Shane Reis: Reis & Shine

Shine on, you crazy rapper

The debut full-length from Shane Reis

Maybe you heard about Martin Manley. A long-time Kansas City sportswriter, he made the extraordinary decision to plan his own suicide 14 months in advance, all the while documenting his life on a web site that went live on the occasion of his death.

It’s interesting that he would at the same time wish to die and effectively live on forever in the annals of the Web, his every interest and familial detail articulated. He was at once documentarian and the guy who shuts off the lights at the end of the show.

There’s something similar going on in hip hop these days, as rappers increasingly create albums that document their interior monologue, hyper-personal introspections over R&B samples and bouncy snares. Further, there are often assurances that said rapper won’t forget his/her upbringing when the big-time hits, that the fire that forged the rapper in question is vital to the forward trajectory of the big hip-hop career and the music, itself.

In other words, you can’t know their music without knowing them.

Shane Reis goes so far as to ponder “what woulda happened if I had died this weekend” late in his debut full-length, Reis & Shine, a 17-track collection of indie-pop contemporary rap, with familiar nods to the soul and funk traditions. On “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” Kristina Kentigian, quickly becoming a studio pro’s pro and piling up credits on local albums (the hip-hop equivalent to a horn section with Ryan Zoidis and Dave Noyes), croons behind the first couple verses, then knocks out a beautifully executed sung verse of her own.

Like Manley and his web site, Reis declares his intentions bluntly, in a cadence like a more-deliberate Bread. “I got a lotta shit to say,” he informs us early on the title and opening track, keeping us up to speed on everything from his age (23) to his foibles: “Hear the people whispering, say I don’t belong.”

It’s not this reviewer’s place to psychoanalyze, but there’s certainly no shortage of fodder here for anyone who might like to take a swing. It’s like he’s lying on the couch laying himself bare.

Heck, in “Human Nature” we get the entire thought process behind whether he should be jealous of his significant other or not. Through one of the more progressive tracks, with back-step beats and an off-time piano cadence, he details the real reason why she decided to put her ring in her purse when out at the club: She didn’t want to lose it like he had done.

Maybe it will strike you as too intimate. Maybe you’ll relate.

The album as a whole is in some ways like De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2, which is more throwback-‘90s, but similarly delivers a consistent style of hip hop with every track, rather than mixing ballads and bangers or changing up vocal deliveries for effect. You might not have all the songs committed to memory, but every track is very listenable.

Nor do the guest spots by talented MCs like Spose, Lady Essence, Jay Caron and Syn the Shaman overpower their tracks. They mold their flows to Reis’ like a tasteful lead guitar solo.

Essence’s contribution to “Can Your Remember” is particularly sweet (as in: aw shucks), dueting with Reis on a chanted chorus that’s playful and catchy in rap harmony and then giving her side of her friendship with Reis, how the two of them related with their parents and the outside world when Eminem and others infected them while growing up with the need to MC.

Her mother read her rhymes and pronounced, “You need therapy.”

“At heart, we’re still the same kids,” Reis allows, and that’s the ultimate ingredient in making his music successful: It’s genuine. And there is a wonder about it that cuts through any bombast and boasts.

There’s a small part of Reis, maybe, that still doesn’t believe he’s made an album that you can pick up in Bull Moose or buy from iTunes just like “real” rappers. Which means he’s made it for all the right reasons.

Gypsy Tailwind: Grace

Better days

Gypsy Tailwind show power and Grace

Gypsy Tailwind have been a slow build. Though Halo Sessions was one of the best local albums of 2008, it seems no one really heard it until 2009, thanks largely to the radio success of “So Lonely,” a single whose melancholy bounce was heartbreakingly honest: “I’ll tell you a secret: I drank myself to sleep last night.” Their shows, too, have been measured out to increase anticipation and capitalize on opportunity. No one who wound a way down Market Street to the Big Easy after Ray LaMontagne’s Merrill Auditorium show [in June of 2009] was disappointed with Gypsy’s similar combination of roots and soul.

And they’re just getting started, really. Halo Sessions’ spare and measured arrangements weren’t necessarily by design. They were in some ways simply sketches by two vocalists, Dan Connor and Anna Lombard, who were trying to figure out just what kind of art they could make together. Over the past year they’ve decided they sound pretty great together, thanks, and they’ve collected themselves a band to fill things out: Max Cantlin (This Way) on guitar, Tyler Stanley (Sly-Chi) on keys, Colin Winsor (Jaye Drew and a Moving Train, Jason Spooner) on bass, Chris Dow (Band Beyond Description) on drums.

That done, Gypsy Tailwind re-entered the studio with Jonathan Wyman and produced Grace, released last week and celebrated with a show this Saturday at the Port City Music Hall. It is bigger and bolder and more true to the stage presence the band now evince, something akin to a modern-day Fleetwood Mac, if they’d been formed in Nashville instead of London, raised on Dylan and Emmylou Harris instead of John Spencer and Howlin’ Wolf.

If you’ve spent 100 listens with Halo, Grace will necessitate something of a recalibration, however. From the get-go, “Way to Here” opens with soaring minor-key strings (a four-piece section of Anna Maria Amoroso, Heather Kahill, Julie Anderson, and Tim Garrett), and though Connor’s voice is as velvet smooth as ever, when the full band enters it does so with a confidence of belonging. In fact, while Connor and Lombard trade verses, creating a narrative dynamic like you’re peeking in on an intimate conversation (“I’m going to grab the things I own and move away”; “With all my love I wish you were still here”), there are times where they aren’t the most important thing happening, and the finish is a 30-second play out of active cello and trilling strings that is wholly ignorant of them.

Remember Ray Lamontagne’s maturation with producer Ethan Johns? The difference between Old Crow Medicine Show before and after Don Was? This progression with the band is similar. It is more, but it’s also different from whatever that first blush was.

And it’s almost like they’re getting it out of the way in a hurry. The new album’s second track, “The Letter,” opens with a horn section (Rustic’s Ryan Zoidis and Dave Noyes, naturally, along with Mark Tipton, Joe Parra, and John Maclaine), for criminy’s sake, for a song that’s all lonesome-heart Lombard: “So here’s your letter/ I’m gonna sing it cuz it’s my way.” She’s definitely more aggressive throughout the album, at times projecting some major volume. She goes toe to toe with Cantlin’s throaty electric guitar in “Silver and Gold” without a petal wilted (and listen there for Bob Hamilton’s banjo — a great melancholy foil).

For the album’s heart, though, Lombard and Connor settle into comfortable territory. “Better Days” is a great complement to the first album’s “Long Drive Home from Baltimore,” with Connor getting out of the gate alongside slide guitar by trying to get out of San Francisco, and “the next flight out is Tuesday night/ I get my things and be polite … didn’t want to follow you.” Under three minutes, it’s a postcard of cautious optimism. Lombard, accompanied by an alternating organ, believes there will be better days, but Connor is “so scared of what my dreams say.”

“Barrel” is further stripped, a simple ballad that gets downright Jim James (a la his “Going to Acapulco” cover on the I’m Not There Soundtrack) in the finish as Lombard and Connor are personified by a trumpet and violin that wander off into a setting sun and fade to black. The lyrics are among the album’s best here, working to acknowledge the listener’s desire for the two voices to make like a short film: “We laughed about all the of the inside things/ We talked all night, till someone would drift to sleep/ Are you awake my dear?” At 3:40, it’s too short.

As is the album, I guess. The eight songs here make for a crisp package, but with the arrangements and production lending such a different feel to the band, I’d have liked to hear a couple new takes on the first set of songs, especially “Two and One.” Maybe as a bonus hidden track or something.

But it’s good to be kept wanting, and there certainly aren’t any throwaways here. “Madeline” is Connor’s best vocal turn, rising up in the register as his emotion carries him, and the trumpet-guitar handoff of the melody in the bridge is terrific. The Aimee Mann cover “Coming up Close” has Lombard more reserved, dispelling any worry she might be becoming a bit of a yeller: “We thought for once we really knew what was important.” And “The Last Song” has her doing pure pretty, crisp like Christine McVie doing “Over My Head.”

There’s talk of dueling solo albums and Connor is known as a prodigious songwriter, so don’t think this will have to tide you over for too long. If anything, this is just a taste of things to come.