Posts tagged ‘review’

May 27, 2010

The Black Keys Unlock Their Inner Groove

by George

Just look at the cover…how can this record not be awesome?

On their latest album, Brothers, The Black Keys show that while they helped define the DIY, lo-fi, garage-rock sound that had a renaissance in recent years, they aren’t bound to it.  Quite the contrary.  True, their first few albums portrayed the Keys as modern-day blues/indie revival shamans, liberating people from the notion that big record labels and bigger budgets don’t = better music.  But the duo, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach & drummer Pat Carney, have taken the success of their last album, Attack and Release, with its somewhat adventurous attitude and slick Danger Mouse produced tracks, as a signal to really open the flood gates and show off some new studio tricks.

It’s obvious from the material that there’s been a lot going on in the Akron duo’s personal lives.  Auerbach stretches deep inside and pulls out a truly emotional and honest vocal delivery while Carney sticks to what he’s best at, laying down a solid, simple, one-track-mind groove for guitar, organ and string melodies to soar over and dance around.  Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (slide guitar great Duane Allman recorded there..boom) this album goes down smooth and feels as though it has an old soul, one that’s been weathered and worn but still has enough gritty charm left to entertain.

The band has delved into the realm of early 60s R&B and 70s Soul (check out the falsetto vocals on the opening track) and almost every track has a guitar hook or vocal melody that sticks in your brainparts like NASA-engineered velcro.  One new sonic departure (or arrival) for the Keys is the addition of a (at times prominent) silky bass line that slides through many of these tunes.  I’m all for it, especially with this material.  These simple yet effective bass lines, along with keys and some string orchestration, convey more depth than their usual fuzzed-out guitar and drum assault.  The band has taken one soggy, swampy footstep away from Delta-blues homage and moved more towards defining their own sound.  All the same pieces are there, but they’ve been re-calibrated to hit harder and resonate louder.  Some  highlights from the record:

  • Everlasting Night: At first you think, “This isn’t a Black Keys record”…then your foot starts tapping
  • Next Girl: could have been on Magic Potion…watch the video
  • Ten Cent Pistol: Revenge is a dish best served cold
  • I’m Not the One: More soul than a James Brown slow jam

No doubt, fans of the Black Keys will quickly adopt this album into the family (and if you haven’t heard Rubber Factory or Magic Potion before…do it now!) but innocent bystanders will have no trouble singing along with the hooks.  Still cool enough for the indie hipsters but accessible to blues-rock freaks and lovers of all things vintage, the Black Keys keep getting better.

February 10, 2010

“This thing really boogies!”

by George

The Mark series of amplifiers has been the jewel in Mesa/Boogie’s crown ever since its inception in the 70s.  Starting with the Mark I and continuing until the present, these amplifiers are known for their vast sonic capabilities and their almost endless supply of creative mojo.

This line of amps, in all its many incarnations, has not only been utilized to create the tones heard on many landmark records, it has been, in part, one of the creative forces to shape them.  Listen to Carlos Santana’s singing and smooth lead tone from the MkI on his Abraxas record.  Or delve into the MkIIC+ on Master of Puppets; a mighty sound that became the standard in defining the absolute fastest, tightest distorted guitar tone ever obtained by man.

In it’s two latest incarnations, the Mark series amps have been the last word on tonal versatility and for this reason, it has mainly been championed as a studio player’s amp.   No matter what session you’re working on, these were easy choices as go-to amps for their flexibility and quality of tone.

Now, on to the Mark V…

I’m reviewing the 112 combo, which looks small but sounds like this…

At first glance, you will either become flustered and giddy like a schoolgirl, or immediately annoyed and unsure of yourself as a person.  This is because the front panel of the MkV has no less than 35 controls…on the front!  In comparison to most amps, this is insane and seems most unnecessary.  Ahh, but the rewards of mastering these controls are sweet; if you are brave enough to travel through the labyrinth of knobs, switches and sliders there is a world of tone waiting to be discovered and, dare I say, created.

Like most modern amplifiers, the layout of the MkV is divided into three channels, each covering a different tone range.  Typically, moving up each channel provides an increase in gain and tonal extremes, but that is the wrong way to look at this amp.  Generally speaking this is true, but perhaps a better way to think about the three channels is more like tonal ballparks, each having their own unique range of gain.  Each channel has three ‘modes’ that alter the impact of the basic controls (master volume, gain, presence, treble, mid & bass) over the sound; for example, within the same channel, increasing the bass in one mode may add punch and girth, but in another, result in a flabby, un-controlled tone.  Also selectable by channel is the power rating (10, 45 or 90 watts per channel).  Dropping the wattage can quickly overdrive the amp and yield some sweet and crunchy rock tones.

This all goes, finally, to the graphic equalizer (if you don’t know what that is, look to your left), which lets you fine tune your sound by boosting/cutting select frequencies.  Applying the classic V here yields the signature high-gain sounds of some of the most iconic rock music in history.  If you don’t want to custom tailor the shape of the gEQ, you can set a preset amount of V to be used with a preset knob unique to each channel.  All of this is footswitchable, of course.

So no one gets lost, here’s a more visual layout:

  • Channel
    • 3 Modes
    • Power Selection
  • Graphic EQ

The back panel is mostly boring, so we’ll skip that.  The only features back there worth mentioning are the Reverb control, which allows you to set different levels of shimmer and spank on each channel individually, and the effects loop, which allows you to insert effect pedals/processors before the amp’s power section.

The footswitch for this monster of tone is the size of a small barge and controls channel switching, reverb, EQ, a sound mute for tuning, the effects loop and a solo boost (a volume boost used for when it’s time to melt faces!!)

Next post, we’ll set sail on the sea of ROCK!!!!

Cheers,

George

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