Califone | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Califone 

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Nearly three years ago Califone lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Rutili told the Reader, "I love records that you can put back on again and again, noticing something new every time. That's the kind of record we want to make." They've outdone themselves on their latest, Heron King Blues (Thrill Jockey). Though it was recorded in just two weeks, with most of the songs either improvised on the spot or written immediately prior to the sessions, it's the band's most elaborate production to date. On the relatively spare opener, "Wingbone," Rutili's acoustic guitar and Jim Becker's banjo don't just accompany the raspy, regretful vocal, they leapfrog back and forth over it. "Sawtooth Sung a Cheater's Song" uses some familiar Califone elements--slippery slide guitar, cantering banjo, junkyard percussion--but they're heavily processed and stacked layer upon layer. And "Trick Bird" is a dense thatch of crackling vinyl, hissing hi-hat, crisscrossing fuzz-toned keyboard lines, and a falsetto chorus that's awfully close to the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'." Drummers Ben Massarella and Joe Adamik serve up a correspondingly diverse set of rhythms: at first "Sawtooth" bobs atop a percolating loop, but eventually it's overwhelmed by a clattering metallic crescendo; "2 Sisters Drunk on Each Other" is powered by a straight-up disco beat; and the title track sustains a Beefhearty rumble for nearly 15 minutes. It'd take a stageful of computers and DAT machines to duplicate these sounds live, but Califone has never been overly concerned with faithful reproduction--count on the players to summon the spontaneous spirit that gave birth to Heron King Blues and follow it wherever it leads. Friday, January 23, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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