Bill Kirchen, Phil Lee | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bill Kirchen, Phil Lee 

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Bill Kirchen plays vintage country and western with a refreshing lack of irony: he sounds as if he truly inhabits the worlds of the weary dreamers, migrants, and barflies who populate his songs. His most recent album, Dieselbilly Road Trip (released in 2002 by the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain), displays his smoky, countrified twang and concrete-hard worldliness on songs that practically map out a cross-country itinerary ("Hollywood City," "Streets of Baltimore," etc). The dust bowl fable "California Cotton Fields," popularized by Merle Haggard, is set to classic Bakersfield protorockabilly; on "Pittsburgh Stealers," a cheating song that was a 1978 hit for the Kendalls, Linda Lay's voice wraps around Kirchen's tenor in a mountain-music harmony that slyly comments on the song's urban setting.

If Kirchen is the hardworking man trying to remain upright in a world of sin, opener Phil Lee is the hot-blooded prodigal son. On the title track of his 2001 album, You Should Have Known Me Then (Shanachie), his sneering, adenoidal drawl dares you to believe he's genuinely sorry for his transgressions; on "Babylon," he portrays a "ghost town where the hollow creatures lurk" and "the blood flows free," but it's not a Springsteen-style lament--it's a celebration. The show is hosted by Robbie Fulks as part of his "Secret Country" series (see the Meter). Sun 1/16, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $20, $16 seniors and kids. All ages.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amy C. Elliot.

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