Thursday, August 2, 2012

Today's Spin: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Babylon by Bus

I'm not a huge Reggae fan, but I have always loved this album.  Picked it up on vinyl when it came out almost 35 years ago and I still have my copy.  I picked up the original CD release in the '90s which sounded muddy to me.  Then I picked up the remastered version on which they seemed to have boosted the high hat to stratospheric i.e. painful levels.  Played this yesterday and once again, the vinyl sounds killer.  Huge soundstage and D E E P bass.  I am running a Rega 2 through a Marantz 2245 and Klipsch KG4s + ADS 520s and the place was rocking . . . or should I say swaying.  Anyway, it sounded great.

There are so many great tracks and grooves on this album, my favorites being Exodus, Concrete Jungle and War/No More Trouble.

A1 Positive Vibration 4:55
A2 Punky Reggae Party 5:38
A3 Exodus 7:26
B1 Stir It Up 5:11
B2 Rat Race 3:25
B3 Concrete Jungle 5:30
B4 Kinky Reggae 4:36
C1 Lively Up Yourself 6:10
C2 Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Road Block) 5:02
C3 War / No More Trouble 5:20
D1 Is This Love? 7:05
D2 Heathen 4:14
D3 Jamming 5:05

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Today's Spin: Steve Morse Band - Stand Up

Picked this up recently on vinyl and spinning it today.  It's an excellent, well balanced album that wraps Morse's incredible guitar playing into more approachable compositions.  This is actually my favorite Steve Morse solo record and it's extremely tasty and varied from start to finish.  There are some excellent performances from guest stars including Peter Frampton and ex-Santana vocalist Alex Ligertwood on "Stand Up", Eric Johnson on "Distant Star" and Albert Lee on "Rockin' Guitars".  I really like the vocal tracks and wish Morse had explored this vein a little more on his own with another "name" vocalist who could do his tunes justice.  This is less of a guitarfest than his first album, but there are still some incendiary solos and plenty of wicked guitar tones throughout.

I picked up a mint original pressing on Elecktra for $4.99 and it's definitely worth it.  Sounds better than the CD IMO with very crisp and clear production on most songs.  A couple of the tunes seem more compressed than the others so I am guessing they were recorded at another [lower budget] studio.  

Stand Up (1985)
1. Book Of Dreams
2. English Rancher
3. Rockin' Guitars
4. Distant Star
5. Pick Your Poison
6. Stand Up
7. Travels Of Marco Polo
8. Golden Quest
9. Unity Gain

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dean Tonic D - A Perfect Slide Guitar

I have become more serious about slide lately.  Sure, you can play slide in standard tuning with regular gauge strings - for me those are 9s or 10s - but the aficionados will tell you, “Boy, that ain’t real slide”.  For that I think you need to explore alternate tunings, like open D or open G, which gets tiresome if you have to retune your regular guitar.  You also need to move to heavier gauge strings for a thicker tone and more sustain as well as raise the action so your bottleneck is not clanging on the frets.  Bottom line:  if you’re serious about slide, you need a dedicated slide guitar that’s set up properly.

I spent about a year looking for one and finally settled on the Dean Tonic D.  I really wanted a Teisco with the gold foil pickups and watched them sell on eBay for $200, then $300 and often over $400.  As a value conscious player, I was not going to pay that price for what is, frankly, a poorly constructed guitar made up of marginal quality materials.  Then I started looking at the Korean Danelectros.  I had a chance to play one at Guitar Center, and although it sounded pretty decent, it didn’t feel right to me.  It was well constructed, but the quality of the parts seemed cheap. 

About a month ago I finally pulled the trigger.  Not on the Dean Tonic D, but a Godin LG90.  This is a beautiful guitar with a violin finish mahogany body, mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard and Seymour Duncan P90s.  A mahogany body, P90s and slide go together like PB&J, milk and cookies and all those other classic combos. So what does this have to do with the Dean Tonic D?  I did play slide on the Godin and it sounded great.  And I played all kinds of other things on it as well which made it hard to put down.  The guitar is so good that I decided I did not want to dedicate it full time to slide so the search continued.

Then a couple of days ago I wandered into my local Music-Go-Round and saw a Korean Danelectro and a Korean Dean Tonic D hanging on the wall.  I spent about an hour playing them both and picked the Dean.  Head-to-head, here’s why the Dean gets the nod:

Looks:  I really like the look of the Dean - it’s definitely retro [art deco maybe?] with a nod to the weird Teiscos and Mosrites of the late ‘60s with the slanted bridge, even though it has a basic Strat/SG shape.  The yellow is unusual as is the bi-level top: the area that contains the controls is half an inch lower than the rest of the top.  It also has a cut rim around the edge of the entire guitar.  All in all a cheesy, retro, but cool looking axe that was more appealing to me than the Danelectro.

Quality:  Both the Dean and Danelectro are made in Korea - quite possibly at the same factory.  But the Dean just seems to be of a higher quality.  It has Grover tuners which is a big plus, nice diamond inlays on the thin neck, which are well done, and a good quality Tune-o-matic bridge.  The body is fairly light - not sure what wood, but at this price point probably basswood. Machine heads are arranged so the strings remain straight after crossing the nut, helping tuning stability. The fretwork on the neck is excellent with no sharp edges.  All around, a well-conceived and executed instrument.  The Dano has a hollow laminate body, which is a concern when setting the guitar up as a full time slide guitar with heavy strings.  I can see the bridge or top lifting at some point.  The bridge is metal, but the saddle is wood, so while that may have worked for Jimmy Page, I wanted something that I could intonate correctly. 

Sound:  Both guitars sound good, but as the Dean has a five-way switch, you get more tones from the two hot rails pickups [stacked single coils].  It's quite clever what they've done with the five-way switching as you get HB neck, tapped neck, tapped neck + bridge, tapped bridge, and HB bridge.  Plugged in, that’s basically a Les Paul with humbuckers in positions 1 and 5 and a single coil Telecaster in positions 2, 3, and 4.  With such hot pickups you can get some excellent rude and nasty distorted slide tones from positions 1 and 5, which was a prerequisite for me.  But switch to positions 2, 3 or 4 and you get a more refined, cleaner sound.  The only thing I am not 100% happy with is that the guitar is a little noisy and buzzy.  The previous owner applied some shielding paint, but not to the entire electronics bay so I will complete that job and see if that helps.  Upgrading the wiring and the 5-way switch may also help.  The Dano sounded good as well, but I liked the extra tonal variety that the Dean offered.

I ended up paying $149 for the Dean and that’s an incredible value for an instrument of this quality.  After a lengthy search I found a great sounding, great playing slide guitar that’s unique in looks and not on everyone’s shoulder as Dean only produced this particular model for two years in the early 2000s.  This will always be a novelty guitar for me dedicated to slide, but for that limited role, it’s an ideal choice that’s considerably cheaper and better made than most of the Teiscos selling for hundreds more on eBay.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Today's Spin: Thin Lizzy - Johnny the Fox

Picked this album up on vinyl the other day and man, what a great album it is.  I had this on LP back in the day and stupidly traded it away.  As I am getting back into vinyl again I had to pick this up as it was only a few dollars and in great shape.

The album highlights are the opening track "Johnny" with Brian Downey's fantastic drum rolls and triplets.  The other outstanding cuts are the hit single [in the U.K.] "Don't believe a word" and of course, the title track "Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed".  Once again, Downey shines on this track with a fantastic groove on top of which are layered some superb funky wacca wacca wah guitars from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.  I have always loved the version on "Live & Dangerous", but I think this studio version may be even better.

Phil Lynott gets mellow and introspective on some of the tunes, most notably "Borderline", "Sweet Marie" and "Fool's Gold".  Regardless, all the tracks move along nicely and the album has a solid cohesive feel and good '70s production.  I am sure there is a story to this album - perhaps, heaven forbid, even a concept - but I have never been able to work it out.

I picked up the first U.S. pressing on Mercury and it sounds excellent.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Aristocrats - Guthrie Govan, Bryan Beller, Marco Minnemann

I loved Guthrie Govan's CD "Erotic Cakes" so being a guitar player, I cannot wait to hear the new CD he plays on with bassist Bryan Beller and German super drummer Marco Minnemann.  You can get a taste of what this power trio is all about with a free mp3 download - the humorous and rudely titled "Sweaty Knockers" - available from:

You can also preview the album at online jazz-fusion superstore Abstract Logix .

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vintage Stereo: ADS L520 Speakers

I visit vintage stereo forums quite a bit and I am always reading how people pick up mint condition gear for $10 or $20.  But whenever I stop by the local thrift store or a garage sale there's never anything worth buying.  I lucked out yesterday though.

There I was, driving into town on an errand and I happened to pass a garage sale in the neighborhood. On a whim I pulled over and had a look.  Over in the back corner behind the old mugs, book, mirrors, and horrible artwork I saw a stack of stereo equipment.  They had four B&O separates, all of which had seen better days, but underneath this stack sat two ADS L520 speakers in great condition [except for the sticky residue on the veneer].  I thought these might be worth picking up, but wasn't sure so I came home and did some Internet research.

The consensus seems to be that these are very nice two-way bookshelf speakers, so I decided to go back and see how much they were selling for.  Because it was late in the day I figured I would be getting a good deal, but when the seller said $20 for the pair I paid without hesitation.  That's a great deal as these regularly go for around $100 on eBay plus $50 shipping.  Other than the sticky residue on the veneer these are in great shape - drivers all intact, no scratches or dings, and no rips in screens. Score! 

When I got them home I went to work with Pledge furniture polish and managed to get off all of the black sticky residue. No idea what that was other than basement detritus. Now they really shine and look great. At 22 inches high these are pretty large and heavy speakers so calling them "bookshelf" is probably a stretch. I'll definitely need to invest in some speaker stands in the near future.

Sound wise, I am very impressed - and for only $20 they represent exceptional value. These are indeed nice two-way speakers with tight, controlled bass, great midrange and a sweet treble that is crisp and clear.  They are a good example of the classic New England sound - neutral, relaxed and with good detail and sharp imaging.  Due to the limitations of their size and design, bass is not as deep as I personally like but that really is a minor gripe.  I'll definitely be adding these to my vintage speaker rotation.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Return to Forever IV - Free Download

If you're like me, the "can't miss" tour this summer is the fourth incarnation of '70s Jazz-fusion outfit Return to Forever.  This fourth iteration spices things up considerably with the addition of Australian axemeister Frank Gambale [Chick Corea's go to guitarist in the Elecktric Band] and French electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.  It's a stellar line up and I think Ponty will add a unique texture to the band.

So how does this new line up sound?  You can find out by downloading a live track from the RTF web site at:

It's a killer version of "Senor Mouse".  And it's an MP3 at 320kbps so the quality is excellent.