Archive for September, 2008

Hal Ketchum’s new record “Father Time” (Curb Records, Sept. 9)

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I’m not sure how Hal Ketchum wants to be marketed. His website and Myspace are a jumble of competing messages. Is he a rebel and not part of the Nashville circuit as his tattoo’s and honky-tonk appearance suggests or is he a well manicured product of the Nashville machine as his perfectly coiffed hair and scarf suggest.

I think he’s probably somewhere in between. Caught between no longer being a young rebel and not yet an old favorite. The new record Father Time positions him well though and the song “Millionaire’s Wife” with it’s catchy chorus and authentic banjo (and near gospel backing vocals) bridge that gap between fame/fortune and artistic merit. You can buy the new record here now.

Millionaire’s Wife [Download]

Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival (Congress Theater, Nov. 22)

Monday, September 29th, 2008

As you may know Songs:Illinois is based in the Chicago area, but I’ve always thought it silly to focus on the Chicago scene since as far as I can tell I have as many readers in Jakarta as I do in Wicker Park. Besides the one fun, but ill-advised Songs:Illinois show at Cals, I haven’t ventured out into the world of promoting the live music scene. But when I heard about the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival being held at the Congress Theater on November 22 I was intrigued. After seeing the lineup of The Avett Brothers, Ha Ha Tonka, Lil Ed and The Dave Grisman Quintet plus at least 10 more bands I was sold.

So I’ve become one of the media sponsors (whatever that means). I’ll be featuring some of the music of the bands performing between now and show time (Nov. 22). And badgering my local readers to buy tickets and attend. That’s it for now. You can buy early bird tickets now here .

Here’s a sample of “Jenna Lee” by Chicago blues-rockers Blackdog:

Jenna Lee [Download]

Priya Thomas is “Blood Heron” (Sunny Lane, Oct. 28)

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I usually don’t read bio’s, let alone quote them, but Priya Thomas is a mystery to me and I couldn’t find the words to sum up her sound any better than the “About Me” section on her website:

A record meshed somewhere between the worlds of Sufjan Stevens, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, Thomas sounds something like Grace Slick banging pots and pans or Mazzy Starr accompanied by warped ukeleles, clattering tambourines and plunky guitars.

What I like about her sound is the masculine nature of it. Sometimes female artists are so obviously female, kind of like the movies or books that are geared towards a female audience (Nights In Rodanthe anyone?). She’s not polished in any way on these songs and they’re not an easy listen either musically or lyrically but there is just so much more there than on a typical “womyn’s” release.

Priya’s new record is called Blood Heron and comes out in Canada on Oct. 28.

Had I Known, I Would Have Declined [Download]

(T)anytown’s take on heartland rock plus house concert announcement (hint it’s The Theater Fire! from Fort Worth)

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

(T)anytown is another example of a band from Europe playing heartland country folk. Their new record, East Of Everything, is out on Corazong Records in October. I’ve written about many of these bands. I like how the Europeans add just that slight hint of gothic angst to American rock.

Harvest Time [Download]


P.S. I just solidified the next Songs:Illinois house concert and it’s a doozy. I’m glad to present the Fort Worth based americana melting pot of a group known as The Theater Fire in my living room on Oct. 16. They’re passing thru Chicago on their way to Brooklyn to play at the wedding of a guy from the band O’Death. How cool is that? Their new record is due out in December and is called Matter and Light. It’s already getting great reviews on the blogs (here and here). I’m a huge fanboy of these guys and can’t wait to hear their sonic brew in person. Hope you can make it too.

Contact me at for more info about the house concert.

Here’s two from the new record.

Uncle Wayne [Download]

Swashbuckler Blues [Download]

Junior League Band – “Mitchell Williams Fo Govena” (Sept. 30)

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today. I’ve got a couple half finished posts I could have completed or I could have just taken the day off. Then I rechecked my email inbox and discovered that something in there would fit perfectly on Songs:Illinois.

The Washington, DC based roots band the Junior League Band have a new record out on September 30. Lissy Rosemont is the front woman and the driving force in the band (the press release states that it’s her banjo in the new song by Missy Elliott). Her take on life and the female perspective in these songs is a pleasant switch from the male dominated roots music scene.

The new record, Mitchell Williams Fo Govena, is out on Sept. 30 but you can pre-order it here. There’s a record release party at The Black Cat On Oct. 4.

The Station [Download]

Bluegrass Tuesday (sort of) with Brooklyn band Yarn

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

One of the best records I’ve heard all the way through in the newgrass/bluegrass/alt-country style is from the Brooklyn based band Yarn. The bulk of the songs on the new record, while not completely traditional, are acoustic based mid-tempo numbers accented by fiddle and mandolin. As a result this record doesn’t rawk, though it does reel quite nicely.

The appropriately titled “Can’t Slow Down” is one of the most up tempo songs on here. But the slower songs are standouts as well – particularly the ones featuring guest vocalists Edie Brickell and Caitlin Cary.

Buy Empty Pockets here now.

Can’t Slow Down [Download]

The Iquanas – “If I Should Ever Fall On Hard Times” (Yep Roc, Sept 30)

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

There are some bands that I write about simply because no one else in the blogosphere is. I may not be a big slobbering fan of these bands’ stuff but I usually respect them a ton. Typically they’re unsexy, reliable outfits cranking out albums and tours with some regularity. Most of the above can be said about The Iquanas – except I don’t think anyone would ever call their New Orleans jam-funk unsexy.

Here’s the song “The Beep” from the new Yep Roc release If I Ever Fall On Hard Times. Check out the private detective inspired film noir surf-rock jam in the middle of this song. Pre-order the new record now here.

The Beep [Download]

Beg, borrow, and steal for your love (plus Thomkins Square reissue of Polk Miller & His Old Southern Quartette’s 1909 Edison cylinder recordings)

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The line graph above is a representation of the Songs:Illinois traffic trend. Can you tell which way it’s trending? Neither can I. While I’m happy with the number and quality of visitors I would like to see that trend going up instead of jumping all over the pace.

SO while this is dorky and a little pathetic I thought I’d ask for your help. I ask this because I truly love the music on Songs:Illinois. The writing leaves a lot to be desired, I know. But the music inspires me, often brightens my day, and never fails to move me in some small way.

SO SO I was thinking I’d ask you guys for help. If you’re a regular reader or even a newbie I thought I’d ask you to help spread the word about this little site. Email a friend or two, if you’re on Facebook do one of those little updates (ie “Fred Smith is loving Songs:Illinois right now”), add a link to me on any of your online sites, sign up for the email update, etc., etc.

I’d like to thank everyone else who links here especially the excellent web mashup Ample Sanity and my brother from another mother music blog The Late Greats.


Here’s a little something that will make the spiders at Hype and pick up this post. These songs are from the early 1900′s and have just been reissued on Tompkins Square. Read more about this fascinating release here.

Pre-order it here through Amazon.

Oysters and Wine At 2 AM [Download]

New record from Sumner Brothers (In The Garage Records, Sept. 19)

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

I’ve probably written about 3000 different bands over the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve forgotten about most of them but there are always a few that stick with me for one reason or another. Of course the main reason is always the music, but sometimes it’s the process of discovery that is memorable or an interaction with the artist that makes them stand out. The Sumner Brothers are a combination of all three reasons. Songs:Illinois must have been some of the first press they received since portions of my review of their debut record are up on their CDBaby page, also they’ve always been extremely nice in my dealings with them, but as I say it’s mostly about the music. The Sumners Brothers effortlessly combine all the disparate forms of roots music to create a sound that elevates them to the top of the heap (The Felice Brothers, Chatham County Line and The Avett Brothers are all pushing and struggling not to fall off that same heap).

The band is releasing their sophomore effort on Sept. 19 (tomorrow) with a release party at St James Hall in Vancouver. Staying true to the bands’ all natural, organic sound they recorded the new record in a cabin on Galliano Island. The band admits to being particularly fond of the track “Ticket To Ride”. And this nearly 6 minute long ode of desperation, joblessness, war, and trains is a fine place to start.

Ticket To Ride [Download]

Andrew Phillip Tipton covers Belle and Sebastian and Walt Disney

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I wrote about the extremely lofi twee folk of Andrew Phillip Tipton a while back (here and here). Now Andrew’s got a new ltd. edition covers record out. These two songs have a lot in common with classic Daniel Johnston. They share his fondness for out of tune ukeles, banjos and tinkling keys. Andrew’s voice is somewhere between that of a whisper and a the sound of a child. Thus it’s perfectly suited for this creepy Belle and Sebastian cover and the spooky version of the theme song to Disney’ ride The Haunted Mansion.

Dressed Up In You [Download]

Grim Grinning Ghosts [Download]

Animated version of the original “Grim Grinning Ghosts”

Belle and Sebastian on BBC doing “Dressed Up In You”

Two more drinking (and driving) songs from Ashville’s best honky-tonk band Tony Wain And The Payne

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

One of my randomnest discoveries of earlier this year was the really rough and lofi honky-tonk of Tony Wain And The Payne (here). Their early demos were some of the least produced, most boozy, ramshackle gorgeous things I’ve ever heard. They’ve tightened things up just a bit and say they are going to release something this fall.

The band is the toast and pride of Ashville, NC. The band’s next show is at something called the Mellow Mushroom Halloween Blowout on Oct. 31. If you live within 200 miles I’d suggest you check it out. Here’s two new whiskey and beer drenched songs from the band.

Bullets And Beer [Download]

We Can Take My Car [Download]

The Youngers – “Heritage” (produced by John Carter Cash with special guests Ronnie McCoury and pedal steel ace Ralph Mooney)

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I saw a weird ad on TV the other day; it was with The Bodeans and they were promoting the state of Wisconsin. I guess music is a better sales tool than cheese or the Green Bay Packers. The Youngers are from Pennsylvania and that might as well be Wisconsin in my book. They play heartland rock in the same vein as the Bodeans and John Cougar Mellencamp, though their bio would rather site Bruce Sprinsteen and Woody Gutherie.

Heck, I loved those bands, and The Jayhawks and the Gear Daddies too. Heritage has a bit of the feel (lyrically) of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”; it’s a tale of a Vietnam vet and his experiences upon returning home especially the shuttering of US businesses and the downturn for the small town.

The new John Carter Cash produced record, Heritage, just came out last week and is available at Miles Of Music here.

Heritage [Download]

Austin Hartley-Leonard’s new record “Franklin Avenue” (Sept. 9, Mother West Records) plus a new song from JD Souther

Friday, September 12th, 2008

I was going to try to squeeze Austin Hartley-Leonard into Honky-Tonk Friday but had to abandon that since his music lacks that twang found on most Honky-Tonk Friday posts. If he was based anywhere else but LA perhaps his music would have a more country sound but as it is now he makes more like Ryan Adams than Merle Haggard. What is it about LA that puts a sheen on the sound of so many young artists? Sure there are exceptions to the rule but it seems like the bulk of LA singer-songwriters are hoping for that Gray’s Anatomy placement rather than focusing on how to make their music more “real”.

With all of that said, I like the start of “Golden Opportunity” with it’s banjo and scratchy vocals. Heck I even like the poppy horns that enter the song toward the end. The new record is called Franklin Avenue.

Golden Opportunity [Download]


P.S. I wanted to share with you the new song from JD Souther. But at the same time I don’t want to end up in federal prison like this guy. See the new record is on a subsidiary of Sony and although I got the song fair and square I just don’t want to push it. So instead of hosting the song myself, please visit JD’s homepage, sign up for his email list and the song is yours free of charge.

Rachel Harrington – “City of Refuge” (SkinnyDennis Records, Sept 30) and a couple nice demo’s from Madison based indie folkster Mike Behrends

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Rachel Harrington released her critically acclaimed debut record in 2007 called The Bootlegger’s Daughter. She’s now ready to follow that up with her sophomore effort – City Of Refuge. It features Tim O’Brien on fiddle and Holly O’Reilly and Pieta Brown on backing vocals. The song I have for you reminds me of the melancholy female characters in the AMC series Mad Men. In fact if there was any justice in the world this would be their theme song.

City of Refuge comes out on September 30 on Rachel’s own label, but you can pre-order an autographed copy now here.

Housewife’s Lament [Download]


I got a refreshing email from an artist today; refreshing because it didn’t ask me to write about his music. Instead it just asked if I knew of any great places an indie folkish musician might play in and around Chicago. Besides all the obvious places (Schubas, Uncommon Ground, Hideout, Old Town School) I don’t have an easy answer. But despite not being asked to, I’m still going to tell you a little about the music of Mike Behrends.

Mike is an unsigned artist from Minneapolis now living in Madison. He plays a variety of stringed instruments, but it’s his lyricism and plaintive (often to the point of breaking) vocals that steal the show.

“Sally Gal” sounds like it was written eons ago; both the lyrics and the banjo playing. While “If I Grew Out My Beard” fits nicely within the burgeoning indie folk movement with it’s undrstated delivery and nice, closely-miced hand claps. These are both demos that should appear sometime on a record titled The Bicycle Corp Of America.

Sally Gal [Download]

If I Grew Out My Beard [Download]

Songs:Illinois Music Video Roundup (Joe Pug, Ha Ha Tonka, Matt Bauer)

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Everyone’s got to have a video nowadays even more so than in the heyday of MTV. Even if it’s just a cellphone camera duct taped to the steering wheel of a car as you sing along with your song on the radio – a video is an essential part of keeping your name on the blogs and your image front and center with your biggest fans. So here’s a couple videos from me to you; a couple of S:I favorites. MP3′s to follow some time this afternoon….

Joe Pub – “Hymn 101″

Ha Ha Tonka – “Caney Mountain”

Ha Ha Tonka, “Caney Mountain” from Bloodshot Records on Vimeo.

Matt Bauer – “Barn Owl”

Ugh!! Triple A Radio. What A Load Of Crap!!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Radio is so messed up. I looked at a recent playlist/airpla¬• chart at one of the AAA radio behomoths (KGSR in Austin) and it’s full of boring crap. The web is so the place to be right now. Here’s their list; how unimaginative and corporate friendly can they be (and yes they threw a bone to Michael Fracasso and Bob Schneider but they’re local and that’s that):

SANTANA – She’s Not There
NICKEL CREEK – Reasons Why
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – Where Are You Going
AMOS LEE – Listen
R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe
BOB DYLAN – I Threw It All Away
LOS LOBOS – Can’t Stop The Rain
ADELE – Chasing Pavements
JAMES HUNTER – Don’t Do Me No Favours
DAVID BOWIE – Rebel Rebel
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE – I Will Possess Your Heart
NIRVANA – Come As You Are
BOB SCHNEIDER – When The Sun Breaks Down On
JORMA KAUKONEN – I Am the Light of this World
COLDPLAY – Viva La Vida
FLEETWOOD MAC – Never Going Back Again
U2 – Walk On

P.S. I’m pretty buzzed on a good Merlot so just ignore this post…please.

Charlie Louvin – “Steps To Heaven” (Tompkins Square, Sept. 16)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I’ve said my piece on Charlie Louvin back in 2006 (here) when he released a comeback record of sorts on Tompkins Square. Now it’s two years later and Charlie’s back with another set of songs that reside in the hinterland where gospel and country music come together.

The new record is called Steps To Heaven and features a small traditional gospel choir of three sisters, pianist Derrick Lee, and Chris Scruggs (from Br549) on doghouse bass and guitar (more on Chris Scruggs over at Postmodern Sounds). The arrangement on “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” showcases Charlie’s 80 year old tenor vocals. His voice crackles and creaks like only an old man’s can, and when Charlie sings “I’m tired, I’m weak and I’m worn” you really can believe it.

Look, I’m an atheist and even I get a shiver down my spine when I hear great gospel music, so take my advice and pre-order Steps To Heaven now through Amazon here.

Precious Lord, Take My Hand [Download]

Bonus song from Chris Scruggs:

Wayfaring Stranger [Download]
(Courtesy of Postmodern Sounds)

Mean Sea Level (Cardboard Sangria, Oct. 7)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Would you like a band that combines the laconic indie folk of Will Oldham and the literate English folk of Nick Drake? If the answer’s yes than you should check out Chicago’s Mean Sea Level. The band is the work of Brian Barton and a revolving cast of Chicago music luminaries and Cardboard Sangria label mates.

Bret is also in house engineer for Cardboard Sangria and you can hear that in the atmosphere he creates in the song “See What You See” from the new record. Vocals on this song are luminous and rich, the guitar sound is recorded beautifully and all the sparse elements added to the mix are just perfect. Now that I’ve listened even more I hear a little of early American Music Club and the earnest songs of Mark Eitzel.

See What You See [Download]

P.S. I went a little overboard yesterday on Swedesplease and proclaimed the new song from Erik Hallden as the Swedish song of the year. Click here to hear this indie pop gem.

Jeffrey Foucault does John Prine plus “Money Blues” from the European release of “Ghost Repeater”

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Songs:Illinois fave Jeffrey Foucault has prepared a covers album featuring works by John Prine. How perfect is that? One of the best of the new generation of “folk” singers covering songs by one of the best of the older generation.

Here’s an un-mastered version of the Prine classic “Storm Windows” that will appear on Shoot The Moon Right Behind The Eyes when it is released this fall. Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst play Schubas on Oct. 30.

Storm Windows [Download]

Bonus tracks from Ghost Repeater’s European release

Shadows Tumble [Download]

Money Blues [Download]

Blue Friday with JJ Grey & Mofro (Alligator Records, Aug. 26)

Friday, September 5th, 2008

There was a moment a couple of days ago when I thought I’d change the subtitle of this blog to “Songs:Illinois: The music blog for adults”. I may change it yet. JJ Grey & Mofro are certainly a band for adults. In a way that few bands are able to JJ Grey combines a blues, southern rock, and 60′s jam band mentality with that famous Muscle Shoals sound and even some New Orleans funk. Sounds impossible, right? But check out the title track to his new record Orange Blossums on Alligator Records and tell me I’m wrong?!

Buy Orange Blossums here.

Orange Blossums [Download]

JJ Grey talks about Orange Blossums

In itunes via Alligator