Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the June 9, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way

Alligator Records

www.toronzocannon.com

www.alligator.com

11 tracks / 51:40

If you were to write a novel about a modern day Chicago bluesman, it would be hard to find a better model than Toronzo Cannon. He grew up on the South Side, and as a child he would idle near Theresa’s Lounge where he could hear legends such as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells through the open door. Cannon got started on the guitar at 22, and after a brief foray into the world of Reggae he gravitated towards the blues music he heard on the street and in his grandfather’s home. His influences of Buddy Guy, Alert King, Freddie King, and Albert King (among others) can still be heard in the music he writes and plays today.

Though Toronzo maintains a day job as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, his nights and vacation days are free to pursue the blues, which he has been working hard at since 1992 as both a sideman and a bandleader. His career has included nine appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival, and tours of Europe, the Americas, and South Africa. Cannon’s fourth album (and first with Alligator Records) is The Chicago Way, and he once again demonstrates that he is a modern day blues master.

This disc includes eleven tracks, all self-written, and Toronzo handles the vocals and guitars. He was joined by a fine group of musicians, including Pete Galanis on rhythm guitar, Larry Williams on bass, Melvin Carlisle on drums, and Brother John Kattke on the keys. Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer co-produced this album with Cannon, and the results are solid. Subjects covered within include the blues staples of love and loss (as well as infidelity), and a few tracks about the society we live in and finding hope for the future. Toronzo’s day job must give him a lot of material to work with.

Things get started with a bang with “The Pain Around Me,” a socially relevant tune that provides a glimpse into the Chicago that Toronzo sees on a daily basis, and he takes on religious leaders, politicians, and the general depravity of man. This is a fat chunk of heavy blues-rock that gives Cannon a chance to shine on both the vocals and his guitar. It is also a cool showcase of the incredible bad, with heavy drums, popping bass, and loads of Hammond B3.

There is a lot of blues-rock and rhythm and blues on this disc, but there are a few tracks that have more of the Chicago blues sound that one would expect from Toronzo. One of these is “Walk it Off,” a slow roller with searing guitar, wonderful piano, and aggressive bass from Williams. This is a song of love that has gone truly wrong, and there are more than enough disagreements to be resolved. Another wonderful Chicago track is “Mrs. From Mississippi,” which is a rollicking tune will trick rhythms and phrasing. From his description, this lady sounds like a keeper, and it nice to have one song on this album where there is not any drama (other than Cannon’s smoking guitar, of course).

Cannon calls on the horn section of Doug Corcoran, Steve Eisen, and Robert Collazo for two of the tracks. “Fine Seasoned Woman” is told from the player’s point of view, and extols the virtues of more mature women, with a big band sound behind him. But it is important to keep in minds that this is a two-way street, and the “seasoned woman wants a man, not a fool.” And “Midlife Crisis” features more of well-arranged horns, but this time with a nice dollop of Kattke’s electric piano. A nice twist on this tale is that the narrator allows that his wife is going through the same angst, and for some reason he is surprised when he discovers she is stepping out on him too!

The set finishes up with “I Am,” which brings acoustic guitar in for the introduction then quickly morphs into a serious blues rock song with a modern sound and a serious dose of Cannon’s killer guitar tone. This coda to the album is sung with passion and has a mature message of resisting the temptations of the world. Melon “Honeydew” Lewis, who has a breathtakingly lovely voice, provides amazing punctuation and soul to this final production.

The Chicago Way is a smart album of original contemporary blues songs with just enough of the Windy City charm. Toronzo Cannon has a great band, a unique voice, and a guitar style that ensure that he will be a contributor to the progress of blues in the states for years to come. Check it out for yourself, and be sure to find his website and see if he is playing any shows near you (including the Chicago Blues Festival in June). It will definitely be worth your time!

Review: RapcoHorizon V-Cable Guitar Cable

Howdy!

The new RapcoHorizon volume control cable (V-Cable) is a great concept, as it takes the ordinary guitar cable and adds a knob to control volume and a mute position that allows the player to unplug without sending that earth-shattering pop through the PA system. This is a godsend to acoustic performers who do not have volume controls on their instruments, as well as instrumentalists that want to change instruments during a set without turning their amp off.

The V-Cable is available in 10’, 18’ and 25’ lengths, and they cost quite a bit more than a conventional cable, ranging in price from $46.99 to $51.99. So how do they perform?

I got two of these to try out, and they worked very well. It was really handy to have a volume control for my Martin, and I found that I used the mute setting quite a bit on my electric basses so I did not have to monkey around with my volume setting on the instrument between songs. But…

Unfortunately they both kind of crapped out within a few moths of starting to use them. One started making a popping noise if the cable was moved near the instrument end, and the other one makes a terrible scratching noise whenever the volume knob is turned – this is really obvious on an acoustic guitar. Fortunately there is a limited lifetime warranty, so I guess I will see how they support their product, but otherwise I am going to have to say steer clear of the V-Cable until they get this figured out.

Sorry!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Shaun Murphy – It Won’t Stop Raining

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 5, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Shaun Murphy – It Won’t Stop Raining

Vision Wall Records

www.shaunmurphyband.com

www.last.fm/label/Vision+Wall+Records

11 tracks / 45:39

Shaun Murphy has an impressive career and body of work that few other modern blues artists can match. Growing up in Detroit, she was recruited by Bob Seger for his band in the 1970s, and has been touring with him for nearly 40 years. Along the way she was with Little Feat for 15 years, as well having the opportunity to work with Eric Clapton in the studio and on tour back in the 1990s. Shaun has a huge list of A-list artists that she has worked with and she is an awesome rock singer, but her solo blues work is equally impressive. This is no surprise, as her influences include Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, and Etta James.

Murphy has recorded seven discs so far, including the very well received Ask for the Moon, which earned her two Blues Blast Music Awards and three Grammy nominations. Shaun’s latest album, It Won’t Stop Raining, is a real corker with 11 blues tracks that are pretty well evenly divided between originals and covers. She recorded this project with her touring band, including Kenne Cramer and Shawn Starski on guitar, Larry Van Loon and John Wallum on keys, John Marcus on bass, and Tom DelRossi behind the drum kit. These pros hold a tight groove, and aced every track at Colemine Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.

The voyage gets underway with “Spreadin’ the News,” and this shuffle is a perfect preview of what to expect from this disc. This is almost like a vocal audition for Murphy: she gets to show off her impressive range and her ability to sing powerfully, both smoothly and with an edge. The band also passes their audition, as the backline of Marcus and DelRossi nail down the beat and the keys and guitars wail with furious abandon. This leads straight into a cool twist (or maybe a cruel twist) on the jilted lover theme, a cover of Denise LaSalle’s 1995 tune, “Your Husband is Cheatin’ on Us.” As you will hear, most of the songs on this album are about relationships, both good and bad. That is what the blues are all about…

The title track is all about the mood, and “It Won’t Stop Raining,” is a haunting R&B ballad with pretty guitar arpeggios and a few layers of keyboards. The band uses key and dynamic changes to create a sense of tension that keeps things interesting until the end. Likewise, “Need You Love So Bad” allows Shaun to dig deep with its gospel-infuse vocals, but this time with the guitars getting a few of the leads. This is the oldest track on It Won’t Stop Raining, originally released by Little Willie John in 1956.

Murphy included a pair of covers from E.G. Kight’s excellent 2011 album, Lip Service. “Happy with the One I Got Now” is a slow-grinding tune with the guitars and bass far forward in the mix, and Shaun does a wonderful job of phrasing the verses so that the drama builds naturally. And “That’s How a Woman Loves” is a lovely piece of rhythm and blues that lets Murphy take the center stage. She really shines on these heartfelt ballads, and her vocals are stunning, to say the least.

There are also a couple of covers that were written by Caligator’s Corky Newman. One is a hard-hitting rocker, and “Running Out Of Time” features howling vocals from Shaun, a pair of awesome guitar solos, and plenty of punchy drums from DelRossi. The other is the closer, and “Fool for You” is built on a funk base with tasteful guitars and organ accompanying Murphy as she gets the last word, “cause everybody knows I’m a fool for you.”

There are no surprises with Shaun Murphy’s It Won’t Stop Raining, as her fans expect her to provide a first-rate performance, and she does not disappoint (as always). If you are looking for blues that is sung with powerful passion, you need look no further – this is the real deal, and you should pick up a copy of your own!

The Beatles’ 50th Anniversary Release of Yellow Submarine

Buenos dias, amigos!

I received the press release, and am actually excited to see Yellow Submarine in the theatre, though I must admit that when I saw it as a child I was reeeeeeally unimpressed…

NEW YORK / LONDON / LOS ANGELES – APRIL 04, 2018 – Abramorama announced today a deal with Apple Corps Ltd. and Universal Music Group (UMG) to theatrically release The Beatles’ classic 1968 animated feature film, Yellow Submarine, across North America this July in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Abramorama, Apple Corps Ltd. and UMG have teamed to give Beatles fans of all ages the opportunity to come together and share in this visually stunning movie and soundtrack. Abramorama originally partnered with Apple Corps, Imagine Entertainment, White Horse Pictures, StudioCanal and UMG’s Polygram Entertainment on the Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. Abramorama has a proven track record in the music-driven film space, partnering numerous times with Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Green Day and now once again with Apple Corps Ltd.

Yellow Submarine was restored in 4K digital resolution by Paul Rutan Jr. and his team of specialists at Triage Motion Picture Services and Eque Inc. The film’s songs and score were remixed in 5.1 stereo surround sound at UMG’s Abbey Road Studios by music mix engineer Peter Cobbin. Due to the delicate nature of the hand-drawn original artwork, no automated software was used in the digital clean-up of the film’s restored photochemical elements. This was all done by hand, frame by frame.

Richard Abramowitz, CEO of Abramorama said, “We’re thrilled to have the privilege of bringing Yellow Submarine back to the big screen so that 3 generations of happy Beatles fans can enjoy the ground-breaking animation and classic tunes and that have long been part of our collective cultural DNA.”

Directed by George Dunning, and written by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal, Yellow Submarine began its voyage to the screen when Brodax, who had previously produced nearly 40 episodes of ABC’s animated Beatles TV series, approached The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein with a unique vision for a full-length animated feature.

Yellow Submarine, based upon a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, is a fantastic tale brimming with peace, love, and hope, propelled by Beatles songs, including “Eleanor Rigby,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “It’s All Too Much.” When the film debuted in 1968, it was instantly recognized as a landmark achievement, revolutionizing a genre by integrating the freestyle approach of the era with innovative animation techniques.

Inspired by the generation’s new trends in art, the film resides with the dazzling Pop Art styles of Andy Warhol, Martin Sharp, Alan Aldridge and Peter Blake. With art direction and production design by Heinz Edelmann, Yellow Submarine is a classic of animated cinema, featuring the creative work of animation directors Robert Balser and Jack Stokes with a team of animators and technical artists.”

Mahalo!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blood Moon

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 28, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blood Moon

Underworld Records

www.tooslim.org

www.underworldindierecords.com

10 tracks / 44:37

If you have not heard of Too Slim and the Taildraggers it is not their fault, as they have done a great job of getting their music out to the masses over the past 30 years. Their efforts have included countless shows, 13 studio albums, 5 live albums, and 2 compilations, so there is plenty of their music out there for you to choose from.

Originally based in the Pacific Northwest, this trio now works out of Nashville, with Tim “Too Slim” Langford on guitar, Robert Kearns on bass, and Jeff Fowlkes on drums (Kearns and Fowlkes also contribute backing vocals). This group has a distinctively hard blues-rock vibe, and though there are some pretty obvious influences in play here, the sound they end up with is all their own.

By now these guys have figured out how to put together a solid record, and Blood Moon is a slick piece of work. All ten tracks are originals that were written by the band, and a few of the tunes fall into the album rock 7-minute range. This project is mixed and mastered well thanks to Michael Saint-Leon who took care of the recording at The Switchyard in Nashville, so all of the basic stuff is taken care of.

The band’s 45-minute set starts strong with “Evil Mind” which sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Though there are only three members in the group they do a great job of filling the stage with a sweet bass ostinato over heavy drums, and background vocal harmonies on the chorus. Langford is a searing guitar hero, and he tears off a couple of epic solo breaks. After this ends there is a neat bit of 1970s-inspired psychedelic AOR blues-rock, and Too Slim does a fine job of channeling his inner Robin Trower with the slow grinding “Blood Moon.” This blues jam has all the right components, including distinctive doubled guitar and bass and a healthy dose of heavy ride cymbal.

“Twisted Rails” brings a lot to the table. It is heavy funk with a touch of psychedelia and strategically placed harmonizing. The lead vocals dig a little deeper and are more aggravated, and Langford brings his wah pedal into play as he lays down more killer guitar leads. This is all good, but the real story is Fowlkes’ drum kit, as at times the final product is more like a drum solo that has a song written over it. After five minutes of this, the tune changes into a more traditional blue rocker for the final few minutes, which is a pretty cool change-up.

But there is more than British invasion blues rock and 1970s sounds going on here, as the Taildraggers also nail down a respectable country rocker with the highly contagious “Get Your Goin’ Out On.” Then there is the bluesy power rock ballad, “Gypsy,” with its heavy backbeat, and the hard-rocking “Good Guys Win” with its insane bass parts from Kearns. Then there is the final track, an instrumental reprise, and “Twisted Rails (Slight Return)” proves to be an interesting coda to an impressive collection of tunes.

These songs are all solid, but there are a few standouts on this disc. The first is “My Body” with its layers of acoustic and processed electric guitars. It has a softer feel with melodic Gary Moore-esque leads that contrast nicely with the raspy vocals. The other is “Letter,” which defies attempts to stick it into any one genre. It is a hard-driving tune with a raunchy intro over a 12-bar blues base and vintage rock do-wop backing vocals. Intermittent surf rock themes give it a fun vibe, which may seem weird on paper but it works marvelously through the speakers.

It should also be mentioned that the band has included liner notes complete with lyrics for the songs, which is almost unheard of these days. This is a nice touch that a lot of bands no longer bother to deal with, and the Taildraggers’ efforts are appreciated.

Too Slim and the Taildraggers’ Blood Moon is a hard set with blues, rock, and country influences, and the songs are well integrated into a single entity. It is some of their best studio work yet, and their live show is equally enthralling. Be sure to check out their website, as they have a lot of gigs coming up throughout the spring and summer, as this trio has to be seen to be believed!

Yamaha EMX512SC Powered Mixer Review

Greetings!

I mostly use powered speakers for gigs, as I my QSC K10s and K12s are loud and bulletproof, but for smaller gigs (i.e. karaoke parties) sometimes it is easier to not have to run extension cords to the speakers, so there is still a place in my world for an powered mixer with passive loudspeakers. This is why I am hanging on to my Yamaha EMX512SC mixer. You have certainly seen this same mixer being used by bar bands all over the world.

The EMX512SC is a 12-channel mixer, even though it only has 8 faders. In Yamaha math they count inputs with stereo channels twice, but either way, that is enough for whatever I am going to do with this thing. This mixer has dual 500 watt amps (max at 4 ohms), so it is plenty loud for most small to medium sized shows. It is a nice looking piece with a nubbly plastic case with built in handles, and it measures 18x12x11 inches, and weighs in at under 20 pounds. It is kind of a big box with a beveled edge on the back so it can be tilted up, or there are a couple of included plugs that keep it from tilting back if that is what you prefer. Those plugs always get lost.

The back of the mixer has an IEC power cable socket and a pair of output jacks, which include both ¼-inch and Speakon jacks.

The front side of the EMX512SC is a lot more complicated, but that is because it is chock full of features. The input channels each have a 3-band EQ, and there are 4 for monaural microphone (with phantom power and one-knob compression) or line input, and 4 pairs that can function either as monaural microphone inputs or stereo line inputs (2 with ¼-inch jacks and 2 with RCA jacks). There are also separate 7-band graphic EQs for both the main and monitor power channels.

Another neat feature is the power mode switch which allows the two amps to function in stereo, or as separate mono channels for mains and monitor. And one of my favorite features is the surprisingly useful knob that controls 16 SPX digital effects including reverb, echo, chorus, flanger, and phaser. The effects knob has its own level control and ON/OFF switch.

I run the EMX512SC with my low-tech Yamaha A12 loudspeakers, and this combo is definitely up to the task. This set-up has a warm sound that I never have found with the QSCs, and there are surprisingly good bass and mids for 12-inch speakers. This whole thing gets plenty loud without distorting - I consider Yamaha to be a solid brand, and these speakers meet my expectations every time. BTW, all I use are Yamaha mixers, and they have never let me down.

I believe this model has been discontinued, but if you vcan find one the Yamaha EMX512SC powered mixer sells for around $599 new each from most online sellers, and around $400 used. It sounds good, has good power output and features, and is plenty durable. What more could you ask for?

Mahalo!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Georgie Bonds – Hit it Hard

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the May 19, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Georgie Bonds – Hit it Hard

Roadhouse Redemption Records

www.georgiebonds.com

www.roadhouseredemption.com

11 tracks / 54:46

Georgie Bonds knows a thing or two about the blues, even though this was not the music he was brought up with. Blues grows from adversity, and Bonds has had more than his share of medical troubles, and growing up in Philadelphia he managed to find himself a bit of trouble too. These things have made him the man he is today, and he discovered a path in life that included learning the blacksmith trade and becoming a member of the Black Cowboys, an organization that helps kids from tough neighborhoods. His career as a blues singer came later in life and he has done well with it, earning a well-deserved place in the Pennsylvania Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.

Georgie’s third album, Hit it Hard, is mostly filled with originals that were written by Bonds and his friends; these guys include producer and guitarist Neil Taylor, and the harp-playing executive producer, Buddy Cleveland. These songs cover quite the gamut of subjects, but a few of them draw directly from Georgie’s life experiences. This trio was joined in the studio by a core band of Andy Haley on drums, Rick Prince on bass, and Walter Runge on keys.

First in the set list is “Pickin’ Your Bones,” which was featured on Sonny Rhodes’ 1996 album, Out of Control. Rhodes is Bond’s mentor, and this is a tasty piece of funky blues. You will find that Georgie has the strong voice of a younger man, with just a touch of weathering to keep things interesting. The backline is tight, with Haley hitting the drums hard and Prince keeping perfect time. On this song Cleveland shares the leads on his harmonica and Taylor throws down a well-crafted and slightly distorted guitar solo. These guys can rock!

There are just a few other covers on Hit it Hard. Sam Taylor’s “Not Tired of Living” is a bouncy rocker with slick organ fills from Runge and a scorching guitar solo from Neil Taylor, not to mention a fun vocal finale that brings everybody into the act. The other is “The Soul of a Man,” written by Blind Willie Johnson, and this is a healthy dose of slow rolling southern blues-rock that is sung with passion and clarity.

As you will hear, Georgie brings many different genres to this disc, and the fun and funky dance track, “Let’s Get Down,” works on many levels. He recruited a pair of talented local sax players, Vanessa Collier and Dave Renz, and they do a sweet job of completing the picture for this track. There is also a well-placed call and response that contributes to the rowdy party vibe. The sax team comes back for “Blues Job” lending a little jazz feel to a tune that is peppered with fat bass and nifty electric piano. Though he is a jack-of-all-trades, Georgie is no stranger to the 12-bar blues, and his team knocks out “Come Back Baby,” featuring brief but tasty piano and harmonica breaks.

On the more serious side of things, Mr. Bonds includes a couple of tunes about being incarcerated: the slow grinding “Paid Vacation” and “Another Year,” a song of reflection. The latter closes out the set, and it turns out that this was the first song Georgie ever wrote (in a federal prison, actually). He howls the lyrics out over a slow-rocking melancholy melody with Cleveland providing just enough harp to make the mood. For a song that comes in under three minutes there is a lot going on here, as there are plenty of tempo and dynamic changes until it abruptly ends. This is both cool and dramatic.

Georgie Bonds’ Hit it Hard is a solid effort of blues-based music, and his honesty and upbeat spirit are quite engaging. He has a few shows coming up, but you will have to be around the City of Brotherly Love to take advantage of them. Head on over to his website to see what is going on with him and to support a local bluesman who is doing good work!