Midwest Side Stories
Reviewed by: Jane Roser
Midwest Side Stories, the 7th album by Bloomington, Illinois’ Chicago Farmer (Cody Diekhoff), is a masterpiece of folk tales, social and political commentary and what my Southern mama would call “sass”.
Nine of the tracks were penned by Diekhoff, and the tenth is a fantastic rendition of John Hartford’s classic “I’m Still Here”. Each song explores themes of hope, depression, hard work, worry and eventually finding a way back from the brink. “Midwest Side Stories” delves into every man and woman’s deepest anxieties and fears with guts and passion, while reminding us that a saving grace is just within reach.
“Umbrella” illustrates the realities and boundaries of our mortality: “I want to write you a sad, sad song that I hope will make you smile/and then we could pass it along/we’re only here for a little while” and concludes with the hopeful realization that “for so long I was living to die, now I’m dying just to live.” It’s an emotional, spellbinding song and Diekhoff’s unique vocal style delivers the thoughtful lyrics with a visceral punch.
“Rocco N’ Susie” is a hilarious, cheeky, yet tragic tale of a family set on hard times who decide cooking meth out of their home would be a good career path (it’s not). I loved this song and felt a twinge of guilt for laughing at the end when Diekhoff throws in a clever, unexpected verse and then concludes with a sweet “mmhmm”.
“Two Sides of the Story” looks at how divisive our society has become and how quick we are to pass judgement before considering all the facts. One verse sees Diekhoff meeting a religious fanatic who “held grudges over others and a fear he couldn’t hide/judging by the cover, not the story that’s inside.” It proves that you can’t weigh the facts if you’ve got the scales loaded down with your own opinions.
“Farms & Factories” is a rousing fiddle-drenched hoedown about working-class folk. From farm and factory workers to teachers and preachers, it comes from a place of pride in the soil that is tilled and the family which enjoys the simple pleasures life has to offer.
Rousing, passionate and a whole lot of fun “Midwest Side Stories” is the kick in the pants, spiritual awakening we all could use right about now…mmhmm.