Perhaps Stace England
should thank Sufjan Stevens and his three-cheers-for-Illinois album for making geography a hip endeavor once again. Then again, England's Greetings from Cairo, Illinois
has little in common with Stevens' gentle folk beyond its references to the Prairie State. For starters, England actually hails from southern Illinois (unlike Stevens and his Michigan origins). Furthermore, Greetings
exposes the gritty reality of a city the liner notes describe as "the most fascinating town in America," starting with the a cappella nineteenth-century folk chestnut "Goin' Down to Cairo" and the 1920s-era finger-picked "Cairo Blues." Other songs focus on dark moments in the city's history (a 1909 lynching, 1960s racial tension, vote-buying) or glimmers of hope (visits from Jesse Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant), all driven by a rootsy soundtrack bristling with hymnal harmonies, dusty honky-tonk and the occasional twinge of funk.