Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Until he settled in Chicago in 2003, Cody Diekhoff toured the back roads and interstates as Chicago Farmer, and he continues to plow the rich, loamy soil of folk, country, rock and bluegrass music, planting the seeds of his efforts in furrowed musical fields of small towns and big cities under that name. On his sixth album - co-produced with Chris Harden in Chicago and reproducing the energy and good-time feel of a live performance - he ponders the meaning of place and family as well as our connections to a larger urban society that often forgets small-town values.
The album kick off energetically with the Neil Young-inflected Everybody in This Town, an infectious song about the fishbowl existence of small town life: "everybody knows the kind of life that you're bound to lead if it's wrong or right/everybody knows about your shallow ups and downs/everybody knows everybody in this town." Workin' On It is Dwight Yoakam's Honky Tonk Man with a twist; a joyous sing-along song about trying to find one's way and "learning how to end this song/this one's going on too long." Who on Earth, a country version of the Five Man Electric Band's Signs and John Prine's Paradise, wonders "who makes these rules that we all follow?/who owns the water that we all swallow?/who owns the lands/who owns the crops?/tell me who owns these mountaintops/who in the hell could be forgiven?/who on earth could get into heaven?" With its surprise and humorous ending, The Twenty-Dollar Bill celebrates the power of family and the values your family passes down to you.
Stark and joyous at the same time, the songs grab you by the throat and refuse to let go until they've penetrated your heart and soul, which, after all, is what great folk music has always done; Chicago Farmer's new album stands well in that tradition.