Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jimmy Burns – It Aint Right


This CD review was originally published in the February 25, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Jimmy Burns – It Ain’t Right

Delmark Records



15 tracks / 57:58

Like all great blues players, Jimmy Burns has a pretty cool life story, and one that makes his musical approach unique. This Chicago-based musician was born in Mississippi during World War II and was raised on a cotton plantation where he learned how to play guitar. He grew up around Delta blues until his family moved to the Windy City in the mid-1950s. By 1960 he was recording and playing out, and he toured the country until he slowed down his music career in the early 1970s to raise a family and run his barbeque business.

Jimmy got back into the swing of things in the 90s, and began a long-running gig at the Smokedaddy Club in Chicago. Delmark’s Bob Koester found him there and set him up to record his 1996 debut on the label, Leaving Here Walking. This led to an international tour and a new record every three or four years, all of which are very good.

It Ain’t Right is Burns’ latest Delmark Records release, and it was recorded over a few days last February at the Riverside Studio in Chicago. Jimmy took on the vocals, guitar, and harp, and he was joined by his usual crew of Anthony Palmer on guitar, Greg McDaniel on bass, and Bryant “T” Parker on drums and backing vocals. Also along for the ride were Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on piano (from Billy Branch’s band), the super talented Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy on organ, and a killer horn section of Marques Carroll, Chris Neal, and Aaron Getsug. Bringing all of this together was producer Dick Shurman, who you may know from his work with Albert Collins, Magic Slim, and Johnny Winter.

The first two tracks on the disc are originals that were written by Billy Flynn, a superb guitarist and esteemed member of the Chicago blues community. As you would expect, these tunes make the most of Burns’ guitar skills, but they also work great with Jimmy’s rich voice and his more than capable band. “Big Money Problem” has a cool bounce with melodic and bluesy guitar lines and great opportunities for Ariyoshi to work his piano magic. The other song is a nice rhythm and blues ballad, and “Will I Ever Find Somebody?” features Jimmy’s soulful voice along with a very tasteful horn arrangement and Purifoy setting the mood on the organ. After this, the remainder of the album is an assortment of blues, rhythm and blues, and soul covers, and Burns worked his personality into all of them so that they form a very nice collection of classic American music. It should also be noted that this is a very well produced project with great balance and a very warm sound – Shurman has done his magic once again.

There are a couple of Percy Mayfield songs in the mix, and they have been reworked quite a bit. “Long As You’re Mine” may be the most energetic version you have ever heard, as it goes full-bore R&B with the horns leading the way. And “My Heart is Hanging Heavy” goes the funky soul route, with the fantastic backline presence of McDaniel and Parker and some powerful guitar playing from Burns. There is not enough space to write about all of these songs, but you will surely find one of your favorite artists in the mix somewhere, as there are tunes from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Goree Carter. He even included Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” which has been covered a lot, but Jimmy gave it a super clean uptempo Latin feel which may sound odd on paper, but it works and ends up being a truly unique offering.

A standout track from It Ain’t Right is the straight-up blues song, “Hard Hearted Woman,” which was originally done by Jimmy’s older brother, the late Eddie “Guitar” Burns. The younger Burns’ guitar touch is wonderful and this tune is a touching tribute to a great Detroit bluesman, not to mention a really tasty serving of blues music. A close runner-up is the final track, “Wade in the Water” and this traditional song combines the Mad Hatter’s organ and a collection of lovely vocal harmonies to create a gospel tune that will put a smile on the face of any sinful soul.

Jimmy Burns does not cut a new album very often, but when he does it is perfect and It Ain’t Right is no exception. Jimmy and his band covered a lot of musical ground on this release, and along the way they took a lot of music you are already familiar with and presented it in their own voice. Give the album a listen and see what you think, and if you are in the Chicago area, be sure to check out Burns’ website to see if he has any shows scheduled, it will definitely be worth your time!

P.A.F. Electric Guitar Pickups - From Machines to Magic


Gibson PAF (Patent Applied For) pickups were originally installed on instruments from 1955 to 1961 (or so), and these are considered the holy grail of vintage electronics, selling for thousands of dollars each. If you have ever wondered what the complete story is on these pickups, Jon Gundry has put together a comprehensive website, P.A.F. Electric Guitar Pickups - From Machines to Magic, that will fill in all of the blanks for you.

Jon Gundry has plenty of practical experience repairing vintage PAF pickups, and he has figured out how to make reproductions that are very faithful to the originals owns. His company, ThroBak Electronics, sells very fine reproduction pickups that are made in the USA. So, he is the PAF man, and it is cool that he is sharing this knowledge with us. By the way, he also sells really kick-ass reproduction harnesses and non-PAF reproduction pickups too, so head over to throbak.com to see what he has in his store.

But for the full PAF story you will need to click on pafhumbucker.com. Of course, there is a bit of a sales element to the PAF page, but my god it is all good stuff. There are plenty of detailed photos, some videos, and many text sections that describe every last bit of these pickups. The site is neatly laid out, with sections for:

- PAF History

- PAF Anatomy

- PAF Winders

- PAF Repros

- PAF Legends

- PAF Links

I am not going to go into more detail, because if this sort of stuff is your bag you will click on everything in Gundry’s website no matter what I say. Anyway, I love this website, and if you ever wanted to know anything about the PAF pickups, you will find it here. Check it out for yourself at pafhumbucker.com


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Zac Harmon – Right Man Right Now


This CD review was originally published in the February 18, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Zac Harmon – Right Man Right Now

Blind Pig Records



11 tracks / 53:14

Zac Harmon is a real-deal bluesman with killer guitar chops, solid songwriting skills, and the ultimate rhythm and blues voice, but despite this wealth of talent his solo recording career got started a bit later than one might think. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, he started his guitar work in the South with blues musicians that included luminaries such as Sam Myers and Dorothy Moore. But by the early 1980s he felt the allure of Los Angeles where he hoped that his music career would blossom.

Though he started out as a session player, Harmon found success in the City of Angels as a songwriter and producer with many record, film, television, and advertising credits, and one of the high points was his production work on Black Uhuru’s 1994 Grammy-nominated album. But after writing and performing a few blues songs for a film he was working on, Zac felt the calling to return to his blues roots so he put together his first solo release, Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn. This was a turning point in his life and he went on to earn a Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut” for The Blues According to Zacariah.

Right Man Right Now from Blind Pig Records is Zac Harmon’s seventh solo release, and it is certainly a nice piece of work. Zac handles the majority of the vocals and guitar playing, and he is joined by a core band of Buthel on bass, Cedric Goodman on drums, and Cory Lacy with the keys. A few guest artists made it onto this disc too, as you will hear throughout. As Harmon is an accomplished songwriter, it should be no surprise that nine of the eleven tracks on this album are originals, and there are two pretty awesome covers thrown into the mix for good measure.

The album kicks off with eight originals in a row, the first of which is “Raising Hell” which features Lucky Peterson on organ and Anson Funderbaugh on guitar. This bouncing track has a bit of Texas blues from Funderbaugh, Chicago stylings from Lucky, and silky smooth (yet hearty) rhythm and blues vocals from Harmon. This is a good times party anthem, which is always a killer way to start the set.

The next two tracks continue with traditional themes that you have come to expect from modern blues. “Ball and Chain” is about a lover that is a stone cold bummer, and is set to a slide guitar fueled swampy blues that is punctuated by the funky bass of Buthel and a bit of talk box. And “Hump in Your Back” is a slice of braggadocio about what a smooth lovin’ man the singer is, and it is a righteously funky with a rocking backbone. This song includes blues hero Bobby Rush on vocals and harp, and once you add in Les Kepics on trumpet and Chuck Phillips on sax this ends up being one of the standout tracks on the disc.

Then the party gets put on hold and the tone becomes serious with “Stand Your Ground,” with its simple yet powerful lyrics that are inspired by the significant events surrounding this controversial Florida law. The accompanying music is hard-edged blues with a somber mood provided by Peterson’s Hammond. This sequencing of songs works well, and Harmon starts the cycle over again with three more traditional songs and then another dash of reality with “Back of the Yards,” which is about the loss of so many young men due to inner city violence. This tune is surprisingly funky, thanks to Buthel’s bass and some slick organ playing from Mike Finnigan.

The two covers are placed near the end of the album, and they are not the ones that you hear every blues artist using, and Zac’s takes on Little Milton’s “Ain’t No Big Deal on You” and John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” are breathtakingly good. The latter is a 7 ½ minute opus that slowly bangs along and builds dramatically with its jangly guitars and warbly harmonica from Chef Deni. Harmon’s voice is perfect for the quasi-spoken word vocals and howls of this one, and it will surely get stuck in your head for a day or two after hearing it.

Right Here Right Now is a solid effort from Zac Harmon, and this modern blues collection stands on its own with a unique sound and voice. Harmon’s songwriting is relevant, his voice is like butter, and his guitar playing is clean and red-hot. Zac is one of the artists that will help carry the blues music into the future, so make sure to check out this album.

Ultimate Support TS-100B PA Speaker Stand Review


A lot of products sound too good to be true, and when I first heard about the Ultimate Support TS-100B speaker stands that is exactly what I thought. These stands are hyped that they will actually lift your PA speakers up to magical heights with little to no effort. After trying them out, I can say that these things actually work!

I have used and owned Ultimate Support stands before and they have always worked well for me, so I should not be surprised. On first glance, these are fairly typical tripod speaker stands, with 1.5-inch aluminum tubing and a durable black anodized finish. This model adjusts from 40-inches to 79-inches, and the base ends up being about 4 feet across, with a load handling rating of 150 pounds.

If you look a little bit closer, you will find that the clamps are unusual as they are not the usual crummy plastic that most stands use. These are made of metal, which is really handy as these are the parts I have broken most on my speaker stands.

But the real magic is the “Air-powered” unit inside which actually lifts the speaker up for you. It is really quite simple: set the stand up as you normally would at its lowest setting, horse your speaker onto the stand, and turn the release knob (also metal, by the way). If your speaker is under 50 pounds, it will rise all the way up to 6 feet 7 inches all by itself. If your speaker weighs more you will have to give it a little help, but it will be nothing like the good old days when it was your muscles doing all the work. Then crank down the knob and you are good to go. Take down is exactly the opposite: just turn the knob and the speaker will come back down, though if it is under 50 pounds you might have to pull a little bit – again, no big deal, and much safer.

These things are awesome, and I am never buying a cheap speaker stand again!

The Ultimate Support TS-100B is sold in a 2-pack from discerning online suppliers for $150, and this includes the Ultimate Support Limited Lifetime Warranty. Should you need to go higher, there is also the TS-110B (which goes up to a bit over 9 feet), and there is also the TS-110BL with the super innovative leveling leg – I will be writing more about that one later. Check these things out if you get the chance!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017

Rest in peace, you had the sweetest touch on the piano and you will be missed.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine DVD Review: The Guitar of Robert Johnson and The Guitar of Skip James

Good day!

This DVD review was originally published in the January 7, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

The Guitar of Robert Johnson and The Guitar of Skip James

Stan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop


If you have always wanted to learn to play the blues guitar but do not know where to start, pick up a decent acoustic 6-string and head on over to Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop website and start looking around. For the price of one lesson you can pick up a 3+ hour DVD set that will get you headed in the right direction.

Stefan Grossman is not just a publisher, he is first and foremost a real-deal guitar player with serious credentials. He hails from Brooklyn, and was taught by the esteemed Reverend Gary Davis as well as other legends that include Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. Though he was touring extensively, in the late 1960s he saw the opportunity to reach guitarists with albums that included tablature so they could be played along with, which is how we got his fabulous 1967 LP, How to Play Blues Guitar. As time went on, he added many titles and eventually got into CDs, videocassettes, and DVDs.

Today there are dozens of titles available from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, with different artists providing instruction. One of these folks is Tom Feldman, a blues preservationist and talented guitarist who has the uncanny ability to play amazing reproductions of works as originally done by the masters of the blues guitar. He has produced videos on bottleneck slide, Delta blues, and Mississippi hill country blues, as well as a series of videos that can show guitarists how to play like their favorite guitarist, including Son House, Frank Stokes, Charlie Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, and many others. I recently had the opportunity to go through two of these DVD lessons: The Guitar of Robert Johnson and The Guitar of Skip James, and came away very impressed.

The Guitar of Robert Johnson is quite an undertaking, with three discs and almost six hours of material included. Johnson’s discography includes only 29 songs that were recorded in 1936 and 1937, and Feldman’s lessons include nearly all of them. Unlike some other releases from Stefan Grossman the original artist recordings are not included in the lessons (due to licensing issues), so you will need to buy your own. Of course, if you are a Robert Johnson fan that wants to learn how to play like him, you certainly already own his complete catalogue. Tom groups the songs by type (standard and open tunings, then by position) then plays each of the tunes as he sings along. Feldman has a pleasant demeanor, and he is an excellent teacher who goes through the nuances of each the songs in the proper amount of detail, slowing down and explaining the structure as necessary. As an added bonus, there is a .pdf booklet on each of the disks that includes tablature and lyrics for each song. This document does not come up on the DVD menu, but you can find it with Internet Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac).

The Guitar of Skip James has the same features as the Robert Johnson lessons, including the .pdf documentation and Tom Feldman’s excellent instruction. But it takes a slightly different tack, as its two disks (234 minutes) include bonus material of original audio performances by James, as well as some of his performance at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. The fifteen songs that are covered are divided into standard, crossnote, and Spanish tuning.

Both of these DVD-based lessons are well produced, with clear cinematography that is lit properly and numerous camera angles (including a very helpful split-screen mode). The sound is clear and the guitar cuts through nicely, even on laptop speakers, though it would be optimal to put the sound through a decent set of speakers. From an instructional perspective, this is a sound learning method that allows the student to work at his or her own pace and to be immediately rewarded by hearing the results, which is a wonderful motivational factor. But it should be kept in mind that these are not beginner lessons, and they are recommended for intermediate or advanced players.

So, these video lessons from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop are not going to make a novice player sound like either one of these esteemed artists, but an intermediate or advanced player will definitely get their money’s worth in a hurry. If you go to a guitar teacher and tell them you want to learn Robert Johnson or Skip James songs, what they will be able to do for you will not even begin to approach what Mr. Feldman has put together here. These DVDs are worth every penny ($49.95 for Robert Johnson or $39.95 for Skip James), and even if you are not aspiring to be just like one of these artists be sure to see what else the website has to offer. Surely something will strike your fancy as there is a little something for anyone who wants to get started playing, or who is interested in taking his or her guitar skills to the next level.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Blue Rose – Detroit Boogie

Good day!

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

Blue Rose – Detroit Boogie

Coon Creek Records



12 tracks / 48:23

How we ended up with Detroit Boogie from Blue Rose is definitely an interesting story. This Motor City-based band was formed by Jon Martin and Corey Storm in 1992 and played shows in and around Detroit and the Midwest until around the year 2000. There were a few personnel changes throughout the years, and the only Blue Rose full-length album that was ever released before was 1997’s Rock Me Low.

A few years ago, Jon went back through previously recorded material, and started working with analog tapes from 1994 to put together Detroit Boogie, which is kind of a prequel to their debut release, if you think about it. This album captures a unique aspect of the band, as there are three lead vocalists: Ahada, Beverly Ratliff, and Kim Lange. Also in the line-up from these 1994 sessions are Jon on bass, Corey on guitar, Barry Kovach behind the drum kit, and David Favro on keyboards and sax.

Blue Rose’s Detroit sound is a decidedly more rock than blues, and on this disc there are a dozen tracks that are evenly split between originals and covers. Ahada and either Storm or Martin wrote all of the originals, make sure youcheck the liner notes for details, as they are a nice resource for this release. Production values are good, and two decades after the fact Martin was able to put together a lively and organic recording that captures the essence of the band.

The party starts off with ”The Storm,” an original blues rocker with funky bass, screaming guitar, and plenty of sax to go around. Ahada’s voice is pure soul, and the backing vocals are incredible. The backline is tight and Corey’s guitar work has uncanny feel and timing. This tune is backed up a guitar-heavy version of Elvin Bishop’s mid-70s classic “Fooled Around & Fell in Love,” which calms things down a bit after the extra hot opening track. Other covers include Don Nix’s blues standard “Goin’ Down,” Ray Charles’ “I Believe in My Soul,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Evil Gal Blues.” Chances are very good that each of these will be the hardest rocking version of these songs that you have ever heard.

As a whole, the originals are also hard blues-rock, and they are consistently well written and entertaining. The standout track of the bunch is “Let it Ride,” which has a lot going for it. This driving song starts out with a bit of a bass solo and then the layers of sax and vocals harmonies kick in. Barry Kovach does a marvelous job of holding this one together and his drums fills are tasty indeed. At a touch over three minutes, this one is done was over far too soon!

The set comes to a close with another pair of covers: the Temptations’ funk standby “Shaky Ground” and a soulful yet rocking rendition of Ray Charles’ “Unchain my Heart. ” Favro kicks out a hammering piano solo on the latter, which is a nice counterpoint to Storm’s hard-edged guitars, Martin’s fat bass, and the ever-present lovely backing vocal harmonies.

Detroit Boogie from Blue Rose is a nice time capsule of what was going on in the Motown rock and blues scene twenty years ago, and it was a labor of love for Martin to put this material together into a tidy package for their fans to enjoy. If you are a fan of the era, the city, or the sound, you will need to check it out for yourself, as it is a kicking set of really fun music!

Friday, October 20, 2017

IK Multimedia Announces iRig Mic HD 2 - 96k Digital Microphone for iOS, Mac/PC


I have been looking for a microphone like this that would make interviews more professional and accessible – it would be a great supplement to the written word! Hopefully I will get to try one soon, but in the meantime check out the press release:

August 10, 2017 - IK Multimedia is proud to announce that iRig Mic HD 2, the successor to the highly acclaimed iRig Mic HD, is now available for pre-order. iRig Mic HD 2 is designed to put all the power of high-resolution digital audio into the hands of singers, musicians, interviewers, broadcasters, presenters, podcasters, and vloggers who are looking to capture pristine mobile recordings anywhere with remarkable ease.

iRig Mic HD 2 is the only handheld microphone of its kind featuring high-quality 24-bit converters with sample rates up to 96kHz, a low noise preamp, a high-quality gold-sputtered electret condenser capsule for exceptional frequency and transient response and an onboard dedicated headphone output with volume control for direct signal monitoring.

Offering unmatched quality and versatility at an affordable price, iRig Mic HD 2 comes with all the cables and accessories needed in a variety of situations, as well as a convenient table tripod for use during interviews, calls or video conferences.

Superior digital sound always on hand

Both in the studio and on the go, iRig Mic HD 2 is much more than just a digital USB microphone; it is a comprehensive tool for boosting the quality of audio content creation with all the convenience of a handheld form factor which cannot be found anywhere else. iRig Mic HD 2 delivers incredible performance and gives users the ability to record their instruments or vocal performances with 24-bit resolution and sample rates up to 96kHz.

The integrated low-noise preamp provides an optimal gain range while the gold-sputtered condenser capsule ensures clarity and accuracy over a frequency spectrum of 20 Hz - 20 kHz (-3 dB) making sure all the tiniest details of the sound source are faithfully captured in recordings.

Able to withstand a maximum sound pressure of 120dB, iRig Mic HD 2 provides a high level of performance and quality even when recording loud sources while the cardioid pickup pattern will help reject sounds coming from the rear of the microphone.

Integrated headphone output - iPhone 7 ready

iRig Mic HD 2 features a versatile, integrated headphone output with volume control that can be used for monitoring the audio signal during recording or for listening to high-resolution music - including on the iPhone 7. The output can also come in handy for sending the audio signal to an external device like another recorder, a mixer or a PA system.

Fully compatible and accessorized

iRig Mic HD 2 is designed to work flawlessly with the latest generation of iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices as well as with Mac and PC. It comes with a Lightning connector cable, a USB cable and extra accessories like a convenient table tripod, for use during conferences, radio shows, video calls etc., a sleek carrying pouch, for protecting the microphone while traveling or for storage, a mic stand clip and a handy 5/8" to 3/8" thread adapter.

Over $170 worth of software and apps

iRig Mic HD 2 comes with downloadable versions of Mac and PC software including Ableton® Live Lite™, a Digital Audio Workstation application; T-RackS Classiccollection of audio processing plug-ins; and Mic Room, with incredibly realistic virtual models of some of the most desirable microphones of all time. Also included are iOS apps such as the Mic Pack for VocaLive, that adds a collection of virtual microphone models to the real-time vocal effects processing and multitrack recorder app; Pro Bundle for iRig Recorder, which adds indispensable processing like equalization and compression to the pro-audio recording and editing app with video; and Mic Room, the microphone modeling app.

Pricing and availability

iRig Mic HD 2 can be preordered now at just $129.99 and will be available for shipping in October 2017.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Trouble Dont Last


This CD review was originally published in the February 4, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Trouble Don’t Last

VizzTone Label Group



10 tracks / 39:46

Chris James and Patrick Rynn have enjoyed a long partnership in their musical careers since they met up in Chicago 25 years ago. Though they now live in the San Diego area, there is still a lot of Chicago to be heard in their amazing electric blues sound. Their formula for success is James with the vocals and guitars and Rynn on the bass, which worked just fine for their lengthy stint with Sam Lay, not to mention all the other bands and artists they have worked with over the years.

Though both members of this duo obviously live and breathe the blues, they constantly re-invent their sound, and their latest album on the VizzTone label is a marked change from their previous album, where the limelight was handed over to a cadre of super-talented pianists. Trouble Don’t Last is pared down a bit from what you would get from the usual blues album as there are no keyboards, horns, or hordes of backing singers to be found here. June Core joined the guys on drums and a pair of wonderful harmonica players sat in: long time friend and collaborator Rob Stone, and the San Francisco Bay Area phenom, Aki Kumar. This album includes ten tracks that include six originals written James, Rynn, and Stone, as well as a quartet of pretty cool covers.

This disc was cut in only two days in a Tempe, Arizona studio, but is a fully formed and mature release that will not let their listeners down. This Blues Blast Magazine Award-winning duo kicks things off with an original, “Shameless,” and this rowdy set gets started in a hurry. This original rocking shuffle bemoans the characteristics of folks with no scruples and concludes that some day they are “gonna’ get caught.” Stone’s harmonica takes the lead with James holding down the rhythm line as Core lays heavily into the snare. An extended solo guitar break ties the whole thing together into a neat package.

After the opener, the band launches into a couple of covers: Calvin Frazier’s “Lilly Mae” and “Lonesome Whistle Blues,” which was first recorded by Freddy King in 1961. Both of these are nice and dirty with hearty vocals from Chris James. The latter tune features both Stone and Kumar on harmonica and some sweet vocal harmonies to emulate the aforementioned lonesome whistle.

The other two covers are also killer, the first of which is a respectful take on Robert Curtis Smith’s “Don’t Drive Me Away.” The band kept Smith’s Mississippi background in mind as they modernized the song with a slamming beat and funky bass line, and James lays down a very tasteful guitar solo. The remaining re-do is the closer, Sunnyland Slim’s “Roll, Stumble, and Slip.” This energetic romp again utilizes both harp men, and James’ guitar uses effects to glorious effect. This is the perfect song to close things out, as it is a very strong cut and leaves the listener wanting more.

Though the covers are all very good, the originals are nothing to sniff at either, and they are consistently chock full of clever lyrics and slick musical arrangements. “A Good Idea at the Time” might be the best of the bunch as it starts out sounding like something the Doors would have recorded, and quickly switches into stripped-down hard hitting slow blues that recounts the self-loathing and misery of a man who was put away for driving while intoxicated. The jaunty title track runs a close second place with some wonderful blues harp work from Kumar over the rock steady drum work of June Core.

Chris James and Patrick Rynn’s old fans and their new listeners will get a kick out of Trouble Don’t Last, as their fresh sound and rootsy take on a classic American genre is very compelling. The big question is: what will they do next? The only sure thing is that it will not be like anything they have done before and it will provide plenty of listening pleasure – you can count on it!


Oh My God!

I totally have to track down a copy of this book as I am a huge fan of Spinal Tap! In the meantime, check out this awesome press release:

Montclair, NJ (October 17, 2017) - Prettier than Poison, less hygienic than Mötley Crüe, deffer than Def Leppard, and braver than Bon Jovi, SPINAL TAP is THE greatest band EVER! They are better than those bands combined, times eleven-then multiplied by a million more and raised to the power of Hanoi Rocks plus Ratt. The numbers do not lie! Yes, when it comes to metal done heavy and loud, all you need are Hubbins, Tufnel and Small . . . and Shrimpton, Savage, Pepys, Childs, Pudding, etc.

Now, for the very first time between non-satin sheets, SPINAL TAP: The Big Black Book offers fans the unique opportunity to dive deep into a cherished moment in time when all that mattered was a filthy power chord progression, ceaseless lyrical innuendo, and grubby long hair shampooed by the gods of metal and conditioned by the angels of mercy.

The Big Black Book you are holding isn't just a book-it's an educational artifact! Inside this coveted collectible, you'll find:

- Priceless, removable SPINAL TAP memorabilia, including promo posters, the Stonehenge Napkin, ticket stubs, and a Smell the Glove album cover!

- A scratch-n-sniff card that captures the sights, sounds, and smells of a hardworking rock band on the road!

- Iconic photographs of the band and rockumentary filmmaker Marty DiBergi!

- Tracklists from every epic record!

- "Tap Up Close" profiles of band members as you've never seen them before (except for you, Gregor, and it was just that once).

And that's not all. You'll also learn the dirty secrets surrounding Marty DiBergi's "rockumentary," THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Consistently cited as one of the most groundbreaking, important films ever made, THIS IS SPINAL TAP has achieved cult status around the world. Regardless, the entire band, their management, and many devoted fans describe it as a "horror film." Was DiBergi a filmmaker who made a seminal film about a hard-working rock band, or was he a beard-faced liar who exploited his heroes for money? You decide!

All else aside, one thing IS clear. When it comes to touring the world and elsewhere, SPINAL TAP has been there, done that, and bought the tight-fitting Spandex t-shirts to prove it. Over their sixteen studio albums and dozens of what critics cruelly called "unnecessary" singles, SPINAL TAP has built a legacy that will continue far into the future-a future that may not contain any new compositions. Thankfully, the highly prolific tapestry of music they have bequeathed to us will not leave us yearning for any more. We've got enough!

But enough of our yakkin'! Get your devil horns at the ready and take your bookshelf from stupid to clever with this fully loaded, officially authorized rock program!

About the Author

WALLACE FAIRFAX (Clitheroe, England) was not only the first British journalist to interview SPINAL TAP after the band's triumphant first gig (as SPINAL TAP) at London's Music Membrane in 1966, he was also the very first person to buy its debut album. In 1971, SPINAL TAP members invited Wallace to travel with them around the word to document their rise to the top. At somewhere around the middle, in 1972, Wallace left the rock 'n' roll lifestyle behind for a "proper job" (his wife's words). Since then, Wallace has remained SPINAL TAP's greatest friend, and fan, hence the band's asking him to write this book.

SPINAL TAP: The Big Black Book

Available at Backwingstore.com


Backbeat Books Hardcover w/ Removable Facsimiles; October 2017

Rock History/Film

ISBN#: 9781495089404

128 pages

Facsimile removable memorabilia

Color and B&W images throughout

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gord Downie: February 6, 1964 to October 17, 2017

Rest in peace, brother. I am sorry to say we may never see another like you again.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Mitch Woods – Jammin on the High Cs


This CD review was originally published in the January 16, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Mitch Woods – Jammin’ on the High Cs

Club 88 Records / VizzTone Label Group



17 tracks / 68:45

Not every blues fan has the resources or time to be able to attend the annual Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, which is a seven-day floating musical festival that tours the Caribbean. This event is a fabulous opportunity to meet your favorite blues artists and hear more live music in a week than many people experience in a lifetime. If you cannot make the cruise, the next best thing would be listening to a copy of Mitch Woods’ Jammin’ on the High Cs.

Mitch Woods is an amazing showman and an American treasure. He is a classically trained pianist who joined the blues fold after relocating from New York to the San Francisco in the early 1970s. Mitch and his band, the Rocket 88s, have released nine albums over the years and their unique blend of Chicago blues, boogie-woogie, and West Coast jump blues is infectious. Woods’ Club 88 Piano Bar has become a fixture on the Blues Cruise, and you never know who might end up sitting in for a song or two. Jammin’ on the High Cs was recorded over two days on the January 2015 voyage and does a nice job of capturing the overall mood of the experience.

“Piano Bar” might not be the best description for what was going on here, though. This is not Billy Joel tinkling the ivories for a miserable crowd that is “sharing a drink they call loneliness.” While Woods does lead the upbeat show from his bench behind the piano, during this hour-plus long set he is joined by a band that includes guest singers, horns, guitars, and even an accordion.

It might seem that a crowded piano bar on a cruise ship might not be the optimal location to record a live album, but this disc is very well produced. Credit for this goes out to the engineering work of Mark Brasel and Scott Burnett, and the mastering of Davis Farrell. Is everything about the recording perfect? Not particularly, but it is enjoyable to listen to and the lively and fun atmosphere carries over very well.

Things certainly get out to a rousing start, with members of A Roomful of Blues joining in with Woods on “Big Mamou,” and their horns are simply wonderful. They appear on a few more tracks, including “Rip it Up” featuring the guitar of Tommy Castro, “Bright Lights, Big City” with Lucky Peterson on vocals, and “Eyesight to the Blind” led by Billy Branch on vocals and harp. As you will hear throughout the disc, Woods has the ability to attract talented folks!

Branch also appears along with Coco Montoya on a stripped-down version of “Boom Boom.” And Club 88’s take on the classic “Rock Me Baby” also has a healthy dose of Montoya’s guitar over Mitch’s hearty voice and hammering keys. And the guest artists just keep on coming: Victor Wainwright and Julia Magness trade verses with Mitch on “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness,” and it sounds like Victor sat in on the keys as well (this song was the highlight of the disc for me). Popa Chubby sat in for a few tracks, and Dwayne Dopsie brought his Zydeco squeezebox in for “Jambalaya” and a saucy take on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which closed out the set.

Interspersed with these songs are asides and anecdotes from Mitch, and his sense of humor and storytelling ability are as good as his skills behind the keyboard. These breaks include the history of how Club 88 came to be, musing about the advantages of cruising in international waters, and a funny story about some folks trying to hold their Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Club 88.

If you like piano-driven blues or if you have always wanted to go on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Mitch Woods’ Jammin’ on the High Cs is a must buy. There is not a bad song on it, and many of them are probably already your favorites. If you want to see the show in person, this year’s cruise is sold out but there is still time to save up a few bucks for next year!

Luna Guitars Tattoo Long Scale Electric Bass Review


It is always cool to dip my toes into the entry-level instrument pool and see what the current temperature is, so today we are going to look at the Luna Guitars Tattoo Long Scale electric bass.

Luna Guitars has a cool background story, as this Latina-founded company has done a fantastic job of building instruments that appeal to a wide variety of players, with about a 50/50 mix of female to male buyers. They sell instruments in a variety of sizes to fit people of all statures, which is a market niche that few manufacturers have been able to use to their advantage.

The Tattoo Long Scale Bass has a 34-inch scale, which does not exactly make it long-scale in my book, but it is certainly longer than the 30-inch scale of the Tattoo Short Scale Bass. This instrument has a unique look, with a laser-etched tattoo art on the body. This design comes courtesy of by Alex Morgan, who has written six books on ethnic ornamentation, so she certainly is an expert.

The body is made of 5 or 6 pieces of solid mahogany, which has some sort of satin finish that allows the pores in the wood and the etching to really stand out. The design is mostly traditional P-bass, with differences including: no pickguard, a control cavity routed into the back, and a rather extreme cutaway on the lower horn for access to the frets that bassists rarely use. So, there is no neck plate, and ferrules are used to keep the four neck bolts from digging into the body.

The maple neck has 20 frets and a rosewood fretboard with inlays that represent the different phases of the moon (Luna…). The nut is 1 5/8-inches wide, and my measurements came back with a 14-inch radius, so it is pretty flat. With its C profile, the feel is similar to a P-bass with a B neck, and with the satin finish on the back it is a really smooth player. Hardware includes black sealed tuners that match up with the high-mass bridge and the black-chrome knobs.

The passive electronics package is nothing unusual, with a traditional split-coil precision pickup that is wired through volume and tone knobs. The tone is good, though I was not able to go with my usual P-bass dimed-out knob settings. The sound was a bit nasally with the tone turned all the way up, and I found a happy place about 1/3 of the way up which made for a good rock or blues tone. There was some 60-cycle hum that would not be noticeable in a gig situation, but I would certainly try to do something about it if I actually owned this instrument. Maybe the ground is not so great?

Luna had this Tattoo built in China, and the craftsmanship is very good. There are no flaws on the body and the satin finish is pretty hard to get wrong. The frets are level and the fret ends are not rough, and there was a surprisingly good set-up with no buzz. This was a good dealer, so maybe they set it up before they turned it loose on the public.

So it plays well and sounds ok, which does not exactly make it stand out in the crop of entry level basses from Squier, Dean, Yamaha, and Ibanez. Basses in this price range are surprisingly good, so it all comes down to what Luna offers that the others do not, and that is the solid mahogany construction and the laser-etched graphics. The look is polarizing – either you like it or you don’t, but I am in the “like it” category, so if I were in the market I would serious consider this bass.

If you like the look of the Luna Long Scale Tattoo Bass, $199 is not a lot of cash (though you will have to find a case somewhere), and it does come with a limited lifetime warranty for the original owner. Check one out if you get a chance!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflies and Snakes


This CD review was originally published in the December 31, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflies & Snakes

Self Release


11 tracks / 52:37

Crooked Eye Tommy is a cool band out of Santa Barbara, California that delivers plenty of good-time rocking blues. This is not just a funny band name or somebody trying to be politically incorrect, as singer/guitarist/songwriter Tommy Marsh was indeed born with a couple of crooked eyes. This band hit the stage in 2013 and quickly earned a trip to the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis where they made it to the semi-final round. After they got back to the Sunshine State they went to work on their debut album, Butterflies & Snakes.

The band includes Tommy and an experienced group of other locals, including his brother Paddy Marsh on guitars and vocals, Glade Rasmussen on bass, Tony Cicero behind the drum kit, and the legendary Jimmy Calire on keys. The Marsh brothers skipped the format that most bands use for their debut albums and did not include any cover tunes, instead putting together eleven of their own original songs for this project.

The first of the tunes on Butterflies & Snakes is the loosely autobiographical “Crooked Eye Tommy” which features resonator and heavily distorted electric guitars and it is evident that brothers can play some mean 6-strings. There is also a heavy beat provided by the Rasmussen and Cicero and the end product is a dark swamp rock/blues that turns out to be a great hook for the rest of the album. Next up is the cool Latin beat, processed guitars, and walking bass line of “Come On In,” which has clever lyrics that compare a broken heart to an empty house. Calire brought his organ and sax to this track to add the remaining pieces that end up making this song just a little spooky.

Tommy Marsh takes over the lead vocals on “I Stole the Blues” which is a shout out to the artists that have inspired them over the years. His voice is a warm growl and there is a slick interplay between the guitar and sax on this one while Calire nails down a killer solo. The list of the artists they have stolen from include the usual suspects, including Muddy Waters, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and one surprise: Jerry Garcia! Fortunately these guys have decided that they no longer need to steal the blues and have decided it is “time to give it back.”

Central Valley denizen Bill Bilhou sat in on the B3 for a few tracks, too. “Tide Pool” is a solid rock ballad with Tommy comparing the fate of love to that of a tide pool: will it be rescued by the sea, will a beachcomber pick it up, or will it dry up and blow away? Besides providing the background mood on this tune, Bilhou got a bit of a solo in too. He made more of a contribution on “Love Divine” which is a neat blend of funk, rock, jazz, and blues. Becca Fuchs and Dan Grimm provide some fine backing vocals on this one too, which is a nice counterpoint to the guitar pyrotechnics that are found throughout.

Tommy is not afraid to flirt with politics, as you will hear on a few tracks. “Somebody’s Got to Pay” is full of frustration about how the government does not seem to care about anything but money. The band uses a 12-bar blues base with plenty of help from Calire on sax and organ to make this point. “Mad and Disgusted” has a similar theme, but this time they are more upset about the general decline of quality in life thanks to the meddling of the government in many facets of everyday life. It is nice to know that some folks think that blues can be about more than just getting your heart broken.

The band covers a lot of ground on this CD, and they finish their set with “Southern Heart” which brings out another influence of theirs that was not a prevalent on the rest of the disc. They lyrics reference Lynyrd Skynyrd, but this country rock song has a bit of Bob Seger and some California country as popularized by the Eagles, thanks to the slide guitar work of Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp). This is a strong tune, and could cross over to country radio with no problems.

Crooked Eye Tommy has done good work with Butterflies & Snakes, and their modern take on the blues is fresh and original. Their songwriting and musicianship are solid, and they will definitely have staying power in the Central Coast and Southern California blues scene. Strong evidence of this is their invite back to the 2016 International Blues Challenge to represent the Ventura County Blues Society in the "Best Self-Produced CD" category, so keep a crooked eye (or two) out for these guys!

Vintage 1999 SWR Workingmans 12 Bass Amplifier Review


Today we looking at a solid little bass amp I found on my local social media site, a SWR Workingman’s 12 that was made sometime between 1999 to 2002. This is a well-made combo amplifier that sounds good and is pretty portable, making it a real cool find!

SWR was founded by Steve W. Rabe (a former engineer for Acoustic amplifiers) in 1984, and he set up shop in the San Fernando valley. He designed and built a lot of cool amplifiers and speakers, such as the Goliath and the Super Redhead. He sold the company in 1997 and the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation bought it in 2003 so they could run the business into the ground, like they do with almost everything they acquire.

The Workingman’s 12 was introduced in 1994, and was part of a series of amps that included the Workingman’s 10 and Workingman’s 15. These were SWR’s first “cheaper” amplifiers, and they were very popular with consumers. The one we are looking at today is fairly compact, measuring 16 inches wide, 23 inches tall, and 16 inches deep, and weighing in at a stout 47 pounds. There is a metal grille for the speaker, and the chassis is covered in fuzzy black carpet that attracts pet fur and dust as if this was the purpose that SWR designed it for. By the way, this was made in the USA, which cannot be said about later SWR products.

The amplifier puts out 100 watts RS through the onboard 8-ohm 12-inch driver and separate Piezo tweeter, and output is upped to 120 watts if an 8-ohm extension speaker is added. This seems like a pretty accurate power rating, judging by the amount of sound this thing can push out.

On the front panel you will find an XLR direct out, a ¼-inch tuner out, passive and active input jacks, a Gain knob, an Aural Enhancer knob, 3-band EQ knobs, an Effects Blend knob, the Master Volume control, and the power switch. Around back is an IEC power cable socket, a selector switch that turns off the horn or puts the unit into headphone mode, a ¼-inch headphone jack, and the effects loop jacks. Pretty simple, really.

The knobs do not need much explanation. The Effects Blend knob mixes the signal from the bass with the signal from the effects loop. With the control fully counter-clockwise, no signal from the effect is heard. As you turn this control clockwise, more of the effect can be heard in the overall sound. When the control is fully clockwise (or pulled out), the dry signal is completely out of mix.

The Aural Enhancer knob is kind of a magic turbo boost control that I do not really understand. To quote the Owner’s Manual, “The Aural Enhancer was developed to bring out the fundamental low notes of the bass, reduce certain frequencies that can “mask” fundamentals and enhance the high-end transients. The effect becomes more pronounced as the control is turned up. The result is a more transparent sound. Listening to a passive bass with the control set all the way down, and then turning it all the way up, can be likened to listening to the bass suddenly become “active.”” Whatever.

There are not any surprises when plugging into this combo. I have owner SWR products before, and have always been impressed with their tone and power output, and the Workingman’s 12 is no exception. The EQ and Aural Enhancer controls allowed me to get a nice variety of tones, from a warm character that would be perfect with an upright bass to edgier sounds that would be appropriate for harder rock. In between those extremes I was able to dial in a nice round sound that would be great for blues and soul. The overall volume is pretty good, making this amp appropriate for smaller gigs, and I found that the DI works really well. So, if you are able to go through the PA, this amp would be pretty much all you would need for a bigger gig, as long as the stage is not ungodly noisy. I think it is a winner, and I plan on keeping it around for a while.

When the SWR Workingman’s 12 amplifiers were new, they had a retail price around $700, and a street price around $500. I am seeing used ones online for $150 to $300, which is a reasonable price for a solidly performing American-made combo amp that can pull it together for small gigs. If you ever get the chance to check one out, see what you think and post a comment below!


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Mike Brookfield – Love Breaks the Fall


This CD review was originally published in the December 31, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Mike Brookfield – Love Breaks the Fall

Self Release


10 tracks / 40:35

Formerly of Liverpool, Mike Brookfield is a Dublin-based musician and guitar teacher with a pedigree, as he has earned a jazz musician of the year award, as well as being able to include plenty of West End musical theatre experience and session work on his CV. Of course, as he is a British-based blues rocker, there are going to be the inevitable comparisons to Clapton, Knopfler, Gilmour, and Gallagher, and he can actually hold his own against these guys on the fretboard. Mike is a fine guitarist and nobody would dispute this fact if they ever heard him play, and fortunately he is mature enough that he does not have to constantly prove himself.

With this level of talent Brookfield can afford to hold back and let the songs do the work, which makes his new album, Love Breaks the Fall, a winner. Besides playing the guitar and singing, he wrote all ten songs for this project and acted as producer, so most of the credit goes to him. The rest of the kudos go out to the musicians he brought into the studio to assemble the tracks, including Keith Duffy on bass, Jason Duffy on drums, and Cian Boylan on the keys.

Mike chose to put Love Breaks the Fall’s strongest song up front, which was a wise move as this will make a strong impression on DJs and reviewers, and will certainly get them to listen to more of his debut album. This title track starts out with an acoustic intro, and builds throughout into a heavy blues-rock anthem. The Duffys do not get too fancy on the backline but keep a strong groove as Boylan sets the mood with his Hammond. As the rest of the album unfolds you will find that it is all about the mood, and this is an introspective project that draws on many emotions.

Up next is “Catfish Missile,” a slice of countrified Americana that features Brookfields’s wife, Grainne on backing vocals. This lady sings sweet harmonies that are a fine counterpoint to Mike’s pleasant tenor, and he uses an acoustic guitar to provide a foundation for some mighty fine electric leads. This is a marked contrast with the hard-rocker “The Killing Line,” which provides a shot of adrenaline with its funky wah-soaked guitars and glamorous 1970s-style organ work.

“Bare Witness” is the first of two instrumentals, and it is loaded up with Texas blues-rock guitars and hard-hitting drums and bass. Mike lays down some fiery leads and puts together cool doubled lines with the keys when he is not soloing like a madman. Coming in at a little under three minutes, this song definitely leaves the listener wanting just a little more.

Brookfield is well versed in American music, which is not too surprising for a man who has played the role of Eddie Cochran on stage. This is evident on “All My Heroes Are Junkies,” and after a Stevie Ray intro he mixes a bit of rockabilly into a tune that has a few similarities to Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” The effect is light-hearted and the lyrics are humorous at times, but this mood is tempered when you consider what the song is really about.

After nine songs that are full of mature songwriting with strong melodies and lyrics, Mike finishes up the album with its other instrumental, “Peace for Joe,” a laid-back tribute to one of his old friends who is no longer with us. Brookfield plays a lovely melody with a wonderful touch and his tone is amazing. It is a great song, a fitting memorial, and the perfect way to bring things to a close.

Mike Brookfield avoided the usual traps that most guitar virtuosos fall into when they start recording their own material, and Love Breaks the Fall is a solid album that is very enjoyable to listen to. Check out his website if you are interested in picking up a copy, and make sure you look over his schedule if you are going to be on his side of the Atlantic, as there are a few shows coming up on his calendar.

1981 Takamine EF341 Acoustic Guitar Review

Hi there!

I have been a fan of Takamine acoustic guitars for a long time, and think that the EF341SC models are pretty much the ne plus ultra of killer steel string acoustics as they are very well made and come with wonderful electronics packages. I am not alone in this, as John Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen both play this model on stage and they can play and/or endorse whatever instruments they want to, so there might be something to my feelings on this subject.

Takamine is a Japanese guitar maker that has been in business for over 50 years now. Don’t sniff at their products and say that imports are junk, because they build some fantastic instruments. Though they have built some solid-body electric guitars, they are best known for their acoustic and acoustic-electric steel string guitars. In 1978 they were one of the makers on the forefront of acoustic-electric guitar technology, and have been leader in pre-amplifier design and application ever since. Beside Bon Jovi and Springsteen, other notable Takamine users are Kenny Chesney and the late Glenn Frey. By the way, the company is named after Mount Takamine in the Gifu Prefecture of Japan.

Today we are going to look at an earlier version of the EF341SC, a 1981 EF341, which is very similar except there is no body cutaway or onboard tuner. It is an acoustic-electric dreadnought with a glossy black finish that covers up some very nice woods. It has a solid cedar top with scalloped X bracing and solid maple sides and back. The black finish contrasts nicely with the white 6-ply body binding and concentric rosette soundhole inlay. There is a single-ply black pickguard and a rosewood bridge with a bone saddle.

The body is pretty large, measuring almost 16 inches across the lower bout, and ranging from four to five inches thick. That big sound has to come from somewhere, you know.

The mahogany neck is a peach, and it is connected to the body with a dovetail joint. It has a 1.675-inch wide bone nut, and the cutaway allows access to all 20 of the frets. The bound rosewood fretboard has an 11.81-inch radius, and tasteful snowflake inlays. They call them snowflakes, anyway, but they look more like little plus signs to me. At the end are Takamine-branded chrome sealed-back tuners. They are probably made by Gotoh.

The EF341 came standard with a really neat onboard electronics package. It uses a Palathetic under-saddle pickup, and it has a control plate on the upper bout with a 3-band EQ, a volume control, and a battery check button. The 9-volt battery is also accessed through this panel. Using a conventional battery and having it so easy to get at is a true bonus, in my book.

Craftsmanship is top-notch, with just a bit of bridge lift after 36 years of service and no real issues. It is very easy to play, and it is comfortable enough for the longest gigs. The black finish is holding up well, which isn’t terribly easy with this color. These are very strong guitars, and I have seen them take a remarkable amount of abuse and still play and sound wonderful.

But the true magic is in how this Takamine sounds. Unplugged, it has a full and rich sound. It does not need any electronic trickery to make it work, as by its nature it is a great-sounding instrument. The cedar top and maple body combine to give it a sweet and mellow tone or a powerful jolt depending on how hard you lean into it.

Once you plug it in you will hear what these big-time performers like about these guitars. The preamp reproduces the instrument’s sound very accurately. It instills a sense of warmth for more casual playing, but when it is played hard it can really cut through the rest of the stuff going on in a loud mix. This versatility is essential for a performer that is using it in a rock environment, but that still wants to be able to ooze out a ballad every now and then. This is all really good stuff, and it works very well for recording too!

Compared to other used acoustic guitars on the market, you get a lot of performance for the money on this one. Really nice Takamine EF341 guitars sell for around $600 on Reverb and eBay, which is a lot less than a new EF341SC which go for around $1249. If you need a stage-capable acoustic, especially if your music is more rock-oriented, you really ought to give one a try – these are hard to beat!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

BOSS KTN-50 Katana 50 Guitar Amplifier Review


As I have always been a fan of their effect pedals, I was excited last year when I saw that BOSS had released a line of affordable solid-state amplifiers. The Katana amp lineup includes a 100-watt head, a 100-watt combo, a 50-watt combo, and a pretty slick battery powered unit. Today we are going to take a quick look at the Katana 50 (model KTN-50), a portable package with good power and a lot of versatility for not a lot of cash.

For starters, this is a fairly compact amplifier, measuring 16 x 19 x 10 inches, and weighing in at around 26 pounds. It is a good-looking unit, with clean lines and the expected BOSS quality – all of their stuff is very sturdy. This is a foot-switchable 2-channel amplifier that can be switched to have 50-watts, 25-watts, or 0.5-watts of output through the single 12-inch speaker. Oh yeah, and it has a built-in tilt-back stand, so you can point it at something besides your shins.

Looking at the control panel on top of the cabinet, there is a single input, a 5-position AMP TYPE knob, GAIN, VOLUME, a 3-band equalizer, some onboard effect knobs (BOOSTER/MOD, DELAY/FX, and REVERB), a MASTER tone knob, and the power switch. And around back there is an IEC power socket, a USB port, an 1/8-inch aux input, line out, the footswitch jack, and that is about it – the Katana 50 is pretty simple on first appearances.

The five AMP TYPE selections give the Katana a lot of versatility, and they are all actually very useful. There is BROWN, which give it that Waza amp sound (you really should try out one of those too). There is also CLEAN, LEAD, and CRUNCH, and the latter provides a wonderfully raunchy tone. And the last one is ACOUSTIC, which voices the amp for a natural amplification, and this worked out great with my Takamine EF341, which has a really clean pre-amp in it. This amp can provide a great variety of tones, so most any guitarist will find it useful, and that is before you consider that you can use the free online BOSS Tone Studio editor software to customize the amp settings and effects.

This Katana combo supports 55 BOSS effects, and up to 15 of these can be loaded for instant access. Just connect the amp to the Tone Studio software through the USB post and create your own setup, or download setups created by pro guitarists at the BOSS Tone Central website.

The volume is great for practicing or for small gigs. It is not an expensive tube amp so you are not going to get that perfect tone, but it is really good enough for what 95% of us actually do on a daily basis. The only thing I did not care for on the amp was the speaker, as it sounds a little thin and I think it is holding back a portion of the performance that this unit is capable of. I would like to swap in a quality unit and see what this thins can really do. It is not a huge gripe as this amp is really inexpensive, and they had to cut a few corners to make their price point.

I saved the best part for last, and that is the price. The Katana 50 has a street price of $220, which is one heck of a deal, and pretty much kills the used amp market, as why would you buy someones’ old crap when you can get a perfectly serviceable and shiny new amp for a little over two Benjamins. Try one out for yourself and see what you think.


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Brad Vickers and His Vestapolitans – That’s What They Say

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the December 3, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans – That’s What They Say

ManHat Tone Records


15 tracks / 47:31

What exactly is a Vestapolitan, anyway? Vestapol (one of many spellings) is an open guitar tuning and the term is commonly used to describe the relationship between different chords. Brad Vickers uses this type of tuning, and he also was looking for a cool name that started with V for his band. It looks like he solved his dilemma, as Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans certainly is catchy! Fortunately this group has a lot more going on than just a clever name, as their unique blend of American roots and blues is both entertaining and enthralling.

Brad, a Long Island native, is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with impressive credentials. He has played with Bo Diddley, Hubert Sumlin, Odetta, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Rogers, not to mention appearing on two of Pinetop Perkins’ Grammy-nominated albums. He has put out five albums of his own with his Vestapolitans since 2008 and the latest, That’s What They Say, is the best of the bunch. Vickers was joined on this project by a core crew of Margey Peters on vocals, bass, and fiddle, Bill Rankin on drums, and Dave Gross on the double bass, banjo, mandolin, percussion and piano. There were a lot more people involved in the studio, as you will soon see.

The album starts out with Tampa Red’s “Seminole Blues” and the trio of Vickers, Peters, and Rankin give this song a lovely acoustic treatment with jangly bottleneck guitar and a backbeat drums. Then the band launches into the traditional “Don’t You Love Your Daddy No More,” which was taught to Brad by Leadbelly. Matt Cowan and Jim Davis brought their sax and clarinet in on this one, which give it a cool New Orleans ragtime feel. Brad takes the lead vocals on both of these, and his voice is mellow with a laidback drawl.

After these openers, the remaining songs (a baker’s dozen!) are originals that were written by Vickers and Peters. These two have mature song-writing skills, and they penned clever lyrics to go along with the fantastic music that is heard throughout.

It sound like they had a lot of fun putting together That’s What They Say. There is a bit of Chuck Berry in “Another Lonesome Road” which is a neat duet with Brad and Margey on vocals, and a little yakety sax from Jim Davis. They also has a blast with “Mama’s Cookin’,” and Peters’ litany of international treats will get your mouth watering as she is accompanied by Davis and Matt Cowan on sax and Little Mikey on backing vocals. Both of these tunes are timeless, and sound like they could have been recorded any time in the past sixty years.

The band also cut an awesome ragtime track, “21st Century Rag,” which provides Margey and Charles Burnham the opportunity to bring out their fiddles. Like the title suggests, this song recounts how the things we have become used to are falling by the wayside. This is a funny contrast as this song has a definite old-time feel to it with its richly acoustic tone, including nice round double bass from Dave Gross.

One of the standout tracks is the a capella song, “Fightin’,” and you will find that it is certainly the most serious of the bunch. The lyrics are a wonderful blend of gospel harmonies from Vickers, Peters, and Mikey Junior, and they are a poignant conviction of the terrible things that people do and the way we treat each other nowadays.

Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans have a winner with That’s What They Say, thanks to solid songwriting and their excellent performance in the studio. If you are a fan of roots or Americana music it would be in your best interests to check it out for yourself and pick up a copy if it strikes your fancy. If you want to see their live show you are in luck if you are on the east coast of the United States. The band has plenty of shows coming up in the Philadelphia/New York/New Jersey area as well as in Florida. Go to their website for details on shows and how to buy their CD.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

1984 Squier Stratocaster SQ CST-50 Guitar Review


Back in June I had a good trip overseas and picked up a few awesome Stratocasters, and one of them is the lovely 1984 Squier CST-50 that we see here today. I found this one at a Hard-Off (secondhand store) in Nagoya,Japan and was amazed to see the SQ prefix serial number when I looked it over. This thing is in amazing condition for a 33-year-old instrument!

I should probably explain the whole SQ thing. SQ instruments were very early production Fender Squier instruments that were built in 1983 and 1984, and were made by a different division of Fender. SQ models have the serial numbering and markings in the same location as the JV guitars, which are even more desirable. But still, SQ instruments are nothing to sniff at; they are usually excellent quality guitars they play well and look great.

Our subject guitar today is an non-export model Squier Stratocaster, model CST-50. I can usually decipher the model codes, but this one is a bit different. I am guessing that CST stands for “Custom” or something to do with Stratocaster (with a C at the front), and the 50 surely stands for 50,000 Yen (the original price). This instrument has a neck date of 6/27/84, and the body is marked “Black” in the neck pocket, which should be pretty self-explanatory.

Indeed, this guitar is finished in glossy black with a rosewood fretboard. When I first saw the guitar I thought it must be newer as it is in really good shape, and then I was pretty stoked to realize its actual age. It is obviously all-original, from the finish to the frets to the electronics. It is a 1970s style Strat, with the big block lettering and headstock, a 3-bolt neck plate, and a bullet truss rod adjuster.

The neck is very nice. The sealed-type tuners work fine, none are bent and they do not bind, but of course they just do not look quite right – Japanese reissues usually get something wrong. The frets are good, with almost no wear; the neck is true, and the truss rod works freely. It plays great and sounds just like a Strat should. It is also not very heavy, coming in at around 7 ¾ pounds.

I am not sure how this fits into my collection, as I have two JV Stratocasters (one Fender and One Squier) as well as a lovely E-series from 1986. So, I might be selling this soon -- drop me a line if you are interested!