250 word album review: Will Johnson – Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

Will Johnson - Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

Stars4.5

Will Johnson dissolved his group Centro-matic and his main focus is now on solo records. He made solo albums before the band came to its amicable end but now they are his primary vehicle for putting out music. It is worth noting that Johnson is a very busy guy, he is involved in many projects with many different musicians.

This being Johnson’s 5th full length solo release it is a great accomplishment that it is his strongest. What the disbanding of Centro-matic seems to have done is open Johnson’s solo sound up sonically. His early solo albums are much quieter, this has some good hard edged guitar, just see “Every Single Day of Late.” That being said this is still far from a Centro-matic record, there are still acoustic numbers like on his early solo album that focus around his brilliant vocal performance and songwriting style. On “Predator” Johnson uses the predator not as its usual role as an antagonist but more as an accomplice. Twists like this keep his songwriting a step ahead of the game. On “Ruby Shameless” you’ll hear the softer dynamics of Johnson as he again uses his great singing voice to carry the song, almost single handedly. On “Childress (to Ogden)” he uses a slow waltz as a guide similar to Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita.”

Will Johnson isn’t an artist that will ever likely break out and be massively popular but it is clear he is among the most talented musicians active today. Each record he is a part of serves a purpose and is fresh in its own way, “Hatteras” is a great example of this.

Key Tracks: “Every Single Day of Late” “Predator” “Ruby Shameless” “Heresy and Snakes”

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Kochel Guitars, a unique recycling effort

A couple examples of the one of a kind guitars made by Kochel Guitars.

When you see someone scavenging a fallen barn or junk pile you probably wouldn’t think that they are gathering materials for intricate musical instruments. That is exactly the case for Sean Kochel who makes traditional instruments from reclaimed material in and around Potomac, Montana. His experience making custom guitars has now led to the fruits of his labor being taken around the globe by touring musicians.

Kochel’s journey started with great success while producing cigar box guitars. That success led to more demand for him to build different instruments. He now has moved into making stratocasters, resonators and even acoustic guitars. “I’m pretty backed up right now,” Kochel says, “I can only do so much by myself and I do everything by hand.” His meticulous work on his instruments can take up weeks of his time. There is a consistent demand for his guitars however because each instrument has a distinct vintage look and sound. He has taught himself how to craft them over the years, never ceasing to learn along the way. “I got these tools and I don’t have a whole lot of money so I’ll just figure it out and do it.” Kochel comments, “Everything I’ve done, I’ve taught myself.”

He uses discarded barn wood, used ammunition and even bones of animals to make some of the most visually striking instruments you will see. It isn’t all about the appearance of the guitars however; he also concentrates on making instruments that sound good. He finds a comfortable balance between form and function and the demand for his work speaks for itself. “You can only go so far with being rustic before you are compromising the instrument itself.” Kochel says. “The tricky part of balancing those things is making sure the wood is stable enough but still has the esthetic.” He explains that the wood he uses has a “sound” of its own. It could depend on how old and weathered it is or maybe even what direction it spent its life facing. From the hand made necks to brass ammunition fret markers to shotgun shell volume knobs to old metal pickguards, Kochel Guitars are among the most unique you will find.

The guitars end up being a living piece of history. “The whole point of my business is getting back to where it all started.” Kochel says speaking about the traditional nature of his work. The most appealing part of what he does may be that roots aspect. He gives new life to the materials he uses and preserves the past, the same way the musicians who play his instruments do with their music every night.

This piece was written on Kochel Guitars for the now defunct American Roots Magazine in early 2015.

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250 word album review: Beck – Colors

Beck - Colors

Stars4

I expected this to be one of the most disappointing albums of all time after hearing a couple singles. The songs “Wow” and “Up All Night” found my ears and I was instantly repulsed. The fact that this record has clawed its way up to a 4 star rating is baffling.

It’s what Beck does though, he makes good music. This hip, dance, club direction he decided to head toward was the opposite of what some of us wanted. There are those of us who love “Sea Change” “Morning Phase” and “Mutations” and honestly saw “Midnight Vultures” and similar records and songs as outliers. The first glimmer of hope for “Colors” was “Dear Life,” that song wasn’t AS bad as “Wow” and “Up All Night” so it gave hope, but not much. Upon the first full listen to “Colors” it becomes clear what Beck is doing. The record stands strong as a whole, it’s the individual songs that remain perplexing by themselves. The singles here are still among the worst songs in this batch, “I’m So Free” and “No Distraction” are way better than the songs listed above. “Colors” wins you over with its cohesiveness, Beck doesn’t do things half-ass and he proves it here. Even “Wow” is a better song in the context of the whole record.

It’s really a bold move for Beck to put out this collection of songs, especially at 47 years old. Maybe this is all part of Beck’s process, to get our next “Sea Change” or “Morning Phase” he needs to get this out of his system, either way this is really good pop music and you simply can’t deny that.

Key Tracks: “I’m So Free” “No Distraction” “Dear Life”

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250 word album review: Toadies – The Lower Side of Uptown

Toadies - The Lower Side of Uptown

Stars3.5

The Toadies don’t break any ground with their new album “The Lower Side of Uptown” but they definitely are in a place in their career where they really don’t need to either. They still rely on heavy guitar hooks tearing through your speakers and Vaden Todd Lewis’ growly vocals to float their songs.

Starting the record off with the crunchy riffs possessed by “When I Die” and “Take Me Alive” is the most Toadies thing the Toadies could do. “Polly Jean” roars and rips as one of the strongest songs here. Even on a love song the band finds a way to keep things jagged, “You Know The Words” sounds very little like a love song unless you pay attention before the simple refrain of “I. Love. You.” The album doesn’t roar all the way through though, “Amen” is a serviceable change up of the pace but on the band’s lead single from the record things go awry. “Broke Down Stupid” not only shouldn’t have been the band’s single here but it is likely the worst song on a pretty good record. The following cover of “I Put A Spell On You” (the band’s second single) is equally as meh-worthy. Not that the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover of “Spell” is bad in any way, it just begs the question “Why?”

The first half of the uneven album is very strong, the second half is average but like all Toadies material still possesses strong moments. It’s still a strong effort for a band a couple decades into their career, it’s still the same old Toadies but it’d be far more disappointing if they WEREN’T the same old Toadies.

Key Tracks: “You Know The Words” “Polly Jean” “Take Me Alive”

 

 

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The Dude Appears and the Return of The Ramey Memo by Danny R. Phillips

By Danny R. Phillips

271a-RameyMemoPoster

The Ramey Memo and The Dude show poster

At just eighteen, Torrin Myers aka The Dude is a rapper of dedication and driven purpose. He twists and turns meanings, words turned inside out, with an ingeniousness and depth that belies his youth. Where some rappers fall upon the clichés of bitches and hoes, calling out other MCs, making money and having nice cars, Myers tells tales of things he knows well: alienation, the feeling of distain for the exclusionary cliques that populate both the fishbowl world that is high school and the disastrous world at large.

Myers speaks to universal themes. The feeling of isolation that rears its head when one realizes this life is not wine and roses, the feeling of a world crushing you under its corrupt feet and the growing, pushing need to belong. Driving you to fit in, to be part of something, even if that place, your place is on the fringes of what society deems normal and uniform. Myers is blunt yet articulate, experienced yet looking to the world with wide, somewhat jaded eyes.

“I’m basically a communist,” he told me on a gray, dismal day in downtown St. Joe. “We ( The United States) don’t have universal health care or socialized medicine because there is too much money to be made. The poor can’t go to the doctor. The government doesn’t care, it (the government) needs to milk dollars from their cattle.”

While his nom de plume does come from his love of The Big Lebowski (does everyone but me love that movie?), choosing to take the stage as The Dude comes from a more deeply rooted place within himself. “Choosing The Dude is a play on how anonymous the rap game is right now; guys with names like Kyle and Kendrick, people using their first names; then there’s generic ass names like Future; it all seems the same to me so I became The Dude.”

The Dude is soft-spoken but confident in his beliefs and his skill as a musician. “I started playing bass when I was around 8 and started free-styling at 14. I was in a punk band but it didn’t go anywhere. And, I did standup comedy a few times.” A long time fixture around our local music scene, Myers (son of Lucky Tiger & Tiger’s Den owners Brian Myers and Amy Heath) has seen bands come and go, fads ebb and flow, seeing musicians grow strong in their music while others dried up and fading away.

Not only will Saturday November 11 see the public unveiling of The Dude on the storied stage of The Rendezvous, it will also see the return from a hiatus on Venus of one of our city’s most legendary bands, The Ramey Memo. Over two albums (300 Voices at the King Hill Pub and Forget It), the trio crafted songs that have left a mark on St. Joe and on all of us that saw them in the glory days of a packed Vous on an autumn Saturday night.

The Ramey Memo (Tyson Bottoroff, Raye Lynn, Garner Quillon) spent much of the early 2000s crafting songs that are equal parts Weird Al, REM, Nirvana and The Pixies. They raged against “Goddamn Kids,” wished for a “Tom Cruise on The Billy Ocean,” kicked out the best cover of The Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” this side of Nirvana and penned a little ditty about being a good Jedi.

The Ramey Memo, while addressing themes of a less than serious nature on nearly every occasion, they are a band of topnotch musicians. Quillon’s drum work is steady without being too perfect (a punk rock plus) and Raye is a talented multi-instrumentalist that holds the bassline down with heavy shades of Kim Deal. Tyson Bottoroff is not a man that takes himself seriously but his approach to the guitar makes him one of the scene’s best guitarists. While The Ramey Memo may not be technically “perfect” in the music theory sense, what they bring to the table makes up for it in power and furious determination.

I, for one, am happy to see The Ramey Memo back…. I hope they stay awhile. And as for The Dude, I’m anxious to see what he has to say and in what way he chooses to say it.

Dr. 47 Presents: The Ramey Memo w/ The Dude

Saturday Nov. 11, 2017 @ The Rendezvous (619 Felix, St. Joseph, MO)

10 pm… 21+… $5

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Concert Review: Craig Finn and John K. Samson at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO 10/17/17

Signed Craig Finn and John K. Samson tour poster for the "We all want the same things" tour in 2017.

Signed Craig Finn and John K. Samson tour poster for the “We all want the same things” tour in 2017.

Seeing Craig Finn jolt to the side and point up in the air to emphasize his point is nothing unusual. His hand gestures are immediately noticeable and to be honest a little abrasive at first. The normally calm Finn may appear collected off stage and in interviews but he puts on his performer cap when he takes the stage. He becomes a commanding and gravitating figure that has the ability to lock the crowd into the show and keep them on edge. At the Record Bar in Kanas City on October 17th he proved this to a moderate Tuesday night crowd and gave them a classic performance.

First his tour-mate John K. Samson would take the stage. He was the lead singer and songwriter of the popular indie band The Weakerthans. Now, like Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, he is off touring on his own. He would take the stage by himself, armed with nothing but his electric guitar and remain that way for his whole set. He would split the next 40 minutes pretty evenly between songs from his two solo records and his catalog with his former band. Bearded onlookers formed a half moon around the stage keeping their hands in their pockets if they weren’t holding their favorite IPA. It wasn’t a big sing-along with Samson and his very distinct voice but the casual observer could see many people lip-syncing along with the songs, especially the selections from The Weakerthans.

John K. Samson plays solo electric live at The Record Bar in Kansas City, Missouri on 10/17/17.

Samson would work his way through his past by way of song hitting intellectually themed topics many times like on “Pamphleteer” and “When I Write My Master’s Thesis.” The latter being one of the more rocking numbers from his set and probably providing the most tasty hook of a chorus in the night. He would work through the Virtue the cat trilogy of songs concluding with the latest of the three, “Virtue at Rest” before moving on to the title track from his latest solo record, “Winter Wheat.” He would then close with the crowd favorite “The Reasons,” the self-deprecating song was truly the perfect set closer.

Craig Finn quietly tuned up his guitar, taking advantage of the intimacy of The Record Bar before leaving the stage so he could arrive with his full four-piece band at once. He nodded at his keyboardist to start the opening keys of a shiver-inspiring “God In Chicago.” The quiet, nearly spoken word song was an incredibly bold choice to start a set because any crowd noise could drown out the delicate number. When his backing group, The Uptown Controllers, launched into “Apollo Bay” Finn’s demeanor would change as he gave darting looks, pointing and using hand gestures while happily shredding away on his electric guitar that was just a little louder in the mix than all the other instruments.

FinnRecordBar

The night would find him hitting his new album “We All Want The Same Things” extremely hard, playing seven songs from it. It was appropriate, it was the name of the tour. He would push the theme of all of the songs being about two people in one way or another; some were in love, some were out of love and others were just sharing the song with one another by chance. The other underlying theme Finn would state is one of his monikers, be honest. He would point this out before easing into the song “Be Honest” but the theme would continue to carry until the set’s end.

When Finn let The Uptown Controllers take a small break he grabbed his acoustic guitar and took full advantage of the quiet, patient crowd once again. He would play “Tangletown” about avoiding loneliness and “Dudes From St. Paul” about fear of the unknown.  The highlight of the entire night would fall in between with the gut-wrenching “Dennis & Billy” about two friends taking different life paths and not getting exactly what they bargained for. He introduced it as a sad song and did it ever deliver, the crowd silently took in every word and got lost in the story.

The Uptown Controllers would return to play a thunderous “Newmyer’s Roof” and with the help of John K. Samson, “Birds Trapped In The Airport.” The evening would end with Samson and Finn dueting on the great Gillian Welch song “Wrecking Ball” that really seemed to sum up the show as the powerful evening that it turned out to be.

FinnBand

John K. Samson setlist from The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO 10/17/17

One Great City! (The Weakerthans song)
Postdoc Blues
Reconstruction Site(The Weakerthans song)
Alpha Adept
Pamphleteer (The Weakerthans song)
When I Write My Master’s Thesis
Left and Leaving (The Weakerthans song)
17th Street Treatment Centre
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute (The Weakerthans song)
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure (The Weakerthans song)
Virtute at Rest
Winter Wheat
The Reasons (The Weakerthans song)

Craig Finn setlist from The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO 10/17/17

God In Chicago
Apollo Bay
Jester & June
Preludes
Be Honest
Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son
Rescue Blues
Screenwriters School
Ninety Bucks
Tangletown (solo acoustic)
Dennis and Billy (solo acoustic)
Dudes From St. Paul (solo acoustic)
Newmyer’s Roof
Trapper Avenue
Birds Trapped In The Airport (with John K. Samson)
Wrecking Ball (Gillian Welch cover with John K. Samson)

 

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The Vinyl Court: Nick Waterhouse – Never Twice

Nick Waterhouse - Never Twice

  • Artist: Nick Waterhouse
  • Album: Never Twice (2016)
  • Purchased at: Live concert at Record Bar (Kansas City, MO) for $20

Nick Waterhouse doesn’t belong here. He is transported straight out of the late 50s or early 60s R&B scene and it seems weird we are lucky enough to have him here. “Never Twice” is his third record and quite possibly his best. It has a great time capsule quality that can take you away to another place and time.

It’s Time” and “The Old Place” are both driving songs that lead off each side of the LP. “The Old Place” being one of those ear-worms that is near impossible to shake. Speaking of shaking this record will make you do it, the loose style of the recording is great and impulsive with plenty of room for various solos. “Katchi” is probably the best song the radio pretty much never played too, the track features soul ace Leon Bridges and is the catchiest thing you’ve heard since George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”

The vinyl here is standard black with no frills but look at that cover… just look at it. Doesn’t it just scream out to you as something you should have in your collection? It definitely does me. This is one I keep on the end of my stack so people can see the cover and be mystified by it.

Verdict: You need to like this loose swinging R&B to get into it, think Buddy Holly meets Sam Cooke and you’re in the ballpark. If that sounds good and you don’t own this you are missing out. If that doesn’t sound good steer clear.

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