Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

My Lollapalooza: A Variety of Guides to Navigating the Festival

Festivals No Comments »


This summer, as we did last, we asked a handful of Chicago music writers to sketch out their own personal Lollas: who they’re seeing, where, when and why. A few of them begged off, with the explanation that they were skipping the festival this year; some others, similarly minded, still volunteered (rather wistfully) their theoretical itineraries. Overall there was a noticeable lessening of enthusiasm for the event, for which there are some fairly self-evident explanations. First, Lollapalooza debuted in 1991, which makes it older than many, if not most, of its attendees—rendering it less a happening than an institution. Second, it’s become a victim of its own success; the Chicago lakefront is now choked with summer music festivals, all of them inspired at least in part by Lolla, with more cropping up each year (Mamby On the Beach being 2015’s new arrival). And finally, the newer festivals have the advantage of edginess, rawness and a more street-level commercialism than Lolla, which has become a corporate behemoth—capable of swallowing unsuspecting day-trippers whole, and spitting them out hours later, shaken and slack-jawed and wondering what the bloody hell just hit them. But that very enormity is what makes a tastemaker’s guide—like those below—all the more essential. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: “Halo” Composers Collaborate with Paul McCartney

Ambient, Blues, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Folk, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Vocal Music No Comments »
Paul McCartney, Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori

Paul McCartney, Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori

By Dennis Polkow

Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have been friends back to their college days in the 1970s when they were in rival bands in the western suburbs. “We’ve always been very competitive with one another,” Salvatori recalls. “Marty came in to record five songs with his band, so of course, I had to write better songs and record those as well.”

While Salvatori was working for his father’s printing company, O’Donnell was painting houses to put himself through music school. “They were shooting a television commercial and Marty was painting the set. The director found out that he was a composer and offered him five hundred dollars if he would write some music for it. I had just taken out a loan for a basement recording studio setup and Marty called up and said, ‘If you let me record there, I’ll split everything with you fifty-fifty.’ We put ourselves out there on a handshake and collaborated on the commercial as O’Donnell-Salvatori, like Lennon-McCartney. It has been that way ever since.” 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 »

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

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


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 »

Preview: Spyro Gyra/North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Jazz No Comments »


How many bands in the world (any genre, go ahead) do you know that are name-checked in a classic pop lyric? Excluding The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there aren’t too many (no, “Moves Like Jagger” is not about the band). The odds of a jazz group being included are extremely low, but Spyro Gyra is one of the chosen few–their name is brought up in Jorge Ben’s “País Tropical,” a world music hit that many of his fans sing along to even though most might not have a clue what he is singing about.

Led by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman, Spyro Gyra has been one of the most influential groups in the jazz-fusion and world music scenes since the band’s inception in the 1980s. Spyro Gyra was also a launching pad for names like trumpeter Chris Botti (who played with them in the 1990s), percussionist Cyro Baptista and vocalist Bonny B. On their latest release “The Rhinebeck Sessions,” the group distances themselves from their recent smooth jazz direction to reach back into their funk/fusion roots, embracing straight-ahead numbers that showcase the group’s individuality. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “New” by Paul McCartney

Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Per Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, some are too old to rock ‘n’ roll, but too young to die. At seventy-one, Paul McCartney seems to defy the odds by relentlessly touring and consistently releasing new music. On his aptly titled “New,” he briefly looks into the past but has his eyes firmly locked on the future by working with young producers like Giles Martin (son of George Martin) and Mark Ronson, who all collaborated to give McCartney a more contemporary sound.

The disc opens with “Save Us,” a track reminiscent of Queen guitarist Brian May’s solo work via its multi-tracked vocals and layered guitars. The title track (also the lead single) has a retro seventies feel thanks to its prominent use of synthesizers, its vocal structure, and its general mood. The song has an immediately captivating groove, especially the harmonies at the end of each verse. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Zombies/Mayne Stage

Pop, Psychedelic, Rock No Comments »


Considerably less radical than hard psych bands of the sixties, less conceptual than the Dead and not as bookish as the Beatles, the Zombies appreciated a bit of Stateside appreciation, despite relative uncaring at home in the UK. The few singles making it into the charts—everyone’s heard “Time of the Season”—weren’t enough to keep the band from breaking up by 1968 and issuing its farewell recording, “Odessey and Oracle.” Before bidding the music biz goodbye for a few decades, the Zombies, led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, distinguished themselves from Brit beat bands by smoothing out the bluesy edges of their compositions, which frequently featured reasonably complex keyboard lines and solos—at least when compared to the Pretty Things’ early thuggery. Read the rest of this entry »

The Record Store Issue: Jazz Record Mart: Jamming for More Than Fifty Years

Blues, Jazz No Comments »

By David Witter

Like San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, the Jazz Record Mart has survived for fifty-five years not only by selling art, but by becoming an integral part of the social, artistic and inspirational fixture that supports the creation of it.

Today, the store at 27 East Illinois features a selection of more than 15,000 jazz, blues, folk, big band and world music CDs. It also contains another 15,000 records, cassettes and DVDs. Jazz fans regularly arrive from as far away as Japan, the Ukraine, France and England, coming to look through the aisles of bins denoted by an uncorporate array of white plastic sheets featuring the artists’ names scribbled in magic marker, selling for as little as ninety-nine cents.

But the Jazz Record Mart did not gain its worldwide reputation by simply selling records. During its heyday, the JRM’s bulletin board and aisles served as a more socially interactive precursor to Craigslist: The store was a place where musicians found gigs, bandmates, business contacts and even a place to stay. Sixties rock icon Mike Bloomfield, harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, Alligator Records’ founder Bruce Iglauer, and dozens of other musicians, writers and critics all worked behind the store’s counter. Read the rest of this entry »

The Record Store Issue: Still Reckless

Record Stores No Comments »

Photo: Matt Jencik

I went to high school in the mid-nineties, during the heyday of Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam—and I didn’t care. My interests were much, much less cool: The Beatles, The Stones, The Doors and Tom Petty. So, yes, while my classmates were rocking out to The Beastie Boys, Flaming Lips and Green Day at Lollapalooza ’94, I was watching the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd knock out a killer sixteen-minute rendition of “Free Bird” at the old Rosemont Horizon.

I grew up just blocks away from the old Reckless Records on Broadway and, as much as the preferred narrative here would be how I was introduced to a nascent indie culture by proto-hipster record-store clerks spinning “Wowee Zowee” and “Bee Thousand,” I was probably ignoring all that playing in the background with “Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits” on my Discman while rifling through their CDs looking for a used copy of The Beatles’ “Anthology 1.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Record Store Issue: Reminiscences from Russia

Record Stores No Comments »

Elena Rodina

In Soviet Russia it was hard to put your hands on any decent vinyl records, so you pretty much bought anything you could get, be it folk songs, classical concerts or speeches of our revered leaders recorded at some party session.

When Indira Gandhi was prime minister of India in the 1980s, our countries became friends and Bollywood movies gained tremendous popularity. Soundtracks to them were some of the most desirable vinyl recordings around. My mom, who worked at a radio station at the time, managed to get quite a collection. As a result, I spent a big chunk of my childhood wrapping myself in a blanket and dancing around our apartment, doing the moves of what I thought were Indian dances and listening to the sentimental lyrics sung by Bappi Lahiri and Mahendra Kapoor. Read the rest of this entry »