Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recording an Album on an iPad

I'm in a banjo/bodhran duo called Cardinal Puffin.  In 2012 we intend to record an “album” on an iPad, or at least post some tracks online.  I’ve done a little research and I think these are the accessories we’ll need.  If you have any comments or suggestions let me know! 

1). An iPad.

There are several apps that allow you to make multi-track recordings, however GarageBand seems to be a good choice.  You can overdub up to 8 different tracks, and I’m sure there are all kinds of features I’m not even aware of yet.  Most of the music we’ll be recording will be made on actual, unplugged acoustic instruments, but I may use some of the synth sounds on Garageband to add bass-lines and other textures to the recordings.
3). The Blue Yeti USB Microphone.
This is how we’ll record the sounds of our acoustic, unplugged instruments.  The Yeti seems to have better reviews than the slightly less expensive Snowball and iRig mics.  It has a headphone jack so you can listen to your previously recorded parts as you overdub.  Requires the iPad Camera Connection Kit and a USB hub for phantom power.
Blue Yeti

This kit allows you to plug USB mics, midi keyboards, and other devices into your iPad.
Camera Connection Kit

As mentioned above, this hub provides phantom power so that the Blue Yeti mic can work with the iPad.
Belkin USB Hub

6). Apogee Jam
This item allows you to plug an electric guitar or bass directly into the iPad.  I have a Kala U-Bass that I hope to use on these recordings, so I’d use the Apogee Jam to record the U-Bass directly into the iPad.  GarageBand has different virtual amps that you can use to tweak the sound. 
Apogee Jam

I’m not exactly sure what I’d use this for yet, but this small midi keyboard controller is designed to work with the iPad.  So, it should increase the functionality of GarageBand by allowing me to use actual piano keys instead of the iPad’s touch screen to make sounds.  The Mini 32 plugs directly into iPad via the above mentioned camera connector without the need for phantom power from the Belkin USB hub.
M-Audio Keystation Mini 32

8). Tascam iM2 stereo microphone for iPhone and iPad
This small, portable mic is a travel-friendly alternative to the bulky Blue Yeti microphone.  It plugs directly into the iPhone or iPad and is supposed to have the same recording quality as Tascam’s well known hand-held field recorders.  I'd probably use this with the iPhone to record jam sessions and practices.
Tascam iM2 mic
 There you have it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hardywood Gingerbread Stout and The Magpie

Hardywood's Tasting Room
Yesterday I finally stopped by for a tasting at the new Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, VA.  I’ve been enjoying the Singel, their flagship blonde Abbey-Style Belgian ale, for a couple months now but I was really excited to try Hardywood’s new reserve series Gingerbread Stout - an imperial milk stout brewed with fresh local ginger and honey.  The Gingerbread did not disappoint.  It’s like a meal in a bottle that can quickly put a Scrooge or Grinch in the holiday spirit.  So good, in fact, that we left with a 64 oz Hyrdo Flask growler of it to be enjoyed over the weekend!  At 9.2% ABV, this post-dinner stout is definitely not a beer you want to mess around with and is perhaps best quaffed in small doses either with dessert or as dessert !
Gingerbread Stout
The ultimate growler
The Hardywood folks really seem to know what they are doing and have made quite an impact since opening in October.  The tasting room and brewhouse at 2408 Ownby Lane is currently open to the public 4-7pm Thursdays, 4-7pm Fridays and 2-5pm Saturdays.  In addition, you can now find Hardywood beers in many fine local watering holes and specialty beer stores.  In my opinion the restaurant that pulls the best pints of Hardywood is The Magpie, a gastropub near VCU in Richmond’s historic Carver neighborhood less than one mile from Hardywood's brewhouse.  In addition to Hardywood varieties, The Magpie offers a modest but well-chosen selection of rotating draft beers from other leading breweries to go with their mouthwatering entrees and small plates.  
 Check ‘em out!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Port Antonio - The Other Side of Jamaica

Portland Parish, or Portie, lies in the northeast portion of Jamaica, stretching from the Caribbean Sea across the Rio Grande Valley and up into the Blue Mountains. AKA the “Other Side of Jamaica”.  The lush, green landscape of Portland and its undeveloped, non-commercial atmosphere is a far cry from the all inclusive resort-oriented Jamaica that most tourists experience.  The parish’s capital, Port Antonio, is a charming, rural town on a twin harbor complete with narrow streets, a marina, a central square and lively market. The area surrounding Port Antonio is ideal for the independent traveler seeking economical and eco-friendly accommodation in the form of villas, guest houses, rustic beach-side huts and cliff-side cabins.  Many of these places can arrange for pick-up and drop-off at the Kingston or Montego Bay airports.
Boston Beach
Portland's secluded bays, pristine beaches, woodland waterfalls, “bottomless” pools, and panoramic mountain views make it the most scenic and peaceful part of Jamaica.  Most visitors come to Portland for the nature-based activities: hiking, birdwatching, butterfly watching, river rafting, eco-trips, horseback riding, snorkeling/diving, deep sea fishing, caving, camping and more. Notable attractions include:
The Rio Grande
The Rio Grande / River Rafting - River captains use poles to guide you down this lazy river on 20 foot long bamboo rafts, originally designed for transporting bananas.  It takes about 3 hours to complete the cruise from  Berridale to St. Margaret's Bay, with stops along the way for food and drink.

Frenchman’s Cove - 5 miles east of the center of Port Antonio. Tucked away in a cove fed by a freshwater stream, it is considered one of the world's most beautiful beaches.  Open to the public. Admission Fee approx. US $4.

The Blue Lagoon - A 180 foot deep fresh water lagoon surrounded by a tropical garden.  Legend has it that the pool is bottomless and some sort of dragon lives in it. The water comes from springs in the surrounding mountains and is an unusual shade of turquoise and blue.   A National Heritage site. 

Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains - Heard of Blue Mountain coffee? This is where it comes from!  The Blue Mountains rise up from the sea and culminate at Blue Mountain Peak, which, at over 7,895 feet, is the highest point in Jamaica.  There are many challenging hiking options in the Blue Mountains, often leading to breathtaking waterfalls and/or through rainforests.  Temperatures in the mountains are much cooler than the rest of Jamaica. 

Boston Beach - Fifteen minutes east of Port Antonio, Boston Beach is the home of jerked pork and  chicken, and has a cluster of stands that serve up these tasty snacks.  The public beach attracts surfers.

Winnifred Beach - Locals hangout on a scenic bay between Dragon Bay Beach and Boston Beach. Portie residents are campaigning to keep Winnifred Beach free and open to the public. 

San San Beach - Lengthy white sand beach with a protected coral reef just offshore.  The place to go for snorkeling and observing sea urchins, fish and other marine life.  Entrance fee $6.
Somerset Falls
Somerset Falls - Waterfalls and swimming holes in the rainforest. About 10 miles west of Port Antonio.  Also has a short hiking trail with views of the water. 

Reach Falls - Dramatic falls in the middle of the jungle with a narrow hiking path that leads to a cave and whirlpool.  Open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday.  US $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.

Nonsuch Caves - A cave system with nine different chambers of stalagmites and stalactites...and bats!  On a coconut plantation with a botanical garden and a nice view of Port Antonio. 

Jamaican Music - Mento, Kumina, Maroon drumming and other indigenous musical forbears to Reggae can still be heard throughout the island.  Legendary Mento band the Jolly Boys are from Port Antonio.

Maroon drumming
Six Water Grog will be visiting Portland Parish in April 2012.
All photos courtesy of Port Antonio Tourism. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Name Your Band, Title Your Album, and Select Your Album Cover

The recent posting of my best albums of 2011 list reminded me of how to create your own album - at least visually.  Here's how you do it!

1 - Go to Wikipedia and hit random. The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band. 2 - Go to and hit random. The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your album. 3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days.” Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover. 4 - Use photoshop or similar ( is a free online photo editor) to put it all together.

Here's my result:

Now you try!

Six Water Grog's Best Albums of 2011

Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
Chorus heavy songs with pitch-perfect harmonies and excellent musicianship, more akin to classic bands of the 70's than rock groups of today. Not a single lyric or note is going to do you wrong.

Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
Water always seems to find the most efficient route from point A to point B.  The music made by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings is no different.  It is as natural as the song from a bird.

Blue Glaze Mento Band - We Will Wait
Prime example of Mento, an indigenous Jamaican music waiting to be discovered by folk and world music enthusiasts.  I connected to its rhythms and song structures in a way that I have never experienced with any other folk forms.

The Hot Seats - Live
Jamgrass, old-time, Zappa and traditional country fans can all find things to like in the music made by this Virginia quintet with a strong following in the British Isles.  Hot Seats drummer Jake Sellers would likely be a standout performer in any setting, but he's really found a niche here, adding percussive colors to string band music in an unprecedented way.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and The Del McCoury Band - American Legacies
The world's best practitioners of bluegrass and New Orleans Jazz team up for a tribute to those two distinct American art forms in a way that emphasizes their similarities.

Hammer No More the Fingers - Black Shark
Cryptic lyrics and crunchy, quirky pop hooks.  Driven by tightly-knit guitar, bass and drum instrumentation.  A band to watch out for in 2012.

Floating Action - Desert Etiquette
Hippie-friendly hipster psychedelia that is the work of one man - Seth Kaufmann.  Well engineered, multi-layered, organic production.

The Wronglers with Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Heirloom Music
Drawing from standard bluegrass, traditional country and early string band material, the end result is folk music in the truest sense.  Like your local parking lot picker jam session group fronted by a cosmic Lubbock, TX legend.

Bill Frisell - All We Are Saying
Bill Frisell's patient and lyrical guitar playing handling covers of John Lennon's lyrical and familiar songs. All We Are Saying is every bit a Bill Frisell album - but it uses Lennon's melodies as its palate.

Tommy Guerrero - Lifeboats and Follies
Instrumental spy movie, surf rock, dubby, hip-hop, Latin music. Played by skateboarding Bones Brigade alum Tommy Guerrero.  Not overly complex, but extremely enjoyable.

Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers - Starlight Hotel
Zoe Muth = the best female country singing voice I know of.  The Lost High Rollers = an intuitive group of musicians who bring on the twang.  Starlight Hotel = pure country gold.

Amiina - Puzzle
The four lovely Icelandic ladies of Amiina are known for their atmospheric, minimalist melodies that utilize a variety of instruments, both conventional and avant-garde.  On Puzzle, they are joined by a drummer and an electronics guy for a more eclectic, accessible and substantial work of art.  Call it new-sounds or call it post-rock....this is modern Scandinavian music at its finest.

Medeski Martin and Wood - The Stone: Issue Four
Inspired set by this legendary jazz trio, recorded live in front of an attentive Japanese audience.  Limited edition benefit CD.

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
Overwhelmingly English sounding, this is perhaps the most unusual inclusion on this list.  When Turner cries out "There is no God!" on the last song Glory Hallelujah I am right there with him...eager to appreciate this true atheist hymn.

AfroCubism - AfroCubism
I'm all about mash ups of different folk forms, especially in the rare case when that collaboration rises above the sum of its parts.  This merger of the music of Cuba and the music of Mali sounds as if it formed over decades on some remote island, rather than in a recording studio.

Andrew James O'Brien - Songs for Searchers
Channeling equal parts Paul Simon and Jim James, this young musician from St. John's, Newfoundland has yet to make an impact in the states, but definitely has the talent to be a major star.  This album is just a taste of the good things to come.

The Decemberists - The King is Dead
One of today's most elite indie rock groups fully embrace their rootsier side on this collection of down to earth songs.

Portugal the Man - In the Mountain In the Cloud
For fans of David Bowie, T. Rex and MGMT.  Features some of the year's standout tracks, such as "Head Is A Flame Cool With It".

Pappy Biondo - Pappy Time
This album contains what have become my favorite all-time versions of the tunes Mole in the Ground and The Cuckoo.  The rest of it is pretty good too!

The Del McCoury Band - Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe
16 Bill Monroe numbers from the well-known to the obscure.  Too many highlights to list here!

Phish - Hampton/Winston-Salem '97
Fall 1997 - the high-water mark in Phish's illustrious career.  The pristine audio of these soundboard recordings catches the band on three consecutive nights from that tour playing at the peak of their abilities.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Camp MMW

Seeing as how I mostly play tunes sourced from Irish and old time folk music you'd think that if I were going to attend a music camp that either Augusta Heritage, the Swannanoa Gathering, or some other traditional music camp would be at the top of my list.  Or, since I play tenor banjo and have an interest in its varied styles and roles, that I would be considering KlezKamp to study Klezmer tenor banjo technique with instructor Hank Sapoznik, or the Traditional Jazz Band Camp in New Orleans where the tenor banjo class is taught by none other than Carl LeBlanc of Preservation Hall.  Actually the latter two options do seem very interesting, however, the outsider, nonconformist, contrary part of me likes the concept of Camp MMW - a 5-day intensive music program in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York put on by the esteemed jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Camp MMW is an unconventional music clinic where - from what I can gather - it's not so much about the instrument you play or adhering to a certain style, but more about the freedom, exploration and expression you can summon from that chosen instrument.  All the reviews and feedback I've read about the camp portray it as an intense, deeply educational, even life changing experience.  I mean, think about have direct access for 5 days to three of the world's most creative and influential musicians!  Of course, in order to really benefit from a workshop such as this you kinda need to have put in countless hours of fundamental practice, which I have yet to really do.  However, knowing that such a camp exists is inspiration for me to plug away until I would be receptive to the teachings Camp MMW has to offer.  While I don't currently include much improvisation in my playing, I hope to eventually steer my musical attention in that vicinity in an effort to reap the benefits that such study affords.
In reality though, I think it's still a little early in my musical development to seriously consider Camp MMW for summer 2012. I would be in way over my head at this point. (The $1,100 camping cost doesn't help). Although a side benefit is attendees get to witness Medeski, Martin and Wood perform nightly after hours concerts in an intimate, casual setting.  That fact alone takes some of the bite out of that tuition cost!  I hear the food's awesome too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Station Cafe Old Tyme Irish Meetup - 10am every other Sat., Ashland, VA

Outside the Station Cafe
Earlier this year I noticed that musician Jake Moore was playing Saturday mornings at The Station Café, an Ashland, VA coffee shop within walking distance of my house.  Jake is a multi-instrumentalist who teaches guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bass and piano in a variety of styles.  Knowing that his repertoire surely included any traditional tune I was capable of picking on tenor banjo, I asked if I could join him some of the time.  Jake was actually open to this idea because it would give him an opportunity to practice mandolin.  We've been jamming almost every other Saturday morning for several months now, and during that time we’ve also been joined by a harmonica player, guitarist, bodhran player, fiddler and 5-string banjoist.

It’s still usually just Jake and myself, but the point is - we like it when others show up to jam!  The unofficial schedule is every other Saturday from 10am to 1pm at The Station Café, 113 South Railroad Ave, Ashland, VA 23005.  It's in the morning to align with the coffee shop crowd. Contact me directly by email for specific dates or join the Facebook group where we post updates and discussions.  The tunes played tend to be old-time, contradance and Irish standards - fiddle tunes, breakdowns, jigs, reels, polkas - albeit with a slightly looser approach akin to bluegrass.  Beginners as well as experienced players are encouraged to join in. Fakebooks and music stands are permitted. In fact, I bring lead sheets with the suggested chords for almost any tune I play.
So if you’d like to take part in a casual, fun, friendly and slightly inauthentic jam, then bring your acoustic instrument of choice (ukulele anyone?) and join us for a good time!  Or just come as a listener.  Owner Bart Shaw has delicious coffee, hotdogs and ice cream.  (What a combo!).

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale

Ft. Collins, Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co. has made it to Central Virginia!  Since late August a limited number of their beers have been available in local stores and restaurants.  Fat Tire is the brew most closely associated with New Belgium, and the hype surrounding that amber ale preceded its Eastern arrival by several years.  However, I would venture to say that New Belgium's tastiest offering is the 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, a dark beer based on an old, obscure Belgian style.

The 1554 pours black, with roasted, malty overtones and a hint of chocolate.  Not too bitter or too sweet, and thankfully not too hoppy.  1554 also doesn't have a real pronounced Belgian character, or at least the character my taste buds seem to associate with Belgian beers - another plus. This unique flavor is due to that bygone recipe which supposedly dates back to the year it is named after.  To me 1554 seems like a not-so-distant relative to a dark lager or Schwarzbier.  Pick up a six-pack now at your local store.  In Ashland, the Caboose has been stocking it.  Cheers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The 4-string banjo in Jamaican Mento

I submitted the following text to Deering Banjo Company for use in their newsletter.  I thought I would share it here since I find Mento music so interesting!

Banjo plays a primary role in Jamaica's national folk music known as mento - an indigenous fusion of the island’s African and European folk dance traditions.  Other forms of music, such as Cuban rumba and Trinidadian calypso, have also been and continue to be absorbed into the mento style - and vice versa.
Blue Glaze Mento Band, 2010, Nelson Chambers - banjo

Mento has a characteristic 3:3:2 rhythm in quadruple time with an emphasis on 4th beat in a bar of 4.  The songs are usually in major keys and key changes are not common.  Mento songs are secular and usually non-political in nature, however the lyrics are often humorous and surprisingly bawdy.  These are sung in both standard English and Jamaican patois. 

4-string banjo is the main instrument in mento.  Usually this is a tenor banjo tuned in some kind of fifths tuning, although not always to concert pitch.  If a tenor is not available, musicians will use a 5-string banjo and take off the 5th string - either capoed up or tuned in a "uke" tuning (essentially making it a plectrum banjo).  The most common mento instruments used to accompany a banjo include guitar, maracas and a rhumba box (also known as a marimbula).  

Jolly Boys album cover, 1990(?), Moses Deans - banjo
Due to its volume and sharp tone, the banjo's role in mento is both rhythm and lead.  Banjo players are given “breaks” between verses to improvise arpeggio-based solos that harmonize with the primary chords and suggest the rhythm.  These lead melodies often vary between eighth notes and quarter-note triplets creating a polyrhythmic banjo phrasing over the choppy upstroke of the guitar strum. 

One of the best and most influential mento banjo players was Moses Deans - an original member of The Jolly Boys, mento's best known group.  Moses Deans can be heard on the Jolly Boys' excellent late 80's to early 90's albums Pop 'N' Mento, Sunshine 'N' Water, and Beer Joint & Tailoring.  These recordings feature Allan Swymmer on lead vocals & bongo and a have a rustic, natural feel.  Moses Deans passed away around 1998.
Moses Deans
Another notable mento banjoist was Nelson chambers (October 10, 1944-November 14, 2010), co-founder of The Blue Glaze Mento Band.  Nelson Chambers' Caribbean banjo licks can be heard on Stanley Beckford's two essential mento albums - Plays Mento and Reggaemento from 2002 and 2004.  Nelson Chambers also performs on Blue Glaze’s outstanding new studio release We Will Wait, one of the best albums to come out in 2011 and the last recordings he would make before his death.

Nelson Chambers

Music enthusiasts are encouraged to seek out and listen to this joyful, accessible music and perhaps learn a tune or two from mento's extensive repertoire of Jamaican folk-lyric songs, which are custom made for tenor or plectrum banjo!

Thanks to Mike Garnice of the website, ethnomusicologist Daniel T. Neely, and musician Andrew Roblin for helping provide me with the information necessary to write this article.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Robin Shackleton of Sylvan Temple World Instruments

While researching drum makers for my Guide to Makers of Custom Made Bodhrans article, one luthier in particular stood out.  His name is Robin Shackleton of Sylvan Temple World Instruments in Vancouver Island, Bristish Columbia. 
Robin Shackleton - photo by rphl_lxndr
Robin makes gorgeous handmade drums and and is now starting to explore the world of stringed instruments, including ouds.  His one of a kind, custom instruments come from the forests of Vancouver Island. He salvages Aldar, Maple, Arbutus, Cypress, Yew, Oak and other kinds of trees from various burn and waste sites. The skins and hardware used are from sources as local and considerate as possible. Robin completes all processes of instrument creation and - due to the care given to each instrument - produces only a limited number each year.  Drum types include bodhrans, tars and other frame drums, plus djembes, doumbeks, darabukas, cajons, and more.  Customizations include the option of a adding a personal text, verse or mantra to your drum in runes or old languages.
A couple SylvanTemple bodhrans

SylvanTemple Oud - front

SylvanTemple Oud - back

The SylvanTemple doumbek I ordered
Robin also frequently gives instructional workshops around Comox Valley, BC on drum-making and drum-playing.  For his drum-making workshops, he does the prep work of turning and finishing the shell to your specs, but the rest is done together!  At the end of one of his 1-day workshops you are left with a new djembe and the knowledge of how to re-head, tune and care for it.  Follow up sessions are available.

As an experienced player and performer of Middle Eastern drumming, Robin's musical workshops allow rhythm enthusiasts to improve their skills while learning about various styles of drumming.  These sessions are open to anyone with an interest in rhythm who wants to experience first-hand the benefits and joys of the drum.  Doumbek, frame drum and general percussion instruction is offered. 

For more information visit or go to Robin's Facebook page. Also check out the Comox Drumming site -