Monday, April 23, 2018

Pet Peeve: Tremolo and Vibrato are NOT the Same Thing

p>Greetings!

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…

Mahalo!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Time Gap – Flashback

Hello!

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 www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Time Gap – Flashback

Self Release

www.facebook.com/timegap1

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.

Review: Randall RX15M Practice Guitar Amplifier

Aloha!

There is no shortage of modern practice amplifiers on the market for around $100, and pretty much all of them sound good and have a ton of features for the price. Randall has entered this market with what they call the RX15MBC, or the RX15M, as it says on the front of the amp. I had the chance to examine and try one out at this year’s Winter NAMM show, and it will pretty much get the job done. You know, this is the first time I have ever reviewed any Randall product on my blog…

The RX15M is a nice-looking piece of equipment, with black Tolex covering and macho black-chrome steel grille. It is super-portable, measuring around 13x13x8 inches, and weighing in at around 14 pounds; there is a beefy handle on top for toting it around. I have no idea what the cabinet is made of, but at this price I would assume MDF (and if it was solid wood Randall surely would include that in their literature).

Looking at the controls on the front, there is nothing for this segment except for it being equipped with dual channels. The clean channel gets a level control and the overdrive channel gets a gain control, a level control, and a boost switch. The two channels are switched by a button on the front (but no footswitch). The rest of the control include a 3-band EQ and a master volume control. There is not much to report other than a ¼-inch headphone jack and the illuminated power switch.

The back side of the RX15M is fairly barren, with the exception of Tape/CD RCA input jacks. Really – Tape and CD? “1985 called and they want to know why this amp has such an anachronistic label.” Jesus.

Performance-wise, this Randall puts out 15 watts into a 6.5-inch 8-Ohm“Jaguar-voiced” speaker. This combo does not get super loud, nor should it, and it is pretty much limited to bedroom use. That being said, it does sound really good, with a warm clean channel and an especially crunchy distortion channel. This is a metalhead teenaged kid’s dream, and it would be awesome for jamming out to Metallica while watching your brother play Call of Duty.

Randall describes the RX15M as “delightful,” which might be a tad ambitious. It is nice and seems well-built, and it sounds great which are all pluses in my book. Downsides are that there is no footswitch (or even a jack for one), RCA jacks are ridiculous choice for an auxiliary input, and there is no onboard signal processing. There is a lot of competition in the market at this price range, so if you are in the market you will need to compare features and decide if it is worth the $99.99 street price to pick one up. Maybe they will be on sale for Christmas like everything else at Guitar Center.

Mahalo!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the June 9, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Toronzo Cannon – The Chicago Way

Alligator Records

www.toronzocannon.com

www.alligator.com

11 tracks / 51:40

If you were to write a novel about a modern day Chicago bluesman, it would be hard to find a better model than Toronzo Cannon. He grew up on the South Side, and as a child he would idle near Theresa’s Lounge where he could hear legends such as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells through the open door. Cannon got started on the guitar at 22, and after a brief foray into the world of Reggae he gravitated towards the blues music he heard on the street and in his grandfather’s home. His influences of Buddy Guy, Alert King, Freddie King, and Albert King (among others) can still be heard in the music he writes and plays today.

Though Toronzo maintains a day job as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, his nights and vacation days are free to pursue the blues, which he has been working hard at since 1992 as both a sideman and a bandleader. His career has included nine appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival, and tours of Europe, the Americas, and South Africa. Cannon’s fourth album (and first with Alligator Records) is The Chicago Way, and he once again demonstrates that he is a modern day blues master.

This disc includes eleven tracks, all self-written, and Toronzo handles the vocals and guitars. He was joined by a fine group of musicians, including Pete Galanis on rhythm guitar, Larry Williams on bass, Melvin Carlisle on drums, and Brother John Kattke on the keys. Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer co-produced this album with Cannon, and the results are solid. Subjects covered within include the blues staples of love and loss (as well as infidelity), and a few tracks about the society we live in and finding hope for the future. Toronzo’s day job must give him a lot of material to work with.

Things get started with a bang with “The Pain Around Me,” a socially relevant tune that provides a glimpse into the Chicago that Toronzo sees on a daily basis, and he takes on religious leaders, politicians, and the general depravity of man. This is a fat chunk of heavy blues-rock that gives Cannon a chance to shine on both the vocals and his guitar. It is also a cool showcase of the incredible bad, with heavy drums, popping bass, and loads of Hammond B3.

There is a lot of blues-rock and rhythm and blues on this disc, but there are a few tracks that have more of the Chicago blues sound that one would expect from Toronzo. One of these is “Walk it Off,” a slow roller with searing guitar, wonderful piano, and aggressive bass from Williams. This is a song of love that has gone truly wrong, and there are more than enough disagreements to be resolved. Another wonderful Chicago track is “Mrs. From Mississippi,” which is a rollicking tune will trick rhythms and phrasing. From his description, this lady sounds like a keeper, and it nice to have one song on this album where there is not any drama (other than Cannon’s smoking guitar, of course).

Cannon calls on the horn section of Doug Corcoran, Steve Eisen, and Robert Collazo for two of the tracks. “Fine Seasoned Woman” is told from the player’s point of view, and extols the virtues of more mature women, with a big band sound behind him. But it is important to keep in minds that this is a two-way street, and the “seasoned woman wants a man, not a fool.” And “Midlife Crisis” features more of well-arranged horns, but this time with a nice dollop of Kattke’s electric piano. A nice twist on this tale is that the narrator allows that his wife is going through the same angst, and for some reason he is surprised when he discovers she is stepping out on him too!

The set finishes up with “I Am,” which brings acoustic guitar in for the introduction then quickly morphs into a serious blues rock song with a modern sound and a serious dose of Cannon’s killer guitar tone. This coda to the album is sung with passion and has a mature message of resisting the temptations of the world. Melon “Honeydew” Lewis, who has a breathtakingly lovely voice, provides amazing punctuation and soul to this final production.

The Chicago Way is a smart album of original contemporary blues songs with just enough of the Windy City charm. Toronzo Cannon has a great band, a unique voice, and a guitar style that ensure that he will be a contributor to the progress of blues in the states for years to come. Check it out for yourself, and be sure to find his website and see if he is playing any shows near you (including the Chicago Blues Festival in June). It will definitely be worth your time!

Review: RapcoHorizon V-Cable Guitar Cable

Howdy!

The new RapcoHorizon volume control cable (V-Cable) is a great concept, as it takes the ordinary guitar cable and adds a knob to control volume and a mute position that allows the player to unplug without sending that earth-shattering pop through the PA system. This is a godsend to acoustic performers who do not have volume controls on their instruments, as well as instrumentalists that want to change instruments during a set without turning their amp off.

The V-Cable is available in 10’, 18’ and 25’ lengths, and they cost quite a bit more than a conventional cable, ranging in price from $46.99 to $51.99. So how do they perform?

I got two of these to try out, and they worked very well. It was really handy to have a volume control for my Martin, and I found that I used the mute setting quite a bit on my electric basses so I did not have to monkey around with my volume setting on the instrument between songs. But…

Unfortunately they both kind of crapped out within a few moths of starting to use them. One started making a popping noise if the cable was moved near the instrument end, and the other one makes a terrible scratching noise whenever the volume knob is turned – this is really obvious on an acoustic guitar. Fortunately there is a limited lifetime warranty, so I guess I will see how they support their product, but otherwise I am going to have to say steer clear of the V-Cable until they get this figured out.

Sorry!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Shaun Murphy – It Won’t Stop Raining

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the May 5, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Shaun Murphy – It Won’t Stop Raining

Vision Wall Records

www.shaunmurphyband.com

www.last.fm/label/Vision+Wall+Records

11 tracks / 45:39

Shaun Murphy has an impressive career and body of work that few other modern blues artists can match. Growing up in Detroit, she was recruited by Bob Seger for his band in the 1970s, and has been touring with him for nearly 40 years. Along the way she was with Little Feat for 15 years, as well having the opportunity to work with Eric Clapton in the studio and on tour back in the 1990s. Shaun has a huge list of A-list artists that she has worked with and she is an awesome rock singer, but her solo blues work is equally impressive. This is no surprise, as her influences include Big Mama Thornton, Koko Taylor, and Etta James.

Murphy has recorded seven discs so far, including the very well received Ask for the Moon, which earned her two Blues Blast Music Awards and three Grammy nominations. Shaun’s latest album, It Won’t Stop Raining, is a real corker with 11 blues tracks that are pretty well evenly divided between originals and covers. She recorded this project with her touring band, including Kenne Cramer and Shawn Starski on guitar, Larry Van Loon and John Wallum on keys, John Marcus on bass, and Tom DelRossi behind the drum kit. These pros hold a tight groove, and aced every track at Colemine Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.

The voyage gets underway with “Spreadin’ the News,” and this shuffle is a perfect preview of what to expect from this disc. This is almost like a vocal audition for Murphy: she gets to show off her impressive range and her ability to sing powerfully, both smoothly and with an edge. The band also passes their audition, as the backline of Marcus and DelRossi nail down the beat and the keys and guitars wail with furious abandon. This leads straight into a cool twist (or maybe a cruel twist) on the jilted lover theme, a cover of Denise LaSalle’s 1995 tune, “Your Husband is Cheatin’ on Us.” As you will hear, most of the songs on this album are about relationships, both good and bad. That is what the blues are all about…

The title track is all about the mood, and “It Won’t Stop Raining,” is a haunting R&B ballad with pretty guitar arpeggios and a few layers of keyboards. The band uses key and dynamic changes to create a sense of tension that keeps things interesting until the end. Likewise, “Need You Love So Bad” allows Shaun to dig deep with its gospel-infuse vocals, but this time with the guitars getting a few of the leads. This is the oldest track on It Won’t Stop Raining, originally released by Little Willie John in 1956.

Murphy included a pair of covers from E.G. Kight’s excellent 2011 album, Lip Service. “Happy with the One I Got Now” is a slow-grinding tune with the guitars and bass far forward in the mix, and Shaun does a wonderful job of phrasing the verses so that the drama builds naturally. And “That’s How a Woman Loves” is a lovely piece of rhythm and blues that lets Murphy take the center stage. She really shines on these heartfelt ballads, and her vocals are stunning, to say the least.

There are also a couple of covers that were written by Caligator’s Corky Newman. One is a hard-hitting rocker, and “Running Out Of Time” features howling vocals from Shaun, a pair of awesome guitar solos, and plenty of punchy drums from DelRossi. The other is the closer, and “Fool for You” is built on a funk base with tasteful guitars and organ accompanying Murphy as she gets the last word, “cause everybody knows I’m a fool for you.”

There are no surprises with Shaun Murphy’s It Won’t Stop Raining, as her fans expect her to provide a first-rate performance, and she does not disappoint (as always). If you are looking for blues that is sung with powerful passion, you need look no further – this is the real deal, and you should pick up a copy of your own!

The Beatles’ 50th Anniversary Release of Yellow Submarine

Buenos dias, amigos!

I received the press release, and am actually excited to see Yellow Submarine in the theatre, though I must admit that when I saw it as a child I was reeeeeeally unimpressed…

NEW YORK / LONDON / LOS ANGELES – APRIL 04, 2018 – Abramorama announced today a deal with Apple Corps Ltd. and Universal Music Group (UMG) to theatrically release The Beatles’ classic 1968 animated feature film, Yellow Submarine, across North America this July in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Abramorama, Apple Corps Ltd. and UMG have teamed to give Beatles fans of all ages the opportunity to come together and share in this visually stunning movie and soundtrack. Abramorama originally partnered with Apple Corps, Imagine Entertainment, White Horse Pictures, StudioCanal and UMG’s Polygram Entertainment on the Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. Abramorama has a proven track record in the music-driven film space, partnering numerous times with Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Green Day and now once again with Apple Corps Ltd.

Yellow Submarine was restored in 4K digital resolution by Paul Rutan Jr. and his team of specialists at Triage Motion Picture Services and Eque Inc. The film’s songs and score were remixed in 5.1 stereo surround sound at UMG’s Abbey Road Studios by music mix engineer Peter Cobbin. Due to the delicate nature of the hand-drawn original artwork, no automated software was used in the digital clean-up of the film’s restored photochemical elements. This was all done by hand, frame by frame.

Richard Abramowitz, CEO of Abramorama said, “We’re thrilled to have the privilege of bringing Yellow Submarine back to the big screen so that 3 generations of happy Beatles fans can enjoy the ground-breaking animation and classic tunes and that have long been part of our collective cultural DNA.”

Directed by George Dunning, and written by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal, Yellow Submarine began its voyage to the screen when Brodax, who had previously produced nearly 40 episodes of ABC’s animated Beatles TV series, approached The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein with a unique vision for a full-length animated feature.

Yellow Submarine, based upon a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, is a fantastic tale brimming with peace, love, and hope, propelled by Beatles songs, including “Eleanor Rigby,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “It’s All Too Much.” When the film debuted in 1968, it was instantly recognized as a landmark achievement, revolutionizing a genre by integrating the freestyle approach of the era with innovative animation techniques.

Inspired by the generation’s new trends in art, the film resides with the dazzling Pop Art styles of Andy Warhol, Martin Sharp, Alan Aldridge and Peter Blake. With art direction and production design by Heinz Edelmann, Yellow Submarine is a classic of animated cinema, featuring the creative work of animation directors Robert Balser and Jack Stokes with a team of animators and technical artists.”

Mahalo!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blood Moon

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the April 28, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blood Moon

Underworld Records

www.tooslim.org

www.underworldindierecords.com

10 tracks / 44:37

If you have not heard of Too Slim and the Taildraggers it is not their fault, as they have done a great job of getting their music out to the masses over the past 30 years. Their efforts have included countless shows, 13 studio albums, 5 live albums, and 2 compilations, so there is plenty of their music out there for you to choose from.

Originally based in the Pacific Northwest, this trio now works out of Nashville, with Tim “Too Slim” Langford on guitar, Robert Kearns on bass, and Jeff Fowlkes on drums (Kearns and Fowlkes also contribute backing vocals). This group has a distinctively hard blues-rock vibe, and though there are some pretty obvious influences in play here, the sound they end up with is all their own.

By now these guys have figured out how to put together a solid record, and Blood Moon is a slick piece of work. All ten tracks are originals that were written by the band, and a few of the tunes fall into the album rock 7-minute range. This project is mixed and mastered well thanks to Michael Saint-Leon who took care of the recording at The Switchyard in Nashville, so all of the basic stuff is taken care of.

The band’s 45-minute set starts strong with “Evil Mind” which sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Though there are only three members in the group they do a great job of filling the stage with a sweet bass ostinato over heavy drums, and background vocal harmonies on the chorus. Langford is a searing guitar hero, and he tears off a couple of epic solo breaks. After this ends there is a neat bit of 1970s-inspired psychedelic AOR blues-rock, and Too Slim does a fine job of channeling his inner Robin Trower with the slow grinding “Blood Moon.” This blues jam has all the right components, including distinctive doubled guitar and bass and a healthy dose of heavy ride cymbal.

“Twisted Rails” brings a lot to the table. It is heavy funk with a touch of psychedelia and strategically placed harmonizing. The lead vocals dig a little deeper and are more aggravated, and Langford brings his wah pedal into play as he lays down more killer guitar leads. This is all good, but the real story is Fowlkes’ drum kit, as at times the final product is more like a drum solo that has a song written over it. After five minutes of this, the tune changes into a more traditional blue rocker for the final few minutes, which is a pretty cool change-up.

But there is more than British invasion blues rock and 1970s sounds going on here, as the Taildraggers also nail down a respectable country rocker with the highly contagious “Get Your Goin’ Out On.” Then there is the bluesy power rock ballad, “Gypsy,” with its heavy backbeat, and the hard-rocking “Good Guys Win” with its insane bass parts from Kearns. Then there is the final track, an instrumental reprise, and “Twisted Rails (Slight Return)” proves to be an interesting coda to an impressive collection of tunes.

These songs are all solid, but there are a few standouts on this disc. The first is “My Body” with its layers of acoustic and processed electric guitars. It has a softer feel with melodic Gary Moore-esque leads that contrast nicely with the raspy vocals. The other is “Letter,” which defies attempts to stick it into any one genre. It is a hard-driving tune with a raunchy intro over a 12-bar blues base and vintage rock do-wop backing vocals. Intermittent surf rock themes give it a fun vibe, which may seem weird on paper but it works marvelously through the speakers.

It should also be mentioned that the band has included liner notes complete with lyrics for the songs, which is almost unheard of these days. This is a nice touch that a lot of bands no longer bother to deal with, and the Taildraggers’ efforts are appreciated.

Too Slim and the Taildraggers’ Blood Moon is a hard set with blues, rock, and country influences, and the songs are well integrated into a single entity. It is some of their best studio work yet, and their live show is equally enthralling. Be sure to check out their website, as they have a lot of gigs coming up throughout the spring and summer, as this trio has to be seen to be believed!

Yamaha EMX512SC Powered Mixer Review

Greetings!

I mostly use powered speakers for gigs, as I my QSC K10s and K12s are loud and bulletproof, but for smaller gigs (i.e. karaoke parties) sometimes it is easier to not have to run extension cords to the speakers, so there is still a place in my world for an powered mixer with passive loudspeakers. This is why I am hanging on to my Yamaha EMX512SC mixer. You have certainly seen this same mixer being used by bar bands all over the world.

The EMX512SC is a 12-channel mixer, even though it only has 8 faders. In Yamaha math they count inputs with stereo channels twice, but either way, that is enough for whatever I am going to do with this thing. This mixer has dual 500 watt amps (max at 4 ohms), so it is plenty loud for most small to medium sized shows. It is a nice looking piece with a nubbly plastic case with built in handles, and it measures 18x12x11 inches, and weighs in at under 20 pounds. It is kind of a big box with a beveled edge on the back so it can be tilted up, or there are a couple of included plugs that keep it from tilting back if that is what you prefer. Those plugs always get lost.

The back of the mixer has an IEC power cable socket and a pair of output jacks, which include both ¼-inch and Speakon jacks.

The front side of the EMX512SC is a lot more complicated, but that is because it is chock full of features. The input channels each have a 3-band EQ, and there are 4 for monaural microphone (with phantom power and one-knob compression) or line input, and 4 pairs that can function either as monaural microphone inputs or stereo line inputs (2 with ¼-inch jacks and 2 with RCA jacks). There are also separate 7-band graphic EQs for both the main and monitor power channels.

Another neat feature is the power mode switch which allows the two amps to function in stereo, or as separate mono channels for mains and monitor. And one of my favorite features is the surprisingly useful knob that controls 16 SPX digital effects including reverb, echo, chorus, flanger, and phaser. The effects knob has its own level control and ON/OFF switch.

I run the EMX512SC with my low-tech Yamaha A12 loudspeakers, and this combo is definitely up to the task. This set-up has a warm sound that I never have found with the QSCs, and there are surprisingly good bass and mids for 12-inch speakers. This whole thing gets plenty loud without distorting - I consider Yamaha to be a solid brand, and these speakers meet my expectations every time. BTW, all I use are Yamaha mixers, and they have never let me down.

I believe this model has been discontinued, but if you vcan find one the Yamaha EMX512SC powered mixer sells for around $599 new each from most online sellers, and around $400 used. It sounds good, has good power output and features, and is plenty durable. What more could you ask for?

Mahalo!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Georgie Bonds – Hit it Hard

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the May 19, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Georgie Bonds – Hit it Hard

Roadhouse Redemption Records

www.georgiebonds.com

www.roadhouseredemption.com

11 tracks / 54:46

Georgie Bonds knows a thing or two about the blues, even though this was not the music he was brought up with. Blues grows from adversity, and Bonds has had more than his share of medical troubles, and growing up in Philadelphia he managed to find himself a bit of trouble too. These things have made him the man he is today, and he discovered a path in life that included learning the blacksmith trade and becoming a member of the Black Cowboys, an organization that helps kids from tough neighborhoods. His career as a blues singer came later in life and he has done well with it, earning a well-deserved place in the Pennsylvania Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.

Georgie’s third album, Hit it Hard, is mostly filled with originals that were written by Bonds and his friends; these guys include producer and guitarist Neil Taylor, and the harp-playing executive producer, Buddy Cleveland. These songs cover quite the gamut of subjects, but a few of them draw directly from Georgie’s life experiences. This trio was joined in the studio by a core band of Andy Haley on drums, Rick Prince on bass, and Walter Runge on keys.

First in the set list is “Pickin’ Your Bones,” which was featured on Sonny Rhodes’ 1996 album, Out of Control. Rhodes is Bond’s mentor, and this is a tasty piece of funky blues. You will find that Georgie has the strong voice of a younger man, with just a touch of weathering to keep things interesting. The backline is tight, with Haley hitting the drums hard and Prince keeping perfect time. On this song Cleveland shares the leads on his harmonica and Taylor throws down a well-crafted and slightly distorted guitar solo. These guys can rock!

There are just a few other covers on Hit it Hard. Sam Taylor’s “Not Tired of Living” is a bouncy rocker with slick organ fills from Runge and a scorching guitar solo from Neil Taylor, not to mention a fun vocal finale that brings everybody into the act. The other is “The Soul of a Man,” written by Blind Willie Johnson, and this is a healthy dose of slow rolling southern blues-rock that is sung with passion and clarity.

As you will hear, Georgie brings many different genres to this disc, and the fun and funky dance track, “Let’s Get Down,” works on many levels. He recruited a pair of talented local sax players, Vanessa Collier and Dave Renz, and they do a sweet job of completing the picture for this track. There is also a well-placed call and response that contributes to the rowdy party vibe. The sax team comes back for “Blues Job” lending a little jazz feel to a tune that is peppered with fat bass and nifty electric piano. Though he is a jack-of-all-trades, Georgie is no stranger to the 12-bar blues, and his team knocks out “Come Back Baby,” featuring brief but tasty piano and harmonica breaks.

On the more serious side of things, Mr. Bonds includes a couple of tunes about being incarcerated: the slow grinding “Paid Vacation” and “Another Year,” a song of reflection. The latter closes out the set, and it turns out that this was the first song Georgie ever wrote (in a federal prison, actually). He howls the lyrics out over a slow-rocking melancholy melody with Cleveland providing just enough harp to make the mood. For a song that comes in under three minutes there is a lot going on here, as there are plenty of tempo and dynamic changes until it abruptly ends. This is both cool and dramatic.

Georgie Bonds’ Hit it Hard is a solid effort of blues-based music, and his honesty and upbeat spirit are quite engaging. He has a few shows coming up, but you will have to be around the City of Brotherly Love to take advantage of them. Head on over to his website to see what is going on with him and to support a local bluesman who is doing good work!

2003 Fender TL52-SPL Telecaster MIJ Review

Howdy!

The Fender Telecaster has been around for 60 years, but I still think of it as the ultimate electric guitar, and if I could only have one guitar it would have to be a Telecaster. Of course I have a many guitars, but there is no good reason for me to have more than one Tele, but one of the ones I have chosen to keep is this 2003 Fender Telecaster TL52-SPL. This is a guitar that was made by Fender’s Japanese subsidiary, and it is kind of a nod to Keith Richard’s iconic Micawber guitar.

If you are not familiar with Keith’s guitar, it is a truly a one-of-a-kind, and mysteries about what parts were used to build it. It started out as a 1952 to 1954 (nobody is really sure of the year) butterscotch Fender Telecaster, and it has been routed at the neck for a humbucker, which is generally held to be a Gibson PAF. The pickup is installed backwards so that the pole pieces are closer to the bridge. The bridge pickup is from a Fender lap steel with only two mounting holes for the screws. I think he uses the stock 3-way switch configuration.

The bridge on Mr. Richard’s guitar is a six-saddle solid brass unit, probably from an old Schecter. The low E-string is left off, so the saddle has been taken off too. He tunes it to open G with 0.011, 0.015, 0.018, 0.030 and 0.042 gauge strings. His tuners have been replaced as well.

Supposedly he named his guitar after a character from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (the one that ended up in a debtor’s prison), believe it or not. Anyway, it seems like everybody out there has tried to build one of these, and the specs for them are all over the place, which seems like a good place to start talking about my guitar.

This one was built by the Fender Japan Custom Shop in 2003, as model TL52-SPL, so they chose to base this guitar on a 1952 Telecaster spec. It has a white ash body with a clear blonde finish that allows the grain to show through. It has darkened over the last 15 years and gotten some bumps and bruises so it has a nice vintage vibe to it. It has a simple single-ply flat black pickguard.

They did not go for the early 1950s V profile, but rather with a chunky C profile neck with a 1950’s type spaghetti logo on the headstock. This one shows honest wear here and there, but there are still a few years left in the original frets. They chose to install Gotoh sealed back tuners, which work very well, but I am not sure how they match up with what is on the original guitar.

The bridge is a modern chrome piece with block-style saddles, so it does not match up with the brass piece found on Mr. Richards’ guitars, or many of the other Japanese copies. This should be easy enough to fix. .

The pickups are a Fender Dragster humbucker at the neck and a traditional vintage single coil at the bridge. I went ahead and turned the neck pickup around so the pole pieces are closer to the bridge; there was plenty of wire to do this without any problems. I would really like to try out a PAF re-issue to see how it changes to tone on this beast.

Fender’s Japanese subsidiary has a legendary quality reputation. This one has been played for a few decades, so the finish has dulled but it is still a solidly built guitar that will be around for another twenty years. It is not too heavy for a Telecaster, coming in at around 8 pounds, which is pretty ok.

It came to me with 0.009s, and it just did not sound right. I now have it set up in normal tuning with 0.010 Slinkies and it sounds and plays marvelously. The neck humbucker really provides a lot more body to the tone, but as I said earlier I would really like to see how a PAF sounds in this thing, as well as a brass bridge.

These were never imported to the US, so if you want one like this you will have to find one from a Japanese seller on eBay, or build your own. This might be a good place to start!

Mahalo!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Blue Largo – Sing Your Own Blues

Hello!

This CD review was originally published in the May 19, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at www.bluesblastmagazine.com

Blue Largo – Sing Your Own Blues

Self Release

www.bluelargoblues.com

14 tracks / 60:44

The story behind the third Blue Largo album, Sing Your Own Blues, is inspiring, to say the least. This San Diego, California group has been together since 1999, fronted by Alicia Aragon on vocals with Eric Lieberman on guitar. They have a passion for the sounds of the 1940s and 1950s, and their first two albums were tributes to classic blues tunes. Eric had a major setback in 2006 when a disorder seriously hindered his ability to play guitar, but by practicing five hours a day for over eight years he was able to re-train himself how to play again, which is inspiring no matter how you look at it.

As their previous albums were recorded around the turn of the century, Alicia and Eric decided it was time to return to the studio. But in their back pocket they had seven original songs that Lieberman had written, so this time they are indeed singing their own songs. They were joined in the Oceanside studio by quite a crew of musicians, including their regular members: Jonny Viau on sax, Taryn Donah on piano, and Art Kraatz on the bass. But there are also plenty of guest artists, and with this roster the vibe is big and bouncy.

The set kicks off with four of these original tunes, and the first one, “Walkin’ on a Tightrope" a hopping 12-bar blues song with smoky vocals from Aragon and some fabulous roadhouse piano from Donah. This is followed up by “Kindness Love and Understanding,” an up-tempo song with a tasteful guitar break from Lieberman, and “Sing Your Own Song,” which has the feel of a gospel revival. Then, “Tears of Joy” tugs at the heartstrings with its heartfelt message of hope over an easygoing island beat. These latter three songs include Rafael Salmon on organ and backing vocals from San Diego’s Missy Anderson, a Blues Blast Music Award nominee from 2015.

The cover tunes are also cool, with a smoky jazz club rendition of “Evening,” which was previously recorded by artists as diverse as T-Bone Walker and Tony Bennett. Alicia proves to be quite the chanteuse, and Eric trades reverb-soaked guitar licks with Viau’s aggressive sax. In a similar vein, there is Willie Dixon’s “You Know My Love,” which was also recorded very well by Otis Rush in 1960. But the standout of the re-dos is Magic Sam’s “I Need You so Bad” from the late 1960s. Lieberman can rock out on the guitar just fine, so he does this song justice, but it is Aragon’s vocals that take this song to the next level, as she gives the tune a whole different character to this song of longing.

Proving that he last lost nothing in the chops department, Lieberman's guitar takes center stage on three instrumentals. From 1957 there is “Guitar Rhumba” by Earl "Zeb" Hooker, which starts with a slick Latin beat and transforms into a cool surf rock odyssey. There is also the “Okie Dokie Stomp” as done by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, with some nice punctuation from Viau’s sax and Joey Jazdzewski’s double bass. And lastly, Herb Remington's "Remington Ride” is presented as a rollicking classic country tune (just like Freddie King did it!) with some awesome barroom piano from Donath and a little help on rhythm guitar from Nathan James. By the way, James also acted as co-producer, recording engineer, and mixer for this project, besides filling in on backing vocals and bass where needed.

After all of this, the album closes out with Walter Vinson’s blues standard, “Sitting on Top of the World,” a neat acoustic track with a Delta/roots vibe. Once again, Aragon takes the lead, this time with call and response backing vocals from Lieberman. Eric handles the acoustic guitar (including a nicely finger-picked solo), with James providing a healthy dose of his slide talent on a resonator guitar. This song has a completely different sound than the rest of the tracks on the album, but the feel is the same and it is a neat way to finish up the set.

It took thirteen years to get a new album from Blue Largo album, and Sing Your Own Blues was worth the wait. Their new songs are very good, and the classic tunes they chose are not ones that other bands usually cover. The end result is an hour of positive messages with a cool vintage vibe, and after hearing it you might wish you lived on the left coast so would be in a better position to catch one of their shows!

1983 Fender JV Series Stratocaster Review

Aloha!

In my old job I used to go to Japan pretty often, and I always kept my eye out for the holy grail of vintage Japanese guitars as I hit up the secondhand stores. That is the case with the gorgeous 1983 Fender 1962 re-issue Stratocaster we are looking at today. This JV instrument has become my new #1 Strat, hands down.

Now is probably the time to explain the whole JV thing. JV stands for “Japanese Vintage”, and was the serial number prefix for the first series of guitars that were built for Fender in Japanese factories, and they were produced between 1982 and 1984. These instruments were constructed at the Fuji Gen-Gakki factory in Matsumoto, Japan. This was the same factory that was building Ibanez and Greco guitars.

The JV-series instruments have become very collectible, and were built using the original blueprints to be authentic replicas of pre-CBS Fender models. These models usually got the full treatment, including vintage-style tuners and cloth covered harnesses, as well as the original body contours and neck radii. The quality of these put the US made Fenders of the time to shame, and therefore they were not imported to the United States, though I guess a bunch made it to Europe. I found this one at a second-hand store in Japan on one of my business trips, and had to bring it home.

Our subject guitar today is an non-export model Fender Stratocaster, and I am not sure of the model as I have not wanted to take it apart yet to see what is lurking in the neck pocket. This will answer the questions about the model number and born on date, which I will want to know at some point.

This guitar is finished in nice aged burst. When I first saw the guitar and its JV-serial neckplate, I was pretty excited. The shop knew what they had so it was not super cheap, but it was still a better value than what I would have paid on this side of the pond.

I am pretty sure it has the original electronics, but again I will need to take it apart to be sure. It would certainly be nice if it is a higher end model with the cloth-covered wiring and the Fullerton pickups. The neck is very nice. The vintage-style tuners work fine, none are bent and they do not bind. The frets are good, with almost no; the neck is true, and the truss rod works freely.

I believe this guitar is completely unmodified, and I dig the vintage touches like the bent bridge saddles. This one might actually be a keeper - it sure plays well and sounds incredible...

I might be selling a few of my other Stratocasters, so drop me a line if you are interested. They are all pretty nice too!

Mahalo!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Chris Yakopcic – The Next Place I Leave

Hello!

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

Chris Yakopcic – The Next Place I Leave

Self Release through Yako Records

www.chrisyakopcicmusic.com

11 tracks / 40:54

Chris Yakopcic hails from Dayton, Ohio and has honed his unique brand of original acoustic fingerstyle blues though gigs and festivals around his home state and Pennsylvania. His hard work has earned him a couple of trips to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, including a shot at the finals in 2015. But he is more than just a talented performer, and you will find excellent production and songwriting on his sophomore album, The Next Place I Leave.

This disc was recorded and mixed by co-producer Gary King in Dayton, and mastered at the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis. This was a good call, as the tracks are all flawlessly presented. This album has a big and clear sound that was accomplished with minimal personnel, as there is only Yakopcic on guitars and vocals, Leo Smith on bass, and Brian Hoeflich behind the drum kit. Stripping away the usual horns, harmonica, and keyboards results in a fresh vibe, almost like an acoustic power blues trio!

This disc has seven original tracks, plus four covers of tunes from the masters, and they all works very well together. The originals show that Chris has keen storytelling ability as he recounts some of his influences and life history, as well as his deep love for the guitar. And his application of the Nashville songwriting process results in blues-based tunes that are accessible and fun to listen to.

The title track is the first song in the set, and “The Next Place I Leave” features really clean fingerpicking over the driving beat provided by Smith and Hoeflich. The sound is modern, and Yakopcic’s lyrics are as slick as his fretwork as he recounts the thoughts of a man with a restless spirit. This segues into Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” which start off with a nice bit of slide guitar, and after the introduction the band comes in, turning this into a modern song with a country blues feel. Chris retains the original melody and lyrics, but his arrangement transforms this tune into a piece that fits well into the rest of the album.

In this same vein, Yakopcic reworks Leonard Cohen’s laconic synth pop tune, “Tower of Song” into an upbeat mountain song, and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me a Few Lines” (a jangly delta piece) into a slide-infused popping boogie. Probably the coolest of the handful of cover tunes is a countrified version of Robert Johnson’s “Phonograph Blues” which has somewhat risqué lyrics and sharply picked acoustic guitar with fabulous dynamics and a slick solo break.

These songs are a neat way for Chris to let us know what his inspirations are, and it is to his credit that he did not try to perform them exactly as they were originally written, though he has the talent to do so. But the true highlights of The Next Place I Leave are his original compositions, as many of them are autobiographical and personal. For example, “Smallman Street” is an easygoing rocker (with distorted electric guitars) that recounts one inspirational experience that drew Yakopcic towards the blues guitar. Then on “Sounds of the Highway” he uses his steel guitar to build a shuffle that describes his love of life on the road. And finally, Chris closes out the album with his thoughts on living a more simple life with his guitar, and “My Last Three Strings” is a gentle blues song with a beautiful solo break.

Fans of acoustic blues, roots music, and finely picked guitars will find plenty to like with Chris Yakopcic’s The Next Place I Leave. It is 40 minutes of well written and well played music that really clicks. If you head over to his website you will find a few samples of his work to listen to, and be sure to view his schedule of upcoming gigs, because if you are anywhere near the Buckeye State, it would be worth your while to check out one of his shows!

Inventory Update: 2nd Quarter of 2018

Hi there!

What with career changes and school, I have not been very diligent about keeping up the blog, and it has been quite a while since I posted an inventory of what is hanging out in the shop. Anyway, 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

∙ 1989 Ibanez EX405

∙ 1995 ESP Christian Olde Wolbers Horizon 5

∙ 1995 Fender JB75-90 Jazz Bass

∙ 1995 Fender Geddy Lee Signature Jazz Bass

∙ 2003 Fender PB70-70US Precision Bass

∙ 2005 Fender PB57-70US Precision Bass

Electric Guitars:

∙ 1965 Teisco E-110

∙ 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

∙ 1986 MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 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

∙ 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 July to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!

Mahalo!