Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops 

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Given how far-flung its members are, Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops barely seems like a full-time band these days: moving away from their Philly roots, singer-guitarist Jim Krewson lives in upstate New York, while singer-mandolinist Jennie Benford and banjoist Brad Hutchison live in North Carolina. But the change of scenery clearly has its benefits: the group's new album, Rivers Roll On By (Bloodshot), is its most open-ended effort, and while traditional bluegrass remains its core sound, the group makes some credible excursions into country rock. Krewson plays drums on Benford's "Mt. St. Helens," and his loping groove complements some mildly chunky electric guitar riffs played by guest Josh Haddix; the narrator uses her decision to live on an active volcano as a nice metaphor for the feeling of restlessness that she hopes death will settle for her. Krewson's "Blackie Moore" is a contemporary murder ballad with a creepy chorus ("Mercy's prize is heaven's door / So bound for hell was Blackie Moore"), but instead of sounding like a deep mountain dirge it's propelled by a stately rock beat; Benford's gorgeous "Hannah's Song" could've easily fit on Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Krewson and Benford give a raw a cappella reading of the 50s bluegrass cheating ballad "I Know You're Married but I Love You Still," and there's also a healthy number of traditionals, like the instrumental breakdown "Katy Hill" and a stripped-down version of "Red Rocking Chair." They had the go-for-broke exuberance before recording Rivers Roll On By, but now they've found new ways to separate themselves from deathly earnest revivalists. The Hoyle Brothers open. Sun 5/29, 4 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

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