By Robert Rodi
There are few musicians more fondly remembered in Chicago than tenor sax giant Von Freeman, who died in 2012. So when Freeman’s son, Chico, also a sax man, and brother George, a celebrated guitarist, came together to record for the first time, it was hard to avoid invoking Von’s memory… especially since they chose to call the album “All In the Family.” (Titling one of the cuts “Vonski” didn’t help, either.) But beyond the nod to their late relative’s legacy, the two surviving Freemans manage to make the music entirely their own. Comprising all-original compositions (with the exception of the haunting standard “Angel Eyes,” plus a smattering of very short improvised pieces that serve almost as amuse-bouches between the more substantial tunes), “All In the Family” plays like an intergenerational conversation between George’s burnished, impeccable guitar and Chico’s deft and energetic sax. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago singer-songwriter Lili K. first galvanized me with the debut single off her new album, “Ruby.” The tune—“Tommy”—is such a polished, pitch-perfect soul ballad, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it had come out in the seventies. “I got a man, he’s as sweet as pecan pie,” the singer croons seductively at the outset, against a backdrop of sultry trumpets; and by the bridge (which will get in your brain so deep major surgery may be required to remove it), she’s enlisted a trio of backup singers to help declaim the super-fineness of her guy (“Tommy / You’re like a book of poetry / Tommy / Your words alone excite me / Tommy / Don’t you ever let go of me”). It wasn’t till I saw the video that I got Lili K.’s utterly modern playfulness. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago continued its dominance over new music last week as Preston Oshita, better known to the world as Towkio of the SaveMoney hip-hop collective, unveiled his highly anticipated “.Wav Theory” project to the world. Part of the group that brought us Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper, Towkio here steps out with a talented, genre-bending release that comes packed with local intonations while looking optimistically outward, as the world opens up for the young artist. Formerly know locally as Tokyo Shawn, Towkio has always been the outlying presence in a collective that boasts some diagonal personalities. A former quarterback at Lane Tech High School, he’s been a leader for a new school of fashion-forward rhymesayers who have paced the Chicago scene. “.Wav Theory” is his magnum opus—at least to this point in his career. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
Haley Fohr is very young—just twenty-five—but she sounds like some ancient oracle. Her rich, resonant female baritone has a lower range that rumbles ominously, like plate tectonics, and an upper that’s so dizzyingly perched, it can induce vertigo. On pure vocal fireworks alone, the new album by her brainchild, Circuit des Yeux, is a galvanizing listen; but it’s got much more than that going for it. Less a collection of songs than a trek across her sonic headspace, “In Plain Speech” is a remarkable document of a budding composer’s development. And lest that come off as condescending, let me just add that she’s already leagues ahead of many singer-songwriters twice her age. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
It’s hard to imagine it now, but a mere fifty years ago there were very few singer-songwriters beyond the folk milieu. Bob Dylan was still a relatively new phenomenon, and he not only owned the genre, he pretty much was the genre. These days, of course, you can’t swing a dead cat without thwacking half a dozen guitar-slinging bards (while Dylan, go figure, is covering Sinatra). On any given night, in clubs and pubs across America, countless brave-hearted balladeers climb atop stools and compete for the attention of the congenitally inattentive. And people say stand-up comedy is rough; try breaking through the noise of a bar in full clamor when you’re warbling about your last big breakup.
But, here’s the thing: a lot of these troubadours are pretty freaking fine. And in Chicago, I’m happy to report, we’ve got more than our fair share of them. A pair of recent releases prove my point: they’re both melodically original and lyrically ingenious, yet each one is a standout original.
Little Dave Merriman has long been a fixture on the scene, chiefly as a guitarist and vocalist for The Arrivals. “Odd Bird” is his first solo album—and when I say solo, I’m being almost entirely literal. He not only wrote all the tunes, he plays nearly every instrument as well. And these aren’t breathy, spare arrangements either; they’re full-throttle rock-band material—the better to support Merriman’s raggedly bravura, another-whiskey-will-kill-me-but-so-what vocals. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Stillness of Motion” opens with a guitar laying down a groove while a bassist takes the melody line. This is the reverse of how it’s usually done, and it’s a testament to Scott Hesse’s generosity and sense of ensemble. He’s one of Chicago’s most highly regarded guitarists, and yet in the first measures of his new record he gives the spotlight to a fellow player. Not that Clark Sommers, the player in question, requires charity; when Hesse steps back into the forefront, Sommers has no trouble maintaining his share of the musical dialogue. Ditto drummer Makaya McCraven, who manages to establish an intriguing voice of his own throughout the proceedings, especially on “Yardbird Sketch,” where he provides a percussive landscape as broad as a lawn, over which Hesse wanders searchingly, occasionally somersaulting into dreamily descending chords. 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 »
On his debut recording as a bandleader, the Chicago-based pianist and trombonist showcases his versatility and stylistic dexterity on a CD that includes straight-ahead, Latin, contemporary, big band and light jazz. He is in the company of an impressive array of musicians, including Bobby Shew (trumpet and flugelhorn), Dave Hiltebrand (bass) and Paul Zimmerman (vocals). Though the music goes in various directions, it gives us an idea of where Cline has been over his long career as a sideman (he has played with R&B legends like Aretha Franklin and The Temptations, as well as led various bands while working for the Norwegian Cruise Lines). Read the rest of this entry »
By Corey Hall
In his imagination’s ear (earmagination?), tenor saxophonist Chris Greene hears this when Brazilian vocalist Ed Motta sings: “He sounds like what would happen if Chick Corea, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stevie Wonder had a baby, raised him in Brazil, and made him listen to Gamble and Huff records. He’s got this Teddy Pendergrass voice, but he sings in Portuguese. He has these elaborate Chris Cross-Steely Dan arrangements, and he can get super funky, too.”
To honor this musical love child, Greene and his quartet—which includes pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Steve Corley—recorded Motta’s tune “Papuera” for their independently produced double CD, “Music Appreciation,” their eighth album in ten years. The title is a reference to a sound bite from the seventies sitcom ‘What’s Happening!!,’ in which Raj, the lead character, tutors an athlete. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
In the last twenty-five years, women in music have made tremendous strides, building bodies of work that showcase the kind of empowerment, control and sexual bravado that would’ve been unimaginable just a few decades earlier. But for all their power and strength, they rarely manage to project intellect—the quality of being aware of themselves in context; of understanding not just who they are, but what they mean.
Thankfully, we’re beginning to see some cracks in that particular glass ceiling. And one Chicago-native, female-fronted alt-rock band is most definitely doing its part. Honey & the 45s’ new EP, “Mad,” features seven songs that all turn standard love-and-longing narratives on their heads—starting with the title cut, which is a razor-sharp dissection of a woman’s attraction-repulsion complex, in the form of a long screed directed at the guy in the equation. “I hate that you know me, you know me so well,” sings front woman Kristina Cottone, “I hate that you caught me before I fell.” With lyrics like that, you know you’re in fairly literary hands. Read the rest of this entry »