Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review of Musical Theatre West’s Big Fish at the Carpenter Center

Aloha!

As part of their 62nd season, Musical Theatre West included Big Fish -- a show I had never heard of. This stage musical is based on a 2003 movie that is based on a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace. I was also unaware of the movie, which is surprising as Tim Burton directed it, Danny Elfman wrote the music, and it starred Ewan McGregor (one of my favorite actors). The musical (with new music) ran on Broadway for three months in 2013, and then went dark. Though it is not my favorite musical that I have seen in recent years, none of it was MTW’s fault.

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/Producer Paul Garman. Their big shows are staged 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.

Big Fish is a classic story of son that does not understand his father, but eventually comes to appreciate what their relationship is all about as his father passes on and he begins to raise his own son. It is set in the south and follows the life and adventures of the father, Edward Bloom (Jeff Skowron), as seen through his own fanciful thoughts. The book for this show was written by John August, the same fellow that did the screenplay for the film adaptation. The original music and lyrics came from Andrew Lippa, who did a marvelous job with The Addams Family Broadway show.

Paul Garman was the champion for getting this show to Musical Theatre West, as he fell in love with it when he saw it during the musical’s tune-up in Chicago prior to its Broadway debut. MTW is the first company to perform Big Fish off Broadway, and they took the gamble of buying the original sets and costumes. This means that there is nothing to complain about there, as Julian Crouch’s scenic design and William Ivey Long’s costumes are fabulous.

The cast were up to the standards of these elements too, as Skowron did a bang-up job of portraying the elder Bloom though all stages of the character’s life – it must have been an exhausting role to play. Rebecca Johnson played his wife, Sandra, Andrew Huber was his son, Will, and Kristina Miller took the role of Will’s wife, Josephine. The leads were all strong, and well placed for their roles. The backing cast was also very good with standout performances by Molly Garner as the witch, Timothy Hughes as Karl the giant, and Gabriel Kalomas as Amos. The ensemble did a fine job as they filled in during the multiple changes in scenery.

The pit orchestra, under the direction of Matthew Smedal, was completely hidden by the stage elements, so I had no idea who was down there, but they certainly brought the show to life. Lippa’s score was pleasant to listen to, but there were not any tunes that got stuck in my head, let alone that I can remember a few weeks later. This is not a terribly good thing.

Technically, everything went well during the show, with clear sound from Brian Hsieh, and exciting lighting effects from Phil Monat. Larry Carpenter’s direction was logical with no awkwardness to the action on stage, which was helped along by the fun choreography from Peggy Hickey.

With all of this good stuff going on, it became pretty obvious that the show itself is pretty weak. As I said, the music is not memorable, but the story is fairly tired too. The age-old story of family love and conflict was not reworked in any earth-shattering manner, and the progression was predictable with no surprises. I can see why the show did not last very long on Broadway.

One last gripe before I wrap this up and that is that all of the performers deserve recognition in the program, not just the folks on stage. The musicians received no credit, and that is just wrong. It does not take up that much space in the program, and what if their parents come to see the show?

Big Fish closed earlier this month, but do not worry, there are still plenty of great musicals to see at the Carpenter Center before next summer! Musical Theatre West’s 2014-2015 season has three shows left: South Pacific, Les Miserables and Singin’ in the Rain. These are all solid shows and MTW always delivers the goods, so they are must-sees. It is not to late to load up on tickets for them, so check out their website at musical.org for details about tickets and packages.

Mahalo!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sennheiser HD 360 Pro Headphone Review

Aloha!

I have used Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones for the past few years, and they are really very wonderful. But, I recently had the opportunity to try out a pair of HD 360 Pro cans, and if you know anything about their products, as the model number becomes higher, generally the phones become more wonderful (and expensive). Well these buck that convention, as you can buy them for much less than the HD 280 Pro, and they are a good set of cans for the bucks.

The HD 360 Pro is a bit of an odd duck, as they are marketed as professional monitoring headphones, but they are slightly smaller than full-size and they fold up fairly compactly. This means that they are great for guys who are on the road and do not want to put up with the discomfort of in-ear monitors or crummy sounding noise cancelling headphones. Plus they kick the living crap out of Beats while looking relatively normal.

Physically, they are similar in size to the PX 360, so they are a smaller pair of around-the-ear closed-back phones that will work if you do not have big ears. They weigh in at around ½ pound, and they have nicely padded leatherette earpads, that appear to be replaceable. If you have small to mid-size ears, they are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time but not so loose that they slip off. They include a non-replaceable cord that is almost 10 feet long and an adapter so they can be plugged into ¼-inch or 1/8-inch jacks. As I said earlier they fold up, and the end product is fairly flat and compact. A nice zippered carry case is included.

I tested these headphones with a variety of audio sources, including my home stereo, my iPods and iPad and directly from my laptop. I played the music with and without headphone amplifiers (solid state and tube type), and with my usual assortment of music. This includes mostly rock and blues, with a little country, classical and show tunes thrown in for good measure.

And these headphones perform very well. They are very sensitive and crisp with no distortion at all normal volume levels. The highs are clear, and do not seem to have any unnatural elements to it. The mid ranges are definitely boosted, mostly in the upper mids. This is not distracting, and I like the effect for rock and blues music. The bass is crisp and powerful, but is still well-balanced with the mids and highs.

In the real world, they sound great and provide perfect isolation (and no leakage) on airplanes and when working in crowded and/or noisy rooms. For my purposes, this more than makes up for any sound imperfections that come about from having closed-back cans. I like them a lot, and used them regularly until the cable pulled out of my wife’s headphones, so these are now in her care. There is no substitute for a good pair of headphones.

And these are good headphones that you can buy for a song. The list price on the Sennheiser HD 360 Pro headphones is $149.95, but you can buy them all day long on the internet for 60 bucks. These are a heck of a deal at that price, and if you are looking for a new pair of pretty nice headphones, start checking around online and buy them!

Mahalo!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rex and The Reviews

Hello!

There has been a slight change in my blogging situation, as there are CDs to be reviewed that are stacking around my studio like cordwood, and I am going to have to take a different path to get the word out about all of the great new music out there.

I publish 12 blog posts per month on Rex and the Bass and limit the content to two album reviews per month, so it will take me a lifetime to work these in. The most logical thing to do is to launch another blog: Rex and the Reviews. This site will join my music blog and my instructional design blog, so nothing will be going away – there will just be a little more of me out there.

The music that I will be reviewing comes from bands and promoters, and I will give a brief and honest assessment of each so that my readers will have an idea of what they will be getting if they decide to make a purchase. I am a reviewer, not a critic, meaning that I am not a judge.

I hope you will support this new blog, and appreciate it for what it is meant to be. I will leave the comments section open, so feel free to start conversations about what I have said or about your experiences with the music I am listening to. Comments will be moderated, so please be polite.

If you are a musician or promoter, feel free to contact me and we will see about getting you added into the mix. Music is about fun and entertainment, and I am glad to share the good news of whatever you are recording.

Thanks for checking in, and best wishes to you all.

Rex

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Album Review: Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater – Soul Funky Live

Howdy!

Lynn Orman Weiss slid me a copy of this at the Blues Blast awards show last month – what a neat CD!

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater – Soul Funky Live

Self Release through Cleartone Records

www.eddyclearwater.com

12 tracks / 75:44

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater is a certified Chicago hero, and is certainly one of the legendary blues guitarists/singers of the last half of the 20th century. Born as Edward Harrington in pre-WWII Mississippi, he moved with his family to Alabama where he taught himself to play the guitar (as a southpaw), and he took up with a few gospel groups. But the big city lights have their allure, and he finally had to take off for the Windy City in 1950 to live with his uncle.

He started his career in Illinois washing dishes, but he worked his way into some gospel gigs and eventually fell under the mentorship of Magic Sam. By 1953 he was performing as Guitar Eddy Clearwater, and he has not let up since -- that long of a professional music career makes for true guitar hero stuff!

Well past the normal retirement age Eddy is still out gigging and recording while most folks of his era are sitting at home and trying to figure out what to do with themselves. He has figured out what he wants to do, and that is playing the blues! His latest release, Soul Funky, is a wonderful glimpse into the world of his live show, as recorded at SPACE in Evanston, Illinois on January 10, 2014.

A killer crew joined Eddy that evening, and they brought some serious muscle to what must have been a crowded stage. This included Ronnie Baker Brooks on vocals and guitar, Johnny Iguana (the Claudettes!) on the keys, Shoji Naito on guitar and blues harp, Stephen Bass behind the drum kit, David Knopf on bass, and Thomas Crivellone on guitar. Eddy, Shoji and Rick Barnes produced this 12 song disc that plays out like a regular hour-plus club set, and they made sure that it would be a neat piece of work in all respects.

The show kicks off with “They Call Me the Chief,” a catchy intro that was written by Brooks, and it is the first chance on the CD to hear The Chief’s still-incredible guitar prowess. Eddy and Ronnie are proficient songwriters, which is fortunate as these gentlemen penned 10 out of the 12 songs on this album. From there they coasted into “Hypnotized,” an original funky blues tune with burning guitars from Brooks and Clearwater and sweet Hammond work from Iguana.

“Too Old To Get Married,” was written by Brooks and is catchy enough that hearing it once is enough to get it stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It has that Check Berry sound, this time with Naito on guitar and a little Jerry Lee Lewis piano thrown in for good measure. It is all good stuff, but the highlight of this album is a hybrid presentation of “Came Up the Hard Way” and “Root to the Fruit,” which is thirteen minutes of slow-grinding blues and feel-good stomp, both with some nice harmonica parts from Shoji. It looks kind of weird on paper but works out just fine on the stage.

A couple of sweet covers can be found in this set, too. “Please Accept my Love” does not stray far from the B.B. King original, and this slow blues ballad provides a breather in what is an otherwise rocking blues set. And “Lonesome Town” is a spooky grind with reverb galore, co-written by Los Straightjacket’s Eddie Angel. There will certainly be no mistaking this for the Ricky Nelson song of the same name.

As the album draws to a close, the “Ending Midnight Groove” gives Eddy the chance to graciously thank his fellow musicians, as well as the fans in the crowd that keep him in the spotlight year after year. His love for what he does and for the folks that come out to see him play is obvious; he is a bridge to an era of the blues that should be appreciated and never forgotten.

Soul Funky is the next best thing to seeing Eddy Clearwater and his band playing out, and if you are a fan of Chicago blues you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this CD because you will be able to hear for yourself that after more than 60 years he is still at the top of his game. Unfortunately, his upcoming tour schedule is mostly in Europe, but if you play your cards right you will make sure you are in Evanston on January 9, as he has another gig scheduled at SPACE. Check him out for yourself!

Mahalo!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: Blues In Modern Days, by Terry Mullins

Terry Mullins: Blues In Modern Days | Book Review

Blues Blast Publishing

http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Softcover, 227 pages

Hello!

As many of you know, I am a staff writer for Blues Blast Magazine, and this has been a wonderful opportunity for me over the past few years. Well, Bob Kieser (the mastermind of Blues Blast) recently started Blues Blast Publishing, and their first publication is Blues in Modern Days, by Terry Mullins.

Terry is an author and former record store owner who loves all types of music, but has a deep appreciation that the blues is the at the root of almost all modern music. You can find his journalistic writings on a daily basis if you live in the Ozarks, and weekly if you are a fan of Blues Blast Magazine. As Senior Staff Writer, he writes a slew of feature articles and interviews and they are all must-reads.

Blues in Modern Days lets 31 prominent modern blues artists share their stories in their own words with Terry moderating and putting everything into context with his own writing. Even if you are not a big blues fan, you surely have heard of a few of these fine folks: Jody Williams, Billy Boy Arnold, Sugar Pie Desanto, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, James Cotton, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Wayne Baker Brooks, Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, Diunna Greenleaf, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Mud Morganfield, Phil Wiggins, Teeny Tucker, Kenny Neal, Lurrie Bell, Johnny Rawls, Lady Bianca, Sugar Blue, Willie ‘The Touch’ Hayes, Billy Branch, Zora Young, John Primer, Dave Riley, Magic Slim, Lil’ Ed Williams, James ‘Super Chikan’ Johnson, Guitar Shorty, Eric ‘Guitar’ Davis, Eddie ‘Devil Boy’ Turner and Toronzo Cannon.

All of these folks have something fun to share, and this book provides a wonderful insight into the daily lives of professional musicians, as well as their hopes and inspirations. Mullins has an easygoing and compelling writing style making this a fun read as it delivers a solid lesson in the history of modern blues. It is not chock full of photos, but there are action shots of the artists, and I believe Kieser shot all of them for Blues Blast over the years.

I finished my copy awhile ago, reading a story or two each night, and each chapter provided many nuggets that were new to me. I only wish that there was even more, and hope that They can publish a second volume at some point. Anyway, I highly recommend picking up a copy and continuing your education too!

If you want to get your own copy of Blues in Modern Days (and you should), head on over to http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/blues-in-modern-days/ where you can buy one for $15.95 plus $5 for postage. They will ship to Canada and overseas too, please see the site for details.

By the way, these books would also make great presents for the music lovers in your life and this could be an opportunity to knock out your Christmas shopping early...

Mahalo! Tags: Book, Review, Terry Mullins, Blues Blast Magazine, Blues

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Granvil Poynter – Another Day Singing the Blues

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the August 22, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Granvil Poynter – Another Day Singing the Blues

Self Release

http://granvilpoynter.com/

14 tracks / 45:16

Granvil Poynter is an old-school blues rocker, having learned his craft in the roadhouses of his native Arkansas, and continuously honing his skills in the bars and juke joints of the Lone Star State. His gateway to the blues was the incredible work of popular artists Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and once he got a taste oft of this he dug deeper and discovered the marvel of the old school masters, including (among others) Muddy Waters, Albert King, and John Lee Hooker. Granvil has worked hard over the past three decades and relentlessly keeps at the trade, gigging around the San Antonio / Austin area of Texas with his four-piece group and never losing contact with fans of the genre.

After this long in the business Poynter’s debut CD, Another Day Singing the Blues, is long overdue. It has 14 tracks, 6 of which were penned by him, as well as a nice cross-section of covers from the greats, including John Prine (one of my favorites), B.B. King and Bo Diddley. Granvil takes care of most of the vocal and guitar chores, and he is joined by a bevy of fine artists, including his usual band of Gilbert "Big Daddy" Gonzales on drums, Bobby "The Monster" Cook on bass and Benny Harp on harmonica. There are also quite a few guest artists, all of whom are quite capable musicians in their own right.

This disc starts off with the original track, “Black,” and right away we get to see what Mr. Poynter is all about. His voice is a hybrid of Lou Reed and Johnny Cash, and he writes vocals that are not terribly deep, but certainly get straight to the point. This swamp rock tune features some nice harmonica work from Harp, as well as Keith Harter on guitars, and his sons Josh and Jon Harter on bass and drums.

By the way, I must note that Keith Harter produced this album and it was recorded at his studio, Harter Music, in San Antonio. The Harter crew did a first-rate job of recording and mixing all of the tracks on Another Day Singing the Blues and you will have a hard time finding anything to criticize in the production of this disc.

“Rock Me, Rock Me” is next track in the queue, and this original track is a short dose of Chuck Berry-style 1960s rock with an uptempo melody that is quite catchy. From there they jump into a cover of Eddie Boyd’s 1968 classic blues tune, “3rd Degree,” which had renewed popularity in the mid 1990s after Eric Clapton recorded his own version of it. At this point we finally get to hear what Poynter can do with the guitar, and he proves to be a consummate bluesman. He is able to produce a nice thick tone, and obviously has a good feel for the instrument. Scott Burns’ organ is featured on this track, and his presence adds a cool vibe to the tune, not to mention a killer break midway through.

Keeping with the Slowhand theme, Poynter’s song “All the Way” is a re-do of “We’re All the Way,” which was originally laid down as a country song by Don Williams, and later covered by Clapton in the late 1970s. This is not all of the Clapton material on this CD, either: E.C. also covered Willie Dixon/Elmore James’ “Can’t Hold Out” in 1974, and, “Rock Me” is a song that was originally penned by BB King, and later re-recorded by King and Clapton as a duet. I guess Granvil is a big fan!

His cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” is a complete remodel of the 1971 original. For starters, he rewrote the lyrics to come from a masculine point of view, which gave me a lot to think about. He also gave the song a gospel feel with the inclusion of Burn’s B3 organ and hearty background vocals from Valerie Fernandez and Andrea Sanderson. It worked out really well, and this is my favorite track from this release.

Granvil also covered one of his own songs: “It’s All Black,” which is a slicker version of “Black,” the first track on this album. I liked the addition of the organ part on this tune, but when this song is viewed in the context of all of the other cover tunes on Another Day Singing the Blues, there is just not enough original material to be found. As I said before, all of the tracks are very well done, but after all those years of performing I would have hoped to have heard more of Poynter’s own writing on his debut CD. Fortunately, the album finishes off with one last original, the title track.

Another Day Singing the Blues is a good first effort; Granvil Poynter and the great musicians that were gathered together for this project should be proud of the work they have done. This is a very nice blues-inspired disc, and I hope you get the chance to give it a listen.

Mahalo!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gibson Explorer Back from the Hot Rod Shop

Greetings!

Well, I recently got my Gibson Explorer back from my buddy the hot rod builder, where he had it to do his magic with. He always wanted to do a guitar and I gave it to him with no instructions or direction, and he used his own style to make the guitar look the way he thought it should look, and he went all out!

Pictures cannot do this guitar justice. He sprayed a flawless green and black flip-flop metallic with a scratch resistant clear coat. He had it pinstriped by the number 1 striper in the So Cal hotrod scene, and he had a sign shop custom make lettering that celebrates famous users of the Gibson Explorer. It is a smooth as silk, and this one is actually a keeper in every sense of the word.

It is pretty, but I plan to play the crap out of this guitar as it is so powerful, and it sounds amazing with proper set-up from the guys at Long Beach Guitar Repair. Of course the clear is amazing, and it is renowned for its resistance to scratching (at $400 a quart…), so I am not too worried about wearing it out. The only thing I can think of doing to it is possibly putting a different color (black or matching green) pickguard on it.

The best thing is that it was a labor of love by a good friend, and it carries a lot of good memories with it. It is not going anywhere!

Mahalo!