Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: The Ides of March Are Bearing Gifts for Christmas

Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Holiday Music, In Memoriam, Interviews, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

The Ides of March

By Dennis Polkow

“There is something lacking in a lot of current Christmas music,” admits legendary Chicago singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Peterik. “A simple thing called spirituality. When it’s only about mistletoe and eggnog, it kind of misses the point. I don’t mind fun Christmas songs, believe me, but there also has to be some substance.”

Peterik’s longtime band, the Ides of March, has released two Christmas albums over the years, and this year, is releasing its third, “The Meaning of Christmas.” “Are we forgetting the meaning of Christmas in all the hoopla? That’s the whole idea: where did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate it? That’s my goal, really. And they’re not all religious or spiritual songs but there’s a thread that’s running through them: let’s not forget the meaning of Christmas.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lila Downs/House of Blues

Cumbia, Latin, Regional Mexican, Son, Tejano, World Music No Comments »


The first time I saw Lila Downs was about a decade ago, when she was participating in a Latin American-themed evening and she shared the bill with a Brazilian singer. She was still riding the wave of exposure brought on by her participation in the 2002 movie “Frida,” in which she played an unnamed singer whose tunes wove key elements of the plot together up to the very end, when she was joined by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso for the Academy Award-nominated “Burn It Blue.”

On that show, she came on stage playing a two-sided drum that set the pace for the set, which exuded energy from beginning to end, and I was hooked. Her strong voice and charisma on stage had me from the first song, and I have been following her music ever since. During her sets, she always celebrates her heritage, often including songs in regional Mexican dialects alongside original and traditional Mexican tunes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lauryn Hill/House of Blues

Hip-Hop No Comments »


Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks may be hailed as some of the most talented female hip-hop artists in popular music today, but these hard-hitters would have nothing to build on it if it wasn’t for Lauryn Hill. Hill changed the game for female MCs with her work in the Fugees and with her Grammy-winning, absolutely venerable solo album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” As it tends to go for the hyper talented, Hill ran into some problems with fame, including what many sources speculate to be a “mental breakdown,” and fizzled out for a while. She remained largely out of the public eye for several years until last year when she was sentenced to three months in federal prison for tax evasion. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Amon Amarth/House of Blues

Metal No Comments »


Amon Amarth has been churning out face-melting, Nordic-lore-inspired epic metal for the past twenty years. Much like the delicious casserole at your grandma’s house, you’ll never see much change in the recipe, but the experience will be consistent and satisfying. The band’s latest opus, “Deceiver of the Gods,” finds the group in their proven form, with vocalist Johan Hegg’s usual demonic growl matched with the majestic, dual guitar riffage from guitarists Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen that would be right at home on a Maiden release. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Del tha Funkee Homosapien/House of Blues

Hip-Hop No Comments »

10.19 del @ hobRECOMMENDED

Cordoning off the Deltron 3030 project from the rest of Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s work is a tough task. When initially released, Del was about to embark on his Gorillaz odyssey, but was also engaged with his “Both Sides of the Brain”-era material. It was a watershed few years for the East Bay MC. And it’s because of that few years—not to mention raucous classics like “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” and “No Need For Alarm”—that the last decade seems like a letdown. Teaming with Def Jux should have resulted in a classic, but “Eleventh Hour” was a truncated mess. The litany of mixtapes and collaborations didn’t do much either, apart from necessitating trips back to those aforementioned nineties classics. So the news that Del, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala were set to revisit 3030, and in the company of a huge orchestra, came as a comforting bit of news. To have Del and the Automator tell it, “Event II” is better executed than the initial 3030 album. It’s hard to find a hook, though. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: D’Angelo/House of Blues

R&B, Soul No Comments »


Soul music was born of the friction between pious and secular ecstasy. Many of the genre’s greatest artists came to know impulsive jubilation as children through the gospel. That this same joy is accessible in everyday experience essentially marks the epiphany of the soul singer, perhaps music’s most perfect muse. In the truest sense, D’Angelo is a direct descendant of the tradition. Love, pleasure, pain and redemption radiate through his weathered voice with a sense of ultimate vulnerability. It’s been more than a dozen years since D’Angelo’s name last sat atop a marquee in Chicago. Do not miss him this time around. Read the rest of this entry »

Planet, Disrupted: Swing Out Sister Kicks Off its Long-Delayed American Tour in Chicago

Jazz, Pop, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Jody LIndscott

Photo: Jody LIndscott

By Ernest Barteldes

The eruption of volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 disrupted the lives of many—flights were grounded on both sides of the pond and, to make matters worse, blizzards on the Eastern Seaboard at around the same time just made flying across the Atlantic a near impossibility.

Among those who couldn’t get on a plane were the members of Swing Out Sister, who were supposed to go on an acoustic tour across the US. The disruption inspired them to go back into the studio and record the arrangements they were supposed to take to the road, and the result was “Private View” (Shanachie, 2013), which contains a selection of reinvented takes on some of their greatest hits and a handful of covers—we reviewed the album back in January on this site.

The much-delayed tour (fingers crossed!) is finally happening, and the band led by vocalist Corinne Drewery and pianist Andy Connell are making a number of stops Stateside, beginning right here in Chicago.

We caught up with Drewery over an extended phone interview during the week of June 24, when she talked about the music and also with her concerns about how we as individuals have a responsibility toward the environment. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Public Enemy/House of Blues

Hip-Hop No Comments »


Two and a half decades after “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” Chuck D. and Public Enemy retain the righteousness and displeasure with broad American culture that made its earliest efforts landmarks in hip-hop. “The Evil Empire of Everything” counts as PE’s second disc of the year, but this newest album centers around the Trayvon Martin shooting that occurred earlier in 2012. While it’s unsurprising that Chuck D. has a point of view on those occurrences, it is stunning that the album centers on the incident, opening with 911 calls revealing a still-vibrant American paranoia surrounding black kids in hoodies. The theme’s strung throughout the disc, making “Evil Empire” a concept album, pulling its narrative from journalism’s headlines. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cannibal Corpse/House of Blues

Metal No Comments »


That people would be troubled enough by lyrics to restrict the speech of a cartoonish metal band is really what’s offensive. Cannibal Corpse has the dubious distinction of having its music banned in several countries. Of course, getting to appear in an Ace Ventura movie should mitigate any of those potential financial loses. That’s even cooler than Primus showing up in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” With Chris Barnes helming the ensemble, Cannibal Corpse became one of the most visible metal acts in the country, a sort of more disturbed Slayer without any true commercial potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Seun Kuti/House of Blues

Funk, World Music No Comments »


It’d be impossible to ignore comparisons between Seun Kuti and his Afrobeat-defining father, Fela. But pretty much all that should be said is the elder’s voice was a bit fuller. And there’s less Yoruba being spoken on Seun’s recordings. Fela’s youngest son, though, deals in precisely the same music that was bounding around Lagos forty years ago, and he does so with his father’s old band. The past few years have seen a rising political awareness as a result of the world’s economic and political shakeups, so merging distinctly danceable music with radical politics hasn’t wound up sounding dated. Read the rest of this entry »