As refreshing and rewarding as morning in the reeds with the Audobon Society, Birds of Chicago is actually the naturalistic pairing of Chicago's JT Nero (as in..." />
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Music reviews: Birds of Chicago, John Cale, more

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Birds of Chicago, "Birds of Chicago" (BOC) 3<br />
and a half stars
BOC.jpgAs refreshing and rewarding as morning in the reeds with the Audobon Society, Birds of Chicago is actually the naturalistic pairing of Chicago's JT Nero (as in JT & the Clouds) and Vancouver's Allison Russell (Po' Girl). After working together on a JT project (2011's "Mountains/Forests"), they wisely realized they had something special in their organic harmonies and wistful affections for the wide variety of music under the auspices of Americana. The braiding of their singular voices is surprising and often magical -- bouncing over the bass grooves of "Trampoline," boogieing through the Cajun howdown of "Sans Souci," blithely regarding the "Humboldt Crows" in the park -- and the flock of musicians on board for the record provide a downy padding to the blend. It's like Delaney & Bonnie sitting in with Poi Dog Pondering -- a record sweet as birdsong.

In concert: Birds of Chicago celebrates the release of this album Nov. 10 at the Old Town School of Folk Music.


Also available Tuesday ...

John Cale, "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood" (Double Six/Domino) 2<br />
and a half stars -- The mercurial Velvet Underground co-founder returns with a new set dense with electronics and Cale's moody mumbling. Opening track "I Wanna Talk 2 U" was produced with Danger Mouse. "The song feels sweet and gentle," Cale told me recently, "but the rest of the album is all me, and I tend to slam things." No lyin'.

Wanda Jackson, "Unfinished Business" (Sugar Hill) -- Rockabilly's grand dame turns 75 this month and follows last year's Jack White-produced set with a new batch produced by Justin Townes Earle.

Jeff Lynne, "Long Wave" and "Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra" (Frontiers) -- The power behind the ELO has been in the producer's chair for decades, but he returns with two new collections, the former a happy bunch of early rock-and-roll covers, the latter some nearly note-for-note re-recordings of ELO's hits.

Mehsell Ndegeocello, "Pour une ame souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone" (Naïve) 1<br />
and a halfstars -- Multi-talented singer and bassist Ndegeocello (in Chicago earlier this year for a Mingus tribute) tackles songs made famous by Simone, but without any of the vocal strength of her idol. Guest singers such as Toshi Reagon and Valerie June occasionally pierce the set's breathy fog.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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