Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Taryn Miller, a Lawrence, KS resident originally from Winfield, Kansas, is Your Friend. Her first offering on Domino was the re-released EP Jekyll/Hyde which was filled with accessible experimentation and served as highlight for local artists. The EP's style is best summarized in a quote from a Kansas City paper Miller provided early this year at the eve of this album's release; "I stopped overthinking it, I was like, 'Do it for your own sake. Just enjoy it'"
The quote speaks volumes to the Jekyll/Hyde release. Those songs explored soundscapes without getting pretentious. However, Gumption, her debut LP, seems to be reaching and indeed, overthinking things. It's 8 songs, with each track nearing the 5 minute mark. Its songs find space and never come back. Tracks get stuck with Miller's big voice surrounded by drowning electronic sounds and sparse drums, which is pleasant, but it doesn't always feel like a song. There's good bits to be sure and of course, she doesn't have to write songs, Miller can be as punk rock as she wants. She could be saying, fuck songs and go Glenn Branca on everyone, she'd still be cool, but it still won't mean the album is any good.
Hopefully, this release serves to calm Miller down and help her return with a more focused effort. And sure, people will like Gumption's constantly meandering song structures, the whole LP messes around as much as most a Deerhoof album does (and people love that shit). But, Deerhoof's saving grace is they give you at least a few obvious hits for every 30 minutes of noodling around.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Max Groove is a Kansas City jazz pianist/keyboard player, who over the years put out around dozen albums and is still active today. He has worked with a host of musicians locally and from around the US and started early on the smooth jazz scene, the claim being he is a pioneer in the genre.
Center of Gravity from 1987 is typical of what he is about. Highly polished jazz and an 80's smoothness that can sound dated today. However, back then, this was highly sophisticated production. It sounds a lot like elevator music, but some people are into that. Some of the robotic sounds are interesting, but nothing terribly off the wall. The players are all very talented and Max Groove pens much of his work, so its impressive in that regard.
Live Performance in St. Joe, MO
Saturday, September 3, 2016
This LP is more of the 80's KC jazz scene players trying to bring back a legitimate KC jazz scene instead of trying to hang onto a memory. There's a number of these LPs floating around all featuring a combination of many of the same players featured here.
Pulling this one out just recently, what struck me is that the longtime KU professor, Chuck Berg, played tenor on it. Berg just passed recently at the end of July, but he was a well known/loved film and music professor at KU. A good friend of mine took a Jazz in Cinema course from Berg. During one of the classes, Berg mentioned how he was once in a rock n' roll band to which my friend asked the name and was told Spider and the Traps. Constantly digging, my friend then asked if there were any Spider and the Traps records released, to which Berg advised him there were not. Undeterred, my buddy tracked down a 7" by Spider and the Traps (there were at least two released) and confronted him with it. Berg still held that he wasn't on it as he was unaware the band released anything. Maybe he wasn't on it, but, maybe he just didn't want to admit to recording with a juvenile frat rock band.
He never mentioned this record to my friend. He was a jazz snob, maybe he would've proudly proclaimed this LP as something he was part of. It's decent, although the Quintet's name, Sherry Jones Mike Ning Quintet, is a bit fractured. For 80's jazz, these players never sounded too 80's. It's still pretty slick, but it's not smothered by smooth jazz and quiet storm sounds, they try to keep a bit more traditional.
This LP looked pretty promising, the caricature of Ron Curtis looks like a man who isn't messing around. However, it's pretty unexciting gospel numbers arranged and played by Ron Curtis at his piano.
The backside will notify you that Curtis was born in Kansas City, Kansas way back in 1937. However, it makes pretty clear that he became a native Californian at some point as he became well-known in gospel music circles in the state. His bio also describes a guy who flirted around with non-secular music up until 1961, playing country music in night clubs. He then began a long career in gospel music, playing with numerous acts and as a solo pianist.
Again, nothing too exciting, just a guy running through some gospel tunes on a piano. There's a bit of accompaniment, but it's primaraly Curtis.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Been putting this one off for a while. When I started doing this blog, I was worried about all the Kansas LPs I'd be sifting through, but I've grown to like the band Kansas. What I should have been dreading is Shooting Star albums.
This is Shooting Star's first LP which was recorded in England (they were after all, the first American band to be signed by the Virgin label) by Gus Dudgeon who did more famous work with the likes of Elton John and David Bowie. The result is over the top pomp rock with heavy emphasis on good times, being awesome, and getting the girl back. I mean, they're competent players and while pomp-rock can be great (see the band Boston), Shooting Star is just too fucking happy. No matter what the circumstances are, Shooting Star is fucking winning and celebrating with guitars.
Just watch this video, these guys won 1979.
This LP is very 'Waiting for Guffman.' The Ballad of Black Jack was a musical written by former Baker University professor, Don Mueller, for Baldwin's centennial Maple Leaf celebration in 1970. Through musical theater, it attempts to tell the story of Baldwin, KS in the era of Bleeding Kansas. So, it's not as hokey as the musical from 'Waiting for Guffman,' the subject matter is serious, but the musical theater aspect is an acquired taste.
As evidenced by the many online obituaries for Mr. Mueller, who passed in 2013, the Ballad of Black Jack was obviously well-remembered and apparently performed multiple times after it's debut in 1970. Coincidentally, is a recording of the musical's debut as evidenced by the label.
My favorite part about this LP is that I found it in a plain white outer jacket with the title, 'The Ballad of Black Jack' written across the top in permanent marker. I'm not sure if there was ever a cover printed for it. Seemed pretty local when I found it, so I looked inside and found Don Mueller's 2013 Lawrence Journal World obituary placed inside. Figured, whoever took the time to do so, wanted to keep it for posterity...just assuming I'm carrying that on even though it ended up in a Goodwill 3 years later.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Josh Berwanger is apparently just going with his last name now...at least according to this 6 song EP put out by High/Dive Records.
Demonios is Berwanger growing fonder of the power pop treasure trove he discovered when making his self-titled debut. These six tracks find him trying to master his own brand of the genre. In addition to late-70's skinny tie sounds, he is attempting to mix the swagger of 80's hard rock and the groove of 70's jam bands. It's a decent mix, but he can't drop the influences of his work in the Anniversary, there's still a lot of Weezer and 90's alterno-rock hiding in the corners of his songs.
As catchy as his solo debut was, you could tell it owed a lot to others. Demonios finds the songwriter finding more of himself in his new power pop hooks. He's still the goofy character with a backward baseball cap and outlandish fashion, but his version of the american teenager culture starts to grow on you, motorcycles, heartache, and suburban punks start to make a lot of sense on these tracks.
Live Radio Performance