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Chris Mills



Chris Mills

Thursday · The Comet

Chicago singer/songwriter Chris Mills goes big on his new album, The Wall to Wall Sessions. Following up his widely praised third release, The Silver Line, Mills decided on a new, more unique approach, enlisting a 17-piece "Indie Rock Big Band" to help him track the ambitious and enthralling disc. Instead of laboring over the process, tracking each instrument for months and cleaning up everything during mixing, Mills rehearsed and recorded the album in a mere two-and-a-half days, capturing everything live on a two-track tape machine. The results are breathtaking. As if the sessions weren't tricky enough to pull off, a gargantuan blizzard hit Chicago during the sessions. But there's remarkable warmth to the material and performances. Mills is joined by musicians who have worked with Wilco, Sea and Cake, Giant Sand and Head of Femur (singers Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor lend excellent vocal support as well), but it's Mills' vision and songwriting that is the heart of the project (buddy David Nagler's arrangements are also spectacular, it should be noted). Like a less self-conscious Ryan Adams or more energetic Jeff Tweedy (with the spirits of Phil Spector and The Flaming Lips looming overhead), Mills delivers songs of love and heartbreak with equal aplomb, crafting timeless melodies and an atmosphere that is lushly broad and tenderly intimate. The "big band" takes the already remarkable, Americana-tinged songs into another stratosphere, providing a stunning but never showy aural bed of strings, horns, banjo, piano, glockenspiel and vibraphone. Mills' lyrical prowess adds yet another dimension, supplying poetic justice to the majestic songs and grand arrangements.

On the opener, "Chris Mills Is Living the Dream," Mills sings of a vivid nightmare where he is Richard Pryor running down the Sunset Strip after setting himself on fire while freebasing. It's a startling opening ("And I watch the flesh fall from my fingertips"), which Mills brilliantly transforms into a love-gone-wrong analogy, singing "Ashes to ashes, trust to dust/I don't know what it means/To be burned by something that you love so much/I think I must be living the dream." Indie Pop doesn't have a ton of "masterpieces," but Mills' might just have delivered its latest with The Wall to Wall Sessions. (Mike Breen)

Sonny Landreth with Johnny A

Friday · Southgate House

When the discussion turns to the subject of slide guitarists, there's Sonny Landreth — and then there's everyone else. Landreth is a son of the South, born in Mississippi and raised in Lafayette, La., where he soaked up a wealth of cultural and musical influences before exploring his creative side. Forsaking the trumpet for guitar as a teenager, Landreth went through a procession of garage/basement bands while he developed the atmospheric style he still employs today, a distinctive blend of playing slide while simultaneously fingering the fretboard. In his 20s, he landed his first professional gig as guitarist for Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier's Red Beans and Rice Revue which ultimately led to a pair of raw, soulful solo albums in the early '80s and increased attention from Nashville. In 1987, John Hiatt tapped Landreth for the guitar slot in his touring band, The Goners, and the subsequent circuit behind Hiatt's well-received Bring the Family album followed by the recording of the equally acclaimed Slow Turning in 1988 raised Landreth's profile exponentially. He became a hot property as a session musician, worked with legendary British Blues icon John Mayall and signed with Zoo Entertainment for two of his best solo albums, 1992's Outward Bound and 1995's South of I-10. In the past decade, Landreth's reputation has deepened through his diverse associations — from his mesmerizing work on Gov't Mule's live disc to touring with Jimmy Buffett to his Goners reunion with John Hiatt — and his perpetually stunning playing method. After his spotlight performance at 2003's Crossroads Festival, Eric Clapton called Landreth "the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced." Now signed to Sugar Hill, Landreth was Grammy nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 2003's The Road We're On, and last year saw the release of the first live album of his 25-plus year career, the incendiary Grant Street. It's a mere taste of the live Sonny Landreth experience; bring a cushion for when your jaw hits the floor and prepare to be amazed. (Brian Baker)

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's with greatmodern, The Great Depression and The Turnbull AC's

Saturday · Alchemize

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's could very well be a figment of Richard Edwards' fertile imagination. The same impassioned psyche that creates the glowing character sketches embedded in M&NSS's songs could easily dream up an entire ensemble to back him. Listening to the seamless octet intimately accompany the singer/songwriter's emotionally charged Electro-Folk, you'd think each of their parts were hatched in his subconscious. In reality, they are just an incredibly talented troupe of composers who have let their fanciful auxiliary instruments influence their arrangements. The Indianapolis-based band's genesis was the meeting of Edwards and Andy Fry (guitarist and singer for The Academy). The two clicked musically and began recruiting, starting with drummer Chris Fry, Andy's brother and Academy bandmate. Jesse Lee joined on cello, and Tyler and Emily Watkins on bass and Fender Rhodes. The cello and Rhodes go a long way toward defining the group's sound, as do Emily's melancholy harmonies. Rounded out by percussionist Casey Tennis and Hubert Glover on trumpet, their expansive sound immediately caught the attention of critics and fans regionally. They've also tasted some broader recognition on XM Radio and through touring in support of their breathtaking disc, The Dust of Retreat, released earlier this year on Standard Recordings. Capturing elements of their collective brilliance as well as some dramatic stripped-down tracks, the album gives you 12 gorgeous reasons to love them. Their potent live show is one more. A note from the "irony not lost" department: Almost every time I've been to alchemize, they have one Wes Anderson film or another projected onto the wall behind the bar. In addition to borrowing the name Margot from a Royal Tenenbaums character, the band has also described their sound using parallels to Anderson's filmmaking. Coincidence? OK, probably, but amusing nonetheless. (Ezra Waller)

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