Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dewa Budjana - Surya Namaskar - The Future Of Fusion In 2014

Surya Namaskar is destined to be a fusion classic. Dewa Budjana brings together tremendous guitar playing skills and equally impressive talent as a composer - add two fusion superstars (Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy Johnson) to the mix, throw in mix master Robert Feist (he engineered Allan Holdsworth's greatest records), and you have the perfect ingredients for success, and succeed this troop has.

Dewa Budjana is a huge pop/rock superstar in Indonesia with his long running, million selling outfit, Gigi, but it's in the realm of jazz that has Western eyes upon the guitarist. MoonJune Records, a small boutique label ran by Leonardo Pavkovic, has again delivered the goods - if you're the kind of listener who knows to trust certain small labels as one would a favorite movie director, Pavkovic's label will be right up your alley. I asked Dewa about his relationship with his label:

Dewa Budjana: "I met Leonardo in 2008 at an Allan Holdsworth concert in Singapore: he is Allan's manager. 
"Then, I met him again in 2009 when I visited his office during a trip for an Indonesian culture show. We met a few more times in Jakarta, and in 2012 he decided to start releasing my albums on his label. 
"Leonardo has supported me in many ways, introducing me to his vast worldwide network. He promotes the albums on his label very well, sending hundreds of promo copies around the world, generating a lot of reviews. Knowing that people around the world and writing about my music, or playing my music on various radio shows around the globe is very important to me!"

MoonJune does things right - from the product, to the packaging, to promotions, they don't skimp on things and that's great to see in an age in which things aren't always this way.

Surya Namaskar is definitely a global accomplishment - in the words of music journalist and author, Raymond Benson, "East meets West and ignites the sky! Dewa Budjana's latest, a collaboration with jazz giants Jimmy Johnson and Vinnie Colaiuta, elevates guitar-based jazz fusion with a Balinese flair to new plateaus of nirvana. Mahavishnu, move over: there's a new master on the block!"

One listen to this album is all that's required to cement this thought, but you'll find yourself going back for lots of extra helpings as you're bedazzled again and again by the sounds, textures, tunes, and superlative performances. I wondered how he made the journey from growing up in the Far East to recording high octane jazz in Los Angeles with the best hired hands in the world:

Dewa Budjana: "I am originally Balinese, but I grew up in Surabaya, the second largest Indonesian city in East Java, moving to the capital Jakarta in the mid 80s.  
"My journey as a musician started at the age of eleven, when I got my first guitar. While in junior high school, I started playing in a folk/rock band. 
"But everything changed when I discovered John McLaughlin playing on Mahavishnu Orchestra's album, Birds Of Fire. From then on I explored the jazz-rock fusion of Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, and the progressive rock of Yes, Gentle Giant, and ELP. Later, I got into the jazz of Chick Corea, Jan Garbarek, and many more."

Listening to the sympathetic vibrations laid down by Colaiuta and Johnson, you'd think that they'd been playing with Budjana for years - Kalingga, an over nine minute epic is an amazing testament to the relative skills involved as the tune moves silkily from section to section in a manner that suggests the prog-rock legends Budjana has just mentioned. However, when I asked Dewa how he chose and prepped Johnson and Colaiuta for the record, I frankly found his answer rather shocking:

Dewa Budjana: "Vinnie and Jimmy were on my wish list of musicians with whom I wanted to play; they are very famous in my country amongst musicians, and that's a dream rhythm team. 
"Once I decided which tunes to use for the session, I exchanged ideas with Jimmy Johnson. He is such a great guy, and is very helpful with that process of preparation, and I sent him charts and mp3s of demos. 
"I sent charts for four songs for the first session in LA in January 2014. I was very busy with my other projects with not so much time for the whole preparation. Kalingga was actually composed during my flight from Jakarta to LA. I was humming in my seat and imagining players doing what I imagined. I noted my thoughts on my iPhone and after landing in LA, I wrote all the notation on my computer on Sibelius software in a few hours. Having that extra song is how we recorded five tunes in that session.     
"Jimmy also told me that Vinnie actually doesn't listen to demos - he simply likes to come in the studio and play what he has to play. Actually, that's what happened, and all the drum parts played by Vinnie on my record are first takes! 
"That tune came out of me spontaneously, I didn't have time to think about influences, or references. It was possibly a subconscious result, a combination of my listening experience in progressive rock, and fusion, and my sensibility. I really do not know, it just came out that way, and I am very happy how it worked out, recorded in one take, and with no click! 
"Before I came to the studio, before the recording, I was pretty nervous, but once we started playing the first track, everything was smooth, natural, and organic. And, the presence of Leonardo in the studio during the recording was a very important factor." 

It's truly mind boggling and a testament to the musicians involved - without rehearsals and in just two sessions, Budjana has created a true classic. The album is rife with jaw dropping chops, and the virtuosity on display is astounding, but at the end of the day it is the music - the songs, that comes across. Capistrano Road is dedicated to Allan Holdsworth, written after Dewa had visited the master's home, but while the tune tips its hat to the legacy, it charts its own course. Hearing Colaiuta's toms tumble after and alongside Budjana's soloing is sublime, and when Johnson follows with a solo of his own, bliss is achieved.

The title track, which translates to a yoga pose known as 'good morning sunshine,' guests LA studio legend Michael Landau, who turns in a bluesy solo as the tune sonically takes us back to the days when studio musicians could make a go of it by laying down acres of gorgeously chorused Strat tones on hit records. Melodic in the extreme, this is easy listening that still manages to intellectually challenge the most demanding of ears.

Another inspired choice made by Pavkovic and Budjana was in hiring Robert Feist to mix, and master the record - best known for engineering Holdsworth's best albums, he's succeeded here in a grand fashion, making this one of the most ear pleasing releases I've heard in years:

Dewa Budjana: "Jimmy Johnson introduced me to Robert, he recorded many Allan Holdsworth albums, and I was absolutely satisfied with all the work he has done during two sessions (five tunes in January 2014 and three more in October 2014). His mixes are excellent, and I will use him in the future. My NYC album was recorded by the great Randy Crafton of Kaleidoscope Studio in the NYC area, but I will use Robert for the mixing and mastering."

Surya Namaskar is by any measure a great album - regardless of how it was conceived and created. Dewa Budjana is a musical force to be reckoned with, and this is only the beginning of what should become a beautiful relationship. As if this weren't enough, the hard working guitarist has already recorded his next MoonJune release, and effort that sees him teaming up with more jazz legends - this time it's New York, and the sidemen are those who often accompany another Budjana influence, Pat Metheny:

Dewa Budjana: "Leonardo suggested that I record an album in New York, since I've recorded the previous albums in Los Angeles. New York has a very different vibe, and I had a week free from my busy schedule in January of this year. 
"I had a fixed idea to record with Antonio Sanchez and Leonardo helped me secure him for the session and then we went in search for the upright bass player and piano player. I really wanted to have an album with a double bass player, my old dream. A few well known bass players such as John Patitucci, Eddie Gomez, Christian McBride, and Larry Grenadier weren't available. Antonio suggested Ben Williams to Leonardo and I liked the idea. 
"Many pianists we were looking for were unavailable on those specific few dates when Antonio was available because he had a very busy schedule and a huge upcoming tour with Pat Metheny Unity Group. Leonardo suggested Aaron Parks and Vijay Iyer, two great pianists of the new upcoming gneration of piano masters, but again, everybody was busy. And then Leonardo came up with a wonderful idea to use his old friend and a marvelous vibraphonist Joe Locke. 
"So, from having in mind an acoustic pianist, I ended up with a vibraphonist, and the session was simply great. That album will be out in September, or October 2014. Being able to make an album with the current rhythm section of one of my guitar heroes is an honor and a privilege, and I'd love to continue our collaboration."

When he's not busy, and he's never not busy, Budjana has also found time to developed and open Museum Gitarku (http://www.museumgitarku.com/), a collection of his vast array of personal instruments, as well as pieces donated by some of the world's best known players as a contribution to the people of Bali and Indonesia who have so invaluably contributed to his astounding success.
Some of Dewa's personal collection
 Surya Namaskar can be found here (HD audiophile download 24bit/96khz or MP3-320):  http://moonjunerecords.bandcamp.com/album/surya-namaskar-24-96khz

Physical CD available on MoonJune Records' website:

Dewa Budjana's website:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Nita Strauss - Much More Than A Maiden - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Nita Strauss has been a figure on the West Coast guitar scene for years - when not channeling Dave Murray's sound, style, and licks onstage with The Iron Maidens, she might be found recording rocking classical renditions of various video games with Critical Hit, or maybe even on the road playing some hard funk with Jermaine Jackson. She is definitely not one to let grass grow under her feet - she even finds time to work with her co-guitarist and longtime friend/roommate Courtney Cox in not just the Maidens, but also Lorraine Lewis's reformed Femme Fatale who hit the waves between March 29-April 2 for the incredible (and sold out) Monsters of Rock Cruise, in which they'll be showing off both FF, and The Maidens.

Needless to say, Nita Strauss is a very busy guitar player, and that's always a good thing these days. She took some time in the middle of her busy NAMM show schedule for our chat, which came just days after I had experienced the dazzling Iron Maidens. I must admit that I'm not a big tribute band fan, but when I stood at the back of Hollywood's legendary Viper Room and shut my eyes, it was as if Dave Murray was on the stage, and I'm not an easy sell - I know Murray's signature trills and bends like I do the back of my hand, and Strauss had it down. Color me blown away.

I decided to go straight for the throat of the 800 pound gorilla standing beside me at the back of The Viper Room, and get the 'girl' question out of the way. You may say that I am perpetuating by even bringing it up, but I'd say you weren't in the room that night as the capacity crowd gave their love and support to the metallic lasses - being female, and attractive is almost never a hindrance, and Strauss proves it:

Nita Strauss: "You know, I get asked this a lot, so which is why when you say the 800 pound gorilla in the room, I see the softball coming. 
"And really, people have this idea that it's really difficult to be a female in music, because for a long time, it was. You remember Jennifer Batten, Heart, Lita, and all the pioneers talking about how difficult it was to make their way, but now it's 2014 and they've done it. They broke down all the barriers, and now there is this surge of incredible female musicians coming out. 
"I'm just really excited to be on the forefront of that. Now, it's really just about getting equal footing, and saying we can do this without worrying."

I was curious as to how she came to find her way into The Iron Maidens:

Nita Strauss: "Courtney Cox, the other guitar player who plays Adrian's parts is my best friend in the whole world. 
"A few years ago in 2011, she asked me if I would just learn ten songs, just as a favor - just to help her out, and I said, sure, I could do a couple of gigs. Now, it's like three years, and forty songs later! We're still doing it and still having a blast! 
"It's so much fun - we all get along great, all the members are really good friends. Working with a tribute band - I've been in a lot of original projects, but this is the first tribute band I've ever worked with, and it's really a different dynamic. 
"There's no competition of like, 'You do too many solos, I don't write enough, or I don't get paid as much in royalties,' because it's Iron Maiden songs! There's not some of the disappointments that come with original music. We just show up, play Iron Maiden songs, and have a great time!"
Photo by Jack Lue

If you've never seen an Iron Maidens show, I must tell you - fun is absolutely something you'll have. More than fun, it's also an almost eery experience. If you shut your eyes and listen you'd be excused for thinking that the actual guitarists were in the room playing, even to the point of each player playing the appropriate harmonies, a feat that takes great listening, attention, as well as chops. I asked Nita about their attention to detail:

Nita Strauss: "I have to give Courtney credit for that. Courtney is a very detail oriented guitar player, and when I first joined the band I wasn't aware of who was going to do what parts. 
"She was the one who made sure that everyone was doing the right parts at the right time. Even to the point where I always, every band I was ever in since I was thirteen years old, I've been on stage left, and Dave Murray is on stage right, so I'm the guitar player on stage right with The Iron Maidens! 
"Iron Maiden fans are some of the most meticulous of music fans. There is so much to be meticulous about - so many details of the IM stage show, so the real fans know it, right down to the UFO intro song, all those little things. So I think the fans really enjoy it! 
"When I first started learning the songs, I wasn't familiar with any of Dave Murray's techniques - I was always a very Steve Vai/John Petrucci/Yngwie Malmsteen type of player, so I had to learn the blues scale for playing Dave Murray's parts. 
"I knew the notes, but I really learned to utilize it by playing Murray's parts. I did my audition for them, which was three songs, and then I did my first show a week later with no rehearsals. The band was in South America. My first show was twelve songs at The House Of Blues. I learned the songs, we ran them down at soundcheck, and then we just did it!"

Life's funny - just before I went down to Los Angeles for the week of the NAMM Show and its many shows, and events, my sister-in-law asked me if I knew of the band Femme Fatale - it turned out she had worked with the band's founder and lead vocalist, Lorraine Lewis, many years earlier in a flower shop in Portland, Oregon. I told her that while I knew of the band, I didn't know the singer. I happened to look up Femme Fatale before I made the trip, and damned if there, looking me in the eye from their web page was Nita Strauss, and Courtney Cox. They later introduced me to Lorraine at Brian Tichy's Bonzo Bash at The Observatory in Santa Ana, and over the course of some great music and a Jagermeister, or two, it was confirmed that Lewis was as cool as my sister-in-law had remembered, and also that Strauss and Cox could hold their own as very cool rockers. I asked Nita how the Femme Fatale gig had come to be:

Nita Strauss: "Courtney and I were approached by Lorraine - she wanted to get the band back together. 
"I think it was originally done around the Monsters Of Rock Cruise - she had gotten an offer from them to do the cruise, and she thought, 'Why not do Femme Fetale with an all female lineup? 
"She got my number from another guitarist friend of mine, and she approached Courtney on Facebook. She approached us separately - Courtney and I had lived together for years, now we live next door to each other, but at the time we were living in the same apartment! We had been roommates for years! 
"We got the calls a day apart, so we told each other about it right away - Courtney was like, 'Oh, I got this call about Femme Fetale,' and the next day I was like, 'Hey, I got that call, too!' 
"It's funny because just the week before, we had heard Femme Fatale on Furious Radio, and we were talking about this song, and this band, saying, 'This is a great vocalist!' We're pretty picky about musicians and vocalists - especially guitar players, but also singers. We were like, 'This is the kind of singer we like, this is who we should be in a band with,' and the next week we were! 
"So, it's funny how these things turn out - Lorraine is a blast, she is such a powerhouse. She's a great vocalist, she's fantastic onstage, and she's got a great work ethic. She's always pushing us to be more exciting, and to do cool stuff onstage. She even brought her confetti cannon to our last show, she's a blast! 
"We've talked about doing new material - Lorraine has some material that she has wanted to release for a while, and I think we'll be working on that later this year."

In addition to being a near full-time rocker, Strauss finds time to lay down some more clinical rock with Critical Hit, 'a video game music tribute band performing original arrangements and electrifying live concerts of music from the most celebrated video games of all time':

Nita Strauss: "Yeah, I work with a band called Critical Hit, which is a really cool thing. I wouldn't call it completely original material, but it's like rock and symphonic arrangements of classic video game themes. If you look on YouTube, there's another new one out this week that should be really great. 
"I've actually worked n a lot of video game scores, but I'm not a video game player. I worked on the soundtrack for the new Metal Gear game, I wrote and played some guitar on that. 
"We did the Angry Bird theme and it's pretty wild - it's totally acoustic guitar for me, so it's kind of fun! I had to listen to some Tommy Emmanuel before recording that! There's a really rocking version of the Tetris Theme, and there's more serious one's like World Of Warcraft - it's really a cool project, the album's out now."

Courtney Cox is a name and face that pops up alongside Nita Strauss, and they've been friends, roommates, and band mates for years:

Nita Strauss: "Courtney is amazing. We have such a great time together with everything we do. 
"It's not often that you find a band member that you never get tired of hanging out with! But, we play in two bands together, we go out, we live next door to each other, our boyfriends are best friends - we eat together, drink together, we do just about everything together!"

I laughingly suggested that a reality show couldn't be far away, and I was surprised to find that i's evidently at least been mentioned:

Nita Strauss: "Well, if there was a reality show, and I'm not saying there is, it would be focused around a central group of people, and us too! 
"I think, basically, in everything we do, we're basically cast as one character! Whether we're ina band, or whatever, we're kind of a package deal. 
"Personalities aside, Courtney is one of the most talented guitar players out there right now. I'm excited to see her stretch her wings a little bit, more outside of The Iron Maidens' arena."

After reading all this about metal tribute bands, rocking roommates, and high tech video game themes, a name you might not expect to hear would be that of Jermaine Jackson - but, when Jermaine needs a high octane guitar wizard for his road show, he calls upon no other than....Nita Strauss. It brings us full circle, and it is exposed that it matters not what gender you inhabit, if you have the chops, the personality, and the drive, you can get any gig you want. I asked her about gigging with the Jackson R&B show:

Nita Strauss: "Yeah, it's a totally different thing! There are things I can't really say yet, because the press releases aren't out, but I can say this - I'm going over those songs again! 
"I have the guitar with the Tone Zone and Norton (DiMarzio Pickups), instead of the Evolutions plugged in right now, and it's a totally different thing. I had an amazing tech at the time, who really helped me dial in my tone. 
"Reinhold Bogner built me the amp which I used on that tour, that I still use now - it's an Uberschall, but it's got an Ecstasy clean channel, so it's got the really crisp, very bright cleans that I need for all the funk-picking kind of stuff. I have a Goldfinger mod - a white Uberschall with a pink Bogner logo.  
"That's my shredding machine - it can go from that really crisp, bright and clear tone. Mike Scott was the other guitar player in Jermaine Jackson's band, he said, 'You don't want no dirt in your cleans!' 
"That's what the Ecstasy clean chennel gives, then you flip over to the Uberschall distortion channel, and you get punched in the gut, it's awesome! Punched in the gut in the best way."
Photo by Craig Newman

Wrapping things up gently, I asked the guitarist what advice she might have for anyone picking up an Ibanez Jem and a pink Bogner:

Nita Strauss: "Have fun, learn songs you like, and get a metronome that doesn't have an annoying sound, because you'll be using it a lot!"

So, there you have it - a great bit of advice from a source who can't be questioned.

Monday, March 17, 2014

California Breed - Well Worth The Wait, This Is A Brand New Breed - Review

Rock Ain't Near Dead - that's been my mantra for a while, and I am now more convinced than ever. California Breed is a fantastic album by a fantastic band. It's new breed, if you will - it doesn't sound like Deep Purple, Black Country Communion, or anything that preceded it. Hughes and Bonham have done some of their best work yet, and the avenue of guitar heroes has a new kid on the block in Andrew Watt.

Glenn Hughes was given lemons - and he squeezed the lemons until they produced a golden nectar. He picked the right few friends and they've done the near impossible in actually transcending what I had expected from this record. I spoke with Glenn a good bit in the aftermath of his last band, and I knew he had a certain fire in his soul, that fire you get when you've done your best and been burned. He did what should be done, he turned his intense pain and disappointment into love and hard work. He's just told me that this is his best work in 30 years, and I wholeheartedly agree.

A big question on a lot of minds - how's the guitar playing? The guitar playing is great, and is what makes this so very different than anything in the accumulated catalogues of the band's senior partners - Andrew Watt is a big, brash player who sounds like he was raised on Page, Ronson, and Bolan. Like he was born with a Les Paul in his hands. He's not a shredder, but he sure can play - he's a riff and song sort of guy as opposed to a soloist, but his solos burn for just that reason.

I love that beyond 'the voice of rock,' there is almost nothing to connect this to the deceased Black Country Communion - brilliant as it was, there's no point in rehashing, and there's none to be found here. This is a fresh, new beast that will surprise a great many listeners. Producer Dave Cobb turns out to be right choice behind the board - this sounds like one foot in rock's history, and the other is very much in this moment. Last year's near marriage between Hughes and the Stone Temple Pilots guys now makes much more sense to me. He's again reinvented his sound - the voice is still amazing, and his bass playing is sublime as ever, but you've never heard this before, this is a new suit with a great fit.

Jason Bonham. He's getting better and better - he says this is his finest work, and there is no question that he's right. He's got great technique, but he never makes it the point. Instead, he plays for the song - pushing, pulling, and pounding great performances out of his bandmates. Great drummers understand that their job entails driving the band and songs, shaping them to their will. Bonham obviously gets this, and it's obvious that his writing credits on every song are well deserved.

The songs....

The Way is probably the most familiar  sounding riff on the record, but almost as soon as the words Led Zeppelin cross your mind, Hughes hijacks the tune and takes it for some very sophisticated maneuvering, spurred on by Bonham's thunderous assault. Watt is huge in the mix, and a lesser singer than Hughes may have gotten swallowed up by the tremendous wall of sound. This is going to be a hell of an opener when this bunch hits the stage. This is the way it should go.

A big beat and some swaggering guitar announces the arrival of Sweet Tea, and Hughes breaks out a little funk for the verses before a melodic pre-chorus dives in then gets pushed aside for some extremely cool, effected guitar that makes me miss the days when Aerosmith were still world beaters - Watt tears off his first solo, and it's a right dazzler, exciting and riveting. These guys are having fun. I'm having fun. This is rock.

Watt comes out swinging on the intro of Chemical Rain, and Cobb's presence is palpably felt in the mix - then we get quite psychedelic, as Hughes shows just how masterful a songwriter he's always been. He takes things in a different direction very abruptly, but it feels right - in fact, it feels great. This has a definite Page-y pace, and under the familiar moving guitar part Hughes plays some brutally cool bass. I was just talking to George Lynch the other day about the glory of certain singing bass players and their ability to play a line that is both separate from the guitarist and their vocal lines, and this is a sterling example - listen closely, kids.

Midnight Oil is the first single release, and it's a great example of the more modern side of the band. I've never heard Hughes accompanied by female background singers, but it works quite well. Watt supplies some elastic guitar that makes things swing nicely, and Bonham is pushing and pulling fantastically. The fuzzed out first guitar solo is one of the biggest tones I've heard since American Woman, and Watt's second solo is even hotter - here's where you can hear that the kid can flat out burn.

Things slow down for All Falls Down as Hughes pours out his soul and he continues to earn the title of 'The Voice Of Rock.' He takes it from a whisper to a beautiful bellow on the chorus, and the dynamics are lush and lovely. Lyrically his heart is on his sleeve, and the arrangement is perfect for the content. This is sophisticated and still sweet, a trick that only a master magician can muster. Are there still hit singles? I don't listen to the radio, but this is a hit single, and Watt's stunning solo reminds me of those old Journey smashes, in which things would seem so calm, and then Neal Schon would take us straight to the stratosphere with an epic onslaught of guitaristic beauty. This one's a classic.

The Grey is as close as Glenn Hughes has ever gotten to punk rock - of course, this band doesn't ever stay in one place for long and soon enough, it's off to the futuristic races. This album is as interesting as a Kubrick film - it takes us to places we've never been, and it's fascinating trip. Watt throws down another brilliant solo, and I see why the Ronson comparisons have been made. He's a thrilling player, fearlessly jousting with Hughes and Bonham, two of rock's hardest hitters and faring very well.

You've never heard Glenn Hughes do anything remotely like what goes on in Days They Come - he's going places even he's never been, and when you hear the chorus, you'll congratulate him for his bravery. To be pushing your creative limits at the age of 62 accurately defines how one should live, and our man Hughes is getting it right. Wear a helmet for the chorus of this one, it careens pretty wildly. Dave Cobb is great with choosing vocal effects, and they are fabulous on this one. No one's ever really thought of dressing up 'the voice' like this before, and it fits well.

Spit You Out is more in the vein of modern/indie rock, taking a Bowiesque ride that is very pleasantly retro nouveau. Think Ziggy in the 21st century. Crazy stuff, but trust me, it's a great journey. Glam gets good in 2014. Great guitar sounds abound as the kid breaks out all the right moves.

Strummed acoustic guitars on a Hughes record? Oh, hell yes, and on Strong they blend well with Watt's electric orchestrations and the chorus is even a bit Beatle-y. Pop leanings are a welcome thing, and this again is brand new territory - Bonham handles it well, and keeps the ship in its lanes with a bit of Moon-tastic drumming. Again, it sounds like they're having great fun, breaking down some walls and moving into new arenas, which is as it should be.

Heading down the backstretch, Invisible brings out the big guns, and all three of the Breed are riffing large before things slow down and Glenn's vocal floats above the brilliant din, and Watt's guitar playing is most expressive as it carries the vocal down the river. After their debut, Black Country Communion never made it again to this level of interplay between the members - this sounds like a band that enjoys itself. A glorious, joyful soundscape. Watt's leads are cool compositions of their own, and not just standard lead noodling. Great stuff.

Scars comes in on a wave of layered guitars and its sexy swagger is a welcome antidote to the down nature of our times. This cut is a perfect example of the age range of the band's members - you've got a solid connection to the past with some nice references to the black country history of Bonham and Hughes, but new kid Watt keeps this in place as a fine slice of modernistic rock. Excitement - that's a word I keep coming back to with this record. It's exciting, and I don't say that about too many records these days. I don't know where the songs are leading, and yet again, and again, they're thrilling me when I get to the destination.

More acoustic work accompanies Hughes on the intro to Breathe, and as things develop you hear where the singer has been headed ever since he returned to his rock roots back in 2010. I'm damned glad to have him back in this arena, because he's an artist - first, and foremost - he follows his muse faithfully, not stopping to pay heed to naysayers, or unbelievers. The man is true to his soul, and how many classic rockers can you say that about these days? He's got a team that is right beside him putting out 110% at every moment - nobody wants to pack up and go home, nobody's waiting around to get paid, and when you hear this tune fade, you'll just hit repeat.

California Breed is going to be tough to beat as the year progresses towards the inevitable top tens, and if you haven't pre-ordered this record yet, go ahead and do that now. You aren't going to want to be a day late for this party.

Glenn Hughes - congratulations, my friend. You took what could have been a hard setback, and you've turned it into a great success, and an inspiration for anyone who chooses to pay attention. I know what it took, and you passed with more than flying colors.

And, we have a new guitar hero in Andrew Watt - playing for the tune and the thrills is a beautiful thing.

Thanks to Glenn Hughes, Andrew Watt, Jason Bonham, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.

To pre-order: http://www.amazon.com/California-Breed/dp/B00IKM5MGW

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Buffalo Killers - Heavy Reverie - Radio Ready, Willing, and Able

Buffalo Killers are back with Heavy Reverie, and they're going for the throat with a record that should situate the band for full throttle rock stardom. They've brought along a new label (Sun Pedal Recordings - Warner Music Group), a new producer (the legendary Jim Wirt), and hell, they even mixed it on the Neve console that gave birth to Michael Jackson's Thriller demos.

Poisonberry Tide busts out sounding like a hard rock R.E.M. - Peter Buck always wanted to make a real hard rock record with Dayton's own Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), and I gotta think it may have sounded much like this. Killer riffing and a lovely melody that floats over the top like a dream. The Gabbard brothers' trademark harmonies come in on the pop radio ready choruses, and it's time to take the top down and accelerate. I don't know what's on the radio these days, but this sure as hell should be.

Zach Gabbard's bass riffs are as big as the man himself, and his easily identifiable voice is back for Dig On In - if he'd been around for the end of the sixties, he's have had his own jet airplane and been at Woodstock. This is hard, heavy rock, and Andy Gabbard tears off yet another guitar hero, fuzz drenched solo. At 2:21 this one's great, just over too soon.

This Girl Has Grown is a driving slice of sumptuous and fuzzy pop - even with the four to the floor beat, and the distort guitars, this is smooth as silk. New guy Sven Khans adds some nice textures in the rhythm guitar department, and drummer Joseph Sebaali is picture perfect as ever. Not a fancy, technical drummer, Sebaali is all about the band, and all about the songs.

Sugary, sweet melodies make this rock solid record much more than just another indie rock outing. The Gabbards are writers first, and all those lessons they learned early on are here on display. However, that being said, Heavy Reverie is a very contemporary sounding record, and much less of a seventies throwback than the band's earlier efforts. Cousin Todd is clean, tight, and plenty punchy. Khans is on pedal steel here, and it's a great texture to add to this Petty-esque rocker.

Heavy Reverie is a very clean, pristine recording - not to say sterile, but in-tune, in-time, and very well produced. Sandbox is filled with cool effect laden guitars, and airy harmonies. Andy Gabbard takes a nice skittish guitar solo that sounds like he's trying to see how much he can inflict on the long neck of his Gibson Firebird and keep it in tune, until he renders it silent in a puddle of feedback at the tune's glorious ending.

Zach is back with Who You Are, and it's a great slab of psychedelic rock that goes a bit 'Too Much To Dream Last Night,' in places (in the best way), and he takes it from hard rock to a spacey, Lynchian soundtrack. These guys are great at avoiding anything that approaches cliche - they sound familiar, but always a bit new and strange. Nice, tight harmony guitars make this one an enjoyable slice of ear candy.

Grape Peel (How I Feel) sticks with the program as the rhythm section keeps this one moving while the chunky guitars keep the band's feet firmly on the ground. The guitars are super fuzzy, but never muddy - hats off to producer Jim Wirt for keeping it easy on the ears, but still very rocking.

Buffalo Killers often take me back to a time when it was an honor for a band to be called a 'boogie band' - the early seventies were filled with them, and yeah, I miss the unapologetic sledge hammer rock that made bands like Foghat such a joy. Louder Than Your Lips rocks like mad, and there's some sizzling slide guitars, and a stinging solo that will have you getting that guitar out from under your bed and playing along.

Shake will have you running back to check out your Flamin' Groovies collections. Maybe even a little bit of middle period solo Clapton in the verses - these guys are absolute masters of mixing up a blender full of influences and making you scratch your head wondering, where? You'll get it when you hear it, believe me....

Melody brought us in, and it shows us the door with January, a smooth bit of harmony and chorused steel guitars that is a bit darker when you listen to the words, but it still makes you happy. Zach's circular bass pattern keeps Joseph turning the beat this way and that, and while they never really show off Buffalo Killers are killers of the coolest kind.

Another killer album from a band who makes making music as easy as a summer afternoon.

Friday, March 7, 2014

KXM - Supergroup? Hell Yes.

Korn + King's X + Lynch Mob = KXM = synergy.
syn-er-gy: noun 1. the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce combined effect greater than the sum of their separate parts.
In my old age, I'm learning to not be too quick to judge, to not shoot from the hip without looking closely at what I'm shooting. And in this case, that concept has served me very well.

I will admit to skepticism when I first heard of this grouping. I love dUg Pinnick, but he's had a damned rough patch of ill-health, combined with a tremendous amount of musical output in the last year, or so. Could he have more left in the tank? I'm a big fan of George Lynch, but his inability to make anything excite me over the last few years had made we wonder where the magic was hiding. Ray Luzier? I knew he was a revered drummer, but I can't say that I'm a Korn fan (that could be more generational than anything, and I allow for that likelihood). Turns out that my cynicism was just that - these guys have turned in one hell of a good album, and I hope we've only heard the beginning from KXM.

I think the big winner here is George Lynch - the man sounds fantastic in this setting. So do dUg and Ray, don't get me wrong, but they've been pretty consistently on the money of late. Deservedly, or not, Lynch has been eyeballed with suspicion by long time fans of late. It's been too long since he's had a solid hit, and constant lineup changes have left his Mob a mess. Granted, these are tough times, but when did that ever stop rock fans from being a bit hard assed in their expectations? At any rate, George is on fire throughout this entire disc, and it sounds like he's become a much more multi-dimensional six stringer than we're used to hearing. You can still hear many Lynchisms, but there's a whole menu of new options, sounds, and chops coming from this classic axeman.

KXM will end up on a lot of year end top 10s, and here's why....The songs.

The drum part that kicks off Stars swings - then it's straight into thunderous double bass drum fury, low end bass and scratchy, edgy staccato guitar riff that walks perfectly up a patent pending dUg verse of the highest order. Then a super melodic chorus explodes and you get it. The parts mesh together wonderfully, and it all makes sense. Every star shines brightly, and a supergroup is born. Lynch's solo is a pitch shifted beauty, and dUg is on message as always. Luzier? Wow, this guy is truly a monster, but I'm thinking most of you already knew this.

Rescue Me is the single, and it's a heavy slice of mechanized guitar plucking - it shows that George Lynch has been keeping up with his woodshedding and shredding. Gliding, and cascading across Pinnick's subsonic bass, the guitar part shifts marvelously from a plucked verse into a sophisticated bunch of picking under the chorus, and come solo time it's a funkified version of Lynch's classic storeroom of fretboard histrionics. Luzier swaggers on this one - bouncing off the walls magnificently.

The combination of chops and great song craft dominates this record, and Gun Fight truly sounds like a Dokken/King's X mashup, and that isn't a putdown in any sense, it's just identifying some classic DNA. Pinnick is one of the best protest writers on the planet currently, and it'd be wise to listen to these lyrics. Fair warning - there's a new sheriff in town, and damn do I hope these boys find a way to take this show on the road.

Acoustic pastorals? Who'da thunk? Never Stop is a gorgeous ballad that has a distinctly '70s vibe - an inspired moment that shows just how far these guys can go from their signature models. Lynch's playing is sublime as his fills are melodic, tasteful, and sweet. This one closes in on Bad Company/Southern Rock territory, and manages to not sound cliche. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the quality of the background vocals on display - very nice. Lynch's solo is a classic, and Pinnick wears love well.

Lynch kicks off Faith Is A Room with a riff that both takes us backwards and forwards - I can hear the past calling, but it's more like looking back at an old lover and remembering the happier moments. The song comes first, but boy can these guys play. Luzier is masterful at kicking the beat around like a beach ball, but never letting the ball go out of bounds - damned fun to listen to, he is. Mr. Scary goes to the electric church? Wait until you hear the chorale bridge....

Pinnick's bass playing never gets enough ink, but he's a sly, slick player who's playing always subtly carries his vocals - on I'll Be OK, he's reminiscent of a sure handed NBA guard bringing the ball up the court. KXM sound like they've been playing together for ages, rather than months. The breakdown on this tune approaches any fusion you'd care to mention, as Lynch pushes the outer limits and makes me think this may be his best playing yet.

Sleep mines some deep waters in the realms of domestic unrest. Lyrically, Pinnick is famous, at least to me, as being a guy who will show you every card in his deck if you're listening, but he delivers it without the drama that would render it tiresome - instead, his delivery is melodically matter-of-fact, and it's like reading a great book. George is again pushing into new definitions of some old familiar territory, and it's all good. Very, very good.

What's gotten into George? Maybe that should have been the title of this record. This delivers on the promise of his entire career. Love is a melodic masterpiece. Kind of proggy, kind of Beatle-y, kind of right here, right now. I'm a big fan of anyone playing with equal, or even greater talents than their own - that's what makes the new music business interesting to me. Are you teaming with contemporaries, or hiring warm bodies? KXM decided to go all out, and they've done it right. They push one another, chase each other, and they sound like they are absolutely loving what they are doing.

Burn has a science fiction vibe, a dark kind of Blade Runner thing going on, with a little Zep thrown in for good measure. I'm glad that these guys chose to play with time a bit, and not to just throw something together haphazardly - the turns and twists are brilliant, and this tunes middle section is a perfect example. It sounds new, it sounds editing, and sounds like a new classic.

Teaming George Lynch up with an absolute monster of a rhythm section - what a fantastic thought. Human Friction works on every level - the playing is both catchy and sophisticated, and it's pretty. Pinnick is on an amazing run that started with last year's Pinnick Gales Pridgen record, then with his almost completely solo solo record, Naked, and continues here. The man is just unstoppable. I'll admit that I thought this might be just a plug in an play record, but it's a well built beast.

Luzier is brilliant on every track - but, maybe especially so on Tranquilize. This is exactly why I don't write about music I don't like. Why? I'd rather wait on something like this that blows my mind on many levels, and leaves me smiling. I write as I listen, and this makes it fun - makes me feel alive, vital, like Rock Ain't Near Dead....

dUg, George, Ray - thank you, this is a brilliant record, fellas.

http://www.RatPakRecords.com/KXM - pre-order!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nalle Colt - Vintage Trouble - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Neil Kitson
Vintage Trouble is perhaps the world's biggest unsigned act, and that's no mistake. From day one they've done things their own way, and it worked like a charm for the hard working four piece from Los Angeles. Having played for millions of fans over the last few years to taking over the late night airwaves, the band has played their cards to perfection. Now, it's time for all that to change.

Nalle Colt is the band's guitarist, and writer of some of the sharpest dressed rock to find its way into the public consciousness in ages. He explained to me recently how the band's hard work, and the guidance of maybe the best management team on the planet (McGhee Entertainment) has led them to their next chapter and their second album, and perhaps a date with the unlikely, but incredibly impressive pairing of Jack White and Don Was. Nalle also told me how he came to the Les Paul, Revival Amps, and he delivered a great message on the power of hard work and gratitude.

Vintage Trouble has had the opportunity to play with some of the biggest and the best - they've shared stages with The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, Robert Cray, and others, but I started things off by asking what it was like to watch Pete Townshend and The Who for 50 nights:

Nalle Colt: "Watching Pete play every night was such an awesome experience. He's such a simple, straight to the point kind of guy. And, what a rhythm player! I think I got a whole new picture of rhythm playing that I never thought of before from the way he plays. 
"That was truly special, and I actually think I'd have to say, I always listened to The Who, but I was never a massive fan. I didn't know much about them, personally. So everything was kind of new to me when we started off. To find out about these guys and what they are all about was so inspiring and influential to me. 
"First of all, you have the production of touring around with these guys - they've been doing it for a few years, so they really know how to do it! Such a true inspiration. I listen to a lot of Who these days! 
"To see what a force they are, the music....before the tour, when I listened to The Who, I think I listened to them very one dimensionally. You can get a very simple view of their music, but when you realize how truly complex their music is, and what a stunning songwriter Pete Townshend is,it's awesome in so many ways. 
"We are still feeling very blessed that they picked us to do that. It's almost overwhelming, you know?"

It can seem like Vintage Trouble was born at the top of the heap, but the band has labored hard to get where they are - in fact it's been a very steady four year climb for the band, and they've done it by converting every opportunity into a victory. I asked Nalle how it felt to be on the inside of such a rocket shot:

Nalle Colt: "(laughs) I was just talking to my girl about this the other night! When you are inside of something, it's almost...I don't know how to easiest explain it to someone who might not play music. 
"I'm very critical, I've been part of a lot of music, starting up bands, and setting things up. I'm very specific as to what I am looking for, what we try to aim at. At the end of the day, you throw it at the wall, and hopefully, it sticks! 
"I just couldn't believe the response - to this day, that we have received from all over the place, and I am so grateful. 
"I'm just a musician, and we try to do the best we can - and this amazing response we've had from everyone, from Leno, Letterman, to The Who, The Stones, Bon Jovi, Brian May, Lenny Kravitz, all these people supporting us and believing in what we do is just incredible! 
"It makes you really respect, and I think I speak for all four of us in the band, that we got so much respect out of it, we really want to work harder and make it better - really work up to what people expect us to do now. 
"It makes you want to be better. I constantly feel like when we perform now, we really need to step up and prove to these people that we actually are what we say we are."
Photo by Adam Kennedy
Vintage Trouble is anything but an overnight sensation, though it can appear that way to the most casual observers - actually the band's members have been at it for decades. Nalle and lead vocalist/frontman extraordinaire Ty Taylor had worked together for years before landing on the right mix of people with VT:

Nalle Colt: "Yeah, all four of us, individually have worked for so long in the music business. I worked as a hired gun for a while, I had loads of bands of my own. 
"Ty had endless performances - he's been in theater a lot, Broadway, and so many different things. 
"I think we've definitely paid our dues, and when we got together, we brought all of our experiences together, and we knew that it takes a lot of hard work. 
"It's not just about performances - we run our own record label, we run our own merchandising, our own fan club, we do it all by ourselves. It takes a lot, but we love it. I knew when we put the band together that was a main idea to throw out - were we willing to give it everything? It's a 24/7 job."

If there's anything here for anyone, this may be it - the message that this is the music business of the 21st century, it is exactly what you make of it. There's little handholding to be done, and there's little external support to be found. In the case of Vintage Trouble, they hand built it, but even they knew they needed one very important factor - good management:

Nalle Colt: "I do want to add that we have a great manager (Doc McGhee), and without him we wouldn't be where we are today, he's an amazing guy. 
"We knew walking into this that we needed more than having a record label, we needed a great manager, who we could talk to, who loved music, who has ambition, and could lead us in a great direction. We met Doc McGhee, and a lot of things changed for us. 
"He has the force, and he's been in this business for a long time, he knows the right people. It was good, because he said, 'I can take you there, but then you have to prove you can do it,' and we said, 'Absolutely.' 
"So, he gave us a chance, and we took it, and we've proven that we could do it. He was the one that got us on the Bon Jovi tour early on, and it was a big step. Coming from playing little clubs in Los Angeles to suddenly standing in front of 75,000 people, but we proved that we could do it! 
"We said, 'No problem, we'll just take what we have from the club experience and bring it to the stadium, and it worked! Bon Jovi was super happy, and we had a great tour together. It was ana amazing experience to jump into something that large. To be a part of a production in that way, we learned so, so much from it. 
"We've been very lucky because of these early tours and proving we could do it - a lot of booking agents have seen that we can do it, and they've given us some amazing opportunities, and we've taken them!"

Vintage Trouble is a band that defines chemistry - they play music that may not sound sophisticated until you try to play it. Not unlike such super-bands as AC/DC and ZZ Top, they are so good at what they do that they make it sound easy. I asked Nalle if this was apparent from their first experiences together:

Nalle Colt: "Yeah, absolutely! 
"But, it was yes, and no - I'd say that three quarters of The Bomb Shelter Sessions were written before we ever played together. When we brought them in, within the first five minutes that we played together we knew we were a unit. It had an exceptionally different sound to it. 
"Do you play music yourself? (I confirm that I have for many years - TC) 
"Awesome! Well then you know, as far as musicians, you know how when you start playing with some new people, and you go, 'Wow! There's something special here!' 
"I love it - they (drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill) brought in something that I didn't really envision from the beginning, I think. 
"Richard is a kind of guy who, if I throw him maybe just like a regular blues shuffle thing, he might go, 'Well, how about if I turned the beat around,' and he flipped the beat completely around, and it was like, OK! And it would just come out amazing! 
"Same with Rick - we're a simple band, it's basically just a three piece with a vocal, and when I first envisioned it, I'm a big blues fan, and I love....when I would picture a bass player who kind of holds down the fort, but when I started playing with Rick, he's more of an R&B/soul type of guy, and when I pitch things to him, he would take it another way, which was awesome! 
"That's how the music really came through. We are four very different musically styled people, and in the way we gathered around this music - it came out in such a great way. I hope we never change, because I love this kind of semi-friction look and music, it creates what we have, and I love it. 
"I hope we can keep it this way, and we've been writing so much new music - it's still coming out that way, and it's a beautiful thing. 
"I love that I can throw out an idea to them, and they will take it in a whole different way than I thought I pictured it from the beginning. It comes out even better! 
" Yeah, it's a great way, and I think as a guitar player, the initial thing that you would think of a rhythm section is, 'Oh nice, they can back me up at whatever I do,' but I believe they take it in a different way. It comes out different in the style of music that we play, and I love - they have created something different."
Photo by Hans-W. Rock
Nalle had mentioned the fact that Vintage Trouble is a trio with a vocalist out front, and as anyone who's tried it can tell you, it's a supreme challenge for a guitarist to work with just a drummer and bass. It's not as easy as they make it sound, and I asked Nalle if he ever found that challenge to be daunting:

Nalle Colt: "Absolutely! 
"Originally, when we first started we found that the four of us have this awesome love for early mid-50s recordings. I'm talking about Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, all those early recordings, and oh yeah, Ike and Tina Turner, and even Ike Turner before Tina. It really has this rawness to it, it's really bare. 
"I try to approach the guitar in that way, and it's scary sometimes, because it's very wide open. Especially when we are in the studio. Of course, as a guitar player, you're always leaning towards doing some overdubs, and kind of creating a soundscape. Initially, we were like, 'No - let's just keep it to what we're doing live. 
"Yeah, it's a little daunting, but it's fun in another way because it approaches all your guitar thinking in a way. Like, can this truly stand, alone? I try not to think of my electric guitar playing when we write now. I write with Richard and Rick in mind, so I'm making up parts that if I just played it on the guitar by myself, it really wouldn't hold up, because we need the bass, and I need the drums to make it a full picture. 
"I approach the guitar like a semi-horn section, semi-keyboard lines, and let Rick almost take over like being a bass and a rhythm guitar!"

I suggest that that approach is already in evidence on Vintage Trouble's newer material, in both his chord voicings, and the fact that the guitarist has recently added a classic piece of guitar gear to his repertoire, the Fender Vibratone - a rotating, Leslie-type speaker cabinet which has been used by such players as David Gilmour, Mike Campbell, and most notably, Stevie Ray Vaughan on his his Cold Shot:

Nalle Colt: "Yes, thank you! That is definitely the approach I'm trying to take as the guitar player! 
"The chords, like you mentioned, the voicings, I'm always trying to think that if Rick can kind of hold down the lows, I can stay on all the triads, and stay kind of out of the root of the note. Approach it more like a keyboard guy, more on the top chords, and it will cut through more. Yeah, that's been my thing, and I'm trying to hone in on it on all our newer recordings. 
"A big part of my playing now, I brought in an old Vibratone guitar Leslie that I use - I try to think of how a B-3 organ guy would use his Leslie, you know, the fast, and the slow sounds. You can create a pre-chorus to a chorus, and use the effect of an old Vibratone. I love old organic effects, I'm not a big guy for spacey effects - I used a lot of them through my years of playing guitar, but with this band, I wanted to stay away from that and keep it really simple. 
"I try to be very sparse with delays, and just use organic sounds, more like a Jimmy Page king of approach. Keep it raw, and the guitar Leslie has been a great help to create some kinds of bigger sounds."

Another addition to Nalle's gear lineup that I noticed on the band's final Leno appearance was that of several Revival Amps, a new company out of Southern California, started this year by guitarist Drew Shirley of the band Switchfoot, Scott White, and Eric Berns. I found Colt's tone on this particular show to be a bit punchier, and pronounced than in the past:

Nalle Colt: "Yup! Those are some new guys I kind of approached, I met them on The Who tour, actually. 
"I met the guy, he kind of approached me, and he had some really nice things to say about our music, and that he liked what I was doing. He was talking about these amps, he kind of explained to me what they were, and I loved it right away. 
"I like amps that are very bare. I like one volume, and one tone control, that's it. If there are too many knobs on an amp, I just keep fiddling with it. I like it really easy. 
"I usually use a Les Paul, and I turn down the volume on the guitar and have the amps turned up loud, until they are almost to the breaking point. He was telling me that he was designing these five watt amps, so you could run them on ten. They were designed by kind of copying the old White Amps (made by Fender in the mid-50s, and named to honor Fender production manager Forrest White). I didn't know much about them, but I kind of researched it. 
"So, he called me not long ago, and said that he had finally made his amps, and he wanted me to try them. I work with a guy in England (Jesse Hoff) called Lazy J, who makes tweed amps very much like the old Tweed Deluxe, and I love those amps. I've been touring with them for years, and they've been holding up really well. I wanted something that I could kind of use that would be something different from the Lazy J - something that had a little more grit to it, more of a pointy sound, and the Revival has that. 
"I was very excited to try them, so I bought two of his amps, and I tried them on the Leno show we did a few weeks ago. I really liked it! So, now I should take them out for a whole tour - I don't know if I'm going to use two of those, I usually like two amps plus the Vibratone, or I could try the Revival and a Lazy J, and come to see what I land on. But it's such a great tone - simple, and straight ahead. 
"I'm sure that as a guitar player you know that with different amps, some amps are faster, and some react more slowly, depending on the tubes. The Revival is a very fast amp - it reacts very quickly, it has 6V6 tubes in it, and it reacts very fast to the type of playing that I do, so I really like it. I can basically play this amp on ten, and I can turn down my guitar. It's a nice approach, very raw, very straight ahead. I kind of get a tone between Ike Turner and Jimmy Pages (laughs)!"

It's great to see a guy who knows how to get the most out of the venerable Gibson Les Paul - many think it's only good for over the top rock, but many of its leading proponents, such as Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons, have long realized that when you clean them up a bit, they present themselves very well:

Nalle Colt: "That was fun too, actually! 
"I never played Les Pauls, I'd been a Strat, and Telecaster guy my whole life, even when I played with heavier bands. I actually would bring in my Telecaster, trying to force it in there to keep kind of a single coil sound in my approach. I always stayed away from Les Pauls because I'm a hard hitting guy, I was inspired by old blues guys, and Albert King, and even when Stevie Ray Vaughan came around, there was something about hitting the guitar hard. I always felt uncomfortable with a Les Paul, because it's a guitar you need to be very gentle with - it's very dynamic. 
"So, I had this friend who worked for Guitar Center, he was a Les Paul guy, and he was always trying to help me, if I ever bought one. He called me one day about six years ago, and he said that he has a guitar that had gotten returned to Guitar Center, a guy had bought it and returned it. He said it was a great guitar, and I should pick it up, because GC was dumping the price on it. 
"I went, and I bought it - I took it home, and I couldn't really play it, so I ended up putting it in the closet. 
"Then, when we were making the initial demos for Vintage Trouble, we were working on the song Blues Hand Me Down. I had bought an old Fender Blues Jr. It was a tweed version of it from when they first came out. I had bought one to have at home to practice on. I had a recording studio at home, I had Logic (recording software), and I wanted to record Blues Hand Me Down with a real amp, and I was finding that it just didn't sound right. 
"I knew that I had that Les Paul in the closet that I never played, and I thought, maybe if I take that tweed amp and just use the Les Paul, plug it in for the riff in that song - and it really worked! I was like, 'Wow, maybe this is a cool sound!' 
"I was amazed that it actually worked, and then I got really attracted to the Les Paul, and then somehow it just kind of worked. I got it set up, and I never went back - now I've been using it for all these years. I'm a Les Paul fanatic! I was always a fan of Jimmy Page, but the very, very early days of Jimmy Page, and I knew he had been kind of a Telecaster guy. It's such a gorgeous guitar, and all the sounds that you can get out of it. 
"I had this friend of mine in England make me these pickups for it, and I can split the coils on it and get sort of a Tele sound out of it, and I'm so happy. It's my 'get-to' guitar! It fits on your body so well. I know it's a heavy guitar, so when we tour, I might need some massages when I get home from hanging a ten pound guitar on my shoulder every day, but I'm in love with it now, and it really works!"

Rounding out our gear talk, I noticed that on that final Leno show appearance, Nalle's solo on the track Strike Your Light jumped out of the speakers with a new found ferocity. I've been amongst an admittedly small contingent of listeners who thought the band would benefit from a tougher guitar sound, and I found this to be for me at least, the cherry on top (photo of Nalle's pedal board courtesy of Linda Fennell Andreozzi!):

Nalle Colt: "That's actually from Lazy J! 
"When we started the band, I fell in love with an old fuzz pedal, and I kind of went in the direction of leaving this fuzz on - just turn down the guitar when necessary, and it ended up being cool, but when we got playing live a lot, I started to think it got a hair muddy. 
"We went on a tour with Brian May, it was one of our absolute first tours as Vintage Trouble. We went out with Brian May. I talked to Brian a lot, and he kind of explained the whole top boost thing to me. And he gave me a top boost pedal, it was one of the original one's that he had - I couldn't believe he gave it to me! I got into the top boost thing, kind of leaving it on, and turning the guitar down. The only thing was, the one he gave me, it felt slightly too harsh (different pedals will sound different with different guitars and amps, so it makes creating magic rather magical). I couldn't get it to sound right! 
"So, I talked to Jesse at Lazy J about it, and he was like, 'You should get my pedal!' 
"For some reason, and I don't know why, I had worked with him for a year and a half, and I had never tried his pedal. It's called a Cruiser, and he's made one now called The Deuce, where it's basically a top boost and an overdrive in the same pedal. Once I got that, I never went back. I think it's the perfect combination - when I have the amps already kind of overdriven, especially the Revivals, and when you hit that pedal on, it's a very fuzzy sound, but it has the treble to cut through the bass, and the drums. 
"Yeah, I love that thing and definitely kudos to Jesse at Lazy J for making such a transparent and awesome pedal that works with basically any amp.
Photo by Linda Fennell Andreozzi
"And of course, Marc Reiser, who works with Fargen Amps, he gave me a fuzz pedal a few months ago, kind of similar to that kind of Jack White kind of thing - very over the top, maybe to the point of crazy! It was a loaner, he said go on and check it out, and I called him a few hours later because I was playing around with it at home - he was like, 'Yeah, I told you it was fun, huh?' And it would be kind of a great extra thing in the recording studio to do something different. Anyway, I got talking to him, and he asked if there was anything else you can think of that you're missing. I told him compression, because I've been playing more, and more slide guitar, and I love it - I'm a big fan of Bonnie Raitt, her vibe and approach, and hers has always been the Demeter Compressor, she used that to get that really sustaining kind of tone that she had, you know. 
"He gave me something called the Tumbleweed (Fargen Pete Anderson Tumbleweed), and for parts of Strike The Light I was using that because it had a kind of gritty thing - I don't know if you've checked out that pedal, but it's something new that I'm experimenting with, just trying it for different things. It's been fun to play around with, and I think it's a keeper, so it's still on my pedalboard. 
"Other than that, I have an old octavia pedal that Voodoo Labs made, called the Proctavia that I've had for so many years that I can't let it go. I use it on some of our songs, and it has a mad tone to it, almost a Hendrix-y kind of thing. It's my kind of 'get-to' box when I want to go nuts!"

Since Nalle had brought up the name Jack White, I thought that I'd at least bring up the rumors that I've been hearing about Vintage Trouble going into the studio someday soon with White as the producer. I also wanted to clear up the matter of where the band was at with their highly awaited second album. I had heard that the band has already recorded it. Twice. Colt was only too happy to break it down for me:

Nalle Colt: "All of the above is true up to the point of we've already recorded a new album twice - see, we write a lot of music, and we love to go into studios to experiment. The Bomb Shelter Sessions  have been around since we started as a band - it was made already after we'd been together three months. 
"The Bomb Shelter Sessions wasn't made to be an album, necessarily. I have a friend, Eric Kretz, from Stone Temple Pilots - I used to play with him for quite a while, and he had bought a studio, and the name of the studio is actually, The Bomb Shelter. I wanted to get into his studio just to track the songs. To make sure we were heading in the right direction. I just wanted to hear how we sounded. 
"I asked him if there was any chance we could get a few days in his studio, and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely.' So, we went in for three days and hashed out those songs - we recorded them all live, and that's the album. It ended up being the album. 
"We were really lucky, and it came out awesome. Ty is basically singing right there in the room. That ended up being the way we like to record. 
"When we came back from our first European tour, we had already had that album for over two years, so we were kind of tired of it! We wanted to do something new, so we went into a small studio here in LA, called 4th Street Recording, a tiny, tiny studio. We rented an old tape machine, and we just thrashed it out again. So, we have a whole new album recorded. 
"Then we decided there were some songs we didn't like, and we ended up doing a second recording. We have almost two of every track - we have 18 songs that we recorded. 
"Then, about six months ago, we were approached by Blue Note Records. Don Was is the new CEO of Blue Note, and he's a great musician and a fabulous producer. 
"His knowledge of sound, and collaborations. So yeah, we got approached by him, and he said he was interested in getting Vintage Trouble on Blue Note Records. That is currently something in the works. I cannot say 100% that it is done, but we're very, very close to getting what we wanted as a band. 
"We've been on our own, we only have a manager - our approach is very honest. We like to deal with things straight ahead, and we were always a little bit worried about getting in with some label. Early on we got some offers from some other labels, but we always decided not to do it. 
"We've been touring so much, and so we've changed our minds a little bit and said, it could be useful to have a label as long as we could keep our freedom, and maybe even try to do a deal where we could almost keep our label, but use the distribution, or even like a licensing deal with a bigger label. That could actually help us in so many ways that we cannot do on our own. 
"Don was amazing, he came through, and presented us with a record deal that was for us - we couldn't say no. 
"So, we're currently in the process of making this happen, which, of course, delayed our second release a little bit now. Now, we are currently collecting all these tracks on top of collecting all our home demos, and everything that we've been writing on tour. This week, and next we're going over all this, and deciding what can be mixed out of what we have, and what we want to do with the new songs. 
"And that's how Jack White's name came up. Don has been speaking with Jack, so it's up in the air at this point. To be very honest with you, I'd be very happy with Don Was producing it! But, Don was saying he'd like to have someone with a younger, and rougher approach than what he has, and of course, we'd be open to it. 
"Me, as a guitar player? I'm a huge fan of Jack White, I love his approach, and his vision of music. I'm a massive fan of the music he has produced for other people, and all his own stuff. I like the sound of it, I like the drum sounds, and he seems to be the guy that will really go for what we are looking for - just set up in the room, hit record on the tape machine, and use the minimum amount of microphones. 
"I want to use three microphones to record the drums, and I want Ty to be singing in the room. Try and get that old Bo Diddley kind of vibe. 
"How you can get that concept today, and still sound current? For me, Jack White is the one guy to prove it to be working. So, of course, when his name was mentioned by Don, we were like little kids, jumping up and down. Just so excited to think of a production that would be between Jack White and Don Was - for me, that would be a dream come true. So, the future will tell."

At this point, I told Nalle that perhaps it was Jack White and Don Was who should be jumping for joy, but the guitarist remains humble and gracious to the end:

Nalle Colt: "Thank you, that's nice of you to say - we take big pride in what we do, and I can only speak for myself right now, but I have days where I feel insecure at times. 
"You're only hoping that you do the right thing. We just came back from sharing the stage with Robert Cray, headlining a blues festival in Florida. And, if we can share the stage with cats like that - for me, sometimes I'm wondering, is this really for real? I don't know if I should be here, so it's a huge honor, and we're very happy. 
"I'm just a guitar player, and songwriter with the rest of the guys, and we're just hoping that we do something that people will like - it's so exciting, and so positive!"