Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Niecie – The Other Side

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the July 23, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Niecie – The Other Side | Album Review

Self-release through Ride the Tiger Records

www.niecie.net

13 tracks / 48:08

Detroit is a truly soulful city; if you stop into most any bar there you will surely hear killer Motown on the jukebox, or if you are lucky, discover a fine band on the stage. This is the musical environment that inspired the amazing Niecie, whose powerful voice has been rocking the blues world since her debut album in 2005.

Niecie has lived all over the country and each locale gave her new experiences and enhanced her abilities. After growing up in the Motor City, she moved on to Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Boston, before finally settling down in Nashville, Tennessee. Once there she was able to take advantage of the gifted songwriting scene there, as well as the city’s population of incredibly talented producers and musicians. These folks helped her craft three solid solo albums, and there is a sampling from each on her latest disc, a compilation titled The Other Side.

As The Other Side is made up of thirteen tracks from these three different projects, there is a huge cast of characters there were involved, but besides Niecie, there was one name that kept popping up: Johnny Neel. Johnny is a first call producer and keyboard man (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and Dickey Betts), and he is also a terrific songwriter. He had a hand in all three of Niecie’s earlier projects, and you will see (and hear) that he gets some sort of credit on no less than eight songs on this album.

The opener, “Strange Way” is the first of four songs from Niecie’s 2013 release, Wanted Woman. This Neel-penned tune is a mid-tempo blues rocker that has an impressive array of Niecie’s cutting lyrics and some lovely guitar work from Chris Anderson – this lady has nothing but killer axe men on her albums! Also from this release is the spiritual funk of “God’s Got This,” the comedic hard rock of “Traffic Light,” and a touch of fusion with “Wanted Woman.” The latter is one of the standout tracks in this set, as it is a good example of Niecie’s songwriting with some tasteful Hammond and backing vocals from Johnny to bring it all together.

Niecie also included a trio of tunes from her first album, Peace of My Mind, and these songs from ten years ago guarantee that there is a good representation of all of the bluesy genres on this greatest hits disc. One favorite is the slow and heavy guitar blues of “Bed of Lies,” but the surprise hit is “I Used to Have a Brain (Then I got Married).” From the title the listener might expect a light-hearted and funny track, but Niecie is dead serious as she howls the blues on this one. Besides her voice, the highlights of this song are the killer lead guitar of Larry McCray and a take-no-prisoners horn section that was blessed with an incredibly tight arrangement.

Lastly, from somewhere in the middle of the timeline of her recording career, there is a nice selection of songs from Beyond the Surface, which was cut in 2011. Of these, Niecie wisely chose to finish her set with “Draw the Line” an upbeat rhythm and blues song that is right in her vocal wheelhouse. There is a bit of everything in this song: vintage organ, fat bass from Steve Forrest, a funky guitar ostinato and slick solo from Mike Durham, and smooth backing vocals from Crystal Tallefero. It may sound like a cliché, but ending with this song it really does leave the listener wanting more.

If you have not heard Niecie sing before, trust me when I say that she is the real deal. Her range, timing and feel are spot on, and she is a real pleasure to listen to no matter what type of music she is fronting. Check out her website for gig dates as she gets around the country quite a bit, and if she is not playing near you track down a copy of The Other Side. This is a fine set of music, and besides providing 48 minutes of soulful blues the chances are very good that it will turn you into a fan too!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2013 Sadowsky RV4 Bass Review

Aloha!

There are not many boutique bass builders whose basses I crave, and one of the few is Roger Sadowsky. His staff builds incredible basses (and guitars too) out of his New York City shop, and they are the most playable and best-sounding bolt neck instruments you can buy. Unfortunately, the popularity of these custom instruments results in a minimum entry of $4500, and a lengthy waiting to get one made to your specifications.

Fortunately for all of us, there is a more cost effective solution to getting out hands on a new Sadowsky. This would be the Sadowsky Metroline series of basses.

Back in the early 2000s, Mr. Sadowsky decided to have a line of basses built overseas. Not by shoeless starving children in Indonesia, but by the best luthiers in Japan. These were originally called the Tokyo line of basses, but were later renamed the Metro series, and now the Metroline series. The idea was to use the same electronics and hardware, but with less pretty (and light) woods and with lower labor costs.

The bass we are looking at today is a Sadowsky Metro MV4 that was built in 2013. This is essentially a Fender Jazz bass copy with the familiar offset waist body and pickguard shape. It is drop-dead gorgeous with the ’59 Burst finish over the alder body. This is a solid body, not chambered like a NYC bass. The sparkly clean neck is topped with a rosewood (or is that morado?) fretboard that has 21 gorgeous frets sunk into it. The hardware is the same as on a NYC bass, with open-gear tuners and a high-mass bridge.

Sadowsky says that these use the same electronics as the New York City basses, so it has Sadowsky humcancelling pickups, and the much-copied Sadowsky pre-amplifier with Vintage Tone Control. The knobs are: master volume, pickup blend, treble roll-off (Vintage Tone Control) with pre-amp bypass push/pull, and stacked bass boost/treble boost. I have had the opportunity to compare these basses to real NYC basses, and they do not sound quite the same, but are still very good. Maybe it is the wood they use for the bodies that makes them sound differently.

One noticeable thing you do not get with the Metro series is the predictably light weight of a New York City Sadowsky. Generally the Metros will weigh a pound or two more. This one weighs in at more than 9 pounds, instead of the usually 8 pounds for a NYC Jazz Bass. This is still pretty light, and if you are going to save $1800, you are going to have to give something up.

This Metro is a fantastic bass. It sounds great, and plays like a dream. The construction is very good, and the neck and fretwork are perfect. In my opinion, it is better quality than anything Fender or their Custom Shop is producing today.

Metro basses come in a Sadowsky semi-hard case and a new Metroline RV4 sells for $2590 new; Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. Nice used ones seem to run a tad over $2000 at this point in time.

So, if you do not need a fancy top, a custom color, a left-handed or a fretless bass (none of these options are available) this is a viable alternative to a NYC Sadowsky. They are definitely worth the money.

Mahalo!

IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage Review

Howdy!

I recently had the chance to try out the IK Multimedia’s iRig Acoustic Stage, and found out that it is a painless interface for recording my acoustic instruments, such as my guitars and ukulele. It also comes in at a reasonable price point, so it will not break the bank, either.

IK Multimedia is an Italian company that has been around for 20 years, and they have found a niche of catering to musicians that are looking for digital solutions that have an analog sound. They make a lot of cool products, including killer amp and bass emulation software, tons of plug ins, and some handy hardware for recording. I reviewed their MODO BASS software last year, found that it was a good product, and had a blast trying it out.

iRig Acoustic Stage is one of the company's newest products, and it is a complete package that builds on their popular iRig Acoustic system. The hallmarks of the original system are all there, and set-up on the instrument is still super-easy -- all that needs to be done is clipping the microphone onto the soundhole (or f-hole). This non-permanent installation makes it easy to switch the mic to different axes. This is a MEMS (MicroElectrical-Mechanical System) microphone, similar to what you find in you smart phone; it is a durable unit with a flat frequency response. It has a built-in lead with a 1/8-inch jack on the end and a 1/8-inch splitter in the middle so you can send the signal to a pair of earbuds or a line out. This interface is the heart of the iRig Acoustic System, and it can be plugged directly into and iPhone or an iPad.

The microphone cable can also be plugged into the brand new IK Multimedia preamp and signal processing module, which is what differentiates the iRig Acoustic from the iRig Acoustic Stage. Two AA batteries power this unit, and it can be clipped to your belt or strap. Features include a preset tone button, a feedback kill button, a volume knob, a phase switch, and a mix knob so you can mix the iRig output with the guitar’s onboard pickup (if equipped). There is also a 1/4-inch output and a mini USB out for recording purposes.

And lastly, the remaining part of the equation is the free app that can be used with the microphone, AmpliTube Acoustic. This app has a calibration process that measures the instrument’s frequency response and optimizes the setup. AmpliTube Acoustic also has emulations of two solid state amps and one tube amp, each with built-in effects, such as compression, graphic and Parametric EQs, a 12-String emulator, and an octave pedal. Also, there is a “Body Modeler” that converts the sound of your guitar into another style of guitar. Recording features include a 4-track looper, an 8-track recorder/DAW, a speed trainer, and a digital tuner. There is also the option of routing the audio to a GarageBand track using the Inter-App feature.

So, I gave the iRig Acoustic Stage quite the workout. First, I loaded the software onto my iPhone SE and my iPad Air, and tried out the microphone on a Martin D-18, a Takamine EF341SC, and my Kala SMHT soprano ukulele. I set the preamp aside for a bit and ran the microphone straight into my iPad and iPhone, and was impressed with the simplicity of the set-up; I was up and running in no time. The tone was clear on all of these instruments, and it was handy to have a non-powered microphone set-up for quickly laying down a few tracks. The free app software worked seamlessly, and I was able to get a good tone fairly quickly with minimal changes in settings. If this is all you need to accomplish, you do not really need much more than the $50 original iRig Acoustic set-up, but I believe this will only work on IOS devices.

With the preamp and signal processing module added into the equation, you can use this system for most any application, as long as you have the cables to make it work. I tried a few different set-ups, mostly with the Takamine, which has an onboard pickup. Running the iRig signal only into an amplifier, the sound was clean and perhaps a bit more crisp than what I am used to with the factory pickup. When plugging the guitar’s output into the preamp, I was able to select a mix that was slightly heavier on the Piezo and was able to get a sound that was pleasantly woody, but still able to cut through very effectively. Throughout all of my tests, I did not run into any problems with feedback with any of my guitars or the ukulele. By the way, the ukulele was a lot of fun, and the system did a great job of recording it!

One advantage of using the preamp and signal processing module is that it was a lot nicer to be able to use my MacBook Pro instead of my phone or tablet, as it was easier for me to dial in the controls on the app. I really dig the looper feature, and they have a lot of tempting upgrades that are available. There is a lot more that I would like to do with the iRig Acoustic Stage, and I will continue to experiment with it. At this time, I do not really have any gripes with the components or software, though I am being very careful with the microphone lead, as the cable is thin and I am worried about pinching it and screwing things up.

So, right out of the box, I am going to say that the IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage is a winner, and it is well worth the $99 that it is selling for. All of the major online retailers are carrying it, so it should not be too hard to track one down if you want to give it a try!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

QSC Introduces Their New K.2 Series Loudspeakers

Aloha!

I have been using QSC K Series powered loudspeakers for years, and my K12 and K10 speakers have never let me down. Yesterday, QSC announced their new K.2 Series speakers, and they have twice the power output with no weight gain. I imagine the old versions of the speakers will be on clearance, and there might be some killer bargains out there.

Here is the QSC press release:

Costa Mesa, CA (April 17, 2017) – QSC, LLC is pleased to introduce the K.2 Series, the highly anticipated next generation of the company’s global best-selling K Family line of powered loudspeakers. The new K.2 Series, which is comprised of the 8-inch K8.2, 10-inch K10.2 and 12-inch K12.2 full-range loudspeakers, offers a number of significant feature upgrades, establishing an entirely new standard in powered loudspeaker technology. QSC is also announcing the introduction of the KS212C, a first-in-class, single-box powered cardioid subwoofer.

Each loudspeaker model in the K.2 Series is equipped with a 2000-watt power module carefully matched to high-performance woofers and compression drivers. DMT™ (Directivity-Matched Transition) ensures smooth coverage across the entire listening area. On-board DSP provides Intrinsic Correction™ voicing and advanced system management to further optimize performance.

Superbly flexible, K.2 Series models additionally provide operators with a library of preset contours for common applications such as Stage Monitor, Dance Music, Musical Instrument Amplification, Hand-held Microphone and more, while also offering storable Scenes to recall user-configurable settings such as input type, delay, EQ, cross-over and selected contour via the loudspeakers’ LCD screen and control panel. All three models can be operated as either main PA or as a floor monitor. Each model can also be flown, wall- or truss-mounted, or placed on a speaker pole, either straight-firing or with 7.5-degree down-tilt utilizing the new dual pole cup. “The phenomenal success of the K Series is unprecedented in the pro audio industry and a testament to the values of great design, high performance, steadfast quality and long-term reliability,” says Ray van Straten, Sr. Director of Marketing, QSC Professional. “This next-generation product raises the bar yet again for the category and will most certainly further reinforce the reputation of the K Family brand for many years to come.”

The perfect complement to both the new K.2 loudspeaker line as well as legacy K Series full-range models, the new KS212C Cardioid Subwoofer represents a breakthrough in innovation and design, uniquely providing all the benefits of a cardioid subwoofer array in a single, compact enclosure. “Keeping bass in its place” for mobile entertainers, AV production and rental professionals, as well as modestly-sized performance venues, the KS212C cardioid subwoofer is unparalleled in its ability to manage low frequencies on the stage, or any application where undesirable low frequency energy needs to be minimized. Dual 12-inch long-excursion drivers, each arranged in a 6th order bandpass chamber, are powered by a 3,600 Watt amplifier and controlled by the system’s DSP to produce a staggering 15 dB more output at the front of the cabinet than at the rear. Like the K.2 Series, the KS212C provides advanced DSP with on-board user-controllable and recallable Scenes via the LCD screen and control panel. Highly portable, the cabinet features comfortable, aluminum handles and four, rear-mounted casters. Two M20 sockets are provided to accept a 35mm speaker pole in either vertical or horizontal deployment of the sub.

Additionally, QSC is also proud to announce that K.2 Series models as well as the KS212C Cardioid Subwoofer feature a global 6-Year Warranty with product registration.

The K.2 Series will be available in select markets in mid-May 2017. Estimated (U.S) street prices are: $649.99 for the K8.2; $699.99 for the K10.2 and $799.99 for the K12.2. The KS212C cardioid subwoofer is expected to ship in late Summer 2017. Estimated US street price is $1,399.99.

Mahalo!

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Omar Coleman – Live at Rosa’s Lounge

Hello!

This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on August 10, 2016. Be sure to check out their website at: www.chicagobluesguide.com

Omar Coleman

Live at Rosa’s Lounge

Delmark Records

By Rex Bartholomew

Chicago’s Omar Coleman does not let the grass grow under his feet – he has been gigging out regularly since last year’s release of his Delmark Records debut, Born and Raised, and the label has just released his killer follow-up, Live at Rosa’s Lounge. This was a wise move, as this disc is a neat piece of work and it helps listeners appreciate that Coleman is a righteous stage performer too.

Omar was indeed born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, and this singer/songwriter and harmonica ace comes to the stage influenced by blues luminaries such as Bobby Rush, Little Walter, Sugar Blue, Al Green and the tremendous Junior Wells. Rosas’s Lounge is a product of the Windy City too, and since 1984 this neighborhood blues joint on the north side of town has provided a cool place for discerning listeners to soak up quality blues jams. By the way, the owner of Rosa’s moved from Italy to Chicago after meeting Junior Wells, which is a neat connection between the club and Mr. Coleman!

Live at Rosa’s Lounge is an hour-long set with twelve songs (on ten tracks), and Steve Wagner and Omar produced this project. On stage were Coleman on vocals and harp, Dave Forte and Ari Seder trading off on bass, Pete Galanis on the guitar, Neal O’Hara behind the keyboards, and Marty Binder on the skins. The mix of tunes is equally split between originals and covers, and Omar made all of them his own with his unique infusion of chops and passion.

The sets starts off with the classic “Snatch it Back and Hold It,” a sure-fire winner from Junior Wells’ 1965 debut album, Hoodoo Man. This turns out to be a tight funk fest with Forte, Binder and O’Hara holding down the bottom end as Coleman’s harmonica takes the intro. When Omar starts singing his voice is nothing but soulful, and his timing and stage presence are amazing. The other half of this track is Johnnie Taylor’s “Wall to Wall,” which is beefier than the original but not over the top (a dangerous temptation, to be sure) and Galanis tastefully pops out the syncopated guitar line to give this tune a James Brown feel. Next up is a piano and guitar driven take of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready” that includes a wonderful solo from O’Hara.

Then Coleman takes the opportunity to let the crowd know where he came from and where he stands with “Born and Raised.” This is infectious high-energy funky blues and it features a natural-sounding harp solo that contrasts well with the heavily processed guitar and popping bass line. This is the first of the five original songs that Omar sandwiches between the covers tunes that start and finish the disc. All of the original tunes are well written and performed with skill so they hold their own with the more familiar blues favorites on the set list. The originals cover a lot of ground, and they include straight-up rock with “Slow Down Baby,” the jazzy blues of “Raspberry Wine,” and the standout “One Request,” a heartfelt soul ballad.

The hour goes by too quickly, and before the listener knows it the band finishes the show with a few more crowd-pleasing blues classics. Rufus Thomas’ “Give Me the Green Light” has a healthy portion of organ from Neal accompanied by a rock solid beat from Marty, and Omar howls out the lyrics convincingly as he delivers this song to a new generation of aficionados who might not be familiar with the funky Stax original. Then Coleman calls on his Junior Wells side one more time for the closer, and “Two Headed Woman” delivers the goods. This song is a fast tempo countrified romp, and Pete does his best Albert Lee chicken picking, which is more than respectable. This is a sweet ending to a very cool album!

As far as production goes, Steve Wagner did his share of magic to put together a very sharp live disc. The recording is clear and well mixed with an excellent balance between the vocals and instruments. One downside with placing the microphones to get such an accurate musical recording is that there is not much in the way of crowd noise and reaction, but this was the best way to get it done right. This album was recorded from three different performances (hence the two bassists), but it is very hard to hear any differences in the sound of the band from one song to another. All in all, this is a wonderful representation of Coleman’s, skill, emotion, and work ethic, and the listener will be pleased.

Omar Coleman should be proud of the work that he and his band put in for Live at Rosa’s Lounge, and this album definitely has a shot at being the best live album of the year. Be sure to head over to www.omarcoleman.com to find his gig schedule, and if you are going to be in the Windy City this summer you are in luck, as he has plenty of shows coming up. If you will not be in town, this album would be a great substitute as it really captures what Omar is all about!

Mahalo!

Inventory Update: 2nd Quarter of 2017

Aloha!

Thanks to the distraction of Winter NAMM I missed my January inventory update post, so six months have gone by, so we go straight to the second quarter list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has been stacked a little taller since October, but things are always coming and going. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:
∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster (STILL apart for repair)
∙ 1980 Yamaha Pulser
∙ Aria Pro II WL Wedge
∙ 1983 Ibanez RB630 Roadstar II
∙ 1986 MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Precision Bass
∙ 1986 MIJ Fender Jazz Bass Special
∙ 1986 Aria Pro II SB Elite LTD
∙ 1987 Aria Pro II XRB 2A
∙ 1989 Ibanez EX405
∙ Sadowsky NYC Vintage P
∙ Sadowsky RV4
∙ Sadowsky MV5

Electric Guitars:
∙ 1983 Squier JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster
∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard
∙ 1994 MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster
∙ 1994 MIJ Fender ’52 re-issue Telecaster
∙ 2008 Epiphone Les Paul Standard
∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job
∙ LTD George Lynch Kamikaze 1
∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Matt Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:
∙ Martin Backpacker steel string
∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele
∙ 1980s Goya G-312
∙ Takamine EF341
∙ Takamine EF341SC

Amplifiers:
∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head
∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets
∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP
∙ Fender Champion 300

Check in again in July to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!

Mahalo!



































Sunday, April 16, 2017