Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry

Dance Pop, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Industrial, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul, Techno, World Music No Comments »


Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album?  Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings/The Vic

Funk, R&B, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Soul songstress Sharon Jones’ latest tour is also a victory lap. After a tough battle with bile duct cancer sidelined an album release and tour plans in 2013, Jones returns this year with a clean bill of health and the release of “Give The People What They Want.” This is her first full tour with the Dap-Kings in two years. With more than thirty dates for the North American tour alone, Jones and the Dap-Kings are clearly making up for lost time after releasing a solid, unrepentant traditionalist R&B/funk album—and I mean that as a total compliment. “Give The People What They Want” features Daptone Records’ usual bold, wall-of-sound production fleshed out with groove-drenched songs like “Retreat!” and “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Daley/Lincoln Hall

Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »


Chicago welcomes back pop and R&B’s newest blue-eyed recruit, Daley. Born and raised in Manchester, England, the twenty-four-year-old has come up in the industry little by little in the past four years thanks to an unrelenting DIY philosophy. Donning one ridiculously top-heavy, modern-day pomp, perfectly pruned geometric facial hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, Daley looks especially eager for an audience. With this tour being the first to follow the release of his first-ever studio album (“Days & Nights”) who can blame him?

For Daley, a pursuit toward music came naturally and the recurring dream of signing with a major label began back in his teens. Locked away in his bedroom he’d write songs and lyrics channeling such predecessors as Prince, D’Angelo, Sade and Radiohead. When he was old enough, he left Manchester for London and began working his way into the underground urban music scene. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Spinning Strong: Getting to the Heart of Soul Togetherness USA

Chicago Artists, DJ, Festivals, Funk, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Whitney Ross

Photo: Whitney Ross

By Jessica Burg

The universal truth that music is best when shared remains unequivocal. For the last forty years, folks have traveled distances far and wide in pursuit of one of America’s original treasures, 1960s soul music. Over weekend-long parties they celebrate camaraderie, record trading, drinking (for some, not all) and most importantly, dancing till the wee hours of the morning. There are two standout characteristics to this little-known tradition, which has come to be known as a Northern Soul weekender. The first is that the songs they play aren’t the familiar standbys most often affiliated with the era—the Temptations or Otis Redding. The second is that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it going down on American soil. In fact, you’d have to make the stretch across the pond to England or another part of Europe. That was until Pilsen residents Kevin Jones and Brenda Hernandez held the first ever Soul Togetherness USA event in 2013. This year’s weekender incorporates four nights of free (that’s right, free!) local, national and international DJs, a record swap and Soul Serenade bus tour, making it the only bash of its kind in the States with the exception of Soul Trip USA, a European export. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sidewalk Chalk/Double Door

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul No Comments »


The Chicago-based octet Sidewalk Chalk is far from your ordinary hip-hop group. The band fuses soul and jazz with contemporary beats and insightful lyrics to create original songs and live performances that get even the most conservative of concert-goers on their feet. Their arrangements highlight what each of the band’s members bring to the table. Maggie Vagle (vocals) and Rico Sisney (MC) complement each other on stage as well as they do on tracks, matching energy and emotion note for note. Likewise, while Tyler Berg uses a drum set to keep time, Jumaane Taylor tap dances to add in rhythms and provide a unique flair to the band’s sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Otis Clay/Space

Blues, Chicago Artists, R&B, Soul No Comments »


oc-pressTracking down any Otis Clay recording and tossing it on the ol’ turntable is gonna yield a pretty distinct experience. During the sixties and seventies Clay flitted from imprint to imprint, cutting sides but only issuing a few albums. Sticking to the singles format enabled the singer, who was raised up through the ranks of gospel, to turn out a significant amount of work in secular and religious mode. Of course, after hitting Chicago, transplanting himself from Mississippi, the industrialized Midwest came to bear on his output. But heading back down South to record sides for Memphis-based Hi Records, the same label Al Green and Syl Johnson were connected with, resulted in Clay hooking up with the imprint’s rhythm section. And it’s on those sides—compiled for the 1972 “Trying to Live My Life Without You” and its follow-up “I Can’t Take It”—on which Clay distinguished himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Motown Christmas: Supremes’ Mary Wilson and Four Tops are Here for the Holidays

Holiday Music, Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »

By Dennis PolkowMaryWilson2011

Nearly fifty years after she became an international sensation as an original member of the Supremes, Mary Wilson still knows how to light up a room. As she hosted a cocktail party to talk about her upcoming holiday show, all heads were turning when she made a star’s entrance, complete with accessorized golden gown.

Wilson mingled and posed for photos before sitting down to talk about her long career. “It didn’t come easy,” says Wilson. “We had seven flops before catching on. The Marvelettes had five consecutive number-one hits and so [Motown president] Berry Gordy decided to put us with the same songwriting team.”

Originally formed as the Primettes in 1958 as a female version of the popular Detroit male-singing group the Primes, it was Wilson who recruited her classmate Diane Ross—who would be later called Diana at Gordy’s direction—to join what was originally a quartet, becoming a trio in 1961. Read the rest of this entry »

The United States of New Orleans: Allen Toussaint Makes American History

R&B, Soul No Comments »

By Kenneth PreskiAllen Toussaint & Barack Obama

In a moment of monumental historical import, this past summer President Obama slipped a National Medal of Arts around the neck of Allen Toussaint. Two centuries into America’s existence, the nation’s most prestigious artistic ceremony provided the backdrop for a scene of reckoning. The highest political authority in the land, a position formerly held by twelve different slave owners, was now embodied by an African-American for the very first time. President Obama warmly greeted his cultural counterpoint in Allen Toussaint, the epitome of the port city New Orleans, former epicenter of America’s slave trade.

Whereas the horrors of history would seem to have rendered the momentous encounter impossible, Toussaint offers some unique insight into the occasion, “Everything has its origin, and its birth. Just like the birth of a child, there’s really excruciating pain before the miracle happens, and then when the miracle happens, whatever pain that was, it was worth it all, whatever that seemed to have cost.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Slowbots/Old Town School of Folk Music

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, World Music No Comments »


There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Willis Earl Beal/Schubas

Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Folk, R&B, Singer-Songwriter, Soul No Comments »


When contemporary critics call art “outsider,” it is meant to refer to an artist who has learned outside of the reach of institutionalized instruction. Outsider artists tend to be self-taught, those who learn by doing, often marginalized for their lack of refinement. With luck, the rawness of the outsider artist becomes a tremendous asset, able to sharpen the focus of the expression by privileging the power of the message over the style of its messenger. To the listener, the insight is registered as a singular voice, a signature style. The challenge for artists of this ilk is to avoid becoming so outsider as to feel alien. Willis Earl Beal, for instance, was born in Chicago, but it doesn’t feel like he’s from anywhere at all. He’s signed to Britain’s XL Recordings, the same label that put out the latest Radiohead album. They released the final Gil Scott-Heron LP as well, a much better point of comparison for Beal’s work, whose sophomore effort “Nobody knows.” [sic] is a marked departure from the bedroom recordings and loose-leaf drawings that defined his initial approach. Read the rest of this entry »