Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Alternative art rock band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit releases new album, will play at Wire in Berwyn

Photo credit: James Caulfield


All bands should be as musically adventurous as Chicago band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit.

Featuring the work of husband-wife songwriting duo Tom and Mary Erangey, the alternative art rock band will celebrate the release of its new album, "World on Fire," with a show on June 28 at Wire, 6815 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Chicago band Wilde also is on the bill.

The music starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance, $10 at the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Mary Erangey about the album and the upcoming show.

Q – Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be performing at Wire in celebration of your new album, "World on Fire." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

We had this idea for a rock opera, something big and progressive. At the beginning, [co-band leader] Tommy Erangey called it "The Opus." We wanted to take our listeners on a journey, like a really killer road trip.

With scenery and sounds and textures that ran the gamut from beautiful to dark to hard-driving to lush and dreamy. And when we went into the studio with Rich Rankin of Mosaic Music,we told him we wanted these songs to hang together but to unfold organically – like an adventure – and they did.

We had so much fun making this album. Listen closely: you’ll hear us singing Russian, you’ll hear some Gaelic and you’ll hear our German Shepherd Anka and our guitarist’s daughter. 

Q – On the song "World on Fire," you address the president setting the world on fire. What can be done to help put the fire out? 

I think we need to start with really paying attention. At the beginning of our song "Fire Brigade," you’ll hear a little girl plead, “Mommy, wake up, it’s time to rise!”

Damn straight. 

Q – It seems like the album's title is appropriate given everything that is happening in the world these days. Why did you choose that title for the album and what are the main themes you wanted to address on the album? 

We called it "World On Fire" because it fit the moment and it fit the music. This album is big, bright, beautiful, dark and hopeful. Kind of like life.

It was born out of a desire to capture the madness and magic of living in a hyper-divided, digital screen- and Twitter-driven world; a world that flattens life into bytes and pixels even while we’re celebrating the ability to stay super connected.

And sometimes that feels kind of apocalyptic, you know? That’s why part of the Gaelic translates as...
“…this was the beginning of the dark times, when the whole world started on fire. The flames smoldered; smoke rose into the sky; and the Black Rabbit awoke…”
Q – How did you hook up with Swedish artist Mattias Gordon, who created the album cover? 

First off, we are thrilled with the original pop surrealism Mattias created for us. Working with Mattias is a great example of what’s possible through digital collaboration.

We’ve never even met him but we love working with him. We came across Mattias’ work on ReverbNation and were totally impressed by videos he made for an Irish band called Kila and a New York City blues-jazz-world music band called Hazmat Modine.

Mattias is wickedly clever, and he creates these rich visual layers. So we commissioned him to develop our 2013 music video Blue Umbrella by Curious Grace (an earlier formation of our band).

All you have to do is look at the Salvador Dali character in that video and you’ll know why we commissioned him again!

Q – Of course, immigration is a big topic these days. What are your views on what has been happening?

We are a band of immigrants. Ourselves, our parents, our grandparents.

We know the hard work and the depth of the sacrifices immigrants make to build new lives here in this country. Tom’s parents emigrated from Ireland and in the midst of U.S. turmoil, moved the family back there so that Tom grew up in Galway.

Our keyboardist, Bojan, emigrated to the U.S. from Macedonia. We respect the power of heart and spirit that immigrants contribute to this country.

They – we – are a huge part of what makes this country great.

Q – It also seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there? It would also seem like people would be curious to find out more about the band because you have such an unusual name. Have you found that to be the case?

Yes, we have. Curious Grace & Black Rabbit is a groovy-beautiful name, right?

We started out with Curious. That was the root. And then the name Grace" kept coming up. We love strong women and we love our Irish roots.

So “Grace" stuck. But that sounded too nice, too simple-sweet.

We’re also steeped in psychedelic rock, so that’s where we brought in the black rabbit; he’s like a trickster playing with a D minor chord. We find that people either love our name or hate it.

Q – The band has a strong progressive rock sound in its music. Have you been influenced by any progressive rock bands? I detect a bit of The Moody Blues in your music.

Yes! That’s a great connection! We’ve definitely been influenced by progressive and art rock.

Muse. Dream Theater. Pink Floyd. David Bowie. And Blondie.

Progressive art rock means we get to explore and recombine rock with jazz and metal and symphonic arrangements and intense electric instrumentation. That’s part of what’s so great about working together as a big six-piece band; we’re a gorgeous melting pot of sound. 

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

Chicago’s got this incredible energy of musical experimentation and cross-generational live music experience. We go to shows and festivals and we see people of all ages out there making and soaking up live music.

That’s a beautiful thing! We’ve loved meeting other bands on the Chicago music circuit; there’s some incredible talent here. We met Wilde, which is opening our June 28 Wire show, playing a gig at The Elbo Room.

We know our fans in the west ‘burbs are going to love them and are going to love Wire, which is one of the best live music venues in the Chicago-area. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

This year's Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdge Park in Aurora provides lasting memories


With Chicago being the blues capital of the world, it only makes sense that a Chicago musician would rule the day during the second day of the 22nd annual Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

The sweltering heat on June 16 did not slow down Cannon, who also is a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. He works just as hard on stage and probably won over many new fan that day.

His electrifying guitar playing was on full display during the song "John The Conquer Root," and was just another example of why his presence on the blues scene – both locally and worldwide – continues to grow.

But his storytelling skills are just as strong as his guitar playing. He used those skills to draw the audience in, and make them feel they were part of his show as well.

Slide guitar master Sonny Landreth also put on an impressive set. At the same time, he showed that sometimes less is more, such as on the haunting song "A World Away."

But for those who wanted some fireworks, he was happy to provide them, such as he did in covering the Elmore James song, "It Hurts Me Too."

At age 77, Aaron Neville is still an incredible force on stage and his vocals remain in fine form. It is not an exaggeration to say that Neville has a voice of an angel.

He ran through the hits and then some, delivering a tender version of "Tell It Like It Is," a song that remains vibrant and fresh years after Neville first recorded it in 1966.

Another high point of his set was a moving version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."


In closing his set, he drew upon his New Orleans roots and presented a rousing version of  "You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)." 


This year's Blues on the Fox festival provided many lasting memories. Let's hope the festival will keep on providing memories well into the future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist Samantha Fish to perform at Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora


Samantha Fish's presence has only grown since she last played the Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora in 2014.

In May, she was named the Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist at the Blues Foundation's 39th annual Blues Music awards. Fish will return to the Blues on the Fox festival this weekend when she takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by Grammy-nominated artist Elle King at 9 p.m.

The festival will take place Friday and Saturday at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway (Route 25), Aurora. Gates open at 2 p.m. for the second day of Blues on the Fox on June 16. Fourteen-year-old blues guitar prodigy Brandon "Taz" Niederauer will perform at 3 p.m., followed by Chicago blues musician Toronzo Cannon at 5 p.m., slide guitarist Sonny Landreth at 7 p.m. and the legendary Aaron Neville at 9 p.m.

Tickets cost $30 each per day. Children 12 and younger are admitted free to Blues on the Fox, but must be accompanied by an adult 18 or older.

For tickets and information, visit, call the RiverEdge box office at 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at RiverEdge's satellite box office, the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

I had the chance to talk to Fish about the upcoming show.

Q – Are you looking forward to coming back to the festival? Did you have a good time the last time?

I definitely did. It was a huge festival back in 2014 and I know it's only getting bigger.

Q – And you're opening for Elle King. Are you a fan of hers?

Oh, yeah. I like her. We just did a show at the Denver Day of Rock. She was the headliner on that, too.

I actually got to catch her set for the first time. She's a great talent.

Q – It's already been a big year for you. You were named the Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist in May at the Blues Foundation's 39th annual Blues Music awards. What did it mean to you to receive the award and what did you think of the other nominees in the category, including Chicago's own Shemekia Copeland?

Well, first of all, she's amazing. I was nominated for that same award with her a couple of years ago, and she took it that year.

I've always been a big fan of hers. She's always really deserving of those kinds of accolades, because she carries the blues forward. She's really amazing.

To be honest, I didn't expect it. I really didn't expect it. And it is nice just to be nominated. 

I know that is like a total cliche thing to say, but at the same time, we did put out two albums in 2017 and it was like, thank God. We've been working so hard, and it felt really good just to be recognized for that kind of hard work.

It was just like a little pat on the back and motivation that you're on the right path.

Q – And obviously a lot of people do think you are on the right path. This is your second Blues Music award. I know you received the award for Best New Artist debut in 2012. How do you think your music has grown since then?
It's obviously changed a lot. From "Runaway" to now, that artist back then is unrecognizable to where I am now.

I've grown a lot. My style has evolved. I think it's become more diverse and expansive. I think the records have gotten better, not just performance wise. The songs themselves are better.

There's more of a fluid thought process behind each record. It's less about random songs and stuff, which is kind of where I was at earlier on. There's just more of a concept.

I just feel like more of a well-rounded artist than I did back then.

Q – Your music does roam through a lot of genres. In November, "Rolling Stone" magazine named you one of the "10 new country acts you need to know." How does it feel to be called a country artist? Do you see yourself as a country artist, blues artist or something else?
I don't know, man. The whole genre thing is a little bit mind-boggling. 
My favorite kind of music is stuff that sort of pushes the boundaries of genres, and you don't know exactly what to call it. If you look back at the history of music, all the most legendary acts do that, put out something that was defining and new and innovative.
I don't mind not being put in a box, because it kind of pushes me forward to try and find my own sound and not try to make a record that's too stylized and something that's already been done.
I just follow my own muse.

Q – Who are your biggest musical inspirations and how have they influenced your music? How much did your sister Amanda influence you in wanting to become a musician?
We kind of found the profession independently of each other, but when I was growing up, she was one of the first singers I heard. She was so passionate about it when we were little kids.
Anytime my parents would leave, Amanda would run into her room and start singing. It was kind of like a secret that only I knew about for some reason.
I always thought it was cool. It was like a secret passion that she had. I think eventually, she would go up in her room and start singing, and I would hang out in my room and start singing.
It probably did have a lot of influence on me growing up. Her voice is powerful. She's really into blues and rock and roll. She goes out and delivers.
Q – A story on you ran under the headline, “Samantha Fish is breaking up the boys club of blues singers.” Has that been a goal of yours? Do you see yourself inspiring other women to get involved in blues music?
I think that anytime that you are a female and you do something to get some recognition, it's like there's some kind of threat to the boys club or something. I think it's wonderful, because I have women who come up at shows and they tell me that it is great to see a female up there.
Even now, it's not typical. The music industry is really hard to break through as a female. I think it's like that with a lot of industries.
It's nice to see young kids and little girls say, "Oh, man, I've never seen a girl play guitar like that." Hopefully there will be more kick-ass little girls coming up playing guitar, or playing whatever, just working and being bad asses in their own right.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Bus driving blues musician Toronzo Cannon to perform at Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora

Photo by Dragan Tasic

By day, Toronzo Cannon is a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority.

By night, Cannon is an acclaimed blues artist with fans all over the world. His 2016 debut on Chicago-based Alligator Records, "The Chicago Way," is a nod to his Chicago roots.

Cannon will perform as part of the Blues on the Fox festival, which will take place June 15 and 16 at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway, Aurora.

Gates open at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m., blues guitarist Samantha Fish will take the stage, followed by Grammy nominated artist Elle King at 9 p.m. 

Gates open at 2 p.m. for the second day of Blues on the Fox on June 16. Fourteen-year-old blues guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer will perform at 3 p.m., followed by Cannon at 5 p.m., slide guitarist Sonny Landreth at 7 p.m. and the legendary Aaron Neville at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $30 each per day. Children 12 and younger are admitted free to Blues on the Fox, but must be accompanied by an adult 18 or older. For tickets and information, visit, call the RiverEdge box office at 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at RiverEdge's satellite box office, the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.

I had the chance to talk to Cannon about the upcoming show.

Q – Of course, you are going to be playing at Blues on the Fox. This will be your first time at Blues on the Fox, right? 

It is, yes. I can't wait to do it. I've heard of it, I just never thought I would be playing in it, you know what I mean.

I always thought I would be booking myself. But then when I got with Alligator Records, things started opening up.

Q – That's true. The spotlight's really been on you in the past few years, maybe because you've got an interesting back story, the fact that you're a bus driver and a musician. Are you surprised that so many people want to know more about you? 

Yeah. I've always tried to just kind of separate the two. My music is my outlet and my bus driving job is to sustain a living, with benefits and the whole thing, making money for the family.

And all of a sudden, it became a story, like Chicago blues man drives a Chicago bus, you know, that kind of thing.

Q – Do you ever see a time where you give up being a bus driver? 

No, I'm too close to retirement right now. I don't want to live a lie or a dream where it's like, oh, this is going to sustain me and my family for the rest of my life.

There's no health benefits in the blues. I've been driving a bus for 25 years. And I'd never thought I'd do music on this scale, actually.

I just figured it would be a nice little second income. I just thought it would be cool to have people enjoying my music.

I drive in some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. And I see things, and I'm talked to in a certain way.

Q – I guess it kind of keeps it real. You are not living the music star life. 

I think so. I get up at 3:30 a.m., and I get off in the late afternoon. So we're talking 16 hour days.

And I still have to write music. You need to do what you need to do in order to do what you want to do.

I don't do it for any extra pats on the back, like I'm doing something sensational. It's just that's how much I want to play this music. 

Q – Being a bus driver probably provides you with a lot of inspiration for songwriting, right?

 Actually, the song "Pain Around Me," which is on my Alligator debut "The Chicago Way," is kind of like a tune I wrote directly on one of my routes. Most of my songs I created while I was working.

I work 10 hours a day and I carry a little pad of paper with me in my pocket and if I see something or if I feel something, I write it down and try to elaborate on it later at home, put some music to it.

Q – Besides providing fodder for your songs, what do you like about being a bus driver? 

It pays the bills. It's a job that you can raise a family on. It's a real job, it's a career.

Any job that you do for an extended period of time is a career.

Q – I understand you bought your first guitar at age 22. What drew you to the blues in the first place? 

Well, I'm a child of the '70s and '80s. I grew up around the blues. My grandparents raised me.

The blues wasn't a genre to me, it was kind of just like my grandparents' music. When I started playing guitar, I wanted to play reggae.'

I joined a reggae band and I played with them for a couple of years. And then I started going around to jams.

Everywhere in Chicago, you had blues jams. When I would go these jams, I would hear songs that were played in my house when I was a kid. It was a full circle moment.

The one famous club that was close to my house as a kid was called Theresa's Lounge. I was too young to go there, I was like 10 years old, but my uncles used to go there.

I grew up around it, but I didn't know it was blues music until I got older.

Q – I know that from 1996 to 2002, you were a sideman to musicians like Tommy McCracken, Wayne Baker Brooks and Joanna Connor. What did you learn from them? 

I learned about stage presence and and how to run a show. I started older, so I didn't come in with this intention of, "I'm going to be a star."

I came in with a work ethic of this is this person's gig, and I'm going to treat it with respect. I'm going to learn the music, I'm going to show up on time and I'm going to dress appropriately.

I think that's what got me jobs, because I took it seriously. When I got on stage, I had fun, but I took their music seriously and their direction seriously, with no push back or talking back to the band leader.

I think that by me coming into this music when I was older, it gave me a different perspective of it. I wasn't 15 or 16 years old saying I was going to be a blues star. 

I was working a regular job, and playing blues was my side hustle. Kind of how it was originally. Muddy Waters and all those guys had jobs, they were driving trucks and forklifts and all that stuff, and the music was like a side hustle for them.

Q – Your star started rising when you took the stage at Chicago Blues Fest in 2015 as a headliner. How did you feel stepping on to that stage and playing in front of all those people?

That was cool. It was great man, just to see that many people.

And they are hanging on my every word. It was pretty cool, man. It was humbling.

I'm always humbled that people remember my songs. I'm like, wow, I thought up that song on the bus.

It's very cool, you know.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Anderlik, Otto & Church to present genre-defying music at Water Street Studios' Blues & Roots on Water Street Festival


Chicago native Rob Anderlik had a musical change of heart after discovering bluegrass music and the dobro.

He decided to give up the electric guitar and set out to be a slide guitarist. Anderlik and his fellow bandmates in Anderlik, Otto & Church will perform June 9 at Water Street Studios, 160 S. Water St., Batavia, as part of the 2018 Blues & Roots on Water Street Festival, presented by Water Street Studios, The Fox Valley Music Foundation, Batavia Main Street and Kiss the Sky record store. 

Anderlik, Otto & Church is one of several bands that will perform at the festival. The full schedule is as follows:

The Roots Lounge
7 p.m. Anderlik, Otto & Church
8:45 p.m. Beth Lee & The Breakups
10:30 p.m. Devil in a Woodpile

The Blues Stage
8 p.m. Dave Specter
9:45 p.m. The Cash Box Kings

Doors open at 6 p.m. Advance tickets are $25 each, available at

Anderlik, Otto & Church is comprised of Anderlik on dobro, lap slide and acoustic guitars and vocals, Pat Otto on mandolin, mandola, guitar, banjo and vocals and Mike Church on guitar and vocals.

The trio formed in 2015. I had a chance to talk to Anderlik about the upcoming show.
Q – Is this the first time you've played at the festival? 

Well, we've played at Kiss the Sky many times in the past. But this is our first time playing the festival.

And we're really excited about that. Kiss the Sky owner Steve Warrenfeltz from our perspective is one of the coolest cats in the Chicagoland area and the best friend that musicians, in these parts, have ever had.

His influence on the music scene and his love for music is something that is really a gift to musicians and music lovers of all kinds in the Chicagoland area.

Q – How did you get together? 

We met at a bluegrass festival and we started playing together. It just kind of clicked, and then we kind of stayed in touch and started doing some gigs together and discovered that it was easy to play together.

I think one of the things that happens for musicians is that it's one thing be a good player, but it's another thing to have good chemistry. Just because you're a good player doesn't mean you are going to have good chemistry with other players.

Both things are important. For the three of us, it was easy to play together, easy in the sense that I feel we have good chemistry together and the way we approached things.

Q – Why do you think you have good chemistry? Is it because you have similar backgrounds? 
Yes and no. None of us grew up listening to bluegrass music. I got into it later on in life, after college.
I think it's because we all bring something different to the table. We all play different instruments for one. Everybody brings sort of a little something different to the mix.

Part of it is the material we play, we have a way of sort of making it sound like our own arrangements. We're not trying to copy anybody note for note, and make it sound just like somebody else.

We have a pretty wide ranging repertoire that ranges from rock music to blues to some swing tunes, certainly a lot of bluegrass stuff that's in there. And it all winds up going through this filter, which is just your own personality. 

Q – You were talking about your songs. You have original songs and then you do covers. I guess some people might wonder why you decided to cover Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." That doesn't seem like a song for a bluegrass band.

Here you're assuming that we're a bluegrass band. We can be, we play those instruments, but none of us really inspire to be pigeonholed into one genre. 

And let me tell you, that's not the greatest marketing decision in the world, because it makes it harder for a booking agent to put a label on you, which is what they typically want to do. What's the quickest, easiest label to put on us? We're Chicago BluesGrass, I would say.

Doing "Another Brick in the Wall" came after playing all day long at a festival. And then we were like, "We've played a bunch of bluegrass music, what else do we got?"

Mike came up with that. He just through it out there, and it just evolved. 

We rarely rehearse and we rarely use a set list. We do orchestrate things, but we try to leave open space to where we have no more idea about what's going to happen next than the audience does.

We try to leave open sections for spontaneity to occur. There is a jam component to what we do.

Q – I know you studied with esteemed musicians like Jerry Douglas, Sally Van Meter and Andy Hall. What did you get studying and working with those people?

Well, I think the main thing that I learned is that when you watch a master musician play, you're looking at the results, but you don't see all of the work that went into getting to where they're at. So what you learn, or at least what I learned is that I could try for a million years, but I'm never, ever going to make my instrument sound like any of those people.
A lot of what happens when you play with good musicians is you play better. So for the three of us (myself, Mike and Pat), it's easy to play together and I think we have a high degree of respect for each other. And what we are able to do as the three of us is not something that any of us could do on our own.

Q – What drew you to want to be a slide guitar player? 
My first inspiration was Duane Allman. I didn't even know he was playing slide. I just loved the way it sounded.

And then I saw Jerry Douglas play. Once I saw him and David Lindley, I was no longer interested in playing electric guitar.

There's nothing wrong with electric guitar. It's awesome. There's a ton of great players around. Scott Tipping is certainly one of the better players around Chicago.

But it just didn't speak to me. Slide guitar just spoke to me. It was what I wanted to do.

Q – I know that you taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago for 10 years. What made you want to do that and what were some of the things that you tried to get across to your students?

I was playing in the lobby and Jimmy Tomasello, who was the guitar program director, heard me playing and he said, "Hey, do you want to teach here?" And I said, OK.

And so I started teaching. I was there for 10 years, and I taught dozens and dozens of people to play.
I think the main thing that I tried to get across to people was that once you get a little bit of technique under your belt, you have to go out and play with other musicians. That's the way you learn.

You don't learn from reading a book. Learning to play an instrument is like learning to speak a foreign language.

And you don't learn to speak a foreign language by reading a book. You learn to speak a foreign language by immersing yourself in that language, whether it is somebody you are talking to on a regular basis or spending a year or two in the country.