Varnaline | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Anders Parker wrote and recorded a good part of the fourth Varnaline album, Songs in a Northern Key (E-Squared/Artemis), on a frozen lake in northern Vermont, and judging from the thick pile of press the album has generated since its release last summer, lots of people are certain that there's a strong connection between where the album was made and the way it sounds. But I don't really hear it. It's the best thing Parker has done, but as on his previous recordings, the music seems to seethe from some dark inner space that's oblivious to the weather, then soldiers forward with the muscle and drive of Crazy Horse. There's also a popular notion--probably reinforced by the appearance of the album on Steve Earle's label--that Varnaline's a country band; I don't really buy that either. Parker's mouthful-of-marbles elocution does recall the sullen twang of Son Volt's Jay Farrar, and it could be argued that the crushing wall of droning guitar he constructs on "Anything From Now" and "Let It All Come Down" is an evolution of the primal drone of old-timey music. But his gloomy melodic sensibility has little to do with country, and even when his instrument is unplugged, as on "Murder Crow," he's a model mope rocker: "Happiness is overrated," he mumbles on "I Don't Want." Somehow, though, his tattered tunefulness lets in just enough air to ameliorate all the brooding. For this tour he's joined by the members of Centro-matic, who will also play their own set; Chris Mills opens. Friday, February 1, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christopher Gorman.

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