Birds of Chicago

Birds of Chicago

Birds of Chicago, is a collective based around JT Nero and Allison Russell. Whether touring as a duo or with the full family band, Nero and Russell have emerged as two of the most compelling new voices in North American Roots music.

For several years Russell and Nero’s respective bands, Po' Girl (Vancouver, BC) and JT and the Clouds (Chicago, IL), have collaborated extensively, but on 2011’s Mountains/Forests, released under the JT Nero banner, they tapped into the true, bewitching power of their voices together on an entire record. It also featured the full cast of characters that would round out the Birds of Chicago ensemble -- the Clouds and Michelle McGrath, the luminous singer and picker from the hidden hills of Southeast Ohio.

The record received critical raves and won them new fans on both side of the Atlantic, and created a great deal of excitement for the first official Birds of Chicago album, slated for release on October 2, 2012.

Nero’s fractured country-soul voice wrapped in Russell’s silver and gold tones, is a fine thing. Not too perfect, not at all saccharine, you’ll hear echoes of mountain gospel, street corner doo-wop, and classic soul. Accompanied by just a banjo and a guitar, it’s haunting. Fired by the band, it’s a full tilt revival.

Nero and Russell are most at home on the road - pick almost any night in the next two years and you can bet they will be in some festival, theater, pub, VFW hall, roller rink (they wish) or living room, dovetailing their voices, singing their songs of hope, despair, love.... and electric seahorses. And honey bee apocalypses. And ice cream. It's familiar and strange stuff - the everyday and the magical. Come see ‘em, they won't be hard to find.

Whitney Mann

Whitney Mann is an old soul with a child's glow. Her story is only beginning. It's the story of a poetic farm girl from Michigan who grew up to open for Loretta Lynn. It's the story of a young woman whose voice will break your heart but whose songs will bring you back for more. Her new package of country ballads and barn tales is called The Western Sky.

"Whitney Mann is the best kept secret in Wisconsin," says Willie Nelson Production Manager John T. Selman, who watched 26-year-old Mann open for Nelson. "She's raw, she's real. Whitney sings and writes from the heart. You can't ask for more than that from a musician."

Listening to The Western Sky is like admiring a spread of framed photos arranged on top of an old upright piano. It's a harvest of emotions and devotions to all things home.

"Home" is The Western Sky's second track. Comfort food of the highest order. "The song describes a place where everything feels easy and comfortable," says Mann. "The song is about finding a place that leaves you feeling at peace." It's a jaunty track that Dolly and Porter would have felt at home with in 1971.

Mann says she doesn't intentionally write country music. "My songs just turn out that way." The reason may be because she has no choice in the matter. It's in her bones. Mann grew up on her father's farm in southern Michigan. Township population: 400. Country music on the radio. Mom on piano at church on Sunday mornings.

These are the kinds of experiences that lead people to good things. They've led Mann to a country voice that is growing in strength by the hour.

"Whitney has one of the most pure and emotionally charged voices I've ever heard," says Don Kronberg, promoter for Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn and George Jones tours. He's the guy who booked her to open different programs for all three country giants. "Her ability to immediately connect with audiences is a rare quality that will allow her to build a very large fan base…quickly."

It's only a matter of time before those with talent as large as her own will be opening shows for her. Meanwhile Mann headlines all around the Midwest. She and her band also continue to be a go-to opening act for some of the Midwest's most treasured contemporary singer-songwriters, artists like gifted Chicago troubadour Joe Pug.

Mann is captivating as a soloist but she's smart enough to surround herself with musicians who seem to understand, to the note, the consequences of what she sings about. Adam Cargin's snare drum inserts an evocative, sad military feel to "Miss You on the Farm." The song is Mann's ode to her grandpa, a World War II vet.

Husband and wife team Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines keep it all in the family on mandolin, fiddle, cello, accordian and supporting vocals.

There's a great photo of Whitney and Loretta chatting in the dressing room before their show last winter. Two generations of country girls shooting the breeze. It's the kind of picture that's destined for a piano top. No one would ever claim looking at it that Whitney will be the next Loretta. But damn. She may be the next best thing.

Andy Moore
Contributing Writer, No Depression
Producer, Wisconsin Public Television's 30 Minute Music Hour

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Birds of Chicago with Whitney Mann

Saturday, August 31 · 9:30 PM at High Noon Saloon