amount of stage, and it is full of wonderful elements that really make the show pop. Of course, the most impressive element is the rain scene at the end of Act 1, which is really quite astounding. The water from the show is supposedly recycled, an important note in the drought-ravaged Southland.

Of course, I always have a few things to complain about. For starters, this is a long show and this time it did not start on time, which was compounded by about 15 minutes of speechifying from Mr. Garman. They do not do this sort of thing on Broadway or anywhere else I go to see a show, so I am not sure why there is the need to tell the audience business that could easily be handled on their website or through an e-mail. The acts of the show are unevenly broken up with two hours (counting the late start and the speeches) before the intermission and about a half hour afterwards. If they started on time the intermission would hardly be necessary.

The last thing is pretty much the fault of the show’s writing, and that is that the love story between the Don and Kathy is not believable or compelling. It is one element too many in a show that was already pretty crowded. I am not sure how to fix this, as a musical needs a love story…

Despite these few things, all of the other pieces came together in a wonderful way. Singin’ in the Rain is a solid show with good performances and it is 3 hours of fun – trust me on this one! The show will be playing through July 26, so there is still time to see it, but tickets are running low and one of the shows is sold out. Ending the season on a high note, now is the time to make plans for next year’s season, which will include My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Sister Act. You can’t beat the value!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hosa LITTLE BRO' SH 6X2 30 Sub-Snake Review


If you have done any live sound, you know that the floor and stage can become a huge rat’s nest of cables just waiting for someone to trip on one, and it can certainly look untidy and unprofessional. This is where a stage snake comes in handy. Why run six 30-foot XLR cables from the board to the stage if you only have to run one? Today we are looking at one solution, the Hosa LITTLE BRO’ (why does this have to be all caps?) SH 6x2 30 sub-snake.

My first snake was a 100-foot Hosa, and getting it was a real lifesaver for me, so I have a soft spot for the brand. I could finally run sound further away from the stage so I could actually hear what was going on, and it made set-up and teardown a lot easier. It has been in my one of my flight cases for around 10 years, and have never had a single problem with it.

The LITTLE BRO is a slightly different animal, as it is a lot shorter and does not have as many inputs, but that is where its magic is. I do not always want to lug around a 25-pound snake with twice as much cable as I need, so for smaller gigs this thing is awesome. It does not have a ton of channels, with only six XLR sends and two ¼-inch multipurpose ports. But this is certainly enough to run a bar gig with a couple of monitors or powered speakers, though. But even better this thing makes a really cool drum riser snake, so that six drums can be mic’d with returns for monitors or headphones.

The junction block on the business end is well laid out, with the connectors on the sides of the unit instead of on the top. This puts less stress on the mic connectors and makes them less likely to be tripped on by impaired musicians or audience members. Each port is also well-marked so it is easier to match up with what is going on at the mixer end.

There is no noise added to the signals, and I have no complaints about its performance. If I had one wish it would be for locking connectors, but for the price I am willing to accept this thing jst the way it is.

And the price is definitely a plus for the Hosa LITTLE BRO’ SH 6x2 30 sub-snake. This assembly has a list price of $136.50 and a street price of $89.90 – try to buy six quality 30-foot XLR cables and two TRS cables for that price (with a lifetime warranty, no less), and you will definitely come up short. Trust me, this is a great product and a great deal!