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Tobias Picker/Photo: Harry Heleotis
By Dennis Polkow
“I bristle at being called an opera composer,” says Tobias Picker, whose “Thérèse Raquin” runs at Chicago Opera Theater this month. “There are composers today and in the past who basically only write operas: Verdi and Puccini, that’s mainly what they did, and Wagner, too. It doesn’t apply to me because the majority of music that I write is not opera.
“Right now, I’m writing a Concerto for Orchestra for the Kennedy Center for the National Symphony. Between my last two operas I wrote a new string quartet, my second, a new piano quintet and a ballet. And I wrote some piano music and some other things I don’t remember… The operas are the biggest art form so they get the most attention and notice because they incorporate every other art form. But my orchestral tone poem ‘Old and Lost Rivers’ is more famous, more performed and more known than any opera I ever wrote.” Read the rest of this entry »
Louis CK has said that this is the age of the artist-entrepreneur, and he might have said it about Meagan Hickman. An incredibly driven Chicago singer-songwriter, Hickman partially funded her second album, “Sightlines,” through an Indiegogo campaign, and is now supporting it with highly polished behind-the-scenes videos on her YouTube channel. Fortunately, her artistic energy is equally supercharged; “Sightlines” is an explosion of talent, its eleven tunes ranging stylistically from a straight-ahead rock anthem (the fantastic opener, “Seize the Day”) to sweetly twangy country-pop (“Not That Girl”); there’s even an R&B ballad (“Time Moves On”) that Aretha could’ve recorded (and what the hell, might yet). Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Michael Mabbo
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Mirah came through Chicago last night to support her fifth full-length album, “Changing Light,” which finds the singer dealing with a breakup with a resigned and older awareness, and yet still wandering and pondering.
Mirah’s albums have always had ups and downs. Some songs seem to meander around without a central point, and seem, at least on first listen, a little light on variety and depth. But when she hits the mark, it’s magical. She chose her setlist well, performing the strongest songs from the new album. Her backing band, playing drums (live and synthetic), violin, keyboards, guitar, and bass, made the most of the quiet-loud juxtapositions, and the dark, spare spaces that mark her best material. Read the rest of this entry »
Despite the presence of a seductively strummed acoustic guitar paired with the flair of Dixieland jazz clarinet and piano, Greg Ashley’s latest is anything but easy listening. “Another Generation of Slaves” confronts the listener on the bleakest terms imaginable, and the battleground is lyricism laced with acerbic, existential posturing and pondering. Couplets like “Bow down to the Western world a slave is born, / embrace your complacency it’s your uniform,” from “Medication #7″ would sound just as at home on a crust punk record as they do here, and that’s what makes this recording so remarkable. Ashley clearly understands that the singer-songwriter craft has little to do with conjuring mediocre melodies for their own sake, and focuses much of his attention on spitting lines that bite and growl with all the energy of a feral dog. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Zia Anger
Since the budding stages of her career, back when she used to play acoustic sets at quiet St. Louis coffeehouses as a teen, Angel Olsen has been most comfortable doing things by herself. Yet the addition of drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist/keyboardist Stewart Bronaugh to her latest LP “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” succeeds not only as a small triumph marking the formation of Olsen’s first-ever and very own band, but also as an amplifier for the trembling sense of nakedness usually drawn from the unsettling poetry of her lyrics.
Olsen’s sophomore album was released just a couple months ago. It is her first on the folk friendly label Jagjaguwar and follows her previous solo endeavors; an EP titled “Strange Cacti” (2011) recorded in a kitchen, and her debut studio album “Half Way Home” (2012), as well as several collaborative works. Much like the title suggests, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” delves into themes of solitude and the void one feels and the questions one becomes acquainted with when love dies in a state of misunderstanding. Versed in a style that morphs between 1950s country and the dream-like stanzas of Leonard Cohen, Olsen sings with a range that crisscrosses from a delicate indie-fied Loretta Lynn to an indomitable PJ Harvey. Read the rest of this entry »