Rest in peace, Buckwheat Zydeco.
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Isaiah B. Brunt – A Moment in Time
9 tracks / 39:39
Isaiah B. Brunt has an impressive amount of musical experience as a studio owner and sideman in Australia. He has worked with the Goo Goo Dolls, the Julio Iglesias Orchestra, and Randy Jackson, plus he toured with Keanu Reeve’s Dogstar when they opened up for Bon Jovi on their Australian tour. But at heart he is a bluesman, and an exceptional one too, as evidenced by last year’s killer release of Just the Way that it Goes and his trip to the International Blues Challenge.
Mr. Brunt has followed up this success with a new album, A Moment in Time, and it is his best work yet. This disc has nine tracks of originals that were written by Isaiah, and he served as the executive producer for this project in addition to taking care of the vocals and guitars. He was joined in the New Orleans studio by a core band of George Porter Jr. on bass, Doug Belote on drums, Mike Lemmler on keys, and a horn section of Jeffery T. Watkins and Ian E. Smith.
I do not hear much of an Australian accent to Brunt’s singing, but he has a wonderfully smooth and rich timbre to his voice, and the effect is quite unique. This is heard right from the start with “Still Waiting,” as Isaiah runs through a conventional 12-bars blues vocal construction. As with the rest of the album, there is a live feel to this mid-tempo tune, with Lemmler providing roadhouse piano and B3 over a fat bass line from Porter. A rowdy guitar solo from Brunt gives a touch of variety, as do a pair of trumpet and guitar solos. This segues into a piano-fueled rhythm and blues tune, “Singing the Blues,” which has lovely backing vocals from Sarah E. Burke.
Brunt can also dig deeper and belt out gritty vocals, and this is a cool contrast to his smoother work. One example of this is “May I Dance with You,” a nice bit of horn and organ driven funk. The backline is a more complex on this song, with Belote working the drum kit and Porter popping out the bass rhythms. This tune features a righteous solo break with interplay between Brunt’s guitar and Watkins’ sax, as well as a sweet horn outro. Isaiah also gets down on “Party Late All Night,” a more conventional 12-bar blues song. These are two of the standout tracks on the disc, and are both great party tunes.
There is also one track that is completely different than everything else on the album, as “Travel Back in Time” takes the listener all the way to New Orleans. This slowly grinder is held together by guest artists Tuba Steve on the sousaphone and James Evans on the clarinet, with snare from Belote keeping time. The horns join in halfway through to accompany a wicked solo from Evans, and the overall effect of this song will make you want to head off to Bourbon Street to forget your sorrows. Or maybe earn some new ones!
After about 40 minutes, the set closes out with “A Moment in Time,” an interesting blend of a mellow country bass beat, reverb-soaked guitar chords, and some jazzy flugelhorn from Smith. Brunt does well with the honest lyrics of remembrance and love, once again with Sarah filling in the backing vocals. After adding in David Stocker and his mellotron samples the overall effect is very pretty, and this ends up being a low-key way to bring things to an end.
Isaiah B. Brunt and his friends did an awesome job with A Moment in Time, and it is a solid follow-up to Just the Way that it Goes. Be sure to check out his website to keep up on his schedule – he only has gig dates scheduled in Australia at this time, but maybe the allure of the States (or another invite to the IBC) will draw him to our shores so we can enjoy his music in person!
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Not many G&L basses makes their way through the studio, but there is no good reason for this. They are generally well made, and maybe their under-representation on Rex and the Bass is just because there just are not as many out there as the ubiquitous Fenders.
On the off chance that you are not familiar with G&L, this company was founded by Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Dale Hyatt in the 1970, and Leo worked there up until his death in 1991. Mr. Fender said this company’s products included the best designs he ever made, which is something coming from the guy who invented the Stratocaster and the Precision Bass.
G&L has made their name with quality US-made instruments, but these did not have entry level pricing, so a few years back they introduced their Tribute series of imported guitars and basses to reach a broader market. The Tribute JB-2 4-string bass we are looking at today was made in Indonesia, and it can certainly give its domestically produced counterpart a run for its money.
As you can probably guess from the model name, the JB-2 has a general Jazz Bass vibe. This includes the two single-coil pickups, the Fender-esque headstock with open-back chrome cloverleaf tuners, and a 1.5-inch nut width. Things get a less Fender like from this point. Most obviously, the contoured swamp ash body has sort of a P-bass shape, and lacks the offset waist that you would find on a Jazz Bass.
The body is available in either glossy clear or 3-tone sunburst, and there is no pickguard (though either would look nice with a bit of tortoise on it). The 34-inch scale neck is attached to the body with 6-bolts (and no neck plate), and comes with either a maple (3TS) or rosewood (natural) fretboard. There is a 12-inch radius to the fretboard, and there are 21-medium jumbo frets sunk into it.
The body is loaded up with a G&L high-mass saddle lock bridge (designed by Leo Fender) and a pair of Anico V pickups that were also designed by Leo and then tuned by Paul Gagnon, the Vice President of G&L Engineering. There is some discussion of whether these are US made pickups, but I have heard they are made at the Cort factory in Indonesia (where the rest of the bass is made). These pickups are wired through two volume pots and a master tone knob.
Assembly quality of this JB-2 is very good, and the folks overseas should certainly be earning more the terrible wages they get (about 50 cents per hour). The glossy clear finish on the nicely grained body is very good, and the neck and fretwork are better than a lot of new guitars I see coming from Gibson’s USA factories. The set up was very good right out of the box, with only a slight tweak of the truss rod to bring the action up a bit.
The overall playability and sound have a 1960s Fender vibe. The pickups are just as good (to my ears) as the US G&Ls, and the neck has a vintage Jazz Bass feel with a comfy C shape that is not too thin. This is a great bass for jazz and rock, and it is perfect for playing the blues. It has vintage tone galore, and I love the sound of Alnico pickups. It balances well on a strap and even though it is made of ash it is not too heavy, with this example weighing about 9 ½ pounds.
The dirt cheap labor allows the G&L Tribute JB2 bass to come in at a very reasonable price point, with most online sellers asking $449.99 for them (no case included), and nice used ones selling all day long on eBay for under 300 bucks. You cannot build a bass this nice for less money, so if you are in the market you might want to check one out!
Saturday, September 17, 2016
The Lucky Losers – In Any Town
Dirty Cat Records
11 tracks / 52:43
Wow, I thought the Lucky Losers’ previous album, A Winning Hand, was really good, but their latest release In Any Town, is truly amazing stuff. The San Francisco-based duo of Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz has really delivered the goods this time! There are a few pieces to this puzzle that make the overall picture so pretty, as you will soon see.
Cathy and Phil have been fronting the Lucky Losers since 2014, but they are no strangers to the music business as they both have successful solo careers. Prior to this collaboration, Cathy released a few of her own album through Vizztone, including the stellar Black Crow which is marked by genuinely emotional vocal performances. Phil has also made his mark with his voice and harmonica, honing his craft to cover Chicago blues, as well as west coast swing, rhythm and blues, and country blues.
The rest of the Lucky Losers includes the killer line-up of Marvin Greene on guitar, Chris Burns on the keys, Tim Wager on bass, and Robi Bean behind the drum kit. And the final pieces of the puzzle are a fine collection of guest musicians (more on this later), and production, recording, mixing and mastering by the legendary Kid Anderson at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California. How could you go wrong with all of this good stuff going on?
Well, you cannot go wrong, it turns out – this 52 minutes of killer blues, with nine of the eleven tracks consisting of original music that was written by Cathy or Phil. One of these originals kicks of the set, and “So High” is upbeat and big blues rock. This tune starts off with some sharp harp work from Berkowitz, and it has a decidedly live sound with jangly guitars from Greene and Anderson, natural sounding drums from Bean, and of course a touch of Hammond B3 from Burns. This is all great, but there is also the magical interplay and vocal harmonies from Cathy and Phil that really puts this song over the top.
I mentioned earlier that there are a few guest artists that appear on this disc, and here are a few more details:
- The horn section of Michael Peloquin (sax), Mike Rose (trumpet), and Mike Rinta (trombone) was brought in for a few songs, the originals “Don’t Let ‘Em See Ya Cry” and “Blind Man in the Dark.” The latter features Terry Hanck with a killer tenor sax solo, and in case you are not familiar with him, this award-winning musician was formerly with Elvin Bishop’s band and is a longtime friend and collaborator with Kid Anderson.
- There is also guitar work from west coast blues legend and fellow Bay Area denizen, Franck Goldwasser, and his fleet fingers brings a lot to the uptempo “I Can’t Change Ya.” His staccato chords are almost like a third voice that complements the vocals of Cathy and Phil, and he tears off a screaming solo that fits in perfectly. This is a fun tune that has earned a place in my ever-expanding party mix.
”Give Me a Sign” features Memphis’ Jeff Jensen on his guitar, and he gives his wah pedal a righteous workout on this one. This song is a perfect example of what Anderson can do in the studio, as this slow-grinding blue rocker has perfectly recorded guitar, harp, and organ as well as amazing drum tone. Cathy’s vocals are processed to give an even spookier vibe, and the overall effect is magical. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album.
There is not enough space in this review to cover every song, but you probably get the picture by now. The Lucky Losers with Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz have definitely figured out how to write and present the blues, and In Any Town is proof of this. This disc is a must-buy, and if you are going to be around the Bay Area be sure to head to their website to check out their gig schedule!
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
I recently had the chance to try out a pretty cool Recording King Madison banjo ukulele, or banjolele, and it is a pretty neat piece of work. If you are not sure what one of these is, it is a ukulele neck that is stuck to a banjo body. According to Wikipedia (yay!), this instrument was invented in the 1910s, and it gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. What is the point? Well, they pretty much play like a ukulele and have the sharper tone of a banjo, with an appreciable louder sound. This made them popular with vaudeville performers back in the day.
Recording King was originally a house brand of instruments for Montgomery Ward in the 1930’s. The re-introduction of this brand builds on this legacy by using vintage designs and hand-assembled parts to obtain the look, feel and sound of the older models.
The U25 model we are looking at here has the same scale length as a soprano ukulele, with an overall length between the soprano and concert sizes (22 inches), and a body width of a tenor (6 ½ inches). It weighs around 2 ½ pounds, so it is heavier than any standard ukulele I have ever played.
This banjolele has a maple neck and rim, with a rosewood fretboard and a 6-inch Remo head. There are 19 fairly huge frets, pearloid dots, and a 1 5/16-inch bone nut worked into the fretboard. The hardware is all nickel-plated, including the hoop, the geared tuners, and the bent metal tailpiece. The bridge is a relatively massive chunk of maple and ebony, and it come dismounted, so the user has to figure out where to put it. This is not too hard of a task – it pretty much goes on the head the same distance from the 12th fret as the nut is. Overall, it is a very smart looking instrument
Craftsmanship on this one is very good, the joints are clean, and the fretwork is ok with no sharp edges. The set-up and string height were fine right out of the box, though the nylon strings that it came with are cheap and sounded pretty lousy, so I put a new set of Aquilas on it, which greatly improved the sound and the instrument’s ability to stay in tune.
It took a bit of an adjustment to play this banjolele, as it is a lot heavier than other ukuleles, and I do not use a strap. But, this was not too big of a deal. I was amazed with how much more volume I was able to get out of it with just normal strumming. The tone is much brighter and edgy than the usual ukulele sound, and I could see how this would be much more useful for live performances. Also, its beefier construction would make we worry a lot less about jamming it into a crowded overhead bin on an airplane.
The Recording King U25 Madison banjolele comes in at a price point that is right around where most of the good beginner ukuleles are, as everybody online seems to be selling these for $199.99. This does not come with a case, so you will want to factor that into your budget. Overall, it is a solid instrument and I think it is worth the cash. If you get a chance, try one and see what you think!
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Another year has gone by and it is almost time for the 2016 Blues Blast Magazine Music Awards show! Like the past few years it will be held at the Fluid Events Center in beautiful Champaign, Illinois.
This September 23 show will provide recognition for hard-working and talented blues artists, and there will also be performances by: Too Slim & The Taildraggers, Peter Karp, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames, Bob Margolin, Shaun Murphy, Fiona Boyes, Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Shoji Naito, Big Harp George, Markey Blue, Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band, Danielle Nicole, Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Anthony Geraci & Monster Mike Welch, Andy Poxon & Little Ronnie, Henry Gray, Bob Corritore, Guy King, Eugene “Hideway” Bridges, Jon Spear Band and the Corey Dennison Band. There will be two stages, so there will be little downtime between sets, and in years past this has been a really smooth operation!
The doors open at 5:00PM and the show starts at 6:00PM. The Fluid Event Center is located at 601 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign, Illinois. Tickets start at $25 and will be available online and at the door (with free parking!). Food and beverages will be available at very reasonable prices and there will be plenty of merchandise for sale, so be sure to bring some cash.
I hope you can make your way down south to see the happenings, as this is one of the best blues show values on the planet! Complete information is at www.TheBBMAs.com
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Josh Garrett – Honey for My Queen
10 tracks / 43:26
Josh Garrett hails from Louisiana, and his influences from the Sportsman’s State result in a cool blend of roots, blues, and generally soulful music. He took up the guitar when he was twelve, and right he away got into songwriting. The subsequent years of practice and hard work have resulted in a series of increasingly awesome projects and the Josh Garrett Band’s fourth album, Honey for My Queen, is the best of the bunch. This disc contains a fun set of listenable and unique original music that should appeal to fans of many genres.
For this project Josh did vocals and guitar work as well as writing and arranging all ten of the songs. A fine crew of drummers and bassists joined him in the studio, and you will also hear Waylon Thibodeaux on fiddle, C.R. Gruver on the keyboards, and Clay White on the harmonica. The set starts off with the title track, and “Honey for My Queen” has a mellow Southern rock feel with lovely barroom piano from Gruver, slightly distorted harmonica from White, and a tight backline. The lyrics are a witty ode from one worker bee to his queen, and they are delivered in a pleasant tenor tone. Here are a few other highlights from the CD:
- Special guest artist James Johnson appears on “Same Boat,” and you may remember him as the guitarist for Slim Harpo back in the 1960s. James took a break from music after Harpo passed on in 1970, but he came back in the 1990s, and he contributes his voice and guitar to this soulful rhythm and blues tune.
- You will find some sweet country blues with “Goodnight, Goodnight,” which has the instrumentation stripped back to just an acoustic guitar and the harmonica. This love song uses a classic 12-bar blues base with repeated phrases to get its point across, and the guitar uses both slick fingerstyle and a bit of slide to carry the melody.
- The band also included an uptempo instrumental, “Slide in ‘G’.” This tune has a funky drum beat with popping bass, and killer Hammond B3 courtesy of Gruver. The harp and guitar are used to carry the leads (with a cool organ break midway through), and this song acts as a neat interlude midway through the album.
- “Whole Bottle of Whine” is not just a clever song title, the lyrics are witty too as they beseech a loved one to ease up on the drinking. The music is a compelling combination of blues-funk and country, complete with a generous display of tricky chicken picking on the guitar, and a fun call and response with the guys in the band.
43 minutes goes by quickly, and before you know it the disc finishes up with “Moonshine & Cigarettes.” The band gives this song the full Crescent City treatment with jazzy drums and NOLA style piano and harp, which is a great homage to Josh’s home state. The Josh Garrett Band did a fine bit of work with Honey for My Queen, with well-written songs. Check it out for yourself and make sure you head over to their website to see if they are playing near you any time soon!