Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub

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On his new East to West (Bloodshot) Nashville singer-songwriter Paul Burch takes a moment to salute the underappreciated rhythm guitarist, singing, "That old band would've broke down if he stopped chugging." Burch has played lead guitar, bass, and even drums on his records, but he's a rhythm guitarist at heart, a role that speaks to the modesty in his music: he's not flashy, but few alt-country types are as consistent or as consistently satisfying. On the new album he puts his trust in simple pleasures, sticking with archetypal structures gleaned from old honky-tonk, blues, and gospel; he's a musician's musician, which might be how he attracted the likes of Ralph Stanley and Mark Knopfler as guests. But though Burch's tales feel familiar, he puts his own spin on them: on "Before the Bells," thick with preapocalyptic gloom, and "Last Dream of Will Keene," a beyond-the-grave murder ballad, he embroiders time-tested tropes with evocative observations. He sings in a lived-in voice that quietly demands respect for the music's history; only on "John Peel," an homage to the late British DJ, does he commit himself to a particular place and time. Jon Langford opens. Sat 9/2, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12.

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