Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Symphonized NRG Premium In-ear Headphones Review


Around my house, we go through headphones and ear buds at a ferocious rate. Things get dropped, plugs get yanked out, and all of a sudden they stop working. Go figure! So, it is a good idea to keep some spares on hand, and right now I have a few extra sets of the Symphonized NRG in-ear headphones on hand.

Symphonized makes ear buds, headphones, and wireless speakers, and they have a unique take on the market; everything they make has wood in it. Their marketing materials say that since quality speakers and musical instruments are made of wood, your headphones should be made out of wood too. I am not convinced that making almond-sized ear buds out of wood will make them sound any different, but that is their story.

When you open the package, you will find that the NRG phones come with a lot of extra stuff. There are 5 extra sets of silicone ear cups, a clip, and a little linen carry bag. The headphones themselves come with various colors of cloth-wrapped cables (4 feet long), a built-in microphone, and a gold-plated 1/8-inch jack. They look nice and yes, they are actually made out of wood.

They have 8mm neodymium magnet drivers, have 16 ohms of resistance (so they will play ok on you smart phone), and the manufacturer says they have a frequency response of 18Hz to 22kHz. That is ambitious!

Setting all of the specs and other gobbledygook aside, these are pretty good ear buds. There is good isolation from outside noise, and very good high and mid ranges. The bass is muddy, but is not much worse than other phones in the same price range. The only gripe I have is with the cloth-covered wires. When they are moved around, anything that contacts the braided sheath makes a scratchy noise that transmits straight up into the user’s ears. Not an electronic noise, mind you, but a mechanical noise. Anyway, it is not too awful, and it would not keep me from buying them.

I have not tried to use the manufacturer’s 1-year warranty, but it seems to be the usual one that covers defects, which is not usually what causes ear buds to fail – it is always some sort of accident or abuse by the user. Anyway, they have a toll-free number you can call to discuss things if they do crap out on you

The Symphonized NRG ear buds are good enough for most uses and are able to get the job done for a reasonable price. You can disregard the list price of $49.99, as the manufacturer sells them direct through Amazon Prime for $18.99, which includes shipping.


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jim Suhler – Panther Burn


This CD review was originally published in the July 3, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jim Suhler – Panther Burn | Album Review

Underworld Records



14 tracks / 49:00

Dallas native Jim Suhler may not be a household name, but whether you know his name or not, you have heard his work before. His awesome guitar skills have enabled him to share the stage with the biggest names in the business, including Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Willie Nelson, AC/DC, Les Paul, Billy Gibbons and Joe Bonamassa. But his bread and butter for the past fifteen years has been his rhythm guitar gig with George Thorogood and the Destroyers -- he has appeared on all of their albums since 1999 and toured with the band all over the world.

Despite these demands for his time he also keeps very busy with his own band, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat. Panther Burn is his fifth release, and it is a well-polished tour through all that the Texas blues scene has to offer. Its 14 tracks include 13 originals and one special cover tune. Suhler takes on many of the vocal and guitar chores and is joined by a bevy of talent, including Monkey Beat members Shawn Phares on organ, Carlton Powell on bass and Beau Chadwell on drums (former member Jimmy Morgan also contributes his drum work to a few tracks). Special guests include Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, Carolyn Wonderland and Jason Elmore.

The title track kicks off the record, and “Panther Burn” is a slow swamp rocker with an intense mood. There is a lot going here, with Tim Alexander filling in on organ and Suhler stacking up layers of guitars, to which he adds healthy servings of conventional electric and delta slide guitar breaks. This song has a very modern sound while still capturing the raw feel of the Gulf States music. The mood changes drastically for the next song, “I Declare,” which is a hard-hitting roadhouse boogie with righteous honkytonk piano alongside Wilson’s fine harp work.

There is a lot more accordion on Panther Burn than you will find on most blues albums, and in this case it is used effectively to change up genres on a few of the tracks. Alexander’s squeeze box lends a Tex-Mex feel to “Across the Brazos”, a country sound to the super-fun “Texassippi,” and Cajun flavor to “Jump up Sister.” The accordion is not just for polka and norteƱo music, my friends!

There also is a touch of gospel influence to be found on Panther Burn. “Amen Corner” is less than a minute of Suhler on electric guitar and Alexander on the super-fat church organ. This song serves as an introduction to “All God’s Children Get the Blues Sometime” with guest vocals from Wonderland and Benson. This is old-time gospel blues, and the sweet vocals (and Jim’s steel guitar) will put a smile on your face.

Part way through the album Jim Suhler pulls back the curtain and gives his fans a glimpse of his personal struggle with the loss of his daughter twelve years ago in a traffic accident. Even without knowing this back story “I See You” is a touching love story that is sung with conviction; it is a beautifully written and performed tribute to Brittany.

The sole cover is “Remember Mama,” which was written by the legendary Elmer Bernstein for the soundtrack of the film, To Kill a Mockingbird. This instrumental is barely two minutes long, and it is set against a sparse background of piano and organ. Suhler uses many guitar textures and tones to set up a melodic slide guitar interlude. It is a shame this song was not a little longer, as it is a really nice piece of work!

The album finishes up with “Worldwide Hoodoo” which is a red-hot blues rocker with funk-based rhythm guitar and bass. This fast-paced tune gives the listener one last chance to hear Suhler’s guitar prowess, and it is a final reminder that he has serious songwriting and production skills – this is about as tight as things can get.

Everything in the Lone Star State is bigger, and so is its music. Texas blues has influences that range from country, western swing, gospel to Tex-Mex, and Panther Burn incorporates all of these flavors and more. Jim Suhler is a consummate professional and ties all of these influences together into a cohesive unit, with the end result being his best effort to date. If you love guitar blues you owe it to yourself to give it a listen!


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Epiphone PR-150 Acoustic Guitar Review

Hiya! There are some 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, and I think one of them is the Epiphone PR-150.

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 PR-150 is a square-shoulder dreadnought which can be loosely seen as Gibson’s answer to Martin’s D-series guitars. If I decoded the serial number correctly (which is tricky) the Epiphone version we are looking at here today was made in China in November of 2003. It has ok materials and parts so the labor costs must be almost non-existent. Human rights advocates be warned…

The woods are good, with a spruce top and a bound mahogany body and neck. Are these solid woods? I don’t know, but for this price I am suspecting probably not. The fretboard and bridge are made of real solid 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 clear finish (NA), but it is also available in Vintage Sunburst, which looks pretty nice.

Oh yes, and it has a big and kind of stupid-looking Epiphone “E” on the faux tortoise shell pickguard. Blerg.

The slim-taper profile neck is comfortable. It has a 1.68-inch wide nut and 20 frets with a 25 ½-inch scale. The bound rosewood fretboard has dot inlays and there is an adjustable trussrod at the headstock. On one end there are a set of cheap-o tuners, 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?

I found this guitar second-hand at the local flea market, and picked it up in case a friend needs a cheap started guitar. It is in really nice shape and it appears to be well put together. The finish quality is good, and the frets are not sharp on the edges and 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 do not hold well, which is the weakest link here. In general the intonation is good and the neck can be adjusted for a low and fast action, though a little nut filing may be needed. Best of all, this guitar has a 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…

I have saved the best for last, and that is the price. The Epiphone PR-150 has a list price of $249, and a street price of $139. If you look around you can find even better deals at Black Friday sales, 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…


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Delta Generators – Get on the Horse

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 15, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Delta Generators – Get on the Horse | Album Review

Self Release


13 tracks / 50:07

Boston is an incredible city with a rich history, a diverse population and the best restaurants on the east coast. But it is also has a thriving arts scene, and it has launched bands that are revered in most every genre, including Aerosmith, The Pixies, New Edition, The Cars, J. Geils Band, The Dropkick Murphys and James Taylor. The Delta Generators could well be their best representative of the modern blues scene.

The Delta Generators were founded in 2008 and they hang with a heavy crowd, having shared the stage with Robert Cray, Three Dog Night, James Cotton, Jimmie Vaughn, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, Walter Trout, Candye Kane, Michael Burks and Sonny Landreth. Heck, Brad Whitford from Aerosmith has sat in with them before. Through endless touring throughout New England and the tri-state area they have garnered their fair share of loyal fans, and it is these fans who financed their latest album through pledgemusic.com.

Get on the Horse is their third release, and their sound and has evolved a lot since their last album. This is in part due to the team they brought on board to fine tune their recordings from Barn #81 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Their fans’ pledges helped pay for mixing by Grammy winner David Z (Prince, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Etta James, and Gov’t Mule), and mastering by Dave McNair (David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, and Derek Trucks). The band’s line-up is familiar, with Craig Rawding on vocals, harmonica, and acoustic guitar, Rick O’Neal on bass, Jeff “J.J.” Armstrong on drums and piano, and Charlie O’Neal on guitar and banjo.

The music for all thirteen tracks was written by the band, with Rawding penning the lyrics. They recorded this album mostly live with just a few overdubs so there is a vibrant mojo that is very hard to get with a traditional studio album. This is very apparent on track one, “Whole Lotta Whiskey” which hits hard right out of the gate with Charlie O’Neal’s driving electric slide guitar. Rawding is up front with his extra-strong vocals, and it only takes a listen or two to realize that their lyrics have improved as much as their production. This tale of two old friends who took different paths in life in life is well-told and is an omen of what the rest of the album holds in store. By the way, there is the added bonus of some tasty organ work from guest artist John Cooke on this song.

Setting the mood in a tune full of painful lyrics, “It’s Been Hard” kicks off with “Driving drunk and singing out of key / Down your street / Spinning out and crashing at your feet / You don’t see me.” This is a beautifully personal song of loss that showcases Rawding’s versatility and features lovely harmonies and backing vocals from Keri Anderson. This blues-tinged ballad is definitely one of the standout tracks of the album.

No genre is taboo for the Delta Generators, and heavy English blues rock is represented by “Spider Bite” -- sort of a Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin vibe. Accompanied by heavy ride cymbal and a thunderous snare, Rawding howls the vocals while Charlie O’Neal does his best Ritchie Blackmore imitation. This is quite a contrast with ”Night of the Johnstown Flood” which is a slow blues song that memorializes this 1889 Pennsylvania disaster while drawing parallels with the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Charlie O’Neal gets to tear loose on the guitar over a foundation of John Cooke’s sublime organ work in a gorgeous interlude. This is seven minutes of incredible music, and it should not be missed.

“Diablo Rock” is completely unexpected and shows that the Delta Generators have a sense of humor. This is a rocker with crunchy guitars and heavy toms that describes a night of God and the Devil drinking accompanied by a few Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll Part II” interludes. This leads straight into “Blood Sugar Baby,” a danceable funk song that features Prince-styled falsetto vocals. These guys are not reluctant to mix things up, and this album never gets dull.

The band closes out the CD with “The More I Find Out (The Less I Want to Know),” a sad tale of a man who opens his woman’s closet and is dismayed by all of the skeletons that fall out. This is a slow-burning blues song that has Latin and jazz elements courtesy of Armstrong’s innovative percussion and Rick O’Neal’s Spartan bass lines. O’Neal’s brother has a great touch with his electric guitar and uses phrasing and silence to create drama galore, making this the perfect song to end the disc.

Get on the Horse is the Delta Generators best album to date and it has well-written original songs that cross genres and are performed admirably. When you throw in first class production values from start to finish, buying this modern blues collection is a no-brainer. Of course an artist is only as good as their next album and because they set the bar high this time there will be great expectations for their next project. They are certainly up to the task, and hopefully the wait will not be long!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kern Pratt – Broken Chains | Album Review

Kern Pratt – Broken Chains

Gigtime Records


13 tracks / 44:42

Kern Pratt has got to be one of the hardest working singers and guitarists in the blues business right now. The Mississippi Delta native has a pretty heavy gig schedule within the Magnolia State, and he plays festivals like a madman, having hit most of the ones within driving distance, and he even plays at the Mississippi Picnic each year in Central Park. This is in addition to having a history of opening up for blues heroes such as Elvin Bishop, BB King, Dr. John, Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Eddie Cotton, Bernard Jenkins, Dorothy Moore, Bobby Rush, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Some of these folks are no longer with us, and what a great honor it must me to have shared the stage with them!

Broken Chains is Kern Pratt’s new album, and he wisely chose to fill the studio with first-rate talent to back him up. The core crew includes Denise Owen on some of the lead vocals, David Hyde on bass, Nelson Blanchard and drums and keys, and Sam Brady behind the Hammond B-3. There is also a killer horn section of Lacy Blackledge, Rob Henderson, Pete Verbots, and Chris Bellleau.

This 40 minute CD (or download, if you are an iTunes person) has twelve tracks with five Pratt-penned originals and some well chosen covers. The album is bookended by a pair of cool resonator guitar Delta-style instrumentals (“Delta Mourn’” and “Broken Chains”) courtesy of guest artist and roots music master, Wes Lee. These songs help to set the mood and remind the listener where Kern is coming from.

The originals are all good, but there are a couple of standouts that should be mentioned. “Greenville Mississippi Blues” checks all of the boxes with well-placed horns, special guest Eden Brent on the piano, and some excellent slide guitar work as Pratt howls out the vocals. And “Cotton Pickin’” is a upbeat electric blues instrumental with tight integration of horns into the guitar leads. The only thing wrong with this song is that it should have been twice as long – three minutes is just not enough.

The covers are a cool bunch too, and reflect Kern’s love for all of the blues sub-genres, spanning more than half a century. The oldest of the bunch is the Mel London 1940 blues standard, “It Hurts Me Too,” which was covered by Elmore James and Junior Wells. This take on it is just vocals and acoustic guitar, with some tasty harp work courtesy of Luc Borms. Moving forward to 1969, there is “Soulshake,” which was originally recorded by Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson. Denise and Kern share the lead vocals on this one, which shares the bouncy feel of the original, but with the benefit of way better musicians and recording practices. But, the standout of the covers is Albert Collins’ “Lights are On, But Nobody’s Home” from his Grammy-nominated Cold Snap album (Alligator Records). Pratt tears the strings off his guitar and sings the lyrics with true feeling.

Kern Pratt did a great job with Broken Chains, and he should be proud of the work he and his friends did in the studio to bring each of the songs alive with their slick blend of blues, soul, and rock. So, head over to his website and give It a listen, and while you are at it check out his gig schedule. If you are anywhere around Mississippi before the end of the year you have to get out and see his live show!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King: Fat Man’s Shine Parlor

I am sorry to say that a member of our blues community passed on last weekend. Smokin' Joe Kubek had a heart attack just before going on stage, and he has left us much too soon. I loved his style, and his partnership with Bnois King made a lot of wonderful music for us to enjoy even if he is no longer with us.

Below is a Chicago Blues Guide review I wrote for their new CD that I wrote earlier this year. If you get the chance, please buy a copy of the album to show your support for these gentlemen.

Thank you,


Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King

Fat Man’s Shine Parlor

Blind Pig Records

It is so cool to find an album that was cut by professional musicians that sound like they are having a blast and doing what they were born to do, and a perfect example of this is Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King’s Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, a killer disc from their recent return to the venerable Blind Pig Records label! Smokin’ Joe Kubek was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Irving, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. He is an incredible blues guitarist, and has worked and played with some of the finest in the genre, including Freddie King, Albert King, B.B. King, and his good friend, the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. B.B. even let him play his guitar, Lucille, and how many people can say they have had that opportunity?

His partner in crime is Bnois King, who is no relation to any of the Kings listed in the previous paragraph. Bnois hails from Louisiana where he grew up embracing the traditions of jazz music. He brings a lifetime of experience to the duo, and once you hear him play and sing it you will understand the benefits of over 60 years of practice and gigging -- he picked up his first guitar when Truman was in the White House! This duo has been together for over 25 years, and the Kubek-produced Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is their 17th album together; it has twelve original tracks, all written by them. King provided the vocals and guitar for this project and (of course) Kubek brought his guitar too. They were joined in the Dallas, Texas studio by bassist Sheila Klinefelter and drummer Eric Smith, and they are as good of a backline that you are going to find! Also, Dallas guitar restoration guru Kim Lafleur joined in on three tracks where even more guitar was needed, resulting in a truly cool effect.

The duo has used their diverse backgrounds to bring out the best music of their adopted hometown, and they crank out righteous Texas blues like there is no tomorrow. They kick off their set with “Got My Heart Broken,” a guitar-heavy boogie with Kubek, King and Lafleur in perfect sync. Even with this strong frontline of guitars, they keep a bare-bones mood to the song as Klinefelter and Smith keeping a steady but simple beat. The icing on this cake is King’s crystal clear vocals, which are given with a perfect mix of power and inflection.

The band does not let up as they carry their triple guitar attack over to “Cornbread,” which has seemingly innocent lyrics, but King’s delivery makes it seem like he is not really singing about food. After trading riffs and innuendo for three minutes, they slow down a bit for “Diamond Eyes,” a medium-tempo blues rock ballad that allows for a majestic AOR-style guitar break. After this, on “Crash and Burn” the band embraces early rock and roll / surf rock with some neat backbeat drumming from Smith and growly bass from Klinefelter.

“Brown Bomba Mojo” is a catchy rock tune with a precise doubled guitar riff that keeps repeating, and this song provides Smith with a chance to really cut loose behind the drum kit. The late Steve Hecht, founder of Piedmont Talent, gets co-writing credit on this song, and this killer track it is an apt celebration of a man who helped some of the beloved artists of the blues world.

It would be silly to think that two guitar heroes could get together in the studio and not come out with at least one instrumental, and Kubek and King do not disappoint. “Lone Star Lap Dance” is a light-hearted shuffle with plenty of guitar acrobatics, and a funky walking bass line from Sheila.

Towards the end of the disc, the lyrics stick with the traditional blues subjects, including the travails of life on the road (“How Much”), the restlessness of not being satisfied with what you have (“One Girl by My Side”), and then eventually getting caught stepping out on one’s significant other (“Done Caught the Blues”). Each of these tracks paints a vivid picture and highlights what mature songwriters these two are. Finally, after almost 50 minutes, the album comes to a close with “Headed for Ruin,” an outlaw blues song that reminds the listeners that this record was cut in the Big D.

Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King’s Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is a fun album of rocking Texas blues, and if you are a fan of theirs, or even if you just love rocking blues, buying a copy would be a wise decision. Their energy and synergy are obvious on this disc and their enthusiasm carries over to their live show too, so check out Joe’s website at www.smokinjoekubek.com for tour dates as they will be hitting venues in the South and East Coast states over the next few months!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sunday, October 11, 2015

EMG Pickups PJ Bass Set Review


A few months back I got a smoking deal on an old Fender PJ bass because the electronics were on the fritz and it sounded terrible. So I did what any self-respecting bass hack would do – I grabbed an EMG PJ pickup set and stuffed those puppies in. It was as easy as pie, and I got exactly the results I expected. These are two things that do not happen very often for me!

EMG has been around since Rob Turner founded it in 1976 in Santa Rosa, California. This company has done a lot better than the metric system, which was launched in the US right around the same time. Though they started out making guitar pickups, bass pickups followed shortly thereafter, and have been a staple in the low-end world ever since. Besides making awesome replacement parts, many manufacturers install them as standard equipment – most notably Gibson, Steinberger and Spector.

The pickups have a ceramic magnets, and the kit comes with pots, wiring, a battery connector and pretty good instructions. Everything is prewired and quick-connect connectors are used, so no soldering is required. It was a super-easy installation, particularly as I already had a control cavity to stuff the battery into.

This active pickup set sounds like all of the other EMG pickup I have had in a bass before. They are high fidelity with more bass than a passive pickup and it is clear as a bell with no hum. But the disadvantage is that they sound like EMG pickups so it they are rather sterile without a lot of character or warmth, so you had better like the sound to start with. Fortunately, I do! These pickups cut through a loud mix like nobody’s business, and the bass will definitely be heard, with the advantage of a consistent tone and volume across all frequency ranges.

This EMG P-J set is not super cheap, with a list price of $209 and a street price of $159, but you will certainly save some money by being able to install them yourself. If you like the tone, or just need more power and clarity, give one a try. What could go wrong?


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mick Kolassa – Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel | Album Review

Mick Kolassa – Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel

Swing Suit Records

www.mimsmick.com 12 tracks / 50:29

Mick Kolassa has lived and breathed the blues for the past 50 years and he is not only an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, but he is also on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation. Taking this a step further, the proceeds from his new CD, Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel, are going to the HART Fund and Generation Blues charities that are administered by the Blues Foundation. If you are not familiar with these organizations, please look them up as they help artists in need and kids that are getting into the blues.

This new disc is 50 minutes of solid entertainment, with eight Kolassa originals and four really cool covers. This project was recorded in Memphis and was produced by Jeff Jensen; it features a retinue of Mick’s friends, including Jensen, Brandon Santini, Victor Wainwright, Annika Chambers (yay!), Watermelon Slim, Reba Russell, and a whole bunch more. The album title honors the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale Mississippi, which has hosted a passel of fine musicians over the years, including Ike Turner, Duke Ellington, Howlin’ Wolfe and Sam Cooke. Bessie Smith passed away there back when it was a hospital, and even John F. Kennedy stayed there. Those are some pretty amazing ghosts!

The cover tunes were chosen well, and prove that Mick loves the blues – all kinds of blues. There is a spooky blues-rock take on Hank Williams’ “Ramblin Man” that could re-define what the song means to you. The band took the depression-era “One Meatball” and turned it into a lounge act with Mick channeling his inner Cab Calloway and Reba doing the Andrews Sisters part while Wainwright plays the ivories. But the standout of the covers has to be “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” This is nothing like the Three Dog Night version, but instead it is straight-up blues with the amazing Santini howling on his harp and Chris Stephenson holding things together with his organ. By the way, Randy Newman originally wrote this song for Eric Burdon, which might help you win a trivia challenge some time.

The covers are awesome but the originals are special too, as Kolassa shares his love for all kinds of blues. One of my favorites is the closer, “Delta Town,” which has a crazy beat and some gnarly style changes. Mick growls out the lyrics as Watermelon Slim does his job with the harp and dobro and Walter Hughes plays his mean slide guitar. Before I forget to mention it, Bill Ruffino and Robinson Bridgeforth hold down the backline throughout, and one could not hope for a better rhythm section.

The most poignant track on his album is “Nothin’ Left to Lose (Robin’s Blues), a tribute to the late comedian and actor, Robin Williams. This slow blues song features wonderful sax work from Kirk Smothers, which almost approaches the realm of jazz. But the lyrics are what really make the song, as they recount the feelings of a man who is putting on a happy face for the world while he is falling apart inside.

Mick Kolassa’s Ghosts of the Riverside Hotel is a fantastic album that is chock full of first call musicians and good production values, which are reasons enough to buy a copy. But, when you throw in the fact that the proceeds will further blues music education and help out musicians in need, this CD should be at the top of your list. Maybe it is a good idea to start your holiday shopping early!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 Blues Blast Music Awards Round-up


I was glad to see that they decided to have the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards in Champaign, Illinois. This is a college town that is quite a hike from downtown Chicago but it worked out well last year to have artists and fans head 2 ½ hours south to attend an awards show. They improved over last year’s plan and held it on a Friday night instead of Thursday, which made everybody’s planning a little easier.

At first glance, the Fluid Event Center seems like an odd building for a big blues show, as it is an old lumberyard barn that has been converted to a multi-use facility. It worked very well with a huge main hall that is cavernous when compared to the clubs that had been used before last year. The size of the room allowed two full-sized stages to be set up, so that there was little downtime for band changes, which helped keep the event on schedule. The stages were also generously sized and positioned higher so that everybody could better see the action.

And there were plenty of folks that made the trip to Champaign for the 5:00 start time. There were a few dozen artists on the bill, and all of the seats would have been taken if everybody were in the hall at the same time. This did not happen often, as there was good catering and drinks that were reasonably priced. The prices were light-years away from downtown Chicago prices, with $4 domestic beers and meals that were under 10 bucks. Not to mention that parking was FREE and plentiful.

It would be hard to go wrong after a set-up like this, and when you figure in the fabulous entertainment and the opportunity to meet some of your favorite blues artists the $45 ticket cost was the bargain of the year.

It would be hard to describe all of the performances, but here are a few highlights:

For blues-rock lovers, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys tore the house down, and Markey Blue was just amazing beyond words. Once again, the Andy T Nick Nixon band was the house band, and they did a stand-up job of supporting the artists that were not able to bring their bands with them to the show.

But for pure entertainment value, I have to give props to Matt Isbell and the Ghost Town Blues Band, who were one of the last bands up for the evening. They entered with their traditional march into the hall and rocked out for their 10-minute set – I have to say that they were the only band that brought trombone and Led Zeppelin to the Fluid Event Center. The fairly subdued crowd really woke up and started paying attention when these guys were on stage!

It was great to see Eddy Clearwater and Jay Sieleman get their lifetime achievement awards, as well as finally getting to see Deb Ryder and the marvelous wiunderkid Magnues Berg in person. And it was also fun to connect with artists whose music I had reviewed, and none of them seemed too upset with me!

All-in-all, it was a worthwhile evening and I am sure that nobody regretted making the trek to Champaign for the show. I would certainly not mind heading out there for the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards, if that is where Bob decides to have it.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine DVD Review: Chaz DePaolo – Live In Iona


This DVD review was originally published in the June 5, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Chaz DePaolo – One Night Live in Iona | DVD Review

Smoke Tone Records



11 songs / 1:20:36

Chaz DePaolo is not only an extremely talented blues and rock guitarist, he is also one of the hardest working men in show business. He has been on tour for ages, playing 150 shows a year all over the U.S., Canada and Europe, sometimes barely making ends meet, but plugging along for the love of the music. Along the way he has earned a loyal cadre of fans and caught the ear of some fine artists, and has shared the stage with the likes of Buddy Miles, Jose Feliciano, David Maxwell, Blue Lou Marini, and Blues Blast Magazine perennial favorite Michael Packer!

Besides releasing four solid albums, he can also be heard on projects from Little Milton, Kim Wilson, Rory Block and Charlie Musclewhite. One Night Live in Iona is Chaz’s first DVD, and this disc provides his fans with something fresh as he has not released a new CD since 2009. This is a recording of the March, 2013 show at Lebanon, Pennsylvania’s Zion of Iona Methodist Church. DePaolo handles the vocal and guitar chores, and he is joined by Hank Kaneshige on bass, Cliff McComas on drums, and Rob Chaseman on the sax.

This DVD is set up so that it can be watched in its entirety, or individual songs can be selected from the main menu. If the entire show is watched there are no pauses between songs, and all of Chaz’s interplay with the audience is included. Up front there is an intentionally grainy introduction that shows the stage being assembled and the arrival of the band. At the end of the disc there is a bonus five-minute question and answer session with DePaolo, in which he sits with an acoustic guitar perched on his knee while he candidly talks to the interviewer.

This is no ordinary church performance -- they made up for a relatively small stage by bringing in a full lighting truss and a fog machine, and visually it is appealing. The image quality is clear (this was shot in HD) and they did not skimp on the cameras, with at least four in play for this performance. Also, the audio portion is very well recorded and mixed, and as far as live recordings this is about as good as you could hope for. This means that there is little to distract the viewer from the band’s performance, and is electrifying.

Chaz has a hearty voice with obvious emotion and his guitar work is complex. His command of electric blues is undeniable, and his playing is flavored with hints of jazz and funk. His technical skills are tempered by a genuine feel for the music, and Chaseman, Kanashige and McComas have a tight connection to DePaolo so that they work together as a single entity.

The band runs through two tunes from, Flirtin’ with the Blues, including the opener, “Chicago 101.” DePaolo starts this short instrumental with a classic 12-bar blues riff, and introduces each member of the band before trading solos with Chaseman. Kanashige and McComas hold down a solid bottom line and deliver the goods without showing off, which would be a temptation with such a small ensemble. The other song from this album is “Stormin’,” a blues rocker with a slightly funkier backline and an assortment of tones that show that his Stratocaster is not a one-trick pony.

Much of the evening was spent covering five songs from his most recent release, Bluestopia. A standout of these was “Woman in a Black Dress.” This is a sexy slow-rolling blues number that Chaz belts out with heartfelt emotion while never missing a cue on the guitar. DePaolo accepts this leadership role with ease and he is truly a bluesman of the highest order.

Chaz draws on his history with The Groundhogs, the English band that he fronted for 2 ½ years, by including two of their songs. “No More Doggin” is a fun rock and roll song that can also be found on his Bluestopia album. “Cadillac Baby” is of the same ilk, though on this evening he got the Iona audience involved with a little call and response (and they actually did it!).

Of course, Chaz is first and foremost a guitar player, and he proved it handily with “Voodoo Style Chazy,”his interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s classic blues rocker. In this same vein, for the encore they pulled out a new song, “Slo Bite,” a tribute to the late Roy Buchanan. DePaolo shows off his chops on this slow-burning instrumental that is packed with innovative guitar pyrotechnics and a dynamic sax interlude from Chaseman.

One Night Live in Iona is a fun DVD that gives great insight into Chaz DePaolo’s live show that is always tight and entertaining. Rumors are that there will soon be a CD with just the audio portion of this show, but the visual part of this package is equally compelling and should not be missed. If you are a fan of electric blues go ahead and splurge for the DVD – chances are good you will watch it again and again!


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Inventory Update: 4rd Quarter of 2015

Hi there!

Another three months have gone by, and here is the quarterly list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has grown since last time, but things are always coming and going. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:

∙ EBMM Stingray 5

∙ EBMM Stingray 4 (x2)

∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Jazz Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1970 re-issue Precision Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1975 re-issue Jazz Bass

∙ 1985 MIJ Fender PJ Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1987 Jazz Bass Special

∙ MIJ Fender 2005 Precision Bass (All Black Model) – on loan to a friend

∙ ESP Phoenix-B (2 of them – one black, one burst)


∙ ESP Vintage 4

∙ ESP Original Series Amaze AS – straight out of Japan!

Electric Guitars:

∙ 1979 Yamaha Studio Lord Les Paul copy

∙ MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ MIJ ’52 re-issue Telecaster

∙ MIJ Fender 1987 Keith Richards ’67 re-issue Telecaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job

∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Mat Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin D-18 Golden Era (the King)

∙ Martin Backpacker steel string

∙ Martin S1 soprano ukulele

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele (on loan to a friend)


∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets

∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP

∙ Fender Champion 300

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