Saturday, March 28, 2015

Memory Lane: BOSS OC-2 Octave Pedal Review

Howdy!

The month would not be complete without a review of some sort of BOSS effect pedal, so today we are looking at the good old OC-2 Octave pedal. This is a darned good effect that was replaced in the BOSS line-up with the OC-3 in 2003.

Roland’s BOSS division makes effect pedals for the everyday working musician. These are folks that cannot afford the boutique pedals, or more realistically, they realize that good is good enough (sort of a Voltaire attitude). You have seen that you pay whatever you want can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, with the choices include crummy junk for twenty bucks all the way up to hundreds of dollars for stuff that was put together by people in first-world countries. BOSS pedals fall in the middle, as they are reasonably priced and good quality, making them a good value.

What exactly does an octave pedal do? It lets users fatten up their sound by adding up to two additional tones: one and/or two octaves below the original note.

The OC-2 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2.9 inches wide by 2.4 inches tall by 5.1 inches long, and it weigh in at a touch under one pound. See? The metric system will never catch on as long as I am on watch! This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter.

It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a subtle dark brown. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a ¼’ input and output jacks, and a jack for the aforementioned AC adapter. The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include OCT 1, OCT 2, and DIRECT LEVEL. Here is a quick and dirty rundown of what they do:

- OCT 1: adjusts the level of the one octave down tone.

- OCT 2: adjusts the level of the two octaves down tone.

- DIRECT LEVEL: adjusts the blend of the original tone and the effect.

That is it, you don’t even need a manual to figure this thing out. About two minutes of knob twisting will get you the tone you are looking for and then you can move on with your life. It might be one of the easiest to use pedals I have come across.

The OC-2 works really well for both guitar and bass. If you want it to track chords, it will not, and it is not always perfect when tracking single notes either, which is part of its charm. It allows for a more organic and less processed tone, and it really thickens things up nicely. Everybody should have something like this on his or her pedalboard. It is not something that will get used on every song, but when you need a fatter sound the OC-2 will deliver the goods. As a bonus, if you throw a phaser pedal into the mix, you can get some of the most awesome 1970s tones imaginable!

If you are searching for a good quality and effective octave pedal, the BOSS OC-2 fits the bill, and it is certainly simpler and easier to use than the four-knob OC-3. It will get the job done and is certainly reasonably priced with nice ones selling for around $60 to $100 on eBay. They seem to be holding their value well, so if you buy right it should always be worth what you paid for it.

Mahalo!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Howard Glazer – Looking in the Mirror |Album Review

Howard Glazer – Looking in the Mirror |Album Review

Self-release through Lazy Brothers Records

www.howardglazer.com

12 tracks / 58:47

There is a lot of soul in Detroit, a city that has a hard time over the past few years, but Howard Glazer is a great representative of the Motor City as is passionate for the city as he plays his own brand blues. His efforts have been noticed and he is certainly appreciated in his homeland, having been inducted into the Michigan Blues Hall of Fame and earning the 2014 Outstanding Blues/R&B Instrumentalist at the Detroit Music Awards.

Howard’s sixth solo album, Looking in the Mirror, is a wonderful blend of blues, funk, psychedelic rock, and swamp rock. He handles the guitars and vocals, and is joined by a capable crew that includes Chris Brown on bass and Charles David Stuart behind the drum kit, with additional vocals from Maggie McCabe and Stephanie Johnson. After cranking it up, you will find an hour of quality music with twelve original tracks written by Glazer, and not a cover song in sight.

The CD kicks off with the bawdy “Midnight Postman,” a rhythm and blues song with a healthy injection of funk and some fabulous B-3 work from featured artist Larry Marek. Glazer has the guitar chores nailed with his intuitive feel for the fretboard, and the ladies do a marvelous job of backing up his tenor vocals as he throws double-entendres out like a madman.

As you get deeper into it you will find that this album keeps things lively, and a great example of this is “All I Ever Wanted,” a refreshing blend of Creedence Clearwater-inspired swamp rock, interjected with a neat chorus featuring the ladies, not to mention a classy bass and guitar bridge. This song highlights what a terrific backline Glazer has found with Brown and Stuart!

Howard’s thoughts never go too far from his hometown, as shown by the jaunty 12-bar shuffle, ”Walking in Detroit.” He trades off on the vocals with McCabe as they call out the finer parts of the city, with a little help from the tasty trumpet work of David Kocbus. But when this fun song is over, Glazer does not let you forget that Looking in the Mirror is a guitar-driven blues album. He viciously tears through the next tune the playlist, the slow-burning “Eviction Blues,” which could very well be the standout track of the CD.

A very close second place for best song on the album is “Feeling so Bad,” Howard’s tribute to the late Johnny Winter. Glazer brings out his resonator guitar, and his slide work is a real treat. This bare bones song provides another piece of the blues puzzle for this project, and with the rest of the instruments stripped away it is a great showcase for what this man can do with his guitar, and the effect is amazing.

The set closes out with “Emergency” and no matter what you were expecting, there was no way it could be as awesome as this song! This is an epic psychedelic swamp song with crazy wah-soaked guitar tone and some tasteful electric flute from guest artist Tom Schmaltz. You heard that right: electric flute! This is not shtick – it is a heavy song that digs into the woes of the once-proud industrial capital of the United States. This song exemplifies what Glazer has accomplished with this disc, as he pushes musical boundaries to their limits while still managing to keep things tasteful.

Looking in the Mirror is a fine album, and Howard Glazer should be proud of what he has done here -- there are not many better ways to spend an hour of your time! So, why don’t you head on over to www.howardglazer.com to check out his catalog and to find out if he has any shows coming up in your area?

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Concert Review: Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California

Aloha!

It is always cool to see bands that you have been listening to for years for the first time, and last Saturday (March 14, 2015) I was able to kill two birds with one stone when I caught Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California.

The Saban Theatre is a really cool place to see a show. This Art-Deco 1900-seat venue opened in 1930 as the Fox Wilshire Theatre as one of 20th Century Fox’s premiere theatres. In 1981 the theatre was converted to a stage venue, and it was renamed about 5 years ago after a generous donation from the Saban family.

First up for the 9:00PM start was Uriah Heep, who have been rocking since they formed in London in 1969. Though their line-up has changed a bit since then, the original guitarist Mick Box is still hanging in there. He was joined by frontman Bernie Shaw, Phil Lanzon on keys, Russell Gilbroom on drums and Davey Rimmer on bass. They are touring in support of the 24th album, Outsider, and they played 13 songs in a 50-minute set for the fairly enthusiastic crowd.

Heep brought their A-game on Saturday and all of the pieces came together. Shaw has an incredible animal magnetism, and he can still wail with the best of them as he approaches the dreaded age of 60. Gilbroom’s drums were thunderous, and Rimmer joined him for a rock solid backline. Box is a good guitarist, but his solos became a bit tedious as the evening went on, as he seemed to play the same solo in every song. They finished on a strong note with “Lady in Black”, and took it a step further with their encore of “Gypsy” and “Easy Livin’.” They really got the mail delivered and I would see them again in a heartbeat. By the way, I got to meet up with the band after the show, and they are down to earth guys who do not mind mixing it up with their fans.

After this there was a way too chaotic stage change that took about ½ hour, and Blue Oyster Cult took the stage.

Blue Oyster Cult has also been around forever, having cranked out their first album in 1972. The New York-based band still has one original member, Donald “Buck Dharma” Rosier, and the rest of the band includes long-time singer Eric Bloom, Kasim Sulton on bass, Richie Castellano on keys and guitar and Jules Radino behind the drum kit.

And it was a rough night for BOC. The sound was off, and it was apparent from the git-go that Radino was having trouble with his monitors. When the drummer cannot hear what is going on, that is big trouble, but fortunately he is a good drummer and settled into his own groove and the band caught up with him after a few songs. Also, Rosier was having trouble with his pedalboard that led to a tech coming onstage to fix it in the middle of a song. They need to get a better plan for doing a quick stage change after the opening band clears out.

Anyway, their 12-song set was entertaining enough, and they included the expected hits, including “Burning for You,” “Godzilla, and “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Suprisingly, they did not save the latter for the encore, going with “Hot Rails to Hell” and “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” instead. This is not how I would have done it, but it worked out pretty well.

The Cult’s show was a bit on the lazy side (actually, they phoned it in), with the standout performers being Kasim Sulton and Richie Castellano. These two have talent galore and good stage presence, and they should start shopping themselves around as they can do a lot better than this. I will not be seeing Blue Oyster Cult again – once was enough for me.

Any, if Uriah Heep comes to town make sure you try to see their show, it will be worth every penny!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Peaches and Crime – Do Bad Things | Album Review

Peaches and Crime – Do Bad Things

Self Release

www.peachesandcrime.com

14 tracks / 49:25

I get over a hundred new albums a year to listen to and review, and have to say that in my whole life I have never received anything in the mail like Peaches and Crime’s third CD, Do Bad Things. This project was put together around a really fun concept, and I really appreciated what they created for the listening public.

Do Bad Things is a modern day bawdy vaudeville cabaret show that has a little bit of everything: singing, maybe some dancing (it is a CD, you know), acting, comedy, drama, and even a little ventriloquism. The honky-tonk feel of this disc includes elements of old-time jazz and blues music with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. This music, along with the very clever lyrics, ties the fourteen different vignettes together to make an attractively cohesive whole.

Peaches and Crime is based out of Binghampton, New York (somewhere between Scranton and Syracuse), and they have been evolving and honing their show since their debut CD in 2010. The main crew includes the master of ceremony and lyricist, Daniel Schwartz (his stage name is Daniel Black), vocalist Angela Schwartz (Angie Diamond), vocalist Julia Adams (Ms. Abigail Pins), vocalist/clarinetist Cat Macdonald (Young Catherine), bassist ”Honest” Stephen Longfield, pianist Mike Sclafani (Mikey the Fist), and Ross Bennett behind the skins.

I do not want ruin any of the surprises from the show, but let’s just say that all of the major human conditions are to be found here: love, hate, death, infidelity, culture and class. They are presented via song and dramatic skits, and yes -- one case of the aforementioned ventriloquism. The performers are obviously having a good time, and the ladies pull out some wonderful 3-part vocal harmonies. As a whole it is pure entertainment, which is what going to the show should be all about!

Peaches and Crime are working on a new burlesque show, and are scheduled to start recording a new album any day now. In the meantime, check out their website at www.peachesandcrime.com for show dates, and make sure you give Do Bad Things a listen. I think you will like it!

Andrew McLan "Andy" Fraser: July 3, 1952 to March 16, 2015

Rest in peace, Andy.

DUBS Acoustic Filters Review

Hello!

After 30+ years of attending rock shows, I have given up on the macho idea of toughing out ultra-high volume concerts and having my ears ring for days afterwards, so I always use ear plugs. Unfortunately, while reducing the volume they also make the sound quality terrible, which kind of kills a lot of the joy of seeing a band live. So, I was excited when I got a piece of new technology from the folks at Doppler Labs at the 2015 NAMM show – the DUBS Acoustic Filters.

Doppler Labs is a fairly new company (established in 2013) from Southern California, and they introduced DUBS Acoustic Filters late last year. They have caught on, and are available from major retailers like Amazon, Guitar Center and Best Buy, as well as directly through the company at www.getdubs.com

For starters, DUBS do not look like the dorky foam plugs that stick out the sides of your heads like Frankenstein’s jump-starting bolts. They are small and black, with four different accent colors available. They look like modern technology, so you will not be embarrassed to wear them at a show. Also, since they do not stick out very far they will not catch on your motorcycle helmet. Bikes can be pretty loud, you know.

They fit well and seal the ear canal completely and are one-size-fits-all; they are advertised at fitting most adults over the age of 16. I have worn them for a few shows and plane flights and they are comfortable to wear for hours on end, with no undo pressure inside the ear. They do come with a kind of cheap hard plastic case, which does a god job of keeping them in one place and prevents them from getting filled with fuzz from your pocket.

They are made up of 17 different parts, with some amazing technology thrown into the mix – they are not the usual foam cylinders that probably cost less than a penny to make. DUBS are made of high strength plastics, stainless steel, polymer foams and silicones, and they certainly seem to be durable enough for the long run.

DUBS work differently than conventional ear plugs as they do not try to muffle all of the sounds that are arriving at your ears. Instead, their aim is to reduce specific frequencies through dynamic attenuation via a combination of high and low pass filters. The sound passes through chambers that are filled with open-cell foam, as well as different sized orifices to cut volume levels of selected frequencies while still trying to maintain the same balance as the source sound, at least as it is heard by the human ear.

The Doppler Labs audio engineers got things pretty close to right, particularly when you consider that a passive device is being used to cut 12dB out of ridiculously loud source sounds. They are fabulous for airplane travel, reducing the background roar to a manageable level while still allowing conversations to be heard. On a recent cross-country flight I found that I was able to better concentrate on a project I was working on, and I did not feel as fatigued as I normally would at the end of the trip.

At last weekends rock concert I attended, the volume levels were painful in the 1000-seat theatre, and the DUBS prevented hearing loss that would have surely occurred. They were mostly well balanced, with some loss of the upper mids and highs that made the vocals hard to pick out of the mix at times. I pulled them out for a bit and the vocals popped back to the front of the mix again. I do not know if I could get away with mixing a really loud live show with these things in, but they definitely made this concert a more enjoyable experience. I would use them again in a heartbeat.

DUBS Acoustic Filters are a really good product, and are a godsend if you are exposed to high-volume environments. They are not terribly cheap, coming in at $25 a pair, but how much is your hearing worth? You really should give them a try, and please let me know what you think!

Mahalo

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jeff Strahan | Monkey Around

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the November 29, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jeff Strahan – Monkey Around

Self-release through Squaw Peaks Records

www.jeffstrahan.com

10 tracks / 42:58

I know a lot of folks that dream of becoming full-time musicians, but making the step from an established career to the stage is an almost insurmountable hurdle. Jeff Strahan did just that, giving up his day job as a trial lawyer and immersing himself in the wonderful world of Texas blues rock. And after listening to his ninth record, Monkey Around, you will find that he is dead serious about his craft and that his love of music led him in the right direction. Strahan is a journeyman singer and keyboard player and fabulous guitarist from the high plains of Texas, and he brings all of these talents to the studio, which in this case is somewhere outside of Austin. Jimmy Hartman joins him on this project on bass and backing vocals, and Chris Compton on drums and backing vocals. Jeff produced this disc and wrote nine of the ten tracks, with the other track being penned by his friend and fellow guitarist, the late Lil’ Dave Thompson.

“Don’t Get Too Low” kicks off Monkey Around with crunchy rock guitar chords layered with Hammond B-3 and piano. This is not hard music to enjoy as Jeff has a pleasant voice that does not need to be driven into screaming to get his point across. For a guitarist he does not mind digging into the keyboards, and he tears off a neat piano break before jumping into the first guitar solo of the album, which is quite a corker. This is Texas-style rock, so there are no taboos about cutting 6-minute tracks with plenty of guitar! If you like the sound of this one, “Can’t Change Me” and “Monkey Around” are also killer rock tracks that you should not miss.

Beside his musicianship, Strahan should also get kudos for his role as producer for Monkey Around as it is a nice piece of work. It is well recorded and mixed, and though the tracks are quite varied they are in a logical sequence and work well together. Many self-produced albums that I come across are not quite up to snuff in the sound department and do not flow well; those other guys could go to school on this disc.

Anyway, slow blues is another one of Strahan’s specialties, and “Curtains” is about as good as it gets. Jeff gets a wonderful tone out of his Strat on the intro over the tight backline of Compton and Hartman. The lyrics are full of regret and are cleverly crafted into the classic blues structure. He has more blues on tap -- “Dangerous Curves” is some fine Texas blues with a walking bass line (and a little organ on top), and “Two Shades” uses electric piano, heavy high hat and fat bass to create that funky 1970s vibe.

Jeff uses his good sense of humor as he addresses the traditional Rhythm and Blues theme of substances that people enjoy using and abusing. In “4:20” he uses a zydeco beat that segues into Texas rock as he sings about folks that need to chill out a bit, and it turns out that he has just the solution for them. It’s a shame that this song does not have a run time of 4:20, though! “Baptist Bootleggers” is the sad story of growing up in a dry town where a little liquid refreshment is needed. It turns out that there is always a solution if you look hard enough, and Strahan uses the lyrics to paint a vivid picture of the best place in town.

Rounding out the different styles of music on this album is “The One,” a piano-accompanied ballad that Jeff dedicated to his mother, Lillian, who passed on last year. The heartfelt lyrics and Jeff’s honest voice stand on their own, and this track is a well-placed break midway through the disc.

Monkey Around is certainly a good showcase of Jeff Strahan’s many talents, but it is also a really good album with not a bad track to be found. If you like blues/rock/folk music, do yourself a favor and give it a listen!

Mahalo!