Seems Like Yesterday
REVIEWED BY Rick Kogan Chicago Tribune
A new album from Bonnie Koloc is always a cause for celebration, and though there have never been enough of them (15 in 40 years) her newest, titled “Seems Like Yesterday,” sounds so very much like yesterday that it will transport you back to times and places you may have forgotten but will be happy to revisit.
It is a gathering of 16 songs, many of them recorded long ago at an amazing place called Amazingrace in Evanston. In the CD's brief liner notes, Koloc writes, “Amazingrace was always a great place to perform.”
Anyone who listens will be right back there at Amazingrace or perhaps at one of the many other places — the Earl of Old Town, Somebody Else's Troubles, Orphan's, Holstein's, there are so many of them — where Koloc performed since arriving here in 1968 from her native Iowa.
“Amazingrace was such a magical place,” Koloc said Sunday, on the phone from her home in northeastern Iowa. “When these songs were recorded, I was in a transitional period, switching musicians, so I am not even sure who is playing on some of the songs.”
“I have always been incredibly self-critical and never really listened to my stuff. But if I feel that I gave a good performance, I'm fine with it. And I am fine with these songs.”
As well she should be on this CD, with many songs written by her and others by such people as Fred Holstein, Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Thom Bishop and Joni Mitchell; some of the songs not from Amazingrace come from Koloc's personal collection.
“The title just came to me,” Koloc said. “I know that people place me in certain parts of their lives, in certain places. But to me time doesn't have anything to do with this, with my singing. I don't place myself in the past. To me that's not real. I don't often think about what I have done.”
Still, the CD title and its songs will undoubtedly evoke certain yesterdays for many.
There was that yesterday in 1990, for instance, when Koloc was performing at Schubas. It was her second show of the evening and the crowd was small. Phil Gratteau, the drummer playing with Bonnie, told me not only that the room had been packed for the first show but that he had just become a new father. He then joined the rest of the band — reedman Steve Eisen, pianist Craig Snider, bassist John Bany and singer Robin Robinson — on stage and over the next hour fashioned as good and, needless to say, memorable a concert as I have ever seen. After every song — “I've Got to Believe,” “With You on My Side,” “If My Love Were a River” and others — people rose in standing ovation.
A few days later, Koloc was on the phone with me talking about that show and saying, “There was something happening there. I was singing like it was so easy, like your breath goes on forever. The people surrounding me on stage gave me a great feeling of comfort.”
She was not always comfortable on stage but she was brilliant there, becoming the queen of a folk music scene that included such stars as Steve Goodman, John Prine, Fred and Ed Holstein, Jim Post and so many others, many of them gone now.
A lot of people, critics and fans, predicted huge success for her, especially after the release of the spectacular 1974 album “You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning.”
Didn't happen, for many reasons, among them, “I was just never very good at being successful,” she told me years ago. “I was not good with lawyers. I was not good with managers."
She followed her own path, writing and performing (though not frequently enough for her fans), acting and making art, beautiful ink drawings and block prints.
Koloc cherishes her memories, deals with any regrets and misses her old music-making friends. But she has a good life with her husband of nearly three decades, the writer/activist Robert Wolf, and with her art work, her dogs and her friends.
“I have a great life,” she says. “I find myself so much happier in my older years. Singing is my greatest joy. It has saved me.”
“Everybody has hard times in life, and I feel that my music can be healing. It has been for me and I want people listening to me sing to feel that no matter how hard things are there will always be a better day. It is my mission, of sorts, to transmit my own joy to people listening to me.”
You will be able to experience that in person in two upcoming performances.
On Sunday, she will play at 3 p.m. (Chicago time) at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Mich., (www.acorntheater.com) accompanied by Don Stille and Elliott Delman, who plays on a number of the new CD's songs and wrote one of them.
On Nov. 19 she will be at the Space in Evanston (www.evanstonspace.com) with Stille and Delman being joined in the band by Steve Eisen and Al Ehrich.
She will be singing many songs from the new CD and others from her vast repertoire.
“The voice on the CD does sound like me,” she says. “But my voice has gotten darker. It's actually richer now. I think it is still as pristine as it was long ago, so I guess I do sound pretty much the same. Age will probably take that away from me, but that hasn't happened yet.”
For both shows, her opening act will be Ed Holstein. “I want him with me whenever I perform,” Koloc says. “He is such a delight.”
He is also a wildly amusing storyteller/musician, and that so suits Koloc these days. As she says, “I find myself laughing now more than I ever did in my whole life.”
REVIEWED BY Chicago Guy
Imagine history’s great female singers up on a stage. All genres. Look! Renee Fleming, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Joan Baez, Billie Holliday, Ella, Sarah, Dinah. Your own personal favorites. Up on that stage. Ready to sing. And then you see a woman you don't recognize. If you are not from 200-mile radius of Chicago, you have no clue why she’s on that stage. Somebody in the crowd of greats, maybe Maria Callas or Janis Joplin, walks over to the woman you don't recognize and says, “;Hi Bonnie Koloc. Glad you’re here!”
Bonnie Koloc, perhaps the greatest living vocalist you have most likely never heard of, has gone into the studio for the first time since 1988. And she has released a CD, “;Rediscovered” in much the same way one imagines Rembrandt finishing a painting.
But that’s where the comparison ends. Koloc's music feels first like an invitation to sit around her living room and share some songs. Not something hang on a wall. It’s only later, after repeated listenings---because you’ll want to listen to this true gem a lot—it's only later that you pick up the full impact of the world-class musicianship that powers the stories on this new masterpiece. Only later that the rare long time listener thinks, "She’s actually gotten better." Only later that you realize the production value of this CD would make a Nashville Session man tip his cowboy hat or an LA Session guy or gal coolly nod “;yes.” All that only happens later. Because right now, all you want to do is listen.
Listen to Koloc share songs. Songs built around this theme of “;Rediscovered.” Not something you think about every day. Being “;rediscovered.” Being discovered. That’s an easy idea. You are found! Celebrated! Rich. Famous. Whatever it is you want.
But being Rediscovered is different. If it comes, it's a longer, deeper journey. Rediscovered means another chance. Like a golden thread of hope that connects us all. Another chance. And the musical stories here mark a way for anyone who enjoys music at its best, to wander down their own path to rediscovery.
The path Koloc charts is grounded in her early years with two songs in loving memory of her brother Jim. “;Two Black Guitars” brings The Everly Brothers, and in some ways all of music itself, into the story along with a melody capable of comforting anyone in those times of deepest grief. “;Kentucky Dreams,” speaks to the notion that in remembering something or someone, there are always more stories. “;Stories” she sings, that “;only me and my Mama know.” And in that line, a respect for the stories comes through strong.
“;Lie Down By Me” will waft out of your speakers like the warmest of summer winds. If the pressures of real life get in the way of your “;rediscovery” journey, listen to this song immediately! When Koloc sings, “;Let’s think about right now,” you do. Segue that summer wind into the bass line of the old blues singer Lil Green’s “;In the Dark,” and one really doesn’t need to say anything else about grown up love. Because the song says it all. And says it clearly.
“;Children’s Blues” is a fascinating piece of work. Written by Koloc, the song does the seemingly impossible. It makes the story of a child into the blues. Real blues. “;Sunday Morning Movies” is about grown up fantasies, missed connections; wishful thinking and above all the human need to just keep going. It's a song that will make you raise your hand and say, “;Been there!”
Heroes are part of any journey of rediscovery. And “;Elis” is a song to the Brazilian superstar Elis Regina. Clearly a hero of Koloc’s. The haunting Spanish guitar, accordion of faraway places and brilliant bass line as Koloc offers up a tribute will send more than one listener to You Tube to see who Koloc is singing about. And it’s a trip that's worthwhile. Elis Regina is very much up on that stage of music royalty.
The last three songs on this shimmering collection of music are Tom Rush’s “;Wind on The Water,” Jackson Browne’s Colors of the Sun” and finally John Prine’s masterpiece “;Angel From Montgomery.” And it’s in these three songs that this magnificent vocalist, who calls herself a “;saloon singer”, offers up perhaps the most profound message of rediscovery. All three of these songs come from Koloc’s early days. They come from the time when she was first “;discovered” playing alongside Prine and Steve Goodman at Chicago’s Earl of Old Town.
But listening to these songs again, those who have grown up listening to Bonnie Koloc, and those who have never heard of her, all get something that wasn’t there the first time. The soaring talent, the ferocious drive for perfection, knowing which songs to sing; that was always there. And it’s still here. But this time there is more. Along with musicianship and production value brought to a new level, there is something else. This time there is wisdom in the work. The hard fought wisdom of the years. To rediscover, one must remember where they came from. But they've also got to keep changing. And with this major piece of work, she has.
Bonnie Koloc has always been one of the greats. If you’ve never heard her, you're missing something major. Because now she’s even better.
Maverick review of REDISCOVERED
REVIEWED BY Arthur Wood
REDISCOVERED features one of the greatest singing voices of all time.
Produced by Chris Siebold (acoustic, electric, resonator, lap steel, Spanish guitar), the principle support players on this ten-song album are John Rice (acoustic guitar, Dobro, mandolin, fiddle), Larry Kohut (bass) and long-time Bonnie Koloc collaborator, Howard Levy (harmonica). There are also contributions from Don Stille (accordion) and Steve Eisen (tenor sax); a four-piece string section appearing on Bonnie's Sunday Morning Movies and Tom Rush's Wind On The Water.
This collection of folk, jazz and blues is intentionally titled REDISCOVERED since most of the songs were recorded for the Ovation and Epic record labels during the 1970's, whilst Bonnie's Two Black Guitars, which opens this album, debuted on VISUAL VOICE (2000) released by the UK Naim label. In the REDISCOVERED liner notes, Bonnie dedicates Two Black Guitars and the later Kentucky Dream, which she also composed in loving memory of her brother, Jim. In the former, whilst holding an old photograph of a '...smiling young boy playing on an old guitar,' Koloc recalls her brother's love for the music of the Everly Brothers. Kentucky Dream meanwhile, which originally appeared on BONNIE KOLOC(1973), recalls a wayward brother who was '...sixteen and out on the road.'
The enticing invitation Lie Down By Me, a celebration of love, was penned by New York based performer and recording artist, Paula Lockheart. Born in Mississippi, Lillian 'Lil' Green found fame as a blues singer when she moved to Chicago. Circa 1940, Lillian penned the much covered, In The Dark-also known as (Romance) In The Dark. Bonnie's musical life parallels Lillian's, following her 1968 relocation from Iowa to Chicago. The aforementioned Sunday Morning Movies finds the narrator fantasising about the plot of a cowboy film that she viewed the previous evening, whilst Bonnie's interpretation of her poignant Children's Blues confirms that her voice has matured with age.
Introduced by a Spanish guitar and co-written with Levy, Elis somberly celebrates the Brazilian musician Elis Regina who passed in 1982 at the age of thirty-six following a drug related incident. Regarded as the best Brazilian singer of all time, more than 100,000 people followed Regina's funeral procession through São Paulo.
REDISCOVERED closes with creations by three lengendary American singer-songwriters. By the early 1970's Tom Rush had already cemented his reputation, whilst the careers of Jackson Browne and John Prine were concurrently on the rise. In addition to the previously mentioned Rush song, there are renditions of Colors Of The Sun from Browne's FOR EVERYMAN (1973), and the classic Angel From Montgomery from Prine's 1971 self-titled debut album.
Sing Out! review of Beginnings
REVIEWED BY Mike Regenstrief
I first met Steve Goodman back in 1973 or ’74 when he did a four-night stand at the soon-to-be-defunct Karma Coffee House in Montreal. Hanging out with him then, we talked a lot about music and it was from Steve that I first heard of Bonnie Koloc. She was one of the best singers around, he told me.
I took Steve’s advice and sought out Bonnie’s early LPs – and what she’s done since – and she’s never failed to draw me in with her gorgeous voice and intelligent folk-pop (with touches of blues and jazz) approach.
Bonnie’s first LP came out in 1971 but she was already well-established as one of top performers on the Chicago folk club scene that included such peers as Steve, John Prine and Fred Holstein. But the music on Beginnings – released for the first time more than 40 years after it was recorded – dates from two 1969 live sets recorded by Rich Warren, then the student host of a folk music show on his college’s radio station. (For many years now, Rich has been the host of the legendary Midnight Special program on WFMT in Chicago.)
Listening to Beginnings, it’s quite obvious that Bonnie was already a great singer and performer; in fact, I would say it’s more even more obvious here than on some of her early LPs with their studio polish.
The sweetly sad “;Rainy Day Lady” is Bonnie’s only original among the 16-song, hour-long set mostly devoted to her superb interpretations of tunes drawn from such well-known writers as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as well as from local artists like Eddie Holstein and Steve Goodman (who was still completely unknown beyond the Chicago folk scene).
Among my favourites on the CD are Bonnie’s versions of Dylan’s “;Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (despite a couple of lyrical deviations)” and “;Just Like a Woman”; Goodman’s “;Song for David”; Eddie Holstein's "Victoria's Moring"; and one of the best interpretations I’ve ever heard of Mitchell’s “;Both Sides Now.”
She also does fine versions of such classics as Billie Holiday’s “;God Bless the Child,” George Gershwin’s “;Summertime” and Bessie Smith’s “;You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon.”
Bonnie is supported throughout the album by the excellent playing of guitarist Ray Frank and bassist George Stevens. John Mathis plays flute on three songs and two others feature a guy named Bob (from the bar) on harmonica.
Sing Out! review of Here To Sing
REVIEWED BY Rich Warren
Bonnie Koloc is not a folk singer. Now that is out of the way, I can say she is fabulous. She sings blues, jazz and the odd folk song. Her versatile, fluid soprano pours forth effortlessly wrapping itself around whatever song it touches. Similarly, the songs wrap themselves around Koloc. Wisdom and passion burnish her performance to a fine patina. While Koloc has been singing and recording since the early 70s and is something of a super star in the Chicago area, Here to Sing is the first album to do her justice. Much of this can be attributed to producer and multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy. Although Levy is joined by other accompanists, the CD is far from over-produced and the musicianship shows exceptionally high quality. Koloc penned seven of the 12 songs on this CD. Her opening “;Red Hot Red” ignites the CD with a sizzle, but her song that follows “;Slow Dancing to the Blues” shows the remarkable range of her voice. Her intriguing song “;The Snake” is an involving allegory. Koloc also does great justice to North Dakota farmer Chuck Suchy’s folk-style songs “;Dancin’ in the Kitchen” and “;Its Great When It Rains.” She has a lot of fun with Willie Dixon’s “;Little Red Rooster.” Her interpretation of “;Skylark,” the classic by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer is an absolute keeper. If I set the CD player to repeat a single track, that would be it.
Koloc’s “;I Love You Waltz,” written for her husband, sure sounds like a folk song. However, on the next track Koloc also displays a sense of humor with her song about the foibles of marriage “;Crumbs in the Butter,” which she performs like a 1950s doo-wop classic. If you want to hear a knockout performance of diverse, well-chosen material, Koloc is Here To Sing.
Reprinted with permission from Sing Out! v.50#3. (c) 2006 Sing Out!
All rights reserved
Sing Out! review of Timeless
REVIEWED BY Mike Regenstrief
Most of Bonnie Koloc’s recordings, particularly a string of fine LPs from the 1970s, have long been out-of-print. That makes this two-CD set of previously unreleased tracks, most of them live, recorded between 1973 and 1990, particularly welcome. And it is particularly nice, after all these years, to again hear her warm and lovely voice wrapped around the lyrics and melodies from some of the best material from those old albums. Songs like Michael Smith’s “;Crazy Mary,” Rosalie Sorrel’s “;Up Is a Nice Place to Be,” Ed Holstein’s “;Jazzman,” Steve Goodman’s “;I Can’t Sleep,” John Prine’s “;Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone” receive wonderful interpretations. On some numbers, like “;Senorita,” written by her guitarist Elliott Delman, she gets playful with the audience and with songs like “;Roll Me on the Water” and “;Mr. Biscuit Blues,” she reminds us that she herself is also a fine songwriter.
Because these recordings are drawn from different time, places and levels of technology, the sound quality is uneven in spots. However, she quite rightly puts the quality of the performance first and the tape hiss, for example, on “;Jazzman” fades in the power of her a cappella singing.
Stylistically, Koloc works in a folk-pop vein with occasional country, blues and jazz overtones. In addition to Delman, Koloc’s accompanying musicians include such stellar players as Steve Goodman on guitar, Jim Tullio on acoustic bass, and Howard Levy on piano and harmonica.
Chicago Parent review of A Bestiary: Beasts of the Farm
Koloc puts poems to music on masterful ‘Bestiary’
REVIEWED BY Fred KochAs parents, we are literally deluged with music. To my ears, most of it is mediocre at best, so pay attention to this month’s picks because we only spotlight what we feel is really worthy of your attention. This month we highlight two of the CD projects that have found their way into my “;got to find time to write about these CDs” pile. The first features a longtime favorite with Chicago audiences, Bonnie Koloc, who just released a book/CD combo that was eight years in the making.
A BESTIARY: BEASTS OF THE FARM, by Bonnie Koloc, Ruskin Press,
$32, www.bonniekoloc.com; all ages.
I was driving to one my graduate classes a few weeks ago when over the radio came a whimsical song about—of all things—a goat. I was sure I recognized the singer. I was also wide-eyed with excitement over the arrangement, and certain that my students would love this song.
It was indeed Bonnie Koloc singing, and that multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Howard Levy was also involved. A week later Koloc herself called, offering to send a copy of her new project, a CD and book of “;poems to sing.”
After I received the CD, I put it on and listened intently following the poems in the companion book. Not only did Koloc write the poems and the songs, but she also created 13 black-and-white linoleum block prints—one for each of the farm animals.
And her work as a visual artist has not gone unnoticed. “;A Bestiary” won best in show at the Iowa State Fair Art Salon in 1996. Previously available in a limited box edition, the new version of the soft cover book comes with this amazing CD.
The songs and musical treatments are as varied as the farm animals themselves. And though purposely sparse, the musical arrangements and production support the song and Koloc’s intimate interpretations.
OK, back to the songs. One of my favorites, “;The Goat,” begins with an accordion introduction that will have you longing for a good Chianti and homemade pasta, then quickly veers off into a humorous plea that you “;don’t get a goat.” The imagery comes alive as Koloc sings, “;His kids are darling/ and he makes great cheese/ but he’ll eat your undies and your neighbor’s trees.”
The imagery factor plays a vital and vivid role in all of these songs. And isn’t that the mark of a skilled songsmith? In song after song, we hear a clear and concise portrait of a particular farm animal, whether it be “;The Pig” (“;Sitting down with a thud/ in a yard full of mud/ puts him in the most delightful mood”), “;The Dog” (“;Get down/ good boy/ get down Rex/ don’tcha get mud on my Sunday best”) or “;The Duck” (“;Out of his egg he breaks with his beak/ the duckling arrives with a mighty peep!”).
Koloc says this project is rooted in her own childhood experiences. “;As a child, I loved the yellow records that were in a book for the stories of ‘Bambi,’ ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella,’ ” she says. “;I played them over and over again, and they were very good music. I’m hoping that this piece will introduce children to different instruments and different styles of music, and also help them realize that there are rhythms, not only in music, but also in language and in art, and that they can all go together.”
Not only will children enjoy Koloc’s project—inspired by the work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the artist Raul Duffy—but parents and teachers will also find her work artistically satisfying and worthy of its recent praise.
I grow fonder this CD each time I hear it. This is a magnificent work of artistry from an extraordinary and passionate artist.
Reprinted with permission from Chicago Parent