Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: Downright R&B, Upright Art Rock

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Funk, Indie Rock, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

The new album by local soul outfit The Congregation is called “Record Collection,” which is exactly perfect, because every single cut sounds like something you had teetering in a waist-high stack of forty-fives in your bedroom circa 1972. (At least, if you’re as old as I am, you did.) The first, eponymous cut lays it all out: “You only love me for my record collection / You say you never felt a deeper connection / Nothing gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax / Without the record spinnin’ would you like it like that?” I found myself actually picturing the Motown and Stax platter labels while I was listening—Atlantic, Epic and Mercury too.

This is about the point in a review where I usually say something about how the band in question brings a twenty-first century sensibility to an antique genre by a strategic infusion of self-aware blah blah blah. None of that here. The fact is, early seventies soul, funk and R&B form, collectively, such a staggering body of work that when people say they’re approaching it from a post-something-or-other perspective, it usually means they just can’t goddamn play as well as those old cats. But The Congregation is completely unafraid to meet the legends on level ground, without the protective cover of ironic distance—and even if they didn’t get points for sheer swagger, they’d get it for delivering the goods. This is a great album. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Strayhorn Fringe Festival/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

Strayhorn-finalRECOMMENDED

This is Billy Strayhorn’s centenary, and it’s been heartening to see so much attention paid to a songwriter whose gifts are almost in inverse proportion to his fame—i.e. the former stratospheric, the latter microscopic. Part of the problem is that Strayhorn is so closely associated with Duke Ellington, who was one of the more flamboyantly extrovert of the past century’s geniuses. Another part is that Strayhorn himself was quite happy to reside in Ellington’s shadow. The result is that today people are surprised to learn that tunes indelibly associated with Ellington—such as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”—are in fact Strayhorn’s compositions. It’s hard for us to think of them in a new way; they’re so bonded to our DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Jazz, R&B, Soul, World Music No Comments »
Ty&JQ

Typhanie Monique, JQ

RECOMMENDED

It makes perfect sense to book a band into a theater—at least when the band is Booty Movement Coalition (affectionately known by aficionados as BMC) and the theater is the Mission at the new iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic). If you expand the concept of improv beyond stand-up and sketch comedy to encompass all the live arts, you end up with a much wider performance palette; and that appears to be the Mission’s mission, as they’ve committed to an ongoing series of music Mondays. BMC, for its part, has the distinction of being a ten-to-fourteen-member band which since its founding in 2009 has never given the same performance twice—because every single note is improvised, on the spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ed Motta/Mayne Stage

Funk, Neo-soul, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, World Music No Comments »

EdMottaRECOMMENDED

When Ed Motta began his career in the late eighties, critics and listeners were quick to compare his vocal style and his blend of funk, soul and Brazilian grooves with that of the late Tim Maia, one of the pioneers of the genre. That was no coincidence, after all he is Maia’s nephew–but his music evolved greatly from those early days with his Conexão Japeri band. Over the decades, he has collaborated with musicians as diverse as jazz greats Roy Ayers and Ivan Lins, fellow Rio-born songwriter Seu Jorge, and soul legend Chaka Khan, to name a few. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Neneh Cherry/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Funk, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

It requires very little effort to fall deeply in love with Neneh Cherry when she’s performing on stage. Cherry’s complete dedication to delighting her audience was the saving grace of her second-ever performance in the United States (the first since 1992), as the gentlemen of RocketNumberNine were pushed to their maximum efforts, battling electronic failure and, one suspects, jet-lag in equal measure. No matter, Cherry was an absolute delight, playing cuts off her latest, and yes, closing with “Buffalo Stance,” albeit a version with subdued instrumentation. The set blossomed more than it banged, the crowd allowing easy access to the closer spots near the front, as much of the audience began picnicking in preparation for Sharon Van Etten on the adjacent stage. Yet there’s simply no denying Cherry’s infectious presence, her unflinching embrace of an unmatched exuberance; it had me almost wishing that she would do the entire set a cappella. If this turns out to be Cherry’s last ever performance in the United States, I’d still somehow feel satisfied. (Kenneth Preski)

Record Review: “From Brazil to New Orleans” by Charlie Dennard

Forró, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music 1 Comment »

RECOMMENDEDFBTNO_cover

“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »

Chef’s Special: A New Course from Kelis

Funk, Interviews, Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Laurent Levy

Photo: Laurent Levy

By Kenneth Preski

The best way to understand an artist is to meet them on their own terms, something that’s exceedingly difficult to do with Kelis, a musician who’s made a career out of defying definition. Check her track record: “Caught Out There” in 1999, “Milkshake” in 2003, “Bossy” in 2006, “Acapella” in 2010—a decade worth of hits to undermine any criticisms about her artistic vision. These songs resonate because of Kelis’ exceptional ability to layer vocal harmonies with a shifting timbre; striking a delicate balance between hard and soft, the opposing textures of her voice veering whichever way the mood shifts. Kelis has used the technique to create songs that are spiritual and sexual in equal measure, standout track “Floyd” off of her latest album “Food” emphasizing her skill in the endeavor, a heavenly refrain about being blown away. Through her music, Kelis is both sacred and profane in a world that can’t get enough of either. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings/The Vic

Funk, R&B, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Soul songstress Sharon Jones’ latest tour is also a victory lap. After a tough battle with bile duct cancer sidelined an album release and tour plans in 2013, Jones returns this year with a clean bill of health and the release of “Give The People What They Want.” This is her first full tour with the Dap-Kings in two years. With more than thirty dates for the North American tour alone, Jones and the Dap-Kings are clearly making up for lost time after releasing a solid, unrepentant traditionalist R&B/funk album—and I mean that as a total compliment. “Give The People What They Want” features Daptone Records’ usual bold, wall-of-sound production fleshed out with groove-drenched songs like “Retreat!” and “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” Read the rest of this entry »

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: Maceo Parker/SPACE

Funk No Comments »
Photo: Stefan Malzkorn

Photo: Stefan Malzkorn

RECOMMENDED

Walk up to anyone and ask them to play the word-association game: the game where you say a word and they blurt out the very first thing that comes to mind. Say the word “funky,” and more than likely their response will be “James Brown,” “Horns,” “Chicken” or “Funkadelic.” And while there really is no right or wrong answer in a game designed to observe the human thought process, a better response arguably would have been “Maceo,” the first name of the player synonymous with the head bopping sounds of his funky alto sax. Tried and true, Maceo Parker is the funkiest horn player to have risen from the dawn of funk music. He has played with both James Brown, cutting a total of twelve albums with the Godfather of Soul including “Sex Machine,” and adhered to various syndicates of the first family of funk, Parliament-Funkadelic, for a total of ten albums including “Mothership Connection.” He first joined James Brown in 1964, and from then on was an integral player in defining and fostering funk’s sound. It’s even been written that between Maceo Parker and funk music it’s hard to discern which one came before the other—a living, breathing, chicken-or-egg paradox. Read the rest of this entry »