Will's picks of the month

Music - August 2006


John Howell

With each column, I find my recommendations are becoming somewhat more mainstream and possibly more eclectic at the same time. Actually, these are my son's picks. He's developing quite a range of music tastes.

I encourage him to pick out CDs for us to listen to and he never fails to surprise me. He'll grab pretty much anything and listen until it bores him. This could be 10 seconds or 10 weeks. I'm never disappointed in his picks. Even the ones I find dull musically hold an interest for me in finding out what holds the attention of my 7-year-old.

I hope my insistence on him listening to more than the standard fare will become the basis for a lifetime of exploration rather than the source of future musical confusion. My father introduced me to jazz at an early age and I still remember the surprise when I realized that I was the only kid in junior high who had heard of Thelonious Monk.

These three albums are my son Will's current favorites. He loves to sing along with Kenny Chesney's summer songs, appreciates the stories first told 100 years ago then revived by Pete Seeger and updated by Bruce Springsteen and every Sunday we have a father-son ritual that revolves around listening to Chicago's dean of jazz, radio legend Dick Buckley.

THE ROAD AND THE RADIO, Kenny Chesney, BNA Entertainment, 2006, $18.98.

This is pretty standard country-pop. But, it's well-crafted, well-performed, well-marketed country-pop. An excellent summer album for driving, hitting the beach or throwing a party. Not a clunker here. My son loves the tune "Summertime." He belts it out like a pro. The poign-ant "Who You'd Be Today" has prompted some serious conversations about mortality between Will and I. There's a reason Kenny is so popular. This album does a great job explaining it.

WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE SEEGER SESSIONS, Bruce Springsteen, Columbia Records, 2006, $19.98.

I was talking to a couple who attended Springsteen's early June concert in Tinley Park. They were disappointed they didn't hear "Born in the U.S.A." or see the guy from "The Sopranos." And they were disgusted that Bruce kept singing old Pete Seeger tunes.

They're not going to like this album. But I love it and so does my son. Will's favorite is the song about Jessie James-he can sing all of "John Henry" and almost understands the importance of "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep." This is more than music; it's a history lesson.

JAZZ ORIGINAL, Pee Wee Russell, Commodore Records, 1997, $14.98.

Let me try to explain this choice. Pee Wee Russell? Well, since moving to Chicago in 1987 I've been a fan of the legendary jazz disc jockey, Dick Buckley. Buckley has been on the air almost continuously for more than 50 years.

Since 1977, he's been heard on Chicago Public Radio WBEZ 91.5 FM from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. I urge you to catch Buckley now because he's an endangered species. Jazz programming on WBEZ will be ending later this year and I don't know if Buckley will hook up with another station.

Russell always has been a favorite of Buckley's. On any show, usually within 15 minutes of tuning in, you will hear him feature Russell. Buckley will find some reason (no matter how forced or trivial) to cue up an ancient, scratchy vinyl 33 rpm record and spin some Russell.

A listener bonus is when Buckley forgets to turn off the mic and we're treated to him humming, chuckling and mumbling along. This happens quite often. On a recent show, we were treated to a nose blowing, too. No problem. Buckley has forgotten more about jazz than the rest of us will ever learn. He's a Chicago treasure. Tune him in while you can.

As for Russell, he was a drunkard who also happened to be a natural musician, a buddy of Louis Armstrong and a guy with rich Chicago connections. This music was recorded between 1938 and 1944. Simply put, it's brilliant.

Russell was a unique man to say the least. He lead a chaotic life, living on milk, raw eggs and booze. Couldn't swallow solid food but he could play his sodden butt off.

Russell died in 1969 but, thanks to Buckley, I feel like at some point in my past I had a couple of pops with him.

John Howell lives in Chicago. He's the father of 7-year-old Will and can be heard weekday mornings on WUSN 99.5 FM Chicago and nationally every weekend on the Westwood Radio Network.


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