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”

Country Mile – The Whiskey Charmers Take Road Less Traveled for ‘Lost on the Range’ Album

Lawrence Daversa and Carrie Shepard of The Whiskey Charmers. Photo by Jim Cohen

The Whiskey Charmers frequently travel off the beaten path.

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’

“Lost on the Range” album artwork by Akriirose

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.”

Continue reading “Country Mile – The Whiskey Charmers Take Road Less Traveled for ‘Lost on the Range’ Album”

Heart and Soul – Linden Thoburn Explores Personal Journeys on New ‘Scarecrow’ Album

Linden Thoburn will release her new album, “Scarecrow,” on Friday. Photo by Robin Scully

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 Scarecrow track 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’

“Scarecrow” album art. Photo by Robin Scully

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.”

Continue reading “Heart and Soul – Linden Thoburn Explores Personal Journeys on New ‘Scarecrow’ Album”

Time Markers – The Steve Taylor Three Celebrates Renewal, Reflection on New ‘Earn Every Scar’ Album

The Steve Taylor Three will celebrate the release of “Earn Every Scar” Saturday at Royal Oak’s Dixie Moon Saloon.

Steve Taylor vividly remembers the day Tom Petty died.

The Lake Orion singer-songwriter and vocalist-guitarist of the Americana roots trio The Steve Taylor Three drove home from a band rehearsal on Oct. 2, 2017 and officially heard Petty had passed away.

“By the time I was driving home, it was like 10:30 at night, it was pretty clear that he was gone. I was rooting around in my car trying to find a Tom Petty CD in there somewhere, and I found the album, Echo,” said Taylor about Petty’s 1999 album. “The first song on that album is called ‘Room at the Top,’ and it just starts with Tom Petty playing guitar and singing, ‘I’ve got a room at the top of the world tonight, and I ain’t comin’ down.’”

That song instantly sparked Taylor to write four pages of nostalgic thoughts about Petty once he arrived home. Those thoughts remained dormant for six months until Taylor turned it into a heartfelt tribute with bandmates Bryan Frink (bass, keys) and Carey Weaver (drums, percussion) called “The Day Tom Petty Died.” It’s one of 12 new stunning tracks featured on The Steve Taylor Three’s third album, Earn Every Scar, out Saturday.

“And the whole thing was I didn’t want to write a sad song about it. I kinda wanted to write a song that told the story of the day he passed away,” said Taylor, who studied bass at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “It’s supposed to be a tribute to everything that he accomplished.”

The uplifting ode to everyone’s favorite Heartbreaker features clicking drumsticks, driving bass and vibrant piano as Taylor beautifully sings, “I hope you like the view from the room at the top of the world/And I hope you’re dancing with an American girl/I know that Roy and George are sitting by his side/I won’t soon forget the day Tom Petty died.”

Taylor grew up listening to Tom Petty on the radio, but didn’t become a hardcore fan until seeing Peter Bogdanovich’s 2007, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” about the Gainesville, Fla., native and his longtime band. “I’ve said to so many people, ‘You don’t realize for every 25 Tom Petty songs that you know there are 25 you’ve never heard that are good if not better,’” he said.

Continue reading “Time Markers – The Steve Taylor Three Celebrates Renewal, Reflection on New ‘Earn Every Scar’ Album”

In Time – Rochelle Clark Releases Debut EP, Opens for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington

Rochelle Clark will open for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington. Photo by Jason Dennie

A tantalizing blend of acoustic Americana roots will waft throughout the Farmington Civic Theater on Feb. 21.

That blend will include singer-songwriter Rochelle Clark sharing a delectable opening set for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys as part of the theater’s “LIVE!” 2020 winter concert series. Special guest Caleb Peters also will open the show.

“Well, it’s not very often that you get to sing in a movie theater, and that in of itself, makes it unique. I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time that I went there, but I love the whole setup that they have,” said Clark, who last performed at the theater in November 2018. “You feel like you’re walking into a performance space, and the audience is really in tune with what’s going on.”

During her opening set, Clark will share raw, poignant tracks from her debut EP, “In Time,” which dropped in January. The EP beautifully chronicles Clark’s creative journey from half of the Americana roots duo The Potter’s Field to a flourishing solo artist.

“I wanted to have a progression of songs that are covers, songs that I helped co-write, and songs that I wrote by myself, and pay homage to where I’ve been coming from and where I’m hoping to go. It started as a creative challenge for myself because I was feeling like I was in a rut creatively,” Clark said.

“Music is really important to me, and I was disappointed in myself that I wasn’t pushing myself more. I started playing out solo shows more, which was scary at first. That was about two years ago, and that steamrolled this whole thing.”

Continue reading “In Time – Rochelle Clark Releases Debut EP, Opens for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington”

Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark

Judy Banker, center, will celebrate the release of her latest album, “Buffalo Motel,” at The Ark Thursday. Photo by Robin Scully

With “Buffalo Motel,” Judy Banker creates a welcoming extended stay throughout album’s dozen heartfelt, transformative tracks.

The Americana singer-songwriter shares an expansive, layered and atmospheric sound that transcends her traditional acoustic country and folk roots. Driving drum and bass tracks, hook-driven instrumental intros and breaks, and innovative arrangements push Banker toward a countrified indie rock territory that lies somewhere between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Kalispell, Mont.

Out Thursday, “Buffalo Motel” allows Banker to flex her raw, gritty songwriting muscle and weather a series of intense emotions through different relationships and life events. She poetically chronicles love’s rise and decline at several points in time throughout her third album’s intimate tales.

“There’s something about this being the beginning of a new year and new decade that adds a sense of importance to it all. This album turned out bigger and better than I could have imagined. I think it feels that way for the members of the project – the band and David Roof and Ben Sayler as producers and creative directors,” said Banker, who took creative inspiration from Beck, The National and Sharon Van Etten while recording her latest album.

“We didn’t know where all of our experimentation in the pre-production sessions was going to take the music. There were so many moving parts and different ways we approached recording each of the songs. ”

Banker collaborated with a roster of talented Michigan musicians on “Buffalo Motel” to make it bigger than the sum of its parts. Tony Pace (electric guitar, dobro), John Sperendi (electric and upright bass), Brian Williams (drums), Alan Pagliere (pedal steel) and Roof (multi-instrumentalist, Rooftop Recording engineer) added new elements to realize the potential of each song. They spent most of last year steeped in fireplace bourbon sessions while creating “Buffalo Motel’s” exquisite, multi-genre tracks.

“I hope that the sound of the album, this collection of songs and how they are presented, excites people and engages them. The playing on it blows me away – this band is over-the-top talented,” Banker said. “They pushed themselves and tried new approaches on this album to bring out the heart of each song. I hope people can feel that, and it moves them.”

Continue reading “Early Check-in – Judy Banker Creates Welcoming Stay on New ‘Buffalo Motel’ Album, Hosts Release Show Thursday at The Ark”

Double Up – Mark Jewett Releases ‘Saint Clair’s Promise/The Lucky One’ from Forthcoming Third Album

Mark Jewett is working on a follow-up album to 2016’s “Tending the Fire.” Photo by Tom Sorensen

One late August night Mark Jewett stumbled upon an enigmatic vision while heading home from a show in Port Huron.

That vision illuminated the night sky while its reflection danced on the water and beckoned Jewett to stop and observe.

“As I drove south out of Port Huron on Military Street, which runs close and parallel to the St. Clair River, I looked out my side window, and I could see the Canadian shoreline, south of Sarnia,” Jewett said. “I saw a spectacle that lit up like something from a sci-fi movie. All I could think was, ‘What was that?’ I was stunned.”

Jewett turned his car around, drove up to the river’s shoreline and saw the “industrial monstrosity” known as “Chemical Valley,” which is home to more than 60 refineries and chemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario.

“The vibe I got standing alone on a dark river bank in very peaceful quiet was very calming,” said Jewett, a Plymouth-based Americana singer-songwriter. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, in spite of this hideous pollution-spewing industrial megaplex in very close proximity to a population of people, everything will be all right.’”

Jewett captured that peaceful, nocturnal moment in his latest single, “Saint Clair’s Promise,” a twangy, torchy ode to beauty, mystery, faith and hope that’s available  via Bandcamp. Billy Harrington (drums, percussion), Michael Harrington (pedal steel, electric guitar), Ken Pesick (bass) and Dale Grisa (piano) accompany Hewett on the track.

The track features a driving bassline and a mellow slide guitar beautifully intertwined with Jewett’s Johnny Cash-inspired vocals while Amy Petty provides soothing harmonies – “It might have been the water/It might have been the light/It might have been a silent voice calling out to me that night.”

Saint Clair’s Promise” is one of two new tracks that will be featured on Jewett’s untitled third album, which will drop in spring 2020 and serve as the follow-up to 2016’s “Tending the Fire.” Produced by Billy Harrington, Jewett’s new album will sonically immerse listeners in personal tales about different moods, feelings and experiences.

“When Billy heard my demos, he said he could imagine taking these tunes down a sonic road similar to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ ‘Raising Sand,’” Jewett said. “Ironically, I see my sound growing by getting simpler. With exceptions, I feel like music that I write for a conscious purpose needs room to breathe.”

Continue reading “Double Up – Mark Jewett Releases ‘Saint Clair’s Promise/The Lucky One’ from Forthcoming Third Album”

Three’s Company – Stephen Clark, Steve Taylor and Steve Acho to Join ‘Even Steven Songwriters Round’ in Farmington Friday

The Even Steven Songwriters Round will feature Steve Acho, Stephen Clark and Steve Taylor in Farmington Friday.

A metro Detroit crowd will experience the live music of “Three’s Company” Friday night in Farmington.

While it won’t involve Jack, Janet or Chrissy, it will spotlight three “Steves” who’ve made a lasting sonic impression on the Motor City and Music City.

Stephen Clark, Steve Taylor and Steve Acho will bring their catchy acoustic country, Americana roots and pop-rock classics to the “Friday Night Live – Even Steven Songwriters Round” at the Farmington Civic Theater. It will be an intimate evening filled with live music and laughter all round.

Let’s take a closer look at each “Steve” and how they will even up the musical score Friday night in Farmington.

Continue reading “Three’s Company – Stephen Clark, Steve Taylor and Steve Acho to Join ‘Even Steven Songwriters Round’ in Farmington Friday”

Running Down a Dream – Nashville’s Jeremy Ivey Makes Blind Pig Debut Saturday

Jeremy Ivey will open for Ian Noe at The Blind Pig tomorrow night. Photo by Cal & Aly

As the everyday person’s troubadour, Jeremy Ivey will share thoughtful tales of the nation’s turbulent political climate mixed with personal diaspora and societal struggles at The Blind Pig tomorrow night.

The Nashville, Tenn., singer-songwriter will make his live debut at the legendary Ann Arbor rock club and open for Ian Noe, a Beattyville, Ky., singer-songwriter.

“It will be me and a harmonica and a guitar, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been on enough hectic production tours that I’m ready to be by myself for a little bit,” said Ivey, who kicked off his tour Sept. 12 at Nashville’s AMERICANAFEST. “I’ll definitely play some songs from the record, but I’ve already recorded a second record and have the third one already written.”

Interpreting ‘The Dream and the Dreamer’

For his intimate Saturday night set, the prolific Ivey will feature homespun, deeply introspective tracks from his brilliant nine-track debut, “The Dream and the Dreamer,” which dropped earlier this month on Anti-Records.

Recorded in a small Nashville home studio with producer and wife Margo Price, Ivey’s album beautifully weaves elements of classic folk and gently-frayed psychedelia with Southern rock and Americana pop-tinged sensibilities. Price encouraged Ivey to write and record a batch of his own songs during a brief tour break.

“I co-write a lot with her, but I had been writing stuff that I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to sing. It only took me a couple of weeks, maybe a month tops, to write the whole thing,” said Ivey, who initially played with Price in the country-soul group Buffalo Cover as well as Secret Handshake.

“Everyone always says you take your whole life to write your first album, and I’ve been writing since I was 15, so that’s not necessarily true for me. I went in to record, it was supposed be demos, and it turned out pretty good. Anti had heard them, and then it all started to happen. I never really planned for it to be a record.”

Continue reading “Running Down a Dream – Nashville’s Jeremy Ivey Makes Blind Pig Debut Saturday”

Danika & The Jeb Bring Fresh Americana Tonight to Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe

Danika Holmes and Jeb Hart will perform tonight at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.

Editor’s Note: This is repost of an earlier interview with Danika Holmes and Jeb Hart of Danika & The Jeb. Tonight, they’ll be performing at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.

A Nashville acoustic pop and Americana duo, Danika Holmes and Jeb Hart, aka Danika & The Jeb, bring a dynamic, uplifting and fun sound that includes a combination of artfully written songs and powerful musical phrasing.

Together, Danika & The Jeb have performed more than 1,200 shows in the U.S., U.K. and Europe since forming in 2010. They’ve also opened for Lyle Lovett, Dierks Bentley, Phil Vassar and Tracy Lawrence.

Holmes believes that a well-written song can embody all emotions of the human existence, and she articulates that beautifully with her slightly raspy, yet warm voice and truthful lyrics.

“I learned how to play the guitar from Jeb. It’s been so fun playing together all these years now because our musical style has grown together,” said Holmes, who grew up listening to church music. “As a vocalist, every artist wishes they had a guitar player like Jeb, someone who knows when to hang back and knows when to step up to the front of the stage and give a killer solo as well.”

Grand-nephew to country artist Clyde Moody, Hart can craft a story with six strings. Despite a car accident that left him unable to play for several years, Hart’s determination to overcome prevailed.

“I started on sax when I was nine and then on guitar at 14. When I was young, I’d go to work with my mom and was told to be quiet,” Hart said. “I’d hang out next to her desk with a pair of headphones on and record mixed tapes from the radio onto this little boombox she bought me.”

The duo’s latest project, “Day #2349, Danika & The Jeb – Live at Campbell Steele Gallery,” is a live double album that was recorded in Marion, Iowa last year. They recorded it 2,349 days after the release of their first album, “Second Chances,” in 2010. Their latest studio album, “Balance, Vol. 1” was released in 2014.

“Our goal was to capture one of our 1,200 live performances in a way that made people feel like they were right there listening to it,” Holmes said. “We didn’t want it to be a ‘best of’ album where you get the best version of 20 live shows. Our double-disc album is a complete show, beginning to end.”

Danika & The Jeb will capture that same live spirit during their performance tonight at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.

“We never tell exactly what we are preparing, but we choose our set from about six hours of rehearsed material,” Holmes said. “We like to read our audience and the other writers we’ll be playing for and with.”

Later this year, Danika & The Jeb will launch a Patreon page to share more live adventures with their fans. Each month, they will release two pieces of content that will include audio or live video projects. Danika & The Jeb also will be playing 80 more shows throughout the U.S. and Europe this year.