Thursday, January 30, 2014
Canyons, Tigon, Foreign Theaters Split Can't Have Nothin' Nice The Ghost Is Clear Records/Mayfly Records/Melotov Records
Cool story, well to me anyway, about the local label that helped put this out. For a while I had two copies of The Get Up Kids/Coalesce split 7", no big deal, but I had an extra. I first attempted to dump one off on InstaGram for charity, no one bid or offered any money for it. Then, I tried to sell a copy for profit on eBay. One person bid who was from Kansas City for the bargain basement price of $1.99. The person paid and when I went to package up, I looked at the address and saw this buyer was from Kansas City. Being a nice guy, I quickly messaged the person and said, "Dude, if you're from Kansas City and just want to pick this up, you can have it. Free." The buyer emailed back and she said, "I'm not a dude, but thanks, I will pick it up." Things went from eBay to Craigslist and we met near my place of employment. It was a brief exchange, she was accompanied by her boyfriend (got to be safe when meeting strange record people, good move on her part) and the record and pleasantries were exchanged. I asked about their interest in local music and if they were wanting the 7" more for Coalesce or the Get Up Kids, they said both and were just into local music. I was like, "Sweet, my kind of people." Which, they were probably looking me at me like, "No, you're fucking square." But, whatever, I was in my work clothes and am kind of square, it would have been justified. Anyway, the boyfriend introduced himself and told me about his label. At that point I was thinking since I gave them a free 7" he'd reciprocate, he didn't. But, he handed me a sticker for this label and told me to check it out.
It's a cool label, centered mostly around metal and it releases locals along with bands from all over the US. The coolest thing they've done is reissue the Puig Destroyer 7". Which, if you are not familiar with, is a reference to the Los Angeles Dodger, Yaisel Puig. People think it's hot shit because it was released by baseball journalists who are also metal enthusiasts, admittedly, it is pretty hardcore.
This is the first thing I've picked up by the label, it was cheap and I've been enjoying abrasive hardcore metal lately. Canyons are a Kansas City band and the reason I was drawn to it (that, and it's cheap). They play brutal metal, not far off from Coalesce. Dissonant and abrasive, guttural vocals, odd time signatures...it makes me want to punch kittens. The songs are short, which is about right for this brand of metal, I don't need 5 minutes of constant shifts, they keep it focused on all four of their tracks. Tigon is a California band, they on the other hand do take some time to complete a song. They aren't as straight ahead as Canyons, a bit more noisecore, so it works for them. Foreign Theaters is from Marshall, MO, which is too far away from KC to be considered local to me. They are in interesting band, but checking out info online, doesn't seem they are still active. Foreign Theaters is the least "metal" of the 3 bands on the LP, kind of sludge rock, like a heavy metal version of 90's grunge.
Canyons Have It Lavish
The Ghost is Clear-Buy Local
First, this guy isn't a Kansas City, guy. He's from
Thought I'd make the best of it and talk about it here. Streeper did surround himself with Kansas City guys that showed up a lot in local music in the late 70's and 80's. Namely Ron Ubel, who did a lot of engineering work around town.
I'm not sure why the LP exists, though. It's a private press through and through, doesn't even attempt to hide it and make up a fake label name. It had to cost a good amount of change to put it out, pay the production team, rent the studio, but, I don' think the artwork set him back much. That is a hefty investment for a piano lounge set of all cover tunes. But, for all I know, the guy could have been a huge draw back home in
The music isn't cheese ball lounge like it appears to be, it's literally just Streeper singing and playing piano. Everything sounds fine, in fact it sounds live and Streeper's Facebook page confirms he just sat down and played live in studio. That's tough to do; props to that. But still, it's just a guy rattling off pop covers on a piano. He's no Billy Joel, because Billy Joel wrote songs. He also does stuff like "The Rose", that's just something dudes don't need to touch.
Streeper Doing Sinatra Modern Day
A Facebook Page for this album
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Thumbs were a late 70's, early 80's band from Lawrence, KS. This debut LP stinks of 1979 and lies somewhere between skinny tie new wave and working class Midwestern power pop. It falls closer to the power pop spectrum, as there isn't synth on LP (keyboards got switched to the organ setting), and the only reason to compare it to New Wave is because singer, Steve Wilson, approaches the vocals like a cartoon character.
That's my main problem with the album. Steve Wilson, who is an awesome guy and still a heavy supporter of local music in Lawrence, just draws out his words like Lou Reed, but he can't sing or sound like Lou Reed. On this LP, he's pitchy and all over the place, he's in the higher register and to me, it seriously sounds like a cartoon character. It's distracting and takes away from what's going on with the songs.
As for the songs, production is pretty muted, the drums sound muddy and it can be hard to pick up a bass line. The levels all over sound unven as the guitar is really high and sometimes the organ is too loud. The production is distracting and probably hides a lot of great moments in the LP. I've heard people claim it to be a lost power-pop gem, to which I don't really agree with. It's pretty par for the course. The organ is cool, but overall, it's middle of the road for 1979. To the band's credit, it doesn't appear they were trying for a straight ahead power pop as they are better compared to college rock bands like the dBs or later, REM.
There are some gems, "Is It Too Much?," done correctly could have been classic. "Still Bound to You" has the right idea and even some harmonies (which most the LP lacks). Second to last song, "Rags to Rags" starts promising and I kind of dig the twee-pop break down (likely not meant to sound twee, but again, production isn't the LP's strong point). The final song, "Art History," must be singer Steve Wilson's favorite as it's the sole video on YouTube and posted by him. The organ is pretty killer and there is some Byrds jangle to it.
The band released a follow up in 1982, which I haven't listened to in years but it's on the stack of
to be discussed soon". Steve Wilson (I should really talk about the other guys, but he's kind of the leader of the band) would go onto to front another Lawrence favorite, the Mahoots, and by that point had calmed down his vocal approach considerably.
Monday, January 27, 2014
The Pablo era Basie is interesting, it's not astounding, but it was cool that Pablo was out there still letting guys like Basie throw down in the 1970's. The label itself was founded by Norman Granz who started it after selling his Verve label to MGM. Apparently, Pablo Picasso had influence with the label and was also in on the project near his death, that or Granz wanted to do something to incorporate him and thus the name and symbol of the label, who knew? Granz apparently ran the label as a hobby and took all the old jazz artists that no one cared about it anymore and let them go in the studio setting. Very loose recordings, lots of improvisation, with some of jazz's greatest artists. In addition to Basie, this LP has double bassist, Ray Brown, and drummer Louie Bellson. The Pablo roster also included work by KC native, Joe Turner, Count Basie's Kansas City 7, and non-locals, Ella Fitzgeralrd, Joe Pass, and Oscar Peterson just to name a few. The pressing and sound quality on the Pablo are superb. In fact, most there releases have a basic (but, great sounding version) with a black cover and the "super" versions with white cover. This obviously represents the "super" version of this particular LP. Also, since no one really cared about these releases much in the 70's (my understanding they were high priced audiophile type albums), no one really cares about them now and you can find them relatively cheap.
There's an absurdly long write up on the back sleeve, I haven't really taken the time to read it. I'm sure it gives all the in and outs of the LP. It probably doesn't tell you how the album is great background, study, or housecleaning music. Further, it probably declares it triumphant and award winning, but it's pretty mellow and easy to lose focus while listening. There are some moments Basie rips through some lines just to show off, but there isn't much more than old friends firing it up in the studio setting. Basie perks ears on his song, "Blues in the Church", as he riffs on an organ. The rendition of Gershwin's "Lady Be Good" is also worth paying attention to. The trio's rendition of "As Long As I Live" is a gem and will quickly get lost if you're not paying attention, the track really showcases Basie as a pianist.
That would be the major take away from the album. Throughout his career, Basie primarily did his work as a bandleader. Choosing to focus on the other parts of his band rather than add embellishments with his own skills. It's a rare opportunity to hear Basie as a player in a small setting.
As Long As I Live
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Another 7" from the Lawrence native, Chuck Mead and his band BR5-49. Like the previously posted, it contains two tracks form the band's debut album.
Chuck Mead wrote the song, "Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)". It's a solid western swing tune that tells the tale of a punk rocker who "traded in her Docs for kicker boots." Mead is a solid story teller lyrically and this track is no exception. The B-Side is the Byrds track "Hickory Wind" from the classic Byrds LP, 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo.' The band doesn't stray far from the original and keep it just as much of a tear-jerker country ballad as the original.
Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)
Couldn't resist this one, latter era Basie doing some soul sides. Not really familiar with this era of Basie. He had several successful phases when Jazz was a dominant musical form. In the 70's near the end of his career he cut some enjoyable albums for Pablo that are loose, but still very much Jazz.
This is very cool, though. Jazz Soul with Basie throwing in big band elements. The horns scream and there's a nifty beatnik bass line on "Green Onions". "Hang On Sloopy," is another uptempo side with some jazz flute thrown in there to give it a 60's jazz sound. It's all funky without being funk, soulful without crossing over.
Hang On Sloopy
Friday, January 24, 2014
I never thought I'd own an original copy of this LP. In fact, the reissue of this LP was on the short list to be purchased. Nevertheless, I stumbled across an original copy with a beat up cover (but, hey, the vinyl is in VG+ condition). Since I've spent a number of post gushing about Kansas City Soul Sister #1, Marva Whiteny, I thought I'd discuss the epic dig that brought this album to me.
First, I don't really eat lunch, I spend my lunch hour at thrift stores looking through LPs and various other things. I don't have much of a disposable income so I rarely venture into anything other than thrift stores, but about a week ago I happened upon Vintage Stock on Shawnee Mission Parkway in Shawnee, KS. If you haven't been to a Vintage Stock, it's not a great place to look for records, they are primarily focused on video games and DVDs. Each store has a rack of used LPs, they don't give people much for the used albums and I don't think that people with a pile of old LPs would even know the stores existed and buy LPs. I've found great stuff at their stores, usually because they had no idea what they were selling. However, they don't grade LPs and usually over price albums by well known groups.
Anyway, the only reason I walked into the store was because I had to go to the nearby grocery store to buy some bagels for my kids' lunches. I ventured in due to the proximity and looked at the 100 or so albums and was surprised to see an impressive Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa selection. The Cooper was all the early stuff, you know, Alice Cooper when it was still a band with a singer named Vincent Furnier, and the Zappa was a virtually every Mother's album with the exception of the first. They were all marked $6.99 and all the covers were beat to hell. Had they been in good shape or just a $1, I may have rounded out my early Cooper catalog and may have picked up some Zappa despite that I'm not really a fan. But, I left the store without making a purchase.
My dad however is a huge Zappa fan. Or least he is right now. I gave him a record player a year or ago and since then, he's been buying all sorts of albums. Zappa is his current obsession. So I called him on the way to the grocery store and said he needed to check out all this Zappa. He asked, "What albums are there?" I said, "I told you, everything but the first Mother's LP, I'm not kidding, it's pretty incredible that someone sold it all to Vintage Stock." He said he'd check it out.
That was on a Wednesday and by the weekend my dad still hadn't checked the store out. I don't know why but I kept bugging him about it. I think I just wanted someone else to discuss the strangeness of a video game store bringing in a large Zappa collection, even with conditions issues, I thought it strange that someone would have took it there for trade-in or cash.
By Sunday, I had kind of gave up on my dad going. However, I was cruising on Shawnee Mission Parkway with my youngest son hitting up my favorite thrift store and thought about it again. I texted my dad, who surprisingly called me right away. Immediately he started telling me how weird it was and asked if I had seen the stuff behind the counter. I had not. I asked what was behind the counter and my dad began to tell me a bunch of high priced reggae albums and jazz. He also explained that the guy working there had made the purchase when a guy came in with a box of records and asked for a $100 even. When the kid saw the Frank Zappa, he agreed and paid the guy what he wanted.
I hung up the phone and thought I should go check out the stuff behind the counter. Again, I really don't have a disposable income for records, so chances are no purchase would be made as most behind the counter records at Vintage Stock are at least $20. Since I was close, I went. The records were still up on the counter and not back in the case from when my dad had been there and started looking through them. $200 valued Big Youth reggae album, $100 to $200 valued Alice Coltrane and John Coltrane albums, Cro-Mags on ESP, and some other assorted rarities all for between $20 and $40. This was interesting, but most of the covers were pretty tore up and there wasn't anything I had to have. Further, due to condition and prices, there wasn't anything I would have felt comfortable trying to flip on eBay.
While I was there, I decided to look over the rack a second time. I had thought it'd be the same stuff I saw the last time. This is when shit got weird. I started looking through the rack and freaking out. Meters' albums for $10, more rare reggae for $10, free jazz, obscure jazz rock, there was no way one person should have owned this many rare records and treated them so poorly, the covers were tore up, but fuck, at these prices it was well worth it to pick up. As I was putting together a pile, I texted an old friend, "Call me." I continued looking and started seeing even better prices on more insanely rare albums. Called my friend and got no answer. Continued amassing a large pile of records to look through and check condition when I came across an original copy of Mara Whitney's Live and Lowdown at the Apollo. Out loud, in front of my two year old son, a lady looking at clearance DVDS, and the store employees I loudly said, "Holy shit!" Then I apologized and mumbled, "I really need this album, sorry." $4.99 they had it priced, $4.99! For an album that in VG shape you're going to spend over a $100 for the original item, this was a steal despite cover condition..
Carefully, I inspected the LP and it was so clean, just a few scuff marks from storage, nothing deep, nothing that would affect playback. I carefully put the album on top of my pile and took a quick a photo, I sent this photo to my friend that I had been trying to reach. After the photo sent, he called immediately.
I was stuttering I was so excited about all this when I said to him, "Dude, you need to get to KC, this is absurd."
"Where are you?" he replied.
"Vintage Stock on, on, on. Uh. You know, that place I hit up on lunch, Shawnee Mission."
"Oh, yeah, I'm actually in KC, what's there."
"That Marva Whitney album I sent you. Rare reggae, Augustus Pablo, Jazz, Alice Coltran, John Coltrane, it's just stupid."
"Okay," he said.
"Dude, I think I could spend like $200 and be happy about it." I said.
"Alright, I might go up there."
We hung up and continued the dig. After finding this Marva Whitney LP, I wasn't too concerned about a whole lot, if I only walked away with just this, it'd still be an epic trip. I gathered everything up and immediately started dropping out anything over $5. I got some rare jazz-rock, funk type stuff I'd be happy with at reasonable prices. Then grabbed every .99 album realizing that it had to be worth it just based on the collection I was looking at. Tossing back the Meters, a King Tubby album, and the Augustus Pablo hurt quite a bit, but believe me, I'm perfectly happy with stack of albums I did buy for $20.
I got out of the store, put my kid in his car seat and lit a cigarette up outside the car (it was that intense) and called the old man.
"Dad, seriously, what did you get? That was insane, that stuff was not out there when I told you to check it out."
"Uh, a few Zappa albums and some James Brown."
"You missed Marva Whitney, the stuff there was insane, you should have took some flyers on a few, you wouldn't have been upset. That collection should not be there."
Finished that conversation and then my friend called me.
"Did you go?" I asked.
"Well, what did you find?" He asked.
I went through some of the titles and he said, "Okay, I'm going." Later, I got a text from him saying simply, "Thanks."
Since then, a few others have been. All of them asking whoever sent them, "How could you pass on this?!" And each of us saying, "I had to stop at some point, I could have spent hundreds of dollars on rare albums with bad covers, but I had to cut it off at some point. Don't worry about me I got good stuff." We've even had debates on how such an amazing collection, with such amazing taste, ended up at a store that focuses on video games. The best we have come up with was they were from someone's estate who passed or a storage locker buy out. Just absurd to see and will likely be the most epic dig of 2014.
Marva's rendition of a classic, "Respect"
I don't know the history behind the release, if this came out as a tape first or whatever, but it's a compilation of covers Mates of State put together. There are cover tunes by Fleetwood Mac, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and a host of others. This particular version was a limited edition Record Store Day clear vinyl pressing.
The whole premise and selection of covers is undeniably cute. The husband and wife team obviously picked tunes important to them and recorded them at their home studio with the exception of drum tracks laid down in a studio.
Due to the group's consistent boy/girl vocal approach, they are able to place their own stamp on virtually every song. This is especially true of "Son Et Lumier" by Mars Volta which was shortened considerably, but it's almost unrecognizable. Even a classic like "Second Hand News" by Fleetwood Mac is true to the original, but got a lot of the Mates' personality stuck to it. They also turned Tom Waits' "Long Way Home" into indie-Stadium Rock, it's freaking huge. My favorite track though is the Vashti Bunyan song, "17 Pink Sugar Elephants", in which the group got their daughter to sing on the track...so, undeniably cute.
17 Pink Sugar Elephants
Lawrence.com Bio with video discussing the Lawrence roots of Kori Gardner
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Royalaires were a 22 piece teen orchestra from Belton, Missouri. That's not strange, except that most these kids play the accordion. It's pretty much an accordion orchestra, which I didn't know could exist until I found this at a Goodwill. Props to them, though, because in a moment of absolute brilliance, the album is titled Accordionly Yours...seriously, I giggle every time I look at it.
The Royalaires were led by a Carl A. Jesse, who must have been the best accordion instructor in all of Missouri as he was able to convince kids to play the instrument, convince people that putting out an album was worth while, and he does an amazing job of adapting standards for orchestra and pop hits of the day for the accordion. The pop hits include, "Close to You", "The Immpossible Dream", "Music to Watch Girls By", and in a stunning display of bravado, the "Overture" from the Who's Tommy; on accordion. The back liners were written by Jesse and he admits the following, "We do not pretend that this recording is the ultimate in musical perfection." So needles to say, as novel and as fun as the idea may seem at first, it's tough to get through the entire thing in one sitting, it's kids playing a bunch of accordions. I'm not sure people ever wanted to hear more than 10 professional adult accordion players simultaneously, let alone an army of children. It was recorded in Independence's Cavern music studio, so the numerous accordions sound great and have natural echo...but, again, it's a lot of accordions.
So, that's kind of where I'm at with this LP. This was put out in 1971 in Belton which is right outside of the Kansas City. How did all these teenagers get hooked on accordion and not guitars? It's not an instrument played in school bands, or at church, or anywhere but Oktoberfest. I mean, the guy who ran the local Belton music store must have had a banner year when 20 or so kids decided to force their parents to buy an accordion. And, Jesse, had to be the only guy teaching accordion in town, he likely cleaned up as well.
As no logical explanation can exist, I started to think that maybe this band is owed to a short-lived Belton religious cult. For family fun, the cult played accordion or something. Having little or no access to the outside world, the kids thought accordion was "cool." But, that can't be as there are no religious tunes on the LP and they cover the Who; the kids were hearing rock and roll. Then I thought, maybe there's a large German population in Belton, MO., Germany is down with the accordion, right? Nothing verifies any sort German culture in Belton. No little German Town, no famous Oktoberfest, nothing. Besides, cultural based neighborhoods were a thing of the past by 1971. So yeah, I'm stumped. But, props to this Jesse guy for pulling this off, I bet he's the guy that owned the music store in town.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
My first understanding of the Caves was that it was just the guitar/drum duo of Jacob Cardwell and Andrew Ashby doing Ashby's bedroom pop tunes. This is the more fleshed out edition, featuring David Gaume doing bass and other things as well as the production. Elizabeth Bohannon is featured on keys and and vocals.
The Caves lie somewhere between later-era Beatles and Elvis Costello ballads. Very dreamy, with just enough teeth to get them into them into clubs rather than coffee houses. Still very much bedroom pop. Quiet and very quaint, at a show, you'd hear crowd chatter over most of these songs. Still, Ashby's songs grow on you the more time you spend with the album and at times are hauntingly beautiful, i.e. ""Feeler".
The album artwork is pretty awesome. Features the old Reflector tour van and the layout was done up by Greg Franklin who was in a good band called the Believe It Or Nots, way back when. Although, the font choice on the back cover is a bit 8th Grade.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
After the first two songs on this LP, "Point of Know Return" and "Paradox", it's abundantly clear, this is the Kansas high point. "Point of Know Return" was a huge hit for the band, they had perfected their progressive boogie rock and by the second track even found a way to make the fiddle work. While the first two tracks don't match the scale of "Carry On My Wayward, Son," they rock and that goes a long way.
The band get's super prog-y on the synth driven instrumental "The Spider," but it's not as aimless as the band's previous work. It gets in and gets out. Kansas get pretentious for only a brief minute before bringing the straight ahead rock of "Potrait (He Knew)", which also happens to be insanely Christian, but that was in vogue at the time. The first side rounds out with "Closet Chronicles", which when compared to the rest of the side is pleasant filler.
Song by song on Side 2 is further proof that this represents Kansas' best LP despite a few soft spots. "Lightning's Hand" is a bit silly at times, but its high tempo and guitar solos make it one of the band's heaviest outings and can be considered 70's heavy metal. The next track, "Dust in the Wind" is a ballad and was another huge hit from this album. "Sparks of the Tempest" is another heavy metal track and a bit over the top, obviously trying to compensate for the brief foray into sad, bastard music because another ballad, "Nobody's Here," follows. Its surprisingly good in parts, namely the bridge, but could have done without all the prog elements. The final track, "Hopessly Human," is based in baroque-era Bach (much of the album is), but it's made especially evident here. It's a bit too heavy for it's own good, but a decent closer.
Portrait (He Knew)
Point of Know Return
This is a remastered and remixed edition of Coalesce's ahead of it's time 1997 release, Give Them Rope. The mix is brought up, mainly the guitar. It sounds good, don't know if it was needed, but it's got cool artwork and the remix highlights some things that may have been missed the first time around.
Between the years of 1997 and 2004 lots of thing happened with Coalesce. Numerous breakups and line up changes, the scene they helped develop passed them by, and they found time to do an entire album of Led Zeppelin covers (which is fucking awesome). The original bass player, Stacy Hilt left and was replaced by Nathan Ellis. Ellis stayed with the band for a substantial amount of time, but became focused on his own group, The Casket Lottery to which he recruited Stacy Hilt, the same bass player he replaced in Coalesce to play in his band. Hilt however, would return in 2001 to play bass yet again for the band. James Dewees left after the groups album, Functioning on Impatience, to play keyboards for the Get Up Kid, later he did his own project, Reggie & the Full Effect, and even later wound up as the touring keyboardist for My Chemical Romance. Singer Sean Ingram filled in briefly for the Dillinger Escape Plan and embarked on other projects. Guitarist Jes Steineger remained a constant member, however, it's rumored his numerous religious conversions were reason for many of the band's numerous break ups.
So yeah, tumultuous history and all, but, brutal, hardcore metal needs that to continue, I guess.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Stan Kenton was born in Wichita, Kansas. He would later move to Colorado at a young and also to California. Can't find much on how much time he spent in Kansas, but nevertheless, he was born in the state.
Looking at records and photos of the guy, he looks awful square for a jazz musician. More square than Glenn Miller. It's not like he was on a label known for spitting out ultra-hip Jazz in Capitol, either. So, all indications, not that cool of a guy (there's also some personal issues going on with Kenton, but I'm just saying as a Jazz musician right now, he's no Coltrane). However, listening to some of his material, there are some definite high points and creative exploration. I have some 10"s of his that really surprised me, nothing I would call abstract, but certainly not expected. He was initially focused on what he termed "progressive jazz," focusing on movement and shying away from anything considered to be dance music.
Later, he explored the big band sound and attempted to maintain creative exploration within the tunes. This LP represents that period. It does swing, you could dance to it easily, but it wasn't cut and dry and maintained the Kenton sound. It also further explored the Kenton Wall of Sound that he developed previously in the 1940's. He layers everything up, so much so it feels as if your speakers could explode. Phil Spector would use the term later when recording his doo-wop masterpieces and rock and roll.
His personal stuff I'll share another time. Rather focus on the good for now. The artists this guy worked with and brought to the scene is incredible. Just a few, June Christy, Chris Connor, Art Pepper, Neal Hefti, Stan Getz, Kai Winding, Maynard Ferguson, Lee Konitz, Bud Shank; it's an amazing list that just goes on and on. I mean, it's almost as if you had to first play in Kenton's band prior to venturing out as a stand alone musician.
Artistry in Boogie & Minor Riff
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
You get outside of the few cities in Kansas and out into the Western portion of the state and country music dominates. It's about all you can find on the dial in the most remote areas. Yet, it's not like there are/were a ton of country artists from the state. There are some, Carson Robison who helped developed the genre comes to mind but, there aren't many huge names, Martina McBride (she's big, right?) and Chely Wright is cool. But, if you compare Kansas to a place like Oklahoma we pale in comparison.
Nevertheless, there has and will always be a substantial country scene in the state. A large bluegrass festival takes place every year and Manhattan, Kansas hosts the Nation's largest country music festival with the Country Stampede every year. Further, Kansas has always had a strong local scene. However, many of these talented locals don't venture far from the state, even in the 90's accailimed artists artists like Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys and Arthur Dodge & the Horsefeathers counldn't get crack the big time in Nashville.
Yet, in the early 1990's, Lawrence native Chuck Mead just said, "Fuck it." Instead of waiting for Nashville to come to him, he just moved. Brought his guitar and his songs and set up camp. What he ended up doing was forming the band BR5-49 along with a Pacific Northwesterner Gary Bennett. Mead brought in fellow Kansan Shaw Wilson to play drums and the rest of the band was pieced together with guys from the area and a friend of Bennett's from the Northwest.
The group was unabashedly retro both in music and looks. They dressed like honky tonkers from the 50's and excelled at Western Swing, Honky Tonk, and Country Rock, something Nashville cared little about in the 90's. Yet, despite shunning the Garth Brooks style, these guys made a name for themselves and became critical favorites for their strong songs and unwillingness to accept the current Nashville norms.
Both songs featured here are available on the band's self titled release from 1996. It's a bummer when 7"s place multiple tracks from the album on a 7", but considering there isn't much available on vinyl from this band, I'll take it. Side 1 is the Bennett original, "Even if it's Wrong," which is a solid honky tonk outing. Side 2 is the country and rock and roll classic, "Crazy Arms," which the group covers in traditional country style.
Even If It's Wrong
Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett on Jools Holland doing Crazy Arms
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Known as Big Joe Turner, credited here as Joe Turner for this Atlantic LP. The Kansas Citian is easily Kansas City's best link to the birth of rock and roll. He started as an underage blues shouter in Kansas City clubs of the1930's. Rumor has it that he was so "big," that no one questioned his age and as a minor, tended bars and shouted blues at Kansas City night clubs. The term "shout blues" stems from the fact these guys were performing without a microphone. The shout out style would become a genre and lead to jump blues, to which Big Joe excelled at. In his early days, he began performing boogie-woogie after meeting pianist Pete Johnson.
Johnson and Turner would leave Kansas City for New York and begin a professional recording career. Cutting sides and scoring some substantial R&B hits for various labels. He wound up on Atlantic by chance. At the famed Apollo theater, Turner was singing for Count Basie and only filling in for Jimmy Rushing. Atlantic was there to catch Count Basie, but were encourged to sign Turner to contract despite that most accounts indicate Turner struggled to fill Rushing's shoes. With Atlantic, Turner was able to reach everybody.
His shout style latched on with rock and roll pioneers. Black and white artists covered his tunes, songwriters were influenced by his delivery. At the time of this release in 1957, Turner was somewhat of an icon in rock n' roll circles, a grandfather figure to the genre. Atlantic wasn't stupid and capitalized on Turner's clout, releasing records like this that contained his most rocking sides.
Turner's version of "Shake, Rattle & Roll" is here, which is clearly the biggest link to the development of Rock and Roll as a genre. Bill Haley would later polish up the arrangement and make a massive hit out of it. However, Turner's versions of "Flip, Flop & Fly", "Honey Hush," "Corrine Corrina," and "Sweet Sixteen" are all just as fundamental to early rock and roll and all placed on this LP. Outside a greatest hits compilation, this is great starting point for his work.
Shake, Rattle & Roll
Friday, January 10, 2014
So, I purchased this at Goodwill. I don't know how often everybody else shops at Goodwill, but the people that work there are always entertaining. On this occasion, this was the only record I was purchasing. The lady at the register grabbed it and began to look it over and thought to myself, 'Great, here we go again.' I recalled the time I bought two Johnny Cash LPS and the cashier with knuckle tattoos looked at them, looked back at me and said, "I already have these." Like it was some sort of competition I was suddenly involved in. Or the countless times I've discussed with Goodwill employees how most of this "stuff" is on CD. Or the many times I've been told, "My parents used to have records." All that is flashing through my mind when I she says, "This is good. It's a collector's item." To which I replied, "What?" "I bet it's rare," said the cashier, "you could probably sell it." "Oh," I replied, "it's local children singing for church, I'm not sure there's a huge market for it, but yeah, it's probably rare." I'm literally handing her the $1 and a few cents I owe her just to get out of the store and she hasn't even rung it up. "So, have you heard it?" I asked to try and move things along. "No, it just looks good, I wish I had a record player." Then she rang it up and I continued on.
She was right, though. There are amazing moments in this album. It's soul inflicted gospel and like the cover reads, it's virtually all children. The instrumentation is handled by the some of the older kids in the church, a 16 year old bassist, a twelve year old drummer, there are adults on saxophone and trumpet, and one of the directors leads at her organ. But, other than that, you're looking at an all children chorus and a brilliant music directors.
The back cover reads, "This unique choir, with a membership of 200-plus children, ages 3-12, are featured on this album on this album singing contemporary gospel music music that has been written and arranged by their leaders, Mrs. Jean Henderson and Mrs. Carolyn Cofield, who have dedicated their lives to encouraging young people to develop their highest potential in all aspects of life." These ladies were winning. The songs and arrangements are rooted in great 60's soul. They really got these kids to perform and I got to think, surprised anyone that would have seen them. I mean, this is a church group, I don't think there was much time to focus children on this music, not with school, home life, etc. Still they got amazing performances out of these kids. Not to mention, Linda Cofield's organ is straight funky. Admittedly, there are some cough ups throughout, but these are children performing after all. Overall, this is incredible and will easily be one of the greatest things I hear for the rest of the year (it's still January and I'm sure of this).
The Kansas East Sunshine Band Children's Choir still performs to this day. Appears Jean Henderson is the only one still directing. They're still amazing, though.
Much more recent performance
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Yeah, these dudes formed in Chicago. And yes, no one is going to give Kansas City much cred for this band. But hey, they have roots here. I promise.
The Sea and Cake was brought about as project Sam Prekop and Eric Claridge after the band Shrimp Boat broke up. Together, they recruited Tortoise drummer, John McEntire, as well as former Coctail and multi-instrumentalist, Archer Prewitt. None of these folks are from Kansas City. However, Sam Prekop attended the Kansas City Art Institute as did Archer Prewitt. Prewitt played in numerous local bands, including the Coctails prior to that band relocating to Chicago. Prekop, not known to play in KC bands and he hasn't really come back here, but he did have this to say in a September 24th, 2012 issue of Pitch Weekly on the formation of the Sea & Cake:
"Archer and I had met in Kansas City. We weren't really friends-- more like acquaintances. Somehow I decided he would be the right person to recruit. I had no idea we were going to become a band at that time-- I thought we'd just try it and see what happens."
So there you go, 2/4 of this band kind of, sort of met up in Kansas City. Albeit years before the band's formation, they met first in KC. Making Kansas City the beginning of all things cool in Chicago, IL. (I sound like Milwaukee now, don't I?) And, I know, Prekop moved around a lot, but his roots are clearly in Chicago, but, I'm pretty proud of Kansas City for introducing the two.
If you haven't heard the Sea & Cake, you're missing out. Truly one of the first post-rock bands, they effortlessly blend jazz, soul, pop and electronic. However, they are not like the bands now being labeled post-rock such as Sigur Ros, Mogwai, or Godspeed You Black Emperor, they're much more bubbly and pop-oriented. But, the ambiance and electronic influence are prevalent and marks them as heavily influential in the current scene.
All the band's music is worth exploring. This album is representative of the early half of their career and is just as good as any. It's heavy on the electronics and cited as the first Sea and Cake album to do so, there is drum machines and synths, but they don't stray far from their previous work. The newer stuff they have done is also incredible. Whereas the first few albums tended to have similar weight and feel, in the 2000's the band explored different song writing techniques and instrumentation. Some albums came out very electronic, some much more experimental, yet there's even some guitar heavy stuff. All undeniably the Sea and Cake, but not as immediately recognizable as their work in the 90's.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Man, I love this little 7", it's so fucking emo. These guys were just barely removed from high school when they did it, in fact, the drummer still was. I love the band's early stuff because it was always filled with such a sense of urgency. Like they were dying to share the songs with anyone who wanted to listen, sleep on anybody's floor who would allow them, and play anywhere.
The two songs featured, "A Newfound Interest in Massachusetts" and "Off the Wagon" that were both released later by Doghouse on the Woodson EP. The tunes are lovesick and riddled with teenage emotions. The songs cemented them into the emo scene and paired them to the likes of Promise Ring and Sense Field.
They are really great songs. Two of the band's strongest. Cool bits about the 7", the A-Side run off reads, "I'd Do Anything For You". The B-Side reads, "I'd Give You the World if I Could." Both lyrics from the tracks, but so fucking emo to do that. It's also often mistaken for the first release by the band, which it is not. That was discussed previously, but there was a self released 7" that did not feature Ryan Pope on drums prior to this. However, this was the first widely available release from the band and provided them the exposure that led them to a label deal with Doghouse.
Terrible Live Recording, but when they were still "kids"
A Newfound Interest in Massachusetts
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Just saw this in a pile of 45s at an antique mall, it was surrounded by a bunch of soul, so I picked it up seeing how it indicated a cover of the Lieber-Stoller classic, "Kansas City", was on it. There was a sticker indicating the song that I have since tried to remove to see if I could discover the artist's or group's name. Unfortunately, peeling the sticker ripped the label so if there was an artist listed, I'm not going to figure it out anytime soon.
It's pretty beat up and has heavy surface noise, so much so, it's not a very enjoyable listen. But, at the same time, it's a keeper. It's obviously local, it's obviously old, and the players do "Kansas City." It's done with male vocals, and very much in the Kansas City shout or jump blues style. There's a cool backbeat, guitar solo, and backing chatter that would make it good at a club if the copy were clean. There's a vibe run in the middle. Based on that, I don't think this was done at the time Big Joe Tuner was ruling the blues scene, but likely a group of throwbacks that recorded the demo in the early to mid-60's. It doesn't feature the "Hey, Hey, Hey" made famous by Little Richard or the Beatles, so I'm thinking on the earlier than 1965. Then again, the vibes...could be a lot later. At the end, there's also a shout out, "Get some BBQ!", which could mean it was done as a demo for some elaborate restaurant give-away record. The flip side features a female singer, doing the song "Jim" that was made famous by Billie Holiday. It's awfully close to torch jazz, like Holiday's version, but has a lot more swing due to instrumentation. The group didn't have horns apparently, so they rely on a blues riff, a chugging organ line, and a jazz inflicted drum line.
Despite not being able to identify the players, the acetate gives me the chance to discuss the song "Kansas City." Written by the song Lieber & Stoller in 1952 when those dudes were just 19 year old, living in Los Angeles, neither of them had ever been to Kansas City prior to writing the song and wrote the tune based on Big Joe Turner records they heard. Amazing how much they got from Big Joe Turner, huh? It was first recorded by Little Willie Littlesfield as a blues song and was put out by the Federal Label as "K.C. Lovin'". The song had some success as a blues tune, but was a hit in 1959 when North Carolina artist, Wilbert Harrison, recorded a slightly striped down version under the original title. After that, tons of people recorded the track. Little Richard's rendition was the first to feature the "Hey, Hey, Hey" that the Beatles recorded. James Brown also recorded a successful version of the tune. At his funeral, it was requested that Marva Whitney to perform the tune. The song is now the official song of Kansas City, in the Rock N' Roll hall of fame, and widely considered as one of the songs that shaped rock n' roll.
I live in the suburb of Overland Park in a pretty normal neighborhood, filled with pretty normal people, except maybe closer to the Glenwood Theater, there seems to be a neighborhood of hipsters with children in homes near there. Anyway, I consider my nextdoor neighbor to be a pretty normal dude. In his 40's, he works a lot, he drives an economical Nissan, he likes to mow his lawn, and he is always willing to have a friendly conversation. I don't know him to be hip on musical trends, one time he told me he was going to a Metallica show and I've pretty much stopped talking to him about music since then. On one rare occasion I did discuss music with him I was feeling him out to see if he remembered any local bands from the years he attended KU. His answer was the Homestead Grays. He fondly recalled this band as a "big deal" in and around Lawrence back in the 80's.
This EP was put out the same year KU won a NCAA Basketball Championship with Danny & the Miracles. Not that the basketball has anything to do with the music, but as a KU alumnus, I felt the need to point that out. If you listen to the EP, you get why they were a popular band around town. They were being touted as a "next big thing" right next to artists like the Rainmakers. Both bands were steeped in roots rock, but due to the lack of production budget the Grays have aged much better. This band wasn't drenched in bad studio effects so the recordings don't sound as dated. Further, all four songs featured here are all solid. You can tell for they held back in the studio, but the potential for rowdy live performances is evident.
The first two tracks border on honky-tonk and are bar room stompers. High energy, each track would have gotten the crowd worked up. The two tracks on the flip side are really clever pop tunes. There's a little twang on "I'd Like to Get to Know" and even a country breakdown, but overall, it's got as much to do with the Beatles as it does Hank Williams. The final track entitled "285 DeSoto" is diverse, it's got a conga line drum beat, a ska derived guitar line, and chanted lyrics. Despite that, it still finds a way not to sell it's soul and keep some twang. It's a hit song that never happened.
The group was centered around the talents of Lawrence native, Chuck Mead. After the Grays disbanded, Mead went to Nashville were he still sustains a career in music. Currently he is a solo artist, but was previously helped form the alt. country pioneers and heavily acclaimed band, BR 549. He also had success in Nashville songwriter. Other members, Guy Stephens drummed for local bands Tendoerloin, Arthur Dodge & the Horsefeathers and did work for another local legend, Todd Newman. Gray Ginter also played in Tenderloin and a number of other local bands, as did Brock Ginther, although I don't believe Brock was ever featured in Tenderloin.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Yeah, couldn't resist buying a sealed copy of this LP for $3 at an Olathe Antique Mall. How could anyone after seeing the cover? Clearly, Chuck Harter loves his wife. Loves country music. And, loves America.
Reading the back, yeah, he loves his wife. His family, the musicians on the album, on and on about how fortunate he was to put out an album. The LP is basically a well done demo. It's strange, now a days a band can easily put out a CD with little or no assistance. But, previous to that, you had to have an album or a 7". As difficult as that may have been to carryout on your own, there were all these regional labels putting out local music. Harter for example appears to be from the Kansas City area. The label is regional, and the producer, Johnny Maggard, did other local stuff. I assume, seeing how Chaparral Records actually released other music they must have caught Harter playing local shows. He had to be drawing some sort of crowd, because it wasn't like distribution was going to push this release much past the Metro. The only place this album was going to sell was at shows and maybe a few local shops.
They went all the way to Nashville, TN to record it. Even got a few studio pros to lay down tracks on the LP. The music isn't awful. It borders on country-pop, in the vein of someone like Kenny Rogers. The production is cheesy, but overall, the album isn't a total train wreck. It's no hidden gem, mind you, just could have been worse.
Actually on YouTube? The song, "That Kind of Fool"
Saturday, January 4, 2014
This is hands down one of the most important albums to come out of Kansas City during it's 90's indie explosion. This album virtually started a genre. So much so, the album has been re-released several times in multiple formats.
There were other bands doing this throughout the indie scene in the late 90's. But, most those bands were fighting traditional metal influences and trying to find a way to re-write old riffs. Coalesce took their cue from hardcore punk by going straight for the jugular. No "singing", No drum solos, No Guitar solos. Just blistering metal.
To be musical and show they had the chops to be "metal," they focused on odd time signatures and dissonant guitars. The guttural vocals and odd out of place keyboard riffs add to the chaos. Upon first listen, and even more so if you were listening in 1997, it sounds as if it's coming from another planet. But, give it a few spins and it all starts to make sense, even becomes enjoyable.
A few years later, bands like Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan would perfect this form. Coalesce would constantly shift members and lose focus along the way, by doing so they'd never catch up to those groups despite improving their sound. Nevertheless, they'll always be thought of as pioneers in the genre.
Coalesce Live is Fucking Scary
Friday, January 3, 2014
Good news that if I've actually had to pay for a Kansas LP, I haven't paid over a dollar. Bad news, this is awful. It's what you'd expect from a band like Kansas in a year like 1986, though. Just overproduced pomp rock.
I like Kansas for the most part, well, it's kind of a love/hate thing, but I can certainly respect them. They have a very devoted fan base, but I can't imagine those fans call out for songs from this LP at shows. It was a reformed band at this point, Steve Walsh who was previously out was now back in, Phil Ehart was still on drums, but Kenny Livgreen left along with John Elefante. Instead of prog. rock, you get douchy hard rock.
Even the sole attempt at prog. on this LP, "Musicato", is filled with simple guitar licks and tons of cheesy 80's studio effects. Such a disappointment. Despite that, the band still managed a minor hit out of the song "Power" and a top 20 hit out of "All I Wanted". Good for them, I guess. The fact that people were still interested in Kansas in 1986 is a testament to their popularity and success.
All I Wanted
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Kill Whitey was kind of a local legend in Lawrence, KS by the time I got there. I remember asking the host of KJHK's metal show, Mean Dean, about them. He gloated and seemed to associate them with the small metal scene in Lawrence and Kansas City.
Further, I found what was once a fairly valuable compilation CD of the band that covered their entire output. I remember listening to it and thinking "heavy metal." They stood apart from other bands because they had a female singer who could wail in Kim Czarnopys. They were also well remembered for founder, Mark Smirl, who later formed one of the many 90's local major label bands, Stick.
Regardless of what I remember and heard about the band's metal tendencies (I don't have the CD any longer to reference) I wouldn't typify this 7" as "metal." It was 1989 when it came out, though. There is definitely aspects, heavy riffing and Czarnopys wails out the tunes. But, it's hard rock metal kids could enjoy, kind of in the vein of a bands like the Cult or Guns & Roses. Huge guitar riffs and nods to 70's stoner rock which was once called metal, but by the 1980's those bands sounded tame.
This came out early in the band's career and I got to think as they continued their sound got heavier and heavier. I just can't verify it because I don't have that CD anymore.
This is the only full length LP available on vinyl from Kansas City's Reflector. Despite being the little guys in town, they do a solid job of filling out an entire LP. I tend to enjoy their Prelude to Novelty album a bit more, but both full length albums are pretty interchangeable and represent the band well.
This one was recorded by Alex Brahl and it shows. When the Shiner guys recorded the band, they may have overstepped the band's ability, I mean, they were just a three-piece and while they owed obvious influence to that band, they weren't writing math rock songs. Brahl was able to calm the band down a bit and not lose that KC post-hardcore sound that the band was built around. Previous efforts by the band felt tense and bottled up. Brahl was able to soften some of the edges and even got the cello thrown in as a backdrop on a tune.
They even managed to get some soul into these tunes, not that it's dance-able, but the band was getting away from the discordant Slint-dynamics they previously relied on. The first song, "Spell" is prime example, a midst the starts and stops, Jake Cardwell was able to catch a steady groove that moves the song. They still got intense, the song "Alice" is a monster despite it's ballad-esque beginnings and ends with a slow moving segue into an actual ballad and the last song, "Flowers," which is one of my personal favorites from the band.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
So, I bought this album recently (had to, it's limited to only 300 copies, I was getting worried) and no where on the record does it say play at 45 RPM. I put it on at 33 1/3 and was pretty sure I had just dropped acid and my face was melting. It was fucking intense, then the vocals kicked in and I realized my error. But seriously, someone should sample some of these tunes in 33 1/3 for some dope beats.
The band was formed from idea that was Lawrence's Ad Astra Per Aspera and members of the "Arkestra" play around town in numerous other bands. It's a cool idea, with all the members and a ton of percussion, but it does get a bit pretentious. A group of white hipsters calling themselves an "Arkestra"? Sun Ra should probably get off his space ship and punch the band in the face a few times.
The band dubs itself "Astra Beat" or "Drum Punk" (again, more pretentiousness) which means post-modern centered around percussion. They use tribal rhythms and scream a lot. They are some really good moments when the beat is steady and they place a nifty riff over the top. Some good dance moments. Then there are some borderline hippie moments, which I didn't need, but I get it and I figured it was going to happen just based on the cover. Besides, one of those boder-line hippie moments, "Apostle's Fossils," is the highlight of the album.