Thursday, March 31, 2011

CD Review: Frosting - Fresh Frosting

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Frosting is a band assembled by veteran musician Mark “Spiv” Grzelak to record his first effort as a frontman. The guitarist for Michael McDermot and other bands, Grzelak has been planning to release Fresh Frosting for years. “Comfortable Enough,” a gritty urban contemporary number, offers common sense advice on succeeding in life, and Grzelak joins vocalist Laura Lopardo for an acoustic take on Lindsey Buckingham’s “Go Insane.” Several tracks, like the energetic “Top Of The World” help bring Grzelak’s longtime plan to fruition.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where’s That Hit?

Photo taken from the Hoodoo Gurus Facebook page.

Note to WXRT fans: This year the station’s Cubs Opening Day celebration falls on the first of April. Since XRT is notorious for its April Fools Day pranks, you have to wonder if the people who gather for the live broadcast this Friday at YakZies on Clark Street will somehow be involved in a large scale scam. It should be interesting to see what happens.

Now that spring training has wrapped up and we’re on the verge of the 2011 baseball season, it seems like a good time to contemplate the Hoodoo Gurus’ “Where’s That Hit?” from their 1989 LP Magnum Cum Louder. Back then, head Hoodoo Dave Faulkner was rumored to be an avid follower of America’s favorite pastime, and he certainly had the lingo down pat on this fun and catchy track.

After playing a few notes from “Take Me Out To The Ball Park” on the organ, Faulkner sets the stage for a rookie’s first challenge in the big leagues. “Bases are loaded, two out and you’re at the plate.” As the song progresses, we get a little background info on the batter. “Just up from the minors/A kid with potential, they said.” The tension mounts. “Here you are at Shea, your heart’s in your throat/Will you make the grade? Will you miss the boat?” The energetic arrangement also features some spirited harmonica playing, and Faulkner winds things up by repeatedly belting out the title with the fervor of a gospel singer.

It’s tempting to think that Faulkner conceived “Where’s That Hit?” as a metaphorical response to pressure from his record label to score a chart topping single. But I think he really just meant it to be a song about baseball. Besides, Magnum Cum Louder already had a potential hit with “Come Anytime,” a melodic gem that featured The Bangles on backup vocals

I saw the Hoodoo Gurus at The Metro in Chicago when they were touring in support of this album. Surprisingly, they didn’t play “Where’s That Hit?” even though they were in walking distance of Wrigley Field.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CD Review: Big Hello - Apple Album

While we wait for the new CD from The Handcuffs, here’s a look back at the first band fronted by the husband and wife team of drummer Brad Elvis and singer-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell. This review of Big Hello’s Apple Album originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer back in 1998.

Brad Elvis recorded three albums of exuberant pop songs with The Elvis Brothers, and he continues his successful streak with Big Hello’s debut, Apple Album. A hard-hitting drummer who bears a slight resemblance to Austin Powers, Elvis draws upon British Invasion and 1960s girl groups for inspiration. He may no longer have stage siblings Brad and Rob around, but he’s found a worthy successor in Chloe F. Orwell, a first-rate vocalist and songwriter.

Orwell’s energetic “Oh Canada” kicks things off nicely, and her winsome “I Don’t Like You” would have fit in perfectly on the soundtrack for That Thing You Do. Johhny Million provides guitar firepower throughout the CD, and he also wrote the catchy “Hooked On The Girl.” Bass player j.a.c.k.i.e. often joins Million on harmony vocals.

Brad Elvis consistently supplies fresh, engaging material like “Star 69” and “Colorado Coastline.” The songs “Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow” and “Pen Pal” rock a little harder, while “Sister Mary” taps into mid-1960s Beatles. Fans who miss The Elvis Brothers will be glad to discover that the fun lives on in Big Hello.

Monday, March 28, 2011

CD Review: Odd Man Out - Havana

Note: Not only do I need to point out that this review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1990, but in full disclosure, I should add that Odd Man Out lead vocalist John Vernon was a staff member of the publication back then and is now its publisher. Still, I can attest that this was and still is an unbiased review of an impressive debut CD. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it was the only effort from the band.

Odd Man Out’s artful blend of acoustic guitars and synthesizers is sure to please anyone who’s into the Depeche Mode or New Order. A Chicago-based group that started by playing the Illinois college circuit, Odd Man Out creates enough atmosphere and catchy melodies on Havana to make it one of the most impressive local releases so far this year.

The eight-song CD features keyboards player Chris Hall building walls of sound via piano and synthesizer while adding quirky instrumental touches like the harmonica solo that opens “India Divided.” Guitarist Jerry Hinck is another essential component, and the rhythm section of Jeff Strohm on bass and Mike Yockey on drums packs a bigger wallop then what you’d expect from a techno-pop band. Lead vocalist John Vernon has more that enough power to keep his voice above the ethereal mix.

Havana has a number of dance-oriented cuts, the best of which is “Breathe,” which benefits from some particularly fluid synthesizer work from Hall. Other songs that should do well on the club scene include the title track and “Water.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Slumgullion #55

Having launched his comeback with the consistently melodic King Of Power Pop CD, singer-guitarist Paul Collins of The Nerves and The Beat fame, has created the first Power Pop-A-Licious. The multi-act festival will be held in Asbury Park, New Jersey on the weekend of Saturday, April 30th and Sunday, May 1st. It’s an all-ages affair that will include Half Rats, who opened for Collins on his recent Midwest tour, as well as Kurt Baker, Amoebas, Neutron Drivers, and The Paul Collins Beat. Tickets are $15 for Saturday and $10 for Sunday.

Phil Angotti and Ellis Clark, both of whom will be participating in IPO in April, are bringing their bands to The Abbey Pub tonight for a show that will include other acts as well. The event starts at 8:30PM with a Chicago Acoustic Underground set featuring Hannah Frank, Goodbye Home, Kavus, Ashley Wolf, Frank Tribes, and Turn Left At Albuquerque. Clark and his band hit the stage an hour later, followed by The Phil Angotti band at 10:30. Ten Foot Tall wraps things up with a set at 11:30. The Abbey Pub is located at 3420 W. Grace in Chicago.

Normally, I don’t keep up with the itinerary for Britney Spears, but the fact that Division 3 Studios is hosting a release party for her new Femme Fatale CD at the Portage Theater this coming Monday sounds like good news for the Chicago area. Portage Theater is a renovated old time venue that has already made a name for itself holding fun movie-related events, and hosting local film festivals. Last Saturday, the locally produced film, The Garage Hoppers had its premiere there. Hopefully, if the Spears gig goes well, The Portage Theater can add CD release parties to its creative repertoire.

The official list of vinyl rarities for this year’s Record Store Day on April 16th has been released, and the blogs are already listing their choices for must-have items. Several of the albums, box sets, and 45s, most of which will be limited editions, look tempting, but right now, my favorites are the two-side dB’s single, “Picture Sleeve/Write Back,” The Foo Fighters’ Medium Rare collection of cover songs, and R.E.M.’s Three First Singles from Collapse Into Now.

Dean Milano, John Benischek, and Jordi Kleiner will be performing tonight from 8:00PM to 10:00PM at The Newport Coffee House at 1121 Half Day Road in Bannockburn. Musicians and singers are invited to join the trio onstage for a number or two. Milano is also the author of a new book titled, The Chicago Music Scene: The 1960s & 1970s, so don’t be surprised if he gives it a few plugs.

Guitarist-vocalist James Moeller of WhiteWolfSonicPrincess and The Telepaths will be hosting a Guitar Circle along with bass player Tim O’Brien at St. Luke’s Church in Evanston tomorrow from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Moeller states in a recent email that all guitar players are welcome to this informal session. St. Luke’s is located at 939 Hinman Avenue, and the Guitar Circle will take place in the Parish Hall Basement.

Joe Jammer, the veteran solo artist and session guitarist who always seems to have a new song ready for the latest sports or news event, will be cutting loose with his band Inside Straights tomorrow afternoon at The Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana from noon to 3:30 PM.

The Smoking Popes, who have just released the impressive This Is Only A Test CD, will be performing at Durty Nellie’s in Palatine on Friday, April 8th.

Time Out magazine’s March 24-30 issue already has the scoop on some of the bands lined up for this summer’s Chicago area street festivals. Rusted Root, Georgie Porgie, and Linda Clifford are on tap for the Windy City Ribfest July 15-17; Toad The Wet Sprocket and Sister Hazel are booked for Taste Of Lincoln Avenue July 30, 31; and Foghat, Todd Carey, and The Smithereens will rock the Roscoe Village Burger Fest July 9, 10. Smithereens 2011, a new CD that proves the band has lost none of its creative power, is now available at Amazon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vintage Publication Spotlight - Spill

The latest entry in an ongoing series devoted to magazines of the past.

I’ve never been much of a globetrotter, so when my wife Pam and I took a three-week European vacation in 2006, we knew it would be the trip of a lifetime. We weren’t disappointed. One of my many goals for that adventure was to pick up some music and entertainment publications from each of the countries we would be visiting.

My obsession with foreign rock magazines stretches back to the early 1970s when I first heard tales of a mystical British paper called Melody Maker that could only be found in Chicago at the coolest stores downtown or on the north side. I checked out a lot of places and drew a lot of blank stares from salespeople before finally finding a source for Melody Maker, as well as New Musical Express.

These days, Borders and Barnes & Noble carry Mojo, Q, Uncut, Shindig, and numerous other UK magazines. But the quest lived on. I knew there had to be other Illinois Entertainer/Reader type publications that never made it across the ocean. So whenever friends or relatives were about to go on a trip to England, I would request that they bring me back a local entertainment paper. And everyone of those people failed. They would tell they looked, but just couldn’t find anything like that.

Then it was my turn to travel abroad, and I was as determined as Marco Polo to bring back those periodical treasures. At the time, Pam worked with Dave Metzger, a graphic artist who would later do a bang-up job playing my deranged, button-seeking nemesis on Manchester Gallery. She asked him if there was anything he wanted her to bring back from Europe, and he requested some local free papers that would like The Reader or the Illinois Entertainer. So now, I would be hunting for both of us.

Within the first few days, I had collected so many local papers, I decided to ship them back to the States. A worker at a London post office looked at me like I was crazy, explaining that I would be paying about $80 in American money just to send a bunch of free papers back home. I decided that I would only mail the ceramic mug I had purchased at the Royal Air Force Museum, and lug all those free publications around Europe for the next few weeks.

I found Spill in a great record store called FOPP in the quaint town of Bath, of all places. Usually tourists flock to Bath because of its historical importance; it had once been ruled by the Romans, who worshipped one of their deities there. Visitors also come for the trendy shopping area, which in 2006 included two FOPP locations. I loved the store so much, I asked if they sold t shirts. They were out at the moment, and I found out later that I probably wouldn’t have bought one anyway because it had a violent graphic design on the front.

Unfortunately, Spill went under in December of that same year. The farewell messages from its staff can still be viewed on the website. Chris Dempsey served as its Managing Editor, and Dominique Czopor was its Creative Editor. I have to admit I’m not familiar with a number of the names featured in the May issue I acquired. Bands like Tiscali and Turbo Audio, and the singer Nerina Pallot, but part of the fun of getting a local paper is being introduced to new stuff.

Spill even had an Around Hear-like column for local musicians, called Unsigned D.I.Y. Scene Demos. Reviewer Suzie Ireland described artist Sicknote as “A crazy-assed nutjob indeed!” while Peter Hitchings employed medical metaphors in his take on the band Glassglue: “Four crazed surgeons spaz out in the operating theatre. - - - One listen will change your existence. You will not enjoy your time in the hospital.”

There were more internationally known artists in the New Releases section, such as Matisyahu, Thievery Corporation, Paramore, and The Black Heart Procession. The back page ad promoted Guilfest 2006, a three day festival in Stoke Park, Guildford that featured The Wonder Stuff, Lightning Seeds, Gary Numan, The Stranglers, Sparks, and Stereo MC’s. The colorful graphics throughout the magazine were eye-catching, while the writing was hip and clever. I’m sure Spill’s passing was lamented in the UK, but at least one issue lives on in my collection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

CD Review: Suncatcher - The Girl That God Forgot

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1998.

The engaging new trio Suncatcher evokes both the early Beatles and R.E.M. on The Girl That God Forgot while maintaining the edge of a modern band. Lead vocalist-guitarist Doug Hammond leans toward cryptic lyrics filled with images of flying, drug abuse, and suicide.

The title track offers weird spiritual references and clever wordplay like, “Clarity begins at home” and “No vaccine, so have me shot.” On “Juvenalia,” Hammond sings,” My fate is something you laugh about./You dance while I do without” against an ethereal backdrop of acoustic and electric guitars. “Dandelion” is a somber ballad set to a string arrangement.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Worship The Women

It was over 25 years ago when the renowned musician Mick Maloney suggested to penny whistle and flute player Joannie Madden that she form a band that would celebrate the Irish tradition of fathers passing their musical talent and knowledge on to their daughters. His idea for an all-woman Celtic band resulted in Cherish The Ladies. A short time later, they were performing in Ireland, where a local official introduced them as Worship The Women.

That amusing tale was one of many spun by Madden during a Cherish The Ladies performance last Saturday night at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of Dupage. At this point, she and guitarist Mary Coogan are the only original members left, but as always, the group featured top notch musicians. Long time fans are accustomed to Madden’s sense of humor and gift of gab, but the McAninch show offered something many haven’t seen before, which was Cherish The Ladies backed by a full orchestra. The situation wasn’t new to the group; Cherish The Ladies performed with The Boston Pops on The Celtic Album, which was nominated for a Grammy award.

New Philharmonic, with Kirk Muspratt as its music director and conductor, also has an impressive reputation, so the St. Patrick’s Day weekend concert provided an entertaining blend of musical talents. Muspratt, who was dubbed by Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein as Chicagoan Of The Year in classical music, is a charismatic leader whose infectious sense of humor has traces of Tom Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus.

New Philharmonic opened the show with a rousing performance of composer Leroy Anderson’s Irish Suite. Malcolm Arnold’s piece, Four Scottish Dances, which Muspratt explained was okay for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration since the Scottish and Irish are both Celtic, came next, followed by Gerard Fahy’s “Magh Scola.” Madden joined the orchestra for Jerry Lackey’s “Irish Dance” just before Intermission.

The second half of the show brought Cherish The Ladies front and center, which offered another pleasant surprise in the return of vocalist Deirdre Connolly. Connolly had served as the lead singer on the ambitious 2001 release, The Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone, but hadn’t performed live with the group in some time. In addition to Connolly, Madden, and Coogan, the current Cherish The Ladies lineup includes accordion player Mirella Murray, fiddle player Grainne Murphy, and piano player Kathleen Boyle. With accompaniment from New Philharmonic, the women played a mix of instrumentals and ballads, including old favorites like “The Ballad Of The Foxhunter” and “High Germany.”

The evening also featured Stratford, Ontario fiddle player Dan Stacey, who doubled as a first rate step-dancer. A coed quartet of step-dancers augmented the music from time to time, and along with Stacey, helped Cherish The Ladies and New Philharmonic close with a high energy flourish. Afterward, the six women met with appreciative (worshiping?) fans in the lobby, along with Muspratt and the shamrock decorated treats he had promised throughout the performance.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Slumgullion #54

Born Ready Films will hold the premiere of their full-length movie The Garage Hoppers tonight at The Portage Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Written and directed by Andrew Morris, who is also one of the cast members, the film takes its plot from the current crime wave of kids breaking into garages to steal liquor. The title characters not only steal the booze, they run a lucrative business selling it to their friends. They have no trouble contending with a rival gang of hooch-grabbers on rollerblades, but run into trouble after snatching the last two beers from a garage owned by two deranged hillbillies. A pair of kidnappings and other mayhem cause the two gangs to join forces.

In addition to Andrew Morris, the cast includes Brian Morris, Max Ryan, Bryan Rafferty, and Jennifer Augustus. Bryn Packard, a funny guy who performed with my former comedy group Famous In The Future for a few years, also appears in the film. Tonight will be the only opportunity to see The Garage Hoppers for at least a few months, and DVD’s are not available yet. Other short films will be shown as well. The Portage Theatre is located at 4050 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

David Bash, who’ll be bringing International Pop Overthrow to Chicago next month, is a published rock critic as well as a promoter. He recently posted on Facebook that he just learned of a six-disc Hollies box set titled The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years that will be released on the EMI label May 9th. Of course, avid Hollies fans will already have most of the songs, but Bash says that there will be at least one previously unreleased track - - a live performance recorded back in 1968. Further details to come.

The dB’s will be releasing the 45 “Picture Sleeve”/“Write Back” on April 16th for Record Store Day. The band has also completed its new CD and will have news about its release in the near future. dB’s founder Chris Stamey is organizing a second live performance of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers (the first was in Chapel Hill, NC) for March 26th at Mason Hall in New York. Participants include Stamey, Will Rigby, Mitch Easter, Mike Mills, Matthew Sweet, Tift Merritt, Jody Stephens, and Don Dixon’s daughter, Sydney Dixon.

Ground Zero blog has a post from L. Kent Wolgamott of the Lincoln Journal Star that covers The Bangles’ recent SXSW live show at the Cedar Street Courtyard. While some critics had dismissed the band’s inclusion on the schedule as shameless nostalgia, Wolgamott feels the performance at this “jam-packed” gig was better than he remembered. He doesn’t elaborate on the last time he saw them. Surprisingly, The Bangles didn’t play any of the new tracks from their forthcoming CD.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CD Review: Cherish The Ladies - The Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone

Hope everyone is having a festive St. Patrick’s Day. In that spirit, here’s a review of a Cherish The Ladies CD I did for the Illinois Entertainer back in 2001. The band will be performing with the New Philharmonic this Saturday and Sunday at the McInnich Arts Center at the College of DuPage.

The Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone is the eighth collection of original and traditional Celtic music released by Cherish The Ladies. This time out, the six-woman band is augmented by an international cast of male singers and musicians. The music exudes a close knit ambience, much like At Home, the 1999 album that featured The Ladies performing with members of their families.

New lead singer Deidre Connolly fits right in, weaving gorgeous harmony vocals with flute and whistle player Joannie Madden and piano player Donna Long on “The Broom Of The Cowdenknowes” (which also features Eric Weissberg on banjo). The touching ballad “Ireland Love Of My Heart” showcases Connolly’s voice, and she joins John McCutcheon (vocals and hammered dulcimer), Tom Chapin (vocals and banjo), and Tommy Makem (vocals) on the folksy “Rambling Irishman.”

Liam O’Maonlai from Hothouse Flowers sings in Gaelic on “The Mad Puck Goat,” a funny song with irresistible percussion, and Luka Bloom croons the romantic ballad “I'll Walk Beside You.” Singer Paddy Reilly and fiddle player John Sheahan contribute to the passion of “Down By The Glenside,” a tribute to Irish freedom fighters. “The Jolly Beggerman” is a ribald tale spun by singers Liam Clancy and Arlo Guthrie while Pete Seeger strums a banjo.

The Girls Won’t Leave The Boys Alone offers a number of spirited jigs and reels. The quartet of reels that closes the CD finds Cherish The Ladies joined by musicians Billy McComiskey, Brendan Mulvihill, and Mick Moloney. Moloney first suggested the idea of forming Cherish The Ladies to Joannie Madden back in 1983.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vintage Publication Spotlight - Pringle’s Presents Billboard's Summer Preview ‘89

The latest entry in an ongoing series devoted to magazines of the past.

These days, if you’re fond of any particular product, you can go to the company’s Facebook page and click on the Like button. For example, I Like Natural Ovens bread, Shindig magazine, Pepsi Throwback, Trader Joe’s supermarkets, and Sweet Tomatoes buffet restaurants. Think any of these places will send me some freebies for plugging them? Probably not.

Back in 1989 though, if you were a potato chip company looking to get your name out in front of thousands of cash-spending youngsters, you sponsored a magazine. And so, the Pringle’s Presents Billboard’s Summer Preview ‘89 was born. I can’t remember exactly, but I have a hunch this neon colored, multi-photograph publication was tucked inside some other mag, probably Rolling Stone. The eight-page guide covered a wide range of touring acts via brief but enthusiastic profiles. A page on rock fashion described Madonna as, “one part drama, one part romance. And all fantasy” Debbie Gibson was a “bouncy Long Island native” who always topped off her outfits with a great hat.

Other pages concentrated on the music. Readers were advised to “run like an Egyptian to The Bangles’ summer concerts, as the world’s hottest all-female group takes to the stage for a gigantic U.S. tour.” R.E.M. were “the boys from Athens, GA -- heartthrob lead singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bass player Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry.” The legendary Who were returning for a 25th anniversary tour, and The Rolling Stones, who were also deemed legendary, were going to “rock the U.S. from coast to coast with the most eagerly awaited concert event of the year.”

Other glowing profiles in the Pringle’s guide covered Bon Jovi, Metallica, Ziggy Marley, LL Cool J, Midnight Oil, Tiffany, Fine Young Cannibals, and Poison. The Summer’s Past page (their grammar, not mine) listed hit songs from previous years, and included one of the silliest-looking photos of U2 ever published. To Pringle’s credit, there isn’t a single ad in the guide, although the company’s logo is on almost half the pages. By the way, 9,488, 473 people Like Pringle’s on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CD Review: The Interpreters - Back In The U.S.S.A.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1998.

The Interpreters are so fluent in early ‘80s Brit punk and new wave, they could hit the club circuit as a tribute band for The Cure. Fortunately, these New Jersey-based lads exude enough original fun and energy to make each song uniquely their own. Almost all of Back In The U.S.S.A.’s 16 tracks are under three minutes long, but true to the group’s clever espionage motif, they’re action-packed.

Vocalist-bassist Herschel Gaer sounds identical to The Cure’s Robert Smith on the catchy punk rock of “Sellers” and “Uptight.” He maintains an engaging presence throughout the album while guitarist Patsy Palladino and drummer Brankominich add infectious energy as back-up singers, particularly during the freewheeling vocal interplay of “Glorious.” “Today And Every Day” combines heavenly harmonies and frenetic guitar strumming for one of U.S.S.A.’s most ambitious tracks. From start to finish, this impressive debut translates into pure fun.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slumgullion #53

I’ve mentioned The Second Disc before, but it really is worth signing up to receive regular updates from this reissues-obsessed blog. An email I received yesterday immediately caught my attention with an opening line that proclaimed, “It’s Hollies-mania all over again!” The reason for this excitement is a new crop of Hollies-related reissues and box sets. The Second Disc reports that April 19th will see the release of a vinyl box set of the band’s rarities, as well as the Lost Recordings And Beat Rarities CD box set on the Sundazed label. Hollies fans can also look for vinyl reissues of the 1966 Imperial albums, Beat Group and Bus Stop. BGO Records is also set to release a disc that combines the 1964 release Here I Go Again with the 1965 release Hear! Here! The Second Disc has also recently provided news on reissues by Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Beach Boys’ long lost SMiLE album.

Singer Cliff Johnson and his current band will be digging into the Off Broadway treasure chest of power pop gems for an Off Broadway Redux gig scheduled at the Nitecap Lounge on April 2nd. Johnson will be performing some of his newer stuff as well. The Nitecap Lounge is located at 5007 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago. The show starts at 9:30.

Tres-Tres, a new band on the Chicago scene, has just released its debut effort, Romantic Propaganda. The group describes its music as power pop for moderns, and the consistently clever lyrics are packed with references to several high-tech devices. The well-polished vocals and arrangements call to mind The Outfield, but at times they’re a bit too commercial for my tastes. “Holly Says Go,” a fun tale about hanging out with trendy gal whose hot looks get her into any club she wants, and the catchy “Ashley Chase” are the best tracks. Romantic Propaganda definitely sounds like a hit record, but I’d like Tres-Tres more if they threw out the rule book and played a little rougher.

A trio of improv groups at The Playground Theater are plenty excited about the second annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, also known as C2E2. On Friday, March 18th, The Fling, International Stinger, and The Tweet Life will be aiming for an entire evening’s worth of laughs “dedicated to and inspired by the awesomeness that is C2E2.” The Tweet Life’s performance will be based on the Twitter musings of comic book writer Warren Ellis. The show kicks off at 8:00 PM. Tickets for the BYOB event are $10. The Playground Theater is offering visitors to its website a chance to win weekend passes to C2E2.

Most of the visitors to The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, which is coming to the West Building at McCormick Place March 18th - 20th, will probably stop by the Tonner exhibit. The company makes lifelike dolls and figures of celebrities, and has hit on an interesting method for getting the word out about its products. It’s now possible to become Facebook friends with Andy Mills, Cami Malone, and Jonquil Parker - - a trio of impeccably dressed dolls who hang out in Manhattan; seeing the latest hit musicals, visiting museums, and planning elegant social events. If you don’t mind inanimate objects having more fun than you ever do, you might want to Like them on Facebook.

WXRT DJ Tom Marker posted a blog on the station’s website this week with the news that Garbage may be planning to release a CD of new material within the coming months. A new tune called “The Hunger,” featuring Garbage front woman Shirley Manson on vocals, is available on iTunes, with the profits going to help Amnesty International. The song is from the musical Prometheus Bound.

Thomas Conner, the Sun-Times music critic noted in yesterday’s edition that this year’s Ravinia schedule leans heavily toward pleasing Baby Boomers. Several classic rock acts will be performing, including Robert Plant, Deep Purple, The Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Peter Frampton, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The most intriguing date for me is the double bill of The Go-Go’s and The B-52’s. When last heard from, The Go-Go’s had aborted a farewell tour last year due to a Jane Wiedlin injury. I'm wondering if the Ravinia date is part of a new swan song, or if the girls have decided to stick around for a while. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.

James Moeller and Carla Hayden, founders of Black Forest Theatre as well as members of the WhiteWolfSonicPrincess alt-rock band, have unveiled a new venture dubbed Black Forest Design. The company will provide clients with website design, web application development, graphic arts, and other services. For more information, send an email to

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is selling new t shirts and mugs to help promote the 2011 Inductees. This year’s ceremony, honoring Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love, and Tom Waits, will be held on March 14th at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The show will be broadcast on Fuse.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

CD Review: The Green Pajamas - This Is Where We Disappear

Note this review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 2001.

Time appears to have little relevance for The Green Pajamas. The Seattle-based band, which remains virtually unknown after 19 years of recording, is just as likely to draw inspiration from 18th century literature as Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Their recently released This Is Where We Disappear is a concept album that weaves references to ghosts, religion, lust, and love into compelling pop music.

Opening with the lush and psychedelic title track, The Green Pajamas establish an other-worldly ambience right from the start. Distorted guitars and layered vocals underscore lyrics like, “Now be still my goblin heart, It is time that we depart.” Singer-guitarist-keyboards player Jeff Kelly is the Pajamas’ chief songwriter, and he’s a master of poetic imagery. “The Moorland Ghost” refers to a specter whose “dress was blowing wild/A thousand ribbons in the wind,” while the acoustic ballad, “Softly, Elizabeth” echoes the eccentric charm of Barrett’s early work.“Matilda” rocks harder and features medieval style lyrics based on a 1796 horror story called The Monk.

On the lighter side, “The Waitress At The Old White Lion” calls to mind “Kim The Waitress,” which was recorded by The Green Pajamas in 1984 and later covered by Material Issue. “Sweet 16” is an exquisite pop song about a forbidden love, while “Wild Desire,” set to a primitive drum and bass arrangement, views lust as a disease. “The Wave (It’s Becoming Very Clear)” is a short, symphonic reprise of the title track, and provides a fitting coda for an album that deserves to be viewed as a classic.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CD Review: The Delgados - Domestiques

Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer in 1997.

The Delgados uncork a spirited mix of pop and punk music on their first U.S. release, Domestiques. The Scottish quartet also tosses in a handful of ballads, some with string arrangements, but the freewheeling tracks are the most fun.

“Under Canvas Under Wraps” gets the CD off to a rollicking start as singer Emma Pollock employs a Paul Westerberg style slur while engaging her cohorts in call and response vocals. Pollock takes a playful approach with her lilting accent, and she’s at her best soaring over the punk energy of “Sucrose” and “Strathcona Slung.” “One More Question” has a simple acoustic arrangement, but its emotions ring true, and the band follows that number with a blast of high energy on “Big Business In Europe.”

“Pinky” has a childlike quality, in contrast to the hard-edged media bashing of “4th Channel.” When a band is able to switch gears as willing;y as The Delgados do, it makes for adventurous listening.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CD Review: Sarge - Charcoal

Singer-guitarist Elizabeth Elmore picked up a droll shout-out in Illinois Entertainer editor Steve Forstneger’s File column this month for being a smart lawyer as well as a genuine rock and roller. I saw Elmore’s current band The Reputation do a bang-up job of opening for The Go-Go’s at the House Of Blues a few years back, and bought a copy of their To Force A Fate CD right after the set. Here’s a review I wrote for I.E. of a CD Elmore released with her former band Sarge back in 1996.

Champaign-Urbana trio Sarge creates a distinct sound on Charcoal based on the jarring contrast between lead vocalist-guitarist Elizabeth Elmore’s sweet voice and the unbridled anger of her lyrics. At times, Elmore even adds a theatrical flair to her vocals, making her observations on dead-end relationships all the more compelling. Together with bassist Rachel Switzky and drummer Russ Horvath, she fuses elements of folk music with punk intensity on this impressive debut.

Elmore depicts a cycle of self-destruction on the hard-rocking “Chicago,” from the pregnant woman who discovers her husband cheating on her, to their daughter, who’s running wild by the age of 13; “She’s finding nothing in the answers that she sought/and no redemption in his car in a vacant lot.” “Dear Josie, Love Robyn” offers a farewell letter to an abusive boyfriend, and “Smoke” takes a jaded look at the bar scene. Charcoal has quieter moments regarding relationships, like “Bedroom” and “Another Gear Uncaught,” but they’re not any more optimistic.

Monday, March 7, 2011

CD Review: Mimi Betinis - All That Glitters

Singer-guitarist Mimi Betinis burst onto the power pop scene in 1977 via the Chicago-based Pezband’s impressive self-titled debut. He had replaced Cliff Johnson, but the two vocalists would later join forces in Black And Blonde, which then morphed into a latter-day version of Off Broadway in 1997. Like Johnson, Betinis has a classic rock and roll voice and a knack for composing irresistible melodies.

All That Glitters, released in late 2010, is a solo outing that finds Betinis primarily working in a power pop vein that recalls Pezband gems like “Please Be Somewhere Tonight” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” He makes an immediate impression with the cautionary “Love Is Just A Thin Veneer,” a guitar-driven song that questions the validity of romantic relationships, and also scores with the melodic rock of “Romance Me” and “Every Little Thing.” “Come On Down To My House” is a funky bit of pole dance rock song with sensual imagery, while “Blue Sky” offers a tropical fantasy that features Ides Of March Horns players Chuck Soumar and Dave Stalhberg.

There are more ambitious tracks on All That Glitters as well. With help from back-up vocalist Carla Hassett, cellist Arie Levy, violinist Stephanie Lee, and arranger Stan Skora, Betinis creates well-crafted tunes like “Say The Word” and “What’s Your Name” that adroitly blend elements of pop and classical music. “Summer Rain” is an instrumental waltz, and Betinis also includes an inventive take on John Lennon’s “Across The Universe.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Slumgullion #52

Photo from The Handcuffs website.

Two Girls For Every Guy. Chloe F. Orwell, singer-guitarist for The Handcuffs, has been promising on Facebook that there will be a lot more girls than guys on stage at Quenchers Saloon tomorrow night when her band plays a triple bill with The Maybenauts and The Wanton Looks. The evening will also be a great opportunity to catch some energetic indie rock. The Handcuffs, led by Orwell and drummer Brad Elvis, have recorded two solid CDs, and are on the verge of releasing their third. Co-ed rockers The Maybenauts just released the very fun Big Bang EP, and The Wanton Looks are a hard-hitting four-woman band with great hooks and harmonies. The show starts at 9:30PM.

The IPO Play At Home Game. The entire schedule for International Pop Overthrow - Chicago 20011 is now up on the fest’s website. I can’t go into too much detail now, because I’ll be doing an online preview again this year for the Illinois Entertainer. But I can suggest a fun game for anyone who’s interested in power pop and indie rock music. Just pick one of the more intriguing band names listed on schedule, and do a quick Google search on it. Usually, the group’s MySpace page will be one of the first choices. Check it out, and chances are you’ll discover some new music you’ll really like. Then try another act, and another, and so on.

You can even put on a cowboy hat and pretend your IPO honcho David Bash, since he once told me that checking out MySpace pages is one of his chief methods for choosing acts. If you live in the Chicago area, be sure to check out the IPO showcases where you can see these bands perform live. Those living elsewhere can consider downloading a band’s songs or going the old-fashioned route and buying an actual CD.

Sad News. “I Had Too Much To Dream” by The Electric Prunes was one of those songs I loved from the first moment I heard in on WLS radio back in the 1960s. So it’s sad to note that the band’s bassist, Mark Tulin recently passed away.

I’m Too Sixties For My Shirt. The latest edition of The Hollies Carousel newsletter arrived in the mail, with its usual roundup of news items, concert reviews, and fans’ correspondence. One fan, while writing about the St. Albans Arena show, noted that there were new Hollies t shirts for sale. This is an interesting development since I don’t think there’s been an official Hollies t shirt since the 1983 reunion tour with Graham Nash. (Unless you count an unimaginative white one with the band’s name in red letters that was made for the 2000 Hollies Convention in Eastbourne. I believe that was the shirt I was wearing when I met Carl Wayne just before a concert in Minnesota in 2002.)

Judging from a photo of guitarist Tony Hicks wearing one of the new shirts on stage, it’s a proper t shirt with actual art, showing silhouettes of the current band members. Rob Haywood, from the Hollies Official website (where I had purchased the Eastbourne t shirt), responded to my urgent e-mail inquiry by assuring me that he hopes to have the shirts available online in the very near future.

Shamrocking In Palatine. My sedate home town of Palatine will be holding its first ever St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 12th, along with an Irish Market by the Metra Station, and a line-up of entertainment at Durty Nellie’s. The rock club has plenty of experience when it comes to commemorating the Irish holiday, dating back to the days of its old location, when it booked first-rate band like McTavish and The Chicago Rovers. I can’t say I’m familiar with the acts lined up for this year - - Flatfoot 56, Rod Tuffcurls & Bench Press, Black Cadillac, and the popular cover act Wedding Banned - - but hopefully, they’ll be fun.

There’ll Be None Of That On My Blog. I deliberately avoided using Irish jargon in the above item, figuring I’d leave that to the 95 year-old men who write the bulk of America’s radio commercials. Every March, there’s another batch of atrocious attempts at Irish accents, particularly on ads for McDonalds, but the current commercial for the Illinois State Lottery’s St. Patrick’s Day Millionaire Raffle sets a new low. The premise of a customer immediately becoming Irish after buying the ticket is hokey enough, but the actor’s strained attempts at a brogue are further hampered by a script that has him using the distinctively British slang words “bloody” and “blimey.”

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