Midwest Americana – Blockhouse Valley Combines Regional Folk and Bluegrass with Rust Belt Grit on Self-Titled Debut EP

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Blockhouse Valley’s Ashleigh Glass, Jon Howard, Cody Cooper and Danny Steinkopf feature wistful stories about heartbreak, home and hope on their self-titled debut EP. Photo courtesy of Blockhouse Valley

With musical roots throughout the Midwest, Blockhouse Valley deeply cultivates a flourishing Americana landscape in southeast Michigan.

The metro Detroit quartet of Ashleigh Glass (vocals), Cody Cooper (mandolin, guitar), Jon Howard (guitar) and Danny Steinkopf (upright bass) combines robust elements of Appalachian folk and Tennessee bluegrass with gritty Rust Belt sentiments on their self-titled debut EP.

“Growing up, my prolific and prodigious grandparents helped shape my vision for my musical endeavors. I was exposed to artists like Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart and Chet Atkins, but my personal preferences skewed more toward rock, blues and indie music,” said Cooper, who hails from Sunbury, Ohio, and whose grandparents reside in northeast Tennessee’s Blockhouse Valley.

“When Ashleigh, a West Virginia native, and I started writing music together, we found a lot of shared experiences tied to the trials of living in the Rust Belt. We both lamented witnessing the impact of lost industry and economy on our parents’ and grandparents’ generations and were concerned about how it was shaping our peers and our perspectives in the Midwest.”

In response, Cooper and Glass penned six thoughtful tracks for the EP that reconcile past struggles and beckon future growth. Wistful stories about heartbreak, home and hope soar alongside rich harmonies and fervent acoustic instrumentation.

“The tie to Blockhouse Valley harkens to the short-lived promise of prosperity, the long-term costs lurking beneath the surface, and the ever-enduring splinter of hope that we might learn to do better as we learn from all we’ve seen,” Glass said.

“From this viewpoint, our music has been influenced by a wide range of artists, most notably Chris Thile and his bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek. They encapsulate so many elements that we relish, including bluegrass instrumentation that blends nods to their predecessors with truly virtuosic musicianship.”

Down in the Valley

Blockhouse Valley EP
Blockhouse Valley’s self-titled debut EP features rich harmonies and fervent acoustic instrumentation. Artwork by Holly Schoenfield

Blockhouse Valley first captures that virtuosic spirit in the courageous opener “Shaker Square,” which tackles heartbreak head-on in Cleveland.

Determined mandolin, acoustic guitar and upright bass shield Glass as she sings, “My hands are empty, bags are full / A heavy load that you have chosen / I’m too tired to do this right / You’ve got needs, but I’m not open.”

“Shaker Square in Cleveland, just like the intended recipient of the song’s message, was a fleeting experience,” Glass said.

“After a difficult breakup, the subject of the song struggles to share their own needs with someone who may be hurt by the realization in the same way the subject was recently wounded. Honesty is sometimes a painful, but necessary evil.”

After fleeing “Shaker Square,” Blockhouse Valley heads to the surrounding countryside on “Ohio.” Frustrated acoustic guitar, mandolin and bass echo Glass’ disappointment with a rural community’s lack of progress and resistance to change.

She sings, “A form veiled in the mist / How did it ever come to this / The curtain ripped, the chances missed, has life even started.”

“‘Ohio’ is based on the general feeling of malaise that the subject has experienced in their home. The mundane, banal pacing that digs deep into the earth instead of across it plagues the subject, leaving them feeling defeated and trapped,” Cooper said.

“This is a feeling that’s dishearteningly common amongst our friends and family and has certainly settled within us at times. When the choices you make aren’t leading to a tangible destination or goal, it’s difficult to find a bigger-picture perspective. But the dark days do pass and ‘the world has miles to offer,’ so you just have to keep going.”

Next, Blockhouse Valley finds affirmation and connection on the passionate ballad “Tangled Together.” Jubilant mandolin, acoustic guitar and upright bass intertwine as Glass sings, “If we lost our heads I think our legs could find a way / To keep our hearts in the same place / Because we share one beat that skips and skews in the same way / We’d circle back and find our place.”

“‘Tangled Together’ is a love song between Ashleigh and me. Originally titled ‘Absurdist Love Song,’ it was inspired by our curly hair being literally tangled together as we awakened early on a Sunday morning,” said Cooper, who met Glass through a mutual friend in 2014.

“After a quick detangling, Ashleigh started writing effortlessly absurd lyrics that accurately paint our ridiculous adoration for each other.”

Finally, Blockhouse Valley fights for the future on the bold closer “Until Then,” which features hopeful acoustic guitar, mandolin and upright bass rallying around Glass.

She sings, “Won’t live the lives our parents did / No more quiet desperation, a stone to be our only mark / Within our hands we hide our dreams / They are quiet conversations existing within screens.”

“This idea echoes further into our general worldview as millennials praying that we can find a way to fix societal wrongs. We feel blighted by the injustices of Rust Belt politics whose promises were breached in our childhoods and left respective areas of the Midwest in economic turmoil throughout our lives,” Glass said.

“Every choice we have the good fortune to make for ourselves is an opportunity to move closer to our goals. We cannot do it all alone. We need to choose to be there for each other, to stand against what we know to be wrong and to hold each other accountable to the changes that we wish to see.”

Blockhouse Valley and Beyond

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Blockhouse Valley officially became a quartet in 2022. Photo courtesy of Blockhouse Valley

For their self-titled debut EP, Glass and Cooper didn’t write the six tracks initially with a release in mind. Instead, each track naturally emerged as the two songwriters started working together.

“Ashleigh was particularly hesitant to have such intimate—in some cases, cathartic feelings opened up to an audience—but over time … we were finally comfortable to share our original music,” said Cooper, who’s now engaged to Glass.

Last July, Glass and Cooper added Howard and Steinkopf to the band’s lineup to expand their burgeoning acoustic sound. They met Howard in 2019 at an open mic night at TV’s Grand Event in Trenton and later opened for Wunderkid, which featured Steinkopf on bass, at Adrian’s Cotton Brewing Company.

“In 2022, we took a trip to see Cody’s family in the actual Blockhouse Valley in Tennessee, and we spent a few days in Nashville. We were inspired to incorporate bluegrass-style instrumentation into the band. That experience awakened a long-repressed dream to bring other artists into the project,” Glass said.

“Knowing no other mandolin players in the area, I encouraged Cody to take up the mantle on what had been a secondary instrument for him and add Jon on guitar. Inspired by the traditional bluegrass ensembles, we set out to find an upright bass player and learned that Danny had played it in college.”

With the lineup intact, Blockhouse Valley recorded the EP at Willis Sound with engineer Joe Sleep. Built in 1895, the former church provided the ideal recording environment for the band.

“We choose Willis Sound because they made us feel the most at home. Ashleigh grew up singing in church, and the studio is a converted chapel,” Cooper said.

“The acoustics of the space and Joe Sleep’s familiarity with our instruments and the spectrum of color across them really helped us feel at ease to entrust this recording with him.”

To celebrate the EP’s release, Blockhouse Valley will host a May 6 live show at Farver’s at the Croswell in Adrian. The band will perform as a duo and quartet and include original material as well as covers.

They’ll also feature several special guests, including Athens Creek’s Nate Jones along with Jonathan Crayne and Nate Zuellig, to open the show and accompany them on stage.

“These guys have been friends of ours for years now. We had previously recorded videos with Jonathan Crayne and Nate Jones and truly enjoyed getting to know each of them better through that process,” Glass said.

“They’ll be performing stripped-down, acoustic versions of their original music. Jonathan Crayne and Nate Zuellig were both members of the band Wunderkid with Danny and decided they’d like to team up, as they sometimes do, for this event.”

Looking ahead, Blockhouse Valley will play several festivals, explore some “new” venues, and continue regular appearances at some of their favorite places, including Adrian’s Mammoth Distilling and Ypsilanti’s MASH. They’re also working on new material.

“We’re always writing new music as it comes to us,” Cooper said. “After this initial EP release slows down, we’re excited to work on the in-process songs that we haven’t had time to complete.”

Show details:

Blockhouse Valley EP release show

Saturday, May 6 | 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Farver’s at the Croswell, 129 E. Maumee St. in Adrian

No cover

One thought on “Midwest Americana – Blockhouse Valley Combines Regional Folk and Bluegrass with Rust Belt Grit on Self-Titled Debut EP

  1. Congrats on the EP release! I know it was a hit! Great article and such insightful lessons shared! May you be the Light in a new generation (with some old vibes) of music lovers !

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