Tracking down any Otis Clay recording and tossing it on the ol’ turntable is gonna yield a pretty distinct experience. During the sixties and seventies Clay flitted from imprint to imprint, cutting sides but only issuing a few albums. Sticking to the singles format enabled the singer, who was raised up through the ranks of gospel, to turn out a significant amount of work in secular and religious mode. Of course, after hitting Chicago, transplanting himself from Mississippi, the industrialized Midwest came to bear on his output. But heading back down South to record sides for Memphis-based Hi Records, the same label Al Green and Syl Johnson were connected with, resulted in Clay hooking up with the imprint’s rhythm section. And it’s on those sides—compiled for the 1972 “Trying to Live My Life Without You” and its follow-up “I Can’t Take It”—on which Clay distinguished himself. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The most common revelation upon hearing Bill Orcutt play is that the acoustic guitar has never sounded this way before. Backwoods blues at such a frenetic pace is nowhere to be found in the history of recorded music. Orcutt turns improvisation into instant songwriting. One can hear him struggling to work out the melody in his own voice, note by note, guided by a phantom precision lasting milliseconds, before the moan from his four-string guitar or his throat greets the listener with the force of a fire truck; the sound of which whirls by in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That’s Orcutt calling from a distance, sitting alone in a wooden windowed room, minimal recording equipment by his side as he rails out the new American songbook.
The approach coalesced on this year’s “A History of Every One,” Orcutt’s take on the hackneyed songs of yore. “White Christmas” and “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” are among the tunes showcased, chosen by the artist to juxtapose two competing threads in American popular culture: bourgeois privilege and the legacy of slavery. Side A closes with the aforementioned “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time as sung by perennial crooner Bing Crosby; and Side B opens with “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” a 1946 Oscar-winning tune from Disney’s “Song of the South,” a film steeped in enough racial controversy to prevent the corporation from ever releasing it on home media. Read the rest of this entry »
By Mark Roelof Eleveld
Irish singer-songwriter and rocker Paul Brady has been doing it well for almost half a century. “Chicago is a very educated crowd, they know their music,” says Brady about his November 1 show at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music with local stalwart John Condron opening. Brady says that the blues played a large part of his set when he was younger. “I have about eighty percent of my solo set down when I get there, and depending on the audience, perhaps some of the Irish tunes, or maybe some old blues; there is always this ‘bleeding noise’ from my past songs saying, ‘hey, what about us?’”
Brady’s catalog is substantial. With more than fourteen albums, including his most recent double-CD compilation “Dancer In The Fire–A Paul Brady Anthology,” Brady’s style is hard to pigeonhole. From Northern Ireland, he is one of the island’s most enduring contemporary musicians. Fellow Irishman Bono of U2 offered that Brady is, “The iron fist in the velvet glove of Irish music,” and no less than Bob Dylan revealed, “Some guys got it down, Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou Reed, secret heroes.” Read the rest of this entry »
Clockwise from left: Andy Cohen, Tim Midyett, Brian Orchard, and Chris Manfrin.
By Kenneth Preski
“The only reason Bottomless Pit exists is because Michael died.”
From the impetus for creativity in the face of insularity, to the soft underbelly of Steve Albini’s legacy, a conversation with Tim Midyett eight years since his hiatus from interviews offers a remarkable entry point for insight into contemporary American artistic expression; though it is clear that the discussion about his post-Silkworm work with Bottomless Pit can only begin one way, and that’s by confronting the death of former bandmate Michael Dahlquist. A few months shy of his fortieth birthday, Silkworm drummer Dahlquist was one of three musicians killed while idling at an intersection in Skokie. Their vehicle was struck by a Ford Mustang traveling 90mph down West Dempster around noon on a Thursday, the wheel helmed by a suicidal twenty-three-year-old woman. Her only injury was a broken ankle. She was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, later reduced to reckless homicide by reason of insanity. She spent four years in prison for the crime.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say about that, but I had a lot to say about it, and I wanted it to be real specific, and exactly the way I wanted to say it. All that stuff came out in our records.” Read the rest of this entry »
“La Voce Toa” is among the best songs of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s, and it happens to be the sole English-language tune on their 2012 album “Pizzica Indiavolata.” The vocal belongs to Piers Faccini, an English singer-songwriter who is currently touring the United States in support of “Between Dogs and Wolves,” his second release via San Francisco-based indie label Six Degrees.
Faccini’s style is a mix of folk, blues and acoustic rock with a heavy African influence and a dab of jam-band feel. But don’t expect him to get lost in endless guitar riffs during his performances. In fact, when playing Stateside he travels lightly, accompanied only by his own guitar and a percussionist, which allows fans to focus on his voice. His heartfelt delivery has a laid-back feel, and his reflexive lyrics set him apart from today’s shoegazing singer-songwriters. Read the rest of this entry »
When contemporary critics call art “outsider,” it is meant to refer to an artist who has learned outside of the reach of institutionalized instruction. Outsider artists tend to be self-taught, those who learn by doing, often marginalized for their lack of refinement. With luck, the rawness of the outsider artist becomes a tremendous asset, able to sharpen the focus of the expression by privileging the power of the message over the style of its messenger. To the listener, the insight is registered as a singular voice, a signature style. The challenge for artists of this ilk is to avoid becoming so outsider as to feel alien. Willis Earl Beal, for instance, was born in Chicago, but it doesn’t feel like he’s from anywhere at all. He’s signed to Britain’s XL Recordings, the same label that put out the latest Radiohead album. They released the final Gil Scott-Heron LP as well, a much better point of comparison for Beal’s work, whose sophomore effort “Nobody knows.” [sic] is a marked departure from the bedroom recordings and loose-leaf drawings that defined his initial approach. Read the rest of this entry »
There is so much you can say by keeping things simple, and acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh does so on “HandPicked” (Heads Up), in which he goes through a selection of covers and originals with nothing but his own instrument and a few guests. There is no band or any other form of accompaniment; it is refreshing to hear these songs played in such a stripped-down manner. Sol Lake’s “More and More Amor” is played as a bossa, focusing on the intricate chords of the genre, while Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” is reinvented for the guitar. Read the rest of this entry »
As the best-known proponent of the sacred steel, despite becoming a bit more secular than the church-going set might like, Robert Randolph stamping his name on anything warrants a bit of attention. With or without his blessing, the Slide Brothers would have pursued a music with tendrils slinking back to the 1930s and Pentecostals’ enthusiastic proclamations on its self-titled 2013 disc. Comprising Aubrey Ghent, Calvin Cooke and Chuck and Darick Campbell, the Slide Brothers rave up the most unholy devotional music since blues began. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Meg Bitton
“American Idol” might have brought us talent like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and then-unappreciated Jennifer Hudson, but there were many other promising artists who ended up vanishing even if they did well on the show. While some flamed out soon and wound up playing minor parts in off-Broadway shows, some used the exposure to create a niche audience and build a solid career once the cameras were turned off.
An example of this is Ohio-born Crystal Bowersox, who was runner-up during the show’s ninth season (defeated by Chicago’s Lee DeWyze) in 2010. Signed to Jive Records that year, she released “Farmer’s Daughter,” and despite positive reviews and reasonable sales, she was dropped after RCA disbanded her label. She has since signed with indie label Shanachie Records (which also includes Ruben Studdard—another “Idol” veteran—in its roster) and is in the works to put out her sophomore album “All That For This” under the production of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. Read the rest of this entry »