Fully Conscious – Pajamas Revitalizes Improvisational Spirit on ‘You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound’ EP

Graham Low, Dan Schuler, Nick Orr and Owen Kellenberger of Pajamas. Photo by Toko Shiiki Santos

Pajamas magically revitalizes the improvisational spirit on their latest EP, You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound.

The Ann Arbor rock-funk quartet seamlessly blends extended guitar grooves, proggy keys, crashing cymbals, rhythmic drums and driving bass into a fluid four-track jam session on their optimistic, improvisational EP, which dropped in January. You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound is a tantalizing live soundtrack that seeps into the unknown spaces in between dreams.

“The overall lyrical message in my opinion is about accepting the things you can’t control and being happy with what and who you are. We played all of them live before releasing the EP, and I even rewrote good portion of the opening track after playing it out live for a while,” said Graham Low, drummer and vocalist for Pajamas.

“Overall, I want people to feel some emotion when they listen to our music. I’m not going to defy the moniker of ‘jam band,’ but I hope people hear ‘jam band’ and understand that to be a band committed to live improvisation and purposeful exploration, not just a bunch of spacey noodling. I think this project sheds light on our songwriting and shows glimpses of the many places we can take our music.”

Recording ‘You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound’

“You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound” EP artwork by Abbas Husain

Pajamas’ hypnotic eight-minute title track opens with an elongated synth that morphs into glistening cymbal crashes, groovy electric guitar and deep bass and slowly explodes into a star-filled prog-tastic multi-verse. Low proudly sings, “You’re awake, you’re alive/And the sun’s in the sky/Stop the hate and the cryin’/There’s a light inside so shine bright.”

“‘You’re Awake’ took me a really long time to write and a long time to rewrite. I’m really pleased with the end product, and I think the recording that we captured was one of the best takes that we’ve ever played of that song,” Low said.

Low joined Pajamas bandmates Nick Orr (guitar, vocals), Dan Schuler (bass, vocals) and Owen Kellenberger (keys, vocals) to record You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound during a single four-hour session at the iconic Willis-based recording studio last year. They teamed up with Jim Roll to mix and engineer the majestic live project as a follow-up to 2018’s genre-defying, full-length debut, Onesie.

“Jim Roll is a freakin’ magic man. He dialed in each of our sounds and captured everything that makes our timbre unique while also isolating and getting a really clean overall mix,” Low said. “He’s been doing this forever, and it shows in his ability to get great results every time.”

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A Tale of 2 Albums – Kathy Wieland, John Rinn Host Joint Release Show Saturday at Trinity House Theatre

Kathy Wieland will celebrate the release of her album, “Momma Liked to Fish,” with John Rinn Saturday at Trinity House Theatre. Photo by Judy Insley

Kathy Wieland and John Rinn will share heartwarming melodies of life, love and laughter Saturday night at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre.

The metro Detroit folk singer-songwriters will celebrate the release of their latest poignant albums, “Momma Liked to Fish” and “Sweet Summer Moon,” at the intimate 90-seat venue. Wieland and Rinn will take turns performing songs and supporting one another with instrumentals and harmonies throughout their joint set.

“John and I are both members of Songwriters Anonymous, and our CDs came out about the same time. We also know each other from doing open mics, especially at BaseLine Folklore Society. We have not performed together before so this will be an adventure for both of us,” Wieland said.

For Wieland, Saturday night’s on-stage adventure also will include singer-songwriters Sara Melton Keller, Beverly Meyer, Robin Monterosso and Linden Thoburn as special guests on backup harmonies throughout her set.

Together, they’ll combine their soaring vocals on four of Wieland’s tracks from “Momma Liked to Fish” – “A Little Whiskey,” “Prayer the Devil Answered,” “Makin’ Lemonade” and “A Woman Who’s Aged” before an eager singalong crowd.

“Trinity House Theatre is a place I feel really comfortable, and it’s a great place to be a performer or a listener. I attend the monthly Songwriters Anonymous meetings there and have made so many wonderful friends through this venue,” said Wieland, who’s from Ann Arbor.

Continue reading “A Tale of 2 Albums – Kathy Wieland, John Rinn Host Joint Release Show Saturday at Trinity House Theatre”

Double Groove – Ma Baker Hosts 2-Set Blind Pig Show Saturday with Scüter, Sleezy Hamilton

Ma Baker blends elements of rock, funk, jazz and disco into their groove-filled sets. Photo courtesy of Ma Baker

For Ma Baker, Saturday’s Blind Pig headlining set will bring double the jams and twice the grooves.

The Ypsilanti jam fusion quartet will host their first two-set show at Ann Arbor’s legendary rock club with EDM artists-DJs Scüter and Sleezy Hamilton against an enchanting backdrop of live visuals and electronic vibrations.

“It will be the first of its kind in terms of a local show equipped with three interactive screens for live visuals controlled in real-time by visual artist Mark Samano and Scüter,” said Jordan Smith, Ma Baker’s guitarist and keyboardist. “Our goal as a group has always been to get to the level where our shows feature two sets. Our intent is to create a conversation between the band and the audience.”

Ma Baker also will feature different genres during each set – the first will spotlight funk while the second will capture a psychedelic-experimental feel. It’s the ideal setting to reimagine an EDM scene in Tree Town while sharing a mix of originals, new tunes and covers intertwined with improvisation.

“We chose to pair ourselves with two DJs to differentiate this show from the typical three groove-jam band bill the way we normally play at The Pig. All of us in the band love electronic music and rock and roll equally, and we wanted a night to really surround ourselves with more electronic vibrations and interactive visuals more akin to the ‘Movement’ or Detroit techno scene,” Smith said.

In 2012, Smith discovered a shared love of EDM and rock with a collective of community college students in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Together, they rented a storage unit two miles from school to jam, improvise and store gear while having deep philosophical discussions late into the night.

Those initial sessions led to forming Bearfoot with 10 rotating members who would perform based on availability with zero premeditated music. By Devil’s Night 2015, only four of the 10 members showed up and a new creative chemistry emerged. Six months later, the band’s original lineup played their first show on Earth Day at Ypsilanti’s Corner Brewery.

As a quartet, Bearfoot became Ma Baker (after the 1977 Boney M. disco track) and now includes Guy Williams (guitar), Jared Weimer (drums), Dylan Risinger (bass) and Smith in their latest formation.

Continue reading “Double Groove – Ma Baker Hosts 2-Set Blind Pig Show Saturday with Scüter, Sleezy Hamilton”

Folk Visionaries – Alice Howe, Freebo to Perform Friday at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe

Alice Howe will make her Black Crystal Cafe live debut Friday in Ann Arbor with Freebo. Photo by Robert M. Ring

With a new tour and full-length debut album, Alice Howe will bring her 2020 vision to Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Café Friday.

The Boston singer-songwriter will make her first live appearance at the intimate 48-seat music club with world-renowned bassist Freebo, who’s performed with Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

“Freebo and I have been working together for the last three years. He produced my last record, ‘Visions,’ which came out in May of last year, and he and I have been touring together a lot. For this show, we’re billing it as he will be my special guest, so he’ll do an opening set, and then he’ll back me on the bass,” said Howe about her set with Freebo for Friday’s sold-out show.

“It’s really fun because I get to sing harmonies on his songs, and it’s a really collaborative thing that we’ve put together that just works out really well for both of us. We’re excited to take that to Black Crystal.”

Howe forged a fateful partnership with Freebo nearly four years ago at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference. After meeting and chatting with him, she went through her record collection at home and discovered his musical collaborations with Raitt, Young and a host of other rock legends.

“That was a very cool moment for me where I realized, ‘Wow, I’ve met somebody,’ and we had a lot in common as far as our taste in music and production styles and singing styles and all this stuff was so in line with each other,” Howe said. “I grew up listening to the era of music that he really came up under, so for me to meet somebody from that time was like, ‘Oh my god, I felt like he was sent to me.’”

Having Musical ‘Visions’

Those similarities quickly led Howe to enlist Freebo as her musical mentor, collaborator and producer for “Visions,” a 10-track, introspective folk-blues expedition filled with striking originals and smashing covers from Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan. It’s a gorgeous extension of her 2017 debut folk EP, “You’ve Been Away So Long.”

For “Visions,” Howe relocated from Boston to Bakersfield, Calif., to record her full-length debut with Freebo, Fuzzbee Morse (electric guitar), John “JT” Thomas (keys) and John Molo (percussion). In fact, her creative expedition begins with the nature-inspired “Twilight” and includes a much-needed Michigan winter sonic escape to a serene world dotted with dirt roads, sunlight, ocean and trees.

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The Interpreter – Bettye LaVette Shares Career Favorites, Dylan Cuts at 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Bettye LaVette will perform Saturday at the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Photo by Mark Seliger

Bettye LaVette brings a magical soulfulness to her 60-year career, including Bob Dylan’s legendary songbook.

The iconic soul songstress and Michigan native beautifully interprets an era of treasures ranging from ‘60s R&B to British rock to deep Dylan cuts. Her latest release, “Things Have Changed (2018),” unearths Dylan’s extensive catalog from 1979 to 1989 as well as other cherished favorites.

“Well, there isn’t a ‘like’ to it, it’s just the way I hear the songs, and that’s the way I sing it. But as I said, I’m really not that much of a music enthusiast, so there are not a great many songs that sat around that I wanted to sing for a long time,” said LaVette, who was born in Muskegon and grew up in Detroit as Betty Jo Haskins.

“It’s the songs that appeal to me most, that’s why the Bob Dylan album worked so well for me because the lyrics have to be absolutely solid and be there. I’m almost 75 years old, and I can’t look my audience in the face, and people who are sitting close, I look at them even more intently, so I can’t have a whole bunch of gibberish coming out. It has to say something because I’m holding a conversation with them.”

LaVette will hold an engaging conversation with Ann Arbor audiences Saturday at the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival, which also will include Nathaniel Rateliff, Mandolin Orange and Cold Tone Harvest. In her first-ever Folk Festival appearance, LaVette will share her career highlights and interpretations with a nearly sold-out crowd of 3,500 at Hill Auditorium.

“Most of those (Dylan) songs, I think there were 10 or 12 tunes on that album, I only knew four of them before I sung them. It’s interesting having almost a clean slate because I didn’t grow up listening. Many of these things didn’t make it to black radio, but ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ did and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’ I certainly know who he is,” she said.

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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”