Mike Warren

Music Reviewer

Mike Warren began as editorial assistant at The Pitch in Kansas City more than 20 years ago, and he's been writing about local music ever since. In addition to teaching writing at Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods, he still writes for The Pitch and a variety of national publications, including No Depression.

Rachel Arato-Hrabko

It takes a special kind of mid-life Midwestern songwriter to transform the tale of Ann Boleyn, Henry VIII’s famous second wife, and Thomas Cromwell, the king’s lesser-known chief minister, into a cheatin’ song.

Marla Keown

Twenty-two years is a long time for any band, even a bluegrass band, to stay together.

Split Lip Rayfield has made it that far.

To put their career in perspective, Bill Monroe and the most famous versions of his Bluegrass Boys only made it about half that long, and not without several important line-up changes along the way.

Brian Rozman Photography

It’s easy to imagine a teenage Samantha Fish standing in the mulch at Crossroads KC, dreaming about playing up on the stage.

“I’ve been going to that venue since I was a teenager,” Fish, a Kansas City native, confirms. “That and Knuckleheads were my two favorite places to go see live music.”

Jason Gonulsen

For a few years, it was an autumn tradition: Wrap up the turkey and pumpkin pie, wash up the dishes, then head down to the Record Bar for a Ha Ha Tonka show.

But it’s been awhile since Ha Ha Tonka came to town — long enough that a whole new RecordBar awaits their return. The band, with Springfield, Missouri, origins and a name borrowed from a state park at the Lake of the Ozarks, has gone through a few changes.

Courtesy Sky Smeed

An 11 a.m. Sunday slot at any festival, especially the Kansas City Folk Festival, is a dicey gig, and Lawrence singer-songwriter Sky Smeed admits his morning show last month made him anxious. Turned out that anxiety was unnecessary: The room filled up with people who weren't just awake — they were enthusiastic.

Ed Boulter Photography

At first blush, Olathe doesn’t immediately come to mind as one of the primary refuges for folk music in the region.

But starting about two years ago, the Olathe Public Library became a surprisingly frequent go-to place for folk, bluegrass and roots music.

Courtesy John Goolsby

John Goolsby
The Midwest

For the past few years, John Goolsby’s performances at places like Knuckleheads' Gospel Lounge have generally been solo — a singer-songwriter with country leanings, carrying shows with his pure-but-burly voice, a guitar, and a growing stack of songs with heartfelt, honest stories behind them.

Paul Andrews

The Grisly Hand
Hearts & Stars

Since 2009, The Grisly Hand has been a band that’s comfortable in its own skin, equally content and holding its own whether it’s the next band up in a punk rock lineup, showcasing at the Folk Alliance conference, or opening for Lee Ann Womack. It’s not that the band doesn’t fit anywhere: Its musicians keep pushing their own limits, so they fit everywhere.

Courtesy A La Mode

A La Mode
C’est Si Bon

Gypsy jazz — or, probably more appropriately, Django jazz — is a booming style in Kansas City.

This sub-genre, built around the silky runs and inimitable swing of guitarist Django Reinhardt in the same way bluegrass grew around Bill Monroe’s mandolin, pops up periodically around the world, and now it’s our turn.

Courtesy Berwanger

Berwanger
Exorcism Rock

The cover of Berwanger’s new one, Exorcism Rock, brazenly claims brand new territory for the band, and for Josh Berwanger, the songwriter.

Paul Andrews

Adam Lee
Sincerely, Me

From the instant Adam Lee’s voice sneaks up through a happy Ben Folds-style piano vamp and sultry, jazzy horns on “Son of a Gun,” it’s clear his move  to Chicago made some changes. Lee’s rockabilly hairstyle and unmistakably country voice are definitely still there, but Sincerely, Me is a new type of record.

Courtesy Shapiro Brothers

Shapiro Brothers
Shapiro Brothers

As one of the early acts at Kansas City’s Porchfest this year, the Shapiro Brothers set their latest songs free from the comfort of a Valentine neighborhood porch at high noon on a gorgeous autumn day. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect venue for a new sound from two familiar voices.

Courtesy Lyal Strickland

Lyal Strickland
Preservation

Lyal Strickland’s day job, raising grass-fed beef cattle on 900 acres or so just north of Springfield in Buffalo, Missouri, says as much about his authenticity as his rocky, heart-wrenching songs.

Gavin Peters

Moreland & Arbuckle
Promised Land or Bust

It’s not easy to surprise with a blues record.

Courtesy David George

David George & A Crooked Mile
Radiant Man (Uniglobe Records)

In a week or so, David George & A Crooked Mile’s music will be all over town.

Courtesy The Brad Cunningham Band

The Brad Cunningham Band
Every Inch of Texas

It’s too easy to forget that Kansas City’s traditional country music is still out there.

Part of the blind spot is the residual glow from the flash of contemporary country acts that, to their credit, regularly land in town. Some of the neglect comes from music so stratified that acts without a hyphen (i.e., not alt-country, bro-country, etc.) have trouble persuading audiences to bridge beyond their favorite sub-genres.

Aaron Bowen

Katy Guillen and the Girls
Heavy Days

With the blues, people throw parties to cover up pain.

That’s exactly what Kansas City-based blues rockers Katy Guillen and the Girls have done with Heavy Days, their second CD. The band takes addictive Friday-night catharsis as seriously as any roots band, and the opening song here, “Driving To Wake Up,” arrives like a house party. Heads can bob. Lips can be bitten in ecstasy. Hips can spontaneously pivot and swirl and shake.

Under the Big Oak Tree

Under the Big Oak Tree
Local Honey (MudStomp Records)

Some albums take a while to tell their secrets.

Local Honey was released by a St. Joseph-based band called Under the Big Oak Tree back in February. Kristin Hamilton and multi-instrumentalist Simon Fink alternate songs, blending brittle, delicate harmonies, all of which are confidently anchored by Doug Ward’s bass.

Greg Anderson

Golden Groves
Ideas

Debut EPs are tricky. By definition they are first impressions, but they only capture a band’s earliest efforts, which makes them fragile. They’re also small-serving packages, just the barest of tastes, and often unsatisfying, even at their best. The members of Kansas City’s Golden Groves obviously understand those pitfalls, and they’ve artfully stacked their debut, Ideas, with a little bit of everything they can do.

Paul Andrews

Victor and Penny
Electricity

Victor and Penny’s latest gambles aren’t obvious when the curtain rises on their newest release, even for fans who’ve loved their “prohibition-era” music from the start. But with this one, Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane have taken big risks — and made them work.

Mathias Kang

The Matchsellers
Songs We Made Up

Kansas City is in the midst of an acoustic duo renaissance. Victor and Penny (‘20s and ‘30s swing), Betse and Clarke (old-time breakdowns), and more recently Kasey Rausch and Marco Pascolini’s country duo configuration have made it clear that two people and a cloud of dust work just fine. The Matchsellers, with Andrew Morris on guitar and Julie Bates on fiddle, have landed on that well-plowed ground with a bluegrass sound and an idiosyncratic sense of humor, one skewed roughly 23-29 degrees from the perpendicular.

Courtesy Nace Brothers

The Nace Brothers
Space In Time

In Kansas City, we’ve depended on the Nace Brothers forever.