Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Still Spinning Strong: Getting to the Heart of Soul Togetherness USA

Chicago Artists, DJ, Festivals, Funk, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Whitney Ross

Photo: Whitney Ross

By Jessica Burg

The universal truth that music is best when shared remains unequivocal. For the last forty years, folks have traveled distances far and wide in pursuit of one of America’s original treasures, 1960s soul music. Over weekend-long parties they celebrate camaraderie, record trading, drinking (for some, not all) and most importantly, dancing till the wee hours of the morning. There are two standout characteristics to this little-known tradition, which has come to be known as a Northern Soul weekender. The first is that the songs they play aren’t the familiar standbys most often affiliated with the era—the Temptations or Otis Redding. The second is that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it going down on American soil. In fact, you’d have to make the stretch across the pond to England or another part of Europe. That was until Pilsen residents Kevin Jones and Brenda Hernandez held the first ever Soul Togetherness USA event in 2013. This year’s weekender incorporates four nights of free (that’s right, free!) local, national and international DJs, a record swap and Soul Serenade bus tour, making it the only bash of its kind in the States with the exception of Soul Trip USA, a European export. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Moonrises/Hideout

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Psychedelic No Comments »


Steve Krakow is an impossible figure to miss in the Chicago psych scene. Operating under the alias Plastic Crimewave, Krakow has served as writer, illustrator and radio personality for his explorations into the “Secret History of Chicago Music,” while juggling his time as a prolific musician and booking agent for the Million Tongues Festival and the Chicago Psych Fest. The latter is now in its fifth year, with the three-day affair offering a Friday feature in Moonrises, a group of moonlighting musicians that includes Krakow’s manic guitar playing laid atop the formidable free-jazz drumming of Tiger Hatchery’s Ben Billington, and nuzzled against the throb of Libby Ramer’s organ. Read the rest of this entry »

Walking Wide: Ryley Walker’s Guitar Revival

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Folk No Comments »

By Kenneth PreskiRyley1

Had Ryley Walker pursued any other art form, say painting for instance, “The West Wind” would have been met with universal acclaim, a minor masterpiece announcing the arrival of an immense talent promising a tremendous wealth of future creative output. That Walker’s dedication to formalism yielded a recording indistinguishable from the sixties British folk it pays homage to is remarkable not only for its achievement of authenticity, but for its singularity at this historical moment. No other artist in Chicago or anywhere else offers an accurate comparison for Walker’s unique voice and playing style, a commitment to a time and place far removed from his peers, an unmistakable presence that transcends music scenes littered with land-mines laid by careerists in the name of contemporary cool. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Justin Townes Earle/Concord Music Hall

Alt-Country, Festivals, Folk-rock No Comments »


Easy tasks tend to lose value. Perhaps this is why the artistic legacy begetting Justin Townes Earle lacks luster among those seeking to place his work—it takes little skill to connect the dots of his lineage. One cannot escape mention of his father Steve Earle, nor his father’s mentor Townes Van Zandt. In turn, Van Zandt credited Lightnin’ Hopkins with a definitive influence on his guitar technique, while for Hopkins a chance encounter with Blind Lemon Jefferson forever altered his outlook on the blues. Thus through the output of Justin Townes Earle, listeners embrace a heritage that extends deep into the heart of American expression, spanning an entire century from the earliest blues to contemporary country, tracing the Mississippi River and its tributaries from Houston to Memphis and back again. It was wise then for the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival to place Earle’s performance at the center of their programming. His presence evokes a certain timelessness, his lanky stature replete with stomp-ready boots the perfect echo for his steel-tinged voice, a hoarse timbre that owes as much to tradition as it does to drug use. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

By Kenneth Preski

Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.

“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”

Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »

Bridge Builder: Celebrating Jazz Composer William Russo for his Eclecticism and Influence

Big Band, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »

By Dennis PolkowWilliam Russo

Columbia College is honoring its first-ever full-time faculty member and the legendary founder of its music department, the late William Russo, with a two-day festival called “Celebrating William Russo: Artist & Educator.”

A Chicago native, Russo’s influence and legacy must be measured in decades and across genres and disciplines. Having studied with pianist Lennie Tristano as a boy, Russo was composing music of his own as a teenager and soon leading jazz bands.

Although Russo joined Stan Kenton’s forty-piece Innovations Orchestra as a trombonist in the early 1950s, he ushered in a pioneering style of orchestral jazz as arranger and composer for that ensemble that remains unparalleled.

Iconic Russo works such as “23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West” and “Frank Speaking”—both of which will be performed as part of a December 7 concert of Russo’s works at the Jazz Showcase—spotlight Russo’s fascination with cross-fertilizing multiple forms.

“People may not realize how much of a surprising and interesting influence Bill has been on American music,” assesses bluesman Corky Siegel, himself one who loves to bridge musical worlds, and who considers Russo his mentor in doing so. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Hyde Park Jazz Festival

Big Band, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »
Dee Alexander, Photo by Jim Newberry

Dee Alexander/Photo: Jim Newberry


High expectations for a festival in the neighborhood where the current President of the United States makes his home is a given. That the festival actually delivers on these expectations is quite remarkable, especially since there are no truly big names scheduled to perform. Instead, the focus is sharply attuned to the local free jazz scene. Perhaps the support of the festival’s lead and founding sponsor, the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, had an impact on the amount of research done to cater such an excellent set of Chicago musicians. Now in their seventh year, the festival opens with a panel devoted to the legendary Sun Ra, whose earliest Chicago performances often took place in the now defunct Club DeLisa nestled in the far less affluent, adjacent Washington Park neighborhood. To be sure, the University has done much to market to a broad range of Chicagoans, hence the importance of the inclusion of the DuSable Museum, and Little Black Pearl in Kenwood as venues for performances. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Slowbots/Old Town School of Folk Music

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, World Music No Comments »


There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »

Guttural Rhythms: The Science of Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Reggae 1 Comment »

By Dave Cantor

09.20 Ted Sirota @ wrld music fest

Photo: Michael Jackson

Honing in on sounds drawn from Jamaica invariably abut America’s jazz tradition. Drummer Ted Sirota’s more than vaguely familiar with both. But his estrangement from reggae and dub didn’t occur because of lacking fealty. The drummer just found himself more easily insinuated into jazz ensembles.

“I’m rediscovering the whole thing,” Sirota says of Chicago’s Jamaican music scene, after spending the better part of the last two decades working in jazz mode across the city, including a regular date at the Green Mill as Sabertooth’s backbone.

Earlier in his career, the percussionist did time in David Byrd’s ensemble, which at one point included a former Black Uhuru guitarist. Other well-known guests weren’t too uncommon, either.

“Sometimes we’d play gigs where Hamid Drake would do percussion,” Sirota says. “He’d bring a djembe, and I’d play drums—we’d switch off a little.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Riot Fest/Humboldt Park

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Emo, Festivals, Hardcore, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Punk, Rap, Rock No Comments »


Thirteen concurrent thoughts that afflict the bystander of a bus advertisement featuring this year’s Riot Fest lineup: I had no idea The Replacements got back together. Can you imagine how many kids will be singing along to Fall Out Boy and Blink-182? Can you imagine how many of their parents will be singing along to the Violent Femmes? Even without Kim Deal, I don’t think I can see the Pixies enough. What I wouldn’t do to see Debbie Harry duet with Danzig. It’s possible that Guided By Voices have written enough songs for at least one to appeal to every single person on the planet. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy may be the greatest reality television star who ever lived. One of the two Black Flag reunion bands is playing, and so is X, making this one of the best punk shows of the year. If you substitute Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in their place, the same can be said about emo. In fact, local pop punk bands popular in the 1990s are so well represented by the likes of Screeching Weasel, Smoking Popes, The Broadways and The Lawrence Arms, as to lend the festival an air of well-honed sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »