Archive for November, 2008

Honky-Tonk Friday – Scotty Campbell and The Wardenaires (don’t check your calenders – I’ll be off Friday for the holiday so the Honky-Tonk feature’s been moved up)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I once wondered if Brooklyn wasn’t the new Nashville (evidence here, here, here). But judging from the amount of country inspired bands that have come out of Canada in the past three years perhaps the great white north is the new epicenter of the country music universe. I haven’t spent any time in Canada but I’m sure there are both beautiful rural areas and sophisticated cosmopolitan cities. I’m also sure our neighbor to the north has the right conditions for honky-tonk: namely loneliness, isolation, depression and whiskey.

Scotty Campbell and His Wardenaires are the perfect example of this new face of honky-tonk. He’s been called Canada’s best unsigned country act and he and the band have also just won an award for Best Roots Music Act at the recent Hammy’s (Hamilton Music Awrds).

“Smokin’ and Drinkin’” is the title track from Scotty’s 2008 release. I’m guessing it probably encapsulates Scotty and the band to a T. Here are some upcoming dates to give you an idea of the true Honky-Tonks they have up North. Order the new record here via CD Baby.

Nov 29 2008 9:00 – The Ironwood stage and Grill Calgary, Alberta
Dec 21 2008 4:00 – The Cadillac Lounge Toronto, Ontario
Feb 6 2009 10:00 – The Dakota Tavern Toronto, Ontario

Smokin’ and Drinkin’ [Download]

P.S. That’s it for me `til after the holiday weekend. Have a great Turkey Day and see you on Monday!

Kapow! Kesang! (Marstrand)

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

I’ve lamented before the unreliability of CD new release lists. Self-released records, despite all the hullabaloo about how that’s the next big thing, are most likely not listed anywhere on the net. That’s the case for the new record by Kesang Marstrand. Her new record Bodega Rose is more accomplished and more enjoyable than the bulk of the music I usually encounter.

Kesang lives and records in Woodstock, NY. So it’s probably been hard not to be influenced by the folk traditions of this now mythic location. But her music, at least lyrically and sometimes musically, is more of a travelogue than an ode to her hippy hometown. There’s an exotic nature to her songs that goes far beyond just her unusual name. She seems as comfortable with jazz as she does with folk, which gives her music an appeal similar to that of Norah Jones. And that’s clearly an appeal that is wide and deep. And I have tremendous respect for music like this; music that is beautiful, delicious, effortless and almost floats on air.

I hope the major media pick up on Kesang. I bet she has an amazing story to go along with her beautiful songs.

Here’s a song off of her debut Bodega Rose. Buy it now though CD Baby here.

Real Boys [Download]

Bonus track

Tibet Will Be Free [Download]


P.S. And completely unrelated. Why are critics picking on Quantum of Solace. I thought the pacing and the story was interesting. I love a good tale of revenge and this one had that in spades. I guess because it’s following on the heels of the best Bond film in eons it’s getting a bit shortchanged. But I like it as much or even more than it’s predecessor.

News from Danny Schmidt

Monday, November 24th, 2008

I have no intention of providing timely folk/alt-country/americana news. You’ll very rarely hear about tour dates, Letterman appearances or anything of the sort. I’m sure there’s some place better to get that kind of info. But I would like to share this news story about Danny Schmidt. At last night’s house concert with Rachel Ries, Anais Mitchell and Hayward Williams (yes! it was awesome) Danny’s name came up and immediately a complete stranger to me said she thought “Stained Glass” was a perfect song. I quickly agreed and have always thought so myself. In fact I compared it to Greg Brown’s near perfect song “The Poet’s Game”. And that’s where the bit of news comes in to play.

See, Danny’ Schmidt has just been signed to Red House Records, which has been home to Greg Brown for the past 25 years. His new record will be out on March 10. And that’s something to be thankful for. Here’s a recent live recording of “Stained Glass” plus “Leaves Are Burning” from 2008′s Little Grey Sheep.

Stained Glass [Download]
(live in Netherlands 11/10)

Leaves Are Burning [Download]

P.S. Swedesplease has the bizarre circus/cabaret blues of the band Francis. The song is “Bad To The Bone”.

Gwil Owen – “Gravy” (plus music from Ha Ha Tonka and Avett Brothers in advance of CBGB Festival in Chicago)

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Here’s a little something funky from Gwil Owen. Gwil’s been in a number of influential band since the early seventies but has also been a successful songwriter for Toni Price, Allison Moore, Kevin Gordon, Keith Richards and Levon Helm.

“Gravy” won’t win any awards for creativity but it’s organ and guitar driven funk and roll will get your Friday night party started right. Gwil Owen’s new record Gravy is available now from Cd Baby here.

Gravy [Download]

Bonus songs from 1999′s Magnetic Heaven:

Magnetic Heaven [Download]

Pull The Plug [Download]


Today’s the last day I can remind you about Chicago’s first, only, and best winter music festival – Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival or CBGB for short. It’ll be held inside (thank goodness) at the venerable Congress Theater. The lineup is solid peaking with performances by Lil’ Ed, Ha Ha Tonka, and The Avett Brothers.

St. Nick On the Fourth In A Fervor [Download]

Caney Mountain [Download]

Here’s some classic early stuff from The Avett Brothers

Swept Away [Download]

A Lot Of Moving [Download]

Pretty Girl From Mathews [Download]

Kind Of In Love [Download]

Let Myself Live [Download]

Matrimony [Download]

If It’s The Beaches [Download]

Will You Return [Download]

Songs:Illinois House Concert (w/Rachel Ries, Anais Mitchell and Hayward Williams) (plus Joe Pug On MOKB live)

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Just a quick note to say the semi-bi-annual quarterly Songs:Illinois house concert is this Sunday night somewhere on the outskirts of Chicago. The lineup is a Guaranteed good time. I can say that because we’ve had the honor of having Rachel Ries and Anais Mitchell play for us a year or so ago. It was really a magical night and I’m expecting the same or better since they are touring behind a joint ep they issued on Righteous Babe called simply the country ep.

As of 5 minutes ago I’ve also added Hayward Williams as the opener. I’ve tried to get him to play before but never could put it together. This time the stars aligned so he’s going to open the show up. Hayward’s debut record, Another Sailors Dream, was produced by the great Peter Mulvey. Critics have called that record “fantastic”, “a masterpiece” and “the first major score for 2007″.

Hit me up here (cbonnell @ for an invite and directions.

Problems With Hemingway [Download]

Rachel Ries and Anais Mitchell

Waiting to Fall [Download]


Speaking of house concerts: one of our most memorable (and shortest) was by singer songwriter Joe Pug. At the time he was a relatively unknown commodity so we gave him a shot at a doing a couple songs opening for Michael Fracasso. Now he’s practically a made man and I wish he would have just played and played.

My Old Kentucky Blog
has a new video series called Laundro Matinee and this week he’s featured on it (along with a noisy cricket). Here’s two unreleased songs plus a video of Joe doing his signature song “Hymn 101″ from his new EP.

Not So Sure [Download]

Bury Me Far From My Uniform [Download]

Joe Pug – Hymn 101 from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Revisiting Rachel Harrington’s new disc “City Of Refuge”

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

One of the big events in the Songs:Illinois family is our the trip to the circus in 4 days. I know it’s 4 days away since my sons have been counting down since day twenty. If I played them this song they wouldn’t get it. They don’t see that the circus is also a sad, nearly tragic place. Even the best ones are constantly under attack from animal rights groups, the performers live the lives of gypsy’s, and it’s a commercial rat-trap with worthless toys and gadgets for sale around every corner (they love that part).

I wrote about Rachel Harrington’s new record City of Refuge in September and I’m still struck by the song “Housewife’s Lament” and now I’m awed by this one too. Rachel Harrington’s song “Under The Big Top” uses the high wire act as a metaphor for life and just hopes that someone will be there to catch her when she falls. You can order City Of Refuge here.

Under The Big Top [Download]

Lost Discs of 2008 – Jonathan Byrd “The Law and The Lonesome”

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

It’s shocking that when I do a search on for an artist that I’ve written about in the past and discover that I’m still the only one to have profiled the band. Jonathan Byrd is one such artist. He’s a known commodity in the Americana world but apparently that doesn’t translate well into the blog world. His most recent record delved into his southern roots and is titled The Law And The Lonesome. Jonathan describes it thusly:

“The ghost of Townes Van Zandt meets Hank Williams on the high plains. Several early listeners have told me that if “No Country For Old Men” had a soundtrack, it would be The Law and the Lonesome.”

I can’t describe it any better, but I can share a track off of it. Buy it now on CDBaby here (in fact if you want to read more about Jonathan Byrd’s tortured life and his slow and steady ascent to the top of the sing/songwriter circuit click on the link above).

“Houston Window Blues” is one of his more traditional numbers; it’s not as thoughtful as some the other songs on the record but it’s a bunch of fun.

Houston Window Blues [Download]

P.S. Austin singer/songwriter Matt The Electrician performs tonight in Chicago at the Horseshoe on Lincoln. I can vouch that Matt does a great live set.

Half Magic [Download]

Mark Olson & Gary Louris – “Ready For The Flood” (New West, Jan. 27)

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I’m obviously a feverish proponent of mp3′s. In fact in all the years I’ve been doing this blog I have rarely linked to anything but. Sometimes though it’s the music that counts and not the format. The two founders of one of my favorite groups of all time have announced the release date, track listing, and details on their first record together since the band’s demise in 1995. Below is a stream of the first track.

To hear Mark Olson and Gary Louris of Jayhawks fame sing together again is a special treat. In the whole history of rock I firmly believe their vocal harmonies stand up against anyone else. From the few songs that you can listen to on various streaming services and the song below it seems that Chris Robinson’s production is spot on and the harmonies, along with the dual guitar interplay, are still intact. Check out the first track from the new record on New West Ready For The Flood below.

Pre-order here.

(Stream Removed)

bakelite 78 (plus jimbo mathus)

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Bakelite 78 is performing tonight (last night…oops) at Fitzgeralds along with Black Bear Combo and Jimbo Mathus (from Squirrel Nut Zippers fame). I’ve written about Chicago’s Bakelite 78 in the past and am happy to update you on the status of their new record. It’s called Delta Disc and it was recorded in Como, Mississippi by Jimbo himself with funding from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The band is surely one of the few to incorporate styles as diverse as blues, swing, cabaret, dixieland and country.

The record release party is tonight (oops…sorry but it was last night!)

Buy it here.

Darkness On The Delta [Download]

Scotch [Download]

Bonus track from Jim Mathus

The Stranger

William Elliott Whitmore – “Animals In The Dark” (Anti- Records, Feb. 27)

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

If you’re a fan of Songs:Illinois then you are a fan of William Elliott Whitmore. You must be. No discussion. Not optional.

Thankfully, he’s also about to be discovered by the great unwashed masses. His upcoming record, Animals In the Dark, is on the indie juggernaut known as Anti- Records and is already one of the most exciting releases of early 2009. While it’s too early to draw any conclusions about new directions/sound; it’s clear Whitmore is back with his trademark sound, but with a slightly more political message, especially on “Old Devils”.

Expect the production values to be a little better on this upcoming release, but it’s really amazing what William Elliott Whitmore can do with just a banjo and his whiskey and cigarette ravaged voice. Here’s “Old Devils” off of the new record Animals In The Dark.

Old Devils [Download]

Pee Pee – “Castile Jackine is Vooded at Broonus Mousin: Volume 1″ (Helmet Room Recordings, Nov 11)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

I’ve got a love hate relationship with music blogs that simply take all the incoming mp3 links of the week and add them without comment at the end of a post. For one thing, music linked to without any context seems purposeless. Secondly, I think the role of the music blogger is to give some guidance and attempt to create a curatorial atmosphere. So I was a little bummed when I did a search and found links to a few new songs from the Colorado based experimental indie folk outfit PEE PEE already on a popular blog. However the lack of context allows me to at least add to that post.

This band plays a genre they’ve coined called “pure porch-core”. They have just released their debut full length titled Castile Jackine is Vooded at Broonus Mousin: Volume 1 (don’t ask!). They pall around with members of gypsy punkers DeVotChKa and 1920′s swing-folk experimentalists Paperbird (not as bad as palling around with terrorists, I guess). I’m pretty sure the song below is an epic-length orchestral folk ballad about a getting a new cat.

Buy the new record here.

I Hope My New House Feels Welcoming To You [Download]

Bonus songs from Paper Bird

Livin Lucky [Download]

Blue Sparks [Download]

Tim Barry – “Manchester” (Suburban Home Records, Nov. 4)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

It makes complete sense to me that last year’s punks will be this year’s protest singers. The medium might be radically different but the message is often the same. Punk music is raw and angry and lyrically simple due to the age and makeup of the band members but these young punks grow up and want to express themselves more completely. Good resent examples are AA Bondy, the Nightwatchmen (Tom Morello of Rage and Audioslave), Eddie Vedder and now Tim Barry formerly of Avail.

Tim lives in “Red State” Virginia so on the new record you get a mix of political and social messages. Songs explore the views of the military fighting in Iraq to the scourge of Oxycotin on the rural population. Tim Barry is making as many strong political statements on this record than any I’ve heard lately. If this is the next generation of folk singer then bring it on. The new record is called Manchester and was released on Nov. 4. You can buy it here.

Tacoma [Download]

Indie Pop from Kevin McGrother

Monday, November 10th, 2008

The minute I heard the title of the new record and saw that Kevin McGrother was an unrepentant indie popster I was intrigued. Living In An Enid Blyton World sounds like the best of British indie pop from the 80′s. Think Max Eider, The Housemartins, Jazz Butcher, Blue Aeroplanes, etc.

“Summer Starts on Sunday” has all the elements of a perfect indie pop song. It’s got slightly melancholy sound that is a perfect match for Kevin’s laconic vocals. The indie pop themes of simple love conquering all, the beauty of nature and the glories of summer are all present. This record deserves to be blogged about on each and every English music blog, indie pop blog, webzine and fanzine.

Buy it here.

Summer Starts On Sunday [Download]

Anna Ash & The Family Tree (Ann Arbor Feature Day 3)

Friday, November 7th, 2008

I had no idea that when I started this week it would turn into a feature on the small Michigan college town of Ann Arbor. Frontier Ruckus was the start of it all, followed by yesterdays post on Charlene Kaye. And unless something comes up at the last second Anna Ash & The Family Tree will be the last (unless you have any Ann Arbor band recommendations).

There’s a Mason Jennings album called Use Your Voice. I love the record, but I love the sentiment in the title more. If you’re a singer sing. If you’re not, then what are you doing in this racket. Anna Ashe can sing. Now, maybe her voice is slightly unusual, but she does so many interesting things with it in the course of just one song, that I for one, was entranced.

The new record is called Hello Friend (from bird above). Order it now from Cd Baby here.

Ann Marie (or a whispered lover overheard at the foot of the mountain) [Download]

The Birds Don’t Care [Download]

Charlene Kaye – “Things I Will Need In The Past” (Self-released, Oct 10)

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

If Ann Arbor doesn’t become the next Brooklyn I’d be surprised. Whilst researching another band from Ann Arbor (who I hope to have for you tomorrow) I came across the new record from Charlene Kaye. The new record is called Things I Will Need In The Past and is as eclectic as her geographic identity (Honolulu, Phoenix and Ann Arbor). On the song “Skin And Bones” she impossibly mixes symphonic pop, with operatic folk and piano rock (a la Tori Amos).

If the whole record is like this (and I’m told it is) it should be one fine listen. PR flaks are always telling me that such and such are a “force to be reckoned with”. It’s an immediate turnoff but in this case it’s probably an apt description of Charlene Kaye. Buy the new record here through Cd Baby.

Skin and Bones [Download]

“Skin and Bones” video

Frontier Ruckus – A Uniquely American Folk Band (Quite Scientific, Nov. 6)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I was holding off on writing about Frontier Ruckus. I thought that by now the blogosphere would be abuzz with news/reviews/raves of their new record and debut lp Orion Songbook. But a quick perusal of and Hype show that that is simply not the case. Since I was responsible for bringing the band to Chicago to play a show at the dive of all dive bars – Cal’s, I consider it my duty to continue to write about this band.

The band’s website gives a clue as to what’s important to them. To get anywhere on the site you first have to click through page after page of song lyrics from this new record.

Frontier Ruckus are not an easy listen lyrically. The songs are stream of consciousness rants and choruses are few and far between. But when you back these lyrically complex and earnest tales of the country with mandolin, banjo, musical saw, acoustic guitar and an assortment of percussion you get a sound that is unlike any other. The record comes out Nov 6 but I’m sure you can pick it up now via the band’s label (and the pride of Michigan) – Quite Scientific [Download]

Orion Town 2 [Download]

“Animals Need Animals”

The Travelling Band travel back in time with their debut record “Under The Pavement”

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

There’s an English band from Manchester called The Traveling Band that is creating a little stir over the pond. Sounding a bit like a melding of Radiohead with the Once soundtrack combine those two and you get an idea of what The Traveling Band sounds like.

The band’s new record, Under The Pavement, was just released in the UK. You can pre-order it here. “Only Waiting” is the first single.

Only Waiting [Download]

“Only Waiting”