Monday, June 18, 2018

Album Review: Jorja Smith- Lost & Found


Jorja Smith’s episode of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert floored me.  The performance seemed to signal the arrival of a major talent.  Alas, the 21-year-old British woman’s debut album Lost & Found is slightly less convincing.  I was about to write it off until I was arrested by a surprising interpolation of Dizzee Rascal’s “Sirens,” my favorite song of 2007, on the eighth track.  Smith could be the next big star in the mode of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo or Lauryn Hill after all.


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I covered the first day of the Boulevardia festival for The Kansas City Star

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I analyzed the significance of Social Distortion in a forecast of the band’s appearance at Middle of the Map festival.

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I reviewed the Ryan Marquez Trio’s Moving Forward in Time at Plastic Sax.

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I was backstage in Austin Music Hall at a SWSW showcase for the All the King’s Men project in 1997.  I was on cloud nine watching a parade of stars walk past me to perform with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana.  Fontana has died.

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At the conclusion of Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s first set at the Jazzhaus in Lawrence, Kansas, in the 1980s, I convinced two friends to abandon the club for my apartment.  I’d run out of money, but cold beer was in my refrigerator.  I’ve been haunted by that shameful decision for decades.  Murphy died last week.

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Lorraine Gordon of the Village Vanguard has died.  I’m fairly certain she’s the person who scolded me for dawdling during my first visit to the club in the 1990s.

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Jalal Mansur Nuriddin of the Last Poets has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

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If three minutes were cut from the 7:33 “Everything,” Nas’ Nasir would be close to perfect.  It’s the best of Kanye West’s recent stellar musical outburst.  My new ranking: Nasir, Kids See Ghosts, Daytona, Ye.  Another thought: it’s increasingly clear that the five-part series (Teyana Taylor’s effort is slated for release on June 22) is intended to be heard as a single song cycle.

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Nick Lowe’s new four-song collaboration with Los Straitjackets is almost as wonderful as his classic work of the 1970s.

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The four-song Consolation affirms my belief that Protomartyr is one of the most vital bands in rock.

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Jeffrey Osborne’s Worth It All suffers from a serious quality control problem.  The soul crooner’s voice is intact, but decent songs are few and far between.  Here’s the title track.

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Lower East Suite Part Three, the sloppy debut album of the Onyx Collective, is a lo-fi mess.  And that’s precisely what I like about it.  The young jazz musicians play with the reckless indifference of punks.  RIYL: the Jazz Passengers, nose-thumbing, the Lounge Lizards.

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Orange Goblin’s The Wolf Bites Back is a blast.  RIYL: Clutch, prison tattoos, Red Fang.  Here’s “In Bocca Al Lupo”.

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I listened to The Carters’ Everything Is Love once.  Never again.  RIYL: Forbes list flexing, Us Weekly, misplaced priorities.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Album Review: Angelique Kidjo- Remain in Light


The young man next to me refused to stay seated when a band led by David Byrne launched into “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” at Muriel Kauffman Theatre on Thursday.  (I reviewed the concert for The Kansas City Star.)   My new friend confided that “it’s from my favorite album, I have to dance” as he rose to his feet.  I joined him even though I knew that my display of solidarity would draw the ire of the handful of prim people who refused to stand.  My dance partner had yet to be born when Talking Heads' Remain in Light was recorded, but I bought it as a new release in 1980.  Angelique Kidjo shares our passion for the seminal album.  The Beninese star has remade Remain In Light in her own image.  Her translation of songs including "Born Under Punches" and “Once in a Lifetime” address some of the most crucial issues of 2018.


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I reviewed the Marcus Lewis Big Band at RecordBar for Plastic Sax.

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Eddie Clearwater has died.  The Chief seemed to play in Kansas City nightclubs and at area festivals at least three times a year during the blues boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

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Danny Kirwan of Fleetwood Mac has died.

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The problematic Kids See Ghosts is better than Ye and not as good as Daytona

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Of Life, Steve Tibbetts’ first album since 2010, is enchanting.  RIYL: Ravi Shankar, dreaming, Terje Rypdal.

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Marcus Miller’s Laid Black is a star-studded party.  The accomplished bassist and producer hosts pals like Trombone Shorty and vocalist Selah Sue on a feel-good project that’s ideally suited for backyard barbecues.  RIYL: Quincy Jones, getting down just for the funk of it, Jonathan Butler.

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Sullivan Fortner is my top pick among the legions of young neo-conservative jazz pianists.  Moments Preserved features Roy Hargrove on a few tracks.  RIYL: Cyrus Chestnut, tradition, Cedar Walton.

(Original image of Kiki Smith sculpture by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Clarence Fountain, 1929-2018



I wasn’t prepared the first time I attended a performance by Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama.  Fountain and his sightless bandmates repeatedly rushed to the lip of the stage during the gospel ensemble’s outing at the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival at Penn Valley Park in 1991.  I was certain the frenzied men would topple, but they seemed to know exactly where to stop to avert disaster.  The gasp-inducing stunt was intended as testimony to God’s grace.  It worked.  If I hadn’t already been a believer, I would likely have found Jesus that day.  Fountain died on June 3.


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I surveyed Rockfest for The Kansas City Star.  As my analysis implies, my three favorite performances were by Ghost, Underoath and Sevendust.

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I took a fresh look at last year’s infamous Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival at Plastic Sax.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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Stewart Lipton of Jonathan Fireeater has died.

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Thunderpussy’s self-titled album goes like gangbusters before fizzling out in its second half.  RIYL: Sheer Mag, that old time rock and roll, Thee Oh Sees.

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The Esbjörn Svensson Trio's Live in London was recorded in 2005 when the pianist was 39.  He died in a scuba diving accident three years later.  Alternately thrilling and rhapsodic, not a single one of the 105 minutes on the piano trio album is mundane.

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Not-so-hot take: Black Thought’s Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 is superior to Ye.  9th Wonder’s production is typically outstanding.

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African Scream Contest Vol​.​2 - Benin 1963​-​1980 may have prevented me from going to jail on a particularly difficult Monday morning.  It may not be quite as mind-blowing as other recent African compilations, but it’s a blast.  (Tip via Big Steve.)

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 01, 2018

Album Review: Kanye West- Ye


I’ve long tolerated the erratic behavior of my favorite artist of the millennium.  I stuck with him when he cancelled a concert in Atlanta after I booked a non-refundable trip to see him at Philips Arena.  Even his unsettling flirtation with the current president didn’t phase me.  I’m firmly in the music-is-the-only-thing-that-matters camp.

Each of Kanye West’s first seven albums is a masterpiece.  Released today, his eighth album Ye ends that remarkable streak.  While it’s enormously entertaining and endlessly fascinating, Ye isn’t up to West’s colossal standard.

After listening to the 23-minute project on repeat for hours on end, I’ve concluded that only the druggy gospel of “Ghost Town”- a mashup of the styles of Queen, Rihanna and Kirk Franklin- is exceptional.  The punchline lyrics and inconsistent production on the other six tracks betray a lack of focus.

West flew higher than anyone for more than 15 years.  While Ye can’t be characterized as a crash landing, it’s an extremely bumpy return to earth.


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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I examined Grizzly Bear’s return to the Middle of the Map festival for The Kansas City Star.

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I recently became obsessed with a premium brand of cream soda.  The empty calories infuse me with a fleeting sense of euphoria.  The silky production on J Balvin’s lightweight Vibras is similarly satisfying.  Here’s “Ambiente”.

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Tia Fuller’s Diamond Cut is precisely the sort of thrilling mainstream jazz album I keep waiting for a Kansas City musician (other than Bobby Watson) to make.

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The song titles and press release for Awase, the latest effort of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, are painfully pretentious.  The music, however, is genuinely funky, albeit in a Swiss kind of way.  RIYL: Manu Katché, bass clarinet, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Album Review: Joshua Redman- Still Dreaming


Although I’ve seen him perform five times in the last eight years, I don’t track Joshua Redman’s every move.  So I was stunned by what I heard when I cued up Still Dreaming, the saxophonist’s new album with trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade.

The abrasive barrage of Ornette Coleman harmolodics was a wholly unexpected but entirely welcome surprise.  Only after my initial 40-minute listening session concluded did I investigate the impetus for the album.  It’s inspired by Old and New Dreams, the estimable project that included Redman’s father Dewey. 

The interplay on Still Dreaming is slightly more reserved than the wild-eyed attack of Old and New Dreams.  Even so, it’s remarkably prickly.  Hearing Redman play this bracing material in his appearance in the 2018-19 season of the Folly Jazz Series promises to be thrilling.


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I reviewed a concert by the Charles Williams Trio at Plastic Sax.

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Roger Clark, the drummer on classic Muscle Shoals tracks by the likes of Clarence Carter and Bocephus, has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

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Big Scoob’s Duality couldn’t have been issued on a worse day.  Released alongside Pusha T’s highly anticipated Daytona, the Kansas City rapper’s Duality suffers in comparison.  Few men rap better than King Push, and no one creates more interesting beats than Kanye West.

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The best thing that can be said of Stone Temple Pilots’ new self-titled album is that it doesn’t desecrate the memory of the late Scott Weiland.  Sterile production limits the possibilities of the solid songs.

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Yelena Eckemoff’s hot streak continues.  Desert is astounding, partly because of the presence of the multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Peter Erskine.  RIYL: Oregon, underdogs, John Surman.

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I’m all about the liberation theology espoused by Ry Cooder on The Prodigal Son.  The many people who rail against Christianity on my social media feeds would be surprised to learn that the anti-capitalist, pro-reconciliation messages embedded in The Prodigal Son reflect the preaching I hear at my mainstream Protestant church on Sundays.  RIYL: Warren Zevon, Jesus, Woody Guthrie. 

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, May 25, 2018

I'm KC


My latest audio feature for KCUR aired this morning.  I enjoyed my hangs with Walter Edwin, aka The Popper.  The segment lives online here.


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I reviewed James Taylor’s concert at the Sprint Center for The Kansas City Star.

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I also reviewed Jimmy Buffett’s concert at the Sprint Center for The Kansas City Star.  Opening act Caroline Jones was a revelation.  Her overproduced new album is almost unlistenable, but her solo renditions of songs like “Old Blue” charmed me on Saturday.

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I reviewed Harold O’Neal’s Piano Cinema at Plastic Sax.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I previewed Greta Van Fleet’s appearance at the Middle of the Map festival.

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Reggie Lucas has died. (Via BGO.)

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I woke up three hours earlier than usual today because I was so eager to hear Pusha T’s Daytona.  Kanye West’s production is stupendous.

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Old-boy networks can be good things.  Don Was, the current top dog at Blue Note Records, signed his old Was (Not Was) bandmate Dave McMurray.  Music Is Life is an old-school instrumental party album.  RIYL: Maceo Parker, Detroit, Lou Donaldson.

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The Brad Mehldau Trio is a victim of its own success.  If Seymour Reads the Constitution doesn’t sound revolutionary, it’s only because so many imitators have made the trio’s attack seem commonplace.  It’s not.

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What sorcery is this? Elina Duni’s magical Partir is unlike anything I’ve encountered.  RIYL: June Tabor, Albania, Márta Sebestyén.

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I don't hear what everyone else claims to hear in Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.  Post-Christine McVie pop doesn’t appeal to me.  Musgraves’ new songs remind me of the formulaic music I hear during my periodic digs through the closeout racks at Macy’s.

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I hadn’t encountered the striking music video for “Ndogal,” a track from Cheikh Lô’s 1995 album Ne La Thiass, until World Circuit uploaded it this week.

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Iceage’s Beyondless is a mess- and I like it.  Strings, horns and other unlikely embellishments complement the slurred vocals of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on the Danish band’s strung-out fourth album.  RIYL: The Saints, hitting rock bottom, Nick Cave.

(Original image of The Popper by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Album Review: Ashley Monroe- Sparrow


I usually recoil when I encounter strings in country music.  Orchestral flourishes have spoiled otherwise perfect songs by the likes of George Jones.  Yet I thrill each time strings are introduced on Sparrow, the outstanding new album by Ashley Monroe.  Her songs about sex (“Hands on You”), death (“Sparrow”), heartache (“Paying Attention”) and family ties (“Mother’s Daughter”) lend themselves to the lush backdrops.


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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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The initial concept for this fine KCUR profile of Fatih Seferagic originated with me.

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Glenn Branca has died.

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Tony Kinman of the Dils and Rank & File has died.

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Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit has died.

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Drummer Jab’o Starks has died.

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I was floored when I first heard Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.  I fully embraced the unexpectedly mature sound.  Focusing on the often hilarious lyrics my second time through deepened my admiration of the album.  Yet the melodramatically woebegone vocals of Alex Turner irritated me on the third listen.  My fourth run-through with the windows rolled down in rush hour traffic soured me on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.  The album wilts in my whip.  I’ll reserve future spins of tracks including “Four Out of Five” for my next late-night pity party.

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My lizard brain appreciates Five Finger Death Punch’s And Justice For None.  Wanna make something of it?  Here’s “Sham Pain”.

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While I’m indifferent to the headliner, I’m awestruck by the lineup of the 2018 edition of the Soundset festival.

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The strength of Cruzando Borders validates my enthusiasm for Los Texmaniacs’ performance at the Kansas City Folk Festival in February.

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I repeatedly make the mistake of underestimating Terence Blanchard.  I almost didn’t bother listening to the ferocious Live, a protest album with a funk-oriented electric band.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)