The Interpreter – Bettye LaVette Shares Career Favorites, Dylan Cuts at 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Bettye LaVette will perform Saturday at the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Photo by Mark Seliger

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.

Continue reading “The Interpreter – Bettye LaVette Shares Career Favorites, Dylan Cuts at 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival”

Join a New Sonic Exploration with ‘The Stratton Playlist’ on Spotify

It’s time to embark on a new sonic exploration that stimulates the mind, rejuvenates the soul and delights the ears.

That exploration is known as “The Stratton Playlist.”

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.

 

‘Prime Mover’ – My Journeys with Rush’s Neil Peart

Neil Peart performs with Rush at a 2010 Rogers Bayfest in Sarnia, Ontario.

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.

Rush’s Alex Lifeson at Rogers Bayfest in 2010

Drawn like moths, we drift into the city

– Subdivisions

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

– Dreamline

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.

Continue reading “‘Prime Mover’ – My Journeys with Rush’s Neil Peart”

Into the Mystic – Amy Petty Explores Wondrous Musical Realm on ‘The Darkness of Birds’

Amy Petty goes deep into the subconscious on her latest album, “The Darkness of Birds.”

Amy Petty knows how to venture deep into the mystic.

That mystical plunge occurs in a refreshing musical dreamscape known as “The Darkness of Birds.”

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.”

Continue reading “Into the Mystic – Amy Petty Explores Wondrous Musical Realm on ‘The Darkness of Birds’”

Master Collector – Dirk Kroll Gathers Everyday Life Experiences for Profound Sonic Tales

Dirk Kroll gathers an array of life experiences and shapes them into earnest sonic tales. Photo courtesy of Dirk Kroll

Dirk Kroll has an impressive collection.

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’

“This Broken Play” album artwork by Diane Irby

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.”

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WSU’s Old Main Records Hosts Multimedia Launch Party Friday at St. Andrew’s Church

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.”

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