Live Show Review: Samantha Fish & Jimmie Vaughan

I haven’t been to a show at a club like the Hard Rock since last summer, and I haven’t done a live show review in a long time! When I saw Samantha Fish was opening for Jimmie Vaughan I figured it was a good bill at a good price, and I was ready for a night out.

I got an email the day of the show with Hard Rock policies for masks, etc and it mentioned the show was sold out. When I got there it was anything but. In fact, I was the only person in row N, and there were only a handful behind me or in the balconies. Maybe a quarter full. Not good for the artists, but it was nice to have more personal space and not be so crowded. To be fair, it was a Thursday night but while the crowd was good and I enjoyed the evening, it was about the least crowded I’ve ever seen the Hard Rock.

The Package

The bartender asked me “Who are you here to see?” and my honest response was “both.” I had never seen Samantha Fish before, but I liked what I’ve heard on Spotify and Youtube. She’s certainly established herself as one of the female young guns of blues. Jimmie Vaughan is a legend, and the last time I saw him and the Tilt-A-Whirl band was probably 20 years ago. It was one of my favorite concerts ever – Junior Brown opened and just blew me away. My wife and I were either engaged or newly married, so we had that vibe going on. It was just a great party all night, which plastered a huge grin on my face the entire show. A few year ago I had a chance to see him at C-Boys in Austin but I didn’t end up going. I was just too exhausted at the end of the week. Anyways, for me Samantha Fish & Jimmie Vaughan was a really compelling package – one established newer artist, and one legend. Both blues, but very different. The pairing of two very different artists within the same loose genre works really well for me. A few years ago I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Beth Hart together and that was a similar experience.

Samantha Fish

She came out in head-to-to red leather with her cigar box and was just ripping from note one. I think she’s established somewhat of a niche for herself with more focus on slide than some of her contemporaries. She can also belt on vocals, and that also separates her from others that might just be good on guitar. Her band added fantastic harmony vocals that filled out the sound and added depth. She played some older tunes, and some from her new album Faster. It was a great set full of barn-burners and slow R&B. She mixed it up well, and had a lot of variety in the 50-ish minute set.

She’s built a strong catalog of albums over the last decade, and it led to a set of all killer no filler. Her version of Kill or Be Kind was a lot different from the album, and I like when artists stretch out live a bit. There were long improvisational jams, as well as sing-along choruses. I left impressed and very happy I got to see her and her band live.

Samantha Fish On Fire With Her SG

Special note to her drummer (Sarah), who had a killer, driving groove and provided consistently excellent harmony vocals. She added a LOT to the set, and I really enjoyed listening to her.

Samantha and Sarah Grooving Hard

Jimmie Vaughan

On the plus side, the Tilt-a-Whirl band was Tight with a capital T. Every break, every accent, every transition was simply perfect. They were amazing. As expected, Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar was a highlight. His style is so unique, mostly using his fingers and effortlessly gliding across the fretboard. He leveraged a capo on many songs, allowing him to apply signature licks in a manner not unlike fellow Texas legend Albert Collins. Jimmie Vaughan has that loose, traditional blues sound that few modern players achieve. Often understated but always perfect for the song, it was a joy to watch him plan. Mike Flanigan’s organ was powerful and soulful, and he can sing. I really enjoy their organ trio album (Live From C-Boys), and the songs that showcased Mike’s organ, and the interplay between Mike & Jimmie, were highlights.

The Tilt-A-Whirl Band Tight With a Capital “T”

On the downside, Jimmie really struggled with his vocals. Whether due to just not having it anymore, or not being able to hear himself, he was out of key and noticeably stretching most of the time. I hate to say it, but it was bad. Mike should have handled the vocals on everything. Another performance note that bothered me a bit was that he asked the audience “how are you doing out there” three times… Okay, i understand asking once as a standard live show trope. But three times? I don’t know why but it rubbed me the wrong way. I was thinking that if or when I start doing my own live shows again, I’m not going to ask the crowd how they’re doing. Instead I’m going to say “I’m feeling good tonight, how about you?” Anyways…

Jimmie Vaughan digging into a note

I did enjoy the music and the band. I get the sense it would have come across better in a small club or a bar like C-Boys, but not so much in a 3/4ths empty Hard Rock. It was almost too intimate for that venue.

Jimmie Laying Down Slinky Leads


It was a solid package of new and old, up-and-comer and legend. I’m glad I went and had a good time. Samantha Fish puts on a good show and has carved out a great niche for herself as a unique artist in contemporary blues. Jimmie Vaughan’s set was good overall, bolstered by his guitar and the tightness of the band, but his vocals and the somewhat slower, laid back nature of this band might not have been the best fit for the venue. Interestingly, the crowd seemed to be much more into Samantha Fish. Lots more specific cheering and more people wearing her t-shirts. After her set, she was signing merch at the table, and the line went all the way across the venue. It was probably the longest merch line I’ve ever seen. In fact, the line didn’t disperse until halfway through Jimmie Vaughan’s first song.


Favorite Albums of 2021

2021 was a pretty good year for music. I listened to a LOT of stuff: some new, some old, some new material from older bands. While I do listen to a good variety of music (classical, pop, jazz, country, reggae, folk), my wheelhouse is blues, rock and metal. That’s honestly most of my listening so it’s no surprise that all of my favorites fall in there.

Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate

The Battle At Garden’s Gate

I’ve always been a fan of Greta Van Fleet, and their latest album shows continued growth and maturity. The Battle At Garden’s Gate is an album that really feels epic; with vast, sweeping sonic landscapes, and great performances end to end from every member. There’s a palpable passion coming through the recording. I also love the diversity of the album – there are quiet piano parts, epic guitar solos, great keys, bass, drums… There are straight-forward, catchy hooks as well as and long sonic journeys. This album has everything, and it’s all great. The production and mix are top notch. Crank up a good stereo and listen to the bass in Age of Machine – it sounds incredible. It took me a listen or two in order to get into it, but the album just keeps getting better. Highly recommended. Rating: A+

Highlight Tunes: Broken Bells, Caravel, Age of Machine

The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock & Roll

Death By Rock & Roll

I’ve listened to a little bit of their stuff over the years. I liked it, but nothing really grabbed me. Death By Rock & Roll is stellar end-to-end. It’s one of those “not a bad track on it” types of albums. From the hard-rock title track to the acoustic ballads, every song holds its own. The album has nice diversity but keeps a common theme. Taylor Momson delivers and incredible and passionate vocal performance. If you wanted to rock in 2021, this is a place to go. Fantastic record end to end. Rating: A

Highlight Tunes: Death By Rock & Roll, 25, And So It Went, Harley Darling

Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks

Time Clocks

Each Bonamassa record hits me differently – some I like a lot, some I don’t like as much. I wasn’t a big fan of his previous record, Royal Tea. Given that, Time Clocks wasn’t an album I was excited about up front. It was on my radar but I didn’t have a lot of anticipation built up. The 3 singles released didn’t grab me, although that seems to be the case more often than not with his records. I usually like the deeper tracks better. When I got the album, though, I was really pleasantly surprised. The 3 singles grew on me upon repeated listening, and the album also gets stronger as it progresses. Many of those later songs grabbed me on first listen, which makes Time Clocks a really compelling whole. Joe’s guitar work is stellar, as always. There’s a nice diversity of tunes. I read somewhere a description of Joe’s music as “cinematic blues,” and I think that sums it up well. I would have rated it just a little higher (perhaps an A instead of A-) but the title track has a few awkward lyrics, though nothing cringe-worthy; and there are one or two songs I tend to skip. Overall though, I think it’s his best complete work in a while. It’s always great to have an album come out of the blue like this and really connect. Rating: A-

Highlight Tunes: Questions & Answers, Hanging On A Loser, The Heart That Never Waits

Other Albums I Enjoyed In 2021

There are a lot of other great albums in 2021, and here are a few that are definitely worth a listen

  • King Buffalo – The Burden of Restlessness – this is a band I had never heard of, but gave a listen to purely based on their incredible album artwork. It’s a huge, heavy slab of psychedelic doom, fantastic for running, driving, working, or focused listening. The driving groove is incredible, the guitars are continually interesting and the lyrics are cool.
  • John Nemeth – Stronger Than Strong – this is an artist I found out about through Blues Music Magazine, and I really dig his swamp blues style. He’s got a great voice and great songs on this record and if you’re looking for something cool and fun outside of the “big names” it’s definitely worth a spin.
  • Sue Foley – Pinky’s Blues – I’ve been a fan of Sue Foley for a while, and this is her first album in a few years. She’s the real deal and does traditional blues as well as anyone out there, but Pinky’s Blues has the subtle variety that all great blues records have. She doesn’t veer into pop or metal or anything like that, this is a blues album, but it covers a range of intensity and emotion. Her sultry voice is of particular notice, as is the impeccable classic blues rhythm to her playing. This is of my favorite traditional blues albums in a long time.
  • Iron Maiden – Senjutsu – any new Iron Maiden album is cause to celebrate, and Senjutsu has some great stuff. I really liked their last record, Book of Souls, and this is right up there. It’s full of epic songs, and there are great riffs and performances through and through.
  • The Black Keys – Delta Kream – I wasn’t a huge Black Keys fan, but this year I’ve turned around on them. I got a few of their older records from the library (Let’s Rock in particular), and Delta Kream grabbed me right away. It’s back to the basics, groove-heavy, hill-country blues done right.
  • Doctor Smoke – Dreamers and the Dead – another random “youtube recommended it and I liked the album artwork” finds. I was blown away by this band, and if you’re into metal with a killer groove, you’ll dig it. Great vocals, cool songs, and a huge-sounding slab of doom worth your time.

On The Radar For 2022

The album I’m most looking forward to in 2022 is Eric Gales‘ new record “Crown,” produced by the power team of blues/rock production of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. A few years ago I was burned out on blues/rock, but seeing Eric Gales live restored my faith. He’s a force of nature, and I can’t wait for this album.

A late arrival on my 2022 Hype Train is the newly-announced Steve Vai album “Inviolate.” Steve Vai is one of my all-time favorite musicians, so every new album by him is reason for celebration.

Inspiring Bands Hitting The Pavement


I started this article before Covid lockdowns hit and the live music scene was decimated. I saw one of the artists I talk about below – Papa Chubby – the week before I got mandatory work from home orders. It took me a while to pick this back up and find the right angle. The gist is the same: supporting locally- and regionally-touring artists. Showing some love and respect to musicians that are following in the long historic footsteps of artists that made their living by hustling, working hard, and hitting the pavement every day. Give them a listen, view or stream; and if you like it, throw them a few bucks for some virtual content. Similarly, when your local venues open up again and you feeling safe, please give some love to these local places. They need you, the customer, and you always vote with your dollars.

Live, Local, Cheap and Easy

Lately I’ve seen a lot of smaller, local, regional or even nationally touring acts that have been inspiring because they’re out there putting in the mileage, hitting the pavement. No glamorous tour buses or five star hotels. Creating a community, building a fan base one at a time, bonding as either a group of friends or as family. I want to call a few of these groups out, and bring visibility to the smaller acts that are bringing great music to all corners of the country. Think about how you can support these artists, now more than ever. I had been really enjoying going to closer, cheaper and more fun concerts from these artists compared to the big arena or festival bands.

Ida Mae

I first saw this husband-wife duo a year ago opening for Greta Van Fleet. I liked them then, but seeing them more recently in a smaller venue opening for Tommy Emmanuel was much better. Their blend of acoustic blues and country connects better in a more intimate venue.

Visit Ida Mae Music to learn more, buy music, and keep up with them!

Ida Mae on Spotify


It’s been a few years, but when I saw Marbin at the Blue Bamboo performing art center (basically a 50 person capacity room) I was really inspired. This sparked the “bands out there hitting the pavement” line of thought. They’re an incredible four piece fusion group, consisting of drums, bass, guitar and horn. They music is fun and interesting, each of the musicians is great, and what really comes across in these smaller shows is that each song had a great story behind it. With instrumental music like this, hearing the stories behind the music really helps connect.

Another thing that’s great about these small, local venues is that my seats were fantastic! The Blue Bamboo has tables set up in the room, for all unobstructed views and comfort. They also serve a selection of nice beers, and cheap popcorn.

You also never know what you’ll find at local places. They have a small bookshelf with CDs and DVDs for sale – some new, some used. A few years back I heard an incredible jazz piece on the local jazz radio station, and I liked it so much I kept humming the main part to myself and went back as soon as I got home to look up the play list. It was Martin Bejeramo’s TRIO Miami and the song was the Reckoning Song. The Blue Bamboo had their disc – with the long I loved for $2. Can’t beat that! I had it in my Amazon cart for years, and the album cover is very recognizable, but I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase.

Visit Marbin Music to learn more, buy music, and keep up with them!

Marbin on Spotify

Eric Gales

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Eric Gales. He’s made quite a name for himself over the many years of his career, but especially recently. He has an incredible life story of early fame, terrible fall, jail and a renewed life and career. I’d heard of him, but he came to the local (The Alley in Sanford, FL) blues club a few years back and I saw him twice. I was getting burned out on blues/rock, but he reignited my faith and love of the genre. It was incredible – the passion and soul he pours out on stage is so inspiring. The whole band cooks, and they do a perfect combination of blues, rock, and R&B.

His album “The Bookends” was my favorite album of 2019. I went up there (it’s about a 30-40 minute drive) twice to see him, but for $20-$25 tickets, great seats at a nice bar with good BBQ, you really can’t beat it. The place was pretty packed, and the crowd was into it both times I went. He’s since started playing some bigger places, and doing the Bonamassa Blues Cruise, which I’d love to attend some day. I hope Eric all the best in his renewed and revitalized career, and I’m glad I got to see him in a small place!

Visit Eric Gales Band to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him!

Eric Gales on Spotify

Popa Chubby

Popa Chubby is a long-established blues/rock singer and guitar player hailing from New York. A new blues-focused club/restaurant opened up not too far from me – Dexter’s New Standard in Orlando/Winter Park, FL. It’s much closer than The Alley, and on a whim I went out to see him, both because I wanted to see him and because I wanted to support this new venue.

His set was hit or miss – I could do without the overplayed Hendrix covers (like Hey Joe) – but I dug some of his originals. The title track on his latest album – “It’s a Hard Road” was pretty cool. He had a good, solid band and has a great voice to go with his classic, edgy strat tone. For $20 and a 10 minute drive, coupled with reasonably priced craft beers made for a really fun night of blues/rock.

Visit Popa Chubby to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him!

Popa Chubby on Spotify

Michael Angelo Batio

M.A.B. is somewhat of a legend in the shred guitar field. He played by himself, with backing tracks and big 50+ inch monitors behind him. That said, he had real amps and the sound was great. For twenty bucks and a 15 minute drive to the bar, it was a steal. What surprised me most was how incredibly entertaining he was. Every song had a great story leading to it, and it wasn’t just a million notes a second for two hours. Super fun. The Shovelhead Lounge in Longwood, FL is a local metal institution, and they’ve found a great niche. It’s 15 minutes door-to-door from my house, parking is easy, tickets are always cheap and the staff is friendly.

I wrote a detailed review of his show here.

Visit HandsWithoutShadows to learn more, buy music, and keep up with him! He does a lot of teaching on both Youtube and his entertaining Facebook page. Check them out as well! \m/ \m/

Michael Angelo Batio on Spotify

Real Life Van Stories

This a pretty interesting and entertaining read about the less glamorous side of van tours:

What Great Regional/Smaller Acts Have YOU Seen and Been Inspired By?

My Favorite Blues Records

I fell in love with the blues in the early-mid 90s, when a friend turned me on to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” Before then, I was really only into metal and classic rock. If it didn’t have pointy guitars and Marshall stacks, I wasn’t particularly interested… outside of a few bands like Pink Floyd and Hendrix, etc. I was aware of blues – through classic rock & radio – but not an active listener. In college my tastes expanded a little, but it was still more interested in the metal side of music. As I started to really get into guitar, my ears expanded, and “Texas Flood” hit me hard. What struck me was that it was so powerful, but not about doom and gloom. It was human, it was real life, it covered a range of emotion. It never connected with me that music could be so powerful and positive at the same time. So, that was my gateway. After that, I moved pretty quickly into blues and only blues, which also took years to get out of… but it was life changing. Blues is still at the core of my playing in part because I fell so hard for it right when I was developing as a player.

Here are some of my favorite and most impactful blues records… some are albums everyone (hopefully) has, some might be a bit off the beaten path. What are your favorites?

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – Pressure Cooker

I love this record because Gatemouth is such an eclectic player, and such a melting pot. He mixes up blues, jazz and country into his own unique style. Interestingly, I picked up a compilation of his earlier works and it’s very much in the style of T-Bone Walker. I was fortunate enough to get to see Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown do a live acoustic show in New Orleans at the LMNOP music conference around 1999. He was as great acoustic as he was electric, and it’s side of him I’d never heard before.

I also recommend “Blackjack.” If you want a bit more of his Louisiana style (and fiddle playing), check out “Gate’s On the Heat.”

BB King – Live In Japan

While BB is my favorite of the 3 Kings, and my favorite blues musician. Across his wide catalog of stutio and live albums, Live in Japan is my favorite. Perhaps my love of it is fueled in part by a memorable late nigh drive from Buffalo to Chicago in a snowstorm, BB’s incredible voice coming through the car stereo, the band cooking, pure love radiating out of our van’s speakers. I also love the adventurous nature of the record, with jams like “Hiraki #88” and “Jammin’ at Saneki hall” spicing things up from the array of hits and classics. His “Hummingbird” on this album also blows me away. If you’re only familiar with Completely Well or Live at the Regal, give this a serious listen.

Freddie King – Live at the Electric Ballroom

What is there to say about Freddie King, the Texas Cannonball, other than he’s one of the Three Kings. His tone is incredible, his phrasing is incredible, his voice is incredible. He’s pure blues, but funky and soulful. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is one of my all-time favorite blues songs. It’s a great overview of Freddie King, and an album everyone should have.

Muddy Waters – The Best of Muddy Waters

While I love pretty much everything Muddy has ever done, this was the album that opened my ears to acoustic blues, despite coming into the genre via electric guitar. Of course, Muddy was the guy that built that bridge across the country and blew the genre wide open. The Best of Muddy Waters is where you can hear the ache and cry of humanity, and for a suburban white kid from Wisconsin, get a glimpse into a completely different side of America. It’s a slice of history. It was raw, dirty, and dangerous… but also tender, loving, and soulful. This is the record that helped me understand where the music came from, and started my journey digging backwards in time.

Buddy Guy Live – The Real Deal with GE Smith and the SNL Band

Buddy Guy had quite a run of great albums in the 90s. This live album, captured at his club Legends, is a highlight to me. The interplay he has with the band is fantastic, and it’s fun to hear him go back and forth with GE Smith and Johnnie Johnson. He’s one of those performers who makes great records, but really shines live. The stories, the interaction with the audience… it all adds up to a great listen. His tone is classic 90s Buddy Guy and the band sounds fantastic. Their version of “My Time After A While” is the highlight.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

For me, the record that started it all. This was the album that showed me powerful music didn’t have to be about demons and warfare. It could be about humanity, positivity, real life. It opened my eyes not just to blues, but to the rest of the world of music.

Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings

There’s probably not much to say about this incredible compilation, other than everyone should own it. I learned so many of these songs. I want to call out that to me it’s not his amazing guitar playing, it’s his voice. That’s what’s so haunting. The edgy, provocative lyrics were also pretty mind-blowing. To think these were performed in the 1930s! That takes guts. Its’ a lot more risque than some guy dorpping F-bombs nowadays.

Live Show Review: Michael Angela Batio

Thursday, January 30 I got to see Michael Angela Batio (heretofore referred to as MAB) perform at the Shovelhead Lounge in Casselberry (Orlando’s home for metal and shred, and a great place to see shows). I debated whether or not to go. I like shred in small doses, and I’ve had mixed experiences seeing shredders live. These days, between family and work, I have to pick and choose which concerts to go to very carefully. I also can’t be up until 2am and then get up at 6am… When the ticket said “7:30” I didn’t know if that meant the first of four opening bands started at 7:30 but MAB goes on at midnight… I messaged him on Facebook and he responded the same day that he expected to go on around 8:15. Fantastic! Before we get to the show itself, kudos to MAB for being so responsive and helpful to fans.

MAB – Shredder Extraordinaire

A Word on Shred

To me, “shred” is a genre – it’s guitar-driven, instrumental heavy metal. Musicians can shred – verb – on any instrument. It can be short for “woodshed” – to intensely practice. There are lots of guitar players considered shredders, whether they play instrumental music or not. Examples include Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Loomis and of course Michael Angelo Batio.

The Show

To put it simply, this was one of the best shred shows I’ve seen. He played solo, using backing tracks. The sound and mix were quite good – not too loud, but nothing got drown out. His tone was great. I had my mild ear plugs in, but didn’t need foam, and I never got ear fatigue. The Shovelhead is pretty small, so I was able to sit at the bar for about a third of the show, and up front for the rest. I never had a problem seeing or hearing clearly.

What made this show special is that before every song he told an entertaining and usually funny story to give the song context. Not only did it draw you into the music, and give you an insight into him as a person and musician, but it gave your ears a rest between songs that featured lots and lots of notes. The storytelling and humor made the show. I’ve seen other shredders just go up and play song after song with no break, and while I like the music, it’s hard to take in like that.

MAB is a great storyteller…

My wife made a comment at that it was like the folk and Americana acts we used to go see frequently – and that’s spot on. It was interesting how well between-song storytelling sets up this type of dense music, obviously very different from folk. He came across as such a nice, authentic, passionate, friendly and funny guy. You can’t help but have fun. His personality came across so well – it added a lot to balance and complement the technical nature of the music.

I also loved that he was so inspirational to listen to. He expressed over and over how grateful he was to be there, to have such a long career, and to have played with so many other great musicians. He exuded positive energy, and you coudn’t help but root for him. MAB was unapologetic about his musical direction (although many may not know he studied jazz and spent time writing jingles). I loved his attitude that you have to be yourself, do what you love and what you believe in, and don’t worry about the people that try to tear you down. You’ll never please them, anyways. I’ve heard a lot of other great musicians, including Steve Vai, express a similar viewpoint.

The Music

He kicked off the show with tributes to Dimebag Darrel and Randy Rhoads – both set up with great stories of his background with them. Later on he did a tribute to Metallica. Each one featured familiar riffs and vocal melodies played on guitar; some solos close to the original performer, some his own version. I thought it worked well.

I’m honestly not that familiar with MAB’s catalog, and with that in mind I was pleasantly surprised that he played two of my favorite songs of his: Rainforest and Hands Without Shadows.


MAB is known for playing super fast, and while his technique on the instrument is incredible he can craft a great melody. The barrage of notes is mixed with singable lines. Like the show overall, it makes everything more listenable than some others in the genre. All that said, seeing him perform live, and seeing how fast and clean he played, was pretty mind-blowing as a guitarist.

The Gear

I was surprised that he did not play his long-used Dean guitars, but instead relied on an array of Sawtooth guitars and amps. When he first warmed up I thought his tone was a little too saturated for my tastes, which sometimes happens with shred, but actually it worked great once he started going with the backing tracks. It emphasizes the concept that tone is in the hands (or probably more accurately, in the ears). Sawtooth isn’t an expensive, boutique brand of instruments. In the hands of a great player, they sounded great.

He had a small wall of Sawtooth amps, and for most of the show he played a double humbucker S-style, pulling out a LP-style as well. I was surprised to see he had a double-neck tele-style guitar (instead of his trademark metal-looking double neck). It was cool, and the crowd was psyched when he pulled it out and did all the fancy stuff.

Tapping on the Double Neck

Lots of fun, amazing technique, and great showmanship. That’s a MAB show. Go see him if you get a chance. Current tour dates here.

Listen More

MAB was fairly famous for his articles in Guitar World, as well as his Speed Kills instructional video. Check those out if you want to explore the genre of shred.

Follow and listen to MAB on Spotify here:

Listening To: Rick Wakeman

A few weeks ago I randomly picked up Rick Wakeman’s “Classic Tracks” at the Daytona Flea Market. I love going there, you never know what you’ll find. I knew the name Rick Wakeman, but couldn’t place that he was the keyboard player for Yes. I’d been listening to a lot of prog lately, and since it was in the $2 bin, it was worth a shot. What a great record! I’ve been listening nonstop for weeks.

Fantastic Cover Art

The Tracks

Journey to the Center of the Earth – a 31 minute epic musical journey through Jules Verne’s fantastic tale. Rick Wakemans’ musical retelling of the story is a masterpiece, but what really surprised me was the killer guitar solo by Jim Gentry. It’s atmospheric, grooving, heavy… the song captures everything.

Catherine Howard – from his album “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” has as much variety as you’d want. It starts with beautiful acoustic guitars and segues into bluegrass-flavored synths. Some of the keyboard tones capture a harpsichord feel as well, perhaps bringing the listener back to the Age of Kings.

Merlin the Magician – now this is prog… a mash-up of styles and genres, starting with a heavy bass groove. Keys drift on top, with their melody adding an air of mystery. The lyrics are supported crunchy heavy guitars and more killer keyboard solos. Halfway through the song shifts dramatically to a whimsical and fast section, followed by a return to the groove and lyrics.

The cool thing about Rick Wakeman’s solo albums – and the songs on “Classic Tracks” – is that it’s 100% prog rock, but also accessible. I find Yes to be more of an acquired taste. I really have to listen, and be in the mood. I can put on and enjoy Rick Wakeman’s stuff a lot more often. Check it out!

The Players

  • Rick Wakeman – keyboards
  • Michael Franklin – lead vocals, keyboards
  • Jim Gentry – guitars
  • Paul Parker – drums, percussion
  • Tim Franklin – bass, backing vocals
  • Tom Hook, Tess Franklin, The Full Sail Tabernacle Choir – additional vocals
  • Michael Franklin – producer
  • Don Oriolo – producer (exec.)
  • Stuart Sawney – recording engineer (Banjour Studio)
  • Gary Platt – engineer (Full Sail Platinum Post studio)
  • Ken Latchney, Nasser Sharif – assistants (Full Sail Platinum Post studio)
  • O. B. O’Brian, Phil Nicolo – engineers (Studio 4)
  • Jiff Hinger, Dirk Grobelny – assistants (Studio 4)
  • Jay Goodman – main tech
  • Tibor Kovalik – Artwork

Rick Wakeman’s Catalog

I’ve really enjoyed digging into his catalog, with this “greatest hits” type of album providing an effective gateway. I particularly liked “Best of the Bootleg Box”:

I also recommend 2000 A.D. Into the Future

Live Show Review: The Aristocrats Live

It’s hard to believe it had been 6 years since The Aristocrats last came to Florida. Previously they played at West End in Sanford, a little bar just north of Orlando, and it was almost a religious experience. The place held about 100 people, and I was able to stand just a few feet away from Guthrie, Marco and Bryan. This year, they came to a slightly larger venue downtown Orlando and blew the packed house away. I really don’t need to write much for the review, other than wow. If you have any interest in progressive, instrumental music you need to go see the band.

It’s not just the mind-boggling level of musicianship from every member; but the humor, the interaction with each other and the interaction with the crowd that made it special. Bryan Beller got the crowd going for every song: leading chants, clap-alongs, cheering. While this is an instrumental band, he basically filled the (necessary) role of front man.

You Know What?

Touring on support of their new album “You Know What?” they played a great mix of new and old material. Happily they played my favorite track from the new album, “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.” Bryan Beller went through a lengthy backstory for how the song came about. Part of what made the show so much fun was hearing the backstories behind many of the new songs.

The new album is fantastic, as expected

Plastic Farm Animals

Happily, the plastic pig and chicken made a return!

Bryan Beller and Rubber Chicken – making sweet sounds
Marco Minnemann shares the spotlight with Rubber Pig

Final Thoughts

I was pretty tired by the time the Aristocrats took the stage, but I’m so glad I made it out. The musicianship is incredible, of course, but the humor and audience interaction puts they in a class way above most instrumental rock/fusion/shred bands. Highly enjoyable, and absolutely worth going to see.

Listening To: Eric Gales “The Bookends”

Okay, I’ll admit it. I gave in to relentless marketing. The weekly emails of offers from Blues Music magazine finally me when they offered a year of the magazine and Eric Gales‘ new album “The Bookends” for $20. I’m glad I jumped on it, though, because the album is great.

I saw Eric Gales for the first time on an Experience Hendrix tour a few year ago, and he was one of the highlights. It got him on my radar, but I didn’t get a good sense of what he was all about until I saw him on tour about a year ago. I had been pretty burned out on blues/rock for a while, but he restored my faith. So much raw passion and energy! It was way more than some cool guitar playing, although there’s plenty of that. It was the energy that got me. I also liked the funkier direction of his band. LaDonna Gales playing percussion on top of the typical power trio adds a lot. He dips into heavier rock than some more traditionalist blues/rock players, but also has the funk. It’s a great combination.

If you’re not familiar with Eric Gales’ story, it’s worth checking out. I bet he’d write a fascinating autobiography some day. Child prodigy, family band, fell down a dark path, but rose again and came back stronger than ever. His gratitude for making it through life alive and all the first-hand awareness of the dark sides of modern life make for good writing and powerful performances.

So, The Bookends. I’m not big on long-winded album reviews. You can listen yourself, and you don’t need me to go in depth into every track. I’ll talk about a couple of highlights and some other things that stood out.

The Bookends

1. Intro
2. Something’s Gotta Give (feat. B. Slade)
3. Whatcha Gon’ Do
4. It Just Beez That Way
5. How Do I Get You
6. Southpaw Serenade (feat. Doyle Bramhall II)
7. Reaching For A Change
8. Somebody Lied
9. With A Little Help From My Friends (feat. Beth Hart)
10. Resolution
11. Pedal To The Metal (feat. B. Slade) (Bonus Track – Remix)

My top three tracks are bolded above, but let’s talk about all the album highlights. The album kicks off with “Intro” – a bring-down-the-house, ripping-guitar instrumental. This is the kind of thing you’d play to get the crowd hyped up live. In this case, get the listener excited about the record. It sets the tone – a bit heavier than some prior records. “Watcha Gon’ Do” brings a heavy, funky riff to a song about pure lust. It’s hard to not move your body listening to it. The lyrics to “It Just Beez That Way” are poignant and honest, with a touch of humor. The tune is funky as all get out (I dig Eric calling out “that’s funky right there” at about 2:00), and it’s a little more upbeat and positive. “Somebody Lied” is one of the heaviest songs on the album, with lyrics that caught me by surprise. It’s a song I could hear Dug Pinnick doing with KXM or PGP (the “G” stands for Gales in that particular power trio). Heavy and heartfelt. “Resolution” is another instrumental, wide in scope, and to my ears may have been born from his jamming in “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in his live shows.

Of course, throughout the album Eric’s guitar playing is stellar. He also plays bass on “Something’s Gotta Give” and drums on “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Somebody Lied.” MonoNeon plays bass on most of the tracks, with Orlando Thompson on “Southpaw Serenade.” Aaron Haggerty lays down the drums, Dylan Wiggins is on Organ & Rhodes, and Vince Jones provides additional keys on “Somebody Lied.” LaDonna Gales adds backing vocals (which are great, by the way) and additional percussion. Another benefit of physical media, getting to read the liner notes. I had no idea who MonoNeon was, nor that Eric Gales played drums. Good to learn!

The mix is superb, and everything sound fat, warm and clear.

Finally, I want to call out the album artwork, with Eric in a bookstore or library. It’s a really cool visual, and the treatment to the photography gives it a warm, almost surreal look. Kudos to physical media.

Special Guests

I love reading liner notes. For instance, I learned MonoNeon played bass on most tracks, including the funky interlude at 1:50 into “Watcha Gon’ Do” which is probably my favorite bit on the album:

MonoNeon brings the funk to “Watcha Gon’ Do”

Beth Hart delivers her incredible and powerful vocals to “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Now there’s a package tour I would jump at. The similarity between their life stories make them a great pair. It’s not just knowing what the other has gone through, it’s coming out to a similar place after all that. They’ve done one-off collaborations at various events, but I’d love to see a tour. They’d kill.

Two of my favorite artists – let’s hope for a full tour!

More from Eric Gales

Listening To: Toto’s Hydra

Image result for toto hydra

I got Steve Lukather’s excellent autobiography “The Gospel According to Luke” for Christmas this year and just finished reading. It was quite entertaining, if a bit scattered. There are lots of funny behind-the-scenes stories from his life in the studio and on the road, and lots of crazy adventures with other musicians. One of the best was when Miles Davis showed up and got freaked out by a stuffed dog. I do wish there as a little more meat on the bones in terms of music, but I get that he has such a vast career it would be hard to go in depth with much. His discography – included at the end of the book – is absolutely mind-blowing.

I had never paid much attention to Toto. I knew the hits, but they were alway a softer, more polished band than I was into in the 80s & 90s. Listening with older, wiser ears, and reading about the ups and downs of the band has given me an opportunity to revisit.

In the book he talked about Hydra being their proggy album and that definitely caught my attention so I’ve been listening to that lately.

It’s a nice combination of catchy, poppy hooks, interesting rhythmic devices and songs that go beyond traditional “I love you fare. As expected, the songs are longer and more involved.
Of course there’s killer playing all around and as a guitarist it’s cool to hear Luke kill it on every track. What I like about this album is the variety – Hydra, All Us Boys and White Sister absolutely rock. 99 and Mama are a little softer. Hydra and St. George certainly dip into prog territory. It’s tonally diverse and the production is top notch. I’m really digging it. If you overlooked Toto like I had, or only know them from “Rosanna” or “Africa,” give Hydra a shot.

Listening To: Soft Machine

Inspired by youtube clips of Holdsworth playing with Soft Machine, I picked up Bundles a few weeks back and really dig it.

I had a chance to get to Atlantic Sounds this week and picked up their first album on vinyl, and that’s been getting spins, too. What a great band. There are so many bands like this from decades ago that I somehow missed over my last 45 years. Colliseum, Uriah Heep… it’s hard enough to keep up with new bands and new releases but there’s such a gold mine of music from decades past. Regardless, I’m enjoying it and I’m going to be digging deeper into their catalog.