Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, California

Aloha!

You probably already know that I love ukuleles, but somehow I made it this far in life without ever hearing of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Fortunately, my dad surprised me with a ticket and we headed over to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts to check out what it was all about. I have really been missing out!

The Cerritos Performing Arts Center has been a cool place to see a show since it opened in 1993. It is a classy facility with 1800 seats, good lines of sight, and nice acoustics. It is in a safe neighborhood with free parking, too. Can you beat that? They have over 150 performances a year with a diverse selection of artists: I have seen Isaac Hayes, Shirley Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and Loudon Wainwright III there, and had a real blast over the years.

Well, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around longer than that, and with remarkably little turnover of membership: they formed in 1985 and the newest member of the touring octet joined 23 years ago. The have recorded plenty of CDs and DVDs, but touring is where the magic happens – they have sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Can you say that about your band?

I can hear what you are thinking: “Who can listen to two hours of ukulele music?” Well, it is not 2 hors of ukulele music – it is two hours of entertainment. There is a lot of fabulous British comedy thrown in between an assortment of songs that you would not expect to hear from 8 ukuleles (soprano, concert, tenor, bass, and a few surprise ukes here and there). Plus they do not depend on the typical Hawaiian strumming style – they dig in with picks as needed and play wonderful chords. This is a necessity as there are no drums or keyboards – just the ukuleles.

These folks are real musicians, and this show is not a comedy gag. They sing well with good harmonies, and they are all very skilled on their instruments – then again playing a few hours a day for 30 years should make one proficient. They do have good comedic timing though, and it is a joy to watch them on stage.

As they run through a few dozen songs during the course of the evening each of the members take the lead on a few songs, and it is a diverse collection of material. Everything from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” They did a little classic musical (Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre”) and Rose Royce’s disco classic, “Car Wash.” This really does represent Jung’s theme of the duality of man. I am not going to ruin any more surprises, other than to say that their rendition of the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was breathtaking.

All in all, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain put in a solid two-hour performance (plus a 20-minute intermission), and it was truly a fun evening -- I would love to see them again sometime. Check out their website at www.ukuleleorchestra.com to see where they are going to be next. They seem to be constantly touring all over the world, and they have a lot gigs in the US, Germany, Finland, France, Denmark, the UK and Poland coming up. You will not be disappointed!

Mahalo!

George Taylor – Rain or Shine | Album Review

George Taylor – Rain or Shine

Self Release

www.georgetaylormusic.com

10 tracks / 41:16

After experiencing wave after wave of mushy pop music that came out of the same mold, it is refreshing to hear a complete album of Americana that is full of great stories and distinct music. That is exactly what George Taylor delivers with his sophomore disc, Rain or Shine.

George is a Virginian blues musician that took a three year trip to Austin Texas and a tour through the Mississippi River Delta to discover his own blues sound, and it turns out that there is a lot of country music in him that is looking for a way to get out. The ten original tracks (all written by Taylor) are definitely blues based, but his rock, roots and country influences give these songs a vibe that is all his own.

Taylor recorded this album at Shine Music in Austin, and he took on the vocals, harmonica, and much of the guitar work. He was joined by Blake Lange on drums, Cody Ground behind the keyboards, and Jerry Reynolds on fiddle. Justin Douglas co-produced this project with George, and handled the engineering, mixing and mastering chores, as well as playing the bass, lap steel and dobro, and laying down the backing vocals. He is a busy guy!

Rain or Shine kicks off with “Goodnight” and the fiddle and harmonica combine with his tenor twang and spoken word interludes to give it a fun acoustic country feel. This song sets the listeners’ expectations high as the lyrics are very well crafted, and Taylor keeps up this standard for the next nine tracks with some excellent songs of love, loss and hitting the road.

”What am I Gonna Say” is George’s take on a murder ballad, this time with the theme of a weekend fling in Mexico gone horribly wrong -- hopefully this is not a true story. This is the most raw track on the album, with just Taylor, his acoustic guitar and gritty lyrics galore.

There are plenty of genres to be found here, including the jaunty electric piece, “Breakin’ in Boots,” which has a catchy chorus and almost enough fuzzy guitar to make any rocker happy. But the standout track from this set is “Only Blue” which has a unique Deltq/country/zydeco feel with just the right amount sweet pedal steel and raunchy harmonica lines.

All too soon, the album draws to a close with “Seat with Your Name,” a subtle ballad with sweet harmonica and tastefully restrained guitar picking. Cody Ground’s lovely piano work completes the picture as Taylor shares a bit of his personal faith: “I know a place we all need to go,
where there’s pearly gates and roads paved with gold,
and getting there’s easy and it frees you of shame.”

George Taylor’s Rain or Shine is a solid album of original American music with ten tracks that all deliver the goods. It is worth your time to give it a listen on his website at www.georgetaylormusic.com , and then do a quick search on Amazon, iTunes or CDbaby if you are interested in picking up a copy (vinyl available!) for yourself.

Thank you!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Schatten Multiple Knob and Bushing Puller Review

Aloha!

It can be pretty nerve-wracking to try to pry a knob off of a guitar, as using a screwdriver can easily lead to a broken knob, a scratched top, or both. It can be many times worse when trying to get a tight bushing out of a headstock or body. That was why I was so happy to get ahold of a Schatten multiple knob and bushing puller.

Puller have been around for ages, and are often used in heavy mechanical operations, such as removing bearings from transmissions or pulleys from engines or other machinery. These tools use leverage and evenly applied pressure to steadily pull the pressure-fitted components apart. As a side note, it is often fun to misuse tools of this type during crazy household repairs! Schatten applied this theory on a much smaller scale for more the delicate operations that are conducted during typical luthier repairs and modifications.

When you buy this tool, you will get an acrylic puller tube with a protective ring to prevent finish damage, a long bolt with a wing nut, the puller blocks (alight one for knobs and a heavy one for bridge and tailpiece studs), and a selection of screws that will thread into common bushings.

Using it is easy. Attach the correct puller block to the bolt and slip the u-shaped opening in the block under what ever it is you want to pull out. Slide to tube over the bolt, put the wing nut on top and crank it down until whatever it is you are working on pops loose. That is it, easy peasy!

I have used my puller a lot: Stratocaster and Les Paul knobs, headstock bushings, and even the bridge studs from my Explorer. It worked well every time, and I have not broken any of the parts or screwed up the finish on my instruments. What more could you ask for?

If you decide to pick one up, the $48.50 price might be a little off-putting for what seems to be a basic tool. But, the Schatten multiple knob and bushing puller is a well-made tool that will last for hundred of repairs, and the cost savings in reduced time, less broken parts, and not having to do finish touch-ups will make it worth every penny. Check one out for yourself!

Mahalo!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sampson PS04 Pop Filter Review

Hello!

Well, not everything I review on Rex and the Bass can be sexy or cool, and I suppose pop filters fall into that category, but when you need one, you really need one. Today we are looking at the Sampson PS04 pop filter, which is on the lower end of the market, but still very effective.

For starters, they did not go for the terrible tamper-resistant packaging which is a big bonus for me. The PS04 and its microphone stand clamp are attached to a piece of cardboard with tie-wraps, which are easy enough to cut away so you can get to work.

After you get it loose you will find that the pop filter is about 4 ¾ inches across, and it is composed of two layers of nylon mesh that are affixed to a plastic ring. This ring is attached with screws to an 8-inch flexible steel (painted black) gooseneck. This gooseneck has a very fine thread collar that screws to the microphone stand mount.

The stand mount is also steel, and it attaches to most any normal-sized microphone stand, including the on-stage desktop stand that I use for voiceover work. The clamp is rubber coated and the mounting screw has a plastic anchor so there is little chance of marring your stand. The whole thing is pretty self-explanatory, and if you cannot figure out how to use it then you should not be messing around with recording equipment in the first place.

Why do you need a pop filter in the first place? It is important to note that A pop filter is not a windscreen. Windscreens are used outside to reduce the effect of the wind, and on stage to keep spit off the microphone. Pop filters are used for vocals and speech in a studio environment to reduce popping sounds caused by the impact of fast moving air on the microphone, which can be found when syllables that begin with P, B or D are pronounced (for the most part…).

I need a pop filter for recording voiceovers for work and school, and the Sampson SP04 works just fine for that. It fits tightly on my stand and provides good coverage for my Shure PG42 USB microphone. If you were looking for something to improve the quality of your voiceovers or podcasts, this would be a good choice.

My only complaints are that the gooseneck is just barely long enough for what I am using it for, and that it would be nice to have a little more adjustability at the head end of things. But, you get what you pay for, and this is not an expensive unit

As far as durability goes, I have not had any problems after the first few times I have used it, though it does not appear to be the sturdiest thing ever made. I would be very careful about putting it in a road case as the mesh sees quite fragile. The gooseneck holds position well, and as the screen is not very heavy I do not see any problems in the future for it. By the way, it does come with a 1-year warranty.

The Sampson PS04 pop filter does every thing it is supposed to, and it comes in at a decent price point, too. With a list price of $19.20, and an Amazon price of $14.27, it is a great buy for the occasional recording session. Check one out if you get the chance!

Mahalo!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epiphone Dove Acoustic Electric Guitar Review

Hiya!

The law of diminishing returns turns out to be true in almost every case where it is applied, and the cost of musical instruments is no exception. There are some very nice budget guitars out there, and as you add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the price the improvements in tone and playability are not commensurate with the amount spent. Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for a Santa Cruz acoustic or a Sadowsky bass, but there are some great values out there for short money.

One example of this would be the Epiphone Dove acoustic guitar. Surely you know of Epiphone, they produce the entry-level Gibson brand instruments that get re-sold for almost nothing as soon as a guitarist can scrape up enough dosh for a real Gibson. Though much maligned, these imported guitars can be quite good.

The Dove was introduced in 1962, and was one Gibson’s first acoustics that was embraced by the rock-and-roll culture. This flattop has been adopted by plenty of high-profile, one of the first of whom was the legendary Scotty Moore. It is (along with the Hummingbird) Gibson’s answer to Martin’s D-series guitars. The Epiphone version here was made in Indonesia and it is chock full of good materials and parts so the labor costs must be almost non-existent. Human rights advocates be warned…

The woods are surprisingly good, with a solid spruce top and a bound maple body and neck. The fretboard and bridge are made of real rosewood, which is amazing when you consider that Gibson is using all kind of bizarre stuff for Les Paul fretboards instead of rosewood. The body is sprayed in a subdued Violinburst, which comes off quite nicely. Oh yes, and it has the signature dove-decorated pickguard and bridge, which I am quite fond of.

The slim-taper D-profile neck is quite good. It has a 1.68-inch wide nut and 20 frets with a 25 ½-inch scale. The rosewood fretboard has pearloid parallelogram inlays and there is an adjustable trussrod. On one end there are chrome Grover 14:1 tuners (though the factory calls them nickel), and on the other end there is a compensated synthetic bone bridge saddle. One welcome piece of hardware is two strap pins. Why do so many manufacturers only give you one? And the Epiphone Hummingbird is really well put together.

The finish quality is good, and the frets are as good as the ones that you will find on a new Gibson Les Paul (which is not saying much, I guess). The tuners hold well, and in general the intonation is good. The neck can be adjusted for a low and fast action, though a little nut filing may be needed. And best of all, this guitar has a gloriously loud tone and a relatively balanced sound from string to string. Keep in mind that this is not an expensive guitar, and everything is relative…

The electronics package is also pretty good, with a Fishman Sonitone soundhole preamp and Fishman Sonicore underbridge pickup system. This is a very natural sounding pickup that fortunately uses a conventional 9-volt battery, not one of those weird flat CR-type batteries that you will not be abe to find at the last minute when your preamp poops out. Controls include master volume and master tone – no tuner is included on this one, folks.

What will all of this cost you? The Epiphone Dove has a list price of $499, and a street price of $299 (no case included). If you look around you can find even better deals online, and used ones are embarrassingly cheap. But if you buy a new one you get the Epiphone Limited Lifetime Warranty and Gibson 24/7/365 customer service. This is one of the best acoustic deals on the market right now. Trust me…

Mahalo!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Ray Mazarek and Roy Rogers – Twisted Tales

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the October 24, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Ray Mazarek & Roy Rogers – Twisted Tales

Self Release

www.manzarek-rogersband.com

10 tracks / 44:42

Every now and then I run into an album that is way out there, and I have to listen to it repeatedly to figure out how I feel about it. Twisted Tales by Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers is certainly one of these, and in the end it turned out that I really liked what they put together.

You are certainly familiar with Ray Manzarek, the UCLA film student who became the founding father and keyboardist for The Doors. After that band disintegrated in the early 1970s, Ray performed periodically with bandmate Robby Krieger as well as actively participating in other music endeavors, including producing albums for other artists. He was a well-rounded character, also working in film and writing fiction and non-fiction books. Sadly, he passed on in May at the age of 74, just a month before Twisted Tales was to be released.

Roy Rogers is probably not the one you are thinking of, but this slide guitarist was indeed named after the famed western singer. Roy’s career is impressive, and he has been successful as a performer, writer and producer. He played with John Lee Hooker back in the 1980s, and produced four of Hooker’s albums. He has also collaborated with other top-name artists, including Bonnie Raitt, Steve Miller, Carlos Santana and Linda Ronstadt.

Twisted Tales is not the first Manzarek / Rogers collaboration, as they started working together in 2008, releasing two very good albums before this one. On this project Ray took some of the vocals, played the keyboards (obviously), and took a turn on the flute. Roy handled the rest of the vocals and the guitar work. Also in the studio were Steve Evans on bass, Kevin Hayes on drums, and George Brooks on sax. This is a tight album, and if you check out this CD you will hear Manzarek and Rogers at the top of their games -- their chops are amazing!

Rogers has a rock-solid blues background, and while there is plenty of rock and blues to be found here, this is not a conventional blues album, and you can get a clue of the content from the title. Their previous albums were composed of ballads (Ballads Before the Rain) and blues (Translucent Blues). So, not surprisingly, Twisted Tales is all about the stories that are told within. With their limited vocal ranges, at times this music leans towards a spoken word project, and it commands the listeners’ attention throughout. This is not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination.

This disc includes ten original tracks, with all of the music written by Manzarek and/or Rogers, and the lyrics coming from a few different sources. The words for four of the songs were penned by the late Jim Carroll, the poet/musician who wrote The Basketball Diaries. His lyrics are not complicated or even particularly slick, but they evoke strong images that help the listener visualize the stories that he laid out. I found “Cops Talk” to be tedious and cliché-ridden, but “Street of Crocodiles” and “American Woman” are truly poetic, and turn out to be great reads even without the musical score.

Beat poet Michael McClure contributed the lyrics for three of the tracks, and his writing style is less direct than Carroll’s, so instead of painting harsh pictures he uses similes to tell his stories. One of these, “Black Wine/Spank Me with a Rose,” is a Doors-style roadhouse blues tune, and it is fun to hear Manzarek hitting the 2nd beat on the piano and organ just like he did nearly 50 years ago.

But do not forget Rogers’ contributions here. Besides throwing down serious guitar work throughout (tasteful layering and smoking slide playing), he also wrote the lyrics for two of the tracks, “The Will to Survive” and “State of the World.” These have the most conventional lyrics of any of the songs found on the album, which is a neat contrast with the material that others wrote.

Twisted Tales is a complex piece of work, and both Ray Mazarek and Roy Rogers proved that they were masters of their craft on this disc. It is fitting that Manzarek could end his career on this high note and I certainly look forward to what Rogers has up his sleeve for the next chapter of his career.

Mahalo!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fo’ Reel – Heavy Water | Album Review

Aloha!

Fo’ Reel – Heavy Water

Self Release

www.foreelband.com

11 tracks / 53:06

Fo’ Reel bills themselves as a “New Orleans All Star Blues Funk” band, and though it sounds like hyperbole, there might just be something to their boast. Just looking over the list of personnel for their new album, “Heavy Water,” proves that they have a lot of powerful musicians in the line-up.

For starters, C.P. Love, the legendary Crescent City soul singer is their frontman, and a couple of Grammy winners are on the bill too: Jonny Neel behind the keyboards (Allman Brother, Gov’t Mule, and Dicky Betts) and Jon Smith on tenor sax. David Hyde takes on the bass chores, and the drums were played by Daryl Burgess or Allyn Robinson, depending on which city the recording session was in that day (New Orleans or Nashville). This ensemble is rounded out by Ward Smith on baritone saxophone, Barney Floyd on trumpet, and songwriter Rick Lawson, who provided the lead vocals on four of the tracks.

But do not forget guitarist and executive producer Mark Domizio, who is their leader and the brainchild that turned this group of journeyman musicians into a cohesive whole. David played with Dr. John’s band for 40 years, and has been a first-call guitarist on the New Orleans scene for just as long. Now that this disc is cut, he will be taking some of these guys on the road to spread their brand of blues to the hungry masses.

For a “New Orleans All Star Blues Funk” band, their selection of music is not what you would think it would be – what they play is not exactly the New Orleans Blues. Though there is an undercurrent of the NOLA vibe, their music has a smooth and soulful modern blues sound that is not loaded up with accordion, washboards, or raw production values. It is a fresh blues-based sound that incorporates elements of jazz, soul, funk, rhythm and blues, Latin beats, and even a little Texas swing. This album is as slick as hell with high-quality and seamless production, and the band cranks out eight original songs and three clever covers in just under an hour.

Heavy Water kicks off with “Breaking up Somebody’s Home,” the first of the three cover tunes. This Albert King standard differs from other versions that came before as it is more soul-based, with some incredible Hammond work from Neel, and killer horn arrangements from Smith. Love’s vocals are strong and suitably harsh and emotional for the theme of this song.

Love also takes the lead vocals on the other two covers: “Shake N Bake” and ”Just as I Am,” both of which were recorded by the late Luther Allison. The former is a slow-rolling funk masterpiece, and the latter borders on gospel. The common ground between the two is the rock-solid backline, Domizio’s stellar lead breaks, and the incredible keys of Neel.

Rick Lawson’s smooth voice brings more of a 1970s funk style to “Shake N Bake” which is an explosion of raw horns, retro synthesizer sound, and hammering snare and hi-hat. But otherwise, his vocals are used for slow-rolling blues tunes, including “Leave Your Love Alone,” “Blues,” and “Outside Love.” These latter two also feature some sublime slide work from Domizio.

As cool as all of this is, there are a few instrumentals that will really knock your socks off too. “Gate” is a jazzed-up Texas swing tribute to Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, with some trick fingering on the guitar and razor sharp horns, including a fabulous tenor sax solo from Smith. They chose to end the set with “Tater,” a jazzy horn fest with a funky beat.

Fo’ Reel’s Heavy Water is a very good album with first-rate writing, arranging, performance and production. If you like contemporary blues or soul, this disc is a must-buy, but also consider their live show if you are looking for a fun evening of righteous music. For details of how to purchase the CD or to see their gig schedule check out their website at www.foreelband.com

Mahalo!