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!

IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage Review

Howdy!

I recently had the chance to try out the IK Multimedia’s iRig Acoustic Stage, and found out that it is a painless interface for recording my acoustic instruments, such as my guitars and ukulele. It also comes in at a reasonable price point, so it will not break the bank, either.

IK Multimedia is an Italian company that has been around for 20 years, and they have found a niche of catering to musicians that are looking for digital solutions that have an analog sound. They make a lot of cool products, including killer amp and bass emulation software, tons of plug ins, and some handy hardware for recording. I reviewed their MODO BASS software last year, found that it was a good product, and had a blast trying it out.

iRig Acoustic Stage is one of the company's newest products, and it is a complete package that builds on their popular iRig Acoustic system. The hallmarks of the original system are all there, and set-up on the instrument is still super-easy -- all that needs to be done is clipping the microphone onto the soundhole (or f-hole). This non-permanent installation makes it easy to switch the mic to different axes. This is a MEMS (MicroElectrical-Mechanical System) microphone, similar to what you find in you smart phone; it is a durable unit with a flat frequency response. It has a built-in lead with a 1/8-inch jack on the end and a 1/8-inch splitter in the middle so you can send the signal to a pair of earbuds or a line out. This interface is the heart of the iRig Acoustic System, and it can be plugged directly into and iPhone or an iPad.

The microphone cable can also be plugged into the brand new IK Multimedia preamp and signal processing module, which is what differentiates the iRig Acoustic from the iRig Acoustic Stage. Two AA batteries power this unit, and it can be clipped to your belt or strap. Features include a preset tone button, a feedback kill button, a volume knob, a phase switch, and a mix knob so you can mix the iRig output with the guitar’s onboard pickup (if equipped). There is also a 1/4-inch output and a mini USB out for recording purposes.

And lastly, the remaining part of the equation is the free app that can be used with the microphone, AmpliTube Acoustic. This app has a calibration process that measures the instrument’s frequency response and optimizes the setup. AmpliTube Acoustic also has emulations of two solid state amps and one tube amp, each with built-in effects, such as compression, graphic and Parametric EQs, a 12-String emulator, and an octave pedal. Also, there is a “Body Modeler” that converts the sound of your guitar into another style of guitar. Recording features include a 4-track looper, an 8-track recorder/DAW, a speed trainer, and a digital tuner. There is also the option of routing the audio to a GarageBand track using the Inter-App feature.

So, I gave the iRig Acoustic Stage quite the workout. First, I loaded the software onto my iPhone SE and my iPad Air, and tried out the microphone on a Martin D-18, a Takamine EF341SC, and my Kala SMHT soprano ukulele. I set the preamp aside for a bit and ran the microphone straight into my iPad and iPhone, and was impressed with the simplicity of the set-up; I was up and running in no time. The tone was clear on all of these instruments, and it was handy to have a non-powered microphone set-up for quickly laying down a few tracks. The free app software worked seamlessly, and I was able to get a good tone fairly quickly with minimal changes in settings. If this is all you need to accomplish, you do not really need much more than the $50 original iRig Acoustic set-up, but I believe this will only work on IOS devices.

With the preamp and signal processing module added into the equation, you can use this system for most any application, as long as you have the cables to make it work. I tried a few different set-ups, mostly with the Takamine, which has an onboard pickup. Running the iRig signal only into an amplifier, the sound was clean and perhaps a bit more crisp than what I am used to with the factory pickup. When plugging the guitar’s output into the preamp, I was able to select a mix that was slightly heavier on the Piezo and was able to get a sound that was pleasantly woody, but still able to cut through very effectively. Throughout all of my tests, I did not run into any problems with feedback with any of my guitars or the ukulele. By the way, the ukulele was a lot of fun, and the system did a great job of recording it!

One advantage of using the preamp and signal processing module is that it was a lot nicer to be able to use my MacBook Pro instead of my phone or tablet, as it was easier for me to dial in the controls on the app. I really dig the looper feature, and they have a lot of tempting upgrades that are available. There is a lot more that I would like to do with the iRig Acoustic Stage, and I will continue to experiment with it. At this time, I do not really have any gripes with the components or software, though I am being very careful with the microphone lead, as the cable is thin and I am worried about pinching it and screwing things up.

So, right out of the box, I am going to say that the IK Multimedia iRig Acoustic Stage is a winner, and it is well worth the $99 that it is selling for. All of the major online retailers are carrying it, so it should not be too hard to track one down if you want to give it a try!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

QSC Introduces Their New K.2 Series Loudspeakers

Aloha!

I have been using QSC K Series powered loudspeakers for years, and my K12 and K10 speakers have never let me down. Yesterday, QSC announced their new K.2 Series speakers, and they have twice the power output with no weight gain. I imagine the old versions of the speakers will be on clearance, and there might be some killer bargains out there.

Here is the QSC press release:

Costa Mesa, CA (April 17, 2017) – QSC, LLC is pleased to introduce the K.2 Series, the highly anticipated next generation of the company’s global best-selling K Family line of powered loudspeakers. The new K.2 Series, which is comprised of the 8-inch K8.2, 10-inch K10.2 and 12-inch K12.2 full-range loudspeakers, offers a number of significant feature upgrades, establishing an entirely new standard in powered loudspeaker technology. QSC is also announcing the introduction of the KS212C, a first-in-class, single-box powered cardioid subwoofer.

Each loudspeaker model in the K.2 Series is equipped with a 2000-watt power module carefully matched to high-performance woofers and compression drivers. DMT™ (Directivity-Matched Transition) ensures smooth coverage across the entire listening area. On-board DSP provides Intrinsic Correction™ voicing and advanced system management to further optimize performance.

Superbly flexible, K.2 Series models additionally provide operators with a library of preset contours for common applications such as Stage Monitor, Dance Music, Musical Instrument Amplification, Hand-held Microphone and more, while also offering storable Scenes to recall user-configurable settings such as input type, delay, EQ, cross-over and selected contour via the loudspeakers’ LCD screen and control panel. All three models can be operated as either main PA or as a floor monitor. Each model can also be flown, wall- or truss-mounted, or placed on a speaker pole, either straight-firing or with 7.5-degree down-tilt utilizing the new dual pole cup. “The phenomenal success of the K Series is unprecedented in the pro audio industry and a testament to the values of great design, high performance, steadfast quality and long-term reliability,” says Ray van Straten, Sr. Director of Marketing, QSC Professional. “This next-generation product raises the bar yet again for the category and will most certainly further reinforce the reputation of the K Family brand for many years to come.”

The perfect complement to both the new K.2 loudspeaker line as well as legacy K Series full-range models, the new KS212C Cardioid Subwoofer represents a breakthrough in innovation and design, uniquely providing all the benefits of a cardioid subwoofer array in a single, compact enclosure. “Keeping bass in its place” for mobile entertainers, AV production and rental professionals, as well as modestly-sized performance venues, the KS212C cardioid subwoofer is unparalleled in its ability to manage low frequencies on the stage, or any application where undesirable low frequency energy needs to be minimized. Dual 12-inch long-excursion drivers, each arranged in a 6th order bandpass chamber, are powered by a 3,600 Watt amplifier and controlled by the system’s DSP to produce a staggering 15 dB more output at the front of the cabinet than at the rear. Like the K.2 Series, the KS212C provides advanced DSP with on-board user-controllable and recallable Scenes via the LCD screen and control panel. Highly portable, the cabinet features comfortable, aluminum handles and four, rear-mounted casters. Two M20 sockets are provided to accept a 35mm speaker pole in either vertical or horizontal deployment of the sub.

Additionally, QSC is also proud to announce that K.2 Series models as well as the KS212C Cardioid Subwoofer feature a global 6-Year Warranty with product registration.

The K.2 Series will be available in select markets in mid-May 2017. Estimated (U.S) street prices are: $649.99 for the K8.2; $699.99 for the K10.2 and $799.99 for the K12.2. The KS212C cardioid subwoofer is expected to ship in late Summer 2017. Estimated US street price is $1,399.99.

Mahalo!

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Omar Coleman – Live at Rosa’s Lounge

Hello!

This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on August 10, 2016. Be sure to check out their website at: www.chicagobluesguide.com

Omar Coleman

Live at Rosa’s Lounge

Delmark Records

By Rex Bartholomew

Chicago’s Omar Coleman does not let the grass grow under his feet – he has been gigging out regularly since last year’s release of his Delmark Records debut, Born and Raised, and the label has just released his killer follow-up, Live at Rosa’s Lounge. This was a wise move, as this disc is a neat piece of work and it helps listeners appreciate that Coleman is a righteous stage performer too.

Omar was indeed born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, and this singer/songwriter and harmonica ace comes to the stage influenced by blues luminaries such as Bobby Rush, Little Walter, Sugar Blue, Al Green and the tremendous Junior Wells. Rosas’s Lounge is a product of the Windy City too, and since 1984 this neighborhood blues joint on the north side of town has provided a cool place for discerning listeners to soak up quality blues jams. By the way, the owner of Rosa’s moved from Italy to Chicago after meeting Junior Wells, which is a neat connection between the club and Mr. Coleman!

Live at Rosa’s Lounge is an hour-long set with twelve songs (on ten tracks), and Steve Wagner and Omar produced this project. On stage were Coleman on vocals and harp, Dave Forte and Ari Seder trading off on bass, Pete Galanis on the guitar, Neal O’Hara behind the keyboards, and Marty Binder on the skins. The mix of tunes is equally split between originals and covers, and Omar made all of them his own with his unique infusion of chops and passion.

The sets starts off with the classic “Snatch it Back and Hold It,” a sure-fire winner from Junior Wells’ 1965 debut album, Hoodoo Man. This turns out to be a tight funk fest with Forte, Binder and O’Hara holding down the bottom end as Coleman’s harmonica takes the intro. When Omar starts singing his voice is nothing but soulful, and his timing and stage presence are amazing. The other half of this track is Johnnie Taylor’s “Wall to Wall,” which is beefier than the original but not over the top (a dangerous temptation, to be sure) and Galanis tastefully pops out the syncopated guitar line to give this tune a James Brown feel. Next up is a piano and guitar driven take of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready” that includes a wonderful solo from O’Hara.

Then Coleman takes the opportunity to let the crowd know where he came from and where he stands with “Born and Raised.” This is infectious high-energy funky blues and it features a natural-sounding harp solo that contrasts well with the heavily processed guitar and popping bass line. This is the first of the five original songs that Omar sandwiches between the covers tunes that start and finish the disc. All of the original tunes are well written and performed with skill so they hold their own with the more familiar blues favorites on the set list. The originals cover a lot of ground, and they include straight-up rock with “Slow Down Baby,” the jazzy blues of “Raspberry Wine,” and the standout “One Request,” a heartfelt soul ballad.

The hour goes by too quickly, and before the listener knows it the band finishes the show with a few more crowd-pleasing blues classics. Rufus Thomas’ “Give Me the Green Light” has a healthy portion of organ from Neal accompanied by a rock solid beat from Marty, and Omar howls out the lyrics convincingly as he delivers this song to a new generation of aficionados who might not be familiar with the funky Stax original. Then Coleman calls on his Junior Wells side one more time for the closer, and “Two Headed Woman” delivers the goods. This song is a fast tempo countrified romp, and Pete does his best Albert Lee chicken picking, which is more than respectable. This is a sweet ending to a very cool album!

As far as production goes, Steve Wagner did his share of magic to put together a very sharp live disc. The recording is clear and well mixed with an excellent balance between the vocals and instruments. One downside with placing the microphones to get such an accurate musical recording is that there is not much in the way of crowd noise and reaction, but this was the best way to get it done right. This album was recorded from three different performances (hence the two bassists), but it is very hard to hear any differences in the sound of the band from one song to another. All in all, this is a wonderful representation of Coleman’s, skill, emotion, and work ethic, and the listener will be pleased.

Omar Coleman should be proud of the work that he and his band put in for Live at Rosa’s Lounge, and this album definitely has a shot at being the best live album of the year. Be sure to head over to www.omarcoleman.com to find his gig schedule, and if you are going to be in the Windy City this summer you are in luck, as he has plenty of shows coming up. If you will not be in town, this album would be a great substitute as it really captures what Omar is all about!

Mahalo!

Inventory Update: 2nd Quarter of 2017

Aloha!

Thanks to the distraction of Winter NAMM I missed my January inventory update post, so six months have gone by, so we go straight to the second quarter list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has been stacked a little taller since October, but things are always coming and going. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:
∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster (STILL apart for repair)
∙ 1980 Yamaha Pulser
∙ Aria Pro II WL Wedge
∙ 1983 Ibanez RB630 Roadstar II
∙ 1986 MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Precision Bass
∙ 1986 MIJ Fender Jazz Bass Special
∙ 1986 Aria Pro II SB Elite LTD
∙ 1987 Aria Pro II XRB 2A
∙ 1989 Ibanez EX405
∙ Sadowsky NYC Vintage P
∙ Sadowsky RV4
∙ Sadowsky MV5

Electric Guitars:
∙ 1983 Squier JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster
∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard
∙ 1994 MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster
∙ 1994 MIJ Fender ’52 re-issue Telecaster
∙ 2008 Epiphone Les Paul Standard
∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job
∙ LTD George Lynch Kamikaze 1
∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Matt Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:
∙ Martin Backpacker steel string
∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele
∙ 1980s Goya G-312
∙ Takamine EF341
∙ Takamine EF341SC

Amplifiers:
∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head
∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets
∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP
∙ Fender Champion 300

Check in again in July to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!

Mahalo!



































Sunday, April 16, 2017

Allan Holdsworth: August 6, 1946 to April 16, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: James Day and the Fish Fry – Southland

Aloha!

This CD review was originally published in the June 25, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

James Day and the Fish Fry – Southland

Vizztone Label Group

www.jameswday.com

www.vizztone.com

14 tracks / 50:16

Though James Day has made the City of Brotherly Love his hometown, his music has not strayed far from his upbringing near the Gulf of Mexico. His years in Biloxi and New Orleans are channeled into James Day and the Fish Fry’s sophomore album, Southland. 20 musicians are credited on this project, but the core of Philadelphia’s Fish Fry is Day on vocals, guitars and harp, Mark Shewchuk on guitars and drums, Ron Baldwin on keys (including the accordion!), John Merigliano on drums, and Michael Massimino on bass. Day, Shewchuk, and Baldwin have been playing together for a dozen years and share a brotherly bond of musicianship that is palpable.

Southland has 14 tracks and with a running time of 50 minutes you can do the math and figure out that the album is not loaded up with self-indulgent 10-minute guitar jams. Instead, you will find a solid crop of well-written original tunes that relate a vivid image of life in the American South (so, it turns out that Southland is not just a clever title). Some of these songs have been in the works since their 2006 demo, and the guys have filled in the rest with newer material that combine together to complete a really neat story.

These stories are genuine and run the gamut from haunts that were frequented in the old days to childhood memories of working on the farm. Likewise, there is no shortage of different genres that are used to tell these stories, including blues, rockabilly, country, gospel, and a whole lot more.

One notable influence on Day’s style is the time he spent in the Crescent City, as there is a New Orleans feel to the opener, “Chain of Pain,” a righteous boogie with hammering roadhouse piano from Ron Baldwin and some slick slide work from James. There is also a neat horn arrangement on this track, and some fine backing vocals from Alisa Anderson and Kelly Vale.

There is a more definite New Orleans connection with Zydeco tunes like harmonica-soaked “Zydeco Boogaloo” and some sweet Bill Nixon fiddle and French vocals on “One Step Des Chameaux.” Have I mentioned yet that most of this album is a danceable treat? Then they move on over to Biloxi for “Festival Time” with the addition of the Wild Bohemian Horns (Richard Orr, Jimmy Parker, and Troy Corley). This song sounds huge, and it would be the perfect soundtrack for watching the parade and downing a few cold ones.

There is also a sweet uptempo gypsy jazz tune included in the set list -- “Nat’chel Man.” This one has a vintage feel with the addition of Rich Delgrosso on mandolin, Wally “Alligator” Bechtold on clarinet, and Nixon on the fiddle. This has to be one of the most fun tracks on the album, and the “Fish Fry Jump” backs it up so that the pace does not get a chance to slow down. This includes some cool guitar vamping from Greg Snyder, and Massimino finally gets to tear loose on the bass, which is a real sonic treat -- the Fish Fry is the real deal!

When you run out of things to talk about there is always the weather, and there is always plenty to say about the force of Mother Nature in the Gulf Coast; the boys deliver the good in the wonderfully greasy Mississippi blues tune, “Weather Blues.” There is a raw feel to Day’s cigar box guitar, Hummel’s harmonica and Merigliano’s drums, as if that was all they had left after the latest hurricane!

James Day and the Fish Fry’s Southland is a goodtime conglomeration of different genres boiled down into the American roots and blues tradition. Purists may sniff that it is not the music they are used to, but those of us that love good music that comes from the heart will be more than happy to snap up this CD or download it from the mysterious and dangerous World Wide Web. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!

Mahalo!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Great Find: BookOff Store at Lakewood Center Mall

Aloha!

I had to head to the Lakewood Center Mall over the holidays to pick up a last minute gift and was surprised to find a BookOff store. I have seen a few others around the Los Angeles area, but had never stopped in to one before. It turned out that I was in for a big surprise.

BookOff is a huge chain of stores in Japan that deal in used books, DVDs, mobile phones, video games, and consoles. These stores buy and sell, which is a wonderful way to help connect people with goods that are no longer needed. I have stopped in to a few of their locations over the years, but their do not really interest me, as I do not read or speak the language. I do, however, frequent the HardOff chain of stores (also in Japan) that deals in used goods that do interest me, such as guitars, effect pedals, and goofy consumer electronics.

Well, the Lakewood Center Mall location is not like the typical BookOff operations that I have seen before. There are certainly plenty of books, Playstations, iPods, and phones, but this store is also like a HardOff. That means there are kitchen appliances, notebook computers, watches, fashionable bags, and a whole wall of guitars and shelves full of effect pedals and amplifiers. Boo yah!

With the instruments, there plenty of mid-level instruments that are in great cosmetic and working condition. In fact, there was a really nice Epiphone Les Paul in Silverburst that caught my eye and the price was certainly reasonable. And looking at the rest of their inventory, everything was priced fairly. Also, the staff is very friendly, and the 30-day return policy is a nice reassurance that if something goes wrong the buyer is covered. You are not going to run into this in a pawnshop, and Craigslist can certainly be a crapshoot.

Adding all of this together, I have to say that Book-Off is a great addition to the otherwise dreary Lakewood Center Mall, and it is great to have them in the neighborhood. Looking over their website, there are six stores in Southern California, two stores in Hawaii, and one in New York City. If you are a gear hound, it would be well worth your while to check one of them out!

Mahalo!

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Roy Rogers – Into the Wild Blue

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the June 11, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Roy Rogers – Into the Wild Blue | Album Review

Self Release through Chops not Chaps Records

www.roy-rogers.com

11 tracks / 42:09

Grammy Award-winner Roy Rogers has worked hard on his way to the top to become the premier slide guitarist in blues music today. He has a history that most other guitarists can only dream of, having played with luminaries of the industry such as John Lee Hooker, Steve Miller, B.B. King, and the Doors’ Ray Manzarek. But his fretboard talents are not his only skill, as he is also a master songwriter, which can be heard in his 12th solo release, Into the Wild Blue.

Fans have been waiting five years for a new Roy Rogers solo disc, and Into the Wild Blue does not disappoint. He spent the last year writing the music, and most of the eleven tracks were laid down in just four days. This self-produced album includes a cast of awesome musicians that teamed up with him. On this effort, Rogers took care of the guitars and vocals, and he was joined by Steve Ehrmann on bass, Kevin Hayes behind the drum kit, and Jim Pugh on the keys.

Things get started on a fun note with “Last Go-Around,” a peppy tune with jangly slide playing galore. It is a lot more amicable than most songs about break-ups, and is well arranged with a full sound and a danceable beat. This is followed up by “Don’t You Let Them Win” which brings a world beat with some nice stringed-harp from guest artist Carlos Reyes, who brings his expertise to a half dozen tracks on this release. There is also a tasteful bit of Hammond B3 courtesy of Pugh, and a funky drum break from Hayes.

“Got to Believe” is the best vocal track on Into the Wild Blue, with Rogers’ inimitable voice, and lovely backing vocals from Omega Rae. Reyes brings his violin into the mix, giving the song a spooky aura over its Afro-Cuban beat. This is one of the tracks that highlight what a fine job they did in the studio and behind the mixing board. All of the parts are perfectly balanced and to the listener it clicks just perfectly. This is rare for self-produced albums, and the attention to detail is much appreciated.

This set also includes a handful of instrumentals, and they are just killer in every respect. They mostly defy efforts to shoehorn them into any one category as they have elements of blues, rock, jazz, and country. But the unifying theme is they are all truly original and played with consummate skill. “Dackin’” and “High Steppin’” are both righteous jams with stout backlines, plenty of organ and incredible guitar lines from Rogers. And then there is the title track, which is extremely ambitious. “Into the Wild Blue” has a foundation of piano and fat bass, and an intricate interplay between Reyes’ harp and Roy’s six-string. This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album, even though it almost falls into the jazz/easy listening camp. The band should be proud of the work they put in here!

The album ends with a one last instrumental, “Song for Robert (A Brother’s Lament),” which is a tribute to Roy’s younger brother who passed away last year. But rather than being a sad song, this beautiful coda is melodic and intricate, yet still joyful. Reyes’ stringed harp is an appropriate counterpoint to Roy’s heartfelt slide work. You can truly feel the love here, and it is a wonderful testimony to the brothers’ relationship.

Into the Wild Blue was well worth the wait, and it is great to hear that Roy Rogers is still at the top of his game. This well-produced album is a collection of different genres that are thoughtfully sequenced into a cohesive whole, so it would be a disservice to just cherry-pick a few tracks off of iTunes. It is a must-have for fans of guitar music, and if you are anywhere near the Bay Area it will be well worth your time to head over to his web site to peruse his gig schedule so you can check him out in person. You will not be disappointed!

Friday, April 14, 2017

1984 Aria Pro II WL Wedge Bass Review

Hello!

Today we are looking at a 1984 Aria Pro II Wedge bass, which is not a very common instrument, but as you will see this one is a little different than others I have seen before. I found this one on a recent trip to Japan at my favorite secondhand store, one Hard-Off locations in Nagoya.

The Wedge (also known as the WL) is a product of the mid-1980s, when manufacturers were going for edgy designs. This was also when Steinberger basses were coming into their own, so Aria wanted to put a small bodied headless bass on the market, so the came out with this bass. Up until recently, every one of these I had seen had the tuners built into the bridge, but this specimen has the usual Aria brass bridge, and a little tiny headstock with gold logo tuners.

The body has a funky geometric shape, and supposedly it is made out of maple. It is loaded up with a pair of passive Aria humbucker pickups that are wired through two volume pots and a tone control. The volume pots have push-pull coil taps so the pickups can be used in single coil mode too. The strap knobs are located on the neck plate and near the top edge of the body. These locations actually work pretty well.

The neck is also maple with a nice-looking rosewood fretboard. There are 24 frets, and this is a medium scale (32.25-inch) bass with a 1.5-inch nut. The headstock is cute, with an offset shape and a coat of candy apple red to match the rest of the body.

Well, how does all of this work out? It is a nice sounding bass, with both boomy and edgy sounds available, but it does not exactly do the edgy high-output active pickup sound that a lot of 80s basses were really good at. And, it does not have any of the small bass advantages, as its overall length is still a tad over 34 inches and it weighs in at around 8 pounds, 2 ounces. So it is not small, and it is not light.

But it is cool looking, and it came with the original leatherette soft case which has to be hard to come by. All in all it is pretty sweet, not to mention super-rare, and for what I paid for it this thing is a bargain.

Of course, nothing really sticks around the studio for very long, so if you are interested, drop me a line!

Mahalo!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sadowsky MV5 Metroline Bass Guitar Review

Greetings!

Today we are looking at my latest futile effort at integrating a 5-string bass into my collection, a recent production Sadowsky Metroline MV5. This is certainly one of the best sounding and easiest playing fivers I have ever owned, and there have been quite a few that I have experimented with over the years.

In case you are not familiar with the brand, Roger Sadowsky builds the best bolt-neck basses in the business out of his Long Island shop. Of course, you pay a premium to get your hands on one of them, with prices starting north of $4000, and a six-month wait for custom orders. His Metroline basses are a little more accessible for us regular Joes.

Earlier in this century, Roger set up a production facility in Tokyo, which is the land of craftsmen. Originally called the Tokyo line, then the Metro, and now the Metroline series, and these are some ridiculously good instruments. The idea was to produce basses with the same electronics, but with no custom options so that production can benefit from economies of scale. They also use less expensive bodies and necks, as well as cheaper labor to bring the prices down a bit, but don’t get the idea that these are cheap instruments, in any sense of the word.

Sadowsky Metro basses come in four or five string models with traditional precision and jazz bass profiles, rosewood or maple fretboards, and an assortment of pickup configurations. As I said earlier, there are no custom options, and if you are looking for a left-handed or fretless bass you will have to keep on looking. Generally they weigh a pound or two more than their New York-produced instruments due to wood selection and the lack of body chambering. The only visual distinction between Metro and New York basses is that the Metroline basses are labeled as such on the headstock (instead of NYC). That is it.

As I said earlier, today we are looking at a Sadowsky Metroline MV5 that was built about a year ago. It is in great condition, unmolested and unmodified. The MV5 has a maple fretboard and a jazz bass body profile, in this case ash covered with a glossy black poly finish (RV5 basses get rosewood fretboards and alder bodies).

The maple neck is dreamy, with its 21 frets, simple black plastic dot markers, and a square heel. The square heel is not aesthetically pleasing to me, but that is what you get when they put that extra fret on. It has a truss rod adjustment wheel at the heel, so set-ups are easy. The entire neck is finished in nitrocellulose lacquer (like all Sadowsky basses). No neck plate is used for mounting this to the body, so there are four ferrules set into the body to hold the neck screws. By the way, the nut width is 1 7/8-inches, and the string spacing is 19mm at the bridge.

Metroline basses come with the same pre-amplifiers electronics as Sadowsky New York basses - this includes humbucking pickups in the 60s location and Vintage Tone Control. The controls include master volume, pickup blend, treble roll-off (VTC) with pre-amp bypass, bass boost, treble boost. This bass sounds incredible and the tone is on par with any high-end basses that are being built today.

The craftsmanship is befitting the price, with a perfect neck pocket, fretwork and nut. The finish is even and the inlays and binding are perfectly flush. The chrome high-mass bridge and open-back Hipshot Ultralight tuners are still shiny and clean. This thing is a real sexy beast!

It plays just as nicely as it looks, and it is set-up with a tasty low action and a fresh set of Sadowsky Blue Label Strings. This MV5 is light for a Metro, coming in a bit over 9 pounds. I have seen these pushing 11 pounds before. Always ask the weight before you buy…

What will all of this goodness cost you? The list price of a new Sadowsky Metro MV5 is $2865 and Sadowsky discourages their dealers from discounting these. This is much less than the price of a used NYC bass, and used MV5 basses usually sell somewhere between $2000 and $2500 – and maybe a little lower if you are lucky and the seller is motivated.

So, if you are looking for a Sadowsky, but just can’t pull the trigger for a New York model, a Metroline series instrument might be the bass for you. You will have a hard time finding a better bass, regardless of price.

Mahalo!

Lonnie Brooks: December 18, 1933 to April 1, 2017


Rest in peace, Lonnie. 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

NAMM 2017: Boogie Juice Fretboard Cleaner Review


Howdy!
There are still a few write-ups that I need to catch up on from the 2017 NAMM show, as I was distracted by many non-musical things over the past month or so. I think I am ready to back in the saddle, so here goes:

When touring the aisles at this year’s show in Anaheim, I spied the Boogie Juice banner, and just had to stop in to check out what was going on. I met up with Edd Lancashire, the Managing Director of Boogie Juice, and he patiently explained what they have to offer. He slid me a tube to try out, and I found out that `what they have to offer is pretty cool!

Boogie Juice is a cleaning and conditioning product for your fretboard (or fingerboard) that is packaged in a tidy pen-like device, and it is easy to use. It contains all-natural ingredients, and there are no harsh chemicals that will dry out your fretboard or make you dizzy. What are the ingredients?

This is not for us to know, and the recipe is patented, but as these are made in New Zealand the recipe probably includes local ingredients. And, by the aroma and the way the solution reacts with wood, I am pretty sure there is some sort of citrus oils in there somewhere.

 

This is one of the easier products to use. It is sort of like a paint pen, so if you press down on the tip the liquid start to flow. They recommend tapping the tip a dozen times to have enough to work with and then rubbing the tip gently against the fretboard to loosen the dirt. I had to give it a try for myself…

I found the nastiest fretboard in my shop, in this case it was the neck from a 1970s Aria model 1560 telecaster-style bass. The rosewood fretboard had a good build-up of funk and it was also dried out – sort of the best of both worlds. The Boogie Juice worked awesome, and it did not take a lot of work to get the wood looking good again – check out the video for yourself and see!



It is pretty easy to find Boogie Juice online or at brick and mortar music stores: I saw it on Reverb.com for 12 bucks a tube, and other places a bit cheaper. So, shop around a bit, and be sure to head on over to www.boogiejuice.co.nz for more details.

Mahalo!






Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Danielle Nicole EP Review

This CD review was originally published in the June 18, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Danielle Nicole – Danielle Nicole | EP Review

Concord Music Group

www.daniellenicolekc.com

www.concordmusicgroup.com

6 tracks / 22:00

Though Danielle Nicole has just a single debut EP to her name, she is no stranger to the stage or the studio. You may know her better as Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, the lead singer and bassist for Trampled Under Foot, the IBC award-winning band out of Kansas City, Missouri. This group made a lot of hay since it was founded in 2000, with the zenith being the honor of receiving the Contemporary Blues Album of the Year at last year’s Blues Music Awards.

But, that is the past. This eponymous release is all about Danielle, providing a great sound bite of what she can do on her own, and it is a very nice piece of work. She was joined in the studio by legendary New Orleans producer and guitarist Anders Osborne, as well as his fellow Louisianan Stanton Moore on drums and Trampled Under Foot keyboardist Mike “Shinetop” Sedovic. With a running time of 22 minutes and only a half dozen tracks, there is not a lot of music here, but it is all top-shelf stuff.

This disc kicks off with “You Only Need Me When You’re Down,” and the first thing you will think is, “Wait! Isn’t that the guitar riff from The Champs’ song, ‘Tequila’?” Maybe it is, but has a super funky drum part to turn it into a blues rocker and there are a lot more words to be found in the lyrics. Danielle’s voice has a touch of distortion added and is doubled at times, giving it a very powerful sound. And then it is all over in less than three minutes, which is much too soon!

“Starvin’ For Love” is up next, and listener get a little better idea of what Schnebelen’s voice really sounds like, and it is truly awesome. This fast-faced soul tune (which is not a cover of the Stylistics’ 1971 tune) strips away the vocal effects, so the emphasis shifts to her phrasing, enunciation, and dramatic use of empty space. Sedovic lays down righteous keys throughout, but he is set really far back in the mix, so he is kind of hard to pick out of the high-hat and snare at times.

“Didn’t Do You No Good” is a huge sounding track that rocks with doubled guitar and bass parts and heavily processed organ. This is exactly the sort of song that Danielle’s voice is made for as it uses all of her very impressive range. This is followed up by “Wandering Heart,” which is a complete change in direction with its sparse Crescent City arrangement, slow tempo and Shinetop’s barroom piano. Danielle shows here that she can play the chanteuse, with a voice that is appropriate for blues, soul, jazz, or rock.

The final two cuts on this EP are live tracks that were performed on The Bridge radio station in Kansas City, which can be found at 90.9 FM if you are ever in the City of Fountains. One is an acoustic reprise of “You Only Need Me When You’re Down,” and the other is a beautiful cover of a 1963 Bob Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” To hear Danielle’s voice in this setting with no processing and only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment is jaw dropping. She is one of the best blues singers out there today, but these songs take it a step further and highlight her unique sound and her perfect phrasing. You are not going to mistake her for somebody else!

Danielle is working on her debut full-length album, Wolf Den, which should be out late this summer, and if this EP is any indication it will be a must-buy. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the EP for yourself or head over to her web page to check out her tour dates, as she will be touring the US and Canada steadily until then.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jon Spear Band – Old Soul

This CD review was originally published in the June 11, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jon Spear Band – Old Soul | Album Review

Self Release

www.jonspearband.com

10 tracks / 45:53

There are a lot of reasons why bands head into the studio: to make a name for themselves, to make a little money – maybe even to make their fans happy and provide entertainment. The Jon Spear Band from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has not forgotten these last two things, and their debut release, Old Soul, is a stone cold cool collection of blues, soul, rock, and a touch of country.

The band is a talented quartet with more than enough experience and creativity to get the job done. Jon Spear is the leader and main songwriter for the band, and on this record he provides guitar and vocals. He was joined in the studio by Dara James (also on vocals and lead guitar), John Stubblefield on the skins, and Andy Burdetsky on bass. For a small group they have a big sound, and you will like what they have to offer on this collection of nine originals and one awesome cover tune. Besides their more obvious talents, they also give back to the art and are active participants in the Central Virginia Blues Society.

They kick off Old Soul with a slow and funky groove on “I Can’t Help Myself.” Right off, it is apparent that the backline of Burdetsky and Stubblefield is as tight as can be, and they provide a solid foundation for the rest of the album. The vocals are sweet and really clear which makes it easier to understand the lyrics, which are a funny account of a man who is stricken with love at first sight. If you listen carefully, you will hear some tasteful conga work from guest artist Nate Brown.

The title track is one of the slickest numbers on the album, and it is more radio-friendly than most songs you will hear on modern blues albums. “Old Soul” is a smoky mid-tempo burner featuring fabulous sax lines courtesy of D.C jazz saxophone legend, Ron Holloway. The story of a young woman that is mature beyond her years is full of vibrant imagery, and Spears paints a vivid image of the scene.

“Mean Mean Woman” has some nifty fast-paced calypso and Latin beats as the singer bemoans ever getting involved with the wrong person. Staying with the theme, it is backed with “Paid in Full,” the story of a long time love that has gone terribly wrong. The vocals are soulful and take advantage of cool backing harmonies on this powerful ballad. It is all about the lyrics on this one, but they make time for a rocking guitar solo that works naturally into the flow of the tune.

These fellows are able to cut loose and have a little bit of fun, too, and there is a fair share of lighter-hearted music to be found on Old Soul. “The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese” is a swing tune with killer harmonica from Dara, a fun walking bass line, and a reminder that patience is a virtue. There is very tasty country blues and a wonderful message to be found on “I Love My Skin.” The Dobro comes out and heartstrings are tugged as we get the dog’s point of view “Forever Home.” Lastly, “Live Music is Better” is a not so subtle gig plug for those of us who should get out to the clubs more often. Despite their more whimsical themes, each of these songs is chock-full of fine musicianship and solid songwriting.

The set closes out with the sole cover on the release, an epic take on Jimmy Wilson’s 1953 hit, Tin Pan Alley” (which was also covered majestically by Stevie Ray Vaughan). This is an eight-minute blues-rock jam that has plenty great guitar tones from the talented Spear and James, a tastefully restrained groove, and vocals that find the right blend of emotion and power. This song is a classic, and the boys do not disappoint as they really bring it home.

Old Soul is a strong debut from the Jon Spear Band, and throughout all ten tracks they present top-shelf musicianship, mature songwriting, and a most importantly, a good time for the listener. Check it out for yourself, and if you are around Old Dominion this spring or summer click on their website for their gig schedule so you can see them in person!

James Cotton: July 1, 1935 to March 16, 2017

Rest in peace.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

NAMM 2017: Cling On Magnetic Series Tuner Review

Aloha!

There is no shortage of mountable guitar tuners on the market, and for the most part they are clip-on units. This is usually an ok arrangement, but a clip across the headstock does not look very nice, and those clips do break (especially if you leave it on the guitar and close a case on it). Also, the clips are usually pretty huge, making the tuner almost twice the size that it needs to be. Cling On Magnetic Series tuners are a great alternative to regular clip-on tuners. I was pretty stoked when I saw them demonstrated at the 2017 NAMM show.

The idea with the Magnetic Series tuner is that it is equipped with a very strong neodymium magnet so the user can stick it to a tuning peg or even a screw. Boom – out of the way, unobtrusive, and no big ugly clip. I have tried it out on my guitars and basses and in the real world this set-up actually world really well.

There might be cases where there is nothing magnetic to stick the tuner to, so there is also a small (0.7-inch) magnetic puck that can be stuck anywhere on the instrument that has a flat surface. The puck’s 3M adhesive sticker also holds very strongly (good thing, because the magnets are so strong). The manufacturer says that the sticker will not harm finishes, and comes off easily if you work a piece of string or dental floss underneath it. But the really hot ticket is to not have to use the puck at all.

This Cling On tuner is attractive, with rubberized trim and a sleek Lava Red finish (Titanium Gray is also available). There are only three buttons to deal with: Power, Hz, and Mode. It takes a single CR2032 battery (included), and this common size is available at most every drugstore or supermarket.

The tuner has a dual-swivel base, and an LCD screen that is big enough for me to read without glasses, and bright enough that I can see it in daylight. Concert A can be adjusted from 440Hz to anywhere between 430 and 450Hz, and there are five different preset tuning modes: Chromatic, Guitar, Ukulele, Violin and Bass. It is easy to use, and seems to be accurate enough for any stage musician.

The Cling On Magnetic Series tuners are right there with the rest of the market as far as pricing, with a list price of $19.99 (they also have a clip-on model for a dollar less). This includes the tuner, a magnetic puck, and a really nice box. Not to mention a 1-year limited manufacturers warranty and a 3-year replacement guarantee, including accidental damage. If you need extra magnetic bases, they have them available for $4.99 for a 3-pack. I think this is a pretty cool product, and the magnetic base is a real selling point. For more details, head over to the Cling On website.

Mahalo!