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Souled American

Souled American's Chris Grigoroff and Joe Adducci are not interested in wearing nifty vintage cowboy shirts, shining up their slickly restored pedal steel, or furthering the alternative country revolution. They have long hair. They live in Chicago. They wear flannel shirts. But their songs are fit to stand alongside the most staid pillars of country, bluegrass, or folk. Each song is a story, dark, gorgeous, and completely enthralling. Souled American's music is a worn down couch on a screen porch, a cold domestic beer on a hot night, a locust taking flight from a dusty road. It's more honest, more real, more thoughtful, and more breathtaking than any other so-called insurgent country band ever. Period. And yet, you've probably never heard of Souled American, even if you're a huge fan of, say, Palace or Uncle Tupelo. Well, it's about time you did.

Souled American formed in Chicago in 1987, the same year that Uncle Tupelo formed in another Illinois town. They soon signed to Rough Trade Records, and proceeded to release three albums: Fe (1988), Flubber (1989), and Around the Horn (1990). They toured with bands like Camper Van Beethoven. The future looked bright. Then, in 1991, Rough Trade's American branch folded, effectively dooming Souled American's American distribution. Souled American released another album, Sonny, on Rough Trade U.K. in 1992, and two more albums on the German label Moll (1996's Frozen and 1999's Notes Campfire), but American distribution was spotty at best. Chicago's Checkered Past Records domestically released Frozen, but fans of the first four records were left scrabbling through record shops, hoping to find a hidden stash.

Enter San Francisco-based tUMULt Records. Andee Connors founded his label with a driving passion to re-release the music of Souled American, his favorite band in the whole world. In 1999, tUMULt released Framed, two double CDs which compile all four Rough Trade records. It's quite a stunner, presenting a band that never sacrificed or compromised good songwriting in favor of slick aesthetics. This is the real deal, folks. Listen up.

The songs on Fe and Flubber are twangy and gritty, marked by thick plunky bass and a full band sound. Two of the featured songs -- "Notes Campfire" and "Make Me Laugh, Make Me Cry" -- are from Fe. The latter song title eventually graced the book Make Me Laugh, Make Me Cry: Fifty Posters About Souled American by author and über fan Camden Joy. In 1997, Joy plastered New York City with 50 posters containing testimonials and effusive praise about Souled American, which helped to pique some interest about the band. "Old Old House" comes from Around the Horn, and "Not Over" is from Sonny, an eclectic covers album which presents a murkier, dubbier, dirgier Souled American.

Souled American is once again playing live shows. Though the shows are few and far between, you'd be ill-advised to miss one if you have the chance to go.