Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Zap Mama Teams with Antibalas, Gunther Schuller Twines Jazz and Classical

Afrobeat, Big Band, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

By Dennis Polkow

Marie Daulne, founder and lead singer of the Afropop female group Zap Mama, has always straddled two continents. She never knew her European father; he was killed at the hands of Simba rebels in the Congo, where Daulne was born and from where she, her mother and sisters escaped to live in her father’s native Belgium.

One of Daulne’s primary influences growing up was Afrobeat and Fela Kuti. “All Africans living in Europe listened to him,” she says. She even saw Kuti perform as a teenager and was delighted years later when she was living in New York and “Fela!” opened on Broadway. “Prior to that, the most African thing on Broadway was ‘The Lion King’! I returned to the show several times to see Antibalas perform.” Antibalas is the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat ensemble that arranged and performed all of the music for “Fela!,” modeled on Kuti’s own Africa 70 band. Read the rest of this entry »

Chef’s Special: A New Course from Kelis

Funk, Interviews, Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Laurent Levy

Photo: Laurent Levy

By Kenneth Preski

The best way to understand an artist is to meet them on their own terms, something that’s exceedingly difficult to do with Kelis, a musician who’s made a career out of defying definition. Check her track record: “Caught Out There” in 1999, “Milkshake” in 2003, “Bossy” in 2006, “Acapella” in 2010—a decade worth of hits to undermine any criticisms about her artistic vision. These songs resonate because of Kelis’ exceptional ability to layer vocal harmonies with a shifting timbre; striking a delicate balance between hard and soft, the opposing textures of her voice veering whichever way the mood shifts. Kelis has used the technique to create songs that are spiritual and sexual in equal measure, standout track “Floyd” off of her latest album “Food” emphasizing her skill in the endeavor, a heavenly refrain about being blown away. Through her music, Kelis is both sacred and profane in a world that can’t get enough of either. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Piers Faccini/Park West

Blues, Folk, Folk-rock, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, World Music No Comments »


“La Voce Toa” is among the best songs of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s, and it happens to be the sole English-language tune on their 2012 album “Pizzica Indiavolata.” The vocal belongs to Piers Faccini, an English singer-songwriter who is currently touring the United States in support of “Between Dogs and Wolves,” his second release via San Francisco-based indie label Six Degrees.

Faccini’s style is a mix of folk, blues and acoustic rock with a heavy African influence and a dab of jam-band feel. But don’t expect him to get lost in endless guitar riffs during his performances. In fact, when playing Stateside he travels lightly, accompanied only by his own guitar and a percussionist, which allows fans to focus on his voice. His heartfelt delivery has a laid-back feel, and his reflexive lyrics set him apart from today’s shoegazing singer-songwriters. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: James McMurtry/Park West

Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock No Comments »


Listening to “We Can’t Make It Here” from the 2005 album “Childish Things” immediately makes you respect James McMurtry: his lyrics are a direct indictment of the hypocrisies of the right and also of big-box discount stores like Walmart who encourage companies to ship jobs overseas in order to reduce costs to their customers.

The son of novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, McMurtry has been part of the folk-rock scene since John Mellencamp produced his debut “Too Long in the Wasteland” back in 1989. He has since collaborated with the likes of John Prine and Dwight Yoakam (in the “supergroup” Buzzin’ Cousins) and has regularly recorded and toured with his backing band, the Heartless Bastards—though the band is no longer billed in that manner because of confusion with the Ohio-based band of the same name. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Zucchero/Park West

Blues, Rock, Soul, World Music No Comments »


Though labels have repeatedly attempted to bring this Italian pop singer and songwriter to mainstream audiences, Zucchero is still pretty much unknown stateside. However, he is considered a major superstar in Europe through his recorded canon and also because of his charitable efforts—for instance, he was the driving force behind the many Pavarotti & Friends shows that over the years brought together talents as diverse as B.B. King, Mariah Carey, Caetano Veloso, Liza Minnelli and Sting, to name a few. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Church/Park West

Alt-Rock, Jam Band, Rock No Comments »

The Church


Though this Aussie band has struggled to find mainstream success in the United States (their second release stateside was rejected by their then-label back in the day), they eventually found the respect they deserved here in the past decade, as they evolved from a new wave sound to more progressive-rock-leaning tendencies.

Recently inducted into Australia’s Aria Hall of Fame, the current lineup (Steve Kilbey, Marty Willson-Piper, Tim Powles and Peter Koppes) will be performing three albums in their entirety, starting off with “Untitled #23” and then looking back into the nineties with two of their most successful albums in the US, “Priest=Aura” and “Starfish.”

The current tour also marks the re-release of the group’s early albums on the indie label Second Motion Records, which will come fully remastered with bonus tracks and additional sleeve notes and photos for the pleasure of their diehard fans. (Ernest Barteldes)

February 11 at Park West, 322 West Armitage, (773)929-5959, 8pm. $32.

Preview: Keller Williams/Park West

Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Pop, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Known for his one-man shows (in which he uses samplers, loops and computer-generated sounds), Keller Williams has taken his music in various directions over his career. In 2010 he released “Thief,” an album with his side project The Keels, that included covers from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Amy Winehouse and Cracker (among others). In the meantime, he also went into Dan Zanes territory by releasing the aptly titled “Kids,” which contains a collection of original tunes aimed at children under 10. He’s performing in support of the new disc (he will also be doing an adult-themed show later in the evening), with his touring band. Expect a mix of the music from the disc with some of his own tunes re-styled to fit the much younger audience and also the parents who will be escorting them—passing the fan torch to the next generation. (Ernest Barteldes)

February 5 at Park West, 322 West Armitage, (773)929-5959, 3:30pm & 8pm. $15-$23. 18+.

Top Ten Concerts in Chicago: 2000-2009

Rock No Comments »

By Tom Lynch800px-PostalService_color300dpi_by_Brian_Tamborello

My ten favorite shows from the last ten years. I’m almost certain I’m forgetting a few here and there, but these are the unbelievable nights that came to mind first. In descending order, for those of you who love anticipation!

10. The Postal Service @ Abbey Pub 4/23/03

I’m still one of the only people I know who saw Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello actually perform live. (On this night, with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis performing the girl vox!) However you feel about DCFC, it’s hard not to be quickly won over by “Give Up.” Cex opened, and that was pretty terrible. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: A Fine Frenzy/Park West

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


Alison Sudol, as A Fine Frenzy, creates a penetrating brand of unabashed pop rock that’s difficult to ignore. Her 2007 debut, “One Cell in the Sea,” was the work of a still-learning singer-songwriter pianist, but featured moments stronger than others as Sudol navigated the waters. (In an interview around the record’s release Sudol told me that she “trips. I say silly things, I sometimes get tongue-tied. I get starstruck. I wouldn’t want to get good at being cool,” which immediately made me crush on her.) The new record from A Fine Frenzy, called “Bomb in a Birdcage” (Virgin), shows a more confident songwriter and performer in Sudol, as she weaves her way through melancholy choruses like “You go on and I’ll be happier,” on “Happier,” with incredible soul. It’s not all soft whispering, however, as alt-rock tracks like “Blown Away” and “Electric Twist” move with a smooth grace. If she was just a little less overproduced and had a little more dirt on her sound, Sudol could be amazing, but what are we to expect while she’s still on Virgin. (Tom Lynch)

A Fine Frenzy plays November 4 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage, (773)929-5959, at 7:30pm.

Preview: Numero Group’s Eccentric Soul Revue/Park West

Chicago Artists, Soul No Comments »


Since 2003, local label Numero Group—founded by self-described music obsessives Tom Lunt, Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley—has been compiling rare, mostly unheard records from eras past and releasing re-mastered recordings, bringing new light to several artists and their material that would’ve otherwise been long forgotten. The genre of music isn’t limited to anything specific, either, as the label has dipped its paws into everything from soul to disco to world music, with literally every venture a unique success. Tonight, Numero Group presents its “Eccentric Soul Revue,” featuring performances by Syl Johnson, Renaldo Domino, The Notations and the long absent The Final Solution. For lovers of soul, this is a must-see event for sure. (Tom Lynch)

April 4 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage, (773)929-5959, 9pm.

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