Friday, January 17, 2020

What Rough Beast

The worst aspect of an extended illness is the inability to properly listen to music and read books.  It’s been a discouraging four weeks.  The visuals for the title track of Keeley Forsyth’s despairing new album Debris offer an accurate approximation of my headspace.  The ambitious adventure I’m about to embark on will either rehabilitate me or leave in a permanent state of disrepair.

(Self portrait by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Make Me Say Uhh

The death of the New Orleans bounce artist 5th Ward Weebie revived a dormant memory from one of my prior lives.  When I was a travelling salesman peddling the wares of independent record labels, a Houston-based wholesaler was among my most lucrative accounts for Southern rap.  The account treated sales reps like clients at a doctor’s office, a humbling system that forced me and my fellow weasels to cool our heels in a dingy waiting room.  Among the regulars was a mild-mannered guy who demurred from the loudmouthed banter common among my colleagues.

One morning I was allotted a few minutes to pitch an upcoming release from a New Orleans based artist, something akin to Weebie’s “Shake It Like a Dog”.  I compared the song’s prospects to whatever was currently hot on No Limit Records.  My buyer countered by threatening to “call Percy in here.”  Spotting my confusion, the buyer stunned me by revealing that the quiet sales rep was Percy Miller, a.k.a. Master P, the genius behind No Limit Records.  Miller continued to make sales calls to key accounts even after he made the world say uhh.  You can keep Superman and Clark Kent.  I’m sticking with Master P and Percy Miller.

I contribute weekly music previews to The Kansas City Star.

Recently at Plastic Sax: an appreciation of the Kansas City journeyman Todd Wilkinson and my annual survey of the top stories and trends on Kansas City’s jazz scene.

I feel obligated to note the passing of Neil Peart.  I harbor unironic affection for 2112.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, January 07, 2020


The arrival of Dylan Pyles’ 20-minute Solo Acoustic Guitar, Vol. 1 on streaming services sent me down a redemptive rabbit hole.  Vastly different from the lo-fi freak-folk of his 2019 album Popular Songs for the Heart, Pyles’ genial picking on the EP is in the sublime tradition of John Fahey and Glenn Jones, solo guitar masters in thrall of Mississippi John Hurt’s soothing country blues. 

As reassuring as Mister Rogers and as profound as John Milton, Hurt isn’t merely one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  He’s a spiritual healer.  Bingeing on Hurt while riding out a rough patch bolsters me.  I suspect his songs are universal panaceas. 

Are you sad?  “Candy Man” will set you straight.  Lovelorn?  Try “C.C. Rider.”  Wanna party?  I recommend “Corrinna, Corrinna.”  Need a laugh?  “Funky Butt” to the rescue.  In an existential quandary?  You need “Here I Am, Oh Lord, Send Me.”  Kids underfoot?  Introduce them to “You Are My Sunshine.”  Can’t sleep?  “Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor” is a sublime lullaby.  Curious about the origins of roguish rap?  “Big Leg Blues” is shocking.  And as many readers of this missive already know, Hurts’ 1928 sessions for the Okeh label are among the best sounds ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

I created an audio feature about the barroom preacher Carl Butler for KCUR.

I write weekly concert recommendations for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

I Feel a Lot More Like I Do Now

Sleepy LaBeef has died.  I caught at least five performances by the towering musical encyclopedia in the 1980s.  It’s really not much of an achievement.  LaBeef seemed to roll through town every few months, and I was neck-deep in roots music in that bygone era.  LaBeef was on the same touring circuit as Luther Allison, Marcia Ball, Lonnie Brooks, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Joe “King” Carrasco, Otis Clay, Eddie Clearwater, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Joe Ely, John Lee Hooker, the Morells, Queen Ida, Hound Dog Taylor, Koko Taylor, Barrence Whitfield and Webb Wilder.  I attended plenty of shows by each of those acts as a young man.  My allegiance to conventional bar bands seems entirely peculiar now.  Hooker aside, I don’t think I listened to a single song by anyone on that list in 2019. As LaBeef sang, I feel a lot more like I do now than I ever did before.

I write concert previews for The Kansas City Star every week.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Sunday, December 29, 2019


Dozens of neglected 2019 releases are still in my virtual queue.  I haven’t heard a note of potentially excellent albums by artists including Benjamin Bernheim, Ali Farka Touré, Gang Starr, Joe Henry, Londynn B, Thurston Moore and Xylouris White.  I got around to checking out recent efforts by Soweto Kinch and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra only after publishing my best-music-of-2019 list.  Kinch blends the trad-jazz of New Orleans with London grime on the 64-minute concept album The Black Peril.  The harmonious mashup of the styles associated with Jelly Roll Morton and Dizzee Rascal validates my assertion that jazz and rap are marginally different components of the same continuum.  The Iceland Symphony Orchestra introduces four new works on the riveting Concurrence.  Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s “Metacosmos” sounds like an instant classic and Páll Ragnar Pálsson’s composition “Quake” may be even better.

Bobby Watson is The Plastic Sax Person of the Decade.

From the Redemption of Kanye West department: “Mary” isn’t actually an opera.  Instead, it’s like an extremely ambitious variation of a church’s traditional Journey to Bethlehem presentation.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, December 27, 2019

Redemption Songs

Mea culpa.  Just two months after I retracted my longstanding support of Kanye West following the release of the loathsome Jesus Is King, the troubled icon redeemed himself with the release of the Sunday Services Choir’s glorious Jesus Is Born on Christmas.  It’s the gospel album I wanted from West all along.  The consecrated versions of West’s “Ultralight Beam” and “Father Stretch” as well as a reworking of SWV’s “Weak” will receive the most attention, but the rest of the selections are just as powerful.  My favorite tracks are “Follow Me,” a loopy workout that bounces between the church and the dance floor, and “That’s How the Good Lord Works,” a praise song as invigorating as a riverside baptism in January.  The best part?  West never opens his mouth.  (Almost) all is forgiven.

I write weekly concert previews for The Kansas City Star.

I consider Eldar Djangirov’s new solo piano album Letter to Liz at Plastic Sax.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Hold Your Own: The Top Albums, Songs and Performances of 2019

The 50 Top Performances of 2019
1. The Art Ensemble of Chicago- Tennessee Theatre (Knoxville, Big Ears Festival)
2. Lauryn Hill- Kauffman Stadium
3. Logan Richardson’s Blues People- Capsule
4. Alisa Weilerstein, Sergey Khachatryan, Inon Barnatan and Colin Currie- Folly Theater
5. Rickie Lee Jones- Crossroads KC
6. Tomeka Reid, Nicole Mitchell and Mike Reed- St. John’s Cathedral (Knoxville, Big Ears Festival)
7. Jupiter & Okwess- 1900 Building
8. Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs- Bijou Theatre (Knoxville, Big Ears Festival)
9. Little Joe Hernandez- Barney Allis Plaza
10. The Art Ensemble of Chicago- Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Chicago Jazz Festival)

11. Carrie Underwood- Sprint Center
12. Wilco- Midland theater
13. Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl- The Mill & Mine (Knoxville, Big Ears Festival)
14. Khatia Buniatishvili- Folly Theater
15. The Greeting Committee- West Bottoms (Boulevardia festival)
16. Max Richter with Grace Davidson and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble- Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater (Austin)
17. The Sextet- RecordBar
18. Khalid- Sprint Center
19. Kane Brown- Silverstein Eye Centers Arena
20. Elton John- Sprint Center

21. Tech N9ne- Silverstein Eye Centers Arena
22. Ehud Ettun and Henrique Eisenmann- 1900 Building
23. Riyaaz Qawwali- Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (New York City)
24. Mary J. Blige- Starlight Theatre
25. Rodney Crowell- 04 Center (Austin)
26. Matt Otto, Danny Embrey and Brian Steever- Black Dolphin
27. Bobby Watson & Horizon- White Recital Hall
28. Cardi B- Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
29. The Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet- Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Chicago Jazz Festival)
30. Al Foster Quintet- Smoke (New York City)

31. Orville Peck- RecordBar
32. Leo Wadada Smith- The Standard (Knoxville, Big Ears Festival)
33. X- Knuckleheads
34. Nadia Larcher with Ensemble Ibérica- MTH Theater
35. Gov’t Mule- Crossroads KC
36. Alessia Cara- Sprint Center
37. Squeeze- Chicago Theatre
38. Aaron Parks’ Little Big- Blue Room
39. Metallica- Sprint Center
40. AACM Great Black Music Ensemble- Fred Anderson Park (Chicago)

41. Lana Del Rey- Uptown Theater
42. Snarky Puppy- Muriel Kauffman Theatre
43. The Metropolitan Opera’s “Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle”- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York City)
44. Eric Church- Sprint Center
45. Stanley Clarke Quartet- Church of Scientology Center of Kansas City
48. Celine Dion- Sprint Center
49. Mama Said String Band- Churchill Downs (Louisville)
50. Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Pamela Frank with the Kansas City Symphony- Helzberg Hall

The Top 50 Songs of 2019
Spotify playlist
1. Purple Mountains- “All My Happiness is Gone”
2. Billie Eilish- “Bury a Friend”
3. Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus- “Old Town Road”
4. Ariana Grande- “NASA”
5. Kate Tempest- “Hold Your Own”
6. 2 Chainz featuring Kendrick Lamar- “Momma I Hit a Lick”
7. Rapsody featuring D’Angelo and GZA- “Ibtihaj”
8. Lauren Daigle- “You Say” (piano version)
9. Reba McEntire- “Stronger Than the Truth”
10. Michael Kiwanuka- “Living in Denial”

11. Summer Walker with PartyNextDoor- “Just Might”
12. Bonnie Prince Billy- “In Good Faith”
13. Jon Pardi- “Heartache Medication”
14. Sarathy Korwar featuring MC Mawali- “Mumbay”
15. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib featuring Anderson Paak- “Giannis”
16. Tropkillaz featuring J Balvin, Anitta and MC Zacc- “Bola Rebola”
17. 10k.Caash featuring Matt Ox- “Kerwin Frost Scratch That”
18. Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus- “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” (acoustic version)
19. Townes Van Zandt- “Sky Blue”
20. José James with Ledisi and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- “I Need Your Love”

21. Natti Natasha- “Pa’ Mala Yo”
22. Randy Rogers Band- “Drinking Money”
23. Charles Bradley- “Lucifer”
24. Tyler Childers- “All Your’n”
25. PJ Morton featuring Jazmine Sullivan- “Built For Love”
26. Kanye West- “God Is”
27. Brittany Howard- “He Loves Me”
28. Lana Del Rey- “Bartender”
29. P.P. Arnold- “Baby Blue”
30. Lizzo- “Jerome”

31. Megan Thee Stallion- “Big Drank”
32. The Highwomen- “Cocktail and a Song”
33. Leonard Cohen- “The Hills”
34. Bill MacKay- “Birds of May”
35. Kvelertak- “Båtebrann”
36. Luke Combs- “Beer Never Broke My Heart”
37. Beast Coast- “It Ain’t Easy, It Ain’t Easy”
38. City Girls- “JT First Day Out”
39. Dinosaur Pile-Up- “Back Foot”
40. Wilco- “Bright Leaves”

41. Bill Frisell- “Everywhere”
42. Keaton Conrad- “What Am I Supposed To Do?”
43. Fontaines D.C.- “Roy’s Tune”
44. Pusha T featuring Kash Doll- “Sociopath”
45. Tiwa Savage- “49-99”
46. Fidlar- “By Myself”
47. Gucci Man- “Mr. Wop”
48. Karol G- “Punto G”
49. Tedeschi Trucks Band- “Hard Case”
50. Mavis Staples- “One More Change”

The Top 50 Albums of 2019
1. Jamila Woods- Legacy! Legacy!
2. Solange- When I Get Home
3. The Art Ensemble of Chicago- We Are On the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Ghosteen
5. Tyler, The Creator- Igor
6. Miranda Lambert- Wildcard
7. Kris Davis- Diatom Ribbons
8. Mike and the Moonpies- Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
9. Caroline Shaw and the Attacca Quartet- Orange
10. Flying Lotus- Flamagra

11. Earthgang- Mirrorland
12. Little Simz- Grey Area
13. Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan- Epistrophy
14. Jóhann Jóhannsson- 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann
15. Lee “Scratch” Perry- Rainford
16. Brockhampton- Ginger
17. Brother Ali- Secrets & Escapes
18. Laura Jurd- Stepping Back, Jumping In
19. J. Cole and Dreamville- Revenge of the Dreamers III
20. Raphael Saadiq- Jimmy Lee

21. Sampa the Great- The Return
22. Anderson Paak- Venture
23. Alasdair Roberts- A Fiery Margin
24. Santana- Africa Speaks
25. Calvin Weston- Dust and Ash
26. Matana Roberts- Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis
27. Torche- Admission
28. Brooks & Dunn- Reboot
29. Beyoncé- Homecoming
30. Jamie Branch- Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise

31. Hilary Hahn- 6 Partitas for Violin: Antón García-Abril
32. Beast Coast- Escape From New York
33. Aldous Harding- Designer
34. Michael Fabiano- Verdi & Donizetti
35. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- Ancestral Recall
36. Avery R. Young- Tubman
37. Oren Ambarchi- Simian Angel
38. Terri Lyne Carrington- Waiting Game
39. Samantha Fish- Kill or be Kind
40. Danny Brown- Uknowhatimsayin?

41. Miguel Zenón- Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera
42. Volbeat- Rewind, Replay, Rebound
43. YBN Cordae- The Lost Boy
44. Romeo Santos- Utopia
45. Rhye- Spirit
46. Jimmie Vaughan- Baby, Please Come Home
47. Angel Bat Dawid- The Oracle
48. Becky G- Mala Santa
49. Black Mountain- Destroyer
50. DJ Shadow- Our Pathetic Age

The Top 25 Reissues, Reconstructions, Reimaginings, Compilations and Historial Releases of 2019
1. Eric Dolphy- Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 N.Y. Studio Sessions
2. Prince- 1999 (Super Deluxe Edition)
3. Prince- Originals
4. John Coltrane- Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings
5. Marvin Gaye- You're the Man
6. Jay McShann- Live in Tokyo 1990
7. Anthony Braxton- Quartet (New Haven) 2014
8. Burial- Tunes 2011-2019
9. Prince- The Versace Experience
10. Azymuth- Demos (1973-1975), Vol. 1 & 2

11. The Time for Peace is Now: World Spirituality Classics 2: Gospel Music About Us
12. The Band- The Band: 50th Anniversary
13. Oklahoma! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording)
14. Esbjörn Svensson Trio- Live in Gothenburg
15. Leonard Cohen- Thanks for the Dance
16. Miles Davis- Rubberband
17. Outro Tempo II: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil, 1984-1996
18. Stan Getz Quartet- Live at the Village Gate, 1961
19. Creedence Clearwater Revival- Live at Woodstock
20. David S. Ware- Théâtre Garonne, 2008

21. Soul Jazz Records Presents: Bunny Lee Dreads Enter the Gates With Praise
22. Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991)
23. The Beatles- Abbey Road (Super Deluxe Edition)
24. Mary J. Blige- Herstory Vol. 1
25. Attarazat Addahabia- Al Hadaoui

The Top 10 EPs of 2019
1. Drugs and Attics- Clean Their Room
2. Earl Sweatshirt- Feet of Clay
3. Kevin Abstract- Ghettobaby
4. Zara McFarlane- East of the River Nile
5. Channel Tres- Black Moses
6. Rico Nasty- Anger Management
7. Kitten- Goodbye Honeymoon Phase
8. The Greeting Committee- I’m Afraid I’m Not Angry
9. Lil Peep- Goth Angel Sinner
10. Shredders- Great Hits

(Original image of the Art Ensemble of Chicago at the Chicago Jazz Festival by There Stands the Glass.)