Sunday, August 9, 2015

Album Review: "Guitar in Hand" by Kasey Rausch

Missouri native Kasey Rausch is one of the hardest working musicians in the Kansas City area.  Follow her on Facebook and you'll get an event invitation here, an event invitation there, maybe two on any given Saturday, say, an afternoon at a local winery and then a nighttime gig downtown.  House shows, breweries, honky tonks, farmers' markets, as well as some of the best live music venues in the city - you'll find country girl Kasey at them all.

In November of 2014 Kasey released an album of new music, "Guitar in Hand" on the Mudstomp label.  "Guitar in Hand" is a testament to Kasey's talent, hard work, dedication to her craft, and relationships in the local music scene.  The album is a showcase of Kasey's musicianship with her guitar, her superb song-writing skills, and her voice.

The best one word that describes Kasey's voice is home.  If you can imagine a family gathering in an old country home, laughter, smiles, a crowded kitchen, and hugs aplenty, Kasey's music is the soundtrack for the day.  It's roots and new, it's country and never twangy and trite, it's honky-tonkin' and front porchin' all together.

"Guitar in Hand" features twelve songs, eleven written by Kasey (one - "Moonshiner's Dream" - with an assist from Scott Stanton), and one by songwriting great Johnny Mullins of "Blue Kentucky Girl" fame.  The first eight songs are roots-acoustic, with instrumentation by guitar, upright bass, mandolin, violin, and banjo.  The album closes with four songs featuring The Naughty Pines,  Kasey's regular gig partners at the KC hangout Coda.  The Naughty Pines kick things up a notch or two with electric guitar and bass, and pedal steel guitar.

"Fly" opens the album, and immediately you're drawn in to a world of superbly arranged instrumentals with guitar, upright bass, mandolin, and violin.  Kasey soon adds her vocals, blending sublimely to complete the musical canvas.

"103" follows, as a loving upbeat foot-stompin' homage to Kasey's grandmother who lived to be 103, and, as Kasey's lyrics tell us, is "finally free".

"Crazy Heart", my personal favorite on the album, will get your toes tappin' and fingers snappin', and features harmony vocals by another Kansas City favorite, Mikal Shapiro.

"Moonshiner's Dream" is an amazing song about the creation of some of mighty fine beverage of the spirited variety, and how the head, tail, and heart must be handled with respect and care.

"Field of Greens", "Just an Old Man" by Johnny Mullins, "The Gospel of Winfield" about the annual Walnut Valley Festival of bluegrass music in Winfield, KS, and the beautiful "Sweet Missouri" lead into the closing four songs with The Naughty Pines - "Heavy Fog","Alabama", "My Piney Wood Home" and the closer "An East Texas Day", an exhilarating tale of a unexpectedly exciting horse ride down in Texas.

One last note - the cover art for "Guitar in Hand" is amazing!  It was done by Sonya Andrews, deserving of a shout-out for her contribution.  Check Sonya out at her website.

"Guitar in Hand" is a wonderful album by a treasure of the Kansas City music scene.

Kasey Rausch Music website
Kasey Rausch on Mudstomp Records
"Guitar in Hand" on Amazon

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Concert Review: Rush R40 Tour at Sprint Center in Kansas City

The Canadian Royal Trio of Rock and Roll, better known as Rush, played in Kansas City at the Sprint Center on July 9th as part of their R40 tour, celebrating the 40th year of the group with Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson.

I'm a late in life Rush fan, really gaining a rapid appreciation for their music only in the past 6-7 years.  I actually had their comp set "Chronicles" many years ago, but it just didn't stick.  Then, all of a sudden - wham!  I was hit with a complete love of their music, and set out to acquire their studio catalog (done - check).

R40 is the third time I've seen them in concert.  All three of their last tours have come through Kansas City, so I've gone each time, taking a different one of my children along each time.  ("World's greatest living rock and roll drummer" piques their interest a bit, anyway...)

I thought that this was the best performance of the three.  It could be that this is near the beginning of the tour instead of close to the end (their last tour ended in Kansas City), and they are not yet tour-weary.  Regardless, they were in excellent form.  Geddy Lee sounded fantastic - by far the best I've seen him.  Alex and Neil played with more energy than ever.  Together they showed why they are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

Seriously, they play so tight, with so much pure energy and vigor.  If you looked up "rock and roll" in the dictionary, you'd see this performance - it was that good. (yeah, I've mixed a metaphor here...onward...)

The set list moved through their career in reverse chronological order, starting with two songs from their most recent album "The Anarchist" and "The Wreckers", and moving backwards through time - "Far Cry", "Roll the Bones", "Subdivisions", "Tom Sawyer", "Cygnus X-1 Book II followed by Cygnus X-1 Book 1, finally ending with "Working Man" in the encore.  The stage props, videos, and show effects followed suit, moving backward through time.  Awesome lasers (see picture below) gave way to a mirror ball in a faux high school gym.  Amazing.

I loved this show, I loved the music, I loved being able to experience a band that, after 40 years, is still at the top of its game.  No one does better rock and roll than Rush in 2015.  Folks, if they come through your town on the R40 tour, go see them.  It may be your last opportunity to see Alex, Neil, and Geddy, and believe me, it's worth it.  Even my 20 year old daughter thought it was a great show.

Kansas City Star Photo Gallery:  link

Set list (courtesy Kansas City Star): The Anarchist; The Wreckers; Headlong Flight; Far Cry; The Main Monkey Business; How it Is; Animate; Roll the Bones; Between the Wheels; Subdivisions. Intermission. Tom Sawyer; the Camera Eye; the Spirit of Radio; Jacob’s Ladder; Cygnus X-1 Book II > Cygnus X-1 Book I; Closer to the Heart; Xanadu; 2112. Encore: Lakeside Park; Anthem; What You’re Doing; Working Man/Garden Road.

Read more here:

Der Bingle Books blog is up!

My new book review blog is up!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Time To Catch Up

Well hello there good readers.  It's time for me to catch up on a few things here on the blog where I've fallen behind over the past few months.  Mainly, music reviews.  There are some terrific local artists that I want to share with the world, so I'll be getting some album reviews out in the next few days/weeks.  I may throw in a concert review or two for good measure.

One item of note - I'm going to spin off the book reviews to a new blog.  They seem to disrupt the flow over here a bit (unless the books are related to Christmas).  I enjoy doing the book reviews, so they will live elsewhere, with announcements posted here for a while until the new space takes hold.  I hope that some of you have enjoyed the book reviews.  I'm a huge reader, and like to share some thoughts out about what I've read.

Anyway, I'm off to start a new album review.  Check back in a day or so...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review: "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America"

While reading "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America" by Linda Tirado (G.P. Putnam's Sons [Penguin]), many descriptors will come to mind.  Enlightment.  Victim.  Attitude.  Understanding.  Perspective.  Anger.  Introspective.  And, the most interesting part is that at times you will apply these to author Tirado and her chronicled experiences, and at other times you will turn the mirror on yourself.

Tirado explains in raw, clear, and unsettling terms what it's like to be poor in America.  She has an admittedly bad attitude at times, fueled by how she believes others, mainly "the rich", see the poor.  To Tirado, the rich believe that the poor are lazy, make terrible decisions, and are themselves the main reasons that they can't escape poverty.  Through her narrative about trying to hold down multiple jobs, obtain survival-level, absolute necessity-only healthcare, and find affordable transportation and clothing, not to mention feeding self and family, Tirado explains why the poor can't escape being poor.

Tirado doesn't claim to be an angel or a saint.  She has anger.  She doesn't help her own situation at times.  But, it is clear that she is far from lazy.  She shares terrible experiences of condescending attitudes while trying to get basic dental care and being presumed to be a meth addict.  Tirado does not want sympathy - she wants understanding.  "Hand to Mouth" will give the reader a vivid understanding of poverty.

And more - Tirado also gives us a glimpse of how she perceives the work routine of the rich.  She tells us about a new job in a typical office environment and how, in a meeting, she describes all the nothing that gets done.  From someone who has worked hard at multiple labor-intensive jobs, her most shocking insight is the waste of time in "rich" America.

You may or may not like Linda Tirado or her message after reading her powerful book.  But you will never view the working poor the same way again.

Penguin Books provided an advance reading copy of "Hand to Mouth" for review.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review: "Descent"

On the surface, "Descent" by Tim Johnston (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) is a mystery/thriller novel.  Set in the central Colorado Rocky Mountains, "Descent" tells the story of the abduction of Caitlin Courtland, an 18-year old out for a run in the mountains with her younger brother Sean, while marriage-reconciling parents Grant and Angela remain in their vacation cabin.  Sean is struck and injured by a driver of a modified sport utility vehicle, causing Caitlin to face the choice of staying with her brother or riding with the stranger down the mountain to where her cell phone will regain service.  Caitlin ultimately chooses to ride, and then becomes imprisoned by the driver.  Her family then must endure the ordeal of a lost child and sibling, as they spend months and years in a futile search.

"Descent" is much more than a typical mystery.  Guilt abounds through the Courtland family, each feeling that Caitlin's abduction and disappearance is somehow their own fault.  Author Johnston wraps the reader into the guilt with an intense subtlety.  Through the actions of Grant, Angela, and especially Sean, we feel their guilt rather than being told about it.  Sean is referred to as "the boy", telling us about his self-image, never allowing himself to truly grow from his 15 year old self.  Grant never leaves Colorado, even long after the official searches have ended, staying with the father of the local sheriff, Joe.  Joe's brother Billy, a black sheep character, is a conflict for the Courtlands.  Billy has run-ins with both Grant and Sean, and is a "bad man", described by Grant in a particularly tense standoff.

Mr. Johnston's skill at bringing depth to "Descent" is very admirable.  At times the cost of the depth is a story that moves at a deliberate pace,but it is well worth it.  When the story picks up the pace, you will not want to put the book down.

Many mystery stories have a point of plot convenience, where the reader must suspend disbelief momentarily and go along with an unlikely event that is there to progress the story.  There is a slight moment like this in "Descent", but Mr. Johnston addresses this with great skill.  The story flows amazingly from that point forward, and any "Oh, really?" thoughts a reader may have are quickly erased.

"Descent" is a fine, gripping, and involved novel, and an excellent choice for a Wintertime read

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Albums of 2014

I still have a few posts to make before closing up shop for a while, and here's one:  my choices for the best new Christmas albums of the year.  Here are my Top 5:

Rough Shop - "Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree".  I reviewed this one in depth earlier, and it held it's position as one of the best new albums of the year.  A great addition to your Christmas music collection from the band from St. Louis.

Tom Dyer - "Xmas - 30 Years in the Making".  I didn't get a chance to write about this collection in depth this year, but I will make amends early next season.  But, Tom Dyer's collection of Christmas songs recorded here and there over 30 years is brilliant on the order of Substance W.  "No Lou This Christmas" was recorded in 2013 as a tribute to Lou Reed, "Propane Santa" is one of the best true stories turned into song ever.  Totally enjoyable.

Thisbe Vos - "A Jazzy Christmas".  Thisbe Vos' Christmas record came to us through crowdfunding channels, a little late in the season, but what a record.  Thisbe's album is one of the most beautiful and perfectly realized jazz Christmas records I've ever heard.  From the amazing arrangements through Thisbe's great musicians to Thisbe's perfect vocals, this is one of the best.  Thisbe's record, along with the next entry, were my choices for Christmas morning music while we unwrapped presents.

Elizabeth Chan - "Christmas in the City".  Elizabeth Chan keeps getting better and better.  Her vocal performance on "Christmas in the City" the album shows maturation and growth, and her songwriting just keeps getting closer and closer to the heart of the Christmas season.  "Christmas in the City", the song, is the best holiday city-song I've ever heard.  It's hard to write a good song about Christmas in any city without being trite and cliche, but Elizabeth has not only written a good song about Christmas in New York, she's written a great one.  Good news - Elizabeth is already working on a 2015 project - I can't wait!  "Christmas in the City" was also a part of our Christmas morning this year.

Kat Tingey - "Ring Out Wild Bells".  Kat Tingey's Christmas album took precious time away from the rest of my Christmas music collection this year - I just kept listening and listening, and couldn't take it out of the player!  This is an extraordinary album of originals and standards.  Kat's vocal phrasing is absolutely to die for.  (I've gotta get out and get Kat's other records). This is my pick for best new Christmas album of the year.  And, to add another anecdote, I'm still a physical CD type of guy, and just can't embrace the download-only culture yet.  So, I was trying to order a CD via Kat's website, and there were some technical issues.  Kat and I chatted to resolve the issue, and I dropped a hint to her about loving signed CDs.  You can see the result in the picture :-)  Love this record.

Just a few other notes about records released or re-releases this year.  I liked Idina Menzel's record a lot, but didn't love it.  Idina is fantastic, but the arrangements seemed bland.  I grew to like Pentatonix's album after my wife brought it home from Target.  Pretty slick-sounding, but very nice for the season.  The jazz comp "It's Christmas on Mack Avenue" was a fave, although I found it a bit uneven.  The re-released classics from The Williams Brothers and Frank Devol were great additions to the collection.

Darius Rucker - had no interest, and maybe heard one song on Sirius.  Seth MacFarlane - had absolutely no interest in this one, and heard "Baby It's Cold Outside" too many times (Sara Bareilles - please put out a Christmas album!).  Actually, I heard "Baby It's Cold Outside" way too many times overall, not just Seth and Sara.  It's in desperate need of some re-touching to make it a little more pleasant.

A final note - our friend Stubby was at the top of his game this year, and I would have probably not found Kat Tingey or Thisbe Vos without him.  Many, many thanks to Stubby for all his work prior to and throughout the holiday season.  As a blogger who has trouble getting a couple of posts out per week, I really appreciate all the effort Stubby puts in for our behalf.  You rock (around the Christmas tree!) my friend.