In 1997, Wilco’s double album Being There became a fundamental pivot for the Chicago band in a decade filled with triumphs. Twenty-five years later, those songs live on in the band’s live shows, even though in the studio Wilco have traveled to a very different place. The evidence lies on Cruel Country, the band’s second […]
To experience a Juana Molina concert is to be swept away in a most particular sort of rapture. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Argentine singer-songwriter had a successful career in television and comedy before changing gears to pursue music. An early proponent of combining South American folk music and electronica, Molina introduced […]
The email Paul Finkelman received last month from Beau O’Reilly read simply, “Can your car fit a piano? . . . Please advise.” The answer was obviously no. Finkelman owned a small hatchback—and besides, there was no way a piano would make it up the narrow stairs at Jimmy Beans Coffee, where he works as […]
In the early days of the COVID pandemic, retail clerks, day-care staff, public-transportation employees, and many other workers learned what coal miners have known for a very long time: that the authorities who deem their labor essential don’t necessarily feel the same way about their lives. Freakwater and the Mekons have each sung folk ballads […]
Foday Musa Suso absorbed centuries of tradition growing up in Gambia. As part of the griot caste, his family had performed a centuries-long role in Gambian society, narrating historical epics and singing praise songs while playing the kora, a harplike 21-string instrument his distant ancestors invented. Suso dreamed of bringing his music to places far […]
When guitar wunderkind Ryley Walker releases his first album of proper songs in a couple of years, this new glimpse at where he’s headed in his music is cause to rejoice. The Rockford native shredded in a noisy fashion as a youth, playing in free-jazzin’ bands Heat Death and Tiger Hatchery, but about a decade […]
Over the past few years, Chicago multi-instrumentalist Alex Cowling has released several solo albums that combine weather-beaten indie rock, spacious jazz, and easygoing folk, and he’s done it to little or no fanfare. When I ask him about the new Antarctica, he tells me that one of the few people who’s listened to it is […]
Music discovery has changed a lot in 50 years, but the Reader is still around—and so is Bonnie Koloc.
Back in ye olde early aughts, “freak folk” ruled the land. Championed and perhaps encouraged by photogenic weirdo Devendra Banhart, artists influenced by elegiac or subliminally psychedelic folk acts from the 60s and 70s—Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Incredible String Band, Michael Hurley—started coming out of the woodwork. For a hot strange minute, indie record bins were […]
When humanity’s ship goes down due to a global pandemic, vulture capitalism, and corrupt politics, the band picking and singing the final notes will be Chicago’s Judson Claiborne. So this month—when we’re grappling with the messy aftermath of an election while watching COVID-19 cases skyrocket before our eyes—feels like the perfect time for Christopher Salveter, […]
Songs don’t so much rise out of Yves Jarvis’s Sundry Rock Song Stock (Anti-) as they swim around, fray, and dissolve. In that sense, the most characteristic track on the Canadian producer and multi-instrumentalist’s new album, the woozily liquid “Ambrosia,” is one of the oddest. Anxiously percolating keyboard and an echoing, violinlike noise wander past […]
With “The Dutchman” and other widely recorded songs, Michael Smith created emotional realities that let you feel along with his characters.
Jason Wilber is known to audiences around the world for his impeccable guitar tones and tasteful playing in support of the late John Prine over the past 25 years. As Prine’s musical director, Wilber helped steer him back to the minimal sound of his records from the early 70s and, in the process, showcased that […]
Singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have been playing folk-rock guitar and singing harmonies together since the early 80s, when they were high school students in Decatur, Georgia. In 1985, they began performing as the Indigo Girls, and their earnest lyrics and dual guitars earned them a loyal and dedicated fan base that grew exponentially […]
Folk-music power couple George and Gerry Armstrong helped launch the Old Town School and the University of Chicago Folk Festival.