Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential musican Lead Belly


Critically-acclaimed acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential folk and blues musician Lead Belly on his latest album, "Lead Belly's Gold."

Bibb will perform with Corey Harris at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Fermilab's Ramsey Auditorium in Batavia. Tickets are $28, $14 for ages 18 and under.

I had the chance to talk to Bibb about the album.

Great talking to you. I believe we last spoke in 2011, when you were touring in support of your album, "Booker's Guitar."

Q - Of course, you were inspired to write that album after playing Booker White's own guitar. "Lead Belly's Gold" is a tribute to the legendary Lead Belly. Was it just the right time to do this album?

Well, there was a lot of activity around Lead Belly's 125th anniversary. There were quite a number of tribute concerts around the world and actually I was part of one in London with Van Morrison and some other folks at Royal Albert Hall.

I got wind of that just about the same time I was planning the album, so it was really just fortuitous that all this attention was being focused on Lead Belly at the time I was doing this record.

Q - How did you determine what Lead Belly songs to cover and what did you try to do with them? For instance, for me, there seems to be a Zydeco feel on "Midnight Special."

Well you know, the thing is Jean-Jacques Milteau, my collaborator, is a player with a wonderful wide vocabulary when it comes to styles. We just thought it would be interesting to touch on that Louisiana thing, being that Lead Belly is from Louisiana.

And he does that so well, kind of invoking the accordion with his harp.

When it comes to songs, God knows, there are plenty to choose from. If you were to assemble all of Lead Belly's recordings, it ends up being hundreds of songs. But there were songs I remember from my childhood that really meant a lot to me.

And there were some unknown ones that I discovered. But mostly, we just experimented until we found songs that we felt we could make our own. 

I didn't want to be too radical with the arrangements. I wanted people to let people know that I was being respectful of Leadbelly's take on things, but at the same time, we had to put a personal stamp on it.

Q - Are there any songs that you wished you did do but unfortunately you weren't able to do on this album? Maybe those songs might be on a future album?

I could absolutely think of a volume two for this tribute, because there are so many good songs that appeal to me. We just had to make some hard decisions to go with what we had.

Q - You were talking about Jean-Jacques. What do you think he brought to the project?

Well, his wonderful musicianship, first of all. He's just a great player.

And as I said, his vocabulary is so wide. He goes into so many zones with his playing.

Q - I know that you have three of your own songs on the album, including "Swimmin' in a River of Songs." What would you like for people to take away from that song in particular and is there a meaning behind the song's name?

Well, Lead Belly was definitely a person who was immersed in a river of songs. His whole life was surrounded by songs that he either wrote or made his own.

I just wanted to add my own songwriting to the mix. Lead Belly among other things was a fine songwriter, and I just wanted to see how my songs resonated in the context of his own songs.

I wanted to kind of write his perspective as if I were him.

Q - Of course, you were recently nominated for two Blues Music awards by The Blues Foundation for your album, "Blues People." What did you try to do with that album?

I had the chance to stretch out a little in the studio working with The Blind Boys Of Alabama and Taj Mahal, which was a thrill. Harrison Kennedy is somebody I recently saw in Canada and just loved working with.

Ruthie Foster is a soul sister from way back, and Glen Scott, the producer, is somebody who I am just crazy about working with. His creativity is boundless. 

I always wanted to make a statement about where blues people have come to and talk about the whole journey and the whole African-American experience to some degree in those songs.

I think we managed to make some really good music.

Q - It must have been a thrilling experience to be in the same room with all those talented musicians.

Yeah, it really was. It was an unforgettable experience, especially with The Blind Boys of Alabama, who I had never worked with before. They were wonderful people and great singers, so yeah, it was a thrill.

Q - You've already done so much in your career. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I've got a list of people who I would love to work with. I had a chance to record with Mavis Staples and her father, Pop Staples, back in 1997, and I would love to be able to work with her again.

We'll see. We'll see what happens.

Like I said, there's no end to fabulous musicians. I like working with my own songs and own ideas, but there's nothing quite like working with other musicians and seeing what they bring out of you.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chicago band Man Called Noon releases new CD, will perform at House of Blues

Chicago band Man Called Noon takes another step forward with its second full-length album, "The Bad Guy."

The album is chock full of infectious melodies and bolstered by the urgent vocals of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Tony Giamichael.

To celebrate the release of the album, the band will perform Jan. 29 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Deaborn St., Chicago. Band Called Catch, Big Wig Mechanic, Burnside & Hooker and Leo Kidd also are on the bill.

The music starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, available by going to

I had the chance to talk to Giamichael about the new album.
Q - In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the album's name?

A personal goal for me was to write songs for the new album that where a little catchier then our last album. A little more pop oriented.

But we wanted the songs to still have a maturity to them. It can be a tricky thing to write a catchy song but not sacrifice respectability or honesty. We didn’t want it to be phony.

Lyrically, it was important that we never went over that line either. The songs mostly explore
relationships and the success and failures of them, as most pop songs do.

But I didn’t want it to be tongue in cheek or hokey. Hopefully they are able to convey that. A little maturity and a little seriousness in an otherwise catchy tune.

The album got its name from the first track, “The Bad Guy.” The idea of who the bad guy is in a relationship at its tail end. Where the finger is being pointed.

Everyone always wants to know whose fault it is/was or what went wrong. The two people
in the relationship point fingers and everyone else surrounding it points a finger.

It’s the strangest thing. We all want a bad guy or a specific reason to fall on. When really, most of the time the situation doesn’t really call for it. So that’s where that comes from.

Q - Does the band take its name from the book/movie "The Man Called Noon?"

Never heard of it…ha ha, kidding. I actually got the book from my father. It was originally my grandfather's. An old paperback I used to read over and over when I was a kid.

We had a hard time coming up with a name as most bands do. But my mind kept coming back to that. 

It brought about the right imagery. It felt a little mysterious and seemed unique at the time.

Q - I see the new album has landed on college radio charts. Are you hoping the new album will help you widen your audience?

That’s actually pretty awesome to hear. We are definitely hoping to widen the audience with every album we make, and hopefully improving on our sound and songwriting every time we get in the studio.

Having the final product is a big shot in the arm and we all feel a significant amount of pride in just following through with a project and finishing it. But when people actually like it? Or want to listen to it? Man, that feels really good.

Honestly, telling a band or any musician that you like a song or show they play really makes their day. At least for me and I’m sure I speak for everyone in MCN.

Q - Do you think you are building on what you created with your last album? How do you think the band's music has grown since Man Called Noon formed in 2009?

I think we are just getting better at understanding the business and making the right friends along the way. So much of this is just a struggle to understand everything beyond the songwriting.

For this album we were lucky to be introduced to Stephen Shirk at Shirk Studios by our co-producer Matt Cerritos. They really brought the best out of us and genuinely wanted to give us their best every time we were in the studio.

I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes for the album and the sound when everyone is in pursuit of the singular goal of creating a better song. Not just pushing buttons. Being involved. Plus they are just good guys.

Speaking on the songwriting, I think we’ve made a jump this album. Mostly due to the rapport between bassist Dave Aitken, drummer Josh Fontenot and I. We’ve just done a good job at finding patience and figuring out what makes the other person tick.

Q - I know that you have a few new band members. How do you think that has changed the band's sound?

When we started writing the album, we knew we were going to have a broader sound and add a little more depth. Keys, back-up singers, new guitar players.

It was honestly just a matter of being patient enough to wait for the right people to come along. Everyone has been fantastic and has put so much work into this.

Really good people and all close friends. Having a larger band really opens up so many layers to songs that we didn’t have access to before.

I think the best thing any band can do is find people to play with that are spectacular at whatever your individual weaknesses are. And I think we’ve all done that.

It’s hard to be good at everything. But as a unit and a band, I think we are getting pretty tight.

Q - The band recently signed with Tinderbox Music, which represents a diverse group of musicians, including Ingrid Michaelson and Imagine Dragons. How did you hook up with the company and how do you think the band fits in with the other artists on Tinderbox Music's roster?

Just lucky. We just got very lucky to be introduced to such a stand up company and bunch of people. 

Danny Surico of the Chicago band “The Future Laureates” is affiliated with them and he was kindly introduced to me.

He liked our sound and passed our stuff along to Tinderbox Music. I didn’t know what we were getting into. It was a HUGE learning experience and still is.

But man if they aren’t some down to earth, very helpful people. To be in the same breath as the bands you just mentioned is an honor.

I’m not blowing smoke on this either. Tinderbox Music has been the biggest help of our musical career. Jon Delange, the force behind Tinderbox Music, has treated us with way more respect then we even deserve.

Always helps us out. Always makes time for us. Always answers questions with honesty and respect.

A huge breath of fresh air. Same for Danny Surico & The Future Laureates. I can’t speak more highly of them without sounding like a complete fool.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think Man Called Noon fits into it?

The Chicago music scene. So diverse and so underrated. Great bands like The Baby Magic, Band Called Catch, Burnside & Hooker, Goose Corp., AyOH. I can go on and on.

Bands that honestly are a step ahead of us and bring people out to shows and never take a song or show off. Crush it every night.

These are the types of bands that fill our city. I don’t care how we fit in. Just as long as we are involved and that we strive for their respect.

Q - One can hear the title track off the new album on your show, "The Zach and Tony Show." How were you inspired to create the show and what should people expect from the show in 2016?

My good friend and drummer of the band, “James Manno & The B.O.T.s," Zach Finch, is also an actor and writer. We just talked about the idea of writing a web-series that made us laugh.

Something that we could hone specific crafts with. We got better at writing with it, I learned how to edit with Adobe Premier Pro, and we enlisted the help of Chicago podcast enthusiast, Logan Conner of AWESOMonster Podcast, to do camera work.

So much fun and a very low stress project. We were inspired by shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Key & Peele," etc. It seemed like the obvious thing to do to cross promote and use it as a small platform to showcase a couple songs off of Man Called Noon’s new album.

Q - I'm sure you have heard Man Called Noon's sound described in a number of ways. How would you describe the band's music?

It’s pop-rock ‘n’ roll. There are a lot of different sub-genres in the new album. But at the root, its Rock ‘N’Roll.

BUT here is a more specific answer that we lean on for various bios. "Our songwriting is fundamentally rooted and guided by, whom we deem to be, some of the great, classic
Americana artists; Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sam Cooke.

When we start working the songs in the rehearsal process, the various influences of the band members start to take over and ultimately shape the sound. Precision locked bass and drums and crushing guitars combined with interweaving keys and melodic voices creates music that sits comfortably in the company of contemporaries such as Gaslight Anthem, The Killers, and Arcade Fire."

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Short-term: Play good shows, have a good time, and gain a larger following while paying of the cost of the new album.

Long-term: It’s always uncomfortable expressing your ambitions or goals in conversation or on paper. It feels like the moment you even whisper them its like letting the air out of a balloon.

You keep them close to you because they are your dreams. You don’t want anyone crushing
them, damaging them, punching you in the gut.

Without being specific, I would assume we are like most bands, though. Go as far as you can.

After that? Keep going.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chicago duo Humphrey-McKeown set to release fifth CD this year, will perform at The Cubby Bear


After Tom McKeown and Heather Humphrey wrote more than 100 songs for other people, they discovered their best voice was their own.

Chicago-based Humphrey-McKeown has four CDs under its belt and the prolific songwriting duo plans to release its fifth CD this year. The band will perform Jan. 16 at The Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St., Chicago.

Low Swans, Skippin' Rocks and Mike Gasset also are on the bill. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $7, available by going to

I had the chance to talk to them about their music.

Q - Great talking to you. I understand you are working on your fifth album. What should people expect from the new album? Will you be building on your previous efforts?

Tom: This next album is expanding on some things we were working on during the writing phase of the fourth release. I think there will be a lot more mandolin and piano based songs.

That’s a combination that I’ve never heard anyone else using. Typically, mandolin is the “noodly” sound in the background. We try to make it the primary rhythmic instrument.

The piano seems to perfectly compliment the higher pitches of a mandolin. We are also going to record the next album with the five us in the same room. That’s never been the case, so it is an exciting time.

Heather: By the time #5 is out, we will have written five albums in five years - always searching for what is new within us - but #5  will have the same deeper lyrics that we are known for, but will show a growth in our songwriting and musicianship abilities.

We’ve written so much that growth is now coming from many angles. For instance, I think this next album will connect with fans on an emotional level, with lyrics cutting even deeper into their core.  

We want people to feel the words, so this will be even more personal, and in some cases, heartbreaking. As far as music goes; I’ll be leading from the piano more which is something new for us.

The guys in the band have really become integral in our sound over the last year so we will be having Jim (drums), Tony (upright and acoustic bass) and Gary (violin) play on every song; whereas in the past we would record a lot of those parts ourselves.

Q - Last year, you released your fourth album, "All I Wanted to Hear." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's title?

Tom: Over the course of our previous three albums, we were trying to define our style and really narrow it down to the proper instrumentation to best represent the songs. I think we both agree that “All I Wanted to Hear” was sort of our breakthrough CD, where we really had a very focused album from start to finish. The title was taken from one of the songs and basically say “I wanted you to say “yes” but you said “no”. I think many people go through that in life.

Heather: Our goals for “All I Wanted to Hear” were to always begin with an acoustic instrument -  one  instrument - keep it clean with space to breathe - then build other instruments in like a woven cloth.
Then, ensure that the lyrics really say something that people can connect with. Our belief is that an audience needs to know what’s in it for them right away - they will get it musically through a hook or through lyrics that they can emotionally connect with.

Next, when we recorded the album, instead of singing our dual vocals separately, we sang at the same time giving the album more of the “live” feel we wanted. We used a few high dollar vocal mics to capture us together; Wunder CM7 GTS and a Neumann M149 to record final vocals.

Finally, since we were used to having Tom arrange and play all the instrument parts, we brought in musicians that could make the album even stronger - Chicagoland artists, Jordi Kleiner and Jeff Teppema on the violin, Tony Meadors on a few bass parts and Jim Livas on drums. This took a great deal of trust and release of control over the creative performance aspect.

We feel, because of the success of the album, we made the right decisions and definitely accomplished our goals.   

Calling the album, “All I Wanted to Hear” was a strategic move since we wanted fans to say…"Yes…this is all I want to hear." But if you listen to the song on the album, you’ll also get a sense that most people in life want to hear “yes.”

There’s a feeling of relief to be accepted…either because your idea is accepted, your opinion in validated, your are noticed in some way or you feel accepted as a person by someone else. Apathy is a killer of all things creative - so the album title ties in nicely to where we wanted the album to sit in the history of Humphrey-McKeown - accepted, validated and very much noticed by fans.

We definitely feel this was the right move as well. 

Q - I understand that the two of you started as a songwriting partnership that wrote songs for other people. What made you want to start a band of your own? Was that a hard transition to make?

Tom: I suppose if we had been hugely successful as contract writers, we would have stuck with it longer. But, we kept wondering what “real people” thought of what we wrote as opposed to corporate insiders.

We did what most people do; we found a couple open mic nights where we could try out the songs. The response was so great.

We instantly were asked to be the “closers” for those nights and we enjoyed it. It was nice to finally get some validation on what we were doing.

The band process was much more painful and long. We started out with friends and then it grew to friends of friends and now we just have guys that bring a lot to the songs but were unknown to us prior to the last album.

Heather: Starting a band was a huge transition - but we wanted to get our music heard to see what kind of response we would get; by having a band, we could get fan feedback right away. It meant that we would have to struggle through teaching music, balancing expectations and learn to live with not only our failures and successes, but those of others - very much like a family.

We used to have eight in the band ( two drummers, three guitarists, two keyboardists as well as bass), but that was way too much sound over the vocals. We were always drown out and since the vocals are the heart of what we do, something had to change.

We toured this past year internationally with just four members of the band. It does get wearisome, but when there’s magic…you know it and you can feel it.

The band has ebbed and flowed with the need of the songs we write - and we know we have the perfect mix right now with our songwriting and lead vocal being complimented by the rest of the band.

Q - You've probably heard your music described in many different ways. How would you describe your music?

Tom: We used to ask our fans at shows what style we play. They would tell us that they had no idea, but it always sounds like us.

That got us wondering what we are and where we fit. We even hired a consultant to help us work through that.

We found that there’s a lot of new music coming out now that doesn’t fall into the prescribed musical genres. That catch-all seems to called Americana now.

It’s a blend of various American music types. We have elements of folk, rock, pop, country, bluegrass, jazz and blues in what we’re doing so it’s a little hard to nail down. Fortunately, people just like it.

Heather: We’ve struggled through this…are we folk-rock?  Folk-pop?  Art folk? Richard Milne of WXRT called us art-pop when describing our song “The You I Knew” last year on his Local Anesthetic program. Lilly Kuzma’s Folk Festival on WDCB calls us folk-rock.

What we’ve learned over the past year is that there is a mix of artists in the Americana genre that use drums and piano to develop their sound as we do. Coupled with our love of the acoustic instruments - mandola, mandolin, dobro, acoustic guitars, violins, irish bouzouki - we coin ourselves Folk-Rock Americana artists which cover the ground as far as musical style.

I like to say some of our music is “swampgrass” (swampy-bluegrass), but that style hasn’t quite made it to BMI or ASCAP yet. 

Q - Do you think that the renewed interest in folk and roots rock in the past few years has helped the band gain fans?

Heather: We tell people that we are a mix between Fleetwood Mac (finger picking guitar and piano), Civil Wars (lead dual vocals), Nickel Creek (creative mandolin, violin, acoustic guitar) and Punch Brothers (alternative progressive bluegrass). Also with adding a huge drum kit on our sound, you could also hear a bit of Mumford and Sons.

So based upon our musical influences, I would emphatically say that the folk and roots rock explosion - or the Americana and Folk musical explosion - has helped drive some of our success.  We believe in the sound and that the sound of folk-rock Americana is timeless. 

Tom: I think it has helped in that people are now a bit more open to different types of sounds. For so many years, contemporary music has had to be fronted by electric guitar. I’m kind of bored with all that.

It’s been done before. It’s nice that we can drive a song from mandolin or banjo or even just an upright bass and people are liking it. With the collapse of the corporate music industry, there are a lot more unique sounding bands out there.

Whether they get national exposure or not is hard to say, but it is an exciting time in music.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it?

Heather: I think the organizations like Old Town School of Folk Music, Michael Teach’s Chicago Acoustic Underground (CAU) and others are giving folk and roots artists a place to perfect their art and get connected within Chicago. The surrounding suburbs still like their '80s cover bands, but since we started playing out in 2011, we’ve definitely seen an openness within the Chicago music scene to embrace our style of music. 

On our tour stops in Canada, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma there’s an instantaneous embrace - - Chicago’s connection to Mumford and Sons and other Americana or Folk artists such as Gillian Welch or Nickel Creek even over the past year, are giving artists such as Humphrey-McKeown the space to be embraced here in Chicago. 

Tom: It’s been an uphill climb but we do see more opportunities coming our way. We work with a lot of independent promoters in the city and it’s worked well for us.

We’ve been able to steadily grow a fan base. I would still love to see more clubs that are known for having a certain style of music like ours, similar to how jazz and blues clubs still are.

People know if they go to a particular club, they are going to hear great jazz or blues. Americana hasn’t reached that level yet. We’d love to have a “home-base” club where other bands who are similar to us could hang out and get our music heard.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Tom: Our short term goal is to keep writing the fifth album and work with polishing the band. Longer term goals would be some more extended tours of the U.S. and Canada as well as a possible trip to England.

Heather: We just want to be writing yet another song.  We are in the studio a lot writing and perfecting the next song.

We’ve written half of the songs on the new 2016 album and we have five or six still to go, so we are excited to move that along.  Additionally, we are driving mass communications of our “All I Wanted to Hear” album with investments in radio airplay across the country and internationally.

We are also looking into TV and movie placements for our music. Finally, we want to expand our current friend base (our fans are our friends) with SXSW in the spring, along with summer and fall tours and keeping up with social media, which is a weekly love of mine.

Long term is keeping short-term in perspective - all of us in the band have families and the need to balance home lives with our passion for writing and performing music. At the end of our lives, we want to ensure we’ve kept all of what we want to do musically in line with caring for those we love. 

This next year is shaping up to be great!

Webb Wilder puts on energetic set at FitzGerald's

Webb Wilder put on a raucous set at FitzGerald's in Berwyn on Jan. 9. Along with roaming through his hits, he also performed songs from his latest album, "Mississippi Moderne."

The "King Of The Hill."

He's a "Human Cannonball."

Webb Wilder performs "I Gotta Move" from his latest album, "Mississippi Moderne."

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Chicago singer-songwriter Will Mackie-Jenkins release hauntingly beautiful EP, will perform at The Store


When Chicago singer-songwriter Will Mackie-Jenkins isn't musing about a frozen Chicago, he might be singing about springtime in his native Virginia.

He does both on his debut EP, the beautiful yet haunting "Cherries in Bloom," released in December. To promote the EP, he will be performing a free show on Jan. 16 at The Store, 2002 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

All The Wine and Elk Walking also are on the bill. Doors open at 9 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Mackie-Jenkins about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Nice talking with you as well, Eric. Well, first I should probably specify there wasn’t much sitting down involved at all. During the process of making my EP, "Cherries in Bloom," I always seemed to be standing.

I was standing, notebook full of scribbles on my tall kitchen counter, as I wrote the songs over months of late-night toil, I always stood when I performed and vetted the songs before dozens of crowds, and I stood up and sang/played simultaneously when I recorded every track on the album. 

So, in a way, standing was vital to the EP’s creation. And I think a lot of other artists can relate to that.

While I was making the thing, I was working tough maintenance and construction jobs around the city, and it was damn tiring to be on my feet all day and night, whether it was writing, recording, or performing after a day of hauling tile and sanding drywall.

But standing is how I create my best work, and maybe that says something about commitment. I'd go through the same experience ten times over if it meant getting to make something I'm proud of. Seems easy now. 

But, to the important question: I knew I wanted to put in the highest level of care and craft possible to make the most challenging, beautiful, and bluntly elegiac EP I could. Whatever it took to make such a record, I did, or tried to do.

There’s an immense level of hurt and personal confession in the songs. I didn’t want to hide anything from the listener.

That doesn’t mean it’s an exact literal narrative of the grief and hard loving I’ve experienced – rather, I set out to find a way to give the listener the true sensation of an individual's times of hardship, through a sort of collage in the form of songs.

So I suppose you could say my goals lied in creating something authentically personal, unique to my experience, made with slow care – which I suppose would be aligned with the tradition of many folk songwriters I admire. 

In the songs on “Cherries in Bloom,” I emphasized lyricism and attention to literary detail. Lyrics are half the song, after all, and they're something I really pay attention to when I listen to music.

I tried to write lyrics that could stand on their own, as both song lyrics and stand-alone pieces of writing. I always wrote the lyrics concurrently with the melodies, rhythms, and structures of the songs though, because everything had to fit together into a singular "shape."

It's a hard thing to do, songwriting. But the six tracks on the album lived up to my expectations, and made a singular work that's perhaps even a bit more cohesive than I'd expected. 

Q - I know you formerly lived in the Appalachian mountains in Virginia. What made you want to move to Chicago?

That’s right. I was raised on a cattle farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. Every day I’d wake up and see these enormous blue piles of earth through the western-facing windows of my childhood home.

The vastness of the world affected me at a young age. I spent four years living in the mountains themselves, from age 18 to 22. That’s when I moved to Chicago.

I’m 25 now, and I came to the city out of an interest in poetry, oddly enough, though I don’t suppose making music is all that different from making poetry. I came here to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing, which has most certainly impacted the way I approach lyric writing.

And of course, the secret plan all along was to flee the mountains like floodwater and learn how to make the musical dream happen. Chicago happened to be the place the water settled.

It’s been a messy process, and I’ve certainly gone about making my dream happen in a different way than most, but I have a hard time seeing “different” as anything but good. 

Q - How do you think your life in Virginia has impacted your music? Has moving to Chicago changed your musical outlook at all?

Living in Virginia shaped the fundamentals of my music-making. Bluegrass and old-time fiddle tunes were everywhere in my home town, which was full of mountain culture.

Though I must admit I didn’t take much liking to that kind of music until I was 19 or 20, after I’d already been (trying) to play music for four or five years. I’d always thought of bluegrass tunes as sounding nearly identical to one another, and I hadn’t paid much attention to the twangy treble.

When I was home one summer from college – I was 19, I believe – I worked at a local music store called Drum & Strum, and there’d always be these legendary bluegrass and old-time musicians hanging around the shop, playing together. When I started to really listen to the intricacies and subtle differences to the patterns they’d play – and how much a specific, authentic old-time tone could so simplistically convey so much hurt, love, and passion – I began to fall in love with the sound. 

Eventually, I got to pick a few tunes with them, and the rhythms, melodies, and style stuck with me. There’s definitely bluegrass and old-time influences in the guitar playing and lyric scenery on the EP, which is almost entirely due to those past-closing-time playing sessions. The influence is more subtle in some places than others, but it's there.

Moving to Chicago has absolutely changed my musical outlook. Every once in a while you’ll see someone pacing around Logan Square trying to clawhammer a four-string banjo, but other than that, there's not an overflow of people who share the same influences.

It's not really been a problem, though. If the music is good, people will want to listen. I’ve seen a lot of experimental, psych rock, shoegaze, garage rock, hip hop, country punk, funk, jam, black metal, cover and folk rock bands making ripples out in the community.

One thing is for sure though: when you're trying to play music in a big city, you've got to be innovative to get heard. This shouldn’t be news to the musicians out there, and it wasn’t really a surprise to me when I moved here.

But I knew I didn’t want to lose the influence of the uniquely beautiful music from my past life in Virginia, and I didn't want to make a carbon copy of some other songwriter's album, so I sent out to record an EP that would sound new, old-tempered, and distinctive.

Timelessness is a mark of so many great musicians I admire, and I wanted to do my best to defy genre and expectation in "Cherries in Bloom." There’s bluegrass and country influence, but the EP certainly doesn’t fit neatly within either genre.

The lyrics sound contemporary in their phrasing, diction, and subject matter, I think, but they’re thematically appropriate to any era of the temporal human experience. That’s what I intended, at least.

You’ll have to listen and see if you agree. 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

The Chicago music scene is absolutely beautiful. The innumerable DIY performance venues around the city play host to incredible local and touring acts every week.

If you’re interested in hearing new and exciting music, do yourself a favor and check out some of the DIY spots. So many positive experiences around the community.

A lot of people at the DIY spots seem to favor punk, shoegaze, math rock, and the like, but there’s something for everyone. So far, I’ve found that the people who've gone to the trouble to seek out my shows – or have happened to be there to listen – have all been fantastic to play for, whether it's at a DIY house or a more "established" venue.

People who want to listen to a slightly quieter, more acoustic-centric singer-songwriter like myself are people who truly love to listen. And I love these people, because they're the ones who are most directly supportive.

Seeing someone in the audience truly connect to your music is a wonderfully validating and euphoric experience. I've been lucky enough to encounter a good number of audiophiles as I've played around Chicago, and these people have proved to be wonderful encouragement to keep making and performing music. 

Seems like a good time to mention there are also plenty of great “established” venues throughout the city, such as The Store (2002 N. Halsted), where I’ll be playing on Jan. 16 at 9 pm.

Q - What are your short-term, long-term goals?

For the short-term, I’ve been focused on pushing the EP, which means doing press for various blogs that I’m pleased to be associated with and playing shows (visit my website for more information) around town. I’ve also been spending as much time as possible working on new material, so that the songs from the EP don’t begin to feel too stale, which they luckily haven’t (yet).

But I tend to be a bit like a shark when it comes to creativity, in that if I’m not constantly working on something new, or moving forward, I die. Not literally, of course.

But I’ve written a few tunes I’m quite happy with since releasing the EP in December. 
I plan to step into the studio again this summer to begin recording my first full-length album.

One of my major goals is more diversity in instrumentation and a slightly more robust sound with further collaboration. On “Cherries in Bloom,” I played acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, organ, and I sang all the songs, but I’d like to widen that range even further. I’ve written a few tunes on piano and one on banjo that I foresee making the cut for my first full-length, and hopefully there will be some mandolin in there somewhere–we'll have to see.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Webb Wilder returns to roots on new album, will perform at FitzGerald's in Berwyn

Photo by Harry Simpson

Over the years, Webb Wilder's energetic mix of rockabilly, country, blues and rock has earned him critical and commercial acclaim.

The Mississippi native goes back to his roots on his latest release, the blues-influenced "Mississippi Moderne." The album is his first one since 2009.

Wilder will perform Jan. 9 at FitzGerald's, 6615 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $15, available at

I had a chance to talk to Wilder about his new album.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you are touring in support of your new album. I know that the album's title, "Mississippi Moderne," was a phrase coined by your longtime producer, R.S. Field, in describing the sound of your band at the time. I know that the both of you are from Mississippi. Do you see the album as being a return to your roots? In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?  

In sitting down to make the album, there was a dimly lit path at first that became somewhat illuminated with Joe V. McMahan's suggestion that I make a "garage" sort of album. I knew I wanted to do "Yard Dog" as I see it as sort of an obscure garage rock gem that I heard as a kid, really, growing up in Hattiesburg on local radio.

We recorded that one and "Lucy Mae Blues" (which I had always wanted to do) and were very pleased. Then, Joe's studio burned! So, at that point, all signs pointed in sort of a vaguely R&B/garage direction, which although focused still, (as per usual) gave me some wiggle room with genre.

Slowly, one song then, the next either seemed to fit or was written and then, gradually an album began to take shape that we all felt held water so to speak. I do see see it as a return to my roots, although they have never been far away at any time.

As is the case with everything I've ever done (so far), it has diversity or eclecticism. That is true of the content of this album as well as the individual stories behind why each song is a return to one thing or another. 

Q - Speaking of R.S. Field, he was your producer for many of your albums. Do the two of you share a musical kinship? What do you think he brought out of you and your music?

Well, we certainly share a musical kinship. He brought all sorts of things out in me.

I would say in many ways, he empowered me not only to find my "voice" as a singer, writer and guitarist but to even try to accomplish anything in the music "business" to begin with. At the same time, I was often doing my best to interpret his songs which obviously I am a huge fan of.

On this album, I wound up doing one of his songs with no input from him on HOW to do it and he loved it! Then, of course, I did some writing with John Hadley, who is a writer on "Poolside" from "It Came from Nashville" which "Wilderians" seem to love to this day.

The balance between his influence and taking my own chances with things is a pretty good one in my view on this album. I can't say enough about the Beatnecks contributions collectively and individually here as well.

Q - Your music dips into many genres. How would you describe your music? What did it mean to you to be inducted in the Mississippi Musicians Hall Of Fame?

Really, it's all kind of rock 'n' roll to me. I say that because I grew up in what I suppose has come to be known as the "classic rock" era when the most respected and successful artists made albums that were very eclectic and diverse so, I just subconsciously felt…KNEW that that was what I was supposed to do in my attempts to make records.

I also think that great art is flawed as is the human condition so, one must at least try to reveal a certain vulnerability or more specifically an individual, human uniqueness or essence in their art. My favorite artists have roots and then go somewhere with them.

That is what I've tried to do. Inclusion in the Mississippi Musician's Hall of Fame meant the world to me! After all, Mississippi can boast one of the most impressive rosters of iconic musical talent of any state in the union much less any place in the world.

They call Mississippi "the birthplace of America's music." That might be a bit strong as it seems to claim ALL the credit but, it is damned close to being true.

I call it "the home office." 

Q - Some of your songs have received more radio play than others over the years. "Tough It Out," "Human Cannonball" and "Hittin' Where It Hurts" come to mind. In sitting down to write those songs, did you have any idea they would resonate so well with the public?

Well, I guess the short answer is "No!"  Of course, Bobby (R.S.) wrote "Tough it Out"(with John David) and "Cannonball" so, I suppose you would have to ask him.

The two of us did write "Hittin' Where It Hurts." I did and do believe in those songs but, there are quite a few others I believe in almost as strongly that we have done which garnered less attention so, you never know.

I choose to think that you just have to follow your own nose on those things and figure if you like it someone else will, too.

Q - You also have covered many songs in your career, including on "Mississippi Moderne." How do you go about choosing what songs to cover and what do you try to bring to that song?

There is no set method of how I choose which song to do. Again, believing in it or getting some kind of emotional "buzz" from it is probably what allows the singer to sing it with "feeling" which from my youngest days I have felt to be essential.

There are other considerations like whether it works for a given artist's style, range, voice, etc. Even when it doesn't appear to "fit" so to speak, sometimes there can be another "look at it this way" path into a given song.

I just try to bring some kind of truth, feeling and delivery to a song. I think the singer must "get up inside" the song or "own it," as some say.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I always dreamed of recording with the great Ian "Mac" McLagan, who not only was one of my favorite keyboardists, but an important original member of two of my favorite bands, The Small Faces and the Faces, not to mention a sideman for everyone from The Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan.

But, now that he has passed, it will sadly never happen. It does mean the world to me that I did get to know him and spend some time with him.

It was great that he got to hear us play live and seemed to really enjoy it. I can't claim to have been his best buddy or anything as he never met a stranger, really but, still he was the coolest. So, that will never happen.

Another pet project that I hope to take on and complete one day is a tribute to Trumpet Records which was the label owned by my aunt and uncle, Lillian and Willard McMurry. They recorded all sorts of blues and hillbilly artists including Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Love, Jerry "Boogie" McCann and Jimmy Swan.

I think it would be fun and very worthwhile.