Monday, April 20, 2015

Musical Theatre West 2015-2016 Season at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, California


If you regularly read my blog you may have seen how much I loved the Musical Theatre West shows I have been to this year. I just renewed my season tickets for the 2015-2016 season, and from what they have on tap it looks like it will be another great season!

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. They now perform at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, which is a lovely venue with plenty of conveniently located parking.

So far, this season’s shows have been fantastic and their casts, choreography, costumes, sets and music were all top shelf. It is great to have the opportunity to see quality entertainment this close to home (and avoid the hassles of heading to Hollywood).

Musical Theatre West surveyed their fans to see what kind of shows they wanted to see, and as a result the 2015-2016 season consists of four neat shows, two classics and two modern. These include:

∙ My Fair Lady

∙ West Side Story

∙ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

∙ Sister Act

In the past, single tickets have been available from as low as $20, and season tickets from under $100. Parking is only $5 in the university parking lot, but be careful when you leave because the university police take events like this as an opportunity to issue traffic citations like there is no tomorrow.

You can check out ticket and venue details at


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Memory Lane: BOSS OS-2 OverDrive/Distortion Pedal Review


It seems like a month does not go by when I do not review some sort of BOSS effect pedal, so today we are looking at the good old OS-2 OverDrive/Distortion pedal. It is probably one of the most popular crunch pedals on the planet, and that is because it is a pretty good pedal that comes in at a reasonable price.

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 an overdrive distortion pedal do? Well, this one is a combination of two other popular BOSS pedals, the DS-1 Distortion and the SD-1 Super Overdrive. It lets users blend these two effects to provide sounds that are appropriate for blues or metal, and most everything in between.

The OS-2 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.

It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a gaudy yellow. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a ¼’ input and output jacks, 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 LEVEL, TONE, DRIVE, and COLOR. Here is a quick and dirty rundown of what they do:

- LEVEL: adjusts the sound level when the effect is applied. It should be adjusted so there is no volume change when the effect is turned ON.

- TONE: adjusts the tone of the modified sound.

- DRIVE: adjusts level of distortion.

- COLOR: adjusts balance between overdrive and distortion.

That is it, and after a quick look through the manual you can put it away and never need it again. About two minutes of knob twisting will get you the tone you are looking for and then you can move on with your life. It might be one of the easiest to use pedals I have come across.

The OS-2 works really well for guitar and just ok for bass due to the frequency range it is tuned to. I have used it with my Strat and Tele through my Twin Reverb, and was able to get a very bluesy tone with the COLOR knob more towards the overdrive side of things. Cranking the COLOR knob the other way with My Les Paul through a Bugera, I got a very crunchy hard rock/metal tone. It is surprisingly capable of working well with both single-coil and humbucking pickups. I did get a little hiss and hum when the distortion is cranked all the way up, but it was only noticeable when not playing. The COLOR knob is the magic part of this effect, giving it a tremendous amount of versatility, and it is the pot I fiddle with the most.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ghost Town Blues Band – Hard Road to Hoe | Album Review

Ghost Town Blues Band – Hard Road to Hoe |Album Review

Self Release

12 tracks / 39:12

Many blues bands choose a genre and sound and do not stray very far from what they have found success with in the past. But a few are willing to go outside their comfort zone and experiment with mixing genres and coming up with a new sound of their own. This is exactly what you will find with the Ghost Town Blues Band’s latest release, Hard Road to Hoe.

If you pay attention to blues news, chances are good that you have heard of this group. This Memphis-based band has been to the International Blues Challenge the past two years, making it to the finals in 2013 and earning second place in 2014. The seven-piece group has been working since 2009 and this is their third album. The songwriter/frontman is Matt Isbell, who takes care of the vocals and guitars (including cigar box guitars he makes at his company). He is joined by Preston McEwen on drums, Jeremy Powell on keys, Alex Piazza on bass, Suavo Jones on trombone, Richie Hale on sax, and Vicki Loveland with the background vocals.

Hard Road to Hoe is the correct title, and I know you are saying to yourself “Wait, that should be hard row to hoe!” But their reasoning is that they are not farmers, they are musicians who work the highways as they travel to gigs around the United States and Canada – it totally makes sense in this context. The album has a dozen tracks, and they are all originals that are straight out of Memphis with a sound that spans from raw roots to slick blues-rock, and everything in between.

They kick off this set with the title track which starts with hand percussion and an electric push broom (Isbell makes more than cigar box guitars), then morphs into a hill country rock tune with slide guitar and well-arranged horns. It is well written, and the lyrics are heavy and evoke feelings of loss. But this record is not a stone-cold bummer, from there they slide into “Big Shirley,” a boogie about a saucy lady that kicks off with Jeremy Powell doing his best imitation of The Killer on the piano. Both the piano and horns are signs of evolution for the band, as the roster has grown a bit since their last album, Darkhorse.

Guest artist Brandon Santini brings his harp to two tracks, “Tip of My Hat” with naughty double entendres and a zydeco beat, and “My Doggy.” The latter actually includes a few vocal lines from Matt’s pup, Marry, which are used to good effect, and the tight horns of Jones and Hales bring it all together in a tight package.

After a cool intro piece,“Mr. Handy Man,” the album moves along through another six songs, and there are no clunkers in the mix. After only 40 minutes (much too soon), Hard Road to Hoe draws to a close with “Road Still Drives the Same.” This song is somber with a beautiful accompaniment of slide guitar with just a touch of drums and organ. This was a clever way to bring things to an end as its theme of sad memories makes it a perfect bookend for the opener.

Even with its wide range of genres and tempos, this disc holds together well as a single piece of performance art and does not sound like a jumble of songs that were randomly stuck together. This is because the tracks are sequenced well, and the backline of McEwen and Piazza hold down the bottom end so consistently throughout. Also, the recording itself is top notch. The band went with Ken Houston (6 Grammy nominations) to record and mix the project, and his work on the 2-inch tape is nothing short of amazing.

The Ghost Town Blues band should be proud of what they accomplished with Hard Road to Hoe, and this CD is a must buy for your collection. Check them out if you get the chance!

Fender Champion 600 Amplifier Review


Today we are looking at a super-fun Fender Champion 600 guitar amplifier. This is a re-issue of the original amplifiers that were built between 1949 and 1953. This is a pretty faithful reproduction of the original, although Fender said they have added a higher-gain pre-amp circuit to get more overdrive. I have never seen (let alone played) an original, so I will have to go along with them on this one.

>The Champion 600 is a neat amplifier, and very light weight. It weighs in at around 15 pounds, and measures about 12 inches wide by 11 inches high by 8 inches deep. The 50s groove is going ON with the two-tone Tolex.

The electronics are 1950s simple. This is an all-tube amp, with a 12AX7 pre-amp tube and a 6V6 output tube. The output is pretty low, putting out 5 watts at 4 ohms through the built-in 6-inch speaker. You can hook up a larger external speaker, should you wish. The controls are basic: 2 inputs (high and low gain), and a volume control. That is it -- you will have to do all of your EQ with the guitar or your pedal board.

There is not much more to describe, other than the tone. This amp sounds great! It does not hiss or hum excessively, and it puts out enough volume for home practice or recording. It overdrives fairly quickly, which is great if you want some old-style blues or rock and roll at reasonable volume levels. It sounds equally fabulous with my Strat or my Les Paul, and it is a bluesy little amp.

Looking this one over, I would have to say the craftsmanship is pretty good. The Tolex is even, and the electronics are tidy. And, yes, these are built in China, so they do not have any “Fullerton” magic, but that does make them more affordable.

Of course, it does not hurt that the Champion 600 is very affordable. It looks like it has been discontinued, but many sellers still have them for around $199.99. And, it looks like you can find used ones for about $150 on eBay, but be careful as these are popular amps to mod, and you might not know exactly what you are getting into.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Matt Isbell – Once There Was a Cigar Box | DVD Review

Matt Isbell – Once There Was a Cigar Box |DVD Review

Self Release

23 minutes, 4 seconds

Not many DVDs make their way in here for review, and there has never been one in my mailbox quite like Once There Was a Cigar Box, a short film by Alexander Conrads from Germany. It is about the Memphis Cigar Box guitars that are handmade by Matt Isbell, the frontman for the Ghost Town Blues Band. It is a short film (ten minutes for the main event), but they manage to condense the construction of a guitar into a few minutes, and then take that same instrument to Beale Street for a gig at Rum Boogie’s Blues Hall, where it sounds amazing in Isbell’s capable hands.

The construction process is fascinating, both with creativity in the materials chosen, and with the use of power tools in ways that they were probably not intended for in the first place. His shop is a glorious collection of boxes and parts, and as he assembles the guitar it is apparent that he has built a lot of these – he has it dialed in!

Matt narrates the disc, and he talks about his background, as well as a bit about how he runs his business with the help of his wife, Lisa. Of course there is no talk about money, but I imagine his self-run luthier shop is a bit more lucrative than gigging, even though his band is amazing and scored a second place at last year’s IBC in Memphis. By the way, a review of their new album, Hard Road to Hoe, is forthcoming.

The video is clear and steady, and Conrads has a good eye for composition and lighting. The editing is top-notch, so I have nothing to complain about here, except that I wish it could have been longer!

As an added bonus, there are three song videos on the disc too, and they are all really fun tunes that feature Matt and a couple of friends jamming out.

This short film is quite good, and it premiered at film festivals in more than a half-dozen countries last year. Head over to to get a copy of your own, or better yet see about picking up one of Matt’s creations for yourself. These are super-cool instruments, and there is a real satisfaction in playing a cigar box guitar. I should really be picking one up too…

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: JC Crossfire – When it Comes to the Blues

This CD review was originally published in the December 29, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

JC Crossfire – When It Comes To The Blues

Bluzpik Media Group

9 tracks / 36:22

Every guitarist remembers their first instrument and how they got it and Joseph Cannizzo is no exception: in 1971 his dad (a New York City sanitation worker) brought home a guitar that somebody had tossed out with the trash! Joseph was only ten, but he took to it and by the time he was sixteen he was playing clubs around the tri-state area. By the mid-1980s he was living the dream and traveling around the world with his music.

In 1994 JC put together Crossfire, originally a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band, which was a cool project that evolved into him creating his own music. Now based out of the North Miami area, his band’s latest release is When It Comes to the Blues, a righteous set of nine original songs, mostly penned by Cannizzo. He also handles the guitars and vocals and is joined by Tony Calabria on bass and vocals, Bernie Rose on keyboards and vocals, Niles Blaize on harmonica and Guido Marciano behind the drum kit.

The title track comes up first, and it gives the listener an idea of what JC is all about, most importantly who some of his guitar influences are, and I am glad to see that Matt “Guitar” Murphy made the list! This is straight-up blues with a catchy acoustic intro that leads into a slow electric grind featuring fine harp work from Blaize. “Deliza” (with four syllables) is up next with a stomping bass line, JCs whiskey voice and classic organ sounds. JC shows mature musicianship here; though he has great guitar chops he does not feel the need to show off and instead lets the lyrics make the song.

There are a few party-friendly blues tunes on the CD: “Grand Ole Girl,” “One More Time” and “Blues Blues Blues.” The latter has an awesome bassline and one of the catchiest choruses around that features some really fun vocal harmonies. If you need some blues to dance to this is the song you have been looking for!

“Tell Me Why” is the standout track from When It Comes To The Blues. This slow blues rocker is full of reverb-soaked guitar and plaintive harmonica wails and it has a slick format change midway through. JC lets it all hang out on the guitar, and it is easy to tell that he has put in more than his share of practice time in the 40 years since he got that castaway axe. But more importantly, his strong voice is also in the spotlight and this song ends up sounding like something Led Zeppelin would do have done, but without their vocal histrionics.

A close second for my favorite song is “Chosen One” which is a hard southern-tinged blues rocker with some of the heaviest guitar you will find on this album. His six-string is thrust to the forefront by the super-tight backline of Marciano and Calabria, and they leave enough room for JC to do his work properly.

The lyrics are not all good times and love gone bad, though. “American Way” pines for the way things used to be as we all struggle these days to make ends meet. It starts out with a trick kick drum beat and has a heavy dose of funk thanks to the 1970s-issue bass and organ sounds. The background harmonies of special guest Lisa Maviglia is a welcome addition and provides a little more depth. This track provides a cool break near the end of the album and lets the listener know that JC has more than a few things on his mind.

Unfortunately, after only 36 minutes the album comes to an end (much too soon), but I like that he used “I Wonder” as the closing track. This smoky slow blues ballad has the perfect vibe to accompany the tale of a stormy relationship, and Bernie Rose is given a free hand to perform his piano magic. His interplay with JC’s tastefully reserved guitar improv is a sweet way to end things up.

When It Comes To The Blues is a solid album and is likable on many levels. The songs have an accessible contemporary blues sound that is tempered with a pop influence, and the lyrics are easy for us normal folks to relate to. Their songwriting is very good, and I hope JC Crossfire keeps working on new material that they can share with the blues community. I wonder if Joseph still has that old guitar…