For Mike Ward, a new album chronicles a thoughtful evolution of sound.
The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter carefully transforms a dozen acoustic tracks into an earnest collection of expansive tales on Particles to Pearls.
“I think the first track we added any instruments to was ‘All We Have Are Words.’ David Roof played the electric guitar on it, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s what this can sound like.’ I’d been playing that by myself for two years,” said Ward about his third Psychosongs album.
“Because it’s been two years since I wrote most of those songs, and that’s right about now, every day on Facebook there’s a memory of the song, and I get to hear how I first wrote it.”
During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Ward penned 31 new tracks as part of a 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk-rock singer-songwriter Paul Winfield. The poignant tracks opened his creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches.
“They’re all moments in time. The album has a number of those songs,” Ward said. “I’m pretty happy with the end results. David Roof plays bass on everything, but he also plays a 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar on ‘Back Again.’ We wanted a Byrds/Roger McGuinn-style sound on it.”
For Rin Tarsy, life is filled with beautiful contradictions and imperfections.
The Grand Rapids folk singer-songwriter and guitarist embraces authenticity, yet re-examines her purpose on the aptly titled album, Paradox.
“For a while, people would ask, ‘What’s the theme of Paradox?’ And for a while, I didn’t know. Finally, it dawned on me one time when I was listening through all the tracks – it’s about self-trust and self-discovery,” said Tarsy, who grew up in Portland and started singing in church.
“I hope all these songs make sense together, and I really like them, but I wasn’t sure if they did. It’s comforting and scary at the same time. Are these thoughts ever gonna go away? Am I always gonna be questioning everything? Maybe I will.”
Tarsy’s lingering questions slowly spark an emotional and spiritual quest of self-discovery on Paradox that spans several years. Each poetic track celebrates intuition and explores emotion.
“The first songs I wrote for this album – ‘Stay,’ ‘Dear Heart’ and ‘Suitcase’ – were in the summer of 2016 after I got back from Africa. It was the first time I had examined who I was when I took away all of the pursuits that I had and the things I had wanted to go after,” said Tarsy, who visited Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia.
“At the time, I had asked myself, ‘Who am I if those things don’t go exactly the way I want? Or if my idealisms of what they could be don’t match up with the reality of what they actually are?’”
“When I look back on it, I still feel like gratitude is the theme. ‘The Lucky One,’ ‘Warren Zevon’s Birthday’ and ‘Sophia’ have threads of gratitude that run through them. Then, there’s some curious pondering of things, like ‘The Only Thing,’ and ‘Voices’ is a little bit mystical,” said Jewett, who recently retired after a long career in program management.
“Yeah, I think almost everybody can probably relate to it in some way, but ‘Guilty’ is the outlier, and I have a fondness for dark music.”
Whether dark or uplifting, Jewett’s insightful music beckons listeners to reflect on their life’s purpose, their favorite moments and the people who surround them. His third release, The Lucky One, provides a thoughtful, folky passage through time across nine astute, indelible tracks.
“There have been a lot of changes in recent years that have caused me to step back and think, ‘Wow, it doesn’t seem like it’s been very long since that happened,’ or ‘Wow, it seems like it’s been forever since that happened,’” Jewett said. “And how you get both of those feelings about similar events, it’s just kind of mysterious to me.”
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.”
Eighteen months ago, Andy Reed and JD Dominowski heard a distant “echo” in the sprawling fields of Mid-Michigan.
That “echo” eagerly beckoned the Bay City singer-songwriters to pay homage to the late Tom Petty, who passed away in October 2017, and his musical legacy. The two friends quickly answered the call – a double tribute album of local artists reimagining Petty hits, fan favorites and deep cuts.
“We’re re-singing his songs, and we’re an echo of his music now. That’s all he has now are echoes of his music. It’s us carrying the torch a little bit and saying here’s what Tom Petty means to us. Here’s an echo of what he gave us, and we’re translating it in our own way,” said Reed, who produced, recorded, engineered and mixed the project at Reed Recording Company.
Last week, Reed, Dominowski and 21 other Michigan artists dropped their compelling tribute project, Echoes: Remembering the Music of Tom Petty, via all streaming platforms. The album also doubles as a fundraiser for All Music is Power (AMP), a Bay City nonprofit that provides live music for K-12 special needs students in the Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District.
“We thought, ‘Well, let’s make this for a good cause,’ and I started this nonprofit with Donny Brown, who’s also on the record, and I don’t play the live stuff anymore, but Donny still does, and he goes to different special education centers and plays a live concert for them,” Reed said.
“It’s basically music for all the right reasons. This is not something that we want to make money on ourselves. We just want this to be making music for another good thing.”
A Refugee Who Learns to Fly
Along with his Michigan music compadres, Reed beautifully interprets a kaleidoscope of Petty catalog “echoes” throughout the 23-track project. The first response includes Dominowski’s striking Americana rendition of the 1979 Damn the Torpedoes classic, “Refugee,” which exquisitely blends vibrant acoustic strums, vivid piano, piercing electric guitar, thumping bass and intermittent tambourine strikes.
Dominowski’s countrified Springsteen-like vocals breathe new life into one of Petty’s most iconic Heartbreaker tracks as he sings, “Somewhere, somehow, somebody/Must have kicked you around some/Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped/Tied up, taken away, and held for ransom.”
For Petty’s newest album and first in nearly a decade, the Saginaw folk rock singer-songwriter dives headfirst into a wondrous musical realm that exists between day and night. It’s the vivid, haunting place where dreams mimic real life, but quickly dissipate once the sun rises.
“I thought I knew what it was going to be when the songs first started coming. I didn’t necessarily sit down to write an album. I was inspired by an idea and then wrote a song. Eventually, they all came together, and I didn’t know why. In hindsight, I feel like it was more of looking at who people are and how they get to where they are,” said Petty, who dropped her new album today.
“It’s more like an observation of the real side of people, and that’s a very broad thing from murder ballads to contemplating how we fit into this vast universe, and we fall all across the spectrum every single day. It feels like a complete thought instead of just one idea that I decided to investigate at length. It just feels like lots of aspects of the same person.”
Petty eloquently explores those different sides throughout her magical 11-track observation. In a sense, she serves as an oracle predicting which scenarios or paths will best guide people toward their destiny. The glorious opener, “The Dreams That Are Waiting for Us,” urges people to follow their instincts, realize their potential and overcome obstacles to fulfill their lifelong dreams.
Deep synths, bright guitars and dramatic drum taps nicely echo Petty’s larger-than-life vocals – “In the sky there’s a lullaby/And you cannot hear it until you close your eyes/These are the dreams that are waiting for us/When you sleep there’s a melody/It will play in you the way it plays in me/These are the dreams that are waiting for us.”
“The first one was based on words that my daughter said to me. She’s just the coolest kid, and she inspired me like crazy. I love where the song came from,” Petty said. “I don’t write a lot of optimistic songs, not that there’s a lot of optimism in that song, but it just feels very uplifting to me in some way. I love the instrumentation, and it’s kind of rocking on some weird level.”
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 Jewett 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.”
During the show, each singer-songwriter will take a turn performing their own material, tell stories behind their music, delve into their personal creative process and introduce a new track. “There will be some interesting and funny stories probably, and I think everyone in this lineup likes crowd engagement,” Jewett said. “We’re not looking for the hushed symphony audience.”
This is the third time Jewett has teamed up with Petty and Corbin to host a “Songwriters Round” in metro Detroit since May 2017. In the past, they’ve hosted similar events at 20 Front Street in Lake Orion and Trinity House Theatre in Livonia with Chelsea folk singer-songwriter Annie Capps.
Instead, Clark, Ypsilanti singer-songwriter, will join the trio for Friday’s show to share her burgeoning Americana roots music with the crowd.
“We found that we have a pretty good chemistry, and we are able to follow whatever kind of flow the group has got going. I don’t think anyone is coming with a specific setlist of songs they’re absolutely going to play, maybe a longer list they can pick from, but that’s what I like about songwriter rounds,” Jewett said. “They’re dynamic, you can either follow someone’s lead and go deeper into a topic, or if you feel like the audience has had enough of that, then you can do a quick change-up and play something for contrast.”
Friday Night Live Songwriters Round with Mark Jewett, Amy Petty, Sam Corbin and Rochelle Clark