Local Concert Preview for Chicago / Milwaukee
December 1-10, 2009
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2009, Volume 16, #12
Written by John Metzger
Tue December 1, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
12/2 - John Wesley Harding - Schuba's - Chicago - 8:00 p
When Disney purchased the roster of Mammoth Records in the late 1990s, it looked for a moment as if a bunch of overlooked indie outfits were going to gain a much-needed boost of attention. The signing of Los Lobos and John Wesley Harding seemed to indicate that perhaps a renewal was on the horizon. Just as quickly, though, the company was consumed by Hollywood Records, Disney’s pop-focused subsidiary. As a result, a strategy for success was never implemented, and instead, the label and its artists were left to flounder. Harding, though, is no stranger to dealing with broken promises that force him to jump from place to place. Consequently, he rebounded rather quickly. Since being cut loose, he has broadened his artistic approach by applying his keen eye for narrative — the result, no doubt, of his degree in English literature — to writing a pair of critically acclaimed novels. Earlier this year, he resumed his recording career by teaming with The Minus Five for the power-pop onslaught of Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. Although his cultural variety shows, which he has dubbed Cabinet of Wonders, have become remarkably popular, Harding will return to his roots by performing a solo show at Schuba’s in Chicago on December 2.
12/4 - Zero 7 - Metro - Chicago - 9:00 p
With Sia Furler firmly entrenched in her own projects, Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker were forced to find someone else to help them bring to life Yeah Ghost, the fourth album from their outfit Zero 7. Enter Eska Mtungwazi, a jazz-inflected soul singer, who should have helped the outfit to widen its approach. Although Mtungwazi delivered several stellar vocal tracks, ones that likely will find her escaping to greener pastures in the not-too-distant future, the collection largely follows the template that Zero 7 established on its 2006 endeavor The Garden. While this isn’t inherently a bad place to begin, it also is rather unfortunate that, in three years, Zero 7 also hasn’t truly progressed. In concert, though, the group is prone to creating a swirling wall of sound. Given the disco-derived groove of Mr. McGee, fans can expect to dance rather than chill when Zero 7 stops by Chicago’s Metro on December 4.
12/5 - Nanci Griffith - Old Town School - Chicago - 7:00 p & 10:00 p
Nanci Griffith has written some terrific tunes over the course of her career — Gulf Coast Highway, Trouble in the Fields, and Beautiful, among them. The problem, however, is that she often has also had a tendency to undermine the emotional resonance of her work by embracing the sorts of limp, over-the-top production standards that Nashville seems to love. On her last few endeavors, Griffith has scaled back her arrangements, which has given her lyrics room to breathe. Her latest set The Loving Kind is filled with haunting reflections on life in America, and the Old Town School, where Griffith will perform two shows on December 5, is the perfect place for her to release the ghosts that lurk within the endeavor.
12/5 - The Blind Boys of Alabama - FitzGerald's - Berwyn - 9:00 p
12/6 - The Blind Boys of Alabama - Turner Hall Ballroom - Milwaukee - 7:30 p
The Blind Boys of Alabama certainly is one of the longest-running gospel outfits in the business. Its roots date back to 1939, though it wasn’t until the last decade or so that the ensemble has received much recognition for its work. The Blind Boys of Alabama has been touring and recording rather relentlessly ever since. Buying time until the vocal group can determine its next move, The Blind Boys of Alabama assembled Duets, a compilation of highlights that it recorded over the past 15 years with a wide array of special guests. Previously unreleased collaborations with Lou Reed, John Hammond, and Toots Hibbert are also featured on the endeavor. Even without the added help, though, The Blind Boys of Alabama’s tightly knit harmonies still sparkle and shine. The outfit can wrench a wealth of emotion from words that might seem trite on paper. On its latest trek through the region, which includes shows at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn on December 5 and Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee on December 6, The Blind Boys of Alabama will set aside its usual routine in order to focus upon holiday-oriented material.
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