Tasty Tracks – The Stratton Playlist Whets Musical Appetites with July 2020 Edition

Whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, there’s a new bunch of tasty tracks ready to sample.

The July edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will whet your musical appetite with shimmery pop-rock, upbeat country, mesmerizing post-rock, metalized modern rock, steamy blues rock, soulful folk, spunky hip-hop, groovy R&B and more freshly-squeezed tracks.

Featured artists include Melanie Pierce, The Steve Taylor Three, The Spider Accomplice, Asklepius, Seth Bernard, LovelyOcean, Adam Plomaritas, Nina & The Buffalo Riders, Kenyatta Rashon and more. Prepare to love every track at first bite.

Interested in becoming part of “The Stratton Playlist” on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres are welcome.

July ‘Stratton Playlist’ Spotlight – Melanie Pierce Uncovers ‘Illusions’ of Misunderstood Life Moments

Melanie Pierce reflects inward on her latest single, “Illusions.” Artwork – Jenya Po

Melanie Pierce magically travels to the other side of the mirror.

The Ann Arbor pop-rock singer-songwriter ventures beyond the looking glass and reflects on misunderstood life moments in “Illusions,” a spellbinding glimpse into vivid realizations and intense ruminations.

“I was in this relationship for a long time and had felt misunderstood on so many levels throughout that period of time. And not just by that person, but also by my family because they were not super on-board with music. I also lost some friends in a short amount of time due to music and that relationship,” Pierce said.

“I was really reflecting on that time, and I remember exactly what I was doing when that song came out of me. The first line that actually came out was, ‘Painted words on paper-thin walls,’ and I was watching this TV show, and I paused it and went to the piano. That song was written in like 40 minutes, and it was written very easily and clearly, like I knew in me what I wanted to say and what I wanted to get out.”

Featured as part of this month’s “The Stratton Playlist,” “Illusions” blends somber synths, sorrowful piano, shimming electric guitars, soaring electronic drums and throaty bass into a hypnotic, sonic head-trip.

Akin to Vanessa Carlton, Pierce’s soulful vocals implode her romantic mirage as she ponders, “I thought I’d figured it out/Wide-eyed, I mapped it out/But you say I’m too difficult/Honey I know, honey I know/I try to pull back/Quiet the noise inside my head/But you say it’s too difficult/Honey I know, honey I know/I’ll never let this go.”

Pierce recorded “Illusions” earlier this year with producer Jake Rye at Adrian’s Social Recording Company. He helped Pierce crystallize the track’s vision and added majestic arrangements to quickly transform it in the studio.

“We would go back and forth like, ‘What do you hear for this part?’ and he had a good direction of where the production was headed. He came up with an awesome, meaty bassline, and I can’t really say enough positive things about him,” said Pierce, who learned about Rye through his collaborations with Michigander.

Continue reading “July ‘Stratton Playlist’ Spotlight – Melanie Pierce Uncovers ‘Illusions’ of Misunderstood Life Moments”

Ship Ahoy – All At Once Navigates Pop-Punk Sea of Possibilities on New ‘Sailors’ Single

All At Once’s Pablo Gonzalez, Adrian Garth and Eduardo Guajardo. Photo – Diego Carrales at Voce Studio

All At Once proudly takes the helm while sailing toward a sea of new possibilities.

Throughout their latest uplifting single, “Sailors,” the Monterrey, Nuevo León pop-punk trio of Adrian Garth (vocals, guitar), Eduardo Guajardo (guitar) and Pablo Gonzalez (drums) energetically chronicles encountering rough waters en route to uncovering a buried musical treasure outside Mexico.

“The chorus says, ‘We are the sailors who don’t leave this ship.’ Well, the ship is the band and our dreams. I know for every band it’s super difficult to make it and have success, but I find it extremely more difficult to be in another country and try to make it in a scene that’s not in your country or in your hometown,” said Garth, who wrote “Sailors” in February and co-produced it with Mauricio Colunga.

“We were talking about that right before we got on the plane to LA for the music video for ‘Break Me.’ We were like, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s difficult, and it’s not going to get easier anytime soon, but it doesn’t matter because we want what we want, and we’re gonna get it no matter what.”

All At Once’s admirable determination surges throughout “Sailors” as reverby, crunchy electric guitars swirl amid echoey background vocals, exuberant bass, humming synths and pounding electronic drums. About 20 seconds into the track, the trio erupts into a Blink 182-esque, sea-faring fury as driving electric guitars, rhythmic bass and thumping drums bounce listeners from one sonic wave to another.

While moving full-speed ahead, Garth enthusiastically sings akin to Owl City, “The warmest lights are here right now/We’re shining bright up in the sky/Together we can touch the clouds/We’ll sail this boat until the end/We are the captains once again/Roller-coasting our way.”

“The ‘captains’ part is about us handling ourselves and not letting anyone else interfere with us, but I really like the lyric that says ‘Roller-coasting our way.’ I love roller coasters, and this was something that took me a long time to figure out – everything you do no matter what it is has its ups and downs, so that’s what I meant about it. It’s gonna be good, it’s gonna be sad, and I’m gonna be angry sometimes, and I’m gonna be super happy, but I’m going to be crying sometimes,” Garth said.

All At Once beautifully captures their optimistic outlook through a “Sailors” companion lyric video, which features an 18th century-inspired ship coasting along a pink turbulent ocean in a pastel neon dreamscape.

“We decided to include the lyrics on the screen with these really cool movements from side to side that mimic a ship on the water. My bandmates really liked it, and we couldn’t wait to release it,” said Garth, who created the lyric video.

Continue reading “Ship Ahoy – All At Once Navigates Pop-Punk Sea of Possibilities on New ‘Sailors’ Single”

Fall That Jazz – Steve Somers Offers Virtual Music Classes through Washtenaw Community College

Longtime guitarist Steve Somers performs live in Ypsilanti. Photo courtesy of Steve Somers

Steve Somers plans to jazz up fall classes in Washtenaw County.

The longtime Ypsilanti guitarist-composer will offer fall semester jazz, guitar and music courses virtually for aspiring musicians through Washtenaw Community College (WCC). Starting Aug. 31, Somers will teach jazz combo and improvisation I & II (MUS 105-106) along with beginning and intermediate guitar (MUS 133-134) to 20 students per class.

All 16-week classes will include a combination of online class meetings with individual virtual consultation and assistance with various recording projects. Students can now enroll for fall classes through WCC’s website.

“The virtual classes will be offered with Zoom meetings, and we will do recording projects online where people submit their parts or solos, and then I will mix it all down here at the studio at Alley Records,” said Somers, who also leads the Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra Jazz Ensemble.

Somers also will host a non-credit jazz orchestra class virtually through WCC starting in October. The class will feature a mix of online meetings and performances for all ages.

As an influential musician, creative entrepreneur and community leader, Somers has taught jazz guitar classes at WCC for nearly 20 years and performed in jazz, classical, blues, R&B and rock solo and group projects since relocating to the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area in 1979.

Somers relocated to Michigan after touring nationally and internationally with a California-based band in 1970s. They hosted mini-residencies five to six nights a week at clubs and hotels as far east as Minnesota before disbanding a few years later.

After that, Somers started studying classical guitar with Nelson Amos at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar music performance in 1984. Two years later, he studied with world-renowned composer and conductor Anthony Iannaccone while earning a master’s degree in music theory and composition from EMU.

“When I was still an undergraduate, he accepted me, and we worked for a couple of years and made some good progress writing music for piano, guitar and other instruments. Then, he accepted me in the master’s program, and I wrote a piece for the chamber orchestra that’s still in the library there,” Somers said.

Continue reading “Fall That Jazz – Steve Somers Offers Virtual Music Classes through Washtenaw Community College”

Open Range – Bob Marshall Shares Lifelong Cowboy Tales on ‘That’s the Way It Should Be’

Bob Marshall celebrates the cowboy life on “That’s the Way It Should Be.”

As a bona fide cowboy, Bob Marshall eloquently rides into the Midwestern summer sunset.

The Ortonville, Mich., country singer-songwriter and horse trainer celebrates nostalgic, poetic tales of youth, family, love, life and wisdom on his latest free-range, heartwarming album, That’s the Way It Should Be.

“What I do normally, and I shouldn’t do this, is I sort of prejudge my own music. I do things like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one,’ or ‘I’m not sure what that one’s gonna do,’ so I play the ones that I think are going to work, and then I’ll see what the reaction is from the audience as soon as I do a solo,” Marshall said.

“Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong. Like I said, ‘She Loves to Dance,’ we’ve gotten a great response on that one from people, and then you have a Texas DJ who’s like, ‘I’m not sure about that one,’ but you’re never going to make everybody happy.”

Coincidentally, Marshall brings a hearty, hats-off welcome to country music compadres with a penchant for Western-rooted sensibilities on That’s the Way It Should Be. For his fourth album, twangy acoustic strums, gleaming pedal steel and electric guitars, folky fiddles, driving bass and steady drums wrap listeners in a cozy Marshall sonic blanket of 12 timeless, down-home tracks.

Horses and Dances

Marshall’s thoughtful, countrified trek begins with a poignant tribute to carefree youth, cherished family traditions and adored equine on “The Old Horse Barn.” Old-time fiddle, shimmering pedal steel, delicate acoustic strums and attentive bass transport Marshall to idyllic Colorado “walls of knotted wood.”

He longingly recalls, “Playing on that old thick rope/Swinging wall to wall/Long hours in the hayloft/Or hiding in the stalls/That old horse barn held magic beneath its leaky roof/Those things that taught and grounded us were cowboy boots and hoofs.”

“On ‘The Old Horse Barn,’ I was listening to the lyrics, and the music was great. I mean, the studio guys did an awesome job on the music, but I said, ‘Nah, the lyrics, they’re not up to the standard of the music,’ so Merel Bregante, the producer, said, ‘Well, you’re a songwriter, aren’t ya?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Write new lyrics,’ so I spent a day and a half working on the lyrics,” Marshall said.

Continue reading “Open Range – Bob Marshall Shares Lifelong Cowboy Tales on ‘That’s the Way It Should Be’”

Rise Up – Asklepius Shares Majestic, Curative Transformation on New ‘Relative to a Mood’ EP

Asklepius carries a soothing, restorative sound on “Relative to a Mood” as glistening elements of prog, post-rock, jazz, ambient, psychedelia and electronica revive the soul. Artwork – Joe Groppuso

Asklepius triumphantly rises to the occasion.

The Detroit experimental post-rock trio of Justin Groppuso-Cook (keys), Dave Alpern (bass) and Matt Smiley (drums) undergoes a majestic and curative transformation on their latest aspirational four-track EP, Relative to a Mood.

“Some of the songs that are on that album we’ve been playing for a really long time. Those songs themselves evolved over time, and then Dave jumped in, and the bass gave the music more heart and more life,” Groppuso-Cook said.

“When the songs started to evolve with Dave, and we started to write new stuff for fleshed-out, different ideas, I think that additional bass added this uplifting thing, and I think we just went with it. I don’t think there was this intentional way to make it like that, and I think in certain ways, it was weird for it to sound uplifting. The music we were writing at the time didn’t sound like that was the groove.”

Incidentally, Relative to a Mood carries a soothing, restorative groove as glistening elements of prog, post-rock, jazz, ambient, psychedelia and electronica spin into a silky, sonic cocoon. All four tracks invite increasing moments of euphoria, self-reflection, progression and enlightenment as listeners beautifully emerge from an inner sanctum.

Asklepius created their own inner sanctum last summer at Detroit’s High Bias Recordings with Chris Koltay. Groppuso-Cook, Alpern and Smiley spent several days recording different live takes for Relative to a Mood with loop pedals and later added layers of keys, guitar and tenor sax.

Jubilation to Ascension

Relative to a Mood slowly unfolds with the euphoric “Jubilation” as banging drumsticks, bright and lingering piano, proggy bass, glistening synths, steady drums, light cymbals and reassuring electric strums from guest guitarist Matt Romanski bring merriment and optimism. The track also eases the mind into a therapeutic seven-minute reverie.

“We just went into the studio and started with ‘Jubilation.’ We just ran through it 10 times to get the best take, and then we were like, ‘Let’s go to the next song,’ and then we would take a break for a couple minutes and listen to all the different takes and see which one was the best one,” Groppuso- Cook said.

Continue reading “Rise Up – Asklepius Shares Majestic, Curative Transformation on New ‘Relative to a Mood’ EP”

California Dreamin’ – Rags and Riches Injects Limitless Optimism into New ‘Summer Nights’ Single

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Rags and Riches instantly revives a dormant California dream.

The Lexington, Kentucky EDM pop-rock duo of brothers Tanner Whitt (vocals, guitar) and Peyton Whitt (drums) injects limitless optimism and youthful exuberance into their new peppy, glistening Los Angeles-centric single, “Summer Nights,” which drops today via all streaming platforms.

“We needed to find the ‘right’ song in our catalog to release. From the lyrics to the beat, ‘Summer Nights’ was written to be a carefree summer song and bring some excitement in difficult times. This song fits right into a ‘summer playlist’ just for the lyrics alone, but the music felt like it could be listened to wherever you are,” Tanner Whitt said.

Rags and Riches rhythmically revs their upbeat EDM engines as clicking percussion, thumping bass, reverby synths, vivid electric guitars and pulsating drums accelerate into a warm July night. Tanner Whitt enthusiastically sings, “We could take a ride in my car/Or we can take a walk on the boulevard/I’m up for whatever, if you’re up for whatever/So tell me, do you wanna go?/So tell me, are you ready?”

“The LA inspiration was from one of our previous tours when we visited LA and took ‘a walk down the boulevard.’ Peyton was very inspired, and between the movies he had seen about LA along with the actual experience, he wanted to create something special,” Tanner Whitt said.

“Peyton actually started writing ‘Summer Nights’ alone for fun. He showed it to me and a friend, and we loved it and said, ‘It needed to be a Rags and Riches song.’ The song was actually written in a matter of an hour or two, but we didn’t actually record it until about two months ago.”

Two months ago, Rags and Riches dropped another electrifying, Stranger Things-esque synthwave single, “Don’t Look Down,” which slithers through eerie, lingering synths and haunting, slow percussion to weave an impending sense of sonic doom around lost souls. Tanner Whitt cautions, “I’m the leader/I’m the fool/Finger on the trigger/Can’t trust me for a minute/It’s doubtful you’ll catch me/I’m hiding from my demons/I’ve got no choice.”

“‘Don’t Look Down’ was another song that had been written months and months ago, but sat in the catalog to find the right time to be released. The song came from the idea of being in a mentally dark place and struggling with living. Suicide and mental illness are such real things, and we take that very seriously. We wanted that song to speak directly to people in a bad place mentally – to stay alive and keep hope,” Tanner Whitt said.

Rags and Riches also released a hypnotic, chilling lyric video for “Don’t Look Down,” which features a gold, pointy snake that quietly circles unassuming prey and prepares to suffocate any remaining positivity. Viewers nervously sit on their edge of their seats as they await the snake’s final strike.

“The snake was inspired by Medusa, who you couldn’t ‘look at.’ We felt the imagery fit perfect with the dark lyrics and the overall concept of the song. We may go back at some point and do an actual music video for ‘Don’t Look Down,’ but at this point there are no plans to do so,” Tanner Whitt said.

The Whitt brothers have steadily released a growing roster of powerhouse EDM-inspired singles since 2019. It all started with their dynamic electro-rock debut, “Speed of Sound,” and an uplifting power-pop debut EP, Arrival.

Over the next year, they dropped the inspirational “Not a Stranger,” the hyperactive “Light It Up,” the turbo-charged “Edge of Time,” and the apocalyptic “Blood Runs Cold.” They’ve also filmed and shared compelling cinematic-like videos for each track except “Summer Nights,” which will have a companion video at a later date.

While warm, memorable “Summer Nights” will linger in our minds, the Whitt brothers will continue casting their electro-rock magic later into 2020. It’s a welcoming spell during a disruptive time of change, upheaval and uncertainty.

“We do have more singles planned throughout the remainder of this year along with an EP. As of now, the next single is set for late August, early September,” Tanner Whitt said.

Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP

Random Ties’ Youssef Salloum performs in metro Detroit. Photo courtesy of Random Ties

Youssef Salloum believes the best things in life aren’t planned.

The Random Ties vocalist-guitarist elegantly weaves a lifetime of chance encounters and unexpected lessons into a new introspective, grungy debut EP, Believe, with bandmate KD Murray (drums).

Believe is inspired by the roller coaster ride we go through touching on subjects, such a losing a loved one, difficulties in starting a family, struggling with faith and moving on. All the songs were written with a high-energy, feel-good vibe and a dynamic sound topped with an honest message,” Salloum said.

Originally from Beirut, Salloum spent more than two decades making Believe an alt rock-fueled reality after putting music aside for different careers, personal relationships and international moves. The EP thoughtfully represents a renewed self-commitment to creativity, motivation and persistence in a disconnected world of musical uncertainty.

“The song ‘Believe’ says ‘There was a time I lost a dream.’ It’s never too late, and no matter how hard it feels, things get better if you hang in there long enough. At the time, I had made the decision to see how I was going to make a living while having music as a hobby instead of a career. My intention was to be a musician, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s going on around you, there was no internet, and there was no social media,” said Salloum, who returned to Ann Arbor in November 2018.

Through Random Ties, Salloum poetically chronicles his international musical journey through six heartfelt alt rock anthems. Together, those profound Believe tracks represent a highly relatable narrative about overcoming personal struggles regardless of age, geography or culture.

Week 39 to Why

One of those struggles includes eagerly awaiting the birth of a child after overcoming years of infertility on the Pearl Jam-tinged “Week 39.” Now a father, Salloum poignantly addresses the anxiety-induced anticipation of son Liam’s arrival during his wife’s 39th week of pregnancy.

Piercing, distorted electric guitars, pulsating drums, rhythmic cymbal taps and humming bass entice Liam leave the womb as Salloum throatily beckons, “Son, this song is all for you/All I have is all for you/Son, this song is about you/All I am is all I am for you.”

“Those last few weeks of anxiety were more than all the previous nine months put together. You want him to be safe more than anything else in life and then suddenly Liam was born and in our arms. It was a special time because it wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant, and it was the most powerful moment in our lives,” Salloum said.

Continue reading “Second Chances – Youssef Salloum Goes from Beirut to ‘Believe’ on New Random Ties EP”

All Together Now – The Hangabouts Invite Melodic Pop Fans into New ‘Animal Suite’ Single

All friends are welcome in The Hangabouts’ latest melodic pop single, “Animal Suite.” Artwork – Ed Rother

The Hangabouts enthusiastically welcome all walks of life on their inviting and inclusive latest single, “Animal Suite.”

The metro Detroit melodic pop trio of Greg Addington (vocals, guitar), John Lowry (vocals, guitar) and Chip Saam (vocals, bass) graciously open their musical doors to listeners searching for a new gathering place. Think of a hip, retro venue filled with John Lennon, Elvis Costello and Jeff Lynne aficionados.

“This one came together in the studio based on an idea I had, and we took it in a new direction. We’d like to think that ‘Animal Suite’ sends a positive message out. Say hello to whomever you meet and all that. Seemed like the right message for the time. And whatever people pull from this song, or any really despite its genesis or original intention, is totally valid obviously,” Addington said.

Throughout “Animal Suite,” The Hangabouts roll out a lush, vibrant welcoming mat as fuzzy, bright electric guitars, deep bass, steady drums, twirling synths and quiet acoustic strums give listeners a hearty, sonic handshake.

In tandem, Addington benevolently sings, “Ears filled with delight/It’s a whole new world in here/Among the pigs and the birds/Who came to give you cheer/No longer down on the farm/With all its lovely views/But all my friends who are here/Except for one or two.”

“Some songs we write fast, and some take forever, and it has absolutely no bearing on quality. Cliché but true. Pretty much everything we record is done at our own studio called Earth – it’s outfitted with professional recording gear, and it’s convenient, so we work there,” Addington said.

“Yeah, the influences are always hard to pin down and ever-evolving. There is without question dozens of British Invasion bands that inspire many things we do as well as hundreds of bands since then. Perhaps the most inspiring influence, for five seconds in the song anyway, is ‘Kashmir.’”

In May, The Hangabouts also released a split-screen, quarantine-inspired video for “Animal Suite,” which features a collective, virtual jam with drummer Tom Curless as well as assorted curious cats and grazing horses. It’s an inside, upbeat and socially-distanced look at the band making the most of an unusual time in music.

“Sometimes you want solitude to explore ideas, sometimes you need collaboration to hash out concepts and ensure the project doesn’t end up as a solo record. We’ve mostly had a mix of songs largely started by one writer and then finished up with input from the group, and sometimes we write in the studio together. We’ve not yet figured out the perfect solution, but we’re hopeful that the pent-up energy might express itself in good work down the road,” Lowry said.

Continue reading “All Together Now – The Hangabouts Invite Melodic Pop Fans into New ‘Animal Suite’ Single”

Remote Start – Detroit Artists Release Quarantine-Inspired Rendition of ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ via Old Main Records

Three Detroit artists beautifully preserve the romantic soul of a fallen New York love story.

Emma Guzman, Christian Ohly and Quasi-Bullfight’s Malcolm McNitt breathe new indie folk-pop life into Leonard Cohen’s 1974 one-that-got-away classic, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” as part of an Old Main Records-exclusive collaboration released via social media. It’s akin to Laura Marling collaborating with Pinegrove.

Together, the trio’s nostalgic, heartfelt and upbeat rendition features dreamy, swift acoustic strums, pulsating bass, effervescent handclaps, jingling tambourine, glistening horns and whistling theremin as Guzman soulfully sings, “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/You were famous, your heart was a legend/You told me again you preferred handsome men/But for me you would make an exception.”

“Old Main Records grouped the three of us together, and we went through a list of songs until we agreed upon ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2.’ I was the one to throw it out there, as I had recently started covering it, and it’s an amazing tune,” Guzman said.

“I’ve enjoyed Cohen’s music since I was younger, and his songwriting has such a rich, dark charm to it. His emotions reach below the surface, and that’s what inspires me most about his writing,” Guzman said.

Back in the spring, Guzman, Ohly and McNitt each responded to an Old Main Records call for a special quarantine-inspired artist collaboration. The plan included stimulating local artist creativity and partnership amid a new, unfamiliar socially distanced world absent of live music.

After the artists responded, Old Main Records, a Wayne State University student-run record label and organization, realized these three were a magical force. In a sense, it was a dream collaboration for a trio of emerging, complementary singer-songwriters.

“We felt we could do something to help artists meet and collaborate at the same time. We had recording engineers and graphic artists as well as our own platform to help promote these artists. We first gathered the artists to meet all together on Zoom,” said Chris Simpson, Old Main Records president and a Wayne State University student.

“Once the artists got to know each other and their music, they had to meet online to come up with a song to record. The artists picked the track based on their own recommendations of pitching each other ideas. It was a very organic process.”

Continue reading “Remote Start – Detroit Artists Release Quarantine-Inspired Rendition of ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ via Old Main Records”