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| February 1, 2006 | 0 Comments

The Brutal Poetry Of Existence, by thrash metal band A.S.A., is a multi-dimensional album that delivers some angry screaming tracks (“Rancor,” “Overwhelmed”) and some with more melodic vocal alterations (“The Perfectionist”). “4571” showcases the band’s potential and diversity, surprisingly ending with a piano solo. The songs have powerful production, but this is a band better suited to see live. (
— Jill Haverkamp

Slowdown Sundown (Viola) is Libertyville blues pianist Barrelhouse Chuck‘s sixth release, and it features an impressive program of diverse blues styles from slow blues and barrelhouse to boogies and swingers. Culled from sessions as far back as 1980 and as recently as 2005, the CD includes solo performances as well as duets and band outings with renowned musicians like Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers, S.P. Leary, Willie Kent, Erwin Helfer, and Billy Flynn among others. On this collection, Barrelhouse Chuck proves he can play the 88s with the best of Chicago’s blues players. (
— Kevin Toelle

Bird Names is an incredibly random, incongruent musical entity that literally consists of patience trying noises across lo-fi offerings. Its full-length debut, Fantic Yard, suffers from trying to be overly artistic and unstructured, merging annoying sound effects with poorly produced pop rhythms. “Frosty Moon” is one of the toughest to take, beginning with a sequence similar to the actual noise of nails on a chalk board, while “We’re Going To Ronny’s” sounds like it came straight from a early-’70s movie space ship, riddled with lousy special effects. (
— Andy Argyrakis

Given having fun seems to be as important to The Bitter Tears as making music, it’s kind of hard to categorize what their 11-song debut is all about in a few words. The group’s absurdist (and at times frat boy) lyrical point of view, eclectic choice of instrumentation, and classic psychedelic/garage leanings give them a delightfully crossbred pedigree, which, since they’re already appearing on more major act billings, perhaps best positions them as a new, improved, and less-politicized Chumbawumba? (
— David C. Eldredge

Singer-songwriter Jack Callahan, with a cast of talented backing musicians, makes his solo debut with the eight-song This Unsettled Life. Formerly with the traditional Irish group Salthill Mines, Callahan shows his personal, sensitive side on tracks like “Breathe Deep Now” and “Let Me In.” His heartfelt vocal delivery and acoustic guitar work, recorded with a live quality, are undeniably authentic, almost folky. He even retains some of his past influences with the Irish tin whistle on “Kicking The Wall.” (
— Jason Scales

Damien Thorne was a fairly successful Chicago metal band in the ’80s, even signing with Cobra A&M/Roadrunner. After some years off, they are back with a new CD, Haunted Mind, and have been gigging in the U.S. and Europe. Their sound is old school metal, and they pull it off very well on the new disc. Highlights include “The Suffering” and “Dark Ancestor.” (
— Mike O’Cull

Although it’s essentially a radio aircheck, the latest five-song (plus a brief interview) CD-R from Darkmoor offers a solid sampling of the group’s intoxicating sound. Evocative guitars and an emotive voice power the first tune, with the instrumental “Sea Shell” (the name is known because bassist Sarah Clark introduces it on the recording) providing a potent ambience. The disc’s handwritten label says only “DARKMOOR — Live on WLUW,” but hopefully their moody melodies will soon waft from other stations, too. (
— Jeff Berkwits

Although still fronting Dolly Varden, Steve Dawson has ventured out on his own with Sweet Is The Anchor. The songwriter wrote, performed, and recorded the majority of his solo debut, but a number of Chicago musicians contributed everything from pedal steel to drum loops. With a sound that blends the likes of Al Green and The Jayhawks, it’s obvious Dawson went for the more eclectic approach, and this ultimately saves the album from predictable mediocrity. (
— Joseph Simek

Unplugged, but infused with plenty of electricity, Down The Line‘s winsome acoustic pop continues to evolve into a stronger, more durable form. Their trademark mandolin is the driving force for bright melodies and wondrous harmonizing. Avoiding jam band indulgences and folksy cliches, they stick to concise pop tunes, making Please Remember My Name memorable. (
— Patrick Conlan

Ever hear music that’s well written and performed but lacks inspiration? Almost every cut on Driving Forward‘s new CD, For The Rest Of Our Lives, suffers from this shortcoming. “Four” is the best track, opening with deep, Gary Numan-inspired atmospherics before exploding into a rough-and-tumble riff, but all 11 aggressive tunes (including two “radio edits”) are average at best. The group are competent, but need to generate a genuine creative spark before their compositions can move from mediocre to meaningful. (
— Jeff Berkwits

Robert Christgau chose Stace England‘s Greetings From Cairo, Illinois as a pick hit in his Consumer Guide for The Village Voice. This is sure to attract many to England’s album about the history of a small town in southern Illinois. He mixes a lot of styles including folk, rock, blues, country, and a little funk. The best track is the horn-infused, “Jesse’s Comin To Town” about Jesse Jackson’s 1969 visit to Cairo. (
— Jill Haverkamp

Sax man extraordinaire Chris Greene and his sidemen trio New Perspective’s simply titled Jazz lives up to its name, delivering six richly played and produced originals, with deft call-and-response riffs and improvisations surrounding solid solo turns. While neither groundbreaking nor boundary challenging, the musicianship and excellence of execution make for a solid jazzbo listening experience. (
— David C. Eldredge

Named after Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield references, Carol Stream-based Gypsy Fly sound nothing like either legend. Their third release, the EP Labeled, is your typical surprise-free rock record, layering basic melodies and simple harmonies over straightforward rock. The strongest track is “California” (yes, another California song), which is driven by a strong bass line and more creative vocals. (
— Carter Moss

Though not quite as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack, locating a memorable melody on Regret, the new 15-song CD from Jumpsuit, isn’t easy. The opening cut, “Little Tijuana,” is decent, as are “Present For My Baby” and the country-tinged “Un Sueño,” but for the most part the group’s indie-pop paeans are unexceptional. The three band members definitely have chops; what they need is practice penning original pieces. (
— Jeff Berkwits

By splicing cool electric orchestration with stilted Casio-style beats, K-rakos attempts to birth a mutant strand of electronic songcraft. “Sprawl” is a trippy, trembling head piece that sets the tempo and ambience for the rest of Is Here. The dead-dance flatness sounds a bit soulless and the dramatic overtones border on the absurd, but the fat, sludgy electronics and asymmetric syncopation have a slippery appeal. (
— Patrick Conlan

Still waiting for that Europe reunion record? No release date yet, but in the meantime, check out the debut from Chicago rockers Kamera. Let the ’80s stadium rock references flow — there’s no denying the influences of Kamera’s synth-laden, screeching anthemic rock. The cool thing is they actually have the talent to pull it off, including the soaring vocals of Greg Flores that can be both appropriately heart-wrenching (on the power ballads) and commanding (on the rockers). And these guys stay true to their identity through the entire 70 minutes — so good luck resisting the temptation to pull out your air guitar, keyboard, and drums. (
— Carter Moss

Besides being one of the most cleverly packaged CDs to come out in the past year (with a mini drink menu as the CD booklet) Anne HarrisWine And Poetry makes for a delightfully diverse listen. Like a fine wine, the vocalist/songwriter/fiddler gets better with time as she unleashes rock, pop, soul, and the occasional sliver of Americana. Cuts like “Fly” and “Connected” bounce with brisk acoustics, while “Desperate Day” unfolds with orchestrated urgency. Harris further connects with her experimental tendencies come the percussion peppered instrumental finale and remains tasty until the last drop. (
— Andy Argyrakis

Medicine Hat rocks out with 10 country-flavored tracks on its latest release, Hymns And Curses From The Heartland. Lead vocalist Demi Buckley strains to add an underlying sense of mystery to his songs, but he’s a talented guitar, banjo, mandolin, and lap steel player who composes catchy tunes. “This Town” and “I Would Pay The Devil For Your Heart” are two of the CD’s toe-tapping highlights, while the extended “Green Station Shuffle” features Medicine Hat in hard rock mode. (
— Terrence Flamm

On Cancelled Thoughts, Dan Nagelberg sets forth a futuristic collection of ambient instrumentals under the alias 861, which sounds like a soundtrack to a film set in 2080. While intended to capture the feeling of trekking through an urban wasteland in the early a.m., 861’s electronic-based compositions are actually rather tranquil. 861 is unquestionably adept at creating mood music — just not exactly the mood he set out to create. (
— Max Herman

Warm, haunting, and at times melancholy all describe singer-songwriter Ilsabe O’Connell‘s appeal on her 12-track Little Lost Cause. The mother of two seems to have been influenced by Lucinda Williams’ recordings while honing her guitar chops at the Old Town School Of Music. A host of contributing musicians provide accompaniment that includes banjo, mandolin, and viola. An ode to cheap purchases adds whimsy on “Dollar Store.” (
— Jason Scales

Category: Around Hear, Monthly

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