By Mike O’Cull, independent music journalist. www.mikeocull.com
Chicago is and has always been a city full of music. Fans here can find just about every genre going down somewhere on any given night. The downside to this embarrassment of riches is that there are so many worthwhile bands and artists here that some get lost in the eternal promotional shuffle. Today, I’m here to clue you in about five acts emerging here in the Big Windy City that are most deserving of your attention. These five are just some of the many talents in and around our fair city so, no matter what style gets you to move, support some local music this week!
The Prairie Fires is a Chicago band creating a new generation of guitar-and-vocal rock music that blends the roots-based approach of greats like Petty and Mellencamp with 90s-influenced pop songwriting inspired by bands like Gin Blossoms and The Wallflowers. Energetic, tuneful, raw, and real, the band’s new release, All New Kinds of Strange, is one of the best local efforts of 2018.
The band takes its name to honor its Midwestern home but also to keep focused on starting fresh no matter one’s circumstances. Fire burns the prairie down to its bare essentials and gives it a chance to recreate itself. Band members Collin Marks, Mason Hadley, Christian McCann, and Dan Beasley are clearly taking advantage of this rebirthing process and have written and recorded an album of songs capable of being meaningful in an age of plastic emotions. The sound is deeply connected to the analog world of the 20th Century but is also fresh and original enough to stand on its own. Fans of loud guitars and lyrics that matter will latch onto The Prairie Fires at first listen. The band wears its emotions on the outside instead of indulging in the macho posturing that ruins most young rock musicians and it makes all the difference. Official Website: https://www.theprairiefires.com
Bev Rage and the Drinks is a pop/punk queercore rock and roll band fronted by the inimitable drag vocalist Beverly Rage. The self-described “queerest band in the land,” Bev and company have a new cassette/CD ready to drop called Cockeyed that should do much to put them on the regional map. The advance video for the single “Limp Wrist” is supremely entertaining and is just one example of the creativity flying under the media radar in this town. Rock and roll is supposed to be audacious, outrageous, and fun and, by that set of metrics, Bev Rage and the Drinks is already a huge success. Highly recommended. Official Website: http://www.bevrageandthedrinks.com
Ever wonder how you ended up not hearing about a great musician right in your own backyard? The interns and I here at the home office are wondering that right now in regards to Cat Rolfes. Rolfes is an engaging and talented roots rock vocalist and songwriter based in Chicago but originally from New Orleans. She writes funky swamp R&B, southern rock, and blues into her own take on American music and tops it all with a clear, sweet, and soulful vocal style and hooks that are both instantly memorable. Hwy 55 is her first full-length record and it is one of the strongest independent releases out of Chicago in recent memory. Rolfes is a bit of an anomaly in the Chicago scene, which is overrun with mild-mannered singer/songwriters, straight blues, punk, and metal. Her stock in trade is a vintage southern soul sound built on cracking pocket drumming, clean-toned guitar, horns, piano, and Hammond organ wrapped around original songs with hooks that go on for days. The opening track, “
Momma Said,” is a prime example of Cat’s magic. It’s Muscle Shoals-inspired groove feels amazing and her vocals and wisdom-filled lyrics will put you in the palm of her hand. The rest of the set is just as much fun and highlights include “That’s How It Goes,”“Was It Real,” and “Going Home.”Rolfes is definitely in the running for “Chicago’s Biggest Secret” but that situation will not likely exist for too much longer. She is a bright and energetic spot in a landscape of similarities and her uniqueness is compelling and immediately noticeable. Fans of all that is funky, bluesy, and lyrical will want to hop on Hwy 55 as soon as possible. Facebook: www.facebook.com/catrolfesmusic/
Jill M. Stone is a Chicago songwriter and poet who works in a soulful, dark, and meditative style that is instantly alluring. She doesn’t give up a lot of information about herself, preferring to let her work speak for her. Her first album, No Cure For Loneliness, is a deep and emotional journey into life’s struggles and her latest release, Taught, builds on that journey. Stone has that rare ability to fully capture the listener’s attention with quiet sounds, not bombast, and makes music perfect for the overnight hours. She is fairly new to the music scene but those in the know expect her profile to rise with the new record. Anyone who likes their songwriters on the artistic side should find Jill today. Official Website: http://www.jillmstone.com
Kevin Lee & the Kings is one of the best rock bands in the Midwest and the group is ready to hit the bricks behind a new album, Sticks and Stones, on Sigus Records. The sound is straight-up pop/rock packed with big guitars, indelible hooks, and soaring vocal harmonies that are all wrapped around Lee’s razor-sharp songwriting. The songs deliver the kind of car-radio greatness that launches careers and summer nights and tracks like “On Top of the World,”“Tell the Truth,” and “Nothing to Lose” will do much to remind you of why you loved rock and roll in the first place. Kevin Lee is a former MCA recording artist who has left the major label system behind to do the indie thing with his band, The Kings, which is a bit of a Midwestern super group. Lee, himself, is a veteran solo artist with arena-sized credentials that include tours with Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet, and Pearl Jam, bassist/vocalist Patti Prendergast toured internationally with Bitch and Tough Love, and guitarist/vocalist Michael Kurtz has been part of popular acts like Madfox, Bombs Away, and Dark Star Records artist Half Bitten Moon. Drummer Erik Strommer first made his bones on the East Coast in bands like Broken Arrows and Catfish Hunter but has been in Chicago since 1996 and with Kevin Lee since 2007.
These four roadworthy veterans combine to make a sound that mixes the best parts of the Classic Rock era with 21st Century energy and timeless songwriting. Sticks and Stones is ample proof that Chicago rock and roll music is still very much alive and worth supporting.
Official Website: http://www.kevinleeonline.com/