Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Andy Drudy Disorder – Spark

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the March 2, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

The Andy Drudy Disorder – Spark

Splash Point Records

www.andydrudy.com

www.splashpointrecords.com

7 tracks / 34:59

The Andy Drudy Disorder has to be one of the best band names in recent memory, and besides having a cool moniker this blues-rock project can really deliver the goods. They just put out their second EP, Spark, on Splash Point Records, but Mr. Drudy is no newcomer to the music business. Andy has been playing out and in the studio since the 1980s, plus he has produced some instructional publications and contributed his writings to guitar publications. Along the way he has traveled the world, including a stint at Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he got to learn from artists that included Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, and Eddie Van Halen.

Andy is an outstanding front man with mad guitar skills, and this United Kingdom denizen put together a notable crew from both sides of the Atlantic to make his dream become a reality, as you will soon see. The seven tracks on Spark are all originals, and each brings something unique to the table.

The set kicks off with the title track, and “Spark” is an energetic boogie that features none other than Pat Travers on slide guitar and Stu Hamm on bass. Pat was a big influence on Andy, and it sounds like they have a ball on this cut. Rounding out the instrumentation on this song are Adam Bushell on drums and the horn section of Sue Richardson and Andy Panayi. Boogie might be too simple of a way to describe this song, as there are some tricky rhythms, a few bass solo breaks from Hamm, and outro that has a bit of a swing feel.

Drudy follows this up with “Jefferson County Blues,” which is completely different from the opener as it is stripped back to just Andy and his drum machine. On this relaxed piece of swamp blues the listener will find that Andy’s vocals are comfortably worn with a touch of gravelly character, and his acoustic guitar playing is clean. Again there is a coda to this song, this time with a seemingly drunken chorus accompanied by a mandolin. Interesting!

The vocals for “Don't Ever Let Me See Your Face Again” are provided by Jessica Greenfield, and her alto voice is simply gorgeous. The music that accompanies her is equally compelling, with a rich combination of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as multiple layers of vocal harmonies. For this track, the bass parts were played by Guy Pratt, a true bass hero who you may know from another British band - Pink Floyd. Guy lays down a killer groove with drummer Hugo Degenhardt, and this is essential for bringing this hard rocking tune together. This is one of the standout tracks on the album, and not coincidentally it is also radio-friendly and accessible.

“Cold Classical” finishes the set, and this instrumental is the brainchild of Andy and David Hentschel. David co-wrote this song and provided the keyboard parts, and his experience as an engineer and producer with bands such as Genesis and Queen results in a uniquely theatrical experience. As this is slower-paced tune with more sparse instrumentation, Drudy has the chance to soar melodically. His playing here brings to mind other British guitar heroes such David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, and Gary Moore - what a cool way to bring things to a close.

Andy Drudy has shown flexibility by stepping outside the “normal” confines of modern blues-rock with Spark, and his willingness to try new things has paid off in a big way. His guitar playing certainly is amazing, but the music he has written to accompany it is equally good and this project represents a lot of hard work. Head over to his website and listen to a few of the sample tracks, I think you will be impressed!

1985 Fender Squier Stratocaster ST-331 Guitar Review

Aloha!

Most of the 1980s JV and A-series made in Japan Fender guitars stayed fairly close to vintage specifications, though there were a few locking tremolos and nuts to be found. Squier instruments from the same time period had a few models that were more way out there, including the ST-331 Stratocaster that we are looking at today.

This Squier by Fender Stratocaster was built at the revered Fujigen factory on January 24, 1985, and it caries an A-prefix serial number. Deviations from the vintage norm include a sinister black appearance, complete with a matching headstock, a single humbucking pickup and a lone control knob. Metal!

The neck has a nice chunk of rosewood for the fretboard, and there are 21 frets and a plastic nut set into it. The frets show a little wear, but are in amazingly good shape for a 33-year-old guitar. As mentioned earlier, the headstock is painted black and there are 1970s style closed-back tuners installed. The back of the neck has a comfy oval profile to it and it feels just a little different than other Strats because this instrument has a shorter scale than normal: 24.75” instead of 25.5”.

The body has the traditional Stratocaster shape with a nice thick coat of poly finish. Hardware includes a classic tremolo with bent steel saddles, and a single-ply pickguard that looks dreadfully cheap. There is supposed to be a matching cover for the cavity on the back, but it has gone missing over the years. By the way, it is pretty light too, weighing in at under 7 pounds.

Last in the description is the electronics package, which is about as simple as it gets. There is a single Dragster humbucker pickup (7.61 Ohm) at the bridge, and a single volume control. And nothing else: no capacitors, circuit boards, or switches. So, it does just about exactly what you think it would, and that is provide a crunchy rock experience when driven hard. It is refreshing to play, as the tone is all about gain and whatever talent you have in your fingers.

This Strat is a good player and it sounds good, and I think it looks nice too. It has been played out so there are some dings and scratches, as well as some rust on the hardware, but it appears ready to go for another 33 years with a minimum of maintenance. I’m not sure where this fits in with collection, but I could definitely see unloading my LTD George Lynch Kamikaze and keeping this Squier instead. Hmmm.

Mahalo!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine DVD Review: Women of the Country Blues Guitar

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the February 2, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Women of the Country Blues Guitar

Stan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop

www.guitarvideos.com

One DVD / 124 Minutes

If you are looking for a good value in guitar instruction it would be a fine idea to head on over to Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop website and see what they have to offer for you. For less than the price of one in-person lesson you can pick up a DVD or two that will get you a good head start towards your guitar playing goals.

Stefan Grossman is a music publisher AND a serious guitar slinger. 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. After endless touring, in the late 1960s he started to produce instructional albums with play-along tablature, including his famous 1967 LP, How to Play Blues Guitar. As time went on the catalog grew and these titles became available on CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs; now there are downloadable lessons too!

There are dozens of titles available from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, and there is a diverse collection of artists that provide the instruction. One of these fine instructors is Erin Harpe, talented guitarist and vocalist with serious on-stage experience. Her contribution to the catalog is a two-hour lesson, Women of the Country Blues Guitar. This is a not only a cool opportunity to learn some classic tunes, but it is also an important history lesson for the learner. The subjects of this lesson include artists that you probably have heard of, such as Memphis Minnie, but there may be a few surprises for you too.

Memphis Minnie is one of the best known women of blues guitar, having recorded over 200 songs between 1929 and 1959. Erin Harpe guides the student through seven of Minnie’s tunes, and after playing through a song (and singing it too!), Erin provides a little history and a description of how to play the song along with split screen examples. Where necessary, Harpe goes through solos in more detail too. Each of these is broken up neatly into chapters so the learner can jump back and forth to the parts they need more help with. Memphis Minnie songs in this lesson include, “I’m a Bad Luck Woman,” “Nothing in Rambling,” “Can I do it for You,” “ Where is My Good Man At,” “What’s the Matter with the Mill,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

A similar learning strategy is used with the other four songs, each of which was originally performed by artists with fascinating backstories. Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ”Elvie” Thomas made their way from Houston, Texas to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record country blues for Paramount Records, and you will find “Pick Poor Robin Clean” and “Motherless Chile” included in the lessons. There is also “I’m So Glad” from Mississippi’s Jessie Mae Hemphill. Jessie started playing guitar in 1930, but never was in the limelight, and did not start releasing albums until the 1980s. Lastly, there is the mystery of Mattie Delaney from Mississippi, who recorded only two songs in 1930 for Vocalion Records. There is nothing written about her after this, and it is beyond cool that her version of “Down The Big Road Blues” has not been forgotten.

As some of these songs were originally recorded in open G tuning (also know as Spanish tuning), Erin demonstrates tuning the guitar in this manner as well as some common chords that are used with this tuning. This is a handy reference and it is nice that Harpe guides the learner through this before teaching the songs that use this tuning.

There are a few bonus features on the Women of the Country Blues Guitar DVD. For starters, there is a .pdf booklet on the disc 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). Also, there are audio tracks by the original artists for each of the ten songs in the lesson; this provides a nice comparison to see how close the student is to achieving competency with the source material.

This DVD is a professional project with good lighting, clean editing, plenty of camera angles, and crystal clear sound. The guitar cuts through nicely, both through headphones and laptop speakers, but it would be nice to play it through a quality pair of speakers if you have the opportunity. It is helpful that the learner can move along at their own pace, though these lessons would probably be most appropriate for intermediate and higher level students. There are plenty of other blues DVDs available from guitarvideos.com that would be more appropriate for beginners.

Women of the Country Blues Guitar from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop has a lot going for it, as Erin Harpe is an outstanding teacher, and this is a well-made DVD with compelling subject matter. Better yet, it is also a great value, as the learner only has to pay $29.95 for a two-hour lesson. Even if you are not a guitar player, it is fascinating to see how the songs are constructed, as well as the effort that goes into learning and playing these tunes!

1982 Greco SS-600 Electric Guitar Review

Aloha!

I hope you are all doing well today! Today we are looking at a super-nice SG knockoff, an early 80s Greco SS-600. These guitars were not imported to the U.S., so this is the only one I have ever actually seen in person on this side of the pond. This thing just screams lawsuit, doesn’t it?

This Greco was built in Japan by Fujigen in August of 1982, and it is closer to a real Gibson SG than a lot of the Japanese copies I have run into over the years. It is a set-neck guitar with a mahogany body and neck that are finished in the classic Wine Red. Also in the looks department, this instrument got MOP block fretboard inlays, neck binding, and a nice 3-ply pickguard.

The neck is beefier than I thought it would be, but would still be an easy player for those with smaller hands. I like that they did inlays in the rosewood fretboard, but they are a little on the small side and are not trapezoidal, so this kills a bit of the Gibson vibe. The headstock has an inlay that kind looks like a flowerpot if you are not paying attention, and the Greco logo is kind of Gibson-like too. The tulip tuners are sealed-back unit that have Greco logos on them. The neck is in good shape, with little fret wear and so a few bumps and bruises on the back.

The electronics are solid, with a pair of humbuckers with typical Gibson wiring and controls. The hardware is a bit odd, but appears to be original to the instrument. There are two things (besides the inlays) that just do not look right on this guitar: it came with speed knobs and the bridge is a weird big rectangular thing. Looking through the old Greco catalogs, these are what they came from, but they just do not work aesthetically. If I was going to keep it, both of these things would be changed out in a heartbeat…

The overall condition is very good with just a few dings and scratches, and no unseemly modifications (even though it could use a few). This SS-600 sounds authentic and it plays well too, which is surprising because this was a fairly cheap instrument at the time. The “600” in the model name means that this guitar originally coset 60,000 Yen, which worked out to around $250 at the time. That was a heck of a deal for a sharp-looking guitar that played well and sounded good too. Not to mention that the quality is also top notch, even though it is not a upmarket instrument.

Anyway, I think this 1982 Greco SS-600 is really cool, and if I did not have so many other guitars I would keep it. But I do have those other guitars, including a very good Gibson SG, so this is the one that will have to go. Drop me a line if you are interested in purchasing it.

Mahalo!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Paul Reddick – Ride the One

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the January 26, 2017 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Paul Reddick – Ride the One

Stony Plain Records

www.paulreddick.ca

www.stonyplainrecords.com

11 tracks / 45:05

Paul Reddick is one of the pillars of the Canadian blues community, and he is working to ensure that the genre continues to grow in his country, going so far as to create the Cobalt Prize to honor songwriters who further this art form. He is also an accomplished poet, songwriter, vocalist and harpman, and he has been leading the charge for Canadian blues since 1990 when he formed the Sidemen. He recently released his first album for Stony Plain Records, and Ride the One is a wonderful effort that is a departure from what he has done before.

Reddick wrote all eleven of the tracks for Ride the One, which was recorded at Union Sound Company in Toronto, Ontario. Paul provided the vocals and harmonica parts, and he was joined by Anna Ruddick on bass, Greg Cockerill and Colin Cripps on guitar, and jack-of-all-trades Derek Downham on drums, piano, and the talkbox. Special guest Steve Marriner from Monkeyjunk helped out with guitar and Fender Rhodes; this is a form a payback as Monkeyjunk is one of the bands that benefited from the groundwork that Reddick helped to lay down.

If you are familiar with Reddick’s previous albums, Ride the One will not be what you expect as it has many more layers of sound and a decidedly intense feel. This is modern blues with an edge to it, and it takes a few listens to get the whole picture of what Paul is trying to accomplish, but he definitely succeeds. The opening track, “Shadows,” is a perfect example of this as it hits the listener solidly with Downham and Ruddick laying down a fervent beat. Over this there is a thunderous chorus of guitars and Paul carrying the melody with his howling vocals and growly harp, both of which are served up with a bit of distortion. There is a lot going on here.

The intensity does not let up for the next song, “Celebrate,” but it does have a more melodic feel with cool stereo guitar effects and a melodic bass line from Anna Ruddick. Then the listener gets a breather with “Mourning Dove,” which has a heavy swamp rock beat, sparser instrumentation, and a plethora of killer guitar tones. This is one the standout tracks on the album, as it does such a fabulous job of setting the mood.

There are also some more accessible tunes on Ride the One, and “Gotta Find A…” delivers more conventional vocals that are accompanied by organic-sounding instrumentation. The backing vocals and harmonies are a welcome addition to this track, moving it into an almost radio-friendly format. Another catchy tune is “Watersmooth” which has lyrics that are delivered in short phrases over a slick blues-rock beat. Downham adds a little piano into the choruses as a counterpoint to the guitar solo, which is a nice contrast to the inherent weight of this track.

From there, the listener will encounter modern electric blues (“Diamonds”), Midwestern rock and roll (“Living in Another World”), and moody rhythm and blues (“Love and Never Know”). Before you know it, things come to a close with “Moon and Star” which is a poem that is presented with muffled vocals (and a touch of echo) alongside Reddick’s harmonica. This bare-bones formula works, and it is a cool acoustic coda to an otherwise heavy and complicated album.

Ride the One is a strong effort from Paul Reddick, and it is a satisfying 45-minute set of hard-hitting blues-rock that is played by a very tight crew. It has been four years since Paul last released an album, but he took his time to get everything right, and he certainly has not lost a step. Check it out for yourself to hear some awesome modern blues out of Canada, and head over to Reddick’s website to see if he is gigging anywhere near you – it will definitely be worth your time!

Inventory Update: 3nd Quarter of 2018

Hi there!

What with career changes and school, 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 (STILL 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

∙ 1995 ESP Christian Olde Wolbers Horizon 5

∙ 1995 Fender JB75-90 Jazz Bass

∙ 1995 Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz Bass

∙ 2001 EBMM Stingray 4

∙ 2003 Fender PB70-70US Precision Bass

∙ 2005 Fender PB57-70US Precision Bass

∙ 2007 Fender PB70-70US Precision Bass

Electric Guitars:

∙ 1970s Yamaha Studio Lord Les Paul copy

∙ 1981 Greco MSV850 Flying V

∙ 1982 Greco SS-600 SG Copy

∙ 1983 Fender JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1983 Squier JV ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1984 Squier SQ Stratocaster CST-50

∙ 1985 Squier Stratocaster ST-331

∙ 1986 MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1986 Yamaha Lord Player Les Paul copy

∙ 1989 Fender Telecaster TL72-55

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 1996 Gibson SG Special

∙ 1997 Fender Jag-Stang

∙ 2003 Fender TL52-SPL Telecaster

∙ 2005 Fender TL52-80TX Telecaster

∙ 2006 MIJ Fender Stratocaster XII

∙ 2008 Epiphone Les Paul Custom (Silverburst!)

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job (out on permanent loan)

∙ 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

∙ BOSS Katana 100W 1x12 Combo (review coming)

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

Mahalo!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Steve Soto - August 23, 1963 to June 27, 2018

Rest in peace, brother. 54 doesn't seem old to me anymore...

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: John Long – Stand Your Ground

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the November 10, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

John Long – Stand Your Ground

Delta Groove Music

www.johnlongblues.com

www.deltagroovemusic.com

13 tracks / 52:54

John Long is a fine bluesman, and the path he took to where he is today was not the easy one, but he ended up in the right place. Growing up in St. Louis, he sought out the blues at a young age, and it certainly did not hurt that his mom was a guitar teacher or that his brother, Claude, was also a bluesman. By his teens, John was playing out and started exploring the intricacies of pre-war blues. In the early 1970s, Long moved to Chicago where he mentored under a new father figure, Homesick James Williamson, who was a protégé of none other than Elmore James.

In the forty years since then, John has continued his journey, honing his craft and writing solid material, earning a BMA nomination for his debut album, and eventually moving back to Springfield, Missouri. His new Delta Groove Music album, Stand Your Ground, is a really cool collection of original and classic acoustic blues. Long did most of the heavy lifting here, writing eight of the thirteen tracks, singing all of the vocals, and taking on all of the harp and guitar parts. He was joined on a few of the tracks by a handful of tight and very experienced musicians from Southern California, including Fred Kaplan on piano, Bill Stuve on upright bass, and Washington Rucker behind the drum kit.

This disc was cut in only two days at Audiogrand in North Hollywood, California, and the resulting music has a very natural and live feel. First up is a tribute to Long’s mentor, and the message of James Williamson’s “Baby Please Set a Date” is the timeless story of a man who does not want to wait another day to be with his lady. Long’s voice is perfectly worn, and his inflection and tone hearken back to the early days of blues music. Fred Kaplan’s piano work fits in wonderfully on this track, as he carries over his years of experience from Hollywood Fats’ band.

The remaining cover tunes are sequenced near the end of Stand Your Ground, and Long does not screw around at all with Blind Willie Johnson’s 1920s gospel blues song, “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.” John takes this one on as a solo effort with his jangly slide acoustic, and he displays a lot of vocal versatility, adding in a wicked warble that is to die for. There is also a slow-tempo version of Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” with a neat drum accompaniment from Rucker, and harp-heavy take on Blind Willie McTell’s “Climbing High Mountains” (big time falsetto here!).

But this is not a cover album, and Long’s originals are well written and stand up well to the blues masters’ songs that he chose for the mix. His guitar playing on these songs is fascinating, as he is innovative and goes far beyond what pre-war players did with their instruments, but he never loses the vintage vibe. “Red Hawk” is a prime example of this, as he uses a lot of double stops, harmonics, and descending patterns that sound amazing on his resonator guitar. Long also covers subjects that were not song-worthy back in the 1920s or 1930s, and he can write a tune about living with Parkinson’s disease (“No Flowers For Me”), and have it fit in perfectly with the classic material. The same can be said for “One Earth, Many Colors,” which carries a beautiful message of inclusion.

The originals are righteous enough that the title track turns out to be one of the standout songs on the album. “Stand Your Ground” brings Stuve and Rucker back on stage and these two fellows really click, contributing a fat and woody bass tone, as well as lovely rhythms on the drums. The melody is very catchy, and the lyrics are about a father’s advice to his son, not the controversial Florida law.

John ends his set with his original “Suitcase Stomp,” and as it is only two minutes long it is a neat coda to this project. This is a fun and rowdy song, and Long get the chance to shine on his harp and guitar one last time before he leaves the stage.

John Long has the pre-war blues sound and feel nailed down tight, and he is able to carry this mood over to more modern lyrics with no awkwardness or feeling that things are contrived. Stand Your Ground works on a lot of levels, including its content, musicianship, and production. If you dig classic blues and want to hear something fresh, Stand Your Ground would definitely be a wise purchase.

Press Release: New Effect Pedal - Cinnamon Drive from Aclam Guitars

Aloha!

I know there are a million pedal makers out there, but I dig Aclam, a Spanish company that is run by music fans and professional musicians. Their new Cinnamon Drive pedal is set-up for Smart Track pedalboards, and I look forward to trying one out in person.

www.cinnamondrive.com

“Barcelona -

After a few years being an innovative pedalboard manufacturer, Aclam has started to expand its catalogue with a pedal line. This first unit named Cinnamon Drive is a dual stage overdrive pedal, inspired by the tones of the greatest 60’s and 70’s guitar players like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. Created to have the tube saturation characteristics inside its DNA, it is highly dynamic and touch responsive, you can play it like your favorite vintage tube amp. It features a custom enclosure designed to fit Aclam Smart Track pedalboards and other major brands. Available worldwide from our website and authorized dealers this summer.

‘Our goal was to make the ultimate riff machine. With an amazing tone and offering new possibilities with an enclosure designed to take the most advantage of the Smart Track pedalboard, and making it easy to place onto all other boards.’

The Cinnamon Drive has a dual stage engine, featuring both soft and hard clipping circuits, starts from a clean preamp to a light overdrive, leading to a highly saturated distortion to cover a wide range of tones. Its simple controls let you dial two completely different tones thanks to the “Boost” section, which gets activated via footswitch. It also features a gain knob and independent volume control. It has internal fine-tuning controls for the most demanding players.

Take advantage of the patented enclosure using the two side thumbscrews on Smart Track pedalboards or attaching it to your pedalboard through the holes using standard screws or zip ties. It also comes with a super-strong Velcro® pad for classic boards.

Assembled and tested with care, one by one in Barcelona with the best components available.”

Mahalo!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Alabama Mike – Upset the Status Quo

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the December 11, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Alabama Mike – Upset the Status Quo

Self Release through Jukehouse Records

www.alabamamikeblues.net

11 tracks / 59:25

Alabama Mike adopted his nickname as he was born in Talladega, and that is where he got his first experience as a vocalist in the church choir. But for the last thirty years he has made his living on the left coast of the United States: in the military, as a truck driver, and now as a bluesman. The latter has been very rewarding, as he has earned two BMA nominations, both as a solo artist and with his acoustic blues trio, The Hound Kings. Mike (a.k.a. Michael Benjamin) writes and plays traditional-sounding blues songs with more modern lyrics that connect well with today’s listeners. This is one of Mike’s ways of pushing the edge of the envelope, so the title of his third solo album, Upset the Status Quo, makes a lot of sense!

This record is a slick piece of work, with production credit going out to Kid Anderson, who recorded this project at his Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Eight of the eleven tracks were written by Mike, and he provided all of the soulful lead vocals in his distinctive tenor voice. Thirteen fantastic musicians joined him in the studio, and the result of their labor is an hour-long set of blues, soul, and rhythm and blues, with a little funk thrown in for good measure. These folks include Ali Kumar on harp, Bernard Anderson on sax, Sid Morris on piano, Derrick D’mar Martin and Ronnie Smith on drums, Jerry Jemmot and Kedar Roy on bass, Jon Lawton on slide guitar, Jim Pugh on the Hammond B3, Bob Welsh on guitar and piano, and Kid Anderson on B3 and guitar.

Mike and his friends kick off the show with the title track, and “Upset the Status Quo” is a mid-tempo shuffle with a rich feel thanks to Kumar’s harmonica and Anderson’s sax. The backline has a neat feel with a conventional bass line and a dry snare tone that kills (in a good way). The lyrics poke at things that modern man spends too much time focusing on, such as the pursuit of material gain and the allure of giving in to the pervasive influence of social media, and Mr. Benjamin howls about these things with gusto.

Modern themes are also visited in “Identity Theft,” “Restraining Order,” and “SSI Blues,” and it is cool that Mike can take the stuff that people have to deal with today and put it into a musical form that is timeless. The latter has a sweet old-time feel with raunchy harp from Kumar and plenty of barroom piano over a foot-stomping beat. Mike shows off a great range as he takes thing up a register to tear this song apart. This is one of the standout tunes on the disc, in my opinion!

There are also three cover tunes on this disc, including Jimmy McCracklin’s “Think,” John Lawton’s “Rock Me in Your Arms,” and Little Johnny Taylor’s “Somewhere Down the Line.” “Think” is my favorite of these as the gang turns up the funk knob with Anderson’s sax, plenty of organ and wonderful guitar leads – this is all top-shelf material. The final product is a respectful and talented re-do of a classic tune, and the band really nailed it.

The set closes out with “God is With You (Benediction),” and it has a gnarly intro that is driven by a heavy dose of the mighty Hammond B-3. It settles down pretty quickly into a conventional rhythm and blues song, and Mike’s voice is at his best here as he has soul down to his very core. There are lovely backing vocals from Loralee Christiansen and Lisa Leuschner Anderson and this song of faith and love is beautiful; it is a sweet way to finish the set.

Upset the Status Quo contains some of Alabama Mike’s best work, and it is a very well engineered and mixed album that is entertaining from start to finish. Check it out for yourself, and if you like conventional blues this might just be a nice breath of fresh air for you. Also, if you follow his Facebook page you will find announcements for his upcoming gigs in the Bay Area, and if you come to one of his shows you might even get to see a few of the guest artists from this disc sitting in too!

1986 Yamaha LP-400 Lord Player Electric Guitar Review

Hi there!

I am glad to be getting a break so I can write about a few of the vintage guitars that made their way into my shop. Today we are looking at a nice Les Paul copy guitar, a late 1980s Yamaha Lord Player Les Paul copy.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Japanese guitar companies used classic guitar and bass designs from Fender, Gibson, Hofner, Martin and Rickenbacker, and made killer knock-offs. The 70s and 80s were not exactly the best years for quality for any of these companies, and consumers really ate up these good quality copies. Eventually, Fender and the gang caught on eventually and upped their game. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.

A fine specimen of these is this late 1980s Yamaha Lord Player model LP-400. In traditional Japanese manufacturing-ese, the 400 in the model name relates to the instrument’s original list price, in this case it was 40,000 yen. This was around $250 back then, if I did the math right. I have never seen another one in the US. I picked this one for a few hundred bucks on a business trip overseas.

This Lord Player is finished in a classy tobacco burst, with a little more yellow thrown in. The body is mahogany, with an agathis back, maybe. It is not unduly heavy for a Les Paul, coming in at a bit under 10 pounds.

It has a set neck with a rosewood fretboard. The neck is nicely rounded, is between the 50s and 60s style Les Pauls as far as feel. It is straight with plenty of life left in the frets. It has a medium action and it plays like a dream. There are a few small marks on the back of the neck, but nothing that bothers me when I play it, because I am a rock star. Note that this guitar has 1959 Les Paul style headstock.

Everything appears to be original on this guitar. The wiring is tidy with no terrible circuit board and the pickups and knobs appear to be OEM. The pickups measure 7.23k ohm for the bridge and 7.20k ohm for the neck, in case you really need this information. The tailpiece shows some pitting and the tuning pegs have a few signs of oxidization but those things are not a big deal. As this is a 30-year-old guitar, there are some small blemishes and the typical soft markings on the rear of the guitar. But overall it is in very respectable condition.

It plays very well with a set of Ernie Ball 0.010s on it. The pickups are sweet at normal levels, and are super crunchy with an overdriven amp. The action and feel is awesome. The neck is not chubby and not thin…in between. All electronics work as they should, though god only know why a previous owner drilled some holes in the cover.

If you are considering a new Gibson Les Paul, think twice. Their necks and frets are a crapshoot in a losing game. Find an older guitar from Yamaha, Tokai or Greco, and you will spend a lot less coin and get a better playing guitar.

Thanks for stopping by today!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: AC Steel and the Galvanizers – Now or Never

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the December 1, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

AC Steel and the Galvanizers – Now or Never

Self Release

www.acsteelblues.com

11 tracks / 48:24

Philadelphia’s AC Steel and the Galvanizers is a slick band and their new disc, Now or Never, is perfect for listeners who want plenty of guitar with their blues. You may never heard of their frontman, Stephen Solotist, but he took an interesting path to get to this point in his music career.

An awesome guitarist, Solotist and his band flirted with the big time back in the 1970s, opening for big name acts such as the Allman Brothers and Pink Floyd. After shipping off to England for a while and turning down a slot with UFO, he eventually came back to the States and entered the world of day jobs and daily commutes. But he also stayed in the music game, playing gigs with the Jukerockers and the Dukes of Destiny.

Stephen is joined on Now or Never by the Galvanizers, whose members include “Chicago” Carl Snyder on the keys, Rich Curtis on the bass, Bud Manton on the skins, and Arlyn Wolters with the backing vocals (most of these folks are also members of the Dukes of Destiny). The disc was cut at Buckeye Studios in the City of Brotherly Love by co-producer Peter Richan. Ten of the eleven tracks on this album are originals that were written by Solotist, and apparently he is a capable singer and songwriter, in addition to his prodigious guitar skills.

The disc starts off with a taste of edgy blues-rock, “Can’t Keep the Big Man Down,” and this tune is the story of Kevin McCann (the singer and guitarist for the Little Red Rooster Blues Band), who is recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Joining into the fray with his harmonica is another Rooster member, Dave Holtzman, and he has a sweet tone!

The mood changes dramatically for the next song as a pair of locals join in: Wanamaker Lewis on banjo, and Larry Feldman on fiddle and mandolin. This instrumentation gives “What Would Muddy Say” more of a roots feel, as Stephen ponders how historical figures such as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Frederick Douglass would interpret the state of society today. The vocal harmonies between Wolters and Solotist really make this song special. Lewis and Feldman also help out on the lone cover on this disc, an acoustic and folksy take on Robert Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen,” featuring harp from John Colgan Davis (another member of the Dukes).

The band also lays down a few tracks that are more whimsical, and some listeners may find the funky “Little Cat Purr” to be adults-only material. There is also a slow-burning ode to the misuse of alcohol, “Tequila Seals the Deal,” and the mother of all stalking songs, “Love Hate Letters.” And finally, the album finishes up with “Too Many Guitar Slingers,” an uptempo blues piece where Stephen bemoans the surplus of guitarists on the market, and he warns “if you want to get paid and have it made in the shade, don't become a become a guitar slinger.” Snyder throws down a nice piano solo here and Curtis also get the chance for a bass solo, driving home the point of this song. For a change of pace, there is also a cool instrumental featuring AC’s guitar, and “Steelman’s Stroll” is a fun two and a half minute romp, just in case anybody doubted Solotist’s guitar slinger qualifications.

Now or Never is a neat album from AC Steel and the Galvanizers, and their particular brand of guitar-driven blues is fresh and fun. Please note that should you happen to purchase a copy of this CD, a third of the funds will be donated to Kevin McCann to help defray the expenses for his medical care. And, if you get a chance, head over to the band’s website and check out their gig schedule. They have some dates coming up, and if you are anywhere around Philadelphia area you should make the time to see one of their shows. There is a lot of experience in this group, which should translate well to the stage!

Galaxy Audio TQ6 Portable PA Preview

Howdy!

Here is a press release I got on the new Galaxy Audio TQ6 Portable PA: “Compact and under 10 pounds, Galaxy Audio’s new TQ6 defines “Portable PA”. Its dependable performance and versatile features make it an ideal choice for classroom teachers, sports trainers, corporate presenters and houses of worship. Its ease of use, reliability, and affordable price will appeal to auctioneers, aerobics instructors, and AV rental companies.

With a high-performance 30-watt amplifier, a powerful 6-inch woofer, and wide-dispersion 1-inch HF horn, the TQ6 offers clear voice and great sound. A wired mic input complements a versatile media player with an SD card slot, USB connector, RCA connections, and built-in Bluetooth compatibility for phone or MP3 player.

Individual and master volume controls, a tone control, and an echo feature make it easy to mix and control these sources while adjusting voice clarity and music quality. The TQ6 may be AC powered or operated from its internal battery for up to 15 hours. It includes a convenient carrying handle and standard pole socket.

The TQ6 offers premium performance, an unmatched feature set, and a highly portable package making it the ideal “go anywhere” portable PA.”

This speaker seems to have everything under the sun, and it sells for $100 – I am interested in trying one of these out, so I will see what I can do So you can get the details first hand. Stay tuned!

Mahalo!

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Mike Eldred Trio – Baptist Town



Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 20, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

The Mike Eldred Trio – Baptist Town

Great Western Recording Company

http://mikeeldredtrio.com

http://www.greatwesternrecordingcompany.com

13 tracks / 58:18

Mike Eldred is no stranger to the guitar, as he ran Fender’s Custom Shop for many years, but he is also a masterful musician and songwriter. He has joined up with John Bazz and Jerry Angel of the Southern California’s best band that should have hit the big time, The Blasters, to form the eclectic Mike Eldred Trio. The band has released their fourth album, Baptist Town, and it a refreshing blend of Americana and blues music.

Eldred drew inspiration for this project from Baptist Town, a neighborhood in Greenwood, Mississippi that was home to many blues greats, including Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Hound Dog Taylor, and many more. The poverty of Baptist Town is a stark contrast with the affluent neighborhoods of Greenwood, and this inequality has not changed much for the better since Johnson passed on in 1938.

For Baptist Town, Mike acted as producer, wrote twelve of the thirteen tracks, and provided the much of the vocals and guitars. Bazz laid down the bass parts and Jerry Angel took care of the drums, while a nifty crew of artists contributed their unique skills throughout the album. Many of the sessions took place at the birthplace of rock and roll, the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee (about 125 miles north of Greenwood).

Baptist Town is not exactly the Delta nor is it Memphis, and likewise this is not a rock or a Delta blues album but rather an amalgamation of American styles, set to lyrics that speak to the social issues that are relevant to the neighborhood. There is a lot going on here, as evidenced by the opening track, “Hunder Dollar Bill,” a story of drunken misanthropy set to a driving vintage rock sound with muffled vocals and a wickedly distorted harmonica solo courtesy of Phoenix’s awesome John “Big Nick” Samora.

Three Grammy-winning guest artists each bring their own flavor to this disc, too. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos contributes his distinctive vocals and accordion to “Bess,” and the result is a thumping slice of Louisiana style. John Mayer provides the lap steel and electric guitar parts for “Roadside Shrine,” a very pretty country blues song with restrained vocals from Eldred. Yet another big name was drawn to this project, as Robert Cray brings his guitar to the title track, and his smooth leads mesh well with a slick undercurrent of riffs in this laid-back soul tune.

The songs that connect best to the community of Baptist Town are the ones that feature the Emmanuel Church Inspirational Choir and a local fellow, Jarvis Jernigan, on vocals. “Somebody Been Runnin’” is only a few minutes long, but this a capella gospel tune is powerful with wonderful back and forth between Jarvis and Mike, and the vocal harmonies are beautiful. As an added bonus, it seems to be inspired by the fate of Robert Johnson! “You're Always There” closes out the set, and after a raucous introduction, it settles down to a funky gospel vibe with a healthy serving of Hammond organ courtesy of Papa John DeFrancesco, a true American treasure.

The lone cover is an odd duck that does not exactly fit it with the rest of the material, and there has never been a version of the Beatles’ “Can't Buy Me Love” that is anything like this. This is a timeless story of love with no strings attached, but its heavy tone and six-plus minute running time highlights that there is not much value or variety to the words (sorry, John and Paul). My guess is that Eldred is seeking to contrast lighthearted pop music with the harsh reality of a downtrodden people, but it is a stretch to connect this material with the community or the overall theme of the disc.

Aside from this one tune, the rest of Baptist Town is a sweet set of uniquely American music that draws inspiration from the blues, and the Mike Eldred Trio has shone a light on a community that does not get much attention. Be sure to head over to their website as there is cool media to support this album, including the lyrics, a gallery of quality images from the neighborhood, and videos that show the production process, including an explanation of how it came to be and documentation of how a few of the tracks were recorded.















Matt “Guitar” Murphy: December 29, 1929 to June 15, 2018


Rest in Peace, Matt.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine 2018 BBMA Award Nominees



Aloha!

Here is the info on the 2018 Blues Blast Music Awards Nominees and the awards show:

From Blues Blast Magazine - www.BluesBlastMagazine.com

Contact Information: Bob Kieser (309) 267-4425 or info@bluesblastmagazine.com

In early April, a group of Blues music industry professionals including music critics, journalists, festival promoters, music venue managers, producers, musicians and other Blues music industry professionals nominated the best in Blues music in twelve categories. The complete list of nominees is listed below and is also available at our website at: www.bluesblastmagazine.com/2018-blues-blast-music-awards-nominees/

Fan voting to determine the winners begins July 1, 2018 and continues until August 31, 2018 on our website at BluesBlastMagazine.com. Voting is free and open to anyone who is a Blues Blast Magazine subscriber. Blues Blast Magazine subscriptions are always FREE and you are automatically signed up as part of the voting process on our website.

The Blues Blast Music Awards are presented by Blues Blast Magazine, the largest FREE weekly internet Blues magazine with over 36,000 Blues fan subscribers located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries.

The 2018 Blues Blast Awards ceremonies will be held on September 29th, at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, Illinois. Tickets and complete information on lodging and directions are available at The Blues Blast Music Awards website at www.TheBBMAs.com.

The 2018 Blues Blast Music Award nominees
Contemporary Blues Album

  • Victor Wainwright & The Train - Self Titled
  • Selwyn Birchwood - Pick Your Poison
  • Chris Cain - Self titled
  • Danielle Nicole - Cry No More
  • Bernard Allison - Let It Go
  • Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind - Approved By Snakes

Traditional Blues Album


  • The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling - The High Cost of Low Living
  • Kim Wilson - Blues And Boogie Vol 1
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats - Groovin' In Greaseland
  • Oscar Wilson - One Room Blues
  • The Cash Box Kings - Royal Mint
  • Mud Morganfield - They Call Me Mud

Soul Blues Album

  • Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra - After A While
  • Johnny Rawls - Waiting For The Train
  • Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed
  • Benny Turner - My Brother’s Blues
  • Markey Blues & Ric Latina Project - Raised In Muddy Water
  • Ivy Ford - Time To Shine

Rock Blues Album

  • Walter Trout - We're All In This Together
  • Albert Castiglia - Up All Night
  • Tinsley Ellis - Winning Hand
  • Tommy Castro & The Painkillers - Stompin' Ground
  • Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass
  • Savoy Brown - Witchy Feelin'

Acoustic Blues Album

  • Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager - Rough Cut
  • Doug MacLeod - Break The Chain
  • Mitch Woods - Friends Along The Way
  • Daniel Eriksen - Narrative Boogie
  • Sonny Landreth - Recorded Live In Lafayette
  • Sunny Lowdown - Down Loaded

Live Blues Recording

  • Sonny Landreth - Recorded Live In Lafayette
  • John Mayall - Three For The Road
  • Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass
  • Muddy Waters - Live At Rockpalast
  • Nick Schnebelen - Live In Kansas City
  • Casey Hensley - Live Featuring Laura Chavez

Historical Or Vintage Recording

  • Muddy Waters - Live At Rockpalast
  • Luther Allison Box Set
  • Johnny Nicholas - Too Many Bad Habits
  • Paul Delay – Live at Notodden '97
  • Reverend Raven & The CSAB - My Life – Twentieth Anniversary

New Artist Debut Album

  • Patrick Recob - Perpetual Luau
  • Ben Levin - Ben's Blues
  • Heather Newman - Burn Me Alive
  • Casey Hensley - Live Featuring Laura Chavez
  • Orphan Jon - Abandoned No More
  • Ilya Portnov - Strong Brew

Blues Band

  • The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
  • The Cash Box Kings
  • Ghost Town Blues Band
  • Welch Ledbetter Connection
  • Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin' Altar Boys featuring Westside Andy

Male Blues Artist

  • Victor Wainwright
  • Chris Cain
  • Walter Trout
  • Oscar Wilson
  • Kid Ramos
  • Benny Turner

Female Blues Artist

  • Danielle Nicole
  • Shaun Murphy
  • Samantha Fish
  • Bettye LaVette
  • Beth Hart
  • Karen Lovely

Sean Costello Rising Star Award

  • Ben Levin
  • Joyann Parker
  • Orphan Jon
  • Ivy Ford
  • Heather Newman

Mahalo!


























































































Sunday, June 3, 2018

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater: January 10, 1935 to June 1, 2018

Rest in peace, Eddy. You were a sweet man and will be greatly missed.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Terrie Odabi – My Blue Soul

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 13, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Terrie Odabi – My Blue Soul

Self Release

www.reverbnation.com/terrieodabi

13 tracks / 64:50

With its rich cultural history of jazz, rock, and the blues, the San Francisco Bay area launched many artists’ careers and has been a source of so much fantastic music over the years. None other than the late Etta James got her start in the Bay Area, and Oakland’s Terrie Odabi is doing a marvelous job of following in her footsteps. Terrie’s vocal skill and passion translate well to the studio, and her sophomore album, My Blue Soul, has everything going for it.

Terrie worked in the music business for years before releasing her 2014 debut album, Evolution of the Blues. Based on the pure awesomeness of this disc and her amazing performance abiity, Odabi earned the right to be the Bay Area representative at International Blues Competition for 2014 and 2015, and both times she made it to the semi-finals. This lady is the real deal, and has earned all of the respect she gets.

My Blue Soul is a labor of love from Terrie, as she wrote eleven of the thirteen tracks, and she poured her soul into recording the vocals. She made all the right moves to make sure this would be a good album, and the first step was bringing in Kid Anderson as the producer and engineer. Anderson knows how to construct a quality blues album, and it surely made his job easier to have Odabi and a crew of more than a dozen top-shelf Bay Area musicians to work with.

The music is excellent, but Terrie’s lyrics are what really make the songs special. They are honest and relevant, drawing on personal and community experiences. The first track, “Gentrification Blues,” is a pointed social statement about folks who move into a neighborhood and then think they have the right to change the existing cultural norms. This fervent message is set to a hopping mixture of blues, funk, gospel, and rock with smoking organ and guitar from Anderson and thumping bass and drums from Kirk Crumpler and Derrick Martin.

“Born to Die” is a 1970s-issue jangly rock and roll revue with a “Foxy Lady” beat and the finely tuned horn section of Nancy Wright, Manny Angel, and Faris Jarrah - these cats are tight! The message here is that no matter what one’s station in life is, the end result is always the same so we should live accordingly. This track is backed up by the jazzy blues of “Life is so Good,” an autobiographical torch song from a woman whose life is good, so that she can’t believe that she’s singing the blues. This song features Terry Hiatt on lead guitar and cool muted trumpet from Angel.

There are a few songs about the difficulties of relationships, but the most uplifting is “When You Love Me,” a song that Odabi wrote to thank her love for his support during the production of this album. This is a barebones blues track with sexy vocals and the sparse instrumental accompaniment of just a pair of guitars manned by Anderson and AJ Crawdaddy. This is the perfect opportunity for listeners to hear Terrie’s voice, and her personality, inflection, and range are truly amazing.

The cover tunes are both neat songs that have special meaning to Terrie. She loves Big Mama Thornton, so “Ball and Chain” is a logical addition to the mix. This piece of straight-up blues is powerfully sung with sweet guitar leads from Kid and tasteful piano from Ken Cook. The other re-do is the traditional, “Wade in the Water,” reinterpreted as a gloriously soulful rhythm and blues tune. This spiritual is has a powerful place in US history, and the lovely backing vocals of Courtney Knott, Lisa Leuschner Anderson, and Niecey Robinson make this modern take complete.

My Blue Soul is an excellent sophomore effort from Terrie Odabi, and it is a testament to what this woman means for the future of blues. This disc is full of poignant songs that are recorded well and appeal to both traditional and modern blues audiences, making it one of the best releases of 2016. and it will be awesome to see what she comes up with next!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: 2007 Fender Precision Bass PB70-78US

Hi there!

This is kind of a repeat as I have two almost identical basses in stock right now, and I have been through quite a few of these basses over the years because they are consistently great instruments. The Fender PB70-70US Precision Bass is a very nice recreation of their 1970 model, and it was built with pride in Fender’s Japanese factories.

The PB in the model designation designates this instrument as a Precision Bass, the first 70 shows that this is a 1970 model, and the second 78 indicates that the original price was 70,000 Yen. That was around $590 bucks back then, which was a heck of a deal. Oh yes, and the US at the end of the model name means that this bass shipped with US-made vintage style pickups.

This one is finished in a silky Olympic White, which has yellowed nicely over the years. I have heard that the body is supposed to be made of alder, but who really knows? The body shape has the classic contoured P bass shape, and the neck is attached with a four-bolt joint. As I said, there is a US-sourced pickup, with the expected volume and tone controls. The hardware is the usual Fender stuff, with a three-layer B-W-B pickguard, a chrome four-saddle bridge, and the correct large bass Fender vintage-style tuners. I hate the Japanese basses that come with the lame small-base tuners. Boo.

The neck is not too huge, with a 1 5/8-inch wide nut and a comfortable shallow C profile to the back. The rosewood fretboard has white plastic fret markers, and a nut that might be a replacement. The neck is true and the truss rod works fine. The 20 original frets use vintage size wire, and are still nice and level with very little wear. To top it off, it has the correct big logo on the headstock, so this thing looks just right

It plays right, too. It is very well constructed, and the neck is very playable. I love the sound of it, and I do think the US pickups make a difference. I think that sometimes the Japanese pickups and pots are not quite up to snuff. This one is in line with most of the other one I have owned, coming in right around 9 pounds.

Anyway, it is a great bass, and if you are in the market for a new P Bass, these Japanese reissues cannot be beat for the price.

Mahalo!

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Malaya Blue – Heartsick

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the October 13, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Malaya Blue – Heartsick

Self Release through MBM Music

www.malayablue.com

11 tracks / 54:47

Malaya Blue may be relatively new to the scene, but she carries on the tradition of fine blues music that her sisters and brothers from the United Kingdom have been producing for decades. Her debut album, Bourbon Street, was very well received, earning her four 2015 British Blues Association Award nominations. With this effort, this Norwich based singer laid the groundwork to break through on a worldwide scale, though we are still waiting for our chance to see her here in the States.

Malaya did not rest on these laurels, and has released a worthy follow-up, Heartsick, with eleven original tracks that were cut at The Grange Studios in Norfolk, UK. Accompanying her vocals on this disc is a new line-up that includes Dudley Ross on guitar, Paul Jobson on the keyboards, bassist Stuart Uren, and Andrew McGuinness behind the drum kit. This band is capable of handling every genre on this disc, with arrangements that range from bare bones to fully instrumented songs that come complete with a string section.

Heartsick starts out strongly with its title track, a neat package of guitar fueled hard blues-rock. This is an apt showcase for Malaya to show how powerful her voice is, as well as her ability to push the edge of the envelope without sacrificing musicality. She is also responsible for writing all of the lyrics on this disc, and in this case she bemoans the end of a relationship and admits to being “a sucker for a hot sticky mess.” It is hard to say whether these words were written from experience, but they are personal in their delivery, which is a common theme throughout the album.

Another example of this is “Hunny Little Day Dream,” with words that are thoroughly saturated with the joy of love. After the intro with its raunchy harp and warbly organ, Malaya launches into jazzy R&B vocals that at times push the upper limits of her voice’s range, and she delivers them smoothly. Also notable are the slick walking bass line from Uren and rock solid drum work from McGuinness that serve to hold this one together. This is followed up by “Colour Blind” a mellow tune with an uptempo samba beat. The lyrics are more enigmatic, and Malaya adds dramatic spaces that help to make the mood more intense.

Malaya’s voice shines even brighter on the slower songs, and there is a pair of ballads sequenced midway through Heartsick. “Let’s Reinvent (Love)” is one of these, and it is a slow-rolling blues tune with a dramatic harp and B3 introduction. At over seven minutes this is the longest track on the CD, and this time is used to tell the story of rebuilding a relationship, with the vibe getting heavier as the song progresses. Key pieces of this puzzle are the righteous harp that guest artist Paul Jones lays down, and the backing vocals that Malaya layers in. The other is “Acceptance,” a pretty torch song that is driven by Jobson’s piano, with the added bonus of well-arranged strings from The Westwood String Quartet. It was a risk to put twelve minutes of slower material together, but Malaya has the vocal chops to keep things interesting, and she does not disappoint.

From there, the band works their way through soul (“Soul Come Back”), gospel (“I Have Arrived”), rock with a Bo Diddley beat (“Share the Love”), and a fan favorite from her live shows (“Hope”). Before the listener knows it, almost an hour has gone by and the set draws to a close with “Soul Come Back.” This emotional song of longing features producer Paul Long on piano, and one last chance for the string quartet to help make the mood. What a neat way to end the album!

Heartsick is a very slick album, with solid original songwriting, good musicians, and high production values. It should be no surprise that Malaya Blue now has two winning projects for her CV as she has worked very hard to get to this point. Malaya has been getting the word out too, having appeared at numerous gigs and festivals over the past year and promoting her music on the air. Hopefully there will be an update to the gig page on her website soon, as this kind of music translates well to the stage and it would be great for her fans to have the opportunity to see her live show.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: 1989 FENDER JAPAN TELECASTER TL72-55 Guitar

Howdy!

Even casual readers of Rex and the Bass know that I love both Telecasters and Japanese guitars, so when those two planets align I am like a high school kid with a cheesesteak and a Coke Zero. Check out today’s beauty: a Japan-built Fender TL72-55 Telecaster. This is a fairly faithful recreation of a 1972 Telecaster, and gives the performance of the American-made reissues at a fraction of the cost. I picked this non-export model a while back in Japan, and I am trying to figure out how it fits into my collection.

As this is a model TL52-55, it is one of the midrange models. The “72” in the model designation means this is a 1972 Tele style, and the “55” in the name designates 55,000 Yen, which is around 600 bucks right now. And Japanese music shops don’t bargain much from list price. The serial number on the headstock has an E9 Made in Japan prefix, dating this to 1989 (or so) according to Fender’s website. That puts this one pretty squarely in the period of time when Fender Japan was at its best.

This guitar has a transparent finish over its very pretty 3-piece Sen ash body, and it is not terrible heavy, coming in at a touch over 8 ½ pounds. It still sports the original 3-ply black pickguard, and pretty much everything else is original too, except for the output jack (which was probably a wise upgrade).

The maple neck is a peach with a period-correct water transfer label and a C-profile. The original frets are normal-sized and were probably well finished when it was new – they are still level after almost 30 years, but they do have some visible wear. The neck pocket to body fit is very precise, showing the fine craftsmanship that went into building this instrument.

The hardware includes the aforementioned 3-ply pickguard and a traditional Tele bridge with 3 steel saddles. As I said earlier it is not terrible faithful to the original and this is because of two things: the truss rod screw is a hex type and they installed Gotoh sealed tuners at the factory. There are no problems with these things, of course as the hex is less likely to strip and Gotohs are very nice tuners that work smoothly and hold well. The electronics pickups appear to be original to the guitar, too.

This Tele is not a museum piece and it has had its share of use over the years, but it is all honest playwear and it has a nice vintage vibe to it. In particular there is wear to the fretboard and pitting of the metal parts, which really add to the character of the instrument. People pay extra for relicing, you know…

There is a pretty good reason it is showing some wear, and that is because it sounds great and it is a smooth playing guitar. The tone is everything you could ever want from a Telecaster, and it will kill any Stratocaster that crosses its path. Everyone needs a Telecaster!

Mahalo!