Friday, August 16, 2019

Album Review: Mike and the Moonpies- Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

I’ve long thought of Mike and the Moonpies as a likeable Texas honky tonk band that’s coated in the same red dirt as dozens of interchangeable ensembles.  The group’s new album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold elevates Mike and Moonpies from the slag heap to the showroom. 

As someone who was raised on countrypolitan albums by the likes of Charlie Rich, the woozy songs of three-named Texas outlaws like Jerry Jeff Walker and cheesy country radio hits by cornballs including Conway Twitty, listening to Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold feels like going home.

The accents provided by the London Symphony Orchestra are likely to elicit comparisons to the occasionally ornate work of Sturgill Simpson, but the 31-minute Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold moves me in ways that Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music never did.

While they engage in country clichés, songs like “If You Want a Fool Around” and “You Look Good in Neon” transcend the genre.  And the opening lines of the title track- “I think I'll buy us all a round/We can toast the cheapest silver/That high and lonesome sound/The nights we don't remember” buckle my bum knee.


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My audio feature about the Kansas City blues artist Heather Newman aired on KCUR this morning.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Enigmatic ECM

A chill went down my spine when the ECM Records spokesman Steve Lake revealed that dozens of the label’s out-of-print albums were in the process of being digitized during a panel discussion at the Big Ears Festival in March.  The deluge of castoffs from my favorite record label recently hit streaming services.  I’m drowning in improvised European sounds.  Capsule reviews of ten titles follow.  While none of the ostensible duds by prominent artists and obscurities by relative unknowns are unheralded masterpieces, each merits the consideration of listeners with similar predilections.  The albums are listed in order of my personal preference.


Enrico Rava Quartet- Ah (1980)
Thrilling post-bop.

Tom van der Geld and Children at Play- Out Patience (1977)
Akin to a new age version of Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch.

Rena Rama- Landscapes (1977)
Echoes of Old and New Dreams.

Enrico Rava Quartet- Opening Night (1982)
Intermittent brilliance.

Jack DeJohnette’s Directions- Untitled (1976)
Eccentricities indulged.

Arild Andersen- Lifelines (1981)
The trumpet and flugelhorn of Kenny Wheeler shine on the date led by the Norwegian bassist.

Steve Kuhn Quartet- Last Year’s Waltz (1982)
The live recording with vocalist Sheila Jordan is entirely unlike an ECM production.

Hajo Weber and Ulrich Ingenbold- Winterreise (1982)
Enchanting guitars.

Om- Kirikuki (1976)
Imagine a collaboration between the ethereal flautist Paul Horn and the noisy guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer.

Gary Burton Quartet- Easy as Pie (1981)
His least rewarding album.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image of Hyeyoung Shin’s “Tide” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Concert Review: Mary J. Blige and Nas at Starlight Theatre

An acquaintance made a distressing confession on Thursday morning.  Citing gun violence and festering social divisions, she told me she was dumbfounded by her daughter’s decision to become pregnant.  Had my friend joined me at the Mary J. Blige and Nas concert at Starlight Theatre that evening, her heartache might have been mended.  Blige offered a generous form of spiritual healing to members of the audience 6,000.

At the risk of committing blasphemy, I’ll suggest that Blige suffers for our sins.  Her unfiltered exploration of pain makes Blige one of the best performers of the new millennium.  She collapsed during a cathartic rendition of “No More Drama” and conducted her signature inelegant dance moves to chants of “go Mary” as if violent physical exertion might expel emotional trauma.

Blige exudes a sense of selflessness, but Nas is in it for himself.  Even though he and a backing band ran through many of his essential hits, his set was wack.  Nas said he didn’t recall the last time he performed in the area- this disappointed fan knows that his previous Kansas City appearance was with Damien Marley at the Beaumont Club in 2009- and repeatedly made the common faux pas of insisting he was in Kansas.  He doubled down on his geographical ignorance by asking “is this where Dorothy got lost?”

Nas’ indifference caused him to slip a few notches on my rap G.O.A.T. list.  My estimation of Blige, however, continues to grow.  If the $45.50 I paid at the gate doubled as a faith-based offering, Blige’s testimony represents one of the most rousing sermons I’ve heard.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Album Review: Cory Wong- Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul

I’ve long harbored a reverie about hanging out in off-the-strip Las Vegas taverns that feature old-school lounge acts.  Never having been to Sin City for anything but harried business trips as an adult, I don’t even know if joints like that still exist.  The sounds on Cory Wong’s Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul are precisely what I have in mind.  The opening track could be a collaboration between Bruno Mars and Snarky Puppy.  Other selections sound as if members of Celine Dion’s pit band are on a woozy jazz bender.  “Today I’m Gonna Get Myself a Real Job” resembles an outtake from the score of La La Land while “Starting Line” is cheesy chorus line-style pop.  The pep talk freakout “Compassion Pass”- “you’ll never be as good at being Pat Metheny as Pat Metheny is at being Pat Metheny”- is worthy of prime Was (Not Was).  Much like Las Vegas, Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul is garishly tacky and curiously beguiling.


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I  featured tracks by Jay McShann, Drugs and Attics, Anderson.Paak and Solange on a Best Music of 2019 (So Far) segment on KCUR’s Up To Date.

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I made a contentious appearance on 90.9 The Bridge’s Thursdays with Timothy Finn show.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

July Recap

Top Five Performances
1. Khalid- Sprint Center
(My review.)
2. Ehud Ettun and Henrique Eisenmann- 1900 Building
(My review.)
3. Alessia Cara- Sprint Center
(My review.)
4. Gov’t Mule- Crossroads KC
(My Instagram clip.)
5. Ryan Keberle & Catharsis- National World War I Museum and Memorial
(My review.)


Top Five Albums
1. Laura Jurd- Stepping Back, Jumping In
The British whiz kid can do no wrong.
2. Avery R. Young- Tubman.
Good news from Chicago.
3. J. Cole and Dreamville- Revenge of the Dreamers III
Number one with a rubber bullet.
4. Torche- Admission
Coerced confessions.
5. Elew- Cubism
Kurt Rosenwinkel’s compositions stripped bare.


Top Five Songs
1. Beyoncé- “Spirit”
Luxury brand pop.
2. A$AP Ferg- “Floor Seats”
Front row.
3. Volbeat- “Pelvis on Fire”
Goofing on Elvis.
4. Miranda Lambert- “It All Comes Out in the Wash”
So fresh and so clean, clean.
5. Willow- “Time Machine”
Kate Bush meets Future.


I conducted the same exercise in June, May, April, March, February and January.

(Original image of Gov’t Mule by There Stands the Glass.)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Big Shoulders of Avery R. Young, Chance the Rapper and Resavoir

Avery R. Young’s Tubman. is a historically-minded, gospel-oriented song cycle emphasizing liberation theology.  Clearly influenced by Syl Johnson’s urgent 1970 album Is It Because I’m Black, the murky blend of gospel, blues and soul on Tubman. is another momentous statement from Chicago.  The curtains of the mysterious project are parted for Young’s appearance on a daytime television show in his hometown.

Gospel also informs the highly anticipated album by a far more popular Chicago artist.  As the programming director of the hypothetical radio station The Juice, I’d immediately put a third of the tracks on Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day into heavy rotation.  In the real world, however, The Big Day is a massive disappointment.  I continue to adore Chance’s outlook, but the transcendent magic that characterizes his best work is missing. 

The Big Day would have benefitted from a more open embrace of Chicago’s thriving jazz scene.  The city threatens to overtake New York as the jazz capital of the world.  Resavoir’s thrilling new self-titled album on the essential International Anthem label documents a transportive component of Chicago’s improvised music scene that bears little resemblance to anything on the conventional The Big Day or the gritty Tubman..

(Original image of Chicago by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Twinkle Twinkle, Kurt Rosenwinkel

I never spent much time with the music of Kurt Rosenwinkel.  While it’s fun to blame my unfamiliarity with most of his catalog on a petty dislike of his hats, my ignorance stems from never having seen a performance by the acclaimed guitarist, composer and bandleader.  I’ve blown off chances to see him in New York City, and I didn’t catch him at his two area appearances in recent years (at the Blue Room in 2009 and at the KU Jazz Festival in 2013.)

Eric Lewis, the genre-bending artist who works as Elew, just issued a new solo piano album of Rosenwinkel compositions on Rosenwinkel’s in-house record label.  The stunning project reveals that Rosenwinkel’s songs merit comparison to the likes of Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny.  Cubism inspired me to go down a rabbit hole.

I began my Rosenwinkel binge with Do It 1992.  Released in April, the goofy 23-minute project features a throwback drum production.  I moved on to Caipi, a bossa nova-inspired pop album released in 2017.  It’s jarringly weird.  I jumped back to the 2003 album Heartcore.  How I regret missing this stunningly prescient project!  Rosenwinkel anticipates the sound collages popularized by James Blake, Kanye West and Justin Vernon a decade later.

By the time I finally get around to studying the remainder of Rosenwinkel’s extensive catalog, I won’t be thinking about hats.


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I reviewed concerts by Shawn Mendes and Khalid at the Sprint Center for The Kansas City Star.

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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I reviewed the return of Ehud Ettun and Henrique Eisenmann to the 1900 Building at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)