KC music

Album review: Mikal Shapiro - The Musical

Singer-songwriter Mikal Shapiro’s perfectly titled latest release, The Musical, is a collection of not merely songs, but 10 short stories set to wonderful music. The album is a work—or multiple works—of art that are just as mysterious and intriguing as any paintings you will find in a gallery. Shapiro’s palette is splattered with the complete spectrum of colors. There are dreary gray tones and bright whimsical flashes, melding together to create a soundtrack to life—one that touches many musical genres, including rock, folk, jazz, old-school country, and even gospel.
The Musical's opening act, “Nope,” is an airy, ethereal fantasy. Odd, evasive lyrics over a folk sound made jazzier by a muted trumpet give the listener a sense of drifting in and out of a dream on a rainy Sunday morning. Drums and crashing cymbals briefly end the slumber, until you are lulled back to sleep as the song comes to a close. Several tracks share this jazz feel, including “Out on the Town,” “Two String Blues,” and the wonderfully whimsical "Hot Cool." Shapiro's vocals are poised and effortless on each of these. 
“Here and Now” explores rediscovering love and a desire to forget (or never remember) the past. A dull snare beat blanketed by beautiful steel guitar rivals the purest of cry-in-your-beer country songs. Similarly, “This Way to Heaven” is country with an emphasis on gospel. It begins a cappella and, as the band joins in, becomes the loveliest song on the album. It is simultaneously serene and haunting.
Matching the mystery and irony found throughout the album, “Daniel,” the catchiest and most up-tempo tune, is also possibly the saddest. Daniel himself is an enigma. The storyteller, who acknowledges being a “friend” of Daniel’s, clearly knows little more about him than that he can “sings like a Christian” and “drink like a demon.” The song turns dark when the protagonist is found dead, presumably by suicide. “But on that Saturday, Daniel was down / They couldn’t say where he was found, or how he was found.” Brilliantly, the listener is left to decide how Daniel may have met his demise, and why.  
Shapiro is fortunate to be backed by Chad Brothers (guitar and vocals), Johnny Hamil (electric and double bass), and Matt Richey (drums), along with a small army of additional local musicians. This adept team provides a canvas that Shapiro expertly fills. My interpretations of The Musical may differ from other listeners. As with any painting, the artist is not only revealing her emotions, but is also attempting to provoke a response—and Shapiro certainly does. My response may be lost in translation, as the peculiar, personal songs will pierce each listener differently.
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
Mikal Shapiro and her band will be playing The Musical tomorrow (Thursday) night at Harling’s Upstairs as well as releasing copies of the album on vinyl. Special guests Claire and the Crowded Stage and The Hardship Letters. Facebook event page



Album review: Thunderclaps - Cookin' Up A Good Time

Before listening to the new Thunderclaps’ Cookin’ Up a Good Time EP, I had never actually heard the band. I knew a little bit about them—mostly that they’re a two-piece comprised of cousins Bryce Jones (guitar and vocals) and Colin Blunt (drums). As a bass player, I must admit that I tend to lose interest when I find out a band is sans bass. This probably isn’t fair. The first of the record’s three tracks, “So Lonesome,” begins with isolated laughter. I wondered why, until I heard the rest of the EP. Now I get it…the joke’s on me. This is great stuff.
“So Lonesome” is a song your grandparents wish they could have heard at the sock hop. A true throwback to the ‘50s, when rock and roll was still being defined, it is full-throttle rockabilly that has a simply irresistible energy. Jones’ guitar and vocals share a gritty but warm distorted twang. Blunt’s tenacious yet tight drumming is on the mark and fills the sound. You’ll be tapping your toes—if not dancing—to this ditty.
The closing track, “Shake It,” shares the verve and vigor of “So Lonesome,” but the driving beat and even gooier guitar tone gives it an almost surf sound. This may be the most potent tune on the record, thanks to the drums and guitar quieting to a whisper while Jones chants, “Oh ah a whoppa bam boom mama,” leading into a crescendo consisting only of sticky, reverb-dripping vocals. Despite sounding like it came from an old album purchased at an estate sale, “Shake It” could easily create an impromptu mosh pit in a live setting. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s cool, daddy-o.
Between these two offerings is the slow dance number, “You Got a Hold On Me.” It’s a love song and a breath of fresh air strategically placed inside of two powerhouses. Jones softly sings about love from afar with someone he can’t have—or who won’t have him. “You got a hold on me / But I never held you.” Much more than a filler, the music is nicely crafted with a gentle pulse and smooth guitar punctuated with full ringing chords. It is literally and figuratively the heart of the EP.
Cookin’ Up a Good Time will appeal to multiple generations. It will be a blast from the past to some, and something totally new to others. At the end of the day it’s just good music—and good music is timeless. Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Maybe one could argue that the best artists inspire others. Thunderclaps have clearly been inspired by past artists, and have borrowed from them to create something very relevant today.
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.

Shake it with Thunderclaps this Saturday at Jackpot Saloon in Lawrence. They’ll be there with The Quivers and Old Grey Dog. Facebook event page 


October Artist of the Month: Ivory Black

Congratulations to our October Artist of the Month, Ivory Black! A fairly new transplant to Kansas City’s music scene, Black has been honing an identity as a songwriter for years. The budding performer moved to Kansas City from Seattle 6 years ago, and began adapting acoustic songs to include full band arrangements. Black recently assembled a band (consisting of Glen Hockemeier on drums and Keenan Franklin on bass) to fully execute their thoughtful, reflective brand of songs. With the release of their EP Ready Get Set this summer, the songwriter has gained some well-deserved attention locally and beyond.
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music.
Ivory Black: I call it primo alternative, as in, it’s got this easy listening vibe but with upbeat rhythms, making it possible to move to.
The Deli: Give me some info on your musical background. Why did you decide to put a band together?
Black: My story musically is a simple one. I started writing as young as 12 years old when I got my first guitar. I’ve had bands over the years, but performed alone due to the simplicity of my acoustic songwriting. It wasn’t till I moved to KC that I started writing more intricate parts that required other musicians to play them along with me live and in the studio.
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting? What is your songwriting process?
Black: Literally everything inspires me artistically. It’s a dice roll of how I’ll write a song, depending on my mood, what I’m thinking or what happened that day or even years before. I don’t believe I’ve ever written a song with the same exact process I did on previous ones.
The Deli: What have been your greatest musical accomplishments?
Black: I’d have to say the greatest achievement so far has been the spike in my writing abilities, as in getting the point across. Listening to songs I wrote so many years ago, it’s mind-blowing to realize how far someone can come from where they first started.
The Deli: Tell us about your latest album Ready Get Set. What can listeners expect? What future plans do you have for recording?
Black: Ready Get Set is a compilation EP that I threw together so everyone that has ever asked has something physical and official of mine that they can finally hold in their hands. The future, however, holds many opportunities! The things I’m working on now, I’m very excited to get out as soon as recording opportunities arise in my favor again.
The Deli: What brought you to KC, and what do you think about the music scene here? Possibly related: what does supporting local music mean to you?
Black: I came to KC to focus primarily on a dream I’ve been chasing since I was little. Music is so influential, and can change people’s lives when they’re open to it. I really wanted to be part of that movement in a positive way. What I’ve found about KC is the abundant acceptance and appreciation that supporters and musicians alike have for local music. This scene isn’t possible without the support to push it forward, and KC is very supportive in that respect.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now? Non-local?
Black: You develop a sort of kinship, or at least intend to, with people you relate to on an artistic level wherever you go. I’ve been a fan of My Brothers and Sisters for some time and have mad respect for what Jamie Searle has done and is still doing for his band and the community. I recently attended the Macabre KC show and was very entertained with the talent that was there. Calvin Arsenia has always had a spot in my heart, due to his passion in what he does vocal wise and with the harp. Jessica Paige has an incredible talent as well. Amazing voice. Erica Joy is easily a favorite.
Astounding attitude on both ends of the scene; even lesser known musicians I catch at open mics. The passion that people have to share their love for what they do is always inspiring, and of course the songs are as well.
Non-local, I’ve been a big fan of Diane Coffee lately. I don’t follow a lot of music but that artist is on point. I like music with psychedelic vibes in it that bring back the ‘70s and the music I grew up with. You won’t hear that on the EP, and it’s probable in the future, but I like it on other people’s material right now when it’s executed well. 
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
Black: To be honest, I think it’s mind-blowing to play with any artist. I’m just starting out, so I’m pretty psyched every chance I get. The big dream of course is to have my name in those big letters on a marquee or something, with some huge band everyone knows about, but right now I’m taking it one step at a time.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
I kinda like it the way it is though. How about John Lennon? He’s been a huge inspiration to many! Maybe Mick Jagger for some flair. Since we’re going down the road of long-haired rock stars, you gotta have legend Stevie Nicks on there. Fleetwood Mac was a huge inspiration to me on that note. We’ll end it with Jim Morrison, cause you know, when the music’s over…
The Deli: What other goals do you have for 2015 and beyond?
Black: Well, to be frank, all the goals I wanted for this year have been fulfilled! Got the band going, started playing out, and finished the EP. Things went very well this year! It wouldn’t have been possible without my manager, Klaartje, so a big shout out to her. Next year we are banking for building up on our following so we can play places like Knuckleheads Saloon, The Brick, and venturing out to other states with well known venues. Just gotta take little steps at a time.
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web? Also, provide a link to streaming music and/or video.
Black: I ask that everyone checks out my personal site out where everything, including links to my EPK, EP and pictures can be found: www.ivoryblackmusic.com
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
Black: I don’t consider myself wise by any means, but I do know that if you put all of your heart into something good, things tend to have a way of working in favor of those that want it enough.
--Michelle Bacon

You can catch Ivory Black in just a couple weeks. Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 28 at The All-Star Rock Bar, with Lauren Karr and Co., and The Accidental Project. Facebook event page. 


Album review: The Old No. 5s - Steam

The Old No. 5s’ second album, Steam, is first and foremost a blues record. But it shouldn't be pigeonholed. A self-proclaimed rock/roots trio, members Brock Alexander (guitar/lead vocals), Derek Tucker (bass/vocals), and Aaron Thomas (percussion/vocals) prove they can play the blues with the best of them, but also have the chops to bust out some serious soul, bring the funk, or simply construct a nice power pop song.
The majority of the 11 tracks are fairly straightforward blues rockers, beginning with the album's first song, “Going Nowhere.” A perfect appetizer, it gives listeners a taste of what can be heard throughout the album: solid vocals, nimble guitar, and one of the best rhythm sections you'll find on a local or national release this year. There is an undeniable Stevie Ray Vaughan influence on this and several of the other true blues tunes, including “Starting to Show,” “Easy,” and the harder rocking “Hill Country.” While few guitarists can match his licks, Alexander certainly dials in Vaughan's tone, and has plenty of salty riffs himself.
Alexander's vocal style varies. On “Easy” he is confident and powerful, channeling a cocky Jimi Hendrix. He shows off a deep soul sound during “Keep Lovin' Me Baby.” On “Little Man,” a jazzier number, he is a bit more transparent and vulnerable, much like a young John Mayer. While he is very capable at each, I couldn't help wondering which one is Alexander’s real voice.
The standout track on Steam has to be “Barn Party.” A tightly wound ball of energy, it combines ferocious slide guitar (sounding very similar in this case to a pedal steel), brilliant bass, and a shuffling beat to create foot-stomping fun. Reminiscent of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, it starts uptempo and only gets faster, ending at a blistering pace. Be sure to have your air instruments handy for this one.

The Old No. 5s display a more unique style on the album's final track, “Just the Way I Am.” While remaining true to the band's bluesy vibe, the song has a catchy pop sensibility—with an impressive jam in the middle—and should appeal to a wide audience. The trio seems to find their own identity here, something I hope to hear more of on future recordings. 
Steam is filled with truly fantastic music that taps into several genres. The songwriting and execution is top-notch. The expertise and use of each instrument, tempo changes, and drawn-out solos make it one of the most enjoyable local albums I've heard in some time. As the band continues to mature and distinguish itself, The Old No. 5s should become a force to be reckoned with—both locally and beyond.
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.

The Old No. 5s put on a monthly concert series at Coda—5s + 1—and it’s coming up this Wednesday evening. Special guest Coyote Bill will be sitting in with the band. Facebook event page. Or if you happen to be near Wichita next Saturday, they will be celebrating the release of Steam at Barleycorn’s that night. Facebook event page. 


Album review: The Electric Lungs - Don't Be Ashamed of the Way You're Made

If you’re new to the Kansas City music scene, you need to know who The Electric Lungs are. This punk/synth rock band has been kicking it and rocking out since 2012, and still going strong. Following their 2013 full-length Simplified and Civilized, they are releasing their second full-length album Don’t Be Ashamed of the Way You Were Made. This album is basically the soundtrack of an awesome B-movie greaser film. The band incorporated rockabilly-influenced tunes that are infused with gritty distortion guitar chords and catchy piano melodies.
No two songs are alike. “Play it When You Need It” has a lot of attitude and angst, and this is reinforced by dirty punk chords with the innocence of a clean upright piano. This is a song that my teenage self can relate to while the band releases their frustration through the song. Then you have “Time, Whiskey and the Lord,” a positive, hopeful song about moving on that can be backed up by a New Orleans marching band. This features a breakdown bass solo that is unreal (respect!).
One of my favorite tracks, “Surgical Malfunction,” has been on repeat on my iPhone for a couple of days. The song starts up with a harsh strumming of a banjo that is later backed up by an organ that makes this song eerie and dark. After lead singer Tripp Kirby sings “I am the shadow that covers the sun,” there is silence for 3 seconds then the yelling of “I DON’T KNOW WHY!!!”, showing frustration of the character in the song. It is followed by a ‘30s ragtime piano solo then progressed later on in the song with an incredible rock organ solo that’s followed by an incredible drum solo breakdown. This hair-raising sinister song shows a lot of personality in 5 minutes that makes you crave more.
Compared to the last album, this one does not hold back. This album shows The Lungs’ true nature on how they play live on stage. This band is not afraid to be different with their unique repertoire of songs. Every track on this album is enjoyable, none of which you would want to skip.
--Mica Elgin-Vi
The Electric Lungs are throwing a CD release party tomorrow night in support of Don’t Be Ashamed You Were Made. Check them out at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club with Haunted Creepys, Kodascope, and Bone Spur. Facebook event page.