Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Speedy Ortiz/Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock No Comments »


With plenty of nods to Pavement and other nineties alt-rock greats, the Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz stakes out its own territory on the merit of its whip-smart lyrics and eschewing of self-seriousness. The band self-identifies as part of the “snack rock” genre, and the quartet’s LiveJournal (the very existence of which is a bit offbeat) documents their life on the road with each post featuring a “pup of the day.” Put together, this might be the perfect setup for an eye-roll, if not for Sadie Dupuis’ knack for poetic songwriting and Speedy Ortiz’s gleefully wandering arrangements heavy on distortion but anchored by catchy, knotty hooks. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Riot Fest/Humboldt Park

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Emo, Festivals, Hardcore, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Punk, Rap, Rock No Comments »


Thirteen concurrent thoughts that afflict the bystander of a bus advertisement featuring this year’s Riot Fest lineup: I had no idea The Replacements got back together. Can you imagine how many kids will be singing along to Fall Out Boy and Blink-182? Can you imagine how many of their parents will be singing along to the Violent Femmes? Even without Kim Deal, I don’t think I can see the Pixies enough. What I wouldn’t do to see Debbie Harry duet with Danzig. It’s possible that Guided By Voices have written enough songs for at least one to appeal to every single person on the planet. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy may be the greatest reality television star who ever lived. One of the two Black Flag reunion bands is playing, and so is X, making this one of the best punk shows of the year. If you substitute Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in their place, the same can be said about emo. In fact, local pop punk bands popular in the 1990s are so well represented by the likes of Screeching Weasel, Smoking Popes, The Broadways and The Lawrence Arms, as to lend the festival an air of well-honed sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Putumayo Presents: Women of Brazil”

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Singer-Songwriter, World Music No Comments »


Those who expected this compilation to feature the likes of Marisa Monte, Gal Costa or even newer names like Bebel Gilberto or Cibelle will be disappointed at first—this release contains none of their songs. Instead, we are presented with few names ever heard Stateside save for Luisa Maita or Mart’nalia, who have regularly toured in the US. The disc opens with Italy-based Nossa Alma Canta’s “Bossanova,” a tune that remembers the Brazilian movement that swept the world with the help of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.  The tune name recalls many familiar hits like “Wave,” “Desafinado” while playing snippets of familiar tunes via instrumental interludes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alice Russell/Township

Alt-Rock, Dance Pop, Pop, R&B, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


In 2008, British soul singer Alice Russell caught the attention of critics and fans alike with her catchy “Got The Hunger” the lead single from her US debut, “Pot of Gold” (Six Degrees, 2008). She seemed to tag along with her country’s embrace of young female singers like the late Amy Winehouse and Adele, who capture the essence of American  soul and use it in their own way—apparently drawing more inspiration from Motown than more current stuff made here.

On her new record, “To Dust,” Russell goes further by incorporating gospel sounds and more organic instrumentation instead of the previous disc’s predominantly electronic sounds. For instance, “A to Z,” is a powerful guitar-driven tune with smart vocals and a very catchy groove. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Cuatro Tigres” by Chicha Libre

Alt-Rock, Chicha, Cumbia, Latin, Pop, Record Reviews, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »


Brooklyn-based Chicha Libre started out playing covers of obscure psychedelic songs from Peru, and on this four-song EP they come full circle with a collection of inventive takes on pop tunes reimagined into the chichi format, starting with a very personal take on the “Simpsons” that expands on the TV version by adding some improvisation and a more danceable beat. They recreate Love’s classically inspired “Alone Again Or,” as a song innovated by featuring a mariachi band in the middle section, something quite uncommon in the late sixties. They also pay tribute with “Guns of Brixton” and also include “Chicha Rica,” a song that I could not trace but I am sure comes from bandleader Olivier Conan’s treasure trove. 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


“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 »


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: The dBs/The Hideout

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

Photo: Daniel Coston.


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 »

The Laugh Garage: The English Softhearts Return After a Ten-Year Break

Alt-Rock No Comments »

The English Softhearts have taken a ten-year hiatus, but they return gracing crowds with their unique brand of garage rock meets stand-up comedy. The Softhearts began in 1997 in the suburb of River Grove when the independent music scene looked a bit different than it does today. The core of the unit is the creative duo Marc “Bubblebath” Arcuri (drums, vocals) and Rich “Salamander” Szczepanski (guitar). Szczepanski oddly states the band’s name is “Echo & The Bunnymen described in laymen’s terms.”

They returned last spring to find the music scene a bit different then they left it. Back then they played the River Grove VFW Hall, Szczepanski’s attic, and the now-defunct Fireside Bowl, where Szczepanski worked under the production company MPShows. “The Fireside was the total culmination of everyone’s hopes and dreams for a better Chicago,” says Szczepanski. “We will always carry what Fireside Bowl meant to all of us. What a scene needs more than anything is a place to flourish, and it’s tough. My hope and dream for Chicago is to know it can still do it again.” With the Fireside gone, the band has endured, fitting in on bills at bars like the Burlington and Cole’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alex Cuba/City Winery

Alt-Rock, Funk, Latin, Pop, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Canada-based Cuban Alex Cuba has been building a strong following in the Latin alternative and indie crowd with his mix of funk, soul and Cuban beats. The fact that he is a gifted performer with great charisma doesn’t hurt, either. Early on, he participated in showcases like the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar, and he was able to engage audiences and get them to sing along with him almost immediately—even if that was the first time anyone in the room had heard the song. Read the rest of this entry »