Let’s pay tribute to an artist who has melded genres and wielded considerable influence over the past 20 years, Tricky. Adrian Thaws was part of a crew that evolved into the innovative band Massive Attack. He rapped on Massive Attack’s first album, and then leaped into producing Martina Topley-Bird before striking out on his own with a series of acclaimed solo albums. Since Tricky digs being eclectic, I’m sure he’d dig being honored for his birthday with folks grabbing their iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Welcome to On Tape, CHIRP's weekly exploration of Chicago music in films, videos, and beyond. Each week, our editors will reach back into the archives for the interviews, music videos, live concert appearances, and found footage of the city's most important musical icons. This week: Smith Westerns.
In ten years, how will you remember the Smith Westerns? Maybe you'll clock them the way most people did upon the announcement of their breakup last month: as another promising Chicago indie-pop band who flirted with greatness before going poof in the bargain bin. Maybe you'll remember the time you saw them at Schubas and the drinks were good and the photo booth was working and you and the person you loved felt as young as the guys on stage and snapped four pictures that, if you looked hard enough, you could probably find, pressed hard up against some words inside a novel you never finished reading. Maybe you'll remember a mix that began with "Weekend" and only got better from there, the one you almost wore out at the beach, or on the train, or during that one summer you took up running.
Maybe, before ten years even gets here, you'll listen to "Weekend" one more time, preferably on the radio of a car headed nowhere in particular during a month when things are green. Maybe you'll listen to it twice.
At the end of every month, we here at the Top Five take stock of the music news that mattered most to us during the preceding 30-odd days. Without further preamble, here are our five favorite stories from January 2015.
1) They Might Be Giants and Jens Lekman Write One Song A Week for a Year (Sadly, Not Together).
What began its existence as "a regular phone call to Brooklyn" is back for the internet age: They Might Be Giants have officially resurrected Dial-A-Song, their old-school song distribution service and perhaps the finest use of answering machine technology ever produced. To celebrate, they're releasing a new song every week for 2015, releasing tracks on Tuesdays via the website above and (for old time's sake) a toll-free telephone call to (844) 387-6962. It's the same idea that drives Jens Lekman's Postcard project, which finds the singer penning weekly pop correspondences from Sweden while taking breaks from work on his new album. Whether you're a fan of oddball pop or looking to correct a Swedish wistfulness deficiency, you now have something to set your calendars by.
2) Daniel Knox Slow-Burns Through Inaugual CHIRP Factory Session
When we're not making great radio, we here at CHIRP like to kick back in the sweet industrial digs of our old-fashioned factory space in North Center. Earlier this month, we invited some friends to join us; during the inaugural CHIRP Factory Session, Chicago singer-songwriter Daniel Knox and his band set up camp for a quick live session of songs from his upcoming self-titled record. Knox's whiskey-soaked Americana was right at home in the building's blue-collar interior, bouncing off of the radiators and squat support columns in search of a breakroom confessional or two. More Factory Sessions will follow as the year progresses, but they've already got a hard act to follow.
3) Run The Jewels Appear Everywhere, Have the Most Fun
What would you do if your latest album nabbed the top spot on most critics' year-end lists while simultaneously adding a voice to the national conversation on race, unrest, and the possibility of revolution? If you're El-P and Killer Mike, the answer is "have some motherfucking fun." The Run The Jewels duo was everywhere this month: spitting truths on Conan, getting homage'd by Marvel, and even curing teen girls' angst as part of Rookie's Ask A Grown series. Oh, they also confirmed that progress is underway on Meow The Jewels, their upcoming all-cat remix of Run The Jewels 2 featuring a cameo by none other than reigning internet cat monarch Lil' Bub. If you could trade lives with anybody this year, you might consider one of these guys.
4) Björk Fights Leak, Adds to Most Epic January Release Schedule in Years
It was all over in seven days: Björk's ninth studio record, Vulnicura, was announced, leaked, and rush-released in the time it takes most people to finish off leftovers. The surprise release added to a January already blessed with an embarrassment of riches; try finding time for it between spins of a legendary reunion record (Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love), new tricks from indie-rock staples (Belle and Sebastian's Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance, Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper), and exciting debuts (self-titled efforts from Natalie Prass and Viet Cong). At press time, attempts to pause time and allow everyone to catch up on this glut of great tunes have proven unsuccessful, so you're on your own.
5) PJ Harvey Works in Glass House, Throws...Songs?
For her ninth studio album, iconic English performer PJ Harvey isn't just crafting another nervy collection of art-rock anthems: she's throwing back the curtain on the whole artistic process. With Recording In Progress, visitors to London's Somerset House can watch Harvey and her band throughout every step of the recording process from behind the safety of a one-way mirror. This voyeuristic look at album-making might not lead to profound insights for any one visitor—each admission ticket only covers a 45-minute window—but it's grander ambitions already earned praise from critics like The Guardian's Sean O'Hagan, who called the installation "an exercise in demystification" and "positively Warholian in its elevation of the quotidian." Now, let's see if it results in an album as good at 2011's Let England Shake.
Welcome to On Tape, CHIRP's weekly exploration of Chicago music in films, videos, and beyond. Each week, our editors will reach back into the archives for the interviews, music videos, live concert appearances, and found footage of the city's most important musical icons. This week: Minnie Riperton.
Minnie Riperton first tells the lion story on The Mike Douglas Show in 1975. Just weeks removed from the one-week reign of "Lovin' You" atop the pop charts, she's the room's rising star, and it shows in her delivery; Douglas and company treat her like the cleverest kid at an adult party, hardly letting her finish the story of how she'd nearly been mauled during a promo shoot for Adventures In Paradisebefore asking another question, reuqesting elaboration.Her dusky blue dress looks cool amid the set's garish yellows, matching the demeanor of the person it covers. She is unflappable and elegant; even Dom Deluise can't get her to break.
Four years later, things are different. Douglas is there, and Riperton, and another great blue dress. The cancer is there, too; this interview takes place in the summer of 1979, just days before Riperton succumbs to her years-long fight at the age of 31. On this day, the mood is elegiac; Riperton is tired and soft-spoken, her right arm immobilized by her spreading illness. Douglas once again brings up the lion story, prodding Riperton to retell it the way someone might approach a dying grandparent.
Riperton herself sets that tone; she opens the day with the nostalgic ballad "Memory Lane" as candid pictures of her and husband Robert Randolph linger on the screen. Most of her energy goes into her performance, but she musters her charm for Douglas's questions. Just before sharing one final song, she recalls the story of her arrival in Los Angeles, of the bank manager who forced her to sing before agreeing to let her deposit her advance check. There's probably anger here, or resentment, or shock at the thousand little indignities that sometimes overwhelm a life. If there is, we can't see it.
"Sing another song for us, Minnie," Douglas asks, his voice, for a moment, growing small.
We're three weeks into January, and New Year's resolutions are already dropping faster than a lapsed gym membership. If you're reading this blog, it's safe to guess that "learn a musical instrument" has appeared somewhere on your list in the last 20 years or so. Worry not, CHIRP listeners: this is the year you finally pick up that guitar/trumpet/mountain dulcimer, and we've got the inspiration to help. Five kinds, actually, all provided by musicians associated with Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. It may take more than a year to catch up to John Prine, but with this list, you'll be equipped to power through.
1) Steve Goodman
The lion of Chicago's folk music scene stood only 5'2", but his voice extended far beyond his slight frame and the city where he sand. Steve Goodman wrote "City of New Orleans" when he was just 23, turning the sights and sound of a downstate rail trip into a hit for Arlo Guthrie and a coming-out party for his own massive talent. Stricken with leukemia for most of his professional career, Goodman embraced the fun side of folk, becoming known for witty, insightful lyrics that nonetheless often contained a little politcal bite at their center. He also looked swell in that cowboy hat, as the video above proves.
2) John Prine
Back in December, I hosted a Christmas sing-along party for a bunch of friends. While everyone's song turned out great, the one that hit me the hardest emotionally was "Christmas In Prison," sung in an aching tenor by my friend Cody. I didn't realize it was by John Prine at the time, but when I found out, I wasn't surprised. Coming up in the same cohort as Steve Goodman, Prine had a knack for the same kind of winking jokiness, but was always able to turn things serious when the mood required. His '70s output stands tall amid the accomplishments of any other American singer-songwriter of the era, an accomplishment that makes his leisurely release schedule of the past few decades all the more forgiveable.
3) Bonnie Koloc
In an alternate universe somewhere, Bonnie Koloc is just as famous as Joni Mitchell. All of her Ovation records from the 1960s and '70s are still in print, and young women put songs like "My Aunt Edna" on mixtapes for their artsy crushes. In our universe, Koloc remains a local secret, known only to the Chicago folk faithful and those from out of town who were smart enough to listen the first time. She still pops up in Chicagoland for concerts, if you know where to look, showing off the delicate songcraft and powerful voice that earned her recognition as the equal of Goodman, Prine, and anybody else in Illinois who happened to own a guitar. I'd keep an ear open, if I were you.
4) Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson had plenty of famous friends. During his days on the folks scene in the 1950s and '60s, he helped discover Joan Baez, palled around with Shel Silverstein, and built a house with Pete Seeger. When he wasn't socializing, Gibson spent his time championing the old-style traditional folk still sung at music circles and hootenanies today. Gibson might be called Chicago's answer to Dave Van Ronk, a powerful musician sometimes overshadowed by the more famous names that he influenced. Still, if that's the worst thing you can say about a guy, his legacy's in a pretty good place.
5) Big Bill Broonzy
All of the previous artists on this list studied at the Old Town School of Folk Music, but only Big Bill Broonzy taught there. Although his tenure was brief (the school opened in the winter of 1957, and Broonzy died in the summer of 1958), Broonzy's acclaimed folk blues added an air of legitimacy to the school's opening year. The job was the natural culmination for his dedication to folk, and to Old Town School founder Win Stracke; in the 1940s, Broonzy lent his voice to Stracke's I Come For To Sing, a touring revival show narrated by fellow Chicago legend Studs Terkel. Although commercial success often eluded him during his lifetime, Broonzy bridged the gap between the singers of the country blues tradition and the younger artists who were listening to that work on old 78s. His impact can still be felt in the folk songbook today, and in every rock guitarist who ever decided to rip off a blues riff.