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.


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Malaya Blue – Heartsick


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

Malaya Blue – Heartsick

Self Release through MBM Music

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


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!


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Eric Bibb and North Country Far with Danny Thompson – The Happiest Man in the World

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the October 6, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Eric Bibb and North Country Far with Danny Thompson – The Happiest Man in the World

Stony Plain Records

14 tracks / 52:35

The Happiest Man in the World is a cool title for an album, and if you had a musical career like Eric Bibb’s you would probably be happy too! For this project Eric teamed up with English double bassist Danny Thompson and a few fine Finnish fellows from North Country Far, and the end result is 14 tracks of cool folk/country tunes with a tasty blues flavor.

In case you are not familiar with the man, Eric Bibb was born in the Big Apple where he took up the guitar early, joining his father’s show while he was still a teenager. His serious devotion to his musical career resulted in a relocation to Paris (and later Sweden), and from his home base in Europe he has been touring the world with his band ever since. Along the way he cut three dozen of his own albums, and he has made countless guest appearances on others’ discs, earning serious credibility and a Grammy nomination.

The musicians on Bibb’s latest CD are some of his friends from Finland, including Olli Haavisto on guitars, his brother Janne Haavista on drums, and Petri Hakala on mandolin, mandola, fiddle, and guitar. The aforementioned Danny Thompson also joined in, while Eric laid down the vocals tracks, the lead guitar lines, and the banjo parts. The studio sessions took place at The Grange near Norfolk, England, with Dave Williams behind the recording console.

The fourteen songs on The Happiest Man in the World are mostly originals, and there is an overwhelmingly positive feel to the songs, which are mostly love songs with an overwhelmingly personal vibe. The band kicks things off with the title track and the folk sound is right up front with a clearly picked banjo, thumpy upright bass and a well-played slide guitar. The lyrics are an ode to woman who is there for her man, and Bibb has a nicely aged timbre to his voice that brings the whole thing together.

Positive spins on relationships fill most of this set, making it a bit different than the usual blues fodder of deception, infidelity, and heartbreak. There is the story of a lady who does not mind taking the wheel (“Toolin’ Down the Road”), a suggestive list of agricultural chores (‘I’ll Farm For You”), the joy of making a life together (“Creole CafĂ©”), and the destiny of true love (“Born to Be your Man”). But there are a few elements of darkness to be found, such as country blues of “Tossin’ an’ Turnin’,” the thoughts of a man who is getting ready to lose everything and move on to greener pastures.

The originals are good, but there are a few surprises tucked away in the playlist. One of these is the traditional “Tell Ol’ Bill” which has a lush sound and lovely backing vocals from Ulrika Ponten Bibb. Then there is a funky acoustic take of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” complete with extra guitar work from Michael Jerome Browne and harp courtesy of Pepe Ahlquist; this is hands-down the best cover of this tune since Van Halen re-did it in 1978.

The Happiest Man in the World is a cool album, with good songs, fine musicianship, and solid production values. Eric Bibb and his friends should be proud of what they have put together, as they have managed to create something a little different than what other blues artists are producing today -- check it out for yourself, and see what you think. You have missed your chance to see him in the U.S. this year as Eric is touring Europe until the December, but we can hope that he schedules another tour of the states sometime soon!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Press Release: “The Public Image is Rotten” Documentary


Here is some great news about an exciting documentary that we should be seeing this fall, and more good news is that PiL has kicked off their 40th anniversary tour, though no US dates have been announced yet…

New York, NY / Los Angeles, CA / London, UK, May 14, 2018 – Abramorama and Verisimilitude announced today an agreement that will see Abramorama release the documentary film “The Public Image Is Rotten” in theaters around the world in 2018. “The Public Image Is Rotten” tells the story of music icon John Lydon and his pioneering group PiL with a level of depth and intimacy never before seen. Directed by Tabbert Fiiller, The Public Image Is Rotten features in-depth interviews with John Lydon, former and current bandmates as well as Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Ad-Rock (Beastie Boys) and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) among others, the film is loaded with electrifying archival performance and interview footage. The film will open in the United Kingdom beginning with a screening on June 3, 2018, at the Odeon Camden Cinema and will feature a conversation with John Lydon after the screening. Additional screenings in the U.K. during June and July to be announced followed later this fall with the global roll out of the film alongside Public Image Ltd's worldwide tour.

After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten), formed Public Image Ltd (PiL) – his groundbreaking band which has lived on nearly 15 times as long as his first one. A creative originator, Lydon has kept the band alive ever since, through personnel and stylistic changes, fighting to constantly reinvent new ways of approaching music, while adhering to radical ideals of artistic integrity. John Lydon has not only redefined music, but also the true meaning of originality. With his trademark acerbic wit and unpredictable candor, Lydon offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of music’s most influential and controversial careers.

Verisimilitude’s Tyler Brodie and Hunter Gray stated: “We’re are so happy to have found the perfect home for “The Public Image Is Rotten” with Abramorama. Their passion and expertise in music films combined with their ability to strategically release the film globally will allow fans around the world to enjoy a never before seen look at PiL and the true John Lydon.”

Business Development Evan Saxon, added, “John Lydon is one of the most iconic and articulate artists who changed the face of music forever. He started the trends, never followed them. We are honored to be releasing the film theatrically and to be the global rights management partner for The Public Image Is Rotten. We look forward to working closely with film’s production company Verisimilitude and PiL as we bring John’s story to fans around the world.”


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The DogTown Blues Band with Barbara Morrison – Everyday

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the September 15, 2016 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The DogTown Blues Band with Barbara Morrison – Everyday

Self Release

10 tracks / 43:20

The DogTown Blues Band is based out of West Los Angeles, and their unique blend of blues and jazz is derived from its members’ varied musical careers. Their synergy is a distilled version of the overall Southland vibe, as it seems like most everybody around here comes from somewhere else, and this melting pot is what makes L.A. such a cool place to live. The DogTown boys have joined up in the studio with another Southern California treasure, Barbara Morrison, and recently released their self-produced sophomore album, Everyday.

Chicago blues veteran Richard Lubovitch produced this project for the DogTown Blues Band, as well as playing the guitar and writing the five original songs. He was joined in the studio by Wayne Peet on the keyboards, harp man Bill Barrett, and Lance Lee behind the drum kit, as well a pair of bassmen: Trevor Ware (upright) Tom Lilly (electric). These fellows have more than enough experience to get the job done, having played for decades with artists such as Kenny Burrell, Edgar Winter, Rufus Thomas, Gatemouth Brown, and the Count Basie Band.

Then there is Barbara Morrison, a legendary jazz and blues singer who needs no introduction. After growing up near Detroit, since the early 1970s Barbara has been working out of Los Angeles. She has sung all over the world, and the right people have noticed, earning her three Grammy nominations. As Morrison has been working in the same city as the band for many years it should be no surprise that she also knows a few of the same people, making this collaboration possible; it is really cool to have her inimitable vocals on four these songs!

Half of the songs on Everyday are heavily re-worked covers, and the set kicks off with one of them, Pine Top Sparks’ “Everyday I Have the Blues.” Barbara fronts this tune, and her voice is amazingly clear and full of character; her timing and inflections are both spot on. This song has a huge sound courtesy of the horn section of Andrew Pask (sax) and Dan Rosenboom (trumpet). Other highlights of this tune are copious amounts of barroom piano from Peet and an extended harmonica break from Barrett.

It is neat that the band is able to switch up sounds and genres so readily, though it does make it a bit hard to shoehorn them into any one genre (which is a good thing in my book). It is easy to put Willie Dixon’s “Easy Baby” squarely into the blues box, and it is refreshing to hear this standard fronted by a woman; listeners will hear that Morrison plays the role of smoky blues singer very well. Barbara also laughs a bit as she presents a righteous performance of the slightly misogynistic Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins standard, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

Besides participating in many of the tracks in this set, Bill Barrett takes the lead on a few of the songs, including “Shrimp Walk,” a slick instrumental with a Latin feel that features leads from Bill on his diatonic harp and Lubovitch on his 6-string. This is laid over a healthy serving of funky organ from Peet. Then, on “All the Way Down,” Barrett gets down and dirty on this straight-up blues instrumental that is delivered with strong horns and plenty of space within which he can deliver his goods. Bill also steps out to provide the vocals for Doc Pomus’ “Doc’s Boogie.” After a slick intro from Richard, Barrett uses his pleasant tenor voice over a Wayne’s ballpark organ that is accompanied by an uptempo walking bass line. It is neat that the drums were left out here, which lends a vintage lounge vibe to the track.

A standout track from the Richard’s originals is “Boxcar 4468,” an instrumental that features killer leads from Lubovitch, as well a nice touch of pedal steel from guest artist Marcus Watkins. This song starts as a low key burner, but after the organ starts getting more rowdy (around the 2 minute mark), things pop into high gear with a drastic tempo change with a carnival-like organ and a burning solo from Loob, before slowing down once again for the finale. Instrumentals with intelligent writing like this never get old, and surely deserve more than one listen to figure out everything that is going on.

The Dogtown Blues Band’s eponymous debut album was very good, and it was going to take something very special to outdo themselves, but with a little help from Barbara Morrison they handily made this happen with Everyday. Hopefully they have a few more tricks up their sleeves and will make it back to the studio soon to make more clever music for their fans!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

1981 Greco Flying V MSV850 Guitar Review

Hi there!

Today we are looking at something completely different: a wonderfully gaudy vintage Gibson copy from Greco of Japan. This is a 1981 MSV850 that is obviously a Flying V copy, and if you look at the color scheme and the model number you might be able to figure out the story behind it. It is a peach, and I have never seen one in the US before.

Obviously it does not have a conventional paint scheme, with a striking black and white split down the middle, and even the pickguard and headstock get the dual finish. Of course, this thing is getting close to 40 years old, so the white has turned pretty darned yellow. And if you look at the model number, the MS indicates that this is the Michael Schenker model (that guy from the Scorpions). The V means it is a Flying V, and 850 would be the price in Yen (85,000 Yen was around $420 in 1981).

This guitar was made at the Fujigen factory in December 1981, and it appears to have survived without the indignities of modifications or shoddy repairs for the past 37 years. Apart from the finish, this appears to be equipped with fairly standard fare for a Greco electric. I am not completely sure what it is made from, but looking at the pickup cavities I think the used mahogany, so the neck probably has the same wood. The fretboard is a nicely aged chunk of rosewood, and there are 22 frets set into it, as well as small plastic dot markers.

The hardware is chrome and included Greco-branded sealed tuners, and the expected stop-bar tailpiece and tune-O-matic style bridge. There is also a brass nut, which is how these instruments shipped from the factory.

Some of these guitars came from the factory with the legendary Dry Z pickups, but this one did not. The humbuckers are what are to be expected, and they measure out at 8.01k ohm for the neck and 8.05k ohm for the bridge. The pots are also original, and they look to be a little on the cheap side.

Condition-wise, this thing looks awesome for a 37-year-old metal guitar. The truss rod works fine and the frets are a little worn, but it still plays fine. It has a comfy neck and it is actually pretty easy to play, and it actually stays in tune really well. But the best part is the tone, and even though this did not come with Dry Z pickups, it has an exceptionally sweet tone and it sounds tremendous when overdriven. It is an awesome guitar for pretty much whatever you would want to do with it. Oh, and di I mention it comes with the original hard case? Those are pretty hard to come by…

I never knew I waned one of these Greco Michael Schenker signature model guitars, but now that I have one I am super happy with it. I hope you get to try one out some day!


Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore – Party at Big Jon’s

Good day!

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

Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore – Party at Big Jon’s

Delta Groove Music

16 tracks / 61:25

House parties with live entertainment usually end up with a loud bands that give a valiant effort at recreating favorite hits from classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers. Often there is more enthusiasm than talent, and sometimes it is a relief when the band takes a break. Party at Big Jon’s, the new album from Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore is nothing like this, and it is an hour-long set of vintage blues sounds that are served up with enormous talent.

As he was born in the late 1980s Big Jon Atkinson is a relative newcomer on the blues landscape, but he has somehow escaped his generation’s fascination with the shiny allure of videogames and social media, instead focusing his energy on the genre that he loves. Big Jon’s 2014 debut album, Boogie With You Baby, is an amazing piece of work and it was an avenue for his music to reach beyond the fans that were lucky enough to see his live shows. For a fellow that has not even hit 30 yet, Atkinson has earned the respect of fellow bluesmen and his voice has an aged timbre that is beyond his years (in good ways). You would be hard put to find a modern blues singer that has his talent or his unmistakable feel for the music. He is pretty good on the guitar, too!

His partner on this project, Bob Corritore, should need no introduction, as he is one of the premier harp men in the business today. Bob learned from and played with Chicago blues masters, and he brought this knowledge and skill with him to the Sonoran Desert in the early 1980s. Corritore opened the famed Rhythm Room in Phoenix in 1991, and if you are ever in this part of Arizona this is the premier joint to hear quality live music. This man also spreads the good news of the blues gospel though his website and his radio show, and he collaborates, produces, and promotes other blues artists. Bob Corritore is a righteous dude, to be sure.

Party at Big Jon’s was produced by Atkinson and Corritore, and it was recorded last year at Jon’s Big Tone Studio in his hometown of San Diego, California. The tracks were laid down using vintage equipment and techniques, giving the whole project a satisfyingly raw electric blues sound. They got top-shelf help in the studio from guitarist Danny Michel and bassist Troy Sandow, as well as a trio of fine drummers: Malachi Johnson, Brian Fahey, and Marty Dodson. Some very special guests also joined in, as you will soon see. The content is divided between classic blues tunes and originals that were written by this duo and their friends.

The hour-long set is bookended by two songs that Atkinson wrote and sang, and they both have the feel of yesteryear with Jon’s slightly muffled vocals and thumpy double bass from Sandow. “Goin’ Back to Tennessee” kicks things off with a conventional blues lyrical style accompanied by instrumentation that provides space for the guitar leads and Corritore’s tasteful harp work. Bob does not need to wow the listener with crazy harmonica antics, as his phrasing and musicality are spot on for this and every other track on the album. The closer, “My Feelings Won't Be Hurt” places more emphasis on the vocals, and Big Jon has the ability to howl them out without losing his edge and sounding too rough. It is hard to believe that he has developed this much talent and restraint at such a young age.

Big Jon only provides the vocals for half of the songs on this disc, and there is prime talent that takes care of the rest. A fellow San Diego denizen, Tomcat Courtney, performs his original “Mojo in My Bread” and there is no sign that this octogenarian is slowing down; his delivery of the clever lyrics is beautiful. Sticking with the mojo theme, Alabama Mike tears up Lightning Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand,” and almost outdoes B.B. King on “Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door.”

Chicago bluesman Willie Buck also sings one the originals that he wrote (“You Want Me to Trust You”), and takes a run at Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” His voice is as smooth as silk on these tunes, and it is a cool counterpoint to Corritore’s grittier harmonica parts. Another Windy City fellow, Dave Riley, does his original “Mississippi Plow”(he was born in the Magnolia State, you know) and Charles Johnson’s “At the Meeting,” a slow gospel blues song that is one of the standout tracks on the disc.

Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore did a wonderful job with Party at Big Jon’s. There is a consistent feel to the songs from track to track, despite the mix of older covers and new material, and the different frontmen that participated. The vintage sound is contagious, and this is one of the best traditional blues albums of the year; it will certainly be a contender for next year’s awards season. Check it out for yourself, and enjoy some excellent blues in one of its most enduring forms!

Friday, May 11, 2018

2018 Blues Music Awards Winners


The 2018 Blues Music Awards ceremony was held on May 10 in Memphis, Tennessee and there was a strong list of nominees so it was sad that most of them were not going to win, but they are all winners in my book anyway. Here are the results:

Acoustic Album: “Break the Chain” — Doug MacLeod

Acoustic Artist: Taj Mahal

Album: “TajMo” — Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’

B.B. King Entertainer: Taj Mahal

Band: Rick Estrin & the Nightcats

Best Emerging Artist Album: “Southern Avenue” — Southern Avenue

Contemporary Blues Album: “TajMo” — Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’

Contemporary Blues Female Artist: Samantha Fish

Contemporary Blues Male Artist: Keb’ Mo'

Historical: “A Legend Never Dies, Essential Recordings 1976-1997” — Luther Allison (Ruf Recordings)

Instrumentalist-Vocalist: Beth Hart

Instrumentalist-Bass: Michael “Mudcat” Ward

Instrumentalist-Drums: Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar: Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist-Harmonica: Jason Ricci

Instrumentalist-Horn: Trombone Shorty

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player (Instrumentalist — Piano): Victor Wainwright

Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female): Ruthie Foster

Rock Blues Album: “We’re All In This Together” — Walter Trout

Rock Blues Artist: Mike Zito

Song: “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” written by Rick Estrin and performed by Rick Estrin

Soul Blues Album: “Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm” — Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

Soul Blues Female Artist: Mavis Staples

Soul Blues Male Artist: Curtis Salgado

Traditional Blues Album: “Right Place, Right Time” — Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter

Traditional Blues Male Artist: Rick Estrin


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Michael Barclay - Tracks


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

Michael Barclay – Tracks

Chatterbox Records

15 tracks / 50:38

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Michael Barclay has an extensive history with all kinds of music, having worked as a sideman with artists as diverse as rock pioneer Chuck Berry (back in the 1960s!), jazzman Randy Crawford, and the B-3 master himself, Merl Saunders. Hailing from Northern California, Michael has been steadily churning out self-produced albums that cover a lot of ground, including last year’s very good blue-rock collection, King of Hearts.

Tracks is Barclay’s fifth solo release, and the new album is subtitled “A Blues, Funk, and World Music Ride for the Discerning Traveler.” That does a great job summing up what is going on here, as Michael does not confine himself to any one genre, and he generates many different moods and emotions. He did a lot of the heavy lifting on this disc, as he wrote thirteen of the tracks, provided the vocals, and laid down a good portion of the guitar, bass, organ, piano, trumpet, and synthesizer parts. He was joined by Roger Volz on saxophone for a number of the tracks, and a few other guest musicians filled in as needed.

Michael leads off this album with “California Burnin’” and this gives the listener an insider’s view of living in brushfire country, one of the perils of the Golden State. This story is set to a 1980s style blues-rock soundtrack complete with very well done clean lead guitar work from Barclay and solid drums from guest artist Tommy Miles. Moving to more a more traditional blues subject is “Is it Him or is it Me,” which is about a man who needs to know where he really stands with his lady. This song uses 1980s synthesizer and vocal sounds that give the feel of the low-key rock that Clapton was doing 30 years ago.

There are a few tracks where the lyrics take a backseat to the music and the words are just used to help cement the message of the song. One example of this is “I’m So Weary” which has the same two lines, “I’m so weary / boy oh don't you know,” set to a smooth Afro Cuban beat. This song uses hand percussion and light-hearted guitar lines from Kendrick Freeman and Andrew Ohren to achieve more of an island sound. Another is “Lucky Streak,” a slow-paced funky rocker with simple instrumentation (bass, guitar, and drums) and a 1980s vibe.

Two cover tunes are also included on Tracks, and they are not the usual ones that everybody else seems to redo. There is a dark version of “I’m a Man” from the Spencer Davis Group (remember Steve Winwood?) that is heavy enough that it changes the mood from a proud declaration into a brooding melancholy. Then there is an upbeat instrumental, “Hoodoo Snake Doctor Blues,” that Johnny Shines originally recorded in 1970. Barclay does a fine job with the organ and guitar here, and his soloing has a very natural feel and pace.

As most of the songs are relatively short, Michael found room for four other instrumentals on this disc and these cover a variety of sounds and moods. “Mike’s Blues” has a funky 1970s blues sound with a slick sax lead, and solos that are traded off from Volz’s sax to Barclay’s guitar to Lowell “Banana” Levinger’s organ. Other guest musicians were brought in for this track, including Bill Boggio on guitar, Terry Baker on drums, and Kent Fosgreen on bass. Michael also experiments with the Jamaica sound on “Reggae Man,” a modern tune that uses keyboards to good effect, including a neat steel drum sample. Then there is “Tracks,” a laid-back jazzy blues song that has a smooth guitar lead and a pulsing bass line. And lastly, Michael closes the album out with “F-bomb” a short solo acoustic guitar track that ties everything together as it reminds the listener of what the blues is all about and where it came from.

This about covers it for Tracks, and Michael Barclay definitely accomplished his goal of providing entertainment for individuals who like variety in their musical collection. Give it a listen for yourself, and please remember to support local independent musicians, as there is a lot of good stuff to be found out there!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Claudettes – Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! | Album Review

The Claudettes – Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!

Yellow Dog Records

12 tracks / 35:51

The Claudettes are a completely different group than the two-piece house band that used to help advertise drink specials from the stage for its namesake, Miss Claudette. Since I first heard them on Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched!, they have transformed from a piano and drums duo to a quartet, and this expanded roster has given the group a lot of headroom to explore new themes and sounds.

Johnny Iguana (not his real name) is a founding member of the group, wrote all of the songs, plays a truly mean piano, and adds backing vocals into the mix. He was joined in the studio by Matthew Torre on drums, and Zach Verdoorn on guitar, bass and backing vocals. These are all fine musicians, but they hit the jackpot when Berit Ulseth joined the The Claudettes as their singer two years ago. Her vocals are a wonderful blend of jazz and blues and I cannot really come up with another singer to compare her to; her sound is truly her own.

The band’s new CD, Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!, was cut mostly live at Soil of the South in Valdosta, Georgia by Mark Neil, who made the instrumentalists play the songs over and over again until they got them just right. So, there is not a lot of studio trickery and overdubs going on here, just refined talent. The group laid down twelve relatively short tracks, each of which tells an intriguing story without getting bogged down by egotistical soloing or other nonsense.

The Claudettes are hard to pin down to any one genre, which is a hard one to swallow for those who are hardcore fans of any one type of music. There is a definitely a blues influence, but there is also a heavy jazz theme, and to lesser degrees you will hear rock, boogie-woogie, punk, and god know what else. All of these elements add up to a wonderful slice of Americana, and the results are very listenable.

Their set kicks off with “Don't Stay With Me,” which presents one side of the story of unequally yoked lovers who are in a relationship that is nearing its end. This frustration is presented in the music by Verdoorn’s smoothly distorted guitar while Torres’ heavy drums create a sense of tension that does not let up until Ulseth utters the final line, “You're just as sweet as can be, but please, don't stay with me.” This mood does not lighten for the next track, “November,” which is about someone who is barely keeping it all together as they age. Johnny does a nice job of holding down the bottom end here, and I hear something new with his playing every time I listen to this song.

The sound gets a little more playful with “Give it All Up for Good,” in which Berith sings about how people addicted to social media are becoming apathetic and are disconnecting from each other. This is an easy tune to get stuck in your head, thanks to the thumpy bass part, Iguana’s hammering piano, and the catchy breaks with group harmonies. In a similar vein, “Naked on the Internet” discusses how nothing ever really goes away once it is online. This song is a bit of a departure from the others as Berith shares the lead vocals with one of the fellows (I don’t know who…), and the listener is treated to brief solos from Johnny, Zach, and Matthew, which is saying a lot as this song is not much more than two minutes long.

There is not enough room to write about all twelve of the songs on the album, but they are all thoughtfully written with lyrics that cover both the troubles with relationships and the increasingly terrible social situation in our world. I must point out though, that there is a lovely instrumental on the playlist too, and that would be the title track. “Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium” shows what the rest of the band is doing while the listener is distracted on the other tracks by the clever lyrics and sultry vocals. And what they are doing is laying down a sick jam, as these guys can really play: Iguana has a killer dexterity and a righteous touch on the keys, Verdoorn is ultimately versatile and has wicked bass and guitar tones, and Torre is a frickin’ drumming machine. Damn.

Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! is a fine album, but the Claudettes put on an excellent live show too and the band’s energy and musicianship are first rate. They bought a new van and are touring endlessly around the United States, and they even have some European dates coming up. Head over to their website to hear some samples and to see where they are going to be playing next – I have seen their new line-up at the Viper Room and they are amazing - trust me, you want to see them in person!