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.)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Album Review: Dave Holland- Uncharted Territories


Dave Holland has ruined everything.  Again.  Uncharted Territories, the 69-year-old British bassist’s monumental new collaboration with saxophonist Evan Parker, keyboardist and electronic manipulator Craig Taborn and drummer Ches Smith, makes all other improvised music seem woefully inferior.  (I could hardly be bothered to write a review of a mainstream album by a highly respected musician for the Kansas City jazz blog Plastic Sax yesterday.)  Uncharted Territories is a searing modern masterpiece of room-clearing skronk and heartbreakingly subtle beauty.  The musicians extemporaneously play as a quartet and in “every possible subset of duo and trio configurations.”  Each of the 131 minutes is stunning.  Holland’s 1973 album Conference of the Birds is revered by free jazz enthusiasts.  Uncharted Territories is no less magnificent.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Concert Review: The Breeders at the Rave


My mother asked if I was having an affair after I told her I was in Milwaukee when she called me on Wednesday.  C’mon mom!  Infidelity hadn’t crossed my mind, although I’ll confess that I swooned over Kim and Kelley Deal at a concert by The Breeders a few hours later.

I hadn’t seen the accomplished indie-rockers in so long that I’d forgotten how effortlessly the sisters’ radiant smiles and warm voices can beguile large audiences.  About 1,000 people purchased $30 and $40 tickets to grin and sing along with the reunited classic lineup of the band at The Rave.

The Breeders’ 95-minute outing resembled the feel-good resolution of a reality television program.  Two of rock’s most agreeable eccentrics, the Deal sisters engaged in testy repartee that seemed like good-natured familial banter rather than the symptom of a more serious conflict.

I’m still not sold on the quartet’s new album All Nerve, but renditions of fresh selections including “Walking with a Killer,” “Get in the Car” and “MetaGoth” were every bit as powerful as versions of older tracks like “Cannonball” and the Pixies jam “Gigantic.”  Even so, I couldn’t shake the sense that even first-rate rock in 2018 is akin to Dixieland in 1958- it can still be vibrant and meaningful, but it’s a marginal form on the wane.

Irresistibly cheap airfare rather than the concert or a tryst (really, Ma?) lured me to Wisconsin, but the Breeders provided a nostalgic highlight of my chaste getaway.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Bring the Noise


Does my ability to withstand all 55 minutes of the recent reissue of Iannis Xenakis’ hellish cacophony Persepolis make me some kind of superhero?  Nah.  I just dig noise. 

A varied set of additional new releases of difficult music have helped me maintain equilibrium during choppy times.  While it’s not particularly loud or even conventionally disagreeable, Matthew Shipp’s solo piano release Zero is capable of unnerving fans of the thrash band Slayer.  Neither a free jazz freakout nor an avant-garde classical recital, Zero is a confrontational display of next-level genius.

Sonic Fiction places the prolific Shipp with the skronky reed player Mat Walerian, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.  The quartet balances serene beauty with unspeakable ugliness.

On the prog-rock end of the spectrum, Vortex documents a collaboration between the Swiss band Sonar and the experimental American guitarist David Torn.  Vortex is tailor-made for listeners who appreciate the discordant aspects of King Crimson and Weather Report.

I’m unable to determine if Anteloper’s Kudu is the best or worst album in this survey.  The accomplished jazz-oriented trumpeter Jaimie Branch teams up with percussionist Jason Nazary on the abrasive effort.  The addition of synthesizers and sound manipulation makes Kudo occasionally sound as if art school punks are paying homage to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.


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I reviewed the Flyover festival for The Kansas City Star.  My three favorite performances were by the Flatbush Zombies, Snow Tha Product and Post Malone.

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I examine the Uriel Herman Quartet’s appearance at Black Dolphin for Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Album Review: Rich the Factor- CEO of the Blacktop


Rich the Factor, the most respected rapper on the east side of Kansas City, continues his career renaissance with CEO of the Blacktop.  Since the termination of his incarceration in 2016, the man born Richard Johnson has issued a steady stream of bold albums.

More in keeping with the immaculate sound of a Maybach Music release than the swampy sonics that usually accompany Rich the Factor’s menacing raps, CEO of the Blacktop is loaded with essential bangers.  “Diamond N the Ruff” sounds like a secret meeting between Sly Stone and Rick Ross in Swope Park.  “Move Up” is one of the silkiest songs in Rich’s vast catalog. 

He threatens adversaries in “Flashy” by reminding them that “we from the middle/we can touch you in 24 hours/hit you with a box of shells/they two or three dollars.”  Rich could hit me in less than 24 minutes, but in doing so he’d eliminate one of his most conspicuous advocates.


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I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

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I reviewed a concert by the SFJazz Collective at Plastic Sax.

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Charles Neville has died.

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“Take a Byte,” the third song on Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, exemplifies my objection to her sensual android aesthetic.  The sterile sound just doesn’t appeal to me.  I’ll stick with Zapp’s “Computer Love” to get my digital kicks.

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I feel as if I should check myself into rehab after listening to Post Malone’s Beerbongs and Bentleys.  RIYL: alcohol, Lil Peep, drugs.  Here’s “Psycho”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)