Good Old Country Comforts | Post No Bills | Chicago Reader

March 06, 1997 Music | Post No Bills

Good Old Country Comforts 

Sally Timms/ Real Roots

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Good Old Country Comforts

Lately it seems like another bored rocker goes country every day--most recently Buffalo Tom front man Bill Janovitz, whose stiff new country affair comes to the Double Door on Saturday night. In that context Sally Timms's latest record, a five-song EP on the local Bloodshot label called Cowboy Sally, might appear to be a nice bit of bandwagon hopping. But a couple of the tunes were actually recorded back in the late 80s, and fans of the Mekons know that Timms has dabbled frequently in country as a member of that British proto-punk band, which has incorporated a bent take on American roots into its own raucous music since 1985's Fear and Whiskey.

"I'm less of a country fan than Jon [Langford, the Mekon who cofounded the Waco Brothers], but my voice is well-suited to it," she admits. Indeed, the biggest shortcoming rockers like Janovitz have in traversing more rootsy material is their inexpressiveness, while Timms effortlessly lends a surprising torch feel to the Lefty Frizzell classic "Long Black Veil" and imbues "Tennessee Waltz" with a rare stateliness. The Wacos back her on a dusky cover of John Anderson's "Seminole Wind," while she fronts the Hand-

some Family on their "Drunk by Noon."

"The idea was just to do something for Bloodshot 'cause I really like the people that run the label," says Timms, who's in the midst of recording a full-length "electro-folk" follow-up to 1995's superb To the Land of Milk & Honey with Langford and Dave Trumfio of the Pulsars.

Timms returned to Chicago (something of an intermittent home for her) in January after spending four months in New York and England with fiance Fred Armisen, who may actually be her husband by the time this column is published--Timms would only say the date was "sooner than you think." Of late Armisen's been playing in Those Bastard Souls (an all-star indie-rock band that also includes Dave Shouse of the Grifters, Joan Wasser of the Dambuilders, and Chicagoans Matt Fields and Steve Golub) and leading his own salsa group, Fred Armisen y su Menaje de Caracas. Timms was the musical guest at last month's Big Goddess Pow Wow at Metro, and she'll perform songs from the EP, new tunes, and old faves with Armisen on Wednesday, March 19, at Here Be Monsters, a monthly songwriters' showcase at the Chopin Theatre. Langford, Dean Schlabowske, and Tracey Dear of the Waco Brothers will also perform.

Postscripts

Country's about the only thing Jim O'Rourke hasn't done. With equal enthusiasm, he's produced chaotic rock bands (U.S. Maple), concocted drum 'n' bass remixes (Tortoise), delivered lyrical folk-rock guitar solos (Edith Frost), and free-improvised with too many collaborators to mention; he also participates in quasi-Vegas shtick (Bobby Conn) and coleads a consistently challenging experimental rock band (Gastr del Sol)--and that's a truncated list. One of his more remarkable accomplishments has been the blurring of some of these stylistic lines. In the vein of 1995's beautifully minimal Terminal Pharmacy (on John Zorn's Tzadik label) comes another extended work, Happy Days, this time on John Fahey's new Revenant imprint. Conflating minimalism with American folk, the 47-minute piece (which O'Rourke debuted in different form at the Table of the Elements Festival in November) builds a gorgeous tension by overlapping spare, slowly shifting figures on steel-string guitar with the maddening drone of a battalion of hurdy-gurdies, the crank-driven box organs perhaps best known from Donovan's psychedelic monstrosity "Hurdy Gurdy Man." Any connotations of kitsch dissolve quickly as the buzz of the hurdy-gurdies grows from quietly mesmerizing to suffocatingly dense and transgressive.

Not only is Tony Bennett at the peak of his popularity but, as a recent piece in the New York Times suggested by describing the ecstatic crowd at a gig at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, he transcends demographics. Bennett performs Saturday at the Rosemont Theatre in support of Tony Bennett on Holiday (Columbia), a new Billie Holiday tribute from the 70-year-old singer, who's given like-minded nods to Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and female pop and jazz singers in general (1995's Here's to the Ladies). He's backed on the album by the piano of longtime accompanist Ralph Sharon (whose trio will join in for the concert), with the occasional augmentation of strings. Bennett's distinctive croon has always betrayed a strong jazz influence, so his decision to interpret classics associated with Holiday certainly makes sense. The same cannot be said, however, for the decision to include a tacky postmortem duet with Lady Day herself, on "God Bless the Child."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Sally Timms photo by Katrina Wittkamp.

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