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Music: Springtime in Chicago
by Gregg Shapiro

This article shared 5163 times since Wed May 12, 2004
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** Katie Todd at Gunther Murphy's, (773) 472-5139, May 15

** Punsapaya at Double Door, (773) 489-3160, May 15

** Tortoise at Metro, (773) 549-0203, May 20 & 21

** Analog Radio at Gunther Murphy's, (773) 472-5139, May 22

** The Drapes at Bottom Lounge, (773) 975-0505, May 22

Spring is finally in the air and the mainstream Chicago music scene is undergoing a period of creative rebirth, the likes of which we haven't seen for a while. Bands such as Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and The Redwalls are leading the pack. The sheer variety of styles alone is cause for notice.

The release of Machinegong (Cold Crush) by Mahjongg, for instance, is perfectly suited to the electroclash energy in the air. Combining a healthy dose of experimental electronic expression, songs such as 'Jamdek' and 'Countdown (The Chicken),' are simply the means in which to get your groove on without feeling too self-conscious. Funk goes punk on 'Aluminum,' and 'The Silver Series (MDG Remix)' puts on an Afro-beat show. The seven exciting songs hold the promise of even better things to come.

Another seven-track release Do You Like It? ( by the self-described 'sex rock' trio Bang! Bang! is an ass-shaking set, featuring garage rock tunes such as 'Do You Like It?' and 'Turn The Tide.' The simulated moans on the sexiest track, 'In Or Out,' may inspire some real ones and the concept of 'All Nite' is something to strive for.

The alternately beautiful, swirling, near-epic, art rock songs ('Even Time Ghost Can't Stop Wagner,' 'Too Late Or Too Dead') and the sweeping sonic experimentation ('Chronological Disorder,' the vintage Bowie vocal warble on 'Silver And Snow') on Panda Park (Southern) by 90 Day Men make this seven song disc (is there a pattern here?) both challenging and rewarding.

Azita knows a thing or two about the way vocals can set the tone on a recording. Moving on from the stripped-down jazz-influenced vocals of her previous solo album, she has released her most accessible disc to date with Life On The Fly (Drag City). Azita's idiosyncratic vocals separate her from others as she skirts the notes, not content with being your average female vocalist. However, it's almost impossible not to derive some pleasure from unexpectedly beguiling numbers such as 'Miss Tony,' 'Wasn't In The Bargain,' 'Just Joker Blues,' 'Yours For Today,' and the jazz-oriented 'Antarctica.'

Of a much more traditional nature, Katie Todd Band has been steadily cultivating a devoted fan-base in the Midwest and beyond, and they reward their fans with the concert recording Live (Room 32), recorded in Chicago and Milwaukee. As with many live recordings, a jam-band quality surfaces on some of the songs, but thankfully, the focus remains on Todd's ample vocal abilities. Half the songs are from Todd's 2002 debut album (including 'The Polite' and 'Brittle') and among the new songs, 'Leavitt' 'Imagine That,' and 'Come With Me' are standouts.

Chicago has, over the years, become a welcome place for jam-bands. With that in mind, consider Prepare To Qualify (Sideways Eight), the new full-length album by the quartet known as Punsapaya. Also consider Hurry Slowly (Down The Moon) by Pala. The first couple songs on the disc take an almost Frank Zappa-like approach to the funk before taking a turn towards jazz fusion on 'The Game.' Female lead vocalist Erin Mosher gets to stretch out a bit on the back-to-back dreaminess of 'In My Dreams' and the thumping vintage disco beat of 'From My Angle.'

Ode's Balkan roots set them apart from the other artists mentioned here. Sandra Korbar's 'gypsy violin,' paired with Davor Palos's vocals give the songs an exotic, but approachable flavor. Highlights from the band's debut disc On My Way To Learn ( include 'Nova,' 'Done With The Rain,' 'Albany Ave.', 'September,' and the instrumental 'Coffee, Tea or Enemy.'

The first four songs on The M's (Brilliante) garage-glam self-titled full-length debut album are derived from the Chicago band's eponymous debut EP. The M's are plugged into the same amp as The White Stripes and The Strokes, but a psychedelic sensibility permits the quartet to establish its own identity without a crisis.

It comes as no surprise that a Chicago-based garage rock band such as The Drapes would have a bluesy element to the songs on its full-length disc Swollen (Orange). Most of the songs thump and rattle like a rusted-out beater on Lake Shore Drive. The Drapes also drape themselves in a little drama on songs such as 'Coffee Can,' 'Miss You' and 'God Is Watching.'

In keeping with the analog radio theme, you can hear the sound of stations being changed between some of the songs on This Is Grand (Analogradio), the full-length debut disc by Analog Radio. The baker's dozen songs are refreshing and memorable takes on radio-friendly pop music and sound like summer. My favorites include 'You Can Count On Me,' 'Don't Be Dumb,' 'Sometimes Girlfriend,' 'Yeah I Know,' 'Step Outside Your Door,' and 'I Like To Look At The Back of Your Head While You're Driving.'

Tortoise continues to set the standard for the instrumental post-rock scene with It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey). Way too innovative to be labeled chill-out music or even modern jazz, these vastly different songs hover above rock fusion (the title track), restore the ambience to ambient music ('The Lithium Stiffs,' featuring a wordless vocal from the inimitable Kelly Hogan), infuse funk with feeling ('Stretch (You Are All Right)'), provide a little fright ('Dot/Eyes'), and then trick the listener's ears ('Salt To The Skies').

On Antje's four-track 'demi-CD' Everybody Wants Someone (Sweet Pickle), she fully embraces the country diva within. Sounding like Amy Rigby in Tammy Wynette's cowboy boots, Antje takes the twang a two-step further on the anti-marriage tune 'Life Plus A Day.' D-i-v-o-r-c-e has never sounded so appealing. You may also kick up your heels to the raucous 'One.' It's also easy to imagine this Chicago-based artist storming the stage of Nashville's Bluebird Cafe with 'Take It To The Bank' and the title track, easily captivating the crowd.

The late, lamented Chicago venue Lounge Ax is still talked about fondly, years after its doors closed. Among the many performers to have their say about the club is Scott McCaughey, whose side-project The Minus 5 (which also includes Peter Buck of REM) performed at Lounge Ax during its final hours. Those songs have been 'officially' released and expanded on with In Rock (Yep Roc). Joining McCaughey, Buck, John Ramberg and Bill Rieflin to perform songs such as 'Dear My Inspiration,' 'The Forgotten Fridays,' 'Courage Is The Smallest Bird,' and the Lounge Ax tribute 'The Night Chicago Died Again,' are Chris Ballew, John Wesley Harding, Ben Gibbard and Kurt Bloch.

If Loreena McKennitt was a Southern California transplant living in Chicago, who was about 20 years younger, she might sound something like Emilie Autumn does on her full-length disc Enchant (Traitor). An accomplished violinist, Autumn strings the listener along with her unique brand of musical mysticism on the disc's 14 tracks.

A favorite son of the Chicago scene, Michael McDermott has been labeled something of a Second City Springsteen, and his latest album Ashes (Pauper Sky) does little dissuade the listener of the possibility. Springsteen is not a bad person to emulate, and McDermott does a fairly convincing job. My favorite track, 'Everything I Got,' reveals another side of McDermott.

Stolie's Satire-Melodies (Screaming Galaxy) consists of seven original songs, two of which recur as remixes. Moving away from her more acoustic-based song style with which most people were acquainted, Stolie enters Morcheeba territory on the trip-hoppy title track, and sounds perfectly comfortable working with electronic beats on songs such as 'Table,' 'Up To The Highlands,' and 'On My Own Now.' Stolie hasn't entirely abandoned acoustic music, as you can hear on 'Skin,' 'You Flatter Me,' and an acoustic rendition of the title track.

Finally, check out the discs by three bands currently electrifying the Chicago music scene: Interrogations and Confessions (NoVo/Lightyear) by Oh My God and Of This Blood (French Kiss) by The Detachment Kit are two sophomore efforts, while Wolves With Pretty Lips (Suicide Squeeze) is the third album by the trio We Ragazzi.

This article shared 5163 times since Wed May 12, 2004
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