Last week, the Kansas City Folk Festival, presented by the Folk Alliance International, was held to give musicians an opportunity to showcase their wares to promoters and celebrate all variations of folk music. A benefit of this event was that many musicians were around the metro area playing pop-up concerts. Vinyl Renaissance, a local record store, arranged for several of those musicians to play at their store. Free music is like free chocolate to this guy, so I attended four of five in-store concerts.
The phrase “new music” really means new to me, as these folks have been around while. I’m just catching up.
Grant Lee-Phillips – Grant has been around for many years. He is formerly of Grant Lee Buffalo, an indie rock group of the 1990s. Appearing solo, he put on a marvelous show, and entertained the small audience with stories and a sense of humor, especially with the wine tasting crowd also in the store. His songs are beautifully crafted and resonate with just a guitar and his voice. Here is a guy who is talented enough to have lasted the change of musical “flavor of the month” and blossomed in middle age with finely tuned lyrics of a man who has tasted life.
Allison Pierce – Formally of The Pierces, a group with her sister Catherine. Labels are misleading as Allison Pierce’s songs bounce between folk, pop and country. Her debut solo album is called Year of the Rabbit, produced by the talented and in-demand Ethan Johns. Johns is the son of legendary producer Glyn Johns (The Beatles, The Eagles, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, The Who). Allison is a very accomplished songwriter and performer.
Ben Miller Band – A very eclectic group, who blended a various styles of music together. I admit, judging by their photos, I expected a hillbilly-bluegrass experience, but it was not that at all. Yes, there was a certain down-home style to their music but as I listened, I kept thinking “John Hiatt,” a style-blender of country, folk, blues and rock. The beards, overalls, string bass washtub all kind of fool you, of at least me. Just for the record (no pun intended), there is nothing wrong with hillbilly or bluegrass flavored music, it is just not my cup of tea. I songs I heard contained enough variety of music that I was entertained.
The Accidentals – Of all the musicians I heard, I was most impressed with this trio. I have never heard of this group but I did a little homework prior to the concert by sampling several of their CDs. I was instantly enamored by their musical sophistication and harmony vocals. I’m tempted to say they sound like the Cocteaus, a shimmering vocal group from the 1980s and 1990s. The Accidentals are a 20-something group with singer-songwriters Katie Larson and Savannah Buist, who are fluent on bass, guitar, cello and violin. Michael Dause adds percussion and vocals. Their new CD is Odyssey, released on Sony Masterworks, a big step-up in their career. Instead of a 5-6 song set, we were lucky enough to have about a dozen songs. Besides the melding of their vocal harmonies, you are swept away by their incredible musicianship. I mentioned that to Katie after their set and she responded by saying they “try hard.” They do, and they score.