Sunday, September 3, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: D.L. Duncan – D.L. Duncan

Hello!

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

D. L. Duncan – D. L. Duncan | Album Review

15 South Records

www.dlduncan.com

10 tracks / 40:28

You may know D.L. Duncan as Dave Duncan, but no matter what you call him he is truly a fine bluesman, with a beautifully soulful voice and an amazing touch on the guitar. Dave has been on the music scene for more than 35 years, and he has made his mark as a gold-record songwriter for other artists (Curtis Salgado, Lorrie Morgan, and Buddy Jewell), but he also writes songs for his own projects. On his albums he has also been pulling in some first class talent to help him in the studio and the results have been solid, to say the least.

His new album, D.L. Duncan, is no exception. On bass there is David Hood, a famed producer (Willie Nelson and Cher) who has played with Traffic, Boz Scaggs, and The Waterboys. The other half of the rhythm section is Vince Santoro on the drums (Rosanne Cash, Charlie Louvin, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). It would be a dream to have Grammy-winner Delbert McClinton on the harp and Sonny Landreth on the slide guitar for your album, and D.L. made this dream come true. And the icing on the cake is the inclusion of Kevin McKendree on the keys and the amazing McCrary sisters on backing vocals. Duncan was the producer and wrote eight of the ten songs on this disc, plus he took care of the vocals and guitars. There is no question that all the right pieces were in place to make this a wonderful record, and blues fans will not be disappointed.

The band kicks off the set with “I Ain’t the Sharpest Marble,” an easy-going blues song with a touch of boogie and heaps of humorous lyrics. D.L. mostly hangs back on the guitar with just a few pointed leads, but he lays down a nice solo midway through. McKendree delivers a fine performance on the piano, bringing the whole thing together into a neat package. The production values are first-rate here, with good mixing and nothing out of place (courtesy of multiple Grammy-winner Tony Daigle), and this work ethic blessedly carries over to the other nine tracks on the disc.

There is not a bad song to be found on the album, but there are a few standouts. One of these is Jerry Lynn Williams’ “Sending Me Angels,” which has been covered by luminaries such as Coco Montoya and Peter Frampton. This countrified soul song is done Duncan’s way, with some tasteful acoustic and resonator guitar playing, a killer beat, and a chorus that is just a bit sweeter because the McCrary sisters pitch in.

Another favorite from D.L. Duncan is an uptempo rhythm and blues tune, “Orange Beach Blues.” This song is orchestrated perfectly, with a wonderful synergy between the McCrary’s harmonies and McKendree’s Hammond. The backline of Hood and Santoro once again lay down a righteous rhythm and Duncan’s guitar work is smooth and soulful (including an Allman-esque close), which plays perfectly with his growly vocals.

All good things have to come to an end, and this time it is with “All I Have to Offer You is Love,” a sweet country blues ballad written by Craig Wiseman that was previously done very well by both Tanya Tucker and Dusty Springfield. The listener will find this song is built with a nice helping of Hammond B3, plenty of Landreth’s slide guitar and some cool pedal steel from David Pinkston. Duncan’s heartfelt lyrics are poignant, and this was a savvy choice to close the album out with.

D.L. Duncan’s new self-titled CD is a well-written, well-played, and well-produced, making it his best record to date and a must-buy for fans of blues and Americana music. He gets around the country quite a bit, so check out his website for the latest tour dates so you can see and hear his act in person. It will definitely be worth your time!

2017 Blues Blast Music Awards Winners!

Hello!

Press Release:

In early May, a group of Blues music industry professionals including music critics, journalists, festival promoters, music venue managers, producers, musicians and other Blues music industry professionals nominated the best in Blues music in twelve categories. Blues Blast Magazine subscribers began voting to determine the winners on July 1 with only one vote per person allowed. Congratulations to all of the winners and all the nominees!

The Blues Blast Music Awards are presented by Blues Blast Magazine, the largest FREE weekly internet Blues magazine with over 37,000 Blues fan subscribers located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries.

2017 Blues Blast Music Award Winners

Contemporary Blues Album: Samantha Fish - Chills & Fever

Traditional Blues Album: Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man

Soul Blues Album: Thornetta Davis - Honest Woman

Rock Blues Album: Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War

Acoustic Blues Album: Fiona Boyes - Professin’ The Blues

Live Blues Recording: Walter Trout - Alive in Amsterdam

Historical Or Vintage Recording: Roy Buchanan - The Genius Of The Guitar - His Early Recordings

New Artist Debut Album: Southern Avenue - Southern Avenue

Blues Band: Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials

Male Blues Artist: John Mayall

Female Blues Artist: Beth Hart

Sean Costello Rising Star Award: Southern Avenue

Mahalo!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Alex Lopez – Is it a Lie

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 24, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Alex Lopez – Is it a Lie | Album Review

Self Release

www.alexlopezmusic.com

10 tracks / 30:37

Alex Lopez figured out early on what his priorities were, and he stuck to his plan. Born in Cleveland, he took to music early on and was inspired by bands from the original British invasion. After moving to Florida, he continued to record and play out, but eventually Alex made the decision to put family first and took time off from the gigging world. During his time away he got back in touch with the blues, courtesy of guitar greats that included Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, and he wrote and recorded a lot of original material. Well, now his family is raised, and he has jumped back into the deep end of the pool with his new album, Is It a Lie.

This disc is almost an EP, coming in at around 30 minutes, but Alex managed to fit ten of his original songs on it. If you do the math, you can figure out pretty quick that there is no room for fluff; there are no endless guitar solos or choruses repeated over and over again. It must have been hard for him to resist, as Lopez is a capable behind the microphone or on the guitar. He provided all of the guitar and vocal work on this release (and was the producer, too), with John Baccoli on bass and Craig Robison behind the drum kit. Everything was put on wax over at Atomic Audio Recording in Tampa, Florida.

Alex’s voice is not what we usually hear in blues music, with his tenor range and a curious blend of smooth 50s, warbly 70s, and howling 80s blues and rock sounds. This is a good match for his guitar-driven songs, and the overall package provides a unique vibe.

Most of the album is made up of blues-rock songs, though each sounds a bit different than the others. The opener, “Can’t Hide Your Love,” has a driving beat that is reminiscent of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” This is followed up by “Morning Blues” which has a smooth feel and a few neat transitions when the rhythm guitar alternates between choppy and smooth phrases. The best of these is probably “Company Man” which is has equal parts of British blues-rock and funk.

There are a couple of accessible tunes that have enough pop in them that they could be radio friendly, though each of them clock in at just a touch over two minutes. “Smile at Me” is one of these, with a 50s love song feel and a touch of backing vocals. And “I Need to Know” is an upbeat song that is easy to get stuck in your head.

One of the standout songs on the album is the title track, which is labeled as a reprise even though it only appears once. “Is it a Lie” has a funky bass and drum foundation with solid rhythm guitar and killer leads, including an impressive solo. It would have been nice to get a few more minutes of this song!

Lopez interspersed a couple of acoustic songs that they serve to highlight his guitar skills. The first is “Cheatin’ Blues,” a fast-tempo tune with a fairly conventional blues construction that includes plenty of resonator guitar work. The other is the closer, “The Night is Closing In,” which is a slow and sober ballad that includes a short but tasty guitar break. This was a good choice to end the album on, sort of like a train pulling into the station at the end of a journey. It was a short journey, but Alex went to a lot of places on it!

Alex Lopez’s Is it a Lie provides fresh songwriting and musicianship in the blues-rock format. Take a listen and see if it is what you are looking for, and if you are around northern Florida head over to Alex Lopez’s website to see where he is playing next with his band, the Alex Lopez Xpress!

Review: Crate GX-30M Guitar Amplifier Review

Howdy!

It seems that I have been on quite a roll lately with finds at the local flea markets, and today we are looking at another one of my finds – a 1990s Crate GX-30M guitar amplifier. I was not super interested, but the seller was highly motivated, and it is always great to have a loaner amp around for friends who think they might want to take up the guitar.

The Crate GX-30M is an entry level combo amplifier that puts out 30 watts through a 4 Ohm 12-inch Crate speaker. It is the usual practice amp size, measuring approximately 19 by 20 by 12 inches, and weighing in at 29 pounds according to my scale. It was made in the USA and it feels sturdy, with the usual black Tolex and hefty plastic corner protectors.

For a 2-+ year old budget amp, there are a surprising number of features available. There is a clean channel with a 3-band EQ, an overdrive channel with gain, shape, and level, a reverb effect, and a chorus feature with depth and rate. A single input is provided, and there are also jacks for a footswitch, headphones and a speaker out. If anything is plugged into the headphone jack or speaker out the internal speaker is bypassed.

I gave the GX-30M a bit of a workout with a Tele, Strat, and Les Paul, and it did ok. There is a light hum all of the time, but it does not get much worse at higher volume levels. The clean channel sound is probably the best feature of this amp, but there is an unpleasantly muddy distortion if reverb is elected at higher volume. The distortion channel has an ok tone but no bottom end and it also does not like higher volumes, so it is nothing special when all is said and done, The chorus is pretty good, though it does take some fiddling to get a good combination of rate and depth.

This is middling praise, at best, but this Crate does have enough volume for practicing out in the garage, and would probably be ok for busking or doing lower volume gigs. Like I said, I will keep the GX-30M around as a loaner, as even if it does not sound super-awesome, it is durable and should get the job done as long as there is not too much expected of it.

Mahalo!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the December 17, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

The Reverend Shawn Amos – The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You | Album Review

Put Together Records

www.shawnamos.com

12 tracks / 38:59

The Reverend Shawn Amos is a talented vocalist, songwriter and harpist, so maybe it is not necessary to mention that he is the son of Wally ”Famous” Amos – the cookie guy. But it is a part of what makes him the man that he is, just as much as the fact that his mom was the nightclub singer Shirl-ee May Ellis. Or that he was born in New York City and grew up on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, which certainly helps to fill a in a lot of the blanks.

Besides these biographical facts, Shawn Amos also understands the music industry, as he has worked as an A&R executive at Rhino Entertainment and was vice president of A&R at the Shout! Factory. This experience has helped him put together five of his own albums, the latest of which is The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You. This release was produced by two-time Grammy winner (and amazing sax player) Mindi Abair, and it features Amos on vocals and harp. They were joined in the studio by Chris “Doctor” Roberts on guitar, Brady Blade on drums, Chris Thomas on the bass, and Anthony Marinelli and Hassell Teekell on the keys.

There are also a few guests artists on this record, including the Blind Boys of Alabama, who sit in on the first track, “Days of Depression.” This bare bones blues track with its catchy electric guitar hook and minimal instrumentation is the perfect setting to add the amazing harmonies that these bona fide giants of the gospel world can contribute. This song is backed up by the hard-hitting rhythm and blues of “Brand New Man,” showing that Shawn is not afraid to mix things up a little bit. These first few songs are only a touch over two minutes each, and they certainly leave the listener wanting more!

Missy Anderson also makes a guest appearance, and “Boogie” is one of the standout tracks on the album. This song already drips with sex thanks to Amos’ soulful voice and harmonica over the heavy bass and tinkling electric piano. But when you throw Missy into the mix along with a tight horn section, the temperature skyrockets!

“Hollywood Blues” is a slick ode to Shawn Amos’ west coast home, and it works well because of the fabulous job that Nick Lane did of arranging the very prominent horns, which include Mindi Abair on sax and Lewis Smith on the trumpet. Like the other originals on this release, it is well written, and in this case the lyrics will strike a chord with anybody that has tried to work in the Southland’s music scene.

There is also a pair of cool cover tunes that made their way onto The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You. Minnie Lawler’s “Joliet Bound” gives Roberts the chance to step out on the guitar for a minute until the drums and bass set up their driving beat. This is a beautiful piece of roots and blues, and the feeling in Shawn’s voice is spot on for the expected law and order theme of this tune. The other re-do is a laid-back take on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” that has plenty of appropriately played barroom piano, lovely backing vocals from Forever Jones, and some well-placed sax work from Ms. Abair.

The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You is a very good modern blues album that does not lose touch with where the genre came from, and there is not a bad song on it. Pick up a copy if you get a chance and if you are ever near the City of Angels, Mr. Amos has plenty of shows on his schedule, including a regular gig at the luxurious Mr. C. hotel in Beverly Hills.

Memory Lane: 1965-1969 Teisco Del Rey E-110 Guitar Review

Aloha!

Today we are looking at a little bit of Japanese guitar history: a Teisco Del Rey E-110 6-string electric guitar that I picked up at the Rose Bowl Flea Market last month.

Teisco was a Japanese company that built guitars from 1948 to 1969, and Teisco is an acronym for Tokyo Electric Instrument and Sound Company. They built amplifiers and keyboards and distributed drum sets (made by others), but I am most interested in guitars and basses, so this is what you get. They sold instruments domestically and also distributed gobs of them to the United States and Great Britain. The company was sold to Kawai in 1967, and they discontinued selling guitars under the Teisco brand name in 1969 (for export) and 1977 (for Japan).

The company was the brainchild of a guitarist, Atswo Kaneko, and it went through various company names before Teisco was chosen in 1964. So most of the Teisco badged guitars you see were built between 1964 and 1969, or 1964 and 1977 for Japanese market instruments. These guitars were often sold at department stores (such as Sears), and were also imported under other names including: Arbiter, Audition, Beltone, Duke, Heit Deluxe, Jedson, Kay, Kent, Kimberly, Kingston, Lyle, Norma, Silvertone, Sonatone, Top Twenty, Tulio and World Teisco. But everybody and their brother want s a Teisco Del Rey. By the way Teisco Del Rey was the name found on guitars imported to the US by Chicago’s Jack Westheimer from 1965 to 1969.

This one is an E-110, though it took a little searching on the internet to find it as the sicker on the back of the body with the serial number and model number is missing (as is the ubiquitous “Steel Reinforced Neck” sticker). It has a tulip-shaped body that is sprayed in a cool shade of red. I have no idea what it is made of, but it is very thin, maybe 2/3 the thickness of a Telecaster, so it weighs in at a feather-light 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Maybe it is some sort of plywood…

The body is loaded up with one single coil pickup that is wired through volume and tone knobs that are original and still have the little pointers. Strings are loaded through a unique stamped steel tailpiece, and there should be some sort of pot metal bridge, but it has been replaced by a chunk of wood. The original pickguard is to die for, with a cool vines and flowers engraving on it.

The 25.5-inch scale neck is multi-ply maple with a rosewood fretboard and some sort of darker wood overlay on the Strat-style feedstock. 22 frets are sunk into the board, plus a bonus zero fret, which I do not see terribly often. The trussrod extends beyond the heel of the neck (like a MusicMan or Sadowsky), so adjustments are a breeze. The tuners are some sort of cheap open-back units, and the extra cool Tesco del Rey badge is present and accounted for.

Condition of this guitar is good, but not great. The jury-rigged bridge is dying for a Tune-O-Matic replacement, and one of the string acorn nuts has been replaced with an incorrect part. There is a chip at the fretboard near the zero fret, and there is an ugly finish crack in the neck pocket that seems stable enough. And, of course, there are a few scratches and dings, but nothing unusual for a 40-year-old import guitar that was pretty cheap to start with. Fortunately it has been spared the indignities of ill-advised modifications.

None of these things are deal breakers for me, as this thing weighs nothing and it plays and sounds pretty darned good. The neck is very comfy, and the pickup has a very clean tone and a surprising amount of output. I think I will track down a better bridge, do a set-up and enjoy this thing for a while before I flip it. This Tesco will probably not make it for the long term, though, as I already have too many guitars, and all of them are a bit nicer than this one.

Mahalo!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Melvyn "Deacon" Jones: December 12, 1943 to July 6, 2017

I am just now hearing about this – rest in peace, my friend.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Al Grigg – Blues and Other Things

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 22, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Al Grigg – Blues and Other Things | Album Review

Self Release

www.algrigg.com

7 tracks / 29:52

Al Grigg has enjoyed a pretty cool music career since his 1975 debut album with one of the pioneer indie bands, The Flying Dogs of Jupiter. Since then he has done a little bit of everything, from playing with a 50s/60s tribute band, to traveling to three continents while living overseas for a decade. Al returned to the United States in 2010 and formed The Fine Line, who he still plays with in the New York / New Jersey area. He gets out on his own too, with an upcoming tour abroad and a new solo CD to entertain his fans.

Blues and Other Things is the latest self-produced album from Grigg, and he did all of the heavy lifting on this one. Al wrote all seven of the songs (some of them from Flying Dogs of Jupiter albums), took the lead on all of the vocals, and played all of the guitar and drum parts. Guest artists Greta Tristram (harmonica) and Frank Kaiser (rhythm guitar) joined him on this project.

Looking at the sleeve for this disc, it appears that Al Grigg is a bit of tone junkie, as he made notes of the different guitars and amplifiers that he used to get the desired sounds in the studio. It certainly worked out well, as you will hear in the opener, “All the Way Home.” This is a country rocker with hard and crunchy overdriven guitars, and Al’s voice goes all the way from smooth to jagged -- he can really howl out the lyrics! This is followed up by a more straight-up blues tune, “Your Meal Ticket (I Ain’t Gonna Be),” which uses two or three layers of guitars to achieve a fun and bouncy beat under Griggs smorgasbord of double entendres.

Keeping thing moving, the next tune is “It Just Don’t Have to Be That Way,” which provides a healthy dose of smooth rhythm and blues to accompany the heavy lyrics. Grigg lays down a very tasteful guitar solo on this one, and he has a wonderful feel for the instrument. Then the mood turns to country blues with “Dead End Boogie” which has some well-placed harp from Tristam and plenty of catchy guitar licks.

There are also three rock (or maybe even pop) tracks. “I’m Gonna Jump Right Into the Fire” and “In Cecelia’s Garden” are well constructed, as their lush instrumentation and vocal harmonies go well with the lyrics which are thoughtful with good imagery. Finally, the set finishes up with seven minutes of “American Dream,” a hard-hitting Flying Dogs of Jupiter rocking jam where Grigg and Tristam get to finally cut loose with everything they’ve got.

So, after listening to the whole thing it turns out that the album title is true: this CD really is full of blues and other things!

As this release comes in at a bit under 30 minutes it would have been nice to squeeze in a few more tracks. This being said, all seven of the songs are solid; Al Grigg did a fine job with Blues and Other Things, and it is an entertaining listen for fans of blues and blues-related music. Check out his website for winter tour information as there are shows listed for the UK and Ireland, with more dates to be announced soon.

Memory Lane: Barcus Berry Hot Dot Box Review

Aloha!

I find products to review all over the place, but today we have a first – a box I picked out of the trash at work – the Barcus Berry Hot-Dot Box. Well, not really the trash, but an electronics recycling bin…

Barcus Berry has been around since 1963, and they introduced innovations such as the electric violin and piezo pickups for lots of different applications. The Hot Dot Box fits well into what they were doing in the early 1970s, as this active DI/preamp/boost box would really help out an acoustic player that needed assistance with getting their signal heard.

There is really not much to the Hot-Dot Box, it is a bent sheet aluminum box with a single ¼-inch input and a single 1/4-inch output, and that is it – no knobs or lights, and no switches to stomp on with your foot. It measures 4.25 x 2.25 x 1.5 inches, and it weighs around a quarter pound.

Sliding the case apart (no screws required), the insides are pretty basic too: a couple of Switchcraft jacks, a 9-volt battery clip, two transistors, a trimmer pot, and a handful of capacitors and resistors. The printed circuit board is dated 1972, which seems about right for this.

Bringing this thing into the context of today, I have tried the Hot-Dot out with my acoustic and electric guitars and it pretty much did exactly what I thought it would – it made everything louder. There was no added hum or anything offensive, just a healthy clean boost that seemed a little bit warmer than the source signal. Where it shined the most was with the humbuckers on my Les Paul, and it provided that little bit of extra front-end oomph for distorting out my tube amp.

The Barcus Barry Hot-Dot Box is cool, and I would like to experiment with putting it in different parts of my signal chain to see how it affects overall tone. I’ll let you all know if something extra-neat comes out of this – not too bad for something that was going to get thrown away!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Glen Campbell: April 22, 1936 to August 8, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Don Scott – Slidin Sideways

Hello!

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

Don Scott – Slidin’ Sideways | Album Review

Self Release

www.donscottblues.com

10 tracks / 40:31

Minnesotan Don Scott has been playing the blues for five decades, and his current blend of roots and blues is unique as it brings the music down to its most basic levels. He has toured the world, both as a solo artist and with numerous bands that include the Dust Bowl Blues Band (a founding member!), Lazy Bill Lucas, Mighty Joe Young, and the magnificent Janiva Magness.

Over the years, Don has cut six CDs, the latest of which is Slidin' Sideways. This is a cool release with six originals, four covers and the bare minimum of instrumentation. Scott takes on the vocals and guitars, with pianist Raul Altamirano joining in on a few tracks. So, there are no drums, bass, keyboards, or harmonica to be found and because of this, these arrangements wind up with a raw roots mood and sound.

This ten-song set is bookended by live tracks that Scott and Altamirano recorded at Loot in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. This beach town is the perfect setting for Don's kind of blues, and he kicks off the album with the title track, an original instrumental. He cranks out five minutes of righteous slide work on his National guitar as Raul adds a bit of his best honkytonk. And the set finishes up with Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" which gives Raul a bit more room to stretch his legs as Scott belts out the vocals.

The standout cut on Slidin' Sideways is "Some Other Day," a song about the plight of the modern soldier. Scott plays a heavy Spanish guitar under heart-wrenching lyrics of how much more we should be doing for those that have given so much of themselves to our country. This song is followed up by the jaunty "Blue Blake Rag," which is a jolting transition. Don does some amazing guitar work on this one over the steady beat provided by Raul's hammering left hand.

The roundup of covers is pretty cool, and they include cool stuff like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's "Kidney Stew," and Roosevelt Sykes' "Persimmon Pie" (how risqué!). But the coolest of these is Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys' "My Shoes Keep Walkin' Back to You," which has also been done very well by Ray Price, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Costello. This is heady company and Don Scott holds his own with just his hard-hitting guitar to back up his plaintive wails of loneliness.

You will find that all of the songs are neat, but there are a few production issues with noise and volume levels that mean this might not be the slickest CD that you have heard recently. Despite these nit-pickings, Slidin' Sideways is a fun album, and Don Scott has talent galore that translates into a wonderful live show. It would be a great idea to head over to his website to check his gig schedule, as he gets all over the country. There are gigs in six states from Arizona to New York on his schedule right now, and you can be sure that more will be added soon.

Press Release: Roland TR-08 Rhythm Composer Introduction

Greetings!

It is about time! Roland has re-issued the venerable TR-808 (sort of) with the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, the newest product in their Boutique line-up. Their marketing folks were pretty clever, sending out the press release on August 8th (08/08). Check out their press release below, and you will find that it is a lot smaller and a bit more versatile. There is no mention of price here, but you can pre-order one from the big online sellers for $350. I can't wait to try it for myself! “Hamamatsu, Japan, August 8, 2017 — Roland announces the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, the latest addition to the popular Roland Boutique instrument lineup. The TR-08 is a compact recreation of Roland’s classic TR-808, one of the most influential drum machines ever made. Built with meticulous attention to detail, the TR-08 combines the sound, look, and feel of the TR-808 with enhanced features and modern reliability. And with its affordable price, the TR-08 puts the legendary “808” vibe within reach of anyone who’s ever dreamed of owning the iconic original.

Produced by Roland in the early 1980s, the TR-808 Rhythm Composer is one of the most revered and sought-after electronic musical instruments of all time. While only modestly successful when first released, adventurous musicians and producers of the era slowly began to embrace the instrument’s distinctive all-analog voice and creative hands-on interface, fueling the emergence of multiple music styles. The TR-808’s sounds helped shape and define the hip-hop, electronic, and dance genres, and the instrument’s vast influence on popular music continues to this day.

The TR-08 accurately recreates all the ingredients that make the TR-808 so special. Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology fully realizes all the sonic details and quirks of the original hardware, modeling each analog circuit right down to the component level. And the interface, though scaled-down in size, is 100-percent authentic, with all the buttons, knobs, and switches found on the TR-808.

The TR-08 also adds some modern enhancements to the classic TR-808 formula. The sequencer has 16 sub-steps per step, enabling users to create detailed snare fills and intricate, rolling hi-hats. There’s also a track-selectable trigger out for working with external instruments and modular gear. An LED display enables finer control of tempo and shuffle, and it’s now possible to step program or tap in parts in real time without stopping to change modes. In addition, the TR-08 sends and receives MIDI control messages, and supports audio and MIDI over USB.

Like all Roland Boutique modules, the TR-08 is extremely portable, and runs on USB bus power or batteries. It also includes a built-in speaker for monitoring the sound in mobile situations, and comes with a DK-01 Boutique Dock that allows users to adjust the panel’s viewing angle.

To learn more about the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, visit Roland.com”

Mahalo!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington: March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jim Singleton – 8 O Clock in the Afternoon

Hello!

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

Jim Singleton – 8 O’ Clock in the Afternoon | Album Review

Self Release

www.jimsingletonband.com

10 tracks / 42:47

Jim Singleton grew up as an army brat, so he has lived all over the world and he ended up with a hankering for American blues from the epic festivals he attended abroad. He brought this hunger for music back to the states with him, as well an understanding of how badly European players needed to get quality guitars into their hands. An export business grew from this, and now he is a respectable vintage guitar dealer and an acknowledged expert that contributes regularly to industry publications. But he is also an accomplished guitarist and singer, and he is not afraid to head into the studio to lay down some ambitious tracks!

8 O'Clock in the Afternoon is a self-produced effort by Jim Singleton, and he provided guitars and vocals for the project. He called on some amazing talent to join him in the studio, including legendary bassist Joe Osborne, Grammy-winner Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, and guitar maven Bernie Marsden. It is a testament to his talent and extensive industry connections that he was able to make this happen. This disc has ten tracks, with three original and seven covers that include a few crazy surprises.

Jim starts the set with Fleetwood Mac's 1969 hit "Rattlesnake Shake" which is arguably one of the best songs that Peter Green ever wrote. It provides a good dose of gnarly blues-rock and Singleton plays a mean guitar and his hearty voice really shines through the mix. This is followed up by Jerry Lynn Williams' “Nothing to Do With Love," which was cut from the same cloth. This song, most famously recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, is a hard rocker with killer organ from Michael "the Professor" Hensley and a driving drums from John Martin.

The work of Irish blues man Rory Gallagher is also represented on this CD and Singleton's crew captured the raw energy of this legendary performer. "What's Going On" is all raucous guitars and emotional vocals, and "A Million Miles Away" gives Jim the chance to show a little more versatility on the axe. The latter is a killer British blues jam with plenty of layered tracks that gives plenty of room for Jim to do his thing on the vocals. This song is one of the stronger ones in the set, and it was a wise choice to finish off the record.

A few of the covers really come out of left field. Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" has been re-imagined into a slow paced country ballad with some beautiful lap steel work, and it turns out very well. Though it is also very well done, the same cannot be said for Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" which follows a bit too closely to the source material. With its fairly faithful arrangement it is just too hard to disconnect it from the original, and Singleton's voice is just too different from Isaak's to pull it off.

In the midst of all of these cool covers, there is a sprinkling of well-written originals, too. Bernie Marsden contributed "Place in My Heart," a slow and moody blues tune that includes some marvelous interplay between the guitars and Musselwhite's harp. And guitarist Gary Vincent contributes a touch of country with "Don't Take" (including some neat squeezebox from Mark Yacavone) and the blues-rock of "Place in My Heart." Vincent delivers the goods here with strong songs from two different genres, and it is fortunate that he was included on this project.

8 O'clock in the Afternoon is a solid effort from Jim Singleton, and it is a great album for fans of blues and British blues-rock. The songs are all very good, and they were completed with fine musicianship and good production values. Hopefully Jim and his friends will be heading back to the studio again soon, as they provide cool music that can be listened to more than once!

Mahalo!

Yamaha VA-10 Guitar Amplifier Review

Howdy!

While cruising the Long Beach Antique Flea Market recently, we ran across a cool little Yamaha VA-10 guitar amplifier, and since it was dirt cheap it came home with us. I had not seen one of these before, and after doing a little research online, I learned that these were made in the late 1990s and they cost 11,000 Yen (around 90 bucks back then).

The VA-10 is a very portable amplifier, measuring around 13 by 9 by 7 inches, and weighing in at a little under 7 pounds (without the 6 D-cell batteries). It is loaded up with a 6-watt amplifier and a pair of 4-inch drivers, and it is loaded into a durable plastic case. There is a leather handle screwed to the top of it, which I assumed was something a previous owner did, but this is not the case. Looking at old catalogs, they show the leather handle too, so I guess it is original equipment.

There are quite a few things on the front-mounted control panel and they include:

- Two ¼-inch input jacks (high and low)

- VOLUME knob (and no GAIN knob)

- 1/8-inch AUX IN jack

- Headphone jack

- Power switch

- DISTORTION (ON/OFF, DIST., LEVEL)

- CHORUS (ON/OFF, SPEED, DEPTH)

- DELAY (LEVEL)

There is not much going on at the back of the case -- just the power jack (for the optional PA-3 AC adapter) and the battery compartment. Supposedly this thing will run for around 10 hours on batteries.

This Yamaha has no untoward buzzing or hum. I tried out a bunch of settings, and got the best results with the volume at 12 o'clock, bass and mid at 2 o'clock, and treble at 12 o'clock. Plugged into the high input, I put the distortion at 8 o'clock with its level at 11 o'clock, and the chorus at minimum speed and full depth. With the delay was set to 9 o'clock there was good sustain and a usable warm overdriven sound (I was using a Strat, by the way). Anything higher on the distortion produced a very harsh and grating tone.

Overall volume is not great, but this thing is what it is. It is pretty much a practice amp or something you can use on a street corner to busk with, as long as there is not too much traffic noise.

On the used market, these Yamaha VA-10 amplifier are pretty scarce, and I do not think many were sold in the US. When they do come up, they usually sell in the $40 to $50 range. It is a cool little unit that sounds good and has the flexibility of battery power, so if you are looking for something to jam with for solo practice, it would be a really good choice if you can find one.

Mahalo!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen: Love and Life

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 8, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen – Love & Life | Album Review

Self Release through Dolly Sez Woof Records

www.scissormen.com

11 tracks / 51:02

Ted Drozdowski, leader of the Scissormen, is one hell of a writer. He has written for glossy publications such as Rolling Stone and Travel + Leisure, but more importantly to blues fans he also does a first-rate job of penning excellent songs. The new Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen album, Love & Life, is a testament to this fact.

This is the Scissormen’s sixth album, and it has eleven tracks with ten Drozdowski originals. Matt Snow joined him on this project behind the drum kit, with Marshall Dunn on bass and a few of their friends as guest artists. Ted was the producer and took care of the vocals, guitars, and diddley bow in the recording studio, which was actually a mountaintop tent in Pasquo, Tennessee. But this was not just any tent: this was Omega Lab Studios, home of the Mando Blues Show on Radio Free Nashville. The record was a crowd-funded project, and their faithful fans (including Reeves Gabrels) put up the cash to make sure this record became a reality.

This is not a cookie cutter 12-bar blues album, but is most certainly the blues and there are strong Delta elements to prove it. Ted is a creative soul with a vision that he was able to fulfill by making this a rich tribute to blues legends that laid the groundwork before him. This took the form of righteous overdubs and a heavy sound that venture at times into the land of the psychedelic. And do not let the tent recording studio thing fool you into thinking this is a rough cut -- Love and Life is a well-made album that should be listened to with a good set of headphones.

The set kicks off with a song that is more musically complicated than what Scissormen fans have come to expect. “Beggin’ Jesus” features the Hammond B3 of Grammy-nominated Paul Brown, many layers of distorted guitars, and hard-hitting bass and drums. The story here is as old as Adam and Eve, as Ted ponders sin, salvation, and the duality of mankind.

Ted is not afraid to get personal and “Black Lung Fever” was written in memory of Drozdowski’s grandfathers, both of whom died after spending their lives in the coalmines. This song has a fairly normal Delta blues feel to it, but it is spiced up with a modern bass tone, scorching riffs and a hearty helping of Brown’s Hammond. There is a palpable sense of a hardscrabble existence throughout: “My mama had no shoes / till the day she went to school / and her clothes were hand-me-downs / that’s how miner’s families do.”

A favorite moment from Love and Life is a special appearance from the storied soul singer Mighty Sam McClain on “Let’s Go to Memphis.” This track is a marked contrast from the rest of the album, as it eschews modern styles and takes a straight-up 1960s rhythm and blues path. This is the kind of song that is right in McClain’s wheelhouse and his pleasantly aged voice on this romantic tune (about a great blues city) provides a nice break in the middle of the action. Sam passed on in June, and he will be sorely missed in the music community.

There is a sole cover in the set, the Scissormen’s take on the Muddy Waters’ hit, “I Can’t be Satisfied.” But this is pretty far from the source material with only a howling diddley bow and percussion as accompaniment to Drozdowski’s eerie vocals. This totally works on every level and is nearly as revolutionary in this format as the original was when it was released in 1948.

There are a handful of songs that were created in honor of some true musical heroes. “Watermelon Kid” uses a cool drumbeat and searing guitars as the backgrounds as it relates the genius of Watermelon Slim. Marshall Dunn lays down an awesome bass line with killer tone while Ted experiments with stereo effects for “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return).” And finally, the album draws to a close with “Unwanted Man,” which was written for another of Drozdowski’s inspirations, Weepin’ Willie Robinson.

It may take more than one listen to fully grasp most of what is going on in Love and Life. It is worth the effort, as this is the best effort so far from Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen. Their energy and innovation carry over to the stage too and fortunately this trio tours both domestically and internationally on a regular basis. So, head over to their web site to check out their gig schedule, and try to get out of the house to see their live show if you get the chance!

Mahalo!

Billy Corgan Gear Sale at Reverb: Mark Your Calendar

Aloha!

Love him or hate him, Billy Corgan is an influential musician and his work with the Smashing Pumpkins is certainly important. It also turns out that Billy is quite the gear houn,d and he certainly has collected an amazing collection of equipment over the years. He has arranged a sale of over 150 pieces of really awesome gear through Reverb, and everything is up for grabs on August 16, 2017.

There is a mouth-watering assortment of collectible vintage guitars (pre-CBS Strats and whatnot) for sale, and a lot of gear that was used on stage and in the studio. Here are some favorites that Reverb listed:

- Corgan’s #2 Stratocaster. A modified, star–covered 1988 Fender AVRI Strat that recorded most of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, including "Today," the solo of "Cherub Rock," and many more.

- A pair of Marshall JMP-1s that were the main preamps for Mellon Collie album and the tour.

- Two Alesis drum machines, one used for the loops on "1979" and another that was used to record many early Pumpkins' demos before Jimmy Chamberlin joined the band.

- The modified 1990s Les Paul Special used to record much of the Machinaalbum and played regularly on that tour, and the two backup LP Specials from the tours.

- The rackmount ADA MP-1 preamps used to record Gish.

- A Fender Subsonic Stratocaster in Sonic Blue from the Zeitgeist era signed “This is what true freedom looks like. Billy Corgan.” One of the few items in the shop signed by the guitarist, it was originally set to go to auction in 2008 before Corgan decided against it.

- The Fernandes sustainer guitar used in the studio and on tour for most of Adore.

- A 1969 Gibson EB–3 Bass in Walnut dubbed the Mountain Bass used as a “secret weapon” on everything from Mellon Collie to Machina.

- The small Crate combo amps used to get the distortion sounds on Machina.

- The arsenal of Diezel and Bogner amps used to record and tour for Zeitgeist.

- Dozens of collector–grade vintage guitars, including two '58 Strats, a '63 Candy Apple Red Strat, a 1953 Gibson Super 400, and a '66 Rickenbacker 360.

- A vintage 1950s accordion and an autoharp used on the Mellon Collie tune “We Only Come Out at Night.”

If this sale is anything like the Jimmy Chamberlin (also from Smashing Pumpkins) sale that Reverb held earlier this year, the items will sell quickly, even though nothing was very cheap. So, if you are interested in any of this stuff, be ready to pull the trigger when the sale starts.

For more information, go to: https://reverb.com/news/billy-corgan-artist-shop-preview

Mahalo!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live)

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 1, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live) | Album Review

33 Records

www.bluecommotion.com

www.33jazz.com

12 tracks / 60:52

Sometimes bands release live albums when they have not recorded anything new in a while and they need to get something new on the market quickly. This is not the case with Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion’s new live disc, I’ll Be Yours Tonight, which is has been released hot on the heels of their Exposed disc. They had no plans to make a live album at the time, but the opportunity arose and it turned out wonderfully!

I’ll Be Your Tonight is Blue Commotion’s fourth album in three years, and their first live release. It was recorded last November during a show at Richard Dunning’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” in south London and there are twelve songs in this set, all of them Koral and Schwarz originals, with the exception of a single cover from Billie Holiday.

This United Kingdom-based band is led by Zoë Schwarz on vocals and Rob Koral on guitar; their fellow members are Pete Whittaker on the Hammond and Paul Robinson on drums. On this evening they were joined by Si Genero on the harp and backing vocals, Ian Ellis on sax, and Andy Urquhart on trumpet. This line-up results in a very rich sound as they throw down an hour of the blues with a healthy injection of jazz, soul, and rock.

Blue Commotion’s set kicks off with “Your Sun Shines Rain,” a blues rocker with crunchy guitar, pointed harp accents, and a touch of cowbell in the intro. From this song forward you will hear why they decided to burn this show to a disc: the mix is well balanced and the band is obviously having a good evening – they are tight as a drum. Zoë also has a stellar evening as her vocals are strong, and her voice is one of a kind. It is tempting to compare her sound to other famous lead singers, but on further reflection her unique tone, diction, and inflection truly make her voice unique (in a good way).

For the second track on I’ll Be yours Tonight the crew dispenses the sole cover, Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” and they gave this jazz standard a thorough rearrangement. They cut the tempo way back, added some blues, and gave Schwarz room to breathe her uncommon interpretation of the tune. The extra time and space adds a new dimension of drama to what is already a really heavy tune. The band can change moods in a heartbeat, as shown by their quick segue into “Let me Sing the Blues,” a countrified blues rocker. Pete Whittaker shines on his Hammond (with an awesome solo!) and Si Genero turns in a tasteful performance on the harp and joins in on the vocals for the chorus.

This group has a lot of depth and can carry off most any genre, and they include a lot of them in this show. One example of this is the plaintive jazzy blues of “We’ll Find a Way.” This slow song of loss and love is howled with true emotion, with an unexpected crescendo into a dramatic power ballad midway through. Then on the next track, “Say it Isn’t So,” they band unleashes a full force soul review with horns galore. These kinds of drastic changes from song-to-song could kill the momentum of an album, but this playlist was carefully sequenced, and the final result fits together very well.

After the heartfelt and soulful (though unconventionally rocking) gospel tune, “Beatitudes,” the band closes out this set with “Take Me Back.” Blue Commotion burns the club down on this one with Robinson’s jackhammer drums, Koral’s killer guitar work, and a little call and response from Si Genero. This was a cool way to finish things up, and it certainly leaves the listener wanting more.

If you want to see Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion play live, you had better make your way to England, as all of the gigs on their schedule are at clubs there, but hopefully someday they can be lured to the States with some sort of festival or blues competition. In the meantime, you might want to think about picking up a copy of I’ll Be Yours Tonight, as it is the next best thing to being there.

Public Service Announcement: Shure Wireless System Rebate for Auctioned Frequencies

Hiya!

I was shocked to hear recently that the FCC auctioned off radio frequencies in the 600 MHz range. What this means for the general public is that many of the frequencies in this range will be used in the future for television broadcasting. What this mean to musicians is that if you have wireless system in this range (like I do), it will no longer be legal to use, and if you do use it there is a good chance that there will be interference to your signal. Remember the air force base show in the movie Spinal Tap?

Our good friends at Shure are offering rebates for owners of their equipment that are affected by this change in ownership of the air waves. If you own one of their products in this range, if you return it to Shure along with proof of purchase that you bought one of their new systems, you can get some cash back. These rebates range from $50 to $500, so you should see Shure’s website for details: https://wirelessrebate.shure.com/

I am not sure if the rebates are worth it, so you should research and see if it makes sense for you. This is a regrettable situation, but I am not sure of any good way around it.

Mahalo!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Travis Haddix – Love Coupons

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the September 10, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Travis Haddix – Love Coupons | Album Review

CDS Records

www.travishaddix.net

www.cdsrecords.com

10 tracks / 47:01

Travis Haddix has been rocking the blues since before many of us were born, but he is still a stone cold bluesman of the highest order. This Mississippi native transplanted to Cleveland (the Cancun of lake Erie!) in 1959, and is still doggedly touring the United States and Europe at an age where most folks would be sitting at home on the sofa and napping though retirement.

Love Coupons is Travis “Moonchild” Haddix’s most recent album, and it is a sweet blend of Midwestern blues and soul with plenty of horns, organ, and ripping electric guitars. Travis takes care of the vocals and the lead guitar parts, and the rest of his main crew is Gilbert Zachary on keys, Robert “Red Top” Young on the Hammond, Edward Lemmers on bass, and Jeremy Sullivan behind the drum kit. There is also the righteous horn section of Tony “T.J.” Fortunato, David Ruffin and Norman Tischler to contend with.

Haddix wrote all of the songs on this disc (his 20th, if I counted right), and it was recorded in just a month in a Beachwood, Ohio studio. The set kicks off with the title track, and everything is right in the world as the band delivers heavy and soulful blues. Guest artist Mike Calhoun plays a steady rhythm guitar part throughout, helping set the tone over Young’s spooky B-3 and the super-tight horn section. Moonchild’s voice has held up well, and he delivers the humorous vocals with a pleasant growl.

Though Love Coupons is a studio album, the recordings have a live feel and avoid the overproduction that is so tempting with all of the wonderful digital technology that is so readily available today. A good example of this is “Art to Gettin’ Even,” which is a gloriously funky track. This song has a lot going on, but the horns are well arranged over the gnarly rhythm section of Lemmers and guest bassist Ray Deforest. Haddix puts out even more tasty guitar leads and solos throughout, again with Calhoun on rhythm guitar.

The band can slow things down too, and “Dinner with the Devil” is a guitar-heavy ballad with a cool horn ostinato. The lyrics make clever parallels between the culinary world and a frustrated man’s love life. One cannot go wrong with lyrics like, “They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I know you disagree / Lean Cuisine is not part of your scene, that’s why you never cook for me / I never say that I’m hungry when we’re out in the street / Because it’s like having dinner with the devil every time we sit down to eat.” Note that there is also some great harp work on this track courtesy of Bob Frank.

Travis saved a dramatic mid-tempo show-ender to close out the set: “Sweet and Sour Loving.” Again, the lyrics lament a miserable love life, which appears to be mostly caused by not being picky enough in the dating process! Haddix has a good formula down for his songwriting, as the lyrics are self-deprecating and humorous, and the music fits in perfectly with the message. Of course, it helps to have the musical skills to back it up.

Love Coupons delivers over 45 minutes of very good contemporary blues and soul, and Travis Haddix and his band once again put a solid performance on wax. But he is not just a studio hero -- he gives his all in his live performances too, and he will be touring Europe and the United States for the rest of the year. So, head over to his website to check out his schedule and make the time to go see him up close and personal!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dean Markley Artist Transducer Acoustic Pickup

Aloha!

It can be a daunting task to figure out how to modify your acoustic instrument (guitar, violin, etc.) so that you can plug it into an amp or the mixing board. Many of the options on the market are expensive, and a lot of them require modifications to you axe that might not be easy to undo. On easy way I have found to make this happen is the Dean Markley Artist Transducer acoustic pickup.

Surely you have heard of Dean Markley before, as this company has been selling strings since 1972, and in the years since they have branched out into picks, strings, cables, DI boxes, tuners, and pickups. Markley started making these pickups in 1980, and they have been one of their more popular products.

The Dean Markley artist transducer acoustic pickup has to be the easiest pickups on the market to install. When you take it out of the box, there is a small puck with an integrated cable that has a ¼-inch male connector on the end. There is a gooey adhesive on the puck, which allows you to stick it wherever you need to on the top of the instrument, and it can be easily removed and stuck on something else if you wish. As the adhesive is re-usable, the pickup can be pulled off the top pretty easily, so it is a good idea to route the cable so that your guitar strap supports it so that the adhesive portion does not support the entire weight of the cord. A strip of gaffer’s tape might come in handy here.

The pickup itself is housed in a maple wood housing and through use of a lead differential weight, the piezo reacts through compression rather than just bending like all other Piezo pickups. The sound is passable, but it does not really have the pass the full character of whatever you are plugging it into. It is a good idea to try it in different location on the top to reduce feedback and to try to get the best sound. At some point you will find a passable sound, and you should probably not spend much more time on this, as it will probably not get very much better. As Voltaire said, the better is the enemy of the good.

In practice, I have tried out the Artist Transducer on my Takamine EF341 guitar and on my Kala SMHS soprano ukulele, and the results were mixed. The Tak has an amazing onboard pre-amp that is very transparent, so the crispness of the sound comes through it beautifully. With the Markley, the basic sound comes through, but the sound is similar to most any lower-end acoustic. The uke is a different story, as its nylon strings do not punch through quite as well, so it does not matter that the output with the transducer is a bit muddier. The overall output is adequate, but it is not terribly loud due to the nature of its construction.

Overall, I think the Dean Markley Artist Transducer acoustic pickup is pretty cool, and is a simple and cheap way to electrify your instrument. It installs in seconds and only costs around $25 (with a 5-year warranty), so it is a great way to plug in your guitar, mandolin, violin, or whatever. You would be hard-pressed to find an easier way to get your instrument into the gig, Check one out for yourself and see what you think!

Mahalo!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Bernard Allison – In the Mix

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the August 27, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Bernard Allison – In the Mix

Jazzhaus Records

www.bernardallison.com

www.jazzhausrecords.com

10 tracks / 57:20

In any business it is hard to try to live up to the success of one’s father or mother, but in the music business there is the added challenge of trying to meet the expectations their fans and trying to make new ones. Bernard Allison has been walking this tightrope for his entire career, and has done an admirable job of living both in his father’s world and in the one he has created for himself.

Bernard Allison is a supremely talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who also happen to be the son of the late Luther Allison, the Chicago bluesman who was renowned for his red-hot live shows. Bernard got an early start on his career, joining his dad on stage at the age of 13 and moving on to play lead guitar for Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine a week after graduating from high school. He has been recording solo projects for the past 25 years, and has since made his home in Europe where they appreciate his music too!

In the Mix is Bernard’s 17th solo album (if I counted right), but it is his first release in almost six years and it is a bit of a departure from what he has done before. He is a killer guitarist, and with friends and tutors like Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan, that is not too surprising. But this time around, he has put aside the usual heady guitar work and focused more on the vocals and arrangements, making this a rock solid disc in all dimensions. Allison was the producer, vocalist and guitarist, and he was joined in the Minneapolis, Minnesota studio by the core band of George Moye on bass, Mark “Muggie” Leach on the keys, and Mario Dawson on the skins.

Bernard wrote five new songs for this project and the other five tracks are well chosen and rearranged covers, including two written by his father. Given his recording hiatus, it is cool that Allison starts this set with “Five Long Years,” and surprisingly this is the Colin James version, not the oft-covered Eddie Boyd hit. Here we get to hear contributions from two guest artists: Bruce McCabe on piano and Jose Ned James on the sax. There are a few stout lead guitar licks, but this song remains accessible to a large audience with its conventional rock approach.

This is followed up with a “Call Me Momma” tune that Bernard co-wrote with his mother, Fannie Mae Allison. In this funky and soulful piece, Jose’s sax takes an early lead over Leach’s B-3 and Bernard uses his solid tenor voice as he sets the example of asking a sage woman for advice, even as a grown man. It is apparent that his mother brought him up right, and that he wisely continues to learn from her experience.

There are a few well-chosen covers on this disc, including Tyrone Davis’ “I Had It All the Time” and a funky take on Freddie King’s “I’d Rather Be Blind,” but there is also more great original work to be found here: Bernard is a mature songwriter who know what he is doing. One of these is “Lust for You,” a collaboration with another master, Ronnie Baker Brooks. This could have been a blues or rock song, but the instrumentation makes it come off almost like a country tune. It is not what would be expected from either of these gentlemen, but its complex structure and different sound work out really well with the other songs on the albums.

There is plenty of other great original music, too. After slowing things down with the rhythm and blues of “Tell Me Who” Bernard cranks out some righteous straightforward blues with “Something’s Wrong.” The band really shines here with the tight backline of Moye and Dawson keeping the beat under the dueling keyboards of Leach and McCabe. Allison does not disappoint his old fans here, as he takes the opportunity to show off a bit on the guitar with an awesome solo towards the end.

It would be a shame not to mention the two songs that were written by Luther Allison, as there is nobody more qualified to cover them than his own son. “Move From the Hood” is one of the strongest tracks on In the Mix, with a bouncy 12-bar blues shuffle feel, fun doubled sax and organ lines, and a couple of killer guitar breaks. The other tune is the closer, “Moving on Up” which delivers the message that there can be hope, despite whatever the present circumstances are. Leach’s Hammond carries most of the melodic weight in the song, including a trick solo midway through.

Bernard Allison is his own man, but he is not hiding from his heritage either and In the Mix is his most thoughtful and well-planned album to date. This mix of blues and soul is powerful and should bring his music to a wider range of fans that expect more than guitar pyrotechnics. Keep an eye on his website for tour updates, and hopefully he will be coming to this side of the Atlantic so we can see him again soon!