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"Just as year in music seemed done, local band surprises"

Just when I thought I was done buying new music for the year, I got an e-mail from Benjie Hughes.

I met Benjie earlier this year, and got a tour of his studio, the astounding Back Third Audio on Stolp Avenue in Aurora. Benjie owns the kind of setup I'd have killed for when I was 18, and in between using it to lay down tracks for local bands, he's been co-producing an album with his sister's band, Willowfair.

Well, the album's done, and Benjie wrote me last week to invite me to the CD release show at the Warehouse Church. I had no idea what to expect, and I had to navigate snowy, icy streets to get there, mumbling all the while that this band better be worth it.

They were.

I'm not sure how to characterize Willowfair. The band is basically Mandy Bibza on piano and vocals, and her husband Ryan Bibza on vocals. Their music is haunting, slow and symphonic -- there aren't many pop song melodies here, but give these songs time, and they'll get under your skin.

For the show, the Bibzas were joined by a string quartet and a full rhythm section, including Benjie (a former staff writer for The Beacon News) and his brother, Daniel. They played the entire album, The Lie Within, from beginning to end. I have to say, that's one of the things I like most about the CD -- it's defiantly an album, meant to be played in sequence as a single piece of music. I was immediately taken with several of the songs, especially Last Dance and Without Screaming. The latter song was a joy to watch live, as the rhythm section provided the backbeat with foot stomps and claps while the strings swooped in, adding accents to the Bibzas' chanted vocals.

I bought the album on the spot, and have listened to it more than a few times since. This is dark, fragile, grand, beautiful stuff, and if you'd like to hear it for yourself, log on to www.myspace.com/willowfair and listen. Then click over to www.willowfair.com to buy it.

I expect The Lie Within will be the last very good album I buy in 2007. - Andre Salles, Beacon News Aurora, IL

"Top 15 Records of 2007"

1/17/08 - Feb 24th Show / 2007 Favorite Records

Happy New Year... mark your calendars for February 24th @ Uncommon Ground in Chicago!

In keeping with the New Year spirit, I’ve compiled a list of my 15 favorite records from 2007 (I tried to whittle it down to ten... I tried to make it a “top list” with some order to it, but failed at both). So in case the winter months find you in some sort of musical drought, here are a handful of albums (in alphabetical order) that rocked my world last year and might just rock yours this year:

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apochrapha

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Beruit - The Flying Club Clup

Blonde Redhead - 23

Derek Webb - The Ringing Bell

The Khrusty Brothers

Jens Jekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala

Jeremy Keen - False Starts

Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests...

The National - Boxer

Over The Rhine - The Trumpet Child

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Willowfair - The Lie Within - Ben Thomas


"The Lie Within"
Available at www.willowfair.com



If the moon needed to howl, where would he turn?

If the darkest hour of night gets depressed, where can he hide?

Willowfair can be considered a reunion to the orphan, a fire to the freezing, and justice to the villain. It’s when the shoulder cries on you. It’s when the casket is overflowing with flowers. It’s where beauty and pain meet up in a love/hate embrace.

Piano joins up with a cello and violin, forming a sound which has massive strength while handing you a tissue at the same time. Vocals of a growling male lead meet the tenderness of a sweet angelic support, standing better together than they ever could alone.

Willowfair is a mixture of joy and suffering, so it makes sense that families are at the center. Husband and wife co-creators Ryan and Mandy Bibza started the project in 2004 with a beautiful piano they received as a wedding present. Joining them a year later were twin sisters Priscilla Dean (cello) and Joy Deen (violin). The four of them, joined by a rhythm section including Mandy’s brothers Benjie and Daniel Hughes, went into Backthird Audio in Aurora, IL to record their debut album “The Lie Within” which is set for National Release in 2009 and is available for purchase at www.willowfair.com

“The Lie Within sets up its own atmosphere and marks off its own space with a delicate and intricate sound.” -Bob Felberg, Phantom Tollbooth

As a foursome they have toured all around the Midwest, from ‘The House Café’ in Dekalb up to Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Willowfair's live performances are extremely captivating, immediately commanding the attention of any room. They are influenced by artists such as Sigur Ros, Over the Rhine and Radiohead.

“This is dark, fragile, grand, beautiful stuff.” -Andre Salles, Beacon News

Willowfair will haunt you to sleep and kiss you goodnight.