Rising Chicago Musicians Offer Throwback Sounds

Four local acts put a twist on a timeless style—and all hit the stage this summer

Maria Jenkins and Emma Hospelhorn of Hollows

THE MODERN-DAY SHANGRI-LAS

MARIA JENKINS, 28, and EMMA HOSPELHORN, 31, of HOLLOWS
“We never had this intention of being a girl group,” says Jenkins, whose band, Hollows, is four-fifths women (drummer Jason Davlantes rounds out the quintet that also includes Megan Kasten and Hannah Harris). In 2007, founding members Hospelhorn (right) and Jenkins met via Craigslist and discovered a shared love of harmonies. “That’s when we started having fun with music,” says Hospelhorn.

Their infectious songs transport you to the swinging sixties—and the sound roped in retro-minded fans when the Chicago band opened for Zooey Deschanel at Millennium Park in 2010. That showcase in front of a crowd of 10,000 led to a second LP, Vultures (Trouble in Mind), which came out in April. The album introduces elements of punk and its members’ classical roots—Hospelhorn is a classically trained flutist and Kasten works as a CSO administrator—while staying true to the Hollows’ vintage pop ethos. “It’s more honest and personal this time around,” says Jenkins.

SONG TO SAMPLE: “V Is for Vulture”
SHOW TO SEE: Taste of Randolph on June 17. For info, tasterandolph.com
 

MORE FROM OUR SUMMER MUSIC PREVIEW:

13 Chicago Concerts to Buy Tickets for Now | Kelly Hogan’s New Album: Made the Old-Fashioned Way
The Perfect Summer Playlist | Inside the Mind of Pitchfork Impresario Mike Reed

 

  NEXT: WILLIS EARL BEAL »

 

Photograph: Lisa Predko; Hair and Makeup: Martina Sykes; Photo Assistants: Joanna Patterson, Lauren Butterfield, Lyndon French; Intern: Katie Donajkowski

 
Willis Earl Beal

THE BLUES-MINDED TROUBADOUR

WILLIS EARL BEAL, 28
After serving a stint in the army and working a security job at the Sears Tower, this Englewood native began making music after he grew frustrated with being jobless and homeless for a while. “You yell at the sky enough, and it starts to sound like music,” he says. People began paying attention after he put up fliers in Chicago with his drawings, his cell phone number, and an offer to serenade anyone who called.

Eventually this odd gambit led to a deal with XL Recordings (home to Adele and Radiohead). His first album, Acoustamatic Sorcery, out in April, sounds like something you might hear on an AM station pulling at a distant frequency late at night. Working with instruments he rummaged up—cheap guitars, a lap harp, pots and pans—Beal recorded a lo-fi cocktail of folk, soul, and gospel on a karaoke machine. The album is admittedly rough, Beal says, so don’t judge him on that alone. His recent live performances better reflect his intentions, he argues. “The sound is more dynamic. You can understand what I mean.”

SONG TO SAMPLE: “Away My Silent Lover”
SHOW TO SEE: Pitchfork Music Festival on July 13. For info, pitchfork.com
 

MORE FROM OUR SUMMER MUSIC PREVIEW:

13 Chicago Concerts to Buy Tickets for Now | Kelly Hogan’s New Album: Made the Old-Fashioned Way
The Perfect Summer Playlist | Inside the Mind of Pitchfork Impresario Mike Reed

 

  NEXT: JC BROOKS »

 

Photograph: Lisa Predko; Photo Assistants: Joanna Patterson, Lauren Butterfield, Lyndon French; Intern: Katie Donajkowski

 
JC Brooks

THE HIGH-ENERGY SOUL SINGER

JC BROOKS, 27, frontman for THE UPTOWN SOUND
The son of an R&B singer from New Jersey, all JC Brooks hoped to do in the beginning was coax people into dancing. “I was tired of watching audiences at the Empty Bottle enjoy the music but just enjoy it from the neck up,” says Brooks, an actor who formed the Uptown Sound with three local musicians he met on Craigslist in 2007. “We wanted to make music that people wouldn’t be afraid to dance to.”

Five years later, the Uptown Sound serves up a horn-drenched combo of old-school funk and soul on original songs that evoke James Brown and the Stax Records era. But the star of the show is Brooks, who accentuates every bark, growl, and coo with broad hand gestures and slinky dance moves. “I’m not just singing a song—I’m trying to tell a story,” he says. “There’s more than one way to move people. That’s where that storytelling part comes in, making it move someone emotionally.”

SONG TO SAMPLE: “Sister Ray Charles”
SHOW TO SEE: Lollapalooza on August 4. For info, lollapalooza.com
 

MORE FROM OUR SUMMER MUSIC PREVIEW:

13 Chicago Concerts to Buy Tickets for Now | Kelly Hogan’s New Album: Made the Old-Fashioned Way
The Perfect Summer Playlist | Inside the Mind of Pitchfork Impresario Mike Reed

 

  NEXT: KELLY HOGAN »

 

Photograph: Lisa Predko; Photo Assistants: Joanna Patterson, Lauren Butterfield, Lyndon French; Intern: Katie Donajkowski

 
Kelly Hogan

THE ‘60S-STYLE CHANTEUSE

KELLY HOGAN, 47
A beguiling vocalist who can flawlessly execute soul, country, and pop, Hogan spent the past decade backing up ascending musicians Neko Case and Jakob Dylan. But thanks to a new record, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (see “Kelly Hogan’s New Album Made the Old-Fashioned Way”), and a series of upcoming concerts, area audiences can soon hear Hogan on her own. It’s about time: Her pealing alto has never sounded better, and she has honed an impeccable mix of sensuality and heartfelt soulfulness that recalls Dusty Springfield.

“She’s one of my idols,” says Hogan, an Atlanta native who got her start singing Springfield and Burt Bacharach covers in her late-‘80s band, the Jody Grind. “Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry—you hear the song first and then the singer. They never get in the way of a song.”

SONG TO SAMPLE: “Whenever You’re Out of My Sight, I’m Out of My Mind”
SHOW TO SEE: Millennium Park on May 28. For info, millenniumpark.org. Evanston’s SPACE on June 8. For info, evanstonspace.com.
 

MORE FROM OUR SUMMER MUSIC PREVIEW:

13 Chicago Concerts to Buy Tickets for Now | Kelly Hogan’s New Album: Made the Old-Fashioned Way
The Perfect Summer Playlist | Inside the Mind of Pitchfork Impresario Mike Reed

 

Photograph: Lisa Predko; Hair and Makeup: Martina Sykes; Photo Assistants: Joanna Patterson, Lauren Butterfield, Lyndon French; Intern: Katie Donajkowski

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