After two years gone, the quartet resurfaces with a dazzling new album.

Califone: (from left) Ben Massarella, Tim Rutili, Joe Adamik, and Jim Becker

Califone’s recording studio sits a few blocks north of U.S. Cellular Field, but that hasn’t inspired frontman Tim Rutili to write any baseball anthems. “I’d rather write about some drunk at the ballpark who’s screaming at the players, imagining what his inner dialogue might be,” says the singer and guitarist from the studio’s instrument-strewn control room. “It’s not the event; it’s the atmosphere or the pictures around the event that interest me.”

For the first part of the decade, Califone’s inventive mix of old-time folk and blues, combined with spacy 21st-century rock, brought the group steadily growing renown. Then, after the release of their 2004 album Heron King Blues, the quartet (Rutili, percussionist Ben Massarella, drummer Joe Adamik, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Becker) spent the next two years largely out of sight. This month, they resurface with a new album, Roots & Crowns, on the local label Thrill Jockey. The release (and subsequent fall tour) seem to mark the start of another round of feverish output from a group of musicians whose 16 years on the local scene includes time in the band Red Red Meat.

Califone first drew acclaim for their 2001 full-length debut, Roomsound, which the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times each listed among the year’s best independent albums. Over the next three years, they recorded another four CDs (two of them instrumental scores for silent movies) and toured extensively. Then they took a break. Rutili moved to Los Angeles and busied himself scoring soundtracks for television documentaries on the History Channel and A&E. The rest of the band pursued their own musical projects. Massarella tended his wisterias. Becker learned to cook Indian food.

plays The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., on October 21st. For tickets, call 866-468-3401. From Our Contributors

Starting last October, the band spent eight months recording Roots & Crowns in various studios across the country and, individually, on computers in their homes, developing elements of the songs and fitting them together in layered combinations. The music matches the enduring strength and beauty of the old with the turbulent pace of modern life. “That’s the idea of bringing together all these elements that shouldn’t necessarily fit together,” says Rutili. “That’s what the whole band is about.”

Photograph: Selena Salfen

From Our Contributors:
Halfway through his examination of the thriving business of motivational speakers, Jonathan Black realized his pedigree. His own father, who died in 1995, had been a minister who gave motivational speeches at the Ethical Cultural Society in New York City. “Subconsciously, perhaps, I was interested in what Oz was like when you pulled down the curtain,” admits Black, whose new book Yes You Can!, out this month, explores a curious world where even middle-tier speakers can pull in $15,000 to $25,000 for one appearance.

For the book, Black, who lives in Lake View, spent countless hours with speakers like Olympic speed skier Vince Poscente and well-known tenor Ronan Tynan. Ultimately, he dispelled his original notion that the business was full of charlatans and cranks. “I come down in favor of motivational speeches because I think they’re terrific acts of theatre. We don’t get to experience that type of theatre in this day and age.”

Inspired, the former Playboy managing editor joined Toastmasters, an amateur public speaking group, where he practiced improvisation. He even entertained a Kiwanis chapter in the suburbs-a daunting experience he chronicles in Yes You Can! Could he possibly follow in his father’s footsteps and hit the circuit? “It’s possible, though I haven’t been completely motivated yet,” he says.
–Amy Raine