Rockin’ Johnny Burgin: Neoprene Fedora (Blues Guitar From Chicago to California)

It’s always amazing when music can capture a setting and take you to a place faster than any plane or car. On “Goodbye Chicago”, you can feel the breezy streets, 1940’s style bars, shiny gangster automobiles and winding horn lines that make a dancer swing down low. This is a track on the new blues album by Rockin’ Johnny Burgin. Neoprene Fedora shows Burgin stepping beyond the bounds of the modern blues man as a jukebox of standards and telling his own story, ripe with real life experience.

Burgin started his music career in Chicago while at U of C studying to be a writer while also playing guitar for Taildragger, the eminent front man of whom Howlin’ Wolf said, “one day this boy will take my place”. When Taildragger took a brief sabbatical to prison (yes this is a real Chicago blues story), the band needed a front man. Burgin found band leading came naturally, and he now tours the U.S. and Europe, performing around 250 nights a year.

It was only a matter of time before this natural traveler would set sights for new waters. Literally, from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean.

Neoprene Fedora finds Burgin in California, at Greaseland Studios (gotta love the name) with Engineer and fellow guitarist Kid Andersen. Anderson, origianlly of Norway, had received a Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation for his work at his studio in San Jose, California. Anderson’s native land is a reminder of how international the blues is as a genre, and how the blues allows musicians to travel all over the world finding eager audiences, especially in Europe.

Burgin is one of the few artists from Chicago that takes traveling to heart, and the album reflects this with variety of tunes. It sticks to the theme of a party blues album, while exceeding expectations with the seriously funky “I Did the Best I Could” with vocals by Alabama Mikeand a groove that sinks in fast and won’t quit. Two zydeco tracks are sprinkled in, “Our Time is Short” being the most authentic mix of the Louisiana-based genre alongside boogie-woogie and the seeds of reggae.

Neoprene Fedora opens with an unmistakable surf rhythm (and rightfully so) as the title track of an album featuring a boarder on the cover. The originality of this tune is in its combinations: a 1960’s spy movie soundtrack melds with Chuck Berry-type riffs only to return to the very intriguing theme.

Burgin made a name for himself in Chicago and is now going farther distances, yet coming back to his roots. He delves into his original compositions and through his writing, flexes muscles of the blues to show more of its influences and possibilities– beyond the walls of Chicago.

Will he return like a prodigal son or continue to be the Magellan of the blues? Only time will tell.

For now, we have a great soundtrack to his travels as he explores his craft. Like the surfer on the cover of the album, Burgin is catching the wave. Dive in with Neoprene Fedora, and trade that dark blues bar for some rays of sun.

Purchase the Album on CD Baby, by clicking this text or this image:

Rockin’ Johnny will be performing in the Chicago area 8/29 – 9/03. Be sure to check his website (CLICK HERE) for upcoming shows, dates and times and catch some sun!

Guitarists, Burgin and guest instructor Rick Kreher are presenting a workshop while in Chicago:

Tuesday September 26, 2017

Building Blocks of the Blues Part 2
Evening Guitar Clinic with Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and guest instructor Rick Kreher– rhythm guitarist w Muddy Waters
7:00-9:30 pm
Strobe Recording Studio
2631 W Division St., Chicago
Limited registration, $80
to reserve your space.

For more infomation on Strobe Recording Studio, workshop location, click here.

Article by: Hannah Frank

The New Zeitgeist: Myths and Mortals (Album Review)

The New Zeitgeist of Chiacgo recently released an album that is cinematic, fresh and lush– featuring the harmonies of founders Jen Reilly and Eddy Bluma, on orchestrated songs with Gerald Dowd, John Abbey (Kingsize Sound Labs), Alton Smith as well as Austin City Limits Hall Of Fame member Lloyd Maines.

This album slams into the water like a giant whale’s tail and swallows you whole: Myths and Mortals comes suddenly and overtakes you.

This is country music without the dirt and dust, simply the soaring voices and storytelling, wrapped in layered arrangements with symphonic depth and vocal beauty which is normally reserved for classical music. Delivering mood as the main ingredient, these songs create visuals with bits of stories and characters which read like movie scores to a movie we can’t quite see, just imagine.

Using imagery which recalls America’s Wild West, the mysteries of personal journeys, as well as hints of Elizabethan ballads, the album is built on the foundations of the real past. Like a novel, it creates its own reality. Like a dream, it is a collage of past and present.

The album Myths and Mortals is full of galloping rhythms, instrumentation of guitar, lap steel, flute, drums, organ, and more. The vocals of Jen Reilly burn fire-like throughout, creating embers which catch the imagination. They stand out most on “Desert Rose”, a country ballad where fans of Patsy Cline are defied to not melt. “Looking Glass Man” is reminiscent of Grace Slick with Jefferson Airplane with the grunge replaced by ethereal waves, thanks to vocals and perfect cymbal crashing, creating a bath of sonic beauty.

“Kingdom Highway” is the song that hints at America’s gospel tradition, with Kingdom Highway being a metaphor for Kingdom Come; where the narrator hears a joyful noise, drawing them in, and hears the angels singing a joyful tune. Organ fills in and the song establishes a groove with a comfortable hook on guitar that sets off the vocals. Several tracks feature Eddy Bluma on vocals, which balances the album as he shares a steadfast world-worn wisdom which foils the ethereal.

The music stakes its own ground with dignity. This is not folk music in an “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” aesthetic, or a retro rockabilly country style full of kitsch and vintage thrift store costumes, rather, its artifice is holistic– it seeks to envelop you completely, rather than simply be a novelty. To achieve this, there is not a hair out of place. With formalities in delivery and execution, it allows us to take refuge in the mysteries of the past, while creating a present in which reality is defined by what surrounds us. Like finding an old trunk in an attic and being pulled into another world, the album uses the artifacts of the past to awaken our curiosity and help us unearth new emotions in the present.

A convergence of influences work hand in hand. Scales and modes recall the Eastern influence on the Western United States through Chinese immigrants, as well as Native American influence on the American West, mixed with the stories of pioneers and explorers who dealt in a land of strange beauty and savage mysteries.

Storytelling by Bluma on tracks like “The Ghost Trail” include lines “red dusty streets…miner’s regrets and gambler’s debts…”, recalling the red clay of the South, as well as imagery of cliffs and cobblestone.  The chorus about a ghost trail not only refers to Westward expansion, but also to our personal pilgrimages. On “Fear of Little Men”, the vocals of Reilly and Bluma work together expertly, with a mysterious hook that keeps the song engaging. The upbeat “Lack of Linear Thought” is a present-day pop song, with a fun organ riff that induces smiles.

The American West mirrors personal paths, with the unforeseen challenges and victories as well as inevitable defeats at the hands of fate– yet even within this there is beauty. Instead of a textbook about the past, or a caricature of it, I sense the timelessness of it. This is the great achievement of this album. For a time when we all might want to take a break from smartphones and current events, this album offers not only a portal to another world (which is relaxing, epic and full of waderlust) but the reminder that we create our own realities.

To purchase Myths and Mortals album on Amazon, click here.

To learn more about The New Zeitgeist, click here.

Photo Credits: David Sameshima
Article: Hannah Frank

Classic Music Archives #1: Slim Harpo 

Numerous blogs review new music, so I’d like to review some old goodies. A friend turned me onto this song, and I was struck from the first vocal line. It embodies a lot of early rock and roll elements. With some brief info about the players on this tune, I hope to elucidate how it came together.

The lead singer, Slim Harpo, was given that nickname because he played harmonica, or harp. While he owned a trucking business in the 1960’s to make ends meet, his songs have been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Pink Floyd. The spirit of his music, which had slight Country and Western flavors alongside good-time Saturday night blues likability, made it easy for other musicians to emulate. Perhaps it’s because it lacked the darker, groudy, overtly sexual elements or the brooding-in-poverty hopelessness of some blues music that it was able to be adopted by Caucasian musicians– or perhaps Slim found a universal groove appealing to all people. I would like to think it’s the latter, but surely there’s some sociology for thought!

The song was reportedly recorded in 1967 (who knows, maybe Slim had to go do a trucking job the next day, which is important to remember in context of him not being a full-time musician [despite major worthiness of that]), at Royal Recording Studio in Memphis, Tn. The city is the home of Beale Street, created around 1840 for shop owners along the Mississippi River, and peaked with activity during the 1920’s. While it still holds mystique for blues enthusiasts and tourists as a strong root of the blues genre, by the 1960’s “Beale became very run down and many stores closed.  In spite of being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Beale became a virtual ghost town.(”. Therefore, 1967 in Memphis likely had boarded up shops while blues had blown away, beyond the city like tumbleweed…yet at least one studio was still recording blues music.

The guitarist, Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, was born in Tennessee (so perhaps this was a local gig for him). He went on to play on many of Al Green’s big hits. He co-wrote “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness”. He married three times and had eight children, yet regrettably passed away just two years ago.

Here he is pictured, likely later in life, performing with oxygen tubes running. I chose this picture as it shows the clear dedication he had to performing, and his craft and expression.

Leroy “Flick” Hodges is the bassist, who remained fairly unknown throughout his career in the soul and R&B genres, yet the artist Cat Power snagged him for work on her 2006 Album The Greatest. Background: Cat Power was “discovered” in 1994 by a member of Sonic Youth and may have recorded her first two albums in one day (released in 1995 and 1996). About a decade after her initial entry into fame, this album The Greatest is a slow, moving journey that is kind of like Laura Nyro with some grounded country influences and a back-beat. The bass work by Hodges is thoughtful and deliberate.

Charles Hodges (Organ), continued playing throughout his life, which began in Memphis. He also wrote songs that went on to be performed by Al Green, as well as Tom Jones. Yes, he and Leroy and “Teenie” were brothers and also made up the “Hi Rhythm Section“, along with drummer Howard Grimes. This outfit, sometimes with additional musicians, was the house band for records in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

From a musical family, the three brothers got their start in music in their Dad’s band, the German Town Blue Dots. Germantown is a Southeast suburb of Memphis. Their familiarity with one another’s styles and ability to play fluidly together was possibly due to their brotherhood. The Hi Rhythm Section was known for a “distinctive, warm, swirling soul sound” and surely their musical prowess, as well as hard work and understanding of their genre, led to being part of 20 gold and platinum albums.

Howard Grimes, drums, is also from Memphis, so it’s interesting that this house band is a local band for this Slim Harpo track.

The Hi Rhythm Section released Perfect Gentlemen in 1994, and this item is currently not available on Amazon at the time of this article. Likely, only a few original copies exist. It also includes a fourth brother!

This  aesthetic is markedly different from the 1970’s when the spirit of soul was enigmatic, exciting and palatable. This can be seen in the cover of the album On The Loose, which may have been recorded in 1976 and released in 2012 on Fat Possum (if this is incorrect, someone please correct me).

My favorite quote about this band is that they’re a “skintight Memphis quartet”.

Far from being retired, the Hi Rhythm Section added to a local Chicago release in 1994. Syl Johnson, an R&B artist, released Back in the Game on Chicago’s Delmark Records. Purchase the album here to support a great and necessary record label.

Now we know about his rhythm section, but back to the man himself. Slim Harpo was born in Louisiana and after his parents died, he sought every musical opportunity he could. Initially performing as ‘Harmonica Slim’ and releasing one album under that name, he had to change his name when it was discovered there was another Harmonica Slim on the West Coast. His wife Lovelle, who he co-wrote a number of songs with, came up with the new name.

Six years before recording “I’ve Been a Good Thing for You”, Harpo’s song “Rainin’ in My Heart’ had made the Billboard Top 40 in the Summer of 1961. Three years before this track, the Rolling Stones covered his song “I’m a King Bee” on their 1964 self-titled debut. Just a year before this track, Harpo’s song “Baby Scratch My Back”, which he described as “an attempt at rock and roll for me” made the top 20.

Perhaps Slim walked out of the studio, past boarded up storefronts, back to his working life after cutting this song. One thing is for certain, he left his indelible mark of joy in his singing, even when singing a “sad” tune. It’s this ability to find joy in expression that makes Slim Harpo exceptional.

Thank you wikipedia, for making it seem like I know what I am talking about, along with:

Article by: Hannah Frank

Photos and Images taken from the Internet, for educational purposes. If any issues, contact

Anne Harris (Violinist): Creating New Worlds 

In her music video for the song ‘Waves”, Anne is a mermaid—a mix of the sea and land. Two worlds are also inhabited by her music. Land lovers might think of violin for black tie orchestras or casual bluegrass, but her handling of the instrument opens up a whole world of music, deep and vast. With heavy chops and a lace-like delicacy, her playing exudes the mystery of a fairytale. It’s a world where she shares a clairvoyant ability to tap into emotion with her own personal expression on violin. Like a mermaid, she encapsulates multiple worlds in her playing, and grabs our imagination.

Violin has “an incredible range of emotional expression; much like the human voice.” – Anne Harris

“The violin has a rich, storied history in a myriad of genres. I trained classically but always had very eclectic musical tastes, so I think thank my sound reflects the sounds I’m inspired by,” says Anne.

Anne has released her own albums, most recently Come Hither on her own Rugged Road label. She also works as a sidewoman, adding her style across genres. She appreciates Chicago’s diversity, from blues to a sonic landscape with soul, jazz, classical, Irish, house, rock, hip hop to name just a few. This carries into her playing as she helps expand the image of the violin, encouraging others to view the instrument in a more expansive way.

“I love collaboration because the sum is always greater than its parts. Being in the presence of others opens me up creatively in ways I never could dream when working solo,” adds Anne.

Beyond genre, Harris also uses gear to make new sounds. “Playing thru different pedals to alter my sound just opens up new possible creative directions, so I love having different kinds of colors to paint with, so to speak. This can help inspire new ideas.”

“As long as we’re living, we are hopefully growing and evolving with consciousness…my art is simply a reflection of my journey of growth.”

Anne sees music as a journey for the listener, and also sings, writes lyrics and is stretching her fins with the mandolin. “If my playing has a positive effect on a listener, than I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to lift the vibration a little thru music. The mandolin has the same voicing of strings as the violin and I wanted to learn a chordal instrument to aid in my writing, so that’s why I began playing it.”

To hear her in action, we recommend the very first song on Come Hither; “Broken” is entirely sounds created on the fiddle, with the exception of the bass and rhythm tracks. There are wails and cries, and a distorted solo that sounds like an electric guitar. Throughout that record, Anne created all sorts of different textures and sounds that create beds for the tunes. The title track features Chuck Campbell on pedal steel and is also all fiddle, again with the exception of bass and percussion.

For fellow string players, Harris recommends Ken Stein Violins in Elmhurst. See Anne’s website for the latest news, blog and tour info.

Photo Credits: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank

Music Frozen Dancing– Coolest Festival in Chicago

Twenty-five degrees, four bands and plenty of beer…

One of the things that make Chicago a great city is the outdoor concerts and street festivals each year which residents enjoy. One of the things that make Chicago not so great is the long, cold winter with arctic temperatures and lots of snow driven by gale force winds. The interval between these two seasons became a bit shorter last Saturday February 28 with the Music Frozen Dancing – A Winter Block Party 2015 Festival.

Following the virgin flight of the festival last year, Chicago venue Empty Bottle, along with Goose Island Brewing Co., brought back the festival with a line up of Perfect Pussy, featuring singer Meredith Graves; Protomartyr (Detroit); Oozing Wound (Chicago) and NE-HI (Chicago).

With Spring a full three calendar weeks away, one might wonder who in their right mind would to party outdoors with temps hovering in the mid-20s. Unofficial head counts indicate that there were about 1500 brave souls willing to do exactly that.

NE-HI (Indie Rock) was the first band to take the stage, introduced by The Puterbaugh Sisters. The crowd pushed toward the stage, people vying for the best positions. Taking a more mountainous approach, some found decent vantage points atop of four foot piles of snow on the parkway.

The excitement only grew when Oozing Wound and Promartyr took to the stage. A mosh area formed center stage with fans wildly gyrating and moving back and forth and side to side in unison. Some less adventurous folks headed to the sidelines while others were brave enough to embark in crowd surfing; one person riding over the crowd beginning at the front row and finally released on his feet some twenty rows back.

With the sun shining brightly, it appeared warmer than it actually was. People dealt with the cold in various ways. Most fans dressed for the day in Parkas, winter boots, gloves and above all, warm footwear. For some, warmth and fashion merged beautifully – some not so much!

Preparations began early in the day and by midday fans began arriving. Soon, the beer lines were dozens deep but moved quickly, showing good logistics planning. The line for coffee was somewhat shorter. Some attendees brought liquid refreshments in flasks (probably hot cocoa, right!) which they passed around among their friends.

The performance stage was shielded with warmers blaring full blast, yet some performers mentioned the cold and took time to warm the hands intermittently near the heaters.

Darkness was falling, as was the temperature, when Perfect Pussy took the stage. The band’s lead singer and frontwoman Meredith Graves made a point to mention the cold as well, but the crowd was ready for the music and only cheered the comment. Dressed in a stylish black faux leather and fur jacket, she began singing and fans cheered even louder. The action in the mosh area only intensified. Some in the front rows tried to get Meredith to surf the crowd but she retreated from the stage’s edge to a more secure position further back.

Once the performance ended, the crowd quickly dispersed. While some hurried to their cars and homes, others joined together inside the Empty Bottle for an after-party with Windy City Soul Club (Chicago’s Rare Soul Dance Party) leaving the workers to tear down and reopen the street.

While Chicago is known for its great music festivals, as well as its harsh weather, we salute the brave fans and Artists, as well as Empty Bottle and Goose Island Brewing Co., for taking on the challenge of bringing these two elements together. Now that is some coooool music! Way to go Chicago!

Read more about Perfect Pussy: here.

Article by: Roman Sobus
Photo Credits: Roman Sobus

Show Review: Anthrax at Aaragon Ballroom supports new album For All Kings

A band heard worldwide, and even on the moon (yes, really), for thirty five years and counting, Anthrax is now raising the bar. They hit the stage at Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on 1/30/16 with energy and conviction showing they’re at the top of their game.

Clad in black, the crowd raised devil horns with their free hands and held phones in the other– the crowd’s smartphones lit up like lightning bugs as they battled to capture the show live. Two mosh pits could be seen from the balcony, as the floor of people turned into a teaming mess of aggression and passion for the thunderous music. The light show was superb, blanketing the stage in washes of red and purple and throwing sharp beams of white to punctuate.

For lead singer Joey Belladonna, being a frontman comes as easily as breathing; he held the mic stand high to glean more yells from the crowd, and later turned it around to mime putting with a golf club. His sense of humor and ease with the crowd was apparent.

Humor has highlighted the band’s mojo throughout its career, as well as comic book references, setting it apart. The album artwork on For All Kings is by Alex Ross, a mega-artist in the comic book scene and friend of drummer Chris Benante. Ross has also penned album covers including Music for Mass Destruction, Fight’Em ‘Til You Can’t, and the Grammy-nominated 2011 release Worship Music.

Here is a video on Alex Ross as he talks about superheroes. Anthrax, by utilizing the artwork of Alex Ross on For All Kings, uses this reference to superheroes as a way to make us question those who are in charge of humanity.

On stage, Scott Ian, rhythm guitarist and sole original founding member, added definition with his Flying V. Moving across the stage, Belladonna tapped him and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais, formerly of Shadows Fall, during solos to bring them to the crowd’s attention. Bassist Frank Bello added serious bottom end alongide the double kick drum set up of Benante.

For All Kings studio time produced twenty tracks (the most ever for an Anthrax album), due in part to a unique twist. Missing certain Worship Music tour dates in ’11-’14 while repairing from carpal tunnel syndrome, Benante came up with riffs and song ideas– putting the downtime to good use. Next came lyrical ideas by Scott Ian alongside melodies by Bello, and the band’s eleventh studio album was born.

Arguably the top thrash metal band of all time, Anthrax will be giving fans something to tear the cellophane off of as the artistically designed album “For All Kings” hits streets this month in vinyl.

The album’s single “Evil Twin”:

ANTHRAX “EVIL TWIN” OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO from kingsize usa on Vimeo.

More information about Anthrax: here.

Photo Credits: Roman Sobus
Article by:  Hannah Frank

Special thanks to: Chicago Music Guide. Read the full article here.

Guitarist Kaki King Merges Music and Visual Art with “The Neck is Bridge to the Body”

“Veni, Vidi, Vici” is Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered” and Kaki King’s multimedia show conquers perceptions. Combining sound and projected images, the intricacy of King’s guitar work is visually manifested in projection which bathes the stage during the show.

“The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” is an onslaught on the senses, yet with a refined artistry which is rare for solo acoustic guitar. The title, which is also the name of her recent album, refers to two parts of the guitar which are also on human anatomy—making it a statement about the guitar as an extension of the self.

Bright colors, projection of intertwining collage of abstract and recognizable images, sounds ranging from layers of feedback to dissonant symphonic chord structures, to electronically affected finger-style guitar sounds are all happening at once. The result is the most cohesive, engaging show you can expect from a modern guitarist.

To be understand the project, check out the introduction video: click here.

I first came across Kaki King as she started making waves in the mid 2000’s. She was a scrappy brown haired girl with a smirking, focused expression that made perfect sense considering the exactness and alacrity with which she attacked acoustic guitar.

It was obvious then that she was in her own genre. Of course there is a tradition of stand-out guitarists, for example Sharon Isbin in the Classical world and Emily Remler in the jazz realm, yet Kaki’s playing was delivered like a woman possessed and full of attitude. It was highly original and placing it was like Goldie Locks trying to choose among choices that didn’t match: not alternative instrumental folk yet not progressive rock, yet not easy listening, yet not adult contemporary. What was it? (Besides being really good?)

Perhaps Kaki has asked herself the same question she continues to relentlessly evolve as an artist. I could not have been more impressed by her show at Lincoln Hall, yet I miss the scrappiness of her earlier work; I miss rooting for her like she’s the underdog. But we can celebrate: with this show she is one of the most impressive guitarists on the planet.

No longer just “that kid that can play guitar really cool”, she’s evolved into a full blown artistic explosion capable of utilizing not only her own skills and talent (which are immense), but that of an entire team to combine technologies and create a revolutionary production.

There was no microphone on stage. Instead, a single lone white guitar stood on stage, held up by a brace to keep it in one position. It was clear this was a show for a guitarist, not a singer-songwriter.

Why a white guitar? There is a reason. Kaki King arrived on stage dressed all in white, with white-rimmed sunglasses. The projection screen was down, implying there would be some visuals. As the show started it was clear the sunglasses weren’t just to look cool, they were there to protect her eyes. Dressed in white, with a white guitar, Kaki became part of the blank canvas on which the visual portion of her performance was to appear.

I almost feel like I am being a spoiler if you have been following Kaki King and was not aware of her latest incarnation. If you’ve not heard of her yet– this is a perfect time to experience her music as it matures into an extraordinary artistic and technical feat on every level.

Kaki King is no longer just about guitar, but about music, video and multi media. As an Artist she took a back seat to being the center of attention, letting the projected images and music become an engulfing experience. While the music and presentation center around the guitar, the show definitely keeps her as a fragment in a grander work of art unfolding.

It’s one thing to be a technically proficient guitarist or instrumentalist. The Achilles’ heel of that trait is often an over reliance on technique in itself. While King, throughout her career, has maintained a unique and original personality with her approach, it is now unequivocally infused with artistic purpose.

During the show, photos of urban scenes and abstract shapes drifted in and out of view across the face of the guitar. All the while, abstract forms and geometric designs flowed on the screen in the background. Drawings flowed into one another, with visual styles similar to Egyptian Art, Chagall, Matisse, hand-drawn doodles and the Op Art of the 1960’s, which give illusions to the eye. On her guitar, constantly changing tiles and fireworks lit up the body and fret board. I imagined how hard it must be, for a moment, for her to dance her fingers up and down the fretboard while the surface of it was visually changing. Impressive!

The artistic efforts of the projection and video team from Glowing Pictures are world class—my favorite was during a feedback-driven song, when the colorful screen looked like remnants of electrical jitter and a printing press colliding over and over again, with new colors and designs each time.

It was a full house. I did not purchase tickets in advance, and as fate would have it, the performance was sold out when I arrived. It took me some string pulling (heh heh a pun!) to convince the doorman that I should be let in (I had a review to write, after all!). In the venue, people were drinking and hamming it up. “Does she sing?” someone asked another. “Yes…I think so…but not much,” replied the other, indicating some attending didn’t know what to expect. We knew this radical musician sets the bar ceiling high for guitarists. We didn’t know she was about to floor us.

In the end, she conquered all of us (I believe I speak for the whole audience to say we were happily conquered). She didn’t do it by using the lexicon of guitar aficionados that we might expect: long solos, aggression or look-at-me theatrics. Instead, the guitar simply became one more element in a seamless multi-media show.

Before an encore song, she took time to address the audience with a microphone stand-up comedian style. She was extremely personable and very funny too, as she introduced her project and talked about its challenges. Giving a nod to the opening band Celine Neon, she recognized the need to find an opener where that would fit well with the show. The show was otherwise all business.

A sporadic, energetic Kaki King hasn’t been replaced, she has just evolved into an Artist that is comfortable in her own skin. While many guitarists look to the past to emulate the greats that came before, King has her eyes clearly set on the future, and is showing us the way. Like the tortoise and the hare…at the finish line, she comes out of nowhere and takes the cake.

Please take the time to check out her 8 albums. This is an Artist that is breaking barriers between music and visual art.

Live Show review of Kaki King at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, on 2/11/15.

Photo Credit: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank

Nick Moss Band song “Shade Tree” Sheds Light on Hot Subject

It didn’t take long for Nick Moss, a prolific roots musician bridging multiple genres, to put a national crisis in perspective through music.

Capturing the emotional journey of a city ravaged by race riots, the song “Shade Tree” is a touching homage to change and growth. Showing once again that music transcends issues, listeners are in for a real treat from this all-star band as they deliver with power, grace, and heart.  His song is brought to life with his band.

Touring the South with blues musicians was part of the trail blazed by award-winning guitarist Nick Moss. The Nick Moss Band blends the barriers between Rock, Soul, Blues, Funk and Jam Band genres. Specifically blues, one of the primary foundations of rock music, was the source of tapping into an understanding of the African American experience. In the late 1980’s as Nick was performing with established Blues acts, he noticed the bands kept being booked at the back of hotels. Jokingly, he asked why. A musician looked him in the eye and said “That’s just the way it is.”

In Ferguson, Mo. last Fall, the city rioted around the shooting of an unarmed African American by a police officer. When it was announced that the officer would not be charged with murder, riots took on a new ferocity. Heated debate exploded on the Internet. When Moss read specifics in the news, he responded with a raw, simple message. His song “Shade Tree” is the soundtrack to this city’s emotional journey.

“Tears were rolling down her face when she heard it,” Moss says of his wife Kate, who often is the first pair of ears to hear his latest compositions. The prolific artist is set to release his tenth album, following “Time Ain’t Free”, named one of the 50 Best Albums of 2014 by Guitar Player Magazine, on Blue Bella Records. Nick, who entertains thousands of people every year, prefers playing with his back turned to this one-person audience so to present a new song objectively. He wrote the song in about a half hour. When he hit the last chord, there was silence. Thinking he wrote a clunker, he turned around only to find her crying. Overcome by the meaning, words and music she said, “I love this song.”

Nick’s singer Michael Ledbetter, whose range from R&B to opera expands the prowess of Nick Moss Band, agreed it was a special song. It also seems appropriate the song is sung by a descendent of Ledbelly. Nick shares that the song is a reflection not on “right or wrong”, but on being better than what’s happening to you and being better than who’s bringing you down. Focusing on the ground under our own two feet, and then working out from there is a place to start. Helping a neighbor, or getting to know the people on your street, the person sitting next to you is a place to continue.

The Ferguson news sparked an article in The Washington Post pointing out that this was the first time since the early 20th century that the St. Louis area rioted over race. In the Civil Rights era, for example in 1967, over 100 cities in the U.S. had race-related riots. St. Louis, the 10th largest city at the time, sat that one out. When the Comedian and Activist Dick Gregory was asked why this was, he replied, “Shade trees.” Nick knew from experience that this means the ability to stay cool, and not get heated.

Nick doesn’t claim to be a pacifist, yet as a bigger guy who was once State wrestling champion, he would still choose to calmly resolve a misunderstanding. The Rodney King Riots of ‘92 and even Sports-inspired riots show how people can disrespect the ground we walk on. “That is something I don’t understand, a team wins and you tear apart the town”. He was especially touched by the riots in Ferguson. How can we be so irrational to tear apart where we live? When riots happen, disorder wins. The goal instead is to resolve the conflict.

Yet, looting and flaring tempers led to rage, rioting and the mistrust between the public and the police force. “Shade Tree” lyrics include “He is my sworn defender / in the land of the free / as I walk down the street / he’s suspicious of me / this is my home being torn apart / it will never be the same / beneath the shade tree.” The song’s live video also includes Nick Fane (Bass), Patrick Seals (Drums), Taylor Streiff (Keys).

His band, set to tour Europe this summer, embodies a variety of genres and styles including Soul, Rock and R&B. “Shade Tree” offers a tribal, hypnotic riff and soulful, Gospel-like vocals.

As Nick grew up, his mother taught tolerance of people different than him. He remembered the television series Roots, and how proud people were of that. With the Civil Rights era close behind, by the 1970’s it seemed like things were better.

In the 1970’s, he and his older brother were introduced to guitars. His brother’s skills soared ahead while as for Nick’s guitar: in 2 weeks it was under the bed, in 6 months it was in shards. Moss picked up bass as a way to be in his brother’s band. As a bandleader today, bass is the first thing he hears. “The history of music is drums and a low-end noise,” says Nick, “Music is rhythm of life, energy.” Listening to soul records in his youth and an emphasis on tolerance of people’s differences could be reasons he is at home with the music as a universal language. “We all come from somewhere we are who we are,” says Nick. With the starting point of taking care of ourselves, our home and our neighbors, we can all rebuild, as a town and a nation moving forward.

“Shade Tree” offers a raw emotive power that grips the heart and soul. What would otherwise be a static online news story becomes a song of contemplation and transcendence. With the story going viral on Facebook, an exponential number of us heard of the police brutality and the city’s response. Yet few outside of the city’s 20,000 or so residents felt the personal impact—that’s where music comes in. Fronted by Michael Ledbetter’s vocals, “Shade Tree” breathes heart wrenching transcendence into a situation that touched millions. As America continues to iron out its history and move to the future, we see once again that music has the power to move us.

Nick Moss Band upcoming tour dates:  Click here.

For news on the Upcoming Release in the Spring/Summer of 2015 on Blue Bella Records, and more Nick Moss Band:  Click here.

Photo Credits: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank

Show Review: Full of Hell, Lazer/Wulf and Weedeater at Chicago’s Double Door

The lead singer threw up his middle finger– a finger which was stuck firmly in the neck of an empty upside down bottle of whiskey.

Headliner Weedeater (Southern Lord Records) spilled across the stage with an enlivened set that matched the spirit of the drummer’s t-shirt that simply read “Southern as Fuck”. The crowd responded with approval to his raised (and fully inked) arm as they kicked off their set at the Double Door in Chicago, alongside Lazer/Wulf and Full of Hell, a band on A389 Recordings, a D.I.Y. label in Baltimore, MD., but each band supplied a full swig of heavy music with distinct flavor.

Lazer/Wulf (Athens/Atlanta, Ga.) opened with awesome stage presence. Occasionally, the guitarist’s body jerks like it’s in an electrical socket at a crazy funhouse, where the wiring has gone very wrong– while effortlessly delivering blistering finger work. Fast bursts of maniacal laughter punctuate the lyrics. Strong delay effects echo on the vocal throughout. All three members have full facility on their instruments, roaring through the set with eerie, eye-catching aplomb. The bassist is in a trance, laying into every fret with heaviness and precision. With a kit smack in the middle of downstage, the drummer delivers solid intensity throughout. The production value and instrumental valor of their stage show make this a band to watch, no matter what genre you like.

The opener gave this warning: “Full of Hell will [kill] you, and Weedeater will bring you back to life.”

Full of Hell took the middleset with sounds that slaughter what you think music is. It’s not just loud, nor is it just heavy—it’s an audio assault that viscerally affects the body. What is the sound of eyeballs being ripped out? Of course, there’s a name to live up to. The lead singer talked with the crowd plainly, like an old friend visiting the city, mentioning how they got a Chicago-style hot dog, before launching into music that is unlike anything else out there.

Image from

The band’s album art with a black and white photo of a drum set scoured by rock and roll makes it looks like it’s a punk band, but they’re onto something the same way John Cage was when he asked listeners to redefine how they see music and sound. While it’s unlikely that the band is listening to 4’33” (John Cage) on the tour bus, it’s just as revolutionary. Instead of adding sounds from the environment to the musical lexicon, the band is adding sounds from, well…hell.

Double Door did a great job on live sound and lighting. Even with ear plugs, my ears did not escape the full-on magnetism of the intensity. Plus, fantastic flashes of bright dramatic color were burned into my retinas.

The solid crowd of black jacket-clad gentlemen at the Double Door, some with one arm longer than the other (the one holding the beer), were staying until the bitter end.  No doubt everyone left full of a little more hell…and with kudos to A389 Recordings for Full of Hell, which added to a great set of touring bands hitting up a classic Chicago rock stage.

Lazer/Wulf, Full of Hell and Weedeater – Live Show Review of Double Door, November 16, 2014

Related Links:
Full of Hell Bandcamp

Photo Credits: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank