Light Up – Detroit’s Mike Ward Shines on Reflective, Poignant Americana Folk Tales

Mike Ward performs regularly solo and with other artists in metro Detroit. Photo by Scott Kraus

Mike Ward believes in light-bulb moments.

The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter discovered a recent songwriting prompt illuminated a bright idea – a new track called “Our Turn to Shine.”

“That song actually began as a song prompt from John Lamb’s songwriting retreat. His songwriters’ retreat, which I did last year and then I just got back from, I can’t say enough about it,” Ward said. “It just sort of jumpstarted me last year, and he does these really long involved prompts, and it was about changing out incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs.”

As one of Ward’s newest tracks, “Our Turn to Shine” features fast acoustic strums intertwined with a nostalgic, hopeful feel – “I’m a dinosaur made of glass and tin/Take a new one out and screw a new one in/But for now, I’ll light the way/Brighten up your everyday/If only for a short time/It’s still my turn to shine.”

“It had all these specifics in it. I’ve kept most of them, and I have reworked it since I got back from the camp to try and make it more of a universal appeal. It basically has become a metaphor for even if you’re old, there are parts of you that are still usable, you can still shine,” he said. “It’s sort of like let’s all celebrate that aspect in ourselves. A lot of the songs I’ve been writing over the last year I think as I look at my experience and my life, it has crept into a lot of songs.”

Ward also shines on his other latest single, “Content,” which he submitted for NPR’s 2019 Tiny Desk Contest. The pensive track includes a beautiful acoustic guitar as its sonic centerpiece – “It’s a simple life in a complex world/ I want what’s mine and you want what’s yours/But when you’re all by yourself and the money is all spent/Are you gonna leave this world completely content?”

“It’s really about what do you regret, what don’t you regret, what will you be content with when you leave this earth, and how do you want to be remembered – that’s sort of the gist of it. I do write some fairly downer songs, but usually when I have a song that I’m trying to make a point with, or it has a serious undertone, I try and find ways to keep levity involved in it. From the influence of John Prine, Steve Earle and Warren Zevon, songwriters like that who always seem to have a way of not taking it too seriously, those are songwriters who I really admire,” Ward said.

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Northern Exposure – Joanna & The Jaywalkers to Share New Tracks, Open for Judy Banker at The Ark Thursday

Anthony Marchese, Joanna Ransdell and Phil Rinke will perform with Joanna & The Jaywalkers Thursday at The Ark. Photo courtesy of Joanna Ransdell

These days, Joanna Ransdell hears the call of the wild.

The Ann Arbor folk pop singer-songwriter and frontwoman for The Jaywalkers is weaving a wilderness theme throughout her upcoming second album, a follow-up to 2018’s oceanic predecessor, “The Open Sea Before Me.”

“The story starts with a song about being in Alaska in the middle of the wilderness because I lived in Alaska for six months in my early 20s. I think the element is earth, and it’s all about navigating the wilderness and going into the deep wells of hurt and heartbreak, investigating it and pulling out what’s causing you hurt and heartache,” said Ransdell, who also plays keys and guitar with The Jaywalkers.

“It ends with somebody embracing their healing. I’m a therapist, so it’s all about emotional healing and vulnerability. I think this one is more about facing your demons head-on, the acknowledgement of it and the healing that comes from that acknowledgement.”

Joanna & The Jaywalkers’ new tracks will form the setlist for Thursday’s show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Along with Anthony Marchese (cello), Phil Rinke (double bass), Shane Harrell (drums), Mel Clark (vocals) and Lauren Pulcipher (vocals, violin), Ransdell will open for Judy Banker and help celebrate the release of Banker’s new “Buffalo Motel” album.

“Judy’s been very supportive of us, and I really enjoy her music as well,” Ransdell said. “I got the chance to see her play a lot of these new songs on her album, and they’re fantastic. We’re very honored to be playing with her.”

After Thursday’s show, Ransdell and her Jaywalkers bandmates will rehearse before entering the studio in February to record their next album, which will drop later this year. They will take time to craft beautiful new tracks focused on life, love and growth at Solid Sound Recording Co.

Continue reading “Northern Exposure – Joanna & The Jaywalkers to Share New Tracks, Open for Judy Banker at The Ark Thursday”

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”

Bluegrass Roots – Mark Lavengood Cultivates Homegrown Dobro Sound Locally, Nationally

Mark Lavengood will perform at “The Ebird & Friends Holiday Show” tonight through Saturday at The Ark.

Mark Lavengood will bring warm down-home holiday sounds to Ann Arbor this weekend.

The Grand Rapids bluegrass roots vocalist and multi-instrumentalist will join a star-studded lineup of Michigan artists and musicians for the 12th annual “The Ebird & Friends Holiday Show” tonight, Friday and Saturday at The Ark.

Hosted by Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds, the variety-style show will also feature Alex Holycross (The Native Howl), Graham Parsons (The Go Rounds), Carolyn Striho, Anne Heaton, Brad Phillips, Jen Sygit, Jessica McCumons (Jessica Delle) and members from The Macpodz, The Appleseed Collective and Jive Colossus.

“I’ve done it two other years. I love Erin so much, that production is one of the most pro things I think I’ve been a part of, and it’s just always a good time, and I’m always honored to be invited back,” Lavengood said. “I get to lead some, and I get to back other people who play the instruments. It’s just a great hang, the community comes out in droves, and there really isn’t a show like it anywhere.”

As an established touring artist and musician, Lavengood regularly shares his resonant energy with spirited crowds from Michigan to Colorado. He eloquently combines folk, bluegrass and Americana with bandmates Justin Avdek (bass), Dutcher Snedeker (keys), Justin Wierenga (guitar) and Loren Kranz (drums) on stage and in the studio for a growing catalog of bluegrass roots singles and albums.

With an expansive musical palate, Lavengood adds delectable instrumental flavors of dobro, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, drums and percussion to assemble an appetizing eclectic sound for fans nationwide.

“I’m fleshing out a lot of songs that I been sitting on over the years, and I love playing the music, but at the same time, I like getting the ideas out and then bringing a band into the studio and tracking it that way,” Lavengood said. “There’s a lot of magic you get when you have a bunch of different minds in one space serving a song together.”

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Mystic Mind – Rebekah Faidia Channels Jimi Hendrix’s Creative Spirit in Latest Single

Rebekah Faidia brings dream and neo soul to life in her latest single, “Mystic Mind.” Photo by Lance Marczak, Divine Life Photography

Rebekah Faidia knows how to keep the spirit of Jimi Hendrix alive.

As a dream neo soul-pop singer-songwriter, Faidia beautifully reimagines the guitar legend’s creative world from “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” in her latest single, “Mystic Mind (Session 2).”

“It’s about exploring things in life that are little bit more mysterious,” she said. “It’s about my music, that world and everything that I want my music to inspire and evoke in people. It’s an introduction to me and my music.”

Faidia makes a mesmerizing introduction on “Mystic Mind,” which features soft, ethereal vocals woven with vibrant, atmospheric electric guitars and deep synths – “Take a ride into my mystic mind/You’ll have the time of your life/And if you see my soul looks like it’s fool’s gold/It’s all yours/You can indulge.”

She takes listeners on a “ride into that electric sky” to open and free the mind to new possibilities. The track itself serves as a four-minute escape into a romantic realm that lies somewhere in between “Edward Scisscorhands” and “The Shape of Water.”

Interestingly, Faidia recorded two versions of the track at Metro 37 Recording Studio in Rochester Hills with producer and engineer Kevin Sharp. Both versions are similar with the exception of a newly added guitar solo from Motor City multi-genre vocalist and guitarist Kyle Mikolajczyk.

Faidia started working with Mikolajczyk earlier this year after meeting him through mutual friend and bassist Cameron Shawcross. The trio also added drummer Garrett Ramsden to the lineup.

“Kyle’s really involved in the music scene. He’s also playing with me, and as of now, we’ve done stuff in the studio,” Faidia said. “We don’t have any live performances scheduled right now because we’re in the process of doing a lot of different things.”

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Sounds Like Love – Bill Edwards Chronicles Relationships Gained, Lost on Latest Album

Bill Edwards released his latest album, “Sounds Like Love,” in October. Photo by Chasing Light Photos

These days, Bill Edwards views love as the soundtrack of his life.

The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter eloquently chronicles his evolving thoughts about love on his latest album, “Sounds Like Love,” which dropped in October on Regaltone Records.

“A year ago I decided I wanted to do an album of love songs. It seems like the times we’re going through right now we can use as much love as we can get,” Edwards said. “They’re not all songs that say ‘I love you.’ Some are about the complications and the darker side of some love relationships. I think they’re at least loosely related to the concept of love.”

Sounds Like Love” features 13 stellar tracks highlighting the ups and downs of love from different perspectives and moments in time – new love, lost love, lifelong love, past love and unrequited love. On each track, Edwards gently moves listeners from one soundbite of love to the next along a fascinating emotional path that includes paint, hurricanes and boxcars.

“I write about a song a week, and it’s just my creative outlet. I had accumulated quite a number of songs to choose from, and I just picked those 13 for the record,” he said. “I’ve long wanted to do an album all by myself in my own home studio, and I’ve accumulated an embarrassing amount of recording gear.”

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Skies The Limit – Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds Soar with New Band Name, New Music

Erin Zindle is releasing new music under the new band moniker, Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds. Photo by Joe Gall

Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds are ready to soar above the clouds.

The Ann Arbor infectious global groove group has taken flight with a new band moniker and migrated toward new music wrapped in breathtaking melodies, vocal harmonies and improvisational elements.

Previously known as The Ragbirds, the quartet of Erin Zindle (vocals, violin, mandolin, accordion, banjo), TJ Zindle (electric/acoustic guitar, vocals), Shannon Wade (bass, vocals) and Loren Kranz (drums, vocals) is now Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.

“The name change sends a very clear message that this is different from what we’ve done before. This is different enough that we feel like it needs a new name,” said Zindle, who formed the band in 2005. “Also, there’s the sense of me stepping up and really taking ownership of the role that I have played in the band this whole time. My bandmates are just so amazing. I’m so proud of my band right now, and they’re the best guys I could possibly ask to work with.”

Throughout the band’s 14-year history, Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds have maintained a passionate grassroots fan base by continually reinventing themselves with an evolving sound while remaining rooted in the high-energy sphere of world-based folk rock. Today, they’ve shifted their sound to include more melodic components along with uplifting vocals, edgy guitars and groovy rhythms.

“We have less going on in the percussive world, and in the rhythm section, it’s a little less busy. And it’s interesting how that happened at the same time as I was having this natural shift toward developing my voice and stepping forward as a singer and writing songs with stronger melodies as I improve as a songwriter,” Zindle said. “I’m just getting much more honed in my craft so that I can write songs that are more vocal forward and focus on the melodic elements.”

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