Archive for October, 2007

New song from the best unsigned band in America – Built Like Alaska

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

If you’ve read this blog from the beginning (sometime in 2004) you know of my love for the SF band Built Like Alaska. I’ll follow them anywhere, whether they’re into noisy ephemeral rock (like Mercury Rev) or folksy, earth-mother jams I’m a 100% behind this band. It’s been three years since 2004′s Future Farmer release Autumnland and the band is looking to self release a 2 disc set sometime mid-winter. They’re also entertaining offers from indie labels. Since I’m pretty sure Blitzen Trapper’s been signed up, I’d go as far as to say they’re one of the best unsigned bands in America.

This is a demo of a new song. Who knows what form it’ll take on disc, but for now I’m loving the high-pitched, Neil Youngish vocals and acoustic instrumentation.

Break Of Day [Download]

Danny Schmidt’s upcoming album “Little Grey Sheep” (plus a few more songs from Sonny Smith’s great 2006 release “Fruitvale”)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Cover art of new record by Efrain Guerrero

In the old music model releases by independent artists and smaller labels came to a standstill sometime starting around the end of October as both big boxes and smaller retail outlets focused on the big holiday releases. With the new model already upon us, perhaps this year early winter will no longer be a wasteland devoid of interesting releases. Around this time of year I usually go into re-post mode throwing up some of my favorite posts from 2007 or revisiting some of my favorite artists, but this year may be a little different. For example, I just found out that Danny Schmidt has been working on a new record (Waterbug soon) titled Little Grey Sheep. The album title refers to some songs that had been kicking around for awhile but that had never appeared on one of his fine records. Danny’s brought them all together in one place as Little Grey Sheep.

I was going to write something about the beautiful song “Drawing Board” but Danny beat me to it; here’s what he says about this love song turned “best-of-friends” song.

“This song is about a relationship in transition. In fact, the song itself mirrors that transition . . . cause I was halfway through writing it when the relationship shifted. So the song that began as an upward trajectory sort of love song ended as a “how to salvage what you can from the wreck” sort of love song.”

“Adios to Tejasito” is a cute little song in that grand tradition of songs about Texas, although this one wryly puts down the rest of Texas and puts Danny’s hometown of Austin up on a pedestal. You’ll be able to purchase this here soon. It’ll be a must have for fans of intelligent folk based singer-songwriters.

Drawing Board [Download]

Adios To Tejasito [Download]

Danny Schmidt “This Too Shall Pass”


Sonny Smith’s record from late 2006, Fruitvale, continues to stick with me. His stories of and about the neighborhood where he lives are short stories more fitting a novella or a play. The songs are occupied by characters that do bad things, but don’t seem to be bad people; be it the pimp on the corner or the cop in “Bad Cop”. The songs seem to point to some big forces at work here other than simple self-determination; issues like the unraveling of the family, the plight of the urban neighborhood and the prevailing atmosphere of hate in Bush’s America. Buy Fruitvale here.

Mario [Download]

A Day In The Life Of A Heel [Download]

Bad Cop [Download]

Sonny Smith “The Gospel Song”

New tour only EP from Nik Freitas (on tour w/Bright Eyes and The Felice Brothers)

Monday, October 29th, 2007

How about this show: Bright Eyes, The Felice Brothers and Nik Freitas. At the shows Nik will be selling his tour only ep called Shoe Bee Doo Bop. “Sun Down” is a song that examines all the frailties of the world, the environment and life as we know it on planet earth. This is really what I hoped the new Ben Lee and the new Josh Ritter would sound like. I was disappointed by both of those but thankfully now have room for more stuff like this.

Sun Down [Download]

Bonus song from Shoe Bee Doo Bop:

Comes To Me [Download]

From Nik’s 2006 release Voicing The Hammers

Maria [Download]

P.S. I wrote up a couple songs from a new cd from Chicagoan Daniel Knox on Transmission. He fit’s the circus/cabaret/lounge rock of previous songs:Illinois posts. Also Swedesplease has a great pop song from Slow Motion Club.

YouTube Saturday – Chris Stamey (The db’s, Mitch Easter, Peter Holsapple, The Beat Rodeo etc)

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Not much time to write but today’s YouTube feature revolves around the bands, friends and acquaintances of Chris Stamey. Unfortunately there’s very few videos of Chris Stamey’s solo career although there are plenty with the db’s (although mostly of the live variety). Here’s the few I could find plus friends et al.

The db’s –

“World To Cry” [Download]

Chris Stamey/Peter Holdsapple – “Angels”

The db’s – “Amplifier”

Mitch Easter’s band Let’s Active – “Writing the book Of Last Pages”

The db’s “Big Brown Eyes”

The Beat Rodeo – “What’s The Matter”

Honky-Tonk Friday – Peter Cooper’s “Cautionary Tales” (bff of Todd Snider, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith)

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Well not exactly honky tonk, I know, but it was the nearest thing I could find. Peter Cooper is a music journalist and collaborator extraordinaire (he’s worked with Todd Snider, Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith). His new record is called Cautionary Tales and is out now on Corazong Records. It’s clever alt-country in the same vein as Todd Snider with just a bit more twang added to the mix.

Boy Genius [Download]

Peter Cooper “Boy Genius”

Peter Cooper “Thin Wild Mercury”

Matt Hopper – “Reverse Odyssey”

Thursday, October 25th, 2007


Matt Hopper & The Roman Candles is just about the only Alaskan band I’ve ever written about. Isn’t that strange? I heard the band was playing the Americana Music Association’s annual shindig down in Nashville and they were the only band of any stature that I’d never heard about.

Matt’s new record, Reverse Odyssey, came out in mid 2007 but didn’t get any attention in the blog world despite opening set for Leeroy Stagger and Ian Moore. The songs on the record range from the folk based troubadour types like “Madison” to the more rockin’ psych-lite of “Bottom Of The Sea”. Catch Matt Hopper in all his ragged glory live at The Basement on November 3rd (more info here courtesy of the AMA). If you haven’t done so already add Matt Hopper to your one-to-watch category.

Madison [Download]

Bottom Of The Sea [Download]

Bonus track

Keep You Around [Download]

P.S. Are you wondering what the best show of the week is in Chicago? I’ve got the answer. It’s Luke Temple/Chuck Prophet at Schubas at 10pm on Oct. 27. I wrote about it here for Transmission.

Newgrass/Bluegrass/OldTimey Cage Match – The SteelDrivers Vs. Mighty Ghosts of Heaven

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


I received two discs in the mail this week that give, as good any, an indication as to the state of the music industry. The first is the much ballyhoed (at least in the americana music world) debut from The Steeldrivers on Rounder Records. The second is the relatively unknown Portland based band Mighty Ghosts Of Heaven and their self titled, self released lp. While the digital music wars are ongoing and music distribution unclear, and despite the success of the Radiohead experiment, it’d be great to be able to say each band has an equal shot at success. But we’re not there yet. Of these two bands, regardless of quality, the band with the label connections will probably still come out ahead, but the time is coming when that will no longer be true.

With regard to these two groups you may have already guessed which side of the fence I come out on. For all it’s sonic purity, quality musicianship and stellar cast of characters The Steeldrivers left me cold. Meanwhile Mighty Ghosts of Heaven had my foot sompin’ from the opening track. The band’s instruments include ukeleles, mountain dulcimer, fiddle, tenor banjo, guitar, standup bass and an eclectic assortment of percussive instruments and effects. The Steeldrivers seem to be trying too hard to meld rock, soul and blues with bluegrass, whereas Mighty Ghosts of Heaven update the standard bluegrass/old timey sound with diverse arrangements, beautiful duets and a honest sense of fun.

Normally I’d leave with you a song from each, but The Steeldrivers are on Rounder, a label notorious for not “getting” music bloggers, so I fear a cease and desist if I were to post something. The “true” indie sound of Mighty Ghosts Of Heaven is available for all to hear though. Their release will be available soon and has a street date of October 30. The Steeldrivers self-titled record will be available in all the big boxes, Walmart’s and digital music hubs of the world beginning January 22nd.

Here’s two from Mighty Ghosts Of Heaven upcoming release:

Grapes Will Turn To Wine [Download]

Look Down That Lonesome Road [Download]

Tom Williams + The Boat – Penguin EP (Unlabel)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007


No one would ever say Bob Dylan sings pretty. Nor would you say Mike Skinner of The Streets has the best enunciation or grammar. Hell, half of the indie folk I listen to hardly passes as in-tune. So, as you can guess, Tom Williams’ slightly cockney flavored delivery of his anti-folk-rock blend was not a deterrent for me falling for his new ep The Penguin. In fact those two artists mentioned above are not that far removed from the sound Tom gets out of his 6 piece band The Boat. On “Jazz Singer” the harmonica solos remind one of Dylan’s best work, and the clever wordplay of “pretty daughter god I love her, came back last week and saw a neck and back tattoo” is both as modern as Skinner’s and as emotionally bare.

You can hear more songs from the ep on Tom Williams + The Boat’s MySpace page and you really should check them out as the stylistic changes between and among songs is striking (i.e. the punk energy of “Yup” and the gentle but cynical (anti) folk of “Three Thursdays”). Tom’s unsigned in the states, but this new ep is available to pre-order in a limited edition pressing of 100 copies now from the British label Unlabel (here).


The Jazz Singer [Download]

Tom Williams (solo) – “You Talk So Loudly On the Phone”

MV & EE And The Golden Road – “Gettin’ Gone” (Ecsatic Peace, Oct. 23)(plus music from Parker Street Cinema and i am bones)

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

I can’t figure out what it is that causes bloggers not to write about MV & EE and The Golden Road. The band’s indie cred is legendary (living in a cabin, doing tons of drugs, not selling out to the man), for goodness sake Thurston Moore is the label pres at Ecstatic Peace, and both on tour and on the new record a certain guitarist and indie rock stalwart, j mascis, plays drums. For all the Flaming Lips fans that purport to be out there why can’t they get with the dreamy psychotic rock of “I Got Caves In There” (sounds like an outtake from early Lips stuff). On “Susquehanna” you can easily hear Velvet Underground and Creation era bands like My Bloody Valentine or Jesus And Mary Chain. Promoters of every new, blue-blood, freak folk performer of the moment should be all over these two but they’re not.

Gettin’ Gone came out last week on Ecstatic Peace and the band is currently on the road blowing eardrums and minds up and down the east coast.

I Got Caves In There [Download]

Susquehanna [Download]

P.S. I’m going to keep it experimental and add this one song to today’s post from the upcoming record from Parker Street Cinema titled Music, In The Blood on Abandoned Love Records.

These Precious Seconds [Download]

P.P.S. Not exactly what you’ve come to expect from S:I but I stumbled upon the mp3 of the new song from i am bones called “The Main Thing Is To Keep the Main Thing The Main Thing” from their new record The Greater Good (Morningside Records).

The Main Thing… [Download]

YouTube Saturday – Lucinda Williams (w/ covers by Ben Lee and Todd Deatheredge and guests Mary Chapin Carpenter and Jim Lauderdale)

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I’ve been accused of romanticizing the past and focusing on an artists early work and downplaying their new stuff (esp. once it gets popular). But the simple fact is I’m usually right (don’t argue!). And that’s definitely the case with Lucinda Williams. So this YouTube Saturday will focus as much as possible on her records up to and including Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.

“Passionate Kisses” w/Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Joy” (Live)

“Drunken Angel”

“Metal Firecracker” (w/Jim Lauderdale and Kenny Vaughn on guitar)

“Metal Firecracker” – Ben Lee (w/New Buffalo)

“Drunken Angel” at ACL

Todd Deatheredge covers “Essence”

The Can Kickers, The Way They Were Meant To Be Heard – “Live At Lavazone” (Fistolo Records)

Friday, October 19th, 2007

The Can Kickers seem to know just everybody. When I mention the band to any other touring group inevitably I get nodding heads of approval, if not looks of sheer astonishment. It helps that they live out of their van and tour constantly. It also helps that they are complete originals. They play a kind of punk-celtic-bluegrass-old-timey concoction, they add to that a 1950′s era Communist streak that would have got them blacklisted by McCarthy.

I’m not sure if their energetic shows will ever translate onto disc, but their most recent release, Live At Lavazone, which captures a live show in Philly, comes close. Here’s two from The Can Kickers who return to Chicago to play MoJoe’s Hothouse at 2849 W. Belmont on Oct. 22.

Rachel Corrie

Bonus song from 2006′s We’re Dyin’ But We’re Not Dead

Strike The Bell [Download]

Honorary Swedish Band – Rubies (w/Feist, Maria from The Concretes and Blood Music)

Thursday, October 18th, 2007


Rubies, the California electro folk trio, are huge in Sweden (and Norway and Japan). They have friends among the highest level of Swedish pop cognoscenti including Karl Jonas Winqvist of Blood Music, Maria from The Concretes, and the up and coming electronic duo Studio. All these artists as well as members of Kings Of Convenience, Dan Judd and Leslie Feist helped out with the new record. Their new record, Explode From Center, was partially recorded in Stockholm and the bands website is peppered with live photos from their time in Sweden.

If you’re wondering what the band sounds like think Mama and The Papas (sans Papas) powered by cheap casios and electric guitars. For now there is no US release date, although the record should be available from Telle Records (Norway) and a single is supposed to be released through Rallye (Japan) in October.

Diamonds On Fire [Download]

“Diamonds On Fire” (w/Blood Music) performing acoustically outside a cafe in Stockholm:

It’s about time…Malcolm Holcombe’s “Wager EP”

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007


Songs:Illinois is the best mp3 blog on the internet. Sounds a bit conceited, huh? But it’s not far from the truth, at least for me. What I’ve realized (and it’s no great light bulb moment) is that the songs I share on Songs:Illinois are the best songs available that fit my particular likes and dislikes. They may be old fashioned to some or at the very least outdated to others and to most just plain irrelevant. But that’s not what I hear. And really that’s what an mp3 blog should be, shouldn’t it? A repository for all your favorite songs and not a place for old press releases to come and die or countless random tour date listings or endless contests and self promotion. When I look back through my archives I see bands that have mostly been ignored by mainstream media but who all have something to say, usually that something is about a thousand times more important and compelling than what you might hear on the radio, on a corporate website or even in an alt-weekly.

For instance Malcolm Holcombe has been making music for 30 plus years and his brand of folk blues is neither in fashion nor particularly modern. But after thirty years of writing and performing he’s just about got it right. His voice sounds like it’s been ruined by 50 years of whiskey and cigarettes, his songs sound like they’ve been put through a decrepit time machine and just barely come out alive and his weathered face seems to show every hard mile he’s traveled in pursuit of his dream. Amazingly after 30 odd years his dream may be closer to reality than ever. That’s because his upcoming full length record, Gamblin’ House, is coming out on the promising new label Echo Mountain on January 15. Hopefully the label knows what it has in Malcolm Holcombe and promotes this thing right. While we wait for that full length, Malcolm has released a new ep, Wager, that’s available now through his website and on Amazon. “I Feel Like A Train” is the first song on the ep and it describes the author’s hardscrabble life on the road and relates it to how a train must feel at the end of the line. Buy Wager or any of Malcolm Holcombe’s self-released cds here. Holcombe stops in at The Red Line Tap in Chicago on October 19.

I Feel Like a Train [Download]

Bill Kelly throws his “Bread On The Waters”

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007


Bill Kelly’s new record, Bread On The Waters, has already been popping up on the top ten year end lists of Americana fans. But surprisingly, prior to seeing Bill’s name on these lists, I’d had very little interaction with his music. So I don’t have a long back story for you today. What I’ve learned in a very short time is that Bill’s music is firmly entrenched in the americana/singer-songwriter genre but that it also has a ton of soul.

“Better Off Alone” is a guitar and mandolin fueled romp that describes one man’s failure at relationships, love and life. Bill’s voice is clear, deep and resonant throughout. And the song, though taking twists and turns, ends up just about where you thought it might, with the protagonist sad and alone. “Here Comes Christmas” starts out as just another cynical, tongue-in-cheek, overly clever Christmas song but then morphs into a heartfelt paean of joy about Christmas’ true charms. Both songs are highly recommended. You can purchase the new record or Bill’s solo debut, Jumbo, from his site here.

Better Off Alone [Download]

Bonus upcoming Christmas single

Here Comes Christmas [Download]

Roger Dean Young & The Tin Cup (Copperspine Records); plus new music from Chicago’s The Gunshy (Latest Flame, Oct. 30)

Monday, October 15th, 2007


Last time I wrote about Roger Dean Young I butchered his name, misspelled the song title and claimed he could fill in if needed for Steve Earle while he gets all that overt political chest thumping out of the way. I got three comments that day, 2 correcting my mistakes and 1 setting me straight vis a vis Steve Earle. I’m back for round two with Roger Dean Young since his new record, Threshold, was just released on Copperspine Records in the US.

Roger Dean Young is often photographed in a Western hat and boots, but his music is much too atmospheric and his voice too self-consciencely murmered to be confused with any known genre of country music. But still the sound of his band and his somber voice does conjur up images of desolate Canadian plains and deserted backwoods. “Juliana Park” is a beautiful song with Roger’s voice front and center with some nice embellishments of accordion, female harmony vocals and eerie guitar rounding out the back end.

Juliana Park [Download]

Back catalog

Pebbles [Download]

Simpleton [Download]

Heather Rhapsody [Download]


Maybe it’s not fair and completely off base but it’s hard for me to listen to “Juliana Park” by Roger Dean and not also hear The Gunshy from Chicago. The Gunshy is one Matt Arborgast and his new record is a concept project based on his grandfather’s letters from WWII. There’s No Love In This War should probably be required reading/listening for George Bush and his cronnies (if they’re too stupid to read the lyrics maybe a private showing of “All’s Quiet On The Western Front” would do). The record comes out October 30 on Latest Flame and within these songs (based on the letters) there is a litany of reasons war, any war, is just plain wrong. You can start the pre-order process at Latest Flame beginning Oct. 16.

May 14, 1943, The Khaki-Whacky Girls [Download]

You Tube Saturday – The Silos (w and w/o Bob Rupe)

Saturday, October 13th, 2007


These YouTube Saturday’s were supposed to be easy. They were meant as a cop-out, a cheap and quick way I could post on Saturday and not have to upload mp3′s, fight for a good description of the music or search out something new. But it turns out these are pretty hard. I have to walk the line between bands that are well known enough to have YouTube videos but not so well known to attract the wrong crowd to S:I.

The Silo’s are perfect then. At their peak they were a critically acclaimed band on a flawed major label. Their songs, mostly written by Walter Salas Humara, were hook laden but precise in their storytelling or scene setting. Bob Rupe added some songwriting but mainly a massive and slashing guitar sound.

The band minus Rupe continue to play live and record new songs. They’re just not the same. I hope there’s a reunion in the works. They are currently working with Bloodshot Records. Here’s two from their Bloodshot release Come On Like the Fast Lane.

Behind Me Know [Download]

Come On Like the Fast Lane [Download]

Just This Morning (w/Bob Rupe – 1989-90)

“Any Way You Choose Me”

“South by Southwest”

“Susan Across The Water”

“Commodore Peter”

Kevin Kane..yes that Kevin Kane from The Grapes Of Wrath (Bongo Beat Records, Oct 16)

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Kevin Kane records for Bongo Beat Records. If you know anything about power pop and Bongo Beat Records than you may already know exactly what this release from former Grapes Of Wrath frontman sounds like. And if you don’t just look up any of these artists: The Bongo’s, The db’s, Bobby Sutliff, Richard Barone, or early Mathew Sweet.

How To Build A Lighthouse just sounds great! And “Last To Know” has the perfect blend of overdubbed falsetto vocals and rich full orchestration. Buy it here through the power pop superstore – Not Lame Records.

Last To Know [Download]

The Grapes Of Wrath “Peace Of Mind”

The Grapes Of Wrath “All The Things I Wasn’t”

The Izzys – “The Violent Bear It All Away” (Fat Man Records, Oct. 16)(RIYL The Stones, The Band, Neil Young)

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

When I wrote about The Izzys from NYC over a year ago I thought that’d be the last of them (I have that effect on bands) but they’ve shaken off the S:I curse and resurfaced with a new record. At the time I also thought they were maybe a bit of a one trick pony; able to play stonesy, r&b-fueled rock but little else. I was wrong about that too, sure on “Madman Sleeps” the guitars rage and the lead singer struts his stuff (vocally that is), but on the title track, “The Violent Bear It All Away”, the band works the other, subtler side, of the same coin. On “The Violent…” they mix The Band’s organic earth-tones and slightly groovy guitar/organ interplay with their British Invasion rawk.

The Violent Bear It All Away
comes out Oct. 16 on Fat Man Records, but is available as a digital download or a cd here.

The Madman Sleeps [Download]

The Violent Bear It All away [Download]

British Bands Who Are Not R**i*h**d – The Epstein and new song/vid from Darren Hayman (Hefner)(Track & Field, Nov. 5)

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007


The music blogs that get my respect today are those that don’t mention the band R**i*h**d. Any mention of that band automatically brings a blog down several notches. Do you really think they need any more help promoting this record? You’ve had it for 5 hours how can you really say whether it’s deserving of any serious consideration?

Anyway during one of my series on British americana and alt-county I stumbled upon the band The Epstein. At the time they were unsigned and had very little recorded or much info up on their site but I was nonetheless impressed with the song “Charanga”. I’ve since learned that they were recording their debut record at the time and as of Nov. 3 that record, Last Of The Charanguistas, will be released.

“Leave Your Light On” is a simple song with a compelling message of love. No new ground is covered either lyrically or musically but the slight tremor in the lead singer’s voice expresses more emotion than you could imagine. Musically the mandolin fills and female harmony vocals are just beautiful. “Just The Wind” rocks a little harder and adds electric guitar and horns to the mix.

Leave Your Light On [Download]

Just The Wind [Download]


Completely unrelated (although I guess he is British, if he is indeed from this planet) is the new song from Darren Hayman (in the form of a YouTube video or .mov file). Darren (Hefner) has a new record out on Track and Field called Darren Hayman And The Secondary Modern.

Darren recorded an interesting and at times amusing podcast about the making of the record. It’s like turning your favorite dvd’s commentary track on.

Listen to the podcast here. [Download]

From the song below, “The Wrong Thing”, and the songs interspersed into the podcast, this record has transformed Darren’s sound from humble, lo-fi bedroom pop into a much more produced, albeit, very rough studio sound. None of the intimacy is lost with the fleshed out mix (upwards of 8 musicians on the record), nor are the songs any less immediate since they were written and recorded on the spot in a matter of hours. This may be Darren Hayman’s solo breakout record given the quality of the songs and the ability of Track & Field to get it out to consumers. I hope so, as I consider him one of the true hidden treasures England has to offer.

Tyler Ramsey – A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea (Band of horses’ new guitarist and opening band) (Jan. 18)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Tyler Ramsay may have the first great release of 2008 under his belt with A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea (Echo Mountain). If that wasn’t enough this young singer-songwriter and guitarist has just signed up as new guitarist for and opening band of Band Of Horses. It’s too early to proclaim him the second coming (although the long hair and beard make it tempting) on the basis of one song but the boozy delivery on “No One Goes Out Anymore” combined with the slight guazey film on top of the fuzzy guitar makes it one to beat in 2008.

Band Of Horses’ Chicago play is Nov. 12 at Metro, if Tyler’s in tow get there early to catch his opening set. Three more tracks are streaming at HisSpace. Plus here’s YouTube videos of two more songs from the forthcoming record.

No One Goes Out Anymore [Download]

Title track, “Long Dream…” on YouTube

“Ships” (recorded at Echo Mountain Studios)