Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kenny Poo's 2012 Top 10 Albums

I am fully aware that the entire interweblogosphere has been waiting with bated garlic and onion breath for me to post my highly acclaimed, world famous, much anticipated Kenny Poo 2012 Top 10 Favorite Albums. Well, my faithful admirers, you can now finally brush your teeth and gargle Listerine, beacuse the moment you've all been self-medicating yourself in anticipation for is finally here!

Thank you! Thank you! Please, you're all too kind. Stop, you're embarrassing me. Thank you! Thank you!

Now, many of you reading this may be curious as to how I'm defining the year in music. Excellent question, and the answer is I will be posting my Top 10 albums from the past calendar year, subjectively, without regard to how well they sold, what genre they may be in, or what my own fans think I should select.

In other words, it's all about what I like. ME, ME, ME, ME, ME, MEEEEEEEE!!!!!! Thus, without further ado, allow me to present to you the official, 1st annual, never to be duplicated though certain to be imitated, 2012 Kenny Poo Top 10 Favorite Albums Of The Year!

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10. The Lumineers - The Lumineers (album)

The Lumineers are one of the emerging leaders of the new folk rock movement, and their debut album is a very catchy, straightforward LP that really gets the feet stomping. Lots of Irish singalong influences with a hint of Dylan's vocal stylings, they are kind of a hybrid between Civil Wars and Mumford & Sons. Organic, raw, ear-wormy simplicity, but still room to grow for this talented young group.

9. Kelly Clarkson - iTunes Session

Kelly has one of the best sets of pipes in the biz, and they are beautifully highlighted on this acoustic album she recorded for iTunes. She sings a nice mix from her new album (Stronger), as well as some of her classics from the past. I'm not a big pop music fan, so hearing her perform it straight and true without any the synthed production bullshit was very refreshing. Girl's got soul!

8. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society

I'm a big jazz fan, and Esperanza is among my top modern favorites. As was the case with her two previous albums, Esperanza shows off a healthy display of pristine vocals and skillful upright bass stylings. Radio got a bit too slick on the production at times for my tastes, but I loved the wonderful hints of funk and soulful blues she added to accent her traditional jazz sound. Overall, it's a gorgeous LP that's a must for any jazz enthusiast.

7. Casey Abrams - Casey Abrams (album)

This underrated gem from former American Idol finalist Casey Abrams kinda flew under the radar, but it's very much on my radar. The album features a very interesting variety of instrumentation, with the talented Abrams performing much of them himself. A unique fusion of pop, folk-rock, jazz and soul, Casey gave us an album that is fun to listen to from start to finish.

6. John Mayer - Born and Raised

If you're a fan of vintage, Gold Rush era Neil Young music you'll love this album. Old-school Americana featuring Mayer on acoustic guitar and harmonica, this record has no extraneous bullshit. Sadly, Mayer contracted a debilitating throat ailment shortly after recording this album and couldn't tour to support it. Great travel music, I must have looped this 20 times on my family truckster drive to Buffalo back in August.

5. Crystal Bowersox - Once Upon A Time

I couldn't decide if I should put this record on my list because it's just a tiny, five track EP rather than a full album. I decided it belonged because I frankly cannot stop listening to it. Mama has without a doubt the most pristine voice I've ever heard, and when she sings soft, pretty folk music her pitch-perfect vocals bloom like a beautiful sunflower. Just Crystal on acoustic guitar with Frankie May's bass accompaniment, it's a great teaser for the full album set to be released sometime in February/March. If this album had a few more songs I'd have made it Top 3.

4. Seth Walker - Time Can Change

A very unique, eclectic blend of sophisticated blues fused with jazz and soul, Walker's a smooth guitar man with vocal stylings equal parts Sinatra and Clapton. Sound interesting? It is. Walker's album is very strong top to bottom, and I rank Time Can Change among my favorites for good reason. Nobody I would compare him to, really. Do yourself a favor and check this LP out.

3. Haley Reinhart - Listen Up!

Haley has to be among the most versatile, talented and drop-dead gorgeous singers I've ever heard or seen, and on Listen Up! she shows all of it off and then some. Featuring her smokey, silky vocals on a wide mix of music styles ranging from pop, to Motown, to disco, to soul, to reggae, to rock, there is truly something for everyone to love on this album. I think it sucks that her major label debut didn't get heard as much as much as it deserved, because it was truly one of the very best of 2012. Seems her label (Interscope) just didn't know how to market her music, and therefore withheld the money train for her promo. As fantastic as this LP was, however, a more jazz/blues centric future is where I hope Haley's plans lie, because in that genre she's a vocal prodigy second to none.

2. Joss Stone - Soul Sessions 2

I was a fan of her first Soul Session several years back, but this album was even better. A top-to-bottom KILLER! Joss put her own individual spin on covers of lesser known classic soul songs from the 70's, and she just pours her heart and soul into the soul. That's a lot of fucking soul, and my soul loved every inch of her soul on Soul Sessions 2. If you like soul, you gotta get this album, my brothas and sistas.

1. Phillip Phillips - The World From The Side Of The Moon

I have been completely blown away by Phillip's debut album. It's acoustic based folk rock with some dark, hard rock edge and accents of smokey jazz. The album is really strong instrumentally, deep lyrically, and without any filler songs to round out the album. His smash hit single Home is only one small reason to buy this album, because it's chock filled with great tracks. The first word that comes to my mind for World From The Side Of the Moon is artistic. To go further with descriptions, it's poetic, it's singsong, it's heavy, it's light, it's dark, it's sentimental, it's rugged, it's fun and it's introspective. The full gambit, and at the same time completely organic, which is unusual to say the least for a major label production for an American Idol winner. It's simply an awesome record, and is the Kenny Poo choice for Album Of The Year.

~Kenny Poo

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Music: LeAnn Rimes - Borrowed

"Borrowed" is a true gift.

The measure of a great song, at least to me, is how deeply it grabs onto your soul and emotionally connects you with the artist. Authenticity is the highest compliment I can pay a singer, and when they can succeed at deeply moving me through their song, make me feel what they're feeling, then they've accomplished elevating music to the transcendental.

So, by that standard, let me just say that Borrowed by LeAnn Rimes is one great fucking song.

I watched LeAnn perform Borrowed live on Jay Leno Tuesday night, and was completely blindsided by both its tender beauty and raw honesty. She leaves every ounce of her soul fearlessly exposed and vulnerable, for everyone to see and hear, for better and for worse, and quite frankly I couldn't respect her more for it. Other than Crystal Bowersox, I can't think of another female artist who has both the courage to sing such mature, complex and deeply personal subject matter, and also have the incredible vocal gifts to deliver it with such tender beauty.

Stylistically, it's a folk-country ballad, and would fit nicely in both adult contemporary and country formats. Of course, whether or not country music radio is mature enough to embrace Borrowed remains to be seen, but shame on them if they don't.

There are those who will hate LeAnn for being the "home-wrecker" who broke up two marriages with an illicit affair.. In fact, you get the sense through Borrowed that LeAnn is herself still dealing with a lot of self hate from what happened and how it happened.

Look, I think what she did was dead wrong myself. A tremendous trail of hurt was created from her and Eddie Cibrian acting on their impulses. However, doesn't the fact that she has a tortured conscience only make her more human? How else should she be dealing with it?  After the divorces, they married. LeAnn's ex-husband remarried, too. Despite this, I don't think she has any easy answers on how to cleanse her soul, but she needs to move on, heal her wounds and try to live a happy and meaningful life.

My parents had infidelity issues and divorced when I was 14, and I bet nearly everyone who reads this post has either experienced infidelity personally or has had loved ones who have gone through it. While we rightly condemn the behavior, let's not be hypocrites with LeAnn and act like this doesn't happen. She deserved the subsequent feelings of guilt and conflict, but she didn't beak into an elementary school and shoot up a classroom of children, so let's keep perspective.

Anyway, in our plastic music world of formula dance pop and cartoonishly stereotypical country, it's so refreshing to get a strong dose of unfiltered truth from a truly adult perspective. LeAnn wrote and performs Borrowed without any thought of catering to commercialism, and because of that it just might become a big commercial success.

So, LeAnn, thank you for giving us the gift of your heart and soul with this song.. I hope you find peace moving forward, but maybe keep a tiny little pang of hurt in your gut that reminds you of how important it is to make the right decisions.

~Kenny Poo

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook Aftermath: It's The Ammo, Stupid!

The Sandy Hook massacre, coming just 6 months after the Aurora massacre, has left this country deeply shaken. Being a conservative (or, if you happen to be liberal, a radical right wing extremist who encourages hate against minorities, increasing income disparity between rich and poor, choking the planet with carbon dioxide gas, and torturing cute, furry animals for sadistic pleasure), I am reluctant to embrace knee-jerk reactions to revoke individual freedoms, including the right to bear arms - even though I have no intentions of ever personally owning a gun.

Nonetheless, I happen to have a soft spot for trying to prevent massacres, particularly of children who are the exact same age as my own. After thinking long and hard about what happened, and what could be done in the future to prevent it, I have come to a conclusion: the problem is not so much with our gun control laws (though they should be stiffened and include banning gun shows that allow unmonitored gun trafficking), it's that we need more armed security in this country, and, most importantly, we need much, much stricter ammunition control  laws.

As it stands, you could go online right now and literally order thousands of rounds of ammunition sight unseen. This is fucking insane. How can we require guns to be registered, but not require ammunition to be   to be matched with a legally registered weapon before it can be purchased? Also, how can we not have quantity limits?

Look, no matter how hard we try, a fucking sociopath can always acquire a firearm unlawfully. Hell, look how easy it is to get weed illegally? A prostitute? Face it, there is always gonna be illegal access even if we regulate as much as reasonably possible. No matter how tight we try and limit it to responsible people, we will still have scumbags getting their murderous mitts on guns illegally if they are so inclined.

The problem is, the killer can then LEGALLY purchase a virtually unlimited amount of ammo for that weapon without any questions. No need to justify why you may need enough firepower to take out a movie theater or a school, just give us a credit card and the ammo is all yours. Thank you, and have a great day.


How can we be so stupid and reckless?  Ummmm...let's wake the hell up, America. Stop solely focusing on preventing the reckless distribution of guns, and start paying attention to the ammo elephant in the room. A single piece can always be easy to acquire illegally, but acquiring 6,000 rounds of deadly, automatic magazines might be a little tougher to come by on the street if we had regulation.

Anyway, in addition to that, we need to have better security. In Israel, they have checkpoints and armed guards everywhere, and the Islamic terrorist filth never are able to get their hands on the children in the schools as a result. It's critical we do the same here. We must have armed guards in all schools, especially at the entrance to the building, and without authorization nobody gets through the door.

Oh, and money is not an argument. We have a government that shits out money like they've got dysentery, so assign enough to secure our children's schools as priority number one.

In fact, assign them to malls and other public places where people congregate. Knowing trained officers are on site with deadly force certainly discourages any sociopathic ideas from sexual predators and violent criminals.

Anyway, sorry I ranted, but I was really stricken hard by the massacre in Newtown and this is how Kenny Poo see's it. What say you?

~Kenny Poo

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: 12/12/12 Concert For Sandy Relief

Billy Joel: The heart and soul of the 12/12/12 Sandy Relief Concert

First of all, let me just say that I enjoyed the shit out of the 12/12/12 Hurricane Sandy Relief Concert. I love classic rock, loved seeing the remnants of the old British Invasion bands still alive and kicking on stage, and I think the cause itself is very worthwhile and needed. That being said, it wouldn't be a Kenny Poo blog entry without including the good, the bad and the ugly, would it?

So, without further adieu, here is the Kenny Poo Review.

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The Good

There was an overflowing abundance of great music nostalgia on display at this affair, but without question the highlight of the night was Billy Joel. After all, Hurricane Sandy was a NY/NJ disaster, and the benefit was held in Madison Square Garden, so who better to represent the heart and soul of those affected than New York's own legendary living music legend?

Looking so at home with his grand piano on the MSG stage, Joel picked all the right songs and sounded fantastic. The highlights were Anthony's Song and, of course, New York State Of Mind. Billy is so real, so dripping with NY life and authenticity, you never got the feeling he was there as a mercenary trying to promote his career. He shoulda been the one to close out the show instead of Paul McCartney, who was trying way too hard to be epic with the Nirvana "reunion", but came across as awkward and forced instead.

Also impressive last night was Roger Waters, who showed he's still got it (including the self-indulgence) after all these years. Performing a series of classic Pink Floyd songs, Waters voice was healthy and strong, and the band sounded outstanding. Still, without Gilmour there's always that something missing. Too bad they can't stand each other, because as a team they're always better than as independent parts. Yes, Vedder did an admirable pinch hit, but it's still not the same.

The Who damn near gave a full concert, performing six songs that seemed to stretch for almost an hour. Gotta love how they gave it everything they had, and all things considered they still sound pretty damn good. Haven't lost their rock edge. Unfortunately, though, not everything was so beautiful in their performance. I'll be commenting on Roger Daltry's most unfortunate torso decision in "The Ugly" segment of this post.

Coldplay's Chris Martin, looking classy for the occasion wearing tux with black tie, opened his set with a nice solo performance of Viva La Vida. He then brought out REM's Michael Stipe (who suddenly got very old, making me feel very old) for a heartfelt reprisal of Losing My Religion. I really wished Martin had also called on native New Yorker Pia Toscano to sing Fix You with him, but it wasn't to be. Pia did a beautiful and moving cover of it to raise money for Sandy victims last month, so it would have been very fitting.

Also deserving of props for great/brief  performances: Eric Clapton showing that he's still got guitar god swag, the Rolling Stones for a rocking an energized two song set, and Bruce Springsteen for his vintage rock grit.

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The Bad

I thought the worst was behind me after seeing Adam Sandler's predictably tasteless fail at comedically singing Leonard Cohen's anthem, Hallelujah.  I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Kanye West's absolutely disgraceful rap performance, replete with lyrics about slapping bitches and trashing cops, was by far the lowest point of the night.

Wearing a black pleated skirt with black leather tights and a black t-shirt, Kanye looked as inapporpriate as he sounded. With that, allow me to give a brief message to anyone who happened to like this performance:


Thank you. I feel better for having said that.

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The Ugly

Well, as I said above, we have to congratulate Daltry and Townsend for showing us that The Who can still rock it out. Unlike Bon Jovi, who now looks and sounds like an adult contemporary pretty boy, Roger and Pete blasted out the most classic of their classic rock tunes.

That being said, when Daltry felt compelled to unbutton his shirt and jacket so we could admire his sweaty, scarred, shaved, sagging 68 year-old flesh I was reaching for the barf bag. For the love of GOD, why does he think anyone would want to see that? Roger this Roger: Keep your fucking shirt on from now on.

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Final Thoughts

I've grown so accustomed to seeing Phillip Phillips performing Home as an inspirational song that it seemed weird he wasn't there. He did such a great show after the storm with the kids of PS22, so I'd have really loved seeing him perform with them again at MSG. Below is a video from that day, his performance of Gone, Gone, Gone, and with that I'm gone, gone gone myself.

~Kenny Poo

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Profiles in Jazz: John Coltrane - Lush Life

The title track of "Lush Life" begins at the 16:30 mark, but listen to the whole thing. So worth it.

The jazz album that I find myself listening to more than any other is Lush Life by John Coltrane. The record was actually an assembly of studio sessions not intended for release, but when Prestige Records saw how big Coltrane was getting in the early '60s (after he had left their label) they released it to try and take advantage of his popularity.

Thank GOD they did, because it's a masterpiece. The smokey, melodic sax of Coltrane is hypnotic... almost dream-like. The more experimental, avant-garde jazz stylings that defined his later years I find hard to listen to, but early in his career he was so sultry and smooth it was like listening to butter melt.

Just a 5 track EP, the first three songs were without pianist Red Garland (who was allegedly so hung over he couldn't make the session on time), and are beautiful works featuring Coltrane on his signature tenor sax with Early May on bass and Art Taylor on drums. If you think music needs a lot of production bells and whistles in the studio to be brilliant, well, take a listen and see what great sounds are possible with total simplicity.

That said, the last two tracks, particularly the title track "Lush Life", is when the album soars from brilliant simplicity to orgasmic heights.

"Lush Life" (song) is a 14 minute instrumental that to me is the most perfectly named and composed song you'll ever hear. Lush, luscious, velvety jazz with 'Trane on the sax, Garland on piano and Donald Byrd on the trumpet, the song takes you on a hypnotic journey through a smokey jazz club with a drop-dead gorgeous woman, dressed to the nines, after a deliciously romantic dinner. You have a glass of top shelf scotch in your hand, an arm around your woman, and both of you are swaying with closed eyes just breathing in the music like it's oxygen.

In 1963, Coltrane released the version of Lush Life (song) that most people are familiar with featuring Johnny Hartman on vocals. Much as I appreciate that version, I feel adding vocals actually detracts from the song's beauty. The instrumental version is the definitive masterpiece in my opinion.

Take a listen to the album for yourself. Below is the track listing:
  1. "Like Someone in Love" (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke) — 5:00
  2. "I Love You" (Cole Porter) — 5:33
  3. "Trane's Slo Blues" (John Coltrane) — 6:05
  4. "Lush Life" (Billy Strayhorn) — 14:00
  5. "I Hear a Rhapsody" (Jack Baker, George Fragos, Dick Gasparre) — 6:01

~ Kenny Poo

Friday, December 7, 2012

Haley Reinhart Answers Her Jazz Calling

Haley, Keith and Courtney slaying some bossa-nova jazz

After her uneasy ride with Interscope Records mercifully ended two weeks ago, Kenny Poo has been hoping Haley would now turn her focus to the one true calling as an artist for which she's gifted above all others: Jazz singing.

Looks like my dream is now becoming a reality.

Last night at the Chandelier lounge in the swank new Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, Haley and her band mates Keith Phelps (keys) and Courtney Leonard (bass) began their three night residency gig. A super-fan by the internet username "Tusk" has become Haley's unofficial videographer, and is comprehensively recording the first two nights in HD quality. Thus far, he has uploaded two songs to YouTube, with many more to follow.

Fan reports on social media are indicating Haley heavily incorporated jazz into her show, and even included a full 25 minute jazz standard set in which she just brought the house down. One of the very best songs from that set is Song For My Father (see above). There ain't nobody more perfectly suited to sing sultry, sexy, silky bossa-nova jazz than Haley Reinhart, and as you can see she absolutely killed it.

The phrasing, the restraint, the instinctive finesse to know when to dial it up and tone it back down, the natural, seamless scatting and general "feel" for the flow of the song, and guiding it with deft aplomb... it's sheer poetry in motion to behold.

So, Haley, if you're reading this, Kenny Poo would like to request Girl From Ipanema by Astrud Gilberto. It's a must cover for you.

Not to be outdone, her pianist extraordinaire, Mr. Keith Phelps, demonstrated his incredible jazz chops with a magnificent solo that Haley herself can be seen getting lost in the trance of. Like Haley, Keith is versatile and can play a variety of music, but when it comes to jazz piano a very special light goes on that separates him from the field. In fact, Haley and Keith make such a perfect jazz team, I'd love to see them build a long term chemistry both live and in the recording studio.

Also noteworthy from the Vegas show is Haley's single Free, but it's nothing like the version she recorded on the album. Though I liked the original, this was far superior as Haley flipped the mid-tempo pop song with the tinny piano intro into a bluesy-jazz number with artistry. She also performed it like she really felt the conflicting emotions of a difficult, roller coaster relationship coming to an end rather than being forced to portray the vampy, campy temptress like Interscope prescribed. For the first time I truly believed Free was HER song, not the label force feeding her a hand-picked track. It was authentic, and I loved it.

Free from Interscope, Haley makes Free her own

So, let's raise our glasses of scotch (or Jack and Coke if you're Haley) and toast cheers to Haley as she begins her jazz journey. We've all seen how brilliant she's been when taking on jazz during her run on Idol, and after the show with Irvin Mayfield Jr, and now we can excitedly watch the little jazz prodigy actualize her destiny. I see nothing but sweet jazz labels and Grammys awaiting on the horizon.

~Kenny Poo

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mamasox Getting Down to Bidness!

Go Mama! Go Mama!

Freshly signed to Shanachie Records,  Crystal "Mamasox" Bowersox, one of my all time favorite ladies of music, recently completed the live recording portion of her new album that's scheduled for release sometime in March.

She's been regularly giving updates on twitter, telling us how psyched she is with the production of the album, how she absolutely loves the way it's progressed, and says it's somewhat different in style from her debut album, Farmer's Daughter.

Now, in some ways Crystal was the original Phillip Phillips (who I absolutely love), only the timing was a little off for her. Like Phillips, she's acoustic guitar driven, her music roots lean folk/indie rock, she writes deep lyrics that are fearlessly autobiographical (and sometimes dark), she sings from the depth of her soul, and she isn't one to bow down to the powers-that-be to fit an image or style that's not her own.

Looking back at Farmer's Daughter, it actually was an outstanding debut album, filled with a nice blend of  acoustic folk and foot-stomping blues rockabilly, with a hint of gospel and soul. No, not every track was pure Crystal (Lonely Won't Come Around being the most egregious violation), but most was and it sold pretty well (220k copies) considering it was really not supported or promoted by Jive Records (her now-defunct former label).

In fact, taking it a step further, I'm convinced that if her Jive had been willing to make the investment necessary to promote her album and a single, Mama had a huge hit waiting with the killer rock anthem Speak Now, which I think had a shot to be like Home is for Phillip. [NOTE: Sound similar to a previous rant of mine about Spiderweb by my beloved Haley Reinhart? Don't even get me started!] 

Then again, the music world may not have been quite ready for Crystal in 2010 like it will be in 2013. At that time, her indie folk-rock style had not quite yet made the mainstream breakthrough it has today. In the current market, with bands like Mumford, & Sons, The Lumineers and Civil Wars experiencing tremendous popularity, the singer/songwriter folk-rock genre has made a big comeback and Crystal's now in prime position to capitalize.

Of course, another key for her was hooking up with Shanachie, one of the top Indie record labels. With that support behind her, and Phillips having melted away the negative stereotypes in a genre that previously shunned anything Idol, my confidence level is very high that this will not only be her best work to date, but that she'll also reach an audience and radio market that'll be accepting and welcoming of her music.

Timing is everything, and striking when that iron is hot is critical.

With that in mind, Mama is also doubling down on her music with acting to maximize the opportunity at hand. Some of you may recall a couple years ago that Mama showed she can be a hell of an actress with a substantive guest starring role in an episode of the drama Body Of Proof.  Well, this week, right after finishing up recording her LP, Mama tweeted she was in Hollywood filming for an upcoming acting gig that can only help to further increase her visibility.

Looks like it's all coming together for Crystal, and I personally can't wait to see and hear what she has to offer!

- Kenny Poo