Friday, January 30, 2015

The Knickerbocker All-Stars – Open Mic at the Knick |Album Review

The Knickerbocker All-Stars – Open Mic at the Knick

JP Cadillac Records

13 tracks / 47:36

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s there was a killer Sunday night jam at the Knickerbocker Café in Westerly, Rhode Island. Duke Robillard, the founder of Roomful of Blues, would share the stage with unknowns and major league players to crank out a righteous blues show. Unless you were local you probably never chance to experience it, but thankfully Westerly natives Bobby Christina and John Paul Gauthier recently gathered a troupe of killer musicians in the studio to recreate some of what you missed. The result is the Knickerbocker All-Stars new CD, Open Mic at the Knick on JP Cadillac Records.

The heart of this project is Bobby and Fran Christina on the drums, Ricky King Russell on guitar, Bob Worthington on the bass, Al Copley and Dave Maxwell on piano, and a horn section of Doc Chanonhouse, Bobby “Breeze” Holfelden, Rich Lataille, and Dennis Cook. The soul is the eight singers that split up the 13 tracks amongst themselves. They include Willie J. Laws, Malford Milligan, Johnny Nicholas, Sugar Ray Norcia, Mike O’Connell, Curtis Salgado, J. P. Sheerar, and Brian Templeton. All of these folks have been in the business for decades.

Obviously there are no originals in the playlist, and it ends up being a 45 minute set with most of the songs around three minutes long. That means there are no 5-minute solos, so the songs are all about the singers; it is a good thing they are all so talented! There is not enough space here to give a blow-by-blow account of every track, but here are a few of the high points:

-- The CD starts off with B.B King’s “You Upset Me Baby” with Sugar Ray Norcia behind the microphone and Ricky King Russell killing it on the guitar. Right away it is obvious that this is a band full of pros and the horns are really well arranged. Sugar Ray comes back later on with “It’s Later Than You Think,” a Roy Milton jump track that features amazing piano work from Al Copley.

-- Austin, Texas soulman Malford Milligan also takes on two songs: Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and Gene Dinwiddie’s “Love Disease.” Milligan does Bland proud, showing great range and tone as the band sets up a slick Chicago rhythm and blues accompaniment.

-- Johnny Nicholas appears of three tracks: “Jelly Jelly”, “Reconsider Baby” and “Along About Midnight.” This Texas bluesman used to sit in with Roomful of Blues when he was in town, and he has not lost anything over the past four decades.

-- The set finished up with Mike O’Connell taking the lead on Freddie King’s “Going Down,” and they ended strong with David Maxwell hammering out the piano part and the horns gloriously accompanying O’Connell’s distinctive howl.

If you love jump blues and horns, you need to pick up a copy of the Knickerbocker All-Stars Open Mic at the Knick. The aim of this disc was to hearken back to a time where there were great frontmen on stage every week, backed by a high-octane piano and horn-fueled band, and they succeeded in this task. They ended up with nothing but good songs that are performed well and recorded with care. What more could you ask for?


Low Society – You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down |Album Review

Low Society – You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down

Icehouse Records 12 tracks / 56:20

You can find blues in any flavor you like: Delta, Chicago style, Memphis style, jazz-influenced, blues-rock, and stuff that just defies categorization. Low Society provides the latter, pushing the limits of blues with their own high-energy rocking sound.

Low Society is fronted by the formidable Mandy Lemons who is from Houston, but made her way through New York City to finally end up in the rock and roll capital of the world: Memphis, Tennessee. The other major part of this band’s equation is Sturgis Nikides, a guitarist who was originally inspired by seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It sounds like he has not put his axe down since that day in 1964, as he is a masterful player in the blues-rock world, including his own brand of mind-bending slide work.

These two got together in 2008 in the Big Apple and hit it off, writing and recording and playing the first of hundreds of gigs. Eventually they moved to Memphis, where they were able to learn another way to approach the blues from one its the masters, saxophonist Dr. Herman Green. Low Society released their very good debut album, High Time, in 2011 and they have not let up, including a performance at the 2014 International Blues Challenge.

You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down is their sophomore album, and it is truly something to behold. Sturgis and Mandy laid down a dozen tracks that include ten Nikedes/Lemons originals, and two cool covers. They were joined on this effort by a super-tight backline of Nick Dodson on bass and Mike Munn behind the drum kit. Rounding out the ensemble were Green on the sax, Rick Steff on the keys, Brian Hawkins and his blues harp, and Lee Booth with backing vocals. Nikides produced this project and the album was recorded at the venerable America Recording Studio in Memphis, with mixing done by Larry Nix (of Stax fame).

Their set kicks off with “Crammed & Jammed,” and it is obvious that this band has a good head of steam and they know there way around the hard-rocking blues block. Over the rock solid Memphis-supplied bass and drums, Nikedes slide work is vicious and Lemons’ voice is a glorious mixture of raw power and smooth phrasing, sort of like a combination of Big Mama Thornton and Shirley Bassey. I would love to use a Janis Joplin comparison, but that would be too easy!

This is followed up by the first cover, Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman,” and Mandy does a bang-up job on one of her inspiration’s most iconic songs. Steff’s Hammond sets the appropriately spooky and dramatic mood, and the Dr. delivers a dump truck load of killer saxophone alongside Sturgis’ best Sonny Landreth-style playing. After these two high-intensity songs, things are dialed back a bit for “Need Yer Love.” This song is sexy as hell, and under the chanteuse is an offbeat rhythm filled in with accordion that lends a bit of Paris mixed with circus atmosphere.

The originals are all very well written, and the songwriters did not create a template to knock out ten songs that are all the same with only the words moved around. Each of their songs has a unique feel and construction so that things always stay sharp. “Son House Says” has a jazzy fusion feel to it, and the title track has a Southern rock vibe with honky-tonk piano. But the standout track is “This Heart of Mine,” which is a slow blues rock ballad that sounds like something Led Zeppelin would have recorded. Well, it would sound like that if they had a high-energy woman singing, a little background organ, and Robin Trower/Stevie Ray playing the guitar. Other than that, it is just like Led Zep…

But it was hard to pick out a favorite as all of the songs are very good – there is not a dud to be found, and they mix genres with furious abandon. Low Society sounds just as comfortable combining a hoe-down with a trip to a church for “Up in Your Grave,” or pulling out the resonator guitar and bringing in John Shaw on piano for the Memphis Minnie spiritual gem “Let Me Ride.” After almost an hour things draw to a close with “Should’ve Known Better” which brings some righteous Texas blues that is spiced up with a little sax from Dr, Green.

If you are a fan of blues or rock, you will like You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. Low Society hit the ball out of the park with this one, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. So, pick up a copy of their album, and make sure you head over to their website to see if they have any gigs coming up. It will be worth your time!

Thank you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, California


You probably already know that I love ukuleles, but somehow I made it this far in life without ever hearing of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Fortunately, my dad surprised me with a ticket and we headed over to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts to check out what it was all about. I have really been missing out!

The Cerritos Performing Arts Center has been a cool place to see a show since it opened in 1993. It is a classy facility with 1800 seats, good lines of sight, and nice acoustics. It is in a safe neighborhood with free parking, too. Can you beat that? They have over 150 performances a year with a diverse selection of artists: I have seen Isaac Hayes, Shirley Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and Loudon Wainwright III there, and had a real blast over the years.

Well, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around longer than that, and with remarkably little turnover of membership: they formed in 1985 and the newest member of the touring octet joined 23 years ago. The have recorded plenty of CDs and DVDs, but touring is where the magic happens – they have sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Can you say that about your band?

I can hear what you are thinking: “Who can listen to two hours of ukulele music?” Well, it is not 2 hors of ukulele music – it is two hours of entertainment. There is a lot of fabulous British comedy thrown in between an assortment of songs that you would not expect to hear from 8 ukuleles (soprano, concert, tenor, bass, and a few surprise ukes here and there). Plus they do not depend on the typical Hawaiian strumming style – they dig in with picks as needed and play wonderful chords. This is a necessity as there are no drums or keyboards – just the ukuleles.

These folks are real musicians, and this show is not a comedy gag. They sing well with good harmonies, and they are all very skilled on their instruments – then again playing a few hours a day for 30 years should make one proficient. They do have good comedic timing though, and it is a joy to watch them on stage.

As they run through a few dozen songs during the course of the evening each of the members take the lead on a few songs, and it is a diverse collection of material. Everything from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” They did a little classic musical (Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre”) and Rose Royce’s disco classic, “Car Wash.” This really does represent Jung’s theme of the duality of man. I am not going to ruin any more surprises, other than to say that their rendition of the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was breathtaking.

All in all, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain put in a solid two-hour performance (plus a 20-minute intermission), and it was truly a fun evening -- I would love to see them again sometime. Check out their website at to see where they are going to be next. They seem to be constantly touring all over the world, and they have a lot gigs in the US, Germany, Finland, France, Denmark, the UK and Poland coming up. You will not be disappointed!


George Taylor – Rain or Shine | Album Review

George Taylor – Rain or Shine

Self Release

10 tracks / 41:16

After experiencing wave after wave of mushy pop music that came out of the same mold, it is refreshing to hear a complete album of Americana that is full of great stories and distinct music. That is exactly what George Taylor delivers with his sophomore disc, Rain or Shine.

George is a Virginian blues musician that took a three year trip to Austin Texas and a tour through the Mississippi River Delta to discover his own blues sound, and it turns out that there is a lot of country music in him that is looking for a way to get out. The ten original tracks (all written by Taylor) are definitely blues based, but his rock, roots and country influences give these songs a vibe that is all his own.

Taylor recorded this album at Shine Music in Austin, and he took on the vocals, harmonica, and much of the guitar work. He was joined by Blake Lange on drums, Cody Ground behind the keyboards, and Jerry Reynolds on fiddle. Justin Douglas co-produced this project with George, and handled the engineering, mixing and mastering chores, as well as playing the bass, lap steel and dobro, and laying down the backing vocals. He is a busy guy!

Rain or Shine kicks off with “Goodnight” and the fiddle and harmonica combine with his tenor twang and spoken word interludes to give it a fun acoustic country feel. This song sets the listeners’ expectations high as the lyrics are very well crafted, and Taylor keeps up this standard for the next nine tracks with some excellent songs of love, loss and hitting the road.

”What am I Gonna Say” is George’s take on a murder ballad, this time with the theme of a weekend fling in Mexico gone horribly wrong -- hopefully this is not a true story. This is the most raw track on the album, with just Taylor, his acoustic guitar and gritty lyrics galore.

There are plenty of genres to be found here, including the jaunty electric piece, “Breakin’ in Boots,” which has a catchy chorus and almost enough fuzzy guitar to make any rocker happy. But the standout track from this set is “Only Blue” which has a unique Deltq/country/zydeco feel with just the right amount sweet pedal steel and raunchy harmonica lines.

All too soon, the album draws to a close with “Seat with Your Name,” a subtle ballad with sweet harmonica and tastefully restrained guitar picking. Cody Ground’s lovely piano work completes the picture as Taylor shares a bit of his personal faith: “I know a place we all need to go,
where there’s pearly gates and roads paved with gold,
and getting there’s easy and it frees you of shame.”

George Taylor’s Rain or Shine is a solid album of original American music with ten tracks that all deliver the goods. It is worth your time to give it a listen on his website at , and then do a quick search on Amazon, iTunes or CDbaby if you are interested in picking up a copy (vinyl available!) for yourself.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Schatten Multiple Knob and Bushing Puller Review


It can be pretty nerve-wracking to try to pry a knob off of a guitar, as using a screwdriver can easily lead to a broken knob, a scratched top, or both. It can be many times worse when trying to get a tight bushing out of a headstock or body. That was why I was so happy to get ahold of a Schatten multiple knob and bushing puller.

Puller have been around for ages, and are often used in heavy mechanical operations, such as removing bearings from transmissions or pulleys from engines or other machinery. These tools use leverage and evenly applied pressure to steadily pull the pressure-fitted components apart. As a side note, it is often fun to misuse tools of this type during crazy household repairs! Schatten applied this theory on a much smaller scale for more the delicate operations that are conducted during typical luthier repairs and modifications.

When you buy this tool, you will get an acrylic puller tube with a protective ring to prevent finish damage, a long bolt with a wing nut, the puller blocks (alight one for knobs and a heavy one for bridge and tailpiece studs), and a selection of screws that will thread into common bushings.

Using it is easy. Attach the correct puller block to the bolt and slip the u-shaped opening in the block under what ever it is you want to pull out. Slide to tube over the bolt, put the wing nut on top and crank it down until whatever it is you are working on pops loose. That is it, easy peasy!

I have used my puller a lot: Stratocaster and Les Paul knobs, headstock bushings, and even the bridge studs from my Explorer. It worked well every time, and I have not broken any of the parts or screwed up the finish on my instruments. What more could you ask for?

If you decide to pick one up, the $48.50 price might be a little off-putting for what seems to be a basic tool. But, the Schatten multiple knob and bushing puller is a well-made tool that will last for hundred of repairs, and the cost savings in reduced time, less broken parts, and not having to do finish touch-ups will make it worth every penny. Check one out for yourself!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Sampson PS04 Pop Filter Review


Well, not everything I review on Rex and the Bass can be sexy or cool, and I suppose pop filters fall into that category, but when you need one, you really need one. Today we are looking at the Sampson PS04 pop filter, which is on the lower end of the market, but still very effective.

For starters, they did not go for the terrible tamper-resistant packaging which is a big bonus for me. The PS04 and its microphone stand clamp are attached to a piece of cardboard with tie-wraps, which are easy enough to cut away so you can get to work.

After you get it loose you will find that the pop filter is about 4 ¾ inches across, and it is composed of two layers of nylon mesh that are affixed to a plastic ring. This ring is attached with screws to an 8-inch flexible steel (painted black) gooseneck. This gooseneck has a very fine thread collar that screws to the microphone stand mount.

The stand mount is also steel, and it attaches to most any normal-sized microphone stand, including the on-stage desktop stand that I use for voiceover work. The clamp is rubber coated and the mounting screw has a plastic anchor so there is little chance of marring your stand. The whole thing is pretty self-explanatory, and if you cannot figure out how to use it then you should not be messing around with recording equipment in the first place.

Why do you need a pop filter in the first place? It is important to note that A pop filter is not a windscreen. Windscreens are used outside to reduce the effect of the wind, and on stage to keep spit off the microphone. Pop filters are used for vocals and speech in a studio environment to reduce popping sounds caused by the impact of fast moving air on the microphone, which can be found when syllables that begin with P, B or D are pronounced (for the most part…).

I need a pop filter for recording voiceovers for work and school, and the Sampson SP04 works just fine for that. It fits tightly on my stand and provides good coverage for my Shure PG42 USB microphone. If you were looking for something to improve the quality of your voiceovers or podcasts, this would be a good choice.

My only complaints are that the gooseneck is just barely long enough for what I am using it for, and that it would be nice to have a little more adjustability at the head end of things. But, you get what you pay for, and this is not an expensive unit

As far as durability goes, I have not had any problems after the first few times I have used it, though it does not appear to be the sturdiest thing ever made. I would be very careful about putting it in a road case as the mesh sees quite fragile. The gooseneck holds position well, and as the screen is not very heavy I do not see any problems in the future for it. By the way, it does come with a 1-year warranty.

The Sampson PS04 pop filter does every thing it is supposed to, and it comes in at a decent price point, too. With a list price of $19.20, and an Amazon price of $14.27, it is a great buy for the occasional recording session. Check one out if you get the chance!


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epiphone Dove Acoustic Electric Guitar Review


The law of diminishing returns turns out to be true in almost every case where it is applied, and the cost of musical instruments is no exception. There are some very nice budget guitars out there, and as you add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the price the improvements in tone and playability are not commensurate with the amount spent. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for a Santa Cruz acoustic or a Sadowsky bass, but there are some great values out there for short money.

One example of this would be the Epiphone Dove acoustic guitar. Surely you know of Epiphone, they produce the entry-level Gibson brand instruments that get re-sold for almost nothing as soon as a guitarist can scrape up enough dosh for a real Gibson. Though much maligned, these imported guitars can be quite good.

The Dove was introduced in 1962, and was one Gibson’s first acoustics that was embraced by the rock-and-roll culture. This flattop has been adopted by plenty of high-profile, one of the first of whom was the legendary Scotty Moore. It is (along with the Hummingbird) Gibson’s answer to Martin’s D-series guitars. The Epiphone version here was made in Indonesia and it is chock full of good materials and parts so the labor costs must be almost non-existent. Human rights advocates be warned…

The woods are surprisingly good, with a solid spruce top and a bound maple body and neck. The fretboard and bridge are made of real rosewood, which is amazing when you consider that Gibson is using all kind of bizarre stuff for Les Paul fretboards instead of rosewood. The body is sprayed in a subdued Violinburst, which comes off quite nicely. Oh yes, and it has the signature dove-decorated pickguard and bridge, which I am quite fond of.

The slim-taper D-profile neck is quite good. It has a 1.68-inch wide nut and 20 frets with a 25 ½-inch scale. The rosewood fretboard has pearloid parallelogram inlays and there is an adjustable trussrod. On one end there are chrome Grover 14:1 tuners (though the factory calls them nickel), and on the other end there is a compensated synthetic bone bridge saddle. One welcome piece of hardware is two strap pins. Why do so many manufacturers only give you one? And the Epiphone Hummingbird is really well put together.

The finish quality is good, and the frets are as good as the ones that you will find on a new Gibson Les Paul (which is not saying much, I guess). The tuners hold well, and in general the intonation is good. The neck can be adjusted for a low and fast action, though a little nut filing may be needed. And best of all, this guitar has a gloriously loud tone and a relatively balanced sound from string to string. Keep in mind that this is not an expensive guitar, and everything is relative…

The electronics package is also pretty good, with a Fishman Sonitone soundhole preamp and Fishman Sonicore underbridge pickup system. This is a very natural sounding pickup that fortunately uses a conventional 9-volt battery, not one of those weird flat CR-type batteries that you will not be abe to find at the last minute when your preamp poops out. Controls include master volume and master tone – no tuner is included on this one, folks.

What will all of this cost you? The Epiphone Dove has a list price of $499, and a street price of $299 (no case included). If you look around you can find even better deals online, and used ones are embarrassingly cheap. But if you buy a new one you get the Epiphone Limited Lifetime Warranty and Gibson 24/7/365 customer service. This is one of the best acoustic deals on the market right now. Trust me…