REVIEW: “Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots” Bloodshot Records 25th Anniversary Release is Full of Spit and Vinegar


Down to the Promised Land, Bloodshot Records 5th anniversary release turned me on to a whole world of music I was only peripherally aware of at the time. Twenty years later Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots, Bloodshot’s 25th anniversary release, is full of the same spit and vinegar that brought Chicago roots music into the national zeitgeist. Some of the names are the same – stalwarts of the Chicago music scene – but there is a new slew of youthful energy in the mix as well. While new friends populate the record, Robbie Fulks, Freakwater, The Handsome Family, Kelly Hogan, and Jon Langford – the heartbeat of Bloodshot records – return with tracks that showcase their unique style and talents. Know best for their Cowpunk, Bloodshot nevertheless embraces a wide variety of roots music: classic country, bluegrass, rockabilly, folk, and straight ahead rock-n-roll.

Robbie Fulks lets the traditional country shine on “Lonely Ain’t Hardly Alive,” while Freakwater’s ragged but right folk twists a Rolling Stones cover, “Sway,” to their own ends. The Handsome Family blend their folk-goth tendencies with a hint of lounge singer sultriness and electronica on “Tower of Song,” Kelly Hogan sounds like Patsy Clines long lost sister on “Gotta Have My Baby Back,” and Jon Langford continues to embrace his ever-evolving and shapeshifting musical outlets. Langford’s Hillbilly Lovechild bumps its way through its big town with a little help from Steve Albini. It’s hard to say if Langford’s “I Am a Big Town” is rockabilly or rock-n-roll as it shifts and slithers through the grit and grim, just like Langford it is straight from the pubs and it cooks!

Looking for slow sad country, Sima Cunningham’s “Weeds and Daises” will scratch that itch. If you’re more into loud sweaty beer-soaked rock-n-roll, check out Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds’ “Lay Me Down.” Ready for that humor filled twist on classic country that so many Bloodshot artists are known for, then The Hoyle Brothers’ “A Little Bit of Buck” is for you. Bluegrass, temporary temperance, and good times abound on “The Sun is Going Down” from The Family Gold while The Dyes cut their way through a surf rock infused revival of little “Liza Jane”. Rookie’s “Head Over Heals” brings indie rock tones to the party as does Los Gallos on “Yeah Yeah Yeah.”

“The Last Honky Tonk in Chicago” from Wild Earp and The Free For Alls acts as a theme song of sorts for this collection. Earp sings, “Now all the blues joints are all now in the black, and all the hip hop clubs are bumping out the beat, they’ve got a garage a rocking on just about every city block, and now them honky tonkers are shuffling down the street.” As long as Bloodshot Records is alive and kicking those honky tonkers can shuffle right down to the studio and cut a new collection of Chicago roots music any time they please. Earp closes, “They closed up the honky tonks and threw away the key and I can find much of anybody to do the two-step with me.” Grab a copy of Bloodshot’s Too Late to Pray, drop the needle on your record player, and rock, roll, two-step, and shuffle your way into an evening of good times in the warmth of your living room. They can close down the honky tonks, but they can’t stop the honky tonkin’!

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