Any way you measure it, 2013 was a banner year for local music.
Several members of the music community broke out, some of whom are making big waves nationally and internationally.
It was year three of Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest, which has quickly evolved into an event with a national reputation.
And it will also go down as a bountiful year. By the end of November, bands and solo artists from Lawrence and Kansas City already had released more than 120 recordings (full-length albums, EPs or 7-inch records) in all major genres: rock, pop, country, blues and hip-hop.
There is plenty to like and a lot to be proud of. I don’t claim to an expert; I haven’t listened to every local CD released this year. Nor have I seen every local band. But I will claim to be an avid fan of our city’s music community. I listen to as much local music as I do any other. And I see as many local shows as I can squeeze in around the bigger national tours.
That’s an ambition made easier by festivals like Middle of the Map, the Crossroads Music Fest and MidCoast Takeover, events like Apocalypse Meow and series like the local-music showcase before Royals home games.
Based on the recordings I’ve heard, the shows I’ve seen and the rest of the music news, allow me to recognize some of the stand-out recordings, brilliant performances and eminent moments of 2013.
Band of the year
Dee, Isaiah and Solomon Radke, three brothers from St. Joseph, grabbed plenty of national media attention in 2013, including places like the New York Times, USA Today, the Atlantic, Interview, Spin, which named them one of the best new artists for October, and MTVu.com, where they were voted Freshmen of the Week in early November.
They made a big splash overseas, too. While touring the U.K. this fall, they were invited to perform on the high-profile BBC Two show “Later … With Jools Holland.” They were also named “Radar Band of the Week” by the British music magazine NME.
The momentum hasn’t waned. They are now in the midst of a U.S. tour, opening for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. And rumor has it that 2014 has even bigger things in store.
Grisly Hand: They put out a great record, “Country Singles,” made a couple of slick videos and established themselves as one of this town’s best live bands.
Making Movies: Their 2013 itinerary included a tour of Panama a month after they played for Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli at a festival in Arkansas. They also released “A La Deriva,” the album they recorded with Steve Berlin (it was released locally in late 2012). And they continued their summer music camp for children, Musicians United by Social Influence and Cultural Awareness, for which they were given the 2013 Spirit Award by the Mattie Rhodes Center.
Beautiful Bodies: In January, they won the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands, a national competition for a spot on the Warped Tour. Their prize: $15,000 for music equipment and 17 Warped dates. They just returned from a three-week, 19-show tour of the southeast and East Coast, opening for Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish and Five Finger Frenzy. And word has it that some labels are showing lots of interest.
Moment of the year
Radkey performs the song “Out Here in My Head” on the BBC program “Later … with Jools Holland.” Videos of the performance posted all over the Web generate plenty of rave reactions.
Other big moments
Eric Melin of the band Dead Girls is crowned world air-guitar champion Aug. 23 in Oulu, Finland.
Mac Lethal lands a deal with the TV network FX for a comedy show based on his book “Texts From Bennett: A Novel” published in September.
Tech N9ne: The album he released in July, “Something Else,” includes “Strange 2013,” recorded with the Doors.
The Beautiful Bodies win the Ernie Ball Warped Tour Battle of the Bands in Los Angeles.
Solo artist of the year
He released “Something Else,” his 13th studio album, which landed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart the week it was released, selling almost 60,000 copies. The album includes the track “Strange 2013,” which was recorded in the spring of 2012 with Ray Manzerek, John Dinsmore and Robby Krieger of the Doors. In September, he and Strange Music were the focus of a Forbes magazine profile titled, “Tech N9ne: Hip-Hop’s Secret Mogul.”
Mac Lethal: He played the entire Warped Tour. He signed a TV deal based on his book. And he continued to release some of the wittiest, funniest and most inventive rap out there.
Samantha Fish: Devon Allman (son of Gregg) enlisted her to sing the Stevie Nicks part on his cover of Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” She also appears in the video. She performed with Buddy Guy at the VooDoo Lounge and, at the Uptown Theater, she opened for John Hiatt who was so impressed that he sent her back out to do an encore. She just completed a European tour opening for Allman’s band, the Royal Southern Brotherhood. And she released her second full-length, “Black Wind Howlin’,” which is getting praise in the blues world.
“Country Singles,” the Grisly Hand
This five-piece band comprises three solid songwriters (with help from a fourth) and some of the city’s best musicians. “Country Singles” showcases all that talent. There’s not a minute of filler here among the 12 songs. And though it all can be called country music, there’s plenty of variety, a mix of soulful ballads, rocking country-swing anthems and country-folk numbers. The songwriting, from Lauren Krum, Jimmy Fitzner and Ben Summers, is stellar; so are the vocals, especially when the harmonies kick in. Not just my favorite local record of 2013 but one of my favorites, period.
Tech N9ne, “Something Else”: He just keeps pushing boundaries and mixing genres and rapping like a genius fiend, always with compelling results.
Pedaljets, “What’s in Between”: Straightforward rock tunes with pop songcraft, each loaded with hooks and riffs, melodies and harmonies.
Bloodbirds, “Psychic Surgery”: Grimy, blues-y acid-washed psychedelia.
Dead Voices, “Dead Voices”: It’s country and rock, the kind forged decades ago by bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers, but accented with jazzy guitars and some psychedelia.
The Architects, “Border Wars, Episode 1”
More of what they’re renowned for, hard rock, but cast in a variety of styles that suggest different influences, from AC/DC and Springsteen to the Who and Joe Strummer. It comes with a slick 72-page comic book that introduces the ambitious “Border Wars” narrative, a tale of sex, drugs, corruption, mobsters and romance scripted by lead singer/guitarist Brandon Phillips.
Beautiful Bodies, “Battles”: It’s rock, it’s punk, it’s pop, and it’s all bright and groovy.
Tiny Horse, “Darkly Sparkly”: Shimmering folk tunes about sorrow, loss and hope, and the swan song for singer Abigail Henderson.
Radkey, “Devil Fruit”: More ferocious punk anthems. Now it’s time for that full-length album.
The Blackbird Revue, “Glow”: Folk meets country, a la Nickel Creek and the Civil Wars, and the results are lovely.
Tiny Horse, “Ride”
Co-directors Mitch Brian and Todd Norris shot the “Ride” video in black and white inside the 1,500-seat Jayhawk Theater, built in 1929 in Topeka. It was late December 2012, the theater was not heated and in close-ups you can see Abigail Henderson’s breath as she sings this lovely meditation on fate and uncertainty: Where do we go / Once we know / How far we have come?
She is surrounded on the large stage of the empty, cavernous theater by the rest of her band. Everyone is dressed semi-formally. There is an air of elegance and solemnity throughout, a bittersweetness. Henderson died about eight months after this video was filmed. This song and its video will always remind those of us who knew her how much she meant to this music community, as a musician and a person.
The Grisly Hand
Cowboy Indian Bear
“I Want a Stranger’s Heart”
“Straight Out the Gate”
Josh Berwanger Band
Red Line Chemistry
“Municipal Farm Blues,” Grisly Hand from “Country Singles”
Ben Summers wrote this period piece, a narrative about a ne’er-do-well, an ex-con who likes to have a good time and start trouble, even if the consequences mean 15 days at Municipal Farm, shucking corn, in shackles and under the watchful eye of a mean warden. It’s catchy and jaunty and brimming with harmonies.
10 more favorites
“I Want a Stranger’s Heart,” Cowboy Indian Bear from “Live Old, Die Young”
“Baby Loses Her Mind,” Josh Berwanger from “Strange Stains”
“Waterlilies,” the Vi Tran Band from “American Heroine”
“Fragile,” Tech N9ne from “Something Else”
“Pardoning,” Dead Voices from “Dead Voices”
“Pregnant Actress,” Soft Reeds from “Blank City”
“Terra Nova,” the PedalJets from “What’s in Between”
“Heartbreaker,” the Architects from “Border Wars, Episode 1”
“Invincible,” Beautiful Bodies
“World on a Wire,” Maps for Travelers from “Change Your Name”
Mark Lowrey and Project H present Beck’s “Song Reader,” May 3 at the RecordBar:
To a sold-out crowd, an ensemble of some of the best jazz musicians in the city performed their arrangements of the songs Beck released only as sheet music. The results were stellar. A recording of the entire show has been posted on YouTube. It’s worth watching.
Other favorite shows
Beautiful Bodies and Mac Lethal at Warped Tour, July 23 at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater: They played at the same time on contiguous stages and both of them drew rowdy, responsive crowds.
The Grisly Hand, July 26 at Knuckleheads: They added a three-piece horn section for several songs, giving their country sound an element of soul.
The Starhaven Rounders at the Crossroads Music Festival, Sept. 14 at the Brick: The Rounders cover classic country songs and deliver them with as much energy and panache as they do precision. They have a monthly gig at the RecordBar and it’s always a fun show.
The Pedaljets vinyl-release party with Ghosty andSons of Great Dane , Sept. 7 at the Brick: A showcase of three local bands, all with very different sounds, yet it all meshed.
In a town full of sound wizards (Duane Trower, Chad Meise, Paul Malinowski come to mind), Nanos stood out this year. His name is associated with dozens of albums and EPs released this year, including the Grisly Hand’s “Country Singles,” Radkey’s “Devil’s Fruit,” Soft Reed’s “Blank City,” the Architects’ “Border Wars, Episode 1” and the Vi Tran Band’s “American Heroine.”
Best place to hear local music on the radio
Wednesday MidDay Medley
10 a.m. Wednesdays with host Mark Manning on KKFI (90.1 FM): The place to listen to new local music and often hear the performers talk about it.
Best homecomings by former Kansas Citians
In September, the Kansas City, Kan., native released her second full-length, “Electric Lady,” which includes appearances by Prince, Erykah Badu and Esperanza Spalding. In November, she put on one of the year’s best shows before more than 1,500 fans at the Uptown Theater, her first-ever headlining show in Kansas City.
She has been living in Paris for nearly five years now. In 2012, she released her second album “Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace,” which was available only overseas but is now getting some stateside attention. In October, she jetted home for a show in the Power & Light District, her first hometown appearance in more than two years.