CD Review: Chicago Farmer – Backenforth, IL (Self-Released, 2013)
Though “Chicago Farmer” was originally the name of his band, six albums in, it’s become a solo sobriquet for Cody Diekhoff. A native of Delavan, IL (population 1,825), Diekhoff replanted his rural roots in the big city whose name was bestowed upon him. He cites Woody Guthrie and fellow Illinoisan John Prine as influences, but there’s a good helping of country in his folk songs, and his voice cuts through with a high-lonesomeness that may remind you of Hank Williams, Green on Red’s Dan Stuart or Roky Erickson. He often performs solo (and does so on a few tracks here), but for this outing he’s gathered Chicago players on guitar, bass, drums, organ, resonator, dobro and pedal steel, and christened the aggregation “the Hired Hands.” You’d hardly know they were a session band, as the live-to-analog-tape performances have the we’re-so-tight-we-can-swing looseness of a road-honed unit. Diekhoff’s songs blend the details of country living with big-city realities as he sings of a small town’s suffocating embrace and the protective prescience of a rural upbringing. There are songs of rooted worry and existential angst, and the album’s title track, with its swinging steel and Merle Travis-styled picking, is sing-along ready. Audience participation is apparently a regular feature of Diekhoff’s live shows, and the inviting nature of his songs translates well to record.