Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Made to Love Him: Celebrating Love” by Nhojj

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Vocal Music 1 Comment »

RECOMMENDEDnhojj_M2LH_COVER_LARGE

On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”

The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Crystal Bowersox/Evanston Space

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Blues, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Meg Bitton

Photo: Meg Bitton

RECOMMENDED

“American Idol” might have brought us talent like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and then-unappreciated Jennifer Hudson, but there were many other promising artists who ended up vanishing even if they did well on the show. While some flamed out soon and wound up playing minor parts in off-Broadway shows, some used the exposure to create a niche audience and build a solid career once the cameras were turned off.

An example of this is Ohio-born Crystal Bowersox, who was runner-up during the show’s ninth season (defeated by Chicago’s Lee DeWyze) in 2010. Signed to Jive Records that year, she released “Farmer’s Daughter,” and despite positive reviews and reasonable sales, she was dropped after RCA disbanded her label. She has since signed with indie label Shanachie Records (which also includes Ruben Studdard—another “Idol” veteran—in its roster) and is in the works to put out her sophomore album “All That For This” under the production of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Running Still” by Charlie Winston

Alt-Rock, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

winstoncoverartRECOMMENDED

While musicians, labels and the media in America brand and rebrand music to fit some kind of niche audience, our brothers and sisters across the pond just go ahead and bring everything together to make the best music they can from the influences they hear.

One of the most recent examples of this is British singer-songwriter Charlie Winston, who has a penchant for blending funk, soul and the classical music he was initially trained in. If you are thinking “Here comes another Freddie Mercury,” that would not be a bad comparison, but Winston is not in any way associated with glam rock. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Freelance Whales/Lincoln Hall

Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Minimalism, New Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Who says busking on the New York City subway (or any mass transit platform where you can be heard) has no future? It was there that Queens-based Freelance Whales honed their skills playing folksy electronic music with unusual instruments (glockenspiel, banjos, xylophone) until they became indie-music darlings after the release of their debut “Weathervanes” back in 2009.

The band’s name comes from the band members’ perception that everyone in New York is a freelancer in one way or another (not sure if the folks down on Wall Street would agree with that). Their releases have been well received both by critics and fans, and some of their tunes have appeared in TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chuck” and “Skins.” Their music seems a bit minimalist—drums are played with brushes, and their arrangements are both creative and subtle, which allows vocalist (and main songwriter) Judah Dadone to comfortably convey his message without having to scream over the sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The dBs/The Hideout

Alt-Rock, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

Photo: Daniel Coston.

RECOMMENDED

The history of the dBs sounds almost like a rock ‘n’ roll movie: the band forms in the late seventies, makes some great recordings that are well received by critics but that fail to reach a larger audience. They put out a few more albums with some lineup changes and then ultimately break up after a few years, and the former members move on to make music on their own. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nhojj/Center on Halsted

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, R&B, Reggae, Soul, World Music No Comments »

Photo: Rod Patrick Risbrook

RECOMMENDED

This Guyana born, Chicago-based singer-songwriter is an artist of many facets. Though his music is heavily inspired by neo-soul, he also draws inspiration from the sounds from his native country and the Caribbean. For instance, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and the activist “The Gay Warrior” song have a reggae-like flavor, while “I Like That” could be described as an American soul tune with a Latin vibe.

His approach toward music focuses on the music first: “Usually I start with a track, and then I develop the melody and the words that belong to the song,” he explained in a telephone interview. “If it feels sad, happy, encouraging or like a love song, I feel like songs are alive. I think I’m more in tune with this stage of music—I’m listening more to what the music tells me instead of trying to force things.”

Nhojj is also very vocal in his activism on gay rights and bullying. He believes that acceptance toward alternative lifestyles (he is openly gay) is a slow process, but that is how things are sometimes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Paloma Faith/Martyrs’

Alt-Rock, Electronic/Dance, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, R&B, Soul, Vocal Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

On her debut US release “Fall to Grace” (Epic), British-born singer/actress/songwriter Paloma Faith brings an eclectic mix of songs that show influence from Amy Winehouse and Duffy mixed with her own personality. A handful of songs are clearly meant for the dance floor, such as the neosoul-inspired “Let Me Down Easy” and especially the retro-sounding “Blood Sweat and Tears.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: School of Seven Bells/Lincoln Hall

Electronic/Dance, Indie Pop No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

School of Seven Bells sounds like the cover for their last release, “Ghostory,” looks: It features a woman with a delicate olive complexion and dark eyes wearing an impossibly ornate veil, with incandescent glowing rings behind her in an eerie display of light and beauty. Those almond eyes stare directly ahead—not dead, necessarily, more like gone—and her lips, seemingly blank at first, show hints of a smile upon further examination. She is in an environment that seems both sterile and warm, pearly grey, and the image is at the same time tantalizing and softly unsettling. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Grandkids/Subterranean Lounge

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Indie Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Champaign-Urbana’s Grandkids know a thing or two about a thing or two, but they’re less-than-likely to tell you about it. That is because the self-described “humblecore” band, consisting of Vivian McConnell, Evan Metz, Adam Gorcowski and Phil Sudderberg, would rather let their music do the talking. Starting February 16, the foursome will mosey about the Midwest for a tour in brief, spanning St. Louis to Indy, Champaign to Chicago’s own Subterranean Lounge for their final show (for now). Despite the name, the group appears mature beyond their years, pumping out catchy words and enchanting vocalizations all laid over a dreamlike, mostly guitar-driven soundscape. It’s ideal rainy day music—or, when nature deems it too cold, music to accompany a dwindling winter. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lotus/Congress Theater

Electronic/Dance, Folktronica, Indie Pop, Jam Band, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Don’t expect this electronic jam band to just come in and do its thing when it appears onstage. In addition to the elaborate lighting it ordinarily uses, Lotus (Mike Greenfield, drums; Jesse Miller, bass and sampler; Luke Miller, guitar, keys; Mike Rempel, guitar; Chuck Morris, percussion) often thinks expansively when choosing how and what to play. Read the rest of this entry »