King Wilkie | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

King Wilkie 

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Shock waves from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? explosion continue to reverberate throughout popular music, but the returns are rapidly diminishing. On one hand you've got mainstream artists like Patty Loveless and Ricky Skaggs returning to their bluegrass roots with ho-hum results; on the other you've got upstarts like Nickel Creek plying the strummy end of the jam-band spectrum (they're touring this summer as Mutual Admiration Society, with Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips and Led Zep's John Paul Jones). King Wilkie, a young sextet from Charlottesville, Virginia, who took their name from Bill Monroe's favorite horse, are an appealing exception: like Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, they're not monster pickers, but they understand the high-octane jolt the best bluegrass delivers and they play it straight with go-for-broke energy. Their second album, Broke (Rebel), is a mix of well-chosen covers--Jimmie Rodgers's "Blue Yodel #7," Jimmie Davis's "Where the Old Red River Flows," and the traditional gem "Little Birdie"--and trad-sounding originals by mandolinist Reid Burgess and guitarist Ted Pitney. Burgess, Pitney, and guitarist John McDonald aren't virtuoso singers, but the raggedness of their harmonies is a refreshing change from the crushed-velvet perfection of many contemporary bluegrass acts. They're not reshaping the tradition, but they surely have a feel for it. $10. Thursday, July 8, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric England.

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