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Fallen Angels Rise to the Occasion
by Mark Andel

They may be fallen, but they sing like angels.

The band Fallen Angels, which has been performing regular gigs at Chicago clubs including The Charleston, The Hideout, Uncommon Ground, and Hopcats, released a brand new CD of original compositions in a release party at The Hideout recently, and it's a harmony-rich and satisfying listen.

Fans of their live shows should enjoy this collection quite a bit. Front man Tim Menard, who penned eight of the nine compositions here (Jennifer Barron Fishman added "Open to the Future" ) said that the goal was to "capture the sound youÕd hear when you come to see us live."

When they play at clubs, Fallen Angels pepper these original tunes throughout sets that include songs by Johnny Cash, Allison Krauss, John Hiatt, and perennial favorite Hank Williams. They tend to select tunes from these artists that may not leap immediately to mind when you consider their established collected work. Of the Johnny Cash tunes, for example, sure, there's "Folsom Prison Blues" in the Fallen Angels repertoire (which is now upwards of 80 songs) but there may also be the more obscure (and even better bar song) "Hey Porter" mixed in there, too. Another crowd pleaser is the Hank Williams song "My BucketÕs Got a Hole In It."

But on to this new release.

Menard has been writing songs since he was sixteen years old, and his lyrics resonate in their heartfelt simplicity. It's perfectly understandable that he lists his influences as George Jones, Hank Williams, and John Lennon (if Lennon seems like a strange addition to this trio, give his tune "Mother" a listen sometime, if you want to hear a simple lyric thrown into a blast furnace of emotion).

Many of Menard's compositions here appear deceptively simple and "connect" in their direct approach to life, love, and loss. "Make Me a Train" is a plaintive plea for escape from troubles, reminiscent of the Hank Williams song "I Heard the Lonesome Whistle Blow." "Trustin' Love" has a wary traveler learning what it means to open up and put it all on the line for someone. Matt Weber adds some nice pedal steel work here. As if in response to this number, Jennifer Barron FishmanÕs next track "Open To The Future" reveals the liberating feeling that can be found in relying on someone. "Worried Old World" is a folk anthem exploring the dangers of environmental exploitation ("There's a hole the size of Kansas floatin' in the sky"). Cathie Van Wert contributes a nice fiddle break here, and "Cryin' Is Easy" has a refrain that any barfly could love
But cryin' is easy,
It's the livin' that's hard.
With no one forgivin'
As things just fall apart"
It's a cry-in-your- beer self-indictment that comes from just north of Jones country.

All band members have had various musical incarnations, as well as other incarnations: Jennifer Barron Fishman "spent a decade massaging and learning yoga," and Lori Polzak, who adds some sweet vocals to these tracks, was a former madrigal singer. Violinist/fiddle player Cathie Van Wert manages her own graphic design firm called
DoubleTake Design. Fallen Angels came together at a 1997 St. Patrick's Day show at the Charleston, 2076 N. Hoyne, which has become something of a home-base. It was there that Cathie Van Wert joined the group with her Irish fiddle playing and the sound "gelled." Since then, Fallen Angels have played at the aforementioned clubs as well as FitzGerald's, Ivan's on Ashland, and the Bucktown Arts Festival, where they will make another appearance this year.

The CD "Fallen Angels" is available on-line at CD Baby.

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