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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Van Der Graaf- Ship of Fools

The ship left port. The MP3 is gone.

I'm outing myself. Yes, I went through a prog rock phase. Back in the day, I was partial to Genesis, King Crimson, Gong, and even Kansas. Starting in 1976, I began to hear the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Television. My Kansas t-shirt became a dishrag. But Van Der Graaf Generator still sounded punk as anything. Peter Hammill's sneer cracks me up, and I love how this live release from '78 sounds like they're playing to only a couple dozen worshipful louts. Note: 6:44.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blue-Eyed Son- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Sorry friend- you're too late.

Listeners have complained that Blue-Eyed Son is a total Elliott Smith ripoff. They're wrong. Blue-Eyed Son plunders Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks with equal gusto. And what of it? It just shows that Blue-Eyed Son mastermind Andew Heilprin applied his great taste to 2004's West of Lincoln. I dare you not to sing along with Self-Fulfilling Prophecy's confessional folk-rock.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Kansas City Gospel Wonders- Talkin' About a Good Time

The good times are over. The MP3 is gone.

All music is best experienced live, but perhaps no form is more reliant on the interaction between performer and audience than black gospel. And since this group lacks a spectacular voice, and because the recording is a little thin, internet listeners may need to imagine the congregation's call and response to fully appreciate the Kansas City Gospel Wonders. Still, the message and groove are strong enough for even non-believers to feel it. Obtaining this 1999 CD outside of Kansas City will be tough; let me know if you need a copy and I'll scour the local mom-and-pop shops for you.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Capitol Years- Mounds of Money

The MP3 is gone.

2005 has been a great year for monstrous guitar songs. The White Stripes continued their hot streak with Blue Orchid. There was no escaping Weezer's smash Beverly Hills. And the Capitol Years hit it big with Mounds of Money. What's that? This wasn't a hit? That's preposterous! This song is two minutes of ridiculously sharp hooks, perfect fuzzy production, and more energy than a case of Red Bull. It's not too late to make it happen- there's still a month to get behind these Philly boys and their brilliantly titled Let Them Drink CD.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bobbie Cryner- He Feels Guilty

The MP3 is gone.

Cheating, lust and fenceposts- now that's what I call country. Cryner's dusky voice is reminiscent of Wynonna Judd's, and it must have been a hangover from the Judd franchise's domination that prevented this song from ruling the charts in 1993. Aside from its annoying drum sound, the Nashville production allows the soulful Cryner to pour out her pain like a country Aretha. Completists should know that this disc also includes a convincing duet with Dwight Yoakam.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shirley Horn- He's Gone Again

The MP3 is gone.

I never felt entirely welcome in Shirley Horn's rarified musical world. She was cool and sophisticated; I have dirt under my fingernails. The jazz musician died on October 20. This exceedingly quiet piece from The Garden of the Blues is a fine example of her delicate style. It's a portrait of heartbreak in formal wear. (Note- song is 6:10.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chris Whitley- Crystal Ship

The MP3 is gone.

The blues was once a dangerous, incendiary music. But America has a way of watering down its original art forms. Today, most blues has become just another way to sell prefabricated good times.

Chris Whitley was the exception. The musician is reported to have died yesterday at the age of 45. Whitley was the real deal- a scary and uncompromising bluesman. Careful listening to Whitley’s haunted voice and peerless guitar work reveals the hellhounds on his trail. While remaining wholly unique, Whitley was our modern Robert Johnson.

Perfect Day, the covers disc pictured in the photo, is good. My favorite Whitley release, however, is the terrifying Live At Martyrs’. And his second CD, Din of Ecstacy, was truly shocking when it was released in 1995. Whitley’s debut CD, Living With the Law, was an epic, mainstream production and sold very well. He was on his way to filling stadiums. Then came Din of Ecstacy, which as its title suggests, was more Sonic Youth than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Whitley was an unpredictable wild card.

True artists are a rare breed. That small number has decreased by one.

Masters of Reality- John Brown

You're Too Late!

I could never get into Cream. They seemed too deliberate and pretentious. Their recent ecstatically received reunion tour baffled me. So why do I love Masters of Reality, who are really nothing more than an excellent Cream tribute band? For starters, they're hilarious. And their heavy crunch is pushed to 11 by Rick Rubin's production on this 1988 release. Careful- it's dangerous to laugh and bang your head simultaneously.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Pomeroy- She's Dangerous

Too late!

Every fun-loving student who's attended a central Midwestern university in the last five years is intimately familiar with Pomeroy. The band provides a default soundtrack for dancing, making out, and vomiting. Pomeroy's blend of pop, metal and hip hop make them the rare party act that kids of all backgrounds can agree on. She's Dangerous is one of four new songs inside Pomeroy's new Live At the Blue Note concert DVD package. It sounds like nothing so much as a Michael Jackson remix, and serves as a proven remedy for bumping the noxious My Humps out of non-stop rotation in your brain.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ultramagnetic MC's- Checkin My Style

You're Too Late!

I’ve never known what the hell Kool Keith was talking about, and this track from 1993 is no exception. Even so, this is hilarious stuff- the random references include Sunday morning, the Flinstones, male strippers and panties. I understand the murky production is due to an ineptly recorded live band. The sonic sludge is incredibly effective. This must be why Keith brags about not needing samples from Anthrax, Bohannan or Chic. (The Four Horsemen CD is out of print.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jimmy Rowles- I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

The song is gone.

That's not singing, it's talking in tune. The worst voices are often given to the smartest singers. Pianist Jimmy Rowles is best known for his work with Billie Holiday. His cracked voice on this standard is reminiscent of Billie's tragic sound on Lady In Satin. But while Billie seemed utterly defeated, Rowles is wry and charming. This 1988 session seems to be out of print, but plenty of other titles Rowles titles are available.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Freddy Fender- Tu Se Vas

You're too late!

I love Aaron Neville. And I’m glad I can turn on the TV and hear his distinctive warble selling a plethora of products. I just wish that Freddy Fender, a similarly-voiced veteran, enjoyed the same iconic status. You can’t say he hasn’t earned it. He’s been laying down incredible music for decades. What’s the big news for Fender in 2005? According to his own website, Fender had an elevated water storage tank dedicated to him in honor of his 67th birthday in his hometown of San Benito, TX. That’s nice and all, but c’mon! Where are you, Rick Rubin? How about it, Anti? Check out this genre-bending cover of Barbara Lynn’s You’ll Lose a Good Thing. If you're keeping score, it's a soul singer doing a Spanish-language cover of a blues ballad with a countrypolitan production. Exitos En Espanol's fourteen other songs are just as compelling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Kelpie- Rail

Too late- the MP3 is gone.

My pal Matt asked me to write some prose for Kelpie's press kit, the first release on Birthday Party Records. Here are a few excerpts from my comments about the young Lawrence, KS, band:

Kelpie's music is intentionally half-baked. In the topsy-turvy alternate world of Kelpie it's possible that the boys abducted Brian Wilson, provided him with a sandbox filled with hallucinogens, and recorded the resulting jam session. While he's not credited on the disc, Sgt. Pepper must have pieced together the ambitious harmonies, delirious lyrics, funhouse piano, and odd drum patterns while blindfolded.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ted Hawkins- There Stands the Glass

You're too late!

From the moment I decided to name this forum There Stands the Glass, I knew that Ted Hawkins' version of Webb Pierce's song would be the subject of my inaugural post. Hawkins had recorded a handful of phenomenal recordings, most notably for Rounder, but it wasn't until his major label release The First Hundred Years in '94 that he received broad exposure. Hawkins toured nationally to support it; he opened each show with There Stands the Glass. This piercing cry served notice to the audience that they were in the presence of one of the greats. If you're not already hip to Hawkins, The First Hundred Years is the most accessible entry point. This live CD, The Final Tour, is also excellent. Ultimately, Rounder's Happy Hour and Watch Your Step, which showcase his devastating original songs like Sorry You're Sick and Strange Conversation, are Hawkin's most exciting efforts.