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KC music

Album review: Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear - We Burned the Cane Fields (EP)

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to do a few reviews for The Deli KC, and when Michelle Bacon asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing another one, I was happy to oblige. She offered me a choice: a band that I’m familiar with, or a band I’ve never heard of. I decided that I wanted the challenge of reviewing music from an unknown source, so she assigned me the new EP by Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, We Burned the Cane Field. I knew nothing about them, had never heard of them, and put the freshly-burned CD in the computer with no idea what I was about to listen to.
After the music started on the very first track, the thought that leapt to my mind was: “Where has THIS been all my life?”
We Burned the Cane Field is an ode to a simpler time, when musicians were in no hurry to tell their stories (no song on this five-track effort is less than four minutes in length), and did so without musical pretense (the instrumentation is primarily acoustic guitar and violin, with the occasional cameo appearance of a Dobro or cello). The result is twenty-five minutes of audio art that borrows from field hollers and country blues/folk sounds of an era long gone, descendants of the same lineage as the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Leon Redbone.
There isn’t much info available on this newsome twosome so I asked Ward if he would fill me in on some of the history, and he was kind enough to share an exceptionally in-depth biography. I’ll let him share the entirety of it with you when he chooses, but to give you a little background: his mother (Mama Bear) started singing professionally in the early ‘70s and has recorded an album of her own. Ward began joining her onstage in his teen years, which inspired him to write his own music that he began singing at her shows. Eventually they decided to stop performing “her” music and “his” music and start focusing on “their” music. When they had enough material for an EP, they approached their good friend Joel Nanos of Element Recording, who was able to capture their sound just they way they wanted it to be captured. The title, We Burned the Cane Field, comes from a song that isn’t even on the record—just one of many qualities that make it a quirky and endearing effort.
Once the music begins on the opening track, “Silent Movies,” you’ll understand why this recording instantly struck a chord with me. The underlying senses of family and togetherness are unmistakable, as you can almost envision Ward and his mother sitting on the porch on a late-afternoon summer day, singing to each other and whoever else may happen to be there. The joy of music for music’s sake is what motivates this duo, simple as that.
They sing to each other in “Whole Lotta Problems,” with Ward playing the role of a man smitten with a woman and perhaps seeing her through rose-colored glasses, while his mother tries to talk some sense into him. The back-and-forth is a battle between his lovelorn lament and her maternal manner (“I bought her some flowers / she don't need your petal … a car that I gave her / it's just a piece of metal … I stole diamonds for her / she don't want a rebel”). Who ultimately wins? Does Mama Bear get through? Does Ward continue to hold dear his heart’s desire? Those are questions only the listener can answer.
The lightheartedness of the opening two tracks give way to more depth and sobriety in the two that follow: “Darling Moon” showcases the voice of a world-weary and wizened soul that belies Ward’s 24 years, and Mama Bear’s harmonies add a mournful, empathetic tone. If you give yourself the chance to listen and truly pay attention to the lyrics and the melody, you’ll find the emotional weight of the song sneaking up on you. Truly a work of depth that, again, seems out of place given the youth of its lead singer.
“Down in Mississippi” is the EP’s nearly-seven-minute opus that sounds as if it was born in post-Civil-War times. The sparse guitar/violin arrangement is sheer perfection, and though the words may paint a melancholy picture, the overall message is one of affection for a land that may not be perfect (“did you feel that heat today / the sores are on my feet today / the sour's not as sweet today”), but it’s theirs (“the cotton paints a field of white / you don't have to steal tonight / here you'll find a meal tonight”), and that’s alright.
The closing track, “Yellow Taxi,” offers a hint of vaudeville by telling the story of a busker singing songs for change from passersby on a sleepy street corner. He doesn’t want much, and it won’t take much to get what he does want, so even though his life may have a few hardships and he isn’t living in the lap of luxury, it’s the life he chose—and there doesn’t seem to be much regret in his message.
Returning one more time to the extemporaneous one-sheet that Ward created for me, I’d like to share his thoughts with you on how he approaches songwriting:
“There is a lot of fiction within our music, mostly because we love make-believe stories; but the emotion behind the music is where the true reality lies. I think there's a lot of truth to fiction. Everyone can relate to something, whether a story is true or false. At the end of the day, we simply hope to entertain; put a smile on a face, or make a baby dance.”
With We Burned the Cane Fields, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear will fulfill those modest wishes and more. This is a brilliant debut, one that came from seemingly nowhere to knock me over with its honesty and charm. I can think of many musicians in our area who will hear this and not only enjoy it—they just might want to join forces and work together on a few things. It may challenge them, it may inspire them, but ultimately it will result in more musical magic …
And that’s alright.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Ruth Ward, will be appearing next at The Great Day Cafe in downtown Overland Park on Saturday, August 10, 7 to 9 p.m. You can purchase their music on iTunes at the link here and also check out a video below from a previous performance at the cafe. 

--Michael Byars

Michael Byars wrote most of this with one hand, as his other arm has gone numb from his editor’s constant punching—but he thinks she’s pretty cool anyway. [Editor's Note: She is currently telepunching.]


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Album review: Spirit Is The Spirit - Baktun Baby (EP)

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
It is practically inarguable to say that Sunflowers by Yellow Walrus sounds like the lost album from Death Cab for Cutie. What is a Yellow Walrus and why am I talking about it?
Two lives ago Spirit is the Spirit was known as the Yellow Walrus (Seafarer one life ago), of whom I had only seen once at the Mainstreet Café. Singer Austen Malone was clad in plaid, standing in replica Woody shoes from Toy Story—yes, even with “Andy” writing on the bottom. Malone’s thick-rimmed glasses draped the bridge of his nose, and the dead-ringer voice of Benjamin Gibbard echoed from his diaphragm at that show.
“Alright, alright, get on with it,” you’re saying. I will.
Spirit is the Spirit—a cog in The Record Machine—added Baktun Baby to their growing discography at the end of March. Baktun marks the sophomore release from the band—the first being the five-track Mother Mountain. And in my ears, as I’m sure it will be in yours, Baktun carries a much different vibe than Mother Mountain.
Plucking in with psych-rock tuned guitars, Spirit kicks off the record with spacy, indie riffs. Crisp, clean drums come in, throwing in the flavor of the four-song EP. A different flavor, mind you, than the first album, which had a more folk rhythm to it. You will not find that familiar sound here. The airy and cosmic dream sequence of home-opener “Only After Dark” will surely ignite your interest.
Don’t be startled, but your dream just took a wildly different turn. “45 Days” comes in fast and bouncy. A twisty and turny and unstable in terms of tempo is everything that “45 Days” is. Composed of synth racket, almost guitar solos, and an eerie effect of Malone’s prominent voice hits you hard and keeps you utterly involved through the whole song.
“I Believe That We Will Win”—a jam anthem. Again, embodying that same synth racket. This third track keeps your interest for a different reason. Sound bytes from public speeches blurt in and out of the first two-and-a-half minutes of the song. Soon enough, ambient, quiet vocals chime in.
“I feel like that train is getting closer,” says one band mate to his band mates. He is answered with a “Shhhh,” before the acoustic strumming starts in, marking the beginning of track four: “Lonely.” The brilliance of the band’s ability to harmonize shines on this track. Bringing a multitude of male voices to the sad lyrics boosts the somberness of the song. A sad way to end the dream sequence of an album.
There is no doubt that Spirit is the Spirit has the talent and ability to create dynamic pieces of work. Intricate instrumentation and the ebb and flow of the tempo ease the songs to an elite class of indie-rock. As I listen to Baktun Baby on repeat, I pick up something new in each song along the way.
Editor's note: Baktun Baby was recorded and produced by Danny Bowersox at Spirit House Recordings in Lawrence and mastered by Joel Nanos at Element Recording. It was released in March with The Record Machine.


Your last chance to see Spirit Is The Spirit is this Saturday, July 27 at Czar. The group is part of The Record Machine Summer Showcase with special guests Palace and Volcano. Facebook event page
--Steven Ervay 

Steven Ervay is super rad. 

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Artists on Trial: St. Dallas & the Sinners

Every now and then, you just want to hear some raucous, boisterous rock ‘n roll. Though few bands can pull it off effectively and get a crowd on its feet, St. Dallas & the Sinners can. We talk with the group and find out more about the mark they’re making on the Kansas City music scene, their influences, and their belief that the Internet is a passing thing.
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music. What is it?

St. Dallas and the Sinners: Filthy Dirty Rock ’n Roll!
The Deli: What should we expect from a St. Dallas & the Sinners show?
St. Dallas: You can expect our live show to be a spectacle. There’s really no other word for it.
The Deli: Tell us about what you have coming up this year. What can we expect?
St. Dallas: I think for the near future we're really focused on introducing ourselves to the Kansas City scene and the region surrounding. We've also got a full-length out called Hail Mary that’s available on Spotify,  iTunes, or whatever else the kids are using nowadays. We're pushing through a bunch of new material at the same time. Not sure when we’ll lay that down though. We’re looking to bring our music and live show to as many people as we can (and party with them!).
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?

St. Dallas: It means supporting the community, and I'm not just talking about the music scene. Stop shopping at Wal-Mart, buy local. Kansas City has such an awesome palette of arts, music, food, and culture, there's no reason not to. There are always opportunities to get involved, and when you do, it opens your mind, and allows you to see and hear in a new way.
It also means getting off your ass and doing something. Learn an instrument, start a band, go to shows, buy band merch, help touring bands. I hate it when you go to a "hardcore" city or a "punk" town, where the only thing anyone wants to do is sit around and pontificate to each other about how the scene is "dead" or how so and so's band is just a bunch of posers. If you don't fit in their narrow idea of what "good music" is, you're completely ignored. The reason the scene died is because no one went to shows, and no one wanted to do the work to keep the scene alive. For any "scene" to thrive there needs to be diversity, people need to be encouraged and businesses need to be supported. I don't know about you, but I don't want to eat the same regurgitated shit every day. Luckily for us and everyone else in KC, we don't have that. We have a great community of open-minded people who are willing to step up and support each other.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now?

St. Dallas: A.J. Gaither, Cherokee Rock Rifle, Rumblejetts.
The Deli: Who are your favorite not-so-local musicians right now?
St. Dallas: AC/DC, Ernie Locke, Jim Jones Revue, Legendary Shack Shakers.
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?

St. Dallas: St. Dallas & the Sinners, AC/DC, Chuck Berry, and Iggy Pop.
The Deli: Would you rather spend the rest of your life on stage or in the recording studio?
St. Dallas: That’s a loud unanimous STAGE from all of us.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
St. Dallas: Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Howlin' Wolf, Hank Williams Sr... cuz they dont give a fuck!!!
The Deli: All right, give us the rundown. Where all on this big crazy web can you be found?
St. Dallas: All over. We’re balls deep. Facebook, Youtube, Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp. I hear the Internet is just a fad though.
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?

St. Dallas: 1,4,5…KEEP IT ALIVE!
St. Dallas & the Sinners are:
St. Dallas – harps, vocals
Manila – guitfiddle, vocals
Rabbit – bass
Nick – drums/percussion
The guys will be bringing their brand of filthy, dirty rock ‘n roll to The Brick on Saturday, June 15. They’ll be playing with Jason and the Punknecks from Nashville at 10:00. Show up for what’s sure to be a rowdy, exciting evening.
--Michelle Bacon

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Album review: Red Velvet Crush: Smoke & Mirrors (EP)

I am a sucker for a good rock song and a catchy hook. Those seem to be top priorities for Red Velvet Crush on its new EP Smoke and Mirrors. The band spent the first part of 2013 traveling back and forth to Austin to record at yellowDOGstudios with resident producer Dave Percefull, whose credits include such recognizable names as Green Day, Bowling for Soup and KC area Idol David Cook. All songwriting duties were split between lead singer Jillian Riscoe and guitarist Daniel Mendala on this four-song introduction to the rock pop outfit. 
Riscoe reminds me a little of one of my favorite female rock vocalists, Eleanor Whitledge, of the punk band The Goops. Riscoe and Mendala recorded all the vocals, guitar, and bass tracks with studio drummer Josh Center. Percefull took care of some of the drums as well as the key and synth tracks.
The opening track starts with a hard electronic feel and a 1/16th-note driving bass line that pushes the verses. Chugging muted guitars give way to Riscoe’s declaration of the chorus, “You Didn't Lose.” Hard-hitting rock with pop sensibilities continues into track two, "Contents: Under Pressure.” It’s a slow and steady emotional one that keeps the vocals in the forefront—that one stayed in my head for awhile. The penultimate track begins with a soft voice and haunting piano riff, then kicks in quick with a tale of being "in love with a monster, devil in disguise... hiding behind blue eyes.” This rocker pulsates through 3 minutes and you don't want it to end. Smoke and Mirrors closes with the positive, uptempo message of grrrl power with "Girls Rock TOO" that will have your head bobbing and your feet stomping. 
Red Velvet Crush has been honored with accolades from the 2013 Project Backstage Midwest Rock Awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year and Best Acoustic Performance of the Year. The vocalist award doesn't surprise me, Riscoe has got pipes and knows how to control them. And there are plenty of YouTube videos of Red Velvet Crush online to back up the best acoustic award.

You can get your copy of Smoke & Mirrors this Saturday, June 15, at Czar. Doors at 5:30, show at 6:00. Red Velvet Crush will be playing with I Am Nation, Fight The Quiet (Nashville), The Amends (Colorado), and Root & Stem. Presale tickets are $5 for general admission and $10 at the door. You can also order a $15 presale ticket, which comes with a limited edition autographed copy of the new EP and a vinyl sticker. Order tickets here. Facebook event page. 

--Gavin Mac

Gavin Mac is a local musician, avid consumer of whiskey, and has a penchant for mischief. He may be lured to dark alleys with grape soda and has a plethora of socks.

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Album review: Betse Ellis - High Moon Order

(Photo by Paul Andrews)
High Moon Order slips on like an old flannel shirt or a broken in pair of jeans. If comfort food were thirteen tracks of down-home musical cooking, it would sound a lot like this. The introduction to Betse Ellis’s solo album is “The Traveler.” I was surprised by the lush pop writing elements. It is a warm handshake with earthy acoustic instruments. This is a departure from the feel of Ellis’s band The Wilders. There are also some obscure fiddle songs that round out the album.
“The Golden Road” delivers what I expect from Ellis: a solid mix of bluegrass, folk, and country elements. The lap steel playing is űber tasty. Next is “Long Time To Get There.” Bluegrass enthusiasts will genuinely love this track. Her playing is exquisite. Fans will rejoice that there are five instrumentals in total. “Dry and Dusty” is a front porch bottled up in a little digital cocktail. The musicianship on this track is outstanding. It’s simplicity in arrangement and construction will pull the listener in for two minutes and fifty-one seconds of daydream immersion.
“Straight To Hell” is a cover of a Clash song and easily won as my favorite song. The vocals are mesmerizing. The drums sound reminiscent to something you would hear from Florence and the Machine. The chorus left me singing for hours after my first listen. I enjoyed the bigger production and effects. After the third instrumental “Elk River Blues” and its fantastic melody line comes “Twilight is Stealing.” A more traditional song, the voices of Ellis and Roy Andrade (who also plays banjo on the album) meld magically together. Traditionalists of American bluegrass and roots music will appreciate Ellis’s attention to detail in song delivery.
The eighth track is “The Complainer.” Versatility, delivered. This track reminded me of a mesh of Public Image Ltd (PiL), The Clash and about 40 tons of Hillbilly Riot. Even though I love the tradition songs, this ended up being my second favorite. Any rock band would love to have it in its portfolio. The record settles in with “When Sorrow Encompass Me ‘Round” and “The Collector,” both being solid additions. The last two instrumentals “Stamper” and “Queen of the Earth and Child of the Skies” are a continuation of the stellar performance standard. At this point, I should acknowledge the engineering, mixing and mastering work on the album. There is great consistency across the recordings. Overall, the album art and production are splendid.
Lastly, there is a big embracing hug to say, “…so long friend until next time” in the song “Question to Lay Your Burden Down.” Here again, are the pop kisses added to cement the fact that you will anxiously awaiting this founding member of The Wilders next solo effort. High Moon Order is a fantastic choice for your summer 2013 music additions.
Editor’s Note: High Moon Order is being released on Free Dirt Records and was produced and engineered by Mike West. The accompanying musicians on the album were Roy Andrade (banjo, guitar, vox), Jason Beers (bass), J.J. “Yukon Jimijon” Hanson (upright bass), Mike Horan (guitar), Jonathan Kraft (drums), Josh Mobley (keys), Mark Smeltzer (vox), Michael Stover (electric/acoustic/steel guitar), Mike West (percussion, vox), and Phil Wade (vox).
Tonight’s the night! Ellis and friends will celebrate the release of High Moon Order at The Brick. Music starts at 9:00 with an acoustic set, featuring Ellis playing solo, with combinations of others, and with a special string segment. Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company will play around 10:15. The full band from High Moon Order will perform around 11:30 with other special guests. Local artist Héctor Casanova will be doing live art in response to the performances. Facebook event page.
--William Saunders 

William is a local record producer, singer/songwriter, and guitarist/singer for The Walltalkers. He is also the head monkey at Saunders Street Records and still likes movies with giant robots.

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