Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Eternal” by Jamie O’Neal

Alt-Country, Country, Country folk, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDjo_eternal_cdcvr_final

Australian-born country singer Jamie O’Neal has had a pretty difficult relationship with Nashville labels since she arrived on the scene in 2000. Over the years, she has signed and parted ways with several of them, including Mercury and Capitol, until she decided to follow the independent route and start her own label, Momentum Label Group.

“Eternal” is a strong album, which brings together original songs alongside a handful of covers. Among those is a straightforward version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” a tune that was a hit for fellow Aussie Olivia Newton-John on her debut album and that was also covered by several other artists, including Elvis Presley and Gladys Knight. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Conor Oberst with Dawes/Metro

Alt-Country, Emo, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Rock No Comments »

 

Conor Oberst 2Conor Oberst has miraculously survived the era of Bright Eyes despite the morose songs he wrote during his stint as the King of Emo. Oberst’s groups since the project have adopted a more western-folk influence, beginning with the aptly titled Monsters of Folk. He has also toured and recorded with the Mystic Valley Band, embracing the influence of an angrier Neil Young, and producing a full, clean, Americana sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Justin Townes Earle/Concord Music Hall

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

RECOMMENDEDEarle

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 »

Molina’s Memorial: Fellow Musicians Mourn their Fallen Bandleader with Tribute Tour

Alt-Country, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Rock No Comments »
Photo by Will Claytor

Photo: Will Claytor

By Dave Cantor

Jason Evans Groth handles a winding road headed out of the West Virginia mountains.

The freeway twists past seemingly endless trees as the guitarist discusses his tenure in Jason Molina’s Magnolia Electric Co., a group as mercurial as its frontman, spurning players and welcoming new voices when its leader felt it a necessity. Evans Groth remembers his friend—Molina died March 16, 2013, reportedly from complications related to alcoholism—as a talker. Someone who was capable of worldwide friendliness, but who was also an intensely emotional guy. People didn’t drift away from Molina; he just had shit to tend to and split. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: Putumayo Presents “Acoustic America” and “American Playground”

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Record Reviews, Vocal Music No Comments »

acoustic_america_chimp_0 RECOMMENDED

There is some great American music out there, but you just do not hear it on Top 40 stations. It’s a world where Justin Bieber or Katy Perry have zero significance—it is the world of American acoustic music that you can only hear on local stations or maybe on NPR if you are so inclined. This is the music played by folksy types you sometimes hear in coffeehouses, but it really is the roots of what we call “Americana.”

Two new collections from Putumayo explore this often-ignored music, which ranges from folk, bluegrass and country-folk to zydeco. On “Acoustic America,” well-known classics mix with original songs—highlights include Clay Cumbie’s gorgeous “Here’s to The Journey,” an ode to the open road and the joys of traveling and Red Horse’s take on “Wayfaring Stranger.” Also notable are Guy Davis’ downtempo “Everything is Gonna Be All Right,” (whose lyrics actually suggest otherwise) and the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee’s acoustic blues “I Was Born With The Blues.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Flatlanders/Mayne Stage

Alt-Country, Country No Comments »

flatlandersRECOMMENDED

Two or three great musicians get together after their fame is at its peak and form a supergroup: old story. Three great musicians get together as unknowns, record amazing songs that do not get released, then go on to outstanding solo careers while their early work gradually acquires legendary status: new story. The Flatlanders were formed in Lubbock, Texas back in 1972 by then-unknowns Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. They recorded what twenty years later would come out as “More A Legend Than A Band,” but everything was shelved back then and went unreleased as they went their separate, solo ways. Gilmore took a long hippy trip in an ashram before becoming an Austin legend, Ely somehow hooked up with Joe Strummer and collaborated a bit with The Clash, and Hancock just kept at the progressive country thing, gaining a reputation as one of the premier songwriters of our time. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Crystal Bowersox/Evanston Space

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Blues, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Meg Bitton

Photo: Meg Bitton

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“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 »

Preview: James McMurtry/Park West

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Listening to “We Can’t Make It Here” from the 2005 album “Childish Things” immediately makes you respect James McMurtry: his lyrics are a direct indictment of the hypocrisies of the right and also of big-box discount stores like Walmart who encourage companies to ship jobs overseas in order to reduce costs to their customers.

The son of novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, McMurtry has been part of the folk-rock scene since John Mellencamp produced his debut “Too Long in the Wasteland” back in 1989. He has since collaborated with the likes of John Prine and Dwight Yoakam (in the “supergroup” Buzzin’ Cousins) and has regularly recorded and toured with his backing band, the Heartless Bastards—though the band is no longer billed in that manner because of confusion with the Ohio-based band of the same name. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Old Crow Medicine Show/Riviera

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Country folk No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Whether Old Crow Medicine Show would be an engaging group of players without a blueprint laid out by the best country and string-band players isn’t an easy call. The ensemble has done everything it can to recreate the past, going so far as to pull in producer Don Was for collaboration. But issuing five discs’ worth of high-test tunes in just about a decade is no mean feat. 2008’s “Tennessee Pusher” even reads like an album’s worth of songs lazily telling a story about hawking drugs in the South, using I-65 as its main drag. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Handsome Family/Mayne Stage

Alt-Country, Chicago Artists No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Wherever the Handsome Family are, it seems to be raining. Or something unfortunate’s happening. Digging around in Americana’s attic, folks usually notice all the odd occurrence—fights, unfaithful spouses, murders, inexplicable religious events—but Brett and Rennie Sparks seem to have taken it all in stride and worked to mold a precise update of decades-old music. Read the rest of this entry »