Saturday, November 18, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Chaz DePaolo – Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the April 7, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Chaz DePaolo – Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey

Smoke Tone Records

www.chazdepaolo.com

www.smoketonerecords.com

10 tracks / 34:04

Tri-state denizen Chaz DePaolo definitely has a great work ethic, and through his constant stream of gigs and tours he has developed a massive set of blues and rock guitar chops as well as a healthy stage presence as a killer frontman. His talent has earned him not only the respect of fans and music critics, but also with fellow musicians, and he has played with legendary cats including Buddy Miles, Little Milton, Kim Wilson, Jose Feliciano, David Maxwell, and Blue Lou Marini.

Chaz has released a handful of albums as well as a live concert DVD, and all of them are very good. His fifth release is Resolution Blues: An Acoustic Blues Journey, which was recorded on February 20th of last year (his mom’s 80th birthday, by the way) at Showplace Studios in Dover, New Jersey. DePaolo laid down the vocal and guitar tracks, and he was joined by members of his usual band, including Hank Kaneshige on bass, Cliff McComas on drums, and Rob Chaseman on the sax. Prestine Allen worked the piano on this one, and executive producer David Biondo brought his harp along with him from Colorado.

Resolution Blues includes ten songs, all originals that were written by Chaz, and most of the tracks were recorded in one take. There is a definite “Live show” vibe to the proceedings, and DePaolo converses a bit with the listeners and the band members as things move along. The first song in the queue is “A Love So Strong” and many listeners will be hearing this man on an acoustic guitar for the first time. This is a fundamental change as this time he has to rely mostly on his voice to lead the band, and the void left by his electric guitar is ably filled by Allen’s piano and Chaseman’s sax; these guys works together marvelously! The lack of heroic guitar solos also leads to shorter tracks, and in this set they all come in around three or four minutes long.

Chaz does get to stretch his legs a little on the title track, as he really digs into the guitar on “Resolution Blues,” a song of hope and change. Though it is a blues song at heart, Prestine’s piano improvisations give it a bit of a jazz vibe over the bouncing beat of Kaneshige’s earthy-sounding bass. DePaolo also tears up the guitar part on “I’m Not Angry Anymore” and you will hear that he has an amazing touch on the fretboard.

The listener gets a history lesson from “Gunther 414” which runs down Robert Johnson’s legendary recording session in room 414 at this storied San Antonio hotel, though I think Chaz might be a little off on the spelling. Biondo adds a very tasty harmonica part to this tune, as well as to one of the standout tracks on Resolution Blues, “Angel on My Shoulder.” This is a song DePaolo wrote in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and it has such a positive vibe about getting right with the world that it is hard not to smile while listening it.

The set finishes up with “Share” and there is only Chaz and his guitar. There are no solos to be found here, just a driving vamp and the man’s soulful voice. This is a song about trying to be “honest with yourself and others,” a lesson we should all keep in mind, and a good message to end with.

DePaolo obviously put a lot of work into writing these songs, as they all have well thought out lyrics and they are very slick. On the first listen it may seem that there is not much variety in the sound, which is one of the dangers of going acoustic and recording the songs back-to-back. But after each listen I find new things that I have not heard before, and this complexity makes Resolution Blues some of Chaz’s finest work yet. Give it a listen for yourself, and head over to his website to check out his gig schedule as April is going to be a very busy month for him!

Malcolm Young: January 6, 1953 to November 18, 2017

Rest in peace, brother. You left us too soon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jimmy Burns – It Aint Right

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the February 25, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jimmy Burns – It Ain’t Right

Delmark Records

www.jimmyburnsband.com

www.delmark.com

15 tracks / 57:58

Like all great blues players, Jimmy Burns has a pretty cool life story, and one that makes his musical approach unique. This Chicago-based musician was born in Mississippi during World War II and was raised on a cotton plantation where he learned how to play guitar. He grew up around Delta blues until his family moved to the Windy City in the mid-1950s. By 1960 he was recording and playing out, and he toured the country until he slowed down his music career in the early 1970s to raise a family and run his barbeque business.

Jimmy got back into the swing of things in the 90s, and began a long-running gig at the Smokedaddy Club in Chicago. Delmark’s Bob Koester found him there and set him up to record his 1996 debut on the label, Leaving Here Walking. This led to an international tour and a new record every three or four years, all of which are very good.

It Ain’t Right is Burns’ latest Delmark Records release, and it was recorded over a few days last February at the Riverside Studio in Chicago. Jimmy took on the vocals, guitar, and harp, and he was joined by his usual crew of Anthony Palmer on guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass, and Bryant “T” Parker on drums and backing vocals. Also along for the ride were Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on piano (from Billy Branch’s band), the super talented Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy on organ, and a killer horn section of Marques Carroll, Chris Neal, and Aaron Getsug. Bringing all of this together was producer Dick Shurman, who you may know from his work with Albert Collins, Magic Slim, and Johnny Winter.

The first two tracks on the disc are originals that were written by Billy Flynn, a superb guitarist and esteemed member of the Chicago blues community. As you would expect, these tunes make the most of Burns’ guitar skills, but they also work great with Jimmy’s rich voice and his more than capable band. “Big Money Problem” has a cool bounce with melodic and bluesy guitar lines and great opportunities for Ariyoshi to work his piano magic. The other song is a nice rhythm and blues ballad, and “Will I Ever Find Somebody?” features Jimmy’s soulful voice along with a very tasteful horn arrangement and Purifoy setting the mood on the organ. After this, the remainder of the album is an assortment of blues, rhythm and blues, and soul covers, and Burns worked his personality into all of them so that they form a very nice collection of classic American music. It should also be noted that this is a very well produced project with great balance and a very warm sound – Shurman has done his magic once again.

There are a couple of Percy Mayfield songs in the mix, and they have been reworked quite a bit. “Long As You’re Mine” may be the most energetic version you have ever heard, as it goes full-bore R&B with the horns leading the way. And “My Heart is Hanging Heavy” goes the funky soul route, with the fantastic backline presence of McDaniel and Parker and some powerful guitar playing from Burns. There is not enough space to write about all of these songs, but you will surely find one of your favorite artists in the mix somewhere, as there are tunes from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Goree Carter. He even included Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” which has been covered a lot, but Jimmy gave it a super clean uptempo Latin feel which may sound odd on paper, but it works and ends up being a truly unique offering.

A standout track from It Ain’t Right is the straight-up blues song, “Hard Hearted Woman,” which was originally done by Jimmy’s older brother, the late Eddie “Guitar” Burns. The younger Burns’ guitar touch is wonderful and this tune is a touching tribute to a great Detroit bluesman, not to mention a really tasty serving of blues music. A close runner-up is the final track, “Wade in the Water” and this traditional song combines the Mad Hatter’s organ and a collection of lovely vocal harmonies to create a gospel tune that will put a smile on the face of any sinful soul.

Jimmy Burns does not cut a new album very often, but when he does it is perfect and It Ain’t Right is no exception. Jimmy and his band covered a lot of musical ground on this release, and along the way they took a lot of music you are already familiar with and presented it in their own voice. Give the album a listen and see what you think, and if you are in the Chicago area, be sure to check out Burns’ website to see if he has any shows scheduled, it will definitely be worth your time!

P.A.F. Electric Guitar Pickups - From Machines to Magic

Aloha!

Gibson PAF (Patent Applied For) pickups were originally installed on instruments from 1955 to 1961 (or so), and these are considered the holy grail of vintage electronics, selling for thousands of dollars each. If you have ever wondered what the complete story is on these pickups, Jon Gundry has put together a comprehensive website, P.A.F. Electric Guitar Pickups - From Machines to Magic, that will fill in all of the blanks for you.

Jon Gundry has plenty of practical experience repairing vintage PAF pickups, and he has figured out how to make reproductions that are very faithful to the originals owns. His company, ThroBak Electronics, sells very fine reproduction pickups that are made in the USA. So, he is the PAF man, and it is cool that he is sharing this knowledge with us. By the way, he also sells really kick-ass reproduction harnesses and non-PAF reproduction pickups too, so head over to throbak.com to see what he has in his store.

But for the full PAF story you will need to click on pafhumbucker.com. Of course, there is a bit of a sales element to the PAF page, but my god it is all good stuff. There are plenty of detailed photos, some videos, and many text sections that describe every last bit of these pickups. The site is neatly laid out, with sections for:

- PAF History

- PAF Anatomy

- PAF Winders

- PAF Repros

- PAF Legends

- PAF Links

I am not going to go into more detail, because if this sort of stuff is your bag you will click on everything in Gundry’s website no matter what I say. Anyway, I love this website, and if you ever wanted to know anything about the PAF pickups, you will find it here. Check it out for yourself at pafhumbucker.com

Mahalo!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Zac Harmon – Right Man Right Now

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the February 18, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Zac Harmon – Right Man Right Now

Blind Pig Records

www.zacharmon.com

www.blindpigrecords.com

11 tracks / 53:14

Zac Harmon is a real-deal bluesman with killer guitar chops, solid songwriting skills, and the ultimate rhythm and blues voice, but despite this wealth of talent his solo recording career got started a bit later than one might think. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, he started his guitar work in the South with blues musicians that included luminaries such as Sam Myers and Dorothy Moore. But by the early 1980s he felt the allure of Los Angeles where he hoped that his music career would blossom.

Though he started out as a session player, Harmon found success in the City of Angels as a songwriter and producer with many record, film, television, and advertising credits, and one of the high points was his production work on Black Uhuru’s 1994 Grammy-nominated album. But after writing and performing a few blues songs for a film he was working on, Zac felt the calling to return to his blues roots so he put together his first solo release, Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn. This was a turning point in his life and he went on to earn a Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut” for The Blues According to Zacariah.

Right Man Right Now from Blind Pig Records is Zac Harmon’s seventh solo release, and it is certainly a nice piece of work. Zac handles the majority of the vocals and guitar playing, and he is joined by a core band of Buthel on bass, Cedric Goodman on drums, and Cory Lacy with the keys. A few guest artists made it onto this disc too, as you will hear throughout. As Harmon is an accomplished songwriter, it should be no surprise that nine of the eleven tracks on this album are originals, and there are two pretty awesome covers thrown into the mix for good measure.

The album kicks off with eight originals in a row, the first of which is “Raising Hell” which features Lucky Peterson on organ and Anson Funderbaugh on guitar. This bouncing track has a bit of Texas blues from Funderbaugh, Chicago stylings from Lucky, and silky smooth (yet hearty) rhythm and blues vocals from Harmon. This is a good times party anthem, which is always a killer way to start the set.

The next two tracks continue with traditional themes that you have come to expect from modern blues. “Ball and Chain” is about a lover that is a stone cold bummer, and is set to a slide guitar fueled swampy blues that is punctuated by the funky bass of Buthel and a bit of talk box. And “Hump in Your Back” is a slice of braggadocio about what a smooth lovin’ man the singer is, and it is a righteously funky with a rocking backbone. This song includes blues hero Bobby Rush on vocals and harp, and once you add in Les Kepics on trumpet and Chuck Phillips on sax this ends up being one of the standout tracks on the disc.

Then the party gets put on hold and the tone becomes serious with “Stand Your Ground,” with its simple yet powerful lyrics that are inspired by the significant events surrounding this controversial Florida law. The accompanying music is hard-edged blues with a somber mood provided by Peterson’s Hammond. This sequencing of songs works well, and Harmon starts the cycle over again with three more traditional songs and then another dash of reality with “Back of the Yards,” which is about the loss of so many young men due to inner city violence. This tune is surprisingly funky, thanks to Buthel’s bass and some slick organ playing from Mike Finnigan.

The two covers are placed near the end of the album, and they are not the ones that you hear every blues artist using, and Zac’s takes on Little Milton’s “Ain’t No Big Deal on You” and John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” are breathtakingly good. The latter is a 7 ½ minute opus that slowly bangs along and builds dramatically with its jangly guitars and warbly harmonica from Chef Deni. Harmon’s voice is perfect for the quasi-spoken word vocals and howls of this one, and it will surely get stuck in your head for a day or two after hearing it.

Right Here Right Now is a solid effort from Zac Harmon, and this modern blues collection stands on its own with a unique sound and voice. Harmon’s songwriting is relevant, his voice is like butter, and his guitar playing is clean and red-hot. Zac is one of the artists that will help carry the blues music into the future, so make sure to check out this album.

Ultimate Support TS-100B PA Speaker Stand Review

Howdy!

A lot of products sound too good to be true, and when I first heard about the Ultimate Support TS-100B speaker stands that is exactly what I thought. These stands are hyped that they will actually lift your PA speakers up to magical heights with little to no effort. After trying them out, I can say that these things actually work!

I have used and owned Ultimate Support stands before and they have always worked well for me, so I should not be surprised. On first glance, these are fairly typical tripod speaker stands, with 1.5-inch aluminum tubing and a durable black anodized finish. This model adjusts from 40-inches to 79-inches, and the base ends up being about 4 feet across, with a load handling rating of 150 pounds.

If you look a little bit closer, you will find that the clamps are unusual as they are not the usual crummy plastic that most stands use. These are made of metal, which is really handy as these are the parts I have broken most on my speaker stands.

But the real magic is the “Air-powered” unit inside which actually lifts the speaker up for you. It is really quite simple: set the stand up as you normally would at its lowest setting, horse your speaker onto the stand, and turn the release knob (also metal, by the way). If your speaker is under 50 pounds, it will rise all the way up to 6 feet 7 inches all by itself. If your speaker weighs more you will have to give it a little help, but it will be nothing like the good old days when it was your muscles doing all the work. Then crank down the knob and you are good to go. Take down is exactly the opposite: just turn the knob and the speaker will come back down, though if it is under 50 pounds you might have to pull a little bit – again, no big deal, and much safer.

These things are awesome, and I am never buying a cheap speaker stand again!

The Ultimate Support TS-100B is sold in a 2-pack from discerning online suppliers for $150, and this includes the Ultimate Support Limited Lifetime Warranty. Should you need to go higher, there is also the TS-110B (which goes up to a bit over 9 feet), and there is also the TS-110BL with the super innovative leveling leg – I will be writing more about that one later. Check these things out if you get the chance!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017

Rest in peace, you had the sweetest touch on the piano and you will be missed.