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!