Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I’m Caught One More Time

Bill Shapiro introduced me to Astral Weeks.  I was unfamiliar with Van Morrison’s sublime album prior to hearing an episode of Shapiro’s weekly Cyprus Avenue program on KCUR in the late 1970s.  Shapiro played a significant role in my education in boomer rock by the likes of Morrison, Bob Dylan, the Band and Joni Mitchell on other episodes of Cyprus Avenue. 

I was saddened to learn of Shapiro’s death last week.  Even before perusing the outpouring of grief on social media, I knew I wasn’t the only person profoundly affected by Cyprus Avenue.   I discovered the program was a reliable sales driver when I worked in music retail in Kansas City during the 1980s and witnessed appreciative audiences at the concert series he curated at the Folly Theater in recent years.

While I’m grateful for Shapiro’s influence on my impressionable ears as a young listener, I eventually lost interest in his show.  Shapiro’s imperious tone was grating and his relatively conventional taste contained few surprises.  His 1991 consumer guide Rock and Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD is an instructive document of his inclinations.  I may have parted ways with Shapiro, but he and I will always have “Cyprus Avenue”.  To quote Shapiro, “‘nuff said.”

Here are my latest concert recommendations for The Kansas City Star.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

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.)