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

Hello!

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

www.mitchwoods.com

www.vizztone.com

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

Hello!

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!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

Hello!

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

www.crookedeyetommy.com

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

Howdy!

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!

Mahalo!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

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

Hello!

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

www.mikebrookfield.com

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!

Mahalo!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

BOSS KTN-50 Katana 50 Guitar Amplifier Review

Aloha!

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.

Mahalo!

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

www.bradvickers.com

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

Aloha!

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!

Mahalo!

Midnight Breakfast – Close to the Wall | Album Review

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the November 12, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Midnight Breakfast – Close to the Wall

Glitterhouse Records

www.midnightbreakfastbluesband.com

http://label.glitterhouse.com

10 tracks / 48:13

There are times that it is not possible to put a label on a band or their music, and Midnight Breakfast from Bergamo, Italy is a perfect example of this. Over the past 30 years this blues band has developed their own tone and sound, one that bridges the roots of the genre with modern songwriting. Their latest album, Close to the Wall, is a heady piece of work that fans of any type of blues music should enjoy.

Midnight Breakfast is fronted by Marco Valietti on vocals and guitar, and for this latest project he was joined in London’s Master Chord Studio by Stefano Albertini on guitar, Luigi Cortinovis on bass, and Fabio Carenini on the skins. There are no keyboards or horns to be found on this release! Breaking with the homegrown tradition of their earlier albums, the band brought in a producer, Paolo Legramandi, to help them record all ten of their original songs over just four days. As a bonus, somehow they arranged to have the mastering completed at the venerable Abbey Road Studios. If only those walls could talk…

All of that work paid off, as Close to the Wall is a slick piece of work that has the feel of a live performance. The set kicks off with “There is a Bird” which has a Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp rock vibe, but the similarity stops once Valietti starts to sing. The words “raspy” and “throaty” are overused in album reviews, but Marco redefines these tired words with his beautifully croaking baritone. This effect plays well with the sound of the rest of the band, which uses a sparse arrangement to provide additional drama for the vocals. “You’re Talking About Your Feet” brings back the swamp rock sound (“Suzie Q”, this time), with some very tasty call and response between Marco and the lead guitar. As with the other tracks on the album, he adds a lot of extra sounds to his vocals that are not exactly words, and the overall effect is stunning.

From there they drop into a more conventional Chicago style blues on “Trying to Satisfy Myself,” with crystal clear guitar leads and a walking feel to the backline. A jangly guitar solo is the icing on the cake for this song. “Close to the Wall” is also a fine piece of fairly normal guitar-centered blues, this time with some crazy falsetto vocal work from Valietti.

The band mixes things up throughout Close to the Wall, and “One of These Mornings” is a neat song that could have been programmed on a mid-1970s progressive AOR radio station. This song has high quality guitar leads that could have come from Robin Trower, and the ostinato of bass and rhythm guitar moves things along at a markedly retrained pace. Marco shows even more vocal diversity and delivers the words in a breathless whisper.

With “I Missed the Man” and “Take Me,” Midnight Breakfast flirts a little with country blues-rock, and they do a respectable job. In fact, these tunes raise the question of whether this band could actually pull off a credible version ZZ Top’s “La Grange!”

The disc closes out with “Let Me Smoke My Last Cigarette” (how appropriate!), a slow burning blues track with subtle guitar interplay between Valietti and Albertini. A plodding and dramatic song like this would have been perfect with a little Hammond thrown into the mix, but these guys made it work anyway, and this was a perfect way to finish things up.

Midnight Breakfast’s Close to the Wall is one of the best modern blues albums of 2015, and it would definitely be worth your while to give it a listen. All ten songs are awesome by themselves, but as a whole this set is amazing and this record is the best work the band has done to date. There are no planned gig dates in the United States on their website, but hopefully they will make their way over here soon!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tom Petty: October 20, 1950 to October 2, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Inventory Update: 4th Quarter of 2017

Hi there!

I have been super busy with school and work, so I have not been posting much lately, and I am not even sure wen the last time I updated my inventory, but here is the quarterly list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has gotten a little out of hand and I need to make some room. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:

∙ 1974 Aria Telecaster Bass (apart for repair)

∙ 1983 Ibanez RB630 Roadstar II

∙ 1984 Aria Pro II Wedge

∙ 1986 MIJ Fender Jazz Bass Special Short Scale

∙ 1986 MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Precision Bass

∙ 1986 Aria Pro II SB Elite

∙ 1987 Aria Pro XRB-2A

∙ 1989 Ibanez EX405

∙ 2003 Sadowsky NYC Original P

Electric Guitars:

∙ 1965 Teisco E-110

∙ 1983 Fender JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1983 Squier JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1984 Squier SQ Stratocaster CST-50

∙ 1986 MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 2006 MIJ Fender Stratocaster XII

∙ 2008 Epiphone Les Paul Custom (Silverburst!)

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job

∙ LTD George Lynch Kamikaze 1

∙ Memphis Cigar Box Guitar by Matt Isbell

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin Backpacker steel string

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele

∙ Takamine EF341

Amplifiers:

∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets

∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP

∙ Fender Champion 300

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

Mahalo!

Marius Tilly Band – Come Together | Album Review

This CD review was originally published in the November 12, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Marius Tilly Band – Come Together

String Commander

www.mariustillyband.com 11 tracks / 45:03

The Marius Tilly Band is a trio that draws inspiration from the hard blues-rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and blends these sounds with modern songwriting structures and lyrics. Based out of Dortmund, Germany, the members of this young band are Marius Tilly on vocals and guitar, Benjamin Oppermann on bass, and Maximilian Wastl on drums. Come Together is their sophomore effort, following up on their very good debut, Blues Colors, Red Lights. The new album’s eleven original tracks clock in at a touch over 45 minutes, and during that time a lot of musical ground is covered.

Though the content is mostly amplified and rock-based like the opener, “Believe,” there is also some nice acoustic blues to be found on this disc. “Fly” is a lovely traveling blues song with a bit of a Delta feel thanks to Tilly’s resonator guitar and howling lyrics, and “Far Away” builds with layers of guitars and textures as it sets a somber mood to close out the disc. It should be noted that through these guys are from overseas, all of the words are in English. These lyrics are quite good, and are not presented with the awkward syntax and feel that sometimes result when songs are sung outside of the vocalist’s native language. By the way, the CD includes a book of lyrics, which is a cool touch that has become quite uncommon in recent years.

Their blues work is good, but blues-rock is where the Marius Tilly band really shines. Two songs in particular, “Headaches” and “Skin’s Electric,” have a majestic infusion of funk that make them the standout tracks on Come Together. It does not hurt that both songs are very well written and the backline of Opperman and Wastl are innovative and extremely tight. Combining these elements with Tilly’s strong guitars and vocals makes these tracks a fine listening experience.

Their more conventional blues-rock songs are also solid, and like the rest of the songs on the album they are radio-friendly. “Hold On” features throaty vocals that double up with the guitar at times, which is strikingly effective and musical. Also, “Water Falls” features some lovely Hammond work from guest artist Artur Kuhfub that adds another layer of complexity to the band’s sound. There are not any two songs that sound alike here!

The trio even throws down a few pop tunes that are quite good. “Elevator Girl” is a high-energy song with heavy drums and wah pedal -infused guitar that includes some cool call and response from Wastl and Oppermann on the chorus. “Take Off” has almost the polar opposite feel, with a moody feel that is brought out by heavily processed 1980s style guitars that are processed with an abundance of delay and reverb. The final product ends up being like a mash-up of INXS and U2, if that makes any sense to the Generation X readers out there.

Come Together is a solid effort from the Marius Tilly Band with healthy servings of accessible rock, pop and blues music. Their unique sound is very likeable, and their live shows are chock full of contagious energy. Unfortunately they are only touring Europe right now, so American fans will have to make do with listening to their CDs and viewing their YouTube videos until someone starts paying attention and gets them to come to a festival here in the states.