Artist: Chicago Farmer
Album: Midwest Side Stories
Label: Self Released
Release Date: 09/09/2016
Chicago Farmer (aka Cody Diekhoff) has the novelist’s gift of building a suspenseful story to a surprising conclusion. Along the way, you need to stay with him as his lyrics are both clever and often insightful. Although this his seventh album, he first came to my attention a couple of years back with what I felt one of 2013’s strongest songs, “The Twenty Dollar Bill,” from Backenforth, IL.
At heart, Diekhoff is a protest singer, who in this election year paints a rather dark picture of the country. Unfortunately, many of the subjects he sings about ring true, but Diekhoff is smart enough to offer hope and some solutions too. Besides the hope, we find tales of depression, job loss, meth, skateboards. A divided nation, used cars, the late shift, farms, factories, the destruction of our environment and the gift of still being here with a chance to effect change. These are all his songs with the exception of the closing, “I’m Still Here,” by John Hartford.
What makes Chicago Farmer appealing is the ability to sing about the regular person, the working person in a relatable way. I can compare my reclusive neighbors to “Rocco N’ Susie” in the song of the same name with lines like, “When they’d go out to get the morning paper, Rocco and Susie would wave” or “But the neighborhood hardly saw ‘em, except when they took out the trash.”
Bitter sarcasm, a requisite trait for protest singers, is often evident as well. He faults the police for punishing a petty crime like skateboarding in a forbidden area, when terrorism and racism are allowed to fester and bloom. “Two Sides of the Story” can easily be viewed as a commentary of the ridiculous political campaigns we endure. As he says, “If you’re telling your side of the story, your side better hold some weight, and if you’re telling the story of our side of town, you’d better get your story straight.”
Diekhoff surrounds himself with several musicians playing electric and slide guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and fiddle to accent his acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s folk-rock with a touch of bluegrass in places. On the quieter ones, you may even reminisce about early, solo Neil Young. The opening lines from “Umbrella” epitomize his stance in these few words, “I arrived here, kicking and screaming the day that I took the stage/I went searching for some kind of meaning, like words looking for a page/Came up empty and full of worry that nothing could cover the pain/The these songs and stories began unfolding like an umbrella in the rain.”
When high profile artists like Bruce Springsteen sing about similar issues they get plenty of attention. Chicago Farmer is an important voice as well. Lend him your ears.
– Jim Hynes