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December 2008

Free Dr Pepper for Guns n' Roses Fans Sunday

Axl_pepper  

After 17 years of missed deadlines and more than 13 million dollars, Axl Rose is finally releasing the new Guns N' Roses CD "Chinese Democracy" Sunday November 23.   And to help celebrate this occasion, Dr Pepper has promised everyone in the US a free soda.  Everyone except Slash and Buckethead, that is.  And also Brian May, since his solos were re-recorded.  And also anyone who doesn't log in to the DrPepper.com site on Sunday to get the coupon.  

Way back in March when Dr Pepper announced they would give a free soda to everyone if the CD shipped in 2008 it probably seemed pretty unlikely.  After all, Chinese Democracy production and re-recording could have gone on another 17 years.  (The New York Times has a great timeline diagram.)  But maybe this was just the incentive Axl needed in order to get things finished.  The album will be available exclusively at Best Buy for $11.99, which is a pretty good deal.

The New York Times calls "Chinese Democracy" a "the Titanic of rock albums" saying it's "a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production."  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  The few tracks I've heard are pretty decent and the title track is better than anything fromVelvet Revolver.  Heck, they didn't give any free sodas!   What do you think?  Worth the wait?  Or worthless?  Let me know in the comments...


Queen + Paul Rodgers: An Updated Classic

AC/DC isn't the only classic rock band out with a new album these days.  Queen reformed a couple of years ago with Paul Rodgers on vocals.  This new group, officially known as Queen + Paul Rodgers, has put out a new album, "The Cosmos Rocks," their first in more than 15 years.  For Queen fans, and even more so for Paul Rodgers fans, this is a great album.

While at first blush the combination of Queen + Paul Rodgers might seem unlikely, it actually works far better than you would expect.  I managed to catch the band as they kicked off their tour in Latvia a while back, and it was an outstanding show featuring classic songs from Queen as well as Rodgers' classic work from Free and Bad Company.  Rodgers' didn't try to immitate Freddie Mercury, but he held his own, especially on the bluesier rock material.  The new album recalls a similar late 70's vibe in the classic Queen and Paul Rodgers traditions. 

There's classic rock songs like "Cosmos Rockin" and "Surf's Up... Schools Out" (with a edgy 21st century sound), uplifting songs like ""We believe," Small" and "Say it's not true" and a fluffy harmony rocker "Call Me" that could have been a follow up to "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."  For Paul Rodgers fans, you have some great numbers like "Voodoo" and "Time to Shine." "Warboys" is perhaps the heaviest rock song on the album and it demonstrates the unique sound and energy that Rodgers brings to the band.  It's more U2 than Freddy Mercury and it works just fine.  For longtime fans, you'll also find plenty of excellent Brian May soaring solos with the classic Red Special out-of-phase sound.

"The Cosmos Rocks" isn't necessarily as strong as the best of Queen's material, but it's a fresh take on some classic styles and is a worthy follow up to much of their work.  There are some good rockers, some bluesier numbers and a couple of cuts that are too schmaltzy for my taste.  But for fans of Queen and Paul Rodgers, there's plenty to recommend this album.  Let's hope they tour the US next year.


Travel Guitar Combo Put to Test

My buddy Rob travels nearly as much as I do.  Here's his report on some new gear he picked up and put to the test on a recent trip. 

As a seasoned road warrior and aspiring guitarist, business trips usually meant a prolonged separation from my brood of 5 guitars. While on a journey, my hard-earned callouses would quickly start to soften, I'd lose dexterity, and it would be back to square one before long. Last year, I began dragging around an inexpensive acoustic guitar in an expensive hardshell travel case. But there were significant drawbacks to this approach: namely having to check the guitar and wait around baggage claim to see if it made it onto the same flight as me.  And the case cost far more than the guitar, which was kind of ironic.

That all changed this month: I now have a collection of equipment that I'll be bringing on all upcoming trips. I just finished road-testing the whole thing on a long voyage – an 11 day trip to Amsterdam. Here's what I brought: Traveler_vert

Guitar: Traveler Pro-Series.

I bought the Traveler Pro acoustic-electric for $349 on Amazon.com. It has a full-sized 24.5" stratocaster scale 22 fret neck with a single pickup, and weighs 3.5 pounds. It has a detachable lap-rest and comes with a travel bag. If you're so inclined, you can use the included stethoscope headphones to listen to it in acoustic mode. You can also attach a strap if you like to play standing up. The guitar is well-made: it feels solid and substantial. Happily, it stayed in tune despite being banged around at various points during the trip.  While this model has a pickup, it's designed to play more like an acoustic guitar than their Speedster model.  But this was what I was looking for.

Effects: Line 6 Pocket Pod

Once I had the guitar in-hand, the next step was to identify a portable effects machine. I did a bit of searching, and came up with the Line 6 Pocket POD. I bought this on Amazon for about $130, and am very impressed with the wide range of features offered in such a small form factor. Frankly, I haven't had time to explore everything that the device is capable of (yet) – just experimenting with the presets and effects kept me quite busy. Pocket_pod

The Pocket Pod would be a welcome addition to a home setup; it's not just for traveling. Be advised, however, that it drains batteries fairly quickly, so you might want to buy the optional AC adapter. It would be nice if Line 6 included said adapter, but they don't. It would be even better if the nice folks at iGo had a plug for the device: I could then keep it powered using the same adapter I use for everything else.

Details: iPod and Headphones

Next up is my trusty, but long-in-the-tooth 30GB iPod. It's a vintage, vacuum-tube powered relic from 2006. What's great is that you can plug the iPod into the Pocket Pod and jam along to your favorite tunes.

Finally, since my neighbors at my hotel would likely not appreciate hearing my jet-lagged self shred at 2:30 am, I round out my ensemble with the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 noise canceling headphones. These set me back about $200 a couple of years back, and I've been very pleased with them.  No doubt there are other options in this department.


AC/DC Still Rockin' with Black Ice

Acdc_black_ice

Never has a band been so loyal to a sound as AC/DC.  For over thirty years, these guy have put out the most basic high-energy rock & roll with an immediately recognizable and unique sound.  You know it:  Heavily metal power chords, straight ahead 4/4 drumming, and a guy in a schoolboy outfit who can rip solos like nobody's business.  Fads have come and gone, but AC/DC's sound and style has remained virtually unchanged through their career.  The only other band that stayed as close to their original sound is The Ramones, and even they occasionally ventured into some interesting cover songs.

The long and short of all this is if you like AC/DC, you'll love "Black Ice" because it takes you back to the classic sound, almost like discovering some long lost studio bootleg from 1985.  Maybe not quite as good as "Back in Black" but still immediately recognizable and full of energy.  But if you're looking for some kind of evolution in the sound, you may as well listen to The Ramones.

"New guy" Brian Johnson (he must hate that) does a great job on vocals.  For a guy who's 61 years old, he's still got the chops.  And there's a lot less strain in his voice than in some of their live sound, making the songs quite listenable.  The guitar parts are as good as ever, with a lot of clear separation so you can really hear the guitar riffs, the drums, etc.  The single "Rock N Roll Train" serves as a great introduction to the album.  Other memorable cuts include "Skies on Fire,"  the bluesy "Decibel," and the slow burn "Rock & Roll Dream." Title track "Black Ice" wraps things up with a decent amount of punch, though I don't think it pays off as well as the opening track. 

It's pretty hard to miss AC/DC these days.  They're on the cover of everything from Rolling Stone to Q magazine in the UK.  I expect they'll be in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue next.  They've launched a world tour in support of the album as well as a tie in with RockBand 2 that features 18 tracks from their famous Donington castle gig.  As with "Black Ice," the Rock Band track pack is only available at Walmart, though you can find used copies online.   Still, at $11.88, I admire the band keeping prices down.  For 15 songs of classic rock, it's a good deal. 


Foo Fighters Live in San Francisco

I managed to catch the Foo Fighters who played a corporate gig in San Francisco last week at the Moscone Convention center.  I'm not a huge fan of the Foo Fighters; in fact I probably only recognized about half of the material.  But there were plenty of fans there. 

I managed to get jammed right up close to the stage.  Plenty loud, but I managed to get some good photos and a few videos.  If you're a Foo Fighter fanatic, enjoy.


Noise Canceling Headphones?

Noise1_2 

After a series of long noisy flight recently, I've decided I need to break down and buy a pair of noise canceling headphones.  Last trip I found myself on American Airlines at the rear of the plane next to the engines.  It was deafeningly loud.  I listened to my iPod for a while with a pair of Panasonic RP-HS33-D Sport clipearphones.  These are great for running and very comfortable, but they just can't compete with the noise of the aircraft.  I've used the the more expensive Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator in-ear earphones in the past, but after about an hour or so, they just hurt too much. 

I don't think I can bring myself to buy a pair of the "no highs, no lows, must be Bose" headphones that are advertised in all the in-flight magazines.  Just too expensive for my tastes.  So if anyone has recommendations for a pair of decent noise canceling headphones, please let me know.  I'll be listening primarily to rock music, so it doesn't have to be the most crystaline sound that you would need for classical music.  (How much subtlety is there to the Ramones anyways?)  Key characteristics are:

  • Good if not perfect noise cancelation
  • Good sound quality for rock music on an iPod
  • Comfortable for 3 hours or more
  • Standard replaceable battery
  • Relatively compact for travel
  • Under $120 on Amazon

I'm looking specifically at the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7, Panasonic RP-HC500 and JVC HANC250 models.  Anyone with experience with these models, please add your comments below.  Are noise canceling headphones worth it?  Let me know what you think.   


Guitars at Alltop.com

Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

Over on the left margin in the Sponsor links you'll see a new link from Alltop, the "online magazine rack" created by top-rated blogger, enterpreneur, and hockey fanatic Guy Kawasaki.  Alltop now has now added a new category guitars.alltop.com (which features this site along with, GuitarFlame, GuitarNoise, GuitarNoize(!) and many other good sites with goofy names.)

I've met Guy many times over the years and he's one of the nicest (and smartest) guys in the tech industry.  His blog, "How to Change the World," is a must-read for startup companies who want to build great products.  He's recently published a book called "Reality Check" which culls some of the best material from his blog including essays on the "Top 10 Lies of Entrepreneurs,"  "How to Bootstrap a Company" and "Hindsights" his speech to graduates which is his recommendations to kids going out into the world includes this gem:

Learn to play a musical instrument. My only connection to music today is that I was named after Guy Lombardo. Trust me: it's better than being named after Guy's brother, Carmen. Playing a musical instrument could be with me now and stay with me forever. Instead, I have to buy CDs at Tower.

I wish I'd taken guitar more seriously earlier in my life; instead I wasted years working hard and studying.  But I'm making up for it now by playing guitar and hanging out in low-life bars.  If you're in your twenties or thirties, trust me on this.  You will never have as much time to learn a musical instrument as right now. 

Alltop also has other categories that might be of interest including Music, Gadgets, Photography, Movies, Books, Running, Tech News, and Startups.  Or at least these are the topics I find interesting.  Alltop is growing every day and there are now hundreds of different categories.  Check it out, you will find a few gems in here.