Bluegrass mania in Chicago | Bleader

Bluegrass mania in Chicago

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James King
  • James King
You could be forgiven for imagining Chicago was hosting a bluegrass festival this weekend, but it's just a bizarre coincidence that four of the genre's greatest contemporary practitioners are playing around town Friday and Saturday. In this week's paper I have previews for three of those artists: Alison Krauss & Union Station play the Chicago Theatre on Friday, Chris Thile and Michael Daves play Lincoln Hall on Saturday, and the Del McCoury Band plays the Old Town School of Folk Music that same night. And as if Saturday weren't already a logistical nightmare for bluegrass aficionados, superb singer James King is also passing through that evening, playing the opening show of the Bluegrass Legends series' new season at the American Legion Hall in Evanston.

While King isn't as well known as the others, he's as talented as anyone playing bluegrass today. He doesn't make records very often (his most recent studio effort is 2005's The Bluegrass Storyteller on Rounder), but his tradition-steeped sound is the real deal. His greatest break with bluegrass orthodoxy, if you can really consider it a break, is to adapt honky-tonk songs and phrasing for bluegrass instrumentation and style. When he inhabits a country song, he goes all-in, like George Jones. Opening for King's fantastic band is another marquee name in the bluegrass world, mandolinist and singer Don Rigsby.

Below you can check out King singing the Hazel Dickens classic "A Few Old Memories" in a performance last summer at the Old Town School's Folk & Rots Festival. The mediocre audio quality of the video is no match for King's remarkable voice.


Today's playlist:

Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen, For the Ghosts Within (Domino)
Subtle Lip Can, Subtle Lip Can (Drip Audio)
Merle Haggard, I Am What I Am (Vanguard)
Zeynep Birinci, Kar Gülü (Sensec Müzik)
Sonny Criss, Mr. Blues Pour Flirter (Brunswick/Universal, France)

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