Chicago Blackhawks: Toews and Kane are not to blameon February 22, 2020 at 3:00 pm

The Chicago Blackhawks are having a bad season. That is not any fault of Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane as they continue to be awesome.

The Chicago Blackhawks once-promising season has taken a major turn for the worst. It was looking like they were going to be in the race for a Western Conference Wild Card berth for a minute there but things quickly went south after the All-Star break. They have been losing more than they have been winning since them so the playoffs seem less and less likely.

Two guys who deserve absolutely no blame for the struggles of the team are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. These two have been the two top pillars of the organization for over a decade and it doesn’t really look like that is going to change any time soon. Normally, guys start to decline a little bit after they turn 30 but these two seemingly are getting better.

They won three Stanley Cups in the earlier days of their career but the regular season numbers are on par or better with their younger days. The only issue for them is that the general manager has made some serious mistakes around them as far as team building. They do not have the players around them supporting their strengths like they once did.

Patrick Kane has 27 goals and 49 assists for 76 points in 61 games played. Those are elite numbers from Kane once again. He is on a 102 point pace right now which would be the third time he reached the century mark. He is tied with Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers for seventh in league scoring. This is a guy who is in MVP territory if his team is playoff-bound.

Jonathan Toews is never going to have quite the offensive numbers as Kane, but he is still very good at creating chances for himself and others around him. Toews has 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points, which is good enough for second on the team in scoring. Toews is used to scoring a few more goals which would increase his point total even more, but he is still having a good year offensively nonetheless. He is also outstanding in all three zones which is what makes him extremely valuable.

Related Story: Trade packages for Erik Gustafsson

It is not good that this team is missing the playoffs again while these two continue to have great seasons. Eventually, they are going to start to decline and the rest of the team will be in even more trouble. Fans should be appreciating them for what they are, legends. They deserve no blame for this team missing the playoffs in 2019-20.

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The madness starts early for college basketball gamblerson February 22, 2020 at 2:30 pm

LAS VEGAS — DePaul has produced the country’s most -schizophrenic season, Loyola -possesses one of the stickiest defenses, few squads take better care of the ball than Notre Dame and Illinois has the best chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament — and a razor-thin shot at winning it.

According to TeamRankings.com (TR), the Illini are a 77.8 percent lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but their chances of claiming the crown are 0.3 percent. Kansas and Duke, at 19.3 and 15.3 percent, respectively, are the title favorites, followed by Gonzaga (13.3 percent).

With league tournaments around the corner, and the NCAAs just down the road for a chosen few, a review of college basketball in Illinois (and Notre Dame, too) is in order, to gauge how their tendencies might best produce profit.

Odds on Illinois to cut down the nets in Atlanta the first Monday in April are 100-1 at the Westgate SuperBook. Feel lucky? Notre Dame is 300-1, Loyola 1,000-1, and Bradley 5,000-1.

DePaul, at 500-1 during the holidays, is now 10,000-1. The Blue Demons started 12-1 but are now 13-13. However, New York handicapper-bettor Tom Barton is not critical of the precipitous descent because DePaul is in the Big East, and no other Division I league can boast that every member has an overall record of .500 or better. Barton likens the Big East, which added DePaul in 2005, to past ACC glory seasons: “Every team, every night, can win,” he said. ”St. John’s took a similar dip. Xavier, early on, couldn’t get out of its own way. The Big East is just a beast.”

Chicago State, meanwhile, is the nation’s minnow. Ken Pomeroy (KenPom) metrics list it at No. 353, in the D-I basement. It takes a 17-game losing streak into a home game Saturday against California Baptist. The Cougars have won only two of their last 71 WAC tilts, and they’re reeling toward their 34th losing campaign in 36 Division I seasons.

Oh, for those heady NAIA days of the early 1980s. After a November defeat, second-year coach Lance Irvin said his team looked “like deer.” Oh, those headlights.

This, though, is not about sentiment or sympathy. This is about fattening the wallet. Four of Chicago State’s first six games finished under the point total designated by Vegas oddsmakers. So taking that position starting Dec. 6, say, would not have been outlandish.

Factoring $100 as a unit (or average wager, including the typical 10-percent vigorish), investing in the under would have paid off in 14 of the Cougars’ last 17 games, netting $1,070, a 57.2 percent return on investment. Professional punters everywhere fantasize about such sweet success.

BRADLEY (19-9, 10-5 Missouri valley)

At 10-5 against the spread at home, the Braves have been money inside Carver Arena. They hold foes to 38.8 percent shooting, 20th in the country. That improves at home, where Bradley finishes the regular season next Saturday against Loyola, which is fourth in the nation at disrupting opponents’ possessions. Expect a low-scoring, bruising affair. Take the under.

CHICAGO STATE (4-23, 0-12 WAC)

Even with leaders Xavier Johnson and Jace Colley (concussion, last game Jan. 2), it struggled. It has committed a national-worst 482 turnovers. After Cal Baptist on Saturday, the Cougars finish the season with three on the road. The under is in play in all. In the past three league-tourney openers at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, New Mexico State has belted Chicago State by an average of 26 points. Use that as the barometer come March 11.

DePAUL (13-13, 1-12 Big East)

A magnificent meltdown continued Wednesday when a thrashing against Villanova gave the Demons a 12th defeat in their past 13 games. Stunning. “Shocking,” says pro bettor Tom Barton, “but not embarrassing; tough league.” Junior forward Paul Reed (15.1 points per game, 10.6 rebounds) is 11th on TR’s NBA efficiency ratings, but this squad is in free fall. The only reasonable play on its remaining games would be the under on Tuesday at Xavier and March 7 at Providence, if either total is at least 140.

EASTERN ILLINOIS (13-14, 6-9 Ohio valley)

The guard-heavy Panthers trailed Murray State 52-28 with eight minutes remaining Thursday night at Lantz Arena before rallying, and winning 63-60. Eastern is seeking its second .500 campaign in 10 seasons and first NCAA berth since 2001. Thursday’s effort might have been its finest under eighth-year boss Jay Spoonhour. There are no discernible patterns or trends, however, or intriguing story lines. Twice a week, I chart the bottom and top 10 percent of the nation’s teams in two dozen categories, eliminating tons of the middle fat. Eastern appears nowhere, except in the bottom 10 of KenPom’s Unlucky ratings. Pass.

ILLINOIS (17-9, 9-6 Big ten)

It has impressive wins at Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and, on Monday, at Penn State. Third-year coach Brad Underwood is the Big Ten’s coach of the year, according to pro bettor Ron Boyles. Ayo Dosunmu, the sophomore guard out of Morgan Park, has been a dynamo, leading Illinois in scoring (15.8 points a game) and assists (3.3), and chipping in with 4.3 boards a game. Home defeats to Maryland and Michigan State were perplexing for a supposed top-tier program. This team is too challenging to read, so the current play is to pass. However, Boyles believes Illinois can win a game or two in the NCAAs.

uic (13-15, 8-7 Horizon)

Until a month ago, the Flames had been abysmal. However, their season has turned around. They played seven of their last nine games on the road, going 5-2 away from Credit Union 1 Arena. They have covered eight of their last 12. Moreover, 12 of their last 14 finished under, so that is the lean in their final three games, all at home. “Keep an eye on them,” says Boyles, who has made a living betting on college hoops for 40 years. “Many early injuries, but they’re healthy and have four senior starters. They could win the Horizon conference tourney.”

ILLINOIS STATE (8-19, 3-12 MVC)

A poor cover team all season, wagering against the Redbirds has been most fruitful as foes have cashed in 15 of the last 19 games. They play host to Drake on Saturday and Bradley on Wednesday, ending the regular season next Saturday at Evansville. Take the opponent in each, and tap the over if the total is in the low 130s. Out of all that, the ledger will be in the black.

LOYOLA (19-9, 11-4 MVC)

The Ramblers own the fourth-peskiest defense in the nation at disrupting opponents’ effective possessions. For the season, they are among the 20 slowest teams in the country, at 67.1 possessions per game. That’s contagious. And how nifty was junior center Cameron Krutwig’s triple-double (22 points, 10 boards, 10 assists) in that Dec. 18 victory against Vandy? Loyola is at Missouri State on Saturday, hosts Drake on Tuesday and goes to Bradley next Saturday. Under will be the action in all of them, and into the Missouri Valley Tournament.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (15-11, 8-5 Mac)

Smart with the ball, the Huskies have been extremely deliberate with it lately as their last three games have featured fewer than 63 possessions per game; only five teams in the country have taken more air out of the ball over the last two weeks. NIU has been one of the country’s best away underdogs, covering eight of nine games by nearly six points per outing. So take the Huskies and the points if they’re getting them Tuesday at Eastern Michigan and next Saturday at Western Michigan. In both, too, we’ll be under.

NORTHWESTERN (6-19, 1-14 Big ten)

The Wildcats have covered only three of 13 games, dropping them by nearly six points a game, inside Welsh-Ryan Arena, a bottom-15 home mark. As a home favorite it’s 0-6, losing to the number by more than 10 points a game. Take the Gophers (Sunday), Illini (Thursday) and Nittany Lions

(March 7) when they visit Evanston, and feel good about going with the under if the totals in those games are low- to mid-130s; 137 or 138 are under slam dunks.

NOTRE DAME (16-10, 7-8 ACC)

Senior forward John Mooney (16.2 points per game, 12.7 rebounds) is 15th in TR’s NBA efficiency. At 1.717, it owns the best assists-to-turnovers ratio in the nation, a rate that is even better at home. It has covered seven of its last 10, no doubt making alums around the globe happy. In addition, eight of its last 10 have gone over the total. Its last five home games have been overs, so take that tack at Joyce on Sunday (Miami), March 4 (Florida State) and March 7 (Virginia Tech) with a ceiling of 147, even 148.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (16-12, 10-5 MVC)

The Salukis have been staunch at home, covering 10 of 12 by nearly nine points a game. Moreover, 17 of their 27 lined games have finished under. They take the air out of the ball, like Loyola, and there have been fewer than 63 possessions in a recent stretch. The best tack for Southern’s final three games — Sunday at Northern Iowa, Wednesday against Indiana State at home, next Saturday at Missouri State — is predicated on a theoretical 129.5 total; take the under if it’s higher than that figure, over if it’s lower.

SIU-EDWARDSVILLE (7-21, 4-11 OVC)

The Cougars were glorious on Jan. 2, winning at Belmont as a 23-point dog — on the moneyline — to win outright at various Vegas shops; they could have been had at between plus-1700 to plus-3,000, or 17-to-1 to 30-1 odds. Feb. 13, when they won at Eastern Illinois as an 11-point dog, SIUE could have returned 5-1 odds on an outright victor. The reality, though, is it gave Chicago State its sole D-I victory. SIUE is among the nation’s bottom 15 percent in offensive efficiency. Taking the other side and giving the points would be prescient in its final three.

WESTERN ILLINOIS (5-18, 2-11 Summit)

Its defense has been woefully inefficient, but only Pepperdine (79.9 percent) has connected at the line better than the Leathernecks (79.5 percent). That has helped them cover five of their last nine. They have covered seven of 10 as road dogs, so games Thursday (at Oral Roberts, especially if the Necks are getting double digits) and next Saturday (at Denver) have value.

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Charles Curtis revisits the first acoustic piece by composer Eliane Radigue at the Art Institute of Chicagoon February 21, 2020 at 9:09 pm

Though her work is often characterized as minimalist, composer Eliane Radigue is a category unto herself. During the 1950s and ’60s, the Paris resident worked as an assistant to the originators of musique concrete, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry. But the music she composed after leaving their orbit employed long tones obtained from microphone feedback, tape loops, and synthesizers, and it’s both quiet and demanding; close listening is necessary to perceive the subtle shifts in tonal color that occur as these pitches gradually coalesce and disperse. Just after the turn of the century, Radigue transitioned from playing electronics to composing for acoustic performers, and the first instrumentalist she chose was American cellist Charles Curtis. The essence of their first collaboration, Naldjorlak I (composed between 2005 and 2008), is the wolf tone, which occurs in stringed instruments when the resonant frequency of a bowed string and the resonant frequency of the instrument’s body interact with each other to create a new sound–usually a raw maelstrom of string and wood noise. Cellists generally do whatever they can to avoid wolf tones, but on Naldjorlak I, Curtis sustains and modulates them for three quarters of an hour, obtaining rich layers of rasping and resonance that are every bit as entrancing as Radigue’s electronics of yore. On Curtis’s three-CD survey Performances & Recordings 1998-2018, just released by the Saltern label, he exercises similar devotion to the diverse requirements of a piece by 17th-century Scottish composer Tobias Hume, another by 20th-century 12-tone composer Anton Webern, a Velvet Underground-steeped original named “Music for Awhile,” and a more recent Radigue composition. Curtis will return to Naldjorlak I for this Thursday concert, which is part of the Frequency Festival (booked by former Reader staffer Peter Margasak). The festival also presents performances of Radigue’s music by violist Julia Eckhardt and trumpeter Nate Wooley on Wednesday, February 26, in the Bond Chapel of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Curtis will make a nonfestival appearance at the Art Institute that same day, playing over prerecorded drones in response to the work on display in the Alsdorf Galleries of Indian Art. v

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The Chicago Flamenco Festival 2020 showcases the allure of a quintessentially Spanish art formon February 21, 2020 at 10:07 pm

Few forms of music and dance embody raw emotion as exquisitely as flamenco. This formidable and quintessentially Spanish art form fuses elements from Jewish, Arab, and Roma cultures and distills the essence of grief, tragedy, fear, and joy into every note, gesture, and stomp. Hosted principally by the Instituto Cervantes, the first half of the 18th annual Chicago Flamenco Festival (part two is promised this fall) consists of ten performances, an art exhibit, workshops, and a wine tasting over the course of a month. The carefully curated events focus on all three essential elements of flamenco: song (cante), dance (baile), and musicianship (toque). The bill includes artists from France and Spain as well as the U.S., including local favorites Clinard Dance Flamenco Quartet, featuring Wendy Clinard as principal dancer, Steve Gibons on violin, Marija Temo on vocals and guitars, and Jose Moreno on vocals. San Diego flamenco dancer La Chimi will perform with dancer, percussionist, and guitarist Oscar Valero and guitarist Jose Manuel Alconchel at the opening-night ceremony on Thursday, February 27, and then the next night with her ensemble, Luna Flamenca, at the festival’s first full-length performance. Among the other artists are Jose del Tomate, a 21-year-old guitarist born into a long dynasty of acclaimed flamenco musicians, and dancer Nino de los Reyes, who has performed with international jazz and pop superstars Chick Corea and Paul Simon and recently became the first-ever dancer to win a Grammy; he contributed rapid-fire footwork and clapping to the 2019 Corea album Antidote (Concord). Rather than showcase the sort of glam-pop flamenco popularized by superstars such as Rosalia, the fest focuses on straight-to-the-jugular flamenco whose undiluted power may allow the audience to experience duende–the mystical force and passionate, enrapturing spirit of flamenco. In either case, these performances will undoubtedly heat up Chicago’s winter nights. v

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Chicago’s Ratboys become the toast of the national indie scene with Printer’s Devilon February 21, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Guitarist-vocalist Julia Steiner and guitarist David Sagan met as first-year students at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, and they’ve since become ingrained in Chicago underground rock. Under the name Ratboys, they made themselves a home in the emo scene in the mid-2010s, playing country-flecked indie songs and drawing in a couple prolific collaborators to fill out their live sets: drummer Marcus Nuccio of Pet Symmetry and Mountains for Clouds and bassist Sean Neumann, who makes delightful indie pop as Jupiter Styles (he’s also a Reader contributor). This rhythm section bolsters the Ratboys’ third album, the new Printer’s Devil (Topshelf), a soothing reflection on growing older and bittersweet farewells. Steiner and Sagan wrote it in Steiner’s childhood home in Louisville, Kentucky, as her parents went through the process of selling the house. When she gently sings, “I just had a thought / ‘What if I never came home?'” at the beginning of the taut, straightforward single “I Go Out at Night,” you can feel the thrill and sadness in her voice as she processes her growing sense of dislocation. The sweet, wordless vocal harmony that rises up in the middle of “My Hands Grow” suggests that relief can be found in the homes we make for ourselves–and Steiner has thankfully fashioned her own anchor with her band. v

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Flamboyant Chicago rockers Cupcakes reunite to celebrate their debut album 20 years after it arrivedon February 21, 2020 at 10:35 pm

The alternative-rock boom of the 1990s resulted in lots of outre musicians landing major-label deals that would’ve been unthinkable in any decade before or since. Chicago four-piece Cupcakes, who emerged in 1996, both exemplify and transcend that era. On their sole album, 2000’s Cupcakes, released on Dreamworks, they mold arena rock bombast, power-pop hooks, and dance ecstasy into freewheeling jams whose clean polish glistens even when the songwriting doesn’t quite shine. Front man Preston Graves frequently busts out a show-stopping falsetto that kicks the songs into hyperdrive, a vocal feat that stood out in a time of postgrunge front men who were more likely to bellow than croon. But Cupcakes’ idiosyncratic ingenuity comes out most strongly in their blend of rock and electronic music–every so often an arpeggiating guitar line that evokes a trance melody cuts through to accentuate the interstellar panache in Graves’s lyrics. Cupcakes have been dormant for most of the past two decades, but they decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their only album with a reunion performance. Even if Graves can no longer hit the high notes on the semi-acoustic ballad “Cosmic Imbecile,” this is a don’t-miss show. v

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Ganavya Doraiswamy & Rajna Swaminathan confront historical oppressions with a fusion of jazz and Carnatic musicon February 21, 2020 at 10:50 pm

The works of Ganavya Doraiswamy and Rajna Swaminathan offer a highly personal take on Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) that seamlessly blends ideas from different time periods and genres. On Doraiswamy’s debut album, 2018’s Aikyam: Onnu (Yattirai), the vocalist and composer suffuses jazz standards such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” with a spirit all her own, singing in a mix of English and Tamil, using styles beholden to the tradition of vocal jazz as well as to Carnatic music, and interweaving the material with Tamil anticolonial songs and Indian spirituals. The eloquence with which she merges these systems highlights her interest in addressing caste-based oppression and makes a provocative invitation for us to consider the commonalities between different cultures. On her 2019 album Of Agency and Abstraction (Biophilia), Swaminathan plays the mridangam, a traditional double-headed drum, with an ensemble that sometimes includes Doraiswamy, creating jazz pieces that draw from Carnatic music to bolster their restless tension and invigorating energy. At their duo performance at this year’s Frequency Festival (booked by former Reader staff writer Peter Margasak), Doraiswamy and Swaminathan will fluidly move between their own original compositions, devotional poems, Buddhist texts, and jazz standards. Their music tackles historical systems of oppression, and they aim to explore these social realities in a manner that provides opportunities for healing. Expect musically and thematically multifaceted works that open up a space for deep contemplation. v

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Funky psychedelic prog band Nektar returns with a light show to scramble your brainson February 21, 2020 at 11:06 pm

The history of improbably successful and long-lasting 70s prog band Nektar is a complicated one. The story starts in 1968, when four British lads–guitarist-singer Roye Albrighton, keyboardist-vocalist Allan Freeman, bassist-singer-Mellotron player Derek Moore, and drummer Ron Howden–met at the Star Club in Hamburg (where another group of British lads, the Beatles, famously cut their teeth). They’d been playing in different bands in Germany since 1965, and they bonded over their mutual love of the Fab Four and the new avant-garde directions rock music was taking. They formed Nektar in 1969, and by the following year they’d added fifth member Mick Brockett, who operated their heady light show and occasionally helped with lyrics and titles. Their first LP, 1971’s Journey to the Center of the Eye, remains a fine example of the psychedelic concept album: its single epic song, which fills both sides of the album, is about an astronaut given vast knowledge by aliens (naturally) and verges on what many would call “experimental Krautrock” these days. The 1972 release A Tab in the Ocean furthered Nektar’s cult appeal while streamlining their sound into more conventional psychedelic-progressive rock a la Pink Floyd and Yes. In the mid-70s, as Nektar became more melodic–even touching on funky rhythms–they found some commercial success while still exploring sci-fi themes. They broke into the top 20 on U.S. charts with 1973’s Remember the Future, and the following year Down to Earth landed in the Top 40. The entire band moved to the States in 1976, but before and after releasing their slick 1978 major-label debut, Magic Is the Child, they underwent a series of lineup changes, and in the early 80s they called it quits. Now fast-forward to the year 2000, when Nektar re-emerged with a new album, The Prodigal Son. The next year, the classic lineup headlined the popular prog festival NEARfest. After a zillion more personnel changes and tours with various members, Albrighton died in 2016, but Moore and Howden (both based in New Jersey) and Brockett (in Pennsylvania) nonetheless vowed to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. Last year they holed up and tackled some old demos as well as some new tunes for a new LP called The Other Side, which suffers slightly from overly tasty playing and production but still hints at their monumental past glories. On their current tour, Nektar are rumored to be revisiting sounds from their earliest LPs. With former Fireballet guitarist Ryche Chlanda back in the band (he joined briefly in 1978, as a 21-year-old wunderkind) and Brockett resuming his old-school live-light-show duties, this show promises to be once-in-a-lifetime heady space-prog trip, so climb aboard while you can. v

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Detroit art-rock foursome Saajtak harness the power of improvisation for goodon February 21, 2020 at 11:20 pm

The members of Detroit art-rock group Saajtak met at the University of Michigan in the early 2010s, when all four participated in an improvising ensemble called the Creative Arts Orchestra. They’ve since carried the experimental traditions they explored as students into their work in Saajtak and into their individual creative pursuits–each has developed such an impressive career that their CVs could fill a chapbook. Bassist Ben Willis composes music for dancers in a theater troupe called Nerve; percussionist Jon Taylor reframes ancestral Eastern European Jewish songs in new-music compositions as part of the ensemble Teiku; electronics maestro Simon Alexander-Adams has presented his multimedia art at Coachella; and vocalist Alex Koi has performed at the Toronto Jazz Festival. In Saatjak, they build off improvised sessions to create bristling, quasi-operatic recordings that feel primed to shift unexpectedly and travel down an entirely different path at any moment. They’ve made a point of documenting their creative possibilities and showcasing their open-minded attitude in the process; 2019’s self-released If You Ask EP includes two original songs, three remixes, and an acoustic interpretation of the title track. On the original “If You Ask,” Saajtak transform a minimal, undulating rhythm and an avian vocal harmony into a thunderous, dramatic rock symphony led by Koi’s acrobatic powerhouse singing; it enlivens the song’s most fragile moments with a feral energy that could power a fleet of lesser bands. v

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Reigning Sound blend vintage soul and folk-rock textures into infectious garage rockon February 21, 2020 at 11:30 pm

Memphis musicians enjoy a well-deserved reputation for having more going on beneath the surface than they initially let on. Alex Chilton, Tav Falco, and Jim Dickinson are known for putting a trashy stamp on roots music in their songwriting, but they also incorporate outside influences at unpredictable times. Such is also the case with the Reigning Sound, led by singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright–a founding member of the Oblivians, a trio that deconstructs blues and punk until they sound nearly avant-garde. Though the Reigning Sound, which Cartwright launched in 2001, are far more earthbound, they also have many dimensions. Where the Oblivians use the blues as a touchstone, the Reigning Sound draw on Memphis’s soul legacy, and much like the garage bands that came from the city in the 1960s (the Gentrys, the Box Tops), they can incorporate that influence without camping things up. On their most recent studio album, 2014’s Shattered, Cartwright’s vocals sound like Van Morrison circa 1967, after he left Them but before the jazzy textures of Astral Weeks. While soul is front and center, a folk-rock strain runs through a significant portion of the record–and remarkably, it never sinks into lazy introspection. Cartwright’s message to the world sounds powerful even confined to a record, and he burns like a candle onstage. v

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