Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Schecter Diamond Series Stiletto Studio 4 Electric Bass Review


Looking over my blog, it does not appear that I have ever reviewed any instruments built by Schecter, and their guitars and basses have never really been on my radar. I always saw them as a shredding metal guitar manufacturer, which is not exactly my bag. That as changed, as I recently had the chance to play a Diamond Series Stiletto Studio 4 bass, and it is a pretty neat piece of work.

Schecter has been around for 40 years; the company stated as a guitar parts supplier from its headquarters near Los Angeles (the valley!). Eventually they started making complete instruments, earning them a lawsuit from Fender and a cadre of high-profile endorsees. After a few different owner and moves, they still maintain a custom shop in Southern California, import instruments from overseas, and have branched out into amplifiers and cabinets. A little bit of everything, I guess.

The Stiletto Studio 4 bass we are looking at today is one of the imported instruments, and it was built in Korea (the Southern one). It has a really cool luck, with a sleek body profile and a transparent Honey Satin poly finish to show off the awesome woods and a neck-through construction. The woods include a bubinga top over a mahogany body, and a maple/walnut laminated neck with a rosewood fretboard.

The 34-inch scale neck has a very fast feel with great access to the upper frets, if you are the kind of person who plays up there. The fretboard is pretty flat (16-inch radius), and the profile is a thin C shape with a nut that measures a tick under 1.5 inches. There are 24 frets to choose from and they are huge! Extra jumbo, I guess… The fretboard inlays are simple dots, but they are offset, which is kind of a cool look. By the way, if you move up to a 5-string, it has a 35-inch scale neck, but this is not available on the 4-string models.

The hardware selection is pretty good, with Schecter-branded tuners that hold well, and a high mass bridge. Everything is coated in a satin gold finish that looks awfully cheap. Go for shiny gold or nickel, not this goofy plating.

Electronics-wise, this Schecter bass is well equipped. There is a pair of EMG-35hz pickups that are wired through an 18-volt pre-amp with a 3-band equalizer and master volume and blend knobs. The pre-amp batteries have their own cavity that is accessed through the back of the guitar.

The instrument that I received was very well built. The finish was clean, and there were no flaws wit the fretwork. Set-up was good out of the box, and it appears that it shipped with Ernie ball 0.045 to 0.105 strings. The only problem I could find was that two of the tuners are just a little bit crooked. According to my scale it weighs 8 pounds, 6 ounces, which is light for a neck-through bass.

I could not find any flaws with the way the bass played or sounded. It has the EMG tone (which I like), and it was possible to dial in sounds that would work for blues, jazz, rock, and even… metal. It is an easy playing neck, though it is too skinny for my tastes, as I have been a p-bass guy for the last decade. It is a winner with good looks craftsmanship and sound, and it would definitely get the job done.

If you want your own Schecter Diamond Series Stiletto Studio 4 bass, you can get in the honey or see-through black satin (which comes with black hardware). The list price is $1149, which translates into a street price of $799, and no case is included. This is an ok value, but the real deal is on the used market (Reverb and eBay) where near mint ones sell for under $500, often with some sort of case or bag.


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: D.A. Foster – The Real Thing

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the February 5, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

D.A. Foster – The Real Thing | Album Review

VizzTone Label Group



12 tracks / 48:45

It is appropriate that D.A. Foster titled his new album The Real Thing, because if anybody is the real thing, he is. He was the heart of The Shaboo Inn of Connecticut from 1971 to 1982, and during that time the 1000-seat venue hosted almost 3000 concerts, featuring young and upcoming acts that included the likes of Aerosmith, AC/DC, Journey, Cheap Trick, and the Police. It was like a 1980s rocker’s dream come true! But a lot of great blues acts made their appearance there too, such as John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy, and a probably a few hundred more. After the club closed its doors (thanks to the scourge of the disco era), a few months later it was destroyed in a fire.

But the story does not end there, as D.A. had a lot left in his tank. He started a production company and ran his own band with luminaries such as Matt “Guitar” Murphy” and Harvey Brooks. Foster brought his fine blues vocals to the table with this project to continue on with a performance career that has been brewing since 1979. Over the past 35 years, everybody under the sun has joined him onstage, including Keith Richards, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. You would be hard-pressed to find a better pedigree than his.

Moving forward to 2015, D.A. has cut a fine disc, The Real Thing, which has its own roster of strong personnel; all of them are first-call musicians. Besides D.A.’s vocals, there is the Grammy-winning Phantom Blues Band to contend with, including Mike Finnigan (Big Brother and the Holding Company) on the keys, Tony Braunagel (Robert Cray, and many more) behind the drum kit, Larry Fulcher on bass and Bonnie Raitt’s Johnny Lee Schell on guitar. Other Phantom alumni to be found here are Darrell Leonard (trumpet), Joe Sublett (sax), and Lenny Castro (percussion). Braunagle and Finnigan produced this effort, and it is a polished piece of work, to be sure!

The twelve tracks span classic rhythm and blues and jazz ground as well as a few lesser-known covers, starting off with Dave Steen’s “Good Man Bad Thing.” This is a straight-up funky R&B tune which is a nice intro to Foster’s soulful voice, backed by some excellent B-3 work from Finnigan, sweet backing vocals from Julie Delgado and Nita Whitaker, and horns aplenty.

Not surprisingly, there are a few tunes by Don Robey, who was one of the most prolific R&B writers of the 1950s and 1960s. “Ain’t Doing Too Bad” puts the horns in the spotlight, and Schell brings a little more funk to the party with his syncopated rhythm guitar work, as well a rocking solo. The other Robey contribution is “This Time I’m Gone for Good” which shows off more of Foster’s impressive vocal range.

For pure fun, Eddie Hinton’s “Super Lover” takes first prize. It brings a little bit of everything to the table: fun lyrics, offbeat percussion (courtesy of Castro), machine-gun horn arrangements, and seductive backing vocals. This one should definitely go into your next party mix!

A different line-up was used for three of the songs, with uber-versatile Grammy-winner Josh Sklair on guitar and the hard-working veteran David Garfield on piano. With Josh’s leads and David’s subtle chording, “We All Fall Down” ends up with more of a jazz-rock feel. Bill Withers’ 1985 ballad, “You Just Can’t Smile it Away,” puts Garfield more forward in the mix, and gives guest artist Lee Thornberg a chance to shine on a beautifully muted trumpet (or is that flugelhorn?) solo. And the band’s remake of the oft-covered “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” provides room for FInnigan to take over a bit on his Hammond, lending it a gospel/roadhouse feel.

The album closes out all too soon with George Henry Jackson’s “Down Home Blues,” which is the grittiest and most traditional blues track to be found on this disc. For this one, D.A. pushes his voice into the raspy range, which is a lovely contrast with the backing vocals of Delgado and Whitaker. The backline of Braunagel and Fulcher hold tight in the pocket as this awesome songs ends things on a killer note.

If you were a fan of the good old days at The Shaboo Inn or if you just like solid rhythm and blues, D.A. Foster’s The Real Thing would certainly be a wise investment. Check it out and see for yourself!


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Guild S-200 T-Bird Electric Guitar Review


Sometimes it seems like there is nothing new out there, and each year guitar manufacturers come out with new versions of the same old Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Les Pauls that they have been building for the past 50 years. This is the reason why I was so excited to get a chance to play the new Guild S-200 T-Bird re-issue. When is the last time you saw one of these?

The original S-200 guitars were built between 1964 and 1968, and they featured a unique body shape and a crazy electronics package. Maybe you have seen Buddy Guy, or Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) playing one of these. Vintage versions of these guitars are hard to find and when they do come up for sale they are really expensive. Guild has solved this problem, and this Korean-made instrument is a nice guitar and a solid value.

Looking over this re-issue Guild, the first thing anybody comments on is the body shape. This asymmetrical chunk of mahogany is dead sexy and looks equally fine in either antique burst or black, the two glossy poly finishes that are currently available. This body is loaded up with a whacky tremolo and more switches than you can shake a stick at, and I will get into these a bit later.

The neck is also mahogany, and this is a comfy C-shaped chunk of lumber with a 24 ¾-inch scale length, like a Gibson. The 12-inch rosewood fretboard is really pretty with its pearloid block inlays and ivory binding. There is a 1 11/16-inch bone nut and 22 medium size frets sunk into the board. The classic looking headstock has a pearloid thunderbird inlay on the front, and a set of cool 3 on a side Grover Sta-Tite open gear tuners (kind of like Waverlys).

Another unique feature of the S-200 is the vintage-correct Hagstrom Tremar vibrato. This hardware was originally introduced in 1961, and was installed on most solid-body Hagstroms up to the early 1970s. It became a popular piece of hardware for many other guitars of the era, as they were cheap and easy to install. This is a simple tremolo, with a horseshoe-shaped base-plate hinged to another plate connected to the arm; both plates are connected from below with a tension adjustment screw. There is not much pitch variation with this style of bridge, but generally they return to pitch well and do not break many strings.

Lastly, there is the cool electronics package that comes with this Guild, and it is built around a pair of reproduction LB-1 Little Bucker Alnico 5 humbucker pickups. These are wired through 2 volume and 2 tone knobs, as well as slider switches for ON/OFF, rhythm/lead mode and tone. This allows for a variety of sounds, as it is possible to select single coil or humbucker sounds, as well a circuit that uses a tone capacitor.

This all comes together well. The guitar has a comfortable neck that is easy to play, and I have been able to find a lot of Les Paul-like sounds that are good for rock and excellent for blues. The craftsmanship is good, with a nice finish, and well set frets. Plus, it just looks awesome! The only downsides are that it is heavy (10 pounds+), and it does not fit in most guitar stands very well.

The Guild S-200 falls squarely into the mid-priced guitar realm, with a list price of $1010, and a street price of $799. This includes a nice padded gig bag. For this price it is definitely worth giving one a try, especially if you are tired of having a guitar that looks like what everybody else is playing. Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Guns N’ Roses Not in this Lifetime Tour: Live at Dodger Stadium


When I learned that Guns N’ Roses was going on tour with three of the original members, I was very interested in seeing what they had to offer. But, when I heard the Los Angeles stop was going to be at Dodger Stadium I lost interest pretty quickly. Dodger Stadium is a hassle to get to, huge outdoor shows rarely have very good sound, and large groups of people are usually terrible to deal with.

But, I kept getting emails about how there were still good seats available, and a few days before last week’s show I bit the bullet so I could see what it was all about, and I am glad that I did.

GNR’s Not in this Lifetime Tour brings frontman Axl Rose back together with Slash and Duff McKagan, who (to me) were the heart of the original band. The other original members, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler, were not included in the group for this tour. Other touring band members include drummer Frank Ferrer, guitarist Richard Fortus, and keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese.

I attended the first of the two Los Angeles shows, on Thursday, August 18. The tickets and website were a bit vague as to what time the show would actually start, but I arrived and got parked pretty close to the “doors open” time of 5:00PM. After getting into the stadium the concession guys told me that the warm-up band would start at 6:30 and the main act would start at 8:00. Right.

The stadium was pretty empty at 6:30 when The Cult hit the stage, and it was cool to see that they started on time. Long-time members Ian Astbury (vocals), Billy Duffy (guitar), and John Tempesta (drums) were joined by newcomers Grant Fitzpatrick (bass) and Damon Fox (keyboards). The band was able to cover their big hits, including “Fire Woman,” “She Sells Sanctuary,” and Sweet Soul Sister.” Duffy did a tight job on the guitars, and Astbury showed that he still has a good vocal range, though it seemed like he did not have the breath and stamina to carry all of the vocals; the band helped out a lot with backing vocals on the choruses for most every song. Still, it was a solid set and the Cult was a solid opener, finishing up at 7:20PM.

With the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as the soundtrack, the crew broke down The Cult’s equipment and prepped for Guns N’ Roses. I was curious when GNR would actually go on, as Axl is notorious for starting shows hours after their scheduled time. But, again, at 8:00PM the lights went out and the band hit the stage with “It’s So Easy,” and this cut from Appetite for Destruction was exactly what the crowd was looking for.

From there they played songs from their debut album, GNR Lies, Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, and Chinese Democracy; and with two dozen songs in the playlist this ended up being a nearly three hour set. I have heard that Axl runs hot and cold, but he was definitely on his game this evening. He was mobile on the stage, was able to hit the high notes, and got the job done. He did take breaks from time to time, but he did well. As an added bonus, he kind of looks like an older version of Cybill Shepherd nowadays.

Slash has lost nothing over the years, and he has one of the strongest left hands in the business. He did an extended solo break that included a kind of hokey rendition of the theme song from The Godfather, but it played well to the audience. He also had good rapport with Fortus, and this duo did a bang up instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were here.”

Duff McKagan is a crowd favorite, and his bass work was good but was often lost in the mix. One high point of the show for me was when he took the microphone to lead the band with a rousing rendition of The Misfits’ “Attitude.” I was glad to see that he still has love for the Fender Jazz Bass Special, too!

The rest of the band was tight, with kudos to Frank Ferrer for his powerful and skillful drumming. I had a hard time hearing any of the keyboards, but Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese were able to provide a solid job on the backing vocals.

There really were not any clunkers in the set, though the audience reaction to the songs from Chinese Democracy was tepid. This was true of “Catcher in the Rye,” which kicked off the encore, but the band made up for it with the inclusion of “Patience,” the Who’s “The Seeker,” and the closer, “Paradise City.”

All in all, this was a great show – the energy was good, the band clicked, and they did not leave out any of the hits. If you have the chance to see them, do it. This is the closest that you are going to get to seeing an 80s vintage Guns N’ Roses show. Trust me!


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing – Skronky Tonk | Album Review

Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing – Skronky Tonk

EllerSoul Records


13 tracks / 59:35

Little Charlie Baty made his name as a bluesman, playing his guitar with Alligator Records’ Little Charlie and the Nightcats, and later on with the Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue. But this Californian has been waiting to release an album that would allow him to express his love of swing jazz, and twice before he had albums ready to go and things just did not work out. Well, the third time the stars aligned for him, and Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing has released Skronky Tonk on EllerSoul Records; it is thirteen tracks of originals, standards, and a few things that are just a little bit different.

Organ Grinder Swing is an organ jazz trio, with Baty on the guitar, J. Hansen on drums, and Lorenzo Farrell on the Hammond organ. The legendary Kid Anderson recorded this album in January of last year at San Jose’s Greaseland Studios, though it was not released until this spring. Anderson came through once again (like he always does), and Skronky Tonk is a very well recorded disc with a clean sound and fabulous mixing.

The set kicks off with the original title track, and this upbeat jazzy blues tune is simple yet satisfying. Farrell does a fine job of filling in the bass parts with the organ, and Little Charlie is in fine form on guitar – he has a naturally flowing jazz style that is very listenable. Baty also wrote “Cobalt Blues” and “Gerontology,” and the latter gives Hansen the opportunity to shine on the drums.

Organ Grinder Swing also takes on a nice collection of classics and standards, including “How High the Moon” and Little Charlie does a very respectable job with this Les Paul classic. His tone on “Pennies from Heaven” is slightly dirty, giving the song a new feel. And “Misty” is tight with a cool Hammond lead that gives it a kitschy vintage feel, in a good way.

From the “stuff that is just a little bit different” department, there is “Receita de Samba” which features a cool Latin beat on the snare and a catchy melody from Baty’s guitar. This theme carries over to “Nuages” which was written by Django Reinhardt, and it's the first of a pair of tributes to the legendary guitarist. The other is “Django,” which was written by jazzman John Lewis and it is surprising that the organ carries the melody for the introduction, but things are put right fairly quickly as the guitar takes the lead, with some cymbal heavy jazz drumming from J. Hansen.

Skronky Tonk is a labor of love and it is awesome that Little Charlie and Organ Grinder Swing were finally able to make it available to the masses. Big thanks should go out to Watkins Ellerson of EllerSoul, who helped make this project come to fruition. Jazz is not always the most accessible form of music, but this trio’s take on it is really cool and you should give it a listen to see if it is your cup of tea. Chances are good that it will be!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ibanez TMB310 Talman Electric Bass Review


I have played a few Ibanez basses over the years, including their Soundgear and older Roadstar models, and have generally been pretty happy with the instruments they produce. They are a good value and play and sound fine. So, I figured their Talman line of basses would also be good enough for the job and they did not disappoint me!

The Talman name goes back a ways for Ibanez as they started building instruments with this name in 1994. The have been discontinued a few times, but last year they re-introduced Talman basses as another pretty good entry-level line of instruments. I did a little research and have no idea exactly what a Talman is, so your guess is as good as mine.

When this bass came out of the box, the first thing I noticed is that it is pretty darned cool looking. This is subjective, of course, but I think the fat horns and offset waist give it a new feel compared to the P-bass shape that has been ubiquitous for the past 50 years. It is not too goofy, and almost comes off as a vintage vibe.

The TMB310 Talman that we are looking at today come in eye-catching poly gloss finishes, including the Turquiose Sparkle shown here and a very nice looking Silver Sparkle. These colors are sprayed over a mahogany body, which is also notable at this price point, as a lot of the cheaper basses are made with basswood, it seems. There is classy black 3-ply pickguard that provides a nice contrast to the sparkly finish. Turning the body over, there is a battery compartment for the active electronics, and no neck plate for the attachment bolts. I have always thought this looked neat…

This is a standard 34-inch scale instrument, with a maple neck and a white plastic bound rosewood fretboard. I like the large acrylic inlays in the board, as I thing they look classy. There are 20 frets sunk into the 9.4-inch radius fretboard, and the cutaways give good access to all of them. The neck has a reasonable profile that falls between the baseball bat Roadstar necks and the almost too-thin Soundgear shape. This results in a 1 5/8-inch nut width, and a vintage feeling C profile.

The Talman’s hardware selection is ok, but not really outstanding, and given the price point that is not too surprising. There are open gear big cloverleaf tuners that seem just a little loose and a fairly standard-looking bridge. These are finished in bright chrome, as it the control panel and knobs.

It was exciting to see the big humbucker at the bridge on the Talman, and the first thing I though was “Musicman!” This is combined with a split-coil precision pickup at the neck, and these active pickups are wired through 2 sets of stacked pots: volume / pickup balance and treble / bass. There is also a coil tap switch on the pickguard to turn that humbucker into a single coil. Ibanez calls these Dynamix pickups, which is apparently a criminal mating of the words ‘dynamic” and “mix.”

This Talman was made in Indonesia, and the craftsmanship is good. The finish is nicely applied, even around the boltholes for the neck, which can be kind of tricky. The fretwork is good, and they are level with no buzzing or terrible dead spots. The fretboard inlays are flush and have crisp edges, which can be kind of a sore spot on other low-end basses. It did need a slight truss rod adjustment, which is not surprising as this thing was shipped over 8,000 miles from Indonesia to California, probably with a few stops along the way. In case you are wondering, it weighs in at right around 10 pounds, which might seem a bit heavy, but remember that the body is mahogany, not basswood.

Once properly set up, the Talman is an easy bass to play. It balances nicely on a strap and it is not a stretch to reach to reach the lower frets. The neck is very comfortable and though it has a glossy finish on the back it does not feel sticky. The mahogany body seems to give it a bit more sustain, though I cannot recall anybody ever complaining that their bass did not have enough sustain…

As far as the sound goes, this bass was about exactly what I expected, and that is a fairly generic low end active bass tone. There is no extra noise or hum, and it can do respectable Precision and Jazz sounds (with the coil tap on), though there was no way I could get it to sound like a Musicman. There is a metric ton of treble and bass that can be gained with the 2-band EQ knobs, so it should be easy to make yourself heard though a muddy stage mix. There is nothing offensive about the tone, and it can get growly if you crank the knobs up enough. The will do the job for most any type of modern music you want to play through it, as long as you are not looking for a woody passive tone.

The Ibanez Talman TMB310 bass is a pretty good instrument and it comes in at a reasonable price, too. It has a list price of $428.56 and a street of $299.99 (case not included), which is pretty competitive in the low-priced bass field. Check one out if you get the chance, and let me know what you think!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Balkun Brothers – Balkun Brothers | Album Review

Balkun Brothers – Balkun Brothers

Dixiefrog Records


12 tracks / 63:48

The Balkun Brothers out of Harford, Connecticut are a breath of fresh air in today’s music landscape with their varied influences that include artists such as Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Primus, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. Steve and Nick Balkun are young guys, but their sound is mature and the blues-rock they crank out is hard and true. They have gained a lot of notice with numerous awards to their name, have toured the world and played major festivals, and last year’s debut album, Redrova, is simply amazing.

Their eponymous second album is just as good; it was done as a duo, with Steve playing the guitar and singing the lead vocals, and Nick taking care of the drums and background vocals. The brothers wrote eleven of the dozen songs in the set, with over an hour of material for their listeners to enjoy. They got some extra special help at Serpentine Studios in Central Valley, New York, as none other than Popa Chubby recorded, produced, and mixed Balkun Bothers. You could not ask for a better mentor!

Here are a few highlights from Balkun Brothers:

- Steve and Nick start things off with “Been Drivin’” and this tune hearkens to the hammering feel of Golden Earring’s Radar Love, one of the greatest road songs ever. Steve and Nick do not waste any time showing off how much talent they have, as their work on guitar and drums is top-notch, and the vocals are strong with a nice weathering around the edges.

- They changed up the sound a bit for “Jail Bird” and brought in Dave Keyes to play the piano. This is a slow-tempo blues-rocker, and the Robby Krieger style keyboards add a little smoke to the mood. It starts with the components of a conventional blue rocker, but then it morphs into an awesome jam with an extended guitar solo over tricky drum rhythms.

- The sole cover on this album is Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues” and this up-tempo romp is one of my favorite songs on the album. Nick sets up a mean drumbeat and Steve does a killer job of mimicking the guitar riffs as he howls out the lyrics. Apparently the brothers have shared the stage with Johnny before, and I cannot imagine that he would have any troubles with their interpretation of his song as is it freaking incredible.

- This disc finishes up with “Rainy Day Front Porch Blues” and with this Delta-inspired piece the brothers show that they have done their homework and have studied the classics of the blues genre. There is just a Dobro and a kick drum (plus a little rain sound effect) to accompany the sad story of a fellow who has lost his lady. Steve’s vocals are spot-on and this turns out to be is an excellent way to bring things to a close.

The Balkun Brothers are hot and it is no accident that they were named the best band in Connecticut or that they made it to the finals of the IBC. Their latest album is worth your time, and be sure to head to their website to see if they are gigging near you. Their live show comes highly recommended, and I am going to follow my own advice and see them as soon as I can!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

BOSS CS-2 Compressor Sustainer Guitar Effect Pedal Review


Awhile back I reviewed the BOSS CS-3 Compressor Sustainer pedal, and recently lucked into a Japanese-made CS-2, so I thought it would be cool to do a comparison between the two. There is a bit of derision towards the CS-3 so this is also a good chance to see what all of the fuss is about.

Effect pedals come in all price ranges, all the way from total junk on up to You can pay anything you want for guitar effect pedals, and the choices include boutique pedals with prices so high that they must use unicorn hair for wiring. Somewhere in between are BOSS pedals, which are reasonably priced, good quality, and the mainstay of many working musicians. The BOSS CS-2 we are looking at today is a perfect example of this.

What exactly is a compressor sustainer pedal? Well, this one compresses louder signals and boosts softer signals, resulting in more even output. At the same time it can sustain your notes, making them sound longer. Putting these two features can result in a smoother sound, and this will work with either guitar or bass.

The CS-2 is a standard single-space sized pedal, measuring 2-7/8 inches wide by 2-3/8 inches tall by 5-1/8 inches long. Take that, metric system! In that same vein, it weighs in at around 15 ounces. This pedal runs on a single 9-volt battery or it takes the optional BOSS PSA adapter. It draws 4 mA at 9 volts (vs. the 11mA of the CS-3), in case you are thinking of hooking it up to a pedal board power system.

By the way, if you run the unit on battery, make sure you unplug the input when you are not using it, as the input jack acts as the power switch. It has the same general style as other BOSS pedals, but this one comes in a lovely shade of blue. The outside of the sturdy metal case has a single 1/4 input, a single 1/4-inch output and a jack for the aforementioned AC adapter.

The expected BOSS high quality is to be found here, with a smooth finish, clean wiring, and knobs that have a nice feel. These knobs include Level, Tone, Attack, and Sustain, so it is not too complicated. Here is what they do:

Level: adjusts output level, not input level

Attack: enhances the intensity of each note by controlling how quickly the compression activates.

Sustain: adjusts the sustain time. If turned counter-clockwise it acts as a limiter.

Note that there is no Tone knob on the CS-2, on the CS-3 this controls high frequency boost and cut.

My old CS-3 pedal is at its best when it is asked to provide a high level of compression, and combining it with the right guitar/amp combination (think Les Paul and a Marshall). It certainly can squish things down, and there are definitely usable ranges, to be found though I would avoid anything outside of the 9:00 to 3:00 range as there is too drastic of a difference in tone when the unit is switched on. Increasing sustain seems to enhance the compression effect, so I usually keep it below 10:00. The tone control is very useful, and it helps dial out most of the muddiness that comes bout from the compression. With these settings the attack can be spot on without a ton of mush. But, I found that the pedal is best used for hard rock and metal, as this pedal clouds the sound with a lot of gain, which gives out a very edgy and uneven tone.

The older model CS-2 is a LOT smoother, and is better suited to the country and classic rock that I am mostly playing these days. Also, I do not have to get as extreme with my amplifier settings and am able to dial in less bass and enjoy a bit more treble. Also, it does not add nearly as much noise to the signal chain. My other effect pedals work better with it, and for classic Telecaster sounds this pedal really delivers the goods.

There is only one downside, but this it is common to pedals in this price range. Like the CS-3, the CS-2 does not have true bypass, which is something that everybody and their brother wants. In truth, there is some color added to the straight tone when bypassing the pedal, and gear nuts are fanatical about this.

So, there really is a difference between the two pedals, and if you are not looking for an extreme sound the CS-2 is the better choice. These pedals were discontinued years ago, but there are still tons of them on eBay with reasonable prices that range between $60 and $100. They are the real deal, and I heartily recommend this pedal! If you get a chance to try one out, be sure to let me know what you think!


Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here… | Album Review

The Mike Henderson Band – If You Think It’s Hot Here…

EllerSoul Records



11 tracks / 51:32

You are probably familiar with Mike Henderson’s work, even if you have not heard his name before. This three-time Grammy-nominated cat has written songs that were recorded by artists that include The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, The Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, and even Adele (damn, she is popular). Or, maybe you have heard him on albums by folks such as Mark Knopfler, Albert King, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Hank Jr., John Hiatt, Sting, Bo Diddley, Tim McGraw, Lucinda Williams, or Bob Seeger. Then there is his work with his own groups, the SteelDrivers and the Bluebloods, which is truly amazing.

If you still do not know who he is, maybe you caught him during one of the regular Monday night shows he has at Nashville’s Bluebird CafĂ©. Then you would know how tight his band is, and it would surely make you want to pick up a copy of his EllerSoul Records debut, If You Think It’s Hot Here…. Producer Kevin McKendree in Franklin, Tennessee’s Rock House studio, cut this set of hard-hitting roadhouse blues live in the studio. It is 50-minute mix of originals and covers that defines the Mike Henderson Band.

Mike took care of the lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica for this project and his band certainly meets his high standards. The roster includes McKendree on piano and B3, Michael Rhodes on bass, and Pat O’Connor behind the drum kit. First up on the track list is “I Wanta Know Why” and this original has a bit of a southern rock flavor to it. The most notable thing here is Henderson’s guitar tone -- it is full and meaty, and this sound is a major contributor to the anxious tone that the band was looking for. Mike lays down an awesome slide solo, and McKendree has a killer touch on the piano keys here, making for a solid opener.

Then there are a couple of Hound Dog Taylor covers, “Send You Back to Georgia” and “It’s Alright,” and there is no doubt that these fellows have the shuffle figured out. O’Connor is one hell of a drummer, and his timing really pulls these tunes together.

There are plenty of other extra cool covers on this album too. Muddy Waters’ “Mean Red Spider” is very catchy with nice snare work from O’Connor and a slick walking bass line from Rhodes. The classic “If I Had Possession” from Robert Johnson features (appropriately) lovely guitar work from Henderson; this song never gets old no matter how many artists cover it. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Unseen Eye” features Chicago style guitar licks galore and very tasty barrelhouse piano from McKendree. And the traditional, “Matchbox,” is a romp that is just plain fun. There is not a dud in the bunch!

These covers are neat, but the standout song of the album is the original title track that is already a certified crowd favorite. Henderson has been playing “If You Think It’s Hot Here…” for years in his live shows, and this ode to our place in the afterlife has wonderful lyrics and a solid melody. McKendree’s piano work is very powerful, and to add a little more depth a few guest musicians were brought in: Don Underwood on guitar, as well as Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton on backing vocals. This is a song that can be listened to many times without getting stale, and it might just make you think about what may be in store for you when the pearly gates close. Or not.

If You Think It’s Hot Here… has a live gig vibe with the benefit of studio refinement, and the end product is an entertaining set of roadhouse blues that is very listenable from the comfort of your own home. The originals and tributes mix well together and the Mike Henderson Band play all of them with skill and passion. Be sure to check out Mike’s web page for his gig schedule (still playing on Mondays!), and think about picking up a copy of this disc for your collection!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Sidney Green Street Band - SGSB


This CD review was originally published in the February 12, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

The Sidney Green Street Band – SGSB | Album Review

Self Release


11 tracks / 51:08

The Sidney Green Street band is promoted as a New Jersey bar band, but don’t let that description fool you into thinking they are amateurs – these guys are the real deal. But you do not have to travel to the Garden State to appreciate their brand of blues-rock, as they have recently issued their sophomore CD, SGSB.

Though they have only put out two albums, this quartet has more than enough experience to get the job done no matter where they are playing. Lance Doss (guitar and vocals) toured the world for over six years with John Cale, and guitarist Justin Jordan has over 20 years of professional experience, touring and appearing with artists as diverse as Sean Fleming, Shirley Allston Reeves and Gary US Bonds. Bassist Paul Page toured with John Cale too, and appeared with some really cool acts including Dion, Popa Chubby, Gary US Bonds, Bo Diddley, Del Shannon and Ben E. King. And rounding out the group is drummer Steve Holley whose resume includes work with Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, and Chuck Berry to name a few.

The Sidney Green Street Band has a few things going for it that most North Jersey bar bands do not, and the first thing is original material: Lance wrote all eleven guitar-heavy tracks for this album. Another plus is a high level of musical ability, and the last piece is their take on Southern blues-rock. Apparently, Doss picked up a good dose of this from his home state of Alabama, but their vibe is still original with just a touch of Skynyrd here and there.

The band took a chance by opening the set with a slow song, “Bye, Bye, Bye,” but this burning rocker paid off for them. Jordan and Doss’ smoking hot guitars are run in stereo and Lance knocks the vocals out with his diverse style, which can be described as a rough on one side and smooth on the other -- kind of like a sheet of A-C plywood! This leads into the almost-pop “Sadie,” a play on the original Sadie Hawkins story as introduced in the Li’l Abner comic strip back in 1937 (in case you were wondering).

This change of genres is not unusual for the Sidney Green Street Band. “Some Things Ain’t Never Gonna Change” is a soft rock tune, but with hard hitting rhythm guitar work over the awesome backline of Page and Holley. It has a few unique guitar breaks, including a standalone dry solo and a heavily processed Wah pedal solo. Also, the modern boogie of “Number” is a jaw-dropping bit of guitar fun.

There are also a few standout tracks on the album that should be pointed out. The first is “Divine,” which has a catchy hook and an acoustic rock foundation. It shows mature songwriting, though it is uncertain if comparing your lady to a “good Southern Whiskey” will get you in her good graces. Doss’ voice is in fine form here with a surplus of emotion, and his harmonies with the other members are spot on. The other winner track is the country rocker, “Payin’ the Price” which is carried by its clever lyrics, an infectious rhythm guitar line, and some truly tasteful solo work.

SGSB ends with a really cool tune, “Consumer,” which has a lot going on. The rhythm section builds a sweet Boz Scaggs riff on the bottom, there is a smoking twin guitar attack on top, and a fun vocal history cuts through the middle. This track would be a good set-closer, and that is exactly what the band does with it on this disc.

The Sidney Green Street Band’s new album is a solid collection of original blues-rock with a Southern flavor. If you are a fan of heavy guitar blues with a killer beat this will be your cup of tea. And if you ever find yourself on US 46 between the Del Water Gap and NYC, make sure you stop in at the Great Neck Inn – they might just be on stage!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Humboldt Pawn – Eureka, California


Years ago, it was kind of ok to shop at pawnshops as sometimes there were some good deals to be found. But, over time these stores have evolved into terrible places where you can pay more than new prices for a rattlecan painted Squier Stratocaster or a Sawzall that looks like someone used it to cut up dead bodies.

Well, there are a few exceptions and one of these is Humboldt Pawn in Eureka, California.

Eureka is a coastal town in Northern California, sort of a wide spot on Highway 101 between San Francisco and Oregon. This is a pretty area of the state with nice cool weather and a really laid back vibe. It seems like the last place to find a quality pawnshop, but this is the biggest town around and it must be the best place to sell or pawn your old stuff.

Humboldt Pawn has a lot going for it, and they have been in business since 1999. There is ample free parking, it is a huge shop with good lighting and no electric gate to be buzzed through, and there are plenty of employees to wait on you. These folks are friendly without the usual crummy pawnshop attitude, and they keep the store in great shape. The displays are tidy, and they do not have junky crap lying around and getting dusty.

This is a great start, and they also have a lot of desirable stuff for the discerning audiophile, cyclist, hunter, fisherman, or musician. For the latter, they have just about everything imaginable. There are guitars and basses from entry level Yamahas and Ibanez on up to high dollar Martin acoustics, Gibson electrics, and even a Rickenbacker 4001 bass. They also have amplifiers in all shapes and sizes, effect pedals, and accessories galore. I was intrigued by some of their Honda generators, which are a lifesaver if you ever have an outdoor gig with no place good to plug into. Clean power!

I lucked out when I shopped there and found a very nice vintage BOSS CS-2 Compressor Sustainer pedal, which was made in Japan. These are truly wonderful pedals, and it came in at a very decent price.

If you are ever cruising up or down the 101, you have to stop into Humboldt Pawn, it will totally be worth your time. Their info is:

Humboldt Pawn

1435 Fifth Street

Eureka, CA 95501




Monday, August 1, 2016

Tweed Funk – Come Together | Album Review

Tweed Funk – Come Together

Self Release


10 tracks / 39:08

Tweed Funk brings a Memphis sound to their unique blend of soul and blues, which is partly due to their frontman, Joseph “Smokey” Holman, who worked with Curtis Mayfield in the early 1970s. This Wisconsin based six-piece group formed in 2010 and a few months ago they released their fourth album, and you will find that Come Together is a sweet piece of art. These guys are doing everything they can to succeed: they have earned five Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) awards, they play all the right festivals, and they are getting great media coverage. It is all well deserved!

For this project, Holman sings the lead vocals, and he is joined by Eric Madunic on bass, J.D. Optekar on guitar, Dave Schoepke on the drums, Andrew Spadafora on sax, and Roomful of Blues’ Doug Woolverton on the trumpet. Chrissy Dzioba and Sara Moilanen contribute backing vocals on half of the tracks. All ten of the tracks on this disc are originals, and it was cut at Makin’ Sausage Music by Steve Hamilton.

Tweed Funk kicks off Come Together with “Light Up the Night,” and this is some extremely tight funk blues. From the intro the listener knows what the band is all about as the horns are popping over Madunic’s killer bass line that is perfectly in time with Schoepke’s drums. There is a lot going on here: Holman’s smooth tenor lyrics use Alice in Wonderland metaphors to spread the message of overcoming your troubles, Spadafora and Woolverton trade splendid riffs, and Dzioba and Moilanen’s backing vocals add just the right amount of soul. This is righteous stuff!

After this, the band shows that they are versatile as they run through different sounds, though the funk and the horns are never too far away. Here are a few examples:

-“Muse” has a light-hearted beat with Latin flavor, and Optekar does a stand-up job of setting the mood with his syncopated guitar chords. This is probably the best example of Smokey’s vocal style as this love song is right in his wheelhouse, both in range and style. This is the shortest song of the set, and I wish it were just a little longer!

-“Who is This” is a stone-cold funkfest, and this instrumental would be a great calling card for any of the musicians involved. Schoepke works the skins hard, and there are standout solos from Woolverton, and Spadafora.

-“Bullet” is an emotional and slow-tempo ballad with muted trumpet and reverb-soaked guitar. The message is somber, as it deals with a friend who chose to leave us too soon.

Coming in at 40 minutes long, this set goes by pretty quickly and before you know it things wrap up with “Soul Rockin’.” This is one last chance for the band to cut loose, and they build a brick house on top of Madunic and Schoepke’s foundation. Smokey’s voice is pleading as he expresses the need for some soul rockin’ from his lady. And, for one last time, the horns are off the hook and tightly hooked up -- this was a wise choice to close with.

Each new album that Tweed Funk has released has better than its predecessor, which is a tough task as their debut was pretty darned good. Come Together has solid songwriting and musicianship, and as a bonus it has a super positive vibe. This is a collection of wonderfully funky and soulful horn-driven blues, and it is a “must buy” in my book!

One last thing - on a more personal note, please keep Smokey in your thoughts as he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after this disc debuted. The band is taking a break as he gets treatment, and will hopefully pick up again in October. Thank you for your support of him and the rest of Tweed Funk.