Archive for September, 2007

YouTube Saturday -Terry Allen

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

(Terry Allen’s Music Forest, mixed media on paper)

As one of the original inspirations of what we term alt-country Terry Allen doesn’t get the attention he deserves. His songs, like his art, are off the beaten path and are too real for your average listener. They dwarf the cliche ridden stuff of Nashville and even make the glib lyrics of Lyle Lovett seem a bit immature. His songs take the form of character studies, or they deal with a big issue like religion, or they deal with his life in the arts.

But his presence is minimal on YouTube. There are no three camera shoots of his stuff, no high budget CMT-style Chevy adverts disguised as country music videos. In fact the one polished video is a cover of his song “Amarillo Highway” by Robert Earl Keen. Anyway here’s what I was able to round up:

“Amarillo Highway”

“New Delhi Freight Train”

“Gimme A Ride To Heaven Boy”

Robert Earl Keen’s take on “Amarillo Highway”

(Not) Honky-Tonk Friday – Christian Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher’s collaboration “To All The Dead Sailors” (Camera Obscura, Aug. 29)

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Christian Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher have collaborated on their second release for Camera Obscura Records out of Australia, and it’s a song cycle inspired by the sea called To All Dead Sailors.

“Carpenter And Sailors” has an old timey, British-folk, sea chanty feel, especially with it’s use of picked banjo and some type of oozing accordion gently weezing in the background. It seems fitting that this song should come hot on the heels of yesterday’s post on Bob Miller’s song “Crash Of Akron” – a 1930′s epic tale of death and destruction – as both songs address the topic of death. “Carpenters and Sailors” uses plenty of allegory and symbolism while “Crash of Akron is a historical song simply documenting the event. As bookends they serve as musical accompaniement to the failed war in Iraq, the troubles in Myanmar and the endless struggle in Palestine.

Carpenters and Sailors [Download]

“Pretty White Clouds” from Christian Kiefer other 2007 release on Undertow titled Dogs and Donkeys:

Pretty White Clouds [Download]


Those Darn Accordions – “Squeeze Machine”

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

(old album cover circa 2000)

There’s only a handful of people that will write about the new Those Darn Accordions record and I’m actually proud to say that I’m one of them. I saw TDA about a decade ago, at the time their lead singer was a polka-playing, tattoo-wearing, octogenarian madman. I’ve got to guess that he’s passed on to that great polka party in the sky, but the band is still up their old hi-jinks.

The new record is called Squeeze Machine and impossibly contains a duet between the band and Drew Carey called “Glass Of Beer Polka”. This band of San Franciscans is out to have some fun, not change the world and their novelty infused music is evidence of that. “This Song” is off the new record, buy it here.

This Song (Got’s Money Written All Over It) [Download]

Their r&b Bennifer song “Ben and Jen”

Ben and Jen [Download]

Plus TDA doing Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up!”

“People Take Warning – Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs” with an introduction by Tom Waits (Tompkins Square, Sept. 25)

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

If there’s a more mournful and sad sound than the violin introduction to the song “Crash Of Akron” I’d like to hear it. Bob Miller’s “Crash Of Akron” is taken from People Take Warning on Tompkins Square. This 3 disc set of “Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs” contains a 48 page booklet with an introduction by Tom Waits. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the late 1920′s and early 1930′s, the Depression gripped the Nation. It was a time when songs were tools for living. A whole community would turn out to mourn the loss of a member and to sow their songs like seeds. This collection is a wild garden grown from those seeds.”

The Akron was a rigid helium filled airship like the Hindenburg. It crashed in 1933 killing 73 people on board. This historical song is of a kind that has vanished along with that ship. I commend Tompkins Square for compiling this impressive set. You can buy it here.

Crash Of Akron [Download]

Belated Elvis Tribute: The Presley Sessions by Reid Jamieson and The Bluegrass Elvises Vol. 1

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

My Elvis post. Never thought it would happen ttytt. But here’s a couple oddball Elvis related projects that have that Songs:Illinois sound. I guess I’m a day late and a dollar short on the Elvis tributes, which sounds just about right for Songs:Illinois.

Reid Jamieson is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose acclaimed solo releases and heartbreakingly (for some) good looks reminds one of Charlie Sexton and/or Chris Isaak. Here’s two from his August release – The Presley Sessions.

[mp3] Reid Jamieson –

“Is It So Strange” [Download]

[mp3] Reid Jamieson –
“Trying To Get To You” [Download]

Plus and I know this sounds weird but there’s an Elvis inspired Bluegrass group with a record just out called Bluegrass Elvises Vol. 1 (buy it here). The group is a duo consisting of Shawn Camp and Billy Burnette. While they may not be bluegrass legends yet, both are accomplished players. They also have an Elvis connection, as it seems Billy’s father and uncle used to kick a teenage Elvis out of their band rehersels. Billy Burnett’s claim to fame is a decade on the road with Fleetwood Mac and recent gigs with John Fogerty. I could go on and on about the sound of the record but it is what it is – bluegrass and Elvis mixed up in a leaky cauldren. Here’s the one slow song on the record:


[mp3] Bluegrass Elvises –

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” [Download]


Rachel Ries – “Without a Bird”

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I’d like to be the first to let you know that Chicago’s best-kept, not-so-secret, utterly amazing Rachel Ries (MySpace) has new record out now. I wrote so much about Rachel’s debut, For You Only, over the last year or so that I’m sure that that record became Songs:Illinois’ most written about release. Expect the same for the rest of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 with Without A Bird

I’ve been listening to it for weeks, but continue to hear new things in Rachel’s classically trained voice, in the beautiful analog recording, and in the sparse yet perfectly aligned backing band. It’s hard to sum up any great songwriter in just one or two sentences, but for me Rachel’s songs are such a marvel of simplicity and restraint. Each lyrical phrase is usually just right, and when it is so carefully and fully enunciated in her vocals it’s a joy to behold. The songs on Without a Bird are not radically different than from those on her debut. They mostly deal with the pain and yearning usually as the result of a man (“When Will You Be Mine”), or portraits of her adopted hometown through the ideas of a girl from the prairie (“Chicago”), or some combination of both (“Fine, I’m Fine”).

Those of you reading this blog are probably the first to hear about this release, and the first to be given the opportunity to buy it. If, as my stats imply, there are a whole bunch of you checking in daily to sample these songs I post, then I hope a large percentage of you will visit Rachel’s Myspace page and buy the new record.

“Fine, I’m Fine” only uses a couple of instruments (cello, drums, and a Stella guitar) but the emotional impact from those instruments and Rachel’s voice, at times whispered, and at times soaring, is spine tingling music at it’s best.

Fine, I’m Fine [Download]


YouTube Saturday – The Jayhawks (Gary Louris, Mark Olson)

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

If you’re even just a casual reader of this blog you know that I hold The Jayhawks in the highest regard. Their debut record (although not officially their first) Hollywood Town Hall is regarded as a classic in style (“Folk music played loud”) and substance (lyrical content). Each subsequent record, even after one of the key members left the group, had elements that made it a must have record. Here’s an assortment of videos from the band and it’s main singers/songwriters (Mark Olson and Gary Louris).

“Salvation Blues”


“Baltimore Sun” from the debut Blue Earth

Gary Louris “Save It For A Rainy Day”


Honky-Tonk Friday – Rebecca Pronsky (plus new music from The Whiles and Mark Berube)

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Rebecca Pronsky new record, Arrivals And Departures, comes out in October on Nine Mile Records. On the two songs below she shifts from the honky-tonk of “Million Days” to the ethereal womyny track “Birds”. I’ve got place in my heart for each, have you?

You can pre-order it here.

Million Days [Download]

Birds [Download]

There are a couple post that have slipped through the cracks over the last month or two. They’ll never see the light of day on their own so I’m going to tag them on to today’s post.

The Whiles are from Columbus. I’ve never done a Columbus feature on Songs:Illinois. I guess that’s becasue Donewaiting and WOXY already have that town covered. The band is releasing it’s new record, Sleepers Wake, soon on local imprint Anyway Records. They’ve put one track up on their homepage for a preview. I’m no expert about the band. I’ve read they lost their lead singer, but from the sound of this song the replacement (lead songwriter Joe Peppercorn) has the vocal chops necessary.

Songs We Used To Know [Download]

Still Haunting Me [Download]


Mark Berube is one of the founding members of The Fugitives and he just so happens to have a brand new record out of his own. What The River Gave The Boat has got that old world Tom Waits meets Beirut type of sound that is a core element of Songs:Illinois. Both “Pretty Little Bird” with it’s syncopated rhythms, cabaret piano and rollicking accordion and “Cloudy Day” with it’s muted trumpet are great instrumental tracks. Add to that Mark’s rich literary tales of woe and you’ve got quite a potent combination. Buy it here.

Pretty Little Bird (The Saint Of Vancouver)Cloudy Day [Download]


Caroline Herring – "Lantana" (Signature Sounds, Feb. `08)

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Caroline Herring is an acclaimed singer-songwriter from Austin whose music is informed by the great Southern literary tradition, combined with the early gothic country sounds of the Carter Family, Loretta Lynn and contemporary artists like Gillian Welch and Iris Dement.

Her upcoming record, Lantana, is one of the first we’ll mention that’s to be released in `08. And I only do this because the label has released the first song from the record. “Paper Gown” is a song that details the inner demons of a woman who killed her children. It’s a song that is set at least a century ago (and sounds it with echo-y banjo) but that is all the more relevant and powerful with the recent spate of infanticide. More info here.

Paper Gown [Download]

Bonus tracks from 2003′s Wellspring

TraceJewels [Download]
(w/Kelly Willis)


Rod Picot’s "Summerbirds"

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I could have sworn I had done a post on Rod Picot sometime in the past, but a quick search of the S:I archives turned up nothing. Maybe I wrote something up and then passed on it. Who knows?! I’m actually torn on writing up these songs from his new release, Summerbirds, although they are well crafted, they are a bit obvious and Mellencampy for me.

But I figure that some posts I do for myself, and some I do for the readers that have slightly different tastes than my own. Rod’s new record, Summerbirds, is out in September and has already garnered a 5 star review in the UK publication Maverick Magazine.

Jealous StarsWhen Your Bird Won’t Fly [Download]


Oh My Gawd!!!…The Flaming Lips (Restless Records, 1987)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

And now for something completely different.

I along with many others have given up on The Flaming Lips. This is partly due to overexposure (live dvd, books, televised concert appearences and endless hype by the internerds), but the bouncing beach balls and psych-lite muzak of recent releases doesn’t help. For a kick I pulled out my clear vinyl copy of Oh My Gawd – The Flaming Lips and cued up track 1.

“Everything’s Exploding” is good example of the catchy psychedelic rock the band had perfected by the time of the release in 1987 of their sophomore record Oh My Gawd. This record is a document of the time when they had more in common with early Nirvana, Husker Du and The Replacements rather than the fuzzy, happy pop of The Beach Boys or Sgt. Peppers era Beatles.

Usually I’d have a link to buy, but in this case the records out of print. Some are going for $100 on EBay, not sure how much my mint clear vinyl edition would fetch. Maybe in 50 years you’ll see me on Antiques Road Show. Here’s “Everything’s Explodin’”:

Everything’s Explodin’ [Download]

“One Million, Billionth of a Millisecond On a Sunday Morning” live


Kasey Anderson – "Reckoning" (Terra Soul Records, Sept. 11)

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Kasey Anderson (Terra Soul Records) has just turned up on my radar despite having released a critically acclaimed debut in 2004, touring with the likes of Steve Earle, Tift Merritt, and Peter Case, and being produced by one of my favorites Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (the Del Lords, Joan Jett).

His new record, Reckoning, sounds a bit like you’d suspect based on the producer and the names mentioned above. But of course even something that sounds derivative, lives and dies on it’s own merit according to the quality of the execution and the depth of the lyrics. In this case this record does the rough alt-country sound proud with songs like “Long Way Home” and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”.

Buy it here.

Long Way HomeBuddy Bolden’s Blues [Download]

From 2004′s Dead Roses (And Blood Red Wine)

Dead Roses (And Blood Red Wine)Weary Heart [Download]


Cindy Lee Berryhill’s record, Beloved Stranger, comes out tomorrow. She’s got a new video for the song “When Did Jesus Become A Republican”. You can buy the new record now at the excellent record store Village Records here (I haven’t linked to this store before but they’ve got a great mix of new and old on their site).


YouTube Saturday – The Violent Femmes

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

In honor of Aquarium Drunkard’s recent post on The Violent Femmes album Hallowed Ground here is my YouTube Saturday feature on the boys. The only points I’d like to make might seem obvious but I’ll say them anyway.

The knocks against the band’s (primarily Gordon Gano’s) religious or spiritual material were just plain wrong. The bulk of serious music over the last several millennium has been religious music. There’s no greater or deeper topic to write about. And the songs Gano penned are a lasting testament to both his faith and his questions about his faith.

For a time this was the most accomplished group of musicians playing rock music in America. Brian Ritchie is a monster on the bass and just about any other instrument he picks up. Victor played a mean stripped down drum kit and for god’s sake John Zorn was often in the horn section!

Finally like AD said Hallowed Ground was an overlooked masterpiece but I’d also argue that 3 and Why Do Birds Sing? have been under appreciated, 3 in particular.

Country Death Song

I Hear The Rain

Jesus Walking On Water

Gone Daddy Gone

Breaking Up

American Music

Used To Be

Behind the scenes video


Rachel Ries’ Folk Cover Of Outkast’s 1996 Hit "Elevator"

Friday, September 14th, 2007

I was trying to be patient and not write about the upcoming Rachel Ries record Without A Bird. Right now I’m just waiting for a link to CDBaby or maybe Rachel’s own store so I can wax poetic about what a great record it is.

But since I couldn’t wait any longer and had to post something new from her, I’ve got her new cover of OutKast’s 1996 song “Elevators”. To the best of my knowledge this is one of the few folk covers of a hardcore rap song. Now, we can debate the hardcore nature of OutKast and this song all day long, but nonetheless it’s a little odd to hear such a beautiful voice sing about “the hood”, “not making no g’s”, “pimps” and “crunk and junk”. Anyway listen to this a couple of times, and tell me you aren’t impressed and that this cover version of “Elevators” shouldn’t be an internet sensation

Elevators [Download]

“Leaning Into The Wind” at Abundance Eco Village


S:I House Concert Series Presents – Eilen Jewell and ?

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

The ongoing and surprisingly successful Songs:Illinois House Concert Series is back this Sunday, September 16. We’ve got a great lineup and you’re not invited. Well not exactly but if you do live within an hours drive of Chicago, and you just have to come out, email me at and we’ll see what we can do. To help the artists we raise as much money as possible by passing the proverbial hat and I also promise to spread a little more ink about the groups we feature. Of course the groups we feature are Songs:Illinois favorites so writing a bit more about them is easy.

This week we welcome the Eilen Jewell Band from Boston (by way of Idaho) and ? from Austin (I can’t say who due to contractual reasons with a nearby club). So mostly I’ll talk about Eilen which is no way minimizing our other act. Eilen’s been in the news a bit lately with rave 4 Star reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post and The Irish Times, as well as being the featured artist last week on NPR’s World Cafe syndicated show.

It’s safe to say I’m in love with her new record, Sinners and Saints. It hits all the right Americana notes by mixing western swing, texan alt-country with northern jazz and folk. It’s the real deal. I’ve already linked a plenty to Sinners and Saints, so here’s the title track from her debut cd, “Boundary County”. Order it here.

Boundary County [Download]

“Rich Man’s World” from Sinners and Saints


"Hill Country Girl" from the new ep by Will Kimbrough (Will and the Bushmen, the bis-quits)

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Even if you think you don’t know Will Kimbrough, you do. You may have heard his 80′s college rock band Will and The Bushman, or his next roots rock band the bis-quits (recorded one recod for John Prine’s Oh Boy) or his critically acclaimed solo work. If not, you might have heard his pay-the-rent guitar playing with Jimmy Buffet, Rodney Crowell, Josh Rouse or Kim Richey. If you’re involved in the production racket you would know his work for Adrienne Young, Todd Snider or Kate Campbell. If you’re still drawing a blank you’ve clearly got to get out a bit more.

Will’s got a new ep out called ep. Its 8 songs are mostly acoustic and highlight his more mellow, folkier side. “Hill Country Girl” is a beautiful love ballad that’s beauty seems only matched by the female protagonist (the “hill country girl”). You can buy ep here for $10.

Hill Country Girl [Download]

“Everyone’s In Love” via Corporate Country Sucks.


Tall Tales – :Short Songs By Tall Tales And The Silver Lining (Beehouse Records)

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I wish I had somehow written about the Tall Tales ep Short Songs By Tall Tales And The Silver Lining (Beehouse Records) back in March when it was released. Although I don’t see myself as having much pull, perhaps a few sympathetic bloggers could have piled on and gotten behind this understated ep and it could have seen a wider release/more praise. As it is now, in Internet time, this release is has-been.

“The Glow” is northern California freak-folk (lite on the freak) complete with lyrical references to nature, the sea and the wind. Musically it’s all over the place with plenty of finger-picked acoustic guitar, a bongo solo and even some feedback laced electric guitar (for the Neil Young fan inside each and every one of us). You can buy this 9 song ep here from Beehouse.

The Glow [Download]

Tall Tales video courtesy of Songs From A Window podcast/YouTube video channel


The Donkey’s new song "Seventh Heaven" (7" split ep with CFTPA)

Monday, September 10th, 2007

The Donkeys debut last year for Antenna Farm was one of my top albums of the year. They’re back with a limited edition split 7″ ep with Casiotone For The Painfully Alone on Antenna Farm Records. This rough, demo-quality track captures the band’s raw, 60′s-70′s rock rivival sound in a way that the debut record only hinted at.

Here’s “Seventh Heaven” from this record. Purchase the 7″ from Antenna Farm here now.

Seventh Heaven [Download]


YouTube Saturday – The Frogs (almost NSFW)

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

They don’t make `em like The Frogs anymore. They make Antony (from Antony and The Johnsons) seem like a straight choirboy. This group which ushered in the short lived “gay supremacist” era was at times too controversial for Gerard Cosloy of Homestead Records and now Matador fame. their first release on Homestead may have been their best, the gay themed It’s Only Right And Natural spurred protests and condemnation from the religious right but accolades from bands like Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. Composed of two (?) gay brothers, the band’s mix of gentle folk music alternating with glam rock (complete with costumes) combined with disturbing and confrontational lyrics was certainly one of kind. It’s no surprise then that the band has a rabid and loyal following despite peaking in popularity in the late 80′s. Here’s a live version of their song “Starboy” which was released by James Iha’s Scratchie Records (but then immediately taken out of print by a disapproving label).

Starboy [Download]

“Been A Year Since I Had A Boy”

“She Is The Most”

Meet The Frogs (video documentary clip that was part of a Smashing Pumpkins dvd?)


Short clip declaring the Frogs a public menace from “Hells Bells: The Dangers Of Rock N Roll – 1989″

A cover of The Frogs “Weird On The Avenue” by anon


(Abbreviated) Honky-Tonk Friday – Roger Wallace

Friday, September 7th, 2007

It’s Texas style Honky-Tonk Friday with Roger Wallace. Roger’s played a number of styles of Western music over the past decade. On his new record, It’s About Time, he really focuses in on a the stripped down country twang of workingman’s honky-tonks. He’s a staple down in Austin and has signed up some of that town’s best pickers and players to contribute to the sound of It’s About Time.

Of course what would Honky-Tonk Friday be without some sly/witty/funny lyrics to go with all that twang. On “If It Wasn’t For Me” Roger chronicles all the accomplishments he could have achieved if it weren’t for him. The song includes these nuggets of wisdom:

  • “I could have been a lawyer; if it hadn’t been for school”
  • “I could have had a lot of honey; if it weren’t for the bees”
  • “I could have had me a forest; if it wasn’t for the tree”
  • And the chorus – “I could have been about a million things; if it wasn’t for me”

This August release is available now through his label, Texas Music Roundup, here.

If It Wasn’t For MeIt’s About Time [Download]