Songs of Comfort – Mike Ward Releases New Quarantine-Inspired ‘30 Songs in 30 Days’ Project

These days, Mike Ward takes life month by month.

The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter marks the passage of time in month-long increments, especially while hunkering down in quarantine.

Last month, Ward tested his creative prowess by writing and recording 31 new acoustic-based tracks at home as part of 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk rock singer-songwriter Paul Weinfield.

“When Paul set out the challenge, he put it in a post and said, ‘OK, who’s up for this? You have to write at least a verse and a chorus, and you have to record it and post it.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m up for that.’ The very first one was the most daunting, and it was like, ‘Well, where do I start?’” said Ward, who released his last album, We Wonder, in 2018.

“I keep a lot of notes on my phone that I use to record audio notes and melodies, and I also keep a lot of typed notes of starts of songs. I’ve kept them compiled for years, and this gave me a reason to go back to a lot of those notes. I also began exploring feelings of what’s happening, and the very first thing that was recorded was ‘The New Normal.’”

For Ward, “The New Normal” serves as a prevailing folk anthem for staying optimistic during increasing times of uncertainty and unpredictability. The 4.5-minute poignant track features thoughtful, churning acoustic strums as Ward reflectively sings, “Got my love, got my faith/Only hope it’s enough to get us through these days/No human contract, touch of a hand/Six feet of distance across the land/Open skies and open hearts/As we close our doors, do our part.”

The New Normal” also opened Ward’s creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches. A refreshing series of lyrics, melodies and chords flowed from Ward each day.

“The one thing I was cognizant of, but I didn’t go back day to day and say, ‘Oh, did I use those chords in that song? Does this song sound too much like this one?’” said Ward, who submitted an acoustic video of “The New Normal” for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.

“I honestly didn’t do that much because I felt like otherwise I wouldn’t finish, and if there was something I liked about one particular song, I could always go back and rework it if I needed to. At the same time, I tried to do some different things from a playing standpoint.”

Continue reading “Songs of Comfort – Mike Ward Releases New Quarantine-Inspired ‘30 Songs in 30 Days’ Project”

Walking on Sunshine – The Stratton Playlist Celebrates Summer’s Arrival with May 2020 Edition

With sunny days and warm nights, we’re ready for another summer filled with unforgettable music from local and regional artists.

The May edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will heat things up with power pop, jazz fusion, indie folk, hip-hop, grungy alt rock, heavy prog, metal and country.

Featured artists include The Hangabouts, Hannah Baiardi, LEVELS, Adventures with Vultures, Erod, Michael Snyder-Barker, Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men, Laszlos Forest and more. Sit back, enjoy some rays and soak up some new tunes to jump-start your summer.

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

The Getaway – Adventures with Vultures Brings Cinematic Feel to New ‘Speaking French’ Single

Adventures with Vultures escapes the doldrums of everyday working life on “Speaking French.”

Adventures with Vultures makes the perfect musical getaway.

The Plymouth indie folk-rock singer-songwriter quickly escapes the doldrums of everyday working life on his latest audacious single, “Speaking French,” which dropped today via all streaming platforms.

“This is one of the first songs I’ve ever co-written. I usually write everything alone, but I went over to Jimmy Showers’ house one night for band practice, and I said, ‘I’ve got this little new tune.’ This was in December maybe, and I had the hook already done. The verses were empty, but I had a melody, and we were spitballing random stuff,” said Matt Sauter, aka Adventures with Vultures.

“It was gonna be about a drunk dude who got everything ripped away from him, and then once the girl started chiming in, it became more of a love song about two people down on their luck, but together they can get through it.”

For the cinema-inspired track, Sauter collaborated with Jackamo’s Ali Wiercioch and Tess Wiercioch (harmony vocals), Dalton Thomas (drums), brother Dan Sauter (bass) and Showers (guitar) at Plymouth Rock Recording Company. As a 3.5-minute sonic road trip, “Speaking French” beautifully blends swift acoustic strums, deep electric guitar, pounding kick drum and rattling cymbals.

In turn, Sauter gravelly sings in Springsteen-esque vocals, “We joined the circus, and we both changed our names/Sold that ’57 Chevy, starting jumping trains/And we flew to Paris and started speaking French/Till she found a corner out there to help pay the rent.”

Throughout “Speaking French,” Sauter chronicles the high-flying adventures of working-class fictional couple who follow the open road. Together, they represent a spontaneous road-trip relationship akin to Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (minus the violence) in 1993’s “True Romance.” The track also references several pop culture gems, including “Billie Jean,” “River Jordan” and Credence Clearwater Revival’s 1971 Top 10 single, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

“I was strumming that riff over at their house, and while we were taking a break, I was picking at it, and Ali kept going, ‘I wanna know have you ever seen the rain?’ We thought it would be cool to tie that into the bridge without stealing it. We made it sound like the girl in her bare feet saying that little part,” Sauter said.

“When I write songs, I don’t really have any structure. I just started humming, and I kept humming ‘River Jordan’ and ‘Billie Jean.’ I was just saying that in the hook, and I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Continue reading “The Getaway – Adventures with Vultures Brings Cinematic Feel to New ‘Speaking French’ Single”

Paradise Lost and Found – LEVELS Chronicles Timeless Adam-Eve Tale on Mixed-Genre Debut Album

LEVELS entwines assorted genres, changing tempos and complex time signatures on their self-titled debut album.

LEVELS spiritually rises above standard musical conventions.

The international super group magically entwines assorted genres – R&B, hip-hop, funk, jazz, pop, prog rock, Latin and Afrobeat –  changing tempos and complex time signatures into an expansive sound that transcends space and time on their 2019 self-titled, full-length debut.

“These cats are all masters of their craft. The name LEVELS was fitting for us because we all come from different backgrounds culturally and musically and disciplines giving our unit so much dynamism. We’re always adding new levels to the tunes and each other. It’s great to be multinational and international since there’s so much flavor and opportunity to learn and push envelopes musically,” said Keith “WildChild” Middleton, LEVELS co-lead vocalist and co-founder.

Middleton pushes global, multi-genre musical envelopes with American-Italian bandmates Jacopo “Snow” Mazza (piano), Luca “Mack” Marcias (guitar) and Aaron Marcellus (vocals) on their intergalactic, poetic 16-track concept album, which beautifully follows the time-traveling journey of Adam searching for Eve after being exiled from paradise.

“The entire album is woven this way and becomes their journey. We have so many styles it’s only right that they are all represented to tell this story our way. Everyone can identify with having a relationship of some sort. I just put a cosmic, spiritual twist on it to provoke thought and start a conversation – ‘We all share Eve’s and Adam’s atoms,’” said Middleton, who’s currently quarantined in Italy due to the country’s coronavirus pandemic.

‘A Place’ for ‘Unicorns’

Eve’s and Adam’s atoms form a complex musical chemistry on “A Place,” a slow, groovy R&B hip-hop declaration of eternal love (think Garden of Eden). LEVELS’ breathtaking track features tweeting birds and soothing waterfalls as vibrant acoustic guitar, crashing cymbals, bouncy bass and pounding electric drums surround the star-crossed lovers.

To celebrate the lovers, Marcellus hypnotically sings, “There’s no place that I would rather be/Than here with you my dear beside me/Made a space for you inside my heart/Don’t ever fade away my shining star.”

In return, Middleton seamlessly raps, “Yeah shining star if I may elaborate/I follow my heart when I navigate/Palpitations causes sensations at faster rates of rotations of butterflies proclaiming my candidate/No space or time Donny Hathaway/In this and our next lives you won’t have to wait/When we grappled that apple that ample sampled that unraveled the man with the time travel secret passageways/I’ll always find you baby.”

“‘A Place’ tells their tale, and you find out in the first verse, it’s Adam professing his love for Eve. In the second verse, they are doomed from the apple incident, but because of the bite revealing a secret, Adam vows to find his Eve in their next lives. In the third verse, Adam breaks down all of their incarnations till present time, also revealing that on this next go-round, he will spot her at one of his shows while he’s performing with his band LEVELS on stage,” Middleton said.

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Ray of Light – The Sea Tease’s Michaela DeBenedictis Radiates Strength on New ‘Resilient’ Album

“Resilient” radiates strength and growth for The Sea Tease’s Michaela DeBenedictis. Photo by Mindy Parker

Michaela DeBenedictis glistens in vivid southern California sun.

The Los Angeles blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist radiates strength, positivity and growth on her debut sun-drenched album, Resilient, with The Sea Tease.

“All the songs are super personal, and I was diagnosed with PTSD five years ago. This album was, ‘Here’s everything that I had to process and all the people I had to process it with.’ ‘Resilient,’ the title track, really came out of that,” said DeBenedictis, frontwoman for The Sea Tease.

“My mother-in-law actually said to me when I was a couple of years into my recovery, ‘Baby girl, you’re resilient. No matter what happens to you, when you get knocked down, you just pick yourself right back up.’ That just really stuck with me, and I ended up writing ‘Resilient’ off of that.”

Released May 1, Resilient includes poignant lyrics beautifully draped in DeBenedictis’ soulful vocals and illustrious bluesy guitar solos alongside vibrant piano, rhythmic bass, soft percussion and tender acoustic guitar. Together, the lyrics, vocals and instrumentation unearth a “desert magic” vulnerability that emits courage and authenticity throughout The Sea Tease’s seven tracks.

Part of that vulnerability shines on “Gold,” a majestic track beaming with echoey sitars, bluesy electric guitars, light cymbal taps, bouncy percussion and bright acoustic guitar.

In a sense, DeBenedictis has become a “Gold Dust Woman” of the southern California desert weathered and worn as she sings, “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea/And that’s where you should be/You can only drain so much life out of my bones/Before they fossilize and turn to gold.”

“It’s been so long now, and I’ve noticed a part of the healing journey is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. I used to think that hiding yourself, being tough and not letting anybody in, I thought that was strength. But I realized strength is when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and share your story with other people,” she said.

Continue reading “Ray of Light – The Sea Tease’s Michaela DeBenedictis Radiates Strength on New ‘Resilient’ Album”

Unsung Hero – Nick Juno Honors Early Days of Dylan on Resurrected ‘Dope Fiend Robber’ Track

Nick Juno combines introspective stories and acoustic-rich folk in metro Detroit. Photo – Andrea Wingard Photography

Nick Juno never imagined he’d collaborate with Bob Dylan.

The metro Detroit folk singer-songwriter took an unfinished, unreleased and unrecorded Dylan song, “Dope Fiend Robber,” from 1961 and added lyrics and original music to it. Juno learned about the song through Untold Dylan, an online curator of more than 600 Dylan songs.

“I tried to make it in the feel of the 1960s Bob Dylan kind of folky way as well as Woody Guthrie. I didn’t want to sing it like Dylan; I wanted sing it in my own way,” he said.

A tragic sonic tale, “Dope Fiend Robber” highlights a World War II vet who becomes addicted to morphine after recovering from a combat-related injury. His growing addiction escalates into robbery and murder as well as his eventual execution.

As a gifted storyteller, Juno eloquently honors Dylan on “Dope Fiend Robber” as down-home swift acoustic strums seamlessly glide alongside his nimble vocals, “They found me guilty at the trial/The Judge condemned me to die/Been on that morphine quite a while/But once I was somebody’s child.”

“It doesn’t really mean anything in the greater scheme, but it’s pretty amazing to see my name next to Bob Dylan,” said Juno, who grew up in Flushing.

Juno developed a deep appreciation for Dylan and folk music while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in San Diego and Honolulu. By the early ‘80s, he was a high school graduate who casually learned guitar from his friends on base.

“The guys would show each other three cowboy chord songs, and the first guitar I had was this little old one. I had to take it to a buddy of mine to tune it every week or so because I didn’t know how to tune it. He said, ‘If you’re going to learn how to play this thing, at some point, you’re going to have to learn how to tune it,’” Juno said.

“I handled that, but that’s when I started playing, and my big love back then was Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Jim Glover, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. It was always a story first and then the music. I’m not terribly fancy; I’m a strummer, finger-picker folkie, but I know my role, and I want to tell a story, and I put the two together.”

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The Outsiders – Rags and Riches Celebrates Societal Underdogs on ‘Blood Runs Cold’ Single

In a quarantined world, Rags and Riches relishes being on the fringes of society.

The Lexington, Kentucky EDM pop-rock duo of brothers Tanner Whitt (vocals, guitar) and Peyton Whitt (drums) ventures underground and demands authenticity on their new seismic single, “Blood Runs Cold,” which dropped April 24.

“‘Blood Runs Cold’ really couldn’t have been a more perfect song to release right now. We felt not only did it relate to what we are all living in, but also the outcasts who have never fit in were very important to us. We wanted people to realize sometimes the people who never could fit in anywhere were born to stand out,” Tanner Whitt said.

Rags and Riches boldly stands apart as earth-shattering synths, blaring warning sirens, pounding percussion and piercing electric guitars erupt an underground homogeneous society. Tanner Whitt defiantly sings, “Is your head on straight/Cuz I feel like a stranger in a social abyss/Locked inside a box where my survival’s at risk/Survival’s at risk.”

The track also features a compelling video with clones wearing yellow hazmat suits and black gas masks while gathering in a deserted subway station with flashing lights. Together, they stand in single-file lines and closely monitor the station for a potential airborne virus (think COVID-19).

“We felt the hazmat suits made perfect sense with how we are living. Everyone being distant feels like living in hazmat suits. The video was more for relatability than a deeper meaning on this one,” Tanner Whitt said.

Blood Runs Cold” also serves as the second infectious single Rags and Riches has released this year. In February, the Whitt brothers dropped the turbo-charged, anti-mediocracy anthem, “Edge of Time,” which fuses floating synths, thumping electronic percussion, frantic drumstick taps, vibrant guitars and deep breaths.

With a fire in his soul, Tanner Whitt proudly sings, “Rise, when the chances come/Move, don’t be left behind/Now, is your time to shine.”

“The lyrics came to me back in June 2019. It was spur of the moment, and they all really quickly came to me. I was outside walking around writing these lyrics down, and the melody was pretty much there. I didn’t have the overall theme for what I wanted the song to be about. It just kind of put itself together in a way. The positive, encouraging thing came, and never settling for mediocracy was the focus point of the song,” said Tanner Whitt, whose mother also sings on the track.

Continue reading “The Outsiders – Rags and Riches Celebrates Societal Underdogs on ‘Blood Runs Cold’ Single”