Overlooked songwriting great Jay Bolotin plays his first Chicago show in four decades | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Overlooked songwriting great Jay Bolotin plays his first Chicago show in four decades 

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click to enlarge Jay Bolotin

Jay Bolotin

Sue Driskell

Few potential legends have been more grievously overlooked than singer-songwriter Jay Bolotin. You don’t have to take my word for it: the Kentucky-raised artist has written songs for Porter Wagoner (Dolly Parton’s ex), Dan Fogelberg, and David Allan Coe, among many others, and has earned praise from Americana greats such as Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, and Merle Haggard. Luckily for us, Bolotin’s visibility has been boosted by a few recent releases, including a track on the Numero Group’s 2009 compilation Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes. That song, “Dear Father,” comes from Bolotin’s self-titled 1970 debut LP, an obscurity that was reissued by Locust Music in 2010. And last year, the esteemed Delmore label (which has put out archival releases from Karen Dalton, Love, and Gary Stewart) released the excellent No One Seems to Notice That It's Raining, which compiles demos from 1970 to 1975 that cement Bolotin’s credentials as a “been there, done that” songwriter of surprising depth and versatility. As he reflected to Hand/Eye Magazine in 2012, “I take some pride in the fact that the record companies would say to me you’ve got ten ideas in that song. Go back and make it one. I couldn’t, though.” Bolotin has rightfully been compared to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and like their work his country-tinged songs are complex and sublimely poetic as well as sparse and incredibly catchy. A good example is the multihued tune “Traveler,” which Bolotin says caused Kristofferson to exclaim, “A lot of people have been trying to write that [song] for a long time and you did.” Bolotin’s talents don’t end with songwriting either—his visual art, mostly woodcuts, has been displayed all over the world, and he plans to adapt his portfolio The Book of Only Enoch into a film. He’s scoring it with guitarist and composer Bill Frisell, and it will feature voices by the likes of Will Oldham and famed UK actor Michael York. Bolotin lives in Cincinnati now, and this rare, intimate show is his first in Chicago in more than 40 years. If you miss it, you’ll be denying yourself the opportunity to be in the presence of a true underground hero and warrior.   v

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