Downbeat Magazine, Frank-John Hadley, March 2018
(Free Note 1701; 44:36 **** 4 stars)
Jon Catler is strictly his own man, inhabiting an alternative blues world. Playing 12-tone Ultra Plus, 24-fret just intonation and fretless guitars, advocating 528-hertz harmonic tuning, he furthers the good cause of microtonalism with prodigal displays of assurance and intensity. Rock anthem “Dazed And Confused” and Willie Dixon’s“Evil” haven’t sounded so fresh in years, and six songs from Catler’s fertile imagination are just as gripping for his wizardry. Vocalist Babe Borden deploys her keen talent for creating edgy suspense, staying rooted in bluesy earthiness, even as her voice travels the galaxies. Crank up the volume for maximum post-witching hour effect. Ordering info: http://freenotemusic.com/13oclockbluesband
Downtown Music Gallery, Bruce Gallanter, 1/1/18
The Fretless Brothers definitely have their own sound, with both guitars playing their own version of the blues and bending their notes in their own unique way. The opener, “East Coast Blues”, hovers between an early Pat Metheny-like slinky guitar tone as both guitars create a fine tuned web of intricate interaction. The main riff recalls, “Take Five”, written by Paul Desmond more than sixty years, using in a new era of modern (cool) jazz. Jon Catler wrote all of the pieces on this disc and he does a great job giving both guitars complex parts to play. Whenever either guitarist solos, the other one plays a series of rich chords which lead the band through layers interconnected sections. One must listen closely to hear those intricate parts or layers. Having two strong guitarists involved keeps things interesting since the quartet often sounds like they are moving through an ocean with each player balancing on different currents, the flow or inner pulse remains constant, the rhythm team humming, moving tightly together. Both guitarists use some sustain, but never too much. Although all solos sound inspired, they are also relaxed and dreamy at times, no one is in a hurry and there are no reasons for overplaying or showing off. Towards the end of “While She Sleeps”, both guitars increase the sustain tone, bringing us deeper in the slow moving currents way below the surface. Time slows down as we sail slowly between different schools of fish. Next on “Aqua Luna”, it feels as if we are now living in the ocean and moving at a slower more buoyant pace. I am reminded of Jimi Hendrix’s “Merman” which also evokes the feeling of traveling in waves (either below in the sea or even out there in outer space). On this long piece both guitars stretch out and weave a long web of interconnection lines, absolutely breathtakingly by the end of the piece. Oddly enough, the quartet launch into “Cat’s Boogie” which does have one of those old style boogie (Canned Heat-like) grooves. Both guitar starting trading lines, adding varying amounts of distortion as the plot thickens (close to an explosion at one point) and then calms back down. That boogie groove was very popular in the seventies and often abused or overdone by certain white blues band. The funny thing is that this quartet know when to not depend too much on any one formula or structure, always showing some restraint. The last piece is appropriately titled, “Lost at Sea”, and sounds like an exquisite, laid back, psychedelic lullaby. A perfect conclusion for a superb disc that blurs the lines between jazz, rock, blues and even psych. This disc was recorded live at Shapeshifters Lab in Brooklyn, one of favorite music places in these parts. The Fretless Brothers are currently living in the Boston area. I urge you to check them out live or on disc if you get the opportunity to do so. One of my favorite discs of the year! – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
MusikReviews.com http://www.muzikreviews.com/index.php JULY 15, 2012 by Brian McKinnon, Sr. MusikReviews.com Staff Based out of New York City, Willie McBlind consists of Jon Catler (64-tone just intonation, fretless guitars), Meredith ‘Babe’ Borden (vocals, autoharp), Mat Fieldes (bass), and Lorne Watson (drums). Live Long Day is their third album that is sure to impress. With just the right touch of rock to their harmonic blues sound, Willie McBlind will take you on a musical journey that you will never want to end. Grab your boarding pass, because Live Long Day, if you could not already tell by title, is devoted to the train. I usually do not know if I am going to like a band until after getting through some of their songs, but it is different with Willie McBlind. From the start of Live Long Day, I knew that I was going to enjoy the album. The magic begins with “Sittin’ in the Train Station,” a slamming song with smooth touches that will instantly make you a fan of Willie McBlind. A folk classic gets a modern update in “Live Long Day.” The dirtiness and grit of working on a railroad comes off from this song. Another rocking song, “Anywhere” is elevated by its clever lyrics and ingenious wordplay. With its quiet and downplayed opening, the middle is like a ferocious storm that leaves you to pick up the pieces as you stand in awe of the force that just rolled through. “Slow Moving Train” is a hip song about traveling on the rails. Keeping the good tunes flowing at the half point, “One Thing” is particularly memorable for its killer guitar part. “Mighty Long Time” has a strange sense of power and energy flowing through it. It has a haunting quality that will keep you coming back for more listens. “Down the Road” is upbeat with lots of liveliness and a catchy beat to top it all off. It is the perfect song to keep you company while travelling across the open road. Heading down the home stretch, ���Boogie Train” is almost too good for words as the guitar simply dazzles. “The Train That Never Came” brings it all to an end as the call of the last whistle out sounds off. Live Long Day by Willie McBlind is a musical masterpiece. Carried by its skilful musicians and two very fine vocalists whose voices harmonize so well together, this album is great the first time through and it gets better with each subsequent play. Willie McBlind creates the type of music that will make you feel good about being human after having listened to it. Key Tracks: Live Long Day, Anywhere, Mighty Long Time, Down the Road, Boogie Train Brian McKinnon – Sr. MuzikReviews.com Staff July 15, 2012 ©MuzikReviews.com For Questions Or Comments About This Review Send An Email To email@example.com
Blues in Britain www.bluesinbritain.org JULY 2012 by Mick Rainsford Willie McBlind – Live Long Day Freenote Records If you have ever wondered what the phrase “nu-blues” means then listen to this CD and you will find the answer. Willie McBlind is fuelled by Jon Catler���s “microtonally fretted and fretless guitars” which create a “distorted” wall of sound behind Babe Borden’s powerhouse “rock-chick” vocals. When listening to Willie McBlind you will hear tantalising nods towards Captain Beefheart, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Pretty Things, Budgie, T-Rex and even the Beatles as they take Delta style rhythms and blast them into the 22nd century. �����Sittin’ In The Train Station” is a churning rocker that I can only describe as “psycho-delic punk blues” – on “Down The Road������� the band sounds like a “spaced-out” Canned Heat with it’s frenetic rhythms – if John Lee Hooker had been a punk-rocker he would have sounded like Willie McBlind on “Boogie Train” – whilst “Love In vain” takes Robert Johnson and transplants him into a manic punk-rocker musical landscape that underpins Borden’s soulful vocals. If your taste in blues is not compromised by Catholic principles then try this out – you could well be surprised. (www.williemcblind.com) Mick Rainsford
NASHVILLE BLUES SOCIETY http://donandsherylsbluesblog.wordpress.com/ JUNE 28, 2012 by Sheryl and Don Crow For their third CD, Willie McBlind pay tribute to the train with “Live Long Day,” ten cuts that take the listener on a unique journey that starts out deep in the Delta, then travels northward, coinciding with the Great Migration of the post-WWII years, finally culminating in a literal trip thru the clouds. Released on May 12 to coincide with National Train Day, these cuts fuse the music of the Delta masters with jazz and elements of electronic music. A definitive exercise in one possible direction the future of the blues could be headed, Willie McBlind are Jon Catler on guitar and vocals, Meredith “Babe” Borden (who trained at the New England Conservatory) on vocals and autoharp, Mat Fieldes on bass, and Lorne Watson on drums. They bring an element of “Harmonic” blues to this set, with the use of fretless instruments, and a sixty-four note scale to create a sonic palette that not only stays true to the origins of the blues, but puts out a futuristic vibe that will appeal to many fans. Check out Babe Borden’s upper-register vocals that are the perfect complement to Jon’s growling, almost-spoken word on “Slow Moving Train,” which can “crush a man to death,” or “take you far away” if you stay on long enough. The leadoff “Sittin’ In TheTrain Station” has an early-Allman Brothers feel, while “Down The Road” and “Love In Vain” are rooted in the spirit of the Delta, and the latter features an outstanding vocal from Babe. The set closes with the duet of “The Train That Never Came,” which segues’ into an electronic exercise of fusion-blues entitled “Train Cloud,” that sounds as if it were the train whistle that called Muddy, Junior, Pinetop, and countless others up home to blues heaven. Willie McBlind are not afraid to delve into and explore the boundaries of the blues, and experiment with sounds that are not necessarily run-of-the-mill. Plus, their extensive musical backgrounds give them a fresh perspective, and “Live Long Day” makes for an interesting, eclectic listen! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow
BARN OWL BLUES http://barnowlblues.punt.nl/ July 10, 2012 by Eric Campfens (TRANSLATED FROM DUTCH) Willie McBlind is not a person. No, Willie McBlind is a band. A bluesband, and with such a name it is hardly avoidable, isn’t it? But Willie McBlind is not just a bluesband. No, it is not as easy as that. It is a bluesband, that produces a whole different sound. A sound that probably is not to everyone’s liking. It also took time before I got used to it. Firstly, let me present the band, that consists of Jon Catler (vocals, guitar), Meredith ‘Babe’ Borden (vocals, autoharp), Mat Fieldes (bass) and Lorne Watson (drums). The special thing about the band is that Catler plays guitar in microtones. Microtones are 64 notes per octave. And singer Borden has a reach of more than three octaves and is also able to handle more than the usual eight notes per octave. Are you still with me? Their third album “Live Long Day” is a tribute to the train. And with this train a journey commences in the prewar years in the deep Mississippi Delta. Traveling north we see the Great Migration, the second World War is handled and it ends somewhere in the clouds. When listening it is evident the music is deeply rooted in blues and is in fact an exponent of bluesrock. But still something is different, it is not the bluesrock we are used to. With the use of the 64-note harmonies it all sounds a bit different. The singing also is different. Borden’s upperscale voice forms a great counterpoint to Catler’s low growling. Close your eyes and you hear something that resembles Jefferson Airplane, but is further absolutely unique. But with songs like the opener “Sittin’ In The Train Station” and Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain”, being the only cover here, you are upto your ankles in de Mississippi mud. My favorite song is ���Down The Road”, just because of the great guitar picking. Unfortunately the last six minutes is a kind of mechanical racket. Without a doubt it belongs to the journey, but after having listened to it once the other times I just skipped it. Conclusion: It takes some getting used to, but the more I listened the better it became. The unique guitar playing of Jon Catler is just simply fabulous, there is no other word for it. Willie McBlind is at least a band who dares to look up the limits and is able to expand these. Apart from the mechanical drone at the end this is just an excellent album.
ROCKTIMES (GERMANY) JULY 9, 2012 by Joachim ‘Joe’ Brookes Willie McBlind ist eine Blues-Band aus New York. Vier Musiker versammeln sich im Line-up. Einerseits sind es Gitarrist und Sänger Jon Catler sowie Meredith Borden, die in der Hauptsache am Gesangsmikrofon zu hören ist. Gemeinsam treten sie als Duo auch unter dem Namen Willie And Babe auf. Die Rhythmusabteilung besteht aus Bassist Mat Fieldes (Absolute Ensemble, Ornette Coleman, Joe Jackson, Steve Vai) und Schlagzeuger Lorne Watson. Im Booklet steht bei Jon Catler nicht einfach nur Guitars. Da ist die Rede von 64-tone Just Intonation, 12-tone Ultra Plus oder Fretless Guitars. Okay, ein bundloser Bass ist ja bekannt und für seinen warmherzigen Ton geliebt. Jon Catler mag es extrem. Entweder gar keine Bünde oder gleich so viele, dass einem schon beim Ansehen schwindelig wird und man sich fragt, wie selbst geübte Finger zwischen die Bünde greifen können. Microtonal Guitar oder Harmonic Series sind zwei Stichworte, die man sich bei diesen ganz besonderen Gitarren merken sollte. Alleine die Thematik macht neugierig und man kann sich darin durchaus vertiefen. Jon Catler ist einer der Pioniere auf diesem Gebiet und steht bei der Entwicklung von FreeNote Guitars an erster Stelle. Es ist schon beeindruckend, wie viele verschiedene Bauweisen es gibt und die sind auch bei den Tieftönern zu finden. Entsprechend ist Mat Fieldes unter anderem am 12-tone Ultra Plus Bass unterwegs. Natürlich ist Catler weltweit nicht der einzige Musiker, der diese Art von Gitarren spielt. Bei den Recherchen dazu stößt man doch glatt auch auf eine Black Metal-Band namens Seal Of Graphiel. Aber hier soll jetzt nicht die Rede vom Black Metal sein, denn die Formation Willie McBlind spielt den Blues. Mit ihrem sehr individuellen Klang prägen die Vier- beziehungsweise Sechssaiter das dritte Album der Band. Vor “Live Long Day” erschien “Bad Thing” (2009) beziehungsweise “Find My Way Back Home” (2007). Allerdings glänzen die zehn Songs nicht nur wegen der höchst extravaganten Gitarren-Sounds sondern auch durch den kontrastierenden Gesang von Meredith Borden beziehungsweise Jon Catler. Borden ist in der Lage, ihre Stimme über mehrere Oktaven zu erheben und Catler verfügt im Gegensatz dazu über eine ziemlich tiefe, raue Stimme. Im Duett kommen die beiden unterschiedlichen Stimmen voll zur Geltung. Bis auf “Love In Vain” (Robert Johnson) hat Catler alle Songs komponiert und eine weitere Auffälligkeit ist, dass verdammt oft das Wort Train in den Titeln auftaucht. In Amerika erschien das Album im Mai 2012 am National Train Day. Willie McBlind spielt einen höchst interessanten Blues, der vom Songwriting her sehr vielfältig ausfällt. Die Combo mag es funkig und rockig. Außerdem fühlt man sich im Blues, der vom Country geprägt wird auch noch sehr wohl. Willie McBlind steht für die unkonventionelle Art des Blues und es fällt schon schwer, die Gitarrensounds zu beschreiben. Nicht selten klingt die Gitarre nach Bottleneck-Einsatz… der bundlose Sechssaiter macht es möglich. Allerdings ist festzustellen, dass sich alle Details auf “Live Long Day” sehr gut zu einem tollen Gesamteindruck zusammenfügen. Wenn sich Meredith Borden in dem einen oder anderen Video vom Outfit her wie eine Janis Joplin gibt, dann passt so etwas auch noch. Vom Delta Blues bis hin zu Southern Rock-Feeling ist die Speisekarte der Band sehr gut gefüllt. “Boogie Train” ist ein klasse Song unter vielen und “The Train That Never Came/Train Cloud” schießt den Spielzeit-Vogel ab. Das Stück ist im ersten, zirka viereinhalb Minuten langen Teil ein wunderschöner Slow Blues und danach wird es in der ‘Train Cloud’ sehr experimentell. Was in dieser wolkigen Klangcollage passiert, sucht echt seinesgleichen. Mehr als acht Minuten moduliert Catler um wenige Töne herum ein Feeling, das wirklich nur mit viel Fantasie etwas mit dem Blues zu tun hat. Um die Sache mit der Eisenbahn perfekt zu machen, wurden die »basic tracks« von “Live Long Day” in den Bennett Studios (Englewood/NY) aufgenommen. Dabei handelt es sich um einen ehemaligen Bahnhof. Randbemerkung: Es gibt auch ein Fretless Guitar Festival, das alljährlich in New York stattfindet. Bei Willie McBlinds dritter Platte wird man neuen Blues-Reizen ausgesetzt. Das Album sendet andere, nicht unbedingt herkömmliche Signale aus, zählt allerdings zu meinen Genre-Favoriten der letzten Zeit.
WASSER PRAWDA MAGAZIN (GERMANY) JULY 16, 2012 by Nathan Nörgel Das Thema von „Live Long Day!“ ist typisch Blues: Man könnte die Songs als eine komplette Bahnreise aus dem Süden der USA bis hoch in den Himmel hören. Doch was die Band Willie McBlind auf ihrem dritten Album macht, klingt wahlweise nach der Zukunft des Blues oder wie eine Kreuzung aus Freejazz-Harmonien und Hardrockrhythmen. Ein wenig Theorie vorweg: Die europäische Musik basiert auf einer Tonleiter mit zwölf Halbtonstufen. Willie McBlind haben sich von diesem System verabschiedet zu Gunsten einer „Harmonic Music“, das sämtliche denkbaren Ober- und Untertöne in den Klang mit einbezieht. Dafür nutzt Gitarrist Jon Catler wahlweise Gitarren ohne Bünde oder aber speziell angefertigte Gitarren, die die Nutzung von Zwischentönen durch die Verdopplung der Bundzahl ermöglicht. Diese Gitarrenhälse haben dann Ähnlichkeit mit denen der indischen Sitar. Neben Catler ist auch Sängerin Meredith “Babe” Borden mit ihrer Konservatoriumsausbildung firm in Sachen ungewöhnlicher Klangwelten. Ergänzt wird das Duo um Bassist Mat Fields und Schlagzeuger Lorne Watson. Das mag jetzt alles sehr akademisch klingen und die konservativen Bluesfans erstmal abschrecken. Doch wenn man sich mit Willie McBlind auf die Zugfahrt des Albums begibt, dann werden solche Fragen schnell überflüssig. Schnell findet man sich wieder auf einer Tour in eine seltsam futuristische Welt zwischen dem Mississippi-Delta, Steampunk-Comix und modernen Industriestädten. Mit einer Mischung aus harten Rockrhythmen und den nur beim ersten Hören ungewöhnlichen Klangwelten von Gitarre und Gesang entwickelt sich eine Blues-Atmosphäre, wie sie so innovativ eigentlich seit den Jugendjahren von Captain Beefheart kaum mal wieder jemand versucht hat. Und da passt es selbst, dass als einziges Cover Robert Johnsons „Love In Vain“ ins 21. Jahrhundert verpflanzt wird. Äußerst faszinierend!
VAN ECK BLUES (The Netherlands) JULY 9, 2012 by Jan van Eck Deze cd lag al een tijdje op de plank, niet goed wetend wat ik hier van vond. Maar zoals vaker, stug volhouden en blijven draaien en langzaam begon ik de schijf steeds meer te waarderen en heb hem inmiddels vaker opstaan. Zowel gitaar als zang nemen een prominente rol in op een niet alledaagse manier, gitaar wordt fenomenaal bespeelt door Jon Catler, zowel op de 64-tone Intonation, 12-tone Ultra plus alsook de fretless en de zang, vaak 2-stemmig, wordt overheerst door het bijzondere geluid van Meredith Borden, ook hier lijken halve tonen mogelijk te zijn met geweldige hoge stembuigingen. Ook bas speler Mat Fieldes blaast een aardig nootje mee op zijn snaren, ook hier een fretless en een 12-tone Ultra Plus Bass. De enige die op een standaard instrument lijkt te spelen is drummer Lorne Watson. De muziek druk ik in het hokje bluesrock, maar dit is niet bepaald een cd voor bluespuristen. Ik moet er wel bij vermelden dat het laatste nummer (2 gedeelten) ‘The train that never came/Train cloud, ik helemaal beluisterd heb om te zien wat er nog kwam, maar 4:24 was achteraf genoeg, ik vat het wel, maar het duurde te lang (gewoon ff uit proberen)
As a side journey from the blues, during the late 1970’s, I listened to the improvisational jazz championed by the German label, ECM. Experimental bands like Air, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Keith Jarrett were as satisfying as the earthiest Delta blues. To me, those freeform ventures are what I hear in guitarist Jon Catler and vocalist Babe Borden’s Willie McBlind band. The band is centered on the avant-garde guitar work of Catler. Throughout the nine songs (three covers, six originals), Catler fingers either a 64-tone Just Intonation or fretless guitars with sounds as oddly intriguing as what W.C. Handy must have heard at a rail station in Tutwiler, MS.
I know the sounds of a fretless guitar, but Catler explains the other. “The 64-tone system is pure just intonation, so every pitch is from the harmonic series.” It’s a custom guitar with 40 frets allowing Catler to explore notes between the notes, and find sounds and colors you won’t hear from any other blues guitarist. With that futuristic foundation, Willie McBlind went to Hugh Pool’s Excello Studios in Brooklyn (See Don Wilcock’s review of Pool’s Mulebone CD in this issue.), mixed half the songs there, and then had Jim Gaines mix the others.
Like many BR readers, I’ve heard numerous interpretations of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” But I’ve never heard it played on a Catler’s twenty-second century guitar. Ditto Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace). At times, Catler’s enormous bends and dark feedback vibrations are reminiscent of mid-sixties’ strobe lit experimentations. At the same time, Borden, a New England Conservatory trained vocalist, uses her expansive, octave-spanning
vocals to breathe fresh air into these up-to-the minute interpretations. The originals are just as exploratory. “Blood Moon” takes Missisissippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move” from Como to outer space; likewise “Primo,” which takes the “Pony Blues” idea into Hendrix’s guitar landscape; “Storms” unfurls amid Catler’s ominous fretless probings; and the title cut utilizes lyrical snatches of “Mystery Train” combined with Catler’s gooey, fretless slide.
The record ends with “Lucky Man,” an arresting, seven-plus minute highlight. With only six strings, Catler demonstrates a new wave array of sounds and colors. Is it blues? Not in the traditional sense, but Willie McBlind does have a radical answer to those who wonder what the future of the blues can sound like.
– Art Tipaldi
DownBeat Magazine August 2010 by Frank-John Hadley **** (4 stars) No other blues band in creation sounds like the one fronted by microtonal (notes-between-the-notes) guitarist Jon Catler and New England Conservatory-trained singer Meredith Borden. Their exhilarating approach to “Harmonic Blues” on adventurous originals and typically skewed arrangements of lesser-known Delta classics connect with the tonal and rhythmic subtleties in the language of Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson.
‘Bad Thing’ by Willie McBlind Reviewed by Stephen Bailey – www.stephenbailey.com Posted on 08/28/10 in Recordings A deceivingly simple blues facade combined with unnerving, microtonal cliffhangers around every measure. Listen to the title track. I have always had a soft spot for well-conjured dissonance in music. My philosophy as a player is that, if the instruments are in tune, all else is fair game. What we were taught in school was less music theory than music law. Those strict, hardbound sets of how things must be have never appealed to me. Even in the area of Jazz, which has sadly been whitewashed into a given style rather than the free-form expression it was meant to be. So finding folks who work to expand horizons thrills me. Recently I met Meredith ‘Babe’ Borden of the band Willie McBlind. We got on the subject of microtonal music and she handed me the band’s CD called ‘Bad Thing’. As she described to me what they did, how the guitar and vocals interacted, I couldn’t wait to hear it. Straight-ahead blues only describes it in the broadest sense. The sound has a deceivingly simple facade that’s combined with unnerving tonal cliffhangers around every measure. The familiar warps quickly with the unexpected. There are different ways to achieve a microtonal sound on a guitar. Using slides, scalloping necks, going fretless, pounding the shit out of a tremolo bar, electronic manipulation, etc. All of which are acceptable in my book, if done right.Willie McBlind guitarist Jon Catler’s achieves his sound with the help of a 12-Tone Ultra Plus Guitar. The guitar’s tuning system starts with the familiar 12-fret octave in place. Then it adds 12 more frets in between at the natural harmonic points. This now gives that same 12-tone octave the potential for 36 different pitches. I know, I just got chills too. Add the shear power of Babe’s operatic vocal style waltzing around the rich fullness of the guitar and the solid foundation of the bass and drums and it’s a compelling sound to say the least. Do yourself a favor, Buy ‘Bad Thing’ and go see Willie McBlind live.
Blues Underground Network June 2010 by John Vermilyea Five***** Rated Excellent CD…Thoroughly Enjoyed It…Highly Recommended… With “Bad Thing”, Willie McBlind does not try to invent some thing new for the future, but he simply takes us back to the past and shows us all just how great it could be. This is an amazing album, from a truly amazing guitarist, that redifines what electric blues is all about, at the same time taking us back to a late 60’s early 70’s era of greatness. I consider this to be a selfish album… One that you simply do not want to be interrupted while listening to…
Bad Thing Willie McBlind | FreeNote Music (2009) By Todd S. Jenkins Many elements comprise the spirit of the authentic blues, from the weary, lonesome and forlorn lyrics and voices to the bent, plaintive notes coaxed from weather-beaten, jury-rigged instruments. It’s that off-kilter, almost microtonal aspect of true blues tonality that is too often overlooked by cover artists and wanna-bes who reduce the music to three chords and the truth. Guitarist Jon Catler and the other members of Willie McBlind work near-miracles in bringing that raw aspect of the blues sound to the forefront. In this case, Catler’s instrument isn’t a well-worn pawn-shop acoustic guitar, but rather a highly specialized tool that could come off as a cheap gimmick—or sound like crap—in the wrong hands. Catler plays a 64-note Just Intonation guitar, using close frets and fine tuning to wedge 64 separate tones into the space of an octave normally occupied by the 12 tones of the Western scale. The authenticity of Catler’s vision and mission are made clear from the first few bars of “13 O’Clock Blues,” where a slightly odd vibe of something amiss quickly evolves into serious blues power. This ain’t just some white guy with a new toy; Catler knows his stuff and conveys it with deep energy and conviction. His fretless guitar work is equally convincing. It helps, too, that Catler has a rough, saw-edged voice that complements both his playing and the smoother tones of bandmate Babe Borden. Bassist Neville L’Green and drummer Lorne Watson provide tight backup for the two lead voices, in typically rollicking blues-band style. They give the impression of a band that has been working the road for years. Borden’s finest achievement is her ability to match Catler’s microtones without flaw or hesitation. She is fully her own woman, never trying to emulate Etta James, Koko Taylor or anyone else. Most of the compositions are Catler’s originals, with a few expected covers thrown in. Of the new tunes, “13 O’Clock Blues,” “Blood Moon,” and the hellacious title track are the highest points, but there’s no real filler to be found here. Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” somewhat overdone by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Christian rockers The 77s, manages to sound fresh again in Willie McBlind’s collective hands. Ditto Robert Johnson’s classic “Stones in my Passway” and Willie Dixon’s lesser-known “It Don’t Make Sense,” where Catler and Borden again pull off the almost ancient spirit of the blues. Of all the contemporary “white-guy” blues bands making the circuit today, of all the guitar icons that have gearheads and shredders clamoring for more, Jon Catler and Willie McBlind represent a major step forward in the evolution of American blues. Yet they do so without losing any of the music’s heart, which is perhaps the best achievement of all. Track listing: 13 O’Clock Blues; Bad Thing; Primo; Blood Moon; Nobody’s Fault But Mine; Storms; Stones in my Passway; It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace); One Lucky Man. Personnel: Jon Catler: 64-tone Just Intonation and fretless guitars, voice; Babe Borden: voice; Neville L’Green: bass; Lorne Watson: drums, percussion; Hugh Pool: vocals (9). Published: January 14, 2010
CD Review: Willie McBlind – Bad Thing / FreeNote Music – by Michael Verity If you’re a traditionalist who believes the only way to keep blues alive is to reprise songs in their original forms on accoustic instruments, you probably won’t care much for this record. But if you’re a musical evolutionist who thinks blues is an art form to be reinterpreted and reappraised, you’ll find this second album from four-piece band Willie McBlind intriguing. “Bad Thing” is a swirling, undulating jam session and a sizzling conflagration of musical styles ranging from Aerosmith to John Coltrane to Willie Dixon. Take the album’s opening instrumental, “13 O’Clock Blues”: Though it follows the essential I-IV-V blues progression, guitarist Jon Catler’s use of a unique microtuning technique gives the song a mildly dissonant sense of being out of balance. Similarly, the rhythmic vibe of the title cut bows to the more traditional elements of Johnny Winter, but the guitar and bass textures are Black Sabbath-like in their depth and weight. “Primo” gives a proper taste of the rhythm section – bassist Neville L’Green and drummer Lorne Watson. Catler’s guitar returns as the centerpiece on “Blood Moon,” an indulgent, spooky number with guitar lines punctuated by Catler’s vocal growl and singer Meredith Borden’s mewl-and-howl harmonies. Borden’s vocal dominates “Stones in My Passway,” one of the album’s funkier cuts: One minute she’s uttering a deep, sensual moan, the next she’s letting loose an earth-shattering scream. On the Robin Trower-esque “It Don’t Make Sense,” Borden’s vocal soars with the long lines of Catler’s guitar. The album is sufficient in its production values and workman-like in its mix. Producer Catler does yeoman’s work behind the board, presenting a soundstage that’s well-suited to the record’s musicality. Bad Thing might not be earth-shattering, but as an evolutionary approach to the blues, laced with elements of jazz harmonies and hard-rock instrumentation, it’s worth a listen.
Full-Time Bluesletter, Issue #002 – News, Reviews, & Concerts August 01, 2009 Newsletter Exclusive: CD Review: Willie McBlind – Bad Thing – Free Note Records 2009 – by Johnny Full-Time Willie McBlind, the self professed Blues Psychedelic Rock band out of NYC come calling with their latest release, Bad Thing, on the Independent Free Note Records. When you first press play on the album, you have to do a double take, because your first impulse will be to say that Bad Thing isn’t a Blues album. The nine track disc starts up like a devilish jack in the box, slowly cranking up until it pops into “13 O’ Clock Blues,” an instrumental shuffle that will definitely have you dancing by the time it’s reached its final note. From there, you had better hold on tight, because it’s a wild ride. Willie McBlind launch into the title track, followed by “Primo,” with Jon Catler and Babe Borden’s vocals layered in a very cool and spooky manner. It’s the kind of Rock and Blues mash-up that The White Stripes flirt around with, but never seem to go steady with. Catler and Borden have dubbed it “Harmonic Blues,” and you could dare say Hypnotic Blues would be an equally appropriate moniker. It’s all attributed to the tuning of the instruments that are played by Willie McBlind’s band members. According to the limited research that I’ve done to better understand what I’m hearing when I listen to Willie McBlind, most music we all listen to uses what’s called the Twelve Tone Equal Temperament system. Willie McBlind features instruments tuned in the 64-tone Just Intonation system, which provides players with an entirely new set of tones and notes that they can capture (if I’m understanding that correctly). The result is a sound that initially threw me off, but the deeper I got into Bad Thing, the more I understood and enjoyed. Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is the first of three covers on the disc, and was my first exposure to Willie McBlind. Catler growls the lyrics under Borden’s sailing vocals, and the musicianship is arguably at it’s best on the tune. Other covers on the disc include Borden singing solo on Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway,” along with Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace),” which takes on an air of social commentary here, very well done. All three of the songs were arranged by Catler to fit the 64-tone Just Intonation system, as well as Willie McBlind’s unique style. The closer, “One Lucky Man,” a lovely, drifting tune features guest vocals by Hugh Pool, and provides a beautiful end to this wild ride. In conclusion, you likely don’t have anything like Bad Thing in your collection, and honestly, had I not received this CD in the mail, it may have gone unnoticed by myself. You owe it to yourself to check out Willie McBlind, and to give Bad Thing a listen. Standout Tracks: “13 O’ Clock Blues,” “Blood Moon,” and “One Lucky Man”
When you look at a piece of music written out on a scale have you ever wondered how those particular notes came to represent the sounds we hear when somebody plays the piece of music written in front of you? In part it’s based on the way instruments are tuned so they play a particular sound when a string, or its equivalent depending on the instrument, is depressed and vibrated. The majority of our popular music has used what’s known as the Twelve Tone Equal Temperament system of tuning in order to create specific scales and octaves that allow composers to arrange those sounds into the recognizable patterns we call music. It stands to reason there are other sounds, or notes, that exist outside of it that could just as easily be used to make music. However when they are played in concert with Twelve Tone notes, they sound so wrong we call them out of tune. Yet, there are many music traditions through-out the world that make use of those sounds without a problem, we’re one of the few cultures that limit ourselves to only using those twelve tones. According to the people behind Freenote Music microtonal music, music that uses those notes not employed under the Twelve Tone system, is just as viable and can be achieved through the use of what they call Just Intonation, tunings based on what they call the pure notes of the naturally occurring Harmonic Series. Through the simple expedient of adding more frets to the neck of a guitar or a bass, playing a fretless instrument, using alternate fingering on a wind instrument, or by experimenting with open tunings, musicians can redefine the notes they play. When a string is plucked on the guitar more than one note is actually sounded because of the harmonics created by the vibrations – how many different possibilities exist within that one resonation for creating new notes that we currently don’t use in our music? Well the folk at Freenote produce records by groups like Willie McBlind, who have just released their second album of blues music, Bad Thing, using Just Intonation tuning giving us a chance to hear some of the possibilities that this systems opens up. Willie McBlind are Jon Catler on 64 tone Just Intonation and fretless guitars, and vocals, Babe Borden on vocals, Neville L’Green bass, and Lorne Watson drums and percussion. I was curious as to whether someone like me who doesn’t have a musician’s ear for music, I couldn’t tell you what key a song was in by listening to it, would notice an appreciable difference in the music they were playing. In other words, does it really matter whether you play the blues using the old Twelve Tone system or embrace the new Just Intonation system? On the other hand, would it still be the blues if it wasn’t played using Twelve Tone – would the sound be changed so much that it would no longer trigger the same reactions that you’d get listening to Muddy Watters and B B King? As to the first question, the answer is yes there is a definite difference in the sound of this band from that of your normal electric blues band. While you won’t really make out any difference in the rhythm section, as L’Green and Watson do the needful in holding the music together. It’s in the guitars and vocals where it becomes obvious that something different is happening with the music as both instruments create unexpected sounds. It’s noticeable right off the top of the disc as “13 O’ Clock Blues”, the opening track, opens with sustained guitar work by Catler. While he plays familiar enough sounding patterns, he appears to be filling the space with more and different sounds than what you’d normally hear. Things become even more interesting when vocalist Borden joins him and you really begin to notice just how much they have expanded upon the range of a typical blues song. Under any circumstances Borden has a great voice for the blues, powerful, expressive, and a tremendous range. She also has the control required to find and sing the notes outside of the normal scale without sounding unnatural or strained. Not only does this give her voice an added dimension when it comes to how she sounds. those extra notes seem to give her access to greater emotional depth. Listen to her on the eighth track, their cover of Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace)” and you’ll hear what I mean. The hardest part of listening to any of the songs is that are notes both Borden and Catler hit that sound discordant because we’re just not used to hearing them. However the fact that they are in harmony with each other and what the band is playing soon offsets that initial discomfort. Which begins to answer the second question as to whether what they’re singing is still the blues. While there is no denying that they don’t sound like the blues you’ve been used to hearing, there’s also no denying that what they’re playing is the blues as they generate the same emotional reactions as any tunes I’ve heard play by any blues band. What was refreshing was the absence of the cliches dotting the work of many electric blues players, especially those with a tendency to play fast and loud. With the additional notes at their disposal it only makes sense that they are able expand upon what both a guitar and a voice can do. Even better is that they don’t waste it by doing silly things like having longer or faster guitar solos or showing off of any sort. They have taken a genre already rich in emotion and found a way to make it a deeper and more fulfilling experience for both the listener and I’m sure those playing as well. Having more notes at their disposal seems to have given them the equivalent of giving a painter new colours that allow him or her to give extra texture and depth to their creation. I have to admit that when I first read about the idea of going beyond Twelve Tone for playing the blues I was intrigued, but also doubtful as to whether it would really make that much of a difference for the listener who isn’t a trained musician. However, after only a couple of listens to Willie McBlind’s Bad Thing it’s obvious that breaking free of the constraints of Twelve Tone scales is just as liberating for the blues as its proven for any other form of music. They’ve brought new depth of meaning and emotion to an already passionate genre making it blues as you’ve never heard it before, and all the better for it.
“Stunning”—DownBeat “Plenty of blues grit”—All Music Guide “Poetry in motion”—Rolling Stone “Rejuvenating the blues”—Hudson Current (N.J.) The Willie McBlind band’s timing is consummate. In this stagnant decade for the blues, with most of the idiomatic action sadly relegated to the obituary column, the New York City-based quartet fronted by virtuosic guitarist Jon Catler and talented singer Meredith ���Babe” Borden offers a singularly exciting type of electric blues. Willie McBlind uses the pitches or tones found between the notes of the traditional Western scale to create a mesmerizing pitch-and-rhythm vernacular Catler calls “Harmonic blues.” Behind the entertainment, attentive listeners feel a fervid creative intelligence and a heart present in the microtonal blues of the new Willie McBlind album, Bad Thing–set for release on June 1, 2009, courtesy of FreeNote Records. In addition to Jon and Babe, Neville L’Green plays fretless bass and Lorne Watson adds drums and percussion. Guest Hugh Pool sings on one track. Certainly no one knows the music better than Jon and Babe: “On this new CD, we have developed our approach to Harmonic Blues and taken it to a new level. The songs are more hard-hitting [than those of our previous album, 2007’s Find My Way Back Home], with more range in vocals and dynamics. There are adventurous arrangements of songs by blues heavyweights, and a couple of the songs also have some strong political/social undercurrents. Several were mixed by legendary producer Jim Gaines [whose extensive credits include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Santana albums].This release is dark and explosive, and energized by the experiences, gigs, and traveling the band has done since the release of the first CD.” Paramount to Willie McBlind’s Harmonic Blues sound are Jon’s Harmonically re-tuned fretted and fretless guitars, all fascinatingly tuned to the 64-tone Just Intonation system. Pitches and intervals (the difference between two pitches) are the crux of Jon’s fascinating artistry, with his microtonal guitars modulating to different keys while sounding more or less in tune. His open tuning gets results, wondrous results, similar to modal Indian music, to John Coltrane’s sonic explorations, and to the psychedelic trance-music of the 1960s and recidivist jam-band present. There’s something of Otis Taylor’s droning blues to it also. Remarkably, Jon’s bottom-line aesthetic is both traditional and radical: he’s connecting with the subtle microtonal guitar sounds achieved by past pitch-and-rhythm masters Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. For good reason then, Willie McBlind’s Harmonic Blues is also known as “Electric Delta Blues.” On Bad Thing, Babe’s three-octave singing now has something of the miraculous to it, and the unearthly aspect is her ability to enunciate words in a way that taps into the immediacy of Jon’s guitar playing and singing. “Finding the emotion, the simmer, in blues is challenging and that���s my own personal journey as a singer,” she says, having been raised up on opera and Aerosmith blues-rock. “I can easily travel this road for the rest of my life and still have a huge amount more to learn as a singer.” Monitoring her learning process pays off in dividends—Babe always cuts straight to the soul. Bad Thing’s blue-ribbon program—consisting of six original compositions and three covers– runs 47 minutes with nary a throwaway moment. The opening instrumental, “13 O’ Clock Blues,” sets a provocative groove while having an historic aspect. Catler explains, “Willie McBlind shows that, for the first time in music, the 13th Harmonic of each blues chord represents the new limit of consonance.” The edgy jump-blues “Bad Thing,” one of four numbers mixed by Gaines in Memphis, shows how flawlessly and naturally Catler unleashes his lava-flow of guitar vocabulary as Babe intones fractured epigrams like “train I ride off the track/cream don’t rise to the top” that stand as wry political/social commentary. Inspired by a visit to a horse’s stall (!), “Primo” rides hard with the bass line kicking against super-chromatic sliding guitar chords; the guitar-produced Harmonic Cloud that envelops the song near its end sure sounds like a mysterious sonic blessing from Jimi Hendrix. The equally compelling “Blood Moon,” based on a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune, with vocals by Jon and Babe, finds the band conjuring a wild musical-emotional climate appropriate for the song protagonist’s hard choice on whether to leave someone behind or stick around though one’s situation is precarious. Blind Willie Johnson’s old-as-sin “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is transmogrified into a modern blues-guitar piece de resistance complete with fond nods to Johnson’s slide playing on the original recording. Jon and Babe mention that “Storms”—still another Just Intonation guitar stunner–“tells the story of people’s resilience while in the midst of navigating personal turbulence and loss.” There’s plenty of vocalized and instrumental “dark clouds rolling” before Babe sings at the chorus like a shining ray of hope. She reveals she “felt the presence of a recently departed loved one speaking through the guitar solo.” The world would be a better place without all the lame renditions of great Robert Johnson songs in creation; fortunately, the four Willie McBlind band members seize “Stones in My Passway” as their own without sacrificing the essence of the original recording. The passion and conviction of Babe���s vocal matches up well with the dogged earnestness slammed out by Jon, Lorne, and Neville. The guitar solo is thrilling to hear. Willie Dixon’s “It Don’t Make Sense” (You Can’t Make Peace)” shows its durability and capacity for storing new emotional nuances in Willie McBlind’s treatment; Babe applies her personal stamp to this performance with assurance, every bit as secure as the rest of the band in evoking a state of war by song’s finish. A measured rumination over an ailing man’s last request to see his beloved again, “One Lucky Man” impresses as much for Hugh’s intimate singing as it does for Jon’s typically inventive guitar investigation, here in a lyrical mood. Internationally recognized musician and composer Jon Catler may well be the most innovative blues guitarist active today. His keen interest in microtonal guitar and Just Intonation dates back decades to his Berklee College of Music days. Jon was mentored by the storied avant-bluesman/composer La Monte Young, performing in La Monte’s Forever Bad Blues Band on American and European tours; these days, Jon performs alongside La Monte in the Just Alap Raga Ensemble. Jon is the author of The Nature of Music, which has had several printings, and he founded FreeNote Records, whose CD catalog includes two Willie McBlind titles, the Catler Brothers’ Crash Landing, his Evolution for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, and a collection of microtonal transcriptions of birdsong named Birdhouse. He has performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, at Quebec’s Festival d’Ete, at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, and, among other venues, at various NYC clubs. Among many other projects, Jon organized the 2008 Blue Apple Blues Festival, held at Crash Mansion on The Bowery. Meredith “Babe” Borden has been a featured singer in the premieres of works by Meredith Monk, Philip Glass, and Scott Wheeler, respectively. She’s been featured in settings like the American Festival of Microtonal Music, the Queen���s Chamber Band, the globe-trotting rock musical troupe Hair, the opera Waking in New York (as gospel-blues singer Compassion), off-Broadway theatrical and touring groups, as well as numerous regional and summer stock companies. Along with the two Willie McBlind albums, Babe also sang lead on the Birdhouse and Evolution for Electric Guitar and Orchestra albums. Originally from Massachusetts, like Jon, Babe has been a charter member of Willie McBlind since the first gigs in 2004. Lorne Watson and Neville L’ Green are skilled musicians in a variety of genres but possess a special flair for Jon and Babe’s Harmonic Blues. Before settling in Brooklyn, Lorne studied with widely respected music teacher Robert Hohner at Central Michigan University and worked with the microtonal Stone Crazy Blues Band and others in Seattle. Among his many projects is Loop 2.4.3., an avant-classical percussion duo. Originally from Sydney, Neville L’Green made a name for himself in Down Under music circles before relocating to NYC several years ago. As with Lorne, he is in demand for all sorts of work, but nothing quite like Willie McBlind.
Guitar Player Magazine / January 2008 VOL. 42, NO. 1 by Matt Blackett FreeNote 12-Tone Ultra Plus KUDOS Well made. Wildly innovative. CONCERNS Steep learning curve. New sounds can be off-putting to some. CONTACT FreeNote, (212) 580-0602; microtones.com
In the manual for the FreeNote 12-Tone Ultra Plus, designer Jon Catler makes an intriguing statement: “In the space between two adjacent frets on a standard guitar, there lies an infinity of notes. Guitarists have accessed these pitches with bends, slides, vibrato, whammy bars, harmonics, and feedback. Why should these in-between pitches remain hidden between frets, severely limiting their use harmonically in chords and melodically as exact fretted notes?” Catler’s quest for these notes and his fascination with “just intonation” – the series of pitches derived from the natural harmonic series – led him to design the wild instrument you see here. The 12-Tone Ultra Plus ($1,199 direct) gives you all the “normal” notes you’re used to, plus 12 extra frets – resulting in 36 different pitches per octave. Wow! First, a note to all the “Isn’t this a solution in search of a problem?” doubters out there: This guitar clearly isn’t for everyone. What it does offer, however, is a fascinating way to learn about intonation, which should be of interest to any player who has ever wondered why only fourths, fifths, and octaves – power chords, if you will – sound good with tons of distortion. That’s because of the beat frequencies that arise from equally spacing notes in our standard Western “equal temperament” scale. Let’s take a real-world example. Now play a G power chord through a viciously distorted amp. It sounds pure, solid, and, well, powerful. Now play a G7. Hear all those clashing overtones? It sounds rough, unsettled, and kind of curdled. That’s because the seventh degree is more than 31 cents sharper than the harmonic seventh. The harmonic seventh is what is found in nature and it produces a beatless chord when played with a root and a fifth. The FreeNote 12-Tone Ultra Plus gives me access to that note, in the form of what they call “F half-flat,” found at the new first fret. After struggling just a bit with the fingering, I hit the chord through a heavily distorted amp. What I heard was like a G7, but with no beating. It’s essentially a power chord, but it has a seventh in it. It’s a pretty amazing thing to experience. The FreeNote manual says that if you want to compare this chord to an equal tempered G7, just raise the F half-flat to an F (which is now at the second fret). All the clashy overtones reappeared and it just didn’t sound good. I played some D7, A7, and E7 chords in the manual and I really dug the consonance and stability of them. The sound seemed foreign at first but it was addictive, especially with tons of gain. Finding the proper voicings and fingerings took some getting used to – there are a lot of frets and some are pretty close together – but I found it worth the struggle. To be honest, a couple of the chords in the manual were too weird for my ears – strangely dissonant and not particularly musical – although I admit the sounds were intriguing. This guitar would not be my first choice on a four-set bar gig. Many of these new pitches and chords struck me as a little funky when played against equal-tempered guitars and pianos, although they sounded great with a bass holding down the bottom. And, obviously, any fretless instrument could play in tune with these notes. Some of the sounds I discovered are so evocative that I could absolutely see basing a movie soundtrack around them. It would be easy to say you’ve never heard anything like the FreeNote, but you have, because these intervals are all found in nature. And the next time you’re complaining that no one is doing anything new, remember the 12-Tone Ultra Plus.
Review of Willie McBlind’s debut release, Find My Way Back Home Downbeat Magazine January 2008 by Frank-John Hadley ***1/2 (three and a half stars) Maverick guitarist Jon Catler’s electric blues band project features his alternate-tuned microtonal music, the natural result of his fascinating use of the notes between the notes of standard tuning. Relying on his self-designed 64-tone “Just Intonation” and 12-tone “Ultra Plus” guitars, he illuminates a sweet-sour lyricism on the stunning track ‘Every Time’ and attains new, beautiful-sounding chords on 12-bar blues ‘Chicken.’ As an occasional singer, Catler’s affected yet lightly appealing nasality acts as a foil to Babe Borden’s fearless vocal flights. No tenderhorn or dilettante, the guitarist honed his creative instincts working with avant-gardist La Monte Young’s Forever Bad Blues Band.
Review of Willie McBlind’s debut release, Find My Way Back Home All Music Guide December 2007 by Alex Henderson When an artist has a name like Willie McBlind, one naturally assumes that the artist is a bluesman–and sure enough, blues-rock prevails on Find My Way Back Home. Willie McBlind, however, is not the name of a solo artist but rather, the name of a band; there isn’t an individual named Willie McBlind who performs on this album any more than there was an individual named Lynyrd Skynyrd (who performed on “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”) or an individual named Jethro Tull who recorded an album named Aqualung. But the “band with a name that sounds like a solo artist” gimmick isn’t the thing that makes Find My Way Back Home memorable; the thing that makes this 53-minute CD memorable is Willie McBlind’s intriguing sound. Led by singer/guitarist Jon Catler and singer Meredith “Babe” Borden, Willie McBlind favors an unorthodox style of psychedelic blues-rock that is surprisingly artsy and quirky. The person who does the most to make Find My Way Back Home unusual is Borden; while Catler favors a gruff, Howlin’ Wolf-ish vocal style that isn’t unusual for blues-rock, Borden often hits the high notes in a way that suggests experimental jazz singers such as Sheila Jordan, Barbara Sfraga and Judi Silvano rather than a traditional blues belter like Koko Taylor or Ruth Brown. Borden, in fact, would probably fit right in on a Jackie McLean tribute project. Nonetheless, Willie McBlind shows plenty of blues grit on an album that draws on influences ranging from Robert Johnson to John Lee Hooker to Jimi Hendrix. Willie McBlind has no problem being both rootsy and artsy on this promising disc, which is well worth exploring if one is seeking something fresh and unconventional from blues-rock. ~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide
Review of Willie McBlind’s debut release, Find My Way Back Home Rootstime www.rootstime.be October 2007 (English Translation from Dutch language) Willie McBlind is a blues band with a very special sound which is not meant for everybody in general, I mean the sound of their recordings is very, very special. Guitar player Jon Catler from New York is somebody who loves to experiment, as well as the singer Babe Borden. Both are supported by bass player Neville L’Green and drummer Lorne Watson. The tracks on this album are mainly inspired by delta blues songs, but they are performed in a surprising, new way. For singer Babe Borden it is easy to sing three octaves and her sound is more like the sound of Diamanda Galas than what we normally expect from a blues singer. They mention vocal acrobatics in their bio, and that is right, but you have to love it. Guitar player Jon Catler is special too. In the bio it is mentioned that he plays guitar in microtones and in “just intonation”. Microtones are 64 notes per octave and the just tonalities keep the balance between the notes with natural sounds. It seems that all sounds in nature have the same 64 sound scheme. Can you keep track… well, I don’t. But I have to say Catler’s guitar sounds special, but beautiful. The tracks are re-arrangements of songs of Son House, Howlin Wolf and also from Blind Willie Mc Tell and Blind Willie Johnson, which might have been the inspiration for the name of the band. It takes a little bit more time to get used to the song lines of Babe Borden, you have to think of her voice as an extra instrument because most of the time she doesn’t use her voice to sing text but to make long tones that wind around the guitar lines, then connects to the guitar sounds, and then sings in unison with the guitar, a good example is “Every Time”. In the beginning you really have to get used to this, you might be a little shocked at first, but I noticed after a little while that the style gets into your system. Willie McBlind takes old delta blues and gives it new injections. The sometimes alien guitars and vocals still have the traditional basic blues. If you look at “Pony Blues” from “Charly Patton”, it starts as country blues making a smooth transition into a country and western hoedown and then returning to the beginning sound. In “Fall” I like the sound of Catler’s guitar, because his style reminds me of Derek Trucks and he also plays very long sustains which would make Carlos Santana jealous. Also in “Every Time” the guitar sound is beautiful. Like I said before, you have to get used to the singing style of Babe Borden, but with the album “Find My Way Back Home” Willie McBlind delivers a new-sounding, special blues album for listeners who dare to take a risk and are a little tired of the ���13 in a dozen” standard 12 measure blues.
review of Willie McBlind’s debut CD, Find My Way Back Home For many, being a blues artist is a constant struggle between the desire to embrace a tradition while creating something truly original and modern. On their debut album, Find My Way Back Home , Willie McBlind takes this approach to a level that few artists in the blues realm have explored. The band, co-led by guitarist/vocalist Jon Catler and vocalist Babe Borden is a re-invention of the lost and little known tradition of the male/female blues duet tradition best exemplified by pre- World War artists such as Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell and their various accompanists. Willie McBlind also breaks the mold of the Western Twelve Tone Equal Tempered scale by using instruments based on Nature’s scale, a 64 note per octave musical system based on notes directly derived from the Harmonic Series. Catler’s compositions in this tuning system create a truly unique aural experience, introducing true consonances, microtonal variations, and magical cascading harmonic clouds. The album starts off with an instrumental, Chicken, that features a riff reminiscent of the 60’s organ trio classic, Back at the Chicken Shack and features Catler’s custom guitar, with its unique fretting system that features the aforementioned 64 note octave. The end of the tune introduces the magic of the tuning system with a long sustained chord that is both consonant and dissonant at the same time. Canonballer, is a take on a musical canon (a composition that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration) and features interchanging vocables and guitar lines. Catler and Borden alternate vocal verses on the slow blues grind of Find My Way which also features a haunting guitar solo and long sustained vocal choruses. Hope My Baby, the first of two boogie tracks on the recording, once again finds Catler and Borden exchanging vocal verses and features the 12 Tone Ultra Plus guitar, which is constructed in a way that has some of the notes from Nature’s Scale in combination with the normal western 12 Tone Equal Tempered Scale. Shallow Gray is a slow blues and features an extended “cloud section” during the solo break. Pony Blues , a Charley Patton number and the 6th track on the cd, starts out as a country blues and then morphs into an all out country western hoe down before winding back down. Train is a strait ahead blues rocker featuring my favorite Borden vocal performance of the ten songs. Fall features fretless guitar which is unaccompanied at the beginning and also featured in an extended 60’s psychedelic inflected solo during this heavy riff oriented tune. Every Time, another musical canon form, features haunting interplay between Catler’s guitar and Borden’s voice and an outstanding guitar solo break. Time Ain’t Long, the closer of the set, features an extended feedback drenched “cloud” section on the 12 Tone Ultra Plus before morphing into an anthematic blues rocker. I found this album a very enjoyable listen. While the tuning system is quite different than most western ears are accustomed to there’s a familiar feeling, like meeting a family member for the first time. The wide range of blues styles, along with the adventurous and oftentimes otherworldly guitar and vocals make this a transcending blues and musical experience.
Guitar Player / May 1996 by Neil Haverstick Two gifted players, Jon Catler and Dan Stearns, prove that microtonal guitar music can be just as ear-opening as the tuning systems themselves. Aside from playing slide or bending strings, you can’t render microtonal music (i.e., music based on tuning systems that divide the octave into more than 12 units) on a conventional fretboard. New York based Catler surmounts that problem, with the special interchangeable fingerboards of his Schecter Strat copy. A respected figure in the small but vocal microtonal community, Catler has worked in 19-, 24-, and 31-tone equal temperaments and in a just-intonated system of 49 notes per octave. (The two most common microtonal options are equal temperament, in which all the notes are equidistant as in our familiar 12-semitones-per-octave system, and just intonation, in which the notes correspond to the intervals of the harmonic series, resulting in pitches that are not equally spaced.) Why does Catler need all those notes? “I’m just trying to express what I feel,” he states, “and human emotions can be expressed much more deeply with microtones.” Catler is undeniably expressive. From the 31-tone country-rock of “Cowpeople” to the just-intonated fretless funk of “Human,” he extrapolates the Page/Beck/Hendrix school into a futuristic world of endless possibilities. Would Catler ever go back to 12 tones? “That would be like putting training wheels on a Harley,” he laughs. “It would be equivalent to a 12-tone player having to use only four notes.” John Catler’s music – including the terrific The Catler Brothers album – is available from FreeNote Records (2350 Broadway #240, New York, NY 10024).
Internet Review Volume III November 1996 by Bruce Gallanter The CATLER BROTHERS – Crash Landing (FreeNote) Lead guitarist Jon Catler & brother Brad on el. bass, have been exploring & refining their distinct use of microtonality for over a decade. First with JC & the Microtones (old lp now out-of-print) and currently featured in La Monte Young’s Forever Blues Band (3 hour sets at present). This is their first release on their own label, which hopes to put out microtonal music only in the future. The drummer of this jazz power trio is Jonathan Kane (also in La Monte’s unit, Gary Lucas’ Gods & Monsters, previously w/Rhys Chatham). This cd seems to me to be an extension of the very 1st Pat Metheny trio effort. A perfectly balanced trio, with an Ornette tune thrown in for good measure. Although Jon has a mostly clean warm jazzlike tone, he lets the rhythm team lock in the groove, while he swirls around the stratosphere, spewing swarms of buzzing notes like bees surrounding their hive. Both bros. have custom made axes (designed by themselves) to get 49 notes to their scale. What this means to non-musicians like myself is they often select notes that fall between the notes most other guitarists are accustomed to. Both brothers are perfect foils for one another, constantly swirling in and around each others terrain. Most of these tunes are moderate tempo jazz tunes, yet what stands out is when they slow it down to an eerie bass throb groove, Jon slides his fingers around the neck, so suspensefully like slide guru Dave Tronzo. Guitar freaks, this is a must have, so order yours today.
The review of Jazz & Blues: Creative Music Vol. 23, No. 1, January 1997 A glance at the picture that adorns the back of The CATLER BROS. CD, CRASH LANDING (FreeNote 2001), and one might mistake this package as a Stevie Ray Vaughan release. The Bros., Jon (fretless el g, Just Intonation el g) and Brad (fretless el b) in conjunction with drummers Jonathan Kane and Virgil Morehead (on *), have created a fascinating sound. There is a little note in the bottom right-hand comer of the back cover that reads “All songs composed and performed in 49 notes per octave just intonation tuning.” The music sounds like a hybrid of Ornette’s harmolodic theory, bebop, urban blues, and Jimi Hendrix (I know that sounds deeply strange – trust me). The ten cuts (Crash Landing/ Wood Pecker/ Minor Bird*/ Burning Monk’s Waltz/ The Prowler/ Hyperspace/ Spiritual Brother/ Nothin’Left To You/ Coop/ Free – 45:29) are loaded with slurred guitar lines, swooping bass notes, and propulsive drumming. Jon Catler sounds as if he uses a slide to create the liquid notes but I’m not really sure. The title song has a part where the guitar and bass create a sound not unlike tolling bells. His rhythm work on “The Prowler” is filled with fast, choppy chords a la Hendrix. “Hyperspace” does bring the late Vaughan to mind, especially on the rhythm track. Brother Brad is a fine electric bassist, quite melodic as he moves through the registers (his high notes really sing while the low ones boom). Both drummers kick really hard – if you like your music loud, this disc is a wall-shaker. All the songs, with the exception of Ornette Coleman’s “Free” that closes the disc, were written by Jon. I really enjoy the energy of this material and the spirit of puffing their concept right in the face of the listener (through the use of extreme volume). Looking for fusion that really is a step above the usual “crank and wank,” CRASH LANDING should satisfy inquisitive and adventurous minds.
Microtonal Maniac Inside Jon Catler’s Weird Harmonic Universe Guitar Shop March 1997 by Lisa Sharken Jon Catler is not your typical progressive jazz guitarist. While most players are still trying to master standard 12-tone guitar (i.e., 12 tones per octave), Catler has excelled in microtonal music, becoming the foremost exponent of that guitar style today. In microtonal music, octaves are subdivided into more than 12 tones. “In 12-tone, you can play leads and bend notes however you want, but the notes and chords I want to hear are not on the 12-tone,” he says, “They go way beyond that.” So does his gear. Catler’s main axe is a Schecter Strat from the early ’80s with interchangeable fingerboards. He has four fingerboards, but primarily uses a complex 49-tone fingerboard he designed himself and a stainless-steel fretless fingerboard. His 49- tone “just intonation” tuning system (yes, that’s 49 notes per octave), is derived from the natural overtone series. “My tonal center is A 426.7 Hz, not 440 Hz, which makes B perfectly in tune with 60 cycles,” explains the mathematically gifted guitarist. “Most guitar players are constantly fighting 60-cycle hum, and it’s canceling anything they play because it’s not remotely connected to any other note. We make the B the hum, so it’s compatible and doesn’t conflict with other notes in the chord. On a 12-tone guitar tuned at 440 Hz, the hum is a slightly sharp Bb, so it’s in between the notes and not reinforcing anything.” Catler’s other fingerboards are a quarter- tone fingerboard with 24 notes per octave and a 31-tone, which are both equal- tempered. His guitar is loaded with the stock Schecter Monster Tone pickups, and he prefers to play in stereo, using MESA/Boogie amplifiers and a variety of Roger Mayer distortion boxes to add higher harmonics. He also uses t.c. Electronic Chorus and Sustainer pedals. Catler became intrigued by microtonal music in 1978, after reading an article about Ivor Darreg, who was pictured holding a guitar with 22 frets per octave. Catler, then a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, called him to get more information. Darreg referred him to another player named Tillman Schafer, who lived fairly close to Catler and had a 31 -tone guitar he was interested in selling. “The guy who built it was a mathematician, but couldn’t play a C chord on it,” laughs Catler. “When I got it home, tuned it, and figured out a harmonic 7th chord, my life changed. When you stand in front the guitar amp and feed back on an A note, you get all those notes, but they’re just not on a regular fretted guitar neck. They were on this guitar neck.” Microtonality occurs commonly in Eastern music, but people in the Western Hemisphere are not as accustomed to hearing those “in-between” pitches. In fact, the first time many people listen to the Catler Brothers’ new Crash Landing CD (FreeNote Records, 2350 Broadway, Suite 240, New York, NY 10024), they may think that Jon is playing out of tune. Similar things were said about musicians John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, until people understood that these were the microtonal pitches they were striving to express. While both saxophonists were huge influences on Catler’s style, he also admires the styles of several guitarists, including Hendrix, Beck, and Albert King, all of whose influences are apparent in his own playing. “Guitar players are used to hearing those microtones, especially pedal-steel players, who tune to pure intervals, not absolute pitches,” says Catler. “Hendrix was the most micro-tonal guitarist, with all the whammy bar stuff. He took a lot from Albert King. And listen to Muddy Waters; at one point they used to call him ‘Mr. Micro-tone,’ especially on that record he did with Johnny Winter.” Still, Catler’s most significant inspiration is Harry Partch, who built his own instruments, devised his own tuning system, and wrote Genesis Of A Music, the book from which Catler bases his tuning. “There is a simplicity and a beauty when you get into deep mathematics,” believes Catler. “I think it’s that way with tuning, as well. You can study the overtone series your whole life and never understand a fraction of it. It’s an infinite thing that’s as deep as you want to look into it.”
A Whole New Way of Listening to Music News of Note, April 20, 1997 Special to the Bradfor Newspaper Group Music Reviews by Gerald Laurence Immedia Wire Service On “Crash Landing,”guitarist Jon Catler retunes to completely redefine jazz-rock fusion. Changing the way the world listens to rock, jazz and fusion music is no small task, yet that appears to be the goal of lead guitarist Jon Catler, who com- poses and performs in what is known as Just Intonation, a form of microtonal music using 49 notes per octave instead of the standard twelve tone scale. Playing a guitar with a customized fretboard (reproduced on the CD’s inner. sleeve), Catler weaves a magical soundscape through the ten tracks on The Catler Bros.’ “Crash Landing.” Catler has some impressive support from his brother Brad, who plays fretless bass in a punchy growl that is consistently delightful, as well as the tastefully cooking jazz drummer Jonathan Kane. This rhythm section is so assured and inventive that either man could lead his own group were they not so dedicated to fitting their work into the overall structure of Jon Catler’s songs (nine are originals, and the album concludes with a percolating version of “Free” by Ornette Coleman). Guitarists, let’s get technical for a minute. The tonal center of almost all Western music is a note that oscillates at 440 Hz. Alternative and metal bands frequently de-tune some of their strings to produce a different sound to their albums, and in the pop world, Joni Mitchell is one of the most frequent de-tuners around. Catler goes them all one better. He doesn’t just de-tune, he re-tunes. He completely transmogrifies the entire sonic picture’, starting with a tonal center note that oscillates at 426.7 Hz. which happens to put his B note exactly in tune with the 60-cycle hum that often annoys listeners of amplified music. Think what that means — with Catler’s tuning, the 60-cycle hum gets used as part of the musical output of his amp! Catler’s 49 notes in each octave also have mathematically-precise intervals, something he’s been working with since 1978. The songs are all instrumentals, ranging from cool (the title track) to bouncing (“Minor Bird”) to fiery (“Wood Pecker”). “Burning Monk’s Waltz” explores some free jazz possibilities in Just Intonation. “The Prowler,” in which Jon makes his guitar sound like a synthesizer on amphetamines, gives a tantalizing hint of what rock and roll might sound like with this tuning. The seven-minute-forty-eight second “Spiritual Brother” begins quietly, but with a throbbing, ominous undercurrent of mystery. The boys slowly build on the opening of the song, eventually touching every jagged angle of the song until, by the track’s conclusion, they’re smashing out crescendos of stunning power and excitement. So impressive is Jon Catler’s chording and note selection that it only takes a shocked moment of listening before everything he plays makes sonic sense and you find yourself questioning all that you’ve ever learned about music. Then, when the 45 minutes of superb jazz-rock fusion fades out, you put on another CD or flick on the radio and realize that all these re-tuned de-tuned micro-tuned and regular-tuned songs can slip easily into your ears; however, after hearing The Catler Bros., you’ll listen differently, and with more enjoyment of what every musician does.
Birdhouse FreeNote Juxtapostion Ezine They’re the hardest working microtonal band in New York City. Compositions based on birdsongs with an art song/rock/jazzy/world music vibe. Just intonation-fretless guitarist Jon Catler (La Monte Young’s Forever Bad Blues Band) and vocalist Meredeth Borden map out the territory with percussionist/bassist Brad Catler (tablas, dumbek, percussion & bells-on-toes – no kidding!). Cameos by flautist Andrew Bolotowsky and drummer Jonathan Kane (also AFMM & FBBB). Everyone here is an alumni of the American Festival of Microtonal Music in NYC. I’ve heard this band quite a few times over the past two years and it’s real nice to have a perfect document of this period in the bands history – I love it! Guitarist Catler shows the influence of mentor La Monte Young in microtonal clouds creating sum and difference tones that sound like choirs and Borden’s birdsongs are a pleasure to ear. I’m so impressed with her range. Microtonal music that has melodies: imagine that. Even better – get your paws on a copy now. David Beardsley 11/11/1998
A Whole New Way of Listening to Music SPOTLIGHT SECTION: Borders: Music from around the world January 10, 1999 By Peter Spencer Star Ledger Staff “Birdhouse” (Freenote) ***1/2 (3 1/2 stars) The Hoboken based duo Birdhouse uses Jon Catler’s Just Intonation guitars and Meredith Borden’s precise, percussive soprano to make music by turns comic, startling, peculiar and deeply moving, drawing on Borden’s study of bird song and Catler’s facility with his oddly tuned instruments. The system know as Just Intonation subdivides an octave into as many as 49 separate notes. With most tracks using only one or two guitars and Borden’s voice, this could be a recipe for disaster. But Catler’s fine hand technique and sensitive ear for overtones keepshis guitars from sounding merely out of tune. Catler’s shifting harmonies do have their clangorous moments, and in these there is a subtle humor that is a large part of Birdhouse’s charm. “Baltimore Blues,” for instance, adopts clichéd Muddy Waters-style stop-time riffs that never quite settle intoa key. “Hoboken Bird” uses the same sliding harmonics to reinvent heavymetal, complete with bass and drums just this once. Borden sounds a little over-refined on these excursions, as if she were trying to be a good sport. But in herown some what less funky element, like the droning “Bird of Pray” or “Summons of the Birds” she is a riveting performer.
Frank Roszak Promotions: KCOR – ROXY PERRY – JUNE 2012 (Sittin’ in the Train Station) KTUH (Hawaii) – STEVE STODDARD (Something Blue) – JUNE/JULY 2012 (Live Long Day/Love in Vain) WSND (Indiana) – DAVE ELKINS – JUNE 2012 (Love in Vain) KTEP (Texas) – NORMA MARTINEZ (Friday Night Blues) – JUNE 2012 (Sittin’ in the Train Station) KMECRADIO.ORG (California) – LES TARR (Eight to the Bar with Tarr) – JULY 2012 WILDMAN STEVE RADIO (Alabama) – WILDMAN STEVE – JULY/AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2012 (One Thing) WXCI (Connecticut) – ROB MARKHAM (Shout, Brother, Shout!) – JULY 2012 WDPS (Ohio) – MIKE REISZ (Blues All Over the Place) – JULY 2012 (One Thing) WUXC (Michigan) – Trish Lewis (Electric Chair) – JULY 2012 (Love in Vain, Sittin’ in the Train Station) KCR RADIO (California) – RICK KEYES (The Music Caravan) – JULY 2012 (Boogie Train, Love in Vain) WAER (NY) – DUANE COUGHENOUR – JULY 2012 (Live Long Day) KMHD RADIO (Oregon) – TOM ADDIS (Blues Palace) – JULY 2012 (Down the Road) WCVF-FM (NY) – Tom Bingham (General Eclectic) – JULY 2012 (Live Long Day) KMXT (Alaska) – Fred Hawley (Rollin’ With the Blues) – JULY 2012 (Sittin’ in the Train Station) WUCF (Florida) – Tommy Thompson (Smokestack Lightnin’) – JULY 2012 WCMU (Michigan) – Robert Barclay (The Juke Joint) – AUGUST 2012 (Sittin’ in the Train Station) KAOS RADIO (Washington) – Jerry Drummond (Blues For Breakfast) – AUGUST (Love In Vain) WMNF (Florida) – Larry Lisk (Mo’ Blues on Monday) – JULY 2012 (Live Long Day)