Saturday, November 30, 2013
I can tolerate Kansas City's brief foray into the realms of arena and studio rock. Shooting Star, whatever. Missouri, better than you think. Kansas, they got the prog rock thing and that's cool. But, this band is awful. The Kansas Music Hall of Fame states they barely missed their moment. The band's contemporaries like Styx, Journey, and Foreigner had all opted for a ballad driven sound while the rest of the musical landscape was filled with disco and punk--the hard rock sound of Morningstar was destined to be overlooked. Really? That may have been true on the pop charts, but last I checked, AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Who, and Led Zeppelin were putting out "hard rock" albums and staying both successful and enjoyable without support of pop radio. Last I checked, most of those bands put out good music in the late 70's. Morningstar just isn't that good.
I mean, they seem like competent players. They sound slick and polished. They have cool facial hair and great bangs on the back cover. One problem, they didn't write good songs. What they do well is showcase the ineptitude of major labels, even at a time when record labels were still successful. The band appears to be a case of major labels keeping up with the Joneses. Whenever and wherever something is successful, the labels always find a way to saturate the market with sound alikes. The band Kansas scored substantial hits in the mid-70's. Shooting Star was signed by Virgin and being thrown out there in heavy doses. The band Missouri had a moderate hit without even having major label support. So, Morningstar seems like Columbia's attempt to cash in on the Kansas/Missouri rock sound.
Even worse, the label just threw them into the melting pot. You can tell the band was forced to step outside their comfort zone in hopes of finding a hit song. There's the Styx moments on the record, the moments that try to be the working man's tune, and the moments that get sappy. This was their second album, so they tried everything. Overall, it just created an uneven album and history suggests that Columbia gave up on the band shortly after it's release.
One year after the band debuted as the Mortal Micronotz, they became simply, the Micronotz. At this point, band featured the same line up, just a change in name. They were still Lawrence teens, still hanging out with William Burroughs (pictured with the band on the lyric sheet), and still bored about being teenagers.
The speed through 8 songs on this release, they are a tad bit more seasoned, but still keep it juvenile and give a nod to Iggy Pop by covering "I Got A Right." They are a punk band, but there's pop sensibilities buried in all the charging guitars and strained vocals. Just too young to slow down at this point, no teenager wants to slow down, so it's full throttle the whole way through. It never sounds forced, perhaps a pop song would have, but I would have loved to hear them give it a try.
Still, you get some great punk tunes. Stand out punk in terms of the early 80's since by this point, punk had lost touch with actual "music" by going hardcore. And, while I wouldn't call Dean Lubensky's vocals good, when compared to the scream alongs that flanked them on every side, he's a bit more emotive and well, actually sings. The first track, "Procrastination," is where you can hear a pop song dying to get out, instead, it would have fit in fine with the SST crowd. "Feels Like" is a super charged attack on boredom. They take Iggy Pop's "I Got a Right" and make it a teenage garage raver. Time should find this band gaining more street cred, in terms of 80's punk, there's really fast or really bad and most had an agenda, there weren't enough teenage rockers like the Micronotz out there keeping it raw and punk by default.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Not sure what year this came out, but it's likely late 70's, early 80's. There's a lot of stuff like this floating around in KC. The jazz scene was a distant memory to most at this moment in time, but many of the players remained and played locally on a nightly basis. A number of brave souls decided to fund private press recordings of these old timers, I can't imagine any of them had success. By this time, Jazz was on its last legs as a genre, not just a distant memory in Kansas City.
Earl Robinson and the Five Scamps date all the way back to 1937 and were generally referred to simply as the Five Scamps. The founding members met each other working in Kansas based Great Depression work camp. They put the Scamps together and released work as Five Scamps on Columbia, O'Keh, and a few other small labels. Their early work is great jump blues and was regulated to the R&B scene that played second fiddle to Kansas City Jazz.
This release finds the band playing jazz. It doesn't swing too hard, the Sni-Blue Lounge was located next to the Sports Complex far away from Kansas City night life. The crowd would have been causal drinkers and dinner patrons. They find moments to swing, but keep it pretty in check throughout the recording.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Missouri was a Kansas City band led by Ron West. In the late 60's, West fronted a fairly cool garage band called the Chessman. He and his brothers played the local scene relying on British Invasion covers and a few originals. After the garage scene ended, Ron couldn't quite the music business. Like many former garage rockers, when AOR gained favor, West went in the same direction. His brother, Gary West, actually did the same helping to form the band Shooting Star.
The album Ron West created is a nice little success story. It was put out by Panama Records in Kansas City. It doesn't appear Panama Records did much outside a handful of local releases, however, despite being independent in a time where major labels dominated, the song "Movin' On" became a modest hit on AOR stations in the late 70's. While most the success was regionally based, it got the band onto Polydor records for the second album and on national tours as a supporting artist.
Another thing the lack of major label money did was create an enjoyable album from start to finish. In an era of progressive rock and overly produced studio rock, Missouri sounds like roots rockers. The recording sounds organic and live. Gives the LP a timeless feel and wins over the likes of other KC bands like Shooting Star and Morningstar. The band would get a slicker sound on their major label LP, however, the didn't completely lose touch with the sound on this album.
What I can't stand about the album is the cover. I get that the Arch is a Missouri landmark, but the Kansans and Missourians in Kansas City can usually agree on two things and two things only; Kansas City is great and St. Louis sucks. Missouri is a Kansas City band, not cool to try to sell yourself as a St. Louis act. And, where the hell are those mountains from? Oh wait, they're from fucking Arizona. I suppose, I could make the connection as the last in the lower 48 to become a state, Arizona represents Manifest Destiny better than any other state, but that's a lot of explaining for an album cover and probably isn't right.
I'm Still Tryin'
Not really searching out Slackjaw releases, this one just came about at a reasonable price. One problem though, my copy only has the front part of the sleeve. Don't have any credits for this release or the catalog number if there was one.
I'm pretty happy about the price, I would've hated paying more the $3 for this thing. Awful music. The song "Drugmaze" is a jocktacular anti-drug song. Really? Sludge metal needed to enter the anti-drug realm? The song attempts to portray a druggie that regrets the decision to use while set to a repetitive jock metal back drop. The flipside features the songs "Traitor" and "The Question". At 45 RPM, the songs have the advantage of ending before you realize you'd be better off listening to something else.
However, as stated in the last release I discussed; this band was way ahead of it's time. Had they came about just a few years later their brand of jock-punk and metal influences would have got them signed and put them on tour with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn. While I wouldn't consider Slackjaw "innovative" their reliance on heavy metal and hardcore punk cliches would've fit in perfect with the slam dancing, backward cap wearing, youth of the late 90's. In fact, they would have improved the scene.
A few notes, it appears that Slackjaw's catalog is a continuous string of "sides." The sides on this release are 3 and 4. The 1994 release I tracked down and discussed previously has sides 7 and 8. Despite the fact that I'm not a fan of the band, I'm now motivated to collect all sides. Another interesting tidbit, there are like 5 bands in Discogs that go by the name of Slackjaw. None of which are Lawrence Kansas' own.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Well, this may be the last I bring up Jeff Matlow. However, I can't make promises, despite not being a Kansan or Kansas Citian, the guy did a ton for local scene with his record label. His first label, Geerhed Records, was a joint effort between himself and a friend, soon after this release, the friend would bow out and Jeff Matlow would rename the label, Crank! As such, this 7" is the inaugural Crank! release and the first from Vitreous Humor.
It came out in 1993, I wasn't anywhere near cool enough to know that a hip, underground scene was brewing in Lawrence, KS and Kansas City. I couldn't even drive in 1993. Wouldn't be for another year or two until I started getting in tune with this stuff.
Truth be told, I'm not even sure Vitreous Humor knew they were hip yet, either. They sound young on this release. Further, when Matlow discovered them he initially wanted sign them to a major label. The songs, "Harbor" and "Stay Tuned for the Holidays" actually sound a bit more controlled than the band's later efforts. Kind of grungy, Danny Pound sounds likes he's trying to sound professional, the guitars get some twang and don't stray too far off, it's all kind of boring. And while, "Bu-dah" is a silly throw away, its far more representative of what the band would become. The other tracks sound like major label try out material.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Kansas City Native, Chris Connors was born Mary Loutsenhizer. She started going by Chris Connor while working as a stenographer and performing as a singer in the Kansas City area. She stuck around KC for awhile but would later move to New York City with the intention of making it as a super star vocalist. Of course, hitting the big time right away was a bit far fetched and she had to start small. She sung harmonies in a background capacity with local New York big bands until she was heard singing on the radio by June Christy. Christy had been singing with Stan Kenton's band and was leaving to pursue her own solo career. She recommended Connor to Kenton and Connor was booked singing for Kenton's big band in the early 50's. By 1953, Connor grew tired of constant touring with Kenton and abruptly quit. She stayed in New York City and was able to secure a gig at Birdland. Legend goes, that during her stay at Birdland the owner of Bethlehem records, Gus Wildi, heard her and offered a recording contract on the spot.
She stayed on Bethlehem for a number of albums before leaving to Atlantic Records in 1956. The Bethlehem albums are far stronger. The Atlantic stuff is a bit toned down, less swing, more pop, whereas the Bethlehem catalog offers more punch and showcases Connors' cool jazz delivery far better. It's still vocal jazz, so the differences sound slight and torch songs are found throughout her catalog.
This album also features some key players, Kai Winding, J.J. Johnson, Osie Johnson, and a young Herbie Mann on flute to name a few. Her early music education from the University of Missouri pay dividends as she's a signer that is in tune with her supporting band, not just bashing out vocal tracks. She finds the tone of the band and replicates it vocally, distinguishing herself not just as torch singer, but a cool jazz vocalists.
I Hear Music
Saturday, November 16, 2013
There's not much I can say about this album that hasn't already been discussed. It was breakthrough album for the band. It edged them ever so close to the mainstream by making it to the Billboard charts, putting them on tour with the likes of Weezer and Green Day, and the CD made it into the hands of countless high school students. As time has gone on, it's proved to be a highly influential album.
Unfortunately, the highly influential part isn't such a good thing. This album created a blue print for a number of bands. All of which, became much more successful than the Get Up Kids. Which is a shame, because Something to Write Home About is a solid album and the band deserves the same success.
To preface the dilemma, the Get Up's teenage aggression was replaced for pop hooks and keyboards on this LP. It worked to great affect, there's even ballads on the LP - it's nice. Much of the pop tendencies are owed to the addition of James Dewees on keyboards. This is odd, because prior to joining the Get Up Kids, James Dewees was playing drums for Coalesce; a legitimate Heavy Metal band. Regardless of his background, he's somewhat of a musical genius and folks around town were saying he "fixed" the Get Up Kids shortly after joining. Rumor being that the band had come into a bit of writer's block, Dewees supposedly brought in a keyboard and started finding what was needed to finish the tunes. There are great songs on the LP. There are tunes that could be huge radio hits, it didn't happen, but the songs are there nonetheless.
But, man, the aftermath of this album. Fall Out Boy is quoted as saying, "There would be no Fall Out Boy without the Get Up Kids." And, sure, maybe people can call Fall Out Boy fun, cute, catchy or whatever. But, there's a whole list of others, Motion City Soundtrack, The Academy Is..., Say Anything, Taking Back Sunday, and many others that all suck. Worst, these teen punk bands came to define the term "Emo" in relation to pop music. The Get Up Kids seemed to be trying to escape the whiny confines of the underground Emo scene with this album. They wanted something more than Sunny Day Real Estate fans putting them 2nd best, so they created a pop album. These other bands, they just took the album as a blue print and wrote crappy pop-punk tunes with a few ballads thrown in so they could get laid on tour. It's a shame.
A song about how Jim Suptic's girlfriend wouldn't drive 10 minutes to downtown to see him while at KCAI
Action & Action Video
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
So, I watched a YouTube video and finally verified that 1/2 of this band is legitimately local to Kansas, not just formed here. Kori Gardner was born in Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Although, she moved away at a young age, her family is rooted in Lawrence and it's well known she came back to Lawrence for college. Her other half, Jason Hammel, is a Minnesotan, he came to Lawrence for college and left town with Kori by his side.
This is the first album the two released after they had left Lawrence for the greener pastures of California. It's chaotic and filled with huge pop hooks. It caught the attention of indie hipsters and the ire of many Lawrence, KS locals. People were mad at them for leaving, despite that no one paid the two piece attention when they booked shows locally. The couple still speaks highly of the Lawrence and have stated in interviews they contemplated moving back to raise their family. However, at this time it appears clear the two are firmly entrenched on the East Coast with children.
To draw a parallel, this album is about a million miles away from the band's current sound. While the pop hooks and tendencies are firmly entrenched on My Solo Project, it's built around Pixies dynamics and jumps from one idea to the next rapidly. The band's newer recordings consist of insanely good pop songs, well thought out and relatively harmless. My Solo Project sound bombs pop goodness at you. The two scream back and forth at each other, basically, you're not going to hear the songs on this LP at the Gap while shopping for khakis.
It begs the question, which era of Mates of State is better? Part of me loves the pop hits of the new albums. But, overall, if I want something to break shit to, I'm putting this on. I love the unpolished sounds and the rawness of it. The bad ideas that didn't get kicked out by a flashy producer or pop smarts, those moments make this album enduring.
A Control Group
I Have Space
Everyone Needs An Editor
I've been gifting this album to friends for several years now. It's pretty hilarious. It's an oddity, it's obscure, and again, it's hilarious. How and why Capitol Records, the same label that released the Beatles, decided to put this out is somewhat of a mystery. She's a middle aged housewife that was an Opera buff, she had taken singing lessons in the past and studied music in college, but regardless, she is an awful singer. Despite that, she put out some self financed singles and was discovered by a Capital producer and signed.
They put this out as her debut and titled the collection of covers 'Greatest Hits.' The players behind her are solid Capitol studio musicians and it's clear, money went into the LP. However, producer Lex De Azevedo, the same that discovered her, took the worst vocal tracks. The first song, "Downtown", Mrs. Miller doesn't even make it through the whole song without falling apart. The album continues in much the same fashion, solid backing tracks, horrible vocal takes by an awful singer.
The copy pictured here was just recently gifted to a friend (don't worry, I still have my own). After looking the album over, my friend asked me, "She's local, huh?" I replied, "I don't think so." He sent me the Wikipedia link and Holy Crap! She has local ties. She was born in Joplin, Missouri which is over 2 hours South of Kansas City and doesn't fit the goal of this blog. However, it also indicates she grew up in both Kansas and Missouri as a child. So, I guess she counts. There are several other LPS and singles out there, most of which are pretty hard to locate. After this album, the novelty of her terrible singing and humble looks had wore off.
Mrs. Miller - Downtown
Sunday, November 10, 2013
The sickness continues. Just picked this up, because it fits the rules of my 7" collection in my warped, vinyl damaged mind.
It's obviously good, it's James Brown. He didn't start to suck until the 80's and even then, he didn't suck as bad as other hanger-ons.
Here's Kansas City nugget, for you. At Mr. Brown's funeral, Kansas City, KS born and raised singer, Marva Whitney was invited to be a singer. Like Brown, she recorded for King. More on her later, though.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Yeah, first, I'm not hip anymore and can't keep up with the new sounds in KC and Lawrence. However, there's a guy I bumped into on the internet via Instagram that is. He runs the blog Riot on the Plaza , doesn't write in it much anymore, but he should, he's far more up to date on newer artists than me. You'd think I'd have met the guy locally at shows and such, but again, I'm not hip, my belly is getting fat, and my kids tire me out. Check out his site and tell him to write more, there's a ton of stuff coming out lately and I need a good filter.
So, Lazy is cool. KC finally has a No Wave band. Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I'll say No Wave without the jazz influences. They switch between guy and girl vocals and you definitely hear a Brian Eno infliction in singer Brock Potuck's delivery. The band is also chaotic and jumpy, taking a heavy bottom and sending squalling guitars and vocals over the top. Those two aspects lead me to the No Wave comparison. But, I'm a pretentious old hipster and hear Sonic Youth in everything new, so take that for what's it worth. The band is also very much on the punk rock side of things. I can't really pigeonhole them to that genre either, though. Too smart. Although, they certainly have a lo-fi aesthetic and charm.
Overall, there are several great tunes here. It plays fast at 45 RPM on 12" wax, so props for looking out for the audiophiles out there. Based on the new locals I'm picking up here and there, part of me wishes I still had the energy to get out there to clubs and check things out more often.
Childhood Wonder (seriously, sounds like Eno singing early Poster Children, anybody with me on that?)
Record collecting is a strange hobby. It becomes addictive because it's so easy to do.. It's so easy that most collectors begin to overwhelm themselves in the amount of vinyl they pick up. This is especially true when you're new to the hobby. You just start buying stuff at places like Goodwill for a dollar just because it looks interesting or you've heard of the band (never mind liking the music) just as a way to continue and grow the collection.
For me, this was especially true of 45s. The things are cheap and easy to find. In any pile that you find at a thrift store or a garage sale, you're bound to find some gems. I bought the crap out of them throughout college and beyond. In fact, I was buying boxes full without ever looking at them first. I mean, how could you resist a plastic bag full of 50 of them at a thrift store for a couple bucks?
First problem with this method is that you end up with a lot of crap. Second problem is that these things were played a lot. In jukeboxes, on crappy turntables, on radio stations, when you buy a 7" from the 60's there is a really good chance it will sound like shit and completely defeat the purpose of listening to music on vinyl. Yet another problem is that there is nothing you can do with the loads of crap you have outside of just giving it away. If it's beat up, common, or by an artist no one cares about, no one will buy it off you. You're stuck with it until you find a way to sell in bulk at a garage sale or on Craigslist for a super cheap price, but, that also creates a problem because who wants to feel they're ripping the next guy off, right? If you can't do that, they all go back to a thrift store or sit in your home collecting dust.
Much of my 45 collection gotten to the collecting dust point. I had nowhere to put all these records and there was no need to own them. So, I made a conscious decision to dump the 45 collection. I mean, at this point I'm pretty grown up, I have a wife and kids. I no longer had the energy to get up off my ass every 3 minutes to flip a side, so focusing on LPs made perfect sense. I began selling the good stuff on eBay, made a bunch of money, bought LPS with money earned. Then, I took the good stuff with minor condition issues and posted on Craigslist, "Will trade 45s for LPS." That worked out okay, got a few bites and thinned the collection out a little more. The decent stuff went to stores for trade value I used to buy more LPS.
At this point came regret. I sold and traded some really cool stuff. The amazing LPS I picked up along the way didn't seem so amazing anymore. I'd also held onto some stuff that was still important to me, mostly the local stuff from bands I knew in my douche bag hipster days. I knew I was never going to have it in me to sell off the first Get Up Kids 7", so a compromise was made to thin out the collection. The only 7"s I would hold onto would be local. Problem solved, right? I got rid of everything but some R.E.M. 45s (couldn't do it, like that band too much) and retained locals. The idea was, 7" collection is done, it's complete, not buying anymore.
Well, fuck if I don't buy the shit out of local 7"s. I mean, once I gave myself an excuse. However, I am more focused right now on scoring 45s than I was before, so that helps keep things in check. That is until I read a quote James Brown, Godfather of Soul, in which he stated that he lived in Kansas City for a year while his father worked in Olathe, Kansas. Apparently, he lived on Harrison Street in KCMO when he was between the ages of 14 and 15. So, of course, the first James Brown 45 I see after reading that quote; I bought.
I've convinced myself that because James Brown lived in Kansas City for small amount of time it fits my collection. I mean, I'm making fun of myself for doing it, that's how absurd record collecting can be. I'm not buying James Brown because he's a local artist. I'm just buying James Brown 45s because he's awesome and I want to own more vinyl.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
For those not local, the album's namesake is an actual Kansas town that lies between Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas. It's where Red House Recording studios is located. During the peak of the Get Up Kids popularity, the band purchased the local studio and turned it into one of the finest studios in the Midwest. They saved it, proving once again to all naysayers, they always supported their local community and scene.
Personally, I love the compilation, can't say the same for Eudora the town as it's boring and nothing spectacular. There is the old tale about how a Shawnee Indian named Pelathe attempted to warn Lawrence, Kansas about the infamous 1863 attack on Lawrence by Quantrill and his Raiders. The legend goes that Pelathe overheard of the attack in Kansas City, Missouri the day before. Quantrill was in route to Lawrence, so Pelathe would need to arrive in Lawrence before dawn. He mounted the fastest horse he could find and began the ride. Nearing Lawrence, the horse had run hard and by most estimates near 40 miles, the horse was staggering. Pelathe allowed the horse to catch his breath, but knowing he could save innocent lives, he cut the horse in the leg and emptied gunpowder into the wound in attempts to spur the horse further. The horse was able to make it a few more miles, but collapsed shortly after. People from Eudora will tell you that Pelathe's horse died in their town. Of course, every neighboring town to Lawrence lays the same claim.
So yeah, good story, but back to the comp. I love these types of rarities collections, all the hard to find 7"s and one off comp appearances are presented and while not a retrospective of a band, you hear what the band actually sounded like. The band's not so shining moments, the cover songs, and the moments of brilliance. The proper albums by bands are generally a focused effort to impress you, these types of releases are just a collection of songs detailing a career.
I remember when the original stuff came out. When Ryan Pope told me they were covering "Beer for Breakfast" by the Replacements I literally yelled at him and asked, "What the hell is wrong with you guys? That song was a Replacements throw away that just showed up on stupid Best Of comps to make you giggle, why didn't you cover something good?" The Pixies cover of "Alec Eiffel" they did and played for days straight. When they said they were covering a shitty Motley Crue song, I rolled my eyes, but still enjoyed the cover. Then there's the stuff I missed; the amazingly good Cure cover and the horrible rendition of "Suffragette City" by Bowie.
The band has always been just some guys from the Kansas City area. They weren't elitists, they were literally just some kids that discovered Fugazi, Superchunk, and Pavement in high school and made a band of it. This collection showcases that aspect of their career and sound.
Newfound Mass (2000)
Close to Me
This LP was put out by Big K Records in Kansas City. The label is a bit of unknown, likely due to the fact that there isn't as big of an interest in obscure country as there is rock n' roll, but they put out a bunch of vinyl regionally in their day. The label focused on rural sounds in the Kansas and Missouri area and was located in Kansas City, Missouri.
This LP was typical of the label's releases. Focused around traditional country and bluegrass. During a time when Nashville was focusing on Countrypolitain, there were labels like Big K trying to provide people the traditional stuff. All the players are native to the Kansas City area according to the back sleeve and even features a 15 year old on the stand up bass, Mitch O'Roark, who is obviously the band leader's younger brother.
The concern I always have for regional country is the fact that it was regional to Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma; y'know the middle states, which means a lot of this stuff can tend to be drenched in Jesus and influenced by the Ozark and Branson scenes. Good news about this LP is it suffers only slightly from the Ozark scene. None of that hillbilly Ozark Mountain crap though, there's no fiddle (well, truth be told, one song features it), but no spoons or washboards, just stringed instruments. Also, there's no religion which is always a huge plus in my book (not that I mind the occasional gospel tune, but, when they start with their originals on the subject, fuck, I don't have time for that).
Overall, I'm not enough of bluegrass, old-time expert to know if this a long lost gem. What I can say with authority is that it's rooted in traditional bluegrass and old-time music. No original tunes by Mr. O'Roark, but he's credited for the arrangements. It is an interesting Kansas City nugget for sure. Also, "the Free Born Men" is clearly a reference to being from Kansas and not Missouri, right? Points for that.
Friday, November 1, 2013
I'm desperately trying to find things to dislike about this group. I can't. It's really fucking good. Further, this 7" is put out by a bar, so can't hate on that either.
The song "Spirals" is fast, loud, it's even snotty and has a pubescent attitude. The flip side has been discussed already. Plus, the artwork is rad.
I don't get it, but I don't really have to, they're good. They have a new 12" out that I haven't picked up yet. Maybe, the kids trip up there, but I doubt it. I still don't get all these indie releases from a band that books tours overseas. Granted, it's fairly easy to self release now-a-days and major labels are clearly a thing of the past. Just makes you think someone is behind this band doing the big moves and priming this band to explode nationally.