Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jeffrey Clarke + High Bongo + Brother Ali = Awesome

by Doug MacRostie

It's always good to keep an open mind - actually, it's necessary to keep an open mind - when presenting a true variety of music. No matter how much I want to listen to some loud screaming guitars or thumping beats, working at KAXE keeps my mind pried open and experiencing new things. Case and point: I normally wouldn't pick up a Country-Rock CD to jam out to in the car, and I would have missed the crafty and intelligent songwriting of Jeffrey Clarke. He'll be joining me in-studio this Thursday night at 6 on Centerstage MN to talk about his new CD "Feelin' Fine." From Chicago, with lots of time spent around Effie, Jeffrey started playing music at an early age as a drummer but switched to piano and guitar for songwriting and after years with rock and metal bands realized his songwriting and lifestyle were a better fit with country music. I should say, I'm NOT referring to dumbed down, pop-country b.s. - but actual songwriting with stories, messages and introspection that is often lacking in modern country music. Jeffrey will have his guitar along in the studio to perform some live music as we talk about his latest, and best-yet, CD.

I'm also really excited to have an exclusive debut of the new album from K.C. Johnson and Pat Downing called "High Bongo II." Furthering the sound of their debut release, it's a cross-style of folk and jazz with some elements of blues mixed in - all twisted together for a hip and exciting style of their own. The music is comfortably personal and whispers in your ear as the bass walks by, the guitar soars overhead and the sound consumes you. Pat plays upright bass and K.C. sings and plays guitar & hand drums. As with the first High Bongo CD, it's a mix of tastefully-arranged covers and beautiful written and arranged music by K.C. The album bleeds cool, sweats emotion and looks you right in the eyes. We'll be hearing a lot of it in the weeks (and years) to come on KAXE. These guys put the 'bong' in bongo...whatever that means, and are definitely the coolest cats in Grand Rapids.

While I'm not doing a "best of 2009" show, I will be announcing my pick for the best song out of MN - Brother Ali with "Tight Rope" from the album Us. This song is a masterpiece on an excellent album. The 3 verses sing about the life and strife of a Somalian refugee struggling in Minneapolis [Unwanted visitor in a different culture / Missing home and can’t go, they civil warring / Listen soldier, forget getting over / Prison sit around the corner / Homelessness even closer /], the inconsistencies and competition of a child with divorced parents [Gotta pick up the pieces and move on / Bedtime stories they read ‘em on the phone / Live in two houses and neither one is home / Wishing you were grown had the freedom to get gone /] and the pain and confusion of a young gay child in a traditional religious family [‘Cause their ain’t no flame that can blaze enough / To trump being hated for the way you love / And cry yourself to sleep and hate waking up / It’s a cold world y’all shame on us/ ]. I like music that approaches difficult topics, and not only did Brother Ali do that, but with such well crafted words the song makes my heart cry out for these kids as my eyes are opened to new/different perspectives. You can read the full lyrics, and hear the song at Hip Hop Linguistics.

Centerstage MN is Thursday evenings at 6, streaming live online at www.KAXE.org; or 91.7 Grand Rapids, 89.9 Brainerd and 105.3 Bemidji. All interviews are archived at www.KAXE.org and the show is rebroadcast Sunday mornings at 6.

No comments: