Archive for January, 2010

Danny and the Champions of the World – “Streets Of Our Time” (Jan. 25, Loose Records)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The new record from Danny and the Champions of the World has been very widely praised in the UK. It’s just been released (Jan. 25) and already has received major kudos from Mojo, Uncut, Q Magazine, The Independent, The Mail and The London times. But strangely enough a cursury glance at and Hype turned up nothing. The new record Streets of Our Time is out now on London’s Loose Records which is also home to The Felice Brothers, The Duke and the King, Willard Grant Conspiracy, and The Handsome Family.

The 9 songs on Streets of Our Time share a sound with label mates The Felice Brothers. The band and lead singer Danny Wilson channels Dylan while the music is a blend of alt-country, acoustic folk, and americana. The lead off track “Henry the Van” tells the tale of an old, cranky van that has grown long in the tooth and may have to be retired to the junkyard. It’s a surprisingly bitter sweet song about a van.

Preorder here.

Henry the Van [Download]

Bob Cheevers – “Tall Texas Tales” (Feb. 14)

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

If you asked me what one of my favorite records of all time is you’d get kind of a strange answer. It would probably be this little record from Bob Cheevers called Gettysburg To Graceland. While it was up for a Grammy in 1998 it was mostly overlooked by music industry types. I couldn’t put my finger on it right at the moment but when I do find it we are going to have a nice reunion that CD and I.

In the meantime Bob Cheevers has a new record out in Europe that will see the light of day here in the states on February 14. It’s a concept album about Texas called Tall Texas Tales. And seeing that certain parts of Texas are also some of my favorite places (namely Austin) it was a no brainer to point this one out to you. Bob Cheevers is a storytelling songwriter and this record (like the title suggests) is full of wonderful stories about Texas and its unique people.

Tall Texas Tales comes out officially on Feb. 14 but you can buy it early now via Cd Baby here.

Texas Is An Only Child [Download]

Jonathan Burks – “Loudmouth Soup”

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Music Bloggers get a lot of email and that’s the truth. Most are hard sell from bands or promo people with photos, quotes, tour dates, reviews and proclamations of greatness. Here’s just a tiny sampling of artists that sent out overblown pr missives from the last couple of days: Paul Weller, the National, Riley Etheridge, Sander van Doorns, Dynamic Truths, etc, etc, etc. So it’s refreshing to get an email that simply says:

hey there

here’s a copy of my new album:


Loudmouth Soup is a record mostly about drinking (of course it’s no surprise then that Jonathan Burks is a resident of Milwaukee). Style wise you get a mix of Billy Bragg, Lou Reed, and Merle Haggard. There’s a little honky-tonk rapping thown in as well. It works. The record is available as a free download here.

Fancy Hobo [Download]


It’s On [Download]

P.S. I don’t want my mention of Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor’s record Hard Times to be a one and done situation. But I don’t think I have permission to post another track. So if you missed my review check it out here. More reviews here and here. You can also stream the whole record here.

Take my word on it and buy it here. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s “Bernadine”:

Bernadine [Download]

Jon Jackson – “The Magnetic Fields covers”

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I went a little bit off the deep end for the songs of Jon Jackson about two years ago. As a result I’m now a lifelong fan. So much so that I actually prefer the songs he’s written to any number of cover songs he’s performed over that time. Nonetheless Jon’s latest release is a 5 song EP of Magnetic Fields cover songs. I know those guys have plenty of cult fans so I hope this does well for Jon.

While it’s a pleasure to hear his idiosyncratic voice once again, I just wish these were his songs instead. Jon is selling these handmade creations on his website for $5. Head on over and get a couple or email jon here-

Yeah! Oh Yeah! [Download]

First song from Tim Barry’s “28th and Stonewall” (Suburban Home Records, January 26)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Tim Barry’s
last record was arguably one of the best records of 2008/09. It’s simple honesty in both its music and lyrics made it a staple here at casa Songs:Illinois. I expect the same from the new record. It’s titled 28th and Stonewall and is due out this week on Suburban Home. has been all over this record with weekly updates, videos, and podcasts but as far as I can tell this is the first post with an mp3 from the new record. Still for all things Tim Barry check out Ninebullets. “Thing of the Past” is just what you’d expect from Barry; its got his bitter anti-consumption, populist angst, as well as his coarse blue collar persona. I love it.

Pre-order here through Amazon.

Thing of the Past [Download]

Bonus back catalog:

Tacoma [Download]

Church of Level Track [Download]

Idle Idylist [Download]

“Thing of the Past” video

“Momento Mori” video:

“Prosser’s Gabriel” video

Tim Barry – “Prosser’s Gabriel” from TCSG on Vimeo.

South Memphis String Band – “Home Sweet Home” (Memphis International Records, Jan. 19)

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Hey Guys,

I’ve been away for a couple days. Had a nice little long weekend. I saw my parents, welcomed a new born baby into the world, and met up with some old friends. We’re friends too, right? If I play you this song and tell you not to make a big fuss about it you won’t right? The reason is that I asked this band’s management if I could share one song from their new record with you a while back and they said no. I’m going to anyway.

I hate to go against their grand marketing strategy but the thing is you won’t really hear about this record any other way and it’s not like this song is going to surge up the iTunes singles chart anytime soon. I really don’t think posting one song will detract from sales. In fact I think quite the opposite. With a band like this the whole record is the thing, not just a measly little single. So I’m going against their wishes and hope not to be found out. In the meantime it’d be great if you were to buy the record and prove their shortsightedness wrong. You’ll buy the whole thing right?

Let me tell you a tiny bit about the band first. South Memphis String Band is a supergroup of sorts which contains Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi All Stars, Jimbo Mathus from Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the great modern bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart. These guys (and others I’ve written about here, here, here, and here) are attempting to preserve and revive the great jugband/stringband traditions of the deep south. This is a tradition that predates blues and jazz and is as American as apple pie. These subgenres are in danger of falling by the wayside so it’s heartening to see a bunch of young guys pick up the mantle.

Home Sweet Home is the debut album from the South Memphis String Band and is available here through Cd Baby.

And remember this time you didn’t hear it here first!

Yo Own Back Yard [Download]

The Idaho Falls – “The Spark”

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

No one (except Rawkblog) is writing about the new Idaho Falls record. I don’t know if that will change in the next couple of days with a press release announcing the new album or if there will be a sudden change of heart wherein music bloggers start to look outside of their email inboxes and P4k’s “forkcast” for music recommendations. Either way this is a record that should be heard.

First off I (and others) have miscast this band as some sort of modern day Gram Parsons with a twist. But the band is more agile and experimental than that (Idaho Falls contains sidemen from Black Eyed Peas, Mojave 3, Hope Sandoval, Cake and the Brian Jonestown Massacre) and on the new record they explore perfectly twisted pop more so than twangy indie country. I love the sound but then again I’m Dan Byrk’s biggest fan and this reminds me a bit of his piano based indie pop. The Spark comes out Jan. 26 (I couldn’t find a buy link but contact leader Raymond Richards ( to purchase the record).

Here’s a song that proves my point:

Holding On To Your Name [Download]

Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor – “Hard Times”

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I know that as a roots rock fan I should be bowing down to the alter of Ray Wylie Hubbard right about now. But I’d rather point out a record that tackles it’s subject with a relentless energy and one track mind and one that will no doubt be overshadowed by the new Ray Wylie Hubbard. That record is the new one from Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor called Hard Times. The result of their collaboration on this song cycle is a concept record that succeeds on a number of levels: lyrically, musically, and thematically.

If you remember your 8th grade research paper than you’ll remember your teacher imploring you to narrow down your topic. Here’s what she probably said: “No, baseball is not a good topic”, “No, the Texas Rangers doesn’t count”, and finally “Yes, a statistical evaluation of Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters will work.”

I think Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor must have gone through the same process. First they probably thought about doing a record about the recession, then narrowed it down to hard times in Texas, and then narrowed it even further geographically to the Gulf Coast of Texas and then finally to a very particular creature: the “Gulf Coast Losers”.

I suppose this song cycle written and sung by any other artist might be seen as insensitive, crass, and/or exploitative. But these songs are so expertly wrought in such fine detail that I figure at least half of them are autobiographical in nature. And the other half, while flights of imagination, are fine examples of the state we’re all in. Plus at least half of these sad sacks are lovable losers. The other half are simply contending with a miserable economy compounded by their own poor decisions.

Sampling of just some of the deft lyrics:

“One eyed Wanda said she’d pass the jar up and down the bar, she said she’d shake it like she did when she had the other eye”
“I’m tired of myself, tired of pissing through the same small hole”
“With a bar tab twice as long as Billy Gibbons beer”
“The president said we’d all be fine if we bend all over and take it up the behind”

When I asked to post a song from this record Adam Carroll suggested “Bernadine”. I wish I could share the 10 other songs with you as well. They’re that good. Buy the whole record here via Lone Star Music.

Bernadine [Download]

Bonus songs by Adam Carroll

Rice Birds [Download]

All The Way [Download]

Far Away Blues [Download]

Specimen Product’s Little Horn Speaker Reviewed (riyl Andrew Bird’s live show)

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I don’t do product reviews. I don’t do website or app reviews. I don’t have any intention of being the next Stereophile, Engadget or Gizmodo. So if you ever catch me doing any more reviews in the future please email and complain. With that said what follows is my first attempt at doing a review of high end speakers. The combination of serendipity and coincidence that led me to these speakers and prompted me to do this review was too strong to ignore.

See a couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Chicago Reader about a small scale instrument/amp/speaker manufacturer based in Chicago called Speciman Products. Their latest product is a speaker called the Little Horn that is increasingly getting praise and attention from local musicians, press, and hi fi fanatics. Later that same week I visited my favorite locally owned toy store to purchase a present for one of my son’s friends birthday parties. There in the shop, on display behind the counter, were a pair of the most interesting and unusual speakers I’ve ever seen. Low and behold they were the same model by this very same local company. As I discussed the speakers with the store owner a woman came in and said she saw a piece on local TV about this very same company earlier that morning.

So that did it. I contacted Specimen Products and got a review pair hand delivered this past Saturday. The back story is that these speakers are designed by Ian Schneller who was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago in the `80′s. He also is a musician who founded the bands Shrimpboat and Falstaff. Out of his loft space he produces guitars, amplifiers, and now these horn speakers. His work is perhaps best known through his association with Andrew Bird who uses a number of Specimen Product speaker designs in his live show.

Andrew Bird with his intro to “Nervous Tick” surrounded by Specimen horn speakers:

Before I start the official review first some info about my present system. For an amp I use the 200 watt McCormack DNA 1 Deluxe amplifier, an Art Audio tube preamp, a Classé Cd player, and a pair of Soliloquy 6.5 speakers. All told with cables, accessories, power chords and assorted gear it’s a $10,000+ system. The regular price for a stereo pair of Little Horn speakers is $1850 a pair. My reference speakers alone are 4 times the price of the Little Horn and twice as big weighing in at 150 lbs. So while the a/b comparisons weren’t exactly fair, the Little Horn more than held its own.

Little Horn speakers are fine to use with such a high powered setup, but they are also ideal to use with a single ended amp with only a few watts of output. That’s because a horn is inherently more efficient than more traditional designs (note its 90db sensitivity).

This may seem like a lot of money in a world where few value high end audio anymore and most people think getting 5.1 speakers in a box from Best Buy for $199 is the best sound you can achieve. But if you love music (like no doubt many of you do) I think it’s a fair price to pay for speakers that will last a lifetime and bring you a lifetime of enjoyment; let alone speakers that are can be considered pieces of handmade art/sculpture. Not to mention the speakers you find in those box systems and any other mass produced speaker from a big box store (including anything from Bose) will be made out of either plastic, cardboard, and/or pressboard and assembled with cheap parts that will wear out long before they should.

In the case of the Little Horn the construction of the base cabinet is made from Baltic Birch and the horn is made from high density fiberglass. The Little Horns are 36” tall overall, the bell of the horn is 14” across, and the base is an 8” cube and will sit nicely on a 10” deep shelf. Here are some of the audio nerd specifications:

* 8 ohms
* 90 db sensitivity
* 77Hz – 23kHz frequency response
* Power handling: 24 watts maximum

I first set up the Little Horns with an accompanying subwoofer from Specimen Products. This system is built to be used with all manner of iPods. The sub is powered and also shoots 25 watts to each Little Horn.

Set up was a breeze with two speaker cable runs going from the subwoofer to each Little Horn, a power cord to the wall, and a stereo cord to the Nano (or any iPod). There are three knobs and a switch on the back of the subwoofer. The top knob is the volume control for the Little Horn, there is a level control for the subwoofer beneath that, and the final knob adjusts the subwoofer’s crossover frequency. There is also a switch that boosts the 40khz level (I left that on as that’s the way it came from the factory).

The fit and finish of all three pieces was perfect. The Little Horn’s base was a light maple color, with a metallic silver horn arising out of the base with Ferrari red accents. Though these speakers can be customized in a wide variety of colors and finishes.

My son and I played a number of large scale orchestral pieces from John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack that sounded rich and persuasive through his hand-me-down Nano played through this system. We also did an a/b comparison between this system and my more powerful system. I found that while my reference system went louder and played deeper the Little Horn did an amazing job of reproducing both the midrange and the bass on any number of indie rock tracks. For instance the bass kick from the subwoofer could be felt literally across the room on Beck’s “Hell Ya”.

This would be an incredible system for a small space where shelf space is limited and especially if you wanted to downsize and get rid of all your amps, CD players, turntables, cords, interconnects, etc., etc. That it nearly matched my reference system which has a price tag that’s ten times higher is hard to even admit to myself. And I refuse to mention that fact to my wife.

I also used just the Little Horn without connecting the subwoofer. This is the configuration that I imagine is most popular owing to it’s ease of use and expense. Hooked up to my reference system the Little Horns were very expressive, if a little bass shy in my relatively large living room. On Holly Cole’s version of “I Can See Clearly Now” the soundstage and her vocals were crisp and clear even at the annoyingly loud volume my wife insists on playing this track. On Rosie Thomas’ “Much Farther To Go” the many layers of the song from the gently plucked guitar to the swirling strings to the layered vocals were easily located within the Little Horn’s wide soundstage. It’s this ever present soundstage that extends far beyond the width, depth, and height of these relatively diminutive speakers that is perhaps their most impressive trait. I think I could have even gotten more out of these speakers if I played around with placement and stands.

One final note on the Little Horns and particularly on their W.A.F. If you are an audio geek you already know that stands for “wife acceptance factor” and it’s a key element in whether a pair of speakers actually wind up in your living room. These are beautiful speakers that are equally suited to serving as a conversation starter at your next swanky cocktail party as they are to being accurate transducers through which you can explore and reacquaint yourself with all the music in your collection. I highly recommend the Specimen Product Little Horn Speakers. Let me know if you get a pair; then invite me over for a listening party and watch me drool with envy.

More information here at the company’s website –

or contact them here:

1240 N. Homan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60651

Phone: 773.489.4830
E-Mail: Specimen Products

Paul Cebar – “One Little Light On”

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Paul Cebar (as well as friend and collaborator Willy Porter) have led “go to” bands that play Chicago during the summer festival season. Both guys are able to appeal to the various cliques that attend these rites of summer. Paul Cebar does it by having a tight band that is able to play any style of music at the drop of a hat. Paul is known for having a good time and creating music that helps others do the same. So for that reason and others this acoustic outing is a departure. For me it’s a a nice bonus.

The new record was recorded without overdubs and completely acoustic. This allows you to hear what really happened in the studio as well as hearing every nuance of both Paul’s acoustic guitar playing and his vocals.

One Little Light On is available at Cd Baby now here.

Holding On To The Wind [Download]

Jenny Björkqvist – “To Heal Your Wounds”

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I made a promise to myself in print that I would post this song on Songs:Illinois today (as well as over at Swedesplease). So here goes; something new from Swedeish native Jenny Björkqvist.

To Heal Your Wounds [Download]

A Ha! – Sam Doores (Riyl Joe Pug, Justin Townes Earle, Avett Brothers)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I had an “a ha” moment this morning. A ha! This is why I have a music blog! A ha! This is what music should sound like! And simply, a ha!

Sam Doores is a New Orleans based folk singer who grew up singing gospel at church, was converted to folk after seeing Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and then took the course of many young artists by exploring the music of Dylan, Gutherie, et al. Seeing that he is presently in New Orleans it’s no surprise that a bit of jazz and afrobeat have crept into his music. Sam Doores doesn’t have a proper debut record out as far as I can tell. These songs are lofi samples off an early demo ep. As you can hear he’s onto something special; I hope to hear more from Sam in the months to come.

Catch Sam Doores at Circle Bar in New Orleans on Jan 15 or at the annual Folk Alliance shindig in Feb. in Memphis.

When I’m Out In The Wind [Download]

True To My Luck [Download]

Anaïs Mitchel – “Hadestown” (Righteous Babe Records, March 9)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I usually don’t jump at writing about press releases (in fact I get so few since I unsubscribed to just about every email list) but there are a few people that I still listen to. So when I read about something new from Anaïs Mitchell by way of Thirty Tigers it was news to rejoice to. The new record Hadestown is a recording of her adaptation of the greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. I’ve heard a song or two in person and they are special and unique in the world of music. How can they not be? The songs that make up her folk opera, which is based on a story thousands of years old, use the folk idium to loosely tell a story that bends and twists in ways that are unique and challenging.

As a result on the song “Way Down” you get Tom Waitsesque vocals, muted trumpet, an angelic choir and Anaïs’ own unique vocal delivery.

Way Down [Download]

P.S. Anaïs Mitchell will join about a hundred other folk artists this February 17-21 in Memphis, TN for the annual folk pilgrimage known as Folk Alliance.

**Best of 2009 Repost Series** Sam Baker – “cotton”

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

There was only one record in 2009 that put me in a tailspin. And that was Sam Baker’s cotton. Here’s my original post and a song from this amazing record.


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]

**Best of 2009 Repost Series** Drew Nelson “Dusty Road To Beulah Land”

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

I wrote about a bunch of big names in June of `09 but few songs from that month have struck with me or made as much of an impact as “Grandmother Moon” by unheralded folkie Drew Nelson.


Well this week has turned folksy in a hurry. But that’s the way things play out sometimes. It took me a couple of weeks to get permission to share this song from Drew Nelson since he was on tour in UK. But I’m glad I finally did. In a number of ways this song, “Grandmother Moon”, reminds me of Greg Brown. The ending chorus when Drew repeats the phases “Shine a little brighter now” and “Just a little bit, just a little bit of moonshine” is right out of the Greg Brown playbook, as is the theme of small town life altered for eternity by large corporations (most notably in Drew’s lyric “the empty shell of what used to be our neighborhood hardware store”). This is all a good thing (the comparison to Greg Brown that is) since I think Greg Brown has lost some of his lyrical thunder of late and we need younger singer-songwriters to step up.

Drew’s new record is called Dusty Road To Beulah Land and is available now on the Chicago based folk label Waterbug Records (here).

Grandmother Moon [Download]

Drew and friends covers “I’m a Little Catfish”

**Best of 2009 Repost Series** Madam Pamita’s Wax Works

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Surprised to hear from me on New Years day. So am I, but I survived my vacation and now literally have only a minute to post. Here’s something memorable from 2009. And don’t just take my word for it as Madam Pamita’s new record caught the ear of the Grammy nominating committee for folk music. Stay tuned for a few more “Best Of” posts and then back to a more regular posting schedule come the first week of January.


Madame Pamita
is a strange duck. I’m sure she’d have no problem with that statement. Here’s a modern woman living in California who has recorded her new record on wax cylinders (ironically the same songs have been digitized and are for sale at a name your own price on her website). Furthermore at her live shows she dons a mystical outfit and reads fortunes of her audience members all the while strumming her ukelele and singing her odd songs. Her songs and those she chooses to cover are about sex, drugs, and not really rock `n’ roll (but plenty of references to death and prison and liquor).

In a world where everyone is doing some semblance of the same old thing Madame Pamita is a breath of fresh air. Her new record Madame Pamita’s Wax Works can be picked up here (comes with a fortune, a good luck penny from the 1800′s and an origami made by Pamita).

He’s In The Jailhouse Now [Download]

Cocaine [Download]

“Pink Pocketbook”