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David Nagler Sets Carl Sandburg’s Poems to Music

His new album, Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems, pays homage to some of the poet’s work.

Nagler’s local collaborators include (from left) Hogan, Fulks, and Tweedy.   Photos: (Hogan) E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune; (Fulks) Kristen Norman/Chicago Tribune; (Tweedy) Piper Ferguson

Creating a smart musical adaptation of Carl Sandburg’s coiling free verse may seem a Sisyphean task, but David Nagler has managed to do just that on the 16-track Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems.

Though Sandburg’s writing resists formal rhythm, his words dance when paired with refrains written by Nagler and vocals from a slew of local stars such as Jeff Tweedy, Kelly Hogan, and Robbie Fulks. On “Theme in Yellow,” for example, the Wilco frontman brightens Sandburg’s autumnal meditation by setting it to a contemporary twang. Nagler, too, takes unexpected risks, like jumping from long, lush lines to sharp, staccato spoken word in his version of “Chicago.” The album as a whole is a playful, reverential toast to a literary light.

GO:David Nagler & Friends will perform Chicago Poems on October 27 at 6 p.m. at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. Free. poetryfoundation.org/programs/events

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