For Bill Edwards, the basement provides the ideal music lab and creation space.
The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist retreated to his subterranean studio during the pandemic and experimented with his recording gear.
“When we went into lockdown and realized we weren’t going to be playing live for several months, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of my recording software. I wanted to get better acquainted with MIDI instruments, or musical instrument digital interfaces,” Edwards said.
“MIDI instruments have come a long way since their invention, and the sampled instruments that are available now are just incredible. It gave me the opportunity to do things like drums, bass and pedal steel, and a whole world opened up.”
Eighteen months later, Edwards’ MIDI software explorations have resulted in an ambitious, yet prolific 30-track double album, Whole Cloth, out Friday via Regaltone Records.
“It feels like birthing a very large baby, and I’m really proud of it for a lot of reasons. I think the songs are good, and the fact that I was able to do it all by myself feels like a pretty big accomplishment,” said Edwards, who spent 15 months writing and recording his new album.
“Over that period, I probably had 70 songs, and I would finish one and then move on to the next and start building it together. I didn’t plan to do a double CD, but then I had all this stuff, and I thought, ‘Well, why not just put it all out?”
For Athens Creek, The Road Home represents a poignant, personal mile-marker in a lifelong journey to overcome adversity and find redemption.
The metro Detroit Americana duo of Taylor Haring (vocals) and Nate Jones (vocals, guitar) proudly reflects on that introspective odyssey nearly a year after releasing their debut EP.
“Our original plan was to write a full album, and we wrote down on paper the ideas we had for it. The ideas that were there mostly came from that paper, which captured what we wanted to write over the next year. Unknowingly, we didn’t realize other things were going to come up,” Jones said.
“Right now, we still have a sense of pride about it. We’re glad we got through it and did it, despite the fact that it took a year and half for us to release it. It was worth it.”
Released last August, The Road Home beautifully documents Athens Creek’s original destinations of professional and spiritual growth, yet refreshingly chronicles the unexpected detours of divorce, nostalgia and sobriety across six tracks. It’s a realistic, relatable portrayal of life’s ups and downs zigzagging from one point of uncertainty to the next, especially in a pandemic.
“When everything first started to happen, we didn’t know how long it was going to last. First, it was only going to be a couple of weeks, and now it’s been nearly a year and a half later. We all had our own struggles and learning curves, but it allowed us to create and share in ways that we didn’t before as far as recording and having live meetings with each other,” Haring said.
The Ypsilanti indie folk singer-songwriter intricately weaves a series of reflective, tender vignettes into a cathartic, cohesive whole on his exploratory new album. Filled with ethereal soundscapes, hypnotic guitars and mesmerizing vocals, Floodplains surges through the vast peaks and valleys of the soul to unify past and present experiences into a hopeful future.
“As a project that’s loaded with very difficult emotional content, I just had to sit by myself and grind. It was a very frustrating, solitary experience, and I had to really develop my work ethic and show up. It’s really tough to show up literally in your bedroom when you have a whole list of things that you have to get knocked out,” DuPont said.
“I learned the value of solitude and just sitting with your feelings and allowing them to move through you without making a knee-jerk reaction about what they mean. That’s been a big growth point for me. Working on this record really forced me to sit with difficult feelings and hear them tossed back in my ears over and over again. But as valuable as solitude is, I also learned the importance of asking for help.”
Together, they created and navigated the majestic Floodplains throughout apartments, houses and recording studios in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. The album slowly ebbed and flowed over two years alongside a period of personal upheaval and change for DuPont.
“Working with producer Nick Gunty was a fabulous experience. It was a big deal working with a producer, letting them in on your process and giving them creative push and pull as you’re letting go. That was a very important part of the process,” DuPont said.
“And toward the end wrapping it all up and getting the mastering done, I pulled in my dear friend Chris Norman, who’s an electronica producer out of Texas. I was running out of time and needed someone to master the record, and I knew he would love to do it.”
As an exquisite finished product, Floodplainsrises and swells with intense emotion across 12 thoughtful, vivid tracks that steer listeners along a highly personal, poignant odyssey. It’s the ideal sonic outlet for releasing deeply buried troubles while seeking solace and starting anew in an uncertain world.
Mike Ward eloquently strikes a balance between the past and the future.
The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter thoughtfully uncovers the delicate midpoint between two opposing forces in time and emotion on his reflective third album, The Darkness and The Light.
“I think it has a lot to do with my age; I got started in this late. I think it comes from a lot of experience and examination of that. I come from a really big family; we’ve had some losses and struggles over the last 10 years. These songs were all written well before the pandemic, but they tee up the emotions that people have,” Ward said.
“Since my dad passed and my mom died almost 10 years before that, I’ve been on that path of examining life as it is, life as it was and life after I go. I archived about 10,000 slides and photographs from my dad’s collection because he was an amateur photographer, and you can’t do that without diving into the faces, the eyes, the smiles and the tears. All those stories ruminate around, and I think for me as a writer I’ve realized that’s the way things have to happen for me.”
Ward’s initial ruminations unfold into 10 insightful tales about wisdom, gratitude, reality and altruism throughout The Darkness and The Light. As a majestic successor to 2018’s We Wonder, each Darkness and Light track sashays from shadows of struggle to flashes of hope as listeners travel from one experience to the next.
“I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything, and I’m not trying to be Pollyanna. Even when I sing ‘Our Turn to Shine,’ it’s done in a way that suggests taking it upon yourself. When one of us shines, we can all shine, and bringing a little light to the world is a good thing even as messed up as it is. That’s what I hope people will get from it. I’ve been told by a number of people who’ve listened to it that it’s calming and gives them a sense of relaxation,” Ward said.
For Mark Jewett, Jan. 24 elicits feelings of sadness and appreciation.
The landmark date carries personal significance for Jewett – the 18th anniversary of his father’s passing and the 74th birthday of the late Warren Zevon. The coincidental intersection of those two events inspired Jewett to reflect on both and the lingering impact they’ve had on his life.
“They had a lot of similarities – the dry, dark sense of humor was probably the biggest one. They were both pretty hardcore drinkers, and they were both fascinated with unconventional things they could do with words. They would put them together in different ways that made people stop and think about them. And to a degree, I think they were both a little misunderstood. It became the impetus for a song,” said Jewett, a Plymouth Americana singer-songwriter.
That impetus ultimately produced “Warren Zevon’s Birthday,” a nostalgic, introspective folk rock ode to influential, supportive fathers past and present. Spirited organ, reflective electric guitars, pounding drums, soft cymbals, calm bass and glistening piano accompany Jewett as he shares fond memories, warm feelings and irreplaceable moments.
Jewett sentimentally sings, “Dad served his country in the second World War/When he was only 20 years of age/He kept it all inside/A place where he could hide/Secrets he carried to his grave/Warren had an appetite for living/Living large, a thing he did so well/Like a feral buckaroo/Some alcoholic Xanadu/He rode the Double E straight through hell.”
“I started thinking about the two of them, and there were some similarities and radical contrasts. I thought, ‘Well maybe that’s worth structuring a song around.’ And the song has kind of an odd structure,” said Jewett, who shared the track with Gurf Morlix and sought inspiration from Crystal Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.
“It’s an intro, a chorus, three verses in a row, no bridge, a solo, another verse, another chorus and an outro. It was necessary to build it that way for continuity of the story. Sometimes rules are just meant for breaking.”
Throughout “Warren Zevon’s Birthday,” Jewett eloquently breaks the rules with producer-drummer Billy Harrington, Michael Harrington (guitar, bass), Dale Grisa (piano, organ) and Amy Petty (vocals). The quintet intricately constructed a solid cinematic foundation to support, build and evolve Jewett’s thoughtful paternal tribute ballad.
“It was a challenge to decide if this song was supposed to be huge sounding. It’s a very sensitive subject; does it need to be more subdued or heartfelt in that way? Or is it more heartfelt when there’s a blazing guitar solo? What do we do with it exactly? We had talked about doing two versions of it, a stripped-down one and one that’s more rocking with a full band,” said Billy Harrington.
“I didn’t want this song to fall in the middle. If we wanted to go big, then we really had to go all the way there and then some. I didn’t want it to be 50 percent on both sides. If this was gonna be a big, epic Pink Floyd stately sort of ballad thing, then we did it. I really think we got that on this one.”
Four years ago, Jeff Socia decided to reenter the Michigan music scene.
The Traverse City Americana singer-songwriter created a home studio, started playing live shows and honed his songwriting chops. Socia continued to build his momentum until last March when COVID-19 hit and instantly shuttered the live music world.
“I started booking some stuff on my own, and then last year happened. It’s probably a story you’ve heard a lot from other people – the lockdown was the time they were going to record and release something. I decided to go along with that story and take it one step further,” he said.
Nine months later, Socia dropped his thoughtful, melodic full-length debut album, Release, via all streaming platforms. The fervent 10-track project whips listeners down cozy, winding alt country roads filled with life-changing tales of love, growth, gratitude and risk.
“Everyone needs a release a right now, and this one happened to be mine. Hopefully, when someone listens to it, this can be their release. It’s been cool for me to hear from people who listen to my songs from elsewhere,” Socia said.
“I’ve gotten feedback from people in Ireland and other places. What we do here touches other people, and it’s their release. You never know what you’re going to put out there and how it’s going to affect someone. That’s why I called it Release.”
For Steve Taylor, creative inspiration inadvertently starts with a full hard drive.
The Lake Orion Americana roots singer-songwriter surprisingly ran out of storage space on his digital audio workstation while polishing tracks this summer for his latest solo album, Beside Myself.
“I’ve had this thing for 10-15 years, and I got an error message that said, ‘Hey, You’re running out of space, and you’ve now exceeded the limit of this hard drive.’ I said, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to start deleting songs off here,’ and I put out a solo album in 2005 that I recorded in a similar fashion called And So On, and I thought, ‘I can delete tracks that have already been mastered and released,’” Taylor said.
“But I had all these other tracks on there, like ‘Do You Remember’ and some of the other ones that wound up on Beside Myself. I was like, ‘Well, I guess I should just finish these off, or I should just add something to these.’ We weren’t able to do anything; I wasn’t playing any shows. We weren’t getting together as a band, and every gig was cancelled. I felt like I needed that outlet just to kind of stay creative.”
As a quarantine-fueled creative project, Beside Myself features 10 poignant, acoustic tracks and B-sides focused on long-term love, delayed goals, deer-car crashes, childhood memories, peaceful lullabies and other classic life experiences. In a sense, it’s a closely cherished sonic scrapbook of Taylor’s musical evolution as an influential singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and frontman of The Steve Taylor Three.
“These songs were forgotten; they were songs that I had written for my wife or my neighbors. ‘Sleep & Dream’ was a lullaby I had written for my kids when they were little, and I used to sing it to them before they went to bed. And none of them had I ever intended to release. Some of them just started as demos so I could give them to people, and we could learn to play them live,” said Taylor, who recorded the project in a home studio located under his basement stairs.
“Some of them were already done, like ‘Do You Remember.’ I had recorded that and given it to my wife for our anniversary, but I hadn’t done anything else with it. I started looking to see how many of these were actually done and how many needed more instrumentation. I started counting them up and found there was a group of 10 that I could use.”
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 Dayssongwriting 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.”
The Detroit alt country duo of Carrie Shepard (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Lawrence Daversa (electric guitar, harmony vocals) encounter western frontiers, far-away galaxies, budget motels, fiery gun-slinging duels, deserted highways and nightmarish monsters while getting Lost on the Range.
Their refreshing 10-track cinematic road trip serves as the ideal soundtrack for a vintage-like spaghetti western directed and musically curated by David Lynch. During Range, The Whiskey Charmers embark on several introspective journeys while tumbleweeds blow past, wildfires burn and classic country guitar tones reverberate in the distance.
“We didn’t have a plan originally of what songs were going to be on there, but we picked the ones we liked the best. We thought a lot about the order once we had all the songs, and we feel like it has a beginning and an ending the way we had it structured,” Shepard said. “The girl (Akriirose) who did the album art noticed all the words she kept hearing, and she kept getting this explorer vibe.”
Daversa quickly added, “Like Lewis and Clark.”
Getting ‘Lost on the Range’
For their third country expedition via Sweet Apple Pie Records, The Whiskey Charmers enlisted Brian Ferriby (drums), Johnny “Wolf” Abel (bass), Dan “Ozzie” Andrews (bass) and Rooftop Recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist David Roof to join the “wild west” entourage.
Together, they seamlessly blend scorching retro Americana, folk and rockabilly into timeless tales of love, revenge and self-discovery amidst vast, barren fields rolling in the mind’s eye. Their Range adventure begins amidst blazing struggles and deep space odysseys.
One of Range’s most striking tales includes “Galaxy,” a hypnotic, interstellar ode to solitary confinement in an expansive universal frontier. Intertwining melodic acoustic and electric guitar strums, vibrant glockenspiel, echoing chimes, delicate bass and light drums drift to and fro as Shepard and Daversa sing, “Well I’m lost at sea, lost in the galaxy/There’s no one else tonight, no one else but me/Still I float along, most of my hope is gone/Gotta find a rocky spot, that I can land upon.”
As an explorer, Linden Thoburn searches every corner of her soul to find life’s true meaning.
The Brighton country-folk singer-songwriter deeply mines the head and the heart through a majestic journey of self-discovery on her latest album, Scarecrow, out Friday. Thoburn’s Americana odyssey weaves through sunbaked rows, bitter winds, mountain tops, shadow-hearted plains and the Goodnight-Loving Trail alongside 10 heartfelt tracks of courage, growth and gratitude.
“It’s an album about personal journeys – reflective and physical. For me, all the album’s songs came from deep internal explorations, and they represent the struggles to find meaning and to resolve my confusion and find ground in the rapidly-changing U.S.,” she said. “I hope to move people to feel or think. I would love it if people saw their own questions reflected in mine. The music I love the most makes me feel mirrored and less alone in the world.”
Each Scarecrowtrack encapsulates a struggle, a passage, an emotional hurdle, a dilemma and a celebration as birds, scarecrows, coyotes and heroes seek new beginnings. The breathtaking opener, “Carolina Wren,” creates a timeless country sound while embarking on a life-changing path.
Bright acoustic and slide guitars fuse with hypnotic piano to accompany Thoburn as she beautifully sings, “I hope you find you and your voice, your song again/Maybe find a friend/And when you arrive in a place where you belong/I hope you sing out like a Carolina Wren.”
Hearing the Calls of the ‘Carolina Wren’ and the ‘Whippoorwill’
The high-pitched calls of the “Carolina Wren” instantly resonate with the “Scarecrow’s” deep desire to “follow the sun or the Canada geese” on the liberating title track. Wailing slide guitar, deep harmonica and vibrant mandolin echo in the distance as the “Scarecrow” imagines heading east while Thoburn shares her planned escape, “She’s holding on/One of these days, she’s got the notion/To get outta here, go see the ocean.”
“I am inspired by everything. I love all kinds of music, but I particularly like a compelling and harmonious melody. As for my own process, I always start with melody, and the melody generally brings a feeling to me,” Thoburn said. “I allow the melody and the feeling to begin expressing. Sometimes it’s super quick and easy, and then other times it comes out like a slow and painful birth.”