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!