Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Lila Downs/House of Blues

Cumbia, Latin, Regional Mexican, Son, Tejano, World Music No Comments »


The first time I saw Lila Downs was about a decade ago, when she was participating in a Latin American-themed evening and she shared the bill with a Brazilian singer. She was still riding the wave of exposure brought on by her participation in the 2002 movie “Frida,” in which she played an unnamed singer whose tunes wove key elements of the plot together up to the very end, when she was joined by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso for the Academy Award-nominated “Burn It Blue.”

On that show, she came on stage playing a two-sided drum that set the pace for the set, which exuded energy from beginning to end, and I was hooked. Her strong voice and charisma on stage had me from the first song, and I have been following her music ever since. During her sets, she always celebrates her heritage, often including songs in regional Mexican dialects alongside original and traditional Mexican tunes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Quest for Brown-Eyed Soul: Bringing San Antonio’s Westside Sound to the Midwest

Regional Mexican, Soul No Comments »

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf Indiana Jones were a vinyl junkie he’d carry a portable turntable instead of a whip and stop at nothing in his quest for that single-most-desired glossy black platter with its circling grooves. Imagine him, if you will, standing between a wilting ceiling and a floor littered with records, dark and stinking with the decay of years sitting abandoned in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. Or at the back of an unmarked bodega in a New York borough, having nobly solved the mystery to its secret whereabouts. Truth is, these adventures do belong to someone, only he goes by the name Rambo.

Thirty-two-year-old Minneapolis-based DJ Rambo Salinas has been building his record collection for the last third of his life. While other vinyl enthusiasts base their compendium on quantity, bragging rights or market value, Rambo is in pursuit of a greater mission. His quest began with the decision to focus on collecting Chicano Soul and Sweet Soul Lowrider rolas—genres from San Antonio and Los Angeles, unknown to most, aside from the generation of Mexican-American baby boomers. His own South Texas-Chicano background is just half the motivation. The other is simply to share the music and provide the rest of us with a sense of the time, place and culture from which Brown-Eyed Soul was conceived by way of his guerrilla compilation titled “Lone Star Soul Vol. 1.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Vincente Fernandez/Allstate Arena

Regional Mexican, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Although this Mexican ranchera singer might not be a household name stateside, he is dubbed “The Sinatra of Rancheras” back home. In celebration of his longtime career, which has earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in addition to numerous Grammy Awards, his label has released “The Living Legend” (Sony/BMG), a three-disc box set that contains a comprehensive collection of his works both for longtime fans and newbies alike. Fernandez’s music sings of the beauties of his land, women and heartbreaks such as “Mares de Tristeza” (Seas of Sadness), whose lyrics detail having his heart torn from his chest due to a love that is gone. “Guadalajara,” on the other hand, is a cheerful tune about the singer’s native land, which he says he “will never forget.” Other songs are all about getting drunk into oblivion in order to forget doomed love affairs, such as “La Misma” (The Same) and “El Derrotado” (The Loser). Other themes include love won and lost—tunes like “Amar Y Vivir” (To Love and To Live) hails the importance of loving in a man’s life, doing so “without regrets—you only live once.” Read the rest of this entry »