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Victor and Penny Harness "Electricity"

(Photos by Chandra Ramey)
 
The Kansas City Jazz Duo Creates a New Spin From Classic Chemistry
 
Can music based on vintage tastes and ideals create something new? According to Victor & Penny, something as simple as a hook, a dress, or the right recording engineer creates a viable chance. When they planned to bring a specific genre of music into the Kansas City mainstream, they made sure it was based in craft, personality, and style. Against all odds it works and chances are, you'll love it.
 
You have most likely seen or heard their brand of ragtime jazz around town at several venues as diverse as recordBar, Hotel Phillips, Kauffman Center, and The Green Lady Lounge. Sometimes they play as a duo, sometimes they incorporate a full outfit known as The Loose Change Orchestra with trombone, upright bass, and clarinet.
 
Who are Victor & Penny?
In a word, they are “unique.” They create songs out of a time that harbors authentic musicianship and charm, yet the act telegraphs progressive idealism through virtuosity, fashion and playfulness. They find a joyous sound out of some of the darkest musical standards of the classic jazz age, as if blowing soap bubbles through a flophouse opium pipe. But it's not all fun and games. The duo creates music based in an era of serious songwriting skills. Watching them create tunes on stage prompts you to applaud time and time again before the song comes to a close because it's something made with love, humor, and blood.
 
“The way we present ourselves is vital to the way the audience perceives us,” says singer and ukulele player Penny (known locally as Erin McGrane). “We want to show respect for our audience by looking sharp. That also helps to set the stage and mood for our show.”
 
Victor (known around Kansas City as Jeff Freling) continues the thought. “The music and the presentation go hand-in-hand. As we continue to refine and expand our stage presence, we present a more sophisticated show.”
 
Sophisticated is a good description for this musical favorite about town. When you walk into a Victor & Penny showcase, the duo ushers you through classic jazz standards with the energy and vigor of a revival-era tent pastor, as they are unabashed converts to the art form. It's based in an honest love for the intricacies of the style.
 
“We offer the audience more than just a concert,” McGrane says. “We offer stories and a chance to get to know us as people, which is another way to connect to the audience and enrich the experience.“
 
Which is true: they're 100-percent show business, but their connection is real and based in the classic ideals of traveling theater. They parry corny jokes, natural chemistry, and undeniable musicianship out of quick scenarios in clubs, media appearances, and even impromptu videos in their car. Their semi-formal attire contrasts with the easygoing attitude on stage as they sway and jump between old standards and new treasures.
 
So it begs the question; in a town so focused on indie rock and stylized blues, how would they make an impact by focusing on early jazz standards? It's all about the lure of the common experience. McGrane says, ”In college, I got into 1930s vocal music from groups like the Boswell Sisters and the Mills Brothers. Jeff was listening to a lot of early guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian when we reconnected, and we found a common pool of tunes that we loved.”
 
 
Recording Electricity
Victor & Penny recorded a new album titled Electricity in August of 2015 and the finished product will soon be available here. They made the journey to Nashville's Sputnik Sound to create it with producer Mitch Dane, who made his cake working up alt-country gold with acts as varied as Woody Pines and Jack White. Even though the producer's tastes were outside Victor & Penny's specific genre, the moment they met with Mitch, they knew it was a special match due to his musical taste for the eclectic side of early Americana and his impressive collection of classic recording gear in his inspiring studio.
 
Did the experience live up to expectations? According to Freling, yes. After speaking with Dane, they immediately hit it off and the day-to-day labors allowed the trio to create something truly special.
 
“Working in Nashville was a great experience and we had the opportunity to partner with a producer to help us rearrange some older tunes and bring a fresh perspective to our music,” Freling says.
 
How did Victor & Penny begin?
According to them, it all came together in Chicago.
 
“Jeff and I met during college years when our rock bands played together in the local KC scene,” says McGrane.
 
Freling adds, “We reconnected in Chicago a few years ago. Erin was working up there as a commercial actress and I had been playing strings on stage with Blue Man Group for many years. We hadn’t seen each other in almost 15 years.”
 
 
Playing the Circuit
This kind of authentic atmosphere means the world to this turn-of-the-century jazz duo because they rely on a certain balance of classic and contemporary to create their singular stage presence. They work hard to create a personable and accessible feel that draws both new and schooled fans of jazz history into their realm.
 
“The tunes that we’re drawn to are endlessly fun to sing and to improvise over musically,” says McGrane. “For example, the melody on ‘Lazy River’ by Hoagy Carmichael is instantly recognizable and much trickier to sing and play than it sounds. It’s just beautiful. ”
 
Freling finishes the thought. “We love to do what we call sonic archaeology and dig for lesser-known songs from the early part of the last century. Our original material combines all of our personal influences to create a modern sound with a vintage vibe.”
 
So yes, it's true. A partnership born from a shared love of musical history proves something new can come from it all. The unique voice Victor & Penny creates gives music lovers in Kansas City an opportunity to participate in a true love of the artform. Experience their brand of musical joy at the Folk Alliance International Conference from Wednesday through Sunday. Check out their schedule here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
--Andrew Schiller
Andrew Schiller has been playing music and writing features for a couple of decades. To earn gear and beer money, sometimes he wakes up and travels to an office of some sort inhabited by your garden-variety marketing types.
 

 





Words of Love Gives Back to the Local Music Community

On Saturday, a collection of Kansas City acts will take the stage at Coda for the first Words of Love benefit concert for Midwest Music Foundation. The show was organized by Joelle St. Pierre, who volunteers for the nonprofit music organization. Read our Q&A with her and find out more about the show.
 
The Deli: Give us a brief overview of what Words of Love is all about.
 
Joelle St. Pierre: Words of Love is a collection of artists that include Wyatt West with Tom Hall, Bryan Hicks, AJ Young, Amanda Fish, Nicki Scruggs, Eems, Sean McDonnell, Thomas Freight Train Walker, Max Berry, and more for a musical tribute to the many faces of love. The musicians will play in different groupings as a full band and as duets, smaller ensembles, etc.
 
The Deli: How did this show come about?
 
St. Pierre: The concept began almost a year ago when Matthew Stevens donated to the KKFI band auction for Wyatt West to play an event and had always wanted this to be a benefit for MMF. Matthew has received funds from MMF to cover rent for a local musician who was injured. I began as coordinator and contacted Wyatt, who put together the musicians, theme, date, venue, and logo. Wyatt is a top-notch singer songwriter with 2 new CDs out in 2015 and is associated with the musicians that have volunteered their time for our fundraiser.
 
The Deli: How did you get involved with MMF and volunteering in the music community?
 
St. Pierre: I began 3 years ago after a dear friend turned me on to Diana Ennis's KKFI Tasty Brew show and have volunteered for all fundraisers at the studio and many in our local area. My MMF volunteering began with Crossroads Music Fest and I can't get enough!
 
The Deli: What kind of influence do you think MMF has on musicians and the local music community?
 
St. Pierre: MMF brings together a collection of local musicians to support one another, which is vital for the continued success of musicians as well as local venues and MidCoast Takeover. This particular fundraiser began with a music fan who wanted to recognize MMF for their efforts to help him and the musician. The impact of MMF is widely felt, as it takes very little to become homeless and destitute when injured or ill. MMF creates a feeling of relief, a shelter from the storm and perhaps, even greater, a recognition of the importance of live and recorded music and the venues in which the music is made.
 
The Words of Love show begins at 9:00 pm with a suggested donation of $10. Facebook event page. If you’d like to get involved with Midwest Music Foundation, visit midwestmusicfound.org.
 

--Michelle Bacon 





Album review: Mat Shoare - Mirror Music no. 1

As the title suggests, Mat Shoare’s latest release, Mirror Music no. 1, is about reflection. “The songs are all linked to my last full-length Right as Rain, and draw on the same themes: abandonment, bitterness, and repressed anger,” he states. While Shoare’s description may sound like a recipe for a suicidal symphony, most of the music on the four-song EP is surprisingly upbeat and even approaching optimistic. This may be because Shoare says he is closing the book on this period of songwriting, and has plenty of new, less miserable topics to begin sharing.
 
The EP opens with “I-Yi-Yi,” a mellow yet poppy tune with a solid groove. I-yi-yi is a clever play on aye-yi-yi, the outdated term used to express sadness, hopelessness, anger, or frustration (you may have heard your grandmother say this when you were a kid). The song deals with frustration over things not going as planned, yet the realization that the circumstances could be worse. It’s about waiting and yearning, yet understanding the need for patience. It’s a commentary on life as most of us know it. “It’s not going better, but it’s not going worse / It’s not going good, but it’s not going bad.” Through reflection, Shoare decides to make the best of things, ending the song singing “I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi” in a cheery, so-be-it kind of way. We could all stand to look at life like this.
 
“One of My Songs,” the second track, is probably the most listener-friendly. It is about breaking up with a girl, and is both a jab at the woman (or women) as well as possibly a bit of self-deprecation from Shoare. “Now you’re just a girl in one of my songs / Please sing along if you’ve heard this one before.” As with “I-Yi-Yi,” this potentially blue topic is in no way a ballad. Instead it is almost a doo-wop song, complete with Beatles-esque background vocals and a clap track. Shoare shows off his musical talents by playing all of the instruments on the recording. “All About You” is similarly upbeat, yet with a totally different sound. It starts with a drumbeat that could be mistaken for Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” and is layered with jazz chords and a driving bass.
 
The only gloomy song is the fourth and final cut, “Real Woman.” Truly lo-fi, it is simply Shoare playing an acoustic guitar while crooning about a relationship lost. Sticking with the theme of the record, he reflects and realizes his mistakes—and what traits constitute a good (or bad) companion. “If I had known how much you would hurt me / I would have been with a real woman.” Despite being barely over a minute long, “Real Woman” is a perfect goodbye. It touches on remorse, but focuses on the resolve to move on to better things.
 
Like life, Mirror Music no. 1 isn’t perfect, but perhaps Shoare and his band (Evan Ashby on guitar, Ross Brown on bass, and Ryan Carr on drums) intended it that way. There is a constant yin-yang, showing how opposites can be complementary. It’s dark and light, sad and happy, and ultimately gives listeners something that is strangely inspiring, given the subject matter. It’s an ending to one place in Shoare’s life, and a peek at happier things to come.
 
--Brad Scott
Brad loves music, Boulevard beer, and his family. Not necessarily in that order.
 
 

Shoare will be touring in support of the album starting tonight in Columbia at Café Berlin. Facebook event page. You can also check out his website for other upcoming dates at matshoare.com.   





Album review: My Oh My - Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

There’s something special about a band made up of eight talented musicians who can speak together with one unique voice. Kansas City’s My Oh My is led by vocalist and guitarist A.M. Merker, and a couple months ago he and the band put out their second album, Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way. While the band’s 2014 release, Your Heart Not Mine, seemed to ask questions about the unpredictability of life, the 6 tracks released in December provide some of the answers. The album is incredibly reflective—nearly every song references “old times,” “what might have been,” or “yesterday” in some form or another. But the band makes a point to emphasize acceptance and appreciation for the past instead of regret. Imagine a wise monk writing profound lyrics for an Americana band—you’ll end up with lines like “a life worth living is a life eventually forgotten / and that’s okay with me” and “I believe the time we get is all that matters / It's good enough for little old me too / better be good enough for little old you.” Combined with full-bodied folk rock, Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way is a rare blend of confidence and humility. It’s a country music kind of straight-talk for rock and roll fans.
 
The album’s title track features a strong driving chorus that shakes the listener awake. Merker’s vocals recall the wild times of youth and offer a happy approval of the craziness of his current life—after all, there’s no crazy like being crazy in love. Backup vocals provided by Sarah Dolt, Stephanie Gaume, and Melissa Geffert add a special flavor to many of the songs, complete with old-timey “oos,” “ahhs,” and echoes. One of the female vocalists sings lead during the bridge in “Thief” with a voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on Broadway. My one complaint—we don’t get enough of her! Her powerful voice complements Merker’s smooth one, and it’s a treat to listen to them as a team.
 
A personal favorite is the third track, “Parade,” which progresses from a mid-tempo ballad to an upbeat breakdown delivered by Grant Buell on keyboard and Stephan Berry on guitar. If any listener hadn’t been convinced yet, “Parade” is proof that My Oh My are experts at their craft; the song is beautifully arranged and features a splendid melody. And when it’s time to close the curtain, the band sticks to sweet simplicity. Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way closes with the only acoustic song on the album, “That’s Alright By Me.” It’s a gentle conclusion to an album of grand rock and roll, but it feels right.
 
 
--Mary Kennedy
Mary is a lifelong Bostonian learning her way around Kansas City. She can often be found in an art museum, checking out local music, or taking a nap.
 

My Oh My’s next appearance in KC will be this Saturday at The Brick, with Pocket Vinyl (CT) and 40 Watt Dreams. Facebook event page. 





Artist of the Month: New Baboons

Congratulations to New Baboons, our first Artist of the Month for the new year! Take the sounds of foundational rock bands and add in a few groovy washes of ‘60s psychedelia and you have New Baboons, an up-and-coming contender in KC’s rock ‘n roll scene. Read our Q&A with a few of the members, and check out their music.
 
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music.
 
Elliott Seymour: We play rock and roll with melodies, hooks, and choruses. 
 
Adam Scheffler: New Baboons are a supple pillow of influence dragging over 60 years of crumpled rock ‘n roll bedding.
 
Tom Livesay: I guess I would describe our band as sounding more like rock from the late ‘60s to the early ‘90s than it does to anything since then.
 
The Deli: Give me some background info on New Baboons. How did the band come to be? Also, you used to be called Vidal Baboon. Why the name change?
 
Elliott: We all work together. One day Adam and I got together to run through some old songs we had each written. We just asked Tom and Josh if they were interested and we spent a few days just playing for hours. It fit really nicely together, so we just kept trying songs that Tom, Adam, and I had written over the years. Shockingly, very few people seemed to get the Vidal Baboon reference, so Josh suggested New Baboons as an easy switch. It has a rather evolutionary sound to it, I think. I was outvoted on my choice: The Pelican's Briefs...
 
Adam: We’ve been together for about 2 years, ever since we all talked about playing music together at Half Price Books where we all work. We changed our name because Vidal Baboon is a bad name for a band.
 
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting? What is your songwriting process? Does one person write everything or is it collaborative? 
 
Elliott: Tom, Adam, and I write our songs individually. We then present them to the band and we all just bang them out. I am usually inspired by whatever music I happen to be obsessing over at the moment. I'll just hear a progression or part of a melody or just catch a mood. I'll just play something over and over until it starts to take shape. I'll work with it until it finally sounds like a complete song. I usually come up with the lyrics as I'm going. I kind of dread writing lyrics.
 
Adam: Either Elliott, Tom, or myself write a song on our own, then we kind of come together and flesh out the parts. Then we play it to josh (ze drummer) who comes at it from a structural point of view, and then we flesh out tempos, mood changes, and vocal parts.
 
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a band?
 
Elliott: I think recording an album in my basement on a little 8-track was pretty cool. It certainly isn't perfect, but it has a sound that lends itself well to the type of songs we chose to record. They are all pretty melodic and classically structured, so I think the songs speak for themselves. I'm pretty happy that we were able to play recordBar a few times before it closed. That place was the coolest and I think we're all pretty sad to see it go. 
 
Adam: Winning this here Deli KC thing and being able to play this long with everybody working at the same place.
 
The Deli:Tell us about your debut LP. What can listeners expect? What future plans do you have for getting your music out there? 
 
Elliott: Our first album, New Baboons, is pretty representative of our collective influences—mainly rock and roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a little ‘90s sensibility thrown in there. People tend to hear Velvet Underground and ‘60s psych or garage. I hear some Elephant 6 sounds, especially in Tom's songs. We are going to record about 11 new songs at Temple Sounds recording studio sometime in the next month, so I think our next album will have a much different sound. The songs will still be the strength of what we do, but our production value should go up a few notches. 
 
Adam: The first album is a collection of songs everyone had lying around, and then once we connected, we added new songs to the mix. Also, Paige Newcomer played keys on all that and she added a lot to the sound of that album. Expect well-formed rock n roll songs that people call “quite good.”
 
Tom: I think our first album has lots of variety, partly due to the 3 songwriters. I hear VU, Television, and Rolling Stones influences, plus some garage band psychedelia, disco, and Motown. Sometimes there's some newer-sounding stuff mixed in there too.
 
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
 
Elliott: It's about a sense of friendship and community to me. We share venues and audiences and often hang out in the same places, you know, it's really cool. I use Bandcamp and Soundcloud to keep up with local bands, as well as patronizing local record stores and going to shows. Being part of something like that is really cool. I think only the most hipster of hipsters could be cynical about it. 
 
Adam: Going to shows, buying things made locally, connected with other musicians through social media or one's physical form.
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now? Non-local?
 
Elliott: Locally speaking, I love Thunderclaps. Those guys are friends and we've played a lot of shows together. I love rock and roll bands that are saturated in their influences. It just sounds so classic and pure. I'm also impressed with what I've heard from The Conquerors. They make songs with the ‘60s sensibility of singles, when singles still meant something. We've really enjoyed playing with SquidsKC—they are pros, and Dan Jones is a great songwriter. As far as non-local, I'm lately into rockabilly like Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran and Stray Cats. Also digging Dion and Buddy Holly. 
 
Adam: I enjoy Phantom Head quite a bit and Thunderclaps has been one of our bad-boi backbones. Non-local I'd say U.S. Girls’ new album Half Free had tickled me lately.
 
Tom: My favorite bands are The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks, but I've been inspired by Pavement, Cheap Trick, and The Pixies on certain songs. I don't get out enough to know what local bands I like other than SquidsKC.
 
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
 
Elliott: I'd love to play with The Velvet Underground and The Kinks. Brian Wilson would play piano instrumentals between sets and David Bowie would do some miming. 
 
Adam: Uh... I guess opening up for 10cc and Frank Ocean with Scott Walker closing it all up. Shit ya.
 
Tom: My fantasy bill would be opening for The Kinks and McCartney/Starr.
 
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
 
Elliott: Lennon/Macca (one hybrid face), Lou Reed, Brian Wilson and David Bowie. The Beatles are my favorite band and their influence is incalculable. Paul's bass lines and the way they used the studio and Ringo's fills and George's melodies and John being John, It's all so brilliant.
Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground for the massive grooves that they were capable of—Sister Ray is still untouched in that regard. Brian for giving us such beautiful sounds and David Bowie for being the one-of-a-kind musical icon that he was and will always be. All of his characters and mythologies are so much of what got me interested in rock and roll to begin with. He is endlessly fascinating. 
 
Adam: Lou Reed, ‘nuff said. Damo Suzuki from CAN. 1960s-era P.P. Arnold because I could listen to her voice all day. I guess last it would be Charles Mingus because I wanted to round this out nicely with some of my faves.
 
Tom: I would probably have Lennon, McCartney, Ray Davies, Jagger, and Richards. I know that's one too many.
 
The Deli: What other goals do you have for 2016 and beyond?
 
Elliott: My goals are to have more band practices (always!) and play some different venues than we have. I want to get our second album out and listen to more music than I did in 2015. I think a split 7" with the Thunderclaps would be great. 
 
Adam: Goals and rock n roll have nothing to do with each other. Just make music.
 
Tom: My hope is to get more shows, record a second album that's better than the first, and just keep getting better.
 
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
 
Elliott: Buy a lot of David Bowie records and listen to them.
 
Adam: Please learn from the world's wealth of point of views and catch yourself when you’re selfish, treat others better than you'd treat yourself, listen to New Baboons, listen to Frumpy Congo Love that's me, and stop being cool or trying cuz you're fucking everything up.
 
New Baboons are:
Elliott Seymour - guitar, vocals
Adam Scheffler - guitar, vocals
Tom Livesay - bass, vocals
Josh Klipsch - drums
 
Your next chance to see New Baboons live will be at Josey Records on February 26 with Braggers and The Red-Headed League. Check them out!
 
 

--Michelle Bacon 

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