Friday, November 30, 2012

Slumgullion


First, a hearty welcome to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry as they bring their classic rock opera, Quadrophenia, to the Allstate Arena tonight. Mr. Townshend was signing copies of his book, Who I Am, at the Barnes & Noble in Old Orchard Mall this past Monday night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, but I know of a few Facebook friends who were understandably thrilled to meet the legendary guitarist/songwriter.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow for Tame Impala’s March 6th show at The Vic. My review of the Aussie band’s second effort, Lonerism, ran in the November issue of the Illinois Entertainer. I praised the songs as a lush though unlikely blend of indie and prog rock and noted that they sounded like they were being beamed to Earth from another galaxy. But in a good way. 

As The dB’s continue to tour in support of their critically acclaimed Falling Off The Sky CD, band member Chris Stamey is set to release a new solo effort. Lovesick Blues, which the singer-guitarist describes in a press release as “The closest I’ve ever gotten to the sound I hear in my head in the middle of the night,” is due out on Yep Roc Records February 5th. 

The Old Town School Of Folk Music has some performances coming up next week that highlight this long-running venue’s mission to present the entire spectrum of popular music. On Thursday night, Cherish The Ladies will celebrate a Celtic Christmas with traditional Irish songs. The five-woman band often brings along a few step dancers to augment their reels and gigs, while founding member/whistle and flute player Joannie Madden keeps the audience entertained between songs with her witty anecdotes and quips. Saturday night brings Over The Rhine, the Cincinnati-based band led by husband and wife Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiller. Both sing and play various instruments on a beguiling mix of alt rock, folk, and country. On Sunday afternoon, adults as well as kids can enjoy Milly’s Holiday Spectacular, put on by by Brigid “Milly” Murphy, the untamed performer best known for her series of Milly’s Orchid Shows in Chicago nightclubs. She’s promising a more family-friendly agenda this time out, but here’s betting she won’t skimp on the wacky.

Black Ensemble Theater’s popular and probably best known production, The Other Cinderella, is back for the holidays. Now in its 36th year, this urban twist on the fairy tale runs at Black Ensemble’s new space at 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago through January 13th.

The Handcuffs, who are accustomed to hearing their fetching indie music used on TV shows, will have their “Ooh Baby Baby” on tonight’s episode of Jersey Shore. It’s a track from the band’s Waiting For The Robot CD. Now that I've mentioned Jersey Shore, maybe I'll get thousands of hits on Broken Hearted Toy.

Interstate Arts, a group dedicated to making art and creativity part of everyday life, is staging Small Change Theater Episode 1: The Woods at Popps Packing in Hamtramck, MI in four shows next Friday and Saturday evening. The hour-long tale of various animals searching for love will feature life-size masks and puppetry, plus musical guests Diane Christiansen and Steve Dawson from the band Dolly Varden, and instrumentalist Colby Maddix. There’s suggested $8.00 donation, $3 for age 10 and younger.

James Moeller and Carla Hayden, founders of the Black Forest Theater group and Whitewolfsonicprincess alt rock band, are sponsoring their annual Toys For Tots Show at the Red Line Tap on Chicago’s northside next Saturday, December 8th. Some of the artists involved include The Telepaths, Tina Teske And Quarter Casey, The Red Apples, The Rut, and Whitewolfsonicprincess.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

CD Review: Okay Paddy - The Cactus Has A Point


Here’s a review that ran in the April, 2006 issue of the Illinois Entertainer. Although it’s credited to my name, I have no recollection of ever listening to it. It’s possible that could happen since I’ve written tons of reviews for the publication since 1987, but this is from only six years ago, and apparently, I liked the band. 

In researching Okay Paddy on the Internet, I came across another positive review of The Cactus Has A Point, on the Willfully Obscure blogsite, posted on May 18th, 2012. Willfully Obscure apparently focuses on lesser known power pop and indie rock releases, and seems to be a pretty cool site.

So anyway, here’s my take on the CD. If by some chance, I didn’t really write this, and it was actually an error on the part of the Illinois Entertainer, feel free to let me know. On the other hand, if two separate blog posts about Okay Paddy spark renewed interest in the band and bring about a revived career, Willfully Obscure and Broken Hearted Toy will deserve the credit.

Irresistible melodies and an affable lead singer keep the featherweight songs on The Cactus Has A Point from being inconsequential. “Your Bat’s On Fire” is a rough-edge start, but from there, songwriters Pat Finnerty and Mike Quinn settle into Pet Sounds mode. The band subverts its classic pop approach with adventurous instrumentation, and some tracks restart and take off in a different direction just when it seems they’ve ended. 

The romantic “Oo-Man, la World” presents Okay Paddy doing an impressive Beach Boys impersonation. Other catchy gems include “Time For A Tailor,” a whimsical poke at modern fashion, and “Fraktur,” which features shimmering guitars and lush harmonies. The psychedelic “Lighter Later” drifts by like a dream, and “Furrier” gets an engaging homespun arrangement. The guitar-driven “Where’s The Taste?” proves Okay Paddy us quite capable of rocking a little harder.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

CD Review: JIP - Sparks Flames And Names


Singer-guitarist Jim Gwynn, the driving force behind JIP, came up with an interesting way to follow the Chicago-based trio’s promising debut, Year X. The newly released EP, Sparks Flames And Names, features a different guest performer on each of the seven tracks. At the risk of obscuring the band’s identity at this early stage, the concept casts a spotlight on Gwynn’s songwriting ability.

Most of the songs are acoustic-based explorations of the various stages of a romantic relationship. In addition to convincingly conveying the exhilaration and heartache of discovering and losing love, respectively, Gwynn gives each song an inviting melody. All of his guests turn in strong performances; joining in on lead vocals, and on occasion, playing instruments.

“Our City By The Lake,” one of the more upbeat songs on Sparks, immediately grabs the listener while Gwynn and Nickolas Blazina craft strong harmony vocals. Rachel McClusky provides compelling vocals on the percussion-driven “Little Light,” while Buick Audra plays guitar and drums, along with creating layered vocals with Gwynn on “Swimming.” The designated single, “Shudder,” is the hardest hitting track, as Gwynn and Joanna Stanielun from the band Halfmoon Mad, portray lovers in an increasingly alienating relationship.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

He’s Never Too Heavy


Photo of Bobby Elliott (left) and Tony Hicks from The Hollies website.

A while back, while listening to Breakfast With The Beatles on WXRT in Chicago, I heard host Terri Hemmert mention that Paul McCartney was involved with a new Christmas recording. One of the benefits of listening to this weekly show, in addition to hearing a variety of Beatles-related music, is that Hemmert is a good source of info on upcoming books and CDs. So as a Hollies fan, I was doubly pleased when I recently heard her say that McCartney is one of many artists involved in a new “He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Brother” charity single.
  
Recording under the name, The Justice Collective, McCartney, Robbie Williams, Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze, Gerry Marsden from Gerry And The Pacemakers, Shane McGowan from The Pogues, Mick Jones from The Clash, John Power from Cast, Dave McCabe from The Zutons, Chris Sharrock from Oasis, Holly Johnson from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and a number of other well-known performers are recreating the hauntingly beautiful Hollies hit in order to help families of victims of The Hillsborough Disaster. In 1989, several Liverpool soccer fans were killed while attending a Football Association Cup Semi-Final match with Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. The artists will be backed by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Articles in The Telegraph and The Liverpool Echo don’t mention whether any members of The Hollies are involved in the The Justice Collective version. On the official Hollies website, drummer Bobby Elliott posted a short piece describing how he and guitarist Tony Hicks traveled to London to visit the Metropolis Studios to take part in the project. Elliott and Hicks are the only original members left in The Hollies, who still tour extensively throughout Europe.

“Dylan, the brother of producer Guy Chambers, was on hand to lead us into the control room,” Elliott wrote, and added that, “The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.”Although Elliott was disappointed that he didn’t get to play drums on the song, he concluded, “It was a good day, as long as TH and I don’t end up on the cutting room floor!”

If The Justice Collective’s version of “He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Brother” is the huge Christmas hit the press is predicting it to be, it will mark the third time this song has shot up the UK charts. It struck gold when originally released in 1969, and went to Number 1 in 1988 after being featured in a Miller Lite TV commercial. The song was also embraced by New York firefighters dealing with the aftermath of the 9-11 attack in 2001.

“He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Brother” was written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, based on the motto of Father Flanagan’s Boy Town. Its message of self-sacrifice and always being willing to help others still resonates decades after it was originally written.

The Justice Collective’s version is due out on December 17th.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

CD Review: Garrison Starr - The Sound Of You And Me


This review originally appeared in the April, 2006 edition of the Illinois Entertiner, which featured Tom Lanham’s cover story on Artic Monkeys. Editor Steve Forstneger sat down with UK singer-songwriter Beth Orton for an interview, and he also profiled Ben Harper. On the club scene, Violent Femmes were at the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyviille; Cracker was at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine; and Heartsfield was at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. 

Garrison Starr has excelled at putting some rock in her roots on past releases, but she takes a lighter approach with The Sound Of You And Me. The country twang and fetching melodies are still there, but this CD presents Starr in a more intimate setting. Most of the 11 songs deal with troubled relationships, as she conveys heartache though her throaty vocals.

On the acoustic ballad, “Pendulum,” she sings, “And you’re a brick wall/Now baby, tell me did I break through at all?” “We Were Just Boys And Girls,” a raw attempt to show Starr at her most vulnerable, feels calculated, especially when compared to the simple beauty of “Black And White.” “Beautiful In Los Angeles” sports The Sound Of You And Me’s most commercial arrangement, but it’s the catchy “Let Me In” that’s most likely to please Starr’s loyal fans.     

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Slumgullion


These guys are playing Santa this Sunday night. Photo from Magatha Trysty Facebook page.

A week ago, I saw The Monkees perform at the Chicago Theatre as part of their current 12-date tour. I found the show to be a very pleasant surprise. My review is currently up on the Illinois Entertainer website. 

The raucous and funny New Duncan Imperials will make a rare live appearance at FitzGeralds’s, tomorrow night, November 24th.

Subterranean has an impressive four band line-up scheduled for this Sunday, November 25th that includes JIP (who have a new and engaging CD coming out), Magatha Trysty (who just released one of my favorite CDs of the year), Top Shelf Lickers, and Burrows. According to a recent Magatha Trysty email, “if you approach a member of the band and say the phrase MAGATHA TURKEY as enthusiastically as possible, we will give you an AWESOME free gift from our merch box.” So, sort of Christmas and Thanksgiving all in one.

FACE FORWARD The Art of the Self Portrait, an exhibition showcasing 44 artists will be held at The Printworks Gallery, at 311 W. Superior in Chicago. There will be a reception next Friday night, November 30, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. The exhibition, which includes works by Anne Abrons, Roland Ginzel, Kerry James Marshall, Nicholas Sistler, and others, runs through February 9, 2013. 

Based on some recent Facebook posts, French garage rockers Plastiscines are working on new songs. Hopefully, that means their long awaited third release is on its way.

Factory Theatre is celebrating its 20th Birthday with The Gala, at ARTango on December 10th, from 7:00 to 10:00 PM. The group promises a one-night only reading of The Greatest Production Written by Every Factory Ensemble and Emeritus Member Writer That Can Never Ever Be Produced...Ever! There will also be a silent auction. Tickets are $30. ARTango is located at 4203 N. Ravenswood in Chicago.

Congratulation to Colby Burnett, a history teacher at Oak Park’s Fenwick High School, on acing the recent Jeopardy Teachers Tournament.

Nice to hear The Hoodoo Gurus will be bringing their multi-band Dig It up Tour back in 2013, but it looks like it’s still strictly an Aussie thing. How about some dates in the U.S.?

Ralph Covert’s Holiday concert with the Dupage Symphony on December 16th at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville will be a collaboration between the singer-songwriter and the orchestra. Covert is best known for his work in Ralph’s World and Bad Examples.

Popdose, the online pop culture newsletter, has an revealing interview with Andrew Brassell, the 20-something indie singer-guitarist who collaborated with Susanna Hoffs on her recent Someday CD. Brassell, who is also touring with the Bangle, talks about how they met, the set list, and how it feels to be on his first national tour. He also mentions that he’ll be helping out on the third installment of the Hoffs and Matthew Sweet Under The Covers series. Looking forward to that.

Ticket sales for The Rascals’ first concerts in 40 years must be going well. The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY has just added three dates to the 1960s band’s originally scheduled stay at the venue. Actor/musician/radio host Little Steven Van Zandt and lighting/projection expert Marc Brickman are producing the shows, which feature all four original members.

I’ve never heard of Caro Emerald, but apparently the Dutch singer is very popular in Europe, and is looking to duplicate that success in the America. Her video for “Back It Up” has an appealing retro look and showcases Emerald’s smooth vocals. Fans of Lily Allen will likely to enjoy it.

It was nice hearing from Don Weismantel, who once worked on the XBX magazine. Weismantel discovered my Vintage Publication Profile of XBX via a Google search and wrote to say that it brought back some great memories. “Those were some amazing times for the Chicago alternative music scene,” he wrote. “And it was a blast being in the middle of it with XBX.” Weismantel was particularly impressed with the band Social Act in those days and says he was happy to find that former member Ellis Clark is now part of The Handcuffs. “Great to see his amazing talent still going strong. XBX ended up promoting his band Social Act after that interview in the magazine. Great guys to work with.” Weismantel currently creates electronic dance/future pop under the moniker N1nestein (AKA DJ Skilletz. 

The Creeping Ivies, a Scottish garage rock duo comprised of singer-guitarist Becca Bomb and drummer Duncan Destruction, are set to release their full length debut, Stay Wild, on the Dead Beat indie label. This follows two chaotic but fun EPs from The Creeping Ivies.
   
I’m not too familiar with Austin, TX-based singer-songwriter Andrea Perry, except for her catchy and extremely clever Christmas song, “Fat Aunt Bette.”  It has shown up on a few different indie rock holiday compilations. Perry is currently looking to fund her fourth CD via the Kickstarter site, and has a number of friends helping out in the promo video. It must have worked, because she’s already surpassed her $6,000 goal with 26 days left. So there’s still time to pledge a donation, and Perry has some interesting perks for those who help out. 

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Third Annual Holiday Shopping Guide


One of America’s Thanksgiving traditions, along with family dinners, Cowboys and Lions football games, and expressing gratitude, is the arrival of treasure chest-sized editions of the daily newspapers, filled with retail flyers. It’s now possible to also get these Black Friday flyers online. Still, some old school bargain hunters prefer the hand-to-hand combat of snagging those amazing deals in overcrowded shopping malls. In keeping with the holiday spirit, here are a few Broken Hearted Toy endorsed gift ideas.

Record Store Day’s Black Friday: Vinyl collectors are accustomed to the annual Record Store Day coming around April, but this year, there’s also a special holiday version. You’ll have to get to your favorite independent record store early tomorrow if you want to grab treasures like “Surfin Safari” by The Beach Boys on 10” vinyl; David Bowie’s “The Jean Genie” on 7” vinyl, Jellyfish’s Stack-A-Tracks CD; Joey Ramone’s Ya Know? Limited Edition Deluxe Album on CD; and Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation LP with Bonus CD.

Vinyl Beatles LPs: New and improved versions of Please Please Me, Rubber Soul, With The Beatles, Revolver, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club BandThe White Album, and others are now available individually ($22.99 - $34.99) or in a deluxe boxed set ($399.99). Chicago Tribune writer Mark Caro did a much better job of describing them than I could ever dream of doing.

Doctor Who Series Seven, Part One DVD: The British sci-fi series is sort of on a mid-term break, with the second half starting up again in early 2013. In the meantime, the first five episodes are now available on DVD. The Doctor’s adventures seem less apocalyptic and a bit more silly this year, (particularly in “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “The Power Of Three”) but I actually prefer the lighthearted approach. Part One does have “The Angels Take Manhattan,” which brings the era of companions Amy and Rory to a sad end. They had really grown on me over the past few years, so I cried like a newborn while watching this. Luckily, distraught fans will be able to see that Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darville) are actually okay because one of the Bonus Features on this DVD shows them hanging out with The Doctor (Matt Smith) at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego.

The Hollies: Look Through Any Window 1963 -1975 DVD: The Hollies appeared on countless TV shows back in their heyday but only a few of those performances have surfaced in more recent years. The recently released The Hollies: Look Through Any Window 1963 - 1975 offers 22 songs, along with running commentary from original members Graham Nash, Tony Hicks, Allan Clarke, and Bobby Elliott.

Cellophane Flowers Beatles Outfits: Wilmette, IL-based designer Marcia Clark creates Beatles-inspired outfits, and other imaginative duds. She even gets famous models like Brad and Chloe from The Handcuffs to wear them in her ads. You can find Cellophane Flowers on Facebook. or contact Clark at marcia.cellophaneflowers@gmail.com if you’d like to order some hip threads.

Beatles Art by Shannon, Eric Cash, and Georgina Flood: Each of these artists specializes in The Beatles, along with other subject matter. You can purchase their work on original prints, mugs, t-shirts, and calendars. I’ve met all three at Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago over the years, and they're very charming and talented people. 

Live From The Archives Volume 14 CD: The latest in a series of CDs that feature exclusive concert performances that have aired on FM station, WXRT. Once again, sales will help fund the Rock For Kids organization, which helps provide music lessons for public school children; as well as the women’s shelter, Sarah’s Circle. It’s an essential purchase for those of us who have collected the previous 13 volumes, or for any loyal XRT listener. Given the diversity of the station’s programming, this year’s choices will appeal more to some than others, but there’s enough good stuff to please most alt rock fans. The artists include Wilco, Arcade Fire, The Shins, Garbage, The Wallflowers, The Head And The Heart, and Delta Spirit. Live From The Archives Volume 14 will be available at Target stores starting on December 4th. 

Various CDs: Music is always a good choice for gifts, so feel free to browse the reviews I’ve done over the past few years for some worthy options. Also, check out your favorite bands online and see what new stuff they have to offer.

Fest For Beatles Fans Catalog: I just got the 28th Annual Fest For Beatles Fans Holiday Catalog in the mail yesterday, and as usual, it’s overflowing with every imaginable Beatles-emblazoned item. In addition to CDs, t-shirts, posters, DVDs, and books, this catalog offers belts, wallets, pajamas, sunglasses, hats, and puzzles, as well as iPad and laptop musicskins and iPhone hard shell cases for all those tech savvy Beatles fans on your list. And you can wrap up all your Beatles gifts in Beatles-themed wrapping paper. The Fest For Beatles Fans online store has even more items for sale. My only complaint is that I’d love to see these manufacturers spread the wealth around. Why not create some items depicting The Animals, The Kinks, Donovan, The Hollies, and other noteworthy contemporaries of the Fab Four?  

Rock Art Show: This site sells art and photographs by and of musicians, and plans to unveil a new rare item each Monday of the 2012 holiday season. Each will be available only for that week. This week’s special is a limited edition, 20” x 26” framed gold-plated The Who Discography record. It will be interesting to see what other hard-to-find treasures they come up with in the coming weeks. It looks like you have to sign up for the Rock Art Show online newsletter to receive the offers. 

Toynk Online Shopping Grownups who still love toys can find loads of TV, movie, and comic related collectibles here. Know anyone who wants a 25” inflatable remote control R2D2? Toynk has it covered. They also have Barbie Collector Dolls, Smurfs, and sports action figures, as well as costumes. 

Kickstarter Perks: This website enables musicians, artists, and filmmakers to solicit funds for projects that might not otherwise see the light of day. Most of the participants offer personalized, one-of-a-kind perks in exchange for donations. The larger the amount you pledge, the more cool the gift will be if the project meets its goal. A great way to get involved in the creative process, and get something in return.

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: The online gift store has a variety of colorful and imaginative items, including t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, and desk accessories.

Genesis Gift Guide 2012: If you’ve got a lot of money to spend on yourself or that special someone for the holidays, check out the high-classed, hard bound, rock and roll-related books from GenesisThey have special editions covering The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Ron Wood, and others.

Also, check out the websites of your favorite bands for t-shirts, buttons, magnets, holiday songs, or other special items.

Have fun doing whatever form of shopping you prefer, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Undiminished Shoes - Part Three


This is the third of three installments of a feature story on Shoes that I wrote for the Illinois Entertainer

The arrangement of a song also depends on where it fits within the scheme of the CD. If the surrounding tracks have elaborate vocals, the band may opt for a more scaled back approach. Still, there’s that unifying theme throughout Ignition about people taking stock of where they are in life. When Klebe sings, “What’s not to hate about love?” on “Heaven Help Me,” he’s depicting a guy who realizes all the fun has gone out of his relationship. “Where Will It End” includes the line, “I’m getting bored with the same old story,” but the more optimistic “Wrong Idea” notes, “We hit a snag - - that’s all there is to it/It’ll take a little push to get through it.” Klebe and the Murphy brothers believe a more complex view of love and relationships comes as songwriters mature.

“When you’re young and writing songs about relationships,” John Murphy explained. “It’s ‘I’m happy to be in love.’ When you’re older, it’s more of a gray area - - can we make this relationship work? You’re a little more beat up about it.”

For the most part, the 15 songs on Ignition adhere to the melodic approach Shoes has honed over the years. Despite being regarded as one of power pop’s best practitioners, they’re not really sure they belong in that genre.

“We didn’t know what the definition of power pop was,” Klebe said. “And people would say to us, ‘you are’.”

“We really identify with a lot of what power pop is, but I think that’s too narrow a label for us,” John Murphy added.

Jeff Murphy pointed out that while The Beatles are considered the architects of power pop, songs like “Blackbird” hardly fit the description.

“No musician likes to be categorized,” John Murphy contends. “I like tweaking what people think we should be doing.”

In that vein, the fun and hard-hitting “Hot Mess” is a departure for Shoes. It bounces along with a Rolling Stones type of swagger while describing a woman who seems to be an intriguing jumble of contradictions. All three band members laughed when asked about lines like, “She’s been payin’ her dues/With her skanky tattoos/and her sensible shoes.” John Murphy said he initially came up with those quick and silly rhymes just to make the other guys laugh, but some of them wound up staying in the song.

Normally the release of a new CD would would result in a band going on tour to support it, but that might not be the case with Ignition. Shoes have no immediate plans for live gigs, and in their usual independent fashion, they’re taking a wait and see attitude.

“It’s more complicated at our age,” Jeff Murphy explained. “We have families and jobs. We have to work around our drummer’s schedule. But performing is not out of the question.”

“There would have to be some kind of momentum to do live shows,” Klebe added. “We can wait and see if an opportunity comes up.”  Hopefully, the success of Ignition will provide that momentum.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Undiminished Shoes - Part Two


This is the second of three installments of a feature story on Shoes that I wrote for the Illinois Entertainer

“We were at the forefront of DIY,” Klebe recalled. “Some people say we invented it.” He added that he and the Murphy brothers were reluctant to anoint themselves as the fathers of DIY since others artists like Todd Rundgren had also recorded in home studios by that time. Still, Rundgren had a major label to release his finished products.

Even with all their experience, it had to be daunting for Shoes to return to the recording process, considering their previous CD, Propeller, came out in 1994.

“It seemed surreal to be doing it again,” Klebe acknowledged. “As things went along, we realized it was more than fascination. There was growth down the road and we really had something.”

John Richardson, a drummer who had worked with Shoes on previous occasions (the band’s original drummer, Skip Meyer, split quite a while back) was brought in on the recording sessions. The harmony vocals and seamless playing on Ignition stem from the camaraderie that has served these three musicians so well on previous albums. 

“We’re a friendly band,” John Murphy explained. “Nobody wants to step on anybody’s toes. On the other hand, I want to hear the other members’ ideas. In most cases, it works. They’re not trying to do a 180º on it.”

“It’s like passing your baby around at a party,” Klebe said of the band’s collaborative approach. “There’s nothing more important than making sure the baby doesn’t fall.”

“We have to be careful in suggesting changes,” Jeff Murphy agreed. “We’re very conscious of the writer’s intent. The reason you’re in a band is to get that input. There’s no one I trust more than the other two guys.”

One of the songs on Ignition did change quite a bit during the recording session, though. Jeff Murphy’s “Out Of Round,” a poignant look at the death of a spouse, started out as a ballad, but wound up with a driving pop arrangement similar to “Your Imagination” from the band’s 1981 Tongue Twister album. The idea for the turnaround came from John Murphy and Klebe, who were relieved when Jeff Murphy fully embraced it.

Throughout Ignition, the band members take turns singing lead, and all three contribute backup vocals. The mid-tempo “Diminishing Returns,” one of several songs on the CD that examines the unraveling of a relationship, and the lilting “Wrong Idea” in particular, have elaborate call and response vocals that create a lush sound.

“There’s a lot of interplay on vocals and music,” Jeff Murphy explained. “And I don’t think we had to strain to do it. It comes from being together for so long.”

“Some of the back and forth vocals are the most spontaneous thing we do,” Klebe added.

“It’s a mutation process that becomes better after we all come together,” John Murphy said of the band’s intricate and occasionally Queen like vocals. “Every song, we ask how much do we want to do, because by God, we can do it.”

Coming next:: Words of love and relationships unraveling.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Undiminished Shoes - Part One


This is the first installment of a feature story on Shoes that I wrote for the Illinois Entertainer a while back. 

There was a sense of deja vu as the three members of Shoes gathered in vocalist-guitarist Gary Klebe’s home recording studio in Kenosha to discuss Ignition, their first CD in 18 years. And it wasn’t simply because the writer was the same one who interviewed the band about its Stolen Wishes CD over 20 years earlier at the Short Order Recorder studio in Zion. Klebe, vocalist-guitarist Jeff Murphy, and vocalist-bassist John Murphy have gone this route a number of times before, starting back in the mid-1970s. Regarded as one of the best power pop bands ever, Shoes are veterans of recording albums in their own distinctive style, at their own pace.

“In our ideal world, you do what you want to do, and still have it accepted,” Jeff Murphy explained. “A lot of what we originally did was a reaction of what was going on [musically] at that time. It’s kind of like that now.”

“When you do it, you know what you’re doing is completely non-commercial,” Klebe added, as sailboats drifted on Lake Michigan, just outside the window of his lakefront house.

Devoted fans know the Shoes bio by heart, and it’s also covered in a new book called Boys Don’t Lie: A History Of Shoes, written by music critic Mary E. Donnelly. The band took a DIY approach at a time when it had never been done, by recording and releasing Black Vinyl Shoes on their own in 1977. The surprising success of their collection of 1960’s inspired pop tunes resulted in a recording contract with Elektra, whose executives boldly predicted the first Shoes album on their label would sell five million copies. Despite four Shoes videos being played on MTV the first day the music channel hit the airwaves, Present Tense, released in 1979, fell far short of that goal.

“Elektra’s expectations were distorted by the success of The Cars,” John Murphy recalled, referring to the Boston-based band whose self-titled debut.had gone platinum for the label a year earlier. Klebe likened the situation to a baseball team firing a rookie for striking out in his first time at bat. 

“Traditionally, labels were like baseball teams,” he said. “If the kid’s good, you build him through the minors and then the majors. Elektra wasn’t in it for the long haul.”

Shoes were cut loose from Elektra within a few years, but rather than giving up, they built their own studio, launched the independent label, Black Vinyl, and even signed other bands. Their independent spirit has been an inspiration to countless musicians for decades now.

Coming next: Shoes strike out on their own.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Slumgullion


Here they come, walking down State Street. Photo from The Monkees Tour Facebook page.

Note: This Slumgullion is meant for tomorrow, Friday, November 16th. I’m just posting it a little early this week.

First of all, a warm welcome to The Monkees, who are in town tonight for a sold-out show at the Chicago Theatre.

The night before Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to go out and party. Here are a couple options for fun next Wednesday, November 21st: American English will cover all phases of The Beatles’ era at the Abbey Pub. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Singer-guitarist Phil Angotti will serve up a cornucopia of original tunes and covers (including some Beatles) when he plays the Haymarket Brewery.

WXRT did an hour-by-hour unveiling of the tracks on Live From The Archives Volume 14 as part of its New Releases Thursday. The series features exclusive performances from concerts sponsored by the FM station, or in its studio that have aired over the years. The artists include Wilco, Arcade Fire, Garbage, Head And The Heart, and The Shins. Once again, sales of the CD will help fund the Rock For Kids organization, which seeks to provide music lessons for public school children.

SOPRO is holding its 30th Annual Thanksgiving Blues Revue at Sullivans Irish Pub And Eatery in Midlothian, IL next Saturday night, November 24th. Several musicians will be taking part, including Joey Drada, Frank Anastos,  and Billy King on guitars and vocals; John Falstrom on bass; Scott Bonshire on drums; Greg Wolfman on keyboards; and Doug Lee on harmonica and vocals. The post-turkey bash will also feature vocalists Deb Seitz and Francine Marie, and the acclaimed jazz quartet, The Chicago Fire Horns. Showtime is 9:00 PM; there’s no mention of an admission price in the press material.

Bryn Packard, a funny and talented actor who used to perform in my old comedy group, Famous In The Future, has a major role in the world premiere of Matthew Paul Olmos’s drama, I Put The Fear Of Mexico In ‘em, which is currently being staged by Teatro Vista  at New Dramatists through December 9th. The play, directed by Ricardo Gutierrez and also starring Cheryl Graeff, Miguel Nunez, Charin Alvarez, and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, explores the strained relations between Americans and Mexicans.

The video for “Don’t You Think?,”  bodes well for Looking At The Stars, the third LP by psychedelic/power pop band Anderson Council.

The Lost At E Minor online newsletter consistently finds intriguing artists, and the November 14th edition spotlighted Chris Thornley. The Manchester, England based illustrator creates fake book covers based on lyricss by The Smiths. Thornley’s Raid71 site offers more examples of his eye-catching work. 

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CD Review: Surrendur Dorothi - Spit


This review originally appeared in the July, 1994 issue of the Illinois Entertainer, which featured Associate Editor Gwen Ihnat’s cover story on Spin Doctors. Bruce Pilato interviewed Michael Been from The Call; Brian Steele profiled local band Agatha; and I had a piece on Bloomington, Indiana’s Arson Garden.

The Lite Beer-sponsored concerts at World Music Theatre that summer included John Mellencamp; Eagles; Allman Brothers Band; Aerosmith; and Lollapalooza, with headliners The Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, The Breeders, and L7. In his “File” column, Editor Michael C. Harris said of Lolllapalooza, “This is the all-around strongest lineup yet.”

On the club scene, Elvis Brothers and The Insiders had gigs at Cabana Beach Club in Palatine (a few years before I came to live here with my lovely wife); The Griff Band was at The Edge in Midlothian; Eddie Clearwater was at Kingston Mines; Bad Examples were at Connolly’s Pub on Chicago’s southwest side; and FitzGerald’s in Berwyn was holding its 13th Annual American Music Festival. New releases at Rolling Stone Records on Irving Park Road included The Smithereens’ A Date With The Smithereens; Ivy’s Lately; Talk by Yes; and the Reality Bites motion picture soundtrack.

And now, the review. Note: Surrendur Dorothi included guitarist-vocalist Lorrie Kountz, who first gained fame as part of the four-woman band, Bitch. Bitch got back together for the Haymakers Reunion at Durty Nellie’s earlier this year, and Kountz was blazing away on her guitar. 

True to its name, Spit is a collection of mad-as-hell lyrics set to an abrasive barrage of punk/metal  mayhem. It’s an improvement over the band’s 1993 debut, Raydio Damage, in that there’s a stronger sense of melody throughout, and lead vocalist Dawn Larue has found ways to put forth the band’s feminist agenda other than sneering.

Her deadpan vocals are especially effective on “Going Numb,” in which a woman is appalled when the man who raped her is set loose on a legal technicality. Her more playful approach adds to the high-speed fun of the catchy “Antbisalesbian” (pronounced Aunt Bea Is A Lesbian -- add your favorite Mayberry impression here). LaRue growls on the angry rock song “Tag,” while guitarist Lorrie Kountz does her patented slash and burn, and Denise Sebo and Vulgar Vic Pedraza pound out the rhythm on bass and drums, respectively.

Occasionally, the sparse lyrics on Spit leave it unclear as to what the band is ticked off about. The meaning is loud and clear on “Rape Whistle,” with its chants of “Hate crimes suck!” but on other tracks, like “Roadkill” and “Diescumyuppie,” taunts like, “trailer trash Barbie” and “u sweaty pig” just come across as abusive. If Surrendur Dorothi can bring a stronger focus to its lyrics, the message will be more compelling.  

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