Your feet might not leave Chicago, but these shows will take your ears to West Africa before popping in south of the border. Then, they’ll make a beeline for New Orleans where they’ll head straight to Joliet for a rejuvenation stop.
Three routes await the bandleader determined to fixate the spotlight on the mighty banjo: The frenetic pacing and down-home suffocation of a*Deliverance-like dirge; the gallant, swelling catharsis of Mumford And Sons; and the tumbleweed-heavy landscape of the Spaghetti Western, with its echoing swoons. Tom McGettrick is a student of the latter. His Chicago-based Mar Caribe peered into Calexico’s playbook somewhere along the line and decided eschew vocals in place of big, feisty horns (courtesy of Max Crawford, Greg Duncan, Josh Bell, and Steve Duncan) and galloping tempos (anchored by Evan Bivins’ incandescent fills). The band’s second full-length, The Law, finds the sweet spot between cinematic background noise scoring your attempts to chat up the pretty thing at the bar and an invigorating call to action to cease the sweet talk and spring towards the dance floor. (Thursday@Hideout with Quarter Mile Thunder.)
In Jim Henson’s short-lived 1988 series “The Storyteller,” the episodes’ puppet-filled old-world tales of love and loss, fidelity and honor were relayed by a wizened gentleman propped close to a crackling fire with a wide-eyed dog faithfully stretched out (and intently listening) by his feet. This narrator served as a touchstone between our hectic lives and the deeper truths about human nature that the modern age sweeps under its efforts to be the smartest, fastest, and richest. Joliet’s John Condron embodies this role on his latest release, . . . If Any Or At All (Flipside). A natural born yarn-spinner, it’s not hard to imagine the flames licking the finish off Condron’s acoustic guitar in an authentic Irish pub as he strings fragments of his biography together into belly-warming ditties. Saturday’s CD release celebration doesn’t promise a hearth or any canines, but Condron’s soothing timbre will keep the place toasty. (Saturday@Chicago Street Pub.)
Singer-songwriter Tom Schraeder often has tendency to bite off more than he can chew. That’s the way it goes with creative types, always reaching for the stars. But, what would we do without these visionaries steadfastly believing they can achieve the impossible? Schraeder simply wanted to throw a party to mark the release of Tom Schraeder & His Ego’s latest outpouring, *Chicago, I Love You. Instead, the ambitious dude ended up curating a month-long festival (with the same name) highlighting local talent at Lilly’s – a beacon for silvery-voiced guitar slingers. Brighton, MA, Natureal, Mars Williams and Wilco’s Pat Sansone are on board along with a bundle of comedians and filmmakers (get a full schedule at tomschraeder.blogspot.com). Schraeder and his posse launch the 30-day smorgasbord with an acoustic rendering of the namesake album. (Saturday@Lilly’s.)
Jazz Fest might make the uninitiated pause. But, this four-day excursion in Grant Park is the best introduction for the folks who say, “I only know the historic names like John Coltrane or Miles Davis” and ask, “Is jazz all just instrumental music?” In an outdoor space, the die-hards will keep the shushing to a minimum and jazz novices can explore the medium through the breaths of this year’s artist-in-residence Ken Vandermark. We suggest tackling Sunday’s lineup for a crash course. New Orleans great Allen Toussaint closes out the fest by revisiting his 2009 album, *The Bright Mississippi with clarinetist Don Bryon and guitarist Marc Ribot while Matt Wilson’s sashaying Arts & Crafts puts a happy face on darker themes. (Sunday@Grant Park.)
– Janine Schaults
Although the traditional highlight for the annual African Festival of the Arts has always been a chance to experience live music from the African continent, with legends like Hugh Masekela, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and Angelique Kidjo gracing past festivals, over the last few years, the emphasis has changed to African musical derivatives including jazz, hip hop, funk, and R&B. This year’s line-up offers an interesting collection of musicians that span the diverse sounds of the African diaspora.
The most famous performer at the 23rd edition of the four-day festival is the “Grandmaster of Funk” George Clinton, who brings his sprawling funk/rock collective Parliament Funkadelic for a reliably exciting tour of ’70s and ’80s classics like “Give Up The Funk” and “Aqua Boogie,” that mine West-African rhythms with bold finesse. A festival favorite and multiple headliner, Clinton’s last appearance featured Sly Stone as a surprise guest so expect the unexpected. Funk-rock singer/songwriter Nona Hendryx promises more dynamic energy with her eclectic, boundary-pushing music. Joined by jazz stars Kahil El’Zabar, Corey Wilkes, and Robert Irving III, Hendryx, a former member of ’70s pop group Labelle, dabbles in charged soul singing that harks back to Malian Wassoulou music. She also taps into performance art and social commentary. Her recent “Ballad of Rush Limbaugh,” a scathing rock anthem, ignited the web a couple of years ago.
Neo soul singers and musicians Dwele and Lyfe Jennings round out the headliners with evocative, introspective music that recalls the breezy melodies of Benin’s Zilin vocals. Check out www.africanfestivalchicago.com for the full schedule. (Friday through Monday@Washington Park.)
– Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
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