Bobby Pennock strategically revisits past songs for future reflection.
The Detroit folk-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist shares insightful vignettes from an enduring canon of tales on his new power-pop-fueled album, The Vestiges of Art.
“Interestingly, most of the songs on this album are older songs that I’ve performed live over the years, but never recorded. Although a couple are older and have never been performed,” Pennock said.
“When I started selecting songs for the album, rather than thinking about a theme, I thought about which songs I had that are up-tempo and kind of pop-rock. I thought the phrase, ‘The Vestiges of Art,’ is what an album is, so the idea to name the album came pretty quickly and easily.”
Whether addressing internal struggles or changing relationships, each track places a vivid storyline inside listeners’ heads and delights their ears with infectious soundscapes.
“About 99 percent of the time when I sit down to write a song, I have no idea what I’m going to write about,” he said. “I don’t keep a writer’s notebook.”
Weather and London
Even without a writer’s notebook, Pennock demonstrates his musical prowess on the alarming celestial opener, “We’re in for Weather.” With lyrics by Terry Birkett, a bluesy force of electric, acoustic and slide guitars forewarn listeners alongside a courageous rhythm section of bass and drums.
Pennock sings, “Lightning and thunder – a terror down under/We fall once again to our knees/We struggle to stand – a single demand/As we cling to our lives in this breeze.”
The late Donn Deniston (drums), David Roof (bass, shaker, backing vocals), Dan Hall (backing vocals) and Drew Howard (slide guitar) bring an explosive Who-like feel to the track.
“I started recording for what became Vestiges when the Luti/Bobby album was put on hold due to the pandemic. I wasn’t sure when we would be able to finish that project, and I knew I wanted full band arrangements …” Pennock said.
“Since the day ‘We’re in for Weather’ was written, I knew that I wanted Drew Howard to play on the recording. Although I was hearing pedal steel, Drew thought slide on his trusty Telecaster was the way to go. And he was right!”
Pennock also shines on the melancholic, acoustic ballad, “Crying Out,” with Roof (string arrangements) and the Flint Symphony Orchestra’s Daniel Winnick (violin), Debra Terry (violin), Janine Bradbury (viola) and Judith Vander Weg (cello).
Wistful acoustic guitar and somber strings surround Pennock as he sings, “She is looking in the mirror/He is wishing he were nearer/They are holding on to little more.”
“I wrote ‘Crying Out’ specifically in an attempt to write like some of the songs I heard in ‘Once’ … simple and poignant,” said Pennock, who sought inspiration from the 2007 film/soundtrack featuring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. “I didn’t know what the story of the song was going to be until after I started it. To me, it’s almost a Romeo-and-Juliet-type story.”
After “Crying Out,” Pennock tosses his vocals aside on the concise ‘60s surf-rock instrumental, “Doink,” which fuses smooth electric guitar, pounding drums, bouncy bass, radiant organ and easygoing acoustic guitar into a vintage sonic wave.
“Actually, I don’t have a lot of background knowledge in regards to ‘60s instrumentals, but I knew I wanted to write one,” he said. “And I knew I wanted something completely unexpected to follow ‘Crying Out,’ and I wanted an instrumental intro to ‘Failure Brings Smiles.’”
“Doink” also brings a lasting smile to Pennock’s face since it’s the final track he recorded with Deniston, who passed away in March.
“I actually didn’t know Donn for very long at all. The total of our face-to-face time together was the three days of sessions he did for Vestiges and rehearsing and playing in the band together for Rod Johnson’s album release concert,” he said.
“So, unlike many of his friends, I was a newbie. That said, it felt as if I’d known Donn forever. He was so nice, so approachable, and oh my goodness, so talented. He’s on 10 of the 11 songs on the album. His gift to me was to always play to the song. It’s what Ringo did in The Beatles.”
Pennock channels that Beatles’ spirit on the peppy, U.K. nostalgia anthem, “Going Back to London.” Hurried electric guitar, enthusiastic acoustic guitar, charging bass, thumping drums and shimmering cymbals pursue Pennock as he darts through the streets of London.
With Deniston (drums), Roof (bass, 12-string electric guitar, snare) and Hall (backing vocals), Pennock sings, “Driving through the fog and the rain/Arriving memories/Surviving sparks ignite my brain/Reviving reverie.”
“Having both of those songs on both new albums was not really an issue for me since the arrangements are so different,” Pennock said. “They were chosen for the Luti/Bobby album because they were songs we had been performing together for a while.”
Studio and Stage
Pennock recorded the 11 tracks for The Vestiges of Art with Roof at Rooftop Recording in Grand Blanc. They met sporadically over a year to shape the tracks with Deniston as well as Hall, Howard, Birkett (electric guitar), Bob Nyswonger (bass), Patrick Kilcoyne (electric guitar), Hazel Roof (nyah, nyahs) and the mysterious “Timothy Pani.”
“Working with David Roof is a dream. He knew I was going for not a retro vibe, but that my heart really belongs to The Beatles and some other ‘60s groups. ‘Perhaps We Were’ is really the only song where we purposefully wanted to capture the ‘60s vibe in places,” Pennock said.
“Donn and Dave had the most impact on the album because they both played on almost every song, and then both had great ideas when we were recording the bed tracks together. I’m chuckling here a bit because there’s no such person as ‘Timothy Pani.’ There’s a timpani on ‘Sigh Indeed,’ and when I was writing out the credits, I decided to credit the percussion to ‘Tim Pani.’”
With The Vestiges of Art now available on streaming platforms (and CD), Pennock is celebrating the album’s release with a May 14 show at Willis Sound. He’ll be joined by Roof (guitar, keys, vocals), Hall (guitar, vocals), John Sperendi (bass), Birkett (guitars) and Sam Pennock (drums).
“Terry Birkett and I will be opening the show with a seven-to-eight-song set of older songs of mine that we’ve played together a lot over the years. We are going to sit side by side with me on acoustic guitar and Terry on electric, and enjoy our time together,” Pennock said.
“Then, the full band will come out and perform The Vestiges of Art from start to finish. Although I’m terribly sad about Donn’s passing, and the fact that he won’t be with me on May 14, I am beyond thrilled that my youngest son Sam will be sitting in as the drummer.”
After the release show, Pennock plans to write new material and collaborate with longtime friends.
“I only have one gig on the books after May 14, and I’m OK with that. I want to write a lot of new songs, and I can’t do that if I’m rehearsing and playing shows frequently. I do have an idea for a follow-up album, and who knows, maybe I’ll do that in the next year or so. The songs are ready,” he said.
“I hope to continue to work with David Roof and Dan Hall. They are a joy to sing with. Jere Stormer and I have discussed trying to write together. Jere is one of my songwriting heroes. He’s a song wizard and one of the nicest people I know. And I hope that Terry Birkett and I will continue to work together.”
Saturday, May 14 | 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Willis Sound, 8906 Meridian St. in Willis
$15 at the door