Bettye LaVette brings a magical soulfulness to her 60-year career, including Bob Dylan’s legendary songbook.
The iconic soul songstress and Michigan native beautifully interprets an era of treasures ranging from ‘60s R&B to British rock to deep Dylan cuts. Her latest release, “Things Have Changed (2018),” unearths Dylan’s extensive catalog from 1979 to 1989 as well as other cherished favorites.
“Well, there isn’t a ‘like’ to it, it’s just the way I hear the songs, and that’s the way I sing it. But as I said, I’m really not that much of a music enthusiast, so there are not a great many songs that sat around that I wanted to sing for a long time,” said LaVette, who was born in Muskegon and grew up in Detroit as Betty Jo Haskins.
“It’s the songs that appeal to me most, that’s why the Bob Dylan album worked so well for me because the lyrics have to be absolutely solid and be there. I’m almost 75 years old, and I can’t look my audience in the face, and people who are sitting close, I look at them even more intently, so I can’t have a whole bunch of gibberish coming out. It has to say something because I’m holding a conversation with them.”
LaVette will hold an engaging conversation with Ann Arbor audiences Saturday at the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival, which also will include Nathaniel Rateliff, Mandolin Orange and Cold Tone Harvest. In her first-ever Folk Festival appearance, LaVette will share her career highlights and interpretations with a nearly sold-out crowd of 3,500 at Hill Auditorium.
“Most of those (Dylan) songs, I think there were 10 or 12 tunes on that album, I only knew four of them before I sung them. It’s interesting having almost a clean slate because I didn’t grow up listening. Many of these things didn’t make it to black radio, but ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ did and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’ I certainly know who he is,” she said.
Each month, we’ll be sharing a fresh batch of specially curated music from emerging and established artists, including Amy Petty, Mason Summit, Mac Saturn and others, on Spotify.
This inaugural playlist includes 34 tracks from acts based in Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, California and the U.K. It nicely reflects the multi-genre approach we take with profiling and featuring different artists on “The Stratton Setlist.”
Take time to absorb and enjoy some of our favorite tracks from an incredible group of artists.
Editor’s Note – Brian Stratton reflects on his lifelong love of Rush and Neil Peart’s untimely passing.
By Brian Stratton
From the point of ignition To the final drive
The point of the journey
Is not to arrive
Anything can happen
– Prime Mover
I never got to meet Neil Peart, though I did see him many times. Nonetheless, I feel like I know him through his lyrics, and consider him a companion of sorts. It was his lyrics that first appealed to me when my brother played some Rush music for me. The science fiction and fantasy themes were ripe for my young imagination. Over time, I grew to appreciate other themes in his lyrics, about human nature, loss, triumph and all the events that make a life worth living.
As most people know, Peart enjoyed journeying on his motorcycle between tour dates, or on his own time. It gave him time to explore, think and write about life. In fact, I feel that the overriding theme of all his lyrics, whether fantastic or realistic, is about one’s journey through life. Indeed, “anything can happen” in life and often does.
On that note, here are some moments where Peart’s lyrics, Rush’s music and my life all intersected.
Drawn like moths, we drift into the city
I’ve always been drawn to Detroit. For me, it was the big city where my dad worked at Channel 4 and anytime I got to go there when I was growing up was exciting. Probably none more so than the time in 1990 when my family attended Channel 4’s holiday party and then went to Trappers Alley in Greek Town to do some shopping. While wandering around the many levels of the mall, I found a Harmony House store, and in it Rush’s “Caress of Steel” CD. At the time, I was reading Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” so it was no surprise that I was attracted to the cover art with the necromancer on it.
When it was time to go home, we found that our car had been stolen. More tragically for my teenage self, my copy of “Fellowship of the Ring” was in the car at the time. At least I had “Caress of Steel,” with its songs about wizards and mythical fountains, to console me. However, all ended well, and our car was found a few weeks later, complete with my book! Not one to hold a grudge, I still love Detroit and look forward to going there to this day.
When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Sometimes it’s the small stops on a larger journey that make the trip complete. At the end of summer in 1991, we were on a family trip to Colorado to visit my brother during his first year at the Air Force Academy. It was my first time out west, and I finally got to see mountains! It was awe-inspiring and profoundly moving for me.
Now, the trip happened to coincide with the release of “Roll the Bones.” This was the first new album that the band had put out since I became a fan, so getting it was a big deal for me. My parents said we could stop and get the CD on the way home from the airport. I remember landing back in Michigan and how vividly green everything was in comparison to the reds and browns of Colorado. A quick stop to Harmony House (again!) in Novi was the perfecting ending to a great vacation.
For Petty’s newest album and first in nearly a decade, the Saginaw folk rock singer-songwriter dives headfirst into a wondrous musical realm that exists between day and night. It’s the vivid, haunting place where dreams mimic real life, but quickly dissipate once the sun rises.
“I thought I knew what it was going to be when the songs first started coming. I didn’t necessarily sit down to write an album. I was inspired by an idea and then wrote a song. Eventually, they all came together, and I didn’t know why. In hindsight, I feel like it was more of looking at who people are and how they get to where they are,” said Petty, who dropped her new album today.
“It’s more like an observation of the real side of people, and that’s a very broad thing from murder ballads to contemplating how we fit into this vast universe, and we fall all across the spectrum every single day. It feels like a complete thought instead of just one idea that I decided to investigate at length. It just feels like lots of aspects of the same person.”
Petty eloquently explores those different sides throughout her magical 11-track observation. In a sense, she serves as an oracle predicting which scenarios or paths will best guide people toward their destiny. The glorious opener, “The Dreams That Are Waiting for Us,” urges people to follow their instincts, realize their potential and overcome obstacles to fulfill their lifelong dreams.
Deep synths, bright guitars and dramatic drum taps nicely echo Petty’s larger-than-life vocals – “In the sky there’s a lullaby/And you cannot hear it until you close your eyes/These are the dreams that are waiting for us/When you sleep there’s a melody/It will play in you the way it plays in me/These are the dreams that are waiting for us.”
“The first one was based on words that my daughter said to me. She’s just the coolest kid, and she inspired me like crazy. I love where the song came from,” Petty said. “I don’t write a lot of optimistic songs, not that there’s a lot of optimism in that song, but it just feels very uplifting to me in some way. I love the instrumentation, and it’s kind of rocking on some weird level.”
The Pontiac blues rock singer-songwriter doesn’t collect coins, cards or clippings. Instead, he gathers an array of life experiences, stories and moments and shapes them into earnest sonic tales about everyday opportunities and challenges.
“I’m truly interested in life and people. If I were an alien, or from some other time period and I landed here, I’d soak it up more than it just passing me by,” Kroll said. “That’s what I do, and it’s in everybody, the stories I hear, the people I talk to, and their slant on the way they think, the flavor of the moment and everything.”
Kroll’s wife and bandmate, Marci Feldman, laughed and agreed. “The thing about Dirk is he’s a talker. We’ll go into Trader Joe’s, and he knows the names of anybody who works anywhere. Being a painter and restorer, people consider him harmless, so they disclose stories to him.”
Kroll constantly grows his collection through conversations and interactions with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and characters. Those exchanges lay the foundation for past, present and future songs shared through vivid recordings and live performances with current Dirk Kroll Band members Rodney Walker (guitar), Joe Gaglio (drums), Gardell Floyd (bass), Jim Amann (keys), Robert Reeves (horns) and Feldman (vocals).
“I collect stories, moments and ideas. Lyrically, it’s an opposite reflex because when I really go hard after something, it doesn’t seem to work out right. The stuff that comes to me, that’s a mystery to me, too,” said Kroll, who moved from southern California to metro Detroit at a young age and honed an eclectic sound influenced by Motown and the British Invasion.
‘This Broken Play’
Kroll beautifully unravels an assortment of vivid stories across a multitude of genres on his latest album, “This Broken Play,” which dropped in late 2018. The album includes 10 striking tracks revolving around personal struggles, relationships, lifelong journeys and societal responses intertwined with hints of blues, rock, funk, ska, jazz and folk. Listeners will immediately think it’s the best of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Rolling Stones and Wilco rolled into one.
The album’s exquisite title track features a solemn cello mixed with banging piano chords to reflect the sadness and frustration of a passionate relationship that’s abruptly ended – “All of our lives, and all that remains/All of our moments, and all that’s the same/You cast your part in this broken play/Is it always love, forever, the price we must pay.”
For their latest album, C-Level kindles a fiery blend of funk, punk, blues and reggae.
On “Burn Your Own Gasoline,” the Cleveland genre-bending trio of Dave Deitke (vocals, guitar), Cody Crose (bass) and Pat Boland (drums) ignites a blazing sonic wildfire that’s quickly spreading along Ohio’s north coast and the Midwest. It’s the band’s first release since 2018’s “Rights” concept EP.
“It’s about burning your own gasoline, running off your own fuel and inspiration, and the driving force behind it. We’ve been hustling real hard to get better spots and other sounds and stuff together, and we’ve been running off our own ambitions,” said Deitke about the band’s fourth album, which dropped Friday.
C-Level’s sizzling nine-track album opens with a timeless blues cover, “Bac Bac Train,” originally recorded by Mississippi Fred McDowell and later reinterpreted by Aerosmith. It features a rousing combination of bluesy, vibrant guitars and pounding drums chugging back toward the station – “Way way down/Way way down/Way way down that lonesome road/Bac bac train/Bac bac train will take you home again.”
“That’s a traditional blues thing that Cody and I used to cover in a lot of renditions of the band. A lot of this record is getting stuff we’ve done down the way we wanted to have it,” said Deitke, who formed the band with Crose in 2010 and added Boland to the lineup three years ago.
Deitke, Crose and Boland also shine on the album’s melodic third track, “Wherever I Go,” which weaves tremolo guitars with delicate cymbal taps and pulsating drums into a heartfelt ode reminiscent of the John Butler Trio – “Leave a mark they can’t remove/Streets wear through souls and wear through shoes/Breathe in cold air/Exhale, find a trace of her there/Wherever I go, I hope you are there/And wherever I go, I hope you are there.”
A new Detroit-based record label will celebrate fresh sights and sounds Friday night.
Old Main Records, a Wayne State University (WSU) student-run record label and organization, will host a multimedia launch party at St. Andrew’s Church in partnership with Nice Place Detroit. It will feature live music and visual art from some of the Motor City’s most promising artists and creatives.
“We want to help connect people who are interested in all forms of art under one roof and further develop a sense of community. People attending can expect to meet incredible people in the city and to enjoy a night that includes visuals and high-energy music,” said Patrick Norton, Old Main Records creative director, Nice Place director and a WSU music technology senior.
“The goal for this event for the artists and volunteers involved is to give a platform to show the city what we are made of. The ability to utilize the university has opened so many doors for connections to press and other music industry and art world contacts.”
Launch event attendees will encounter a broad spectrum of Detroit-based experimental, blues-punk-garage and indie rock from Dirt Room, The Stools, Mac Saturn and Craig Garwood. This emerging lineup represents the first round of artists who have expressed interest in signing with Old Main Records.
Old Main Records also has compiled “Nice Plays: Local Detroit Underground,” a Spotify playlist that features dozens of artists across a multitude of genres. All artists included on the playlist have submitted their music for consideration to the label.
To complement the music, nearly a dozen visual artists will display their creative vision and prowess throughout the night. They will include Sleepyboness | Sarah Brazeau, Caitlin C. Harvey, MLE, Anastasiya Metesheva, RELYDETROIT, Max Jurcak, Erin Theroux, Shelby Say, Synefeld, Kristal Michal-Brasseur and Tyler Sykes.
“We feel this particular lineup is cohesive in reflecting the high energy that we want for our organization to kick off. In terms of the overall aesthetic, we plan to make each event unique and make our selection of music as eclectic as possible while also maintaining a theme,” Norton said.
“We also want to bridge some gaps within the art world of metro Detroit. We wanted to include students from Wayne State, the College for Creative Studies, Eastern Michigan University and artists from Detroit to help expand the art community. We wanted visual artists for the event to help cross-pollinate between different scenes that don’t always work alongside one another.”
“The bassist/singer/founder Chip Z’Nuff is a major inspiration to very much of what I do. His style, approach, couth and constant love for his audience is astounding to me,” said Kyle Mikolajczyk, the band’s bassist who named the act after the legendary West Hollywood rock club.
“I cherish learning as much as I can from the legends in rock and roll that have already been where I wish to be. He is a fountain of knowledge and that alone gives me a lot to forward to on Friday.”
Along with infamous Detroit legend Guy Williams (vocals), Brandon Fields (guitar) and Garrett Ramsden (drums), Mikolajczyk will shred his way through collection of timeless hard rock hits. In a sense, the tribute quartet brings the look, feel and sound of the late ‘80s Sunset Boulevard rock and roll lifestyle to the Motor City.
“Individually, each member embodies and fits the style we’re attempting to pay tribute to perfectly. We’re all major ‘80s sleaze rock fanatics, so we take a lot of pride in the small details within each song to properly display them to our audience,” said Mikolajczyk, who also will celebrate Ramsden’s birthday with the band Friday.
“Some call it a blast from the past, but we’re just paying homage to our favorite artists and era, and we’re having a fun time recreating the atmosphere of one of the greatest eras in live entertainment history.”
After discovering their shared love of the music and era, Mikolajczyk and Williams formed Whiskey A Go Go five years ago and later brought Fields and Ramsden into the fold. Mikolajczyk and Fields also share a mutual admiration for Izzy Stradlin and Slash as members of Pretty Tied Up, a Guns N’ Roses tribute band that performs regularly in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.
“I built the backing band that has evolved over the years, and we recently put Brandon in the lead guitar position,” Mikolajczyk said. “It’s really helped take us to the next level.”
As a prominent fixture in Detroit’s hard rock and metal scene, Mikolajczyk developed a deep appreciation for the genre while growing up in Canton. At age 12, he picked up his first axe, a Guitar Hero game controller, and later sold merch and volunteered as a roadie for the Motor City metal band Kro-Magnon as a teenager.
After becoming Kro-Magnon’s bassist, Mikolajczyk quickly became a well-respected musical mainstay in Detroit and later formed HazardHead, a band influenced by ‘80s hard rock and GNR, in 2011.
He also performs as a solo artist and books, manages and promotes local and national pop, rock and blues acts through MetalAfro Management & Promotions. Mikolajczyk books acts regularly through the Diesel Concert Lounge in New Baltimore, including the Jan. 25 Ultimate Tribute Fest!, and other hard rock and metal shows.
With a myriad of projects, Mikolajczyk relishes sharing The Token Lounge stage with an impressive roster ‘80s hard rock icons, including Winger, Slaughter, Faster Pussycat and Enuff Z’Nuff.
“Enuff Z’Nuff might not be the biggest chart-topping act, but their music is very cutting-edge. Their last album, ‘Diamond Boy,’ has many musical masterpieces on it for being released only a year or two ago as well as the rest of their discography. They are definitely one of my favorite bands that’s still touring,” Mikolajczyk said.
The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter discovered a recent songwriting prompt illuminated a bright idea – a new track called “Our Turn to Shine.”
“That song actually began as a song prompt from John Lamb’s songwriting retreat. His songwriters’ retreat, which I did last year and then I just got back from, I can’t say enough about it,” Ward said. “It just sort of jumpstarted me last year, and he does these really long involved prompts, and it was about changing out incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs.”
As one of Ward’s newest tracks, “Our Turn to Shine” features fast acoustic strums intertwined with a nostalgic, hopeful feel – “I’m a dinosaur made of glass and tin/Take a new one out and screw a new one in/But for now, I’ll light the way/Brighten up your everyday/If only for a short time/It’s still my turn to shine.”
“It had all these specifics in it. I’ve kept most of them, and I have reworked it since I got back from the camp to try and make it more of a universal appeal. It basically has become a metaphor for even if you’re old, there are parts of you that are still usable, you can still shine,” he said. “It’s sort of like let’s all celebrate that aspect in ourselves. A lot of the songs I’ve been writing over the last year I think as I look at my experience and my life, it has crept into a lot of songs.”
Ward also shines on his other latest single, “Content,” which he submitted for NPR’s 2019 Tiny Desk Contest. The pensive track includes a beautiful acoustic guitar as its sonic centerpiece – “It’s a simple life in a complex world/ I want what’s mine and you want what’s yours/But when you’re all by yourself and the money is all spent/Are you gonna leave this world completely content?”
“It’s really about what do you regret, what don’t you regret, what will you be content with when you leave this earth, and how do you want to be remembered – that’s sort of the gist of it. I do write some fairly downer songs, but usually when I have a song that I’m trying to make a point with, or it has a serious undertone, I try and find ways to keep levity involved in it. From the influence of John Prine, Steve Earle and Warren Zevon, songwriters like that who always seem to have a way of not taking it too seriously, those are songwriters who I really admire,” Ward said.
Mason Summit brilliantly shines on the darkest January days.
The Los Angeles indie folk rock singer-songwriter thaws the winter blues with his latest magical single, “‘Round January,” which drops today via all streaming platforms.
Summit’s track fuses sorrowful acoustic guitar strums and delicate drum taps with vibrant electric and slide guitars – “I hope one day I can tell you this won’t last/And be right/Cuz I know how you get when the sun sets early/But there’s a better way/There must be surely/But maybe you’ll make it out alive/Maybe you’ll just survive.” It’s also ideally suited for a fruitful collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline.
In a sense, Summit’s exquisite combination of acoustic, electric and slide guitars represent the warring emotional factions within us. Deep inside, there’s a hope that wants burst through, but the darkness fights back with a vengeance.
“It’s specifically the month my dad died, and it’s also when I introduce the song now, and what makes it more broadly applicable to different people’s lives is seasonal depression. I probably experienced that unknowingly since before my dad died, you know the melancholy of those months, especially like the line, ‘when the sun sets early,’” said Summit, who also struggles with the lack of daylight in winter.
“It was just instant depression for me. It made me tired all the time, and I didn’t want to get out of bed. I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people, but it definitely influences my mood in a disproportionate way.”
Two years ago, Summit penned “‘Round January” as a response to a songwriting class prompt at the University of Southern California (USC). The prompt required students to write a song to their eighth-grade selves.
“And that was a week when a lot of people brought in some heavy stuff,” said Summit, a songwriting senior who will graduate in May. “It was just so provocative, and so I was thinking back to eighth grade, and middle school in general is when people tend to be struggling and trying to find out who they are.”
For Summit, the track also advocates the importance of therapy in tackling seasonal depression and other mental health challenges. He came from a family that believed in its long-term healing power.
“When I got to school, I met a lot of people who didn’t come from that and ended up having a lot of undiagnosed issues. They just didn’t know how to deal with it, and it took them so long to have the courage to go to therapy or go to a psychiatrist and start treating their illness with therapy and medication,” Summit said. “Whereas I had already started to sort that out by that time, there were actually specific people in my life I was writing it for as well as myself.”