Thursday, April 19, 2018

Street Corner Music - Record Store Day

There's something about Street Corner Music in Oak Park that always draws me back... It's the one store I'm sure to visit on every Record Store Day... 

While working on a feature for the Detroit Free Press, I was asking shop owners around the Metro Detroit area, including People's, Hello, Stormy Records, Dearborn  Music, and more, about items in their retail collection (or treasures they choose to store away) that are considerably rare. If not ultra rare, I also asked about items that were unique, special, held a certain significance to the store, or were just too weird to believe...!

Aaron Anderson is the store's manager, and he told me this excellent story about a longtime patron of Street Corner. It really communicated to me the poignancy that these flat, black and circular discs of pressed, groovy wax can bear between a sleeve of paper. Every record you hold has a story, some big, some little; a journey that they've been on....

I'll let Aaron Anderson take it from here...

Records do not only capture the music of the time, sometimes they capture a historic moment in time and the person who was there. Carl was an early regular customer at Street Corner Music and an all around great guy. When I started working here, I did not care much for jazz, and Carl was a through and through jazzman. Early on he told me "I have faith in you... Sooner or later, all intelligent people come around to jazz music!" When Carl passed away it saddened us, and even now when the someone mentions the "electric" Miles Davis records, we often quote his harsh comments on the subject. 

When we purchased his record collection, we got a glimpse into a jazz lover who was there from the beginning! It was well known that Carl frequented the legendary Detroit jazz club The Blue Bird Inn in the 1950's. What was unknown was that for as cool as he was, he was also a starstruck autograph seeker. In 1958, the Miles Davis Quintet played the Blue Bird Inn and Carl had the wisdom and nerve to ask Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Philly Joe Jones to autograph his records. We have kept the first press copies of "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" and "Blue Train" that are signed by the three jazz legends. 

The records remind us  of these three jazz giants humble beginnings and of the amazing people we have come to call friends here at Street Corner Music. A moment in time that can never be repressed or remastered, truly one of a kind copies. While the condition of the two records are far from mint, the loving and personalized autographs to our dear friend Carl more than make up for it. The man who believed in the power of jazz music and in me so much that he foresaw our collision course. Two records previously owned by a man so cool that John Coltrane wrote "To my main man Carl". And if you were wondering why Miles Davis would sign a copy of Blue Train, you probably know enough to know that's just the kind of thing Miles would do.

Miles Davis "Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet" Prestige 7094 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, NYC address, flat edge, autographed)
John Coltrane "Blue Train" Blue Note 1577 (VG/VG-) (1957, deep groove, W. 63rd address, ear in dead wax, autographed)
Value = ??? - we had an offer of $2,000 about 10 years ago for "Blue Train" by itself but turned it down

You can follow Street Corner Music online, or via Facebook

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

W.O.M.B. - Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation

Take off your rose-colored glasses. Take your fingers out of your ears. Stop changing the subject.

W.O.M.B. is a five-piece Detroit hardcore punk band whose name is an acronym for "War on Man-Babies." Their defiance and provocation does not stop at their name's mere challenge against the patriarchy and the outing of machismo's vulnerabilities, flaws and hypocrisies, said defiance and provocation expands and is imbued upon each of their songs in contexts that address several important and frustratingly-ongoing/unresolved issues of inequality, misogyny, prejudice, greed, apathy, complacency...

We can all speak up or get involved with a cause for the first time, if we feel so inspired--it's definitely always easier to stay couched in the status quo... But W.O.M.B. are not just any punk band throwing up middle fingers for shock value - each member has been involved and supported various causes and groups working to effect change, to manifest tangible/actionable results in the struggle for justice and a transformation away from a culture of myriad toxicity. That being said, the music speaks for itself...

W.O.M.B. released this intense 11-minute set of music at the end of March - and you'll likely hear most of the five songs that comprise Soundtrack for a Heated Conversation at their next show, Sun., April 22 at Cellarmen's in Hazel Park. The lyrics would no doubt start a certifiably "heated" conversation, but because these songs initiate topics of conversations that are typically all-out-avoided if possible, the music, the insistent rhythms, the ferocious guitars, the frenetic time signatures, the fortissimo frenzy of each member in a harmony of rage, that energy is necessary. If no one else wants to talk about it, it's going to take W.O.M.B. to scream about it.

More info

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shawn Butzin's Westbound Train

Shawn Butzin has a new song from his upcoming EP, Adventures, that's all about what it's like falling in love in a place like Michigan. It's a strummy, toe-tapping Americana-pop tune that's adorned with the accompaniment of a pedal-steel and a wheezy organ, the kind of stuff you'd anticipate in a country ballad. But let's also talk about how Butzin has a naturally brassy tenor embodying that same country-aesthetic.

But here we are, in Michigan, so far north that we can touch Canada, and so far east that we could hit Niagara Falls in a few hours, and yet this up-and-coming songwriter might strike you as something from Nashville, Southern Cali, or maybe Austin...and Butzin is bringing brio and panache to this embrace of the country-rock/Americana aesthetic. And now, after all that talk about being an eastern state, here's a song about heading west... The debut single from Butzin's EP.

...."runnin' from my daddy's ol' shotgun..." ♫.... "I needed beauty to escape the damage I've done..." 
Butzin's evokes that outlaw-on-the-run aesthetic and imbues it effectively with his poet-ly songwriter sincerity. Country tunes don't survey the same kind of laments or starkness as the blues might, but songs like Butzin's are still narrating a life that's encroached upon hardship stakes, only with this single, it's about a longing, a search, without a desination albeit, but sort of an escaping-kind-of-search toward that untold horizon, with a heart full of love, to get away from some none-too-sunny circumstances. And that energy, that escape, that adventure, is present in the propulsive rhythms, the restorative warmth of the back up choir's harmonies and those cathartic guitar expressions. 

Adventures is out May 31
You can see Butzin and the Buskers April 22nd @ PJs Lager House
with Ian Lee Lamb and the Whiskey Charmers

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Good Things About Your Potential New GoverNerd

Ryan Henry Cox is a musician. He’s also a sports trainer, teacher, intermediate philosopher, tutor, and a father; he’s many things. But he’s also running for Governor of Michigan this year. I’ve written about Ryan in the past, regarding his band, the Good Things. The Good Things are/is just Cox, at least in the compositional/creation/recording stages. If and when (and emphasis on “if”) The Good Things ever perform, he assembles a capable crew of versatile musicians to help bring his clattery-but-charismatic “fractured pop” stories of melody and melodrama to life.

 In fact, while Ryan is busying himself with an ambitious run for the Governorship, he’s getting ready to release an epic, (and emphasis on epic) album called Defeats The Porpoise, an intricately realized serial-adventure style concept album pop opera imbued heavily with spaghetti western grit, compelling magical realism and polychromatic comic book whimsy…

That being said, I’m talking about an album of songs, but it is, as you’ll hear later on this summer, so much more. A fleet of unconventional or eccentric instruments, some of them underutilized in the “indie-rock” realms and some of them actually invented or fused together out of necessity, so it’ll wind up sounding like a sun-splashed baroque-pop album of chimes, strings, hums, croons and various other characterful intonations.

But about a month ago, I picked Ryan’s brain as he gets ready to dig in for four considerably intense months of his DIY campaign. As you can see by his poster, he has no intention to actually win or even make his way into pack with other frontrunners. For him, it’s about creating a unique kind of impact. Or sort of an inception, if you will…, a change of the narrative.

Do you know if this is going to be worth it?
I don’t know that it will be worth it. I only know that it COULD be worth it, and that is enough to try for…But you’re going to notice that some themes in Defeats The Porpoise connect directly to my campaign. The idea of taking something on that’s way bigger than you, out of concern for others, and not caring if I’m likely to ‘fail.’

I wonder if you chose to name your band “The Good Things” because you, as a candidate, have this drive to bridge disparate and entrenched factions and see “the good in everyone…”
I wear my brain on my sleeve, I guess…It’s not optimism—optimism can be easily deluded. I’m more of a realist. There is good in everyone. That isn’t optimistic, it’s real. I don’t need optimism to find good things. ‘What matters in the end’ is a guiding principal in my life, now. How will I feel about  myself based on my history, while living in my ‘death bed.’ If I were reading my biography, would I see myself as someone worth being, someone worth having in the world?

And things are still going alright, running as an Independent?
Of course! Running for a party would ‘defeat the porpoise…’ as it were…. But that is bittersweet. Because it’s kind of incredible how many people of how many different backgrounds have found me and are reaching out with their stories and worries…But, after starting this campaign, it’s much clearer to me now how badly our state wants to keep Independents out of office.

The laces are a bit double-knotted, in terms of parties entrenched against each other. You’re one voice entering a big room of two warring sides yelling at each other.
Yep, that’s why I shut up and listen, first and foremost. People tend to be more patient and their minds a bit more open when you carefully and courteously listen to them first, listen to them sincerely, and then respond. I can’t come out swinging, or people just hide behind party lines and assumptions. But even more fundamental to the system, our campaign laws are stacked against Independents, and promote candidates of the  major parites. I have no chance of winning in “traditional terms,” but I’ll still “win….” I already am winning, in a sense.

And we would presume to ask the Independent what their goal or end-game is, or whether they think they even have a chance, and if not, why bother….People might read a paragraph about you and make premature conclusions about you.
That’s politics in a nutshell. Try to change minds that are certain they won’t change in attempt to influence society. Entering politics at this level and standing apart from the parties has a sort of an emotionally masochistic aspect to it—I know I’ll mostly just get beat down and pushed around or ignored in all of this. But sacrifice is key to worthy achievements.

Is the goal to shift the collective mindset? Change the conversation? Open minds to the overlooked issues?
Definitely. But far from the main goal. That's more of a theme, I suppose. A politician better have some practical goals to pair with any conceptual/inspiration/general intentions. Anyone can say, "I stand with everyone. I stand for [insert anything and everything.]" But that doesn’t mean anything if they can't tell you the solution that they are standing behind.

How do you approach the beast of cynicism? The presupposition that every politician wants something to gain with the job
My slogan is "Don't Vote for Ryan Cox"… Kind of knocks presuppositions off balance. And the question I ask most is, "What do you think we should do?" Then I shut up and listen again. That usually sets up a pretty level playing field for a deeper, friendlier, and more productive conversation.

Do you feel a kinship with the wave of ...for lack of any other candidates that we've seen rise in a post Bernie/Trump era?  I'm thinking of the percentage of women, persons of color and even Trans candidates coming to the fore….did it spring from that, similarly, for you? This calling? This cultural moment? This imperative, of sorts
Yes, but not because they are progressive...The kinship comes from their willingness to accept the (often incredibly ironic) challenges that come with trying to help others who are suspicious of your intentions; the willingness to be insulted and despised in order to help those same people. To be honest, I am quite miserable much of the time during this campaign. This is emotionally tumultuous, isolating and lonely, straining mentally and physically, stretching my intelligence and waking hours to my limits.

Seeing others take the same stand knowing they cannot "win" but still may do great things to better the lives of others...yeah, there is kinship there? Or what about just breaking down a platform? You’ll often see candidates whittle their platform down to a catchy motto… But it never suggests why they’re running. Why are you running?
I'm running because I don't feel I am doing enough to achieve my life goals. If you know me personally, you know that I've been making massive strides to improve all aspects that I think are subpar in myself in order to achieve my most desired goals. One of those is to dedicate my life to helping others and leaving the world in a better state than I came into it. Yes, trying to engage with people at differing interest levels, differing perspectives, and differing attention spans has been tricky!

You’ve got a website up….
Yes, and you can see that all of my Policy Reports are written in 3 ways:
1. a simple breakdown at the top of the page of the basic concepts and suggested solutions regarding an issue or issue set (for those who just want a quick overview of that platform perspective and for those who are interested enough to stop at the website, but not about to read a 5 page report!)
2. A more substantial summarization section that brings up more explanations, solutions, and context
3. A full report on a legislative idea with sources and comprehensive explanations (this is more for journalists, political researchers, nerds like myself, other politicians to steal, etc)
And each one has a catch phrase….

You can find out more about Ryan Henry Cox’s run for Governor of Michigan HERE
Follow The Good Things on Facebook, here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Charming Disaster - April Showers Tour (@ PJs Lager House)

Charming Disaster photo by Sunrise Alexis Winburn

Charming Disaster could be to folk-rock what Detroit's ADULT. is to techno. Two dynamic personalities with an unmatched chemistry, harmoniously putting their talents to reinventing and reinvigorating a genre, all the while conjuring a dynamic theatricality and lush arrangements with just two voices, two hearts, two brains and four arms.

This Brooklyn-based duo make the sinister sound so sweet, and bring a signature kind of glamour to a cool kind of gloom-pop. Fans of the hit sci-fi podcast Welcome To Night Vale would have heard Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris' paranormal love song "Ghost Story" featured as a complimentary serenade to those humorous/horror serial episodes.

Charming Disaster released Cautionary Tales last Spring, an enchanting composite of gothic Americana, a cross-up of old-world string-band and vaudevillian pizazz with a murkier murder-ballad rock haunting. Using pianos and strings, ukulele and gutiar, foot percussion and finely-spun vocal melodies full of emotion and narrative melodrama, they cast a spell akin to the quirky macabre motifs of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, and splash in a bit of hard-boiled noir ambiance.

But there is a wink and a kick and a bit of a playful twirl to their ghoulish waltzes, with their dreamy vocal harmonies particularly adding an enticing reverie to their baroque-adorned rock.

Charming Disaster are touring in to town on Thurs., April 19 They'll be at PJs Lager House with three of my favorite Detroit-area musical experiences..... First, there's Ypsi's Little Traps, a banjo/guitar/pedal-steel ensemble that mixes the sunniest kind of indie-pop with an authentic Americana/country-rustled warble. Then there's Kate Hinote Americana/blues balladeer Kate Hinote, and the mesmerizing harmonists and folk stylists comprising Kubat, Finlay & Rose.

Charming DisasterApril 19PJs Lager Housewith Little Traps, Kate Hinote, and Kubat/Finlay & RoseMORE INFO

Friday, April 6, 2018

Ben Keeler's 'Movo Daring'

Ben Keeler Movo Daring Release Party Friday, April 20 @ The Loving Touch w/Mango Lane & Ancient Language MORE INFO

Some songwriters just know how to surge the serotonin... They find chord progressions that just pull you ever onward, even effectively lift you up, and their melodic vocals spiral smoothly with simple iterations of "having a really good time" with you! And that's Ben Keeler to a capital T.... With Will Shattuck on drums and Ricky Ruggero on bass, the Ben Keeler band are getting ready to celebrate the release of Movo Daring a soul loosener of an album that unfurls the aura and opens up the windows to let in the "Sunshine!"

Call it power-pop if you will; Keeler's MO as a song creator is making balletic riffs, hooky drum parts and honeyed croons and choruses into something that embodies a kind of exuberance... Not pop for the sake of pop, not any kind of mindless melodrama or fabricated frolic, but substantive short stories from the heart, arced into melodic ribbons so catchy it makes you remember why (and how) music can be so fun and rejuvenating to listen to...

I last caught up with Keeler when he was unveiling a single ("Sunshine") in the winter of 2017--a song that would wind up on Movo Daring. 

Keeler's kinetic rock signature is shining at subtle-to-surging moments like the unassuming bridge of "I Don't Want No," as it builds to a final chorus. Not only is this song exemplary of his cavorting cascaded riff-styles along the frets, but the bridge goes quiet as the guitars stream along with a subdued business, it's a radiance that simmers into these two full measures of just choppy riffs where you can almost see him grinning at you, before it bursts....

...And so many of these songs are full of those energizing bursts--that's the kind of "pop" I'm talking about with Keeler, it's ebullient, bounces back and it stretches and it launches and it stutter-steps and it can maybe even do a backflip. It's the kind of pop tunes that draw you in, because they're radiating a certain spirit that you can't put your finger on, but you wanna see it and experience it up close. You want those riffs to burst into you. You want to move with it. It dares you to...

Keeler's been moving around a bit in the years leading up to 2016/2017, spending some time in Chicago and San Francisco before resettling back here in Michigan to work on music. I think all that movo-movement is demonstrated in the propulsive arrangements he's got on this album---which you can hear, live, at the Loving Touch on April 20th. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Digging In with Josh Malerman & Rising to the Occasion with 'Unbury Carol'

An Interview with Josh Malerman Unbury Carol
Josh Malerman and I climbed into the attic of a library and turned all the lights off. 

The interview you’re about to read finds us in pitch black darkness, speaking our answers and questions out into the ether and unable to see each other’s expressions. Malerman is a nationally-celebrated author of horror novels, and recently nominated for the Bram Stoker Prize. So obviously I wanted to evoke a creepy kind of ambiance to elevate the energy of a conversation concerning the horror genre.

Malerman’s next novel is called Unbury Carol. Carol is a weary but compassionate hardscrabble woman who has a gruesome secret—she is prone to severe spells that send her into a comatose state so deep that she appears to be dead beyond doubt. She has fallen into these death-like states sporadically throughout her life, depending on a very small number of people to keep this knowledge and enlist them as protectors, in a sense, against anyone getting the wrong idea and fast tracking a hasty funeral....

....Oh, but what if someone close to her betrays this confidence? What happens after she doesn’t wake up? And, as she falls through an ethereal plain that none of us can imagine glimpsing, how, if at all, might she extricate herself from an animated darkness. What of the townsfolk? What of the treacherous Trail that connects a series of small towns, towns rife with superstitious people and rattled by a culture of Outlaws. Who will be an ally to a woman appearing to be dead?   

“But I wanted to remove the damsel in distress formula from it,” said Malerman. His breakout novel, 2014’s Bird Box, found a similarly weary but very resolute woman as the main protagonist, courageously ferrying her two four-year-old children up a river with their eyes requiring to be shielded from a world stalked by supernatural creatures. That story will be adapted into a motion picture later this year, starring Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson. Unbury Carol, however, invites readers to follow the title character across the threshold of this mortal coil, and into a vividly-imagined underworld where her earthly senses are still engaged on both sides of the veil, as it were… She can hear the voices of whoever’s trying to bury her, which means she can also eavesdrop on news that a former lover, a famous outlaw, might be heading her way…

“But I realized, after doing research on actual carnival performers who would bury themselves alive and escape, that I really wanted the onus to be on Carol to try to survive this. So, what if it has to come down to her figuring out how to get out of this alive? Whether she does or not, you have to read the book…”

But a famous outlaw known as James Moxie is on his way…for whatever good that might do. He springs himself into action when he hears that Carol, the love of his life, is in peril. That being so, it was Moxie who, several years earlier, abandoned Carol; he just couldn’t deal with being emotionally involved with a woman who, every few months, appeared to die for a day or longer….

“And if you spend too much time on Moxie’s feelings of guilt about that, then you’ve just got this trembling, self-loathing guy traveling up The Trail. But if you spend too much time on his love or anyone’s love for Carol, then you’re suddenly writing a romance novel—which is fine—but that’s not the goal.”

The horror aspects of Unbury Carol come with contemplating what happens when we die…or “appear” to die. How do you save your mortal soul when you can’t move a muscle? What if you’re at the mercy of the morals of those around you? And can any of us comprehend the possibility of something appearing to be magic, or even witchcraft, manifesting itself so as to be verified by your own eyes but presenting itself without any other graspable explanation.

Unbury Carol Launch PartyMon., April 97pm-9pmOtus Supply345 E. 9 Mile (Ferndale)MORE INFO

Your brain might automatically ascribe certain tropes and time periods to the story, but nothing is specified. What is specified is that “it’s a superstitious age, where Moxie can become a legend through word of mouth because of a trick that he performed, to where (an antagonist) would fear him because of that ‘legend.’” One man who doesn’t fear Moxie is a rival outlaw, a monster of a man known as Smoke. Those plotting to literally put Carol into a plot have hired the perfidious Smoke to catch up to Moxie and keep him from interfering.

The chase is on, as it were. Or it’s a race. A journey. A hunt. It’s a mode of tension that Malerman has become excellent at affecting—with Bird Box taking us up the river, or 2016’s Black Mad Wheel involving an odyssey through a desert, or the short stories of Goblin finding characters following or seeking out the sources of various obsessions or urban legends or whatever else might have cast a spell upon them. Carol is on a journey back from the dead, just as Smoke is on a dark journey to snuff out Moxie.

“(The journeys) are a natural tension builder. It almost says to you—that the further (the characters) go into the journey, the deeper they’ll go into the horror. Chapter by chapter you can feel it. Each chapter doesn’t have to out-freak the freaky chapter before it. It doesn’t have to rush to the high notes of the piano, it can drop back for a bass note here or there, but I want to always keep it rising as they go along the way to the end.”

But just as Moxie has to fend off Smoke, Carol will have her hands full, even in a deathlike state, with fending off a villain of her own while she’s “under,” and that’s a wraithlike entity, given chilling personality by Malerman, that he names Rot. “I started to see, as I started writing, a woman who is super strong and interesting and knowledgeable, but…happens to have this … condition.” So, you’ll just have to read it to see if and how Carol can outwit rot!

Suffice to say, scare-wise, Carol contains what could be some of the most frightening, but also imaginative and vividly rendered imagery in any of Malerman’s work so far. “I’ve been asked before: do you scare yourself?’ Well, I can tend to have some freaky dreams now and then. But, typically, as a writer, my answer is that if you can see the scare coming, then it isn’t that scary, right? But really, I was just rewriting a short story of mine and I got to a point where I felt legitimate chills. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. How can you pull that off?”

But writing about a character who’s carried into a coffin against her will? 

“.....Let me put it to you this way,” Malerman says, “I have since told Allison (Laakko, artist and partner-in-life-and-imagination-with-Malerman) that I want to be buried above ground…with no embalming fluid, and my casket unlocked, in a mausoleum if need be….you can even lock the gate, I’ll happily get out and scream for a groundskeeper. I mean, (researching this) really did a number on me. I don’t wanna be underground!”

Find more info about Josh Malerman HERE
And read about the release party for Unbury Carol HERE

Friday, March 30, 2018

Jemmi Hazeman

Jemmi Hazeman & the Honey Riders
Releasing Kozmic Maze
Sat., April 7
Northern Lights Lounge
featuring: Shady Groves / Honey Pot / Fire Flower / Young Punk

Jemmi Hazeman creates a gliding kinda groove on this debut album, Kozmic Maze. Bouyant guitar phrases are given a dazzling effect, producing spacey, "cosmic" sounds as they're threded through curvy coiling riffs. The soundscape has a sustained splash of serotonin and lush vibes, the kind of arrangements that are eager to carry you away with caprice, rather than snap, crackle, riff as insistentily into your senses as some indie-pop may attempt...and those guitars are set to launch into swelled crescendos through many of the song's resplendent bridges, always keenly woven around the buzzy midrange croon of Hazeman's lead vocals. There's a lot of character and expressiveness to the playing--and the time and care taken to craft it all together shows: Hazeman, otherwise known as Jeff Yateman, has been working on these songs in his home studio for more than a year, placing himself at each instrument on the record, and then mixing it all together in the production process.

Yateman worked on similar refreshing takes to pop with the dreamy-surf/intricate progressions he brought to the songwriting table of the band Shady Groves. A song like "Oh Well" stands out to me, blending the whimsical riffs of British Invasion and paisley neo-psychedelia with an
extraterrestrial/theremin-like effect to a melody line that soars along a set of minor keys that give it a curious kind of angst, as though the instrument itself is anxious for the adventurousness suggested by the velocity of its aural contours but yet knows its necessary to keep advancing...

Or am I listening too close? I think that's what's best about this album - is that it offers you the chance to cue in on any sonic element or melodic evocation that catches your ear, however specific or detached... Because once you get to the title track, and the variety of timbres and tones wash over you, like the series of mini-solos conveying across it, you'll wanna call this modern/post/neo-prog, and maybe that's what it is... But what it really is is aptly described by Hazeman... "The Kozmic Maze could be considered a metaphor for Life Itself, or: An expansive, spiraling journey into the existential musings & melodic consciousness of Jemmi Hazeman." Because, at the end of the day, this is an alter-ego. And that makes music, and this music, a means of opening a gateway to that alter-consciousness. 

Joining Yateman for this Jemmi Hazeman release party is an ensemble that features Caleb Nettles - guitar, Jamie Dulin - bass, Colt Caron - synthesizers/keys, Shane Fleisher - drums

Releasing Kozmic Maze
Sat., April 7

Monday, March 26, 2018

Troy Gregory - Xaviera - Here To Be Enlightened, Beyond The Unknown

For all the years I've known Troy Gregory, I've never known his mind to be quiet. I intuited early that he was appraising, approaching, and engaging with the art of music from not just a different perspective, but multiple perspectives.

Gregory would always elude any categorical box you'd attempt to put him in, slipping out, wraithlike, to go haunt other boxes, aisles, ideas... The imaginative essence of Hammer Horror Films, of 50's comic books, of 60's British Invasion, of 70's glam-rock, of 80's metal....combined with experimental new wave filmmakers, surrealist painters, and a uniquely strong connection to, or channeling-of, the spirit, or a spirit, of rock 'n' roll.....all of these vibrant energies are part of what manifests so much color, character, and immersive-qualities to something like Xaviera--it's not just a matter of those being influences on him, or being things he grew up with...., it's that he's found a way to inhabit those perspectives, almost to the point where they possess him...all at once.

And thus, Xaviera's stylistic conveyances are myriad, but the lyrical libretto is steadily paced, coherent, and keeps pulling you along from movement to movement. There are poetic glimpses into the ever contemplative hub of his mind, and the weariness of his heart--but there is also a radiance in moments that sound like resolve, or a renewal of the soul.... "I was wise to have loved a turn from the loom from beyond the mind..."

And, again, thus..., Xaviera cannot be reduced to a review, to just a few paragraphs of summation. Each movement is several songs at once. But what can be said is that the segues are utterly graceful--you could put this on and let all 80 minutes play, but it wouldn't have to be "experienced as four songs," you could try interpreting it as 28 songs, if that's an easier way to digest it, or an enticement for entry. It's a journey inward as much as it's toward something... It's a following of a light... It's discovering, surprisingly, what the source of that light may be....

Troy Gregory
Release Party at the Ghost Light in Hamtramck
with The Idiot Kids and Cosmic Light Shapes
Saturday - March 31st

Saturday, March 17, 2018

YAK - Bardo

YAK make music where it seems like nothing much is happening, yet somehow it conquers your attention.

Or maybe I should say that it rewards your attention.  The more you open yourself up to the neo-classical hybrid of electric and acoustic drone spells, the broader your perspective--it's a cerebral spreading... Somehow a sparseness nurtures focus. And the closer I listen to a cello, the more startling the violin's entry becomes....the closer I keen in on the violin, my ear starts to pick up the cymbals...and the wider I open my ears in general, the more attuned and sensitive they become to the subtler dressings of synthetic sounds...

"Obelus" may be one of the shortest tracks on this Detroit trio's latest album, Bardo, and yet it is exemplary of their sensibility for creating a spacious sound, with tones tiding in or tiding out individually but never intersecting. "Missing Stimuli" is almost gossamer in its drift, nearly evaporating at points before reaccumulating, manifesting the illusion for the listener of thinking and maybe believing that their own slowly-rhythmic breathing is entangled in the essence of the swooning instruments. 

YAK are utilizing classical instruments, typically the purview of a theater, something of the old world, something tangible and familiar, and sliding through some an ethereal curtain into the realms of the intangible. It's curious how the absence of rhythm, the absence of a melody, an absence of a hook or a downbeat, can cause you to hyper-focus on what is being said amid the sparseness. And it starts to create the effect of a lucid-dream state, where you don't know if you've quite passed into a state of reverie and elastic consciousness, or if you're still firmly present in your living room, your office, or wherever else you may "be" while listening... It's not that this explicitly experimental "takes" you somewhere or serves as escapism. But damn it if you don't start to imagine...what's beyond and what's lies in between....

Thursday, March 15, 2018

White Bee Holds On To Harmony

White Bee
photo by Carmel Liburdi

Shannon Barnes lost her band for a second, there.... Maybe 'lost' is too strong a verb, but members of the band known as White Bee essentially did disband a few months ago, sustained briefly and solely by Barnes, the band's lead singer/guitarist & songwriter. Barnes is as luminous a guitar player as she is a singer. She's been developing her powerful voice all her life, attaining a soulfully radiant tone that comes from years of experience that include church choirs and even some opera. I've been following her songs for a couple years now, so I wanted to catch up and talk about the future of White Bee and the momentary scare of almost losing that band.

Last month’s Hamtramck Music Fest saw a triumphant reinstatement of White Bee with a dynamic performance featuring new members. And now, on April 3, this same lineup reconvenes at the Pike Room (Crofoot) in Pontiact Crumb and Combo Chimbita.

White Bee’s last show at HMF felt better than it has in almost two years,” said Barnes. “It felt good to have something like a comeback after those last few months. I felt lost. But, I think the feeling-lost thing pushed me to find new musicians. I was searching every day. And I found some tight players; they’re all very talented jazz musicians.”

More importantly, Barnes has been writing new material lately and reinvigorating her inspiration with a handful of recent solo performances. "What I'm most excited about is how I have more of an understanding, now, of what I'm really passionate about. I felt like I was in a comfort zone for a while (with White Bee). But once it almost pretty much went away..., I just knew that no matter what that it was still, really, the only thing that was going to make me happy. And it's going to always be the only thing that sticks. It's going to be the only thing that stays there forever, for me."

White Bee will still retain Barnes' inclinations towards funk & soul. She's an expressive guitar player with a really fluid/groovy style, but even though she riffs it's more nuanced than rock. Some of her biggest guitar influences are more recent artists like Britney Howard from Alabama Shakes, Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote, and Lianna La Havas--each exemplary of a sophisticated/fusion style of rock/funk guitar playing.

"But David T. Walker might be my favorite guitar player of all time, now," said Barnes. "He was on some Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder recordings--just this awesome rhythm guitarist who was a session musician on a lot of the 60's and 70's funk and soul records; very finger-picky, sweepy, jazzy chords. And very dreaming sounding too..."

For Barnes, soul and funk music "was just more powerful" than rock. "Especially a lot of the women soul singers, throughout history, they've just been extremely empowering to me and all women, so that aspect always had a draw for me."

Barnes has been singing all her life. She's played saxophone since she was 12, though she kinda let that fall by the way side when guitar took over in her teenage years. She started writing songs when she was 20, having moved over here to Detroit from the west side of Michigan (from a small city near Big Rapids).

Once she got into town and on Wayne State's campus (as a music student) she actively sought out friends and potential collaborators. Some of her most formative experiences were from her first couple years in music school--utilizing weekend nights to immerse herself in the house-show scene. Connecting with fellow musicians and establishing herself as a part of a community was key to keeping her going even after the near-fallout of her band. "I'm so appreciative of everyone who's been supporting me these last few months," she said, looking back. "It's really refreshing."

Part of her drive, in both creating songs as White Bee and as a creative component of the local arts/music scene, is "harmony....The most important thing in music is harmony! That is how you capture the emotion in music--through harmony." Thus, with harmony in mind, she's hoping to make White Bee a more collaborative/cohesive project in the summer and fall, while still doing solo shows here and there. Meanwhile, Barnes is hoping to get some new recordings some time in the very near future--so stay tuned.

White Bee
Wed. April 3
Pike Room
with Crumb & Combo Chimbita