Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tyrone Davis and Little Milton

Tyrone quit comin' back.
Milton's blues have ended.

Among 2005's most notable losses are Tyrone Davis and Little Milton. Davis will be forever associated with his incomparable hits "Turn Back the Hands of Time" and "Can I Change My Mind." Little Milton's career spanned fifty years- he signed to Sun Records in 1953. He had a string of hits for Checker in the '60s, including the classic "Grits Ain't Groceries." Both men continued to record up to the end, primarily catering to their faithful following in the contemporary soul-blues market. Davis' seduction song is from a 2000 Bellmark release. Milton's number is from 1992's Strugglin' Lady on Malaco.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vassar Clements- Greensleeves

The Music Is Over

Fiddler Vassar Clements played with a startlingly wide range of musicians, from Bill Monroe to the Rolling Stones, before his death in August. While he's best known for his bluegrass work, I've always been partial to his jazz recordings. Vassar called this music "hillbilly jazz." In this loose 1993 session he works out a timeless tune with guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

R.L. Burnside- Death Bell Blues

The Bell Rings No More

Who could have predicted that a new generation of musicians, ranging from jam-friendly The North Mississippi Allstars to Ohio primitives The Black Keys, would be influenced by R.L. Burnside? His raw sound was first documented in the late '60s, but it wasn't until Fat Possum began recording Burnside in the early '90s that he found a substantial audience. What's next- Japanese electronica based on the acoustic blues of Lightnin' Hopkins? Let's hope so. Burnside died on September 1.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Long John Baldry- Flying

The MP3 Flew Away

Not unlike British bandleader John Mayall, Baldry is best known for featuring young talent that would later find fame and fortune. The biggest veteran of Baldry's "school of blues" is Rod Stewart. Here, Baldry covers the exceptional Stewart, Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Wood song "Flying." Baldry died earlier this year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Little Hatch- We're Gonna Have a Ball

The Union Hall Is Closed

Little Hatch was Kansas City's favorite bluesman for several years. Closely associated with The Grand Emporium, he fronted the club's house band. A small, animated man, Hatch played Little Walter-inspired harmonica. His band, The Houserockers, featured the exceptional guitar work of Bill Dye. This selection, recorded at the Grand Emporium in 1992, is vintage Hatch. He died in 2003.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Rod Price- Got Love If You Want It

Rod's Song Is Gone

Back in the dark days of the '70s, Foghat was a staple in the rock world. "Slow Ride," "Fool For the City," and their cover of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You" were omnipresent. It's easy to snicker now, but trust me- the unpretentious blooze of Foghat was far preferable to most rock fare on the FM band. Foghat guitarist Rod Price made a couple fine solo albums in recent years. He died after falling down a stairway in his home on March 22. This is an instrumental version of the Slim Harpo shuffle.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Joe "King" Carrasco- Get Off

Get Off Has Gone Away

Oh, the fun we had dancing to this Texan 25 years ago! Even though Joe "King" Carrasco's sound is intentionally absurd "96 Tears"-derived frat rock, he was still considered a subversive "new wave" artist during that regimented era. Carrasco's manic live performances were inspired by the antics of James Brown. He and his band expertly worked their bacchanalian fans into a frenzy. Because it seems almost completely forgotten outside his home state, I had planned to make a case for reviving Carrasco's most excellent party music. Alas, the tinny sound on this major label compilation fails to capture Carrasco's glorious energy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Soul Asylum- Nice Guys (Don't Get Paid)

The nice guys are gone.

A lifetime before "Runaway Train," Twin/Tone recording artists Soul Asylum were just another great bar band. Booze would flow, and by the end of the night, most everyone on and off the stage was sloppy. Soul Asylum would fall back on absurd covers of metal standards and AM radio fare. This song from the out-of-print And the Horse They Rode In On hints at those days. Karl Mueller, Soul Asylum bassist and songwriter, died in June

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Percy Heath- Watergate Blues

Watergate is over.

After a wonderful career that spanned seven decades, Percy Heath died on April 28, 2005. The bassist will always be associated with the Modern Jazz Quartet and with his musical brothers, Jimmy and Albert. This modest album from 2004, improbably his first solo effort, is his swan song. This selection showcases his skills as a soloist and his impeccable taste.

Monday, December 19, 2005

David Basse- Gauloise Blue (Smokin' the Night Away)

No more smoking in here.

Although a handful of the hundreds of professional jazz musicians in Kansas City may be more gifted than David Basse, none are more savvy. Basse runs a record label, works as a jazz DJ for one radio station and provides a jazz calendar for another, and juggles a booking agency, all while maintaining a high-profile performance schedule throughout the last twenty years. Basse's great ear extends beyond traditional jazz, as evidenced by this Tom Waits-style ballad. The 1999 date features Mike Melvoin on piano, John Heard on bass, John Guerin on drums and Herman Riley on sax, who really makes the song with his noirish solo.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Best Albums, Songs and Shows of 2005

Faith Evans is gone.

2005 may not have been the greatest year in the history of popular music, but it was undoubtedly the best year ever for its fans. Satellite radio, music subscription services, MySpace, PureVolume, Yahoo’s Launch, MP3 blogs, podcasts and countless other new channels provided more music at lower costs than ever before. The new challenge isn’t uncovering the great music- it’s dedicating enough time to the music you love once you find it, given the endless options available at your fingertips. I hope this site helps.

My Favorite CDs of 2005

1. The Hold Steady- Separation Sunday
The Hold Steady meld two of my seemingly incongruous musical obsessions, Bruce Springsteen and Husker Du, to create the album of the year.
2. Bettye LaVette- I've Got My Own Hell To Raise
Just like in a fairytale, the obscure soul belter returns to make the best music of her career.
3. The White Stripes- Get Behind Me Satan
This classic rock throwback is why albums will survive the Ipod age.
4. Marty Stuart- Souls' Chapel
Now that Johnny Cash is gone, Marty steps up with rugged gospel that Johnny would admire.
5. OK Jones- Push/Pull
Forget "best local" release- this rootsy, rocking CD is one of the year’s best in any category.
6. Various- Run the Road
Grime, a recent British derivation of hip hop, is always icy, often scary, and occasionally hilarious.
7. Kanye West- Late Registration
Sure, he’s insufferable. But as he’s quick to point out, he backs it up with musical genius.
8. Los Super 7- Heard It On the X
Roadhouse heaven- Calexico and Delbert McClinton areonly two members in this big tent.
9. Faith Evans- The First Lady
If LaVette made a classic old-school soul album, Faith provided an up-to-date version. The MP3 is proof.
10. The National- Alligator Lloyd Cole did all this twenty years ago with another reptile, Rattlesnakes, but the Ohio outfit does dark angst equally well.

My Favorite Singles of 2005
I don’t understand how some people can make these lists only to ignore the songs that unite us. I treasure knowing that when I hear Fall Out Boy’s Sugar, We’re Going Down or Kanye West's Gold Digger somewhere- anywhere- years from now, I’ll have an immediate bond with the people who surround me. And those great songs didn’t even make my list. So, here are ten stunning hit songs, or would-be hit songs, that received video rotation and/or commercial radio support.

1. Metric- Monster Hospital
The very definition of rock’n’roll, Monster Hospital is a desperate, angry protest of war. It’s also incredibly sexy.
2. Mike Jones- Back Then
What a thrill to hear the chopped-and-screwed sound of Houston’s late DJ Screw rule radio. And you have to love Mike Jones. Who? Mike Jones!
3. M.I.A.- Galang
I suspect- and deeply hope- that pop music of the new millenium will be filled with international clashes from the likes of M.I.A.
4. Gwen Stefani- Hollaback Girl
B-A-N-A-N-A-S, indeed. Gwen, or should I say, Pharrell, is utterly original.
5. Hollertonix- Tippin' Toxic
With all the remixes flooding the market, it’s hard to keep up with what’s legit and what’s not. Either way, this mash-up of Britney, Paul Wall and Mike Jones is a blast.
6. Green Day- Wake Me Up When September Ends
You wanna feel this song? Watch a group of kids light up when it comes on. It’s Hey Jude for the 7 to17-year-old set.
7. Gorillaz- Feel Good Inc.
Clearly the biggest song of the year, it deserves its stature.
8. Kaiser Chiefs- I Predict a Riot
In the year of the riot, this anthem kept burning.
9. Kanye West- Heard 'Em Say
I chose this wrenching song only because I’m tired of explaining the lyrical content of Gold Digger to children.
10. Young Jeezy- Go Crazy
I’m deeply troubled that this glorification of drug slinging means so much to me.

My Favorite Shows of 2005

1. The Hold Steady- Jackpot Saloon
The Hold Steady almost killed me.
2. The Architects- All over town
Kansas City’s best rock band will wreak Revenge in February 2006.
3. Bettye LaVette- The Hurricane
She made me cry. Three times.
4. Trio Mediaeval- The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Heaven must sound like this Nordic vocal trio.
5. Ian McLagan- Davey’s Uptown
The former-Face grinned his way through a joyous set of pub rock. Ooh La La.
6. Chick Willis- The Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival
It’s almost unbearably hot at his gritty annual festival. Even so, Willis had ‘em dancing.
7. The Wild Women of Kansas City- All over town
I’ve seen her schtick dozens of times, but I still marvel at Myra Taylor’s gumption. The three other gals aren’t slackers, either.
8. Lee McBee- BB’s Lawnside BarB-Q
One of Kansas City’s best secrets, McBee’s blues mojo can conjure Little Walter.
9. The Tarbox Ramblers- Mike’s Tavern
The mysterious roots men from Boston finally dust Kansas City’s broom.
10. The National- The Record Bar
Not since One Block West in the 70s has Kansas City had a premier rock club like the Record Bar. The National took advantage of the new venue’s excellent sound and lighting.

Jimmy Smith- Blue Bash

The party's over.

The quintessential organ man died at 76 this year. Pondering all the highballs and tobacco consumed while Jimmy Smith was in the house makes me woozy. That's Kenny Burrell on guitar, Vince Gambella on bass and Mel Lewis on drums from a 1963 session. This cheesy 1987 compilation was one of my first CD purchases. It's out of print now, and even though plenty of deluxe reissues of original albums are currently available at midline prices, dealers are asking $30.00 for this title. Go figure.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Black- JB Lenoir Street

The MP3 has gone black.

The Black remind me of Camper Van Beethoven. Like Camper, they're a smart, experimental rock band that never forgets to drag catchy hooks and melodies along for the ride. And they have great taste- Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Rubber Soul are reference points. JB Lenoir Street, perhaps the least pop-oriented song on Tanglewood, clearly smacks of Blonde On Blonde. Roots aside, I understand that The Black travels in the same circles as fellow Austin, TX, residents And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Knife In the Water. Tanglewood is available at Insound, and The Black has three songs posted at MySpace. Incidentally, The Black was kind enough to send me Tanglewood for use at this site. Contact me if you'd like to follow their lead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown- I Hate These Doggone Blues

The Gate is gone.

When Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown passed away in September, a big chunk of the "old, weird America" died with him. He was a contrary man- I witnessed him verbally abuse his band, sell tobacco out of his merch booth, and play country and jazz in clubs filled with confused patrons who just wanted to get drunk and dance to the "blooze." This song is a fine example of his perverse humor. It also showcases his stunning instrumental virtuosity. And I love his exhortation to the sax player, "Take your time and paralyze me!" (This is the first in a series of posts I intend to make in tribute to great musicians who left us in 2005 .)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Claude "Fiddler" Williams- These Foolish Things

The fiddlin' is gone.

I've experienced few things as life-affirming as witnessing Claude Fiddler Williams light up a stage in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Kansas City resident was 96 when he died in 2004. The elderly Williams was a slight, frail man, but his countenance transformed when his bow touched a violin. It was impossible not to smile as he played. He first recorded in 1928 and joined the Basie Orchestra in the late ‘30s before slipping into relative obscurity. This live song is pulled from a hopelessly rare CD released on a German budget label. The Europeans accompanying him are fine but are incapable of inspiring Williams to his best work. Of his dates as a leader, I suggest starting with the two Arhoolies or the Bullseye session. William’s work with pianist Jay McShann is also a joy. (Song is 6:53)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dead Meadow- Good Moanin'

All that's left is silence.

Slow and heavy. Good Moanin' is like Hendrix stripped of nuance and craft. Only the nasal vocals humanize the onslaught. Dead Meadow released this sludge in 2002, before signing to Matador.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shirley Collins- Omie Wise

Omie Wise left town.

The excellent You Ain’t No Picasso site reports that Colin Meloy of the Decemberists plans to issue an EP of Shirley Collins covers in January. It sounds plausible to me. Collins, a British folk singer, worked with American folklorist Alan Lomax in the 1950s. Her 1959 release, Sweet England, includes traditional songs like the murder ballad Omie Wise. Let’s hope Meloy brings much-deserved attention to this fine artist, and to the songs she loved.

Juan Luis Guerra- El Farolito

The good times are over for this one.

El Farolito is a dizzying maelstorm of accordian, saxophone, percussion and weird vocal effects. The soukous-influenced song is found on the Dominican star's incredible 1995 release Fogarate.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Jellydots- I'm Not Ugly

Sorry, this perfect little ditty is gone.

Nyah, nyah, nyah. I'm not listening to your mean, snarky comments. The Jellydots are cool beans. Yes, this is ostensibly children's music, but I love it. Imagine Elliott Smith jamming with Mr. Rogers at a heavenly hootenanny. I bought this homemade disc directly from the artist. Shame on you if you don't like it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Charles Brown- I Want To Go Home

The MP3 went home.

Elvis Costello plans to reclaim I Wonder How She Knows during his American tour in early 2006. He gave the song to Charles Brown for his 1992 Someone To Love CD. It's typical Costello- wry, witty and melodic. But since I'm contrary, I'm highlighting I Want To Go Home, a mournful blues also found on the second release of Brown's early 90s career revitalization. All his Bullseye discs are wonderul; the subsequentVerve recordings are less consistent. Brown's twilight recordings featured the excellent band heard to good effect here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

KLT- The Wow Song

Wow, it's gone already. Sorry.

If he were to hear The Wow Song today, Prince might wonder why he didn't release it as a single during his psychedelic pop phase in 1992. But KLT isn't one of Prince's pseudonymns; it's actually an alias of Kansas City-area musician Kenny Carter. Carter's eclectism and musical ambition may have contributed to his inability to find commerical success commensurate with his talent. His music straddles many genres, including funk, rock, Christian, and hip hop (he's part of the Trump Dawgs crew). Butch is a song-cycle about a superhero (that's why the first few seconds of The Wow Song sound funny).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Suffrajett- The Drugs

Sorry, you missed the rock.

I finally got around to listening to Morningwood, the buzz band that's been making waves this year. Their horrendous name doesn't prevent me from getting behind their girl-fronted trash-pop sound. Morningwood fans shouldn't miss out on Suffrajett, a rawer, tougher act mining the same general vein of sugary sleaze. Four new Suffrajett songs are available for download at their MySpace account. The Drugs comes from their excellent 2003 release. (And yes, that's the official art.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dusty Springfield- I Believe In You

Dusty is gone. Buy the CD.

Dusty In Memphis is rightfully celebrated as a brilliant crossover record. A Brand New Me, the British star's 1969 followup recorded with Gamble and Huff in Philadelphia, isn't quite as good. Yet it's filled with convincing, sweet soul music and doesn't deserve its lowly status. It even seems to be out of print. I Believe In You is a non-album single from those sessions.