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month of sundays
The Chamber Strings
Month of Sundays

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Feeling as if your life could use a bit more style these days? Look no further than The Chamber Strings. Not only are they Chicago’s best-dressed band, but they’re damn fine musicians to boot. Longtime fans of lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Kevin Junior might remember his modest-yet-dapper beginnings as the leader of Glam-revivalists Rosehips, whose demise pre-dated the founding of The Chamber Strings by mere months. Looking back, it seems as if Junior has always been a man who is dressed for success.

Month of Sundays is this talented (and vastly underrated) quintet’s sophomore shot on upstart Bobsled Records, and it expands upon the dreamy '70s power-pop sound of the group's 1997 debut, Gospel Morning. Masterminded by sonic architect Junior, Month of Sundays is brimming with ecstatic melodies, dense harmonies and tunes so effortlessly hummable that they could stop a Hollies compilation dead in its tracks.

Right off the bat, you get the notion that Junior and his bandmates each have at least five Chicago (the band not the city) albums floating in their music collections. The gently layered sounds and drowsy mid-tempo feel of "It’s No Wonder", not to mention the sonorous swoon of the instrumental title track, provide immediate evidence of this. Your Cetera-related intuition may be further strengthened by the piano-led lilt of "The Fool Sings Without Any Song" or the swooping harmonies and gauzy AM-radio feel of "Beautiful You". But for all its Chicago-isms, Month of Sundays does nothing if not prove Junior to be a top songwriter in his own right.

Throughout the album, Junior drops wistful lyrical thoughts into pools of pure pop, then sits back and watches them shimmer in the sunlight. "Let Me Live My Own Life" is an off-kilter rocker that marries a biting lyric to irresistible riffs and refined percussion, creating a sound that’s quirky, yet never resorts to gimmickry. Proving that this is not a one-man show, "Sleepy Night" and "For the Happy Endings" showcase the prowess of band members Anthony Illarde, Carolyn Engelmann, Tim Fowler and Jason Walker, as their potent mix of viola, organ, piano, banjo and other assorted instruments breathes new life into Junior’s sordid tales. Elsewhere, Junior invites you into his own private world of misery on the maudlin "The Road Below", then asks you to join him in a prayer for the dearly departed on the surprisingly upbeat album closer "Our Dead Friends".

A solid and thoroughly satisfying album, Month of Sundays might finally garner Kevin Junior and The Chamber Strings the attention and adoration that they so richly deserve. If not, it hardly matters -- Kevin Junior knew he was a rock star all those years ago. Whether or not he can convince you of that fact is another story entirely.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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