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.)