Vanessa Renee Williams

Earlier in the week I went to Blues Alley for the first time. I grew up in DC and I have been to the 930 and Black Cat dozens of times but I never made it to Blues Alley before.

Blues Alley has a really great fell to it. I completely understand why it is such a DC institution. There is no street access, it is literally only accessible via the alley. Enough about the venue because Vanessa Renee Williams was the reason I was there. She is a local DC gospel singer, and unfortunately there is only one you tube video of her that I found. She has an amazing voice and I would never have known about her if a family friend weren’t working on a CD with her.

From what I understand she mostly sings in groups and this was one of her first solo shows. I thought it was a great combination of talented singing, appreciation of having people come out to see her and her own quirky style. At one point she sat down at the piano and pretended to play Fur Elise. It was a great impression. She could really set up a Victor Borges style show between singing and joking.

She brought her daughter up on stage to sing and they did a great duet. It was powerful.

The next day I only listened to my Aretha Franklin Pandora station. Vanessa Renee Williams made me do it.

All I can say is that I want to be at her next solo show.

Below are a few links

Here is her MySpace



American Aquarium

I know I haven’t written anything in a while but I am going to start writing more again. One of the most recent concerts I went to was Justin Jones at the 930 club. While I really liked Justin Jones, the opener American Aquarium was really good. They are produced by Jason Isbell formerly of the Drive By Truckers and it sounds great.


One of the best things about American Aquarium is the lead singer BJ Barham. He has a Springsteen swagger, a great voice and a great red acoustic gibson. The other best is the lap steel player who plays in every song. The band has a really close feel. It seems like they all get along and there isn’t any tension in the band.  I appreciate the bluegrass jam vibe with country rock and roll.


Here is a link to their site


and a good song to start you off on


Guitar: An American Life

There is a wonderful book that came out several years ago called Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes. The book goes through the history of the guitar especially its life in the Americas and the US as well as Brookes’ journey through getting a new guitar. His old trusty guitar was broken on a flight and he decided it was time to get another one. I really liked the history of the guitar and how it is intertwined with the banjo and  the identity of the American people. The guitar used to be a ladies instrument, where as now it is a phallic symbol for rock stars. This is a great book for someone who is interested in history, guitars or both. Mr. Brookes is an writer for his blog and NPR, as well as his own books.

I am glad I got this book and it has definitely given me a new appreciation for the life and art of a luthier. However, the only problem I had with the book was the treatment of the electric guitar. He seemed to treat it as an instrument for punks and that folkies and classical musicians were at the top of the guitar chain. As someone who is interested in everything, I think that is a narrow view. Especially since the electric guitar is an American instrument. Sure it’s based off the Spanish style guitar, but at this point they have totally different uses, sounds and histories. Although to be fair putting both acoustic and electric guitars in a book that size would do neither justice. Hell there long books totally dedicated to telecasters and SGs.

I still recommend this book to anyone interested in the amazing history of the guitar or who is interested in the relationship a luthier has with his clientele.

This is his website.



I have a love for world music and especially this band. Sazarino is fronted and I assume created by Lamine Fellah. He is an Algerian who currently lives in Ecuador. He is also very political which I love. He sings in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dioula and a bunch of others I can’t distinguish. It is infectious world music. I first found out about him from a Putumayo record. The song “Cochabamba” was on it. I couldn’t find any lyrics or anything about it really. However, I easily found and bought the Album “Ya Foy”. It is a grooving album. I love the world/reggae feel and I would probably put it at the top of my favorite albums list. The album is also full of Babylon imagery which is very important in reggae music and Rastafarianism.  So far it looks like only one album (Ya Foy, 2009). But hopefully, there will be something else coming out.

If you like reggae or world music and you are looking of something else, I highly recommend Sarazino.

HR-57 Jazz Bar


If anyone lives in DC, like I do, you may have heard of HR 57. HR is a jazz and blues club that I have been going to lately. I have been listening in on the jams sessions and they are really great. I have to admit when it comes to Jazz hard bop and cool jazz are not my favorites but I can sit and listen for hours. So if you go with me be prepared for listening and little talking. I usually prefer New Orleans style like some Louie Armstrong or Cab Calloway but this is a lot closer.

There are a few key things about HR that I really like

1. You can bring your own wine or beer or liquor. They have a little charge at the door but it is well worth it, because their drinks are more expensive.

2. You can bring an instrument and jam with them onstage. I have brought my guitar but I have yet to go up on stage. Unfortunately, I know shit about jazz guitar and I don’t want to look a fool. I could play some blues but I feel like people are there more for the Jazz. The last time I went with my guitar is was kind of this calling people up in sequence and I got scared. There is an open mic night at the big board across the street that I will one day go to, I think I can play some old time or Americana and it will fit in a little better.

3. Always a great horn player. I love trumpets, saxophones, trombones, any brass at all.

4. Posters of Robert Johnson and Charlie Parker on the wall

If you live in DC or are on a trip and want to see some great Jazz. Go to HR-57. I love the Jam nights, and I the regular nights are fun.

Meanwhile, I’ll be learning some jazz chords.

Diary of a Player by Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley Book cover from

Brad Paisley Book cover from

I recently finished this auto biography by Brad Paisley with David Wild. It is an interesting book that recounts how Paisley got to where is it today. It is a lot of memories from his youth in West Virginia, and a lot of praise for his country idols. It was a little bit of guitar talk but no where near the scale I like, which to be fair is not the reason he wrote the book. However, he did include a great story about a guitar he got from Gruhn’s Guitars, but I won’t give it away. A lot of the memories are reminiscing about his grandfather who introduced him to the guitar and his band in wheeling comprised mainly of senior citizens who knew how to play. I didn’t know much about his back story so it was cool to see how he got started, but the biography took a while to get going. He fills the ends of chapters out with quotes from other musicians who are talking about him.

The parts I really enjoyed where the ones about him in Nashville. He started out as a songwriter and eventually ended up as a performer. Also how he met his wife. Probably one of the funniest love stories I have heard.
Brad Paisley tells a lot of heartfelt stories, but it can’t help but seem like the beginning to another volume. He takes a long time detailing his early life, but then speeds through the end. Now, I can only hope that he will write a sequel or maybe something more in depth about his Nashville years and current career.  It was nice to get an insight into how Brad thinks and sees himself.
I recommend this book if you a) like Brad b) want to hear stories about awkward youth or c) like stories about young country singers.
Link posted below

Music Wood and Sustainability

Taylor against a blue Wall

Taylor DN3- This is my guitar, it is not made from Bamboo.

I love guitars, obviously, but I am also into conservation. I have been seeing a lot recently about wood conservation and most of it from guitar makers. This comes from an industry that in realy consumes a very small percentage of the world’s lumber. Consider how much lumber goes into building one house versus one guitar. Even if the wood used for guitars is much better and is hardwood, rather than soft wood. Or consider how much paper is used in a day, all of that comes from wood pulp. Maybe a good reason to go out and buy an iPad.Music Wood is a Greenpeace based organization that has joined with Fender, Gibson, Yamaha, Martin and Taylor guitars to help advocate conservation of wood. This means that the guitars are build with sustainable woods purchased from reliable dealers. I am totally in favour of this and maybe this will help change the government’s mind about taking rosewood from Gibson. I really like supporting companies that practice sustainability and really by being careful they are helping themselves in the long run. When I first saw this list I was very proud to see almost all of my instruments came from companies who were on the Music Wood list. Now if only Schecter could buy sustainable woods.

The site is good, it has a lot of articles on differences that are being made in the music industry. One feature I thought was cool is the interactive map that shows which woods come from and which woods are used on which parts of the guitar. They *are also working on a documentary, which will be out in 2012*. I think it sends out a good message. I usually am a Sierra Club and Conservation International man, but this definitely makes me like Greenpeace more. Now if only they could stop asking me for my credit card number on the street.

On the other hand I have been seeing more sustainable resource guitars and instruments. I saw a bamboo guitar and there are a lot more carbon fiber guitars coming out now. I haven’t played any bamboo ones but I have played a RainSong carbon fiber. I like it, it sounds pretty good and it is not sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. I still like my Taylor but if I lived in Arizona i would consider it. However, I’m not ready to give up on wood.

Here are some links
Music Wood
Bamboo Guitars – Who knows?     Also bamboo is a rapidly growing grass

* I edited this thanks to Josh G. He pointed out the documentary is not out yet. So don’t fret if you thought you had missed it.