Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Renée Fleming Reaches Out From Opera, Blind Boys Modernize Their Message

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Rock, Vocal Music No Comments »
Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

By Dennis Polkow

It’s a busy holiday season for the “People’s Diva,” Renée Fleming: not only has the soprano released her first-ever Christmas album, “Christmas in New York” (Decca), but PBS has produced a television special on the making of the album. As if that weren’t enough, Fleming sang at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is opening a new production of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve, with Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis at the podium.

Christmas itself, however, Fleming admits, will remain a family affair. “My whole family sings like crazy,” says Fleming. “When we decorate the tree, my daughters and I have a major impromptu scat-singing festival.” It’s this spirit that informs the eclectic approach of “Christmas in New York,” on which Fleming performs with guest artists Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Botti, Brad Mehldau, Rufus Wainwright and Chicago jazz singer Kurt Elling.

For those expecting a killer rendition of “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” think again. “That was my expectation as well,” laughs Fleming. “I just assumed when I would finally do a Christmas album, it would be that Karajan-Vienna Philharmonic-Leontyne Price template. But this came together in a different way and Universal had a different idea about it.

“I stayed away from carols for the most part, except for ‘Stille, Stille, Stille.’ I also went to my collaborators and said, ‘What would you like to do?’ I took their lead in many cases. Since this took about nine months to really finish up, I worried for a while about it coming together in a way that would make it feel like a whole, but it did. There was enough variety on it to enable it to have that sense of different things coming together.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Power Pop from My My My, Purring Swing from Rose Colella

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

By Robert Rodi

mymymy-tigersonthedancefloor

Let a hundred-thousand critics give their thoughts on My My My and there’s still one phrase you’ll never read: “stripped-down.” On the night I most recently saw them (November 21 at Double Door, the release party for their new album, “Tigers On the Dance Floor”) there were nine performers on the stage. Their sound—beautifully reproduced on the album—features complex rhythms, multilayered harmonies and a thick synth frosting; yet there’s nothing bloated or mannered or self-conscious about it. This is downright muscular pop music: driven, delirious and out for a goddamn good time.

The band is fronted by two vocalists, Russell Baylin and Sarah Snow, who also write all the lyrics. The music itself is a collaborative effort on the part of the entire group, which includes Ante Gelo on guitar and string synth, Jake Bartolone on bass and Moog, John Sorensen on drums, and John Szymanski on keys and percussion. The only members who don’t seem to do double duty are the backup vocalists, a.k.a. The Peoples, unless you count looking lethally glam while they sing as double duty.

Baylin and Snow are a great match: he growls, she howls, and in their solo numbers their sheer sonic majesty makes you stand up and take notice. But when they duet (as in “Sirens of Soft Persuasion”) they can lift you right off the floor and dangle you there. The tunes are incredibly polished and stuffed with so many hooks they’re like harmonic velcro. A few of them—like “Bleeding” and “When We Kiss”—perform that rarest feat of pop alchemy: sounding utterly fresh and yet also giving you the impression you’ve known and loved them for years—that they’re already bonded to your DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Matthew Santos/Schubas Tavern

Folk-rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
In Studio Mabbo-3

Photo: Michael Mabbo

RECOMMENDED

Whether playing solo or with a band, Matthew Santos has a way of capturing an audience’s attention. His soulful voice and acoustic singer-songwriter roots often fill the intimate settings where he tends to perform with good vibes from the first note to the final encore. The Minneapolis native first gained popularity with his contributions to numerous Lupe Fiasco tracks, including the Grammy-nominated single “Superstar,” but his repertoire runs the musical gamut. His recordings generally have an indie-rock/folk feel, with hints of alternative and soul thrown in for good measure. His performances are no different. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Never Mind CMJ, Get Your Buzz Right Here

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Psych pop, Punk, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
Melkbelly

Melkbelly

Every year from late October to early November I suffer from a condition I call “CMJ Envy.” I spend all my time reading blogs and articles about the burgeoning bands and rising artists taking the stage at New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon, and I wonder why Chicago can’t have similar events headlining new music. But in fact we do have something as cool; it happens every week in bars and small venues all across the city. But our regular music showcases don’t get nearly the attendance and press attention that big sexy events like CMJ get year after year. Part of that is on us, as live-music fans; we need to make the effort to show up and support local and touring bands before the critical buzz starts. With that in mind, here are some upcoming music events that are not only a good excuse to leave the house in the coming weeks, but also way more interesting than reading other people’s blog posts about the “next big thing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Tune-Yards/The Vic

Indie Pop No Comments »

tuneyards_2

RECOMMENDED

Tune-Yards gets a bad rap at times because multi-instrumentalist/mastermind Merrill Garbus has such an off-the-wall stage presence and technicolor style that discussion of the music sometimes gets lost in favor of Garbus’ performance and bold persona. Tune-Yards’ latest release, “Nikki-Nack,” was a level up for Garbus and Tune-Yards, taking what could have easily been a garbled musical mess—a combination of afro-beat drums, R & B, and nonsense children’s rhymes all topped off with a glossy pop sheen—and making it not only a cohesive whole, but a compelling musical statement and a confidently realized signature sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Banks/Metro

R&B, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

banks-650-430

RECOMMENDED

We’re in the age of single-named indie-pop chanteuses (i.e. Lorde, Kimbra). But L.A.-based singer-songwriter Banks (full name Jillian Banks) was a relatively unanticipated addition to the indie music buzz bin back in 2013 with her nineties trip-hop-influenced single “Before I Ever Met You.” Now on the heels of her debut release, “Goddess,” she’s garnering more comparisons, this time to indie R&B acts like The Weeknd. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Christopher Owens/Park West

Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Girls frontman Christopher Owens is releasing his second solo album, “A New Testament,” on September 29. A product of the Children of God cult, this graceful gender-bending San Francisco songwriter penned irresistible rock ‘n’ roll songs that moved between tender folk, hazy, thick guitar solos and peeping, unassuming vocals with Girls before releasing his first solo album, “Lysandre,” in 2013. “Lysandre” was a completely acoustic project that was hard to digest, but is full of beautiful songwriting and a universal narrative that is true to Owens’ form. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Pomplamoose/Lincoln Hall

Pop No Comments »

pomplamoose

RECOMMENDED

San Francisco multi-instrumental duo Pomplamoose is an acquired taste, depending on your interest in adorable lo-fi jazz-pop. They’re best known for their YouTube series where they do inventive, split-screen covers and mashups of the latest pop hits (ex. Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”) and for their earworm holiday commercials for Hyundai back in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Steely Dan/The Venue at Horseshoe Casino

Pop, Rock No Comments »

Steely DanRECOMMENDED

“Dad Rock” doesn’t feel like a compliment until the label’s slapped onto Steely Dan. When your adolescent flame flickers off as you get a real job, pay real rent and all, your brain becomes more rational. And it tells you this, in its new wisdom: you’ve been taking Steely Dan for granted, all along. Pops in his gaudy sweatpants shimmying along to their borderline-muzaky tones gave them a bad look, but only until you were smart enough to know what’s really cool. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Los Lonely Boys/Thalia Hall

Alt-Rock, Latin, Pop, Rock, Tejano, World Music No Comments »

loslonelyboys_photo1RECOMMENDED

As one of the few Latin-bred rock bands to make it into the mainstream rock scene, the three siblings of this power trio sure have made strides. On one of their first major tours, they teamed up with legendary Mexican-American band Los Lobos—with bassist Jojo Garza pulling double duty by performing in both bands, who would come together at the end of every set for an extended jam. Read the rest of this entry »