Singer-songwriter Cody Diekhoff, aka Chicago Farmer, continues to grow wiser and more musically agile on his latest release, Midwest Side Stories, which was released today, September 30th. Since sprouting to life in his beloved and much referenced hometown of Delavan in Southern Illinois, Diekhoff has branched out from his more sparse solo sound without forsaking his roots. The wit and wisdom that have marked his previous releases is still present his new material shows him unafraid to bring in musical backing that adds a rich ripe flavor to this latest musical harvest.
Disc opener “Umbrella” finds Diekhoff in a darker and more somber place than his fans are accustomed, and their unease is reflected in the song’s tone. His signature evocative wordplay is in full bloom right off the bat with the line “I went searchin’ for some kind of meaning like words lookin’ for a page,” as he looks back on the start of his music quest. As if wanting to ease listeners into his blossoming style, he starts the expansion slowly, adding a long and lonesome electrified guitar sound to the loose and heartfelt strumming of the past. It’s a poignant tune that shows a man pondering the effects of his actions with a rapidly maturing eye.
On the second track, “The Revolving Door,” the safety wheels come flying off with a blast of hard edged, Americana tinged rock that is a revelation and a revolution all at once. Cody has worked with backing bands in the past, but fully realizing songs crafted from the beginning for the format adds a depth of execution to his compositions. His harmonica work has never sounded more robust than it does here, sonicly slicing through the hand picked group of stellar backing musicians, including members of Chicago area rockers Old Shoe. Always ready to speak on the inhumanity inherent in capitalism the hard charging backing band provides a fertile ground for the passionate cry “I’m a worker, not a number,” a sentiment echoed in the hearts and minds of unappreciated and overlooked workers around the world.
Continuing the look at the dark side of the American Dream, “Rocco and Susie” is a heartbreaking tale of economic pressures squeezing the life out of the American family that is among the artists finest creation. As if to provide some relief to the bleak mood established by the trio of opening songs, “Skateboard Song” pokes a bit of harmless fun at the hopefully fading predisposition of authority to sweat the small stuff while missing out on the big picture. On “Two Sides To Every Story” the unreliability of perception and the natural urge to protect the tribe. As usual, weighty topics such as these are distilled and obscured by a lyrical sensibility that is nothing short of remarkable.
Any doubters worried that adding a richer backing dynamic might take something away from the sparseness that has allowed his words to be the main focus should rest easy. The connectivity that was born from his more simple seeds of the past has ripened into a soul satisfying sound that moves the heart and the body all at once. As in the past, by the second time the chorus comes around, listeners of any age will find themselves singing along unconsciously.
Another favorite element, the at times slapstick nature of his material, is toned down, but still informs and shapes this collection. The whimsical nature of his viewpoint manages to make tales of addiction, gun violence and mortality less off putting and somehow more understandable at the same time. On tunes like “New Used Car” and “9pm to 5” the old Cody is fully present, as the subtle and not so subtle jokes and metaphors he employs to such ingratiating effect are fully evident.
Listen to the premiere of “9pm to 5,” streaming below.
Album closer, the late bluegrass maestro John Hartford-penned “I’m Still Here” gains a impressive new life thanks to the context of the artistic step forward taken on this collection with a wink and a smile.
Previously, frequent comparisons to the works of famed folk troubadour Arlo Guthrie have been spot on. With this impressive step forward in song craft and dimension, Chicago Farmer has moved beyond any previous limitations and associations. Story teller, humorist and heartfelt proponent of the core values of humanity itself, Chicago Farmer has always had a message of compassion that the world truly needs to hear. Thanks to the added power backing his insight and infectious spirit he is ready to take his message farther than ever before, as he does to wonderful effect on Midwest Side Stories.