Utah Phillips | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Utah Phillips 

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Born in Cleveland in 1935, Utah (born Bruce) Phillips helped shape American folk music for the generations following the WWII-era ascent of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Like those two icons, Phillips emphasizes working-class tales; a card-carrying Wobbly, he's performed and written countless pro-union tunes. But Phillips's politicized approach, a product of his experiences in the army during the Korean war, is paired with a rich sense of humor that Seeger and Guthrie usually reserved for children's songs. Phillips's combination of smirking, Twain-like storytelling and serious subject matter has influenced three generations of singer-songwriters, right up through Ani DiFranco, with whom he recorded a pair of jazz-folk albums in the late 90s. Those collaborations raised his profile, but a better place to discover him is I've Got to Know, a 1991 album reissued last year by AK Press and Daemon Records. Stuffed with antiwar rants, songs, jokes, and poems, it bolsters his argument that folk is as much an editorial form as a musical one. Heart Songs, a 1997 collection of Phillips tunes interpreted by Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin, shows his skill as a composer. At this show Phillips will likely talk as much as he sings; luckily, he's a virtuoso at both. Bodhi Busick opens. $25, $21 for seniors and kids. Friday, September 10, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.


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