During this time of year, music stores and their online counterparts get filled with rereleases that range from remastered versions of holiday classics from Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to not-so-great offerings from the likes of Christina Aguilera and even former Beatle Ringo Starr (who made a whole album about a decade ago). And then again there are those faux-humorous songs about daddy getting drunk at Christmas while grandma was run over by a reindeer. While some of these examples are genuinely enjoyable, many are better left where they belong—in the bargain bin.
But the truth remains that for many people a Christmas party is not quite complete without holiday music, so there definitely is always a market for these albums—even if we have been hearing them day in and day out at the local grocery store since late October. In spite of that sensory overload, some new
releases deserve to be checked out, especially for artists who decide to present these classics from a different perspective. Read the rest of this entry »
Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Minimalism, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music, World Music
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 »
- The Giving Tree Band/ Photo: Kevin Malella
By Eric Lutz
Back in 2008, The Giving Tree Band gave themselves a challenge: record a carbon-neutral album.
The group is very into the environment. Nature permeates all their songs. So this seemed like a natural–no pun intended–extension.
The Chicago-connected folk-rockers went up to Baraboo, Wisconsin, and set up a recording studio in the solar-powered Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. They worked exhausting twelve-hour days. They slept at a campground ten miles away, biking to and from the studio, eating vegetarian meals donated by a local farm. Flooding that summer brought record-level mosquitoes, as well as ticks. Recording took a month. Read the rest of this entry »
A small, sequestered cabin haunts Bon Iver’s eponymous second album. In a recent Pitchfork interview with Gregory Euclide, the artist behind the kaleidoscopic, dilapidated landscape on the release’s cover, he describes a moment of tension upon realizing he had unconsciously excavated imagery buried by frontman Justin Vernon in recent years. Euclide had painted a cabin, just below the center of the cover art. “I don’t know about that,” Vernon reportedly said.
His reluctance to embrace this history makes sense. The mythology of a solitary, dejected troubadour has become the stuff of legends—and endless satire—commonly overshadowing discussion of the music itself. Yet, while his second album may eschew the solitude of “For Emma, Forever Ago,” with an eight-piece band and pastiche nods to New Wave in “Beth/Rest,” it remains steeped in the slow, gorgeous folk endemic to the sound of Bon Iver’s original LP and EP. Expansion to a larger ensemble, if anything, has allowed Vernon greater latitude in toying with the ambient and listless texture-work of his Volcano Choir project. Melodies morph and strain against off-key synthesizers and off-signature percussion. Vernon’s husky vocals blend into buzzing saxophones. Still, the electronic experimentation never sounds like ornamentation. After all, when Bon Iver first debuted, taking the risk of auto-tuning in “Woods” and “The Wolves (Acts I and II)” earned Vernon some of his most emotionally mesmerizing moments. Similarly, the ambient textural work on “Holocene” makes it his most astounding composition to date. (Michael Gillis)
July 24 at The Chicago Theatre, 175 North State, (312)745-3000, 7:30pm. $35.
Band dynamics are tough to lock down. When musicians find others that click, they tend to stick together. Leave it to Ten-Speed, a trio of dedicated artists playing experimental rock with folk tendencies, to be spokesmen for this ideal.
The band, a duo in 2006, featured Nick Alvarez on drums and Isaac Pierce on vocals and guitar; their bass player was a gutted Lowry organ’s pedals rewired by Pierce. “At best it felt so immediate and flexible,” says Pierce. “I think it sounded like it was about to fall apart,” he jokes. This unlikely bassist lasted them more than a hundred gigs. Then while recording their 2008 album “Firewater Pinhole Camera,” the recording engineer Mike Thompson offered to sit in and fill the missing piece in their rhythm section. Thompson’s presence provided a less-chaotic energy, a hard feat joining Ten-Speed’s unspoken and unconventional timing. “That concept of ‘beautiful accidents’ is something we later tried to really focus on in a more structured, repeatable way as a three-piece,” says Thompson. It appeared to work. “We’re so happy to nail these solid songs as a trio,” says Alvarez. Read the rest of this entry »
“Try to Sleep,” off Low’s 2011 album “C’mon,” is a renovation—not a revolution—of their traditionally gorgeous sound. It still features the mainstays of the slowcore style they helped to found eighteen years ago: minimalist arrangements, lush vocal harmonies and tumbling percussion. But there’s also a new openness, almost a warmth, to the song’s bass and tapping glockenspiel as they pound in over a meandering synth. Throughout their career, Low has eschewed the expected, which is why more straightforward songs like “Try to Sleep” and “$20” are a welcome surprise. After several albums of experimentation, “C’mon,” recorded in a converted Catholic cathedral, was a return to form, featuring a lighter incarnation of their earlier sound. For a band known to turn down their own volume in noisy venues to frustrate listeners, this is good news for fans.
While Glen Hansard’s musical chops may be more visible in the Dublin-based The Frames, his dynamic voice—both an innocent bleat and a roar at times—are more than enough to engross during a solo show. This goes doubly since he emerged from the casual indie folk of his first album with Markéta Irglová into the more soulful, Van Morrison-inspired offerings of their 2009 follow-up “Strict Joy.” Americans might be drawn to him for his past role in “Once,” but his authentic, emotional engagement with music more than overshadows it. (Mike Gillis)
June 27 at Millenium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, North Michigan & East Randolph. 6:30pm. Free.
Photo: Michael Wilson
New York-based Jenny Scheinman is a multifaceted musician. A fiddle player since an early age, she got the attention of critics and fellow musicians alike after the release of her 2011 “Live At Yoshi’s.” She has since performed with the likes of jazz guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and even Lou Reed.
She recently discovered her singing voice as a folk-rock singer, and her career took a completely different direction. On her 2008 self-titled album (which features Frisell, co-producer Tony Scherr and drummer Steve Jordan), she sounds like a cross between the vocal fluidity of Joan Baez and the pop sensibilities of Edie Brickell and Sheryl Crow all wrapped into one on tunes such as “Come on Down” and the soft ballad “I Was Young When I Left Home.”
On her current tour that stops at Old Town School of Folk Music, she will be opening for legendary folk singer Bruce Cockburn and later joining his band as a side woman. Expect plenty of improvisation and a great vibe from both sets. (Ernest Barteldes)
May 22 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000, 7pm. $40.
Since beginning his career on Mush Records, Aesop Rock’s become one of the avowed left-fielders to be embraced by what we’d all understand as indie audiences. Remaining a unique if not prolific act, this MC’s name is still a draw. And a strong enough one to headline a weird bill.
What makes this particular show intriguing is that sandwiched between two MCs is Kimya Dawson, who people should know from the Moldy Peaches, but probably better recall her solo contributions to the “Juno” soundtrack. Either way, setting up a singer armed with folksy intentions to perform for a crowd prepared for rap stuffs points at what creative relationships should be. Aurally, there’s really no connection here. A creative impulse to express personal ideas, stories and probably a bit of political/social thought solders these performers together.
Opening the show is a lesser-known Def Jux affiliate. Rob Sonic’s two long-playing albums—2004’s “Telicatessen” or 2007’s “Sabotage Gigante”—didn’t gain traction at the time of their respective releases. Issued through El-P’s imprint and including production from the label honcho, Sonic’s efforts seemed to have suffered as a result of being on a roster with artists releasing music consistently—so consistently, Def Jux ceased functioning as a label due to financial concerns. You can only release so much average fare before the bills catch up to you. Ranking as a good MC among a litany of talented performers doomed Sonic to exist in the underground’s nether-regions. Being paired with Aesop, who hasn’t released anything ultimately engaging since the instrumental project he was commissioned by Nike to concoct, the two rappers share a similar cadence, if not the same sort of vocal rapidity necessary to leave audiences wide-eyed and surprised. (Dave Cantor)
May 19 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2508. 9pm. $18. 18+.
When British guitar innovator John Martyn unexpectedly died as a result of pneumonia in January 2009, he left behind unfinished recordings for an album he’d been working on with the help of collaborators like keyboardist Jim Tullio and drummer Phil Collins. So it was up to Tullio (alongside co-producer Gary Pollitt) to finish the job, and the results are quite impressive.
The disc opens with “Heel of The Hunt,” a bass-heavy funk-blues, featuring Collins singing backup to Martyn’s growly vocals, that sets the tone for the entire record. The record blends guitar-driven British blues with folk-inspired moments and soft ballads like the title track—which features Gary Foote on tenor saxophone, who responds to Martyn’s vocals with impressive licks. Also worth checking out is “Bad Company,” a gospel-influenced rocker with Martyn’s trademark guitar grooves, a great Memphis-like horn section and a fantastic female vocal trio that complements the leader’s voice with great gusto.
Tullio and Pollitt did fantastic work polishing Martyn’s final opus—a testament to his great talent, which went beyond the excesses that might have claimed him far too soon. (Ernest Barteldes)
“Heaven and Earth”
(Hole in the Rain)
Soul fans must have been scratching their heads when Brit singer Adele announced that she’d picked Amos Lee to be her supporting act during her American tour. What they missed is that Lee does have a strong soul connection in his music, though he bends genres like the best of them. Those in doubt should check out his latest release, “Mission Bell” (Blue Note). Alongside his more folky material (and duets with living legends Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams), many tunes flirt with Gospel and blues, such as the touching “Jesus” and the heartbreaking “Hello Again.”
Upon its release, Mission Bell zoomed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts—a feat that few folk singers can achieve these days. In the meantime, his music was featured in TV shows and an AT&T commercial, and some young artists have followed his lead and used some of his material as part of the “American Idol” contests. With the Adele tour coming up, be sure to catch this former schoolteacher before he becomes too big for the smaller venues he’s been appearing in lately. (Ernest Barteldes)
March 26 at The Vic Theatre, 3145 North Sheffield, (773)472-0449, 7:30pm. Sold out.