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  • Writer's pictureJAM

"Kind Folk" by Ron Carlson — REVIEW

Ron Carlson’s album features an all-KC cast, with the addition of Roger Rosenberg, (baritone sax for Steely Dan) and Rob Scheps, who is in town so often we might also call him a Kansas City musician.

The Kansas City cast includes Ron Carlson (guitar), Bob Bowman (bass), Brian Steever (drums), and a trio of singers, mentioned below. With Carlson on guitar, backed by Bowman and Steever, the album has a killer rhythm section: one that can both burn and groove, but also slow up, go underwater, provide a kind of fluid, expansive space.

Steever seems like the perfect drummer for this album. Minimalistic, melodic, he propels the group with just a few well-placed notes. And his groove is often laidback, while also propulsive. His work on the introductions to the tunes is of note, providing a canvas for the others to paint. Bowman is right there with him, dexterous, nimble: always ready to be quick, when called for. And Bowman’s early solo work on First Song is buttery, soulful, sophisticated, and understated. He sells the tune.

Carlson’s playing is self-assured and soft-pedaled, and in the vein of Kenny Wheeler and Charlie Haden, who he mentions as influences. Not only does Carlson choose tunes excellent for this album, but he also chooses tunes that bring out the best in his talent.

In an interview with Joe Dimino’s Neon Jazz, Carlson speaks of his musical roots, which include not only mention of Charlie Parker, but also how Carlson went from playing a wind instrument (French Horn) to playing bass. Carlson says, “I think all guitarists would benefit from being a singer or playing a wind instrument…From college…I’d also play electric bass because most of my friends were trying to play Charlie Parker tunes, and Thelonious Monk tunes, so I’d play bass in those kinds of groups, and let the horn players do all the heavy work.” Carlson shares in that “heavy work” on this album, a participatory member: bandleader, peer, pioneer.

Angela Hagenbach’s vocal work on Bye Bye Country Boy is remarkable, full of spunky, coy, and worldly energy—and her range (as always) is impressive. This song is a stand-out because of Hagenbach’s engaging delivery. Her interpretation of the lyrics will likely draw you in. The following passage was particularly sweet and winning: “Glad we played your country fair. / Glad you came to see me there / … You came backstage, like I knew you’d do.”

Carlson’s album features (and brings out the best) in a trio of impressive KC singers: Hagenbach, Shay Estes, and Kathleen Holeman. A maxim some bandleaders live by is “Always have a singer. Some people come for the words.” The same is true here, and to excellent effect. These three singers bring a more soulful, cerebral, lyrical element to an already sophisticated and accessible album.

The album has a kind of instant classic feel, though more contemporary, a little like Claude Williams’s King of Kansas City, particularly for its all-star KC cast and its balance of instrumental and vocal tunes.

Add it to your collection if you can.

—Kevin Rabas

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