Sunday, October 23, 2016

Karen Lovely – Ten Miles of Bad Road | Album Review

Karen Lovely – Ten Miles of Bad Road

Kokako Records

13 tracks / 51:32

Portland, Oregon’s Karen Lovely really hit it out of the park with her 2010 sophomore album, Still the Rain. With a trip to the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis (2nd place!), and three 2011 Blues Music Award nominations, she received a lot of well-deserved recognition. Karen has not been resting on these laurels, though, and her latest album, Ten Miles of Bad Road, is also amazing, earning her another BMA nomination, a Blues Blast Music Award nomination, and the 2015 Blues411 "Jimi" Award for Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist. This all makes perfect sense, as she is a tremendous talent who works hard and inspires those around her to do their best.

Ten Miles of Bad Road has everything going for it, as it was put together in Los Angeles by the best in the business, including producer Tony Braunagel and engineer Johnny Lee Schell. Both of these fellows are members of the legendary Phantom Blues Band, and they also provided the drum and guitar parts, respectively. Karen took care of the vocals, and she was joined by Jim Pugh on keys, James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass, and the late Alan Mirikitani on guitar. Listeners will hear a lot of other A-list talent that helped out on many of the tracks, all of which are originals.

The album kicks off with “Low Road,” a smoky blues rocker that was penned by Mirikitani, featuring super clean leads from him on guitar and cool Hammond B3 from Pugh. Karen’s vocals are smooth and powerful as she describes her emotions after a lover cuts town in the dark of the dawn. Reviewers compare her vocal style to other artists, but she really has a sound of her own, and her voice blends well with backing singers Julie Delgado and Kenna Ramsey. This is followed up by “Company Graveyard,” another song that was written by Mirikani, but this time with a driving roadhouse beat courtesy of Braunagel and Hutchinson.

There are a lot of other neat songs in this set, and there is not enough room for me to write about all of them, but here are a few other highlights from the disc:

- The title track, “Ten Miles of Bad Road,” brings in the killer horn section of Joe Sublett (sax) and Les Lovitt (trumpet), and this uptempo piece is very accessible, making it radio-friendly. But it is not a sell-out pop song, rather a cool and detached narrative of a relationship that may not be worth the effort that is being put into it. Lovely shows a lot of depth here as she can sing pretty much anything that is put in front of her and make it her own.

- Karen has the perfect voice for ballads too, and a good example of this is “I Want to Love You,” which features solid piano leads from Pugh and more sweet backing vocals from Delgado and Ramsey. With a more sparse instrumentation and a slower pace, the tightness of the backline of Hutchinson and Braunagel is quite prominent.

- The album closes out with “Frank the Spank,” a boogie that sets the tone for the story of a bartender who is too generous with his pours; Lovely’s vocals smoky vocals really drive home the point on this one. This tune is upbeat and fun, and Schell’s guitar is a cool counterpoint to the harmonica of the surprise guest artist, Kim Wilson. What blues album would be complete without some sort of drinking song?

Karen Lovely has raised the bar with Ten Miles of Bad Road, a classy set of a thirteen quality tracks with not a clunker to be found. It is gratifying to see her talent and hard work pay off, and if you are a fan of contemporary blues I highly recommend you pick up a copy of your own -- this is Karen’s best work to date. Also, head on over to Lovely’s website to check out her tour schedule, as she has some gigs coming up around the US. Once you hear her you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Philip "Phil" Chess: March 27, 1921 to October 19, 2016

Rest in peace, Phil, you had a great run!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Proline LST2BK Tripod Speaker Stand Review


Today we are looking at one of the workhorse components of my live sound set-up. I have been using a pair of Proline LST2BK tripod speaker stands for over 5 years, and these budget-friendly medium duty stands have been no trouble at all!

I bought these stands at the last minute before a show, and ended up selecting them because they were they were on sale and looked like they would be good enough. They are rated for 150 pounds each (really?), can adjust from heights of 45 to 73 inches, and include an adapter so they can be with speakers that have either 1 3/8” (35mm) or 1 ½” sockets. They are light and pack up small so they are easy to bring along on gigs.

The LST2BK stand has a steel center shaft with an aluminum housing and legs, and everything is connected together by kind of cheap looking plastic joints and hardware. All of the metal is powder-coated black, which goes with everything!

I have used these stands with many different models of powered speakers, including Yamaha DXRs, the ill-fated Mackie Thumps, and my current QSC K12 set-up. All of these speakers have 35mm sockets, and after a few years of moving the unused aluminum 1 ½ inch adapters around my shop, I finally tossed them in the recycling bin. I have not missed them.

Setting up the stands is easy: just extend the legs and lock them down, set the speaker height (preferably using the included locking pins), and crank down the height knob. I lost one of the locking pins a few years back, but the height knob still has sufficient tension to hold the mast in place, even with a 41-pound K12 in place. The stands are more stable than they look, though I usually take it easy on them and adjust the legs so that the mast is setting on the ground, which provides that extra bit of security.

They have worked very well: they have never fallen over, the joints are still tight, and nothing has broken on them; even the black finish has held up well with just a few scratches. I have seen reviews from people that complain that they have lost hardware or broken the plastic pieces, but maybe these are just folks that do not take very good care of their stuff. I would buy more of these in a heartbeat, and indeed, a few years back I ended up getting two more for a really big show I was doing.

The Proline LST2BK speaker stands work well, and they come in at a really decent price of $39.99 from most online sellers. They might not be as heavy-duty as some of the $100 stands on the market, but for most applications they will work just fine. Trust me!


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Sugar Ray and the Bluetones – Living Tear to Tear


This CD review was originally published in the March 5, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones – Living Tear to Tear

Severn Records

12 tracks / 59:05

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones have been doling out their distinctive brand of blues from the Northeast for over 35 years, and they are playing stronger than ever as evidenced by their latest Severn Records release, Living Tear to Tear. Their sound is a fun blend of harmonica and piano heavy Chicago-influenced blues with some amazingly rocking guitar. The overall effect is timeless and this album could have been recorded fifty years ago, except that modern production values lend it a crystal-clear listening quality.

None of these guys have limited their careers to what they do with the Bluetones, however. The Grammy-nominated singer and harpman, Sugar Ray Norcia, did seven years with Rhode Island’s storied Roomful of Blues and has appeared on over 50 albums with artists as diverse as Ronnie Earl, Otis Grand, Ann Peebles, Jimmy Rogers, Pinetop Perkins, J. Geils, Sax Gordon and Duke Robillard. He is joined on this disc by Monster Mike Welch on guitar, Mudcat Ward on bass, Neil Garouvin on drums, and Grammy-nominee Anthony (no nickname) Geraci on the piano. These musicians have performed with Big Mama Thornton, Hubert Sumlin, John Hammond, Johnny Winter, Otis Grand, The Mannish Boys, Sugaray Rayford, and Debbie Davies, to name just a few.

Living Tear to Tear was recorded at Severn Studios in Annapolis, Maryland, and is an hour-long show of solid blues split up into 12 tracks. These are mostly original tunes penned by Norcia, Welch, Ward, and Geraci, as well as a few well-played covers. They kick off the set with one of the originals, “Rat Trap,” and right away their decades of experience shows as they proceed to tear the roof off the house. Sugar Ray’s harmonica tone and timing are perfect and it is apparent why he is a first-call harp player. His vocals are throaty and Welch’s guitar work is as clear as a bell.

The band slows things down for “Here We Go” and Monster Mike (nicknamed by Dan Ackroyd) adds a little reverb to the guitar while the rock solid backline of Ward and Garouvin (Groovin!) keeps the beat steady. Geraci cuts loose on the keys while Sugar Ray does a good horn substitute with his harmonica on “Things Could Be Worse,” which is a good reminder for all of us.

“Misery” is the longest tune on Tear to Tear, coming in at over eight minutes, and they picked a good song to cut loose on, as this slow-roller brings all of the finer elements of this quintet into play. The lyrics are indeed full of misery as Norcia promises to “…sit here and keep on drinkin’, till I drink my baby off my mind (you might have to cut me off this time).” Welch throws down his best solo of the album on this track, and that is saying something! This is the standout track of the release, with “I Dreamed Last Night” and its wonderful piano from Geraci taking a close second place.

The cover tunes are as well done as the originals. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine” is a respectful take on the original and it is a delightful romp with subtle guitar work from Monster Mike behind a harmonica-heavy front end. And Lightnin’ Slim’s “Nothing but the Devil” (which was also done well by Rory Gallagher), closes out the set with distorted and growly vocals, bar room piano and the classic story of a man done wrong.

Sugar Ray and the Bluetones’ Living Tear to Tear is one of the best new albums of any genre that I have heard in the past year, with stellar performances from each of the five artists on the bill. It is a must-buy if you like classic harmonica-soaked Midwestern blues, so check it out and see for yourself -- you will not be disappointed!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lifetime 6 Foot Folding Table Review


I know: “Why are you reviewing a table on a music blog?” Well, when I was setting up for a show last Sunday I realized how much easier packing my car is with this Lifetime 6 foot folding table. This thing is a folding table plus, since it also folds in half!

I have used this table for about 3 years now, and it has been awesome. It has a blow molded HDPE top that does not scratch easily and has not turned weird colors after being used in the bright sun. The legs and frame are 1-inch tubular steel that is powder coated for corrosion resistance.

The size is fairly standard, as it is 72 inches long, 30 inches deep, and 29 inches tall. When folded in half, it is a very manageable 36 inches by 30 inches by 3 inches. It only weighs 26 pounds, yet the manufacturer says it can hold up to 469 pounds. I am a little skeptical, but if you spread the weight over the whole thing it might work. All I know is that I can pile a couple of road cases and 12-inch powered speakers on it with no trouble at all.

Like I said, I have been using this table for years, and over this time I have not had any issues with it. Nothing has broken on it, it folds and unfolds easily, and there is a even a padded handle for carrying it around. Given a choice, I would prefer a smaller overall size, as I never need quite as much real estate as this one takes up. Lifetime has a 5-foot fold in half table that is only 27 inches wide, which would be a better size for me, but nobody local to me seems to be selling them.

Anyway, if you are looking for a highly portable table for gigs, I would highly recommend picking up one of these Lifetime folding table. They are only around $45 each, and you can find them at you local Lowe’s or Home Depot.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Sari Schorr – A Force of Nature | Album Review

Sari Schorr – A Force of Nature

Manhaton Records

12 tracks / 57:00

Sari Schorr is an amazing blues singer from Brooklyn, and I am not the only one who thinks that she has tremendous potential. In fact, legendary producer Mike Vernon (Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall) put his retirement on hold to oversee the construction of her debut album, A Force of Nature. This is not an overnight success story as Sari has been working for years, touring the US and Europe with esteemed artists such as Joe Louis Walker and Popa Chubby, and she was recently inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame.

A Force of Nature was cut in Seville, Spain and London, England, and a cadre of top-shelf musicians were called on to back up Sari. The core band is made up of Innes Sibun and Quique Bonal on guitar, Jose Mena on drums, Nani Conde on bass, and Julian Maeso behind the keyboards. The list of guest artists is equally impressive, with contributions from Walter Trout and Oli Brown on guitar, as well as the keyboards of John Baggot, Jesús Lavilla, and Dave Keyes.

There are a dozen tracks on this album, and Sari collaborated on the writing of nine of them. First up is “Ain’t Got No Money,” a guitar-heavy blues rocker that kicks off with a slick intro from Sibun. He is a heck of a blues guitarist, but even that is overshadowed when Schorr starts to sing, as her voice is powerful with a more than respectable range and an abundance of emotion. This is backed up by “Aunt Hazel,” a rock song where Sari gets to cut loose and bemoan the results of substance abuse, accompanied by the rock-solid backline of Mena and Conde. This is one of my favorite original tracks from the album, as all of the parts fit together with precision without losing the feeling of spontaneity.

Walter Trout joined in with his guitar to help cover one of his own tunes, “Work No More.” Trout recommended this song, and it is a personal message for a friend he knew who had passed away. The respectful words are an honest eulogy for a wonderful woman, and Sari does a fabulous job of delivering them with emotion. Trout wails throughout this rocking track, with a little help from Baggott on the organ and Keyes on the piano.

The other two covers are really cool too! Schorr takes a legitimate run at Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter’s “Black Betty,” and delivers the goods. This track is not a fast-paced rocker like the Ram Jam or Spiderbait versions, instead starting with a bare-bones acoustic guitar accompaniment, which transforms into a powerful piece of grinding blues-rock featuring organ from John Baggott. The final cover is on the other end of the spectrum, and Sari’s soulful and bluesy interpretation of The Supreme’s 1965 Motown hit, “Stop! In the Name of Love” is like no other version you have ever heard. Rietta Austin does a lovely job with the backing vocals on this track – you can't do this song without harmonies!

As you would expect from Vernon, the production values are first-rate, and this is a very well recoded and mixed project. The balance of the instruments and vocals is perfect, and the songs are sequenced so that the listener does not ever become weary of the content. For once, I have no complaints at all!

A Force of Nature is a stellar debut from Sari Schorr, and she certainly has plans for the future. Tour dates are scheduled throughout the US and Europe, Mike Vernon has agreed to work on Schorr’s next two albums (maybe he is just semi-retired), and she is writing new material with Innes. With Sari’s talent and Mike’s experience, her future is bright indeed!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dean Custom Zone 4-String Bass Review


Well, today we are looking at a series of the homeliest basses that I have ever reviewed on Rex and the Bass. Nobody would argue that the Dean Custom Zone basses are certainly an eyeful, no matter how you look at them!

You will not find many Dean instruments on my blog, because I find most of them to be really hard to look at, so they are not what I play. But, that being said, most of the ones I have tried have been playable and capable of getting the job done. And that is what Dean has been about since 1977: getting tools into the hands of musicians, and usually for a pretty good price.

The Dean Custom Zone basses are available in incredibly garish colors, including Yellow (which I have never actually seen), Nuclear Green, and Fluorescent Pink. To put the appearance completely over the top, the color extends form the body to the fretboard, which is a breathtaking visual effect.

Once you get past the hue, these basses are pretty standard fare. The bodies have sort of a Precision Bass profile with point horns; they are carved from basswood, which is a soft wood that is easy to work with and still has nice tonal qualities. The body is loaded up with a passive P-bass style pickup that is wired through a tone pot and a volume knob. As there is no pickguard, there is a control cavity in the back, which would make adding active electronics quite a bit easier.

The 34-inch scale maple neck has a 1.5-inch wide nut, and there are black block inlays and 20 frets stuck into it. On the back of the headstock there is a set of black die-cast tuners, which match the die cast bridge. Everything does with black, apparently.

The Zone basses are made in China, and the build quality of the one I tried out is acceptable. The finish is a bit rough on the fretboard but the neck binding is clean and the frets are reasonably level. The one I tested was brand new and the set-up was really bad - it took an hour of fiddling around to get the intonation and action into the acceptable range. One this was done, there was not much to complain about. The neck has a comfy C-shape to it, and is very Jazz Bass-like, and the output of the pickup was strong and pleasant. As a bonus, this one was really light, weighing just a bit over 8 pounds. This would be a good rock bass, particularly for novice players.

Dean did ok with the Custom Zone bass, and they are certainly cheap enough, with a street price of $199.99 (list is $337.99), which includes a 5-year warranty. No case is included, so you will have to find your own (or not). Certainly you will want to try before you buy, as the pictures do not do these justice!