Chicago Farmer's New Album Almost Too Good

Chicago Farmer's New Album Almost Too Good

This summer was a flurry of activity in the music scene, with new albums, reunion tours, festivals both large and small, and seemingly a band playing every night, somewhere and somehow. It has been difficult to catch everything, and indeed some things fall through the cracks. You would be remiss in your duties as a music lover, however, if you didn’t catch the new album from Delavan, IL’s finest, Chicago Farmer.

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Having built his career on reflecting the Midwest through his music, the Farmer took a bit of a different route with Midwest Side Stories. The music isn’t quite as straightforward folk this time around, with a bit of a harder edge provided by the backing band (incidentally, he will be playing with a full band for a series of album release shows; you do not want to miss that!), and the style fluctuates between a more ‘90s-based rock to almost shades of Jimmy Buffett.

Chicago Farmer’s songs have always been thoughtful, and there is definitely a somber tone at the start of opening track “Umbrella”. However, it does quickly establish the singalong vibe that has more and more people heading to Chicago Farmer shows. The hard-rocking “Revolving Door”, with its Decemberists-esque harmonica intro, really pulls you in and demands your attention, with a backing band of music scene friends contributing to the down-by-the-water feel before heading into an outro that just gets stuck in your head for days.

Conversely, “Rocco N’ Susie” has one of the most beautiful, lilting vocal melodies, but the lyrics tell a dark story by the end of the song. It’s signature Chicago Farmer: relevant lyrics, imaginative setting, catchy vocals, and peaceful guitar underneath it all. It gets lighter with “Skateboard Song”, a tongue-in-cheek warning against the dangers of skateboarding while suggesting other leisure pursuits such as terrorism and drunk driving (another classic Chicago Farmer move – use humor to highlight absurdity in life).

I won’t break the whole album down track by track, because you should really listen to it straight through (I don’t think you’ll want to stop in any case). This is one of the most fun records I’ve listened to in a while. Songs like “Two Sides of the Story”, “New Used Car”, and “Farms and Factories” are sure to become crowd favorites, with choruses that you just can’t help but smile and sing along to and grooves that don’t quit. Add to that Chicago Farmer’s mixture of personal experience, Arlo Guthrie-style stories, and Midwest-roots sensibilities, and it gives music a relatable quality; even if you haven’t personally lived what he’s singing about, you know someone who has.

At times wistful and melancholy, at others raucous and stompin’, Midwest Side Stories is the perfect album to transition from summer into fall. It’s the kind of album that makes you just want to sit on a porch with a guitar, perhaps a harmonica, some quality friends, and just let it all out. This has been a stressful year for all of us, and it won’t be getting easier any time soon. Thank goodness we have Chicago Farmer around to keep us all in line.

Tour kicks off this week (details here: I know I’ll be tearing it up at the Castle in Bloomington, with the fantastic Edward David Anderson kicking things off. You won’t want to miss this tour, so catch him when you can. Folk has a new face.


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