Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Soulcrate Music's The Heartland Panic

Sixty-second promotional video for The Heartland Panic

I didn't think they had it in them.

Having seen Soulcrate Music perform several times, I had the hip hop group pegged as inspired amateurs, long on enthusiasm but short on talent.

The Heartland Panic, however, represents a huge step forward. Honestly, I didn't think Soulcrate Music was capable of producing an album this solid. It's shockingly good. Even their most devoted fans- the ones who drive the 500 hundred miles from Soulcrate Music's base in Sioux Falls to see them play in Kansas City- must be secretly surprised.

The act shares the same general musical sensibility as labelmate Mac Lethal. But where Mac is misanthropic, Soulcrate Music shrug their collective shoulders and smile. The sibling MCs come across as an updated, Midwestern version of Run-DMC. That makes DJ Absolute their Jam-Master Jay. Songs like "Let It Shine" exude the old-school good times of '80s hip hop.

It's not as if the three men in Soulcrate Music are trying to be something they're not. They wholeheartedly embrace their Midwestern roots. So even as they rap over funk samples on "Clouds In My Head" and "Keep Hope Dead," it's still obvious that they're melanin-challenged dudes from the Dakotas.

They make no claims, thankfully, to be hip hop purists. Not unlike P.O.S., they mash up electro and punk on "Electric Heavy Glow." "Think About Me" brings the solo work of Rancid's Tim Armstrong to mind. And "Sleep Awake" would slip comfortably between the Cure and Passion Pit on an alternative rock playlist.

The Heartland Panic is the sound of guys headed to an epic party.

I call shotgun.

A friend recently mocked my predisposition to love everything issued by the ECM label. It's true. A video documenting a recent performance by the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble buckles my knees.

I not sure which version of 72 Musicians I'm going to download.

It's so nice to hear this Sarah Buxton song on a local terrestrial radio station. The operative word is "cute." The Kansas girl recently spoke with Tim Finn.

The new video from There Stands the Glass favorites Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is a cover of "White Rabbit." It's the final track of the Almost Alice soundtrack. The band's next album streets June 8.

I'm looking forward to reading the Mac Lethal interview in the forthcoming issue of Demencha magazine.

Kansas City Click: Ron Ron and J. Stalin are among the hip hop elite performing Thursday at America's Pub.

Country fans will "Get Off On the Pain" with Gary Allan Friday at the VooDoo Lounge.

Dave Frishberg visits the Folly Theater on Saturday.

Dropkick Murphys play the Beaumont Club on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Brother Theotis Taylor- Somebody's Gone

Gone for real.

Given my compulsion to note the deaths of musicians at There Stands the Glass, Brother Theotis Taylor's "Somebody's Gone" could serve as the accidental theme song of this site. The unflinching selection is one of 71 songs on The Pitch/Gusman Records Story. I'm going to have to spring for the new compilation of rare gospel from the '60s and '70s. Amazon offers it for under twenty dollars. "Every time I look around, somebody's gone."

The Driftwood Singers hipped me to Free Energy. Cheap Trick circa '77 redux!

Phish never did it for me, but Sunday's Trey Anastasio concert blew me away. Here's my review.

Gorgeous photographs accompany my review of a recent concert by Marvin Sease, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Shirley Brown, Bobby Rush, Floyd Taylor and O.B. Buchana.

Speaking of Floyd Taylor, this video is absolutely heartbreaking.

Kansas City Click: Fred Wickham is joined by cult hero D. Clinton Thompson at the Record Bar on Tuesday.

(Image courtesy of Big Legal Mess Records.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Matt Otto: An Appreciation

Kansas City is stacked with good jazz musicians. I'd happily spend my time and money hearing any one of our town's fifty best artists on any given night.

Some of them even specialize in what I characterize as "tourist jazz"- safe and conventional reproductions of what's been played countless times before. There's no shame in that. Several local traditionalists might even have dazzled Pete Johnson and Jay McShann.

That's not, however, what Matt Otto does. Not since Pat Metheny and Bobby Watson lit up Kansas City's clubs a few decades ago has a young locally-based jazz instrumentalist played with such imagination and innovation.

The great Bobby Watson aside, Otto is Kansas City's premier jazz artist.

The saxophonist's gig at Jardine's last week served as further confirmation that Otto is working at an exceptional level. His versatile style acts as a resounding rebuttal to anyone claiming that outside-leaning jazz musicians are unable to play conventionally. Otto possesses an immaculate tone and can deliver ballads with refined beauty. His adventurous attack Tuesday, however, referenced Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz and Steve Lacy. Otto discusses his approach in an interview I conducted with him a few months ago.

As is usually the case with the best artists, Otto elevates the playing of his peers. I'd never heard saxophonist Gerald Dunn and drummer Mike Warren sound better. Bassist Ben Leifer, as usual, was also phenomenal. Otto didn't draw a big crowd Tuesday, but I'll submit that he and his band are capable of wowing jaded aficionados at the world's most hallowed jazz venues.

I'm not suggesting that Otto is a star in the making. Alas, that's not a realistic possibility for jazz instrumentalists in 2010. But if you care about Kansas City's jazz scene- or even if you just pretend to care about it- then Matt Otto is the name you need to know.

Credentials Hip Hop interviews Oklahoma rapper Jabee.

In spite of its unfortunate title, the video for Dutch Newman's "Get Retarded" is very effective. Stik Figa and Greg Enemy co-star.

I noticed that Target has reduced the price of their exclusive 3-CD set by Prince to $4.99. I still can't bring myself to buy it. Sad.

Blues musician Lil' Dave Thompson was killed in an accident on February 14.

Kansas City Click: Pianist Paul Shinn plays the Majestic on Monday.

(Matt Otto text cross-posted from Plastic Sax.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kevin Head- Digby Lament

No more crying.

Shame on me. I fell for yesterday's hoax about Gordon Lightfoot. I even repeated the awful ruse on Twitter. Please consider this post an act of penance. I salvaged this forgotten government-sponsored Canadian album from a cutout bin only because the (late) Kate McGarrigle plays banjo on the side featuring Kevin Head. The other half highlights Bill Garrett. Both folkies sound as if they've listened to plenty of Lightfoot and Ian Tyson.

I find this hopelessly wonky jazz think piece by Ethan Iverson fascinating.

Jason Parker was awarded a grant to cover Nick Drake. (Tip via AZ.)

I don't know how much longer Amazon will have it available as a free download, but I suggest nabbing Velma Cross' Ruth Brown-inspired nugget. It's pulled from this new compilation.

Adorable or annoying? Here's Megan Birdsall's latest vlog. (Personal to Megan: neither of your two publicists has ever contacted me.)

Kansas City Click: The first time I met with Hermon Mehari of Diverse I suggested that he and his forward-thinking jazz band should play rock clubs. I'm pleased to see that Diverse is featured at the Czar Bar's dinner show on Friday.

Mount Righteous, featured in the previous There Stands the Glass post, play the Brick on Saturday.

Local music documentary 72 Musicians will be screened Sunday at the Screenland Armour Theater. The Caves and Olympic Size will be on hand.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mount Righteous- Sing to Me, Tiffany

Tiffany tired.

Watch this first. The video serves as an ideal introduction to the Mount Righteous sensibility. The joyful noise made by these lovable geeks sounds as if Henry Threagill wrote jazz arrangements for the educational songs of The Electric Company. The Texas band's February tour takes them to the Brick in Kansas City on Saturday. Something tells me they're a great live act. "Sing to Me, Tiffany" comes from the 2009 EP Open Your Mouth. (Tip via Lee.)

I don't have a dog in the fight between broadcasters and performers. But this ad campaign fascinates me. Check out its strident verbiage: "Giant record companies. Most of which are in foreign countries. We'll pay all the money. And they'll keep gobs of it. Great."

Ruby Hunter has died. (Tip via BGO.)

Jazz and lounge accordionist Art Van Damme has died. If you're not familiar with his career, then you really need to see this.

Kansas City Click: Sons of Brasil perform Thursday at Jardine's.

(Image pulled from Mount Righteous' MySpace account.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sliccs Gotcha, 1982-2010

Although I write extensively about music I've never been particularly interested in hanging out with musicians. Backstage passes go unused and I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear the phrase "after party." It's especially true of Kansas City's hip hop artists. I love the music but I don't even pretend to do the handshakes or speak the jargon. Sliccs Gotcha was different. The rapper had a broader worldview than his recordings might indicate. On Prince of Whales, Sliccs raps about dealing drugs, exacting revenge on his rivals and eluding the authorities. Yet he didn't come across as a gangster when I spent time with him. Sliccs struck me as gentle, kind and worldly. He was murdered February 12. Here's chatter at Crime Scene KC.

I'm admittedly biased, but the new EP by Hidden Pictures sounds incredible. RIYL: Wilco, Freedy Johnston, Wings.

I'm convinced that "How Low Can You Go", the chart-topping hit by Ludacris, is a deliberate parody of everything that's wrong in our society.

Kansas City Click: RJD2 perform Wednesday at the Record Bar.

(Original image of Sliccs Gotcha performing at Taste of Troost on 7/04/09 by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Rachel Lee and Michael Brown at the Folly Theater

No more echoes.

Attending a concert completely oblivious to the content of the program goes against my nature. I acquired a pair of tickets to Saturday's event at the Folly Theater for two reasons. Tickets to the "Discovery" concert were free. Secondly, I adore the Folly Theater. Complimentary tickets to a show in a beautiful venue on the eve of Valentine's Day? Sold!

My blind faith in the reputation of the presenters, the prestigious Harriman-Jewell Series, was amply rewarded. The visionary performance by violinist Rachel Lee and pianist Michael Brown floored me.

The pair began by attacking Beethoven's Sonata for violin & piano No. 10 in G major with youthful fervor. Musty reverence was conspicuously absent this night. Lee and Brown went on to explore Prokofiev, Webern and Enescu. The delightfully odd Webern pieces proved too much for many in the near-capacity audience of about 1,000. A steady stream of distraught patrons headed for the exits as the mildly dissonant 20th century compositions were performed. I sat as if I was in a trance. I'd never heard this dreamlike material.

Part of the appeal was the pair's obvious predilection for the selections. Their emphatic body language reflected honest enthusiasm rather than shameless showboating. I saw violinist Karen Gomyo work the next day with the Kansas City Symphony. While I loved her performance on Sibelius' Concerto in D Minor, Gomyo and the symphony emphasized the rigorous technical aspects of the piece. Lee and Brown, on the other hand, seemed bolder and more reckless. The pair's carefree abandon felt liberating. The Symphony, on the other hand, favored tension-filled tautness.

The post-concert talk (photo) confirmed what the performance had already revealed. Lee is vivacious and engaging while Brown is a thoughtful wit. Both artists are ridiculously smart. Brown's biography lists his extensive awards and impressive resume. The up-and-comer is also a composer. His fascinating "Echoes of Byzantium," featuring his piano work and Emily Deans on violin, was recorded at the the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The artist behind the original version of "Suzie Q," Dale Hawkins, died February 13. This video is priceless.

Jazz drummer Jake Hanna died February 13.

Who doesn't love "My Sharona"? Thanks, Doug Fieger.

I remember that I was literally afraid the first time I heard Big Black's Atomizer. Iain Burgess, one of the men responsible for that scary sound, has died.

Kansas City Click: Monday's "Love Hangover" at the Record Bar promises to mend broken hearts.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Keef Hartley Band- Me and My Woman

Off to bed.

I wrote a glowing review of a Gov't Mule concert this week. It didn't please anyone. Advocates of the band are upset that I failed canonize guitarist Warren Haynes. And jam band critics were outraged by my praise.

I understand the jam band sensibility and the appeal of white boy blues. American Beauty is part of my DNA. And I was catching Stevie Ray Vaughan in clubs well before Texas Flood was recorded. In that realm, however, I'm especially affectionate of the post-John Mayall and Long John Baldry acts. Their number includes Keef Hartley.

I liked Battle of North West Six even before I heard it. Rescued from a dollar bin in the '80s, the 1969 pressing boasts a thick slab of vinyl and insightful liner notes. Like many of his peers, Hartley combined his love of Chicago blues with jazz elements and touches of English folk music.

Warren Haynes probably digs it too.

Kansas City Click: Mikal Shapiro sings Friday at Davey's Uptown.

Don't be a hater. Bowling For Soup is a great live band. They squeeze into the Record Bar on Saturday.

Shay Estes croons at Jardine's on Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shellshag- Resilient Bastard

Resilient no more.

Brooklyn duo Shellshag combine the unrefined pop elements of the Ramone's debut album with the noisy drone of Sonic Youth's Evol. Raw and joyous, Shellshag is a genuine rock'n'roll band. It's only natural, consequently, that I really like their new album Rumors In Disguise. "Resilient Bastard" is fantastic but the songs delivered by drummer Shag are even more appealing. Here's the video.

How improbable is it that the #9 song on the country charts commemorates the death of basketball star and smooth jazz musician Wayman Tisdale?

What would you do if you knew you were about to go to jail? If you're Lil Wayne, you make nine music videos in 48 hours.

Kansas City Click: Mark Lowrey plays piano Wednesday at The Majestic.

Knuckleheads plays host to The Greencards on Thursday.

(Photo of Shellshag by Too Much Rock.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Josh Turner's Haywire

Josh Turner- "Why Don't We Just Dance" (YouTube video stream)

I got chills the first time I heard the title track of Randy Travis' "Storms of Life." References to Montgomery Ward, a Ford pickup, chicken wings and a six pack spilled out of my car radio in the first thirty seconds of the old-fashioned weeper. Now, that's country! Along with Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and Marty Stuart, Travis was part of a traditionalist country revival that was destined to forever rid the airwaves of the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Anne Murray and Restless Heart.

Or so I thought.

I had a similar reaction when Josh Turner's soulful Christian admonishment "Long Black Train" hit a few years ago. Turner clearly shared Travis' love of George Jones and both men specialize in chest-rattling low notes. Maybe Turner was the antidote to the nation's unhealthy infatuation with Rascal Flatts.

I was fooled again.

Haywire, Turner's new album, is a perfectly-conceived, immaculately-produced crossover country album. I don't like it.

The album is a tribute to domestic bliss. Rather than consummating a relationship in a sordid motel, Turner croons "Let's Find a Church." Turner's idea of getting rowdy on "Friday Paycheck," the album's obligatory honky tonk song, is shouting out a request for Johnny Cash. He assures a child that he's a "monster-runner-offer" on "As Fast As I Could." And do I really need to give away the subject of "The Answer"? (It's Jesus, silly!)

The prim and proper Haywire will likely be one of the top-selling albums of 2010. While I can picture myself enjoying the album as I tailgate in mixed company before a Carrie Underwood or Brad Paisley concert, it's not what I want from country music. I demand songs about pain, drinking and cheating. Great voice or not, I don't need a guy who rhymes "sunshine" with "good times."

I'm considering buying the deluxe version of Incense and Wine, the latest album by Miles Bonny, mostly because I covet the engraved flask that comes with the package.

Sir John Dankforth has died.

Killer Strayhorn perform Monday at Jardine's.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Conversation With Randy Weston

Randy Weston radiates greatness.

The legendary jazz musician possesses a rare combination of gentle grace and regal bearing. Even people who have no idea that the 83-year-old was apprenticed by Thelonious Monk, was produced by Duke Ellington and was a collaborator with the likes of Langston Hughes and Charles Mingus surely recognize that Weston exudes a powerful energy. It was all I could do to keep from bowing in his majestic presence during the hour I spent with Weston Thursday morning at the American Jazz Museum.

Other obligations prevented me from attending Weston's free presentation at the museum that evening. One friend characterized Weston's performance as "simply stunning." Another associate, Joel Francis of The Daily Record, was part of the audience of about 200 people. "The music was spellbinding," he reported. "It was incredible to witness a musician of this caliber in such an intimate setting. "

Weston's beautiful Senegalese wife was on hand and a television cameraman made a brief appearance. Otherwise, museum C.E.O. Greg Carroll (below) and I had the pianist and composer to ourselves. I recorded the discussion, but the roar of vacuums and the relentless chirp of smooth jazz spilling in from the museum's atrium make a complete transcription impossible.

A few choice quotes from our conversation follow.

"I feel the spirit of my Creator and the spirit of my grandfather." - how he experiences the music of Africa

"You are an African born in America." - the message given to him by his grandfather

"You have to study the great empire of Africa." - a suggestion that has informed his life

"I wanted to look at African music from an African perspective." - about Uhuru Afrika, the sadly out-of-print landmark recording

"Randy Weston, thanks for giving me Africa." - what he was told by Dee Dee Bridgewater

"I wanted to find out where the hell we came from." - about his exploration of Africa

"That's our music. That's where we all come from. That's why we all feel it." - of humanity's common African heritage

Music and spirituality
"I make to communicate with people. I'm having a spiritual dialogue with people. Every time I perform I have a spiritual experience." - on the power and the meaning of music

"Charlie Parker is just as spiritual as Mahalia Jackson. In Africa they don't separate the secular and the spiritual. It's all one." - on the artificial separation of secular and sacred music

"All of us were little boys in bow ties. None of us could go party after that. We went home and went to bed." - recalling a Saturday night performance by Mahalia Jackson

"Our music is based on love. Our music is based on respect. Respect to our family, elders and ancestors."- about the meaning of his music

"Music is our real language. God is the real musician. We are all the messengers." - on the significance of music

"If you know there are cosmic rhythms you can reach other dimensions." - on the use of music by African tribes to expand consciousness

"You can't become six until you're five. You can't play the song of a 60-year-old until you've been 59." - on musical progression

"Music was created to soothe you. The other side of music is music to stir you." - on the power of music

The decline of jazz in popular culture
"We don't have access to the media. We don't exist." - in response to Carroll's disappointment about poor attendance at the press conference

"We have average music. We have average times." - on the domination of popular music

"People are hungry for something new." - on why he believes jazz will enjoy a resurgence in popularity

"Our music is not defined. They don't know who we are." - on jazz' unpopularity among black Americans

"Our music is only meant to get to the few. Our music has always been an intimate music. We're like chamber music." - citing reasons why jazz isn't more popular

Defining jazz
"I've always considered my music African rhythms." - how he describes his style of music

"Jazz is African music in the United States." - on his dislike of the word "jazz"

"I call it spiritual music." - on his preferred definition of his music

(Cross-posted from Plastic Sax. Original images by Plastic Sax. I'd to thank Suzetta Parks for allowing me the great privilege of meeting Weston.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Lakeside- Given In To Love

No more love.

Don't you dare call it a decent voyage. "Given In To Love" may not be "Fantastic Voyage" , but the ballad is anything but mediocre. Soul band Lakeside made a lot of solid music before scoring big with their signature hit in 1980. This strong ballad is from the very fine out-of-print 1978 album Shot of Love. The group combined the fire of the Isley Brothers with the smooth musicianship of Earth Wind & Fire. May I have this dance?

Friends often express horror and sympathy when they learn that I'm attending a Christian rock event. They don't understand that I actually like it. Here's my mildly critical review of last night's Casting Crowns concert.

Did you catch the sad story in the New York Times about the disputed will of Stephen Bruton? Awful. I wrote about Stephen here. And Sumter, seemingly the rightful heir of his brother's estate, was featured at There Stands the Glass here.

The wonderful Numero Group is having a label-wide sale. Rather than their usual exorbitant prices, their titles are now merely expensive. (Tip via AZ.)

Alright, I'll admit it. I genuinely appreciate Lil Wayne's new rock album. I'm filing it right next to Kid Rock. That pairing, incidentally, would make a great double bill.

Kansas City Click: The KcEMA KcEnnections concert Friday at 1100 Main looks intriguing.

Javon Jackson is at the Blue Room on Saturday.

The People's Liberation Big Band return to the Record Bar on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing

Probably because I grew up being tormented by guitar-wielding teachers at school and at church while being brainwashed by Coke commercials at home, I've never romanticized the singer-songwriter concept. While I'm a rabid fan of the likes of Dylan, Kristofferson, Prine and Van Zandt, I don't necessarily want to hear that stuff in a bar. I've been baffled, consequently, to have regularly found myself in acoustic performance settings during the past few months. The concept is becoming so prevalent that it's difficult to avoid. Fortunately, a lot of the music is really good. Last week I heard excellent sets by several people at the Czar Bar. They included contributions by Vi Tran (above) and Billy Smith (below). The latter performer is perhaps best known today for his work with Olympic Size and Roman Numerals.

It's no secret that I'm a longtime Taylor Swift skeptic. I called her out for her insincerity back in 2007. That issue bothers me far more than her flawed voice and her country-in-name-only pop hits. I'm relieved that my perspective is finally socially acceptable.

Links to sad stories about epic failures in Kansas City's jazz community are available at Plastic Sax.

Here's the latest homemade video from Kansas City's Steddy P.

Kansas City Click: Dreams Are For Rookies play the Riot Room on Wednesday.

The great Randy Weston is at the American Jazz Museum on Thursday.

(Original images by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

One Hundred Percent Grind


Nothing much happened at the KC Music Forum at a community center in Swope Park on January 23. That's the good news.

There's little love lost between the rival factions of Kansas City's hip hop community. Guys from the '50s, for instance, detest the Wyandotte crowd. Backpackers don't get along with Landmark Records artists. There's one thing, however, these disparate groups can all agree on- KPRS isn't doing them any favors.

That's why about 150 people met to mull over their options with representatives of the radio station. The conclusions they came to were asinine- act like a professional, respectfully service DJs and maintain a "one hundred percent grind."

It's probably a good thing no one asked me to contribute. I was itching to question the business acumen of an artist who arrived at the conference in a customized wrapped van when he hadn't even bothered to create an internet presence.

James Christos, the man pictured here in black shirt and cap, recently released a politically incorrect ode to KPRS. Here are my goofy notes on a Christos performance from 2009.

Last night's awards broadcast was weak. Between live blogging, instant messaging and Twitter, however, I've never had more fun watching the Grammys.

Kansas City Click: Craig Akin leads a jam session Monday at the Blue Room.