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12 February 2013


Anyone remotely interested in the Devil's music will know from whence the blues comes. That's right, it's from middle-class 40-somethings who, having given up trying to be rock stars in their 20s, persist in taking to the stage at local bars to keep their hands in should a long overdue call arrive.

Armed only with three, maybe four chords, a handful of pentatonic licks and as gravelly a voice as can be coaxed from a throat that gave up smoking stogies when the kids arrived, today's blues artist howls in grief at falling victim to the wage-slave trade. Or that their baby done left them. Or they've had too many babies which are lately demanding the latest consoles and mobiles. OK, so the story of the blues is rather more involved, taking in tell of hideous inhumanity and the music that helped sustain those crushed by the free market. But for all the horrific backstory and depressive outlook, it's still a pretty popular genre. Blues acolytes, while not as cataclysmically morose as country artists, have good reason to be fed up.

They've accepted loss of liberty and the fierce lash of the paymaster; the real downer is that many in the modern era will never be authentic. They're not old enough, or of the wrong heritage, or are insufficiently hard up. However, as with people, shades of authenticity can be bought and here's a blue-hued comestible in the shape of Toontrack's latest EZdrummer expansion, The Blues EZX.

Announced this very day (UK distrib Time+Space slipped a copy to MuzoBlog last week, hence the timing of this piece - thanks T&S), The Blues EZX presents two olde kits and other bits.

We've hits captured from a 1970s' Gretsch kit, plus a calf-skinned Swedish Levin kit from the '40s. So the hardware's already looking authentic, never mind vintage A and K-series Zildjian cymbals, supplemented with modern Paiste and Sabian metal.

A pair of Grover calf-skinned tambourines would round things off, but for the inclusion of that most authentic of blues percussion pieces, a suitcase. Specs on suitcase model and make are not given, but you'd hope it's been hauled on and off railroad wagons and similar transports while steering through life travelling steerage.

To the cut-sheet: "The end result is a cross-pollination between new and old; warm and characteristic sounds that cover the whole range, from old school to modern, from dry to ambient. This is the sound of then, now and time to come." Crikey. We'd better relax with a video overview while taking in the ramifications…

The main man in The Blues EZX is drummer Hans Lindbäck, he behind Toontrack's Blues MIDI product, sold separately. Discover more about how he helped pull the project together in this interview. His output, prepped for retail, ships with a plethora of MIDI performances and, if familiar with EZdrummer, you'll be ready for a library filed in folders for hats-closed, hats-open, cymbals, breaks, fills and endings. Familiar or not, however, you'd do well to check you're using the very latest EZdrummer 1.3.2 released last November (along with matching Cocktail EZX update) before installing.

Also, even on this day of launch, there's library update 1.0.2 for The Blues EZX awaiting download - they don't hang about at Toontrack Towers. With updates in place, what have we? Not brushes, that's what. The taps and scrapes of wire beaters are absent from this collection, which is a shame considering their widespread appearance in laid-back blues' stylings. However, it comes as no great surprise because their inclusion would near double the size of both the audio and MIDI clip collections.

Perhaps we'll see a brush-based blues offering in EZX form in the future, but for now the two kits and other knick-knacks still offer much. As you'd expect, the skinned hits are non-aggressive and have much middle and 'boong' (not a phrase one writes every day).

Sure, you can warp things beyond reason with EQ, but straight out of the box, the beats and fills slot right into restrained arrangements. As ever with EZplayer, there's scope to customise ambience to the shape of whatever space is occupied by the rest of the instruments, but the keys to success are to have quality untreated captures at the library's core and human-sounding MIDI performances to trigger them. To these ears, The Blues EZX delivers both. Here it is in action...

As to how you deploy this EZX, whether for blues revival (if, indeed, it's in need of revival), or to supply percussion backing for other genres demanding natural timbre, there's subtlety to suit. Look elsewhere for rock thunder, dance-friendly punch and the more esoteric. Like a Sunday-night blues combo, The Blues EZX is straight down the line. Hear how the kits come across while driving an octet of bluesy tunes…

Got the idea? One could get bored seeing how Toontrack has, once again, hit the nail on the head. But then, with a percussion engine as slick as EZdrummer, severe brain-fade would have to set in at HQ to mess up. I'll not sink to saying that The Blues EZX does exactly what it says on the tin because it doesn't come in a tin.

The product arrives in a cardboard box, or via download as is the case with the related MIDI files, available separately. Let's just say that if they were tinned, they'd still be fresh. And such is their authenticity, they'd not be phresh, or however it is that youngsters bastardise the word these days.