Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dan Baird and Homemade Sin - Circus Life - Best Album 2013

Circus Life is a good life, and rock 'n' roll is alive and well in the hands of Dan Baird and Homemade Sin. If this album isn't enough to get this bunch back on American soil in 2014, I might be applying for resident alien status across the puddle.

Let me clarify the lineup for those perhaps not in the know - Dan Baird and Homemade Sin is three quarters Georgia Satellites and one quarter Warner Hodges (Jason and The Scorchers). And they're so good I almost want to cry. Baird preaches the sermon of rock as well as any poet that ever attempted, and the band is rarely less than picture perfect. You could be excused for not knowing that this bunch has never stopped performing in one guise, or another since they started back in the '80s, but there will be no excuse for you to not purchase, listen to, and adore this record.

Sonically, this album is wonderful - you never wonder what Baird is singing about, the harmonies well placed and Stonesy, the rhythm section of drummer Mauro Magellan and bassist Keith Christopher sounds like they've known each other forever (which they have), and then there's the guitars. The guitars are not only well played, they also sound like a masterclass in tone - Baird and Hodges are a great team. Listening to the pair's rhythm tracks reveals all - they're playing the same song, the same chords, but the differences in nuance and style are beautifully distinct. Almost always panned left and right, there's a great education in rock there alone. But then there's the songs....

I'm given to hyperbole, but I'm not given to being wrong (well, not about rock 'n' roll, anyway), and I am here to tell you that Dan Baird is as great a writer of that thing known as a rock 'n' roll song as anyone on the planet. There's not a much harder thing to do than to write a straight up rock 'n' roll song in the late year of our Lord in 2013, but Baird makes it sound simple as he avoids cliche while writing instant cliches every step of the way. There's gold in these words and chords.

The first pinched, gritty chords that pop out of the speakers that announce Fall Apart On Me, and it's another of Baird's stock-in-trade - the seriously tongue-in-cheek look on the relationships between men and women. I'd love to see Baird's record collection - whatever he got fed as a youth must have been the perfect diet for the writer as a young rocker. The rhythm that Warner Hodges plays against Baird's is a beautiful piece of whip-crack syncopation, and every guitar player should check this as a fine way to measure one's ability to keep time. I'll say it again and again, but this bunch gets it right. I haven't heard two guitarists joust so well since Webb Wilder and Donny Roberts told Chuck Berry the news in the nineties to all too darned many deaf ears. Check out the final 24 seconds of this tune for a dose of pure bliss.

Stepping it up to a double time snare snapper, Little Darlin' is steeped in sweet country harmonies, and when the guitar solos start it's time to hit the woodshed - these licks sound as smooth as silk and sweet as honey, but they're knucklebusters of the best type.

All The Same is another sad, sad song about the travesties of love, and if Chuck Berry had known it would end up here, he'd smile from ear to ear. Ear candy - there are more calories of candy here than I've heard on an album all year - nothing here is rocket science, but I'll be damned if all the fake rock country guitar players in Nashville get anywhere near this high water mark. No, this is the real deal, and this is where the true religion can be found.

As of today, and mind you, I'm fickle when it comes to these matters - Thousand Little Pieces is the best song I've heard this year. I've been revisiting the live YouTube clip incessantly since I found it, and this seven minute forty-two second cut is even better yet. Slow stuff it tough - you have to be accurate, and your heart must be in the right place. When Hodges kicks into his sweetly sustained solo, he achieves guitar nirvana, then Baird kills me with what may be his best verse yet:
"We had it all,
pretty as a picture.
Just like the one,
you left hanging in the hall. 
A better man,
would find hope in the scriptures.
But Jesus wept,
is all I can recall."
I don't know exactly how George Jones felt about rock 'n' roll, but I'm sure he would have loved this.

Photo by Jos Westenberg

Warner Hodges playing is great across the album, but his soloing on Thousand Little Pieces is the stuff greatness is made of - he goes for the throat with an almost speaker exploding distorted tone, then he backs down and makes you cry, only to wind it all up again and deliver hope in a song that may otherwise just be too damned sad. There's redemption to be found in those notes, and that was always the point. Hodges stands accused of having perfect tone and unquestionable note selection.

A goddamned barn burner, it is.

Where'm I Gonna Lay My Head has a hard act to follow, but it has more going for it than the most creative use of an apostrophe this year, as the band dives right back into the rock. Much of this reminds me of The Band, in that there's no attempt to be progressive, psychedelic, or innovative, just an attempt to write and play the music as best as it can be. Hodges is on fire again, and his stinging and slinging soloing sizzles. The beauty of this pair is that they seemingly have no sense of anything but musical camaraderie - there's never a minute of anything but rock 'n' roll glory.

Stonesy syncopation is a tough order, and Break Down And Cry reminds me of the simpatico relationship I hear on Keith's solo records with Waddy Wachtel - the rhythms here are sublime and they make me dance in my chair as I type. And I like that. The arrangement includes some extremely tasty Hammond organ and some very pop harmonies on the chorus that keeps the track from ever becoming run of the mill. Masterful.

Bassist Keith Christopher steps up to do a lead vocal, and we don't miss a step. This band has been working for a few years to loving crowds around the UK and Europe, and it's quite apparent that they know one another like the back's of their respective hands - Think It's Time is another new type of arrangement, introducing some nice plucked harmonic keyboards under the chorus that add the perfect pop sweetness. Another winner, but you knew I was going to say that, right?

Photo by Jos Westenberg

Mauro Magellan earns his place in the percussion hall of fame with his work on Baby This - not many drummers can 'own' a song, but it can happen, and Magellan does it here with not just stellar stick work, but tons of catchy and chugging, percolating accessory work. Baird has his wit pen out again, and his writing is pure poetry.

The first time I spun this disc, I thought to myself, 'Have they really done this? Have they really recorded a whole album of fairly straight up, soulful rock 'n' roll without covering their own tracks even once?' They have, and the chorus of Long Way Down proves the point marvelously. Hodges is a master of the chordal solo, slurring notes and harmonizing with himself as he works his way around the solos and fills. The record is everything that's wrong with Nashville, and everything that's right with rock. Hell no, rock ain't near dead.

Dan Baird knocks out great rockers like clockwork - every one of us would love to write one rocker that would compare to Outlivin', and he's written an album full. There's an unholy union of The Byrds and The Dictators on this one. Chimey descents of guitar harmonies that evoke memories of And Your Bird Can Sing are always a pleasure, and they fit this number like a glove. I can't write as well as they play, so you are just going to have to buy this record and figure it out for yourself.

Face Of Love is another jangler, rocking melodically down the pike. Starting and stopping and swaggering, all at the same time - most bands could never do this without falling upon their respective arses, but Dan Baird and Homemade Sin toss it off like nobody's business. More arrangement wizardry as clever choices abound - before Hodges goes into yet another 'here's how it's supposed to be done' solo, they throw in a little step down that only lasts about five seconds but contains more musical intelligence than you can believe.

Wear And Tear wraps up the party, and it's a sweet piece of power pop that reminds me that The Flamin' Groovies are back on the scene, and if they hadn't reunited, I'd have been just fine with this in their stead. This album delivers on promises I've been waiting on since The Small Faces dissolved all those decades ago.

Photo by Jos Westenberg

Circus Life may be the perfect album of 2013 - it makes not a single misstep, and every step of the way it has thrilled me to the bone. Thanksgiving week is perfect for its release, as it has me giving thanks for rock 'n' roll this great. I'm soon starting a radio show called Rock Ain't Near Dead down in Los Angeles - it's about where rock came from, where it's at, and where it's going, and I am going to have to move heaven and earth to get someone from this bunch to guest and explain just how they do it. Rock Ain't Near Dead, and this record proves it in spades. I am now calling it the best of 2013. I didn't see that coming, but there you have it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Paul Logue of Eden's Curse - The Power of Positivity

These are tough times by any measure for the music business, but there's much to be said for staying positive and perseverance - Eden's Curse went through two changes in the position of lead vocalist since the release of their 2011 album, Trinity, but it didn't break down the band, in fact, it has made them stronger.

The band's new album, Symphony of Sin, is a stunning success, and new vocalist Nikola Mijik may be the find of 2013. I recently caught up with bassist/producer Paul Logue, and the affable Scotsman impressed me tremendously with his passion, outlook, and wisdom, as he looked back over the last year and towards the future, which, for Eden's Curse, has never looked better.

The world of melodic metal got a jolt when Eden's Curse founding member Michael Eden took a powder after the band's successful run of shows opening for Dream Theater in support of the band's latest release - I decided to start there and work our way towards better days:

Paul Logue: "Michael announced his departure just after we opened for Dream Theater in the UK - he came forward and told us his financial demands on the band. 
"So, it was all down to money. With this band having a global spread (each member is from a different country in Europe, or the UK), that sounds like a bad barroom joke, 'Have you heard the one  about the Scotsman, the servant?' 
"We have travel expenses the equivalent of a day of an African nation, so it's taken us six years to get to a point of probably breaking even. So, when Michael came forward with his requests, we just didn't have the money to give him, and you can't have a member of a band being paid over everyone else - it's just not going to happen, you know? 
"So, we said as a team, 'We want you to stay, nobody wanted him to leave, and would he continue on the route that's got us to where we are at this point in our kind of tenure, and he just refused to do it, and became quite unreasonable about the whole matter. It was just up to us to say, 'Listen, we can't give you what you're looking for - we lose, win, or draw as a team, and that's just the way it's going to work,' but he refused to back down and he moved on and left. 
"So, we decided to move on , and we briefly got Marco (Sandrone) in from Italy, but it was just a case of his personality - it was just wrong, and there was a language issue as well. Marco had to be reminded that he was joining our band, and we weren't joining the Marco Sandrone Band on several occasions. 
"We then made a tough decision for Eden's Curse, long-term. Do we carry on with this guy? We were quite far along in the writing process for the new record. We said, 'It's going to be embarrassing, but we need to do what's best, so we parted company with him, and I think it's been proved that we made the right choice!"

Whatever it took to get new singer Nikola Mijik into Eden's Curse, one listen to Symphony Of Sin and it's incredibly clear that the band not only made the choice, they got damned lucky. Mijik is a powerfully melodic belter who fits Eden's Curse like a glove. I asked Paul about the process (over 30 auditions) and the results:

Paul Logue: "It was about 44, in fact, the total count! 
"We tried originally to find a British singer, but the standard, and the quality of what we were looking for just wasn't there. That was rather disappointing, but as you know, this band has a global spread, so we decided to focus on Europe - if we really wanted to make decent progress in terms of touring, it has to be someone in their own backyard, at least the same continent. 
"So we spread out, and with a great many auditions coming through, one day I was on the website of Lion Music from Finland, they're a really good label with a lot of great prig bands - they had Nikola's band from Hungary called Dreyelands on their roster, and I checked them out on Facebook to see if he was doing anything with the band, just how active he was. 
"Then I reached out to him, he responded, and I encouraged him to audition. He did so, and we took it from there - we added a couple more songs, and eventually we did two Eden's Curse songs from the back catalog and we gave him a brand new song. That just floored us - absolutely floored us. We gave him a blank canvas to go in - here's the lyrics, here's a rough melody, see what you can do, and that turned out to be Evil & Divine
"We gave him a three minute song, and he gave us back a five and a half minute song. He put a lot of production ideas into it, so we found out he was very well versed - he's a professional mix engineer, he owns his own studio, mixes for live bands.... 
"He brought a lot to the table, was a joy to work with - very grounded, very humble, and supremely talented. We knew that he was the man. 
"AFM (the band's label) said, 'OK, get him into the studio, record the record, and let's come back with a big bang!"

It seemed that for all the strife, Eden's Curse had stepped up a notch in the face of adversity:

Paul Logue: "Yeah, I would say so, and I would agree with that assessment. You know, I love Michael Eden's voice, there's no doubt about that, and I thought Marco was a sensational singer, but there's a lot of versatility with Nik. 
"Not only in his voice - I mean he brings forward his performance. In the video (for Evil & Divine) he was excellent, he can actually act! 
"When people get to see him on stage - the guy's a gifted performer, and that's something I have to be honest about, and say that was lacking in the previous lineup. That was something we weren't overly happy with, in terms of live work. We sat down and wrote on a piece of paper what we'd like in a new singer, and to find someone eventually after all this time that checks all these boxes, it's kind of hard to believe, to be honest!"

At the time of our talk, the band had yet to do a show with Mijik, but were set to play the Firefest in England in a bit over a week. I asked if the band had a chance to play any warm up shows before their festival debut:

Paul Logue: "No, we meet in England next week to rehearse for three days before we do the show. 
"We tried to set up a few warm up dates, but the festival has the exclusive rights for the UK, so that got put on the back burner. But tut's OK, because it allows us to focus on this show - it means we can put our attention into it. 
"It's sold-out, 2,000 melodic rock maniacs are going to be there. We're on the bill with some esteemed artists - some of my favorite bands, singers, and I'm looking forward to a real party weekend.  
"It's a very partisan audience, so I think if we can go out and put six of our greatest burps out there, it will be applauded! Thankfully, we're coming in to play something old, something new, and it's going to be a good atmosphere!"

Working with foreign vocalists, and staying busy is nothing new for Logue, recently he had produced and written much of the debut album by Code Of Silence, whose vocalist hails from Brazil:

Paul Logue: "Yeah, Gus Monsanto - he's a phenomenal singer! 
"This has been a busy year, for sure! At my last count it was six, or seven albums I've recorded and produced this year, and there's still two to come out. The other one I did was LaValle's Dear Sanity, which came out on Kivel Records, kind of an unashamedly Dokken/Ratt type of '80s thing.  
"So it's been a busy year, but I really enjoyed the Code Of Silence project, and getting to work with Gus, he's phenomenal."

Working as a unit spread across the UK and Europe, I asked Paul how detailed demos and arrangements were before files were sent to each band member:

Paul Logue: "If I'm writing a song - as an example, say Sign Of The Cross, or Wings To Fly off the new record, which were written completely by me. I presented those songs to the band and luckily all the guys agreed that there was nothing to change there.  
"We've come into the situation where we are very mature in terms of where we are with each other as songwriters, and in our relationships as people. We've worked together now on four back-to-back albums.  
"We know each other, and where our talents lie, what we can bring to the table.  
"So, for another example, maybe we're working on something like Break The Silence, or Evil & Divine, and I'll write the verse, all the guitar riffs - Thorsten changed the opening guitar riff, and Pete wrote the chorus in terms of the vocal melody. So, we know what works, and how to work with each other - in a nutshell, that's what we do.  
"It gets to the point of where demos are the final arrangements and final structure, then maybe the odd line will change when you get the singer in the vocal booth."

Having completed four albums in this fashion, is there any desire to one day get the band in the same room to record?:

Paul Logue: "Oh yeah! I'd be lying if I said that wasn't possible, or something that excites us, but yeah, for now, even if you speak to our producer Dennis Ward, Dennis tells me that we are five, or six years ahead of most bands because of our global spread.  
"But, a lot of bands are doing this now - the budgets are not what they used to be, and too, the bands are being a little bit more careful on what they spend, because they can utilize the budget elsewhere. For example, touring, unfortunately, has never been more expensive. That's the one side of the business as the budgets are going down, the costs are higher, because you have fuel bills and everything that comes with it. 
"So you may not be looking at spending to record the drum tracks here with Dennis - it would be 4-5,000 Euros, but with Pete having his own studio set up, and having done it for the last three Eden's Curse records, why spend the money on doing that? 
"I think in the long-term, if the success of the band takes off, and we find ourselves fortunate to be up several levels, then absolutely. Going to the Bahamas and renting Lenny Kravitz's studio would be nice! We can all dream, can't we?"

Dennis Ward is a name I hear all the time when melodic metal is the topic - both as a player, and a producer he's in constant demand, and at the top of everyone's list as a most valued partner. I asked Paul about their working relationship:

Paul Logue: "His role - he's essentially the 6th member of Eden's Curse. 
"He's been with us from the outset, and he had been instrumental in this band actually being formed. Him and Dennis Readman - I was working with both of them on David's solo album way back in 2005 probably, and they gave me a lot of encouragement because of the wealth of material, and the quality of material that I had floating around. 
"He's been there since day one, and he put a lot of faith in me and Mike (Michael Eden) when we first got together. He said, 'Guys, I'll mix your record, and if you don't get signed you don't owe me any money.' 
"We said, 'What?' Generosity like that in this day and age is unheard of - so, we paid him back by the time we'd signed with AFM and when we came back to do The Second Coming record, we arrived with a big envelope of Euros for them, and paid them in advance, and he was just blown away by that. 
"We've become great friends - in terms of mixing, he created the sound of Eden's Curse. I mean, I know that we have to physically record and a lot of the sound exists in the players fingers, absolutely, but he knows what works for this band.  
"I remember he said, 'What do you want this band to sound like?' I said, Pink Cream 69, and that was easy enough for him because we could give him a tangible reference point for him. Like, we'll say, 'We loved what you did on the last Angra record, or what he did with Silent Force here, or Allen Lander, and that's cool because we're fans of this type of music, and it allows Dennis to really tap into what we're thinking about. 
"He is in my opinion, and I may be prejudiced, even though I am the producer of the album, I'm just making sure the guys do things on time, and we do it in this order, and if the recordings are not clean they have to fix them up, but he is the man who is absolutely responsible for the wall of sound. 
"So, he's one of the biggest cogs in the machine, he's right in the core of it. If you remove him from that, it changes the output."

Wrapping things up, as Paul had many interviews to do before he rests, we talked about how he felt about his band's future after all the strife, and subsequent successes:

Paul Logue: "Very positive! 
"I don't think there's any hiding from it. I think we've touched upon the positivity within some of the lyrical content. Very proud of some of the songs we've attempted to do, and pulled off! 
"We've handled taking on a 46 piece orchestra, and incorporating it on the opening title track, which still blows me away that we've been able to do that. If you do back to the first record, and you ask the guy that was behind the band then if a DeLorean appeared out of the sky with some crazy-haired professor accompanying a young guy going, 'Great Scott, Marty,' and sent him that Symphony Of Sin eight minute track, he's have been like, 'Jesus wept!' 
"So, the progress the band has made, I'm very proud of it, and we grew as people, we grew as a band, and right now, the one thing that was very evident was when we had actually written the songs, never mind recorded them, the feeling within the group was that, 'We've got something very special.' 
"We knew what Dennis was going to bring to the table, we knew this was a record that was going to make people set up and take notice, and it still floors me when we get his mixes back. And, I don't mind admitting it - when I first heard the mix of Unbreakable, I actually wept with joy, because it was everything sonically that I fought to make Eden's Curse over the last two difficult years that we had.  
"So it was an unbelievably uplifting moment, and that's how much it means to us, and what we've come through. We knew through difficult times if we found the right guy, we knew what we were capable of doing. 
"It's just unbelievably humbling to sit back and see that people are saying the same things we are thinking. Thank you so much, Tony - I appreciate your time, and your high compliments, and if we keep getting compliments like that, somebody is going to give us a call, and get us out there (America), and that would be a dream come true."

Symphony Of Sin is a tremendous record, and if there is anything right in this world, that world will take proper notice and shine down upon Eden's Curse with the same passion and care that went into the making of not just the record, but the band.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pete Anderson - Keeping It Alive At The Torch Club In Sacramento

Pete Anderson is something of a renaissance man - equally at home spitting out a lexicon of guitar licks in about any style, blowing some smokey, reverb drenched harmonica, or regaling an audience with tales of troubles in love, the plight of the middle class, and the death of country music at the hands of Nashville. Like the Johnny Appleseed of American music, Pete throws his musical seeds from a big white vehicle rolling down the roads of this majestic country, and the faithful are eating it up and appreciative.

It wasn't a large crowd on this rare rainy evening in downtown Sacramento, but those in attendance knew why they were there. The Torch Club is a Sacramento mainstay and Anderson has made a habit of stopping in as he either heads north, or south down the West coast. This show was more like a gathering of old friends in a garage, or basement than the big productions Pete played in years past as guitarist and musical director for Dwight Yoakum, but the seasoned vet brought it, and brought it hard all night long.

Reverend PA-1 Pete Anderson Signature Model

If you counted the cool licks in Pete Anderson's toolbox you'd be up all night, and you'd need a calculator - everything from sumptuous multi-string bends to chromatic walks that visit Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, down to Texas, and yes, even Nashville. The man is like an encyclopedia of American guitar styles, and he delivers them with a workingman's sense of no-bullshit, and nuthin' fancy. The tones coming from Pete's hands and his self designed Reverend Guitars (a PA-1 Signature Model, and an Eastsider T tele-type were the weapons of choice last night), and a super sweet and ancient Silvertone 1472 amp were absolutely perfect - of course, it's all in the fingers and hands and Pete's mostly bare knuckled approach gets it right with every strum, swipe, and pull.

The songs were mostly from his last few solo records (Even Things Up, and Birds Above Guitarland - which is what happens when you let your ten year old daughter title your album, according to Pete) with a nugget or two from earlier works and a blues staple here and there. Anderson is still the guy who spent twenty years trying to save Nashville from itself, and while he may not have saved The Music City's musical soul, he did walk away with more knowledge than you can lasso in one evening in a night club. If you took an alien by the hand, took him to a Pete Anderson show, and said, 'This is American guitar music,' your visitor would have a pretty good idea of what was up.

Maybe as important as what Pete plays is what he says. He told a wonderful story about the title song of his first solo album, Working Man - how he came to become a guitar player after seeing the lost phalanges on the hands of his prospective instructors at the tool & die shop that was to be a step up from his folk's jobs as automakers, and how his once on-point declaration of a decaying middle class later became outdated, only to be reborn in this new American century. Then he told of the time on the endless road when a tornado was chasing his stock-in-trade Econoline van down a highway - Pete saw a pickup truck, a refrigerator, and a big old tree being casually tossed about by the twister, and thought to himself, 'If I could just get that tornado to follow me up this road to Nashville, I might be able to finally fix country music.' It turns out he couldn't - the storm turned off the highway to devour a trailer park, but Pete? He's still on that road trying to make things right.

I saw a great lesson in not just American music last night - I also saw a great lesson in what it is to be an American. Pete Anderson might not shop at Nudie's, but he sure does wear it all very well. If you get a chance to see Pete Anderson somewhere out on the endless road don't miss it - it's the best bargain you're going to find in any barroom on any given night. Thanks, Pete!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Volume IV - The Biggest Thing Since....Coming in March 2014

I'll let you decide what the last big thing may have been, but I don't know when I've been  more excited about a new album by any band from any land, than I am about Volume IV's Long In The Tooth (Ripple Music).

Volume IV will release their debut in March 2014, and from the samples and songs I've heard, they're going to make it as the new act to beat in the upcoming year. Here's the sampler platter from Ripple Music:

The band bills themselves as being 'too rock for metal, and too metal for rock,' but while that may, or may not be true, I'm guessing there's enough to dig for any fan of either. They never grind for too long without becoming melodic and sophisticated, and they have many moments in which chugging chords segue into dynamic instrumental interludes that suggest this is one smart bunch.

There's no nu-technology to be found, the band eschews click tracks, auto-tune, and triggers, instead opting for old school musicality, and their own imaginations.

Looking Low For A High is a tune that wouldn't sound out of place in a world that had ZZ Top forming in 2013 - it's easy to drape the flag of the original 'Lil' Ole Band From Texas' over these proceedings, but while they have obviously listened to a few albums by Gibbons & company, they are also much, much more. The tune evolves into a fun-fest of great drums, syncopated guitars, and a crushing bass groove that explodes into a wicked wah-drenched solo that shreds most melodically. Joe Carpenter growls a bit, but he keeps things clean enough to decipher on the vocal side, and not too gain with the guitars. This should appeal to everyone from 18-60 if the demographic is those who love cool rock.

Starting out with slowly arpeggiated chords and a dirge of a backbeat, Save Your Servant is served well by nicely stacked harmony vocals - it's hard to play this slow and keep the train moving down the track, and Volume IV pull it off as well as anyone since Hetfield. The chorus has some cool propelling chords that keep things melodically interesting until Carpenter unwinds a splendid and all-too-short guitar solo that leads into the second verse. This bunch is wise in the way of dynamics, and this tune just keeps building and building - the drums get more agitated, the guitars louder, and then the harmonies spill out of the Marshall amps on the stairway to somewhere.

KONG is by far the heaviest item on my sample platter, and it's heavy as Hades, but its spoken/rapped verse is still in control enough to not scare off the hard rock crowd, and when the band goes into the majestic interlude between verses they will win a great many hearts within the guitar community. The whole record is chock full of moments where I half thought things were too heavy for my aging ears, but the band always brought me right back with their well tuned towards rock history ears, smarts, and passion - Volume IV have learned their lessons well, and they are going to be hard to beat in 2014.

Here's another couple of samples which explains things better than my words might:

Volume IV - coming in March on Ripple Music.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rush - Clockwork Angels Tour - Growing Old With Great Grace

It's extremely interesting to watch rock grow up and grow old. Some artists and acts step up, and some stumble. Some have kept their act's together, while some have wilted. Some mail it in, and some suit up and blow the folks away.

Rush definitely falls into the latter category - most bands are lucky to make it to eleven albums, while Rush has eleven live albums to their credit, and while you can occasionally hear the strain of the constant touring in Geddy Lee's voice, he's still giving it a hundred percent and using his brain to take him where his vocal cords may no longer allow him to tread. As a band Lee, Lifeson, and Peart are still on fire and delivering the goods. This album features over three hours of music, 31 songs (12 with a string section), and spans over forty years of recording - I'd wager this is a marathon not many mere mortals could run.

There's nothing I can say to a Rush fan that they don't already know, so I'm talking here to the casual listener, or folks like myself who have always thought a little Rush went a long way. I'd be the first to admit that the band has always been a head, or two in front of me when it came to sheer grey matter, but what impresses me most about this live set is the amount of heart I'm hearing. Early in the set the band breaks out The Analog Kid, and both the energy and passion on display is majestic. They're going for the throat, and they're hitting their mark. Then there are tunes like Big Money, in which each member is on top of every part, and not missing a bar, or a note. A Hall of Fame performance, indeed.

Then there's the matter of playing over half of their last studio album without missing a beat, and having the material measure up to the classics. How many bands stay this engaged over the length of a career. If Rush ever misstepped, it may have been in their being so workmanlike, so very Canadian about the whole affair, and my tongue is, of course, in my cheek - they showed up they did their job, and they did what mattered. They moved units and put asses in seats for decades without so much as a single lineup change since before their first American tour. It's tough to find an unsatisfied customer.

Even soundcheck sounds good as the band rips through Limelight - Geddy Lee's bass tone is amongst the best I've ever heard, and he's got the chops to display it in the limelight. Lifeson is always underrated, and while he's got no complaints, when you hear his solo on this track you'll get it more than ever. And, of course, Neil Peart may, or may not be God's drummer, he's certainly amongst the best that ever walked the earth. Yeah, even soundcheck sounds incredible.

Rarely performed tunes like Middletown Dreams sound seamless and robust - Rush is not a band to do things with anything less than absolute devotion and care. I don't know how many people actually consider the tremendous care that this takes, the energy, the skills, and the love. It's easy to dismiss Rush as unemotional math rock, especially if one never listened close or actually paid attention, but maybe it's just that it's easier to criticize what we don't understand than it is to put in the work to figure it out.

Tom Sawyer is an unassailable classic, and when you hear the crowd erupt at it's intro, you know you're in for a great trip - again, the band plays it as if they were touring it for the first time, and when Lifeson goes into his solo, he's got Lee and Peart chasing his down the freeway at midnight, just as always. There's no resting on laurels, no half-assing nothing - they deliver.

Like I said at the top, there's nothing I need to say to the converted - Rush has been at the top of their game for decades, and they continue to be at the top today. But - for those who have always either half liked the band, or maybe even not liked the band, I'd recommend checking out Clockwork Angels Tour, and maybe coming to appreciate something maybe missed before - the fact that Rush is simply on of the best rock bands this planet has seen.

Ghost B.C. - If You Have Ghost - Grohl's Ghosts Connect With Their Past

I'm not sure what Ghost B.C.'s hardcore metal fans will make of their new EP, If You Have Ghost. Produced and drummed by Dave Grohl, the record sounds to my ears more like mid-period Blue Oyster Cult than anything from the last twenty years, and while I happen to love my metal with a bit of Bryds-ish harmony, and pop melody, I'm not so certain the band's fans will feel the same.

Grohl has perhaps spent time in Ghost for some time it would appear, rumored to have played drums on Infestissumam, and maybe even donning a hood and touring with the band, though the band resists naming names. At any rate, Grohl stands alongside Mike Portnoy as rock's greatest secret weapon, showing up on, or even devising projects that suits his fancy - again, a big benefit of a less corporate rock world.

It's hilarious that these Satanic upstarts manage to make Roky Erickson sound Top 40 - If You Have Ghosts tone is straight off BOC circa 1977, and it would have fit perfectly on their Spectres album next to Godzilla and Goin' Thru The Motions. I'm a big, big fan of melody and bands that do what their muse tells them, and I'm loving Ghost B.C. this morning.

Abba gets the treatment with I'm A Marionette, and again it's a big, polished seventies production. To my ears this is what a rock record should sound like - vocals are in tune front and center, the drums punch and the other instruments are bell clear and beautiful. Grohl's drumming is top notch as always, and the harmony guitars get me every time. One could be excused for guessing this to be an album cut from The Alan Parsons Project.

Crucified starts off sounding like an early Judas Priest outtake (in their softer moments), and while it gets grittier when the vocals come in, the chorus takes us straight to the ear candy store, and by now the band's hardcore may be pissed, but this is great stuff. This is lush and plush - saccharine sweet and sticky. Perfectly played, sang, and produced, kids.

Depeche Mode's Waiting For The Night is up next, and it's more of the same - you're either in deep now, or the CD's been thrown up against the wall. These guys might even have a Meatloaf album, or two in their collective collections, and Grohl milks the material from both behind the kit and the mixing board. Syrupy slow and thick as molasses, Ghost B.C. are in no hurry, and they carry this like a pall bearer to its resting place. Gorgeous.

Maybe it's to throw their fans a bone, but they've elected to end the proceedings with a live track - Secular Haze is from their last album, and the live treatment works, as the band sounds like Satan's circus. Maybe it's just to let everyone know that the covers like apples don't fall far from the tree. These mavens are really just consummate hard rockers on a lark, and I wonder if this isn't the first step towards an unveiling of the true talents that make up this sinister sideshow.

At any rate, it's great sounding rock, and that's all I could care about.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Songs From The Road - True Grit and Red Hot Guitars

Joanne Taylor Shaw rips it up from one end to the other on Songs From The Road, her new CD/DVD offering, and it's tough to tell which she does better - sing, play, or write excellent blues rockers.

Recorded a few months back at The Borderline in London, England, this set reveals Shaw Taylor to possess more true grit than a bucketful of your run of the mill boy bluesers - her voice belies her soft look, suggesting a much rougher road than pictures would suggest, and her guitar tone is on the verge of psychotic reaction breakup. That she chooses a Les Paul and a Marshall as her main weapons speaks volumes - she is connected to the past, but not at all committed to sticking with the script.

I love her guitar solos for the simple reason that she sounds as if she's playing what she feels more than relying on the usual SRV apings - she's got a lot of rock 'n' roll under her fingers, and as anyone who knows me knows, I like my blues rock with a good dose more rock than blues. Her playing on Tied & Bound is incendiary - from the dirty riffing to an extended solo that touches much familiar territory for an experienced listener, but she's hitting it all with her own take. You won't here me saying anything about her being a hot female guitarist - she is simply a hot guitarist who happens to be female. If I have a criticism, it would be that I'd love to hear her with a band behind her that sound as on fire as their leader - mind you, they are perfectly competent, but her star would rise considerably if she had a gang behind her who would chase her a bit, and not just accompany competently.

Songwriting is most generally a weak point with blues rockers, but Taylor Shaw is miles ahead of the pack again - I hear a lot of the American South in her songs, from Muscle Shoals to the righteous Reverend Al Green, with a smidgen of The Brothers Allman on the side. Beautifully Broken is a song that most excellently makes my case. It smolders with soul and grit, and her solo is another howler.

Watch 'Em Burn is a great example of a song that rubs shoulders with the blues rock basics, but some interesting movement leads into the choruses, and keeps things out of the land of cliche - again her soloing is smoking hot and she manages to keep it quite interesting before backing off for the final verse which kicks nicely into the refrain. Then we get our first extended solo, and it's off to the races. Her style lives somewhere between Bonamassa's smooth as silk shredding and Gary Clark Jr's more savage axe slinging, and honestly I prefer hers. No disrespect to either gentleman, this is just more up my alley. It's feral, but there are some serious chops happening.

Diamonds In The Dirt is the title track from her 2010 studio set, and it's a sophisticated piece of soulful pop that brings to mind Boz Scaggs at his best. Her slinky rhythm guitars scratch nicely under her smokey vocals, and then her solo makes me remember why I miss Gary Moore so much. Good, good stuff.

Covering Hendrix is a ballsy manuever, and while Shaw Taylor is on the mark, she's held back by the band - again, they're a fine band, but they don't sound like a hellhound is upon their ass, and they leave their leader a bit vulnerable. They just don't sound like they ever get in her face, and that keeps damned good from being great. Manic Depression is an out of control train trip, and it needs to be ran and ran hard. The breakdown is brilliant, but it needs more fire from the band.

Jealousy is another great cover, and Shaw Taylor's take is downright funereal, in the best sense. Her vocal is one of the best on the record, as any take on Frankie Miller must be. She takes ownership - I wonder how many folks think this is one of hers? I can think of little better to say for her songwriting. If you're not hip to Frankie Miller, you'll thank me for the tip. I love her clean tone solo - a clean Les Paul is often very close to a Tele in pure six string tone, and this is a great example. Then she kicks in the sting of the fuzz, and burns the house down.

Shaw Taylor is a fine, fine, fine rhtyhmatist - not a word, but I like the sound of it. Her scratchy self accompaniment on Kiss The Ground Goodbye is extremely tasty and deft. Drummer Tony DiCello is in fine form on this, displaying exceptionally deft cymbal work as Joanne takes another flight of six string fancy.

Just Another Word is another rhythm workout that percolates nicely. I love that the guitar tones are not carbon copies, but rather they seem to be what Shaw Taylor wants to hear, and that's most generally the mark of someone on the proper path. Her clean rhythm strumming on the outré verse is exemplary.

Big rock moves inform Jump That Train with large style riffing setting up the verses that feature more clean skronk from the Les Paul. The solo is a bit Texas styled this time, and she takes it from six to sixty in no time at all, getting hotter by the measure. Her right hand is a work of wonder.

She sends the crowd home with the appropriately titled Going Home - a swampy number that heats up nicely, leading to another sizzling solo that makes the point once again.

Songs From The Road is a great sample of Joanne Shaw Taylor's skills - she's got it all, the songs, a great voice, and a set of hands and imagination that any guitarist would appreciate. She has an excellent band, but she's a great band away from being a big star. At any rate, I'd consider this a must own for anyone who digs their blues rock with a healthy dose of rock and soul.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jake Bugg - Shangri La - Big Hope For The Future, or The Missing Masterpiece of A Lost Generation?

Jake Bugg got delivered to my doorstep several months ago, and now I'm in the position of saying, 'Damn, Rick Rubin, brilliant job.'

Hear it here:

Shangri La is the young Brit's second effort, and it's going to be the one. Rubin picked the right few players, and got it down - not losing the kid's great writing, but framing it with great sonics. Matt Sweeney, Chad Smith, Pete Thomas, Jason Lader, these are all hallmark names, and they deliver the goods as sidemen - sure, this sounds a little ProTools-ish and sometimes a bit derivative, but in a day and age when this is just how projects are done, this is a wall-to-wall winner.

This album sounds best when taken out of context - if I said this was made in a garage in Brighton in 1966, it would be proclaimed as the missing masterpiece of a generation. In fact, I think the sequencing could have been made better by kicking things of with What Doesn't Kill You, the delicious slice of power punk that deflects the obvious Dylan comparisons that may result from opening with a There's A Beast and We All Feed It, as brilliant as the song is.

Even when he's chasing Zimmerman's ghosts, Bugg makes the grade - this record sounds as we always wanted Bob's records to sound like, less tinny, more meaty, and clear as a ringing bell.

Slumville Surprise rocks its way down the highway with a brisk beat and kick ass guitars that step back to allow the kid to deliver the big, sumptuous, and sweet chorus. Yeah, there was never a guitar solo quite this good on a Dylan record - I hope Bugg can find a live band strong enough to stand next to this record.

What Doesn't Kill You is a pre-apocolyptic rocker that drags you down the street at full speed, but still manages to sweeten up for the hook. When I first heard Bugg I thought, yeah, the songs and lyrics were there, but I wasn't sure about the arrangements - in the interim, he's stepped up, and now he has the enviable problem of having the songs sound so great that you might not notice the brilliance of the writing. This hook will have you humming for days.

It's hard to separate the tones on this record from that of its forefathers, but that's a niggling point. Me and You is another tune that transcends comparisons by outrunning its past. The choruses always take a turn that brings a grin, and aside from an overly loud cymbal, I can find no fault.

The crack band breaks out every twist and turn they know, and I even think I'm even hearing a little Guided By Voices/Indie influence woven into Messed Up Kids. Mostly, this is just well played, well written, and yes, well produced pop. Buggs may be getting swallowed up by the machinery, but damn, it sounds great, cut to cut. Rick Rubin may have blown it to my ears with a near wilted Black Sabbath, but all is forgiven, as he's made a record that deserves to make year end Top Ten lists here.

A Song About Love shows Bugg's sensitive side, and he consistently sounds like the way brilliant almost twenty somethings used to sound. All Your Reasons is a mid-tempo stomper that suggests a familiarity with the folk rockers of the early seventies who combined their angst with beauty to create a history. Maybe I'll throw out CSN&Y on a good day as a reference point. David Crosby would surely love this tune. I'm guessing he'd dig the whole record.

It's back to the big rock with Kingpin, and it's a tale of trying to stay ahead of your detractors and the trouble they may bring. Big rock is happening here with a huge beat and bass getting ran down the road by gritty guitars that sound vaguely familiar - if you're really sharp, you can hear the cops in the arrangements, but it's more fun than annoying.

Kitchen Table gets a bit more sophisticated with its rhythms and rhymes. This is also more along the paths of Laurel Canyon circa 1970, and I'm more than happy to make the trip. My one hope would be that people get past the hype and the hoopla, and just listen to this record with open ears and an open heart. Jake Bugg is getting the full treatment, but he's the best pure writer I've heard come down the trail in many, many a moon.

Acoustic guitars feature largely across the record, and Pine Trees may be the least adorned number, and Bugg shines when left to his own devices - pen, guitar, and voice.

Then it's back to the band and Rubin's brilliance as Simple Pleasures washes ashore with gorgeous guitars that announce the arrival of the bard. I congratulate Bugg for letting the pros do what they do as they weave magic around his tunes. This is a slow build that eventually explodes into something more musical and powerful than anything I ever heard coming from the age of grunge. People who say rock is dead are simply whiners who aren't listening. If I had given you this album in any decade, you'd sing its praises.

Storm Passes Away evokes folk music via The Traveling Wilburys, and I mean that with all due respect - the writing is top shelf, and the arrangement is both sophisticated and extremely tasty. Bugg sounds like he could have recorded this in 1964, 1974, or today - he transcends trends and manages to never sound quaint, even when borrowing styles and cliches with which to wrap around his tone poems.

Jake Bugg isn't the new Dylan, hell, Dylan would have just as soon not been Dylan, so I won't saddle him with crap like that - if you need a lowest common denominator, sure, but this is a kid who has ingested every piece of music he's ever heard and is smart enough to surround himself with talent that doesn't overshadow or intimidate. In doing so, he's made one of the coolest records I've heard all year.

Congrats to Rick Rubin - I seem to either love or hate your work, but that's more about something other than just quality. You're in a complicated business and anyone who ever batted .500 ended up in the Hall of Fame, so there you go.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Lunatic - Episode 7: The Baker - The Lunatic As Everyman

I've been watching The Lunatic build his case since the series of web episodes began on YouTube back in June - it was originally brought to my attention by a friend who noticed that this clip with no attribution had been viewed almost a half million times in about a week. I watched with interest as each episode revealed a bit more, and the view count grew to over 7 million views before being unceremoniously dumped by YouTube without explanation.

I've just previewed Episode 7 - The Baker, and if you're one of the seven million who have already taken the trip, you'll be pleased to know that you still can't predict exactly where this is all leading, but you'll also be pleased to hear that The Lunatic is most likely you. He's most likely a lot like most of us. If you haven't joined the party, come on in, the water's fine.

Episode 7 takes a decidedly more lighthearted approach with it's '50s sit-com music, black & white commercial trailers, and it's Gumb-like antagonist. The Baker is as unlovable as a politician, and we can all relate to the fact that we want to see him get what he's got coming. Maybe that's a big part of the appeal of The Lunatic at this point. We saw the early episodes, in which one was never certain if The Lunatic was hero, or villain, and we developed a healthy fear of his malevolence and demeanor. Then in Episode 5 - A 21st Century Man, we finally were able to collectively exhale when we found his particular bend was towards that of vigilante, and not villain.

Speaking for myself, I've been down those roads too many times, and while I know that the wages of vengeance are meager, it is an honest day's work. And I know that while society (read as: governments) don't approve of vigilantism, audiences do, and I can easily imagine throngs of movie goers raising their fists to the sky every time a bad guy dies at the hands of The Lunatic. There's darkness in us all, and as we are drawn closer to a darker shade of darkness, we often lose the light of reason, and the visceral becomes pleasing. Even if we never actually cross the line, we enjoying watching someone cross the line for us.

Of course, there is still one more web episode to go before The Lunatic leaves the monitor and heads for the big screen. I have more questions than answers at this point, but of course I realize that our hero can't just go about his business of righting the world's wrongs as he attempts to come to peace with a disturbed past, it simply never works out that way - the powers that rule this world know we need bad guys worse than themselves to deflect the light from their own misdeeds, and surely there will be forces unleashed against The Lunatic. I can only imagine where it'll go from there, and I anxiously await to see where the film's makers take this.

Give The Lunatic a look, and if you're of the mind, throw the filmmakers a few bucks toward their Indiegogo campaign so I can continue my living vicariously through The Lunatic. I'd hate to have to come visit you late one night after the lights are out.

Like I said, maybe we're all The Lunatic. See you at the movies.

Indiegogo link: http://igg.me/506080/x/4518738

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Terry McInturff - Not Just Building Guitars, But Building A Sound - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

He builds 'em, he plays 'em!
I consider myself to be tremendously lucky to have the opportunity to talk with some of the world's most talented artists on a pretty regular basis. It's like going to school every time, in that I learn best when I ask the right questions and then listen, so I try to be prepared and to do my homework. This strategy has never served me better than in my conversation with guitar builder Terry McInturff. Terry has been a builder for over 35 years, and he's as much an artisan as he is an engineer - like his guitars, his design and build philosophies are both logical and beautiful, and his masterful sense of what goes where, when, and why was fantastically illuminating.

He's not just a builder, he's also a very active player, gigging regularly in the region around his home in Pittsboro, North Carolina. He builds guitars he would like to play, in hopes that others will like them as well, a philosophy I've heard from more than one boutique instrument builder, and a logical manner in which to follow one's muse. He's also as modest and absent of affectation as one can be:

Terry McInturff: "Hey Tony, thanks for your interest in talking to me - what would you like to talk about today?"

I had earlier read one of McInturff's posts on his Facebook page, recounting an experience he'd recently had in a night club after a gig one evening that had lead to a discussion of where the guitar and the music business connected in this day and age, so I asked if he'd mind starting off by recounting that tale, and to see where it would lead our discussion:

Terry McInturff: "Sure! I had just done a show at a club down the street and this place called The Station is conveniently located on my way home, and sometimes I run into friends there, so I decided to stop by. Well, I didn't see any friends, but I saw a young man in his early twenties, speaking very knowledgeably about local bands. 
"We have a thriving music scene here, thank God, in the Chapel Hill/Durham area. 
"I weaseled my way into the conversation just to ask about who were some of the really interesting guitarists, young guys. He read what was the best he could come up with, but it wasn't much - I was a little taken aback, but by the same token, I'm thinking that maybe the guitar hero thing that I grew up with, it doesn't really have the same place for people any more. 
"When I was a kid, I had no real interest in sports at all, my sports heroes were Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck! That was the kind of macho that turned me on. With all due respect, I'd rather watch Jeff Beck than somebody throw a ball through a hole. That's just me talking - the band stuff seemed like a pretty good job, they got a lot of girls! 
"It's different around here, industry wide too, and I read this in your article you sent me - that we're kind of hungry for the next Eddie Van Halen, or somebody like that, but I just don't know if that's going to happen. I don't know if there's an audience for it. Maybe there is, but certainly not on the level as when I was in high school - it's very different now."

I agreed, stating that while I had heard more great rock in the last couple of years than in the previous ten, it was more band and song oriented and less guitar-centric. While it may be of a different nature, rock ain't near dead:

Terry McInturff: "Bingo, man! I can relate to so many things you just said - when I mentioned that the guitar heroes are what got me going in my career, I guess I could blame them for it! But for my tastes, I had very little interest in virtuosic rock guitar guys who can play guitar like nobodies business - I think it's wonderful, but I'm much more band and song oriented, typically. 
"You mentioned that there's another new wave of great rock bands coming out of England, and I'm glad to hear that! My band, The Gillettes, was one of the first punk bands out of North Carolina back in 1977-78 - that was part of the formative years for the whole rock 'n' roll community around here, and it was really exciting. 
"I'm also old enough to have seen trends come and go. I remember back in the new wave days, the early to mid '80s, when there was a lot of keyboard stuff. The guitar industry really took a nosedive! Electric guitars were not selling well, particularly Les Pauls - Gibson sales were in the dumpster. Fender was still doing pretty well - it wasn't until Guns N' Roses came out, and Slash had his Les Paul. We saw within a year that Les Pauls were starting to move again. It's kind of interesting how that works."
Photo by Karen Stack
I wondered how these trends coming and going effected him as a builder:

Terry McInturff: "Well, they haven't really effected me at all because I've always just built guitars that I wanted to play, things that I needed, and then hoped like hell that somebody wants the same thing! 
"I build what I like, and I'm not a very trend oriented guy in terms of the guitar market, probably not to my best interests! I know guys and companies that have come and gone, certain companies have always been very adept at addressing trends, and the trend would last for three years, and then 'Whoops,' that product is now kind of obsolete, and now we need to design a new series of guitars! 
"So, it really hasn't effected me that much. My client base, via my distributors and dealers, is getting older - that's the one thing that has changed."

Being a builder who does a tremendous amount of custom orders, I asked McInturff how much give and take goes on between the customer and builder when a potential client calls:

Terry McInturff: "Thanks for that question - that's an excellent one! 
"If I custom build a guitar for an individual, there is a lot of communication going on. Starting with the first interview, whereupon I have to do my best to determine exactly what this person wants. 
"I view this as building a sound. 
"I really have to talk to this person about, 'What sound are we building?' And then in addition, there's all the cosmetic stuff, but the sound we're building is the first thing I start with. Sometimes, it's not the type of sound that I build! I do have a lot of variations in what I do, but they'll cut me mix CDs and stuff for me, and then send them to me to listen to. 
"I just get as good an idea as I can of the sound of their musical imagination - I want my imagination to be as close to their's as possible. Sometimes they are not sure of what they want. They know they want one of my guitars, bless their hearts, but maybe they're not quite sure of which direction they want to go, so I'm practiced at finding out what other sounds they may already own, and we don't necessarily want to replicate those. 
"I kind of give them homework sometimes. There's a way of listening to music, and I'll describe the way - let's see if that helps you determine what you would like me to make! 
"Other times, my dealers will order guitars for stock in their stores, and I have a different set of parameters for those. 
"But in each case, it really is building a sound. Unfortunately, that doesn't always mean picking the top board off of the stack, and then pulling another board off of another stack, and just put a basic recipe of species together. When you do that, you never know what it will sound like through the amplifier when you're done. 
"I could go on and on, but all mahogany - even a different part of the same board can sound pretty damned different!"

I knew from my research that McInturff's attention to tone and resonance are second to none, so I asked him how they impact his overall build philosophy:

Terry McInturff: "My marching order as a builder is to determine the sound I am trying to build, and then to select the materials that will result in the proper sound at the end of the line, plugged into the amplifier. 
"How I go about doing that may be a little different than other people, no criticism intended - what works for me works for me. 
"But, even if I am building a solid body guitar, I think of it as if I am building an acoustic instrument in terms of tone. One of the things that I've learned, and this is controversial - I know I've talked and been on the forums discussing this part, and there are a lot of people who disagree with me, and that's fine, but the acoustic nature of the electric guitar, in other words, unplugged, unamplified, the nature of it sets true boundaries on what will be available to amplify. No matter what pickups you put on it. 
"To explain that a little further, let's think of the acoustic sound of the guitar - let's say you grab a Telecaster off the rack and sit down, maybe even go into a bathroom where you can really hear the unplugged sound a little louder, a small reflective room. Just strum it. Play away, get to know it a little bit. 
"We can think of that sound as being a ball park - there's a fence around the perimeter of the park, and all the frequencies and overtone series are contained within that ball park. 
"Now - if we take pickups, different pickups, we know different pickups can create some pretty dramatic changes in our sound, but the difference between the pickups is what part of the ball park you're shining a light on, bringing forward on the soundstage. The frequencies that exist near the fence are either weakly present, especially the frequencies that are outside the fence and not present cannot be amplified by any pickups. Pickups can only sense what is within the fence. 
"The acoustic nature of the Telecaster, even if you play with a lot of high gain, the resonant qualities of that chassis changes the way those strings vibrate, even if you've got a Triple Rectifier just dimed. 
"It's still in play, so pickups are really important, but they can only serve what is given. 
"And that's how I kind of go about it. That's my basic philosophy. Building an acoustic guitar. So, if I'm building a custom order for someone, and through our meetings on the phone, what I'm really trying to determine is the acoustic nature of what I am trying to build. 
"Once I determine to the best of my ability what acoustic sound I'm trying to build, then I can proceed to sort through the wood and find pieces of wood that when they are used together will work together to eventually create this acoustic nature. Then we can start looking at choosing the microphones, i.e., the pickups. 
"Let's say that someone orders a Les Paul style guitar like one of my Carolina Customs. Two humbuckers, nothing surprising there, but what is surprising is how many different shades of sound can be built off that same chassis by different selections of wood! 
"I'm looking at a stack of Honduras mahogany right now - there's dozens of different tones right there, and if I put the wrong top on it and we have phase cancellations in the wrong places - what got me thinking about this was a question of yours, it kind of goes back to the mid '80s when C.F. Martin brought out their HD-28 guitar, which is a reissue of the pre-war WWII herringbone, the original D-28 dreadnaught guitar. I was a factory authorized Martin repair man, in fact, I was the only one in the city of Philadelphia, which was awesome fun! 
"Anyway, when Martin brought out the HD-28s, the first couple of years, they didn't get it quite right - in other words, they were building a really high quality guitar, but they weren't shaving the braces, in a fashion as to make them voiced more along the lines of what the originals would have sounded like, so I was hired numerous times to start shaving the x-braces and some of the tone bars, as well, the braces under the soundboard are what I'm talking about. 
"Through the sound-hole with a miniature plane shaving wood and tapping on the guitar - basically shifting the voice of it to the customer's desire. 
"And that's when I started thinking about it, probably 1985. The acoustic nature of the guitar, and setting the parameters explains why we can go to a Guitar Center and play fifteen seemingly identical Les Paul Standards, but out of those fifteen we could easily have ten noticeable differences. Even though they have the same pickups, the same everything, but obviously the pieces of wood aren't identical, even though they are of the same species. 
"I should have warned you, I can talk too much about this stuff!"

In fact, I was in guitar nerd heaven - I was soaking this in and enjoying the steeping. Terry had mentioned his stack of mahogany, so I had to ask about his wood supplies:

Terry McInturff: "This stack of Honduras mahogany I'm looking at I've owned for I guess twelve years, or so. I'm building some guitars right now that include some pieces of wood that I've only had for like six weeks, so it begs the question - what about this curing of wood I've heard about, air drying, and stuff like that? 
"Well, there is a lot to be said for using tone woods that have been dried to the proper moisture content, stored properly, and allowed to sit around for ages! What happens chemically in the cell walls that comprise the wood, which of course, is a series of dead cells. 
"However, it's common to see people state, 'Yeah, I'm using this wood which is a hundred years old.' Well, the funny thing is that unfortunately that piece of wood could easily be too wet to use - so, we have a very important specification that the piece of wood has to meet, and that is moisture content. 
"My twelve year old mahogany, because it's been stored properly, and because genuine mahogany is the most stable wood on the planet earth. It literally is, it is reluctant to absorb moisture from the surrounding atmosphere, and so it has stayed at like 6-8% moisture content for twelve years. Other woods, such as maple absorb moisture from the atmosphere a lot faster, because it's harder than mahogany - because density and stability are not bedfellows. 
"So, if I get a piece of maple in, and I electronically test it with my moisture meter to ascertain what the moisture content is, and I let it live with me in the shop for six weeks, and I monitor it for movement or warpage, cracks developing, if it's the proper moisture content and it's been proven to be a stable piece of wood then I will go ahead and build with it with great results."

Moving on to shaping the woods, I asked if there was any temptation to give up the panographic carvers, or pin routers, and go to newer CNC machinery:

Terry McInturff: "CNC machines are remarkably useful, and in fact, the one task that I do job out to a CNC shop is my fret slots. 
"Because a CNC machine can cut fret slots more accurately than any of the analog methods. That usually means, there's this thing called a gang saw, for instance, that has one saw for each of the say, twenty-two frets. You slide the fretboard underneath it, and it cuts the fret slots, but the saw blades can deflect under the load, and the CNC machine is damned accurate, so I just shop that job out, just so it is dime-on. 
"As far as getting a CNC machine to take over some of the duties here, I have no objections to using a CNC machine, it's just a tool. It just depends upon where in the build process it's used. Certainly, there is no mojo transferred to the wood when you drill holes in it, or route a pickup cavity, or anything like that. But really, I have no need for one - the tools that I use now, I can get plus or minus .005 of an inch on all the cuts. The quality of the cut is the same as with a CNC machine. 
"The thing about a CNC machine is that you can program it, and have it running on the other side of the room. You'll have to check on it pretty often, but you can do other things, that's pretty cool! 
"Unfortunately, my proprietary neck design, I've thought and thought and thought about this, and it's not possible to make it on a CNC. Because the series of steps in making a TCM neck are not compatible with CNC clamping techniques. Maybe it could be made to happen....well, I'm not sure it could. I think I'd have  give up some quality there. 
"That right there is a big strike against having a CNC in the shop, if I can't use it on most of the neck."

Speaking of necks, I asked Terry about his use of the 25.125" scale length, which is unique to McIntruff Guitars:

Terry McInturff: "Well, I do offer two scale lengths - the one you're asking about, I think I might be the only guy using it all these years. 
"It all goes back to the first electric guitar I built starting in August of 1977, and what I wanted to do was build what has become known as a hybrid guitar - something that can surf both Fender and Gibson territory. 
"Back then, Tony, it was heresy to try that because the Strat was a Strat, and a Les Paul was a Les Paul - they were two different camps, and those two guitars will never shake hands. 
"Well, of course, now.... 
"My buddy Paul Reed Smith was thinking along the same lines as me. We both wanted to do something that would incorporate so many attributes of both. So what I did was a little simple mathematics to find what the midway point between a Strat's scale length and a Les Paul scale length, and the answer is 25.125"! 
"What it's turned out to be is a scale length that either a Fender, or Gibson player can play, and shrug and say, 'Yeah, that feels great.' It has a little bit more twang and articulation than the shorter scale of the Gibson, but a little warmer and flutier sound than the longer scale Fender, so it's right in between. Paul Smith uses the 25 inch scale, which was first used by Dobro, and Dan Electro, he kind of had the same idea going on there. 
"The other scale length I use is 25 5/8", which is one of several scale lengths that Gibson has always called 25 3/4", and the 25 5/8" is what you would have seen on the current version of the scale length they were using from about 1950 through the early sixties. Then they started messing around with it a little bit. 
"So, it has that kind of vintage vibe about it, it really sounds great. I love the string tension on that scale, as well. Those are the two I use, that I work with right now."

Moving away from the chassis and necks, we looked towards the methods in which they are finished - McInturff Guitars are renowned for their beauty and their tones, so I asked about Terry's philosophies and methods of finishing:

Terry McInturff: "As you know, the topic of guitar finishes on tone has generated so much discussion on the internet, and once in a while I try to jump in and get my two cents in about what I've learned. 
"We read a lot about the differences in sound between nitrocellulose lacquer, polyester, and the various types of urethanes, as well, and there is a lot of misinformation out there, to be honest with you. 
"The finish on a guitar will effect the acoustic tonality of the chassis, and thus, it does have an effect on the amplified sound. It's not as radical as some of the other attributes of the guitar - I mean, it doesn't change the acoustic tone as much as using the wrong piece of mahogany for the neck. That wrong piece of mahogany will have a much greater effect, but it is still there, the finish effect. 
"If we start going into hollow body guitars, and then most notably, acoustic guitars, we can go back to the D-28 we were talking about earlier, and the wrong finish on that is going to have a very noticeable effect. 
"What we are concerned with when we're discussing the tonal role of the finish, if it's a hard finish then it's living on top of the wood, and it's not invaded, or soaked into the wood to an appreciable degree - the nitrocellulose lacquer, polyester, and the various urethanes will sound identical if the film thickness is the same between those three. So, it's the film thickness that has the effect on the acoustic nature of the chassis - not the resin that the film is comprised of. Does that make sense, do you get what I'm getting at? 
"If a polyester finish is .005 of an inch thick then it will sound identical to a nitro lacquer that is the same thickness. However - it is much more difficult to get a polyester finish that thin. That's why we rarely see it, and why there is so much confusion, because polyester has a much higher solids content. You spray one coat of poly on a guitar, and it could be up to 4X thicker per coat than lacquer, so a lot of polyester finish guitars have a thicker finish, which has a dampening effect to it. 
"Every finish system is a set of compromises. The builder has to decide - there's no such thing as a perfect finish, so it's choosing the best set of compromises for a particular person's needs. 
"In my case, I still use old fashion nitrocellulose lacquer, because I like its set of compromises, and advantages. Now, there are lots of disadvantages to nitro, as well! Just like there are with the other finishes. 
"I know this very well - I hesitate to even say how many thousands of guitars. I don't even want to think about it the numbers, it makes me want to go lie down! 
"But you know, nitro as we know from perusing the forums, amongst a lot of people, nitrocellulose lacquer has this real vintage cache to it. Which, by the way, is not one of the reasons I stick with it. 
"But, it does have a cache, and I go along with a lot of that, but I'm ready to draw the line and say, 'Let's not love the stuff too much - here's a list of the downsides of nitro, and there are significant disadvantages to using nitro. 
"One of the disadvantages of the vintage cache, what most builders, especially the younger ones don't realize is that the lacquer we get now is not - it does not have the same working properties compared to what was available to Gibson and Martin in 1958. To closely mimic that stuff, and I have had a chance to work with and study a gallon of that stuff. It was made by a company called Nicholas, and Gibson used that company's products during a key period in their development, and a fellow actually had an unopened gallon of that stuff, still chemically active - I was able to analyze it. 
"I take three different manufacturers products and I put them together in a certain ratio, and I get very close to the Nicholas formula. 
"But, there's no one lacquer out of a can that's going to, you couldn't look somebody in the eye and say that the working properties of the lacquer I use is the same as that on a 1958 Les Paul - because it's not there, from any manufacturer. 
"It's a little complicated, so modern nitro finishes, unless you do custom mixing like I do, and to be honest I don't know anybody else that does, except for a friend of mine who I let in on the secret. The modern nitro finishes are a lot softer than the old ones, even when they are freshly sprayed."

One step further along, and it's time to amplify what Terry has built thus far - we move on to pickups and their selection in the process:

Terry McInturff: "As I've explained, I see the pickups as microphones, but not in the literal sense. 
"I use them to interpret the acoustic sound of the chassis, and the way in which that is going to create the proper amplified effect. 
"Remember we were talking about shining the light onto the different parts of the ball park of overtones? That is how I go about choosing the pickups. And there's lots of other things to consider, too, like the output of the pickup. 
"Sometimes someone will call me and give me a whole list of things, and what pickups they want, and I just have to kind of ease the brakes on. 
"Nice and slowly, and professionally - and with courtesy, and say, 'We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, here. If we are going to build a sound then the sound is going to be built into the chassis, and then we're going to choose the microphones that will hold hands with the chassis to make it come out of the Marshall sounding the way you hear it in your head.' 
"Peter Florance's Voodoo Pickups work very well for me, particularly when I am building a guitar for a dealer for stock - they are reliably the same from set to set, which I can't say about a lot of boutique winders. 
"They have....how do I describe this? His PAF clones, the ones he builds for me, they'll sound good and give a few different shades of tones coming out of the chassis. They're kind of more omni-directional, if we're still talking mics, here. Some pickups are very uni-directional, if you follow me. They've got a real strong stamp, they want to build in a lot of personality, but if you put them in the wrong chassis, then it's not an organic sounding result. It can sound kind of hyped. 
"The pickup industry, the whole boutique pickup replacement industry, going way back to Larry DiMarzio - was born for two reasons. For one, there were no master volumes on amps, so people wanted to push the front end of their Marshall harder, therefore, the famous DiMarzio Super Distortion was born. 
"Also, it was a bit in reaction to poor quality - with all due respect, American guitars, for a lot of reasons, the '70s were not good for American guitars. The quality across the board was not that great. 
"There was a tremendous demand for products, and they started cutting costs. People scratch their heads and wonder why Gibson used sandwich laminated bodies for Les Pauls, why didn't they stick to what they were doing originally with a one piece back? The reason is costing! The price of the lumber was less. Now, I've played some sandwich body Les Pauls that still had some magic - I had a '69 Les Paul Custom that was actually quite a good guitar, but it wasn't fabulous. 
"So, people are complaining about the sound of these guitars, and so the pickup makers want you to think, 'You can change a set of pickups in your guitar, and you'll get the guitar you're looking for - sometimes that's true, sometimes it isn't. 
"You know, Tony, I'm sure you know people who have put set after set of replacement pickups in their guitar, trying to get that guitar to sound correct, and sometimes they're just never successful. The reason they weren't successful in their quest was one of two basic reasons - either the chassis did not have the goods built into it, and no pickup can fix that, or the person really didn't have a strong idea of what they were looking for in their musical imagination. 
"Another phenomenon that I'll just throw out there for you, is the risky business of using recordings as tonal references. 
"That's a whole big ball of wax, there, but I'll try to keep it brief. The fact of the matter is that the recording chain - the sound comes out of the guy's amp, it goes through the whole recording chain, and the mixing and mastering process, and is eventually played through a person's stereo at home, and we have no idea what that sounds like. 
"Basically, Duane Allman's Les Paul did not sound like the Live At The Fillmore album. If you were sitting in the front row, it did not sound like the record! Recordings can be somewhat useful, but I've seen pickup manufacturers market pickups that are supposed to get, say, Eric Clapton's sound on Crossroads, or Wheels of Fire. Well, that's just not true. 
"You know as well as I do that when that happy moment comes when you say, 'OK, this mix is working, and we're just going to make it worse if we change anything. Let's print this mix.' 
"Now, if you solo any one of the guitar tracks, it's probably not going to be a sound you'd want standing alone. Quite often, it's been carved up to serve the mix. If we listen, Led Zeppelin II was recorded with very archaic technology compared to today's standards. But even then, the layered guitars did not sound like that coming out of the amplifier. So that's a tricky bit of business, too! 
"I think it's trickiest for people who are searching for a tone, but don't play in a band. If they are playing in their bedroom, and they're trying to match the sound of a record, that's probably very frustrating. If you're in a band setting you can judge your rig by how well it sits in the soundstage with the rest of the band. If you're going about it properly, i.e., serving the song and making the singer sound as fantastic as possible, then there's a lot more amps for a given person that would work than they may think."

Having covered the basics of the guitar and its making, I asked Terry to discuss the genesis and development of his flagship guitar, the Carolina Custom - the guitar is a rethink of the classic Les Paul Standard concept, and it encapsulates McInturff's philosophies very well for the purpose of discussion:

Terry McInturff: "The Carolina Custom is a guitar I resisted for twelve years. 
"People would call me, and asked, 'Terry, I want you to build me a guitar with your accoutrements and such, but I want you to build me a Les Paul.' And I was saying no for years. I'd tell them to go to the Gibson Custom Shop, run the racks, and find themselves a really good Les Paul. Finally, I got tired of saying no. 
"So, I had a little heart to heart with myself over a couple of cold beers one night. It was like, 'Well, Ok, maybe we should do this, but Tony, it was the first guitar I ever made that was intentionally designed to sound like another company's product. I have never done that before - never once. 
"To build a guitar of my own design that was intended to sound like a vintage guitar from another company is something I had always avoided, because I thought it was something that had already been done. 
"So anyway, the Carolina turned into a really fun project! Once I had decided, 'OK, I'm not going to be prideful, people are wanting me to do this, so what can I bring to the party?' 
"The R&D for that guitar took many, many months of my spare time. But it was really fun, to go back to the fountain, so to speak. I was able to borrow three original '50s Les Paul Standards - one of which was excellent, and the other two were kind of, eh? OK versions, but I've played my fair share of 'Bursts and some of them are every bit as magical as we've been lead to believe. Others were obviously built in a hurry on a Friday afternoon, not at all fantastic. 
"I also have reams of notes on every stringed instrument that ever crossed my bench - measurements taken and notes about the sounds - my bench notebook is one of my most valued possessions, it's also part diary. If I go back to the '80s, I'll be talking about a dot neck '59, and then right below that I'll be talking about the chick I did the wild thing with the night before. So, I'm not sure how people would take all that crazy stuff, but I went back and I looked at all the specifications, and then proceeded to go to work. 
"The guitar is also heavily influenced by my Taurus Standard model which I'd been building for a number of years at that point. They share the same body shape. 
"So, as usual, what I'm going to do is build a guitar I want to play, and hope other people do, too. 
"That means that I need to have better upper fretboard access, and I wanted to have a larger footprint in the neck joint - in other words, a lot of glue joint surface area, because the part of the neck joint that resides prior to the neck pickup route is the most important part of the neck joint in terms of vibrational transference. So I made sure I had a lot there, and it turns out that it's a lot more than on a Les Paul. 
"I also wanted a neck you could take on tour with the truss rod cover on - a real stable neck, but I'd already been doing that for years, so there were no changes there. 
"The general voicing I prefer on a Les Paul is what I build into the Carolina Customs. That being defined as when we are playing on the neck pickup with a moderate amount of gain, let's say, Malcolm Young style - the opening chords of Back In Black. A real good crunchy thing, not overly saturated - fairly clean as these things go. I want to be able to play a G major barre chord at the third fret, and be able to hear the inside notes of the chord. I don't want to hear a big, woolly ball with a G major tonality. I want it to be more articulate and airy. 
"So - that says a lot about how I voice the acoustic nature of my chassis. I have a ball park of acceptability. They all have their own personalities, but there is that ball park of acceptability, and they're all going to have that openness in the neck pickup region, because at the end of the signal chain we can definitely fatten things up, definitely blur things, but if we give the amp a blurry tone, we can't open up the tone without it sounding tight, you know?
"So I build the version of a Les Paul that I like, and I hope other people like it, and I'm lucky to report that quite a few people seem to like it!"

If you've stuck around this far, I congratulate you, and I hope you've learned as much as I have about not just guitar building in general, but also just how passionate and masterful this particular luthier, Terry Mcinturff is about his craft. I thought I would wrap things up by speaking about a particularly interesting instrument - the renowned Barn Guitar that McInturff built for Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, using wood from a real barn, the barn that figures so heavily in the story of the largest selling band in American history:

Terry McInturff: "Well, as it turns out, my elderly parents live only fifteen minutes away from the Barn Night Club in New Hampshire, where, as you know, is where Steven and Joe first met as teenagers, and where later Aerosmith played some of their earliest shows. 
"It's hard to believe that this old barn was actually a den of evil, hahaha! It was a crazy time, and it was important to the band's history, so Brad, being one of my clients who is always interested in what I'm coming up with - I decided I'm going to go see this barn! 
"Well, they let me in when I got there, and the stage is still there, the dance floor, and the bar area - there was this bench seating, and it was wide white pine with tons of graffiti, dirt, and cigarette stains, cracks, and I thought, 'Well gosh, that looks pretty interesting.' 
"So, I managed to obtain some of that wood, and what I wanted to do was to keep all the dirt, graffiti, and stains on there, just as I found it. I milled the wood down from the back, protecting the show side with all that stuff on it. I milled it down really thin, approximately 3/16th of an inch thick, and then glued it on to a really resonant, rather bright piece of mahogany, and the reason I did that was because this pine had no desirable resonant characteristics at all. 
"In fact, it acts as a damper of vibration - so, what I ended up doing was using wood that may have been a bit too bright for other purposes, and had this damper on it for other purposes that is going to change the predominant resonant frequency of the body! I glued it on there, and that's basically the story. I did do a chemical cleaning of that old top, just so that lacquer would stick to it, and I sprayed on very little lacquer - a very dull satin, as little as I could. And there it is! 
"Tonally, it alludes to something like if you stuck a humbucker on a Les Paul Jr. It alludes to that sort of thing, but it has a lot more kerrang to it than a Les Paul Jr, even if you were to put a humbucker on it. There's a bit of a Telecaster thing living in there somewhere, as well. 
"The first day he had it, within the first hour, he had it onstage and was playing Toys In The Attic on it, which is always a thrill - that's one of the great thrills of my career, seeing people using my stuff, whether they are famous, or not! 
"So yeah, the concept of choosing materials to work together. I do that on all my guitars, like on the Carolina Customs - the top and back are always a matched set, so they are complimentary. I've been doing that for a long time."