Bill Knight | Chicago Farmer

BILL KNIGHT

BILL KNIGHT

“Chicago Farmer” is a great name for an act, like “Goofy Ridge Industrialist” or “nonviolent commando.”

But Chicago Farmer is much more than a snappy name. Born Cody Diekhoff, Chicago Farmer is more than a 39-year-old “singer/songwriter.” The troubadour is standup – a storyteller like the best standup comics and an upright fellow standing up for regular folks and the lives of quiet desperation and outright glee we all experience to the soundtracks in our heads and hearts.

Chicago Farmer’s live album “Quarter Past Tonight,” recorded Dec. 1-2 at downtown Peoria’s Apollo Theater, is scheduled to be released early this month. The double CD’s 32 tracks make up a Chicago Farmer retrospective of sorts, with songs and anecdotes familiar to clubgoers throughout Central Illinois and the Midwest.

Raised in Delavan, Chicago Farmer brings a pleasant and too-rare blend of everyday small-town ethos and routine big-city experiences to his healthy working-class perspective.

He’s comparable to John Prine, Loudon Wainwright and Neil Young, and also occasionally like the late Steve Goodman, Art Thieme and Woody Guthrie, with a soulful sense of humor and keen insight to the human condition and all its passion, silliness and dreams. However, he’s not derivative as much as a distinctive artist who’s plucked the baton from such contemporaries and forebears to race on.

Describing himself as a “folk-singing hillbilly from the upper Midwest,” Chicago Farmer uses his dynamic but delicate tenor to soar and also bring listeners along for flights of fancy. But he’s also such a solid writer that his skill can make other aspiring wordsmiths feel like mere typists, with momentary but memorable lines like “pickin’ guitars and fights.”

The reflective song “Anymore” deals with frustration and change, surrendering the impulse to drink, fight, cuss – and maybe dream of peace. “Round Table” is a common-sense take on the environment and prejudice, and “Dirtiest Uniform” starts off things with a universal tale of heroic efforts and sincere sacrifice.

Other highlights are “Who on Earth” (about arbitrary rules, showing a point of view that’s less “anti-establishment” than “pro-human”),“Illinois Anthem,” a nicely weird mix of celebration and rejection, turning dejection into a joyful romp, and “Umbrella,” a comforting cut, even soothing, with a memorable melody and poetic lyrics.

Besides a knack for turning a phrase, the talented guitarist also can twist a riff, shown in numbers such as “Victoria Walker,” about racism and irony. Among all the love songs and laments, uptempo jigs and melancholy ballads – like “Won’t Let You Down,” which almost sounds like a lullaby – there’s an inspiration and insight here that’s too rare in whatever passes for the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, much less what radio’s become.

One of the best tracks is “Farms & Factories,” which starts by singing “My family works in the factory, my family works on the farm,” and ends with a nice double-reverse, pining, “Thank God for the farms and the factories, thank the devil for the factory farms.”

In the jarring stomp “Assembly Line Blues,” featuring a sharp harmonica, or his cover of Edward David Anderson & Backyard Tire Fire’s “Good to Be” (a rousing bit of merriment), or “I Need a Hit” (combining a humble sense of humor with some sobering perceptions), or “Rocco N’ Susie” (a plaintive look at superficial appearances, pressures and the illusory temptation of meth as a solution), Chicago Farmer reminds us that excellent artists aren’t confined to the coasts or urban areas. Many listeners will agree with Diekhoff observation here: “Local bands are music to my ears.”

In heavy times and troubles that burden folks hour by hour, Chicago Farmer offers a sober lightness and creates music that’s a balm to our spirits.

Chicago Farmer is scheduled to perform Aug. 3-4 at the Castle Theatre in Bloomington.

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