103. WALKENHORST & PORTER, 7/1/09

Location: The Record Bar, Kansas City
In the Company of: Chris

Bob Walkenhorst and Jeff Porter have been playing Wednesday night gigs at KC’s Record Bar for several years now. They finally decided to collaborate on an album entitled No Abandon (Bat Records). To put a label on this creation is another story altogether. Some may hear folk-rock; others may say it drifts into country. The beautiful melodies and sharp musicianship override any attempt to categorize this music.

You may remember the 80s/90s band the Rainmakers. Walkenhorst was the lead singer, chief songwriter, and master storyteller of that group. The band enjoyed partial success in the U.S. and much more in Europe. They made Rolling Stone magazine, appeared on MTV, reached the charts, and even snuck into a couple Steven King novels. Some of the freshest and most inspired rock songs came from the Rainmakers, including “Let My People Go-Go,” “Downstream,” “Small Circles,” “Spend It On Love,” and “Skin.” Some fans argue that the Rainmakers’ sound is the definition of Rock and Roll. But despite a huge fan following and thousands of records sold, the band would disband and go their separate ways.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the CD release party for “No Abandon.” This is not the most upbeat selection of songs, but rather an attempt by the songwriters to take a look back as well as a look forward. As most middle-agers do, the singers are evaluating and reevaluating their lives – personally and professionally. The result is a wonderful snapshot that is easily accessible to the listener. Walkenhorst’s soulful vocals paint a vivid picture while Porter’s voice is the perfect complement. Walkenhorst and Porter were joined on drums by former Rainmakers drummer Pat Tomek, along with bassist Norm Dahlor from the excellent Celtic rock band the Elders.

In the title track, it seems Walkenhorst has decided to dispense with the thoughts and dreams of younger days and move forward (“I’ll settle down in No Abandon / After years of running hard / I will lay down my youth’s illusions / I will surrender pride’s rewards”). On the alluring “Silver Lake,” mortality is addressed (“Loons on the silver lake cannot stop laughing / At how seriously I take my own brief passing / My own brief passing”).

In “Broken Radio,” the boys get all countrified as Walkenhorst sings, “All the songs I sing are sad ones / Expectations of me are all bad ones / I couldn’t have less to live up to if I tried.” And on Porter’s “Jimmy Lee,” he tells the story of his real life uncle who also was a singer and who had to relinquish those dreams of his past (“Are you singing about a promise you made when you were young? / Jimmy that’s a song that everybody’s sung”).

After playing one of the album’s more introspective songs, Walkenhorst exclaimed, “Most bands would now play an upbeat song. This is not that album.” The Record Bar was packed with fans that seemed to adore each and every tune. After playing several from the new release, the band dove headfirst into some of the Rainmakers’ greatest concoctions: “Downstream,” The Wages Of Sin,” “The Width Of A Line,” “Small Circles,” “Spend It On Love,” “Information,” “One More Summer,” “Reckoning Day,” and “Hoo Dee Hoo.” Two additional songs (“Life Can Turn” and “Jan Vermeer”) were played from Walkenhorst’s 2003 solo release “The Beginner” (Bat).

As the evening progressed, the tempo, volume, and heat cranked up considerably. This had evolved into a special night that most will not soon forget. Mark Twain and Harry Truman would be proud.

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