Monday, April 30, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins – Blues from the Kino Border


This CD review was originally published in the July 21, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins – Blues from the Kino Border

Self Release

10 tracks / 52:09

Anthony Charles was born in New York City where he received formal training as a musician and he has been playing out in some way or another since the 1960s. His musical path in life led to one of the more obscure expressions of the art form when he worked as a jingle singer for commercials, but the blues had a strong hold on this man. A few years back he decided to learn blues harmonica, and after two years of work in the studio we now have the first album from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins, Blues on the Kino Border. It turns out he is a fine blues singer and songwriter, and is pretty good on the harp, too!

Now based out of Columbia, South Carolina, Anthony got a group of fine musicians together to cut eight original songs and a couple of cool covers for this album. The main personnel for this project include Rick Ramsey on bass, James Casey on drums, Shrimp City Slim on piano, and John Hartness on guitar. A few guest artists pitched in as well, including guitar work from Warren Scott, who passed away during production; this album is dedicated to his memory.

The songs on Blues from the Kino Border mostly follow traditional blues structures, but many of the lyrics come from situations and issues of today. The first song in the set, “Highwater Stomp,” is a shuffle about the effects of hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in 2012. You will hear that Charles has a strong tenor voice, and a nice touch on the guitar. The backline is stout as Ramsey’s bass parts really pops, and Casey is a human metronome on the drums. On this song, guest artists Brittany Turnipseed and Ashley Kent also provide sweet backing vocals as needed.

After the opener, the band picks the tempo up for another shuffle, “Bad Neighbor Blues.” On this track Shrimp City Slim provides a cool background of barroom piano and pulls off a rough and ready solo before Anthony takes the next break on his harp. This is a subject that most everybody can relate to, and the same can be said about the relationship woes that are described in “Kennel Cough Blues” and “Password Blues.” Charles uses vivid imagery and witty exaggeration to bring the lyrics home on these fun tunes.

But it is not all fun and games here, and things get real with “Kino Border Blues.” This song honors the Jesuit priest Peter McNeely who has worked for the humane treatment of migrants in the Nogales area. Anthony howls the lyrics with gusto, and there is a slick Latin feel to this song courtesy of Casey’s steady work on the toms, as well as healthy doses of violin and mandolin from James Graddick. There is also a glimpse at the fragility of our bodies and the need to take better care of ourselves in the slow-rolling “Heart Stoppin’ Blues.” But, most sobering of all is “Transubstantiation Blues,” which takes a hard look at the troubling institutionalized violence that plagues the United States.

There is also a pair of cover songs that the band included to honor musicians that have inspired them. Bessie Smith’s “Jailhouse Blues” is a harmonica-heavy tune that captures the spirit of the original, and the guitar parts of The Reverend Marv Ward and Warren Scott are spot on. There is also “Something in the Milk Ain’t Clean,” a song that was originally done by one of their favorite local artists, Drink Small. This tune closes out the album, and it is wonderfully performed with multiple guitar tracks and fabulous piano from Shrimp City Slim.

Blues from the Kino Border is a solid first effort from Anthony Charles and the Blues Dolphins. This record checks all of the boxes, with thoughtful lyrics, good songs, and strong musicianship. Give it a listen for yourself, and be sure to like their Facebook page so you can keep up on their gig schedule. If you find yourself in South Carolina it would be worth your time to check out one of their shows!

1997 Fender JGS-65 Jag-Stang Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a well-loved 1997 Fender Jag-Stang, that came to me straight out of Japan. I think that Kurt Cobain from Nirvana was a genius, and think that these instruments are a nice reminder of his contributions to the guitar world of today.

The Fender Jag-Stang was designed by Fender to meet Kurt Cobain’s needs. It is a 24-inch scale hybrid of the famous Fender Mustang and Jaguar guitars, with the Mustang’s Dynamic Vibrato bridge. Legend has it that the necks on these are an exact replica of the one from Kurt’s favorite Mustang. Believe it or don’t…

The original run of these guitars was made between 1995 and 2001 with basswood bodies, and the second run was made from 2003 to 2005 with ash bodies. The only two colors available were Fiesta Red and Sonic Blue. All of the guitars were built at Fender’s Japanese Custom Shop.

The electronics consist of a “vintage-style” single coil at the neck, and a “Special design” (or Dragster as they are know in Japan) humbucker at the bridge. My resistance checks showed these at 5.67k ohm for the neck and 7.60k ohm for the bridge. Each pickup has its own 3-position slide on/off phase switch, in addition to the master volume and tone knobs. Some people are pretty critical of the quality of these parts, but they sound fine to me. This is grunge, remember?

The instrument pictured here was built in 1997 (I think), and you can tell by the photos that it has a nice thick coat of Fiesta Red poly on it. It is a nice-playing guitar, with good craftsmanship. It sounds good, and the controls are useful for getting a lot of different tones from it. This guitar has been played a lot, and there is a bit of finish wear plus aging to the hardware, but this is honest playwear and not abuse. The frets are still in great shape and it is one of the easiest playing guitars I have ever owned.

The only gripe I have about the Jag-Stang is that it is so small that it feels like a toy when it is being played with my beefy hands. But on the plus side, its small size translates into a weight of only 7.5 pounds. Maybe I will keep this one around for a while…


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Andy Gunn – Miracle of Healing


This CD review was originally published in the July 21, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Andy Gunn – Miracle of Healing

Market Square Records

11 tracks / 50:14

Blues music can often express a songwriter’s troubles in life, and Scotland’s Andy Gunn has certainly had more than his share of misfortune over the years. He was born with a blood disorder and was given terrible diseases from transfusions in the days before doctors were vigilant about screening blood donations. He has also had cancer twice, survived a heart attack, and even had a serious scrape with the law.

But all along Andy kept playing his music, and to give back to the community he speaks out for other patients who have received tainted transfusions. He is a fine guitarist and songwriter, and his fourth album, Miracle of Healing, is a labor of love that was put together by him and producer Martin Stephenson. Stephenson took care of the acoustic guitars on this project, and he and Andy were joined in the studio by Neil Harland on bass, Kate Stephenson on drums, John Steel on keyboards, Stevie Smith on harmonica, Jim Hornsby on Dobro, and Malcolm McMaster on pedal steel. Jo Hamilton, Susanna Wolfe, and Miriam Campbell provided the backing vocals as needed.

Gunn wrote all eleven songs on this album, and there is not a lot of straight-up blues to be found, but most everything falls somewhere in the blues spectrum. The first few tracks are rhythm and blues, and they are well written pieces with good hooks. “Are We Thru” has a slick 1970s vibe with electric piano and a heavily processed lead guitar tone. Gunn has a sweet touch on the strings, and his vocals are not the most polished but they are effective. Steel’s keyboards also come into play to set up “Black Heart,” as it kicks off with a barroom piano intro before settling into an R&B groove. Lyrics for both of these tunes dwell on relationships that are going sour, but Andy writes more personal lines as the album progresses.

There are a handful of songs with country and Southern rock influences, which the band does very well. “Beyond the Open Door” has a country blues-rock feel thanks to a laid-back bass melody from Harland and restrained pedal steel from McMaster. This slow ballad is a song of hope and perseverance that talks about looking forward to better days after being dealt a few bad hands. Acoustic guitar and organ lend “Hold On” an understated southern-rock feel, and Gunn stretches his vocal range to its limits with the backing vocals providing a pretty counterpoint to his rough delivery. Later on, Andy uses Creedence Clearwater style guitar riffs combined with Smith’s harp to make for a respectable bit of swamp rock in “Trouble Women.” Adding these elements to the rock-solid backline of Harland and Stephenson makes this one of the standout tracks on the album.

The blues-rock tracks are also very listenable. “Freedom Reality” is a slow tempo tune with reflective lyrics of a man who decides to stop wondering what he could have done better, and instead decides to work on his future. The pace picks up a bit for “Harmony of One,” which adds tambourine and acoustic guitars for a more accessible feel. And the band takes a page out of the Dire Straits songbook with “Planting the Seeds” and Gunn totally nails the guitar tone. This man really can play!

Hopefully Andy Gunn will catch a few breaks and get the chance to just focus on music – he certainly has enough stories to last him for a while! Miracle of Healing is not just a catchy title for an album, it is a big part of his life and it is great that Martin Stephenson was there to help get these songs out to the masses. Gunn has some shows and festivals coming up on his schedule, so if you are going to be on the other side of the pond make sure you check his website so you can have the opportunity to support him in person.

1970s SL500 Yamaha Studio Lord Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a nice Japanese Les Paul lawsuit-era guitar copy.

In case you have not run into these before, the lawsuit guitars were built by Japanese companies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They 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 the good quality copies. Well, Gibson and the gang caught on eventually and sued the crap out of the Japanese. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.

A fine specimen of these is this late 1970s Yamaha Studio Lord model SL500. In traditional Japanese manufacturing-ese, the 500 in the model name relates to the instrument’s original list price, in this case it was 50,000 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 Studio is finished in a classy cherryburst, with a little burnt orange 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 over 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.

Everything appears to be original on this guitar, including the Yamaha branded tuners. The wiring is tidy and the pickups and knobs appear to be OEM. 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 40 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, and there is no funky integrated circuit board.

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


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Walter Trout – ALIVE in Amsterdam


This CD review was originally published in the July 7, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Walter Trout – ALIVE in Amsterdam

Mascot Label Group

2 CDs / 16 tracks / 105 Minutes

Walter Trout has a lot going in his favor – a new lease on life, a tour supporting his excellent Battle Scars album, and a newly released concert album, ALIVE in Amsterdam. The latter is the best live blues album I have reviewed over the past few years, and this project says a lot about Walter and where he is in his life right now.

Trout is a blues guitar hero and singer who has appeared on over 40 albums in his career, including working as a sideman with luminaries of the genre and a five-year stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Things looked bad for him in 2013 when his liver was failing, but after a transplant in 2014 he came back as strong as ever. ALIVE in Amsterdam documents this comeback better than any magazine article or documentary could. Many musicians will lay down a live album to help fluff up their catalog or to give their fans something new to buy, but Walter used this opportunity to show all of us that he still loves his craft and that he is just as good as he ever was.

This show was recorded on November 28, 2015 at the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam, and Trout was joined by the well-traveled Johnny Griparic on bass, as well as longtime band members Michael Leasure on drums and Sammy Avila on the Hammond B3 organ. You will also get to hear Walter’s son, Jon Trout on guitar and Andrew Elt on vocals and guitar. This is a tight crew who lay down an excellent groove that allows Trout to do what he does best. As always, there is no set list but there is nothing thrown at these professionals that they are not able to handle.

Walter’s wife (and manager) Marie kicks things off with a quick introduction, and the crowd gives the band a warm welcome before Trout gives them a strong dose of guitar pyrotechnics to lead into ”Help Me.” This heavy 12-bar blues track features plenty of Walter’s guitar and his unwavering vocals, along with a fine organ break from Avila. After this they run through a high-energy take of Luther Allison’s “I’m Back” followed up with a sweet tribute to the late B.B. King, “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” complete with some heartfelt personal remembrances. This song has been huge for him in the Netherlands, and the audience really showed their approval.

Then the band strings together a half-dozen songs from Battle Scars, including “Almost Gone,” “Omaha,” “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away,” “Playin’ Hideaway,” “Haunted By the Night,” and “Fly Away.” If you are not familiar with this material, it might be a good idea to give it a listen. These songs were written during Walter’s recovery, and they are breathtakingly personal and honest. Usually when fans come out to see an artist they want to hear all the old hits, but the crowd at this show was really tuned in and was very appreciative of this new material. What a magical evening!

One of the high points of the album is when an audience member calls out for “Marie’s Mood” and Walter responds, “OK, we’ll do that for you, we’re easy!” Trout is at his most melodic here, and his touch on the fretboard is sublime. Another cool moment is when Jon rocks out with his father for “Rock Me Baby” which really shines with two guitarists up front. As with the rest of this two-hour show, these tunes are well recorded with a slightly bass and drum heavy mix that emphasizes how gnarly this set is.

ALIVE in Amsterdam is a wonderful live album from Walter Trout and his band, and if you are a fan of his music, or hard guitar-driven blues-rock in general, it should be on your list of albums to purchase as soon as possible. It is available either as a two-disc set or as a collection of three heavy vinyl albums, and it will surely get more than one listen if you pick up your own copy. They are currently touring Europe, but will swing back through the United States in August before heading back overseas, so click through his website to see if he is playing near you. It will definitely be worth your time!

Review: 2003 Fender Japan Precision Bass PB70-70US


I have been through a few of these basses over the years, and they have been 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 their 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 70 indicates that the original price was 70,000 Yen. That was around $540 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 2003 model is finished in a creamy 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 normal 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, it weighs around 9 pounds, and I do think the US pickups make a difference. I think that sometimes the Japanese pickups and pots are not quite the greatest.

Anyway, this 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.


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Julian Sas – Coming Home


This CD review was originally published in the June 30, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Julian Sas – Coming Home

Cavalier Records

11 tracks / 57:34

For a blues-rock guitarist, it would be hard to find a better inspiration than the late Rory Gallagher, which is the case with Julian Sas from the Netherlands. When Julian was 17, he heard went to one of Rory’s shows, and that helped him make his decision to become a professional musician. But his influences also include Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and none other than jazz legend Miles Davis -- this is indeed a murderer’s row of amazing musicians! For his new album, Coming Home, Julian draws on a little from each of these gentlemen for his 1970s style blues-rock extravaganza.

For this project, Julian takes on the vocals and guitars, and he is joined by Tenny Tahamata on bass, Roland Bakker on the keys, and Rob Heijne on the skins. Sas produced this album and recorded and mixed it with Louis Bos at Forest Sound Studio in Deest, the Netherlands. You will not find any covers tunes from his heroes, though, as all eleven of the songs in this hour-long set are originals that were written by Sas, Tahamata, Heijne and Bakker.

Guitar-fueled 1970s rock is pervasive on Coming Home, right from the first track, “Jump for Joy.” This song has a similar beat and feel as Golden Earring’s “Radar Love,” which is quite a coincidence as they are also a Dutch band. Julian swaps 8-bar solos back and forth with Bakker’s Hammond organ, which fits in well with the rollicking theme of this tune. The band slows things down for the second song, “Did You Ever Wonder,” which is has a heavy intro but quickly settles down into a more accessible blues sound. Julian has great guitar chops, as you will hear from the ripping solo he fits in here, but he also has a pleasant voice with just a touch of a southern accent. All of the lyrics are in English, in case you were wondering…

There are a lot more tricks in this quartet’s bag, so the band easily avoids the trap of turning this disc into a monotonous time capsule where everything sounds the same. One example of this is “Fear of Falling,” an eclectic mix of soft blues and soaring minor chords with huge dynamic changes that set up a foreboding sense of drama. For good measure, Bakker inserts a slick jazz piano break that seems to come out of nowhere. They back this song up with a killer bit of southern rock, “Coming Home,” which includes a well-picked acoustic guitar interlude in an otherwise electric track. Then they lay down “End of the Line,” which gets hard in a hurry after the Dobro intro, and finally reaches its zenith with a fairly nuts organ solo, and an off-the-hook guitar solo. There is a little bit of everything on this album!

After a full set of their own brand of rock, the band closes things down with the slower-paced “Walking Home With Angels.” There are a few influences at play here, from the Jimi Hendrix guitar tone during the introduction to the Allman Brothers style vocals and organ. As with the rest of the album, the backline of Tahamata and Heinje keep the beat under control, and do a great job of bringing it home here.

For fans of 1970s AOR blues-rock, Julian Sas’ Coming Home is a dream come true. It is chock full of slick songs with tons of guitar work, heavy drums, and plenty of Hammond organ; all of it is played with the kind of skill that is developed from the experience of years of touring. If this is your bag, check it out for yourself so you can get a dose of this cool stuff, and if you are the United Kingdom, make sure you click on their gig schedule, as they will be doing quite a few shows there before the end of the year.

Friday, April 27, 2018

1996 Gibson SG Special Electric Guitar Review


In recent years I have had much better luck finding good playing SGs than Les Pauls, and the 1996 Gibson SG Special we are looking at today is no exception.

The Gibson SG is a classic guitar that was introduced in 1961 as a cheaper version of the Les Paul. It has not really changed much over the years, and to be honest I think they play a bit better (easier) than the Les Paul models. They have never been as popular as Les Pauls, and everybody thinks you want to be Angus Young or Tony Iommi when they see you playing one.

Now, the SG Special is a little bit different than the SG standard, which is what I have always owned in the past. It has the same Mahogany construction, nitrocellulose finish, green tulip button tuners, Tune-O-Matic bridge, and stop bar tailpiece. And it certainly has the distinctive SG profile.

But the factory simplified some of the construction to make this guitar more affordable, so there are some cosmetic differences. The pickups are uncovered, there is no binding on the neck, there are small plastic fretboard dots instead of trapezoid inlays, and the headstock has a silkscreened logo instead of the mother-of-pearl Gibson logo and flowerpot.

There is also a slight difference in the electronics package. SG Specials long ago abandoned the P-90s that they had in the 1960s, and this model uses a balanced set of alnico-magnet pickups: a 490R at the neck and a 490T at the bridge. You will find that the SG Standard also uses a 490R at the neck, but has a hotter 498T at the bridge. There is no difference in the controls, which includes individual pickup volume and tone controls and a three-way switch.

Enough of the history lesson – how is this guitar?

This particular instrument is a very well kept SG Special that was built at the Nashville factory in 1996, and is finished in glossy Cardinal Red over its mahogany body and neck. This is not too common, as it seems that almost every other SG I have see is wine red or black, and all of the specials have been black. Hmm.

The neck is what makes this SG very good, as they got this one right. The fretboard is true, and the frets are dead nuts level. The fret edges are smooth as silk, and the action is low and buzz free with Ernie Ball 0.010s. There is almost no wear to the frets, despite its age. It also sounds amazing, and I do not notice that the bridge humbucker is not as powerful as on the Standard models. That is what you have a volume control for, after all…

As I said this is guitar is in really good shape, and I would call it collector grade if people actually collected low-end model SGs. It has no scratches or dings, and over the past 22 years it has been spared the indignity of ill-advised modifications (brass nut, speed knobs, etc.). I also have a Les Paul Standard and an Explorer (plus Japanese clones of all 3), and this is by far the best player of the bunch.

So, if you are looking for a good Gibson electric, think about extending your search beyond the sexier Les Paul models, and give a SG a try. You might like it!


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Cécile Doo-Kingué – Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues


This CD review was originally published in the July 7, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Cécile Doo-Kingué – Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues

Self Release

12 tracks / 53:20

Cécile Doo-Kingué has got a lot going in her favor: she has a unique voice and killer guitar chops, a tremendous sense of musical history and social conscience, and mad songwriting skills. Making her own way in the world, she moved from the Big Apple to the City of Lights before choosing to ply her trade in Montreal, Canada. Her latest album, Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues, is the most compelling disc to make its way across my desk this year, and it has to be heard to be believed.

This record is a continuation of last year’s Anybody Listening Part 1: Monologues, which was a solo acoustic project. As you will hear, Dialogues was cut with a full band, and there are plans for a part 3, Communion, which will be a live album. Part 2 includes a dozen tracks, all of which were written by Cecilé, with the exception of one Hendrix cover. Five of these songs appeared on Monologues and have been rearranged, which provides a cool bit of continuity. Ms. Doo-Kingué handled the vocals (as well as a great deal of the guitar, bass, and percussion), and she was joined by a baker’s dozen of musicians in the studio.

The album gets a strong start with some raunchy slide guitar and distorted vocals on “Riot and Revolution,” a song of social unease. The backline of Fredy V. on bass and Anthony Pageot sets up a driving beat, and the backing vocals from Malika Tirolean and Fredy on the chorus are infectious. CDK’s guitar work is very tight, and her inclusion of Reveille in the middle of her solo break indicates that maybe it is time for mankind to wake up and start doing something.

After the opener, Doo-Kingué takes another shot at four of the tracks from Part 1, and they all take on a different character when being converted from an acoustic format to an electrified band sound. It is neat that these songs have subjects that cover a wide range of situations that we encounter in one way or another in our lives. “Sweet Talkin’ Devil” is a thumping southern rocker that describes carnal longing and temptation. This is a cool contrast from the social disconnection that is run down in the jazzy “Anybody Listening,” which features bass from Cedric Dind-Lavoie and guitar from Daniel Joseph, as well as backing vocals from Nadia Bashalani and Wayne Tennant. Then there is the dichotomy of the humorous lyrics and funky blues-rock of “Little Bit” and the heavy message of “Six Letters” which examines the dysfunction that led to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

These songs are very good, but the new material for Dialogues is also rock solid. The standout track of these is “Sunshine Lady” which has a lot going on in the guitar department. Doo-Kingué has a fine acoustic touch, and adds tasteful electric riffs as needed as well as a sweet solo towards the end to counter Tirolean’s backing vocal calisthenics. Cécile’s voice also shows a lot of character here, moving from a smooth tenor to falsetto with ease.

Cécile saved the lone cover for last, and it is a neat re-do of Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 classic, “Manic Depression.” Her arrangement is uptempo and includes some elements of the original, most notably the jazz style drumming and the doubled guitar and bass lines. But the vocal style and melody are cool departures from the original, turning a heavy rocker into a funkfest.

Anybody Listening Part 2: Dialogues is a bold project, and Cécile Doo-Kingué pulled it off well. Though it has varied musical styles and subject matter, this album works well as a whole and every track is intriguing. It will be interesting to see how the material from this disc and Part 1 will be interpreted on the stage for Part 3. In the meantime, Cécile has a very busy summer, with shows and festivals scheduled all over Canada – so see her website for details!

Fender JB75-90 1975 Reissue Jazz Bass Review


My friends know that I really like Japanese guitars, particularly those that were produced by Fender of Japan. Today we am looking at a gorgeous original Japanese series 1975 re-issue Fender Jazz Bass, model JB 75-90. This is a very nice example with a N prefix serial number, probably from 1995. This model was never intended to be exported into the United States, and my friend Graham in Tokyo found it for me.

The original 3-tone sunburst finish pops really nicely. It is in good condition with just a few light dings and chips. It is honest wear, and has not been abused. This one never had a bridge cover installed, so there are none of the extra holes on the front that you will see on a lot of these. Overall, this thing is pretty clean.

The bound neck and frets are in great shape. These are the original frets, and 23 years into their life they are still level, and show surprisingly little wear. You can feel the edges of the walnut stringer on the back of the neck, which is not terribly unusual, as it did not shrink as much as maple did over the years. That is a little annoying, but I am willing to live with it.

The fit and finish on Fender Japan instruments is indeed better than any US-made ones of the same vintage. The fretwork, neck pocket tightness, and every other detail are executed with pinpoint precision. It has the larger vintage-style tuners, not the ones with smaller plates that Fender Japan sometimes used. This bass exudes a very classic, vintage look.

This particular bass has the normal 1975 Fender Jazz Bass pickup configuration, unlike some that have a 60s-type bridge pickup placement. It appears to be all-original. It has not been modified or repaired in any way, as far as I can tell. It plays absolutely killer, and sounds incredible. It far outshines any of the blocked and bound Geddy Lee Artist Model basses I have seen and played. My tech recently set it up with Ernie Ball flats.

The only gripe I have with these basses are their weight. I have yet to see one that weighs less than 10 pounds, and this example weighs in at nearly 11 pounds. There must have a lot of quality jammed in there…


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Jackson Whites – Hard Luck Stories

Good day!

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

The Jackson Whites – Hard Luck Stories

Jersey Delta Records

12 tracks / 59:11

When folks talk about Delta music they are usually referring to the Mississippi River Delta, so it is a change of pace to receive an album of new music from the New Jersey Delta. Maybe (like me) you did not know that there is a rich music scene to be found there, but fine musicians such as harmonica ace Rob Paparozzi, Al Chez (David Letterman Orchestra), Pat DiNizio (The Smithereens), Glen Burtnik (ELO and Styx), and Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz) all hail from the Delta.

Hard Luck Stories is the debut CD from The Jackson Whites, a loose collaborative of musicians from the New Jersey Delta. Over the course of five years, more than 25 musicians (most of them locals) recorded the dozen tracks on this album. This project was produced by two native sons, Benny Harrison and Bob Zaleski, and was fronted by Robert Van Kull, who wrote all of the songs. Their music is pure Americana, meaning that there are many diverse influences to be found here: blues, folk, country, rock, mountain music, and maybe even Irish drinking songs for good measure. Blending all of these together with smart and witty lyrics results in a powerful piece of work.

“Water,” the first track, has an upbeat melody that contrasts well with Van Kull’s earthy vocal style. There are elements of folk, bluegrass, Louisiana roots thanks to layers of guitars and peppy accordion as played by Kraig Greff. The lyrics are sharp and locally inspired, and in the chorus you will hear a style that is repeated throughout the disc as there are group vocals and harmonies that tie the song together (in this case from Harrison and Leslie Wagner). This segues into “Hard Luck Story,” a light rocker with organ from Harrison and a mandolin break from Jeff Hemmerlin that lends a Tom Petty/Springsteen vibe to the song. Burtnik lays down the bass line for this one, and pitches in on the backing vocals. One of the best lines from the album can heard here: “I’m a hard luck story, I wrote it page by page, I built it bar by bar like an iron cage.”

Ron Paparozzi appears on “Rhythm,” a neat bit of hard rock with distorted guitars and cool harmonica accents. I have to agree with Van Kull that “Rhythm is the hardest word to spell,” but instead of spelling it out the Jackson Whites make it happen with a great backline and solid drumming. You will not usually hear harmonica on songs like this, but Rob does a great job of working it in. He also appears on “Pagan Blues,” a song that provides a heavy dose of today’s reality. The laconic drawl that the lyrics are delivered in also give a bit of a folk or country feel to this blues-rock tune.

The standout track from Hard Luck Stories is “My Laotian Bride” which has a loping folk vibe that starts out with the fiddle introduction from Tim Carbone. This is not the most complicated music in the world, but it is a catchy tune and the narrative is breathtakingly honest and vivid. It details a young woman’s assimilation into American culture, to the point where “she’s as Jersey as a tool booth, never tells the whole truth…” Amen.

The second half of the album is as solid as the first, with some fabulous horns from Brian Benninghove, Al Chez, and Nick Finzer on the super-funky “Yesternight.” To finish the set, the band chose “The Road in the Waxing Moon,” a countrified acoustic song with lovely vocal harmonies, and a bit more pedal steel from Jim Ryan and fiddle from Carbone. This is a cool way to bring a really different album to a close.

Listening to Hard Luck Stories as a whole, it is hard to believe that it took over half a decade to record it as everything sounds like it was cut at the same time. All of the songs have a similar feel and they flow seamlessly from one to another to form a single entity. The lyrics can be gritty and raw at times, but the stories are full of truth and are drawn directly from soul of the Garden State. Head to Jersey Delta Records website to learn some history, and to check out The Jackson Whites for yourself.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pet Peeve: Tremolo and Vibrato are NOT the Same Thing


A slight rant for today, as I hear the terms tremolo and vibrato used interchangeably. Here is the gist of it: tremolo modifies volume and vibrato modifies pitch.

To obtain a tremolo effect, the amplitude of an incoming signal raises and lowers (oscillates), so the listener hears a pulsing wave of sound. Depending on the size of the amplitude (how high the waves and troughs are), a tremolo can be heard as a gentle throb or it can be like the volume is turned on and off rapidly.

To get a vibrato effects, the frequency of the it’s the frequency of the signal needs to be raised or lowered, or goes sharp and flat. This can result in otherworldly cool sounds. If you have ever seen a violinist wiggling his or her left hand on the fingerboard – that is what vibrato is all about.

That is it, the rant is over. If only amp and guitar manufacturers could figure this out…


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Time Gap – Flashback


This CD review was originally published in the June 23, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Time Gap – Flashback

Self Release

7 tracks / 28:28

The members of Pennsylvania’s Time Gap have something special going on. Their debut EP, Flashback, is seven tracks of original blues music that are infused with bits of jazz to provide a cool twist. The other cool twist is that after hearing their work, it is hard to believe that all four of the band’s members are still in high school. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, as they recently represented the City of Brotherly Love in the Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge, so they are definitely on the blues scene radar now!

Time Gap is led by guitarist Radka Kasparcova, along with vocalist Sophie Griffiths, Miles Burger on bass, and Noah Bryant behind the drum kit. These folks are influenced by The Allman Brothers, BB King, and Buddy Guy, and often perform songs from these artists at their shows, but this disc is all about their original music. As there are only seven songs on this half hour album, following is a rundown for each of them.

The first song in their set is “So Many People,” an up-tempo blues song with jazz inspired vocals and guitar. Griffiths has a sweet alto voice with good inflection as she obsesses over a man and sees his face everywhere she goes. Burger has a great tone and thump to his double bass, and holds down a solid beat with Bryant. The mood changes with the next tune, “Rain on My Parade,” which is a frenzied boogie with Kasparcova taking a strong lead on her guitar. This song would be a great calling card for any of the members as they each get a chance to show off their talents.

Then, with “New and True,” the band gets to take a bit of a breather with a jazzy ballad that tells the story of a woman who has to know where she stands. For this mellow tune, Griffiths maintains an edge to her voice, which provides contrast that keeps the mood from getting overly sweet – this is the blues, you know. Radka does extended work with her heavily processed guitar tone, and (as with the rest of the disc) she plays with wonderful touch. She also provides layers of acoustic and Hawaiian guitar for “Two Way Street,” which is a really cool combination. This song has a neat change of pace midway through, which is something this band is not afraid to try on a few of the tracks.

“Did you break my heart or did you spare me?” is the question that is asked in “Thursday,” a slick funk track that is very catchy and listenable. This song features a tastefully restrained guitar solo plus a few righteous bass and drum breaks from Burger and Bryant that bring it together well. There is also 12-bar blues to be found, and “As Time Rolls On” changes up this proven formula with a Latin beat and an extended instrumental interlude halfway through. Then, before you know it, the set wraps up with another ballad, “Simple.” Griffiths cements her role as a chanteuse as she pines for that which she has not and the group uses drastic dynamic and mood changes with this song to effectively create drama and to bring the story home.

Time Gap’s Flashback EP is a solid debut of all original material, and it is impressive that this quartet did not stuff any superfluous covers into the mix. Groups like this are the future of blues music and will act as a bridge to entice younger listeners into the genre. Hopefully they are working on more material for a follow-up, and in the meantime check out their Facebook page to check out their schedule of gigs around the Philadelphia area.