James McCandless - A Forgotten Chicago Treasure


Chicago has had its share of accomplished singer/songwriters, most notably Michael Smith, Steve Goodman, and John Prine. But another artist, just as talented, was the late James McCandless. He passed away in 2013, but his music still deserves a larger audience.

 I first heard McCandless around 1990, at Fitzgerald’s night club just outside of Chicago. It was their Tuesday evening open mic. I sat at the bar as various aspiring musicians wandered in with guitar cases in hand. Others huddled in a corner talking shop or tuning up to prepare for their performance.

The proceedings began as the first gentleman slowly took the stage. He looked disheveled in his baggy pants and loose sweater. Then he played some of the best songs I had ever heard. Others in attendance seemed to know him, and I quickly learned I had been listening to James McCandless, a local songwriter.
He immediately stood out by the quality of his songs and his almost classical finger style guitar. The first chance I got, I drove to the Old Town School of Folk Music on Armitage and bought Out West Somewhere. I went to see him every chance I got, which was usually at Fitzgerald’s. He occasionally opened for a touring artist whose songs would usually pale in comparison.

I discovered his music just as he was about to release Sea of Freedom, another collection of stellar compositions. “Lily Langtry” which I have heard called one of the best songs written about celebrity. His own family history is the subject in “Springfield.” Irish musicians John William, Martin Hayes and Jackie Moran join Julianne Macarus to round out the instrumentation.

The music of James McCandless is intelligent, insightful, and will leave you wanting more. Hopefully, more artists will cover his songs in ther future. His wonderful songs are widely available on streaming services and at jamesmccandless.com     


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