Begin Again – Kenyatta Rashon Starts New Chapter with ‘The Art of Keeping It Real’

The Art of Keeping It Real
Kenyatta Rashon reflects on her transition as an emerging artist and expectant mother on “The Art of Keeping It Real.” Photo – Chris Hollis

Kenyatta Rashon delightfully turns the page to a new life chapter.

The Ypsilanti R&B vocalist and Amplify fellow welcomes a new era of artistic growth, emotional strength and inner enlightenment on her latest album, The Art of Keeping It Real, out now via all streaming platforms.

“I didn’t come up with the title until afterward. The word that stuck out to me was ‘honesty.’ A lot of it has to do with emotional passages whether it’s friendships, relationships or fun; it’s everything that’s deep in your spirit,” Rashon said.

“When I got the chance to work with the fellowship, Rod (Wallace) and I spoke, and he was like, ‘Well, what would you like to do?’ And I was like, ‘I want to put it all out,’ but I explained to him that it’s very hard for me because I get writer’s block. He said, ‘I want you to write everything down,’ so I began to write everything down.”

That journaling process allowed Rashon to deeply reflect on her transition as an emerging artist and expectant mother. She spent five months crafting the seven authentic, insightful stories that would become The Art of Keeping It Real. (The project also features her 2020 single, “Ymmfb.”)

“I found out I was pregnant, and I went through all the emotions you can imagine from being pregnant. By the time it all came together, I’m like, ‘This is a story; this is something interesting that someone can relate to on many levels,’” said Rashon, who’s inspired by Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige.

“I wanted to go with these songs and focus on transparency and honesty, so I decided to go with The Art of Keeping It Real. Everything I’m summing up is art, and the art I’m projecting is keeping it real.”

Continue reading “Begin Again – Kenyatta Rashon Starts New Chapter with ‘The Art of Keeping It Real’”

Brand Name – Sam Watson Honors Neisha Neshae in Celebratory Video

Sam Watson eloquently pays tribute to Neisha Neshae in a laudatory new video.

The Ann Arbor R&B artist-engineer-producer honors the emerging Detroit R&B trap songstress in a four-minute, MTV Cribs-style video for her namesake track. Neshae co-stars in the video with Watson and Ypsilanti hip-hop artist Young’n Destined.

“Having Neisha in the video was dope; I appreciate her coming through. In fact, I speak for everyone who was there at the video shoot. We all appreciated and loved her for being there. I’m not sure how she found out exactly,” said Watson, who’s racked up over 25,000 views on the video.

“We were promoting the upcoming shoot so I assumed someone tagged her and kept sharing the post. Her presence brought more life and more energy to the video. Everyone was bringing their best to the table, but Neisha brought some more light to this bright environment.”

Filmed by Xerox Visuals, the “Neisha Neshae” video features Watson, Young’n Destined and a bunch of friends celebrating together at a lively house party. Watson and Young’n Destined each serenade Neshae as the party’s guest of honor at an Airbnb in St. Clair Shores.

“MTV Cribs was always a great show so I figured why not bring that back to life in the video. Recruiting everyone was pretty easy. Everyone who had heard the song did tell me that they wanted to be part of the video if it ever came up,” Watson said.

“We contacted all of our friends and told them to come and bring their friends, too. Everything fell into place. We’re all about good vibes so everyone knew what to bring to the table; besides everyone was good people.”

Continue reading “Brand Name – Sam Watson Honors Neisha Neshae in Celebratory Video”

Barebones Music Festival – Old Main Records Hosts Two-Day Virtual Showcase for Detroit Artists

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The Barebones Music Festival will feature two nights of virtual recorded performances from Emma Guzman, ATMIG, Jackamo and others. Courtesy photo – Old Main Records

For Wayne State University’s Old Main Records label, this week’s Barebones Music Festival will showcase the creativity and ingenuity of emerging Detroit artists from the other side of the screen.

The two-day virtual music festival will spotlight a compilation of smartphone-recorded video performances from 23 artists on Wednesday and Thursday starting at 7 p.m. via Old Main Records’ Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Featured festival artists will include Emma Guzman, ATMIG, Jackamo, Of House, Ohly, C3, Darcy Moran, Weeknight Motion and 14 other rising local acts.

“We decided to create the Barebones Music Festival with the intention of leveling the playing field for local artists. The pandemic has put a hold on in-person events, and we have been trying to come up with new ways to virtually bring artists together,” said Joseph Corless, Old Main Records’ incoming president.

“A common problem we came across was that many artists did not possess the recording equipment necessary to perform virtually. We decided to embrace this and set the criteria for submissions to utilize only a cell phone with audio and video recording capabilities.”

In response, interested artists submitted individual performance videos for consideration regardless of genre. Next, the Old Main Records team assembled artist submissions into two cohesive virtual music showcases.

“This allows the songs themselves to shine and not be filtered by editing techniques and mixing. Artists had to be creative in their spacing to have a sonic balance between instruments. These limitations forced artists to think outside the box when choosing the song’s instrumentation and performance location,” Corless said.

“We chose artists whose songs could easily flow into one another while still utilizing various genres. Their choices of lighting and filming locations added to the ambiance of their individual styles.”

The Barebones Music Festival is one of several recent virtual events hosted by Old Main Records since the pandemic hit last year. With the shutdown of in-person live music events, the WSU student-run record label has flourished with a series of online artist shows and conversations, music industry panels, songwriter summits, and jazz and dance performances.

“It’s a nice way to bring together many of our past collaborators in a platform showcasing them all individually. I would personally love to see this festival grow into an in-person event in the future, but some changes may need to be made to its format,” said Corless, a WSU business management and music technology student and drummer for Detroit metal band Passing Thought.

“With venues and in-person events opening back up, I would love to start setting up more live shows. I also would like to see us branching out into different genres. Detroit has some phenomenal punk, hardcore and metal scenes that we have barely tapped into.”

Old Main Records hasn’t hosted an in-person live event since their multimedia launch party in January 2020. The party showcased a series of local artists who expressed interest in signing with the label, which is named after the iconic 19th century WSU academic building at Cass and Warren avenues.

“Chris Simpson, our departing president, has taken the lead in getting Old Main Records back up and running despite the pandemic. Darcy Moran, Calder Laidlaw, Anna George and several others have taken the lead in various other projects for the label,” Corless said.

“Wayne State is also slowly opening up again, and it would be great to utilize our recording studio. Old Main Records has been recruiting new members, and their enthusiasm to be more involved in our organization has truly been inspiring.”

Show details:

Barebones Music Festival | 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 16 and 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17

Old Main Records Facebook page & YouTube channel

Moment of Truth – London Beck Unearths Deep Vulnerabilities on ‘The Black Satin Sessions’

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London Beck confronts dark emotional terrain on “The Black Satin Sessions.” Photo – E. (Liz) Keller

London Beck beautifully reveals the earnestness and empowerment of being vulnerable.

The Ann Arbor R&B vocalist-instrumentalist-producer and Amplify fellow openly shares a personal, emotive journey of defeating inner demons and embracing newfound strength on their latest album, The Black Satin Sessions.

“This project really showed me that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help. It’s OK to use the resources that are available to you if you feel like you’re giving it your all and nothing’s really working. Even though there’s this outspoken, loud and formidable essence of London, I want people to understand there’s a softer, more thoughtful side of me,” Beck said.

“In that vulnerability, it’s OK to move toward a path of healing, and it’s OK to heal with people who have your best interests at heart. I can still encourage people and open doors for them while making space for me to have my needs met.”

Beck openly chronicles confronting dark emotional terrain while uncovering an enlightened path of self-redemption across 13 passionate, metamorphic tracks on The Black Satin Sessions. Each multi-genre track shifts, shimmies and soars over introspective lyrics, exquisite instrumentation and fiery vocals.

With Beck at the helm, listeners seamlessly absorb enchanting sonic snippets of R&B, electro pop, dance, Motown, rock, classical and folk rolled into a refreshing auditory experience.

“I had initially intended to put out two smaller EPs, one that was rock, acoustic-focused and one that had the electro vibes that people typically know me for. As we were working through this project and with the Amplify fellows, I was really thinking about my journey, and it all came together in the most beautiful, unexpected way,” said Beck, who’s also a classically trained violist.

“I decided to write and make music that’s on my heart and my mind. Once I had finished all of the music, and I listened to it, I was like ‘Wow, this really tells my story.’”

Continue reading “Moment of Truth – London Beck Unearths Deep Vulnerabilities on ‘The Black Satin Sessions’”

Sand Down – Easy Beach Uncovers Personal Losses, Struggles on ‘Selena Gomez/Blurry’

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Easy Beach’s new single “Selena Gomez” is a two-minute, rage-filled banger in response to losing a best friend. Photo – Sean Tarolli

Easy Beach didn’t intend to share a song title with Selena Gomez.

The Detroit emo-punk rock trio of Ian Cruz (guitar, vocals), Bradley “Beau” Stone (bass, backing vocals) and Sean Tarolli (drums, backing vocals) originally called their latest single “Forget Forever,” but quickly learned the track duplicated the name of the pop singer’s 2013 song.

“It became a joke at practice to call the song ‘Selena Gomez,’ and it stuck. The song took a couple practices to finish; it’s probably the only song we have that took less than a month to write. The song is about giving up my dog for someone who didn’t love me,” Cruz said.

Officially called “Selena Gomez (Took the Name of This Song),” the Easy Beach track fuses buzzy, roaring guitars, clobbering drums and propulsive bass into a two-minute, rage-filled banger in response to losing a best friend. Cruz sadly reflects, “You left last holiday/Without you I’m all dead/Now I can’t see my friend/Without him ever again.”

“I was doing some workshopping with Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings when I was writing this song, and he had a few ideas for the guitar parts that I used – particularly the lead guitar in the second chorus,” said Cruz, who co-produced the track with Tyler Floyd.

Selena Gomez” also features a dark, gritty basement jam video filmed by Mark Larsen of Static Screen Productions. Easy Beach cathartically processes their frustration while rehearsing, hanging out and eating pizza together.

“When I saw Mark’s video for ERODERS’Lose My Mind,’ I knew I wanted to do a video with him. Originally, the video was going to be us playing at a house party, but that’s exactly what the ERODERS video was, and Mark didn’t want to make the same video again,” Cruz said.

“He came to us with the idea of doing a video reminiscent of old emo/punk videos where the band is playing in a basement and just hanging out doing weird stuff. The video is just a peak into a regular practice for us, except we don’t usually eat pizza. It was shot in April at Bradley’s house/practice space.”

Continue reading “Sand Down – Easy Beach Uncovers Personal Losses, Struggles on ‘Selena Gomez/Blurry’”

Summer Stage – Ann Arbor’s Broken Branch Outdoor Concert Series Starts June 5

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Broken Branch will feature eight free biweekly Saturday shows from June to September.

Sara Gibson and Adam Labeaux promise a summer filled with fiery jams, folky tales and friendly stage banter.

The Ann Arbor musicians will revive their long-running live music backyard showcase, Broken Branch Summer Series, after last year’s pandemic-induced hiatus.

“Many people have been locked in their houses, and they haven’t had an opportunity to do anything. Musicheads are shriveling up inside and really need to get out,” said Labeaux, whose Broken Branch ranch is located near Dixboro.

“But then there are the performers and gig workers who have had no place to play, and we have a place where people can gather safely. We can support the musicians who have been hit, provide a place for people to see shows and marry that together here.”

Together, Labeaux and Gibson will reunite those eager musical forces through eight free biweekly Saturday shows from June to September. The eclectic lineup will include a rich blend of country, folk, jazz, alt rock, soul pop, world rock and bluesy funk sounds to appease live music diehards:

June 5 – Linden Thoburn Scarecrow CD release party

June 19 – Djangophonique

July 3 – Labeaux & Co. with special guest The Welcome Homes

July 17 – Mike Gentry

July 31 – James Henes and the Head Full of Ghosts

August 14 – Judy Banker Band

August 28 – Adam Plomaritas Band

Sept. 11 – The Broken Branch Breakdown – Chirp, Hullabaloo, Mark Jewett, Anna Lee’s Company, Allie Garland with Awesome Sauce and more

This specially curated lineup of emerging and established artists stems from Labeaux and Gibson’s desire to support and join different collaborators on their tree-lined, wraparound deck. Labeaux started the Broken Branch Summer Series in 2014 as a way to his friends perform live at home.

Continue reading “Summer Stage – Ann Arbor’s Broken Branch Outdoor Concert Series Starts June 5”

Ray of Hope – Sunny State’s Chris Reed Tackles Pandemic Mental Health Struggles

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Chris Reed recounts his pandemic mental health challenges in a recent MABH COVID-19 Diaries Series article. Courtesy photo

Sunny State’s Chris Reed wants to demolish his pandemic wall.

The San Jose, California reggae fusion frontman and multi-instrumentalist slowly destroys each emotional barrier that arose unexpectedly over the past year. Reed successfully smashes those internal blockades by sharing his mental health struggles with family, friends and fans.

In April, Reed penned an intimate piece for Stanford University’s The Millennium Alliance for Humanity & The Biosphere (MAHB)’s COVID-19 Diaries Series called “My Life As An Artist Suddenly Didn’t Seem Relevant.” The article deeply explores the lingering fear and frustration Reed and his family encountered over the past year as personal and professional challenges mounted.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, The Stratton Setlist chatted with Reed about his experience and how he tackled his troubles. His story serves as a constant reminder for artists, musicians and creatives to openly discuss their mental health struggles with others. Here’s how Reed overcame the stigma and got real about his situation:

How did you come to write this piece for MAHB?

MAHB is a grassroots effort that provides a central meeting place for individuals and groups concerned about loss of biodiversity, climate change, overpopulation and other issues.

In late summer, Aminah Hughes mentioned she was looking for artists to quote about the mental and emotional struggles during the pandemic for a piece she was writing for Around the Sound. Once that article was shared, Michele Guieu, MAHB arts community coordinator, asked if I’d be interested in writing something for their COVID-19 Diaries Series.

I considered this to be a great honor and was humbled and a bit intimidated to write anything for such a prestigious organization. Naturally, I accepted and started milling over what exactly to write. I find MAHB’s mission to align with my wish for the world to be more collaborative and connective.

Continue reading “Ray of Hope – Sunny State’s Chris Reed Tackles Pandemic Mental Health Struggles”

Academic Journal – DASHpf Chronicles Personal Changes, Professional Milestones on ‘Fully Licensed’

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DASHpf’s Peter Felsman chronicles the rewarding, yet challenging parallel paths he pursues in his personal and professional life on “Fully Licensed.” Artwork – Hank Felsman

After surpassing each academic milestone, DASHpf brilliantly takes poetic license with his musical endeavors.

The Stony Brook University postdoctoral associate and New York City attic folk singer-songwriter openly reflects on life changes, internal revelations and professional accomplishments on Fully Licensed, now available on all streaming platforms.

“In 2020, the pandemic slowed things down, and I’m a little backlogged on academic milestones to mark, but Fully Licensed is sort of a catch-all marking my full license as a therapist along with a PhD and other stuff,” said Peter Felsman, aka DASHpf or “-pf,” who earned a doctorate in social work and psychology from the University of Michigan in 2019.

Filled with intimate, thoughtful storytelling, DASHpf’s Fully Licensed chronicles the rewarding, yet challenging parallel paths Felsman pursues in his personal and professional life. Each track highlights an achievement or contemplation that invites listeners to deeply connect with Felsman’s rich, concise tales.

“I have a creative process where between recording and releasing an album I get severe writer’s block, and I’m excited to release this album so I can free my brain up to keep writing,” he said.

Like Father, Like Son

Felsman first shares the creative fruits of his latest DASHpf writing spurt on the heartfelt opening track, “Not Not a Morning Person,” which honors his late father. Tender acoustic strums, sorrowful vocals, buzzy electric guitars, thumping drums and spirited bass elegantly capture Felsman’s vivid memories and sorrowful moments.

He reflects, “When you first got your diagnosis/And I was stuck laying in bed/You said, Kid go smell the trees/And I knew exactly what you meant/I’m not not a morning person/I just wake up missing you/Missing all your motivations/Missing all you’d love to do.”

“It was a tribute to my dad who died of lung cancer the summer before I moved to Ann Arbor to start my undergrad. He knew that I would be a student at the University of Michigan, and I did that for 10 years. It felt important for me to acknowledge the role of grief in my Ann Arbor life,” Felsman said.

“At one point in the song, I say, ‘Stay close to your brother/Take care of your mother, too.’ Those were his last words to me. He was always supportive of my musical life, which I think was partly a consequence of his music teacher as a kid telling him to lip sync in choir because he couldn’t carry a tune. He lived vicariously through his kids being musical.”

Continue reading “Academic Journal – DASHpf Chronicles Personal Changes, Professional Milestones on ‘Fully Licensed’”

Fired Up – Kevin B. Klein Fuels Classic Rock Anthems on ‘They Call It Rock-N-Roll’

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Kevin B. Klein blazes a rock-fueled pathway through life lessons, personal growth and future dreams on “They Call It Rock-N-Roll.”

Backed by turbocharged guitar riffs, fierce vocals and candid lyrics, Kevin B. Klein reignites a fiery passion into classic rock.

The Capac singer-songwriter and guitarist blazes a scorching 13-track, rock-fueled pathway through life lessons, personal growth and future dreams on his latest explosive album, They Call It Rock -N- Roll.

“I’ve been listening to a ton of music, and I see a ton of artists, and everybody says, ‘Oh, that’s rock and roll, or this is rock and roll.’ People are saying punk rock is rock and roll, and I’m thinking, ‘You guys are the farthest thing from rock and roll.’ To me, rock and roll is good, old-fashioned classic rock,” Klein said.

“For me, life got in the way for a long time, and it was a good thing because it gave me a lot of life experiences. All the songs that I write have a great energy and great storylines because I lived them, and they’re relatable to a lot of people.”

Klein earnestly reflects on those eye-opening experiences on the album’s dynamic, hopeful Led Zeppelin-esque opener, “The Wrong from Right,” as roaring electric guitars, bold acoustic strums, clicking cymbals, throbbing bass and pounding drums charge into your soul.

He proudly sings, “Speak up and don’t you back down/You gotta make the rules, you gotta stand your ground/Be careful what you say, be careful what you do/You gotta have some hope if you’re gonna make your dreams come true/Save your soul, you gotta know the wrong from right/If you lose control, then you’re gonna lose the fight.”

“It was this dark song at first, and I changed it up and wanted it to be really positive. ‘The Wrong from Right’ is about making great life choices despite all the chaos in the world. It’s got a darkish vibe, and it’s very rhythmic, and that’s why it ended up being the first song on the album. I’m coming out full power, and it just gets in your blood instantly,” said Klein, aka KBK.

Continue reading “Fired Up – Kevin B. Klein Fuels Classic Rock Anthems on ‘They Call It Rock-N-Roll’”

Lunar Magic – Desmond Jones Casts Appalachian Country Twang on ‘Pink Moon’

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Desmond Jones takes a refreshing vintage country detour on “Pink Moon.” Artwork – Daniel Benayun

Desmond Jones elegantly casts twangy lunar magic throughout West Virginia’s sprawling Appalachian Mountains.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of John Nowak (drums, vocals), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), Taylor Watson (bass) and George Falk (sax, vocals) takes a refreshing vintage country detour on their latest jamboree-filled, celestial single, “Pink Moon.”

“The song is actually named after a music festival that used to be held in West Virginia called ‘The Pink Moon Music Festival.’ The festival was named after the lunar phenomenon we call The Pink Moon, which is a unique yearly full moon that occurred last week,” Bota said.

“I guess you could say it’s a love song I wrote to the moon. It’s meant to be sung while I’m hanging out in the Appalachian Mountains on the outskirts of a small West Virginia mountain town dancing to some wonderful live music under the moon and the stars.”

As a timeless, torchy ode to our favorite pastel-tinged satellite, “Pink Moon” awakens the youthful, nocturnal spirit as swift drums, rich pedal steel, propulsive bass, soulful sax, jubilant mandolin and vigorous violin gallop into a bright summer night.

Bota nostalgically sings, “Once a year, my dear, I’ll spend a night with you/Lookin’ at sunlight through your view/Whistlin’ a tune until the sun’s had enough of you/As you drift into the sky.”

“I wrote the song very late at night five years ago after the second Pink Moon Music Festival that we played and attended. I touched it up over a week or two of playing and singing it solo on my acoustic guitar. We recorded the drums, bass, two guitars and saxophone live at our manager Kevin McKay’s studio in the fall of 2019 three years later,” Bota said.

“The vocals, pedal steel and instrument solos were recorded at everyone’s own homes during the winter of 2020-2021. We have one guest on this track who happens to be one of our favorite Michigan musicians, Don Julin. We had the pleasure to play with Don during two of our sets at the Cowpie Music Festival in 2019, and he agreed to lend his musical talents on this album.”

Continue reading “Lunar Magic – Desmond Jones Casts Appalachian Country Twang on ‘Pink Moon’”