Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Burr Oak is the new project of Chicago based singer-songwriter Savanna Dickhut who merges together brutally honest, story- driven lyrics with raw, dreamy vocals. With just two singles out this past year, the Chicago Tribune wrote her songs “show the promise of a songwriter sure of her voice and sound, one that is piercing and deeply relatable and authentic.”

Based on her efforts in the first few months of 2020, Burr Oak could easily have appeared on this list last year. The project of Chicago’s Savanna Dickhut, Burr Oak was in the process of recording her debut album with producer Nick Papaleo, as well as opening shows for the likes of Twain and Buck Meek, until spanners were thrown into the global works. It wasn’t all bad news, as Savannah found time to release a pair of well-received singles, tracks that hinted at just how special her debut album might be, whenever it finds its way into the world.

Burr Oak formed following the ending of Savannah’s previous project, Elk Walking, with Savannah finding the confidence to launch her solo-project and allow her song writing to really shine. Debut offering Trying, is a straight talking depiction of her Savannah’s struggles to maintain her mental health and tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, delivered via fizzing-guitar lines and an impassioned vocal delivery as she sings, “some days I can’t get out of bed but I’ll keep trying, until I drop dead”.

That was followed in November by Flower Garden, which took the seasons as a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of a relationship and set them to a soundtrack of rolling drums and languid meanders of guitar that feel like an extension straight from the soul of their songwriter. There’s an open-hearted quality to Savannah’s song writing, the sound of someone with a story to tell, opening her lungs and letting it all out, whenever it does arrive Burr Oak’s debut album is going to be a record well worth keeping your eyes on.

Released November 18th, 2020
music & lyrics by Savanna Dickhut

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By the time Chicago had their first number one single in 1976, “If You Leave Me Now,” they were a far different band from their early days. Although their hits from that mid-1970s era onward were, by any measure, well-crafted pop songs but middle of the road, as the phrase went in those days, Chicago had left behind the horn-powered, soul-infused innovation of their earliest days. And they were very far removed from the music heard on “25 or 6 to 4,” recorded live at Tanglewood . Watch the Classic Video and you will witness one of the hardest rocking bands of its time. It’s actually difficult to imagine that this is the same band that cut those later hits.

In fairness, they weren’t quite the same. As you watch this seven-minute performance of “25 or 6 to 4” take note of what happens just before the three-minute mark. Terry Kath, the group’s guitarist, tears into a two-and-a-half-minute solo that has to rank among the most insane of the era. He’s so numbingly good that Jimi Hendrix reportedly stated that Kath was a better player than he was. To understand how Chicago became what it did, it’s informative to know where they came from. They formed in 1967 as Chicago Transit Authority, with guitarist/singer Kath, keyboardist/singer Robert Lamm, bassist/singer Peter Cetera, saxophonist Walter Parazaider, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, trombonist James Pankow and drummer Danny Seraphine. Signed to Columbia Records in 1968, they released their self-titled debut album the following spring. The group, which happened to come around at a time when rock bands were beginning to incorporate horn sections Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Electric Flag were two others. 

Two singles culled from the James William Guercio-produced album, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?” and “Beginnings,” reached the top 10 in 1970 and ’71, respectively, but by that time the group had shortened its name to Chicago and released its second LP, another double, this one simply titled “Chicago”. (From that point onward, most of their albums, for the rest of their career, would be titled with consecutive Roman numerals at last count they were up to Chicago XXXVI in 2014.)

Like its predecessor, Chicago struck a balance between soul, hard rock, ballads and what might be called nascent jazz fusion, although its center-piece was the 13-minute suite “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.” From that, the undeniably catchy “Make Me Smile” written by Pankow and sung by Kath, it became Chicago’s first top 10 hit in 1970, but it was the follow up, “25 or 6 to 4,” written by Lamm and sung by Cetera, that showed their ability to rock as hard as anyone else on the scene. It reached No#4 in the summer of ’70, the period seen on this Classic Video.

So what exactly was “25 or 6 to 4” about? Who knows?! In its time, there was speculation that the “25” part of the title was a reference to LSD, whose full pharmaceutical name was LSD-25. The “6 to 4” was said to be a ratio involved in the manufacture of the drug. Lamm laughed off those suggestions, stating that it was simply inspired by a time of day: 25 or perhaps 26 minutes before 4 o’clock.

Still, with lyrics such as these, one can understand where some listeners might have come up with the idea that it was about an acid trip:

“Should have tried to do some more, Twenty five or six to four, oh yeah
Feeling like I ought to sleep, Spinning room is sinking deep
Searching for something to say, Waiting for the break of day, ohh”

As early as Chicago III the first of the numbered albums the band began losing its original driving focus but its increasingly mainstream sound benefited Chicago commercially. “Saturday in the Park,” in 1972, was the last gasp from the original Chicago before they morphed entirely into a more disciplined pop outfit.

They continued to release an album per year and had recently put out Chicago XI when tragedy struck. On January 23rd, 1978, Terry Kath was in California at a party when he began playing around with guns. Although he was an experienced gun user, he did not know that the pistol in his hand had one round in its chamber. Kath pointed the gun at his head, pulled the trigger and died instantly. He left behind a wife and young daughter. Chicago briefly considered quitting, but they soldiered on, replacing Kath on the dance music-oriented Hot Streets (before returning to numbers on their next album) with guitarist Donnie Dacus. Chicago is still an ongoing outfit today, with four original members still on board: Lamm, Loughnane, Pankow and Parazaider. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

If they ever had a more incendiary moment than this one from 1970 though, we haven’t seen it.

The band Chicago performs “25 or 6 to 4” and “You’re the Inspiration” as part of the “Be Chicago, Together We Can” fundraising event on April 29th, 2020, benefiting the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund to aid the on-going efforts by the United Way of Metro Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust in the fight against COVID-19

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A perfect pairing is a joy to come by, and a blind pairing is even finer; here, a role of dice slides Bill Callahan into Jerry Jeff Walker’s big shoes to walk over an ethereal Mojave country take on Mike Burton’s classic cowboy tune, courtesy of Wand’s Cory Hanson, shape-shifting into his solo persona with ease, and giving Bill and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy plenty of room to display theirs too. Cover artwork by Aline Cautis, shown as part of the group show “The Monochrome Set”, at Soccer Club Club, October 2018.


Released January 20th, 2021

Sad surf honey tries to ride the biggest wave in the Midwest, Born in a tsunami off the coast of Kahoolawe, Beach Bunny was raised as a sea critter till the time her paws were strong enough to swim. By 1961 she had learned how to speak the language of every ocean and trekked from Rainbow Falls to Eastern California where she was exposed to the reverb-drenched surf culture of Orange County. Bunny became hypnotized by the exotic noise and by 1968 found herself singing the Sunset Strip alongside psychedelic west coasters and teen dropouts. Bunny released her first EP “Animalism” the following year, and is currently swimming the Gulf of Mexico in pursuit of positive vibes and new music.

Riding high after their debut Honeymoon was featured on all the crucial Album of the Year listings, Chicago indie pop band Beach Bunny now continue their rapid rise to the top with new EP Blame Game. Featuring the single “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)”, Blame Game explores the dark territories where relationships turn toxic, as singer Lili explains; “As a veteran of engaging with emotionally unavailable people, I wanted to create a sassy song that calls out players by talking down to them as if they were children, showing that poor communication skills and mind games are immature.”

“It shifts the blame to the person that was acting disrespectful, instead of myself. The song also hammers home the point that I know my worth; I’m not afraid to call out players on their stupid behaviour, and I’m not going to tolerate being thrown around emotionally.” – Lili Trifilio

Beach Bunny album ‘Honeymoon’ was included in Best Albums of 2020 at The New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Los Angeles Times & more!

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Chicago-based singer-songwriter Gia Margaret released an ambient album, Mia Gargaret, last year, and she’s now followed it with her first new single of 2021, a studio version of a song she’s been known to perform live. “I just felt like sharing a song,” she writes. “I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim, I suppose. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering. It also feels like a misfit (production wise) in a body of newer songs and especially with the direction I’m moving into. That’s not to say there might not be another version on a record at some point. I just decided this deserves it’s own celebration.”

I just felt like sharing a song. I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering.

Released January 12th, 2021
Produced by Gia Margaret

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker are both known for their creativity and curious spirits. Rumback is a drummer in high demand in Chicago’s free-jazz circles, and a pillar of the second wave of improvisers in a scene first shaped by the legendary players like Sun Ra and the AACM. Walker draws deeply on other distinctly American styles, bringing a strong sense of folk tradition to his playing that is as arresting as his freewheeling performance style. Walker’s musical explorations are not limited to his own song writing: the guitarist regularly collaborates in Chicago and now New York with innovators of every genre. Together, Rumback and Walker find common ground in their kinetic, intuitive playing and yearning creative outlook. “Little Common Twist”, their sophomore release as a duo, finds both players at their most adventurous. It compiles instrumental pieces that convey a striking range of emotions, at once introspective and expansive, with a delicate interplay that delights as they move with ease across a spectrum of styles. The recording has a pastoral quality that recalls Van Morrison’s classic album Veedon Fleece, and captures a remarkably dexterous performance by both Charles and Ryley that make this album so expansive and fresh.


“Little Common Twist” was recorded over several sessions throughout 2017 and 2018 with producer John Hughes, capturing the duo playing in the moment with minimal overdubs. The guitar and drums duo eschewed each instrument’s traditional roles of rhythm and melody, experimenting with texture and rhythm. Rumback and Walker remarkably paint in both broad, gestural strokes and intricate melodic details. “Half Joking” and “Self Blind Sun” are warm, deep songs that draw on structures from the American primitive guitar songbook. “Idiot Parade” leaps into more explorative territory, Rumback setting an urgent, rolling cymbal groove while Walker paints melodic sonic vapor trails across the sky. “Menehbi” experiments further with abstract forms, atomizing guitar and drums into an ambient haze where loose flourishes from Rumback hint at rhythm and structure, while a steady electronic pulse provides an anchor amidst the fog.

Little Common Twist is the culmination of a creative partnership that has seen Rumback and Walker constantly challenging each other. In stretching the bounds of their interplay even further than before, the duo created their most evocative and expansive work to date, conjuring the afterglow of sun-scorched landscapes and ethereal after-hours ambiance. 

Released November 8th, 2019

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A casual scan of Nels Cline’s dizzying discography echoes this – spanning lead guitar duties in iconic Chicago rock band Wilco, to over 200 recordings across alternative, punk and jazz. While accolades have been plenty (Rolling Stone once hailed him as one of its 20 “new guitar gods”), Nels Cline has hardly had time to rest on his laurels with various projects fuelling his flair for genre-bending.

“Share The Wealth”, his latest Blue Note Records outing with long-time band The Nels Cline Singers, is no exception.

Well Nels Cline does it again. The man just doesn’t miss. This 10-track, almost 80-minute album is a tour de force. Nels brought in a bunch of heavy hitters for this effort: Skerik on saxophone, Brian Marsella on keys, Trevor Dunn on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The talent oozing out of this record is palpable. They never step on one another and each musician is given room to do damage as the music ebbs and flows between quietness and rowdiness. Nels brought this group together as an experiment and decided he liked the jams so much that he didn’t really want to mess with them as originally intended to do by picking pieces of the jams apart to make a different sonic landscape.

So here we have this behemoth of a jazz record that just pulls you in and never lets go. From the opening notes of “Segunda” to the ending of “Passed Down” you just have to strap in and go for the ride. “Beam/Spiral” really sets for taking off into outer space around the five-minute mark. “Stump the Panel” is a 17-minute excursion that will leave your jaw dropped. Each member of the band really goes for it, with Skerik and Brian battling it out in the first half before a dip in the action leads to a beautiful quieter portion until it turns into what sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. “Princess Phone”, “The Pleather Patrol”, and “Headdress” all sound like music from outer space coming to take over the land.

Listening to Nels go from quiet background player to upfront shred fest to psychedelic slides to ambient noises all from the same instrument throughout the record hurts my brain. The man just does so much with one instrument. Please listen to this one on some good headphones.

Blue Note Records; under exclusive license to UMG Recordings, Released on: 13th November 2020.

I just felt like sharing a song. I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering. 


Released January 1st, 2021
Produced by Gia Margaret
Mastered by Dan Duszynski

Greg Rutkin (drums),
Rhodri Brooks (lap steel),
Nick Papaleo (bass),
Arthi Meera (background vocals).
Gia Margaret (keys, synthesizer, organ)

beach bunny honeymoon

Emo garage-rock becomes thrillingly new on this Chicago band’s debut, driven by the bracingly real song writing of singer-guitarist Lili Trifilio. Pop-punk torpedoes like “Promises” and “Colorblind” power through self-doubt in a way that makes post-teen romantic angst seem at once archetypal yet wholly original; Beach Bunny are college-age kids who’ve been playing together for years, so there’s a surprisingly amount of song writing chops and musical precision here, and when Trifilio gets what she deserves on “Cloud 9,” singing “I don’t want to seem the way I do/but I’m confident when I’m with you,” you can’t help but want to jump up and high-five her.

Honeymoon is the excellent debut album from Beach Bunny, the four-piece band out of Chicago. Recorded at the iconic Chicago studio Electrical Audio with producer Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Algernon Caldwaller), the nine songs on the LP burst with energy that capture their vital and life-affirming live shows. Songs like the swooning and anthemic singles “Dream Boy” and “Ms. California” encapsulate the highs and lows the exiting the honeymoon stage of a relationship.

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Beach Bunny found its initial legs in 2018 as fully formed fuzz-pop quartet, landing a streaming hit with the dark-witted body image paean “Prom Queen.” More so than on her earlier more-acoustic releases, Trifilio’s full-band version of Beach Bunny revealed a knack for infectious pop hooks played with a collaborative energy, which helped propel her anxious observations beyond mere folk confessionalism. The success of “Prom Queen” also helped the group net a deal with New York indie Mom + Pop Records, which offers up their full-length debut, Honeymoon.

Like the self-released EP that preceded it, Honeymoon capitalizes on Trifilio’s emotional honesty and strong melodic sense, but with a bolder production aesthetic, doing away with some of the lo-fi leanings of her previous output. Having spent the last couple of years gelling as a live band, Beach Bunny seem altogether more streamlined here, even flirting with elements of pop-punk precision on cuts like “Cuffing Season” and “Colorblind,” though without losing their indie charm. Most of the songs are up-tempo, with Trifilio taking a timeout on the introspective electric piano piece “Racetrack” and the more jagged “Rearview,” the latter of which is played entirely solo until its mighty final 30 seconds. Honeymoon is bookended by a pair of highlights in “Promises” and “Cloud 9,” two rousing tracks that connect squarely and showcase the best of what Beach Bunny can do.

There’s an endearing tenderness to Trifilio’s personal song writing style that mostly avoids emo clichés, and the band’s cautiously buoyant indie pop walks the line between sweet and muscular on this solid debut. The long-awaited debut LP “Honeymoon” from Beach Bunny follows their breakout hit with “Prom Queen” (65 million global streams). released February 14th, 2020 on Mom+Pop Records

Some psychedelic albums reach a hypnotic end cheaply. But “Shadow Talk”, the second album from Chicago experimental five-piece Cafe Racer, reaches heady emotional and sonic heights, not by leaning on overused effects or sprinkling meaningless, abstract imagery, but by expecting more out of a song and its lyrics. Shadow Talk is all about finesse and dynamics—melodies cascade with subtlety and spark with a euphoric glow. They’re also masters of grooves both meditative and invigorating, and they experiment with foreground and background sounds in mind-numbing ways. It’s an extremely calming album until it isn’t—the guitar and synth fury on “Faces” is life-affirming, the guitar solo in “Exile” is painfully emotive and its subsequent outro track creates blistering, ambient havoc. It’s a moody, empathetic album, bolstered by repetition and the palpable scenes they create, whether that’s an imagined, heavenly gorge or the melancholy urban landscapes you traverse every day. 

Cafe Racer continues Chicago’s long tradition of indie-rock / post-punk / whathaveyou, but with splashes of psych. Fluid but not overly studied. The debut album from Chicago five-piece Cafe Racer arrived in 2018 with Famous Dust, which artfully wobbles as much as it confidently struts. Their ability to make keyboard and guitar sounds bend, zigzag and squeal was already well-developed, so by the time they released their 2020 follow-up Shadow Talk, they were firing on all cylinders. With art rock, psych and krautrock as their backbone, they lock into immersive grooves, but even when a groove is dismantled or they’re building up to another one, Cafe Racer have a way of dazzling with subtle, snaking riffs and luscious vocals. 

Written and Performed by Cafe Racer: Michael Santana, Adam Schubert, Rob McWilliams, Andrew Harper, and Elise Poirier. Saxophone on ‘Breathing’ performed by Spencer Ouellette.