Nora O'Connor | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Nora O'Connor 

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Nora O'Connor has long been a tireless utility player on Chicago's sprawling alt-country scene. As a member of the raunchy Blacks, she put a gilt edge of harmony on the rough singing of Danny and Gina Black, and she did the same for Andrew Bird's suave vocals in her stint with Bowl of Fire. When she wasn't climbing onstage at the Hideout to help out one No Depression act or another, she might be in the studio, singing on even relatively citified tracks by the likes of the Aluminum Group, Archer Prewitt, and the Baldwin Brothers. After years of support work O'Connor finally called in favors and enlisted a superb crew of musicians--including guitarist Grant Tye and drummer Gerald Dowd of Robbie Fulks's band and Bowl of Fire guitarist Andy Hopkins--to play on her terrific debut, Til the Dawn (Bloodshot). She doesn't have the brassiness of Neko Case or Kelly Hogan, but her range is similarly broad, imbuing everything from torch songs to country ballads to lilting pop with a gentle intimacy that's pretty but never glib. She wrote only two of the nine songs included here (both of them strong), but the players help her claim an unexpected variety of covers as her own, gussying up a pair of rural-primitive numbers by former Squirrel Nut Zippers leader Jim Mathus, injecting twang into Fleetwood Mac's "That's Alright," and giving a simpatico lounge polish to the Ketty Lester vehicle "Love Letters." O'Connor's release show features an excellent band: vocalist Hogan, violinist Bird, guitarist Matt Weber, guitarist-keyboardist Scott Ligon, bassist Ryan Hembrey, and drummer Ryan Rapsys. A $5 donation is requested. Saturday, August 21, 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433.

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