Michael Hurley | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Michael Hurley 

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MICHAEL HURLEY

There's a certain untraversable distance between many American folk musicians and the music they play: they're modern, urban, middle-class people presenting studied interpretations of music made by poor, rural people in an earlier era. That's why, even if you think "authenticity" is a negligible factor in music making, it's hard not to be fascinated by Michael Hurley. The 57-year-old multi-instrumentalist lives the old-fashioned vagabond life he chronicles in his eccentric but utterly beguiling songs. Hurley has appeared on ten albums since Folkways issued his First Songs in 1964, but he's spent most of his time as an itinerant odd-jobber, living in Virginia, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, and other locales, where he's repaired cars and eight-track players, sold Christmas trees, manned barbecue shacks, and painted both houses and canvases. His song "I Paint a Design," from 1995's Wolf Ways (Koch), recounts some of the adventures his travels have wrought--flirting with a boss's wife, being in an earthquake, painting someone's broken heart. But Hurley doesn't restrict himself to realism: "Wildgeeses," a 1993 single, and "Werewolf," from Wolf Ways, are vivid anthropomorphic depictions of loneliness and romantic disaster. And his fanciful portraits of wolves (often for sale at his shows) depict them lustily engaging in human pursuits, such as eating flapjacks or speeding down back roads. Musically, Hurley likes to mix it up as well: his fiddle and banjo playing are a breath of pure mountain air, and he's an able boogie-woogie pianist, but the real treat is his casually bluesy guitar fingerpicking. His voice is worn and cracked as old leather, but it's also quite supple, flying easily into a falsetto when he wants to personify one of the critters that inhabit his tunes. There's no opening act for this early show. Saturday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. BILL MEYER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marty Perez.

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