Archive for February, 2009

{SXSW Preview & Honky-Tonk Friday} with Heybale

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Heybale named their latest record The Last (Great) Country Album without a hint of irony or sarcasm. That’s saying something. Heybale is a group of Austin’s finest pickers and players led by the timeless Redd Volkaert.

I wrote about the band here first when their record came out. They’ll be playing both Friday and Saturday night but you should probably try to catch them at the Continental Club, it’s their home away from home.

California Wine [Download]

Bonus song

Honky-Tonk Mood [Download]

{SXSW Preview} BR549 Frontman Chuck Mead’s Solo Debut “Journeyman’s Wager” (Grassy Knoll Records, May 12)

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

It’s no surprise that Chuck Mead’s solo debut mixes old school honky-tonk with early Elvis Presely style roots music since BR549 has been a stalwart of that bygone era for over a decade now. The songs on Chuck’s solo debut apparently wouldn’t be a perfect fit for a new BR549 record so that’s why we’re graced with this his first solo recording. The Ray Kennedy produced record Journeyman’s Wager is out on March 17.

Catch Chuck Mead solo at Stephen F’s Bar in Austin on Friday, March 20. Preorder the new record here. Here’s a first listen to a song off the new record.

“I Wish It Was Friday” video

Bonus mp3′s from BR549

That’s What I Get [Download]

I’m alright (For The shape I’m In) [Download]

Ain’t Got Time [Download]

When I Come Home [Download]

{SXSW Preview} – James Intveld

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

James Intveld looks like his music sounds. Really, click below on “Walk With Me” and see what I mean. “Walk With Me” is off James’ third album Have Faith which came out in 2008.

James is playing The Continental Club on March 21st as part of SXSW.

Walk With Me [Download]

P.S. Swedesplease has new music from Two White Horses. Swedesplease was also profiled in this weeks Time Out Chicago here.

{SXSW Preview} T Bird and the Breaks

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I kind of forgot to mention that the last week or so have been SXSW preview posts. It’s not the hippest stuff playing at South-By but it’s the stuff I’ll go out of the way to see.

So here’s the sixth post in the series (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

This’ll be fun. Texas’ finest soul review playing SXSW. There’ll be no deep thoughts, indie alt-bro angst, or furrowed brows. I expect it to be the party of the year.

T Bird and the Breaks.

Juice [Download]

The O’s

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Add The O’s from Dallas to your list of bands playing some kind of bluegrass/roots/pop blend. People in Dallas are excited about the band and their new record We Are The O’s. From several listens to the new tune “You’ve Got Your Heart” I can see why. This duo joins groups like the Avett Brothers, the Felice Brothers and Chatham County Line in blurring the line between bluegrass, folk, pop and something more modern like indie folk.

The band is on the road now and playing SXSW at MOther Egan’s on March 21. Get the new record here.

You’ve got Your Heart [Download]

California (via Hear Ya, via Dallas Observer [Download]

Honky-Tonk Friday w/Whitey Morgan and the 78′s

Friday, February 20th, 2009

As their bio implicitly points out. Whitey Morgan is no Nashvegas country pop star. He’s the antithesis to everything that’s happening in Nashville. It’s fitting then that he and his band is based in Flint, Michigan. Flint is as depressed and in need of a solid drink of whiskey as any city in the US. Imagine how bad it was when the film Roger and Me came out and now multiply that by ten or even a hundred. The city and that entire region is ravaged by the recession. Whitey Morgan and the 78′s acknowledge this in their country songs and play a brand of honky-tonk that can address some of these subjects while at the same time playing music that’ll knock you on your ass and then have you up and dancing again.

Here’s crazy off the band’s 2008 release Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels:

Crazy [Download]

{MP3} Daddy (Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack) – “The Ballad Of Martin Luther King” (new record out June 21)

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I’ve written about a number of americana supergroups (The Resentments, Sometymes Why etc). They’re usually comprised of individuals who are not household names in the real world, but are well respected in the world of roots music. The group called Daddy comprised of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, is another such band. They have a new record coming out June 21 that as of yet remains untitled. It’ll be their first studio release since it follows up the 2005 live release At The Women’s Club.

These two first teamed up in a band called bis-quits that recorded for John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. They’ve both had successful solo careers by combining their guitar prowess with songwriting and producing. Here they cover a song called “The Ballad Of Martin Luther King” that they play straight up, the song is a little too obvious for my tastes, but the guitar tones and harmonica are right on. The new record comes out fittingly on Father’s day 2009 (June 21). Keep and eye out for it. And catch them live at SXSW March 19 at Mother Egan’s.

The Ballad Of Martin Luther King [Download]

Live Video

Exclusive mp3 from John Wesley Harding’s upcoming record (riyl Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello) plus a cover of The Chills’ “Heavenly Pop Hit”

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

John Wesley Harding has such a distinctive voice, singing cadence, and style that it’s hard to label him folk, rock, or pop. His music is consistent from one record to the next. What sets each record apart are the songs and the production. The new record is called Who was Changed and Who was Dead and features guests like the Minus 5, Kelly Hogan and Peter Buck. And as far as I can tell from the one song below we’re in for a treat on line with a new record from Nick Lowe or Elvis Costello.

“Oh! Pandora” is a clever take on the Pandora’s Box story. It’s a song that screams positivity in this era of gloom. It’s a a song that declares the glass half full. Musically it’s upbeat with a glorious horn section and soaring vocals. Who was Changed and Who was Dead will be in stores on March 31 but there are a bunch of special order packages you can order through JWH’s website here.

Oh! Pandora [Download]

Bonus rare mp3′s

Moon June [Download]

Heavenly Pop Hit [Download]
(Chills cover)
So Heavenly [Download]

Exclusive mp3 from Gordon Gano and the Ryan Brothers

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

This is not going to be an in depth post on the personal/band history of Gordon Gano. Enough’s been written from that vantage point and I can’t add anything new. I will say though, that if you’re too young to have experienced The Violent Femmes in person than you owe it to yourself to go through their entire catalog.

You’ll be rewarded with nuggets of pure punk rock energy, world music eclecticism, lyricism that is quite unmatched, and musicianship that you simply don’t find with this new batch of fly-by-night blog darlings. Then if you still want more, search down Gordan Gano’s one-off Gospel project called The Mercy Seat (here) and his single solo record. Once you’re done with all that you’ll understand why many wait with baited breath for something new from Gordan Gano.

Well, now we’ve got it in a project called Gordon Gano and the Ryan Brothers. The band is said to have recorded twenty two songs although no release date has been set. They’ve been playing NYC clubs for a bit, but now are scheduled to bring their show on the road with a set at this year’s SXSW. This song, “Wave And Water”, features Gordan’s trademark snarl, as well as a funk driven rhythm section, and a chorus of gospel inspired background vocalists. Lyrically it deals with some of the same themes of death and religion from Hallowed Ground and his gospel project The Mercy Seat.

Wave and Water [Download]

{Mp3} New record from NYC alt-bluegrass group M Shanghai String Band (plus The Blue Aeroplanes at SXSW)

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Mapmaker’s Daughter is the third release from this NYC based alt bluegrass string band. M Shanghai String Band are clearly one of the best folk/roots outfits in the big apple and that’s saying something since of late there’s been a ton of great roots music coming out of NYC.

Mapmaker’s Daughter isn’t scheduled to be released until May 5 (w/ a April 7th release party at Joe’s Pub) but you can preview the track “Muleskin Girl” here now.

Muleskin Girl [Download]


P.S. Here’s one of the groups I’d like to see at SXSW. It seems The Blue Aeroplanes have reformed, here’s there classic near-hit from back in the day. What can I say I’m old!

Jacket Hangs [Download]

Songs:Illinois Presents – Pokey LaFarge/Danny Schmidt House Concert Feb. 28

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Here’s the email I sent out to people on my house concert list. On Feb. 28 we’ll have Pokey LaFarge and Danny Schmidt play our living room in Oak Park, Il. Anyone interested in attending hit me up at


These two performers represent different sides of the same roots/folk coin. Leading off the night will be Pokey LaFarge originally from Lousville, Ky. but now residing in St. Louis, Mo. Though for the last couple of years the road has been his home. Pokey plays an amazing number of shows a year. He’ll headline a folk and bluegrass festival one day and the next night play a run down honky-tonk. He’s a well known finger picking guitarist, who since the age of 18, has been on the road with a number of different bands including a stint as mandolinest for the critically acclaimed newgrass band The Hackensaw Boys. It’s difficult to describe his music but the terms “ragtime blues” and “riverboat soul” come pretty close. I can’t describe his music much better than this:

“A versatile songwriter and blues fingerpicker, Pokey can have you dancing one minute to a boogie beat, stomping your foot to a bouncy rag, or singing aloud to a sad ballad. A driving thumb and fast fingers set a groove not far off from what an old barrelhouse pianist would do. But there is also a strong sense of mountain music such as old-time and country, as well as a lot of river music influence such as ragtime, and its offspring, jug band music as well.” Pickathon Festival organizer

“His guitar sounds like a ukulele, his voice like a transgendered punk Bessie Smith, and his style suggests a hobo Pee-wee Herman. ..” Riverfront Times St. Louis, Mo.

“No matter how deep and colorful the ink, the plunk and stomp of Pokey’s music always rises to the top.” – LEO Weekly, Louisville, KY

“Pokey LaFarge’s songs sound immediately like classics: musical gems from some forgotten corner of the 20th century.” –

Here’s a song from Pokey’s most recent album Beat, Move, and Shake:

Cairo, Il. [Download]

For me Pokey has been a rather recent discovery, Danny Schmidt on the other hand is someone I’ve been following for several years. His string of self-released records had many people proclaiming him the greatest unsigned singer songwriter in the country. As of a few weeks ago we can no longer say Danny is unsigned. His new record will be put out by the well known folk label Red House Records (Greg Brown, John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky) in March. Danny’s song range from incredibly literate pieces of poetry to simple songs of love and friendship. I truly believe Danny Schmidt has written some of the finest song of the last decade. And I’m not alone:

“He is, perhaps the best new songwriter I’ve heard in the last 15 years.” – Rich Warren, Sing Out Magazine

“There are some albums that jump right out of the speakers at you and grab you by the throat. Intensely intelligent, this is sensitive songwriting at its finest.” – 5 stars out of 5, Maverick Magazine

“Danny is unanimously regarded as incredible, if not un-believable, if not just plain beautiful — an astounding guitar player and a true poet (if the wind can be called a poet).” – songwriter Paul Curreri

“He is hands down one of the best living musician/poets that I am aware of. ” – Bob Thiele

Here’s a song from Danny’s 2008 release Grey Sheep called “Company Of Friends”

Company of Friends [Download]

{MP3} Neal Casal – “Roots & Wings” (Fargo Records, Feb. 9)

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Neal Casal has attained more fame from his association with Ryan Adams than from any of his solo recordings/tours. The man produced some of the great americana rock of the 90′s and continues to record solo albums that are solid works of songcraft (wrote about his earlier work here and here). His new record is out soon in Europe on Fargo Records but is also available now on his website here.

The word is that this record is more acoustic and folk rock rather than gritty alt-country. On the song “Here By The Sea” from Roots & Wings you get a good taste of what the whole record must be like with it’s gentle acoustic guitar, vocal harmonies (reminiscent of The Jayhawks or Mathew Sweet) and occasional electric guitar/pedal steel weaving its way in and out of the mix. I’m a big fan and you should be too.

Here By The Sea [Download]

Winfred E. Eye – “Till I Prune” (Antenna Farm Records, March 28)(RIYL The Donkeys, Will Oldham, Smog) + Exclusive first listen to the title track from Camera Obscura’s new record “My Maudlin Career” (4AD, April 28)

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I was not sure what to write about today despite having a couple half posts already in the can. But those all fell by the wayside when I heard the lead off track from the new record by Winfred E. Eye. The Oakland based band has been known to pall around with Will Oldham, Jessie Sykes, Smog and The Handsome Family so it should come as no surprise that their take on blues, country and soul is a little dreamier than most straight ahead alt-country bands.

The band’s new album, Till I Prune, is scheduled to come out on Antenna Farm Records on March 28. As was the case with every artist profiled on Songs:Illinois last week this is an exclusive first listen.

Oh So Free [Download]

Bonus back catalog

Lares Dust [Download]

Monte Rio [Download]


Usually I wouldn’t mix and match like this but I’ve always been a fan of Camera Obscura’s fuzzy indie rock and it’s not a bad combination with Winfred E. Eye. This is the title track from the 4ad release of the same name. For fans of Galaxie 500, Luna, Felt et al. This signing, combined with that of Anni Rossi, is a nice addition to 4AD’s roster.

My Maudlin Career [Download]

{MP3} Diana Jones “Better Times Will Come” (Proper American, April)

Friday, February 6th, 2009

OK. Forget what I said yesterday about having two women artists in a row. Because today’s post makes three. Also I was going to throw an exclusive tag up on this post but why bother since every one of the songs from this week are exclusives to Songs:Illinois. So why signal this one out. As I said back in January, Diana Jones‘ new record Better Times Will Come is one of my most anticipated records of the year. I’ve raved about Diana’s music before and I’m just in love with her voice (more so than any other singer I think her voice expresses so much angst and yearning), her deft instrumentation, and of course her songs. And I’m not the only one in such a tizzy as she’s won multiple awards since her groundbreaking 2006 release My Remembrance of You. She’s toured with some of the best, her songs have been recorded and praised by the elite in the folk world (most notable were covers by Joan Baez and Gretchen Peters) and she’s got some pretty serious friends at radio (BBC, Mountainstage, WXPN) and press.

Diana Jones’ new record is called Better Times Will Come and that’s also the track I have for you today. Considering she must have written this song long before the markets collapsed, before people lost their jobs en masse and before the trillion dollar bailout was proposed it is a pretty prescient. The message of hope and change in this song is strong but it’s Diana jopnes’ world weary voice that makes it seem like having such hope is a pipe dream.

To add to the appeal of the album are guest appearances by Mary Gauthier, Nancy Griffith and Betty Elders. You can order this as an import here or wait for it to hit the states in April. I’ll do an update once this is for sale here.

Better Times Will Come [Download]

Here’s the song that literally floored me from Remembrances of You – “Pony” live at the Folk Alley studios

Antje Duvekot – “The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer” (Black Wolf Records, March 17)

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

The ratio of male to female artists has always been skewed about 5 to 1 in favor of the guys here on Songs:Illinois. I’m not sure what the reason is for that but I’m pleased to follow up yesterday’s post on Sarah Sample with today’s on Antje Duvekot. Antje Duvekot is a rising star in the folk world. The songs from her breakout record, 2006′s Big Dream Boulevard, really resonated with fans and industry types alike. Her new record, The Near Demise Of The High Wire Dancer, is her second studio release, was produced by Richard Shindell, and has guest appearances by John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky and Victor Krauss.

Antje’s vocals owe much to Dar Williams and Ani Difranco, but her songs are fully her own. They are generally not simple tales of love gone wrong but are more intricate affairs. Her followup is due out March 17 and is on Black Wolf Records. This label is way too small (a MySpace page with 7 friends) to make a dent, so I just hope the team behind Antje have a way to get the word out about this record.

Buy the new record here now.

Ragdoll Princes and Junkjard Queens [Download]

{MP3} Sarah Sample – “Born To Fly” (Self released, Jan. 26)

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

You’ve probably heard this song or some variation of it before, perhaps even hundreds of times. But when a song like this is done right it’s still great to hear. It would work perfectly in shows like Grey’s Anatomy or Gilmore Girls; in venues like Hotel Cafe, Joe’s Pub, or Schubas here in Chicago. It would appeal to your mother-in-law, sister, or sensitive friend.

Sarah Sample has a new ep out called Born To Fly. This is the title track. Buy it here. She’s got some shows opening up for Edie Cary in March so check those out too.

Born To Fly [Download]

{MP3} Noelie McDonnell – “Nearly Four” off of Beyond Hard Places

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Here’s a song by Noelie McDonnell from Ireland that I think my 4 year old and 8 year old could both relate to. Noelie is a pretty big name in the UK as his record has been atop their iTunes folk chart for a while now. He’s yet to crack into the US market but he’s poised to. His new record Beyond Hard Places came out towards the end of 2008. It’s available through CD Baby here.

“Nearly Four” is a cute little song about a toddler (Noelie’s son) that name drops “Ben 10″, Batman, and Mystic Force while listing the ways this little boy is all grown up (or at least “nearly four”). Noelie’s been described as a combination of John Prine, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan but I hear more Damien Dempsey, David Gray, Damien Rice and Mark Geary. He’ll be in the US to attend Folk Alliance and also has some choice opening dates for Greg Brown in Minneapolis in February.

Nearly Four [Download]

Feet First [Download]

“Nearly Four” video

Stephen Simmons – “Girls”

Monday, February 2nd, 2009


I’ve been writing about Stephen Simmons for a couple of years now. He deserves more credit for his music and deserves to be held in the same light as Ben Weaver, Chris Knight and half of the songwriters toiling away in Nashville. Hell, on the strength of his song “Drink Ring Jesus” he should already be inducted in the the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

“Pins and Needles” is from Stephen’s new record Girls. It’s a sad story of a relationship with a manic depressive. That sounds heavy and it is. This is not a light song. Buy Girls here.

Pins And Needles [Download]