Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ain’t Nobody Praying For Me: Music Midway in 2017

The Top Songs of 2017 (So Far)
Three topics that have unsettled my home during the last six months- faith, sobriety and formulating an appropriate response to the new political climate- are addressed on Brother Ali’s hopeful anthem.(Spotify playlist)

1. Brother Ali- “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”
2. Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos- “Slide”
3. Kendrick Lamar- “Humble”
4. Valerie June- “Astral Plane”
5. Sunny Sweeney- “Bottle by My Bed”
6. Lorde- “Liability”
7. Rick Ross featuring Young Thug- “Trap Trap Trap”
8. Young Fathers- “Only God Knows”
9. Future- “Mask Off”
10. Ibibio Sound Machine- “Give Me a Reason”

11. Fat Joe and Remy Ma- “Spaghetti”
12. Alejandro Fernandez- “Agridulce”
13. José James- “To Be With You”
14. Craig Finn- “God in Chicago”
15. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- “Hope the High Road”
16. Mark Eitzel- “The Last Ten Years”
17. Adriel Favela- “Me Llamo Juan”
18. Stik Figa- “Cold”
19. Rodney Crowell- “It Ain’t Over Yet”
20. Migos- “T-Shirt”

21. Chronixx- “Majesty”
22. Motionless in White- “Loud”
23. Carlos Vives- “Al Filo de Tu Amor”
24. Chief Keef- “Reefah”
25. Ledisi- “High”


The Top Albums of 2017 (So Far)
No contest- 2017 belongs to Kendrick Lamar.

1. Kendrick Lamar- Damn
2. Matt Otto- Ibérica
3. Orchestra Baobab- Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
4. Future- Future
5. Sunny Sweeney- Trophy
6. Tinariwen- Elwan
7. Juana Molina- Halo
8. Víkingur Ólafsson- Philip Glass: Piano Works
9. Bobby Watson- Made In America
10. Migos- Culture

11. Miguel Zenón- Típico
12. Future- Hndrxx
13. Making Movies- I Am Another You
14. Brother Ali- All the Beauty In This Whole Life
15. Wavves- You’re Welcome
16. Samantha Fish- Chills & Fever
17. Omar Souleyman- To Syria, With Love
18. Syd- Fin
19. Yelena Eckemoff- Blooming Tall Phlox
20. Gorillaz- Humanz

21. Uniform- Wake In Fright
22. Oleta Adams- Third Set
23. Jessi Colter- The Psalms
24. Willie Nelson- God’s Problem Child
25. Lorde- Melodrama


The Top Shows of 2017 (So Far)
My cousin the opera star made me wince from laughing so hard in my front row seat at the Folly Theater.  Eric Owens one-upped him by causing me to sob.

1. Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens- Folly Theater
2. Charlie Wilson, Fantasia and Johnny Gill- Sprint Center
3. A Place to Bury Strangers- Madrid Theatre (opening for the Black Angels)
4. Donny McCaslin Trio- Folly Theater
5. Salif Keita- Town Hall (New York City)
6. Greg Tardy Trio- Blue Room
7. Danilo Pérez’s Jazz 100- Yardley Hall
8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Strand of Oaks- Uptown Theater
9. Halestorm- Rockfest at Kansas Speedway
10. Jack DeJohnette Trio- Gem Theater

11. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood- Sprint Center
12. Ramsey Lewis- Gem Theater
13. Patti LaBelle- Muriel Kauffman Theatre
14. Joseph- Madrid Theatre
15. Jessica Care Moore- Black Archives of Mid-America
16. Soundgarden and Dillinger Escape Plan- Starlight Theatre
17. Alaturka- Polsky Theatre
18. Lalah Hathaway- Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in the Jazz District
19. Pure Disgust- Encore Room
20. Jimmy LaFave- Folk Alliance at the Westin Crown Center

21. Tech N9ne- Midland theater
22. Punch Brothers- Crossroads KC
23. Motionless in White- Midland theater
24. Simone Porter- Folly Theater
25. George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic- Boulevardia in the Stockyards District

(Original image of Lalah Hathaway by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Album Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound


By evoking peak-era Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band during Ink’s Middle of the Map Festival at the Uptown Theater in May, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s concert at the Uptown Theater momentarily restored my faith in the viability of traditional rock and roll.  The best songs on the setlist- “If We Were Vampires” and “Hope the High Road”- acted as previews of the forthcoming The Nashville Sound.  It’s a drag, consequently, that those songs are far and away the album’s best tracks.  I’ll probably listen to “If We Were Vampires and “Hope the High Road” for the remainder of my life, but I’m just not down with the rest of The Nashville Sound.


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I wrote a feature about Oleta Adams for KCUR.

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I reviewed Ann Wilson’s concert at the Uptown Theater.

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I reviewed George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic’s appearance at the Boulevardia festival.

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Willie Nelson was rained out on Saturday, but I reviewed opening sets by Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen.

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Concerts by John Legend and Portugal. The Man were my shows of the week for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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I named My Brothers & Sisters the KCUR Band of the Week.

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I take note of Gerald Spaits latest release at Plastic Sax.

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My weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star are here and here.

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Prodigy of Mobb Deep has died.

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Ben Goldberg School’s The Humanities is RIYL Henry Threadgill, the combination of clarinet and accordion, Don Byron.

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I had a spiritual epiphany while listening to the opening selection of Ahmad Jamal’s excellent new Marseille. Here’s a music video for the fourth track.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Album Review: Juana Molina- Halo


My insomnia has a soundtrack.  When my mind races like a hamster on a wheel in spite of my exhaustion, my imagination generates gentle buzzes, soothing bleeps and reassuring coos.  Juana Molina may suffer from the same curious malady.  Her enchanting new album Halo is precisely what I hear on sleepless nights.


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I reviewed a production of “The Who’s Tommy” on Friday.

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I reviewed “You’ve Got a Friend” at Quality Hill Playhouse on Saturday.

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I reviewed a Punch Brothers concert at Crossroads KC on Sunday.

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I reviewed Muse and Thirty Seconds to Mars at Starlight Theatre on Monday.

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John Legend’s concert at Starlight Theatre is my pick of the week for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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I named Hembree KCUR’s Band of the Week.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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Footage of the late Jimmy LaFave’s powerful performance at the Folk Alliance conference in February has emerged.

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I hopped on the bandwagon for Gorillaz' Humanz last week.

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Ambrose Akinmusire’s A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard doesn’t move me.  RIYL: Wallace Roney, disappointments, Roy Hargrove.

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Benjamin Booker’s Witness is the rare roots-rock album that isn’t afraid of upsetting the apple cart.  RIYL: Gomez, powerful voices, Heartless Bastards.  Here’s ”Believe”.

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Canned arrangements and lackluster production spoil Maysa’s Love Is a Battlefield.  RIYL: Anita Baker, romance, Ledisi.  Here’s the title track.

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Even though I listened carefully to A Social Call, I’m compelled to reserve judgement on Jazzmeia Horn until I catch a live performance.  RIYL: Shirley Horn, jazz hype, Ella Fitzgerald.

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I’ve never attempted to hide my unironic affection for Papa Roach.  Crooked Teeth is RIYL Sevendust, real life, Seether.

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Heliocentrics’ trippy A World of Masks is RIYL Mulatu Astatke, groovy drones, Sun Ra.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Sour Concord Grapes


I’m not one of the three pasty men in the photograph that accompanies a The New York Times report about the latest transmutation of the entity once known as Concord Records.  While I bear a slight resemblance to the executives who oversee the conglomerate, I suppose I lack some of their business acuity.  I certainly had myriad opportunities to get in on the ground floor of the operation.  I regularly interacted with Carl Jefferson, the late founder of Concord Records, as I toiled as a sales rep for independent record labels when his company was strictly devoted to mainstream jazz recordings.  When he wasn’t scolding me about slow payments or the ostensibly light spreads of his latest releases, Jefferson and I had delightful discussions about our mutual admiration of musicians like Ruby Braff.  Even though things have worked out for me, I occasionally regret not striving to become a redoubtable music industry mogul.


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I reviewed the 25th anniversary edition of Rockfest.

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I reviewed Tech N9ne's return to the Midland.

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Future’s concert at the Sprint Center was my show of the week for The Kansas City Star and
Ink magazine.

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I gave Nick Schnebelen my KCUR Band of the Week designation.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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I reviewed Hermon Mehari’s solo debut album at Plastic Sax.

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Danny Cox recalled the summer of 1967 for The Kansas City Star.

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Bern Nix has died.

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The remix of Bob Marley & the Wailers' Exodus is disorienting.  Here’s ”Turn Your Lights Down Low”.

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Mad Decent added just the right amount of production sweetening to Omar Souleyman’s music on To Syria, With Love.  Here’s ”Chobi”.

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Cuong Vu’s Ballet is miraculous free-ish jazz.  RIYL: Bill Frisell, four (brilliant) dudes jamming, Dave Douglas.

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Orrin Evans might be my favorite mainstream jazz pianist.  His presence elevates Sean Jones’ Live From at the Bistro.  RIYL: Hermon Mehari, the St. Louis jazz club, Terrel Stafford.

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Rock may be dead, but the members of Greta Van Fleet are expert necromancers.  Black Smoke Rising is RIYL Led Zeppelin IV, gravedigging, Houses of the Holy.  Here’s ”Highway Tune”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Soft and Warm


I hit the quiet storm trifecta on Sunday.  While watching Will Downing deliver the classic 1998 ballad “Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart” at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival, I was rocked by a bolt of adult R&B inspiration.  I hustled to the nearby Celebration at the Station to hear Patti Austin perform with the Kansas City Symphony.  At the conclusion of her portion of the massive event, I raced back to the Jazz District in time to catch Oleta Adams revive her 1991 smash “Get Here”.  Rarely has my unironic embrace of slow jams been more rewarding.


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I reviewed the first and second days of the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival for The Kansas City Star.  I pontificate on the inaugural edition of the festival at Plastic Sax.

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Samantha Fish’s two-night stand at Crossroads KC was my show of the week for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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I gave Oleta Adams the KCUR Band of the Week designation.

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Gregg Allman has died.  He seemed frail at a 2015 casino gig I reviewed for The Kansas City Star.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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Mickey Roker has died.

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The new reissue of Mulatu of Africa is unassailably groovy.  The many imperfections of Mulatu Astatke’s 1972 album somehow makes the music even more perfect.  RIYL: Roy Ayers, qi, Sun Ra.

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Robert Johnson has nothing on Willie Nelson.  God’s Problem Child is yet another improbably strong album from the 84-year-old icon.

(Original image of the Celebration at the Station by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jimmy LaFave, 1955-2017




When I began attending SXSW more than 25 years ago, the event was a business conference that doubled as a showcase for locally based musicians.  Performances by the hometown hero Jimmy LaFave were among the most anticipated components of those early years.  Even though his popularity failed to keep up with the staggering growth of SXSW, LaFave remained faithful to the rootsy sound that once made him the toast of the Texas town. Nora Guthrie’s introduction of LaFave at the Folk Alliance International conference on February 18 was was warm and effusive.  Even though I wasn’t aware that he’d been diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer, I was moved by an intimate performance that included one or two of his signature Bob Dylan covers.  LaFave died last week.


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I reviewed a concert by the Black Angels and A Place to Bury Strangers.

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I reviewed outings by Railroad Earth, the Yonder Mountain String Band, Fruition and the Shook Twins at the Bluegrass in the Bottoms festival.  I also wrote a preview of the two-day event.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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Julian Vaughn was the recipient of my most recent KCUR Band of the Week designation.

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I appraise Norman Brown’s new album Let It Go at Plastic Sax.

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Chris Cornell has died.  He looked and sounded great when I saw him with Soundgarden eight days ago.

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I cued up Diana Krall’s Turn Up the Quiet out of professional obligation.  Boy, was I surprised!  The hushed collection of standards is easily my favorite release by the Canadian.  RIYL: Julie London, makeout music, June Christy.  Here’s ”Moonglow”.

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I’m embarrassingly easy.  Add horns and a semblance of swing to almost anything and I’m in.  I adore the new sound Pokey LaFarge unveils on Manic Revelations.  Here’s ”Riot In the Streets”.

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Julian Lage, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland support saxophonist Dayna Stephens on the predictably wonderful Gratitude.

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I keep listening to Mary J. Blige’s Strength of a Woman in fruitless attempts to convince myself that it’s not a bitterly disappointing mess.  ”Love Yourself” typifies the miscalculations.

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Wavves continues to outshine its peers with the remarkable You’re Welcome.  RIYL: Green Day, crying on the beach, Brian Wilson.  Here’s ”Million Enemies”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Album Review: The Mavericks- Brand New Day








Regrets, I’ve had a few thousand.  Like Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.  It hasn’t always been easy.  I was reminded of one missed opportunity while listening to the Mavericks’ new release Brand New Day.

An unsolicited CD by the then-unknown Miami based band crossed crossed my desk when I was the sales manager of a beleaguered music distribution company in 1990.  Even though I loved the music, I had to pass.  As a one-off, unproven project in the pre-internet era, I knew that timely payment to the band for shipped units would be impossible.

Having recognized the music’s potential, however, I should have offered to assist the Mavericks in a different capacity.  I would have loved to have been a part of selling and promoting What a Crying Shame, Music for All Occasions and Trampoline, three of my favorite albums of the 1990s.

The band was marketed as a country act at its commercial peak, but Brand New Day continues the band’s drift into an alternate universe in which Roy Orbison, Johnny Otis, Pérez Prado and Phil Spector are in the same band. It’s gloriously preposterous.  Here’s the title track.


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I reviewed the sixth of Garth Brooks’ seven sold-out concerts at the Sprint Center.

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I reviewed a concert by Soundgarden and the Dillinger Escape Plan on Sunday.

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I honored Ensemble Ibérica with the KCUR’s Band of the Week designation.

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I didn’t attempt to hide my inner fanboy in my extended concert preview of Chance the Rapper’s return to Kansas City.

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I write weekly music previews for The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine.

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I extol Bobby Watson’s Made in America at Plastic Sax.

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Bruce Hampton has died.  I first heard the jam band pioneer perform at a festival in a field outside of Lawrence, Kansas, in the early 1990s.

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Patti LaBelle performs a Broadway-style version of jazz on her florid new album Bel Hommage.  It’s hammy, cheesy and entirely delicious- and I love it.  LaBelle pitched the project on QVC.

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The combination of Avishai Cohen, Manfred Eicher and Nasheet Waits lights up several of my pleasure centers.

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Smino’s invigorating Blkswn is recommended if you like Chance the Rapper, St. Louis, Frank Ocean.  Here’s ”Anita”.

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Trombone Shorty courts the mainstream on Parking Lot Symphony. RIYL: Allen Toussaint, artists with staying power, Fred Wesley.

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Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ Sidelong doesn’t quite do it for me.  Even so, I hope to catch the group in 2017. RIYL: Grisly Hand, boozin’, Bottle Rockets. Here’s ”Dwight Yoakam”.

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Don Bryant’s Don’t Give Up On Love is an unexpected treat.  RIYL: Otis Clay, soul survivors, Syl Johnson.  Here’s ”How Do I Get There?”.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)