Monday, December 28, 2015

Lemmy Kilmister: December 24, 1945 to December 28, 2015

Rest in peace, brother.

Pyle-Pro PPHP103MU Powered PA Speaker Review


I have plenty of big and powerful PA equipment, but it is expensive and is not exactly the kind of stuff I want to be loaning out or letting out of my sight. Recently I got a few Pyle-Pro PPHP103MU powered PA speakers, and for the money they seem to be pretty capable and easy to use.

You may remember Pyle as the company that made those mediocre yet big, thumpy, and cheap car speakers back in the 1980s. Well, it turns out that nowadays they crank out mediocre yet amazingly low priced pro audio equipment that is generally good enough to get the job done.

The Pyle speakers we are looking at today are reasonably-sized and easy enough to tote around. They have blow-molded ABS plastic cabinets that measure around 12 x 22 x 15 inches, and they only weigh about 22 pounds each. There are also handles molded into the sides and top that make it a little easier to hoist them onto speaker stands, and there is a 35mm socket in the bottom of the cabinet. Also, they are shaped so that the speakers can be laid on their side to use as floor monitors.

These are powered speakers, so there is no external amplification needed, but how much power they actually put out is kind of a mystery. Pyle rates them at 800 watts peak / 400 watts RMS, and Amazon rates them at 600 watts peak / 300 watts RMS. I am more inclined to believe the lower numbers, as these things are not deafeningly loud. This power is routed through a 10-inch woofer and a 1-inch titanium driver tweeter. Depending where you look, the frequency spec number are almost as murky, with lows down to either 40 or 45 Hz and highs up to 20kHz, with a crossover at 2.0 kHz.

There is plenty of stuff going on around the back side of these speakers, and a casual user could easily get away without having to use a separate mixing board. There is a channel with an XLR input and a ¼-inch jack, and another with an XLR and RCA inputs. Both of these have their own level controls, but no dedicated EQ or gain knobs. Master controls are treble and bass cut knobs, and a master volume knob. There is also a ¼-inch line out for your other speaker, a power switch, the 110V/220V selector switch, and an IEC power cable socket.

Then there is a completely separate third channel for all kinds of electrical junk. There is a 1/8-inch input jack, an SD card slot and a USB port with an LCD display and controls so that MP3 files can be played back. This channel has its own level control, too. The USB port acts as a charger port, and it is possible to use this unit to record your performance directly onto a flash drive or SD card as a .wav file. I have not tried that feature, so I do not know how well that actually works.

But the rest of the features on the Pyle PPHP103MU speakers work fine. They are light and easy to set-up, and I was able to (over the phone) walk a friend through getting everything plugged in and it worked fine when she was done. They have reasonable power output, and a pair of these would do fine for karaoke or a small house party. Anything more than that (big room or loud band), and the these cabs would have to strain to keep up. The XLR inputs do not seem to have phantom power, so condenser mics will be a no-go here.

They seem to have about the same build quality as all of the other plastic entry-level speakers on the market, so they should be durable enough for casual use, but you would not want to take them on tour. I have loaned them out a few times and they came back no worse for wear, so that is a good sign.

The best thing about the Pyle-Pro PPHP103MU powered PA speakers is that they are dirt cheap. They have a list price of $420.99, and nobody on the internet is charging more than $150 each for them. At that price, if you get a dozen gigs or parties out of them you have gotten more than your money’s worth.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Steve Dawson – Rattlesnake Cage

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the July 17, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Steve Dawson – Rattlesnake Cage | Album Review

Black Hen Music

11 tracks / 41:31

Canada has produced scores of righteous musical acts over the years, and it certainly helps that artists can get help from their government through various agencies and that MAPL helps ensure that Canadian music is more widely accessible to the public. It is not a perfect system, but it certainly can help artists get a toehold in the local market, and use it as a springboard to further international success.

One product of this Canadian scene is Steve Dawson, a musician, songwriter, producer, and owner of Black Hen records. During his relatively brief career he has won seven Juno Awards and has produced some very solid work as a sideman and a solo artist, plus he is doing the Lord’s work by helping other artists get their careers started. Steve recently moved to Nashville, which will surely help get his music more attention here in the states.

Rattlesnake Cage is Dawson’s sixth solo release (if I counted right), and this one is unique in that it is an all-acoustic instrumental disc. All 11 songs were written by Steve, and he handles all of the guitar chores, including 6 and 12-string acoustics and a National Tricone. That is all -- no vocals, no overdubs, no effects, and no backing musicians. He used a Neumann M49 microphone that had been hanging in a Detroit church for 50 years to record this album. This is the holy grail of tube microphones, and they are known for having a lovely top end and lots of weight in the lows. He made the most of this hallowed mic, and it captured the essence of his performance perfectly that it sounds like he is playing in your living room.

Right from the first track, “Blind Thomas at the Crime Scene” it is apparent that this album is special. This tune is almost like a country song with a blues melody laid over the top of it. It is easy to forget that there is only one musician here and that there are no overdubs to enhance his super-clean finger picking. He keeps dead perfect time despite the intricacy of what he is doing, and he leaves no doubt that he has the skills to pull off this one-man show.

It is natural to compare Dawson to modern day guitar virtuosos such as Leo Kottke, John Fahey and Gary Davis, which is a huge compliment, but Steve has a style of his own. After one serious listen of this album it is easy to come back later and recognize his playing because this unique amalgamation of blues, jazz, country, and folk is his alone. A neat example of this is “The Medicine Show Comes to Avalon,” a light-hearted ragtime piece that sounds deceptively simple, but his thoughtful writing and exemplary performance skills make it sound less complicated than it really is.

Steve keeps things interesting throughout, and each subsequent song shows that he is not a one trick pony. The title track has a greater dynamic range than the earlier songs as he alternates digging hard into the strings with some slick slide stylings. From there he slows into the ballad-like “Lighthouse Avenue” which is simultaneously gritty and melodic. Then there is “J.R. Lockley’s Dilemna” which is the most bluesy of the bunch, complete with luscious slide steel guitar. Each song is like a new chapter in a book that just cannot be set down.

An all-acoustic guitar album could get tedious, but Dawson prevented this by changing things up with each track and the final song of the set, “The Altar at Center Raven,” arrives too quickly. This 12-string romp is fun and its uptempo melody will leave you with a smile on your face.

It should be mentioned that Steve did a nice job of mixing and mastering all of the tracks so that the level is consistent and the sound is as clear as a bell throughout. His hard work in the studio and post-production set the stage so that there was nothing to distract from his guitars and his talented hands.

Rattlesnake Cage is a breathtaking album of original roots and blues music from Steve Dawson, and it is a must-have for lovers of the acoustic guitar. Steve is touring around Canada for the rest of the year, and unfortunately there are no plans for him to travel south of the border (so far). Hopefully he can use the momentum from this CD to gain new fans from the United States, and we will get to see him perform here soon!


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Alesis TransActive Wireless Portable Powered Bluetooth Speaker Review


Sometimes you do not need a full-blown PA system when doing a small gig, such as in a coffee shop, classroom, or a small party. Unfortunately, a lot of the all-in-one speaker options end up being little more than a toy that are suitable for little mote than something for kids to mess around with for their karaoke. The Alesis TransActive Wireless speaker is a pretty good options that falls somewhere in between these two extremes.

You probably remember Alesis as the company that brought us the Qudraverb and other cool live sound electronics back in the 1980s. They have expanded their live considerably to include all kinds of products, including powered speakers. The TransActive Wireless is one of these, and it has just about everything under the kitchen sink crammed into it.

For starters, it is very portable, as it is a little smaller than a carry-on suitcase (15” x 11” x 17”), and it only weighs around 28 pounds. The similarities do not end there, as there are recessed wheels and a telescoping handle so it is really easy to drag to gigs. The cabinet seems fairly sturdy, so it will probably hold up well over time. There is a 35mm socket in the bottom of the cabinet in case you want to put it on a standard speaker stand.

Inside, there is an 8-inch driver with a 1-inch tweeter, and the amplifier is rated at 25 watts continuous/50 watts peak. Also, there is a built-in rechargeable battery, which Alesis says is good for up to 50 hours of performance time. I have never run it that long, but it is definitely good for a 3 or 4-hour gig or party. Of course it will run forever if you leave it plugged in with the included detachable IEC 110 volts cable. By the way, it takes about 6 hours to charge the battery.

The control panel is located on top of the cabinet which is fine if you have it sitting on the ground, and not so great if you have it stuck on a speaker stand. The inputs and controls are simple yet versatile, with a master volume and two channels: one with an XLR input and one with a ¼-inch input. They each have their own level controls. Also, there is a third input/level control for a 1/8-inch jack or Bluetooth. You heard that right – there is built-in Bluetooth so you can sing along to music from your phone, tablet, or laptop. Pairing it is super easy, as it is always looking for a device to connect to.

Also on top of the unit is a dock that you can set your device into and a USB charger (5 watts/2.1 amps), which is really handy. On the side of the TransActive is the power switch, an IEC power cable socket, and an LED battery indicator.

What does it not have? There are no EQ controls or vocal effects included, and there is no aux out so you will not be able to connect it to another speaker.

So, this Alesis unit has almost everything on it, and it works surprisingly well. It puts out decent volume, and if you want to do some vocals along with tracks, or maybe with a guitar or keyboard you will be in good shape for small gigs or practice out in the garage. It would be perfect for a large conference room or a small meeting room so a presenter can be heard well. It would not be appropriate for use with a band or in a room that sucks up a lot of sound. 25 watts is not that much, you know.

The big question remains unanswered, and that is, “How well will this hold up over the long run?” This is not a very expensive speaker and it has a ton of features, so chances are they did not use high-quality components for any of it. You can replace a blown speaker easily enough, but if you have an amplifier goes out, the rechargeable battery go bad, or the Bluetooth electronics crap out,this thing might end up in the trash. If you add up parts and labor, you are going to go over the purchase price of this speaker very quickly. I think these come with a one-year warranty, but I cannot find anything in writing, so buyer beware.

And the purchase price is the most alluring thing about the Alesis TransActive Wireless. This unit has a list price of $299 and a street price of $199, which is dirt cheap. I think it is worth taking a chance on if you really need all of its features. But keep in mind there are a lot of powered speakers out there in this price range. They might not have Bluetooth, wheels, or a rechargeable battery, but they do have multiple inputs and gobs more power – 400 watts is the norm. So, figure out exactly what you need before you buy!


Friday, December 18, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Daunielle


This CD review was originally published in the July 17, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Daunielle – Daunielle | Album Review

Catfood Records

10 tracks / 41:18

It is easy to forget that artists with amazing debut albums have done a lot of work earlier in their careers to get to the point where they can record their own material, and Daunielle Hill’s eponymous first CD is no exception. She has been working in the business since she was a youngster in Memphis, Tennessee, having grown up at Stax Records where her dad, William C. Brown III, was one of the legendary Mad Lads and later a recording engineer. But Daunielle (dawn-yell) was never in daddy’s shadow as she went on to become an in-demand backing singer, having appeared on countless albums (including King Solomon Burke’s latest), and toured with Huey Lewis and the News for the past four years.

Daunielle was produced by multiple Grammy-winner Jim Gaines, and his experience shows here. A group of 11 seasoned musicians from the Catfood Records label were assembled to support Daunielle’s hearty vocals, and they perform ten tracks that consist of originals, songs by some of her artist friends from the label, and a couple of fun covers that will be crowd-pleasers. Throughout this set she takes the lead, and there is no doubt that she is the one in the driver’s seat.

This album delivers modern blues with a little soul and funk thrown into the mix, and things get off to a strong start with “Runaway Train.” This song was written by Johnny Rawls, label-mate James Armstrong and bassist Bob Trenchard, and it lets Daunielle show emotion as she chastises a man who is taking the wrong path in life and who “don’t give a damn, it’s easy to tell.” This hard-hitting piece features a classy horn arrangement and some fine work on the organ by Dan Ferguson.

After worrying on “Early Grave” that a no good lover will be the end of her (likening it to musical legends who passed too soon), Daunielle treads dangerous ground by covering Etta James’ “Damn Your Eyes.” Fortunately she has the chops to pull off this awesome song from a legendary lady, and this ends up as one of the standout tracks on the album. She stays respectful of the original as she belts out the heartwrenching vocals of a woman that did not plan on falling in love again. Will McFarlane’s guitar and Ferguson’s piano provide the appropriate counterpoints to the melody as Richy Puga lays down a steady beat on the drums. Etta would approve!

The other cover is a “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” which is a lovely combination of the Jackie Wilson and Rita Coolidge versions. It is has a driving beat and features the amazing horn section of Mike Middleton on trumpet, Robert Claiborne on trombone, and saxophones by Andy Roman and Nick Flood. They are joined by Tameka “Big Baby” Goodman on backing vocals, and the result is a feel-good moment that fits in well with the rest of the material on the album.

”I Got a Voice” is refreshingly honest in this age of cookie-cutter lyrics that seem to endlessly rehash the tired topics of angst, love gone wrong, and substance abuse problems. Daunielle wrote this with Sandy Carroll to celebrate her love and support for her adopted children who have endured serious medical issues. She asserts that she is “important, don’t ignore me,” and her tone in convincing! This pop tune dances on the edge of becoming a gospel song thanks to its inspirational message and the lovely backing harmonies.

Another collaboration with Carroll is “Nobody Cared,” a soulful piece with a positive message that no matter how many times you are knocked down you can always get back up again, and to not forget that there are people out there who really care for you. Goodman provides sweet backing vocals on this one as Ferguson tinkles the ivories and the solid backline does not miss a cue. If these two songs are any indication of what Daunielle can write, she needs to pick up the pen more often and take control of her destiny.

Daunielle is not just a great debut album, it is a solid piece of art that can stand on its own. This lady has prodigious talent and the team that was put together for these recordings stood tall and delivered a likeable collection of modern blues that can be listened to over and over again. Daunielle cannot be considered a backing singer anymore: she has proven that she is a leader that will give her all and she will be a star if she can back up this release with another winner!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review of A Christmas Carol at the Long Beach Playhouse


Recently, my son had to attend a stage play for his high school drama class, and looking around on the internet my wife found that the Long Beach Playhouse was currently running their version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and since it was convenient we picked up some tickets. I was not super enthusiastic about this, but it really worked out well and we all had a great time.

The Long Beach Playhouse has been around since 1929, and during this time they have put on more than 1,000 shows, which is not surprising considering they put on a new show every three weeks. This really is a local treasure, and over 35,000 people. This company has their own facility with two different stages, and A Christmas Carol was performed in their 200-seat Mainstage Theatre.

This is the fourth time that these folks have put on this show, and it is different every time. The basic story is what you will expect it to be, but it has been re-imagined by Gregory Cohen with direction by 'Phie Mura
 and scenic design by Andrew Vonderschmitt. There are only ten actors, so they play multiple roles, and scenery and props are kept to a minimum to the point where the actors are the props and scenery at times (Lisa March did a fantastic job as the fireplace).

But, just because the production has been stripped in some areas this does not mean that the audience is missing out on anything. As this is such a small theatre it is very intimate and the crowd is drawn into the transformation of Ebinezer Scrooge from a miserable old git into a slightly manic do-gooder.

The play moves along quickly, coming in at around 90 minutes with an intermission at the 45 minute mark. All of themes of the original story are kept, and the actors are wonderful. Scrooge was played by Gregory Cohen, and he nailed the essence of the elderly miser. Other standout performance were Leigh Hayes as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Gary Williams as the Ghost of Christmas Present. And who could not love Carmel Artstein’s take on Tiny Tim! The other players did very well too, and there was hardly a flubbed line or missed cue to be found. You would be hard-pressed to find a community theatre that could do better.

The cast crew, music, staging and direction all came together and it was really a terrific show. As I said earlier, I did not really want to go but I ended up having a great time and it put me into the spirit of the holiday season. Long Beach Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol is a wonderful experience that is uniquely staged, and if you are a local I recommend that you get out to see it before it closes on Sunday, December 20.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2001 Gibson SG Special Electric Guitar Review


In recent years I have had much better luck finding good playing SGs than Les Pauls, and the 2001 Gibson SG Special we are looking at today is no exception.

The Gibson SG is a classic guitar that was introduced in 1961 as a cheaper version of the Les Paul. It has not really changed much over the years, and to be honest I think they play a bit better (easier) than the Les Paul models. They have never been as popular as Les Pauls, and everybody thinks you want to be Angus Young or Tony Iommi when they see you playing one.

Now, the SG Special is a little bit different than the SG standard, which is what I have always owned in the past. It has the same Mahogany construction, nitrocellulose finish, green tulip button tuners, Tune-O-Matic bridge, and stop bar tailpiece. And it certainly has the distinctive SG profile.

But the factory simplified some of the construction to make this guitar more affordable, so there are some cosmetic differences. The pickups are uncovered, there is no binding on the neck, there are small plastic fretboard dots instead of trapezoid inlays, and the headstock has a silkscreened logo instead of the mother-of-pearl Gibson logo and flowerpot.

There is also a slight difference in the electronics package. SG Specials long ago abandoned the P-90s that they had in the 1960s, and this model uses a balanced set of alnico-magnet pickups: a 490R at the neck and a 490T at the bridge. You will find that the SG Standard also uses a 490R at the neck, but has a hotter 498T at the bridge. There is no difference in the controls, which includes individual pickup volume and tone controls and a three-way switch.

Enough of the history lesson – how is this guitar?

This is a player’s-grade SG Special that was built at the Nashville factory on January 23, 2001, and is finished in glossy ebony over its mahogany body and neck. Come to think of it, every other SG I have owned was also black. Hmm.

The neck is what makes this SG very good, they got this one right. The fretboard is true, and the frets are dead nuts level. The fret edges are smooth as silk, and the action is low and buzz free with Ernie Ball 0.010s. There is very little wear to the frets, despite its age. It also sounds amazing, and I do not notice that the bridge humbucker is not as powerful as on the Standard models. That is what you have a volume control for, after all…

As I said this is a player’s guitar. It has some small scratches and dings, though they are all from normal use, not abuse. One of the tuners was changed out as it got bent – it is the same tuner, but it looks a bit newer. And somebody (not me!) installed speed knobs on this thing at some point. I need to do something about that, as an SG just looks stupid with speed knobs.

So, if you are looking for a good Gibson electric, think about extending your search beyond the sexier Les Paul models, and give a SG a try. You might like it!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Waverly Acoustic Guitar Tuners Review


I don’t think I have ever reviewed a set of acoustic guitar tuners before, but I have a long-term love affair with the Waverly butter-bean knob set. These things are beautiful to look at and work well; over the years I have owned three guitars that came with them: two Martins and a Santa Cruz.

First off, I have to talk about how these things look. They are open gear tuners, with precisely machined bronze string post gears that are like miniature works of art. The butterbean-shaped knobs are made from solid brass (not cast) and have just the right shape as the OEM tuners on older instruments. These look right at home on the Martin Golden Age and Vintage series guitars, and they are direct drop-in replacements for many older Martins and Gibsons.

These tuners are not just pretty, they are also made to last. The moving parts are a stainless steel worm gear and the bronze tuning post gears are more durable than the brass gears used in lesser tuners. They also hold very well, and operate smoothly thanks to the nylon worm gear bushings that they use. I have not found any play or looseness in any of their tuners that I have used.

There are three different finish treatments available for Waverly tuners: nickel, gold, and aged nickel (for your relic), so you will probably be able to find a set that matches with the character of your instrument.

If you decide to retrofit your guitar with Waverly tuners, they are not cheap, but you get what you pay for in this case: they run from $144 to $199 for a set. There are also conversion peghead bushings available so that you can use them with larger-size holes that are common with Gotoh, Schaller, or Grover tuners.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

1985 Fender Japan P-J Bass Guitar Review


On a recent trip to Japan I found today’s bass in a Hard-Off secondhand store in Nagoya, and the price was right so I had to bring it home with me. It is a 1985 Made in Japan P-J bass guitar.

This was the equivalent of the Jazz Bass Special guitars that were made famous by Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses, and later of Velvet Revolver. These basses were made by Fender at the Fujigen factory in Japan, and were of better quality than the instruments Fender produced in the US. They were originally built from 1985 to 1987 (or so). 
Like those basses, this instrument has a Precision Bass body shape with a Jazz Bass profile neck and a P/J pickup configuration.

The body is probably basswood, as it is light, and it has black hardware, (including brass bridge saddles that have been anodized black). There is a control cavity routed in the back so there is no pickguard, which also makes it easier to add active electronics. Besides black I have also seen these P-J basses in Fiesta Red, and of course this one has the distinctive black neck, which looks really cool.

This one is fairly unmolested, and it has the original electronics, including the TBX tone control. It looks like the output jack was changed somewhere along the way. It had a hard life in Japan, as most of the finish is worn off along the bottom edge, but the frets and fretboard are still in good condition.

This bass has good tone, and I have always loved the flexibility of having the PJ combination, but playability was a bit rough when I got it. It was as buzzy as anything, and it took a lot of experimentation to get the relief under control, and I ended up having to go to a slightly larger string set-up than I had hoped to so it would be playable. It turned out ok, and I ended up moving it on to a friend for what I paid for it, making it a smoking deal for a good instrument.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Anker 2nd Gen Astro E7 Charger Review

Hi there!

I know this is a music blog, but sometimes I run into products that I really like, and just have to give them a quick plug. The Anker Astro E7 charger is one of those products, and besides, it would be a handy thing to have for a gig in case your phone or iPad battery is going dead.

A few months back I picked up the 2nd generation Anker Astro E7 charger, and I always have it in my briefcase or backpack. I picked this model because it had very good reviews and the best specifications of any of the hundreds of different power banks on the market. It is rated at 25,600mAh and the marketing materials state that it will charge an iPad air twice with no problems. This is not just hype - it can actually do it!

Physically, this charger is a bit bigger and heavier than the vape-sized power banks that you often see people using in coffee shops. It measures 6 ½ x 3 ¼ x ¾ inches, and it weighs in at a bit more than a pound. It has 3 USB output ports and a single mini USB port that is used to charge the unit, as well as a built-in flashlight.

A wall charger is not included with the E7, just a mini USB cable that can be plugged into the power source of your choice. And you should choose this power source wisely. The complaints I see are from people who try to use their laptop or an iPhone wall wart to charge this thing up. That will make the process really slow, and depending on the internal protection circuitry of your computer, it might not charge at all. I have good luck using my 12 Watt iPad wall wart, and it takes about 12 hours to fully charge if it was totally dead to start with. If you do not have one of these, Anker sells the same thing for around 10 bucks.

This charger is easy to use, there is no ON/OFF switch and it will turn ON automatically when something is plugged into one of the USB ports. The 3 ports are not just for show, either as it is fully capable of charging more than one thing at a time, up to 4 Amps total output. Any single port is capable of putting out a maximum of 3 Amps, which is right in the wheelhouse for charging a dead iPad Air in a bit over 3 hours. There are 4 LEDs on the top that show the Anker’s state of charge.

This all sounds good, and all of it actually works. There is rarely an open or convenient wall outlet in airports, bars, restaurants, or coffee shops, making the Anker Astro E7 a godsend. It holds a charge seemingly forever, and when it is needed it delivers the goods. On a recent trip, my son and I used it to fully charge both of our dead iPhones, and to recharge my iPad Air 2, all on a single charge. It is heavy and big, but I will not leave home without it.

The 2nd gen Anker Astro E7 is not the cheapest charger on the market, but I think it is the best. It has a list price of $200 (really?), but they sell all day long on Amazon for $60, which includes the aforementioned charging cable as well as a small carry sack. Plus, this price includes an 18-month warranty from the manufacturer, and from what I have heard their customer service is very good. If you are looking for a portable charging solution, this one is my recommendation!


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers


This CD review was originally published in the July 10, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers – Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers | Album Review

Self Release

8 tracks / 40:12

There are no shortage of fine blues bands from the Midwest and over the past few years there have been some fabulous new albums coming from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. In kèeping with this tradition, the Cornhusker State has sent another winner our way via Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers. This highly-talented group recently self-released their debut CD, and it is a fun and refreshing blend of blues, soul and funk with a sound that is uniquely their own.

This band was formed in 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska and is fronted by Josh Hoyer, an in-demand session man who had successfully fronted award-winning local groups including the marvelous Son of '76 and the Watchmen. His nine-piece crew is made up of musicians that have proven themselves through years of touring, teaching, and session work, and it has turned out to be a symbiotic relationship that has the power to create something truly special!

For this eponymous album, Josh takes on the vocals, keys and baritone sax, as well as writing and arranging all eight of the songs. He is joined by Benny Kushner on guitar, Justin G. Jones on drums, and Brian Morrow on bass (plus all three contribute vocals). There are also a pair of fine horn players (Tommy Van Den Berg on trombone and Mike Dee on tenor sax) and three wonderful vocalists: Hanna Bendler, Kim Moser and Megan Spain.

The band hits hard right from the start with "Shadowboxer" a smooth yet funky R&B piece. The horns lead the way, with a little extra oomph from guest artist Russell Zimmer on the trumpet. The backline holds down a rock steady beat without getting too fancy, letting the horns and backing singers set the melody. Josh lets his organ work take a back seat to his great vocal range, and his emotional delivery is full of soul as he implores the listener to stay strong in this discouraging world.

Hoyer keeps this theme up with the next few tracks as “Close Your Eyes” and “Illusion” examine the fast pace that people try to keep up with and the politicians that cannot help but continually disappoint the public. “Close Your Eyes” is my favorite of these, as it is a super-slickly written soul song that brings the organ to the forefront as Morrow’s driving bass line keeps things moving along.

The pacing of the CD is good, as before things get too gloomy the subject turns to the blues standby – all the ways that love can go wrong! After the dramatic funk revue of “Everyday and Everynight” (complete with a cool trombone solo from Van Der Berg) the band tears off the standout track from Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, “Just Call Me (I’ll be Sure to Let you Down).” Hoyer channels the Reverend Al Green in this melodic R&B song with fat walking bass lines and an innovative tenor sax solo from Mike Dee.

The Shadowboxers cover a Son of ’76 and the Watchmen tune, “Til She’s Lovin’ Someone Else” from their 2010 release Letters from Shangri-La. Josh pulls out some wonderful New Orleans barroom-style piano work as the horns punch out the funky beat in this slow roller. Jones hits the drums hard throughout this one and it is a pleasure to hear his fills as well as Kushner’s raw guitar solo. This was a neat song to start with and it turned out just as well the second time around.

The set comes around full circle and ends up with “Dirty World,” and you pretty much know where it is going from the title, but this one is asking what can be done to make it better and it encourages the listener to make a difference. Musically, this one is almost like a drum solo with a funky song happening on top of it. The Shadowboxers went all out for the finale and it is a cool way to bring this project to a close.

Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers is a very good album, and the fact that it is their first is a makes it all the better. The songs are original and well-written, and the performance and production values meet the high standards set by the material. If you are looking for fresh new blues and soul you should check It out for yourself, and hopefully Hoyer is writing up a new batch of songs so they can bring on even more of their funky message!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review of The Lion King on Broadway


I might be one of the only people on the planet that has not seen The Lion King movie. I have seen The Lion King Jr. musical a bunch of times, as my son acted in it this past summer, so at least I am familiar with some of the material. Well, I finally got the see the full stage musical this past weekend at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway, and I walked away very impressed.

The Lion King musical is based on the 1994 film, which is one of the most successful in history with almost a billion dollars in box office sales. The movie featured five songs written by Tim Rice and Elton John, “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared,” Hakuna Matata,” and “Can you Feel the Love Tonight;” all of these carried over to the stage version. You probably know the story, but if not it is a typical hero’s journey of a young lion, Simba, who takes out on his own after the untimely death of his father, later to return and take his rightful place in the world. Fairly predictable, yet satisfying!

The musical version of The Lion King debuted in 1997, with a bunch more songs and a few twists to the original plot (or so I have been told, never having actually seen the movie). And it has never closed down – that is an 18-year run on Broadway, making it the third longest running show ever, and it has won 70 major theatre awards. There is also a touring version, and all told over 80 million people have seen this show. Wow!

Since 2006, The Lion King has been playing at the 1600-seat Minskoff Theatre at 1515 Broadway in Manhattan. It is a nice theatre with good acoustics and line of sight, though the first few rows are pretty far below stage level, so the folks in the “good” seats will miss parts of the action.

The production was really quite amazing, in every respect.

The cast was wonderful, which is not surprising as the biggest and best singers and dancers flock to New York with dream of being on Broadway, and this show got the cream of the crop. Young Simba (Jahi Diallo Winston) and Young Nala (K’Lynn Jackman) had amazing stage presence and really delivered the goods. Note that these roles are played by two sets of actors so they doe not have to play every show – that would be a lot to ask of a kid. Two of the side characters, Rafiki (Tshidi Manye) and Zazu (Jeffrey Kuhn) actually overshadowed the other leads were their outstanding performances. And lastly, Scar (Patrick R. Brown) was simply amazing. He reminded me a bit of Professor Snape, at times!

But the costumes, masks and puppetry stole the show for me. These elements combined together to provide realistic animal characteristics and movements. Major props go out to Julie Taymor and Michael Curry for their work in making this magic happen.

The sets were also first-rate, with elements re-used creatively, and innovations used to show a flowing river and the famous rescue of Simba by Mufasa. The lighting was perfect, and there were no distractions from the crew.

The sound is the only area where I have any recommendations for improvement. Generally the volume was good, but adult Nala was hard to hear when she was singing. Also, there was a lot of reverb dialed into the mix for the solo singing parts, which is unusual for a musical, and distracting at times. It is a stage show, after all, not a record album and just because you have a tool does not mean you should be using it.

I wholeheartedly recommend seeing the Lion King on Broadway if you are ever in the tri-state area. If you like musical theatre, it really delivers the whole package and this production comes in a close second place to my favorite show ever, Wicked. Trust me!


Monday, November 23, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: David Reo – Life is Good

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the June 26, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

David Reo – Life is Good |Album Review

Self Release

12 tracks / 44:00

After growing up in Rhode Island, David Reo has made the entertainment industry his life’s work, having attended the venerable Berklee College of Music in Boston and then moving on to Tinseltown to make a go of the television genre. While working on a few standout series (remember Happy Days?) he started writing and recording his own music in 1984. Since then he has produced other acts as well as playing a couple thousand shows with The Preachers Blues Band around the Los Angeles basin.

David’s fourth album, Life is Good, is a collection of a dozen blues-based and country songs, eight of which are originals. Besides writing these songs, Reo provided the vocals and guitar for the album. A score of other musicians contributed to this project, including Evan Grosswirth on bass, Pete Gallagher on the skins, Jim Calire on keyboards and sax, and Bill Flores on the pedal steel. Jeff Cowan was the engineer and producer for the album, which was cut in Ventura.

The album is divided into two parts: the first act is a set of original blues tunes that were written by Reo, and the second part is a collection of country songs that includes a few cool covers. The blues portion of the show kicks off with “Shell Shocked” a big-sounding song with in your face horns and slick guitar fills. This is our introduction to David’s pleasant tenor voice and it is readily apparent that he has a good feel for the rhythm and blues he is slinging.

“Uzbekastan” is really unexpected, with a Benny Goodman feel that is provided by righteous clarinet from Geoff Nudell and Gene Krupa-esque tom pounding from Gallagher. This song does not go whole-hog big band, as the guitar provides most of the melodies, but it still swings like mad and the lyrics are funny and fit well with the musical theme. This is followed up with “You Won’t Matter,” a more conventional slow-burning blues song with a hot horn section and fantastic piano and organ work throughout.

Reo finishes up his blues set with a “Too Far from Home,” which has a laid-back California-themed feel and lyrics. Michelle Corbin sings lovely harmonies on this one and Nic Mancini brings his vibraphone into play, which is something that does not happen much on blues albums that come across my desk.

There is a definite break when the country action starts with Led Zeppelin’s “Hot Dog” from their 1979 album, In Through the Out Door. The original is an Elvis-infused blues song with country elements, but David and his crew takes it all the way to Nashville with a bit of Albert Lee chicken pickin’ guitar, which is an improvement over what was kind of a strange song to start with.

Other country covers include Buddy Holly’s “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” which was made popular by The Bobby Fuller Four, and Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” which was taken to number one by Merle Haggard back in 1984. A standout track from the country side of things is Reo’s take on Juice Newton’s “River Of Love,” a lovely song with fine vocal harmonies and prominent fiddle and cello parts.

To close out the set, Reo takes a completely different direction with “Jimi Jam,” which is a heavy dose of the psychedelic blues rock that was pioneered by Hendrix back in the late 1960s. It is well set up as Grosswirth and Gallagher play a nifty backline jam that allows Reo and Guy Martin to cut loose a little. The rest of the album is all about the songs so David had to put his guitar on the back burner, and it is nice that he finishes up with a cut that illustrates what a masterful axeman he is.

Life is Good is a solid effort from David Reo, and if you like your blues served up country style this CD will be right up your alley. If you want to hear more from David, he is playing regularly with The Preachers Blues Band in clubs around L.A., and he also just released an album of country classics which should be a real gas.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones Review


These days, it seems like I rarely listen to music except through headphones, and Sennheiser is pretty much my go to brand. Recently I had the chance to try out a pair of their HD 600 cans, and not surprisingly, they are quite a bit nicer than my usual HD 280 Pros. If you are familiar with their products, the higher the model number the better (and more expensive) they are.

The HD 280s are very good phones, and if you are going to spend five times the price for a new set, there had better be a noticeable improvement in sound. The HD 600 phones deliver this is spades. These are open-back headphones, so these are not the ones you are going to use at the office or gym or on the airplane. A lot of ambient sound will make their way in, and you will disturb your neighbors.

Physically, these phones are open back (as I just said), and they fit comfortably around the ears (circumaural) with cozy user-replaceable ear pads. They weigh in at around a half pound, but they are nicely adjustable and they are some of the most comfortable ones I have ever stuck on my head. The coiled cord is three meters long, with a ¼-inch jack and a 1/8-inch mini jack adapter is included. The cord is replaceable should it happen to be damaged. Overall they are very smart-looking with a snazzy finish and an imposing size.

The specification sheet provided by Sennheiser for the HD 600 contain no surprises for headphones in this price range. They are equipped with neodymium magnets and frequency response is supposed to be 12 to 39,000 Hz, with a total harmonic distortion of less than 0.1%. With 300 ohms of resistance, these things will take a lot of power to drive. They will not work well with an iPod or laptop unless a headphone amplifier is used.

I tested these headphones with a variety of audio sources, including my home stereo, my iPod and iPad, as well as my laptop. I used them with and without headphone amplifiers (solid state and tube-type) and with my usual assortment of music and movies. This includes mostly rock and blues, with a little country, classical and show tunes to round things out.

The HD 600s perform magnificently. They have virtually even output, and the lightweight aluminum voice coils are very sensitive and crisp with no distortion at any normal volume levels. The highs are clear and do not have any unnatural elements to them. The mid ranges seem slightly boosted, mostly in the upper mids. This is not distracting to me, and I like the effect for most music. The bass is the best I ever heard, very crisp and powerful, but still well-balanced with the mids and highs. I found that they sounded best with classical and jazz music, and using them with a home theatre system is mind-blowing. They are maybe a little lacking for hard-rocking music. Of course, these are subjective observations, and depending on what kind of music you are listening to you might find other headphoens that you prefer (but I doubt it).

In the real world, due to their design there is not much isolation, so if there is any background noise it will makes its way in too. This means that they are really not the best headphones for me, as I am never anywhere that it is quiet enough to get the full benefit from these headphones. But, if you are an audiophile that has a quiet place to enjoy these, they should be close to the top of your shopping list.

But, when you go shopping, make sure that you have plenty of cash in your pockets. The Sennheiser HD 600 headphones sell for around $400, which makes these a serious purchase. But they are worth it, and if you ever get a chance to try a pair out, you will be amazed!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall


I have been to New York City many times, and each time I am there I manage to catch at least one show. Though I have walked by the Radio City Music Hall before, I have never attended a show there nor seen the world famous Rockettes. Well, that changed last weekend as I attended one of the first few shows of this year’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular!

This show has been going on since 1933, and the Radio City Music Hall is an amazing place to see it (there is also a touring version of the show). Located in Rockefeller Plaza, the theatre was built in 1933 and it is huge! It holds around 6,000 guests and has one of the biggest pipe organs ever made.

Well, they put that pipe organ to work, and a few minutes before the 8:00 PM start time, two of the consoles slid out of the wall and the organists played a few holiday tunes to warm the crowd up. After that, there was just one crazy thing after another, and the show truly lived up to its “spectacular” name.

What defines the holidays for you?

If it is Santa Claus, you are going to be thrilled. The jolly stereotype played a big part in the show: he sang some songs, showed a god-awful 3D movie (glasses included), helped some kids find the true meaning of Christmas, made a few tame jokes about the smoking hotness of the Rockettes, and he somehow cloned himself into a mob of dancing fat guys.

If you think the holidays are about the virgin birth of Christ, there is a little something for you too. They put on a full-on processional across the desert with camels and donkeys, and the biggest manger scene ever. I’m sure it was pretty accurate to how things really happened.

How about the Nutcracker? They did an abridged version of that too, albeit with all of the characters being represented by giant teddy bears.

If it is Christmas music you like, they did not skimp on that either. There was a full orchestra, and groups of singers throughout. All of these nutty segments were accompanied by the Rockettes, who really do put on quite a show. Supposedly there have 1300 costumes backstage that these 36 amazingly non-diverse dancers go through each evening, and I believe it. That represents a lot of stitching and dry cleaning….

The music and dancing were perfect, and there was even an ice rink with a couple of skaters (not to mention giant snowflake orbs that floated around in the cavernous hall). The singing was amazingly perfect, which kind of makes me wonder if it was all pre-recorded. Hmm.

Anyway, after 90 minutes of this (right around the time I was praying for an intermission), the show was over. It was definitely cool to see once, though I would be hard-pressed to go again as I cannot imagine that it really changes that much each year. If you have not seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at least once, I recommend that you give it a shot. They will be playing dozens of shows through the end of the year, with the last one on January 3. Trust me!


Monday, November 16, 2015

JP Soars – Full Moon Night in Memphis | Album Review

JP Soars – Full Moon Night in Memphis

Self Release

14 tracks / 57:00

JP Soars is a seasoned guitarist, singer, and songwriter out of Florida, and his latest release Full Moon Night in Memphis is a heady piece of work. If you have not heard of him, you should have: he won the 2009 IBC in Memphis, a Blues Blast Music Award for Best New Artist Debut, and he teamed up with Damon Fowler and Victor Wainwright to form the all-star band, Southern Hospitality. This is his third solo album, and he was joined in the studio by Todd Edmunds on Bass and Chris Peet behind the drum kit. The disc comes in at nearly an hour, and includes twelve original songs and two covers.

The band kicks off their set with the title track, and there is nothing here but pure hard-rocking blues. “Full Moon Night in Memphis” is full of greasy electric slide guitar, growly vocals from JP, fat bass, sharp drums, and a little harmonica help from the ace-high harpman, Brandon Santini. Santini also sits in on “The Road Has Got Me Down,” a countrified tune with pedal steel and sassy backing vocals from Teresa James.

This track is recorded well, with a good mix and writing, which bodes well for the rest of the album. As things move along, there are no distractions in the production or lyrics to keep you from enjoying each song. Besides Santini, there are a few other guest artists sprinkled throughout the album, including Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach on the Hammond B3. He appears on the funky second track “Back to Broke” as well as on “The Back Room” and “Thorn in My Side.” The latter is a bit of a departure from the rest of the material as it has a more of a contemporary southern rock feel with the B3 setting the mood and some wonderful slide work from Soars.

The two cover tunes are pretty cool, too. T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World” shows that JP respects the history of blues, and also that he is creative enough to spice things up a bit where needed; he tuned this up with a slightly funkier beat to make it fit in with the rest of the material on this release. Soars brought in a few horns (Chaim Rubinov and Scott Ankrom) and a quartet of backing singers for Cab Calloway’s scandalous 1932 hit, “Reefer Man.” JP does a respectable Calloway imitation and honks along on the guitar in this high-energy song, which is one of the standout tracks on the disc

Nobody is going dispute that JP Soars is a fine guitar player, and if they did have any doubts about his talent “Lil’ Mamacita” should be enough to convince them. This acoustic instrumental is full of guitar fireworks, cool Latin groove on the drums, and a simple yet satisfying bass line. Raul Hernandez adds a little Latin percussion punch to the proceedings on this one. After this, the set draws to a close with “Missin’ Your Kissin’,” a lovely swing song that features Terry Hanck on the saxophone. Soars and Hanck are completely off the leash for this track, and they each deliver red-hot solos. What a cool way to finish things off!

Full Moon Night in Memphis from JP Soars is his finest work to date and a must buy CD for blues fans as every track is a very good listen. And if you are around south Florida any time soon check out his website as he has a few gigs scheduled before the end of year. You will have a blast, guaranteed!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Laura Tate – I Must Be Dreaming | Album Review

Laura Tate – I Must Be Dreaming

Self Release

12 tracks / 40:37

Laura Tate has done quite a lot with her life, as she has forged successful careers as an actress and award-winning filmmaker, as well as being an advocate for educational and humanitarian causes. But if you are reading this you are probably most interested in her singing. She has an impressive voice and has not limited herself to just one genre; she is equally capable in singing rock, jazz, country, blues, or musical theatre.

This is fortunate for us, as her new album, I Must Be Dreaming, is a wonderful blend of cool American music, and a worthy tribute to the master songwriter, Mel Harker. Though Laura started out in Dallas and now lives near El Paso, she spent a good portion of her life in Los Angeles, where she became acquainted with Harker. She used some of his songs on her previous two albums, but this time she set aside all twelve of the tracks for his work, and it is awesome!

Tate took care of the vocals on this new release (of course), and she was joined in a Los Angeles studio by a fine crew that included Terry Wilson (guitars, bass, and drums), Billy Watts (guitar), Lee Thornberg (brass), Paulie Cerra (sax), David Fraser (harmonica), Lewis Stephens and Jeff Paris (keys), Karen Hammack (piano), Teresa James (backing vocals), and Wally Ingram (percussion). This is a huge crew, but they were needed to get all of the sounds that can be heard on I Must Be Dreaming.

The songs cover a lot of ground, but they are all have positive feel and the lyrics are clever with vivid imagery that draws the listener in. Though she chose material from Harker’s existing library of work, these songs all sound like they were put together with her voice in mind. It kicks off with a country Rocker, “Snake Tattoo,” and from then on no two songs sound the same. There is lounge jazz for the title track, a beautiful ballad (“If Ever Forever Should End”), a little “Cowboy Jazz,” and even the reggae/ska-inspired “Counting Up the Ways.” Besides these examples, there are bits and pieces of blues, rock, western swing and big band.

Throughout all of this, Laura maintains her cool and exerts an impressive vocal presence. She is able to sing brassy, sultry, and rocking sounds with no problem, and doing a country twang or bold blues is no problem at all. But this is not just the output of a talented voice - she is able to overlay heartfelt emotion, which moves her abilities to a higher plane. There are also no issues with hearing her, as the engineering and mixing are first rate; I have no complaints at all with this disc, which is a rare thing.

I Must Be Dreaming is a fun album, and Laura Tate has the chops to pull off all of these well-written songs. Check it out and hear it for yourself, and keep an eye on her website to see if she has any shows coming up!

Stewart-MacDonald Adjustable Toggle Switch Wrench Review


The toggle switch nut on Gibson Les Paul guitars can be a frustrating part to remove or install, despite the fact that it is super easy to get to. You see, since it is on the front of the guitar and so easy to see, Gibson wanted it to have a nice appearance. So they used a knurled ring to hold the switch in place, and there are no flats on which to fit a conventional wrench.

This means that most folks end up using a pair of pliers to get it loose, which can easily lead to a scratch in the finish or a chewed up nut. Plus, if you are really careful not to damage the nut when installing it, chances are good that it will not be tight enough and that it will loosen up over time.

There are special tools available, but they are made of plastic and strip out quickly. Fortunately, there is an answer to this problem. The marketplace for luthiers, Stewart-MacDonald, offers exactly the tool for the job: the adjustable toggle switch wrench.

This thing is made of metal with a plastic screwdriver-type handle. You can rotate the barrel around the wrench part so it fits snugly on the nut, and it does exactly what the company says it will do. You might think it is a waste of money to buy such a specialized tool that may not be used very often, but $17.71 is cheap insurance when working on your treasured guitars. Check out Stewart-MacDonald’s website for ordering details!


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Taylor T5z Custom Koa Acoustic Guitar Review


Since I am mostly a Martin guy, not a lot of Taylor guitars come through my studio, but every one I have played has been very nice, and the T5z Custom Koa is no exception. In fact, this is the nicest, easiest playing, and most versatile Taylor I have played to date.

The Taylor T5 guitars have been around for years, and they were the first really good production guitars that could be effectively played as an acoustic or an electric. And I do not mean just as an amplified acoustic guitar, either. You can play acoustic country and then plug and then plug it into a tube amp and get an incredible overdriven tone.

The T5z take this same design and presents it with a narrower body, heavier frets, and a 12-inch fretboard radius, which makes it play a bit more like a traditional electric guitar. The Custom is the top of the line (there are four models), and it comes with a beautiful AA figured Koa top.

The T5z is a good-looking guitar, and is chock full of high-quality components. There is five-ply binding on the Sapele body, and single-ply binding on the soundholes, pickup cavity, fretboard, and headstock. Though not my favorite look, the gold tuners, pickup cover, and strap buttons (two on the bottom!) do look pretty cool.

The neck is killer, and its 24 7/8-inch is a good compromise between electric and acoustic guitars. The neck itself is Sapele with an Ebony board, and there are 21 jumbo frets sunk into it. It plays a lot like my Les Paul, and though I am not a fan of glossy neck finishes, this one is not terribly sticky. There is a bone nut, which matches up nicely with the bone bridge saddle.

All of these parts are stuck together well, and the craftsmen at Taylor did a wonderful job of building this instrument. The frets are perfect, the poly finish is flawless, and I could not find a single thing to complain about, which is a rarity. The set-up out of the box was perfect, and despite its smaller body size, it has a great organic tone and surprising volume when it is unplugged.

When plugged in, this guitar can be a completely different animal. It does a good job with the usual amplified acoustic guitar sounds, but when pushed it can attain a true Les Paul crunch. This is thanks to the T5 electronics package, which includes three pickups: an underbridge acoustic body sensor, a concealed neck humbucker, and a visible bridge stacked humbucker. A five-way switch, one volume knob, and two tone controls control these pickups.

I ran the T5z through its paces with my Twin Reverb and my Fender Acoustasonic, and the folks at Taylor have truly done some magic with this design. It is a perfect hybrid of acoustic and electric, and if you could only have one guitar to do everything, this would have to be one of the best choices. It can sound like a Les Paul or a Strat (not such an accurate Tele sound though), and does a very good acoustic sound too. As an added bonus, it only weighs 5 pounds, 14 ounces, which is about half of what my log of a Les Paul.

As I said, the Taylor T5z is an incredible guitar, but you are going to pay dearly for all of this awesomeness. The list price on this guitar is $3798 with a street price of $2999 (which includes a really nice hard case). This is a lot of money and there is a lot of beautiful instruments at this price point. But, it holds it own, and should definitely be on your list if you are in the market for a versatile acoustic/electric guitar.


Allen Toussaint: January 14, 1938 to November 10, 2015

Rest in peace, brother.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Solomon King – Train


This CD review was originally published in the June 12, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Solomon King – Train

Self Release

9 tracks / 31:34

There is nothing like a little mystery to keep things interesting, and everything about Solomon King is intriguing. He is cagey about his birth name and his personal history, but we know that he grew up around Detroit. As he passed through a number of bands, he took the logical route in Motown and became an autoworker for his day job. After the usual rounds of layoffs during the industry downturn of the 1970s he packed his guitar and left town, heading for a rosier future and the much better weather of Los Angeles.

In the City of Angels he continued to pursue his musical dreams, and in the mid-2000s he threw himself wholeheartedly into the blues, playing jams and working with artists who helped him hone his craft. In 2008 he adopted the Salomon King moniker, in honor of his Jewish heritage and as a shout out to all of the legendary bluesmen that used the King surname. That year he released his first album, Under the Sun, which was produced by Motown heavyweight Sylvester Rivers (Diana Ross, the Jacksons, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations…). This release was a home run that was nominated for a Grammy and had two of its songs used in the first season of the HBO’s series True Blood. Over the next few years he gigged like crazy, cut another album, and starred as Phil Spector in an independent film. Wow!

Train is King’s third album, and it is made up of nine original tracks that he had been playing in his live show for over a year. He did not mess with a good thing, and chose to use his gigging band in the studio. Solomon took care of the vocals and guitars, and was joined by Johann Frank on guitars, Steven Marshall behind the drum kit, Buddy Pierson on the Hammond B3, and Princeton Arnold on bass and backing vocals. He also tapped the talents of harp men Jimmy Powers and Glenn Doll, as well as backing vocals from Maxayn Lewis, Connie Jackson, Gaby Teran and Jorge Costa. King wrote all of the songs, and Jorge Costa produced, engineered and mixed this CD.

It is apparent that King is not trying to copy any of the artists that came before him, and this album has a unique and modern blues rock sound. This evident from the first track, “Baby Does Me Good,” which has a cool blend of slide guitar, thumping bass and sweet vocal harmonies over a Bo Diddley beat. King’s voice is a clear tenor on this song, but do not get used to this as his vocals sound different on every track.

After taking his voice down an octave for the blues rocker “Bad to Me,” Solomon approaches the baritone zone for the sexy “Coffee Song.” He is no Barry White (and who is?) but his inflections make the listener wonder where the double-entendres end and reality begins. This mellow tune features saucy backing vocals and tasteful harp work, making it a favorite from the album.

This is backed up by another standout track, “SLO Blues.” This one is set against a background of the super-tight pocket of Marshall and Arnold, with Pierson setting the mood with his rich work on the Hammond. King makes his voice a bit grittier for this blues ballad, and there are plenty of guitar fills as well as a heartfelt solo just past the two minute mark.

Solomon threw in a catchy country song midway through with the clever title, “Country Song.” He pokes fun at the usual stereotypes and clichés that can be found in the genre, and his wit shines through. As he says, these are “them songs you don’t forget,” and proves himself right by penning a catchy song that is easy to get stuck in the head.

The title track is the most out there song of the set, and “Train” has a gnarly driving drum beat with layers of out-of-phase and clean guitars, and lyrics that are sort of a combination of Tom Petty and Lou Reed. After this the album tapers off with the final song, “Blue Angel,” a pretty almost-country ballad that starts off with simple guitar and keyboard accompaniment. It builds with the addition of bass, drums and soft background vocals, allowing things to end on a positive note.

If there is anything to gripe about with Train, it would be that it is not very long. Most of the songs clock in at around three minutes, and the whole album only lasts 32 minutes. For the money it would be nice to get a few more tracks, or to expand a bit on the ones that were included. But, if this is all he had ready to go, it is better that he did not pollute nine very good songs with material that was not ready for prime time.

If that is the only thing to complain about, Solomon King did a fabulous job with Train. His songwriting and musicianship are certainly top-notch, and this ends up being an interesting album with a fresh sound. We can only hope that he sticks to his guns and keeps innovating, because the future of blues relies on souls such as him.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

D’Addario Planet Waves NS Micro Headstock Tuner


It has been awhile since I have reviewed one of the thousands of cheap little guitar headstock tuners that are on the market, so today we are going to take a look at the D’Addario Planet Waves NC Micro.

The NS Micro is the slightly smaller version of the NS Mini, which is a pretty good tuner. True to its name, it is small, measuring about 1 1.4 inches across. It is unobtrusive, and its padded clamp fit well on my Martins, Gibsons, and Fenders. So, pretty much it will fit anything.

It is easy to use, and there is no set-up needed unless you wish to change the reference pitch. There are only 5 buttons: power, mode (metronome or tuner), flip (in case you installed it upside down), and two cursor switches that will change pitch while in the tuner. That is it. If you cannot figure out how to use it then playing guitar will probably be too hard for you, so maybe you will need to find a new hobby.

The display is colorful and easy to read, and there should be no doubt as to whether notes are sharp or flat. I compared it to my Boss TU and my Peterson Strobostomp, and it appears to be accurate. The metronome function also works fine, though I am not sure it is the best idea to be staring at the headstock while practicing. I guess you could clip it to a music stand, though.

The NS Micro seems to be well built, and the flip switch along with the 360-degree swivel mean that you can pretty much stick it anywhere on the instrument and still be able to see the display. The CR2032 battery has not died on me yet, and fortunately this is a fairly common battery, as I know as I had to pick

The D’Addario Planet Waves NS Micro tuner is also a smoking deal, probably to keep pace with all of the cool tuner apps that are available now. You can pick one up for $10 (list price $34.70), and if you want a budget headstock tuner, this is probably the pick of the litter.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2003 Fender Jaguar JG66-85 Electric Guitar Review

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a really neat guitar, a Japanese model JG66-85 Fender Jaguar that I found on the secondhand rack at the Komehyo store in Nagoya, Japan. This model is a 1966 re-issue that originally sold for 85,000 Yen (this is why they call it an JG-66-85). From outside appearances, it is a very faithful recreation of the original. This is an Q-prefix “Crafted in Japan” model, meaning it was built in around 2003. When this guitar was originally sold, the Yen was around 107 to the dollar, which equals approximately $794, which was a heck of a deal back then for such a great guitar.

This one has pretty sunburst poly finish over what looks like an alder body. In keeping with this color scheme, the factory chose to use a fairly garish red tortoiseshell guard. The 24-inch scale C-shaped neck is super-nice, with good frets (vintage thin wire) and a very pretty 7.25-inch radius rosewood fretboard. It has the traditional headstock with the proper logos and vintage-style inline tuners. The rest of the hardware includes the fairly terrible vintage-style floating bridge.

The electronics are the typical Jaguar fodder, which means they are complicated. There are two single coil pickups with oodles of switches and knobs to turn the pickups on and off, and to provide different lead and rhythm tones. Ick. The pickups are strong and the electronics do not have any unwanted extra noise. It plays, sounds and looks just like a Jaguar should.

Like most every Japanese-made Fender guitar I have played, it is very well made, with level frets and good neck pocket clearance. After a dozen years, there are some nicks and scratches, but little wear to the frets and fretboard wear. It has not been abused and would be a nice addition to the collection of someone who is just dying to have a Jag. I have it set up with 0.009s and it is a breeze to play – it is the perfect surf guitar!

These are a bit hard to find in the states, but Fender has other re-issue Jaguars that they are selling here. Try before you buy though, as Jaguars are not everybody’s cup of tea.