Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “From Brazil to New Orleans” by Charlie Dennard

Forró, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDFBTNO_cover

“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Krom” by Krom

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDKROM

On their self-titled second release, the jazz fusion trio led by Chicago-born pianist Adam Kromelow and rounded out by bassist Raviv Markovitz and drummer Jason Burger comes up with a collection of nine original songs penned by Kromelow and arranged by the group. The album kicks off with “Savior Complex,” which begins with a keyboard-pounding, rhythmically strong intro, and then evolves into a mellower mood. Markovitz contributes a fluid solo halfway through the tune, and then the tune picks up again. “The Experiment” is an uptempo tour de force played in double time. The tune’s style is reminiscent of Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara, who also tends to write in quick tempos. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Eternal” by Jamie O’Neal

Alt-Country, Country, Country folk, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDjo_eternal_cdcvr_final

Australian-born country singer Jamie O’Neal has had a pretty difficult relationship with Nashville labels since she arrived on the scene in 2000. Over the years, she has signed and parted ways with several of them, including Mercury and Capitol, until she decided to follow the independent route and start her own label, Momentum Label Group.

“Eternal” is a strong album, which brings together original songs alongside a handful of covers. Among those is a straightforward version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” a tune that was a hit for fellow Aussie Olivia Newton-John on her debut album and that was also covered by several other artists, including Elvis Presley and Gladys Knight. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Jobim Tribute” by Les Sabler

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

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Among Brazilian composers recognized internationally, you could certainly say that Antônio Carlos Jobim compares to none other so far—he is one of the few whose body of work is just as respected as that of Gershwin or Harold Arlen. However, few contemporary fans know his work beyond “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” “Desafinado” or maybe “Waters of March” simply because his other songs have been absent from jazz songbooks of late. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Amor Planeta” by Pacifika

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Dance Pop, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Reggae, Rock, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDPacifika_Amor_Planeta

On their third release, the Vancouver-based trio formed by vocalist Silvana Kane, guitarist/producer Adam Popowitz and bassist Toby Peter seem to be taking the music into a deeper, more psychedelic direction without completely losing touch with their Latin, Middle Eastern and electronic roots. The songs are still framed by near-whispered vocals and nylon-guitar-framed textures alongside multi-tracked instruments and vocals sung mostly in Spanish, but the trio seems to have found a more organic approach to their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Bailar En La Cueva” by Jorge Drexler

Afro-Cuban, Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Cumbia, Forró, Hip-Hop, Latin, Merengue, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDJorgeDrexler_Bailar_CDcover

On his most diverse release to date, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler—best known Stateside for being the sole composer to date to win an Oscar for a non-English song—goes into various musical styles to convey his message. The title song mixes electronic and folk elements with a syncopated beat and a catchy chorus, while “Bolivia” blends forró and cumbia. A berimbau (a Brazilian instrument commonly used in capoeira meets) leads the beat.

Legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso makes a cameo appearance toward two verses in Spanish with a melody that goes against the song’s entire form. “La Luna de Rasquí” is an upbeat tune with Afro-Caribbean elements that is sure to get you moving. “Universos Paralelos” is arguably the most inventive track–it begins with an easygoing samba-like feel and the vocals of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who seems to be all over Latin pop lately) comes almost out of nowhere to give her bit on the topic of star-crossed lovers. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Billy’s Back on Broadway” by Billy Porter

Big Band, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul, Vocal Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDbillyporter

There was a time when it was natural for show tunes to make their way to the pop realmsingers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra all borrowed songs written for the stage and turned them into standardsincluding “On the Street Where You Live” (from “My Fair Lady”) recorded by Nat King Cole; “Luck Be a Lady” (from “Guys and Dolls”), a hit for Sinatra; ‘Till There Was You” (from “The Music Man”) famously covered by  The Beatles; and of course  “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” (from “Evita”), a tune overplayed even before Madonna got her hands on it.

Nowadays it is unlikely for such songs to contribute to the Hot 100 even with the help of heavyweights like Bono or Elton John—the business has just changed too dramatically for that to happen (do you really hear anyone belting out “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” at your local karaoke bar?). That doesn’t mean that some tunes don’t deserve to be heard by non-musical theater fans, and that is where Billy Porter comes in. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

RECOMMENDEDnenehcherry

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 »

Record Review: “Something Wicked” by North by North

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSomething Wicked by North By North

If the buy local movement has any bearing on the music industry, then it’s fair for Chicagoans to substitute the Black Keys and Jack White with North by North. The local trio’s Ray Bradbury-referencing debut is a double album; two mint-green records split between individual sleeves, in contrast to the gatefold packaging customary for a pair of LPs. Bonus points are awarded for the beautiful artwork, courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Nate Girard, despite the missing detail on the spine. The music itself owes much to the garage rock revival of the early aughts, rarely bending too far out of shape from a pop-songwriting sensibility. It may be garage rock, but this garage is clean. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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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 »