Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Herbie Hancock Record Review

Freelance Piece
Review by Ryan Fergus
November 2007

Herbie Hancock had made a career of zig-zags and left turns- veering from a 60’s era Miles Davis sideman to excursions into funk, electro and even pop. On his latest, River: The Joni Letters (Verve), Hancock pays tribute to another legendary maverick. Dissecting the broad repertoire of Joni Mitchell (with the help of longtime Mitchell collaborator Larry Klein and a slew of guest vocalists), Hancock manages to stage dramatic reinterpretations that focus heavily on fleshing out the lyrical mood of each piece.
The surprises that flow through River are plentiful; Tina Turner sounds every bit as fierce as one would hope on “Edith and the Kingpin,” while Ms. Mitchell herself shows up for a subdued reworking of “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms).” Leonard Cohen’s gravelly grumble even turns up on “The Jungle Line,” turning Mitchell’s synthesized world beat into a spoken-word tone poem (resulting in perhaps the album’s sole misstep).
As the guests frequently come and go (including the requisite Norah Jones guest vocal), Hancock’s piano acts as an eloquent host to the proceedings, backed by a crack band including Wayne Shorter on both soprano and tenor sax, and the multi-dimensional session legend Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.
Make no mistake; the track selection here is varied. There is no “Big Yellow Taxi” to be found and only one cut off of Mitchell’s seminal 1971 masterpiece, Blue, made the cut (a soulful version of “River” featuring songbird-of-the-moment Corinne Bailey Rae).
That said, don’t be scared off by the unconventional palette Hancock has chosen to work from. He knows as well as anyone that Mitchell’s career has never been about hit singles, or genre-specific consistency. Instead, it’s been a journey of lyrical depth, varied emotion and a restless urge to consistently unearth new ground.
In other words, traits that Hancock himself is all too familiar with.

Memphis Jacks Profile

Local Business Profile
Insider Magazine
July 2007
By Ryan Fergus

Walking In Memphis
Tennessee Native Brings BBQ Expertise to Hillside

Barbeque lovers living in Chicagoland often have it rough. Not fortunate enough to live in the Barbeque “hot spots” of the country such as Kansas City, Austin, St. Louis or the Carolina’s, they’re often left with the watered-down, chain version of that sweet, tangy flavor that true barbeque fans savor. Luckily for those in the southwest suburbs, there is hope, and it’s located in a small strip mall in Hillside.
Memphis Jack’s, a true southern-style barbeque joint, opened its doors eleven months ago with the mission of bringing some of that mouth-watering flavor to Chicagoland. Owned and operated by Jack Adams III, the restaurant is a virtual recreation of the classic “joints” down South that are easy to miss, but almost always worth pulling off the interstate for.
The d├ęcor is spot on- Elvis posters plastered on the wall, B.B. King singin’ ‘bout his baby on the stereo and picnic-style benches for you and yours to sit while you tear apart a big rack of ribs, or a pulled pork sandwich (a Memphis Jack’s specialty). How about some free lemonade while you wait for your food? Done.
Sure, the furnishing is delicious in itself, but what about the food? According to Adams, a Memphis native who set-up a brief incarnation of Memphis Jack’s in Denver before coming to the Midwest, the truth is in the sauce.
“We make all our sauce in-house; it’s a secret recipe that I’ve been perfecting for over three years now.” The tantalizing topping adheres to the Memphis template of a half-tomato/half-vinegar-based blend (plus Adam’s secret spices of course). In addition, Memphis Jack’s applies an “everything fresh, everyday” policy to the whole menu, from the sauce, to the peach cobbler and even to the mac-n-cheese (the recipe of which coming from Adam’s own mother).
The result of all this hard work? BBQ heaven.

"Fracture" Film Review

“Fracture” Film Review
Published in Elmhurst Leader
March 2007
By Ryan Fergus

It’s hard not to be a bit wary walking into a new Gregory Hoblit film. The dubious filmmaker is best known for shlocky adult thrillers such as Hart’s War, Fallen and most famously, his 1996 courtroom thriller Primal Fear. With Fracture, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling, Hoblit doles out more of the same. Everything you’d expect is here, from dramatic courtroom face-offs, a laughably tacked-on love story and a twist at the end that aims to rival Ed Norton’s psychopathic reveal at the end of Primal Fear.
Gosling, fresh off his Oscar-nominated role is last year’s Half Nelson, plays Willy Beachum, a young hotshot D.A. who takes on one last case (isn’t it always?) at his old firm before moving on to greener pastures an attorney for the Mayor’s office. The case, involving an engineer (Hopkins) who purposefully kills his cheating wife, should be a slam-dunk. Naturally the plot thickens, and Hopkins, recalling the sinister scenery chewing of his most famous methodical maniac, positions himself (through a series of incomprehensibly coincidental events ) into a battle of wits against the young lawyer. This of course paves the way for tense confrontations in both the courtroom as well as the detention block, with Gosling managing to hold his own against Sir Anthony, who clearly seems to be relishing another chance to unspool cryptic clues from behind a jail cell and lock horns with a young and worthy adversary.
Unfortunately, any time these two aren’t battling it out head-to-head is when the movie falls apart. Hoblit inexplicably shoehorns a romantic subplot involving Beachum and his soon-to-be boss (played with a mock-carnality by relative new-comer Rosamund Pike) that is not only offensively unbelievable, but threatens to bring the movie to a screeching halt every time the two characters are on screen together. Only when Hopkins’s scorned husband ghoulishly returns to the frame does Fracture retain any sort of emotional resonance.
Although the film breaks no new ground, you can bet it will appeal to fans of the genre, as well as adults who want to go to the movies on a Friday night and see a familiar name on the marquee. While the ever-brilliant Hopkins seems to have found a comfortable niche in which to play out his twilight years as an actor, one hopes that with his newfound slingshot to the Hollywood A-list, Gosling doesn’t get too bogged down in mire like this. For a fat paycheck and chance to square off against Sir Anthony, we’ll let you slide kid. But we’re keeping an eye out.

Bloc Party Record Review

Bloc Party “A Weekend in the City”
Record Review
Appeared in the Elmhurst Leader
February 2007
By Ryan Fergus

The term “post-punk” has been tossed around pretty liberally within the rock community in the past five years or so, largely due to the commercial success of New York bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol. The genre’s mix of aggressive melodies, angular guitar riffs and danceable beats has had the music press touting it as the “next big sound” almost ad nauseam throughout the decade. One of the breakout superstar bands of this movement (think rock music that you can actually dance to) has been Bloc Party, who’s debut, Silent Alarm, arrived from England in 2005 with all the subtlety of an East London rugby match. The record showed a young band that was able to combine the isolation of post-modern indie-rock with the hyperactive rhythms of the U.K. club scene that they had been exposed to growing up. The resulting record made them one of the few groups within the genre that actually managed to live up to their hype, both critically and commercially.
The new record, A Weekend in the City (Vice Records), is the band’s attempt to expand on the “isolated urban living” theme of Silent Alarm, while managing to pull away from their competitors and imitators with a more mature sound (and judging from the production, a much bigger recording budget).
They very nearly pull it off.
Just as The Killers did late last year with Sam’s Town (their own overblown mess of a second record), A Weekend in the City attempts to compensate for a distinct decrease in catchy hooks with production tricks and layer-upon-layer of guitars, back-up vocal harmonies and random electronic bleeps and blips scattered throughout the disc. The songs here lack the more straightforward pop structures of Silent Alarm; yet soak newer tracks such as “The Prayer” in glossy, radio-ready production. So, while Weekend may not boast an obvious hit such as “Banquet” (the breakout single off of Silent Alarm), at the very least the new songs sounds absolutely massive blasting from a home stereo system.
On a more positive note, lead singer Kele Okereke’s lyrics seem to be of a more personal and vulnerable nature this time out. Amidst (perhaps not coincidentally) the pre-release publicity blitz for A Weekend in the City, Okereke vaguely dropped hints in several interviews all-but-confirming his bisexuality; in fact several of the songs on the record (“I Still Remember” and “Kreuzberg”) deal with the homosexual lifestyle. Recurring themes such as conformity and urban isolation still abound on tracks such as “Uniform” (“there was a sense of disappoint as we left the mall; all the young people looked the same”) and the shouted climax of the blistering opener, “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” (“East London is a vampire; it sucks the joy right out of me”).
Ever the driving force of the group, Matt Tong’s drumming remains a revelation. His ability to mimic electronic drum ‘n’ bass beats, as well provide the jittery yet thundering rhythmic base of A Weekend in the City makes his contribution alone a reason to check out the record.
All in all Bloc Party has a crafted an ambitious second record that barely escapes the dreaded “sophomore slump” that so many young bands fall into. While short on the memorable hooks that made their debut such a success, A Weekend in the City’s rhythms, lyrics and overall mood make it worth checking out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bound Stems Artist Profile

Bound Stems
Local Artist Profile
By Ryan Fergus
Insider Magazine
July 2007

There are plenty of classic New York-inspired indie-rock records from the past decade (PJ Harvey’s “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea,” Interpol’s “Turn On The Bright Lights,” The Strokes’ “Is This It?”). And let us not even get started on Los Angeles; after all what band hasn’t sent the city of angels either a telegram of unrequited love, or at the very least, a spewing of acid-flavored venom?
Now, sure, we Chicagoans are privileged enough to boast the 2001 masterpiece that is Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot;” one of the most critically acclaimed records of the new millennium (and a pure “Chicago” record from start to finish), but a question to the Midwest indie-rock elite - what have you done for us lately?
That is the question that Chicago-based five-piece Bound Stems have been attempting to riposte since 2005, when the release of “The Logic of Building the Body Plan” E.P. proceeded to become critically lauded everywhere from The New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. Featuring a re-tooled line-up and the piqued interest of national media, both old and new (the group is a favorite of many influential bloggers), Bound Stems released their debut full length, “Appreciation Night” (Flameshovel) in September of 2006. The record, an interesting mix of Wilco-ish experimentation and youthful, indie-rock abandon, is in the words of drummer Evan Sult, “a patchwork collage of loose ends and beginnings. It’s essentially a record about transportation.”
Coming from Sult, this is particularly interesting, considering both his pedigree and his history. In the mid-to-late 90’s, Sult was drumming with Seattle-based Harvey Danger; a power-pop combo who’s smash single, “Flagpole Sitta,” overshadowed many of the group’s more literate, clever pop stylings. The quick success and just-as-rapid decline of the group’s success (Spin, upon the release of the group’s criminally-underrated second record, “King James Version,” rightly predicted that “the witty swagger and rejection of novelty-grade goofiness will sail over the heads of radio and the general public”) left such a bad taste in Sult’s mouth that he and his girlfriend packed up and left the Pacific Northwest for the “less judgmental and pessimistic” confines of the windy city.
The move was a boon in more ways than just escaping the fallout of the “utter breakdown” of his former band. After answering an ad in the classified section, Sult hooked up with Bobby Gallivan, Dan Radzicki and Dan Fleury, who, in addition to playing together on the same Libertyville high school basketball team, had by this point been playing music together for a few years. The pairing, according to Sult, was “completely reinvigorating. I felt enthusiastic about making music again.”
With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Janie Porche, the group performed at the 2005 South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. The group is currently preparing to perform on the BMI stage at this year’s Lollapalooza, alongside both marquee acts (Pearl Jam, The Roots) and the newest toasts of indie-nation (Tapes ‘N Tapes, LCD Soundsystem).
The success has been sweet, perhaps most notably for Sult, who has proven there can be a classy second-act in rock ‘n’ roll that doesn’t have to rely on inane reality shows, or misguided reunion tours. “My dealings with the whole major-label experience and the break-up of my last band was a very painful, raw experience,” the drummer notes. “Now, with Bound Stems, we kind of look at what Harvey Danger did the first time around and go ‘lets do the opposite of that’.”

Erin Gallagher Jewelry Profile

Local Business Profile
Insider Magazine
By Ryan Fergus
October 2007

Erin Gallagher Jewelry
Suburban Jewelry Maven Sets Her Sights On The Big City

Customization is an increasingly demanded service these days; it in fact seems that the modern consumer not only seeks, but also demands a product that is tailor - made to their exact specifications. While this trend continues to flourish in almost every kind of industry, customization in jewelry has lagged - and it’s this very movement that Erin Gallagher is trying to hasten.
“Women should be able to have their jewelry fit them like clothing” Gallagher relays from her soon-to-be open, self-titled boutique. “Currently that isn’t the trend.”
Growing up in LaGrange, where she attended Lyons Township High School, Gallagher prepped for her future career by working at Eye On Design in Hinsdale, taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and, most crucially, starting a small, home-operated jewelry business with her mother, Cathy. The partnership quickly grew, with the mother-and-daughter team getting their jewelry stocked in Bloomingdales department stores after only a year of working together. Things were moving forward- and quickly.
Then tragedy struck - cruelly, and without warning.
After Cathy Gallagher’s sudden death from advanced colorectal cancer, Erin, motivated by her mother’s love and confidence, decided to push onward with their dream. Her cousin and close friend, Melissa Bocker (herself a Downers Grove native), stepped in to help, working trade shows for the burgeoning company.
The next logical step for the duo was to open a studio; a home base of sorts where Gallagher and Bocker could continue to create, as well as allow customers to browse through a diverse selection of rare stones to create the perfect jewelry piece to accent a particular outfit or event.
That dream is finally coming to fruition September 28th, when Erin Gallagher Jewelry (1017 W. Lake St.) officially opens for business. As Gallagher puts it, “we are the only store in Chicago to my knowledge where women can customize their jewelry – specifically the type of stone, as well as the length and style of the chain.” The front end of the studio is concentrated towards the high-end pieces that make up the Erin Gallagher line. The rear of the store is dedicated to the plentiful customizable options available to customers.
The team, now including store manager (and Westchester resident) Lisa McSweeney, are putting the finishing touches on the boutique themselves- three young women hammering nails, sanding floors and assembling displays- all in preparation for the grand opening.
For Gallagher in particular, the feeling in the air is that of sweet promise. “I love our store…I love the fact that women will be able to come here and feel glamorous.”

Green Moon Vodka Copy

Green Moon Vodka Copy
By Ryan Fergus
August 2007

The mysterious aura of our Green Moon Vodka is comprised of ingredients found in botanical tonics and elixirs long used to support stamina and well being.

We blend an alluring fusion of grande wormwood, star anise, green anise, fruit barks, fennel and citrus - topped with a flavorful burst of honey. These intoxicating ingredients are then aged for no less than nine months to ensure its signature velvety-smooth taste.

The result of all this effort? To bring you the first-ever ultra-premium pairing of French vodka and authentic absinthe - incredibly creamy, delicious and perfectly suited for mixing.

Set yourself free from the rigors of the day- make it a Green Moon night.

Desert Rose Design Press Release

Press Release
Desert Rose Design
September 2007
By Ryan Fergus


Elmhurst Marketing Firm Nets 11 American Graphic Design Awards

ELMHURST, IL, September 9th, 2007 - Desert Rose Design, Inc., has been honored with 11 award certificates for their multiple submissions in the 2007 American Graphic Design Awards. The national competition, presented by Graphic Design USA and sponsored by Adobe Systems Inc., is open to all segments of the creative community, including graphic design firms, advertising agencies, corporations, publications, universities and institutions.

Beating out over 10,000 entries nationwide, Desert Rose Design’s winning submissions now become eligible for publication in the GDUSA Design Annual, a 300-page special edition of Graphic Design USA’s monthly magazine.

Helen Levinson, President of Desert Rose Design, says that the accolades “are a vindication for both our firm and our clients. We are honored to be chosen among our creative and talented peers.”

Desert Rose Design is a women-owned, full-service marketing and communications firm based in Elmhurst, Illinois that specializes in combining graphic design talent with multimedia and database technology.

Lobster Newberg Artist Profile

Lobster Newberg Profile
By Ryan Fergus
Published in Insider Magazine
November, 2007

Lobster Newburg frontman Colin Peterik has a lot on his plate right now. While replacing recently departed guitarist Sean Briskey, writing new material for the group’s forthcoming full-length and trying to break out of his famous father’s shadow (that would be Jim Peterik, of both Ides of March and Survivor fame) are certainly things on his mind, one issue has shot to the forefront of that very long list- namely, figuring out where the heck he’s going to go for college next Fall.

Peterik, a remarkably well-adjusted eighteen-year-old from LaGrange, seems to be handling all of this in stride. As the lead singer/songwriter of progressive rock group Lobster Newburg, he’s been around music as long as he can remember. Still, just because he lives in the same house at the man who wrote “Eye of the Tiger,” don’t think it’s a constant joy being rock royalty.

“It’s not as glamorous as you might think,” Peterik attests as he sits down for a quick after-school phone conversation. “Sometimes, one of the guys from Night Ranger will stay over or something, but for the most part it’s pretty normal.” While most wouldn’t call getting singing tips backstage from 80’s legends like Kip Winger “normal,” it’s apparent from Peterik’s humble approach that he’s well aware how invaluable experiences like those can be for a young musician. Still, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s not only looking to make his own mark in music, but he’s looking to do it on his own terms.

As a group, Lobster Newburg cites wildly eclectic influences, eschewing today’s sometimes formulaic, radio-ready pop for broader, classic-rock pastures-King Crimson, John Coltrane, Bad Brains, Frank Zappa and Roxy Music are just some of the musical idols listed on the band’s Myspace page (www.myspace.com/lobsternewburg). In other words, there’s nary a My Chemical Romance or Green Day to be found- what gives?

“Everyone in the group was into doing something really different,” concludes Peterik. Although he cites Radiohead as one of the few modern groups that are actively challenging their audience, Peterik seems fairly disillusioned with the current state of music. “It suprises me what makes it on the radio today. I think you can force feed just about anything to people and they’ll eat it up- which, as a songwriter, makes me pretty mad.”

Peterik is quick to assure that giving more commercially viable music the cold shoulder was in no way a reaction to his father’s knack for penning a pop hook as mammoth as the Atlantic. “I wouldn’t call it a reaction; it’s just that straight-forward pop-rock isn’t really what I listen to. I could write three-minute pop songs, and sometimes I do, but I still give them the same amount of care that I would give to a Lobster Newberg song.”

Proposing a prog-rock concept (think the long running-times and intricate instrumentation of bands like Yes and early Genesis) to bassist Will Gumbiner, the duo quickly recruited hardcore punk fan Victor V.B. on drums and blues-based axeman guitarist Briskey to form the quartet. Lobster Newburg was soon born and Peterik’s plan to do something “different” was quickly moving forward, with the group playing out locally on a regular basis, acquiring a management team and recording demos for an impending record.

The band is now on a collision course with a crossroads many teenage bands face as high school draws to a close- namely- what comes next? With the loss of one member already under the group’s belt, Peterik isn’t going to be putting in time at a local community college in order to keep the original line-up intact. “I definitely want to do this as a career, but I’m also applying to music schools like Berklee, so I can still write and perform while I’m getting an education.”

This doesn’t mean the group’s current incarnation is out for the count however; next Fall is still ways away and the group is currently in the process of auditioning new guitar slingers for upcoming shows. With the release of the new album (hopefully by the new year), the band plans to aggressively shop it to labels with the hopes of a full-on record deal. Peterik, just as any opportunistic young man should be, has high hopes for the future.

“We wouldn’t be against being played on the radio,” he concludes in the weary tone of someone who has to get cracking on his history paper. “Our kind of music hasn’t been mainstream for a long time. Maybe it’s about time that it became popular again.”