Archive for July, 2009

{MP3} Sam Baker – “cotton” (Music Road Records, August 25)

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I can’t pretend to be anything but a fanboy of Sam Baker. I’ve been anticipating this release since I first heard about it 6 months ago. I truly believe Sam Baker is a poetic soul who despite (or perhaps because of) impossible obstacles has become one of the greatest singer songwriters the country has ever seen. cotton (Music Road Records) is the third in a trilogy of albums that are an attempt by Sam to deal with an event that happened over 20 years ago. I’ll cut and paste rather than rewrite the bio:

“In 1986, at age 32, Baker was traveling in Peru when, as he says, “I got in the middle of somebody else’s war.” A terrorist bomb (the Sendero Luminoso or “Shining Path” Maoist group) blew up the train he and some friends were riding on. Several passengers died, including a German boy and his parents, who were sitting next to Baker. Though he nearly bled to death, Sam survived but suffered a constellation of injuries and aftereffects—shrapnel in his leg, renal failure, brain damage, even gangrene.”

Sam Baker’s songs have the most carefully chosen lyrics you will ever find. Because of the permanent brain damage he incurred it’s tough for Sam to access the words he needs for his songs. As a result the songs on his three records have fewer words than typical. But each word is a labor of love; worked on, shaped, and chosen because it’s the perfect fit. Sam Baker is spoken of in hushed voices and with great reverence by the most respected singer songwriters, by his fans, and by members of the music press.

cotton picks up where 2007′s perfect world left off. Namely with stories of Mennonites who have lost their way, references to the Virgin Mary, Palestine and the Traveling Nazarene, and the homeless. Here’s just a small smattering of phrases that resonate with me:

The moon got lost tonight
Drank beer by the quart out of mason jars
A laundromat in Natchez; It’s not exactly what I dreamed
She wears an all night wrinkled shirt
There are a thousand ways a person in the snow gets lost
One Day he just walked away; kicking up dust; right in the middle of the day
She was standing at the bar; holding court; a push up bra for extra support

I think music bloggers on the whole are constantly questioning how much good they can do. I have the same doubts as some of my favorite blogs that have gone dormant over the years. By and large the blogs that I love are trying in their own small way to make a difference in the lives of the artists whether that is through promoting a new CD, helping with a concert, or simply pushing their favorite bands on their friends. I’m the same way. I don’t want recognition/praise for my actions, but I do want to succeed in spreading the word about each and every artist reviewed on Songs:Illinois.

So here’s the kicker and the reason for the prologue above:

Songs:Illinois will be on hiatus until we prove we can make a difference when/where it counts (namely $$$). So email me at when you have pre-ordered the Sam Baker CD or purchased the download (we’ll just have to use the honor system). When I get enough emails I will return to the site with voluminous thanks and gratitude to everyone that helped hit the goal (not sure yet if the goal will be ten people, a hundred people, or a thousand people buying the record).

So, long story short, I’d like you to help me help Sam Baker. Pre-order his new CD here through Amazon or download cotton legally through Amazon here (for only $8.99) or for those of you in the UK here.

Check out “Signs” below and buy the record so I can return to writing about and sharing the music I love.

Signs [Download]

Maplewood – “Yeti Boombox” (Tapete Records, August 4)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I have no idea how the Brooklyn based band Maplewood would up on the German label Tapete Records. But based on my experience with the label it’s probably a good fit. Maplewood’s dreamy, dreary indie folk is apparently just what those Germans like as the band will set off for am month’s worth of German dates in September.

I like the psychedelic, lazy, and hazzy sounds of their first single from the new record. “Long White Ride” (like the name suggests) is in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. The band is content to let things progress slowly with several long, slow, guitar solos acting as the carthesis of the song.

Yeti Boombox is the new record and it will be out on August 4. Here’s “Long White Ride”:

Long White Ride [Download]

Corin Raymond – “There Will Always Be A Small Time”

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Corin Raymond is a Toronto based singer songwriter whose new record is atop the European Americana charts. I tracked down Corin on the road in an attempt to get clearance to write about his new record There Will Always Be A Small Time. He sent three songs and each was more personal and charming than the last. I can only post one song but you should click here to get the new record.

The title track is a romantic waltz more about music and community than getting the girl. The song is about Corin and his band’s attempt to make it by playing local lounges, selling d.i.y. CD’s from the bandstand (since the local record store is gone), and converting one fan at a time. It’s a song that couldn’t and wouldn’t be written in Nashville.

You can experience this song and the community it describes by checking out Corin Raymond and his band every Thursday at The Cameron House in Toronto. Tell `em you heard about the band and its music “through the grapevine” and that you brought a friend. He’ll know what you mean.

There Will Always Be A Small Time [Download]

More from The Duke & The King

Monday, July 27th, 2009

The new record from The Duke & The King may not be a full fledged concept album but it might as well be. The album is so full of songs about lies, recriminations, bad choices, lost loves, regrets and the joys and horrors of a misspent youth that you get the picture pretty quickly. There’s a sad story attached to the making of the record, but since I promptly threw the bio sheet away and would rather not have that influence my listening anyway you’ll have to search that out for yourself. Needless to say the record is a loosely tied together both thematically and musically.

“Union Street” may have the thumpingest bass and the most obnoxious heavy drum beat (Simon Felice was the drummer in The Felice Brothers, after all) but it also is the song on the record that best shows his promise as a writer who can juxtapose images of hopelessness with a glimmer of hope (if you wonder in which song the band proves it can write a hit check out “If You Ever Get Famous” and if you are curious if the band can write a song that isn’t completely melancholy check out the wonderful “Summer Morning Rain”).

Union Street [Download]

“The Morning I Get To Hell” (Kitchen Rehearsal)

“The Devil Is Real” (Kitchen Rehearsal)

New song (7″) from The Great White Jenkins

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

-Sam Farzin (KUCI 88.9FM)

I’m in good company with my love for the Virginian band The Great White Jenkins. They haven’t been given their fair share of blog love but the love they’ve gotten is from influential sites like Catbird Seat and Aquarium Drunkard (and to a lesser extent Songs:Illinois here).

The band is about to set out on a mini tour to celebrate their Karl Blau produced 7″ single. The songs stray a little bit from their uptempo marriage of gospel, folk, rock and funky soul. The band notes that they were experimenting with the sounds of early rock and roll and old school reggae. And of course it’s this experimentation that initially drew me to the band. If you are a fan of such diverse groups as The Donkeys, Frontier Ruckus, the Avett Brothers and/or Theater Fire than it’s your duty to check out TGWJ. The band hits Chicago on July 27 to play the Whistler.

“Look Out World” is a twisted little pop song with horns, organ, rhythm guitar and a chorus to die for.

Look Out World [Download]

Bonus back catalog:

Wind [Download]

Fishing Trawler [Download]

Ethyl & the Regulars – “Fill `er Up” (Cow Island Music, Aug 11)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

If it weren’t for Ethyl & the Regulars and their new record Fill ‘er Up I would have had to scrape the bottom of my drafts folder for something to post. Fortunately for you the band’s label, Cow Island Music, serves up some of the best honky-tonk on the East Coast. They’ll continue that trend when they release Fill `er Up on August 11.

Long Gone Long Forgotton [Download]

New video from Richmond Fontaine (plus an update to the site)

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Two small pieces of new today. First the Richmond Fontaine video below and second an update to the site. It seems that about a week ago the streaming radio service I was using for “Songs:Illinois radio gave up the ghost. It took a while to find something I liked as much (and for free!) but I just did. The service is called StreamPad and is located at the bottom of this page. Simply click the lower left hand corner and all the mp3′s from the front page and beyond will stream seamlessly in the background.

Here’s the video for the song “You Can Move Back Here” that I wrote about way back when. It’s a nice complement to the feeling of homesickness and melancholy from the song. More info via Trash Aesthetics here.

P.S. Swedesplease has the best music from around the world for the month of July up now here.

{MP3} Exclusive song from the new Dan Bryk CD “Pop Psychology” (plus “BBW (Chunky Girl)” and “Summer Heroine”)

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Dan Bryk is a tinkerer. His Facebook page describes various technical endeavors including this recent one: “rewiring the TV/DVD/itunes-through-airport extreme/old-mac-running-boxee/stereo”. At the moment he’s working on reinventing the wheel. His version of the wheel anyway. Which for him is the standard age-old pop song. Like the wheel, there’s little one can do to reinvent pop. But for Dan each clever turn of phrase, jangly guitar, layer of odd instrumentation, and overdubbed vocal is a revelation. And with every release he continues to upgrade, update, and redefine what is possible from the simple pop song.

Dan’s new record is called Pop Psychology. He’s done a soft release himself, but is still looking for the right label to release it (Bar/None, Parasol, and Ernest Jenning are you listening?). Fortunately for you it’s available from Bandcamp in any number of different formats (mp3, Flac, Lossless, etc) here. I’ve written often of Dan Bryk and this release is a great addition to his already stellar catalog of cult classics (here, here, here, here).

I’ve chosen the song “Alleged Career” since its themes of failure, false dreams, jealousy, and the ever elusive goal of indie rock superstardom are something I think we’ve all pondered. Dan was recently looking for help on the RIYL section of his latest press release and if I can be so bold I’d suggest Ben Folds, Chris Stamey, a little bit of Sloan and a dash of The Posies during the heavier moments. Show Dan I’ve at least got a little juice left and buy the new record here as a download.

My Alleged Career [Download]


BBW (Chunky Girl) [Download]

Summer Heroine (via Triangle Rock [Download]
She Doesn’t Mean A thing To Me Tonight [Download]

Mark Turmell V2.0 [Download]

Honky-Tonk Friday – Owen Temple “Dollars and Dimes” (Self-released, June 9)

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I honestly don’t know where I’ve been on the new Owen Temple record. His criteria for appearance on Songs:Illinois are many (“the force is strong with this one”): he’s an Austin singer songwriter with debts to Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt, he is #1 on the Euro Americana chart, and he’s net savvy enough to give away his new record for free.

“Golden Age” is a song about his old Austin stomping grounds (O Henry’s Back Forty) and its demise when the new Hilton went up downtown. Usually you’ve got to take my word on an album with just one song as a sample of its wares. But with Dollars and Dimes you’re free to download the whole thing here courtesy of Owen Temple. In return you should check him out on tour this summer

Golden Age [Download]

{MP3} Peter Mulvey – “Letter From a Flying Machine” (Signature Sounds, Aug 18)

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

As I sit here listening to Allen Toussaint’s excellent new record The Bright Mississippi I realize I’ve selected the only jazzy song from the new Peter Mulvey record to share with you. Perhaps I was influenced by the New Orleans vibe of Toussaint. Or perhaps I needed a pick me up. Either way “some People” has got a jauntiness that sets it apart from the other fine (yet typical singer-songwriter fare) found on his new record Letters From A Flying Machine. Peter is another of the amazing artists being represented in the states by Signature Sounds Records. What may set Peter apart from his contemporaries is the fact that he’s been recognized as an outstanding acoustic guitar player as well as a singer and writer.

“Some People” is clever and funny with both political and philosophical musings. In the end when all is said and done the song is very zen. Peter will be on the road all summer including a particularly arduous and lengthy spell when he’ll be traveling (guitar and all) on his bike.

Some People [Download]

Bonus songs:

Shirt [Download]

Old Simon Stimson [Download]

Charlie [Download]

Ian Williams – “Bible Black Heart” EP (Adventure Club Records)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

At this point, after being in the music blog racket for a number of years, I don’t have any misconceptions about my role. I have a small blog that will never break out traffic wise because I choose not to write about the band of the minute. But I’ve really taken this approach a step too far lately by purposefully trying to write about bands that stump and Hype Machine. One such artist is the British singer songwriter Ian Williams. A quick search on both sites reveals no other post about this British artist.

The new EP by Ian Williams has just been released by Adventure Club Records. Although Ian is originally from Wales he makes his home now in Leeds and is part of that city’s americana/alt-country movement. Here’s the “Amputation song” from Bible Black Heart. I think you’ll see why this gently strummed, richly sung song deserves time on songs:Illinois.

Amputation Song [Download]

{MP3} Paul Burch – “Still Your Man” (Ramseur Records, Aug. 18)

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I’ve been waiting on a couple big releases. Amazingly two of the three that I’ve been drooling over have a connection to the small label Ramseur Records. The first is the new one from the Avett Brothers (they may have now moved on to a major label but they are still managed by the folks at Ramseur) and and the second is the new record from Paul Burch & WPA Ballclub that is out Aug. 18 on Ramseur. The third is the new one titled Cotton by Sam Baker (but more on that in a few weeks).

Still Your Man is the new one and though I can’t vouch for the whole thing from the notes accompanying the record it sounds promising. Paul Burch set out to make a record with it’s own distinctive yet classic sound (think Sam Phillips of Sun). Paul Burch’s early records on the now defunct label Checkered Past are underground americana classics. I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit since those early records but I’m climbing back on!! Here’s the title track:

Still Your Man [Download]

Blue Monday – Harmonica Shah – “IF All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like A Nail” (Electro-Fi, Aug. 18)

Monday, July 6th, 2009

I’ve flirted with a “Bluegrass Tuesday” and toyed with a “Honky-Tonk Friday” (even if it doesn’t always end up on a Friday). So it shouldn’t come as complete surprise tha I’m considering a “Blue Monday”. There’s a chance this may be the first and last “Blue Monday” post since I’m not the biggest fan of modern electric blues (despite my stay at Alligator Records). But I heard this song by Detroit bluesman Harmonica Shah and thought it deserved to be heard. It’s from his new record on Electro-Fi called If All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Looks Like A Nail.

Blues is unlike any of the other prominent genres in its ability to tell a story. The format gives you the time and the space to address nearly any concept, theme or story idea. The best (people like Otis Taylor, Corey Harris) can convey a lot of emotion and knowledge in simple three bar blues jam. I think Harmonica Shah does that as well on this one, especially since he’s from the Detroit area and has seen the economic devastation first hand.

Blues For Ford, Chrysler and G.M.