Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Product Overview: Ernie Ball MusicMan Caprice Bass

Hello!

I have long been a big fan of the MusicMan instruments and I think they make some of the best bolt-neck production basses on the market. Their most famous instrument has to be the Stingray bass that was designed by Leo Fender and Tom Walker back in the mid 1970s. This was one of the earliest productions basses with an active pre-amplifier, if not the first. This gave it more output and a more aggressive sound than the competition.

Ever since Ernie Ball Strings bought the MusicMan brand in the 1980s, there have been new models introduced: Cutlass, Sabre, Stingray 5, Sterling, Bongo, and the Big Al; oodles of variations of each have been introduced with different string configurations , woods, and electronics packages. One thing they have not had is a bass with passive electronics, until they came out with the new Caprice bass.

The Caprice is a 2-pickup version of the Cutlass, and it has a few of the traditional features that you would expect from a MusicMan bass, including the 3+1 headstock and pickups with large pole pieces. Things vary a bit after that, starting out with a body shape (alder) that is more P-Bass than Stingray. The top-loading bridge looks familiar, but a closer look reveals that the plate is smaller and does not have the large bolts into the body. There are the usual choices of rosewood or maple fretboards, and both necks have Schaller tapered BM tuners and compensated nuts, which is not unusual for their product line-up.

Then there is the pickup configuration, which borders on heresy as it comes with a set of P-J humbucking pickups. The pickups each have their own volume control, which sends the output through a single tone knob for both pickups. I like this set-up as it is very versatile, and avoids the “knob farm” syndrome.

I finally had the chance to see a Caprice bass in person the other day, and it was an impressive instrument with a classic aesthetic and a nice balance on the strap with a sub 9-pound weight. The craftsmanship was amazing, with jewel-like fretwork (21 frets) and a lovely yellow vintage tint to the maple portion of the neck. The neck has more of a jazz bass feel with its 1.5-inch nut width and 7.5-inch fretboard radius. As this was an artist model, it was in a custom color, but normal folks have a respectable number of color choices, including natural, burst, coral, white, diamond blue, and my old favorite, black.

After this I got to experience the bass’ sound in the real world, at an outdoor club gig with 3 guitars and drums. The rig was a Mark Bass amp and 2x10 cabinet, and overall volume levels were pretty reasonable, as it was an outdoor restaurant situation. The bass player also had a Bongo and a Big Al, and there was a surprisingly powerful sound with the Caprice when compared to the active electronics-equipped basses. The mids were crazy good, and it overall it cut through the mix nicely, so it was a winning choice; my general impression was that this would be a good bass for blues, rock, and country gigs. Of course, the bass player had a lot of experience, and a lot of tone comes from the fingertips and touch, but everything is there with this instrument to help make a player successful on stage.

The MusicMan Caprice bass looks cool and sounds good, and if you are looking for a new bass and can pull together $1700 (starting street price), you will not go wrong unless you play leftie or are looking for a fretless bass. For sure, try one out and see what you think, I would be interested to hear what others have to say!

Mahalo!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jericho Road Show – Times Ain't Like they Used to Be

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the August 20, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jericho Road Show – Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be

Hoo-Doo Records

http://bluzzz2u.wix.com/acoustic-house-party

12 tracks / 41:18

There is plenty of soulful Americana music to be found in Mississippi, and the Jericho Road Show delivers their own take on this unique sound with plenty of gusto in their new CD, Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. This collection of twelve classic and original tunes is a marvelous sampler of Southern folk and blues that is delivered by some of the best in the business.

The Jericho Road Show is sort of a roots and blues super group that was founded by Rambling Steve Gardiner. He grew up near Pocahontas, Mississippi, but has called Tokyo his home since 1980, and he has been charged by the US State Department to spread the good news of American music in Japanese schools and universities. Steve produced this album and the other core members of the crew are Libby Rae Watson (of the Liberaetors and a 2015 IBC finalist), Wes Lee (of Blue Roux), and Bill Steber (of the Jake Leg Stompers and Hoodoo Men). There is more than enough experience to be found here as they are all seasoned professionals, and they have put out over 20 CDs between them. A few of their friends joined in on this recording too, as you will see in a bit.

There are a lot of shared roles on this disc, with each member taking turns on lead vocals and guitars. First up, we get to hear Steve Gardner on vocals with the traditional tune, “What’s the Matter with the Mill.” This song is a great example of what you are going to hear throughout the album: it has a live feel, but a crystal clear sound with excellent mixing and production values. Gardner’s vocals are throaty, the backing vocals are enthusiastic, and there is sweet guitar picking and nice harp work on this folk blues tune. Making it just a bit more fun, the bottom end is held down by some cool tuba playing from Brandon Armstrong.

After a slightly more complex take on Robert Johnson’s “Stones in my Passway,” the band launches into a toe-tapping rendition of Bo Carter’s “Whiskey Blues,” this time with Libby Rae Watson up front. Her pleasing alto vocals are delivered perfectly with nice interplay from Gardner’s harmonica. Guest artists include Nick Vitter on bass drum and Chaz Leary with his washboard, which is just perfect for this song: “I got the washboard, you got the tub, gonna stick them together, gotta rub, rub, rub!”

There are only a few originals to be found on this disc. One is “Gray Sky Blues” from Wes Lee and the other is “Shake it Loose” by Bill Steber, who also provided the soulful lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica for this track. Though this song is one of the newest ones on Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be, it fits in well with the rest of the vintage material, and it is very well written. Libby Rae chips in with spot-in vocal harmonies and Leary again provides the percussion with his washboard.

After around 40 minutes of pure fun, Wes Lee ends the set with one last traditional, “You Got to Move,” which is chock-full of his marvelous resonator guitar playing and his Clapton-esque vocals. This song is the essence of Southern blues with its bare-bones instrumentation of Delta guitar, vocals, hand percussion, and bass drum. A nice twist is the fresh gospel call and response at the end with the other members of the Jericho Road Show.

If you like acoustic roots, blues, and folk music, then you will love what the Jericho Road Show put together for Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. It has a fun and informal vibe, but still delivers first-rate musicianship, and it would certainly be a worthwhile addition to your collection. Plus, now is the time to see their live show as the band is touring the United States this summer. So, catch them while you can – they make their homes all over the place, and who knows when they will be able to get together again!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Product Review: Roland Micro Cube N225 Guitar Amplifier

Howdy!

My son and I were doing our usual monthly hike through the Long Beach Antique Flea Market recently, and we ran across a cool Roland Micro Cube amplifier, and I was pretty stoked because I had wanted to pick one of these up for awhile. It was in perfect condition, and the price was really good so I snatched it up before anybody else could.

The Micro Cube was introduced in 2004, and it was a revolutionary product from Roland, as it is a modeling amp that is battery powered. The specs have changed over the years, but this is an early model with a little less power than the newer ones. Either way, the end result is an extremely portable and versatile practice amp that also sounds amazing.

It is a small amp, measuring around 10 by 7 by 9 inches, and weighing in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces (without the 6 AA batteries). It is loaded up with a 2-watt class B amplifier (very efficient, and perfect for a battery application) and a 5-inch driver, and the whole thing is covered in the usual super-durable Roland tolex. It comes with a carry strap, and I think it originally came with a 9-volt power supply, but that was not included in my secondhand sale. The strap attaches to a pair of guitar strap pins, so I guess you could grab a guitar strap and wear this thing around the house or march in a parade with it. If that’s your thing…

There are quite a few things on the top control panel and they include:

- A ¼-inch input jack

- VOLUME knob

- GAIN knob

-TONE knob

- EFX knob that is broken into four segments: CHORUS, FLANGER, PHASER, and TREMELO. You can only select one of these effects at a time, so choose wisely.

- TYPE switch that models different styles of amplifiers. These include ACOUSTIC, JC CLEAN (like Rland’s Jazz Chorus JC-120), BLACK PANEL (Fender Twin Reverb), BRIT COMBO (Vox AC30), CLASSIC STACK (Marchall JMP), and R-FIER STACK (Mesa Boogie). There is also a MIC setting if you want to use it as a vocal amp.

- DELAY/REVERB knob that is broken into two segments: left of 12:00 for delay, right of 12:00 for reverb.

- TUNING FORK that plays a concert A tone, with switch positions for ½-step and 1-step down

There are also a few things to be found on the back. These include the power jack and the battery compartment. There is also a pair of aux inputs: 1/8-inch and ¼-inch (so you can plug in an MP3 player or something else to play along with), and a 1.4-inch output that can be used for headphones or a line out. When something is plugged into the output, the speaker is disabled. Lastly, there is a little hole that you can stick a laptop cable into in case you are worried about somebody wandering off with your Micro Cube.

When you take all of these features and add in Roland engineering and quality, you end up with a killer product. This thing sounds awesome, and the DSP for the different amps is surprisingly accurate. It is definitely loud enough for around the house, and it would be great for road trips and dorm rooms too.

So, I am super glad that I finally got my hands on one of these, and though I will use it out in the shop, I had an ulterior motive for picking one up. You see, I will only meet Craigslist buyer in public places, and it will be really handy to have a battery-powered amp so they buyers can try out a guitar before buying it. It is also really handy that this thing sounds so good, so the player gets a true idea of what the instrument can do.

On the used market, these earlier version Roland Micro Cube amps sell in the $60 to $80 range on eBay, and they are worth every penny. If you want a new one, they have a few more features now and an upgrade to a 3-watt power amp, for the princely sum of $149 (street price). Check one out, and you will see what all the fuss is about!

Mahalo!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Lazer Lloyd

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 30, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Lazer Lloyd – Lazer Lloyd | Album Review

Lots of Love Records

www.lazerlloyd.com

12 tracks / 56:01

There are not exactly a ton of blues albums coming out of Israel, but fortunately for us one of the most talented artists around, Lazer Lloyd, is the country’s blues statesman. His new eponymous album is a departure from the tasty acoustic folk blues that he perfected on Lost on the Highway, and this blend of electric blues and rock is a winner!

Lazer Lloyd has taken quite a journey to get to this point in life. He was born in New York (his birth name is Eliezer Blumen), and he started playing the guitar when he was 15. After attending Skidmore College he drew the notice of producer Gary Tallent (from the E Street Band) and was ready to continue his music career in Nashville when another opportunity presented itself. After playing a gig with the late Ray Shlomo Carlebach (The Singing Rabbi), he decided to visit Israel and he figured out that was where his calling was. For the past 20 years he has been using that as his home base, and been busy gigging, recording, touring, and raising a family.

Lazer Lloyd is a powerful collection of twelve songs, with all but one being written by Lloyd. He is the frontman, harp guy, and guitarist, and he is joined by a seriously dangerous backline that features Moshe Davidson on bass, Elimelech Grundman on drums, and Kfir Tsairi on the keys. He co-produced the album with Yocheved Seidman and all of the tracks were cut at a studio in Tel Aviv.

Though Mr. Lloyd has a wonderfully strong voice and good harmonica chops, his most notable talent is his uncanny guitar feel and tone. He is a bit of a gear hound and is always searching for the perfect sound, but electronics are only the icing on the cake. Without his fingers channeling the mojo from his soul, it would not be possible to produce the killer tone that he achieves.

This disc is a journey through blues and rock, and all of the songs should please blues fans and guitar aficionados alike. If you like traditional blues, “Time to Love” is as close as you are going to get, though Lloyd does throw a few jazz chords into the mix. There is also a little country rock in “Rockin’ in the Holy Land,” which features some slick harmonica work from the man, as well as a little insight into how he ended up in Israel.

But this album is most populated by catchy blues-rock, including the opener “Burning Thunder,” the extra greasy “Out of Time,” and the poppy “Love Yourself.” The latter is ripe for airplay, and could certainly be a great opportunity for Lloyd to get some radio time in the states.

This is all good, but where Lazer Lloyd really shines is with “Set My Soul Free,” an awesome 1970s style psychedelic blues-rock song that is chock full of licks that would make Robin Trower jealous. This song has everything: smooth guitar virtuosity, fat bass from Davidson, and amazing drums courtesy of Grundman. In fact, the drums have a tremendous presence, and at times it sounds like a drum solo that just happens to have a song happening on top of it.

Then there are a couple of softer songs to round things out. Notably, there is an acoustic cover of “Dock of the Bay” that transforms it from Otis Redding’s easygoing melancholy tune into a stone cold bummer. The other is Lloyd’s testimony, “Whole Heart,” a soft blues-rock ballad that closes out the set with a touch of Hammond organ from Tsairi.

Though all of the songs are very good musically, his lyrics might be even more powerful. They are not terribly fancy, but they are heartfelt and most seem autobiographical. They are a portfolio of sadness, hope, love, and faith. There is a spiritual feel to much of it, but this is not a preachy or religious album – instead, the words come across as personal and heartfelt.

With his new disc, Lazer Lloyd shows once again that he has strong writing skills, a mature voice, and guitar skills that are hard to match. Each of the dozen tracks has a different feel and they are sequenced perfectly so that this is project is a complete picture. It would be a shame to cherrypick a few songs off this album, as they are all winners. So, do yourself a favor and buy the whole disc, not just a few tracks from your favorite online seller. Also, if you go to his website you will see that he is touring Israel and the United States extensively through the end of the year (including my home town!), so make of note when he is coming to your area so you can catch his live act. It will certainly be a worthy use of your time!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: 1986 Fender PJM-65 Jazz Bass Special

Hi there!

I have long been a fan of the Japanese Fender Jazz Bass Specials, like the ones that Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses made famous back in the day. I have owned many of these over the years, but have run into a few that came with different specifications from the factory, and the subject of todays post is one of these: 1986 model PJM-65 Jazz Bass Special that I found in the secondhand section at the Ishibashi store in Nagoya, Japan.

For starters, there are plenty of obvious physical differences from the regular export model Jazz Bass Special. The alder body is sculpted, and painted in a cool shade of minty green metallic with a matching headstock. There is retinue of gold hardware, including the sealed tuners and a massive bridge. The Lace Sensor pickups do not have exposed pole pieces and there are four knobs instead of three (but the original knobs are still there!), with no select switch. And flipping it over, there is an aggressive cut at the heel for more access to the frets that bass players should never use.

Less obvious are an active electronics pre-amp, and the fact that this is a medium scale (32-inch) instrument. The rest of the good stuff is there, including the rosewood board with 21 frets, an output jack on the edge of the body, and the expected fine Japanese craftsmanship.

This bass is remarkable condition for a 30+ year old instrument (with the exception of the faded gold hardware), and it came with a wonderful set-up and a nice Ritter soft case for a very good price. It sounds killer and plays well, with much better sustain than I have found on other medium-scale Fender basses - maybe that huge bridge has something to do with it. Also, the 2 tone / 2 volume knob set-up is versatile and intuitive, and I think it actually has a bit more punch and warmth than the more traditional Jazz Bass Specials I have played in the past.

I am not sure where this will fit into my collection, but I like this one a lot, so it might not be going anywhere soon. Unless I get an offer I cannot refuse…

Mahalo!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: David Corley – Available Light

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the July 30, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

David Corley – Available Light

Self Release

www.davidcorleymusic.com

10 tracks / 54:21

Some artists need to produce a few albums to find their groove, but that is not the case with David Corley as his debut, Available Light, is a heavy piece of work. He is not some fresh-faced, wet behind the ears kid, either: he passed the mid-century mark a few years ago and has been writing and playing for over thirty years. Fortunately he has chosen now as his time to shine, and he has delivered the goods in a big way!

Corley has a lifetime of cool experiences. Starting off life in Indiana, he moved all over the country and held down plenty of day jobs, but finally settled down back in the Hoosier State where he is a carpenter. But over the decades this mostly self-taught musician never quit reading and writing. His literary influences are no lightweights, with the works of Walt Whitman, James Joyce, and William Blake (and untold others) rattling around in his mind. You can get a glimpse of how his mind works as, breaking from what other artists are doing these days, he actually included handwritten lyrics for many of the songs on this disc. They are perfect evidence of his mature songwriting skills.

David wrote the music and lyrics for all ten tracks on Available Light, and laid down the vocals as well as some of the guitar, piano and bass parts. It is a self-produced effort and he enlisted the able help of Hugh Christopher Brown, who took on the producer role and manned the keyboards. They were joined in the studio by a respectable crew that included Tony Scherr on bass and guitar, Gregor Beresford behind the drum kit, and backing vocals from Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermitt.

It is not possible to classify these songs in any neat or orderly way. There is a bit of roots, blues, folk, country, and rock to be found here. Americana is probably the closest you will get to pigeon-holing this thing, but the depth of the lyrics and the musicality goes a bit beyond what you might expect from that genre. Corley’s voice is equally hard to place: there is some Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan in there somewhere, but David has definitely developed his own unique growly baritone style.

Production values are high for this release, almost sounding like it was recorded live in the studio, but it is just a little too slick and well put together for that. Not that there is any digital trickery going on here: just a lot of hard work with analog equipment and a good set of ears to guide things. This is true for every song, including the title track, which kicks things off. “Available Light” is a solid opener that is built around the acoustic guitar and vocals, and it builds with drums, electric guitar, piano, B-3, and ethereal backing vocals.

After a few of these softer tunes, Corley turns up the rock with “The Joke” which layers acoustic guitar with electric rhythm and lead parts, and a significantly harder dose of drums and bass. This ability to switch easily from folk to rock, and everywhere in between, shows that David is not a one-trick pony. Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum is “Dog Tales,” which is the standout track from Available Light. The intro and the music are beautiful, but it is his vocal delivery that sells this song. His emotional howls are a marvelous contrast with the sexy sighs of Fenner and McDermitt.

It was hard to pick a favorite song, though, as there is not a single clunker to be found here. The sequencing of these diverse songs is spot-on and they flow well into a singular entity. With a running time of almost an hour, most of the tunes are pretty long, but before you know it, “The Calm Revolution” closes thing out with a slightly more psychedelic take on things thanks to its gloriously distorted electric guitars.

Though Available Light might not sound like the blues as you have come to expect it, David Corley certainly captures the spirit of the genre, and there is no denying that this is a mature album that is very well crafted. If you are willing to step outside the land of more conventional blues and venture into the realm of roots and Americana, this disc will be a great addition to your collection. Hopefully he will be gigging in the United States soon, as he is currently touring Europe where his music has really taken off. The really good news is he is thinking about starting another album this fa

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City

Aloha!

Whenever I get anywhere near New York City I make every effort possible to get into town to see a Broadway show. There is absolutely no better place on the planet to see quality musical theatre, as all of the best singers, dancers, actors, and musicians aspire to perform there. Also, the shows run for extended engagements, so the sound, lights, effects, and sequencing are all absolutely flawless. I was recently in town and decided to see Kinky Boots, which was the best choice out of all of the musicals I have not seen yet. Without a doubt it is the most entertaining show I have ever seen.

The show is playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, a gorgeous venue that opened in 1924 at 302 West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan. It was supposed to be the most opulent theatre of its time, and it has over 1400 seats and dressing rooms that can accommodate up to 200 performers. In 2003 it was renamed after the famed Broadway caricature artist, and you can find examples of his work there, as well as cocktails that cost around 30 bucks.

Kinky Boots has been playing at the Hirschfeld since April 4, 2013. It is based on a 2005 British film that was inspired by a 1999 episode of a documentary that told the true story of Steve Pateman, who saved his family-run shoe factory from closure by producing fetish footwear for men (Divine Footwear). Tony-winning producer, Daryl Roth, thought this story would make a great musical and she obtained the rights to adapt the film to the stage. She brought on the team of Cyndi Lauper (2 Grammys and an Emmy) and Harvey Fierstein (4 Tonys) to write the show. It has been an unqualified success, receiving 13 Tony nominations and bringing home 6 of the awards. Cyndi only needs an Oscar to finish off her EGOT!

From the last paragraph, you probably already have the gist of the plot, and the show is set in Northampton, London, and Milan. It follows the lives of Charlie the shoemaker and Lola the entertainer as they meet, learn from each other, and eventually become friends. There are the usual themes of love and strife, and a good sense of drama is developed as crises arise. Fierstein wrote the book for this show, which is tight and in line with his previous work that includes drag queens, including La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy.

As it has been four years since the show debuted, the original cast has mostly moved on, but there is no shortage of talent on Broadway, so their shoes have been well filled. J. Harrison Ghee plays Lola, and his amazing voice and charisma makes him the hands-down star of the show. Opposite him is Killian Donnelly as Charlie, who is also very good, though perhaps a little less believable in his part. Taylor Louderman and Shannon O’Boyle play the ladies in Charlie’s life, and both are perfect for their roles. There are a few holdovers from the original cast, including Daniel Stuart Sherman, whose portrayal of Don (the shop foreman) is essential to balancing the mood of the show.

All of the other elements of the show were spot-on. The full orchestra was very good, and the sound engineers did a great job of making sure that everybody could be heard with a good balance and not too much volume. The sets and costumes (those boots!) were also first-rate, and the lighting worked well without being a distraction. Pretty much, everything was set up to allow this show to succeed, and after all these years they seem to have figured it all out.

All that is left to talk about is the show itself. The score and lyrics are great, though there is not really a musical theme that carries over through the show, so it can seem disjointed at times. Also, the plot is kind of predictable and I thought that bringing Lauren in as Charlie’s replacement girlfriend seemed to happen a little too suddenly. But these are fairly minor quibbles, and the show really rocked from start to finish.

I have to say, I have seen a ton of musicals over the years, and I have to rank the Wicked and The Lion King as top of the heap due to their overall quality, from writing to production, but none of the shows have beaten Kinky Boots for overall entertainment value. The rest of the audience agreed, and I have never seen a crowd react so enthusiastically for a show before.

If you are visiting New York City any time soon and can only see a few shows, Kinky Boots should definitely be on the list. Trust me!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Custom Kitchen Countercaster Guitar

Aloha!

A friend of mine from work brought in a guitar he built, and I must say I have never seen anything quite like it, so I asked for his permission to share it with you. Introducing the Kitchen Countercaster!

Doug is a mechanically-inclined fellow and he is always tinkering and trying to find better ways to make things work. Maybe you have run across one of his online tutorials about a better way to tie your shoes or how to make your own mini sander. Well, he also restores amplifiers and works on guitars, so it was only a matter of time until something like this happened.

On first glance, the Countercaster looks like a normal everyday Stratocaster. Until you try to pick it up and then you realize that this one is made from something special. It is solid as a rock, built from scraps of the newest generation synthetic countertop material: LG HI-MACS. As this stuff is only ½-inch thick, Doug had to stack, glue, route, and shape multiple layers of this material until he had the exact body shape he was looking for. Once things were at this point, it took a lot of finish sanding to achieve the smooth and shiny appearance that you see here.

The next step was the neck, and Doug found a good deal online for a maple neck that would bolt right to the body. But that would not be quite as special, so he planed down another piece of HI-MACS, heated it up so it could be bent to shape, and laminated it to the front of the headstock = instant matching headstock! Then he designed a custom logo, printed it out and clear-coated the headstock to preserve it for history. This thing will outlive all of us!

The rest of the build is fairly straightforward Stratocaster stuff, with the exception being a hardtail bridge that strings through the body – he even did a fine job of installing the ferrules into the back. He went with a Dragonfire “Pro Series” pre-wired pickguard, which is probably the most cost-effective way to put together a Strat if you do not already have a collection of the parts on-hand.

How does it all work out in the end? It has good sustain and plays well, and it is apparent that Doug knows how to do a proper set-up. It also sounds great, with a unique character that is unlike typical wood guitars. With his Princeton Reverb, it does have some of the typical “Strat” qualities but with a thinner and slightly metallic tone. It also seems to work better with the overdrive channels on his Carvin V3M than his Mexico-built Stratocaster, but the hotter pickups could be the difference.

Some people would say that the Achilles’ heel of the Kitchen Countercaster is its spine-compressing weight of 14.5 pounds, but I think its heft is part of the charm. After all, this thing is made out of synthetic stone, so what could possibly be better for rock and roll?

My hat is off to Doug, as this project took a lot of effort to complete, but he carried on with it to the end and fulfilled his vision and destiny. I cannot even imagine what he will come up with next!

Mahalo!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Product Preview: Primacoustic Element Acoustic Absorbers

Aloha!

Companies have been selling acoustic absorbing panels for decades, but there has not really been much variety in what is available – just a few colors and any shape you want (as long as you want square panels). Primacoustic changed things up when they introduced their Broadway line of panels in a variety of colors, thicknesses, and shapes, and now they have gone a step further with their new Broadway Element shape.

Primacoustic is based out of British Columbia, Canada, and they produce top-shelf acoustic solutions for many applications, including studios, concert halls, workplaces, and residences. Even if you have not heard the name, you have seen their products before, and you are surely familiar with their parent company, Radial Engineering. I have huge respect for Radial, as you will see if you search this blog for previous reviews of their products…

The Broadway line of panels is made from high density 6lb per cubic foot glass wool, with up to six times greater density than typical foam panels. This glass wool is perfect for controlling primary reflections and flutter echo. Also, this material has been laboratory tested and meets Class-A/1 fire safety standards by meeting stringent ASTM-E84 and Can-UL S102 requirements for flame spread and smoke development.

Broadway panels are available in three different thicknesses (1”, 2”, and 3”), and in a variety of shapes – square, triangular, rectangular, and radiused; many of their panels come with a choice of beveled or square edges. Four colors are available: black, beige, and gray, as well as a paintable white version if you need to match a specific décor.

Element is the newest shape in the Primacoustic line-up, and it definitely more stylish. These are hexagonical panels that measure 16-inches across, and they come in the same colors as other Broadway panels. Element panels come only in a 1.5-inch thickness, and only beveled edges are available. This shape provides a new range of design possibilities, especially when it is combined with the paintable finish option.

These are high-quality panels, but with a street price of $279.99 USD for a box of 12 panels they are priced competitively with other products on the market and they are priced accordingly. If I get around to building a dedicated studio, I would love to pick up a few sets of these panels and create my own designs. If you are interested too, head on over to Primacoustic’s website to see what they have to offer – it is really cool stuff!

Mahalo!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

NAMM 2017: PageFlip Dragonfly Page Turner Review

Aloha!

Sorry this post is a little late, but I wanted to share a little about a cool product I tried out at the 2017 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim. At this show, the founders of PageFlip introduced their new Dragonfly 4-pedal controller, and after seeing it I was definitely impressed.

The Dragonfly is a device that helps musicians manage their sheet music and chord charts by simple pedal clicks. I first saw similar products in action at a stage show in Las Vegas, and I loved the idea of being able to view the music on a tablet and control the page turns wirelessly. After speaking with the founder of PageFlip I had a lot better idea of what was going on, and I was very impressed.

PageFlip is based out of New York City, and they were founded in 2002 by people with backgrounds in occupational therapy and engineering. They were not happy with what was on the market and sought to develop better page-turning technology that was more affordable. Their products are a godsend to people with disabilities and musicians, and over the years they have refined their products to be easy-to-use, versatile, durable and quiet.

The latest product is the Dragonfly, which can connect via Bluetooth or USB to your iPad, Android device, or computer. To make this work you will need a compatible app on your device, and there is a huge list of apps on the PageFlip website (a few of the popular ones are ForScore, OnSong, and Newzik). You will also need digital versions of your music, and there are plenty of services out there that can scan your music in if you cannot figure out how to do it yourself. This unit has four pedals that can be programmed to do pretty much whatever things you would like, such as turning pages, switching songs, volume control, and control of multimedia content. Here is a list of Dragonfly features from PageFlip:

- compact 4-pedal design with standard dual pedal footprint

- four illuminated pedals for use in dim locations

- five programmable pedal modes for a completely personal experience

- 30-minute inactivity period before entering sleep mode

- wireless (Bluetooth) or wired (USB) connectivity options

- silent operation

- sturdy, hefty design for durability

- operates for about a year using two AA batteries (or AC adapter)

I had a chance to try out the DragonFly at the show, and it worked marvelously. The pedal has a very sturdy feel to it, and the pedals are laid out logically. The pedals have a nice feel and there is no annoyingly loud click when they are selected.

For $129, the Dragonfly is a great deal, and it includes a one-year warranty and the excellent PageFlip customer service. If you are working in the orchestra pit or on stage it is a must-have product, and if you have limited use of your hands it would be a great way to be able to still read your favorite books or control your computer. By the way, if you do not need to control as many functions there are some less expensive models in their line-up, so you might want to poke around their website some to see what you really need.

I think the PageFlip Dragonfly is a really cool and useful product, and I am going to purchase one of these pretty soon. For more details or to see their full line of products, head on over to pageflip.com

Mahalo!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: David Corley – Available Light

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the July 20, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

David Corley – Available Light | Album Review

Self Release

www.davidcorleymusic.com

10 tracks / 54:21

Some artists need to produce a few albums to find their groove, but that is not the case with David Corley as his debut, Available Light, is a heavy piece of work. He is not some fresh-faced, wet behind the ears kid, either: he passed the mid-century mark a few years ago and has been writing and playing for over thirty years. Fortunately he has chosen now as his time to shine, and he has delivered the goods in a big way!

Corley has a lifetime of cool experiences. Starting off life in Indiana, he moved all over the country and held down plenty of day jobs, but finally settled down back in the Hoosier State where he is a carpenter. But over the decades this mostly self-taught musician never quit reading and writing. His literary influences are no lightweights, with the works of Walt Whitman, James Joyce, and William Blake (and untold others) rattling around in his mind. You can get a glimpse of how his mind works as, breaking from what other artists are doing these days, he actually included handwritten lyrics for many of the songs on this disc. They are perfect evidence of his mature songwriting skills.

David wrote the music and lyrics for all ten tracks on Available Light, and laid down the vocals as well as some of the guitar, piano and bass parts. It is a self-produced effort and he enlisted the able help of Hugh Christopher Brown, who took on the producer role and manned the keyboards. They were joined in the studio by a respectable crew that included Tony Scherr on bass and guitar, Gregor Beresford behind the drum kit, and backing vocals from Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermitt.

It is not possible to classify these songs in any neat or orderly way. There is a bit of roots, blues, folk, country, and rock to be found here. Americana is probably the closest you will get to pigeon-holing this thing, but the depth of the lyrics and the musicality goes a bit beyond what you might expect from that genre. Corley’s voice is equally hard to place: there is some Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan in there somewhere, but David has definitely developed his own unique growly baritone style.

Production values are high for this release, almost sounding like it was recorded live in the studio, but it is just a little too slick and well put together for that. Not that there is any digital trickery going on here: just a lot of hard work with analog equipment and a good set of ears to guide things. This is true for every song, including the title track, which kicks things off. “Available Light” is a solid opener that is built around the acoustic guitar and vocals, and it builds with drums, electric guitar, piano, B-3, and ethereal backing vocals.

After a few of these softer tunes, Corley turns up the rock with “The Joke” which layers acoustic guitar with electric rhythm and lead parts, and a significantly harder dose of drums and bass. This ability to switch easily from folk to rock, and everywhere in between, shows that David is not a one-trick pony. Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum is “Dog Tales,” which is the standout track from Available Light. The intro and the music are beautiful, but it is his vocal delivery that sells this song. His emotional howls are a marvelous contrast with the sexy sighs of Fenner and McDermitt.

It was hard to pick a favorite song, though, as there is not a single clunker to be found here. The sequencing of these diverse songs is spot-on and they flow well into a singular entity. With a running time of almost an hour, most of the tunes are pretty long, but before you know it, “The Calm Revolution” closes thing out with a slightly more psychedelic take on things thanks to its gloriously distorted electric guitars.

Though Available Light might not sound like the blues as you have come to expect it, David Corley certainly captures the spirit of the genre, and there is no denying that this is a mature album that is very well crafted. If you are willing to step outside the land of more conventional blues and venture into the realm of roots and Americana, this disc will be a great addition to your collection. Hopefully he will be gigging in the United States soon, as he is currently touring Europe where his music has really taken off. The really good news is he is thinking about starting another album this fall – you didn’t think that he spent thirty years writing and only came up with ten songs, did you?

Mahalo!

2017 Chicago Blues Camp Sign-ups

Greetings!

I just got an email that there is still room in the June sessions for the Chicago Blues Camp. This is a cool 5-day growth and development activity for musicians. Packages include accommodations in downtown Chicago, and here is a summary from their website:

The Chicago Blues Camp offers you an exceptional experience to learn Chicago Blues that will enhance your understanding and abilities. Our Mission is to be the best place to learn to play Chicago-style Blues, and to create a unique and fulfilling immersion experience in the Chicago Blues music culture.

We seek to become a vital member of the Chicago Blues community, actively supporting and promoting Chicago Blues music, performers and venues. Through our camps, our goal is to share our expertise and appreciation of Chicago Blues so that others might love it and embrace it as we do and continue to support the musicians, clubs and festivals that make Chicago Blues come alive.

Chicago Blues Camp’s supports the Chicago Blues community by:

- Hiring more than 40 working Chicago Blues musicians as teachers, guest artists, lecturers and staff;

- Providing training and education in Chicago Blues music history, culture, style and performance;

- Providing access and guidance to the Chicago Blues community;

- Donating 20% of our profits to Chicago Blues nonprofit organizations to support the blues community and help it thrive;

- Sponsoring outings to listen to the Blues at the top Chicago Blues clubs; and

- Supporting the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University by holding the camp at the university in downtown Chicago.

Sounds pretty cool, huh? It is $2195 to sign-up and there is also an optional $400 Chicago Blues Festival package should you wish to extend your stay. For more information or to sign up, please visit their website.

Mahalo!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Niecie – The Other Side

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the July 23, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Niecie – The Other Side | Album Review

Self-release through Ride the Tiger Records

www.niecie.net

13 tracks / 48:08

Detroit is a truly soulful city; if you stop into most any bar there you will surely hear killer Motown on the jukebox, or if you are lucky, discover a fine band on the stage. This is the musical environment that inspired the amazing Niecie, whose powerful voice has been rocking the blues world since her debut album in 2005.

Niecie has lived all over the country and each locale gave her new experiences and enhanced her abilities. After growing up in the Motor City, she moved on to Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Boston, before finally settling down in Nashville, Tennessee. Once there she was able to take advantage of the gifted songwriting scene there, as well as the city’s population of incredibly talented producers and musicians. These folks helped her craft three solid solo albums, and there is a sampling from each on her latest disc, a compilation titled The Other Side.

As The Other Side is made up of thirteen tracks from these three different projects, there is a huge cast of characters there were involved, but besides Niecie, there was one name that kept popping up: Johnny Neel. Johnny is a first call producer and keyboard man (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and Dickey Betts), and he is also a terrific songwriter. He had a hand in all three of Niecie’s earlier projects, and you will see (and hear) that he gets some sort of credit on no less than eight songs on this album.

The opener, “Strange Way” is the first of four songs from Niecie’s 2013 release, Wanted Woman. This Neel-penned tune is a mid-tempo blues rocker that has an impressive array of Niecie’s cutting lyrics and some lovely guitar work from Chris Anderson – this lady has nothing but killer axe men on her albums! Also from this release is the spiritual funk of “God’s Got This,” the comedic hard rock of “Traffic Light,” and a touch of fusion with “Wanted Woman.” The latter is one of the standout tracks in this set, as it is a good example of Niecie’s songwriting with some tasteful Hammond and backing vocals from Johnny to bring it all together.

Niecie also included a trio of tunes from her first album, Peace of My Mind, and these songs from ten years ago guarantee that there is a good representation of all of the bluesy genres on this greatest hits disc. One favorite is the slow and heavy guitar blues of “Bed of Lies,” but the surprise hit is “I Used to Have a Brain (Then I got Married).” From the title the listener might expect a light-hearted and funny track, but Niecie is dead serious as she howls the blues on this one. Besides her voice, the highlights of this song are the killer lead guitar of Larry McCray and a take-no-prisoners horn section that was blessed with an incredibly tight arrangement.

Lastly, from somewhere in the middle of the timeline of her recording career, there is a nice selection of songs from Beyond the Surface, which was cut in 2011. Of these, Niecie wisely chose to finish her set with “Draw the Line” an upbeat rhythm and blues song that is right in her vocal wheelhouse. There is a bit of everything in this song: vintage organ, fat bass from Steve Forrest, a funky guitar ostinato and slick solo from Mike Durham, and smooth backing vocals from Crystal Tallefero. It may sound like a cliché, but ending with this song it really does leave the listener wanting more.

If you have not heard Niecie sing before, trust me when I say that she is the real deal. Her range, timing and feel are spot on, and she is a real pleasure to listen to no matter what type of music she is fronting. Check out her website for gig dates as she gets around the country quite a bit, and if she is not playing near you track down a copy of The Other Side. This is a fine set of music, and besides providing 48 minutes of soulful blues the chances are very good that it will turn you into a fan too!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2013 Sadowsky RV4 Bass Review

Aloha!

There are not many boutique bass builders whose basses I crave, and one of the few is Roger Sadowsky. His staff builds incredible basses (and guitars too) out of his New York City shop, and they are the most playable and best-sounding bolt neck instruments you can buy. Unfortunately, the popularity of these custom instruments results in a minimum entry of $4500, and a lengthy waiting to get one made to your specifications.

Fortunately for all of us, there is a more cost effective solution to getting out hands on a new Sadowsky. This would be the Sadowsky Metroline series of basses.

Back in the early 2000s, Mr. Sadowsky decided to have a line of basses built overseas. Not by shoeless starving children in Indonesia, but by the best luthiers in Japan. These were originally called the Tokyo line of basses, but were later renamed the Metro series, and now the Metroline series. The idea was to use the same electronics and hardware, but with less pretty (and light) woods and with lower labor costs.

The bass we are looking at today is a Sadowsky Metro MV4 that was built in 2013. This is essentially a Fender Jazz bass copy with the familiar offset waist body and pickguard shape. It is drop-dead gorgeous with the ’59 Burst finish over the alder body. This is a solid body, not chambered like a NYC bass. The sparkly clean neck is topped with a rosewood (or is that morado?) fretboard that has 21 gorgeous frets sunk into it. The hardware is the same as on a NYC bass, with open-gear tuners and a high-mass bridge.

Sadowsky says that these use the same electronics as the New York City basses, so it has Sadowsky humcancelling pickups, and the much-copied Sadowsky pre-amplifier with Vintage Tone Control. The knobs are: master volume, pickup blend, treble roll-off (Vintage Tone Control) with pre-amp bypass push/pull, and stacked bass boost/treble boost. I have had the opportunity to compare these basses to real NYC basses, and they do not sound quite the same, but are still very good. Maybe it is the wood they use for the bodies that makes them sound differently.

One noticeable thing you do not get with the Metro series is the predictably light weight of a New York City Sadowsky. Generally the Metros will weigh a pound or two more. This one weighs in at more than 9 pounds, instead of the usually 8 pounds for a NYC Jazz Bass. This is still pretty light, and if you are going to save $1800, you are going to have to give something up.

This Metro is a fantastic bass. It sounds great, and plays like a dream. The construction is very good, and the neck and fretwork are perfect. In my opinion, it is better quality than anything Fender or their Custom Shop is producing today.

Metro basses come in a Sadowsky semi-hard case and a new Metroline RV4 sells for $2590 new; Sadowsky does not allow their dealers to discount these at all. Nice used ones seem to run a tad over $2000 at this point in time.

So, if you do not need a fancy top, a custom color, a left-handed or a fretless bass (none of these options are available) this is a viable alternative to a NYC Sadowsky. They are definitely worth the money.

Mahalo!