Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: State-of-the-Art Genre Bending from Two Chicago Acts

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Pop, Pop Punk, Rock No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

Marrow calls its new album “The Gold Standard,” which for sheer chutzpah just about jumps the shark; maybe it’s a surly old music-critic thing, but my knee-jerk reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that, children.” But in fact I was won over; I wouldn’t quite call “The Gold Standard” the gold standard, but given the way the band seems intent on synthesizing the various genres of their callow youth into something entirely distinctive, they’re probably inventing some new kind of currency anyway. Singer-songwriters Macie Stewart (who plays keys) and Liam Kazar (guitar) are ably abetted by bassist Lane Beckstrom and drummer Matt Carroll. The album’s opener, “She Chose You,” is a pretty sweet introduction to the quartet; it’s jangly and infectious, one of those gorgeously up-tempo tunes about misery and heartache that are the hallmark of postwar pop. “Toll to train underwater / Selfish savage, try to dream her happy,” Kazar sings, with the kind of white-boy-catch-in-the-throat Kurt Cobain added to the rock singer’s repertoire, especially when he follows up by actually groaning, “Without you,” like he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a song or something. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Eternal” by Jamie O’Neal

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


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 »

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 »

Preview: James McMurtry/Park West

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


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 »


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 »

Record Review: “For The Good Times” by The Little Willies

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Country folk, Genre, Record Reviews No Comments »

On the new release by the Little Willies, the New York-based country music (!) group formed by Norah Jones (piano, vocals), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals), Jim Campilongo (guitar), Lee Alexander (bass) and Dan Rieser (drums), the group tackles a selection of old classics made famous by the likes of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and others.

Among the notable tracks is “Tommy Rockwood,” an instrumental by Campilongo that is the sole original tune on the disc. The tune is mostly guitar-oriented with a country-rock vibe, but there is a smart Norah Jones solo that proves that she does have the chops to back up the acclaim some jazz snobs say is undeserved. Also very good is the cover of Parton’s classic “Jolene,” played here more organically than the original. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Collector’s Edition Box Set” by Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings

Blues, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »


When Bill Wyman left the Rolling Stones in 1992, fans of the septuagenarian bassist thought he would simply retire and concentrate on Sticky Fingers, his United States-themed cafe (according to Keith Richards’ best-selling autobiography) and his signature metal detector. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He has kept quite busy with his Rhythm Kings, a band he founded in 1998 with longtime musical partner Terry Taylor. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Live from The Old Town School”

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Minimalism, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


The Old Town School of Folk Music has been the stage for countless performances for its half-century existence, hosting concerts that run the gamut from Americana to folk-rock and world music and in the meantime giving lesser-known artists a chance to showcase their talents to appreciative audiences that might not be reached otherwise.

To celebrate this, the school is releasing a four-disc box set of recordings made during these shows—some made on the sound board and others captured during radio broadcasts. The full package includes as many as 127 songs that had to be individually cleared with each artist or their estates. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Pistolera/Mayne Stage

Alt-Rock, Country folk, Latin, World Music No Comments »

Photo: M Sharkey


Listening to Brooklyn-based alt-Latin band Pistolera (“female gunslinger”) you’d think they hail from the north of Mexico. Their sound is strongly influenced by “corrido,” a fast-paced, syncopated beat with lyrics about  various issues—heartbreak, social issues and, more recently, the tension involving immigration to the United States. That influence can be felt in songs like “Cazador,” a protest song about the Minutemen vigilantes on the Mexico-US border, and the very danceable “Policia.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jerry Douglas with Alison Krauss/Chicago Theatre

Bluegrass, Country, Country folk No Comments »


The number of people Jerry Douglas has played with is pretty much incalculable—although Del McCoury, a one-time compatriot, is set to perform at the Old Town School of Folk this week. Appearing on a steady stream of albums since the sixties, this Ohio-born dobro player has spent the better part of the last decade and change lending a hand to Alison Krauss in her backing group. The singer, who hails from Decatur, has counted innumerable accolades over time. And while Krauss’ vocals and acumen on fiddle are undeniable, the company she keeps isn’t too shabby either. Read the rest of this entry »