Birds of Chicago: Rock & Roll Repast

Posted: April 15th, 2024 | Filed under: Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

I’m a rock & roll lifer. I got stories, lots of stories. Here’s another: 

There are many wondrous happenstances that can come when going to a concert.

One is learning the full effect of a performer you might have known only peripherally. A classic example for me is Tony Joe White.

Back in the day — I know it’s a hackneyed term, but describes that bygone era when you can’t pinpoint a year — there were several shows at Parkway Field. Which for the uninitiated is where a minor league ballpark used to sit next the Speed School by the Eastern Parkway overpass.

I heard MC5 there. Uriah Heep. Black Oak Arkansas, if memory serves.

At one of those shows, among the four acts was Tony Joe White. Whom I only knew from his singular hit, “Poke Salad Annie.” Only to be mesmerized by the deep voice and Swamp Rock chops.

He became one of my favorites. I was honored decades later to introduce him during the period when Waterfront Wednesdays would come inside during winter months at the Clifton Center.

Which venue was the site in 2014 of my favorite unknown discovery ever.

The blessing of a previously unknown act that rings my chimes to this day.

Opening for the Carolina Chocolate Drops was Birds of Chicago.

The Film Babe and sat there mesmerized, smitten from the get go.

The band formed in 2012, and was essentially the wife and husband duo Allison Russell — yes, the current rage as a solo — and JT Nero, with a revolving band of supporting musicians.

Nero a/k/a Jeremy Lindsay wrote most of the tunes on their eponymously titled first album. Most often sweet. Occasionally obtuse. Thought provoking, as in “Old Calcutta.”

Oh I say rock and roll is dead and in its grave/ but you said what about the baby being threatened by a viper/ who slipped in a window in old Calcutta/ SOS San Nicola mayday na-na-na-na-na-na-namaste

His is a sonorous voice. When paired with the lovely and beguiling stylings of Russell, the harmonies morph entrancing. How their voices meld joyous.

Such that you immediately wonder: Why isn’t this group really famous, headlining major venues?

Which are not only the thoughts of those of us under their spell, but of major players in the industry.

Like Joe Henry, whose credits include producing Emmylou Harris, Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello among others, who directed their next album, “Real Midnight.”

The band, like many, didn’t survive the cultural ravages of COVID.

But Russell’s solo career is in flight. She’s gaining popularity with her “secular gospel.” When I saw her last spring, her hubby came out for one tune.

She’s great, make no mistake, but my oh my how I miss Birds of Chicago.

Fortunately I’ve got their albums. And there’s always the streaming thing.

Their tunes more often than not, like just now as I write, get me on my feet to swing and sway with a smile as wide as sunrise.

I wish you flying dreams/ I wish you flying dreams/ I wish you flying dreams/ I wish you flying dreams/

— c d kaplan

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