Monday, July 25, 2016

Taylor 214 Grand Auditorium Acoustic Guitar Review


When it comes to acoustic guitars I am pretty much a die-hard Martin and Takamine enthusiast, but I recently stumbled upon a lovely Taylor Grand Auditorium model 214 that really struck my fancy. This model was discontinued in 2013, though there are still similar things in their line-up.

In case you are not familiar with Taylor’s models (like me), the 214 is a mid-size acoustic (somewhere between a dreadnaught and the smaller Taylor Grand Concert) with no cutaway or electronics. It is a comfortable size, with the body measuring around 4 5/8”deep, 16” wide, and 20 long. This guitar has a normal scale length (25 ½ inches), so there should not be a lot of adjustment if you are switching from something else.

This guitar was built in Mexico (like all 2 series instruments) and the body is made from laminated rosewood, and the top is made from solid spruce with forward shifted braces. The top has a glossy finish and the back and sides have a smooth satin finish. The top and back are multi-ply bound with black and blindingly white plastic, and there is a faux tortoise shell pickguard.

This Taylor’s unbound neck has 20 frets, 14 of which are free from the body. The neck is sapele, sort of like mahogany, with an ebony fretboard (the bridge is ebony too). There is a very pretty Indian rosewood peghead overlay and a black plastic trussrod cover. The nut is 1 11/16” wide and it has a Nubone nut to match the compensated bridge saddle. The chrome-plated sealed tuners hold well, though I wish they were nickel, which looks so much classier. The neck also has a satin finish, felt broken in right out of the box.

The frets are still in wonderful shape and perfectly level, and the top is certainly gorgeous. It has a super-fast neck, and though I have heard that these guitars do their best for fingerstyle, it is a nice strummer, even when digging in. It is pretty loud, but it has an uncanny brightness and clarity. The top has a loose sound, and it is as sweet as can be with very good balance.

The Taylor Grand Auditorium 214 is well-made, attractive, a good player, and It sounds wonderful. Plus they are a good value! The 214 had a list price of $1068 and a street price of $700 when they were new and these guitars seem to sell for around $500 or $600 on the used market, which brings them well into the realm of us mortal men. Check one out for yourself and see what you think!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Mississippi Heat - Warning Shot

This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on November 5, 2014. Be sure to check out their website at:

Mississippi Heat - Warning Shot

Delmark Records

By Rex Bartholomew

Since 1991, Mississippi Heat has been churning out a unique brand of blues from their home base of Chicago. The band has gone through a few line-up changes over the years, but it is still led by Pierre Lacocque, a masterful harmonica player and first-rate songwriter. They have a big and fun sound, and are not afraid to record original material or bring their show to the stage. They have a heavy gigging schedule and a legion of dedicated fans that come out to see their wonderful high-energy shows.

Mississippi Heat recently released Warning Shot, their 11th album and fifth release from Chicago’s storied Delmark Records. It is a hearty serving of Chicago blues (with a few other flavors added), coming in at over an hour and containing 16 tracks. 14 of these tracks are originals that were written by the band members, with Lacocque getting credit on ten of them. There is a killer line-up of musicians for this disc, with Inetta Visor on vocals, Neal O’Hara on keys, Brian Quinn on bass, Sax Gordon on the saxophone, Kenny Smith and Andrew Thomas on drums, and Michael Dotson and Giles Corey on guitar. A true Windy City legend, Ruben Alvarez, also lends a hand with his tasty percussion work.

All of the songs on Warning Shot are very good, and the band placed one of the best up front! “Sweet Poison” has a frisky bounce right from the intro, with Pierre waging a harmonica battle against the guitar and holding his own. Then, when Inetta starts singing, this track is propelled to the next level with her throaty pipes tearing into her old man for his philandering ways and ruing that his love is still so sweet. There are high production levels to be found here, with crystal clear recording and a spot-on mix that will be found throughout the rest of the album. It is amazing that this disc only took two days to record!

“Alley Cat Boogie” is another peach of a song, a rocking boogie with hammering piano from O’Hara and Sax Gordon trading solos with Pierre. The backing vocals of Mae Koen, Diane Madison and Nanette Frank are a nice touch and make this track complete. You may also know them from their work on guitarist Giles Corey’s Stoned Soul album, which was released by Delmark earlier this year. This track is backed up with the Calypso stylings of “Come to Mama,” which includes some fun percussion work from Alvarez and is also notable change from the pell-mell boogie that came before -- Mississippi Heat never gets stuck in a rut on Warning Shot.

Guitarist Michael Dotson takes the vocals on the three tunes that he penned, and his voice is hearty and could possibly even be described as tortured. “Yeah Now Baby” has driving tempo that is held in check by the masterful backline of Quinn on bass and Thomas on drums, and “Swingy Dingy Baby” brings a little vintage swing fun into the mix. But the standout is “Evaporated Blues,” a funky Delta-tinged blues-rock song that only a guitar player could have written. Kenny Smith also wrote one of the tracks, “What Cha Say,” and we get to hear his lead vocals on this slow grinder as well as his fine work behind the drum kit. This quartet of songs fits in well with the rest of the material on this CD and provides even more variety to what is already a diverse collection of music.

The two covers are quite unexpected. The first is a fairly faithful revision of Ruth Brown’s “I Don’t Know” from 1959. This Brook Benton and Bobby Stevenson jazz song stands the test of time well, with Inetta taking the role of chanteuse and Lacocque’s harp and Corey’s lead guitar edging the tone a little towards the bluesier side of things. The other is completely out of left field: an instrumental take on Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart.” Pierre plays the lead on his harmonica and Gordon blows a gloriously raunchy solo on his sax. This may be the best version of this song out there, besides Hank’s (of course)!

Finishing up the set is “Working Man,” with the entire band back on stage and Visor featured on the soulful lead vocals. This brand of fast-paced Chicago blues is a fine way to bring things to a close, as it is a fun reminder that this is where it all started for this top-shelf band.

Warning Shot is a well written and masterfully played album of new blues tunes that integrates all manner of influences to keep the listener entertained from beginning to end. Mississippi Heat delivered the goods with this record, and their live show is also a treat to see. They are gearing up for the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland right now, but they will soon be heading back for plenty of shows around Chicago, and then on to other points in the US and Canada. Check out their website at

3Peaks DS-115TZ Screw Removal Pliers Review


Over the years I have stripped the heads of plenty of screws, mostly in household and automotive applications. In these cases it is usually easy enough to drill it out or get a pair of vise-grips on the head of the screw to twist it out (or break it off). The situation changes drastically when working on a pretty guitar, though. A pair of flat-jaw pliers or a poorly used drill bit is a recipe for disaster when working around soft wood.

This is where the 3Peaks DS-115TZ screw removal pliers come into play. These purpose-built pliers have a circular grab area with little teeth that help grab the screw head better to prevent slipping and unplanned damage. These pliers are made in Japan, where they still know how to machine quality tools to good tolerances.

The pliers are about 4 ½ inches long and have comfortable handles that let you get a good grip on what you are doing. They can handle screws with heads up to ½-inch in diameter, though you will probably not find screws this big very often in guitar work. They have a nice smooth action, which might help you not mess things up too badly as you nervously try to get your guitar back to normal.

I have used these pliers a few times for both guitar and household tasks, and they work great! They grip very well, and provide enough leverage to get the job done right. I would recommend putting a bit of tape around the end of the jaws to protect the guitar’s finish, as it is very easy to get close to the wood if the screw is fully seated when it gets stripped out.

3Peaks pliers have not been the easiest to find, but these tools are now being sold through Stewart MacDonald, so luthiers everywhere can get their hands on them more readily. They are not cheap ($29.95), but if you need them you really need them, and it will be well worth your money to pick up a pair before you need them!


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Jarekus Singleton - Refuse to Lose

This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on June 22, 2014. Be sure to check out their website at:

Jarekus Singleton - Refuse to Lose

Alligator Records

By Rex Bartholomew

As he hails from Mississippi, it would be natural to assume that Jarekus Singleton would be another in the long line of Delta bluesmen, but the scope of his music goes far beyond the borders of the Magnolia State. His original songs are blues-based, but he calls upon many genres to achieve a unique mood, including rock, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and maybe even a little country. This contemporary blues sound caught the ear of Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer, who helped Jarekus produce his debut album for the label, Refuse to Lose.

Though Singleton is barely 30 years old, music has been a life-long passion for him, and he started playing bass at the age of nine in his grandfather’s church. After switching to guitar and discovering his voice he fell under the spell of the blues at the age of 15. He showed impressive athletic prowess during college, but he always stuck with his music. This was fortunate for him (and us) as his basketball career was cut short in 2009 by injury, just as he had caught the eye of the NBA.

That same year, Jarekus formed his own band that self-released an album in 2011, and some of its tracks received regular airplay on satellite radio. He won the first of many blues awards in 2012, and it was only a matter of time until he signed with a label that could get his music heard across the country and around the world. His decision to work with Alligator worked out well -- Refuse to Lose is 53 minutes of exceptional art that is broken up into 12 self-penned tracks, and it is getting him the attention he deserves. Singleton takes the guitar and vocal parts for this project, and he is joined by a more than capable crew that includes James Salone on organ, Ben Sterling on bass and John “Junior” Blackmon behind the drum kit.

This set kicks off with “I Refuse to Lose” and the first impression is that this project has a very live sound. The guitar, bass, drums and organ on this blues rocker have a natural tone and blend, so that it is almost like being at a perfectly mixed blues gig. Credit for this vibrant mood goes to Pete Matthews of Nashville’s PM Music, who puts together a consistently tight product. Jarekus’ voice ranges from a spoken-word style all the way to a throaty roar, and if you listen to the words you will get to learn a bit of his life story.

Not knowing all of Singleton’s history, it is easy to assume that many of the songs are autobiographical as the lyrics are written in a very personal manner. Both “Hero” and “High Minded” sound like the voice of experience, taking to task folks that are haughty and egotistical, or possibly just too big for their britches. Also, “Crime Scene” and “Suspicion” are full of worldly wisdom that can only come from having a few relationships go sour. These subjects have been staples of the blues since day one, but Jarekus’ use of modern language and pop culture references brings his songs into the present day and makes them accessible to a new generation of listeners. He is a masterful storyteller!

In the same self-revealing vein, “Keep Pushin’” describes his motivation as well as specifics about his athletic history and the path to his new life in the blues spotlight. This hard-driving rock song uses a killer walking bass line, hammering drums and superb organ work to give it a rock feel that contrasts well with his rap-like lyrical delivery. It makes for a catchy package that results in one of the standout tracks on Refuse to Lose.

The other prize-winning tune is “Blame Game” which has a traditional 12-bars blues construction, but uses a sparse arrangement that is refreshingly different than what other artists are bringing to the table. Singleton changed things up for this song and brought in a different band to back him on this song: Ben Sterling popping out a very organic-sounding bass, Brandon Santini honking out a tasty harmonica lead and Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms playing a subdued piano accompaniment. This ends being a bare-bones shell that is decorated with Jarekus’ simple syncopated guitar chords and an all-too short solo. He really is quite a singer and guitar player, and the closer, “Come Wit Me,” arrives all too soon to end things on an upbeat note.

With its unique modern blues sound, wicked arrangements and heartfelt songwriting, Refuse to Lose is a winner in every way. Jarekus Singleton has made his own niche with his progressive sound and style, and he surely will play an important role in the future of the blues!

TC Electronic PolyTune Clip Tuner Review


It seems like I write a review for a new tuner every month, and this month is no exception! Today we are looking at the TC Electronic PolyTune Clip tuner, which takes their time-tested technology and packs it into one of those slick little clip-on tuners that everybody and their brother seems to want. I really loved the PolyTune pedal and hated the PolyTune app, so this will be interesting!

I have used plenty of TC Electronic equipment over the years, and it has been universally good stuff. They have been around since 1976, and I really like the tone of their amplifiers and effect pedals. Their products are solid and reliable, and are a definitely a good value when you consider what they can do and what they cost.

The PolyTune Clip is no exception. This thing is bigger than some clip-on tuners, but it is tiny and light for what it can do, measuring 1 by 1 by 2 ½ inches (most of this is the stainless steel clip), and it weighs in at 0.07 ounces. It seems sturdy, and it survived drop test nicely. It runs on a CR 3032 battery (available at drug stores everywhere), and the battery is supposed to last for 18 hours of use. I have not verified that. Yet.

The display has oodles of tiny multi-colored LEDs with the standard utilization of red for out of tune and green for in tune. It is super easy to see in all light conditions because TC Electronic included an ambient light sensor so it can adjust to how much light is available. This is nice as it is not too blinding on dark stages, and you can still see it in daylight. Of course, the glare direct sunlight is still kind of a pain, but what are you going to do?

The specs of this unit look very on paper, with chromatic tuner accuracy of about 0.5 cent (like the full-size pedal) and strobe tuner accuracy of an astounding 0.02 cent. As far as I can tell, the Polytune delivers on these promises.

The Polytune has a logic called “MonoPoly” that allows the tuner to discern if you played one string or all of them. If you play one string it will go into the usual chromatic mode, but if you play all of the strings it will go into polyphonic mode and you can check the intonation of all of your strings at the same time. Really – it will display all six and tell you which ones are in tune, flat, or sharp. Really!

Initially this might seem like a gimmick, but it is truly awesome and a huge time saver, particularly if you are on stage getting ready for the next song in your acoustic coffee house set. By the way, this feature works great on their pedal and is where the TC Electronic app fell flat.

Does this polyphonic feature work on all guitars and basses? I do not know, but it works on all of mine. Electric guitars (ESP, Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, Explorer), active basses (Sadowsky, Stingray), passive basses (Precision and Jazz), and my acoustic with pickups (Takemine and Martin). All of them worked fine, though I must add in the disclaimer that I use normal tunings. If you use alternate or drop tunings (from E-flat down to B) the Polytune is supposed to work, but I cannot personally vouch for it. The same goes for 5-string basses – I just do not have one lying around right now.

The polyphonic modes is a great tool for quickly checking to see where the guitar is, tuning wise, but I still prefer to fine tune each string individually in the regular chromatic mode. Since it automatically switches modes based on what the user is doing, this is not a big deal. By the way, the polyphonic mode seems to work better when using a pick on both guitars and basses. See what you think…

You do not have to set it up every time you use it. When you select different modes or reference tones, this unit will memorize you settings after it powers off.

In actual day-today usage, and the Clip is very good; if I needed a new high-end clip-on tuner, it would be one of my first choices. But this is a moot point as I love my Peterson strobotuner, so it is not going to be replaced.

The TC Electronic PolyTune Clip is priced competitively with the rest of the higher-end clip-on tuner market, carrying an MSRP of $75, and a street price of $50. Give it a try and see what you think!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Customer Service Excellence: QSC


I recently had a touch of difficulty with one of my QSC KSub subwoofers, and since it was still barely within warranty I figured I should see if there was anything the company could do about it. I came away very pleased!

QSC is one of the leaders in live sound equipment: they have been making high-quality amplifiers for years, their K and KW series speakers are ultra reliable (and powerful), and their Touchmix board is amazingly innovative. All I have are QSC speakers (K12s, K10s, and Ksubs) and I have given up on buying equipment from anybody else. I am not alone here, most clubs I go to have QSC speakers permanently set up for bands and DJ activities.

Anyway, I called to tell them about my problem, and actually got a customer service agent on the line right away, and she was from their headquarters right here in sunny Southern California. I explained what was going on, and after a little discussion about whether it was a quality defect, they sent out the parts I needed right away (it was a minor thing that I could fix myself).

The parts arrived the next day and this just confirms why I am a loyal QSC customer. They build great stuff and stand behind it. This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but good customer service is a thing of the past, and it is nice to know there are still companies out there that care about keeping their customers. Throw them some business if you get a chance, you will not go wrong!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold – Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the February 19, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold - Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s

Self Release

10 tracks / 36:53

A lot of new blues music has to be described in terms of the other genres that have influenced its sound, for example, blues-rock, country-blues, and the old standard: rhythm and blues. There is no struggle to figure this out with Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold’s new CD, Blues at Barkin’ Jacks. This release is mostly blues at its most basic level – guitar, voice, and harmonica, and all of it is played with a remarkable brilliance. No drums, bass or keyboard were needed to achieve their goals, and the effect is really cool.

Both of these gentlemen hail from the Twin Cities, and those long cold winters in the great white north have apparently given them the opportunity to hone their chops! Doug Otto provides the guitar and vocals for this project, but he also finds plenty of work with his own bands, the Getaways and North Country Bandits, as well as sitting in with the No Accounts. Hurricane Harold Tremblay is a master harmonica man (a mentor of Curtis Blake), and co-founder of Cool Disposition. He also hosts a weekly blues show on KFAI radio in Minneapolis and leads the All-Star Revue, which features some truly fine artists from Minnesota – he is a genuine renaissance man.

Blues at Barkin’ Jacks has ten tracks that are mostly covers of wonderful vintage blues tunes, along with three originals that were written by Otto. It was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and no more than two takes for any song. Jeremy Johnson did a wonderful job of engineering and mixing the guys’ time in the studio, and the final product has a clean sound that makes it sound like these guys are playing in your living room.

After starting off the set with a slow-driving rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Asked for Water,” the duo plays the first of the three originals, “Broken Thoughts.” Otto’s writing on these songs has more of a roots and country-blues theme, and all of them are well suited to his pleasant tenor vocal range (which makes him sound a bit like Eric Clapton). His songwriting is mature, with good imagery and phrasing, which can also be found on “Heart to Heart” and “My Time is Moving Slow.” The latter gives Tremblay a chance to sing harmonies, which is a cool effect as his voice lends a unique droning effect. This is the standout track in the album, without a doubt.

The rest of the songs are straight-up Maxwell Street blues material, as can be heard from Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” which uses subtle electric guitar chording with a heavy bass beat while Harold shows off his fine feel for the harp. Otto’s guitar tone is outstanding on Skip James’ haunting classic “Hard Time Killing Floor,” and he also delivers a surprisingly good falsetto vocal performance, which is a hard thing to accomplish for most singers.

The classics continue with Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopie (in Hell Tonight)” which would be a hard song to write today, but in 1930 there were no political correctness police to contend with. There are also a couple of well-done Robert Johnson tunes, “Hell Hound on My Trail” and “Kind Hearted Woman,” that are delivered in a wonderfully laconic style.

Despite the good craftsmanship these gentlemen showed on the cover tunes, the originals are exceptionally special, and are the highlight of this disc. A full-length album of Otto-penned originals would surely be a good listen, and hopefully this pair will have the chance to continue their work and head back to the studio to give us a bit more of this wonderful stuff.

There is a lot to like about Blues at Barkin’ Jack’s, and Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold really delivered the goods. Their bare bones live sound is clear, and the selection of tunes that they assembled works well together. There is no mistaking this album for anything but the blues, and you should certainly give it a listen!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Goya G-312 Acoustic Guitar Review


Today we are going to look at something a little different today - a pretty cool budget acoustic guitar that I picked up from Craigslist. This is an early 1990s Goya G-312 6-string dreadnaught.

Goya guitars were an offshoot of Sweden’s Levin, and were an effort for the company to enter the US Market. Martin bought the Goya brand in 1976 and used it to produce budget instruments overseas. This was particularly important to them as around that time many Japanese companies were building guitars that looked just like theirs, and it was hurting their business. So, the Goya brand was Martin’s effort to fight back. Initial production was in Japan, and eventually was moved to Korea. Martin gave up on this experiment in 1996 and eventually sold the name to a food company. Goyas are generally good guitars, though they were not wildly successful.

The G-312 guitar that we are looking at today was probably built in Korea, though it is hard to get an exact date as there is no serial number and very little information about these instruments online. I am thinking it is from the early 1990s. The model name is a complete mystery, as this is pretty much a copy of the Martin D-18 dreadnaught and nothing seems to correspond to this. The “G” might stand for “guitar” or “Goya” or “good enough.” Who knows? As far as the “312,” that is anybody’s guess.

The triple-bound body has the traditional broad-shouldered shape, and there are 14 frets clear from the body. The top appears to be solid spruce, and the back and sides are mahogany, though I cannot tell if it is solid or a laminate. I am going with laminate until I figure out otherwise. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood overlay and a silkscreen inlaid logo that is fading, and the fretboard is rosewood too. The bridge is painted to look like ebony. Sad.

This guitar had been played regularly and was kept in a loving home, so it did not really need much attention when I got it. It has a good set-up and there are no repairs or unsightly damage to speak of.

It plays very well. The neck has a pleasantly rounded profile that is fairly slim and fast, and the tone is very rich and loud. The sounds is well balanced from string to string, though I think it would be nice to find a compensated bridge saddle as the intonation is just a touch off. Also, the sealed tuners are cheap and do not hold as well as I would like them to. But, it is certainly good enough for anything I will be doing with it, especially at the bargain basement price I paid for it.

I rarely see Goya guitars on the market as once players get their hands on them they do not let them go. Generally they are solid instruments, but it is a good idea to try before you buy (be careful with eBay), as I have run into a few clunkers and shoddy repairs. If you have one, post a comment below, I am curious what you think!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism | Album Review

Reverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism

Treated and Released Records

3 Discs / 35 tracks / 2:29:00

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shredneck Dreadneck DN-7 Guitar Trainer Review


A while back I reviewed the kind of odd Shredneck guitar trainer. This is a practice tool that is designed to simulate the string tension of an electric guitar help improve strength and dexterity in your playing hand, as well as helping to build or maintain calluses. Well, I just got one of their Dreadneck models (the DN-7), which is the same concept except for acoustic guitars, so here we go!

It is weird - just a chunk of guitar neck with tuners on the end. You get seven frets to play with, so you can master the cowboy chords in no time flat. This acoustic model has a 1 ¾-inch wide nut, and the whole thing is about 16 inches long. I have no idea what it is made of (mahogany?), though the fretboard appears to be rosewood with just a little grain. There are not really any specs on their website about what it is made of. It has a nice feel, with flat C-profile that does not feel like any Martin or Taylor I have ever played.

When you play it, it does not sound like a guitar, or even terribly musical. How could it? With such a short scale length the frets would have to be stupidly close together to make it sound like a guitar, so just tune it so the strings feel like the same tension as your regular guitar and go to town. The headstock acts as the body, and there is some felt stuck to the end so it does not slide off your knee. There are also strap pins, but I am not sure how you would ever use them.

And, you know what? It works pretty darned well. For my left had, it feels like a guitar, and I can sit there and noiseless fret chords while chatting on the phone or watching TV in the hotel room. It is pretty cool to keep my fingers in shape and my calluses nice and thick while on the road or when parking my butt in otherwise useless situations.

The one I got is relatively well built. The fret ends are good, and it is a solidly made piece of work from China. My wife has messed around with it a bit too, and as one who ants to build up her calluses she gives it her seal of approval.

The Dreadneck comes with a handy carry case, and it would be easy enough to throw in a briefcase or carry-on bag for your next flight. One nice add-on is the tuner tips which fit over the ends of the tuner posts to cover up pointy string ends that could puncture your hand or snag on your sweater. All of this can be yours for the low price around 70 bucks from Amazon or Musician’s Friend (MSRP is $99.99).

If you like the concept of this tool, it is also available in models that approximate the feel of 6 or 7-string electrics, basses, and a model that simulates playing in the upper registers. Also, if you have a hankering to get one that is inspired by your favorite artist (Zakk Wylde, etc.) they might be able to hook you up.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Mike Stern and Eric Johnson – Eclectic


This CD review was originally published in the January 15, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Mike Stern and Eric Johnson – Eclectic

Concord Music Group

12 tracks / 72:22

Two powerhouse guitarists, Mike Stern and Eric Johnson, first got together when Mike asked Eric to play a few tracks on a recording project, which led to a performance together at the Blue Note in New York City. They had such a good chemistry on this show that they could not just go their separate ways, so they recently completed a neat cooperative effort, Eclectic.

Mike Stern is a top shelf jazz guitarist and Berklee graduate who has released 16 of his own albums, six of which were nominated for Grammy Awards. His big break was in 1976 with Blood, Sweat & Tears, and since then his career in the various genres has been nothing short of impressive. He has performed and recorded with an amazing cadre of artists, including Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, the Brecker brothers, and Bela Fleck. The list goes on and on, bit you get the point.

Eric Johnson provides the rock half of the equation, and his curriculum vitae is no less solid, with a Grammy Award and five nominations of his own. Eric took up the guitar at the age of eleven (as Beatlemania took hold of the US) and in just a few years he jammed with Johnny Winter who later remarked, “When I heard Eric, he was only 16, and I remember wishing that I could have played like that at that age.” After a four-year stint with Austin, Texas’ seminal fusion band, the Electromagnets, he went on to cut ten of his own albums. Along the way he garnered the respect of big name guitarists such as B.B. King, Billy Gibbons, and Steve Morse, and had the opportunity to tour with his fellow guitar gods Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Eclectic was recorded in just 3 days at Johnson’s Austin, Texas studio, with few overdubs and a decidedly live feel. It clocks in at well over an hour and serves up eleven original tracks and one kicking cover. Stern and Johnson handle the guitars (obviously) and they are joined by the rock solid backline of Anton Fig on drums (late night with David Letterman’s World’s Most Dangerous Band) and Chris Maresh, Johnson’s regular bassist. A few key guests contributed as well, and their disparate backgrounds ensure that Eclectic is not just a clever name.

Austin’s pre-eminent soul man, Malford Milligan, helps kick things off with his growly vocals on “Roll with It.” His chops are a good match for the intricate guitar work on this funk rock piece, and the backline delivers a rock steady beat without being too flashy. After this things get jazzy with “Remember,” a six-minute fusion instrumental piece that might not be terribly radio-friendly, but it is super-listenable and features a killer bass groove from Maresh, who has no trouble keeping up with Johnson and Stern.

The instrumental “Benny Man’s Blues” is a tribute to Benny Goodman, and though it has the word “blues” in the title it defies categorization. There is a blues backbone, but it is layered with distorted bluesgrass picking, jazz rhythm guitar / bass, and knockout rockabilly drumming. Things calm down a bit for “Wishing Well” which is peaceful despite its fast tempo. This is surely helped along by the sweet vocal stylings of Grammy winner Christopher Cross, Johnson’s longtime friend and fellow Texan.

Maresh’s “Bigfoot” benefits from a world music intro that features Mike’s wife, Leni Stern, on vocals and n’goni. After 90 seconds of her lovely melodies, things go all experimental electric jazz, and it is hard to believe that the band was able to put songs this complex together in just a few days and still have them sound good.

Eric is not known for being a jazz guitarist, but one of his big inspirations is Wes Montgomery, and “Tidal” is a tribute to him. He also does not forget his own musical past, as he placed an Electromagnets song, “Dry Ice,” into the mix. This high-energy fusion instrumental exercise sounds huge, and Fig’s driving snare and kick drum propel this thing into overdrive for almost seven minutes. In keeping with the eclectic theme the horn section of saxophonist John Mills, trombonist Mike Mordecai and trumpeter Andrew Johnson join in on “Hullabaloo,” the most poppy and accessible track on the disc.

The album finishes up with a fresh take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” with Stern and Johnson switching off on the vocals, and it turns out that they can both sing well too. Jimi inspired these guys, and their talent makes sure it is a fitting tribute. For good measure Guy Forsythe kicks in some tasteful harmonica work, which add a new element to this blues-rock classic.

Mike Stern and Eric Johnson’s Eclectic is a spontaneous collection of very good songs that were recorded by two of the best axe men in the business. If you love guitar music with no boundaries, this is the album for you. Hopefully their collaboration will continue after this project and we will get to hear more from this dynamic duo!


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Inventory Update: 3rd Quarter of 2016

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 gotten smaller since April Fool’s Day, 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 4

∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Precision Bass (somehow found its way back home)

∙ MIJ Fender 1970 re-issue Precision Bass

∙ ESP Phoenix-B (2 of them)

∙ 1980 Yamaha Pulser Bass

Electric Guitars:

∙ MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ MIJ Fender ’52 re-issue Telecaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job

∙ LTD George Lynch Kamikaze 1

∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Matt Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin Backpacker steel string

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele (it’s back!)

∙ Epiphone PR 150 NA

∙ 1990s Sigma SDM-18

∙ 1980s Goya G-312


∙ 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 in October to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!