Music I Like: Music Made by Friends

Being in the arts is a double edged sword. Your means are often meager, and your experiences often rich. One of the best rewards for me personally has been the opportunity to meet and work with many talented musicians I might not otherwise have encountered. Following are some of my friends whose music you might enjoy:

Naked Mile – One of the best bands that never “made it”. Fronted by my friend and K-College alum, Jasen Schrock, Naked Mile put out a CD that has some of my all-time favorite songs. The disc, entitled No Less My Life, is available at CD Baby. My favorite tracks are:

  • Love Don’t Mind -an ode to love in its simplest forms
  • Clark and Grace – referencing the Chicago intersection near Wrigley Field
  • Epiphany – for when you’re down and need help getting back up
  • Shine – a Chicago Reader “missed connections” come to life
  • Obsession – song inspired by a turn of phrase my wife once made
  • Daydream – very theatrically based song – actors will catch many familiar references

The music is tight, especially the interplay between Jasen and Dusty (lead guitar). In concert, Dusty was always breaking strings, and showing up late…but then he would play something just so perfectly captured the moment your jaw would hang open. The drums and bass are so steady, it gave Dusty and Jasen a lot more freedom than you normally get from a band’s freshman (and final) effort.

John Erickson – When I listen to John’s piano jazz albums, I have trouble reconciling his music with the friend I know. They live in two separate places. When his songs come up on my iPod shuffle, I often get carried away before I remember, “Oh, this is my friend John. The guy who leaves voice mails and sometimes forgets to hang up and then proceeds to talk to his cat for five minutes.” You won’t have that problem, so you’ll just get to enjoy his groove. He’s got three albums, and every one who owns them is constantly haranguing John to make another…can’t get enough. You will especially enjoy his Christmas album, or his first album Contemplation, or his second, more uptempo album And So On. Heck just get ‘em all.

Kara Kesselring/Sugarcreek Road – Kara is not only one of the best musicians in Chicago…she’s is without a doubt one of the hardest working ones. She gigs all the time, and across styles. She plays piano, guitar, accordion, sings, gives lessons, jobs with “Broadway shows”, and plays for comedy troupes. Here are some of the groups and recordings she’s a part of:

  • Sugarcreek Road – Her latest ventures is among my favorite of the many bands she’s played with..it’s just a great mix of bluegrass, country, folk, Americana.
  • The Grandma Project – A sweet album dedicated to her Grandma and the music Kara grew up with in rural Iowa.
  • Callin’ All Kids – This was a project that Kara did with one of our other friends Laurie Empen. It’s terrific tunes for kids and their parents. Of course I’m biased as my daughter helps start and end the album with her rendition of the ABCs and ZYXs, listen to it here.
  • Musical Staff – This is a show and album that Kara co-wrote with our friend Brendan Kelly. It was created for Wavelength, a comedy troupe we work with that performs for teachers. It’s so funny and clever.
  • And just while I was writing this, Kara recorded a lovely version of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me
  • Kara can play at your wedding or event. She actually played at my wedding. Her band at the time did a heart stopping rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” which my wife and I danced to as our first dance. If Kara can’t help you (cause she’s booked) she can connect you to the best musicians in Chicago – she knows them all (and is married to one of them).

Funktion – This band is fronted by Jasen Schrock’s (yes, of Naked Mile fame) little brother. And by little I mean huge. This band has been blowing up for several years. First they blew up Kalamazoo, then conquered Southwest Michigan, took on Chicago, and now regularly puts together 2-3 week tours through various regions of the country, most recently – a West Coast tour where the party apparently never stopped. As the name suggests, this group is high energy funk. They specialize in showing the audience a great time. Their reputation is so solid because even if you don’t love funk…you will dance and you will have a great time at one of their shows. Catch them if you can…it’s not hard…they play nearly every night. Ahhh to be in your twenties and this close to fame.

Rachel Shaftman – Rachel is a musician I met through Kara Kesselring when Kara recommended her for Wavelength. Rachel plays all over town, doing a lot of private gigs and jobbing with big theater shows, and cover bands, etc. She’s also an extremely gifted teacher. One of the big dilemmas we had early on with our daughter was figuring out which one of our fabulous friends to engage for piano lessons. Given that our schedules are so crazy and Rachel lives around the corner…we went with her. It was a great choice. Rachel truly enjoys the experience of teaching people to play. She has students of all ages and our daughter gets a huge kick out of her. Her style is gentle and firm. Sort of like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid.

Steve Spurgin – Now I can’t say Steve is a friend. He’s actually a musician that is friends with, and was recorded by, one of my MBA profs, Steven Briggs and his label Blue Night Records. I’m including Steve because his record Past Perfect, produced by my prof, is one of the best albums I’ve heard in the last few years. Spurgin has a powerful voice that is always in control. The other musicians on the album, assembled by my prof, are out of this world. I don’t know any of their names, but they have my love.

Moonshine Willy – This was a band in Chicago that featured my brother-in-law on drums. My wife and I used to go out and catch their gigs when we were courting. There’s something off-kilter about their music that so perfectly captures the experience of falling in love. Their music is both alluring and cruel. My wife’s brother is terrific and so perfectly understated.

Orpheum Bell – And just to prove that this list is in no particular order of preference, we finish with a group started by a friend of a friend, who’s now a friend of mine (though our interactions are brief with lots of breathing room between them). Aaron Klien is a genius. At what, I’m not sure…but if you talk to him for a few minutes you understand that he’s way smarter than you are.  Or at least way smarter than I am. His music, and everything that goes along with it, is an explosion of creativity. Everything that’s done is done well and uniquely. His group calls its style Country & Eastern. It’s fitting. I find it has a teleportive quality (I know that’s not a word) but listen to the music and it will make sense to you. Catch them live if you can…

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