The Shining Moment Before a Spectacular Downfall

After five immensely troubled years, The Chamber Strings reunited recently. i i

After five immensely troubled years, The Chamber Strings reunited recently. Donte Tatum hide caption

itoggle caption Donte Tatum
After five immensely troubled years, The Chamber Strings reunited recently.

After five immensely troubled years, The Chamber Strings reunited recently.

Donte Tatum

Talk About 'Shadow Classics'

  • Why do so many contemporary bands with their own approach to classic pop encounter indifference in the marketplace? Is it a case of too much retro styling? Not enough?
the cover of The Chamber Strings' 'Month of Sundays'
  • Recording: Month of Sundays
  • Artist: The Chamber Strings
  • Genre: Chamber-Pop
  • Label: Bobsled, 2001

When The Chamber Strings performed at Chicago's Double Door in January, it was the first time that the pop band, led by singer and songwriter Kevin Junior, had been on stage in five years. A story in The Chicago Tribune told of Junior's long addiction to and battle with heroin — a struggle he said began during the making of this achingly sweet record. "I was able to write, arrange, produce and record Month of Sundays as a complete junkie," Junior told the paper. "But when the record came out and we started touring in the van, it just started getting worse and worse."

Month of Sundays drew rave reviews upon its release, but because of Junior's problems — along with financial difficulties at the band's indie label, which has since folded — it pretty much disappeared within a year. Cue up "Last Lovers" (audio) or the Burt Bacharach-inspired "For the Happy Endings" (audio) to hear why that's a shame: This is wistful wounded-boy pop of the highest order. Junior writes unassuming melodies that don't quite conform to the two-measure instant-hook template, and he sings them with the casual air of a cat stretched out on a sofa in the sun. All around his fragile voice are textures commonly deployed on mid-'60s pop classics: strings, horns (including saxophone from Chicago jazz titan Ken Vandermark), harpsichord and, every now and then, surging electric-guitar countermelodies in the style of The Byrds.

Such lavish displays of instrumental craft are sometimes used to distract from or cover up deficits at the song level. Not here. Junior writes terse and deceptively loaded miniatures, choosing images carefully so that his few words, often the thoughts of a doomed ardent lover, leave a lasting impression. When he laments the speed with which summer flies by — on "Make It Through the Summer" (audio) — he transforms an overworked notion into an awesome and deeply conflicted expression. Here, in 4 minutes and 39 seconds, is the warmth of the sun and the dread of approaching chill, the early-summer sense of endless possibility and the autumnal regret about roads not taken. Oh, yeah, and a love story, too.

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Month of Sundays

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Month of Sundays
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The Chamber Strings

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Month of Sundays

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Month of Sundays
Artist
The Chamber Strings
Label
Bobsled
Released
2001

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