Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Do You Like Guitars? You Ought to See this Guy Tonight.

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Will Matthews is Kansas City’s best jazz guitarist. As far as I know, he’s the world’s best jazz guitarist, but I can’t be as dead certain of that claim. Either way, you can sit a few yards away from him this evening at the Blue Room for $15, and be blown away.

A few years ago, I was flipping through a cut-out bin and found an album entitled “Will Matthews Solo” and it was only a couple dollars. I saw he was a Kansas City native so I gave it a try, with no expectations or preconceptions. That album wound up at the top of my top 50 albums 2000-2009 because I’ve listened to it more than any other album in my collection.

I lack the vocabulary of a true jazz critic, so I’ll quote one: “Those who know me have always heard me say that Will’s tone and phrasing is a perfect blend of George Benson, Grant Green, and Wes Montgomery, supported by his strong chordal concept, which, unavoidably, is pure Kenny Burrell (and why would anyone want to go around that?).” I’ll just add that the music sounds like rubbed brass looks.

It won’t only be Will Matthews tonight, though. Your $15 dollars gets his whole quartet. He’s just released a CD with Mel Rhyne on the Hammond B3 organ, Bobby Watson on the alto saxophone and Kenny Phelps on the drums. I’ll happily pay full price for this one . . .

Top 50 Albums, 2000 – 2009

Friday, January 1st, 2010

A friend on Facebook challenged a bunch of us to come up with lists of the top 50 albums for the past decade. Here’s my list.

1. Will Matthews: Solo
2. Radiohead: Kid A
3. Slaid Cleaves: Unsung
4. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday
5. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
6. Jay-Z: American Gangster
7. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
8. Prince: Musicology
9. Al Green: I Can’t Stop
10. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife
11. The White Stripes: Icky Thump
12. O+S: O+S
13. Trampled Underfoot: May I Be Excused
14. Cake: Comfort Eagle
15. American Steel: Jagged Thoughts
16. Neil Young: Silver And Gold
17. Bob Dylan: Love And Theft
18. Bruce Springsteen: Devils and Dust
19. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
20. White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
21. Nellie McKay: Get Away From Me
22. Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
23. The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely
24. The Arcade Fire: Funeral
25. Kanye West: Graduation
26. My Morning Jacket: Z
27. Damian Marley: Welcome to Jamrock
28. B.B. King: One Kind Favor
29. The Swell Season: The Swell Season
30. Avett Brothers: I and Love and You
31. 50 Cent: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’
32. U2: All That You Can’t Leave Behind
33. Bruce Springsteen: The Rising
34. Son Volt: American Central Dust
35. Thad Cockrell: Warmth and Beauty
36. Land of Talk: Some Are Lakes
37. The Neptunes: The Neptunes Present… Clones
38. Jason Isbell: Sirens of the Ditch
39. Roman Candle: Oh Tall Tree in the Ear
40. Dumpstaphunk: Listen Hear
41. The Strokes: Room On Fire
42. Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel
43. Tenacious D: Tenacious D
44. Jay-Z: The Black Album
45. Nelly: Nellyville
46. Warren Zevon: The Wind
47. Linda Thompson: Fashionably Late
48. Weezer: Maladroit
49. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP
50. Mark Knopfler: Sailing To Philadelphia

I appreciate the challenge, because it got me to go over a lot of music I enjoyed, and it caused me to alter my listening habits so that I know make a real effort to listen to albums rather than individual songs.


Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I got on the elevator yesterday, and was joined by an African-American man roughly my own age. He looked my middle-aged, middle-class white self over, gave an understanding smile, and said, “Too bad about the Springsteen show getting canceled, huh?”.

KC Sports – Rednecks Preferred?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Ancillary Adams raises a fine question: “What is it about this town’s athletics franchises that makes them want to portray themselves as the Official Teams of Hee Haws everywhere?” At Royals games, the family atmosphere is shattered every game by a public singing of a country song celebrating threatening behavior and problem drinking. Now, the Chiefs have decided that Trace Adkins – with no apparent Kansas City ties – should be the pitchman for the Chiefs. Trace Adkins?

If it hadn’t been for Ancillary Adams, I confess that I would not have any idea who the guy in black leather on the screen was. After a little research, I’ve discovered that he is an anti-union conservative who appeals to a heavily caucasian audience. The only obvious tie to the Chiefs I could find is that he sings a song called “You’re Going to Miss This”, which I haven’t heard, but it might be directed toward the receiving corps.

Like Ancillary Adams, I’m sick and tired of having our sports teams portray us to the world as a bunch of drunk rubes. If I recall correctly, it was Kansas City that made a $2 million donation to the stadiums, not some rural cowpatch. Maybe we ought to be promoted by Kansas Citians instead of boot-wearing bumpkins from Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Mix Tapes/CDs

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

For our Book Club meeting this week, we read “Love is a Mix Tape“, and a bunch of us created mix CDs to share. It occurred to me that it had been years since I had created my own mix, though the technology for sharing music has improved vastly from the days of putting an album on the turntable and snapping the cassette recorder on and off as the desired songs played. Back in cassette days, a mix tape was a real time investment, but now it’s a matter of dragging and dropping.

It was a fun project. The challenge is to come up with something that the recipient might not have heard, which forced me to break out of my “same old” mold. My natural inclination was to pull out a few of my favorite songs by favorite artists, but what’s the point of sharing Springsteen, Petty, Dylan, and Prince when the people I know are mostly well-versed in their music already? A mix tape should introduce your friends to the gems you’ve found that might not have shown up on their radar.

I would up going with a mostly mix, with a few other gems. is a sound I’ve been enjoying a lot over the past several years, and it’s under-appreciated by most people who think of rock as Springsteen and country as Toby Keith.

Anyhow, here’s what I came up with.

1. Let’s Take Some Drugs And Drive Around… 5:12
2. I Will Survive / Cake 5:11
3. Shrapnel / American Steel 4:28
4. Permanent Scar / O+S 3:34
5. Hurting Each Other / Johnette Napolitano… 4:12
6. Skinny Love / Bon Iver 3:59
7. Some Are Lakes / Land Of Talk 3:41
8. Flowered Dresses / Slaid Cleaves 3:49
9. Another Kind Of Blue / Slaid Cleaves 2:28
10. Hallelujah / Jeff Buckley 6:53
11. Oh My Sweet Carolina / Ryan Adams 4:57
12. Girl From Maryville / Thad Cockrell 4:29
13. I and Love and You / The Avett Brothers 5:01
14. Drown / Son Volt 3:22
15. A Better Place / The Setters 3:59
16. Euro-Trash Girl / Cracker 8:04

There was also a bonus track in there, which shall remain nameless.

Since I’ve reintroduced myself to the ease of sharing music with friends, I think I’ll try to do a better job of evangelizing music I like.

Wake Up Songs

Friday, August 28th, 2009

My alarm clock uses my iPod to wake me up. Because I tend to keep my iPod on shuffle, and my music selection is eclectic (fancy word for strange), my days start off with a wide range of inspirations.

This morning, I woke up to Muddy Waters’ “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”, but the snooze button proved too tempting. Next up was the Talking Heads’ perky “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, which got me bouncing into my day.

I’ve discovered a few principles for morning music. Jazz can set the mood for a great day – give me Brubeck’s “Take Five” in the morning, and I’ll greet the day with a smile. Alt.Country, like Ryan Adams or Slaid Cleaves, can keep me in s pensive state for the whole morning. Classical music is beautiful, but makes me late to work. A dose of the Clash makes me invincible.

One morning I woke up to the BoDeans shouting “Sylvia” at the top of their lungs, and it almost gave both of us a heart attack.

Of course, I could carefully select what music I want to have wake me in the morning, but where’s the fun in that?

Albums? My World is on Shuffle . . .

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

A bunch of my more musically informed friends are compiling lists of their top 50 albums of 2000 – 2009. I’d love to join them . . .

I cannot remember, though, the last time I sat down and listened to an album straight through. These days, when I purchase new music, it goes into my computer, onto my iPod, and gets delivered in song-sized bites, pureed by the shuffle function.

That’s gotta stop. Great albums are more than collections of great songs – the sequence of songs and the relationships between them can really deepen the experience of the music. To this day, my mind flips to the “next song” that should be coming up next whenever I hear songs from the classic albums of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, or Neil Young. “Wish You Were Here” seems kind of lonely if it’s not leaning up against “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)”. “Even the Losers” sounds more poignant after the triumphant lust of “Here Comes My Girl”.

This go-round has been lost to the iPod, but I’ll be wiser next time.

Bass Instincts – Starting a New Hobby?

Monday, April 6th, 2009

He or she is usually off to the side of the stage, head down, laying down the bass line that everything else simply embellishes. Bass players rarely sing, they don’t bounce around like over-caffeinated teenagers, but they have always struck me as the coolest people on the stage.

It was probably the bass line in the Grass Roots’ Midnight Confessions that first grabbed me. I don’t even remember what the A-side of the 45 was, but I played it constantly before I was 10. I didn’t know anything about music, but that little “BUMP bah da da da da da” dominated the whole song for me, and made it a favorite.

Unfortunately, I remained a musical illiterate. My older sisters were talented guitar players, but I don’t recall any of my brothers playing an instrument. In one of my most regretted moments, Sr. Margaret offered to teach me the stand-up bass when I was in 6th grade, and I turned the opportunity down. I have no idea why – perhaps street hockey and hanging out with my friends in the alley seemed more important, but that childhood decision remains a source of self-inflicted disappointment.

Later this month, I’m turning 49. Half way to 98. Two thirds of the way to 73 and a half. Almost entirely to 50. I still don’t know how to play an instrument. I don’t really know what chords are, or what A sounds like compared to C, or any of that stuff. I love listening to music, and I love watching musicians perform, but it’s just magic to me.

I’m going to get a bass guitar for my birthday. I don’t know what make or model or even whether to go acoustic or electric. I don’t know about amps or frets or pickups, but I’ll do some internet reading and take advice from friends. I won’t get anything expensive – just a beginner setup to see if I can catch on, and whether I have the determination to put up with the frustration and sore fingers I know are waiting for me.

Perhaps it’s too late for someone like me to become “musically inclined”. I’m not anticipating invitations to join bands, and it’s not like coffee houses seek solo bass guitarists with crappy voices to draw in customers. It will be a solitary pursuit, and that’s fine.

What I’m really hoping for is to gain a better appreciation of music. When I cook, I gain an appreciation of what a great chef does. When I paint, I become more aware of colors and shapes around me. When I make beer, I learn more about the style of beer I am brewing.

Perhaps because of the opportunity to learn, I am a hobby slut. I have books full of pre-1945 used postal stationery that I hope to spend time on someday when time is more plentiful. I am teaching myself flyfishing. This blog is a hobby – a hobby that reinforces my hobbies of reading, writing, poetry and observing local politics. I brew beer, I bake, and I have dabbled in woodworking. I try to golf, and I have a novel that still kicks me in the back of my mind.

I’m really not very good at any of it. That’s not false modesty – that’s an honest appraisal. But excelling has never been my target in my hobbies. Sure, I would love to be the best homebrewer brewing. I am proud of my recognition in the Pitch as the Best Political Blogger, but I know there are better bloggers. I don’t have the means or the time to excel at flyfishing or golf, but that’s okay. Improvement is enough, even if toward mere adequacy.

"But I Know A Change Gonna Come" – Day 67 of the Jackson County Ethics Blackout

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

The title is, of course, a reference to Sam Cooke’s posthumously-released masterpiece. Unfortunately, from what the insiders have told me, a more appropriate selection would have been the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I recently heard from someone who knows a lot about these things that, after a new Ethics Commission is chosen, the legislature will try to make a few non-substantive changes to the code, but will seek to retain their own exemption from local oversight.

No change that continues the exemption from local oversight will be good enough.

Anything else is a sideshow, intended to distract attention from the empty center stage of Jackson County Legislative ethics. Until the Jackson County legislators accept the Charter-mandated oversight of the Jackson County Ethics Commission, the fight will continue.

It’s a foolish maneuver, destined to blow up in their faces. We’re not stupid, and we’re watching. When they try to make the cosmetic changes to the Code, all they will accomplish is to draw attention to their failure to make the real change that people expect. “Bring Ethics Home” is too easy a slogan to counter the legislative preference for hiding their ethical misdeeds behind closed doors in Jefferson City.

Here are five reasons that the Jackson County Legislature’s bogus attempt to ship its dirty laundry out of town just isn’t good enough:

1. The Jackson County Ethics Commission conducts its work in public, while the Missouri Ethics Commission closes its doors. Sunshine is the best governmental disinfectant, while cockroaches prefer the dark.

2. The Jackson County Ethics Commission gets appointed non-politically, while the Missouri Ethics Commission is all gubernatorial appointments divied up by parties and congressional districts.

3. Citizens and local press have the opportunity to watch our local commission, but not everyone can afford to take a field trip to Jefferson City every time one of our legislators pushes his or her luck too far.

4. The MEC has 6 people covering every elected official in the state, from the Governor’s election contributors down to the tiniest municipality’s copier contract. The Jackson County Ethics Commission has 5 people trying to keep up with just our local folks. I put my money on the hometeam.

5. It’s in the freaking Charter!! The Jackson County Charter puts the Jackson County Ethics Commission in charge of investigating ethics allegations involving our local crew of misfits. Why does the Jackson County legislature think it gets to write itself out of the Charter, which has been duly approved by the voters of Jackson County?

There are more reasons I could list, but these 5 ought to suffice for today.

Already, County Executive Mike Sanders and County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar have undercut the legislature by agreeing to local ethics enforcement. At least some of our elected officials agree that we ought to be able to do our laundry at home, instead of sending it to Jefferson City.

If you’re talking to a Jackson County legislator, and he or she tries to assure you that they are going to make changes to the ethics ordinance in a few months, ask whether those changes will include local ethics enforcement over the Legislature. Really, the next time you see one of them in the grocery store or meeting or coffee shop, ask if they’re willing to go back to local ethics enforcement.

After they finish their answer, you’ll realize that I’m right. And you’ll see that this fight is going to continue long after their cosmetic changes have been made. Folks, it looks like the Jackson County Ethics Blackout won’t end until the majority loses their elections in 2010.

I know that the Jackson County Ethics Blackout is a tiny thing compared to the societal change that Sam Cooke was singing about, but I can’t help but be inspired by his final verse -


There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sunday Poetry: On Raglan Road, by Patrick Kavanagh

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

On Raglan Road

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.

– by Patrick Kavanagh

This is not my favorite poem by Patrick Kavanagh. For that distinction, I would lean toward his lengthy consideration of choked lust, “The Great Hunger” or his (ironically) much shorter “Epic“. And yet, it is probably Kavanagh’s best-known poem, because it was set to music after Kavanagh met Luke Kelly, a member of The Dubliners, at a pub named The Bailey. Since then, the song has been covered by Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and dozens of others, and it appears in the soundtrack of Oscar-nominated “In Bruges“. Here’s the story and the song:

The relationship between poetry and music is a tricky one. I sometimes wonder whether the rise of recorded music has destroyed the need for spoken word poetry – clearly, the Youtube version above resonates within me more than the words above it, and Sinead O’Connor’s voice brings a bittersweet nuance that my internal voice lacks entirely.

Poetry originated as a mnemonic device for recalling and retelling stories around the campfire. In Ireland, men made their living walking from town to town and reciting the poetry of their ancestors, and the legends of Cuchulain and others. Poetry helped culture and tradition survive in a semi-literate world.

Those days are over. My iPod exceeds the memory of any wandering reciter of poetry, and repeats flawlessly the guitars, drums and bass that enhance the performance of words.

If Bob Dylan was the poet of his generation, what were Lawrence Ferlinghetti or Allen Ginsburg doing? Where is the poet who can sell out the Sprint Center the way that Bruce Springsteen did? Are we talking about two entirely separate things when we discuss poetry and music, or are we talking about the same art delivered in different packages. Is it a venn diagram or a circle within a circle? And if it’s a circle in a circle, are lyrics set to music a smaller (though immensely profitable and popular) circle within the greater circle of poetry, or is poetry, with its attempts at music through rhymes and rhythm, a narrower form of words set to music?