Hip-Hop Hope – Formula 734 Brings Sense of Community to Washtenaw County Men of Color

Formula 734 brings intergenerational men of color together to create hip-hop anthems about overcoming struggles and sharing successes. Artwork – CW Creatyv for Be Creative Studios

As a fresh community-based hip-hop album, Formula 734 poetically encapsulates shared stories of struggles and successes for men of color in Washtenaw County.

“I feel as though we’ve created a historical document for this particular time in history for Washtenaw County that people can refer to, or they can gain some primary source analysis of what it was like to be in Washtenaw County during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest related to the death of George Floyd,” said Rod Wallace, who co-executive produced the project with Jamall Bufford.

In partnership with Washtenaw County My Brother’s Keeper (WMBK), the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Wallace and Bufford assembled an intergenerational group of disparate male creatives to write, record and release a compelling 12-track album with emerging hip-hop artists, producers and engineers.

“Jamall and I started to talk about our desire to engage young people with hip-hop in a positive way that taught a number of different skills. We started planning for the project, and our first meeting was in November,” Wallace said.

From November to February, Wallace and Bufford hosted Formula 734 meetings and recording sessions every two weeks with male creatives and hip-hop collaborators to build trust, teamwork and camaraderie at Grove Studios, The Workshop and The Neutral Zone’s Orpheum Studio.

Each gathering included a meal and a huddle to enrich, energize and inspire participants before they wrote and recorded music with Louis Picasso, Tru Klassick, Sam Watson, Beretta Shells, Konphlict, King Ogundipe and Approachable Minorities’ Drew Denton and TJ Greggs.

“One of the intentions of WMBK is to engage in discussions with men across generations as opposed to only focusing on young men. There are men across the spectrum of color who need support and who need positive experiences, so we try to bridge that gap, and through this project, we were able to do so,” Wallace said.

Concocting Formula 734

With Wallace and Bufford at the hip-hop helm, Formula 734 weaves introspective rhymes, thoughtful monologues, crisp beats, old-school jams and deep grooves while authentically amplifying the voices of local men of color. All 12 tracks challenge false narratives about men of color and raise awareness about the underlying causes of systemic racism.

“We want change to happen in our communities, in our neighborhoods and in our schools. One album probably won’t accomplish that, but we want this to be a stepping stone in the right direction to some of the systemic changes that we want to see for black men and young men of color in our community and around the country. We want this to hopefully be a catalyst for the conversation that needs to take place about what’s happening in our communities,” said Bufford, who’s a WMBK project specialist and Formula 734 co-executive producer.

Continue reading “Hip-Hop Hope – Formula 734 Brings Sense of Community to Washtenaw County Men of Color”

Saturday Stroll – Nina & The Buffalo Riders Headline Aug. 8 Grove Sessions Live in Ypsilanti

Nina & The Buffalo Riders will bring their groovy psych-blues rock to Grove Sessions Live Saturday in Ypsilanti. Photo – Carmel Liburdi

Nina & The Buffalo Riders will stroll through Ypsilanti Saturday night.

The Detroit psych-blues rock septet of Nina Ledesma (vocals, acoustic guitar), Daniel Decker (guitar), Oscar Sosa (guitar), Mike Fritz (keys), Ramiro Romero (bass), Chris Kaszuba (drums) and Baba Bohmbaedio (percussion, djembe) will headline Grove Sessions Live, an outdoor studio production session hosted by Grove Studios, before a masked and socially-distanced small audience.

They’ll share the intimate Grove Studios courtyard stage with three Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti acts, including progressive jam quartet Stormy Chromer, funk-soul-rock sextet Sabbatical Bob and jazz composer-guitarist Adam Kahana.

“It’s always great to connect and share stages with bands we have never met before. The more we can get together, the more we can learn from one another instead of competing. We have played with Stormy Chromer before, but none of the others. Stormy is always very entertaining – their music is incredible as well as their off-stage presence,” Ledesma said.

Ledesma and her Buffalo Riders bandmates are among a growing roster of local artists, including Dani Darling, Doogatron and Louis Picasso & The Gallery, performing at monthly Grove Sessions Live production events, which offer 50 people ticketed VIP access to four hours of live music. Those live performances are recorded and later combined with Grove Sessions livestream artist interviews every Wednesday and Friday at 4 p.m.

“The Grove Sessions livestream series began online out of necessity in March due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order here in Michigan. We were determined to continue connecting with the music community and our clients by offering them a virtual space to share their creativity, even though our revenue had dropped to zero since we had to close our rehearsal and production space,” said Erich Friebel, Grove Studios co-founder and director of community engagement.

“Bringing performances and other content to livestreaming was something we had envisioned doing long-term, but our new reality pushed us to innovate sooner and quicker than we planned. The monthly production event gives artists an opportunity to be directly involved with our team in spreading their music and stories.”

Continue reading “Saturday Stroll – Nina & The Buffalo Riders Headline Aug. 8 Grove Sessions Live in Ypsilanti”

Big Dig – Nick Juno Unearths Local Singer-Songwriter Lyrics through The Detroit Song Mine

Nick Juno shares lyrics from local singer-songwriters through The Detroit Song Mine. Artwork – Andrea W

Outfitted with a Fender Telecaster and a worn pick-axe, Nick Juno unearths a treasure trove of Detroit musical gems twice a month.

The Motor City folk singer-songwriter carefully excavates and shares priceless song lyrics from local artists through the newly discovered The Detroit Song Mine, which launched today via Facebook.

“For the last several months, we’ve had online access to such wonderful and varied music on all different levels. Oftentimes when hearing people play their songs, I think, ‘That was great live! What did they say?’ And I thought it would be great to see the lyrics to some of these because as a writer I’m always reading the lyrics,” he said.

“It’s all about ‘the song,’ and then I was thinking about how in the ‘60s Greenwich Village had the ‘Broadside,’ which became ‘Sing Out!’ magazine. I thought it would be great to have something like that on a very small, basic level here. I didn’t want to have a contest, review or critique; I just wanted to have the bare bones skeleton lyrics of people’s songs.”

As a new online music community spearheaded by Juno, The Detroit Song Mine publishes original song lyrics from a myriad of talented, multi-genre metro Detroit singer-songwriters, including Tom Alter’sSelma,” Judy Banker’s, “Sweetest Rain,” Darin Francis’ “Lake Superior,” Dirk Kroll’s “West Thalia,” Brion Riborn’sHalf My Friends,” Milan Seth’s “Our Dear Leader” and Bob Youngs “Firestorm.”

“The first batch of writers in issue No. 1 were chosen randomly from the first handful of people who sent in songs. When I first envisioned doing this, I thought with hat in hand maybe a few people might want to do this monthly, but I got a terrific response. Now, I will be doing this twice a month to keep things moving,” Juno said.

Juno also sought inspiration for The Detroit Song Mine from the city’s historic salt deposits, which date back 400 million years and were left behind by the retreat of an ancient inland ocean. In a sense, he captures that timeless tradition and aesthetically transfers it to publishing song lyrics. Each online issue of The Detroit Song Mine invites artists to discuss and share each other’s songs.

“The idea of mining for rock salt or digging your way for songs out of thin air rang familiar, and I hope people would pick up on that. As writers, it’s often useful to play for other people and get feedback about what they think, what they heard or how things worked out,” Juno said.

“None of that’s happening right now with the ongoing shutdown, so I thought it might be good for people to have an outlet to put their songs out there good, bad or otherwise just for others to see them.”

With the next issue launching Aug. 14, Juno will announce and publish another six or seven songs from a different group of singer-songwriters. He’s interested in highlighting creative lyrics from a multitude of genres, including folk, rock and hip-hop.

“I want this to be like putting up show flyers on a kiosk or wall where you slap up your song with wheat paste and walk away. The people sending in songs are varied and different, so whatever we get I’m happy to put up. Ideally, I’d like to see this in printed form available for people to have in their hands, but I just wanted to get it started,” he said.

“Being online is a good thing because I’ve had people way outside of the Detroit area interested. My hope is that when we finally start up again playing live music readers might say at a show, ‘Oh, I know this song! I’ve seen these lyrics.”

To submit song lyrics, contact Juno at thedetroitsongmine@gmail.com.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.