Chamber Strings’ Kevin Junior R.I.P.

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A mainstay of the Chicago (and Midwest) music scene, he also helmed the Mystery Girls and Rosehips.

By Michael Toland

It’s with great sadness we report that Kevin Junior, leader of the excellent, underrated Chamber Strings, passed away on Friday, Jan. 15. Official cause of death is unknown, but he’d suffered health problems for years, including major heart surgery, and, as his friend and bandmate Dave Swanson noted in his Facebook announcement, “his heart just gave out.”

The Akron, Ohio native was a longtime stalwart of the Chicago music scene, starting with the glam-rocking Mystery Girls. That band evolved into the powerful Rosehips, on which his distinctive vision of Nikki Sudden/Dave Kusworth rock & roll meeting Burt Bacharach/Laura Nyro pop began to coalesce. The band’s impossibly rare Soul Veronique in Parchment is a soulful stunner. Then came the overtly popwise Chamber Strings, who released two amazingly strong albums: 1997’s bristling Gospel Morning and 2001’s beautiful Month of Sundays. The latter featured the song “Make It Through the Summer,” co-written by Wilco’s John Stirratt.

The Strings also backed Nikki Sudden on his eclectic masterpiece Red Brocade. Junior worked with both Sudden and his brother and Junior’s kindred spirit Epic Soundtracks off and on for the last part of both of their careers. Junior’s aforementioned health issues prevented him from working steadily in the last decade, but he did manage to reform the Chamber Strings and put out a single, 2009’s “I Come Apart (A Tragic Comedy).”

Unfortunately, nearly all of Junior’s work is out of print. Until this state of affairs is rectified, the best bet for the uninitiated is Spanish label Sunthunder Records’ 2009 compilation Ruins, which spans every band in his career. This collection of live cuts and rare studio tracks may not capture the sustained beauty of one of his studio albums, but it still gives a savory taste of his unparalleled way with a tune and makes absolutely clear how much we’ve lost with his passing. May he rest in peace.

***

The Chamber Strings – “It’s No Wonder”:

 

The Chamber Strings – “Make It Through the Summer”:

The Chamber Strings – “Flashing Star”:

The Chamber Strings – “Dead Man’s Poise”:

The Rosehips – “Ragdoll” (live):

The Mystery Girls – “Kingery Highway”:

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