Review of Midwest Side Stories by Chicago Farmer

September 2nd, 2016

Cody Diekhoff (pronounced dee- cough), who writes and performs as Chicago Farmer, is a true Midwest boy. Just looking at the cover photo on his new release Midwest Side Stories leaves little doubt. He is sitting in a lawn chair, wearing flip flops, shorts, a T-shirt with a jacket and a winter scarf wrapped around his neck. In his outstretched arms he has an umbrella in one hand and a beach ball in the other. Propped up behind him is a lawn rake and on the other side a snow shovel. There is a teeter-totter with a guitar case on the down side and an acoustic guitar on the other. Yep, he is definitely from the Midwest. A place where you never know quite what to expect, and you take nothing for granted. You just go with the flow.

Diekhoff and engineer Chris Harden co-produced Midwest Side Stories. Harden also plays the Glockenspiel and adds harmony vocals. Other musicians on the album include Ernie Hendrickson (Guitar and vocals), Heather Horton (vocals), Tina Howell (vocals), Dan Andree (fiddle), Jaik Willis (guitar), and drums were handled by Darren Garvey. While Matt Ulery, Rodrigo Palma and Jon Goldfine all took turns on Bass.

Midwest Side Stories is Chicago Farmer’s seventh album, and is due to be released on September 30, 2016. If you are familiar with other releases by Chicago Farmer, then you know his songs have very strong lyrical value. Much like Arlo Guthrie has in the past, Chicago Farmer tackles social and political issues going on in the world today. On this project he writes songs about a divided country, the environment, working in factories and losing those jobs. His songs are written for and about you and me. They are about the men and women who work in factories, on the farms and shopkeepers. People who are all struggling to make ends meet. Midwest Side Stories has ten songs all written by Deikhoff, except the John Hartford classic I’m Still Here.

Umbrella starts off the album. This song is about what a force music can be in the daily grind of people’s lives. How even musicians feel the pressure of daily living. But with music they can help us all get to a better place. “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, then these songs and stories began unfolding like an umbrella in the rain.” Sometimes you just feel like you’re going through the motions, you get depressed and sometimes music can ease the sharp edge. “I wanna write you a sad sad song, that I hope will make you smile.”

Rocco N’ Susie is a song about a couple who fall on hard times when he gets laid off from a factory and she lost her business.  “Rocco and Susie were married, two kids and a two car garage…Rocco he lost his pension, Sue started losing her sleep. Kids lost their parents attention, house lost all its upkeep”. The song goes on with a story about how fast and how awful life can turn when things begin that downhill roll. “One child lost part of his vision, the other went partially blind. Cops got a search and suspicion, to go and see what they could find. Rocco he lay on the kitchen floor, holding a spoon and a match. Cops opened up the garage door, Susie is cooking up a batch”.  

Two Sides of the Story tells about the division of people across the land. There are people who use the news media to spread stories that tell only part of the story. “There was a weighted anchor, he used to scream and point the news. You could see him every night upon the ten o’clock evening blues. He swore he stood for something, and he tried to take a stance, but he had no legs to stand upon to be fair and balanced.” It’s not just the news media to blame for the divisions in our country. “There was a lawmaker, who’s laws never made any sense. So he started making promises to both sides of the fence. He double crossed his fingers, every other time he smiled. Shook hands across the country, couldn’t reach across the aisle”.

Farms & Factories tells the story of the hardworking people who made this country great. People who worked the fields and worked on the factory floors, they worked not only for themselves but to boost the entire nations net worth. “They said we were born in a barn, the barn that grandpa built. Every night we’d come inside, and lie under grandma’s quilt. Been working these hands, working this land, the seeds been there since birth. Hammering away in the factory, or outside tilling the earth”. The proud people who once owned the land and the crops, are still working the same land, which is now owned by some big conglomerate. “My family works in the factory, my family works on the farm. Thank God for the farm and the factories, thank the devil for the factory farm”.

Midwest Side Stories is full of great lyrics and wonderful music. It doesn’t matter if you live in the American Midwest or somewhere else. These songs will speak to you in a language that is easy to understand. If you are a regular person who works for a living, you will find yourself absorbed into the stories. In other words, if you are an earthling you will get great enjoyment by listening to Midwest Side Stories by Chicago Farmer.