Thursday, February 28, 2013

CD Review: Andy Stone - This Giant Awoke

Listening to singer/multi-instrumentalist Andy Stone breeze through his latest release, This Giant Awoke, it’s tempting to assume this stuff just comes easily to him. Still, it must have taken some preparation to craft the indelible melodies, clever rhymes, and gorgeous layered vocals he brings to these 10 tracks. A published novelist, Stone also shows a willingness to delve into emotional situations outside the realm of standard love songs.

“The Couple Sitting Next To Me” is set in a restaurant where he's seated uncomfortably close to a man and woman who’ve reached a crisis in their relationship. Stone cleverly compares aspects of their argument to hors d’oeuvres and entrees. “I Am The Adopted Kid” has such a fun arrangement it initially seems like it's going to be spooky, similar to Nightmare Before Christmas, but develops into a thought-provoking study of a boy trying to comprehend how his birth parents could have abandoned him. Other songs, like “Understanding Me” and “This Is It” almost have a Broadway feel.

“Welcome To Your Love” and “Another Rainy Day” might be too light and peppy for some cutting-edge rock fans, but Stone also serves up the ringing power pop of “Topsy-Turvy.” “Witnessing My Reveal is a guitar-driven song about sharing your deepest secrets with a loved one, and the 1980s flavor of the title track adds even more variety to this entertaining effort.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

45 RPM Memories: “Itchycoo Park”

Back in 1967, “Itchycoo Park” was just about the most psychedelic hit single on Top 40 radio. It’s probably the best-known song by The Small Faces in America, since the band was never quite as popular here as it was in England. Written by vocalist-guitarist Steve Marriot and bassist-vocalist Ronnie Lane, “Itchycoo Park” has a seductive melody and synthesized drums that sound like rockets or jet fighters. It’s done in a call and response vocal arrangement, as a lad tries to lead his classmates astray with promises of a mystical destination.

For us kids, it was hard to decipher all the lyrics; we thought “But why the tears there?” was “But why’s the cheese there?” Still, we could certainly identify with “You can miss out school/Why go to learn the words of fools?” The repeated line, “It’s so all too beautiful” sparked visions of a hippie paradise where everyone gets high.

I bought this particular copy on Record Store Day last year at the Reckless Records in downtown Chicago. At $11.49, it was one of the pricier 45 rarities, but it is a limited edition re-issue on the Immediate label, and included a limited edition postcard. 2012 was the year that The Small Faces were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Record Store Day will take place on April 20th this year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CD Review: The Mint Chicks - Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!

Note: This review originally ran in the January, 2008 issue of the Illinois Entertainer. Editor Steve Forstneger compiled the cover story, which was 25 Songs That Make Chicago Shake. Among the honorees were “Kind Of A Drag” by The Buckinghams, “Oh What A Night” by The Dells, John Prine’s “Sam Sloane,” Material Issue’s “Valerie Loves Me,” “Come Sail Away” by Styx, Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and The Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

In addition to the main Top 25 , there were shorter lists, broken down by genre. The Top Garage Rock Songs were: 1. “I Confess” - New Colony Six 2. “Gloria” - Shadows Of Knight 3. “Bend Me Shape Me” - The American Breed 4. “Sugar & Spice” - The Cryan Shames 5. Hold On” - The Mauds.

The Mint Chicks are a quartet of wiseguys who mix punk, new wave, power pop, and bizarre lyrics in a high-speed blender. Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! was named Best Rock Album at the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards, before the band relocated to the less exotic Portland, Oregon. Their material is consistently manic, although The Mint Chicks, for better or worse, also offer a few twists and turns.

The best surprise is the melodic and slightly mellow “Ammie,” which suddenly places the band directly in The Smiths' territory. The worst is a silly, six minute instrumental called “100 Minutes of Silence.” Along the way, The Mint Chicks serve up a nonstop barrage of energetic gems, including the androgynous pop of “You’re Just As Confused As I Am,” the party song “Real Friends,” and the punk snippet “Don’t Turn Me On Just To Turn Me Off.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Novel Review: The Blue Kind - By Kathryn Born

Full Disclosure: I used to write for Chicago Art Magazine. Kathryn Born was the founder and editor of that online publication. She is now coeditor of The Essential New Art Examiner

Kathryn Born's debut novel, The Blue Kind, drops readers into a chaotic future society where pretty much everyone is morally bankrupt. Rather than offer immediate explanations of why America has degenerated into a color-coded caste system of dealers and addicts, or how her three main characters became immortal, Born instead lets us navigate this rugged terrain on our own.

Alison, the novel's hard-edged main character, appears to be a teenager, but like her untrustworthy husband Cory and their addled mutual friend Ray, she's actually centuries old. Alison drops intriguing clues as she describes the monotony of her endless existence, and the squalid lifestyle she shares with Cory and Ray in an abandoned movie theatre. They have a desperate need to use mind and body altering drugs, as well as make a living by selling them.

Some readers might be disappointed that questions still remain after The Blue Kind has reached its surprise ending. I don’t think Born was interested in creating a thoroughly linear storyline. This is more of a feminist/sci-fi fable where men view their wives and girlfriends as collateral to be used while wheeling and dealing for more power and riches. I have another theory about The Blue Kind, but can’t discuss it without giving away too much of the book. What’s most important is that Alison is a three-dimensional and sympathetic character who’s willing to risk everything to achieve her freedom. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Slumgullion

This past Friday’s Slumgullion was devoted to all things Beatle in honor of George Harrison’s upcoming 70th birthday. But there are some other happenings worth noting.

The new CD Hitmen by Big Boy Pete and The Squire is an unlikely alliance between 1960s British recording artist Pete Miller and New York-based producer/musician Christopher Zajkowski, who has recorded a number of power pop/psychedelic albums under the moniker, The Squires Of The Subterrain. Miller crafted the infectious melodies decades ago, and Zajkowski has updated the lyrics, often with an eye toward modern politics. Zajkowski played guitar, drums, and bass on the recordings, while Miller provided the quirky vocals. Billed as “A collaboration between two certified sanctified psychedolics,” Hitmen can be ordered Rocket Racket Records.  

The dates for this year’s International Pop Overthrow - Chicago haven’t been established yet, but the celebration of power pop and indie rock is likely to be staged here around the third week of April. In the meantime, this look at two of the acts scheduled for International Pop Overthrow - New York will provide prime examples of IPO founder David Bash’s knack for finding new talent. Brooklyn’s The Thigh-Highs tap into 1960s British Invasion pop for catchy songs like “Alice On The Moon” and use cool retro art for promoting their gigs. New York trio London Egg pursues a harder-edged power pop/blues sound on “Steal My Love” and go acoustic on “Fool Again.” I picked these bands because their names sounded interesting, but there’s sure to be several other worthy acts on the IPO - New York schedule. Can’t wait to see what Bash cooks up for Chicago.

Congratulations to musician/journalist/comic artist Dan Pavelich on his strip Just Say Uncle being signed  by Universal Press Syndicate for its GoComics website. Pavelich is asking people to support his efforts by subscribing to Just Say Uncle and clicking on it ever time it pops up on Facebook. You can subscribe by signing up to receive Just Say Uncle via email at free of charge, but there is also a paid subscription for $11.88, which allows you to subscribe to any other strips you want as well.

Singer-songwriter Phil Angotti, whose last effort was the introspective but engaging People And Places, recently noted on Facebook that he’s just about finished with the follow-up. Chloe F. Orwell, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Handcuffs, recently joined Angotti in the studio to help out. The Handcuffs  are currently working on their fourth release.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Slumgullion - George Version

Fans of George Harrison will have a variety of ways to celebrate his 70th birthday this weekend.

B4 And After,  a band comprised of veteran musicians, kicked things off with a Concert For George! at Blues Bar in Mount Prospect tonight, that covered his career from the early Beatles days on through to his solo work.

Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens will be performing Beatles songs at the Sears Corporate Center in Hoffman Estates tomorrow night as part of a fundraiser for the Hoffman Estates Loyal Parents Group. The Center is located at 3333 Beverly Road, the event kicks off at 6:00 PM.

On Breakfast With The Beatles this Sunday morning on WXRT, host Terri Hemmert will be doing a tribute to the man she affectionately calls, “the not so quiet Beatle.” Regular contributor/Beatles historian Professor Moptop will also be on hand, most likely offering behind-the-scenes looks at some of Harrison’s recordings. Listeners outside the Chicago area can stream the show through the station’s website.

Sir Frankie Crisp & Friends have recorded a digital-only charity single of “My Sweet Lord.”  I’m assuming the cover art is by Georgina Flood, since she posted a link to Amazon on her Facebook page. All proceeds from the sale of  “My Sweet Lord” will go to the AMREF Foundation, to help improve healthcare in Africa.

Flood also designed the official t shirt that will be given to the first 300 people to arrive at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York’s Times Square this Sunday when Q104.3 DJ Ken Dashow hosts a Breakfast With The Beatles celebration of Harrison’s 70th birthday. The charming Ms. Flood is flying in from Ireland to be part of the fun.

Fans can also celebrate by checking out  Enya Harrison RA’s  Happy 70th Birthday George Harrison! Facebook page where she’s been posting photos and some of her drawings.

The always informative online newsletter The Second Disc recently reported on the fifth collection of demos by artists signed to The Beatles’ Apple Publishing. All but three of the 24 tracks on 94 Baker Street Revisited  - Poptastic Sounds From The Apple Era 1967 - 1968 are previously unreleased.

Debbi and Vicki and Debbi Peterson of The Bangles were among several musicians performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul at the Wild Honey Orchestra benefit for the Autism Think Tank last Saturday in North Hollywood, CA. John Wicks from The Records and Matthew Sweet also took part. The Peterson sisters had a a sort of Paisley Underground reunion when they met up with Michael Quercio from The Three O’Clock backstage. The Three O’Clock covered “Lovely Rita Meter Maid.”

Director Ryan White has been given permission from Apple Corps to use the songs “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Will,” “I Feel Fine,” and “Love Me Do” for his documentary about longtime Beatles Fan Club secretary Freda Kelly. Good Ol’ Freda will have its world premiere ar the SXSW Film Festival  next month in Austin, TX.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

CD Review: Gerry O’Keefe - Whatever Suits You

Note: Gerry O’Keefe will be holding an all-ages record release party for Whatever Suits You on Saturday, February 23rd, at the 2nd Hand Mall/Record Utopia at 309 W. Ogden Avenue in Westmont. He’ll be performing from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

Self-described “lifelong melody worshiper” Gerry O’Keefe is a veteran of the Chicago music scene, including a stint in the early 90s as the lead vocalist-guitarist of the power pop band, The Hideouts. At first listen, he seems to be taking a more laid-back approach on his new Whatever Suits You full-length CD. On closer inspection, it’s clear that O’Keefe still adores a catchy melody, especially one that’s augmented with harmony vocals and jangling guitars.

Brian Bukowski, another former member of The Hideouts, contributes backup vocals on five tracks, including the Country & Western flavored “Darlin’ Divine.” Greta Morgan’s honky tonk piano playing fuels “We’ll Call It Hope” and she sings back up on the melodic “Good When It’s Gone.” The more commercial “The Road That Doesn’t End” is the only track that feels a bit strained.

Throughout Whatever Suits You, O’Keefe looks at life and relationships from a variety of angles. On the touching “Lovingly,” he’s a dying man trying to comfort his loved one, while the energetic “Empty Refrain (Nos. 9-12)” uses a Buddy Holly type arrangement to depict a guy with a love-the-one-you're-with attitude. The fun “In Your Closet” is another highlight on this easy-going effort.   

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dolly Varden - The Art Of Songwriting - Part Two

The second half of an article I recently wrote for the Illinois Entertainer

Dawson’s compositions over the years have been notable for their strong melodies and poetic lyrics that emphasize visual imagery. Sometimes they’re inspired by a single phrase he comes up with or hears from someone else. The beguiling “Temperamental Complement” came to Dawson as he was listening to an NPR radio show about how introverts are more likely to have successful relationships with extroverts than other introverts, and vice versa. Temperamental Complement” might just be Dolly Varden at its most adventurous. A high-powered, alt rock arrangement backs Christiansen's vocals, which are electronically altered to the point where some people have failed to recognize it's her singing. Then there are lines like, “bird underneath each arm, moving without incident, no cause for alarm" and "spooning with a stranger's dog." 

“Making literal sense is not really that much of a priority for me,” Dawson explained with a laugh, when asked about such lyrics. “It's more about the feeling. One of the assignments I give my class is to write a song that's meaningless, that just has a musicality to the language. I've had songs over the years that are very image heavy and non-linear.” Even Dawson's most wistful and autobiographical material, like “Del Mar, 1976,” a look back to his childhood, and the family history of “Saskatchewan To Chicago,” leave much to the listener's imagination.

 The studio trickery on behind “Temperamental Complement” is a result of Dawson’s growing technical expertise. He’s started recording other performers in his home studio, including Melanie Budd and Eugenia Elliott. On the other hand, songs like “Mayfly” and  “Del Mar, 1976,” were given bare bones productions that evoke a live performance in a local club.

The one feature all Dolly Varden’s songs have in common, regardless of genre or production techniques, is compelling vocals. It’s been that way since Dawson and Christiansen performed together in their first band, Stump The Host. With Dolly Varden, they take turns singing lead and backup, and on the disturbing “Girl In A Well,” sing in perfect unison. Sometimes, the vocal arrangements spring naturally, like when Dawson plays a demo for Christiansen, and she starts to sing along when it feels right. Occasionally, the process gets more complicated.

“That’s maybe the most contentious thing about us singing together,” Dawson revealed. “How we’re going to go about doing it. If there are arguments, that’s often where they’ll happen.” According to Dawson, Christiansen’s concern is that too many duets, particularly on songs with a Country & Western flavor, can easily become a cliche. “On ‘Done (Done),’ I had to really encourage her that it would be good for us to sing the whole song in two-part harmony together.”

Even with Dawson and Christiansen doing less singing together on For A While, Dolly Varden’s basic approach hasn’t changed much over the years. “We’re not dramatically different,” Dawson acknowledges. “Which I don’t know if that’s a good thing. A lot of bands really go through drastic changes. But I feel like what we do is already such an amalgam of influences, and those influences have been there from the beginning.”

Looking back on Dolly Varden’s extensive career, Dawson notes that he does like some albums better than others. For A While ranks up at the top, along with another one of his favorites, the 1999 release, Dumb Magnets.

“Those two records as a pair have a similar sound,” he said, “I think they all have a certain character.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dolly Varden - The Art Of Songwriting - Part One

Photo from Dolly Varden’s Facebook page.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer. The band, which was also recently profiled in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Time Out Chicago,  just returned from a short tour in the UK.

Dolly Varden has been releasing CD’s since its critically-acclaimed debut, Mouthful Of Lies, came out in 1995, but describing the Chicago-based quintet’s music can still be a bit tricky. Singer-guitarist Steve Dawson crisscrosses genres as Dolly Varden’s main songwriter, like an artist choosing colors from a palette. There are swatches of indie rock, folk, and country. Dawson’s wife, singer-keyboards player Diane Christiansen, used to do more songwriting, but has recently become heavily involved with her career as an artist. All but one of the Dolly Varden CD covers have featured her intriguing artwork. The couple has been working with the same musicians -- guitarist-lap steel player-vocalist Mark Balletto, bassist-vocalist Mike Bradburn, and drummer-piano player-vocalist Matt Thobe -- throughout Dolly Varden’s entire history. For A While, their first effort in seven years, adds even more nuances to the band’s eclectic approach.

“This was an attempt to make more of a rock record,” Dawson explained during a recent interview at the home he shares with Christiansen. “That was the plan. I don’t know if we carried it out because I think the songs I like best on For A While are the ones that aren’t big rock songs.”

Some of the engaging introspective songs are the title track, which features Christiansen on lead vocal; Dawson’s folksy and autobiographical “Saskatchewan To Chicago,” and the delicate “Favorite Friend.” But Dolly Varden also does a fine job of executing the big rock songs. “Done (Done)” has a driving beat, “Walking The Chalkline Again” mixes gorgeous harmonies and energetic guitar playing, and “Thank You” gives the CD a rollicking finale. The catchy “Why Why Why” would have fit in well on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours LP.

“I always thought of that song sounding like Van Morrison,” Dawson said of “Why Why Why.” “But I appreciate the Fleetwood Mac [comparison] very much.” Dolly Varden did a short set of Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac songs as part of a tribute band weekend at the Martyrs’ club in Chicago this past Halloween. “I always liked them, but now I respect them more, after having sort of looked under the hood of those songs.”  

As a songwriter, Dawson draws inspiration from various sources, including the early 1970’s music of Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Linda Ronstadt, as well as The Beatles. He agreed with the image of him being like an artist working from a palette.

“I also hear the comment, ‘Wow, the record is really varied,’” he noted. “Maybe that’s because the template for me was those middle-period Beatles records where every song was a world unto itself.”
Dawson added that his best songs seem to spring from nowhere, as opposed to ones that he really has to labor over. Having read interviews with songwriters, and books by Keith Richards and Neil Young, he’s discovered that other artists also feel the creative process works best when it flows naturally. Dawson teaches Fundamental Songwriting and Continuing Songwriting classes at The Old Town School Of Folk Music, but feels he can only present the mechanics, along with a forum for sharing ideas.

“I  can’t teach you how to write a song,” he maintained. “You have to learn by doing it.” He gives his more advanced students challenging assignments like pretending they’re trying to write a hit single for Country & Western legend, Patsy Cline. “They bring it in and play it for everybody, and we talk about what may or may not be working.”

Friday, February 15, 2013


Bradley's Angels? Photo from The Handcuffs Facebook page.

Anyone looking to get into the spirit of Presidents Day should check out the four-band lineup headed by Van Go elected for Subterranean this Sunday night. The Presidents Of Rock! will also include Fair Moans, Collectors, and In Threes. The music kicks off at 8:00 PM. Subterranean is located at 2011 W. North Avenue in Chicago.

The Handcuffs have parted ways with veteran guitarist-keyboards player Ellis Clark and are welcoming new guitarist Susie Q. That leaves drummer Brad Elvis as the sole male musicians in the band. Clark meanwhile has been working his new solo effort and keeping an active profile on the local club scene.

The dB’s are asking their fans to support Jake Gorst’s quest to get funding on Kickstarter for his art-related documentary, The Rise And Fall Of Books. Gorst, who designed the power pop band’s first website, has already shot and edited a profile of the various ways artist Buzz Spector incorporates books into sculptures, photographs, and drawings. Now he needs financial help for post production, festival submission fees, and DVD manufacturing. The Rise And Fall Of Books features The dB’s on its soundtrack, and backers can get some cools perks for helping out. 

FitzGerald’s  in Berwyn, long known for presenting Americana music, will be the scene of the sixth annual After Brunch Bash next Sunday, February24th. The coed country music/swing/doo-wop quintet, The Teflons, fronted by a trio of female vocalists, and bluegrass trio Sunnyside Up, will be providing the entertainment at this year’s event. Food can be ordered from the nearby Capri Ristorante.

Hired Goons will be at Silvie’s Lounge on March 2nd. The comic rock band draws inspiration in equal parts from The Ramones and The Simpsons TV show, and is currently working on a follow-up to its fun debut, Everything’s Coming Up Milhouse. They might even do some new material at their Silvie’s gig.

One of my all-time favorite French garage rock bands, The Plastiscines, have announced on their Facebook book page that they’ve recorded a new single. They haven’t revealed the name yet, but hopefully, it’s from a new CD that will be out soon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

The Hollies plant a kiss on a real-life Jennifer Eccles.

Today’s post is dedicated to my lovely wife Pam, who created this blog site, and continues to love and support me. Also, best Valentine’s Day wishes to all those who visit this blog.

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate affection in all its various forms: Your significant other, family and extended family, pet(s), the people who “get” and appreciate you, the ones you admire, those who’ve inspired and/or mentored you, and all the ones you’ve haven’t even come across yet but will make your journey more enjoyable down the road.

A few suggestions for Valentine’s Day songs:

The dB’s - “Love Is For Lovers” Set to an irresistible melody, band member Peter Holsapple’s song comes across as a jubilant tale of a guy who finds himself in a relationship for the first time. “Do you believe that real love is right now?” Holsapple asks. “Could we be having the time of our lives now?” He wonders, “Can you conceive of anything better?”

The Hollies - “Wings” A romantic ballad that mixes nature, magic, and a touch of defiance. The lyrics, set to a delicately beautiful arrangement, celebrate the uplifting power of love, and ask, “Why do they want us to walk when we can fly?”

Over The Rhine - “Rhapsodie” One of several intriguing tracks on Patience, the 1992 major label debut from the Cincinnati-based alt rock/Americana band, Over The Rhine. Written by singer-acoustic guitarist Karin Bergquist, its exquisite piano and strings arrangement, plus the line, “And I couldn’t love you any more than I do right now” might make this seem like a perfect choice for a first dance at a wedding. But Bergquist was singing about something deeper and more challenging; a love that endures hardships, and the way people in a relationship change over the years. A love that continues even after a couple has broken apart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vintage Publication Spotlight: Discoveries

Like Goldmine, Discoveries was a publication devoted to avid collectors of records, CDs, and every imaginable sort of rock and roll related treasure. According to Wikipedia, it was eventually purchased and absorbed by Goldmine. This issue is from May, 2004, and the cover story -- Power Pop: Saving America From Blandness -- was the reason I bought it.

Writer Chris Nickson follows the genre’s lineage from The Beatles through Badfinger and The Raspberries, on to later practitioners like Shoes, Cheap Trick, 20/20, Pezband, Dwight Twilley Band, and The Knack. There are a few paragraphs on British artists, including Nick Lowe, The Records, and the Motors. Nickson contends that the term power pop wasn’t used across the pond, and that such acts were considered new wave. Nickson explains “power pop has never gone away -- it simply disappeared underground, where it’s remained ever since.”

Elsewhere in this issue, under the guidance of Publisher/Editor John Koenig, there were regular columns like DiscNews, Pondering Aloud, DiscMail, and Stuff I Like. Koenig did a lion’s share of the writing. Scott Blackerby profiled psychedelic rockers The C. A. Quintet; George Paulus shared Record Horror Stories; and Robin Platts did a piece on The New Pornographers. Discoveries also had reviews and of course, several pages of rare records for sale from vendors throughout North America. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Debut, Redone

Chris Difford (left) and Glenn Tilbrook live at BBC Radio 2.

It’s safe to say that no band has caused more of a stir with its first recording than The Beatles did with Please Please Me. Even more amazingly, John, Paul George, and Ringo created their world-changing effort in a span of just 12 hours. BBC Radio 2 came up with a fun and ambitious idea to mark the 50th Anniversary of that recording by inviting several musicians to Abbey Road Studios to recreate the LP, track by track. The results could be heard live on the Beeb yesterday.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, who as chief composers for the band Squeeze, have been compared to Lennon & McCartney by numerous critics, brought their distinctive harmonies to the LP’s title track. They were joined by Paul Jones on harmonica. Singer-guitarist Paul Carrack, who spent some time in Squeeze back in its early days, turned in an acoustic-based “Misery,” and Mick Hucknall’s heartfelt “Anna (Go To Him)” was another highlight.

Stereophonics offered a rollicking take on “I Saw Her Standing There” that was true to the spirit of the original, while Joss Stone, I Am Kloot, and singer-guitarist Gabrielle Aplin performed slower versions of “A Taste Of Honey,” “Chains,” and “There’s A Place,” respectively. Other artists involved included The Merseybeats And Friends, Beverly Knight, and Graham Coxon. I wish I could say I know all this from being there, but the clips can be found on the BBC Radio 2 website

Correction: Yesterday on BHT, I stated that John Anderson’s Born In Chicago blues documentary received its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival over the past weekend. Of course, that would be impossible since SXSW doesn’t take place until March. That’s what I get for trying to squeeze in a blog post at 11:30 at night, following a long work day. The error has been fixed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blues Documentary/Phil Angotti Video/Abbie Fest Update/Fresh-Brewed Coffee

He loves singing about vinyl. Photo from Phil Angotti’s Facebook page.

A few years ago, I attended the screening of a documentary about white kids in the 1960s venturing into Chicago’s south side blues clubs to hang out with some of the genre’s best musicians. Director John Anderson’s film was a work in progress when I wrote about it for the Illinois Entertainer, and was titled, White, Black & Blues. The finished product is now called Born In Chicago, and will have its world premiere in March at the SXSW Film Festival, along with films like Green Day’s Broadway Idiot and David Grohl’s Sound City.

One of the best tracks on Chicago-based singer-songwriter Phil Angotti’s People And Places CD a while back was a fetching nostalgic look at his youth called, “My Old Records.” Director Lou Hinkhouse has created an inventive video for the song that features rare clips of performers like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Sonny And Cher, Peter And Gordon, and The Byrds. 

In last Friday’s Slumgullion post, I mentioned that this year’s Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival will be held on the weekend of August 16th - 18th. Mary-Arrchie Theatre, which hosts the annual bash, just announced on Facebook that the date has been changed to August 9th - 11th. Whatever the date, this rollicking celebration of theatre, comedy, music, and performance art is always one of the highlights of the summer.

I got together with Jeff Kelley this past Saturday to film some comedy bits for the season finale of his weekly Internet show, Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff. His wife Dawn played an off-camera reporter while I revived my Fritz Willoughby character, the senile host of a fictional series called Old Days. My antics should show up on SMCWJ within a few weeks. 

Afterwards, Kelley and I talked about his plans for creating stand-alone film clips that wouldn’t be part of his weekly Internet show. Some of the possibilities include comedy skits, visits to brew pubs or conventions like C2E2, Comic-Com, and Fest For Beatles Fans. There could also be interviews with an assortment of creative types. It will be interesting to see what he develops, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Nearly 1,000 posts and never an unflattering photo of a performer.

The Unswept, a pair of cousins from Sheffield, England, who now reside in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, have a new digital release titled, Surf Song EP. Charlie and Ryan O’Brien made a strong impression at last year’s International Pop Overthrow - Chicago, and are planning on performing at IPO again this year. Surf Song, which has chiming guitars and quirky vocals, should be available on flexi-disc by then.

Chicago Cinema Society is hosting screenings of David Grohl’s new documentary Sound City over the next few days at The Patio Theater at 6008 W. Irving Park Road. The Foo Fighters founding member discovered Sound City, a Van Nuys, CA recording studio, and its star-studded list of clients, back in his Nirvana days. Grohl’s been obsessed with it ever since. His film features Tom Petty, James Brown, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, members of Fleetwood Mac, and several other musicians. There’s a 10:00 PM screening tonight and Saturday, and a 7:30 PM show on Monday. Admission is $7.00. There is also a soundtrack available.

Anyone looking to get in the right frame of mind for tomorrow night’s four-band Psychedelic Saturday at Martyrs, should pick up the March issue of MOJO. In addition to a cover story on Pink Floyd (for about the 13,000th time) the magazine also comes with a free CD titled Echoes with 15 tracks of sonic adventures from bands like Temples, Tame Impala, and Django Django.

Also tomorrow night, Ken Stringfellow, a member of The Posies and The Disciplines, as well as an accomplished solo artist, has a gig at Schubas. Stringfellow told me in an interview for the Illinois Entertainer that he never does the same show twice.

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s annual Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Festival will be held at a different location this year, as part of the Fest’s 25th anniversary celebration. Look for Artistic Director Rich Cotovsky (channeling the spirit of Hoffman) and over over 50 groups or performers to do their thing at The Den Theatre at 1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Abbie Fest runs the weekend of August 16th through 18th. This will be only the second time it has not been held at the Mary-Arrchie’s Angel Island space on Sheridan Road. A number of years back, Abbie Fest was staged at Strawdog Theatre.

In other Mary-Arrchie traveling productions news, the theatre’s highly successful take on Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie will be getting a Remount at Theatre Wit, starting May 22nd.

Shoes have some live performances coming up in addition to their gig at this year’s SXSW. On February 14th, they’ll be at Ravinia’s Bennett Hall, and on March 9th, they’ll be at McAuliffes Pub, with opening act The Bradburys, in Racine, WI.

It was sad to hear the news that lead vocalist Reg Presley of the fun and influential Brisish Invasion band The Troggs has passed away.

The Del Moroccos, an eight-piece band fronted by lead vocalist-percussionist Gabrielle Sutton and back-up vocalists Sarah Jane Goldstein and Adrienne Stoner, will be performing vintage style rock and roll on Valentine's Day at Space in Evanston. Shake ‘Em On Down is also on the bill. The music starts at 7:30.

There will be more scary stuff and teen romance coming from YA/Paranormal novelist Cherie Colyer. A member of the same ever-impressive writers group that I belong to, Colyer just learned that the sequel to her debut effort, Embrace has been picked up by Omnific Publishing.

Red Jacket Mine incorporates elements of mainstream artists like Billy Joel and Steely Dan into consistently melodic pop songs on its latest release, Someone Else's Cake. “Engineer,” on the other hand, is a fun romp through T-Rex territory. The energetic title track also stands out, along with the blue-eyed soul of “Better To Be Broken Than Blind.” On “Have You Got A Permit To Preach On This Corner?” Red Jacket Mine sets religious satire to a toe-tapping Country & Western arrangement.

It’s always encouraging to find a new rock magazine in print. The Reckless Records store on Madison in downtown Chicago had a fresh delivery of What’s The Smack, a New York/Philadelphia based publication from ‘stachemedia and Red Flag Media. This month’s 40-page issue has colorful graphics, articles on The Joy Formidable and Jim James, plus CD reviews. It looks like What’s The Smack has been around since late last year. Welcome.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

CD Review: Shoes - 35 Years -- The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977 - 2012

Note: This review originally ran in the Illinois Entertainer.

35 Years -- The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012 illustrates why the Zion, IL band has long been revered among avid power pop fans. This 21-song compilation includes “Say It Like You Mean It” from the recently released Ignition, as well as songs from every other effort dating back to 1977’s Black Vinyl Shoes. Even though they have an immediately identifiable sound, Shoes always explored a number of variations within it.

“Tomorrow Night” and “Too Late,” the songs that first garnered recognition via MTV and FM radio, are highly energetic, while “Oh, Angeline” has a much lighter arrangement. “A Thing Of The Past” and “Don’t Do This To Me,” from 1994’s Propeller, showcase the band’s growing sophistication as songwriters. “The Summer Rain” is just plain gorgeous. All of the material is built on infectious melodies and inventive vocal interplay. 35 Years -- The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012 can’t be called a greatest hits collection since none of these tracks ever topped the charts, but it is a testament to the talents of Jeff Murphy, John Murphy, and Gary Klebe.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

CD Reviews: Holiday House/The Safes/Terry Bartolotta Group

Note: These reviews originally appeared in the “Around Hears” section of the Illinois Entertainer.

Holiday House created a concept album based on Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, but don’t expect giddy tributes to the first Ferris Wheel. Night Falls On The Fair consistently sounds ominous; as if serial killer H.H. Holmes was only one of many evils awaiting visitors to the event. Still, Andi Donahue’s gorgeous vocals, particularly on “Scrape The Sky” and “Big Mary,” along with guitarist-drummer Paul Wendell Obis’s elaborate folk and rock arrangements make this a fascinating effort. 

The Safes released two songs from their future album, Century Of Saturdays as a CD single to coincide with their use on the PBS show Roadtrip Nation. “It’s True” offers fun in a skiffle music mode, thanks to Frankie O’Malley’s playful vocals and accordian playing. He adds vibraphone to the melodic, “Simplicity,” which also benefits from Ryan Matthew on violin. It’s a safe bet the band (including bassist Michael O’Malley and guitarist Patrick O’Malley) will keep things cooking on the full-length CD.

The long-form instrumentals on Above The Clouds by the Terry Bartolotta Group tend toward traditional jazz, and feature tenor sax player Alex Beltran and Nick Sednew on trumpet. Bartolotta also gives himself some time to stretch out on these original compositions, particularly on the nocturnal “Mood Piece” and Latin flavored “Little Bolero.” Bassist Nathan Kawaller and drummer Lucas Gillan turn in some inspired solos on “On A Whim” “Times Change,” respectively.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CD Review: The Hollies - Distant Light

Released in 1972, Distant Light provided the first signs of The Hollies’ brief foray into hard rock territory. It included “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” which many people feel is atypical of The Hollies classic blend of fresh harmonies and catchy melodies. But the song worked out fine, as did most of the other tracks on this sadly overlooked album. Surprisingly, lead vocalist Allan Clarke, who co-wrote the song and played its now famous rolling guitar intro, departed to pursue a solo career prior to the album’s release.

Not that Distant Light came on like a whole lotta Led Zeppelin, but even long-time fans had to be pleasantly shocked to hear guitarist Tony Hicks cutting loose during the final minutes of “Promised Land,” a powerful anti-war song he co-wrote with non-band member Kenny Lynch. “You Know The Score,” written by Clarke and rhythm guitarist-harmony vocalist Terry Sylvester, sets its lament of “Death and destruction/We’ve got to change it now, Lord only knows how” to a hard-hitting arrangement. “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” with its Creedence Clearwater Revival style chugging guitar, would go on to be an FM radio staple, and lately, a gasoline commercial.

“Long Dark Road,” the other hit single from the album, was an appealing mid-tempo gem built on acoustic guitar, soaring harmonies, and Clarke’s high energy harmonica playing. Distant Light also had some gorgeous pop, particularly “Cable Car,” To Do With Love,” and “Little Thing Like Love, which sounded like vintage Elton John. “Pull Down The Blind,” Sylvester’s sarcastic look at heartache, and “Hold On,” Clarke’s rollicking tale of a one-night stand gone wrong, added even more flavor.

The Hollies would delve further into hard rock on the next album, Romany with new singer Mikael Rickfors, but by the time Clarke returned to the fold for a self-titled effort featuring “The Air That I Breathe,” they had pretty much abandoned the approach. Still, Distant Light stands as one of the most consistent efforts of The Hollies’ post Graham Nash era.
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