Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Red Taylor Swift's Latest Album Release

Taylor Swift's latest Album, Red dropped October 22, 2012

One of the things that I respect Taylor for is that she is one of the few truly creative young singer-songwriters on the scene today.  Like Justin Bieber, Taylor got her start on YouTube as THAT is one of the social media places up and coming artists hang out to exchange ideas and music.

Taylor using AT Mics
Her latest endeavor, Red, is her latest full length album under Big Machine Records recorded in Nashville, TN (Blackbird Studios, Pain in the Art Studios).  This is Swift's fourth studio album since her last commercially successful release in 2010 of  Speak Now.

Taylored Style
I'd have to say that Taylor's pure vocals and effervescent style merge country and pop seamlessly so that neither emerges as dominant. She writes and sings about what she knows which she revealed on the Ellen Degeneres Show includes horrible intuition in picking the right guy!
Women can relate to those love lost themes and men wish they could have a chance on Taylor's arm.  

The first track, State of Grace right out of the blocks reminds me of an updated version of the iconic Bruce Springsteen E-Street Band anthem, Born to Run.

The album title Red, is one of my favorites. "Loving him was burning red..." I think most can relate to someone who made us feel that way especially if they were the one we didn't end up with.  Both Treacherous and I Knew You Were Trouble are honed from the same theme.  Taylor's propensity to lead with her heart instead of her mind.  The album has its share of slower ballads, which I am not terribly enamoured with but they are done with tenderness and virtuosity.   I really like Track number 6, 22 (Keep dancing like we're 22) as it has a great beat and reflects my feelings when I'm skating.  Actually I feel like I'm 15 when skating but you get the idea!  Likewise I really enjoyed Track #9, Stay, Stay, Stay.

Taylor has time for the old slow stuff.  Dollie Pardon is the queen of country ballads and while Taylor has nothing to be ashamed of vocal-wise, her youth and exuberance are better showcased with more upbeat and even quirky offerings.  A great example is the music video featured below.  Check out the cool Autoharp cameo!

We're Never Getting Back Together Again

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Singing Machine Pedestal Karaoke System

The latest pedestal Singing Machine delivered to my studio in time for the holidays!
As soon as fall hits, I look forward to spending more time in the studio, working on my vocal tracks and doing some recording.  Last month was my birthday so my wish was to get a new Karaoke System.  I reviewed my first Singing Machine in 2009.  That was the iSM 1010 which was purchased at Sam's Club. I loved that thing and we did use it for lots of studio sessions and holiday parties.  The only problem is that after a while, (about 2 years) the CDG player stopped working properly.  The music and mic would cut out. Maybe it was due to the fact that I didn't have it plugged into a power surge strip like my other musical electronics.  Whatever the case, it no longer worked properly and there is only a 90 warranty on it.  Customer service was of no real help and I've seen similar complaints about this company's karaoke products/service online.

Surge Protection
So before plugging this new unit in, I purchased a surge protector and so far so good but I will keep you posted on what happens. Even with a surge protector, I unplug all of my electronics during a lightening storm.  Since I owned the previous model, I can tell you a bit about the differences & similarities between the two.  First the similarities:

Both have very good sounding twin tower speakers with tweeters 
Both have both a plug in and a remote mic
Both have random play, program, repeat track features
Both allow you to dock your iPhone, iPod, etc. to stream music
Both have a 7 inch full color screen, (it will also play videos from your iPhone, iPod like a television screen)
Both have a FM Radio and AUX settings
Both are built somewhat thin plastic parts

The new iSM1028XI Singing Machine
The unit is made in China and suitable for home use, not professional KJ work although we had many parties with it.  The Singing Machine is made of lightweight plastic and simply not sturdy enough for heavy use or taking on the road.

The Differences:
The newer model Singing Machine, iSM 1028XI does not have a built in video camera as did the previous model. It was poor quality anyway so unless you really enjoy seeing yourself singing on the 7 inch screen, you could do with out it.
I will say that the quality of the microphones has improved but the only vocal effect is still echo which can be turned up to +4.  There is a key control allowing you to raise or lower the pitch of the song by four increments. You have to open the CD player door manually, (the previous model had a button) and there are a few more controls to adjust the brightness and color quality of the screen.

The Take Away
I prefer sending lead vocals through a studio mic
The Singing Machine is what it is.  You can read other reviews on the web telling how these machines broke right after the 90 warranty was up.  I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt however as I have had other electronics that weren't surge protected get fried after the terrible lightening storms we so often have in the north east.

I like having the graphics and lyrics right there for studio practice but prefer to use the Singing Machine for the music and back up vocals while using Audio-Technica studio mics for the lead.  The lead vocals are sent through my Voice Tone Create and Roland Stage Amp stack.  If I am playing guitar, I plug into my guitar amp (Tech21 NYC) so the result is a full surround sound with the different parts beings picked up by the various mics and coming through multiple amps.

I also like to just sit on a stool and sing through the Singing Machine with the headphones on. This really gives you an intense vocal workout and with the iPod docking feature, I'm able to access many more Karaoke songs via YouTube.  I've gotten so much enjoyment from this karaoke system that I took a chance and replaced it but as mentioned before, took extra precautions and invested in surge protection.  Take it out for home birthday, Christmas and New Year's Eve parties and you have an instant ice breaker.  Karaoke is VERY popular and having two microphones included with this unit allow for duets and harmonizing.  Think about getting a Karaoke machine for your home for the upcoming holiday season. 

Fall is studio-time!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Travel Guitars

This Little Martin LX1E is the perfect travel size!
One of the things we always like to take to our vacation cabin and on the road is a good travel-sized guitar.  These are 3/4 scaled guitars so they are a quarter smaller than a full-sized acoustic.
I have played a Baby Taylor which is a very lovely guitar but did not have the option of a built in pick-up.  I also found the headstock to be a bit heavy, so it made playing the Baby Taylor a bit unbalanced for sitting down playing.

The Baby Taylor is a 3/4 scale travel guitar
Pack Your Guitar
Still, what makes either of these guitars so versatile is that they travel well.  Catching a flight?  Both guitars will easily fit in the over-head bin so you don't have to worry about checking it.  The same thing on a train or bus.  We've even broken out the Little Martin and started playing on the train.  The other passengers loved it! It comes with its own little gig bag so traveling with this guitar is pretty simple.

Travel-Worthy Construction
The construction materials also make these travel guitars hold up where other acoustics would die.  We took the Little Martin to an outdoor music festival (RevGen) one Labor Day Weekend and left in in a burning hot car for about 3 hours.  When I retrieved it, the guitar was fine...in tune even!  Don't try that with a regular sized guitar.  Part of the reason for the Little Martin's travel-worthy ruggedness is that the soundboard or guitar top is Sitka Spruce but the sides and back are of compressed wood. This is also known as HPL or high pressure laminate.  This material is not going to react as violently to changes in temperature and humidity but some purists prefer the sound of an all wood guitar.

The Baby Taylor has a Sapele arched back and sides plus a Sitka spruce top.  Sapele is an exotic wood which is sometimes called African mahogany and has the same reddish-brown color. So the Baby Taylor is in fact a solid wood guitar. You'll have to decide what is more important, sound quality or road durability.  Both guitars are played and taken all over the world so it is not as if you have to give up one for the other.

The Little Martin at our outback cabin.  The cool gig bag is included with the guitar.

Martin Backpacker Guitar

This is another alternative to hauling a full sized guitar on tour.  The Martin Backpacker has been a major hit among our armed force members.  Why?  Well for one thing they are very easy to ship and nearly indestructible once they get there.
These little travel guitars weigh only 2 1/2 lbs and offer a pretty loud projection for its size. Don't expect it to have the sound of the Little Martin or Baby Taylor.  It is more uke-like as far as tone goes but the fret board is more familiar to full sized guitar players.  The only thing I found when playing the Backpacker is that the headstock is quite heavy.  Sitting down with one in your lap is going to be tricky so I'd recommend using a guitar strap.  

The McNally Strumstick

The McNally Strumstick isn't really a guitar but I'm including it among possible substitutes for travel guitars.  This is their Grand Model and is tuned to the key of D.  The sound is higher than a guitar but really pleasant and with only 3 strings, well, no wrong notes!  That's because it is based on a diatonic scale.

It resembles a stick dulcimer but is really it's own thing.  I believe the German people have a similar instrument called the "sheitholt" which is played like a dulcimer. 

The Strumstick also comes with its own carry bag and you can order a little soundboard pickup for amplification if you wish.  I have played this instrument at folk festivals and visiting hospitals and nursing homes.  It really has a delightful sound that is perfect for traditional old English and Celtic music.  The company offers a lot of customer support with videos and music book instruction.

This instrument is much smaller than even the Baby Taylor and Little Martin so if size is an issue you might try this! 

The McNally Strumstick being played at the New Jersey Folk Festival

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Edens Edge Debut Album

Edens Edge debut full length, self titled album drops Tuesday June 12th! "Too Good to Be True"? Almost. This Arkansas-bred, Nashville based trio has been profiled as one of Billboard's "Artists to Watch" and chosen as a CMT Listen UP! Artist. Just last year they joined three major Country tours - Reba McEntire, Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley's. This summer Edens Edge will kick off their opening slot on the Rascal Flatts "Changed Tour".  Their Top 20 single "Amen" offers tight harmonies and a rocking bass. "Skinny Dippin'" is fun and upbeat with a little childhood naughtiness we all remember. "Last Supper" is sadly tender and haunting dealing with a couple's breakup. "Feels So Real" sounds more experimental for this group but they pull it off with confidence and smooth elegance. "Who Am I Drinking Tonight" reminds me of an old-fashioned honky-tonk two step, the kind that made Shania Twain a household word. Rowdy enough without being loud and over the top.
Edens Edge toured with Reba last year
Look for the last track, "Christ Alone" sung acappella to be their signature anthem. They sing this every night to close out their set.  Well chosen and telling of the band's true focus and intent.

On each and every track, however (10 in all), Hannah Blaylock's pure, soaring lead vocals add sparkle and interest to what could easily become common country fare. Edens Edge is the real deal and the group's vocal and instrumental virtuosity show a complex and sophisticated side of country music not often seen today.  Impressive to say the least.

Pre-sale of Edens Edge Signed Full Length Self Titled Debut Album are available at the band's website:  Edens Edge

This band overview is posted on the Edens Edge website:

"When it comes to making great music, kindred spirits somehow seem to find each other and such is the case with Edens Edge. Three talented young musicians from Arkansas -- Hannah Blaylock, Dean Berner, and Cherrill Green --make their debut on Big Machine Records with a vibrant sound that honors country music’s roots while creatively pushing the envelope with their seasoned musicianship, dazzling harmonies and
insightful songwriting.

With one listen to Edens Edge, it’s obvious the trio has forged a unique sound shaped by their individual influences and anchored in their own distinctive gifts. 

Each grew up in rural Arkansas where farming, faith and family provided a firm foundation and offered a springboard for their musical aspirations. "

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Holy Fire Overdrive - Distortion Pedal

Holy Fire Overdrive - Distortion Pedal by Creation Audio Labs
We may have just a few boutique pedals, vintage ones or a whole case.  Each pedal adds something to the signal chain...we just don't sound the same without them.  See Custom Pedal Boards vs BOSS GT-10

Add to this the fact that some guitarists prefer single boxes to a multi-effector unit and you will get even more opinions on how to create tone. I think the argument goes something like if one box blows up, it is easy enough to remove it from the pedal chain and continue with the gig.  If something happens to your multi effector, well you might find yourself playing without any effects at all.  I've done lots of shows with both and never had a problem although I DID have my Fender PA System shut down on me...a couple of times!

Since I play mostly acoustic guitar onstage, all I need is a little compression and chorus. In the studio however, I like to dirty it up a little and a slightly distorted Fender Strat is what I record with.

One of the cool things about my vintage Crate Amp (GT-20) is that it has built in overdrive.  Not the best but for a solid state amp, not too shabby.  As this 20 watter is more of a practice amp, I've had to use a direct box to have it heard onstage.  Still overdrive and distortion are still the lynchpins of classic and contemporary rock and having those features built into my Crate has been a plus.

The Holy Fire Overdrive - Distortion Pedal is the real deal however, truly a boutique pedal.  Each comes with a 10 Day money back guarantee so if you're not pleased with your tone, ship it back.  The pedal has the following features:

  • Clean and Transparent GAIN
  • Dynamic and Smooth OVERDRIVE
  • Thick and Rich DISTORTION
  • with high-cut control and unique L.E.D. interaction
  • Total Saturation with NO Tone Loss or Coloring

You can compare boxes and if you are a true overdrive - distortion snob, you will hear the difference.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Guitar Wheel

Middle school children learning music transposition and theory with The Guitar Wheel.  PHOTO Credit: The Corning Observer Newspaper

The Guitar Wheel
Wouldn't you like to ditch all those manuals and music books but still take along a library worth of guitar and music transposition information? Well, it can be done. All that you need is The Guitar Wheel. Invented with some heavenly inspiration by Dennis Cheatham, the Guitar Wheel is a serious educational tool for musicians. You won't believe how much information is found on the Guitar Wheel but even more amazing is the fact that when you flip it over, it gives you a whole world of Music Theory too!
The Guitar Wheel is very thin and easily goes where you go. To a concert, jam or guitar class, it is the one tool you will find indispensable for:

Chord Inversions for alternate chord fingerings
Enharmonic Equivalents
Comparing Scales such as Major, Minor, Pentatonic & Blues Scales
Determining Concert Pitch
Finding Minor 7th Chords and Finding Dominant 7th Chords

Music Theory on the flip side of The Guitar Wheel offers even more with a piano keyboard & staff, concert pitch, intervals and transposing abilities built right in. If you are serious about advancing your composing and song writing skills to the next level, I highly recommend the Guitar Wheel. It is used in many guitar classes across the country with children as young as eight. The Guitar Wheel is configured like a curved guitar neck complete with numbered strings and frets, therefore making it easy to visualize how the chording or fingering works. Understanding that most musicians don't play in a vacuum, the Music Theory side of the wheel brings in keyboard access with major and minor scales, pentatonic scales, blues scales, degrees and eharmonic equivalents.

The Music Wheel can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. All the same, it is an educational tool that will grow with you as you go deeper into music theory. This is important especially when you are spending about $15.00 for "Book One" then after out-growing that material, having to purchase Book Two. The Guitar Wheel is made of tough plastic, not cardboard and I figure if eight year olds can't destroy it, well, it should hold up for you.

MSRP is $24.95 and the wheel comes with an instructional DVD highlighting its uses. Order it online for a super discount at Amazon.com by clicking the link: Guitar Wheel on Amazon.com

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Performing with Your Own Microphones

Audio Technica Microphones will again grace the stage for the 2012 Country Music Awards Show on April 1st.

AE5400 used on CMAs
Nearly every year it has been televised, Audio-Technica's have been the main mics used on the annual Grammys and Country Music Awards Shows.  One of the things musicians depend on is a quality vocal mic.  Surprises on a high budget production like the Grammys Award Show and CMA broadcast is not going to be tolerated.  Take a cue from the pros on this one and check out this Artist Elite Series AE5400 they use on stage.  Why do you think they use them year after year?  I used to just keep the house microphone provided by the venue but quickly learned that can come back to bite you.

Whereas the soundman rules, you can still arrive early and speak with him regarding using your own mic.  I've done this and you'd be surprised at how accommodating they can be.  Besides most sound techs want to try new equipment so if you have a really nice mic or preamp, they are likely going to be interested.

One venue I played, I checked in with the soundman and discussed the equipment I was bringing.  He assured me that he would be able to integrate it into the house sound system.  The day of the gig, I arrived early and helped set everything up.  The result was a smooth, comfortable performance with no mic issues or sound surprises.  In fact, I was one of the first performers to bring and use a condenser mic onstage.  The house mic was a dynamic, you know that good 'ol Shure SM58!  After I finished the set, I took my Audio Technica ATM710 Artist Series condenser microphone with me.  We later stopped by to hear the band that followed but... couldn't!  The house microphones were barely picking up the vocals and instruments.  They were practically shouting into them. 

I knew that feeling.  I don't (want to) remember how many places I've played using the equipment that was there only to have to just about scream into the microphone to be heard, (barely).  Something like that just throws off your whole performance because now you've got to position yourself closer to the mic which may be unnatural to hold.

AT 4081 Ribbon Instrument Mic
The same thing for your instrument and amp mics.  Years ago, bringing something as sweet but fragile as a ribbon mic to a performance was pretty much unheard of.  Ribbon microphones are amazing but dropping one means several hundred dollars down the drain.  Now with new technology, the AT 4081 Ribbon Mic is much more rugged for travel and work outside the recording studio.  In fact if you are using this equipment in the studio, i.e. a drum and bass machine, vocal preamps, guitar pedals, BRING THEM ALONG too.  The familiar will make you more comfortable and confident when facing the crowds.  
The main thing to remember is that YOU are the artist.  Not to get all "Diva" on you but I think you'll find bringing your own microphones and preamps will give you the most control over your sound and performance.  They you can relax and play.

My Voicetone Create vocal mic preamp & DR-3 Drum and Bass Machine powered by a Sanyo Pedal Juice.  A little bit of my studio that goes with me on the road.