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250 Word Album Review: William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death gets 4 stars

It might not have the impact that it did when Dylan went electric in the 60s but William Elliott Whitmore has now followed suit. With Radium Death he has definitely changed up his sound but it is still unmistakably Whitmore.

When the rockabilly style electric guitar rings out on the lead track “Healing To Do” you can sense a different mood immediately. The song has an instant urgency when accompanied by electric guitar and a full band than anything Whitmore has ever done. When he lets loose a primitive howl toward the end of the song you’ll be sold that this was a good move for him to go electric and add a band. The full band is used more sparingly on “Trouble in Your Heart” where he switches back to acoustic strums but he ramps it back up on “Don’t Strike Me Down” where he once again channels some punk angst. Whitmore didn’t completely convert however; he slowly plays his banjo on “Civilization” and picks at his electric on “Go On Home” by himself to give the vibe of his previous records.

Whitmore has a great idea of what works here and is careful not to take too many chances and bastardize his own sound. Every song here fits with the possible exception of the steel guitar waltz of “Can’t Go Back” that just doesn’t seem to fit Whitmore’s style well. Radium Death proves Whitmore could take on the electric and not look back if he wished, I doubt many people would complain after hearing this album.

Key tracks: “Healing To Do” “Civilizations” “Don’t Strike Me Down”

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in 250 word album reviews

 

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The Vinyl Court: Nilsson – Schmilsson

Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson

  • Artist: Nilsson
  • Album: Schmilsson (1971)
  • Purchased at: Yard Sale (Gower, MO) for $1

Harry Nilsson is a forgotten character in the history of rock in many ways. Palling around with The Beatles and enjoying radio play on several songs hasn’t seemed to save him from obscurity. His singer/songwriter piano style was paralleled by such acts as Randy Newman and Elton John. Being closely associated to The Beatles and in particular John Lennon led him to be one of the biggest proponents of gun control in the 80s after Lennon’s murder in 1980, Nilsson would later pass away from a heart attack in the mid 90s.

“Schmilsson” remains his classic album to this day. It possessed the hit ballad “Without You” that sounds like it inspired every 80s ballad you’ve heard and possibly more famously the slightly gimmicky song “Coconut.” This record is much deeper than those songs though, “Gotta Get Up” is an inspiring song to kick off the album and later the flooring funk grooves of “Jump In The Fire” are unlike anything else Nilsson ever recorded. The solitary “Early In The Morning” with just Harry on organ and impressive vocals also left its mark for decades to come.

While this album is great, a physical characteristic jumps out at you as well; it is a “dynaflex” record. Dynaflex basically means it is so thin you might think your needle will punch right through it when you put it on the turntable. It is so thin and flexible that it literally will flop around while you hold it. This shockingly doesn’t lead to a disappointing sound quality (possibly indicating a lack of need for 180 gram vinyl.) RCA tried this experiment for a few years in the 70s and ultimately ceased production even before the decline of vinyl hit.

Rating: B+

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in The Vinyl Court

 

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Album at a glance: The Center State – Close Enough To Miss

The Center State - Close Enough To Miss

The Center State’s full-length debut is an upbeat group of acoustic songs where gentle picking is paired with a soft violin and great vocal harmonies. The yearning “Proud Man” is lead singer Jeremy Sharp’s guidebook to life as he expresses his lessons learned in a yielding tone. The title track “Close Enough To Miss” finds McKenzie Davidson leading the vocal charge before giving way to one of the record’s quintessential moments with a choir-style sing-along. The songs play subtle but keep from wearing thin. The contemporary folk stylings here are most closely related to groups like the Milk Carton Kids and even Death Cab for Cutie if you are looking for a more mainstream comparison. The clean production and concrete songwriting will make this album a solid listen every time.

Key Track: “Close Enough To Miss”

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Album at a glance

 

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Album at a glance: Empirics – Odophilia

Empirics - Odophilia

The Empirics is St. Joseph musicians Eddie Miles and Aaron Furst making a mellow metal album in the vein of A Perfect Circle and other bands that know how to ease off the throttle. The 7-minute instrumental opener “Mechanism” sheds the faint hearted from the melodic music that follows. One of the more rigid tracks, “About You” has some Filter style vocals and angry guitars on a mission. The album is moody throughout but always keeps restraint to maintain its melodic themes. The brooding tones still fill the songs with tension. The band is never more angsty than on “Internal” where they proudly earn the parental advisory logo on the album cover. “Odophilia” is a solid debut, putting more concentration on ambiance and mood than being loud, making it more accessible than many hard rock albums.

Key Track: “About You”

theempirics.com

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Album at a glance

 

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VOT Cover Story: Zale Bledsoe (Update)

Tuning Fork cover story update - Zale Bledsoe

Zale Bledsoe may be the person most featured in Tuning Fork magazine since our first issue back in July of 2013. This is with good reason as he thrives within the St. Joseph music scene and continues to move toward new goals. He graced the beautifully shot cover for Tuning Fork Magazine in September 2013 for our third issue. The guest photographer was a specialist in skating photography, Mitch Stroup. Mitch captured Zale with his Dsoedean skateboard on the photo as you can see and only Mitch, Zale and I can attest, but he landed the trick.

Bledsoe’s latest endeavors still involve the same things he was doing back then; Dsoedean, skating and his solo project For The Sound. His rock band Dsoedean with bassist Cody Hudson and drummer Bobby Floyd is gearing to record a new album in the coming year and have plans to release their second 7-inch vinyl single on record store day (April 18th.) The 7-inch will feature the songs “Body of Water,” which is available digitally now, with the flip side being the song “Rocketeer.” He has even hinted that there will be a small amount of these that will be available in a limited edition packaging bundle.

For The Sound is also an active project as Bledsoe is in the midst of recording the first full-length release under that moniker. He has recorded numerous EPs using lo-fi recording methods. These recordings were traditionally solo acoustic and many times live in the studio but he is now adding more instrumentation. “It’s a different feeling to put drums, bass, lead guitars and different guitar parts on those songs.” Bledsoe says “It’s given some older stuff a little bit of life and made it more listenable.” In addition to re-recording some old For The Sound songs that have been around for several years, many of them pre-dating Dsoedean, there will be new songs on the album as well making for what Bledsoe helps is an elevated listening experience.

Bledsoe’s other hobbies have gained some major attention recently as well. He is a craftsman and recently started toying with making guitars. He incorporates his past in these as he is making them out of old skateboard decks. This gives the guitars unique color schemes that flow naturally. The intense colors from the decks show through and the guitar bodies that he is crafting make them completely unique sounding. He recently raffled one off for the This Tall Records Christmas show and Austin Marks of the bands Eyelit and Dreamgirl won it. “The response from Austin and from the raffle we did showed me people dig them and as long as I can make them good it is probably something I should get out there.” Bledsoe is currently making four guitars to bring his total number of hand made guitars into double digits and continues to fine-tune them, trying to make each one better than the last. “I’m donating one to the Midwest Music Foundation for a fundraiser for Midcoast Takeover that helps area bands get down to Austin, Texas so they can showcase music from the Kansas City area.” Bledsoe explains, “Then I’m donating one to the Folk Alliance to help them raise money.”

Each of his guitars has a sound and personality of its own along with one of a kind colors. Bledsoe has his favorites among the ones he has made as well, he has one guitar that he uses at live shows now and he is even using it to record the new For The Sound album. The distinct sound of the guitar he hand made is making this record truly be distinct and one of a kind itself.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in VOT Editorial

 

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Album at a glance: Tyler Gregory – Roots Below

Tyler Gregory - Roots Below

Tyler Gregory’s vocal delivery is rough and raw as he belts out colorful stories with his banjo and acoustic guitar. His powerful voice is the key to his backwoods songs. He uses them to contrast quiet music and sometimes no music at all to get his point across like on the nearly a cappela “Day By Day, Night After Night.” For the new album he recycles the older song “Kansas Girl” and rightfully so as it is still one of his strongest works. “Western Colorado (1896)” is a folklore tale of a tommyknocker trapped in a mine that Gregory picked up and was able to add to his illustrious group of stories. It’s a good example of what kind of message he shares on the album, tall tales for any ears that will listen and lots of stomping.

Key Track: “Kansas Girl”

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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Album at a glance

 

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Concert Review: The Folk Alliance International music conference 2/21/15

Possessed By Paul James (Konrad Wert) performs live at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.  He performed official showcases as well as private showcases that took place in hotel rooms as shown above.

Possessed By Paul James (Konrad Wert) performs live at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15. He performed official showcases as well as private showcases that took place in hotel rooms as shown above. His performances proved to be one of the biggest highlights of night.

The Folk Alliance International Music Fair and Conference is flat out overwhelming. Split between two major Kansas City hotels (the Westin and the Sheraton) there is more to digest than any one appetite could take in. The lobby is instantly filled with basking musicians at every turn. Each lobby table is covered with an overabundance of promotional material from bands and labels including handbills, links to websites and posters. Some vaguely familiar faces are roaming with an air of importance about them but with the excess of talent centrally located at the conference, it is difficult to tell who it could be.

Solo musicians quietly strum on the loveseats in lobby as each corner potentially has a band playing and hoping to get the attention of some ears. Young bluegrass bands like the dread laden jam band Way Down Wanderers would play in the lobby while an elderly group named The Blue Moon Trio would take a break from their normal nursing home gigs to pluck away on the mezzanine. Further exploration of the halls of the hotel find more bands playing in dark corners and walkways as seminars and exhibits go on in the main rooms. A panel with legendary folk singers such as Tom Paxton and Peggy Seeger talking about their roughly 50 years as performers would happen while people wandered in and out of the room. Other exhibits like media presentations, seminars about booking and running labels would all be happening throughout the day.

After the dinner hour the events shift to official showcases in the large rooms of both hotels. This is where you would find such major named acts as bluegrass trio Red Molly, guitar virtuoso Andy McKee and the impressive harmonies of The Howlin’ Brothers. The western swing of Kansas City’s own Victor & Penny is playing to a packed room around the corner and each subsequent room has the sound of talent blasting out of its doors. It is important to have a schedule at this point but not stick to it. It is always great to know where you want to go but the journey there will ultimately get altered. Walking into a room not knowing what band is playing and hearing the loose, passionate voice of Possessed By Paul James will stop you in your tracks. It will make you cross things off your schedule and bask in what you are seeing. Two doors down the hall the room is so packed people are gathered in hallway tying to get a peek in at Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar who are venting southern gospel soul by way of Canada with people standing, clapping along and dancing.

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar brought some soul to their performances at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar brought some soul to their performances at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

At 10:30 the showcase rooms empty out and a 20-minute line at the elevators forms. The massive crowd is headed up to the 5th, 6th and 7th floors of the hotel for private showcases that will last until 3 and 4 in the morning. Stepping off the elevator is a surreal experience as you are transported into an expensive hotel floor in the guise of a college dorm. Band and room posters are plastered all over the walls leaving little open space to see what color the paint actually is. The halls are lined with instrument cases and people and each poster promotes a band or showcase in a room with times listed. This is the point when the Folk Alliance International conference really takes shape.

As you walk the hallways the open doors reveal a musician or band in nearly every room busting through 30-minute sets as people scramble back and forth among them. The best thing about these shows is that it offers and intimate environment where you can see bands with only about 20 other people. Among these bands are the acts that might have been missed at official showcases like Possessed By Paul James and Victor & Penny. Even if you did see them earlier in the day, you could now see them again if you chose to do so. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar would also be performing but instead of a packed room of a couple hundred people they would be playing to a small audience because of the fierce competition between rooms. Some up and coming acts would struggle for an audience outside of their friends and fellow musicians while other accomplished acts like Iowa banjo slinger William Elliott Whitmore would (rightfully so) play to a packed small room with people struggling to get in the door.

Overindulgence is necessary in a situation like this. The extremely refined talent on display is awe-inspiring. The downside is there is simply no way to avoid missing something great. This collection of some of the finest folk acts in world really couldn’t disappoint, you just have to soak it in.

William Elliott Whitmore performs live at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

William Elliott Whitmore performs live at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Concert Review

 

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