Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Album Review: Halestorm- Vicious

I regularly run into a diligent concert photographer who is a steadfast rock loyalist.  After bemoaning the invariably diminished crowd sizes for his favorite form of music, our discussions shift to the general decline in the popularity of mainstream rock.  My go-to line is “where’s the new Guns N’ Roses?”  The next time I see my friend, I’ll be able to tell him that rock’s savior has finally arrived. 

On its fourth album Vicious (July 27 street date), Halestorm shows it’s capable of kicking up fresh dust with the one foot rock has moldering in the grave.  I’ve been on the Halestorm bandwagon for years, but the wholly accessible Vicious is the band’s first release that’s capable of crossing over to fans of classic rock, contemporary country and pop.

“Uncomfortable” is just one of several potential hits on Vicious.  Fashionable bands like Deafheaven and Parquet Courts will get the lion’s share of breathless reviews.  Halestorm is destined to pack arenas.  It’s about time.  Let the commercial revival of rock commence.

I reviewed a concert by Kenny Chesney, Thomas Rhett, Old Dominion and Brandon Lay at Arrowhead Stadium for The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed a concert by Henrique Eisenmann and Ehud Ettun at the 1900 Building for Plastic Sax.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

Ponty Bone has died.  Without Bone’s essential contributions, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with the first few Joe Ely albums.  The accordion player is featured in grainy footage from 1980.  (Tip via BGO.)

The influential music journalist Roy Carr has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

Binker and Moses’ electrifying Alive in the East? lives up to the hype.  Maybe London really is the new jazz capital of the world.  That said, I could do without the annoying harp of Tori Handsley.  RIYL: Courtney Pine, trendiness, Shabaka Hutchings.

Beastmode 2 is fine, but I guess I’ve moved on from the Future/Zaytoven formula.  It doesn’t move me much anymore.

The Royal Krunk Jazz Orkestra is a new-school big band led by Russell Gunn.  Get It How You Live is worthwhile, but RKJO is clearly an ensemble that’s best experienced live.  RIYL: Snarky Puppy, progress, Dionne Farris.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Metal Deficiency

Something was wrong with me.  I’d become unusually disaffected in recent days.  I was relieved when I happened upon the proper diagnosis of the mysterious ache: I hadn’t attended a metal show in six weeks.

I paid $28 at the door of the Truman to allow the fearsome package tour of Black Dahlia Murder, Whitechapel, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Aversions Crown and Shadow of Intent to relieve me of my metal deficiency.  The extreme dose of bone-rattling blast beats mended my soul.  Getting kicked in the head by crowd-surfers and elbowed in the gut by crazed men in the mosh pit enhanced the healing process.

Fleshgod Apocalypse, a theatrical Italian band with an operatic vocalist and a pianist, amused me.  I felt the musical medicine fully kick in when the group insisted that the audience of about 700 participate in the traditional wall of death ritual.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

I reviewed Stephen Martin’s debut album Vision at Plastic Sax.

Henry Butler has died.  My kids were so enamored with a performance by the Louisiana pianist at an outdoor festival about 15 years ago that they had Butler sign their comic books.

Richard Swift, an indie-rock Zelig, has died.

Jazz trombonist Bill Watrous has died.

Vince Martin of “Cindy, Oh Cindy” fame has died.  (Tip via BGO.)

The Kansas City rapper Hoggy D collaborates with locally based heavyweights Rich the Factor and Rush Borda on the old-school street rap album Heavy Starch.  Here’s “New Method”.

Cyrille Aimée's new live album affirms my enthusiasm for her concert at the Folly Theater in February.  Far more than a gypsy jazz revivalist, Aimée and her band get delightfully weird on Thelonious Monk and Michael Jackson covers.

I’m not going to pretend that I love it, but the ways in which Yuno blends Blink-182, Lil Peep, No Doubt, the Cure and Sade on Moodie is the default sound of 2018.  Here’s “Why For”.

Philthy’s Party Crashers is a decent funk album.  I wouldn’t ordinarily bother mentioning it, but I came upon the release by the New York ensemble immediately after suffering through two like-minded but vastly inferior efforts by locally based artists.  Here’s the title track.

The spate of protracted albums is wearing me out.  I'm diligently working my way through all three hours and 15 minutes of William Parker’s stupendous Voices Fall From The Sky.  RIYL: Anthony Davis, art songs, Wadada Leo Smith.

Gorillaz’s The Now Now strikes me as the sequel to Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.  That’s a good thing.  Here’s “Humility”.

(Original image of Aversions Crown at the Truman by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Album Review: Drake- Scorpion

Drake’s money-infatuated album Scorpion reminds me of an incident that occurred during the Mexican beach vacation I took last year.  I thought I was living like royalty as I paid $75 per night for a clean room and all the food and booze I cared to consume at a hotel catering to Mexican families. 

Only when I snuck into a nearby resort on a futile quest to obtain an English language newspaper did I realize that I was a relative pauper.  I blew past an initial wave of security guards with the gringo excuse of “no hablo español” and discovered a hidden realm of exceptional luxury.  Dozens of perfectly-toned Europeans wearing swimsuits the size of peso notes lounged around a spectacular water complex that made the centerpiece of my hotel seem like a plastic wading pool.  I was unceremoniously escorted out before my beggarly presence spoiled the luxe setting.

Even though I’m ostensibly welcome to bask in the lavish atmosphere of Scorpion for as long as I like, the recording makes me feel like a shabby outsider crashing a swanky gala.  Drake appears to disdain everyone who hasn’t achieved similar levels of success.  Given that he seems miserable, I have no interest in trading places with the world’s most popular rapper.  He may spend more money in an afternoon than I make in a decade, but Drake seems lonely, bitter and petty on the sadly revealing Scorpion.  That’s “God’s Plan”.

My five favorite sets at the Middle of the Map festival were by Spoon, Mx.Mrs Btrfly, Jade Jackson, Rick Maun and Becca Mancari.  I reviewed day one and day two of the event for The Kansas City Star.

I featured Mysterious Clouds, Cubanisms and Logan Richardson in a mid-year music survey on KCUR’s Up To Date.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

I parse the disheartening results of a Downbeat poll at Plastic Sax.

I continue to toil at The Kansas City Jazz Calendar like a sequestered monk copying holy manuscripts.

(Original image of a beach in Mexico by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Album Review: Justin Brown's Nyeusi

Justin Brown was shrouded in darkness the last time I caught up with the peripatetic drummer.  As a member of Thundercat’s band at the Granada in Lawrence, Kansas, Brown was heard but not seen.  (I reviewed the 2017 concert at Plastic Sax.)  Brown’s new album Nyeusi is imbued with a similarly enigmatic atmosphere.  The straight-up jazz fusion project has a few pleasing contemporary updates.  A cover of Tony Williams’ intergalactic “Circa 45” is telling.  Not even a dopey promotional video can prevent me from loving Nyeusi.

I was awed by Kesha’s headlining appearance at the Sprint Center.  I reviewed her concert with Macklemore for The Kansas City Star.

I examined Built To Spill in advance of the band’s appearance at the Middle of the Map festival.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

The storied rock drummer Vinnie Paul has died.

XXXTentacion was killed.  I’ll always love “Roll in Peace”.

Eugene Pitt of The Jive Five has reportedly died.  (Tip via BGO.)

My pal McLain Johnson is the subject of a four-minute video profile.

Kamasi Washington perfected his over-the-top approach to celestial jazz on Heaven and Earth.  Superior in every way to his 2016 breakout album The Epic, the bigger-is-better attack on Heaven and Earth is ecstatic rather than excessive.  Because it’s so long, I tried to take a nap while I absorbed the gospel-laced release last weekend.  I didn’t sleep, but I’m pretty sure I communed with God.

Arp’s freaky Zebra is beyond description.  Jazz, classic rock, New Age, electronica and classical elements weave in and out of the transportive mix.  RIYL: Bonobo, headphones, Weather Report.  Here’s “Nzubu”.

A piano trio led by Harold López-Nussa finds new life in the format on Un Día Cualquiera.  The Cuban’s album is so good that I’m almost tempted to head out of town to a date on his tour of the United States.  Almost.

What a disappointment!  Let the Trap Say Amen, a collaboration between star producer Zeytoven and Christian rapper Lecrae, had the potential to elevate the tone of the hip-hop zeitgeist.  Neither man brought his a-game.

The Record Company is as generic as its name.  The band sounds as if it’s auditioning for an advertising agency that specializes in beer commercials on All of This Life.  Even so, I find the journeyman rock oddly comforting.  RIYL: The Wallflowers, Bob Seger fan fiction, Dan Auerbach.  Here’s the Black Crowes knockoff “The Movie Song”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Concert Review: The LSD Tour at Starlight Theatre

As my tardy date chatted with attendants at the northwest gate of Starlight Theatre while waiting for me to deliver her ticket on Thursday, a couple members of the venue’s staff confessed that they were stunned that about 4,500 people purchased tickets to hear Dwight Yoakam play for less than an hour.

They didn’t understand that the LSD Tour was far more than the sum of its parts.  While Yoakam is the only bonafide hitmaker in the package, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle are arguably even more culturally significant.  I’ve heard each artist perform multiple times during the past 32 years, but the rare chance to hear them on one evening was too good to pass up (especially when good seats could be secured for the bargain price of $35 at the box office on the day of the show.) 

After a convincing outing by King Leg that a pal and I characterized as sounding like Morrissey covering Roy Orbison, Earle and the Dukes played about 45 minutes of crusty country-rock.  The hard-core troubadour was as irascible as ever.  While he touched on classic original material like “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road” and “Transcendental Blues,” a grungy cover of “Hey Joe” provided my favorite moments.

Williams’ appearance was bittersweet.  She’s never been a dynamic performer, but Thursday’s outing was far more awkward than usual.  Sensing that it was the last time I’d see the storied songwriter, I pulled for Williams to overcome her struggles.  A series of perfect guitar solos by Nashville cat Stuart Mathis and the repurposing of “Foolishness” into a potent political rant pushed the set over the top.

Yoakam- along with Marty Stuart the most convincing country traditionalist alive- is the rare performer who can thrill audiences with an uninterrupted string of hits.  That’s probably why he apologized for playing two new songs.  He needn’t have make excuses for “Pretty Horses” and “Then Here Came Monday.”  They were as good as his old favorites.

A chintzy stage set didn’t do any of the musicians justice.  Not only did the ostensibly psychedelic video projections resemble ‘90s-era computer screensavers, the backdrop and lighting rigs were far too small for the Starlight Theatre stage.  Then again, perhaps no stage is capable of containing the outsize talents of Yoakam, Williams and Earle.

I wrote profiles of Nikki Lane and Spoon in advance of their appearances at the Middle of the Map festival.

I recount my experience at a battle of jazz big bands at Plastic Sax.

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

I Don’t Feel Pain Anymore: Music Midway in 2018

The primary conceit of my mid-year rankings is a sanction on artist overlap in the album and song lists, an arbitrary policy that allows me to delay a verdict on Kanye West’s insistence that his abbreviated Ye, Daytona, Kids See Ghosts, Nasir and Keep That Same Energy releases are proper albums.

The Top 25 Albums of 2018 (so far)
1. Dave Holland- Uncharted Territories
2. Black Panther the Album
3. Rhye- Blood
4. Ashley Monroe- Sparrow
5. Hailu Mergia- Lala Belu
6. Logan Richardson- Blues People
7. Cardi B- Invasion of Privacy
8. Joshua Redman- Still Dreaming
9. Sons of Kemet- Your Queen Is a Reptile
10. Courtney Barnett- Tell Me How You Really Feel

11. Fantastic Negrito- Please Don’t Be Dead
12. Fatoumata Diawara- Fenfo
13. Matthew Shipp- Zero
14. Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love
15. Brad Mehldau- After Bach
16. Angelique Kidjo- Remain in Light
17. Bettye LaVette- Things Have Changed
18. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer- Nordub
19. Rich the Factor- CEO of the Blacktop
20. August Greene- August Greene

21. Meshell Ndegeocello- Ventriloquism
22. Migos- Culture II
23. Jorja Smith- Lost & Found
24. Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness- What News
25. Arctic Monkeys- Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

The Top 25 Songs of 2018 (so far)
1. Prince- “Nothing Compares 2 U”
2. Janelle Monaé- “Make Me Feel”
3. Kanye West- “Ghost Town”
4. Kids See Ghosts- “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)”
5. Nas- “Cops Shot the Kid”
6. Pusha T- “The Games We Play”
7. Sa-Roc- “Forever”
8. J Balvin featuring Jeon and Anitta- “Machika”
9. Childish Gambino- “This Is America”
10. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz featuring Anderson Paak- “Black Hole”

11. Alejandro Fernández y Los Tigres del Norte- “Para Sacarte de Mi Vida (Versión Norteña)”
12. The Breeders- “Wait in the Car”
13. Tech N9ne- “Don’t Nobody Want None”
14. Parquet Courts- “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”
15. Ben Miller Band- “Akira Kurosawa”
16. Black Thought- “Dostoyevsky”
17. Christina Aguilera- “Maria”
18. Orchestra Akokán- “Un Tabaco para Elegua”
19. Progger- “Housewives”
20. Tracey Thorn- “Queen”

21. Valee with Pusha T- “Miami”
22. Banda Pelillos- “No Sabes Lo Que Se Siente”
23. Kitten- “I Did It!”
24. The James Hunter Six- “I Don't Wanna Be Without You”
25. Post Malone- “Psycho”

The Top 25 Concerts of 2018 (so far)
1. Anat Cohen Tentet- Gem Theater
2. David Byrne- Muriel Kauffman Theatre
3. Uriel Herman Quartet- Black Dolphin
4. Protomartyr- Zanzabar (Louisville)
5. Pink- Sprint Center
6. Bill Frisell, Rudy Royston and Thomas Morgan- 1900 Building
7. Julien Baker- Vinyl Renaissance
8. Low Cut Connie- Doug Fir Lounge (Portland)
9. Ryan Keberle & Catharsis- Black Dolphin
10. Injury Reserve- Encore Room

11. Ghost- Rockfest at the Kansas Speedway
12. Flatbush Zombies- Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
13. Cyrille Aimée- Folly Theater
14. Drive-By Truckers- The Truman
15. Atmosphere- VooDoo
16. The Breeders- The Rave (Milwaukee)
17. Tech N9ne- Boulevardia in the West Bottoms
18. The Project H- Westport Coffee House
19. Los Texmaniacs with Flaco Jiménez- Kansas City Folk Fest at Crown Center
20. McFadden Brothers- Helzberg Hall

21. Marcus Lewis Big Band- RecordBar
22. James Taylor- Sprint Center
23. Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s “Rigoletto”- Muriel Kauffman Theater
24. Hi-Lux- Mills Record Company
25. Lucinda Williams- Starlight Theatre

(Original image of Julien Baker at Vinyl Renaissance by There Stands the Glass.)

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.

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

I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.)